Supernatural Atheism

This is precious:

An atheist, in my understanding (and Messrs Merriam and Webster’s), is a person who denies that there is a God. You can deny that there is a God and yet believe in a whole ontinuum of supernatural critters, from everyday (-night?) ghosts up to the angels. You seem to be using “atheist” to mean “a person who denies the supernatural.” That would be a “naturalist,” or colloquially a “materialist.” [John Derbyshire]

First, Derbyshire makes an error by attributing his personal views to some kind of dictionary authority. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary refers to “a disbelief in the existence of deity” and “the doctrine that there is no deity”; it later defines deity as either “the rank or essential nature of a god,” “supreme being,” “a god or goddess,” or “one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful.” The wording in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate is just a condensed version of the wording in Webster’s Third New International.

Clearly, Derbyshire intends to take the position of the traditional European atheist, who may be culturally religious and merely opposes monarchical theism on principle. This position makes a mockery of the modern atheism that claims positive knowledge of the structure, history, and fate of the entire universe through the magic of “scientific materialism.” This modern, positivistic atheism is transparently nothing more than a soulless, mechanistic, and idealistic form of humanism.
Derbyshire also makes the common error of stating that “a person who denies the supernatural” is a “naturalist,” and that a colloquial synonym is “materialist.” However, a naturalist would properly be one who accepts whatever is found in nature, including human society; and human society includes many who attest to the existence of supernatural forces or beings. Also, the naturalist would not seek to impose any ideal upon nature by claiming that any particular unobserved phenomenon could not occur.

The dogmatic materialist, on the other hand, asserts that all of nature follows an ideal form in which unexplainable phenomena cannot occur at all. The other difference between the naturalist and the materialist consists in how phenomena are explained; for a materialist may be infinitely reductive and mechanistic, whereas a naturalist would allow for growth and change according to an organic potentiality, as well as unforeseeable complex interactions.

Some atheists claim that through scientific knowledge they come necessarily to the logical conclusion that everything is reductively explainable and that there is nothing supernatural. But that is not the same as Derbyshire’s opposition to a supreme, personal, monarchical deity; nor is it the same as the liturgical, religious, ascetic contemplation of a monk who reveres a transcendant human; nor is it a form of philosophical naturalism. Such an atheism is rather a pathological, idealistic egotism, which unsurprisingly manipulates tribalism in order to facilitate unrepentant mass murder.

So, are egotism and tribalism irrational? What about the everyday activities of the average person, who unthinkingly eats and talks and performs non-ideal bodily functions? These are only irrational in comparison to some kind of mathematical or “scientific” abstraction of human rationality, an ideal model of human thinking that is entirely contrived and lacking any basis in the natural world.

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11 thoughts on “Supernatural Atheism

  1. Pingback: ItalyFilm Blog » Supernatural Atheism

  2. Pingback: A Perspective on Atheism: The Madman « rhetoric sans pareil

  3. A naturalist is one who rejects the concept of supernatural- usually on the ground the term itself is nonsense. After all, once a phenomena has evidence for it, it becomes natural.

    A materialist is someone who believes that everything can be reduced to their parts and their interaction (emergent properties, greater than the sum). Materialists believe there is no such thing as a “vital force”, “soul” or anything else which is neither matter nor energy and their interactions (or whatever dark energy and dark matter is made of). Materials are, by definition are determinists.

    Aside from completely screwing up the definitions you also make the fallacy of atheism leads to communism, atheists are arrogant, you aren’t disproving my god, people are irrational, just plain folks… you see, normally when people make arguments they actually have… arguments. I might not agree with, say right wingers, but they come to the table with arguments. You sir, say nothing.

  4. Shall a naturalist reject anything that the universe actually has on offer, or preempt anything it may offer? No, I think not. My definition of naturalism is congruent with Spinoza’s and Santayana’s, whereas yours and Derbyshire’s is a facile understanding implying a simple dichotomy.

    Your description of materialism is perfectly in accordance with mine, I think.

    I reject historical determinism, that is, I would not say that atheism leads to communism. However, I am not surprised.

    Atheists are not arrogant per se. However, imposing conditions on what you and everyone else in the universe may ever have observed, or may ever observe, based on your limited experience with science, would be arrogant. That is the error in any atheism based on scientific materialism.

    I don’t really care if anyone “disproves” my god. Neither does He. However, if you don’t like Him, at least be clear on what aspect you don’t like. Derbyshire is at least clear on what aspects he does and doesn’t like. Dawkins, on the other hand, is rather confused.

