Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fides Quaerens Intellectum: The slogan of...naturalism?

So says Bill Vallicella in an old post.


exapologist said...

I like the linked post very much. However, I worry whether it's really a part of naturalism that one have the sort of dogged commitment to it that Valicella claims. At most, this says something about (certain) *naturalists*, not about *naturalism* itself.

The same could be said, of course, with respect to theism. But I wonder whether Valicella had Christian theism in particular in mind. If so, then the parity vanishes: the Christian theist is *committed* to resisting the problems; not so for the naturalist. (With that said, I should point out that I'm not a naturalist -- at least if it's being used synonymously with 'physicalist').

Or perhaps I'm mistaken?

stunney said...

exapologist wrote:

the Christian theist is *committed* to resisting the problems; not so for the naturalist

Let me suggest that all naturalists Who are committed to a conception of life as having meaning and purpose are committed to resisting the problems.

Although they see life as the undesigned the outcome of meaningless and purposeless physical processes, they do not see that view as entailing that human life is meaningless or purposeless. Instead they would claim that meaning and purpose can be and are created by human beings.

However, this claim may be incoherent with the claim that the human species is the outcome of meaningless and purposeless physical processes. A lot depends on whether the naturalist holds that human beliefs and desires are reducible to meaningless and purposeless physical processes. If the naturalist holds such a view, then I think it is incoherent with holding that humans create (genuine) meaning and purpose, because ideas of meaning and purpose crucially depend on beliefs and desires not being meaningless, purposeless physical processes.

The next question would be, is it incoherent to hold that meaningless, purposeless physical processes can generate belief and desire states that are irreducible to the physical processes that generate them, or from which they emerge? There is no agreement among naturalists about this issue.

But let's just take the case of an naturalist who defends some form of the non-reductive view of what belief and desire states are. We can still pose several difficulties:

1) What are the relevant belief and desire states that constitute having a conception of life as meaningful and purposeful about, if what they're about is something other than meaningless, purposeless natural processes?

2) What is the property of aboutness anyway; and, whatever it is, how can it arise from meaningless, purposeless natural processes?

3) What should the content of the relevant states be—--i.e., what beliefs and desires should people have; and, how can there being any fact about what they should be, arise from meaningless, purposeless natural processes?

My own view, of course, is that none of these difficulties can be adequately resolved by any atheistic forms of naturalism (which is one reason I'm not an atheist). By contrast, if—---as I contend they are—---reason, meaning, purpose, intentionality, normativity and value are ontologically and explanatorily irreducible to the physical and are inherently properties of mind, then their origin and existence is best explained by metaphysical hypotheses that posit mind as being ontologically and explanatorily ultimate.

It is extremely naive to suggest that while theism is immune from empirical falsification, naturalism isn't. Naturalism is just as immune. For the naturalist can always say, well, we don't yet know exactly how to explain the existence of the universe; or the multiverse; or the origin of laws of nature; or the origin of physical constants; or the initial conditions; or life; or consciousness; or reason; or morality; or the emotional qualia associated with music; or what time is; or the origin of language; or the sense of free-will; or how thought represents the world; or how gravity and quantum mechanics can be reconciled; or what physical facts constitute something's being intelligently designed; and what physical facts constitute something's not being intelligently designed. BUT after we're all dead, our descendants most likely will. AND all possible explanations will be naturalistic ones, regardless of how the concept of 'naturalistic explanation' may have to be revised along the way.

exapologist said...

Hi Stunney,

Just curious: did you (do you) go to Talbot in La Mirada? Your arguments and language sound very similar to those I heard from Moreland when I was a student in the program.



stunney said...


I've never set foot in Talbot, or even heard of it until now.

I have heard of Moreland, but haven't read his work.

Btw, I would like to clarify something about the term 'naturalism'. Some philosophers would define naturalism in a way that would count Platonic entities as non-natural. Other philosophers would not. However, I think this doesn't affect my position, since I hold that the properties of reason, meaning, purpose, intentionality, value, etc are essentially properties that can only be realized by or in conscious minds. So, on my view, an attempt to treat them as being irreducibly real but existing outside of or indepedently of mind would still not be as probable a metaphysical hypothesis as those which posit mind as ontologically and explanatorily ultimate, because the Platonic hypothesis merely reifies concepts of what in reality are attributes of minds.