Rationalism vs. Naturalism and other Orthodoxies



Rationalism and idealism are not two sides of a coin; they are simply one coin.  Of course, the scientific establishment is constantly attempting to recruit rationality to its own cause.  The next time a scientist makes an appeal to reason, ask her if anyone has ever observed one of them there reasons.  

The Fallacy of Epistemological Idealism

Modern philosophy seems to be a maze of contradictory theories which have arisen in a relatively short period of time.  --------

On the surface, there appears to be nothing but intellectual chaos. Viewed from a broader standpoint, however, by far the majority of these theories and systems will be seen to be more or less alike. They reveal a common parentage and show a common kinship. As such, then, they possess a uniform trait, a fundamental doctrine identical in them all, which underlies all the variants and forms the root-idea from which they derive their origin and then develop into different philosophies. This uniform trait is idealism, and the root-idea is the idealist postulate.

Here, here!  Nothing worse than all these half-baked idealists!  A dime a dozen. 

How, then, can the mind perceive things at a distance, or how can things get into the mind? It does not seem to solve the difficulty by referring to the stimuli (light waves, airwaves, etc.), which are supposed to leave the objects and impinge upon the sense-organs; because then we should perceive these stimuli and not the objects from which they come. That, however, is not the case: we perceive apparently objects and certainly not stimuli.

Yes, I always did wonder about that. 

The foregoing criticism shows that idealism arises out of the ego-centric predicament and that its arguments involve a faulty logic. This, of course, does not prove than extra-mental reality actually exists; it merely shows that idealism has not disproved the existence of extra-mental objects. The question of the existence of such objects must be solved, not by any a priori, but by an a posteriori method. Facts alone, together with their proper interpretation, must settle the issue; that is the only scientific and philosophic procedure which can lead us with safety to a definite conclusion.

Yes, Mam, just the facts, please.  Our survival depends upon sticking to the facts.  But to whose facts do we stick?  Where is our authority?  Nay, where is our Author? 

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA- Rationalism: (speaking of authority...)

The term is used: (1) in an exact sense, to designate a particular moment in the development of Protestant thought in Germany; (2) in a broader, and more usual, sense to cover the view (in relation to which many schools may he classed as rationalistic) that the human reason, or understanding, is the sole source and final test of all truth. It has further: (3) occasionally been applied to the method of treating revealed truth theologically, by casting it into a reasoned form, and employing philosophical Categories in its elaboration.

Not exactly a rousing cheer for rationalism from this authority, and I can readily sympathize with their cautions...

But in his method of proof of the authority of Scripture recourse was had to reason, and thus the human mind became, logically, the ultimate arbiter in the case of both. Supranaturalism in theology, which it was Wolff's intention to uphold, proved incompatible with such a philosophical position, and Rationalism took its place. This, however, is to be distinguished from pure Naturalism, to which it led, but with which it never became theoretically identified. Revelation was not denied by the Rationalists; though, as a matter of fact, if not of theory, it was quietly suppressed by the claim, with its ever-increasing application, that reason is the competent judge of all truth.

They are not quite denying that our presumably God given, supra-natural power of reason is not the final arbiter.  (Am I sounding too Protestant?)  What else can be?  On what other basis can there be an interfaith dialog, or an apologetics? 

I am finding the remainder of this article most helpful, and I urge you to view the source.  

As has been noted in the preceding paragraph, German Rationalism had strong affinities with English Deism and French Materialism, two historic forms in which the tendency has manifested itself. But with the vulgarization of the ideas contained in the various systems that composed these movements, Rationalism has degenerated. It has become connected in the popular mind with the shallow and misleading philosophy frequently put forward in the name of science,....

Amen, to that. 


Consider this conceptual triangle

Sometimes a distinction is made, as it has been in different ways by Frege and Popper, between three kinds of real things (three 'realms' or 'worlds'). The first contains material things....  The second contains psychological things....  The third contains abstract things....  Philosophers have tended to treat these three realms ... as lying in a triangle, so that the rejection of one was compatible with accepting either or both of the other two. Materialists strictly speaking say that only matter exists, but in modern times they have tended to direct their fire primarily against believers in the second realm, and some of them (e.g. Armstrong) accept at least a moderate realism in connection with the third realm. But this was not always so. Plato, with whom so much of philosophy began, was primarily concerned to assert the existence of the third realm....

If the rationalists/idealists have established anything it is that realm of numbers cannot be reduced to material entities.  Given the reality of this 'third realm' then it follows naturally that the realm of the psyche must also have an immaterial aspect in order to make contact with the realm of numbers.  

The existence of consciousness is very hard to deny, as materialists must, but its existence cannot be demonstrated objectively, as they insist.  The materialists have the rest of us in a bind, demanding an objectification of non-objects, i.e. abstracta.  'Abstract' may be a poor word because it implies a logical dependency, but, in any case, abstraction, per se, is a purely psychic act. 


Opposing rationalism is empiricism, which is most narrowly equated with materialism.  More broadly conceived, empiricism becomes naturalism, which is more loosely defined, so loosely, in fact, to be possibly lacking in coherence. 

Next, we look at naturalism.  Is it a coherent set of beliefs? 

What it insists on is that the world of nature should form a single sphere without incursions from outside by souls or spirits, divine or human, and without having to accommodate strange entities like non-natural values or substantive abstract universals. But it need not reject the phenomena of consciousness, nor even identify them somehow with material phenomena, as the materialist must, provided they can be studied via the science of psychology, which can itself be integrated into the other sciences.

