Comment on Dr. Paul Cameron and the God of the Gaps by Paul Giem.
As I was composing my answer, I was notified of your clarification, and thank you very much. It helps.
Here it is again from Wikipedia:
It [methodological naturalism] is strictly the idea that all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. The genesis of nature, e.g., by an act of God, is not addressed.
The exception of “the genesis of nature” is an odd exception. Interpreted one way, it would take the creation-evolution controversy out of the reach of methodological naturalism. I suspect that the definers did not wish to do that. Rather, they wished to take the moment of the Big Bang, and its possible cause(s), out of the discussion.
As I read this, it seems to say, that we must pretend that philosophical naturalism is true, and act accordingly, in all cases but the Big Bang. This would be what I would characterize as the strong form of methodological naturalism.
Because of its lack of any exit clause, people following it are forced to deny any evidence for miraculous events. Not only is the creation at stake (unless one takes the exception for the genesis of nature literally), but the Flood must be completely discounted unless one can find a mechanism, as must the Exodus (but not the crossing of the Jordan (!) ), the slaying of 185,000 men of Sennacherib’s army, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s visions, the 3 Hebrew worthies and the fiery furnace, the incarnation, Jesus making water into wine, most of the healing miracles of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus, and Jesus’ own resurrection. And I’m afraid that the resurrection of Jesus will not in our (natural) lifetime be able to be explained as a naturalistic event.
So, to make a direct answer, No, I do not believe science should be practiced according to the premise of naturalism. It often is, and that is too bad.
Now, there is a softer form of methodological naturalism. That says, when observing an event, look for a naturalistic cause. If it seems reasonable, accept it. Supernaturalistic causes should only be assumed if (1) they make sense, (2) naturalistic causes have been investigated reasonably thoroughly and found wanting, and (3) they are accepted tentatively, with the realization that they may be invalidated by further evidence of a natural cause. This form of methodological naturalism I can accept, and find useful in life in general and in medicine.
What does one do if the evidence currently points to the supernatural? One can deny it, like a true believer in naturalism. One can say that this is an area where the truth is beyond science, which means that science is deficient, and specifically in this area, as a total explanation, and we shouldn’t attempt any study of this area using scientific procedures. One can say that the edge of science is precisely where the inference to the supernatural is made, so that the inference is scientific, but all further inferences are forbidden. Or one can say that the effects of the supernatural are also a legitimate subject of scientific study, as long as the results are reproducible. The latter is my present position.
Since I’ve given my position, may I ask you whether the more nuanced alternatives would change your answer of “yes and yes”?
There is one other point that I should touch on, as you asked it earlier and I haven’t answered it. It regards evidence-based medicine.
I think evidence-based medicine is a good-sounding idea. We should all strive to practice medicine based on the best available evidence, and if that is all that evidence-based medicine means, then I certainly don’t object. However, I have 3 problems with how it has been practiced.
The first is the sometimes wooden application of cost-benefit ratios. There was a furor in California when dental caps were rated more cost-effective than appendectomies by Medi-Cal (the incident seems to have gone down a memory hole). Now, maybe dental caps are so helpful to human health that they should be rated that highly. But I would submit that any health plan, including a government one, that would condemn people to either death or a prolonged convalescence in the name of saving money is wrongheaded. Before there was any insurance whatever, ethical doctors would not allow patients to die needless immediate deaths simply because they could not pay.
The second problem is when category 3 evidence is ruled out of bounds, one sometimes gets strange results. Medi-Cal actually tried to take nitroglycerin off of the formulary, as there were no double-blind placebo-controlled studies that showed it worked. No, and there are no double-blind placebo-controlled studies that show that jumping off of a cliff is dangerous to your health, either. Two questions come up: How would one maintain blinding in the proposed study, and how would one ethically sign patients up? After an uproar from doctors, the medicine found its way back on the formulary.
The final problem is that knowledge is limited, and sometimes there are particulars that override the (known) general rule. Viagra was first tested for the treatment of angina. It was not until patients insisted in staying on it that it dawned on the investigators that it could be used for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Similarly, Compazine, and now Reglan, are often effective treatments for migraine headache, although they were not initially studied in this regard. Physicians are supposed to use their own judgment in this regard. That’s why physicians go to medical school for 4 years, then residency for another 3-5 years, instead of taking 1-2 years like a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Evidence-based medicine, if not done carefully, can amount to a state committee making pronouncements that are supposed to be slavishly implemented, as if the committee had all wisdom and the individual doctors had none. Otherwise we might as well all just be physicians’ assistants, supervised by the committee.
