Plantinga on ID

Alvin Plantinga has an interesting comment on judge John Jones’s recent anti-ID (intelligent design) ruling.

Now, I find it hard to agree with much of what Plantinga is saying (as usual), but he also has a few good points. In particular, trying to define science in such as way as to exclude supernatural agents as part of scientific explanations is dubious. This “methodological naturalism” type of argument has long been useful for scoring political points against creationists, but it’s at best a useful first approximation, not the full story. Methods have reasons; they are not a priori principles. Depending on what kind of world we live in, some methods will be useful for generating reliable knowledge, others will not be so useful. In that sense, there is no sharp separation between the results and the methods of our sciences. And so “methodological naturalism” is also not something handed down from on high — it’s a practical, well-tested approach, not a prior constraint on scientific inquiry. (I would add that the success of methodological naturalism is a strong reason for thinking that our world is a strictly naturalistic kind of world.)

That being said, there are plenty of other reasons to reject the claim that ID is scientific — not its violation of a set of logical principles but its consistent failure as an ostensibly scientific enterprise. For more, see contributions in Why Intelligent Design Fails, which I edited together with Matt Young. It’s just out in paperback.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Ahab

    I think you are being too kind to Plantinga.

    He wrote:
    “But taking these notions in a rough-and-ready way we can easily see that propositions about supernatural beings not being verifiable or falsifiable isn’t true at all.
    For example, the statement “God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland” is clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false. “

    The ‘god has designed’ part of Plantinga’s statement is really irrelevant to what can and cannot be verified in his claim. Are there 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland or not? If there aren’t, then what the heck does it mean to say that God didn’t design them?
    And if there are such rabbits living there, where is the evidence that God designed them? Seems to me an absurd comment on Plantinga’s part that does not really address the real question here: how can one ever verify that a supernatural being did or did not bring about a particular effect when, by definition, a supernatural being is capable of acting contrary to known natural laws?

    If a theist were to say that God always acts in accordance with natural laws then I could see verification of that deity’s acts being possible. But the theist wants to have his cake and eat it too: he wants a God that acts contrary to natural laws and is also capable of being included in the the type of regular phenomenon that science would theoretically be capable of verifying.

  • Leandro

    These people wouldn’t know reason if it shook their hand and slapped them in the face.

  • shargash

    For a scientific explanation to be valuable, it must be predictive. You must be able to say, “if I do this, then that will happen.”

    This is not just a definitional prejudice that could be altered if we preferred a different definition. It goes to the heart of the usefulness of science — it’s, well, usefulness. Being able to predict things allows me to make things and to make things that work. This usefulness is the attribute that allows us to infer that we “know” something about nature.

    Now, if should be possible to make a science that accounts for the supernatural by following general “scientific” principles. Essentially, this could serve as a definition of “magic”, and I think it is perfectly plausible to construct a science of magic in this way (much more plausible than that magic actually exists).

    Some religions (Voodoo, frex) lend themselves to this kind of inquiry. Christianity does not. If it did, it would mean that the Christian god “hops to it” when we tell him to do something; if he did not, you couldn’t make predictions.

    I would go so far as to argue that predictability and supernatural are mutually exclusive opposites. If a phenomenon were shown to be predictable and understandable, it would not be supernatural, by definition.

  • Grant

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • Tracker

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • Tracker

    I think Plantinga is right with his rabbit argument. For instance, the statement that God has created 800 pound rabbits in Cleveland is about God (who else could it be about), and it is false since empirical investigation confirms there are no 800 pound rabbits there, and since there are no 800 pound rabbits there, that is a reason, a fortiori, that God didn’t make any there.

    Plantinga knows his stuff; his CV is online; just google it.

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