The Evidential Argument from the History of Science (AHS)

Informal Statement of the Argument

 

If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic explanations work. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most scientific theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, implausible, even on the assumption that theism is true. Such explanatory success is antecedently more likely on naturalism–which entails that all supernaturalistic explanations are false–than it is on theism. Thus the history of science is some evidence for naturalism and against theism.[1]

 
Formal Statement of the Argument
 
Definitions:

 

physical entity: the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists. Examples of physical entities include atoms, molecules, gravitational fields, electromagnetic fields, etc.[2]
causally reducible: X is causally reducible to Y just in case X’s causal powers are entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of Y.[2]
ontologically reducible: X is ontologically reducible to Y just in case X is nothing but a collection of Ys organized in a certain way.[2]
natural entity: an entity which is either a physical entity or an entity that is ontologically or causally reducible to a physical entity.[2]
nature: the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.

Note: there may be additional entities currently unknown to physics but which may be discovered in the future. If and when such entities are discovered, they may be called physical and natural based on their relationship to known physical or natural entities. Thus, this definition of “nature” may only capture nature as currently understood.[2]

supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect nature. Examples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.[2] 
non-natural entity: any entity that is not a natural entity. There are two kinds of non-natural entities: personal and impersonal. Personal non-natural entities are supernatural persons or agents. Impersonal non-natural entities are abstract objects.
presumption of naturalism: prior to investigation, the probability that the immediate cause of any given natural event is very high.[2]
modest methodological naturalism: scientific explanations may appeal to the supernatural only as a last resort.[2]
naturalistic explanation:  a non-supernatural explanation.

 
Note: a common misunderstanding is the idea that a “naturalistic explanation” means an explanation based on metaphysical naturalism. That is not how “naturalistic explanation” is used here. Rather, a naturalistic explanation simply means any explanation that does not appeal to supernatural agency.
 

B: The Relevant Background Information

 
1. The universe is intelligible.
 

E: The Evidence to be Explained

 
1. So many natural phenomena can be explained naturalistically, i.e., without appeal to supernatural agency.
2. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.
 

Rival Explanatory Hypotheses

 
T: theism: the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe.
N: metaphysical naturalism: the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.
 

The Argument Formulated

 
(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false.
 
Defense of (2) 
 
N entails that any true explanations must be naturalistic ones.  Thus, on the assumption that N is true, we have an extremely strong reason to expect that successful scientific explanations will be naturalistic ones. In contrast, if T is true, then it could have been the case that that successful scientific explanations were supernatural explanations. For example, biology could have discovered that all animals are not the relatively modified descendants of a common ancestor; neuroscience could have discovered no correlations at all between human minds and brains, etc. If the history of science were like that, then that would have supported T over N.  But then the success of science in finding naturalistic explanations must be evidence for N over T. How strong is this evidence? I agree with Draper:  “the more likely it is that there are true naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena (i.e., the stronger the presumption of naturalism), the more unlikely it is that there are supernatural beings.”[3]
 
Objections to AHS
 
Objections to (2)
 
Objection: AHS “depends on conflating the old pagan religions and animisms with the Abrahamic religious beliefs. . . .  [T]here is a clear distinction between those who believed in the old gods and spirits, and those who held to the Judeo-Christian notion of a transcendent and eternal Creator God. What ended the attribution of supernatural causes to natural processes wasn’t the advent of rationalism through the science but the spread of Christianity and it’s adherence to a transcendent Creator God who acted uniquely in history to create a universe that acted in accordance with certain laws and principles.”[4]
 
Reply:  This reply confuses the distinction between what we might call the “socio-historical explanation” for E with its “metaphysical explanation.” The spread of Christianity is an example of the former, while AHS is focused on the latter. Even if that socio-historical explanation for E is correct, it doesn’t follow that T, much less Christian theism, is correct. The objection notes that the universe acts “in accordance with certain laws and principles.” That fact is irrelevant to AHS, which explicitly includes the intelligibility of the universe in its background information. At best, the fact of the intelligibility of the universe might provide evidence favoring T over N. It does not in any way undermine the claim that, given that the universe acts in accordance with certain laws and principles, the fact that science has been so successful in providing natural explanations for natural phenomena is evidence favoring N over T. To deny this point is to commit the fallacy of understated evidence.[5]
 
