Re: Any strong challenges to Naturalistic Sufficiency?

From: Chris Cogan (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 22:53:42 EST

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    > Outlooks similar to yours wrt epistemology were fairly commong in the 40s
    > and 50s, the zenith of logical positivism and its kin, but has been in
    > serious decline since then. (You may be an objectivist: I don't claim to
    > any expert on that, though I've listened to a number of Ayn Rand tapes,
    > they made very little sense to me.)

    I *am* an Objectivist, of sorts, though I don't think the current "official"
    Objectivist leadership would agree with me on that. If you found the tapes
    relatively senseless, you might try Rand's "Introduction to Objectivist
    Epistemology." It's a book, so it's easy to go back over parts that don't
    seem to make sense the first time through. It's available in a trade-size

    > In a nutshell, it just begs the question in favor of naturalism.

    Not really, though I think I see why you think so. The question is whether
    there can be anything that would *rationally* count as evidence for the
    extra metaphysical realm posited by non-naturalism. I think all claims of
    non-naturalism beg the question. That is, they have to *assume*
    non-naturalism somewhere in one of the premises in order to get it to come
    out at the conclusion. The principle of naturalistic sufficiency does not so
    much beg the question as state the initial implications of Occam's Razor.
    The natural world exists; is there *reason* to think that anything exists
    *beyond* or outside of the natural world? If not, then Occam's Razor says we
    shouldn't believe there is. If non-naturalistic explanations for facts can
    be easily converted into naturalistic ones, then what, epistemologically, is
    the point of non-naturalism. If non-natualism can't do any better than
    naturalism, why bother with it?

    > Now, to
    > those who take atheism as properly basic (as I think you do, though you
    > not know it), that will seem just fine.

    Atheism as failure to believe in a God is definitely basic. We don't first
    believe in a God and *then* believe in things like the existence of somethin
    g other than ourselves (a "world"), for example. Why? Because our experience
    is of things that cannot be equated with God. God is definitely inferential
    (if He is to exist at all) or emotional (i.e., "intuitive," based on faith,

    Atheism as the *denial* of the existence of God is definitely *not* basic.
    Much of philosophy must be developed *prior* to proving or validating
    *either* the existence of nonexistence of God.

    Existence is basic. It is presumed in everything else, and in the attempt to
    deny or question it: Something exists.

    Now, insofar as naturalism can be equated with the axiomatic fact of
    Existence (that there is something, and the entirety of what exists is
    called "Existence"), then naturalism would be basic as well. However, I use
    Existence as the main premise underlying naturalism, but do not equate the
    two. Naturalism is a "statement" (or theory) about the *nature* of what
    exists. It is not so much circular, as *minimalist*. That is, the burden of
    proof rests with non-naturalism.

    > But to those who aren't atheists (and actually, many today who are), the
    > idea that one must assume atheism unless it can be proven false or at
    > unlikely will properly seem preposterous, and the epistemology that
    > this conclusion na•ve in the extreme. -Obviously- this approach appeals
    > some atheists (I think Antony Flew had an article along these lines: "The
    > Presumption of Atheism"); so what?

    I used to hold somewhat similar views, but without the judgment that
    atheists were naive. What changed my mind was the recognition that *every*
    significant "concept" of God that I thought grandiose enough to deserve the
    term was also gibberish or empty of much of *any* real meaning, or logically
    self-contradictory. Do you believe that self-contradictions exist?

    > Scientism and positivism aren't nearly as popular as they used to be
    > philosophers; their fads have long since died, and if you search, you will
    > find out why.

    Positivism was pretty much against metaphysics altogether, if I remember
    rightly, and atheism simply fell out of that. I'm merely a naturalist. I
    suppose scientism could be either metaphysically naturalistic *or*
    positivistic. Either way, I think scientism is silly (and positivism, too,
    for that matter). The deepest issues concerning what exists, how we know it,
    and what its significance might be cannot be answered by scientific method
    because they are not empirical questions.

    > But given your at once intelligent yet perversely reckless
    > rants against theism and Christianity (Hitler and Stalin were men of faith
    > in earlier posts of yours -- truly bizarre stuff. And now your big
    > question about the resurrection is: did Jesus even exist? ....)

