Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Loss of Secularism in Naturalism, Part 2: Unjustified True Beliefs

"Most of us have a worldview, an overarching context for life that helps to shape our beliefs, goals and actions. This book explores the science-based worldview known as naturalism – a comprehensive and fulfilling alternative to faith-based religion and other varieties of dualism."

So begins the description of "Encountering Naturalism," by Thomas W. Clark, founder and director of the Center for Naturalism and creator of Naturalism.Org. http://www.naturalism.org/ This "worldview," this "overarching context for life" was described in the "Syntopicon" http://www.thegreatideas.org/syntopicon.html as "the search for the single intelligible object," which I took as the title for my first book. [See "Academy Publications" on this page.] Such a world view often goes by the title of "cosmology," and as a matter of fact it was the description of cosmology in the "Syntopicon" that I took. Many books have been written on the cosmology of religions, and of the way that science itself searches for a "worldview," a single intelligible object.

But when it comes to a single worldview of naturalism, Dr. Quentin Smith, http://www.wmich.edu/philosophy/index.php?content=smith_faculty_profile author of "The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism", http://www.philoonline.org/library/smith_4_2.htm says there are two views held in academia, which he calls "informed" and "uninformed". This division, in his view, is the reason for the rise in theist philosophy taking the place of, and sometimes overwhelming, the secular purposes inherent in the subject of naturalism. This secularity which, with exceptions including religious-based institutions, he says was the hallmark of twentieth century colleges and universities.

"Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist," Smith writes, "[ ] the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization."

With the rise of the evangelical movement in the U.S. it is little wonder that theism has crept back into our colleges and universities. We hear talk everyday, somewhere--in magazines, newspapers, tv or radio--that some form of religious education ought to be taking place in our lower schools as well, from elementary to high schools.

""Public schools can neither foster religion nor preclude it. Our public schools must treat religion with fairness and respect and vigorously protect religious expression as well as the freedom of conscience of all other students. In so doing our public schools reaffirm the First Amendment..." Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley But the manner in which this is done can easily violate the Second Amendment and the historical separation of church and state which the Supreme Court cited as Original Intent in 1878.

It would seem this ought to be enough to remove theist ideas from secular-based education, but the situation, as Smith makes clear, is hardly that simple, and constitutes the "uninformed" ranks of educators. As a matter of fact, the situation is so misunderstood even by the naturalist philosophers that their misunderstanding has allowed their secular subject to be overrun by realist theists.

Smith defines an "uninformed" naturalist as one who has an unjustified belief in his/her own subject. Such unjustified belief he attributes to ignorance of "defeater" arguments against naturalism. Unjustified belief is not limited to the naturalists only. He says that "most contemporary naturalists, as well as most contemporary theists, hold defeated beliefs about the truth-value of naturalism." Knowledge of naturalism can only be indefeasibly justified true belief when the believer has knowledge of the arguments which can defeat it. So, even an ardent naturalist can have an unjustifed belief when he/she cannot state the arguments that lead to an undermining of the principles of naturalism. It is only when one knows the arguments against his own beliefs and rejects them and can argue against them that a belief can be justified.

It would seem there are those who fit the category of "informed" naturalists, (but I have not read this book; I can only extrapolate from the review.) In Victor J. Stenger's "Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe," Norman Levitt, Professor of Mathematics, Rutgers University writes, " Responding with meticulous thoroughness to the hype of journalists, the hucksterism of theocratic spin-doctors, and the wishful thinking of a few atypical scientists desperate to salvage a remnant of traditional theology, Stenger courageously reminds us that science endorses no other option than to come to terms with a universe that owes us no favors and refuses to let us cheat reality." [From the back cover.]

Stenger's book, released by Prometheus Books in 2003, was written after Smith's entry in PHILO. At any rate, Smith's criticism of uninformed naturalists was used in "Atheism: From the University to Society," by Edwin K. P. Chong as a "relevant quote." http://www.engr.colostate.edu/~echong/talks/06/Atheism06quotes.pdf So it would appear that there are "informed" naturalists in academia--Smith never claims there are none--and perhaps their ranks are growing.

