Philosophical naturalism

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Philosophical naturalism is the doctrine that the natural world is all there is. It is also called metaphysical naturalism and ontological naturalism. It is a logical result (but not a necessary result [1][2]) of methodological naturalism, the doctrine which assumes a priori[3] ("from the first" or "from the beginning") that there is no way to contact, detect, or otherwise empirically observe the supernatural. While most philosophers of science adhere strictly to this view and positively deny that any supernatural or miraculous effects or forces are possible, a small minority of them also believe that the reality of existence includes invisible, supernatural and immaterial reality or realities and that there are other ways of knowing the supernatural besides empirical observation.

Philosophical naturalists go one step beyond methodological naturalism and reject the existence of the supernatural altogether, citing "an utter lack of empirical evidence". They maintain that only natural forces can affect things natural and make changes in nature, and only according to the laws of nature, "the laws of nature" being both those laws discovered by science to be operating in nature and those laws not yet discovered but which will be discovered in the future. Philosophical naturalism is therefore a philosophy of acquiring knowledge. Because of their insistence that there is an utter lack of scientific (empirical) evidence to support religion, most philosophical naturalists are also atheists.



It is helpful to have a clearer definition of general terms as they more particularly relate to the expression philosophical naturalism.[2]

Primary terms

monism: Philosophy The doctrine that there is only one principle of being or ultimate substance, as mind or matter; the primary theory that reality is a unified whole: opposed to pluralism.
[< NL (from New Latin) monismus < Gk. (from Greek) monos single.]

Philosophical naturalism is fundamentally a form of monism, accepting only one order of being as one reality, the natural: an uncreated monodynamic reality, self-generated and self-sustained.

dualism: The state of being twofold; duality; Philosophy The theory that the universe is composed of two principles, as mind and matter, or spiritual and physical; Psychology The theory that man's mind and body are two different entities, but intimately correlated and interacting; Theology The doctrine that there are two eternal and opposing principles or beings, one good and the other evil; a form of polytheism called ditheism or duotheism (compare Manichaeism).
[< dual < L dualis < duo two; ditheism < Gk. di- < dis twice + theism < Gk. theos god]

Christianity is a moderate form of dualism, accepting two orders of being as one reality, both the natural and the supernatural: a pluralistic reality including the created and the uncreated, generated and sustained by one God (monotheism).

nature: the fundamental qualities or characteristics that together define the identity of something; essential character; sometimes capitalized as Nature, the overall pattern or system of natural objects, existences, forces, events, etc.; also the principle or power that appears to guide it; the entire material universe and its phenomena.
[< OF (from Old French) < L (from Latin) natura < natus, pp. (past participle) of nasci to be born]

Philosophical naturalists understand the word "Nature" to mean "Existence".
Christians understand the word "Nature" to mean "the physical spacetime Universe" created by God, the Lord of all existence, the fundamental ground of being.

natural: produced by or existing in nature, not artificial; of, pertaining to, or involving nature or the study of nature.
[< F (from French) naturel < L naturalis < natura, nature, character]

Philosophical naturalists understand the word "natural" as meaning "that which exists", and whatever is natural as "part of existence".
Christians understand the word "natural" as meaning "that which is part of the created physical universe", and whatever is natural as "that which is not spiritual or supernatural."

supernatural: Existing or occurring through some agency [4] beyond the known forces of nature; lying outside the natural order; above nature; distinguished from preternatural [5]; believed to be miraculous or caused by the immediate exercise of divine power; pertaining to the miraculous.
[< Med.L (from Medieval Latin) < L super- above + natura nature]

Philosophical naturalists understand the meaning of "supernatural" as "not natural", as "not existing", "not part of Existence".
Christians understand the meaning of "supernatural" as "superior to created physical nature", "above physical nature", and as "not subject to the natural laws of the physical spaciotemporal Universe" created by God; the laws of Existence understood as including the natural laws of the (inferior, subject) order of physical existence as subsumed by (included within) the supernatural laws of the (superior, governing) order of spiritual existence[6]; God being understood as the One Origin of all Existence, self-caused, self-contained, self-consistent, whose Word is the one truth and law of Existence, and who "cannot contradict himself".[7]

cause: The agent or force producing an effect; a person, occasion, condition, etc. giving rise to a result or action; contrasted to effect.
[< MF (Middle French) causatif < L causativus < causa cause]

power: Ability to act; capability; potential capacity; strength of force put forth; the right, ability, or capacity to exercise control, effect change; any agent that exercises power, as in control or dominion; any form of energy available for doing work.
[< OF poeir < LL potere < L posse to be able]

force: Power or energy; strength; power exerted on any resisting person or thing to compel change or action; also, the use of such power; coercion; the quality of anything that tends to produce an effect on the mind or will; capacity to convince or move; anything that changes or tends to change the state of rest or motion in a body.
[< F < L fortis brave, strong]

patient: Anything passively affected by external actions or impressions; that which is acted upon by that which acts; contrasted to agent.
[< OF pacient < L patiens, -entis, ppr. of pati to suffer, (to submit)]

operation: The act or process of operating; the exercise or application of force; action.
[< OF, deed < L operatio, -onis work < operari to work]

influence: The power of persons or things to produce effects on others, especially by imperceptible or indirect means; power or indirect sway resulting from social position, wealth, authority, etc.; an influence, one who or that which possesses the power to affect others, especially indirectly.
[< OF < LL (Late Latin) influentia < L influens, -entis, ppr. (present participle) of influere < in- in + fluere to flow]

effect: Something brought about by some cause or agency; result; consequence; contrasted to cause; ability to effect, to bring about, accomplish, should be carefully distinguished from affect, to act upon, influence; effective, having capacity to produce some (observable) result by active force or operation.
[< L effectus, pp. of efficere to bring about < ex- out + facere to do, make]

philosophy: The inquiry into the most comprehensive principle of reality in general, or of some limited sector of it such as human knowledge or human values; the love of wisdom, and the search for it; a philosophical system; also a treatise on such a system.
[< OF filosofie, philosophie < L philosophia < Gk. < philosophos < philos loving < phileein to love + sophia wisdom < sophos wise]

truth: The state or character of being true in relation to being, knowledge, or speech; conformity to fact or reality; conformity to rule, standard, model, pattern, or ideal; conformity to the requirements of one's being or nature; that which is true, a statement or belief that corresponds to the reality; a fact as the object of correct belief; reality; veracity; that which is right, according to divine law; fact.
[< OE (Old English) treoth < treowe true]

substance: The essential nature that underlies observable phenomena; that reality in which qualities or attributes inhere, [8] such as size, shape, color, weight, hardness, softness, visibility, invisibility, strength, (the "accidents") which a thing has, its sensible manifestation, but which are not in essence or reality the thing itself, its "form" as distinguished from the matter that embodies it. See Realists and Transubstantiation.
[< OF <L substantia < substare to be present < sub- under + stare to stand]


In philosophy, naturalism is the "idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world." [9] "Naturalism can intuitively [10] be separated into an ontological and a methodological component." [11]

"Ontological naturalism"

Ontological refers to the philosophical study of the nature of reality (Ontology). The ontological component is concerned with the contents of reality, asserting that reality has no place for ‘supernatural’ or other ‘spooky’ kinds of entity. By contrast, the methodological component is concerned with the ways of investigating reality, and claims some kind of general authority for the scientific method. Some philosophers equate naturalism with materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no "purpose" in nature. [12] Such an absolute belief in naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism. [13]

"Metaphysical naturalism"

Metaphysical naturalism, also called ontological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, is a philosophical worldview and belief system that holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences, meaning those required to understand our physical environment by mathematical modeling. Metaphysical naturalism holds that all properties related to consciousness and the mind are reducible to, or supervene upon, [14] nature. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious naturalism or spiritual naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

The driving motivation for ontological naturalism is the need to explain how different kinds of things can make a causal difference to the spatiotemporal world, the universe of spacetime. Thus many contemporary thinkers adopt a naturalist view of the mental realm because they are fully persuaded that we will be unable otherwise to explain how mental processes can causally influence non-mental processes, how the nonphysical can affect the physical, how the mental and spiritual supernatural realm can affect the material natural world (or if it can actually have any effect on it in any way). Similar considerations motivate naturalist views of the biological realm, the social realm, and so on. The modern history of psychology, biology, social science and even physics itself can usefully be understood as a history of these disciplines having been made to be primarily dependent on the acceptance or rejection of naturalist ontological principles and methodological precepts. Many professional, academic and scientific careers, and reputations, have been made and destroyed solely on the basis of an acceptance or rejection of these principles and precepts, as a kind of litmus test of intellectual integrity and professional competence imposed by the philosophical and scientific communities (see ostracize).

Two categories of Philosophical Naturalism

There are different varieties of Metaphysical Naturalism, but they are usually separated into two general categories:

Physicalism (or Materialism)

The belief that everything which exists is no more extensive [15] than its physical properties, and that the only existing substance is physical. Thus, everything that has ever been observed is in actual fact the product of fundamentally mindless arrangements or interactions of matter-energy in space-time, and it is unreasonable to believe anything else exists. See Dualism.


The belief that reality consists of many different substances (including abstract objects and universals) in addition to those fundamentally mindless arrangements or interactions of matter-energy in space-time.

Naturalism is inconsistent with any kind of Theism and is compatible with Atheism. The direct opposite of Naturalism is Supernaturalism, which accepts the existence of such things as supernatural beings, magical objects, Platonic forms or the existence (for example) of love, or of evil, as a cosmic force. (See Demiurge [16] and Satan.)

"Methodological naturalism"

In science, the assuming of naturalism as a valid approach in working methods, without necessarily considering naturalism as an absolute truth with philosophical entailments, is called methodological naturalism.[17] Thus, in contrast to metaphysical naturalism, methodological naturalism refers exclusively to the methodology of science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation. Compare Agnosticism.