Off the top, psychology is very, very far from being a science.  Every psychologist has a different theory of psychology.  In these latter days, even the physicists are getting into the pluralism act.  Every theoretical physicist has a different conception of what the final Theory of Everything is going to look like.  This simply means that the frontier of any science will be 'unscientific'.  Political, aesthetic, intuitive and subjective considerations become dominant.  This is about charisma at its highest level.  Only when this charisma has been thoroughly routinized are we back in the realm of science.  

From an historical perspective we can think of alchemy as, at one time, being the frontier of chemistry.  Alchemy was a thoroughly charismatic affair: it reflected intensely personal and creative participation.  As an immaterialist, I would go even further than this.  During this charismatic stage of science, reality is being defined.  There is a give and take between the subjective and objective realms.  It is like a lengthy process of negotiation where the protocols of transaction are being worked out so at to achieve the greatest harmony as part of the Best Possible World.  Science is not simply a process of discovery.  The human intellect and the cosmic intellect are working out an ultimate accommodation which is mediated by and through nature.  

Psychology is still very much at the charismatic stage as represented by alchemy.  The transactional and transference protocols of psychology are intensely personal, and the results of which will ultimately define how we become one with the creator.  That is the 'science' of eschatology; that is what psychology is gradually working up to.  The eschatological psychology will be barely recognizable from what we know today.  It may even become more charismatic than it is now, but that will not prevent it from also taking on some significant aspects that represent a continuity with the methods of today's science.  

But we were supposed to be discussing naturalism.  We have simply explained why the epistemological form of naturalism is sometimes referred to as 'psychologism'.  It was Frege's reaction to the 'psychologizing' of mathematics, late in the 19th century, which lead to contemporary rationalism.  

It appears that the academic debate that is of most practical relevance to rational theism is the debate between rationalists and naturalists.  It is also true that this area of discussion is as active as any in philosophy. 


One of the foci of this discussion is the 'naturalistic fallacy': 

The naturalistic fallacy is a metaethical theory proposed by G. E. Moore (1873-1958) in Principia Ethica (1903) that the notion of moral goodness cannot be defined or identified with any property. Moore argues that "goodness" is a foundational and unanalyzable property, similar to the foundational notion of "yellowness," and is not capable of being explained in terms of anything more basic.

This has a slightly different thrust than the more commonly stated version of this fallacy as consisting of the attempt to infer 'ought' from 'is', and going back at least to Hume.  

Here is another take on the fallacy: 

Small wonder, then, that faith in Nature is hard to reconcile with the rationalist philosophers' critique of the naturalistic fallacy. Environmental ideas of Nature are often based on a scepticism about the power of reason, and a willingness to put faith in spontaneous order precisely because one knows the limits of one's own knowledge about the working of the system.

This points to the divide between naturalistic philosophers, who align themselves with science, and naturalists simpliciter.  Is there anything in the world more unnatural than science?  Natural science should be an oxymoron.  These matters are further complicated by the once prominent religious notion of Natural Law.  And finally, the concept of human nature is about as contentious as any in the modern world.  

James Boyle continues with his review: 

In 'Contested Natures' Phil Macnaghten and John Urry take up these questions. They argue that we have not one but many Natures, "constituted through a variety of socio-cultural processes from which such natures cannot be plausibly separated." Their argument, if I understand it correctly, is that three things will happen once we realise that the concept 'Nature' is neither 'natural' nor unitary. First, we will stop believing that we can get objective science about Nature. The reason is almost Heisenbergian; the observers are in the frame, not outside of it. We are part of Nature, part of many Natures, and scientific analysis must always begin by assuming some pretheoretical orientation towards one of those 'Natures.' 

These preceding observations bring us back to the question I posed yesterday: can anything posing as 'naturalism' be coherent?  I am not the only skeptic on this matter.  Naturalism is the de facto, ad hoc fall-back position for the rag-tag remnants of the once ascendant materialists.  As we speak, they are discovering that this encampment is not rationally [sic] defensible, and they encounter a lack of sympathy among the natives.  

Now I could be proven wrong in this prognosis, and certainly I am not specifying a date by which the 'naturalists' will have folded their tent.  I am not holding my breath, but I am, right here before your eyes, maintaining a vigil.  I am supposing that a properly conceived vigil will expedite the folding of that tent. 

And, of course, I am doing rather more than that.  I am attempting to give shape to the tent that will come.  As the naturalists get a better handle on what exactly they are holding out against, it may well increase their resolve.  So be it.  What could be the more logical contender to naturalism than a rational theism, with its attendant BPW supposition?  They may well realize that their best strategy is to fight every strawperson and ignore every real person.  When they are no longer able to ignore rational theism, the game is over.  


Now I search on rationalism & naturalism.  There are over 5,000 hits.  

It is disappointing to see how many people using rationalism in its particular historical and non-philosophical sense that is now covered by naturalism.  The scientifically inspired attack on religious authority came way back in what was naively billed as the Age of Reason by self-styled Rationalists.  This confusion means that a lot of people are missing what is now the principle argument against naturalism.  Of course, naturalism is also a misleading term, chosen perhaps deliberately by those defensive materialists. 

Here is the first substantive hit.  (Note that 'empiricism' is used in place of 'naturalism'): 

...the Rationalist holds that some or all of what is true knowledge is in-nate to us, it is literally inborn with us; the Empiricist believes the opposite: all of our knowledge arises from our perceptual experiences in the world after we are born. The name of the school of Rationalism obviously derives from the word 'rational' which itself goes back to the Latin, 'ratio' meaning 'calculation'. This in turn goes back to another Latin word, 'ratus', which is the past participle of 'reor', meaning "think', 'deem', 'judge'. What runs through all of these is the emphasis on mind, an emphasis retained in most of the modern associations connected with the word 'rational' as well: rationalise, rationality, and so on.  'Empiricism' derives from another English word, 'empiric', meaning, 'derived from experience' (this itself going back to Latin and Greek words for experience also). So in the plainest language possible, the Rationalist places the origin of our knowledge of reality in the powers of the mind, whereas the Empiricist places it in our powers of perception.

