Imagine that you were a reader of the “Modern American Literature Blog”. Then one day one of the main contributors blogs about a really neat book that somebody game him to read called The Sun Also Rises. Your first thought would probably be: “Wait a minute, you’re a main contributor on the Modern American Literature Blog and you just discovered The Sun Also Rises now?”
I thought of that when I read of Jonathan MS Pearce’s recent discovery and commendation of “Theology and Falsification” by Antony Flew. Pearce blogged about it at “Debunking Christianity” where he commended the essay. Flew’s essay (now sixty years old) is probably the most reprinted essay in the philosophy of religion in the last half century and helped make Flew perhaps the world’s leading skeptic for a time (at least until he came out of the closet as a theist in 2003!). (As I noted at DC, the only other viable contender for most reprinted philosophy of religion essay is William James’ “The Will to Believe”.)
Anyway as I pointed out to Pearce, Flew’s famous illustration of an invisible gardener applies to naturalism as well. I make this point in my essay “Truthmakers that keep naturalists up at night” which was originally published a couple years ago at “The Christian Post”. I’ve reproduced it below:
Truthmakers that keep naturalists up at night
Christians are supernaturalists. That is, they believe that there are things that exist which are neither material (where material is understood to encompass both matter and energy) nor supervenient upon the material.
Definitional aside on supervenience: if x is supervenient upon y then x is irreducible to y (it is a new kind of thing) but is nonetheless dependent upon y for its existence.
For instance, smoke supervenes on fire.
Many naturalists concede that not everything is material (that is, matter/energy) but whatever is not is nonetheless supervenient upon matter/energy. For example, they would argue that consciousness supervenes on the neuronal synapses of the brain.
But do all things that are not material supervene on the material? Or are there entities irreducible to the material and not dependent on the material for existence? If the latter, then this falsifies naturalism defined as everything being either material or supervenient upon the material.
Could the naturalist redefine naturalism to encompass entities which neither are reducible to the material nor which supervene upon it? Perhaps. But such a scenario would have at least a whiff of Antony Flew’s famous “Invisible Gardener” parable. Although Flew used the parable against theists who forever redefine theism in light of new data until it becomes nearly meaningless, we could launch the same charge against the naturalist: they keep redefining the boundaries of “natural” until it becomes a mere cipher.
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Some time ago some of these issues came up in the thread to my post “The atheist that left me at a loss for words.” Conversational Atheist has been interested to continue this conversation, and I thought it would make sense to do so in a brand spankin’ new post, so here we are.
In that previous thread I said: “The FACT that the interior angles of a triangle in Euclidean space add up to 180 degrees is not itself constructed, it is discovered.”
Conversational Atheist agreed. This is discovered, not constructed. Now a fact is a fact because something makes it a fact. That thing is called a truthmaker. Naturalism by its classic definitions (e.g. Democritean materialism and supervenient materialism) has believed that the only truthmakers are objects, events, and states of affairs which exist in space and time. So the fact that I am now typing depends on the state of affairs of me now typing. That state of affairs in space and time is the truthmaker for the fact.
Here’s a problem though. What is the truthmaker for the objective fact that the interior angles of a triangle in Euclidean space add up to 180 degrees? Note that it cannot be something in space and time since this fact is in nowise dependent on the Big Bang or the continued existence (let alone the initial origination) of the universe. So the truthmaker of this fact seems to be something that exists outside of space and time and thus is not dependent upon space and time.
If the naturalist is to accommodate this fact then he seems obliged to concede truthmakers that utterly burst the boundaries of the materialist and supervenient definitions of naturalism. Or he seems constrained to deny as objective facts things which are indeed objective facts.
This, it seems to me, is a problem.