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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Methodological Naturalism and Robert Boyle - does God create a vacuum, or is it a natural phenomenon?

Naturalism is, more or less, the idea that there is no supernatural, or, if there is, it doesn't do anything. It's what most people are upset about if they are upset about evolution.

Methodological naturalism is, more or less, the idea that we shouldn't look for supernatural explanations for ordinary events, including long-term events, or a long series of events. Some scientists who practice methodological naturalism are atheists. Some are not, claiming that God has created the universe such that certain processes occur without any further intervention being necessary. (I'll not discuss miracles, except to say that, by definition, they require supernatural intervention, and are mostly, or entirely, one-of-a-kind events.)

If there's a way to experimentally differentiate between natural causes and supernatural causes for, say, ice melting, I don't know what it is. It's always possible to claim that God was specifically at work in such a process, hence it was not natural, or not only natural.

Intelligent Design is the idea that, more or less, natural selection can't have been responsible for the development of living things, and the various processes within them, because natural selection is not capable of creating such processes or organisms by selection of random events. There are people who believe in Intelligent Design who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, and people who agree about Intelligent Design who believe that the earth is much older than that. (Intelligent Design is also a political movement, attempting to have ideas about God's creative power included in public school science classes. Not everyone who believes in Intelligent Design wants to do that.)

Michael Behe is the most prominent scientist claiming that God has acted many times, so as to produce intricate systems in living things. Most, or all, of Behe's examples of irreducible complexity have been refuted, as scientists have shown that his examples have a chain of natural selection events which could have produced them. This doesn't mean that Behe is entirely wrong, but the scientific evidence for Intelligent Design is slim, at best, according to Behe, himself.

Lest there be any doubt, I believe in a God who designed the universe, and either acts in many small ways, in nature, all the time, or made nature the way it is, so that change and complex phenomena could be possible. I also believe that the scientific evidence to prove, or disprove, God's activity is lacking, and that either conclusion requires faith. See Hebrews 11:3.
A recent post by the BioLogos Forum indicates that the question of whether a Christian scientist can be a methodological naturalist is pretty old. Robert Boyle -- the one Boyle's Law is named for -- died in 1691. The post, which is quite readable, and by a historian of science, indicates that Boyle believed that a vacuum could occur naturally, without supernatural intervention, but a contemporary begged to differ. Boyle was not only an important scientist, but definitely a Christian.

Read the post. Thanks for reading this!


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