Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Sham of Dividing Metaphysics and Method

"We have no interest in simultaneously being metaphysical theists and methodological non-theists."
-A Biblical History of Israel by I. Provan, V.P. Long, and T. Longman III (2003).

To briefly continue a thought developed in my long(winded) post from a couple months ago on "Knowledge, Coauthors, and Intended Audiences," I am struck again by the difference in the approach of this volume versus Science, Creation, and the Bible, also coauthored by Longman along with Richard F. Carlson. In the latter, the authors write, "Science as a whole should not be classified as atheistic but rather as methodologically naturalistic, not metaphysically naturalistic." As I mused in my earlier post, much of the difference might have to do with co-authorship and audience. Moreover, the former speaks of historical work, while the latter directly addresses science.

Even still, the two volumes work from incompatible epistemological premises. Science, Creation, and the Bible offers a comparatively chastened view of the role of theology--which is not necessarily bad, except that it's paired with a view of science that could perhaps stand a touch more chastening itself. As I pointed out before, "they have too much faith that, so long as it stays within the bounds of the discipline, science remains at heart an empirical exercise" that can be methodologically non-theist without being metaphysically so. In contrast, the authors of A Biblical History recognize that those who become "practical or methodological nontheists" may "find themselves in danger of sliding eventually into metaphysical nontheism." In other words, the boundary between the two is very permeable.

If we suppose, as A Biblical History does (and I agree) that "a connection always exists between the kind of world one believes in and the kind of history that one writes"--in short, if we think that such a division between metaphysics and method, between belief and practice, is ultimately a sham when it comes to historical work, why should the same not apply to science?