Saturday, September 28, 2013

Radical Naturalistic Presuppositionalism

I have never been able to figure out exactly how there arguments for methodological naturalism are supposed to go. It seems that a lot of the time this sort of thing just gets asserted without an real explanation of why it has to be like that.

Let's take the subtitle of Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker, which is "Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design." Now, if this is taken seriously, it has to imply that evidence of evolution could have revealed a universe with design, but it just didn't. Otherwise, what leads us to the conclusion that the universe is without design wouldn't be the evidence of evolution, it would be the constraints of rational inquiry. The evidence of evolution would be superfluous

Russell presumably said if he met God and were asked to explain is failure to believe in him, he would say "Well, God, you didn't give me enough evidence!" But, that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense unless God could have given enough evidence, but just didn't. But, if it is a fundamental principle of reason that we can't possibly have evidence for God, then that's kind of empty don't you think?

I once asked a longtime friend who is now a well-known atheist philosopher, Keith Parsons "If I were God, and I wanted to rationally persuade you of my existence, what would I have to do?" He told me that if I, as God were to make the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster to spell out the words "Turn Or Burn, Parsons This Means You," he's turn. I guess for many naturalists, there are limits on methodological naturalism. But if Parsons were to turn, I am sure at least some of his atheist colleagues would accuse him of succumbing to a God of the Gaps explanation.

If MN is stated strongly enough, it requires you to reject a theistic explanation (which is surely logically possible) even if it were a true explanation. That's a position that I would describe as radical naturalistic presuppositionalism. Are there any naturalistic presuppositionalists out there? Are there Cornelius Van Tils in the naturalist camp?

32 comments:

im-skeptical said...

"But if Parsons were to turn, I am sure at least some of his atheist colleagues would accuse him of succumbing to a God of the Gaps explanation."

Why don't you believe us when we say we believe what is indicated by the evidence? Naturalism is not a religion. It's not a matter of blind faith. It's all about evidence.

Victor Reppert said...

Because it is always possible to insist that the evidence can be explained some other way. We have to know what could count as evidence for something before we can be know that something is evidence is against something. When I make the point that even if you aren't persuaded by something, it is nevertheless evidence for God, I am very often told that, no, that's no evidence AT ALL.

http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642394-there-can-be-no-evidence-for-god-revisited

Marcus said...

"When I make the point that even if you aren't persuaded by something, it is nevertheless evidence for God, I am very often told that, no, that's no evidence AT ALL."

While you probably can point to individual atheists being wrong in claiming literally no evidence can count for any gods, I think you are misinterpreting a completely legitimate criticism which is in no way unique to claims of gods. Some claims about reality are incoherent, that is internally contradictory to the point where they can't refer to any logically possible reality even in principle (square circles, being the classic example). Other claims are in principle unverifiable and, hence, no evidence can count for or against them.

To point out or argue that some god claims (or even all current god claims) suffer from these flaws is not to presume naturalism but to assert it based on the coherence or verifiability of these god claims. Even if you disagree with someone's argument on this front it doesn't mean they have presumed naturalism as an axiom at all, let alone in the same manner that Van Tillian's have presumed god (i.e. naturalism is true, because naturalism is true).

B. Prokop said...

From Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov:

"The unbeliever will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him."

Victor Reppert said...

But it seems to me that even where the supernatural is involved, it should be pretty easy to see that some things can count for and against the claims. If God existed and created the universe at some past point in time, we should expect the evidence to point to a temporal beginning of the universe. Apparently, it does. We can avoid the theistic consequences of this without contradicting ourselves, but the evidence could just as easily have supported the Steady State Theory or the Oscillating Universe theory. It didn't.

im-skeptical said...

"Because it is always possible to insist that the evidence can be explained some other way."

Because it has always been the case that a natural explanation works at least as well as a supernatural explanation. The point that Parsons was trying to make, I think, is that if confronted by evidence that clearly points to the supernatural, he would accept it. The whole reason people insist that there is always a natural explanation is because there always has been, and we have no reason to believe that's going to change, despite the protests of the theists who want to project religion on our beliefs.

