David Bentley Hart on Materialism and Naturalism

“Materialism is the philosophical view that the only thing that exists is matter; if anything else, such as mental events, exists, then it is reducible to matter. Naturalism is the system of thought holding that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.” (Google). 

I’ve shared other posts on materialism  showing how this closed system is not only unprovable but self-refuting. Materialism and/or naturalism is the myopic worldview of most atheists: a view that sees us as little more than biological robots in a meaningless universe.

As you can probably tell, David Bentley Hart is one of my favorite philosophers. He is so because he has a profound understanding of classical theology and points out the absurdities of the so-called New Atheism with devastating intellectual insight.

Here’s a great quote from Hart from an interview on the circular reasoning behind materialism and naturalism:

“Materialism, then, is a metaphysics of the rejection of metaphysics. It is of a faith-assumption that nature is a closed system whose every feature is caused by and explainable by matter alone, and that nothing exists beyond the physical order.

Naturalism is a picture of the whole of reality that cannot, according to its own intrinsic premises, address the being of the whole; it is a transcendental certainty of the impossibility of transcendental truth, and so requires an act of pure credence logically immune to any verification.

Naturalism’s claim that, by confining itself to purely material explanations for all things, it adheres to the only sure path of verifiable knowledge is nothing but a feat of sublimely circular thinking: physics explains everything, which we know because anything physics cannot explain does not exist, which we know because whatever exists must be explicable by physics, which we know because physics explains everything.” (Hear the whole interview here)

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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56 Responses to David Bentley Hart on Materialism and Naturalism

  1. John Branyan says:

    Nice try, Mel. This argument is only persuasive to people who value rationality. I can think of 4 refutations for this but you’re too brainwashed, indoctrinated, stubborn, and mean to grasp them.
    Also…LOL! (There’s a 5th argument for free.)

    • Mel Wild says:

      I know, I know. I’m also being deceptive, dishonest, and disingenuous. I should already know that this argument has been refuted because it’s old. 🙂

      This argument is only persuasive to people who value rationality.

      Well, Zande told me that rational arguments are the opposite of faith, so I guess that must mean that he will either agree with it or he embraces faith.

  2. john zande says:

    There are 500 million Buddhists (who’re atheists) in the world.

    Are you trying to argue they, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Not quite…you are talking about modern Buddhist Naturalists.

      “Buddhist Naturalists are not Buddhists, they are naturalists who build their philosophical viewpoint on naturalism, and then incorporate Buddhist principles accordingly. Think of a building. For Buddhist Naturalists the foundation of their house of philosophy is naturalism. Then upon this foundation, they add naturalized and secularized Buddhist teachings.”

      Real Buddhism…

      “Contrary to some modern conceptions of Buddhism, Buddhism is a religion surrounded by the supernatural. According to the Pali canon, the Buddha was a god who descended to the earth, was born of a virgin, and performed miracles. After his awakening, he became a teacher of men and gods. At his death, he entered paranirvana, the unconditioned, said to be a state of bliss. He taught the supernatural doctrines of rebirth, karma, and believed in the six realms.”
      https://snsociety.org/what-is-buddhist-naturalism/

      • john zande says:

        Buddhists are atheists: they do not believe in the gods, or a god. Progress is made by the individual moving personally towards Buddhahood. What you are trying to call supernatural, Buddhists hold to be perfectly natural.

        So, again: Are you trying to argue they, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Lol! What I am trying to call? I gave you a quote. You are the one making stuff up.
          Are you a Buddhist? You seem to know about them than they do.

        • john zande says:

          From BuddhaNet, a major Buddhist website:

          There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgement Day. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.

          From Religion Facts:

          One doctrine agreed upon by all branches of modern Buddhism is that “this world is not created and ruled by a God.

          So, again: Are you trying to argue they, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

        • John Branyan says:

          You derive meaning from producing excrement.
          You have achieved Buddhahood.
          Congratulations.

        • john zande says:

          The universe’s purpose, yes.

          Prove it wrong.

        • John Branyan says:

          You demonstrate your purpose flawlessly.
          It cannot be proven wrong.
          I’ve told you this many times. Apparently, you have a poor memory.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Isn’t Google great! We can all pretend we know what we’re talking about. Buddhism is agnostic regarding God.

