How Not to Define ‘Atheism’

The Maverick Philosopher is a great blog (far better than mine) and this article, in particular, is very interesting . . .

“Note first that atheism cannot be identified with the lack of theistic belief, i.e., the mere absence of the belief that God or a god exists, for that would imply that cabbages and tire irons are atheists.  Note second that it won’t do to say that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons, for there are persons incapable of forming beliefs.  Charitably interpreted, then, the idea must be that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons capable of forming and maintaining beliefs . . . KEEP READING . . .”


The Utter Meaninglessness of Life: A Response to Neil Levy


Theistic philosophers often argue that the naturalistic worldview renders life completely meaningless (Craig, 1994, p57-75).  On their understanding, objective meaning can only be derived from a transcendent–i.e., supernatural–source.  But many philosophers question this assumption.

One such philosopher is Neil Levy who believes we can find meaning in life and that we can do so within a, “thoroughly naturalistic framework” (Levy, 2005, p180).  According to him, there are superlatively meaningful activities or projects–e.g., the pursuit of truth or justice or beauty–that, once engaged in, make life truly and deeply meaningful.

In this essay I argue that Levy’s projects fail to confer meaning to life.  In section one I discuss the nature of a meaningful life from the naturalistic perspective–specifically addressing the notion of meaning-conferring activities.  In the second section, I present two major challenges to the naturalistic conception of meaningful activities: the problem of circularity and Mill’s Dilemma.  In part three I explain how Levy attempts to overcome these challenges through his notion of projects.  Finally, in section four I show that Levy’s projects fail to overcome the challenges.  In so doing I demonstrate that, given naturalism, life is utterly meaningless.

The Nature of a Meaningful Life

The characteristic picture of a meaningless life is that of a farmer, “who grows more corn to feed more hogs to buy more land to grow more corn to feed more hogs” (Levy, p178).  Although the farmer is achieving concrete goals–i.e., feeding hogs and growing corn–his life is pointless because he is not engaged in any activities beyond his own subjective self-interested existence.  His life is, thus, a circular chain of events and manifestly insignificant.

Consequentially, the majority of naturalistic philosophers agree: if there is any hope of finding meaning we must escape the banality, pointlessness, and circularity of a life like that of the farmer envisioned above.  We must orientate our lives around activities which promote goods beyond the circle (Levy, p179).

Examples of such meaning-conferring activities often include things like science, art, sports, food, or family.  Such activities, it is argued, engage us with something that, “transcends our-selves, with goods which are not merely subjective but (at least) intersubjective” (Levy, p180).  In other words, they engage us with goods that are beneficial to all and outstrip mundane activities that merely maintain our existence.

Two Challenges

Levy notes, however, that there are two substantial challenges to this construal of meaning.  The first is that many of the alleged meaning conferring activities only appear to escape the problem of circularity that plagues the life of the farmer.  Consider the example of investing in your family.  Imagine two parents who find meaning in rearing their children so that they can grow up and start families of their own to find meaning in rearing their children, etc. A life dedicated to the family is no less circular than the life of the farmer.  As Levy puts it, “this account of meaning seems merely to substitute a larger circle for a smaller” (Levi, p180).

The second obstacle facing this account of meaning we shall call “Mill’s Dilemma”–so named after the famous ethicist and political philosopher to which it is attributed.  It points out that meaning conferring activities lose their meaning when the aim of the activity has been reached.  For example, if you dedicate your life to creating a just society and this goal is realised you will have nothing left to live for (assuming it was the only meaningful activity you were engaged in). One can just as easily imagine having successfully attained every meaningful goal they had striven for.  With no more meaningful activities to engage in, life would be pointless.

But suppose, in an effort to escape the dilemma, we argue that our goals are inherently unrealisable–that they can never be reached.  This, too, is problematic because making progress at achieving our goals is impossible if our goals are inherently unachievable.  Imagine if, no matter how hard you worked, you never progressed towards generating a more just society.  Imagine if, as a matter of principle, it was impossible to achieve a just society.  Would such an activity still be meaningful?  Clearly, it would not (Levy, p182).

Levy’s Solution

In spite of these obstacles, Levy maintains there are activities, or projects (as he terms it), that avoid both the trap of circularity and escape Mill’s Dilemma (Levi, p184).  Such projects are superlatively meaningful, because they are highly valuable pursuits that promote goods beyond themselves and thus transcend the charge of circularity.  They are also open-ended–i.e., they have no fixed goals–and thus avoid the trap of Mill’s Dilemma.  As Levy states it:

There are, I shall suggest, valuable activities which are inherently open-ended – not because they aim for a goal that cannot be achieved, but because the goal they pursue is not fixed prior to the activity itself. Instead, the goal is gradually defined and more precisely specified in the course of its pursuit, so that the end of the activity is always itself one of its stakes (Levy, p185).

So, according to Levy, the pursuit of justice would qualify as a project as long as we understand that the end or goal or meaning of justice is something that progresses and changes over time.  There is no fixed universal idea of justice that, once realised, ends our pursuit.  Rather, the idea of justice evolves as we pursue it.  We, therefore, progress toward our goals without ever achieving them.  Not because the goals are inherently unrealisable, but, because the goals are not fixed.  As Levy puts it, “the ends of superlatively meaningful activities cannot be achieved, because as the activities evolve, so the ends at which they aim alter and are refined” (Levy, p186).

Other examples of projects would be the pursuit of knowledge or truth, the pursuit of beauty, and the pursuit of the good.  According to Levy these are all open-ended activities of tremendous value–the pursuit of which confers real meaning to life.

An Ever Expanding Circle

At a glance, Levy’s projects appear to have overcome both the problem of circularity and Mill’s Dilemma.  Projects seem to take us beyond our-selves and are inherently valuable; thus they transcend the banality of the farmers life.  Continuous progress seems feasible in the pursuit of a project while a final completion does not.  So, it appears Mill’s Dilemma is safely avoided (Levy, p184).  But, do projects stand upon closer evaluation?  To find out we must first consider the nature of progress.

Progress necessarily requires an end or standard. It is impossible to move forward, to advance, to make headway, toward an undefined goal.  To see that this is true, consider the following example.  Professor Yujin informs his class at the beginning of the semester that the goal of the module is not based upon any fixed criteria.  Rather, he says, the aim of the class is undefined; as class activities evolve the ends at which they aim will be altered and refined.  Furthermore, he explains that it will not be possible to achieve a final grade because the criteria for measuring success is open-ended.  Given Yujin’s guidelines, or lack thereof, it would be impossible to make headway in his class.  To be sure, one would move, like a canoe swept along down a stream that never terminates, but they would not progress.  For there is nothing to progress to; no destination as it were.

The same is true of Levy’s projects.  If the pursuit of beauty is open-ended–if it has no fixed goal–it is inconceivable that one engaged in such an activity could make progress.  Like Yujin’s directionless class one would have no basis by which to judge whether they were closer to achieving their goals or not.  Like a child assigned an open-ended list of chores, their task would never end:

Child: “Mother I’ve put away my toys, have I finished my chores?”

Mother: “Well done! But did you make your bed?”

Child: “Mother I’ve made my bed, now have I finished my chores?”

Mother: “Good job, but did you tidy your little sisters room?”

Child: “Mother I’ve I’ve tidied her room, now have I finished my chores?”

Mother: “Excellent, but did you mop the bathroom floor?

Levy’s projects, like this child’s open-ended list of chores, are based upon contingent factors which are constantly in flux.  One does not progress while engaged in them; one simply acts.

This, of course, brings us right back to the same dilemma Levy was attempting to avoid.  Namely, it renders projects meaningless because continuous progress, in fact progress of any kind, is inherently impossible.  But this is only the first problem.  The second problem is far worse.

The person engaged in one of Levy’s open-ended projects, while not progressing, is moving from one goal to the next as they evolve.  As I previously stated, they are like a canoe swept along down a stream that never terminates.  It would be a mistake, however, to imagine this stream extended indefinitely in either direction like a geometric line. The stream is not infinite–for the world in which we engage in projects is finite.  Circumscribed and limited as it is, the stream never terminates because it follows a circular path.

Thus, we pursue a just society, so that our children might pursue a revised conception of a just society, so that our grandchildren might pursue a revision of the revision, etc.  Eventually, given enough time, future generations embrace the same conception of justice that we did.  For there is not an indefinite number of ways to conceive of a just society.  As a wise man once said, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (RSV Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Another example would be the evolution of metaphysics.  The Platonists and Aristotelians speak of substance, the Continental Rationalists redefine substance,  the British Empiricists question the notion of substance, the Postmoderns and Logical Positivists deny the existence of substance, Analytic Philosophers destroy Logical Positivism and Postmodernism, and the Neo-Aristotelians bring back the ancient notion of substance.  Even philosophical pursuits, which Levy claims are, “paradigmatically valuable activities,” become regressively circular.

There are only a finite number of memes or ideas to be passed around from generation to generation as we pursue projects.  The pursuit of beauty can only be redefined so many times.  Inevitably the same memes will resurface and there is no transcendent reality we can embrace to break the cycle.  Levy’s solution simply trades a smaller circle for a larger one.  The person pursuing projects is living as meaningless a life as the farmer growing corn to feed hogs to buy land to grow more corn.


Neil Levy believes his conception of projects provides an escape from the problem of circularity and the challenge of Mill’s Dilemma that plague naturalistic attempts at finding meaning.  I have demonstrated, however, that projects fail to do so.  Because the goal of a project is open-ended it is inherently impossible to make progress because progress requires fixed goals by which we can measure success.  Our inability to progress coupled with the impossibility of success renders projects meaningless.  Furthermore, projects are regressively circular and, thus, ultimately pointless.  There are, therefore, no superlatively meaningful activities given naturalism.  Life is utterly meaningless.


Craig, W. (1994). Reasonable faith. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway      Books.

Levy, N. (2005). Downshifting and meaning in life. Ratio, 18(2), pp.176-189.




Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism

Here’s a satire I recently published on The Christian Watershed …

As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of…

View original post 1,256 more words

the nature of physical law: a dialogue between St. Athanasius, Jaegwon Kim, and Jeffery Poland

Let us suspend reality for just a moment and imagine St. Athanasius has returned from the grave and is desperately craving a cup of hot coffee.  After locating the nearest coffee shop, he walks in with a huge smile on his face, only to discover that the imminent physicalists Jagewon Kim and Jeffery Poland are enjoying their morning brew before delivering a series of lectures at the local university. What sort of dialog might take place? . . .

Athanasius: “Good morning gentlemen! Grace to you and peace from our heavenly Father who spoke all things into existence through His own eternal Logos, through which all things hold together harmoniously and in good order!”

Jeffery Poland: “Good god man, you can’t be serious! If you please, I’m attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee before my next lecture.

Athanasius: “My apologies my friend, but surely one can not help but extol the wonders of the Logos who holds all things together!”

Jaegwon Kim: “You’re somewhat of an odd fellow. Are you not aware that what holds all things together are the fundamental laws of physics? My dear friend, there is no God. For, all things that exist in this world are bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter, all behaving in accordance with laws of physics . . . any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all. (1) So, enough of this nonsense about a divine logos.”

