What Role Naturalism? 1 (RJS)

After our rather spirited discussions of Intelligent Design over the last couple of months  I think it would be useful to consider the concept of methodological naturalism, both its purpose and its limits.

Although there are technical philosophical definitions that vary somewhat – on a practical level methodological naturalism is the underlying principle in modern science that there is a continuity of cause and effect accessible to testing and rational synthesis. The universe is comprehensible and obeys set laws. Scientific research seeks to understand these laws and processes, to discern how they have operated to produce what we see around us, and to utilize them,as good stewards for the good of all (OK … ideally as good stewards for the good of all).

It is sometimes claimed that science is religiously neutral. This is generally true in principle – but often not in practice, public rhetoric, or application. There is a rather old (1997) two-part article by Alvin Plantinga that I would like to use to focus a conversation today.  You can find it here: Methodological naturalism? Part 1 and Part 2. From my reading I suggest that this article misses the mark in some rather serious ways – but also has some excellent insights and opens some significant topics for discussion, especially in Part 1.

In Part 1 Plantinga presents three examples to use in the exploration of religious neutrality in science. (1) Altruism, (2) Evolution (especially common descent) and (3) Cosmic fine tuning.  As we look at his examples and consider the following questions:

Is scientific investigation of these questions religiously neutral? and What role does methodological naturalism play in the investigation of each of these questions?

Today I will simply put out Plantinga’s examples with a little commentary and open the floor for comments and conversation.

Altruism is an interesting phenomenon. Why should any rational being sacrifice self for someone or something else – especially someone or something else not kin? In his article Plantinga sites an economist Herbert Simon who asks why people like Mother Teresa devote time, energy and entire lives to the welfare of other people. On the surface this is intrinsically irrational behavior – it serves neither personal self interest nor the evolutionary interest of propagation of the “selfish gene.” Altruism should be a feature counter to natural selection and survival of the fittest. Issues of morality and human rights fall into the same category. Plantinga suggests that methodological naturalism applied to topics such as altruism and morality simply misses the boat. It is straightforwardly incompatible with Christian teaching. A Christian approach will yield true insight unavailable in the constrained view of ontological, or even methodological, naturalism.

The Grand Evolutionary Myth. Plantinga makes a much quoted observation as he discusses methodological naturalism with respect to human evolution and common descent.

From a theistic or Christian perspective, however, things are much less frantic. The theist knows that God created the heavens and the earth and all that they contain; she knows, therefore, that in one way or another God has created all the vast diversity of contemporary plant and animal life. But of course she isn’t thereby committed to any particular way in which God did this. He could have done it by broadly evolutionary means; but on the other hand he could have done it in some totally different way. …

A Christian therefore has a certain freedom denied her naturalist counterpart: she can follow the evidence where it leads. If it seems to suggest that God did something special in creating human beings (in such a way that they are not genealogically related to the rest of creation) or reptiles or whatever, then there is nothing to prevent her from believing that God did just that.

Plantinga goes on to suggest that a Christian approaching the grand evolutionary story is free to reject the narrative based on an alternative unavailable to the non theist.  Methodological naturalism need not give truth.

The epistemic probability of the whole grand evolutionary story is quite different for the theist and for the naturalist. The probability of this story with respect to the evidence together with the views a theist typically holds, is much lower than its probability with respect to evidence together with the views the naturalist typically holds. So the way in which the theory of evolution is not religiously neutral is not, … that it is straightforwardly incompatible with Christian teaching; it is rather that the view in question is much more probable with respect to naturalism and the evidence than it is with respect to theism and that evidence.

While I agree with Plantinga on the available options – I disagree on a more significant level with his conclusion regarding evolution. It is not a commitment to methodological naturalism that leads most Christians in the sciences, including the vast majority of biologists and biochemists, to accept the evolutionary framework including common descent. It is the strength of the available evidence, especially the genetic evidence, as Francis Collins (The Language of God), Darrel Falk (Coming to Peace With Science) and others have tried to make clear. Many Christians have been forced to that realization, despite their intentions and inclinations.

Plantinga also discusses the element of randomness and chance that is invoked in the discussion of evolution – and suggests that this is an area where methodological naturalism fails. “No doubt God could have created us via evolutionary processes; if he did it that way, however, then he must have guided, orchestrated, directed the processes by which he brought about his designs.” While this is a common view, randomness does not  necessarily mean highly contingent or accidental. Simon Conway Morris (Life’s Solution) provides a good discussion of convergence in evolutionary mechanism and suggests that the evolution of sentient beings capable of creative thought, moral behavior, altruism, and worship was inevitable – and part of the design via, not despite, the natural, even “random,” processes of chemistry and physics active in evolutionary biology.

Cosmic Fine Tuning. We have discussed these ideas on the blog in the past (see The Heavens Declare and A Fine Tuned Universe 4 among others) – but the gist is simple. The universe in which we live is exquisitely prepared for the existence of life. There are a number of constants that govern the properties of the universe that appear to be finely tuned to make life possible.  Plantinga suggests that methodological naturalism requires the search for a rational explanation for this apparent design – and an explanation that preserves the indifference of nature to cosmic coincidences and human life. This leads to speculation and theories such as Alan Guth’s multiverse and even Dawkins’s rather incredible suggestion that the universes evolved to a form suitable for life (See the God Delusion). A theist finds nothing surprising about a universe designed for life – and can take the evidence as it appears. Perhaps Guth’s theories will be found to be correct. I am fairly certain that Dawkins’s speculation isn’t correct.

Methodological naturalism shows its face in different manners in each of these examples, and the direction the discussion takes varies.

Methodological naturalism is intrinsically insufficient in the consideration of issues of morality and altruism. Science is ill-suited to provide anything more than rationalizations and supporting information – sometimes important, but nonetheless accessory -  for these realities.

On the other hand methodological naturalism is both sufficient and entirely appropriate in the study of evolutionary biology. The evidence and processes involved fall cleanly within the realm of chemistry and physics.

In cosmology the question is somewhat different – and isn’t really a question of methodological naturalism, but rather one of ontological naturalism. A commitment to ontological naturalism requires the elimination of cosmic coincidence. Methodological naturalism simply takes what is set forth and looks for the rational synthesis and explanation in terms of predictable laws and processes.

What do you think? What role does methodological naturalism play in the investigation of each of these questions? Is it valid?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so as rjs4mail[at]att.net.

  • dopderbeck

    I very much like the idea in “Reformed epistemology” that belief in God is “properly basic.” Therefore, I agree with Plantinga that the question of God’s action in creation should be “much less frantic” for a Christian theist. We are not looking at nature to see “if” God created it; we are free to explore what God has in fact done.
    However, I think there are three qualifications we need to pursue here: (1) what precisely is the something “more” concerning morality; (2) what is meant by the “Grand Evolutionary Narrative”; and (3) what is meant by “guided, ochestrated, directed.”
    As to (1), I think the issue is whether “Science” elides metaphysics. This is where critical realism helps. Methodological naturalism is an appropriate tool for “Science,” but “Science” is epistemologically narrow. “Morality” is more than the etiology of certain adaptive behaviors.
    As to (2), if the GEN elides metaphysics, then yes, it is incompatible with Christian truth claims. But “evolution” should not be equated with the GEN.
    As to (3), this is where we get into theological issues about Divine action. If God can “guide, orchestrate and direct” even though His action is “hidden,” then methodological naturalism poses no problem for descriptions of the created order at the secondary level of causality, so long as those descriptions do not purport to elide higher levels of causality — i.e., so long as it is clear that we are doing “Science,” not metaphysics.
    Part (3) also gets into some even more fundamental theological issues relating to the nature of the future, God’s foreknowledge, and God’s sovereignty — i.e., the questions of open theism, panentheism, and process thought. Plantinga writes from a Reformed perspective and therefore rejects all of these options. There is a much bigger debate about whether any of these options could be consistent with a “Christian” perspective. IMHO, it’s not necessary to go in any of these directions, and they progressively get us farther away from the center of historic Christian theism until, in process theology, there’s little “Christian” about it at all. Nevertheless, a full discussion requires consideration of these options.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    But on the grand evolutionary narrative – it is the metaphysics, the ontological naturalism, that is the problem. It is not the history, or the natural laws and processes of chemistry and physics.
    A casino is a business based on random chance, but the house always wins in the long run. Is there any reason why creation – a designed creation even – cannot operate in the same fashion?
    On morality and altruism though … it seems that even methodological naturalism misses the boat here. Any form of naturalism has to begin by assuming that there is no absolute right and wrong and that good and evil have only utilitarian definition. Now scientific studies of brain and mind etc. can shed key insight on our nature as embodied creatures – I am not claiming that there is no place for science here, just that naturalism simply misses a fundamentally important piece of the problem from the start.

  • Hrafn

    WHAT ROLE PLANTINGA?
    Why are we discussing Plantinga’s views on evolution and methodological naturalism here? Is he a scientist or a philosopher of science? No, he is not. Is he in any way a neutral commentator? No he is not:
    As Philosopher of Science Michael Ruse recently wrote, “Plantinga, however, has long harbored a distrust, even an ardent dislike, of evolutionary theorizing in general and of Darwinian thinking in particular … [and] is an open enthusiast of intelligent design” ( http://chronicle.com/article/What-Darwins-Doubters-Get/64457/ ) Plantinga has been an ID supporter from the beginning of the movement, as one of the ‘Ad Hoc Origins Committee’ that supported Johnson’s dishonest ‘Darwin on Trial’ when Stephen Jay Gould eviscerated it in a review in ‘Scientific American’ in 1992.
    Plantinga may be a big name in the area of philosophy of religion, particularly among Calvinists, but in the field of science he appears to be just another under-informed, religiously-motivated evolution-basher and promoter of pseudoscience. Why would we want to base a discussion of philosophy of science on the basis of his polemics? How can they help but offer ‘more heat than light’ on the issue? Do any of his arguments against evolution and methodological naturalism have any support within the field of philosophy of science?
    Also I would like to call “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” on Plantinga’s audacity in calling evolution a “myth”. There are whole libraries of publications documenting the evidence supporting evolution. Where is the evidence supporting Adam and Eve, the Genesis Flood, the Exodus, the kingdom of David and Solomon?

  • Hrafn

    RJS (2):
    Why would you need “absolute right and wrong” for altruism to exist? And evolutionary explanations of altruism do exist — work on ‘kin selection’ goes back 80 years.

  • JHM

    Hrafn (#3)
    Notice that RJS had in the intro:
    “From my reading I suggest that this article misses the mark in some rather serious ways – but also has some excellent insights and opens some significant topics for discussion, especially in Part 1.”
    RJS picked Plantinga’s articles because of some insights, not because Plantinga is a philosopher of science or a scientist.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#2) — yes, I agree.

  • Hrafn

    JHM (5):
    Given Plantinga’s “ardent dislike”, I would suggest that he is as likely to present “excellent insights” about evolution and methodological naturalism as David Irving is likely to present such insights about the Holocaust.
    On the original post:
    I would further suggest that there is no evidence that “Methodological naturalism is intrinsically insufficient in the consideration of issues” related to instincts such as altruism. I would agree that it is insufficient for consideration of “morality”, but would suggest (i) that this is no more a flaw in methodological naturalism than is its insufficiency for consideration of aesthetics (it is simply the wrong toolset for these tasks) and (ii) that many would point to religion’s long and continuing history of chauvinism, bigotry and intolerance as placing a question-mark over its sufficiency for consideration of morality.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    “[M]ethodological naturalism is the underlying principle in modern science that… [t]he universe is comprehensible and obeys set laws.”
    I’d say even that’s too much. I’d say the basic principle is that the universe is comprehensible. If we found that fundamental physical constants were changing – slowly or rapidly – that wouldn’t falsify naturalism. That’d just be incorporated into our understanding of the universe.
    The ‘supernatural’ always, in practice, boils down to, “I don’t understand how this works, and no one ever will.” That the universe is incomprehensible.
    (At the risk of sounding snarky, though, a whole lot of things have moved from the ‘supernatural’ to the ‘natural’ column over time, and I’m not aware of anything moving the other way.)

  • RJS

    Hrafn,
    I find it more useful to look at ideas individually rather than in “packages.”
    There is much of Plantinga’s thinking that I don’t think quite hits the mark – but that doesn’t mean everything is off target. In addition – many people have read and interacted with his ideas, and find some of them convincing. Thus it is more profitable to open a discussion than to dismiss his work out of hand.
    I don’t think that altruism can be separated from issues of morality – it is part of the same reality. This is why I put them together. Now one can certainly rationalize both the appearance of altruism and morality from a naturalist perspective. But if it only goes this far – then the real point is that good and evil are purely relative constructs, fictions. At least this is the way it appears to me at this time.

  • RJS

    Ray,
    If we found that fundamental physical constants were changing it wouldn’t falsify naturalism – and it wouldn’t falsify the idea that the universe is comprehensible and obeys set laws. Presumably the variation would be governed by a law we do not yet know.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    RJS: On morality and altruism though… it seems that even methodological naturalism misses the boat here. Any form of naturalism has to begin by assuming that there is no absolute right and wrong and that good and evil have only utilitarian definition.
    Well, Mr. Opderbeck should know that this is not exactly a given: http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/02/law-at-the-jesus-creed-david-o-6_comments.html#1936436

  • Hrafn

    I haven’t read ‘The God Delusion’, but it sounds like Dawkins is talking about Lee Smolin’s Fecund Universe hypothesis. That hypothesis sounds more than a little daffy to me (but then I’m not a physicist, so maybe its simply ‘personal incredulity’ on my part — I’ve long had the suspicion that you had to be more than a little mad to be really good at that field), and has been widely criticised, but Jerry Coyne suggested that it’s received at least some empirical support in his discussion of fine tuning ( http://www.tnr.com/article/books/seeing-and-believing ).

