Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

Loren Haarsma (
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 09:56:23 -0500 (EST)

Phillip Johnson wrote:
(from *Reason in the Balance*, p. 211):
> "If employing methodological naturalism is the only way to reach true
> conclusions about the history of the universe, and if the attempt to
> provide a naturalistic history of the universe has gone from success to
> success, and if even theists concede that trying to do science on theistic
> premises always leads nowhere or into error (the embarrassing "God of the
> gaps"), then the likely explanation for this state of affairs is that
> naturalism is true and theism is false."
> Note that this statement says "likely explanation." It does not claim the
> status of absolute truth, and does not deny that sufficently motivated
> theists can find a refuge. They can retreat into an unfalsifiable
> position, by (for example) saying that God created the whole system, and
> constantly upholds it with his mighty (but scientifically undetectable) hand.
> Who disagrees?

If one studies the natural history of the universe in isolation from
other knowledge, if one only reluctantly -- as a last resort -- includes
"the regular operation of natural mechanisms" into the suite of possible
"theistic premises," then I would agree. But if you're talking about a
biblical theism which takes into account everything that special
revelation says about how God acts and interacts with creation, and which
takes into account everything we have learned from other areas of science
about the kind of creation we live in, then I do disagree with that

First, what we learn from nature is relevant to the issue of naturalism
versus theism; however, what we learn from history, community, and
personal experience is far more important for deciding between naturalism
and biblical theism.

Second, scientific knowledge about the history of the universe should be
put into the context of our scientific knowledge about other processes in
creation, and in particular, it should be put into the context of what
scripture says about those other natural processes. For example, the
history of science shows us a number of theistic premises about planetary
motion and the nature of stars which "lead nowhere or into error." (The
history of science also shows us a number of similarly flawed
naturalistic premises.) The earliest successful premises were those
which proposed -- on the basis of theism -- the regular operation of
natural mechanisms. Yet scripture, especially the Psalms, repeatedly
praises God for his sovereignty and control over these things and many
other things we study as "natural processes" (e.g. the regular operation
of weather patterns, the creation of each new generation of people, the
life and death of plants and animals, the predatory actions of wild
animals, etc). If the psalmists were correct to give such praise to God,
then "the regular operation of created natural mechanisms" is, in fact, a
very important means by which God often chooses to operate in governing
the physical and biological world. (The regular operation of natural
mechanisms gives the same empirical predictions as "methodological
naturalism," which leads many theists to adopt that term.)

Third, no matter how successful methodological naturalism might be, it
does not answer the questions of why such an interesting universe should
exist at all, nor why the history of the universe went down the
particular pathway it did. Biblical theism, on the other hand, has much
to say in precisely those areas where methodological naturalism is quiet.
God has revealed a purpose for creation. God can and does work through
"random" (from a human and scientific perspective) events.

Given this larger context for investigating the natural history of the
universe, "the regular operation and providential governance of natural
mechanisms" belongs as a prominent member of the suite of possible
theistic premises, not merely as a premise of final desperation. (Note,
I do not say that it should be the *only* theistic premise allowed when
scientifically investigating natural history. I say only that it should
be considered a strong possibility. We can let the data reveal which
method God actually chose.)

To describe this as "unfalsifiable" would be misleading. Such biblical
theism confronts history, society, science, and personal experience on
many different fronts. It is as open to rational inquiry, and
modification in the face of new data, as other world-views.

Loren Haarsma