Monday, September 09, 2013

How did God do that?

Lowder writes:

The more substantial point is this. Simply claiming that a Creator/Designer is the “best explanation” hardly amounts to showing that a Creator/Designer really is the “best explanation.” In my experience, many (but not all) people who invoke a Creator or Designer as the “best explanation” fail to show that it is the best explanation. Indeed, some (and this includes WK, at least in the linked post) don’t even try! Instead, they just assume that a Creator or Designer is an explanation.  If, however, the design hypothesis isn’t an explanation at all, then it cannot be the best explanation.

This is always an interesting issue. But does it really make sense to ask of an omnipotent being how they did something. For example, I once beat a Grandmaster in a chess tournament. Now, you might ask how I did that, since as someone whose rating has never gone above expert, you might wonder how I did that. (And the answer isn't all the flattering, was able to win because my opponent had had entirely too much to drink.) But if I have all power, then the simple answer is that I used the power of omnipotence to get it done.

23 comments:

Ian Thompson said...

But even an omnipotent being should have visible effects, if (especially!) the final result is visible. Such as the bringing about on earth of a new species.
If we were watching, what would we see?
God's omnipotence certainly does not imply there would be nothing to see.

B. Prokop said...

There most certainly was something to see on the Day of Christ's Resurrection. Please understand that miracles just don't occur at random. We mustn't imagine an omnipotent God as somehow intervening in Creation at random, or to no particular purpose. Every last miracle had one and only one reason for being - to shed light on the Incarnation and the Resurrection (or to actually be those events).

If you hear a report of some miraculous event and it does not do the above, then it is almost certainly bogus, and you need not concern yourself with it any further.

Crude said...

I don't think omnipotence is relevant here. All you need is powerful agent and a reason to infer the activity of such a powerful agent, and you have an explanation. I don't think it even makes sense to suggest that there is no explanation present here - the only complaint is that it's not sufficiently fine in detail. And for the record, even as someone who accepts common descent and evolution, I think any attempt to argue against an intelligent agent explanation due to a lack of sufficient detail is going to be ultimately pyrrhic from the perspective of evolutionary biology. The relevantly "controversial" aspects of that field are one huge collection of Very Vague Explanations.

That said, Meyer's goal with his book - whatever its faults - was not to explain the Origin of Life, as far as I understand. In fact, that's not the goal of the Intelligent Design Movement at all. Instead, they are making an inference about the explanation. And the funny thing is, that is exactly, precisely, what the naturalist needs - because scientific explanations, insofar as they are scientific, are entirely neutral and silent about whether the operations of nature are or aren't at the behest of an intelligent agent.

I also think Lowder's argument is entirely off-base. He wants Meyer to be arguing for a 'spiritual' or a 'supernatural' solution to the Origin of Life. But as near as I can tell, Meyer never does this. In fact, the entire ID movement operates on the claim that the designer or designers of ID need not be God, or divine, or anything else. Bracketing the question to supernatural and spiritual won't work as a response to Meyer, unless he did something I missed in his book.

The argument Lowder needs to take aim at is an argument against the capabilities of and inferences to intelligent agents generally, period, not specifically 'supernatural' (whatever that is) agents. And that's where ID actually gets really strange and threatening.

Crude said...

All you need is powerful agent and a reason to infer the activity of such a powerful agent, and you have an explanation.

I need to amend this, because it's too strong as is. What you have is a potentially valid inference about the explanation. Or maybe an explanation about one, but not all, of the causes of the event in question.

mattghg said...

If, however, the design hypothesis isn’t an explanation at all

This contention rests on the complaint that 'the design hypothesis' doesn't provide a mechanism for how the designer brings about the effect in question (e.g. origin of life). But that's a weak objection, for the reason that Ron points out: even explanations where we think we understand the mechanism involved have a gap in them if you drill down far enough (see Hume on causation).

Furthermore, we have a ready analogy for the kind of mechanism involved (even if we don't know a lot about it) when we think about mental causation: my decision to raise my arm can be the cause of my raising my arm, even if the nature of mental/physical interaction is poorly-understood.

Ilíon said...

"If, however, the design hypothesis isn’t an explanation at all, then it cannot be the best explanation."

Mr Lowder seem to be saying that only material-and-efficient causes are *real* explanations.

Doesn't C S Lewis address just this sort of thing when he distinguishes explanations into the categories of "causes" (cause-and-effect) and "reasons" (ground-and-consequent)?

B. Prokop said...

"only material-and-efficient causes are *real* explanations"

This is true only when one restricts oneself to the closed system of the natural world. Then of course the only real explanations will be material ones. The problem is that when we expand our area of interest to include supernatural events (to include Creation itself), then such a restriction no longer applies.

Analogy: In the ballpark, while the game is in progress, all player actions are strictly governed by the rules of the game. One cannot score a run without first touching second, etc. But during a time out or before the start of play, all manner of movement is possible. A player can move about in accordance with a much wider latitude due to their not being constrained by the rules.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"This is true only when one restricts oneself to the closed system of the natural world. Then of course the only real explanations will be material ones."

