Naturalism (philosophy)


Naturalism (philosophy)

Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know.[1] Followers of naturalism (naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the universe is a product of these laws and that the goal of science is to discover and publish them systematically.

Note that the term "naturalist" is also used to describe a person involved with the scientific study of (or education about) nature and the natural world (particularly fields of botany and zoology), as distinct from someone holding any specific philosophical position. In this sense "naturalist" and "ecologist" may often be synonymous.

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 sense of naturalism is usually referred to as metaphysical naturalism or philosophical naturalism.[2]

Theists challenge the idea that nature is all there is. They believe in a god (or gods) that created nature. Natural laws have a place in their theology; they describe the effects of so-called secondary causes (see History section, below). But, natural laws do not define nor limit the deity(ies), who is the primary cause.

In the 20th century, W.V. Quine, George Santayana, and other philosophers argued that the success of naturalism in science meant that scientific methods should also be used in philosophy. Science and philosophy are said to form a continuum, according to this view.

Contents

History

The ideas and assumptions of philosophical naturalism were first seen in the works of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers. One such was Thales, considered to be the father of science, as he was the first to give explanations of natural events without the use of supernatural causes. These early philosophers subscribed to principles of empirical investigation that strikingly anticipate naturalism.[3]

The modern emphasis in methodological naturalism primarily originated in the ideas of medieval scholastic thinkers during the Renaissance of the 12th century:

By the late Middle Ages the search for natural causes had come to typify the work of Christian natural philosophers. Although characteristically leaving the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for soft-minded contemporaries who invoked miracles rather than searching for natural explanations. The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), described as "perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages," contrasted the philosopher’s search for "appropriate natural causes" with the common folk’s habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural. In the fourteenth century the natural philosopher Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320–82), who went on to become a Roman Catholic bishop, admonished that, in discussing various marvels of nature, "there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we believe are well known to us."
Enthusiasm for the naturalistic study of nature picked up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as more and more Christians turned their attention to discovering the so-called secondary causes that God employed in operating the world. The Italian Catholic Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), one of the foremost promoters of the new philosophy, insisted that nature "never violates the terms of the laws imposed upon her." [4]

During the Enlightenment, a number of philosophers including Francis Bacon and Voltaire outlined the philosophical justifications for removing appeal to supernatural forces from investigation of the natural world. Subsequent scientific revolutions would offer modes of explanation not inherently theistic for biology, geology, physics, and other natural sciences.

Pierre Simon de Laplace, when asked about the lack of mention of God in his work on celestial mechanics, is said to have replied, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

The current usage of the term naturalism "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." For them nature was the only reality. There was no such thing as 'supernatural'. The scientific method to be used to investigate all reality, including the human spirit.[5]

The term "methodological naturalism" for this approach is much more recent. According to Ronald Numbers, it was coined in 1983 by Paul de Vries, a Wheaton College philosopher. De Vries distinguished between what he called "methodological naturalism," a disciplinary method that says nothing about God's existence, and "metaphysical naturalism," which "denies the existence of a transcendent God."[6] The term "methodological naturalism" had been used in 1937 by Edgar S. Brightman in an article in The Philosophical Review as a contrast to "naturalism" in general, but there the idea was not really developed to its more recent distinctions.[7]

In a series of articles and books from 1996 onwards, Robert T. Pennock wrote using the term methodological naturalism to clarify that the scientific method confines itself to natural explanations without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and is not based on dogmatic metaphysical naturalism as claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design, in particular Phillip E. Johnson. Pennock's testimony as an expert witness[8] at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial was cited by the Judge in his Memorandum Opinion concluding that "Methodological naturalism is a "ground rule" of science today"[9]

Metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism, also called "ontological naturalism" and "philosophical naturalism", is a philosophical worldview and belief system that holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences, i.e., those required to understand our physical environment by mathematical modeling. Methodological naturalism, on the other hand, refers exclusively to the methodology of science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation.

Metaphysical naturalism holds that all properties related to consciousness and the mind are reducible to, or supervene upon, nature. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious naturalism or spiritual naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

Methodological naturalism

Methodological naturalism is concerned not with claims about what exists but with methods of learning what is nature. It is strictly the idea that all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. The genesis of nature, e.g., by an act of God, is not addressed. This second sense of naturalism seeks only to provide a framework within which to conduct the scientific study of the laws of nature. Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge. It is a distinct system of thought concerned with a cognitive approach to reality, and is thus a philosophy of knowledge. Studies by sociologist Elaine Ecklund suggest that religious scientists do in fact apply methodological naturalism. They report that their religious beliefs affect the way they think about the implications, often moral, of their work, but not the way they practice science.[10][11]

"Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.... While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science." Methodological naturalism is thus "a self-imposed convention of science." It is a "ground rule" that "requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify."[12]

Philosophers on methodological naturalism

Robert T. Pennock

Robert T. Pennock contends[13] that as supernatural agents and powers "are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers" and "are not constrained by natural laws", only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do, and "If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural". As the supernatural is necessarily a mystery to us, it can provide no grounds on which to judge scientific models. "Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables.... But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces." Allowing science to appeal to untestable supernatural powers would make the scientist's task meaningless (Science does not deal with meanings; and the scientist's task is meaningless; the closed system of scientific reasoning cannot be used to define itself) undermining the discipline that allows science to make progress, and "would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament."

