Is Naturalism and the Existence of Morality a Contradiction?
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Is Naturalism and the Existence of Morality a Contradiction?


All persons subscribe to a worldview, a way of looking at the world and everything in it as a filter of how we understand the origin of the universe and our place in it. Part of that has to do with moral behavior. In any web of beliefs, being moral is generally one of them. “How should I treat others?” “Are my friends treating me fairly or not?” Some moral behavior that are good would include being honest, respectful, having integrity and so on. Some moral misbehavior's are also easily recognizable such as lying, stealing, injustice and mistreatment of others. Naturalism is a worldview which maintain commitments to some assumptions: 1. All reality is a natural one and excludes the supernatural. Therefore, endorsing materialism 2. The method used to know of anything in our reality, which exhausted by the material, is by the process of the scientific method.

Yet there are some problems with holding onto naturalism, the existence of morality itself, the obligation to be moral toward persons and the freedom to act morally.

First, what about moral intuition?

Part of the problem, among many, with naturalism is the explanation for our moral intuition from non-moral source. It is generally the case that, as long as my rational/psychological faculties are working properly, I have an inclination to be moral, to behave morally and to expect others to treat me and the rest of humanity to do the same. Why is that? Where did we get this source of moral intuition from? Jeff McMahan comments:

“There are several explanations for this. One is that our moral intuitions undoubtedly stem from numerous divers sources: while some derive from biologically programmed dispositions that are largely uniform across the species, others are the products of cultural determinants, economic or social conditions, vagaries of individual character and circumstance, and so on.”[1]

Given such range of sources of where morality must’ve come from, yet regardless of a list of moral sources, what I want to know is, not what morality to follow, but why be moral in the first place? As Kant argued, if I ought to do something (a moral imperative) then it is the case that I can do something (a moral act). Yet, why think such is the case, if all that exist in reality, as the naturalist argues, is nothing but matter and as we know, moral values, Human worth, freedoms, are not part of material properties that can be examined by the scientific method but must stem from another source.

The Freedom to Act Morally

The atheist committed to naturalism has a difficulty trying to explain why they and anyone should be moral at all! Why should I truly care about other human beings, if there really is nothing that transcends materialistic entities such as human worth and dignity. After all, if the atheist is willing to push their worldview, that all that composes reality is a physical reality and any knowledge of such a reality can only be known by the scientific method. Then they have a problem trying to not only maintain such a worldview but also trying to maintain their moral inclinations and their expectations that others should reciprocate with such morality. Morality and human freedoms and responsibility to know and act morally, cannot have its origins in a non-moral source. Naturalism cannot maintain that morality comes from themselves either, for given the worldview of naturalism, that only physical realities exist and not supernatural -which would exclude the immaterial soul and mental entities- and such knowledge of that reality comes from the sciences which excludes human freedom, meaning and purpose oh and morality/ethics!

Somethings to ponder:

  1. any such reference to morality cannot come from oneself. For that self is not an agent with freedom of the will, but is one that is determined by the physical laws just as the physical universe operates under physical laws without exception. So, then what makes us so different?
  2. Any naturalist holding onto their own rational faculties to do science and to recognize morality so to act morally, must have the confidence that their cognitive faculties are reliable. But if one just evolved through a random, chaotic, unguided, a moral, pure naturalistic process. If A all that exist is nature (material properties) and B human actions, freedoms, desires, values such as numbers, truth, ethics, exists, then how did B ever originate if A is not capable of bringing into existence that which never was a part of itself? Naturalism and morality is a contradiction.

III. Humans are capable of having intelligence, creativity, ability to communicate, all existing because of consciousness in the mind. If there is no potentiality for such characteristics existing in material things, then it follows that the material is not all that exists, some other entity, non—physical explanation must be possible.

So then, the atheist cannot assert the existence of morality while also maintaining the worldview of naturalism. Naturalism is inadequate to account for the relevant data that we experience in reality, such as human values, morals and the moral imperative of “I ought to do something and can do something.” they cannot dogmatically state that all existence is matter only yet morality, not a part of the physical, is here. Nor can they dogmatically say that all knowledge must come from the scientific method, for we know somethings are morally good, others are morally bad. Morality and other phenomena cannot be tested by the scientific method. So, it follows that naturalism is inadequate for an explanation of the existence of morality and thus is not a consistent worldview.

[1] . Jeff McMahan “Moral Intuition.” The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory. Ed. Hugh LaFollette. UK: Blackwell, 2000. 109.

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