The Bullet of Naturalism

In this discussion I would like to briefly outline what the system of Naturalism encompasses and the implications of it as a philosophical worldview. To most, its the haunting undertaker of Western thought; showing us that the attributes of our contemporary and increasingly secular society has grown in its understanding of ruled out super-natural explanations. Alvin Plantinga has gone even so far as to call it a Quasi-Religion.

Plantinga explains, and it is worth quoting at length:

“Naturalism is what we could call a worldview, a sort of total way of looking at ourselves and our world. It isn’t clearly a religion: the term ‘religion’ is vague, and naturalism falls into the vague area of its application. Still, naturalism plays many of the same roles as a religion. In particular, it gives answers to the great human questions: Is there such a person as God? How should we live? Can we look forward to life after death? What is our place in the universe? How are we related to other creatures? Naturalism gives answers here: there is no God, and it makes no sense to hope for life after death. As to our place in the grand scheme of things, we human beings are just another animal with a peculiar way of making a living. Naturalism isn’t clearly a religion; but since it plays some of the same roles as a religion, we could properly call it a quasi-religion.”

Perhaps its too early to be pessimistic towards the idea of Naturalism just yet. I would like to start off our discussion by the same way William P. Alston did, “What is Naturalism that Should We Be Mindful of It?”


I. Definition of Naturalism

As you might have perhaps already noticed, I usually dont like to use my own definitions when addressing philosophical systems of thought. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling in their “Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms”, define Naturalism as:

Naturalism sometimes refers to a form of atheism and materialism that maintains that the “natural” universe (composed of energy and matter and based on natural laws) is the sum total of reality, thereby negating human freedom, absolute values and, ultimately, existential meaning. As an ethical theory naturalism suggests that ethical judgments arise out of or are based in the universe itself or “the ways things naturally are.”

I think then whats interesting to notice here is the comparison that we have with Plantinga’s quote on Naturalism. Namely that this system of secular thought draws attention to itself more than just the physical realm, but encompasses its own understanding of ethics, truth, meaning, and a wide array of other concepts. Rather than address those now, I would first like you to consider the following figure:

Yes, I know, I made this one myself on Microsoft Paint and so its rather easy from simple observance to notice that its handy work is not world class art, but it will do for now. We will call this our Box of Uniformity (BU). With this name given, what I would like you to notice about this box in particular is the fact that its closed; nothing can get inside of it and nothing can come out of it. All of its parts are also completely unified; nothing can exist apart from it.

Whatever the contents that are inside that box may be (e.g. humans, natural laws, planets, etc), they are all fixed. They are fixed in such a way that everything acts in accordance with the system, or in this case the box. Thus, free will could not exist inside this box. Why not? Well, freedom of will means to make choices apart from any influence by another object or system. We understand that in BU nothing can exist independently of itself and thus we are required of an explanation for the human will and our independent choices.

Well, in Naturalism there is no belief in the freedom of will (some secular philosophers differ, others have said a light compatibilism [i.e. Free will + Determinism]). Everything (again) exists in uniformity or in accordance with the whole system itself; thus, we are left with a strict determinism, where our moral choices dont exactly have any inherent meaning or worth within them, and our will is still only in accordance with nature. Consider C.S. Lewis’s simple overview:

The Naturalist believes that a great process, of ‘becoming’, exists ‘on its own’ is space and time, and that nothing else exists – what we call particular things and events being only the parts into which we analyse the great process or the shapes which that process takes at given moments and given points in space. This single, total reality he calls Nature.

This gives us a more in depth analysis of the “unified nature concept.” However, the thing I wish to have understood is given by a simpler definition from Lewis’s book ‘Miracles’ just a page or two over from the former definition:

Just because the Naturalist thinks that nothing but Nature exists, the word ‘Nature’ means to him merely ‘everything’ or ‘the whole show’ or ‘whatever there is’.

But remember indeed! If this is the case of Naturalism and the definition most usually associated with it, then how could human will be accounted for? I quote Lewis again:

Thus no thorough going Naturalist believes in free will: for free fill would mean that human beings have the power of doing something more or other than what was involved by the total series of events. And any such separate power of originating events is what the Naturalist denies.

But, do not let this repetitive talk of free will be the only objection available; we still have the problem of consciousness (which is a problem not only limited to the Naturalists), the uniformity of nature, abstract laws of thought, and many other concepts to be discussed. Lets point over to the problem of uniformity.


II. Greg L. Bahnsens Uniformity Diagnosis 

Consider this passage from Dr. Bahnsen on the Problem of Uniformity:

Now the problem that arises for the unbeliever is in accounting for the uniformity of nature. Since the unbeliever is so enamored with science and the scientific method, this is a good place to demonstrate his worldview crisis. You must present your standard apologetic challenge to the unbeliever: – Which worldview may reasonably expect that causal connections function uniformly throughout the universe or that the future will be like the past?

We are asking, in other words, which worldview makes human experience intelligible and science possible? All sane people assume uniformity, but only the Christian worldview can account for it.Unbelievers claim: – We only know things based on observation and experience. We only know things that are results of sense experience in the material world. But the problem arises: We have no experience of the future, for it has yet to occur.

Therefore, on this experience-based scientific method, how can we predict that the future will be like the past so that we may expect scientific experiments to be valid? The unbeliever will attempt to respond: – We know the future will be like the past because our past experience of the oncoming future has always been thus.‖ But this statement still only tells us about the past, not the approaching future we now must anticipate.

Furthermore, you can‘t expect the future to be like the past apart from a view of the nature of reality that informs you that events are controlled in a uniform way, as by God in the Christian system.



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