Athanasius: “I see. But, if you will, please explain to me the nature of these laws. Are the laws of physics themselves physical?

Jaegwon Kim: “Do we not experience them in the physical world? For all the things we experience are physical. Is this not obvious?

Athanasius: “Obvious indeed. So what you are saying is that the fundamental laws of physics . . . are the fundamental laws of physics?

Jaegwon Kim: “No, that would be circular reasoning.”

Athanasius: “My dear friend, if your ontology is correct then the only possible answer to the question of the nature of the laws of physics is that they are ultimately bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter all behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. For, as you say, “any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all.”

Jaegwon Kim: “Yes, I did say that.  But  . . . “

Jeffery Poland: “I didn’t want to get involved in this discussion, but I can hardly sit quietly any longer!  The relevant point here is that physicalists are (or should be) concerned with what exists in nature: i.e. with what can be spatially and temporally related to us, with that with which we can interact and by which we can be influenced, and with that of which we and the things around us are made . . . sets, propositions, universals, and so on, when abstractly conceived, are not considered to be in nature at all. Nor are they within the scope of the physicalists domain of study. (2)  Hence, your argument is superfluous.”

Athanasius: “But Mr. Poland, do you not state in your writings that ‘everything that exists is either an element of the physical basis or is constituted by elements in that basis?” and do you not further assert that, ‘everything that exists is, in this sense, ‘ontologically grounded’ in the physical domain?” (3)

Jeffery Poland: “Well yes . . .”

Athanasius: “So, physicalism is committed to the belief that everything which exists is ultimately grounded in the physical domain?

Jeffery Poland: ” . . . yes.”

Athanasius: “Tell me, Mr. Poland, do the laws of physics exist?

Jeffery Poland: “Well, of course . . .”

Athanasius: “Clearly, then, the laws of physics fall within the explanatory scope of physicalism!”

Jeffery Poland: “But that would lead to a tautology.”

Athanasius:  “Exactly!  And you’ve only two ways in which to avoid this tautology:  (1) you can accept that the laws of physics are nonphysical universal truths, or (2) you can reformulate physicalism as being a methodological doctrine rather than an ontological one.  Perhaps the notion of a divine logos is not so foolish after-all?”

(1) Kim, Jaegwon. Physicalism or Something Near Enough. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. 149-150.

(2) Poland, Jeffrey. Physicalism:  The Philosophical Foundations. New York: Oxford, 1994. 228.

(3) Ibid. 18.

Random Musings: the nature of beauty

1)  Does beauty truly exist?

2)  Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion.  Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful.  When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private.  For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time.  Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern.  I, the observer, give it meaning . . .

3)  If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion.  In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”

4)   How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist!  I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real.  The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion.  In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I.  To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion.  Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.

5)  In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.

6)   But surely beauty must exist!  Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception.  Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality.  A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .

Saving Giberson: How to be an Intellectually Honest Darwinist

A Critical Review of

Giberson, Karl W. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. New York: HarperOne, 2008.  USA $14.99.

Upon reading Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I too became a disillusioned fundamentalist—disillusioned with Giberson’s naive assumption that philosophical naturalism is somehow compatible with the Christian worldview.

Never mind Giberson’s nonchalant dismissal of sophisticated arguments in support of Intelligent Design with “devastating” quips like, “I don’t think . . . [ID theorists] . . . have a good feel for how the historical practice of science has gradually . . . [led] . . . practicing scientists away from such explanations.” (159)  Forget the various theological blunders littered throughout the book—such as the stunning assertion that the Christian concept of hell is a, “secondary doctrine.” (38)  All such problems, while noteworthy, pale in comparison with Giberson’s patent refusal, throughout the book, to acknowledge the inherent incompatibility of philosophical naturalism with Christianity.

By philosophical naturalism, I mean the prevalent doctrine that the universe, as we know it, is a closed system of material causes and effects.  The idea that nothing exists beyond matter and energy; that the physical world is all there is.  This nihilistic doctrine constitutes the metaphysical foundation upon which Darwin’s theory of biological origins is predicated upon; and any attempt to detach Darwin’s brand of evolutionary theory from its naturalistic base inevitably leads one to adopt a non-Darwinian form of evolution.

Consider, as Giberson does in his book, that Darwin’s theory is touted by its proponents as being the conclusive argument against design.  They reason, that since Darwin was able to explain the origin of the species by means of an undirected, non-teleological naturalistic process, there is no longer a need to infer design in nature.  All such appearances, say the Darwinists, are merely an illusion.  Accordingly, those who posit any form of intelligent guidance or input within nature (Such as theistic evolutionists or deists) are essentially rejecting Darwin’s formulation of evolution.

If God exists, and if he played an active role in the advent of biological life—either by guiding the evolutionary process or setting the initial conditions or laws of the universe—Darwin’s theory of unguided, naturalistic, evolution is necessarily wrong.  Under Darwin’s framework, we are merely the result of chance and necessity—random variation (genetic mutation) and natural selection.  Any worldview which claims God intended life to arise or inserted the information necessary for life to arise, or guided the evolution of life, challenges this basic claim.

Therefore, I find it hard to understand how Giberson believes one can claim to be a Christian and fully accept Darwin’s theory of evolution without being a complete hypocrite.  Affirming the truth of two incompatible worldviews is simply oxymoronic.  Yet, this is precisely what Giberson’s insipid book advocates.

The dissonance in Giberson’s argument comes out clearly in chapter three, where he address’s Darwin’s “dark companions.”  In this chapter he attempts to disassociate the biological theory of evolution from its overarching metaphysical implications.  At the beginning of the chapter he states: “The connection between biological and social Darwinism is complex and troubling, and perhaps even suspicious, but there is no denying that it has always been there, even before evolutionary theory became known as “Darwinism.” (79 Emphasis mine)  After explaining social Darwinism’s role in the development of such atrocious social projects as Eugenics and even admitting its influence on the Nazi’s, he concludes:

Thoughtful evolutionists hasten to point out that no necessary connection exists between biological evolution, which provides descriptive explanations of how nature works, and social Darwinism, which suggests prescriptive guidelines for how society should behave.  It is far from obvious that eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, or rampant militarism is implied by the theory that species originate through natural selection.” (80)

Thoughtful evolutionists seem to have forgotten that descriptions of how nature work are not done in a vacuum.  Perhaps the reason social Darwinism has always been attached to evolutionary theory is because it is predicated upon and bolsters a view of reality which does imply eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, and rampant militarism; namely, philosophical naturalism.  One simply cannot separate Darwinism from it’s undergirding worldview.

If there is no overarching purpose or design in the universe, if God played no role in the development of human life, if nature is a closed system of causes and effects, then there are no objective moral values.  Furthermore, there is no sensible reason to believe that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It seems to me, then, that the social Darwinists are simply following the logic of philosophical naturalism to its ultimate conclusion.  They, unlike Giberson, are not being hypocrites; but advocating exactly what their metaphysics entail.  Sadly, Giberson appears to be willfully blind to these facts.

For example, he argues in chapter six that he wishes Intelligent Design were true; in fact, he goes as far as to say that, “all Christians . . . should wish it were true.” (155)  Why, because Intelligent Design coheres nicely with the Judeo-Christian worldview–a worldview that he admits becomes extremely questionable if Darwin’s theory of evolution is true:

I have a great appreciation for the counterarguments for God’s existence.  I understand how honest thinkers and seekers of truth like Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse [both prominent Darwinists] can end up rejecting God.  Like that of most thinking Christians, my belief in God is tinged with doubts and, in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned. (155)

In spite of the troubling fact that Darwinian evolution poses a serious threat to his faith, Giberson stubbornly refuses to acknowledge its tacit metaphysical implications.  He refuses to consider the possibility that Darwinism is built upon a worldview which is wholly incompatible with his Judeo-Christian proclivities—he is willfully blind.

In a later chapter he laments the fact that, “virtually all the leading spokespersons for science—the ones on bookstands and public television—are strongly antireligious,” and argues against the idea that evolutionary theory has rendered religion superfluous mythology. (174)  His argument is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists don’t think this way; that many, in fact, do believe in God.  What he fails to realize is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists are either metaphysically confused or blatantly adhering to two contradictory views of reality.

I submit that the only Darwinian evolutionists being consistent to their worldview are the exceedingly antireligious spokesmen like Richard Dawkins and Carol Sagan.  Darwinism is predicated upon philosophical naturalism and the views they advocate so passionately are the logical outgrowth of such a view of reality.  As such, I can see no way in which Darwin can be saved.  Contra Giberson, there is no coherent way in which one can be a Christian and fully accept Darwinian evolution.

At the end of the day, the strongest rational Giberson has for maintaining his Christian faith, in light of Darwinian evolution, is one of pure practicality.  As he explains:

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God.  My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith.  My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly.  Most of my friends are believers.  I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith . . . Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails. (155-156)

Basically, the only reason he doesn’t reject the existence of God is because it would make a lot of people upset with him and might loose his job.

While I sympathize with Giberson’s need for a job and his desire to remain in friendly fellowship with family and friends,  I think it’s time that he stop living a double life.   The idea that Christianity is compatible with a scientific theory predicated upon philosophical naturalism is nothing but rehtorical nonsense.    For this reason, I implore him to be consistent: either, Christianity is true, and Darwinian evolution is false or Darwinian evolution is true and Christianity is false.  There is no middle ground; for the truth of one means the negation of the other.

Aquinas’ Alternative to Cartesian Dualism (UPDATED)

Since the rise and dominance of metaphysical naturalism in both science and philosophy, many academics have rejected the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of the soul.  To be sure, substance dualism–the view that both immaterial and material substances exist–is not a popular position amongst contemporary philosophers of mind.  However, substance dualisms’ fall from grace is not entirely due to naturalistic philosophy.  Another reason for its failure has been its persistent association with Cartesian dualism.[1]

The linkage between substance dualism and Cartesian dualism in contemporary philosophy of mind is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) most philosophers believe Descartes arguments have been soundly refuted, and (2) the Cartesian form of dualism exhibits significant conceptual difficulties.  It seems, then, that it is not substance dualism, per se, that modern philosophers find repugnant, but its widespread Cartesian formulation.

Thankfully, while Christians are committed to some form of substance dualism, they are not necessarily committed to a Cartesian view.  As Eleonore Stump explains, Cartesian dualism is hardly the only game in town for orthodox Christians:

As a matter of historical fact . . . it is not true that a Cartesian sort of dualism has been the view traditional espoused by all major monotheisms.  Aquinas, whose views surely represent one major strand of one major monotheism, is familiar with an account very like Cartesian dualism, which he associates with Plato; and he rejects it emphatically.[2]

Unbeknownst to many, Aquinas proposed a form of substance dualism significantly different from both Plato and Descartes; one which naturalistic philosophers may find harder to refute.

