A philosophical archive for the constructive study of substance dualism: www.newdualism.org.
Arguments Concerning Naturalism
by Dan Synnestvedt
Extracted (pp.459-487) from his article in The New Philosophy, Vol. CXI, 415-514 (July-Sept 2008).
In general, philosophy concerns itself with reason and the giving of reasons for one’s positions and beliefs, or adopting the most reasonable of them. To philosophers, the person with the best arguments wins the contest of ideas. This means that even an argument that is very technical and contains little or no rhetorical devices, is very exciting because arguments are at the center of action. Also, in a broadly democratic culture, or one that aspires thereto, engaging in reasoned debate rather than violence to persuade others to adopt a policy or course of action is essential. So it is important to be familiar with the reasons and arguments both for and against naturalism. This is not an exhaustive treatment of all the arguments for and against naturalism, but I think there are enough to show what philosophers take to be the strengths and weaknesses of naturalism. While there is some overlap between arguments for and against naturalism and arguments supporting theism, we will not be reviewing arguments that attempt to prove the existence of God and objections to these. This is apologetics and there are very helpful books one can consult regarding this.107
In the next two large sections of the paper I quote philosophers at length. The reason for this practice is that when professional philosophers write for one another, their arguments are frequently complex and very carefully worded so as to avoid becoming easy prey to objections. This makes summarization not only difficult, but can also lead to inaccuracies and misunderstanding. Reading these arguments may not be easy, but it does give the reader an accurate idea of the work that goes on in philosophy while advancing one’s understanding of the intricacies of the issue. Depending upon one’s cast of mind, the thrill of tracking the jousting motions of the different camps through the twists and turns of the debate may be experienced.
Arguments For Naturalism
We will begin with arguments from Sidney Hook (1902–89), a professor of philosophy at New York University, student of John Dewey, and an advocate of pragmatism, naturalism, and socialism. Hook characterizes the use of any other method of knowing besides science as a “failure of nerve.”108 In the quotations that follow, note well Hook’s emphasis upon the commitment to methodological naturalism, particularly through his use of the word “evidence.”
Naturalism is opposed to all known forms of supernaturalism, not because it rules out a priori what may or may not exist, but because no plausible evidence has been found to warrant belief in the entities and powers to which supernatural status has been attributed. The existence of God, immortality, disembodied spirits, cosmic purpose and design, as these have been customarily interpreted by the great institutional religions, are denied by naturalists for the same generic reasons that they deny the existence of fairies, elves, and leprechauns. There are other conceptions of God, to be sure, and provided they are not self-contradictory in meaning, the naturalist is prepared in principle to consider their claims to validity. All he asks is that the conception be sufficiently definite to make possible specific inferences of the determinate conditions— the how, when, and where of His operation.
So long as no self-contradictory notions are advanced, he will not rule out the abstract logical possibility that angelic creatures push the planets any more than that there exists a gingerbread castle on the other side of the moon. All he demands is the presence of sufficient precision of meaning to make it possible to test, let us say…the existence of extrasensory perception. The possibility of extrasensory perception cannot be ruled out a priori. Here, as elsewhere, the naturalist must follow the preponderance of scientific evidence. He therefore welcomes those who talk about the experiential evidence for religious beliefs as distinct from those who begin with mystery and end in mystery. He only asks to be given an opportunity to examine the evidence and to evaluate it by the same general canons which have led to the great triumphs of knowledge in the past. It is natural in this case, as in the case of extrasensory perception, that he should scrutinize with great care reports which if true would lead him radically to modify some of his earlier generalizations. The unusual must clear a higher hurdle of credibility than the usual. But only on its first jump. Unfortunately, for all their talk of appeal to experience, direct or indirect, religious experientialists dare not appeal to any experience of sufficiently determinate character to permit of definite tests. There is a certain wisdom in this reluctance. For if experience can confirm a belief, it can also invalidate it. But to most supernaturalists this is an inadmissible possibility. We therefore find that the kind of experience to which reference is made is not only unique but also uniquely self-authenticating. Those who are not blessed by the experiences are regarded as blind or deaf or worse!110
In these passages Hook tries to take the position of a completely objective inquirer, claiming that science is metaphysically neutral with regard to supernaturalism and that he might believe in supernaturalism, but by golly, there just isn’t any plausible evidence. By “evidence” Hook means scientific evidence, since for him there is no other kind, at least none that is epistemically reliable. But science is not a metaphysically neutral method or set of methods. Scientists prefer to work with things that can be physically observed, counted, measured, controlled in some manner, and duplicated. Not all phenomena occur under these conditions. By claiming that science is its only method, naturalism does, (contrary to Hook), rule out a priori various entities and our belief in them. Hook is like a man who, having discovered how helpful a microscope is when seeking knowledge of various entities, declares that microscopy is the only method that can be trusted to give us knowledge of reality tout court. If we don’t have any microscopic evidence for the existence of something, then we don’t have any evidence for it at all.
