# Proof: Why naturalist science can be no threat to faith in God

I’m going to demonstrate this using Bayes’ Rule. I will represent the hypothesis that (a non-Deist, i.e. an interventionist) God exists as , and the evidence of complex life as .  What we want to know is the posterior probability that is true, given , written

which, in English, is: the probability that God exists, given the evidence before us of complex life.

By Bayes rule:

Where

• is the probability of complex life, given that God exists,
• , is our prior belief that God exists, expressed as a probability,
• is the probability of complex life, given that God does not exist, and
• is the probability that God does not exist (which equals .

So first of all we have to set our prior, , the probability that God exists, which I am happy to set high, for instance, at .98.

We also have to set the likelihood of complex life existing, given the existence of an interventionist God (after all, an interventionist God might simply have decided not to bother, or to make something else, like marvellous crystal palaces, instead).  However, I will actually set this to 1, as it seems just weird to posit an interventionist God who doesn’t make complex life.

The first thing to note is that the term on the numerator is identical to the first term in the denominator.  In our case we have .98*1 on the top, and .98*1 + something on the bottom.  I will set the likelihood of Complex life given no interventionist God () at something very small, let’s say .0001.  This gives us:

Which gives me a posterior probability that an interventionist God exists of .999998!

So, by setting the probability of complex life, given no God, very small, I have vastly increased my posterior faith that God exists!  And if I make it still smaller, then my posterior faith in God grows still further!  Take that, atheists!  If IDists can show that the probability of complex life, given no God, is sufficiently tiny that it effectively cannot occur within the lifetime of the universe, that second term on the denominator will go to zero, and God becomes a certainty!

So far, so good. Or would be, if it were ever possible to show that something is impossible, which, 500 coins notwithstanding, it isn’t. That’s because there are many different nulls to reject, and there is always likely to be one you haven’t thought of.  No matter, that dead horse has been beaten enough in recent posts.

What I want to do here is to look at it the other way round.  Let’s say that scientists show that, far from complex life being near-impossible given no God, they discover it’s a virtual certainty – we even manage to do it in a test-tube using conditions known to prevail on early earth, we find all the intermediate fossils we need to fill out the various radiations since dot, and moreoever, get a bunch of SETI signals telling us we aren’t even alone as intelligent beings in the universe.

So instead of setting the likelihood of Complex life given no interventionist God () to something very small, let’s make it 1.  Here is our equation now:

What is my posterior probability that God exists? Well, now the denominator simply sums to unity, leaving our belief in God exactly where it started: .98.

In other words, finding out that life is perfectly possible in the absence of an interventionist God tells absolutely nothing at all about whether God exists.  It simply leaves us with the faith we had in the first place.

The good news for theists, then, is that there is nothing to fear from naturalist science – it cannot rock your faith, no matter how good a naturalist explanation for anything scientists come up with.  If your faith is absolute, absolute, it will remain.  If your faith is 50:50, it can only go up, not down.

However, the good news for atheists is that if it starts at near zero, good naturalist explanations will keep it there. Science, therefore, as Dawkins says, allows him to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

But for theists, it can do absolutely nothing to dent your faith.

So have a very happy Christmas!

## 176 thoughts on “Proof: Why naturalist science can be no threat to faith in God”

1. Robin, You need to own the language. Why not take a shot? Grope in the dark if you need to in order to find some light.

Please name 3 ‘non-natural’ things that are (in your opinion) real. Without this, we cannot make any progress. This is the walk-through. You need to start walking instead of empty talking.

People who are not ‘naturalists,’ as Robin claims he is not, can easily, without much thought at all, come up with a dozen ‘non-natural’ things. Can Robin? I’ve asked him for just 3.

If he can’t offer anything, then this is the end of the conversation.

2. Gregory: Here’s a sociologist of science speaking about the supposed ‘scientificity’ of economics

Sounds like sour grapes to me, Gregory.

Let me mention the theory of derivatives pricing, of which the Black-Scholes model is perhaps the most famous example. It’s an absolutely top-notch theoretical construction as far as scientific theories go. It contains awesome mathematics (Itō calculus). Most importantly, it works in the world of real finance.

3. Gregory: p.s. your screen name seems Slavic. Does the term ‘nauk’ mean anything to you?

I am indeed Russian and am aware that the Russian word наука translates roughly as learning or that which you learn. The Germans say Wissenschaft, the Italians scientia.

