What is naturalism?

What is naturalism?

The dispute about the impossibility of the supernatural (Part 3)

So far we have dealt with definitions of important philosophical terms like "Materialism" and "Reductionism" (Science and Religion: Conflict or Cooperation)?). At the end of the second part it was about the scientific explanations of everyday phenomena, for example the smoothness of ice or the lifting of the arm (reductionism and the explanation of everyday phenomena). In the process, we found that, on closer examination, a surprising number of questions remained unanswered.

Such examples are also relevant for another "Ism" of meaning, which is haunted by many an online discussion: naturalism. A glance at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy immediately reveals this: "The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in today’s philosophy."

Many meanings

Sometimes one means by this that the natural sciences can explain everything (this would be an epistemic interpretation, concerning explanation and knowledge); sometimes one wants to exclude the possibility of supernatural phenomena – like mind-reading/telepathy or levitation – (a statement about being and with it ontological).

In principle, the essential ingredients are already in materialism/physicalism, as we got to know it earlier in the series. Historically, in the English naturalists By the way, he is simply a natural scientist, so it was not about philosophy at all. The philosopher of science Peter Janich (1942-2016) once described naturalism in an essay in the Spiegel as credibility against the natural sciences and was, in my opinion, quite correct in doing so.

But it gets funny, when naturalists repeat their mantra "In the world it goes with right things!" This is how religious natural scientists used to see God: As the being or principle that makes order in the world and thus knowledge of nature possible in the first place; thus some then also considered nature to be the divine revelation to be studied.

If one discusses long enough with a naturalist, he will perhaps pracize: He wants to exclude primarily the existence of a God of sacrifice, as he is imagined in Christianity. Or especially the possibility of miracles. This then directs the discussion to the question: What are miracles??

Nature and miracles

There is an old philosophical discussion about this. Already David Hume (1711-1776) explained the difficult position of the miracle believer, on the one hand to explain that a process is actually impossible, because otherwise it would not be a miracle, and on the other hand to explain that it just happened. And how many processes, which are self-evident for us today, such as speaking with spatially absent persons (telephony, chats), were still considered a miracle a few centuries ago??

The suspicion is obvious that the naturalist in a stalemate situation – namely to be able neither to prove objectively nor to disprove the existence of a God or other religious phenomena – wants to instrumentalize the natural science, which has become very influential today, against his discussion opponent. And who is his discussion opponent? Just the believer, for whom it is "supernatural" gives.

Advocates of naturalism – most notably Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, also known as the "Four Horsemen of the New Atheism" – write high-circulation books. Apart from their personal gain, their efforts do not seem to be very successful, considering the rise of religions and religious fundamentalism worldwide: According to the latest estimates, just 16 percent of the world’s population consider themselves non-religious.

In the USA, one of the most important Western democracies, it has recently been seen again: There, pastors are invited to important political events and people pray together in parliament: "In God we trust. And God bless America. Amen." Some Republicans like to call themselves "God’s Own Party", GOP for short. This is only an inverted letter away from "God".

Here in the Netherlands many people react with disbelief when I tell them that in Germany almost all members of the government since the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany have sworn by God when taking the oath of office. (In 1998, Gerhard Schroder was the first chancellor to dispense with the addition of the word "change" "So help me God.")

And this does not even include the world’s largest democracy, where people believe in a multitude of gods and supernatural phenomena, namely India.

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