Monday, July 17, 2006

Fisking on the supernatural vs. the natural.

Here we have a half-assed attempt to undercut the methodological naturalism / metaphysical naturalism distinction. It's half-assed because the arguments are crap. As we shall see....
Here's something I don't get. Or maybe I do get it and just think it's silly. One of those. It's from an article by Michael Ruse in Robert Pennock's collection Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics, "Methodological Naturalism under Attack," page 365. Ruse is making the distinction (which featured heavily in the Kitzmiller trial) between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism; he's making the distinction and explaining it and arguing for it. "This is not to say that God did not have a role in the creation, but simply that, qua science, that is qua an enterprise formed through the practice of methodological naturalism, science has no place for talk of God. Just as, for instance, if one were to go to the doctor one would not expect any advice on political matters, so if one goes to a scientist one does not expect any advice on or reference to theological matters." Just as? Just as? I think not. Not just as at all, I would say. Because claims about God are claims that God is real and really exists.
Very true. One wonders what the problem with this might be.
They may (or may not) be metaphysical claims, but they are pretty much always truth-claims about God; the claims may include the stipulation that God is supernatural, outside time and space, but since they mostly also include claims about the way God creates or acts on this world, that stipulation seems a tad half-hearted.
This is nonsense. God creates and acts on the world through supernatural means and has supernatural effects (usually on souls); God may also act through supernatural means and have natural effects. Miracles are often cited as examples of both (or either). So, the stipulation is hardly "half-hearted".
Especially when it comes to fans of ID, which is Ruse's subject matter. The whole point of the ID God is that it designed the universe and the earth and wonderful us. So - that means the doctor analogy is an absurd analogy. It is not the case that science is to theology as medicine is to politics. Theology is about is, politics is about ought.
True, but misleading. Theology is about is on a supernatural level. Politics is about ought if it is philosophical/theoretical, but often about is if it is strategic/practical.
You can always define God (and hence theology) as supernatural and metaphysical but in that case no one has anything to say about it, including theologians - it is by definition out of reach and unknowable.
Only if you accept that only the natural is knowable, which is metaphysical naturalism exemplified. But is it surprising that a theist does not accept the tenets of metaphysical naturalism? Hardly. (IDists notwithstanding.)
But if it is within reach and knowable, then it's accessible to anyone who looks.
But only if they look in the right way. I can't see molecules right now; but, if I were to look through an electron microscope, I could. Similarly, if we buy a standard sort of Christian theology, if one looks for God while believing in God, then one can see Him; if one doesn't believe, then one can't see.
Theologians don't get special technical training that enables them to find God (how to use a special kind of microscope perhaps, or a special microtelescope), they don't learn research methods and equipment-use that no one else knows, nor do they learn magic tricks.
But they learn to believe and interpret the world around them in a way that differs from non-theologians. (I'm not defending this as actually privileged epistemic access, only pointing out that the idea of special epistemic access to the supernatural is not self-evidently absurd.)
So it's just bizarre to say that scientists have nothing to say about God while at the same time pretending that other people do have something to say about God. That involves pretending there is some kind of expertise or special knowledge that scientists don't have. There is no such expertise or knowledge. That box is empty.
This is simply bullshit. All non-scientists in the academy would scream about this, from literary theorists to historians to mathematicians to engineers to physicians.
The physician may indeed have very strong political views, which one may or may not share. But the politics are irrelevant to the medicine. Similarly, the scientist may or may not have very strong theological views, which one may or may not share. But inasmuch as one is going to the scientist for science, theology can and must be ruled out as irrelevant.
No argument here. But, so what? That's really beside the point.
But how can it be irrelevant unless the theology in question concerns something that is wholly outside the natural world and thus inaccessible to human investigation altogether? How?
See previous point. It is metaphysical naturalism to claim that there is only the natural world; methodological naturalism, however, says that we must assume the natural world is all that exists in order to make some progress in a particular endeavour. The first is metaphysical, the second is a criterion for explanatory adequacy. The first entails the second. The second, if pursued to its end, may demonstrate the first. But, you can't just assume the first in order to undercut its distinction with the second.
They want to have it both ways; that's the problem. They want to say that God and theology are in this special magical category that is completely different from science and that science therefore has nothing to say about, while at the same time saying that they are perfectly entitled to lay down the law about God and theology. Well I do not see how it can be both!
Because there is no contradiction. If theology forms a category of knowledge all on its own, then only theologians are entitled to say what is and is not theology. This applies to science as well -- if you don't know what you're talking about (which you must demonstrate somehow), then you are not entitled to say what is and is not science; moreover, science is considered to be its own way of knowing and accessing its own kind of reality. If it's not contradictory for science, it's not contradictory for theology.
And I think the idea that it can be both rests on some kind of weird hocus-pocus about what theology is. Either that or it just rests on plain old rhetoric. Or, the original suggestion, that I just don't get it. Okay let's assume that I just don't get it. Somebody explain it to me.
Just did.

2 comments:

David said...

This is nonsense. God creates and acts on the world through supernatural means and has supernatural effects (usually on souls); God may also act through supernatural means and have natural effects. Miracles are often cited as examples of both (or either).

This is what you call "an analytical philosophical approach" is it? LOL

ADHR said...

Good philosophy starts with trying to present opposing arguments fairly. If you look over my post again, you'll note that I never say I agree with this position. What I'm defending is that, when outlined fairly, there's no inherent contradiction in this view. Indeed, if you accept that (1) there is a God, and (2) there are supernatural means and effects, then the position should not only make sense but be rather persuasive. I don't buy (1), so I don't accept the position. That doesn't impede me from understanding it, though.