I have been reading the Modern Library edition The Philosophy of Spinoza, edited by the rabidly anticlerical Joseph Ratner, where Spinoza dissects all aspects of religious belief from a naturalistic viewpoint, one which nevertheless seeks to transcend human experience. I have also been listening to the audiobook of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, which covers the same ground as the Francis S. Collins audiobook The Language of God: the opposition between a purely naturalistic and a transcendental worldview. As I previously mentioned, I recently finished Events of Grace, written by naturalist theologian Charley Hardwick, which I began after reading an essay by James Gouinlock on Santayana’s naturalism. On my shelf waiting for me are Reason in Common Sense by Santayana and On Nature by Lucretius.
Because of this immersion in naturalist philosophy, I am thinking about it a lot. I noticed that Strobel emphasizes a point about naturalism that bedevils most Christians who enter into arguments about the existence of God and the origin of life: Naturalism, he says, leads to atheism. Yet, it is taken for granted as the basis for scientific inquiry, so that Christians such as Strobel and Collins feel obligated to disentangle science from philosophical naturalism, in an effort to enable Christians to simultaneously maintain faith in God and in science.
Strobel implies that what usually happens to young Christians is that they start investigating scientific literature with the objective of learning truths about the known world from science. Then they are led down the broad path of naturalism and taught that scientific knowledge is incompatible with unscientific knowledge; this is based on the pretense that science constitutes a closed, self-referential system describing not simply observable local phenomena, but every possible past and future state of every corner of the universe, every movement of every form of life that ever existed and ever will exist, and all of human experience, real or imagined.
So, seduced by the common superstitions about science promulgated by science journalists to their eighth-grade-level reading audience, the Christian or innocently agnostic naif is brought close enough to be sucker-punched by philosophical naturalism and left with atheism as the only rational worldview. The nihilistic “freethinkers” look on approvingly, babbling about how the brainwashed masses are finally being liberated from domination by priestly hierarchies and gender roles to roam unfettered through their “reality based communities” with peace and love for all genetically determined races and sexual orientations. “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius. . .”
Well, not quite. I don’t see this as an inevitable progression, frankly. First of all, science is not a closed system. It does not explain the “how” of everything, and an honest scientist does not claim to explain the “why” of anything at all. Because some scientist somewhere has some explanation for one instance of a certain phenomenon, that does not give license to the promoters of science worship to start ordering everyone to bow down and start making burnt offerings. Science is nothing more than a method for systematically investigating how to predict or control natural processes. In the past, witch doctors seemed to do the same thing. If scientists and engineers now seem to be actually able to do what witch doctors claimed to do, that does not make the scientists into replacement witch doctors. The problem here is not what scientists claim to do or know; the problem is that people want to be brainwashed, they want to worship idols, and the science shamans are just catering to their needs.
To top it off, the creation science folks are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instead of promoting belief in the living God who was revealed to humans before anyone ever heard of “science,” they try to take advantage of people’s idolatry by engaging in pointless bickering over how the Bible is proven true by science. If it is true, it will still be true whether or not you can come up with some convoluted technical argument that will be obsoleted by the next scientific discovery. Creation science is not a biblical form of evangelism; it is simply a modern form of scholasticism.
Secondly, naturalism is not inherently inimical to belief in God. In fact, in order to get from naturalism to atheism, you have to extend your argument from known experience out to a Platonic wasteland of idealism. Eventually you have to overstep human rationality to reach the distinctly abstract notion that a transcendental being you claim is unknowable cannot exist, because if it did, then you would know it.
Naturalism is nothing more than what Santayana calls animal faith: taking the world at face value, expecting that everything that happens to you has actually happened and that the function of your mind is to use reason to make sense of it. Things that do not actually happen to you become progressively less probable or more speculative, or simply imaginary. You may choose to place a high probability of reality on the personal testimony of others that something actually happened to them, but if they start introducing all sorts of unknowable variables, speculations, abstractions, and third-person authority claims, the “naturalistic” quotient goes way down.
You may still appreciate what they say as an imaginative narrative, especially if they have done particularly well at crafting its archetypes, rhythms, and ironies; but it is not necessary to accept it as “true” in any way but a psychological, sociological, or mythological sense. In this way, narratives such as speculative evolution become very remote from any conceivable notion of “naturalism.” “Natural” selection as a description of the origin of humanity is only naturalistic in the sense that its narrative appeals to the contemporary social convention of attributing all effects to independent variables in the “natural” environment, as described by someone with the currently accepted credentials of a “scientific” authority.
Incredibly enough, although many claim that speculative evolution must be accepted because it is the only “rational” explanation, this is based entirely on their subjective feeling of what should be true. None of its proponents claim to have experienced it or observed it, nor do they claim to be able to cause it to happen. In fact, the only rational proponents of speculative evolution are the transhumanists, who dream of enacting the next stage in human evolution. The rest of its advocates are stuck mindlessly repeating their tautologies and avoiding the philosophical conclusions that were honestly embraced by Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler: eugenic determinism, no personal responsibility, and worship of the state.