Re: Methodological naturalism

Allan Harvey (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 08:47:28 -0700

At 04:24 AM 3/26/98 -0800, Phillip E. Johnson wrote:

>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.
><remarks on Newton snipped>
>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.

These are not unreasonable remarks, but they completely miss the point I
was trying to get at. Healthy skepticism, inversely proportional to the
strength of the evidence, is fine.

BUT, that is all irrelevant to my fundamental question, which is at a
philosophical level independent of the strength of the evidence. That
question is:

Why is it that a "natural" explanation for stellar evolution is OK for a
theist while a "natural" explanation for the evolution of life is (at
least this is the impression conveyed by Prof. Johnson) incompatible with
meaningful theism?

If stellar evolution and the evolution of life are the same kinds of
issues (and I see no *qualitative* difference in the basic nature of the
questions), then there are only two possibilities:
1) Both are incompatible with theism, presumably on the basis that
"natural" explanations necessarily exclude God from the picture. While
this seems to be Will Provine's position, I hope the Christians on this
list can agree that this is not the Biblical view of God.
2) Both are compatible with theism, since God is capable of working his
sovereign will through providential means. In this case, those who
attack proposed "natural" explanations for the evolution of life need to
stop acting like the truth of theism depends on the natural explanations
being wrong.

If there is some *theological* reason why proposed "natural" explanations
for the evolution of life are incompatible with theism while other
"natural" scientific explanations (stellar evolution, gravity, plate
tectonics, etc.) are not, then that reasoning needs to be put out on the
table as it will be foundational to this entire discussion.

| Dr. Allan H. Harvey | |
| Physical and Chemical Properties Division | "Don't blame the |
| National Institute of Standards & Technology | government for what I |
| 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303 | say, or vice versa." |