I call myself a skeptic, and that means I believe that beliefs ought to be based on evidence. So just show me the evidence.

Victor Reppert said...

But if it is a logical consequence of your understanding of what can be evidence, then it seems that's a problem. Some things we have natural explanations for, and others we don't, so we can't say there has always been a naturalistic explanation. We're better at looking for naturalistic explanations than we used to be, but do we have to presume there's one for everything?

This is a great point by Bertrand Russell in his debate with Copleston:

Russell: I think -- there seems to me a certain unwarrantable extension here; a physicist looks for causes; that does not necessarily imply that there are causes everywhere. A man may look for gold without assuming that there is gold everywhere; if he finds gold, well and good, if he doesn't he's had bad luck. The same is true when the physicists look for causes."

Victor Reppert said...

On my view, X is evidence for Y just in case X is more likely to exist if Y is true than it is to exist if Y is false. On that view of evidence, it seems to me there is a boat load of evidence for theism.

Marcus said...

"But it seems to me that even where the supernatural is involved, it should be pretty easy to see that some things can count for and against the claims."

If you think people who disagree are making a mistake then argue against them, don't call them prepositionalists when you merely think they made a logical mistake from plausibly defensible axioms.

"If God existed and created the universe at some past point in time, we should expect the evidence to point to a temporal beginning of the universe."

Why? I could argue God could create a universe without an apparent temporal beginning to the universe. Something like "If you are omnipotent, it would be within your power to do so. So without specific knowledge of why God would do choose one option over others, I see no reason to narrow the field of possibilities for the appearance of the universe." Even if you disagree with this point, I think you can agree such an conclusion can be reached without presupposing naturalism. To me many supernatural claims are, at least, not obviously exempt from such challenges.

Victor Reppert said...

But special revelation seems to assert a temporal beginning.

Victor Reppert said...

What I object to is complaining about a lack of evidence, when, if you look at what they believe closely, you find out that whatever happened, it would never be counted as evidence.

If I can figure out in advance that nothing I could possibly present could count as evidence, then don't say you don't believe because there is a lack of evidence.

im-skeptical said...

"But special revelation seems to assert a temporal beginning."

So the big bang is consistent with that. But that's not conclusive. We need more. Let's put everything we know together and see where it leads. No question there are pieces of evidence that support the theistic side. But what about the preponderance?

Dawkins talks about things that should have been different if they were designed. There are many such examples. Things that no rational designer would have done. But evolution would. And there's so much more. Everywhere we look, we find natural explanations that replace the old theistic ones and do a better job of explanation. And in the few places that still lack complete naturalistic theories, there is still plenty of evidence for natural causes.

It's not just that there are possible theistic explanations for things. It's a question of what does the best job of explaining things. If you take an honest look at all the evidence, it's just overwhelming.

Crude said...

Dawkins talks about things that should have been different if they were designed. There are many such examples. Things that no rational designer would have done.

By all means, name them - and we'll see Dawkins' argument rapidly die a thousand deaths. 'Things that no rational designer would have done' alone is enough to hang you - since you're basically betting that no possible designer, of any level of skill, with any logically possible desires for any particular outcome, could have been responsible for a given biological artifact. Bad move.

But evolution would.

Evolution, aka, one more tool for a designer to use.

Everywhere we look, we find natural explanations that replace the old theistic ones and do a better job of explanation.

What 'old theistic ones'? This is a common trope, but it's empty - as if 'gravity' replaced 'the theory that God moves things'. Insofar as God is regarded as the prime mover, such explanations don't conflict with 'the old theistic ones' anyway.

And in the few places that still lack complete naturalistic theories, there is still plenty of evidence for natural causes.

First, it's not 'few' places. Second, there's a reason why naturalistic philosophers so often dive for 'brute facts', aka, no explanations. Third, there's not a single 'complete naturalistic theory' for anything whatsoever - all of the theories eventually reach fundamental issues, ie, those brute facts, among other problems (certainly with regards to evolution). And of the scientific theories that do exist, the whole lot of them are entirely compatible with theism - and always have been.

