Re: MN1 or MN2? That is the question! (was Johnson as Expert (was Experts Worry...))

Stephen E. Jones (
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 05:54:24 +0800


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

BH>A few introductory comments before getting to details. First,
>thanks to Steve for his reply. I believe I understand his
>position much better.

Thanks to Brian for his thanks!

BH>I really believe most of any disagreement
>we may have is due merely to using the same words with different

Agreed, except for the "merely"! I have found after 4 years of debating
evolutionists (theistic and atheistic) that the differences between us are
*profound* and the different meanings of words we use are just the tip of
the iceberg.

Nevertheless, clarifying words is a step to at least towards mutual
understanding of each other's positions, and I welcome Brian's attempt to
do so.

BH>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"

Here I must disagree that this "MN1" is even a "principle", or if it is a
"principle" it is effectively the same as "MN2" below.

First, consider "accessible to its instruments". This smacks of the old
positivistic notion of science as limited by only those things which can be
weighed and measured. With science these days investigating 10-
dimensional superstrings and with whole fields of cosmology and
astrophysics considering what happened between t=0 and t=10^-43
seconds after the Big, the "things that are accessible to its instruments..."
are no longer regarded in mainstream science as a legitimate limit.

Second, consider "accessible to its...techniques". This is the real kicker.
*Nothing* is considered by science as off-limits to modern science's
"techniques". Certainly not the Bible or Christianity. Biology textbooks
routinely start their Evolution section with a caricatured debunking of the
Christian doctrine of creation. For example:

"Where did the first animals and plants come from? And why do zebras
have stripes, and elephants their trunks? Or, for that matter, how did living
things in general come to look and act the way that they do? These are
questions that have been the subject of speculation throughout human
history. The most frequently proposed answers fall roughly into two
categories: special creation and evolution. The idea of special creation of
life, that living organisms were created in their present forms at the
beginning of time by a supernatural force, has been shared by many myths
and religions of the past and present. Special creation was not an
unreasonable belief, for it was rooted in the everyday experiences of life.
Cows gives rise only to cows, dogs to dogs, and humans to humans.
Although slight variations in offspring enable individuals to be
distinguished, one never finds a cow or a dog in a cat litter. Because one
sees no marked change in individuals of a species from generation to
generation in the lifetime of human observers, or even after many human
generations, how can one reasonably expect one species to change into
another species? However, as science uncovers the principles and patterns
of nature, many commonly held beliefs have been discarded." (Boolootian
R.A. & Stiles K.A. "College Zoology", 1981, p664)


"Until only two hundred years ago, it seemed self-evident that the world
and the animals that fill it have not changed: robins look like robins and
mice like mice year after year, generation after generation, at least within
the short period of written history. This commonsense view is very like our
untutored impression that the earth stands still and is circled by the sun,
moon, planets, and stars: it accords well with day-to-day experience and
until evidence to the contrary appeared, it provided a satisfying picture of
the living world. The idea of an unchanging world also corresponded to a
literal reading of the powerfully poetic opening of the Book of Genesis, in
which God is said to have created each species independently
simultaneously, and relatively recently-a little over six thousand years ago
by reckonings based on Scripture." (Keeton W.T., Gould J.L. & Gould
C.G.. "Biological Science", 1986, p12)


"There are a number of theories on the origin of life: 1. Steady state theory
- This suggests that the earth and the species on it have always existed. Life
therefore had no origin. 2. Creation theory - This is the belief that the earth
and the species upon it were created by a single event initiated by a 'super-
being' or 'God'. 3. Cosmozoan (Panspermian) theory - This theory states
that life arose elsewhere in the universe and arrived on earth by some
means, e .g. UFOs. 4. Spontaneous generation theory - This theory
contends that life arose from non-living material on a number of separate
occasions. 5. Biochemical evolution theory - This theory suggests that life
arose from the combination of simple molecules into complex ones and
their evolution, via coacervates, into cells. Of these theories, that of
biochemical evolution is the most widely accepted by present-day
scientists. (Toole G. & Toole S., "Understanding Biology for Advanced
Level", Hutchinson: London, 1987, p203)

Modern science these days regards Christianity as a legitimate object of
study, just like the religions of ancients Greece or Rome or existing
animistic religions like that of the Australian aborigines:

