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The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion$
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William J. Wainwright

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195138092

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195138090.001.0001

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God, Science, and Naturalism

God, Science, and Naturalism

The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

Paul R. Draper (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

It is widely claimed in recent years that science and theology can and do interact harmoniously. This chapter, however, explores some areas of potential conflict. Specifically, it asks whether the relationship between science and metaphysical naturalism is sufficiently close to cause trouble in the marriage of science to theistic religion, trouble that supports a decision to divorce even if it does not logically require it. Several popular positions about “methodological naturalism” are examined. While metaphysical naturalists claim there are no supernatural entities, methodological naturalists claim only that, when scientists attempt to explain natural phenomena, they should do so without appealing to any supernatural entities. One popular position about methodological naturalism is that it cannot be reconciled with the traditional theistic view of divine action in the world. A second position is that God’s power and wisdom or God’s faithfulness or even God’s generosity makes divine intervention in the world unlikely at best and thus supports methodological naturalism. A third position is that methodological naturalism can be justified by an appeal to the nature or goals of science. Powerful objections can be raised to all three of these positions. Of course, if neither the nature of God nor the nature or goals of science support methodological naturalism, then it is tempting to conclude, as many conservative Christian thinkers do, that the commitment of contemporary science to methodological naturalism is grounded in a prior commitment, perhaps even an irrational one, to metaphysical naturalism. The chapter ends by rejecting this conclusion in favor of the view that the past success of both non-scientists and scientists in discovering natural causes for natural phenomena justifies a modest methodological naturalism and at the same time provides significant support for metaphysical naturalism.

Keywords:   divine action, divine intervention, laws of nature, metaphysical naturalism, methodological naturalism, naturalism, nature of God, nature and goals of science, science and theology

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