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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Tex

4 Comments

  1. I sent the link to Joe Carter at evangelicaloutpost. He’s going to do a round-up of posts on the center this weekend.

    Fun thoughts, tex. We miss that snarky attitude of yours out here in Cali…..

    Reply

  2. Matt/Tex,

    Glad you found some amusement over at Naturalism.Org.

    Re science, you wrote that “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.”

    I respond to this concern in some detail at http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm, have a look at your lesiure. The basic point is that no, science doesn’t presume naturalism or make any other philosophical commitment. Many of those in the Wedge movement (Philip Johnson, Dembski, John Calvin, etc) often claim that science as it’s taught in public schools is biased toward naturalism and so needs balancing by the introduction of supernaturalist causes/hypotheses. But since science is philosophyically neutral, it doesn’t need such balancing.

    best,

    Tom Clark
    Center for Naturalism
    http://www.naturalism.org

    Reply

  3. While I agree with some of what you have said, and I too am shocked by what they claim I think the entertainment factor is a bit ill mannered. I too have posted on this and need to read Tom’s article in light of his post here. Check out my post and tell me what you think (www.afterprogress.blogspot.com. Am I too modest in my claims? I think Tom’s response was gracious and his attention a complement. Be encouraged friends.

    Reply

  4. Tom,

    In Tex’s words, thanks for tickling our neural transmitters and joining our quiet corner of the blogosphere.

    I’ll not answer for Tex, but it seems the real problem is not so much that whether science presumes naturalism, but really whether science is the only means to knowledge of the real world (all that exists). You write in your essay,

    “Rather, [science] constructs our conception of nature by virtue of its explanatory success, expanding the domain of our reliable understanding of the world. And science can consider any candidate hypothesis tendered for evaluation, natural or supernatural, as long as it has at least some content amenable to potential observation or experiment (if it doesn’t, then it can’t be evaluated). As skeptic Michael Shermer put it on a PBS TV special on The Question of God, “the existence of god is an empirical question.” If you can sufficiently specify your god, we can scientifically test for it. If you can’t, then do you really know what you believe in?”

    Well, yes, I really do know what I believe in because, frankly, I find your reasons for sticking with science alone wholly unpersuasive. Empiricism has a difficult time account for mathematical knowledge and anything that can be logically deduced from premises. If it follows necessarily from true premises, then it’s necessarily true–even if the premises are grounded empirically, the laws of logic certainly aren’t. If science tells us “what is,” then how can it ground non-physical laws of logic? How do we know them if they aren’t subject to empirical investigation? Mathematical entities also seem to fit in this category, as does consciousness.

    Yet this leads to an in-principle limit to what science can explain. Here’s my question: if there are entities that are non-physical, then can I use them as explanations for physical phenomena and still have that explanation be considered scientific? Why not?

    Oh, and we do hope that the Naturalism center continues to interact with it’s audience.

    Oh, and Mr. Clark, you listed John Calvin as a member of the wedge movement–is there an actual John Calvin who is a member of the wedge? I presume you’re not referring to the 16th century Protestant theologian. He most definitely was not a part of the Wedge.

    –Jay,
    I doubt Tom and the Center for Naturalism are so worried about their position that their offended by a light-hearted criticism of their position. We’ve got nothing against the Center for Naturalism nor it’s participants–if they want to discuss positions, they’re more than welcome! Posts containing similar light-hearted jabs are more than welcome, provided they are accompanied by the same spirit of inquiry constantly manifested on this blog and by the rigorous argumentation we strive for.

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.