A Polytheist Response to Gel

I originally composed a longer paper version of this post and intended to submit it for publication, but I do not think that is a fruitful use of my time any longer—I honestly don’t think it will be until I get letters next to my name. And I will! Eventually. Until then, I’ll fight the good fight through the means I have, such as this site. Enjoy this condensed version, then, of my response to Eric Gel’s argument for monotheism:


The notion of someone believing there are many things which are pure esse is surely unheard of, but not difficult to imagine. It is unheard of because the philosophical tradition which developed and utilizes concepts like ‘pure esse’ is historically and overwhelmingly committed to monotheism—the view, here, that there is exactly one thing which is pure esse. But imagine someone who takes himself to have had veridical religious experiences of different deities. Or suppose he accepts the testimony of others who have reported having had such encounters—and there is surely no shortage of such reports. However, in trying to understand the metaphysical nature of these deities or the role they play in the world, this individual becomes convinced of a more classical metaphysics. In fact, he becomes a classical theist. As such, he describes each God as being pure esse.

Call this person ‘Thomas’—clearly of no relation to Aquinas. What happens when Thomas is confronted with the arguments for monotheism in the tradition of metaphysics he has come to believe in? Consider one such recent articulation organized by Joseph Schmid (68), but originally given by Eric Gel (2021):

  1. For there to be more than one thing that is pure esse, there would have to be some feature(s) that differentiate(s) each from the other(s).
  2. But nothing that is pure esse could have such differentiating features.
  3. So, there cannot be more than one thing that is pure esse. (1, 2)
  4. But whatever is purely actual is pure esse.
  5. So, there cannot be more than one purely actual thing. (3, 4)

The argument seems straightforwardly valid, and we can suppose for argument’s sake that all its premises are true. The question I want to ask is whether Thomas is or ought to be committed to all of the premises. That is, I want to know whether this is a dialectically successful argument, or one that should persuade someone who does not already endorse the conclusion to do so. Before considering each premise in turn, some criteria for dialectical success.

Dialectical success for a deductive argument, to put it bluntly, is a matter of reasoning validly from an interlocutor’s beliefs or commitments. The use of arguments here is thus not merely a tool for justifying one’s belief in the conclusion, but for persuading someone to change their mind about the conclusion. In order to do that, we present propositions for which they have some positive epistemic attitude toward (credence, certitude, belief, acceptance, commitment, etc.) and show that the conclusion follows from them. Logic, then, compels them to either change their mind about the conclusion, or about one or more of the premises. But if the interlocutor does not have any epistemic regard for one of the premises, then it is not her commitments the argument reasons from, but someone else’s, and the argument provides her with no reason to change her mind.

Minimally, then, we might say that a deductive argument is dialectically successful if (i) it is valid and (ii) its premises do not beg the question. There may be other conditions a deductive argument must meet to be “good” or “sound.” For example, the premises should also be true, and the argument should not be subject to parody. But our discussion need not consider these and will focus primarily on conditions (i) and (ii). With the relevant criteria in mind, then, let us consider each premise in turn.

  1. For there to be more than one thing that is pure esse, there would have to be some feature(s) that differentiate(s) each from the other(s).

We can imagine without much difficulty that Thomas believes that in order for there to be two or more things, they must in some way differ from one another. In fact, this is borderline if not outright tautologous: if x and y are not identical then x and y are different. So let this concession be a matter of basic charity. But notice that this conceded proposition is not the same as premise (1), and that it is not so in very important respects. Premise (1) does not say merely that two or more things which are pure esse would have to differ from one another, but that they would have to differ from one another by ‘features’.

This addition might strike one as an odd one to make to Thomas, committed to a more classical approach to metaphysics and divinity as he is. For, as Gel says (2021, 3) “there is nothing outside pure being that could act, with respect to it, as a differentiating factor…” Why then should Thomas turn around and believe now that there would need to be such a factor for something that is pure being? If such a thing does not need external differentiating factors in order to be individuated in the first place when there is only one, why does it need such factors for it to be individuated when there are many?

But perhaps Thomas is not being asked to believe in a differentiating factor that is “outside” the pure esse. After all, premise (1) merely says that multiple pure esses would need some differentiating feature or other. In fact, in light of Gel’s remark that external differentiating features are off the table, it seems we must interpret premise (1) to mean that their non-identicality would have to involve internal differentiating features. The question then becomes what could this mean? If such features acted on the pure esse as if they were “outside” of it; or indeed distinct from it, they would not have distinguished themselves from the external features we have just ruled out. So, it seems, these internal features must just be the pure esse itself. This is in keeping with doctrines of divine simplicity so well known to be part of the classical theist project as well.

But then the proposal in premise (1) becomes that if there are multiple pure esses, they would have to be non-identical. That is to say, if x and y are not identical then x and y are different. So perhaps Thomas is or should be committed to premise (1) after all—so long as it is interpreted in light of other classical commitments, such as divine simplicity. Premise (1) then becomes something like this:

(1)*: For there to be more than one thing that is pure esse, they would have to have their own identities.

The idea of ‘identity’ here need not involve anything especially controversial. We simply need our terms and concepts to be able to pick out a pure esse in some way. So long as there is something answering to our references, even if only by analogy, there is something with the relevant sense of identity. It needs only some measure of unity, indivision, lest it be nothing at all. Indeed, without even this level of identity, there would be no God of monotheism.

2. But nothing that is pure esse could have such differentiating features.

In light of our analysis of premise (1), premise (2) now becomes deeply problematic: it equivocates with premise (1) over the term “differentiating features.” In (1), this term refers to internal features or to the pure esse itself; so that its identity or individuation is immediate rather than mediated; it is a se, as the classical metaphysicians might say, not ab alio. But (2) uses this term instead to refer to external differentiating features of the sort that Gel ruled out in his comment above; features outside what is pure being and which act on it. If premises (1) and (2) equivocate, the argument is formally invalid and offers Thomas no reason to change his mind. What are our options? The equivocation can be removed if the terms mean the same thing, and they can do so in only two ways given classical theism: either “differentiating features” refers to ‘internal’ features in both premises, or it refers to ‘external’ features in both premises.

