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

Stephen Jones (
Tue, 16 Jun 1998 18:32:39 +0800


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


JR>If your whole point is that philosophy (e.g., TR) is broader than
>science (e.g., MN), then of course I'll concede your main point, as
>will every Christian MN advocate.

I don't accept that "science" is "e.g., MN". Under TR, MN would be
only part of science, namely the ongoing operations of the cosmos.
Science under TR would be much broader than MN, and would
include origins.

JR>I thought that your point was that MN is somehow inappropriate
>for the Christian to pragmatically commit to in science. (And I
>emphasize again, -pragmatically-. This could change, in principle. -
>Only- superior results will change it in fact. THAT is what MN
>opponents, if you are one, should be focussing on!)

I did not say "that MN is somehow inappropriate for the Christian". I
believe that TR is more appropriate for *everyone*, not just

>>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

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

JR>Remember, Stephen, we're talking empirical science here, not

It is *you* who keep making the "science" - "philosophy" distinction.
I regard it as a problem of MN, that whenever it can't explain
something it labels it "philosophy". A lot of what is "philosophy"
under MN, would be "science" under TR.

JR> >Even though regular science has only informed speculation
>here, this doesn't -automatically- open the door wide for non-MN
>science. What would?? What, e.g., ID advocates need to deliver are
>-unambiguously better predictions- than the ones offered by MN
>alternatives if they hope to succeed. Right now they don't. Given
>more time and effort, maybe they will. Again, it'd be really cool if
>they did! But they certainly haven't yet, so far as I know.

How can they? MN has all the resources and total control of the
scientfic journals and peer-review processes. All TR has is books, and
arguments attacking stand-alone MN (eg. Behe's Darwin's Black
Box). Whether TR will succeed is not clear. Most scientists are not
theists and they won't (indeed can't) change to TR. Whether this will
change in the 21st century is uncertain. Maybe science will split into
ID and non-ID camps?

>>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..

>SJ>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?

>JR>Sorry for the lack of clarity. My time is limited, so while I try to
<>be very precise, I often save time by not making it more -con-cise.
>>:^ All I meant by this is the point that advocates of non-MN
>science need to do EXACTLY ONE THING to -successfully- push
>their agenda: deliver CLEARLY BETTER -EMPIRICAL-
>RESULTS than their MN competitors. The obvious place for
>them to look is where traditional science doesn't have solid theories
>(e.g., abiogenesis, as you noted), but looking doesn't mean finding.
>They're -working on- theories they claim will do the job, but they
>don't yet -have- them.

This is happening. In fact I believe it has already happened with
Thaxton & Bradley's "Mystery of Life's Origins" and Behe's
"Darwin's Black Box". Neither has been adequately answered.

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

JR>I didn't mean that at all pejoratively. But I won't tell him you took
>it that way. ;^ (I mean, really: is "Newtonian" an insult?
>"Darwinian"? "Kuhnian"? etc. etc.?)

Darwinians *call themselves* Darwinians! If you keep using it then I
will have no alternative but to regard it as pejorative.

>>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 none..

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

JR>Well, let me put it this way: if they want -more- serious respect,
>they'll need to deliver not philosophical lectures but results. (And let
>me say, I'm a philosopher by training. I think philosophy is
>extremely important. But it's not the same as good science.)

Have you actually read The Mystery of Life's Origins and Darwin's
Black Box? What "good science" are they deficient in?

>SJ>"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, p157)..

>SJ>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 scientists).

JR>I'm genuinely excited to hear that, especially wrt faculty. But
>again, even this isn't even close to the same thing as getting
>scientific, empirical results.

It's a start. "Who despises the day of small things?" (Zec 4:10).

>>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.)

>SJ>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..

JR>You seem to be slipping into scientism here. If it's real, it's
>science. This is, I believe, a very serious intellectual error. [more

Actually, I believe it is *you* who are committing "a very serious
intellectual error" by allowing your thinking to be controlled by
scientific-naturalist categories (Rom 12:2; 2Cor 5:17; 10:5).