  • RBH

    From the OP:
    Altruism is an interesting phenomenon. Why should any rational being sacrifice self for someone or something else – especially someone or something else not kin? In his article Plantinga sites an economist Herbert Simon who asks why people like Mother Teresa devote time, energy and entire lives to the welfare of other people.”
    Two comments on that. First, Plantinga’s critique of Simon’s proffered answer to that question in Part 1 linked above is seriously flawed. The flaws begin with Plantinga’s caricature of Simon’s concept of “bounded rationality.” It is not “… simply that people like this [Mother Teresa] aren’t quite up to snuff when it comes to intelligence, perspicacity, and the like; they are at least slightly defective with respect to acuteness,” as Plantinga claims.
    Second, consider the case if variables such as as reciprocity and kin selection, thought to be evolutionary bases of altruism and moral behavior in general, are at least in part under the control of multiple genes. A core concept in evolutionary theory as informed by population genetics is variability–populations will display a near-continuous distribution of the incidence and ‘intensity’ of traits under multi-genic control. Distributions have tails–extremes–and on occasion one will encounter instances from the extremes. By pretending an instance from the extreme of a distribution is typical of the distribution Plantinga constructs a pseudo-problem. Underlying that pseudo-problem, I think, is a commitment to essentialism, which is a commitment one must shed in order to understand the synthesis of population genetics and organismal evolution.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    RJS
    Great post. I applaud you for giving time to this article.
    You said:

    It is not a commitment to methodological naturalism that leads most Christians in the sciences, including the vast majority of biologists and biochemists, to accept the evolutionary framework including common descent.

    But you have admitted in prior posts and comments that you have a strong preference for naturalistic explanations in the realm of biology. This preference is driven by your theology and your personal expectation of how God does things. People like you and Collins are kind of hybrids. You are theists, but you are “mini-materialists” in considering the history of life on earth.
    One of the ways this shows itself is in the treatment of the evidence. Collins spent virtually no time in his book discussing the evidence that undermines evolutionary theory. He spent virtually no time discussing the Cambrian explosion, and as far as I could tell, he really doesn’t understand the multiple problems it poses. He also showed no curiosity about it.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    RJS – I guess to be more precise, I have a problem with the notion of the universe “obeys” or is “governed” by laws. Rather, it’s described by laws. As Bertrand Russell put it a while ago: “…the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave…”
    In other words, it’s how the universe behaves that drives the ‘law’ (the summary or model of how things work), not the other way around. If we found a rock that fell up tomorrow, the ‘law of gravity’ would be wrong, not the rock.

  • Hrafn

    RJS (9):
    “I don’t think that altruism can be separated from issues of morality – it is part of the same reality.”
    You are free to disagree. But lacking substantiation of your claim, I am free to place very little weight on your assertion. Altruism would appear to be instinctive and be exhibited by many species. Morality would appear to be cognitive, and largely restricted to humans (and perhaps in a rudimentary fashion to the other great apes).
    Many things are social constructs: justice, liberty, etc — that does not mean that they cannot be derived without referring to religious doctrines. In fact freedom of religion generally requires an ability to put one’s own religious chauvinism aside. Further, I would suggest that a deity who both commanded genocide and “thou shalt not kill” cannot be considered a source for a morality that is even close to absolute.

  • pds

    The Design Spectrum
    By the way, your definition of MN is not standard, and it says virtually nothing about method, which is strange. Where did you get it?

  • http://evangelical.patheos.com Timothy Dalrymple

    A few thoughts.
    1. Your definition of MN in the second paragraph is elegantly minimalistic, but it rather de-emphasizes the problematic aspects of MN as concretely practiced. It would be more accurate, I suggest, to say “All phenomena, given complete knowledge, are explicable according to a continuity of cause and effect accessible to testing and rational synthesis.” The problem most Christians have is with the first word. We all approach our lives as though there is (generally) a natural explanation for phenomena around us. Yet many Christians, even if they believe God in the vast majority of instances works through the natural order He has ordained, hold open the possibility of divine or human causation that is not reducible to natural explanation.
    2. One of the problems with methodological naturalism, as Plantinga states, is that it predetermines for and against certain sets of possible explanations. A wider array of explanatory options are available to the person who does not accept MN, at least in its strong form. Let’s call “strong” methodological naturalism the view that naturalistic explanations are to be preferred at all costs to non-naturalistic explanations, and “weak” MN the view that naturalistic explanations are simply to be preferred, but the preponderance of evidence can overwhelm that preference in favor of a non-naturalistic explanation. I hold to weak MN, and partly for theological reasons: my belief and my experience is that God chooses in the vast majority of cases to work through the natural processes God has ordained. This has been the view of the Church for centuries (witness how the Catholic church still seeks naturalistic explanations for purported ‘miracles’ in the canonization process).
    Strong MN can lead an individual to affirm a wildly implausible causal story simply because it is the only available or only possible naturalistic explanation.
    (3) Plantinga only said that the probability of the GEN with respect to MN and the evidence is great than it is without MN. He did not say (at least in your reconstruction, which may not fully represent his argument on this point) that it is unlikely absent MN, such that Christians must be swayed to GEN not by the evidence but by MN. It seems to me indisputable that GEN, though it may be likely in both cases, is indeed more likely with the MN supposition than without. Also, while I’m a fan of Simon Conway Morris, I don’t see any contradiction between Plantinga’s statement and Morris’ views on convergence. I do not see Plantinga here as committed to the view that God “guided” the process by directly forcing otherwise ‘random’ outcomes. Whether God guided by orchestrating ‘chance’ events, or by putting in place the mechanisms that guide evolution, or by putting in place the laws that produce the mechanisms that guide evolution, etc., at some point it would seem that the Christian is committed to some notion of God’s guidance of cosmic history toward a life that is capable of knowing and worshiping Him.
    4. The other problem with strong MN *as it is actually practiced and situated in western society* is that it almost inevitably devolves into ontological naturalism. This is, I think, primarily for historical and psychological reasons. Ideally, one might say that I practice (strong) MN as a physicist or historian but as an individual person I am open to other explanations. However, (i) Scientific inquiry has become so paradigmatic of rationality for western society (though I believe rationality is a far richer phenomenon, and I think we have an idealized and inaccurate view of scientific inquiry) that people come to believe not only that they should employ MN in their practice as scientists or historians or etc. but that MN is required of all rational persons in all areas of life. Also, (ii) The more we train ourselves to prefer naturalistic and shoot down non-naturalistic explanations, the harder it becomes to step outside of that methodology as individuals.
    5. You say MN is especially problematic when it comes to issues like altruism (if I am reading you correctly) because there are not naturalistic accounts that provide an adequate basis for a transcendent or non-utilitarian good and evil. Yet the issue in discussions of altruism has more to do with the question of determinism, i.e. whether we are genetically or otherwise determined to act in “altruistic” ways or whether here, at least, is a phenomenon that cannot be explained according to natural, evolutionary causes. In this respect, at least, the issue does not seem essentially different from the issue of MN in evolutionary biology.
    6. Finally, it *is* possible to practice science perfectly well with a weak and not a strong version of MN. There have been many excellent examples of such scientists, historically. And I see no reason why a person should have to say “As a physicist, I am committed to explanation X, because physics required MN, and X is the only available naturalistic explanation. Yet as a rational human being, when I remove the mantle of the physicist, I can see that Y is a better explanation.” Not only is this sort of bifurcation psychologically treacherous; it is only necessary if we accept a wrongheaded, inaccurate and unduly narrow definition of what science is.

  • AHH

    methodological naturalism is the underlying principle in modern science that there is a continuity of cause and effect accessible to testing and rational synthesis
    I don’t think that is quite right as a definition of MN, at least not if it is taken to imply that this continuity and so forth will always work.
    I see MN as more a description of how science works, that the method of science consists of looking for such “natural” explanations and that other types of explanations (such as supernatural) are out of bounds for science. But MN leaves open the possibility that there might be cases where the methods of science won’t work. At which point one has gone as far as science can go — one can bring in non-natural hypotheses in an attempt to fully understand reality, but at that point one is no longer doing “science” (which after all [contra the Enlightenment and those who think our faith depends on science finding God's fingerprints] is not the only path to truth).

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    PDS – The Cambrian explosion doesn’t pose quite the problems you seem to think it does. For example, this is quite interesting: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/what_caused_the_cambrian_explo.php

  • MatthewS

    Hrafn: I’ve long had the suspicion that you had to be more than a little mad to be really good at that field
    LOL, me too! I had a physics prof that I’m not quite sure ever came down from all his trips back in the 60s. I suspected that his altered consciousness made him the great physics thinker that he was (still is) :-D
    In all honestly, he did bring a certain attitude that many could learn from. His default position, no matter how wild the theory, was “sure, why not?” If there were a good reason to deny the theory, he would. Some of this was theatrics to make physics interesting. But the kernel of truth to it was that he was interested in giving a hearing to anyone that could defend a position – he very much did not want politics to get in the way. (This was a Christian school; the pressure against him would have been towards creationism rather than away from it).

  • Hrafn

    Timothy Dalrymple (18)
    “One of the problems with methodological naturalism, as Plantinga states, is that it predetermines for and against certain sets of possible explanations.”
    I agree that “that it predetermines for and against certain sets of possible explanations”, but MOST EMPHATICALLY DISAGREE that this is a “problem”.
    It “predetermines for” explanations that are testable, distinguishable and allow useful predictions and “against” ones that don’t. This would appear to be a strength of the methodology, not a defect.

  • Hrafn

    Timothy Dalrymple (18)
    “Plantinga only said that the probability of the GEN with respect to MN and the evidence is great than it is without MN.”
    Lacking a legitimate counterfactual (i.e. a WORKABLE scientific methodology that provides detailed scientific explanations, including mechanisms, without relying upon some form of MN), this assertion would appear to be unsubstantiated, beyond the trivial point that without a scientific methodology, it would be difficult to generate scientific theories (including the scientific Theory of Evolution).

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#11) — why are you bringing me in here? In any event, I agree with what RJS said. Game theory and evolutionary sociobiology don’t offer any notions of “absolute right and wrong” or “good and evil.” They offer only “strategy sets” for perpetuating genes. If you want to import teleology (which is what “right and wrong” and “good and evil” imply), then you are in the realm of metaphysics.

  • Sacred Frenzy

    RJS, thanks for addressing the issue of MN. I have a question: if we adopt MN, aren’t we then committed to practice science under an instrumentalist conception rather than a realist conception, since the adoption is methodological but not ontological?

  • Hrafn

    Timothy Dalrymple (18)
    “Finally, it *is* possible to practice science perfectly well with a weak and not a strong version of MN. There have been many excellent examples of such scientists, historically.”
    Please provide an example where the ‘weak version of MN’ yielded a more durable explanation than a “strong version” would have.

  • Hrafn

    Putting my previous question another way, is it a reasonable hypothesis, that whilst some scientists, working before MN evolved, did useful work, the lack of a “strong version of MN” created flaws in their work rather than benefits?

  • JHM

    RJS (#2)
    I was thinking this morning on the way in to the lab about the ubiquitous nature of probability distributions and if they might be interesting to look at when discussing the interplay between God’s sovereignty and providence one one hand and the “free will” of Creation and humanity on the other.
    It is also interesting that probability distributions give us a way to look at correlation and “direction” but they also allow for chance or “free will”. I wonder if it’s a God-of-the-gaps argument to say that God quite often works within randomness in this way.

  • Hrafn

    Could somebody please explain to me why “notions of ‘absolute right and wrong’” are necessary for the development of a workable moral system.
    Further, could somebody present an example of an existing moral system that does not involve at least some degree of moral relativism.

  • RJS

    AHH (#19), Timothy (#18) and pds (#17)
    I intentionally used a minimalist definition of methodological naturalism because I found Plantinga unsatisfactory on this gound. He seems to use a maximalist definition – and then uses the fringe ideas to undercut the whole.
    Although I looked at some philosophical definitions – the definition I gave didn’t come from some “authority” – rather it is more of working scientist definition (at least this working scientist).

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Dalrymple – you write,

    Finally, it *is* possible to practice science perfectly well with a weak and not a strong version of MN. There have been many excellent examples of such scientists, historically.

    Actually, history argues against that: http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/read/essays/nathist/perimeterofignorance

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    RJS,
    You define methodological naturalism (MN) thusly:
    “the underlying principle in modern science that there is a continuity of cause and effect accessible to testing and rational synthesis. The universe is comprehensible and obeys set laws. Scientific research seeks to understand these laws and processes, to discern how they have operated to produce what we see around us, and to utilize them…”
    However, this definition does not seem to get to the real crux of the debate. This is because there is nothing in your definition that a supernaturalism would dispute. We all agree about testing, rational understanding of laws, etc.
    Instead, the real problem with MN, as Timothy Dalrymple lucidly pointed out, is that MN is limiting, coercive, and refuses to acknowledge scientific causation outside of a naturalistic framework. And it does this without any evidence that our laws of physics are natural laws. Instead, it’s far more plausible that these laws find their origin and sustenance within the mind of God.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (32):
    Neither you nor Timothy Dalrymple have demonstrated why “refus[ing] to acknowledge scientific causation outside of a naturalistic framework” is a “problem” rather than a strength.
    Further, whilst you may consider it “far more plausible that these laws find their origin and sustenance within the mind of God”, a Hindu scientist would most certainly disagree with you — as would a Buddhist or Wiccan scientist. Even were “causation outside of a naturalistic framework” able to produce scientifically-useful explanations (it isn’t), it would inevitably result in balkanisation along religious grounds.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    BTW, ‘tweaked randomness’ isn’t necessarily invisible to science, either. For example, go to this page and search for the phrase “Distribution of genetic distances between human and mouse genes”: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/camp.html
    The data fits an untweaked ‘bell curve’ extremely well. There’s no evidence of anyone weighting the dice.
    Of course, it’s entirely possible that some subtle manipulation is going on that is deliberately engineered to be invisible and undetectable by us. But if that’s the case, I fail to see how it’s different from “last Thursdayism”, where the universe was created last Thursday – with all our memories pre-engineered and so forth. Utterly impossible to disprove… and, equally, utterly useless as a proposition.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    Let me try to address your question about moral absolutes and moral relativism.
    First of all, to some degree, we are all relativists. Even the Christian believes that absolutes principles must be applied RELATIVE to the situation and the people involved. Murder is wrong, but the murder might have been provoked by a real threat of violence to the murderer’s two-year-old.
    In light of this, I’m not sure what you mean by “absolutes,” so let my try to answer your question this way. Objective moral absolutes depend upon a transcendent and unchanging source. Without such a Being and His transcendent truths, each of us would be left as our own “court of last resort,” since nothing is higher. Consequently, there would exist no measure or standard by which two disputing parties could resolve their differences. In such a case, whatever the individual deems as right is “right.” Clearly, law and morality can’t rest comfortably on such a foundation.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann –

    …without any evidence that our laws of physics are natural laws. Instead, it’s far more plausible that these laws find their origin and sustenance within the mind of God.