Philosophical prejudice

A modern prejudice drawn from philosophical naturalism holds that "if it's not scientific, it's not a fact, and has no reality; and if it's not a part of nature, it doesn't exist". This belief is held by many ordinary persons who with simple unquestioning faith believe in the reliability of the scientific method as the sole means of establishing truth. They dismiss all supernatural interventions in human history, and the possibility of divine revelation and miracles, by categorizing these phenomena as having only a psychological genesis (wishful thinking). And from this assumption all reports of them, as being phenomena directly caused by supernatural agency,[4] are represented as being ipso facto [18] (by that very fact alone) solely a record of the product of ignorance and primitive thinking, misinterpretations of natural phenomena, superstition and delusion, "which any rational person of intelligence can safely dismiss as entirely unreliable nonsense, since all the available empirical evidence acceptable to legitimate and impartial researchers proves scientifically beyond any reasonable doubt that the supernatural cannot possibly exist."

See Logical fallacy, Circular reasoning, Tautology, No true Scotsman, "Your theory does not work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong", Intellectual dishonesty, Invincible ignorance, the Fallacy of invincible ignorance and Bigotry.

Responses to philosophical naturalism

Critics of philosophical naturalism are able to respond by analogy that there are forces and objects in nature not perceptible to human senses and not observable by ordinary instrumentality which do in fact exist. For example, sound frequencies, lightwaves and radiation not perceptible to human senses but which require highly specialized equipment to detect, which only specially trained and highly qualified individuals can interpret correctly; fundamental subatomic particles for which there is no certain proof but only "suggestive indications"; mathematical relationships and theorems incomprehensible to the average person which may or may not yet (but still might) be proven; concepts of love, loyalty, patriotism, truth, scientific elegance, known, discussed and (not fully) understood but fundamentally non-quantifiable. The power of an invisible magnetic field, which is not matter, to move some physical material objects, which are matter, cannot be explained by the doctrine that only material objects exist and that only a material object can impact or move another material object. Some general studies in Physics such as mechanics and thermodynamics do not advert to the theories and methodology of Quantum mechanics because it has no direct bearing on those researches, but the whole realm of scientific study is incomplete without it. Philosophical naturalism is an inadequate, even inappropriate, approach to the study of the whole of reality, as a thermometer is an inappropriate instrument for measuring the strength of the sun's gravitational force in the solar system or the density of planetary mass. Some aspects of human behavior and human psychology are still acknowledged by scientists to be "not (yet) predictable", and suggestive of free will, but which for now are assessed according to the theories of "behaviorism", and these are known from their evident effects to be part of existence and therefore within nature (natural). From this may be offered extrapolated support for the reasonable possibility of invisible beings and intelligences who act with free will, and are powerfully able to interact with and intervene in nature and in human affairs: spirits, angels, demons, God.

If "Nature" is defined as existence and reality and whatever exists is real and natural, whether it is uncreated or created, then logically God as the natural (existent) uncreated cause and sustainer of all natural creation is the meta-natural or preternatural[5] ground of existence, and it is from this that the existence of God is natural and God is a natural Being who cannot be classified as a super-natural being who exists outside of existence and reality, which therefore would be an absolute contradiction. And it is in the sense that nature is existence and existence is natural, and in the sense that the laws of physics solely limited to a spaciotemporal universe do not exhaust all the possible laws of existence, of nature, that the naturalists are correct in rejecting the supernatural as a possibility existing outside of nature (existence). According to theism, the natural (physical) has been generated by the supernatural (spiritual) and thus there is no illogic or inherent impossibility or contradiction in the assertion that the spiritual realm of existence (nature) can supervene in the physical realm of existence (nature). Both theists and philosophical naturalists hold that there is only one unified reality of existence. But philosophical naturalism dogmatically excludes a priori a major aspect of reality as a nonexistent unreality (the Fallacy of exclusion), and sees the whole of creation (the universe) as the whole of existence. See Essay: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?.

There are also documented cases of former nonbelievers and well-known militant atheists such as Will Durant, [19] Antony Flew and Mortimer Adler who testify to the compelling reasonableness of the evidence for the existence of God, and others who have publicly presented written testimony to their unexpected experiences of first-hand, personal encounters with the presence of God and in consequence have renounced their prior unbelief, which can be lawfully substantiated as being admissible reports of what in jurisprudence are called "anecdotal evidence" of "reliable witnesses", reports (depositions) which would be entirely acceptable or admissible as lawful testimony in a Court of Law (see Swinburne's argument from religious experience). And there are those rigorously attested and documented occurrances of miracles of healing and physical intervention not explainable by recourse to the normal physical laws of science and medicine, even by nonbelievers, for example those at Lourdes in France, and those supporting the canonization of saints in the Catholic Church.

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
Arthur Conan Doyle[20]

All of these arguments in favor of the supernatural against the doctrine of philosophical naturalism are dismissed by philosophical naturalists as having no validity because of their insistence a priori that the natural world is all there is and that the supernatural cannot exist but is a product of the human imagination. However, instantly rejecting a (supernaturalist) theory merely because it infers [21] from the available evidence things that a conflicting (naturalist) theory would not infer is not logical and is not good science, because the rejection is based on a prejudice which precludes objective and dispassionate examination of all the evidence with resultant neutral interpretation of facts (objectivity).

Origins and history

The origins of philosophical naturalism found in methodological naturalism

"Naturalism" is a term that is applied to many doctrines and positions in philosophy, and in fact, just how it is to be defined is itself a matter of philosophical debate. Naturalism is in general an approach to philosophical problems that interprets them as more easily articulated through the methods of the empirical sciences or at least, without a project of theorizing that is distinctively a priori by involving an unproved assumption from which to begin. For much of the history of philosophy thinkers and researchers have widely held that philosophy involved a distinctive method, and could achieve knowledge distinct from that attained by the special sciences. Thus, metaphysics and epistemology have often jointly occupied a position of "first philosophy," by attempting to lay the necessary foundation or basis for the rational understanding of reality and the justification of claims of knowledge. Naturalism rejects philosophy's claim to that special status.

Naturalism seeks to show that philosophical problems, as traditionally conceived, whether in epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or other areas, are badly-formulated and can be resolved or entirely displaced by appropriately naturalistic methods. Naturalists frequently assign a key role to the methods and results of the empirical sciences, and sometimes aspire to reductionism and physicalism. However, there are many versions of naturalism, and some are explicitly non-scientistic. What all versions of naturalism have in common is a repudiation by naturalists of the view of philosophy as exclusively involving any kind of a priori theorizing concerned solely with a distinctively philosophical set of questions divorced from the natural world.

History of Naturalistic philosophy

Naturalistic thinking has a long history. In more recent decades it has been especially prominent, and its influence is felt all across philosophy. Different periods in the history of philosophy exhibit different emphases in what are the most prominent and pressing concerns, and there are reasons why different issues are at the forefront at different times.


In antiquity, basic questions about the constitution of reality motivated various conceptions about the material substance of things, about whether that substance is material, and about the relation between matter and whatever else might constitute reality. Views ranged from variants of (recognizably naturalistic) materialism to those that included decidedly non-materialist and non-naturalist elements, such as Platonism and Aristotelianism. [22]

In the works of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers the ideas and assumptions of philosophical naturalism were first seen. The earliest Pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Thales, Anaxagoras and especially Democritus, were labelled "natural philosophers" because they sought to explain everything by reference to natural causes alone, often explicitly excluding any role for gods, spirits or magic in the creation or operation of the world.

These early philosophers subscribed to principles of empirical investigation that strikingly anticipate naturalism. Thales is considered to be the father of science, because he was the first to offer explanations of natural events without attributing them to supernatural causes. [23]

This eventually led to fully-developed systems such as Epicureanism, which sought to explain everything that exists as the product of atoms moving in a void (Atomism), or the advanced Aristotelianism of Strato of Lampsacus (c. 335 - 269 B.C.), who sought to explain everything that exists as the inevitable outcome of uncreated natural forces or tendencies.


In classical Indian philosophies, naturalism was the foundation of two of six orthodox schools of Hinduism, (Vaisheshika, Nyaya), and of one heterodox school (Carvaka). [24] [25] The Vaisheshika school is traced back to 2nd century B.C. [26] [27]


Metaphysical Naturalism is most notably a Western phenomenon, although one tradition within Confucian philosophy (dating back at least to Wang Chong in the 1st Century, if not earlier) embraced a view that could be called Naturalism.


With the rise and dominance of Christianity and the decline of secular philosophy in the West during the Middle Ages, Metaphysical Naturalism became heretical and eventually illegal.

During the 12th century Renaissance in Europe, the modern emphasis that we find in methodological naturalism had its origin primarily in the ideas of medieval scholastic thinkers:

By the late Middle Ages the work of Christian natural philosophers had come to typify the search for natural causes. Although these left the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for contemporaries who invoked the miraculous rather than searching for natural explanations, whom they regarded as soft-minded. Jean Buridan (ca. 1295-ca. 1358), a University of Paris cleric described as "perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages," contrasted the philosopher's search for "appropriate natural causes" with the common folk's habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural, such as eclipses of the sun and moon, comets, and meteor showers. The fourteenth century natural philosopher Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320–82), who went on to become a Roman Catholic bishop, admonished that, in discussing various marvels of nature, "there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we believe are well known to us."

Throughout the medieval period, debates over the status of universals and the nature of the intellect, the will, and the soul were especially central. In large part, this had to do with their significance for issues in natural theology. And prominent among the debates were questions concerning the relation between soul and body and whether and how the soul survives the death of the body. This was because of their significance for the individuation of persons, the possibility and nature of immortality, and for the nature of divine providence (see Anselm of Canterbury, St. Thomas Aquinas). These families of issues were prominent in all three of the great Western religious traditions, Jewish, Christian, Moslem. They are though, enduring philosophical questions. Many of them have roots in the Classical tradition of pagan antiquity in Persia, Greece and Rome, but not all of them.

