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Reason, Logic and Science vs The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

01 May 2012, 18:25

We often see people as presenting themselves as defenders of science, reason and logic and there is nothing wrong with this. Valid reasoning and logic are extremely important aspects of our daily practical and moral lives as well as the scientific endeavour. We can differentiate between two kinds of reasoning: Practical and theoretical.

Practical reason is when we think about what to do in particular situations. Practical reasoning is what we do when we attempt to resolve questions that are of practical importance to us. It is concerned with what one ought to do as a person in a given situation. Typical examples of practical reasoning are when a person thinks about the best route to take to a destination or where to choose to invest your money or which is the best for your child and where to buy a house. Practical reasoning is also concerned about one’s moral actions and deliberation over which actions are good and which actions are not good and decide to act based on these moral reasons.

Theoretical reasoning on the other hand is reasoning about questions related to explanations and predictions about things that have happened or might happen. Theoretical reasoning attempts to understand how things really are now as a matter of impersonal fact. It attempts to explain how the world really is and how the future may be. Theoretical reasoning is of vital importance to the natural sciences as well as mathematics and philosophy. Theoretical reasoning is of course also important for practical reasoning to be successful.

Logic in turn is a science that is concerned with valid reasoning. We use logic to examine whether our practical and theoretical reasoning for arguments are valid and free of any fallacies. Empirical science in turn is an endeavour that attempts to organize knowledge about the universe in a systemized manner by making use of testable explanations and predictions.

In the previous post about Alex Rosenberg’s book where he defends a consistent and coherent naturalism “The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions”, we saw a few interesting conclusions that can be made from a scientistic and mechanistic view of reality. Rosenberg’s earlier article The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality laid the foundation for his book.

Some of the conclusions include the view that:

1) It is illusory to think that thoughts, knowledge or anything for that matter are about anything. In addition, whatever meaning or purpose we think is generated by our brains is literally not about anything. There is not even such a thing as linguistic meaning and even if such a thing as thoughts really exists, then they would not be about anything or have any “aboutness”.

2) There is no moral difference between right and wrong and anything goes when you want to be moral. Moral nihilism follows.

Now these are difficult conclusions to accept, however, I agree with Rosenberg’s atheist guide to reality and naturalism. Given consistent and coherent atheist and naturalist guide to reality such as the one laid out by Rosenberg, I think these conclusions are exactly right and rationally and logically follow from his mechanistic and scientistic premises. These conclusions are intellectually honest conclusions to hold given a naturalistic and atheistic view of reality.

Of course these conclusions radically undermine reason, logic and science for obvious reasons. For example, practical reason is about deliberating over one’s actions, both practical and moral. Theoretical reasoning is about providing explanations of reality, science is about understanding the universe through testable explanations and logic is about understanding whether our reasons and beliefs are valid.

A consistent and coherent atheist and naturalist guide to reality as laid out by Rosenberg lead to the conclusion that none of the above is true and can ever be true. When we reason about practical and moral matters we are in actual fact not reasoning about anything. When we reason and attempt to provide explanations about the nature of reality through science and philosophy, we are in actual fact not reasoning about anything. And when we try to use logic to evaluate whether our reasons are valid and justified, we are in actual fact not evaluating anything since to evaluate something implies an evaluation of or about something.

If you following an atheist’s guide to reality and given the conclusions that follow one cannot reasonably claim to be a defender of reason, logic and science. A person cannot really claim that reason, logic and science are what lead a person to accept such a view of reality. Of course there may be interesting psychological reasons why a person may accept such a view of reality.

The atheist philosopher Quentin Smith wrote in his article “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism”:

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist, which is similar to the attitude expressed by Searle in the previous quote, the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.

Despite the failure of naturalism being justified, naturalism still appears to be a dominant view among contemporary philosophers who are not philosophers of religion. However, the justification for naturalism appears to be psychological and not rational or logical. And even if there can somehow be a rational and logical justification for naturalism, it will still radically undermine reason, logic and science itself.

The question is, how can a person have no justification for naturalism and cannot ever wish to have any justification for naturalism still cling to naturalism despite knowing that naturalism undermines reason, logic and science? 

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