Craig on Philo

First, sorry I have been away from S.O. for so long. Very busy. Anyway, I just noticed a small thing that I should probably ignore, but it irks me sufficiently that I am going to vent. In a footnote to his article “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, edited by Michael Martin, Craig makes a few passing remarks about the philosophical journal Philo, of which I was the founding editor. Craig contends that in academe, atheism is a philosophy in full retreat, with theists increasingly dominating discussion in the philosophy of religion. He sees Philo as a case in point: “A sign of the times: Philo itself, unable to succeed as a secular organ, has now become a journal for the general philosophy of religion.” Actually, Craig is himself being a bit of an organ in this passage, so let me clear the air.

was originally meant to be the journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers, but our aim was never to exclude contributions by theists. Allow me to quote some of my comments from the first issue of Philo:
Philo

“The purpose of Philo, is quite simply, to provide a single source for the best peer-reviewed articles by nontheist philosophers on topics relating to the philosophy of religion and religious apologetics...This does not mean that editorial policy will exclude articles by theists; our policy is to publish the best articles we receive. However, we aim to become recognized as the source for the highest quality writings by the most distinguished nontheist philosophers. In this sense we aim to make our journal the counter part of Faith and Philosophy [the journal published by The Society of Christian Philosophers].”

Though Philo is no longer associated with the Society of Humanist Philosophers, it continues to publish critiques of theistic claims by leading nontheist philosophers, such as Quentin Smith, Graham Oppy, and Richard Carrier. Many articles by less well-known writers contain incisive critiques of theistic arguments and Christian doctrines. In short, Philo continues to do pretty much what I hoped it would do when we started it. It was no more intended as a propagandistic “organ” than Faith and Philosophy and probably less so than Philosophia Christi.

I guess one of the many differences between myself and William Lane Craig, for which I am duly grateful, is that I do not consider it a defeat to have helped found a forum for the expression of views other than my own.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09565179884099473943 The Uncredible Hallq

    "I would like to thank my colleague Mike Martin for giving me this opportunity to express my views by turning the fact that atheists are willing to give theists opportunities into fodder for absurd propaganda." Keep it classy, Bill!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith:

    I have the following questions:

    1. I tend to agree that Craig’s triumphal tone can be kind of annoying. But what about the substance of his claim? He often claims that there has been a big change in academic philosophy with most of the interesting work being now coming from theistic philosophers. Would you agree with that?

    2. I see many arguments for theism, both old and new, and continuous discussion about them, much of it coming from naturalist philosophers trying to shoot them down. But I don’t really see any arguments, old or new, for naturalism. Given how naturalists insist on the principle that one should only hold a belief on good evidence, I find it curious how little evidence they present for their own ontological beliefs. In the anthology you quote (you modestly abstain from saying that it includes a piece from you), there is just one article justifying naturalism, namely Evan Fales’s “Naturalism and Physicalism”. There he defines metaphysical naturalism (or “naturalism” henceforth) as the commitment “to the claim that there are no disembodied minds”. This is not an adequate definition for there are worlds that comport with it and which nobody would call naturalistic, say a world with witches, their mind fully embodied, flying around on brooms and breaking all laws of physics. Nevertheless I was curious to find out what argument Fales would propose to justify belief even in this super-weak version of naturalism. His argument, as I understood it, is, firstly, that we only observe embodied minds. But here it seems he is committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent by arguing something like: If naturalism is true then we will only observe embodied minds, we only observe embodied minds, therefore naturalism is true. Never mind that, as a matter of fact, we do not observe any minds whatsoever, embodied or disembodied (that’s why philosophers have to deal with the problem of other minds). And, secondly, Fales argues that the theistic side has failed to offer any good evidence for the existence of disembodied minds. That’s a questionable premise, for theists claim there are several good arguments for the existence of at least one disembodied mind, namely that of God, and it is certainly not the case that their claim has been clearly falsified. But even if this premise is accepted as true, it can't be used to justify naturalism. So my question is this: Would you say that Fales’s argument is any better than what I have understood? And: What is the best argument, or the best source you would suggest one read, for naturalism?