Objection: “For at least fifteen hundred years countless theologians have developed what I call transcendent agent models of divine action in the world which view God as the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific [naturalistic] explanation in its proper sphere. So once again, and for good measure, the advance of science in its proper sphere which it has rightfully claimed from other disciplines, provides no evidence that those other disciplines do not have their proper spheres. And thus it provides no evidence that theism is false or that naturalism is true.”[6]
 
Reply: On the assumption that theism is true, what reason is there to believe that transcendent agent (TA) models of divine action in the world are true? Is there any reason that is independent of the success of  non-supernatural explanations?
 
Let’s define A as the hypothesis that “God is the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific explanation in its proper sphere.” A is clearly logically compatible with E, but the question is whether A undermines premise (2) of AHS. In order to properly evaluate the evidential impact of A, if any, on AHS, I propose that we treat A as an auxiliary hypothesis (to theism). It follows from the theorem of total probability that:
 
Pr(A | T) = Pr(A | T) x Pr(E | A & T) + Pr(~A | T) x Pr(E | T & ~A)
 
In the context of explanatory arguments, Draper calls that theorem the “weighted average principle” (WAP).[7] As Draper points out, this formula is an average because Pr(A | T) + Pr(~A | T) = 1. It is not a simple straight average, however, since those two values may not equal 1/2; that is why it is a weighted average.[8] The higher Pr(A | T), the closer Pr(E | T) will be to  Pr(E | A & T);  similarly, the higher Pr(~A | T), the closer  Pr(E | T) will be to Pr(E | T & ~A).[9]WAP shows that, in order to be successful, an objection to an evidential argument must do more than simply identify an auxiliary hypothesis which can explain the data. The objection must also provide an antecedent reason for thinking that A is true, i.e., a reason for thinking that A is more probable given the core hypothesis–in this case, theism–than given the negation of the core hypothesis. Without such a reason, the objection reduces to the fact that E is merely logically compatible with the core hypothesis (in this case, T), which is no objection at all to an evidential argument.
 
For this reason, then, this objection is, at best, incomplete. It successfully identifies a relevant auxiliary hypothesis (A), but does not (yet) provide an antecedent reason for expecting that hypothesis to be true, on the assumption that theism is true.
 
Objection: Theologians had Biblical reasons for adopting A.
 
Reply: “Biblical reasons for adopting a TA model” are evidentially relevant if and only if the pattern of probability relations specified by the Weighted Average Principle (WAP) are satisfied. Unless there is an antecedent reason to think that such Biblical reasons are more probable than not, on the assumption that theism is true, there is no reason to think A refutes premise (2) of AHS.
 
Objection: Theologians also had countless philosophical and theological reasons as well. For instance, TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality, two mainstays of classical theism. So theologians prior to the rise of science had many reasons to endorse A.
 
Reply:  The claim, “TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality,” is just that: a claim, an assertion, in need of support.
 
Objection: Naturalism is unable to explain some 20th-century scientific discoveries, ranging from what happens to when one shoots a photon into space to certain 20th-century scientific discoveries, such as cosmological fine-tuning.
 
Reply: First, metaphysical naturalism neither logically entails nor makes probable the claim that metaphysical naturalism itself is the explanation for everything studied by the sciences. Rather, metaphysical naturalism entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations. According to (2), the fact that so many true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
 
Similarly, the fact that non-supernatural explanations have replaced supernatural explanations, while no supernatural explanations have replaced non-supernatural explanations, is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
 
Second, I don’t rule out that the possibility that scientific discoveries, such as cosmological fine-tuning, could provide evidence for theism and against naturalism. Indeed, I’ve blogged on The Secular Outpost about Draper’s argument from moral agency for theism and against naturalism. I’ve gone so far as to call that argument the best argument for theism. None of this, however, undermines the conclusion of AHS, which is that the history of science is prima facie evidence against theism. The words “prima facie” are important because they highlight that the argument assesses the evidential impact of one item of evidence only. To put the point another way, AHS doesn’t claim to examine the total available relevant evidence. It’s possible that both the argument from moral agency and AHS are correct. Indeed, it’s possible that both are correct, but the former outweighs the latter!
 
