Naturalism: A World View

By L. Russ Bush III

The word “nature” usually refers to the physical world in its normal condition. If something is “natural,” that means it is unmodified by human (intelligent) actions. Many of us love “nature,” the unspoiled outdoors, the world of forests and rivers and mountains and meadows.

By adding “ism,” however, we get a related but different meaning. “Naturalism” is the belief that in the final analysis, nature is all that there is, and that “nature” is essentially unmodified by anything other than itself. In other words, nature itself is thought to be the ultimate reality.

Nature is dynamic and active, but according to the world view known as “naturalism,” there is nothing beyond nature that has any causal influence or effect upon nature. Either there is no God or God has no effect or influence on nature. Some might suggest that nature itself may be thought of as a creative being. Naturalism claims that life on earth arose from natural substances by natural selection for natural ends. There is no reality that can properly be called super-natural. Spiritual realities, according to naturalism, are either illusions or else they are merely complex or unusual natural realities.

Since the eighteenth century, a materialistic philosophy has been gaining influence in the western world. Previously, most people in the West believed that the world was a divine creation, but naturalistic thinking gradually challenged that view and sought to replace it, first with naturalistic methods and then with a more comprehensive naturalistic philosophy.

Prior to the rise of naturalism as a prominent world view (or comprehensive mind-set), most western people believed that God had created the world and was responsible for its form and for its very existence. It was understood that God was upholding all things by the word of His power, for in the beginning God had created all things. Since God was a living being, it was logical to expect life in the world, because life comes from life. Twentieth century naturalism built itself on the idea that the universe (and everything in it, including life itself) came into being because of a natural quantum fluctuation (or by some other strictly natural means) and developed by natural processes from its original natural state to its present natural state. Life arose from non-life.

Naturalism affirms no God except the god of impersonal, non-living, undesigned, physical chemistry. A natural process of change is essentially random and/or undirected, but natural processes actually seem to “select” some processes and activities in the sense that “better” or stronger ones survive while others perish. Naturalists believe that this unconscious, non-directed “selection” process along with random genetic fluctuations (i.e., mutations) are the keys that explain the origin of the world of living things as we know it today.

Thus the naturalistic “world view” is the overall belief that nature itself is all that there is. God did not design it. Intelligence was a result not a cause of the developing world. Nature formed itself by strictly natural processes. This claim has several implications…


Naturalism: A World View

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