This paper will introduce Thomistic dualism, compare and contrast it with the Cartesian view, and offer several reasons why Christian philosophers should favor this form of substance dualism above the Cartesian model.  It will accomplish this by: (1) outlining Descartes understanding of the mind and the body and posing two formidable difficulties facing it, and (2) outlining Thomistic dualism and explaining how it better addresses the problems facing the Cartesian view.

Descartes and Cartesian Dualism

Cartesian dualism, as it is most commonly formulated, goes something like this:  the mind, being a nonphysical object, is a completely different sort of thing than the body, which is a physical object, “located in space” and comprised of, “atoms familiar to chemistry.”[3] Unlike the body, the mind is completely immaterial, lacking an exact special location, and unable to be seen or touched.[4] Although the mind and the body are two completely different substances, they stand in a causal relationship with one another; each having a distinctive impact on the other.

To understand this causal relationship, one can imagine the mind and body working together in a way much like a scientist controlling a space probe:

Your body is like a probe, sent by NASA to explore a distant planet.  The probe sends pictures back to mission control, where scientists decide what the probe should do next.  Instructions are sent back to the probe which responds accordingly.  The probe itself is entirely unintelligent.  Similarly, information about the world is communicated by the body to the mind; the mind decides on a course of action and communicates the decision back to the body.  The body itself makes no decisions.[5]

As it stands, the body is not autonomous; depending upon the direction of the mind to accomplish anything.

Descartes arrived at these conclusions about the nature of the mind and the brain through a prolonged introspective process which he recorded in his seminal work: Meditations on First Philosophy.  During his meditations, Descartes came to the startling conclusion that he could imagine himself without a body.[6] Conversely, he also realized it was equally impossible for him to doubt that he had a mind: “If I try to doubt I have a mind, I will discover myself with thoughts like ‘I doubt I have a mind’, and so must admit that I have a mind—for the activity of doubting is mental.”[7] Based upon these fundamental introspections, Descartes developed his theory of substance dualism.

As his thinking evolved, Descartes came to the disquieting conclusion that the mind constituted the total essence of the human being.  As he explains, “I know I exist, and meanwhile notice nothing clearly to pertain to my nature or essence, except this alone, that I am a thinking thing, I rightly conclude that my whole essence consists in this one thing, that I am a thinking thing.”[8] Descartes refusal to give the body a place in the essence of a human being was the natural outgrowth of his epistemology; namely, his near complete rejection of empiricism.  For Descartes, the senses could not be trusted, and therefore, the only true knowledge one could have about the world was that which could be arrived at by pure reason.  As a rationalist, the only aspect of his own humanity that he could be totally certain about, was the unavoidable fact that he was a “thinking thing.”[9]

Seeing as how the mind and the body constitute two “ontologically distinct substances”, and that the, “mind alone constitutes the essence of the individual and the body in no way partakes of this essence,” Descartes concluded that the mind could exist completely independent from his body.[10] This is made clear enough in his own words,

Because on the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am only a thinking thing, not extended, and on the other hand a distinct idea of body in so far as it is only an extended thing, not thinking, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body and can exist without it.[11]

Unsurprisingly, this radical distinction between the mind and body is the source of significant challenges for Cartesian dualists.

To begin with, from a philosophical and scientific perspective, Cartesian dualists fail to provide an adequate account of the, “union of mind and body,” that is, to explain how two ontologically distinct and self-contained substances are capable of working together in a causally integrated way.  Exactly, how is it that the mind (which is immaterial) can have a direct casual affect on the brain (which is material)?  While, this objection does not constitute a defeater for Cartesian dualism, it does constitute a significant conceptual hurdle; one which is responsible for it’s rejection by contemporary philosophers.

Secondly, from a theological and anthropological perspective, Cartesian dualism fails to account for the importance or value of the physical body.  Why is it, that God embodied our souls in the physical realm at all?  Why is it that God insists on resurrecting our bodies in the last days?  Why did God come down as the incarnate word of God—as the physical man Jesus Christ?  Furthermore, why is it wrong, morally, to harm or disparage the human body?  These, and other questions, are exceedingly difficult to answer under the Cartesian model.

It is for this reason that the author recommends the following Thomistic form of substance dualism.

Aquinas and Thomistic Dualism

In order to understand Aquinas’ view of the soul, one must first have a basic grasp of Medieval metaphysics.[12] Like Aristotle, Aquinas and other scholastic philosophers distinguished between two basic dimensions of physical entities: matter and form.[13] To understand Aquinas’ distinction between matter and form, one must strip away any modern conceptions of matter they might have.

To begin with, one should not think of matter in a physical sense; that is, “as an independently existing raw material yet to be formed.”[14] Rather, one must think of matter in terms of “potentiality”; as Aquinas explains, “Matter is that which is not as such a ‘particular thing,’ but is in mere potency to become a ‘particular’ thing.”[15] In other words, matter (or ‘prime matter’ as Aquinas termed it) on its own has no existence; it simply has the potential of being actualized into an existent entity.[16] In this sense, prime matter is, “that which is common to all material things and which is formed into different entities by the second element—the substantial form.”[17]

This leads naturally into the second dimension of all physical entities: the substantial form.  The substantial form is the, “inherent principle which makes the existent entity [a physical object] what it is.”[18] Or, put another way, the substantial form constitutes the essence of and actualization of a physical entity.  One could very well imagine the substantial form as being the “information”, “blue-print”, or “code” underlining all reality and bringing physical existence into being.

When combined with prime matter, the substantial form “becomes the existent [individual] entity,” or substance.[19] Hence, the substantial form acts as the grounding of all physical being; and as such, any physical thing that exists, or has being, has form.  This basic metaphysical truth can be most easily remembered in Aquinas’ famous dictum:  “form gives existence to matter.”[20]

Seeing as how form is the essence of all existing entities, and provides grounding of being, it follows that physical entities are not the only objects which have form.  According to Aquinas, immaterial entities (such as God or Angels) do as well–he referrers to this as the subsistent form.  Subsistent form applies only to immaterial entities which have no physical instantiation—in this sense, it can be understood as, “form existing on its own.”[21]

Aquinas’ motivation for adopting this view was derived from Augustine, who believed that, “being is a matter of having order, species, and mode.”[22] In other words, anything that has being or existence must have some distinguishable order, configuration, or characteristics which make it distinctive from other entities; that is, it must have an essence.  This is why immaterial entities, like angels, must also have form.[23]

Now that these basic metaphysical principles have been elucidated, the reader is in a position to grasp Aquinas’ understanding of the human soul.

Aquinas and the Human Soul

To begin with, Aquinas understood the soul to be the substantial form of the body.  He maintained this view because human beings are a part of physical reality; as such, like any other physical entity, they require a substantial form in order to instantiate or actualize their physical existence.  As the reader will recall, “a substantial material form is the configurational state of a material object that makes that object a member of the kind or species to which it belongs and gives it the causal powers characteristic of things of that kind.”[24] Accordingly, the soul, acting as the substantial form of the body, is what configures and differentiates and gives life to a unique human individual.

J. P. Moreland explains it this way:  “the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body and that diffuses, informs, animates, develops, unifies and grounds the biological functions of its body.”[25] As such, the human person “must be defined as a deep unity of form and matter.”[26] Accordingly, the combination of body and soul, like matter and form, constitutes one complete substance.[27]

However, the soul, unlike the substantial form of other physical objects, may persist upon the death of the body, and unlike other material things is capable of existing without a physical instantiation.  For this reason, Aquinas also identified the soul as being a subsistent form.  In this sense, the human soul is truly unique, in that it has its foot in both the material and immaterial realms.[28] Stump elucidates this paradoxical reality:

The human soul . . . is a configured configurer.  On the one hand, like an angel, it is able to exist and function on its own, apart from matter.  On the other hand, the human soul is not, as Plato thought, a spiritual substance moving the body which is also a substance in its own right; rather, the human soul is the substantial form constituting the material substance that a human being is, and it configures matter, as material forms do.[29]

Hence, the soul, as both the substantial and subsistent form, contains the information that constitutes human essence; and even after we die, and the particles of our body dissipate, the information, that constitutes our essence, our identity, continues to exist.

However, it is important to note that when the soul is separated from the body this constitutes an abnormality; that is, the existence of the soul apart from the body is an incomplete one.  As Aquinas explains, “since the soul is a part of human nature, it does not have perfection of its nature except in union with the body . . . and so, although the soul can exist and intellectively cognize when it is separated from the body, nonetheless it does not have the perfection of its nature.”[30]

Facing the Challenges of Cartesian Dualism

The reader may recall that Thomistic dualism was offered up as a happy alternative to Cartesian dualism in light of the significant challenges facing Descartes theory.  This final section will briefly demonstrate how Thomistic dualism faces up to the considerable challenges facing the Cartesian model and why Christian philosophers should favor this form of substance dualism above others.

The first hurdle facing Cartesian dualism was its inability to define the union between the soul and the body–more pointedly, it’s failure to explain how two ontologically distinct and self-contained substances are capable of working together in a causally integrated way.  While this is a formidable problem for Cartesian dualism; the Thomistic dualist has less to be concerned about.  This is because the Thomistic dualist, unlike the Cartesian, is not postulating the existence of two individual substances; rather they are postulating one complete being whose nature is comprised of both material and immaterial form.

As Aqunias says, “We must not think . . . of the soul and body as though the body had its own form making it a body, to which a soul is super-added, making it a living body; but rather that the body gets its being and its life from the soul.” [31] Under the Thomistic view, the union of body and soul is deep and well defined; hence, the conceptual problem of explaining the causal relationship between soul and body is much less significant.

Regarding the second hurdle, concerning the theological and anthropological significance of the body, Thomistic dualism is completely unfazed.  Unlike the Cartesian, the Thomistic dualist holds that the physical body is part of the nature of man.  Under the Thomistic model it’s considered normal for a soul to be united to a body; and, while the soul can subsist without a body, this is considered abnormal.  Accordingly, it’s easy to see why God places such importance and value on the human body; why God sent his son to exist as a physical man; and why God intends to reunite our souls with a new glorified body at the resurrection.


While Cartesian dualism is viewed by many philosophers as being the only option for someone interested in substance dualism; it is certainly not the only game in town.  As this paper demonstrates, Thomistic dualism offers a dynamic and arguably superior alternative to the Cartesian view.  Unlike Descartes’ model, Aquinas’ conception of the body and soul is comprehensive and avoids the major challenges often thrown at substance dualism; by providing a clearer picture of the soul’s unity with the body and rendering the body intrinsically valuable.  Consequentially, Thomistic dualism is more likely to stand up against the materialistic explanations of the mind which currently dominate western thinking; and place substance dualism back on the table as a viable option.


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Aquinas, Thomas. Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. Translated by Ralph McInernny. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Graham, George. Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction. New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.

Moreland, J. P. and Scott B. Rae. Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000.

———. P. and Stan Wallace. “Aquinas versus Locke and Descartes on the Human Person and End-of-Life Ethics.” International Philosophical Quarterly XXXV, no. 3 (Fall 1995).

Moyal, George J. D., ed. Descartes: Critical Assessments Volume III. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Ravenscroft, Ian. Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Stump, Eleonore. Aquinas. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2003.

[1]Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2003), 191.  Emphasis mine.

