Archives For Naturalism

Jack-O-LanternI’ve written a bit on Halloween in the past, and I’ve even engaged in a very gentle debate with some of my coworkers on whether or not it’s appropriate for a Christian to Trick-or-Trick (here). Some people can be dismissive about this issue (myself included), but there are significant factors involved. It deserves careful thought.

Here’s what no one should ever do on Halloween, or any other time of the year:

  • Worship Satan
  • Call upon evil spirits, enlist their aid, or try to appease them
  • Celebrate evil
  • Harm other people or their property, whether through physical or magical means

If Halloween means any of those things to you, run from it. If taking your kids door to door to ask your neighbors for candy implies any of the above listed activities to you, then find a suitable alternative. I have no agenda to convince anyone to go against their conscience. My simple and slanted thoughts are offered only for those who aren’t sure what to make of Halloween.

Here’s what you need to know. Halloween has pagan roots. I have not done the work to verify this, but I’ve read it a couple of places and it sounds right. I’m not interested in finding a credible source to verify the pagan roots because they don’t bother me. The names of our planets have pagan roots. So do the names of the days in our weeks. So does the timing of our celebration of Christmas and several of our Christmas traditions. Same with Easter.

So the roots are pagan. Do we throw it out? Honestly, why not? Definitely feel free to stop celebrating Halloween. There’s no reason why you need to. I’m not going to argue that it’s the Christian thing to do.

Halloween Hula GirlsBut here’s something to consider. Kids have fun on Halloween. My girls love to play dress up any day of the year, so they have a good time when all of the kids in our neighborhood dress up. Our country happens to celebrate National Dress Up Day on October 31. That makes for a fun night for my kids. This event also happens to coincide with National Share Your Candy Day, which my kids also happen to love. So it’s fun for them to go door to door, say hi to the neighbors, bump into them on the sidewalk, talk about each other’s costumes, and share candy with each other.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe my neighbors are engaging in the occult on Halloween. They’re having fun. They’re atypically social on this one night. Some of my neighbors have decorated their lawns with spiders, tombstones, and ghosts, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that they won’t conjure a single dead soul or perform a single hex on October 31. They’re not thinking through the cultic connections of some of the original Halloween practices; they’re just enjoying what our culture has made Halloween into: National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day.

I’ll admit that I could be wrong here. My neighbors could be sacrificing goats in their backyards. But from everything I know about them, they’re not closet occultists. I’ll also acknowledge that while my neighborhood doesn’t seem to be into Satanism, yours might be. If so, don’t engage in their celebration of evil. That’s an easy decision.

But statistically speaking, your neighbors and mine are more likely to be naturalists than Wiccans. Which means that they don’t believe ghosts, spirits, curses, or the any other supernatural manifestations are real. I’m pretty convinced that my neighbors are not worshipping Satan—not because I think they’re too Christian to do such a thing, but because I don’t think they believe in Satan or anything similarly “unscientific.” I think they’re dressing up and sharing candy.

To me, this means we all have an individual choice to make. You can view Halloween according to its pagan roots and avoid it as a celebration of evil. You’re entitled to make that decision, and I won’t look down on you at all. You’ve got to do what’s best. Or you can view Halloween according to the way its modern celebraters see it—as a day of fun and games and sociability. I’m choosing to see it that way, and I hope you won’t look down on me for that.

Vampire TeethIt may be difficult to overlook the evil origins of Halloween, but our Christian predecessors thought it was possible—even beneficial—to take a pagan celebration and rework it into a reminder of good things. That’s why Christmas is when it is, why Easter is the way it is, and why we have All Saints Day at the close of October. Maybe they were wrong, but they took a celebration and tweaked it for what they believed to be God’s glory. In my view, our culture has handed us a gift in weeding out the actual Satanism of some early Halloween practices and giving us a night of fun and games. They’ve done the hard work of systematically forgetting all of the pagan implications and viewing it in terms of the imagination.

If you’re still up in the air on the whole issue, ask yourself whether it’s possible to redeem National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day for the sake of your friends and neighbors.

You are free to decide.

 

The Uniqueness of Man

Mark Beuving —  September 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

Julian HuxleyI recently read a very old article because I was intrigued by the title: “The Uniqueness of Man” by Julian Huxley. Huxley (1887–1975) was an evolutionary biologist who received many awards for many things and headed many prestigious societies. He even came from a famous family—his father was a respected writer, his grandfather was pals with Charles Darwin, and his brother was the Aldous Huxley who wrote Brave New World.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity—who we are, what our purpose is, and why we matter—these are all questions I’ve been contemplating. So when I happened upon this outdated article (originally published in 1941) by such an interesting figure, I was drawn in.

According to Huxley, humanity is unique because we are “the culmination of that process of organic evolution which has been proceeding on this planet for over a thousand million years.” We are the accidental product of chance, the unintentionally personal mistake of an impersonal universe. Do human beings have dignity? There is no dignity in our origins, but Huxley sees dignity in our current standing: “After Darwin, man could no longer avoid considering himself as an animal; but he is beginning to see himself as a very peculiar and in many ways a unique animal.”

