Re: Johnson as Expert (was Experts Worry...)

Stephen E. Jones (
Thu, 07 Oct 1999 06:54:15 +0800


On Sat, 02 Oct 1999 21:14:20 -0700, Brian D Harper wrote:

>>>SJ>Here we have a good case of metaphysical naturalism, masquerading as
>>>>methodological naturalism, being applied to "religion", and in this case
>>>>the *Christian* "religion".
>>>>Would Howard or any other TE/ECs argue against the consistent application
>>>>of science's methodological naturalism to the *Christian* "religion", and
>>>>in particular its claims of "supernatural intervention in the universe"?

>>BH>It seems to me that you answer your own question. If metaphysical
>>>naturalism is masquerading as methodological naturalism, then
>>>it is not a consistent application of methodological naturalism.

>SJ>I am not sure on what exactly Brian is getting at here.
>>Is he saying that a metaphysical naturalist cannot consistently apply
>>methodological naturalism?
>>Perhaps he can elaborate?

BH>I'll be happy to give it a try. First let's start by defining
>methodological naturalism (MN). I've always liked Phil's definition:
>"... the principle that science can study only the things that
>are accessible to its instruments and techniques." --Phil Johnson

Johnson says he would no longer would put it that way:

"In a March 1992 lecture in Dallas I made the following observation: `The
statement defining the agenda for this Symposium asserts that an a priori
commitment to metaphysical naturalism is necessary to support
Darwinism.... Methodological naturalism-the principle that science can
study only the things that are accessible to its instruments and techniques-is
not in question. Of course science can study only what science can study.
Methodological naturalism becomes metaphysical naturalism only when the
limitations of science are taken to be limitations upon reality...' I would not
express the point that way today, but any seeming inconsistency with the
views stated in this paper is semantic rather than substantive. The key
question raised by the qualifier methodological is this: What is being
limited-science or reality? When "methodological naturalism" is combined
with a very strong a priori confidence that materialistic theories invoking
only unintelligent causes can account for such phenomena as genetic
information and human intelligence, the distinction between methodological
and metaphysical naturalism tends to collapse." (Johnson P.E., "Reason in
the Balance, 1995, p212).

A more recent definition of methodological naturalism (MN) by Phil is:

"The subject of my comments was MN -- the doctrine which states as a
philosophical a priori that only naturalistic explanations are eligible for
consideration. Hence a naturalistic explanation for all events is presumed to
exist REGARDLESS OF THE EVIDENCE. No matter how strongly the
evidence points to the reality of design in biology, and hence the reality of
the Designer, that possibility must be ignored and the best naturalistic
alternative (Darwinian selection) credited with creating the appearance of
design. I do not think that theists should agree to this kind of restriction
upon thought, and I do think that theists should be willing to recognize the
existence of intelligent causes when the evidence points in that direction."

Geisler says:

"Naturalism. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view
that nature is the "whole show." There is no supernatural realm and/or
intervention in the world...In the strict sense, all forms of nontheisms are
naturalistic, including *atheism, *pantheism, *deism, and *agnosticism.
However, some theists (see THEISM), especially scientists, hold a form of
methodological naturalism. That is, while acknowledging the existence of
God and the possibility of miracles, they employ a method of approaching
the natural world that does not admit of miracles...This is true of many
theistic evolutionists..., such as Douglas Young ... and Donald MacKay....
They insist that to admit miracles in nature to explain the unique or
anomalous is to invoke "the God of the gaps." In this sense they are
bedfellows with the anti-supernaturalists, who deny miracles on the
grounds that they are contrary to the scientific method." (Geisler N.L.,
"Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics", 1999, p521).

My definition of "methodological naturalism" is therefore simply "applied
metaphysical naturalism".

BH>I believe we agreed on this definition in the past. If I'm mistaken
>about this please let me know.

Brian and I *may* have agreed on it in the past. That is not saying that we
*did*, just that I cannot rule it out that we *may* have. I honestly cannot
remember everything I have written on this topic over the last 4 years!