[2]Ibid., 191-192.

[3]Ian Ravenscroft, Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 9.


[5]Ibid., 10.

[6]George Graham, Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction (New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 151.


[8]George J. D. Moyal, ed., Descartes: Critical Assessments Volume III (New York: Routledge, 1991), 150.


[10]J. P. Moreland and Stan Wallace, “Aquinas versus Locke and Descartes on the Human Person and End-of-Life Ethics,” International Philosophical Quarterly XXXV, no. 3 (Fall 1995),

[11]Moyal, Descartes: Critical Assessments Volume III, 150.

[12] It is the opinion of the author that this is the primary reason why Thomistic dualism is completely overlooked in contemporary discussions in the philosophy of mind.

[13] Moreland, International Philosophical Quarterly.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings, trans. Ralph McInernny (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 19.

[21]Stump, Aquinas, 198.

[22] Ibid., 200.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 197.

[25] J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 202.

[26] Moreland, International Philosophical Quarterly.

[27] This point can be confusing because Thomistic dualism is classified as a form of substance dualism.  The truth be told, Thomistic dualism is a bit strange; it doesn’t fit into any category neatly.  It is not a materialistic reductionist theory which reduces the mind to the brain and it also doesn’t fit well within the confounds of property dualism (the postulation that mental states emerge from brain states).  Seeing as how Thomistic dualism still distinguishes between material and immaterial entities, it makes more sense to classify it as a form of substance dualism.

[28] Stump, Aquinas, 200.

[29] Ibid., 200-201.

[30] Ibid., 201.

[31] Moreland, International Philosophical Quarterly.</I>

Reestablishing the Judeo-Christian Worldview as a Basis for Science


This paper presents a cumulative case for the reestablishment of the Judeo-Christian worldview as a basis for science and argues that naturalism is neither necessary nor sufficient for science to flourish.   It seeks to tear down the misconception that Christianity and Science are in dire conflict, and dispel the notion that naturalism is the only philosophical worldview compatible with or conducive to science.  This paper will accomplish this task by (1) surveying the history of science (its development from ancient times into the modern era) and establishing which philosophical worldview gave rise to science and (2) outlining the deficiency of naturalism as a philosophical basis for science.



Reestablishing the Judeo-Christian Worldview as a Basis for Science

In his well-known book, Miracles, C. S. Lewis put forth this timeless maxim, “What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.  It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”[1] This statement is especially pertinent when considering science.  Like everything else, science does not exist in a vacuum.  When scientists approach their work they bring to the table certain philosophical presuppositions which influence their interpretation of empirical data. 

Today, the dominant philosophical presupposition held by scientists is naturalism, the idea that, “nature itself is ultimately all there is . . . a permanently closed system of material causes and effects that can never be influenced by anything outside of itself.”[2]  This a priori assumption about the nature of reality is viewed as being a necessary basis for science, and as such, is rarely questioned among scientists. 

However, naturalism, as Phillip E. Johnson has so eloquently argued, is a “highly controversial philosophical presupposition,” not an empirical fact.[3]  The wrongful categorization of naturalism as an empirical fact has lead to major misunderstandings about the relationship of science and religion and to the persistent exclusion of explanations of reality which go beyond the methodology typically employed by scientists.[4] 

In spite of its indubitable status in the minds of so many scientists and scholars, philosophical naturalism is not an adequate basis for science.  In fact, the philosophical ramifications of naturalism are antithetical to the very nature of science.  Furthermore, from a historical perspective, modern science was not born out of a naturalistic worldview; accordingly, it is not evident that naturalism is a necessary condition for science to flourish. 

This paper contends that the Judeo-Christian worldview provides a stronger philosophical basis for science than naturalism and calls for its reestablishment as an accepted philosophical worldview among scientists.  It will accomplish this by exploring the origins and historical development of science and by specifying naturalisms failure to provide the necessary metaphysical and epistemological assumptions needed to justify science.

The Argument from History

 Michael B. Foster, the late twentieth-century historian of science, once said that, “Scientific investigation depends upon certain assumptions about the world—and science is impossible until those assumptions are in place.”[5]  This section will examine the origins and history of science in order to determine what philosophical assumptions gave rise to modern science.  This exercise will prove two things:  (1) that the alleged “war” between science and Christianity (which characterizes the two as being incompatible) is a myth and (2) that the Judeo-Christian worldview played a critical role in the advent of modern science.      

The “War” between Science and Christianity

  According to Oxford’s eminent biochemist and theologian Alister McGrath, one of the principal barriers belaying dialogue in science and religion is the, “baleful presence of a “warfare” school of interpretation.”[6] The warfare model, “although widely regarded as fatally wounded, both historically and intellectually . . . continues to exercise a lingering shadow over the field.”[7]  Quite clearly, as long as this injudicious attitude is sustained, little progress will be made in maintaining a healthy interaction between science and religion; let alone, in establishing the Judeo-Christian worldview as a basis for science.  Accordingly, a brief analysis of the historical roots of the “warfare” model and the substantial criticism it has received over the years is in due order. 

Origins of the Warfare School of Interpretation

The warfare school of interpretation can be traced to two American authors:  John William Draper (A History of the Conflict between Religion and Science) and Andrew Dickson White (A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom) who published their respective works in the late nineteenth-century. [8]  These highly influential writings introduced harsh, “militaristic language,” which, “dominated discussions of science and religion,” well into the twentieth-century.[9]

The Draper-White thesis, as it has come to be known, claims that the primary relationship between science and religion in history has been one of “conflict.”[10]  Their argument can be summed up as follows:  religion, in its attempt to define reality, often infringes upon issues which clearly belong to the realm of science.  Inevitably, religion oversteps its bounds and a conflict ensues, “with scientific advances eventually making the truth clear to all and invariably (and rightly) emerging victorious.”[11]    

The Draper-White thesis was bolstered by a position in epistemology known as logical positivism.  Positivism, which asserts that, “only empirically verifiable knowledge is valid and that all other kinds of knowledge are opinion and emotion,” dominated the intellectual climate of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.[12]  However, logical-positivism has been severely criticized by philosophers of science, who point out (among other things) that logical-positivism itself cannot be empirically tested.  As a result, positivist views have, “faded from the philosophical scene.”[13]   

Criticism of the Warfare School of Interpretation

The Draper-White thesis was never whole heartedly embraced by scholars, as Gary B. Ferngren points out, “some historians [have] always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship.”[14]  Nevertheless, a “systematic reevaluation,” of the Draper-White thesis did not begin until the late twentieth-century.[15]   Scholars such as, Alfred North Whitehead and Michael B. Foster, lead the charge having, “[become] convinced that Christianity, rather than impeding science, had actually encouraged it by establishing that nature behaves in a regular and orderly fashion—a basic premise of modern science.”[16]

Today, there is an increasing acknowledgment among historians that the interaction between religion and science throughout history has been positive.[17]  As research progresses, the inadequacy of portraying science and religion as locked in “systemic strife,” is becoming increasingly clear.[18]  As the Draper-White thesis withers away many historians now acknowledge the Judeo-Christian worldview, in particular, played a vital role in the advent of modern science.  As Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton correctly assert, “Today a wide range of scholars recognize that Christianity provided both intellectual presuppositions and moral sanction for the development of modern science.”[19]

In spite of this, there are those who desire to, “perpetuate the [warfare] stereotype,” ignoring the, “vast body of literature urging a more nuanced and informed reading of the situation.”[20]  For example, Oxford’s famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is notorious for using combative, warlike, language when discussing religion and science.[21]  Conversely, fundamentalist Christians are also guilty of using “warfare” language.  Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, and author of, The Long War against God, argues that scientific theories like Darwinian evolution are the work of Satin in his war against the Church.[22] 

Consequently, the warfare interpretation remains pervasive in the media and popular culture in spite of what historians now believe.  Tragically, this has created a false dichotomy in the minds of many who believe that reconciliation between faith (especially Christianity) and science is an insurmountable task.  The following section shows that the Judeo-Christian worldview played a pivotal role in the advent of modern science in an effort to narrow the alleged gap between faith and science.

The Role of the Judeo-Christian worldview in the Advent of Modern Science

The advent of modern science in western civilization rests upon two pillars: ancient Hebrew metaphysics (HM) and ancient Greek methodology (GM).  HM provided the basic philosophical assumptions necessary to justify scientific investigation and GM laid the groundwork for a “scientific” approach to understanding nature.  Christian philosophers synthesized HM and GM early in the second century and this marriage eventually lead to the development of what became known in the Middle Ages as Natural Theology.  Many historians now believe the prominence of Natural Theology in Medieval academics, “proved to be of major importance to the emergence of the natural sciences in Western Europe.”[23]  This section will outline HM and GM, elucidate how and why they were synthesized by Christian thinkers, and explain how this synthesis influenced the course of science up to and beyond the scientific revolution. 

Hebrew Metaphysics           

Hebrew metaphysics offer at least two important understandings of reality which hold significant importance for science.  The first is its conception of God and how he relates to the universe.  The Hebrew understanding of God represented a substantial break from Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) ideology.[24]  To begin with, ANE deities were not eternal transcendent creators, but were themselves created beings subject to, “biological conditions, requiring food, drink, sleep, and sexual gratification.”[25]  Furthermore, ANE deities were often directly linked to natural phenomenon.  For example, “the creation of the sea would be described as the birth of the goddess of the sea.”[26]  According to this view, creation was instantiated by, “divine procreation,” and order was brought to the universe by the head of the pantheon.[27]

In the Hebrew understanding of God, we find a completely different paradigm, “whereas Near Eastern divinities dwelt within nature, the Hebrew God was transcendent, above nature and not a part of it.”[28]  Yahweh was the creator and sustainer of the world, not a product of world.  As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.”[29]

Respected Old Testament commentator Kenneth A. Mathews sums up the importance of this distinction between God and the universe…

The ancient myths did not adequately distinguish between the creator and the creature, but Israel declares that the universe is no more than a creature.  In Israel’s view there was no divine heaven or earth.  It was this view that freed the heavens and the earth from superstition and provided an ideological basis for the emergence of modern science.[30]

The second aspect of HM relevant to science is its assertion that man was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).   Among other things, this meant that man, like God, had the ability to reason.  It also meant that man was placed, “in authority over the terrestrial earth to exercise responsible governance.”[31] Since man was created specifically for his environment, equipped with the ability to reason, and charged with the task of looking after God’s creation, it is reasonable to assume that his cognitive faculties were designed to correspond to the world around him.  In other words, it is assumed in HM that an objective reality exists and that man can make rational (True) judgments about it. 

In summary, HM provides a solid theoretical foundation for scientific investigation.  It posits a creator, entailing that the universe has a teleology or purpose and thereby is rational (i.e. understandable),  it makes a distinction between the creator and the creation–freeing man from superstitious or mythological explanations of nature and affirming a continuity between the celestial and terrestrial realms–it assumes that the universe is objectively real and not simply an illusion, and finally it asserts that human beings were created in the image of God–denoting his ability to reason and make true judgments about nature. 