"When I was in college, a professor told a story about a boy from a
backwoods family who was being interviewed by a visiting anthropologist.
Asked about his siblings, the boy proudly declared that his brother was at
Harvard. The astonished anthropologist asked what the brother was
studying. "It's not that way," replied the boy. "They're studying him."
Likewise, the academic world regards Christian theism as an object for
study rather than as a participant in academic discourse...The standards of
academia discourage a professor who is teaching, say, the history of
Christianity from taking the position that Christianity may be true. Such
restrictions do not apply to advocates of other viewpoints. Socialists teach
socialism, and feminists teach women's studies...Sometimes this double
standard requires that a thinker or group be split into two parts, to separate
the politically correct from the incorrect...the secular content of the
Reverend Martin Luther King's views on racial justice has a very different
status from the religious background of those same views. The former goes
to the university as an honored participant; the latter only as an object of
scientific study." (Johnson P.E., "Shouting `Heresy' in the Temple of
Darwin," Christianity Today, October 24, 1994, p22)

When confronted with a claimed miracle it is automatically naturalised (or
as the 19th Century liberal theologian Rudolf Bultmann put it,
"demythologised"). Bultmann appealed to the modern naturalistic scientific
method in doing so, saying things like "Traditional supernaturalistic
Christian `impossible in this age of electric light and the
wireless.'" (Plantinga A., "Advice to Christian Philosophers", [1983], Truth
Journal, 1995.".

BH>MN2:= "applied metaphysical naturalism"
>Now, when I say that I'm a MN, I mean MN1 and not MN2.

See above. There *is* no "MN1"! With no recognised limits to its
"techniques" MN1 consistently applied becomes MN2.

But if Brian wants to remain a Christian, he will at some point have to
apply a limit to science's "techniques". Those limits which Brian applies
come not from MN (1 or 2) but from Brian's other philosophy of
*Christian theism*, which trumps MN1 or 2 by saying that the Bible and its
miracles are in some sense special and off-limits, even though every other
non-Christian religion is fair game.

If Brian does not, even unconsciously apply this filter, then he would end
up like Bultmann and the Jesus school, with a Christianity stripped of the
supernatural, and just an interesting example of cultural anthropology.

So Brian or any other Christian theist cannot really be a consistent
methodological naturalists. They must, if they want to remain true
Christians, always maintain a hybrid Christian-theist/metaphysical naturalist
position which is ad hoc, unstable, and self-deceptive.

My call to Brian and other TEs is to adopt a philosophy of "theistic
realism" which they can apply *consistently* to *everything*.

>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

See above. "MN" does in fact "mean MN2" because there really is no
distinction between "MN1" and "MN2".

BH>Further, if MN means MN2 then I reject MN and would oppose
>it as being the way of doing science.

See above. Unless Brian can show how modern science's "instruments and
techniques" in his definition of "MN1" do *in practice* differentiate
between Christianity and all other religions, then he will have to admit that
"MN1", "MN2" and "MN" are all the same thing. The only distinction that
exists between "MN1", "MN2" and "MN" is in the minds of *Christian
theists* which makes "MN1" (and "MN2") a sub-theory within an
attenuated version of *Christian theism*.

But if Brian needs to rely on *Christian theism* as an ad hoc limit to full-
blown metaphysical naturalism, then he has *already* rejected "
being the way of doing science".

And so must *every* Christian theist, if he/she wants to remain a Christian.
Witness Glenn's tortuous struggles to reconcile his Christian theism with
his almost totally naturalistic evolutionary philosophy. Glenn has at times in
his anguish stated he is on the verge of atheism:

"But I will have the courage of my convictions that truth is truth and if I
find the Bible to be a pile of horsemanure when it comes to being able to
describe historical events, I will become an atheist rather than believe that
which I find to be untrue. Why would one believe a book is a revelation
from God when it contains a silly story of creation, a silly story of a flood,
a silly story of Babel, a silly story of the Exodus (for which there is no
evidence) a silly story about a floating ax head, a silly story about a fish
that swallowed man, two silly stories about the sun moving backwards and
a silly story that women come from the side of man and a silly story about a
talking snake and then beleive it is true? I would find that a silly thing to
believe. And I very well might end up an atheist..."

But he has always pulled back from the abyss (to date). However, his posts
reveal that he is not a happy camper, because he is a more extreme example
of Christ's warning about trying to serve two masters (Mat 6:24).

Glenn tries to resolve the conflict by eliminating creationists, but the only
way for such theistic naturalists to permanently resolve their "serving two
masters" conflict is to eventually serve one or the other: Christian theism or
metaphysical naturalism. There are plenty of atheists today who started off
as Biblical literalists, became theistic evolutionists, and eventually gave up
Christianity altogether. In the long term it is very difficult to live in that
state of divided loyalties

BH>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.

