I have not seen Expelled, but based on rotten tomatoes it is pretty read – I read your review though so I may wind up seeing it anyway. One of my friends saw it and he liked it, agreeing with the movie that science shouldn’t assume natural causation for everything. I strongly disagreed with him on this, and since I haven’t seen the movie, I don’t know if that was the main point of the movie. Do you think science should be rid of its naturalistic assumption, and was that the goal of the movie?
When I teach my philosophy and history of science class, I tell students that the fundamental presupposition of science is that nature follows invariant laws. In other words, the working assumption is that supernatural events do not happen. Then I ask my students whether this assumption is, in fact, true. The answer I like to steer them toward is that we simply cannot know whether it is true or not, at least from scientific investigation. If the supernatural occurs or if it has occurred, science cannot decide that question one way or another.
So, I do not agree that science is even in a place to decide the naturalist assumption. However, the scientific method proceeds with this working assumption because this is the only practical thing it can do. I conclude that the naturalist assumption is true “for all practical purposes.” It works.
This, on the other hand, does not prove that prayer is silly or that there is no God or that God has never intervened supernaturally in the process of nature doing its natural thing. Science is simply not in a place to decide these things.The problem I have is when scientists leave the area of their own expertise and make pronouncements and grand assumptions that naturalism is “The Truth.” Even worse is when they (and this particular “they” is a very small but also very aggressive minority) personally attack, threaten and intimidate those who do not take as a given the naturalistic assumption.So, the premise of the movie is true, but it is presented in an exaggerated and even manipulative way which is an embarrassment. No, I do not think science should be rid of its naturalistic assumption, but it should be used within its proper realm. It should be taken as what it is, which is a useful and productive model for describing observations of nature. It should not be taken as the basis for deciding morality, ethics, beauty, purpose, religion and so forth. If some individuals choose to take this as their working model for everything, fine, but they ought to be cautious about imposing this model on other scientists (as creationists ought to be cautious about imposing theirs).John Oakes, PhD