An Archetypal Naturalistic Ontology Argument (presented for consideration)

Slowly catching up on a very long list of things to do. {g} But I've been meaning to put this up for consideration, revision, etc., for a while.

What I take to be a solid, archetypical naturalistic ontology argument (to be distinguished from, but not exclusive to, a claim of atheism) runs like this:

1.) agree that infinite regression is not only conceptually worthless and a practical impossibility for application, but that even trying to state it requires tacitly presuming a single-IF (Independent Fact) reality is true instead.

2.) agree that the proposition of multiple-limited IFs (e.g. God/Nature cosmological dualism, or the cosmological tritheism proposed by some Mormons) either tacitly presumes a single-IF reality as a common overarching factor (which, incidentally, is why other Mormons treat the three Gods as existing within an already existant reality, even if that reality is technically supernatural to our own--"as man is, so God was", etc.); or else the proposition makes absolutely no effectual difference to claiming one IF (Nature) exists instead (because of a total lack of interlocking or communion between the IF systems).

3.) either we should say that the evident system of Nature, then, is the IF; or we should say that Nature as a system is dependent for its existence upon something substantially different from it. (If substantially similar, it wouldn't really be anything other than a larger scope of Nature.) i.e. we should believe either naturalism or supernaturalism to be true.

It is important to note that the naturalist and the supernaturalist (regardless of theism/atheism differences) should be in agreement up to here.

At this point, the argument necessarily turns to the question, 'should we accept supernaturalism instead of naturalism?'

4.) if a ground cannot be supplied for properly preferring supernaturalism to naturalism, then we should accept naturalism instead, on the ground that needlessly multiplying hypotheses should be avoided.

From this point on, the naturalist has the default position, and the burden of argument is on the supernaturalist to come up with a reason to accept supernaturalism instead of naturalism. Consequently, from this point on, the naturalist's arguments will be directed toward countering supernaturalistic propositions and/or arguments (especially arguments), if possible; or accepting supernaturalism instead, if an argument to this notion cannot be effectively countered and if the naturalist accepts the importance of accepting the supernaturalist argument. (This is because it's theoretically possible to come up with a venially trivial argument for supernaturalism that cannot be effectively countered.)

I present this as an example of a respectable argument method, in principle, for provisionally accepting philosophical naturalism.


(Incidentally, this isn't as far back as I would go in beginning to develop and/or confirm a worldview. I mention this because I said I would try to put something up about that this week; which I still intend to do, but I've been meaning to put this up for a while already and a recent topic in the comments reminded me I hadn't done so yet. For what it's worth, though, this would be no less than step 12 along the line; I do include it as a practical component of my own metaphysical arguments.)

Jason Pratt


So the naturalist position is the default while still not able to explain all the features of the "natural" world?
Leslie said…
Yeah, Mark's comment is what I feel like you're saying too, which seems odd to me.
Jason Pratt said…
I think it's a matter of progression or lack of progression. I use the word "default", but not in any simplistic way: several positions are already considered and rejected before getting to this point, and the way is not simply barred from moving onward. A meaningful dialectic with the technical possibility of the naturalist deciding supernaturalism is true, is included and expected. The position is "default" only insofar as a person has gotten "to this point" (as I specifically said) and accepting supernaturalism would involve accepting (by tautology) more than this position involves.

Also, realistically, any significant problem with philosophical naturalism isn't going to have anything to do with "not being able to explain all the details of the natural world". We're not ever going to be able to do that anyway; that would require omniscience. (And I don't just mean omni-science. {g})

If there are details in the natural world, though, that turn out to be inexplicable in principle by natural behaviors (ontologically speaking), then by corollary supernaturalism of some sort must be true. (Or the details don't really exist, perhaps.) But my purpose for this post isn't to discuss those cases.