I do not know what you have in mind with "material", but if it is efficient-material in tehir usual sense, this is not true; it is true if we restrict to a modern empirical science like physics, but fails in Biology or any human science like History (*).

(*) strictly speaking, History is not a science (in the broad Aristotelian sense), as it deals with concrete particulars, but let that pass.

B. Prokop said...

grodigues,

I was speaking of the physical sciences, and not of those such as history, psychology, sociology, etc.

Thanks for the clarification.

Chad Handley said...

IIRC, Christian philosopher of science Del Ratszsch addressed this complaint in his book Science and Its Limits. He asked the reader to imagine a team of astronauts who, on arriving on a strange planet, were greeted by a massive 10,000 ft. sign carved out of diamond reading "Welcome, delicious Earthlings!" Despite the fact that the astronauts have no idea how the sign was made, they'd still be justified in concluding the sign was made by an intelligent (and hungry) agent.

ingx24 said...

I do not know what you have in mind with "material", but if it is efficient-material in tehir usual sense, this is not true; it is true if we restrict to a modern empirical science like physics, but fails in Biology

Careful. Most people don't accept the Aristotelian worldview that this assertion is based on, so asserting it without argument begs the question. (Not trying to start an argument over the merits of Aristotelianism; just saying.)

Crude said...

grod,

Actually, I thought even physics involved formal/final causation? Or did I misunderstand something you were saying?

grodrigues said...

@Crude:

"Actually, I thought even physics involved formal/final causation? Or did I misunderstand something you were saying?"

Ah sorry, did not expressed myself very well. What I meant was that a physicist can, for the most part, restrict himself to work with (desiccated) notions of material and efficient causation only, as the formal object of study are material objects in motion.

This is not to say that form or telos can be totally evacuated; a striking presence of form is in say, the classification of elementary particles, which in the old jargon is the construction of a Porphyrian tree with correlative, on the mathematical side, and simplifying things somewhat, the classification of representations of (certain) Lie groups.

But when you step up to the level of animate life, where causal processes start and terminate in the living being itself, for the being itself, and even more so at the higher to the level of rational beings, eschewing teleological talk completely is simply impossible and just lands you in incoherence. Biologists keep writing promissory notes that they will never cash out. Historians? They don't even try.

Papalinton said...

"If you hear a report of some miraculous event and it does not do the above, then it is almost certainly bogus, and you need not concern yourself with it any further."

So only the christian miracle counts, right?

Papalinton said...

"I don't think omnipotence is relevant here.."

Correct. It is irrelevant both in concept and idea.

"All you need is powerful agent and a reason to infer the activity of such a powerful agent, and you have an explanation."

No. That is not an explanation. It is a pretext, an ostensible reason because it is supported not by any conventional sense of the words 'evidence' or 'proof' but by theological attribution alone ascribed to it. And who is to say Jesusgod is that powerful agent? Outside the world of those that subscribe to the christian mytheme no one imagines this is the case in truth or fact. Period.

In plain language it is not an explanation. It is an imaginative tale, a placeholder at best that passes itself off as an explanation. And the sophistication and power of science as an explanatory tool has superseded religion in every contested claim that has collided. The latest of which is the recent discovery at Berkley by which brain waves, thoughts, have been visually projected so that we can actually observe and know what people are thinking. History unequivocally acknowledges this as a one-way street for science.

Of course I will be branded as scientistic by the superstitious supernaturalists but I am happy to wear the pin on my lapel.

RD Miksa said...

Good Day to All:

Mr. Lowder said:

“The more substantial point is this. Simply claiming that a Creator/Designer is the “best explanation” hardly amounts to showing that a Creator/Designer really is the “best explanation.” In my experience, many (but not all) people who invoke a Creator or Designer as the “best explanation” fail to show that it is the best explanation. Indeed, some (and this includes WK, at least in the linked post) don’t even try! Instead, they just assume that a Creator or Designer is an explanation. If, however, the design hypothesis isn’t an explanation at all, then it cannot be the best explanation.”


As someone already mentioned, when you follow the link to Mr. Lowder’s original post, you realize that his main issue is that Intelligent Design (ID) proponents do not explain “how” the thing in question was designed, and thus, since said ID proponents do not provide the mechanism for how something was designed, then he claims that they are not really providing an explanation at all…let alone providing a “best” explanation. But I contend that this objection is confused on a number of levels.

First, it must be clearly understood that a “best” explanation is a relative thing. An explanation is only “best” in comparison to the rival explanations against it. What this therefore means is that an explanation can be the "best" explanation of a particular group while still itself being a poor explanation overall (or while being an explanation that is lacking some desirable feature, like the explanation of the mechanism used).

