Methodological naturalism

If our car developed a strange and disturbing noise, we would take it to a mechanic to diagnose the problem. If, after trying out just one or two ideas and failing, the mechanic threw up her hands and said that she gave up because the cause must be something mysterious and inexplicable, we would very likely switch to another mechanic.

We would do the same thing with a plumber who gave up on trying to find the source of a leak or a doctor who gave up trying to find the cause of an acute pain after merely ruling out gas and muscle pulls.

We want each of these people to keep investigating, to try and find the reason for the problem and not give up until they have solved it. If any one of them told us that the cause was some supernatural power, we would quickly dump that person and find a new one, even if we were ourselves were religious and we preferred to have religious people as our doctors and plumbers and mechanics.

In other words, we want all these people when carrying out their professions, whatever their religious beliefs, to practice methodological naturalism, which is the practice of postulating and testing one natural cause after another as the source of the problem until the problem has been diagnosed correctly. It would be strange for someone to insist on people using methodological naturalism in all these everyday areas of life, while demanding that they give it up in the one area that underlies all of them, and that is science.

And yet, this is exactly what so called intelligent design creationists want scientists to do. IDC people want scientists to not use methodological naturalism but instead concede that some systems have “irreducible complexity”, by which they mean that god must have made it. They do not explicitly say god as part of their public strategy. Instead, they adopt a complicated circumlocution that goes as follows: “irreducible complexity implies it must have been intelligently designed which implies the existence of an intelligent designer whose identity and properties we refuse to speculate about.” Instead of going through all that, it seems much easier to say “god” since that is what everyone knows we are talking about anyway.

It is clear that the IDC advocates know that they are essentially asking for the overthrow of the foundation of science when they urge the overthrow of methodological naturalism. In the Dover, PA case on the inclusion of IDC ideas in the science curriculum, expert witness Robert T. Pennock made this point explicitly where he highlighted the words of leading IDC advocate William Dembski:

As examples of the movement’s intentions, Pennock showed the court a number of articles written by the movement’s leaders, including two by William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

Discovery has been part of efforts to change wording of Kansas state education standards to be more open to the supernatural in the definition of science. “The scientific picture of the world championed since the Enlightenment is not wrong, but massively wrong,” Dembski wrote in an article titled “Building bridges between science and theology.”

In another article, titled “What every theologian should know about creation, evolution and design,” Dembski wrote, “In the words of Vladimir Lenin, What is to be done?

Design theorists aren’t at all bashful about answering this question: The ground rules of science have to be changed.”

And finally we get this quote from Dembski where he says: “So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is to be played, (intelligent design) has no chance (in) Hades.”

Clearly, overthrowing methodological naturalism is a key part of their strategy. And they don’t care that they are overthrowing something that has been the foundation of the Enlightenment, something that has been the foundation for scientific and technological and medical breakthroughs, and took us out of the dark ages. In their attempt to include their religious views within science, they are willing to gamble with the very essence of science and they are playing for very high stakes.

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