law vs. science

Paul Arveson (
Fri, 21 Mar 97 11:31:34 EST

John Burgeson wrote:

Interesting how differently we see Mr. Johnson.

You both, of course, may be right. Apparently, from what you say, his
writings are having more success in "evangelical" churches than in the
mainline ones (I am a PCUSA member).

Do either of you know him personally? How well? Does the fact that he is a
lawyer color your opinion of him?

I assume the answer to the last is "no." It does seem to color the opinions
of some I've encountered.

Does the fact that he is "not a scientist" color your opinion of him? Same
comment as before.


Pattle Pun wrote:

I knew Phil Johnson personally. He does not seem to me as described by
many of you to be marginalizing Christian scientists that do not agree
with him. What he is interested in the ISSUE of naturalism in science. I
have been saying what he is saying more than 10 years ago. However, being
a biologist from a Christian liberal arts College, I was not as effective
as he is to get an audience. Please do not discount him as being a LAWYER
and does not know science. Can we discuss the issue instead of the person
who raises the issue.


Of course the ISSUE is an important one, and people on this list have no
intention of making personal attacks, or ad hominem arguments.

Nevertheless, I believe there is a 'culture war', in fact several culture
wars going on at different levels. One has to do with theism vs. atheism,
but the others have to do with things such as C.P. Snow wrote about --
the difference between the technical and the humanistic cultures. And
there may be another kind of 'culture war' based on the differences in
how professionals are trained.

I have observed a difference in 'professional epistemology' between
lawyers and scientists. There seem to be two kinds of professions:
call them 'advocating' professions and 'objective' professions. Both are
honorable, but they have different approaches to 'truth'. The
'advocating' professions include some kinds of lawyers, marketers,
political party leaders, and preachers. They are trained to make bold and
unequivocal claims; they do not often waffle or admit doubt. Their
views are widely broadcast in the media.

The 'objective' professions include some kinds of judges, journalists,
engineers, and research scientists. They are trained to be unbiased and to
base their views on getting as close to the evidence as possible. They
rarely give a straight answer to a question. Their opinions are hardly
ever heard in the popular media.

The legal system's fairness is based on giving a fair hearing to two
opposing advocates, whose arguments are heard by an 'objective' judge and
jury. The intent is to get at the [one] truth this way.

The scientific system's fairness is based on getting as much empirical
data to bear on a question, preferably from different independent groups,
and by doing double-blind experiments. Today science is so global in
nature that it is common to have independent groups providing data on
an important question. In many cases, experiments can be repeatedly checked.
(Even in paleontology, dates, morphology, and other data can be checked.)

The whole notion of 'methodological naturalism' is a phrase made up by
advocates to characterize science, because from the advocates' perspective,
there are no 'objective' truths, but only allegations and claims.
I think there is some indication of a culture clash when a lawyer goes
before a lay audience and debates scientific matters. He is in effect
treating scientific questions as forensic questions that can only be
resolved in a courtroom scenario. Another indication of a culture clash
is when there is more talk of presuppositions and philosophical 'isms'
than of measurements and data.

On the other hand, it is well known that scientists tend to be naive, and
to overlook the political agendas and biases of others, as well as their
own. So we scientists resent it when the 'advocates' point out our
biases, and try to label us with philosophical categories. (I love that
phrase of Steven Weinberg's in Dreams of a Final Theory: 'the unreasonable
ineffectiveness of philosophy.')

At this point in history, I think it is important for us as scientists
to urge objectivity and empiricism as permanent ideals of science.
They did not die with the demise of positivism.

On the other hand, I think it is important for us as Christians to
recognize that sin is pervasive in our minds and hearts. All knowledge is
personal knowledge, all data are theory-laden; we have to be humble -- but
humility is not the same as relativism. So people like Phil Johnson can
benefit us if they show where our blind spots are, even if they themselves
are advocates with a different approach to truth. I can accept his work
in that light.

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist Code 724, Signatures Directorate, NSWC
9500 MacArthur Blvd., Bethesda, MD 20817-5700
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-4511 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)