    I don't remember mentioning Stalin in such a context, though I suppose it's
    possible. Hitler, yes. But, that's not my fault; it's his fault. I realize
    that such men are not usually thought of that way, but do you really think
    he had *anything* like a rational basis for his beliefs? More important: Do
    you think *he* thought he did? No; he and German intellectuals who supported
    his views specifically and explicitly *rejected* reason (it was far too
    confining to be bound by mere facts and reality and logic and either
    ideological or practical consistency). (For more of the gory details on
    this, including lengthy quotations from Hitler and friends, read the book,
    "The Ominous Parallels," by Leonard Peikoff.)

    > , I think
    > you have some burr buried somewhere that's keeping you from a serious
    > exploration of these issues. Until that burr and it's associated
    > in your mind are dealt with I think it'd be a waste of enormous amounts of
    > time trying to argue you out of "naturalistic sufficiency."

    It's okay if you don't want to deal with my arguments, and simply want to
    attribute my position to psychological "burrs," but I do hope you realize
    that this is not an issue that depends on my believing in it. Whether
    naturalism is sufficient or not is an objective question, which, in
    principle, ought to be answerable by rational means, at least in the sense
    of defaulting to naturalism (because of Occam's Razor lopping off needless
    non-naturalism). Though I have not presented my full argument for
    naturalistic sufficiency, I would have thought it would be clear by a
    careful reading of what I've said so far that much of what you are
    attributing to me (i.e., positivism, scientism, treating atheism as basic,
    treating naturalism as basic, etc.) does not apply.

    Are you *sure* that you are not merely hiding from answering my views on the
    premise that it would "waste enormous amounts of time trying to argue" me
    out of naturalistic sufficiency?

    I suppose I could back up to the Principle of Metaphysical Minimalism (i.e.,
    basically, a variant of Occam's Razor that says, roughly: "Do not introduce
    more basic metaphysical categories than are objectively, cognitively
    *necessary*"). Since my form of naturalism is distinctly minimalist, it
    seems to go along with this principle (and the more-general Occam's Razor
    principle, of course). The question then might be rephrased in different
    terms (rather than in terms of naturalistic sufficiency):

     *Can* it ever be rationally necessary to posit a non-natural

    My belief right now is that it cannot be rationally necessary to posit a
    non-natural realm (etc.), because:

     a. For any fact or set of facts that I can think of or imagine, I can also
    think of a naturalistic explanation. My basic argument here is that one can
    take any *non*-naturalistic explanation for something and simply naturalize
    it by making the main "active ingredient" into a naturalistic one that can
    the same effect. This is a very powerful method, because it allows me to
    allow people like Stephen Jones to build a non-naturalist theory, which I
    then modify to produce a naturalistic equivalent that's just as good or
    better and without all that violence to poor William of Occam's (or
    Ockham's) "razor." Thus, for Stephen's non-naturalistic intelligent
    designer, I merely substitute a *naturalistic* intelligent designer (and he
    can't escape by asking about the origin of such a designer, because the same
    question of origin applies equally to *his* designer).

     b. I cannot conceive of a way in which facts could be such that a
    naturalistic explanation would be logically contradictory, or in which
    naturalism itself could be self-contradictory (one of its *virtues* is that,
    being absolutely minimalist, there is precious little in it to threaten to
    be contradictory).

     (This latter is an argument from ignorance. I don't know of any such ways,
    therefore I don't think there are any, etc. Thus, I put no real stock in it,
    but I think it may be possible to convert it from an argument from ignorance
    to an argument from the logical *contradictoriness* of the claim to the
    necessity of non-naturalism. And, though not conclusive, it is suggestive
    that, in the history of philosophy there seems to be no successful attempt
    to specify some genuinely known fact that cannot be naturalistically

     c. All arguments for non-naturalistic entities and such seem to be
    circular. I'm still waiting for one that is not. Often non-naturalism is not
    included in the explicit premises, but in a premise that the non-naturalist
    has implicitly used but not acknowledged.

    Although I think it's possible to *prove* the principle of naturalistic
    sufficiency, I'm not sure, so I'll just say that it seems like a really good
    prophylactic principle to me, and one that we should hold onto until
    evidence (if any) indicates that it is untenable. Certainly, the development
    of life on Earth is not such evidence, even if naturalistic macroevolution
    and abiogenesis did not and do not occur.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments, John.

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