Hook’s naïve realism concerning the objectivity of science has been exploded by the findings in the history and sociology of science. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, we have become increasingly aware that scientists are subject to the same sorts of cognitive, affective, economic, etc. distortions as the rest of us mere mortals. Granted, the scientific method dampens bias significantly, but bias remains nonetheless and the entire enterprise is shot through with values and value judgments. This is powerfully illustrated in the various fields of medicine.111
Next, consider the arguments for naturalism put forth by the American philosopher Arthur Danto along with some comments and questions of my own.
Here are Danto’s replies to the objections aimed at naturalism along with some commentary:
In his online encyclopedia entry, philosopher David Papineau rejects the suggestion that naturalism rests on “some kind of unargued commitment” which “seems to be supported by the historical contingency of naturalist doctrines.”114 Instead he asserts that “naturalist doctrines, . . . are closely responsive to received scientific opinion about the range of causes that can have physical effects.” In his view, naturalism rests on the “widespread acceptance of the doctrine now known as the ‘causal closure’ or the ‘causal completeness’ of the physical realm, according to which all physical effects can be accounted for by basic physical causes (where ‘physical’ can be understood as referring to some list of fundamental forces).” The widespread acceptance of the causal closure doctrine occurred by the middle of the twentieth century. “The causal closure thesis implies that any mental and biological causes must themselves by physically constituted, if they are to produce physical effects. It thus gives rise to a particularly strong form of ontological naturalism, namely the physicalist doctrine that any state that has physical effects must itself be physical.”115
In my opinion, the causal closure doctrine seems like an assertion of naturalism, or a part of it, not something independent of it that can be used to support it. The same seems to apply to physicalism. Also, linking the acceptance of that doctrine to the findings of science does not do away with its contingency, for the findings of science are themselves contingent, as other naturalists have asserted. Papineau’s assertion ultimately rests on the “appeal to science” and its success. But he raises a very important philosophical point, namely, how are we to understand causality? The Heavenly Doctrines take a position directly opposite to the naturalists when they claim that all causes are spiritual, or are in the spiritual world (DLW 119). The New Church view of reality is also shot-through with purpose; it is a highly teleological view of nature (DLW 168, 189, 197, 241).
There is much work to be done in explaining exactly what this means and how it relates to our understanding of science and the natural world. This is another opportunity to conduct some very important research in the future.
Arguments against Naturalism
At the beginning of this paper we saw that naturalism is the reigning worldview of today’s Western philosophers. This does not mean that there are no critics of naturalism. Even though naturalism is the position to hold, and has been for most of the twentieth century, during the past twenty-five years a number of arguments have been advanced against it. These arguments have been produced by both theistic and secular philosophers. What follows are quotations from both sets of philosophers along with my summarizing statements.
Let us first consider one of the arguments made by a Christian philosopher. As we have seen, according to the naturalists we should believe in naturalism because of science. Since this is the most frequent reason given for naturalism and typically the most powerful today, the truth or falsity of this claim is crucial to the debate between naturalists and spiritualists. In this argument, “The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism,” Robert C. Koons attempts to drive a wedge between a certain understanding of science and ontological naturalism.116
Koons argues that scientific realism and naturalism are incompatible by showing that
Koons then explains that his argument requires two assumptions, which he labels PS (Preference Simplicity) and ER (Essential Reliability).
