Defining Our Mission
From our inception in 1995 the mission of the Internet Infidels has always been to defend and promote Metaphysical Naturalism, a term coined by philosophers for any worldview that holds that nature is all there is. Philosophers call this a “closed” system because nothing more is needed to explain why it exists or why it is the way it is: it just is. All explanations for any phenomenon or event ultimately end up at the same place: the nature of the universe. So there is no need to appeal to gods or higher powers or supernatural realms or forces, and we don’t believe there are any such things. That’s what makes us Metaphysical Naturalists. Though we often disagree about the particulars, we all believe the evidence points to that and nothing else.
There are other kinds and conceptions of naturalism. For instance, the standard branches of philosophy, fixed by Aristotle, are epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics, and politics. And hence there are such things as Epistemological Naturalism, Ethical Naturalism, Aesthetic Naturalism, and Political Naturalism. Metaphysical Naturalism in principle encompasses all of these, since metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with what exists and with the nature of things in general, and all other aspects of the world (our ethics, politics, aesthetics, and methods) derive ultimately therefrom. Epistemological Naturalism is more commonly known as Methodological Naturalism, and Aesthetic Naturalism is usually associated with Classical Realism (at least in the art world: see Lilian Furst and Peter Skrine, Naturalism, 1971), while Political Naturalism is typically equated with Hobbes and Hume. And so on. But we take no definitive position on any of these: many alternative views are possible under the same rubrics. So we define ourselves only as Metaphysical Naturalists, a term already encompassing many worldviews, from Physicalism to Platonic Naturalism. We do not use the word “Naturalism” alone only because it is too generic and ambiguous for our mission statement. It has other connotations. But as shorthand, and in the right contexts, it can serve well enough to mean the same thing.
In order to fulfill our mission we have become the world’s leading nexus for the secular community, a neutral clearinghouse of information supporting our cause, centered above all on a wide-ranging library of secular literature online. The reason for this is simple: secularists and secular philosophy provide inherent and widespread support for Metaphysical Naturalism. So we support them in turn. After all, secularism provides the necessary methodological and ideological groundwork for accepting and understanding our philosophy. And we accomplish our mission most directly by seeking out and cataloguing (and thus providing easy access for the public) all quality work online that defends positions necessary to Metaphysical Naturalism. In building our library, we seek positive defenses of scientific facts and methods relevant to our philosophy, as well as critiques of supernaturalist positions or worldviews that are contrary to Metaphysical Naturalism, and we also collect positive defenses of positions inherent to our worldview, such as atheism and agnosticism.
Besides Metaphysical Naturalism, however, our mission statement includes two other goals: one social, and one ethical.
Socially, we seek an atmosophere of intellectual freedom and tolerance, for the promotion of knowledge and understanding through the avid pursuit of philosophy and the scientific enterprise. We believe all people should be allowed, even encouraged, to hear all sides of every religious claim and choose for themselves, using evidence and reason rather than force, intimidation, deception, or any other underhanded tactic. Therefore, we believe governments must be entirely neutral, favoring none in this quest. This is called “separation of church and state,” to which we devote an entire section of our library. And though we have convictions and beliefs of our own, and ought to be free to defend and promote them, our commitment to tolerance means we do not hold anyone else to a different standard: all should have that same freedom. This means that while we debate, even fiercely, in matters of philosophy, we should all cooperate in matters of peace and prosperity, tolerating each other’s presence in the same free society. It is our dream that even people of different faiths, including nontheists, befriend each other and work together toward a better society of universal happiness, pursuing reason, science, and truth.
Ethically, we want to uphold the dignity of humanity by embodying honesty and compassion in our pursuit of the truth. The good of mankind is our greatest goal. And to achieve this, knowledge, reason, honesty, fairness, and understanding are essential. When Emma Goldman wrote that to disbelieve in the gods is at the same time to affirm life, purpose, and beauty, she meant it is precisely a human love of these things that drives and motivates us to cast away superstition and dogma, and that disbelief in gods does not mean disbelief in these cherished truths of the human condition. We follow where evidence and reason lead, rather than tradition, popular assumption, or ungrounded conviction. And when we do, we find no gods around here. But we do find, and come to value, life, purpose, and beauty.
