Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Loss of Secularism in Naturalism, Part 3: The Rise of Realist Theism

Part 2 of this blog concerning the loss of secularity in the field of naturalism lead to Quentin Smith's contention that many committed naturalists do not understand even the false propositions about God.

"[A] problem with naturalist scientists," Smith writes in PHILO, "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."

This would, perhaps, appear to the "uninformed" naturalists to be condescending of their knowledge in their own field. Smith defines an "uninformed" naturalist as one who has an unjustified belief in his/her own subject field; "unjustified" because the uninformed academic is one who has ignorance of "defeater" arguments against naturalism. In other words, the arguments used by theists to counter the arguments of naturalism often contain logic which overwhelms and defeats the arguments of naturalism, to the degree that such arguments make naturalism appear to be the skeptical argument against theism.

This was not always the case, he says. Naturalism in its original form began with the Pre-Socratics, and in the middle ages, during the rise of theism, was used by theists precisely as the skeptical argument. This continued until the second half of the twentieth century, "when universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized."

From physics to psychology, arguments were for a naturalist world-view, where theology and religion in academia sought to understand the meaning and origins of religious writings, "not to develop arguments against naturalism."

Then, in 1967, Alvin Plantinga of the U. of Notre Dame, published "God and other Minds," a realist-theist view of existence. Until then, says Smith, realist theists kept their theism out of their work partially because theism, especially in its realist manifestation, was thought contain such low epistemic value that the standards of an "academically respectable" position to hold were missing.

The Pre-Socratic original forms of naturalism held sway until the theistic influences of Plotinus and Augustine. Plantinga then "defeated" naturalism in its modern form with his realist theist arguments, concretizing naturalism as the skeptical attitude toward theism, as the medeivals had made it, rather than, as Smith says it ought to be, "the philosophy of religion as a subfield of naturalism, viz. skepticism about naturalism." In other words, the "philosophy of religion," not religion itself, ought to be the skeptical attitude toward naturalism.

Plantinga's success then opened the door for other theists, realist and otherwise, to begin de-secularizing the science of knowledge that, whether "of theology or religion aimed to understand the meaning and origins of religious writings, not to develop arguments against naturalism." [Smith]

Smith makes it clear that his paper is not the time or place to rehash the history of what the Greeks believed, but his paper is meant for reading by better scholars than may be reading this blog. For the purposes of information, and to familiarize my readers with the ideas of the Greeks, these short descriptions are included before I go on. Smith's list of contributors is longer than the list I present here.

1. Leucippus: (a. 450 B.C.) developed the principle that all qualitative differences in nature may be reduced to quantitative ones; he distributes these through infinite space. These small particles of "Being" are separated from one another by that which is not-Being, i.e. by empty space. "Becoming", or the coming into being of things, is essentially the result of the motion of these atoms in space and their accidental coming together.

2. Democritus : (c 460-360 B.C.) developed the first important materialist philosophy of nature, unless we are to count that of Leucippus. His influence was transmitted by Lucretius' poem till the centuries of the Renaissance when scholars' attention began to turn toward the study of nature. He taught that all substance consists of atoms, that is, of indivisible and imperceptibly small particles.

3. Empedocles: about 490-430 B.C.E. attempted to reconcile the teaching of the permanence of Being of the Eleatics with the experience of change and motion as emphasized by Heraclitus. and therefore of the mixings of the elements. He was thus led to introduce a theory of value into the explanation of Nature.

4. Anaximander: (6th Cent. B.C.) With Thales and Anaximenes he formed the Milesian School of Greek Philosophy; with these and the other thinkers of the cosmological period he sought the ground of the manifold processes of nature in a single world-principle or cosmic stuff which he identified with "the Infinite". He was the first to step out of the realm of experience and ascribed to his "Infinite" the attributes of eternity, imperishability and inexhaustability.

5. Anaximenes: (6th Cent. B.C.) sought a cosmic material element which would explain the manifold processes of the natural world and declared this to be air. Air, he felt, had the attribute of Infinity which would account for the varieties of nature more readily than water, which his predecessor Thales had postulated.

6. Heraclitus: 536-470 B.C. held that there is nothing abiding in the world. All things and the universe as a whole are in constant, ceaseless flux, nothing is, only change is real, all is a continuous passing away. Heraclitus thus foreshadowed the modern conception of the uniformity of natural law.

7. That uniformity principle states that what happens once in nature will, under a sufficient degree of similarity of circumstances, happen again and as often as the same circumstances recur.
[1-7 are condensed from the "Dictionary of Philosophy," Runes, 1942. 1-7 are not intended to be an exhaustive list either of the Pre-Socratic contributors to naturalism, nor to the descriptions of their contributions. Better, exhaustive descriptions of their contributions can be found in many places on the web, if not in books, which are my own favorite means of gathering information. But as I do not live at the library, I make do with the internet!]

The medievals reduction of naturalism may not have been deliberate. Smith does not make it clear what the intentions of Augustine and Plotinus were, but says that reduction of the high esteem for naturalism still prevails today in the modern form of naturalism, i.e., the naturalism of the modern secular scholar is not the naturalism of the Pre-Socratics. It prevails today especially in the "uninformed" naturalist who holds the "the unjustifed belief," rather than the belief that is justified by being "informed" of the arguments of the theists, arguments that defeat the "uninformed" arguments.

One cannot, in an argument, turn to defeat the theist unless he/she is in informed of the arguments used by the theist which attemtp to defeat the naturalist world view. Such a defeat is possible, Smith contends. He outlines four goals for the informed scholar by which naturalism may be retrieved "from its de facto reclassification by medieval philosophers."

It is imperative that naturalists take back the field, reversing the roles of the naturalist and theist to the roles given them by the Greeks, not to the de facto reclassified naturalism of the modern scholar. Smith lays out four very major tasks for the informed naturalists, tasks which will reverse the concretization of naturalism as the handmaiden of today's desecularized realist theist role the humanities.

For example, naturalism ought not appear as an objection to arguments for God’s existence, objections to theism such that God's existence is based on natural reason; "natural reason" should be the default position, and all other philosophies of religions would then become skeptical objections to naturalism.

Smith's Four Goals of the Informed Naturalist will be closely examined tomorrow.

A direct link to PHILO, The Center for Inquiry, and Purdue University is in the left column of this website.

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