by Quentin Smith
Originally Published in: Philo: A Journal of Philosophy, Volume 4, Number 2
Beautiful is the human and appearing in darkness
When wondering he moves his arms and legs,
And silent his eyes roll in purple caves.
At vespers the stranger is lost in black November
Under rotten branches, along leprous walls,
Where earlier his holy brother walked,
Drowned in the faint string music of his madness.
from "Helian," Georg Trakl
Abstract: The metaphilosophy of naturalism is about the nature and goals of naturalist philosophy. A real or hypothetical person who knows the nature, goals and consequences of naturalist philosophy may be called an “informed naturalist.” An informed naturalist is justified in drawing certain conclusions about the current state of naturalism and the research program that naturalist philosophers ought to undertake. One conclusion is that the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false. I explain this epistemic situation in this paper. I also articulate the goals an informed naturalist would recommend to remedy this situation. These goals, for the most part, have as their consequence the restoring of naturalism to its original state (approximately, to a certain degree, given the great difference in the specific theories), which is the state it possessed in Greco-Roman philosophy before naturalism was “overwhelmed” in the Middle Ages, beginning with Augustine (naturalism had critics as far back as Xenophanes, sixth century B.C.E., but it was not “overwhelmed” until much later). Contemporary naturalists still accept, unwittingly, the redefinition of naturalism that began to be constructed by theists in the fifth century C.E. and that underpins our basic world-view today.
THE DESECULARIZATION OF ACADEMIA THAT EVOLVED IN PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENTS SINCE THE LATE 1960s
By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized. The standard (if not exceptionless) position in each field, from physics to psychology, assumed or involved arguments for a naturalist world-view; departments of theology or religion aimed to understand the meaning and origins of religious writings, not to develop arguments against naturalism. Analytic philosophers (in the mainstream of analytic philosophy) treated theism as an antirealist or non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the reality, not of a deity, but merely of emotive expressions or certain “forms of life” (of course there were a few exceptions, e.g., Ewing, Ross, Hartshorne, etc., but I am discussing the mainstream view).
This is not to say that none of the scholars in the various academic fields were realist theists in their “private lives”; but realist theists, for the most part, excluded their theism from their publications and teaching, in large part because theism (at least in its realist variety) was mainly considered to have such a low epistemic status that it did not meet the standards of an “academically respectable” position to hold. The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view. This book, followed seven years later by Plantinga’s even more impressive book, The Nature of Necessity, made it manifest that a realist theist was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Grünbaum, and other naturalists. Realist theists, whom hitherto had segregated their academic lives from their private lives, increasingly came to believe (and came to be increasingly accepted or respected for believing) that arguing for realist theism in scholarly publications could no longer be justifiably regarded as engaging in an “academically unrespectable” scholarly pursuit.
Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers. Can you imagine a sizeable portion of the articles in contemporary physics journals suddenly presenting arguments that space and time are God’s sensorium (Newton’s view) or biology journals becoming filled with theories defending élan vital or a guiding intelligence? Of course, some professors in these other, non-philosophical, fields are theists; for example, a recent study indicated that seven percent of the top scientists are theists. However, theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected, requiring them to write secular articles if they wanted to be published. If a scientist did argue for theism in professional academic journals, such as Michael Behe in biology, the arguments are not published in scholarly journals in his field (e.g., biology), but in philosophy journals (e.g., Philosophy of Science and Philo, in Behe’s case). But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, “academically respectable” to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today. A count would show that in Oxford University Press’ 2000–2001 catalogue, there are 96 recently published books on the philosophy of religion (94 advancing theism and 2 presenting “both sides”). By contrast, there are 28 books in this catalogue on the philosophy of language, 23 on epistemology (including religious epistemology, such as Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief), 14 on metaphysics, 61 books on the philosophy of mind, and 51 books on the philosophy of science.
And how have naturalist philosophers reacted to what some committed naturalists might consider as “the embarrassment” of belonging to the only academic field that has allowed itself to lose the secularization it once had? Some naturalists wish to leave the field, considering themselves as no longer doing “philosophy of mind,” for example, but instead “cognitive science.” But the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist. (The numbers “one-quarter” and “one-third” are not the result of any poll, but rather are the exceptionless, educated guesses of every atheist and theist philosophy professor I have asked [the answers varied between “one-quarter” and “one-third”]). Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.
Naturalist philosophers need to rethink their goals. In part this involves clearly distinguishing between philosophical goals and cultural consequences of the attainment or pursuit of these goals. In the previous paragraph, I talked about “the predicament” of naturalist philosophers. The cultural predicament needs to be distinguished from the philosophical predicament. The cultural predicament is of concern to a person who psychologically desires that academia maintain its state of mainstream secularization. Academia has a mainstream secularization if and only if the mainstream of academic work (publishing, teaching, research projects, etc.) either assumes or argues for naturalism. Academia (by which I mean the set of colleges and universities) is desecularized to degree n if and only if academic work consists to degree n of assumptions of or arguments for supernaturalism. Once this degree reaches a high enough point (or interval of points, with the boundaries being vague), it becomes false that academia has a mainstream secularization. Since the late 1960s, philosophers have allowed or brought about the situation where academia does not have a mainstream secularization.