Semantics only can take you so far. Let me quote once again Richard Feynman, whom we both obviously hold in high esteem:

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

4. Gregory:
Robin, You need to own the language. Why not take a shot? Grope in the dark if you need to in order to find some light.

I am happy to own the language. You first.

Please name 3 ‘non-natural’ things that are (in your opinion) real. Without this, we cannot make any progress.

Once again, BS. You don’t get to dump your failures on to me. You are welcome to provide an example of some “non-naturalist social science” that Lizzie’s term would exclude. Your response does not in any way depend on me.

This is the walk-through. You need to start walking instead of empty talking.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! This from the man who is making a career on this site for empty talking? Pah-lease…LOL!

People who are not ‘naturalists,’ as Robin claims he is not, can easily, without much thought at all, come up with a dozen ‘non-natural’ things. Can Robin? I’ve asked him for just 3.

Not gonna happen, big guy. Not until you step out from behind the curtain of empty claims and put forth an example to my query.

If he can’t offer anything, then this is the end of the conversation.

…and that would be your concession that you have nothing. Why am I not surprised…

5. Guys, I’m just dropping by between cooking meals for various visitors, but can we restore a bit of mutual respect for differences around here please? Fake it if need be.

Ta.

6. Gregory:
“Gregory, would you describe psychology as “natural science”?” – Lizzie

Good question. It depends on which type of psychology one is doing. Some of it is purely physicalistic, quantitative, natural-science mimickry. To these ‘psychologists,’ the ‘psyche’ is merely material, physical, non-soulish, non-spiritual, dead-at-death, etc.

A relative of mine just completed her PhD in psychology and received her master’s degree in ‘psychological science.’ We spoke about the scientificity of psychology on several occassions. I find it an interesting topic.

In my ‘map of knowledge,’ psychology is one the over-lapping fields between natural sciences and social sciences (note that I prefer a slightly different typology from the usual Anglo-American version), along with ethology, geography and anthropology (e.g. merely physical vs. linguistic, economic & cultural).

Thus, social psychology is not (‘purely’) a ‘natural science,’ or at least it doesn’t use only natural scientific methods. It cannot be ‘reduced’ to those methods alone otherwise it will reduce humanity to mere numbers and figures. And that’s crucial to your argument, which is obviously methodology-heavy.

I’ve got a paper coming out on this in a couple of months, in case it might interest you. The way one ‘maps’ the ‘sciences’ is crucial to why (I believe) calling it ‘naturalist science’ is a misnomer for the ‘proof’ you tried to make with Bayesian logic (not to mention the things I said above about naturalism as untheistic). Does that help?

Yes, in a way. You seem to have a strong view as to what labels should be applied to what domains of knowledge, which is fair enough to some extent, but it seems to be getting in the way of your ability to comprehend what someone is saying when they don’t use the labels in the way they should be used – and you seem to be insisting that I am saying something false because I am using a label that you think should only have a specific meaning, and which, if I did intend that meaning, would render my claim untrue.

This seems rather silly to me. My point is extremely simple, and not terribly profound either. By “naturalist science” I simply meant, as I said above, that domain of science in which we fit models to data and then test those models against new data. This methodology can be applied to physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and, for that matter economics and other branches of social science. It’s not the only methodology that is used in those later branches (the quantitative methods module that I teach is coupled with a qualitative methods module, for instance, taught by someone else) and the two overlap substantially – quantitative methods involve measuring something, and those measures are always a proxy for some underlying quality.

But my point is that no amount of model-fitting science, however well-fitting the models (and some of our models fit our data with extraordinary accuracy, others less so) can possibly, I would argue, impact negatively on belief in God, provided the God in question is postulated to be sufficiently powerful.

At it’s simplest: there’s nothing we can explain by science that could not be equally explained as the instantaneous creation of an omnipotent being. That’s the good news (for theists). The bad news is that the existence of an omnipotent being is unfalsifiable, and therefore non-demonstrable by quantitative (that seems a safe adjective for now) means.

So whether or not we manage to demonstrate that spontaneous OoL is possible, or that intelligent beings can emerge from only-just-living protobionts by means of physics, chemistry, and the system proposed by Darwin, none of that can be any threat to belief in God. It may reassure those without such belief that there isn’t some unsolvable puzzle at the heart of existence, but it certainly can’t do anything to shake the faith of those whose conviction about the existence of an omnipotent God is based on qualitative and personal experience.