    I urge you to read comment #15 above carefully.
    As to the notion that “methodological naturalism” is “limiting”, I provided a link that argues the opposite, with historical examples, to Mr. Dalrymple. I don’t see how “methodological supernaturalism” could help but fall into what I call Haldane’s Error.

  • RJS

    Ray,
    Personally I don’t think the question is tweaked randomness (although there is always some room for tweaking – even if the overall fits a bell curve perfectly (always assuming it should)) rather the question is designed result. Random processes can be used to give a designed result.

  • Ray Ingles

    Mr. Opderbeck – you write,

    Game theory and evolutionary sociobiology don’t offer any notions of “absolute right and wrong” or “good and evil.” They offer only “strategy sets” for perpetuating genes.

    Oh, come on. You’d be annoyed if someone caricatured your position with that kind of strawman; I hope we can avoid that here. As a simple point, even if humans arose from a long string of systems that had the effect of perpetuating genes, humans qua humans are perfectly capable of having other purposes than that.
    And, as we’ve covered before, purposes automatically engender teleology. Not divine teleology, certainly, but teleology all the same.
    (Not that I agree that the notions of “ultimate meaning” or “objective value” are ultimately coherent: http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/ )

  • http://www,MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    You wrote, “Neither you nor Timothy Dalrymple have demonstrated why “refus[ing] to acknowledge scientific causation outside of a naturalistic framework” is a “problem” rather than a strength.”
    If I was a detective trying to solve a crime and I stated that I do not consider suspects over six feet tall, you would justifiably think me an idiot. What is so different about naturalism refusing to consider supernatural explanations?
    You also claim that supernaturalism would result in the “Balkanization” of science among competing religions. However, I said nothing about Christianity, but just supernaturalism.
    Besides, I think that there are many potential advantages of supernaturalism. Please recall that it had been the belief that God had created an orderly universe, along with the fact that the Biblical God wants to be discovered, sought after, and known for who He is, that led many people into science to discover His laws.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (36):
    I have some problems with your explanation.
    Firstly, the Biblical account demonstrates relativism far beyond that “provoked by a real threat of violence to the murderer’s two-year-old”, into genocide of enemies, death penalty for (at times quite minor) infractions and an attempt at child sacrifice (is attempted child sacrifice any more ‘moral’ than success at it? I don’t think so). This would appear to indicate a relativism far beyond any human-derived system.
    Secondly, there does not appear to be “a transcendent and unchanging source” for Christianity. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is not ‘unchanged’ from genocide and “an eye for an eye”.
    Finally, I dispute that “there would exist no measure or standard by which two disputing parties could resolve their differences” without divine law. Confucionism is a clear counterexample, demonstrating that social traditions can provide a stable morality, without divine sanction.

  • dopderbeck

    Hrafn (#29) said: Could somebody please explain to me why “notions of ‘absolute right and wrong’” are necessary for the development of a workable moral system.
    I respond: There may be a problem here with the word “absolute,” which can imply “perfectly articulated, perfectly understood, perfectly applied” — in which case it’s unlikely there is ever any such thing. But if it implies “grounded in reality — inherent in the way things actually are” — then I think it’s essential because otherwise you ultimately end up with nothing other than the exercise of raw power.
    Hrafn sais: Further, could somebody present an example of an existing moral system that does not involve at least some degree of moral relativism.
    I respond: Why? That some things may be “relative” doesn’t mean all things are “relative.” Even the strongest deontologists recongize that “absolute” rules can have varying applications. In any event, “moral relativism” is too freighted a term. That term can imply that there is truly no external reference at all for morality. If that’s what it implies, then nearly every moral system in the history of humanity would constitute an example. But if all you mean is that rules or principals always vary in application or include exceptions, then there’s nothing controversial about this observation.

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    I’m having a hard time getting my mind around what you wrote at #15: “I guess to be more precise, I have a problem with the notion of the universe “obeys” or is “governed” by laws. Rather, it’s described by laws.”
    By limiting “laws” to mere descriptions, you seem to be denying that anything is governing or causing the behavior of objects. I think you need to clarify your stance.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#38) — but again, this is where your views are fundamentally incoherent. For a consistent materialist, there are no purposes, there is no teleology. “Purposes” are ephiphenomenal. For the hard neurosciences, “purpose” is an illusion that evolved because it perpetuates our genes. Underneath “purpose” is deterministic brain chemistry. If you think otherwise, you are talking metaphysics, not “science.” No amount of game theory and chess analogies will get you past this hump.

  • Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    While, understandably, you see a conflict within the Biblical evidence, I don’t. God has every right in the world to judge and condemn His creation.
    You wrote, “Finally, I dispute that “there would exist no measure or standard by which two disputing parties could resolve their differences” without divine law. Confucionism is a clear counterexample, demonstrating that social traditions can provide a stable morality, without divine sanction.”
    If “social traditions” are the accepted standard for morality, then they can’t be challenged or changed, because there is no higher basis from which to argue that society needs to change.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (39):
    Please explain how “the mind of God” is a plausible explanation to a Buddhist. Please explain how reincarnation is a plausible explanation to a Christian. Specific supernatural explanations are specific to specific religions (or groups of religions), not global. Science cannot, even if it tried, differentiate between alternate supernatural explanations — so cannot differentiate between an explanation based upon your (explicitly Christian) “mind of God”, or a Buddhist’s belief in reincarnation.

  • pds

    RJS #30,
    Too bad you did not read chapter 19 in Meyer’s book. Good discussion of MN and the problems posed. Judge Jones really mangled it.
    Unless we use a standard definition of MN, we are all talking about different things.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (44):
    You cannot see any moral disconnect between divinely-ordained genocide and “love thy neighbour as thyself”? Then really, you should not be engaging in a debate about relative morality.
    I’m sorry, but Christianity does not provide an unchallenged/unchanging basis for morality. For one thing, its morality has changed considerably over the centuries, on issues such as slavery, abortion, racial-intermarriage, etc. For another, the God-view of Yahweh-worship has changed through the millennia, from polytheism to monolatry to monotheism to Trinitarianism. I know that many (especially conservative) Christians would deny the latter, but it is widely accepted among historians, and you cannot expect to argue with a non-Christian on the basis of an unchanging morality or an unchanging Yahweh.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (44):
    “God has every right in the world to judge and condemn His creation.”
    By that argument, God has the “right” to arbitrarily torture or reward people at random. That would not make such a “right” moral. Nor is it morally coherent to state “thou shall not kill”, but then order your followers to genocide another tribe, or execute members of their own tribe for obscure infractions.
    This would appear to reduce morality to ‘just obeying orders’, where the only ‘absolute’ was in the obedience not in the morality of the orders.

  • Hrafn

    Can anybody seriously defend the claim that the morality of the ancient Jews was the same as the morality of Jesus’ teachings, was the morality of the state religion of Constantine, was the morality of the Crusades and the Inquisition, is the morality of the Catholic Church today, is the morality of mainline Protestant churches, is the same as evangelical Protestant churches?
    This is what is needed to demonstrate an “accepted standard for morality [that] can’t be challenged or changed”.

  • RJS

    Hrafn (#49)
    Excellent question – and one of the key questions I think. It does not impact the question naturalism as much as the question of theology. We will come back to it.

  • Hrafn

    RJS (50):
    I think it does to the extent that moral absolutes are asserted as an advantage of a supernaturally-derived morality (e.g. Christianity) over a naturally-derived one (e.g. Confucionism, largely).

  • R Hampton

    Frans de Waal, who has worked with the Templeton Foundation and the BioLogos Foundation, has provided very strong evidence that primates are altruistic. From the BioLogos site:
    At what point in the evolutionary process did humans attain the “Image of God”?
    Humans apparently had free will prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve when they chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is evident in Adam’s choosing names for all the animals (Genesis 2:18-20). Adam and Eve may have used their free will to act against their moral consciousness by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. At this point they experienced moral responsibility in a new and more personal way.
    There are glimmers of both free will and moral awareness in the other members of the animal kingdom. Primatologist Frans de Waal has spent decades observing primates in their natural settings and is convinced that human-like moral sentiments are present in other animals. The general unpredictability of animal behavior may also be a product of free will. Anyone who has played with their dog on the lawn certainly sees what looks like a joyous celebration of freedom. Moreover, glimpses of moral awareness are observed in our animal ancestors in basic neural processes that underlie complex kinds of empathy exhibited by humans.
    Though more research is needed, if further studies establish the free will of animals or a version of moral awareness in animals, this need not threaten the Christian concept that moral awareness is a signpost to God. It suggests that God planned the evolutionary development of animals to prepare the ground for morality. However, the full blossoming of moral awareness and responsibility — and the other components that make up the image of God — are unique to humans.

  • Hrafn

    RJS (50):
    It was in fact you yourself who opened the door to this argument by stating (@2): “Any form of naturalism has to begin by assuming that there is no absolute right and wrong and that good and evil have only utilitarian definition.”
    Beyond the fact that I’ve ‘impacted’ religion’s claim to “absolute right and wrong” by my question, I’d also like to point out that it is incorrect to state that “naturalism has to begin by assuming that there is no absolute right and wrong”, only that it makes no A PRIORI assumptions about absolute right and wrong. It is perfectly conceivable that it may make some ex-post conclusions on the subject.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann –

    By limiting “laws” to mere descriptions, you seem to be denying that anything is governing or causing the behavior of objects. I think you need to clarify your stance.

    Well, certainly there are causes. But I don’t think they’re of quite the form you seem to be driving at.
    For example, in Earth’s atmosphere, water freezes at 273.15 Kelvin. But it’s not a law that ‘forces’ it to behave that way, that’s “governing” it. It behaves that way because of the nature of the particles and forces that make up water. Given how water’s constituted it “couldn’t not freeze” at that temperature and pressure. It’s in the nature of what water is that it freezes that way. If it froze some other way, it wouldn’t be water.
    I mean, why do electrons have a particular mass or charge? Because we call objects with those particular properties ‘electrons’! We don’t find electrons with the same mass and a positive charge – we find positrons. If we find an object with a larger mass and an inverted charge, we haven’t found a particularly wicked and unruly electron – we’ve found a proton.
    I don’t see any “value add” with the notion that electrons have to be actively maintained by God to hold their particular values… though apparently Richard Swinburne seems to think so, for one.
    The problem is, each time we’ve been able to press down into underlying causes, it’s turned up like water. “Of course water freezes like that – given how electron valences behave, and those dipole moments, how could it not?” Not because of a ‘law’ – a “behest”, in Russell’s terms – but because of the nature of things at the underlying level. Even electrons have those properties, apparently, because of quantum mechanics, not a tiny tablet with “Thou shalt not have a spin other than 1/2″ written on it.

  • AHH

    Well, this discussion has spun off wildly, but I want to return briefly to the often-misunderstood idea of “Methodological Naturalism”.
    It is absolutely essential in these discussions to recognize that MN is a limitation on science, not a limitation on reality. If that is kept straight, it is quite compatible with Christianity, and even compatible with design arguments as long as it is admitted that if one concludes a “designer” outside nature one has left the domain of science. Which can be OK if one recognizes that not all truth is found in science.

  • Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    You wrote (#47), “You cannot see any moral disconnect between divinely-ordained genocide and “love thy neighbour as thyself”?”
    These types of extreme behaviors are really consistent. As Christians, we believe in the criminal justice system and even capital punishment, yet interpersonally, we are required to love our neighbor and to even forgive those who have done horrible things to us.
    In fact, civilization requires that we embrace such polarities. Should we spit upon those who have committed a crime? Should they now be regarded as sub-human? No, they are still created in the image of God and deserve respect, although also punishment. Instead, the Bible provides the brilliant and nuanced template to enable us to embrace this necessary range of behaviors.
    You also accuse the God of the Bible of being arbitrary. While it is His right to be arbitrary – He created this world, and everything belongs to Him – He judges according to what we recognize as justice. Instead, would you prefer an anything-goes god, one who doesn’t give a whit about man’s inhumanity to man? Would this more closely approximate your notion of a just God?
    Rather, it is because we know that there is a God who will bring justice that we can focus ourselves on loving others
    You accuse Christianity as morally changing. Perhaps so, but this only reflects a change in understanding and perhaps also circumstances, not in biblically taught principles.

  • dopderbeck

    Hrafn (#49) — again, your terms are loose. What do you mean by “the same as?” Was it identical? Of course not. No responsible Christian theologian or Biblical scholar says otherwise. Is it entirely discontinuous? That’s a very different question, and the answer is no, clearly it is not. Take a look, for example, at these two recent expositions of ethics in the Old Testament: Christopher J.H. Right, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God; David L. Baker, Tight Fists or Open Hands: Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law. Then for a perspective on the NT, check out Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.
    If you really invest in even these basic sources, you’ll see both discontinuity and continuity, but perhaps also you’ll see that some basic and important themes endure and pervade all of the scriptures and all of the Tradition.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Opderbeck –

    For a consistent materialist, there are no purposes, there is no teleology.