Notes
 
[1] See Keith M. Parsons, Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Ph.D. Dissertation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Queen’s University, 1986), 46; Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 223-24; and idem, “God, Science, and Naturalism” Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William Wainwright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 38-39; and Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the ConnectionPhilo 3 (2000): 7-29.
 
[2] Draper 2004.
 
[3] Draper 2004.
 
[4] Jack Hudson, “Arguments for God: The Historically Unique Nature of God.” Wide as the Waters (August 10,2010), http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/the-historically-unique-nature-of-creation/(spotted June 16, 2012).
 
[5] Paul Draper, “Partisanship and Inquiry in the Philosophy of Religion,” unpublished paper. Cf. Draper 2004, 43-44.
 
[6] Randal Rauser, “A Critical Look at Jeff Lowder’s Evidential Argument from the History of Science.” Randal Rauser (July 13, 2012), http://randalrauser.com/2012/07/a-critical-look-at-jeff-lowders-evidential-argument-from-the-history-of-science/(spotted July 13, 2012).
 
[7] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for TheistsNoús 23 (1989): 331-50 at 340.
 
[8] Draper 1989.
 
[9] Draper 1989.
 

Related Resources

 
Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “The Perimeter of Ignorance.” Natural History Magazine (November 2005).

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14281228447185474180 Jonathan MS Pearce

    Jeff. When I get a chance to properly cogitate on this, can I post it on Debunking Christianity? It will give it some more audience too!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    N entails that any true explanations must be naturalistic ones.

    I am a metaphysical naturalist (N) but this doesn't imply I think all explanations must be naturalistic.

    Phenomenology, in particular, is a source of explanation that isn't explicitly naturalistic in flavor, even though experiences are brain processes at a metaphysical level.

    E.g., 'Why did you drive to the dentist?' 'Because my tooth hurt.'

    We can have explanatory pluralism with metaphysical naturalism, which complicates things a bit.

    I would agree that a metaphysical naturalist wouldn't use supernatural explanations, but the categories natural and supernatural don't seem exhaustive. There is a 'neutral' category.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Jonathan Pearce: Sure.

    BDK: I see your point and I think you've misunderstood. In the context of this article, naturalistic explanation means non-supernatural explanations.

    Aside: I see that Steve Hays has responded to my article with one of his own, but his article only quotes the informal statement of the argument, not the formal statement. The answer to at least one, if not more, of his questions are explicitly discussed in the formal statement of the argument. It's unfortunate when critics of an argument have to resort to uncharitable interpretations, selective quotations, or both.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    OK, but note that is a somewhat deviant use of naturalistic that many phenomenologists would balk at (e.g., Merleau Ponty wouldn't be happy). But if you are stipulating that by natural you mean 'not supernatural' that is fine.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14281228447185474180 Jonathan MS Pearce

    Jeff,

    Let me get this straight – you may have answered this in your objection.

    Let's imagine that God created the universe and by fine-tuning all the laws, and creating ex nihilo, he is the supernatural explanation for everything. however, what he created were natural laws and a natural-looking universe. In fact, he's a bit like a classic deist God, stepping away after creation.

    Where would this leave the argument, since one would find it difficult to differentiate a naturalistic universe from this supernaturalistic one? Or is it an argument that cannot make claims on first causes, but merely everything thereafter?

    Excuse me if I have missed some nuances here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Jonathan — There are so many more possibilities in a supernaturalistic universe than in a naturalistic universe it is hard to know where to begin. Something like the Force (in Star Wars) could have existed; one can imagine Jedis and Sith going around performing repeatable, verifiable Force-based supernatural magic tricks. ;-) On a more serious note, special creationism could have been true. Weather events could have been found to be caused by the fiat of gods similar to the Greek Pantheon. Substance dualism could have been true and there could have been no correlates of consciousness.

    Steve Hays — It appears that when I edit a post, any links you've added under "Links to this post" disappear. So you may want to post a regular comment with your link.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    JL: Thus the history of science is some evidence for naturalism and against theism.

