The Commitment to Naturalism

At least some naturalists are aware and  honest about their ideological commitments. Here are the words of Richard Lewontin:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, IN SPITE OF its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, IN SPITE OF  the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a A PRIORI adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.–(“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, Jan. 4, 1997, pg. 31. Emphasis in original, though they were italicized, not caps)

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Posted on January 8, 2009, in Science. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Lewontin doesn’t speak for all naturalists. Although some might have an ideological, unshakeable commitment to materialism, materialism isn’t a necessary part of naturalism. There are naturalistic dualists, such as David Chalmers, who think there likely are irreducibly non-physical things in nature.

    Naturalism is simply the thesis that nature is all there is, whether it contains non-physical things or not, and this thesis is supported by taking science as the route to what we reliably know exists. The commitment to science and other forms of intersubjectivity is rational, not ideological, because knowledge claims derived from them are reliable, unlike those based on faith, intuition, revelation, non-empirical reason, and religious authority. For more on this see “Reality and its rivals” at http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm and papers at http://www.naturalism.org/theology.htm .

    regards,

    Tom Clark
    Director, Center for Naturalism

  2. Thanks for the comment, Tom. It’s always an honor to have someone who doesn’t hold my views share their thoughts.

    By naturalism, I;m referring to the more “common” forms, i.e. the most common and well known. forms are indeed materialist.

    Now, if we define “naturalism” as referring to the belief that nature is all there is, it gets a bit tricky. After all, we need to know what the person speaking means when they speak of “nature.” Spinoza believed that nature was all there is, and he was a monist (he also believed that God was all there was, and in this sense was a pantheist). If someone wanted to define “nature” as all that encompasses the material and non material world (since beings such as God are “irreducibly non-physial”), well then, they’ve opened the door for Christians to be considered “naturalists.

    Of course, I’m guessing that you would reject this kind of definition.

    I would say that a commitment to the value of empirical study is important because it aids us in coming to helpful and (mostly) reliable conclusions. This, in a nutshell, is what I mean by a commitment to “science.” But, that would be different than what I would call a commitment to “scientism,” a radical (Humian) commitment to empicism as the knowledge valid manner to known truth. A commitment to science isn’t the result of ideology, but a commitment to scientism and radical empiricism is.

    Thanks again!

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