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Naturalism (Interventions) [Paperback]

By Charles Taliafero (Author) & Stewart Goetz (Author)
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Item description for Naturalism (Interventions) by Charles Taliafero & Stewart Goetz...

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.

Publishers Description
This inaugural Interventions volume introduces readers to the dominant scientifically oriented worldview called naturalism. Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro examine naturalism philosophically, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. Whereas most other books on naturalism are written for professional philosophers alone, this one is aimed primarily at a college-educated audience interested in learning about this pervasive worldview.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Naturalism (Interventions) by Charles Taliafero & Stewart Goetz has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Booklist - 05/01/2008 page 57

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pages   132
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 6" Height: 0.5"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 2008
Series  Interventions  
ISBN  0802807682  
ISBN13  9780802807687  

Availability  2 units.
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More About Charles Taliafero & Stewart Goetz

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Charles Taliaferro is professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. His is the author or editor of eight books, including Evidence and Faith: Philosophy and Religion Since the Seventeenth Century.

Charles Taliafero has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Interventions

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1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Criticism
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
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Reviews - What do customers think about Naturalism (Interventions)?

"New Atheist" Victor Stenger has reviewed this book  Dec 22, 2009
I have just ordered this book but not read it yet. My friend Victor Stenger, author of "The New Atheism, Taking a Stand for Science and Reason," has just written four paragraphs about this book that readers may find interesting. Here they are:

In their short book "Naturalism," philosophers Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro attempt to show that naturalism is intellectually incoherent. The authors are theists [thus, non-naturalists] who teach at Notre Dame University and St. Olaf College, respectively. They claim that a duality of the physical and the mental is necessary to explain mental causation, that is, how mental events cause physical events.

This strikes me as rather backward. If, as naturalism asserts, mental events arise from physical events in the brain, then there surely is no problem since we then have physical events causing physical events, just as when a cue ball hits an eight ball and causes it to go into a pocket. On the other hand, if mental events have their own non-physical nature, then we have the problem of explaining how something nonphysical can cause physical events. Goetz and Taliaferro do not provide us with even a speculative model for how that can happen.

Of course, mind-body dualism is a widespread "commonsense" belief among laypeople. Goetz and Taliaferro seem to think common sense is sufficient to adopt the dualist view.

Goetz and Taliaferro also claim to show the philosophical coherence of divine agency. So what if it is philosophically coherent? That says nothing about its reality. A fantasy computer game in which heroes come back to life after being killed is philosophically coherent; it wouldn't run on a computer if it wasn't logical. But the world is still not that way.

In my view the case for naturalism is very simple. Naturalism says nature is all that exists. If supernaturalism or some other extra-naturalism does not exist, then naturalism is true. Supernaturalists now have the obligation to demonstrate that the supernatural exists in addition to nature if they are to reject naturalism. They have never been able to do this. Naturalism is therefore true because it has never been logically or empirically refuted, i.e., naturalism is true by default because supernaturalism or any other extra-naturalism has never been proved to exist. Simply claiming that the existence of the human mind is evidence for supernaturalism is hardly an adequate demonstration. Other animals have minds that exist; these minds differ in degree with ours but not in kind. Claiming that duality is true (the brain and the mind are different kinds of things and the latter is not dependent on the former for its existence; indeed, most supernaturalists believe the human mind is a manifestation of the human soul or spirit and is independent of the body; indeed, they believe it is immortal) as evidence for non-naturalism requires evidence or reasonable proof for the independent existence of the mind. Again, this has never been forthcoming.

Even if duality WERE true, this would only require rejection of naturalism in favor of some extra-naturalist philosophy, not evidence specifically for the existence of supernaturalism and its theistic and miraculous by-products. "Naturalism's" authors apparently conclude their book by affirming the existence of both supernaturalism and theism from simple denial of monism (the claim that mind is a consequence of brain only). This is simply presumptuous, illogical speculation. Simple denial of monism to affirm supernaturalism and theism is insufficient. Instead, positive evidence for the existence of dualism is necessary to first demonstrate extra-naturalism; then, the subsequent demonstration of both supernaturalism and theism require much, much more. Naturalism, however, because it is simplest alternative, is true by default because there is no reasonable, empirical, or logical alternative.
A great intro to Naturalism  Dec 21, 2009
Having never really studied naturalism specifically, I picked up this book and have not been disappointed. There are many quotes from atheists that do seem to make a person take extra care in reading.
Generally I have to read philosophical stuff over about three times to really understand all they are saying, and this is no exception. What I really like about "Naturalism" is how fairly the views are presented. Many times I have quoted from this book while debating with atheists and have found they will not argue with the views presented by Goetz and Taliaferro, since the authors accurately represent the positions and beliefs of the naturalists.
If you want to understand naturalism, and are willing to take the time to work through it, you will have a competent grasp of the subject after this book.
Small Package, Big Punch  Nov 24, 2008
This is a wonderful book. Any naturalist who is serious, open-minded, and not mired in naturalist dogma would gain much from a reading. The authors are professional, charitable, and fair. Their critique is penetrating, on point, and, frankly, devastating. It turns out the so-called champions of reason have constructed a philosophy that becomes its own grave-digger as it destroys the very notion of reason. The book does require some familiarity with philosophy terms, the language, and the conversation surrounding mind/body dualism at the academic level. My only criticism is that the book is not long enough.
Holy gibberish!  Oct 18, 2008
This book purports to describe naturalism, but it touches on it only briefly and rather superficially before getting to its main concern- do souls make any sense? How big is a soul? Where is it in space? How does it interact with reality? Unfortunately, the authors' attempt to resolve these issues is far from solid ground, either on its own, or as a way make any kind of a case against naturalism. They offer gems like:

"Hence, it does not seem the least bit implausible to say that a soul's thinking, choosing, experiencing pain, etc., are explainable in terms of its having the power to think and choose and exercising them, and its having the capacity to experience pain and its being actualized." (p.69).

