By J. Luis Dizon
One of the common worldviews in western culture today is what is referred to as Naturalism. This worldview claims that all that exists is matter and energy—things that can be known through the physical sciences (biology, chemistry, physics). This means not only that the supernatural does not exist, but also that metaphysical concepts such as beauty and goodness have no objective reality either, being purely subjective.
Underlying this view are various philosophies such as logical positivism which, although no longer taken seriously by philosophers today, survive in popular form in the writings of “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. The late astrophysicist Carl Sagan best summarizes this worldview in his famous statement: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”
Interestingly, Naturalism is based on a self-refuting premise: that only the physical sciences can provide objective truths. The statement “only the physical sciences can provide objective truths” is a metaphysical statement which itself cannot be verified through the physical sciences, hence failing its own test. Science cannot say anything on metaphysics; it can verify things within the realm of nature, but cannot say whether anything exists beyond that realm. Such things can only be known through other disciplines such as history, philosophy (particularly metaphysics), or divine revelation (more on this point later on in the series).
Most importantly, since science cannot say anything on metaphysics, Naturalism has no answer to any of the major questions that every worldview must answer. It cannot tell us why anything exists rather than nothing, whether life has any purpose, what determines right from wrong, etc. To use one analogy, for a Naturalist to try to answer these questions using the sciences would be akin to a fisherman who uses a net that has holes that are two inches wide to catch fish that are less than two inches long, and then complaining that fish of that length do not, in fact, exist, since he never caught any. Obviously, he was using the wrong equipment, and we see that Naturalists make the same mistake using the sciences.
The Naturalist can only say that such questions are meaningless, right and wrong is reduced to mere expediency. As Christian theologian Douglas Wilson put it in his debate with the atheist Christopher Hitchens, all moral perspectives become “Provisional opinions only. Morality changes over time.” Not only that, but from this perspective, nobody can explain why anything is the way it is, it just is. This inevitably leads to nihilism, the view that neither morality nor purpose exists. As Schopenhauer put it, “Human existence must be a kind of error.” While nobody wants to think of life in these terms, this is the inevitable conclusion that we are forced to if we posit that existence is nothing but matter and energy. Such a view can never be consistently lived out, as any attempt to do so can only result in moral insanity and existential despair.