    This time, I’m not letting you dismiss Dennett with just a handwave. As I said before: However drives and wants arise (determinism, ‘sin nature’, what have you) they are there. (As Lawrence of Arabia said in the movie, “A man can do whatever he wants, but he cannot want whatever he wants”.) And, no matter how those wants and desires arise, once present they impose a teleology.
    And ‘determinism’ is – at most – a purely philosophical worry here, it’s decidedly not a practical one. Leaving aside QM and chaos theory (let alone the inevitable consequences of combining them), there’s no practical way to tell what people will do more than a few minutes ahead (if that, under specific circumstances) – and even theologians grant that humans are that predictable, at least. Humans are still capable of just as much unpredictability and whimsy as ever, even if minds supervene on brains.
    You don’t have to like this view. That doesn’t mean you get to call it “incoherent” without a lot more detailed argument justifying the assertion.

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    Instead of referring to “laws,” you talk about the “nature of things” and “properties,” as if by postulating this, you are now free from having to account for the “nature of things” and “properties.” Whether phenomena are governed by “laws” or the “nature of things,” science would still require us to provide explanations – “Where did these unchanging properties come from and why do they act the way they do?”
    One of the advantages of the concept of supernatural laws in the mind of God is this – we don’t have to account for the origin and the sustenance of each of the myriad laws of physics, why they are unchanging, why they act uniformly, and what maintains them. All of these questions come back to the One Super-Intelligence who doesn’t require an explanation.
    Now you think you got me! “Well, where does God come from? How can you account for Him?” We all must posit something eternal and self-existent, without which we are confronted with the incoherence of infinite regress – the inability of ever offering a sufficient and coherent cause. I would just suggest that our understanding of God answers this problem most coherently and parsimoniously.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann – While it is His right to be arbitrary – He created this world, and everything belongs to Him
    On what authority does the principle that ‘the creator of something owns it’ rest?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann – We all must posit something eternal and self-existent, without which we are confronted with the incoherence of infinite regress…
    You may not like infinite regress (Aquinas sure didn’t) but I don’t see it as a priori “incoherent”. Nor does an “uncaused cause” strike me as any less problematic.
    Me, I’m an atheist in the specific (in that, of the gods I’ve looked at, none have struck me as coherent) and an agnostic in general.
    Consider the Earth. Long ago, people generally thought that either it went on forever, or else it had an edge. Both notions had problems, but what other possibility could there be? Eventually the curvature of the Earth was discovered (long before Columbus, of course – a shame that whole story claiming the Church opposed him got started) and it became obvious how the Earth could be finite but not have an edge.
    Back in early Mesopotamia, what if someone had asked, “Does the Earth go on forever, or does it have an edge?” The correct answer would be, “I dunno. Maybe someone will figure it out someday.” I’ve got the same attitude about the origin of the universe and so forth. I don’t think anyone’s had the critical insights needed to clear that up. Until then, I’ll have to keep an open mind and hope for the best.

  • pds

    AHH #55,
    I largely agree with you. Glad you tried to bring it back to MN. Is there any consensus on what MN is? Is it that useful? If everyone has a different way of defining it or explaining how it works, or applying it or qualifying it, what good is it? Then it does not work well as a demarcation rule.
    Seems like it is mainly used as a club to bash one’s enemies.

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    You responded, “I don’t see it [the problem of infinite regress] as a priori “incoherent”. Nor does an “uncaused cause” strike me as any less problematic.”
    OK, let’s just say that they are both equally problematic. Then what you are left with is this – thousands of laws or “properties” that are all uncaused (and somehow work harmoniously and uniformly) or a single God who is uncaused. Which is less problematic?
    I pray that you will keep an open mind. Anthony Flew abandoned atheism for theism based upon the various scientific findings of intelligent design. When asked why he came to theism after his many years as an atheist, he claimed that it was always his position to follow the facts. For him, the facts led to theism.

  • RJS

    Daniel Mann,
    It isn’t thousands of independent laws or properties … rather a handful, very few, from which all else follows. This is consistent with theism – God – and I think points us to God. But I am sure some others here, including Ray, will disagree.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    You responded, “On what authority does the principle that ‘the creator of something owns it’ rest?”
    If I made a clay pot, and I don’t like it, I have every right in the world to fold it up. God has even a greater right. He created us to enjoy loving and eternal fellowship together and, from His perspective, we have rebelled against our Father and Creator. (And BTW, I think His perspective is the correct one.)

  • RickK

    “Then what you are left with is this – thousands of laws or “properties” that are all uncaused (and somehow work harmoniously and uniformly) or a single God who is uncaused. Which is less problematic?”
    What is less problematic is natural causes for the laws we see. The infinitely complex superbeing orchestrating everything is ALWAYS the most problematic answer.
    I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is completely inappropriate to declare the entity complex enough to devise every physical law in this universe and possibly in others as being the more straightforward answer.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann –

    OK, let’s just say that they are both equally problematic. Then what you are left with is this – thousands of laws or “properties” that are all uncaused (and somehow work harmoniously and uniformly) or a single God who is uncaused. Which is less problematic?

    Well, if that’s the infinite God of Judeo/Christian/Islamic fame, we’re back to square one – “they are both equally problematic”. (I know some theists claim that God is “simple”, but that term doesn’t mean the same thing in Theologianese as it does in English. Compare how the terms “better” and “best” are used in English vs. advertising law.)
    Besides, as I tried laboriously to point out, there’s the possibility of some third option. When you run into a question that poses two answers, equally problematic, that’s usually a sign that the question itself is ill-posed and by its nature rules out other possibilities. (Remember? “Does the Earth go on forever, or does it have an edge?”)
    Whatever the answer turns out to be, I’d bet a lot that it won’t look like anything people have proposed ere now. Humans are just terrible at speculating in areas where they don’t have experience. Round Earth? Big surprise. Heliocentrism? Big surprise. Evolution? Big surprise. Relativity? Big surprise. Quantum Mechanics? Big surprise.

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    Mr. Ingles, I am sympathetic to the general thrust of your responses (both #58 and #61). In the first case (#58), while my own emergentist perspective affirms this telic dynamic, here I do dismiss Dan Dennett’s account as too facile. Still, in my view, you’re substantively correct; the concept of telos is not very controversial in modern semiotic science.
    On the other hand, dopderbeck is offering some important distinctions and it seems to me that he is making a reference to a more classically conceived teleology, which we might describe as a “robust” telos. Contrastingly, I thus consider the telic dynamic of semiotic science a “minimalist” telos because, while it is a true downward casation, few would suspect that it would in any way violate physical causal closure.
    And this brings us full circle back to our original question regarding methodological naturalism. It proceeds, for all practical purposes, for the sake of argument, for the sake of investigation, that our methods will not encounter any violations of physical causal closure. Beyond that, regarding reality’s limit questions (#61), yes, questions still beg and many paradoxes remain that we have been unable to dissolve, resolve or evade.

  • RickK

    I don’t understand why people who disagree with biological evolution then try to over-extend evolution as an explanation for altruism.
    1) Maybe altruism has a direct evolutionary purpose. I have more genes in common with all of you than I do with any other species on this planet. So why wouldn’t I help keep you all alive?
    2) Maybe altruism has nothing to do with evolution, but has everything to do with humans as social beings. We can’t BE social without a sense of empathy at some level, and empathy at its strongest leads to altruism.
    3) Maybe altruism is just an accident. Maybe it’s like music, or art, or religion – an outgrowth of the intelligence and inventiveness that has made us such a successful species.
    All of these are more logical explanations than appeal to the infinitely complex superbeing who spent over 14 billion years of effort on a vast universe just to get to produce a few creative, altruistic critters.
    One thing you can say about methodological naturalism – it delivers the goods. No branch of human endeavor has resulted in: a greater reduction in human suffering, a greater ability to deliver predicted results, or a greater degree of potential for the future.
    If scientific investigation into cosmology or evolution crosses into a particular religion’s territory, this does not mean the science is no longer “religiously neutral”. People believed for thousands of years that lightning was caused by the gods. Does this make the work of Maxwell and Faraday religiously “non-neutral”?

  • RickK

    “In cosmology the question is somewhat different – and isn’t really a question of methodological naturalism, but rather one of ontological naturalism.”
    To Newton, questions of how the planets moved were within the realm of science, but the question of what set the planets in motion was a question of God. But that was wrong – and we now know about planetary formation and conservation of momentum.
    Now we’ve moved the barrier back to the origin of the universe in which we live. But it is folly to say that questions of this origin fall outside of the realm of methodological naturalism.
    If humanity finds the wisdom to survive long enough, how can we possibly declare today what will be beyond the reach of tomorrow’s scientists?
    It is an act of dramatic and naive hubris to say “we don’t know the answer to this question today, and nobody will ever be born who has the intelligence or resources to answer this question tomorrow.” But it is exactly that hubris that is demonstrated each time somebody points to a gap in our current knowledge and declares “only God’s divine magic can explain that.” Such an approach has been proved wrong so many times throughout history that we really should know better by now.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    RickK,
    You wrote, “What is less problematic is natural causes for the laws we see. The infinitely complex superbeing orchestrating everything is ALWAYS the most problematic answer.”
    Why? Would you agree that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that the laws are natural and unintelligent?
    Ray,
    It’s just hard to conceive of a third option. Instead, it would seem that naturalism and supernaturalism (non-intelligence and intelligence) covers the entire spectrum of possibilities.
    Besides, there are many other reasons to believe in God. For one thing, from the point of view of technology, the cause must always be greater than the effect. To have an effect greater than a cause is to say that some aspect of the effect is uncaused, and that’s a big problem.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann – There are two separate responses to your words, “If I made a clay pot, and I don’t like it, I have every right in the world to fold it up. God has even a greater right. He created us…”
    The first is from C. S. Lewis, who noticed (in “The Screwtape Letters”) that clay pots and people are different in kind:

    We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun—the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’ and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership.

    The second is what I was trying gently to lead you to. God says that creation implies ownership… but if something is right only because God says so… well, we have the ultimate case of “might makes right” there, don’t we?
    In philosophy, it’s called the “Euthyphro dilemma”. If God defines good, then saying “God is good” is meaningless, or at least tautological. In such a case, the people who collaborated with the Nazis had the right principle in mind, they just picked the wrong bully to submit to.
    If, on the other hand, something other than divine fiat defines something as “right” or “wrong”, if God recognizes what’s good, then there’s something prior to God, or at least independent of God, on which goodness rests. And perhaps such a system doesn’t give people unlimited rights over their sapient creations…

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    RickK wrote: If humanity finds the wisdom to survive long enough, how can we possibly declare today what will be beyond the reach of tomorrow’s scientists? It is an act of dramatic and naive hubris to say “we don’t know the answer to this question today, and nobody will ever be born who has the intelligence or resources to answer this question tomorrow.” But it is exactly that hubris that is demonstrated each time somebody points to a gap in our current knowledge and declares “only God’s divine magic can explain that.” Such an approach has been proved wrong so many times throughout history that we really should know better by now.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (56):
    I find your entire post absurd and quite frankly morally repugnant.
    1) There is no ‘consistency’ between criminal capital punishment (itself an abomination) and indiscriminate genocide (an atrocity).
    2) Many Christians oppose capital punishment on moral grounds. As far as I know, no Christian nation has ever attempted to impose the full range of capital punishments contained in Old Testament religious law. In fact the main category of Christian religious (as opposed to secular) capital punishment has been for a ‘crime’ that (again as far as I know) is nowhere mentioned in the Bible: that of heresy.
    3) No “civilisation” remotely worthy of the name accepts genocide. Many even consider criminal capital punishment ‘uncivilised’.
    4) Deuteronomy 20:16–17: “Whenever you capture towns in the land the Lord your God is giving you, be sure to kill all the people and animals. He has commanded you to completely wipe out the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” (And no, Deuteronomy 20:18 does not provide a moral justification for this atrocity, only a repulsively chauvinistic pragamatic one). I see no moral equivalence here with criminal capital punishment, but rather with the Nazi policies of Lebensraum and the Final Solution.
    5) I am not a Christian (though I was raised one), and so am under no obligation to acknowledge “His right to be arbitrary”. I see little “justice” in either the rules of war or the criminal code espoused by the God of the Old Testament.
    6) A God who orders genocide has no more moral authority to command “thou shalt not kill” than a priest who presides over orgies has to preach chastity from the pulpit. It is also a God that I would feel no obligation to worship, even were I to believe that he exists.
    7) Finally, I see no moral superiority of the God of the Old Testament over your “an anything-goes god”. At least the latter would not command “man’s inhumanity to man” on a mass scale.
    You have quite clearly demonstrated how the Bible can be used to justify a wide range of moral evils: genocide and state-sanctioned murder (as above), but also slavery, religious persecution and who knows what else.

  • Hrafn

    dopderbeck (57):
    I mean a morality that “can’t be challenged or changed” and “depend[s] upon a transcendent and unchanging source” (Daniel Mann’s words). (I think “the same as” is sufficiently close to “unchanging” that I have not significantly ‘loosened’ the terminology from his original.)
    I see no evidence for such a morality in either Biblical or post-Biblical Christian moralities.

  • Hrafn

    The questions I’d like to see some evidence-based (as opposed to unsubstantiated assertion-based) answers to are:
    1) Is there any evidence that religiously derived moral systems are any more “unchanging” than secularly derived ones?
    2) When the original morality system is that of a bronze age tribe (and thus heavily ‘us versus them’), is it being “unchanging” necessarily a good thing, when considering a morality system appropriate for the modern world?

