Sunday, July 07, 2013

"God did it" explanations

A redated post.

Since the God of the Gaps issue has been discussed in several places, I thought I would redate this post from a month ago relevant to that issue.

We are often told that "God did it" explanations are "cheating" that they are "pseudo-explanations." I saw this in reading the combox on Tom Gilson's Thinking Christian site, to which I link here. But what if God actually did it? "The butler did it" is a bad explanation unless, well, the butler did it. Does that mean that we, as rational people, are condemned to not believing the truth because to accept a true explanations would be to accept an unacceptable explanation? Are there any limits on the ban on theistic explanations? Consider this passage from Norwood Russell Hanson:

Suppose that on next Tuesday morning, just after breakfast, all of us in this one world are knocked to our knees by a percussive and ear shattering thunderclap. Snow swirls; leaves drop from trees; The earth heaves and buckles; Buildings topple and towers tumble; The sky is ablaze with an eerie, silvery light. Just then, as all the people of this world look up, the heavens open—The clouds pull apart—Revealing an unbelievably immense and radiant Zeus-like figure, towering above us like a hundred Everests. He frowns darkly as lightning plays across the features of His Michelangeloid face. He then points down at me and exclaims, for every man, woman and child to hear, “I have had quite enough of your too-clever logic-chopping and word-watching in matters of Theology. Be assured, N. R. Hanson that I do most certainly exist. 1

Keith Parsons, in his debate with William Lane Craig, says that if that were to happen he would be on the front row of the church. I once asked Keith this question: Suppose I were God, and I decided to do everything I could to convince you that I existed. What would I have to do? (Keith had sent me a paper defending a broadly Humean position on miracles). He said "If the sky were to spell out the words "TURN OR BURN THIS MEANS YOU PARSONS" he said, he would turn. In fact examples like these are often used as a basis for challenging believers to provide evidence for belief in God. But why demand that theists provide evidence, if, whatever the circumstances, there couldn't be enough evidence. If "God did it" explanations are really verboten, then it hardly makes sense to complain that theists haven't provided evidence for their position. By definition, that's the one thing they can't do.

59 comments:

Jason Pratt said...

I always grin when I read your occasional refs to Keith's reply--it may be all the purgatory someone will ever need. {g}

I think we ought to distinguish between complaints simply against God-explanations (because they're God-explanations), and complaints against Goddadagap explanations {g}, where someone who already believes in God and believes that God can and does do things of that sort defaults (not unreasonably _given_ that belief) to 'God did it' until some other explanation is clearly presented.

The latter, while not necessarily unreasonable to the person in that position, obviously is of no use whatever to someone who _isn't_ in that position; consequently they aren't being unreasonable either to complain about it.

The former though... eh... trying to decide if that's always unreasonable... might not necessarily be, I suppose. Depends on whether it's being applied as a hard philosophical constraint that is perceived and judged (by the complainer) to have warrant. If God doesn't exist, then God-explanations are out of bounds period, just like for flying spaghetti monsters.

Now, it may be unreasonable (or at best inept, and maybe uncharitable too) for someone with a hard constraint like that to then challenge someone to produce evidence in favor of God's existence on the promise that they'll turn if evidence is successfully given. Uh, no they won't. They'll just apply the hard constraint again, duh; even if it results in a gross improbability, and even if _they_ understand it'll result in having to accept a gross improbability. Gross improbabilities are not only preferable, they _ought to be_ preferred to an impossibility. (The Holmesian Dictum.)

In itself, still not unreasonable. Challenging for evidence anyway as if that would possibly make a difference though?--definitely inept at best. Maybe worse.

(Note: I'm not obliquely talking about Keith Parsons, incidentally, whom I'm rather fond of. {s!})

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

I should however probably add, that in regard to a broadly Humean view on miracles, Keith would have to reject the overtly designed skywriting, too, in favor of any natural explanation (or any 'other' natural explanation--Hume's position tends to redefine miracle as being simply the most improbable of _natural_ events) no matter how improbable it may otherwise be. That's how the Humean constraint works.

So okay, come to think of it, maybe I _am_ speaking obliquely against Keith... but only if he is inept enough to challenge for such evidence anyway. (Sorry Keith. {s} I think you lost the point on the Spielbergian display, too, for similar reasons, back when debating WLC. I still scored your side of the debate a win by a solid edge, though, fwiw.)

JRP

exapologist said...

I think you nailed that one on the head, Victor. Although I (now) disagree with them on a lot of things, I think people like J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Del Ratzch, and Alvin Plantinga have persuasively shown what's wrong with this sort of criticism.

philip m said...

Can a person really predict their own behavior? Through personal experience of myself and those around me, I don't think they can. How many times have you been proved wrong by yourself when you say, "If A happens, I will do B"? I know that I have told myself such truths about myself, only to be proved wrong later [by myself].

In the same way, I don't think that a person can predict the level of evidence that will convince them. The only proof of how we will ever be is occurring in the precise moment that you are now experiencing.

Jesus tells us that miracles do not hold convincing power to certain people: John 10:24-26.

Inconsequentially, David Wood agrees with me, and goes further by saying, as he explains that Michael Shermer does as well, that there is nothing God could do we couldn't doubt. Here's where he argues that: http://www.answeringinfidels.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=83

Hiero5ant said...

YOU: What a wonderful cake! You must give me the recipe!
ME: There was no recipe. My wife made the cake.
YOU: Of course there was a recipe! Just tell me what it is.
ME: I tell you, there was no recipe. My wife made the cake, and that's final!
YOU: But surely she puts in eggs and flour and sugar. How much of each did she put in?
ME: There is no recipe! Do you doubt my wife? Are you calling my
wife a liar? Listen, I'm telling you, my wife made the cake!
YOU: Well, how long did she bake it in the oven?
ME: Are you not listening to me? My wife made the cake! There was no oven, there was no recipe, there were no ingredients! My wife made
the cake! See, she wrote right here in this note, "Dear Richard, I made this cake." Proof that there was no recipe!

http://home.comcast.net/~ferrous.patella/ChezWatt/cw2004.html

Enigman said...

