New Lenny Flank Essay
at Talk Reason
By Timothy Chase
A response to "Does science unfairly rule out supernatural hypotheses?"
By Lenny Flank
published: Apr 30, 2006
From the essay:
IDers often whine that science unfairly rules out supernatural
explanations or hypotheses. However, science does no such thing -- it
simply insists that any supernatural hypotheses be put through the
same scientific method that any other scientific hypothesis has to be
put through -- and IDers are quite unable to do so.
This is a new one, isn't it?
Personally, I think this is a very important issue, something which
needs to be addressed and broadly recognized. From a propaganda
perspective, this is one of the major points which creationists (most
particularly, Phillip Johnson) have been able to use to their
advantage -- namely, the view that the methodology of empirical
science has two foundations, one where it is defined in terms of the
empirical methods, and the other consisting of methodological
I believe that methodological naturalism is an essential part of
empirical science, but this cannot and should not be assumed, at least
in terms of the current conflict, and this is more than simply a
rhetorical point. The empirical method, what is at least loosely
described by the hypothetico-deductive method, or alternatively,
understood by means of Karl Popper's Principle of Falsifiability, is
more fundamental. Moreover, it is sufficient to eliminate the appeal
to the supernatural, if not by means of direct logical deduction, then
at least as a matter of the systemic causation which in imposes upon
the development of empirical science -- as you have amply demonstrated
by means of this forum.
Elsewhere, I have seen debate get needlessly side-tracked by the issue
of methodological naturalism and whether or not it is possible in
principle to distinguish between methodolgical naturalism and the
metaphysical naturalism which some people (on both sides of the debate
-- proponents of evolutionary biology and proponents of creationism
alike), that is, whether or not they are in fact separable, as Stephen
J. Gould and other proponents of the complementarity of religion (or
alternatively, philosophy) and science would maintain. The confusion
over the separability of the two naturalisms (or the materialism which
some view naturalism as entailing) is at best a diversion, and is in
fact something which works to the great advantage of the creationists
in advancing their ideology and political agenda by arguing that
methodological naturalism entails metaphysical naturalism, and thus
philosophical naturalism -- to the "unfair" exclusion of religion
In your essay, you write:
... what the IDers are really moaning and complaining about is not
that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations,
but that science demands ID's proposed 'supernaturalistic
explanations' be tested according to the scientific method, just like
every other hypothesis has to be.
This is right on target, of course. As I have pointed out previously,
part of the problem is no doubt psychological:
Well, I think the first hurdle for them is simply the fact that they
are afraid of having their 'scientific theory of creationism'
falsified -- as this would result in the falsification of their
particular belief in God. So, even when a creationist gets past the
song-and-dance of preaching their beliefs or attempting to argue
against evolutionary biology in particular or empirical science in
general (rather than putting forward a positive empirical case for
their own views), while they may attempt to put forward a 'theory'
which sounds scientific, it won't actually be anything falsfiable.
That is, the 'theory' won't be used to generate empirical hypotheses
which may then be tested by means of as of yet undiscovered evidence
or through experiments.
Oftentimes, they will simply limit themselves to predicting only that
which was discovered before they proposed their 'theory' in the first
place, so that they may tailor their 'theory' to fit the evidence.
This is entirely unlike the motivation which drives real scientists.
Real scientists do everything the can to make their theories as
testable and as falsifiable as possible. Real scientists make
specific predictions about what has yet to be discovered, and try to
make those predictions as risky as possible given the current state of
our generally accepted knowledge, knowing that if they do so and win,
then they win big.
But the main problem ultimately lies with supernatural claims as such:
... there is another hurdle standing in the way of any 'scientific
creationist theory.' They wish to claim that God is both omniscient
(all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful). However, to make
specific predictions, they must assume that God is of a specific
nature, that he is limited. Thus for example, when they claim that
the reasons for the genetic similarities between different species is
due to the fact that once God 'found something which worked,' he
'didn't want to reinvent the wheel,' they are assuming, at least
implicitly, that God is limited in his powers of thought and action.
He couldn't 'waste his time' or 'resources' on the 'discovery' of some
alternate way of doing things and then implimenting that approach.
Thus if they attempt to create a genuine scientific theory of
creationism, their God becomes finite. But they would find this
By conflating metaphysical naturalism (or alternatively, metaphysical
materialism) with the scientific method an fraudulently identifying
such naturalism as an ideology implicit in empirical science,
creationists are able to launch a broad ideological attack upon
As I have stated previously,
In essence, what we are dealing with is what the German's termed a
'Weltanshauung' which has very near its core a highly improbable
theory of a vast conspiracy stretching over centuries -- and a small,
fairly uneducated group of individuals who, despite all of the
evidence for the technological and scientific advances of our
civilization -- somehow claim to be in 'the know' that this is all
some great fraud to delude everyone into presumably believing there is
no God -- which this group presumably 'believes' -- in order to defend
their own extreme religious views.
But as I have pointed out to the religious,
Even if physics were to somehow reach back further than the first
trillionth of a second (which it has already reached), back before the
Big Bang itself and somehow demonstrate that there is an eternal
cascade of universes, this would in no way touch the essence of
religion. There would be no threat to the religious view that God is
both the transcendental and imminent cause of all of existence.
Empirical science can in no way touch this or threaten such a faith --
it can only destroy those faiths which render themselves vulnerable by
making claims contrary to empirical science itself.
There is the broadly-held view among the religious in the United
States, at least, that the belief in God is a matter of faith.
Previously, I have expressed it in following way:
... there are a great many religious individuals who believe that God
is not something which one can fit inside a test-tube, and that it is
a mistake to treat the belief in God as an empirical hypothesis to be
tested inside a lab or a class devoted to science. They believe that
the very act of attempting to demonstrate the existence of God is
itself destructive of true faith.
To the extent that the religious are vulnerable to intelligent design
or other forms of creationism, this is a viewpoint which they must
Lastly, I believe there is a general point which needs to be
understood by theists and atheists alike, one which is much broader
than the creationist assault upon evolutionary biology.
It is this: throughout the 20th century, there were many theistic and
atheistic, mystical religious movements and rationalist philosophical
movements alike which attempted to blur the distinction between
religious or philosophical views and empirical science. Each time,
this lead to some dogmatic, potentially all-encompassing worldview,
and ach time such a movement ascended to a position of political
power, this lead to some form of totalitarianism.
I do not think this is an accident.
I believe it is a matter of systemic causation and philosophic
entailment. To the extent that anyone, however well-intentioned,
attempts to breach this fundamental division, they do so at the peril
of human society itself.