Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Richard Dawkins critiques Richard Swinburne

Gosh I wish philosophy were this easy.

65 comments:

Steven Carr said...

DAWKINS
It is because God is constantly hanging on to each and every particle, curbing its reckless excesses and whipping it into line with its colleagues to keep them all the same.

CARR
I think Dawkins is saying that God sustains all things, including the laws of nature.

Of course, he may have misunderstood the idea of God sustaining the laws of nature at all times.

PhilosophyFan said...

Dawkins fails to mention the flip side of simplicity: can't be too simple. That's a totally different matter for debate.

T'sinadree said...

Ah, Dawkins doing philosophy....

William Valicella has a nice response to this very article.

T'sinadree said...

Sorry about that. Here's the working link:

William Vallicella's response to Dawkins on Swinburne

Click on "(show)" to view the reponse in its entirety.

Eric said...

Did Dawkins present a single argument in his critique? I saw plenty of assertions, but no arguments.

Steven Carr said...

What arguments were needed?

Swinburne's unsubstantiated thoughts just have to be repeated and they refute themselves.

'That would never do, for, "If God answered most prayers for a relative to recover from cancer, then cancer would no longer be a problem for humans to solve." And then where would we be?'

All you have to do to refute Swinburne is point out where Swinburne claims God does not cure cancers, because then human beings would not have the problem of cancer.

Who need arguments when the correct response to such statements by Swinburne is to open the jaw and let it hit the ground in best cartoon-style?

Steven Carr said...

Swinburne is an amazing page, where Swinburne claim God does not cure cancer, because that would deprive human beings of the choice of whether or not to fund cancer research.

Honest, I am not making this up.

Swinburne actually did write that page.

No atheist could ever produce a parody of Christian thought that approached that piece of writing.

Matthew said...

No atheist could ever produce a parody of Christian thought that approached that piece of writing.

Keep in mind Steven is defending the guy who wrote that you can be honestly mistaken about being the omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe.

Crude said...

True, Matthew. But it's no secret that atheists have started to quietly re-file Dawkins from the "heavyweight intellectual critic of theology and religious philosophy" to "he's supposed to be a counterbalance to popular but shady televangelists!" They like his style, but they're realizing that his substance leaves a lot to be desired outside of private cheerleading.

PhilosophyFan said...

So all I have to do from now on is find one bad argument in every book I don't want to deal with intellectually? Is this good news...

Anonymous said...

"God does not cure cancer, because that would deprive human beings of the choice of whether or not to fund cancer research."

I think that might be a good reason. If God always rescued us, we would never need to learn biology. Maybe God wants us to learn biology. And God did answer the prayers of all those cancer-patients who didn't recover. He said no.

Crude said...

All Swinburne is doing is providing an example (a pretty singular, not deeply explored example at that) of how serious and actual goods can result from the existence of evil. He's not declaring "God doesn't cure cancer because he wants us to invest money in pharmaceutical companies!" or some oversimplified nonsense.

philip m said...

Dawkins is a good example of how far mere confidence can take you as an intellectual. Here he seems very sure that Swinburne has got it all wrong. But that's about the most you can get out of this piece, except for the few issues he reports he doesn't understand.

A confident person works as an argument as a fact by itself for a lot of people. A person may not understand the argument of a Hitchens or Harris while reading their books, often because the arguments themselves are so muddled and confused, but they can see that they are confident. Thus, they infer they must know something everybody else doesn't know, or else why would they be so confident? They figured it out! They're a step ahead of the pack! It's not clear what it is they know that makes it so certain that everyone else is wrong, but it must exist and they must know it, or they wouldn't be so confident.

Unfortunately the argument from confidence is not a good one.

Steven Carr said...

'He's not declaring "God doesn't cure cancer because he wants us to invest money in pharmaceutical companies!" or some oversimplified nonsense.'

You just have to read Swinburne's book and see what he had to say.

God doesn't cure cancer because that would deprive humans of the choice of whether or not to invest money in cancer research....

Just read the book and wonder how such a thought could ever pass anybody's mind....

Crude said...

Steve, I did read it - I even checked the link itself. It is what I said it is, it's not what you say it is. I don't know if you're dishonest or learning disabled, nor do I care. Anyone else can read the book and see for themselves.

Gregory said...

It's interesting how "scientific" thinkers erect an academic double-standard when it comes to inter-disciplinary analysis.

For instance, if you happen to be an "out of the closet" ID advocate in the university, then you're immediately marginalized/dismissed as a religious/philosophical sneak.

But, if you happen to be an empirical "scientist" who brings Darwinism to bear on questions pertaining to religion, then you are considered a media darling, a sagacious free-thinker and/or a secular saint.

Now imagine if Rick Warren wrote a book that questioned the veracity of carbon-dating methods, the probabilities of life spontaneously arising by pure chance from a cosmic singularity and the presumed, unbounded plasticity of biological structures, as an attempt to debunk atheism.

The "scientific" community would say:

"Mr. Warren is completely outside his area of expertise and, instead, should focus on his area of study: his personal beliefs."

The atheist community would immediately spasm and succumb to an involuntary reflex response:

"Why doesn't Warren write something he knows something about: 'The Stupid-Driven Life' or "Mere Stupidity" or something...har, har, hee-hee-har.....(I'm so clever and witty and theists are so pathetic and sh**ty)."

Of course, these scientists and atheists assume an unqualified authority and expertise in matters pertaining to "religion" and "philosophy" without any credentials or accountability because they, and they alone, possess "enlightened" reason (i.e. the secularized version of the "Teaching Magisterium").

Shouldn't somebody have told Isaac Asimov, before he wrote "Asimov's Guide to the Bible", that he should stick to writing about the things he knows best (i.e. Sci-Fi)??

If Asimov had just followed L. Ron Hubbard's approach to propaganditry, and simply renamed the book "Biblefield Earth", then everyone would have easily recognized his work for what it is: science fiction

Instead, he chose an unsuitable, academic title for this particular work. Which is unfortunate, because everyone would have loved to see John Travolta reprise his highly acclaimed role in "Battlefield Earth" for the movie adaptation of Asimov's classic work in the "alternative history" sub-genre of science fiction.

As for Richard Dawkins....well, I do hope Michael Moore interviews him for this latest piece of moral indignation:

"Hitler and Me"

Perhaps Moore can ask Dawkins why Jews, Christians, gypsies and political dissidents were biologically unfit to survive the German war-machine.

Ilíon said...

Gregory: "It's interesting how "scientific" thinkers erect an academic double-standard when it comes to inter-disciplinary analysis. ..."

Careful there, Gregory! You'll call down the enforcers of "niceness" on your neck.