Suppose we take the first option; the ‘internal feature’ option. In this case, we at least get premise (1) and so can fairly expect that Thomas is committed to it. But then what premise (2) says is that nothing that is pure esse could have identity. That is to say, there could not be anything that is pure esse. To the classical theist, and so someone like Thomas, this is materially equivalent to atheism. In this case, the argument immediately ceases to be a reasoning from propositions that Thomas accepts to a conclusion that he does not accept. That is, the argument immediately becomes dialectically unsuccessful. And of all things to reason with Thomas from, atheism would be a peculiarly strange one. Perhaps even stranger, however, would be for atheism to be asserted by someone of a similar metaphysical persuasion, such as a classical monotheist.

Suppose we take the second option instead then; the ‘external feature’ option. In this case, we no longer get premise (1). That is, we no longer reason from the belief of Thomas’ that two Gods would need to differ, but from the belief of someone else that Gods would need to differ by features. As such, the argument becomes dialectically unsuccessful right out of the gate. Recall that if Gods need to differ by features, then it is because they are not already individuated by the very fact of their being at all. Theirs would be a mediated identity, not one that is a se, but ab alio. In light of this result, it may be that on this option we at least get premise (2) for Thomas, since he thinks Gods could not have external features, but now, when combined with (1), it means there are no Gods. For, if a pure being’s identity is not a se, intrinsic, internal or some other relevant inherence, then it is of the sort that (2) tells us is impossible. As such, nothing is pure being.

Our analysis has uncovered a curious detail in classical monotheist thought, at least as represented by Gel’s argument—which even those moderately interested in the literature will know is a standard form of argument: God must be individuated or apprised of identity in some sense, and yet could not be so through the having of any features. That is, God must be individuated simply by the fact that he is at all: divine identity is not based on anything, but is intrinsically necessary, or a se. But, then, by parity of reason, should there be more than one God, they too, simply by virtue of being pure esse, would be inherently individuated and so consequently in no need of further means of differentiation. They would each have their own irreducible, divinely simple identities, and this would literally constitute their differentiation.

In light of these criticisms, Thomas can only accept (1) at the expense of (2), and (2) and the expense of (1): they are mutually exclusive, and so the argument is dead in the water, offering Thomas zero reason to change his mind about how many things are pure esse. Notice that this result did not follow from any argument for polytheism. Neither did it follow from any skepticism of the principle of indiscernibility, as Gel addresses in in his 2022. So it would not do to demand that the polytheist such as Thomas explain how there can be non-identical things with nothing more to themselves than the same essence ‘to be’ (2022, 6): their divine simplicity would never permit such an un-individualized, general thing in the first place, and so this demand would not only beg the question, but commit a category error.

Thomas’ rejection of this argument follows from little more than the internal tension of the monotheist argument itself. He did not have to provide any account of divine plurality to reject this argument, that is, it collapsed under its own weight. As for premise (4), it is incidental to the amount of beings that are pure esse, and so can be conceded for the sake of argument.


In conclusion, then, we found that the argument for monotheism satisfies the dialectical success criterion of logical validity only if it uses “differentiating features” in the same sense across premises (1) and (2). But in either sense available to it, this means asserting atheism, and so asks Thomas to endorse contradictory propositions. Maybe these propositions are not contradictory given someone else’s beliefs or commitments, but they are contradictory given Thomas’—the sort of person to whom this argument is relevant. As such, the argument reasons from someone else’s beliefs rather than from Thomas’ and we may conclude that as it is stated, it is not a dialectically successful argument and so provides polytheists such as Thomas with no reason to change their mind. It simply organizes and reports the beliefs of monotheists.

One final remark. The conversation between Oppy, Schmid, Gel and others, concerning how many beings are pure esse is a philosophical inquiry into the integrity of monotheism and so by direct extension of polytheism.

Curious, then, that no polytheist is involved.


Gel, 2021 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/religious-studies/article/how-many-and-why-a-question-for-graham-oppy-that-classical-theism-can-answer/6A02C937BB5E7CF12C70B5DC3D532CA9

Scmid, 2022 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/religious-studies/article/naturalism-classical-theism-and-first-causes/C8B373E5EA8C6AC0D386DD247AB92803

Gel, 2022 – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/religious-studies/article/there-can-be-only-one-a-response-to-joseph-c-schmid/F05CFC25EB594A750B15C61BF6DE3281


I’m not Weird, You’re Weird

Consider the position that two things cannot be the same because they are two. If they were the same, then they would be one. Thus, sameness is identity, and identity is indiscernibility. Call this position ‘nominalism’.

To the nominalist, many things are never one; not really, anyway. For example, we talk as if there are people, planets, and protons, but this is only a way of talking. In reality, no two individuals are the same, whether in respect of being ‘human’ or any other. We say the apple and the ball are both red, but that does not mean the apple and ball are really the same.

We just mean they are similar or dissimilar to one another. The apple and the ball are not the identical shade of red. And even if they somehow were, they are not the same occurrence of that shade — differing in some way or other, whether by location or time, etc.

Indeed, what is even one case where two things are the same? Any suggestion will inevitably involve different (i.e. not the same) things, precisely because they are two.

Maybe there is such an example in the back, by the square-circles, in the corner over there.

But what’s wrong? We aren’t saying that square-circles are contradictory, are we? Because there can’t be any contradictions given nominalism. After all, in order for two statements to contradict one another other, they must both have claim to being the same proposition.

Contradictions take the form (p & ~p). The idea is that same proposition ‘p’ is being said to be two different things, true and false.

But, if nominalism is true, then there is no one ‘p’ in the proposition ‘(p & ~p)’. The first one, ‘p’, is talking about one proposition and the second one, ‘~p’, is talking about different one: they are not the same. That is, they are not attributing different truth-values to the same proposition!

This isn’t even good news for the dialetheists, since they at least believe there are contradictions.

But it isn’t just contradictions that nominalism evaporates. It’s the laws of logic. It’s tautologies. It’s identity. It’s any symmetric relation. It’s logical validity. It’s reoccurrence as such, of anything whatsoever (I can’t even be the same person I was a second ago). It means no quantification, no sets, no categories, no…plurality.

