Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rosenberg on naturalism

A reader writes to inform me of Alex Rosenberg’s very interesting essay “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality.” Rosenberg’s thesis? That naturalism entails nihilism; in particular, that it entails denying the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail. Naturalism, when consistently worked out, leads to a radical eliminativism. Says my informant: “Why, it sounds shockingly similar to some things you once wrote in a book that was all about sperm, does it not?” Indeed, except that when I said it I was a “religiously inspired bigot,” whereas when Rosenberg says it he gets a respectful link, complete with a fanboyish exclamation point. Odd, no?

Not really. Because in The Last Superstition I argue that the implications in question constitute a reductio ad absurdum of naturalism, whereas Rosenberg (who is himself a naturalist) regards them instead as a set of depressing truths we must learn to live with. As you’ll see from Rosenberg’s combox, not all naturalists agree with him. But naturalist religionists are an ecumenical bunch. They’ll allow you to draw any absurd conclusion you wish from naturalist premises, as long as (naturally enough) you never under any circumstances question the premises themselves.

As TLS argues at length, the position Rosenberg rightly takes to follow from naturalism is not only depressing; it is incoherent. Therefore, naturalism is false. Furthermore (and as I also argue at length in TLS) there are no non-question-begging arguments for naturalism in the first place. Its hegemony over contemporary intellectual life owes entirely to a mixture of philosophical muddleheadedness, ignorance of philosophical history, and anti-religious animus. (Again, see TLS for the details.)

Rosenberg’s essay only bolsters the already ample evidence for these claims. Let’s take them in order:

1. Naturalism is incoherent: Suppose (as I argue in TLS) that Rosenberg is right about what naturalism implies. In that case there are no beliefs or desires, nor is there any such thing as the “original intentionality” or meaning that common sense says thoughts have, and which it takes to be the source of the derived intentionality exhibited by language. But then, Rosenberg rightly concludes, there’s no such thing as “the” real or actual meaning of a work of art, a human action, or indeed of anything else. There is simply no fact of the matter about what anything means. So far so good, and so far what Rosenberg is doing is simply noting that Quine’s famous thesis of the indeterminacy of meaning is not some eccentricity on Quine’s part, but follows from the naturalistic assumptions Quine shares with most contemporary academic philosophers.

The trouble is that if this is correct, then there is in particular no fact of the matter about what Rosenberg or any other naturalist means when he puts forward a naturalistic thesis. Objectively speaking there is no more reason to think that their utterances express a naturalistic position than that they express a Cartesian one or an Islamic one, or indeed that they are anything more than empty verbiage. The choice is purely pragmatic, or determined by social or economic forces or toilet training, or by Darwinian selection pressures, or by whatever it is this year’s clever young naturalistic philosophers are saying determines it.

Now this is absurd enough, but naturalists have already long inured themselves to accepting such nonsense. Writers like John Searle have been pointing out the paradox for years, to no effect. It doesn’t phase the average naturalist, any more than the hardened criminal feels even a twinge of guilt upon committing his 345th felony. The mental calluses are too thick. You see, if naturalism leads to absurdity, then it must not really be absurdity; because, kids, naturalism just can’t be wrong. Only those dogmatic religious types think otherwise.

But it’s worse than all that. For it won’t do for the naturalist to say: “OK, so we’ve got to swallow some bizarre stuff. But we’re just following the argument where it leads!” What argument? There’s no fact of the matter here either – no fact of the matter about which argument one is presenting, and in particular no fact of the matter about whether one’s arguments conform to valid patterns of inference. In the case at hand, there is simply no fact of the matter about whether Rosenberg’s own arguments (or those of any other naturalist) are sound or entirely fallacious. So why should we accept them? I suppose Rosenberg could always do what any serious philosopher would when dealing with those who stubbornly disagree with him – start a petition to pressure the APA to settle the question in his favor. But until that happens, we’ll just have to wait on pins and needles.