What you're noticing and describing ... and naming ... is the simply and obviously observed tendency toward intellectual dishonesty by the sort of folk who like to pretend that a certain metaphysical presupposition is properly called "science" and has nothing to do with philosophy and metaphysics.

normajean said...

"learning disabled"

what the heck! LOL

Gordon Knight said...

I know things get heated here, but lets limit our criticism to philosophers, theologians, scientists, and founders of great religions. Leave the great science fiction writers alone:)

Doctor Logic said...

Sorry, but Dawkins is spot on here.

The theistic response is just laughable. God is far more fine-tuned that the universe.

First of all, there are unified theories that may explain why the particles have the masses they do, but let's suppose we have yet to find any viable ones. In that case, electron mass becomes a brute fact.

Suppose you want to explain this with theism. To do that you have to have a model that predicts why God chose electron mass AND predicts something else. (If it predicts nothing else, it just restates electron mass as a brute fact.) But theism doesn't do this. Indeed, under a possible theism, electrons could have random masses and properties and God could still magically juggle things so that we exist. And if God does exist, why choose this particular combination of constants? There is an infinite set of laws of physics that are compatible with life. Not with our form of life, but with some form. Theism predicts nothing so it explains nothing.

Indeed, God explains the fine tuning of the universe in exactly the same way an undiscovered theory of everything does. By definition, a theory of everything (if we could formulate it) would explain (i.e., predict) every interaction in the universe, and explain why the particles have the masses they do, etc. And, similarly and by definition, if we knew the will of God, and understood good, evil, etc., we would be able to predict that God would make a universe like this and why he would let innocent people suffer, etc.

But we don't know the mind of God, good, evil, etc. any more than we know the structure and parameters of the theory of everything.

Now, how satisfied would you be if I simply told you that the theory of everything exactly predicted the masses of the electron, muon, tau, quarks, etc? Would you say that the theory of everything explained this things?

No! You would say that one cannot explain something with a theory one has in name only. You would say, if I can't detail the parameters or even the structure of the theory, then I don't have a theory at all. You would say that I have only a name for a theory that I one day hope to have. You would say that it is not enough for me to posit that there is a theory T that explains X, and then to claim I have explained X merely by referring to T, when I cannot actually formulate T or predict X with T.

[Note: if I can formulate T, but I'm not sure T is THE explanation for X, that's different. T could be explanatory in that case, even if it turns out not to be THE actual explanation. But if I cannot even formulate T, I got nothin'. It's not enough to say "it's possible a theory could be formulated to explain X wherein some stuff happens."]

So, Dawkins is right. God doesn't explain anything. To make God explanatory would require a formulation that predicts God's actions, and, a priori, there's no reason to think that a predictive model of God is any less complex than the known laws of the universe.

Ilíon said...

Asimov wasn't really a great science fiction writer; he was an evangelical atheist (shoot, even as a kid I could see that), just a bit more subtle than Dawkins.

Gordon Knight said...

DL: Does the "theory of everything" appeal to features of the natural world or not? if it does, then it includes something that requires an explanation. If it does not then it is a supernatural explanation (like theism).

But its not true that theism predicts nothing. Isn't the existence of conscious beings more likely given a conscious being created the universe? its much less likely on the assumption of some mindless material cause.

The theistic hypothesis also has the advantage of appealing to a sort of causation that we have intimate familiarity with--agent causation. I know what it is to will something. God's creative activity can therefore be understood, modeled, on the finite human will--this is especially evident in the case of the imagination in which we, lowly finite minds that we are, actually create objects ex nihilo--just like God does in creation of the universe. It also seems only agent causation precludes an infinite regress of causes.

Gordon Knight said...

oh Asimov was probably an atheist. Arthur C. Clarke certainly was (judging by the fact that he explicitly that there be nothing religious at his funeral).

C.S. lewis and ACC had a short correspondence regarding whether space exploration would be a good thing or not, CSL apparently thinking it is better for the universe to have humanity quarranteened on earth.

I assume Illion does not think the class of good authors is coextensive with the class of theists??

Rasmus Møller said...

These arguments seem to be centered around whether theism or naturalism has the more parsimonious explanations.

Isn't parsimony in the eye of the beholder? - in that naturalists and theists have different premises for measuring parsimony.

Most theists would have Mind as The Original Brute Fact, whereas naturalists regard Matter/energy/universe as The Original Brute Fact (and Mind therefore derivative). These different starting points result in different views on parsimony.

Ilíon said...

Silly man, intentionally silly man, I said "Asimov was an *evangelical* atheist ..."

Dawkins, or to be more precise, the things everyone loves to hate about Dawkins, are prefigured in Asimov.

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

Does the "theory of everything" appeal to features of the natural world or not? if it does, then it includes something that requires an explanation. If it does not then it is a supernatural explanation (like theism).

How do you define "natural"? I define natural to mean lawful, even if those laws are probabilistic.

And by that definition, there's no such thing as a supernatural explanation. There can certainly be things that lack a predictive explanation, but then they lack any explanation whatsoever. To put it another way, an event that is not predictable is just a brute fact.

Isn't the existence of conscious beings more likely given a conscious being created the universe? its much less likely on the assumption of some mindless material cause.

Can you parse this for me? Why is consciousness more likely in our universe if a consciousness created our universe? Surely, consciousness is only more likely in our universe if it is useful to the creator. And there's no evidence of either the creator nor our utility to the creator.

If you devise a model of God's plan that isn't ad hoc, and which actually predicts something non-trivial, then you have an explanation. For example, predict something in physics that we cannot derive from the physical laws we already know. Of course, we all know that hasn't been done.

The situation is even worse for theism. A designer has many different design techniques available to her. Evolution is just one of those strategies, manufacturing and traditional design being among the others. A priori, there's no need for one strategy to be used exclusively. Yet our "design" is exclusively evolutionary, as far as we can see. Our only apparent utility is survival. This is exactly what would be expected by unguided evolution. What are the odds that a designer would choose to use evolution exclusively, hide herself from us, and generally make it look like she doesn't exist? Infinitesimal.

The theistic hypothesis also has the advantage of appealing to a sort of causation that we have intimate familiarity with--agent causation. I know what it is to will something.

But will is not explanatory.

Suppose you will to take your mother's jewelry box and throw it in the fireplace to burn it. Your will PLUS your ability to execute your will explains your subsequent behavior, i.e., your actually throwing the jewelry box in the flames. However, it does not explain anything non-trivial. It does not explain your ability to perform the act, nor does generic "Gordon's will" as a concept predict this particular action. So the act itself remains unexplained.

Really, "will" as you describe it explains the ability of an agent to cause what he wants to cause should he want to cause it. The analogue of "will" in a natural scenario is "physics".