Of course, we can identify the butler (point to him, see his cv), but hardly anyone means much by "God," and when they do that much is often irrelevent to the explanatory role.

John W. Loftus said...

I offered some evidence that would convince me here:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/05/what-would-convince-me-christianity-is.html

Or, just click on my name, go to DC, click on the FAQ sheet on the banner, then scroll down and click again on question # 26.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

The basic problem with "God did it" explanations is that they beg the question.

Of course we can say God did anything, given the assumption that God exists. But that is asking the atheist to grant the fundamental disputandem.

In addition, when dealing with questions about phenomena in the Universe, the Universe is a given entity. If the phenomena can be explained without God, then introducing God into the explanation is "multiplying entities."

Finally, suppose the Universe itself is the phenomenon to be explained. Saying "God did it" defers the question -- it is no less legitimate to ask "Well, where does God come from?" than to ask "Where does the Universe come from." And most theists will say that God just is, which is (again) begging the question.

In fact, we must at some point beg the question; the only thing to decide is whether we say "Universe just happened" or "God just is." But neither is a really satisfactory sort of an answer.

w said...

It seems to me hiero5ant's implicit point is the relevant one. In your argument from reason, for example, you demand a step by step, no gaps, defense of reason in a physicalist universe.

What would this kind of answer require? Could you write it in a sentence, a paragraph, a page? Whatever it is, it would be a very detailed explanation of every ingredient in hiero5ant's cake.

What does your theistic answer require? Is it only "IF a being with attributes X,Y,Z exists and has A,B,C desires, then reason is possible"?

Should the physicalist, at this point, demand that you lay out the exact process by which a spiritual being can affect the physical in the ways necessary for your explanation? Why, if you demand a no-gaps explanation, should the physicalist be satisified with your explanation leaving so many gaps?

In other words, does your answer explain anything?

What if someone just had an odd belief? Say they believed the universe was created inside another one by a team of scientists, none of whom were particularly powerful or morally good, but who had gained the relevant knowledge to create. Could they not similarly rely on the "team-of-scientists did it" without needing to explain how?

The argument is a "cheat" when one side demands no-gaps explanations, but offers a gappy one themselves.

Anonymous said...

YOU: What a wonderful cake! Who baked it?
ME: No one "baked" it. It's just beaten eggs and flour and sugar and chocolate. Pure chemistry, obviously.
YOU: Right, but who came up with the recipe?
ME: There's no recipe, just chemisty and physics acting on matter.
YOU: Well who put the glob of chemical goo into the oven?
ME: There's no "who". If the glob was exposed to a specific temperature for a specific time, you get this cake.
YOU: Well, *someone* had to mix the ingredients to a precise measure, and bake it at a precise temperature, and for a precise time. Who was it?
ME: No, suppose the ingredients were all in the same cabinet when an earthquake struck, mixing them all together, then due to the shaking of the foundation, a spark ignited a flame which caught the house on fire and the temperature surrounding the ingredients were precisely 375 degrees but then the fire burned itself out in 45 minutes, all of this *could* have happened, and therefore there's no need for a "baker".

Hiero5ant said...

"Darwinism can't explain the evolution of life in every single detail, therefore it's wrong. But don't ask IDists to explain these things, because that's not the kind of theory ID is."

Sadly, I've already used the Herbert Spencer quote this month; twice would be gratuitous.

The only kind of response I ever get when this double standard is pointed out is "that's not the kind of theory ID is", or cognates thereof. It's a tacit admission that "goddidit" as an explanation can always be translated, without loss of content, into "a thing with the property of being able to phi, phi-ed."

I can imagine a set of evidence that would convince me that a powerful being can resurrect the dead, and takes a special interest in my masturbation habits etc., and is otherwise substantially of the personality ascribed to Yahweh & Son in the scriptures. But even if I were to believe this God existed, I wouldn't except "goddidit" as an explanation for anything. Is there any logical reason why Christians can't strike a stance similar to mine?

w said...

Anonymous 10:49 AM,

I guess it depends on who you are askinging.

YOU: What a wonderful cake! Who baked it?
ME: Gee, I don't know. Parts of it are really good, but other parts are really sloppy and haphazardly put together. Also, there are whole pieces of the cake that are full of poison, and if you eat it, you die painfully. Either the cake wasn't made intentionally (which, I admit, is pretty difficult to explain in parts), or an idiot made it (why would anyone put poison in a cake? and why isn't it better shaped and cooked all the way through and more wisely flavored?), or someone evil made it (they are trying to kill people).
YOU: You don't know?!!! Therefore, God exists!

Anonymous said...

(same anon replying to W, 11:40am)

YOU: "...an idiot made it (why would anyone put poison in a cake?"

ME: Dunno, but an idiot baker is still a baker. Given "baker", maybe there's some value in discovering her motives for putting poison in the cake.

YOU: "... and why isn't it better shaped and cooked all the way through and more wisely flavored?)"

ME: Dunno, but it isn't the cake you're subjectively judging---the cake can neither be good or bad, it's the skills of the baker you're questioning here.

YOU: "...or someone evil made it (they are trying to kill people)."

ME: Maybe, but have you not still assumed there to be a baker, even if an evil baker? Besides, if the cake wasn't meant for you to consume, but for a rat, would the baker still be evil? Surely, the cake cannot be in and of itself "evil", but only the baker?

YOU: "...You don't know?!!! Therefore, God exists!"

ME: No, no. Neither of us can prove to the other empirically whether or not there is a baker. But if one assumes baker, then one can investigate her motives, consider her goodness or evilness, judge her skill, investigate her recipe and design. Assume random accidental chemical and physical reaction, and you are left with *none* of the concerns you've mentioned with regard to the cake.

stunney said...

Sometimes atheists complain that the theistic hypothesis explains everything; and therefore explains nothing.

It's hard to know what to make of such a complaint.

What if, for example, one complained of the hypothesis that the properties of matter explain everything, that they therefore explain nothing?

