Recently, in response to my discussion of determinism, someone brought up the idea of "Nomological Closure", which is an interesting concept, and deserves further discussion. What exactly is nomological closure? Etymologically we can see that it relates to laws (nomos), and studying them, and from the Oxford English Dictionary, it is defined as:
"Relating to or denoting certain principles, such as laws of nature, that are neither logically necessary nor theoretically explicable, but are simply taken as true."Thus we can see that nomological closure, as a term, would imply that any set of rules (with the implication that these rules are natural, or physical) is fundamentally consistent, and closed. Meaning that other sources cannot impinge on a closed rule system, there is no outside influence possible. This view is an attempt to define scientific understanding in such a way as to preclude mysticism and supernaturalism ("God did it").
The author then defines two flavors of nomological closure, analytical and methodological (philosophy is the art of bifurcating concepts, ultimately). Methodological closure is where one takes the rules as closed out of necessity, while analytical closure are where the rules are closed in themselves, it is impossible to call to outside influence. The author endorses latter application. Basically, using the original board game analogy, analytical nomological closure keeps the cat from jumping on the game and messing up the pieces (sad that no one has actually figured out how to do this), while methodological closure just takes it that we don't play as if the cat could ruin the game because it is simpler.
The problem is though when the author claims:
"Even when something really weird and unexpected happens in the Game Of The Universe, that just means there’s an Expansion Pack in play that you didn’t know about before! That’s a nomologically closed universe."This opens up a bag of worms, since it becomes and all inclusive statement. If the cat jumps on the board, it is part of the rules. It is the restatement of the general naturalistic view that the unexplained (or supernatural) can fall into two camps:
A) it is something that in unexplained, but explainable (nomologically consistent)
B) It is erroneous.
I really wanted to argue against this, but I realized that it still allows for the great mystery of being. It does not preclude ideas that are unexplainable (not the same as unexplained), just because we exist within a nomologically closed system, this does not mean that the rules are understandable. Things outside the possibility of understanding can exist, to say otherwise would constrain the natural universe to the abilities of the mind of humanity, which is an absurd constraint.
With the all-inclusivivity of the concept, it then morphs into something somewhat against (what I perceive to be) the authors wishes:
"...the idea of nomological closure is in part an attempt to make naturalism a positive philosophy, rather that just the negation of a worldview which includes immaculate conceptions and magic flying horses"Now mystical experiences can indeed exist as unexplained phenomena, or rather unexplainable. They exist within the natural framework, albeit in a way inaccessible to human reason. The rules may indeed contain the cat, and being that we are in the game, we might not have access to the rule book.
Being closed, we cannot step out of the system to look into the system to see how it operates. We lack privileged access to the operations of the universe, and so we must deduce (actually induce) the rules from within, based on our imperfect senses and methodologies. The concept of nomological closure does not even make a statement on our current understanding of the rules (we might be categorically wrong), since our understanding plays no role in the rules themselves.
In the end I can't see this as a positive denial of supernaturalism. It just redefines the supernatural (or transcendent) as natural. Immaculate conception can still exist, but we don't (as of yet) have an explanation (if such is possible) of it. The cat can jump on the board, but we just don't (or can't) know why.