Date of this Version
Philosophia Christi, v. 5, no. 1 (2003), pp. 167-184.
Phillip Johnson, in a number of recent writings, most notably in his 1991 book, Darwin on Trial. has called into question the whole of evolutionary science by arguing that it is based on the philosophical system of naturalism which assumes without justification that God plays no part in the process by which living things come to be. The philosopher, Robert Pennock, in his recent book, Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, defends science against Johnson's charge, arguing first that naturalism is not atheistic and so does not deny God, and second, that the principle naturalism uses to keep God out of science is adopted for good methodological reasons.
I want to enter into this discussion between Johnson and Pennock about the relation between (naturalistic) evolutionary theory and theism. I will ask: Does evolutionary naturalism. rule out the theistic God? If so, how? Is the ruling out a metaphysical claim (that God does not exist) or merely a methodological rule that disallows supernatural explanations? Is the ruling out logical or probabilistic? Other points of disagreement between Johnson and Pennock I will consider, although less fully, are framed by questions such as the following: Can the two explanatory "hypotheses" (God and evolutionary principles) be made compatible (for example, in the way that theistic evolutionists have tried to combine them)? Is Johnson right that there is a fundamental opposition between them? Can the theistic hypothesis be brought into science and be part of a scientific explanation of life-forms (as Johnson thinks), or does religion belong wholly to another sphere of life outside of science (as Pennock thinks)? Lastly, how should theologians think of the theistic God and its activity in relation to the natural order that science describes?