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Naturalism (Interventions)

Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro (Eerdmans: May 23, 2008), 132 pages.

Most, if not all, other books on naturalism are written for professional philosophers alone. Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro offer a book that — without losing anything in the way of scholarly standards — is primarily aimed at a college-educated audience interested in learning about this pervasive worldview. Naturalism groups the various terms of this philosophy into two general categories: strict naturalism and broad naturalism. According to the strict version, all that exists can be exhaustively described and explained by the natural sciences. As Goetz and Taliaferro explain it, broad naturalism allows that there may be some things beyond physics and the natural sciences, but insists that there can be no reality beyond nature — i.e., God — and explicitly rules out the possibility of souls. The authors argue that both categories face substantial objections in their failure to allow for consciousness, human free will, and values. They offer sustained replies to the naturalist critique of the soul and the existence of God and engage in critical evaluations of works by scholarly and popular advocates of naturalism — Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Nagel, Jaegwon Kim, and others.


This little gem of a book is a bold intervention in current discussions of naturalism that dominate philosophy and cognitive science. Unlike so many others, it is not just a book written to make theists comfortably smug in the face of naturalist critiques. It is unabashedly directed to naturalists as well and seeks to engage them on their turf and on their terms. It should be required reading not only for theologians who sense an obligation to engage the broader cultural milieu, but also naturalists willing to relinquish dogmatism and actually listen. The book well fulfills its function as a “guide” — and more. ~ James K.A. Smith, Calvin College

More than a few people seem to regard it as a mark of sophistication to hold that nothing exists that transcends the natural order. But, as Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro show in their splendid new book, `naturalism’ is anything but a sophisticated view of reality. Under rigorous philosophical scrutiny, it isn’t even a
plausible one… Patiently, gently, but in the end decisively, Goetz and Taliaferro demolish the dogmas of naturalism. ~ Robert P. George, princeton University

This compact study makes a significant contribution to the question of whether, in an age of science, reasonable people need to resign themselves to a naturalistic understanding of the world. Is the intellectually respected assumption that `nature is all there is’ intellectually coherent? In this `intervention’ Goetz and Taliaferro provide a readable, critical response to this important question. ~ John F. Haught, Georgetown University

The clearest and most penetrating exposition and critique of naturalism anywhere. In accessible, nontechnical language and brevity of style, the authors have managed to identify important versions of naturalism and expose the Achilles’ heel of each. In a day when theologians and Christian leaders feel bullied by scientific naturalism, this book is a must-read. ~ J.P. Moreland, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

Table of Contents

  • 1 The Challenge of Strict Naturalism 1
  • 2 Strict Naturalism versus a Natural View of Persons 13
  • 3 Naturalism and the Soul 53
  • 4 Naturalism, Consciousness, and Values 71
  • 5 Beyond Naturalism 97
    • Appendix: The Argument from Reason 117
    • Bibliography 123
    • Index 130