Can it add up?

One thing I appreciate about more conservative varieties of supernatural belief is that it is, sometimes, false. Oh, ordinary religion has plenty of vagueness, indeterminacy, and various unclarities of meaning. But it also has enough anthropomorphism, allegedly historical stories, and similar linkages to ordinary cognition that, with some work, it can be patched up to achieve some form of intelligibility.

What follows is disappointing, since invariably such supernatural-claims-made-respectable turn out to be false. Wildly incongruous with modern science. Often, bronze-age superstition. Maybe even rank pseudoscience. But still, there is something good here. There is something nice and clean about falsehood.

But set that aside. Also set aside the religious thinking that is modern and sophisticated but also disconnected from any reality checks. (This gets rid of a lot of theology, but who wants to deal with anything so boring?) Maybe, after all that, there still are a few God-friendly intuitions that both have some possible connection with reality and some degree of academic respectability. Here are a few candidates:

  • Dualism, or some other kind of claim about the irreducible specialness of the mental that does not describe itself as dualism but still looks an awful lot like dualism,
  • Platonism, mathematical and otherwise, and allied with dualism or otherwise,
  • Hard moral realism, belief in objective prescriptive moral truths etc.,
  • Intelligent design-lite, in the sense of creativity ultimately not residing in a mindless physical world even though common descent is correct,
  • . . . Add your own . . .

Now, I think all such notions are mistaken. Seriously wrong. I am capable of getting more pissed off when I see Platonism among physicists than conventional religion. (Religion is a cultural thing. What’s the excuse for the more distilled bullshit you get only out of an intellectual tradition?)

But that’s a separate rant. What I don’t get is this: if I’m totally wrong (not unknown) and such notions are in some sense correct, what would it all add up to?

I understand that all this is relevant. Any one would undermine the most ambitious forms of naturalism or physicalism, which I consider the most serious threats to theism. So, just by clearing away some rivals, they could help make some version of supernatural God-belief more plausible.

But on the other hand, they add up to nothing remotely close to a supernatural God. It’s quite possible to have atheists who are dualists, or Platonists, or defenders of hard objective morality, or whatever. They are atheists with whom I have serious disagreements. But then, disagreement and disunity among nonbelievers is hardly anything new.

So again, even if some of the anti-physicalist intuitions that retain some degree of respectability were to suddenly start looking a lot more persuasive, I don’t see this as adding up to much in the way of support for God in any conventional sense.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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