Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Oops! Wrong Definition of MN, Hector

I was pretty surprised, although I probably should not have been, at the faux pas in the statement signed by the "Avalos 120" at Iowa State University. The statement contains this pronouncement:
Methodological naturalism, the view that natural phenomena can be explained without reference to supernatural beings or events, is the foundation of the natural sciences.

But this is not the definition of Methodological Naturalism. It is the definition of Philosophical Naturalism. There is a very important difference. MN is a methodology of doing science and does not take a position on whether there is a supernatural realm or not. Philosophical Naturalism takes the position that there is no supernatural realm.

Here is one definition of Philosophical Naturalism:
The system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.

Here is another:
The view that nothing exists but the world — that there are no supernatural entities.

A good example of the proper definition of Methodological Naturalism (from the current version of Wikipedia, which also currently has a decent discussion of the distinctions) is:
Any method of inquiry or investigation or any procedure for gaining knowledge that limits itself to natural, physical, and material approaches and explanations.

As this definition makes clear, MN does not assume that an explanation will be found. It certainly does not presume to assert that all natural phenomena can be explained without reference to supernatural beings or events.

I believe that this confusion, to some extent, explains why so many scientists feel so comfortable stating that there is overwhelming evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Since it is the only plausible materialistic explanation for life on earth, it must be accepted. But this logic injects their own metaphysical beliefs into their science.

In any case, the Avalos 120 should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. And we should all be concerned that 120 academics do not know the difference between MN and Philosophical Naturalism.

* * * *

More discussion of the Avalos 120 and the controversy at Iowa State can be found at Telic Thoughts. My discussion of a related topic can be found here.


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