While HM provides the necessary assumptions needed for science, the Hebrews, for various historical and cultural reasons, did not develop a rigorous natural science.  Hence, one cannot look to the Hebrews for a scientific methodology.  For the origin of scientific methodology, one must turn to the Ancient Greeks.     

Greek Methodology    

It may come as a surprise that scientific methodology arose in Ancient Greece; for the Greeks, like other ANE cultures, viewed nature as, “a living, divine organism, producing all things, all gods, men and animals, by generation.”[32]  Furthermore, the Greeks, in particularly Aristotle, bifurcated between the terrestrial and the celestial realms; that is, they viewed the heavenly bodies as being composed of a divine substance and operating on different laws than the earth.[33]  Yet, in spite of their metaphysical deficiencies, Ancient Greece was the birthplace of scientific methodology.   This portion will discuss what GM was and explain why it never developed into anything resembling modern natural science.  

The Pre-Socratics.  According to tradition, the Greek philosopher Thales (c. 585 BC) was the first to employ the “new [scientific] methodology,” which Aristotle later characterized as, “the search for archai, or basic ‘principles’ of things.”[34]  Thales’s goal was to identify the primary element (in his case, water) which was, “fundamental to the world and its processes,” and to explain natural phenomena in an entirely different manner than traditional Greek mythology.[35]  His new approach inspired succeeding Greek thinkers–Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, the Hipppocratic’s—who would follow in his footsteps and build upon his work; these thinkers are known today as the Pre-Socratics philosophers.       

While there is very little consensus among the Pre-Socratics the common thread which unites their work is the new methodology pioneered by Thales.  Accordingly, the new methodology can be defined as such: the drift away from mythological explanations of the world and the implementation of naturalistic causes in explaining the terrestrial world.[36]  This, innovative approach to the study of nature, opened the door for “great advances” in scientific thought and eventually led to the establishment of several important scientific disciplines.[37]

One such discipline, which deserves special notice, was the emergence of medicine.  Much of the evidence we have for this can be found in the Hippocratic Texts–from which modern doctors derive their famous “Hippocratic Oath.”  The Hippocratic Texts reveal a highly developed system of medical procedure; which dealt with the “practical matters” of observation, diagnosis, prognosis, developing cures, and even, “engage[d] with the theoretical issues which underlie them.”[38]  The most famous of the Hippocratic Texts, for its work on epilepsy, is entitled, The Sacred Disease.  In this astounding work, epilepsy is diagnosed as a “physical aliment with determinate physical causes,” flying in the face of traditional interpretations which attributed the seizures to “divine visitations.”[39] 

Aristotle.  No account of Greek scientific methodology would be complete without mentioning the significant, and lasting, contribution of Aristotle.  While the Pre-Socratics pioneered the new scientific methodology, Aristotle systematized and defined it:  “Aristotle was the first person to reflect in depth on what it is for something to be a science (episteme), an organized body of knowledge.”[40]  This, in turn, led him to formalize the rules of reason (logic), zoology, biology, physics, and a host of other scientific disciplines. 

For Aristotle, science was more than the “mere observation of facts,” or simply stating that something, “is the case.”[41]  Science was a highly rational activity seeking to explain why a thing was the way it was:

We observe particular instances of definite kinds of events.  But “science” does more than this: science states something about a certain “kind” of event or thing.  Science . . . states what is “essential” to being that “kind” of thing or event.  Science thus states its “reason why,” its dioti; it states what that kind of thing really is.[42]

  While it can be argued that Aristotle’s system leads to rationalism—the idea that knowledge comes by reason alone—it seems clear that Aristotle viewed empirical data, gained through observation, as the starting point for the formulation of scientific theories. 


In summary, GM can be formulated like this:  (1) the drift away from mythological explanations of reality, in favor of naturalistic explanations, and (2) The systematization and formalization of science: that is, the development of distinctive scientific disciplines and the articulation of the nature of science.  The Pre-Socratics got the ball rolling when they began to explain nature in terms of elements and first principles, and Aristotle made tremendous progress by unifying and expounding upon their work.  Furthermore, Aristotle’s definition of science—as a rational empirical activity—is still a viable definition of science.

The “Stillbirth” of Greek Science

  In spite of these tremendous achievements, Greek science, to coin a phrase by Stanley Jaki, “suffered an incredible stillbirth.”[43]  That is to say, Greek science lost momentum and ceased to develop into anything amounting to modern science.  According to David Lindberg, “most historians of ancient science [agree] that creative Greek science was on the wane, perhaps as early as 200 B.C. [and] certainly by A.D. 200.”[44]  As will be elucidated, the stillbirth of Greek science can be attributed to two major problems:  (1) the animistic quality of Greek metaphysics and (2) the infiltration of ANE religion in the Roman Empire.

The Problem of Greek Metaphysics.  The biggest hindrance facing Greek science was Greek metaphysics.  Unlike the Hebrews, who made a distinction between the creation and the creator, they believed that the universe itself was a divine organism.[45]  Ironically, though their search for “archë” or first-principles engendered the use of “naturalistic” explanations of terrestrial phenomena, the Pre-Socratics ultimately viewed their work as the attempt to understand the functioning of the divine organism.  One who discovered the primary element had uncovered the, “divine substance that determines and supports the development of the world.”[46]  Thus, the fundamental elements—earth, fire, water, air—were seen as divine in the eyes of the Pre-Socratic’s.

Plato’s doctrine of the eternal forms (ideas) made the situation worse.  According to Plato, matter was eternal, irrational and without form, until the demiurge (the divine creator), “injected reason (Ideas) into reason-less matter,” conforming it into a mirror of the forms.[47]  Yet, this “mirror” was an imperfect one, “because matter was stubborn stuff, capable of resisting the rational structure imparted by the Ideas.”[48]  Accordingly, the Greeks anticipated a certain level of ambiguity or vagueness in nature, and often, when empirical data did not fit well into their theories, rather than modify their beliefs, it was simply attributed to the fact that matter was imperfectly conformed to the image of the forms.[49]

While Aristotle largely rejected Plato’s conception of the forms—as being distinct from nature—and emphasized the importance of observation and the collection of empirical data, his view of the universe was not that dissimilar from the Pre-Socratics.  This is most obvious in his bifurcation of the terrestrial and the celestial realms; because Aristotle believed (as did most Greeks) the heavens were divine, he postulated that they operated on completely different principles than that of the earth. Within this framework, “it was impossible, in fact it would have been a sacrilege to assume that the motion of the moon and the fall of an apple were governed by the same law.”[50]

As should be evident, Greek metaphysics was not conducive to the formation of a robust natural science.  Each aspect of Greek metaphysics—the animistic picture of nature, the postulation of otherworldly ideas or forms, and the bifurcation of the terrestrial and the celestial realms–presents a unique hurdle for scientific development.  Firstly, if the essence of natural properties is divine, man cannot hope to come to a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of the elements–this causes significant problems for chemistry.

Secondly, if nature is simply an imperfect copy of the forms (which represent true reality or being) one could not hope to come to a full understanding of how nature operates unless he could come into direct contact with the forms–this causes significant problems for every branch of the natural sciences.  Finally, if the celestial realm is made up of different laws and properties from that of the terrestrial, one could never explain the movement of the planets or the make-up of the stars–this causes major problems for astrophysics, cosmology, and astronomy. 

The Infiltration of ANE Mystery Religions.  Another problem facing Greek science (or, natural philosophy) was the rise of the Roman Empire and the infiltration of ANE mystery religions.  As was noted earlier, Greek science was on the wane during the Roman era; this is not to suggest it had completely died out, for it is evident that Greek science was still a, “vibrant force in the Roman Empire,” however, those persons actively involved in natural philosophy, “constituted a small group with relatively little influence.”[51]  Furthermore, there was very little creativity.  The majority of work being done was simply the preservation of knowledge they had gained from the Ancient Greek’s, rather than attempting to break new ground.”[52]

As the Roman Empire expanded, so did its interaction with religious ideas from the ANE.  The result of this intermixing of ideas was the introduction of various “mystery” religions into the Empire.[53]  Gradually, “the rational traditions of Greek science and philosophy [shifted] towards . . . theology, with an increasing emphasis on mysticism and magic.”[54] The mystery religions were incompatible with GM, because they relied on, “supernatural causation to explain natural phenomena.”[55]  In some cases, they taught renunciation of the physical world.  A prime example of this is Gnosticism, one of the most popular religious cults in the empire, which taught that the material world was fundamentally evil.[56]

The problem facing Greek science was invariably one of metaphysics:  both internally and externally.  Internally, Greek metaphysics allowed for the development of basic scientific methodology but ultimately stifled its growth into anything resembling modern science.  Externally, the influence of ANE mystery religions in the Roman Empire compounded the deficiencies of Greek metaphysics; making the situation even worse.  Consequentially, Greek science suffered an incredible stillbirth; but this is not where the story ends.  While Greek science had lost its momentum with the rise of the Roman Empire, there was one group particularly motivated to keep it alive: Christians.      

The Christian Synthesis

Early on, “Christian thinkers began to develop their own intellectual tradition to counter . . . pagan ideas, leading eventually to a Christian assimilation and development of Greek science.”[57]  Christian apologists, seeking to defend the faith from a barrage of intellectual attacks, often synthesized Greek science and philosophy (GM) with their inherited HM.  The synthesis of HM and GM, in its earliest conception, can be seen in the writings of the Christian philosopher Aristides (123-127):

They err who believe that the sky is a god. For we see that it revolves and moves by necessity and is compacted of many parts, being thence called the ordered universe (Kosmos). Now the universe is the construction of some designer; and that which has been constructed has a beginning and an end. And the sky with its luminaries moves by necessity. For the stars are carried along in array at fixed intervals from sign to sign, and, some setting, others rising, they traverse their courses in due season so as to mark off summers and winters, as it has been appointed for them by God; and obeying the inevitable necessity of their nature they transgress not their proper limits, keeping company with the heavenly order. Whence it is plain that the sky is not a god but rather a work of God.[58] 

In this selection, Aristides unifies the terrestrial and the celestial realms and adopts the teleological law of motion (that the heavenly bodies moved out of “necessity”) utilized by Aristotle.  As was explicated earlier, one of the chief problems belaying Greek metaphysics was its bifurcation of the terrestrial and the celestial.  As one can see, this was not an issue for Aristides because of his inherited HM.  As Stanley Jaki notes,


In the Bible even the heavens and the stars are on equal footing with muddy earth . . . Within the biblical world view it was ultimately possible to assume that the stars or planets and the earth are ruled by the same laws.  But it was not possible to do this within the world vision that dominated all ancient cultures.  In all of them the heavens were divine.[59]

Thanks to his inherited HM and training in GM, Aristides maintained a superior understanding of the heavens and established a trend that other Christian thinkers would follow.


