I stopped posting on Twitter (not “X”) in November and resolved I would not be back until the platform is no longer associated with Elon Musk. That said, I do read tweets on occasion and today I read a tweet from Ben Watkins for which I wanted to provide a quick reply. Ben’s tweet is a response to a tweet. So my article is a response to Ben’s tweet which is a response to a tweet. Here’s the tweet (Ben’s, that is, which includes the other tweet, too):
I agree with Ben that this is “more or less right.” In this article, I’d like to say a quick word on the “less” part. To that end, I will provide examples of naturalism and theism that are not satisfied by these definitions.
Let’s start with naturalism. According to the tweet, naturalism is the view that all that exists is matter, space, and energy. I agree, that is a version of naturalism. Indeed, it is likely the most common version of naturalism. But here’s the key: there are other versions of naturalism.
For example, one could hold to a supervenience view of naturalism according to which everything that exists is matter, space, and energy or that which supervenes upon matter, space, and energy (e.g. consciousness). Further, one could hold to a scientistic view of naturalism according to which naturalism is the view that all that exists is described in a hypothetically complete natural science. On this view, naturalism isn’t committed to the existence of “matter, space, and energy” at all, but only to whatever is ultimately described by science. (And for all we know, “matter,” “space,” and “energy” may all be concepts that would be falsified or discarded by that hypothetically completed natural science.)
The same problem applies to theism. According to the tweet, theism is the view that God exists and created the universe. While it is likely true that most theists endorse these claims, and in particular premise 3 (God created), one need not endorse that premise to be a theist. For example, process theists accept a dipolar model in which God and creation exist together eternally. God did not create in an absolute sense: he only fashioned that which always existed.
Then we have something even further off the beaten path. According to Mormon theology, the being that Mormons worship was once a human creature, one who evolved and later became divine.
Of course, we could respond to that by insisting that Mormons are not theists after all, just like you could insist the Robin Reliant, a famous three-wheeled car, is not a car at all because cars “must” have four wheels. But it seems to me that this would be a fool’s errand, a bit of definitional rigidity and semantic tyranny. The word “car” has a sufficiently broad semantic range such that it can apply to at least some three-wheeled vehicles. And the word “God” likewise has a sufficiently broad semantic range such that it can apply to at least some beings that evolved to become divine.
To conclude, the tweet is quite useful for providing a succinct and clear contrast between one popular version naturalism and one popular version of theism. And that’s fine, just so long as we don’t think the tweet is addressing naturalism or theism as such.