Friday, May 8, 2015

The Magic of Naturalism

Victor Reppert has a post up about atheists and magical thinking. The gist: atheists (I'd specify, materialist atheists - the predominant kind) believe in brute facts, in something coming from nothing, in consciousness arising from the non-conscious, from normativity arising from the non-normative, etc. When you get down to what atheists really believe in, it's not just weird, nor 'surprising'.

It's more magical, and certainly more irrational, than theism.

And I know, I can say that to theists. But sometimes I think many theists get confused when they hear something like this, because man, does it ever run counter to the narrative. We hear we're the crazy ones, the magic-embracers, day in and day out. There has to be a grain of truth to that, right? Because otherwise, why would everyone be saying it?

But it's simply not true. And all you have to do is appreciate - really appreciate - what naturalism (such as it is) entails.

I'll go further than Victor. If someone is willing to embrace materialist atheism - if they're really planting their flag in the belief that sometimes things come from nothing, things exist or occur with no explanation whatsoever, that things brutely emerge (or worse, that consciousness and the like simply doesn't exist at all)... then the opposition to theism, the adamant belief that there exists no God or gods, seems bizarre.

Once you're opening the door to so much coming from naturalist magic - to brute facts, to just-is explanations, to strong emergence, and/or to the grand duplicity of a world without consciousness or intentionality despite every appearance that it is exists (and appearances are even the proof it does exist)... then on what grounds does theism get denied?

Lack of evidence? You've already established you'll believe in things that not only lack evidence, but that could never have evidence in their favor.

Because it seems incredible and inexplicable? You've got a worldview where the incredible and inexplicable are pretty well guaranteed.

In other words, naturalism provides a world that makes theism - and more - possible, with conditions we can't hope to evaluate.

Confidence in atheism sits in some serious intellectual tension with naturalism.

2 comments:

Syllabus said...

I don't know whether the monistic atheist need make such an immediate and total appeal to brute facts; one can be a naturalist and just think things like final causes and teleological explanations generally speaking are part of the natural order, the same way that efficient causal explanations are. Now, I'm not sure a scientific naturalist can, if he's committed to some strong form of scientism, but not all philosophical naturalists are such people.

Crude said...

I don't know whether the monistic atheist need make such an immediate and total appeal to brute facts; one can be a naturalist and just think things like final causes and teleological explanations generally speaking are part of the natural order, the same way that efficient causal explanations are.

I think Ed Feser once remarked that the rejection of final causes is all that's left of 'naturalism' aside from atheism. I'm tempted to agree.

Formal and final causes may be compatible with some kind of atheism, but if naturalism is that flexible, I'm going to argue that naturalism is compatible with theism.