What I meant was inexplicable in principle by naturalism as you mentioned. I'm still not seeing how one goes from point 3 to point 4. It seems to me the proper point of departure is at 3 where both sides have to provide ground, not jumping to four and just requiring that of supernaturalism. Otherwise, the naturalist can just take the easy out and assume naturalism will eventually prove this or that by natural means and accuse us of a God of the gaps argument, when they havent argued how this or that can be shown to even be possible by naturalism. Maybe I've had too much exposure to the new atheists, because that's how it usually plays out in my experience.
Jason Pratt said…
{{What I meant was inexplicable in principle by naturalism as you mentioned.}}

In which case "by corollary, supernaturalism of some sort must be true. (Or the details don't really exist, perhaps.)" Or, putting it another way (and as in my original post) "accepting supernaturalism instead, if an argument to this notion cannot be effectively countered _and_ if the naturalist accepts the importance of accepting the supernaturalist argument."

{{I'm still not seeing how one goes from point 3 to point 4.}}

Points one and two conceptually establish a rejection of a multiple-IF reality (whether infinitely so or limited, points 1 and 2 respectively). That leaves a single-IF reality of some sort.

No one really disputes that the evident system of Nature is at least _some_ level of reality. It's (literally) evidently there. We can all point to it, so to speak. The appearance per se may be an illusion, but it either represents something real or else there is no existence at all (under more radical versions of philosophical naturalism).

The evident system of Nature, therefore, becomes the first expectation for the identity of the Independent Fact.

Another way of putting it is that by the time we get to 3, we can be logically certain of a single-IF reality. But supernaturalism involves the notion that the single-IF is not the evident system of Nature; there is simply more to that claim than to philosophical naturalism. No one disagrees that we're in some sort of system by our being in Nature, even if the appearance is illusory (unless they are claiming that there is no existence at all, which quickly runs into self-contradiction). Why then should we believe that this system is not the IF? Why should we believe it is dependent for its existence upon a substantially different system?

(In theory we could run up a chain of substantially different dependent/independent system relationships, but in principle there will be an IF sooner or later, per acceptance of 1 and 2. So for purposes of ontological argument I'm simplifying the claim down to Nature being dependent upon the finally independent Supernature.)

Put yet another way: the naturalist has made his positive argument--a single-IF must exist, Nature evidently exists as a system, therefore we should believe naturalism to be true unless we find good grounds for believing supernaturalism to be true. That important provision is part of the conclusion; it cannot be legitimately ignored.

If the supernaturalist isn't going to even try to provide good grounds, then the naturalist is under no logical obligation to change his provisional belief merely on the assertion that there might possibly be good grounds maybe! {g} If on the other hand there seem to be hints, then these can be considered for acceptance or rejection. If accepted, then either supernaturalism is proportionately accepted as being likely (via induction) or it is accepted as being a logical certainty (given the truth of accepted premises and a deductively valid argument).

The argument as given doesn't deductively establish philosophical naturalism; it simply describes a logical progression of belief.

{{Otherwise, the naturalist can just take the easy out and assume naturalism will eventually prove this or that by natural means}}

As you yourself hint, this would only be "the easy way out". {g} And it would be illegitimate via the argument as given above (except in day-to-day provision; much the same way we all just take the easy way out and assume the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.) Since the argument does not establish naturalism deductively, there can be no legitimate grounds for always concluding (much less merely assuming) that there must be a merely natural explanation for any unexplained event.

But the burden of proof does lie on the supernaturalist in regard to this or that case; indeed, the burden has already been not only shouldered but acceptedly so, to the supernaturalist (insofar as the proposer actually believes what she is proposing.) The case was convincing to the supernaturalist, wasn't it?

It's the same process that can be seen on a more particular level, even among (us) supernaturalists. When Joseph hears that his fiancee has become pregnant, what does he first decide to believe? When the Magdalene first arrives at the tomb Sunday morning and finds the stone rolled away, what is her first inference? They go with the way things normally happen, in Nature; until they have reason to believe that something else is going on. But Joseph and the Magdalene are both supernaturalists (philosophically speaking); in the Magdalene's case, she has even had some experience in dealing overtly with the supernatural already by this time!

So the position reached by the archetypal argument as given above (in the original post) is nuanced and (I think) fair. That it might be unfairly abused is nothing to the point.

!!!DISCLAIMER!!!--the argument given above in the original post is not to be confused with something blurped out by the typical NA. {wry g!} I am under no obligation to try to formulate something that cannot possibly be misused by the muddleminded.


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