This is the old matterdidit jig-and-twostep, in which science is always refining its analyses and hypotheses so that matter can do whatever it's needed to do, even if we need to introduce funny new concepts like fields, or relativity, or quanta, or quarks, or strings, or branes, or cosmic inflation, or multi-dimensional spaces, or X. And if any phenomenon seems poorly understood in naturalistic terms, we just say it will be, some day, though maybe using funnier concepts, like dark matter, or dark energy, or some other dark physical reality, or something even funnier that we don't know about yet…

The naturalist can always say, well, we don't yet know exactly how to explain the existence of the universe; or the multiverse; or the origin of laws of nature; or the origin of physical constants; or the initial conditions; or life; or consciousness; or reason; or morality; or the emotional qualia associated with music; or time; or the origin of language; or the sense of free-will; or how thought represents the world; or how gravity and quantum mechanics can be reconciled; or what physical facts constitute something's being intelligently designed; or what physical facts constitute something's not being intelligently designed. BUT after we're all dead, our descendants most likely will. AND all possible explanations will be naturalistic ones, regardless of how the concept of 'naturalistic explanation' may have to be revised along the way.

This is the hypothesis that Matter Did It Somehow. Theism is the hypothesis that God did it via secondary causes (the laws of nature, etc).

Theism asserts that reality is by metaphysical necessity non-capricious, since it's the hypothesis that the ontologically and explanatorily ultimate reality is necessarily and perfectly rational. But impersonal Nature, by itself, with no rational creator and superintendent, logically could have been capricious, may become capricious at any moment, and may be generating capricious parallel universes as we speak. Given naturalism, there is simply no necessity requiring that nature obligingly cooperate sufficiently to make science possible. In fact, the degree of predictability in natural phenomena is actually rather staggering upon the hypothesis of naturalism, because impersonal Nature wouldn't care how predictable it needs to be to make human or any other organisms exist or understand Nature. Why should we not float 40 feet in the air for 3 minutes on one random unpredictable day per month? Every plausible answer relies on nature being rationally ordered. But its degree of rational order is extremely unlikely given naturalism and quite likely given a perfectly rational creator.

There are many, many more logically possible ways unintentional processes could 'design' something than there are logically possible ways a perfectly rational intentional designer would design something. Infinitely many more ways, in fact. They include all the ways a perfectly rational intentional designer would design something, plus all the other ways---—the ways that a perfectly rational designer would (probably) not choose. (I add 'probably' only to highlight our epistemic situation: if we knew for certain what a perfectly rational creator would do, we'd enjoy perfect rationality ourselves. And we don't. By 'perfect' I mean complete and unlimited. Our rational powers are, in that sense, imperfect. Which is not to say insignificant. However, I assume that there are, regardless of what we think, some ways to design something that a perfectly rational designer would not in fact choose.)

The concept of Nature as impersonal designer is thus far less logically constrained than is the concept of even an intelligent, imperfect rational designer, never mind the concept of a perfectly rational designer, in terms of expectable possible effects. Which is one reason why a naturalistic multiverse logically can contain an infinite number of chaotic, lifeless universes, and an infinite number of sentient beings which experience nothing but pain, but a theistic creation logically cannot (since theism's God is perfectly rational and moral.)

This is why naturalists have to posit either a multiverse and rely on an anthropic selection effect, or else postulate there being a unique set of impersonally necessitated Laws of Nature. But Hume on induction and causation and Descartes on evil demons (maybe even Linde and Susskind on the cosmic landscape) teach us there is no necessity in nature (i.e., assuming there is no perfectly rational, moral, and almighty creator/superintendent) requiring that physical worlds be ordered like ours, and no guarantee that the world will not change drastically from one minute to the next. Another way to put it is that there are infinitely many logically possible worlds.

The stability of nature—---in other words, that there are any physical necessities at, never mind enduring predictable ones—-----is precisely what naturalism cannot readily account for. It is in fact amazing, given the infinite number of ways in which things logically could have been less regular, and more random and unpredictable. But given a perfectly rational and moral creator/superintendent, such order is to be expected.

So 'God did it' is a reasonable explanation. It is the conclusion of an abductive inference which goes like this: the best or most likely explanation for the fact that scientific activity and rational inquiry more generally appear to disclose a highly rational, elegantly coherent, intelligible, predictable, enduring, and ordered physical world (plus many other phenomena such as morality, religious experience, aesthetic experience, etc) is that theism is true. A more disordered, chaotic, unintelligible or unpredictable world either might well have been the case if the nature of the world was due to chance, or due to impersonal cosmic necessity. For any impersonal competitor hypothesis, by definition, would not care about life existing, or about intelligent life perceiving the world as intelligibly and elegantly ordered and stable enough for rationality to be effective at disclosing the nature of the world. Hence, it's more likely that the world was rationally intended to be that way. The theistic hypothesis is more thus likely, and explains a range of disparate phenomena, including the degree and highly elegant kind of observed physical order.

stunney said...

Dawkins has written:

God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science.

On naturalism's own assumptions, if there are any watchmaking factories, then the natural universe is, among other things, a giant watchmaking-factory Factory.

Dawkins asks for God to do something spectacular to provide evidence of his existence. Ok, let's say God produces a watchmaking factory, and does so by creating a giant watchmaking-factory Factory. Would this satisfy Dawkins? Clearly not. For, if theism is true, then God did produce a watchmaking factory, and did so by creating a giant watchmaking-factory Factory; and yet Dawkins still insisted that God had not provided any evidence of his existence, despite the fact that there's a watchmaking factory in the Switzerland area of the giant watchmaking-factory Factory.

Obviously Dawkins could reject any visible evidence of God's existence, since the giant watchmaking-factory Factory also turns out computers, elephants, and Dawkins himself. Dawkins rejects the claim that certain ancient scrolls are best explained by divine self-revelation to humans. He also rejects the claim that the existence and intelligible evolution of galaxies is best explained by divine creative activity, even though billions of galaxies obeying beautifully elegant mathematical equations are far more impressive than a few ancient scrolls. If Dawkins had a leg amputated and then witnessed himself growing a new leg during a prayer service, he could put this down to a case of 'spontaneous' limb regeneration due to an as yet unknown natural cause.

