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From Wikipedia:

In philosophy, naturalism is the idea or belief that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe.[1]

Naturalism is not so much a special system as a point of view or tendency common to a number of philosophical and religious systems; not so much a well-defined set of positive and negative doctrines as an attitude or spirit pervading and influencing many doctrines. As the name implies, this tendency consists essentially in looking upon nature as the one original and fundamental source of all that exists, and in attempting to explain everything in terms of nature. Either the limits of nature are also the limits of existing reality, or at least the first cause, if its existence is found necessary, has nothing to do with the working of natural agencies. All events, therefore, find their adequate explanation within nature itself. But, as the terms nature and natural are themselves used in more than one sense, the term naturalism is also far from having one fixed meaning.

— Dubray 1911

Has any Christian philosopher ever argued that naturalism is falsifiable, that is, that it is possible to show empirically that naturalism is false?

Alternatively, what are Christian positive arguments for the falsehood of naturalism?


Related

Is naturalism falsifiable?
Is creationism falsifiable?
Have Creationists advanced any particular Theories of Origin that they claim are falsifiable via the scientific method?

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    I think CS Lewis has demonstrated in various ways that naturalism cannot explain fully (ie. is not sufficient to explain) the phenomena of 1) human conscience, 2) human reason, and 3) the fulfillment of desire for the infinite (through the aspect of beauty and eternity). So while God works mostly through natural causes (thus hiding Himself) the necessity of 1) supernatural factor in conscience, 2) supernatural factor to explain the workings of reason, 3) the REAL world (of which this world is only a shadow), the world that our desires yearn toward, cannot be satisfied by naturalism alone. Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 13:49
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    Since reason and science absolutely need a discernible system of cause and effect in order to be sensible, and since cause and effect appears to be completely ubiquitous in the natural world, this ultimately comes down to whether "cause and effect" has a cause. Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 16:28
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    I'm always interested in how people define 'natural' and 'supernatural' in these sorts of instances. Is what's going on with quantum effects natural or supernatural? How would you know? I would argue not that naturalism can be shown to be false but that naturalism can be shown to define all causal influences as 'natural'. So if God exists, a naturalist would simply define God's causal power as part of 'nature'. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 16:17
  • I'm curious why the resurrection itself wouldn't prove naturalism is false. And, if so, why it takes a philosopher to argue naturalism is false. (I hope I don't get down voted for asking. It's an honest question to learn from reading the board).
    – Ben
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 15:15
  • Uh, wouldn’t all Christian philosophers of religion definitionally argue that naturalism is false?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 1:05

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Has any Christian philosopher ever argued that naturalism can be shown to be false?

Father Chad Ripperger makes the case from metaphysics — that is, fundamental axioms of reason, particularly that no effect can exceed its cause — that Common Descent is impossible. (It appears that similar material is also available as a presentation, allegedly by the book's author, in two parts.)

What does this have to do with (Philosophical) Naturalism in general? Well, what are the alternatives to Common Descent? Panspermia and Intelligent Design by another natural entity merely kick the can; how did that life originate? The only viable strictly-naturalistic explanation for Life is that it has always existed... but all current strictly-naturalistic explanations assert that life did not always exist.

The only remaining viable explanation for Life is that it had a Cause which is outside the observed universe. Since such a Cause (i.e. God) is definitionally excluded by (Philosophical) Naturalism, that philosophy must be false.

Nor is Life the only thing which exists that is not adequately explained by strict naturalism. Indeed, the same line of reasoning, taken to its logical conclusion, yields that the universe itself must have a non-Natural Cause. If the principle that an effect cannot exceed its cause holds (and the laws of thermodynamics would suggest that it should), then (Philosophical) Naturalism is falsified.