After giving a defense of PS and ER (50–55), Koons moves to the proof of the incompatibility of the three theses.
Hence one cannot consistently embrace naturalism and scientific realism (55–56). Koons then tests his position in the following manner:
Koons has developed an interesting dilemma for the naturalist, which can be stated in this somewhat over-simplified manner. On the one hand, if natural science is accurately telling us about the nature of reality, then naturalism is false. This of course would not be acceptable to a naturalist. On the other hand, if natural science is not accurately telling us about the nature of reality, then naturalism can be true, but not in its ontological form. This means that we are not justified in claiming that only nature exists, and this leaves the door open for theism and forms of spiritualism. So the other horn of the dilemma is not acceptable to a naturalist either.
Another argument against naturalism, one that has received quite a bit of attention, has been formulated by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga is probably the most well-known Christian philosopher in America today. He is a professor at Notre Dame University who specializes in epistemology and the philosophy of religion. Like the previous argument, he attempts to drive a wedge between science and naturalism by posing a dilemma. Plantinga’s claims have been summarized by James Beilby.
Less rigorously, we can re-state the argument this way: Naturalism is a sealed mental box that does not allow any transcendental help when it
comes to the truth of our beliefs or the reliability of our belief-generating organs. A theist can claim that even though our brains might be just complex monkey-brains, we receive epistemic assistance from God and His angels when it comes to the formation of beliefs, our rational assessment of them, and the organs used to generate them. This means that we have a transcendental basis for confidence in our ability to (eventually) know the truth. We can know some true things some of the time, because God knows all true things all of the time and He designed us to be finite knowers in His all-knowing image.
If a naturalist holds that all our beliefs are produced by evolutionary processes, and that these are governed by chance, then our beliefs are also produced by chance and we are not justified, or warranted, in placing a high degree of confidence in them. In other words, naturalism undermines the trust we have in our brains and there is no source outside of the “box” of nature that can be used as a source of reliability to shore up the belief-generating organs and processes. So if everything, including belief, is the result of selection pressures from the environment and there is no Divine Hand designing or directing those pressures, but only chance, then we are not warranted in attributing a high degree of reliability to our beliefs or our brains. This forces the naturalist into a dilemma: one can believe in either naturalism or evolution, but not both. Yet evolutionary theory is part of the naturalist creation narrative and is what makes this position a worldview and not just boosterism for science.
Michael Ruse, a leading philosopher of biology, has replied to Plantinga’s dilemma by asserting that even if we are systematically deceived in our beliefs, the theory of evolution can still account for this. Survival and reproduction are reliable touch-stones for small scale deceptions, and “if there are no good reasons to suspect deception, then it should not be assumed.”119 Moreover, even if systematic deception was the case, we could never check our condition against the “real” world postulated by metaphysics. “One simply has to pull back from a correspondence theory of truth and go with coherence at this point.”120 Ruse acknowledges the fact that Plantinga is aware of these moves and argues against them, but Ruse denies that the circularity of coherence is vicious: “rather, as the success of science (including evolution) shows, you get an ever-bigger and better picture, as you (that is, the human race) get evermore experiences and put them into the picture. You get a reinforcing circularity.”121 Obviously Ruse, like other naturalists, is relying on a form of the “success of science” argument here.
Now let us turn to the arguments against naturalism made by other philosophers. There are two main arguments in “The Charm of Naturalism,” which originally appeared in the American Philosophical Association’s Proceedings because it was given by Barry Stroud as a presidential address. It was re-printed in Naturalism in Question.122 The first argument against naturalism is that it is self-referentially incoherent. Stroud points out that there are sharp disagreements over what counts as “nature” and that “those disagreements are not themselves to be settled by what can be recognized as straightforwardly ‘naturalist’ means. So one thing that seems not to have been ‘naturalized’ is naturalism itself” (22). This is quite ironic. Naturalism boldly claims that everything must give way to scientific investigation and that we must bow before its results. This means that everything from axiology and epistemology to religion and worldviews must be naturalized. Yet naturalism cannot live up to its own standard, for there are disputes about what nature is and what naturalism is that cannot be settled in accordance with its own commitments. So naturalism is self-defeating.