"We believe that Sosa's account of causation is largely mistaken. Just as a spatial relation is not the individuating principle of the substantial objects that are its terms, but those objects are intrinsically individuated, so also a spatial relation is not the individuating principle of the relevant causal properties possessed by the terms of the causal relation, but these are individuated intrinsically and possessed essentially by their bearers. Given the causal ontology summarized in the previous section, a causal relation obtains or is primarily a function of the causal power and capacity of the agent and patient objects respectively." (p.59).

.. or they offer simple assertion or scripture as its own proof, much in the mode of the Watchtower society:

"Second, what of Russell's claim that it is ridiculous to believe that the well-being or good of human beings could be the purpose for which God creates our world? We find nothing silly in the least about this idea. ... In the Christian Scriptures on finds writers like Saint Paul noting that the entire creation figuratively longs eagerly for the perfect happiness of human beings so that it too will be liberated from its decay and corruption." (p.101)

"Anselm of Canterbury and Ralph Cudworth (to pick two remote and otherwise quite different figures) held that god's cognition of the world and all its aspects did not require bodily organs." (p.112)

Not only do the authors thus build castles of nonsense in support of their theistic position, but they fail to deal with the real state of the naturalistic position. Certainly physics, in the form of the laws of conservation of energy, information, and mass, prohibits any impinging of so-called supernatural phenomena onto the real world. Secondly, brain science is advancing by leaps and bounds, showing how thoughts are constructed, how the brain is a rich system of causes and effects all of which can be traced, and lastly how consciousness itself, while not solved, is increasingly understood as a monitoring function that trails other brain activities,(see The Illusion of Conscious Will (Bradford Books)), rather than one that initiates action, let alone receives extra-terrestrial promptings.

... more at

For the book's arguments related to morality, see: Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists
A Meticulous, Yet Brief Critique of Naturalism  Oct 7, 2008
This is a fascinating, yet concise book. At only 122 pages (including the appendix) one might assume that the book is too short to argue against a philosophical methodology such as naturalism, yet this is not the case. In fact, the brevity serves a greater purpose that I will mention below. Let me begin with a brief discussion of the title followed by some strengths and weaknesses.

A commenter above suggests that the title is misleading, and states, "Given the title, you would think this book would introduce and explain 'Naturalism.'" I'm assuming that the reviewer merely skimmed the book for one cannot deny that the book does introduce and explain both strict and broad naturalism. Outside of the final chapter (and a few very brief sections in the first four chapters) this book could very easily have been written by naturalists. The book actually excels in describing both strict and broad naturalistic worldviews, mainly relying on extensive quotes from some of naturalism's most well respected proponents. It then suggests gaps and logical problems within their methodologies. The book could have very well been written (with the few exceptions mentioned above) by a naturalist, and then simply replaced the final chapter with a naturalistic attempt to answer the critiques of the previous four chapters. Books like this are typical in every field, and thus I must contend that "Naturalism" is the correct title for the work, that the previous reviewer was unjustified, and that naturalism is the topic of discussion throughout. Now for some strengths and weaknesses:


1. The language is easily understandable for the average reader. The book avoids philosophical language when possible, which is to its benefit. Occasionally the authors are required to use philosophical language, but I believe that this will not be an issue for anyone who has had at least an introductory philosophy course in high school or college.

2. The book is brief. This may be a weakness for some (as I'll discuss below), but for me added value to the book. The work is not intended to answer the questions as much as give trajectories through which the reader may find an answer. As such, in response to the brevity and the quality of the arguments, I often found myself taking the arguments much further, and also coming up with other arguments and responses. I believe the success in prompting the reader to think through the issues more thoroughly for themselves is due much in part to the brevity of the work combined with the strong arguments.

3. The argument is strong and builds throughout the work. As I read the first chapter I was not entirely sure where the discussion was headed. In the next few chapters the argument grew extensively, and by the section on naturalism and values, it was clear that the case being made was both extensive and strong. As such, I must agree with Robert P. George (on the back of the book), when he says, "Patiently, gently, but in the end decisively, Goetz and Taliaferro demolish the dogmas of naturalism." The strength of the argument has affected me personally as well. I'm someone who, though a theist, tends to side with non-reductive physicalists more often than not. This work has opened my thinking to certain forms of non-Cartesian dualism.

4. The quotes from external sources are usually long and shown in proper context. Too often in critiques quotes are taken radically out of context in order to make a point. This is not the case with this book as it is clear that the authors both understand and respect the naturalists they are critiquing.


1. Many will see the brevity of this work as a weakness. The book may not provide all of the answers you may be seeking in response to the critique of the naturalistic worldview. I personally see this as a strength since it provides trajectories for self-thought, but others may see this as a weakness.

2. The book ends as a critique. The final chapter assesses some of the stronger naturalistic arguments against theism showing their weaknesses, and thus indirectly (until the final line quoted in another review above) suggesting that the best interpretation of the world (beliefs, reason, intention, causality, free will, etc.) comes through a theistic worldview. As such, a reader may be left wanting more information as to how a theistic worldview better represents reality than the brief suggestions within the book. Fortunately, the book does include a good (and current) bibliography including (among many others) works by Goetz and Taliaferro that with more specificity and depth describe the theistic worldview.

In the end, I must say that I truly enjoyed this book. Having never read either of the authors, I was initially interested in reading it as a result of the strong endorsements by John Milbank and John F. Haught, both of whom I highly respect. Now I am intrigued to read more by each of these authors as this book has shown that they rigorously make an argument, but have the ability to do this in an easily understood and readable style.

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