Philosophical naturalism, “a thesis that reality consists solely of the physical, spatiotemporal world,” is the dominant philosophy of the modern West. Starting from the Enlightenment, naturalism has had the effect of creating and sustaining the fact/value split, which in turn has had terrible consequences for our culture. Reason is considered separate from, and superior to, Imagination; empirical facts are considered ‘real’ over against morality, which is shoved off into a corner of private, personal opinions; and a self-fulfilling cycle is created in which scientists declare that only physical explanations of human behavior are viable explanations, and then dismiss what they cannot thereby explain as not real. The church has not been immune to this shift in culture; indeed, a tacit acceptance of the fact/value split has happened in many Christian communities, eroding the basis for solid faith and rendering evangelism both less urgent and less effective.
In Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality: Testing Religious Truth-claims, from Ashgate Press (2012), R. Scott Smith takes up the challenge. In the Introduction, he sets out his claim: “There have been various epistemologies offered by naturalists to explain how we have knowledge of reality. What I do not think has been undertaken, however, is a close, systematic examination of the various forms of naturalism, in terms of their ontological resources, to see if indeed they can make good on the belief that we can, and often do, know reality on that basis. That examination is what I intend to do.”
This does not seem to be the claim that he goes on to argue in the book. Rather, his claim appears to be that philosophical naturalism completely fails to account for how it is that we do have knowledge of reality. On many occasions he notes that indeed we do know reality; the question is how do we know it?
…to the extent that science is tied to the ontological positions of naturalism, science will be an utter failure as a research program, for no knowledge will be possible. Scientific research would be utterly fruitless, with no actual research work being done, or progress in understanding the world scientifically. If so, then why should scientists take themselves and their claims so seriously? Moreover, why should anyone else take the claims of scientists seriously?
Still, we do have knowledge gained through science. But this means that there is more to reality (and to us, in particular) than that for which ontological or methodological naturalism can account.
From Husserl, how we know whether we match up with reality requires the ability to pay close attention to our mental life, to see that what is represented in experience matches up with our concepts of such a thing. This is a decidedly internalist criteria for matching up, and for the normative condition for knowledge. If this ability to introspect and pay attention to our experiences were always conceptual, we would be unable to form concepts in the first place, much less match up with objects in the real world. This implies strongly that there is a self performing as an agent in the acts of paying close attention to what is represented in experience. But knowledge of reality involves much more: following through on a series of noticings, comparings, forming concepts; adjusting or correcting concepts, and more. There is, that is, an active agent that owns and possesses these states, and does these activities.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dr Holly Ordway is a professor at Houston Baptist University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an MA in English from UNC Chapel Hill, and an MA in apologetics from Biola University. She is the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith and speaks and writes regularly on literature and literary apologetics. Her website is Hieropraxis.com.
 Smith, R. Scott. Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality: Testing Religious Truth-claims. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. 1.
 ibid, 2. Emphasis in original.
 ibid, 200.
 ibid, 199.
 ibid, 5. Emphasis in the original.
 ibid, 186.
 ibid, 187.
 ibid, 193-194.
 ibid, 231.