What is naturalism? (And why do some speak in terms of evolutionary materialistic scientism?)
While everything touched on by philosophy is of course open to disagreements and seemingly endless debate, we can find a good enough point of reference through AmHD:
3. Philosophy The system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.
4. Theology The doctrine that all religious truths are derived from nature and natural causes and not from revelation.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests:
The term “naturalism” has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. The self-proclaimed “naturalists” from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing “supernatural”, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the “human spirit” (Krikorian 1944, Kim 2003) . . . . Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand “naturalism” in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as “naturalists”, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for “naturalism” higher.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy comments:
Naturalism is an approach to philosophical problems that interprets them as tractable through the methods of the empirical sciences or at least, without a distinctively a priori project of theorizing. For much of the history of philosophy it has been widely held that philosophy involved a distinctive method, and could achieve knowledge distinct from that attained by the special sciences. Thus, metaphysics and epistemology have often jointly occupied a position of “first philosophy,” laying the necessary grounds for the understanding of reality and the justification of knowledge claims. Naturalism rejects philosophy’s claim to that special status. Whether in epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or other areas, naturalism seeks to show that philosophical problems as traditionally conceived are ill-formulated and can be solved or displaced by appropriately naturalistic methods. Naturalism often assigns a key role to the methods and results of the empirical sciences, and sometimes aspires to reductionism and physicalism.
Then, there is Wikipedia, speaking of its own core tendencies:
In philosophy, naturalism is the idea or belief that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe.
<<Naturalism is not so much a special system as a point of view or tendency common to a number of philosophical and religious systems; not so much a well-defined set of positive and negative doctrines as an attitude or spirit pervading and influencing many doctrines. As the name implies, this tendency consists essentially in looking upon nature as the one original and fundamental source of all that exists, and in attempting to explain everything in terms of nature. Either the limits of nature are also the limits of existing reality, or at least the first cause, if its existence is found necessary, has nothing to do with the working of natural agencies. All events, therefore, find their adequate explanation within nature itself. But, as the terms nature and natural are themselves used in more than one sense, the term naturalism is also far from having one fixed meaning. — Dubray 1911>>
According to philosopher Steven Lockwood, naturalism can be separated into an ontological sense and a methodological sense. “Ontological” refers to ontology, the philosophical study of what exists. On an ontological level, philosophers often treat naturalism as equivalent to materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no “purpose” in nature. This stronger formulation of naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism. On the other hand, the more moderate view that naturalism should be assumed in one’s working methods as the current paradigm, without any further consideration of whether naturalism is true in the robust metaphysical sense, is called methodological naturalism. With the exception of pantheists—who believe that Nature is identical with divinity while not recognizing a distinct personal anthropomorphic god—theists challenge the idea that nature contains all of reality.
So, already, we can see why it is quite reasonable to speak of “evolutionary materialistic scientism,” as that explicitly summarises a relevant, even dominant, form of naturalism commonly seen on the ground, especially in scientific and policy contexts.
Namely, following AmHD, the scheme of thought or view that “all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.” That is, evolutionary materialism from hydrogen to humans, and scientism that reduces knowledge and know-ability to scientific approaches shaped by this a priori such that science as conceived monopolises or even dominates what can be called knowledge. Much as Lewontin, the US National Science Teachers, Martin Mahner, Monod and others have variously said.
Lewontin’s well-known phrase is that Science is “the only begetter of truth.”
Manifestly, such a claim fails.
First, the scientism is self refuting, self referentially incoherent (and depends on its institutionalised power to get us to lock out other perfectly valid approaches to warrant that substantiates knowledge . . . with, of course, the first duties of reasoning lurking out of the fog).
Of course, some here may appeal to an older sense of “Science,” meaning, systematic study on reasonable and responsible principles leading to an agreed body of discussion and knowledge with best practices, i.e. a discipline. In this older sense, Theology had reason to claim to be Queen of the Sciences, especially as she embraced a good slice of philosophy. If you are unwilling to acknowledge Theology and Philosophy or Ethics as sciences, then you cannot appeal to that older sense of science. And if one insists on science as pivoting on empirical observation and linked explanatory theorising (especially when mathematical analysis can be applied), then a core part of doing science is not science, Mathematics, the study of the logic of structure and quantity . . . applied and extended logic of being.
That’s before one recognises that the claim Science monopolises or so dominates knowledge that once it steps in, all else is silenced, is not a scientific claim. It is a proposed thesis of epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, warrant and related matters. That is, scientism is self referentially incoherent and absurd.
Once these points are realised, the idea that we may freely impose so-called methodological naturalism without having smuggled in metaphysical naturalism, collapses. Instead, we must open ourselves instead to any valid approach to learning and warranting what we may learn; and in that context, the legitimacy of philosophy, logic of being [i.e. ontology], wider metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics and even aesthetics is obvious. So is the credibility of historical and forensic or common sense knowledge, and so are many other approaches to knowledge that can meet the duties to truth, right reason, warrant and wider prudence.
