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Arc of Time

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Scientific Process

Richard Carrier in "Why I Am Not A Cristian" provides the following description of the scientific method.

"Long ago, people could make up any theories they wanted. As long as their theory fit the evidence, it was thought to be credible. But an infinite number of incomparable theories can fit the evidence. Therefore, we cannot believe a theory simply because it can be made to fit all the evidence."

The scientific method is a way to isolate some of the "theories compatible with all the evidence and demonstrate that they are more likely to be true than any of the others."

"First we come up with a hypothesis that explains everything we have so far observed; then we deduce what else would have to be observed, and what could never be observed, if that hypothesis really were true; and then we go and look to see if our predictions are fulfilled in practice. The more they are fulfilled, and the more different ways they are fulfilled, the more likely it is that our hypothesis is true."

"To make sure our theories are more likely the true ones, they have to be cumulative—which means, compatible with each other and even building on each other—and every element of a theory has to be in evidence."

The Case for Naturalism

by Sean Carroll

"Atheism" is a fine word, and I'm happy to describe myself as an atheist. God is an idea that has consequences, and those consequences don't accord with the world we experience any better than countless other ideas we've given up on. But given a choice I would always describe myself first as a "naturalist" — someone who believes that there is only one realm of reality, the material world, which obeys natural laws, and that we human beings are part of it. "Atheism" is ultimately about rejecting a certain idea, while "naturalism" is about a positive acceptance of a comprehensive world view. Naturalists have a lot more work to do than simply rejecting God; they bear the responsibility of understanding how to live a meaningful life in a universe without built-in purpose.

So here I've excerpted that opening ten-minute statement from the two-hour debate. This is the best I can do in ten minutes to sum up the progress in human understanding that has led us to reject the supernatural and accept that the natural world is all there is.

Baloney Detection Kit

Methodological Naturalism versus Philosophical Naturalism

In reading the book Unscientific America, I came across the following description of the difference between methodological and philosophical naturalism. Methodological naturalism, a core principle underlying the scientific method, "stipulates that scientific hypotheses are tested and explained solely by reference to natural causes and events." Therefore," it does not rule out the possibility of entities or causes outside of nature; it simply stipulates that they will not be considered within the framework of scientific inquiry." In making this statement, the author is arguing that science is not at odds with religion in that it limits its inquiry to natural phenomena. It also means that by definition, any proposition that cannot be tested against natural causes and events is not science.

Philosophical naturalism is a world view that takes the position that all of existence consists of natural causes and laws, period. It refers to the philosophical belief that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the world and that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Philosophical naturalism draws form science whose findings continue to strengthen it as a world view.

"The relationship between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, although not that of logical entailment, is not such that philosophical naturalism is a mere logical possibility, whereas, given the proven reliability of methodological naturalism in yielding knowledge of the natural world and the unavailability of any method at all for knowing the supernatural, supernaturalism is little more than a logical possibility. Philosophical naturalism is emphatically not an arbitrary philosophical preference, but rather the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion—if by reasonable one means both empirically grounded and logically coherent."


Shermer, Michael. 1997, 2002. "Why People Believe Weird Things." New York: Henry Holt and Company

Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena. The scientific method involves the rigorous, methodical testing of principles that might present a naturalistic explanation for the facts (the data of the world). Based on well-established facts, testable hypotheses are formulated. The process of testing leads scientists to accord a special dignity to those hypotheses that accumulate substantial observational or experimental support. This special dignity is called a theory. When a theory explains a large and diverse body of facts, it is considered "robust"; if it consistently predicts new phenomena that are subsequently observed, then it is considered "reliable." Facts and theories are not to be used interchangeably. Facts are the world's data; theories are explanatory ideas about those facts. (page 167)

Science is a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. (page 18)

The scientific method (thinking scientifically) involves:
Induction: Forming a hypothesis by drawing general conclusions from existing data.
Deduction: Making specific predictions based on the hypothesis.
Observation: Gathering data, driven by hypotheses that tell us what to look for in nature.
Verification: Testing the predictions against further observations to confirm or falsify the initial hypothesis. (page 19)

Through the scientific method we form the following generalizations:
Hypothesis: A testable statement accounting for a set of observations.
Theory: A well-supported and well-tested hypothesis or set of hypotheses.
Fact: A conclusion confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer provisional agreement. (page 19)

A Paradigm is a model shared by most but not all members of a scientific community, designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. (page 39)

Scientific progress is the cumulative growth of a system of knowledge over time, in which useful features are retained and non useful features are abandoned, based on the rejection or confirmation of testable knowledge. (page 31)

Through the scientific method, we aim for objectivity: basing conclusions on external validation. And we avoid mysticism: basing conclusions on personal insights that elude external validation. (page 20)

Science leads us toward rationalism: basing conclusions on logic and evidence. (page 20)

All description is in the mind, but scientific laws describe repeating natural phenomena while pseudoscientific claims are idiosyncratic. (page 33)

The more subjective the endeavor, the more individual it becomes, and therefore difficult if not impossible for someone else to produce. The more objective the pursuit, the more likely it is that someone else will duplicate the achievement. (page 42)

Some Basic Definitions

Smith, George H., 2000, Why Atheism? New York: Prometheus Press, page 70

Belief is psychological assent to the truth of a proposition.
Knowledge is belief that is at once justified and true.
Justification is the evidence and/or arguments to which the believer appeals in support of her claim to knowledge.
Truth is the correspondence between a proposition and a fact.
A Fact is that which is, i.e., that which exists independently of any perception, thought, belief, or knowledge claim.