Argument From the Necessity of Naturalism
by Francois Tremblay
I have already partly explained this argument in my article ‘The Impossibility of Divine Intervention’. As I point out:
Given that divine intervention is only meaningful in that it is a negation of material causes, what criteria can we use? We now have a major problem. We need to be able to negate the possibility of any material cause, but we cannot do so unless we know everything there is to know about possible causes of this sort. If there is a possible material cause we are not aware of, then we cannot make the wholesale claim that no material cause can explain an event. In short, we need to be omniscient!
Human knowledge is limited. The necessity of a transcendent knowledge base is a Category 1 presupposition. And we need a transcendent knowledge base precisely because our knowledge is limited to begin with. And since supernatural effects can only be deduced if one has no limits of knowledge, then naturalism is absolute. We can express both lines of evidence in this way:
- Supernaturalism is only meaningful in that it is a negation of material causes.
- Negation of material causes would only be possible if one had no limit of knowledge.
- A transcendent knowledge base is necessary because we have limits of knowledge.
- Supernaturalism is impossible. (from 1, 2 and 3)
- Naturalism is an absolute. (from 4)
One objection I have encountered is that it presumes God does not exist, because the argument would fail if God was omniscient (no limit of knowledge). The obvious problem with this rejoinder is that it is meaningless in the context of the argument, insofar as “god” is inscribed in a supernaturalist context.
But most importantly, the argument is about our limits of knowledge, not the limit of knowledge of any other being. The fact that any other being may or may not agree with the argument has no relevance to our agreement with the argument. And if one argues that a hypothetical god may be able to tell us that the argument is false, then we are only pushing back the problem. We would still have no way to know that this communication actually came from a hypothetical god.
Given this general fact, we can now apply it to the god question. The god question either implies supernaturalism, or it doesn’t. Insofar as the conceptions of “god” we examine include, amongst other things, Creation, we can say that the god question does include supernaturalism. And if it did not, then it would have absolutely no meaning for human beings. A god which does not act on the universe, or leaves no effect on the universe at all, is the equivalent of non-existence.
A natural being would not involve any question of supernaturalism at all, but I do not include it as a possible conception. A powerful alien may appear to be god-like, but does not really correspond to any meta-criteria for the word “god”, such as worthy of worship, or a conceptual space not already occupied by another word or system (such as, in this case, “space alien”).
Given this, and given the fact that naturalism is an absolute, we must reject the idea of a god as being either meaningless or impossible.
- Naturalism is an absolute.
- The concept “god” either implies supernaturalism, or it doesn’t.
- If the concept “god” implies supernaturalism, then it is an impossibility. (from 1)
- If the concept “god” does not imply supernaturalism, then it is unfalsifiable and meaningless.
- The concept “god” is either impossible or meaningless. (from 2a and 2b)
December 16, 2004