Elizabeth started another thread (http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=256) stating that methodological naturalism (MN) “underlies the methodology that we call science.” Later she spoke of “methodological naturalism, as in the working assumption that scientists make about the world in order to predict things.” Then she quoted Wikipedia, which states: “all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events,” adding that this is “more or less the definition I have been assuming.” In other words, science studies ‘nature-only’ because it is naturalistic – it sees nothing other than nature that *could* be studied. Elizabeth sticks with this definition when she says “Science occupies the domain of natural explanations.”
Still later, Elizabeth admitted she is ‘not wild about’ MN (or what I suggested as more accurate of her statements: science applies ‘methodological probabilism’) and also that “‘methodological naturalism’ is a poor term.” Thus, her concession: “now that I realise that the term [MN] appears to denote different things to different people, I will avoid it.” So, the main argument in the OP was deserted.
However, she seemed unwilling to go further on what giving up MN would mean and instead resorted to her earlier position: “No, I don’t accept that scientific methods can study extra-natural things.” So, which is it, does ‘science’ study ‘nature-only’ or is it broader than that?
“I think that in order to study non/extra/super-natural things we would have to violate this assumption. That would be fine, but it would mean that we cannot then use scientific methodology.” – Elizabeth
Here is a crux in the argument: are ‘non-‘ ‘extra-‘ and ‘super-natural’ properly lumped together as one, or does distinguishing them offer anything of value?
A basic overview: Natural sciences study natural things. Physical sciences study physical things. ‘Other’ sciences study ‘other’ things. Is there a problem with this understanding of ‘science,’ once folks realise that the Anglo-American is not the only option available? Russians study ‘historical sciences’ and ‘economic sciences’ (as do the Swedes, in the name of Alfred Nobel). Notice please that I am not pulling the ID approach of seeking to add ‘intelligent causes’ in biology, just widening the view of ‘science’ beyond the myopia of ‘nature-only.’
I asked to Neil Rickert: “Is it then your contention, Neil, that the ‘more specialized’ meaning of ‘science’ in English usage refers to *nature-only*?” His answer was: “No. It is my contention that science studies whatever it usefully can study using its methods. It tends to then apply the term ‘nature’ to what it studies.”
O.k. then, so it would seem that ‘science’ *can* in principle study more than *nature-only,* but that it has ‘tendencies’ based on…what? Based on who pretends or is claiming at the moment to speak for ‘science’? I.e. naturalists tend to speak for science, but not socialists or humanists?
The IDists have got it skewed also. Same reason: Anglo-American philosophy of science disallows ‘science’ of ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ things and thus, the ‘science-only-naturalistic’ dilemma being discussed in this thread. This is at the heart of why MN makes little sense – it privileges one feature of reality and disallows people to understand/know that other features of reality may be both non-natural and positively real at the same time.
Elizabeth wrote: “we might agree that ‘naturalism’ has problems as a philosophy.” Well, I’d be glad if we do. In my view, all ‘naturalisms’ are ideologies, without exception. There is no ‘merely methodological’ brand of ‘naturalism’ because the ideology trumps the methodology.
Elizabeth also wrote that “science is basically a prediction method.” Neil Rickert added: “Science simply studies those aspects of reality that are predictable.” In such a case, is space made for science to study ‘predictable’ things that are ‘other’ than ‘natural,’ based on a non-naturalistic reading of reality? Or is it not?
Elizabeth asked me: “So how do you suggest we investigate non-natural phenomena scientifically?”
The more important question, it seems to me, as my challenge to ‘naturalism’ as ideology indicates, is simply “can we investigate non-natural phenomena scientifically?” My answer, along with those in the German-Russian-Chinese framework, is: Yes, we can. The ‘how’ question can be looked at in the article linked below and in thousands of others like it.
Neil Rickert wrote: “Science has no a priori commitment to only study nature.” Would anyone suggest though, that this is not so when one is pre-committed to the ideology of naturalism? Iow, does the ideology of naturalism not determine what counts as ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ (or ‘imaginary’) for naturalists in their understanding of the universe? Is it not then important for scientists, and for natural scientists especially to reflexively distinguish their ‘science’ from their ‘ideology,’ so that ‘naturalism’ does not engulf their public pronouncements about what other sciences can and do study?
