Argument from the History of Science (AHS): Randal Rauser’s Objection and My Reply

I’m flattered to have received a reply to AHS by Randal Rauser. His reply may be found here.

I’ve  updated my original post on AHS with a reply to Rauser. My reply may be found here.

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.

  • Dianelos Georgoudis


    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.


  • 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, contrary to what was expected, the advancement of science has not 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.

  • 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.

    (continued below)

  • 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!