The concept of methodological naturalism is foundational for most mainstream scientists. It is most commonly defined as a philosophical doctrine that claims, a priori, that for any study of the world around us to quality as “scientific”, no reference to God or to any kind of supernatural intervention is allowed. Of course, it is noted that God is not ruled out by methodological naturalism, that religion can still exist, but that the detection of God’s existence and activity is beyond the realm of what is defined as “science” and beyond what most would define as a “rational” belief (which has led many to conclude that methodologically naturalism rationally leads one to accept philosophical naturalism as well).
In practice, however, the proponents of methodological naturalism go beyond even this fairly limited definition to also define “science” as excluding any appeal to intelligent design of any kind (God-like or otherwise) when it comes to explaining the origin of certain phenomena found in nature – specifically to include the origin of any feature within living things or the origin of the fundamental constants of the universe.
This is most interesting because if, hypothetically, some feature happened to be found within a living thing or within the fundamental constants of the universe, which could not readily be explained by any known mindless natural mechanism and which appeared to be artificial (i.e., intelligently designed), the naturalist would feel forced to appeal to some as yet unknown mindless mechanism in order to avoid admitting that the feature in question may be a true artefact of intelligent design – regardless of if the minimum level of intelligence required to explain the artefact need not require a God or even God-like intelligence to explain.
As Dr. Paul Cameron puts it:
The fact that explanations are unknown or known is largely irrelevant. It is a question of how I practice science. I have accepted a priori to practice science as it should be practiced as a process based on methodological naturalism. It admits there is much that is unknown and not amenable to this process. I do not pretend that all of human experience is amenable to this method but I for sure will continue to practice medicine assuming naturalism and do genetics, virology and molecular and cell biology based on naturalism and not magic. (Link)
Yet, even from a “naturalistic” perspective, Dr. Cameron is being inconsistent. How so? Consider that there are many scientific disciplines that are dedicated to detecting intelligent design behind various natural phenomena. Forensic scientists, for example, go about trying to detect empirical evidence for deliberate design behind the demise of suspected murder victims. Anthropologist go about trying to sort out naturally-produced fragments of wood and rock (etc.) from those that were deliberately carved or manufactured by intelligent design (arrowheads or fragments of pottery, etc.). And SETI scientists, who are searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, go about trying to find various types of phenomena that they claim would be very good scientific evidence of alien intelligence and deliberate creativity that is not of human origin.
It is quite clear then that most scientists consider the ability to detect intelligent design, on at least some level, to be well within the realm of scientific investigation and discovery… just as long as the discovered intelligence isn’t given the title of “God”.
Yet, Dr. Cameron, and many like him, will not allow even the proposal of intelligence, of any kind, not even theoretically, for any feature of living things… or of the origin of the fine-tuned fundamental constants of the universe. In other words, they go beyond the confines of methodological naturalism to exclude any kind of intelligence, God-like or otherwise, from explaining anything within living things – even if a certain feature cannot be explained by any currently-known mindless natural mechanism and even if this particular feature at least resembles a product of known design – i.e., a true artefact.
As an example, consider a hypothetical situation where Dr. Cameron happened to be studying a sequence of viral DNA when his assistant happened to notice what appears to be a Morse Code sequence in the DNA – a coded sequence that spelled out, “Hello Dr. Cameron. I just thought I’d send you a little note to see if you’re paying attention. All the best – God.”
Don’t you think, at the very least, that Dr. Cameron would start to suspect that someone was playing some kind of trick on him? – that this sequence was clearly the result of intelligent design? He may reasonably question that the message was really created by God just for him, but he would not question the fact that however it was made, it was made by intelligent design. Would anyone really believe that Dr. Cameron would feel forced, at this point, by his “a priori” adherence to methodological naturalism, to try to find some mindless natural mechanism to explain such a coded DNA sequence?
However, when called out on his inconsistency and asked to explain the difference between detecting design behind something as simple as this message sequence coded in DNA or something as simple as a highly symmetrical polished granite cube (if it so happened to be found on an alien planet) or the simple radio signals that SETI scientists are looking for, Dr. Cameron refuses to answer – preferring to dodge the question with responses such as:
Since “Of Pandas and People” defined ID as synonymous with creationism in the second edition of 1993. (Link)
Why is it all of a sudden difficult to explain how intelligent design is detected behind a clearly artefactual granite cube? Why this reference to “creationism” in response to a question that isn’t addressing “creationism”? Because, it seems to me, Dr. Cameron knows where the question is leading and so he refuses to even take the first step down the suspected “rosy path”. He must know, deep down inside, the inconsistency of his position – that his position is rationally untenable. He must also know that his adherence to any position that proposes, as an answer to a question regarding the cause of some empirical phenomenon, that some future discovery will no doubt support his “a priori” philosophical position, is not a testable or potentially falsifiable position – and therefore not a scientific position (it is actually a form of the God of the Gaps argument). Yet, one’s philosophy, as with one’s religion, requires no rational argument or logical reason for belief – as Dr. Cameron also explains.
I do not need my religion, which I think a right brain activity, to be scientific or logical. This may be incomprehensible to you but fortunately there are Christians and scientists who can appreciate that. (Link)
Fortunately, this fideistic view is not the Bible’s view of faith or of a useful religion that goes beyond warm fuzzies and wishful thinking. The Bible presents a much more rational and hopeful basis for faith that is evidence-based. Consider the arguments of Tom Price (Academic Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and an Associate Tutor at Wycliffe Hall) along these lines:
I’ve been trying to avoid using the word ‘faith’ recently. It just doesn’t get the message across. ‘Faith’ is a word that’s now misused and twisted. ‘Faith’ today is what you try to use when the reasons are stacking up against what you think you ought to believe. Greg Koukl sums up the popular view of faith, “It’s religious wishful thinking, in which one squeezes out spiritual hope by intense acts of sheer will. People of ‘faith’ believe the impossible. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to fact. People of ‘faith’ believe that which is contrary to evidence. People of ‘faith’ ignore reality.” It shouldn’t therefore come as a great surprise to us, that people raise their eyebrows when ‘faith’ in Christ is mentioned. Is it strange that they seem to prefer what seems like reason over insanity?
It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t overemphasize the individual elements of the whole picture of faith, like we so often do. But what does the Bible say about faith? Is it what Simon Peter demonstrates when he climbs out of the boat and walks over the water towards Jesus? Or is it what Thomas has after he has put his hand in Jesus’s side? Interestingly, biblical faith isn’t believing against the evidence. Instead, faith is a kind of knowing that results in action.The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In fact, when the New Testament talks about faith positively it only uses words derived from the Greek root [pistis], which means ‘to be persuaded.’ In those verses from Hebrews, we find the words, “hope,” “assurance,” “conviction” that is, confidence. Now, what gives us this confidence?
Christian faith is not belief in the absence of evidence. It is the proper response to the evidence . . .