RE: methodological naturalism (hereafter MN) (was Read what I said again (was "Stephen:...))

Stephen Jones (
Tue, 09 Jun 1998 21:00:21 +0800


On Thu, 4 Jun 1998 19:37:54 -0500, John E. Rylander wrote:

JR>I think you're misconstruing what Burgy is getting at, looking at him
>through too much of a Johnsonian lens, on the assumption that you're
>accurately representing Johnson, which I don't think is easy since I think
>he's a lot more persuasive than clear. (His training is in law, which pace
>his comments about logic and rigor is in fact primarily training to win
>arguments. I don't mean to dismiss him thereby -- he's a very smart guy
>with some smart things to say -- but I do mean to make clear that his claim
>to authority based on his exceptional legal training and ability is dubious.
>Lawyers are trained NOT to get to the truth EXCEPT insofar as that helps
>them win arguments. The lawyer's job is to WIN; TRUTH is the legal system's
>problem, at least in America. And I think some of this attitude and
>rhetoric shows in Johnson's writings.)

This `Johnson is a lawyer therefore he is wrong' argument is just special
pleading. Johnson is not just a lawyer. He is a Senior Professor of Law at
a major American University. His specialty is "analyzing the logic of

"Before undertaking this task I should say something about my
qualifications and purpose. I am not a scientist but an academic
lawyer by profession, with a specialty in analyzing the logic of
arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind those
arguments. This background is more appropriate than one might think,
because what people believe about evolution and Darwinism depends very
heavily on the kind of logic they employ and the kind of assumptions
they make. Being a scientist is not necessarily an advantage when
dealing with a very broad topic like evolution, which cuts across many
scientific disciplines and also involves issues of philosophy."
(Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, pp13-14)

If Darwinists use assumptions and arguments in trying to convert others
to their `religion' then being a specialist in logic and arguments is exactly
what is required!

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

JR>(a) One doesn't need to be a philosophical pragmatist or accept a pragmatic
>theory of truth in order to note that science is a highly pragmatic
>discipline. This is one of the important differences between science and
>classical (correspondence-truth-oriented) philosophy. I agree that this
>implies a potential (and obviously historically actual in numerous big
>cases)serious difference between science and truth, especially when it comes
>to foundations, but is that big news?

Burgy was saying (in effect) that MN (ie. Methodological Naturalism) is true because
it works. I was pointing out that "it works" is based on a philosophy called pragmatism
which in the end denies truth. That MN works in many cases does not establish that
it is true.

>SJ>Second, this is too grandiose a claim. MN works well in the ongoing
>>operations of the universe, but only because of TR, ie. because there is a
>>God ruling the universe by natural laws, MN has no explanation *why* MN
>>works. TR has an explanation why MN works (in some spheres and not in

JR>(b) Several replies: (1) Your TR claim is merely an assertion, especially
>if "TR" is meant to be incompatible with theistic evolution or other
>non-Johnsonian Christian scientific outlooks. But it doesn't seem that
>you're here using it the way Johnson does, since your explication of TR
>("ie. because there is a God ruling the universe by natural laws") is
>completely compatible with theistic evolution and a thorough-going MN. So
>if you mean it in Johnson's sense, it's mere assertion; if not, then it
>doesn't count against MN. Which is it?

In the time-honoured tradition of this list, you are starting to confuse things by
bringing in another variable, TE. Now we have MN, TR and TE! A guarantee of

Neither Johnson nor I claim that TR "is incompatible with theistic evolution". Johnson's
point is that MN is "is incompatible with theistic evolution" because if carried out
consistently (eg. origins, Christianity) it would become Metaphysical Naturalism and
deny *any* theistic worldview. It is precsiely MN that was used by the 19th century
German `higher critics' like Bultmann who denied the supernatural as a matter of
methodology and ended up with a Jesus who was just a man who did not really
perform any miracles and who did not rise from the dead.

JR>(2) MN doesn't claim to explain itself, so how is the fact that
>it -doesn't- do what it -doesn't claim- to do a criticism of it? Do you
>(apparently) think this is an argument against MN? If so, how, exactly??

You have critcised it for me! My point was that MN is a subset of TR, which
can explain why MN works within limits.

TR>(3) There are any number of philosophical theories that could explain why
>MN would work in some cases and not work in others (on the assumption that I
>share that it doesn't work in describing all of reality, and possibly not
>even all of reality that's covered by science [I say possibly here, you say
>definitely, I take it, though that too seems like just an assertion]), not
>just Johnson's TR. Also, there's no proof yet, and the evidence is still
>suggestive (e.g., Behe) but tentative and not yet compelling, that MN breaks
>down in origin of life/design science. (REMEMBER: not having an answer yet
>isn't the same as a breakdown. I agree on consciousness, but no non-MN
>alternative currently shows more scientific/empirical promise -- see (a)

If you claim that MN doesn't work now but will in the future, then: a) this negates
Burgy's claim that "MN works" and b) it becomes Metaphysical Naturalism, which
confirms Johnson's main point, that MN is only true if Metaphysical Naturalism is

>SJ>Third, 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,
>>the origin of human consciousness..