As John Mullarkey points out later in this article, it is also the distinction between deduction and induction.  But in a contemporary cultural sense it is the distinction between the Analytical and Continental schools of philosophy.  So if I'm so big on rationalism, why don't I just move to France?  Well, the French still see rationalism as opposed to both religion and nature.  They are still back in the Age of 'Enlightenment'.  Hegel's stab at a rational theism was stopped dead in the water by many converging historical forces.  Those deconstructive catholic atheists show not the slightest inclination to revive it. 


By the way, I hit on the following article that is apropos of the interface of faith and reason: The Opening of the Evangelical Mind

If there is a threat to academic freedom, it comes from what he calls "dogmatic rationalism." Naturalism, the belief that everything that exists in the world has a natural origin and can be explained by laws of nature, "becomes dangerous when, like the dogmatists of old, it declares its way of knowing to be the only legitimate one and then seeks to disenfranchise other voices."

Notice that even the editors of the Atlantic Monthly are disposed to equate rationalism with naturalism.  The whole religion-science debate may hinge upon the distinction. 

Continuing on with the rationalism & naturalism listing, I find the most complete statement of the anti-naturalist view of the mind: Mind and the World of Nature by Steven Horst.  He is still drafting some of the chapters.  I have not run across any defense of naturalism that is nearly as comprehensive.  The 'neuro-philosophy' tomes we looked a earlier simply do not address many of these basic philosophical issues.  The papers that do address these issues do so in a piecemeal fashion. 

Now here is a revealing article by a secular humanist: Evolutionary Naturalism: the Philosophical Foundations of Humanism.  Pat Hutcheon reads the Darwinian riot act to his fellow humanists: 

Do you assume that human beings cannot know anything beyond nature, nor can they know anything by any means beyond the use of the senses and the application of reason to experience? Do you consider that any sound understanding of reality must begin with a bottom-up, empirical search for cause and effect relationships -- rather than with a priori axioms and a top-down process of deductive rationalism?....

Do you assume that language is merely a tool evolved within our species of primate and that the terms we apply to categories of experience do not carry within them any "essence" of the reality they serve to symbolize? Are you skeptical of holistic approaches to knowing, or to healing, with their grand designs for social change -- or total harmony of being -- that can be neither analyzed nor tested? Do you refuse to devote time and effort to a search for the underlying meaning and purpose of life, and for your own role in some universal cosmic plan?....

All of which was prompted by the following observation: 

Many European humanists -- because of deeply embedded cultural tendencies toward romanticism and Kantian transcendentalism [and Rationalism?] -- have never really adopted the evolutionary world view implied by modern science. For them postmodernism is an all-too-easy out. It allows them to have their cake and eat it too. They can avoid facing up to the implications of evolution for human behavior. They can say that, yes, science is one way of comprehending reality; but there are other, equally legitimate modes of knowing. "Most of us here are not in the least interested in Darwinian evolutionary ideology", I have been told a number of times by humanists in Europe. Indeed, I am beginning to suspect that the "postmodern" point of view, which sees all approaches to knowing -- including the scientific one -- as equally ideological in nature, is rapidly becoming the prevailing philosophy among humanists in many parts of the world.

Yes, those Continentals are a subversive bunch.  And Pat is right about having to draw a line in the sand.  One, well aimed, immaterial stone could bring down the whole glass house that is materialism.  The Continental mysticism is a pragmatic defense against the immanent, logical collapse of scientific materialism.  They don't want to be taken down with that edifice.  They don't want to have to ride shotgun for Science as do their Analytical colleagues over here.  The Continentals hope that only one end of the secular boat will sink. 

This rather obvious point about Freud vs. rationalism had not occurred to me: 

One of the strongest blows to classical rationalism did not come from the crisis of its bulwarks at the turn of the century (applied non-Euclidean geometry, logical conventionalism, etc.), but rather from Freud's attack on the crystalline transparency of self-consciousness. In effect, Chomsky's neo-rationalism in linguistics adopted from the start the ‘opaque’ character of language universals.

No wonder that neo-rationalism is an uphill battle.  This is from a footnote of Alberto Peruzzi in 'From Kant to Entwined Naturalism'.  I'm attempting to discern a possible Continental flavor to naturalism, hopefully it will be spiced up a bit.  I am reminded of Linsky & Zalta's Naturalized Platonism vs. Platonized Naturalism discussed on the previous page.  In the present case, Peruzzi is using the mathematical theory of categories to Kantianize Nature.  Again, this is not grandmother's idea of Nature, but scientists have been mathematizing Nature from the beginning.  Also Peruzzi reminds us that logic and math are normative sciences rather than descriptive.  Is this how we can smuggle intentionality into Nature?   Are the Continentals going to help the naturalists get off the materialist hook by making irreducibility more scientifically palatable?  Let us see.  I suspect, however, that this is another foot in the door for rationalism, and that by giving it these few inches, it will not be difficult for rationalism to take the whole nine yards.  But am I the only one who respects the potency of the rational?  Has Freud reduced the ratio to the libido?  Obviously the cosmic libido respected the rationale of the Monster Group or we would not have Physics.  Creation is about the entwining of the Life force and the Logos to produce the BPW.  A real neat trick! 

But then why am I calling this 'rational theism' and not 'libidinous theism'.  I may have just been taking the libidinous part as a given, as in, 'give us a break!'  On the Trinitarian scheme does the Force reside more with the Son or the Spirit?  It will be on your next quiz.  

