The illogic of naturalism

Atheists challenge the religious right, reads the headline.

"For some time, the religious right has decried "secular humanism," a philosophy that rejects the supernatural or spiritual as a basis for moral decisionmaking. But now, nonbelievers are vigorously fighting back."

"Two particularly provocative books, in fact, hit the top of Publishers Weekly’s religion bestseller list in December. No. 1, "The God Delusion," by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and No. 2, "Letter to a Christian Nation," by writer Sam Harris, are no-holds-barred, antireligion polemics that call for the eradication of all manifestations of faith.

"’I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented,’ declares Dr. Dawkins, the famed Oxford professor who wrote The Selfish Gene."

"Yet the authors are anything but modest about their efforts to supplant faith with pure scientific rationality."

"Many nontheists don’t share this militant perspective, but have decided that keeping silent in religious America no longer makes sense. They are astonished that a majority of Americans question evolution and support teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. They are distressed over polls that show that at least half of Americans are unwilling to vote for an atheist despite the Constitution’s requirement that there be no religious test for public office. And they contend that in recent years, Congress has passed bills and the president has issued executive orders that have privileged religion in inappropriate and unconstitutional ways."

It is interesting that Dr. Dawkins claims he is attacking all gods, but in reality he is attacking all gods but his own: scientific rationality. To claim that nature is all that exists, and that what can be proved in a science lab is the end of everything; that supernature does not exist, is a statement of belief. "Nature is all that exists" is a statement which must be taken on faith, for it in itself cannot be proved.

In fact, the statement "Nature is all that exists" may have been disproved over 70 years ago. In the early part of the 20th century, nearly all career mathematicians (like Bertrand Russell) were busy trying to prove that arithmetic was self-consistent, something heretofore taken for granted but called into question when intuitive set theory was shown to be inconsistent.

"After nearly three decades the search ended in 1931, when Kurt Godel published an unsettling proof. His proof had two profound conclusions.

"First, Godel showed that all efforts to prove arithmetic to be free from contradictions are doomed to failure. Arithmetic cannot be proven consistent. In fact, no system powerful enough to include arithmetic is capable of proving itself consistent. ("Godel’s Proof," Scientific American, June 1956).

"[Second,] Godel showed a basic limitation in the power of the axiomatic method. He showed that any mathematical system powerful enough to contain arithmetic within itself is essentially incomplete. … This is called Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. … [Godel] showed there exists mathematical truth that can never be proven true. There exists truth forever out of reach of the axiomatic method. There exists truth we can never ‘observe’ to be true by examining a superstructure of reasoning. … This is like proving the existence of the supernatural."

Dr. Walter ReMine, The Biotic Message, p.49-51.

Dr. ReMine explains the details wonderfully well in his excellent book, another of the treasures of my library. Nontheists, by limiting that which exists to that which can be proved by rationalism employed by finite human understanding, must ignore the principles of the disciplines on which they rely — mathematics and science — in order to live under that limitation. Naturalism and rationalism are both philosophies, and not science at all; but they masquerade as science. In truth, they seek to silence any other philosophy which is not naturalism, something WAY OUTSIDE the scope and purvue of science proper. Thus the illogic.

4 thoughts on “The illogic of naturalism

  1. What I find interesting is the switch from being "atheists" to being "nontheists". Is there a substantial difference between the two, or is this a re-packaging to make the philosophy more easily digested?

  2. Beautiful blog (is that Yosemite, nature's cathedral?), but the mathematical argument for the supernatural is apocryphal. Knowledge that something is incomplete does not tell us what would complete it. As Dawkins would say, "it has not been disproven that there is a teapot of fresh hot English Breakfast orbiting the Earth. But that is not a good basis for astronauts to plan a tea on orbit."

    Corresponding to Godel's theorem, there is one important moral principle that is axiomatic and beyond proof, and that is the sanctity of life in the universe. Naturalists agree on this principle and share it with the adherents of most other moral codes. It requires no supernatural authority to recognize the importance of life in the universe. The problem is that many if not most religions qualify sanctified life with the adjective "human", and even more narrowly, human life of the right religious persuasion. Humans of other persuasions (or races, creeds, colors) are often defined to be subhuman, putting them outside the sphere of sanctity and making them eligible for guilt-free execution when expedient.

    Humans are capable of the most pernicious forms of logical justification. So perhaps we can agree that logic is not the proper basis of morality.

    Best wishes,
    Tom Moore

  3. Hi Tom, thanks for visiting and commenting. My point in bringing in Godel's Incompleteness Theorem to bear on Dawkins' crusade to destroy God and all gods, was to show that science and mathematics cannot disprove God.

    Dawkins is premature to claim that God or gods do not exist. There is no way for science, which seeks to say what is true of the natural world, to comment on the supernatural world, which is outside of its purvue entirely. Science simply does not have the authority to discuss the supernatural.

    That is the point that Dawkins continually ignores, no matter how many times it is pointed out to him.

  4. "There is no way for science, which seeks to say what is true of the natural world, to comment on the supernatural world, which is outside of its purvue entirely. Science simply does not have the authority to discuss the supernatural. "
    <br>It's true – science has no "authority" to criticise the supernatural world, but the converse is also true – supernaturalists have no authority to tell those of us living in the "here and now" natural world how to deal with the world's problems. The recent outpouring of criticism from the nonreligious is because:
    <br>-Naturalists will no longer be forced to invade foreign countries based on instructions from supernatural beings.
    <br>-Naturalists will no longer be denied the ability to employ life saving medical tools to reduce the suffering of countless fully formed human beings living in the "here and now" natural world simply because of some distorted supernatural idea that 3 day old blastocysts with no nervous system and no conciousness can suffer.
    <br>-Naturalists will no longer permit birth control to be forbidden to million's of people at risk of catching and suffering horendously from sexually borne diseases simply because of supernatural prudery.
    <br>Naturalists cannot permit supernaturalists to deny life saving medications to those suffering from AIDS simply to "make an example" out of those who've broken some mysterious supernatural taboos on sexual practice.
    <br>Naturalists most certainly should not prevent supernaturalists from obsessing over their "other world". In fact much good would come if they'd all go contemplate on a mountain somewhere and leave naturalists to really tackle the problem of human suffering.

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