Re: Methodological naturalism

Phillip E. Johnson (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 13:54:31 -0800

A bit more cleanup:

At 08:47 AM 3/26/98 -0700, Allan Harvey wrote:
>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.

The subject of my comments was MN -- the doctrine which states as a
philosophical a priori that only naturalistic explanations are eligible for
consideration. Hence a naturalistic explanation for all events is presumed
to exist REGARDLESS OF THE EVIDENCE. No matter how strongly the evidence
points to the reality of design in biology, and hence the reality of the
Designer, that possibility must be ignored and the best naturalistic
alternative (Darwinian selection) credited with creating the appearance of
design. I do not think that theists should agree to this kind of
restriction upon thought, and I do think that theists should be willing to
recognize the existence of intelligent causes when the evidence points in
that direction.

Explanations employing only natural causes may in other cases be true -- or
at least probable on the basis of an unbiased evaluation of the evidence.
Where that is the case, I have no objection to them. That is emphatically
not the case with Darwinian evolution; it may be the case with the nebular
hypothesis, and certainly is the case with the laws of gravity that govern
the planetary orbits.

The fact that the restrictive nature of MN is the subject also answers
Keith Miller's point:

>You have
>bought into Provine's theology. That theology reduces God to the level of
>a cosmic magician, not the providential God of scripture who directs all of
>natural and human history to His ends - who is actively, creatively
>involved in all of the physical universe. You may be surprised at this,
>but my problem with your theology is that your understanding of God is not
>nearly big enough.

This has it backwards. God is free to create or supervise by any means He
chooses, without objection from me. It is MN that seeks to confine God by
man-made rules. Naturalistic science dislikes the idea that God might act
in some detectable manner, as by employing intelligent causes in biological
creation, and so God is told firmly that he may not do this sort of thing,
and certainly may not leave the evidence lying around for scientists to
observe. As one of my favorite theologians once observed, "This God is far
weaker than the philosophers who created him."

Phil Johnson

P.S. Massimo Pigliucci and friends have proposed this new revision of the
NABT statement:

"The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution:
a natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification
that is non-directional, except for human intervention,
and is explicable by principles of physical and biological science
including natural selection, changing environments, chance, and
historical contingencies"

Intelligent direction of evolution is permitted -- but only if it is human
in origin.