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How naturalism morphed into a state religion

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state religion
BriYYZ from Toronto, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
From Denyse O’Leary (O’Leary for News) at Evolution News & Views:

State religion? You, reader, object (of course): That scenario is not plausible! The theories are not believable!

No? In the 20th century, Marxist economic theories became a state religion. These theories were propounded and enforced for decades, and dissenters were punished, despite the fact that mass starvation was a common outcome. Hunger was predictable, predicted, and widely known. Thinkers naturally assumed that evidence and reason would prevail over enforcement and dogma. But when evidence is rejected, reason has little to work with. Eventually, reason does prevail but much else prevails meanwhile. And in that particular case, great scientists such as Einstein, Godel, and Lakatos were surprisingly complicit, knowingly or otherwise.

Admittedly, naturalism differs from most religions in its disdain for evidence in principle. As astrophysicist Ethan Siegel puts the matter at Forbes, the multiverse, for which no evidence may be possible, may be “the first physically motivated ‘metaphysics’ we’ve ever encountered.” By contrast, most religions have been established and defended on the basis of evidence. The evidence is often rejected by others or, at any rate, not considered decisive, but few have thought that they did not need any evidence.

Can naturalism reject all need for evidence or reason and still thrive as a state religion? If history can repeat itself, let’s keep an eye on some straws in the wind. We can see if any large number of them are blowing in any one direction and if their numbers increase over time.

One direction is scientism, the view that science (applied naturalism) should decide any question whatever. A recent incident in Canada, noted here by biophysicist Kirk Durston, is suggestive. Astronaut Julie Payette, a Canadian appointed as governor-general, chose a science policy convention earlier this month to ridicule those who doubt that life arose as a random process: “And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.” While Conservative opposition figures demurred, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised her performance, making clear that a person whose job is to foster national unity should ridicule non-naturalist views. Tellingly, Durston writes, Payette and Trudeau display these attitudes at a time when corruption “has reached crises proportions in certain areas of science itself, with a special nod to the biological sciences.” But then naturalist doctrines increasingly discount evidence in favor of support for naturalism. More.

See also: How naturalism rots science from the head down

The Big Bang: Put simply,the facts are wrong.

What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

Cosmology is naturalism’s playground. But does the fun mask a science decline?

Post-modern physics: String theory gets over the need for evidence

Cosmic inflation theory loses hangups about the scientific method

The multiverse is science’s assisted suicide

Question for multiverse theorists: To what can science appeal, if not evidence?

Post-modern science: The illusion of consciousness sees through itself

Nature, as defined today, cannot be all there is. Science demonstrates that.

Can science survive long in a post-modern world? It’s not clear.

3 Replies to “How naturalism morphed into a state religion

  1. 1
    EDTA says:

    Yaneer Bar-Yam, cited here before, developed a complexity metric that demonstrates why centralized governments such as the Soviet Union will always be less effecient and capable compared with capitalist systems, and why our system is growing less efficient and capable of addressing problems as it grows, too:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262395501_Multiscale_variety_in_complex_systems_Research_Articles

    http://www.necsi.edu/projects/.....ation.html

    Interestingly, his approach is also applicable to more general systems, including living ones, where it captures the notion of complexity better than Shannon entropy. (Bar-Yam’s is multi-dimensional, rather than one-dimensional.)

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    If naturalism is held to be a religion, is that meant as a compliment or a criticism?

    The communist regimes elevated Marxist ideology to the level of a quasi-religion but they were incidentally naturalistic rather than worshiping Nature. Undoubtedly, they were responsible for the deaths of millions through purges, forced relocations and doctrinaire mismanagement of the economy and agriculture. On the other hand, it is instructive to note in WWII they were able to produce guns, tanks and aircraft in greater numbers than the Allies and, in some cases, better designs.

    Admittedly, naturalism differs from most religions in its disdain for evidence in principle. As astrophysicist Ethan Siegel puts the matter at Forbes, the multiverse, for which no evidence may be possible, may be “the first physically motivated ‘metaphysics’ we’ve ever encountered.” By contrast, most religions have been established and defended on the basis of evidence. The evidence is often rejected by others or, at any rate, not considered decisive, but few have thought that they did not need any evidence.

    Really? Faith is often defined as belief held in the absence of evidence or even in the face of contradictory evidence and faith in that sense is held up as a virtue in the Bible, if I remember correctly.

    As for evidentiary support for religions, it ranges from flimsy at best to non-existent. If there is one true god and one true faith then all the rest must be false and if there were significant evidence it would be reasonable to expect it to show which is the true one. But that’s not the case. The problem is that ‘evidence’ which satisfies the faithful may not be so credible to non-believers.

    Can naturalism reject all need for evidence or reason and still thrive as a state religion? If history can repeat itself, let’s keep an eye on some straws in the wind. We can see if any large number of them are blowing in any one direction and if their numbers increase over time.

    Naturalism, inasmuch as it can be defined, is the philosophical stance that the natural world is all there is, that everything we observe actually or even in principle can be explained in naturalistic terms, or, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for “naturalism” puts it:

    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).

    So understood, “naturalism” is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject “supernatural” entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the “human spirit”.

    If you want to call that a religion you can but it does not seem to be the same as what are accepted as conventional religions.

  3. 3
    ET says:

    Naturalism is a false religion. It is a religion because it is based totally on faith as there isn’t any supporting evidence. Father time and Mother nature are worshipped as they have provided us and what we need.

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