It's worth noting there are no known, definitive counter-examples of this principle. (Although adherents to philosophical naturalism will of course assert that Common Descent is factual and thus constitutes such an example. However, that is circular reasoning.)

p.s. The reader will note that I differentiate between Philosophical (or "strict") Naturalism and Systematic (sometimes called Methodological, though that term has been used to refer to both types) Naturalism, which is the principle of striving to minimize Miracles. The latter does not exclude the possibility thereof, and is good, sound science. The former is dogma and excludes a priori explanations that may in fact be true.

What are Christian positive arguments for the falsehood of naturalism?

In addition to the metaphysical argument above (which I believe best fits your request for refutation by a Christian philosopher), there are many evidentiary arguments against Common Descent and in favor of the historical accuracy of Genesis 1-11. (More than I can easily list, but see many other questions on this SE.) As with the metaphysics argument, these don't directly refute philosophical naturalism, but because they present a history which requires (and attests to) Divine Intervention, philosophical naturalism is ruled out as a consequence.

In general, any argument against philosophical naturalism must necessarily take the form of showing that it is insufficient. Even cases of documented miracles make their case on the basis that something cannot be explained by natural law alone.

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  • "showing that it is insufficient". Agreed. A repeatable demonstration of supernatural phenomena would not be good enough to disprove naturalism: one could simply say that it is something that we don't yet understand as natural, but science will study it and eventually it will be considered natural. (That sounds like No true Scotsman, but I don't think it is.) E.g. before nuclear energy was discovered, no one knew how the sun could burn without consuming all its fuel within a few thousand years. But that didn't prove that it was supernatural. Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 15:34
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    @RayButterworth, actually, that sounds like Sufficiently Analyzed Magic 🙂. If science were to accept that God exists and sufficiently study His work such that it is considered well explained, perhaps even quantifiable, does that make God "natural"? (Although, saying it like that does sound like No True Scotsman...)
    – Matthew
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 15:53
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The most basic argument is that Naturalism would then apply to your own brain/mind and you would have no basis for thinking anything was the Truth !! The atheist Nagel makes this point though C.S. Lewis made it too

So Fr. Chad makes great points but the very basis of reason is undercut for everybody by Naturalism:

"Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself...I agree with Alvin Plantinga that...the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of our own cognitive capacities should undermine, though it need not completely destroy, our confidence in them. Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole. I think the evolutionary hypothesis would imply that though our cognitive capacities could be reliable, we do not have the kind of reason to rely on them that we ordinarily take ourselves to have using in them directly--as we do in science." (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 27-28)

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Is Naturalism falsifiable? We will deal with the two sub-questions separately. First question: it should be noted that the questioner's use of "falsifiable" connotes a different meaning from the second word in the question, "false." Most Christian philosophers dismiss this philosophy because it is not falsifiable and therefore is an invalid one. It is a presuppositional idea that commits the fallacy of logic, "begging the question." And since it not falsifiable, it fails to meet the requirements needed to be called "scientific."

Christian philosophers who investigate "Naturalism" would include Arlie Hoover, R.C. Sproul, Gordon Lewis, Norman Geisler, Bernard Ramm, B.B. Warfield et al. They show (to deal with the second part of the first question) that Naturalism cannot be considered empirical because it fails to be a result of "testing." It is a presupposition eliminating the supernatural before scientific research is begun. It is not "neutral" from the git-go. And real science must not be biased in its approach.

As the aspiring Christian thinker (philosopher?) has noted, Naturalism must first exclude all competing evidence before logical reasoning (scientific research) begins. There is a term for deciding before applying reason: irrational. (Hold To The Rod) He pointed out that naturalists tend to accept all evidence in its favor and all evidence to the contrary is rejected. This is not scientific at all. Naturalism (along with Atheism, scientism, materialism, secularism) is a sieve through which they sift all ideas about reality. Or a rose-colored lense through which human life is espied.

Naturalism Science provides no reason to believe naturalism offers a true description of our universe (Ibid) It does not enhance our study of empirical science...the social sciences...deontology...etc. In fact it renders much of existential reality meaningless. Recall the character of Dostoyevski lamenting that without God and the concept of life hereafter (accountability), everything is permissible. (The Brothers Kara...) Right and wrong lose validity.

