Naturalism And Theism: Some Logical Considerations -- By: Larry D. Mayhew

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 23:4 (Dec 1980)
Article: Naturalism And Theism: Some Logical Considerations
Author: Larry D. Mayhew

Naturalism And Theism: Some Logical

Larry D. Mayhew*

Evangelicals will readily agree that contemporary naturalism has serious weaknesses as a philosophy of life. Naturalists incorrectly deny God’s existence, they have false beliefs about the future course of human history, and they tend toward an unjustified optimism in unredeemed human nature. Naturalism is weak because it has the facts wrong.

Naturalism is also, however, often accused of having broad philosophical weaknesses that go beyond such errors of fact. Some Christians claim that naturalism cannot make sense of ethics, perhaps not even of nature itself. Whether naturalism does have such broad philosophical weaknesses is a question that is important for at least two reasons.

First, if naturalism does have such broad weaknesses, Christian apologetics will obviously benefit by exposing them.

Second, if naturalism does not have such broad weaknesses, it is conceivable that a Christian philosophy could accommodate some of naturalism’s central tenets. For example, we might reject naturalism’s factual errors and yet agree with its contention that all of reality is in a certain sense continuous. (Naturalists tend to maintain that all of reality can be known by methods that are not fundamentally different from the methods of natural science. As a result they also tend to hold that there are no unbridgeable differences between kinds of things. A Christian application of this principle might yield the view that there is no sharp discontinuity between the physical order and the spiritual order.)

As I indicated above, the theist is apt to maintain that the naturalist has no satisfactory account of ethics. My problem is that I am not convinced that the theist is any better off than the naturalist on the question of the foundation of ethics. Indeed I suspect that in the end the theist may actually have to accept what is, at core, a naturalistic account of right and wrong. I will not argue here that my suspicion is correct. My more modest goal is twofold: to make the issues clearer, and to explain why those issues are ultimately related to one’s view of logical truth and logical necessity. With this second point I hope to provide support for Theodore Schoen’s claim that significant issues about the relationship between Christian theology and naturalism (or physicalism) hinge on settling questions about logical theory that are currently under discussion by philosophers.

Theism is sometimes seen as being philosophically superior to naturalism because it can give a kind of foundation for ethical truth and a kind of explanation for the nature of the physical world that naturalism is in principle incapable of providing. The ce...

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