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(Inevitably) The Center for Naturalism strikes me as laughable

April 7th, 2005 | 3 min read

By Tex

Thanks to William Dembski's link, I began reading through the official website for the Center for Naturalism and found myself laughing hysterically. It really couldn't be helped. I mean, it really couldn't; it was merely a product of my biological and sociological makeup. Perhaps if you have a conducive set of genes and the proper social conditioning, you too may find yourself clicking on this link, reading the material, and laughing hysterically. If that happens, it may, along with a host of previous experiences, lead you back to this blog to post some of your own comments. My neural transmitters and hormones would be just tickled if that happened to be the case.

. . . or perhaps the reason I was laughing was because of the incongruity of the definition of naturalism and the social agenda of these people. I'm sure I will be castigated as another foolish contra-causal free will proponent for saying this, but I really don't understand why naturalists are so bound and determined (sorry, bad pun) to convince others of the superiority of their position and to make converts to it. Wildly, they hope to do even more than this; they hope to influence politics, laws, and the economy so as to make our nation and world a more positive place. I don't understand what it is that motivates them to so strongly revolt against the status quo and try to introduce change. And who is to say that this change is positive or negative? Under the naturalistic rubric, isn't it just change? Any categories we assign to it are completely determined by our social conditioning and biology and not by any value inherent to the change itself. Whence cometh this motivation, this desire, this will to change and improve things? If it only comes from past experiences plus biological makeup, there is no ground for urging it on others, trying to force certain perceived positive experiences on others, or for doing anything at all. It just happens, I suppose.

Flanagan, Dennett, and other proponents of this Center claim that naturalism has the positive (there's that word again) effects of leading to an ethics of compassion and giving us more control over ourselves and situations. I find this ludicrous. If naturalism leads to anything, it leads to more nature. Aside from being cute, I mean that it really leads nowhere. They claim that when I am confronted with a homeless, destitute person my naturalist response would be, "there but for circumstances go I", and then make the radical leap that I will go on to conclude, "therefore, I ought to help him out and share my positive circumstances with him," rather than concluding, "well, I will keep all my positive circumstances to myself and exploit my good fortune as much as possible." I suppose, to be really consistent, they should recognize that some people will be conditioned to respond with compassion, others with more selfishness, and others with anything in between. As far as asking which response is better, don't bother; it probably depends on what you ate for breakfast.

And control of our situation? Understanding how we are caused to behave will give us no more control over how we behave unless we had the ability to control our behavior in the first place. Understanding how one flies an airplane gives a quadrapalegic no more control over the airplane than before he acquired that understanding. He's still just along for the ride.

Finally, the definition of science they offer is supportive of naturalism only if one takes it to mean natural science or, science from a naturalistic perspective. If science is the study of all that is, then yes, it tends to unify our view of what exists and the connections between them. To say that a scientific worldview precludes knowledge of the non-physical, or the supernatural for that matter (which may be something different), one has begun his scientific exploration with a very weighty philosophical presupposition indeed. This presupposition limits science, not by science itself, but by other philosophical considerations that surely shouldn't be allowed to be passed off so easily on the basis of scientific knowing.