The Summit Lecture Series: Scientific Naturalism Worldview with JP Moreland, part 1

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We need to understand the very prominent worldview of Scientific Naturalism in order to grasp how people who hold this perspective think.  You see there are many different prevailing worldviews in our culture today, and the main conflict is not whether or not Christianity is true, but whether or not it can be known to be true.

And Scientific Naturalism is one of the main culprits in the effort to convince our culture that Christianity cannot be known to be true.  Now, there is an ontological and an epistemological dimension to Scientific Naturalism.  (but what the heck does that mean?)

Ontology refers to “having to do with what is real”.  So, if I were to ask you to give me your ontology, you would then share with me the things that you take to be real.  Therefore, Buddhism has its ontology, Christianity has its ontology, and Naturalism has its ontology.  Scientific Naturalism’s ontology is that the physical cosmos (or physical universe) of things in space and time is all that there is.

Now, this has two different components to it:  Firstly, nothing exists outside of space and time.  Now, even Plato believed that there are abstract entities such as humanness, numbers, the laws of logic, and so on.  Many thinkers of Western Thought have believed that these things are real, but they don’t exist in space and time.  For instance, if you were to ask me where the number two exists, I’d have to respond that it’s nowhere, but it is real.  However, subscribers to the Scientific Naturalism worldview, who only count things that exist in time and space as real dismiss things such as:  God, Plutonic forms, numbers, and the like.

The second component to the ontology of Scientific Naturalism is that within the physical world, everything that exists within the physical world is physical, or at the very least is dependent on the physical.  So that means that everything that exists can be described by chemistry and physics.  Therefore, it would follow that we humans have a brain but not a soul.  Animals and humans are hence reduced to their brains and central nervous systems.

The Scientific Naturalist would also hold that consciousness is merely brain states occurring within a person or animal’s brain.  To be more precise, the feeling of love is simply an electrochemical activity in the brain.

So, here’s the picture:  The physical world is all there is.  There’s nothing outside of the physical universe, and in fact everything within the universe is physical.

Now, where does this idea come from?  It comes from the Scientific Naturalist epistemology.  Or, to put is more simply, the Naturalist view of what is real comes from the Naturalist’s theory of knowledge.  You see, epistemology refers to the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as “theory of knowledge”.

And, like their ontology, there are also two components to the Scientific Naturalist’s epistemology:  Empiricism and Scientism.

Empiricism is the idea that only what can be tested with the five senses can be known.  When we consider this component more carefully, we would be able to know if someone has a brain, but not if they have a mind in addition to their brain, since the mind cannot be observed or tested with the five senses.  Therefore, the Scientific Naturalist rules out the existence of the human mind.  Likewise, demons do not exist since they (allegedly) cannot be seen, tasted, heard, felt, or smelt.  God and moral values are also ruled out since only what you can observe with the five senses can be known.

This has led to a more sophisticated version called Scientism.  Scientism is the idea that only what you can test and measure scientifically can be known.

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