Some Reflections on Methodological Naturalism in Science (and some friendly debate)
Methodological Naturalism (MN) is an important concept, one that involves issues that both scientists and theologians (not to mention philosophers) find significant and interesting. Dr. Joshua Swamidass has recently written a post on his personal blog, Peaceful Science, in which he seeks to explain and defend his commitment to methodological naturalism in science.
I met Joshua this summer at a retreat for seminary professors organized, run, and funded (with a little help from the Templeton foundation) by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He possesses two doctoral degrees, one in medicine (MD) and one in Information and Computer Sciences, specializing in Informatics in Biology and Medicine (PhD). He is currently an Assistant Professor at Washington University in the Department of Immunology and Pathology (Division of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine). And Joshua is a devout Christian, passionate and outspoken about his faith in Jesus (check out a couple of Veritas Forum videos that feature him here).
Dr. Swamidass’s basic position is summarized in the first couple of paragraphs of his post:
Mainstream science seeks “our best explanation of the world, without considering God.” This limiting clause,” without considering God,” is the rule of Methodological Naturalism (MN).
Currently, science does not search for all sorts of Truth. Rather, science is limited effort to explain the world on its own terms, without invoking God, His action, or intelligent design. There is a “line in the sand” in science, where consideration of God is explicitly disallowed by MN. Far from denying God’s existence, this way of doing science is strongly motivated by theism.
For those that doubt that MN is the current rule in science, and that it is applied to exclude ID, the William Dembski edited volume The Nature of Nature asks the right question on its back cover…
The culture war over theism versus atheism, traditional values versus secular progressivism, and transcendent versus material reality has focused on science as the prize. Who gets to define science?
The answer is simple. For the foreseeable future, scientists get to define science. Partly to stay out of the culture wars, scientists have defined science to include MN. This rule is a “line in the sand” that excludes both claims of both creationism and atheism from science itself. This does not exclude consideration of God in science-engaged philosophy and theology. Scientists can consider God in their philosophy and theology too, but in this must be clearly separated from their “science.”
That’s just the beginning. The entire post (linked here) is well worth reading.
Dr. Swamidass offers several intriguing arguments and observations in favour of MN. He also poses some provocative questions for those that reject MN or seek to compromise it (notably, in his view, proponents of Intelligent Design).
What do you think? Does MN make sense to you? Does it raise any questions or concerns for you? What would you want to affirm or challenge in Joshua’s post?
(NOTE: I am posting this at the invitation of Dr. Swamidass. He is interested in reading and considering thoughtful responses posted here).