Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Naturalism

I just finished reading an excellent book entitled Naturalism by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz. The book's purpose is to explain what Naturalism is and then to assess whether it holds up under scrutiny.

The worldview of Naturalism is defined by the authors as:

"...the philosophy that everything that exists is a part of nature and that there is no reality beyond or outside of nature." (p. 6)

The book defines two senses of Naturalism (strict and broad), but makes the point that both flavors of this worldview are united in their opposition to Theism and the belief that there is anything beyond the physical universe. As the authors note, an area where this is causing much debate is the Philosophy of Mind. It is this arena where they spend the majority of the book, seeking to evaluate Naturalism to determine if it can adequately account for things like consciousness, intentionality, rational inference, the 1st person perspective, etc.

In the book, the authors review common arguments from philosophers and scientists who hold to either strict or broad Naturalism. They note that strict Naturalists tend to deny the existence of fundamental things like consciousness or 1st person experience, while the broad Naturalists acknowledge these things but try to explain them as phenomena arising from things occurring within the physical world.

The book, though only 122 pages long, provides some powerful responses to Naturalism, showing how it fails to adequately account for the things that all people experience every moment of our waking lives. Just the fact that we are conscious and self-aware is something that continues to cause great difficulty for the Naturalistic worldview. This is a fact that even Naturalists acknowledge.

The authors, who are themselves confessed Christians, conclude that Naturalism is a failed worldview. Instead, they offer arguments for the existence of an immaterial mind (which is synonymous in their usage with the soul) and show how the Theistic position (known as Dualism) is better able to account for the presence of minds.

While this is a very short book and does contain some technical language, it is also a very rewarding book in the sense that it covers a great deal of ground and addresses all of the major points that have been used to argue in support of Naturalism. It belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Philosophy of Mind, and especially a Christian response to the Naturalistic perspective.

While this book will take some commitment to understand terminology (which is defined and explained through excellent examples) and process the logical arguments (again explained through numerous examples), it is ultimately a very rewarding process and a worthy contribution to the ongoing discussion about the viability of Naturalism.

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