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Bradley Monton on Science, Methodological Naturalism, and the Pursuit of Truth

Bradley Monton, "Is Intelligent Design Science? Dissecting the Dover Decision", draft (January 3, 2006).

If science really is permanently committed to methodological naturalism, it follows that the aim of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science would be something like: generating the best theories that can be formulated subject to the restriction that the theories are naturalistic. More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility. Imagine what might happen in my pulsar message scenario – long after overwhelming evidence has convinced everyone that supernatural causation is occurring, scientists would still be searching for naturalistic causes. The scientists themselves may agree that the causes are supernatural, but, because they are subject to the constraint of methodological naturalism, they are not allowed to postulate such causes while doing science. Science would rightfully be marginalized – what is the point of spending all these resources investigating naturalistic causes, long after it is evident that the causes are supernatural? I’m not saying that society would want to completely stop investigating the possibility of natural causes, but by failing to countenance the possibility of supernatural hypotheses in the pulsar scenario, scientists would be missing out on a potential revolution in our understanding of the world.

[Judge] Jones seems aware of the fact that his demarcation criteria entail that the aim of science is not truth. He writes that “while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science” (p. 64). But if science is not a pursuit of truth, science has the potential to be marginalized, as an irrelevant social practice. If lots of evidence comes in against naturalism, investigation of the world that assumes naturalism has the potential to become otiose. Given the commitment to methodological naturalism, the success of science hinges on the contingent fact that the evidence strongly suggests that naturalism is true.

I maintain that science is better off without being shackled by methodological naturalism. Our successful scientific theories are naturalistic simply because this is the way the evidence points; this leaves open the possibility that, on the basis of new evidence, there could be supernatural scientific theories. I conclude that ID should not be dismissed on the grounds that it is unscientific; ID should be dismissed on the grounds that the empirical evidence for its claims just isn’t there.