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    A very thoughtful response! I must return to my original example. If I create something, I have the right to do with it as I choose. (Of course, this doesn’t include the children that I “create.” Instead, they are a gift from God, and I am not free to do with them as I choose.)
    God too has this right. However, He does not use this right to act in an arbitrary way, but instead has committed Himself to His own nature and promises to act with mercy and justice.
    This brings us to Euthyphro. You are correct in saying, “God says that creation implies ownership… but if something is right only because God says so… well, we have the ultimate case of “might makes right” there, don’t we?”
    However, the Biblical position is NOT that God “only” acts as He does because He has the power to do so.
    You also correctly stated that, “If, on the other hand, something other than divine fiat defines something as “right” or “wrong”, if God recognizes what’s good, then there’s something prior to God, or at least independent of God, on which goodness rests.”
    However the “right and wrong” are NOT prior to God but God Himself.
    Now let me challenge you and Hrafn: How can an atheist indict God by virtue of His failing the “goodness” or “justice test?” From a non-theistic stance, there is nothing ontologically good or just by which God can be judged. It’s all a matter of social convention, as Hrafn has asserted.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    You call my response “morally repugnant!” However, you lack any rational basis whatsoever to make such a judgment. You claim that morality is just a matter of social convention. Therefore, you are merely saying that, according to the social convention that you adhere to today, God’s judgments are morally repugnant. What makes your judgments any more valid than God’s?
    You might respond that you are viscerally turned-off. But what makes you feelings any more valid than mine or God’s? As an atheist, whichever way you turn, you cannot find the ontological bedrock upon which to launch your indictments.
    Enough for now. Later I will address your challenge more substantively.

  • RickK

    John Sorbert Sylvest said “So, speaking of a naive hubris, the epistemic promissory notes proffered by scientism and philosophical naturalism are backed by an ontological fool’s gold.”
    Interesting.
    I think naturalism has a pretty good record of delivering the goods. How many examples can you think of where divine explanations were replaced with useful, accurate, universally-agreed natural explanations? Gods once existed at the top of a nearby mountain, but have now been pushed completely out of the physical universe. What gave us our current concept of the universe? Naturalism. What had the overwhelming power to sweep the physical universe free of gods? Naturalism.
    As we sit here on a global digital communications network discussing the fool’s gold of naturalism, researchers are investigating the natural, physical drivers of personality, identity, religious faith, etc.
    Will naturalism explain everything? Who can say? Has naturalism had a greater influence on our view of reality than any other philosophical approach? Yes.

  • RickK

    Daniel Mann #71 asked: “Would you agree that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that the laws are natural and unintelligent?”
    Similarly, there is no evidence that they were created by an intelligence.
    But let’s talk evidence. Throughout history natural phenomena have been given divine causation, and they’ve been wrong: Sun, Moon, stars, seasons, tides, weather, earthquakes, disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, diversity of species. People invoked the divine to explain all of these, and all have since been found to be non-divine. And we even see identity, personality, musical and artistic ability all affected by physical factors, and trending heavily toward physical, naturalistic explanation.
    So now Daniel, you invoke without any hesitation a divine causation for natural laws. Given historical precedent, Daniel, I strongly suspect you are wrong.
    But I may be wrong, and will happily accept divine causation with appropriate supporting evidence. That’s naturalism – to LEARN from the evidence rather than to KNOW from faith.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann – You’ve covered quite a bit of ground here, and trying to address all of it in one response would be daunting. Let’s take it in chunks.
    I recognize that we don’t have a good idea about a ‘third option’ yet. But, as I said, both the options we do see have problems, and I am very loathe to speculate in an area where humans have zero experience or evidence, like origins of universes. If we can’t run any kind of experiments or test hypotheses, we humans suck at coming up with explanations, as history illustrates. (We’re not all that great when we can test our theories. As Churchill put it, “Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.”) In such circumstances, something like agnosticism seems to me to be the only reasonable option.
    You assert, “from the point of view of technology, the cause must always be greater than the effect”. I’m afraid I can’t agree. That depends entirely on how one defines “greater”, and I don’t believe any objective standard of greatness is possible. Something is “great” or “valuable” to someone, and for some purpose. Without some kind of understand of who finds something “great”, and for what purpose, the concept is meaningless; a sentence fragment, not a coherent thought.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#58) — I don’t think Dennett’s version of compatibilist free will is consistent with naturalism. As I’m sure you know, the notion of compatabilist free will is highly controversial. Dennett is not the majority voice here among neurobiologists, AFAIK.
    You also seem to be appealing to quantum indeteriminacy, which is not the same as compatibilist free will, and which also is highly controversial. I actually in some ways like the use of quantum indeterminacy by some philosophers (John Searle) and law-and-religion folks such as Nancey Murphy and John Polkinghorne to account for divine action (Murphy) and the “soul” (Polkinghorne and also Stephen Barr). But let’s be clear — quantum indeterminacy is a form of “gap” argument, and the reason to mind this gap is that it purports to make “room” for other metaphysical concerns.
    In any event, John (#68) makes a helpful distinction between teleology and a mere notion of compatibilist free will. The question is where the “ought” comes from. Compatibilist free will alone does not get you an “ought.” Game theory and chess analogies do not get you “oughts.” They do not alone explain why the power of the state ought to be brought to bear against “strategies” such as genocide and corruption that seem to work very well in perpetuating the genes of some groups. A broader notion of “purpose” is required.

  • dopderbeck

    Hrafn (#75) — the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” — depedends on a transcendent source and does not change throughout the Biblical witness or the Jewish and Christian traditions. A variety of other principles that flow from this first principle also remain stable. You see change or development in ways that are consistent with greater knowledge and understanding of who God is and what true worship of Him requires. You also see change or development insofar as the Biblical texts are diverse in the historical circumstances of their production — i.e., the texts are thoroughly human even as, at least in Christian theology, they are divinely inspired.
    So yes, there is change, development, ethical progression, and adjustment to cultural circumstances in Biblical ethics. But no, I don’t think there’s a serious Biblical scholar of any stripe who would say there is no consistent underlying ethic at all, which is what I understand you to be saying. That kind of sweeping statement, honestly, is just historically absurd.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann –

    If I create something, I have the right to do with it as I choose. (Of course, this doesn’t include the children that I “create.” Instead, they are a gift from God, and I am not free to do with them as I choose.)

    Of course, by that standard, nobody ‘creates’ anything except God. At best, people rearrange things. They ‘create’ ideas, perhaps – but Thomas Jefferson explained why ownership of ideas is problematic. So God’s still a special case exception, not just acting in accord with universal rules.

    However, the Biblical position is NOT that God “only” acts as He does because He has the power to do so.

    Note that, when presented with two equally unpalatable options – either God’s the ultimate bully, or else God is not the author of morality – you immediately appealed to a third option. :-> I’ll note you didn’t really explain what that third option was, you simply asserted that it wasn’t either of the two horns of the dilemma.

    How can an atheist indict God by virtue of His failing the “goodness” or “justice test?” From a non-theistic stance, there is nothing ontologically good or just by which God can be judged.

    Two different ways. First off, by noting inconsistencies between the ostensible morals presented in various holy books and the actual behavior of the deities involved. Hrafn’s already pointed out the conflict between the Ten Commandments and the slaughter of children. By It’s own lights, God’s found wanting.
    Second, by grounding morality in human way – given what humans are, and what universe humans live in, certain things are indubitably wise or foolish, and we understand these in terms of right and wrong. See the links I’ve given to Mr. Opderbeck.
    There are insects on Earth that only mate once in their life – the female receives and stores all the sperm she will ever have at one time, and actually fertilizes eggs with it later. There are other insects that engage in what we’d have to term violent rape to reproduce – the male literally wounds the female with a member that’s terrifying to behold, like a tiny “morning star” mace.
    Imagine a race of sentient insects on some other planet that combined these traits. They would essentially have to perform what we’d term violent rape of children in order to reproduce. From their perspective, it’d even be moral to do so.
    But if they landed on Earth and tried to do that here, few people (and certainly not me!) would say, “that’s just their way” and ignore it. No, by our lights, we’d be perfectly moral in fighting them off. We are human, and have a human perspective and human interests, after all.
    If a God doesn’t conform to human morality – if it’s fundamentally incompatible with what humans are and how they must live – then we can judge it wanting. From the large (Joshua 10:39-41) to the small (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) I see little to admire in the ostensible behavior of the Biblical God.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (78):
    Any “rational” person would find your defense of genocide repugnant.
    This repugance for genocide is not “just a matter of social convention” it is a matter of universal condemnation by all civilised societies. I would value that judgement far above the dictates of your savage little bronze age god — particualrly as his more bloodthirsty dictates are conveniently ignored by even explicitly-Christian modern societies.
    Who are we to judge him? We are the inheritors of a world that has endured numerous genocides and countless persecutions and bloodshed by his orders (if we are to believe the Bible) and in his name (if we are to believe legitimate history). If they were still killing in the name of Zeus, we’d probably be judging him as well.
    Further, the very topic of the thread involves comparison of secular/naturalistic versus religious moralities. This would appear to be ample rationale for assessing one of the more prominent examples of religious morality. If Christians don’t want these issues addressed, then they should not raise them.
    Finally, I would ask you not to label everybody who doesn’t subscribe to, and/or questions the moral superiority of, YOUR religion, “an atheist”. Such assumptions simply make you look like an ignorant bigot. For your information, I am not an atheist, or even an agnostic. I would however take the “bedrock” of an Enlightenment-derived atheistic worldview over the moral cesspit of an Old Testament worldview any day. Though that’s not saying much — I’d probably take Last Thursdayism or Pastafarianism over it as well.

  • http://evangelical.patheos.com Timothy Dalrymple

    Inferring God as the originator of natural law itself is qualitatively different from inferring God’s intervention in the causal chain which natural law describes. Similarly, inferring God as the ultimate explanation for why things are the way they are — for contingency — is not a “God of the Gaps” argument. We explain material phenomena according to certain laws or forces, and some laws or forces can be explained according to more fundamental laws or forces. But those fundamental laws and forces cannot themselves be accounted for by science as so many of you are describing it.
    One factor missing from this discussion is a historical consciousness. Our definition of “science” did not descend to us from above, and it does not emerge from the essential nature of things. It is contingent, historical, and it could have been (and can still be) otherwise. Our present vision of science developed largely in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was based on an idealized and naive view of how science actually proceeds. There is the triad of abduction, induction and deduction, but there are also epistemic values such as objectivity, universality, and anti-supernaturalism. An exceedingly narrow vision of human rationality emerged, and scientific rationality become paradigmatic for all rationality as such. But (#1) rationality is a far richer thing than our concept of scientific rationality captures and (#2) our vision of scientific rationality is demonstrably false in any case, more an ideology than a description of how science does or must operate.
    Hrafn, the reason it is a problem that MN predetermines for and against certain sets of possible explanations is because it assumes what it purports to prove. Imagine (what you will surely find highly unlikely) that Jesus actually did, supernaturally, rise from the dead. A historian or scientist approaching the question must assume from the beginning that this is false. He is precluded from the outset from taking seriously the possibility that Jesus did rise from the dead — and yet we’ve stipulated that this is actually the true explanation. There is no reason why a scientist, qua scientist, should be unable to entertain the possibility that some things happen in the sphere of observable phenomena that are not explicable according to natural forces. If you object, “Well of course resurrection should be excluded. It’s absurd! Or its unscientific!”, then you are again begging the question. If we assume that the scientist must adopt naturalistic blinders for the sake of his craft, then we are accepting a historically contingent definition of science as though it were absolute truth.
    I did not claim that pursuing science with a weak version of MN (that natural explanations are preferable but not necessarily exhaustive) leads to better science than a strong version. I think, in practice, it very rarely makes any difference. But even if it leads to more or less the same science, it could well lead to a more rational account of the world as a whole, because if the scientist is committed to strong MN then he is precluded from drawing many (and some rational) conclusions about the nature, origin and purpose of things. Plus it would not require this bifurcation between the scientist (who accepts strong MN as a necessary methodological principle) and the person (who is open to non-naturalistic explanation — a bifurcation that is ultimately, in my view, unstable and breaks down.
    The geologist who entertains the possibility of non-naturalistic divine intervention, but has a strong preference for naturalistic explanation, will very rarely (if ever) explain his rocks differently from the geologist who is committed only to natural explanation. It mostly comes down to certain key issues for Christians — creation, incarnation, resurrection, Holy Spirit, etc. — and I see no reason why scientists have to rule certain explanations out of bounds before they have even seen the evidence.

  • Hrafn

    dopderbeck (83):
    I’m afraid that your quote expresses monolatry (in that it explicitly mentions the existence of “other gods”, without explicitly dismissing them as false) not monotheism, let alone Trinitarianism.
    The “first principle” therefore is not stable. The “change” (it can hardly be called a “development”) from divinely mandated genocide in Deuteronomy 20:16–17 to divinely mandated “love your enemies” is not the result of a “greater knowledge and understanding of who God is” but two diametrically opposed divine commands.
    Further, many modern moral imperatives would appear to have no clear Biblical basis. Personal liberty (and conversely condemnation of slavery) and religious tolerance would be two glaring examples. Taking a more socially conservative modern view, condemnation of polygamy (as clearly contrary to ‘one man one woman’ as gay marriage) and abortion likewise would be examples.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Hrafn, you reject the notion that the condemnation of genocide, for the materialist, must be a matter of social convention — because “it is a matter of universal condemnation by all civilised societies.” Is that not an appeal to social convention? If you mean to say that it is universally condemned because it somehow inheres in rationality, you would need to develop the argument further (though I think it’s generally agreed that Kant failed in that very effort). Otherwise, I don’t see how your appeal to social condemnation escapes the charge of social convention.
    Your preference for pastafarianism over Christianity suggests, at least in my eyes, more of a visceral, aesthetic and ethical rejection of Christianity than a merely rational one. It is true that many people doing terrible things have justified their actions with reference to Christianity, as people have in every faith, and as they have also done with reference to philosophies and ideologies and nationalisms. Most sophisticated Christians are able to differentiate between the actions of some who claim to be Christian and the essential message of Christianity itself, and able to see an improving understanding of God from the ancient Hebrews to Jesus.
    Matters of faith reach deeply within us, and we can take them in the direction of great good or of great evil. I don’t see this as a condemnation of religious faith itself, much less a disproof of Christianity, but just a fact about how deeply faith can move us.