>>>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.)

Your problem is that you have not really understood Johnson. Maybe
you don't want to?

>SJ>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>Actually, I did deal with the issue, but indirectly. I certainly
>didn't intend to evade it. It's more explicit here:

JR>Why did I reply with "You seem to be adopting a Johnsonian
>variant of Scientism here"??
>As a preface, "scientism" or "Scientism" (depends on how much one
>worships science :^ ) refers to the idea that only science gives us
>truth, or in its weaker and less monstrously implausible forms, that
>only (and perhaps always) science gives us intellectual justification
>for beliefs. (Still monstrously implausible, but less so. :^> ) In the
>strong or hard form, since only science gives us truth, if it's a truth
>we can discover, it's going to come through science. In the weak
>or soft form, since only science justifies belief, if it's rational it's
>scientific, and perhaps vice versa.
>Now remembering "scientism", let's look at what you said: "... you
>have a basic problem of explaining why assuming there is no God is
>the key to understanding reality."

>Two serious problems with this assertion:
>(1) MN's don't literally "assume there is no God", unless they're also
>metaphysical naturalists. I'm being a bit pedantic here, but it's an
>important piece of pedantry when we're trying to speak precisely. It
>might be better to say, e.g., that MN advocates "don't incorporate
>supernatural intervention in their scientific theories". I agree that it's
>hard to phrase at once precisely and briefly.

MN is also called "Methodological Atheism" and therefore it does,
*when doing science* assume there is no God.

And MN's don't just not "incorporate supernatural intervention in
their scientific theories", they positively rule them out, even when
studying origins or the Bible. *Carried out consistently*, it is
equivalent to Metaphysical Atheism. Fortunately, most Christians
MNs do not carry out MN consistently, and declare MN off-limits
when it gets too close to home. But any program that cannot be
carried out consistently is a bad one. TR can be carried out
consistently. It has all the advantaged of MN and none of its down-

JR>(2) The main concern: if you really think science is "THE key to
>understanding reality" [my emphasis] rather than "A key....", then
>you're right in the neighborhood of scientism.

I said "ASSUMING THERE IS NO GOD is the key to understanding
reality" (my emphasis), not science is "THE key to understanding

You are still evading the question, by misconstruing it. I will ask it

"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>Now this may be the key to Johnson's concerns: IF he is
>unwittingly buying into scientism, AND he firmly believes that God
>is real and indeed Christianity is true, THEN he must try to build the
>reality of God and the truth of Christianity into science. Christian
>Scientism. :^

See above. Johnson is not "buying into scientism", so your first
premise is wrong. And if Christianity is true, then why should not this
be "reality of God" be a reflected in "science". Why should the un-
reality of God be assumed in science, as if Christianity is false?

JR>Most Christian scientists and philosophers don't buy into
>scientism - at all-, and so the idea that God's supernatural
>intervention isn't a part of their scientific theories need not concern
>them, since that in no way implies that God isn't real. Science does
>not exhaust reality. So God's not being a part of a scientific theory
>doesn't mean God isn't real.

MN assumes that *in doing science* that "God isn't real".

JR>Does this explain why I said what I said?

No. It seems to me that you are just evading the question by
sophistry. This is not to say that you are not sincere. Just that your
thinking is controlled by scientfiic-naturalist categories.

>>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..

>SJ>Who does not "appreciate MN"?

JR>You tell me. If you don't have any objections to MN (which
>sometimes you don't), that is, not incorporating supernatural events
>into scientific theories (or something very much like that), then we
>don't have a disagreement.

For a philosopher, you keep switching arguments! I say I appreciate
MN, and you turn that into I have no objections to MN!

Let me say it again. I have no major problem with assuming that God
does not intervene in the ongoing operations of the cosmos. I
appreciate what MN has done in its proper domain, by seeking
natural explanations, rather than supernatural ones.

