Naturalism is a Strange Belief

by Tom Gilson

Naturalism is a strange belief. It’s one thing to hold that it might be true, and quite another to say that it’s definitely true, or almost certainly true. Yet there are committed naturalists, just as there are committed Christians.

I understand there is a kind of symmetry here: naturalists think Christianity is a strange belief. On one level I have to agree: we take it as true that everything in all history turns on the life of a wandering teacher and miracle worker who lived two thousand years ago. If it weren’t for a confluence of completely unique and remarkable facts about Jesus Christ, the whole idea would be quite unbelievable.

But nowhere near as much as naturalism, by which in this context I mean the idea that nothing exists in all reality but matter and energy, interacting according to necessity (what we call natural law) and chance (according to the most common interpretations of quantum theory). Now there are other varieties of naturalism that do not take this strict physicalist view and I am not speaking of them here.* To believe in naturalism requires believing in a truly preposterous menagerie of ideas that go with it.

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For example, it requires believing that personality, rationality, consciousness, identity, purpose, meaning, worth, and the moral significance of life all came out of a reality that excludes every one of these.

We look back at pre-Copernican views of the cosmos, and we smile at the naïveté of thinking the earth was at the center of everything. But that error has nothing on naturalism today: for naturalism requires believing that the things that make us human are absolutely and completely different from anything that is true of anything else anywhere in all reality. We are absolutely different from everything else that exists, and markedly higher, too, for no discernible reason whatsoever.

Either that, or else naturalism takes unguided evolution to be a “reason;” but there is no reason for evolution. If unguided evolution is true, then it is an explanation, but an explanation is not always a reason, especially when it is driven entirely by randomness and chance, as evolution is: for evolution is only randomness plus natural selection; and natural selection is no creative force: it is only a conserver, never an inventor. It is the survival and reproduction of that which survives and reproduces, and the demise of that which doesn’t. It is nothing else but that. To reify natural selection as some kind of creative force would be almost as misguided as to assign to it a sense of purpose…

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