Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Irrationality of Naturalism

The enlightenment and Modernist philosophy have posed a dramatic philosophical challenge to Christianity, with, for the first time in philosophical history, atheism becoming a dominant presupposition. Indeed, atheism seems the inevitable conclusion of Modernist philosophy. The problem, however, is that this results in a complete logical absurdity.

Modernist philosophy replaces the ancient concept of "telos" (the idea that all things are striving to fulfill a purpose) with naturalistic determinism: the regularity of the universe is explained by set natural laws. If we follow the naturalist thought process, this eliminates all supernatural existences- God, human souls, angels, etc.- and reduces us to a completely material universe governed by the physical laws. If this state of things is correct, then all things are completely deterministic. Under naturalism, this must also include the activities of our minds, which are natural entities. Thus our thoughts, desires, beliefs, etc. are all determined by the natural laws of the physical universe.

This description of our mental state results in a radical skepticism. If my thoughts and beliefs are merely the products of physical reactions that have been determined since the moment the universe came into existence then what reason do I have to trust that these beliefs are in any way sound? It does not seem that such a reason exists, and even if I could come up with such a reason that conclusion would also be reached only because of chemical reactions over which I had no control. This eventually results in an absurdity because even my beliefs in naturalism or the deterministic nature of the universe would also be subject to the same criticism. Ultimately then, I not only have no basis for knowing anything (the usual claim of skepticism), I actually do not know anything under naturalistic determinism.

This is certainly not an argument for Christianity. In fact, this could be used just as well by a pantheist mystic as by a Christian. What this does establish to me, though, is that if we want to maintain any claims to knowledge then we cannot embrace a fully naturalistic worldview. Even if we scrap naturalism, though, the question remains whether the modernist paradigm of science (which has an anti-supernatural balance and attempts to explain natural phenomenon according to set scientific laws) can be maintained without a naturalist conclusion. In other words, can we maintain Descartes dualism and claim that the natural world operates by fixed laws but somehow our minds are able to escape those laws (despite being attached to bodies that are subject to them)? This seems to be a very flimsy solution at best.

Instead, I think that we have to return to a more ancient way of looking at the universe and reinterpret Aristotle's concept of "telos." Christianity should have no problem adopting the idea that all things are working toward accomplishing an ultimate purpose. This idea also explains the regularity that science observes without moving toward a conclusion that is completely naturalistic and irrational.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog has moved, searching new blog...