Imagine the collection of possible predictions of possible physics. This collection would encompass logical possibility. For all we know, the physical laws we have seen may not be representative of reality. So it would make no sense for me to say that "physics" is an explanation for a specific event unless I make the word "physics" refer to a narrow class of theories that make specific predictions.

Likewise, the collection of possible willed outcomes of omniscient, omnipotent beings encompasses logical possibility. That's trivial. And you can't then say that "will" explains anything. For will to be explanatory, you have to narrow the reference of the term "will" down to the specific will of an agent with a specific goal that goes beyond the thing you're trying to explain to predict something else.

Another example: in physics, conservation of energy explains specific cases of conservation of energy, and predicts outcomes of new experiments. It's plausible that you could find some overarching divine goal that predicts stuff in our universe beyond what we're already using as input to infer the agent creator. THAT would be explanatory, but it hasn't been done.

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

Most theists would have Mind as The Original Brute Fact, whereas naturalists regard Matter/energy/universe as The Original Brute Fact (and Mind therefore derivative). These different starting points result in different views on parsimony.

The problem here is that the physical brute facts are already out there. What's the point of devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new?

When I propose conservation of energy to explain the results of an experiment, I replace my brute fact of my experimental results, but I leverage it to explain all of my brute facts regarding conservation of energy. I started with countless brute facts and ended up with one brute fact in the form of my conservation principle. My one new brute facts specifically predicts countless other facts.

Theism replaces one brute fact with another, and proposes a zillion new unknown variables that would parameterize the will of the agent. I fail to see how that can be parsimonious in anyone's book.

Ilíon said...

Rasmus Møller: "Isn't parsimony in the eye of the beholder? - in that naturalists and theists have different premises for measuring parsimony."

Frequently. It's slightly amusing, isn't it, when someone "concludes" that some 'X' is false because his initial assumptions include the statement "X is false"


Rasmus Møller: "Most theists would have Mind as The Original Brute Fact, whereas naturalists regard Matter/energy/universe as The Original Brute Fact (and Mind therefore derivative). These different starting points result in different views on parsimony."

Ah, but when we examine where the logic of each of these two opposing Original Brute Facts takes us, we come to understand that according to one of them, minds don't exist.

How is this for the Ultimate Parsimonious Original Brute Fact: nothing at all exists! What could be simpler? What could be more elegant? What could possibly better satisfy the requirement for parsimony?

Gordon Knight said...

DL: Consider the case of me now imagining a goat. The goat is present before me. How did it get there? I want to say it is simply because I choose it to be there. This is the purest example of an act of will. When it comes to bodily actions I agree the will is only a partial explanation, you need to not be paralyzed etc. But in this case as the other it is not will "in general' but the particular act of will.

I suppose you will want to deny that there are such acts, you might think "willing" is simply a matter of desire or some sophisticated variation of that view. Maybe you are right.

But you are not *obviously* right. Intuitively, will seems something different (Cf. Sartre's great phenomenological work).

Its not true that all explanation is in terms of predictability or lawfulness.

Suppose I am drinking whiskey right now. You can explain it in many ways "GK's an alcholic" "GK's stressed out and wants to self-medicate" "GK is overly fond of Jack Daniels" etc. of course these are incomplete. but any list of situations is compatible with my not-drinking Jack Daniels. Or so it seems to me, since I am a libertarian. The desires are part of the broader situation that is the context of my choice. But to get the whiskey to my lips, you need the choice.

Again, you might not agree. But this is how intuitively we see ourselves as agents. And if it is true, it tells us how will explains. If I did not will to drink, the whiskey would not come to my lips. its a necessary condition for voluntary behavior.

Rasmus Møller said...

DL

The problem here is that the physical brute facts are already out there.

Rasmus

My mind is what is already out there. The physical world is the big mystery, we are still trying to make coherent theories about.

DL

What's the point of devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new?

Rasmus

What is the point of devising theories like naturalism predicting that all mental content like truth, mind, thought, theory, predictions, logic conclusions, pointmaking etc. are supervenient on physical properties and therefore as deterministic/stochastic as any rainbow, thundercloud or galaxy? It is naturalism that predicts that nothing is or can ever be new.

DL

When I propose conservation of energy to explain the results of an experiment, I replace my brute fact of my experimental results, but I leverage it to explain all of my brute facts regarding conservation of energy. I started with countless brute facts and ended up with one brute fact in the form of my conservation principle. My one new brute facts specifically predicts countless other facts.

Rasmus

Only when a mind and a will is proposed, can anything like experiments, conservation and energy ever be conceived. My one brute fact of a mind specifically enables any kind of prediction.

DL

Theism replaces one brute fact with another, and proposes a zillion new unknown variables that would parameterize the will of the agent. I fail to see how that can be parsimonious in anyone's book.

Rasmus

Naturalism replaces the brute fact of mind with the absense of teleology and thus of explanations.

We are in this thread dancing around the Argument of Reason as formulated by CSL and VR, and though we'll not agree, the argument is deliciously pertinent.

As should be obvious, I concur with the comments of Illion and Gordon.

I believe that will is indeed explanatory, though not scientifically explanatory, as science is committed to methodological naturalism. I recognize that physical circumstances influence mind and will, but they cannot completely determine them. A predictive theory of mind and will could never be true, because prediction, theory and truth themselves would have become void of content.

Matthew said...

DL,
there's no such thing as a theory of everything. At best you get a theory of anything. The view of most scientists is the multiverse, which basically says "Duh, this result is inevitable somewhere", the view of most theists is "Duh, God just made it that way".

For some interesting interviews which leading physicists, see here:
http://www.closertotruth.com/cosmos

Gregory said...

Doctor Logic said:

The problem here is that the physical brute facts are already out there. What's the point of devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new?

This statement is presupposing a philosophic doctrine called "epistemic dualism"; or what has historically been known as Locke's "representative theory of perception".

So how can there be a disciplinary monasticism? Answer: there isn't one because of the ubiquity of philosophy

So it is the philosopher who should be scolding Dawkins and other Darwin worshippers for muddled concepts, non-empirical assumptions and postulations, a-historic prejudices and unscientific, rhetorical propagandizing.

Hume, for instance, did not believe a "law" was an object or thing. Rather, he believed that the observation that certain effects derive from certain causes was simply a "habit/custom" of the mind which coalesced after repeated experience.

Why would Hume say this? Because
a "law" is not something that can be observed by sense perception. We can only observe that which is presented to our senses; namely, things/objects.

This Hume-r-ous impasse was the puzzle to which Kant spent all his energy solving...or trying to solve. More fundamentally, Kant was offering a rapprochement between Platonic and Aristotelian theories of knowledge via synthetic a priorism.