In other words, Dawkins' request that God provide evidence of his existence is likely spurious. This may be true of other atheists too.

Tom Gilson said...

I've been away for several days, Victor (so I'm late coming here to say this), but thanks for the link.

This cake recipe dialogue is making me hungry. And also a little amused. The way it was originally stated, it's (once again, as so many people do it) assuming physicalism. It's assuming that even if God made something (the world, life, etc.) he had to do it using a "recipe," which is physical. That is just arguing in a circle. It's saying, "You can put God into your set of explanations, but only if he does everything according to strict physical cause-and-effect, for we know that nothing happens except that way." That, in turn, reduces to: "You can use the 'God' word in your explanations, but you must nevertheless explain things as if he doesn't really exist or do anything. You must assume that you are wrong and I am right."

Jason Pratt said...

Not entirely sure what the point of hiero's dialogue is, since (by analogy) no one here (myself included) seems to be denying that God would be using a method. Also, the analogy wouldn't hold very well even if it turned out that we ought to deny that God used a method: the wife is not the directly sustaining ground of all reality, and so would have to proceed from within the overarching system by manipulating the behaviors of the overarching system in _any_ case.

Come to think of it, that's even a version of an argument to both theism and supernaturalism. {g} Nature is an overarching system we can manipulate at will (our behaviors not being reducible to mere reactions of the system fluxing around to make a cake, per the implication of hiero's example); thus we must also be directly dependent not only on Nature (that too) but on something more fundamental than Nature is, and capable of action instead of only reaction. The only way to avoid a conclusion of supernaturalistic theism from that is to try some kind of cosmological dualism proposal, which then is going to collide with cos-du problems (intractably so, I think.)

Heh. {g} Vic should write that one down for the AfR sheet.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Sturg,

out of curiosity, did you read the Archetypal Ontological Argument for Naturalism I put up as a reply, down in one of Victor's recent threads? (Crap, my html skills aren't up to the task of fighting blooger today. {grimace} Copy-paste dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2007/08/on-cosmological-arguments.html into your browser line. Sorry.) I thought it was a pretty good one, and there are points of similarity to what you were saying. (Actually I sympathize with much of what you were saying--which incidentally you might have noticed in my first comment in _this_ thread. {s})

W,

the AfR you attributed to Victor is actually the reverse of what Victor tends to argue. Specifically, you gave the transcendental argument to reason (from God per hypothesis). There are Christians (and other theists too I expect) who swear by it, but obviously (per your own complaint even {g}) it isn't an argument _from_ reason _to_ theism.

Stunney gives an abductive version of the sort of thing W was describing (though this is different from what Victor tends to attempt, I think.)

I like Stunney's comments a lot (Tom's comment too), though I personally use something other than the abductive argument myself, refined and sophisticated though that particular one is. I like to call it the system-check duel. {s} It can be a very respectable way to proceed, including for opponents (something the argument's advocates aren't always willing to allow in principle); but I prefer to try to proceed from identification of commonly shared assumptions rather than by doing a system-check duel between competing hypotheses.

(It it not incidental, btw, that strong advocates of competitive presuppositionalism will sometimes insist that there can be _no_ common ground between themselves and their opponents in any topically relevant way. Van Til, et al. Don't recall Stunney's view offhand on that, though I'd be willing to bet a Coke it's more nuanced. {s!})

JRP

Victor Reppert said...

Hiero5ant: "Darwinism can't explain the evolution of life in every single detail, therefore it's wrong. But don't ask IDists to explain these things, because that's not the kind of theory ID is."

VR: Do IDers argue that missing details entails the falsity of evolution? That would be silly. They think they have reason to suppose that the explanations won't be forthcoming. They may be wrong, but let's get their position right before attacking them.

stunney said...

Tom Gilson wrote:

"You can put God into your set of explanations, but only if he does everything according to strict physical cause-and-effect, for we know that nothing happens except that way." That, in turn, reduces to: "You can use the 'God' word in your explanations, but you must nevertheless explain things as if he doesn't really exist or do anything.

The laws of physics do not explain the fact that they obtain. Nor do they explain why they are so astoundingly regular and enduring, nor the fact that they instantiate such elegant mathematical forms.

Theism explains such facts quite niftily by comparison to naturalism.

Hiero5ant said...

VR: Do IDers argue that missing details entails the falsity of evolution? That would be silly. They think they have reason to suppose that the explanations won't be forthcoming. They may be wrong, but let's get their position right before attacking them.

On the contrary, I have it exactly right. Read the terms of antisemitic tax cheat Kent Hovind's fraudulent "challenge". Read Behe's embarrassing testimony that lost the Dover trial. Read Icons of Evolution or Explore Evolution or just spend about 15 minutes on the t.o. newsgroup, and any honest observer will be forced to conclude that crowing over "gaps in evolution" and how "evolution is a theory in crisis" is the m.o. of choice.

I would accept such criticisms as cogent (the ones that aren't blatant falsehoods, and there are plenty of those) on the grounds that they had "principled reasons" for why explanations would not be forthcoming -- if they ever ever ever ever articulated those principles. But they don't, because even the con artists at the CRSC admit that there is no theory of ID. If there were a theory of ID, it would answer questions like:

-- What is a "design event"? What does the world look like before and after this event takes place? (See the Spencer quote.)

-- What, specifically, was designed, and when? (If there really were "principled reasons", the ID "theorists" would be able to tell us just which explanations will and will not be forthcoming. Are explanations for the formation of the solar system not going to be forthcoming? Then why do some (but not all) ID "theorists" accept an old earth? Are explanations for common descent not going to be forthcoming? Then why does ID "theorist" Behe believe in common descent? Are explanations for specific biological subsystems not going to be forthcoming? Then why has every single example Behe has put forward been shown to be evolvable? etc.)

stunney said...

anonymous wrote:

Are explanations for common descent not going to be forthcoming? Then why does ID "theorist" Behe believe in common descent?

