Worldview in Question: Outlining the Naturalistic Worldview

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Worldview Composition

A comprehensive and well-thought-out worldview must address twelve topics about reality, including:1

1)    Theology / Concept of God / Ultimate Reality: What kind of God, if any, actually exists?

2)    Metaphysics / External Reality: Is there anything beyond the physical cosmos?

3)    Epistemology / Knowledge: What can be known, and how can anyone know it?

4)    Ontology / Origins: Where did everything come from?

5)    Anthropology / Psychology / Humanity: Who am I? What makes me human?

6)    Location: Where am I?

7)    Axiology (Morals): How should I live?

8)    Axiology (Values): What should I consider of great worth?

9)    Predicament: What is humanity’s fundamental problem?

10)  Resolution: How can the problem be solved?

11)  History (Past & Present): What is the meaning and direction of history?

12)  Future / Destiny: Will I survive the death of my body, and if so, in what state?

 

Outlining the Naturalistic Worldview

Naturalism—as championed by scholars such as John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars—asserts that nature exhausts reality, thus precluding the existence of supernatural or metaphysical aspects of reality.2 Similarly, materialism (or physicalism) maintains that everything in existence is physical or supervenes on the physical. Accordingly, all facets of reality—including the mind, consciousness, volition, and human history—are causally dependent upon physical processes or are reducible to them.3 Accordingly, these terms (naturalism, materialism, and physicalism) are used interchangeably in articulating the view that only “natural,” “physical,” or “material” objects and processes exist. The following represents the general framework of the naturalistic worldview, which provides a suitable foundation for future analysis and worldview comparison, without exhaustively covering the individual areas of consideration.

 

Theology / Concept of God / Ultimate Reality: Naturalism is inherently atheistic, as the philosophy precludes the existence of a supernatural or nonphysical entity, thereby necessitating that all “spatiotemporal entities must be identical to or metaphysically constituted by physical entities.”4 This presupposition also excludes the existence of purposive forces (i.e., non-personal deities as found in Hinduism). Accordingly, the naturalist is quick to assume that God is merely a subjective human invention, historically employed to fill gaps in scientific understanding and offer psychological comfort.5 However, scientific and technological advancements have rendered it unnecessary to postulate that God exists.6 The renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking appropriately expresses this view by emphatically declaring, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary. The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”7

 

Metaphysics / External Reality / Ontology: Nothing exists beyond the physical cosmos, and nothing operates contrary to natural laws. As the late Carl Sagan famously remarked, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”8 While the origin of the universe is a point of contention within the scientific community, any naturalistic explanation must omit a metaphysical, personal, or purposive cause to remain consistent. Naturalistic explanations include (among others) the hypothesis of an eternal universe, the multiverse hypothesis, the ambiplasma hypothesis, and the big bang model.

 

Epistemology / Knowledge: Scientism—the philosophy that the natural sciences are the paradigm of truth and rationality—inevitably results within a naturalistic worldview. While there are varying degrees of scientism, naturalism ultimately elevates the significance of the physical sciences above all other branches of education and culture, insisting that science is the only valuable part of human learning, and empirical testability (utilizing the scientific method) is a requirement for obtaining knowledge and identifying objective truths.9

Naturalists extrapolate fundamental principles of evolutionary biology to account for the (unguided) physical process of development for every aspect of reality—including the psychological, sociological, and religious components of the human experience. For example, by applying these principles to the realm of knowledge, evolutionary epistemology seeks to explain the development of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans. “This involves a straightforward extension of the biological theory of evolution to those aspects or traits of animals which are the biological substrates of cognitive activity” (e.g., brains, sensory and motor systems).10 Similarly, this process attempts to explain the evolutionary development of “ideas, scientific theories, epistemic norms, and culture in general by using models and metaphors drawn from evolutionary biology.”11

 

Anthropology / Psychology / Humanity: The emergence of all life, including human life, is the product of a blind physical process (i.e., natural selection) and chance.12 Accordingly, humans are merely physical creatures, operating and existing under natural laws of cause-and-effect, with no objective value, purpose, design, or volition. Evolutionary psychology explains that beneficial mental and psychological characters (e.g., memory and perception) are merely environmental adaptations originating as functional products of natural selection and chance.13

 