In the early modern period (c. 1450 through 1790 [28]) debates about the respective roles of reason and the senses in knowledge were especially prominent. They had long been important, but there was a revived interest in skepticism and the possibility of knowledge. Also, debates concerning determinism and free will attained high visibility. In both cases, the explanation had to do, in part, with the impact of dramatic developments in scientific theorizing. Those developments led to large-scale revisions in the conceptions of many things, including human nature and human action.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries enthusiasm for the naturalistic study of nature picked up as more and more Christians turned their attention to discovering what they came to regard as the "secondary causes" that God employed in operating the world. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), an Italian Catholic, one of the foremost promoters of the new philosophy, insisted that nature "never violates the terms of the laws imposed upon her." [29]

A number of philosophers during the Enlightenment, including Francis Bacon and Voltaire, outlined philosophical justifications for removing "appeal to supernatural forces" from investigation of the natural world. When Pierre Simon de Laplace was asked about the lack of any mention of God in his work on celestial mechanics, he is said to have replied, "I had no need of that hypothesis." [30]

It was only when the political advances of the Age of Enlightenment made genuine free speech possible again that a few intellectuals (like Baron d'Holbach in the 18th Century) publicly renewed the case for Metaphysical Naturalism, under the label of Materialism. Later, with scientific advances in quantum physics, this developed into the more far-reaching doctrine of Physicalism which excludes Supernaturalism. Subsequent scientific revolutions would offer for biology, geology, physics, and other natural sciences, modes of explanation that were not inherently theistic.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, an advocacy group opposing creationism in (government-funded) public schools, [31] claims the progressive adoption of methodological naturalism—and later of metaphysical naturalism—followed the advances of science and the increase of its explanatory power. [32] These developments also caused the diffusion of philosophical positions such as existentialism which were associated with metaphysical naturalism. [33]

In the twentieth century a focus on questions of meaning and semantic issues played a role in many different philosophical movements (from logical positivism to ordinary language philosophy). It was widely thought that linguistic approaches might untie some age-old philosophical knots. Willard Van Orman Quine, George Santayana, and other philosophers in the 20th century argued that the success of naturalism in science meant that scientific methods should also be used in philosophy. According to this view, Science and Philosophy are said to form a continuum.

United States of America

The term naturalism in current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. It has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. The self-proclaimed 'naturalists' from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. For them, nature is the only reality. There is no such thing as 'supernatural'. The scientific method is to be used to investigate all reality, including the human spirit:

"So understood, 'naturalism' is not a particularly informative term... The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily... reject 'supernatural' entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the 'human spirit'." [34]

These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged the opinion that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing ‘supernatural’, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the ‘human spirit’ (Krikorian 1944, Kim 2003). See Hypothesis.

As applied to contemporary philosophers ‘naturalism’, so understood, is not a particularly informative term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of what constitutes a philosophy of ‘naturalism’. This disagreement about usage is no accident. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in an nonrigorous way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines set forth more rigorous criteria to define what they regard as legitimate ‘naturalism’. However it is regarded, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers today would characterize themselves as ‘non-naturalists’.

The meaning of the term "methodological naturalism" as it is currently used today is recent, and something of an innovation, [35] unheard of in ancient or medieval schools of thought. The term "methodological naturalism" had been used in 1937 by Edgar S. Brightman in an article in The Philosophical Review as a contrast to "naturalism" in general, but there the idea was not really developed to its more recent distinctions. [36] According to Ronald Numbers, it was coined in 1983 by Paul de Vries, a Wheaton College philosopher. De Vries distinguished between what he called "methodological naturalism," a disciplinary method that says nothing about God's existence, and "metaphysical naturalism," which "denies the existence of a transcendent God." [37]

Recent philosophy and scientific motivation

The main problems of philosophy have not really changed over time, but there are differences in what motivates certain formulations of them and ways of addressing them. In recent philosophy, the methods and the results of the sciences are again playing an increasingly important role in motivating new philosophical conceptions, even involving overall conceptions of philosophy itself. Various versions and defenses of naturalism are currently at the center of many philosophical debates.

Naturalism is a decidedly philosophical view, according to which philosophy is not a distinct mode of inquiry with its own problems and its own special body of (possible) knowledge. According to many naturalists, philosophy is a particular kind of reflective attention to the sciences and is continuous with them. They maintain that this is so not only in the sense that philosophy's problems are motivated by the sciences, but also in that its methods are not fundamentally distinct from those of science. Naturalists affirm with confidence that the sciences afford us a more systematic, rigorous, and explanatory conception of the natural world than is supplied by common sense. Christians affirm with informed common sense that a naturalism informed and shaped by science and human reasoning alone is at its best an incomplete approach to the whole of reality because of its inherent limitations and evident defects which have been carefully critiqued by noted philosophers (see below: Arguments Against Naturalism, and Philosophical critiques of philosophical naturalism).


Modern naturalism is the belief that nature is all that exists, and that all things supernatural (including gods, spirits, souls and non-natural values) therefore do not exist. It is often called Metaphysical Naturalism or Philosophical Naturalism or Ontological Naturalism to distinguish it from Methodological Naturalism. It holds that any mental properties that exist (and hence any mental powers or beings) are causally derived from (caused by), and ontologically dependent on, operative systems of non-mental properties, powers or things (meaning that all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely constructed from or caused by natural phenomena). Some naturalistic beliefs claim that what is commonly called supernatural is, in fact, part of the natural world. The distinction "supernatural" is thus regarded as a misleading term based simply on a common contrasting of the visible and perceptible to the invisible and (normally) imperceptible in the ordinary human experience of the world.

In philosophy, Naturalism is a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe are natural (whatever their inherent character may be). Therefore, all knowledge of the universe is to be included in scientific investigation. While naturalism in theory denies the existence of truly supernatural realities, it makes allowance for the supernatural, provided that knowledge of it can be had indirectly—that is, that natural objects be influenced by the so-called supernatural entities in a detectable way. (See Cause and effect and Theophany.) Where naturalism makes provisional (conditional) allowance for the possibility of the supernatural, philosophical naturalism (absolutely) makes no allowance for the possibility of the supernatural.

Adherents of naturalism (naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws. [38] Naturalism presumes that nature is in principle completely knowable. [39] There is in nature a regularity, unity, and wholeness that implies objective laws, without which the pursuit of scientific knowledge would be absurd. Man’s endless search for concrete proofs of his beliefs is seen by adherents of naturalism as a confirmation of naturalistic methodology. Naturalists point out that even when one scientific theory is abandoned in favour of another, man does not despair of knowing nature, nor does he repudiate the “natural method” in his search for truth. Theories change; methodology does not.

While naturalism has often been equated with materialism, it is much broader in scope. Materialism is indeed naturalistic, but the converse is not necessarily true, for naturalism as a whole is not strictly limited to the materialistic. Strictly speaking, naturalism has no ontological preference; i.e., no bias toward any particular set of categories of reality. Dualism and monism, atheism and theism, idealism and materialism are all per se compatible with it. As long as all of reality is held to be natural, no other limitations are imposed. Naturalists have in fact expressed a wide variety of views, even to the point of developing a theistic naturalism.

Only rarely do naturalists give attention to metaphysics (which they regard with scornful ridicule), and they make no philosophical attempts to establish their position. Naturalists simply assert that nature is reality, the whole of it, which includes God as the source and summit of all reality for those who believe in God. There is nothing beyond, nothing “other than,” no “other world” of being.

Naturalism’s greatest vogue occurred during the 1930s and ’40s, chiefly in the United States among philosophers such as F.J.E. Woodbridge, Morris R. Cohen, John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, and Sidney Hook.

Philosophies related to Naturalism

Naturalism includes but should not be equated with (thought to be another name for) any one of several related philosophies. Although these are related to naturalism, there are differences:

Materialism asserts that all things are composed of matter, and all that all phenomena emerging within material existence (such as thoughts) are solely the result of material interactions.

Physicalism asserts that the only things that exist are those subject to the laws of physics.

Scientism asserts that all that can be known and will be known is what science tells us.

Nominalism asserts that the only things that exist are individuals (as opposed to Platonism's Ideas). See Realism.

Types of Naturalism

Metaphysical Naturalism, Philosophical Naturalism, is the belief (as described in detail above) that nature is all that exists, and that all things supernatural (including gods, spirits, souls and non-natural values) therefore do not exist.

Methodological Naturalism is the assumption that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes, without assuming either the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and so considers supernatural explanations for such events to be outside science. It holds that the scientific method (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat) is the only effective way to investigate reality, and that such empirical methods will only ascertain natural facts, whether supernatural facts exist or not. [40]

Absolute Methodological Naturalism is the view that it is in some sense impossible for any empirical method to discover supernatural facts, even if there are some.

Contingent Methodological Naturalism is the view that, from past experience, empirical methods are far more likely to uncover natural facts than supernatural ones, so that it is generally an ill-advised waste of resources to pursue supernatural hypotheses, but it would not be impossible to confirm them empirically if any were found.

Humanistic Naturalism holds that human beings are best able to control and understand the world through use of the scientific method, because concepts of spirituality, intuition and metaphysics "can never progress beyond personal opinion". Everything is regarded as a result of explainable processes within nature, with nothing lying outside of it.

Ethical Naturalism (or Moral Naturalism) is the meta-ethical theory [41] that ethical terms can be defined without the use of ethical terms (such as "good", "right", etc.), and moreover that these non-ethical terms refer to natural properties (as opposed to relating the ethical terms in some way to the will of God).

Sociological Naturalism is the sociological theory that the natural world and the social world are roughly identical and governed by similar principles. It is closely connected to Positivism, which advocates use of the scientific method of the natural sciences in studying social sciences. See Marxism.

