RE: methodological naturalism (hereafter MN) 1/2 (was Read what I said again (was "Stephen:...))

Stephen Jones (
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 21:40:27 +0800


On Thu, 11 Jun 1998 19:26:16 -0500, John E. Rylander wrote:

JR>Thanks for getting back to me, Stephen.

That's OK.


>SJ>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 arguments":


JR>As I mentioned, that wasn't my argument. Rather, I pointed out
>that lawyers are trained to use logic primarily to -win arguments-
>rather than get to the truth. This fact certainly doesn't imply that
>they're -unable- to get to the truth, or that "he is wrong".

And my point was that "Johnson is not just a lawyer". In any event, I
think you are still using special pleading in your claim that "lawyers
are trained to use logic primarily to -win arguments- rather than get
to the truth". That seems a superficial view, regarding lawyers as little
more than rhetoricians. Many lawyers don't even make arguments at
all. In Australia and Britain it is only a minority, barristers, who argue
cases. The majority of lawyers are solicitors who prepare cases for
barristers to argue. And judges are lawyers who don't make
arguments either. I would have thought that lawyer's training would
be more in the presentation and analysis of *evidence*, than in
winning arguments.


>>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?

If there is a "serious difference between science and truth, especially
when it comes to foundations", then it is time to re-evaluate science's
materialistic-naturalistic assumptions.

>SJ>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.

JR>Given (as I take it we've agreed?) that MN is a -pragmatic claim-,
>what exactly do you mean by the phrase "it is true"? Wouldn't it be
>better to say, "it is useful"? or at least "it is pragmatically true"?

The point is that MN does not stick to its pragmatic claim not to be
true. As soon as the coast is clear, MN claims to be true. The very
claim that MN works, implies that other positions like TR don't. If
this were not so, then MNers would have no objection to TR. But in
fact MNers attack TRers vigorously.


>SJ>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

JR>I've always been a fan of tradition. :^ But seriously, I don't see
>how mentioning TE (theistic evolution) confuses things at all. But
>your >argument that it does may be tied in with your following

>SJ>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

JR>Johnson doesn't claim TR is incompatible with theistic evolution?
>Hmmm --that's good to know.

How did you not "know" it before? Do you "know" of any statements
by Johnson that "TR is incompatible with theistic evolution"? He says
right at the outset of Darwin on Trial that he is a "philosophical
theist" who believes that God "might have chosen to work through a
natural evolutionary process":

"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", InterVarsity Press:
Downers Grove Ill., Second Edition, 1993, p14).

Johnson's problem is with those TEs/ECs who say that God *did* or
even *must* "work through a natural evolutionary process".

JR>Now what do you mean by "carried out consistently" here? You
>mean expanded beyond natural science even into theology?? Three
>points to remember: (1) Again, MN is a pragmatic scientific
>principle, not a deep philosophical principle (except to a
>metaphysical naturalist, perhaps), adopted roughly for the reasons
>I spelled out in my prior post. (I'm tempted to add "Therefore:")
>(2) No one here is talking about using MN "consistently" IF,
>repeat IF by that you mean using it in all areas of thought
>(metaphysics of creation, theology, ...).

They do. And what's to stop them?

JR>If it is indeed Johnson's point that MN is incompatible with
>theistic evolution, I think he's trying to be too clever by about 2/3,
>since it clearly isn't when "MN" is defined by those who advocate it.
>(It's a free country -- you or Johnson can come up with your own
>stipulative definition, but when deriving contradictions therefrom,
>you shouldn't claim to be refuting "MN" is the typical sense of the

It's not just a "point". It's a historical *fact* proved by 100 years of Biblical
Higher Criticism, that MN is incompatible with *any* meaningful Christian
theism, if carried out consistently. Bultman ended up with all that could be
known about Jesus fitting easily on a 6" x 4" card, and it did not include
His resurrectuion.

Here's a simple test: apply MN rigorously to the Gospels/Acts,
especially: 1) the predictive prophecies of Christ; 2) the Virgin Birth;
3) Jesus' miracles; 4) His resurrection and 5) Ascension; and 6) the
birth of the Church at Penetecost.Then get back to me and tell me
how far you applied MN, where you stopped applying MN, and why.

>>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,

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

JR>I guess I agree with what you're saying here (on your defn of >"TR",
there being a God who rules over nature), but I still don't see >at all how
this is a criticism of MN.

If there is a "God who rules over nature", the correct methodology (ie.
more in tune with reality) is TR, not MN.

JR>If TR is completely compatible with MN

I didn't say that "TR is completely compatible with MN", per se. I said that
"MN is a subset of TR", which means that MN would only be compatible
with TR if MN was *acknowledged* to be a subset of TR. This would
mean that MN, as a subset of TR would have to limit itself to its legitimate
sphere of the ongoing operations of the cosmos, not to origins and
Christianity. Only then would "TR" be "completely compatible with MN".

JR> and theistic evolution (I thought Johnson disagreed, but I'll take
>your word for it -- I haven't read him in a while), then why does >Johnson
attack those who believe in theistic evolution as "theistic >naturalists",
since they clearly accept "TR" as -you- defined it on >his behalf??

Johnson does not say that "those who believe in theistic evolution as
"theistic naturalists." TE's say that God used natural evolutionary
processes to originate and develop life. Johnson himself says he could
accept that:

"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", InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove Ill.,
Second Edition, 1993, p14)

TNs are those who say that God *must* have used natural evolutionary
processes to originate and develop life:

"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: Howard J. Van Till - Phillip E. Johnson", First
Things, June 1993.