So, that’s one fatal problem, and there’s more to be said about it. If you simply cannot bear the thought of helping to fund the purchase of my next martini or holy card by ordering a copy of TLS, then at least read James F. Ross’s unjustly neglected article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”

There are other incoherencies too. For example, Rosenberg keeps telling us that this or that commonsense feature of human nature is an “illusion” – despite the fact that illusions themselves are intentional phenomena, and thus the sort of thing which, on Rosenberg’s account, naturalism entails doesn’t exist. Rosenberg also seems to think that blindsight phenomena give us a reason to be eliminativists about phenomenal consciousness. But this is incoherent too, because the only reason we judge something to be a case of blindsight in the first place is that we have phenomenally conscious experiences to compare it to. Furthermore, Rosenberg assures us that the mind is merely the product of a long process of selection which favored those who were skilled at detecting other people’s motives. But since “motives” are themselves intentional mental phenomena, they can hardly coherently be appealed to in an account of how the mind originated. (Nor will it do to suggest that Rosenberg means only that our more complex minds evolved in order to detect other people’s motives; for it is the existence of any intentionality at all which poses a uniquely difficult problem for naturalism, not merely the existence of complex minds like ours.)

Of course, these are very old and very well-known problem with eliminative materialism, and eliminative materialists typically pooh-pooh them or (more commonly) simply ignore them. Even non-eliminativist naturalists do the same. What none of them do is actually answer such objections, except with “solutions” which also presuppose intentionality and/or consciousness and thus simply raise the same difficulty at a higher level. The problem is obvious, and obviously fatal, and yet amazingly, it is rarely addressed (Rosenberg’s essay completely ignores it). Victor Reppert and William Hasker have put forward what I think is the correct explanation of this bizarre state of denial: Even naturalists who are not eliminative materialists suspect that their position may inevitably lead them in an eliminativist direction, and they want to keep the option open. Precisely because the obviously fatal objection to eliminative materialism is so obvious and so fatal, the typical naturalist pays it little or no heed, lest he be forced by it to give up naturalism itself – a position which is, as Hasker puts it, something like “a theological dogma” for those philosophers committed to it. Like children, they hope the problem will just go away if they pay it no attention.

Let’s move on to the second claim I have said is given some further confirmation by Rosenberg’s essay:

2. There are no non-question-begging arguments for naturalism: Rosenberg’s thinks we have to accept the depressing consequences he outlines because he thinks naturalism is clearly true. Why?

The only argument he gives – implies, really – is the standard, tired “heroic age of science” argument: Modern science implies naturalism, so it must be true. But why accept this conditional? It would certainly come as news to Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz, Locke, and many of the other founders of modern science and philosophy who (given that they were theists and/or dualists of one stripe or another) rejected naturalism (not to mention the many non-naturalist scientists and philosophers who have succeeded them, down to the present day). It also comes as news to us reactionary Aristotelians and Thomists, who hold that an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics and philosophy of nature is perfectly compatible with the findings of modern science.

But Rosenberg assures us that 17th century scientists and philosophers of the stripe just mentioned “purged” or “ruled out” Aristotelian formal and final causes and the like. If what Rosenberg means by this is that they decided simply to ignore formal and final causes, then he is right. But if what he means is that they somehow refuted the claim that formal and final causes exist, or even cast the slightest doubt on their existence, then he is most definitely wrong, as I have argued at length in several places, including TLS and Aquinas. Indeed, as I argue there, the reality of formal and final causes is in fact rationally unavoidable.

But even if we A-T types are wrong, that would do nothing to show that naturalism is true, because there is still the non-naturalistic interpretation of science defended by dualists, idealists, and representatives of other modern schools of thought which accept the broadly mechanistic or non-teleological conception of nature endorsed by naturalists, but deny that nature so conceived is all that exists. True, their position is currently a minority view. But X is the majority view among contemporary academic philosophers does not entail X is true or even X is the only view worth taking seriously. Indeed, by itself it does not even entail X is plausible.

Anyway, whenever Rosenberg or some other naturalist tells you that “Science has shown such-and-such,” what he really means is “Science as interpreted in light of a naturalistic metaphysics has shown such-and-such.” And when he is telling you specifically that what science has shown is that naturalism is true, what he is doing, accordingly, is begging the question. Nothing more. Which brings us to:

3. The hegemony of naturalism over contemporary intellectual life owes entirely to philosophical muddleheadedness, ignorance of philosophical history, and anti-religious animus: We’ve already noted a fair bit of muddleheadedness. Rosenberg’s implicit assumption that realism about the mental entails the view that a thought is a kind of inner “representation” is a possible instance of ignorance of (a big chunk of) philosophical history. As I have noted in several earlier posts (e.g. here), this “representationalist” conception of thought is a modern, Cartesian, and entirely contingent assumption that classical and medieval thinkers would have rejected (rightly, in my view).

