Re: Methodological Naturalism

Bill Hamilton (
Fri, 27 Mar 1998 16:40:22 -0500

Howard wrote

>[The following is the paragraph that smacked of deism that I mention below]
>By the "Robust Formational Economy Principle" I have in mind
>the assumption (one that has relevance for scientific theorizing) that the
>formational economy of the Creation is, by God's unfathomable creativity
>and unlimited generosity, sufficiently robust to make possible the
>actualization of all of the physical structures (atoms, stars, galaxies,
>etc.) and all of the life forms that have ever existed. (This is what gives
>the Creation what I have elsewhere called the quality of 'functional
>integrity,' especially in regard to its formational history.)
>In such a Creation (I call this the Fully-Gifted Creation Perspective)
>there would be no gaps--no missing capabilities--in its formational economy
>that would have to be bridged by form-imposing divine interventions in the
>course of time as envisioned by the several versions of episodic
>creationist scenarios for the historical manifestation of the God's
>creative action.
The existence of gaps is, I believe, a matter of perception. I can accept
the above statement if by "gaps" you mean "gaps that can be perceived by
means available to humans". From God's point of view the situation may be
quite different. Deut 29:29 may shed some light on this. Deut 29:29
teaches that there _are_ some areas of knowledge that God has reserved for
himself. But Job 12:7-10 teaches that we should investigate the world we
live in (and that by doing so we learn about the character of God) All of
this is may be intimately tied up with the secret v. the revealed will of
God -- a concept we Calvinists find quite valuable. In sum, God has given
us a world we can study, and we will not be misled by what we learn.
Anything that is within our capabilities to investigate is open to us. But
some knowledge is available only by revelation (e.g. the plan of
salvation), and some is not available at all (e.g. the timing of the Lord's

I believe a great deal of the frustration in these discussions comes from
the tendency not to qualify the point of view our statements assume, as
well as the tendency on the part of some participants to confuse the
capabilities of God and humans (I'm not pointing fingers. I have seen
examples of both YEC's and philosophical naturalists doing this) From a
human point of view there are, I believe, no discernable gaps in the
creation. From God's point of view there is, by definition, at least one
crucial gap: none of it will function -- or even exist -- without His
oversight. There may be others, such as quantum indeterminacies and the
sensitive dependence on initial conditions (and disturbances) typical of
nonlinear dynamics that provide "handles" by which God supervises events
in ways that are not even detectible in principle.

>5. By "Naturalism" (upper case 'N') I mean the comprehensive worldview (as
>articulated by Will Provine, for instance) founded on the metaphysical
>presumption that Nature is all there is--the physical/material universe is
>itself the ultimate reality. According to Naturalism the universe is not a
>Creation that has been given being by a God who transcends it, but is a
>self-existent entity that needs no transcendent Creator to give it being or
>to sustain it in being. There is no Creator of whom creatures could be
>aware, and hence no possibility of a Creator/creature relationship that
>could serve as the source of meaning or of purpose.
Will's view seems to me to implicitly assume that there are no ultimate
limitations to human abilities to study and reach conclusions about the
universe we live in. To say that there is no God -- or at least that there
is no God who influences events in nature IMO assumes that ultimately, when
we have investigated all possible means by which a God could influence
nature, that we will reach the sure conclusion that none of these means are
being used, or that none of them exist. That is a faith position because
establishing the validity of such a position requires a research program we
have no reason to believe we can complete.


>Let me be candid. I think that the popular rhetoric on this question is
>profoundly wrong, and that Christians and non-Christians alike are being
>led down the road of misunderstanding by rhetoric that proceeds from a
>fundamentally flawed concept regarding the ownership of the RFE Principle.
Agreed. Amen. Preach it, brother!

>As I stated earlier, all Christians agree that the entire universe, every
>aspect of it, has being only because God, its Creator, has given it being.
>That means, of course, that every creaturely capability that the Creation
>possesses must be seen as a 'gift of being' from the Creator. Therefore,
>from the standpoint of a commitment to the historic Christian doctrine of
>creation, the formational economy of the universe is not something that has
>any independent existence, nor does it contain any creaturely capabilities
>that God did not choose to give it. Furthermore, if it is as remarkably
>complete as the RFE Principle describes it, that would be recognized by a
>Christian as none other than affirmative evidence for the unfathomable
>creativity and unlimited generosity of the Creator.
[While I don't believe you are one, Howard, my deist alarm is sounding.
The reason, I believe, is that the above paragraph and one like it above,
can sound as though God gifted all the entities in nature with their
properties, and then for all we know He walked away. I don't get that
impression if I read what you write carefully, with the definitions and
qualifiers in mind. I believe I understand what you are saying, and I
don't see it as deism, but I can understand why some people would. It might
be helpful perhaps to remind readers of what you have reiterated several
times already: that all of nature depends on God moment by moment.
Furthermore, of course, God is personal and intervenes in human affairs as
a loving Father, the significant interventions including the giving of the
law and the prophets, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, and
the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit.]
>For a Christian to discover that the RFE Principle is highly encouraged by
>the empirical evidence would, it seems to me, provide the occasion, not for
>the conclusion that Naturalism is therefore warranted, but rather that God
>is to be praised for his creativity and generosity. Scientific theorizing
>about the Creation's formational history would therefore proceed on the
>assumption that the RFE Principle is true.

IOW God is a wise designer.
[Good material about the burden of proof Naturalism must bear snipped]

Bill Hamilton
Staff Research Engineer
Chassis and Vehicle Systems
GM R&D Center
Warren, MI