Why would evidence of common descent be evidence against intelligent design? Wouldn't it, rather, be evidence for intelligent design, if anything?

The implicit idea in the evolutionary naturalist's claim seems to be that an intelligent designer would have created each species or at least each phylum separately, and wouldn't have created them by means of a common descent evolutionary process.

But why suppose such a thing? Is there any scientific evidence that if some intelligent agent wishes to design something, such as a computer capable of performing various valuable tasks, it won't do so using the most parsimonious program or set of instructions, but will necessarily or at least more probably write lots of completely discrete programs instead? My strong intuition would be to say the opposite is true; and that if life is likely to occur on Earth and occur only unintentionally, by chance, we would likely not find evidence of common descent, but rather evidence that today's observed species were descended from several uncommon ancestor species.

grendelkhan said...

stunney: Sometimes atheists complain that the theistic hypothesis explains everything; and therefore explains nothing.

It's hard to know what to make of such a complaint.


Are you serious? The point is that a theistic hypothesis can explain everything, and thus it's useless for describing why things are this way instead of another way. In contrast, the theistic hypothesis would fit equally well to any set of data.

Are you actually misunderstanding the criticism that fundamentally?

What if, for example, one complained of the hypothesis that the properties of matter explain everything, that they therefore explain nothing?

Which "properties of matter" explain everything? Note that the properties of matter have been revised numerous times; off the top of my head, there's the discovery of the elements, the discovery that phlogiston doesn't exist, the discovery of the weird nature of the atom and of elementary particles. The theory was revised, was changed and parts of it were discarded entirely precisely because matterdidit couldn't explain everything.

In addition, "matterdidit" is a caricature of what's known--theories of matter explain the behavior of matter in terms of basic rules; summing up the theory as "matterdidit" throws out the guts of the idea, while "goddidit" is a fair summary of the theistic hypothesis.

The laws of physics do not explain the fact that they obtain. Nor do they explain why they are so astoundingly regular and enduring, nor the fact that they instantiate such elegant mathematical forms.

This is the result of just asking "Why?" repeatedly, like a small child would. It's a catch-22: if the universe works according to regular and predictable rules, that's evidence for theism in your book. If the universe didn't work according to predictable rules, but rather was full of magic and demons, that would also be evidence for theism.

Theism explains such facts quite niftily by comparison to naturalism.

No, it doesn't. Theism would just as easily explain the fact that physical laws bend if you ask them to, that praying for the sun to stop in the middle of the sky makes it happen, and that dancing for rain will guarantee you a good harvest.

As it is capable of "explaining" anything, the theistic hypothesis explains nothing.

grendelkhan said...

Egg on me; I fused together two bits and together, they don't make any sense. A bit of copyediting, then.

Are you serious? The point is that a theistic hypothesis can explain everything, and thus it's useless for describing why things are this way instead of another way. In contrast, the theistic hypothesis would fit equally well to any set of data.

Replace that with the following.

Are you serious? The point is that a theistic hypothesis can explain everything, and thus it's useless for describing why things are this way instead of another way--theistic hypotheses would fit any set of data equally well.

Hiero5ant said...

Why would evidence of common descent be evidence against intelligent design? Wouldn't it, rather, be evidence for intelligent design, if anything?

You've missed my point.

For starters, denial of common ancestry is an absolute commonplace among creationists. Perhaps you should be asking Jonathan Wells or Paul Nelson why they become so exercised over the topic.

For seconders, you make my point for me. Because there is no theory of ID, as even the people at the DI admit when you back them into a corner, there is no principled reason why this or that explanation "will not be forthcoming". Creationists love telling us from their armchairs that such and such will never be explained, but since they have no principled reason for stopping at any arbitrary point, the only thing ID "theorists" have in common is the insistence that "something, somewhere, somehow is wrong with evolution, and therefore some unknown being at some unknown time or times did some unknown thing through unknowable mechanisms with unknown results." To call this science is a farce.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Jason,

Yeh, I'd read that. And actually this isn't the first time I've expressed this sort of argument either -- among other things, I commented a while back that attempting to explain "the universe" inevitably leads to one of a limited set of options:

1. Accept infinite regress -- and, pace Aristotle, there is nothing inherently outrageous about this;

2. Abandon cause-and-effect;

3. Accept circularity.

At this time, both mainstream theism and mainstream materialism follow path #2; the only difference is that mainstream materialism abandons causality within the universe, at the "Big Bang" singularity, while theism insists that there must be a cause for that and posits God -- in other words, theism is at the disadvantage of "multiplying entities."

Note that I say this as a theist.

Jason Pratt said...

{{the only thing ID "theorists" have in common is the insistence that "something, somewhere, somehow is wrong with evolution, and therefore some unknown being at some unknown time or times did some unknown thing through unknowable mechanisms with unknown results." To call this science is a farce.}}

Okay, first, there is nothing unscientific about IDers (or anyone else, including in various peer-reviewed journals), appealing to scientific evidence about something being wrong (apparently or otherwise) about evolutionary theory. That's how the revision process works.

Second: obviously, it would be a jump from 'something is kinda wrong' to 'therefore this other thing is right instead'--unless the 'something is wrong' argument is being established as deductively exclusive in its scope among clearly and properly exclusive alternatives. Some IDers try this, some don't. Even where they try it, it might not work; but since scientific inferences do sometimes proceed by deductive elimination among options, then this isn't necessarily unscientific (even if their inferences don't work).

Third, no one calls a forensic pathologist unscientific when he renders a judgment on the evidence about design and intentionality; even if he hasn't quite yet figured out how the culprit did it, or even if he has concluded that it may be technically impossible (for this-or-that reason) to figure out how the culprit did it. Admittedly, in a case prosecuting so-and-so as the culprit, a lack of those latter things might result in a non-conviction, but even then the process isn't called "unscientific".

Now, I do grant that IDers aren't always careful enough about putting their cases (especially in popular work or statements) very scientifically. Moreover, I grant (and even critically insist, over against people like Dembski in _The Design Inference_ for instance) that there are serious conceptual problems with trying to present an argument for design where the designer is not already known to exist as an entity and to have motivation and capability to do the designing. Which in turn, I suspect, is why Dembski et al keep trying to divorce the concept of 'design' from the concept of 'intentionality', as if a conclusion of design _didn't_ necessarily entail intentionality: a palpably false contention, even on the terms of their own illustrative examples!