But I do have a major problem with MN not realising its limitations
and being applied to origins and the Bible, where seeking natural
explanations, rather than supernatural ones is clearly wrong, unless
Metaphysical Naturalism is true.

JR>But when you said over time many things like "MN is only true if
>Metaphysical Naturalism is true" I took you to be seriously
criticizing MN.

See above. I was "criticizing" `stand-alone' "MN". MN as a subset of
TR would be OK. IOW, MN (ie. assuming for the sake of doing
empirical science, that God does not intervene in empirical
experiments) is OK, because TR would agree that that God normally
doesn't intervene in the ongoing operations of the cosmos. But
applying MN as a `stand-alone' position, outside of TR, would lead to
MN encroaching on areas where God may have intervened (eg.
origins and Christianity). Then I would critcise MN.


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

JR>MN as philosophy?

Yes. "MN as philosophy"!

JR>Let's clean up this language: MN applies to doing science, not to
>doing philosophy generally, or even to doing philosophy of science.

Disagree. Doing science is "science". Thinking about science is
"philosophy of science". MN is thinking about science. Therefore MN
is "philosophy of science".


>SJ>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"..

JR>I don't think I did either, and I'm just at a complete loss to see
>how "Johnsonian" is pejorative, but I guess there's room for
>disagreement even there.

I don't know about Phil, but I would object to any Christian leader
approving the use of his name as the name of any Christian movement
of which he was leader, on the grounds of 1Cor 1:121-13:

"What I mean is this: One of you says, `I follow Paul'; another, `I
follow Apollos'; another, `I follow Cephas'; still another, `I follow
Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you
baptized into the name of Paul?"

JR>Steve, thanks again for the calmly reasoned reply. If I could offer
>three intellectual challenges:
>(1) Try to work out what you mean by science (is it very different
>from philosophy? does it have subject-matter limits? Is it pragmatic,
>or strictly alethic [truth-oriented]/realistic?)

I've already said *several times* what I mean by "science" as opposed
to "philosophy" of science. Science is *doing* science-"philosophy"
of science" is *thinking* about "Science doing science."

JR>(2) More critically, try to find a way to precisely express your
>attitude toward MN: (a) what you think it means, and (b) whether
>or not you accept it. Neither one was at all clear to me. Indeed, If
>I were at all an argumentative sort (like Glenn, say ;^> ), I'd
>repeatedly accuse you of contradicting yourself (e.g., quoting, "My
>point was that MN is a subset of TR", but also "MN is only true if
>Metaphysical Naturalism is true"), but I think it was more a matter
>of shifting between definitions of MN, so that instead of just having
>"MN" and accepting it or rejecting it, you had in mind "good MN"
and "bad MN" or something.

No. I had in mind what MN is, ie. assuming (for the sake of doing
*empirical* science) that God does not intervene in the *ongoing
operations* of the cosmos. Maybe for clarity this could be called
weak (MNw). I think this would be OK within the overall TR

But, on reflection, there is also a strong MN (MNs). Which is
assuming (for the sake of doing *any* science, including origins and
Biblical studies) that God does not intervene in the operations of the
cosmos. This is effectively Methodological Atheism (MA), and is
equivalent to assuming (for the sake of doing *any* science) that
there is no God. This would be (and is) totally destructive of any
meaningful Christian theism.

I claim that weak MN (MNw) is compatible with, and a subset of
Metaphysical Theism (TR). I claim that MNs is a subset of
Metaphysical Naturalism.

I hope that clarifies things.

JR>Do you see the -apparent even if not real- contradiction in your
>assertions? Could you explain more precisely to me what you
>mean so as to remove the paradox?

See above.

JR>(3) Please think hard about my claim that only superior (not
>perfect, just -better-) empirical results from non-MN theories will
>end up overturning the inductively, pragmatically justified MN, if
>anything does.

TR would not want to overturn weak MN (MNw). TR would not be
able to overturn strong MN (MNs). But it's fun trying!

JR>Now: -Do you agree with this?

You be the judge.


"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)