Episode 41: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 2)

26 Jan

We chat with Matthew Ferguson about metaphysical naturalism and secular humanism. It was a lot of fun and maddeningly interesting. This is part 2 of 2 of our discussion.

Matthew is currently a PhD student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine. He has written several scholarly papers about ancient history, and blogs about naturalism, secular humanism, and counter apologetics at his blogs Κέλσος and Civitas Humana.

Listen to this episode

Our discussion covers…

What are arguments in favor of naturalism?

  • Teleological argument for naturalism
  • Argument from inefficient design
  • Argument from irrational suffering
  • Naturalism makes sense of the dependence of the mind on a physical brain
  • Theism is fundamentally backwards in it’s model of the universe

What are arguments against naturalism?

  • Naturalism isn’t falsifiable
  • Pragmatic argument against naturalism: naturalism doesn’t properly motivate us to be good, whereas Christianity does
  • Naturalism seems to assume that everything that exists in the universe is somehow empirically observable, which probably isn’t true
  • Naturalism offers no basis for making or justifying normative claims
  • If secular humanism is human-centric, then it is guilty of speciesism
  • Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism

What kind of world do secular humanists want to create?

  • A culture of regular self-reflection
  • Criminal justice systems using rehabilitation instead of punishment
  • Religion, it’s role in society, and how this may change over time
  • The government’s role in a transition to secular humanism

Books references in this episode:

Matthew was kind enough to provide a solar mass of really great resources for anyone interested in learning more about what we were talking about. Check them out below:

Matthew’s Blogs:


Civitas Humana

Resources for Naturalism:

The Naturalistic Worldview

Defining Theism, Atheism, Supernaturalism, and Naturalism (by Matthew Ferguson)

The Secular Outpost: Arguments for Naturalism (by Jeff Lowder)

The Best Argument Against God (by Graham Oppy)

Sense and Goodness without God (by Richard Carrier)

Naturalism’s Support among Professional Philosophers:

Even If Most Scientists Are Atheist, Don’t Philosophers Come to the Rescue for God and Religion? Turns Out, No. (by Matthew Ferguson)

The Teleological Argument for Naturalism:

Finely Tuning a Killer Cosmos (by Richard Carrier)

The Fallacy of Fine Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (by Victor Stenger)

Naturalism as the Best Explanation for Irrational Suffering:

The Evil-God Challenge (by Stephen Law)

Naturalism and Mind-Body Physicalism: 

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology: Biointerface Research Group

The Phineas Gage Case

Naturalism, Secular Humanism, and Ethics: 

Confused Metaphysics: Apologetic Efforts to Corner the Market on Ethics (by Matthew Ferguson)

Naturalism and Epistemology: 

C.S. Lewis’ Milk Jug: Apologetics and the Retreat into Epistemology (by Matthew Ferguson)

Evolutionary Naturalism, Theism, and Skepticism about the External World (by J. Wesley Robbins)

Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism Refuted (by Stephen Law)

Critical Review of Victor Reppert’s Defense of the Argument from Reason (by Richard Carrier)

Dishonest Apologetic Debate Tactics:

Southern Evangelical Seminary Tricks Bart Ehrman after a Public Debate with Mike Licona

A Response to Cliffe Knechtle’s Campus Apologetics (by Matthew Ferguson)


Counter-Apologetics FAQ (by Matthew Ferguson)


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2 responses to “Episode 41: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 2)

  1. Arthhur

    February 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    This was one of my favorite episodes, and I hope this is the start of a new direction for this podcast. You usually have too much forced laughter, which is rather distracting. But this was a great (and surprisingly thorough) trek through many of the arguments for and against naturalism, and Matthew did an excellent job responding to them, with one exception. I don’t think that Plantinga necessarily assumes that thoughts arise ex nihilo. See, for example, the section about memory in “Warrant and Proper Function,” which you referenced. Plantinga clearly ties our thoughts, and to some extent our mind, to the physical world in which we live, so I think Matthew’s response misses the big picture that Plantinga is painting. That being said, I find much of Plantinga’s work epistemologically irresponsible for other reasons, but I’ll save that for another day.

    Regardless, bravo, and keep up the great work. I look forward to more like this!

    • Gabe

      February 1, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the episode. I don’t know what you mean by forced laughter… we just laugh when we think something is funny. If by new direction you mean less laughter, don’t get your hopes up. If you are referring to bringing up arguments and responses, we like doing that too, but I don’t know that we’ll be doing any more or less of that in the future than our established rate.

      As for Plantinga, yeah, I don’t know much about his particular views of the mind (or really anything else about the mind for that matter). But I think Matthew’s point is that out thoughts and desires are produced in part by our environment, but Plantinga’s example seem to be based on desires that our environment would be unlikely to create, like someone who wants to be eaten by a tiger. I also think his point about memetic evolution makes it pretty tough to imagine someone who wants to be eaten by a tiger but thinks the best way to do that is to run away from it. Once you have halfway rational agents exchanging and testing ideas, that probably wouldn’t make it very far.


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