Typical Beliefs of Naturalism

Naturalism typically leads to the following beliefs:

  • The universe being neither created nor designed has either always existed or had a purely natural origin.
  • Life is an unplanned product of blind natural processes and luck.
  • The explanation for the rise and diversity of life on earth is slow and imperfect evolution by natural selection.
  • Human beings have only a material brain which operates to produce a conscious mind but no independent immaterial soul or spirit.
  • Mental contents or concepts (such as ideas, theories, emotions, moral and personal values, beauty, etc.) exist not as things that exist independently of us which may be apprehended and perceived by us, but solely as the computational constructions of our brains seeking to produce intelligible order.
  • Because humans evolved as social animals we developed (and are now dependent on) culture and civilization.
  • Happiness being the greatest value possible for humans, all conduct and behavior should be directed towards the pursuit of human happiness as the most complete fulfillment and the most perfect good.
  • Since the death or destruction of the human brain cannot be survived all humans are mortal.

Arguments For Naturalism

Naturalists offer the following arguments in support of their position (see Logical fallacy):

Argument from Precedent: For over three hundred years, empirical methods have consistently discovered only natural things and causes, even underlying many things once thought to be supernatural. Hence, we should presume that any unexplained fact has a natural explanation until we have empirically proven otherwise. (Fallacies of Relevance based on the age of an idea and Circular reasoning.)

Argument from Best Explanation: Sound naturalist hypotheses about scientifically unexplained facts still out-perform all other hypotheses in explanatory scope and power, and have to resort to fewer ad hoc assumptions [42] than any supernatural alternatives. (Fallacies of Composition, Cherry picking and Overgeneralization.)

Argument from Absence: If the supernatural does exist (whether as gods, powers or spirits), it is so silent and inert that its effects are almost never observed, despite extensive searching. (Fallacies of Argument from silence and Invincible ignorance.)

Argument from Physical Minds: Scientists have accumulated vast evidence that the human mind is a product of a functioning brain, which is entirely constructed from different interacting physical systems that evolved over time through the animal kingdom. (Fallacies of Your theory does not work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong and Cherry picking.)

Cosmological Argument: The formation of intelligent life via natural processes is very unlikely unless the universe were immensely old and big, but that is exactly what we have found to be the case, and supernaturalism has not given us any insights into a more likely alternative universe. (Fallacies of Manufacturing facts from a theory, Argument from silence and Your theory does not work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong.)

Argument from the Implausibility of Alternatives: In the absence of any reasonable argument to believe anything supernatural exists (or explains anything), and in the presence of some reasonable arguments to believe the natural world exists (and explains everything), then Naturalism should be accepted until disproved (see Occam's razor). (Fallacies of Circular reasoning, Genetic fallacy, Ad hominem abusive, and Proof by authority.)

Arguments Against Naturalism

The arguments against Naturalism are, to a large extent, arguments for a God, or for some kind of intelligent design (see Christian apologetics):

Argument from Despair: Naturalism leads to human despair because it allows for no cosmic meaning of life and the elimination of free will (and therefore of hope and moral responsibility and the expectation of good).

Argument from Religious Experience: Many people claim to have seen, felt or talked to God or any number of other spirits, including highly intelligent persons who once denied the existence of the supernatural, and claim that these religious experiences refute naturalism.

Argument from Miracles: Often, some carefully documented miracle is offered as evidence refuting naturalism, including "alleged" cases of supernatural healing, of fulfilled prophetic or psychic predictions, or the "supposed" impossibility of composing some book (like the Bible or the Koran) without spiritual or supernatural aid.

Argument from Necessity of God: It is in some sense impossible for the universe to exist, and to achieve the apparently impossible feat of life as we know it, unless it is caused or cohabited by a supernatural person.

Argument from Cosmological Design: The fundamental constants of physics and the laws of nature appear so finely-tuned to permit life that only a supernatural engineer can explain it.

Argument from Improbability of Life: The origin of life was too improbable, statistically [43] and mathematically, (with a probability tending to zero) to have occurred without supernatural intervention and therefore naturalism fails to explain the appearance of life.

Argument from Biological Design: Certain structures in evolved organisms (e.g. the eye) are too complex ("irreducible complexity") to have evolved by natural selection and can only be explained as the result of intelligent design.

Argument from Consciousness: Some argue that conscious experience (or qualia) has not been, and cannot be, scientifically explained.

Argument from Reason: Certain features of human reason (e.g. intentionality, mental causation, abstract objects, the existence of logical laws) cannot be explained by naturalism.

Argument from Physical Law: The mathematical nature of physical laws entails a supernatural mind behind them, and naturalism can provide no ontological foundation for such physical laws.

Argument from Incoherence: Because naturalism assumes that everything is physical, using physical data in support of it would constitute circular reasoning.

Moral Argument: Naturalism cannot explain the existence of moral facts.

Evolutionary Argument: Maintaining the truth of both naturalism and evolution is irrational and self-defeating because the probability that unguided evolution would have produced reliable cognitive faculties is either low or inscrutable, and so asserting that naturalistic evolution is true also asserts that one has a low or unknown probability of being right.

Methodological naturalism

Methodological naturalists believe the scientific method to be the best way to determine the truth. Because supernatural, intelligent forces, if they exist, are claimed to be unpredictable (not subject to cause and effect) and hence unrepeatable (not falsifiable), these naturalists exclude the possibility of supernatural or magical intervention in the physical world as the effect of non-physical intelligences exercising free will.

Methodological naturalism concerns itself not with claims about what exists but with methods of learning what nature is. It is strictly the idea that all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. The genesis of nature (for example, by an act of God) is not addressed. This second sense of naturalism seeks only to provide a framework within which to conduct the scientific study of the laws of nature. Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge. It is a distinct system of thought concerned with a cognitive approach to reality, and is thus a philosophy of knowledge. Studies by sociologist Elaine Ecklund suggest that religious scientists in practice apply methodological naturalism. They report that their religious beliefs affect the way they think about the implications - often moral - of their work, but not the way they practice science. [44] [45]

In a series of articles and books from 1996 onward, Robert T. Pennock wrote using the term "methodological naturalism" to clarify that the scientific method confines itself to natural explanations without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and is not based on dogmatic metaphysical naturalism (as claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design, in particular Phillip E. Johnson). Pennock's testimony as an expert witness [46] at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial was cited by the Judge in his Memorandum Opinion concluding that "Methodological naturalism is a 'ground rule' of science today": [47]

"Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.... While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science." Methodological naturalism is thus "a self-imposed convention of science." It is a "ground rule" that "requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify." [48]

Falsifiability as a limiting principle in scientific research

Philosophers and scientists must be careful how they formulate questions or hypotheses for research. For example: "if a lie is false, does it exist?" [49]

If a judge excludes as inadmissible all damning evidence against a defendant charged with murder, a verdict of "guilty" is unlikely.

Because of their insistence that there is an utter lack of scientific (empirical) evidence to support religion, most philosophical naturalists are also atheists, while a minority are theists. While scientists and historians admit and simply acknowledge the possibility that unique phenomena or events have actually occurred in history and in nature, and that some of them have been reliably attested by first-hand witnesses and recorded as factual in oral or written tradition or in documented testimony, the fact that they are unique and therefore unrepeatable and unpredictable makes them non-falsifiable, and this excludes them as subjects of scientific study. [50]

An obvious example of a contradiction to the paradigm of falsifiability in science is the established scientific study of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe (cosmogony), which by definition is not proven to be a repeatable event or phenomenon, but for which many scientists claim there is substantial supporting evidence; even while many of them, in accord with philosophical naturalism, deny that it has a supernatural divine cause. In Logic this is an example of the fallacy of special pleading. Philosophical naturalism is thus a contrast to the theology of Deism which postulates a divine cause of a wholly mechanistic universe (a "cosmos", from Greek kosmos, "order", system or mechanism) subject entirely to the operation of created laws of nature, a view of existence described in the Bible in 2 Peter 3:3-4.
First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation." (RSVCE)

Naturalist rejection of religious opposition to philosophical naturalism

Naturalists acknowledge the opposition of religion to philosophical naturalism, and observe that religious schools of thought argue for the existence of the supernatural alongside the natural, by proposing two orders of one reality which coexist together without any contradiction. With the exception of pantheists—who believe that Nature and God are one and the same thing—theists challenge the idea that nature contains all of reality, the visible and the invisible. According to some theists, natural laws may be viewed as so-called secondary causes of god(s). In response to the range of religious opposition philosophical naturalists argue that in order to "compete" with science religious philosophers and theologians have created and arrayed against philosophical naturalism "pseudoscientific" theories like intelligent design (ID) which "supposedly" prove supernatural intervention in natural phenomena and assert that the supernatural is "somehow immune" to science, meaning that it is "somehow" not subject to scientific scrutiny or to scientific laws. These naturalists assert that such "pseudoscientific" religious theories "work about as well as cargo cults[51]", and are just as equally "unconvincing, unsupportable, undemonstrable," and "unprovable" to people of "rational intelligence". Being unable to demonstrate that these assertions are other than a subjective judgment (unsubstantiated opinion) demonstrates argument based on the fallacies of proof by assertion and "invincible ignorance" (see hostile witness, personal attack, ad hominem, deliberate ignorance). However, philosopher Antony Flew [52] who was "One of the leading analytical philosophers of the twentieth century" (Daniel N. Robinson, Philosophy Department, Oxford University), and other informed writers such as Anthony Zee [53] and Kurt Gödel, [54] and Robert Spitzer, S.J., PhD. [55] point out that the inductive argument from the order of nature itself, its inherent "symmetry" and not simply the laws of nature, and what is called "fine-tuning" in physics, leads one inexorably (relentlessly, unavoidably) to the conclusion that existence includes the immaterial (or non-material) supernatural, and that the rationality and intelligibility of the cosmos is rooted in the Mind of God [56] : "immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes". [57] These have reasoned a posteriori [58] with rational logic from all the available evidence that the natural world is not all there is. This has been pointed out with impeccable logic in the Bible:

"If through delight in the beauty of these things they assumed them to be gods,/ let them know how much better than these is their Lord,/ for the author of beauty created them./ And if they were amazed at their power and working,/ let them perceive from them/ how much more powerful is he who formed them./ For from the greatness and beauty of created things/ comes a corresponding perception of their Creator./ Yet these men are little to be blamed,/ for perhaps they go astray/ while seeking God and desiring to find him./ For as they live among his works they keep searching,/ and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful./ Yet again, not even they are to be excused;/ for if they had the power to know so much/ that they could investigate the world,/ how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?" Wisdom 13:3-9 (RSVCE)