    3. What do you think of Quentin Smith’s discussion of the cosmological argument in the same book? He makes three questionable assumptions: Scientific realism, that general relativity correctly describes reality down to the tiny spaces and time frames immediately after the Big Bang, and that at t=0 the universe did not exist, because at this point in time general relativity's math breaks down (indeed I'd say that the latter two assumptions are considered to be false by most naturalistic physicists). But I found the logic of his arguments even shakier. For example (page 188) he rejects Swinburne’s observation that a set of physical states requires an external cause, by arguing that a set is an abstract object and abstract objects are not caused. But, by the same logic, a physical state is an abstract object too and does not admit of a cause either. Obviously, one asks for the causes of what the concepts "physical state" and "set of physical states" refer to. On the next page Smith makes the absurd argument that, as a set necessarily contains its members, it is meaningless to ask why a set contains the members it actually contains. By this logic one can't ask why the set of the killers of JFD includes just one member, namely Oswald, because this fact is a logical necessity. The climax comes in page 192, where Smith in three short paragraphs and with no math at all explains how the basic laws of physics obtain.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Dianelos asks:

    "I tend to agree that Craig’s triumphal tone can be kind of annoying. But what about the substance of his claim? He often claims that there has been a big change in academic philosophy with most of the interesting work being now coming from theistic philosophers. Would you agree with that?"

    Certainly there has been a lot of work by analytic theists over the last thirty or forty years. Is it the most interesting work, more interesting than the work of analytic atheists produced during that period? Well, "interesting" is kind of like "tasty." To whom? Have the analytic theist succeeded in expressing some of the theistic arguments in more rigorous ways? Yes, I think so. Swinburne's cosmological argument and Plantinga's free will defense, e.g., are certainly expressed more rigorously than earlier efforts. Are they more successful, i.e., do they make the case for theism stronger? Well, the critiques of those arguments by analytic atheists are pretty rigorous too. Craig might disagree. I've heard him quoted as saying that the theistic philosophers are more distinguished than the atheist ones. Recent analytic atheists have included, for instance, Jordan Howard Sobel, Graham Oppy, Daniel Dennett, Robin Le Poidevin, J.L. Mackie, Michael Martin, Ted Drange, J.L. Schellengerg, Andrea Weisberger, Richard Gale, Quentin Smith, Evan Fales, Michael Tooley, Nicholas Everitt, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. Now, admittedly, none of these qualifies to be a research professor at Biola University, but their achievements are hardly negligible, and much of their work is certainly very interesting to me.

    As to the second lengthy question about Evan Fales' essay, it would be better to let Evan respond himself, if he is willing. I'll write him and see.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith

    Dianelos,

    You ask for a definition and argument for naturalism. I present quite a detailed discussion of these issues in my masters thesis, "A Defense of Naturalism." I'd be curious about your reaction to both my various definitions and my argument for naturalism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Thanks, Keith, this is a big help. Please do continue to chime on Secular Outpost and see if you can get some other of our secular acquaintances to do so too. I'd like to hear from them on this site.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Is Keith now into the practice of thanking himself for his contributions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Although it was in the link to my masters thesis, I have reset my profile to display my full name to avoid future confusion.

    Looking back at that thesis (it's been nearly a decade now since I wrote it), there is at least one modification I would now make to make it stronger.

    Namely, I would make agency part of the definition of the supernatural, i.e., I would define the supernatural now as: "A supernatural cause, on this view, would be a nonnatural [agent] cause of an event within nature." The conforms with the intuition behind Evan Fales' definition that naturalism entails no disembodied minds.

    This means that the "supernatural" would be even more restricted than a subset of the "nonnatural" limited to nonnatural causes of events within nature, as I defined "supernatural" in my thesis, and as Paul Draper has defined naturalism. "Supernatural" would have to refer to nonnatural agent causes–not just nonnatural causes–of events in nature.

    That is a necessary amendment, I now see, to make my empirical argument for naturalism work. In my thesis I wrote that "being a likely candidate for a supernatural event is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for actually being a supernatural event." In order for that to hold–and that is a foundational point in the rationale for my ultimately empirical argument for naturalism–the amendment just mentioned must be made, or else the old definition can be kept but I would have to amend the diagnostic criteria for identifying a likely candidate for a supernatural event.

    The alternative amendment, which I find much less attractive, would be to drop "the event exhibits apparently purposive or intelligent behavior" from my diagnostic criteria for identifying a likely candidate for a supernatural event. Since including that diagnostic element allows one to identify a potentially supernatural event with much more confidence than one would have if he excluded that element, I would prefer to keep it. But ultimately either amendment could be made; the latter alternative would allow undirected forces to count as supernatural causes.