You might think Platonism is all kinds of weird and complicated. And it takes phenomena like the one above aaall the way to their logical conclusion. But, I’m telling you. Look at nominalism. The same reduction to absurdity happens with all the positions that oppose Platonism–relativism, skepticism, materialism, mechanism, etc.

Trust me, Platonism is not weird. You’re weird.

It all starts with the super obvious.

And we need to get back to that.

Gerson’s Monotheism

As a student of Plato, I’m a fan of Lloyd P. Gerson. His knowledge of the ancient Platonists is encyclopedic and his ability to relate their ideas to contemporary discussions is brilliant. His translation of the Enneads will become standard, and his work on “ur-Platonism” will be instrumental in reinvigorating Platonic interest for generations to come.

But he is not for the light reader. His style of thinking is a process of deeply interactive reflection. He’ll take you through a dozen Platonic texts, immersed in the most fascinating details, to a destination that is, by that point, only rivaled in import by the journey! Sincerity and devotion course through his pages, it seems to me.

In that capacity I could only aspire to be capable of critiquing him, though I should hardly have need nor want to.

But as a philosopher; as someone also practicing dying (Phaedo 67e) by striving to be more like the ideal, disembodied version of myself, I do find one line of his thought to be vexing.

He seems in various places to argue for a sort of monotheism. I encountered this most recently in his paper Platonic Hylomorphism, but it is also present in earlier works such as in his book From Plato to Platonism. I’d like to take a look at his presentation of this idea and offer some reasons why I find this vexing.

In Platonic Hylomorphism, he states

“The fundamental principle on the basis of which the hypothesis of hylomorphism arises is that absolute simplicity is uniquely instantiable in the world. That is, there can at most be one absolutely simple being. The reasoning is quite straightforward. Let there be two absolutely simple beings, ex hypothesi. Then whatever property each possesses in order to make it different from the other will negate its absolute simplicity. It and whatever property we assign to it will be distinct. Thus, everything but one being (at most) is composite,” (33)

He says in the footnote to this that

“It must be added that if there is in fact one absolutely simple being, it cannot be really different from all composite beings, although they can be really different from it. The term “real difference” applies only to substances or composites. The sort of difference that an absolutely simple being has from substances is variously explained in the tradition.”

But how could absolute simplicity be “instantiable,” let alone uniquely so? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? That is to say, is absolute simplicity not opposed to instantiating properties altogether, and so even the property of absolute simplicity? Moreover, if the absolutely simple would not be in relation to other things, then why would two absolutely simple things be in the relation of difference to each other?

Indeed, he seems to be saying that two things which have no properties and stand in no relations would stand in the relation of difference and possess properties.

It doesn’t help that he goes on to say

“One additional point should be added. It is that absolute simplicity entails absolute self-identity. That is, there are no differences even within that which is absolutely simple such that we could say that it has the identity of a composite or that its identity is just the “sum” of its parts. From this it follows that “identity” is equivocal and proximity to absolute simplicity is gradable,” (34)

But if each one has absolute self-identity by virtue of being absolutely simple, why would they still need to be differentiated by properties they possess? That is, if they already have absolute self-identities, why do they not already differ? Why do they not differ by their identities? He seems to assume that they would have to differ by their composition and which assumes they are not absolutely simple after all.

He phrases this differently elsewhere by saying

“If there were more than one absolutely simple entity, each would be one, yet different from the other. That wherein they would supposedly differ would, therefore, be distinct from each entity itself,” (From Plato to Platonism, 231)

But if each entity really were absolutely simple, then they would not differ by virtue of anything they possess which is distinct from themselves. The assumption otherwise is egregiously question begging, and is made by monotheist thinkers down through the ages.

I have harped on the scholastics and classical theists in particular not only for committing this fallacy, but for doing so with such flippancy or ease; an indictment against their times rather than their caliber as thinkers.

The problem, I submit, is the assumption that all plurality is structured in such a way as to involve composition. That is, it is assumed without argument that in every plurality, individuals have something in common, which makes them complex, however minimally. But, as I and others have argued, this structure of plurality, though pervasive throughout Nature, cannot model a plurality of what transcends Nature, and so wholly inadequate to understand such a plurality as of Gods or absolutely simple entities. It’s holding what transcends Nature to a standard that only applies to Nature. Why would you do this?

While I do not expect Gerson to read this, I resubmit the argument below as an invitation to reconsider the position that he argues for and which is prominent throughout monotheistic literature:

D. Let a plurality =df. what forms when individuals have something in common.

A. Assume Divine Simplicity; that God is a way of being whatever it has.

  1. If there is a plurality of Gods, they have something in common. (From D)
  2. If they have something in common, they are each a way of being it. (From A)
  3. If they are each a way of being it, then they are each a way of being one another. (Ex hypothesi)
  4. Therefore, if there is a plurality of Gods, they are each a way of being one another. (1-3, H.S.)

Steinhart and the Platonic Cowbell

Last August, I published “Polytheism: A Platonic Approach.” Last December, Eric Steinhart published “Atheistic Platonism: A Manifesto.” At first pass, it might seem that Eric and I are doing the same thing: constructing a Platonic worldview with an eye toward its implications for the philosophy of religion. This in turn might give the impression that ‘Platonism’ is a sort of religiously neutral, philosophical base on which one may add her religious beliefs — whether polytheist or atheist, in this case.

Indeed, you might even think this is typical of philosophical “schools.” Thomism, for example, is known to have Reformed and Roman Catholic champions. Why couldn’t there also be Muslim, Jewish or even Pagan adaptations of the Thomistic system (there are)? After all, Aquinas himself forged his worldview out of pagan systems (Plato and Aristotle’s). And taking this line of thought to its logical conclusions, why couldn’t an atheist be convinced of, say, Aquinas’ metaphysics and epistemology? Why should these purely philosophical descriptions of the world be persuasive only to theists? That is, why couldn’t there be Atheistic Thomism (or any other school)? Thomas Nagel is an example of an atheist who believes there are final causes immanent to Nature.

What do I think of this as a Platonist?

Well, I am trying to construct a Platonic worldview with an eye toward its implications for the philosophy of religion. In particular, I want to bring the radical polytheism of the ancient Platonists to the table of today’s philosophy of religion. But I am not reinventing any wheels here. I am consciously placing myself within the historic Platonic tradition, and trying to modernize and popularize some of its most recondite elements.

