- God, Value, and Nature by Fiona Ellis
In God, Value, and Nature, Fiona Ellis dissects philosophical and theological positions on the metaphysics of our universe. Drawing on the works of John McDowell and Peter Railton, Ellis examines the dominant dichotomy between naturalism and supernaturalism among the perspectives of scientists, philosophers, and theologians. She challenges this metaphysical bifurcation, reframing the question of naturalism. Rather than asking what fits into the category of natural (real) and what fits into the category of supernatural (unreal or inaccessible), the question should be, how should we understand this category of natural that we are talking about in the first place (11, 20)? Ellis then seeks to expand the scope of what we can consider to be natural, arguing for what she calls “expansive naturalism,” which accounts for things like values and God, and situates them in the natural world (203–4).
Ellis begins by confronting critical issues with different proposed versions of naturalism brought forth by philosophers like McDowell and Railton. She attempts to resolve these problems, each solution broadening the scope of naturalism one step farther to finally forge a more expansive vision of the natural world. First, she rejects reductionist science, stating that this vision of science eliminates the human sciences from valid epistemologies (22). Ellis says that this is problematic in two ways. First, the strict scientific naturalist reduction of the explanation of everything to questions of physics is unsubstantiated (16). Ellis claims that there is no evidence to support the idea that physics is the ultimate cause of everything in the universe; rather, the reductionist thought that is so common in science today is based on commitment, not reason (16). Second, reductionist science is self-contradictory. Because reductionist science assumes that the “nature and behavior” of everything can be explained at its core by reactions between physical things, this scientific practice also then implies that these physical things possess a supernatural power that renders reductive science incommensurate with naturalism (17). As such, naturalism ought to be expanded beyond reduction, to include the social sciences as valid ways of studying and knowing causes (21).
Next, Ellis claims that it is essential that naturalism account for value in its metaphysics. To do this, she expands the scope of naturalism one step further by rejecting a nonreductive—but still scientific—naturalism that views values as human creations (26–27). Ellis takes issue with this, claiming that values exist in a realm beyond, but not independent of humans (31–32). If values were human creations, they would be the same as desires that humans seek to [End Page 71] fulfill (27–30). However, in our experience, values and desires are not always the same (27–30). Rather, values are normative in nature, tending to restrict human desires, compelling us to behave in a certain way that may or may not coincide with our desires (28–29). Therefore, the prescriptive nature of values demands that they exist separately from humans as a natural but objective element to the universe (31–32).
Ellis then seeks to show that the existence of a god is commensurate with naturalism to the extent that this god does not conflict with the naturalistic framework that she has already established (203–4). As such, God can be neither a being nor completely separate from that natural world (123–24). By this, Ellis means that a god who exists as a being is subject to the Euthyphro problem’s ramifications on the existence of value as separate from humans (118). Additionally, if God is not a being but an entity completely separate from the natural world, then humans would have no access to God, and God’s existence would be inconsequential (124). From here, Ellis posits a god that is neither a being nor a separate entity: God as the source of all being (113–14). She argues that such a God would not be subject to the Euthyphro problem, or be so separate from humans that its existence is inconsequential, and thus it would fit within the framework of naturalism. Here...