Naturalism: A Critical Analysis and over 2 million other books are available for Amazon Kindle . Learn more

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering.
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

Start reading Naturalism on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy) [Hardcover]

William Lane Craig , J.P. Moreland

RRP: 110.00
Price: 107.25 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
You Save: 2.75 (3%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
Only 1 left in stock (more on the way).
Dispatched from and sold by Amazon. Gift-wrap available.
Want it Tuesday, 22 April? Choose Express delivery at checkout. Details


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition 75.08  
Hardcover 107.25 Trade-In Store
Did you know you can use your mobile to trade in your unwanted books for an Gift Card to spend on the things you want? Visit the Books Trade-In Store for more details or check out the Trade-In Amazon Mobile App Guidelines on how to trade in using a smartphone. Learn more.

Book Description

7 Sep 2000 0415235243 978-0415235242
Naturalism provides a rigorous analysis and critique of the major varieties of contemporary philosophical naturalism. The authors advocate the thesis that contemporary naturalism should be abandoned, in light of the serious objections raised against it. Contributors draw on a wide range of topics including: epistemology, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind and agency, and natural theology.

Product details

More About the Authors

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

Product Description


'This book provides a good introduction to work by some contemporary American theistic philosophers of religion. Moreover, it gives clear expression to the recent resurgence in polemical Christian philosophy of religion in American academic philosophy' Australian Journal of Philosophy

About the Author

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy and J.P. Moreland is Professor of Philosophy, both at Biola University, La Mirado, California.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Many philosophers have held, in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle, that there are uniquely philosophical, non-empirical methods of inquiry and that there are things whose investigation is reliably conducted via such methods. Read the first page
Explore More
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
Search inside this book:

Customer Reviews

There are no customer reviews yet on
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
83 of 94 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the most profound book of philosophy in a generation 8 Jan 2001
By Vince Page - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a college-level philosophy text in which the words naturalism, etiology, epistemology, ontology and so forth are used without definition, but it is perhaps the most profound book of philosophy in a generation.
The preface would have been better if it had defined such terms for the uninitiated, but reading the text with a dictionary will solve most of these problems. I personally felt that Chapter 2 was writtem in much more of an introductory style than Chapter 1 and should have preceded it for that reason. For these reasons alone, the book gets four stars instead of five. The book itself it excellent.
The book contains 10 chapters, each written by a different author, as follows:
1 - Farewell to philosophical naturalism - Paul Moser & Dave Yandell
2 - Knowledge and Naturalism - Dallas Willard
3 - The incompatibility of naturalism and scientific realism - Robert Koons
4 - Naturalism and the ontological status of properties - J.P. Moreland
5 - Naturalism and material objects - Michael Rea
6 - Naturalism and the mind - Charles Taliaferro
7 - Naturalism and libertarian agency - Stewart Goetz
8 - Naturalism and morality - John Hare
9 - Naturalism and cosmology - William Lane Craig
10- Naturalism and design - William Dembski
In subjecting naturalism -- the rejection of all things supernatural -- to a critical analysis, the authors expose in convincing fashion the complex incompleteness of our current naturalistic thought processes. William Lane Craig's chapter on Naturalism and Cosmology is particularly excellent in this regard and should not be missed by any serious student of physics.
It does not take long while reading this book to realize that the authors may well be erecting a new philosphical structure for the 21st century. They show repeatedly that we ignore some types of information when the information doesn't fit the standard naturalistic model. They emphasize that we cannot hope to achieve our full potential as a species unless we can overcome these self-imposed bounds.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding deconstruction of naturalism 19 Nov 2013
By Randal Rauser - Published on
Most of the greatest theologians have not only been conversant with the philosophical movements current in their time (e.g. Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism), but have been highly articulate expositors and critics of them. However, most theologians today appear singularly uninterested in, if not wholly oblivious to, the reigning philosophical paradigm of naturalism. That is not to say naturalism is not affecting theology, for indeed it is. The work of naturalists like W.V. Quine, Wilfred Sellars and Richard Rorty has had a deep impact on contemporary theology. Every time a theologian argues that the correspondence theory of truth, a priori knowledge, or metaphysical realism is to be rejected, and every time it is argued that the only way to provide an epistemic justification of theologian enquiry is to model it on scientific enquiry, one can expect that arguments originating in a naturalist worldview are nearby. But should it not cause us concern that naturalism, as Sellars summarizes it, is the view that "science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not"? I would suggest that we need an in-depth reflection both on the impact of naturalism on theology, and more basically on naturalism itself as a philosophy. Fortunately this latter task has already been taken up in Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, a rigorous and challenging collection of essays by a number of leading philosophers.

