Re: methodological naturalism (hereafter MN) (was Read what I

John W. Burgeson (
Sat, 6 Jun 1998 09:48:50 -0600

Steve Jones replied to my last post & I respond (in part) to him.

>>First, the claim that MN is true because it "works" is
really pragmatism. But pragmatism makes no claims to be truth.>>

Steve -- I made no claim about "truth." Nor did I make any claim that "MN
(Methodological Naturalism) is true." My only claim was, and is, that MN
ought to be regarded as a fundamental principle of science (NOT
philosophy; NOT religion) because the principle has worked so well in the

I repeat what I have written before: that science is not a search for the
reality of nature (truth), but a search for what we can SAY about nature.

>> MN works well in the ongoing operations
of the universe, but only because of TR, i e. because there is a God
ruling the
universe by natural laws...>>

This may, or may not, be true, Steve. What it is is not "science," but a
philosophical statement. Label it as such and it makes a little sense.

>> MN has no explanation *why* MN works.>>

MN is a principle of how to do science. Of course it does not
self-referentiate. One might address that question as a philosophical
question, I suppose.

>> TR has an explanation why MN works (in some spheres and not in
others). >>

Probably so. TR (as I understand it) is philosophy, not science. It is
Phil's efforts to make it science that I do not support (though I do find
the dialog on it of great interest). Al Plantinga's two articles in
PERSPECTIVES and O&A in support of Phil's thesis are the best I've come
on, so far. They are not, however, persuasive (to me). To some extent I
addressed this issue in my own O&A article on the NTSE conference last

>> MN fails dismally in the area of *origins*. MN cannot explain the
origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of life's designs,
origin of human consciousness.>>

This is a common claim, of course. Geisler and Anderson's ORIGIN SCIENCE,
published in 1987 by Baker, did a fair job of defending it. Of course it
is not "MN" that fails, according to this claim, but "scientists
employing MN."

And, of course, there are a great many scientists who think otherwise.
Yes, the science of origins must always be "forensic" in nature. But that
does not imply "automatic failure" by any means, my friend! I have read
several sources, for instance, on "the origin of human consciousness,"
one of which (the best IMHO) is Julian Jaynes' book THE ORIGIN OF
in his thesis? I think not -- but the thesis is in place for others to
build from. That's what science is all about, a never-ending search for
natural causation. When Phil tries to add to it a "never-ending search
for the supernatural," it changes from science to something I fear is

>>For the above reasons, MN is just a subset of the more inclusive

Sorry Steve, this statement does not compute.

>> You can't even get the name right - it is *Theistic* Realism! That
does not inspire confidence in your understanding of TR.>>

I used the wrong word. You responded with the above. I take this as
deliberate rudeness on your part and an insult. Would you apologize for

>>Also, if you claim to be a theist who believes that God exists, you
have a
basic problem of explaining why assuming there is no God is the key to
understanding reality>>

1. I am a theist (Christian) who KNOWS (not believes) that God exists.
2. I KNOW that because I have had personal experience(s) of him.
3. I made (and make) no claim to "understanding reality" scientifically.
4. I do claim that "assume no gods" is a key principle to doing good
5. Doing good science is discovering what we can SAY about natural
6. It is wrong to think that the task of science is to find out how
nature is.

You quoted (again) one of Johnson's key arguments:

"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)

Johnson goes (fatally) wrong (IMHO) in the above in the first line, where
he employs the phrase "true conclusions." The phrase is OK, of course,
but some people read into it the idea of ultimate truth, Truth with a
capital "T," reality, first causes. I think he should have qualified it.

The "likely explanation" Johnson concludes with is one of two (or more)
explanations, of course. If one is predisposed to ne a non-theist, the
one he mentions is, of course, seen as "more likely." If one is not so
predisposed, the other explanation, the one I support, is that to do
science on a theistic assumption (TR) is simply to do science in a very
poor fashion; to fatally mix science with philosophy, and, in so doing,
to do neither very well.

>>Well TR would agree that we should "attribute nothing to the gods", i
e. Aristotle's capricious, immoral Greek gods.>>

Actually, I can't find that attributed to aristotle; rather to the
Epicurean who were a little later in time. Although I have one note that
suggests Thames might have expressed a similar sentiment. In any case, TR
expressly DOES argue that we ought to attribute some things "to the
gods." The immorality of said gods is not an issue, as I understand
Johnson and Plantinga.

>>Surely you are not equating Aristotle's "gods" with the real, Christian
God? But
if not, then what is your point?>>

It is really really hard for me to believe you missed it, Steve. Are
others on this LISTSERV having the same difficulty?

>> You surely do not *really* mean "attribute nothing
to" the Christian God?>>

I mean exactly that, Steve. In "doing science."

In "doing philosophy," or religious study, then the arena is altogether
different. MN does not apply there. In such studies, the search for
natural causation is at best a footnote. In science, it is the "rule of
the game."

What Johnson rails against, and rightly so, IMHO, are those writers that
assume both the MN principle and also the view that science is a search
for ultimate truth. That is, I think, on the same plane of nastiness as
TR. It is what leads my friends Will Provine and Massimo Pigliucci down a
false (philosophical) trail. Phil seems to be, in some ways, on the same
trail; perhaps that's why he and Will find it so congenial to teach
together! I don't know. As a fellow Christian, I'll have the chance one
day to ask Phil more on this. I don't know that about Will, of course.


You don't need to buy Internet access to use free Internet e-mail.
Get completely free e-mail from Juno at
Or call Juno at (800) 654-JUNO [654-5866]