Fringe views of science

To make the case that science can determine whether or not God exists, Coyne believes that miracles can be part of a science. Yet the majority of scientists and philosophers insist that miracles can never truly be part of science. For example, philosopher Theodore Drange expresses this mainstream position:

It could never be a scientific finding that a miracle occurred, for science is the attempt to understand reality in terms of the laws of nature. To say that a miracle occurred is to abandon the scientific (= naturalistic) perspective on the matter. If a scientist were to end up with such a belief, then it would be incompatible with the scientific point of view. It would be as if to say, “Here is something that could never be naturalistically explained and so it lies outside the domain of science.”

Another way to think of a miracle is that it represents a Gap – something that cannot be explained by natural laws.

In essence, it would represent a gap in our scientific knowledge. That Coyne is ready to embrace belief in God because of a gap, some phenomenon that could not be explained by science – a nine-hundred-foot-tall-Jesus or the sudden appearance of Jesus’s head on Mt. Rushmore – shows that he is advocating the “god-of-the-gaps” approach. And anyone familiar with science knows that the “god-of-the-gaps” approach has no place in science. Things that cannot be explained by science are not part of science.

So Coyne’s willingness to include miracles/gaps in science runs contrary to mainstream views of science. What’s more, it runs into two major problems:

1. Coyne speaks of “documenting” these miracles. Yet with many of his examples, he fails to explain HOW science would go about documenting a miracle and reaching the conclusion that a miracle truly occurred.

2. Coyne doesn’t seem to understand “documenting” something doesn’t really capture the essence of science. Science is concerned with explaining phenomena in terms of cause-and-effect, where the cause of one effect can be the effect of another cause. Science is thus focused on how things work and how things came into existence – a focus on mechanisms. If Coyne introduces gaps into science, he has radically redefined science such that the focus on explanation and mechanism has been suspended. Furthermore, a scientist would want to understand the mechanism behind the miracle – how did that face of Jesus materialize on Mt. Rushmore. If the cause is supernatural, how could scientists, trained to use natural laws to derive explanations, ever hope to probe the mechanism of this miracle?

In the end, Coyne’s argument about incorporating the supernatural into science is a train wreck. This should not be a surprise given that Coyne never bothered to define “science” and “supernatural,” has never published a single scientific study that addresses a supernatural cause, and shifts the focus from “science” to the observations/beliefs of scientists.

At this point, Drange says something that is quite pertinent

Scientists can claim that miracles occur, but when they do so, they do so only as laypersons, not as scientists.

Coyne is free to embrace a miracle as a person, but when doing so, despite the fact that he is a scientist, science is not incorporating the miracle.

A miracle does not need to be documented by science or incorporated into science to have happened.

This entry was posted in Jerry Coyne, Religion, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fringe views of science

  1. Kyle says:

    I recently followed your discussion over in the comments at Telic Thoughts and about half way down the discussion it clicked in my mind what you were saying. Let me see if I’m following:

    1. NA claim that philosophy is a pseudo-field and therefore irrelevant to the discussion (although I like Frank Beckwith’s comment about 100 or so into the discussion at TT about philosophy being a necessary foundation of science)

    2. To the NA, God can only be proved “scientifically,” if they are going to believe in him. Thus, they constantly say, “Show me the evidence!” And historical, theological, experiential and philosophical arguments do not count as evidence per their criteria.

    3. Therefore, arguments from ignorance and “God of the gaps” must not be allowed, because they fall outside of science, being as they are gaps in either what science has already found, or what it can possibly find. No foot in the door.

    4. BUT…so as not to allow question begging, one rightly asks what evidence from science would cause them to believe in God. Most NAs say that they will only believe in God if and only if…and proceed to give some elaborate event such as Coyne’s 900-foot Jesus or clear information being found in the stars stating some message.

    5. The problem is that their criteria for proving God actually is a “God of the gaps” argument or an argument from ignorance. There are plenty of alternative explanations that one “could” come up with to those experiences. Furthermore, “just because science hasn’t explained them yet doesn’t mean that it won’t…science has a pretty good track record.”

    So they are skewered. Either allowing for the possibility of supernatural causation is valid science, or they are question begging, because the above scenario (which is very common in these types of discussion) is circular reasoning.

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Kyle,

    Nice summary. But it’s even worse than that. In point 4, observing some elaborate event is NOT science. Science is much more than observation. Observation is simply the first step of the scientific method and a necessary, but insufficient, reason to label an inquiry science.

    The NAs have put themselves in the position where they no longer have a solid argument against ID-as-science.

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