In the preface, the editors William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland define naturalism as including the following beliefs: the spatiotemporal universe of scientific study is all there is, first philosophy is to be rejected, and the universe is a causal continuum that is explained by the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary biology. Craig and Moreland summarize the price that must be paid for this view with the following dilemma which re-emerges in a number of the essays:

"[E]ither naturalism involves an epistemic attitude and etiology that express strong versions of scientism, in which case naturalism suffers from some obvious defects (no account of proper functioning, denial of consciousness) or else it must weaken its ontology to adopt certain entities (abstract objects, mental properties), in which case it loses the unity of science and its right to claim a strong naturalist epistemic attitude, explanatory hegemony, and an adequate etiological account of the coming-to-be of everything." (p. xiv)

Put another way, the cost of consistent naturalism is implausibility, whereas a more plausible naturalism (one able to accommodate consciousness, intentionality, moral obligation, proper function, etc.) must surrender consistency by admitting non-material ontological realities.

The book is divided into four parts: epistemology, ontology, value theory, and natural theology. The first three essays effectively demonstrate the epistemological impoverishment of naturalism.

In "Farewell to Philosophical Naturalism," Paul Moser and David Yandell point out that ontological naturalism entails that only material objects exist; the problem is that this is a global claim which cannot be warranted on scientific grounds, which, on this view, are the only grounds on which one may make knowledge claims. This places the naturalist in the dilemma of espousing a criterion for knowledge which he does not himself meet. This renders the naturalist thesis unjustified and perhaps self-refuting.

In "The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism," Robert Koons takes up the epistemological inadequacy of naturalism in grounding realism. Koons points that the while scientists depend on simplicity as a guide for theory choice, naturalism can offer no grounds to think simplicity is reliable for producing true beliefs, and so no ground to view science as providing knowledge. The ironic conclusion is that the more successful science is, the more evidence it provides against naturalism.

Dallas Willard's essay "Knowledge and Naturalism" turns away from the narrower issue of how naturalism relates to science to focus on the broader epistemic implications of this austere worldview. Willard argues that having knowledge is an objective state in which a subject matter is appropriately represented as it is; that is, knowledge requires a representation which matches up to the world under the correct conditions (e.g. not by chance). Since naturalism only allows for the existence of physical properties and relations, it can account neither for matching representations nor for truth or knowledge. Since we clearly have knowledge, it follows that naturalism is false.

The section on ontology begins with J.P. Moreland's essay "Naturalism and the Ontological Status of Properties." Properties represent a prime case of an ontological reality which must be eliminated or conformed to a naturalist worldview, a fact which has been recognized by naturalists since the time of Plato (Sophist, 246 A-C). Moreland critiques two attempts to reconcile naturalism with properties: Keith Campbell's reductive nominalism and David Armstrong's revised realism. Moreland points out a host of difficulties with each proposal while observing that in an attempt to respond to criticism, Campbell and Armstrong come close to a traditional realist reading of properties which would undermine naturalism.

While naturalism offers no plausible account of properties, in "Naturalism and Material Objects" Michael Rea argues that it cannot even provide a ground to accept the existence of material objects. This claim is rooted in the thesis that the identification of material objects requires us to identify "persistence conditions" for those objects. To take one of Rea's examples, if Socrates is a material object, there must be some fact about whether Socrates could survive a trip through a meat grinder. While the non-naturalist can provide an a priori account of the knowledge of persistence conditions, the naturalist can only appeal to natural laws or proper function, both of which fail. And so naturalism provides no warrant to accept the existence of material objects.

Charles Taliaferro's essay, "Naturalism and the Mind," attacks eliminative and reductive treatments of the mind/body problem. Eliminativism dismisses the mind as a "user illusion," but this begs the question of what the "user" is. Identity theory, which claims that the mind is a set of brain states, is undermined by the fact that the mind bears properties not possessed by the brain. More recently, a number of philosophers of mind have retreated to the claim that mental properties are distinct entities which "supervene" on the physical, but this places the naturalist in the dilemma of introducing immaterial objects into a naturalist ontology. While naturalists will continue to protest that body/soul dualism is too extravagant, Taliaferro counters that such judgments are made relative to one's worldview. Immaterial minds are much more plausible if we accept theism which sees all material reality as arising from God, the ultimate "immaterial mind". At the close of the essay Taliaferro provides a brief but helpful discussion of body/soul integration for those theologians and philosophers who fear that dualism irrevocably sunders the person.

