A hypothetical philosophical discussion on the supernatural and the natural

X: What could be a more efficient effect than existence itself?

Y: Efficiency of a thing/effect comes forth by its comparison against a similar thing/effect. Also such a comparison presumes existence. So how would it be useful to discuss existence itself in this manner?

X: As every effect has a cause, and if existence is considered as an effect, then it also should have a cause. The efficiency of existence as an effect is in respect of that cause. Also when existence itself is in question, we can only have its opposite, i.e. non-existence for comparison. We cannot have anything similar to either existence or non-existence. This situation is unique as it doesn’t presume existence being existent.

Y: Doesn’t your statement/question presume the existence of the cause of the efficient effect in question? So you presume some kind of an existence?

X: For the existence of an effect, I have to presume the existence of a cause. But in this case, the existence in question is different as this existence is concerned with, for instance, the beginning of space and time. So as the cause of space and time should be outside of both, it is supernatural, and that this world/universe or its existence which is within the limits of space and time is natural. The existence in question is of the natural and not the supernatural. Hence the presumed existence of the supernatural doesn’t do any harm to the non-presumption of existence of the natural.

Y: Okay, agreed that supernatural existence is different from natural existence, but the law of causation, i.e. every thing in this world has a cause or every effect has a cause, which you are taking support of, would also imply that your supernatural cause should be an effect of some other cause.

X: If we do stretch the law of causation to a point before the existence of the supernatural, that would lead to an infinite regress, leaving us with no conclusion whatsoever. The law of causation can be considered only a natural law, i.e. applying only to that which is within the limits of space and time. Hence it is only the natural which needs a cause and not the supernatural. This saves us from both the belittling of the law of causation and the infinite regress.

Y: What scientific evidence do you have of the existence of the supernatural cause?

X: We do not have a direct first hand evidence of the existence of the supernatural and/or of it being the cause of this world/natural existence. It is solely through logical inference that we can imagine a causa sui or an uncaused cause causing this world, causing existence, or to be specific, causing the natural existence. As said before, the supernatural is outside the limits of time and space, which makes it untestable through physical experiments & observation, for all that is now with us or around us is all within the limits of time and space, is natural existence itself and not supernatural existence, is natural and not supernatural. So the difference of both entities and their existences makes the supernatural untestable. Hence it cannot be a subject of science, which is empirical in nature, but of sole reasoning, which we are taking refuge in to prove our contention.

Y: So you intend to prove that the supernatural cause is eternal?

X: Yes. That logically follows from our arguments. In fact it could be something other than either eternal or non-eternal, because eternity and non-eternity are both measured on time, and as the supernatural cause is outside the limits of time, you just cannot tag it anyways from your natural perspective.

Y: If one agrees with you that some uncaused cause, a supernatural cause made this natural existence spring forth, wouldn’t he be too satisfied with your explanation that he loses interest in any further investigation of the natural existence and the universe? Wouldn’t your explanation make him too lazy to enquire?

X: Certainly not. We have told nothing about how this natural existence is, or how this universe works. It is still a mystery and mysteries tickle the mind into enquiring more and more, being ever unsatisfied. Our contention was, if not to assert, but to at least show a possibility of a causa sui causing this natural existence by putting a question mark on the existence itself.

Y: As you said in a previous answer that it is solely through inference that you are trying to prove that their is a supernatural cause of the natural existence, but inferences don’t necessarily prove anything, they just show a mere possibility?

X: Yes. We have just shown by logical inference that there is a possibility of a supernatural cause causing this natural existence. We did not assert that there is for sure such a thing. We cannot assert its existence because we can prove it from argument, but not empirically.

Y: So your position is more of an agnostic?

X: Yes. Even though we hold that the truth of anything such as the aforesaid supernatural cause, cannot be decided anyways, still we try to analyse the possibility of such an entity being proven through theory or pure logic.

Y: So what do you conclude from that possibility?

X: The degree to which it is unlikely that this natural existence is not a product of itself, it is likely that it is a product of a supernatural existence.

Y: Is it the nature of that supernatural cause to produce the natural?