Even so, the process isn't (necessarily) unscientific--even when it's mistaken, or wrongheaded; and even when it includes (as it _is_ necessarily going to do anyway, over against logical positivism) non-scientific elements to the process.

(The non-scientific elements can themselves be critiqued on their own terms, of course, and those critiques might be good critiques, even though they aren't and can't be scientific critiques per se. But even where those critiques succeed, that doesn't necessarily mean the subsidary putative scientific enterprise is _un_-scientific, either.)

I say all this in regard to nat/ath scientists, too, including ones I think are sometimes inept in their scientific arguments and worse in their non-scientific arguments, such as Richard Dawkins.

JRP

philip m said...

The entire connotation of the GOTG objection is inherently misleading. The objection purports to disqualify any argument for God as valid that uses a chink in scientific knowledge as an epistemic basis for belief, or as implication of his existence.

But here is why the GOTG connotatively misses the point: it's not the fact that the gaps exist that is the argument, but something implied *by* a certain fact.

Take the Design argument and the KCA. Both of them somehow include areas where there are unknown variables, and atheists will say that we are not allowed to call that unknown area God.

But we don't just want to *call* it God because it's a gap.

The point of either of these argument is that God's existence is implied, not by the gap, but by a certain fact. In the design argument, it is the auspiciosuly precise quantification of the universe's qualities that would imply intelligent agency.

Even moreso, it is not just that we don't know what was behind the universe's beginning that makes us say it was God, but that because there is a beginning, there would have to be a timeless, spaceless, changeless entity to cause it.

Implications of God existence will always point to a gap somewhere, and will propose that God occupies that gap. But that doesn't mean that he only exists *because* there's a gap. In the two cases above, it was because of specific facts about the universe.

But as Victor rightly points out, arguments for God will always be about a gap, and thus if the theist can't point to something you don't know, then there can be no evidence for God. But if you can't use any argument for God that involves a gap in knowledge, even though God is in this gap of knowledge, then you are just begging the question.

Rino said...

There is also an 'Evolution of the gaps' argument that physicalists use. Whenever they face a problem, like the origin of life, or the introduction of consciousness, the say 'it just happened, end of story'. They say 'it evolved that way somehow'. That seems more fantastical and magical than talking about the person who made it happen.

T Tiger said...

The problem is not the explanation, but rather the logic behind the explanation. The argument form:
"I don't know, therefore God did it." is invalid.
If the argument is that God did it because there is physical evidence to support that claim, then all well and good. However, I have yet to see any such evidence presented. The arguments are either that God did it because it is believed to be so, or God did it because of a lack of credibility or perceived lack of credibility in another explanation. If sufficient evidence does not exist to support a claim, then that does not act to support a different claim. This is known as a false dichotomy.

Patrick said...

If atheists regard the phenomena described in the post as evidence for God, why not phenomena like the fine-tuning of the universe or well-documented miracle accounts? Is it possible to draw a borderline between a legitimate evidential argument for God’s existence and an illegitimate one (i.e. a God of the Gaps argument) that is not arbitrary?

jdhuey said...

In order for the "Butler of the Gaps" analogy to work, there first has to be no evidence that the house has a butler! The argument would go:

"There has been a murder, we don't know who committed the crime, therefore this house has to have a butler because we want to believe that the butler did it."

"But wait. There is no evidence that a butler exists!! Why even conjecture that the butler did it when there are plenty of other suspects?"

"We have faith that the butler did it and the lack of tangible evidence is simply evidence that we are dealing with an invisible super-butler."

"A super-butler!? Now you're compounding your "Butler of the Gaps" argument with special pleading. Just forget about a butler and investigate the facts of the murder - only bring up the butler (super or otherwise) if there is positive evidence such a entity actually exists."

jdhuey said...

Actually, to make the analogy even closer, we would have to assume that the "murder" has all of the hallmarks of a naturally occurring accident. So, not only is there no evidence that any "invisible super-butler" did the crime, there is really no evidence that there was a crime, just an accident.

Crude said...

I guess one way to nicely distill Victor's point here is you cannot at once complain about 'God did it' or 'God of the gaps' explanations on one hand, and at the other, demand 'God did it' or 'God of the gaps' explanations. Which seems reasonable enough.

Crude said...

And so long as we're doing the quaint imaginary dialogues thing, I'll have a go.

A: Do we have any suspects in the alleged crime?

B: Well, there's evidence the Butler was involved.

A: Ha! Butler? That's rich. There was no Butler here.

B: But we've got evidence pointing at...

A: No, no. First you have to provide evidence this 'Butler' even exists!

B: Alright, here's evidence. For instance, we have receipts of payment for his services.

A: But we have an alternate possible explanation for those. They could be forgeries. Or perhaps a misunderstanding. Or maybe someone was practicing writing out checks for a Butler IF one should exist.

B: Don't you think you're being irrational here? What about reports of the Butler being seen?

A: Figments of imagination. Easily explained away.

B: ANY evidence of a Butler I give you can be 'explained away', no matter how valid!

A: Untrue. I would personally be willing to believe this Butler existed if he appeared, RIGHT NOW, and served me a cup of tea.

B: We're at a crime scene! The door is blocked by guards!

A: A proper Butler would account for that went company is present.

B. Prokop said...

Interesting. I know that Loftus's link (seven comments down in this thread) is now several years old, but (assuming he hasn't changed his views in the interim), he never answered the question (which was "What would convince me Christianity is true?"). All he did was proceed to a bunch of "could have beens" and "should have beens" - all water under the bridge. But he never said what could be shown to him today that would convince him.

I recall that some time ago, I was asked on this site what would it take to convince me Christianity was false, and I answered as plainly as I could, "Produce the verifiable body of an unresurrected Christ. I'd be at the front of the line repudiating my faith." (or words to that effect) But Loftus couldn't manage to list a single thing that would change his mind.