Stuart Goetz's essay "Naturalism and Libertarian Agency" is a fitting complement to Taliaferro's. Goetz points out that naturalists cannot accept intentionality -- the irreducible aboutness of one's thoughts -- and thus can only explain actions in terms of prior efficient causes. Goetz contends rather that actions are uncaused, and as such are explained not causally but teleologically, that is in terms of the intended end of the agent. (I move my arm because I want to pick up the chocolate bar, not simply because of prior neuronal synapses.) A number of other naturalists have objected that libertarianism requires a "self" (the soul by another name) which is the seat of the deep intentional features of the world and is able to act in the causal order. This raises the main objection naturalists invoke against dualism, the problem of mind/body interaction. Given the inadequacies with eliminativism and identity theory, a number of naturalists have recently defended the supervenience thesis that mental properties arise out of, and are determined by, physical properties. However, as Goetz points out, supervenience theories face basically the same objection as dualists since they fail to explain the deterministic relation between microphysical properties and supervenient mental properties. What is more, this view is grossly implausible, as it treats consciousness as epiphenomenal, arising out of but incapable of effecting the material realm. Since we clearly do act on the basis of intentions rather than simply as a result of physical causes, we should accept libertarian freedom and the body/soul dualism it implies.

The section on value theory is comprised of John Hare's essay "Naturalism and Morality". Hare argues along Kantian lines that there is a gap which arises when we recognize that there is a moral demand placed upon our lives, and that we are naturally incapable of meeting it. The gap depends on the famous principle of "ought implies can" which has received short shrift from some theologians who stress the human incapacity to do good; but as Hare points out, for the Christian theist the "can" only arises because of divine grace. Hence, if we are required to meet a moral gap, it follows that with God's grace we are able to do so. Hare critiques naturalist attempts to eliminate the gap by claiming the demand can be met, or by invoking another principle (usually evolutionary biology) to traverse it. Since each naturalist attempt to traverse the gap fails, naturalism leads to the moral incoherence of positing moral obligations we cannot meet. The only way to meet the gap and restore coherence is by recognizing the divine source of morality and God's granting us the power to meet it.

The final section on natural theology begins with William Lane Craig's essay "Naturalism and Cosmology," which provides a comprehensive survey of the challenges Big Bang cosmology presents to naturalism. Naturalists have always tended to answer the vexing question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" by appealing to the universe as an eternally existent brute fact. However, with the rise of Big Bang theory which points to the entire space-time universe arising out of nothing a finite time ago, that escape route is no longer open. To avoid what smacks of special creation, naturalists have appealed to a growing list of ever more incredible and empirically unfounded theories of cosmic origin, including steady state theory, oscillating universes, and quantum fluctuations. Recently, some philosophers and cosmologists have even claimed the universe creates itself, while others have suggested that it arose uncaused from nothing at all. Craig takes apart each of these would-be theories while defending the axiom that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Since the universe began to exist, this would require (so Craig then argues) an uncaused personal creator who, apart from the universe, is without beginning or change and is immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and of great power. Craig concludes, "And this, as Thomas Aquinas laconically remarked, is what everyone means by `God'." (p. 244)

In the final essay, "Naturalism and Design," William Dembski argues that the current scientific explanatory criteria of chance and necessity are inadequate; we must also invoke the concept of intelligent design. And this provides the basis for an impressive new teleological argument. Many philosophers still dismiss teleological arguments with a nod to Hume. But Dembski argues that we may now appeal to the rigorous criteria of complexity and specification, culled from their pervasive pretheoretical use in numerous disciplines, to guide intelligent design theory. A design inference is warranted if an intelligible pattern is of sufficient complexity to preclude chance, and if it bears a precise specification or pattern. An excellent example is provided by Michael Behe's "irreducibly complex" systems in biochemistry. These are biological objects and operations which depend for their function on a number of parts being in working order. Since the complexity of these systems precludes the possibility of their arising by chance, and they bear a precise specification, a design inference is warranted. Dembski adds that intelligent design will not quash scientific enquiry, but rather may guide the development of new research paradigms by eliminating false premises and focusing the goals of enquiry.

