In defense of naturalism

International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 70 (1):3-25 (2011)
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Abstract

History and the modern sciences are characterized by what is sometimes called a methodological naturalism that disregards talk of divine agency. Some religious thinkers argue that this reflects a dogmatic materialism: a non-negotiable and a priori commitment to a materialist metaphysics. In response to this charge, I make a sharp distinction between procedural requirements and metaphysical commitments. The procedural requirement of history and the sciences—that proposed explanations appeal to publicly-accessible bodies of evidence—is non-negotiable, but has no metaphysical implications. The metaphysical commitment is naturalistic, but is both a posteriori and provisional, arising from the fact that for more than 400 years no proposed theistic explanation has been shown capable of meeting the procedural requirement. I argue that there is nothing to prevent religious thinkers from seeking to overturn this metaphysically naturalistic stance. But in order to do so they would need to show that their proposed theistic explanations are the best available explanations of a range of phenomena. Until this has been done, the metaphysical naturalism of history and the sciences remains defensible

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Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago

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