RE: Any strong challenges to Naturalistic Sufficiency?

From: John E. Rylander (
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 19:24:14 EST

  • Next message: Stephen E. Jones: "Re: Jane Fonda has become a Christian!"

    > JR> CC> Now, insofar as naturalism can be equated with the axiomatic fact
    > JR> CC> Existence (that there is something, and the entirety of what
    exists is
    > JR> CC> called "Existence"), then naturalism would be basic as well.
    > JR>
    > JR> I have never heard this defn of naturalism. If this is what you mean
    > JR> "naturalism", then even God is a naturalist! :^>
    > Chris
    > I didn't mean this as a definition. And I was wrong as well (rather, I
    > misstated my views). I don't believe that naturalism is basic in the same
    > way or to the same degree that the fact of Existence is, only that it
    > naturally ( :-) ) flows from the fact of Existence. We don't
    > start out with
    > any reason even to think of the issue of whether what exists is natural or
    > not. It just *is* as far as we initially can tell, and it is only later,
    > much later, that we can even conceive of ideas like
    > non-naturalism, which we
    > can define only in terms of naturalism because the "natural
    > world" (whether
    > it's *really* natural or not) is the only world we have any experience of
    > (or in, at least, being "natural world" beings ourselves). *If* we are to
    > rationally conclude that there is a non-natural world, we need special
    > evidence for it, but that evidence must somehow be *in* the natural world
    > (because, otherwise, we have no access to it).
    > But this means that there must be facts that not only do not
    > submit well to
    > current naturalistic explanations, but which *cannot* do well under
    > naturalistic explanations (particularly since *relocating* the
    > problem into
    > a non-natural realm does not really *solve* it).

    I agree that we don't start out thinking about any naturalism/non-naturalism
    distinction -- we take life as it comes, a bit unphilosophically at first,
    with those sorts of dichotomies being the result of more advanced

    But most people, most Christians certainly, would disagree that that means
    either that we have experience only of the natural world (that begs the
    question, even if that's our most straightforward and, via science, rigorous
    experience), or that the non-natural world is presumptively superfluous.

    This is why I was wondering if you were going with scientism (you've said
    you're not, and I accept that, though it seems to me kissin' kin): I think
    that the approach you advocate is a good one for physical science, at least
    provisionally (being overturned only if an alternative -- theistic,
    interventionistic ID, say -- is not merely TRUE, but yields better long-term
    PRACTICAL SCIENTIFIC RESULTS, which even as a firm Christian I don't -- yet,
    anyway -- see happening). But I think it's seriously mistaken as a
    methodology for philosophy or reason broadly construed, in that it
    arbitrarily rejects extremely common and deep intuitions and experiences
    about God, intuitions and experiences that I agree by no means amount to
    proof that the staunchest disbeliever will accept (which doesn't logically
    imply anything bad about them), but seem highly rationally relevant to those
    who aren't already committed atheists, myself included.

    To put it another way, to me and many others, your axiom about not believing
    in the supernatural so long as naturalism is even conceivably correct seems
    like a great epistemology to remain a fervently committed atheist, but not
    to find God if God is there (unless God coerces belief, in which case it
    won't much matter what epistemology you have; this doesn't seem to be a
    common case).
            If it seems to someone -- you say -- pretty much self-evident that there is
    no God, then the above limitation is irrelevant. But to someone not
    starting off from atheism, or starting from theism, the game seems rather
    blatantly and strangely rigged.
            After all, if, with the goal of minimizing our ontology (i.e., minimizing
    the quantities and varieties of things that we think exist), we'd apply the
    same sort of "I won't believe in X unless denying X is somehow demonstrably
    logically incoherent (without assuming X)", to beliefs generally, we'd all
    as staunchly reject the material world (in favor of mere sense data, which
    we -know- is real -- don't we?), the past (an illusion), other minds (some
    of our sense data by another name), rationality (simpler to have things
    non-rational, no?), morality (what do moral claims even -mean-, and how
    could they possibly be true??), laws of logic (talk about begging the
    question by arguing for them), etc., as you reject God.
            But almost nobody does that -- and it's a good thing, too.

    (One caveat: some of my claims are easier to understand, I think, if one
    thinks in terms not only of a minimal ontology, but a minimal set of
    beliefs, in each case avoiding the risk of believing (in) something that
    isn't correct. The flip side error is missing things that -are- there or
    true. Credulity risks believing things that are false; skepticism risks
    missing things that are true. Extremes of each are dysfunctional.)

    Thus, this pretty clearly is not some good -general- principle of reasoning
    (though it may be just right -specifically-, within more limited spheres,
    such as physical science, and applied to the right objects, such as
    hypothetical entities).

    I think you (tacitly) realize this, and so start using it only AFTER you've
    gotten your core beliefs in the door. That's why (if I understand you) you
    take the reality of the material world (and, I presume, the past, other
    minds, logic, memory, perception, morality, etc.) for granted FIRST. THEN
    you apply your filter -- to (types of) things you don't want to believe in.

    But given that most people don't start off with this naturalistic axe to
    grind, indeed given that most people have some more or less strong
    inclination to believe in God (typically via a mix of a priori tendencies
    plus experience), why should they intentionally, arbitrarily, and (from
    their perspective) even -perversely- adopt an epistemology specifically
    designed to accept everything they believe in but Him?

    I take it you have, by nature or nurture, no such intuitions about God, and
    no experience of Him acting in your life. (Perhaps at one point you did,
    but became, as you now see it, rationally disabused of them -- rather than
    growing in faith, you grew out of it.) Moreover, you've undoubtedly run
    into many relatively unsophisticated believers who simply couldn't engage
    you in serious debate. If this happens repeatedly, it's easy to see this as
    a product not of their relative lack of sophistication or intellect, but of
    their belief in God. (I hope I and some others have offered at least
    a -hint- that this isn't a justified conclusion.) And based on your views
    of Hitler, etc., as men of faith (that still boggles me), faith must seem
    not only stupid but -positively dangerous for a free society-.
            And so you have adopted the epistemology you've spelled out above, which
    justifies, indeed demands, perpetual naturalism.

    This isn't incomprehensible to me at all -- the logic in it is apparent,
    given your starting point and associated beliefs. But it does seem a
    serious error, or rather, a set of them. And I certainly hope you're not
    surprised that, by and large, those not already committed to atheism, or
    perhaps both atheism and the dangerousness of theism, will find your theory
    of knowledge uncompelling -- especially when they're smart people too.

    Thanks again, Chris. This is an interesting discussion.


    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jan 21 2000 - 20:24:34 EST