See above. Since "MN1" doesn't really exist, except in the minds of some
Christian theists who are attracted to scientific naturalism, it is not really a
mainstream secular scientific position.

There may be some atheists who maintain that something like "MN1" exists
(eg. Gould and his NOMA) but in practice they would end up with some
vague concept of subjective awe and wonder and personal ethics. Any
"religion" that exists after "MN1" has been applied would not be regarded
as objectively real and would only be tolerated as long as it didn't make a
nuisance of itself by insisting it be taken seriously!

BH>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.

The point is: are their any "definitions of MN" that exist apart from those
espoused by *Christian theists*?


>>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
>SJ>Johnson says he would no longer would put it that way:
>>"...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).

BH>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 think Phil (like us all) has struggled with this question. I think the end of
his sentence: "the distinction between methodological and metaphysical
naturalism tends to collapse" is where he was heading in 1995 and where
he is now.

That is, there is no true "MN1" position, apart from an ad hoc hybrid
position somewhere between and combining Christian theism and
metaphysical naturalism.

BH>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 :)

See above. It is not so much as " changed his mind" as clarified his

>SJ>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."

BH>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.

It is *Brian* who is claiming there is such a beast as "MN1". For Phil there
is only MN. For me there is not even that (which should go to show Susan
that I am not a PEJ sychophant!). IMHO there is no true Methodological
Naturalism that is distinct from Metaphysical Naturalism! To me
Methodological Naturalism is just applied Metaphysical Naturalism and is
subsumed by the latter. That is, Methodological Naturalism is just a
*fiction* invented by a tiny minority of Christian theists who are captivated
(Col 2:8) by scientific naturalism but who cannot `go the whole hog'.

BH>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.

See above. IMHO no one "espousing MN1" really does "hold it". At some
point they would try to limit "the things that are accessible to its [science's]
... instruments and techniques".

BH>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:
>SJ>"...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.

Indeed this is "absurd" but the absurdity is with "MN1", not with Geisler's
*accurate* portrayal of it.

Where exactly *would* "science", seeking "a naturalistic explanation for all
events" ever self-limit itself and say that an event was not "naturalistic"?
Where exactly *does* "science" *ever* say that an event was not

Where exactly *would* science's "instruments and techniques" (which are
designed and utilised to seek "a naturalistic explanation for all events"*
*ever* fail in that quest? And if they did fail, what is to stop new
"instruments and techniques" to be crafted?

And if even new "instruments and techniques" cannot be crafted, what is to
stop science inventing anthropic principles, and whole multiple universes,
or just issuing promissory notes on the infinite future?

>SJ>Geisler says:
>>"...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.

>SJ>Brian and I *may* have agreed on it in the past...But whether I may have
>>agreed with Brian's preferred definition of MN, I
>>don't agree with it any more...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.

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

See above. There is no such thing as "MN1" distinct from "MN2", because
there is no self-limit to science's "instruments and techniques". Brian can
falsify this by showing examples where science *does* self-limit itself as
regards Christianity, for example.

>SJ>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).

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

OK. I should have said the Bible clearly warns us that it is possible for
Christians to *try* to "serve two masters" (Mat 6:24), even if ultimately
they cannot do so successfully.

And Brian does not dispute that the Bible does warn about being "taken
captive by a hollow and deceptive philosophy" (Col 2:8), and being
"double-minded" [Gk. dipsychos="two-souled" (Jas 1:8; 4:8).

>SJ>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.

>SJ>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.

>SJ>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.

>SJ>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>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.

See above. Brian needs to demonstrate that there *really is* such a
distinction between "MN2" and "MN1". Personally I don't believe there
really is even MN, any more than there is Methodological Theism which is
distinguished from Metaphysical Theism.

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

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

BH>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.

See above. What "evaporates" is the distinction between "MN1" and


Again thanks to Brian for his comments.


"Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we
suppose, but queerer than we *can* suppose. I have read and heard many
attempts at a systematic account of it, from materialism and theosophy to
the Christian system or that of Kant, and I have always felt that they were
much too simple. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy." (Haldane
J.B.S., "Possible Worlds: And Other Essays", [1927], Chatto and Windus:
London, 1932, reprint, p286. Emphasis in the original.)
Stephen E. Jones | |