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

Stephen Jones (
Fri, 12 Jun 1998 06:15:21 +0800


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

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

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

JWB>Steve -- I made no claim about "truth." Nor did I make any claim that "MN
>(Methodological Naturalism) is true."

I am happy that you make no claim that MN is true, but I suspect that you would
have trouble maintainng that line, and would lapse into claiming it is true (or
alternatives to it are false).

JWB> 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 past.

I doubt that you can so neatly separate "science", "philosophy" and "religion".
What about "philosophy" of "science"? What about "science" that studies
*origins*? Indeed, what about "science" that studies "religion"?

JWB>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.

This is just your own special compartmentalised definition of "science". I am
sure most scientists think they are searching for the *both* the "reality of nature"
and "truth".

>SJ>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...>>

JWB>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.

When anyone talks about "science" it is no longer "science" but "a
philosophical statement":

"Certain issues must be clarified before we can proceed. For one thing, con-
sider the following propositions: 1. By its very nature, NS must adopt MN....
It is important to remember that these claims are not first-order claims of
science about some scientific phenomenon. Rather, they are second-order
philosophical claims about science. They are metaclaims that take a vantage
point outside science and have science itself as their subject of reference.
Thus the field of philosophy, especially philosophy of science, will be the
proper domain from which to assess these claims, not science. Scientists are
not experts in these second-order questions, and when they comment on
them, they do so qua philosophers, not qua scientists." (Moreland J.P., "Theistic
Science & Methodological Naturalism", in Moreland J.P. ed., "The Creation
Hypothesis", 1994, p43)

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

JWB>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.

This supports my claim that MN is really a subset of TR. TR can explain
MN but MN cannot explain MN.

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

JWB>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).

Why don't you "support" it? TR might "work" even better than MN,
because it can do all that MN can do and more, eg. explain origins.

JWB> 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 winter.

I am not aware of Plantinga's Perspectives articles. Are these available
on the Web?

>>SJ>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.>>

JWB>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."

What is the difference if MN is not truth? I would have thought that on your
utiitarian claim for MN that "scientists employing MN" *is* MN?

JWB>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
>Did Jaynes succeed 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.

TR would have no problem with this, where there has been "natural causation".
The problem only arises where there is good reason for assuming supernatural
causation (eg. origins, Christianity) but MN practitioners implicitly rule that out of

JWB> When Phil tries to add to it a "never-ending search for the supernatural," it
>changes from science to something I fear is nasty.

You are caricaturing Phil. What he proposes is a "never-ending search for" *truth*!
Your word "nasty" is revealing. Why should you, a theist, assume that the "supernatural"
is "nasty"?

>>SJ>For the above reasons, MN is just a subset of the more inclusive
>theory/model TR.>>

JWB>Sorry Steve, this statement does not compute.

See above. TR is a more inclusive theory that can explain MN, whereas MN
cannot explain MN.

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

JWB>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

It was not intended to be "rudeness". I was not to know you used a "wrong
word". I took your words at face value that you thought that TR stood for
"Theological Realism". It was a reasonable reaction from me to lose confidence
in you understanding of TR. I therefore see no reason to apologize..

>>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>>

JWB>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.

So does *every* Christian. But most Christians don't believe that assuming
God does not exist is the best way to do science. Only those thoroughly
grounded in Scientfiic Naturalism can perform that mental feat.

JWB>3. I made (and make) no claim to "understanding reality" scientifically.

What is this supposed to mean? Are you now claiming that science's
"never-ending search for natural causation" is not about "understanding

JWB>4. I do claim that "assume no gods" is a key principle to doing good

It is also a "key principle to doing good" atheism! In fact another way of
saying methodological naturalism is methodological *atheism":

"Nancey Murphy, evolutionist and philosopher at Fuller Theological
Seminary, makes the incredible statement that Christians and atheists
alike must pursue scientific questions in our era without involving a
Creator" and "For better or worse, we have inherited a view of
science as methodologically atheistic." (Murphy N., "Phillip
Johnson on Trial: A Critique of His Critique of Darwin," Perspectives
on Science and the Christian Faith, Vol. 45, no. 1, 1993, p33, in Ankerberg
J. & Weldon J., "Darwin's Leap Of Faith," 1998, p114).

Lubenow points out that "Darwin...convinced scientists that...To be scientific,
they must study the world as if God did not exist.":

"...Darwin's purpose was not just to establish the concept of evolution. Darwin
was wise enough not to stop there. Darwin went for the jugular vein. Darwin's
master accomplishment was to convince the scientific world that it was
unscientific to believe in supernatural causation. His purpose was to "ungod"
the universe...Darwin accomplished one of the greatest feats off salesmanship
in the history of the world. He convinced scientists that it was unscientific to
deal with God or creation in any way. To be scientific, they must study the
world as if God did not exist." (Lubenow M.L., "Bones of Contention," 1994,
reprint, p191)

JWB>5. Doing good science is discovering what we can SAY about natural

What can we "say" if its not the "truth"?

JWB>6. It is wrong to think that the task of science is to find out how
>nature is.

How nature is what? Please clarify.

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

SJ>"The problem, very briefly stated, is this: if employing MN is the
>only way to reach true conclusions about the history of the universe...
>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)

JWB>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.

This is just a quibble. Of course scientsts think that in "employing MN"
they can "reach true conclusions about the history of the universe."

JWB>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.

