Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Theory of the Supernatural - Part 3

In my prior two posts on "A Theory of the Supernatural" (Part 1 and Part 2), I laid out what I thought were possible arrangements of S-world and N-world such that S-objects might be able to cause effects in N-world, much as we might expact a deity to.

In case I failed to mention it, it seems to me that there are a series of contingencies that must play out successfully for a human theory of the supernatural to be plausible. My list:

  1. A supernatural realm must exist to provide the possibility that supernatural entities exist
  2. The supernatural entities that we're interested in would have the ability to act independently, and cause physical effects in the Natural realm
  3. The means of maintaining awareness between the supernatural and natural realms must exist in order for actions in the supernatural realm to be carried out as expected in the natural realm
  4. A means of transmitting the action from S to N is required.
  5. An entity with at least one characteristic of unrivaled excellence exists in S-world that we might refer to as God

There are a number of quibbles that Theologists and Philosophers might have with these contingencies, such as whether God and the realm in which it exists are separate ideas, and whether the first four items in my list are even germane when we're discussing some entity that can perform any act, such as God allegedly can. But I'm sticking to my guns for the moment - I believe that asking "how does she do that?" is as meaningful as asking how we know that a particular event or circumstance is a result of God's action.

I realized during drafting my last post on a theory of the Supernatural that belaboring whether simpler Supernatual entities such as ghosts, faeries, poltergeists (etc.) exist, doesn't necessarily improve the case for a supreme being, so I'll skip it entirely. Let it be said that a Deity might exist in a Deity-capable realm, and ignore any further navel-gazing.

Also in my prior S-post, I surmised that an arrangement of S-world and N-world could (most likely) be one of the following:

  • SR3. N and S are identical
  • SR4. one supervenes upon the other
  • SR5. one contains the other

For brevity's sake, let's treat these three views as functionally equivalent. Given that S and N are coincident realms, and that humanity's current problem is just that we can't perceive S and don't understand what S might be (other than a place for supernatural stuff to originate), is there a mechanism that we can posit that will allow S-stuff to occur in N? This immediately brings to mind the idea that, regardless of our current inability to perceive S and understand it, any S-causes that affect N ought to raise an eyebrow. Occurrences that are inexplicable are candidates for S-stuff. If we can identify "S-stuff Candidates", then we might have found a starting point from which we can work back through the postulated S-affects-N mechanism, and establish the reality of S. What might we use to start the investigation?

I'm going to confess that I'm drawing a blank here. What the heck, in the history of the world, can we point to and say "this is unambiguous evidence that S-causes affect N"? We know where thunder comes from. And floods. And locusts. We know what red tide is. We know where the sun goes at night. We know that people sense something that they think is "the supernatural". We know that allegedly supernatural objects (crystals, star charts, spirits, deities) can be used to give people focus, organizing principles, a sense of importance, a sense of community, a feeling of certainty and power over an uncertain and intractable cosmos. So where do we look to find clear evidence of S-stuff?

First, I'm going to be really cold and toss out all personal anecdotes of the supernatural as irrelevant - including my own. I thought for several years that spirits existed, and that my grandmother, who had been unable to speak during most of my conscious childhood, guided me and watched over me after she passed away. How else to explain my ability to persevere and to make good when my life was a mess? Similarly, I felt in my early twenties that Jesus loved me, that God loved me, and that I was destined to find human love and to make a positive impact in the world. And both of those feelings are fully explainable. I was looking to be significant in the universe, to find love and friendship, to have something firm around which to organize my life. And was important to me back then. So it's easy for me to imagine other people - billions of other people - approaching their lives the same way, doing the same general things that I did when I was in need. And I don't see why they shouldn't do that, if they don't have a better plan. But I don't see why anyone should think that this human need, desire, hunch that there is something supernatural going on and is affecting them in a real way is evidence that there in fact is. It could be considered evidence if there were a way to validate its occurrence, then examine possible causes. Absent some good physical explanation, a candidate S-event could be important in our overall probability calculation of S's existence, but unsubstantiated personal anecdotes don't work here.

Let me point to where the supernatural might be found, given that trivial occurences and human feelings of the supernatural haven't produce anything substantive so far. We should look at the Great Unanswered Questions - things like the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the source of ostensibly objective moral values, the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of consciousness, the fact that the universe is understandable. If this sounds familiar, it's because these are (obviously) some of the topics used in constructing arguments for the existence of God. And I believe that's where I should look, as well. So let's examine one.

Asking the question "where did the universe come from?" often results in one of two answers. First, a respondent might reply "we don't know". Fair enough ... seems like a difficult question to answer. Another answer we hear is "God created the universe". Here's Dr. William Lane Craig on the subject:

Now from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe?

Craig subsequently states that this cause is a Personal Creator, and that this Personal Creator is God.

Craig didn't think this one up by himself ... there is a history of musings about the "First Cause" - dating back to Plato and Aristotle. Much has been made of Craig's particular argument, with my particular take being that anyone claiming this - an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power that is also personal caused the universe - has the interesting task of explaining how those five exact characteristics are required for a being to create the universe, and how that being exists in some state somewhere in order to effect this universe's creation. These claims reek of bare assertion and flirt intimately with infinite regress.

Without good reason to acknowledge that a creator thingy has to have the characteristics just described, we don't really get any closer to describing a plausible first mover, let alone something that, additionally, has some influence on transient corporeal lives and eternal spiritual lives.

Next time, let me poke around into some of the individual characteristics.

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