RE: Any strong challenges to Naturalistic Sufficiency?

From: John E. Rylander (
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 02:34:05 EST

  • Next message: Stephen E. Jones: "Re: Any strong challenges to Naturalistic Sufficiency?"

    > JR
    > > 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
    > be
    > > any expert on that, though I've listened to a number of Ayn Rand tapes,
    > and
    > > they made very little sense to me.)
    > Chris
    > 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
    > paperback.

    The tapes didn't appear to be worth going over again, frankly. But there
    were only a few tapes, and they may not have been representative of her
    work. (A libertarian friend lent them to me. She was actually a bit
    disappointed in them as well.)

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

    That's not an important question to every rational theist, but I think it's
    a fair one. (The answer is obvious and affirmative, I think, but it's still
    a fair question.)

    > 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.

    I'd like to see an argument for this assertion. Prima facie, it isn't
    plausible. But I'm not sure I know what you mean by "naturalism", either.

    > The principle of naturalistic sufficiency
    > does not so
    > much beg the question as state the initial implications of Occam's Razor.

    Well, Occam obviously didn't think so! :^> More to the point, neither do

    > 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.

    First: Why not apply Occam's razor to the material world, too, if we're
    really being minimalists here? If you really take Occam's razor, or the
    chainsaw variant of it, to be your lodestone, let's start at the beginning,
    not simply by assuming what -you- believe, and then being utterly skeptical
    of others' beliefs.

    Second: what counts as a reason? How about strong intuitions? How about
    natural inferences based on them? How about the testimony of others, or the
    testimony of the Holy Spirit? (I knew you'd like that last one. ;^> )
            Or should we limit things to the laws of logic and the immediate data of
    sensation, the ultimate cartesian foundation?

    > 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?

    Naturalism, esp. if you mean materialistic naturalism, is not a
    comprehensively strong explanatory hypothesis, in my view.

    But regardless of that, most theists don't believe in God as a matter of it
    being, say, the best scientific explanation for empirical phenomena. Some
    do, most don't. And even those who do (and actually, even many atheists)
    find there to be a strong a priori component as well. That is, there is a
    strong natural tendency to believe in God in many people, it seems. Not a
    universally incorrigible one, very obviously. IF one has been educated --
    as I think you have -- to adopt a mistaken epistemology that rules out
    belief in God (more or less a priori, as you describe it), then one may
    vehemently reject this natural tendency as superstition, an opiate of the
    masses, etc. Or if one is convinced that, say, the problem of evil
    demonstrates that there is no God. Or that Christianity entails YEC, and
    the only alternative is atheism.

    > JR
    > > Now, to
    > > those who take atheism as properly basic (as I think you do, though you
    > may
    > > not know it), that will seem just fine.
    > Chris
    > Atheism as failure to believe in a God is definitely basic.

    I think this is sometimes the case, sometimes not. BTW, by "basic" I mean
    "not compelled by propsitional evidence". It's a term that admits of
    degrees. (E.g., our belief in the material world seems basic, but not
    purely so. Our sensory experience informs it, but does not in any
    compelling way logically demonstrate it, or make it likely. It just seems
    obviously true -- but such a seeming is far, far short of proof, or even
    real objective evidence, and this even if the seeming is universal.) Also,
    it is not that same as incorrigibility or self-evidence -- one can abandon
    basic beliefs based on counter-evidence, e.g.

    > 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,
    > etc.).

    This is hard to pick apart. You identify intuition as emotion, and yet it
    is a critically important part of any rational foundation. Unless we trust
    in our own reasoning abilities and basic intuitions -- not saying they're
    infallible, but giving them the benefit of the doubt until they're shown
    wrong -- we get nowhere. I think without meaning to, you're offering a
    recipe for skepticism. (It's not my goal to lead you to skepticism, but
    rather to suggest a re-evaluation of your epistemology.)

    > 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.

    Lots of things are basic; or a few broad things. Logic, reason, memory,
    perception, testimony, etc. etc. I think belief in God is basic for many
    people, and largely basic for most.

    > 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.

    I have never heard this defn of naturalism. If this is what you mean by
    "naturalism", then even God is a naturalist! :^>

    And since you're taking the "Existence" of the material world as axiomatic,
    you don't apply Occam's razor to it...? Suppose a theist takes the
    existence of God as axiomatic (albeit probably not in a maethematical sen4se
    of the term)?