Yet there is one sense in which one can begin to naturalize naturalism, namely by investigating the properties of the people who believe that it is true. If we confine naturalism to people who report that they are atheists, it turns out that naturalists “tend to be more educated, more affluent, and more likely to be male and unmarried than Americans with active faith,” according to a study by the Barna Group.123
The second argument that Stroud presents is this:
Stroud, like previous thinkers, has posed a dilemma. Either naturalism is inclusive or exclusive (restrictive and fixed). If naturalism is inclusive, then it is not definite; it is loose and might let in entities that are usually labeled “supernatural.” If naturalism is exclusive, then it distorts or denies the very phenomena it is supposed to study. Thus naturalism is either open to the supernatural or it is not capable of giving us an accurate comprehensive account of reality, which means that there is more to reality than nature. Either horn of the dilemma seems to open the door to spiritualism, and this is precisely what the naturalist wants to either keep out, “naturalize,” or ignore.
Stroud proceeds to illustrate his point by examining two large areas of philosophy that are highly problematic when exclusive or restrictive naturalism is seen as the only or best option. These two areas are morals and mathematics.
This is a continuation of Stroud’s dilemma. Values are not part of nature; nature is value-free or value-neutral. From this naturalistic assumption it follows that value judgments or beliefs, such as “Killing for revenge is immoral,” refers to something not in nature. A naturalist cannot abide this because it opens the door to spiritualism and the idea that morals have a transcendental basis, one that might ultimately empower God or revelation as a source of moral authority. This, from their point of view, would be a disaster.
Yet as John E. Hare has argued, a modern moral theory such as Immanuel Kant’s deontology, cannot be sustained without some transcendental assistance.124 The reason is that Kant’s moral theory includes a gap between the demand of the moral law for impartiality and the fact that our natural capacities are unequal to the demand. Something is needed to bridge the gap between the “ought” of the moral demand and the “can” of our human nature. Kant bridged this gap through his appeal to the idea of a holy being and supernatural assistance, but this of course is not allowed in naturalism. So Hare has analyzed three secular strategies for dealing with this problem. One is to increase the capacity of human nature to meet the demand (which would result in a dubious picture of human nature), another is to reduce the demand so that it fits our natural capacities (which results in watered-down morality). A third strategy is to find a substitute for divine assistance to bridge the gap. He analyzes the development of evolutionary ethics in this light and it turns out that it is highly problematic.
The other option, that the contents of moral judgments or evaluations are the same as something that is true in nature, say a certain electrochemical state in one’s brain, means that this judgment or belief is not prescriptive, only descriptive. This option is intolerable because it either distorts what we take morality to be, or it abolishes morality entirely, and holding a position that does this would make naturalists rather unpopular.
Like Stroud, Richard Foley has also argued that naturalism and scientific realism cannot both be true because science cannot explain the nature of justification, partly because this is an ethical matter.125 The answer to the question, What should I believe? cannot be given by a series descriptions about some part of nature or about what I actually do believe. If one answers, You should believe in science, one can always ask why one should accept science as a method of inquiry. But the answer to this question cannot come from within science, otherwise it would beg the question. Ironically, this means that the epistemic imperatives promulgated by naturalists and positivists are, themselves, incapable of being justified through naturalistic means. Still, What am I to believe? “is a question we must answer if we are coherently to back our beliefs and decisions with reasons.”126
“The same pattern,” Stroud asserts, “is present in the philosophy of mathematics, where the quandary is perhaps most obvious, and has certainly been widely acknowledged” (32). One problem with naturalizing math and logic is that if they are seen as mere human conventions, or products of non-human nature, they are the results of contingent truths.