Despite the fact that this cultural predicament is what many naturalist philosophers find dissatisfying, this predicament and dissatisfaction does not concern naturalist philosophers insofar as they are philosophers. Naturalist philosophers share with theist philosophers the desire to obtain knowledge for its own sake, whatever the truth happens to be (e.g., be it naturalism or theism). Whether the truth be naturalism or theism is irrelevant to these people qua philosophers; all that matters to them insofar as they are philosophers who are philosophizing is truth or, more fully, knowledge. Why should naturalist or theistic philosophers care whether academia is mainly secularized or not? There are at least two reasons. First, normative goals, both individual and cultural, are among the objects of comprehension or belief in the understanding of naturalism and theism and their respective truth values. Whether or not academia ought to be mainly secularized is a normative issue that philosophers, be they theists or naturalists, care about if they understand the normative component of the objects of their comprehension or belief. Second, at any given time that a philosopher is philosophically inquiring about naturalism and theism, she will be in a certain epistemic state, such that if she ocurrently understood the proposition, academia ought to be mainly secularized, she will either find it more plausible than implausible, more implausible than plausible, or neither of these two alternatives (e.g., equally plausible with its negation, or having an uncertain epistemic status). The naturalist finds the proposition, academia ought to be mainly secularized, more plausible than not. (Given the ambiguity and vagueness of the word “naturalist,” this characterization of “the naturalist” is stipulative, but it is intended to capture a part of what many or most philosophers believe “she is a naturalist” means or implies.) The naturalist philosopher will have arrived at this epistemic state through pursuing the philosophical (not social activist) goal of obtaining knowledge about the truth or falsity of naturalism. In fact, it is because she arrived at this state rather than some other epistemic state that she is characterized as a “naturalist” philosopher.
Having arrived (through pursuing this philosophical goal) at the naturalist epistemic state I described, the philosopher finds there are cultural consequences of arriving at this state due to the normative component of the objects of belief of this epistemic state. The philosophical goal of pursuing knowledge about the truth of naturalism contributes to bringing the philosopher to an epistemic state where a cultural consequence is that the person desires and (if conditions are appropriate) endeavors to bring about a certain state of culture, in this case, a mainly secularized academia. But since the person, insofar as she is a philosopher, is continuing to pursue knowledge, her epistemic state will always be changing in some respect and, not being naïve, she will recognize that she may well hold a false belief about naturalism and secularization. This recognition not only requires that the commitment to the belief in naturalism be tentative, but also that the pursuit of the naturalist cultural goal be tentative and conditional upon the fact that the most important philosophical aspect of pursuing this cultural goal in a philosophically governed way is producing better arguments (to put matters in a simplified way) than the theist, which requires an openness to a fair-minded evaluation of good arguments for theism. When a philosopher engages in a philosophically governed act of achieving a cultural goal, her action is considerably more tentative and open to opposing views than a social activist who does not pursue this cultural goal in a philosophically governed way. Human history is the partly philosophically ordered wreckage created by humans pursuing their goals in all sorts of ways. Nonetheless, this sort of wreckage is (philosophically) better than one that contains no partially philosophically ordered aspects. By “wreckage” I mean a mostly disordered whole relative to one kind of order, philosophical order.
These distinctions enable me to characterize the current philosophical and cultural goals of naturalists who desire a mainly secularized academia. The current practice, ignoring theism, has proven to be a disastrous failure. More fully, naturalist philosophers’ pursuit of the cultural goal of mainstream secularization in a philosophically governed way has failed both philosophically (in regards to the philosophical aspects of this philosophically governed pursuit of the cultural goal) and culturally. The philosophical failure has led to a cultural failure. We have the following situation: A hand waving dismissal of theism, such as is manifested in the following passage from Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind, has been like trying to halt a tidal wave with a hand-held sieve. Searle responds to about one-third of contemporary philosophers with this brush-off: Talking about the scientific and naturalist world-view, he writes: “this world view is not an option. It is not simply up for grabs along with a lot of competing world views. Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather than in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remained convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith.” Searle does not have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion and, if he did, he might, in the face of the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today, say something more similar to the non-theist Richard Gale (who does have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion), whose conclusion of a 422 page book criticizing contemporary philosophical arguments for God’s existence (as well as dealing with other matters in the philosophy of religion), reads “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith” (if only for the reason, Gale says, that his book does not examine the inductive arguments for God’s existence). If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.
Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist, which is similar to the attitude expressed by Searle in the previous quote, the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.
THE JUSTIFICATION OF MOST CONTEMPORARY NATURALIST VIEWS IS DEFEATED BY CONTEMPORARY THEIST ARGUMENTS
A more systematic articulation of this situation can be given. To do so, I will first need to outline some epistemological ideas about justification and defeaters. These ideas serve my purpose of explaining in a brief and simple way the current academic situation, but, since epistemology is both a highly controversial field and a conceptually precise and argumentative rigorously field, I cannot (if only for reasons of space) engage in critical argumentation against other epistemological theories. I shall have to leave it to epistemologists who hold different theories than the one I briefly outline to either “grasp the general gist of what I am saying” or else to conceptually translate the ideas I outline into their own epistemological theories.
I begin with the notion of justification. A person is justified in believing that p because that person’s belief that p is based on her belief that q (and, in addition, some other conditions, to be mentioned later, are met). A belief that p is “justified” in a derivative sense, i.e., if it is the belief that p mentioned in the preceding sentence. A proposition is “justified” in a derivative sense if it is the proposition p mentioned in the preceding sentences. Arguments can be treated as complex propositions, e.g., by placing a conjunction (expressed by “and”) between the premises and including the conclusion, as well as the inference relation (expressed by “therefore”) in the same proposition as the conjoined premises. I often use “justifies” in a derivative sense.