It is often the case that collections of essays by different writers lack an overall cohesion, but not so for Naturalism: A Critical Analysis. These essays are mutually reinforcing as the authors build a cumulative case against naturalism. While this is a mark of good editing, I must take issue with Craig and Moreland's editorial decision not to present a set of definitions on naturalism and its various cognates at the outset. As it stands, there are a bewildering number of naturalisms thrown at the reader through the course of the essays (e.g. metaphysical, epistemological, methodological); as such, a standardized set of terms observed through all the essays would have been very helpful. It must also be noted that while one cannot cover every pertinent issue in a book such as this, certain omissions are more noticeable (and regrettable) than others. Given the growing number of naturalist philosophers presently reconsidering a priori knowledge, an essay dedicated to the centrality and anti-naturalist nature of aprioricity would have been timely. Further, an essay on the fine-tuning for the universe would have been a valuable complement to Craig's essay. But perhaps most unfortunate is the sparse treatment of value theory, particularly the lack of any sustained discussion of metaethics.

Granted Naturalism: A Critical Analysis is an important work, but is it important enough to command the attention of a busy theologian already spread too thin over systematic theology and related disciplines? While many may dismiss this book as too recondite, with a little reflection one can see room to raise important theological questions at almost every turn. For instance, if properties exist apart from their exemplification in concrete objects then what are they? Divine thoughts? Should Calvinists find concord with the compatibilist arguments of naturalist philosophers, or is libertarianism, as Goetz defines it, the only proper Christian view of the person? Is t=0 (the point of the Big Bang) of theological significance, as Craig assumes, and if so, how?

The book also provides a significant challenge to the influence that naturalism has already had on theology. Take the example of body/soul dualism. It is well known that the soul has receded in discussions of theological anthropology in recent decades. Indeed, it has often been rejected on what are alleged to be strong biblical and theological grounds. But ever since Gilbert Ryle derided "the ghost in the machine", many of those reasons have also been philosophical and "scientific", and these are commonly rooted in naturalist presuppositions. There is a good deal of confusion here as theologians juxtapose "dualism" with "holism" as if they were contraries, when in fact the two may be fully complementary. In rejecting the soul, these theologians are embracing physicalism, not holism. (And this is certainly no less a contentious thesis on biblical grounds than is dualism.) Now most anti-dualist theologians would be unhappy with the physicalist description of human beings as computers made of meat. But if they reject eliminativism and identity theory (and given the reasons put forth by Taliaferro and Goetz, they should) then they are left with a form of supervenience. But supervenience is best understood as a form of property dualism. This places the theologian in the dilemma of committing to epiphenomenalism and so denying that human beings act to achieve purposes. It seems then that free will appears to require substance dualism which brings us back to the basic anthropological position most theologians have espoused for two thousand years.

There are many other points at which naturalism has adversely impacted theology, and many more at which it continues to undermine our contemporary culture. It is now time for theologians to confront naturalism straight on, and Naturalism: A Critical Analysis provides an excellent point from which to begin.

5.0 out of 5 stars Naturalism: Not Quite as "Super" as "Supernaturalism" 24 Feb 2014
By Ryan S Ashton - Published on
In a 2012 debate entitled The Great Debate: Has Science Refuted Religion, physicist Sean Carroll made a rather bold claim in his opening remarks (at about the 12:30 mark):

"The argument is finished. The debate is over. We've come to a conclusion. Naturalism has won. If you go to any university physics department, listen to the talks they give or the papers they write--go to any biology department, go to any neuroscience department, any philosophy department, people whose professional job it is to explain the world, to come up with explanatory frameworks that match what we see--no one mentions God. There's never an appeal to a supernatural realm by people whose job it is to explain what happens in the world. Everyone knows that the naturalist explanations are the ones that work."

Naturalism: A Critical Analysis edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland is essentially a direct challenge to Carroll's claim. The book is a collection of essays by academic philosophers in university departments that do not "know that naturalist explanations are the ones that work." They instead level a host of ontological, epistemological, ethical, and theological arguments against the veracity of naturalist explanations. In this review I will attempt to explain what some of those arguments are.

