Re: a Q&A on Johnson

Stephen Jones (
Mon, 03 Mar 97 12:26:23 +0800


On Tue, 25 Feb 1997 13:00:32 -0500, John W. Burgeson wrote:

JWB>A question via private e-mail:

>Q:>I have a question for Phil Johnson which others on the list
>have also asked:
>How can you categorically rule out the possibility of theistic
>evolution, i.e. the idea that God can direct outcomes
>non-mechanically in accordance with His will, but in a way that
>looks like random evolution to us?

Johnson does *not* "categorically rule out the possibility of
theistic evolution". He admits that God creating by a process
that could be described as "evolution" is a "possibility":

"The concept of creation in itself does not imply opposition to
evolution, if evolution means only a gradual process by which one
kind of living creature changes into something different. A Creator
might well have employed such a gradual process as a means of
creation" (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, pp3-4).

"I am a philosophical theist and a Christian. I believe that a God
exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but
who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process
instead." (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, p14).

"My theology does not require that God create by what Van Till calls
"theokinetic acts," or by any other particular method. If God
exists at all, He could create by whatever means He chooses, whether
or not the choice pleases me, Van Till, or the rulers of
evolutionary biology. Determination of the method that God actually
employed should be left to unbiased scientific research...Maybe what
God chose to do just isn't known to the evolutionary biologists of
today." (Johnson P.E., "God and Evolution: An Exchange: Howard J.
Van Till - Phillip E. Johnson", First Things, June 1993.

JWB>Another way of asking it: How can you say that evolution is
>tantamount to atheism, when all the Catholic Church has accepted it
>for decades, as have numerous other Christian church leaders and

Johnson *nowhere* says that "evolution is tantamount to atheism".

JWB>A: My take on this -- and I cannot speak for Phil -- is that I
>think he speaks against evolution with the Darwinist definition --
>we are here by accident -- and not against evolution otherwise.

Yes. Johnson's main point is that Darwinist `blind watchmaker'
evolution by fully naturalistic processes of random mutation plus
natural selection is not supported by the evdidence.

JWB>He does not "believe" in evolution; that seems a fair judgement,
>but I think I've heard him say -- and I know I heard Al Plantigna
>say (just last Thursday night) that evolution-as-a-mechanism to
>explain a major part -- even all -- of the record was a possibility.
>Plantigna speaks against, for instance, the COMBINATION of
>naturalism and evolution, neither one nor the other alone,
>"naturalism" being defined metaphysically as "no God." I think
>Johnson is in substantial agreement with Al on this.

Yes. I have a number of Phil's tapes and he responds quite candidly
that natural processes may explain much. For example, he has no
problem with the fauna on the Galapagos Islands developing new
species from ancestral genera on the South American mainland, nor
has he a problem with the evolution of the horse. He sees these as
extended microevolution. His position is similar to mine and
probably could be described as Mediate Creation.

JWB>I'll run the q&a by him, though; if he responds, I'll share it.
>I'll also add this to the reflector as an anonymous q&a since I did
>not see it there.

On Tue, 25 Feb 1997 21:04:05 -0600, Glenn Morton wrote:

>GM>You know I am fairly critical of Phil's approach. But what you say
>does not jive with what Phil has written.


>GM>of theistic evolutionists "The specific answers they derive may or
>may not be reconcilable with theism, but the manner of thinking is
>profoundly atheisitic. To accept the answers as indubitably true is
>inevitably to accept the thinking that generated those answers.
>That is why I think the appropriate term for the accomodationist
>position is not 'theistic evolution,' but rather theistic
>naturalism. Under either name, it is a disastrous error."~Phillip
>E. Johnson, "Shouting 'Heresy' in the Temple of Darwin,"Christianity
>Today Oct. 24, 1994, p. 26

Johnson is here not ruling out the "the possibility of theistic
evolution". What he is criticising is the *attitude* of "theistic
evolutionists" who accept as "indubitably true" the *naturalistic
way of "thinking"*. Here is what he said just before Glenn's quote:

"What theistic evolutionists have failed above all to comprehend is
that the conflict is not over "facts" but over ways of thinking.
The problem is not just with any specific doctrine of Darwinian
science, but with the naturalistic rules of thought that Darwinian
scientists employ to derive those doctrines." (Johnson P.E.,
"Shouting `Heresy' in the Temple of Darwin", Christianity Today,
October 24, 1994, p26)

>GM>I don't think Johnson would agree that evolution is a
>possibility. In a section of his 2nd edition, he talks about
>theistic evolutionists. He says.
>"I think that most theistic evolutionists accept as scientific the
>claim that natural selection perfomred the creating, but would like
>to reject the acompanying metaphysical doctrine that the scientific
>understanding of evolution excludes design and purpose. The problem
>with this way of dividing things is that the metaphysical statement
>is no mere embellishment but the essential foundation for the
>scientific claim." ~Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, (Downer's
>Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 168

How does this support Glenn's claim that "Johnson would" not "agree
that evolution is a possibility"? He is here merely pointing out
the "metaphysical doctrine that the scientific understanding of
evolution excludes design and purpose" that is "the essential
foundation for the scientific claim" that "natural selection
performed the creating".