Some of the other conditions that must be met for a person to be justified in believing that p are stated in the following way. A person is justified in believing that p because that person’s belief that p is based on her belief that q and 1) q’s being true would be an epistemically good reason for the person to believe that p, and 2) any defeater which is an adequate ground for believing q is not an adequate reason for p or that q is not true is cognitively inaccessible to the person.
A defeater is cognitively inaccessible to the person if the defeater involves evidence, theses, arguments, etc. that the person lacks the ability to comprehend and believe, or the person is prevented from believing the evidence, theses, or arguments, etc., by the person’s situation. A clear case of such prevention would be that the person is in a situation where the evidence, theses or arguments have not been discovered yet due to a relevantly legitimate reason, e.g., the person requires modal logic to understand an argument, the person lacks expertise in logic and modal logic has not yet been discovered by those with expertise in logic. Something x is cognitively accessible to the person if the person ocurrently or dispositionally believes x or the person could come to justifiably believe x with the epistemic resources available to the person. Epistemic resources include information in books and articles, information from experts available to the person, information from what the person could come to know through empirical investigation (given the relevant tools, e.g., telescopes) or reasoning (given the relevant tools, e.g., systems of logic, mathematics, set theory).
(If it made sense to say that theistic or naturalist belief is a properly basic belief, we could rephrase our arguments so that “justified belief in naturalism,” for example, meant that the belief, a naturalist belief is a properly basic first order belief, is a justified second order belief.)
It will be of interest to characterize the current epistemic situation, as seen from the viewpoint of a real or hypothetical person who knows that naturalism is true. I shall call such a person an “informed naturalist.” The informed naturalist will perceive the gloomy state (at least gloomy to her) that resulted from allowing, since the late 1960s, a mainly secularized academia to return (in part) to its traditional desecularized state, a gloomy state that resulted due to the failings of contemporary naturalists and successes of contemporary theists in the field of philosophy. The epistemic situation of most contemporary naturalists can be explained in terms of this viewpoint if we define the following symbols.
N (a thesis). Naturalism, i.e., the thesis that there exist inanimate or animate bodies, with animate bodies being either intelligent organisms or non-intelligent organisms, but there exists nothing supernatural. The example of something supernatural of most interest to contemporary analytic philosophers is an unembodied mind that is the original and/or continuous creator of the universe and has the omniattributes described in perfect being theology. Other examples of hypothesized supernatural realities that govern or create in some sense the universe are the governing mind posited by the Stoics or the “Absolute I” posited by the early Fichte.
Note that N does not imply that there are no abstract objects, such as Quine’s sets, Armstrong’s universals, Tooley’s laws of nature, or Moore’s or Butchvarov’s values. Nor does N imply that there are abstract objects. This issue is left open by N since my interest is in contrasting N (defined in terms of bodies and intelligent organisms) with supernaturalism. If abstract objects exist, uncreated by and not related in any way to a supernatural reality, they are natural, but the naturalist need not posit their existence. Given this, (i.e., that if there are abstract objects, they are natural) it follows that naturalism and supernaturalism are the only two possible ontologies. This requires us to allow the possibility that the governing supernatural realities be understood polytheistically or in other religious or philosophical ways that are not explicitly mentioned in N. (Despite this, Gorgias would object that these are not the only two possible ontologies since he argues that nothing exists. However, since this implies his argument does not exist, we have no need to refute it. More generally, any theory that is clearly and explicitly self-contradictory or nonsensical cannot be counted as a “possible ontology,” or at least I so stipulate.)
A (a defeated justifier). A is the argument that contemporary science and naturalist philosophy are known to be probably or certainly true, even though A includes no counterarguments against contemporary arguments for theism.
(a defeater for the justifier A). DA is a sound argument that argument
A is unsound.
B (a defeated justifier). B is an argument that, contemporary science and naturalist philosophy, when conjoined with an evaluation of contemporary theist arguments for not-
(where “not-N” implies naturalism is not true) justify not-N.
(a defeater for the justifier B). DB is a sound argument that argument
B is unsound.
C (an undefeated justifier for N). C is the argument that, contemporary science and naturalist philosophy, when conjoined with an evaluation of contemporary theist arguments for not-N, justify N.
According to the informed naturalist, the predicament of at least ninety-nine percent of contemporary naturalists is represented in the following columns. We can state very briefly the arguments different philosophers believe in terms of our symbols. The mentioned belief states are arguments believed to be sound by the relevant parties.
Belief State of Most Contemporary Naturalists
2.A justifies N.
3.Therefore, N is justified.
Defeater Recognized by Informed Naturalists
5.DA defeats A.
6.Therefore, A does not justify N.
Belief State of Most Contemporary Theists
8.B justifies not-N.
9.Therefore, not-N is justified.
Defeater Recognized by Informed Naturalists
11.DB defeats B.
12.Therefore, B does not justify not-N.
Since both A and B are defeated, most contemporary naturalists, as well as most contemporary theists, hold defeated beliefs about the truth-value of naturalism. The informed naturalist knows the complex argument C that constitutes the defeater of B and the justification of N, as well as meets other conditions explained later in this paper.
Belief State of Informed Naturalists
14.C justifies N.
15.Therefore, N is justified.
