Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Defense of Theism against an argument of Parsons'

Keith Parsons argues from the success of science to the probable nonexistence of God. Paul Herrick disputes this argument.

The Secular Web continues to carry arguments on both sides of the issue, which is much to their credit.

8 comments:

Ilíon said...

Paul Herrick: "I shall define religion in general as a set of beliefs and practices understood by participants to be directed at an ultimate reality considered worthy of total devotion or unconditional worship. An ultimate reality, if such a thing existed, would be something that all other things depend on for their existence, but that does not itself depend on anything else for its existence.
...
Thus, under these definitions, ...
Scientific materialism (the view Parsons defends in this paper) does not count as a religion on my definition, since although its advocates consider prime, unoriginate matter to be the ultimate reality, they do not consider prime matter to be worthy of total devotion or unconditional worship."

While Mr Herrick's definition of 'religion' may certainly be pleasing to most "scientific" materialists, as it continues the charade that their position is somehow different in kind from that of "religionists," it just isn't really so. Take out that silly bit about "... considered worthy of total devotion or unconditional worship" and it works.

Moreover, just an examination of the behaviors of the general class of "scientific" materialists shows that they frequently express and direct toward "nature" the same worshipful awe that we direct toward God.

=====
This is closer to what Mr Herrick ought to have said:
An ultimate reality, if such a thing existed, would be something that all other things depend on for their existence, but that does not itself depend on anything else for its existence. I shall define religion in general as a set of beliefs and practices understood by participants to be directed at an [understanding of the] ultimate reality [and an understanding of our relationship to it].
...
Thus, under these definitions, ...
Scientific materialism (the view Parsons defends in this paper) [does] count as a religion on my definition, since although its advocates [may not necessarily] consider prime matter to be worthy of total devotion or unconditional worship[, they do] consider prime, unoriginate matter to be the ultimate reality[, to which we stand in some essential relationship, and to be worthy of being understood as such].

Anonymous said...

I once read a very convincing argument about how the success of science is incompatible with naturalism advanced by Robert Koons. Does anyone have any idea how influential this argument is?

Ilíon said...

Paul Herrick: "With that said, Parsons' opening argument can now be put more clearly. I shall suppose that by "a God with nothing to do" Parsons means "a God with no explanatory role to fill in our best theory of the universe." If science were to reach a point where everything has been explained by a completed and well-confirmed physics, in such a way that nothing is left unaccounted for, then there would indeed be no explanatory need whatsoever to suppose that God exists. That is, belief in God would not make sense of anything at all, and thus would not be logically needed to make sense of the world. In that case, a Creator would indeed "have nothing to do.""

Not at all! When, oh when, are Chriatians going to free their intellects from idolatry to "niceness?"

It is *not* the case that should the day ever come "where everything has been explained by a completed and well-confirmed physics, in such a way that nothing is left unaccounted for" then "there would indeed be no explanatory need whatsoever to suppose that God exists." It is *not* the case that (in that amusing hypothetical) "belief in God would not make sense of anything at all, and thus would not be logically needed to make sense of the world."

*extreme rolling of the eyes*

Sheesh! Didn't the man pay any attention to what he himself had just previously said about the nature of "abductive arguments" (or, as he proposes to call them, "explanatory arguments") and about induction in general?

unkle e said...

Victor,

I found that a wonderful paper, very easy to read and very useful. And very convincing. Thank you. And I agree with you that the Secular Web is to be admired and respected for publishing papers opposed to their viewpoint - admittedly so that they can then try to rebut them, but that is how progress is made in thought.

Anonymous said...

At W4, there have been recently some nice discussions about the popular inference of the (probable) truth of "naturalism" from the success of science.

www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/03/
hear_hear.html

www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/03/
naturalism_science_and_inducti.html


Vlastimil Vohánka

Doctor Logic said...

Two things about that paper...

Explanatory reasoning occurs when we begin with one or more facts in need of explanation, and then decide what to infer by thinking about what would best explain those facts.

I hate circular definitions of explanation. This just opens the door to saying "A explains B" when A doesn't necessarily have anything to do with B. As long as you feel like A is explanatory, you get to choose it as "the best."

There must be some objective criteria on A as it relates to B for A to be explanatory of B.

My answer is that A must predict B. If A doesn't predict B, then what's the criteria for explanatory power? Gut?

The other point about Herrick's paper relates to free will.

If event A is determined, that means that the outcome was fixed by past conditions or by timeless factors (constants). If the outcome (or some part of it) is not determined, then what else can it depend upon?

We have exhausted all the possible things it could depend upon. We've accounted for everything in time in the past, and everything outside of time, so the only thing left is stuff that is in time in the future. Assuming we rule out the future causing the past, that leaves an empty set. And an outcome that is determined by nothing is the most fundamentally random brute fact there is. Fundamental randomness is the logical complement of determined. There's no "free" third category.

I have never seen a counterargument to this. I've been contradicted, to be sure, but I came here for an argument. :)

Crude said...

While I like Herrick's paper, I agree with one of Ilion's criticisms: I disagree strongly that a TOE would go at all far in making theism superfluous. In fact I'd argue that it would hardly matter at all to the debate even if a TOE were achieved. Here's why.

Imagine we were living in a computer simulation. What's more, we know we're living in one. One day, the sim-scientists come up with a TOE: A complete description of every aspect of the program language, the binary logic, even the hardware the computer is running on. "Everything that ever happens in our world, we can explain in terms of this TOE," says a sim-scientist. "And it does away with the need for a programmer."

But the problem remains. If the programmer exists (or ever existed), then the TOE is an incomplete description not just of reality period, but of the simulation itself. It doesn't matter that the scientists can develop an explanation of any event in the simulation in terms of internal programs. What matters is the accuracy and completeness of that explanation - and if there's a good reason to doubt it (even merely philosophical reasons), that's that.

Ilíon said...

Just so, Crude. There is always the problem of underdetermination with scientific explanations.

People really do need to understand -- and it's an open question whether the need is greater with the "science"-worshipers or with the God-worshipers –- that 'science' does not equal 'truth.'