As with all communication and logic, explicitly defining our assumptions and definitions is crucial for clarity and understanding. I will continue with the discussion of science, given the definition that I provided in the last Science-Mindedness post: science is a repeatable, systematic method of improving our ability to understand and predict phenomena based upon methodological naturalism, logic, and empirical evidence. To delve deeper into this definition, I will focus on discussing methodological naturalism in this post, as it serves as the fundamental assumption or “rule” in science.
Methodological naturalism is the philosophy that all observations have an explanation to be found within the universe. By this philosophy, all supernatural and paranormal explanations are invalid. Methodological naturalism is a fundamental assumption of science. Strict adherence to methodological naturalism is not an arbitrary decision for scientists, but rather a crucial starting point established through generations of trial and error.
The efficacy of science is strongly tied to the philosophy of methodological naturalism. Historically, individuals who attempted to use magic, alchemy, or other means of searching for understanding in our world garnered equal or greater respect than individuals who relegated themselves to observable, testable explanations for phenomena. However, as efforts demonstrated, only science withstood the test of time as a means to make progress towards a clearer picture of existence. By applying the assumption of methodological naturalism, scientists continue devising and exploring explanations for phenomena that other disciplines relegate to supernatural causes (hence halting their search for understanding). Without this crucial assumption, any line of questioning could be halted with one word: magic.
To be clear, methodological naturalism serves as a fundamental driving force for research to continue. By excluding paranormal or supernatural explanations, scientists have restricted themselves to explanations which can be observed, tested, and repeatedly scrutinized, thereby allowing for scientific knowledge to progress and improve as evidence supports (whether affirmative or negative) conclusions.
As we continue our discussion, I’ll leave you with some questions to discuss and lead us to the next post: Why do we use science? When do we use science? Should science be applied in all situations? Are there questions not addressable by science? Why do we choose science over other methods of inquiry?