So the paranoia, I suggest, is not only needless, it’s counter-productive. The idea that Darwin’s idea is a threat to theism is false. Sure it’s a threat to the idea that God is self-evident, but that’s a completely different issue.

7. Actually, there’s a interesting point I hadn’t considered. I’ve long been urging the line that empirical science is only a threat to theism if, and only if, theism entails empirical claims to begin with.

(Here one would have to unpack a sense of “empirical claims” that distinguishes objectively valid assertions about matters-of-fact from, say, expressions of existential significance, of lasting value, of gratitude and joy and passionate need, and so on. If someone were to object that I’m making religion a merely subjective issue, I would say — yes — I am making religion subjective, in contrast to the objectivity of science — but at the same time I would also say that the subjective and the objective are equally real.)

But the Bayesian analysis suggests that empirical science is no threat to theism, even if theism entails empirical claims falsified by empirical science. Is that because the priors are so high?

8. Actually, there’s a interesting point I hadn’t considered. I’ve long been urging the line that empirical science is only a threat to theism if, and only if, theism entails empirical claims to begin with.

(Here one would have to unpack a sense of “empirical claims” that distinguishes objectively valid assertions about matters-of-fact from, say, expressions of existential significance, of lasting value, of gratitude and joy and passionate need, and so on. If someone were to object that I’m making religion a merely subjective issue, I would say — yes — I am making religion subjective, in contrast to the objectivity of science — but at the same time I would also say that the subjective and the objective are equally real.)

But the Bayesian analysis suggests that empirical science is no threat to theism, even if theism entails empirical claims falsified by empirical science. Is that because the priors are so high?

I think it is more the case that we don’t know how to establish an empirical connection to theism; not even in principle.

In the case of natural phenomena – even phenomena such as neutrinos and the Higgs field that are extremely difficult to detect – we can lay out a research protocol that can, in principle, detect such phenomena.

And indeed these protocols did detect these after may decades of waiting for technology to catch up and multiple nations stepping up to meet the costs of doing the experiments.

As has frequently been mentioned in a number of discussions on this site, answering the question, “How can we operationalize theism” produces no research protocols even in principle.

9. With respect to theism in the minimal sense, sure. But it’s a core commitment of creationism that theism entails empirical claims (e.g. about how to determine the age of the earth, the origins of new species, the relation between humans and other animals). We know that those claims are false, but does the falsity of those claims affect the assessment of theism itself?

I don’t see how it does. I mean, the creationists would love for it to be the case that the truth of theism stands or falls with the empirical evidence for creationism — that way, they can argue that evolution is the gateway drug for atheism and that theistic evolution is incoherent. But I just don’t understand why anyone would think that either theism or atheism stand or fall with regard to empirical data. In both cases, we’re dealing with a metaphysical vision of the whole of reality, based on a speculative moment that transcends what is known. The only people who have a right to say that their metaphysics is based only on empirical data are agnostics.

10. Kantian Naturalist: We know that those claims are false, but does the falsity of those claims affect the assessment of theism itself?

I think it affects the assessment of a range of sectarian dogmas, but not necessarily theism; if I understand correctly the beliefs of some of my former religious colleagues.

The ID/creationism phenomenon is peculiar to the United States in that it was a planned, strategic attack on science in order to get evolution out of the public schools and justify a narrow set of sectarian beliefs with “science.” There has been a history of jealousy among sectarians over whose dogma is the correct dogma; and the “Scientific” Creationists have attempted to justify their dogma with what turns out to be pseudoscience.

The fact that this pseudoscience resonates in some other countries suggests that these narrow sets of sectarian beliefs exist in other Abrahamic religions at least.

11. KN,

But the Bayesian analysis suggests that empirical science is no threat to theism, even if theism entails empirical claims falsified by empirical science. Is that because the priors are so high?

Lizzie’s analysis applies only when the prior is independent of the empirical question at hand. That’s why I wrote:

Hi Lizzie,

I think that your Bayesian reasoning is correct, and that it can be expressed in everyday language:

If you don’t think that we need God in order to explain complex life, then the presence (or absence) of complex life won’t affect your confidence in God’s existence.

