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You’ve heard of Metaphysics. But, you may have been afraid to ask what it is. Well, here’s the thing—you’re already doing Metaphysics. In fact, everybody is. So, you need to know a little bit about it.

Luke Mastin gives a nice definition:

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of existence, being and the world. Arguably, metaphysics is the foundation of philosophy: Aristotle calls it “first philosophy” (or sometimes just “wisdom”), and says it is the subject that deals with “first causes and the principles of things”.[1]

To put it another way, Metaphysics is what you talk about when you stare up at the stars around the campfire. It deals with the big questions, the great mysteries of life. Specifically, Metaphysics has to do with all of your beliefs about existence, consciousness, the relationship between mind and matter, properties of objects, identity over time, religion and spirituality, free-will, and the origin of the universe, etc.

Metaphysical beliefs, or “commitments,” are “those things a person believes firmly, but which cannot be tested empirically.”[2] In other words, these are beliefs about things that can’t be observed through a microscope or telescope. Though these beliefs may be built on physical facts, they pertain to abstract concepts, objects, or entities rather than to concrete, physical things. For example, we can’t physically test for God’s creative power at the beginning of the universe. But, on the basis of certain physical facts, we can infer that God’s power must have been what caused our universe to begin to exist.

Your worldview is the sum total of your metaphysical commitments. You might think of your worldview as “everything that you believe about what is most important in life.”[3] Why does Metaphysics matter? Because our worldview determines our values. Our values determine our choices. And, our choices determine what kind of people we are and what kind of world we live in.

Understanding now what Metaphysics is, maybe something has occurred to you—a lot of scientists do Metaphysics and call it Science.[4] In his book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, the bow-tied Bill Nye wrote:

Evolution goes a long way toward answering the universal question that ran through my brain as a kid, and still does: “Where did we come from?”[5]

Notice, the metaphysical claim he makes — Evolution explains our origin. That is not science, it is philosophy. It is not empirical, it is metaphysical. (Where did the universe come from? Metaphysics. What is man’s nature? Metaphysics. Where do we go when we die? Metaphysics.)  As Professor John Lennox often says, “Statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science.”[6] And, surely this applies to Nye’s claim here. So, keep an eye out for Metaphysics in your science textbooks. Ask yourself, do the data require this conclusion or is the author inserting a metaphysical belief that isn’t necessarily warranted by the science? When you do this, you may be surprised at how much of “science” isn’t really science.

Aristotle encouraged his students to study Metaphysics after (meta) studying the natural world (physics).[7] We would be wise to do the same. For, after we have all the scientific data, we are all still left to ponder what they mean? That’s where Metaphysics comes in for everybody—scientists, philosophers, and all the rest of us. Knowing a little bit about it now, I hope you can see the importance of Metaphysics in your life. Metaphysics is, in fact, the conceptual foundation of any serious inquiry you will ever make. So, be sure you get your Metaphysics right!

 

 

 

  1. What are your primary Metaphysical commitments?
  2. How do they shape your world?
  3. Do you have answers for questions like: What caused the universe?; Do souls exist?; Is there anything beyond death?

 

Footnotes

[1] http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_metaphysics.html

[2] Taber, K. S. (2013). The relationship between science and religion – a contentious and complex issue facing science education. In B. Akpan (Ed.), Science Education: A Global Perspective (pp. 39-64). Abuja, Nigeria: Next Generation Education Ltd.

[3] J.P. Moreland from lecture notes

[4] Some dispute this claim, arguing instead that there is no distinction between Metaphysics and Science. We will consider some implications of this position in a future blog. For a discussion of what “Metaphysics” means, see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

[5] Nye, Bill, and Corey S. Powell. Undeniable: evolution and the science of creation. New York, St. Martins Griffin, 2015, p.8

Lennox, John C. Gods undertaker: has science buried God? Oxford, England, Lion Pub, 2009, p.18.

[7] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/  see Section 1

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