Some naturalists believe they are informed naturalists. But whether they are in fact informed naturalists is not an issue I am addressing in this paper. This paper is a metaphilosophy of naturalism, not a philosophical argument that naturalism is true. Such philosophical arguments can be found in other papers and books. In this paper, I am (in part) characterizing the contemporary epistemic situation about naturalism from the point of view of a real or hypothetical informed naturalist.
How might “uninformed naturalists,” the majority of contemporary naturalists, respond and remain unperturbed by this representation of the viewpoint of an informed naturalist? They may say: why can’t Searle, Davidson, the Churchlands and other naturalists leave it to, say, Gale, Grünbaum, Fales, Oppy, Le Poidevin, Martin and a handful of others to know how B is defeated and how C justifies N? Why cannot most naturalists leave it to the naturalists who specialize in the philosophy of religion to know the argument that contemporary science and naturalist philosophy, when conjoined with arguments about contemporary theism, justify naturalism?
The problem with this response is that Davidson, Searle, the Churchlands and most other naturalists would not know that naturalism is true since they would not know the defeater DB of the theistic justifier B of supernaturalism (or not-N). Knowledge is indefeasibly justified true belief and most naturalists have a true belief (assuming naturalism is true) and a defeated justification A for their belief. In order to have an indefeasibly justified true belief in naturalism, and thus knowledge that naturalism is true, they need to know DB, which defeats B, and C, which justifies naturalism. (Strictly, speaking, knowing C is sufficient for an indefeasibly justified true belief in naturalism, since C includes DB as a proper part.) Philosophers such as Searle or Davidson do not need to devote their main research time to formulating and developing the arguments constituting DB (philosophers such as Gale, Grünbaum, Fales and Martin, for example, can be involved in this research project). Rather, they must come to know DB (as developed by naturalists who specialize in formulating arguments against B), or they must know at least enough of DB so that their belief that B is false is indefeasibly justified. DB is cognitively accessible to philosophers such as Searle or Davidson and this fact (along with the others mentioned) renders their belief in naturalism unjustified. The informed naturalist would say that these uninformed naturalists are not fully doing their epistemic duties with respect to naturalism and that this is a contributing cause of the current cultural and philosophical predicament of naturalist philosophers, namely, that they have allowed academia to lose its mainstream secularization. The informed naturalist could rephrase this in terms of a virtue theory of epistemic justification. The uninformed naturalists are unjustified in believing N because they have not exercised a certain intellectual virtue; the uninformed naturalists believe N without first appropriately trying to determine or learn if post-1967 arguments by theists are successful. The informed naturalist, then, would think it is her responsibility to point this out to uninformed naturalists with the motive of attempting to help uninformed naturalists in this respect, just as uninformed naturalists are able to point out other things to informed naturalists to help them out in areas of thought other than DB.
Intuitively speaking, this applies to naturalist scientists in an approximately analogous sense in which naturalist philosophers are epistemically obligated to know at least in general outline the most important contemporary scientific theories, such as the Darwinian theory of evolution and Big Bang Cosmology. An extra problem with naturalist scientists is that they are so innocent of any understanding of the philosophy of religion that they do not even know that they are innocent of this understanding, as it witnessed by their popular writings on science and religion.
The current epistemic situation is in fact even much worse than this. The informed naturalist would say that whatever most naturalists purport to know to be naturally the case (or seem to themselves to know to be naturally the case) is such that its being known entails the being known of naturalism, and therefore that most contemporary naturalists do not know any natural truths. I am not here saying the clearly false statement that (for example) “knowing that the universe is expanding” entails “knowing naturalism is true.” Rather, I am saying that “knowing that the universe is naturally expanding” (i.e., is expanding solely via a natural process, where one’s understanding of “naturally” and “natural” contains an understanding of what I have said about N earlier in this paper)” entails “knowing that naturalism is true.” One reason for this entailment is the following: If I know that the universe is naturally expanding, I know that supernaturalism is false since I know that a thesis logically implied by supernaturalism, that all processes and things constituting the universe are caused or governed by some supernatural reality, is false. Since naturalism and supernaturalism are the only two possible ontologies (see my earlier discussion of N), it follows (from the fact that I know supernaturalism is false and that I know some possible ontology is true) that I know naturalism is true, even if I only know this generally, as some ontology that is not-S is true, where S is supernaturalism. This knowledge need not be occurent; it could be dispositional. The problem with uninformed naturalists is that they know such things as that “the universe is expanding” but do not know such things as “the universe is naturally expanding.” They know certain truths, but they do not know whether they are natural truths or supernatural truths.
The naturalist situation, as viewed by an informed naturalist, is more deserving of sadness than of blame. If naturalism is the true world-view, and a “Dark Age” means an age when the vast majority of philosophers (and scientists) do not know the true world-view, then we have to admit that we are living in a Dark Age. Since we ought to be knowledgeable rather than ignorant, and since we can be more knowledgeable, it follows that we ought to attempt to end the present Dark Age. But exactly what ought we do to “become more knowledgeable in the relevant respects”? According to the informed naturalist, there are four things we ought to do.
