The Case For Metaphysical Naturalism

Thanks to Ross Raffin for this essay!

An issue with metaphysics in general is the supposed necessity of an absolutist stance. When applied to the religious, this metaphysical problem reaches whole new levels. However, it is not completely solved when reduced to one of the freethought religions. A freethought religion refers to a belief system that adheres to reality in such a way that its truth value does not effect how one experiences the world.

The litmus test for a freethought religion is to imagine an atheistic universe and a universe of the belief in question. If the universe in question is experienced differently from the atheistic universe, it is not a freethought belief.

Deism, for instance, is a freethought religion. It presupposes a general deity created the laws of nature, the singularity before the big bang, and the other constants that lie outside of science and direct experience. After this creation point, that deity does not interact with the universe. Whether this is true or false, the universe would still act the same.

The problem with most metaphysical positions is that they dictate the individual’s method of gaining knowledge, their epistemology. What if, then, an epistemology dictated a metaphysical position?

Methodological naturalism is the basis of science. In its basic form it is the scientific method of testing falsifiable hypotheses. However, in epistemology methodological naturalism is a subset of a larger idea known as epistemic probability.

Epistemic Probability works on credibility as opposed to certainty. For any hypothesis A, both A and its negation (~A) begin with equal credibility. If some test or experience confirms A over ~A, then the credibility shifts slightly in favor of A. As more tests or experiences accumulate, the credibility of A being true over ~A increases. A basic example is a scientific law, such as Newton’s Law of Gravitational Pull.

Contrary to the belief of some, a scientific law is not a prescriptive rule but a description. Scientific laws are a set of observations that remain constant through countless repetitions. Every single time an object has been dropped within the earth’s atmosphere, it adheres to Newton’s Law of Gravity. While it is possible for this to not happen, the probability of gravity failing is small to a negligible degree. At this negligible degree, the set of observations becomes an assumed law.

Epistemic Probability, however, is not only the way to gain knowledge. In fact, its nature suggests this. Basic logical axioms, such as A=A, lies outside the range of Epistemic Probability. This is because it is not possible to falsify the proposition without contradiction. Logical axioms, also, set the deductive basis for modus ponens:

1. A

2. If A then B

3. B

There is difference between propositions that cannot be falsified due to contradiction and ad hoc, or unnecessary, propositions. For instance, the statement “an invisible gremlin runs my car engine” is not testable and therefore not subject to Epistemic Probability. Since it is also inaccessible by deductive logic, the ad hoc explanation is irrelevant.

Using this form of epistemic probability, one can form a testable and falsifiable hypothesis about the metaphysical nature of the universe and see if it gains credibility. This is Metaphysical Naturalism.

By definition, Metaphysical Naturalism is the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system in terms of the natural. That is, there is no interaction between the “supernatural” and natural universe. This is generally called the Metaphysical Naturalism Hypothesis (MNH)

A potential problem is classifying natural versus supernatural phenomena. This is because to call an experience supernatural, one must know that there is no natural way for the experience to occur. However, theistic gods stand out as a clear exception.

By definition, a theistic god created the universe. Since the universe itself composes of the natural, and a limitless (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent) entity cannot be a subset of its creation, the theistic god must be supernatural.

However, since one cannot directly say an experience is supernatural, again epistemic probability is necessary. If it were found that the world were created in 6 days, Evolutionary Theory would no longer exist as support for the MNH. If actual evidence of a resurrection was found, this too would disappear as support for MNH. The probability of MNH would eventually lower to the point where it should be not to be taken seriously. As in the case with every other hypothesis, a naturalistic explanation would be possible but negligible.

What of lightning as evidence for Zeus? This is where the definition of the theistic god becomes important. If there is an observation that simply is currently unexplainable, then it cannot count positively as evidence for the supernatural. It just weakens the MNH.

When the worldview, and not singular shreds of evidence, weaken the MNH to an extreme degree, it will be time to consider other possibilities.

Note the focus on a theistic god. The deistic god does not interact with the natural universe, and thus does not falsify the MNH.

The pantheistic god also passes the MNH. Pantheism, in its freethought form, predicts that god would not actually interact with the universe. The atheistic and pantheistic realities would be identical.

Metaphysical Naturalism is in a sense the synthesis of induction and abduction. Epistemic Probability is in essence induction, cases of premises supporting the conclusion. Through this, we reach Metaphysical Naturalism through abduction, finding the best explanation.

It is possible the Hindu God does exist. It is possible the deistic god does. It is possible no god exists. The question is whether one should choose a worldview based on the best explanation or one based on a guess or hope. Though the truth itself lies over the horizon, the paths towards it are a footstep away.

The Enlightenment wounded the beast, but the killing blow has yet to land...