Natural! It sounds so benign, so innocent. It suggests normality and ultimate reality. Certainly, nothing sinister or evil could be linked with this. Only well-honed paranoia could find something here to which to object!
What is naturalism? How did it come into vogue and become such a major player in the world-views of so many?
There was a time when the belief in a personal and immanent God was held by the majority of people. It did not mean that the y were true “believers” in the sense of the Scriptures. But they did accept the reality of a God who had created the world and who reigned supreme. To them, the world was a moral world which was moving toward certain ends, planned by a Sovereign God.
But a new generation of thinkers, known as Deists, rejected the concept of a God who was involved in the universe. If He did exist, He was like a benevolent clock maker who had created a clock, wound it up, and then left it to run down on its own. In their thinking, God was not “inside” the universe but totally disinterested and outside it altogether. We were on our own.
It was only a short journey to the next phase of thinking. If God is outside, maybe He really isn’t there after all! Perhaps the only thing that is real is w a is material or natural. Hence, men such as Carl Sagan stated, “The cosmos is all that ever is or ever will be.” The only thing that is real is what is material, what can be felt, touched, handled, analyzed, and understood.
Naturalism stressed the “material” side of life. To the intellectual and the thinker, this conveyed the concept of a material universe as being the ultimate reality; but to the average person, this translated into finding value in material things. Some might question the “leap” from naturalism to materialism as being an unjust accusation. But follow the train of cause and effect for a moment.
Naturalism, by its very nature, teaches that we as human beings are only material. We have no soul or spirit, and death is the cessation of all. There is nothing transcendent in the universe or in man. We are a mere collection of atoms. We are evolution’s great cosmic practical joke. We are here by an accident of evolution and have no value or meaning in ourselves. In fact, life has no “meaning.” Nagel said, “Human destiny is an episode between two oblivions.”
Naturalism strips man of all value and life of all meaning. We have no goal or purpose in being here. While man is a complex machine, he is still only a machine. Having stripped humanity of value and of vision, it has left us as worthless castaways on the shore of human reasoning.
But something within man rebels at the very concept of a meaningless, purposeless life. Man searches for meaning. He must have it to be able to mentally exist in a world which unceasingly places values on everything. Left to his own devices, man begins to create “value” for himself by various means. Some do it by power; some seek for meaning and value in pleasure. But the ultimate destination which many reach in their search for creating value, is in possessing material things. Thus the accumulation of possessions, the amassing of wealth, of valuable possessions, and of the physical and tangible all become the pursuit of the materialist in his attempt to create value and vision out of the chaos of a “natural” world. The observation of the cynic rules: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!”
Does naturalism really answer life’s questions? Is it ultimate truth? Consider some of the dilemmas which naturalism raises and some of its inherent contradictions.
Does naturalism give us an adequate reason for thinking that man has any value? Does it give any meaning to life or does it force man to artificially “create” a value and vision for life?
More critically, does it provide any basis for ethics, for right and wrong in life? If not, then humanity is left like a vessel adrift in a vast ocean of ships with no compass and no sense of responsibility for the direction of the vessel.
But can a person whose origins are so “accidental” even trust his own ability to know truth. If there is nothing “out there” as a standard for ultimate truth, can we, a mere collection of atoms, be sure that we “know” what really is? Do those who espouse this teaching find security and satisfaction in it?
We must ever remember that it was not by intellectual jousting or apologetic intricacies that we have been delivered and preserved from this type of thinking. It was divine grace and the revelation of the Word of God which has brought us into the light. Through the Word of God, we have learned that the vast material creation has served as the dramatic backdrop against which the wondrous plan of God’s salvation has been worked out. We do not despise the material, but we recognize it for what God intended it to be: a means to an end.
Much of the ministry of the Lord Jesus was directed at man’s pursuit and preoccupation with the material. He stressed the temporary nature of all that is material -all subject to the moth, rust, and thief. He reminded us of treasures in heaven and their permanency (Matt 6:24-34). He taught us that preoccupation with the material results in lost opportunity now to serve and honor God (Luke 16). Paul reminds us that the rich are to use their wealth for spiritual and eternal ends (1 Tim 6:17-19).
Humanity’s search for meaning outside of God is doomed to despair. That is why every ism must give way to another, a newer one, a trendier way of thinking for a current age. Only God can invest humanity and history with meaning.