If you take an honest look at all the evidence, it's just overwhelming.

If you want to see an example of why you're not taken seriously, Skep, the above quote fits the bill. You were just torn apart viciously for unwarranted confidence about a topic you were demonstrably, fatally ignorant about. But you have the gall to not only cast judgment on the totality of evidence, but act as if you're even aware of or understand a tenth of it?

Let me help you keep yourself from looking pig ignorant in the future: preface you say with 'In my opinion', 'According to what I've read so far', 'It seems to me the case that'. Then, use these postfixes: "At least, that's how I see things." "According to my understanding, anyway." "Of course, I could be wrong."

It'll put tears in your eyes. It'll sap your faith in atheism. You'll get a bit ashen. But it's medicine you need to take: there's ample, extremely ample, reason to regard the preponderance of evidence as favoring theism of some form. The best you can hope for is a stalemate - 'reasonable people can disagree, but atheism is in the running'. And that, believe me, is a contention you'll have to fight tooth and nail for just to hold on to.

IlĂ­on said...

VR: "I have never been able to figure out exactly how there arguments for methodological naturalism are supposed to go. It seems that a lot of the time this sort of thing just gets asserted without an real explanation of why it has to be like that."

I realized that the distinction between “methodological naturalism” and “philosophical naturalism” is rather contrived, yet after reading the while piece, I still think you meant “philosophical naturalism”.

William said...

Ilion makes a perceptive comment! The pig gets frequent flyer miles!

Methodological naturalism is a matter of restricting the field of study, not one of restricting one's ultimate ontology.

For example, a geologist looking for water underground can be expected to ignore water flowing in pipes nearby, and the search is more or less the same whether or not the geologist believes that God created the water, just as it is the same more or less whether or not the geologist believes that there are pipes in a neighborhood nearby or not.

RD Miksa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RD Miksa said...

“If MN is stated strongly enough, it requires you to reject a theistic explanation (which is surely logically possible) even if it were a true explanation.”

Indeed, this is why a principle like methodological naturalism is not only intellectually and rationally dangerous, but it is also, ultimately, just question-begging in favor of naturalism.

And in order to see just how ultimately ridiculous this principle is, just imagine if the police employed a similar principle called ‘methodological natural-deathism.’ In essence, this principle states that every death that the police investigates must be explained in natural terms, and that on methodological grounds, no death could ever be attributed to non-natural causes, meaning that it could not be attributed to an actual agent. Now, it is clear that such a principle would cause the police to reject many true explanations for certain deaths. But at the same time, it would also be the case that if this principle truly had to be followed, then the police—just like naturalists do—could always make some “just-so” story to explain the evidence in natural terms. And for evidence that simply cannot be explained at present, the police would just offer a note of “promissory natural-deathism”, thereby promising that the evidence will be explained in the future at some point, so we need to attribute this evidence to an actual agent. Furthermore, any police officer who dares to claim that a certain death might be murder would be accused of “murder-of-the-gaps” and would be considered just ignorant in his knowledge.

And yet, of course, the above scenario is absurd, but then, by extension, why is not methodological naturalism, at least in principle, absurd as well?

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

“I guess for many naturalists, there are limits on methodological naturalism. But if Parsons were to turn, I am sure at least some of his atheist colleagues would accuse him of succumbing to a God of the Gaps explanation.”