A tough-minded naturalist like Papineau would deny that Stroud presents a problem for him on the basis that the social sciences he lists— sociology, economics, and political science—are not really sciences, or are really extensions of the natural sciences and their findings. But I think Stroud has touched a nerve here. If we take the findings of these social sciences seriously, it means that they could uncover aspects of people’s knowledge that are politically controversial if not downright dangerous. It also means that these same investigative methods and their conclusions can and should be applied to people working in the natural sciences and in philosophy. This is something that most naturalists will probably want to resist, and this for two reasons. First, the natural sciences and philosophy, being embodiments of reason, should be above the influence of things like money, race, gender, class, power and political commitments. Second, if the people in the natural sciences and philosophy are not immune to these kinds of influence, then the objectivity of their inquiries and their results is undermined and some sort of Postmodern account of the sciences will be supported. But Postmodernism tends to put all disciplines on an equal footing, or to exalt the study of language above the sciences (since the truth or falsity of their theories is communicated through language) and this removes the natural sciences from their privileged place in the hierarchy of knowledge.
We now consider the arguments against naturalism written by John Dupre in “The Miracle of Monism.”127 One of the reasons it is such a vigorous essay is that it applies categories of analysis and critique to naturalism, such as mythology, that are associated with supernaturalism and the “soft” disciplines, and these are anathema to most naturalists. Even the title seems to be a direct response to a book by J.L. Mackie entitled The Miracle of Theism. Dupre also links the acceptance of naturalism to poor healthcare practices and the domination of the “medical model” of health, which an increasing number of people can relate to and have criticized. This criticism is important because it shows that naturalism is a worldview whose ideas and attitudes have “real life” consequences, not just theoretical ones.
Dupre claims that the naturalist’s commitment to both empiricism and monism is incompatible. So this version of naturalism is self-defeating. “Monism,” he says, “far from being a view of reality answering to experience, is a myth. And myths are just the sort of thing that naturalism, in its core commitment to anti-supernaturalism, should reject” (39). A main bridge from naturalism to monism is through the explanatory reach of science. If this is combined with the idea that science is a continuous and homogenous activity, “and even more specifically that its explanatory resources depend on its sole concern with the material structure of things, then we are well on the way to naturalistic monism” (30). Monism is a myth that derives its credibility from the myth of the unity of science. Dupre then analyzes attempts to construct this unity through two means: a unity of method and a unity of content.
Dupre concentrates on the concept of falsification that is part of Popper’s philosophy of science. Popper thought that scientists do not really try to prove that a theory is true. Instead, they try to falsify it or find something that will disconfirm it. After all, it only takes one observation of a non-elliptical orbit to show that a theory which holds universally that planets have elliptical orbits is false. Yet scientists do not always reject theories when faced with counter-evidence, and the history of science has shown in some cases that the scientists were justified in pursuing a problematic theory. Dupre says that Popper’s falsificationism has not illuminated
Dupre then turns to the other kind of unity that shores-up the miracle of monism, the unity of content, specifically as it occurs in neurology and the philosophy of mind.
After Dupre has discussed the two aspects of the myth of the unity of science, he offers a powerful exposé of the functions of the myth.
This last line is very damaging to the naturalist position, for Dupre has analyzed the way that the unity of science functions in human society, a kind of naturalistic explanation for naturalism, and then explained it using terminology usually reserved for religion. The next step is to show that not just a theoretical debate about the nature of science and naturalism is occurring. Instead, naturalism has had, and continues to have, harmful real-life consequences when it comes to medical care.
Is Dupre’s concern unfounded? No. Since the people associated with naturalism believe nothing except what physics teaches, and believe that no one else is justified in accepting the truth of propositions not founded on physics, they reject medical therapy that is not based on the “medical model.” For example, an article entitled “Mystical Medical Alternativism” states that alternative forms of treatment “posit numerous forms of energy alien to physics” and the goals of “alternativism” are to “make health science a sham and to desecularize healthcare.”128 According to the naturalists, these are two of the deadliest sins—pseudoscience and religion— one can commit. The alternative treatments described in the article include Alternative 12 Steps, Bach flower therapy, homeopathy, karuna reiki, Pranic psychotherapy, stress pattern processing, and vibrational medicine. Some of these treatments might be shams designed to prey on people who are ill merely to profit from their illnesses. This is immoral and ineffective and should be exposed as such. However, I have seen both homeopathy and Bach flower treatments work on infants. I have no scientific explanation for why or how they work (the placebo effect does not apply here), but that they can work, I do not doubt. Since this is the case, I do not want naturalists controlling my access to healthcare treatments by means of federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institutes for Health.