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools". Romans 1:19-22 (RSVCE)

Philosophical critiques of philosophical naturalism

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Notre Dame, [59] and a Christian, has become a well-known critic of naturalism. [60] He suggests, in his evolutionary argument against naturalism, that the probability that evolution has produced humans with reliable true beliefs, is low or inscrutable, unless their evolution was guided (for example, by God). According to David Kahan of the University of Glasgow, in order to understand how beliefs are warranted, a justification must be found in the context of supernatural theism, as in Plantinga's epistemology. [61] [62] [63] Plantinga argues that together, naturalism and evolution provide an insurmountable "defeater for the belief that our cognitive faculties are reliable", i.e., a skeptical argument along the lines of Rene Descartes' Evil demon or Brain in a vat. [64]

Take philosophical naturalism to be the belief that there aren't any supernatural entities—no such person as God, for example, but also no other supernatural entities, and nothing at all like God. My claim was that naturalism and contemporary evolutionary theory are at serious odds with one another—and this despite the fact that the latter is ordinarily thought to be one of the main pillars supporting the edifice of the former. (Of course I am not attacking the theory of evolution, or anything in that neighborhood; I am instead attacking the conjunction of naturalism with the view that human beings have evolved in that way. I see no similar problems with the conjunction of theism and the idea that human beings have evolved in the way contemporary evolutionary science suggests.) More particularly, I argued that the conjunction of naturalism with the belief that we human beings have evolved in conformity with current evolutionary doctrine... is in a certain interesting way self-defeating or self-referentially incoherent.
— Alvin Plantinga, Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, "Introduction"

Karl Popper

Karl Popper equated naturalism with inductive theory of science. He rejected it based on his general critique of induction, yet acknowledged its utility as means for inventing conjectures.

A naturalistic methodology (sometimes called an "inductive theory of science") has its value, no doubt.... I reject the naturalistic view: It is uncritical. Its upholders fail to notice that whenever they believe to have discovered a fact, they have only proposed a convention. Hence the convention is liable to turn into a dogma. This criticism of the naturalistic view applies not only to its criterion of meaning, but also to its idea of science, and consequently to its idea of empirical method.
— Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (Routledge, 2002), pp. 52–53, ISBN 0-415-27844-9.

Popper instead proposed that science should adopt a methodology based on falsifiability for demarcation (fixing or marking boundaries or limits), because no number of experiments can ever prove a theory, but a single experiment can contradict one. Popper holds that scientific theories are characterized by falsifiability.

Robert T. Pennock

Robert T. Pennock contends [65] that as supernatural agents and powers "are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers" and "are not constrained by natural laws", only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do. He states: "If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural". As the supernatural is necessarily a mystery to us, it can provide no grounds on which to judge scientific models. "Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables.... But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces." Science does not deal with meanings; the closed system of scientific reasoning cannot be used to define itself. Allowing science to appeal to untestable supernatural powers would make the scientist's task meaningless, undermine the discipline that allows science to make progress, and "would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament."

Naturalism of this sort says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural, which by this definition is beyond natural testing. As a practical consideration, the rejection of supernatural explanations would merely be pragmatic, thus it would nonetheless be possible, for an ontological supernaturalist to espouse and practice methodological naturalism. For example, scientists may believe in God while practicing methodological naturalism in their scientific work. This position does not preclude knowledge that is somehow connected to the supernatural. Generally however, anything that can be scientifically examined and explained would not be supernatural, simply by definition.

W. V. O. Quine

W. V. Quine describes naturalism as the position that there is no higher tribunal for truth than natural science itself. There is no better method than the scientific method for judging the claims of science, and there is neither any need nor any place for a "first philosophy", such as (abstract) metaphysics or epistemology, that could stand behind and justify science or the scientific method. Therefore, philosophy should feel free to make use of the findings of scientists in its own pursuit, while also feeling free to offer criticism when those claims are ungrounded, confused, or inconsistent. In Quine's view, philosophy is "continuous with" science and both are empirical. [66] Naturalism is not itself a dogmatic belief that the modern view of science is entirely correct. Instead, it simply holds that science is the best way to explore the processes of the universe and that those processes are what modern science is striving to understand. However, this Quinean Replacement Naturalism finds relatively few supporters among philosophers. [67]

Naturalist explanations of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: The "swoon hypothesis"

A philosophical naturalist who does not utterly reject the reports or testimony of the eyewitnesses [68] to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a reality in time and space, as a real man who lived during the first century in the Roman province of Judea, but who accepts the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a non-scientific and non-historical [69] [70] but (possibly) actual event is one who denies that his resurrection from death had a supernatural cause and proposes instead an entirely natural cause which has been "misinterpreted" as being supernatural. Among them are those liberalist Christian participants in the Jesus Seminar, and the number of 20th century critics who dismiss Jesus' resurrection by proposing the "swoon theory" in which they suggest that the Lord did not actually die on the cross, but lapsed into a comatose or catatonic state like catalepsy which resembles death, and then revived. This 200-year-old hypothesis is generally rejected by Christians, who cite St. Paul:

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied." 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 (RSVCE).

In the 18th and 19th centuries

Early proponents of this theory include German Karl Friedrich Bahrdt, who suggested in around 1780, that Jesus deliberately feigned his death, using drugs provided by the physician Luke to appear as a spiritual messiah and get Israel to abandon the idea of a political messiah. In this interpretation of the events described in the Gospels, Jesus was resuscitated by Joseph of Arimathea, with whom he shared a connection through a secret order of the Essenes—a group that appear in many of the "swoon" theories.
Around 1800, Karl Venturini proposed that a group of supporters dressed in white—who were, with Jesus, members of a "secret society"—had not expected him to survive the crucifixion, but heard groaning from inside the tomb, where Jesus had regained consciousness in the cool, damp air. They then frightened away the guards and rescued him.
A third rationalist theologian, Heinrich Paulus, wrote in works from 1802 onwards that he believed that Jesus had fallen into a temporary coma and somehow revived without help in the tomb. He was critical of the vision hypothesis, arguing that the disciples must have believed that God had resurrected Jesus. Friedrich Schleiermacher endorsed a form of Paulus' theory in the early 1830s.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement, proposed a theory in his 1899 book Jesus in India[71] that Jesus traveled to India after surviving the crucifixion.

In the 20th and 21st centuries

Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, in their 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, speculated that Pontius Pilate was bribed to allow Jesus to be taken down from the cross before he was dead. In 1992, Barbara Thiering explored the theory in depth in her book Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 2006, Baigent published The Jesus Papers, a book that describes how Jesus may have survived the crucifixion. Other 20th-century proponents of various "swoon theories" include:
  • Ernest Brougham Docker (1920, in If Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross)
  • Robert Graves and Joshua Podro (1957, in Jesus in Rome)
  • Hugh J. Schonfield (1965, in The Passover Plot)[72]
  • Donovan Joyce (1972, in The Jesus Scroll)
  • J.D.M. Derrett (1982, in The Anastasis: The Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Event)
  • Holger Kersten (1994, in Jesus lived in India)
  • Andrew Gale (2013)
  • David Mirsch (2011, The Open Tomb: Why and How Jesus Faked His Death and Resurrection)
  • George Moore uses this theory in his novel Brook Kerith

Islamic perspective

Ahmed Deedat

Perhaps the biggest proponent of the swoon hypothesis over the past 20 years has been Muslim preacher Ahmed Deedat of South Africa in his book Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction.[73] He takes a critical look at the events in the four Gospels and theorizes a scenario of events similar to the swoon hypothesis. The Islamic position on the subject of crucifixion—which is a form of Docetism—is highlighted in the Qur'an: "and for their unbelief, and their uttering against Mary a mighty calumny, and for their saying, 'We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God'—yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them". Sura 4:157 Pickthall

Ahmadiyya Islam perspective

According to the late 19th century writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement (mentioned above), the theological basis of the Ahmadi belief is that Jesus was only "in a swoon" when he was taken down from the cross. Ahmad argued that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, he had lapsed into a state similar to Jonah's state of "swoon" in the belly of a fish. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad interpreted the phrase in Deuteronomy 21:23: kī qilelat Elohim taluy, "... for a hanged man is the curse of God", as suggesting that "God would never allow one of His true prophets to be brutally killed in such a degrading manner as crucifixion". Following his ordeal, Jesus was cured of his wounds with a special 'ointment of Jesus' (marham-i ʿIsā).".