    > 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.

    And understandable assertion from the naturalist, but hardly one that
    warrants the theist's attention unless there are strong arguments here, of
    which I see none just yet.

    But I'm still not sure what you mean by "naturalism" in this context, or how
    "Existence" (capital "E"?) is a premise toward "naturalism" as a conclusion.

    > JR
    > > 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
    > least
    > > unlikely will properly seem preposterous, and the epistemology that
    > produced
    > > this conclusion na•ve in the extreme. -Obviously- this approach appeals
    > to
    > > some atheists (I think Antony Flew had an article along these
    > lines: "The
    > > Presumption of Atheism"); so what?
    > Chris
    > 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?

    I think self-contradictions -exist-, I suppose; but obvioously they're
    not -true-, not even possibly.

    When you say theism is meaningless gibberish, are you adopting a
    verificationist criterion for meaning? (Just q question here -- you may or
    may not be, but the most famous folks who have argued that "God" is
    meaningless have done so.)

    I fully agree that the term "God" is vague, particularly if one tries (as
    many materialists fruitlessly and misguidedly do) to operationalize it. But
    vagueness is far, far different simple meaninglessness. (Most of what we
    say is vague, e.g. -- take this very asserion, for instance.) "God" is
    vague; "God" also very meaningful.

    > JR
    > > Scientism and positivism aren't nearly as popular as they used to be
    > amongst
    > > 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,

    You do indeed.

    > and atheism simply fell out of that.

    Indeed, the -strictest- positivists weren't even atheists, since "There is
    no God" was just as meaningless as "There is a God", in their view. The
    whole theism/atheism debate was literally nonsense.

    > I'm merely a naturalist.

    I think I need to hear your defn of that term -- are you using the one you
    supplied above? Or the standard philosophical defn? Or ....?

    The traditional philosophical defn is that naturalism = only nature exists,
    and is typically nowadays tied to a "scientific materialism" philosophy:
    only nature exists, and science is her prophet. :^>

    > 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.

    Quite right. :^>

    > JR
    > > 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.

    So you're standing by this claim? We obviously are meaning different things
    by "faith", then, unless you know something about Hitler that would shock

    > 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?

    What does that have to do with whether or not he had faith?

    Or are you defining "faith" as "irrationality"? Hmmmm..... :^>

    > 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).

    Some thought that way, others deemed Naziism the very essence of scientific
    rationality. (As I recall, the chief ideologue of the party, Martin
    Bormann, took this latter view.)

    In any event, the Nazi party very aggressively attacked faith in God in
    pretty much any traditional form, though many did embrace a sort of
    Nietschean, Wagnerian, new-age occult "fate" or "destiny" -- a fate which
    happened to put Naziism at the top of the heap, of course. Naziism was,
    particularly when speaking freely amongst themselves rather than trying to
    dupe the at least nominally Christian populace (but it was for their own
    good....), virulently and expressly anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic.
    It was counterproductive to kill all the Christians -- too many of them, and
    Germany would collapse, and Christianity isn't a racial (or even ethnic)
    classification -- but killing Christianity was definitely part of the plan.

    > (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'll make a note of that. If you want, I can get you my references on
    Borman, etc.

    > JR
    > > , 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
    > postulates
    > > 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."
    > Chris
    > It's okay if you don't want to deal with my arguments,

    So far I haven't seen any strong arguments -- though presumably we disagree
    about their strength -- but I'm just now engaging this issue. I have not
    read most of your earlier posts in detail.

    > and simply want to
    > attribute my position to psychological "burrs,"

    Your positions on these issues were extreme and passionate enough to raise
    serious suspicions. I've talked with many atheists over the years -- it's
    hard not to in professional philosophy circles -- but few as hard core as
    you. Usually when people start talking about Hitler as a man of faith, I
    move on rather quickly. Take it as a compliment that I've not done so here.

    > but I do hope you realize
    > that this is not an issue that depends on my believing in it.

    Of course not.

    > 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.

    You're misapplying Occam's razor, I think; but if I were an atheist I might
    agree with your usage.

    > 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?

    Quite sure. Sometimes it's prudent just to agree to disagree.

    > 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*").