>GM>I interpret this to mean that theistic evolutionists are
>implicitly accepting the metaphysical doctrines of atheists.

Yes, but Johnson does say that "theistic evolutionists would like to
reject the acompanying metaphysical doctrine that the scientific
understanding of evolution excludes design and purpose". Johnson is
at pains to point out that theistic evolutionists are still

"Murphy does not argue, as Weinberg undoubtedly would, that
methodological atheism* ought to rule science because atheism is
true. On the contrary, we are entitled to presume that a professor
of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary would insist
emphatically that atheism is false. In that case, the reason that
valid scientific theories can be achieved only by making the
counterfactual assumption that atheism is true is not immediately
obvious-to put it mildly. In a free intellectual environment, we
might expect that Christian theists would vigorously assert that
some conclusions of the methodological atheists who rule science may
be as faulty as the unsound premise from which they were derived.
The reason theists do not (should not?) do this, it seems, is they
are afraid-for both legal and intellectual reasons-to enter the
debate." (Johnson P.E., "Reason in the Balance", 1995, p99)

GM>He finishes that section by saying,
>"Of course, I do not agree with that strategy. I do not think that
>the mind can serve two masters, and I am confident that whenever the
>attempt is made, naturalism in the end will be the true master and
>theism will have to abide by its dictates."~Phillip E. Johnson,
>Darwin on Trial, (Downer's Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 169

I agree with Johnson here. From his experience in debating with
TEs and from my experience over two years on this Reflector, it is
evdident that TE is a conflict-ridden position that tried to have it
both ways and fails in both. This is why TEs react so violently to
Johnson and other creationists who advocate Intelligent Design and
God's supernatural intervention in biological history.

But nothing in the above supports the claim that Johnson
"categorically rules out the possibility of theistic evolution".

>GM>In another place he writes:
>"Naturalism rules the secular academic world absolutely, which is
>bad enough. what is far worse is that it rules much of the
>Christian world as well. As Stephen Meyer's essay in this volume
>points out, it is common for philosophers even at conservative
>Christian institutions to accept the rules of scientific
>naturalism, and to accept them for no better reason than that the
>secular world wills it to be so. It is no wonder that the best
>students from these institutions so often emerge with a
>naturalistic outlook; that is how they have been taught to
>think."~Phillip E. Johnson, "Foreword," in J. P. Moreland, editor,
>The Creation Hypothesis, (Downer's Grove: Intervarsity Press,
>1994), p. 7.

This is a criticism by Johnson of "conservative Christian
institutions" accepting "the rules of scientific naturalism."

Again, this does not supports the claim that Johnson
has "categorically ruled out the possibility of theistic evolution".

>GM>Which is in basic agreement with this:
>"Evolution is naturalism, limited to mechanistic processes in its
>operation. This necessarily means endless ages of random changes
>which, in the process, leave untold waste and pain and death in
>their wake. Theistic evolution is a contradiction in terms.
>"~Henry M.Morris, A History of Modern Creationism, (San Diego:
>Master Book Publishers, 1984), p. 328

No. Johnson has never said anything like this. Morris' position
above is a criticism of *any* form of old-Earth creationism,
including not only "Theistic evolution" but also Progressive
Creationism, which would allow death and suffereing before the

On Wed, 26 Feb 1997 10:33:42 -0500, John W. Burgeson wrote
Re: An answer from Phil:

JWB>This was the question:
>Q: I have a question for Phil Johnson which others on the list
>have also asked:
>How can you categorically rule out the possibility of theistic
>evolution, i.e. the idea that God can direct outcomes
>non-mechanically in accordance with His will, but in a way that
>looks like random evolution to us?
>This was Phil's answer:
>"I don't "categorically rule out" anything; it's the scientific
>materialists who do that, by insisting that science is by
>definition committed to materialism or naturalism. I've explained
>this repeatedly in two books and in numerous articles, which are
>available at:"

This is Phil's basic position (and mine as well). He (and I) says
that if evolution could be proved, then he (I) would accept it as
God's way of creating. In the quote from Christianity Today that
Glenn gave Johnson actually says as much:

"If scientists had actually observed natural selection creating new
organs, or had seen a step-by-step process of fundamental change
consistently recorded in the fossil record, such observations could
readily be interpreted as evidence of God's use of secondary causes
to create." (Johnson P.E., "Shouting `Heresy' in the Temple of
Darwin", Christianity Today, October 24, 1994, p26)

One can perhaps understand why "scientific materialists" who do
not believe there is a God "insist that science is by definition
committed to materialism or naturalism" because in their view
nature is all there is. The real question is why do "theistic
evolutionists" who do *not* believe that there is no God and that
nature is *not* all there is, agree with them and side with
the "scientific materialists" against their fellow Christians?

