Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Johnson vs. Pennock

Phillip Johnson has been well known in the ID - evolution debate over the last 16 years since his first major work attacking Darwinism (Darwin on Trial) came out in 1991. He also wrote a book on the philosophy of science (Reason in the Balance) where he spent last time talking about the evidence against Darwinism and more time on a naturalistic philosophy that he sees permeating many fields, from science to law to education. The short book to your left is kind of a Johnson for Dummies book where he summarizes his main philosophical issues with Darwinian science in about 120 pages. The read is good and Johnson is very articulate as always. Johnson's main point in all of his writings is to attack the naturalistic underpinnings of modern science (which have come into being since the mid 19th century). His argument against the circular reasoning of naturalistic philosophy goes something like this: science is defined as the study of naturalistic processes observable and testable in the world, and then anything that points to a super-natural explanation (such as evidence for a Creator) is automatically described as unscientific by definition (because it is not observable in a naturalistic process).

Many books have been written arguing against Johnson's naturalistic circular argument. The best that I've read is probably Robert Pennock's book called The Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, where Pennock does a fair job of describing the differences inside the Creation camp between young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, the ID crowd, and theistic evolutionists. His work outlines the holes in many of the tired creationist positions that we continue to use that have been discredited long ago (like the 2nd law of thermodynamics or the dinosaur footprints at Glenrose) by the scientific community. Overall, however, I find his defense of methodological naturalism unconvincing. Pennock's rationale goes something like this (against Johnson's thoughts above): because we can only observe and test naturalistic processes, any claims in science to defend super-natural intervention simply is a cop-out on doing real science. In other words, many scientists throughout time have stopped doing scientific research, thrown up their hands, and simply said, "God must have made it that way." In all of those cases, however, natural laws of physics and biology and chemistry were eventually able to explain the causes behind those events in naturalistic terms. Pennock's argumentation is that science and theology must stay in separate realms because they ask and answer different questions.

This is an extremely hard case to sell today as more and more scientists are using naturalistic Darwinian evolution as the framework to explain away the need for a supernatural Creator - see the recent smash hit by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. He (and his many atheistic evangelists) use scientific naturalism as a defense for their atheistic worldviews. (Side-note: you can read a great rebuttal of Christopher Hitchen's book HERE and a great rebuttal of Dawkin's philosophical arguments HERE) All that being said, Pennock's argument that science and theology play on different fields is simply false - they both have many things to say about each other. I'm running out of time here to develop this more fully, but I am convinced that the way we do science does impact our view of theology (such as Kenneth Miller's (evolutionary biologist at Brown University who is also a Catholic) view of a Deistic God who set it all up and got it going but allows it all to happen without Him now), AND our view of theology impacts the way we do science.

More later...

4 comments:

Brent said...

Yeah, the "tired creationist positions" may have been discredited, but I used some of them when teaching teenagers because they could get their hands around them and begin to think for themselves. Sure, they're simplistic, but there's nothing better than watching a teenager use something like that to begin the process to search for truth.

Some of my happiest days were when a teenager came up to me and said, "You know, that 2nd Law of Thermodynamics thing you taught us isn't really all that solid."

Of course, some of my most worrisome days were when they'd use the same reasoning regarding the innerrancy of Scripture...

Keith Ferguson said...

Have you had many students come back and tell you that they can no longer support an inerrant view of Scripture?

Brent said...

Not many...but when they do, it's usually from a more faulty line of reasoning. And, frankly, usually pretty easy to correct. Such is the danger of trying to disciple teens who think and don't check their brains at the door.

Our church once had Philip Johnson speak and I kinda badgered him into coming to my Sunday School class to have Q&A with only the high schoolers. He signed one of his books for us and told me afterward he was pleased to see that our kids asked good questions because it let him know they were thinking.

I took that as a huge compliment.

Anonymous said...

Phil's such a rock stah!