Can we know anything if Naturalism is true? Or: A plea for creativity with Theistic Arguments

By Paul Gould

In my last post, I considered John Calvin’s claim that we cannot know God unless we  know ourselves and (conversely), we cannot know ourselves unless we know God. Calvin thinks there is a tight relationship between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man. Here I want to consider a deeper concern: Can we have knowledge of anything if God does not exist?In his recently released book Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality[1], Scott Smith argues that we cannot. Scott’s book is a bold and sustained attack of naturalism and its ability to deliver us knowledge. His master argument is a kind of transcendental argument: If philosophical naturalism is true, then we do not have knowledge of reality. We do have knowledge of reality, therefore it is not the case that philosophical naturalism is true. The bulk of Scott’s book (in fact, Chapters 1-8) is concerned with showing the inability of naturalism to ground knowledge (he engages with the Direct Realism of D.M. Armstrong, the Representationalism of Dretske, Tye, and Lycan, Searle’s Naturalism, Papineau’s naturalized epistemology, Dennett’s neurophilosophy, the Churchland’s eliminativism, and Kim’s physicalism). Finally, in Chapter 9, Scott begins to build a positive case for the kind of ontology required for knowledge. Mental properties are sui generis, irreducible to the physical; knowledge requires substance dualism; and the “natural affinity” exhibited between mind and world is best explained via a divine mind. Thus, the reality of knowledge entails theism and a decidedly theistic world.

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