Theism, naturalism, and scientific realism

Epistemology and Philosophy of Science 53 (3):152-166 (2017)
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Scientific knowledge is not merely a matter of reconciling theories and laws with data and observations. Science presupposes a number of metatheoretic shaping principles in order to judge good methods and theories from bad. Some of these principles are metaphysical (e.g., the uniformity of nature) and some are methodological (e.g., the need for repeatable experiments). While many shaping principles have endured since the scientific revolution, others have changed in response to conceptual pressures both from within science and without. Many of them have theistic roots. For example, the notion that nature conforms to mathematical laws flows directly from the early modern presupposition that there is a divine Lawgiver. This interplay between theism and shaping principles is often unappreciated in discussions about the relation between science and religion. Today, of course, naturalists reject the influence of theism and prefer to do science on their terms. But as Robert Koons and Alvin Plantinga have argued, this is more difficult than is typically assumed. In particular, they argue, metaphysical naturalism is in conflict with several metatheoretic shaping principles, especially explanatory virtues such as simplicity and with scientific realism more broadly. These arguments will be discussed as well as possible responses. In the end, theism is able to provide justification for the philosophical foundations of science that naturalism cannot.

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Jeffrey Koperski
Saginaw Valley State University


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