This Saturday I really stepped out of my shell and went to Houston to see a debate: Justin Shieber vs. Eric Hernandez, on whether God exists (link here).
There were a number of people I told myself I was going to meet, and many to whom I should have at least introduced myself, but, you know, introvert. Still, I ended up having such a fun time, especially getting to hang out with John Buck and Emerson Green!
Moreover, the experience confirmed in my mind that this is the sort of thing I want to do. Like, really. I’m sure of it! And Capturing Christianity did so well at organizing and facilitating the exchange…I can’t even imagine that level of coordination and planning.
The debate itself was something of a statement from Real Atheology: the level of discourse is higher than it has ever been, no doubt in some way because these exchanges keep happening, and it is time get on that level. Older styles and content will no longer do.
We need philosophers rather than apologists (if you know what I mean). We need people who have thought long and hard about these issues; who’ve suffered these questions and longed for their answers. Someone who will reason with us, rather than to us. Someone who is peering out there just as hard as we are, and who will keep us accountable rather than comfortable.
It’s high time for new era of debate; we already know all the plays!
And this brings me to what I saw in Justin: someone who’s cutting through all the bullshit, and just trying to really get at the truth of things. Real recognize real Justin!
In that spirit, I’d like to share some reactions I had, you know, from a polytheist’s perspective. And actually, let’s just stick to one point in particular to maybe illustrate how interesting a dialogue between Naturalism and Polytheism could be.
Justin started his presentation for Naturalism by arguing that Naturalism is simpler than Theism. What does he mean by that? And why does it matter?
Well, it comes down to why we posit things in order to explain stuff. Like, if you and I are trying to understand why something happened, like a car accident, we shouldn’t just…posit all kinds of contributing factors for no reason. I mean, you could speculate that the driver at fault was intoxicated. You could posit that they were texting and driving. You could imagine that they received a deeply distressing message that caused them to drive recklessly to get home faster, and go on to derive a whole elaborate plot. You could hypothesize…anything. But…like…why? Why say any of that happened? Shouldn’t we just stick to what the data shows?
In this vein, Justin suggests that when we try to understand why the universe is the way that it is — and I’m totally summarizing what I think his point is, rather what he actually said — that we shouldn’t just…posit all kinds of stuff for no reason. Sure, we could speculate that the reason the universe is so hostile to life is because there is a creator who wishes to be more of an artist than a…gardener, and we could speculate that the reason the horrifying facts of predation seem written into the nature of life is that there’s this cosmic designer who needed things to be like that in order to create a moral arena for people to develop within…or something like that…we could come up with all kinds of stuff. But…like…why say any of that?
The idea is that we can explain all this stuff without having to posit divine characters, or speculating about divine motivations, or imagining special divine causal abilities, or…you name it. We could just try explaining the world by appealing to…natural stuff…and if we do end up needing to posit something non-natural, then we can. Why not just let the data tell us what to posit?
Naturalism only posits one fundamental type or category of concrete thing: the natural sort. By contrast, Theism says there is also a non-natural way of being concrete. So, the idea goes, Naturalism is the simpler explanation, all things considered. (Obviously, this doesn’t mean it explains things better, just that it appeals to less things in order to do the explaining, which is a plus).
But, is Naturalism simpler?
By ‘Gods’ I mean individuals beyond ontological categories or determination; those who are utterly or maximally unique. Each is like the subject of a proposition qua subject: abstracted from any predicates by which to be described. They are literally indescribable, or ineffable, on account of their pure or sheer individuality. The only terms in which to ‘understand’ them are themselves. So, they would not involve positing a ‘kind’ of thing beyond Nature. Indeed, they’d be Gods precisely because they don’t have any ‘kinds’!
But, more to the point, they wouldn’t involve positing any weird or additional sort of concrete stuff. All ‘things’, insofar as they are ‘things’ are of the metaphysical individuality that Gods would be characterized by the maximal possession or expression of. Concrete and abstract alike, everything has the integrity of being itself, an identity, a unity. Each thing is countable, metaphysically one.
So, on the one hand, I want to say that the difference here between Naturalism and Polytheism is not over how many types of concrete things are being posited. Rather, the difference comes down to the extension of the type of concrete thing that we both agree on: do all concrete things fall into a natural category, as Naturalism asserts, or are there some things that don’t, as Polytheism asserts? I don’t think either view is more complicated than the other for saying yes or no to this: they’re both equal modifications of the pre-philosophical view that Nature exists!
Everybody agrees that natural things are concrete. It’s just, one of us goes on to say only natural things are concrete, while the one of us who is right says that some things aren’t.
On the other hand, this makes me realize that I don’t think Naturalism and Polytheism are trying to explain the same data. Polytheism is looking to explain metaphysical individuality as such, whether in concrete or abstract form. It wants to account for all things. It’s a Theory of Everything were there ever one. But, Naturalism is concerned only to account for concrete metaphysical individuals (by one way of putting it).
If Polytheism and Naturalism are not even trying to explain the same phenomena, then I don’t suppose it matters which is simpler: they’re not even competing, so what does it matter?
So where to go from here?
Well, I’ll leave that up to others!
Obviously, there’s so much more to be said! And this doesn’t even touch on Justin’s other points, especially about suffering, to each of which Polytheism has fascinating implications.
But, you gotta leave something to imagination, right?
Looking forward to attending the next debate!