In general, contemporary naturalistic philosophers – or at least those whose naturalism is “scientistic,” as Rosenberg’s self-consciously is – tend to have little or no knowledge of the many deep differences between modern, Cartesian versions of dualism and classical (Platonic or Aristotelian-Thomistic) ones, between modern rationalist and empiricist arguments for God’s existence and classical (Neo-Platonic or A-T) ones, and so on. They assimilate the classical theories to the modern ones and thus falsely assume that refuting the latter suffices to refute the former. (Even then, their understanding of modern forms of non-naturalism is often laughable; e.g. they often claim that Cartesian dualism involves “positing” the existence of “mind-stuff” or “ectoplasm.”)

How about the animus against religion? Well, Rosenberg tells us that a belief in meanings and purposes is what puts us on a “slippery slope” to religion. About that he is, I would say, absolutely right. But of course, that gives us a reason to endorse Rosenberg’s rejection of purposes and meanings (as he seems to think it does) only if we already know that no religion is true. Naturalism, we all thought, was supposed to show us that religion is an illusion; now, it turns out, naturalism merely assumes this.

Beg the question much?

UPDATE: Rosenberg has now replied to his critics (scroll to the bottom of his combox) and I comment on his reply here.


  1. Rosenberg’s thesis? That naturalism entails nihilism; in particular, that it entails denying the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort.

    But the GOOD news is that your Sundays are your own!

  2. Somewhere, C. S. Lewis is cheering.

  3. Excellent post, Ed. Are there others out there, besides Searle, who, however loath to follow A-T, do get it when it comes to naturalism?

  4. Hi John, well, there are of course all the non-A-T non-naturalists (contemporary Cartesians, idealists, theists of various stripes, etc.). But I take it you mean people who (like Searle) are at least sympathetic to the broadly naturalistic attitude but still recognize the problems with it. And yes, there are several prominent philosophers of that sort -- Thomas Nagel, Jerry Fodor, Galen Strawson, David Chalmers, and several others.

  5. The problem with naturalism is that there is no essential difference between the bacterium and the biologist. This has always prevented me from slipping into atheism.

    Any attempt by people to sidestep the problem of naturalism without turning to God is simple idolatry.

  6. Thanks for this timely reminder that helped me out from a blind alley of reasoning.

  7. Just downloaded Ross's article. This is definitely a two-highlighter piece, a keeper!

  8. I've posted links to Ross's paper at Conscious Entities and the like. Unsurprisingly, it was ignored or shrugged off. ('Do you mean to tell me my calculator doesn't do arithmetic?', sniffed one comment.)

    Metzinger is one such nihilist. In his previous work 'Being No One', he declares consciousness an illusion then promptly sneaks it in through the back door with his ideas of 'Self Modeling'. Now we have more of the same in his latest book 'The Ego Tunnel'.
    I hope Prof. Feser will have time to comment on it.

  9. P.S. Yet another fatal objection to naturalism is in a paper by Prof Russell Howell (Math) Westmont College, Santa Barbara CA
    "Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism?", a charitable title indeed.

    Maxwell formulated his eponymous equations by following an aesthetic motivation, and thereby discovered the nature and speed of light. This isn't supposed to happen in a meaningless naturalistic world of Darwinistic meat-puppets deluding themselves that they are conscious.

    Also against naturalism, see the recent book by Andreas Wagner 'Paradoxical Life'.

  10. Interstellar Bill, you've reminded me of a time when I was talking to a boss I once had-- she was a communist (really!) and an ardent atheist-- and I mentioned the story of August Kekulé (just looked up his name) being inspired by a dream of the ouroboros to discover the structure of benzene (thanks again, Wikipedia). The point of my story is that she was extremely sceptical of the story, I guess for reasons best explained by your last comment. But what really intrigued and confounded me was that there are people who DON'T want a story like that to be true!

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Thanks for this trenchant post. I have myself moved from naturalism toward at least deism, one of the many reasons for which was the impossibility of understanding mind in a naturalist universe. This problem has increasingly struck me as fatal.

  13. "Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism?"

    Interstellar Bill, that sounds like a must read paper, too. Thanks for pointing it out.

  14. I think Rosenberg's paper, and Ed's commentary, provides an utter savaging of naturalism (even if Rosenberg likely didn't intend as much.) The points mentioned therein really have to be repeated again and again.

