Talk:Methodological naturalism

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This Philosophy related article has been awarded BRONZE status for quality. It's getting there, but could be better with improvement. See RationalWiki:Article rating for more information.



i haven't even read it, but this article reeks of plagarism. tmtoulouse should be blocked immediately, and for infinite duration! Bohdan 16:04, 28 August 2007 (CDT)

I live to steal the works of others and claim them of mine!!! tmtoulouse plague 16:08, 28 August 2007 (CDT)

Most scientists?[edit]

The text reads: An assumption of methodological naturalism while working in science but maintaining an active belief in some form of God or spirituality is probably the majority metaphysical position of most working scientists. I think this is a highly debatable statement. These poll results from Gallup (Admittedly a little dated) show that 55% of US scientists hold that "Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process." And this is a poll in the US.--Bob_M (talk) 04:40, 31 August 2007 (CDT)

I would still say that "methodological naturalism" is the position held by a scientist who was a deist or even embraced Spinoza's God. Is the number of scientist who believe in some sort of God really a high percentage? I will try and dig up some more numbers. The best thing to do of course is expand on this point in the article. tmtoulouse plague 13:00, 31 August 2007 (CDT)
I agree, but it would involve rewriting the thrust of the opening. This site claims 55% atheist in the US This one has between 45% and 72% atheist. --Bobbing up and down 08:15, 5 September 2007 (CDT)
I have removed the following:

Methodological naturalism can be combined with theistic or supernatural philosophical belief systems without imputing any obligations on each other. An assumption of methodological naturalism while working in science but maintaining an active belief in some form of God or spirituality is probably the majority metaphysical position of most working scientists. Since high percentages of scientists describe themselves as "theistic evolutionists" or hold other religious beliefs it is likely that fewer than 20 percent of working scientists embrace full philosophical naturalism. Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science - Steven D. Schafersman

---as the reference does not seem to support the statement made. I have replaced it with text which is supported. --Bob's your uncle 11:40, 11 October 2007 (EDT)

Psychology and religion[edit]

In studies of human psychology, methodological naturalism comes up against a brick wall. The issue of human will, motivation, desire, etc. can be viewed philosophically through the lens of determinism, or alternatively the focus can be on free will.

If the mind is nothing more than the manifestation of physical processes in the brain, then determinism may be valid. We can talk about what "causes" someone to do a good deed or commit a crime. This became the dominant view of Sociology in the 1950s.

Yet if the mind survives the death of the human body, then there is an aspect which is not material - and thus out of reach of physical science and its self-imposed methodological naturalism.

Is it truly "scientific", then, to equate science with physical science? This would seem to be hardly distinguishable from a presupposition that the material world is all that exists.

Some scientists believe that the non-physical can be studied scientifically, although there is not yet wide agreement on how to do this. --Uncle Ed bug me 09:53, 26 September 2007 (EDT)

Some of the evidence for how we are pretty damn sure that the mind is a product of the brain can be found at non-materialist neuroscience. The mind as a product of the brain is both necessary and sufficient for explaining all observed behavior. You want to argue that the mind is separate form the brain? You have to form falsifiable predictions that the scientific method can test. Sorry, the pineal gland has met its match. 11:48, 26 September 2007 (EDT)
Uncle Ed states: "Yet if the mind survives the death of the human body ..." and goes on to develop his argument from this "If". But as his "if" argument is about as useful as an arguement beginning "If fairies exist ..." then the rest of his points are pretty useless. --Bob's your uncle 05:34, 17 October 2007 (EDT)
Gee, it has not been shown to happen. It is no more than an article of "faith" humanUser talk:Human 06:34, 17 October 2007 (EDT)

I believe that "begging the question" has been covered elsewhere75.62.26.190 11:25, 17 October 2007 (EDT)

aristocracys decline[edit]

aristocracy, save in France's first Republic - and then only temporarily - did not fall in the world due to any lofty philosophy, but due to social factors, economic forces, some political necessity and military opposition. Really metal did more to diminish it than abstraction, and if you look at the fundamentals of societies that preserved or maintained those traditions with regards to royalty, they tend to frustrate predictions regarding it's merit. Hell even magic can't be said to be debunked. You have a contaminated pool, you can replicate the physical manifestation of those contaminants and symptom in a mortal being, but magic forces or spirits may well be guiding the vectors of infection. That whole quote is our tea rah-rah-rah nonsense.— Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

this article is completely wrongheaded and should be deleted/completely revised[edit]

This article rests on fundamental misunderstandings and misconceptions about science and naturalism. I know that it is very common among both confused skeptics and scientists to claim that science rests on methodological naturalism, but the only philosophers of science (or people who have studied the foundations of science) who would say anything like that, are defenders of some version of non-overlapping magisteria. And it is *only* if you are desperate to claim that there are alternative ways of knowing, besides science, that you need something along the claim that science is committed to methodological naturalism. *Methodological naturalism* is not an assumption in science, but something that pseudoscientists (and relativists) claim that science is committed to in order to protect the legitimacy of their pseudoscience or otherwise unscientific ideas.

