Monday, October 13, 2008

What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part One

I'm going to begin by using the opening paragraph from Wikipedia:

"Metaphysical or ontological naturalism is any worldview
in which the world is amenable to a unified study that includes the natural
sciences and in this sense the world is a unity. According to such a view, nature is all there is, and all things supernatural (which
stipulatively includes spirits and souls and non-natural values) do not exist,
or they are reducible to natural things. It is often simply referred to as naturalism, and occasionally as philosophical naturalism or ontological naturalism, though
all those terms have other meanings as well, with naturalism often referring to methodological naturalism."

That explains it!--if you know what all those terms mean and if you understand the subtle differences between many of them. From all that I've read and heard, not even the naturalists themselves all agree, using different terminology for exactly similar philosophical positions; or using precisely similar terminology for differences that may be subtle, or may be extremely and fundamentally different.

Reductive naturalism is one such "world-view" that denies the metaphysical importance given to the "soul" by religions. It "reduces" things like "soul" to what Wikipedia calls "natural things." I don't deny that in this sense, I too am a "reductivist." There is nothing in existence which can be of, or been created by, the supernatural. The first part of any definition of metaphysical naturalism is the denial that things can exist which are "super"natural.

However, as an atheist, I give the soul the same metaphsyical importance as theists insofar as admitting its existence, and its role, in the affairs of humans while they have empirical life (as opposed to "after-life," which would not be empirical but supernatural.)

Tom Clark, director of the Center for Naturalism , claims that naturalism "affords superior prediction and control of our environment and ourselves, since in dropping the soul and free will we get rid of the fictional supernatural agency that blocks true explanations of phenomena." [italics added] [from the Academy Blogger post Determinism Vs. the Individualistic Naturalism of the Soul]

Clark, in neither of his websites (the other is defines his brand of naturalism as metaphysical, so far as I have discovered. He does declare that it is scientific naturalism. J.P. Moreland of "Boundless Webzine," describes scientific naturalism as having a "central creation myth — evolution." Obviously, Moreland is not a naturalist.

"Just what is scientific naturalism (hereafter, naturalism)?" Not even Moreland, a critic, makes a distinction between the forms of naturalism, ignorning that there are others. "Succinctly put," he writes, "it is the view that the spatio-temporal universe established by scientific forms of investigation is all there is, was, or ever will be. Brains and buffaloes exist (for instance), but minds and moral values must not, because they are invisible to the five senses and therefore invisible to scientific enquiry. [ ] Naturalism is a theory about reality in which physical entities are all there is."

Well, not exactly. Clark and his many famous associates, who take part in Clark's work, have various means of describing "mind," "soul," and "moral values," among other things that are "invisible." They are not "invisible" to MRIs, to mention one method of "seeing" them. MRIs record in real time the various parts of the brain that operating when stimulated by such things as scents, sights, sounds, memories, etc. While the MRIs are being recorded, so are other evidences of physiology, such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and skin conductivity. So in this sense the naturalism of scientists and philosophers such as Clark are able to discover the things that are "invisible" to reason alone. And in doing so, it takes such things as "soul" and "free" wil," and reduces them to their physiological descriptions, thereby taking the metaphysical content out of them.

What is Metaphysical Naturalism? Part One continued

Note: I will be the featured speaker at the Center For Inquiry (CFI) meeting, October 16, 2008, in Portage, Michigan. The topic is "Atheism as a 'Religion' Protected by Courts According to the Establishment Clause" CEC

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