In Esotericism

The following is a condensation and summary drawn from multiple sources[74]

Some[74] assert that Jesus during the "hidden years" before his public ministry had journeyed to India and Egypt where he learned physiological techniques like yoga which enabled him to control all of his bodily functions, heart rate, breathing, stamina, and unusually effective healing powers involving the conscious harnessing and control of the vital energy of the human body, which enabled him to survive the scourging and crucifixion, even the piercing of the lance. On the morning of the third day an earthquake rocked the whole region and the site where he was entombed, dislodging the stone that had been rolled over the entrance. He then regained consciousness, and stood up. The soldiers fainted from terror and fled, and he was the man in white the women saw, including Mary Magdalene. He sent one of his secret circle, who knew his manner of breaking bread, to accompany the two who would later depart toward the village of Emmaus, to advise them and reason with them that he was alive, while he himself went to Peter; and the other, after breaking bread with them, hypnotized them into believing that he had vanished and departed, and they took him to be Jesus in another form. Jesus then likewise went to the ten disciples, hypnotizing them into not seeing him enter the room with them when they locked the door, then disclosed and presented himself alive to them and showed them his wounds, and then afterward to Thomas in the same way, and then to his followers. He fully recovered, his wounds completely healed, and over a period of weeks gave his inner circle his secret esoteric mystical doctrine, which is not included in the New Testament writings compiled afterward. He then called for his followers to assemble outside of Jerusalem where he addressed them and then withdrew into a thick fogbank as they watched, and immediately and quickly departed from them without their observing where he had gone. Then two of his most secret confidants and co-conspirators, men unknown to the disciples (possibly known to John), stepped forward and told them that he had gone into heaven and would return in the same way. These departed and joined Jesus in the desert where he remained in concealed seclusion with them until he died of natural causes, his consciousness merging with the mind of the universe (see nirvana), and, like Moses, was buried in a cave somewhere in the desert so that no man knows the place of his burial to this day. The New Age critics of Christianity claim that Jesus was no more God than any other human being, that God the Father was Himself once a man like us, and the only difference between him and us was his knowledge, and that he taught the liberating knowledge (Greek gnosis) that the supernatural and the natural are one continuum of being, that there is no real division or "dichotomy" in the existence of being between the natural and the supernatural, and that his resurrection was in reality "the powerfully liberating psychological realization of his unity with the whole ground of being". Thus there is no death, and the only real sin is ignorance, which can be overcome, so that, potentially, each of us can realize that we are God and already have divine power and wisdom, if only we accept it.
In this way, and in all variations of the same kind of "naturalist" teaching, the supernatural resurrection of Christ is done away. The orthodox (Greek "ortho, right, doxos, doctrine") teachings of Christianity and the Bible (containing what "Esoteric Christianity" calls "metaphorical symbolic imagery of esoteric truth") are given to the masses as the "exoteric (for the many)" doctrine as a means of relieving them of fear. The "esoteric" (for the few) doctrine, the Secret Doctrine, is given privately by word of mouth only to a smaller, select number of qualified individuals in every generation as the liberating gnosis that they are one with nature and the whole of the universe, with skill to use the forces of nature as an "expression of the mind of God". The difference between this spiritual naturalism or religious naturalism and philosophical naturalism is that philosophical naturalism rejects the possibility of the personal postmortum survival of the human person and the possibility of invisible, immortal existence before the Final Resurrection. Philosophical naturalists view those who do not subscribe to philosophical naturalism as ignorant and deluded and unwilling to see reality as it is. Both of these spiritual naturalist and philosophical naturalist views are utterly rejected by Christians as representations of blasphemy and expressions of spiritual rebellion. They are represented by various forms of Gnosticism and the New Age Movement and of Secular Humanism which reject the reparation for sin achieved by the saving redemption of mankind on the Cross accomplished by Jesus as the unique and only-begotten Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, and head of the human race, who suffered, died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, who has sent the Holy Spirit on the Church since the day of Pentecost to guide us into all truth, and will come again in glory to judge all mankind, and save from his righteous wrath all those who from their hearts trust in him as their own personal Savior, "who obey the truth and by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality" (Romans 2:5-8), and condemn to hell all who hate or ignore goodness, virtue and the truth, all who have rejected him.

Assessment of philosophical naturalism

Philosophical naturalism has consistently shown itself to be a nonscientific religious perspective that is adverse to impartial inquiry into the nature of reality according to the scientific principles of methodological naturalism. Its adherents and defenders have consistently shown by their writings and opinions a prejudicial intolerance of fundamentally human intuitive understandings of reality and an anti-intellectual rejection of compelling evidence, evidence that has proven acceptable to profound thinkers and researchers. It is not science, nor is it a scientific approach.

Ipso facto, by its a priori absolute rejection of the possibility of the supernatural, and in particular by its denials of the possibility of the bodily physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the existence of God, philosophical naturalism represents an approach that is militantly anti-Christian, and overtly hostile to religion and to human culture.


  1. "necessary": absolutely needed; essential; indispensable; inevitable; requisite
  2. 2.0 2.1 Definitions in footnote used in this article, unless otherwise attributed, are drawn from The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, including Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, 1966, The Readers's Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 66-21606.
  3. "a priori": "1. Logic Proceeding, as an argument, from cause to effect, or from an assumption to its logical conclusion: opposed to a posteriori. 2. Prior to, and thus independent of, experience; innate. 3. Previous to examination, or with insufficient examination. [< L, from what is before]" The Readers Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary (1966) p. 72b | a priori
  4. 4.0 4.1 agency: Active power or operation; activity; means; instrumentality; the function of an agent. [< L agentia < agere to do]
    agent: One who or that which acts or has the power to act, contrasted to patient; an efficient cause of anything; actor (that which acts or that which produces action); doer; any force, substance, or organism that causes a material change; a means by which something is done; instrument (instrumentality of). [< L agens, agentis, ppr. (present participle) of agere to do]
  5. 5.0 5.1 preternatural: diverging from or exceeding the common order of nature, but not outside the natural order; distinguished from supernatural.
    [< L praeter beyond < prae before (in the forefront of, chief, prominent, preeminent, exalted) preter- + natural < F naturel < L naturalis < natura, nature, character]
  6. Just as by way of analogy the laws of Newtonian mechanics are subsumed by the laws of Quantum mechanics.
  7. See 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 1:2-3 and 7:7; and James 1:17. Compare John 1:1-2.
  8. "inhere": inseparably associated, intrinsically connected.
    [< L inhaerere < in- to + haerere to stick]
  9. Oxford English Dictionary Online | naturalism
  10. "intuitively": intuit, to know or discover by intuition, which is a direct knowledge or awareness of something without conscious attention or reasoning; any nonintellectual perception or apprehension; anything perceived or learned without conscious attention, reasoning, concentration, etc.; the ability or quality of perceiving without conscious attention or reasoning. Intuitionism in philosophy is the doctrine that intuition rather than intellect demonstrates certain truths to be fundamental; the doctrine that objects perceived by the senses are intuitively known to be real; in ethics, the doctrine holding that man has an intuitive apprehension and an intrinsically valid judgment of moral values. Our Lord, Jesus, referred to the validity of intuition in assessing the truth of his teaching:
    "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood."
    John 7:16-18 RSVCE

    The Founding Fathers of the United States of America expressed the same idea:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Declaration of Independence
  11. Papineau, David (22 February 2007). "Naturalism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  12. "purpose in nature" (goal): Teleology: The branch of cosmology (study of the cosmos, the universe) that treats of final causes; finalism; the explanation of nature in terms of utility or purpose, especially divine purpose; the study of a creative design in the processes of nature. Not to be confused with Intelligent Design ID.
    [< NL (New Latin) teleologia < Gk. telos, teleos end + logos discourse]
  13. Kurtz, Paul (Spring 1998). "Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism?". Free Inquiry 18 (2).
  14. "supervene upon": supervene: To follow closely upon something; come as something extraneous or additional; to take place; happen.
  15. "extensive": Physics & Logic: of or relating to extension, that property of matter by virtue of which it occupies space.
  16. Demiurge: In Plato's philosophy, the creator of the material universe; in the Gnostic systems, a deity regarded as an emanation of the Supreme Being, considered to be the creator of the material world and sometimes the creator of evil. Generally, Gnostics believed that the Abrahamic God was in fact two separate and independent entities. They believed that the Demiurge was the God of the Israelites and the Old Testament. He created the world and man imperfectly, and was malevolent. The Gnostics believed that the second god was a good, benevolent god who is embodied in Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from sin and suffering and the evils of the material world, and lead immortal spiritual man back into freedom from the bondage of matter through the "true gnosis (knowledge)".
    [< F (French) demi <L dimidius half < dis- from, apart + medius middle + Gk. ourgos < ergein to work] the demiurge is the middle worker or intermediate creator from a plane of existence between the highest unknowable Supreme Being and the lowest material universe.
  17. Schafersman, Steven D. (1996). "Naturalism is Today An Essential Part of Science". Methodological naturalism is the adoption or assumption of naturalism in scientific belief and practice without really believing in naturalism.
  18. "ipso facto":Latin By the fact itself; by that very fact or act.
    [< L ipso by this + facto the fact]
  19. Will Durant and belief in Jesus Christ (2005)
  20. The Sign of the Four, ch. 6 (1890) "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever..."
    "You will not apply my precept," he said, shaking his head. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. Whence, then, did he come?"
    Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four (The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Barnes & Noble p. 96)

    In addition, Arthur Conan Doyle as Sherlock Holmes adduced roses as evidence of (Divine) Providence.

    Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, (1892) "This rose is an embellishment of life, not a condition of it."
    "Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things — our powers, our desires, our food — are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."
    Sherlock Holmes in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, "The Naval Treaty" (The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Barnes & Noble p. 426)
  21. infer: To derive by reasoning; conclude or accept from evidence or premises; deduce; to involve, or imply as, a conclusion; give evidence of; to draw an inference, a deduction or conclusion. In science, to form an hypothesis.
    < L inferre to bring into < in- in + ferre to bring, carry]
  22. Aristotelianism: Aristotelian philosophical principles as a system; pertaining to or characteristic of Aristotle or his philosophy. An aristotelian is one who tends to be empirical or scientific in his method, rather than speculative or metaphysical. Aristotelian logic is the method of deductive logic of Aristotle, especially the logical theory of the syllogism; it is a logic dealing with relations between philosophical propositions by or through the fact, quality, force of their form rather than their content. Aristotle, 384-322 B.C., was a pupil of Plato, a Greek philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great: called the Stagirite [< Stagira, a city of ancient Macedonia, on the Chalcidice peninsula, Northeast Greece, birthplace of Aristotle].
  23. Jonathan Barnes's introduction to Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin)
  24. A Chatterjee (2012), Naturalism in Classical Indian Philosophy, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  25. Dale Riepe (1996), Naturalistic Tradition in Indian Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120812932, pages 227-246
  26. Oliver Leaman (1999), Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge, ISBN 978-0415173629, page 269
  27. J Ganeri (2012), The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199652365
  28. The early modern period follows the late Middle Ages. The chronological limits of the period are open to debate, including the general timeframe spanning the period after the late portion of the post-classical age (c. 1500), known as the Middle Ages, through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions (c. 1800) and is variously demarcated by historians as beginning with the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, beginning with the Renaissance period, and beginning with the Age of Discovery (especially with the voyages of Christopher Columbus beginning in 1492, and the discovery of the sea route to the East in 1498). The early modern period is generally considered to have ended around the French Revolution in 1789, and the Corps of discovery sent by Thomas Jefferson. See History.
  29. Ronald L. Numbers (2003). "Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs." In: When Science and Christianity Meet, edited by David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, p. 267.
  30. Rouse Ball, W. W. [1908] (2003) "Pierre Simon Laplace (1749–1827)", in A Short Account of the History of Mathematics, 4th ed., Dover, ISBN 0-486-20630-0
  31. Williams, Sally (July 4, 2007). "The God curriculum". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-12-26.
  32. Schafersman, Steven D. (1996). "Naturalism is Today An Essential Part of Science". Section "The Origin of Naturalism and Its Relation to Science". Naturalism did not exist as a philosophy before the nineteenth century, but only as an occasionally adopted and non-rigorous method among natural philosophers. It is a unique philosophy in that it is not ancient or prior to science, and that it developed largely due to the influence of science.
  33. Schafersman, Steven D. (1996). "Naturalism is Today An Essential Part of Science". Section "The Origin of Naturalism and Its Relation to Science". "Naturalism is almost unique in that it would not exist as a philosophy without the prior existence of science. It shares this status, in my view, with the philosophy of existentialism."
  34. Papineau, David "Naturalism", in "The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
  35. innovation: innovate: To introduce or bring in (something new); to make changes; bring in new ideas, methods, etc; an innovation is something newly introduced; a new method, device, etc.; innovation itself is the act of introducing a change or something new.
    [< L innovatus, pp. of innovare to renew < in- in + novare to make new, alter < novus new: innovation < L innovatio, -onis]
  36. ASA March 2006 – Re: Methodological Naturalism
  37. Nick Matzke: On the Origins of Methodological Naturalism. The Pandas Thumb (March 20, 2006)
  38. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Naturalism". 21 November 2009. Retrieved 6 March 2012. Naturalism is not so much a special system as a point of view or tendency common to a number of philosophical and religious systems; not so much a well-defined set of positive and negative doctrines as an attitude or spirit pervading and influencing many doctrines. As the name implies, this tendency consists essentially in looking upon nature as the one original and fundamental source of all that exists and in attempting to explain everything in terms of nature. Either the limits of nature are also the limits of existing reality, or at least the first cause, if its existence is found necessary, has nothing to do with the working of natural agencies. All events, therefore, find their adequate explanation within nature itself. But, as the terms nature and natural are themselves used in more than one sense, the term naturalism is also far from having one fixed meaning.
  39. "completely knowable". For the Christian, nature is completely knowable by God. According to the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, the immediate knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven is called the beatific vision. It is called "vision" to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life. And since in beholding God face to face the created intelligence finds perfect happiness, the vision is termed "beatific". So in that sense the presumption of naturalism is valid, and true, that nature is in principle completely knowable, placing naturalism on a firm foundation rooted in reality. But any presumption that all of nature is completely knowable by the finite mind of man alone and unaided by God before death is invalid, false, not corresponding to reality. A limited analogy can be expressed as the difference in understanding of life by a four year old child and the understanding of a 65 year old PhD. in Liberal arts. Naturalists themselves acknowledge that there are limits to human conceptual understanding, which places the claim of naturalism (that nature is in principle completely knowable) on a foundation rooted in untruth and unreality. See paradox and Riemann Hypothesis RH.
    See also:
  40. It is analogous to an attempt to use a thermometer to determine the temperature of a hotly contested physical hypothesis defended by some on the basis of their interpretation of the evidence and repudiated by others on the basis of their interpretation of the very same evidence. A thermometer is the wrong instrument to use, but a statistical analysis of the status and number of experts debating the hypothesis under review and a linguistic and semantical analysis of arguments contained in the papers presented on the matter can ascertain the perceived degree of significance and the temper of the scientific establishment as to whether or not the debate was received coolly or with heated enthusiasm. A Geiger counter cannot measure distance to the Moon. The Calculus cannot be used to determine the potential of a candidate newly elected to a senate seat.
  41. "meta-ethical": Beyond or past (coming after) the classical study and philosophy of human conduct, with its emphasis on the determination of right and wrong; beyond or past (coming after) the principles of right conduct, especially with reference to a specific profession, mode of life, etc. (Essentially, "after or beside determinations of right and wrong".)
    [< Gk. < meta after, beside, with + ethic < L ethicus < Gk. ethikos < ethos character]
  42. "ad hoc assumptions": assumptions made as needed with particular respect to the hypothesis being proposed, in order to support it: Latin, with respect to this (particular thing).
    [< L ad hoc to this.]
    Naturalists regard God as an unnecessary (single) ad hoc assumption made by Christians, and other religionists and supernaturalists, to support creationism, without absolutely rejecting the ontological possibility of an intelligent Creator. Philosophical naturalists make several ad hoc, a priori assumptions, briefly defined, catalogued and discussed in this article, to support their exclusion of sensible evidence of the supernatural, which constitutes an example of the Fallacies of Special pleading and Cherry picking, since they need their several a priori ad hoc assumptions to support their absolute, non-theist position and their rejection on principle of the claims of religion. The single assumption of the reality of an uncreated Creator of the universe having sovereign rule of the whole of nature is neither new nor unnecessary as an assumption, and constitutes the smallest possible number of ad hoc assumptions (one) that can be resorted to as the ultimate explanation of otherwise unexplained facts of self-evident examples of provident intervention in the physical world (see Occam's razor).
  43. "statistically": Statistics is the science that deals with the collection, tabulation, and systematic classification of quantitative data, especially of occurrence as a basis for inference and induction. [< G statistic < Med.L (Medieval Latin) statisticus < L status state]
  44. Belief Net, "What do scientists say"
  45. Elaine Ecklund's book "Science versus Religion: What do scientists really think"
  46. Kitzmiller trial: testimony of Robert T. Pennock
  47. Kitzmiller v. Dover: Whether ID is Science
  48. Judge John E. Jones, III Decision of the Court Expert witnesses were John F. Haught, Robert T. Pennock, and Kenneth R. Miller. Links in the original to specific testimony records have been deleted here.
  49. The lie exists, but what it proposes does not exist, in fact or in truth.
  50. for example, the Flood, the miraculous events of the Exodus, the resurrection of Jesus.
  51. Encyclopedia Britannica online | cargo cults
  52. Flew, Antony, with Roy Abraham Varghese, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, 2007, HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-133530-3
  53. Anthony Zee, Fearful Symmetry (New York: Macmillan. 1986), 280-81
  54. Hao Wang, A Logical Journey: From Godel to Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 316
  55. New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Robert Spitzer, S.J., PhD. (President, Magis Center of Reason and Faith), June 29, 2010, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., ISBN 10:0802863833 ISBN 13:978-0802863836, 320 pages. Rev. Spitzer is the lecturing speaker in the DVD video series The Heavens Proclaim the Glory of God, 2011, Eternal Word Television Network EWTN, 4 Disc Set, approximately 6.5 hours, based on the same book.
  56. Flew, There is a God, page 169
  57. "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise". Text: 1 Timothy 1:17; Walter C. Smith, 1824-1908. Tune: ST DENIO. Roberts' Canaidu y Cyssegr, 1839
  58. "a posteriori": "1. Logic Reasoning from facts to principles or from effect to cause: opposed to a priori. 2. Inductive; empirical. [< L, from the later]"
  59. Alvin Plantinga, Philosophy Department, Notre Dame
  60. Beilby, J.K. (2002). Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. G - Reference,Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. Cornell University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780801487637. LCCN 2001006111.
  61. "Gifford Lecture Series - Warrant and Proper Function 1987-1988".
  62. Plantinga, Alvin (11 April 2010). "Evolution, Shibboleths, and Philosophers — Letters to the Editor". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
    ...I do indeed think that evolution functions as a contemporary shibboleth by which to distinguish the ignorant fundamentalist goats from the informed and scientifically literate sheep.
    According to Richard Dawkins, 'It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).'
    Daniel Dennett goes Dawkins one (or two) further: 'Anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant—inexcusably ignorant.' You wake up in the middle of the night; you think, can that whole Darwinian story really be true? Wham! You are inexcusably ignorant.
    I do think that evolution has become a modern idol of the tribe. But of course it doesn't even begin to follow that I think the scientific theory of evolution is false. And I don't.
  63. Plantinga, Alvin (1993). Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chap. 11. ISBN 0-19-507863-2.
  64. Beilby, J.K. (2002). "Introduction by Alvin Plantinga". Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Reference, Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 1–2, 10. ISBN 978-0-8014-8763-7. LCCN 2001006111.
  65. Robert T. Pennock, Supernaturalist Explanations and the Prospects for a Theistic Science or "How do you know it was the lettuce?"
  66. Lynne Rudder (2013). Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective. Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0199914745.
  67. Feldman, Richard (2012). "Naturalized Epistemology". In Zalta, Edward N.. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 ed.). Retrieved 2014-06-04. Quinean Replacement Naturalism finds relatively few supporters.
  68. See Luke 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:16-18; 1 John 1:1.
  69. "non-historical", meaning "not attested by independent secular historians outside of the Christian community (Church)". One possible exception is the passage in Josephus' Antiquities 18.3.3 (63), and possibly one in Tacitus in one page of his final work, Annals, book 15, chapter 44 (written ca. AD 116), referring to Christ, his execution by Pontius Pilate, and the existence of early Christians in Rome. While these are cited as historical statements made by authors roughly contemporaneous to the beginning years of Christianity, most current 21st century secular historians dismiss them as citations of unreliable reports and rumors about Jesus having no independently confirming evidence they can accept as historical fact. Some historians in the 19th and 20th centuries regarded Jesus as a "non-historical person" for whom there is no reliable historical record of his existence from A.D. mid-first-century in Rome or Jerusalem, but only historical evidence of the existence of the sect of the "Christiani" (Christians) who were perceived as making unsubstantiated and incredible claims about an obscure and unknown Jesus of Nazareth who was executed as a criminal. The writings of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers are not accepted by them as documents of reliable historicity ("Is the Bible reliable? The historicity of the New Testament").
    The following books support aspects of the "Christ myth" theory:
    The following resources demonstrate the fact that many 21st century professional historians including prominent nonbelievers do accept the factual historicity of Jesus for valid evidentiary reasons:
  70. P.E. Easterling, E. J. Kenney (general editors), The Cambridge History of Latin Literature, page 892 (Cambridge University Press, 1982, reprinted 1996). ISBN 0-521-21043-7
  71. Jesus in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
  72. Schonfield, Hugh J., The Passover Plot: a New Interpretation of the life and Death of Jesus by Hugh J. Schonfield, 1965, Element, ISBN 978-185-28088-6-0.
  73. Crucifixion or Cruci-fiction by Ahmed Deedat. Publisher: Islamic Book Service (September 1, 2011) Language: English ISBN-10: 8172310226 ISBN-13: 978-8172310226
  74. 74.0 74.1 For example, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World and of the Church Universal, Levi H. Dowling, Dec. 1 1908, published Spastic Cat Press, Jan. 25, 2012.
    See the lists of authors provided in the articles on Gnosticism and New age movement, which represent the spiritual naturalism interpretation, and Secular humanism, which briefly mentions and links various sources representing the philosophical naturalism interpretation (see authors listed above In the 20th and 21st centuries).

