Re: Methodological naturalism

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Wed, 01 Apr 1998 15:42:31 -0500 (EST)

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


>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.

I believe one must be clear on the nature of the subject matter as well as
what is the evidence for that particular subject matter. If MN provides
naturalistic explanations for ALL events, then MN is the same as a Theory of
Everything which is a pipe dream. I believe MN will, at best, explain
physical events. Certain questions of interest will lie outside its scope,
e.g., questions of meaning, values, etc. The real issues is if indeed MN can
explain all physical events. Of course, we can go on forever and still
adhere to MN not realizing that even physical events cannot be eventually
explained by MN. Of course, by explanation I mean the development of
theories as done in physics where predications can be made via mathematical
models and not merely verbal arguments--hand-waving explanations. For
instance, so far there is no theory in physics which predicts the
experimental values of the masses of elementary particles. It may be that
such explanations are outside the scope of science. I believe that the
questions in biology are even much more difficult than such fundamental
questions in physics. It may be that many who adhere to MN view it as a way
to explain everything, viz. MN is all-encompassing. If such is the usage,
then MN does indeed preclude theism.


>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

I do believe that if MN were successful in explaining the time development
of the universe and the evolution of animals and conscious people from
non-living matter/energy, then a theistic view of creation is unwarranted.

>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.

One has not qualms with such a statement as a working hypothesis. Of course,
one must not use the hypothesis to claim that man did indeed evolve---which
is commonly done. Even if the statement is eventually proven to be true, it
is still hard to fathom that there was no intelligence which brought neither
the plan nor the required preexisting matter/energy into being. It is
self-evident to me that the question of origins is not a scientific
question. It seems extremely difficult to intellectually avoid the notion of
a Creator.