So to answer your question,
Do you accept it as the basis of evidence based medicine?
I am cautious about approving evidence-based medicine without qualifications.
To save us some time, I will rephrase the question: Do I accept methodological naturalism as the basis for medicine, the answer is No for the strong form of MN, and Yes for the softer form.
I hope that helps.
Paul Giem Also Commented
Thanks for noticing the Nineveh paper. You said,
I am not sure how this is relevant to the arguments since it does not at any point invoke magic but is as far as I can see completely methodologically naturalistic.
The background for this paper is somewhat involved. Probably the best way to approach the possible supernatural dimension is to look at this reference, especially prediction #2:
You will notice that the editors of Origins felt the need to put a black box warning at the end of the article. As you can see, I live dangerously.
I hope that helps.
Thanks for the clarifications. (And it’s nice to be full width.)
I agree that at present, I do not know of any reproducible reasonably provable miracles, and therefore that category, although theoretically present (and perhaps practically present in Jesus’ day), is not, to my knowledge present now except in a very weak way. The prayer studies are controversial, and although theoretically if they had “worked” would have been remarkable, the consensus is now that they didn’t, so they are not enough of a case to force a change in your practical definition. I have my own personal prayer stories, that have become reproducible, but certainly are not good enough quality to publish. For now let’s just leave that question alone.
You go on to say,
Your 3 examples of miracles in science actually have nothing to do with miracles.Oh, but they do, and you seem to have missed that point. Let me explain.
1. There is currently a controversy surrounding the Turin Shroud, quite apart from any miracles possibly caused by viewing or touching it. Again, I don’t know enough to know whether the claims are true, but it is claimed that there is an image, of a person, that has unusual if not supernatural features, and some claim that this is because it is the actual burial shroud of Jesus. That, if true, could point to a supernatural event.
It is also claimed that the Shroud is a medieval forgery. If true, this would destroy the value of the Shroud as a witness to the Resurrection. Thus, the carbon-14 date might impinge upon a possible witness to a miracle. This is not repeated miracle, but could be reproducible evidence tending to support a miracle. You seem to think it is science, even though the possibility exists that the carbon-14 date could point in the direction of the supernatural. So your criterion of methodological naturalism is under a certain amount of strain.
2. The scrolls of Daniel and Leviticus, if dated earlier than 168 BC and 600 BC respectively, would destroy the Maccabean theory of Daniel and the Documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch, and strongly suggest that Daniel made accurate prophecies, and that the writer of Exodus was an eyewitness, who in fact witnessed a miracle. In that case, what you would consider science would support supernatural events.
3. You are apparently not familiar with the data on carbon-14 dating. You write,”But try to explain that results that are within the noise of an assay provides any evidence for the young age of your object and you will as you should be heavily criticised by your peers in the review process.” True. But quite a bit of the data, not cherry-picked, is well outside the noise of an assay, so much so that one of the founders of the method has confessed that it exists (see TalkOrigins, of all places!). His explanation is that carbon-14 is being made by neutrons underground. I can give you references if you wish.
But even more important than the actual results, for our purposes, is the theoretical question, if these results were accurate and reproducible, would they be science? I think so. Do you?
I am glad that you do not require mechanism before declaring something science. I do agree with you that if we understand the mechanism, it is better. But if we do not understand the mechanism, it does not disqualify a subject as science, or we would have to disqualify quantum mechanics, the most successful physical (and maybe scientific) theory ever.
My definitions are not at all meant to be theoretical positions but are operational definitions describing what I do as a scientist publishing in the literature of science.I like that. You are certainly correct that your views are not idiosyncratic, but AFAICT, are the vast majority view. That, of course, does not make them right, but does make them respectable. (You may be wrong, but you are not an idiot, and I’ll say that to my colleagues who try to imply that you are.)
It makes absolutely no assumption about whether or not there is a supernatural or miracles but says we can operate and understand the physical structure of the natural world without including these as causalities.
It is not clear what “It” is, but presumably you mean either methodological naturalism (MN), or science that includes MN. And by MN, I assume you mean the strong form.