Huxley spells out some of the features that make humanity unique. We are unique because we have developed the ability to think conceptually, we have learned to draw upon the learning of previous generations, we have learned to domesticate the animal kingdom, we have developed great diversity within the human race, and a few other features. Primarily, humanity is unique because of our unparalleled capacity for gaining and processing knowledge.

In Christian theology, humanity is significant because God made humanity in his image (Gen. 1:26–28). And Huxley agrees that humanity is unique, but this uniqueness is not theological; it is biological: “Biology thus reinstates man in a position analogous to that conferred on him as Lord of Creation by theology. There are, however, differences, and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Vitruvian ManWhere does this leave us? According to Huxley, “the goal of the evolutionary maze…is not a central chamber, but a road which will lead definitely onwards.” Evolution leads to progress. But there’s no specific goal (how could an impersonal process have a goal?)—we’re simply headed onward, whatever that might entail. All we can be sure of is that changes will continue to happen.

Yet humanity’s uniqueness will play a major role in where we go from here. For Huxley, we have wasted too much time by failing to embrace our unique status. Instead of taking our proper seat at the pinnacle of the universe, we have instead “projected personality into the cosmic scheme.” Instead of valuing our own greatness, we have turned aside and attributed greatness that is duly ours to a non-existent God, we have attributed a personal will to the impersonal forces and matter that alone govern this world.

Huxley’s solution is to take the evolutionary bull by the horns: “progress has hitherto been a rare and fitful byproduct of evolution. Man has the possibility of making it the main feature of his own future evolution, and of guiding its course in relation to a deliberate aim.” In other words, our accidentally achieved greatness has granted us the capacity to choose where we go from here.

Huxley waxes eloquent as he closes the article:

“Let us not put off our responsibilities onto the shoulders of mythical gods or philosophical absolutes, but shoulder them in the hopefulness of tempered pride.”

It’s significant that Huxley was a member of the British Eugenics Society, whose goal was to encourage reproduction amongst people with more desirable genetic traits and discourage reproduction amongst people with undesirable genetic traits. Huxley advocated taking the next phase of evolution upon our own shoulders: the impersonal universe has placed us on the throne, let’s recreate this world according to our ideals.

To be clear, Julian Huxley’s article is now 73 years old and should not be taken as a cutting edge statement on anything. What I find fascinating about it, however, is the acknowledgement that humanity is unique. In the naturalist, Darwinist scheme, humanity is simply the biggest accident in an infinite string of accidents. We’re not meant to be here. No one invited us. No one fashioned us. We simply showed up—uninvited, unannounced, unwelcome. Yet Huxley, like Darwin before him, still saw humanity as significant. Unique. Dignified.

You will have to be the judge of whether or not we should be proud of our significance as presented by Julian Huxley. But there is a point of continuity between Huxley and the Christian tradition: humanity matters. We are unique. Yet, as Huxley said, there are differences, “and differences of some importance for our general outlook.”

Michelangelo - God and Man

Biblically speaking, we matter in the universe because we matter to God. He crafted us in his image, “crowned us with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and gave us a mission to fulfill. God further dignified the human race by taking on flesh and blood, becoming fully human. Our significance will carry on when he raises our bodies from the grave to reign forever over the recreated earth.

We may well ask with David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” But we do indeed recognize our significance. And unlike Darwin and Huxley, we acknowledge that our significance comes not in spite of our origins, but precisely because of them.

In the previous two posts, I have described the naturalistic worldview, and laid out an argument by C. S. Lewis against naturalism. In this post, I’ll offer a second argument against naturalism, this time by the American philosopher Richard Taylor. If you had a hard time following Lewis’ argument, hang in there. This one is easier, and more pictorial.

Picture yourself sitting on a train. You look out the window and see a collection of rocks that spell out “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales.” You have never seen these rocks before, and you must decide what these rocks are doing there and whether or not to believe what the rocks are telling you.

You can explain the rocks and their message in one of two ways. The first option is to believe that these rocks arrived in their current positions by random chance. In other words, over the ages impersonal forces acted upon each of the rocks, and each rock finally came to rest where it is now. No intelligent force collected the rocks and made them spell out “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales,” they just happened to fall into place in such a way that this message appears through their formation.

The second option is to believe that these rocks were placed in their current position by an intelligent being. Someone developed a plan, collected the rocks, and put them where they are in order to spell out the message “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales.”

It’s important to recognize that each of these possibilities is valid. Rocks do get eroded and moved by the forces of nature. People do pick up rocks and set them in specific places. But while we may legitimately choose to believe either of these possibilities, we also need to be careful about the inferences we draw from them.

If we assume that the rocks came to be there by chance, then what are we to make of the sentence they spell out? If we believe the rocks came to their current position by chance and just happen to have formed the sentence “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales,” then we would be foolish to believe that we are actually arriving in Wales. In other words, we may well believe that the rocks got there by chance, but we should not believe any message that randomly situated rocks appear to be sending.

But if we believe that the rocks were placed there by an intelligent being, then it would not be illogical to look at the message the rocks spell out and take that message at face value.

To put it the other way around, if we are going to believe the message that the rocks spell out, then the only logical choice is to believe they were placed there by an intelligent being, not by chance.