And the funny thing is it's the atheists who keep insisting that they're the ones with the open minds, while we're impervious to reason! I'd say it's quite the other way around.

jdhuey said...

I can think of a great deal of evidence that could, if it existed, convince me to accept, at least provisionally, the factual reality of some such deity or deities. Not so sure about worshiping or loving those deities - that is a completely different kettle of fish.

Pretty much finding myself living in, say, the Buffy the Vampire universe would do it (Vampires, werewolves, demons, devils, hell dimensions, witches, warlocks, and, of course, a couple of gods for good measure.) Or, finding ourselves living in the Marvel Comic Avengers universe where we would have to deal with Thor and Loki running around - that would do it.

Fundamentally, to convince me that some deity existed the universe would have to be a radically different place than the one we live in.

Dan Gillson said...

Bob,

The funny thing is, if someone were to produce the corpse of Jesus Christ, you wouldn't need to repudiate your faith in toto. You could retreat to the belief that Christ's resurrection was spiritual, not physical. The physical resurrection of Christ isn't necessary to Christianity; it may be necessary for certain variations of orthodoxy, but not to the entire phenomenon of Christanity.

Re: the OP

Genesis doesn't start out with, "In the beginning the Butler created heaven and earth." Nor does the first line of the Nicene Creed being, "I believe in One Butler … maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen." Scientific investigation doesn't conclude that God did it, because it doesn't start with the premise that God did it; scientific reasoning isn't circular in that regard. I'll illustrate what I mean with an imaginary dialogue:

Investigator: What happened here?
Detective: There was a murder, sir.
Investigator: Ah. Well, we know the butler did it. Problem solved. Case closed.
Detective: What!?! What do you mean, "We know the butler did it"?
Investigator: Well, it's always the butler's fault. I learned that in investigator school
Detective: What!?! Always the butler's fault!?! Investigator school!?!
Investigator: Yes, that's right. I learned in investigator school that it's always the butler's fault.
Detective: There isn't even a butler here. The maid did it. She said so herself. She's right over there! Go talk to her if you don't believe me.
Investigator: Well yes, the maid may have committed the murder, but really, it's the butler who is responsible for the crime.
Detective: That makes no sense, sir.
Investigator: Well, not to you: You're a detective. Your detective-explanations are true vis-à-vis to the level of detection. If you could understand things at the level of investigation, why, you'd be an investigator!
Detective: … So do we charge the maid, then?
Investigator: Oh yes! Bring her in! The butler is an elusive fellow, so we'll have to charge the maid instead.

B. Prokop said...

" You could retreat to the belief that Christ's Resurrection was spiritual, not physical."

Maybe somebody else could, but not me. No literal, physical Resurrection would mean no Christianity. Game over.

Victor Reppert said...

If God really did it, should we not say so, if that's where the evidence points?

jdhuey said...

If Jeeves really did it, should we not say so, if that's where the evidence points?

B. Prokop said...

Victor,

I have no problem whatsoever with anyone saying "God did it", but I'm not sure how helpful the statement is in a discussion. After all, I acknowledge the creed, where it says "[God is] maker of all things visible and invisible". So (to play devil's advocate) for someone like me to say "God made that sunset", it would be semantically the same as me saying "That's a sunset". We haven't advanced the conversation.

Crude said...

I can think of a great deal of evidence that could, if it existed, convince me to accept, at least provisionally, the factual reality of some such deity or deities.

This is a point that screws up many atheists and theists: they give their own personal, subjective standard for 'evidence that would convince them', note that this level of evidence has not been met, then move on to claim that there IS no evidence.

It does not occur to them that other people can give their own personal, subjective standards as well - and that those standards may well be met. The example of both the Buffy universe and the Marvel universe can always be explained away by someone determined - and in fact, not only are there atheists in the Marvel universe, but there are RL atheists who defend their stances.

So if wildly subjective standards of evidence being met can make belief in God provisionally acceptable, congratulations - you've just conceded the reasonableness of most theists. If wildly subjective standards are not acceptable, you'll need a sufficiently objective standard of evidence of God's existence.

Good luck with that.

Crude said...

Scientific investigation doesn't conclude that God did it, because it doesn't start with the premise that God did it; scientific reasoning isn't circular in that regard.

Why do you need the premise 'God did it' to provisionally infer 'God did it' or the like? You need some premises, sure. That specific premise? It doesn't seem to be the case.

ingx24 said...

I have no problem whatsoever with anyone saying "God did it", but I'm not sure how helpful the statement is in a discussion. After all, I acknowledge the creed, where it says "[God is] maker of all things visible and invisible". So (to play devil's advocate) for someone like me to say "God made that sunset", it would be semantically the same as me saying "That's a sunset". We haven't advanced the conversation.

I really, really like this quote. It really drives home the idea that theistic explanations are on a different "level" from "natural" explanations. If we assume that God exists, then attempting to "explain" some phenomenon by saying "God did it" is essentially equivalent to asserting "this phenomenon happens". No shit, Sherlock - we (assuming God exists) already know God did it; what we're trying to figure out is how He did it.

But I assume that what is meant by "God did it" is something a bit deeper than this. In normal cases, such as lightning, God is (again, assuming He exists) the ultimate explanation, but not the immediate explanation. What I assume is meant by "God did it", then, is that God is both the immediate and ultimate explanation of the phenomenon. In cases like these (if they exist), there is no "how" - God produces the phenomenon directly by divine intervention. In this case, no "natural" explanation can be given.

I think the objection to "God did it" explanations in the sense of God being the immediate explanation of a phenomenon is that they are intellectually lazy: they conclude from the lack of an explanation for a phenomenon that no such explanation will be forthcoming, and that the phenomenon must be a result of direct divine intervention. But we have seen in the past that cases that seemed to require God as the immediate explanation ended up having different immediate explanations, the most famous example of course being evolution. Originally, it was thought that the complexity of organisms on our planet required an explanation in terms of God's divine intervention to miraculously create living structures, but deeper investigation showed that it was done in a much more subtle, "natural" way. This, of course, did not change the fact (if it is a fact) that God was the ultimate explanation of life on Earth, but rather filled in the details that were previously hidden from us. In other words, the theory of evolution filled in the "how" part of the explanation of life. The proponent of "God did it" explanations, then, is attempting to argue from the fact that we lack the "how" part of an explanation for a phenomenon to the conclusion that no such "how" part exists, which, besides being an invalid inference, has a very bad track record in science and gives the appearance of intellectual laziness or "giving up".

