Saturday, May 31, 2014

Metaphysical Musings

I've been thinking a lot about metaphysics lately. To me, metaphysics is simply fundamental ontological claims that we do not have empirical evidence for. Metaphysics is integral in any worldview, and scientists use metaphysics all the time. The multiverse for example is technically metaphysics because we don't have - and may never have - any empirical evidence for it. It also might be unfalsifiable, but I'm not going to throw it out like yesterday's newspaper just because of this.

When debating with theists over god and religion, you are essentially having a metaphysical debate. Every worldview is metaphysical, including naturalism. I personally have no problem with metaphysics. In fact, it's probably my favorite branch of philosophy. Some of my fellow atheists don't agree and think metaphysics is just a stunning waste of time and thought. I couldn't disagree more.

Let's take a look at some of the definitions of metaphysics. Wikipedia says, "Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it, although the term is not easily defined." Merriam-webster defines it as, "a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology."

What is and what is not metaphysical is not always easy to define. Many atheists have a problem with metaphysics because it's too closely related to the claims theists make about reality, which are often based on either bad, little or no scientific evidence. I'd distinguish these kinds of claims from the metaphysical claims scientists make, like the multiverse, as bad metaphysics versus good metaphysics. Good metaphysics applies rational thought to empirical science. So although we don't have empirical support for the multiverse, we do have empirical evidence for inflationary theory, which strongly implies a multiverse in its math.

To the atheists who want to jettison metaphysics along with philosophy (metaphysics after all is a branch of philosophy) I'd be very cautious. Some atheists think so highly of science that they think science is going to replace all other epistemological fields. It's true that we atheists often privilege science as the most valuable epistemology, but we shouldn't get carried away and think that nothing outside of science offers value. We should let science guide our beliefs but acknowledge that science might not complete the whole picture. Where science leaves off, metaphysics begins, and properly done, a coherent metaphysical worldview takes the best available scientific evidence and facts and applies rational thought to it. I am convinced that doing so leads one to naturalism and far away from theism.

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