Naturalism, Knowledge, and History
Naturalism, the philosophical worldview that everything arises from nature and nothing exists beyond it, meaning there’s no such thing as the spiritual realm. However, this view ultimately leaves one with no justification for trusting one’s own rational faculties, and in so doing, erodes its own credentials. Ronald Nash argues that Naturalism cannot support the common assumption that human rationality corresponds to the objective world:
“Naturalism gives us no reason at all to suppose that our reasoning is valid. Only conscious minds can have plans or purposes, so [given Naturalism] there is no plan or purpose that will ensure that our reasoning will attain truth. Forces that are without our mind might happen to give us powers of valid reasoning, but they equally might happen to give us defective or invalid reasoning powers. And there is no reason to suppose that they would give us powers of valid reasoning rather than defective powers. . . . . If I pose a mathematical problem and throw some dice, the dice may happen to fall into a pattern which gives the answer to my problem. But there is no reason to suppose that they will. Now in the Chance view, all our thoughts are the result of processes as random as a throw of dice. In the Determinist view, all our thoughts result from processes that have as little relation to our minds as the growth of a tree. . . .Naturalism’s major problem, then, is explaining how mindless forces give rise to minds, knowledge, and sound reasoning. But every Naturalist wants others to think that his Naturalism is a consequence of his sound reasoning” (pp. 258–259).
Naturalism is self-referentially absurd and is unable to make sense of rationality, a necessary precondition for conducting historical inquiry.
NATURALISM CAN’T PROVIDE RELIABLE HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE
Naturalism is unable to make sense of any of the epistemological ingredients essential for historical knowledge. Two of those ingredients—the uniformity of nature and the principle of induction—illustrate the point.
Historical inquiry would prove impossible if one were forbidden to assume that nature remains uniform over time and that one may accurately induce a generalization about an entire class of objects from a relatively small set, provided one exercises due caution in so extrapolating. Historians do so when they assume that evidencefrom the past can accurately reflect it to our minds under present conditions.
They further assume—and must assume in order to do history—that humans share a common nature, that time runs in one direction only, and that the objective world is both real and intelligible.
Yet, given a Naturalistic world-view, one cannot give an account for such necessary assumptions. Why should time not run in cycles in a dynamic world, as many ancients supposed? What warrants the assumption that universals permeate the universe in a materialistic evolving cosmos? What guarantee is there that the past resembles the future, or that the present is analogous to the past, and why does the flowing evolutionary process not destroy such an analogy? Why should historical investigation even have value, as something more than a waste of time? Ultimately, the Naturalist cannot provide a coherent answer to these questions. The Naturalistic worldview lacks explanatory power. Moreover, it cannot provide an internally coherent account for the things one needs to conduct any sort of intelligible activity.
THEISM EXPLAINS WHAT NATURALISM CAN’T
A theist, however, can. The theist can account for the validity of induction by acknowledging the universals built into the cosmos by the Creator. The theist can also account for the belief that the future will resemble the past because the Sustainer is faithful and does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). The theistic worldview offers a ready explanandum for the intelligibility of human experience. I. Howard Marshall notes the arbitrary character of historical investigation on the Naturalistic view (emphasis, mine):
“. . . all historical study involves elements of imagination and faith in that the historian, possessed of only partial and sometimes enigmatic evidence, has to exercise a measure of faith in the reliability of the evidence, the validity of historical study, and the possibility of constructing a model which will account satisfactorily for the evidence. Unless the historian is prepared to take some leaps in the dark, he will not be able to make any progress at all.”
The final refutation of a Naturalistic view of history, then, derives from the fact that, without the theistic worldview (as opposed to the Naturalistic worldview), one cannot make sense of the necessary preconditions for the historical knowledge of anything.