Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From the beginning of my paper on miracles

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"[1] But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles [2] is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

VR: Here's the problem. You can't help yourself to some strong version of methological naturalism and them say that the evidence you have based on those presuppositions support naturalism. If the methodology says we are going to come up with naturalistic explanations no mjtter what, then you can't say that it is at all significant that the results you come upw ith are naturalistic. Of course they're going to be naturalistic; how could they be anything else.

7 comments:

Jim Lippard said...

I believe your reference to "the evidence you have based on those presuppositions" is in error. Methodological naturalism is a procedure, the output of which could be that there exist unobservable (except by their effects) agents with incredible intelligence and powers to manipulate the world. Should that ever happen, we could then (but need not, depending on how those intelligent agents would fill us in about their nature and knowledge) infer that metaphysical naturalism is false.

I recommend reading the section of Alvin Goldman's _Epistemology and Cognition_ on circularity objections to truth-linked criteria of justification and epistemic bootstrapping (pp. 116-121). (I believe William Alston makes similar observations about using perception to justify perception in his book _Perceiving God_.) We have a process which could provide evidence of its own effectiveness or evidence against it (so far, the evidence is very strongly in favor). It is also a process which could provide evidence of beings who could tell us that, while effective as a process of obtaining evidence and generating and testing theories, misses key aspects of reality.

It is a contingent empirical question whether our inquiries based on methodological naturalism will be self-supporting or not, just as it is a contingent empirical question whether our use of our senses will provide us with evidence of their own reliability (as we investigate the details of how our senses function in biology and neuroscience).

One last point that refutes your claim that naturalism inevitably leads to naturalistic conclusions is that you yourself have argued that naturalism is self-undermining. You simply cannot consistently have it both ways--if naturalism can yield conclusions that undermine naturalism (necessarily so, on your arguments), then it can't be the case that naturalism must only yield conclusions that support naturalism.

In my opinion, it's a contingent matter either way--I don't buy the self-undermining arguments, though I believe it is contingently possible for such evidence to be produced.

Anonymous said...

One last point that refutes your claim that naturalism inevitably leads to naturalistic conclusions is that you yourself have argued that naturalism is self-undermining. You simply cannot consistently have it both ways--if naturalism can yield conclusions that undermine naturalism (necessarily so, on your arguments), then it can't be the case that naturalism must only yield conclusions that support naturalism.

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Very good observation, Jim. I certainly did not see the inconsistency in Victor's post here.
Greg

Mike D said...

I agree with Jim that the issue is epistemology. The qustion I have is whether the procedure of MN inherently makes it incapable of identifying non-natural entities or causes. I contend that reliance on the five senses, the requirement of verification by repetition, and even the peer review process severely limits the type of knowledge that methodological naturalism is capable of. I disagree with Jim that observation of the effects of unobservable causes would be interpreted as proving metaphysical naturalism as false. Victor is right. The Hume assumption of a not-yet-known naturalistic explanation would prevail. Methodoligical naturalism is not able to detect non-natural beings. It is not logical to demand naturalistic proof of the supernatural.

Anonymous said...

So do we continue to limit science to naturalistic explanations?
Or, instead, do we consider astrology to be scientific?
Greg

Victor Reppert said...

1. Either we limit science to naturalistic assumptions or we allow that astrology is scientific.
2. Astrology is not scientific.
3. Therefore we must limit science to naturailstic assumptions.

Why is this not a false dilemma" Why are these options exclusive? Astrology doesn't get good results. If it did, it would be science. Besides, astrology, to the best of my knowledge, is naturalistic. It just that it assumes that natural causation works very differently from the way that it in fact does work.

Anonymous said...

it assumes that natural causation works very differently from the way that it in fact does work.
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That sounds supernaturalistic to me.
Greg

Jason said...

I think Victor's post hinges on his early use of the phrase _STRONG_ methodological naturalism (as a presupposition). Jim and Victor are both correct, but they're both talking about subtly different things--and what Victor is talking about is perhaps not best described with that phrase.

The temptation, even in Jim's case (which I agree is basically correct), is to slur over from a procedural use of methodological naturalism to a conclusion of metaphysical naturalism. I think when Victor is talking about 'strong method-nat', he's talking about something similar to this (except the other way around: beginning with meta-nat, as a justification for method-nat, with an eye toward using success in method-nat to somehow justify meta-nat.)


Greg: the question of whether a system works in one way rather than another, in its own internal character, is different from the question of whether the system is dependent for its existence upon a distinctly different system.


MikeD: granted, discovering observable effects of unobservable causes, doesn't (in itself) necessarily entail a conclusion of supernaturality. (In fact, even if the observed effects were judged not to be produced by the natural system, the explanation could be extranaturalism, not _super_naturalism per se.)

Still, Jim's correct that a proper use of method-nat _might_ lead a person to such a conclusion. There are physicists who now suggest that the system of Nature depends for its existence (even for its _beginning_ to exist at all) on a higher-order system which in turn continues to contribute effects into the natural system. These physicists have, in essence, proposed the existence of a supernature--though not necessarily an actively sentient supernatural system. (I recall some of them being quite vehement on this point. {g} They're talking about supernaturalistic atheism.)