And this is why, in my experience, what many naturalists do is just play a game. Given that ANY empirical evidence could always be in some way explained in natural terms, the naturalist who wants to avoid the theistic implications of certain evidence could always create some explanation of that evidence that is compatible with his naturalism no matter how ridiculous, ad hoc, or contrived such an explanation might be. So the naturalist creates some utterly subjective piece of evidence that he claims would convince him, but even if such a naturalist were convinced, other naturalists would simply claim that the converted naturalist was hallucinating, was confused, was delusional, should not be believed, was using gaps-reasoning, etc. And the fact is, even the naturalist who claimed that the piece of evidence would convince him might, if provided with his demanded evidence, suddenly realize that he might indeed have been hallucinating, or was mistaken, or that his senses weren’t functioning properly, etc. And then suddenly, the very naturalist who said he would be convinced by such evidence actually is not convinced by it, and he has provided himself with an explanation of the evidence that allows him to maintain his naturalism. Then the same naturalist creates another “evidence” that he claims would convince him. And so the game just goes on and on and on.

And this is why I am extremely hesitant whenever I hear some atheistic naturalist claim that all he wants is some evidence and suddenly he will believe, because not only could the naturalist ALWAYS explain the presented evidence in some way that allows him to maintain his naturalism, but also because I constantly see naturalists move the goal-posts when evidence is indeed provided to them.

RD Miksa

im-skeptical said...

"And this is why I am extremely hesitant whenever I hear some atheistic naturalist claim that all he wants is some evidence and suddenly he will believe, because not only could the naturalist ALWAYS explain the presented evidence in some way that allows him to maintain his naturalism, but also because I constantly see naturalists move the goal-posts when evidence is indeed provided to them."

No. There are no moving goal posts. Show me some good, solid evidence, and I'll believe it. The reason there's always a better naturalistic explanation for things is because there IS. It's not made up, like your supposed theistic evidence. It's real. The naturalist doesn't need to resort to logical possibilities when evidence is absent, as theists do. Evidence is what it's all about. Try as you might to put theistic explanations on an equal ground, the evidence simply isn't in your favor.

William said...

mk:
"And yet, of course, the above scenario is absurd, but then, by extension, why is not methodological naturalism, at least in principle, absurd as well?
"

Because it is absurd for the POLICE to exclude murders from their data. If the topic were, for example, looking at deaths due to influenza, that kind of exclusion of murders in the method is quite reasonable. Depends on what you are doing.

Crude said...

Show me some good, solid evidence, and I'll believe it.

Skep, most of the time when you're shown evidence, you don't even understand it - and your first reaction is to google for "refutations of (evidence)", and quote the first response you see (and likewise fail to understand) as a result.

Really, no one around here regards you as particularly open-minded, much less really well-informed about these topics. You destroyed any presumption in your favor about 10 'gross errors and fury when corrected' acts ago.

The naturalist doesn't need to resort to logical possibilities when evidence is absent, as theists do.

Once again, you're just illustrating how ignorant you are. 'Brute facts' and 'logical possibilities' are not just embraced by naturalists, they are *explicitly* embraced. There's a reason naturalists by and large reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason, insist on a multitude of brute facts or that things happen without cause, etc.

Further, 'logical possibilities' are relied on in a broader sense - such as with each and every bit of 'scientific' evidence. I've already pointed out how the only 'naturalistic explanations' are completely compatible with theism. Science is *neutral* on the question of God's existence or acts. Which is why when you say 'b-b-but what about evolution', the answer is a shrug. It's literally irrelevant, in and of itself, to the question of whether God acted.

The only one appealing to 'logical possibility' here is you, by pointing at scientific explanations and suggesting they somehow supplant God. It certainly isn't because scientific research has shown that evolution is not guided by God, etc. 'Logical possibility' is all you have - and you don't even have that once you get into actual metaphysics, theology and philosophy.

Evidence is what it's all about.

Sure it is - in the form of everything from philosophical argument, to empirical inference outside of science, to testimony, to more. And it's exactly on these fronts that Dawkins and company have been reduced to a joke. Dawkins in particular at this point being an expressly ex-scientist has-been with a bloody nose that's come from his 'mild pedophilia' apologetics.

Face it, Skep. There's a reason you've done rotten each and every time you've tried to argue 'the evidence' on here: because the evidence /is against you./ Your position is that it's overwhelmingly the case that atheism is true, but you not only lack that evidence, you don't even understand it usually.