    People are not irrational. That is Vox Day’s claim, not mine. I was hoping to subtly attack that idea, but I may have been too subtle.

    “Right wingers” are brainless political animals. Any arguments they have are not worth reading.

  5. Um… what do you mean “reject by the universe has to offer?”. Naturalists aren’t blind- they just aren’t credulus idiots who believe what they are told as you imply. They simply believe there are natural explanations for phenomena.

    For example, scientists had to deal with unexplicable phenomena they treat it like its natural and hope future generations can compehend it. Gravity is a good example- many of Newton’s colleges thought the theory smacked of the occult. Acion at a distance! Today we understand it better, but there are still holes. Why does mass do that? All we can say is the reason mass bends spacetime is that it’s a property of mass.

    Actually the first communist idea was Plato’s Republic. Communism in Europe was based off of Christianity until the Enlightenment. You know, the whole “equal before god- loe each other”.

    Historical Determinism? Could you be clear? I’m pretty sure some things are historically determined (see Guns, Germs and steel).

    You call atheists arrogant for maintaining that an all powerful creator of the universe could make himself known? …. you need a head exam. Not to mention atheists aren’t imposing these on people- the universe is.

    Well, you seem to have declared you believe in god wheter he exists or not. You see, atheists dont hate god- they simply don’t believe he exists. You know, the whole not existing thing.

    People are both rational and irrational. Some of people’s irrational behhavior actually turns out to be rational when examined. For example, following the crowd seems irrational, but is a rational choice because it is more likely that large numbers of people are ono something.

    Right wingers are mindless? And I’m arrogant?!? At least I recognize the idea that some of their proposals have merit. Charter schools, 2nd amendment rights… they aren’t wrong on every topic. I might believe the Republican Party as a threat to the countries future, but I don’t dismiss an enire branch of thought out of hand. I recognize they could be right on some things.

  6. The essence of naturalism is not to impose a prior, idealistic requirement on nature. Of course one says that everything found in nature is “natural,” but what does that mean? It means that there is nothing outside of the universe itself. However, it does not preclude the existence of specific phenomena in nature that some might characterize as “supernatural,” whereas the materialist maintains that whatever cannot be explained mechanistically does not exist. Naturalism also does not require that every phenomenon can be known or explained, only that every phenomenon which can be experienced directly by those who live in nature has a cause in nature.

    I’m sure that communist ideas predate Plato, and communism has probably been practiced many times throughout history. However, there was simply no way to implement it in post-Enlightenment Europe without eliminating religious influences. Anyway, when I wrote my original statement I was thinking of megalomaniac individuals, not a communist bureaucracy.

    By “historical determinism” I mean the supposition that a particular idea has caused a particular historical event or cultural phenomenon. I don’t think that any event in human society has a single cause, nor do I think that any single idea has a necessary consequence.

    I don’t understand your response beginning “You call atheists arrogant…” However, here is my best attempt to respond. First, I am here only critiquing the atheism that is based on scientific materialism. The claim that is commonly made is that through science, the cognoscenti know all the laws of the universe, all its contents, everything that has happened, and everything that will happen, and they conclude that there are no gods. This is not an idea imposed by the universe on anyone–it is something they made up on their own.

    I did not declare that I believe in god whether he exists or not; I declared that I do not care if you disprove the existence of god. Any god whose existence can be disproved is an idol and deserves to be smashed. I may have sentimental attachment to it, but I should not worship it.

    Most atheists dislike something about God (as with Derbyshire, pagans generally get a free ride). If they simply didn’t believe he exists, they would ignore him, since he isn’t there. In that case the discussion would be about the behavior of godbags, rather than ridiculing their skydaddy. Instead, the discussion usually revolves around trying to change the thinking of the godbags because their stupidity is an affront to reason.

    Perhaps the atheist proselytizers accept traditional Christian doctrine and really believe that they can change religious preconceptions and thereby change behavior. However, human rationality is a multifaceted continuum. As you point out, the judgment of whether a behavior is rational is subjective, unless you believe that there is one ultimately rational standard for judgment. Generally, however, to the extent that any person uses their brain to make decisions based on internal or external factors, they are using a form of rationality.

    Anyone who explicitly identifies with a political party has abdicated their volitional reasoning, saying in effect that they choose not to actually think about particular issues because they would rather parrot other people. Perhaps a party proposal has merit, but the individual has chosen to not think about it and simply accept what they are told, based on some kind of emotional or social attachment. In joining the crowd, the True Believer intentionally becomes mindless because it just feels better.