All TNs are TEs, but not all TEs are TNs. Johnson's problem is with the
strong form of TE that asserts that God wouldn't (or couldn't) intervene
supernaturally in His creation and so *must* have used natural
evolutionary process. It is these TNs who fiercely attacked Johnson
when DoT came out. I have dozens of tapes by Johnson and he deals
kindly and sympathetically with ordinary TEs, even calling it "a perfectly
coherent position."

Johnson is intellectually a genius (he went to Harvard without completing
his senior year at High School), and topped the Chicago University Law
School. His position is subtle and complex and it's a pity that those who
oppose him don't really take the time to understand his thought.

JR>And if they're completely compatible, why exactly are you >attacking
MN? Wasn't your rejection of that what got the whole thread going?

See above. I reject MN while it remains unacknowledged as a subset of
TR. IOW, where it does not acknowledge its boundaries being only in the
ongoing operations of the cosmos, and not in origins and Christianity.


>SJ>If you claim that MN doesn't work now but will in the future,
>>then: a) this negates Burgy's claim that "MN works"

JR>I don't claim that wrt science. MN clearly does -work- in science, >far
better than any known alternative, at least if one thinks modern >science
has accomplished much.

How can you say that "MN" works in science "far better than any known
alternative", when MN is the *only* "alternative" that has been tried (at
least for the last 150 years)? How do you know that TR would not work
better, if it was tried?

JR> -In principle-, every unsolved problem in science (is that what >you
interpret as MN not working?) -could- be an opportunity for a >new
methodological principle (e.g., "expect a miracle!" ;^ ), but in >practice no
one does that, because every time that's been tried >before, it's failed.
("Science" more broadly construed has only >accepted MN for the last
couple hundred years -- before then it >was non-MN in many cases, but
that wasn't very successful.) MN >is extremely strongly supported on
inductively pragmatic grounds.

This is just MN propaganda. Who said it did not think of itself as true?
The first modern scientists like Copernicus, Gallileo, Kepler, Boyle,
Newton, were all theistic realists. All the great universities were

There is no reason why TR would have done as good a job as MN in
operations science and a better job than MN in origins science.

JR>HUGE POINT: Therefore, MN will be displaced only when
>something pragmatically better comes along. All non-MN >proponents
need to do is deliver superior empirical results and >they'll get a serious
hearing. Unfortunately, that isn't happening at all >yet. Maybe someday it
will. It'd be really cool, I think, if it did -- but >it hasn't, and there are no
-compelling- indications that it will. (Behe, >e.g., is -suggestive-, not

MN will never be replaced while the majority of scientists are
Metaphysical Naturalists. In arguing for TR, I am not saying it will
succeed, just that it is true. Mind you, it is possible that science will split
into two camps-MN and TR. Now that would be interesting.

SJ> and b) it becomes Metaphysical Naturalism, which confirms
>>Johnson's main point, that MN is only true if Metaphysical >>Naturalism
is true..

JR>This is a non-sequitur. I could easily assert that MN doesn't work
>now, but that it will in the future (let's leave the weirdness of the >claim
aside), and that in no way converts MN to metaphysical N.

I believe it does. You have converted a pragmatic here and now way of
doing science, that makes no claims about being true, into a faith
statement about MN working in the future. If that is not metaphysical N, it
is metaphysical MN, which is effectively the same thing.

JR>Also, I thought you were saying that MN and theistic evolution >
(which arises due to theists pragmatically accepting MN) were
>compatible with "TR" as you and Johnson defined it? Now you're >back
to saying MN is true only if metaphysical naturalism is true??

See above. MN is only true in its own right (ie. not as a limited subset of
TR), if metaphysical naturalism is true. If metaphysical naturalism is true,
then MN is true in its own right, with no limits.

JR>I think you need to refine just what you mean by "TR", "MN",
>metaphysical N, and "TE". I suspect there's some definitional >slippage

Disagree. See above.

>>>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):

>SJ>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 subset..

JR>Stephen, this is just saying that the origin of the big bang is, right
>now at any rate, more of a philosophical issue than a scientific one

All this says is that MN has failed *as science*. Under TR "the origin of
the big bang" would still be "a scientific" issue, because TR can handle
the concept of supernatural causation. You cover up MNs failings by
claiming that what it can't handle is not science, but philosophy. This
shows that behind MN is really Metaphysical Naturalism, even if as a
theist (which I assume you are), you draw back from the full implications
of your thought.

JR>. I certainly agree that "TR" is, on your given definition (even if >I'm
not sure you always use it that way, since on that defn it's fully
>compatible with MN and TE), broader than MN, for the reason that
>philosophy is broader than science.

Who are you kidding? MN is just as much "philosophy" as TR! The real
point is that TR is a more inclusive philosophy than MN, and can explain
much more:

"Why believe that there is a God at all? My answer is that to suppose that
there is a God explains why there is a world at all; why there are the
scientific laws there are; why animals and then human beings have
evolved; why humans have the opportunity to mould their characters and
those of their fellow humans for good or ill and to change the environment
in which we live; why we have the well-authenticated account of Christ's
life, death and resurrection; why throughout the centuries men have had
the apparent experience of being in touch with and guided by God; and
so much else. In fact, the hypothesis of the existence of God makes
sense of the whole of our experience, and it does so better than any
other explanation which can be put forward, and that is the grounds for
believing it to be true" (Swinburne R.G., "The Justification of Theism",
Truth: An International, Inter-Disciplinary Journal of Christian Thought,
Volume 3, 1991.



"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)