    But there's one suspicion I have. I think, at the end of the day, most 'naturalists' are committed to atheism (or specifically, anti-theism squarely of the traditional western varieties). Ed mentions that he, Reppert and others suspect that naturalists tend to defend 'eliminative materialism' even while denying it on the grounds that in the end they may have to turn to it.

    My own view is that while that may be true in many cases, there also exists many 'naturalists' who will happily, gladly give up naturalism if they can jump to something that either continues to keep God out, or at least will result in a God/Gods that they'll argue is absolutely not or could not be the God of western theism. Something tells me that the number of actual 'atheists' around is smaller than realized.

    By the way: Interstellar Bill, can you point me to a book review of Paradoxical Life? I'm interested, but have found nothing so far.

  15. Should we even give so-called naturalists the honor of their title? After all, it's not as though the only minimally coherent alternative is 'supernaturalism'; the problem isn't so much that they think that 'nature is all there is' as that they don't offer a coherent metaphysical view of nature itself.

    Similarly, I'd reject the suggestion that the alternative to naturalism is any kind of revealed religion. However much naturalism might oppose itself to religion, it just isn't necessary for someone who rejects naturalism to embrace religion. Even if the only coherent alternative to naturalism were to entail theism (and I doubt it, since again it seems quite possible to have a much more sensible metaphysical understanding of nature without committing oneself to theism), the sort of theism it entails wouldn't be nearly the territory of revealed religion.

    The terms of the dispute seem to distort the real philosophical possibilities, and it seems to concede too much to so-called naturalists to let them set the agenda through adopting their terminology. Why not just call them eliminative and reductive physicalists? That has the virtue of pinning them down to a more specific position and being the sort of language that many of them would use (at least, it's not, like 'materialism,' basically foreign to their self-understanding these days).

    In my experience, most naturalists are not nearly so silly as Rosenberg. No doubt in part because they recognize how ridiculous the view is.

    The only thing that really perplexes me is how people as intelligent as Rosenberg can fail to see the self-referential incoherence of their metaphysics. I used to think that there must be some way of dealing with that objection and that I just wasn't clever enough to figure it out. But I've been raising the objection for years now, and I've never heard a good response that didn't concede the untenability of reductive/eliminative materialism. I have a hard time believing that people really are like Ed describes them, but in this instance, I'm having a hard time coming up with any other explanation.

  16. I haven't read this yet, but from skimming the comments, it seems that this topic is essentially about the anti-atheism argument I've been thinking about for a few years now.

  17. Re: Anon. "Should we…"

    I wholeheartedly agree about how impoverished most of naturalism's "nature" is. Without finality, laws natural have no proper connection between cause and effect. Without essence, there are no "fermions and bosons all the way down," as Rosenberg put it, since such things are either what they are in essence, or they are simply constructivist nomenclators and therefore can't be said to define the rest of reality.

    As for Rosenberg's scientism, I'd like to raise two points, see what others think.

    1. There is an inverse ratio between scientific certainty and scientific rigor. I.e., one of the most cherished aspects of science for "scientismatics" (my term of art for devotees of scientism) is its relentless self-correcting process, esp. in contrast to dogmatism, revelation, etc. That being so, it is impossible for a scientismatic to endorse any reigning scientific account of the world as "the final word," since doing so either makes a scientific Weltbild into a dogma or revelation. As such, all the weight Rosenberg et alia put on THE account of THE world according to current science should literally only be taken ex hypothesi. It follows that scientism's ideological security devolves to its metaphysics; but metaphysics have no place in scientism. (E.g., how do you "test for" causality without assuming it?) Ergo, etc.

    Of course, this doesn't even touch the topic, raised so acutely by Dr. Feser in this post et alias, as to what a scientific "theory" can even mean (that word again!) in such naturalism.

    2. I first encountered Rosenberg's "a priori Darwinism" (my term of art) reading some lectures he gave at Duke a few years ago. In this latest essay he espouses the same thing by saying Darwinian natural selection follows deductively (and thus irreformably) from the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Here's my worry: How is this any longer science? A scientific theory should be falsifiable, but by saying that Darwinism is a logical necessity (which I believe he said more explicitly in the Duke lectures) Rosenberg pretty much makes Darwinism an axiom of reason. Does that not strike anyone else as bizarre in the extreme?