  7. Naturalism is simply saying that everytning that occurs in reality is part of reality. Yeah you are right about things that “seem” supernatural- all that means is we don’t understand them. I keep on using gravity as an example, but you don’t seem to get it. Familiarity breeds contempt I guess.

    So a particular branch of communism requires the elimination of religion? Err… so what?

    Marxist Historical Determinism was that certain things were inevitable given economic conditions. Which is true. Not in the way Marx thought, but still… for example intervention in the American civil war by foreign powers. England valued Northern wheat over Southern cotton- and no one will act without England. Although not the only factor, it was definately the biggest. Pure determinism is impossible to defend though.

    I don’t claim to know everything- just enough to able to show that certain things are impossible. Why should religion be above suspision?

    For you apparently the only “true” god is one that does not exist. After all, a god that can’t be proven to not exist is one that doesn’t interact with reality at all. Even up to the point of not even creating the universe. Tell me, what would you call such a creature that is your God?

    Oh, we ignore god all right- it is his followers that cause us to be vocal. I would ignore communism, facism, anarchism and all other nutty philosophies- except people believe in them and wish to excert their way on the world. The same goes for theism.

    Judging wheter a behavior is rational is hard; judging wheter a belief is rational is much easier to do> Christianity is not rational. Theism is not rational.

    Political parties were formed because there is safety in numbers. People who disagree and describe the party members as mindless get completely shut out of political discourse. As always, the few and the organized always win over the many and the disorganized. Politics is first and formost about power and limited resources- it is economics, but with votes, not money. And parties are the best way to control these for their members.

  8. Yes, gravity is a good example of a natural phenomenon that cannot be explained materialistically.

    You don’t know everything–including whether there is a natural godlike being somewhere in the universe? What about whether the universe is God? Is there any limit to what you “know” to be impossible, or is it just a problem with the Christian God of 1954 America, or some other entity?

    Religion is certainly not above suspicion. I am suspicious of anyone who claims to be able to manipulate the most powerful being in the universe. I am also suspicious of people who seem to be as human as me, and yet claim to have exclusive knowledge of what is impossible.

    I get it now: “people believe in them and wish to excert their way on the world. The same goes for theism” and “Theism is not rational.” So, does theism cause tyranny, perhaps because it is irrational? Is it irrational to exert one’s way on the world? I’m teasing; I’m sure you don’t believe either of those things. I think you see theism as just political window-dressing, which is dangerous because it may lead to an irrational social order, rather than the perfectly enlightened social order that a philosopher-king would bring.

    Of course, theists join political parties in order to implement their plans rationally. Unless they hate political parties and are shut out of discourse, in which case they are just losers. Irrational losers who want to impose their will on the world, yet don’t, because they won’t organize themselves. OK, I think I’ve got it.

    I will address your theological concerns in a separate post.

  9. Pingback: False Gods « Brainbiter

  10. Actually, gravity can be explained under materialism. It couldn’t origionally however. Why matter has the properties it has is still unknown.

    Lets see… if there was a godlike being anywhere, who was interested to us or tied to us in any way, we would know by know. It is similar to the Fermi paradox, but more acute.

    Actually, by definition religion has to claim knowledge about god. That he stills exists, that he hasn’t suicided, that… you get the idea. Deism makes only one unwarrented assumption in comparison.

    Nope- I believe that telling people it is okay to believe irrationaly is bad. Applying it to politics makes things worse. Philosopher king is a bad idea anyway. I mean, seriously what the heck does philosophy have to do with leadership? A ruler should be able to make choices, fix errors and lead- not theorize.

    You don’t understand politics. Lets say you want to send your kids to school. You join the PSTA in order to have a voice. Political parties are the same thing, but on a bigger scale. In addition, since you have to be involved, it is sort of important (draft, taxes, laws, etc…)

  11. I don’t think that the graviton has been isolated yet, so gravity has only been explained by theoretical physics. But gravity acts fairly consistently in the material world, so that is enough for the average person. That is the real ground of materialism, in what the average person can sense; anything beyond that is a kind of idealism, in which everything is postulated to be measurable and quantifiable, especially those things that will never be observed.

    I have a personal prejudice against politics and people who believe that every aspect of life must be framed in political terms. For me, being in a roomful of such people is like wading through a pit full of cockroaches. Just because it is necessary to get along with them doesn’t mean they don’t stink.

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