Does Science Presuppose Naturalism (or Anything at All)?
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Several scientists, scientific institutions, and philosophers have argued that science is committed to Methodological Naturalism (MN), the view that science, by virtue of its methods, is limited to studying ‘natural’ phenomena and cannot consider or evaluate hypotheses that refer to supernatural entities. While they may in fact exist, gods, ghosts, spirits, and extrasensory or psi phenomena are inherently outside the domain of scientific investigation. Recently, Mahner (Sci Educ 3:357–371, 2012) has taken this position one step further, proposing the more radical view that science presupposes an a priori commitment not just to MN, but also to ontological naturalism (ON), the metaphysical thesis that supernatural entities and phenomena do not exist. Here, we argue that science presupposes neither MN nor ON and that science can indeed investigate supernatural hypotheses via standard methodological approaches used to evaluate any ‘non-supernatural’ claim. Science, at least ideally, is committed to the pursuit of truth about the nature of reality, whatever it may be, and hence cannot exclude the existence of the supernatural a priori, be it on methodological or metaphysical grounds, without artificially limiting its scope and power. Hypotheses referring to the supernatural or paranormal should be rejected not because they violate alleged a priori methodological or metaphysical presuppositions of the scientific enterprise, but rather because they fail to satisfy basic explanatory criteria, such as explanatory power and parsimony, which are routinely considered when evaluating claims in science and everyday life. Implications of our view for science education are discussed.
KeywordsIntelligent Design Kolmogorov Complexity Methodological Naturalism Auxiliary Assumption Ontological Naturalism
We thank Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman, Michael Matthews, Brent Meeker, and six anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the paper.
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