And it is Kant, not Bacon, who is the fountainhead of "modern science". Yet, scientists spend, if I might quantize my conjecture, 0.001% of their time considering what their intellectual lineage is....and how significant an impact that lineage has had on their own thinking.

Yet, they are the first ones in line to point an accusing finger at intellectual heretics and institutional non-conformists. Ironically, Gallileo is now anathematizing everyone who maintains heliocentric view of philosophy and science (i.e. Christians).

It would pay to read/re-read Chesterton's "Everlasting Man", particularly the author Introduction and first 2 chapters (i.e. "The Man in the Cave" and "Professors and Prehistoric People"). I believe that Chesterton's insights about the cause for an "agnostics" contempt of religion might be applied, with equal measure, to the agnostics observations of, and conclusions about, the material world.

To Gordon and Ilion:

I meant no disrespect to Sci-Fi. In fact, my awareness of these authors is indicative of my appreciation of the genre. If I was in a less constrained writing milieu, I might have thrown in Heinlein, Niven, Harrison, Adams, Herbert, and/or Brin, just for fun.

The examples I did use, though, were for heuristic purposes.....and maybe a little creative venting too ;-)

Ilíon said...

Ever notice that the "scientific" "theories" (please note the mocking quote marks) that the 'atheists' really care about are scientifically and practically useless?

Multiverse "theory" -- right, dude, you're gonna build a universe

Abiogenesis "theories" -- right, dude, you're gonna create life

"Evolutionary" "theory" -- right, dude, you're gonna randomly evolve life

Doctor Logic said...

Gordon,

Its not true that all explanation is in terms of predictability or lawfulness.
...
Again, you might not agree. But this is how intuitively we see ourselves as agents. And if it is true, it tells us how will explains. If I did not will to drink, the whiskey would not come to my lips. its a necessary condition for voluntary behavior.


If will alone is explanatory, then any action of any agent is trivially explained by saying the agent willed it. Does that really make any sense? I say it cannot.

In your first example, suggested that will explains the presence (or, at least, the continued presence) of the idea of a goat in your mind. The thought of a goat is harmless enough, and seems neutral to your thought experiment, i.e., it seems like an aesthetically pleasing idea to keep in mind for the moment. In other words, there's an emotionally satisfying reason for you to maintain the idea in your head. But suppose you willed to keep an extremely unpleasant thought in your mind. What should we make of that? Or, what if you willed to keep the goat (and only the goat) idea in your head for days at a time. Is that explained by your will?

It seems obvious to me that will alone can explain the *ability* to have a deliberate physical or mental act, but it cannot explain the selection of a specific act in a specific context.

For example, an act of will could explain why Marilyn Monroe killed herself, but only in the most trivial sense that "her having the will to do X is generally adequate to cause her to act to do X." Suppose Monroe had willed to get off drugs and turn over a new leaf. That counterfactual is equally well explained by her will. How can her will explain what happened and what did not happen at the same time?

Obviously, a proper explanation for Monroe's suicide (if it was suicide) involves factors that predict what she would have willed, not that she would have acted according to her will (which is utterly trivial).

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

My mind is what is already out there. The physical world is the big mystery, we are still trying to make coherent theories about.

Sure, you mind can be epistemically prior, and that doesn't change anything. God's mind isn't epistemically prior to the physical facts of the universe. You are presumably inferring a creative mind from your mind and from those physical facts. My point stands.

DL: What's the point of devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new?

Rasmus: What is the point of devising theories like naturalism predicting that all mental content like truth, mind, thought, theory, predictions, logic conclusions, pointmaking etc. are supervenient on physical properties and therefore as deterministic/stochastic as any rainbow, thundercloud or galaxy? It is naturalism that predicts that nothing is or can ever be new.


I have no idea what this has to do with my original question. I realize you don't like the conclusions of naturalism, but that doesn't make them wrong.

DL: When I propose conservation of energy to explain the results of an experiment, I replace my brute fact of my experimental results, but I leverage it to explain all of my brute facts regarding conservation of energy. I started with countless brute facts and ended up with one brute fact in the form of my conservation principle. My one new brute facts specifically predicts countless other facts.

Rasmus: Only when a mind and a will is proposed, can anything like experiments, conservation and energy ever be conceived. My one brute fact of a mind specifically enables any kind of prediction.


Yeah, and I have a mind and a will, so I can make predictions. How is that relevant to my point?

A predictive theory of mind and will could never be true, because prediction, theory and truth themselves would have become void of content.

Maybe I'm just not understanding what explanatory means to you. Suppose that A explains both X and ~X for any X. Just how explanatory is A? For that matter, is ~A any less explanatory than A for any particular X?

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

I think you should take Hume's attack on inductive inference a little further. There simply cannot be rational thought at all without inductive inference. Inductive inference is a necessary component of all rational thinking. It's not as if induction is something we only apply to physical sensation. We are forced to apply it even to our subjective mental experiences. To doubt that induction applies to our subjective experience of the physical is very peculiar.

I find it frustrating when theists argue that our application of induction to the physical world is justified by God's steadying hand. This alleged argument assumes the very induction it hopes to justify. It's circular, even if it is hard to see.

I'll try to explain further. We all believe that there are rules that apply in axiomatic systems, even if we sometimes make mistakes in proving theorems. But why should we believe there are such rules? Why believe that the Pythagorean Theorem will be true tomorrow? Why believe that the theorems of logic won't change before we get to the next line in our proof? It is because we assume past thoughts/experiences (whether mental or physical) are a guide to future thoughts/experiences.

So, we necessarily assume that application of inductive inference to subjective experiences (mental experiences, in the case of mathematics) is rationally appropriate, and I don't find it compelling when theists revoke rational induction as it applies to subjective experiences of the physical just so they can restore it in the form of a gift from God.

philip m said...

Doctor Logic,

Doesn't your argument against personal explanations just assume reductivism? If you think the world can be completely broken down into the language of physics/chemistry, you've just assumed your worldview in arguing against the theist. This is sort of where we ended our last discussion. But what is the warrant for thinking you can find the parameters and mechanisms for predicting all of my future actions?

Rasmus Møller said...

DL: Sure, you mind can be epistemically prior, and that doesn't change anything. God's mind isn't epistemically prior to the physical facts of the universe. You are presumably inferring a creative mind from your mind and from those physical facts. My point stands.

Rasmus: Your point may stand - given your premises. I do not see that you have shown that my point does not stand given my premises.

DL: What's the point of devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new?

Rasmus: What is the point of devising theories like naturalism predicting that all mental content like truth, mind, thought, theory, predictions, logic conclusions, pointmaking etc. are supervenient on physical properties and therefore as deterministic/stochastic as any rainbow, thundercloud or galaxy? It is naturalism that predicts that nothing is or can ever be new.

