EXPLANATION, SUPERNATURALISM AND COMPLEMENTARY RATIONALITY BY DIMGBA DIMGBA ESOWE

Abstract

Man in his capacity as a knowing being has been observing experimenting and applying his knowledge to better his life in this world.  The process of life has shown man that existing realities are ever unfolding interminably. Yet in his observational and experimental pursuits, there have been manifestations that are inexplicable, empirically. Whereas some Thinkers disapprove of any phenomenon which cannot be empirically or rationally explained, others hold that observation and experimentation are only possible by the benevolence of metaphysical and supernatural powers.  Complementary rationality serves to merge both the empirically explicable and inexplicable faces of knowledge in a symbiosis of philosophical skepticism and openness.  For the proper knowledge that would move society progressively forward to be achieved, there should be a harmonious fusion of empirical, rational and supernatural postulates.

 

Introduction

                Human activity is complex due to the way humans seem to naturally be.  Adler cites Aristotle as saying that humans are rational animals (742).  This capacity to think varies from person to person.  At times, certain influences whether social, cultural, political, economic, scientific or religious, lead people or groups of people to think alike or otherwise.  In the process of thinking based on these influences, errors could manifest.  Studies in psychology claim to reveal the occurrence of systematic deviation on the part of human from canons of logic, probability theory, decision theory and statistics (Adler, 742).

                Inspite of these problems of complexity resulting from nature, society or both, man is moving forward in quest for a better life.  This quest for a better life prompts man to make enquiries concerning himself and the world in which he lives. The Spanish existentialist philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno is quoted by Omoregbe as saying that “… Man is preoccupied about the question of God because he is preoccupied about himself, about his own existence, the meaning and purpose of his existence, where he came from and where he is going, especially what will happen to him after death” (26).

                These enquiries seem to have opposing dimensions resulting from the fact that natural scientists and religionist answer the above questions from opposing angles, while natural scientists insist that what is empirically explainable is what exists, religionists believe that man cannot totally explain existence through is own rationality.  Amidst this ambivalent situation, Professor Asouzu introduces the philosophical concept of complementary reflection as a panacea “that enables us overcome the limitations the ambivalence of our existential situations place on the mind as to grossly impair its capacity to perceive and comprehend reality clearly and authentically” (Methods and Principles … Beyond African Philosophy, 10).

                This paper is an attempt to explore the possibility of moving human activity forward regardless of the various opposing views that examine from diverse ideological mindset of people in the world of science and religion.

 

Explanation

                Ideas concerning explanation abound in philosophical history.  Philosophers such as Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Mill came up with important positions (Kitcher, 1913).  Detailed models of explanation which took on a scientific form took root in the twentieth century.  In this vein, Kitcher sees ‘explanation to be arguments in which a law of nature plays an essential role among the premises” (195).  Thines expatiates by affirming that “… explaining a phenomena means determining its causes; understanding it amounts to determining the role in the overall behaviour of the individual” (143).  Thines apart from defining explanation as the ‘why’ of a phenomenon, adds the importance of its understanding, since this would enable the phenomenon to be accorded a role in the shaping of people’s attitude to life.

                Several things have been happening and are still happening in the world.  There are times when people ask whether what they hear had actually happen.  They thus seek an explanation to prove its reality. Philosophers have for bout twenty-five centuries been battling with the relationship between Appearance and Reality (Hacker, 1).  In order to find this bearing in the activities of life, man has been appealing to his perceptual capacities.  These are those capacities through which “we can discern, discriminate or detect features of the world surrounding us” (Hacker, 1).

                In talking about or perceptual capacities, we talk about man’s rationality.  Scientific explanation depends often on this rational model of explanation.  This model is perceived to have two facets according to Newton-Smith (4).  They are: one, specification of the goal of science; two, specification of principles of comparism between rival theories to ascertain the achievement extent of the goal in question.  He lists rationalists who include popper, Lakatos and Lauden, stating that they really differ in the offering of specifications both for goals of science and of the principles of comparism (4).

                Cultural influences need to be understood in talking about explanation.  How one explains a phenomenon in one culture may be different from how it is explained in another environment.  This raises a philosophical problem.  That of the initial translation of the language of a culture.  To buttress this difficulty and the necessity for tackling it Simon rhetorically asks “can we use our categories to understand the social practices of another culture, for instance, our categories of science, magic and religion” (741).  Adler notices an ambivalence of two tendencies in constructing a theory of rationality.  Whereas one of them projects formal rules whose violation in real life could have serious consequences.  The other asserts that “people’s actual practice provides the only standard” (742).  A popular model, incorporating both tendencies.  Adler continues, accepts the fact that the principles or norms which give the utmost satisfactory agreement between our reasoning intuitions and the requirements of theory or system are justified.  Contributing to empirical explanation, Rosenberg exhumes the epistemological stand of Hume.  He states that epistemology dominated Hume’s philosophy.  That his commitment to empiricism – to the position “that the scope, limit and justification of our knowledge is given by experience” – directs nearly all of his other positions (65).  He quotes Hume as saying in his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, that, “All reasoning concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation to Cause and Effect” (65).  He stresses further that on Hume’s view:

Causation consists in three conditions: (a) Spatio-temporal continuity – there is no ‘action at a distance’, (b) temporal priority of the cause – there is no future or retrocausation, and, for that matter, no simultaneous causation among distinct events; and (c) instantiation of general regularities by particular causal sequences (71).

