What method can do and is not.

Quoting again from David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. Hart spends a good while comparing what he calls the naturalistic vs. the theistic pictures of the world, so that he can eventually get on with describing the theistic, as in the title of the book.

…we should not let ourselves forget precisely what method is and what it is not. A method, at least in the sciences, is a systematic set of limitations and constraints voluntarily assumed by a researcher in order to concentrate his or her investigations upon a strictly defined aspect of or approach to a clearly delineated object. As such, it allows one to see further and more perspicuously in one particular instance and in one particular way, but only because one has first consented to confine oneself to a narrow portion of the visible spectrum, so to speak. Moreover, while a given method may grant one a glimpse of truths that would remain otherwise obscure, that method is not itself a truth. This is crucial to understand. A method, considered in itself, may even in some ultimate sense be “false” as an explanation of things and yet still be probative as an instrument of investigation; some things are more easily seen through a red filter, but to go through life wearing rose-colored spectacles is not to see things as they truly are.Rosecolored-glasses

7 thoughts on “What method can do and is not.

  1. perspicuously,google says I have misspelled it, google seems to only recognize perspicacious, which is listed in the Webster’s just above perspicuous. Interesting that the author had the perspicacity to use “perspicuously” when discussing God.

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  2. That’s a very interesting definition of method. Hmm. I wonder how that quote would apply to the concept of a Christian worldview? I don’t really consider it to be a ‘method.’ I’ve never considered a worldview to be the deliberate choosing of certain constraints. Must mull that over.

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    1. Mary Kathryn, I think Hart’s point here is that the belief in scientific method as some kind of truth in itself is part of the naturalistic, not the theistic, worldview, so it really has nothing to do with a Christian perspective.

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  3. But assuming a method is not based on false assumptions, would he agree that a method can be “neutral,” or is he specifically critiquing the idea of scientific method? Or–only as interpreted by the scientist who is a materialist?

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    1. He is saying that a method, or the scientific method, is a great tool for focusing an investigation, and elsewhere he credits it with giving us many many wonderful discoveries and understanding of the physical world. He isn’t saying it’s bad or neutral either, he’s not critiquing it, just describing it. In this passage as I see it his main point is that it is a very very useful tool, but it is not truth itself. I don’t see how you can interpret a tool, and I should think anyone, theist or materialist, is able to use this tool equally well.

      This of course is just a snippet from the first part of the book, which is all about aspects and limits of what he calls the naturalist but others might call the scientific materialist worldview. The main topic of the book as a whole, which you can tell from the title, is the theistic experience of the cosmos.

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  4. Thank you for the interesting quotation, GretchenJoanna!
    I think this observation can (and should) be applied to many occurrences (in the everyday life too)… that a method is a tool and should be considered separate from the results it produces.
    Have a blessed Sunday!

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