Natural Order & Belief

From: Tom Caylor <>
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2006 22:52:22 -0800

Brent Meeker wrote:
>Tom Caylor wrote:
>> Brent Meeker wrote:
>>> An excellent essay. I agree with almost everything you wrote; and you put it very well. Would you mind if I cross posted it to Vic Stenger's AVOID-L mailing list. You can check out the list here:

>> Although Victor Stenger doesn't use the word "anti-natural", the
>> following equation is what he is assuming in his atheistic arguments:
>> supernatural = anti-natural.

>> Therefore he thinks that a proof of theism would amount to finding a
>> violation of natural law. Since he finds no such violation (which I
>> would argue is a circular argument based on the definition of natural)
>> he claim this proves atheism beyond a reasonable doubt (what is the
>> measure of certainty/uncertainty?).

>> In terms of Bruno's provability, this is akin to saying that a proof of
>> the existence of a non-trivial G*/G can be obtained by finding an
>> inconsistency in G. This does not make sense. This is like saying the
>> only god that can exist is an inconsistent god.

> A theist God (as opposed to a deist God) is one who intervenes in the natural order, i.e. does miracles. Stenger will readily admit that his argument does not apply to a deist God.

>Brent Meeker

The problem (or challenge :) is that the meaning of "natural order"
is open to much debate, especially here on the Everything List.
Everything is up for grabs, so much so that it can be a challenge to
figure out where any order comes from, resulting in problems such as
white rabbits. When we start with Everything, the problem is not just
"How can anything interesting happen (like life, not to mention our
stereotypical 'miracles'?" (the something-from-nothing question),
but also "How can any order be birthed out of the plenitudinous sea
of disorder?" So in this Everything context, not having the whole
picture of what the "natural order" is implies a lack of knowledge
of what it would be to "intervene" on the natural order.

Of course if we're talking about theism, then the nature of
"intervention" is limited by certain parameters related to whatever
god is supposedly intervening. These parameters are a function of
contingent aspects, such as, in the case of the biblical God's
universe, the presence of evil and sacrificial love. But such facts
are probably considered too contingent for a List like this, where
Everything is supposed to be impersonal. (Is it?) Unfortunately, as
Blaise Pascal noted, if the solution to the problem of evil is based on
contingent facts, then staying at a general metaphysical (Everything)
level is not going to get us in contact with the solution. One
possible insight that we can get from Everything-level discussion, if
the thinker is willing to accept it, is to realize that a solution
based on contingent facts in history is not ruled out by general
philosophical thought about Everything. Another insight is to realize
that there is no solution to the problem of evil (or the mind-body
problem...) at the (non-contingent) Everything level. And if there's
no solution to a problem that is part of the universe, then perhaps the
(impersonal) Everything approach is not sufficient for dealing with

Getting back to the more impersonal question, as has been observed on
this List multiple times, there is a problem with discerning the source
of order in the universe. Where does this natural order come from that
we can make laws about it, and predict nature's actions fairly
accurately, at least for our purposes? Why is it that we aren't
destroyed by savage white rabbits out of nowhere? Proposed
explanations include the use of ideas such as the Anthropic Principle,
Occam's Razor, some kind of "measure", numbers, local order at
the expense of disorder somewhere else far away, etc. So again, in the
light of this lack of understanding, it seems pretty presumptuous for
us to say that there must not be interventions in the natural order
simply because we don't see any as we've defined them. (Then we
trap ourselves even more when we attach the label "natural order"
to Everything we observe, whether we can explain it "naturally" or
not.) Perhaps the following analogy will help to open up the
possibilities (not probabilities!) in our brains. This is from C.S.
Lewis as he put it in his book "Miracles".


"Let us suppose a race of people whose peculiar mental limitation
compels them to regard a painting as something made up of little
coloured dots which have been put together like a mosaic. Studying the
brushwork of a great painting through their magnifying glasses, they
discover more and more complicated relations between the dots, and sort
these relations out, with great toil, into certain regularities. Their
labour will not be in vain. These regularities will in fact
"work"; they will cover most of the facts. But if they go on to
conclude that any departure from them would be unworthy of the painter,
and an arbitrary breaking of his own rules, they will be far astray.
For the regularities they have observed never were the rule the painter
was following. What they painfully reconstruct from a million dots,
arranged in an agonizing complexity, he really produced with a single
lightning-quick turn of the wrist, his eye meanwhile taking in the
canvass as a whole and his mind obeying laws of composition which the
observers, counting their dots, have not yet come within sight of, and
perhaps never will. I do not say that the normalities of Nature are
unreal. The living fountain of divine energy, solidified for purposes
of this spatio-temporal Nature into bodies moving in space and time,
and thence, by our abstract thought, turned into mathematical formula,
does in fact, for us, commonly fall into such and such patterns. But to
think that a disturbance of them would constitute a breach of the
living rule and organic unity whereby God, from his own point of view,
works, is a mistake. If miracles do occur then we may be sure that not
to have wrought them would be the real inconsistency."

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Received on Tue Nov 14 2006 - 01:52:41 PST

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