IMHO you have a very simplistic view of "science" as a philosophy-
free zone. All scientists have a philosophy and those with non-theistic
philosophies can be expected to fit their facts within their non-theistic
philosophy. This might not be a problem where they are studying the
the ongoing physical operations of the cosmos. But it becomes a
problem when the are studying: 1) origins; 2) religion; and 3) human
consciousness. Then the tendency uisng MN is to assume naturalistic
explanations where the real explanation may be supernatural. (see my
"Anything Goes" post for a good example of this). TR would avoid this
and so would in principle be better science:

"The domination of naturalistic philosophy in our intellectual institutions has had
disastrous consequences for Christian faith. It has also led science itself astray.
Some of the best examples of how naturalism makes bad science are in the
essay "Information and the Origin of Life" by Walter L. Bradley and Charles
Thaxton. Scientific naturalists have had to pretend that the "mystery of life's
origins" is well on the way to a solution, and to further that illusion they have
deceived themselves and filled their textbooks with misleading information. In
the stereotyped view of the evolution-creation controversy it is the believers in
creation who are supposed to pit "faith" against "reason." Yet anyone who
reads Bradley and Thaxton with an open mind can see that it is the chemical
evolutionists who are blinded by their faith in naturalistic solutions and who
cannot see the meaning of the fact that is staring them in the face." (Johnson
P.E., in Moreland J.P., ed., "The Creation Hypothesis," 1994, pp7-8)

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

JWB>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.

TR does NOT "argue that we ought to attribute some things `to the gods.' It
argues we ought to attribute ALL things to God. Again you are confusing
the one true God with imaginary (or demonic) pagan gods.

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

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

I take this as an evasion of a difficult question, by shifting the blame on to me.
But assume (for the sake of argument that I alone on this listserv "missed it."
How about spelling out exactly what is your point, if you are not equating Aristotle's
"gods" with the real, Christian God?

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

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

It sorrows me that you could actually write this, Burgy. What you are really saying
is that there is an area of human thinking, namely science, which is off-limits to
God. This, apart from beimg self-evidently absurd, is totally opposed to the message
of the Bible, which is that we should "take captive every thought to make it obedient
to Christ" (2Cor 10:5) . You are fond of quoting J.B. Phillip's "Your God is too Small"
to other people, including me. Well maybe you need to apply its principle to yourself?
It seems to me, that your MN-constrained God is definitely smaller than the God I read
about in the Bible!

JWB>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."

You must be living in a dream world, Burgy! What makes you think that MN will
obligingly halt it's victorious march when it reaches the gates marked "religious
study"? In fact it hasn't - MN (in the form of Higher Criticism) has *dominated*
"religious study" for the last 100 years! That's why all the formerly Christian
universities have secularised and why so many Christian theological seminaries
have become apostate!

JWB>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

Johnson doesn't "rail against" anything. I find your pejorative choice of words
against this fine Christian apologist revealing. And he does not think it "nastiness"
for those who think that "the MN principle" is universally applicable in "a search
for ultimate truth":

"But of course the naturalists do not leave theistic enclaves alone nor should
they. A naturalistic government that regulates everything else does not hesitate
to reward theistic educational institutions with their own tax money if they agree
to accept "diversity" standards. Secular academic societies understandably
withhold their approval from faculties that do not meet secular standards of
rationality. Seminarians trained in naturalistic thinking enter the ministry in
droves with the mission of saving Christianity by leading it into an
accommodation with modernism. Granted the metaphysical assumptions, none
of this is in any way reprehensible. People who think they have truth on their
side naturally want to share the truth with others and to bring enlightenment to
private enclaves of superstition. People who believe what they are saying tend
to be persuasive in arguments with people who suspect deep down that what
they have been taught to believe is only a comforting fantasy. A religion that no
longer believes it is founded on objective truth is thus condemned to lingering
death, and the death sentence is just." (Johnson P.E., "Reason in the
Balance," 1995, p203)

I happen to think it is a greater * "nastiness" for Christians to support a principle,
MN/MA, which if carried out consistently, wouid destroy Christianity. This
"nastiness" is even worse when it leads those Christian MNs to accuse
of "nastiness" fine Christian apologists like Johnson.

JWB>It is what leads my friends Will Provine and Massimo Pigliucci down a
>false (philosophical) trail.

Please note that you are already using terms like "false" in respect of MN,
which seems to undercut your statement that yiu do not "make any claim that
MN (Methodological Naturalism) is true."

JWB> 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.

More "nastiness"? You imply that Provine and Johnson "find it so congenial
to teach together" because they are both going "down" the same "false
(philosophical) trail." Nothing could be further from the truth! You make no
mention that " Johnson and Provine have fvigorously debated each other
as opponents! See "Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?", Debate
between William B. Provine & Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April
30, 1994, Origins Research, Vol. 16, No. 1-2, Fall/Winter 1994

In reality, what Provine and Johnson are both agreed on is that
there can be no compromise between their respective worldviews,
ie. "evolution" (as modernday evolutionary biologists understand the term)
and Christianity:

"One might have thought that Provine and I would be bitterly opposed,
since I am a Christian who emphatically affirms that the world is the
product of a purposeful Creator, not a blind material mechanism. But
in fact I think Provine has done a lot to clarify the point at issue,
and I agree with him about how to define the question. I had noticed
that all the modern Darwinists with any scientific standing agreed
with Provine that evolution is a purposeless and undirected process.
I had also noticed that prominent academic Christians like to talk and
write as if the nineteenth-century idea that evolution might be a
purposeful process was still acceptable in late-twentieth-century
science. So while mainstream science educators take for granted that
science has discredited the "God created by evolution" compromise,
Christian educators tend to go on presenting "evolution" as if all
that agreement with the scientific establishment requires is a certain
flexibility in interpreting the details of Genesis." (Johnson P.E., "Reason
in the Balance", 1995, p189).

Phil and Provine respect each other as hard-fighting warirors respect each
other. What they (and I) find it hard to respect is those who think they
can reach a compromise by appeasing the other side without having to
"fight the good fight" (1Tim 1:18; 6:12).


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

Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)