Testing worldviews: the definition of the “naturalistic” world viewApril 30, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
A Christian commenter who goes by the handle “schooloffish” has invited us to review a recent blog entry of his on the subject “DOES YOUR WORLD VIEW PASS THE TEST?.” He seems nice enough, so let’s drop by, shall we?
Everyone has a world view, which is best described as the way you see the world. There are as many world views as there are people, but in general, there are three specific world views that I will be analysing with this article. These three world view categories are religious, naturalistic, andrelativistic world views. Of course there are many subcategories within these three categories that we will cover as well.
So far so good. Comparative world views is a hefty subject, but we’re talking blog posts, not encyclopedias, so it’s fair to just hit the high points. Let’s look at his definitions, starting with naturalism.
A person who has a naturalistic world view generally rejects all caused causes and instead tends to embrace a view that the world was made by chance through the process of general evolution with absolutely no interference from a created being. In a nutshell, these people believe that what we see is all that there is. No GOD, or if there is a God he/she/it/they do not interfere in the world.
Hmm, not so sure about that. Science is all about caused causes; following the chain of causality is how scientific discoveries are made. I know of no one, naturalist or not, who rejects the idea that causes can have causes. I think perhaps schooloffish is trying to say something that’s not really coming across clearly, at least to me.
I am going to be a bit nit-picky about his second description, that naturalists “embrace a view that the world was made by chance through…evolution.” (Also, I think he meant “no interference from a Creator, not from a created being.) But “made by chance” bothers me just a bit.
Technically, you could say that the universe came into existence without intelligent direction, which might loosely be called “by chance.” It’s important to remember, however, that “by chance” does not mean “purely random” or “anything goes.” The things that happen in the natural world happen in strict accordance with a number of fundamental natural laws. The natural course of events is not directed but it is constrained (which can look very much like intelligent direction). Again, science is all about tracing the chain of causality, in the context of the natural laws that pushed things to go in one direction rather than in another. So even though the course of events is not directed, there is a reason why things happened the way they happened. In other words, nature is going to make sense, if you explore it rationally.
Lastly, as far believing that what we see is all there is, again I’m going to be nit-picky. Naturalists believe in many things that cannot be seen. Pi, for example, is not a physical object, nor is it a number that was invented by men (in fact, it’s humanly impossible to calculate the exact value of the whole thing). It’s a fixed property of objective reality, however. It’s real, even though you cannot directly observe it.
Also, many scientists who might be called naturalists (in the philosophical sense) are quite open to the idea of reality encompassing additional unseen dimensions, parallel universes, and other transcendent phenomena. The theological distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” does not apply to the scientific world view, because science only knows the distinction between “verifiable” and “unverifiable.”
If someone were to discover, for instance, that there was a scientifically verifiable dimension called “heaven,” in which lived verifiable intelligent beings called “gods,” these things would simply be incorporated into the naturalist’s verified understanding of what “nature” consists of. There’s no dogmatic, predetermined limit on what nature can be; it is simply what we discover it to be. If the supernatural were real, it would, from the naturalist’s point of view, be part of the natural world. Saying “what we see is all there is” doesn’t quite capture the true essence of the naturalist’s view. It would be better to say that the naturalist requires objective evidence that things are real before he will believe in them.
All in all, his definition of the naturalistic world view is a bit off, in my opinion, but isn’t really too bad, especially if he’s approaching the subject from a Christian world view. I’ll stop here for now, but this looks like a good basis for a friendly discussion and I think we’ll come back for a further look in a future post.