Eugenie Scott on Methodological Naturalism
Email correspondence with Salvador Cordova, at IDEA (May 18, 2005).
My position is to distinguish between philosophical and methodological naturalism, but of course, the leaders of the ID movement reject this distinction and conflate the two. I think the distinction is real, it should be appreciated, and it is one of the keys to solving the problem of the rejection of evolution. And a lot of scientists agree with me, even those who are nonbelievers. But it's much easier for the leaders of the ID movement to keep flogging Dawkins and Provine than to reflect the philosophical reality out there. ¶ I think much of the antievolution sentiment in the public is because anti-evolutionists have sold the public a bill of goods that because science CAN explain through natural cause, it means that science is saying that therefore "God had nothing to do with it." Evolution, like all science, explains through natural cause. It tells you what happened, and nothing about ultimate cause. If a religious position makes a fact claim, like special creation of living things in their present form, at one time (the YEC view), science can propose that there are no data to support this view, and much against it. But if God wanted to create that way, but make it look like living things appeared sequentially through time, science of course could not refute the claim. The claim — like all claims about God's action in the natural world — would in fact not be testable (and therefore not scientific) because ANY result is compatible with God's action (assuming God is omnipotent.) ¶ The blame lies partly with science professors and partly with the public. In defense of science professors, students rarely challenge them for making atheistic comments when discussing, say, cell division ("Prof. Jones, you just said that 'enzymes A & B make chromosomes line up on the equator.' Are you saying that therefore God had nothing to do with it?") When they are discussing evolution, scientists treat it the same way as they treat cell division: here are the natural processes that result in the splitting of a lineage, or whatever. Students are more likely to read philosophical naturalism into methodological naturalism when the topic is evolution than when the topic is cell division — and we can't blame that on professors. It would help if students would be a little more reflective on this issue! But professors can be more sensitive to this issue, certainly. And I find that once the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism is pointed out, they "get it", and few argue that this isn't a good idea.