Science, in its transactions with Nature, recognizes neither the vital force nor the logos. The logos of mathematical physics is a significant exception.  


While reading Peruzzi, I notice the next essay on the Google list, rationalism & naturalism, is 'THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN CHRISTIAN THEISM, METAPHYSICAL NATURALISM AND RELATIVISM: HOW TO PROCEED IN SCIENCE?' by Jitse van der Meer (1995).  It has been posted on the ASA website.  The American Scientific Affiliation espouses a more academically respectable version of creationism with God working through nature, more or less, but it is more demanding of scientific openness than anything you would find at the AAAS, for instance, although I am sure that many scientists who are also evangelical belong to both out of professional necessity.  Van der Meer is emphasizing the intellectual tension that must exist between naturalism and theism.  This is a tension that I have found to be notably lacking among the more nominally, or non-evangelical theistic scientists, who see science as another job.  They just work there, so to speak.  It is not part of their job description to wax metaphysical, and they'll be damned if anyone tries to make an issue of it, as Jitse does here. 

[Incidentally, the Intelligent Design/Irreducible Complexity advocates do not appear to have a presence in the ASA.  I'm not sure how closely affiliated the IDers are with the reactionary creationists.] 

I then suggest that science needs to expand its methodology beyond the current confines. This expansion consists of accepting non-material causes in scientific explanations, and using broader criteria for theory choice. Instead of explanations that use material causes only, science needs multi-dimensional explanations that admit the causal efficacy of purpose and intent. Not only is the pursuit of several different explanations more adequate for a multi-dimensional reality, but it also provides a way of limiting one-dimensional explanations including those developed in terms of matter alone. This is an hermeneutical approach to explanation in the natural sciences which emphasizes "understanding" and sees explanation in material terms as one form of it.

This is not an unreasonable suggestion, but it will not be taken up without a 'struggle', our without a major shift in public sentiment and understanding.  It will not be taken up until rational theism is more widely appreciated. 

Methodological materialism is important because it acknowledges the materiality of creation.

Well, there just went the whole ballgame.  There's a throwaway line for you.  Can anyone out there tell me why the prophetic traditionalists are knee-jerk dualists?  I keep trying to understand this dogmatic dichotomy of Creator and Creation, but cannot quite fathom it.  Are not human souls part of creation?  Are they not immaterial?  Ergo, Jitse is in a blatant self-contradiction.  His obliviousness to this blinding inconsistency is endemic among theologians.  Will someone please clue me in?  What is going on here? 


I've spent the last couple of days perusing reductionism & mathematics.  I am finding no defenders of reductionism.  Dawkins remains the primary advocate of materialism; however, his 'memes' are decidedly immaterial entities, rendering him anomalous.  After him comes Dennett, but his 'functions' are neither physical nor reducible. 

There are quite a few philosophers who are 'non-reductive materialists', but I am not the only one who sees their position as self-contradictory.  And these latter-day materialists seem motivated primarily by the desire to avoid Cartesian dualism.  Their monistic predilection may put them in the forefront of idealism when its turn comes again.  Their colleagues have too readily surrendered to the blandishments of pluralism.  

Materialists lately refer to themselves as 'physicalists'.  However, if you ask a physicist what physics reduces to, they will likely respond with 'mathematics'.  If you ask a mathematician what mathematics reduces to, my perusal of the above list tells me that you will not get a definite answer.  A century ago, the answer might have been 'logic', but that aspiration has long vanished.  Are there any irreducible mathematical objects to which one may point?  There are many objects that seem quasi-reducible at best.  My favorite remains the Monster Group, which many believe has physical ramifications, along with its more diminutive siblings.  It does contain many of the smaller sporadic groups as subgroups, but as the largest of that class, it is technically irreducible to them.  It is not just the sum of its parts, because its group structure specifies a unique set of relations amongst all its elements.  One might claim that the Monster is reducible to the coding of its existence theorem.  However, the fact that this putative theorem has never been assembled in one place, is not fully understood by any one person, and is estimated that it would fill some 1,500 pages [3/10/03: wrong, it was 15,000 pages compiled by some 50 mathematicians between 1961 and 1980 (additional reference)], renders this form of reduction less than compelling.  Surely, the existence proof of the Monster is already contained cryptically somewhere in the decimal expansion of Pi, along with Shakespeare's sonnets, but specifying its location therein might require many more than 1,500 [15,000] pages.  But the Monster group is not physical, per se. It can exist only as an idea, and not as an isolated idea, but only as part of a seemingly unspecifiable, holistic set of ideas embedded in an intelligence having considerable overlap with human intelligence.  Reductionism seems only able to lead us into irreducible logical circles.  Its would-be defenders have been left in disarray.  

Where does that leave the rest of us?  That leaves us as if suspended on the edge of reality.  Suddenly our world is populated by many new and mysterious objects.  What are we to make of this new landscape? 

Whatever else might be said of this landscape, intelligence is not an epiphenomenal aspect of it.  Can concepts exist without conceivers, or experiences without experiencers?  By definition, intelligence is structured to render the world minimally intelligible.  Given the existence of immaterial, irreducible intelligences, it would seem unnatural to confine higher intelligence to a purely dependent existence.  Especially so if we come to suspect, as many have, that the peculiar abstractions of space and time are dependent constructs of mind.  In that case, our own immersion in space and time is an integral aspect of a cosmic construct to whose intelligibility we are prime witnesses.  


