I’m in the middle of writing an essay for the token philosophy course I’m taking; sorry if I’m a broken record on this, but I think it’s interesting anyway. I’m probably going a bit OTT with it, but I’m up to very close to 50 references, for a 5-6k word paper. As I reflect on it, that strikes me as quite a few. Some of them I need to actually read rather than skim, but it’s a good few hundred pages of philosophy. I’ll have to pick the main ones I think, as the markers are unlikely to believe I actually read them.
And, I feel I need to have this kind of background in order to say something particularly intelligent on the topic; I recognise that what I’m saying is controversial, and I want to defend it as well as I can. I was already fairly well informed philosophically, for the standards of the course, but I’ve still had to go away and get to know some of the debates, and despite all this I’m concerned my grade will be average – we’ll see. Critiquing naturalism is hard work, and it occurs to me that it’s not really because naturalism is plausible. From the perspective of history and most human beings, it’s a frightfully ambitious claim, but it is largely taken for granted in my context. Given this background, as it is the status quo, I probably need to work quite hard to make much progress; I expect to get a good mark with this essay, but there is an interesting asymmetry I think in the standards of evidence that are generally expected to be required when defending, say, theism, versus scientific naturalism. I get the impression that theistic arguments can generally be dismissed fairly easily, for instance by students in most classes (philosophy can be a bit of an exception, thankfully), as those who matter also tend to reject them, and at least think they know the general gist of why they’re wrong. Breezily dismissing naturalism on the other hand is to set oneself up for strife. Hence the 50 references I suppose. ..
Perhaps my life’s work intellectually (probably largely outside my day job, but we’ll see) will be to expound on the selective scepticism displayed by modern doubters of Christianity in the Western world – the kind of scepticism that holds arguments for God to extraordinarily high standards, while accepting accounts of history, science, and ethics that fits the ‘Enlightenment’ worldview but are either untethered to the evidence or fly directly in the face of it. Maybe I’ll write a book on it. It is hardly obvious that scientific realism and meta-ethical realism/objectivism should be held to by naturalists, for a transcendent God provides a much better basis. There is some irony in them being used to critique Christianity – but I guess we’ll have to wait for the book for the definitive word on it all.
The final pearl of wisdom for today, which might make me sound a little pomo (and for that I apologise): naturalism is not held, by most people, on the basis of rigorous argument to that conclusion. Instead, it is held fundamentally on the basis of a combination, I think, of trust and hints. While they wouldn’t say it in this way, it seems to me that people trust certain institutions or projects that seem to support naturalism/secularism, such as science, education, and Western liberal democracy, and they feel that certain aspects of the world hint at the truth of naturalism; perhaps primary are the success of science, the presence of evil, and our ability to find happiness in life without worrying about God. If this is truly the case, an apologetic for the Christian faith which is presented in the form of rigorous argument (even vast swathes thereof) will merit primarily suspicion and antagonism from most people. A more attractive contextual approach may be to present alternate pillars to trust which are truer, better, and more beautiful (Christ and Scripture), and to explain how the hints we find in the world really are hints, but are of hints of purpose and personality rather than emptiness. In taking into account these hints and trusting in these foundations for life, we don’t lose the others but instead recognise how they fit together and are of genuine importance.