Naturalism Defined

Naturalism is a bit of a slippery thesis so there is no one official version of it; nevertheless, I think Paul K. Moser and David Yandell capture the two major pillars of naturalism in the first essay of the book entitled "Farewell to Philosophical Naturalism." They offer these two dimensions of naturalism:

"Core ontological naturalism: every real entity either consists of or is somehow grounded in the objects countenanced by the hypothetically completed empirical sciences (that is, in the objects of a natural ontology).

"Core methodological naturalism: every legitimate method of acquiring knowledge consists of or is grounded in the hypothetically completed methods of the empirical sciences (that is, in natural methods)" (p.10).

These two definitions capture both what naturalism says exists, and how naturalism says we come to know anything. What exists are basically physical objects and forces--the stuff of physics. What we know is basically whatever the physical sciences tell us is so. In fact, the centrality of the physical sciences in the naturalist view has led some (including Moser and Yandell) to use the term scientism to capture the view.[1] Moser and Yandell include the phrase "hypothetically completed" in their definitions to describe the empirical sciences because naturalists do not suggest that "science now" is representative of all that exists and all that can be known. Instead, naturalists acknowledge the incompleteness of today's scientific understanding, yet wish to maintain that the final word on reality will be in some sense "scientific" or "science-like." Naturalist's tend to agree that today's scientific picture is a reasonable approximation of what tomorrow's scientific picture will look like. Since today's empirical sciences do not use "supernatural" entities to do any explanatory work (e.g. God), naturalists are unified in rejecting the existence of anything supernatural. Furthermore, since the empirical sciences do not use "faith," "divine revelation," or "pure reason" to detect truths about the world, naturalists do not take those methods to be reliable truth-detecting tools. So, in short, naturalists tend to define their position as (1) a commitment to the existence of only entities postulated by empirical sciences and (2) a commitment to only the methods of the empirical sciences.

Objections to Methodological Naturalism

The thesis of methodological naturalism (also known as epistemological naturalism) seems to suffer the most from this criticism: it is self-defeating. To see how it is self-defeating, consider this proposition: "Methodological naturalism is true." Now, ask yourself, by what empirical science was this proposition verified? Was it verified by a chemistry experiment?--by a particle collider?--through a telescope?--a microscope?--how exactly was the thesis of methodological naturalism grounded by its own standard of knowledge: that of empirical science? The answer seems to be that it was never verified by any empirical science. If this is right, then methodological naturalism fails its own test. To believe the proposition of methodological naturalism, then, is to entail that one disbelieve it. It is similar to the status of the proposition, "This sentence is false." If one believes the sentence is true, then one should believe the sentence is false. The sentence undermines itself and is therefore self-defeating. Moser and Yandell write as much in their essay:

"[Methodological naturalism] is not itself a thesis offered by any empirical science....[It is not] represented in the empirical scientific work of either physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, psychology, or any other natural or social empirical science....The self-defeat of [methodological naturalism] would result from its failing to be included in or approved by its own proposed single standard for methodological...integrity: the (hypothetically completed) empirical sciences" (pp.10-13).

The only way to rescue methodological naturalism would be to weaken the strength of its claim. Instead of saying something like "every method of knowledge is grounded in the empirical sciences," it could say, "most methods of knowledge are grounded in the empirical sciences." But, of course, such a move would open the door to non-empirical methods of knowledge--like a priori truths--and remove the teeth from the naturalist's position. If this revised version of methodological naturalism were the version Sean Carroll asserts has "won," it would be a trivial victory.

Objections to Ontological Naturalism

Moser and Yandell wield a similar criticism to that of methodological naturalism against ontological naturalism. Namely, ontological naturalism is not itself a thesis of any of the empirical sciences. There is no experiment a scientist can run that yields the conclusion "X, Y, and Z, and only X, Y, and Z, exist." Moser and Yandell say this:

"Neither individually nor collectively do [the empirical sciences] offer theses about every real entity or every legitimate epistemological method....the empirical sciences, individually and collectively, are logically neutral on such matters as the existence of God, the reliability of certain kinds of religious experience, the objectivity of moral value, and the reality of thinking substances" (p.11).