It is revealing to read Steve Weinberg's comments, REDUCTIONISM REDUX, on the reductionism symposium at Jesus College in 1992.  His arrogance is equaled only by the shallowness of his discussion.  I have not read the proceedings, but there does appear to have been a dearth of philosophical reflection in a discussion dominated by scientists throwing barbs at each other, a technique easily mastered by Steve.  Steve's now 'Standard Theory' combining weak, electric and strong forces may well have been the last hurrah of reductionism, or as he calls it 'grand reductionism'.  Steve's 'grand' project was already being 'sneered' at even before the ink on his awards had dried.  What role is left for him but curmudgeonhood?  

There is another reason for some of the opposition to reductionism, and specifically to the perspective provided by grand reductionism. It is that this perspective removes much of the traditional motivation for belief in God.

Now there's a bit of candor.  One almost has to wonder if Steve is concerned about his historical spot in the cosmic pecking order.  By the same token, any significant shortfall in the grand project is evidence for cosmic purpose. Check out his defense of the 'meaningless universe'.  With both Dawkins' and Dennett's reductionism suspect, Weinberg might have to be given the top spot on reductionism's hit parade.  His motivation seems to lack personal conviction; what I see instead is a literal reductio ad absurdum of  his professional role playing.  

Steve's equation of modernism with 'grand reductionism' is correct, and so is its adversity to theism.  The postmodern refusal to grapple with either rationalism or theism is its defining characteristic.  It is a deliberate lacuna that is consigning its practitioners to instant irrelevance.  The cottage industry of theological apologetics for science should be a scandal.  Steve and the fundamentalists have the correct assessment.  Pluralism is a desperate ploy to curtail thought and discussion of anything foundational.  Anti-foundationalism has nowhere to stand.  

Meanwhile the evidence against reductionism is mounting.  It is strongest in the areas of epistemology and linguistics, areas that traditional reductive science abjures.  The subtle arguments of its practitioners are lost beneath the furious controversy concerning human nature.  Piaget's and Chomsky's structuralism was much too easily subsumed under biological genetics.  Their 'genetic epistemology' was never intended to be about DNA, and the public ignorance of their subdued protestations to that effect only underscores the pervasiveness of the modern reductive hegemony.  

The starkly theistic implications of any anti-reductionism, as touted by Steve, pose a great intellectual and political barrier to its academic proponents.  They must toil amidst the unobtrusive details, leaving the obvious speculations to us outsiders.  Even the growing cadre of theistically committed philosophers is slotted into areas of ethics.  It is true, however, that there is a major overlap between ethics and epistemology.  It is in that obscure venue that we might keep an eye out for an anti-reductive theistic initiative.  Epistemology represents the soft underbelly of scientific materialism. 

Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology is certainly a move in a parallel direction, but it does not focus specifically on reductionism.  Alvin is just looking to construct a new branch of epistemology, a safe harbor for theism, rather than provoke a general confrontation.  The neo-theists are following his lead, to the relief of their secularist colleagues.  That the reformed and evolutionary accounts of epistemology can much longer avoid a confrontation is doubtful, however.  


Let us look at "reformed epistemology" & reductionism.  An interesting article, 'The Relationship between Philosophy and Theology in the Postmodern Age' (1999), is on the al-Islam website.  This is an important essay.  It provides a comprehensive introduction to contemporary philosophy of religion; actually, it is the best I have seen on the Internet to-date.  

While philosophy in the U.S. has been dominated by analytic thought throughout, most of the twentieth century, over the last ten or fifteen years, continental thought has come to play a prominent role in American philosophy. What is emerging is a "world philosophy," but one from which the Islamic world is largely excluded. The reason for this exclusion is not because of some conspiracy to suppress Islamic thought, but because we Muslims have not seriously attempted to enter the discussion. If we are to enter the discussion, we must beware that it takes place in what is often hostile territory, in the context of expectations, presuppositions and standards of reasoning many of which are quite foreign to those found in the Islamic sciences. 

What a breath of fresh air from Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen.  

Consider, for example, the role of the principle that an actual infinity of causes is impossible. A number of Western philosophers, physicists and mathematicians have come to doubt this principle. In defense of the principle, an important book has been written in which some of the ideas of Muslim philosophers are given attention: William Lane Craig's The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). This is one of the rare cases in which ideas from the Islamic tradition (particularly those of Abu Humid Ghazali) have been the subject of discussion in the contemporary philosophy of religion.

I'll bet you didn't know that. 

Other defenders of the Christian faith have argued that the doubts raised by Hume (1711-1776) and Kant (1724-1804) about the rationality of religious belief can be answered through an examination of the standards of reasoning employed in the natural sciences today, which are far from what Hume and Kant imagined.

Amen, Brother.  Is it peculiar or not that the best summary of Christian philosophy comes from Islam? 

The theologian provides the philosopher with the doctrinal setting in terms of which reports of mystical experiences are understood, and the philosopher provides a critical analysis of both doctrine and report in order to place mystical experiences within the framework of a broader epistemological theory.

Dr. Muhammad is getting me in trouble.  I may be violating Federal Law with more than 'fair use' of his article. 


Here is another helpful summary: 'An Evangelical Theological Response to Postmodernity'.  (This essay, as noted, was cached by Google from an inactive site.  Unfortunately, no other information is available.)  I agree with the notion of a global ethic: 

Many of the issues which have fostered the development of postmodern thinking are primarily ethical, causing Grenz to comment on the growing concern for a community-based ethic of being.164 

In the postmodern world we are becoming increasingly aware that every ethical proposal - even ethics itself - is embedded in an interpretive framework which in the end comprises the shared belief structure - the theology - of a community. In short, every understanding of the ethical life is ultimately derived from a community-based vision, which links the personal life with something beyond.165 

Grenz believes that the hope for a global ethic, which originally arose out of the modern pluralist ethos, is even more workable in a postmodern communitarian climate.166 

I am most sympathetic with the teleology: 

Through the cultivation of a proleptic [i.e. anticipatory] consciousness of the yet-to-be consummated whole of reality, we can gain an awareness and anticipation ahead of time of the future whole, 111 based on Gods promise and faith in Gods faithfulness. The gospel of Jesus Christ promises a destiny - the new creation, which means reality is future-oriented. Only with the fulfillment of this promise does reality become a whole and the true nature of all the parts, including ourselves, is revealed. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus, we see ahead of time what this nature is.  