  18. I just had an insight while reading Appendix I of 'God, Zen and the Intuition of Being' by James Arraj that goes with these comments:

    Naturalists study the beings of sublime existence, but only with the rational intellect, and this limited faculty of cleverness keeps them from an existential experience (the sublime esse), or what Maritain called 'intuition of being'

  19. Anon,

    I don't think anyone here suggested that "revealed religion" is the only alternative to naturalism. In fact, I've found Ed and other A-T philosophers (including Aquinas himself) to be remarkably fair about what their arguments, if sound, establish. They don't pretend that, say, 'If naturalism is false, Catholicism is true!' - at least I've never seen that.

    That said, I'm not so sure I agree with you about "reasonable naturalists". Ed gave some great reasons about the problems of "reasonable naturalists" in TLS - if you haven't read the book, I think you'd really be interested in reading just where Ed sees such naturalism as deriving their reasonableness/plausibility from.

    The Cogitator,

    I don't think modern atheists, or even many naturalists, really have that much care or concern for science. Any more than the leaders in the Reign of Terror really cared all that much for "reason" despite their not shutting up about it (guillotines aside).

  20. In a previous comment, I mentioned the book "Naturalism in Question" as the best example of intellectual honesty by some contemporary naturalists.

    An honest naturalist would see that naturalism receives strong pressure to accomodate, in its ontology, mathematical truths, moral values, and normativity in general (including rational normativity, i.e. the the normative character of reason or logic)- All of these facts are, prima facie, incompatible with naturalism.

    Epistemologically, naturalism is argueably self-defeating, entailing skepticism.

    Both Plantinga's argument (widely and intentionally misunderstood by naturalists) and David Macarthur's argument seem to put the naturalist against a corner.

    Ed mentions that he, Reppert and others suspect that naturalists tend to defend 'eliminative materialism' even while denying it on the grounds that in the end they may have to turn to it.

    In TLS, professor Feser mentions that eliminative materialism is the only consistent position for a materialist (that is, the position that would be truth if the mechanistic materialist and naturalist metaphysics is true).

    Some materialists (like emergent materialists) would deny this, but I think professor Feser is right.

    Given the basic naturalistic ontology, we wouldn't expect a phenomena like consciousness, abstract objects, moral values and rationality. At most, these would be brute facts, not deducible or explainable from the premises of naturalism.

    This is why eliminative materialists, who follow consistently the materialistic premises through their consequences, realize that consciousness is only an illusion, something that actually doesn't and cannot exist.

    In this latest essay he espouses the same thing by saying Darwinian natural selection follows deductively (and thus irreformably) from the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Here's my worry: How is this any longer science? A scientific theory should be falsifiable, but by saying that Darwinism is a logical necessity (which I believe he said more explicitly in the Duke lectures) Rosenberg pretty much makes Darwinism an axiom of reason. Does that not strike anyone else as bizarre in the extreme?

    This is evidence that Darwinism is not seen as a scientific theory anymore, but a deduction or logical theorem.

    Darwinism would be the only scientific theory developed by deduction alone (and therefore, necessary from a logical point of view). It would be an apodictic truth.

    I suspect that strategy is intented to avoid empirical refutation of Darwinism, and to force a Darwinian interpretation of whatever evidence is found (after all, Darwinism has been deduced as "true" from basic physical laws).

    Honestly, I happen to believe that some metaphysical naturalists are deluded or intentionally dishonest. They're getting desperate by the obvious irrationality (and weird implications) of their position.

    The fear of God has caused the minds of some naturalists a severe, chronic and irreparable damage.

  21. Well, I up and wrote a post of my own about Rosenberg's jumping and the shark and his subsequent "fesing" here. Click it: http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2009/12/doing-my-work-for-me.html


  22. Crude,

    I didn't mean to imply that Ed wants us to believe that if naturalism is false then Catholicism is true. I do think his rhetoric sometimes suggests that there's less space between accepting an Aristotelian metaphysics and vindicating the rationality of Christian faith than I think there is, but it's clear enough that he actually has a very sensible view about that. The trouble comes much more from the naturalist side, I think, though plenty of religious folks make the same mistake. Most fundamentally, 'naturalism' is a commitment to rejecting 'the supernatural,' and though there's no way to say a priori exactly what that excludes, there are some paradigmatic cases of things that it must. One of those is obviously God, and if there's one thing that naturalists agree on, it's atheism. To my mind, though, it's important to show two things against naturalists.