Arguments for Falsehood In conjunction with this line of thought, the Jewish rabbis taught that there were a list of things that need to be in existence before the physical world could be created (they listed five). We have our own listing:

  • Laws of physics, without which the universe would be "chaos" and not "cosmos."
  • Rules of logic, law of Noncontradiction
  • Language, communication skills (Genesis 1:1-3)
  • Conscience, as a governor on conduct (Romans 2:15)
  • Wisdom, see Proverbs 8:22-23---the first thing created!
  • Plan of salvation (1 Peter 1:20), to redeem "free will" gone astray
  • Mathematics, See Einstein's universe of equations!

None of these can be accounted for by the philosophy of Naturalism! They are not physical or material. They are abstract, spiritual...non-natural in essence, and yet the universe cannot exist without them. (Did we mention also, the spark of life?) These all are positive arguments for the falsehood of Naturalism from the Christian perspective.

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I'll examine this question through the lenses of philosophy, science, and theology.

Philosophy - the EAAN

The EAAN (evolutionary argument against naturalism) is Alvin Plantiga's famous argument that one cannot rationally believe both unguided evolution and naturalism are true.

With:

  • R = Reliable cognitive faculties
  • E = Evolution
  • N = Naturalism

Plantiga argues:

If (naturalistic) evolution is true, then our cognitive faculties will have resulted from blind mechanisms like natural selection, working on sources of genetic variation such as random genetic mutation. And the ultimate purpose or function (Churchland's 'chore') of our cognitive faculties, if indeed they have a purpose or function, will be survival ... But then it is unlikely that they have the production of true beliefs as a function. So the probability of our faculties' being reliable, given naturalistic evolution, would be fairly low.

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Beliefs don't causally produce behavior by themselves; it is beliefs, desires, and other factors that do so together. Then the problem is that clearly there will be any number of different patterns of belief and desire that would issue in the same action; and among those there will be many in which the beliefs are wildly false.

...

P(R/N&E) is either low or inscrutable; in either case (if you accept N&E) you have a defeater for R, and therefore for any other belief B you might hold; but B might be N&E itself; so one who accepts N&E has a defeater for N&E, a reason to doubt or be agnostic with respect to it. If he has no independent evidence, N&E is self-defeating and hence irrational.

Could he get a defeater for this defeater - a defeater-defeater? Maybe by doing some science, by, e.g., determining by scientific means that his faculties really are reliable?

But of course that would presuppose that his faculties are reliable. Thomas Reid (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man):

If a man's honesty were called into question, it would be ridiculous to refer to the man's own word, whether he be honest or not. The same absurdity there is in attempting to prove, by any kind of reasoning, probable or demonstrative, that our reason is not fallacious, since the very point in question is, whether reasoning may be trusted.(276)

Is there any sensible way at all in which he can argue for R? Any argument he might produce will have premises; and these premises, he claims, give him good reason to believe R. But of course he has the very same defeater for each of those premises that he has for R

So this defeater can't be defeated.

We could also put it like this: any argument he offers, for R, is circular or question begging. Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive faculties generally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of the argument.

Hence the devotee of N&E has a defeater D for N&E - a defeater, furthermore, that can't be defeated. So N&E is self-defeating, and can't rationally be accepted.

One who contemplates accepting N, and is torn, let's say, between N and theism, would reason as follows: if I were to accept N, I would have good and ultimately defeated reason to be agnostic about N; so I shouldn't accept it. (An argument for the irrationality of N, not for its falsehood.)

The traditional theist, on the other hand, has no corresponding reason for doubting that it is a purpose of our cognitive systems to produce true beliefs, nor any reason for thinking the probability of a belief's being true, given that it is a product of her cognitive faculties, is low or inscrutable. She may indeed endorse some form of evolution; but if she does, it will be a form of evolution guided and orchestrated by God. And qua traditional theist - qua Jewish, Moslem, or Christian theist - she believes that God is the premier knower and has created us human beings in his image, an important part of which involves his giving them what is needed to have knowledge, just as he does.