For more on our mission, you can listen to my radio interview (Our Philosophy [Real Audio]), recorded when I was Editor in Chief of the Secular Web. For more on Metaphysical Naturalism specifically, see our Library, which is divided into several different aspects of that philosophy, such as Science and Religion, Faith and Reason, and of course critiques of supernaturalism (Theism, Life after Death, and Mysticism and the Paranormal). Of particular note are the materials under Nontheism, which includes one section on Naturalism and another on Secular Humanism, which defines the ethical side of our mission.
Of course, as a library, we do not have the resources to create anywhere near as much content as we find already on the web or receive from outside authors. Consequently, the quantity of articles on various subjects in our library reflects what is available rather than what we would always prefer. For example, there is always a vast quantity of valuable, quality articles on Christianity, whether submitted to us or already online. Since it is our mission to include them all, it might appear that criticising Christianity is our primary goal, when this is merely a statistical anomaly beyond our control. That is not to say this is out of all proportion: the Christian worldview is our leading contender, intellectually and culturally, and certainly deserves a large focus. Likewise, or perhaps because of this, published critiques of and attacks on Naturalism (and Secular Humanism) come almost exclusively from Christians, necessitating a more thorough response to them. Still, we are eager to find or receive quality articles on other subjects we catalogue, especially those currently under-represented by online materials. This includes systematic defenses of Metaphysical Naturalism. For more on all of this, see our FAQ (especially “Questions About Our Content”).
There are many books on Metaphysical Naturalism that we recommend:
- Taner Edis, The Ghost in the Universe: God in the Light of Modern Science (2002)
- Simon Altmann, Is Nature Supernatural? A Philosophical Exploration of Science and Nature (2002)
- John Shook, Pragmatic Naturalism and Realism (2002)
- Robert Nozick, Invariances: the Structure of the Objective World (2001)
- Kai Nielson, Naturalism and Religion (2001)
- Lewis Edwin Hahn, A Contextualistic Worldview: Essays (2001)
- J. T. Fraser, Time, Conflict, and Human Values (1999)
- Sidney Hook, The Metaphysics of Pragmatism (1996)
- Kai Nielson, Naturalism Without Foundations: Prometheus Lectures (1996)
- Peter French, Theodore Uehling, and Howard Wettstein, eds., Philosophical Naturalism (1994)
- John Ryder, American Philosophic Naturalism in the Twentieth Century (1994)
- Paul Kurtz, Philosophical Essays in Pragmatic Naturalism (1990)
- Paul Kurtz, In Defense of Secular Humanism (1983)
- Out of Print: David Papineau, Philosophical Naturalism (1993)
Physicalism and Materialism are popular forms of Metaphysical Naturalism, which some books discuss specifically, e.g.:
- Jeffrey Poland, Physicalism: The Philosophical Foundation (1994)
- Richard C. Vitzthum, Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition (1995)
- Paul K. Moser and J. D. Trout, Contemporary Materialism: A Reader (1995)
- James Beilby, ed., Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (2002)
- Frederick Olafson, Naturalism and the Human Condition: Against Scientism (2001)
- William Lane Craig & J. P. Moreland, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (2000)
- Out of print: Steven Wagner and Richard Warner, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (1994)
There are also some ignorant and bigoted criticisms of naturalism, which misrepresent or ignore what we really believe. Two authors in particular are guilty of this, some of whose works we have rebuttals to in our library (and we are always looking for more): Phillip Johnson and David Noebel. In the interest of fairness, here are their books attacking naturalism:
- Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (2000)
- Phillip Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education (1998)
- David Noebel and Tim LaHaye, Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium (2000)
- David Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth (1994)
- David Noebel, J. F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater, Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism, 2nd ed. (2002)