Why on Earth would you imagine that science needs to *assume* anything whatsoever about the nature of causes in the universe? The only thing science needs is some moderate form of empiricism: that the only way to get evidence for a claim is to test it against observations (and that is not an assumption about the nature of the universe: it is an assumption about the nature of evidence and how we can *know* anything). If you wish to claim that there are supernatural causes at work in the universe: go ahead. Develop your hypothesis in appropriate detail (including operationalising the concepts involved), derive some testable claims for it, and test it. If your hypothesis is able to make more correct predictions than our currently accepted hypotheses, you have won. If science were committed to methodological naturalism it would rule out testable, non-naturalistic hypotheses a priori. And of course it doesn't. You are free, within scientific practice, to develop hypotheses that claim dualism about mind, that God actively intervenes in natural processes, that spirits are at work and so on - there is no a priori assumption that these are wrong. What you need to do for these hypotheses to be scientific, however, is to make them *testable*, and that means at the very least making them falsifiable by observation and empirical data (which proponents of supernatural ideas tend to be reluctant to do). And then you need to actually *test* them. If you tested them, and they made better predictions than current theories, then scientists would have no choice but to accept them. What usually keeps hypotheses about the supernatural out of science is not that science is committed to methodological naturalism and rules them out by fiat, but that they are (often deliberately) unfalsifiable and untestable.

To make the point a different way: What are we to say about doing experiments on remote viewing or PSI? What we *should say* is of course that there is nothing wrong with doing such experiments. Thus far, however, such experiments haven't yielded any evidence for remote viewing, but plenty of evidence against it. And the experiments by Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff and those guys, that they claimed yielded evidence for remote viewing: what is wrong with them is of course that they were methodologically weak, and when proper controls were made any positive effect disappeared. If science were committed to methodological naturalism, however, then we couldn't even do such experiments at all. We could get no evidence for or against remote viewing since such experiments simply fall outside the domain of science. And that, I hope you see, is a very silly claim.

There are primarily two groups of people who would (falsely) claim that science is committed to methodological naturalism, i.e. that in order to do science you have to make certain metaphysical assumptions, at least operationally.

1. Defenders of (some form of) non-overlapping magisteria: there are ways of knowing, and domains of facts, that fall completely outside of the scope of science and that science can say nothing about. You see, if we took a general empiricist line, as described above, then science could actually say a lot about the claim that there are supernatural forces afoot in the universe: there is no evidence for that, and in general absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If you don't like that consequence, you might instead claim that there are sharp borders between science and whatever other field you fancy, to try to save the legitimacy of claims in that field. That is, it seems that, clearly, science has a tendency to explode any such artificial divisions, and "science assumes methodological naturalism" is the rallying cry of those who want the borders to their cherished dogma to remain closed to scientific investigation.

2. Pseudoscientists, who like to claim that science is working under its own metaphysical assumptions, and that they are free to use different ones. The article here claims that Philip Johnson's "main argument centered around confounding philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism". I haven't read Johnson, but I have seen plenty of creationists criticising methodological naturalism, and they are not confused at all about the distinction: their claim is simply that science are resting on naturalistic assumptions, which is precisely what methodological naturalism says. The proper response is not that they are confusing methdological and philosophical naturalism (do you mean "metaphysical naturalism" or something?) but that science is *of course* not committed to methodological naturalism. If it *were*, then yes: It *would* be entirely legitimate for pseudoscientists to assume different frameworks for interpreting their data. And the reason it isn't, is of course because science needs to make no (non-testable) assumptions about the nature of reality or the causes at work.

TL;DR (1): The article claims "Methodological naturalism is a cornerstone of science, embraced by both practitioners and philosophers of science". That is bollocks. Science does not to make any assumptions about the nature of causes in the universe; they need empiricism. The charge of "methodological naturalism" is just a ploy used by pseudoscientists to avoid having to admit that their pet hypotheses have been falsified.

TL;DR (2): This article runs the errand of creationists and pseudoscientists, insofar as it rests on fundamental confusions that would be entirely within their rights to exploit.G.D. (talk) 09:59, 24 March 2020 (UTC)

I note that the wikipedia article is similarly confused. It seems to be written by someone stuck in the Hempel-style approach to science in the 1950s, who thinks that science is defined by its content rather than its methodology. It's insane.G.D. (talk) 09:59, 24 March 2020 (UTC)
I think you are reading too much into it. What it's saying is that science behaves as though all phenomena have naturalistic causes which can be investigated.Bob"Life is short and (insert adjective)" 07:36, 25 March 2020 (UTC)
I think the article is pretty clear about the claims it makes, and those claims are mistaken. Also "science behaves as though all phenomena have naturalistic causes which can be investigated" is wrong. It is admittedly unclear what it would mean to say that "all phenomena have naturalistic causes", but it's hard to interpret it in a way that implies that *if* it were assumed in science, quantum physics could not have become a scientific field. Nor would there really be any point in even studying or trying to falsify the claims of parapsychologists, but clearly it is possible to study alleged psi phenomena (and falsify the claims) because only alleged correlations are required for studying them. The claim that every causal relation *can* be investigated is a bit more interesting, but I'd say that the answer is: no, there is no need to assume this. We have, at present, very good evidence that it is the case, but we don't need it as *an assumption*, which is what methodological naturalism would say. (There is some trickiness involved here due to questions of what causes actually *are* - if you take a certain Humean view, like David Lewis does, then all causal relations may have to be observable, but I don't think the Hume-Lewis view is a standard one.) G.D. (talk) 08:30, 3 April 2020 (UTC)