Friday, January 2, 2009

Naturalism's Link to Humanism

Not All Metaphysics of Naturalism

Are Created Equal

One of the problems I have with other authors' definitions of "naturalism" is that I often see what appears to be mistakes, albeit sometimes they are small. But they become untenable with the larger context of that author's message, because until the mistake is fixed, the reader (me in this case) doesn't know what to make of it. So I write to the author and I ask for clarification.

On the Home Page of the Secular Web, a naturalistic and humanistic website, Paul Draper is quoted as saying that naturalism is "the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it." The conclusion is then made that, "Thus, 'naturalism implies that there are no supernatural entities."

Well, no it does not imply that, not as written.

To say "nothing that is not part of the natural world" leaves open the possibility, for anyone who thinks there is more than the natural world, of a thing that exists that is more than the natural world--like God. Mr. Draper leaves an open hole. I would have thought that leaving open such holes are mistakes of epistemology--or simply a gaffe of grammar or syntax, or even one of thinking faster than the pen can write.
It seems untenable with the larger message to leave such a hole.

So I wrote to Mr. Draper and asked him about the it. It seems it not a hole in his opinion, and is intentional and correct by his metrics of naturalism. It is a question, not of epistemology, in his mind, but of metaphysics.

"The statement," replied Draper, "that the universe is a closed system does imply that there are no supernatural entities because a supernatural entity is defined as a non-natural entity that AFFECTS THE NATURAL WORLD. Thus, naturalism as defined in the quoted passage rules out supernatural entities but does not rule in or out non-natural entities." [emphasis his]

The supernatural is defined as non-natural, yet this published naturalist author concedes that the non-natural may exist? And, isn't Draper's idea that no supernatural entities exist exactly what I said was implied?

Mr. Draper is an educated man and qualified as far as his peers are concerned, I'm certain, to be held in esteem, to be a published author, and to be the editor of Philo, "published biannually at the Center for Inquiry with assistance from Purdue University," reads the home page of the online magazine, concluding with: "Philo is the publication of the Society of Humanist Philosophers."

Interestingly, I found nothing in the Google search engine for the Society, except an ancient reference to Philo before Draper was Editor; and the remark in Wikipedia that it is a program of the Council for Secular Humanism.

The Council is responsible for many things. Originally called the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, it was begun by Paul Kurtz a naturalist humanist. "The council acts as an umbrella organization for a number of other groups, such as the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, African Americans for Humanism, and provides support for Center for Inquiry - On Campus. It also publishes several magazines and newsletters, including Free Inquiry," states Wikipedia.

Kurtz calls his form of humanistic naturalism "philosophical." Michael Friedman of the American Philosophical Association says this "philosophical" form "has reached the end of its useful life."
I am not a humanist of any sort. lists 8 sorts. About secular humanism it says it is "an outgrowth of 18th century enlightenment rationalism and 19th century freethought." That ought to say something to those who understand rationalism. And freethought explains the slippery language used by humanists and by scientific and philosophical naturalists. While elevating science and reason, freethought does so at the cost of a rational metaphysics.

The website for the Council supports most of what Wiki states about it, and also makes this declaration:

"Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation." [emphasis added]

Gee. I just wrote about this on Tuesday. It's kind of strange, sometimes, how the world goes around. The subjects that secular humanism "emphasizes"--reason, science, individualism, responsibility, human values, and compassion--are defined by that movement very differently from Metaphysical Naturalism. But what does it have to do with Paul Draper's differentiation between "supernatural" and "non-natural" entities?

To begin with, this: I never seem to be able to get answers from naturalists like Mr. Draper that make much sense to me. It all seems gray, undifferentiated by any substantiality, or it seems like metaphysical double-speak that goes round and round, stopping only long enough to get in the phrases "tolerance," "compassion," and a few others with similiar altruistic connotations--and they do mean it altruistically as I will show; there is nothing about justice connected to their phrases for "cooperation".
When I answered Tom Clark's critique of my comments to him about naturalism, he did not come back with analyses about what I had written. Apparently he couldn't match me logic for logic. Instead, he wrote, among other things:

"Ok, many thanks for these clarifications, most interesting. It would be nice if all [Ayn] Rand’s acolytes examined her philosophy as assiduously as do you, ending up with more nuanced conclusions about the legitimacy of compassion and limits of egoism." [emphasis added]
My "nuanced conclusions" on those subjects were that compassion was worthless in the wrong circumstances, and that there are no limits to egoism when defined as "rational egoism."

