• What’s the problem with naturalism?

    I mean it. I’m really asking what the problem with naturalism is.

    On the surface naturalism seems straightforward. It’s a materialist view that asserts the natural world is all there is. It could be conceived as a polemical stance against the existence of gods, sprites, demons, and magic. In the end, however, it boils down to a variation of WYSIWYG: what we see is what we get. There’s natural stuff, and physical laws, and everything that concerns us boils down to these two.

    Yet some talk as though naturalism is not only wrong or problematic, but that it’s essentially been shown incoherent and it’s a gateway worldview to utter despair and global political tyranny.

    I won’t unpack all of these assertions and accusations, but I want to point to one. In his pouting about the AHA’s “Kids Without God” website (which is really none of his business anyway) apologist/debater William Lane Craig talks as if naturalism makes no sense. As I had quoted Craig:

    Moreover, naturalism faces severe problems of its own. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued persuasively that naturalism cannot even be rationally affirmed. For if naturalism was true, the probability that our cognitive faculties would be reliable is pretty low. For those faculties have been shaped by a process of natural selection which does not select for truth but merely for survival. There are many ways in which an organism could survive without its beliefs’ being true. Hence, if naturalism were true, we could not have any confidence that our beliefs are true, including the belief in naturalism itself! Thus, naturalism seems to have a built-in defeater that renders it incapable of being rationally affirmed.

    This “severe problem” seems a trifle and perhaps beside the point. First of all, naturalism is affirmed  by reason and also by empirical data and method. The basis for naturalism extends beyond a series of premises and conclusions that exist only in a philosophical treatise. Second, whether naturalism can be rationally affirmed hardly seems relevant; what’s important about naturalism is its empirical basis. We have empirical basis for naturalism. Do proponents of opposing views have empirical underpinnings for their views? Again, I mean it: what is the data in support of these non-naturalist views?

    Third, maybe I’m reading into Craig’s remarks but it sure seems like he’s evaluating naturalism based on his desire that a different model be true. In other words, he comes across to me as emotionally invested in a viewpoint besides naturalism.

    So, I wonder if there’s more to the critique of naturalism than I know. Anyone have solid arguments that are part of this critique?



    Category: Uncategorized


    Article by: Larry Tanner