    One final comment, given this discovery that I wish I would've made earlier. I'm quite open to the possibility that there might be a better way to define "natural" or "naturalism" than I do–i.e., that the answers I give to those sort of questions might not be the best ones–but I really think that to adequately define what naturalism amounts to, you would have to ask the sorts of questions that I ask in that thesis, and that's something that few people (naturalists and their detractors) have done elsewhere.

    You may disagree with my ultimate

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Ha, Ha, Ted! Now if we could only hear from Keith Olbermann…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Particularly this Keith Olbermann:)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A, welcome. Your master thesis looks to be quite comprehensive as well as relatively recent. I do not like it when some atheists trivialize theism instead of discussing the stronger versions of it, and I wish to avoid making the same mistake with naturalism. So I am looking forward to a discussion based on your thesis that will help me conceptualize naturalism at its strongest and best.

    Please give some time to study your essay. I suggest we follow its order and first discuss what the proper definition of naturalism is, and then what the evidence for it is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Dianelos,

    If you end up with a number of questions/objections perhaps you should enumerate them in bullet form (like #1, #2, #3) and e-mail them to me. If there are enough of them maybe I could answer them in a separate Secular Outpost post given that Taner and Keith P. could use some assistance on this blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    (I couldn’t find Keith Augustine’s email anywhere so I proceed to post my comments here.)

    In his master’s thesis (see: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/thesis.html) Keith-A first gives an interesting and exhaustive explanation of why metaphysical naturalism (or “naturalism” henceforth) is so difficult to define. My own view is that the core commitment that characterizes naturalism is not any commitment to materialism, nor a commitment to the prediction that we shall never encounter supernatural-like phenomena, not even a commitment to the natural sciences and its methods. I think that the core commitment of naturalism is that all reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature, i.e. that all knowledge about reality can ultimately be expressed in the language of mathematics (including of course probability theory).

    Here I’d like to discuss the main argument that Keith-A offers for naturalism in the second part of his thesis, namely an argument from the absence of observations of supernatural events. Here is how he puts it:

    (P1) If after an intensive search of the natural world scientists and historians have found no uncontroversial evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event then naturalism is probably true.
    (P2) After an intensive search of the natural world scientists and historians have found no uncontroversial evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event.
    (C) Therefore, naturalism is probably true.

    Let me right away accept the second premise P2, i.e. accept that P2 is true in the real world in which we live.

    Now there are many possible supernaturalistic worlds in which P2 is true also. The issue of miracles or of whether or how God interacts with us, is an interesting discussion for its own right. Here I only need to give an example of a possible supernaturalistic world where P2 is true: So imagine a world just like ours, where Bill comes home a little shaken with the memory of a car accident he had just escaped from having. In fact what happened in that world is that Bill did have a car accident shortly before arriving home in which his leg was smashed to a pulp. Bill then prayed to God to let his leg grow back again. God listened to his prayers, moved this world’s clock a few minutes back and slightly changed the timing of the traffic lights thus allowing Bill to escape the accident and arrive home with his whole leg. Now such an event counts as a miracle performed by God in anybody’s book. It is also clear that in that world scientists will not find out that this miracle happened. So P2 is true in that theistic (and hence supernaturalistic) possible world. Therefore there are a few possible supernaturalistic worlds in which P2 is true.

    Let us next consider P1b = “If P2 then naturalism is true”. P1b is clearly false, for, as we saw above there are supernaturalistic worlds in which P2 is true also. So the fact that P2 is true in our world does not prove that our world is naturalistic.

    Finally, let’s consider the original first premise of the argument, namely P1 = “If P2 then naturalism is *probably* true”. Why probably true? Presumably the reasoning is this: Let’s start with the agnostic position and assume an equal probability for naturalism and supernaturalism. The only way to change that probability estimate is to learn some new information about this issue. Here is the new information Keith-A suggests and I accept: a) In our world, the real world, no supernatural events are observed, b) In most possible supernaturalistic worlds supernatural events would be observed, c) In none or very few possible naturalistic worlds would supernatural events be observed. Thus most possible supernaturalistic worlds are not viable because they contradict a fact of the real world, while most possible naturalistic worlds remain viable. Therefore, after considering this new information, the probability that our world is naturalistic has gone up. Let’s see an example with numbers. [continued in the next post]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Let’s start with 1000 naturalistic and 1000 supernaturalistic possible worlds. If it is the case that P2 is true in our world, and P2 is false in 99% of the supernaturalistic possible worlds, and P2 is true in 99% of the naturalistic possible worlds then there are only 10 possible supernaturalistic worlds that remain a viable option of being ours, and 990 possible naturalistic worlds that remain a viable option of being ours. Thus 990/1000 of the viable possible worlds are naturalistic and the probability of our world being naturalistic has gone up dramatically to 0.99.

