Oct 142011

Worldview Naturalism in a Nutshell

If you don’t believe in anything supernatural – gods, ghosts, immaterial souls and spirits – then you subscribe to naturalism, the idea that nature is all there is. The reason you’re a naturalist is likely that, wanting not to be deceived, you put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying beliefs about what’s real, as for instance exemplified by science.

This “empirical, evidence-based way” works well in “justifying beliefs about what’s real” as long as the object of investigation is material and measurable. But what if I were to ask, is this love real? In terms of “science,” does this question even have meaning? In other words, is it measurable? This is an important question because implicit in the ideology of Naturalism is the idea that if it is not measurable, it is not “real.”

You probably (and rightly) hold that such beliefs are usually more reliable and more objective than those based in uncorroborated intuition, revelation, religious authority or sacred texts. Kept honest by philosophy and critical thinking, science reveals a single manifold of existence, what we call nature, containing an untold myriad of interconnected phenomena, from quarks to quasars. Nature is simply what we have good reason to believe exists.

So, do I have “good reason” to believe that I am loved? That I am in love? That I should marry?

We can see, therefore, that naturalism as a metaphysical thesis is driven by a desire for a clear, reliable account of reality and how it works, a desire that generates an unflinching commitment to objectivity and explanatory transparency.

How does this “unflinching commitment to objectivity” help me decide the case of my love? Where, exactly, do I find the “explanatory transparency” that explains the meaning of my life?

Supernaturalism, on the other hand, thrives on non-scientific, non-empirical justifications for beliefs that allow us to project our hopes and fears onto the world, the opposite of objectivity. As naturalists, we might not always like what science reveals about ourselves or our situation, but that’s the psychological price of being what we might call cognitively responsible, of assuming our maturity as a species capable of representing reality.

What exactly does this “objectivity” reveal about Nietzsche’s claims about morality? As a Naturalist, Nietzsche claimed that those who could kill and murder their opponents should do so, as the law of nature and the survival of the fittest would prevail. What does Naturalism have to say, objectively, about this claim?

To be a thorough-going naturalist is to accept yourself as an entirely natural phenomenon. Just as science shows no evidence for a supernatural god “up there”, there’s no evidence for an immaterial soul or mental agent “in here”, supervising the body and brain.

Science – or the investigation of the natural – by definition cannot comment on the supernatural since the supernatural cannot be measured by natural (scientific) means. Therefore the lack of “scientific” evidence for the supernatural is not evidence of the lack of the supernatural.

So naturalism involves a good deal more than atheism or skepticism – it’s the recognition that we are full-fledged participants in the natural order and as such we play by nature’s rules.

Ah, so as Nietzsche said, to “be a thorough-going naturalist” and to “play by nature’s rules” one must follow the lead of the savages and the law of the jungle where “might makes right.” In other words, the naturalist must succumb to the objective fact that there is no “right” or “wrong” but only “winners” and “losers.”

We aren’t exempt from the various law-like regularities science discovers at the physical, chemical, biological, psychological and behavioral levels. The naturalistic understanding and acceptance of our fully caused, interdependent nature is directly at odds with the widespread belief (even among many freethinkers) that human beings have supernatural, contra-causal free will, and so are in but not fully of this world.

So not only are we to understand that there is no morality, no wrong and no right, but also no free will. All of our thoughts and actions are as predetermined as a game of bingo.

The naturalist understands not only that we are not exceptions to natural laws, but that we don’t need to be in order to secure any central value (freedom, human rights, morality, moral responsibility) or capacity (reason, empathy, ingenuity, originality).

Wait a minute. Where did these central values come from? Where is the “explanatory transparency” that accounts for freedom, human rights, morality, and moral responsibility? Where is the “empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying” the belief in these values? Where is the objective refutation of Nietzsche’s claims which cite naturalism as the source from which the absolute refutation of these values is based?

We can positively affirm and celebrate the fact that nature is enough. Indeed, the realization that we are fully natural creatures has profoundly positive effects, increasing our sense of connection to the world and others, fostering tolerance, compassion and humility, and giving us greater control over our circumstances.

Interesting that the science of eugenics and nazism, which was born of naturalist philosophy should be called tolerant, compassionate and comprising humility! Control and power, however, does seem to be a virtue of natural science. Nothing displays this “objective, empirical” truth than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Talk about greater control over nature!

This realization supports a progressive and effective engagement with the human condition in all its dimensions. So we can justly call it worldview naturalism: an overarching cognitive, ethical and existential framework that serves the same function as supernatural worldviews, but without trafficking in illusions. By staying true to science, our most reliable means of representing reality, naturalists find themselves at home in the cosmos, astonished at the sheer scope and complexity of the natural world, and grateful for the chance to participate in the grand project of nature coming to know herself.

Saying that it is so is hardly the same as presenting an “empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying” this proclamation. Where, sir, is your objective evidence and empirical data regarding my love? Where is your evidence-based denial of Nietzsche’s nihilism? My proclamation is that you have none.

 Posted by at 11:41 pm

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