When, if ever before now, has humanity technologically progressed with such leaps and bounds, yet with less attention to the driving forces and philosophical assumptions that pave the road we follow? In the face of cavalier “progress,” our culture has exhibited technological tunnel-vision-it’s all too easy to stand in awe, uncritical and approving, of the incredible developments of our scientific culture.

But just below the surface of our scientific achievement lay philosophical (as opposed to scientific) assumptions that we learn as early as our first science lesson. We learn that science is reliable-so reliable, in fact, that we need not question its results and we need search no further for an ultimate explanation of reality. We are introduced to Naturalism .

Philosophical Naturalism (also commonly known as Materialism or Physicalism ) is a worldview based on the grounds that all existence is no more than physical, and that the best, if not only, way to gain knowledge is empirically, through hard sciences.

Naturalism declares:

  • All that exists, including humanity’s very essence, is physical.
  • Non-physical things (like minds, souls, thoughts and ethical values) are reduced to byproducts of the physical, or else they are dismissed as irrational cultural fiction.
  • Science, with its empirical objectivity and manipulation of physical things, is deemed “the highest standard,” the “cultural and ethical compass,” our only means of knowledge, and consequently, the chief end of man.

There are dangerous consequences that adopting a naturalistic worldview wreaks on humanity, both today and in the future. Naturalism implies:

  • Differences between humans and other things (living or non-living) are blurred. Are we more than carbon and chemicals? Or just bunched atoms, gathered into molecules, arranged into cells, constructed into parts, and assembled into bodies? If so, then we can’t be offered any rights or value that we don’t offer to cars or concrete or household cleaner.
  • Humans are no longer to be treated as ends in themselves. As a human person, to be an end is to be granted certain rights and inherent/intrinsic value. If naturalism is right, we are now means-and our only value is our propensity to be manipulated unto some greater end. Raw material’s only glory is its use; it retains no other value.
  • Traditional and widespread values, unknowable and incapable of being derived from the scientific method, are defeated. In a purely physical world, those truths that would hold our dignity and rights intact are absurd, and not worth adhering to.

If we unquestioningly allow a naturalistic worldview to propel our scientific and technological progress, the logical conclusions of such a worldview will eventually be manifest-we will go on abusing and modifying ourselves for increasingly better outcomes. To what end? Perfection? A eugenic masterpiece, composed and performed by ourselves? We will demand more options, advancement and cures, all at the expense of our brothers and sisters, those whose prosperity we were supposedly working to promote.

The lines are blurred between the researcher and the researched. We are both the engineers and the engineered. And we, the raw materials of technological advancement, will be treated as such. We will be designed, engineered, harvested, donated, spent, sold, used, discarded-we will be sacrificed. But not mistreated, not wronged. Raw material cannot take offense, it cannot be stripped of the dignity it never had. So we must keep working against the strong tide of the naturalistic worldview, at both the academic and popular level. We must pursue and support the dignity of all humanity-the alternative is self-destruction.