X: To decide what is its nature is going way too far with the tool of inference. It may be that it had two possibilities, i.e. to produce or not to produce the natural. Both being very likely, one of them happened. But the repercussions of that one, i.e. existence, are far more significant than those of non-existence. We are here because of that.

Y: So do you intend that it intentionally produced natural existence?

X: It could be that the non-existence of a conscious mind without a brain is a law of the natural, while with the supernatural, there can exist a conscious mind without a brain intending to do this or that. In that possibility, it could be that the supernatural cause intended to produce this existence while having a choice of both non-existence and existence.

Y: But how can non-existence be an option of something to be done? Isn’t non-existence a non-act?

X: Yes, but to leave it as it is or not is an option.

Y: So you are showing the possibility that not only did the supernatural cause produce this natural existence, but also preferred existence to non-existence intentionally?

X: Yes. Also because choosing to create existence rather than to leave it non-existent, requires effort, which is significant because when comparing non-action with action, action is clearly significant because of the rising from slumber and acting.

Y: So you also are saying that the supernatural cause sleeps also?

X: That was a metaphorical phrase intending to show how action is significant from non-action.

Y: Is your cause like a god of the various religions?

X: No. At the least it is not a person like us. As I have made clear that it is unlike this natural. It is outside the limits of time and space, and hence any image of it is not worth it.

Y: So is it still god?

X: If god is some entity outside of the time and space, a causa sui which caused this natural existence, then you could use the noun god for the supernatural cause. But it would be better not to use it, so as to save it from any usual misinterpretation.

Y: Do you think there is a purpose to its bringing forth the universe?

X: If we have already imagined the existence of a conscious mind without a brain with the supernatural cause, and also suggested that bringing about existence is more significant an effort than continuing non-existence to be, it could be that there is a purpose to this natural existence. We cannot yet assert that.

Y: As you conceded that you cannot prove the existence of the supernatural cause empirically, is there any other argument to support your contention?

X: Yes there is. As you see around, every thing is derived from every other thing. Even an atom is a derived entity. Derived also in a sense that their being, their existence depends upon certain other entities. Today, it is being stated that even subatomic particles are a derivation from fields. So if you go deep down, may be we could find, or at least we can philosophically suggest that there should be one original entity out of which the first derivation began.

Y: How is this empirical?

X: In the former argument, I did not consider the natural existence/universe as the basis, whereas here I take this natural which is observable as the basis of my argument. Hence its being empirical.

Y: Even though you observe that all things are derived from or are dependant on each other, how can you by any logical inference think that back in the day all of it started with an original entity?

X: Well, if all that exists, everything that exists in this natural world, is dependent on each other, you’d have to accept their eternal existence, because it cannot have a beginning at any point of time owing to the need of the presence of all of the entities at all times to make existence of each other possible.

Y: What’s the problem with that? It helps us doing away with the infinite regress.

X: But at the cost of the law of causation.

Y: Well, let us consider the aforesaid entities as supernatural, then there’d be no problem with the law of causation.

X: It is agreed that all these entities exist because they have a basis in time and space. So they become natural, as I said earlier, and not supernatural. I also suggested that in that case, law of causation is a compulsion on whatever exists within the limits of time and space.

Y: But those are your own definitions.

X: Yes, but they aren’t absurd.

Y: What if we take time and space as supernatural, because all the natural existence depends on them?

X: I have somewhere heard that first of all there can be no space standing by itself apart from the space-time combo and that there is no space-time apart from matter and energy. I generally hypothesise and predict that everything that is in the natural is interdependent on every other natural for its existence. It is a popular Buddhist idea called dependent-origination. There is nothing in the natural which is absolutely existing.

Y: So if time and space aren’t anything separate from matter and energy, then what about your limits of space-time which makes the difference between the natural and the supernatural?

X: That would also mean that there is no space without matter & no matter without space. Same goes with time. You see that is the limit of existence of the natural which I intended to speak about earlier. This idea showed up just now. I’ll need to reframe my definitions. Interdependent existence is what natural existence is. While independent existence is supernatural existence.

Y: You’re twisting your own definitions to suit your purpose. Earlier, time and space were the limits of all natural existence or natural entities and now even natural entities are the limits of the existence of space and time?