See also

Alfred North Whitehead

Argument from religious experience



Christian Science








History of Science





Invincible ignorance


Logical fallacy

Logical positivism

Marcus Borg



Methodological naturalism

Natural philosophy

New Age Movement





Other gods





Philosophy of Science








Scientific method







Source material

External links

Encyclopedia Britannica: Naturalism

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Naturalism

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Naturalism

Bickle, J., 2006, ‘Multiple Realizability’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Feldman, R., 2006, ‘Naturalized Epistemology’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Forrest, Barbara. Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection (2000) Barbara Forrest. This article was originally published in Philo, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall-Winter 2000), pp. 7-29.

Gertler, B., 2003, ‘Self-Knowledge’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Gordon, R., 2004, ‘Folk Psychology as Mental Simulation’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Lenman, J., 2006, ‘Moral Naturalism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Levin, J., 2004, ‘Functionalism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Nolan, D., 2002, ‘Modal Fictionalism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Ramberg, B. and Gjestal, K., 2005, ‘Hermeneutics’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Ramsey, W., 2003, ‘Eliminative Materialism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Ridge, M., 2006, ‘Moral Non-Naturalism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Robb, D. and Heil, J., 2005, ‘Mental Causation’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Yalowitz, S., 2005, ‘Anomalous Monism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

online resources


Naturalist Newsletter

Center for Naturalism

Naturalism: The Naturalistic Worldview

Naturalism David Papineau, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Naturalism at PhilPapers

Naturalism entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Naturalism at the Indiana Philosophy Ontology Project

Naturalism entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Craig-Taylor Debate: Is The Basis Of Morality Natural Or Supernatural? William Lane Craig and Richard Taylor October 1993, Union College (Schenectady, New York)


"Naturalism" article in The Catholic Encyclopedia

Alvin Plantinga (1994). "Naturalism Defeated". (pdf)

A shorter version of C. S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea

Philip Johnson's Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism from First Things

Robert A. Delfino's (2007) Replacing Methodological Naturalism Metanexus Institute. Archived from the original.

Robert A. Delfino's (2011) Scientific Naturalism and the Need for a Neutral Metaphysical Framework

Bibliography and Reading list

This list includes bibliography and titles of selected sources and is not an attempt to be exhaustive. It includes some of the most relevant works of thinkers referred to in the article and also some important works by thinkers who are not named in the article.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.

Armstrong, D., 1968, A Materialist Theory of the Mind, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Audi, Robert (1996). "Naturalism". In Borchert, Donald M. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement. USA: Macmillan Reference. pp. 372–374.

Balog, K., 1999, ‘Review of Hornsby's Simple Mindedness’, Philosophical Review, 108: 562-5.

Bennet, K., 2003, ‘Why the Exclusion Problem Seems Intractable, and How, Just Maybe, to Tract It’, Nous, 37: 471-97. Blackburn, Simon (1988). "How To be an Ethical Anti-realist," Midwest Studies in Philosophy 12, pp. 361-375.

Blackburn, S., 1993, Essays in Quasi-Realism, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Blackburn, Simon (1998). Ruling Passions, Oxford University Press.

Boghossian, P., 1996, ‘Analyticity Reconsidered’, Noûs, 30: 360-91.

Boghossian, P., 1998, ‘What the Externalist Can Know A Priori’, Procedings of the Aritotelian Society, 97: 161-75.

Boghossian, P., 2000, ‘Knowledge of Logic’ in P. Boghossian and C. Peacocke (eds.), New Essays on the A Priori, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brandom, R., 2001, ‘Reason, Expression, and the Philosophical Enterprise’, in C. Ragland and S. Heidt (eds.), What Is Philosophy? New Haven: Yale University Press.

Burge, T., 1993, ‘Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice’, in J. Heil and A. Mele (eds.), Mental Causation, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Caro, Mario De and David Macarthur (eds) Naturalism in Question. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Caro, Mario De and David Macarthur (eds) Naturalism and Normativity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

Chalmers, D., 1996, The Conscious Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Churchland, P. M. (1988). Matter and Consciousness, MIT Press.

Churchland, P.S., 1986, Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Craig, W. and Moreland, J. (eds.), 2000, Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, London: Routledge.

Danto, Arthur C. (1967). "Naturalism". In Edwords, Paul. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: The Macmillan Co. and The Free Press. pp. 448–450.

Davidson, D., 1970, ‘Mental Events’, in L. Foster and J. Swanson (eds.), Experience and Theory, London: Duckworth. Reprinted in Davidson 1980, pp. 207-25.

Davidson, D., 1980, Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Davies, M. and Stone T. (eds.), 1995, Mental Simulation: Evaluations and Applications, Oxford: Blackwell

DePaul, M. and Ramsey, W., 1999, Rethinking Intuition, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Descartes, René (1641). Meditations on First Philosophy.Devitt, M., 2005, ‘There is No A Priori’, in E. Sosa and M. Steup (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epsitemology, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Dewey, John (1920). Reconstruction in Philosophy, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company.

Dewey, John (1925). Experience and Nature, Chicago: Open Court.

Dilthey, W., 1894, ‘Ideas on a Descriptive and Analytical Psychology’, in W. Dilthey, Selected Writings, ed. and trans. by H. Rickman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Draper, P., 2005, ‘God, Science, and Naturalism’, in W. Wainwright (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elkana, Y., 1974, The Discovery of the Conservation of Energy, London: Hutchinson.

Feigl, H., 1958, ‘The “Mental” and the “Physical” ’, in H. Feigl, M. Scriven and G. Maxwell (eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume II, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Field, H., 1980, Science Without Numbers, Oxford: Blackwell.

Field, H., 1989, Realism, Mathematics and Modality, Oxford: Blackwell.

Fodor, J., 1974, ‘Special Sciences or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis’, Synthese, 28: 97-115.

Foot, Philippa (2003). Natural Goodness, Oxford University Press.

Gertler, B., 2002, Privileged Access: Philosophical Accounts of Self-Knowledge, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Gettier, E., 1963, ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’, Analysis 23: 121-3.

Gibbard, Alan (1990). Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment, Oxford University Press

Gibbard, A., 2003, Thinking How To Live, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Glymour, C., 1980, Theory and Evidence, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Goldman, Alvin (1979) "What is Justified Belief?" in George S. Pappas Justification and Knowledge Dordrecht, pp. 1-23.

Goldman, Alvin (1986). Epistemology and Cognition, Harvard University Press

Goodman, Nelson (1978). Ways of Worldmaking, Hackett Publishing Company.

Goodman, Nelson (1979). Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Harvard University Press>.

Hale, B. and Wright. C., 2003, The Reason's Proper Study: Essays towards a Neo-Fregean Philosophy of Mathematics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hare, R., 1952, The Language of Morals, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Harman, G., 1986, ‘Moral Explanations of Natural Facts’, Southern Journal of Philosophy, 24: 69-78.

Heal, J., 1996, ‘Simulation, Theory, and Content’, in P. Carruthers and P. Smith (eds.), Theories of Theories of Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, C., 1991, Sensations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, C. & McLaughlin, B., 1999, ‘There are Fewer Things in Reality than are Dreamt of in Chalmers' Philosophy’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 59: PAGES.

Honderich, T., 1982, ‘The Argument for Anomalous Monism’, Analysis, 42: 59-64.

Horgan, T., 1993, ‘From Supervenience to Superdupervenience: Meeting the Demands of a Material World’, Mind, 102: 555-86.

Hornsby, J., 1997, Simple-Mindedness: In Defence of Naïve Naturalism in the Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hume, David (1748). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

Hume, David (1751). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.

Huxley, Thomas Henry (1893). Evolution and Ethics, Pilot Press.

Jackson, Frank (1982). "Epiphenomenal Qualia" The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 127 April, pp. 127-136.Jackson, F., 1986, ‘What Mary Didn't Know’, Journal of Philosophy, 83: 291-5.

Jackson, F., 1993, ‘Armchair Metaphysics’, in J. O'Leary-Hawthorne and M. Michael (eds.), Philosophy in Mind, Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Jackson. F., 1998, From Metaphysics to Ethics, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jackson, F., 2003, ‘Mind and Illusion’, in A. O'Hear (ed.), Minds and Persons, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

James, William (1907/1979). Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979 (originally published in 1907).

Kalderon, M., 2005, Moral Fictionalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kant, Immanuel (1781/87). Critique of Pure Reason, Werner Pluhar (trans.), Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996. (First edition originally published in 1781, second edition in 1787.)

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