Here is Dupre’s conclusion:
Somewhat surprisingly, Dupre’s own position is a kind of naturalism: he advocates a “pluralistic naturalism” based upon the great diversity of kinds of things in the world and the great diversity of the means of inquiring into them. Some of the virtues of science also characterize the non-sciences, and while Dupre provides illustrations of this, he states that “[w]hat is most valuable about this picture of diverse and overlapping projects of inquiry is that it makes unsurprising what seems empirically to be the case, that complex phenomena are far more likely to be understood if a variety of distinct but complementary approaches are brought to bear on them” (56).
In other words, Dupre rejects the unity of science approach to the study of phenomena and instead encourages a variety of disciplinary studies. This, he observes, is a more accurate reflection of our experience with the way the world works. Dupre also rejects W.V.O. Quine’s notion that philosophy is continuous with science (57). Since he is a pluralist when it comes to science, his question to Quine, the famous Harvard “godfather” of late twentieth century philosophy, and his followers is: Which science is philosophy supposedly continuous with? Dupre’s view is that philosophy emphasizes different epistemic virtues and has different goals.
Finally, here are two more arguments that parallel ones that have been raised against supernatural religion. Let us label the first one the “fear argument”.
#1. The Fear Argument
This parallels the arguments made by Lucretius, Nietzsche, Fuerbach, and probably most famously, Freud. These thinkers have argued that supernatural religion must be false due to its psychological origin, namely, fear or some sort of wish-fulfillment. Secular, “tough-minded” philosophers have used this line of thinking to belittle the religiously committed for believing in God on a very subjective “soft-minded” basis. So it is shocking, fascinating, and wonderful to have a contemporary philosopher at the height of his career at New York University, Thomas Nagel, admit that atheism, that is naturalism, has the same psychological origin: “The thought that the relation between mind and the world is something fundamental makes many people in this day and age nervous. I believe this is one manifestation of a fear of religion which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.”129 Nagel has a fear of religion, so he wants atheism to be true.
The fear argument as stated above is valid, but unsound. The reason is that the truth of its first premise “It is irrational to believe anything based on fear” is dubious. This premise is open to the following sort of case that functions as a counter-example.
Suppose I live in a town in which a number of my fellow citizens fall ill and die despite receiving good medical care. (Unbeknownst to me, a strain of the Ebola virus has grown and is beginning to spread.) I come to hold the belief that I should flee from the town for my dear life and I base this belief on my fear of death. Almost no one would say that I was acting irrationally even though my belief is generated by fear. So at a minimum, for the argument to be sound, the first premise must be modified: “It is irrational to believe anything based on an unjustified fear.” However, I think the larger point is still sound, namely, that if theistic or spiritual beliefs are based on non-rational features of the human mind and are really psychological projections, then the confession of Thomas Nagel makes it plausible that atheistic and naturalistic beliefs are also based on non-rational features of the human mind and are therefore really psychological projections. As Donald Campbell, past president of the American Psychological Association and a naturalist said, he wanted to do away with a supernatural transcendent authority in morality and that is why he supported the idea of evolutionary ethics.131
While this does not prove that spiritualism is true and naturalism false, it certainly does level the playing field between the two positions and seriously undermines the exclusive association of objectivity with naturalism. As the American philosopher William James (1842–1910) pointed out in his famous exchange with William K. Clifford (1845–1979), when it comes to naturalism versus religion, psychological passion occurs on both sides, not only on the side of religion.132
Here is the second argument directed against naturalism. It is designed to show the social pathology of naturalism. Let us label it the “mass murder” argument.