Like Aristides, virtually all of the early Church Fathers—from Justin Martyr to Augustine—were well versed in Greek science and philosophy and utilized this knowledge to defend the Christian worldview.  More often than not, their critiques of Greek science (particularly in the realm of cosmology) led to a more accurate picture of the universe.  For example, the Cappadocian Father, Basil the Great, challenged the popular notion of a cyclical, eternally existent universe; arguing, instead, that the universe, including time, began to exist,

Do not then imagine, O man! that the visible world is without a beginning; and because the celestial bodies move in a circular course, and it is difficult for our senses to define the point where the circle begins, do not believe that bodies impelled by a circular movement are, from their nature, without a beginning.[60]

Basil’s arguments utilized both his extensive knowledge of Greek cosmology and his inherited HM.  It is of significant note that modern science has substantiated his views on cosmology with the discovery of the Big Bang.


  One final example, illustrating the Christian synthesis, can be found in the work of John Philoponus—a Christian philosopher living in Alexandria during the sixth century.  Like Aristides, Philoponus dispensed with the Aristotelian model of the universe, which bifurcated between the terrestrial and celestial realms, and scrutinized the heavens on equal footing with the earth.  The resulting work was way ahead of his time:

[Philoponus] argued that different stars are of different colors, that difference of color implies variations in composition, that composition implies the possibility of decomposition and decay . . . [concluding] . . . that the heavens are no more exempt from decay than things in the terrestrial region . . . [furthermore] . . . he argued that the sun is composed of fire (a terrestrial substance) rather than a fifth celestial substance.[61]    

It is of significant note that Philopnus utilized methods similar to how modern scientists determine the elemental make up of stars today.  In any event, his groundbreaking observations would never have come to fruition where it not for his presupposed HM and implementation of GM. 

 In large part, the Christian synthesis helped Greek science to survive its incredible stillbirth and, “created a climate of thought which put men in a position to investigate the form of the universe.”[62]  This was especially true in the Middle Ages when Greek science was transformed into natural theology.”[63]

Natural Theology and the Scientific Revolution

Far from being a time of ignorance and superstition, the Middle Ages where a time of significant intellectual development.  It was during the Middle Ages that Europe saw the birth of its great universities—which placed particular emphasis on Greek science and philosophy—and witnessed the birth of a new class of, “theologian-natural philosophers.”[64]  As the universities introduced GM into medieval thought, many Christians came to the conclusion that the study of the natural world was an important theological pursuit.  As McGrath notes, “many of the greatest names in the world of medieval natural science . . . were all active theologians who did not see a contradiction between their faith and the investigation of the natural order.”[65]

Unbeknownst to some, medieval monasticism contributed to the foundations of experimental science.[66]   Like earlier Christian thinkers, the religious orders rejected Greek metaphysics—which viewed reality as a divine organism or an imperfect copy of the forms—in favor of HM.  Furthermore, there was a renewed interest in nature among many monks because of the life and writings of St. Francis of Assisi.  As Jaroslav Pelikan notes, “Francis of Assisi was responsible for the rediscovery of nature, and he introduced into medieval Christianity a positive enjoyment of the natural realm for which there were few precedents.”[67]  Accordingly, the friars of the Franciscan order made up some of the finest natural theologians of the Middle Ages—Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, and William of Ockham.[68] 

Robert Grosseteste, the founder of the Franciscan school at Oxford, was among the first to stress the importance of experimentation:

[Grosseteste] recognized the gap in Aristotelian science between the intuitive leap from induction to universal definition and suggested that experiments are needed to verify or falsify inductive hypotheses.  [He argued that] through observation and experiment both definitions and deductions can be grounded in the material world.[69]

 Grosseteste ideas greatly influenced Roger Bacon and William of Ockham, who would follow in his footsteps.  For example, Roger Bacon made significant advances in the study of mathematics and light.  His experimentation with optics and observation of light led him to the discovery that, “light travels much faster than sound.”[70] 


With the creation of universities, and the establishment of numerous monastic orders, Natural Theologians-synthesizing Greek philosophy with their Christian beliefs—made significant scientific advances.  Carrying on in the tradition of the Early Church Fathers, Natural Theologians maintained a fervent devotion to the contemplation of God’s spectacular creation.  It was in this rich intellectual environment that the seeds were planted for the scientific revolution and the birth of modern science.[71]

A Shift in Thought

It has been demonstrated from history that the Judeo-Christian worldview provided the crucial philosophical assumptions needed for science to grow and flourish in western civilization.  Far from being in a state of constant conflict, Christianity and science have walked hand in hand.  Yet, paradoxically, the Judeo-Christian worldview has been rejected by the majority of modern scientists and philosophers, in favor of a naturalistic worldview.  According to Barry Stroud, “most philosophers for at least one hundred years have been naturalists in the nonsupernaturalist sense.  They have taken it for granted that any satisfactory account of how human belief and knowledge…are possible will involve only processes and events of the intelligible natural [i.e. physical] world.”[72] 

It stands to reason; if the Judeo-Christian worldview is no longer relevant–as a philosophical basis for science—then naturalism must be able to sustain the basic philosophical assumptions needed to justify science.  The question, then, is this: does naturalism, in and of itself (without borrowing from the Judeo-Christian worldview) provide the necessary assumptions?  Is naturalism a suitable basis for science?  The following portion seeks to answer these questions. 

The Argument from Philosophy

“According to naturalism, what is ultimately real is nature, which [solely] consists of the fundamental particles that make up what we call matter and energy, together with the natural laws that govern how those particles behave.”[73]  This section seeks to show that naturalism fails as a plausible basis for science and demonstrates how scientists still rely upon assumptions grounded in the Judeo-Christian worldview to justify their work.  It begins by (1) providing a basic understanding of the nature of science, followed by (2) a demonstration of naturalisms utter failure to provide the philosophical assumptions needed to justify science, and ends by (3) showing how the Judeo-Christian worldview, in contast, does provide such justification.

The Nature of Science

Pinning down a satisfactory definition of science is the subject of much debate among philosophers.  In the words of John Ziman, “To answer the question ‘What is Science?’ is almost as presumptuous as to try to state the meaning of Life itself.”[74]  It is beyond the limit and scope of this paper to attempt a comprehensive answer to the question of the nature of science; such a question requires more attention than can be given.  Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity and argument, a basic understanding of the nature of science is required.  While there is not a standard accepted definition of science, one can identify the basic properties or characteristics of science.[75]  Hence, the goal of this section is simply to (1) identify and explain two key properties of science (empirical activity and inductive reasoning) and (2) specify which basic assumptions about the nature of reality are needed to justify these properties.   

Approaching a Definition:  Two Key Properties of Science

For the sake of argument, the author has decided to employ the following definition of science:  “Science is an empirical inductive method for obtaining knowledge about the world.”[76]  It is readily acknowledged that this definition of science, in and of itself, is not sufficient; however, this was not the impetus for selecting it.  In spite of its deficiency, this definition contains two of the key properties or characteristics of science which virtually everyone accepts:  empirical activity and inductive reasoning.  It is upon these two properties that one can build a basic understanding of the nature of science.  To clarify this point, this section will outline precisely what these properties entail.

Empirical Activity.  According to Del Ratzsch, “a genuine science must be in tune with facts, and we get in touch with most of the relevant facts by experience, by observation, by the senses—in short, by empirical processes.”[77]  Here so defined, an empirical activity is one in which the senses are utilized—through observation and experimentation–to gain knowledge about the world.  This characterization of science–that it involves empirical activities or methods–assumes several important things about the nature of reality. 

First, it assumes that minds exist and are capable of obtaining knowledge of the external world; in other words that our cognitive faculties are so attuned to reality as to attain truth.  Second, it assumes that nature is “understandable,” or rationally organized; otherwise there would be no motivation to study it.[78]  For who would bother studying that which is by nature incomprehensible?  Finally, it assumes the uniformity of nature; that the, “processes and patterns that we see on only a limited scale . . . hold universally.”[79]  To pull a historical example: modern science rejects the Aristotelian bifurcation of the terrestrial and the celestial realms, because it conceives of nature as a regular unified whole.  Were this not assumed, there would be, “no reason to think that laboratory events observed here and now could tell us about processes in the interior of distant stars far in the past.”[80]

Inductive Reasoning.  Inductive reasoning works from the bottom up; that is, it begins with particulars (a man or several men) and concludes with a universal principle (mankind).  John Ziman explains the principle of induction in science as such:  “That what has been seen to happen a great many times is almost sure to happen invariably and may be treated as a basic fact or Law upon which a firm structure of theory can be erected.”[81]  So understood, inductive reasoning is the logical impetus behind the development of scientific theories and laws. 

Like empirical activity, inductive reason assumes the same metaphysical truths:  that rational minds exist, “that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, that the mind and senses inform us about reality, that mathematics and language can be applied to the world . . [and] . . . that there is uniformity in nature.”[82]  It is of special note that both empirical activity and inductive reason require the same essential philosophical presuppositions;   (1) that conscious minds exist and (2) that they are capable of obtaining knowledge.  As the following section will explain, naturalism completely fails to justify these necessary philosophical presuppositions. 

Naturalisms Incredible Failure

If science is an empirical inductive method for obtaining knowledge and if naturalism is a suitable basis for science, naturalism must: (1) provide a satisfactory theory of conscious intelligence (i.e. minds), and (2) substantiate the claim that humans are capable of obtaining knowledge.  Put another way, empirical inductive methods assume the existence of conscious human minds and that these minds are capable of obtaining knowledge of the external world—therefore, naturalism is obliged to provide an adequate basis for these beliefs. 

If it can be proved that naturalism fails to provide an adequate explanation of conscious intelligence and knowledge, then naturalism is not a sufficient philosophical basis for science.  With that being said, let the investigation begin with the issue conscious intelligence. 

The Problem of Conscious Intelligence

Science, as an empirical inductive methodology, is not pursued by non-conscious artificial intelligence.  Scientists, those who “do” science, are conscious, rational agents (i.e. human beings).  Consequentially, the naturalistic worldview must provide an explanation of the existence of conscious intelligence (i.e. the mind) to remain a viable metaphysical basis for science.[83]  This section addressees the problem of conscious intelligence, which can be formulated like this:

(1) Science is built upon empirical inductive methods.

(2) Empirical inductive methods assume the existence of conscious intelligence (i.e. minds).

(3) Naturalism fails to produce an adequate theory of conscious intelligence.

(4) Therefore, naturalism is not a viable metaphysical basis for science.

 Since the truth of the first two premises has already been established; the goal in this section is to defend the truth of premise (3) in an effort to secure the conclusion in premise (4). 


Naturalism and Consciousness

Premise (3) states that, naturalism fails to produce an adequate theory of conscious intelligence; virtually every major philosopher, whether they like or not, recognizes the truth of this assertion.  Naturalistic explanations of the mind are marred by one significant problem:  they have failed, thus far, to explain one of the most fundamental aspects of human existence–consciousness.  Thomas Nagel explains:

We do not at present have even the outline of an adequate theory of the place of mind in the natural order  . . . we have increasing knowledge of a fascinating character about the physical conditions of particular types of conscious states, but these correlations, even if substantially multiplied, do not amount to a general explanatory theory.[84]      

Colin McGinn echoes these sentiments in his book, The Problem of Consciousness, “We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we have, it seems, no understanding whatever of how this can be so.  It strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic.”[85]  Finally, David Chalmers suggests that consciousness is, “the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.” [86] 

The problem of consciousness is so significant, that any attempt to explain the mind which attempts to redefine or eliminate consciousness is severely lacking and does not take the issue seriously.[87]  Consciousness simply can’t be ignored or brushed aside; it demands an explanation.  To their great detriment, naturalistic theories of the mind are notorious for their inability to take consciousness seriously.  However, before critiquing the prevailing naturalistic attempts to explain the mind one must understand what philosophers mean by consciousness.  Consequentially, a brief definition is in order.