          One general doctrine agreed upon by Buddhists is: “We do not believe … in a creator God does not necessarily mean that Buddhism is atheistic.” (Which Zande quote-mines)

          In view of the above factors, scholars and Buddhists alike tend to describe Buddhism as atheistic in the sense that it denies an eternal creator God, while recognizing its theistic and devotional elements. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains,

          “While the contemplative elite may deny the real existence of gods and demons together with the rest of phenomenal existence, the majority of Buddhists from the earliest times in India, and in other countries where Buddhism has spread, have never neglected indigenous religious beliefs.”
          http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/atheism

          Buddhism is generally considered to be not atheistic but agnostic, in that, the Buddha himself did not deny the existence of God. The Indian teacher and social reformer teacher called Sakyamuni Buddha is reported to have either kept silent when asked whether God existed, or in other cases to have said that his Noble Eightfold path led to enlightenment and deathless peace, and did not require faith or belief in a divine being or supreme creator. “Buddhism Without Beliefs,” by the former monk and Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, offers a fine argument for the agnostic thinking of basic Buddhism.
          https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/secular-philosophies/if-theres-no-god-in-buddhism-are-buddhists-atheists.aspx

          “Since the Buddha of the Pāli Nikāyas does not deny the existence of gods, only their cosmological and soteriological functions, it is inaccurate to define early Buddhism as atheistic or as non-theistic. The word atheistic is usually associated with anti-religious attitudes absent in the Buddha, and the term non-theistic seems to imply that rejecting the theistic concept of God is one of the main concerns of the Buddha, when in fact it is a marginal question in the Pāli Nikāyas.”
          https://www.iep.utm.edu/buddha/#SH3a

        • john zande says:

          One doctrine agreed upon by all branches of modern Buddhism is that “this world is not created and ruled by a God.

          So, again: Are you trying to argue they, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

          Why are you finding it so hard to just address the question…

        • Mel Wild says:

          Why would your question have any meaning? They are agnostic. The Buddha himself never denied the possibility of God. He just thought it was unknowable. So, my answer is, your question is meaningless. Getting off your inane merry-go-round now….have fun.

        • john zande says:

          What Buddhists Believe
          Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera

          Only in one sense can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and ordainer of the world.

          That ONE SENSE is all that counts.
          So, again: Are you trying to argue Buddhists, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Lol! Get off Google, Zande. Get back to work. Bye…

        • john zande says:

          I see.

          Your argument has been shown to not only be thoroughly fallacious, but juvenile to the extreme, so cue the hand waving and storming off in a tantrum…

          Fair enough. Bye.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Storming off in a tantrum? LOL! You are the one who seems to be having a fit here. You just won’t let it go. And, per the usual, you haven’t even addressed my argument in the post, let alone proved anything fallacious. You just went off on a tangent with another one of your inane questions. I say, “bye” because you won’t quit unless I quit responding. So, yes…bye.

        • john zande says:

          I asked a simple question. Your response was a pathetic song dance to evade addressing that question. It’s just what you do when you know your argument has collapsed under the weight of its own simplistic silliness.

          Buddhists are atheists. That’s simply a fact. “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path,” said the Buddha. Buddhists themselves don’t even enter the subject, simply calling themselves NON-THEISTIC. Your mistake is trying to define Buddhism by imposing western religious notions on its teachings, and that fails dismally. Someone like you sees Dharma, for example, and instantly tries to equate it (erroneously) with your own notions. What you call supernatural (emanating from a supernatural being) a Buddhist would simply one of the five worlds. Devas and bodhisattvas are NOT eternal beings. They all evolve. There are no hidden causes, just apparent causes.

          So, as plainly stated in ThoughtCo:

          If atheism is the absence of belief in a God or gods, then many Buddhists are, indeed, atheists.

          Hence my question, DIRECTLY addressing the claims of the post:

          Are you trying to argue Buddhists, for example, believe in a “meaningless” universe?

          You won’t answer this like an adult because it so easily and completely ruins the nihilistic pantomime you’re trying to paint.

        • Mel Wild says:

          4-5 There is no good way to answer fools when they say something stupid. If you answer them, then you, too, will look like a fool. If you don’t answer them, they will think they are smart. (Prov.26:4-5 ERV)

        • john zande says:

          Exactly, case in point: Can’t address it as an adult, evasive song and dance routine continues…

        • Nan says:

          Gosh, JZ, haven’t you figured out by now that your line of reasoning is always wrong?