The conclusion to be drawn, therefore, is that the conjunction of naturalism with evolutionary theory is self-defeating: it provides for itself an undefeated defeater. It is therefore unacceptable and irrational.

The entire argument is lengthy & complex - the excerpt above is but a part of an abbreviated version of the the argument (see here). Plantiga has many critics and many supporters; some of his personal debates on the argument are available online.

Plantiga's argument does not disprove naturalism much less unguided evolution; rather, it shows why it is not rational to believe in both.

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Science

Naturalism is not a scientific theory, it is a philosophical assumption that can be made (or not) prior to conducting scientific inquiry. As a result, there is no way for science to confirm or refute naturalism on its own merits. Because naturalism rejects all supernatural inputs, any potential supernatural evidence would necessarily be excluded (or written off as a mistake, fraud, etc.) before evaluating the remainder of the evidence.

Because researchers working from the methodological assumption of naturalism have delivered useful results in many fields of study, many scientists will exercise faith in naturalism (I'm using "faith" in the Biblical sense of the word--the Greek pɪstɪs--as in confidence or trust derived from past behavior). They believe naturalism will produce useful results in the future. In its innocuous form, this means using naturalism in future relevant research. In its more extreme form, this means assuming that any question not yet answered on naturalistic grounds will eventually be answered on naturalistic grounds.

This latter assumption is not a valid, deductive conclusion, and it is a very precarious inductive conclusion, as it must first exclude all competing evidence before logical reasoning begins (there is a term for deciding before applying reason: "irrational").

Although I accept that there are circumstances where naturalism can be a useful methodological assumption in evaluating a specific question, as a truth claim or a general worldview it is question-begging: all evidence in its favor is accepted and all evidence to the contrary is rejected. This is not scientific at all.

Thus, naturalism can be useful in methodical inquiry--excluding one possibility at a time (including supernatural influence), without privileging any single variable, enables one to test whether the remaining variables produce the effect under investigation--but science provides no reason to believe naturalism offers a true description of our universe.

In naturalistic scientific inquiry, naturalism is a premise and scientific learning is a conclusion. No argument, no matter how clever, can prove in its conclusion that one of its premises is true.

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Theology - the Resurrection

Does Peter count as a Christian philosopher?

Perhaps the most straightforward way to reject naturalism as a statement of reality is to argue in favor of the resurrection - so far as we know, resurrection of the dead to an immortal, glorified, incorruptible body, is not a natural process.

Christianity is rooted in the belief that Jesus of Nazareth died, was buried, and rose again. And not only that he rose again, but He rose immortal (unlike say, Lazarus or the daughter of Jairus, who remained mortal after being revived). Arguments that this bold claim is true generally fall into 2 camps:

  • Historical arguments for the resurrection
  • Revelatory experiences affirming the resurrection

The Gospels of Matthew & John, several of the New Testament epistles, Revelation, and other documents relay eyewitness testimony first-hand, affirming the resurrection of Christ. My video series arguing that the Gospel of Matthew is a historically reliable document, written in a time and place where its central claims about Jesus could be fact-checked, is found here: Who When & Why - the Writing of the Gospels.

If the Gospel of Matthew is what it purports to be, and what generations of early historians claimed it is, then we have historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that is as reliable as anything written in the ancient world (this is why the Gospel of Matthew has been so thoroughly and often unscrupulously attacked in the last 190 years).

Although I find supporting evidence in the historical data, my belief in the resurrection is founded upon what God has made known to me personally. Prior to the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter testified that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and he knew this because God had revealed it to him (see Matt. 16:16-17). I claim to know this truth the same way Peter did.

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    Informative answer, +1. Let's wait for NotThatGuy's rebuttal in 3, 2, 1 ...
    – user50422
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 13:28

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