Friday, May 08, 2009

Reply to Hallquist on naturalism and theism

Hallq: I think for many, many people the apparent plausibility of scientific naturalism is a major deterrent to even taking belief in God seriously. Naturalism claims to tie everything together in one ontology and make God unnecessary. Ultimate reality is either ultimately mental, or else the mental is an accidental by-product. Theism, including van Inwagen's theism (and there are actually versions of the AFR which do not require that the mind be non-material, just so long as it is, in the last analysis, intelligently designed), say that the Ultimate Fact that you cannot go behind is mental. The theists have this point right, and the materialistic atheists have it wrong, if my argument is right.

In Lewis's case the argument led to theism not directly but indirectly, because he embraced Absolute Idealism as a "halfway house" before becoming a theist. It isn't a very popular halfway house these days, but I have seen people, like Daniel Hutto of the University of Hertfordshire, who hold this kind of position.

Let's face it, scientific naturalism is the chief rival to theism at the present time. It's evangelists, like Dawkins are influential, and if you go on the Secular Web you will find it is explicitly dedicated to the defense of naturalism. If it is defeated, the naturalists won't automatically turn to theism (maybe we'll have a revival of Absolute Idealism), but theism will gain in epistemic stature if naturalism collapses.

7 comments:

Crude said...

I think the AfR is very persuasive, Victor. But I think there's a few things you should consider, at least in the popular use of the argument.

Naturalism hardly means anything anymore. And if you don't believe me, look at David Chalmers. He is explicitly anti-materialist, and he thinks his criticisms are decisive. Hell, he's an atheist but also thinks there are valid design arguments. But from my reading of him, Chalmers considers himself to be a naturalist. How about Galen Strawson? He dismisses materialism as 'moonshine', he open endorses panpsychism. But I bet he'd identify himself as a naturalist. (Hell, he calls panpsychism 'Real materialism'.) And frankly, I bet even more typically naturalist (as in, mechanistic materialist) types would, despite disagreements, be loathe to argue these guys are not naturalists.

Because all indications are (as I've seen said elsewhere recently) that naturalism makes little claim other than 'whatever is real, God - especially the God of the western tradition - is not it'.

What I'm saying is that I agree with you that the AfR is strong, and that the AfR also indirectly results in theism broadly becoming (in my view, far) more palatable as a result of it and other arguments. But don't be surprised if, in turning to idealism or panpsychism or other such positions, the result is to just call those positions 'naturalism'.

Finney said...

I agree with Crude. Notice the way the definition of atheism has changed over the years. Before people were committed to believing in only a physical reality, calling that materialism. Then they committed to the absence of a belief in the non-physical, without providing a case for thinking so and without stating a belief in only the physical. Next they will redefine naturalism to include non-physical basic causes. Over the years, the positive structure of naturalism has receded like an ice berg in the New York harbor. Soon there will be nothing left of it save for lukewarm water, and then they will call that naturalism.

Victor Reppert said...

Dying the death of a thousand qualifications?

IlĂ­on said...

Just so it does die, what?

Crude said...

"Dying the death of a thousand qualifications?"

Or melting away to reveal what it was always really (and solely) about anyway.

Chris Hallquist said...

I think for many, many people the apparent plausibility of scientific naturalism is a major deterrent to even taking belief in God seriously.This sounds right at first glance, but who actually reasons this way? Who's going around saying "God doesn't exist because scientific naturalism is true"?

From what I've seen, the most commonly-heard arguments against theistic religion are: problem of evil, internal contradictions, conflicts between science and traditional doctrines, sociological and historical evidence that God is a human invention, and lack of apparent design in the universe. Even when the arguments involve science, they get at God without going by way of scientific naturalism.

Theism, including van Inwagen's theism (and there are actually versions of the AFR which do not require that the mind be non-material, just so long as it is, in the last analysis, intelligently designed), say that the Ultimate Fact that you cannot go behind is mental.This is not, though, the argument you've spent most of your time promoting. In fact, I'm not sure where I'd go for a clear presentation of that argument. Your original concern that prompted this conversation was that people should be taking your argument more seriously than we are, but how can we do that if you're not even sure what we're supposed to be discussing?

Crude said...

Victor's argument seems clear. The discussion here seems to be on what the ramifications are if his argument goes through, and how much theism gains by its success.