  • Daniel Mann

    RickK,
    I appreciate your willingness to reevaluate the evidence and to remain open minded. However, your argument is one that can be used against anyone or any position. Basically, you are saying, “Christians have been wrong in the past. Therefore, we can dismiss what they’re saying now.”
    Interestingly, those Christians who have denied or neglected intermediate causation were taking a in-Biblical position. In contrast, in many places the Bible claims that God rules by the laws He has put into effect.
    You defend naturalism this way, “That’s naturalism – to LEARN from the evidence rather than to KNOW from faith.”
    I’ve tried to argue the reverse: that naturalism is closed to any other form of causation (supernaturalism). Instead, those who believe in God have an excellent track record in their willingness to regard the evidence.

  • Hrafn

    Timothy Dalrymple (86):
    1) Science does not ‘purport to prove’ the non-existence of the supernatural, so your “problem” is non-existent.
    2) Even if Jesus rose from the dead, a scientist could not distinguish between (i) him rising from the dead and merely being rendered in a near-death state by an unknown illness and (ii) his being raised by Yahweh, or having done a deal with Hades (or some other god of the dead), and further could neither derive either testable predictions or detailed mechanisms from the ‘rose from the dead’ explanation.
    3) Based on my analysis in (2) “there is no reason why” a scientist would wish “to entertain the possibility”, as the possibility leads nowhere.
    4) You appear to be effectively admitting that there is no benefit TO SCIENCE of admitting the supernatural. This does not mean that theist scientists are in some way precluded from contemplation of the supernatural, just that it does not belong in the scientific literature and discourse, but rather in the literature and discourse of such fields as Apologetics, Theology, Philosophy of Religion and/or interdisciplinary ‘Science and Religion’ research.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Opderbeck – I don’t see the same problems with you do regarding compatibilism. I agree that it affects how we conceive of ‘free will’ – to use Kuhn’s terminology, it’s a different paradigm, and straightforward translation of terms isn’t always possible between paradigms. But I don’t see it as inconsistent.
    (BTW, I’m not using quantum indeterminacy quite the way you think. I don’t think it’s equivalent to free will, but I’m pointing out that even in the worst case it produces behavior that cannot be distinguished from ‘mystical’ free will. From a practical perspective, there’s no detectable difference.)
    And then we come round full circle, I’m afraid. You write:

    Compatibilist free will alone does not get you an “ought.” Game theory and chess analogies do not get you “oughts.”

    You’re right. But I’ve been saying all along that free will – purposes – when combined with game theory, do “get you ‘oughts’”. Yes, “free will alone” doesn’t do it. Yes, “[g]ame theory and chess analogies [alone]” don’t do it.
    But together they can. That’s the central point I’m trying to make, and I don’t know how more explicitly I can state it.

  • RJS

    Ray,
    Within the rules of the game – purposes get you to oughts. You ought to do this to get to the desired purpose of the game. But naturalism alone, or so is my contention, means that the purpose of the game is ultimately meaningless.

  • Hrafn

    Timothy Dalrymple (88):
    1) I was objecting to Daniel Mann’s dismissal as “JUST a matter of social convention” as though modern civilisation’s condemnation of genocide was of no more weight than the social convention of shaking hands using your right hand.
    2) I would note that (i) I restricted my judgement to the worldview of the Old Testament, not Christianity per se (many forms of Christianity de-emphasise, even if they don’t disavow, the OT), and as I pointed out NO Christian society imposes the more bloodthirsty of the OT dictates & (ii) that I was not singling out Pastafarianism. A reasonable summary of my argument would probably be ‘a worldview that does not explicitly condone genocide is superior to one that does’. This would appear to be an ethical rather than a visceral analysis.
    3) The issue would appear not to be an “understanding of God” but in the example I gave an explicit command of God (Deuteronomy 20:16–17). The choices in “understanding” it would appear to be (i) it was misrecorded (God didn’t command this), (ii) that it was morally right then but wrong now, (iii) it was morally right then as now or (iv) that it was morally wrong then as now. Options (i) & (iv) are rejections of OT worldview (factual or moral), (ii) is fairly clearly moral relativism, (iii) is endorsement of genocide. Please take your pick.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    RJS – you write, But naturalism alone, or so is my contention, means that the purpose of the game is ultimately meaningless.
    Way back in comment #38, I wrote:
    Not that I agree that the notions of “ultimate meaning” or “objective value” are ultimately coherent: http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/
    I’ll quote from the actual link here:

    To say that some event means something without at least some implicit understanding of who it means something to is to express an incomplete idea, no different than sentence fragments declaring that “Went to the bank” or “Exploded.” Without first specifying a particular subject and/or object, the very idea of meaning is incoherent.

    Yet too often people still try to think of meaning in a disconnected and abstract sense, ending up at bizarre and nonsensical conclusions. They ask questions like: What is the meaning of my life? What does it matter if I love my children when I and they and everyone that remembers us will one day not exist? But these are not simply deep questions without answers: they are incomplete questions, incoherent riddles missing key lines and clues. Whose life? Meaningful to whom? Matters to whom? Who are you talking about?

    Once those clarifying questions are asked and answered, the seeming impossibility of the original question evaporates, its flaws exposed. We are then left with many more manageable questions: What is the meaning of my/your/their life to myself/my parents/my children? These different questions may have different answers: your parents may see you as a disappointment for becoming a fireman instead of a doctor, and yet your children see you as a hero.

  • Hrafn

    RJS (92):
    I would disagree with you that “naturalism alone … means that the purpose of the game is ultimately meaningless.” It merely means that there is no A PRIORI purpose or meaning to the game — not that purposes and meanings cannot be emergent from the game.

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray (and Hrafn),
    I can only address what I understood from your response. I think that some of your argumentation is based upon a misunderstanding of my position.
    You suggest that if there are Bible inconsistencies that would put the kibosh on using the Bible as a moral guidebook. Fair enough, but what you identify as an inconsistency might simply be based on your misinterpretation. For instance, you mention “Thou shalt not kill” and then claim it contradicts what we find elsewhere in the Bible.
    Instead, this is based on your misinterpretation. The 10 Commandments were intended for personal morality and not civil or legal statute. Therefore, there is no contradiction between these rulings and capital punishment or warfare.
    Then, you argue, “Second, by grounding morality in human way – given what humans are, and what universe humans live in, certain things are indubitably wise or foolish, and we understand these in terms of right and wrong.”
    Even atheists argue that this reasoning is quite arbitrary. They correctly invoke Hume who had argued that we can’t go from what “is” (our human condition) to what “ought to be.” The very fact that we humans might agree about something doesn’t make it so, no more than a bunch of medieval scientists declaring that the sun revolves around the earth.
    Once again, if morality is just a matter of what we humans decide or feel, we still lack a higher standard to appeal to in order to reconcile differences. In fact, I think that your arguments argue my case better than my own: “But if they [sentient insects] landed on Earth and tried to do that here, few people (and certainly not me!) would say, “that’s just their way” and ignore it. No, by our lights, we’d be perfectly moral in fighting them off. We are human, and have a human perspective and human interests, after all.”
    I certainly agree with you that we should resist these insects, but you haven’t provided a rational “why.” What makes our moral sentiments or interests any more valid than theirs or the cows that we eat? You revert to subjectivism: “We are human, and have a human perspective and human interests, after all.” But they have theirs!

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Dalrymple –

    Imagine (what you will surely find highly unlikely) that Jesus actually did, supernaturally, rise from the dead. A historian or scientist approaching the question must assume from the beginning that this is false.

    Ah, but there’s an important distinction: A historian or scientist could, in principle, determine that someone rose from the dead. They just couldn’t conclude that it was done supernaturally. All they could say was that they didn’t know how it happened.
    Scientists see things they didn’t expect all the time. (“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I’ve found it!), but ‘That’s funny…’” -Isaac Asimov) Decades ago, examination of particle collisions found some really odd trajectories and apparently missing energy. At first, it was just a phenomenon without a known cause.
    Physicists didn’t assume it was supernatural, though. They hypothesized a hard-to-detect particle. Decades later, we can detect a handful of them – neutrinos.
    The point is, science can, in principle, detect real miracles. The most it can say about such things – if they exist – is that their cause is unknown. Science just doesn’t assume the unknowable.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Ray (and Hrafn),
    I can only address what I understood from your response. I think that some of your argumentation is based upon a misunderstanding of my position.
    You suggest that if there are Bible inconsistencies that would put the kibosh on using the Bible as a moral guidebook. Fair enough, but what you identify as an inconsistency might simply be based on your misinterpretation. For instance, you mention “Thou shalt not kill” and then claim it contradicts what we find elsewhere in the Bible.
    Instead, this is based on your misinterpretation. The 10 Commandments were intended for personal morality and not civil or legal statute. Therefore, there is no contradiction between these rulings and capital punishment or warfare.
    Then, you argue, “Second, by grounding morality in human way – given what humans are, and what universe humans live in, certain things are indubitably wise or foolish, and we understand these in terms of right and wrong.”
    Even atheists argue that this reasoning is quite arbitrary. They correctly invoke Hume who had argued that we can’t go from what “is” (our human condition) to what “ought to be.” The very fact that we humans might agree about something doesn’t make it so, no more than a bunch of medieval scientists declaring that the sun revolves around the earth.
    Once again, if morality is just a matter of what we humans decide or feel, we still lack a higher standard to appeal to in order to reconcile differences. In fact, I think that your arguments argue my case better than my own: “But if they [sentient insects] landed on Earth and tried to do that here, few people (and certainly not me!) would say, “that’s just their way” and ignore it. No, by our lights, we’d be perfectly moral in fighting them off. We are human, and have a human perspective and human interests, after all.”
    I certainly agree with you that we should resist these insects, but you haven’t provided a rational “why.” What makes our moral sentiments or interests any more valid than theirs or the cows that we eat? You revert to subjectivism: “We are human, and have a human perspective and human interests, after all.” But they have theirs!

  • Daniel Mann

    Hrafn (and Ray),
    Thanks for the correction. I did think that you were an atheist. Perhaps I got you confused with Ray. Sorry about that, but I didn’t mean that as a pejorative but simply a statement of fact.
    Basically, my position has been that God has a right to judge His creation, even to the point of putting humans to death, while you claim that He doesn’t have this right. However, much of your argumentation has been ad hominem, using words such as “repugnant.”
    You also argue that people have taken different positions regarding the teachings of the Bible. However, Biblical prescription is different than human execution (no pun intended!)
    Your strongest argument goes this way: “If God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, this gives us the license to commit genocide.”
    This argument doesn’t work:
    1. This was a divinely commissioned punishment. There is no standing order or approval for the Israelites or anyone else to do likewise, unlike what you find in the Koran.
    2. This pertained only to the State of Israel. It required protection against the influence of the Canaanites. Now in NT times, God’s people do not require such protection. The situation has changed.
    3. The Canaanites had been great sinners for hundreds of years, even to the point of sacrificing their own children to their gods. Actually, God had been very patient with them, telling Abraham that their sins had not yet reached the extent that they required divine destruction. Several hundred years would first have to pass.
    4. All of us cringe, even the Hebrew prophets, at the prospect of this type of judgment. Perhaps it’s because we look at one another from the outside and fail to see the great corruption within each one of us and the necessity for such radical surgery. Also, we too are human.
    The indictments that you bring against the God of the Bible are not based upon any objective criteria, but rather assertions about what the majority of people today believe to be right. What makes their assessments valid? Instead, many people who have experienced radical victimization deeply appreciate the fact that God is just and will bring everything into judgment. They can simply commit their concerns about justice to God. It gives them the freedom to attend to Jesus’ teachings of mercy.
    His judgment also troubles me, and it should. Consequently, we are told to pray for the salvation of all people, knowing that we are no more deserving than they.
    The only way that the Christian can accept the fact of such a wrathful God is by knowing that, although we don’t deserve anything from Him, He has mercifully granted us a free gift of forgiveness and eternal life with the promise that He will never stop loving us.
    He has accomplished this by revealing to us the depth of our sin, something that I could not receive without the assurance of His love. Consequently, the closer we come to God, the more we are enabled to see the depths of our sin and our deservedness of condemnation. This gives us both a gratitude and a courage to face the ugly truth about ourselves.

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (96):
    The primary issue is not “warfare” but genocide (“completely wipe out”).
    Do you believe that genocide is morally acceptable?

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    RickK (#79), your response validates the purpose of the opening post it seems in that you apparently draw no distinction between a methodological [MN] and philosophical naturalism [PN].
    Science as MN employs a descriptive method. PN, a metaphysical stance, employs an interpretive method. They are not only methodologically distinct from one another but also from philosophy, a normative method. These are not distinctions without a difference; these methods are autonomous, which is to say that they probe reality with different tools and ask reality different questions. Humans do more than describe, interpret and norm reality; we also evaluate it.
    Any “goods delivered” by reality to humanity come from the recursive interplay of these descriptive, evaluative, normative and interpretive methods. These different probes of reality, while methodologically autonomous, are axiologically (value-wise) integral. That is to suggest that each method is necessary, none alone sufficient, for every human value-realization. In other words, the interactions of science, culture, philosophy and religion/ideology are hyper-complex.
    So, foremost, from a philosophical perspective, any claim that philosophical naturalism has, as you say, delivered the goods employs major category errors and is a non-starter. But even if one ignored that fatal flaw in framing the problem, from a sociologic perspective, still, it wouldn’t withstand empirical scrutiny because it is egregiously ahistorical. Simply put, your analysis is too facile.