Similarly:

If you don’t think that we need the Easter Bunny to explain the presence of Easter eggs, then the presence (or absence) of Easter eggs won’t affect your confidence in the Easter Bunny’s existence.

The question is whether there are any other good reasons for believing in the Easter Bunny — or in God — in the first place.

12. The upshot is that if your prior is high because Jesus appeared on your shower curtain, then your belief won’t be affected by scientific discoveries regarding the origin of life.

On the other hand, if the design argument is the main reason you believe in God, then your theism can be gravely threatened by scientific discoveries.

My impression is that most ID supporters fall into the latter category. They recognize the flimsiness of their non-empirical reasons for believing in God, though they may be publicly unwilling to admit this, and they long for an intellectually respectable justification for theism — preferably one with the imprimatur of science.

13. keiths:
The upshot is that if your prior is high because Jesus appeared on your shower curtain, then your belief won’t be affected by scientific discoveries regarding the origin of life.

On the other hand, if the design argument is the main reason you believe in God, then your theism can be gravely threatened by scientific discoveries.

My impression is that most ID supporters fall into the latter category.They recognize the flimsiness of their non-empirical reasons for believing in God, though they may be publicly unwilling to admit this, and they long for an intellectually respectable justification for theism — preferably one with the imprimatur of science.

Yes, that’s how I understand it also.

14. Me too. In other words, evolutionary theory (or multiverse theory, or whatever) is only a threat to belief in God if your belief depends on there being substantial “gaps” in scientific accounts of the world. However if you have “faith” that is independent of such gaps, you should be fine.

And in yet other words, if your belief in God is essentially animistic – if your God (or gods) are invoked to explain physical phenomena – then science is indeed a threat. Which was Lewontin’s much maligned point – for science to be Sagan’s “candle in the dark” of a “demon-haunted world”, we must not let a “Divine Foot in the door” of the lab. But all that exclusion does is rid ourselves of demons – it can have no effect on faith in a God that has no need of science to reveal her existence.

Ironically, ID is a project that insists on the possibility of a constrained and little god – an intentional agent in and possibly beyond the universe that might have to be taken into account, as we have to take into account intentional agents like other people, and even crocodiles, but need not be good, and might well be evil.

A God that is Love, and which is the Ground of our Being, and is unknowable except by what He is Not, cannot be diminished by being excluded from predictive models of the world. As the theologian Herbert McCabe wrote in a passage I’ve often quoted:

Again, it is clear that God cannot interfere in the universe, not because he has not the power, but because, so to speak, he has too much; to interfere you have to be an alternative to, or alongside, what you are interfering with. If God is the cause of everything, there is nothing that he is alongside. Obviously God makes no difference to the universe; I mean by this that we do not appeal specifically to God to explain why the universe is this way rather than that, for this we need only appeal to explanations within the universe. For this reason there can, it seems to me, be no feature of the universe which indicates it is god-made. What God accounts for is that the universe is there instead of nothing.

15. Gregory: Please spell it out for us then: what is Lizzie’s simple, clear-cut definition of ‘naturalist science’? Both myself and Neil Rickert don’t know what it means, and surely silent others are not sure either. Simply suggesting/insisting that she *has* provided a definition over months at this site and in various threads is not a satisfying answer.

The technical meaning of adding ‘-ist’ or ‘-ism’ is to imply ideologue or ideology (aside from professions, as indicated above). Natural science is not ideological. Pragmatist natural science or materialist natural science or spiritualist natural science or (lol) IDist natural science *is* ideological by the implication of adding the chosen adjective. Are you suggesting this technical meaning is wrong, inaccurate, only sometimes applicable…or? If you mean that she was referring to the profession of naturalists, that would narrow her ‘proof’ claim in the title significantly. (And perhaps that is indeed her back door option to admit ambiguity in her title – mere ‘professional naturalists; not all scientists nor all science.’)

What I meant, as I hope is clear by now, is “science conducted by the methodology that involves fitting models to data, and testing those models against new data”. That methodology is available to anyone, regardless of ideology, and using it does not require adopting a specific ideology.

And frankly, she has already said she thinks discussion of ideology is ‘silly’ or a waste of time, which makes me think she isn’t cut out for much deep or reflexive thinking, much like William Dembski and Paul Nelson who simply refuse to educate themselves about how ideology (Darwinism) differs from natural science (Darwinian theories).