However, in the case of events like the resurrection of Jesus which defy everything we know about the way things normally work and which have deep theological significance, to ask for a "how" part of the explanation for why the event took place is to make a conceptual mistake - to ask for an explanation of a miracle (an event which, by definition, defies the laws of nature) in terms of the laws of nature. If Jesus really did rise, then the only appropriate explanation given that God exists is "God did it". For most phenomena, the immediate explanation can in principle be one in terms of the laws of nature, even if God is the ultimate explanation. But in the case of events which by definition defy the laws of nature, there can be no distinction between immediate and ultimate explanations - in cases like this, God really did do it.

I might make a blog post about this tomorrow and expand on what I said in this comment; this is actually a really fun topic.

B. Prokop said...

ingx24,

Good posting, but I might quibble over the use of the word "defy" in your However paragraph. How about "transcend"? Or perhaps "independent of"?

As I said, just a quibble. But words have far more importance in a conversation/discussion/debate than we often recognize, and "defy" just carries too much negative baggage that could potentially derail an exchange of thoughts.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Perhaps premise is the wrong word. The proposition that God created the heavens and the earth is a supporting beam in a religious framework; it isn't something that's first concluded from empirical study, it's something that's first taught and prayed. So the first point on the hermeneutical circle is the liturgical element, the second point is the empirical one.

Dan Gillson said...

Speaking of liturgy, and to jump into another conversation that's been going on on this thread, if someone asked me what would make me become a Christian again, my answer would be good liturgy. I've never cared much for moral or philosophical religion, and I wasn't dissuaded from Christianity on those grounds. I lost my religion when I realized how yawpish the liturgy was.

ingx24 said...

I wrote a post about this just now, if anyone is interested.

Hooray for shameless self-promotion!

B. Prokop said...

" [I]f someone asked me what would make me become a Christian again, my answer would be good liturgy."

Good point, Dan. I can't speak much for Protestantism, but the Catholic Church probably drives multitudes away with its all too often bad liturgy and awful music (at least, that's what they call it).

My own parish of St. Paul Ellicott City is way above average in that department, especially since we got our latest pastor (about 5 years ago). He has been slowly introducing some of the really attractive elements of pre-Vatican II liturgy back into Sunday Mass, such as the ringing of bells at the Elevation of the Host, incense on feast days, chanting the Gospel instead of just reading it, a toe-hold of Latin into the music (the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus), more use of candles, etc. People are responding entirely favorably, as evidenced by our standing room only Masses and jammed full parking lot.

BenYachov said...

>I lost my religion when I realized how yawpish the liturgy was.

Three words for ya my friend.

Eastern Rite Catholicism.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"... and awful music"

My answer ends up being somewhat like BenYachov, but, among many other names that could be given, I single out Arvo Pärt - Te Deum. Admittedly, he is not on par with Madonna or Rhianna, but I am absolutely mesmerized by his music.

Dan Gillson said...

I'll second grod's recommendation of Arvo Pärt. I'd also recommend Morten Lauridsen and John Tavener.

What's funny about Lutheranism is that it has such a strong choral tradition (think St. Olaf, Concordia College, Luther College, and Wartburg), but its liturgies are so bland. (Maybe it's not the liturgies, but the participants.) Sacred music captures the drama of human life so well. It's a shame that more of it isn't incorporated into the liturgy.

Crude said...

Dan,

The proposition that God created the heavens and the earth is a supporting beam in a religious framework; it isn't something that's first concluded from empirical study, it's something that's first taught and prayed.

Doesn't that depend on the religion? It's sounding like you think all God-belief is fideism, that there are no arguments for God, no inferences to the existence of a Creator from argument or the empirical world or elsewise. Am I understanding you?

Crude said...

I lost my religion when I realized how yawpish the liturgy was.

As someone who grew up in the Byzantine rite, my first exposure to typical Novus Ordo Catholicism was off-putting. I was young, but it was very much a "What is that yutz with the guitar doing? This is a parody." moment.

B. Prokop said...

Was it JP II or Benedict who said that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were the "right and left lungs" of Christianity? There is certainly tons to learn from the Byzantine liturgy!

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

I don't think that all God-belief boils down to fideism. I do think that perhaps arguments for God's existence are only valid within a certain paradigm, or framework; but I don't think that the paradigm in which we can infer the existence of God is entirely false, only those portions of it that correlate cause-and-effect with some sort of rational agency. I don't know. I'm clearly still trying to navigate the head space I find myself in. It's … heady.

All this talk about theism and liturgy is making me thirsty. I'm going to go get a beer.

BenYachov said...

> I was young, but it was very much a "What is that yutz with the guitar doing? This is a parody." moment.

The wife & I many years ago, when our eldest was still a toddler had gone to a "Life Teen" Mass at the Church where we were married.

I had never before walked out before the beginning of a Mass & I would not have done so if it were the only one I could go too that day but fortunately it wasn't. In short the electric guitar, bass & drums sounded like a cross between DEEP PURPLE and BILLY SQUIRE. I just could not listen to that for worship. Mind you I was 30 & still a metalhead from way back.

But some things are just off. As I was driving to the other church in my town which had no music I had my wife rolling in laughter on the car floor singing chanting the opening of liturgy to the tune of Smoke on the Water.

IN THE NAAAMMME OF THE FATHERRRR.....& of the Son...da-da-da-da da dada da-da da data!

Good times.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M19hPfKdFqI

B. Prokop said...

Here is a very good article on the "religion-lite" phenomenon discussed in the last couple of postings:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/07/coca-cola-catholicism.html