Philosopher Edward Feser (who did not contribute to this volume) has offered a clear analogy to this point. He suggests that a metal detector is really good at detecting metallic objects; however, the metal detector is no good at detecting anything else. If we think of the empirical sciences as analogous to a metal detector (or a group of different kinds of detectors), it does not follow from the fact that they might detect X, Y, and Z that only X, Y, and Z exist. It might be the case that A, B, or C also exist, but the detectors of the sciences simply are not calibrated to detect them. It would thus be a logical mistake to reason from the existence of X, Y, and Z as detected by the empirical sciences to the conclusion that nothing other than X, Y, and Z exists. Claims about all of reality are, as Moser and Yandell say elsewhere, monopolistic claims; but, the empirical sciences are not equipped to make such monopolistic claims. Instead, the empirical sciences make specific claims within limited domains. To reach the more fundamental, all-encompassing level of reality, one must use meta-physics, which is in the realm of a priori philosophy rather than empirical science. This philosophical realm is, however, barred to the naturalist due to his methodological commitments. Thus, it seems as though ontological naturalism falls short of finding justification within its own naturalistic commitments.

Aside from this logical criticism of ontological naturalism, there are perhaps good empirical objections to it as well. Charles Taliaferro and Stuart Goetz each write chapters pertaining to the existence of immaterial minds which, if correct, falsify ontological naturalism by virtue of the established existence of something non-material. Taliaferro writes chapter 6 entitled "Naturalism and the Mind," and Goetz writes chapter 7 entitled "Naturalism and Libertarian Agency." For the sake of brevity, I will not reprise these arguments in much detail. In short, Taliaferro argues on the one hand that the three major naturalistic strategies for dealing with the mind (eliminative materialism, identity materialism, and non-reductive materialism) are each flawed; on the other hand, he argues that dualism (i.e. that immaterial minds exist) is a good explanation for what the mind is and why it has the properties that it does. Furthermore, he suggests that dualism is at home in an overall theistic, non-naturalistic, world view. Goetz argues for dualism as well but he does so on the basis of libertarian free will. Goetz suggests that the best explanation for the appearance of free will is that there are non-physical minds who make undetermined choices for reasons or purposes. Since material objects are not capable of making choices for reasons--material objects are only supposed to obey determinate laws--the existence of free will entails the existence of something non-physical: namely, immaterial conscious agents. If either of Taliaferro's or Goetz's essays are successful, dualism is established and ontological naturalism is therefore falsified.

A third criticism of ontological naturalism comes from Robert C. Koons in chapter 3 entitled, "The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism." Scientific realism is basically the proposition that the sciences yield objectively true facts about an externally existing world. In other words, the theories and theses of the sciences reliably produce knowledge about the external world. Koons' thesis is partially captured in this excerpt:

"I will argue that nature is comprehensible scientifically only if nature is not a causally closed system--only if nature is shaped by supernatural forces (forces beyond the scope of physical space and time)" (p.50).

His argument proceeds by pointing out how the empirical sciences recognize a kind of preference for simplicity in their theories. This is to say, the natural world appears to obey elegant, parsimonious, and symmetrical laws rather than crude, profligate, or asymmetrical laws. Provided Koons' observation here is accurate (which seems reasonable given the history of scientific theorizing), it follows that simplicity is a kind of reliable indicator of the objective features of reality. In other words, scientists are better-equipped to produce true theories about the world if they rely on simplicity as a guide. But, Koons argues, in order for simplicity to be a reliable guide toward truth, it must be the case that simplicity was systematically or causally imposed upon or woven into the natural world. It is not good enough for one to suggest that the simplicity in the world came about "by chance." For if the simplicity is only there by happenstance, that would undermine the reliability of the preference for simplicity in scientific theorizing (i.e., simplicity would not be a reliable indicator of truth). The natural world itself, however, as a closed system, could not be the cause of its own alignment with simplicity. The simplicity must have come from outside the closed natural world, which is to say, it must have come from a super-natural source. Obviously, if Koons is right and simplicity in science requires a supernatural source, ontological naturalism would be false.

A fourth objection to ontological naturalism comes from cosmological considerations. William Lane Craig produces his now-familiar Kalam Cosmological Argument in chapter 9 of the book entitled "Naturalism and Cosmology." The argument is quite simple yet potent:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence (p.244).