    Alex: Since scientists seem to adhere to at least methodological naturalism, I'm not sure why would expect anything but naturalistic hypotheses to dominate the field. Mainstream science simply isn't in the business of testing, or even considering supernatural hypotheses.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    While science operates under methodological naturalism generally, supernatural hypotheses are considered in testing the effectiveness of prayer or various types of 'psychic' phenomena. One could of course consider naturalistic explanations for these things (this is sometimes done in psi research), but generally the effect looked for is considered to be supernatural, i.e., outside the natural order as currently understood. If people who are unaware that prayers for their health are being made on their behalf heal faster in a good study, then that result can be analyzed/debated and perhaps tested further on behalf of either supernaturalism or naturalism.

    But there don't seem to be good results in favor of either supernatural or naturalist hypotheses in the largest and most stringent of such studies – the effects are nonexistent or unable to be reproduced. So one could take those as instances of supernaturalist hypotheses being falsified (not, of course, to be forever dismissed). And supernatural effects could be seen even during studies that are in no way considering such hypotheses, since the results of scientific studies are often surprising or point to issues quite different from those being studied, and naturalistic methodology does not in principle rule out the possibility of supernatural effects/results (and how could it, since the supernatural is by definition not subject to naturalism?). After all, if someone has the power to remote view (correctly) a different 20-digit number 20 times in succession, then why and/or how would naturalism impede that?

    So, is it science's methodological naturalism that makes supernatural hypotheses fail when studied (and is there any other possible method then), or are the general lack of effects caused by something else?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Hi Chris – there seem to be prayer and psi studies that favor supernatural hypotheses, or at a minimum, have some scientists convinced of this. I'm looking at a recent issue of Discover that discusses the results of Daryl Bem's research on ESP. The merits of these studies could be argued endlessly but I think its worth pointing out that the supernaturalist will probably disagree with Jeff's premise here, as stated. And really, all you would need is one such successful hypothesis to overturn naturalism. The naturalist will of course always be free to hold out hope for a naturalistic hypothesis that will come along and unseat the supernatural.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    The main point I think is that this kind of research is characterized as "fringe" by the mainstream scientific community, even though there are many scientists who support it, and accept it. As for your comment on supernatural effects within other studies not considering such hypotheses, I think, working against Jeff's premise, its obvious that theistic hypotheses are considered out-of-bounds in areas like biology, cosmology, etc. – even by many theists. Even though, I'm sure Jeff would agree, the fine-tuning argument to theism is worthy of consideration, it isn't something that scientists generally address (I think rightly so, given the "rules" of science), and such theistic hypotheses are left to be considered by philosophers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Chris: So, is it science's methodological naturalism that makes supernatural hypotheses fail when studied (and is there any other possible method then), or are the general lack of effects caused by something else?

    Alex: I don't think the theist would ever concede a general lack of effects. Most theists will see the organization, complexity, lawfulness, beauty, etc. of the entire natural world as very good evidence in favor of a supernatural hypothesis. I think the problem is that scientists aren't trained or inclined to deal with broad metaphysical questions like these. And on a granular level, scientists can study how one state of a system transitions to the next, without having to. Such would be the case if God designed a universe that designs things, where scientists could simply bracket off the tendancies of nature to produce the configurations they study, as first principles or laws.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    BDK: On second thought, I don't think I see your point. In my article, I defined metaphysical naturalism as "the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it." So when I refer to a naturalistic explanation, I mean an explanation which only appeals to something that is part of the natural world. In contrast, a supernatural explanation means an explanation in terms of the activity or will of a supernatural person.

    I know there are many competing definitions of "naturalism" among philosophers, but I thought Draper's definition was one of the mainstream definitions. How would most phenomenologists define "naturalism"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    JL: So many natural phenomena can be explained naturalistically, i.e., without appeal to supernatural agency.

    Alex: I think this is problematic for a couple reasons. Firstly, I'm not sure any theist would agree that the phenomena are fully explained naturalistically. Naturalistic explanations will ultimately stop at some sort of physical law or principle, which the theist would probably not grant a naturalistic explanation. Secondly, I think it is weak and unimportant to say so many phenomena "can be" explained naturalistically. As I've pointed out before, the naturalistic hypothesis of an exhaustive multiverse can be invoked to explain anything that occurs. The issue is not really whether or not something *can* be explained naturalistically as everything can – it is whether or not naturalism is the best explanation. If the evidence is restated in that fashion, the argument seems to beg the question though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    Alex,

    I agree that there are some studies that show positive effects. The tendency seems, though (to my current knowledge at least), to disappear as the studies grow larger and/or become more stringent in their methodology. So the question is, are these positive effects 'real'? For a variety of reasons, reproduceability (sp?) is essential to show a genuine effect, I think, and there have been, for example, three failures to reproduce the Bem study.