DL: I have no idea what this has to do with my original question. I realize you don't like the conclusions of naturalism, but that doesn't make them wrong.

Rasmus: Let us try to avoid using projected feelings as substitutes for argument. I seem to draw the same conclusions from naturalism as you do: that all "what is the point" questions (incl. yours) are pointless given naturalism. The conclusions of naturalism invalidate the premises of your question.

DL: When I propose conservation of energy to explain the results of an experiment, I replace my brute fact of my experimental results, but I leverage it to explain all of my brute facts regarding conservation of energy. I started with countless brute facts and ended up with one brute fact in the form of my conservation principle. My one new brute facts specifically predicts countless other facts.

Rasmus: Only when a mind and a will is proposed, can anything like experiments, conservation and energy ever be conceived. My one brute fact of a mind specifically enables any kind of prediction.

DL: Yeah, and I have a mind and a will, so I can make predictions. How is that relevant to my point?

Rasmus: If you really believe that, you are no longer a naturalist.

Rasmus: A predictive theory of mind and will could never be true, because prediction, theory and truth themselves would have become void of content.

DL: Maybe I'm just not understanding what explanatory means to you. Suppose that A explains both X and ~X for any X. Just how explanatory is A? For that matter, is ~A any less explanatory than A for any particular X?

Rasmus: You misrepresent my position. I claim that some amount of intentional yeast is necessary to make an explanation loaf, and you assume the loaf is all yeast. I do think we agree on what explanations are, and the cardinal difficulty with naturalism is, that Naturalism as A explains away all explanations - yours, mine, X, ~X - they are simply reduced to phenomena.

Ilíon said...

Exactly, Rasmus Møller, test the assumptions.

Ilíon said...

But, the timng is, these 'atheists' who clog up Mr Reppert's commbox already know that their core assumptions logically imply a world in which thoughts and reason, and knowledge, and choice are impossible. These fellow already know that they are "arguing" that they themselves do not even exist.

And they don't care.

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

Doesn't your argument against personal explanations just assume reductivism?

It assumes regularity. It does not assume that, say, will is not basic.

I don't see any reason why there could not be dualist explanations in principle, though, of course, dualists (like naturalists) would lack explanations for things that they claim to be basic.

So, a physicalist who believes that spacetime is basic would lack an explanation for spacetime. That is, for him, spacetime is not a prediction of some greater theory. That doesn't stop our physicalist from constructing explanations out of spacetime.

I cannot see that will is useful as an explanation of very much at all, but teleology could well be. Suppose that God had some very specific goal in mind when he created the universe. Suppose we could show that this goal dictated that the fine structure constant had to be 1/137. If we know the goal, and we know how to translate goals into solutions, we ought to be able to deduce some other physical property we could not have known otherwise. For example, maybe dark energy density can also be predicted based on God's goal. In that way, God's goal would take multiple brute facts (dark energy and fine structure) and explain them with a single principle, God's goal.

But if we lack a model of God's goals that have any precision, God's goals can't explain anything (yet) because we don't know what God's goals are. God is no more explanatory than an as-yet-undiscovered unified theory connecting dark energy and fine structure.

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

You are broadening the debate to include the AfR. Dawkins wasn't critiquing the AfR, but an argument about explanations.

I'm happy to talk about the AfR, but if you think Swinburne's argument hinges exclusively on the AfR, then Swinburne shouldn't be running off on wild goose chases involving explanatory power.

Shackleman said...

Doctor Logic:
"I don't see..."

"I cannot see..."


Given your world view, what *exactly* is this thing called "I" that you're referring to? And further, what's it matter to this debate that it doesn't or cannot see? Lastly, what *exactly* are you attempting to change in the _brain_ of your audience in order to get them to agree with you, and how exactly do black pixels on a computer monitor accomplish this?

(Please note, I mean no sarcasm. My questions are sincere, and I think germane to the debate as it's evolved.)

Ilíon said...

You'd better not mean any sarcasm! That's my job.

=========
This post brought to you by "pledde."

Ilíon said...

Amusingly Mis-Labeled Person: "I'm happy to talk about the AfR, but if you think Swinburne's argument hinges exclusively on the AfR, then Swinburne shouldn't be running off on wild goose chases involving explanatory power."

Does no one else see the vast humor in this?

Rasmus Møller said...

DL,

I think we had a good and mostly pertinent exchange going. The AfR is relevant to explanatory power in so far as it limits the explanatory power of naturalism. I don't think we got sidetracked too much, but I am happy to let go, if you so desire.

IIRC, our exchange started about different premises for measuring parsimony. Dawkins' critique was about parsimony, right?

So to rewind: Do you still take issue with the view that "Theists' and naturalists' different premises (brute facts) may without inherent inconsistency lead each to a different view of parsimony"?

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

You are asking why I reject the AfR, and how mechanisms can have intention. I'm not done with the discussion on explanations, but I'll give you the extremely short version...

The human neocortex is composed of Hierarchical Temporal Networks (see http://numenta.com). These networks automatically learn to recognize inputs and classify them. Once a network has learned to recognize a pattern (e.g., a star shape in its field of view), that network has become an abstraction. This is because that network will recognize not only the star it was trained on, but other stars in other colors, stars missing points, larger stars, smaller stars, etc. It is capable of recognizing stars that will never be presented to its network.

If a mechanism with these networks formulates propositions that refer to these HTM circuits, it is using universals in the same way human minds do. That is, a proposition implicitly refers to what the circuit could or would recognize. A proposition like "A rabbit could fit in my glove compartment" makes sense to the mechanism because it's a statement about conjunctions of recognition by its HTMs.

Exactly the same thing is true of human intentionality, IMO. How do we know the proposition above is about rabbits? Well, it is because we would recognize it as true if it were. If we could not imagine experiences that would make the proposition true, we really wouldn't know what it meant.

Conventional computers and software applications don't operate on the same principles. Deep Blue does not understand or know "about" chess. Deep Blue does not formulate propositions because it has no concepts. However, non of these means machines can't think like us if we wanted them to.

Ilíon said...

"... However, non of these means machines can't think like us if we wanted them to."

What invincible ignorance (*), what willful refusal to understand reality ... and a fact of reality which has been gone over and over again here on Mr Reppert's blog.



(*) Technically, of course, the phrase 'invincible ignorance' is a term of the art and means something quite different from what I mean in that use of the phrase.

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

So to rewind: Do you still take issue with the view that "Theists' and naturalists' different premises (brute facts) may without inherent inconsistency lead each to a different view of parsimony"?

