Victor Stenger's book God Failed HypothesisHere is how our author defines the different versions of naturalism:

The self-imposed convention of science that limits inquiry to objective observations of the world and generally seeks natural accounts for all phenomena is called methodological naturalism.

We have also noted that methodological naturalism is often conflated with metaphysical naturalism, which assumes that reality itself is purely natural, that is, composed solely of material objects.

Methodological naturalism can still be applied without implying any dogmatic attachment to metaphysical naturalism. (God: The Failed Hypothesis, 29)

Stenger writes that he will “use the words natural and supernatural as synonymous with material and nonmaterial.” (14) This is rather confusing. If metaphysical naturalism is equivalent to materialism, then it suffers from all the problems identified with materialism. But if, say, substance dualism is true, are not animal souls entirely “natural”? Are human actions guided by intelligence supernatural? What of the ideal numbers and sets and propositions and possible worlds and so on? Must we delete them from our ontology simply because we are committed to materialism? Is every “special science” merely applied physics? Are praxeology and economics not legitimate sciences?

Clearly, materialism, apart from other unlovely things about it, strongly suggests scientism, that is, the view that the correct methodology of every science must imitate the methodology of physics. I don’t know why Stenger would want to import materialism, with all its liabilities, into his unsuccessful search for God.

Suppose now that metaphysical naturalism / materialism is false. Should we nonetheless still abide by methodological naturalism? But why? If there are immaterial entities both immanent and beyond this universe, why must we deny them all causal efficacy? Why listen to the bureaucrat Stenger instead of going where the evidence leads? If our investigation inclines us to postulate a designing intelligence, then shouldn’t we do just that?

Stenger agrees; his point is that the “hypothesis” of the existence of God is falsifiable and, in fact, is falsified. This is a welcome change from the views of those atheists who refuse to countenance the idea that nature can, at least in principle, yield insights about God.


2 Comments

SashaDrago · December 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm

“Stenger agrees with this position; his point is that the ‘hypothesis’ of the existence of God is falsifiable and, in fact, falsified. This is a welcome change from the views of those atheists who refuse to countenance the idea that nature can, at least in principle, yield insights about God.”

Stenger’s statement about the hypothesis of God being falsifiable has nothing to do with an implicit acknowledgement that nature “yields insights about God”, but it is a statement about the logical standing of that proposition, which, I belief you agree, would be hardly worth being taken seriously if it were not, in fact, falsifiable. What Stenger’s book attests to, in a very succinct form (unless you take the pain of reviewing the bibliography and notes, as I did) is that nature, if anything, yields insights that point to the failure of God (in the narrow sense it is defined in his book) as a necessary factor of nature’s operation.

Dmitry Chernikov · December 12, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Yes, but he grants the possibility that natural philosophy can prove God’s existence, and that’s what I admire in his book; he just finds all the proofs wanting. Moreover, I fully agree with him that nature is self-sufficient; in fact, it is the “nature of nature” to be self-sufficient. But falsely assuming otherwise is not required to demonstrate God’s existence. There are ways of doing so, against which Stenger’s arguments have no force.

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