My friend, Clifford Goldstein, editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, just published a short article discussing science and the limits of methodological naturalism that is thought to limit scientific investigations to only those things that have natural causes (Cliff’s Edge, Adventist Review, Feb. 2019).
Science does not address spiritual, theological, or supernatural questions, Erv insists, and so even if the witch doctor did supernaturally cause the sickness by curses and sacrifice, science would have nothing to say about it. Not because science necessarily denies these things (to deny them would be to address them) but because science does not address these things any more than particle physics addresses why Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” is a better drama than Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera.” Science, Erv loves to tell me, doesn’t touch religious questions. Or, to quote from the National Academy of Science, the secular holies of holies:
“The statements of science must invoke only natural things and processes.”
Of course, Cliff sees inconsistencies here, especially when it comes to those who hold to the concept of “theistic evolution”, as his friend Erv does.
Contrary to my good friend Erv, it’s not because I don’t understand methodological naturalism but because I do that I find it so problematic, especially when employed by theistic evolutionists who claim to believe that the theos behind evolution is the God depicted in the Genesis creation account. They just can’t talk about Him, that’s all, even though Genesis makes Him and His supernatural creative power central to the whole creation process itself…
If the methodological naturalism of theistic evolutionists seems muddled, even self-contradictory, it’s because it’s both.
Phil Brantley, a lawyer, wrote an interesting response as follows:
Dilthey’s approach still holds. He differentiates the natural sciences from the human sciences. The mode of reasoning for the natural sciences is erklaren (cause-based reasoning) and the mode of reasoning for the human sciences is verstehen (intuitive reasoning). The natural sciences are governed by the scientific method, which adheres strictly to methodological naturalism, and the human sciences are governed by hermeneutics. Hermeneutics takes an existential, ontological turn with Heidegger and Gadamer, many human sciences have endeavored to function, with mixed results, like natural sciences, and there is a small body of literature (which I find largely unmeritorious) that urges that hermeneutics play a role in the natural sciences, but Dilthey’s approach continues to persuade.
Methodological naturalism must remain inviolate in the natural sciences and most Seventh-day Adventists would do a better job in their theological thinking if they were to learn hermeneutics.
Theistic evolution can never advance beyond a speculative notion. We can speculate that God kickstarted evolution. We can speculate that the plant in my living room lives because there are fourteen angels giving the plant sustenance. But we cannot advance beyond these speculative notions, because they are employing not just one mode of reasoning and one methodology but two irreconcilable modes of reasoning and two irreconcilable methodologies. In other words, because the respective modes of reasoning and the respective methodologies of the natural sciences and the human sciences are irreconcilable, there is no way to advance beyond the speculative notion of theistic evolution. We would have to devise a new mode of reasoning and a new methodology for the study of theistic evolution. And we would have to ensure that both are not self-contradictory. This has not been done; to do such a thing would be like trying to mix oil and water. If science and the biblical text were in agreement about origins, as they are in agreement about other things, we would not have a problem. But given the present disagreement about origins, neither theology nor science, given their inherent limitations, are capable of working together to effectuate agreement. Instead, one will be forced to yield to the other.
I personally don’t see it this way. Here’s my own take on science and methodological naturalism:
I don’t think scientific methodologies are as incapable of detecting the existence of God-like intelligence as you seem to suggest. After all, there are entire scientific disciplines devoted to the detection of intelligent design – to include forensic science, anthropology and even SETI science.
SETI scientists are looking for evidence of non-human intelligences coming from other worlds in the universe. And, such efforts are not outside of the realm of scientific possibility. For example, if the Mars rover were to come across a highly symmetrical polished granite cube with geometric etchings in the center of each face of the cube, everyone would immediately recognize such a discovery as an obvious artifact of intelligent design. The same is true for radio signals carrying mathematical “tags” – such as the first 50 terms in the Fibonacci series. The scientific conclusion would be fairly obvious in such situations because the only known source of such artifacts is intelligent design.
The fact is that science is quite capable of detecting various artifacts as requiring the input of intelligent design – at various levels of intelligence and creative power. The same thing is true of living things on this planet. Beyond the lowest levels of functional complexity, there is simply no viable naturalistic mechanism that can explain the origin of the higher levels of informational complexity that are found in every living thing. Natural selection and random genetic mutations simply cannot create anything beyond the lowest levels of functional complexity this side of a practical eternity of time. The arguments for abiogenesis where life comes from non-life are completely out to lunch, statistically speaking, without any real scientific support whatsoever (Link). That is why the continued claims for a naturalistic mechanism as being responsible are simply not scientifically tenable – any more so than proposing that a radio signal with the first 50 terms of the Fibonacci series probably had a mindless naturalistic origin of some kind.
Of course, one might argue, at this point, that while intelligence was clearly required to produce life on this planet, that a God-like intelligence wasn’t necessarily required – just some very intelligence alien of some kind with perfectly “natural”, rather than “supernatural”, intelligence. That proposal might be reasonably entertained, but there are even greater levels of intelligence displayed in our universe that would require such a high level of intelligence and creative power so as to be effectively indistinguishable from a God or a God-like power (such as the creation of the universe itself with all of its extremely fined-tuned features necessary to support complex life). After all, any intelligence that is significantly superior to human intelligence would be difficult to distinguish from God-like intelligence. Yet, it would still be within the realm of detectability as “intelligent”, none-the-less, even by scientists using the very same scientific reasoning that forms the basis for forensic or SETI sciences.
In any case, it is silly to limit our God-given reasoning abilities to only those things that mindless natural mechanisms can explain. Not even “natural” scientists would do that, in all situations, if they are honest with themselves.