Axiology: Relativism reigns within a naturalistic worldview, as physical processes operate via cause-and-effect relationships only, and are completely void of intentionality, volition, moral agency, or teleology. Accordingly, morals and values are merely subjective psychological illusions, which preclude any objective foundation for ethics, while negating universal application of moral principles.14 The late Dr. William Provine (who was a naturalist himself) explains that modern evolutionary biology—operating under a naturalistic model—eliminates any “ultimate foundation for ethics,” precludes an “ultimate meaning in life,” and excludes the possibility of free will.15

 

Predicament and Resolution: The presence of death, destruction, social chaos, and natural disasters in the world (i.e., moral and natural evil) are merely aspects of the natural operation of the universe and are not representative of a “predicament.” (Accordingly, there is no need for a “resolution.”) Without a design or purpose, it is complete nonsense to assert that the universe is not operating correctly or optimally—it simply operates as it does. In this regard, the universe functions as it should and any notion to the contrary is merely a psychological illusion.16 As Richard Dawkins explains, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”17

 

Destiny: All living organisms will eventually die, and since they possess no metaphysical properties, no aspect will survive death (i.e., there is no “afterlife”). Moreover, modern cosmology suggests the universe is finite and will eventually end.18

 

History (Past, Present, and Future): Time progresses in a linear fashion, yet the history of the universe is fundamentally meaningless. Since the universe exists without design or purpose and is destined for complete destruction, all events of human history (the past, present, and future) fundamentally lack significance.

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Michigan: Baker Books, 2007), 21-28.
  2. David Papineau, “Naturalism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, September 15, 2015, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/.
  3. Daniel Stoljar, “Physicalism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 09, 2015, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/.
  4. David Papineau, “Naturalism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  5. The naturalist presupposes atheism as the default position. Accordingly, many find it illogical to argue against the existence of God or to provide positive arguements for the validity of atheism.
  6. See Richard Dawkins, “Universal Darwinism,” in Mark A. Bedau and Carol E. Cleland, eds., The Nature of Life: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives from Philosophy and Science (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 360-373.
  7. Quoted by Nick Watt, “Stephen Hawking: ‘Science Makes God Unnecessary,’” ABC News, September 07, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/stephen-hawking-science-makes-god-unnecessary/story?id=11571150.
  8. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1985), 1.
  9. Tom Sorell, Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (New York: Routledge, 1991), x-1; Heinz K. Klein, and Kalle Lyytinen, “The Poverty of Scientism in Information Systems,” Research Methods in Information Systems (1985): 131-161.
  10. Michael Bradie and William Harms, “Evolutionary Epistemology,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, January 05, 2016, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-evolutionary/.
  11. Ibid.
  12. See Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London, England: John Murray, 1859); Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada, and Antonio Lazcano, “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life,” Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 39, no. 5 (2009): 395–406.
  13. See Louise Barrett, Robin Dunbar, and John Lycett, Human Evolutionary Psychology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002); Stephen M. Downes, “Evolutionary Psychology,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 21, 2014, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evolutionary-psychology/; David M. Buss, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Psychological Science,” The American Psychological Association, May 2009, http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2009/05/sci-brief.aspx#Buss.
  14. See Martin Reimann, and Philip G. Zimbardo, “The Dark Side of Social Encounters: Prospects for a Neuroscience of Human Evil,” Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics 4, no. 3 (2011): 174-180; Simon Baron-Cohen, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011).
  15. See Dr. William B. Provine in “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?” (video of a debate between Philip Johnson and William Provide, conducted at Stanford University on April 30, 1994), Youtube, accessed May 16, 2016, https://youtu.be/m7dG9U1vQ_U.
  16. In fact, death becomes somewhat glorified within an evolutionary model, as it eliminates disadvantageous species traits, while helping to retain and develop those traits which promote survivability and propagation of the organism or species.
  17. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995), 133.
  18. Consider the second law of thermodynamics that implies both a beginning and end—provided the universe is an isolated or closed system. There exist numerous theories regarding the end of the universe within the scientific community. Plausible explanations include (among others): 1) the heat death scenario—where the universe reaches a state of equilibrium or maximum entropy. 2) The big freeze scenario—in which the universe’s expansion causes it to asymptotically approach a temperature of absolute zero. 3) The big crunch scenario—where the average density of the universe causes it to stop expanding and begin constricting, causing the universe to collapse into a dimensionless singularity.

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