Re: Methodological Naturalism

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Wed, 25 Mar 1998 09:06:52 -0500 (EST)

At 04:38 AM 3/25/98 -0800, Phillip E. Johnson wrote:
>To Loren Haarsma and the ASA list:
>If you have a reliable special revelation from God (via Scripture or
>otherwise) then of course you know that theism is true regardless of any
>other evidence. But granted the unique superiority of methodological
>naturalism (MN) as a principle of scientific investigation (the premise of
>my original comment), how can you be confident that you have such a
>revelation? MN is not just applicable to evolution. It is also the
>scientific way to investigate purported divine revelations and miracles.
>By MN we know that natural selection has immense creative power, sufficient
>to make cells and complex organs, even though no one has ever seen this
>power demonstrated. By MN we know that there was a universe of ancestors
>and transitional forms in the preCambrian rocks, although they have
>mysteriously vanished. By MN Biblical scholars have discovered that the
>Pentateuch was stitched together from various sources (J, E, P, etc) and
>that the "historical Jesus" worked no miracles and was deified by his
>followers. Finally, by MN we know that Scriptural passages praising God
>give evidence only of the religious consciousness of whoever wrote them.
>I agree that these conclusions cannot coerce the unwilling mind. If we are
>sufficiently motivated, we can invoke exceptions to save something from the
>scrutiny of MN. Perhaps MN is inapplicable to Salvation History as opposed
>to biological history, to the New Testament and the Psalms as opposed to
>Genesis, to the creation of the soul as opposed to the body, or to anything
>else that we particularly want to attribute to supernatural action. Such
>exceptions appear arbitrary to most intellectuals steeped in MN. This is
>why MN dominates Biblical studies as well as science, why theism has
>virtually no standing in the mainstream intellectual world, and why even
>Christian educational institutions tend to drift steadily towards
>I also agree that MN provides no answer to the ultimate question, ("why is
>there something instead of nothing?"). Perhaps it would be more precise
>to say that it provides this answer: "No one knows, although some pretend to."
>Finally this statement by Loren is close to my own position (since I reject
>the premise of my original comment):
>>I do not say that it ["the regular operation and providential governance
>of >natural mechanisms"] 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 put it in my words: Follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it
>leads to conclusions such as these: (1) the Darwinian mechanism has no
>significant creative power; (2) the hypothesized Precambrian ancestors
>never existed; (3) the documents hypothesis and the quest for the
>historical (i.e. naturalistic) Jesus are mere naturalistic speculations;
>and (4) the reality of irreducible complexity and the nature of genetic
>information points to the necessity for attributing biological creation to
>an intelligent cause.
>Incidentally, I will be discussing these issues today and tomorrow as I
>lecture at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest,
>North Carolina. If I get any interesting responses by tomorrow morning,
>I'll be able to mention them to the students and faculty.
>Phil Johnson

Methodological naturalism (MN) is a philosophical presupposition that
precludes theism.
Man reasons in order to understand the workings of nature as well as the
wealth of human experiences. The methodology of science is based on data
acquisition which can be done solely by machines. The human mind is needed
to reason and thus develop abstract theories which relate a multitude of
scientific data. In the attempt of understanding the totality of human
experience there is data that cannot be acquired by machines. In fact, one
may view the human being as an apparatus which "detects" God--spiritual
dimension. However, the philosophical statement that "man is a nothing but
a machine" is false. There is a difference in kind between human beings and
machines that are governed merely by physical law and lack free will.
Notions of love, hate, trust, are not measurable by machines. What machines
measure are physical consequences of such states in the human being and not
the essence of states themselves. The full understanding of the whole of
reality requires a physical as well as a spiritual dimension which MN is not
designed to provide.