  • Daniel Mann

    Ray,
    I’m sorry to respond to something that you addressed to Timothy D, but I just couldn’t restrain myself. You concluded: “The point is, science can, in principle, detect real miracles. The most it can say about such things – if they exist – is that their cause is unknown. Science just doesn’t assume the unknowable.”
    Although, in the immediate sense, you are correct. Phenomena carry no label declaring “caused naturally” or “caused supernaturally.” Nevertheless, scientists do and should go where the evidence leads them to theorize about causation. In the case of the resurrection, not only can we fairly certainly rule out natural causation, but the events (data) come Biblically with their own interpretation in the mouths of Jesus and His Apostles.
    In fact the evidence for the resurrection is so compelling that many non-Christian scholars have acknowledged that the disciples were convinced that they had encountered the risen Christ, even multiple times:
    1. “Even the atheist Ludemann conceded: ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’”
    2. “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ…is historical bedrock, facts known past doubting.” (Paula Fredriksen; both quoted by Lee Strobel)

  • Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    You asked, “Do you believe that genocide is morally acceptable?”
    I resist the word “genocide,” but the entire Biblical revelation is built upon the fact that God has a right to judge His creation, as I’ve tried to argue. Nevertheless, I pray that He would be merciful, but ultimately, that’s up to Him!

  • RJS

    Ray,
    We’ve been through this on other threads as well – but the flaw in your logic as I see it – and I know you disagree – is the insistence that meaning or purpose are only relative to human interactions.
    I don’t think the problem vanishes with these questions – because within a purely materialist naturalist framework, the who – any human or even animal – is in and of itself meaningless as well. I am not arguing for Christianity here, or even theism, I am arguing against a purely materialist naturalism. As an ontological statement naturalism is flawed.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Mann – They correctly invoke Hume who had argued that we can’t go from what “is” (our human condition) to what “ought to be.”
    See my discussion with Mr. Opderbeck and RJS about how to get from “is” to “ought”. (There’s another factor – “purpose”, too.)
    Or you could go here: http://www.intellectualconservative.com/2007/07/12/universal-morality-and-the-morality-of-the-universe/

  • Hrafn

    THE GOD OF “COMPLETELY WIPE OUT”
    Daniel Mann (99):
    1) No it was not “a divinely commissioned punishment”. Deuteronomy 20:18 clearly states that the purpose was PREVENTATIVE (‘I don’t want any competing Gods’) rather than PUNATIVE. Please avoid such “misinterpretation” of the biblical text.
    2) (i) Nearly all genocide is state-imposed in some way, so that is hardly an excuse. (ii) In any case it is not any more moral for a state to perform an act than for the individuals who make up a state to do so (state-sanctioned murder is still murder). Denial of this principle takes one a considerable way towards fascism.
    3) (i) The Canaanites were not worshippers of Yahweh, so were not subject to Judaism’s moral code. (ii) We have only their killers’ word that they were “great sinners”, and many killers try to lessen their blame by claiming that their victim is evil. Actually, the Bible’s demonisation of the Canaanites very closely resembles the Nazis demonisation and dehumanisation of the Jews. (iii) A God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is hardly in a moral position to condemn child sacrifice. (iv) We have no archeological record confirming that the Canaanites were more prone to child sacrifice than their contemporaries (including the proto-Isrealites). (v) “Completely wipe out” means kill sinner and innocent alike. Or are you claiming that EVERY Canaanite (even the infants?) indulged in these lurid, and often improbable, activities?
    4) NO! I do not “cringe” — I stand up straight and be counted for stating that genocide is evil.
    OF COURSE “the indictments that [I] bring against the God of the Bible are not based upon any objective criteria” — MORALITY IS A SUBJECTIVE FIELD. Just because some god didn’t tell me that something is wrong, does not mean that I do not have good reason to reject it. “The God of the Bible” didn’t tell you that slavery is wrong, but I presume you reject it anyway? What is your “objective criteria” for doing so?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    RJS –

    …within a purely materialist naturalist framework, the who – any human or even animal – is in and of itself meaningless as well.

    Meaningless to whom?
    I know we’re not going to see eye to eye on this, but I just couldn’t resist. :->

  • Hrafn

    Daniel Mann (103):
    Your ‘resistance’ is futile: genocide is genocide, whether you like the word or not.
    Even assuming “a right to judge His creation” (which as a non-Christian I do not admit), I can see a number of problems:
    1) Selective prosecution. The Canaanites (even assuming that they existed as described in the Bible) were neither the only tribe in the Mediterranean basin to have a fertility cult, nor the only tribe to practice child sacrifice. Why single them out?
    2) Indiscriminate effect. At least some of the Canaanites must have been too young to have performed the condemned actions, and it seems highly unlikely that every single one of those old enough committed them. Thus the command condemned the innocent along with the guilty.
    3) Corrosive effect. Once your tribe has demonised one tribe and genocided them, it is far easier for them to justify demonising and genociding another.
    Therefore if this was genuinely divine punishment (as opposed to a landgrab & attempt to nobble rival religions), it would have been more appropriate for God to have killed the guilty parties directly than to farm it out to the Israelites (as well as having been a more telling object lesson to other potential wrongdoers).
    Your arguments to date appear to assume their attempted conclusion, that the OT moral system is benevolent, rather than prove that conclusion.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#91) said: You’re right. But I’ve been saying all along that free will – purposes – when combined with game theory, do “get you ‘oughts’”. Yes, “free will alone” doesn’t do it. Yes, “[g]ame theory and chess analogies [alone]” don’t do it. But together they can. That’s the central point I’m trying to make, and I don’t know how more explicitly I can state it.
    I respond: I understand your point, and I think you’re just wrong. Compatibilist free will adds nothing to your equation.
    Let’s assume for argument’s sake that compatibilist free will can be combined with materialism. There then exists some freedom to choose among strategy sets for the perpetuation of genes that have emerged from the process of natural selection. But there remains no criteria for determining which strategy “ought” to be chosen. Why should any individual, or any group, choose to maximize survival? Alternatively, why should any individual, or any group, exercise compatibilist free will to transcend natural impulses and act with “true” altruism?
    In chess, a player desires to win the game because that is the telos of the game. You start with an eschatology, so to speak, and work your way back. If matter is all there is, no such telos exists. We will either act in ways that are likely to perpetuate our genes because we are deterministically programmed to do so, or we will make some choices among strategy sets, if and only to the extent that compatibilist free will so allows, for reasons that must be arbitrary.
    I’d anticipate that you might respond here with some seemingly non-arbitrary consequentialist reasons: we “ought” to adopt strategies that will allow the maximum number of humans to maximize their own utilities. But why? This is not the way of natural selection; natural selection cares not if humanity goes extinct. Compatibilist free will doesn’t help because “will” is not in itself a reason, it is simply a brute fact. Any appeals to “justice” or “fairness” require moral categories that transcend the brute exercise of choice. The will to power is not an ethical system.
    It seems to me that you want to arrive at transcendence without any Transcendence, and IMHO that just doesn’t work.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Opderbeck, I’m simply going to reiterate what I wrote in comment #38, in the hope it’ll register:

    Oh, come on. You’d be annoyed if someone caricatured your position with that kind of strawman; I hope we can avoid that here. As a simple point, even if humans arose from a long string of systems that had the effect of perpetuating genes, humans qua humans are perfectly capable of having other purposes than that.

    And we do. People have a wide variety of purposes and goals and desires that frequently have nothing to do with “perpetuating genes”, or even act against “perpetuating genes”. So please, as a personal favor to me, stop presuming that’s the only goals I’m talking about.
    But, of course, all these people are interacting with each other, and the universe we all live in. So now game theory comes in. And I don’t contend that “we ‘ought’ to adopt strategies that will allow the maximum number of humans to maximize their own utilities”.
    My contention is rather different. My contention instead is that for a very broad range of varying desires, it turns out that strategies closely resembling the common morality that humans have displayed for millennia work out awfully well. If you want to raise children, then a stable society with a low crime rate, non-corrupt government, etc. etc. is a very desirable thing from your perspective. And, golly gee, if instead you want to get a high-powered job and enjoy the finer things in life instead… a stable society with a low crime rate and a non-corrupt government is also a good thing from that perspective.
    Consider: there are many, many chess variants, with different starting arrangements, movement rules, board shapes, whatever. But in quite a broad range of those games, the queen’s still important and shouldn’t be sacrificed early without need.
    Even a pretty arbitrary – even a random – set of inputs, when interacting with an organized, fixed system, can produce similar results time and again. See RJS’s casino example. A wide variety of human goals and desires – interacting with a universe that displays regularities – can lead to similar useful strategies time and again.
    Now, you can ask for this to be fleshed out more, certainly, and there’s a lot of work to be done. But I don’t see where this is an impossible or incoherent principle.

  • Daniel Mann

    Hrafn,
    You detail problems that you see with God’s judgment of the Canaanites:
    “1) Selective prosecution. The Canaanites (even assuming that they existed as described in the Bible) were neither the only tribe in the Mediterranean basin to have a fertility cult, nor the only tribe to practice child sacrifice. Why single them out?”
    Even if God did single the Canaanites out for the judgment they deserved (and I don’t know if that’s the case), it wouldn’t make God unjust. He has the right to be more patient with other groups.
    “2) Indiscriminate effect. At least some of the Canaanites must have been too young to have performed the condemned actions, and it seems highly unlikely that every single one of those old enough committed them. Thus the command condemned the innocent along with the guilty.”
    This is a difficult theological problem. Christians have dealt with it in various ways. However, I don’t claim to understand everything about God’s ways, but I know Him well enough to know that His ways are just. Perhaps He’ll make it up to the infants who perished in the eternity that follows? In conjunction with this, perhaps He wanted to signal the fact that our sin and rebellion would not simply have consequences limited to our own well-being, but would also affect our families?
    “3) Corrosive effect. Once your tribe has demonised one tribe and genocided them, it is far easier for them to justify demonising and genociding another.”
    Ordinarily, I would agree with you. However, these judgments seemed to have had a sobering effect on Israel. They had been continually warned that they were no better than others, and that the same would happen to them if they did not repent of their sins. (And they couldn’t deny the fact that they had their sins!)
    In general, the Bible communicates that we are all sinners in need of the Savior, and if we forget this fact – and we’re so prone to do this – we will bring judgment on ourselves. Jesus’ disciples asked him about the victims on whom a tower had fallen – if they were worse sinners than others. He answered that even worse will happen to those who refuse to confess their sins and repent.
    This is a message we continually need to hear, because we tend to live in a cloud of self-delusion and self-justification. It is this state of mind that enables us to feel superior to others and to victimize them. It wasn’t a belief in God that led Hitler to genocide, but the notion that, as the “master race,” they were entitled!

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    In my view, a religious interpretation of reality is not needed to ground epistemology, establish values (telos or purpose) or provide norms.

  • RickK

    Daniel Mann said: “I’ve tried to argue the reverse: that naturalism is closed to any other form of causation (supernaturalism). Instead, those who believe in God have an excellent track record in their willingness to regard the evidence.”
    If you simply assume that God made everything in nature to appear as if it has natural causation, that God made it appear that He has no actual presence in the physical universe, then I can’t argue against that any more than I can argue against the assertion that we’re all living in the Matrix.
    But then, similarly, you can’t argue against the assertion that the reality of God is indistinguishable from a creation of human imagination.
    John Sobert Sylvest pointed out that I don’t know the difference between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. At the risk of being too facile: methodological naturalism has been overwhelmingly successful at expanding our true understanding of the nature of the world and the universe. Should we ignore this success when taking a philosophical stance?
    Do I think there’s a God? No. The consistent collapse of evidence for any one version of God and the consistent collapse of evidence for the supernatural is irrefutable. With so many examples to draw upon, it makes no sense to me to look at any question and to start with God as the answer. Experience tells us that there is most likely a natural answer, whether it is within our grasp at the moment or not.
    Does ontological naturalism remove purpose and meaning from existence? Of course not. One look at the friends and family around you should dispel any notion that life and existence are without meaning. As for purpose, ontological naturalism just gives humanity the responsibility of determining its own purpose. Isn’t that better than assigning the responsibility to the world’s various divine beings?
    After all, we’re deciding our own purpose anyway. We invent our gods, we invest them with our current interpretation of morality, we “re-interpret” any ancient texts to suit our evolving society. We’re already determining our own purpose. We just don’t admit it.

  • http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/read/essays/nathist/perimeterofignorance Daniel T.

    I can say it no better than Neil deGrasse Tyson:
    “””
    I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.
    “””

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    RickK,
    You responded, “If you simply assume that God made everything in nature to appear as if it has natural causation, that God made it appear that He has no actual presence in the physical universe, then I can’t argue against that any more than I can argue against the assertion that we’re all living in the Matrix.”
    This is not what I’m saying at all. I’m so sorry if I haven’t expressed myself clearly. I too believe in a law of gravity and consequently that phenomena occur in predictable, formulaic ways. The challenge that I am issuing regards the nature, origin, and sustenance of the laws. Do they exist independently, unintelligently, and without anything to maintain them, or do they issue forth from the singular mind of God? I’ve tried to argue that the supernatural explanation is far better.
    Supernaturalism – even if there are natural, free-standing laws, they are created and maintained supernaturally – in no way impedes the DOING of science. Instead, it affects the theorizing and the direction of science. Consequently, when you say that “methodological naturalism has been overwhelmingly successful at expanding our true understanding of the nature of the world and the universe,” I have no argument with you, as I have no argument with the definition of MN that RJS proposed. No supernaturalist would have trouble with his definition, and consequently, would do science no differently from an atheist in this regard. We all believe in observation, quantification, and replication.
    Rick, you also wrote, “As for purpose, ontological naturalism just gives humanity the responsibility of determining its own purpose. Isn’t that better than assigning the responsibility to the world’s various divine beings?”
    I had a friend who set out his own purpose of visiting every country in the world. This however got old very quickly. In contrast, when I wake up in the morning, I can get out of bed knowing that I serve the God of the universe. I also know that He is the source of all love and truth and that He is taking care of me.
    It hadn’t always been this way. My life had been characterized by meaninglessly, emptiness, and sameness. Nothing made sense because there was no sense. Perceiving life this way powerfully contributed to my sense of depression, inadequacy and vulnerability.
    Even the atheist F. Nietzsche stated, “If you have a ‘why’ to live for, you can bear almost anything.” Life is very different now knowing that things just don’t simply happen, but that my Protector is guiding my steps.
    You disparage the many proofs for the existence of God. If you are interested, I’ve written about many of them on my blog, and I’d be glad to dialogue regarding them.