By contrast, Eric looks to this ancient school for inspiration, but is constructing his own worldview out of abstract objects with an eye toward replacing God(s) as an explanation. That is, he is deducing a formal description of reality from a first principle without ever appealing to a God.

Certainly, in the modern sense of ‘Platonic Realism’, Steinhart’s proposal is ‘Platonic’, because he affirms the reality of abstract objects such as numbers, sets and propositions. And this title is bolstered by his use of ancient Platonic thought; such as the top-down method of deriving a formal description of reality from a first principle by letting that first principle proceed according to its own inner logic.

But, his system is not Platonic in the more historic or normative sense.

In this sense of the term, to be a Platonist was to have a shared vision of reality through the lens of the One, or Unity. The implications of this vision for every area of life were considered and gathered century after century into a systematic view of the world. This Platonic school of thought included a metaphysics, an epistemology, an ethics, an..everything. They had things like a normative practice of interpreting Plato, a corresponding curriculum for studying his dialogues, and an extremely sophisticated jargon to accommodate the nuances their centuries long investigations discovered.

In short, they had an identity; their social group had a unity with an integrity significant enough to last over a thousand years!

Of course, individuals within this school disagreed with one another not only over how to systematize the implications of the Platonic vision, but over what those implications even were. Nevertheless, it was clear to them who belonged to the Academy and who did not.

Atheism was an absolute no go for them.

And even if it wasn’t, adhering to a different First Principle than the One was.

For them, it was not enough to agree with them on some point or other, such as that there are abstract objects: many ancient schools of thought had significant overlap on these and many other areas. Nor was it enough to run with Platonic ideas and develop them in one’s own creative way (and, aren’t all our schools of thought just a series of footnotes to Plato anyway?).

Otherwise, the Platonists would actually be Pythagoreans, and the Peripatetics would be Platonists. By extension, so would the Stoics and Epicureans. In fact, much later views satisfying these criteria would be Platonic as well, such as the Augustinians and even Thomists.

By taking “the Zero,” or absolute non-being, as his first principle, Steinhart’s system is not a form of Platonism, though it may be Platonic or Platonically inspired in other senses.

I hope this does not seem like pedantic gate-keeping: this is one of the most ancient and influential schools of thought in history; it has more than earned the right to its identity, and it’s important not to blur the image of reality that it declares.

Now, that said, I am actually all about what Steinhart is doing! And I want to close this post by explaining two ways in which I am, and two ways I think those can be improved.

First, I want to encourage others to philosophize more Platonically. Identify your First Principle! Let it unravel its formal description of reality by the logical trajectory it sets. Let’s move passed the nonsense of nominalism, and consciously share a domain of discourse that respects the objects that make it intelligible in the first place. This is the sort of convergence by which progress is made.

On this point, I learned a number of things from Steinhart’s presentation, and was inspired to think of my own project in more mathematical terms.

Second, I want us all to move beyond the reductive theories of divinity that have plagued the philosophy of religion. So, on this front as well, I want to encourage others to move passed thinking of Gods as just superhuman creatures, running around the universe, leaving cosmic footprints behind. We need to move beyond cryptozoology folks! We need to get back to thinking in terms of First Principles.

How do I think these can be improved?

Well, as far as others thinking more Platonically, I think we should come to a point where we share the same First Principle. So, for example, while Steinhart teaches us all how atheists can think systematically in Platonic ways, he begins with the Zero instead of the One. In fact, he mischaracterizes the One of Platonism as Being Itself.

But, as Plato himself said, “the One neither is, nor is one,” (Parm. 141e). And this is reiterated in resounding chorus through the tradition. So, you’ll find Plotinus going to great lengths, for example, trying to show that the One precedes Being, and that even Number is subsequent to the One, and later Platonists such as Iamblichus and Proclus were even more explicit about this.

For the Platonist, the One is what makes things to be ‘countable’, or ‘unique’; to be individuated as one thing, and so the One is not itself a one, countable or unique thing. In and of itself, it is not anything. It is purely negative. It’s like a façon de parler, or an arbitrary object, in logical terms.

Insofar as the Zero is anything whatsoever, in literally any sense at all, it will like everything else derive from the One. Insofar as the Zero is not, it is not a principle in any sense. I take his argument from non-being to being to show the necessity of Being, via the contradiction of non-being, rather than that there is some principle prior to the One. “Preceding” the One is like “happening” before time.

Because Eric does not start with the One, it seems to me that his system is like non-Platonic systems in general in that it does not theorize about the stratification of the totality of all things, but its causal order. In this respect, I take the Platonist to be doing something much deeper and indeed different.

As far as moving beyond anthropomorphic theism goes, I think he is absolutely right to call us all out for being chained to it as normative and so formative of our concepts and philosophical directions. However, it seems to me that Steinhart does not go far enough, and ends up operating under the shadow of the concept of theism he seeks freedom from. That is, he makes it out to be normative, granting it the claim it makes.

But, on a constitutive model of the First Principle, a God can constitute the more personal presence encountered in religious experience without being reducible to that limited moment. The problem, I submit, is not in conceiving of deity in personal, limited terms, but in reducing it to them.

It is because of this that we find the Platonists talking about the Gods in abstract and concrete terms. So, it is not, as Steinhart suggests, that Plato thought of Gods merely as celestial bodies, but that Plato thought of the Gods as, Aristotle’s terms, ‘encompassing the whole of Nature’ (Metaphysics 1074b). I cannot recommend Gerd van Riel’s work on Plato’s Polytheism enough.

In the end, I encourage people to think more in these Platonic terms, and make these attempts to derive everything in formal terms from a First Principle. But I also caution against blurring lines and forging associations where there are none.

My project is to popularize, modernize and advance the ancient Platonic school of thought. Eric’s is to create a new school of thought inspired by this one, but for atheists, by transforming Platonic Realism about abstract objects into a formal account of reality as derived from a First Principle.

I hope this post served to clarify some things, and in the constructive, collaborative way that I try more everyday to embody!