X: But you cannot say that it is absurd. As I said that the idea is fresh. But the change in definitions is still consistent with what I intended to say earlier. It now struck my mind that the limit is rather interdependence to be specific. See how I benefitted from this discussion. Probably, the only knowable mark of the supernatural, I think now, is that its existence is independent of any other entity.

Y: Are you planning to change this definition too in the future?

X: Well, until I find a better one and until it makes my intention and suggestion clear.

Y: To be specific, what kind of a cause do you think the supernatural really is? Is it the material cause of the natural?

X: If it were matter, it would have been a material cause.

Y: So what kind of a cause other than material cause?

X: There’s an idea in the Vedantic tradition of philosophy. The idea is that the supernatural cause projects the universe.

Y: Projects? So you mean that the universe doesn’t really exist? Is it an illusion?

X: Well, they assert so. But when you asked me a question regarding the intention of the supernatural cause, I suggested the existence of a conscious mind without brain, Vedanta and I agree on that, at least on the hypothetical possibility.

Y: So that conscious mind without a brain projects this universe, which in reality is just an illusion. But you are sitting in front me, I touch you, I have all sorts of evidences that you exist. How can be you or even I an illusion?

X: See, you are now testing the supernatural perspective of the universe from within the natural existence, being natural you’re trying to perceive the supernatural point of view. You are natural, having natural mechanisms of perception. And as said earlier, the natural existence is interdependent existence, so it could be possible that everything makes itself appear real to every other thing.

Y: So you’re saying that my perception is false?

X: Neuroscience and cognitive science say at least that you cannot fully trust your perception.

Y: But does that mean that it is fully untrustworthy?

X: It works well within its own limits is what I am saying.

Y: If you say that our senses, natural senses cannot peep into the supernatural perspective of reality, how can you suggest that very supernatural perspective?

X: Do you assert that all this is real, that natural existence is real?

Y: Yes.

X: That is a circular argument, that is you’re saying that all this is real because all this is real. It doesn’t prove anything, though emotionally and practically satisfying.

Y: So you are asserting that all this, the natural existence is an illusion?

X: Do you think or do you assert that all that you cognise is real?

Y: Yes, of course. I cognise you, so you are real.

X: So you’re saying that because you cognise me, I am real, I exist.

Y: Yes.

X: Your contention is ‘I exist’ and your premise is ‘you cognise me’. But isn’t it the other way round? That because I am real, you cognise me? If cognition is the basis of proving reality, the schizophrenics would prove all sorts of things to be real. Actually behind your sentence ‘I cognise you’ is a presumption that I really exist. So your argument is like this; because you exist, I cognise you, hence you exist. Your contention is your premise. Your argument is faulty.

Y: Okay, so what if I see you through a camera? If even then I cognise you, would you still say the same?

X: Even the camera is made precisely for our eyes, our natural sense organs, which are meant to cognise the natural world. In fact every tool that aids our natural sense organs, is made as an extension or enhancement of our natural sense organs. In an invention where our natural senses our kept in mind, can we step out of their limits? No, we just expand the limits. But does that get us out of the natural perspective? I think, definitely not, because the purpose is to aid the natural sense organs.

Y: Going by your view, we cannot prove anything to be real or unreal in this natural world.

X: You’re getting me wrong. My point is that we cannot have the supernatural perspective of reality while being in the natural existence and see if this existence is just a projection and not a material or substantial reality. To one natural object, the other natural object is real, because both are on the same level of existence. My argument points out the flaw in the argument which uses our own natural cognition to prove that the natural exists in complete reality.

Y: So are you real?

X: Within the natural existence, I am.

Y: So for you reality is relative?

X: Yes. There are two perspectives. One is the supernatural perspective concerned with that, the existence of which is independent. The other is the natural perspective concerned with that, the existence of which is limited to interdependence between various components.

Y: All along the discussion, you spoke about the supernatural as one and only one entity, how can you be so sure that it is one and not two or more?

X: As said earlier, supernatural existence is independent existence. The supernatural doesn’t need any other entity’s existence to support its own, hence independent and hence only one.

Y: So to summarise the latest twist in your hypothesis, a single supernatural cause, which is probably a conscious mind without a brain, projects this natural world. Right?

X: Yes.