    The first is what I've been saying about revealed religion. Embracing even a robust theism need not commit you to revealed religion. We're agreed on that point, and most naturalists would admit it, but they don't acknowledge it sufficiently.

    The second is that even rejecting the typical metaphysical positions of naturalists doesn't commit one to theism. This is true even for Aristotelians. There may be (I think there are) extremely good arguments for theism from within a basically Aristotelian metaphysics, but an Aristotelian need not be a theist in order to be minimally coherent. To give one concrete example, consider Anthony Kenny. He's a very adamant agnostic, and while it's true that he rejects crucial parts of Aquinas' metaphysics, those aren't parts that Aquinas shares with Aristotle (roughly, the essence/existence distinction understood in a way that would allow esse ipsum subsistens to make any sense), and he does follow Aristotle and Aquinas in much else. Similarly, to the extent that much contemporary 'non-reductive' or 'emergent' physicalism is really a kind of torturous restatement of Aristotle in non-Aristotelian terms, it's possible to defend a basically Aristotelian metaphysics without being a theist. I'm not claiming that these views are ultimately defensible, but they are certainly more coherent than eliminative or reductive physicalism.

    In other words, it seems to me that it's important to distinguish the tenability of 'naturalism' from questions about theism. Even if no ultimately coherent metaphysics can do without God, the reasons for rejecting reductive and eliminative physicalism have much less to do with God than with making sense of patently real and ineliminable things like complex chemical compounds, animals, intentionality, and normativity.

  23. Sorry I can't comment in greater detail just now, but I wanted to note that I agree with Anon's comment that naturalism per se is compatible with more that many naturalists realize. Indeed, in my two recent posts on William Paley and the Greek atomists (scroll down the main page or do a search), I noted that a sophisticated naturalist need not be troubled by anything Paley-style design arguments might show, and could even (as the atomists did) accept the existence of "gods" and just regard them as unusually powerful natural entities. What the naturalist really wants and needs to to avoid is the God of classical theism (again, see the recent posts in question for what classical theism entails) -- and it is classical theism that (I maintain) classical philosophy (whether neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, or Scholastic) gets you and Paley and Co. do not.

  24. E.Feser: "... I noted that a sophisticated naturalist need not be troubled by anything Paley-style design arguments might show, and could even (as the atomists did) accept the existence of "gods" and just regard them as unusually powerful natural entities. ... -- and it is classical theism that (I maintain) classical philosophy (whether neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, or Scholastic) gets you and Paley and Co. do not."

    And I still think you're incorrect about Paley and/or the IDists.

    Yes, a naturalist can "accept the existence of "gods" and just regard them as unusually powerful natural entities."

    And, indeed, he has no principled reason to reject such a hypothesis -- he posits that the human mind is a "natural" entity (where "nature" is defined in terms of 'naturalism'), never mind the internal contradiction of minds existing in a "naturalistic" world (which contradiction he's well-prepared to ignore), therefore, on his own terms, he must accept the possibility that there exist minds more powerful and more knowledgeable than himself.

    To paraphrase Authur C. Clarke, the naturalist must assert that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from divinity." The corollary to this is that "any suitably impressive 'miracle' is indistinguishable from advanced technology" -- naturalism has an all-purpose "explanation" for everything; it cannot be attacked on the margins, it must be attacked at its heart.

    And, after all, almost all pagan mythologies (I can't think of any that don't) make it clear that the gods are "natural" entities, do they not? In the pagan mythologies, the gods do not create the world, do not create Cosmos, but rather either they "arise" out of a preexisting Cosmos, which itself "arose" out of Chaos, or sometimes they "arise" directly out of Chaos.

    You may recall that I've said more than once that atheists pretend to be rejecting/arguing against God, but the "god" they have in mind is always Zeus (or the equivalent) ... and that they actually have no way to argue against Zeus. The above is what I meant by that.

    You may recall that I've said more than once that one must address one's audience in its own language. The IDists are attempting to address naturalists (and these days we're all infected to some degree or another with that blight) in their own terms; you are not. The naturalists fight against attending to the IDists; they don't even hear you.

    Will you fault Paley (or the IDists) because he doesn't get you to "classical theism" (*)? Should you not then fault "classical theism" for not getting you to Christianity? If not, why not?

