Under the Microscope Part 2: An Abductive Case Against Theism

In the last post, we took a look at the first part of a short abductive case against theism. As you can see in the image below, the first section concerns the prior probabilities of Naturalism and Theism. The idea is that we can have some understanding of how believable a proposition is prior to or in advance of considering any evidence for it. Contrary to the author of the post in the image, I argued that the prior of naturalism isn’t anywhere near as high as they estimated, nor the prior of theism anywhere near as low. In this post, we’ll continue providing a polytheist response and take a look at (2).

The first thing I want to say is that the author commits themselves to a rather blatant inconsistency. On the one hand, they suggest that on naturalism there is a “fundamental indifference” built into the universe toward things like human flourishing, religious “quality,” and the rationality of nonbelief, etc. But on the other hand, the author suggests this innate indifference actually leads us to expect suffering, varied religious “quality,” and the rationality of nonbelief. But indifference toward x does not generate expectations of x. You might think it should be just as likely, given cosmic indifference, that there is, say, suffering as that there is not. But things are far worse. Without any prediction one way or the other, Naturalism has no probability: it’s completely inscrutable. The author inadvertently renders Naturalism explanatorily impotent by tying it to this particular thesis about cosmic “difference.” We could, theoretically, end the discussion here, because Naturalism is apparently not an explanatory competitor and makes no predictions at all. Indeed, an inscrutable probability can’t be compared to a scrutable one, however high or low.

But, the idea that theism has such failed predictions as those alleged above should not go without response. Let’s consider then what a polytheist might have to say.

So does theism predict a universe designed with us in mind, and one that is consistent with moral perfection? Here the polytheist has a variety of things to say, some of which the naturalist will no doubt be unaccustomed to hearing.

First of all, we have the idea in polytheism of pantheons of Gods, each with different moral characters. According to such a view as this, we would not expect a universe to be free of suffering and flaws, or to have no nonbelief whatsoever, or no rational nonbelief at least, etc. But at least it would predict that there be a life-permitting universe in the first place, one with incompatible goods, and diverse religions, etc. This prediction is not made by Naturalism, especially one in which Nature is fundamentally indifferent.

Monotheism understates the evidence by predicting a general sort of life, though not the specific sort we actually see. But Naturalism overstates the evidence by purporting to predict a specific sort of life, though not that there should even be any in the first place. Polytheism is the natural middle-course between these extremes.

But polytheists needn’t align with the discussion as it customarily proceeds. The Platonist polytheists for example will deny that reality is created. Rather, they will say, all things emanate from the Gods. For polytheists such as these, Gods are too ultimate to be faced with decisions, and so we can hardly come to expect Gods to do different things based on what we think they intend. Reality does not unfold according to an intention here, but according to a character. This is the difference between causal models of the First Principle, and constituitive models of the First Principle.

On a constituitive model, a God’s utterly unique character functions like a “nature” that things have in common. But unlike a nature such as ‘humanity’ which only some things have in common, a God’s character is what all things have in common. Not everything is organic, or conscious, or even temporal, or whatever. But everything is itself. That’s what metaphysical individuality is; what the ancient Platonists called “unity” or “henos.” It’s what absolutely all things, no matter what, have in common. Each thing is its own one, individuated thing. What every self has in common is ‘Self’; what each one has in common is ‘One-ness’. Be it concrete or abstract, actual or potential, it doesn’t matter: each thing has it in common at the very least that it is one, individual thing.

On such a model as this, each God will function in this capacity as the individuator of all thing; the One, so that for anything to be one thing just is for it to take after that deity. Zeus, for example, will function like a form, say, ‘Zeuseity’, and in this capacity be the ‘Self’ of all ‘selves’ such that for anything to be one thing just is for it to be ‘zeusaic’. So too for each God, such as Odin functioning like ‘Odinity’, and all things insofar as they are one being ‘odinic’, etc.

So it’s not that ‘One-ness’ decides to start creating ones, or to do so with any particular kind of ones in mind; the divine natures don’t cause anything, intentionally or otherwise. Rather, they constitute.

As stated above, then, it’s not divine intentions on theism that lead us to expect things; that’s not how theism makes predictions. Rather, it’s divine constitution.

How does divine constitution do that? Because by identifying the different “ways” in which one can partake of Unity, we can map out a hierarchy of categories or types of being. The closer these categories are to Unity, the more general and abstract they are. The more remote they are to Unity, the more specific they are. In the end, we have a picture of an all-encompassing whole with different strata. The Platonists, over the course of centuries, drew this map more or less like this:

Unity predicts Being, Being predicts Life, Life predicts Intellect, Intellect predicts Soul, and Soul predicts Body.

The Platonic deduction is unfortunately so often cast in arcane vocabularies, and Platonists disagreed with each other on many of the details. I try to present this idea in easier to digest language in chapter 3 of my book. But the takeaway here is that there is an entirely different way of understanding theistic predictions than what is customary nowadays, and the argument shows no awareness of it.

I hope if nothing else that this short series encourages people to think through these matters in new ways. Much, much more work needs to be done before anything so simple as the initial abductive case can so casually be given.


One thought on “Under the Microscope Part 2: An Abductive Case Against Theism

  1. I found your example of the difference between causal models of the First Principle, and constitutive models of the First Principle a useful distinction. Much else to mull over here, thank you.


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