Stop molesting science, Skep. It's time to finally admit what you know is true: theism is entirely reasonable, and the arguments for atheism aren't anywhere near as powerful as you once thought.

RD Miksa said...

Dear William,

You said:

"Because it is absurd for the POLICE to exclude murders from their data."

Of course it is, but a police department could use the same reasoning to justify "methodological natural-deathism" that naturalists use to justify "methodological naturalism", thus showing that since that since the reasoning used to justify "methodological natural-deathism" is absurd, than so is the reasoning used to justify "methodological naturalism." That is the whole point.

Indeed, imagine this scenario: an isolated, remote, and self-sufficient police department examines its past history of investigating deaths in its jurisdiction and realizes that every death it has investigated has a natural explanation, rather than an agent explanation (murder). Furthermore, this police department also determines that every time some Detective claimed that a person was murdered, the actual explanation always turned out to be a natural one. And so, given these facts, the police department adopts the principle of "methodological natural-deathism" as its standard investigative procedure. Now of course, this would be absurd, and yet this is the very same type of reasoning used to justify "methodological naturalism" as a standard procedure in the sciences and elsewhere. So if it absurd in one case, it is absurd in the other, unless some clear differentiation could be shown why it is not in the specific case of "methodological naturalism."


You said:

"If the topic were, for example, looking at deaths due to influenza, that kind of exclusion of murders in the method is quite reasonable."

This is just confused. If you were investigated death due to influenza, then you would obviously already know that the people were not murdered, and thus there would be no reason to exclude murder on methodological grounds because it would have already been excluded on evidentiary grounds.

Take care,

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

For all,

Just an example of certain atheists being “open” to the evidence:

http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642394-there-can-be-no-evidence-for-god-revisited

Atheist Steve Zara:

“There can be no evidence for God.”

Notice that the claim covers all possibilities, thus showing that for this atheist, there can never be evidence for God. Now how open is this?

The atheist concludes:

“…we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer.”

That is one seriously “open” mind right there!


And in an earlier article, Steve Zara also asserted:

http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/486046-god-and-evidence-a-strident-proposal

“It seems like a reasonable statement that we atheists would change our minds about the existence of God if presented with the right kind of evidence. I'm going to propose that this position is actually not reasonable at all.”

Zara continues:

“The inconsistencies and contradictions of theism and supernaturalism seem to have no end. And, with all this, we are supposed to concede that there is some possibility of evidence for the Abrahamic God? Seriously? To claim that such evidence could exist is to deny Clarke, to deny Hume, to deny the relativity of Einstein and the quantum mechanics of Heisenberg. To concede that there could be acceptable evidence for the supernatural all-powerful all-knowing, all-loving eternal deity is the opposite of reasonable.”

Zara concludes:

“I propose a new strident atheism. No playing the games of theists. No concessions. No talk of evidence that can change minds, when their beliefs are deliberately placed beyond logic, beyond evidence. Let's not get taken in by the fraud of religion. Let's not play their shell-game.”

And thus, I think it is quite clear just how “open” some atheists are to the evidence.

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

And PZ Myers--no small time atheist--also concedes that no evidence could convince him that God exists.

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/p-z-myers-on-evidence-for-a-god/

With such "openness" to the evidence, is it any surprise that PZ Myers always finds the evidence for God unconvincing.

RD Miksa

Crude said...

RD Miksa,

What I found funny about PZ Myers' response was, up until that point, Jerry Coyne repeatedly held up 'the ability to name what would change your mind about God' as more or less the hallmark of a rational mind about God. Then Myers pipes up and says no, nothing would ever change his mind - and then Coyne's left stumbling, changing his tune, and now this is a topic about which people can agree to disagree.

Of course, the takeaway point is not only that two prominent scientist-bishops in the CUlt of Gnu (evolutionary biologist, even!) disagree on the need for evidence to change one's mind - they can't even agree on what would constitute evidence for God's existence anyway. That naturally falls out of their dispute.

And this is among the leadership!