I think that dualists do indeed take mental properties to be basic and, therefore, brute. The problem seems to be that dualists don't explain with their brute facts. They could in principle, but in practice, they generally don't.

First, let's look at the naturalist position. There are laws and initial conditions that are brute, but the laws connect the brute facts with the derived facts. The cosmic microwave background had to be the way it is because the brute laws and initial conditions imply it must be so.

In the theist's case, I don't see any implication at all. God is a brute fact, and God's power to do anything (within logical possibility) is a brute fact. But how does this imply any actual thing that isn't a brute fact? Why is our existence, say, not a brute fact too?

It seems to me that you can make our existence a derived fact if you posit God wanted us to exist as we are. The problem is that God's wants are so infinitely complex that it would take an infinite number of observations to make even one prediction.

Suppose I am proposing a physical theory T to explain acceleration due to gravity, and my theory has an infinite number of parameters. We go to the lab, and measure the speed of an object at release, and after 1 second, and two seconds. The object's times/speeds are {(0,0), (1,10), (2,20)}. I plug these facts into my theory, and then what do I know? Answer: nothing more than I knew when I started. All I know is that T (whatever its infinite parameters turn out to be) must predict my three data points. But this means that the number of facts in my lab equals the number of brute facts in my theory. Effectively, every fact in my lab is brute and not derived.

Theism suffers from precisely the same defect as T. God is a theory with an infinite number of parameters, and you only know what the God theory predicts after it happens. It turns everything into a brute fact.

Does this help you understand the problem I have with theism as an explanation?

Shackleman said...

Doctor Logic,

Thanks for the reply. You didn't really address any of my questions, but I don't want to hijack the current disucssion between you and Rasmus Møller, so I'll stick a lid on it for now.

However, if you and he get to a break in your dialogue, and if you'd feel so inclined, I'd like to read your expanded thoughts on what exactly you're attempting to *do* in my _brain_ when you're trying to change it to a state that is in agreement with yours. Further, what is the mechanism and catalyst for this and how does it work? If you don't know, what are your theories?

To play fair, I'll remind you that I'm a dualist and don't agree with your world-view, but I'm trying to understand it.

I've also worked in the IT field for over a decade, currently as a Network Engineer---so feel free to talk shop. I'll call you on your mistakes when I find them {wink wink}

Lastly, Ilion is absolutely right---your assertion that computers would think like you and I do, if only we'd want them to seems absurd as you've declared it. You'd have to offer up some substantial evidence to back up this claim. A claim which would have profound and stupendous implications if true. We're no where close. If you can demonstrate otherwise and can create a working prototype, you'll be billionaire.

Anyway, topics for another day I suppose. Sorry for the interruption.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

I'd like to read your expanded thoughts on what exactly you're attempting to *do* in my _brain_ when you're trying to change it to a state that is in agreement with yours.

Well, I can only go into so much detail on a blog, so we should focus on a particular area of dispute. One area of dispute is the issue of qualia, but that's not the AfR, so I'm going to skip that part. The AfR focuses on intentionality, i.e., what makes a configuration of matter "about" something else.

I think a fairly straightforward way to approach intentionality is to ask what it means for you to know what your own propositions are about. Suppose we create a trivial program that generates propositions by substituting words into a grammatical structure. The final result is a proposition that is grammatically correct, but which may not mean anything. After all, not every grammatically correct sentence is a meaningful proposition. The program spits out "Love shaves dimetrodon squared." What is this proposition about?

Well, it's nonsense. Love doesn't shave anything literally, and there's no existing relevant metaphor. Also, dimetrodon is an extinct reptile, and squaring a dimetrodon makes no sense, let alone shaving that square. In thinking about the meaning of the proposition, we have to be careful not to invent an arbitrary meaning. If we suppose "dimetrodon squared" is a euphemism for a beard, or Love is a brand of razor, or "showing a beard some love" means to shave it, then we can imagine ways that the proposition is meaningful. However, the mere possibility that the proposition is meaningful in some language or culture isn't the question! Every statement is potentially meaningful in some possible language, but that's trivial.

Okay, so how do we know the proposition is meaningful? We imagine the conjunction of concepts corresponding to the words, and ask ourselves what experiences correspond to the proposition being true versus false. In the case of love shaving a squared dimetrodon, there's no such experience. We cannot imagine recognizing an instance of love + recognizing that love shaving a thing + recognizing a dimetrodon squared.

If the test proposition were "a rabbit would fit in my glove box", the analysis would reach a different conclusion. We can imagine a rabbit, imagine it inside something, and imagine a glove box, and imagine the grand conjunction. Essentially, we would recognize a rabbit in a glove box if we saw one. That's how we know what the proposition is about.

So, the key ingredients in intentionality are 1) being able to create recognizers that are abstractions from experience, and 2) being able to refer to those recognizers in some sort of mental calculus.

It just so happens that the human neocortex is composed of HTM's that are self-organizing recognition and abstraction circuits. For more information, see Jeff Hawkins' book "On Intelligence" or read the white papers at numenta.com.

When we learn a language, we attach words or symbols to our recognizers. So, when I present you with a proposition in our shared language, you activate the corresponding recognizers in your brain, and you know what I mean.

Rasmus Møller said...

You (and Dawkins, Hithens et.al.) seem to request that we theists put our mental premises to work and produce some non-trivial scientific predictions with them, without which these premises deserve no respect or credibility.

The naturalist attempts to describe the world as physical phenomena with the least number of brute physical facts. The premise is that mental facts will be completely accounted for as supervenient on physical facts. Given his premises, the naturalist has the most parsimonious position - this is trivial by definition. Even if he did tentatively allow mental facts a place, he would ultimately assume that mental facts were reducible to physical phenomena, and that the reduction will eventually become evident - that "science is getting closer every day". If mental facts were not reducible to physical phenomena, they would in effect be brute facts swarming in to make a parsimonial mess.

This is how I understand the naturalist problem with theism as an explanation - by naturalist premises only scientific "how" explanations are explanations, and mental facts do not contribute.

I think most theists would agree that science should be conducted with methodological naturalism. It is a question of scope. Naturalists presume that the scope of science exhausts all possible knowledge. Theists mainly don't, though a few have fallen for the Dawkins'/Hitchens' propaganda: that science has explained God and religion as evolutionary phenomena of a primitive past. These theists' attempts of establishing an alternative science including God and minds have been largely pitiful and unsuccessful, and have served as ammunition for militant atheists calling for eradication of the poison of religions. I must support their efforts to exclude God and minds from scientific theories, though they are tragically wrong about God and minds in general.

God/"mind first" properties predicts the preconditions for doing science at all: rationality, agents, intentionality etc.
Specifically theism presumes a Mind from which other minds and the physical world are derived. From that point on the science of the physical world can proceed identically for any scientist, religious or not.

