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Debating Naturalism

by Keith M. Parsons, Editor


The following article is from Philo, Volume 1, Number 2.


The two lead-off articles in this issue of Philo debate a number of important issues. The first article, "On Being a Secularist All the Way Down," is written by Professor Kai Nielsen of the University of Calgary and Concordia University. The second, "Reflective Equilibrium and the Contemplative Ideal of Knowledge," is by Professor Isaac Nevo of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Professor Nielsen charges that traditional metaphysical naturalism is discredited because it is committed to scientism and foundationalism. He proposes an alternative pragmatic, fallibilistic, and historicized naturalism that is irreducibly perspectivist in that it appeals to no foundational criteria for knowledge and denies that science, or anything else, can ever produce the only true picture of reality. Nielsen argues that, though there is no ahistorical view, no "perspectiveless perspective," we can still make critical assessments of our cultural practices. He proceeds to develop a critique of religious belief on the basis of his naturalism.

Professor Nevo criticizes Nielsen's way of developing a "naturalism without foundations." He examines Nielsen's attempt to reorient philosophy from a foundational enterprise to a form of social critique with the goal of achieving "wide reflective equilibrium (WRE)." WRE is the goal of achieving ever greater coherence and consistency to ever wider bodies of belief, ultimately encompassing science, politics, morals, and religion. Nevo argues that though Nielsen repudiates foundationalism, his idea of WRE will prove as monolithic and as destructive to genuine dialogue as any form of foundationalism. Further, he argues against Nielsen's attempt to invoke a social consensus against religious belief.

We are certainly pleased to present these two outstanding articles in Philo. Since naturalism has long been theism's chief competitor, it will be most interesting to see how the efforts of Nielsen and others to reconceive naturalism affect the longstanding debates between secular and religious worldviews.

We are also pleased to present excellent articles by Timothy Madigan and Theodore Drange and a most interesting set of book reviews, including a lengthy review essay by Graham Oppy on Gerald Schroeder's recent bestseller, The Science of God.

One final note: We are happy to add the distinguished John Searle to our roster of contributing editors.


Keith Parsons is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston at Clearlake.


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