An informal competition »« New year, same old hate

Superstition and necessity

One of the things I’ve been observing during my interactions with presuppositionalists is that at least some of them seem to have a strange view of what “necessary” means. The presuppositional argument declares that there are two types of entities: necessary things and contingent things. A contingent thing depends on something else for its existence and characteristics, whereas a necessary thing exists because it must necessarily be real. There follows a certain amount of philosophical discussion (and/or hand-waving, and/or smoke and mirrors) gradually working its way to the conclusion that everything depends on God being real, and therefore God must be real. And not just any God, but a specifically Christian, Trinitarian God to boot.

The obvious flaw in this argument is that, even if we accept the existence of a necessary being, there’s no reason why it should have to be any sort of god, or even any sort of person. God might arguably be a conceptually possible being, but if He’s only a possible being, then by definition He’s not the necessary being. Yet presuppositionalists (or at least some of them) clearly believe that God is not just a possible being, but a literally necessary one. And I think I might have some understanding as to why and how they think that.

As you might guess from the title of this post, the answer has to do with superstition. Superstition is an arbitrary, magical connection between two things, such that one thing causes the other somehow even though there’s no observable, verifiable, or even plausible connection between them. You have Thing A, the supposed cause, and Thing B, the supposed effect, but the only way to get from one to the other is to go *poof*—it’s magic.

This is especially true with animistic superstitions, where Thing A, the cause, is some kind of magical, invisible spirit or angel or deity who makes things happen in the real world and who supposedly controls the things we care about in everyday life. This is what believers mean when they say their religion supplies a certain “purpose” in life: things happen because one or more invisible beings intended for them to happen.

What this does on a psychosocial level is to make the world “understandable” as a network of social relationships, with invisible spiritual beings as the persons you need to understand and influence. You know that the world has a purpose, and you need to understand this purpose and respond to it, and that’s how you get through life. Take away this “purpose,” and you take away everything that gives life meaning—without invisible magical persons to define what the relationships are, the believer’s world becomes chaos.

That’s what makes the spirits “necessary.” The believer’s whole worldview, their whole understanding of how life works, is built out of superstitiously-perceived relationships between real-world events and hidden, supernatural purposes. At the foundation of their logic lies the necessity that these supernatural beings exist, in order to supply the intentions that make everything work the way they think it does. Never mind that science works better, and that superstitious worldviews spend more time compensating for unexpected results and internal inconsistencies. God is the believer’s “necessary being” because superstition needs Him in order to be “legitimate.”

That’s why conversations between believers and skeptics tend to sound like duelling monologues. There’s no logical necessity that God exist, so the skeptic can’t see why the believer keeps insisting that God must be necessary in order to give meaning to life. But God is necessary, to the believer, because He is needed to give meaning to the superstition that the believer lives by. Hence the believer’s conviction that God is obviously and incontrovertibly necessary, and hence the duelling monologues. The believer and the skeptic may be using the same words, but they’re speaking different languages.

That’s how it looks to me, at this point anyway. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.