Science: Methodological Naturalism or Philosophical Naturalism?


It is not uncommon for the atheist to try and monopolize science as if one needs to be an atheist in order to do good science. This is false, as studies have revealed, for a good number of scientists are believers in some form or another. Yet, while the atheist attempts to monopolize the scientific enterprise he will try to draw a wedge between science and faith. Again, this is false for faith is intrinsic to science itself. This atheist is then heading towards the irrational, self-refuting worldview of scientism. Because this is so common for atheists it is important that we review it; that is our purpose here.

The scientific enterprise adopts methodological naturalism; which means that it assumes that there are natural causes & answers when investigating the natural world. If phenomenon X occurs the scientist will look for natural explanation as to why X occurred. This is an assumption that scientists bring to the table when they explore the universe. However, this is where the atheist’s error becomes noticeable: she fallaciously hops from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to the question of God. This is fallacious because God’s existence is a question of ontology, not methodology. Science cannot provide the answer to the existence of the supernatural simply because, by its own limitations, it cannot entertain that question. Therefore, it is quite apparent that philosophical naturalism, the belief of most atheists I have interacted with, draws conclusions that go beyond what scientific data will allow. I enjoy demonstrating this via one quote from a prominent atheist biologist:

 “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” (1).

Without judging the truth value of Provine’s statement, what I wish to illumine is that this brief summary of his views is a philosophical belief, and not a scientific one. Essentially evolutionary biology says absolutely nothing about the notion of purpose, life after death, freewill, ethics, meaning etc. Instead, someone, namely the scientist, has to feed the scientific data into a worldview he already possesses; as Provine has done. Likewise, many theists in scientific fields would look at this same evolutionary data and draw the opposite conclusion to Provine; namely that a creator is responsible for such a process and/or intervenes in certain ways. How we draw conclusions is thus a matter of perspective and that is how worldviews, as belief systems, work.

The point is that many atheists confuse methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. They are separate things: a methodology and philosophy. The philosophy of naturalism draws conclusions that go beyond what science can reveal (i.e. God and the supernatural does not exist, only the physical universe exists and nothing beyond that etc.), and science assumes natural causes to events within the universe as its methodology. To claim that they are the same is therefore to make a category error.


1. Provine, W. 1994. Origins Research. p.9.

6 responses to “Science: Methodological Naturalism or Philosophical Naturalism?

  1. Pingback: Science as an Unwarranted Rhetoric Tool for Atheists. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

  2. Pingback: Answering the Challenge that Evolution is an Atheistic Ideology. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

  3. Pingback: Obvious Bias Against Jesus in Historical Biblical Criticism. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

  4. Pingback: Unwarranted Dating for Mark’s Gospel Post 70 AD. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

  5. Pingback: ‘The Unbelievers’ Documentary in 10 Points. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

Let me know your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s