Predictions from mental facts play a much larger role than scientific facts for e.g. theology, law, ethics.

Does any of this answer your problems with the explanations theism provides (given theistic premises)?

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to address my issue.

I infer from your comment that you think naturalism and physicalism are indistinguishable. But that's not true, at least, not as I see it.

A natural cause is a lawful, predictable one. Physical causes are lawful and predictable, so they are natural, but there could be natural non-physical causes too.

For example, if magic spells worked, they would defy the laws of physics by placing will above physical laws. If I chant an incantation, and mention your name, and something happens to you that violates conservation of energy and momentum, then my will is overriding physics. If magic of this sort was repeatable, then it would be "natural" in the sense I am using the word. Effectively, will would be more fundamental (or as fundamental) as physical laws.

Your response is directed at people who assume from the start that everything reduces to the physical. I don't assume this. I'm more than happy to consider the possibility that mental qualities are properly basic. The problem is that theism (and dualist theories) still lack predictability of lawfulness.

That puts us right back where we started. We can't have a situation in which A is said to explain X, but equally well explains ~X. For if we do, then (1) everything is trivially explained, and (2) ~A is just as good an explanation as A.

So, the minimum requirements are that A must imply X and not ~X (at least statistically). That is, there must be a law or regularity connecting A and X for A to be explanatory of X. Every proper explanation is a natural law, even if it is nonphysical natural law. Of course, not everything must have an explanation. Things that are fundamentally inexplicable are worthy of the term "supernatural". They are brute facts. The most fundamental laws of the universe would be supernatural by my definition. (They would be inexplicable/non-explanatory too, so no consolation for the anti-naturalists.)

These minimum requirements are met by explanations in mathematics, physics, human relationships, etc. Yet, somehow, God seems to be exempt from these requirements. People think God is explanatory, yet they place no constraints on divine explanatory power.

BTW, God and mind do not predict the rules of rationality. Nothing can predict the rules of rationality because that would be be circular. I assume you mean that God theory predicts a universe containing creatures that think according to the rules of rationality. However, I don't see that at all. Why aren't rocks rational? Or stars? Or cats? Maybe you mean that rationality is impossible under physicalism due to the AfR (of course, I disagree), but that doesn't make God explanatory of our thinking ability. Nothing about God (of the generic variety) implies he will make a universe like ours.

Ilíon said...

I urge you all to read this short-story: "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang

Anonymous said...

DL,

I can't help but notice that your explanation of intentionality seems to lack an explanation.

Ilíon said...

Maybe he explained it away. That works, doesn't it?

Gregory said...

Dr. Logic:

You said:

I think you should take Hume's attack on inductive inference a little further. There simply cannot be rational thought at all without inductive inference....."

I wasn't addressing induction in my reply. My posts have been focused on addressing the idea that "science" represents the sine qua non of rationality and truth. This seems to be your position, illustrated by this point you made earlier:

The problem here is that the physical brute facts are already out there....."

My point??

There is no such thing as a "brute fact". Instead, what you have is two peculiar metaphysical realities, in some kind of epistemic juxtaposition:

1) Knower/perceiver

and

2) Object/thing known

The "object" that is known is not identical to the idea that's cogitated within the mind of the knower. This is the position of epistemological dualism.

Epistemic monism, on the other hand, amounts to saying that the "knower" and the "known" are identical. This view, of course, is more congruent with Eastern/Asian philosophies and religions, but it's been virtually rejected in Western academia, en masse.

But you're statements indicate that you affirm, perhaps unwittingly, the epistemic dualism view.

...devising mental brute facts to cause the physical brute facts you already have when the mental facts don't predict anything new.

This is not a "brute fact". Your statement has absolutely no analogue with known sensory objects. It is derived from neither sight, sound, taste, touch nor feeling. In other words, it's a "mental fact". And since there is no correlation between this proposition and the phenomenon of experience, you are a de facto epistemic dualist.

But as a matter of scientific history: the history of science is littered with mutually-exclusive conceptualizations of the material universe. For instance, Newtonian "gravity" is a very different "brute fact" from Einstein's "gravity". The former pictures gravity as electro-magnetic forces operating within a field called the "aether", while the latter pictures gravity as the effect mass has on the curvature of 3 dimensional, geometric space. Pardons for simplicity of explanation.

Again, these are "mental facts", not "brute facts".

You also said:

I think you should take Hume's attack on inductive inference a little further.

Actually, I think you need to consider the fact that philosophy, not science, is the paradigm of "rationality", since it [philosophy] is the principal discipline which makes any science possible.

Richard Dawkins' interest in Biological Evolution, by his own statements, was driven by ideology. Listen to what he says:

"Darwin has finally made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

On the contrary, theology and teleology, before and after Darwin, has been the most prevalent point-of-view because it's the most "natural" interpretation of experience. That is why the majority of humanity, past and present, has rejected atheism.

Atheism is pseudo-scientific superstition. It requires you to have "faith" that the world is a mechanism that has no mechanical engineer to design, create and maintain it. It's like believing that the materials used to construct personal computers just popped into existence and arranged themselves over a long period of time to form the architecture of a PC. But even more astonishing, is that the PC, without the benefit of a software engineer, has mysteriously been imbibed with a Boolean logic-based language, coherent algorithms and a user-based interface.....minus any PC users!!

Someone should write a book, as a poke at J.L. Mackie, called:

"The Miracle of Atheism"

The premise of the book would be this: it's a miracle that anyone should believe atheism, at all.

Gregory said...

Doctor Logic:

In conclusion, there is an entire world of debate over what "brute facts", "out there" and "mental facts" mean....let alone, how they are related, ontologically, to our cognitive equipment qua theories of knowledge.

Do you think that Dawkins has spent any time considering this debate??

Of course he hasn't. If he had, then he would approach fundamental philosophical questions (i.e. the existence of God) in a philosophically responsible way. But he doesn't.

Why would he when money and fame is good for today's philosophically ignorant, controversial media-whore propagandist?

Philosophy is a contemplatives venture. And, like any discipline, it takes a long time to get good at.....it takes a long time just to grasp the content of Plato's "Republic". And what about the "Critique of Pure Reason"? That might be near impossible, considering the German mind-set and language.

Dawkins spent his better days studying science. Zoologists, in most cases, could care less about Plato's "Dialogues", Aristotle's "Metaphysics" or Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason". Yet, each of these philosophers has made significant contributions to philosophy of religion and epistemology. It pays to spend time reading and understanding them, in order to have a solid grasp on a subject like "the existence of God".

