dinsdag 28 mei 2013

On the natural-supernatural distinction

In order to acknowledge the profound difference between God and the objects of our ordinary experience, often a distinction is made between the natural and the supernatural, so that God can be said to be a supernatural instead of a natural entity. But, one may ask, what does this distinction actually amount to? What is natural? Surely, one cannot define nature as everything else but God. So what is nature? Is it space and time with all its contents? Would, if substance dualism is true, minds belong to the natural? Or suppose that there are abstract objects such as universals, propositions, properties and numbers. Would they also belong to nature? One may hold that perhaps nature is simply that which is subject to the universal laws as discovered by the natural sciences, that is to say, physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. But then again, what determines the proper scope of the natural sciences? As Hempel’s dilemma shows it is impossible to define nature by referring to those sciences that study nature. Indeed, such a definition of the natural would be clearly circular.

Because of these considerations it seems to me that the traditional distinction between the natural and the supernatural is not helpful at all. We should speak about the world, or better, the whole of reality. In fact, we could refer to the whole of reality, to all existents taken together, simply as being. Being comprises by definition everything that exists. Thus God, if God exists, is part of being, just as you and I and the chair that I’m currently sitting on. The reason that we attribute a special status to God is based on God's unique and strikingly extraordinary features, such as being the absolute necessary ground of all there is, that is to say, the metaphysical ultimate. God has a special status within the realm of being by virtue of its attributes, by virtue of being the infinite, eternal and inexhaustible origin of all other beings. And this is surely distinctive enough. We do not need the ill-defined class of the supernatural in order to properly refer to and speak of God.

Moreover, I would argue that the dismissal of the unclear distinction between the natural and the supernatural is still compatible with negative-theological or even mystical ways of speaking about God, such as ‘The Wholly Other’, ‘The Radical Different’ and ‘The Beyond’. For God is also all these things, given God's singular and exceptional features within the realm of being.

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