Three M’s That Naturalism Can’t Provide

 

Everyone has a worldview; all of us experience and interpret the world through a collection of beliefs that guide our understanding. As an atheist, I accounted for my experiences through the lens of naturalism. I believed everything I experienced and observed could be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. I never thought deeply about the inconsistencies in my view of the world, or the fact that my naturalism failed to explain three characteristics of my daily experience:

Naturalism Provide

Mind
If naturalism is true, some form of physicalism or materialism must rule the day. The “problem of mind” (as philosophers and researchers commonly describe it) is only a “problem” because the material limitations of naturalism strain to account for immaterial consciousness. Naturalism can explain the existence of the brain, but little more. Our “minds” are an illusion created by the physical processes that are occurring in our material brains. But if this is the case, our thoughts are merely the result of a series of physical causes (and resulting effects). You might believe you are thinking freely about what you just read, but in reality your “thoughts” are simply the consequences of neural “dominoes” falling, one against the next. In a world of strict causal physicalism, free will (and freely reasoned thoughts) are simply an illusion.

Morality
If naturalism is true, morality is nothing more than a matter of opinion. All of us, as humans, have simply come to embrace those cultural or personal mores that best promote the survival of the species. There is no transcendent, objective moral truth. Instead, cultures merely embrace the values and moral principles that “work” for them and have resulted in the flourishing of their particular people group. If this is the case, one group of evolved humans has no business trying to tell another evolved group what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective. After all, each group has successfully arrived at their particular level of development by embracing their own accepted moral standards. Arguments over which moral truths provide for greater human flourishing are simply subjective disagreements; there is no transcendent, objective standard that can adjudicate such disagreements from a naturalistic perspective.

Meaning
If naturalism is true, life’s meaning and purpose are simply in the eye of the beholder. If your son tells you that he thinks meaning is found in playing video games ten hours a day, there is little you can offer as an objective rebuttal. After all, if there is no transcendent author of life, each of us gets to write our own script. While you may believe your son has missed the point of his existence and has forfeited the opportunity to experience life fully, you really don’t have any objective authority upon which to ground an alternative. As a naturalist, you are inventing your own meaning as well; purpose and significance (from a purely naturalistic perspective) are nothing more than opinion and personal preference.

As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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41 replies
  1. David says:

    Your whole paragraph on morality is a perfect description of how we actually do arrive at moral truth. The bible hasn’t given it to us. If the bible has any “moral truth” it is because men gave it to the bible. You believe it comes “from” the bible. It’s the other way around. The bible got it from men. The fact that the bible contains so many morally dubious passages is clear evidence that it can’t possibly be the final word on the subject. Your whole argument for “objective” moral truth boils down to, “I accept what the bible says about everything so the main character won’t torture me forever after I die.” A naturalistic worldview may not be as satisfying to you as your Christian worldview is but that doesn’t make your Christian worldview true. In fact, in your three paragraphs above, you said little more than, “I really din’t like the ramifications of my naturalistic worldview so I adopted a new one”. There are an abundance of moral dilemmas that the bible can’t even begin to address. Seems like if it were the embodiment of objective moral truth it could do so. So what do you rely on when you encounter one of these dilemmas to which the bible does not speak? I suggest that you rely on what men have relied upon for their entire history. You rely on your reason, previous experiments with similar situations and your best guess.

    Reply
    • Jason says:

      David,
      Where in this article did Wallace say that moral truth comes from the Bible? In fact, where does he mention at all where be believes moral truths to comes from? There is really very little content in this article. All that it says about morality can be summed up in the first sentence of that section, “If naturalism is true, morality is nothing more than a matter of opinion.”
      -Jason

      Reply
      • David says:

        Jason,
        Are you saying that Mr. Wallace does not get his “moral truth” from the bible? What form of dodge is this in which you are engaging? From where does he get it? From where do you get yours? I do believe that moral standards are nothing more than opinion. You may not like it but that doesn’t make me wrong. Carefully read the bible from the beginning to the end and tell me that there is not an evolution in morality from Genesis to Revelations. How did that happen Jason? How do you account for the difference? The old testament is truly barbaric. The new testament, while still flawed, is a bit better. Why?

        Reply
        • Brian says:

          What I believe Jason is saying is that your arguments are baseless, as it pertains to what Mr. Wallace wrote. You spend much of your … argument disparaging the Bible. Except Mr. Wallace never invoked the Bible in his comments regarding morality.

          Moreover, having read several of Mr. Wallace’s books and having heard him speak on several occasions, I believe I’m on pretty solid ground when I say that Mr. Wallace does not believe objective morality comes from the Bible.

          Reply
          • David says:

            Brian, this is a total dodge. Where does he get his morality? Does he get it out of thin air? Does he get it from a god? What god? How did he learn about this god? How does he know the specifics of this objective moral truth? I know you, like many other apologists, do not like to get caught defending a moral standard using the bible because the bible is such a hot mess but, please tell me where does the objective moral standard come from? I feel like you’re playing a shell game with me. Where do you get the standard and what is it? Give me an example of an objective moral truth.

