Why Science Uses Methodological Naturalism

That is extremely telling. It’s clear they don’t want students taught that evolution is a fact, they want it taught in a way that casts as much doubt on it as possible.

I am well aware of the confusion here. It all starts to make sense when you realize that most of ID is only concerned with poking holes into “neo-Darwinian” theory. (though I do think some in the movement like @vjtorley might be more thoughtful) Therefore, this statement (from your link) is incriminating on many levels:

Discovery Institute believes that a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories (rather than teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design) represents a common ground approach that all reasonable citizens can agree on.

  1. Neo-Darwinian theory is not the current model of evolution. It was superseded by a modern understanding of evolution in the 1970s, but this is not possible to teach in high school until they learn the basics first. So this statment is equivalent to requesting that the deficiencies in Newtonian physics be taught so students can be free question it (some how forgetting that general relativity supersedes Newtonian physics and fixes its deficiencies).

  2. ID is almost entirely about poking holes in evolution. This statement is literally saying that the DI policy is to promote teaching ID without calling it ID.

  3. Recall the Dover Trial? Remember they were upset they lost. If their goal was not to teach ID, shouldn’t the be glad they lost? Moreover, they denounce Dover nowdays, but at the same time they never said that their efforts in the Kansas Board of Education Hearings was wrong. Notice, in this, they just use ID arguments as examples of “problems with Darwinian theory.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_evolution_hearings

Also recall that this is exactly the stated strategy in Darwin on Trial and the Wedge Document. The goal is to get ID into schools. The current strategy is to get ID into schools by refusing to call it ID. Especially in light of their ongoing efforts to promote ID (without using that name) in schools, let’s just say they have a credibility problem among scientists. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/12/16/science.aad4057 We do not believe them.

Changing public education is a key goal of the ID movement. It always has been. They are keeping with a long tradition of creationism in the US which peaked with the Scopes trial. They used to be honest about this, even openly admiring Williams J. Bryan. Now? They just re-label ID arguments as “weaknesses with Darwinian theory” even though scientists already falsified Darwinism in the 1970s. They push for ID arguments to be included under this guise.

I am not impressed.

And to be clear, I am not repeating the same argument 100 times and expecting ID proponents to answer for it. I’m setting the record straight about ongoing confusion on this point. This isn’t the same thing as #12 and #15 above. I disagree strongly with the ongoing behavior of the ID movement on this issue.



Raising the question of other disciplines was intended to open up the perspective to suggest that the reasons usually given for science’s special requirement for MN are in practice claimed for the entire intellectual spectrum (I omitted philosophy, where the situation has to some extent changed in recent decades), with a very distinct effect on the entire worldview of western academia. Your post seems to confirm that thesis. Joshua talks about different perspectives from this side of the Atlantic regarding ID, but one really needs to go much further afield to see how parochial our antisupernaturailsm actually is to the majority of the human race.

From the perspective of the majority of the world outside western academia (and including all the academics of the centuries prior) the idea that it’s appropriate to study theology by excluding the supernatural would (and does) seem bizarre. From that same perspective the assumption by outsider western scholars that their experience of spiritual entities, healing and so on are primitive superstitions is rightly seen as patronizing and ill-informed.

Indeed, as Craig Keener agrees with me in pointing out, the division between “natural” and “supernatural” is an extremely esoteric and unhelpful one: check out Paul’s various descriptions of the “natural” creation, and you’ll see that the majority of what he describes consists of immaterial entities we are accustomed to call supernatural. But only God himself is supernatural, since only God is uncreated.

The biblical worldview presupposes a world actively governed by God: for example, my reading today happens to be about the dedication of Solomon’s temple: a good chunk of the “examples of usage” Solomon gives are to do with prayer for the alleviation of the nature-curses of God (a major feature of the Covenant) for Israel’s disobedience, and for rain, good harvest, withdrawal of inimical beasts and so on. We cannot understand temple-worship without taking special providence into account.