But whether I may have agreed with Brian's preferred definition of MN, I
don't agree with it any more. I have given this a lot of thought since I
received Brian's first message on this thread and I have come to the
conclusion that methodological naturalism (MN) is simply applied
metaphysical naturalism.

Therefore those theists who really do *espouse* methodological
naturalism, as a philosophical principle, I regard as metaphysical naturalists,
but inconsistent ones.

The problem for me in resolving this has been my mistaken notion that one
must be *either* a metaphysical theist *or* a metaphysical naturalist.

Yet the Bible clearly warns us that it is possible for Christians to "serve
two masters" (Mat 6:24), to be "taken captive by a hollow and deceptive
philosophy" (Col 2:8), and to be "double-minded" [Gk. dipsychos="two-
souled" (Jas 1:8; 4:8).

I therefore regard those Christians who *espouse* methodological
naturalism *as a philosophical principle*, as being (to varying degrees)
*both* metaphysical theists *and* metaphysical naturalists, albeit
inconsistent in both.

I will use Johnson's term "theistic naturalists" (TNs) to denote such
metaphysical theists who are also metaphysical naturalists.

BH>I can see two ways of interpreting your question. So, let me give
>two answers according to those two interpretations. If I still miss
>your meaning let me know.
>(1) I believe a metaphysical naturalist can practice science in a way
>that is consistent with the principle of methodological naturalism.

Agreed. And I would now include theistic naturalists in the category of
metaphysical naturalists, albeit inconsistent ones.

BH>(2) I believe a metaphysical naturalist can also be a methodological
>naturalist and remain consistent with metaphysical naturalism.

Agreed. And I would add:

(3) A metaphysical theist can also be a metaphysical naturalist, but an
inconsistent one. Those metaphysical theists who *espouse*
methodological naturalism *as a philosophical principle*, are such
inconsistent metaphysical theists and are also inconsistent metaphysical

BH>The problem is, of course, that some metaphysical naturalist's
>do not maintain consistency with methodological naturalism.

Agreed. Especially in the case of metaphysical theists who espouse MN.

But disagree in the case of metaphysical naturalists who are not also
metaphysical theists. Such non-theistic metaphysical naturalists are the only
consistent employers of MN. That is, they can employ it *without limit*, to
origins, to the miracles of the Christian religion, to the human mind and

Theistic metaphysical naturalists inconsistently refuse to apply MN to some
or all of the above. Some go very far, like the theologian Rudolph
Bultmann who rejected all supernaturalistic claims in the New Testament
and ended up with only 14 lines which he held to be genuine!

Of course if theists pushed MN to its logical conclusion, and rejected the
supernatural in the case or origins and the Bible, they would not be theists
anymore but would be either deists, agnostics or atheists.

BH>But, I believe the best way to handle those cases where
>they do not maintain that consistency is to point out the

Agreed. That is what I am doing in my posts regarding TE/ECs
and Col 2:8/Mat 6:24.

BH>This is why I said earlier that I thought you were answering
>your own question. If A is masquerading as B, then A is
>obviously inconsistent with B. The best counter is to expose
>the masquerade.

Disagree. The "masquerading" bit was about the pretending by
non-theist metaphysical naturalists to be *only* methodological


"It is true that both genuine homologous resemblance, that is, where
phenomenon has a clear genetic and embryological basis (which as we have
seen above is far less common than is often presumed), and the hierarchic
patterns of class relationships are suggestive of some kind of theory of
descent. But neither tell us anything about how the descent or evolution
might have occurred, as to whether the process was gradual or sudden, or
as to whether the causal mechanism was Darwinian, Lamarckian, vitalistic
or even creationist. Such a theory of descent is therefore devoid of any
significant meaning and equally compatible with almost any philosophy of
nature." (Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis", Burnett Books:
London, 1985, pp154-155)
Stephen E. Jones | |