On Wed, 26 Feb 1997 12:08:05 -0500, Terry M. Gray wrote
Re: An answer from Phil:

TG>Okay, okay. I know that this is what Phil says. I find plenty of
>footnotes, qualifiers, etc. that formally allow for a TE/EC
>perspective. Why then does accuse us TE/EC types of being "theistic
>naturalists" (see Glenn's well documented post from yesterday) when
>we accept the evolutionary account in the context of theism?

Glenn's "post" was *not* "well documented". It failed to make its
main point that "Phil Johnson...categorically rules out the
possibility of theistic evolution".

The reason Phil accuses "TE/EC types of being "theistic
naturalists" is because that's *exactly* what they appear to be:
Theists who insist that there is a God but He can only work
through natural processes:

"The power of scientific naturalism in the academic world is so
intimidating, however, that hardly anyone is willing to challenge
it. Theologians (or theistic scientists) survive in academia not by
challenging naturalism with a rival interpretation of reality but by
trying to find a place for theology within the picture of reality
defined by scientific naturalists. They write books with titles
like Religion in an Age of Science (Ian Barbour), Theology for a
Scientific Age (Arthur Peacocke) and Theology in the Age of
Scientific Reasoning (Nancey Murphy). I call this genre "theistic
naturalism," because to accommodate successfully the theists must
accept not just the particular conclusions that scientists have
reached but also the naturalistic methodology that generated those
conclusions." (Johnson P.E., "Reason in the Balance", 1995, p97)

"A theistic naturalist is a theist who thinks MN is the correct
approach to scientific inquiry and hence to understanding (for
example) how living things came into existence. Some resent my use
of that term, but it is precisely descriptive and the position is
widely held. What is resented is that the term directs critical
attention to a serious problem that many would prefer to overlook."
(Johnson P.E., "Reason in the Balance", 1995, p211)

"A person who assumes a priori that such creation events must have
scientifically ascertainable material causes is a metaphysical
naturalist. If he believes in God he is a theistic naturalist, who
limits God's freedom by the dictates of naturalistic philosophy."
(Johnson P.E., "God and Evolution: An Exchange", June 1993)

"In short, theistic naturalism is best understood as an intellectual
strategy for coping with a desperate situation. It was barely
tenable as a philosophical position as long as the leading
scientists believed, or pretended to believe, that science is a
limited research activity which does not aspire to occupy the entire
realm of knowledge. Today many of the world's most famous
physicists are proclaiming the imminent prospect of a "theory of
everything"-and they do mean everything. It may be that these
physicists-and the evolutionary biologists who talk just like
them-are no longer practicing "science" and have become
metaphysicians. What is important is that they mix metaphysics and
science together and present the whole package to the public with
all the awe-inspiring authority of science. I have read that 500
million persons have seen Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, many of them
in the public schools, and very few of them were warned that "What
you are about to see is metaphysics, not science." The Time cover
story for December 28, 1992 says it all: the title asks "What Does
Science Tell Us About God?" The answer is plenty, and more all the
time." (Johnson P.E., "God and Evolution: An Exchange", June 1993)

I personally have long avoided using this term, "theistic
naturalism" to avoid causing offense, even though I have always
believed it to true of the position of most TE/ECs on this
Reflector. The turning point for me was Brian's poll, where I
realised that trying to avoid offending TE/ECs by not speaking the
plain truth as I saw it was no longer an appropriate strategy. From
now on I will "speak the truth" as I see it regarding TE/EC but I
will try to do it "in love" (Eph 4:15). No doubt Johnson, like me,
was driven to it by the attacks of TE/ECs. I agree with Johnson's
sorrow for having to use it against those I regard as my Christian

"Obviously I offended Van Till with that phrase "theistic
naturalism." In a way I am sorry for that, for he is a decent and
honorable person whom I would like to have for a friend. But it is
necessary to send a wake-up call to a Christian academia that has
complacently assumed that mild protests against the most explicitly
metaphysical claims by scientists are all that is needed to maintain
an intellectually respectable place for theistic religion. The
situation is far more serious than that. Metaphysical naturalism
has taken over mainstream science, not in a superficial sense but in
a profound sense. Purportedly factual claims- like the power of
mutation and selection to create complex organs-are based upon
philosophical reasoning rather than empirical investigation."
(Johnson P.E., "God and Evolution: An Exchange", June 1993)

TG>Burgy, you can ask Phil if you want, but we already know the
>answer. Phil (along with Al Plantinga) thinks that evolution is
>plausible as a scientific explanation ONLY when you categorically
>rule out God, i.e. that which the scientific materialist do. He
>does not think that evolution is a plausible scientific explanation
>(i.e. the evidence is not there to support the claims) if you don't
>limit yourself to materialism or naturalism AND he cannot believe
>that some of us do. The conclusion that he draws is that we are not
>really thinking like theists but more like naturalists.