Consciousness.  In his book, The Conscious Mind, David Chalmers catalogs a host of conscious experiences—visual experiences, auditory experiences, tactile experiences, olfactory experiences (smell), taste experiences, pain, mental imagery, emotions, the sense of self.[88]  The common thread uniting each of these various experiences is that they are all first person and subjective to the individual.  Hence, when a philosopher or scientist speaks of consciousness, he is referring to the, “subjective quality of experience,” or what it, “feels like to be a cognitive agent.”[89]

   Conscious agents are beings with representations of their own goals and representations of the means by which to achieve them; that is, beings whose actions are best explained by means of intentionality–their desires and beliefs.[90]  Representations of goals (desires) and means (beliefs) are always in the first-person, as Angus Menuge explains, “As an agent . . . when I want a beer and believe there is one in the refrigerator, it is significant that I do not merely represent beer and opening the refrigerator but that I represent my having a beer by my opening the refrigerator.”[91]  This subjective quality, the uniqueness of what it means to be an agent, is what is meant by consciousness. 

While conscious mental events are closely correlated to physical events—which can be described in terms of chemistry and physics—they are not the same thing,

Physical events and properties do not have the same features that hold for mental events and properties.  One’s thoughts, feelings of pain or sensory experiences do not have any weight, are not located anywhere in space (one’s thought of lunch cannot be closer to one’s right ear than one’s left one), are not composed of chemicals, and do not have electrical properties.[92] 

For obvious reasons, these facts make explaining consciousness notoriously difficult for naturalists–who only acknowledge the existence of material or physical properties.  How does one account for properties which, seemingly, defy all physical explanation?  For the most part, naturalists don’t; naturalistic explanations of the mind either wrongly explain consciousness in terms of physical events or outright deny the existence of such states.


Naturalistic Accounts of Consciousness.  Most naturalists readily admit there is no adequate physical explanation of consciousness.  However, they dogmatically reject any theory of consciousness which posits mental states as being immaterial (in other words, the idea that human beings have a soul.)  John McGinn states this quite clearly—representing the majority view of philosophers and scientists today—“Resolutely shunning the supernatural, I think it is undeniable that it must be in virtue of some natural property of the brain that organisms are conscious.  There just has to be some [materialistic] explanation for how brains subserve minds.”[93]  In others words, although scientists and philosophers are at a total loss—when it comes to explaining consciousness in terms of physical processes—McGinn refuses to accept any other method of explanation.

Those philosophers and scientists holding out for a materialistic explanation of consciousness generally believe it exists; however, there are some, who do not.   Known as eliminative materialists, these philosophers deny that consciousness—as explained above—exists.  Paul Churchland, a leading advocate of this view, says that,

Folk psychology [the view of consciousness expounded above] is not just an incomplete representation of our inner natures; it is an outright misrepresentation of our internal states and activities.  Consequentially, we cannot expect a truly adequate neuroscientific account of our inner lives to provide theoretical categories that match up nicely with the categories of our common-sense framework.  Accordingly, we must expect that the older framework will simply be eliminated, rather than be reduced, by a matured neuroscience.[94]     

In other words—consciousness is simply an illusion and as such should be discarded.  Eliminativists try to skate past the problem of consciousness by eliminating it as an issue; however this prospect is unacceptable.


As David Chalmers asserts, “some say that consciousness is an “illusion,” but I have little idea what this could mean.  It seems to me that we are surer of the existence of conscious experience than we are of anything else in the world.”[95]  As such, the problem of consciousness is a major setback for the naturalist attempting to accurately explain the mind.  As it seems, premise (3) is in fact true:  naturalism fails to produce an adequate theory of conscious intelligence.  Hence, the conclusion in premise (4) is both logically valid and sound:  naturalism is not a viable metaphysical basis for science.  However, this is only the first of problems facing the naturalistic worldview—the following is even more profound.

The Epistemological Problem

Science, as an empirical inductive methodology, assumes that human minds are capable of obtaining knowledge of the world.[96]  If obtaining knowledge was impossible, science would be utterly futile.  As C. S. Lewis noted,

No account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight.  A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.[97]

Consequentially, very few naturalists are skeptics, in that they doubt man’s ability to arrive at truth.  This being the case, it is of fundamental importance that naturalist’s provide adequate grounds for believing man can arrive at truth.  This section addresses the epistemological problem, which can be formulated like this:

(1) Science is built upon empirical inductive methods.

(2) Empirical inductive methods assume that man can arrive at the truth (i.e. obtain knowledge).

(3)  Naturalism does not insure man can arrive at the truth (i.e. obtain knowledge).

(4) Therefore, naturalism is not a viable epistemological basis for science.        

Since the truth of the first two premises has already been established; the goal in this section is to defend the truth of premise (3) in an effort to secure the conclusion in premise (4).  


Naturalism and Epistemology

C. S. Lewis was one of the first Christian philosophers to critique naturalistic epistemology.  In his book, Miracles, he states,

Anything which professes to explain our reasoning fully without introducing an act of knowing thus solely determined by what is known, is really a theory that there is not reasoning.  But this, as it seems to me, is what Naturalism is bound to do.[98]

As the book progresses Lewis argues that, given naturalism, human beings have no reason to believe that they can obtain truth.  Since the writing of Miracles, theistic philosophers have put forth sophisticated arguments bolstering Lewis’ position.  The two most substantial arguments come from Dallas Willard and Alvin Plantinga.  This section will briefly summarize their arguments against naturalism in order to secure the truth of premise (3).


The Representational Argument against Naturalism.  Willard’s argument rests upon two pillars: the first being that naturalists adhere to a correspondence theory of truth, and the second that naturalists believe only physical properties and relations exist.  The first pillar deals with the most widely accepted view of truth among scientists.  In its most basic formulation, the correspondence theory of truth states, “that a proposition (sentence, or representation of one’s desires or beliefs) is true just in case it corresponds to reality, when what it asserts to be the case is the case.”[99]  In other words, one’s belief that an apple is red is true if and only if it is the case that the apple is red—thus one’s representation is true when it is in alignment with or correspondent to objective reality.

The second pillar states that naturalists believe only physical properties and relations exist.  Since mental states or “representations” are clearly nonphysical properties, according to the naturalistic worldview they do not exist; and herein lays the problem:

[if] the narrower naturalism [physicalism] admits only these properties [physical properties], then there are no representations in the world of the narrower naturalism.  Truth then disappears from that world, because in it no subject matter is represented; and hence it can never happen that something “is as it is represented or thought to be.”[100]     

If nonphysical mental states, such as representations of one’s desires and beliefs, do not exist, and if one adheres to a correspondence theory of truth—in which truth is defined by one’s representations corresponding to reality—then truth does not exist.  Since truth is a necessary condition of knowledge, when truth disappears so does knowledge, “The ontological structure of knowledge cannot be present in the world of narrower naturalism.”[101]


   The only escape for the naturalist at this point is do deny one of the two pillars; however, doing so would be severely detrimental do his system.  For instance, if he where do deny that only physical properties and relations exist, he would essentially be refuting his own system—in this case naturalism still fails.  Conversely, if he denies adherence to a correspondence theory of truth, he rejects the only theory of truth compatible with science—rendering man’s ability to discover truth or facts about the real world extremely unlikely.  Left with no other alternative the naturalist must accept that his worldview suffers major epistemological problems; namely, it makes it impossible for human beings to obtain knowledge.

The Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism.  Plantinga’s argument takes an entirely different approach; while Willard’s dealt with nonphysical proprieties (such as representations of one’s desires and beliefs) and truth theories, Plantinga’s argument is concerned with what warrants or justifies a true belief and how this relates to the naturalistic picture of evolution.  To understand his argument one must first understand how Plantinga defines warrant:

A belief has warrant for some person just in case (“just in case” means “if and only if”) that belief was formed by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly and in accordance with a good design plan in a cognitive environment appropriate for the way those faculties were designed and when the design plan for our faculties is aimed at obtaining truth.[102]

Accepting this definition of warrant, the primary question becomes: do we have sufficient grounds to believe—given the naturalistic picture of evolution to be true—that the design plan for our cognitive faculties is aimed at obtaining truth? 


From the beginning this question hits the naturalist hard; for if naturalism is true there is no God or higher intelligence, “overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution.”[103]  This immediately leads one to ask the fundamental question: is it, “at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs[?]”[104]  The answer to this question is a resounding no.

Naturalistic evolution is primarily interested in adaptive behavior; that is, in the physical functioning or movement of the body which best ensures survival in any given environment: “it doesn’t care what you believe; it is interested only in how you behave.”[105]  As Plantinga explains,

[Natural Selection] selects for certain kinds of behavior: those that enhance fitness, which is a measure of the chances that one’s genes will be widely represented in the next and subsequent generations.  It doesn’t select for belief, except insofar as the latter is appropriately related to behavior.[106]

Hence, there is no reason to believe our cognitive faculties are specifically aimed at obtaining truth.  The blind watchmaker (natural selection) is only interested in the development of behavior which increases one’s chances of survival—whether or not one’s cognitive faculties obtain truth about reality is completely irrelevant.


Suppose, as some naturalists do, that one’s behavior is directly caused by one’s desires and beliefs—which are pathological and purely the result of evolutionary processes.[107]  The problem is clear, “there will be any number of different patterns of belief and desire that would issue in the same action; and among those there will be many in which the beliefs are wildly false.”[108]  In other words, one’s beliefs and desires do not have to be true in order to cause the correct behavior.  Plantinga uses the example of Paul, a “prehistoric hominid,” whose deadly jungle environment calls for him to exhibit “tiger-avoidance” behavior to ensure survival.[109]  Of the various behaviors Paul could employ to avoid being eaten by a tiger—fleeing, climbing up a steep rock face, jumping in a lake—there are a thousand possible belief-desire combinations to account for such behavior which are not necessarily true.[110]  As Plantinga explains,

Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but whenever he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks that it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him.  This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival in concerned, without involving much by way of true belief . . . Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it . . . [111]

Like Willard’s argument Plantinga’s shows that, if naturalism is true, human beings have no reason to believe their cognitive faculties are aimed at obtaining truth; and since truth is a necessary condition for knowledge, the naturalistic worldview removes all possibility that humans can obtain knowledge.  As it seems, premise (3) is in fact true:  naturalism does not insure man can arrive at the truth (i.e. obtain knowledge).  Hence, the conclusion in premise (4) is both logically valid and sound:  naturalism is not a viable epistemological basis for science 


A Summation  

It has been proved that the naturalistic worldview is grossly inadequate as a philosophical basis for science.  If science is an empirical inductive method for obtaining knowledge naturalism must provide ample justification that conscious minds exist and that these minds are capable of obtaining knowledge of the external world.  However, naturalism fails to provide an adequate theory of the mind and fails to provide justification to the belief that man is capable of obtaining knowledge.  Hence, naturalism is not a sufficient philosophical basis for science.  On the other hand, if the Judeo-Christian worldview can be shown to provide the necessary metaphysical and epistemological assumptions needed for science, there is ample reason to call for its reestablishment as an accepted philosophical basis for science. 

