The Failures of Naturalism

CosmosWelcome to the latest installment of Weighing Worldviews! Last time we looked at how naturalism answers our key worldview questions and revealed a few underlying problems with it. This article will show how naturalism is ultimately a bankrupt system by examining three critical topics: morality, meaning, and rationality.


No objective morality

As I mentioned in my last article, there is no objective morality in naturalism. Good and evil, right and wrong are just personal preferences or social constructs. What’s right for you is right for you and what’s right for me is right for me, otherwise known as moral relativism. But does this really match reality? Do you honestly think that the wrongness of murder and rape are just cultural conventions? That the Holocaust wasn’t really, truly, objectively wrong? Because that’s what the consistent relativist must say. The Nazis believed the Holocaust was good and so it was really a good thing for them. ISIS thinks it is okay to behead their enemies and imprison women as sex slaves. And we have no right to judge them. Do you honestly think this is correct? I doubt it.

Everyone knows deep down that certain actions are really right and others are really wrong. That love and justice are good and rape and murder are evil. But there is no room for objective morality in naturalism. If you believe that morality is objective and real (as you should), then you cannot be a naturalist. Or a consistent one, anyway.

No moral responsibility

Now, let’s go further. As I also noted in my last article, free will is an illusion. Everything you do is predetermined by your genetic makeup or social conditioning. So you have never made a truly free choice in your life. All that occurs in the universe is determined by the laws of physics. If this is the case, how could anyone be considered truly responsible for his or her actions? The rapist has no choice but to rape. The murderer has no option but to murder. It’s not their fault; everyone simply “dances to his DNA.” There is no moral responsibility in naturalism.

So if a naturalist shows contempt for some kind of “evil” action, he faces two key problems: 1) There is no room within naturalism to call any action truly evil. 2) The person committing the action had no choice in doing it and therefore holds no moral responsibility for it.


Just as there’s no objective morality within naturalism, there is also no ultimate meaning to life. But that’s liberating, isn’t it? You aren’t subject to the will of a deity or some ancient book. You’re free to make up whatever meaning you want in life! (Although, remember that free will is just an illusion.) It sounds good initially, but ultimately this fails. A made-up meaning is no different from no meaning at all. Sure, you could commit your life to helping others or exploring the universe. Or you could dedicate yourself to a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. To conquer and pillage and rape. In the end, there’s no difference. We all end up as worm food. No ultimate judgment, just game over. You can pretend that life is meaningful, but you’re just fooling yourself.

And if life has no ultimate meaning and there’s no objective morality, then you can’t say one person’s meaning is right or another’s is wrong. So while many New Atheists want you to dedicate your life to science or whatnot, why should you care about their opinion? Why not just sit back on your couch watching tv and playing video games? This life is all there is, so live it up. Do whatever makes you happy.

And if you’re an honest naturalist, you’d quit thinking that you have a choice and just keep dancing to your DNA.

[For more on this, see William Lane Craig’s article, The Absurdity of Life Without God.]


This may be the least obvious problem of naturalism but it is also perhaps the most crippling. Maybe you can live without an objective moral system or ultimate meaning to life. But under naturalism, there is no such thing as rationality. This point is extremely ironic because many atheists claim to be more rational and intellectually superior to theists. But rationality is impossible in naturalism!

Recall that if the universe consists only of physical stuff, then everything within the universe is governed by the laws of physics. There is no soul to enable free choices. So all that happens in the universe, every “choice” human beings make, is causally predetermined from the moment of the big bang (including the words I am typing right now and your “decision” to read them). So an atheist cannot say that he came to the conclusion that God does not exist through a rational process; the laws of physics determined it. In fact, no one has ever come to a rational conclusion about anything!

[For more on this, see Tim Stratton‘s article, The Freethinking Argument.]


Maybe you don’t like religion. Maybe you don’t want there to be a God. But what’s your alternative? Atheistic naturalism simply does not answer life’s most important questions. There is no true right or wrong, no ultimate meaning, and rationality is impossible. Plain and simple, naturalism is not the worldview that matches reality.

Try Christianity!



  1. Real talk from a brother in Christ.

    Purely objective morality is a schematic error, as pivotal 20th-century Christian philosopher of language R. M. Hare showed exhaustively. Morality is a manifold — conscious (rules, deliberation) and unconscious (intuition, conscience) — response to subjective interests in terms of strategies that can be weighed objectively. Because it entails a subjective ground and objective evaluation, it is erroneous to call it purely objective, and likewise erroneous to call it purely subjective. God is the Great Subject in our faith from which our morality derives.

    Libertarian free will is not anything anybody has. It hasn’t even been coherently articulated in a positive way — ever. Our behavior is adequately deterministic and we can coherently speak of things like responsibility under compatibilism.

    There is no purely objective meaning; when we radically reduce to “ultimates” (ultimate causes, ultimate pieces/parts, and ultimate destinies) meaning becomes “hollow.” Ecclesiastes asserts this and maintains it to the end; in the last chapter, it is upheld as upright and true that “ultimate meaning” is hollow. It drives me crazy that so many of we Christians have rejected or brazenly misinterpreted what is the most ancient work of existentialism. God inspired what took secular philosophy millennia to ascertain.

    The rational contemplation we perform is a form of creation’s adequately deterministic processes. The idea that adequate determinism means “no real rational contemplation” is like saying that adequate determinism means “no real avalanches.” It’s really bizarre that this site is so committed to libertarian free will as a “gotcha” against atheists when many of us Christians reject libertarian free will completely.

    Christianity is so much more than these rubber swords. Don’t let modern institutional apologetics (powered by tribal antagonism, a pattern of this world) become an event horizon that stalls critical exploration.


Join in the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s