I see two problems with that: 1. If we insist on MN in science, and we do not have a procedure for stating what is outside science, we are in fact operating under a de facto philosophical naturalism (PN). For PN is empirically indistinguishable from the proposition that MN applies in all places at all times. That is, the insistence on MN is in fact PN.
2. The cases above seem to be perfectly legitimate, at least theoretically, but they could at least theoretically point to the supernatural. Do we just keep doing the experiments until we realize where they might be pointing, and then try to expunge them from the science journals? In this regard, it is interesting to read the following article, that made it into Science (!):
Gentry RV, Christie WH, Smith DH, Emery JF, Reynolds SA, Walker R, Cristy SS, Gentry PA, 1976: “Radiohalos in coalified wood: New evidence relating to the time of uranium introduction and coalification.” Science 194:315-8.
Should Science retract this article?
That is why I prefer the softer form rather than the strong form of MN. Do you see the point, and if so do you agree? Or do you prefer to defend the consensus at this point? If so, what do you do with the above data?
Your point 2 is uncontroversial, as you noted. I agree that it usually excludes miracles, but not always, at least theoretically. The manna that fell every morning to the Israelites could have had several tests done on it, and apparently had a few crude tests done on it, including whether it kept overnight (of course, if one doesn’t believe that manna ever existed, the illustration is not convincing). I would rather not exclude the supernatural by definition, but rather (the vast majority of the time) practically.
Your point 3 is desirable. You say,
3] Publication in the peer reviewed literature of science. This is not at all a capricious criteria I have invented but describes the way science has been done for more than 200 years.
That’s not quite true; Darwin didn’t publish his theory in a journal, and that was closer to 150 years ago. But I agree, in general. While it may be science before it is published, if the experiment or observation is repeated, it is strongly desirable that the results be disseminated to where all scientists can obtain them, and possibly attempt to reproduce them. And peer review, done properly, helps correct errors before publication.
I don’t think communication is irrelevant to science. It is important. I just don’t think it should be part of the definition.
On reading your (second) post, I think that we need to be careful to distinguish between the definition of science, how science ideally should be done, and how science is in fact done. In a way, citations are a non-thinking man’s proxy for judging the value of a publication personally. The more citations, the more other people felt the paper was important, so the administrator or granting institution doesn’t have to make his/her/its own independent judgment (and impact rating is just a more refined measure of citations). And considering that the judging person or agency may not be able to make that judgment, it may be the only measure available. But we shouldn’t deify those shortcuts. They are shortcuts, not the ideal. The same goes for funding.
So, as requested, I will give my definition of science. Science is the study of the reproducible. If magic or miracles are truly reproducible, then they qualify. One-off episodes of magic or singular miracles do not qualify.
Mechanism is desirable, but not mandatory.
I don’t exclude peer review from science; I simply exclude it from the definition of science. I hope you see the difference. It definitely is desirable to publish, and it is desirable to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. YouTube videos under the proper circumstances could inform science. Personal communications often get cited (!). However, a single YouTube video is not yet reproduced, and is in the same category as a single miracle or magical act. If you want more on my philosophy of science, go to Scientific Theology, chapter 1.
Does that help?
… I think I can distil your detailed response down to conclude that you think miracles are and should be part of science.”
I’m sorry if you got that impression. Science, in my mind, is (or should be) the study of the reproducible. Miracles should only be considered part of science if they are reproducible. The aftereffects of miracles, on the other hand, can easily be reproducible.
You then go on to describe your concept of the scientific method:
1] From an observation construct an hypothesis for causation and mechanism based on methodological naturalism that is amenable to experimental testing,
So your science has methodological naturalism built into it.
2] Do experiments to test the hypothesis.
Here we agree.
3] Report those experiments in the peer reviewed literature which is the canonical repository of scientific information.
Be careful of the word “canonical”; it smacks of religion. 😉 But I am worried more about the concept than the word used.
It seems that this concept is not strictly necessary to do science. For using this concept means that Isaac Newton did not do science, which seems preposterous. Neither did Charles Darwin. He didn’t publish in Nature. He wrote a book.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is a desirable goal. I have done it. But science shouldn’t be defined that way.
Much better to clearly articulate the domain of science and accept that there is much beyond science including miracles that are best analysed by alternative mechods.
I will agree that the miracles themselves are usually beyond science. However, if they become reproducible, various physical and theological hypotheses can be tested. And their aftereffects certainly can be tested.