I’d like to take a shot at a question by Mike Elzinga: “How can one not think about natural phenomena and processes linking to other physical phenomena that researchers can check and agree about among themselves?”
It is a good question. Look for the positive, non-natural or extra-natural ‘aspects’ of a phenomenon or process. Ideas are not physical, though they may be manifest in physical change or movement by people. Don’t forget the people, don’t dehumanise; this will allow you to discover non-natural or extra-natural human creations or artefacts quite easily, that can be studied using reflexive methods appropriate for social and cultural sciences. If you are ‘doing natural science’ then your task is of course to study natural phenomena and processes. But, as Herbert Simon understood, this does not preclude distinguishing artificial things from natural things and that there are good reasons for doing this.
Elizabeth finally met my *multiple scientific methods* observation, saying “Obviously there are multple scientific methods,” but that they are “all grounded in empiricism,” which once again is an ideological position. There are non-empirical features involved in ‘doing science’ too.
Joe wrote: “ID contrasts the natural with the artificial.” (Actually, I don’t think it does much work on this; it rather sees biology as ‘divine technology.’)
Elizabeth replied: “‘natural’ when used in contrast to ‘artificial’ has a different meaning than when contrasted with ‘immaterial’.” … “I entirely agree we can distinguish natural objects from artefacts That does not mean that I think the artefacts are ‘immaterial’.”
I agree with Elizabeth [thus my bolding of her words]. One needn’t think that artefacts are immaterial, but simply understand that they are properly categorized as not ‘natural;’ they do not ‘organically evolve,’ like biological things. This admission is all that is needed to open a ‘new/other’ category for ‘science’ to study that is ‘extra-natural’ or ‘non-natural.’ Amen! It is a simple point that perhaps some of you think is not worth making, while for those involved in the philosophy of science, social sciences or systems thinking, it is indeed a crucial distinction.
Notice please, some people reject this distinction, e.g. as Flint wrote: “Of course culture is natural…in the world of [natural] science, there is no distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’,” and when Ian Musgrave paraded the fallacy that “social science studies entirely natural things. I don’t know where you get the idea that culture is ‘non-natural’, it is 100% natural.” This is unadulterated myopic ‘naturalism’ which is only to be swallowed (with caution) as an ideology; there is no ‘scientific’ explanation for conflating ‘natural’ with ‘artificial’ or ‘extra-natural’ things. It is obvious to most rational people that ‘technology’ does not grow in one’s garden, like an organism.
Then again, Ian clarified his presupposition in saying what he did: “Humans culture and artefacts are 100% natural in the sense of the word ‘natural’ used in ‘methodological naturalism’.” Ian bases his views on MN, so his conflation can be understood. Since I reject the ideology of MN, as do many people who are educated in PoS, it is understandable why Ian and I disagree and why my colleagues and I are nevertheless free to study culture and artefacts as “more than just natural,” without being dictated to by naturalists.
Really, folks, the first item of agenda in this conversation should be to answer the question “Are you (or do you consider yourself) a ‘naturalist’?” before even beginning to speak about what MN might mean. Skeptics are not all ‘naturalists,’ of course, nor vice versa!
“one of the reasons I infer that an artefact is an artefact is if I have material evidence of the material existence of a designer or artisan” – Elizabeth
Yes, here we are agreed, though we also often have ideological or formal causal evidence, in addition to material evidence of ‘designers’ and ‘artisans.’ That human designers think, feel, intuit, hope, dream, desire, etc. is part of the ‘designing’ process. Again, this is something that ID does not account for and I’ve seen no indication that the IDM understands the difference between the study of ‘designing processes’ and disallowing the study of designing processes. It is just not something on their collective radar.
llanitedave made a fair point, that “the existence of human artifacts doesn’t support intelligent design in biology.”
Yes, we are likewise with Elizabeth agreed on this point. It does however support ‘design’ theory in human-social sciences, which is perhaps more important in solving the ‘controversy’ over evolution and evolutionism.