Taylor likens this to believing the messages that we receive from our five senses and our minds. If we believe that our senses and our minds came about by chance, then we really should not believe what our senses or our minds tell us. If they came together randomly through impersonal forces, then why should we trust the messages we receive from them?

If we are going to trust the messages that we send from our five senses and our minds, then the only logical choice is to believe that they were designed with a purpose. The irony in this argument is that the naturalistic scientists who are studying nature and saying that everything came to its current form by chance are trusting their supposedly randomly formed senses and minds in order to reach their naturalistic conclusions.

The first argument against naturalism that I want to explore comes from C. S. Lewis. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of naturalism, see my previous post.)

C. S. Lewis explains that in order to show that naturalism is inadequate, all you need to do is identify one thing that cannot be explained in a naturalistic way. Naturalism says that there are no outside influences on the earth, that nothing happens in our universe that does not have purely natural, scientific explanations. To argue against naturalism, then, you don’t need to demonstrate that nothing happens according to natural principles, only that something doesn’t operate according to purely natural principles.

Lewis points out that “all possible knowledge…depends on the validity of reasoning.” In other words, if we are going to know anything about our world, we need the ability to reason, and we need to be able to trust our reasoning. Some scientifically minded people will say that they base all of their knowledge on science rather than on reasoning. But that’s not true. A scientific experiment needs to be interpreted, and this interpretation requires reasoning. Beyond that, the experiment itself needs to be set up in a certain way, and this too requires reasoning.

So back to Lewis’ point: if we are going to know anything about our world, we need to be able to trust our ability to reason. Yet the naturalistic worldview offers us no basis for trusting our reasoning. The certainty that we get from our processes of reasoning amounts to nothing more than a feeling in our minds. What objective scientific existence do the conclusions of your logic have? They only existent within our minds. They come only as decisions, feelings of certainty. They cannot be “scientifically” confirmed.

Lewis says that “unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.” But a naturalist cannot account for human reasoning naturalistically. In order to reason effectively, we need to be able to rely on certain “laws of logic.” These laws include things like the law of noncontradiction, which states that “A” cannot be both “B” and “non-B” at the same time and in the same sense. Without these laws of logic—laws that we follow intuitively every day without thinking about them—we would not be able to reason.

But these laws of logic cannot be scientifically verified. How do you scientifically verify a law of logic? Yet we all understand that these laws exist, and that reasoning does not work without them.

To apply Lewis’ argument, we have found with the laws of logic a case of something that cannot be explained in purely naturalistic terms. They cannot be scientifically verified. Again, this doesn’t mean that nothing operates according to scientifically verifiable principles, only that there are some things that can’t be explained in this way. Thus the naturalistic worldview is inadequate. It is insufficient as an explanation for the way our world works.

To put it another way, the naturalistic worldview is self-referentially absurd. This means that when you apply the standards of naturalism to itself, the whole thing breaks down. Naturalism claims that something must be scientifically verifiable in order to be true. But that claim cannot be scientifically verified. So when we apply the system to itself, when we make it self-referential, the system is absurd.

In the next post, I will offer another argument against naturalism, this time by Richard Taylor. His argument is both a little more fun and a little easier to understand (I think). But for that, you’ll have to wait till Monday.

Even if you have never heard of naturalism, you have been deeply influenced by it. It is the unspoken (sometimes—it’s often proclaimed loudly and with authority) assumption of our modern world.

In a nutshell, naturalism teaches that our world exists within, well, a nutshell. In other words, our universe is a “closed system”—what we see and experience around is all there is, there is no outside influence acting upon our universe. To put it another way, our world operates by natural laws that are never interrupted—not by God, Providence, or any other outside intelligent force.

Carl Sagan summed up the naturalistic worldview when he declared: “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

You may or may not have heard people express their naturalism in some of these terms, but generally speaking, people in the western world are naturalists. Westerners believe that our world developed by chance as the natural forces of the world slowly, accidentally, mindlessly churned out the universe as we know it. Phenomena like illness, insanity, earthquakes, and emotions are explained purely in terms of natural forces (germs, synapses, tectonic plates, social conditioning).

To be clear, a person with a Christian worldview believes in these physical, natural forces as well, but she believes that God established these principles and that He can and often does act within the universe in ways that bend or even break the natural laws of the universe. She also believes that there are other supernatural forces working in the world around us. So insanity could be caused by malfunctions of the brain, but it could also be caused by something demonic (Luke 8:27-36)—it may well be that both factors play a role at times.

So how do we respond to naturalism? Well, it’s difficult, mostly because this way of looking at the world is so deeply ingrained in the people around us that the mere suggestion that it might be wrong causes them to look at you like you’re an idiot.

But Naturalism isn’t bulletproof. In fact, I would argue that it doesn’t hold up logically. It’s not the best way of explaining the world that we live in.

In the next two posts, I will offer two strong arguments against Naturalism that I gleaned from the late Ronald Nash’s excellent philosophy textbook, Life’s Ultimate Questions. The first argument comes from the always amazing C. S. Lewis. The second is from Richard Taylor.

 

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