I may or may not be “cut out for much deep or reflexive thinking” but I don’t recall saying that discussion of ideology is ‘silly’ or “a waste of time”. I don’t think it is. However, it is, IMO, silly to start discussing science-as-ideology when the point being made is about science-as-methodology; ditto for Darwinism-as-ideology when the point being made is about Darwinism-as-the-theory-that-adaptive-evolution-occurs-as-a-result-of-heritable-variance-in-reproductive-success.

I do think equivocation is a damn nuisance.

As it is, with Lizzie’s story about walking away from her Catholic faith, it may indeed have become convenient and perhaps even thought necessary for her to defend ‘naturalism’ as an alternative ‘worldview,’ or as an ideology that she uses to define her activities as a (practising) natural scientist.

I described theist scientists (which for a while included myself) as practitioners of “naturalist” science long before I ceased to be a theist. I am happy to stipulate that my use of the term does not imply an ideology but usage of a methodology.

As for me, the label ‘naturalist’ is unnecessary and is only a philosophical naivety in the human-social sciences that displays prior commitments, rather than rigorous, scholarly work. It is just such laziness of the ‘naturalistic’ natural scientist to think I must be a ‘socialist’ because I am a social scientist that displays an important distinction between science and ideology for our electronic-information epoch.

Of course. But because I am aware that the methodology I refer to is applicable outside the domain of those sciences often called “natural science”, including psychology, sociology and economics, I did not use the term “natural science”. I’m not sure of the best term, frankly. Hypothesis-testing science? Empirical science?

To me it is entirely not surprising that Lizzie wrote the title as she did. What is illuminating is that she didn’t and doesn’t seem to realise (along with several others here) how it actually reveals her current worldview position by including the term ‘naturalist’ and invalidates her ‘proof.’ Unintentional word-usage, nuanced to linguistic relativism doesn’t innocently escape the fact that social meanings *are* largely traceable and ideologies often expressed in what people write and say.

Only if you misunderstand my use of the term. As I have now made it clear, I hope you now understand that my title was completely orthogonal to my “current worldview position”, and indeed was intended to reassure everyone that belief in God is orthogonal to the ability of scientific methodology to explain how the world works.

To be clear, I’m coming at this with a keen eye gained through training with some of the best in the field around the world and identifying ideology when and where it is being expressed. In English language, this is precisely what the terms ‘-ism’ and ‘-ist’ (in the vast majority of cases) are intentionally meant to signify.

Well, not in this case. The adjective was intended to refer to a methodology, and the type of explanation that methodology outputs, not an ideology.

There is good reason for this, which is available to be tested by reading works in philosophy and sociology of science. I cannot be held responsible here nor blamed for intellectually impoverished or low-level dialogue that conflates ‘natural science’ with ‘naturalistic science’ as if the two are equal signifiers. They are not. Please stop conflating them.

I don’t think anyone is conflating them; what is happening is that you are interpreting my term “naturalistic science” in a way that was not intended by me. In fact, I can’t honestly imagine how a science driven by “naturalism” in the sense of an ideology, would look different from science as is. Fitting models to data, and then testing those models against new data works regardless of ideology. Sure, ideological bias exists in science, but not bias in favour of naturalism, for the simple reason that “supernatural” or “non-natural” factors are not actually modellable – by definition.

The idea that scientists are “biased” against “supernatural” explanations because of an a priori commitment to ideological naturalism is false – it’s incoherent, in fact.

If the supernatural is detectable by scientific methodology, then it is no longer “supernatural”. We say something must be “supernatural” if it can’t be explained naturally. So how on earth is a scientist to test a “supernatural” hypothesis?

That’s where Lizzie should answer for herself…and she will likely do so pretending (falsely, without understanding) that she is an ideology-free, neutral thinker. Hogwash! That position is simply impossible to defend after the hermeneutic turn and contributions in philosophy and sociology of science from the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is a façade that I learned from the best to easily see through and to launch legitimate critiques against it.
Lizzie ‘ideologically modified’ the concept ‘natural’ to become ‘naturalist,’ whether intentionally or not. That’s a cold, hard fact…unless and until she changes her title in this thread.

Only to make sure that my thesis applied to domains of science not normally counted as “natural science”. Psychology, for example, or anthropology, or economics.