The Sufficiency of the Judeo-Christian Worldview

 To begin with, one must deal with the problem of conscious intelligence—that conscious minds exist.  If the Judeo-Christian worldview is to be considered above naturalism as a philosophical basis for science it must be subjected to the same test; that is, it must sufficiently account for the existence of conscious intelligence.  With that being said, it is prudent to restate the seemingly nonphysical properties of mental states which befuddle naturalists.  J. P. Moreland identifies at least five:

1.  There is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain.

2.  At least many mental states have intentionality—oftness or aboutness—directed towards an object.

3. They are inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them.

4. They require a subjective ontology—namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them.

5. They fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.[112]

Each of these properties provides a unique challenge to naturalistic explanations of the mind; and it has already been shown that naturalistic philosophers are at a total loss to explain these properties in materialistic terms.    

Given their inadequacy, naturalistic philosopher David Chalmers has rejected all of the major physicalist attempts to explain the mind.  As he explains it, the problems with physicalist explanations of the mind are not so much in the details but in there, “overall explanatory strategy.”[113]  Put quite simply, he states, “[physicalist] models and theories are simply not the sort of thing that would explain consciousness.”[114]  This, however, begs the question: what type of model or theory would be the sort of thing that could explain consciousness?

Chalmers’s answer is a form of “naturalistic” dualism known as property dualism which says that, “conscious experience involves properties of an individual that are not entailed by the physical properties of that individual, although they may depend lawfully on those properties.”[115]  In other words, he admits that consciousness is a nonphysical feature of the natural world but denies that it is an immaterial substance—asserting that nonphysical properties, such as mental states, depend completely upon physical laws.   However, this view seems muddled and confusing.  If a nonphysical mental state is not an immaterial substance, then what is it?

The best remaining option is that of substance dualism which holds that, “the brain is a physical object that has physical properties and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties.”[116]  According to substance dualism, there is a distinction between the mind—which is an immaterial substance—and the brain—which is a physical substance.  Each maintains their own unique properties while remaining highly interactive with one another.[117] 

Physicalists often object to substance dualism because they cannot perceive how a nonphysical substance—such as a mental state—could cause things to happen in the physical body.  However, “this objection assumes that if we do not know how A causes B, then it is not reasonable to believe that A causes B, especially if A and B are different.”[118]  This assumption is entirely unfounded.  There are numerous examples of things which scientists know cause other things without, “having any idea of how causation takes place, even when the two items are different.”[119] 

For example, scientists know that magnetic fields can move tracks, and that gravity acts upon planets millions of miles away, and that protons put forth a repulsive force on other particles, but they have no idea how these things happen.[120]  Similarly, it is possible for immaterial mental states to interact with the brain, but it is not necessary that one be able to explain how this works for him to recognize the causal connection.

In conclusion, “mental states [of the kind described above] are quite natural in a theistic worldview and have a higher prior probability given theism over against naturalism.”[121]  Given the nonphysical quality of mental states and that substance dualism is the best possible explanation of those qualities, the Judeo-Christian worldview (which assumes substance dualism) stands as a much better explanation of conscious intelligence than naturalism.  Hence, on this account, the Judeo-Christian worldview passes with flying colors.  All that remains is to show how the Judeo-Christian worldview solves the epistemological problem.

The Judeo-Christian Worldview and Epistemology.  The Judeo-Christian worldview satisfies the requirements for knowledge in every way.  First, as was just argued, the Judeo-Christian worldview recognizes the existence of nonphysical mental states, such as representations of one’s desires and beliefs; therefore, the Judeo-Christian worldview is perfectly compatible with a correspondence theory of truth.  Second, according to the Judeo-Christian worldview, human beings—and their cognitive faculties—were specifically designed by God for this particular environment and aimed at obtaining truth.[122]   Hence, unlike the naturalist, the theistic position sustains warranted (or justified) true belief and is therefore justified in its assertion that human beings can obtain knowledge of the world.                           


It has been demonstrated through historical and philosophical reasoning that naturalism is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for science.  Furthermore, the popular idea that Christianity and science are in a constant state of conflict–and somehow incompatible—has proved to be false.  To the contrary, it has been firmly established that the Judeo-Christian worldview provided the necessary metaphysical assumptions for Greek science to flourish in the Roman Empire, and was the impetus behind the scientific revolution.    

Upon careful philosophical analysis, it has also been established that the Judeo-Christian worldview is vastly superior to the naturalistic worldview as a basis for science.  Namely, because naturalism fails to provide adequate justification for the two key properties of science: empirical activity and inductive reasoning.  In light of its overwhelming success in history and its vast philosophical superiority, the time has come for the reestablishment of the Judeo-Christian worldview as a basis for science.        


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[1]C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 2.

[2]Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 38.  In this paper, the terms naturalism or metaphysical naturalism, unless otherwise noted, are used to denote a materialist or physicalist view of reality in which all things can be explained in terms of chemistry and physics; Essentially, the view that there is nothing beyond the physical or material world. 

[3]William A. Dembski, ed., Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2004), 24.

[4]Ibid., 36.

[5]Quoted by Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 21.

[6]Alister E. McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue In Science and Religion (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 20.


[8]Davied C. Lindeberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., God and Nature:  Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 1.

[9]Ibid., 3.

[10]Ferngren, Science and Religion, 15.

[11]Ibid., 14.

[12]Dorothy F. Chappell and E. David Cook, eds., Not Just Science (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 27-28.

[13]Peter Barrett, Science and Theology since Copernicus (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 134.

[14]Gary B. Ferngren, ed., Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), ix.

[15]Ibid., ix.

[16]Lindeberg, God and Nature, 3-4.

[17]Ferngren, Science and Religion, ix.

[18]David N. Livingstone, D. G. Hart, and Mark A. Noll, eds., Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 3.

[19]Pearcey, The Soul of Science, 18.

[20]McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion, 22.

[21]See especially his best-selling book The God Delusion.

[22]Ibid., 26.

[23]Alister E. McGrath, Science and Religion: An Introduction (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 3.

[24]Marvin Perry et al., Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007), 38.


[26]Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 68.


[28]Perry, Western Civilization, 38.

[29]Jeremiah 10:12 ESV.

[30] Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, Genesis 1-11:26 (Michigan: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 129.


[32]R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 9.

[33]Stanley L. Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2000), 49.

[34]David Sedley, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 271.

[35]Ibid., 271.

[36]Edward Grant, Science and Religion: From Aristotle to Copernicus (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 57.  Naturalistic, in this case, is not referring to metaphysical naturalism; rather, it is denoting a methodology of describing how things in the world work by employing material causes and effects.

[37]Ibid., 60. 

[38]Sedley, The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy, 276.

[39]Ibid., 277.

[40]Ibid., 286.

[41]John Herman Randall Jr., Aristotle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 34.

[42]Ibid., 35.

[43]Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science,49.

[44]Ferngren, Science and Religion, 30.

[45]Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, 1.

[46]Ibid., 3.

[47]Pearcey, The Soul of Science, 27.

[48]Ibid., 27.

[49]Ibid., 28.

[50]Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science,49.


[52]Ibid., 88.

[53]Ibid., 97.

[54]Chappell, Not Just Science, 29.

[55]Ibid., 98.


[57]Chappell, Not Just Science, 29.

[58]New Advent, 2008, “The Apology of Aristides,” (accessed April 16, 2009).  Emphasis added.

[59]Jaki, The Limits of a Limitless Science,49.

[60]William A. Dembski, Wayne J. Downs, Fr. Justin B. A. Frederick, ed., The Patristic Understanding of Creation (Riesel: Erasmus Press, 2008), 286.

[61]Lindeberg, God and Nature, 39.

[62] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 225.

[63]McGrath, Science and Religion: An Introduction, 3.

[64]Ibid., 2.

[65]Ibid., 3.

[66] Chappell, Not Just Science, 33.

[67] Ibid., 35.

[68] Ibid., 36.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Perry, Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, 262.

[71] Pearcey, The Soul of Science, 59-60.

[72]Mario De Caro, David Macarthur, ed., Naturalism in Question (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 23.  By “intelligible natural world” he means, a closed system of purely physical causes and effects. 

[73] Johnson, Reason in the Balance, 37-38

[74]E. D. Klemke, Robert Hollinger, A. David Kline, ed., Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1980), 35.

[75]Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 11.

[76]Craig Vincent Mitchell, Charts of Philosophy and Philosophers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 82.

[77]Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits, 13.

[78]Ibid., 14.



[81]Klemke, Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science, 37.

[82]J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science:  A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 45.

[83]The reason I’m using the term conscious intelligence instead of mind is twofold:  (1) I wish to instill upon the reader that when we talk about rational minds engaging in scientific activity we are not discussing mechanical processes but conscious beings, and (2) I wish to drive home the fact that consciousness is the single biggest problem facing naturalistic explanations of the mind. 

[84]Richard Warner, Tadeusz Szubka, ed., The Mind Body Problem:  A Guide to the Current Debate (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994), 64-65.

[85]Colin McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness:  Essays Towards a Resolution (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991), 1.  Emphasis added.

[86]David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind:  In Search of a Fundamental Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), xi.  Emphasis added.

[87]Ibid., xii.

[88]Ibid., 10.

[89]Ibid., 4.

[90]Angus Menuge, Agents Under Fire:  Materialism and the Rationality of Science (New York: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, INC, 2004), 12.


[92]J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003), 233.

[93]McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 6.  Emphasis added.

[94]Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness:  A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: A Bradford Book MIT Press, 2001), 43.

[95]Chalmers, The Conscious Mind, xii. 

[96]Knowledge is defined in the classic sense as JTB: Justified, True, Belief. 

[97]Lewis, Miracles, 21.

[98]Ibid., 27.

[99]Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 135.

[100]William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, ed., Naturalism a Critical Analysis (New York: Routledge, 2000), 40.


[102]Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 103.  Emphasis added.

[103]James Beilby, ed., Naturalism Defeated? (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 3.


[105]Ibid., 4.


[107] Some naturalistic understandings of the mind do allow for the existence of desires and beliefs.  However, they do not believe one can have representations of desires and beliefs which are nonmaterial; rather, they view them as pathological physical properties–built into our minds through evolution.

[108]Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 225.




[112]James F. Sennett, Douglas Groothuis, ed., In Defense of Natural Theology (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 273.

[113]Chalmers, The Conscious Mind, 121. 


[115]Ibid., 125.

[116]Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 232.


[118]Ibid., 243.



[121]William A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation:  Science, Faith & Intelligent Design (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998), 284.

[122]Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 104.