Now, in your third paragraph you posit a false polarisation: to include the works of God - or the natural activities of created angels, for that matter - in the purview of history does not mean accepting all such claims uncritically. But it does mean not excluding them a priori: for example by using miracle accounts as a basic criterion for rejecting the historicity of a New Testament pericope, and building questions of dating, genre etc on that criterion.

Should we accept Plutarch’s account of prophecies? We shouldn’t reject them simply because they were prophecies, because the world of the time was heavily reliant on prophetic guidance - as indeed it was guided by omens and portents, which should be a factor in the historical weighing of Josephus, just as his polemic purposes, or his way of reporting speeches, are weighed.

Your mention of the “subversive” scholarship of Wright et al is only part of the story. There is a strong, if often politically careful, in the sense of walking on eggshells, undercurrent of critique of the whole methodological mind-set going on. This is especially so in Wright, with whom I’m most familiar. When in a less constrained intellectual environment, the skepticism about the enforced methodology is rather less restrained - as in this wonderful piece by Richard Bauckham.

The benefits of challenges to Christianity are genuine - though they must be weighed against the wholesale collapse of Christian faith throughout the Western World over the last 2 centuries (that’s something that is a little more obvious here in Europe than in the rather exceptional survival of Christianity in America). But it’s often pointed out that heresies also benefit the faith by sharpening up theology, and Tertullian famously said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. I don’t think we’d conclude from that that heresy and persecution are therefore the ideal state to encourage.

In essence, you seem to be saying (a) that issues of the historicity of supernatural events are conveniently bypassed if one simply excludes the category from study (which is equally effective in assessing contemporary supernatural claims); and (b) that tangentially benefical outcomes are a good basis for supporting a methodology.

Christianity can and should compete with other truth claims. But Christianity stripped of its supernatural character methodologically? What kind of “open and free” discourse is that?

Methodological naturalism in science doesn’t strip Christianity of its supernatural character. What it does is sensibly omits supernaturalism from investigation of the non-supernatural.



If you’re trying to investigate elephants, you shouldn’t be looking at chickens.

1 Like

But if you’re trying to investigate miraculous claims, you shouldn’t be looking at chickens either…

Unless the chickens are part of a miraculous claim. IDers have yet to explain why we should investigate subjects such as how water turns into ice, by praying, opening our Bibles, and looking for the relevant Bible verses, instead of conducting scientific experiments which don’t invoke the supernatural.


Indeed any studies of theology that presume to restrict God to any aspect of existence is bizarre by any stretch. But what, I ask, are studies of theology if not systematic examination of Christian doctrine? How would a methodology that is appropriate to science be imposed on theology?

These questions provide disturbing responses, in that some may decide that theology is anything they decide on and discuss. It seems that science has an appeal to method, consensus and authority in its domain, but when we consider faith-science, any theology that seems to conform to (what I consider) science/ideology, is ok by some so-called modern thinkers (and tinkerers who can now read many books).:smirk:

The benefits from genuine enquiry, healthy skepticism, and a thorough love for the truth, are given to every human being, and the Faith has always encouraged this, as testified by the many figures in science (and other fields) who were motivated to enquire and examine.

The comments of mine to which you replied were about the secularisation of theological methodology - hence my confusion. I was not commenting on ID.

But let’s try and avoid the culture-wars confusion - ID has never, ever, in any of its forms, suggested appeals to the authority of Scripture. One should attack people’s actual positions, not straw-men.

But who is suggesting that Christianity be stripped of its supernaturalism?

Sorry but that’s just simply not credible given the way IDers make their arguments. But that aside, it’s not what I was saying. Please address what I wrote.

1 Like

Dembski said,

“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

1 Like

Aw, I was saving that one!

See also this from billdembski.com.

Mike Gene and Dembski had a bit of a disagreement (circa 2007) over the appropriateness of teaching ID in public schools. The phrase, ‘teach the controversy’ was the slogan deployed by YEC and OEC groups prior to being used by ID and the DI.

Also relating to the push for ID in schools:
There was the ‘Of Pandas and People’ school textbook issue where the terms like ‘creator’ (specifically, the Christian God) and creation were replaced by ‘intelligent designer’ and ‘intelligent design’. ‘Creationists’ were no longer creationists but ‘intelligent design proponents’.

