Re: Methodological naturalism

Phillip E. Johnson (
Fri, 27 Mar 1998 10:24:56 -0800

At 11:44 PM 3/26/98 +0000, William B. Provine wrote:

>If I found out that modern evolution were correct, then I would know that
>had been produced by a process that cared not at all for its products. All it
>can produce is complex machines with no free will.

Will "knows" what Darwinian evolution can and cannot do not from any
scientific evidence, but from the MN that produced Darwinism and permeates
its every conclusion. Just think about the standard instances of observed
natural selection (the peppered moth, the finch beaks, the insect
population becoming composed of the most toxin-resistant bugs) and note how
far any of this is from establishing the conclusions Will draws. Very
likely the Darwinian process never could produce complex machines with free
will -- but it also has no demonstrated ability to produce complex
machines, or simple simple machines.

>>I disagree strongly with Phil's reservations about evolutionary biology.
I am
>>with those of you who think that MN is pretty darned good for explaining
>>evolution. The same MN applies to all "miracles." So I agree with you
that Phil
>>is getting into a tough spot if naturalistic evolution is true, and I
find the
>>evidence way more convincing that he does.

Indeed -- MN is the standard principle in 20th century academia for
investigating "miracles," including the miracles of Jesus as well as claims
of intelligent design in biology. (Caveat: I do not classify intelligent
design as a "miracle" but as evidence of a regular process of biological
creation directed by intelligence.) MN establishes Darwinism as effectively
unchallengable in the teeth of all the contrary evidence; it reclassifies
the Bible as mythology; it converts the resurrection into an event that
occurred only in the minds of the disciples; and it places "religious
belief" in the realm of the subjective imagination. Some theistic
intellectuals actually seem to prefer that placement; a God who lives only
in human consciousness is a God humans can control.

The damage done by any specific artifact of MN is fairly superficial; it is
the underlying reasoning process that inexorably discredits Christian
theism in every field of knowledge. That is why theism has been so
successfully marginalized in the intellectual world. Insofar as Christian
intellectuals accept the rules of MN, and seek merely to make ad hoc
exceptions to save some doctrine they cannot afford to give up, they have
earned that marginalization. To those I recommend a verse (Luke 11:52)
that they might prefer to quote against me: "Woe to you lawyers! For you
have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and
those who were entering in you hindered." You could find respectable
support in using that statement against me. To the naturalistic mind, MN
is the "key of knowledge." Richard Lewontin has written that MN (he calls
it "materialism") is "the truth that makes you free." But perhaps he is
not a trustworthy interpreter of the statements of Jesus.

The intellectual difficulties are only part of the picture. Despite the
intellectual marginalization, twentieth century Christianity has done a
remarkable job speaking to the heart. The Billy Graham rallies (for
example) have converted millions to Christ around the world without
addressing the philosophical issues that matter so much to intellectuals.
Just as man does not live by bread alone, man does not live by logic alone
either. Philosophical errors can mislead, but they mislead mainly people
who take the wisdom of the world too seriously.

Finally, to Allan Harvey (a good cross-examiner who would do well as a
lawyer): The church does not misinterpret my message. My message is
stated clearly in these paragraphs, as in many more lengthy writings. I
find that it is being widely and correctly understood -- except in certain
enclaves where people have a vested interested in misunderstanding.

Phil Johnson