On Dialectical Success

In “An Ontological Argument for Polytheism”, Walking the Worlds 2.2 (Summer 2016), I said that an “[a]rgument will be called dialectically successful if (i) its conclusion follows from its premises, (ii) its premises do not beg the question and (iii) it is not subject to parody,” (44).

I stand by this. But, what does it mean to ‘beg the question’? I’d like to spend some time thinking about condition (ii), especially as it will clear the runway for posts lined up next.

To begin, then, consider that an argument is a set of statements of which one (the conclusion) is thought to follow from the others (the premises).

Arguments are inherently conditional: they do not even attempt to show that their premises are true, they merely assert that they are and identify what follows given this assumption.

To show that the premises of one argument are true, you could appeal to another argument. But this second argument will do the same thing as the first and merely assert a collection of premises, thereby replacing or compiling one set of assumptions with another. And if you were to think that the third time is the charm and appeal to yet another argument, you will only add a third layer of assumptions to the pile of merely asserted statements. So long as you continue this process of appealing to arguments so as to show that premises are true, it will go on ad infinitum.

Or so it might seem. But this will depend on what is meant by “showing” that something is true. In the above sense, it is not a matter of revealing to one what she is unwittingly committed to, given things that she already believes. Nor is it, in a similar vein, a matter of getting one to realize that she actually believes something already – such as if she didn’t want to admit it. This is because if it were a matter of either of these sorts of things, then the process would not have to go on ad infinitum: a set of premises could eventually be reached which are discovered to already be believed or committed to.

By contrast, the above sense is about changing someone’s mind; altering their perspective, or otherwise causing them to see something new. A sort of unveiling, not of what is already in another (such as a belief, disposition, or commitment), but of what has hitherto been (information, initial contact). It’s a difference between discovering and implanting; between showing someone what they already see and showing them what you see. How deep this division cuts is another question – perhaps they are really just the same thing at the end of the day.

But, for our purposes, the apparent distinction is instructive, for the rules of propriety change depending on what the argument is intended to accomplish.

If the argument is being used to show someone what they see (whether occurrent, or subconsciously), one must appeal to premises that are already believed (in whichever respective sense). This is the whole point of the argument in this case, so to speak: to find premises that are already believed. Were one to instead assert premises to another whether or not she believes them, the exercise would become deeply confused and practically irrational.

By contrast, if the argument is being used to show someone what they do not yet see (even indirectly or by extension), you cannot appeal (exclusively) to premises that are already believed. You must appeal to at least on premise which the person does not yet believe in.

How you can get someone to believe something just by asserting it is one question; how you can get them to believe something rationally just by asserting it is another. Perhaps there is an element of self-evidence required, but whatever the case, if someone does not believe the asserted premise, she cannot be compelled to its conclusion: arguments are only ever conditional.

From all this I want to risk platitude and draw a lesson on the propriety of dialogue and debate: each of us is only ever beholden to what we believe. I am not accountable for what you believe, or what you are committed to based on what you believe, and vice versa. So, if you present an argument, be sure that your interlocutor believes the premises! Otherwise, all you’re doing is sharing with them what you believe; reporting your psychology, rather than giving them any reason to agree with you. That is, all you’re doing is begging the question. Likewise, if an argument is presented to you, ask only what is being claimed and whether you believe it. If the argument is premised on things you do not already believe, it begs the question and is of little relevance to you.

This will all become concrete in upcoming posts where I dissect various objections to polytheism and find that they are not dialectically successful because they baldly assert things to polytheists which they have no reason to agree with. In essence, they beg the question: they object to polytheism by reasoning from, say, monotheism, which of course gives polytheists no reason at all to change their mind.

Let this serve then as a prolegomena of sorts to future posts (perhaps even as their lemma), as well as an exhortation to all those involved in these types of discussions (polytheists and non-polytheists alike) to strive for dialectical success and raise the quality of discourse.

As we await submissions for the new series, the first up will be an application of all this, where I take the classical monotheists to task. Buckle up Thomists, and get ready for the other side of the story.

Stay tuned!

Polytheism vs. Classical Theism

On Jan 8th, I had the pleasure of speaking with John Buck on Dry Apologist’s YouTube channel about polytheism and Platonism. Dry Apologist was a gracious host, and John is bright, charitable and an excellent active listener, which made for an enjoyable, meaningful and engaging discussion. You can check the discussion out at the following link: https://youtu.be/ZeHCgQiwhNc

There were many things I intended to say going into the stream, and just as many things I wish I had said afterward. Hindsight is 20/20! And this is especially true for those of us who are better at writing than at speaking. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of those thoughts, especially about ‘The One’.

Going into the stream, I wanted to present Platonism as the major game in town for polytheists, just as Naturalism might be thought of to be for atheists. But I would be doing this for an audience who probably had no familiarity with actual Platonism – that is, the school as it was and is understood by its practitioner’s vs how it is characterized by its detractors, or what goes by the name nowadays, however fractional the two actually resemble each other.    

Since the title was Polytheism vs Classical Theism, my idea was to get all this info across by contrasting Platonism with Scholasticism in a fair, clear, and memorable way. I chose to do this with labels. The Scholastics, for example, think of the First Principle in causal terms whereas the Platonists think of it in constitutive terms. Consequently, the Scholastics reason to and about the First Principle with causal (cosmological) arguments whereas the Platonists reason to and about the First Principle with constitutive (mereological) arguments. And the contrastive labels could just continue from there. For example, due to its whole way of looking at the First Principle in causal terms, the Scholastic will explain reality in terms of creation, whereas the Platonist, for respective reasons, will explain reality in terms of emanation, or stratification.

These labels hopefully would not only give people a sense of things, but also impress on them that when Platonists talk about the Gods philosophically, they are talking about the First Principle, and not the anthropomorphic caricatures commonly associated with polytheism or “pagan” Gods. It would also, I hoped, convey to the audience that there was a whole polytheist system of thought out there.