FOUR GOALS OF THE INFORMED NATURALISTS
The four goals are to i) retrieve naturalism from its de facto reclassification by medieval philosophers. This is a reclassification (which may have been a result of some other deliberately chosen goal) from its original, accurate, classification in Greco-Roman naturalism, and this reclassification was effected by the medieval philosophers. This reclassification still prevails today. ii) Reclassify the philosophy of religion as a subfield of naturalism, viz. skepticism about naturalism, so that the position in the various fields of philosophy formerly occupied by “the philosophy of religion” is replaced by the field “the philosophy of naturalism.” This does not imply an attempt to “define theism out of philosophy” or to prevent theists from offering theistic arguments. Rather it involves a) viewing the role of theistic arguments in philosophy in a different way than they are currently viewed, b) having an indefeasibly justified true belief that that this different way of viewing the role of theistic arguments in philosophy is the correct way, c) helping theists to come to know that this is the correct way and d) having this reclassification take place consistently with the freedoms of inquiry, thought, speech and expression of one’s beliefs, and having all relevant activities conform to the principles I distinguished in my earlier discussion of “philosophically governed versus social activist behavior.” iii) A third goal is to understand in outline an actually extant version of original naturalism (Greco-Roman naturalism) that these original naturalists justifiably believed to be an informed naturalism and which contemporary informed naturalists justifiably believe is approximately the best that could be done by naturalists in the epistemic situation of Greco-Roman philosophers. iv) The fourth goal is to justifiably reformulate, and answer, the two basic ontological why-questions that medieval philosophers took over from the Greco-Roman naturalists, and which have (for the most part) remained ever since “questions asked in the field of the philosophy of religion.” The successful accomplishments of these four tasks will restore academia to the mainstream secularization it possessed before the post-1967 breakdown in the field of philosophy.
1. The first task that the informed naturalist would place on the contemporary naturalist agenda is to retrieve naturalism from its de facto reclassification by the medieval philosophers and, second, reverse this “reclassification move.” Naturalism originally began with the pre-Socratics, most clearly with Leucippus and Democritus, but also with Anaximander, Aneximenedes, Heraclitus, Protagoras, Empedocles, Theodorus, Diagorous, Critias and others (the two main exceptions being the monotheists Xenophanes and Anaxagorous). Some of these pre-Socratics sometimes used the word “god” (theos), but insofar as the existence of a so-called god or gods was embraced, they meant by “god” a non-human intelligent organism that was a part of and governed by (rather than governing) natural processes. The first task is based on the fact that naturalism began as a distinct, holistic world-view, was in effect subsumed as a skeptical subfield of natural theology by the medievals (for example, in some cases it might appear in the “objections section” under the heading “arguments for God’s existence based on natural reason”), and today is “torn in half” into two domains of thought. One of these two domains is “atheism,” which is a negative philosophy, “God does not exist,” that is attributed to the small number of naturalists who have a specialization in the philosophy of religion. The second domain, different than “atheism,” is a positive philosophy which, mainly, but not exclusively, involves using “non-reductive physicalism” as the topic or presupposition of most naturalists who work in the areas of philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc. and who (for the most part) are uninformed about the philosophy of religion. The naturalist goal is to terminate the isolation of these two domains of thought from each other and to reinterpret them. Atheism should be considered as a defense of naturalism against skeptical attacks, and thereby to play a foundational role in justifying the presuppositions of positive naturalist philosophy. As a subfield of the philosophy of religion, atheism is usually classified as a body of counter-arguments against the cosmological, teleological and ontological arguments, and counter-arguments against the arguments from religious experience and (alleged) miracles. The first task is in part to remove atheism from its placement as a subfield of the philosophy of religion, where it is merely an extrinsically important theory that is parasitic on the intrinsically important theory, theism. This theistic classification of atheism implied that atheism is important merely as a skeptical attack on theism that serves the theistic purpose of stimulating further development of the argumentative defense of theism. But, according to the informed naturalist, atheism should now to be integrated with the specialized naturalist research programs (philosophy of mind, epistemology, etc.), as a defense of their naturalist assumptions against skeptical attacks, so that the result of the integration is a single, holistic world-view.
2. This retrieval is also a reversal. The aim is that theism be justifiably reclassified as a subfield of naturalism, namely, as a skepticism about the basic principles of naturalism whose refutation serves to stimulate and further develop the naturalist program. “Philosophy of religion” disappears, to be replaced by a new subfield of naturalism, namely, “skepticism about naturalism,” with skeptical arguments being put forth and argued against, with the aim in mind of further developing the argumentative foundations of the naturalist world-view.
How should this process occur? To avoid any misleading appearance about the nature of this process of reversal, I should emphasis again that I am not talking about “suppression of the freedom of thought and expression of theists” or “unjustifiably defining the philosophy of religion out of existence.” Rather, the reversal involves following the relevant distinctions I earlier made between philosophy and social activism, respecting the freedoms of thought, inquiry, expression, etc., and helping theists come to have an indefeasibly justified true belief that this reversal ought to take place.
If my earlier remarks about philosophy and cultural activism are reread, one may see that they imply that if it turns out that some supernaturalists come to know that supernaturalism is true, then naturalists ought to become supernaturalists and ought to be helped to become supernaturalists by the supernaturalists who know supernaturalism to be true.
