Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gods, gods, God, god, aliens, agents, designers, and Designers!

I recently talked about how Nick Bostrom's argument is either an argument against Darwinian evolution, or an argument that demonstrates ID can be entirely naturalistic, even at its most wild. Let's focus on the "naturalism" issue a bit more.

One of my favorite posts by the brilliant Ed Feser is The Trouble with William Paley. Probably one of his less favorite posts, since I've brought it up about ten times during my blog-via-comments phase (Thanks for that summary, Cogitator!). What I find remarkable about it is that Ed's view of "naturalism" seemingly could include lowercase-g gods without issue: Zeus, Thor, etc. Not the God of classical theism, but those "lesser" gods? Sure.

And I've found that many others, including naturalists, seem to take views similar to Ed's. Such that the idea of powerful beings from other planets seeding our planet with life is naturalism (otherwise Francis Crick wasn't a naturalist), just as our living in a simulation is naturalistic (otherwise Nick Bostrom, Sir Martin Rees, and others are flirting with or are committed to non-naturalism), etc. And frankly, once someone is talking about life on our planet, or our entire universe, being the result of an intentional act by a powerful being or beings... really, doesn't that sound like good ol' fashioned polytheism/supernaturalism to you?

Now, there's of course the standard reply. "But those are just powerful aliens! Not gods!" My response is, I fail to see a difference that matters. Ed does have a point that the God of classical theism is quite a different thing, drastically so, than Zeus. I would add that some other conceptions of God (Say, most versions of Brahman, or even Berkeley's God) are also damn different from Zeus. But how different is Zeus and the gods of Olympus from Nick Bostrom's programmer, or even Crick's seeding-the-universe-with-life society? Frankly, not too much. "Degree, not kind", as they say.

Of course, this wreaks havoc on some traditional thoughts about many things, history included. One of the supposed benefits of modern science is that it has aided in banishing superstition, which is of course associated with "supernaturalism". But suddenly that no longer seems to be the case. Take the typical example - "Lightning is caused by thunderbolts hurled by Thor!" But if Thor is a naturalistic being, then that was just a questionable naturalistic hypothesis. And having control over lightning can't itself be sufficient to call someone a supernatural being anyway, or else I just supplied pictorial evidence that the supernatural is real at the start of this post.

Oddly enough, one point of all this is that advances in technology are the naturalistic atheist's greatest enemy.


Ilíon said...

It's not just that naturalism can, but that it *does* logically encompass most pagan pantheons.

Naturalism (and atheism) cannot rule out Zeus, or Thor, without ruling out humans on the same grounds. The point being that the grounds on which naturalism (and atheism) attempt to account for humans are the same grounds upon which the pagans accounted for their gods -- "They just happened, order out of chaos!"

Of course, naturalism (and atheism) rule out humans on other grounds.

Crude said...

Well, that's where things get messy. I agree that naturalism cannot rule out those things.

Atheism though? That's where I think things get confusing. And very interesting.

I'm happy to see someone else knows the origins of the greek pantheon ("Out of chaos!") and sees the connection between it and modern naturalism.

Ilíon said...

I've mentioned that connection many times (no reason, of course, that you'd have known that I did).

Naturalism entails atheism ... and atheism implies naturalism. I think that's the best way of putting it. We've discussed this before, and I don't know what I could say that I haven't said before, that might help you see the point. Might it help in any way if I wrote a detailed post on the matter?

Crude said...

I'd welcome it. But before you do, let me explain where I'm coming from.

I think "naturalist" and "materialist" have in practice ceased to mean much of anything anymore. Materialism never really recovered from quantum physics and the discarding of that old "billiard ball" idea of matter, as near as I can tell. Chomsky (for a change) is right: Now anything that's discovered or is thought up to flesh out a theory, etc, is called "physical".

Naturalism is arguably in worse shape, since naturalists aren't even bound by that already ridiculous 'materialist' label. They can be full-blown dualists. They can believe in what in any other age would have been called deities. No one bats an eye or calls these things 'supernatural', because the explosion of the word 'natural' has made it certain that 'supernatural' has lost meaning as well.

These words are used, especially in popular conversation, more as flags. A naturalist and/or a materialist is on THIS side of the God/religion debate (Which inevitably is wrapped up in specific kinds of anti-theism), a person who believes in the supernatural (Again, inevitably specific religious faiths or even political positions) is on THAT side. Etc, etc.

I suspect the number of actual atheists, as well as naturalists or materialists in the ways necessary to fit what I take to be your view of them, are less numerous than one might think. I recall when you and I have spoken on such things in the past, you've argued (and I've agreed) that atheists are almost to a man radically inconsistent. I think the key difference between us is that you take this inconsistency to show that there are real atheists, but they lack either the intelligence or fortitude to face up to what their beliefs truly mean. I take it to show that their supposed 'atheism' is in large part an act, a put-on.

Think of it this way. If a man claims he hates McDonalds, yet he eats there fairly often, his eyes light up when he gets an angus burger, etc, you may point out how irrational and inconsistent he's being, and how his hatred for McDonalds would rationally entail certain acts or forbid others. My response would be, his claims aside... maybe he doesn't really hate McDonalds.

Ilíon said...

"But before you do, let me explain where I'm coming from."

I'd have asked for that next; thanks for getting there first.