      • Kyle says:

        Genital mutilation. In most western cultures female genital mutilation is seen as barbaric. Male genital mutilation? The Jewish culture has a damn celebration for it. Circumcisions are normal and accepted due to religious beliefs. Not so much outside of them.

        Reply
        • Beck says:

          It also doesn’t specify not to cut off the nose of your child, but the concept of not maiming other humans is discussed. When it come to circumcisionit is something specifically commanded by God (the reason for that isn’t really important for the purposes of this discussion).

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “When it come to circumcisionit is something specifically commanded by God”

            Then that sets a precedent for cutting off functioning parts of a child’s body that won’t grow back. I’d rather lose a toe than my foreskin. In what world is it seen as OK to do this to a baby boy when he can’t possibly give his informed consent?

          • Kyle says:

            Shall I take that as your affirmation that male genital mutilation is just dandy then? Why the difference between the genders?

          • Louie says:

            Guys:
            God commanded the Israelites to do this in the old testament. Is it required today? No, it is not, per the new testament. Why the foreskin and not an ear lobe? I don’t know. Why were women exempt? Not sure about that either. If I had the answers to all of the above questions, would it change whether scripture is true or not? No. Would it change what is required to be saved? No.

          • Kyle says:

            So Beck is avoiding answering whether male genital mutilation is immoral or not. Louie is dodging by saying it used to be commanded but is not anymore. Still no comment on the morality of the issue.

          • Beck says:

            “Male genital mutilation” as it was practiced in ancient Israel by the jews isn’t immoral because the maker of morality said so. Why is that difficult to understand?

            I found it funny when Andy said “in what world is it seen as OK” and the first thing I thought was “modern America and Britain where it is still practiced even by non religious people for aesthetic reasons”.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            It’s WAY less usual in Britain, Beck. I (a Brit) was very surprised the first time I slept with an American woman and she’d NEVER seen an uncircumcised penis before.

            And yuk, yuk, yuk at mutilating your child’s genitals when they’re a few days old to suit YOUR aesthetics. “Ah, my perfect child. Now just let me cut parts of its genitals off to make them prettier”.

          • Beck says:

            Supposedly there are some health benefits for circumcision(at least that’s what the Mayo clinic says, maybe they wanna sell more?), but for the developed world I don’t see it as beneficial as it would be for males in a 3rd world country.

          • Kyle says:

            So then you find male genital mutilation moral? If not when did your god decide he’d had enough? Does that means he changed his mind?

        • David says:

          You’re on a trolley car that is hurtling down a track toward a group of five construction workers standing on the tracks. You are approaching a Y in the track at which point you could turn the trolley onto another branch of the track which would result in the death of only one person. What do you do? How would the bible help you to make this decision?

          Reply
          • Beck says:

            In my line of work we have a long list of regulations we have to follow, we are able to do alot of things to work out our problems. Before we make decisions we basically just need to ask ourselves “is this against the rules”, and that’s basically how I see that situation through the lens of the Bible. Is it wrong to pull the lever? I can’t think of any scripture that would say it would be against the rules to pull it.

          • David says:

            Ok Beck,
            You made a moral judgement that was not based on the bible. You picked what you thought was the lesser of two evils. In a way you played god. You picked who would live and who would die. You actually may have interfered with god’s sovereign will. He may have wanted the group of construction workers to die.
            Let’s change the story a bit. Rather than being in the trolley car you are standing on a bridge that the trolley car is about to pass under and next to you is standing a morbidly obese man watching the trolley hurtle toward the group of construction workers. Assuming it would work, would it be moral to push the fat man off the bridge to stop the trolley from hitting the group of men?

          • Brian says:

            I pull the lever (or whatever you pull or push or turn) and move the trolley onto the track where it will only kill one person.

            How does the Bible help me make this decision?

            The account of Rahab in Joshua 2, the account of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery Genesis 37 and 45, the account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. The principle of greater moral good is woven throughout scripture.

          • Beck says:

            If you paid attention to my answer I was saying that to my knowledge it doesn’t violate the rules. If you have evidence to the contrary I would like to see it. All you did was make assumptions about God’s will and ranted a little.

            With your new scenario you actively murdered an uninvolved party. When you consult the rule book that is against the rules.

            So to recap I am claiming the the first scenario didn’t violate any rules I know of and the second scenario clearly did.

          • David says:

            So Brian and Beck,
            It’s ok to kill the one guy by turning the wheel but it’s not ok to push the fat guy off the bridge? Why is that ok? What if the one guy on the side track that you killed was Billy Graham? What if the fat guy is Kim Jong Un?

          • David says:

            Beck, the guy on the side track was also uninvolved until you involved him. Why do you not think that you murdered him? Your actions caused his death. If you had done nothing he would not have died. Why is that not murder?