Elizabeth asked: “Could you give me a citation, in particular for ‘reflexive science’?”
Sure, here’s a good place to start (though, the tradition goes much deeper than Burawoy): http://www.scribd.com/doc/24800493/Burawoy-Critical-Sociology-A-Dialogue-Between-Two-Sciences
The point here is that once a person recognizes ‘reflexive science’ as an alternative to ‘positive science,’ the playing field for discussions of ‘science, philosophy and theology or worldview’ is levelled or at least opened. Once one realises that they are speaking with an ideological ‘naturalist’ who is contending that ‘everything is natural,’ they can easily recognise the bias in their dialogue partner and take naturalistic contentions with a ‘grain of salt.’ There is no need to believe that MN ‘defines’ the world of science, just as there is no need to accept the IDM’s redefinition of science to include ‘intelligent causes’ in natural sciences, without studying the efficient or material causes or the processes of ‘intelligent designing.’ There are better ways of perceiving reality than either of these options (and this might also include recognizing that human beings have or possess a spiritual component, beyond their/our material natures)!
Cubist also made a suggestion: Scientists (by which he supposedly meant ‘natural-physical scientists’), “just don’t think that there’s any need to segregate things-produced-by-humans off as a category wholly separate and distinct from the corresponding category of things-not-produced-by-humans…So I’m curious to know why you think ‘non-natural’, in your sense, is a distinction that’s worth bothering to make in the first place?”
This question is what I’ve aimed to answer in this long thread. The history of ideas makes a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ things. As a human-social scientist, armed with a reflexive scientific approach, my contribution along with colleagues is to balance the playing field so that ‘naturalism’ can no longer control the dialogue and so that we may better understand the human condition and thus to promote human flourishing. If we speak of ‘human-made’ problems as simply ‘natural’ phenomena, we are likely to come up with far fewer solutions to offer that can change the world with improvements for the present and future. Isn’t that, after all, what ‘science’ is all about?
Science is both successful and replete with failures. One cannot argue seriously that science only succeeds, when the record is plainly against that scenario. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down – ‘scientism’ – the ideology of those who elevate Science (and sometimes Reason too) into a worldview, which people usually ‘use as a crutch’ to validate their career choice in natural-physical sciences. There is nothing sexy in scientism!
All I’m doing, folks, is showing that ‘natural science’ has its limitations, that MN is a myopic view of ‘science,’ and that alternative ‘sciences’ study real artefacts and phenomena in our everyday human lives. Those who continue to promote MN and ‘scientism’ are advised to overcome their denial of this reality, as it seems Elizabeth is doing.
Respectfully, skeptically, and more…
MN is “the most paranoid appeal to a scientific consensus to defend against an impending Dark Age” … “‘Methodological naturalism’, despite its philosophical sounding name, has no clear meaning outside of attempts to demonstrate that creationism and ID are non-scientific. Professional philosophers, not least those who hold no brief for creationism, have squirmed at the apparent manufacture of a pseudo-doctrine customised to restrict the ranks of scientists. This so-called principle conflates two 20th-century pro-science movements: ‘logical positivism’, which defined science in purely procedural terms as a method for testing theories, and ‘metaphysical naturalism’, which defined science as a world view that admits only causes like the ones already observed in nature.” – Steve Fuller (2008)
“science can only study natural things, because natural things includes everything that can be demonstrated to exist, or gives any testable evidence of existing.” – Flint
“It is natural to believe in the supernatural. It never feels natural to accept only natural things” – G.K. Chesterton
“It is salutary to curb the scientific hubris that has dominated our culture during this [the 20th] century. Science has undoubtedly achieved wonderful things, but it has a dark side. The unbridled arrogance of science is part of what lies behind nuclear weapons, pollution, unnecessary animal (and human) experimentation. Showing that science has its limits is helpful in qualifying its image as all-conquering and invincible.” – Colin McGinn (1999)
“’Science’ is a specific, human endeavor, not a limitless enterprise for answering everything, and we would do well to give it a well-defined home within the larger sphere of rationality.” – Robert J. Asher (2012)