No, I’m not at all ‘bent out of shape.’ I’m a scholar who studies these things carefully and closely; more carefully and closely than probably all but a very small few in the USA or UK. The appropriate term (in this case ‘natural science,’ instead of ‘naturalist science’) should seek the common good of truthful communication, not expect people to conform to some obscure, false meaning as if it should be understood and embraced (in this case, only by naturalists) and then accepted by all.

But “natural science” would NOT have been the “appropriate term” because it would have excluded sciences I intended to include.

I am open to alternative suggestions however. What I meant was: science that uses hypothesis testing to discover good predictive models of the world.

16. Liz said:

What I meant, as I hope is clear by now, is “science conducted by the methodology that involves fitting models to data, and testing those models against new data”. That methodology is available to anyone, regardless of ideology, and using it does not require adopting a specific ideology.

So, if I have a model that says certain extreme behavioral problems and related phenomena are caused by immaterial demons possessing someone’s body, and the data through testing shows that exorcisms can reliably get rid of those extreme behavioral problems (get rid of the demons), is that a good example of matching models to data and testing them? Is that good science?

17. William J. Murray:
Liz said:

So, if I have a model that says certain extreme behavioral problems and related phenomena are caused by immaterial demons possessing someone’s body, and the data through testing shows that exorcisms can reliably get rid of those extreme behavioral problems (get rid of the demons), is that a good example of matching models to data and testing them? Is that good science?

Yes.

However, you have, as always, to be very careful about what you infer from your results.

Let’s say you were using null hypothesis testing (the workhorse of science, for all its faults):

And you did a double blind RCT (randomised controlled trial) which is the gold standard for clinical trials. This would involve recruiting people with extreme behavioural problems, randomly allocating them (you could use a coin toss if you wanted) to one of two groups – a group that received exorcism, and a group that received some other treatment that provided equivalent contact time with other people, and also had some plausible rationale. You would also have to withold from the patients which treatment they were receiving, and you would also have withhold from the people admininstering the “placebo” treatment that their treatment was not expected to give results.

You would measure behavioural problems before and after treatment. Your null hypothesis would be that the mean change in behaviour in the first group would not be different from the mean change in behaviour in the second group.

Depending on the amount of variance in your data, if the exorcism treatment had a real effect, you would be able to reject that null. If you retained the null, you would not be able to conclude that it had no real effect – merely that any effect was too small to be detected by a study of the size you had undertaken.

However, and here is the kicker – if you rejected the null, all you would have rejected is the hypothesis that the two treatments had the same amount of effect. It wouldn’t tell you that demons were real. It would be incidental support for the theory but all you would actually have demonstrated is that whatever exorcists do during an exorcism is effective at improving behaviour in extremely disturbed people. It would not demonstrate that the active principle was demon-expulsion.

And this is the problem with null-hypothesis testing – it does not test the truth of your theory, nor of your study hypothesis, nor does it even test the truth of the null. It simply tests how probable your results are if the null is true.

An alternative approach is Bayesian model comparison. But that just makes our prior beliefs in our explanatory models explicit, it doesn’t tell us whether they are justified.

The only way to test the hypothesis that extreme behavioural disturbances are caused by demons would be to have actual hypotheses about the mechanisms and properties of the postulated demons – for example, do they respond more to appeals to a Christian god than a Hindu one, for instance?

18. William J. Murray:
olegt,
And if it was? That would be good science?

It would be a start. But it would be in competition wth other theories. I have actually made a living in the arena of bad behavior, and I’ve seen dozens of treatment methods come and go.

19. The problem here is that the term “natural” means too many things, depending on what it is being contrasted with. Sometimes we contrast natural with “supernatural,” and sometimes we use “natural” to mean “empirical” (in contrast with, say, a priori speculation or divine revelation). In the division of academic labor, we distinguish between “the natural sciences,” “the social sciences,” and “the humanities.”

In the German (and I believe French?) system, the latter two are called the “Geisteswissenschaften“, where “Geist” means (depending on context), “spirit,” “mind,” “intellect” — the inclusion of the humanities in this class of sciences gives the German “Wissenschaft” a broader extension than the English “science”. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries there’s a wide-ranging debate in German philosophy and social sciences about whether there’s a methodological difference between the Naturwissenchaften and the Geisteswissenschaften. The key idea here is that because the sociologist or psychologist is himself or herself included in the class of objects of study, those objects are not really objects — there’s a self-referential dimension to those sciences which makes. So the sociologist or psychologist cannot stand apart from the systems he or she is studying in the ways that the biologist or physicist can.

