Re: Methodological naturalism

Allan Harvey (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 17:42:16 -0700

OK, we're converging on what I feel is a crucial issue ...

At 01:54 PM 3/26/98 -0800, Phillip E. Johnson wrote:
>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.
> <SNIP>
>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.

This is encouraging; Prof. Johnson appears to be saying that a "natural"
explanation of any scientific phenomenon is theologically OK if a fair
evaluation of the evidence supports it. Given this, he has the
opportunity to relieve some of our fears by answering the following
*hypothetical* question:

Suppose that, at some point in the future, the evidence for Darwinian
evolution *does* become convincing by your standards. What would the
logical response be from your perspective?

(1) Say "OK, that appears to be how God did it, and that does not
diminish God or upset my theology." This would be the logical response
based on what you have said above. Given that, I suggest that it is
illogical for you to cast aspersions on the strength of the theism of
those who are already saying this because the evidence has convinced them.

(2) Become an atheist. Your past rhetoric has made it sound like
evolution and Christianity are incompatible, making theism dependent on
your current evaluation of the evidence being correct. Many of us are
concerned that people are getting the message from you that
evolution=atheism, period, thus pushing some who believe evolution is
true away from Christ and setting up for a fall Christians who later
decide that the evidence for evolution is convincing. But above, you
sound willing to grant that the hypothetical "natural" evolution of life
is *inherently* no more atheistic than "natural" stellar evolution.

So, Prof. Johnson, you could reassure us and, in my opinion, mitigate the
church's harmful interpretation of your message by saying something like
the following:

"While I believe the evidence does not support the theory of evolution,
and while it has been abused as a tool by those pushing an atheist
agenda, the Christian faith does not suffer if it turns out that
evolution is true. God can create however He chooses, and is not
diminished if His work in creation was through 'natural' processes."

Can you endorse that statement? If not, what part do you disagree with,
and why? And would you be willing to say this publicly to prevent people
from misinterpreting your message?

| 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." |