Methodological naturalism

Phillip E. Johnson (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 04:24:15 -0800

Here are brief comments on some of the points made in response to my
comments on MN:

George Murphy wrote:

> Your argument opposes MN as a fundamental presupposition about
>reality. It does not, however, touch versions of MN which are
>not seen as fundamental but as secondary working principles suggested
>by, & to be interpreted in accord with, belief that what is truly
>fundamental about reality, God, is revealed in the cross and
>resurrection of Jesus Christ. That should be the basic question, though
>most people would prefer to talk about philosophical theism than about
>the implications of the cross.

My interest is in MN as held and applied in the culture of evolutionary
science. There any distinction between a "secondary working principle" and
a "fundamental presupposition about reality" collapses, because of the
determination to explain all of reality on naturalistic terms. My purpose
was to explain why Christian theism is so thoroughly marginalized in the
academic world, and why the drift is towards a more comprehensive
acceptance of methodological naturalism, including in Biblical studies.
Intellectual life in the twentieth century is not based on the premise that
"what is truly fundamental about reality, God, is revealed in the cross and
resurrection of Jesus Christ." That premise is relegated to Sunday school,
and it is not all that secure even there.

Allan Harvey wrote:

>Fine, but let's add a couple of similar statements:
>"By MN we know that gravity keeps the planets in their orbits."
>"By MN we know that the Sun condensed gravitationally billions of years
>ago from nebulous material and eventually began to burn by nuclear fusion."
>My question to Prof. Johnson is what is *qualitatively* different between
>these two statements and his first two statements. I am *not* interested
>right now in the strength of the evidence supporting the different
>statements, merely the nature of the statements themselves.

Newton's law of gravity is not dependent upon MN. He provided calculations
which make predictions which can be verified observationally. A theist
should say: "however the solar system originated, and whatever is the
nature of that mysterious force we call 'gravity,' it can be observed to
operate with a law-like regularity described in Newton's calculations
(subject to certain famous anomalies)." Compare: "My computer is
intelligently designed, and it also operates according to physical laws."

The nebular hypothesis of the origin of the solar system is a more
pertinent example, and I proceed cautiously here, having had no recent
occasion to study the matter. I'm afraid my answer must depend upon the
strength of the evidence, because that is what makes all the difference.
Compare (1) "the sun condensed gravitationally billions of years ago" with
(2) "the eye and the brain originated by Darwinian selection." The
creative power of natural selection is not supported by evidence (other
than at the trivial peppered-moth level), and the whole Darwinian scenario
is contrary to the fossil and experimental evidence but maintained because
of its importance to the naturalistic worldview and the absence of an
acceptable alternative. So (2) depends almost totally on MN. Is that
equally true of (1)? I presume not, because gravity is a well-documented
phenomenon whose effects can be calculated reliably. Creative natural
selection, in contrast, is a fiction. But if your answer is that the
evidentiary basis for (1) is about the same as that for (2), then we should
view both with a healthy skepticism.

Phillip Johnson