He examines the notion of Gods creating as a continuous act,  drawing implications for modern cosmological ideas, and introducing the concept of proleptic creation. God creating from the future, not the past, means that it is the continuing divine work of future-giving that is the source of life and being. For Peters, Gods creative activity within nature and history derives from Gods redemptive work of drawing free and contingent beings into a harmonious whole. 114 



In this last, anonymous essay, mention is made of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928 -).  This is a name that I have not run into in years.  My bad.  He is an advocate of 'systematic theology'.  I am wondering if he may exhibit coherentist and idealist tendencies.  Stanley J. Grenz, an American follower, provides a review

In contrast to the classical tradition, he declares that truth is not found in the unchanging essences lying behind the flow of time, but is essentially historical and ultimately eschatological. Until the eschaton, truth will remain provisional and truth claims contestable. Therefore, theology. like all human knowledge, is provisional. It simply cannot pack into formulas the truth of God. The future alone is the focal point of ultimate truth. As a result. all dogmatic statements are hypotheses to be tested for coherence with other knowledge. This, he claims, is in accordance with the Scriptures, which declare that only at the end of history is the deity of God unquestionably open to all-an event. however, that is anticipated in the present.

OK for coherentism, and we get the eschaton as a bonus.  I am embarrassed not to have remembered Wolfhart much sooner.  This indicates a lacuna in my Internet search strategy. .  



While missing Pannenberg, I also have missed the lasting Hegelian and German idealist influence on modern theology.  In previously picking up on Anglo-American theistic idealism, I was mainly seeing an offshoot of the former.  However, after WWII, French existentialism and scepticism became dominant on the Continent, and theistic idealism toiled in relative obscurity.  

Pannenberg's influence may be expanding in the US, of late, despite a pervasive anti-idealist undercurrent which remains characteristically inchoate.  It seems to be an opposition mainly directed against subjective idealism. 

I need to focus on this trend, and particularly in its eschatological form.  For all I know right now, Pannenberg is the only exponent of this form.  My speculation is that Wolfhart is an amillennialist: all the drama is focused on the eschaton.  In contrast, I am a pre-millennialist: there is a dramatic overturn of materialism that ushers in the Millennium.  If this is true of Wolfhart, I don't know his rationale, but, again, let me speculate.  For Wolfhart, the eschaton lies in the distant and otherwise unforeseeable future, thus the concept of an historical Millennium would be a relatively minor addendum at best.  

Carl Henry is perhaps the premier orthodox Christian theologian.  Here is a review: Carl Henry's Reasoned Apologetic

Henry launches his metaphysical inquiry in these works by asserting the supernatural reality and objectivity of God against a tradition of dialectical and existentialist [and idealist] theology whose roots are traced to Kant and Kierkegaard, current manifestations he believes are the subjectivizing tendencies of Barth, Brunner, and Aulèn, as well as Tillich and Bultmann. Thus the author returns to the emphasis in earlier volumes on Scripture's univocal propositional knowledge as juxtaposed to the non-cognitive [sic] personal encounters attributed to neo-orthodox theology, or to the ambiguities of the analogical language as defended in the tradition that runs from Aquinas to Mascall. The future-oriented theologies of Moltmann and Pannenberg also come under criticism for casting doubt on the present reality of deity and the lack of adherence to scriptural testimony about the incarnation. 


These doctrinal errors are all finally traced to a reliance on philosophical conceptuality rather than biblical revelation.

The last sentence sums up the perennial objection to reason.  One might wonder if human rationality were the work of Satan.  Carl is our articulate, literate bibliolater.  He can't see Jesus for all the Christianity.  Rationalism and coherentism struggle to obtain a foothold in the no man's land between science and religion. 

I would argue that Henry's incoherent, legalistic literalism is the same one that informs scientism as well as analytic philosophy.  [and see below



How 'bout that eschaton!  Let's listen to Bob Russell, Founder and Director, The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, 1981-present, speaking from his important meta-library

According to Wolfhart Pannenberg, all Christian theology depends on the future coming of God.  Eschatology thus involves “one of the most obvious conflicts between a worldview based on modern science and the Christian faith.”  John Macquarrie, too, wrote that “...if it were shown that the universe is indeed headed for an all-enveloping death, then this might seem to constitute a state of affairs so negative that it might be held to falsify Christian faith and abolish Christian hope.”  Are these conclusions avoidable?

Good question, Bob. 

The only alternative is truly radical: to pursue the possibility that a commitment to eschatology will lead to an alternative scientific [sic] cosmology. 

Tipler and Pannenberg have engaged in an interesting and constructive interaction to which Drees, myself and others have replied.  Meanwhile, Tipler’s scientific claims have been attacked aggressively by other scientists while both Dyson’s and Tipler’s theological proposals and their reductionist assumptions have been widely criticized by scholars including Polkinghorne, Barbour, Peacocke, Clayton and Worthing.  

If this alternative is not to be taken, what options are left?  [Immaterialism, anyone?]  Polkinghorne is representative of most theological views when reminding us that “an ultimate hope will have to rest in an ultimate reality, that is to say, in the eternal God himself, and not in his creation.”  Such hope is not in the survival of death of a purported soul, since we are a psychosomatic unity. Instead it is in our resurrection: God remembering us and recreating us in a radically new environment. God will create the world to come through a transformation of the universe.