With regard to this latter point, I had also wanted to get into the history of Scholasticism. This, I think, is important because after the Platonic Academies were shut down under the Christian emperors, the Platonic worldview was eventually transmitted only in piecemeal and through the texts which happened to be preserved. But so little of this made it to the Scholastics. The result was a deeply misinformed characterization of “Platonism” as well as a historical narrative that has since been all but completely overturned. For example, the deeply metaphysical and systematic way of thinking about the world and the Gods is actually Platonic in origin, not Scholastic. And many of the so-called classical theists of antiquity were blatantly polytheist – such as Aristotle and Plato. This latter uncontroversial point was made controversial, among other reasons, by an ignorance among medieval thinkers that the term ‘God’ was used by the Greeks in a generic or collective sense of all that is God/divine, not as sort of name designating a numerically singular object. And this ignorance, however useful in the strengthening of a monotheist narrative, was grandfathered from one generation of scholars to the next, until we have at long last saw it for what it was. However, I digress.

With these well intended goals in mind, I attempted to summarize a Platonic take on reality. I wanted to illustrate the holistic, constitutive, mereological, stratifying vision of things that Platonists saw. I did this by speaking of reality as being layered, implying a gradation of increasingly generalized ways of being. Each layer corresponds to a sort of ‘formal’ description of things, so that at every layer what we have is a plurality of objects which have some feature or property in common, and it is in terms of this common denominator that they can all be understood. For example, physics describes objects in quantitative terms. That is, it looks at things qua quantitative, or, in other words, in this formal respect. This isn’t to say that these objects aren’t also qualitative in any respect, just that whatever other such respects there may be, those are not the ones considered by physics.

So, there is this structure of plurality we assume and utilize all throughout the layers of reality, wherein many objects are considered under one heading – the formal trait or respect in which they are one. This type of plurality is called ‘monocentric’ because it involves one (mono), exclusive center of the plurality.

But the process of formalizing things in increasingly general terms eventually runs into a problem: when we get to the most general layer of all things; that most inclusive, fundamental way of being anything whatsoever, we want to continue speaking in a monocentric, formal way, but we can’t!

There no longer is a form available for all things to be described in terms of. Otherwise, there would be something outside the totality of all things (which is strongly logically impossible); namely, the form in terms of which all things can be conceived. So, we reach a point where the monocentric structure of plurality breaks down, and reality must necessarily be arranged differently.

I claimed, with the Platonists, that this layer of reality is, for lack of a better term, at the level of numerical identity. The Platonists called it unity or ‘henos’ in Greek. This is the respect in which something is one, individuated, thing. Here is where something has the integrity of being itself, a sort of substantiveness whereby it is holds together as an individual.

This is the most fundamental way of being in any sense anything whatsoever: absolutely anything and everything is ‘one’ in this sense. All things have ‘identity’ as themselves; they are individuated as whoever or whatever they are. Even Being Itself is one in this ‘metaphysical’ sense (Cf. ST I.11.3.r-obj3).

We try to pick out the formal feature of things at this level of reality and call it ‘one-ness’ (or what the Platonists call ‘The One’). This is supposedly ‘the’ respect in which everything is conceivable.

But this quasi “form” of Self for all selves is paradoxical; because, as Plato said, the One “neither is nor is one,” (Parm, 141e). That is, one-ness cannot itself be a one! Otherwise, it would not be the principle of individuation or uniqueness, but only an example of it. Think about it. The principle of ones cannot itself be another one, anymore than any principle can be an example of that of which it is supposed to be the principle. So, the One itself is nothing at all.

As the Platonists realized, formal descriptions of monocentric structures broke down at this deepest level: the totality of all things could not have in common something outside itself, since nothing is outside of it. Rather, the commonality of all things must be internal to this totality. Only, it cannot be anything in particular that is internal to the whole, lest the One itself be a one.

So, if it must be something – since there are ones – but it cannot be anything in particular, then it must be something imparticular. That is, it must be the arbitrary One. It is itself nothing, anymore than the arbitrary dog is itself a particular dog. Rather, it just stands for the arbitrary One, each of whose identity is such as to function like the form of Self for all selves.

The breakdown of monocentric plurality at this level makes sense then, not only because it is strict logically impossible for the center of unity for all things to be outside of all things, but because the center unity for all things cannot be any one thing in particular. As such, the Platonists reasoned to a sort of plurality that was appropriate for this level of reality, one we can call ‘polycentric plurality’.

The ‘Ones’ in whom all things subsist are identified by the Platonists as the Gods, and worshiped as such.

As the reader can imagine, the Platonists think of Gods in even grander terms than the Scholastics think of God. Indeed, to the Platonist, the Scholastic deity is no deity at all. Pure Act, or Ipsum Esse Subsistens is a creature in the monocentric structure of Nature; a postulate of a philosophical field wholly other than what we might think of as ‘Natural Theology’.

Polytheism is far stronger than a superfluous multiplication of deities: it describes the very structure of reality in a fundamentally different way than it would be on monotheism or atheism.

In fact, according to the Platonic vision, monotheism and atheism don’t make sense in a deeply troubling way because they purport to speak of highest reality but do so in terms of monocentric pluralities.

Theism just is polytheism.

This is the profound polytheism of the Platonists, which resembles almost nothing of the caricatures of Gods flouted by culture and academia. This is the theoretical framework which secures polytheism of any sort, so that traditions and experiences can flourish without ever fearing the possibility of being re-interpreted in monotheizing or atheizing terms.

I could continue forever on this, but I think this may suffice for now. I hope to attend other channels, and perhaps someday to even debate this matter in person. But if all I’ve done is peak your interest and given you a reason to maybe reconsider the merits of polytheism, then I will be deeply content.

If you’d like to see more of this in the meantime, consider checking out my book Polytheism: A Platonic Approach, as well as the posts on this website.

Supernaturalism & Theism: Chicken or the Egg?

In analytic philosophy of religion, it is not uncommon to think of Theism as being a sub-type of Supernaturalism.

The idea is that whereas Supernaturalism is merely the thesis that, say, something is supernatural; Theism specifies what this supernatural thing is as a God.

According to this taxonomy, Supernaturalism logically precedes Theism because while Theism entails Supernaturalism, Supernaturalism does not entail Theism. That is, if something supernatural like a God exists, then Supernaturalism must be true, but just because something is supernatural does not mean that it has to be a God. What if instead it was just an angel, or a demon, or some other type of spirit?

This way of classifying things assumes a view of divinity on which a God is a type of thing; namely, a supernatural type of thing.

