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What We Are Debating (2006)

 

Welcome to Naturalism vs. Theism: The Carrier-Wanchick Debate. Here Richard and Tom cowrote and approved a joint statement stating as clearly as is reasonable what claims each intends to defend here.

JOINT STATEMENT

In the present debate Richard Carrier and Tom Wanchick will each be defending a different thesis against the other. Wanchick will argue that God exists, in a meaningful and nontrivial sense, while Carrier will argue that only nature exists, in a meaningful and nontrivial sense. To specify exactly what they mean, Wanchick and Carrier composed the following statement jointly and approved its final form.

Wanchick holds that from the extant data of philosophy, history, science, and personal human experience, it can be shown that the existence of God is more probable than His nonexistence. God, as Wanchick understands Him for this debate, is a nonphysical, conscious mind having power, intelligence, and a morally good nature, all far beyond that of any human. This God is distinct from, and the creator of, the universe, and can act upon the universe by simply willing so. We shall label this Basic Theism (or BT).

By "nonphysical" Wanchick means God is nonmaterial (not consisting of matter) and without spatial location. By "mind" Wanchick means no more than an entity that has a conscious intelligence and the power to act (or the capacities for these). And by "morally good nature" Wanchick means that God only acts in ways consistent with the moral code most Christians accept.

In contrast to Wanchick's thesis, Carrier says that naturalism is most probably true, and therefore no gods or spirits exist in any traditional or supernatural sense. In precise form, the proposition Carrier intends to defend is this: given the information available up to now, more likely than not naturalism is true, where "naturalism" means that everything everyone has observed or claimed to observe is the product of fundamentally mindless arrangements and interactions of matter-energy in space-time, leaving no sufficient reason to believe that anything else exists.

By "fundamentally mindless" Carrier means that any mental properties, powers, or entities that exist are causally derived from, and ontologically dependent on, systems of nonmental properties, powers, or entities. In technical terms, that means naturalism is false if any distinctly mental property, power, or entity exists that is not ontologically dependent on some arrangement of nonmental things, or that is not causally derived from some arrangement of nonmental things, or that has causal effects without the involvement of any arrangement of nonmental things which are otherwise causally sufficient to produce that effect.

In somewhat plainer English, what this means is this: if Carrier Naturalism (or CN) is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural phenomena. But if naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature. In other words, such things would then be partly or wholly caused by themselves, or exist or operate directly or fundamentally on their own. This summarizes more precisely and concisely what Carrier has argued elsewhere.[1]

CN does not entail any particular position regarding the existence of immaterial or nonphysical things, except that if there is any thing (any Q) that is "nonphysical" or "immaterial" (in any meaningfully-defined sense), and if naturalism is true as defined above, then Q is ontologically and causally dependent on space-time or on matter-energy in space-time, such that some arrangement of space-time or of matter-energy in space-time is a sufficient cause of the existence of Q. And (again if naturalism is true as defined above) in the absence of that arrangement of space-time, or of matter-energy in space-time, the corresponding Q will not exist. Carrier also distinguishes things that potentially exist from things that actually exist: all things potentially exist whenever all the elements necessary to form them exist, but nothing actually exists until all the elements necessary to form them actually form them.

Finally, Carrier believes that some mental and moral properties exist, in the sense that, like any other Q, they exist potentially or actually as properties that are ontologically dependent on and entirely caused by particular arrangements of matter-energy in space-time, as explained above for any other Q. Carrier has articulated elsewhere how arrangements of matter-energy in space-time manifest mental and moral properties.[2] He holds that such properties potentially exist and are actually realized in the same way as geometric, economic, and social properties. These are properties that potentially exist everywhere they could in principle be realized, and actually exist wherever they are in fact realized.


[1] Richard Carrier, Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design (2003), available in the Secular Web Modern Library; Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), available at AuthorHouse and Amazon, pp. 65-70, 119-34, 211-12.

[2] Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism (2005), pp. 124-50, 177-202, 313-48. See also: Richard Carrier, Critical Review of Victor Reppert's Defense of the Argument from Reason (2004) and Fundamental Flaws in Mark Steiner's Challenge to Naturalism in The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem (2003), both available in the Secular Web Modern Library, and Richard Carrier, "Establishing Ethics as a Science," forthcoming.

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