          • David says:

            Brian, I like that you went outside the bible and referenced the existence of “greater moral good”. You are well on you way to developing a humanistic morality that does not require the intervention of a deity. I have a greater moral good argument that I think it pretty sound. According to the bible god knew that when he created Adam and Eve that they would fall. That they would condemn the entire human race to eternal punishment. He knew that even when he provided Jesus as the solution to this predicament in which man found himself most would not get it and would suffer eternal torment. He knew that the majority of men would go to hell. Jesus said so. In fact, if you look around for humans who bear fruit in keeping with true faith you would have to say that there are very few people that will actually inherit eternal life. And Christian doctrine says god is in need of nothing so he did not need to create man. He was perfectly content within the trinity. What if 25% go to heaven and 75% go to hell? That seems like a generous estimate to me. I would guess 5% in heaven and 95% in hell. If billions and billions will go to hell doesn’t that make the act of creation an act that results in the lesser good? Couldn’t you even call it evil? Wouldn’t it have been better if god had not created man at all? Think of all the horrible human suffering on this side of the grave and the other. How could god have been that callous to have created knowing this would happen?

          • Beck says:

            When reading your original dilemma yesterday I was preoccupied and failed to read it properly and was under the false impression that the scenario was set up by a murderous mastermind. I retract my original answer of “not wrong” simply because the wording implies that the 5 may die but the 1 person will surely die.

          • Louie says:

            David:
            He created man knowing all those things like you say, but man has the free choice to go either way. Do you deny all people the everlasting piece of heaven, because of all the deniers? No. Would I deny all my children life, if I knew one of them was going to be a brat? No. Stop complaining about the situation, make your choice, and accept the results of it.

          • Louie says:

            David:
            Reading your train track story, scripture says that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for that of another. So, if wanted to do the act of greatest love, you’d toss yourself into the gear mechanism and hope that stopped the cart and let the rest of the scenario play out as it will.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            Louie: “If wanted to do the act of greatest love, you’d toss yourself into the gear mechanism”

            That’s not an option in this thought experiment so that’s just a dodge.

          • David says:

            Hahaha!
            Louie,
            I’m not complaining about how things are. I’m trying to help you see that none of this is real. I’m criticizing your world view and suggesting that you give up on it.

          • Louie says:

            Andy: It is not a dodge, its the truth, as per scripture. If that is not an option, then I do not see their being a wrong choice to make from a scriptural stand point, as long as you thought you were doing what was best.

          • Louie says:

            David:
            If that is your goal, you are failing at it. Nothing you have typed in this thread makes me question my world view.

  2. toby says:

    . . . one group of evolved humans has no business trying to tell another evolved group what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective. After all, each group has successfully arrived at their particular level of development by embracing their own accepted moral standards.

    Arguments over which moral truths provide for greater human flourishing are simply subjective disagreements; there is no transcendent, objective standard that can adjudicate such disagreements from a naturalistic perspective.

    These have to be two of the worst thought out ideas I’ve read from Wallace. First, there is no this group vs that group, we are all the same group. There can be different ideas among us, but it’s very obtuse to miss that we can definitely study and find out which set of moral ideas lead to better human flourishing. He must have been in a hurry when he wrote this. Or drinking too much sacramental wine.

    Reply
    • Brian says:

      One group of evolved humans (i.e. homosexuals) has no business trying to tell another evolved group [of humans] (i.e. Christians) what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective.

      As a thought or idea, that makes sense to me. I don’t see the problem.

      but it’s very obtuse to miss that we can definitely study and find out which set of moral ideas lead to better human flourishing.

      Given that we (human beings) cannot agree on what human flourishing entails, confounds this claim. The faculty and administration at the university for which I work, spent 2 years trying to agree on what human flourishing entails as we revised our general education curriculum. We have a large portion of American society that believes that human flourishing is an individual issue. There is another large portion of our society that believes human flourishing is a societal issue. So the claim that “we can definitely study…” just doesn’t seem to be supported by the evidence.

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        The fact that debate exists doesn’t negate the whole concept. If a set of moral ideas leads to thousands of people dying unnecessarily, I’d think most people would agree that it wasn’t aiding human flourishing. That a tension exists between individual rights and the rights of a society as a whole doesn’t invalidate that. People manage to at least attempt to resolve that tensions through debate and laws.

        “One group of evolved humans (i.e. homosexuals) has no business trying to tell another evolved group [of humans] (i.e. Christians) what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective.”

        You seem to be assuming here that no gays are Christian and no Christians are gay.

        Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        The fact that debate exists doesn’t negate the whole concept. If a set of moral ideas leads to thousands of people dying unnecessarily, I’d think most people would agree that it wasn’t aiding human flourishing. That a tension exists between individual rights and the rights of a society as a whole doesn’t invalidate that. People manage to at least attempt to resolve that tensions through debate and laws.

        “One group of evolved humans (i.e. homosexuals) has no business trying to tell another evolved group [of humans] (i.e. Christians) what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective.”

        You seem to be assuming here that no gays are Christian and no Christians are gay.

        Reply

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