Just to give you three examples, the Shroud of Turin was claimed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Multiple tests have been done, including carbon-14 tests, which apparently indicated a late date. Claims have been made that these tests were on a corner patch from later. I do not have direct evidence that can make me reasonably sure one way or the other. But the tests were published in scientific journals. Were they not scientific? Would they not be scientific if they had come out matching the first century AD?
There are also all kinds of carbon-14 dates done on manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If they dated a manuscript of Daniel to before 168 BC, or a manuscript of Leviticus to before 600 BC, would the results be scientific? Should they be published in Radiocarbon? (Those dates were scheduled, but never done, according to what A. T. Jull of ASU told me.)
Finally, suppose we were to find, consistently, small but measurable (above background) amounts of carbon-14 in diamonds, coal, dinosaur bones, etc. Would those results be scientific? Should they be published in scientific journals? If you were editor, would you reject them because they might point to a miracle?
You don’t say so specifically, but I get the idea that everything published in scientific journals should have a mechanism. Would you agree with this proposition?
Before you answer, ask yourself these questions. Do we have to have a clearly defined mechanism before we publish a study on the efficacy of metoclopramide for migraine headaches? Did Radiocarbon err when it published and article reporting a statistically significant offset between the carbon-14 dating of bones from the city of Nineveh and the standard calibration curve without giving a mechanism that the authors deemed probable? (See
(I have a certain interest in the subject: See the acknowledgements)
And finally, if mechanism is required, can you explain the mechanism behind the double-slit or ghost pathway experiments in Quantum Mechanics? Have you ever seen a mechanistic, as opposed to a mathematical, explanation of quantum mechanics? Should it be excluded from the realm of science?
It seems like your definition of science could use some work. Just for what it is worth, multiple philosophers of science have worked on defining science, and the consensus is that there is no currently satisfactory answer to the “demarcation problem”, and may not be in the future. If you don’t believe me, read the philosophy of science literature.
Recent Comments by Paul Giem
LSU Removes Dr. Lee Grismer as Chairman of the Biology Department
When there is someone available that is competent enough, and knowledgable enough, to make a reasonably accurate presentation.
LSU Removes Dr. Lee Grismer as Chairman of the Biology Department
I had to laugh. You wrote,
Southern does way better than that in terms of recognizing academic excellence. But thanks to David, Sean and their ilk the pickings are likely to be very thin as what self respecting scientist would like to have a job of professor of science based on adherence to the prevailing views of a religious organization.
Yes, Southern probably has more qualified short-age creationist candidates. Certainly Southern has more qualified short-age creationists. However, I don’t think it is David, Sean, or their “ilk” that caused that. Rather, it was La Sierra’s deliberate selection against short age. Oh, well.
Both points of view may be correct. They may have been assisted by Grismer’s decision to dive under his desk, or his simply tiring of the responsibilities of department chairmanship. Sometimes several causes converge to produce a common result, and the precise percentages cannot always be assigned empirically. Don’t forget, there may be more than just naturalistic reasons here.
In any case, I think we should pray that God will work through this situation, and those of us in a position to help, should.
LSU Removes Dr. Lee Grismer as Chairman of the Biology Department
I won’t say any more, but there has been a sea change.
Pray. And those of you who can, help.
LSU Removes Dr. Lee Grismer as Chairman of the Biology Department
This move makes perfect sense.
To put things in perspective, there are two organizations accrediting La Sierra. AAA wants Adventism to be taught. WASC wants the university to be autonomous. Under ordinary circumstances, a chairman with 87 publications would never abdicate in favor of one with 2 (I am assuming the numbers are accurate, but strongly suspect that they are approximately correct). But Perumel is a short-age creationist, with a remarkable story of conversion (I have met him), and Grismer is not.
I suspect that the story is being soft-pedaled because the university doesn’t want WASC to make waves and possibly withdraw accreditation. I suspect also that it was done in such a way as to be deniable (e.g., Grismer wanted more time for research). Grismer is still on the faculty (he is tenured) and WASC can’t really complain. The change was done without fanfare, hoping to fly under WASC’s radar.
What could be done, and what should be done, is to revamp that final quarter biology class to be more Adventist-friendly. I think those of us who are capable of helping should volunteer to help Perumel in any way we can.