JR>(c) This is, of course, the big issue. Let's break it into two questions
>(and leave out the origin of the universe, which most though clearly not all
>will agree is beyond science):

Which just concedes the point! If MN can't even explain the origin of the
universe, but TR can, then TR is the more inclusive theory and MN its

JR> (1) Are current MN answers to the origin of
>life and life's designs compelling, or compelling to those who are not
>metaphysical naturalists? The consensus here would be no, I'd wager.

Again this confirms my point that MN has no answers to the orign of life either.

JR>But this is no significant evidence -yet- for what many Johnsonians seem to
>suggest, which is a positive answer to (2) Are there any
>scientifically/empirically superior NON-MN approaches to these issues? The
>consensus here, even generally amongst scientists who are serious
>Christians, is "no" as well.

I have read this several times and can't understand it (apart from admitting
that MN has no answers to the orign of life either). Perhaps you can
make it plainer?

BTW I don't care for your pejorative epithet "Johnsonians."

JR>(d) Because of the negative answer to (c2), and the time tested reality of
>the pragmatic aspect of science (a), ID folks and Johnsonians will only get
>serious respect in the scientific community by making the answer to (2) YES!
>I emphasize: -this is not a matter of philosophical argument nearly so much
>as it is one of scientific results-, of which ID theory currently has about

I've got news for you. Johnson already *has* "serious respect in the scientific

"In his 1992 book Dreams of a Final Theory, Steven described me as currently
"the most respectable academic critic of evolution." (Weinberg S., "Dreams of
a Final Theory", 1992, pp247-49, in Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial," 1993,

I correspond with leading Intelligent Design theorists and the news is that
Intelligent Design is gaining ground in universities across USA
and Canada, both among students and faculty members (including

JR>If ID theory starts showing results, then it may be able successfully to
>argue against MN on pragmatic grounds -- it's success there will be
>proportional to its empirical success. Until then, because science seeks
>truth via theories that show the best available empirical results, ID theory
>will be more a philosophical research program than a scientific one. (Still
>perhaps very worthwhile, but not science per se.)

That is just a question-begging definition of "science". If Intelligent Design
really happened then it is not outside of "science" to study it, any more
than intelliegnt design is outside of sciences like archaeology or SETI.

>>JWB>And I have seen no indication the Johnson's TR (Theological
>> >Realism) works, at least not in a scientific sense..

>SJ>See above. You can't even get the name right - it is *Theistic* Realism!
>>That does not inspire confidence in your understanding of TR..
>(e) Is this serious? Is it meant to be?

Yes. If Burgy doesn't even get the name of TR right, then it is indicative
that he does not understand what TR is.

>SJ>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:

JR>(f) You seem to be adopting a Johnsonian variant of Scientism here
>(Scientism combined with Johnsonian science), confusing science with reason
>generally, and hence confusing scientific MN with philosophical MN. The
>latter would be terrible, but no Christian here is promoting that. (Maybe
>Johnson makes this confusion too -- it sure sounds like it -sometimes-
>anyway. But again, he's not always very precise, it seems to me, even when
>he's brilliantly eloquent.)

That you don't even adress the problem but try to trail a red herring, confirms my
point that exponents of MN "have a basic problem of explaining why assuming
there is no God is the key to understanding reality."

JR>(g) (1) If one sees science simply as studying the natural world, if one
>agrees that God can't be scientifically/mathematically modeled (unlike
>nature), and if one recognizes the strong pragmatic/results-oriented
>element in science and sees MN's astonishing successes historically, then
>one will appreciate MN.

Who does not "appreciate MN"?

JR>(2) On the other hand, if one sees science scientistically (as
>philosophy, covering all of reality and not just nature), if one thinks God
>can be incorporated into mathematical/scientific models, and/or if one
>thinks science is not pragmatic (who cares about results -- we just want the
>philosophical truth!) and isn't impressed by the results of science so far,
>then MN will not appeal. But each of these three (maybe four :^> ) theses
>is -seriously- in error.
>(h) The only bridge between (1) and (2) is a positive answer to (c2) above.
>Until ID folks can do that, they'll -scientifically- flounder, even if
>(if...) they'll have very worthwhile philosophical success.

We are discussing MN as philosophy, ie. thinking about science, not
actually doing science.

JR>To summarize, re-read (c) and (d). :^>
>Stephen, I have no idea how you'll react to this stuff. I meant none of it
>as a personal attack, but I fear my attempts as precision will be lost in
>the ensuing debate. If I could make one serious request: to try to bring
>more precision into this debate, if you respond, could you respond to my
>points precisely and by specific reference to what I'm saying? Ideally,
>there'd be few quotes from books and such -- they often don't respond
>directly or precisely to what is being discussed.

I find it difficult not see the above as a "personal attack" of a sort (albeit
comparatively mild) by your personal denigration of Phil Johnson and your
use of the perjorative term "Johnsonian".


"Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented."
--- Dr. William Provine, Professor of History and Biology, Cornell University.

Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
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Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
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