But this assumption is either deeply controversial or misguiding, depending on how seriously we take it.

If we take it seriously that a God is a type of thing, then we have a view on which a God is not ultimate. There is something deeper or more fundamental than a God on account of which she is of the sort of thing that she is. In this case, supernatural — whether supernaturality is like a genus, species, or kind to which she belongs; or an essence, nature or property which she exemplifies, etc.

But this view has been rejected by a historical majority of thinkers who have held Theism (a move, for the record, derived from Platonism). So, it is deeply controversial to represent Theism as saying that a God is a type of thing.

However, if we do not take this way of speaking very seriously, then it is misguiding, because it implies a structuring of logical space (and so the apportioning of evidence) which is not true.

In either case, it is very problematic to put forth this way of describing Theism, at least when put forth among theists of a more classical bent, or as if their disagreements were negligible.

You might think that the alternative to having Theism depend on Supernaturalism is to having Supernaturalism depend on Theism. And, indeed, where the concept of supernaturality is imported from pre-philosophical reference to otherworldiness, perhaps such a move is wise. But, from a more Platonic perspective, there is another alternative, one which uses supernaturality in a more philosophical sense. On this alternative, Supernaturalism is Theism, and so neither derives from the other.

I argue in my book Polytheism: A Platonic Approach, that to be divine is to transcend Nature, and that to transcend Nature is just for one to be wholly ineffable. This latter claim is made because Nature is the whole of sensible, intelligible reality. One cannot transcend intelligible reality and yet still be intelligible as any sort of thing: she must be ineffable. As such, to be supernatural is just to be ineffable, and so, divine.

Needless to say, this view carries with it a very different way of organizing logical space!

Natural Law Ethics: A Platonist Searches for Answers

I’ve been doing some thinking on moral ontology and epistemology lately — what are moral values and duties, and how do we find out what those are? I’ve come to some new insights that I’d like to share with you. Before doing so, allow me to express a deep sense of humility here. I am attempting to clarify what seems true to me, and doing so within the Platonic worldview as I understand it. Nothing more, nothing less. I feel it necessary to say this because I don’t know of a “Platonic” moral theory, and there may be a reason for that. For all that, the heart wants what the heart wants, as they say.

For some time now, it has seemed to me that the moral ontology and epistemology which will seem correct to me will heavily rely on my broader metaphysical commitments to the polycentric manifold of henads — like everything else does. However, this intuition has seemed to conflict with the realization that religion and morality were separate for the Platonists, who were masters of this philosophical tradition. This apparent tension — between what seems true to me and what seemed true to my superiors — has left me in a state of cognitive dissonance that I resolved largely by ignoring it: it just hasn’t been clear what I should do here.

But it has recently occurred to me that there should not be this perceived tension. My intuition is that morality will derive from the henads because all things do; a conclusion I reach philosophically. It’s not that the henads should be absent from moral explanation, but that moral explanation does not involve the henads in their religious expressions.

This realization has encouraged me to return to my original search for answers.

I had left off with the Natural Law theory of morality. This theory has been championed by thinkers in more classical monotheist traditions — Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholasticism — because they share in common a broad metaphysical view on which there are such things as ‘natures’.

Given that there is some fact of the matter about what it is to be a such-and-such (say, a horse, a cat, or a human being); that is, given that things have natures, there will be facts about what they are supposed to be like.

When it comes to human beings, the Natural Law theorists insist, this natural normativity — present in all things throughout Nature — becomes moral. That is, the facts about what we are supposed to be like, given the type of thing we are, concern the values and duties we associate with morality. For example, given that, say, it is our nature to be rational animals, it follows a fortiori that we are supposed to be rational. That is, we are not supposed to do irrational things: that’d be contrary to our natural normativity, contrary to what we are.

Something about this view gives off an uncanny scent of verisimilitude to me. After all, the background metaphysics of the Natural Law theorists came from the Platonists, and so I’m completely at home with things like natures, natural teleology and natural normativity.

But where my Platonic commitments conflict with Natural Law theory is in the idea of goodness. For the Platonist, Goodness is Metaphysical Uniqueness. For the Natural Law theorists, Goodness is Being. The difference may not be immediately apparent, but the two result in fundamentally different theories of morality — a difference I hope to expound upon at length eventually. For now, I want to sketch some of these differences, and then illustrate them with a prime example.

To begin, consider that the Platonist and the Natural Law theorist can both recognize natural normativity: there are facts about what things are supposed to be like, given the type of thing they in fact are. But is this normativity moral? That is, are things right or wrong, or good or bad because they are in line with or opposed to our nature? Or are they right or wrong etc. because of some other factor?

The Natural Law theorist sticks to natural normativity. Here we have naturally occurring values and duties; why be unsatisfied? To be morally good is just to be good at being human; it is to exemplify to a high extent the nature of humanity, to be an exemplar of our species.

Sameness is the ruling factor here: morality is not just objective — comprising actual facts about our nature — but also universally applicable: we are all subject to the same values and duties because we are all the same type of thing.

As the reader can gather, this moral ontology provides a very straightforward, intersubjective, verifiable moral epistemology: we can come to find out what our moral values and duties are by simply coming to know or better understanding what it is we are — and thus, what it is to be good at being what we are.

The Platonist can accept this entire story of natures, natural teleology, natural normativity and its attending epistemology, and still question whether any of it is moral. It could, for all she knows, amount to nothing more than a kingdom of practical reasons and ends, but not moral ones. This is because, for the Platonist, it’s not sameness that makes things good, but uniqueness. Thus, it would not be a respect in which we are the same that makes our values and duties moral, but a respect in which we are unique.

In other words, it would not be humanity that makes my natural normativity moral, but humanity as it is mine that does for me; humanity as I individuate it, or as it is individuated for me. What this means in concrete terms is something I’ve yet to satisfactorily articulate, though I hope to do just that eventually. But in more broad terms, the distinction between natural and moral normativity appears quite evident.

Consider vasectomies as a type of action that egregiously contravene our natural normativity:

Vasectomies directly prevent certain members of our species from being as they are supposed to, given what they are. It actually aims, explicitly, at disrupting one’s normative functionality; deliberately terminating the reproductive purpose of the male’s sexual organ.