3. The accomplishment of these two tasks of the informed naturalist, retrieving and reversing the medievals de facto reclassification of original naturalism, would result (as the third goal of the informed naturalist) in a contemporary reflection of the original naturalism of the pre-Socratics. More exactly, it would reflect Greco-Roman naturalism from the period from about 600 B.C.E. to the sixth, fifth or fourth century C.E., depending on whether we wished to identify the end of original naturalism with the time when neoPlatonism became the pre-eminent philosophy, or later, when Augustine did his work, around 400 C.E., or whether we wished to pick an exact year, say, 529 C.E., which is the year a Christian, the Roman Emperor Justinian, shut down the Athenian Academy, ending officially permitted promulgation of non-theist world-views. (Perhaps 529 is a late date, since among the last of the heads of the Athenian Academy, successively Marinus, Isidorus and Damascious, only Marinus, in the late fifth century a.d., clearly defended a non-theist philosophy in his commentary on Plato’s Parmenides.) The last significant Greco-Roman naturalist philosopher was Sextus Empiricus (c. 250 C.E.). But naturalist philosophy still flourished up to about 300 B.C.E. in the Epicurean school and the school of Pyrrhonist Skeptics (founded by Aenesidmus of Knossos around 43 B.C.E., continued with Agrippa, and with Sextus Empiricus being its last main, philosophically creative, proponent). By the time Plotinus was flourishing in Rome (c. 250 C.E.), neoPlatonism was becoming the predominant Greco-Roman philosophy and naturalism was on the way to being “overwhelmed.” The most reasonable estimate is probably that Greco-Roman naturalism lasted as a vital field from approximately 600 b.c.e to approximately 300 C.E.
Since we are not living in the midst of a period where informed naturalism prevails, and since the only extent period of wide scale naturalism that contemporary informed naturalists would believe was justified, in the then prevailing epistemic situation, lasted between 600 B.C.E. and 300 C.E., the only way to understand a real example of a naturalism of this sort is to outline some of the relevant ideas of this earlier naturalism. As I suggested earlier, understanding a real example is our third goal. The most clear-cut naturalist school, the atomist school of Leucippus, Democritus, Nausiphanes, Anaxarchus, Epicurus, Lucretius, etc., included justified naturalists (in the sense I explained). They argued against the religion of their time and put a naturalist world-view in its place. But this is not news to the reader. It is neither necessary nor desirable to briefly outline their philosophies as a whole, since that is available in history of philosophy books and articles and in any case will not capture what is most germane to informed naturalism. Rather, I shall outline the parts of their philosophy that have the most significance for a discussion of informed naturalism, namely, their treatment of religion as a skeptical subfield of naturalism and (pertaining to the fourth goal of the informed naturalist), their raising and answering the two most basic ontological why-questions within an entirely naturalist framework.
4. The two most basic ontological questions are now considered, due to the lasting influence of the medieval philosophers, as belonging to the field of the philosophy of religion. But they originally belonged to the naturalist philosophy that prevailed prior to Augustine or Plotinus. The two most fundamental ontological why-questions used to belong to Greco-Roman atomism but since the Middle Ages have been treated as theistic questions, namely, the questions (in one way of formulating them) “why is there something rather than nothing?” and “why are there these things rather than other things?” Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, and other Greco-Roman naturalists treated and attempted to answer their own formulations of the two most basic ontological why-questions within a naturalist context, without thinking they needed to discuss anything they considered “religious” or supernatural at all, but, beginning with the medieval philosophers these questions were de facto defined as questions belonging exclusively to the field of natural theology. When Hume discusses these questions, he does so primarily in a treatise on natural theology (he even entitles it Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion) and his practice is followed by subsequent philosophers, where the act of trying to answer the basic ontological why-questions was an act that took place within the field of the philosophy of religion. Furthermore, ever since the Middle Ages, theists have convinced naturalists in general that these questions, if meaningful, have only two possible answers, “Because of a supernatural creative act” or “For no reason; they are brute facts.”
naturalism includes possible answers to the two most ontologically basic
why-questions, questions the answers to which allow naturalism to provide
an explanatorily complete ontological explanation of what exists. An ontological
theory is explanatorily complete if there are positive answers to the most
basic ontological why-questions, where a positive answer offers a reason
or reasons rather than the reply “for no reason, it is a brute fact” (a
negative answer). For example, if the most basic answers to the ontological
why-questions in a certain naturalist theory permit the two most basic
why-questions, formulated in the following way, to be positively answered,
then that theory is explanatorily complete.
Why do these things exist and why do these laws of nature obtain rather
than some other possible things and other possible laws of nature?
Why is it the case that there is not only nothing? (The reason for formulating
the question this way will become apparent when I discuss the atomists.)
For the informed naturalist, a metaphilosophical thesis about philosophical naturalism is that it is (at the very least) epistemically possible for the ontological explanations belonging to a naturalist philosophy to be complete. That is, Q1 and Q2 are neither meaningless naturalist questions, nor have only naturalist answers that are logically self-contradictory, nor are pseudo-questions in the sense that it is logically impossible that there be any other response to them than “for no reason; it is a brute fact.” This enables us to state clearly the fourth goal of the informed naturalist, which is based on the previous three goals: 4) What needs to be done is that these two most basic ontological why-questions must be retrieved from the philosophy of religion and restored to their original place, the place they had in the atomism of Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus and others, which was naturalist ontology.
Since this fourth goal is based on the first three goals, and is the least understood goal in contemporary times (where most naturalists assume that theists are correct in thinking these two why-questions, if answerable, have answers that belong to the philosophy of religion), if will be most fruitful to outline this goal at the greatest length.
