Naturalism is the philosophical viewpoint that everything arises from natural properties and causes and that the supernatural (gods, angels, demons, miracles, magic, etc.) does not exist.
Methodological naturalism, in contrast, is not a claim regarding the nature of reality but simply a tool or a protocol to be followed when doing science. In essence it is saying, “We don’t know if the supernatural exists or not, but we’re going to work under the assumption that it does not. We’re going to pretend for the time being to know for a fact that there is no God, etc., and we’re going to look for natural explanations for everything that happens or that exists.”
Misconceptions About Naturalism
In general, I run into two misconceptions when it comes to the role of naturalism in science. First, some people underestimate the extent of that role. They have a hard time believing that science really does have a bias toward naturalism and against God.
To this group I recommend a thorough study of the scientific method and of how methodological naturalism applies. Read these two articles written by prominent scientists on the topic. One of the authors, Barbara Forrest, is at the forefront of the fight against Creationism and Intelligent Design.
- Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection by
- How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman
- For more on the topic of Methodological Naturalism from a theistic perspective, see my response to both articles above here.
Another group recognizes the naturalistic bias of science but considers this a flaw in the scientific process when, in fact, this is actually its strength. While there isn’t enough time to explain just why in this essay, consider that humanity has, for millennia, used many different methods in trying to understand the natural world with little success. Science, on the other hand, has taken us from the stone age to the space age in just 300 years. The success of the scientific process is so evident that the only recourse for people who disagree with it is to come up with a better methodology and then take several years or decades to demonstrate to the scientific community and the world that this new methodology produces better results than the current scientific method.