Naturalism of this sort says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural which by this definition is beyond natural testing. Other philosophers of science hold that some supernatural explanations might be testable in principle, but are so unlikely, given past results, that resources should not be wasted exploring them. Either way, their rejection is only a practical matter, so it is possible to be a methodological naturalist and an ontological supernaturalist at the same time. For example, while natural scientists follow methodological naturalism in their scientific work, they may also believe in God (ontological supernaturalism), or they may be metaphysical naturalists and therefore atheists. This position does not preclude knowledge that derives from the study of what is hitherto considered supernatural, but considers that if such a phenomenon can be scientifically examined and explained naturally, it, then, by definition, ceases to be supernatural.

Alvin Plantinga

Contemporary Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued that evolutionary naturalism is incoherent. In Science and Theology News,[14] he attacks the conclusions of the Kitzmiller trial and suggests that the term "science" denotes any activity that is:

  1. a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out truth about our world, and
  2. has significant empirical involvement.

Any activity that meets these conditions counts as science. He concludes "if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused – as most of the world's people believe – you won't be able to reach that truth scientifically."

W. V. Quine

W. V. Quine describes naturalism as the position that there is no higher tribunal for truth than natural science itself. There is no better method than the scientific method for judging the claims of science, and there is neither any need nor any place for a "first philosophy", such as (abstract) metaphysics or epistemology, that could stand behind and justify science or the scientific method.

Therefore, philosophy should feel free to make use of the findings of scientists in its own pursuit, while also feeling free to offer criticism when those claims are ungrounded, confused, or inconsistent. In this way philosophy becomes "continuous with" science. Naturalism is not a dogmatic belief that the modern view of science is entirely correct. Instead, it simply holds that science is the best way to explore the processes of the universe and that those processes are what modern science is striving to understand. However, this Quinean Replacement Naturalism finds relatively few supporters among philosophers.[15]

Karl Popper

Karl Popper equated naturalism with inductive theory of science. He rejected it based on his general critique of induction (see problem of induction), yet acknowledged its utility as means for inventing conjectures.

A naturalistic methodology (sometimes called an "inductive theory of science") has its value, no doubt.... I reject the naturalistic view: It is uncritical. Its upholders fail to notice that whenever they believe to have discovered a fact, they have only proposed a convention. Hence the convention is liable to turn into a dogma. This criticism of the naturalistic view applies not only to its criterion of meaning, but also to its idea of science, and consequently to its idea of empirical method.

Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (Routledge, 2002), pp. 52–53, ISBN 0-415-27844-9.

Popper instead proposed that science should adopt a methodology based on falsifiability for demarcation, because no number of experiments can ever prove a theory, but a single experiment can contradict one. Popper holds that empirical theories are characterized by falsifiability.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary Online naturalism Subscription needed, possibly via a library.
  2. ^ Paul Kurtz, Darwin Re-Crucified Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism? Free Inquiry(Spring 1998), 17
  3. ^ Jonathan Barnes's introduction to Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin)
  4. ^ Ronald L. Numbers (2003). "Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs." In: When Science and Christianity Meet, edited by David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, p. 267.
  5. ^ Papineau, David "Naturalism", in "The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
  6. ^ Nick Matzke: On the Origins of Methodological Naturalism. The Pandas Thumb (March 20, 2006)
  7. ^ ASA March 2006 – Re: Methodological Naturalism
  8. ^ Kitzmiller trial: testimony of Robert T. Pennock
  9. ^ Kitzmiller v. Dover: Whether ID is Science
  10. ^ Belief Net, "What do scientists say"
  11. ^ Elaine Ecklund's book "Science versus Religion: What do scientists really think"
  12. ^ Judge John E. Jones, III Decision of the Court Expert witnesses were John F. Haught, Robert T. Pennock, and Kenneth R. Miller. Links in the original to specific testimony records have been deleted here.
  13. ^ Robert T. Pennock, Supernaturalist Explanations and the Prospects for a Theistic Science or "How do you know it was the lettuce?"
  14. ^ http://www.discovery.org/a/3331
  15. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Naturalized Epistemology

References

  • Audi, Robert (1996). "Naturalism". In Borchert, Donald M.. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement. USA: Macmillan Reference. pp. 372–374. 
  • Danto, Arthur C. (1967). "Naturalism". In Edwords, Paul. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: The Macmillan Co. and The Free Press. pp. 448–450. 
  • Kurtz, Paul (1990). Philosophical Essays in Pragmatic Naturalism. Prometheus Books. 
  • Lacey, Alan R. (1995). "Naturalism". In Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 604–606. 
  • Post, John F. (1995). "Naturalism". In Audi, Robert. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 517–518. 
  • Sagan, Carl (2002). Cosmos. Random House. ISBN 978-0375508325. 

Further reading

  • Mario De Caro and David Macarthur (eds) Naturalism in Question. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Mario De Caro and David Macarthur (eds) Naturalism and Normativity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Friedrich Albert Lange, The History of Materialism, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co Ltd, 1925, ISBN 0-415-22525-6
  • David Macarthur, “Quinean Naturalism in Question,” Philo. vol 11, no. 1 (2008).

External links

Supportive

Neutral

  • The Craig-Taylor Debate: Is The Basis Of Morality Natural Or Supernatural? William Lane Craig and Richard Taylor October 1993, Union College (Schenectady, New York)
  • Naturalism Jon Jacobs, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Critical

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