If I Were a Naturalist….

Recently I posted a three part series about the Christian worldview. I asserted that it is a much neglected worldview–both among Christians and non-Christians. I also said that public schools in America tend to secularize students by allowing many other worldviews, quasi-religious as they are, privileged status over against the Christian worldview. I argued that many Christians in the natural sciences live by two worldviews that are incommensurable with each other: the Christian one and a naturalistic one. I did not mention that “methodological naturalism” is, in my opinion, good and necessary in science laboratories. But that is different from believing in naturalism–that nature is all there is.

Something in my musings about all this brought some people here to debate with me. They claim the naturalistic worldview is the only one compatible with modern science, empiricism and reason. And that it has all the resources we humans need including a firm basis for ethics.

I can’t disprove naturalism and won’t even try. What I can do is point out problems in it and explain why I could never be a naturalist in the worldview sense of the word. (“Naturalism” can also, of course, mean study of nature or love of nature.)

Please forgive me if what I am about to say sounds prideful and self-promoting. I have many weaknesses, but one of my strengths, that can often be a burden, is ability to see the logical outcome of ideas. Sometimes I regard it as a gift; at other times it is almost a curse. Other people seem to be able to accept ideas, messages, proposals as they are without immediately seeing where they will lead if pressed to their logical conclusions. My gift/curse is that I look at an idea, message, proposal and immediately see not only it but its logical outcome–where it will inevitably and inexorably lead if taken to its logical conclusion.

That is, of course, a major reason and explanation for why I so adamantly oppose Calvinism. I know many Calvinists who do not embrace its logical conclusions. One of my seminary professors once said to me “Roger, you shouldn’t press everything to its logical conclusion.” He was a “moderate Calvinist” and could not defeat my logical arguments about where even that would lead if pressed to its logical conclusion. (He believed in “single predestination” and denied “double predestination.”) But he did not think it appropriate to always look to an idea’s logical conclusion as part of evaluating it. I did and I still do.

I don’t find this habit to be optional; for me it is automatic and essential. It just happens. I look at an idea and, without even wanting to, see its logical outcome. And I have great difficulty separating the idea from its logical outcome. (Now, please don’t think I’m claiming some kind of infallibility! I have been wrong about the logical outcome and changed my mind or suspended judgment as a result of dialogue and debate or just further study. I am not claiming to have a super-power! I’m just explaining that logically analyzing ideas is such an ingrained habit that I now find it nearly impossible to suspend.)

I think this explains much of the tension that occurs between defenders of Calvinism and me. I cannot just accept a paradox; I have to try to resolve it. For me a paradox is always a task, not a comfortable resting place. That is not to say I can resolve all paradoxes; it’s only to say I find all paradoxes to be challenges to further inquiry

So what does all this have to do with naturalism? First, let me explain clearly what I understand naturalism to be. In this sense, naturalism is a worldview that “sees” reality “as” a closed network of mathematically describable causes and effects such that every entity and event is in principle explainable by the natural sciences. In other words, nature as understood by modern science, is all there is. Not that modern science currently understands all of nature. Only that “reality” does not include anything above or within nature that is not ruled by natural laws that are in principle (not yet in fact) discoverable and exhaustively describable by modern science.

Of course, not everyone who claims to embrace a naturalist worldview agrees with all of that; that is simply how I understand the worldview I call “naturalism.” And I think any deviation from it tends to make the worldview less “naturalistic” and opens the door to something transcendent to nature and even possibly supernatural.

One way of examining a worldview is to imagine oneself as believing it, then imagine oneself being absolutely logical about it, taking the worldview to its logical conclusion, and see where it leads. What ELSE would I have to believe if I adopted naturalism as my worldview?

I am NOT saying: This is what all naturalists believe. I AM saying: This is what I would have to believe if I were a naturalist.

First, I would believe that life is purely accidental and therefore devoid of any transcendent purpose or meaning. It’s only meaning would be what I invested in it; it’s only purpose would be what I purposed.

Second, I would believe that what I believe is determined by natural forces and therefore is not a matter of truth. Ideas would only be chemical interactions in brains and therefore not of any importance except with regard to how they function–to promote my personal happiness or not.

Third, I would believe that survival of the fittest is the most basic law of nature and that helping the weak only serves to corrupt the gene pool. I might have compassion and empathy for those in my tribe, but I would not see any reason to have compassion or empathy on those outside my tribe without any connection to myself.

Fourth, I would believe that my own happiness is the standard of my behavior. I would see no reason for genuine altruism. If I chose to be altruistic it would be because it makes me happy.

Fifth, I would resist moral outrage as a waste of energy. I would embrace anger instead of moral indignation and outrage and realize that when people do things I think are bad it only means I don’t like what they do.

Sixth, I would embrace nihilism as the only logical view of reality consistent with my naturalism.

Seventh, I would try to live “the good life,” whatever I might decide that to be, but I would realize that it doesn’t really matter if I life a totally self-centered life even at others’ expense so long as I am not thereby disadvantaged.

Eighth, I would regard humanism as a form of specieism and completely unwarranted. I would probably live with the illusion that human beings, especially I, are/am higher and better than animals because it would be advantageous.

This is what I would believe if I embraced a naturalistic worldview devoid of anything transcendent. When I meet a naturalist who DOESN’T believe these things I believe he or she is simply being inconsistent.


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