Second—and in light of the above fact—it is absolutely clear that a hypothesis can serve as a best explanation for a particular event even though we do not know the mechanism used to cause that event to come about. And furthermore, even though the mechanism is unknown (and may remain unknown forever), this will not negate the explanation still counting as an actual explanation. Indeed, an explanation that does not articulate a specific mechanism does not suddenly become a non-explanation, it simply becomes not as good of an explanation as one that would specify the mechanism.

To see why this is the case, consider the following example (and since I am a police officer, be prepared for a strange example).

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued…

Example: You are a Detective. Now, you have a suspect for a certain crime. This suspect is a quadriplegic who lives in an apartment that you have under complete and total surveillance. You know with absolute certainty—for the sake of argument—that no one has been in or out of the apartment. Suddenly, however, you are advised by your surveillance team that they have not seen the suspect in some time. Bursting into the apartment, you find your quadriplegic suspect dead on the floor with over two dozen stab wounds to his body. Now, based on your uniform and repeated experience as a Detective, you immediately infer that the best explanation for this situation is that your quadriplegic suspect killed himself. Why do you infer this? Because your experience tells you that there is no natural way that a knife can just naturally happen to accidently stab a person that many times; in fact, all your experience tells you that someone being stabbed over two dozen times only happens when someone either stabs themselves or when someone else stabs them. But knowing that absolutely no one else was in the apartment, the “best” explanation is thus that the quadriplegic suspect found a way to stab himself.

Now here is the key part: note that even if you were never able to figure out how your quadriplegic suspect had devised a way to stab himself, the fact that he did stab himself would still be a better explanation than the explanation that the stabbing was just a freak natural accident. Furthermore, even though you might never discover “how” the quadriplegic suspect found a way to stab himself, this would not make the claim that he did stab himself a non-explanation. Granted, an explanation that excludes the mechanism may not be as good of an explanation as one that specifies the mechanism, but this does not suddenly mean that the weaker explanation is suddenly a non-explanation. Indeed, consider that in this case, if my superior asked me: “How did the quadriplegic suspect die?”, I most certainly would be providing an explanation by answering “He killed himself.” Perhaps this explanation would not be as good as answering “He killed himself and this is how he did it…” but it is nevertheless still an explanation to simply say “He killed himself.” Thus, while the explanation that the quadriplegic suspect stabbed himself may be a weak explanation given the lack of a mechanism for how he did it, it would still be an explanation. And even as a weaker explanation, it would still be a better explanation than the claim that the whole situation was just a freak accident of nature. And so, the “design” explanation in this case would still be the “best” explanation regardless of the lack of an explanatory mechanism and regardless of the fact that it is not a strong explanation.

Continued...

RD Miksa said...

Continued...

Notice how this example also demonstrates that even though we may have absolutely no prior experience or knowledge with quadriplegics finding ways to stab themselves over two dozen times, the “design” explanation would still be better than the “natural” explanation even in such a case. In this way, this example address the issue of why the explanation “God designs X” could still be a “best” explanation for something even though we have no experience (for the sake of argument) of how God designs. And yet, the above example analogically shows why accepting the design explanation as best would still be rational even if we had no experience of the way in which a being designed whatever it is that he designed.

Finally, notice also how this example, at least partially, deals with the issue of whether or not the past history of the success of naturalistic explanations versus the success of design explanations should factor into our thinking or not. After all, freak accidents have happened in the past, and they are certainly more frequent than quadriplegics stabbing themselves. Yet no one in their right mind would consider that to be a factor which would serve to override the clear claim that in this case, the design explanation is the best explanation of the evidence. So if even “freak accident” explanations have been successful in the past, this gives very little reason to doubt the design explanation in this particular case.

Anyway, the above example gets the point across and demonstrates—I contend—that Mr. Lowder’s objections are misguided and ineffectual. Furthermore, such examples could be multiplied tenfold, so while my one example may be extreme, it is not unique.

Take care,

RD Miksa

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Mr Lowder seem to be saying that only material-and-efficient causes [i.e. physical mechanism] are *real* explanations."

P.Prokop: "This is true only when one restricts oneself to the closed system of the natural world. Then of course the only real explanations will be material ones."

It still isn't true unless it's true that 'nature' is indeed a closed-and-complete-in-itself system. Restricting the sorts of explanations about reality that one will accept doesn't change reality.

B. Prokop said...

"So only the christian miracle counts, right?"

Right.

B. Prokop said...

"It still isn't true unless it's true that 'nature' is indeed a closed-and-complete-in-itself system. Restricting the sorts of explanations about reality that one will accept doesn't change reality."

I was making a for-the-sake-of-argument assumption in that posting. I thought I was clear enough (note the wording "when one restricts oneself") but now I see that I wasn't. Mea culpa.

Ilíon said...

I understood what you *meant* I was addressing what you *said* -- which, most people both say and mean.

If I wasn't clear emough of that, I suppose it's a case of ua maxima culpa ;)