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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is nature all there is? John F. Haught

I have read John F. Haught's Is nature all there is? (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. See here for previous post on the book.)

I have read quite a few books on the philosophy of science, that is, on such topics as what the underpinnings of the scientific enterprise are, the history of the scientific way of finding things out, and what are the limitations, if any, of the scientific enterprise. I don't recall a better such book than the book referred to above. It is short -- 215 pages plus an index. It is well written, and readily understandable by a reasonably intelligent non-scientist.

After a most unfortunate beginning (Haught misquotes the late Carl Sagan, who said that "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be" -- Haught substitutes "universe" for "cosmos," and lengthens the quote by a few words.) the book is great.

For anyone who does not know, "naturalist" has at least two meanings. Some naturalists spend lots of time studying nature, generally trying to disturb the natural world as little as possible in the process. Haught uses the word to refer to someone who believes that there is a natural explanation for everything, as opposed to a supernaturalist, who believes that there is at least one something outside the universe, often a god or gods. Haught is a supernaturalist. So am I.

Haught argues that supernaturalism is more able to explain phenomena on the earth than naturalism, and does quite a good job of it.

In this post, I will restrict myself to two issues. One of these is the explanation of critical intelligence, the ability to analyze things critically. Naturalists, and others, depend on critical intelligence, and, in fact generally appeal to it as having bolstered their cases. Haught says this:
How then can we justify the spontaneous trust we all place in our critical intelligence and the imperatives of our minds? You will note that in asking this question I too am expressing confidence in my own mind, assuming that by obeying the imperatives to be open, intelligent and critical I may come closer to the truth, to what is. If I lacked this spontaneous trust I would not be asking the question that begins this paragraph. And if any naturalists are reading this book, they will notice once again that their own sincere questioning of what I am writing here is possible only because they too have already made an act of faith in the imperatives of their own minds to lead them to truth. (91) and this:

Therefore it is out of a sense of fidelity to my desire to know that I must now press on to find a more adaptive context for my critical intelligence than the one offered by scientific naturalism. I cannot find such an environment short of a worldview that looks upon nature as completely intelligible. And in the end, I believe, such a worldview must be a theological one, where the anticipated fullness of being, meaning and truth is ultimately nothing less than the eternal reality invoked by religions. Such a worldview is a much more encouraging setting for endless, ongoing scientific inquiry than is the naturalist belief that the universe "just is" and therefore is ultimately unintelligible. (96)

He also deals with purpose, and makes these telling statements:
For if nature is all there is, there could be no overall purpose to the universe. That is, there could be no goal beyond nature toward which the long cosmic journey would be winding its way. But if the logic here is correct, then the detection of an overarching purpose in nature would imply that nature is not all there is. In the broadest sense purpose means "directed toward a goal or telos." The question before us, then, is whether the cosmos as a whole is teleological, that is, goal-directed. (98)

Thanks for reading.

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