TG>Now if he denies that this is how he think about these things,
>then he has a lot of back-peddling to do, because he has repeatedly
>criticized many of us for our accomodation in order to stay
>respectable, our bing duped by our graduate educations, etc.

Why should he "deny" it? It is *exactly* what Johnson (and I think)
about TE/ECs.

TG>In my review of Darwin on Trial, I wondered why Phil didn't
>consult with more of us whose only option isn't naturalism and asked
>us what we thought of the evidence.

Why would he need to? Johnson read extensively what the *leading*
Darwinists like Dawkins, Gould and Futuyma wrote, and I am sure
they would be able to present the "evidence". Johnson is a
Professor of Law and former District Attorney and well knows about
evaluating "evidence" and the hidden assumptions behind that
evidence. He has *personally* debated with Gould, Eldredge, Sarich,
Futuyma, Provine, Ruse, Scott, etc., and I am sure he would have
learned from them what the "evidence" was.

TG>In later writings he attacks the TE/EC position as more
>naturalism-like than theistic and is amazed at the resistance to
>some of his views in the ASA and at Christian colleges. My
>conclusion is that the TE/EC position would take the wind out of
>the ID project considerably.

That it would even try is proof enough of Johnson's claim!

TG>They have said as much to me when I have discussed with them the
>idea that everything is designed from a theistic point of view.
>They do not want to talk about design in those terms.

Agreed. Johnson believes that there are *stronger* claims that can
be made for "design" than what TE/ECs limit themselves to. He
believes that a naturalistic `blind watchmaker' process would only
establish *apparent* design and would let the Dawkins' of this world
off the hook. He (and I) see Romans 1:20 as making a stronger claim
that leaves naturalists "without excuse":

"If God stayed in that realm beyond the reach of scientific
investigation, and allowed an apparently blind materialistic
evolutionary process to do all the work of creation, then it would
have to be said that God furnished us with a world of excuses for
unbelief and idolatry" (Van Till H.J., citing Johnson P.E., "God and
Evolution: An Exchange" June 1993)

TG>I believe that there is a deep apologetic agenda here. In other
>words, Phil accepts the basic argument of the naturalist that if
>evolution is true then theism must be false--so part of a theistic
>proof is a proof that the naturalistic explanation (evolution,
>according the PJ) is false.

It isn't all that "deep". Johnson actually makes the point openly:

"The problem, very briefly stated, is this: if employing MN is the
only way to reach true conclusions about the history of the
universe, and if the attempt to provide a naturalistic history of
the universe has continually gone from success to success, and if
even theists concede that trying to do science on theistic premises
always leads nowhere or into error (the embarrassing "God of the
gaps"), then the likely explanation for this state of affairs is
that naturalism is true and theism is false." (Johnson P.E.,
"Reason in the Balance", 1995, p211).

The real point is why do TE/ECs like Terry willingly adopt a weaker
"apologetic agenda" than they need to? Why do they *assume* that
"the basic argument of the naturalist" that "evolution is true"?

On Wed, 26 Feb 1997 14:18:57 -0500, John W. Burgeson wrote
Re: On Phil (again):

JWB>Glenn writes a long post which begins "You know I am fairly
>critical of Phil's approach. But what you say does not jive with
>what Phil has written," and goes on with a set of selected quotes.
>I post elsewhere a direct response FROM Phil (received within the
>past 24 hours) on the issue on question.

JWB>Discussions of whether or not Phil Johnson is a fallible human
>being, has made mistakes, has written less clearly than he might
>have, etc.etc. are interesting, I suppose, to some. Not to me.

Agreed. But in the quotes Glenn posted, he failed to demonstrate
anything of the sort!

JWB>I find it interesting that such discussions were not, at least in
>my hearing, part of the NTSE. Those discussions were on the issues
>That's what I will be discussing here.

Unfortunately, from my personal experience, TE/ECs cannot stick
solely to "the issues" but must routinely launch personal attacks on
Christians like Phil Johnson (and me) who dare to think that God
might have actually intervened in biological history as even they
admit He has in human history.

God bless,


| Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ |
| 3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \ |
| Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 9 448 7439 (These are |
| Perth, West Australia v my opinions, not my employer's) |

| Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\ |
| 3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \ |
| Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 9 448 7439 (These are |
| Perth, West Australia v my opinions, not my employer's) |