So let's take a look at Smith's "defeated justifiers," one at a time, and discover how they affect each of us who may have "unjustified true belief" about our single intelligible object.

The first one Smith calls "A (a defeated justifier). A is the argument that contemporary science and naturalist philosophy are known to be probably or certainly true, even though A includes no counterarguments against contemporary arguments for theism."

To constitute a "justified true belief," "three conditions are necessary, and jointly sufficient for "knowledge," writes Brett Watson, in "The Nutter Log." http://www.nutters.org/log/jtb Belief itself is the first one: "[Y]ou do not know something unless you also hold it as true in your mind; if you do not believe it, then you do not know it."

Truth itself is next: "[T]here can be no knowledge of false propositions; belief in a falsehood is delusion or misapprehension, not knowledge." But for the novice thinker, it would be easy here to mistake what one normally thinks of as "knowledge," i.e., general information that one thinks may come in relevant someday, for the "knowledge" as defined by Watson. "Knowledge" in this context is what you hold true in your thoughts. In this context, "knowledge" of false propositions as something handy to hang on to for use in debates or just to amaze or amuse your friends, is not "knowledge." I know many of the arguments used to justify the existence of God. But I do not hold them as the truth about God. I only hold as truth that such arguments exist. In this way, knowledge of false propositions does not mean that I cannot "know" about what I consider to be false propositions about God. It only means that I cannot hold those false propositions as my own truths.

This fact leads to Smith's contention that many committed naturalists do not understand even the false propositions about God.

"A [ ] problem with naturalist scientists is that they are so innocent of any understanding of the philosophy of religion that they do not even know that they are innocent of this understanding, as it witnessed by their popular writings on science and religion," Smith says.

Third in our understanding of "justified true belief" is justification itself: "[T]he belief must be appropriately supported; there must be sufficient evidence for the belief," writes Watson.

And so, in our search for the world view, the single intelligible object, or what Ayn Rand called in another context a "sense of life," we discover that when one does not know the arguments that can defeat one's beliefs, those beliefs are unjustified.

It would seem just as self-evident that many people, perhaps most people in this world do not care to know the opposing arguments well enough to be "informed." When such is the case, when someone believes in God, for example, but does not study the critics of his beliefs yet knows such criticisms and arguments exist, then "unjustified true beliefs" not only lose their truth, but their justification as well.

When a belief has lost its justification, it is called faith. Nearly every philosopher and theologian through out history has said in one way or another, explicitly or implicitly, that faith is the abnegation of reason. Yet, if one is to have a "justified true belief," it is reason that must be used to justify it.

That is why the Deist Founders of the United States, who vehemently hated any organized religion, also devoutly believed in God, because in their logic there could be no other device by which Man was given his Reason.

The Founders were Naturalists only to a degree, which is why Thomas Jefferson wrote of the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence, and why the signers let him get by with those words. It is even been said that Franklin, who was looking over young Jefferson's shoulder the entire time, may have suggested the wording himself.

They certainly shared the Naturalist position "that human life, physical, mental, moral and spiritual, is an ordinary natural event attributable in all respects to the ordinary operations of nature." http://www.ditext.com/runes/n.html B.A.G.Fuller

They did not hold the Naturalist's concommitant principle "that man's ethical values, compulsions, activities, and restraints can be justified on natural grounds, without recourse to supernatural sanctions, and his highest good pursued and attained under natural conditions, without expectation of a supernatural destiny." ibid [italics added]

But this is the justified true belief advanced by the Academy of Metaphysical Naturalism, and that specific stated philosophy as justifed true belief is the purpose for the existence of the Academy. This is the Academy's overarching worldview and single intelligible object.

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This publication © 2008 by Curtis Edward Clark and Naturalist Academy Publishing ®

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