                The fact that explanation is limited to man’s ability to perceive, limits philosophical activities to the same degree.  Baker asserts that “philosophers fancy that they give explanations of the essential nature of the world, the mind and language. On Wittengenstein’s view this is misconceived.  Philosophy is purely descriptive” (22).  He sees philosophy as a tool used to clarify the language grammar and so construct important speech rules, the violation of which does not matter.  Explanation, he says, would only be possible if it could get beyond rules to grasp a deeper foundation.  But his is impossible, he argues, as any deeper explanation results only to another set of rules of grammar as such is “not answerable to reality in the currency of truth” (22).  He sums up his position by averring that “… there are no theses or conclusions in philosophical grammar, i.e. nothing which could be called the terminus of philosophical proof”. (22).

                Metaphysical naturalism also known as philosophical naturalism or ontological naturalism, takes an ontological approach to naturalism.  This concept is of the view that the supernatural does not exist, then strengthening atheism.  In contrast, methodological naturalism, according to Steven D.  Schaphersman, is “the adoption of assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it… science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications) … (4).  However, Schaphersman is of the view that methodological naturalism must be adopted and used in formulating theories for the success of scientific activity.  Though we may not understand the ultimate truth  of naturalism, we still have to adopt it and study nature as though it is all that there is (4).

                The study of explanation as a scientific activity has so far shown that philosophers are not totally unaware of the existence of empirically inexplicable phenomena.  For the Bible to record that Enoch was taken by God to heaven without seeing death (Gen. 5:24); that Elijah was carried into heaven by  fiery chariot without dying (2Kings 2:11); and that Jesus Christ was seen by His Disciples as He was taken from earth into heaven by a cloud after he had resurrected from the dead (Acts 1:9); shows that these events through not scientifically explicable, really happened in the annals of the history of the world.

                Pennock contends that “as supernatural agents and powers are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers and are not constrained by natural laws, only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do” (5). He further reasons that should it become possible to grasp supernatural powers through the means of natural knowledge, such powers by definition would not be supernatural.  Pascal corroborates this position by the following monologue:

… either God is or he is not,’ But to which view shall we be inclined?  Reason cannot decide this question.  Infinite chaos separates us.  At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails.  How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong (21)”.

 

The issue of self-identity and origin which makes man to ask who am I? And where do I come from is seen by Mountcastle as eternally important (45).  These questions make man to have what Satre s cited by Omoregbe calls feeling of emptiness and uneasiness within him (27).  These feelings themselves make man to crave for self-perpetuation which in turn prompts us to think and ask questions about God (27).  Mountcastel links Augustine and Aquinas with saying that certain premises are unproveable as well as unimaginable without faith, yet they have to be for any intellectual engagement to be fruitful.  These have the logical, laws, the triune nature of God, and creation ex nihilo, as examples (54).  On his part Winston emphatically states “… all effective moral action is wholly dependent on God” (49). He goes on to assert that Philo was not tired of insisting that except for God’s grace no human being can accomplish anything, therefore people who claim any achievement to themselves are “godless Villians” (49).

                In presenting the argument for the existence of God from the point of view of Design or Technology, Hick (23,24) presents the expositions of Paley who in his book Natural Theology: or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the deity collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), used the analogy of a rock in the desert as compare to a watch lying on the ground to prove the appropriateness of an intelligent Designer.  This is because while a rock could be dropped by wind or flood in the desert, a watch must have been designed to be able to exist in its complex form.  So also is the complexity of man and the entire universe to be attributed to an intelligent Designer.

                From an African perspectives, Professor Iwe after examining the traditional African in his world view associates him with belief in the supernatural.  He says concerning the Africa: “For him, the natural and supernatural, though logically distinguishable are inseparable dynamically and in reality.”  He further states that “in the traditional African philosophy and vision of life, a purely and exclusively naturalistic explanation or understanding of human life and its experiences is alien, insufficient, and therefore deficient, without the spiritual and supernatural dimensions.” (4).

                The presentation so far in this section show that in spite of what scientific progress man has made, there are things, much more in existence which are visible and being experienced that defy scientific explanation.  These mostly could be accepted – as there is nothing else man can do about them – to be proof of the existence of the supernatural.  Even if one dos not accept in by faith, one could accept it by simply acknowledging He exists.  Gardner sums it up when he says “… why should not the ear of a loved child be as good an example of God’s design as anything in the universe?  The inner ear is no less complex than the eye.  Both are far more intricate than the watch Paley used in his famous proof” (29).

 

Complementary Rationality

                In every matter of human existence, truth is necessary.  This is because truth preserves dignity.  Philosophy as an activity owes humanity the responsibility of asking the right question whose answers would bridge the gap of misunderstanding between conflicting ideologies.  There are some extreme positions which if unamended could lead continually to unnecessary waste of energy in one group trying to prove its idea better and vice versa.