Indeed, we may make a minimal algebraic analysis, regarding any distinctly identifiable field of study amenable to careful reasoned discussion:
The truth claim, “there are no [generally knowable] objective truths regarding any matter,” roughly equivalent to, “knowledge is inescapably only subjective,” is an error. Which, happily, can be recognised and corrected.
Often, such error is presented and made to seem plausible through the diversity of opinions assertion, with implication that none have or are in a position to have a generally warranted, objective conclusion. This, in extreme form, is a key thesis of the nihilism that haunts our civilisation, which we must detect, expose to the light of day, correct and dispel, in defence of civilisation and human dignity. (NB: Sometimes the blind men and the elephant fable is used to make it seem plausible, overlooking the narrator’s implicit claim to objectivity.)
Now, to set things aright, let’s symbolise: ~[O*G] with * as AND. It intends to describe not mere opinion but warranted, credible truth about knowledge in general.
~[O*G] = 1 . . .
is self referential as it is clearly about subject matter G, and is intended to be a well warranted objectively true claim.
But it is itself therefore a truth claim about knowledge in general intended to be taken as objectively true, which is what it tries to deny as a possibility.
So, it is self contradictory and necessarily false:
PHASE I: Let a proposition be represented by x G = x is a proposition asserting that some state of affairs regarding some matter in general including history, science, the secrets of our hearts, morality etc, is the case O = x is objective and knowable, being adequately warranted as credibly true}
PHASE II: It is claimed, S= ~[O*G] = 1, 1 meaning true
However, the subject of S is G, it therefore claims to be objectively true, O and is about G
where it forbids O-status to any claim of type G
so, ~[O*G] cannot be true per self referential incoherence
PHASE III: The Algebra, translating from S: ~[O*G] = 0 [as self referential and incoherent cf above] ~[~[O*G]] = 1 [the negation is therefore true]
CONCLUSION I: O*G = 1 [condensing not of not] where, G [general truth claim including moral ones of course]
So too, O [if an AND is true, each sub proposition is separately true]
CONCLUSION II: That is, there are objective truths for any distinctly identifiable topic of study; and a first, self evident one is that ~[O*G] is false, ~[O*G] = 0. The set of knowable objective truths in general — and embracing those that happen to be about states of affairs in regard to right conduct etc — is non empty, it is not vacuous and we cannot play empty set square of opposition games with it.
Also, there are many particular objective general and moral truths that are adequately warranted to be regarded as reliable. Try, Napoleon was once a European monarch and would be conqueror. Try, Jesus of Nazareth is a figure of history. Try, it is wrong to torture babies for fun, and more.
Ours is a needlessly confused age
The scientism part has failed.
So does the evolutionary materialism part (once we realise that to do science we must be rationally, responsibly free and this cannot be reduced to computation on a blindly mechanical substrate), as for example J B S Haldane long since pointed out. Let us — yes again — cite him, reframing in terms of laid out propositions:
“It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For
[p:] my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain
[–> taking in DNA, epigenetics and matters of computer organisation, programming and dynamic-stochastic processes; notice, “my brain,” i.e. self referential]
[q:] I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true.
[–> indeed, blindly mechanical computation is not in itself a rational process, the only rationality is the canned rationality of the programmer, where survival-filtered lucky noise is not a credible programmer, note the functionally specific, highly complex organised information rich code and algorithms in D/RNA, i.e. language and goal directed stepwise process . . . an observationally validated adequate source for such is _____ ?]
[Corollary 1:] They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically.
[Corollary 2:] I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. [–> grand, self-referential delusion, utterly absurd self-falsifying incoherence]
[Implied, Corollary 3: Reason and rationality collapse in a grand delusion, including of course general, philosophical, logical, ontological and moral knowledge; reductio ad absurdum, a FAILED, and FALSE, intellectually futile and bankrupt, ruinously absurd system of thought.]
In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays , Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. Cf. here on (and esp here) on the self-refutation by self-falsifying self referential incoherence and on linked amorality.]
Re-conceive us as oracle machines, where the in the cybernetic loop neural network processors are also interacting with a supervisory oracle, and we arrive at Eng Derek Smith’s sort of vision:
Notice, this is not a low level analysis of say an insect, the point is that we can see a supervisor, interacting through say quantum influences, with not instinct but rational, responsible wisdom. True freedom of the rational soul is back on the table, whatever the likes of a Provine may imagine, by suggesting that “human free will is nonexistent . . . . humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will.”
So, are you sufficiently responsibly and rationally free to make a rational objection, pivoting on first principles and duties of reason? If so, evolutionary materialistic scientism is dead; if not, then what may be chemically sound as a matter of cause effect chains in your brain, has no framework to claim more than being a product of GIGO limited computation. So, it has no power to properly claim warrant on ground-consequent relations or inference to best explanation etc.
Naturalism, as commonly proposed, fails. END