Darwin’s Doubt author Steve Meyer on methodological naturalism (materialism)
|October 31, 2013||Posted by News under Philosophy, Intelligent Design, Science, News|
… with an aside from physicist Rob Sheldon.
Further to materialism guarantees impasse, Meyer writes,
As science advanced in the late nineteenth century, it increasingly excluded appeals to divine action or divine ideas as a way of explaining phenomena in the natural world. This practice came to be codified in a principle known as methodological naturalism. According to this principle, scientsits should accept as a working assumption that all features of the natural world can be explained by material causes without recourse to purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency.
Proponents of methodological naturalism argue that science has been so successful precisely because it has assiduously avoided invoking creative intelligence and, instead, searched out strictly material causes for previously mysterious features of the natural world. In the 1840s, the French philosopher August Comte argued that science progresses through three  distinct phases. In its theological phase, it invokes the mysterious action of the gods to explain natural phenomena, whether thunderbolts or the spread of disease. In a second, more advanced, metaphysical stage, scientific explanations refer to abstract concepts like Plato’s forms or Aristotle’s final causes. Comte taught that science only reaches maturity when it casts aside such abstractions and explains natural phenomena by reference to natural laws or strictly material causes or processes. Only in this third and final stage, he argued, can science achieve “positive” knowledge. – Darwin’s Doubt, pp. 20–21.
It’s not clear to a modern observer that Comte’s first phase is science at all. If the only thing to be said about disease is that the gods send it, that doesn’t leave much of a field for research. And indeed, people who believe that do not do any research; they, wisely from their perspective, put their energies into placating the gods.
Methodological naturalism works great on superstition and animism. It evolved as a response to the inborn nature of humans to “wear the lucky blue sock”.
Yes, the instinct to try to manipulate reality instead of studying it.
Now, it’s not clear that Plato or Aristotle were doing science either. They were trying to determine the framework of reality in which science could be done—a prior project, it seems to me. Thus, Aristotle may be regarded as a founder of science, but not, strictly speaking, a scientist (whether we are fans of MN or not).
When we come to the third phase, material causes, Sheldon adds, re MN,
… it prevents the doing of good science, as you point out, because it cannot question its own presuppositions. Therefore it is a “vestige” of formerly useful organs, a “living fossil” of what is no longer viable.
The presupposition that mind, whatever it is, can be reduced to matter is a good example. Crackpot theory reigns.
Fair enough, the truly cracked pots are regularly discarded in favour of pots with only a few deepening fissures, and if that is what we mean by progress, well, researchers can go on making that sort of progress indefinitely. No reasonable person envies their position: The simple fact that information (the substance of the mind) is not material, and cannot be dealt with as if it were. That fact cannot by definition be allowed to penetrate the fog. Here’s a thought from evolutionary biologist G. C. Williams that sums up a part of the problem:
“Information doesn’t have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn’t have bytes. You can’t measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn’t have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms.” – G. C. Williams, quoted in By Design or by Chance?, p. 234.
Bound to be ignored.
A compensating factor is that it is easier to write about the resulting nonsense, which hardly repays study, than it would be to write about serious gains in understanding, which stretch the mind. Still, around here, we’d all prefer the latter anyway. – O’Leary for News