    The IDist (or Paley) addresses the naturalist on his own terms ... and shows him that his naturalism is not only incomplete (as indeed is Christianity) but that it is incoherent. This is not a small thing; and it must be done *before* the naturalist will ever be able even to hear a A-T argument.

    (*) I *really* dislike the concept and term "theism," classical or not, and I refuse to call myself a "theist;" I am a Christian. The term 'theism' lumps Judaism and Christianity together with the pagans -- and the "Christian atheists" of our day make much use of that fallacy to obfuscate -- when, in fact, the various paganisms cluster with naturalism/atheism. It's because of "theism" that the pretend-atheists (from the famously ever-present village atheist to Dawkins) are able to fool so many into imagining that they have argued against the God-of-the-Bible when the "god" they have in mind is just Zeus.

    The only commonality between God-the-Creator and "the gods" is the word 'god,' and "theism" frequently serves to disguise that distinction.

  25. On ID theory, Thomas Nagel wrote a sympathetic commentary about Stephen Meyer's lastest book "The signature in the cell":

    Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.


  26. Ilion,

    Much of your argument just makes no sense to me, so I won't comment much on it. Three points seem relevant, though:

    1. Read very charitably, all your argument shows is that naturalists cannot deny the minimal conceivability of gods on the ancient pagan model (though you might want to go read Hesiod and tell me whether you think it's clear what that model is, or whether there is a single one). But something is minimally conceivable just in case it does not entail a logical contradiction, and while there might be something philosophically interesting to learn from discovering that something is not minimally conceivable, the minimal conceivability of anything supplies us with no reason whatsoever to believe that it is actual or even physically possible. As Hume pointed out, there is no contradiction involved in the idea that the world began to exist five seconds ago. But even Hume didn't think he had good reason to doubt that it wasn't!

    So, since your argument (if that's what it is) shows at best that gods on the ancient pagan model are minimally conceivable, no naturalist should have any trouble accepting it. The real question is why they should care.

    2. You claim that we should tailor our language to the language of our audience, and you use the example of ID. Out of the many relevant points, I'll just say that one frequent source of philosophical problems is inadequate language, and serious and interesting philosophical disagreements frequently manifest themselves in the inability of one position to be translated into the terms of another. One good reason for not taking up your opponents' language in many cases is that it makes certain conclusions appear inevitable or certain distinctions appear unintelligible.

  27. 3. You reject the concept of 'theism' as opposed to, say 'Christianity' on the grounds that 'theism' supposedly leaves no distinction between Judeo-Christian (why not include Islam, I wonder?) and pagan conceptions of divinity. You'd be right to reject the idea that Christians, Muslims, Jews, deists, Hindus, Platonists, Stoics, Epicureans, and non-philosophical ancient pagans all basically share the same core belief in 'God' and differ over minor details; even taking monotheism on its own, Trinitarian belief is just central to orthodox Christianity and utterly anathema to Muslims and orthodox Jews. But 'theism,' even when it is not obviously just standing in as a name for a group of widely divergent philosophical positions, is not supposed to represent the totality or the core of any religious view. It names a variety of philosophical positions that agree in holding that there is an ultimate, self-subsistent source of being or order in reality. As a Christian, you should not want to identify any version of theism as the core of your faith. But as a Christian, you should not want to deny that there is any such thing as 'theism' or that it is at all important. Presumably, if you believe anything like traditional Christian theology, then you believe that one of the manifold ways in which human beings are naturally ordered to a relationship with God is through being able to conclude rationally that God exists, but you also believe that the most important things for human beings to know about God are not things that they could discover through reason. So in fact you should expect both that non-Christian (and non-Jewish) traditions would at least tend towards monotheism in their philosophical (as opposed to mythical) thinking and that their philosophical thought would not contain any or many intimiations of distinctively Judeo-Christian ideas. In fact, if you are a Roman Catholic, then your Church teaches this, and it teaches this not as a piece of philosophy but as a piece of revealed theology -- which is to say that there are reasons internal to distinctively Christian faith to believe that it should be possible for people to know that God exists through the use of reason but that the conception of God available through reason is minimal and likely to be a point of disagreement. But to judge from your resistance to this idea, you seem rather more like a good old-fashioned Luther-Calvin Protestant.

  28. But even if we A-T types are wrong...

    There are no A-T types, only A-T individuals.

  29. It doesn’t phase the average naturalist

    Typo: should be "faze."