  • Your Name

    Rickk, daniel t and NG tyson are wrong with respect to the approach of Christians to science. A christian approach does not result in “I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity.” To say such is to reveal ignorance and shallow analysis.
    Many of the greatest scientists of the past were orthodox Christians (in the broad sense) or some version of theist.
    It is, in fact, rare that any Christian investigating the world around her will just say, “oh God did it”. Indeed, the truth is rather that science was practiced for hundreds of years by Christians, was developed and used by Christians, and modern science lies on a bedrock created by Christians. It is a Christian theological assumption that the natural world operates in regular, law like ways, and that it can thus be investigated.
    A non-theist has no ultimate grounds for such an assumption–one that is fundamental to so-called “methodological naturalism”. All the non-theist can state is that law-like regularity has been observed to date and based on such past behaviour the expectation is that the future will be similar to the past. The non-theist has no way of knowing for certain that the future will be at be like the past, or that cows won’t simply start popping out of thin air. Theists do.
    regards,
    #John

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    RickK (#113) wrote: At the risk of being too facile: methodological naturalism has been overwhelmingly successful at expanding our true understanding of the nature of the world and the universe. Should we ignore this success when taking a philosophical stance? Do I think there’s a God? No. The consistent collapse of evidence for any one version of God and the consistent collapse of evidence for the supernatural is irrefutable. With so many examples to draw upon, it makes no sense to me to look at any question and to start with God as the answer. Experience tells us that there is most likely a natural answer, whether it is within our grasp at the moment or not. intelligent design, only the obverse side of the same epistemic coin, which has no purchase on reality.
    But RickK, in some ways, I am only picking a nit with you. To the extent you are establishing the reasonableness of your interpretive stance, ontological naturalism, I appreciate what you are driving at and I concede the reasonableness of your perspective, even as I reject it on purely evidential grounds. It is no more empirically measurable, logically consistent, presuppositionally coherent or rationally demonstrable than the various interpretive stances proffered by different believers. In many ways, in those respects, it is no less compelling. But I also reject the notions that a methodological naturalism somehow impairs our imaginative faculties. And I reject the arguments that a religious interpretation is a necessary foundation for such as knowledge, free will, purpose, values or morality. Hans Kung may have a point in suggesting that such an interpretive stance as philosophical naturalism entails an unjustified, nowhere anchored and paradoxical trust in uncertain reality. Nevertheless, while a foundational THEORY of truth may provide a rational justification for one’s trust in reality (ameliorating some cognitive dissonance), still, it doesn’t change anything empirically or practically in our various TESTS of truth. That is to say that it doesn’t make our probes of reality any less fallible or our grasps of reality any more certain; it just adds a weakly inferential, truth-indicative sign (alas, in an arena where probabilistic inference does not otherwise obtain).
    Faced with a Scottish verdict of unproved, by the most rigorous modern philosophy (normative sciences), many interpretive stances, as long as they have gone BEYOND but not WITHOUT our descriptive scientific methods, enjoy a certain epistemic parity, even vis a vis what we might call an epistemic virtue. If we thus incline ourselves to one interpretive stance or another, it really cannot be because we have found one versus another to be more compelling evidentially, presuppositionally or rationally, at least not at this stage of humankind’s journey. If we find one stance more compelling than another, it will be, rather, existentially so, not arationally, but, super-rationally.
    As it is, human knowledge and value-realizations are far more richly textured and complex than any of this rather formalistic consideration hereinabove described; it proceeds far
    less from propositional cognition (like conceptual map-making) and far more via our participatory imagination (like hometown knowledge). Whatever any of us are about in engaging reality via one interpretive stance or the next, it decidedly involves a wager and calls for a leap – yes – of faith. While it is not a leap made on strictly evidential or probabilistic grounds, no, it cannot be a leap that – as you asked – ignores methodological naturalism or its successes. Your stance, based on those successes, is plausible, but it manifestly is not – as you said – most likely.
    Much of what has been discussed here does not even begin to engage the human reality we call religion. It is merely a natural theology (more properly, natural philosphy), a brief philosophical excursion, as I’ve written elsewhere: for the purpose of disambiguating concepts, clarifying categories, formulating arguments or, in other words, framing up valid questions, which we might consider to be reality’s “limit questions.” A natural philosophy does not then aspire to answer these questions such as through formal syllogistic reasoning as if there could be proofs for God’s existence or final explanations for reality. All a philosophy of nature demonstrates is the reasonableness of our limit questions, questions which cohere with our ultimate concerns.
    Now, there will surely be some who struggle with my implicit nonfoundational epistemology and think that such a postmodern approach leads to a vulgar pragmatism and relativism. It is, rather, a more neoclassical pragmatism and constructive postmodern take on things, which is a whole other topic.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Mr. Sylvest – I’ve been accused of being overly loquacious and sesquipedalian, but I bow to you on that score. :-> On the other hand, I’ve still got a problem with what you say here (assuming I understand it):

    Their subject matter is not limited to the determinate, knowable, falsifiable, measurable, formalizable, comprehensible and specifiable, but also includes the putatively indeterminate, unknowable, unfalsifiable, immeasurable, unformalizable, incomprehensible and unspecifiable.

    I’ve got a very simple, practical problem with that. Epistemologically, the ‘unknowable’ is a troublesome concept. How can we, in practice, distinguish between something ‘currently unknown but comprehensible’ and something ‘forever unknowable’? From a practical perspective, the only way to tell which category something falls into is to try to understand it; if you succeed, then it was knowable. The problem is, if you fail, you can’t conclude that it’s unknowable. It might be… but it also might be the case that you just didn’t happen to figure out something knowable, and you or someone else might have better luck on a subsequent attempt.
    The concept of the “unknowable, unfalsifiable, immeasurable, unformalizable, incomprehensible” and so forth may be interesting from the point of view of philosophical noodling. But in practice such ideas are of no utility whatsoever. You can never prove something’s ‘beyond human ken’. The most you can ever say is, “Nobody understands that yet“.
    Could they be true nonetheless? Sure, by definition there’s no way to disprove it. But I’m a practical guy, and I could not possibly care less. And in so doing I definitely avoid what I term Haldane’s Error.

  • #John1453

    re R. Ingles, @#110, etc.
    The goals & morality RI derives are different from those advocated by Opderbeck in a very significant way: RI’s are subordinate while OP’s are transcendent. Because the latter are transcendent, they are applicable to all regardless of whether others acknowledge them; they have a reality independent of any individual. The former only arise subordinate to an individual’s choice. If I want to raise a child in a town with low physical violence, then I will . . .
    Unless another individual chooses the same ends, or has desires for ends that have compatible means of achievement, there is no reason for those goals and morals to be applied to them. Except, of course through power, that is, if your different goals and means interfere with mine, and I have greater power (via laws, police, etc.) then I will enforce my mores on you so that I can achieve my goals.
    Furthermore, the personal meaning derived in such a system is also individual and subordinate rather than transcendent and ultimate. Most people are dissatisfied with the former and seek the latter.
    If goals and morals and meaning are defined and restricted in an transcendent and universal sense, then RI does not have nor offer any. If the concept is broadened to include the more limited and individual ones he advocates, then one has to decide which have more value. It seems rather obvious that transcendent and universal ones are more valuable.
    Which then, are true? But before we go down that trail, perhaps we should return to the topic of this thread.
    regards,
    #John

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    RE: How can we, in practice, distinguish between something ‘currently unknown but comprehensible’ and something ‘forever unknowable’?
    Mr. Ingles (#118), BINGO! On that score, we must remain agnostic. And, of course, that knife cuts in both directions is one of my major points. One cannot a priori suggest that an unknown remains that way because it is forever unknowable, but neither can one suggest that it is necessarily eventually knowable.
    And, to those who insist we can a posteriori suggest that an unknown is most likely knowable, this based on a methodological naturalism’s past successes, my other point was: hogwash. We are not in a position to draw valid probabilistic inferences regarding reality’s limit questions, not even regarding the initial, boundary and limit
    conditions of this local universe, much less a putative multiverse.
    Probabilistic inference faces another problem, closer to our cosmological home, which is that our modal categories of possible, actual and probable may not long hold because temporal reality, itself, apparently breaks down as we near t = 0.
    Now, I’m as big an epistemic optimist and as incurable a scientist as most, committed to a methodological naturalism for all practical purposes. But, like you, I’m a practical guy and if someone put a gun to my head and said to get this right or else, well, I’d have to say, for all practical purposes, as regarding reality’s limit questions, we are going to be royally screwed. Maybe not. This is only my “provisional” closure.
    Haldane is famous for saying that reality is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we CAN imagine. And I have, myself, objected to Haldane’s mysterian stance before, only because, practically, it leads us down an epistemic cul de sac. Theoretically, though, I am deeply sympathetic to what he’s intuiting even as I agree with Chesterton that we do not know enough about reality, yet, to say that it is unknowable. (We are perhaps closer to knowing same now than when he wrote that.) However, this doesn’t mean I’m buying the pig-in-a-poke being sold by philosophical naturalists, whose interpretive stance is no more compelling, evidentially or probabilistically, than that of many believers, who also happen to be great scientists. My other point (and I know I don’t always say things so very well, which is why I state them several different ways in every paragraph) is that philosophical naturalism is thus a type of wager, a leap or FAITH. And its adherents are no more BRIGHT than that of other believers of different interpretive stances, notwithstanding the arrogant claims of the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris).
    To your last points, that you could care no less regarding my distinctions, that my ideas re: un/knowability have no utility whatsoever, I wholeheartedly dissent. Anyone who thus grasps what I am saying, even if I say it inartfully, or even begins to get what I am driving at, should emerge from such a consideration with a great deal less arrogance and a great deal more epistemic humility regarding reality’s limit questions, in general, and alternate
    interpretive stances, in particular. And this has significant sociologic import because it undercuts the arguments of radical fundamentalisms of all stripes, who can be dangerous, even including the Enlightenment fundamentalists of scientism.

  • http://christiannonduality.com John Sobert Sylvest

    This was a great thread w/provocative questions. And some great discussions, both points and counterpoints. I’m moving on to other commitments. Please pardon my over-exuberance and credit it to the great company you keep here!

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    John1453 –

    The goals & morality RI derives are different from those advocated by Opderbeck in a very significant way: RI’s are subordinate while OP’s are transcendent. Because the latter are transcendent, they are applicable to all regardless of whether others acknowledge them; they have a reality independent of any individual. The former only arise subordinate to an individual’s choice.

    Do you think there’s such a thing as human nature? Do you think that it means something to say that someone’s human, as opposed to something else?
    I do. There is a huge commonality in what humans want, how they approach the world, and so forth. There are a lot of differences, of course… but it sure seems to me that the commonalities are fundamental while the differences are variations on a theme.
    So, humans as a general type are interacting with a universe with fixed properties that can’t be changed. (Unless someone can provide a flying carpet, for example, I think we can take gravity as firmly established.)
    So we have a broad – but nevertheless finite in some ways – range of wants interacting with a fixed set of conditions. Like the chess variations I talked about. So long as what you’re talking about is recognizably chess-related, for example, the queen will be an important piece that should not be sacrificed early in the game. And so long as we’re talking about human beings, a general class of strategies for interacting with other humans holds. The Golden Rule, for example. “Trust, but verify.” Etc.
    We can also include the observation that material things, while necessary at some level, are hardly sufficient for happiness. People reach their greatest level of happiness and fulfillment in relating to, and even caring for, others. This can be (and so far as I can see, is) true regardless of whether you think this has a supernatural cause or not.
    There are objections, of course. “What of psychopaths?” The link I’ve provided also addresses that. I find I don’t feel like retyping any more here.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    And, to those who insist we can a posteriori suggest that an unknown is most likely knowable, this based on a methodological naturalism’s past successes, my other point was: hogwash.

    Thank goodness that’s not what I suggest!
    My objection is purely on a practical level. Think – we come across a phenomenon that we don’t understand. What should we do?
    First, let’s assume it’s in reality knowable, just not understood. If we decide it’s unknowable, we won’t even try to understand it, and it will remain unknown. If we decide to study it, we may eventually understand it.
    What if it’s in reality unknowable, and beyond human comprehension? If we decide it’s unknowable, we won’t even try to understand it, and it will remain unknown. If we decide to study it, we won’t ever understand it – but sometimes just studying one subject sheds light on another. We may wind up understanding some other knowable thing.
    So, from a purely practical perspective, the only logical thing is to study everything without regard for whether it’s unknowable or not. To treat everything as if it’s potentially knowable. To do anything else simply guarantees ignorance.

  • GalapagosPete

    “So, from a purely practical perspective, the only logical thing is to study everything without regard for whether it’s unknowable or not. To treat everything as if it’s potentially knowable. To do anything else simply guarantees ignorance.”
    Of course; for science to work, it *must* be assumed that all things are potentially knowable–which is likely true, given an advanced enough technology on our part to assist us in understanding natural phenomena.
    Of course, this only works with real phenomena, not unreal ones like gods, which are merely beings made up by people who thought that there were unknowable things, like lightning, all those lights in the sky, earthquakes, etc.

  • A Canadian Atheist

    What a painful discussion to read!
    All of the references to “Theology”. Why are you spending so much effort to negate science? What has Theology ever given us of value?
    “The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion” Thomas Pain


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