#2. The Mass Murder Argument
Both Fascism and Communism are political expressions of naturalism. Fascism is based on an interpretation of Darwinism and racial science. Giovanni Gentile, Mussolini’s philosopher, completely naturalized religion by equating spirituality with the State. Marx was a vehement naturalist in the negative sense, that is, consistently decrying the horrors and superstitions of supernaturalism. In his Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx wrote that German theory is practically radical because “it starts from the decisive and positive abolition of religion. The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is highest being for man. . . .”133 And what is man but the nexus of material forces? Communism is based on Marx’s, and other theorists’, dialectical materialism. Like the positivists before them, Fascists and Communists assumed the mantel of science in order to legitimize their understanding of society, especially predictions about society, and their desire to control it. The Nazis and the Soviets systematically committed genocide, murdering approximately sixty million Europeans during the first half of the twentieth century.134 Of course this figure does not include the number of people killed by Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, Angolan, and Peruvian Communist regimes and the number of people killed by the Italian, Spanish, and Japanese fascists.135
This second argument is one that I have not encountered in recent philosophical books, although a similar one circulated in American thought during the time of the Second World War.136 Because it is little discussed, I raise it here. Even Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education does not include this argument.137 (However, this book does contain a good argument against some Marxist assumptions concerning human nature.) Benjamin Wiker’s book, Moral Darwinism, links naturalism to Nazi eugenics as well as the endorsement of abortion and eugenics by the founders of Planned Parenthood and the sexual hedonist movement, but it does not advance this Mass Murder Argument or link naturalism specifically to Communist genocide.138 While not a work of philosophy per se, but rather apologetics, Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity? does contain a chapter on the mass murders carried out by atheists and their regimes.139
Some might say that this is a cheap argument, or even one that is “below the belt.” I disagree. Sidney Hook called it a “malicious expression” designed to show that a “naturalist or positivist cannot in principle accept the philosophy of democracy.”140 Of course during the second world war this would be the intellectual equivalent of tarring and feathering one’s philosophical opponents. So it is no wonder that the naturalists were quick to remind people of their association with democracy. “Sometimes it is even charged that naturalists and positivists constitute the philosophical fifth column of Western civilization. . .” says Hook with much exasperation.141 While there are many things that can undermine Western civilization, naturalists and positivists are certainly two groups capable of this. While today’s “war on terror” is waged, secular humanists use the same type of argument against their opponents when they charge that the religious right in America wants to establish a theocracy and that Christians must be opposed to prevent the formation of an American Taliban frame of mind.142 If this type of argument is “cheap,” then it must be so for atheists such as Christopher Hitchens as well. If it is not, then the atheists have clearly lost this round, for D’Souza’s historical analysis of atheistic regimes shows that the argument given above is true.
Philosophers may care very deeply about the status of non-material objects, such as numbers or concepts, the “consciousness-wars,” and the role and status of science, but they are a minority of the world’s population. While these are important philosophical concerns, with the exception of the status of science, these are not “bread and butter” issues for society. Most people want to live in peace and they yearn for a world free of murder and totalitarian regimes. Yes, one can say that this argument is just part of a strategy to pin the worst events of human history on the position held by one’s opponents. Some philosophers of the Enlightenment, especially Voltaire, used this strategy quite successfully against the corrupt first Christian church. Many naturalists and secular humanists nowadays use the Crusades as an argument against Christianity, attempting to show by this means that Christians are prone to violence. If the argument linking naturalism as a cause to mass-murder as an effect is true, then it is naturalism, not Christianity, that is responsible for genocide on such a massive scale that the crusades pale in comparison.143
While American naturalists see themselves as the defenders of liberal democracy, some of them feel so strongly the desire to promote atheism, that some of their statements suggest that the end justifies any means. During the question and answer period at the end of a session at a recent conference on naturalism, the speaker wondered why Americans were still so religious compared to their European counterparts and said that where science is strong, secularism will flourish. One member of the audience said that she had a friend who lived in the former East Germany (a communist dictatorship), and that many people were indifferent to religion there, so perhaps American naturalists could learn some lessons from them about how to promote secularism.144 Ironically, this comment was made at the end of a paper devoted to the promotion of a real, that is secular, liberal democracy. Yet no one in the audience publicly commented on the incongruity of the suggestion.
107. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).