Y: But isn’t that an unfalsifiable hypothesis? You have cast a doubt over our methods of asserting that this reality, the natural reality is real, it exists, how can anyone test your hypothesis?

X: I agree that my hypothesis is unfalsifiable because of its concerning with the supernatural. And when it is concerned with the natural, it casts doubt over its factual existence. Also as I say that within the realm of natural existence, all things and beings appear to be real, but not from my hypothesised perspective of supernatural existence, there is no scope to test this hypothesis anyways, it seems.

Y: What’s the use then of it?

X: Why are you concerned with the use of it. It is an idea, let it be an idea. As long as its supporting arguments are logical, there is at least no harm in its consideration for analysis. Yes, it can at least serve as a purpose of light entertainment.

Y: (laughs) Light entertainment? Is that light entertainment where you tell people that probably they are just illusions?

X: (laughs) For me, yes, it is entertaining.

Y: Last question, many people ask “what’s the purpose of the universe?”, what’s your idea about that?

X: The question of purpose could come up if the effect was intended to become a cause. I hope you get my idea that it is only in the world of the (illusory) natural that effects become causes. But in the realm of the supernatural, no effect should turn into a cause. The idea of this natural world being an illusion, and hence being an effect which cannot cause anything apart from itself, doesn’t have any room for the idea of any purpose. This is obviously from the supernatural perspective. I called this natural existence as the most efficient effect in the beginning of our discussion. This effect is efficient only in respect of an effect, which could imply that this universe cannot cause any other universe or anything like that.

Y: But didn’t you say somewhere in the middle of this discussion that the supernatural cause intentionally chose existence of the natural over its non-existence? Doesn’t intention to do something definitely imply some purpose?

X: You’re again using the natural perspective. I repeat, purpose is when the effect is to become a cause. My idea is that this natural world, which may be illusory, isn’t an effect which is to become a cause. So even though I suggest that the supernatural had an intention to choose the existence of the natural over its non-existence, it doesn’t definitely imply some purpose behind it.

Y: So there’s no purpose of life.

X: I did not say that. Within this natural existence, there are innumerable personal and impersonal purposes. And as I said, that which is natural, is real and purposeful to another natural. The issue is with the two perspectives, i.e. the supernatural and the natural. Naturally there are purposes, while supernaturally, I think, no purpose at all.

  • Satyan Sharma

The other verses from the Quran


In the wake of ‘Islamic’ terrorism, many people quote certain verses from the Quran to show how Quranic verses justify brutal violence. I too did that in the past. But here are some other verses, both in relation to war-rules & general dealings.

General Dealings:

O believers! It is not lawful for you to consider women as a part of your inheritance and retain them against their will in order that you may force them to give up a part of the dowry you have given them, unless they are guilty of proven fornication. Treat them with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good. 4:19

And do not let the hatred of a people for having obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram lead you to transgress. And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. 5:2

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. 5:8

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and gives wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observes proper worship and pays the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the Allah-fearing. 2:177

Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful. 4:36

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. 4:135

If you do deeds of charity openly, it is well; but if you bestow it upon the needy in secret, it will be even better for you, and it will atone for some of your bad deeds. And God is aware of all that you do. 2:271

It is the freeing of a slave, or feeding on a day of severe hunger, an orphan of near relationship, or a needy person in misery, and then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion. Those are the companions of the right. 90:13-18

And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive,[Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of Allah . We wish not from you reward or gratitude. Indeed, We fear from our Lord a Day austere and distressful”. So Allah will protect them from evil of that day and give them radiance and happiness. 76:8-11

The breaking of an oath must be atoned for by feeding ten needy persons with more or less the same food as you are wont to give to your own families, or by clothing them, or by freeing a human being from bondage; and he who has not the wherewithal shall fast for three days [instead]. This shall be the atonement for your oaths whenever you have sworn [and broken them]. 5:89

Anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or spread corruption on the earth, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people. Our messengers went to them with clear proofs and revelations, but most of them, after all this, are still transgressing. 5:32

And those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, and when they are angry, they forgive, and those who have responded to their lord and established prayer and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves, and from what We have provided them, they spend. And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves. And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers. And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged – those have not upon them any cause [for blame]. The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannise upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment. And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination. 42:37-42

