15. naturalism

The discoveries in physics and other physical sciences in out age have proved that a materialistic explanation of the world is far from being adequate. In the field of physics recent discoveries have rejected the concept of matter altogether. There is nothing like material substance in this world. On the other hand, the modern scientists explain the natural phenomena on the basis of energy, motion, natural laws and causal relations. Thus, naturalism has taken the place of materialism. Naturalism, therefore, is a modified form of materialism.
What is naturalism?
Naturalism, as is clear by its name, explains all the natural phenomena on the basis of natural laws. According to this view, Nature itself is the ultimate reality. Nature has been explained by means of motion and energy. The different phenomena in nature occur due to the motion and waves of electricity. Naturalism also accepts the principle of motion. It is also known as energism because of its acceptance of energy. According to energism, all the nature things are only different forms of energy. Naturalism is also known as positivism. Positivism means that the natural phenomena come within the scope of some or the other positive sciences and can be explained by means of scientific laws.
In modern times, positivism was established by a French thinker August Comte. The nature of atom has been analysed in our time. Therefore, modern scientists do not believe in atomism. By the analysis of atom it has been found that it is not made of matter but consists of energy and its motion. Thus, the concept of matter has been rejected due to the analysis of atom. This analysis has also led to the refutation of mechanism and determinism, because it has been found that motion in an atom cannot be absolutely predicted. There are electrons and protons in an atom which are organised on the pattern of our solar system. These electrons and protons are always active, and as has been already pointed out, the scientists have so far failed to discover definite laws of their motion and therefore accepted it as unpredictable.
In the beginning the naturalists believed that the different natural phenomena can be explained on the basis of physics and chemistry. Modern naturalists distinguished between the laws operating in life and those determining the vegetation and immovable things. Therefore, the field of psychology and biology has been separated from that of physics and chemistry. According to modern naturalism, there is not only quantitative but also qualitative difference in different levels of evolution and no new level can be explained by the laws applicable to the level preceding it.
Naturalism is also a type of physicalism. Therefore, there is no place for soul, God or other world in it nor does it believe in freedom of will, though some philosophers have tried to prove freedom of will as scientific on the basic of the refutation of determinism in the structure of atoms. Because of its being physicalism, naturalism has been the target of all the objections which have been levelled against physicalism.
Because naturalism supports science or is based on it, its form changes along with new discoveries in different science. Therefore, some philosophers prefer to call their naturalistic philosophy by the name mechanism. But the claim of mechanism to be universally applicable has also been rejected now-a-days. According to naturalism, the natural laws are universal and necessary. Thus, the naturalists believe in the principle of uniformity of nature. According to it the different natural phenomena occur mechanically without any purpose. There is no power of any God or other Being behind the natural laws. Thus, naturalism leads to atheism. An example of naturalism is the evolutionary theory of Darwin which is believed by many scientists but which cannot be applied to human life without raising many difficulties.
Criticism of naturalism
The following objections can be raised against naturalism :
Different natural philosophers do not give any one definite meaning to nature and have presented different views in this connection. Thus even the basic concept of Nature is not clear in Naturalism.
Naturalism remains changing along with changes in the field of science. Thus, it has nothing of its own and becomes a mere hand maid of science.
Because naturalism is a kind of physicalism all the arguments raised against physicalism are applicable to it.
The naturatlistic explanations of the universe is opposed to religious faith and ideas. Therefore, it cannot explain our religious experiences.
It is not proper on the part of naturalists to believe that the natural laws are necessary and universal because they are merely probable.
Philosophical forms of naturalism
From the standpoint of philosophical principles, the following three forms of naturalism are distinguished :
Naturalism of physical world
This principle seeks to explain human actions, individual experiences, emotions and feelings on the basis of physical sciences. It seeks to explain the entire universe in the light of the principles of physical science. It has little or no influence in the sphere of education, because all that it has done is to place knowledge of science above every kind of knowledge. It points out that not only is science one form of knowledge, but that it is the only form of valid knowledge. It is a concept of positives, and it holds that even philosophical knowledge is worthless.
Mechanical positivism
According to this principle, the entire universe is a machine made of matter and is possessed of a self driving energy that ensures its functions. This is materialism, for it suggests that matter is the only reality, and anything that exists is a form a matter. The human being is conceived of as nothing more than an active machine which is activated by certain environmental influences. The impact of this kind of positivism led to the emergence of the behavioural in terms of stimulus and response. Behaviourists do not believe in the existence of any consciousness distinguished from the material element. All processes of the mental faculty such as imagination, memory, thinking, etc., are explained in physiological terms. This school also makes no distinction between human and animal, because both can be explained in terms of stimulus and response. Behaviourism thus seeks to explain the entire range of human activity as a mechanical process. As naturalism it has had a tremendous impact on education.
Biological naturalism
It is naturalism in this form, as biological naturalism, which has had the greatest impact upon education. It has elaborated the theory of the natural man, and has explained that the evolution of man and animal is a single process. It refuses to admit the spiritual nature of man and expounds that his nature is the heritage he has received form his ancestors. That is why it traces many similarities between human and animal behaviour.
Biological naturalism contends that all the processes of Nature and the entire existence of the universe cannot be explained in terms of mechanical and physical processes, because in the biological world, evolution is a more important phenomenon. All living beings have an instinct to live and for this reason life evolves from lower forms to higher and more complex ones. One can find all the characteristics of evolution in man’s life. The principles underlying evolution can explain the form that a human being will ultimately assume and the manner in which he will progress.
At the animal level, the process of evolution stops at the material or physical level, but in the case of human beings it is also manifested in the mental, moral and spiritual levels. This instinctive evolution is found not only in individual human beings but also in groups of human beings, because these groups also evolve to a stage of greater complexity. But this evolution is also governed by the same principles which govern the individuals’s evolution. In this process of evolution, the principles of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest have been considered the most important by Charles Darwin, because in his opinion the principle of self-preservation is the strongest law of nature.

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