Yet, despite the easily recognizable natural (vs moral) graveness of this procedure, when is the last time you saw protests against vasectomies? Where is the sharp moral disagreements over this procedure, productive of massive literature, heated discussions and public debate? How come less ‘naturally’ grave actions evoke more moral outrage? It is, to me at least, a crystalline example of a natural normativity issue that does not seem moral.

Examples of this sort corroborate the Platonic view I’ve been outlining; that there are natural norms, but that they aren’t necessarily moral.

I will continue to peer out into intellectual space, so to speak, for what seems true about all this and try to describe in progressively satisfying terms what it looks like I’m looking at. Until then, thank you for reading! And please feel free to share your thoughts!

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.

Under the Microscope Part 1: An Abductive Case Against Theism

Occasionally, I see the screenshot below getting shared around on Twitter. I am not familiar with the author, but I think it’s clear why the post enjoys popularity: on its surface, it is an unusually and admirably clear and condensed case. I think it is also aimed at typical representations of theism and atheism, which makes it relevant to more people. But what might a polytheist think of this? I’d like to share some thoughts from this perspective in light of my most recent book Polytheism: A Platonic Approach. First, consider the argument itself:

in this post we’ll take a look at (1), and we’ll wrap up in another by going over (2).


The author says that theism is “far less” intrinsically probable than naturalism because the former comes with more ontological commitments, fits poorly with our background knowledge, and fails in informativeness due to its fundamental mysteriousness.

Now, I do not think the author actually intends ‘intrinsic probability’ here because neither ‘fitting with background knowledge’ nor ‘failing in informativeness’ have to do with the intrinsic nature of a theory, but with its extrinsic relations to such things as bodies of background knowledge. What this means is that the author is not starting out by considering theism and naturalism prior to any evidence: we are not starting out at the ‘beginning’, so to speak. Rather, the author wants us to start with considerations which they feel make their point. But what if we looked at these position’s intrinsic probability first, and theism came out on top? How would that affect our impression once we consider the author’s points? For another time, perhaps. Let’s set all this aside for the sake of argument and suppose that the actual intrinsic probabilities of these positions don’t make a difference.

Does theism come with more ontological commitments than naturalism? Does it fit poorly with our background knowledge? Is it fundamentally mysterious? I’m afraid this is where we’ll have to take this individual to task.

First of all, theism does not posit a “whole new kind of reality” compared to naturalism because in saying there is more to reality than Nature, theism is committed to The Ineffable. I cover this in chapter 1 of my book. The Ineffable is not only present in Nature via metaphysical individuality, and so cannot be a ‘whole new kind of reality’; but, in being “ineffable”, by definition it cannot be a “kind” of anything at all, let alone a “new” one.

Moreover, even if theism did posit a new “kind” of thing, it incurs no greater initial commitment in doing so than naturalism does by positing a new “extension” of Nature. Remember, naturalism is not the position that Nature exists. Everyone agrees with that. Rather, it says something like only Nature exists (or is causal, or concrete, or some such). In doing so, naturalism substantively alters the philosophically naïve or neutral starting point by taking a stand on what else besides Nature exists, is causal, concrete, or some such. So, if theism’s complexity increases because it modifies our starting neutral commitment to Nature by stopping Nature’s border short of all things (or all causal, or concrete things, etc.), then naturalism’s complexity increases just as well because it modifies our starting commitment to Nature by pushing Nature’s border around all things (or all causal, or concrete things, etc.). They both modify Nature’s boundaries — from the neutral position — they just do so in different directions.

Secondly, it is not true that theism has a “poor track record.” Here, theism is the simple, abstract position that there is more to reality than Nature (which I argue in my book just is the view that beyond Nature there are Ineffable Individuals). So the author is playing fast and loose with “theism” and some very specific hypothesis which may or may not have anything to do with theism. For example, if the author includes in the intended “poor track record” such “failed” explanations as “ghosts” or “demons”, then they are including hypotheses which naturalists can hold to as well! At least, unless the author takes a very narrow stance on Nature which excludes such things (such as reductive physicalism), and thus no longer speaks for naturalists in general. But in the general sense the post started out with, if the failure of such explanations as these somehow counts against abstract theism, then they count just as well against abstract naturalism, and we are back to square one.

Keep in mind that if specific theistic hypotheses are fair game as representations of abstract theism, then so too are specific naturalistic hypotheses. So should we talk about the track record of such naturalist explanations as logical positivism? The mind-brain identity theory? Eliminativism?

Thirdly, theism is not fundamentally mysterious. At least, in the way intended here, or any more than naturalism! The author is thinking of ‘mysterious’ as some kind of bad thing. That is, like a failure to be understood when it supposedly can or should be. But, ineffability isn’t such that it should be intelligible, or even can be! As such, its transcendence of intelligibility isn’t even like someone positing an explanation which seems like nonsense: we’re positing pure individuals, for whom there is nothing more to describe them by than themselves.

So, theism is mysterious in a trivial sense. As I explain in my book, this is because ‘ineffability’ is just ‘individuality’ considered by way of negation. Just as the subject qua subject has no predicate by which to be described, and so is literally ‘indescribable’, so too is the individual qua individual ineffable.

Insofar as theism is non-trivially mysterious, so is naturalism! Consider just some of naturalism’s non-trivially mysterious intelligibilia: What are moral duties? How does mind interact with matter? What is moral responsibility? What is consciousness? What is causality? Why is there something rather than nothing? The list could go on and on. Every view has mysteries like this, and we each have our fair share of work in trying to answer these sorts of questions in our own terms. But to say that theism is more mysterious just seems like an unhelpfully unquantifiable impression. What are we to do with that?

For what it’s worth, as I go over in chapter 3 of my book, I believe theism predicts Nature (in surprisingly specific ways!) due to divine constitution. So, while it’s beyond my scope here to argue, I would hold that theism is brilliantly informative, and precisely so because it embraces ineffability!

In light of the preceding considerations, I don’t understand how one can say so confidently as the author does that P(N) > P(T); or, in other words, that the probability of naturalism prior to considering any evidence is higher than the probability of theism prior to considering any evidence. I’d settle for a 50/50 split for dialectical purposes, but my honest impression is that it seems quite the opposite!