    I think these studies are considered fringe largely because the results are fringe – they could kick down the door, so to speak, against the naturalistic bias generally inherent in science, by producing repeatable, unexplainable-by-naturalism results. Effects could overcome bias, even strong bias, in the same way that the evidence for an ancient earth overcame the strong bias in favor of biblical literalism among early geologists. (In one sense at least I think a naturalistic bias is good (or can be) for supernatural hypotheses, in that anything that can push through that will be genuinely revolutionary.)

    Of course, the SH could be true regardless, since the ‘larger’ evidence from nature (beauty, symmetry, etc. – though let’s not forget horror and suffering as well) is ambiguous enough to be multiply interpreted, and the SH is not ultimately dependent on empirical evidence in the way that naturalism is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Chris – it was one paper with by the same three researchers, detailing 3 attempts replicate one of Bem's 9 experiments that proported to demonstrate psi effects. They failed to report that they were already aware of 2 studies that had replicated statistically significant positive effects. Also, from what I've read, the researchers were denied publication excessively, and this started a bit of a controversy about bias against publishing replication studies, which may be relevant to your demands for reproduction. Whether or not the other experiments can be replicated remains to be seen in future studies, as the authors of the replication have said. And my point is not really to argue the specifics here. I've seen alot of studies, and alot of alleged debunking of the studies. This argument will go on forever. If the effects are small, which they appear to be given the existence of psi, it is a tough nut to crack. I think a supernatural hypothesis clearly has explanatory power in some of these instances, and well beyond these kinds of studies – in various aspects of human experience. And I think there is a heavy bias against this kind of explanation. Its fairly obvious that that would be the case given the philosophical climate. I agree with most everything else you say, except that there could ever be an "unexplainable-by-naturalism" result of any experiment. Anything, is in principle, capable of being explained by naturalism. Key issue for me is – what is the best explanation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12045468316613818510 Blue Devil Knight

    My point was simple: phenomenology is not naturalistic, in that it does not advert to the types of processes you find in the natural sciences.

    But that doesn't mean a metaphysical naturalist must eschew phenomenology. I went to the dentist b/c of my tootheache. I don't need to consult a scientist, do an fMRI, to verify that I have a toothache. It is an explanation that is independent of ontology (hence Husserl's famous 'bracketing' of ontological questions in his phenomenology).

    Your claim that met. naturalists require naturalistic explanation seems to be a slide from metaphysical naturalism to methodological monism, while we can be metaphysical naturalists and methodological pluralists.

    I am a metaphysical naturalist, but not methodological naturalist (outside the lab, anyway).

    As for phenomenologists, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, Heideggar would say phenomenology is not naturalistic. They think that phenomenology is required to ground science, that it precedes science and articulates the "pre-objective" structure of experience, a perspective that makes science itself possible.

    I don't follow them down these strange routes, but the main point is that phenomenology is typically not considered to be a provider of naturalistic explanations.

    As I said, as long as you are clear that you define naturalistic explanations as the complement of supernaturalistic explanations, that's your prerogative, and you are free to talk that way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Jeffery,

    It’s important not to conflate scientific explanations with naturalistic explanations. Science describes the order present in physical phenomena. Naturalism and theism are on the contrary metaphysical theories, i.e. they purport to describe the underlying reality that grounds all data we have including the order present in physical phenomena.

    Now until the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. before non-classical physics, naturalism enjoyed a natural interpretation of scientific explanations. I.e, given a scientific explanation the naturalist could immediately give the description of the physical reality that grounds that scientific explanation. But for the last 100 years or so scientific advances are such that naturalists have really no idea of how to describe the underlying reality. Ask for example a naturalist what happens when one shoots a photon into space – which is about the simplest possible experiment. Since for 100 years no naturalist has been capable of describing the physical reality which produces the order that scientists so successfully discover, it’s I think inaccurate to say that naturalism explains any physical phenomenon whatsoever. So, if anything, the history of modern science has greatly weakened naturalism’s claims.

