If supernaturalism is true, what follows?

As humans, we often like to simplify things. This isn’t necessarily wrong. Sometimes we need to simplify things in order to just get through life, which is even more understandable in the information/internet age. An example of this would be in the God debate.

Definitions

Often one will get the impression that when looking at different worldviews, the competition is between classical theism and metaphysical naturalism. The former is the view that there exists a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good; this God is also timeless, spaceless, immaterial, uncaused, eternal, and not composed of parts. Metaphysical naturalism is the view that nature is all there is and that nature is a closed system; hence, this would entail, for example, that the mind is dependent on the brain.

However, classical theism is just one version of theism. In addition, theism is a sub-set of supernaturalism. Supernaturalism is the view that there exist agents that are beyond or about nature such as ghosts, demons, angels, etc.*

The Issue

You may have noticed that the problem is that these aren’t the only options when it comes to looking at all the different worldviews. For instance, there is panentheism, polytheism, deism, pandeism, henotheism, etc. Also, one can be a supernaturalist but not be a theist. For instance, one can believe in ghosts but not believe in any gods.

Thus, even if we grant supernaturalism, and even if we grant that some form of theism is true, we still haven’t gotten to classical theism.

So, prior to looking at the data in the world, how likely is classical theism? Given the variety of theisms, it’s hard to see how we are going to end up with a probability that is high.

And, how likely is classical theism after looking at the data in the world? One could argue that deism, for example, is better than classical theism at describing things like the existence of horrific suffering, religious confusion, divine hiddenness, etc.

You may have also noticed that even if we grant classical theism, we still haven’t yet arrived at Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. This much is true, and these religions obviously aren’t the only religions that are compatible with classical theism.

It can’t be stressed enough that this is an underlooked area in the literature, and it is an area that is also underlooked by apologists for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Objections

Someone might object and say something like, “But look, classical theism is different. There are actually arguments for it, and it is a rich tradition. Nobody, for example, believes in Zeus. There is no reason to believe in Zeus”

Even if we grant that all of this true, the problem is that we are just looking at ONE form of polytheism in this objection. Not to mention, it’s not true that classical theism is the only version of theism that has a tradition and has arguments on its side. Take a moment to notice that most of the arguments for a god’s existence only get you to some form of deism, pandeism, panentheism, etc. And, given that God is supposed to be all-loving (and open to a relationship with finite creatures) on classical monotheism, it’s hard to see if there have been many/any arguments for such an entity in the history of western philosophy!

Someone might object to polytheism on the grounds of simplicity. In the words, polytheism supposedly multiplies entities beyond necessity. One problem here is that polytheism is just one form of theism. Secondly, we don’t actually know that simplicity is a guide to truth. Third, simplicity isn’t the only doing we look at when comparing hypotheses. If that were the case, then arguably metaphysical naturalism would win, because naturalism posits fewer entities than theism and fewer types of entities. Thus, even if simplicity is a guide to truth, we can’t view simplicity as some type of ultimate trump card when comparing hypotheses.

Conclusion

Even if we grant supernaturalism and theism, we haven’t gotten to classical theism. This is a problem that should be taken seriously going forward.

Notes:

*Here I’m assuming for the sake of argument that “supernatural” is not a meaningless term. There is some debate on the subject of religious language on whether we can even make sense of theistic and/or “supernaturalist” language. Some skeptics argue that the language involved (i.e. theistic/supernatural language) is not even false or even capable of being false (or true); the language is not truth-apt.

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4 thoughts on “If supernaturalism is true, what follows?

  1. Classical theism also requires a belief in magic, not just things being outside of nature, but that nature can be distorted, changed, controlled, via some sort of mechanism that is not natural. Asking a god to suspend a natural law is asking for magic to be done. Even though Jesus birth was attended by three “magi” that is magicians, many fundamentalist Christians decry magic and all of its manifestations. But without magic, there is no intercessionary prayer and there is no divine intervention in our affairs … exist god, stage left.

  2. Depending on our definitions, the disjunctive argument can be valid. If naturalism asserts that “physical reality is all that exists” while supernaturalism asserts “it is not the case that physical reality is all that exists,” then one or the other (if they are meaningful) must be true.

    Theism is more specific than supernaturalism: it asserts not merely that something exists beyond physical reality, but that what exists includes at least a transcendent and loving God whose nature and actions we can understand only very dimly if at all.

    For three reasons, we trust in a reality that we cannot understand.

    First, we trust in the testimony of “the prophets and the righteous,” as the philosopher Saadia Gaon argued. If a trustworthy person told us that it was raining, we would believe him or her. Likewise, if the same person told us about experiencing a Being whose nature transcends description or understanding, we would believe at least that the person experienced *something* corresponding to his or her report.

    Second, many of us have had similar if less profound experiences of the same kind. Even if we cannot explain or understand them, we know that they are real and important.

    Third, we may pragmatically borrow a Buddhist insight that amounts to Pascal’s wager: We believe in God, and as a result, we are happy and more inclined to lead moral, productive lives. If our belief is false, we still benefit from it. If our belief is true, we benefit even more.

  3. Not. Even. False.
    “It is not the case that physical reality is all that exists”, is a conclusion in search of an argument, and before that, a proposition desperately in need of a definition or two (physicality and reality).

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