    Minimalism leads pretty quickly to solipsism, if one's consistent with it.
    That is, there are theories about our immediate experience that do not in
    the least require an external world, other minds, a past, etc. etc. IF one
    is an ontological minimalist -- only believing in entities that are
    demonstrably theoretically necessary -- then one will not believe in the
    material world, other minds, or the rest. It's not necessary.

    (I'm not saying such theories are -even remotely plausible-, to my mind
    anyway. But I'm saying that I reject them not because I have a valid
    argument with self-evident and independent premises, but because they just
    seem so implausible and have no strong arguments -- Occam's chainsaw
    notwithstanding -- in their favor. Now I can come up with reasons to
    somewhat explain why these theories seem so implausible, buyt my confidence
    in those reasons will generally be less than my confidence in the material
    world, so those theories don't truly generate, let alone prove
    uncotroversially, this thesis)

    While lots of folks use the minimalist language, very few really are

    (Often what they do is jsut start with what they believe, or what they
    believe strongly, and then apply minimalism to other people's beliefs that
    go beyond their own. Very similar to what people often do with skepticism:
    apply it vigorously to whatever they don't like [religion, morality, etc.],
    but very little to what appeals to them [science, say, or Marxism, or....])

    > 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
    > realm/being/thing/stuff/whatsit?

    THis whole notion os "positing" the supernatural strikes me as odd. This is
    the kind of stuff that made me suspect something akin to scientism, or at
    least evidentialism. You take as an assumption that one should not believe
    in God unless one has -compelling- (i.e., not possibly mistaken, or
    something similarly strong) empirical evidence for His existence, right?
    THat's a very controversial point, though I suspect you take it as pretty
    obvious, either an axiom, or a simple inference from axioms.

    > 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.

    So long as one's just using one's imagination, sure.

    > 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).

    I think these are good points. (This is why IDers typically refrain from
    claiming the evidence shows that God designed things; rather, they claim
    [rightly or wrongly] that the evidence shows there is/was a 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).

    Once again, I'd need to know exactly how you're using the term "naturalism"
    before I could angage that issue.

    > (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 conve2rt 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
    > explained.)

    Or so atheists think. Obviously, many, many theists disagree.

    > 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.

    I actual agree on this to a point. In one sense, -all- deductive arguments
    are circular, in that in one sense, the very fact of deductive validity
    implies that the conclusion is somehow tied up in the premises.

    I would put it this way: there are no arguments for the existence of God (to
    get to the most important non-natural entity) that will -compel- the assent
    of every skeptic, where the premises are utterly obviously true, even to the
    skeptic, and the logic impeccably valid. I suspect that's what -you're-
    looking for; that's a serious mistake, I think, but we can agree that you'll
    never find it. (I agree it'd be epsietemically great iof we did! :^> )

    Now there may be lots of arguments for the existence of God that have a
    great deal of rational appeal to a great many people, including many
    skeptics and atheists; but I know of none that -compel- the assent of
    the -most resistant-, none based on universally accepted, truly self-evident
    premises and logic. I think they'll all involve intuitions and such, which
    you apparently classify as simple emotionalism.

    > 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.

    If I accepted your epistemology, I'd be saying the same things. :^>

    So if I had to sum up my understanding of your argument (some guesswork is
    involved), it'd be this:

    (1) The external material world exists. (Axiom)

    (2) Occam's chainsaw (that is, a very strong version of Occam's razor): We
    should not believe in anything beyond the material world unless compelled by
    sound deductive or probabilistic arguments that do not rely on intuitions,
    etc. (Axiom)

    or perhaps

    (2') We should not believe in anything beyond the material world unless
    compelled by sound deductive or probabilistic arguments arguments relying
    exclusively on uncontroversially evidentially or self-evidently true
    premises. (Axiom)

    (3) There are no arguments meeting criterion (2)/(2') with the conclusion
    that God exists. (empirical claim.)


    (4) We should not believe in God.

    Is that roughly correct? (I imagine it's wrong in fine detail, but perhaps
    those details aren't decisively material.)

    In any event, I reject premise (2)/(2'). It seems implausible, and I know
    of no arguments in its favor as a sweeping philosophical principle. Also,
    if applied generally, it would lead to skepticism.

    I tend to agree with (1) and (2).

    I have a problem with (4), though. ;^>

    > Anyway, thanks for your comments, John.

    Thanks for yours as well, Chris.

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