The early Greek atomists interpreted the naturalist question “Why is it not the case that there is only nothing?” in a way that seemed to them to fit in with their atomism. For Leucippus, as with his disciple Democritus, “nothing” referred to empty space and “something” to atoms, which move into (previously) empty spaces. This reminds us of some quantum cosmologists such as Ed Tryon who use “something” and “nothing” in approximately the same way, mutatis mutandis. “Nothing” refers to the quantum vacuum and “something” to the real as distinct from virtual particles. Part of the difficulty of addressing the question about why is it not the case that there is only nothing is figuring out what “nothing” means. The contemporary analytic theist cannot pretend to be significantly more enlightened in this respect than Leucippus, since the theist typically says nothing is a possible world in which there are no concrete objects, such that this possible world is an abstract object, a maximal state of affairs or proposition. But surely, it might be objected, a maximal proposition or state of affairs is something, an abstract thing, and thus is not nothing. In both cases, we have a relativizing of “nothing” to the non-existence of a certain kind of thing, atoms or concrete objects. This difficulty regarding the meaning of “nothing” has not yet been resolved in a satisfactory way.
We can see why I formulated Q2 rather than the more familiar analogue “why is there something rather than nothing?” The formulation, “Why is there something rather than nothing,” begs the question against Leucippus and Democritus by assuming without argument something they deny. They would criticize this question as based on a false presupposition, viz., that there is or even can be something without nothing. There can be no beings (atoms, which move) without non-being (empty space). More precisely, there cannot be things that move and fill up what had been an empty place (nothing) unless there are empty places.
The second basic ontological why-question, why are there these things and laws rather than others, can be answered in one of two ways by the atomists. The universe (“the All” or “the unlimited”) is a causally deterministic, discrete, infinitely old sequence of atomic events; each of these atomic events, of the smallest discrete size, has its sufficient cause in the prior state of that size (in conjunction with causal laws). The uncaused “swerve” is a later invention of Epicurus in his attempt to explain free will; at that time, philosophers did not know the conceptual distinction between compatibilism and hard determinism. Further, we should not suppose they had a clear conceptual distinction between causal laws and instances of these, as we have today. Rather, this seems to be what they vaguely had in mind. Given this, we can say this much: Each basic law is a regularity, i.e., atomic events of a certain type nomically causing other atomic events of a certain type. The obtaining of a basic law at any given time is a causal consequence of the obtaining of the law at an earlier time. In this way, not only the states of the universe are causally explained, but also the causal laws. Notice how Aristotle strawmans Democritus and mis-states his causal explanation as a temporal pseudo-explanation in Physics VIII. 252 a.32. Aristotle’s strawman Democritus is represented as holding that “something happens in a given way because it has always happened that way.” Note that Aristotle drops causality from the explanation Democritus gave. If we state Democritus’ theory the right way, in terms of a causal explanation, the burden of proof is then on Aristotle to tell us why the statement, “for any given time t, the causal law L is caused to obtain at that time, and it is caused to obtain at that time by the obtaining of L at an earlier time t* < t,” is not an answer to the question, “why does the law obtain at all times (in an infinite past)?” The supernaturalists often respond at this point by equivocating, claiming their real question is not “why does the law obtain at all the times in an infinite past?” but “why does this law actually obtain, rather than some other law that could have obtained, but which in actuality does not obtain?” which is not a question about temporality but about modality.
The atomists have a ready response to the modal question: each possibility is actualized. In terms of contemporary modal logic, we could say their position is (very tacitly!) formally similar to the modal system Triv, discussed most prominently in Hughes’ and Cresswell’s book. Triv is (Lp --> Mp) + p --> Lp. The symbol L means necessarily and M means possibly. To be more exact, Triv is the system D + p --> Lp. One of the theorems of Triv that is very clearly relevant to the atomists’ theory is Mp ? p ? Lp, where “?” means material equivalence. It follows from this that if p is possibly true, then p is actually true, and if p is actually true, then p is necessarily true. Hughes and Cresswell, however, say that Triv reduces modal notions to extensional notions. However, once we recognize that even strictly logically (in C.I. Lewis’s sense of “strictly”) equivalent propositions can be different propositions, and can be expressed by non-synonymous sentences (e.g., “A triangle is three-sided” and “A triangle is three-angled”), then we can say that Triv expresses intensional concepts not expressed in any extensional logic. “Necessarily” no more expresses the same concept as “possibly” than “three-sided” expresses the same concept as “three-angled.” The atomists’ “necessities” are understood in most cases a posteriori, although we should not attribute our contemporary explicit conceptual distinction between the a priori and the a posteriori to them.
A surviving fragment from Leucippus has been the subject of much debate and Taylor has provided a plausible interpretation of a part of it. The fragment reads: “Nothing happens at random, but everything for a reason and by necessity.”
Taylor indicates that mat?n (“in vain”) is sometimes used to mean “without reason,” in the sense of “without a rational explanation” as in Plato’s Theatetus 189d. Leucippus’ first clause would then read: “Nothing happens without a rational explanation,” which is (a version of) the principle of sufficient reason. Taylor suggests the rest should be read as “but everything happens for a reason [with a rational explanation] and by necessity.” Taylor explicates the expression about necessity as meaning that the reason for which something happens is that it has to happen. But this is a dubious interpretation, for it would make the fragment end redundantly: “Nothing happens without a rational explanation, but everything happens with a rational explanation and with a rational explanation,” since (on Taylor’s view) the reason is the necessity. But Taylor’s redundant conjunction suggests we need a different reading: “Nothing happens without a rational explanation, but everything happens with a rational explanation and necessarily.” For example, the “rational explanation” would be a causal explanation and the “necessarily” would mean than this chain of causally explained events necessarily exists.
