Naturalism, Supernaturalism, and Scientific Explanation




14:00 - 15:00


 - Prof Peter Harrison


Rm 4.36, 4/F,

Run Run Shaw Tower,

HKU, Pokfulam


 - FaSCoRe, HKU

 - Department of History, HKU



Naturalism, in its most general sense, is the denial that there are any spiritual or supernatural entities. Some have suggested there is a good argument for naturalism based on the history of science: 
(1) Science proceeds on the basis of methodological naturalism, understood as a provisional bracketing out of supernaturalistic explanations;
(2) science conducted according to this strategy is highly successful; therefore,
(3) the original assumption (methodological naturalism) must be correct (ontological naturalism).

This argument is susceptible to two challenges, based on examples from the history of science:
first, our present natural-supernatural distinction is novel and past historical actors operated with a very different understanding the natural and supernatural;
second, there are past instances of successful science in which the supernatural was directly invoked.

About the speaker
Peter Harrison is an Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. Before coming to the University of Queensland he was the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at the University of Oxford. He has published extensively in the field of intellectual history with a focus on the philosophical, scientific and religious thought of the early modern period, and has a particular interest in historical and contemporary relations between science and religion.

Related events

Prof Harrison will be involved in several events in October. These include
Round-table discussion on 10th October:
Beyond Barbour's Four Models.

Public lecture on 12th October:
Science and Religion: new perspectives on an old conflict.