What is reality? Is it just the physical world, the world of biology, chemistry, and physics? Is reality only matter and energy and space and time? Is everything in human experience just effects of the physical universe, illusions generated by our neural activity? Naturalism says, yes, that is it—the default explanation for everything we refer to as real, actual, and factual.
But is this really the total truth about reality? No, it isn’t. Not even close.
First, naturalism is self-refuting. If the only reality is the physical one, then there is no way to explain our consciousness or our rational thinking, except to see those as illusions of logic and thinking generated by our brain’s neural activity. And this means that reason, so elemental to the conduct and application of science, is nothing more than a mere neural sensation. And that inherent and unavoidable contradiction is absolutely fatal to the assertion that the physical reality is the only real reality.
When we understand the fatal contradiction of naturalism, reality no longer is mere mechanics, the grinding reduction to physicality of our many human powers and principles. Once we shed naturalism’s narrow and false assumptions, reality is liberated from the error of its mechanistic materialism.
The true magnificence and sophistication of reality beyond the error of naturalism illumines reality the more we think properly. And, as this core conviction of something beyond the physical plane awakens, the full range of reality reveals some of its immediate truths while intimating the horizons of wisdom, sophistication and complexity that are now open to us.
With the demise of naturalism, our rational capacities also take on their appropriate authority and certainty, without diminishing the nature and role of the scientific method and the truths of the various sciences. Now reason’s abilities and applications present enticing and intriguing opportunities to discover truths of many types—and not just more physical truths.
Once the single truth of naturalism is dismissed and reason begins to assume its rightful role in reality, a whole spectrum of truth presents itself for our inquiry and discovery. Because reason is freed from naturalism’s singular and limited focus, logic, reason and commonsense can once again uncover timeless truths and find new nuances of understanding and application for these many truths.
In addition, this discovery will inevitably foster rational discourse and logical argumentation. Many areas of our personal and public contention now will compel an appeal to reason and sound argumentation without resorting to defensive pleas of insensitivity about personal perceptions and aggressive cries of bias, bigotry, and belligerence.
For example, a tacit tenet of contemporary culture is its implicit relativism—the belief that beyond the sciences all other statements of meaning and value are matters of personal perception, not matters of fact. This point of view implicitly rejects reason’s rightful role in formulating ideas, developing arguments, and elaborating opinions to sound conclusions.
With this new rational grounding, differences of opinion now must be argued and proved—not merely asserted and accepted. All opinion must be subject to the laws of logic and sound evidence. No longer is the individual opinion above evaluation or outside critique. The power of truth moves from the sovereignty of each person to the laws of logic, reason, and commonsense. Reason’s power is once again the arbiter of truth, not the individual’s preference, perception or politics.
Other aspects of human nature and experience move toward a more objective designation and a more certain actuality. Just think about morality or beauty. Like objective truth, both of these dimensions have been remanded to the realm of personal perception and preference in the wake of relativism’s dominance arising from the hegemony of science and the foundational belief in naturalism.
But, with reason’s resurrection in the wake of naturalism’s falsity, the whole approach to morality and beauty changes. Individuals may have opinions about morality and beauty. But reason now plays a significant role in ascertaining the truth in these broad areas and to the many specific questions comprising them.
Think, for example, about abortion. Under law, the killing of a child is allowed and happens at the whim of any woman without argument, without legal review, without rational and moral justification. A woman’s right to decide whether to birth a child already in her womb is a modern given. It is because killing this unborn child is merely the removal of an unwanted or inconvenient biochemical object, an organic thing of no real consequence.
For within naturalism’s worldview, all human beings are merely biochemical things, despite our consciousness, our consciences and our rational capabilities. All beings are merely things, biochemical things. Nothing more.
But, within a worldview where reason is the primary path to knowing, abortion is a heinous act of deadly violence despite the felt emotions and motivations of the woman choosing this and the professionals guiding and assisting her. For human beings are no longer just biochemical entities. They are biological beings, a combination of mind and body, the embodiment of the breadth and complexity of the human mind, the many magnificent facets and features of human nature and human beings.
Within a naturalistic philosophy, morality is nothing more than custom, a product of historical consensus, which may be amended to suit contemporary tastes and preferences as is necessary and expeditious. Also, in the absence of fixed moral truths, each person is deemed to be the primary definer of morality for any and every area of living in the private domain and in many areas of public life.
Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are examples of morality defined by each and every person. According to a naturalistic lens, sexuality is generally a private matter morally defined by two (or even more) consenting adults, outside the realm of public judgement or any standards of moral objectivity.
But when reason is brought to bear, such sexual acts and attitudes must pass an objective moral review, which includes a reasoned analysis in light of deductive moral truths and innate moral principles supported by psychological and socio-cultural studies.
For once reason is released and restored to its epistemological prominence, our path to truth becomes clear. Not only are our deductive powers acknowledged, but our commonsense and our intuitive senses become viable paths to moral truth too. Our many characterological virtues and relational truths such as love and fidelity, sacrifice and generosity, honesty and understanding, honor and commitment provide real standards and sophisticated judgement and application.
Under a naturalistic philosophy, however, all these virtuous traits inherent to our deepest relationships and even our superficial ones are mere social conventions or products of some form of negotiated arrangement between the individuals engaged in such relationships. That is because there truly are no real virtues, no real moral truths, no real reality beyond the physical plane for naturalism’s solitary plane of matter and energy within the space and time of the cosmos.
Under naturalism, love isn’t love. It’s just biochemical activity, an illusory sensation generated by the matter and energy in our brains. Love and reason and everything else we know and value become neural events of no significance, devoid of content, importance, reality. Naturalism means everything is either matter or energy. That’s it.
But, real reality—the reality we know from science, reason and our consciousness and commonsense—is a symphony of truths. It is a harmony of truth, physical and metaphysical truth, moral and relational truth, theological and teleological truth. Life has an abundance of truth of a depth and breadth that is intriguing, intelligible and inspiring.
For the nature of reason and its subordinate science open up reality’s true clarity and its deep sophistication to the eager seeker and the sound thinker, to the true lover and the fearless learner. For true reality is a cosmic and contemporary adventure of exploration and application, a temporal and timeless divine gift, an opportunity to live life fully with a joy and a passion that arises not from personality, but from the very nature of reality’s truth, its promise and its purpose.
The truths of the tangible and intangible aspects of reality show us the necessity for God just as the moral truths show us reflections of His character and His hope and concern for us. For all these truths we find through reason are not merely information, insights, and inspiration. They are that and so much more.
For these truths are also a direct experience of His nature, of His very person. If we remember that knowing truth is an epiphany of sorts, a routine opportunity to the avid seeker to encounter God in a mystical manner in the course of thinking, learning, and living. This is why He told us, “Those who seek, will find.” Find His truth. Find His proximity and intimacy. Find Him in His fullness.
• This is the final essay of a three-part series on The Triumph of Truth. The first, “The Triumph of Truth: Overlooking the Obvious”, was published on July 27, 2020 and the second, “The Triumph of Truth: Reasoning to Truth”, was published on August 20, 2020.
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