1 Like

Sigh. I check the original source, available online (from an article in a Christian magazine), and look for a way in which Dembski’s quote can in any way be construed as an appeal to the authority of Scripture. I find it isn’t, but is placed at the end of a concluding paragraph to a piece mainly about mathematical probablism, speculating about the role of information in the sense of design beyond science, in the field of metaphysics. This conclusion majors on information theory and, finally, adds an allusion to the passage in John to illustrate his conjecture that perhaps being itself is a form of communion.

However, to find the original on Google, I had to wade through three pages of Rationalwiki and subsidiary vulture sources saying that this is Dembski’s definition of Intelligent Design and that it proves ID to be clearly nothing but biblical creationism.

To be honest, it’s that kind of piss-poor abuse of sources that maintains my sympathy for the ID position. And I would have hoped that Christians would do better exegetical work than taking atheist polemical sources at face value. But hey, I’m just a Brit who doesn’t understand how it’s done in America.

1 Like

The fact that you can take a Creationist book written specifically to promote Creationism, replace all the instances of “Creationism” with “Intelligent Design” and all the instances of “Creationist” with “Intelligent Design proponent”, and rebrand it as a book promoting ID, proves that ID is nothing more than another kind of Creationism. It’s literally another term for Creationism.

1 Like

On the general subject of methodological naturalism, I don’t see any prohibition against positing the involvement of ‘agents’, intelligent or otherwise, in events. This is the basis for much of anthropology. It’s also considered as a possible cause in many fire investigations and roadside accidents.

The area that is ‘too far a step’ for methodological naturalism is connecting an agent or force to the supernatural or philosophical God. That is a jump that I don’t think even philosophy manages.

The issues, in my view, are not whether an unknown agent or force can be invoked or studied but when or under what instances that becomes a reasonable alternative. That judgement has subjective and pragmatic components. Typically, you minimize subjectivity by making the strongest case you can in order to convince others. Pragmatic considerations push for simplicity, clarity, reduced ambiguity and impact.

I’m no more opposed to ID taken at face value than I am with investigating that a fire site uncovered form the ground was made from human encampment. I just don’t think ID has made much of a case for itself in biological evolution.


[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:55, topic:5441”]
I check the original source, available online (from an article in a Christian magazine),[/quote]

What does that tell you?

[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:55, topic:5441”]
and look for a way in which Dembski’s quote can in any way be construed as an appeal to the authority of Scripture. I find it isn’t,[/quote]

Of course it is. He’s validating ID by saying explicitly that it’s nothing more than the logos theology of John’s gospel (in, you know, the Bible). He’s assuring the faithful that ID has Biblical warrant. And this is part of the trick that ID leaders pull; they market ID to Christians as Christian theology, and they market ID to non-Christians (and scientists), as science. They don’t say things like “Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality” to scientists. They say that to their congregations.

The article is called “Signs of Intelligence, A Primer on the Discernment of Intelligent Design”. It isn’t about “mathematical probalism”. The preceding paragraph is “The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality”. Then comes the sentence “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory”. Mathematical “probalism”, forsooth!


I won’t go that far. It’s absolutely clear that many who promote ID are Special Creationists. It’s also clear that some in the DI, including those int levels controlling funds, are perfectly happy to not rock the boat and alienate Special Creationists. This is their Big Tent problem where actually taking positions to separate the dross from the good (e.g. eliminate young Earth models, support common descent), would suddenly eliminate a lot of current supporters and churches.

But there is a difference. For many it’s a difference without a distinction but for some, it’s a real difference.

But ironically they did! They literally did!

There’s a difference with regard to the very tiny fringe of IDers who are prepared to accept common descent and various forms of “macro-evolution”. And there again the IDers pull their trick. When speaking to the faithful they represent ID as in opposition to evolution, and cite Behe to claim “See, even non-religious scientists accept ID!”. When speaking to the secular world they cite Behe to claim “See, ID can accept common descent and isn’t anti-evolution!”.

1 Like

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.