                Two of such extreme claims are hereunder presented to buttress the need for a closing of the gap.  The first of them states:

Our culture is above all a scientific culture.  We look to science both to formulate our problems and to provide solutions to them.  Our paradigm of explanation are scientific, and our conception of understanding is modeled upon scientific understanding (Hicker, 177).

 

 

The second of them reads:

With a view to action experience seems to no respect to art, and men of experience succeed even better than those, who have theory without experience… But yet, we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than to experience, and we suppose to be wiser than men of experience… and this because the former know the cause, but the better do not.  For men of experience know that the thing is so, but not know why, while the others know the ‘why’ and the cause (Aristotle, 499).

 

                Professor Asouzu recognizes the danger of fragmentally pursuing knowledge and assuming such knowledge as complete, perfect and satisfactory. In his work, Ibuanyidanda he states, “As a scientific paradigm, all forms of world immanent pre-deterministic concomitant ways of seeing the world have the capacity to focus the mind only on known causes, persons and events.  When this happens, this way of seeing the world easily hinders the mind from attaining ultimate expression beyond what the immediacy can provide” (19).He further says that the method of explanation based on this reasoning are grossly incomplete as they are not comprehensive.

                Asouzu points out that the empiricist technique is a method likely to breed confusion and discrimination.  This is as a result of the tendency of human beings being judged by the promoting of the senses of their judges.  He sees the same weakness in the position of those who based their judgements on the directives of their intuition or reason.  He therefore sees both the empiricists and rationalists introducing complicating situations of division which could hinder people from appreciating the comprehensive nature of reality to enable the building of a harmonious complementary relationship with each other (Ibuanyidanda, 167).

                Though man is believed to have freedom of speech and freedom of association, the right to live to be educated, to worship and so on, knowledge is important to make the appropriate choices.  To elucidate this point, Olsen posits, “… freedom does not operate in moral, intellectual, spiritual and relational vacuum, for God, our fellowmen, nature, and the physical world are basic realities in our existence” (35). Since these realities exist, it would be nice to fashion a model of operation and understanding for mutual relationship.

                Arising from this understanding of the existence of the aforementioned realities, Asouzu makes a case for complementarity.  He states that “since reality keeps unfolding its internal character and continues to make itself felt interminably, both the physical and metaphysical domains, it would be futile to indulge in apodictic proofs or details of certain types of phenomena, most especially when they are encrypted” (Ibuaru, 140).  He insists that “Beyond what is seen, lies something to be comprehended” (Ibuaru, 14).  While acknowledging that most “spiritual supernatural phenomena” deal mostly with paradigms that are alternatives for better ways of action, and after mentioning “such phenomena as spirits, charms, mermaid, jujus, divination, consultation of oracles, miracle healing, sorcery, magic, witchcraft etc, as examples found in Nigeria, he cautions that if the “modus operandi” of say of these instance is “selective, inconsistent, and contradictory, there are reasons also to doubt the foundation on which it stands” (142).

                Asouzu emphasizes the point that all modes of encrypted phenomena can cause division in the thought process due to the claims attached to their modes of existence.  When such a situation arises, the mind because of this descends into encrypted rationality.  This raises the challenge of restoration of the human mind to a balanced consciousness; hence, complementary ontology aims at the re-empowerment of the mind (Ibuaru, 142).  He sees the task of philosophy to include “an unmistakable instructive, illuminative and pedagogical task” which would be “unwise” to deny the existence of supernatural phenomena bearing in mind the capacity of the human mind to mutate and transform as the conflux of all missing links” (143). Because the human mind which has the capacity to be most benevolent and compassionate, could also degenerate to the abyss of wickedness and absurdity, our approach to the mysterious unknown should be done in the mindset of “philosophical  skepticism and openness all at the same time.”  This will enable the mind to penetrate “all missing links in the comprehensiveness of their interrelatedness” and still “hold” gullibility in check” (143).

 

Summary and Conclusion

                The world we live in exhibits great complexity.  Man in his quest to understand himself and his environment has undertaken to study, learn, and apply his knowledge in his daily endeavors.  Through observation and experimentation certain natural laws have been postulated as theories.  These have been applied toward enhancing the affairs of life.  It is also evident that certain realities exist which man does not completely understand.  Thus, though being rational, man has his limitations.  What could be responsible for these other phenomena that influence human behaviour?  Metaphysical and supernatural manifestation and realities.

                It was seen in the course of this work that while some philosophers deny anything supernatural and hold strictly on empirical and rational experience in the bid to explaining causes and effects, others strongly subscribe to supernaturalism as the only source of knowledge.

                Complementary rationality arose to bridge the relationship of these Thinkers.  This is in view of the realisation that all realities exist in a comprehensive interrelatedness.  Therefore, every course of action serves to complement each other in filling the missing links of the interrelatedness of all existing realities.

                This paper concludes by submitting that the proper knowledge and understanding needed for a progressive growth of life in this world is that which harmoniously imbibes the complementary qualities of both empirical, rational and supernatural postulates.

 

 

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