True servants of the Compassionate (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility and when the ignorant people address them, they say: “Peace”. 25:63

About fighting & not fighting:

Allah does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact Allah loves the equitable. 60:8

So if they (warriors of the disbelievers’ army) remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them. 4:90

Excepted (for fighting) are those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you; so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous. 9:4

And if any one of the polytheists (with whom Muslims are fighting) seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know. 9:6

And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” 4:75

How to react to blasphemy:

And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah, they are denied [by them] and ridiculed, so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. 4:140

Say, “O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” 109 (complete chapter)

Gender equality in rewards:

As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice. 4:124

The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate God frequently, and the commemorating women; God has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense. 33:35

As is the popular or stereotypical view, I used to think that all that Quran contains is violence and murder. But that’s not so. There are the aforementioned verses also. 

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What’s the problem with saying “the universe happened by chance”?

big bang

Before stepping into agnosticism, I was an atheist, asserting that the universe, as it exists, needs no efficient cause for justifying its existence. I booed away the god-explanation tagging it as a ‘miracle’ explanation. It seemed so right & scientific, that there wasn’t any probability that it could be wrong.

Let us check. What is a miracle? Suppose while reading this, your computer, be it a tablet or a laptop or a pc changes into a supercomputer, with not just internal changes, but also external changes, making it look brighter & more attractive than ever before. How would you explain this event? The first reaction to this could be terming it as a hallucination. But as you confirm its reality, you start looking for an explanation. There is no way such a thing could ever happen. So how would you explain the event?

The explanation would be difficult as you wouldn’t have any efficient cause in your mind which could produce that effect. You may take a huge amount of time calculating this or that, but the magnitude of the anomaly in  the event is far greater than would fall within the purview of the existing set of logical explanations. At last you’d fall down and say okay that’s a miracle, an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws. So the miracleness of an event is in the incomprehensibility or non-existence of an efficient cause which could produce it.

Now let us consider the ‘by chance’ argument. When do we say that something happened by chance? It’s a similar situation like the aforesaid. When you do not find any efficient cause which could explain and/or justify the existence of a particular effect, you could say that it happened by chance. To say that something happened by chance is also to say that there were innumerable chances that it couldn’t have happened, but it did.

Don’t the ‘by chance’ and ‘miracle’ arguments sound alike? Yes they do. They sprout out of one thing; us not being able to find an efficient cause to explain and/or justify an effect. So it doesn’t matter what you call it, either ‘chance’ or ‘miracle’, it’s the same thing.

Now let’s consider the existence of this universe. It is still true that the field of science doesn’t know how this universe came to exist. As an atheist, just to avoid a god like thing (sticking to certain definitions of god) to be used in the explanation, I simply asserted that it was just a chance that this universe is what it is now. Also while doing that, I took ‘existence’ of anything and any sort for granted. For mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, the question rather should be, “why does anything even exist, rather than not existing?”

So while taking existence for granted, I took the ‘by chance’ argument. As I proved above, I also implicitly said that the universe came about by miracle. At the same time, I booed away the god-explanation saying it was absurd. But there’s a catch here; in the god-explanation, you are presented with an efficient cause capable of bringing about the effect, that is the universe, whereas in the chance-explanation, we give no cause to the effect at hand. So by the law of causation, in which every logical person holds firm belief, the god-argument, even if some of us dislike, is valid. You have a cause, you have an effect, where the cause has the ability to produce that effect. To this I asked about the cause of god, and then asserted that it would lead to an infinite regress, leaving us with no explanation whatsoever. The theological reply to this is that god is ‘causa sui’ or the uncaused cause.

So what seems as an illogical argument, is actually a good one as it adheres to the law of causation, and that which seems to be the most logical one, is empty on one of its two sides (the side of cause), leaving it incomplete & hence invalid. So for an atheist, the better assertion would be a negative assertion that is “I don’t know”, which would at any point be true anyways. Though unwillingly, this would push him/her towards agnosticism, which is my approach.

And while taking the side of science to be hellbent to disprove god’s existence, one must know that science doesn’t concern with the supernatural because it is untestable, hence making him/her unscientific in the first place.

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