In yet other contexts, “natural” can contrast with “cultural,” “acquired,” “artificial” — and, in the natural law tradition, “natural” contrasts with “inappropriate,” “deviating,” “immoral,” and so on. And then there’s the term as it applies to genres of painting and writing.

Given the various roles that “natural” (and related) terms play in our language, there’s little hope for restricting our sense of “natural” to any one of them. So I don’t see any hope for resolving the question, “are the social sciences natural or non-natural?” except for, “well, it depends!”

The social sciences deal with gathering quantifiable data, constructing models to fit that data, doing what we can to make sure that the models are fitting the data and not the other way around, and generally trying to extract knowledge of causation from data about correlation. So if Lizzie wants to stipulate that any inquiry which abides by that general methodology is “natural”, “naturalist,” or “naturalistic”, then. the social sciences would certainly count. On the other hand, if we insist on using “natural” to mean “what would be the case anyway if there weren’t any humans around” — which is certainly one appropriate sense of the term — then the social sciences would not be natural.

Now, with respect to Lizzie’s open-ended remark that

Lizzie: I am open to alternative suggestions however. What I meant was: science that uses hypothesis testing to discover good predictive models of the world.

as I see it, there’s no need for a modifying adjective to “science” here — “science that uses hypothesis testing to discover good predictive models of the world” is just science, as distinct from pseudoscience, or from what we do in philosophy, literary theory, historiography, media studies, cultural studies, and other humanities. But it would certainly include sociology, psychology, cognitive science, as well as biology, chemistry, geology, physics, astronomy, etc.

In short, I think that there is a methodological coherence picked out by the English “science” (“the natural and social sciences”) that is missing from the more generous German “Wissenschaft”, which includes what Anglophones call “the humanities”.

20. As a comparison, in clinical drug trials, it is always possible that the drug has an effect via a different mechanisms than that postulated, and this sometimes happens: a drug is significantly better than placebo, but not because of the putative active ingredient, but because of something else that differs between treatments.

This is why often drug trials include measuring blood-plasma concentrations of the active ingredient – if this correlates with the degree of improvement, you have additional support not just for the effectiveness of the treatment, but for the role of the molecule in question.

It’s much more difficult with non-pharmacological treatments, like psychotherapies, or exorcisms for that matter. Not impossible, but certainly harder to figure out what the key “ingredient” is in an effective treatment. I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this, because I am actively involved in developing non-pharmacological treatments for mental disorders, and potentially promising treatments often look poor in meta-analysis, and this may be partly due to the fact that when a promising treatment is rolled out more widely, some key ingredient is missed (possibly simply the personality of the original practitioner).

So while we can often say that a non-pharmacological treatment is effective, it is a lot more difficult to say why. And brain imaging doesn’t help, because the brain of a person whose illness has got better will look better whatever the mechanism of the treatment!

21. Kantian Naturalist: as I see it, there’s no need for a modifying adjective to “science” here — “science that uses hypothesis testing to discover good predictive models of the world” is just science, as distinct from pseudoscience, or from what we do in philosophy, literary theory, historiography, media studies, cultural studies, and other humanities. But it would certainly include sociology, psychology, cognitive science, as well as biology, chemistry, geology, physics, astronomy, etc.

Thanks! Fixed.

However, it slightly misses my point, as what I was really getting at was that a natural explanation for any phenomenon cannot affect belief in God.

IDists would say that a non-natural explanation is also science.

I would say it isn’t. But I would also point out that “The butler did it” is a perfectly “natural” explanation. After all, intelligence, or at least, cognition and intention, are part of what I actually study, scientifically!

In other words “natural” ~= “non-intentional”, in this context, although it is in some (“he did not die naturally”).

I do think this is a major source of confusion in ID vs evolution debates.

22. As I tried pointing out in my “Speculative Naturalism” thread, the design argument hinges on assigning a sense to “nature” that excludes intelligence and intention, which is why the “disenchanted” conception of nature as exhaustively describable in terms of “chance and necessity” is crucial to their overall position.

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