Why Naturalism Lacks Explanatory Power

Posted by Al at Please Convince Me:

Is nature all there is? Skeptics and atheists hold that view.  They want to make sense of what they see around them by viewing it as a natural process, taking place over vast periods of time and resulting in the incredible diversity and complexity that we presently experience.  The view has some intuitive appeal – on the surface, anyway.  We all know that things change over time. On a massive scale, we see the shift of the continents over the millennia and see how they once fit neatly together, puzzle-like, before they began to drift.  We recognize that living beings inherit the traits of their parents and that modifications can occur over time. Anyone familiar with dogs knows that selective breeding can bring changes. Even in the area of the brain, as scientists probe deeper into its mysteries, it is apparent that some of our behavior is influenced at a very basic, chemical level. We read stories of accident victims whose personalities are altered by an injury to the brain, and we all know the effects that drugs and alcohol routinely have on one’s thinking, and behavior.

But this surface appeal does not bear much scrutiny. First, and foremost, resting one’s “faith” on nature as “all there is” is self-defeating. If the brain is in fact the by-product of purposeless forces that just happened to have developed it to its present state, then developing in a markedly different way was also a possibility. What worked, according to the Darwinian explanation, is what allowed for survival.  But what makes a thing survive is not necessarily related to what is true; I can hold many false beliefs and yet survive over a weaker competitor whose views are actually closer to the truth. If what we think is simply the by-product of this random process, there is no basis upon which to place our trust.  By contrast, if we want to assert that our minds are reflecting actual truth when they tell us that nature is all there is, then there must exist prior to, and apart from, our perceptions, an actual true state of things that the brain is accessing.  Just as a line cannot be considered straight or crooked until one first understands what “straight” is, so too with the brain – it cannot assess actual truth, whether it be about mathematical sums or about profound origin questions, unless there exists apart from them a source of true – actual –  knowledge.
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