    Not withstanding its apparent plausibility, the above reasoning is fallacious. Proving that 99% of the possible supernaturalistic worlds cannot be the real one does not decrease the probability that the real world is supernaturalistic, because it adds no new information to the equation. Why not? Because at most one of all possible supernaturalistic worlds is the real one, so it is already known that all others cannot be the real one. To prove that 99% of all supernaturalistic worlds cannot be ours is vacuous, because this is already known.

    What the theist claims is not that some supernaturalistic world is the real one. Rather the theist claims that one particular supernaturalistic world is the real one, namely the one she believes in. And this theist won’t at all be troubled by an argument that proves that 99% of the other possible supernaturalistic worlds is not the real one, simply because she already agrees with that. Indeed her claim implies that all (and not just 99%) of the other possible supernaturalistic worlds is not the real one, along with 100% of the naturalistic ones.

    Here is yet another way to show the same: Suppose that at a TV game show a roulette wheel with numbers from 1 to 36 is spun, and players who cannot see the winning number are allowed to place a bet. Bill places a bet that the winning number is “1”. Now the game show’s host tells Bill that the winning number is not in the set {3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, …, 35} and offers Bill the option to change his original bet. Bill after a little thought changes his bet to 8. When asked, Bill explains his decision thus: “Out of all odd numbers only “1” is still a viable winner, whereas all even numbers are still viable winners; so I changed my bet from “1” to an even number in order to increase my chances of winning”. Is Bill’s reasoning correct? Does his picking an even number actually increase his chances of winning? Of course not. What Bill now knows is that the winning number is in the set {1,2,4,6,8,10,12,…,36}. Whether he sticks with his original bet “1”, or changes to another number, the chances of winning remains exactly the same. After all his original bet was that “1” is the winning number, not that the winning number is an odd number, so that the information the game host divulged is irrelevant.

    In conclusion I think that P1 is false, and thus the original argument for naturalism fails. Which leaves intact my suspicion that naturalists believe in their worldview with no evidence at all. The good news for atheists is that if I am right and the reasoning behind Keith-A’s argument is fallacious, so is the reasoning behind several theistic arguments that play the probability game. Consider for example the following argument from the fine-tuning of the physical constants:

    P1: If life intelligent enough to think about God has evolved then theism is probably true and naturalism is probably false.
    P2: Life intelligent enough to think about God has evolved.
    C: Therefore theism is probably true and naturalism is probably false.

    Here is the justification for P1: Consider all possible theistic worlds: Given that God wants to create intelligent beings capable of thinking about God, in all of them P2 is true. Now consider all possible naturalistic worlds: Given how fine tuned the physical constants are only in a very few of them will P2 be true. In our world P2 is true. Therefore it is probable that our world is theistic and not naturalistic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Thanks for your feedback, Dianelos. I wouldn't characterize my own consideration of the definition of naturalism as exhaustive, although it is probably more comprehensive than anything previously written on the subject.

    My own definition, for example, focuses on "where" the causes of events within nature originate, whereas you tend to focus more on the nature of the cause–i.e., you suggest that all causes of events in nature must be mechanical. I mention–but don't develop–the idea that anything fundamental should be impersonal on naturalism (panpsychism notwithstanding), which is more accurate than your "mechanical," I think. (Surely there are purely natural phenomena that are not "mechanical"–radioactive decay, for instance.) In any case "mechanical" is a rather vague term that needs elucidation, IMO.

    What's core to naturalism is of course a matter of debate. If by naturalism you mean the antithesis of supernaturalism, then I think what's fundamental to naturalism in that sense is the idea of causal closure. As Alan Lacey put it: "…the world of nature should form a single sphere without incursions from outside by souls or spirits, divine or human…" Of course the immediate concern is what makes for something within the sphere of nature, or outside of it, and here I think it's best to understand 'natural' to mean "physical or supervenient (either logically or nomologically supervenient) upon the physical." In addition, things that are physical or supervenient upon the physical appear to be governed by laws (at least physical laws and perhaps psychophysical laws).