Maybe, Bob, just maybe, we get to participate in this recreational transformation of our already immaterial universe.  A radical recreation implies a radically sub-optimal creation.  It wasn't a Big Bang, it was a Big Boner!  I don't think so, Bob. 

Worthing has proposed that we take up Pannenberg’s distinction between theological and scientific apocalyptic visions. Rather than equate the parousia with the remote future end of the universe, Worthing suggests we understand it as a renewal or transformation of the universe as a whole. The Biblical ‘end’ is not a cosmic end, since it “allows for a bodily resurrection and creation of a new heaven and new earth.  ”This, in turn, shifts the discussion from the end of the world to the concept of eternity as the real issue in relating science and theology. We are led to consider “the future of the universe...(as) taken up into the eternality of the Creator --- an eternality of a decisively different order from that which the physical universe could potentially possess...”.

Exactly what does this mean, Bob?  Why do you insist on this incoherent dualism? 

Ted Peters writes from just such a perspective, developing the Trinitarian theology of the 20th century with particular attention to the implications of Big Bang and quantum cosmology. What we need is “temporal holism” in which the cosmos as a unity of time and space is both created proleptically from the future and redeemed eschatologically by God’s future initiative which we know proleptically in Jesus Christ.  Prolepsis ties together futurum, the ordinary sense of future resulting from present causes, and adventus, the appearance of something absolutely new, namely the kingdom of God, the renewal of creation.  The creation, from alpha to omega, will be consummated and transformed into the eschatological future which lies beyond, but which will include, this creation as a whole. “The eschatological future is the key that opens the gate to eternity.” Peters, too, is ruthlessly honest about the challenge from science. “Should the final future as forecasted by (scientific cosmology) come to pass...then we would have proof that our faith has been in vain. It would turn out to be that there is no God, at least not the God in whom follows of Jesus have put their faith.”


I believe the approaches suggested by Pannenberg, Polkinghorne, and Peters are particularly promising, but I also want to underscore the challenge of making them intelligible in detail in light of scientific cosmology as it currently stands. If we are to engage in a genuinely mutual interaction, a more complex methodology is called for. I will make preliminary suggestions about such a methodology in Part III: F. 

Don't hold your breath, folks: Part III: F, seems no longer to exist.  Should we be grateful to be spared the 'more complex methodology'?  Only by God's grace do some of us refrain from 'methodology'!  I did meet Bob once: a theological apparatchik.  But what else could he be if he chooses not to rise to the messianic occasion?  All the more for the rest of us.  Thanks, Bob.  

There you have the bleeding edge of academic eschatology.  


Now we need to check out that German idealistic theism, tracing its genealogy to the present. 

Starting with idealistic theism, the first entry is On the Rationality of Theism, right up our alley.  It starts out as a critique of Ayn Rand.  Scott Ryan surmises that her incoherence stems from her emotion laden atheism.  He then matriculates to his own cosmology. 

I hope it is clear that classical theism is "idealistic" in this sense, i.e., it maintains that reality consists fundamentally of a single absolute mind and, less fundamentally, of the objects created by that mind's activity.

This is not rocket science.  How then are so many theologians still hung up on Cartesian dualism, three centuries after the fact?  What a waste of mind.  

Unfortunately, Scott does not manage to put Ms. Rand behind him for long.  I have yet to comprehend either the positive or negative fascination with this person.  Shades of Blavatsky?  Charlatan? 

But hear his concise defense of idealism: 

Now, beyond the claim (made earlier) that there simply are no fully "external" relations, I can suggest at least two further powerful reasons for thinking that the relation between thought and object is not external in the other direction either. One is that the object of thought must be such as to be "thinkable." Thus, if (as we have suggested) everything which exists can, in principle, be present to and instantiated in thought, then to say that something is "real" is to make essential (though not necessarily explicit) reference to thought.

The other is that even on the most strongly "materialist" or "physicalist" view (I emphasize with Grayling that these are not the same), it still seems to be the case that the "material" or "physical" universe gives rise, in a causal manner, to the existence of mind. If the cause-and-effect relation is also a logical relation, so that causes logically entail their effects and (arguably) vice versa, then the material or physical universe does logically entail the existence of thoughts "about" it.

So it appears that we cannot strictly conceive of any "external" reality that is so completely independent of thought as to be related to it externally even in one direction. Thought is not "external" to its object if (a) that object is such as to be "thinkable" and therefore composed of the sort of stuff that can be instantiated in our thoughts, or if (b) the cause-and-effect relation between "matter" and "mind" involves logical entailment, so that "mind" was a causal potentiality always logically, and thus eternally, present within "matter." Either of these points suffices to establish that "external" reality is not logically independent of mind in any meaningful sense.

I appreciate Scott's fresh restatement of classical arguments.  



From theistic idealism, I find an excellent source (Britannica? What else?) on its modern provenance.  

And here is a lengthy, vitriolic rebuttal to Scott Ryan by Greg S. Nyquist.  Greg does capture much of the current popular sentiment against idealism.  I'm not aware that Scott has responded.  Greg frequently alludes to the 'absurdity' of idealism.  I gather that he is generally and implicitly referring to what Ralph Barton Perry called the 'ego-centric predicament', but I don't think this alleged 'predicament' has had a lasting impact.  Rand had her own kind of ego-centric predicament.  What is shared in Johnson's, Nietzsche's, Rand's and popular critiques is a rather crude, unthinking, anti-idealist machismo.  

