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Reaching the “Limits” of Material Explanations — Can It Be Done?

A correspondent points out this statement from a 1992 paper in the Journal of Molecular Evolution, “Random Walking — The Game of Science,” by UCLA biochemist Richard E. Dickerson:

Science is a game with one defining rule: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural.

Of course, many other writers have said similar things.

The theory of intelligent design doesn’t “invoke the supernatural,” but what about this idea that before inferring causation that is other than “physical and material,” we should seek the uttermost limits of exclusively material explanations?

Well, one might ask, who decides when we’ve reached the limit? As a practical matter, with the science establishment we never get to the point of saying we’re justified in thinking unintelligent causes do not suffice.

Maybe that’s because “reaching the limit” is logically impossible. It cannot be done, and therefore it is an illusion to think that one must try to do so, before one can legitimately infer design.

The proposition, “There exists a natural/material/physical cause for this pattern or event,” because it is existentially quantified, cannot be refuted by any finite sample of failed naturalistic hypotheses. If n hypotheses fail, n + 1 remain to be tried. The existential claim of a sufficient natural cause, which underwrites the naturalistic understanding of reality, cannot be refuted.

And since we will only ever have a finite sample…we cannot reach the limit.

So don’t try, and don’t worry about it. Robust and testable design inferences do not rest on achieving logical impossibilities.

Photo credit: xusenru, via Pixabay.