Before lockdown I debated Imran Hussein at the University of Manchester for their Islamic Society. I’m kindly giving traffic to their channel here https://youtu.be/Z6-2IYlbTj8
Imran indulged in a conflation of ideas by referring to ‘atheism-naturalism’. Without that misrepresentation it’s hard for theists to refute ‘atheism’. They want a windmill to tilt at and the atheist’s self-description of ‘simply not believing in their doctrine’ isn’t a big enough target.
Oxford Professor of Mathematics and preaching Christian, John Lennox, has said, “A naturalist believes that the cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever shall be.” That reveals the nature of his misunderstanding. I contend that the problem is the over-valuation of the importance of the act of believing, a typically theistic perspective, and his straw man shows his unreasonable desire for certainty.
I call myself a naturalist and I do not believe that the cosmos is all there is, was, or ever shall be. Isn’t that a hubristic assumption? Who dares to claim to know what we may discover tomorrow?
My attitude is that beliefs are unimportant and that the evidence, which IS important, supports the proposition that everything we have discovered or explained so far has turned out to be natural. In other words it has all been observable by some means, albeit in the case of certain phenomena, indirectly. So, I’m using Bayes’ principle to extrapolate that it is extremely improbable that there is another, unnatural, realm.
Of course, the problem of observing an unnatural realm (I refuse to describe it as supernatural until we have discovered it and can investigate its properties) is amplified by the fact that we have no idea of how to manufacture an instrument to detect it. All of our equipment is based on our understanding of the natural realm, so what principles we should design into such a machine are unknown. That makes it currently non-discoverable.
Furthermore, don’t they WANT it to be undiscoverable? Isn’t that why their god is hymned with the line “Immortal, invisible, god only wise”? Who would want a boringly natural god with no supernatural powers? That would be like preferring bespectacled Clark Kent to Superman!
Then there is the Catch 22: if we ever DO discover something unnatural, wouldn’t it have just materialised?
None of this stops us from imagining an unnatural realm of course, but this leads me to my own version of Two Realms.
I propose that there is a Conceptual Realm, inside of craniums, where there is no limit to ideas. Bundled in there are conceptualisations ranging from the jet engine, through Humpty Dumpty to an oak tree. What we need is a way of sorting reasonable concepts from unreasonable ones. That ‘way’ is to investigate the Natural Realm for a correspondence: it’s scientific method.
The oak tree notion has a match in Nature.
The jet engine concept started life as just an idea but it was developed and found to have a match in Nature.
Humpty Dumpty is still stuck in the Conceptual Realm.
Given this, we have two boxes to check:
Natural Realm – tick
Unnatural Realm – tick
Natural Realm – tick
Unnatural Realm – no tick
Now, of course, this doesn’t rule an unnatural realm out.
But it does leave it indistinguishable from fairyland…
Sunset Dawn Nature – free photo on Pixabay