Tag Archives: naturalism

Shrouded 2

“Well, if I had my way, Lord, in this wicked world, Lord. If I had my way, Lord, I would tear this building down.” “Tear This Building Down,” Blind Willie Johnson

starry nightIn an email response from Anthony and a blog comment from my son, Gabriel, we exposed what I find to be a quintessential dichotomy with profound implications, a crucial discussion. The accepted secular wisdom based in pervasive skeptical humanism is that there is an irreconcilable divide between science and religion. This antagonism is promulgated and encouraged by the science only coterie and is depicted as the enlightened modern mind vs the deluded ancient superstitions of the ill-informed.

I’ve read Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others, but personally found their “explanations” dissatisfying and smug. Sagan proclaims at the beginning of the popular “Cosmos” television series (and follow up book) of the eighties[i]The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever shall be.” Neil de Grasse Tyson recently updated the series for PBS to great acclaim. He, too, subscribes to a philosophical structure called Naturalism, which holds that everything that exists is within one all-encompassing system of nature, whose cause will ultimately be explained only by science. As Gabriel wrote in his comment posted about the Shroud of Turin, the absence of an explanation using our current scientific abilities does not mean there is no explanation. Like you said, it’s a mystery… for now.”

The shroud is a mystery, but not exactly in the sense that Gabe understands it. Science has explained the ‘how” to a great degree: as was described in the previous post, it was not painted, but imposed upon a microscopically thin outer layer of the fabric in a phenomenon akin to a photographic exposure with an enormous burst of ultraviolet spectrum energy greater than all known sources of such energy in a burst of infinitesimally short duration in a perfect replication front and back of a body crucified and uniformly superimposed on the cloth. This was replicated, but only imperfectly on a very small sample of cloth because of the limitations of available energy and the ability to project it absolutely perfectly uniformly over a large area.

The problem with the defined “how” from a pure scientific method perspective is duplicating the experiment. Hypothesize, test, publish the results and confirm when the experiment is duplicated by others, right?[ii] Very difficult to duplicate since we have no way of generating such energy from the inside of a body scourged with a Roman flagrum, crucified and lanced: difficult to find a grant to fund such research and difficult to find a volunteer subject, I would expect. Perhaps as Gabe suggests, someday science will be able do so. Let me state for the record, I don’t volunteer as the guinea pig.

The dichotomy is not science vs religion, but naturalism vs theism.[iii] I suggested in my email to Anthony that naturalism and science are not the same, are not coterminous. Many advocates and practitioners of the scientific method have been and are theists as well as scientists.

To believe that eventually science will explain all that is, is a through the looking glass view reflecting back the much derided “god of the gaps” accusation leveled at the theists, wherein God exists in our minds only because we haven’t been able to explain something yet by science. But in the naturalist’s view, it is dogma that we will eventually with the right methodology and equipment explain it all. Just please acknowledge that “The cosmos is all that is, ever was, or ever shall be,” is every bit as much a statement of faith as “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Naturalism, indeed accepting the scientific method as the sole arbiter of discovering truth, is a metaphysical concept.

“If you ask how such things occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man….” From “Journey of the Mind to God” by St. Bonaventure

Downstream of the institutionalizing of skeptical humanism in culture, for good or ill, has been profound change. For instance, with naturalism comes the death of God and with Him, the demise of natural law integral to not only physical ecology, but moral ecology. Truth has become subjective and self-interpreted, and as Justice Antonin Scalia stated in another outnumbered dissent last month, “Words no longer have meaning.” This does not seem to me an improvement. When there is no natural law accepted as a standard of justice or truth, we are cut adrift. There is no purpose. “What is the meaning of life?” or “What am I supposed to do with this life?” or “Why are we here?” become questions without relevance. Whatever truth serves to get us nervously whistling past the graveyard suffices, but objectively has no benchmarks.

When the majority of a court, no matter how august, (many times a slim majority of only five people) can redefine not only the U.S. Constitution, but reality itself, we get results that redefine our humanity. The court is merely reflecting the culture in which it is immersed. Dred Scott v Sandford didn’t make black human beings saleable commodities. Roe v Wade didn’t make pre born babies less than human. Obergefell v Hodges doesn’t make sweaty sheets or even abiding affection into a marriage. We create our own redefinitions of what’s real and what’s ridiculous. To wit: mutilating surgery doesn’t make a Bruce into a Caitlin or a hero, just a sad, disturbed, maimed human being who went from an outsy to an innsy with some ill placed cuts and hormone injections. Culture wars escalate, but natural law doesn’t change. Veritas vincit.

As I was weeding the garden yesterday, marveling at lush provision, I was struck by its simple splendor. Like looking up into the starlit wonder of a moonless, cloudless night sky, or wandering at leisure Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge, I am always delighted by gratuitous beauty. The old thought experiment comes to mind: waking up on the beach of an uninhabited island and in exploring I come across a tight roofed, freshly painted cottage near the water’s edge with a comfortable bed, a well-stocked pantry, and a relaxing chair on a pretty porch; I ponder its origins. I could, like the naturalist, make the assumption that the cottage was serendipitously left by eons of the fortuitous actions of wind, sand and water over time. Lots and lots of time. Maybe a meteorite, an earthquake or climate change. Or I could come to another, not unreasonable conclusion, that we live on this fragile, beautiful great blue ball as gift, similarly well provisioned. And believe it is fitting to contemplate origins and purpose, meaning and where we are headed. Is it not in such contemplation that we will find the peace our nature seeks?

“I could not exist unless I were in thee from whom are all things, by whom all things are, and in whom are all things…Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” Confessions of St. Augustine.


[i] Quote and some of the ideas on naturalism are shamelessly purloined from “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” by Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford University

[ii] Not all of science is easily repeatable or able to be duplicated. Cosmologists who spend their lives studying the origins of the universe and what happened in the first nanoseconds of the Big Bang would be dismayed to learn their work is not really science after all.

[iii] Giants of the scientific revolution were theists: Newton, Boyle, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and the list goes on. It is when ideology, beliefs outside of science or worse, politics, insinuates itself into the science that is at issue. Darwin would be a prime example. He determined that skeptical humanism would be enhanced if his theory of natural selection could explain all the great gaps in evolution (especially species jumps), so he spent much of his life proselytizing to great effect in the popular consciousness. While natural selection is a proven hypothesis for the most part, undirected evolution from proto proteins to human life is far from cast in stone. The APG climate change science rift is a current example of political and ideology’s unseemly influence over pure science.


Filed under Background Perspective