  3. Zande needs to come visit my neck of the woods. We made the stereotype of the angry Buddhist infamous. Great comedic fodder, because materialism and naturalism are the precise opposite of Buddhism. Tends to create a hostile war in one’s spirit. Those who actually practice genuine Buddhism come here and are as shocked by it as the rest of us.

    Many of us in healthcare really struggle with this worship of all things material and natural. People are whole beings,so mind, body, and spirit. If you wish to take care of them properly you have to address all three. Many of our failures are about, “we have a pill for that,” without ever addressing the underlying cause or giving them the emotional and spiritual tools they need in order to heal. Type 2 diabetes is a good example, changing your diet, exercise, reducing stress, controlling your blood sugar, can all cure you and yet trying to get people to change a lifetime of bad habits requires the emotional and spiritual component.

    • LOL! Sorry Mel, forgot to tell you, good post! You got me thinking and off I went… 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      I’m sure Zande will find a Google quote to prove you wrong. LOL!

      Your comments on the failures of traditional healthcare to address the whole person is spot-on. This train wreck came from the compartmentalization we inherited from the Enlightenment thinking. We pushed the spiritual aside in pursuit of natural science, and as you pointed out, we gave them a pill instead and thereby created a whole host of prescription-based addicts, not to mention, caused all kinds of new health problems.

      Btw, one of my favorite side-effects listed in commercials for anti-depression medicine is that the person may suffer suicidal tendencies. Wow. Great solution!

  4. ndifrisco says:

    Like so many other things, materialism is a worldview that even its supporters don’t really believe. It’s all a pose, a fashion statement, a way of saying “I’m too smart for this ‘religion’ thing”. Materialism is just another way for those who care too much about what others think about them to try and impress people with their so-called rationality.

    As you said in your last post, it’s boring.

    • john zande says:

      It is boring, which is why virtually no one who, if asked directly, would probably identify as a “materialist” ever really speaks of it a standalone subject. That, as you can see by the blog host’s utter obsession with the subject, is the domain of apologists.

      For whatever reason, you’re boring yourselves.

      • Mel Wild says:

        It is boring, which is why virtually no one who, if asked directly, would probably identify as a “materialist” ever really speaks of it a standalone subject.

        Of course, they don’t. It’s embarrassing. Why would any thinking person want to admit that their worldview is myopic and self-refuting? The funny thing is, you’ve keep making ndifrisco’s point. You think you’re too smart for religion because you’re “rational.” LOL!

        That, as you can see by the blog host’s utter obsession with the subject, is the domain of apologists.

        Says the man who obsesses all day on this blog! You spend more time here that I do, Zande. If this subject is so boring then why are you commenting at all? Me thinks thou doth protest too much. Having a coherent worldview is not boring. It’s the lens by which you interpret everything else. That’s not ndifrisco’s point. It’s your arguments that are boring.

        • john zande says:

          Yes, which is precisely why 72.8% of philosophers are atheists, and 93% of members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheist.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Yup, that proves it alright. LOL!

        • john zande says:

          I thought you liked the philosophers?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Of course, I’m all for philosophy. Religion deals with metaphysics and philosophical questions.And there are a lot of good philosophers who aren’t atheists. According to a NY Times article, 62% of philosophers are atheists, the other 11% are inclined toward that view.
          https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/

          Most philosophers specialize in a field, so they’re not trained specifically in philosophy of religion. Many theists become theologians instead of philosophers. And many of these atheist and agnostic philosophers are not necessarily militant anti-theists, like Dennett, but just not interested in the subject of religion. Philosopher, Peter Smith, says this about it…

          “But I rather doubt that this is because “religion does not stand up to philosophical scrutiny”: my non-believing colleagues mostly show no interest at all in the philosophy of religion. The reasons why they find no sustenance in theistic religion and it wouldn’t cross their mind to attend church are more complex than explicit argumentative considerations. And so too for other non-believers.”

          http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/3279

          As far as scientists go, I would imagine it’s because science fundamentally doesn’t address the subject of God at all. As Francis Collins says, some of it may be push-back to extreme religious fundamentalists’ anti-science stance. Here’s a clip with Collins talking about why it may be hard for scientists to believe in God…

        • john zande says:

          Yes, 72.8%, so I guess you just mistyped this sentence: Why would any thinking person want to admit that their worldview is myopic and self-refuting?