The atomists discuss the two basic ontological why-questions and provide answers (with more or less degrees of explicitness) in a purely naturalistic context, without reference to anything supernatural or religious and without saying the “real importance” of their answers is that they “imply atheism.”
The atomists did not treat atheist arguments, or arguments against the religion of their times, as a subfield of natural theology; rather, atheist arguments were rebuttals of skepticism about naturalism that comprised one of the fields of naturalism, along with epistemology, philosophy of the mind, ethics, etc. The atomists did discuss religion, but religious belief was not sufficiently interesting to warrant anything more than a few rebuttals of its skeptical attack on the atomistic world-view. The Roman atomist, Lucretius, discussed atheism in the course of presenting his cosmology and sociological theory, and gave an explanation that was most similar to Democritus’ (even though Lucretius purported to be explaining Epicurus, who himself purported to be explaining Democritus, who himself adopted his basic ideas from Leucippus.) Lucretius writes: “Let us now consider why reverence for the gods is widespread among the nations. . . . The explanation is not far to seek. Already in those early days people had visions when their minds were awake, and more clearly in sleep, of divine figures, dignified in mien [way of carrying and conducting oneself] and impressive in stature.” In other words, reverence for gods is widespread because people’s epistemic faculties are not functioning properly, to borrow a phrase from Plantinga. (As a minor aside, “mien” is indeed a word in the English language, as the translator knows but which many philosophers have denied to me. For example, see page 900 of the 1974 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, edited by David Guralnik.)
Epicurus merely said that the persons called “the gods” were in fact extraterrestrial, intelligent organisms, composed entirely of atoms, who were governed by the laws of nature, and who had no influence or even interest in human affairs. They were like happy Martians who were indifferent to Earthlings (except Epicurus’ extraterrestrials existed in the interstices between “worlds,” where a world is very roughly a planetary system).
Democritus did not have such a sanguine view. Democritus, who was basically alone in his time (as were other pre-Socratic philosophers) in rejecting religion and embracing naturalism, was said by Hippocrates to have had a less than a rosy-eyed view of human affairs: “This man ridiculed everything as if all human interests were ridiculous.” Democritus’ pursuit of naturalist knowledge and his naturalist normative goals was presumably a second level interest that provided this perspective on first level interests. (Otherwise his interest in ridiculing everything is itself ridiculous; if all human interests are ridiculous, Democritus’ interest in ridiculing all human interests is ridiculous. Perhaps his interest is ridiculous because it fails to attain the obviously unattainable goal of transcending the human condition). In any case, Democritus’ remarks on religion certainly made religious interests seem ridiculous: he said that people mistook an appearance of there being mortal and destructible phantoms, an appearance that traveled about and could be seen and heard, as the “god.” Since this appearance does not fit the definition of a deity, Democritus concluded, people’s religious beliefs were false. Now it may well be that the religious views Democritus’ criticized were not supernaturalist views, as I defined supernaturalism, but false naturalist views (“there are traveling phantoms,” etc.). But if my symbols are used to represent the formal structure of his and other atomists’ thinking, so that B (for example) represents a religious justifier they criticized, even if these religious justifiers are not “supernaturalist” in my sense, we may call the atomists’ arguments against religious justifiers defeaters of justifiers of religious beliefs, and thus to provide the original naturalists with their version of DB (where DB is the defeater of an argument B for the truth of certain religious beliefs.).
The atomists also formulated versions of the following theses, where B, DB and the other symbols stand for the pertinent theories of their time. They argued (and it seemed to them that):
1.DB (An argument DB against the religious justifier B of their time).
2.DB defeats B.
3.C (which includes an argument that the basic why-questions have naturalist answers and provides those answers).
4.C justifies N.
N is justified.
Leucippus and Democritus were the first to put forth a naturalist argument of this sort. An informed naturalist today might think that the formal model they implicitly provided is one we need to adopt today in order to return philosophy to its mainly secularized state and thereby bring it back in line with the rest of the academic fields. The informed naturalist would think this would be the best way to advance human knowledge. Of course, this is a subject on which naturalists and anti-naturalists will differ. The differences were great even in Greek times, to the point where the activity the naturalist and anti-naturalist philosophers share in common, the free pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself, was sometimes not valued.
For example, the leading supernaturalist of Greco-Roman times, Plato, seemed quite perturbed at the atomists’ line of thinking. As Aristoxenus reports in his Historical Notes: “Plato wished to burn all the writings of Democritus that he could collect, but Amyclas and Clinias the Pythagoreans prevented him, saying that there were no advantage in doing so, for already the books were widely circulated.” However, Plato need not have worried, since Julius Caesar accidentally burned Democritus’ books in 48 B.C.E., which may have something to do with the fact that atomism was “overwhelmed” by Roman neoPlatonism by 300 C.E. All that was then left were fragments of the atomists’ writings and Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. It may not be entirely rhetorical to ask: Could it be that it is Caesar’s fault that western philosophy is a “series of footnotes to Plato,” as Whitehead said, rather than a naturalistic “series of footnotes to Democritus [and Leucippus]”? It seems that Aristoxenus would have taken this position with whole-hearted earnestness:
Plato, who mentions almost all the early philosophers, never once alludes to Democritus, not even where it is necessary to controvert him, obviously because he knew that he would then have to match himself against the prince of philosophers.