Premise (1) is defended by the principle of sufficient reason. If some entity did not have to exist, or some event did not have to happen, then the entity or event is metaphysically contingent. If some entity has to exist, or some event has to happen, then the entity or event is metaphysically necessary. Metaphysically necessary entities or events do not require causes or explanations, but metaphysically contingent entities or events do require causes or explanations. Thus, insofar as something begins to exist, it cannot be the case that the thing must exist; for if it must exist, it would never "begin" to exist. It would instead simply "always" exist. So, premise (1) derives from the fact that a contingent entity requires some explanation of its existence. In this case, the coming into being requires a cause which explains why that being came into existence.

The defense of premise (2) occupies the majority of Craig's chapter. He argues that the evidence in support of the standard big bang model of the universe adds significant weight to the veracity of premise (2). Insofar as the big bang indicates that the universe began to exist a finite time ago, then it appears that the universe is a contingent entity that requires a cause or explanation of its coming into existence. Thus, premise (3) follows logically from (1) and (2). It generally does not require much more argument to show why the truth of premise (3) causes trouble for naturalism. On ontological naturalism, the spatio-temporal universe comprises all existant entities. If the entire spatio-temporal universe required a cause of its own existence, such a cause must exist outside of that universe, for it is incoherent to assert that the universe caused itself.

The bulk of Craig's work in his chapter is to consider the various strategies naturalists have offered to avoid premise (2). I will not try to summarize these different strategies but simply record that Craig's objections to them struck me as promising, and it is no surprise that he concludes that they all ultimately fail to unseat the standard big bang model. Consequently, if Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument is correct, a supernatural cause of the universe must exist and ontological naturalism is therefore false.

The final essay in the volume was written by William Dembski. He titles his chapter "Naturalism and Design" and argues against ontological naturalism on the basis of design in nature. He develops a criterion for design detection--what he calls the specification-complexity criterion--and explains how this criterion can eliminate the adequacy of naturalist appeals to chance and necessity for some natural systems. Insofar as naturalism prohibits the existence of design in nature (because naturalism only permits physical forces to operate via chance and necessity), the detection of design in nature falsifies naturalism. Dembski writes the following in his closing paragraph:

"[N]aturalism allows only certain sorts of fundamental causes (chance and necessity). Those causes are (demonstrably) incapable of generating specified complexity. But nature exhibits specified complexity, especially in biology. Therefore naturalism is false" (p.277).

Dembski spells out the term "specified complexity" in some detail in his chapter, but the essence of the idea is fairly easy to grasp. Consider the sentence "Naturalism has some problems." We can say that this sentence is "specified" because the arrangement of symbols matches up to independently given patterns: namely, the patterns of syntax and semantics of the English language. The sentence in question is specific to the patterns of the English language whereas the following arrangement of symbols is not: "ijfoe$lan*gi@elanuejkep/,2ken aknd]=`po5}/fnmkl." The latter sequence came about by my randomly mashing buttons on the keyboard and does not match up to the patterns of English (nor, I suspect, the patterns of any other language). The sentence "Naturalism has some problems" is also complex in the sense that the arrangement of the symbols is fairly improbable. The probability of that exact sequence coming about by my randomly mashing buttons on the keyboard is fairly small. The sequence "too," however, is much less complex than our naturalism sentence and, even though it is specific to the English language, it is not complex enough to eliminate the chance occurrence of it by random button mashing. Thus, neither specification nor complexity by itself is sufficient to eliminate chance and invoke design; instead, both specification and complexity are required on Dembski's account to eliminate chance and invoke design.

Dembski then applies his criterion to the bacterial flagellum motor found in the biological world and argues that the motor passes the specification-complexity criterion and therefore the biological system could not have arisen by naturalistic chance or necessity; instead, it must have arisen by design. The objection to naturalism is then plain: if a biological system arose by design, the design must have come from an intelligent agent operating outside the boundaries of purely deterministic physical law. The existence of such an intelligent agent then falsifies ontological naturalism.

There are a few other arguments against naturalism in the book that I have not discussed but should mention. Dallas Willard levels an argument against naturalism to the effect that knowledge is impossible in the naturalist's world. J.P. Moreland and Michael Rea both highlight technical problems for naturalism with respect to understanding material objects and their properties. And John E. Hare argues that there is an incompatibility between naturalism and morality. These essays are interesting in their own right and my omission of them here is not meant to say anything about their quality.

Overall, the arguments presented against naturalism in this volume at best falsify naturalism, and at worst cast a sizable degree of doubt on Sean Carroll's assertion that naturalism has "won." The book does demand a pretty robust familiarity with philosophical jargon and some intellectual discipline, but it rewards those who invest the effort with a deep grasp of the difficulties of the naturalist view that are otherwise unknown or ignored by its public advocates.


