Naturalism: A World View
By L. Russ Bush III
The word "nature" usually refers to the physical world in its normal
condition. If something is "natural," that means it is unmodified by human
(intelligent) actions. Many of us love "nature," the unspoiled outdoors, the
world of forests and rivers and mountains and meadows.
By adding "ism," however, we get a related but different meaning.
"Naturalism" is the belief that in the final analysis, nature is all that there
is, and that "nature" is essentially unmodified by anything other than itself.
In other words, nature itself is thought to be the ultimate reality.
Nature is dynamic and active, but according to the world view known as
"naturalism," there is nothing beyond nature that has any causal influence or
effect upon nature. Either there is no God or God has no effect or influence on
nature. Some might suggest that nature itself may be thought of as a creative
being. Naturalism claims that life on earth arose from natural substances by
natural selection for natural ends. There is no reality that can properly be
called super-natural. Spiritual realities, according to naturalism, are either
illusions or else they are merely complex or unusual natural realities.
Since the eighteenth century, a materialistic philosophy has been gaining
influence in the western world. Previously, most people in the West believed
that the world was a divine creation, but naturalistic thinking gradually
challenged that view and sought to replace it, first with naturalistic methods
and then with a more comprehensive naturalistic philosophy.
Prior to the rise of naturalism as a prominent world view (or comprehensive
mind-set), most western people believed that God had created the world and was
responsible for its form and for its very existence. It was understood that God
was upholding all things by the word of His power, for in the beginning God had
created all things. Since God was a living being, it was logical to expect life
in the world, because life comes from life. Twentieth century naturalism built
itself on the idea that the universe (and everything in it, including life
itself) came into being because of a natural quantum fluctuation (or by some
other strictly natural means) and developed by natural processes from its
original natural state to its present natural state. Life arose from
Naturalism affirms no God except the god of impersonal, non-living,
undesigned, physical chemistry. A natural process of change is essentially
random and/or undirected, but natural processes actually seem to "select" some
processes and activities in the sense that "better" or stronger ones survive
while others perish. Naturalists believe that this unconscious, non-directed
"selection" process along with random genetic fluctuations (i.e., mutations)
are the keys that explain the origin of the world of living things as we know
Thus the naturalistic "world view" is the overall belief that nature itself
is all that there is. God did not design it. Intelligence was a result not a
cause of the developing world. Nature formed itself by strictly natural
processes. This claim has several implications.
On the earth there seems to be a host of different conscious personalities.
Naturalism by definition says that personality arose (evolved) from the
non-personal, from that which was matter and energy only. There is nothing in a
naturalistic universe that is essentially personal.
Not only must personality have arisen from the non-personal, it also
supposedly arose spontaneously, without direction or guidance from any personal
source. This would appear to violate the natural law of cause and effect.
Energy dissipates. Complexity changes by simplifying. No system spontaneously
becomes more complex unless additional energy and order is added from outside
the system. A "cause" must either contain the "effect" or at least be
sufficiently complex to be capable of producing the less complex "effect."
Personality, however, is far more complex than the natural chemical and
physical order of things observed in nature. How could this be? The naturalist
usually assigns such questions to the intellectual dust bin. Personal beings
are here (they and you and I exist), and thus naturalists accept that fact
regardless of the significant improbability of highly complex and intelligent
and self-aware personality naturally arising from the non-personal reality of
non-intelligent and non-aware matter.
The same with life! Naturalists admit that there is life (usually they are
alive). But to maintain their naturalism, they argue that nature spontaneously
and without direction or external cause produced life out of non-life. The lack
of evidence for and high improbability of this kind of event does not dissuade
these thinkers, because (they say) it only had to happen once. In fact
the genetic similarity of all life forms leads naturalists to assume that all
life must have come from a single simple cell or collection of chemical
processes approximating a working cell. This simple cell must have randomly
(and without direction or programming) initiated orderly energy usage and
replication processes over the years. The chemical activity and physical
changes supposedly led to more complex arrangements that then mutated and began
to use energy and replicate in new ways. Over time, all living things
supposedly arose from those simple and randomly collected natural chemicals,
with those evermore complex processes arising randomly and without intelligent
This also means that at some late stage of development, rational mental
states arose out of utterly non-rational precursors. Rational thinking was and
is, for naturalists, simply a complex form of natural chemical interactions.
Reason was never intended by the natural, non-intelligent process, for
intention is a rational characteristic. So intention or purpose could not exist
until reason came into being, but naturalism denies that reason existed in the
beginning. Reason evolved only at the end of the process. Prior to the
appearance of reason, there could only have been substances characterized by
This leads us finally to a very important insight. Reason itself, in the
naturalistic world view, is nothing more than the natural and random result of
a particular randomly changing original bit of matter. Reason is not really an
independent evaluative process that can critique itself. Reason is only what
the chemistry allows through self-arrangement and self-organization, and the
shaping of logic and rationality and grammatical language is merely a chance
result of an undesigned process that has no necessary relation to truth or
meaning. All truth could be merely a pragmatically qualified set of ideas. No
intrinsic truth would exist, and yet naturalists claim that naturalism itself
is true. But how could that claim avoid the inevitable skeptical conclusion.
Nothing can be known for sure to be objectively true, for there is no standard
other than the chemical pattern one happens to be using at the time. Why should
reason be trusted? How could naturalism be known to be true? The answer is: it
Thus naturalism fails to be able to sustain its own truth claim. In fact,
all knowledge becomes mere temporary chemical behaviors in the brain, which is
a product of meaningless and random chemical processes. You and I are nothing
more than two sets of chemical processes temporarily in this present
configuration. Nothing can in the traditional sense be true, for there is no
objective standard. The human mind is only a temporary effect of a particular
set of chemical processes, and thus is not a true observer of fact and
Naturalism claims to be the best and most scientific way to seek truth, but
it is an extreme case of circular reasoning that has forgotten its objective
roots in the knowledge of the world that stands upon divine revelation ("In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth"). Only in theism do we have a
personal, living, intelligent cause. Only theism has a sufficient explanation
of life in the world. God is a necessary being, but this is exactly what
naturalism denies. Thus reason is lost. Truth is lost. Knowledge is lost.
Meaning is lost.
Naturalism dies of its own success.
L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary
Age. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003.