Clark is a dedicated humanist, and some of the contributors to his site also contribute to Philo. It seems, from the other things Clark wrote me, that humanists cannot accept egoism because they exalt altrusim.

"There are two errors," he writes about my ideas, "in addition to thinking we’re ultimately self-made. One is to suppose that in empirical fact we are merely self-interested creatures. But we aren’t; there are many altruistic bones in our body. Second, it’s to commit the naturalistic fallacy of arguing that if we are selfish by nature, that means we should be selfish. But there is no direct implication from a natural is to an ethical ought."

Humanists take issue with Rand's clear disdain of altruism. I accept her disdain completely, because she did not allow the definition to become watered down by humanistic definitions that make it seem as if "altruism" is merely being human to one another. Rand fiercely upheld Compte's definition; after all, it was Compte who coined the word.

"For Comte Altruism meant the [ ] eradication of self-centered desire, and a life devoted to the good of others; more particularly, selfless love..." [emphasis added] Devotion to the good of others when coupled with selfless love--a contradiction in terms--is duty, and duty has nothing to do with rational compassion, yet such irrational duty is the field of secular and other forms of humanism.

I replied to Clark that "'to commit the naturalistic fallacy of arguing that if we are selfish by nature, that means we should be selfish,' is the definition of 'logical' egoism," not rational egoism which Rand knew was the necessary form of egoism for man to lead a rational life.

Which leads us to the rationality of humanists and scientific and philosophical naturalists. Every concept has only one antonym, though many words are connected to more than one concept, so you must choose your concept carefully. Sometimes, depending on the way a dictionary has separated concepts, the differences are unclear. Definition 2) may seem to one's logic to be the same as 3). Such differences are subtle and sometimes not even legitimate.

But if the ontological concept of "natural" has the antonym of "not-natural", then "supernatural" must be a sub-set of "not-natural." Mr. Draper does not see it that way.

"I define a 'natural entity'," he wrote, "as an entity that is either physical or that is causally or ontologically reducible to physical entities. Skyscrapers, for example, are natural entities by this technical definition. There are, of course, other senses of the word 'natural' in ordinary language."

So far I agree, but then he went on: "Non-natural entities by my definition are entities that are not physical and are not reducible to physical entities. Perhaps abstract objects are non-natural, but that's debatable."

Since abstract objects are concepts of human thought rather than Platonic Forms, and since thought is natural, I would refuse to debate it. He does not make clear what any other objects are that he might define as "not physical and not reducible to physical entities."

"The supernatural is a subcategory of the non-natural", he continued, a complete reversal of my Metaphysical Naturalist position. "If there were any supernatural entities, then they would be entities that, in spite of not being natural, nevertheless affect natural entities."

The way I see it, God, if He exists, is natural, not supernatural. Why should we see Him as anything other than natural? We see Him as supernatural because then we do not find ourselves able to have empirical evidence of God, and we do not want empirical evidence, except perhaps for the indirect kind. Ronald Reagan's comparison of the physical world to a dinner table laden with food--that had no chef--comes to mind. The physical world "revealed" to our senses are all the evidence that supernaturalists say we can ever have, unless they are also of the opinion that revealed revelations e.g. Paul's experience on the road to Damascus, are possible.

However, Mr Draper tells me, "For while we have empirical evidence that the natural world is closed (our success in discovering natural causes of natural entities), it would be idle metaphysical speculation to claim that no non-natural entities exist."

From this we can infer than Mr. Draper knows of no non-natural entities, yet insists that the category must remain an open one in order not to "idly speculate" that the category is empty of entities!

This is the road that humanism plows, one of metaphysical mud and muck from which no logic can be ascertained except that of definitions with no clear denotations; and capitulation to the idea that clarity is egoistical and egoism must be "logical" rather than "rational" and therefor must be rejected (despite a very big difference between them); that egoism is the opposite of altrusim (which it is) and, that altruism is the metaphysical mud and muck that humanists prefer in their metaphysics over any form of egoism.

They do, after all, accuse Rand of being "black and white," "too concrete," and even "irrational."

Objectivists "strike me as being pretty irrational when it comes to ideas about the self and free will," Clark wrote to me, "and it seems to me this irrationality supports a morally objectionable radical individualism, see my critique here."

I will let his critique stand on its own, and see whether or not I can pull my feet out of humanism's muck without losing my shoes. If the category "non-natural entities" is an empty category, yet it contains a sub-category (supernatural,) then I can walk on water.

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