E.O. Wilson on BookTV (& “methodological naturalism”)

E.O. Wilson will be featured in a 3-hour interview program on CSpan-2 in the US Sunday August 5 (repeated midnight NYC time & again next weekend–available by streaming video after that).

Book TV this weekend will also rerun

Here is a question that I’ve sent by email. I don’t expect they’ll use it, but I’d be interested in responses from others as well. Since this blog concerns curriculum, the question here is not whether ID is true or not, but whether it belongs in science classes.

Here’s what I sent to BookTV:

To BookTV:

I know my question is too long for you to read the question during your program. I think it’s a question that Professor Wilson might be interested in speaking to, however: so I hope you will consider giving him a chance to see the question in advance of the program, so that he might comment if there’s an appropriate occasion within the three hours.

Thank you.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Dear Professor Wilson:

I would be extremely interested to hear your response to this question about something you said in the Q&A portion of an event aired earlier on BookTV:

You said that Intelligent Design cannot now be considered to be science because we do not have any method of testing it; and you said that if we did acquire methods for testing the claims of ID, then ID could be included within science.

Do you really think the problem is essentially one of methodology, or is it something deeper — a more fundamental principle at the root of the methodological problem?

What would it take for a test of ID to be a “scientific” test? Doesn’t that depend on the nature of the enterprise in which it’s used as a test, rather than intrinsic qualities or characteristics of the test itself as an “instrument” or “method”?

By analogy: If I show you a bone on a table, how could you judge whether that bone is scientific fossil evidence? Whether it’s a “fossil” or not is a property or characteristic of the bone itself; but whether it is “scientific evidence” is not a matter of the bone itself, but a matter of its actual or potential use as evidence in the activity of science. In the case of the ID controversy, the “science” at issue is natural science (not “Wissenschaft,” or “science” conceived so broadly as to include the “sciences” of geometry and theology), and it seems to me that the claims of ID (claiming that some phenomena in nature cannot, in principle, be explained on the basis of natural processes) are claims that define themselves as being outside the scope of the natural science enterprise (which is the enterprise of seeking naturalistic explanations) – so any kind of test that’s possible would not be a “scientific test” in the sense of being a test that’s does something meaningful within the enterprise of natural science. Fundamentally, this is not a matter of methodology, or even epistemology, it seems to me, but a matter of the ontology of natural science as naturalistic inquiry. This is not an ontological claim about the natural world itself (as in the “Metaphysical Naturalism” that is commonly distinguished from “Methodological Naturalism” in these disputes); rather, it’s just a claim that natural science itself is ontologically a naturalistic enterprise.

What do you think?

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