Which naturalism?

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Which naturalism?

John Cottingham

Quote:The ‘naturalizing’ agenda in contemporary secularist philosophy is often presented in opposition to traditional theism. But looking at the history of the terms ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ reveals a discontinuity between how these terms are currently understood and how they were understood in the past. The modern ‘naturalist’, in insisting that all phenomena should be brought within the domain of the natural, is advancing a thesis that many classical, medieval and early-modern philosophers and theologians would have regarded as fairly self-evident. What has changed is not that there is a new determination to include within the natural domain what was previous excluded from it, but rather that there is a radical shift in how the natural domain is to be understood. This paper argues that the philosophically interesting question is not whether or not we should be naturalists, but which of two naturalisms we should adopt: secular naturalism, with its neutralist conception of nature in general and of human nature in particular, or theistic naturalism, according to which the natural world and our own nature bear the stamp of the divine. It turns out the former (secularist) view is vulnerable to serious difficulties, on both the epistemic and the moral fronts.

Quote:The natural world is awful in the literal sense, inspiring fear, and yet also filling us with a fearful wonder and a strange delight. It’s notable that these are precisely the emotions that Richard Dawkins celebrates in his book entitled The Magic of Reality – a purely natural magic, he is at pains to stress, yet something that fills us, as he puts it, with ‘awe and delight’. 25 So just as the Psalmist stresses the utter puniness of humankind set against the backdrop of the starry heavens, so Dawkins declares that our local galaxy, the ‘mysterious streak of milky white’ across the night sky which ‘we can never see in its full glory’, should, when you realize what it is, ‘strike you dumb with awe’. Yes, the atheist is adamant in rejecting the theistic enframing of the natural world; but the sheer beauty and glory of nature that the theist celebrates by calling it divine, or ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ (in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ phrase),26 is precisely that which calls forth the awe and wonder of those who abrogate religious language. What we have here, in short, is a remarkable convergence in our natural human responses to the natural world – a convergence that could perhaps deserve more attention from philosophers than the largely fruitless attempts to rule in or to rule out the supernatural which we find in so many of the contemporary debates in this area.

Quote:But when we turn from the nature of the cosmos as a whole to our own human nature, things seem rather different. Theistic language, with its talk of human nature as bearing the stamp of the divine, may have become deeply uncongenial to contemporary secular philosophy, but nevertheless the conception of human nature as fundamentally configured towards the good and the true is one that we may be unable to give up on pain of self-stultification. For our very sense of our selves as philosophical or scientific inquirers, able to critically sift and evaluate our beliefs, able to discern which goals are worthy of pursuit, and to pursue them with coherence and purpose – all this seems to presuppose at some fundamental level that the human mind is what Thomas Nagel has called an ‘instrument of transcendence, able to discern objective reality and objective value’
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2023-10-29, 08:01 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel. Edited 2 times in total.)

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