RD Miksa said...

Good Day Crude,

Indeed! When atheists cannot even agree as to what is or is not evidence for God's existence, then why is it in any way surprising that, suddenly, any evidence presented to them just might not be the type of evidence that they personally need to be convinced that God exists. And this is one way in which atheists move the goal-posts: their definition of "evidence for God" is so fluid and subjective, that they could always interpret any fact in a way that somehow excludes it from being actual "evidence for God."

Furthermore, yet another game that atheists play--and as Dr. Reppert demonstrated through his story about Keith Parsons and what Parsons stated it would take for him to convert--is to claim that some utterly subjective event that had no currently naturalistic explanation for its occurrence would, if it occurred, count as evidence for God for them personally. And yet, even if such evidence was provided to the specific atheist, the majority of other atheists would immediately accuse the person of "God-of-the-gaps" reasoning.

And so the atheist game is as follows: provide your own subjective version of a "miracle" that would convince you of God's existence, but if anyone else does so and if anyone else is convinced by such an event, feel free to accuse them of using fallacious and alleged irrational god-of-the-gaps reasoning as their only reason for believing in God. So when you do it, its OK, but when other people do the same thing, they are arguing fallaciously.

The logic of such an approach is, dare I say, rather strange.

RD Miksa

im-skeptical said...

"And thus, I think it is quite clear just how “open” some atheists are to the evidence."

What a laugh. This coming from someone who refuses to accept the vast body of evidence, and clings instead to supernatural woo.

If you make an effort to understand Zara's position, you might come to realize that there is a distinction between accepting all available evidence and believing that evidence for supernatural woo does not exist. Zara is obviously convinced that there is no evidence of the supernatural, so he takes a stand that mirrors the stridence of theists. You can call it being close-minded, but he is no less open to evidence than theists, who refuse to accept the (real) evidence that actually does exist.

And so you find a few such cases of people who dare to take a stance that matches the cock-sure attitude of theists, and you point at them and decry how pitiful they are, and try to put all atheists in the same boat. Pitiful, indeed.

Victor Reppert said...

But isn't Zara's claim not that evidence for God doesn't exist, but that it couldn't?

im-skeptical said...

"But isn't Zara's claim not that evidence for God doesn't exist, but that it couldn't? "

I don't know if he ever said that. The cited discussion was about there being no evidence that could convince him of the existence of god. That is a reasonable stance. There is a set or body of evidence for each side of the debate. It's just that people are more convinced by one or the other.

When I say "show me the evidence" I'm not denying that such evidence could exist in principle. I'm affirming my belief that such evidence doesn't exist, and that's why you can't show me. That's precisely the way I read Parsons' statement.

If there were a god, and I'm expected to believe it, it would stand to reason that there should be at least one piece of unambiguous, undeniable evidence. I've never seen or heard of it.

Crude said...

With time, some arguments can become simpler. I'm optimistic that this is the case with arguments I put forward last year on the subjects of theism and the supernatural, and so it's worth re-examining them, or at least one proposition that really matters:

There can be no evidence for God


[...]

If there can be no evidence for god or gods, this challenges statements that people become atheists because of lack of evidence. People become atheists, I suggest, not because of of lack of evidence for gods, but because of lack of evidence for beliefs which are supposed to point to a god, which may seem the same thing but is really quite different.

http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642394-there-can-be-no-evidence-for-god-revisited

im-skeptical said...

crude,

For once you made a response without attacking me, and I applaud that. So Zara did make this claim in another discussion. I don't agree with it. I think that any all-powerful god that wants his creatures to love him should provide good reason first to believe that he exists, and second, to believe that he is worthy if adoration.

Crude said...

For once you made a response without attacking me, and I applaud that.

[...]

If you make an effort to understand Zara's position, you might come to realize that there is a distinction between accepting all available evidence and believing that evidence for supernatural woo does not exist. Zara is obviously convinced that there is no evidence of the supernatural, so he takes a stand that mirrors the stridence of theists.