[1] Alex Rosenberg is a philosopher who has both advocated the use of the label "scientism" and subscribed to it himself. See his 2011 book An Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions and my Amazon review of his book called "How Fermions and Bosons Get It Wrong."
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive Volume With Critical Essays on Naturalism From a Diverse Field of Scholars 21 Jun 2006
By Discovery Reviewer - Published on
This impressive volume contains critical essays on naturalism from the perspectives of theology, ethics, cosmology, ontology, and epistemology. Various Discovery Fellows make contributions including Robert C. Koons, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and William Dembski.

Koons begins by noting that there is a simple correlation between existence and the requirement of some non-natural first cause. He observes an irony that science thinks it requires naturalism, when our very ability to practice science, due to the orderly, reliable, and predictable behavior of the universe implies a non-natural intelligent cause. Scientific dependence upon naturalism is self-refuting.

Moreland's quotes Plato to reveal that there really is nothing new under the sun: scholars have been debating naturalism for millennia, and naturalists have been ever pugnacious in their insistence that mutual co-existence is not an option. Moreland recounts that the great philosopher wrote in Sophist:

"They [naturalists] define reality as the same thing as body, and as soon as one of the opposite party asserts that anything without a body is real, they are utterly contemptuous and will not listen to another word. ... On this issue an interminable battle is always going on between the two camps."

Yet the battle may eventually be over if the cosmological data presented by William Lane Craig has anything to do with it. Craig recounts the history of cosmology from when where scholars celebrated an eternal universe with no beginning or end, to one where the universe either has a "supernatural cause" or "one must say that the universe simply sprang into being out of nothing" (Big Bang cosmology mandates an expanding universe that is finite in both space and time.). Craig recounts the words of one team of scientists: "The problem of the origin [of the universe] involves a certain metaphysical aspect which may be either appealing or revolting."

William Dembski closes the volume by arguing that naturalism is no more supported by the scientific data in biology than it is supported in cosmology. Irreducible complexity in nature disallows the possibility that life arose via naturalistic mechanisms. It also signifies an intelligent cause that scientists cannot deny any longer.
20 of 98 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars staw men 26 Aug 2003
By K. Curtin - Published on
Anyone can knock down straw men and these guys do it with enthusiasm.
If we believe there is only matter we are told we have no basis for maorality. That simply is not true. We have evolved to have certain social qualities and the ability to think abstractly and these are the basis of morality. This argument seems to presuppose that for morality to matter we have to have chosen it out of thin air via free will. If it has a more solid basis it is not really morality. We care about what we care about even if the basis is physical.
Free will posses a greater problem. But through the history of modren western thought free will has been slowly chipped away at. We now recognize that people can have organic physical problems that impair "free will" and their ability to judge moral actions and that we can have childhood experiences that greatly influence our actions and we all accept this. It seems we assign to free will only what we cannot explain in our choices of behavior. Christians have an even bigger problem with free will that they always manage to sweep under the rug. God, they say, gave us free will. Well, what a dumb move. It is like giving the assylum keys to the lunatics: utterly irresponsible. If God gave us free will he is responsible for the consequences and for the evil we do as a result. AFter all, giving us free will was HIS choice and we are all responsible for our choices. So, unless we hold God to a lesser standard he is responsible for the wrong we do and the pain we inflict as a result of his foolish choice to let us do it. The usual answer is that we cannot comprehend his plan. But surely we can comprehend that he gave us the ability to do harm to eachother and is therefore responsible for that choice. This is incocnsistent with all-knowing, all-good, all-loving etc.
For those who want to see just how organic and physically based we really are please read Oliver Sachs "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat". You will see how brain damage can lead to all sorts of bizarre cognition and behavior (this also includes changes in moral nehavior and judgment). If physical problems can so greatly disturb the way we believe, behave, and function maybe, just maybe that is because the whole thing is physically based!!!! It isn't wild and it isn't disturbing to think this. Really it is just common sense.
Were these reviews helpful?   Let us know

Customer Discussions

This product's forum
Discussion Replies Latest Post
No discussions yet

Ask questions, Share opinions, Gain insight
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Search Customer Discussions
Search all Amazon discussions

Look for similar items by category