        • john zande says:

          And just for the record: I don’t know where the blog writer (not actually a NYT’s article) came up with that figure, because the figures from the actual study are:

          God: theism or atheism?
          Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
          Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
          Other 117 / 931 (12.6%)

          It’s available online.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Whatever…😴

        • john zande says:

          So, that’s a Yes: you did simply mistype this sentence: Why would any thinking person want to admit that their worldview is myopic and self-refuting?

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, your argument is boring. I don’t really care if you want to believe a myopic and self-refuting worldview. That’s up to you.

        • john zande says:

          Well, quite obviously, the overwhelming majority of “thinking people” don’t think their worldview is myopic and self-refuting.

          So I guess you just got that train of thought frightfully ass-backwards.

        • Mel Wild says:

          LOL! To quote Mark Twain, there are there are three levels of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Got to go…believe whatever you want. It’s still myopic and logically self-refuting.

        • john zande says:

          Lies? You’re free to look at the study yourself, and see that those figures are accurate, as published.

          I think I see the source of your animus, Mel. You resent methodological naturalism because unlike theism there is no dogma boxing it in. There is nothing in naturalism stating there cannot be more to matter, or even different/presently unknown forms of matter, forces, energy, dimensions. Max Tegmark, for example, proposes a 4th state of matter. He’s not being burned at the stake for his research. He’s not being threatened with excommunication. No naturalist in their right mind would ever say, let alone even suspect, that we know everything there is to know about the universe… and yet that is the pantomime version of science you try to peddle. Even if you can’t see it, which I suspect you can’t, the reason why you’re so vehemently against methodological naturalism is because it DOES NOT presuppose that ours is an artificial universe. That’s it. That and that alone, is the root of your indignation, for without your massive presupposition of an artificial universe you have absolutely nothing.

        • John Branyan says:

          Another perfectly articulation of your purpose.
          I applaud your consistency.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Lies? You’re free to look at the study yourself, and see that those figures are accurate, as published.

          Everyone knows statistics are based on how the question is framed, and then often interpreted and quote-mined by factions for their own purposes. They may even accurately give us the current situation or cultural mood but they don’t necessarily give us truth. Your study doesn’t mean that all these scientists and philosophers are anti-theists. Many are just indifferent or don’t deal with the subject at all. But I already told you that, which you ignored, so there’s no point in talking further about it.

          And the point is that it doesn’t change the fact that naturalism/materialism as a worldview is logically circular and self-refuting, even if a 100% embraced this myopic worldview.

          You resent methodological naturalism because unlike theism there is no dogma boxing it in.

          And you would be totally misrepresenting what I said, or flat out lying, because I’ve already told you several times that I have no problem with scientific methodology which is basically methodological naturalism. That methodology doesn’t deny the existence of something supra-natural or supernatural. It just doesn’t study it for methodological reasons. What I have a problem with is a philosophical dogma or worldview called naturalism.

        • john zande says:

          I didn’t ignore it. I simply overlooked responding to it because it was clear you don’t know much about academic level philosophy courses. Going in, it is impossible not to dive right into the question of god. It’s what you cut your teeth on. The fact that coming out the overwhelming majority have rejected theology and have settled quite firmly on a-theism is a reflection on just how poor the arguments for god are.

          It just doesn’t study it for methodological reasons.

          Of course it studies it! Methodological naturalism has revealed forces and things that would never have been found by simply “observing” the natural world, so trying to claim that it is somehow a closed box (like theism is a closed box) is patently false.

          As I said, No naturalist in their right mind would ever say, let alone even suspect, that we know everything there is to know about the universe… and yet that is the pantomime version of science you try to peddle. And of course you have a problem with naturalism: it rejects—for quite obvious reasons—your massive presupposition that ours is an artificial world. That’s why you spend so much time blindly raging against it.

        • Mel Wild says:

          I didn’t ignore it. I simply overlooked responding to it because it was clear you don’t know much about academic level philosophy courses.