This visceral reaction likely shares something with the orthodox reaction represented by Carl Henry.  One illuminates the other.  Henry is in partial denial of his own idealist influences:  

The most influential figures on Henry’s thought are Gordon Haddon Clark and Edgar Sheffield Brightman. Ronald Nash summarized Clark’s thought as following: (1) the epistemological bankruptcy of any form of philosophical or religious empiricism; (2) the indispensability of Divine revelation to human knowledge as a whole; (3) the shortcomings of any attempt to remove the cognitive and propositional element from the content of God’s revelation; (4) the importance of refusing to separate faith from reason whether this separation be a humanistic attack on faith, an existentialist critique of reason, or a Thomistic segregation of the two into different realms of human knowledge;....

Also Edgar S. Brightman who was Henry’s professor in the studying period at Boston University is one of significant figures of Boston Personalist tradition. Brightman’s personal and theistic idealism influenced to Henry. He argues that whatever exists must be an element in the experience of a conscious mind. Hence, everything will exist as an element either in some finite mine or in God’s mind. Also for him, personality is the highest kind of conscious life.

We need to follow-up on Carl's conflicted thought.  

Something to note about the orthodox is their taboo on God.  God may reach out and touch us, but we are not meant to return the favor, on pain of being struck by a divine thunderbolt.  This is true.  Once we act upon the divine mutuality implied by rationalism and idealism, we are setting in motion the eschaton and whatever apocalypses may attend upon it.  The popular anti-idealist machismo thinly disguises a deep, collective fear of our Maker.  Only such a reversal could explain its visceral vehemence.  This same fear motivates the attraction of materialism and Cartesianism.  Don't touch God!! 

All such tribal taboos are meant to reinforce perceived cosmic dichotomies.  Any violation is dire.  


One might, however, be instructed by Mr. Nyquist's interest in Santayana, 'last century's greatest philosopher.'

Santayana may be the original naturalist.  From the Britannica: 

Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) conveys better than any other volume the essential import of his philosophy. It formulates his theory of immediately apprehended essences and describes the role played by "animal faith" in various forms of knowledge.

"The realm of essence," in Santayana's system, is that of the mind's certain and indubitable knowledge. Essences are universals that have being or reality but do not exist. They include colours, tastes, and odours as well as the ideal objects of thought and imagination. "The realm of matter" is the world of natural objects; belief in it rests--as does all belief concerning existence--on animal faith. Naturalism, the dominant theme of his entire philosophy, appears in his insistence that matter is prior to the other realms.

This quibble about essences is at the bottom of the incoherence of all attempts at a non-reductive materialism: mind is epiphenomenal relative to matter, and essences are epiphenomenal relative to mind, so they don't exist, but they're real.  The notion of real non-existence smacks of purest sophistry.  If one could penetrate the rationale for this sophistry, one might be further instructed.  I'm of the impression, though, that Santayana has little residual clout among professional philosophers. 

Then there was Bertrand: Russell's The Problems of Philosophy

Russell was a realist on two key issues, universals and material objects. In both cases he was opposed to much of nineteenth century idealism.

Bertrand was a 'neutral monist'.  That would be a more accurate appellation for 'naturalism'. 

Once again we are back to the question of reductionism.  I am not aware that there has been a global or thorough-going reductionist.  Who will be the last materialist?  I cannot name a contemporary philosophical materialist.  Such a person would have a technically argued global thesis of physical reductionism.  I don't know that there has been an extreme and reasoned materialism presented in modern history.  Holbach's Systeme de la Nature (1770) may have been the first and last such thesis.  

We then have to explain the existence of knowable irreducible entities, even if there were only one.  Partial reductionisms abound: there is no consensus as to the primary candidates for irreducibility, yet no one is claiming there are no such entities.   

At the very least, there must be material atoms, along with some form of informational or perceptual atoms, whether the latter might comprise numbers, logical atoms or sense data of some kind.  A perceptual atom might exist only in individual experience.  Even if consciousness were an illusion, there would still be the fact of information transfer, and so there would have to be informational atoms or bits.  The bits may be physically instantiated, but they must also be abstractable by the communicating agents.  Bit patterns have a computational or functional significance that supervenes on the physical pattern.  By definition, there can be miscommunication, but miscommunication has no purely physical analog.  There are no mistakes in physics.  Physics always just keeps on happening, regardless of anyone's protocol.  Informational 'noise' is not a physical construct.  I am not aware that anyone has ever claimed that information does not exist.  Even if one eliminated mind and consciousness, materialism would be strictly incoherent if there existed no information about matter.  

Informational bits, although physically instantiated are not physically reducible.  Indeed, instantiation is not a physical construct.  It is nowhere represented in the extensive terminology of physical science. 

With the advent of quantum physics, many physicists are espousing various forms of metaphysical 'informationalism', and there are, of course, informational/physical dualists, but none who deny information, per se, to my knowledge.  

Where do genetic DNA sequences fit into this picture?  Are they physical or informational?  I would have to say they are an indeterminate hybrid, or proto-informational.  I'm sorry not to be more informative.  Be informed, however, that the idealist's notion of genetics strays very far from that of the materialist.  Be grateful that I have been sparing you all the 'scare quotes' on 'atoms', 'DNA', etc.  Your computer may run on bits, but mine runs on 'bits'.  If 'you' do not believe 'me', just wait until 'we' are all 'using' 'quantum' "bits"! 

Could not one be a strict nominalist about information?  Names carry information.  There is no way to duck that bullet.  But if anyone does know how to duck it, please communicate that information to us. 

If these last few paragraphs do not constitute the reductio of reductionism, nothing will.  We cannot shed any more tears over its demise.  Our next stop is the Eschaton.  There is no other end for non-reductionism.  If I can't prove that, the messiah will.  


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