    Note that as I define naturalism it does not primarily concern an ontological category (whether "natural" or "nonnatural" things exist), but a causal one (even if nonnatural things exist, they cannot be the causes of change of events within nature). In this sense it deviates from metaphysical physicalism, even emergent physicalism, because it does not claim that everything that exists must be physical or supervenient upon the physical. It only claims that the causes of changes in events within nature must be physical or supervenient upon the physical.

    Enough of these largely prefatory comments, though. Let's focus on my argument for naturalism, so conceived. You (more or less rightly) characterize my argument as "an argument from the absence of observations of supernatural events." I'd be more cautious and talk about likely candidates for supernatural events, but that's the basic idea.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    From the outset you say that you concede my Premise 2: "After an intensive search of the natural world scientists and historians have found no uncontroversial evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event." I should note that in doing so, you essentially concede my argument.

    If (P2) is true, the rest of the argument follows probabilistically. And this is a crucial point that many theistic writers fail to grasp, IMO: My argument for naturalism is an evidential one, an empirically grounded induction. All I need show is that naturalism is probably true given the lack of evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event. In order to defeat my argument while granting my Premise 2, you would have to show that naturalism is not probably true given the lack of evidence for likely candidates for a supernatural event. Insofar as you have not done that, the argument stands. This is why I think that the only way to defeat my argument is to provide evidence that Premise 2 is false (which, of course, you cannot do at the present time, but conceivably could do in the future).

    A similar point comes up in the Secular Web God or Blind Nature? exchanges between Alvin Plantinga and Paul Draper. As Draper writes in his reply to Plantinga, "to the extent that I am interested in theistic belief, … the particular epistemic merit I'm interested in is the merit of being probably true as opposed to the merits of being rational or warranted." It's not enough for an empirical proposition to be logically possible, or rational to hold. At the very least we have to have reason to think it is more likely to be true than the alternatives.

    You write: "Now there are many possible supernaturalistic worlds in which P2 is true also." True, but irrelevant since we are not talking about what is merely logically possible, but what is likely to be the case. In a supernaturalistic world it is at least more likely than not that there would be some undeniable evidence of supernatural occurrences. There is no undeniable evidence of supernatural occurrences. Thus it is at least more likely than not that we live in a naturalistic world. The simplicity of this point is the force of the argument. There is no need to compare possible worlds in order to grasp it. It is not unlike the argument that an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving God should not create a world with apparently gratuitous suffering, and then finding that the amount of suffering in the world does not appear to be borderline near "the minimum" but far exceeds it. The probabilistic conclusion is obvious here.

    Implicitly you argue that God might be Descartes' evil genius, always out to deceive us, when you write: "In fact what happened in that world is that Bill did have a car accident shortly before arriving home in which his leg was smashed to a pulp. Bill then prayed to God to let his leg grow back again. God listened to his prayers, moved this world’s clock a few minutes back and slightly changed the timing of the traffic lights thus allowing Bill to escape the accident and arrive home with his whole leg. Now such an event counts as a miracle performed by God in anybody’s book. It is also clear that in that world scientists will not find out that this miracle happened."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Of course such a scenario is logically possible. But so is the Matrix scenario, or the brain-in-a-vat scenario. It's logically possible that I was created 1 second ago with all of my memories already implanted. But none of this is relevant because we're dealing with an empirical, probabilistic argument. My argument is that we can say that supernatural events don't occur
    with a similar amount of confidence that we can say that Abraham Lincoln couldn't fly just by willing to fly, as Harry Potter might be able to do in his imaginary world. You can come up with all sorts of scenarios where Abraham Lincoln could in fact levitate-at-will but only in such a way that there could never be any incontrovertible evidence that he did so. None of this changes the fact that it is highly unlikely that Abraham Lincoln could in fact do this.

    So you are correct when you write that "the fact that P2 is true in our world does not prove that our world is naturalistic." It only makes naturalism more likely to be true than supernaturalism. But that's all that any evidential argument ever claims, whether it be an evidential argument from evil or an argument from design or an empirical case for naturalism.