So, how can a man have time to spend pouring over these intellectual giants when he's busy jockeying appearances on cable "news" networks, garnering speaking engagements and being a guest on some popular talk show??

Perhaps he should have studied philosophy, instead.

As a side note:

Many people boo-hiss C.S. Lewis for being a theological "layman". Yet, he has out-read almost all of his critics, Christian or not. He really did spend the time reading the greats and thinking through the perennial questions of philosophy and theology. And it is that sort of disciplined contemplation that makes Lewis a true philosopher.

Rasmus Møller said...

DL, I am working really hard, perhaps too hard, to reach a clear formulation of what exactly separates us, thus I spent half of my previous post trying to restate my understanding of your position. You did not contradict it, but I take it you did not find it relevant either.

I think the objections of AfR are equally relevant to naturalism and physicalism, as it targets the possibility of doing reasoning by entities, whose state is completely determined by non-rational causes.

I find questions of magic to be orthogonal/irrelevant to our issue, as they would, if they existed and satisfied your wishes for causation, be vulnerable to the AfR.

Your issue with the Mind First worldview:

- is it about internal consistence/logical contradiction?

- is it about (lack of) completeness in prediction?

- is it about your distaste in the kind of explanations it can provide?

My original post about parsimony only intended to establish that naturalists and theists need to criticize each others' worldview from the premises of the other part.

Lack of completeness in prediction should not necessarily bother me; completeness in (non-intentional) prediction would make theism vulnerable to the AfR.

Your taste in explanations (if that is the issue) I am happy to leave you with.

Finally at least God of the Trinitarian variety could imply a universe like ours. At least that is how I understand some of Jason Pratt's longer posts. Jason, if you read this, please pardon me for reckless name-dropping.

Ilíon said...

So, are we at the point where an "I told you so" might be not be totally inappropriate?

Rasmus Møller said...

Illion,

I enjoy your posts, but to each his own style.

I enjoyed "Exhalation" very much, though I'm unsure if it applies to this discussion.

Ilíon said...

Please, I was not faulting you.

As for "Exhalation," did I post the link in the wrong thread? Was there not in (in this thread) a sub-thread about the nature and origin and basis of 'selves?'

Doctor Logic said...

Rasmus,

First, my comment was not about the AfR. I don't think Dawkins was addressing an AfR argument, but an argument to the best explanation. The issue is that God is not explanatory at all.

Yes, if the AfR were a valid argument, a naturalistic Harry Potter magic would be vulnerable to the AfR. Again, this isn't about the AfR. This is about explanation and parsimony.

Under the dualist version of parsimony, explanation is purely aesthetic, and entirely non-functional. God is mysterious to the point that the theist can't predict even one single thing (beyond what can be predicted by naturalism). God is a posterior "explanation" to anything and everything, but a prior predictor of nothing whatsoever. Theism has zero explanatory power, the word parsimonious doesn't even apply to him. God is never more parsimonious than brute fact.

Here's what I think is happening, psychologically. What is the value of an explanation? Why is it valuable to know that my buddy Thag who just dropped dead was bitten by a snake three hours ago? It's valuable because I can set policy. I know what to do. Avoid snakes, and I'm less likely to drop dead.

I suspect, however, that many people attach explanatory power to an ability to fix policy, not an ability to predict outcomes. Thag didn't pray to the Goddess of the Lake, so he died. Policy conclusion: pray to the Goddess of the Lake. Therefore, Goddess of the Lake is "explanatory" because the Goddess fixes policy. And this would be true, except, the next day, the high priest for the Goddess of the Lake is mauled to death by a lion. Odd since he prayed to the Goddess all the time. So the predictive nature of the Goddess is dropped, and all that's left is the policy directive. People still think the Goddess is explanatory because it leads them to a policy. Shut up and pray.

So why don't naturalists get emotionally attached to an unformulated Theory of Everything when such a theory is at least as good as the Goddess at predicting the future? Well, it's probably because such a theory is free of moral (=policy) content. Lacking moral content, such theories can only explain as far as they can predict. So an undiscovered ToE lacks explanatory power.

So, IMO, parsimony for the theist is parsimony of policy. The theist does what he thinks is right, and that's the best he can do, period. But let's not pretend that that his theory is actually explanatory. (Explanation is not a matter of setting policy. X can explain Y without there being a policy conclusion.) For God to be explanatory, the theist is going to have to show that it does better than restate what he already knows naturalistically. It's got to predict something, even if only statistically.

philip m said...

Doctor Logic,

I still don't see why God wouldn't at least make the data more probable even if he doesn't *guarantee* its occurrence. For it would not be unlikely for a good God to create a humongous, beautiful universe (or even multiple universes), and furthermore make them in such a way so as to bring about the existence of life and conscious moral agents, since that would be a very good thing as well. It would seem more likely that he follows through on a course of action like *that* to achieve a good goal, rather than that all the brute facts we have just arrived in conjunction with no explanation for each and every one of them at all.

Doctor Logic said...

Philip,

It would seem more likely that he follows through on a course of action like *that* to achieve a good goal, rather than that all the brute facts we have just arrived in conjunction with no explanation for each and every one of them at all.

What is God's goal?

Presumably, under theism, the world is good relative to God's goal. However, no theist seems to know what God's goal is. Theists try to infer God's goal from the brute facts around them. Now, this attempt at inference is perfectly rational. Natural, dare I say! The problem is that either they refuse to be specific or else the predictions are falsified.

Typically, the inference ends up being that God's goal is that which results in what we see, no matter what we see. Basically, people assign happy things to God, and the unhappy things to something else (like us). Theists say, if we knew the mind of God, then we would be able to predict a lot about the world. Unfortunately, we don't know the mind of God, so we can't predict *anything* we haven't already observed.

But I don't see the difference between this and the conclusion I would get if I claimed there was a Theory of Everything that I haven't yet discovered. When we observe dark energy, I could say that the dark energy would be predicted by the ToE, if only we were acquainted with the details of the ToE. True, but coulda woulda. No predictions, no theory.

When theists honestly try to pin down God's goals, things actually get a lot worse for theism. This is why the Problem of Evil is so devastating. If God's goal is the good as colloquially understood by humans, then God would be pretty predictable. Alas, God's lack of intervention to prevent suffering is totally inconsistent with the benevolent God theory. When we assume God's goal is the good, the predictions simply don't fit.

Typically, at this point, theists tell me things like "God is very complex, and God knows it's better that 6 million Jews die in concentration camps because God (and only God) knows the alternative would have been worse." Theists tell me I am arrogant to say what it is good or bad for God to do. But in scolding me, they are tacitly admitting that God being good is nothing like anyone we know being good. The word "good" when applied to God means nothing, and the predictions disappear.