    At this juncture a naturalist may point out that there is nothing in naturalism that requires that reality be intelligible, and that on the contrary it is not at all surprising that reality is such that we cannot understand it – after all, being able to understand the nature of reality serves no adaptive function whatsoever. Which is a fine answer, but again belies the claim that naturalism has been successful as far as explanatory power goes.

    [continues]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    [continues from above]

    But apart from naturalism’s failure to actually describe the physical reality that produces the order that the physical sciences discovers, naturalism as an explanatory framework fails on two other levels:

    First, we now know that even naturalistic explanations pertaining to classical physics, such as the stability of matter or the evolution of the species, require a fine-tuning of the fundamental physical constants and initial conditions the precision of which defies imagination. And to my knowledge the only explanation of this fact that naturalists have come up with works only by multiplying entities beyond measure, and without really any evidence for their existence.

    The second and in my judgment even worse explanatory failure of scientific naturalism is that it does not account for consciousness. Thanks to science we now have a huge amount of knowledge about matter, but nothing in that knowledge only so much as suggests that matter organized in a particular way will produce consciousness.

    So, in conclusion, the advancement of science has not as expected revealed how well naturalism fits with scientific knowledge, but on the contrary has revealed how deep the conflicts really are. I find Plantinga is quite right on this point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Dianelos — I am puzzled by your opening reminder that it's important not to conflate scientific explanations with naturalistic ones. I can think of two reasons why you felt that necessary.

    First, I put the word "naturalistic" in square brackets inside a quotation of Randal Rauser. Perhaps that led you to conclude I was conflating the two. If so, I would remind you that Randal very explicitly performed a terminology swap in his post. So my usage here was simply reversing his swap.

    Second, perhaps you think I conflated the two terms for reasons that have nothing to do with Randal Rauser's reply. If so, I invite you to identify precisely where I have done so.

    For example, I wrote:

    "The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones."

    When I use the word "naturalistic" in that sentence, I am using it in a methodological sense, not a metaphysical one. In other words, I am referring to explanations that make no reference to the will, intention, activities, etc. of a supernatural being. So defined, I think my original statement stands.

    This also clarifies why the following point, though interesting, is irrelevant to AHS:

    "Ask for example a naturalist what happens when one shoots a photon into space – which is about the simplest possible experiment."

    AHS does not claim that metaphysical naturalism is the explanation for everything studied by the sciences, so this objection misses the point. The point is that, for this phenomenon, a supernatural explanation has not replaced a naturalistic (i.e., secular) explanation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    (continuing my previous comment)

    This also explains why your objections based on fine-tuning and consciousness are also misplaced. Again, since AHS does not claim that metaphysical naturalism is the explanation for everything studied by the sciences, the fact that metaphysical naturalism does not explain fine-tuning and consciousness is not of obvious relevance to AHS.

    I don't rule out the possibility that fine-tuning and consciousness could provide evidence for theism and against naturalism. Indeed, I've blogged on The Secular Outpost about Draper's argument from moral agency, which combines those two items into a single argument for theism and against naturalism. I've gone so far as to call that argument the best argument for theism. None of this, however, undermines the conclusion of AHS, which is that the history of science is prima facie evidence against theism. The words "prima facie" are important because they highlight that the argument assesses the evidential impact of one item of evidence only. To put the point another way, AHS doesn't claim to examine the total available relevant evidence. It's possible that both the argument from moral agency and AHS are correct. Indeed, it's possible that both are correct, but the former outweighs the latter!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08733557675273087950 Patrick

    Jeffrey Jay Lowder: “The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.”

    Phenomena that are claimed to be supernatural fall into two categories, namely phenomena that appear to be designed and phenomena that lack such a feature. The latter are unfalsifiable and therefore irrelevant in this respect. A good example of such claims is the idea that God directs evolution. Looking at the former category it is clear why it is more likely that phenomena that once were thought to be supernatural have turned out to have naturalistic explanations than the other way round. It is certainly more likely that a phenomenon that appears to be designed turns out to be explainable by impersonal natural processes than that a phenomenon that seems to lack design turns out to have this feature nonetheless. But if we only take the former category into account, is there really such a high number of phenomena once thought to be supernatural that have turned out to have naturalistic explanations?

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