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

Brian D Harper (
Fri, 08 Oct 1999 16:30:21 -0700

A few introductory comments before getting to details. First,
thanks to Steve for his reply. I believe I understand his
position much better. I really believe most of any disagreement
we may have is due merely to using the same words with different
meanings. For brevity, let's introduce the following notation

MN1:= "(T)he principle that science can study only the things
that are accessible to its instruments and techniques"

MN2:= "applied metaphysical naturalism"

Now, when I say that I'm a MN, I mean MN1 and not MN2. Hopefully
we can agree that the words themselves are not important, rather
what one means when using them. In fact, if MN means MN2 then I
would agree with most of what you say below regarding theism and
MN. Further, if MN means MN2 then I reject MN and would oppose
it as being the way of doing science.

My interest is only in the position MN1, if this is not what
the majority of people mean when they say MN then I'll cease
calling myself a MN. I'm wondering if anyone on the list has
seen other definitions of MN and, if so, if they could send
them to me. This might be something useful to look at.

At 06:54 AM 10/7/99 +0800, Steve wrote:

I will risk trimming some stuff in the interest of space.


>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
>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).

Thanks for this quote, let me just draw attention to the following:

"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." -- Phil

I take this to mean that, as of 1995, Phil still accepts MN1,
he just would express the idea differently. I'm pointing this
out only because it seems to me, judging by the next quote,
that Phil has changed his mind. (nothing wrong with that, of
course :)

>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."

This is, I believe, clearly inconsistent with MN1. One thing I like
about Phil's wording in MN1 above is that it makes it so easy
to test when metaphysical prejudices are clouding the waters.

The second sentence in the above is a position which, if interpreted
in terms of MN1, is so extraordinarily absurd that one would wonder
how anyone espousing MN1 could hold it. Let's put them side by
side to compare.

Methodological naturalism is "... the principle that science can study
only the things that are accessible to its instruments and techniques."

Since I am a MN, I have to conclude that:

"...a naturalistic explanation for all events is presumed to

See how absurd this is? Not that one might not presume something
like this. I'm sure that there are some that do. But it is clear
that such a view is not based on MN1.

>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
>but inconsistent ones.

I would agree, if one espoused MN2. I cannot, however, see any
inconsistency between theism and MN1.

>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).

You may want to look at Matt 6.24 again, as Jesus says exactly the
opposite: "No one can serve two masters."

>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.

Again, I'm agreeing with most of what you are saying, but provided
MN=MN2. Rejecting the supernatural is not a logical conclusion
to be reached from MN1.

>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.

OK, but have you considered the possibility that when a TE
says they are a MN that they may mean MN1 and not MN2?
This being the case, the supposed inconsistency evaporates.

[trimmed a little]

Brian Harper | "If you don't understand
Associate Professor | something and want to
Applied Mechanics | sound profound, use the
The Ohio State University | word 'entropy'"
| -- Morrowitz