          Which means you ignored it because, really, there’s no one I know who is more pretentious and dogmatic and doctrinaire in their anti-theist fundamentalism than you, Zande. Evidently, you traded one brand of fundamentalism for another when you became anti-theist. You are the one railing against the stupidest things, like trying to redefine philosophical naturalism, to suit your own ends.

          According to your beloved Wikipedia:

          “Methodological naturalists limit their scientific research to the study of natural causes, because any attempts to define causal relationships with the supernatural are never fruitful, and result in the creation of scientific “dead ends” and God of the gaps-type hypotheses. To avoid these traps scientists assume that all causes are empirical and naturalistic; which means they can be measured, quantified and studied methodically.

          However, this assumption of naturalism need not extend beyond an assumption of methodology. This is what separates methodological naturalism from philosophical naturalism — the former is merely a tool and makes no truth claim; while the latter makes the philosophical — essentially atheistic — claim that only natural causes exist.

          Which was exactly my point. But there’s no point in arguing with you because you obviously only want to hear yourself talk. This really has gotten quite boring for me. You obviously have nothing better to do. I do. Have a good day.

        • john zande says:

          No, I avoided addressing it to save you unnecessary embarrassment, and because your ignorance of the subject really didn’t matter to the larger point, which was your allusion to “thinking people” holding what you believe to be a myopic and self-refuting worldview.

          That, self-evidently, was an unfortunate brain fart on your behalf.

          Yes, quantum entanglement, for example, is, wait for it, a natural cause, hence it is a part of methodological naturalism! Like electromagnetic forces, atomic decay, probability clouds, etc. it’s also one that could never have been “observed.” Your “closed box” pantomime just doesn’t hold water, Mel.

          But yes, have a nice day, too.

        • John Branyan says:

          You nailed him, JZ.
          Poor Mel sometimes produces something other than pure excrement. You, in contrast, always fulfill your assigned purpose.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Zande, please spare me your condescending pretentious arrogance. Now you sound like Taboo. You are not getting the effect you think you are.

          My “closed-box pantomime?” LOL! Wow. Got me there! What an ironic thing to say. What’s “closed-box,” by definition, is naturalism. Do you actually listen to yourself talk?

          First, these so-called majority of atheists aren’t necessarily anti-theists like you, as I pointed out several times now, which is the point about your statistics. Second, it was never about methodological naturalism and you know it. On the other hand, philosophical naturalism, by definition, denies anything outside of the natural world, so it’s necessarily a closed worldview and, therefore, logically self-refuting, since it cannot prove its own conclusions. Third, if these thinking people that you bring up, which I have no doubt are very smart, are actually thinking through the philosophical naturalist worldview and taking it to its ultimate conclusion they would then have to conclude that its ontology is incoherent. Furthermore, if they were honest about it, they would be agnostic at best. That would be a reasonable conclusion.

          But, again, you’ve shown over and over I’m wasting my time with you. Maybe Branyan is right. You are fulfilling your purpose here. I don’t have time for it. So I will be ignoring your further comments on this subject.

        • john zande says:

          philosophical naturalism, by definition, denies anything outside of the natural world, so it’s necessarily a closed worldview

          Quantum entanglement, for example, would have appeared to be quite outside the natural world in the 19th century. That didn’t stop “naturalists” finding it and studying it and expanding our understanding of the natural world. That’s what I’m saying, and that’s what you’re so conveniently ignoring. Naturalism (philosophical and methodological) is open to everything and anything, which is why naturalists/materialists like Tegmark, Lee Smolin, Andy Gardner, Joseph Conlon, Giulio Tononi, Roger Penrose, and Adrien Bejan are not being burned at the stake for heresy. What it doesn’t do is START FROM THE MASSIVE PRESUPPOSITION that everything around us is ARTIFICIAL.

          That, Mel, is the source of your rage, your indignation, for without your massive presupposition of an artificial universe you have absolutely nothing.

        • John Branyan says:

          Mel,

          Zande is producing excrement. That’s his purpose – his ONLY purpose.
          Give him some credit. Applaud his efforts. His diligence and consistency is exceptional.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I agree. Even a partially objective thinking person would see through materialism as myopic and logically self-refuting. The truth is, everyone must have a worldview, whether they admit it or not, so…voila! And those committed to the closed-system of naturalism need materialism to explain their world, which forces them to make some of the stupidest postulations about reality ever uttered. It’s their apologetic arguments for it that are boring and vapid.

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