For every phenomenon of nature, there is a perfectly natural explanation. Such is the credo of naturalism. In practice, it has worked out amazingly well, so far. This should not surprise us. In a causally coherent and ordered world, it could not be otherwise, for in such a world (as in no other state of affairs) every event would be neatly and completely tied to its antecedents and successors by definite and orderly causal relations. And this would be so, whether or not the causal relations were intelligible to its denizens, or even apprehensible. In other words, it would be so, even if there were nothing in the universe more intelligent than amoebae. If the world were not coherent, and therefore, in principle, completely intelligible, then we – i.e., members of the world – could not understand any bit of it. For, if things were not integrated with each other in an orderly way, then the world would not really hang together – it wouldn’t be a world at all, properly speaking. It would be nothing but a jumble of unrelated events, a Humean chaos.
Many people have quite naturally concluded that the causal integrity of the world precludes the operation therein of causes exogenous thereto. This is the second sentence of the naturalist credo: there are no causes exogenous to our world, and no things exogenous to it, either.
But it won’t do. For, there is no perfectly natural explanation of the natural phenomenon that there is a perfectly natural explanation of every phenomenon of nature. Nature can’t explain the fact that there is a Nature of Nature.
The naturalist could retort that, it being the nature of worlds per se, properly speaking, to cohere completely, and thus to be exhaustively intelligible, there is no other way that we could exist, than as members of such a world. We do exist, so that’s the nature of our milieu. It’s a brute fact, and not only does it not require explanation, but – as a brute, and unintelligible fact – no explanation of it is even possible.
Now there is a sense in which that argument is extremely compelling, because it is obviously true – indeed, tautologically true. It can’t be turtles all the way down, because in that case there could be no ultimate basis of explanation, or therefore any such thing, really, as explanation. So at some point you are going to work your way down to the sea bed where the bottom turtle is resting. And that sea bed, whatever it is – together, by extension, with all the turtles – is in the final analysis a brute fact. What is, is.
But there is another sense in which that argument is profoundly wrong-headed. What is certainly is, to be sure. But if that’s all that we can really say about it, then *that’s all we can really say about it.* Notice that the “it” in that last sentence refers to *everything whatsoever;* so that the only thing we can say about anything whatsoever is, that it is what it is. This doctrine is the zero of knowledge. It is the philosophy that Nature has no Nature.
We need a name for this school of thought that accurately conveys its central tenet. “Naturalism” does not work. It cheats; it obscures its central tenet that existence is fundamentally unintelligible. “Ignosticism” might work: the doctrine of our total and absolutely invincible ignorance.
Clearly, ignosticism won’t cut it as a philosophy. To found thought, science, policy, planning, behavior, we need more than, “whatever.” What we want – what, in fact, we *absolutely must have* – is a doctrine that tells us what is necessarily true, so that we can then see how what is contingently true has arisen from it, intelligibly. What we want, to found our intellection, and ergo our lives, is something that could not possibly be otherwise.
As thoroughly contingent, Nature herself can provide us no such thing.
So, there must be something outside Nature, that founds and orders her, providing the coherence and intelligibility we see pervades her on every side.
Naturalism, then, can’t be true. This, not just because we have a practical requirement for something less stupid, but because if naturalism is true – if, that is, ignosticism is true – then naturalism and ignosticism are among all the other things, whatsoever, that we cannot know are true, or false, or even thinkable.
What does it mean to say that something is unthinkable? It means that you can construct a sentence that expresses the proposition, but you can’t *mean* it, can’t intend that anyone should take it as true, because strictly speaking it is either meaningless or self-refuting.
Ignosticism is not even thinkable. You can string the words of its central doctrine together, you can say, “We can’t really know anything,” but you can’t mean it.
Ignosticists, then, are all liars. And deep down, they cannot but know it, because you can’t even begin to run a life without asserting by your every act that the world is indeed intelligible. Perhaps that accounts for the endemic irony of this ignorant age – and the anger or despair, which set in when an ironic ignosticist runs out of patience and good humour.
Post Scriptum: Wow. Remind me never to coin a word again without first googling it. It turns out that ignosticism is a putatively serious school of thought that argues that the concept of God is incoherent. I’m using it for a school of thought that cannot but conclude that existence is unintelligible. If the concept of God is incoherent, then existence is definitely unintelligible, no matter how orderly and rational it might seem to us. So, inadvertently, I used the term correctly, I suppose.