    My argument is essentially an instance of scientific reasoning. You could make similar lack of evidence arguments by replacing "likely candidate for a supernatural event" with natural entities like "Yeti" or "the electromagnetic ether" and yield the conclusion that there probably are no Yeti or is no EM ether. It's the same kind of reasoning that is uncontroversial empirical reasoning elsewhere, and so should be uncontroversial here.

    Let's turn to your argument: "Proving that 99% of the possible supernaturalistic worlds cannot be the real one does not decrease the probability that the real world is supernaturalistic, because it adds no new information to the equation." Now consider the parallel: "Proving that 99% of the possible levitating Abe worlds cannot be the real one does not decrease the probability that the real world contains an Abe who could levitate at will, because it adds no new information to the equation." Clearly your argument goes wrong somewhere, no?

    It seems to me that your argument here is in dangerous of producing a vacuous tautology: "What the theist claims is not that some supernaturalistic world is the real one. Rather the theist claims that one particular supernaturalistic world is the real one, namely the one she believes in."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    It seems to me that you're saying, between the lines, that however the world turns out to be, that will always be compatible with one's theism. No evidence could ever, even in principle, contradict that belief system. But if that's true, there is never any reason for believers and nonbelievers to engage in dialogue, other than personal proclivities. Put differently, there is never any epistemic point in believers and nonbelievers engaging in dialogue. What you call the "good news for atheists" is, if accurate, terrible news for everyone. It is news that we should just stop talking (seriously, anyway) to each other about these issues.

    Although it has been some time since I read Keith Parsons' God and the Burden of Proof, one idea from that book burned in my memory was the notion that believers and nonbelievers can develop independent epistemic criteria (inference to the best explanation, perhaps) for evaluating the likelihood of truth claims. (Just apply the same standards used in other philosophical specializations to the philosophy of religion, IMO.) This was suggested in opposition to Alvin Plantinga's claim that belief in God counts as a basic belief, like belief in an external world, that can never be epistemically justified, but must be assumed.

    When you take such self-fulfilling routes, in my view, you are giving up on the possibility of dialogue: you say pah-tate-toe, I say pah-tah-toe, let's call the whole thing off. Believers will believe what they will, and nonbelievers will not, and there will be no epistemic common ground between them. I think this is incorrect. In my view believers and nonbelievers generally have the same core beliefs in common, and where they differ is that believers are willing to assent to more because they have laxer standards of evidence, or accept problematic evidence as if it were unproblematic.

    In conclusion, you may keep your suspicion that naturalists believe in their "worldview" with no evidence at all, but don't expect me to assent to that proposition. The fact of the matter remains: Natural causes definitely exist. Supernatural causes may or may not exist. So natural causes are known, whereas supernatural causes are merely hypothesized. This state of affairs is more likely to obtain if naturalism is true than is supernaturalism is true. Nothing will change the probabilistic conclusion that naturalism is likely to be true short of moving supernatural events out of the "hypothetical" category and into the "known" one. And that's a shift whose occurrence I'm still waiting for (but not holding my breath over).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. At the outset I’d like to say that there is much that a theist and a naturalist can agree with, such as that careful thinking is better than sloppy thinking, and that confusion about the meaning of terms is to be avoided. What most interests me here is to discover whether the reasoning on which your argument rests is robust or not. I still think it’s not, for reasons I will explain when I respond to your comments. In general I find that to argue based on one’s sense of “probable” is particularly tricky (not least because it’s easy to use one’s background beliefs as standards on which to judge probability, i.e. to actually beg the question). Further I think that the vagueness that surrounds the concept of metaphysical naturalism leads to much confusion, and that naturalism deserves better. So let me start with the latter issue.

    You write: “In any case "mechanical" is a rather vague term that needs elucidation, IMO.

    I define “mechanical” as “that all knowledge about which can be expressed using mathematical language”. Conversely “non-mechanical” would mean “that some knowledge about which cannot be expressed using mathematical language”. (An example of the latter is knowledge about libertarian freedom of will.)

    Surely there are purely natural phenomena that are not "mechanical"–radioactive decay, for instance.

    All knowledge about the phenomenon of radioactive decay can be expressed using mathematical language (albeit using concepts of probability theory), therefore this phenomenon is of a mechanical nature.

    I really think that the definition of naturalism as the view that “all reality and its parts (including properties, causes, relations, etc) are of a mechanical nature” is a good one. First because it in unequivocal (I don’t see any clearly naturalistic realities that do not comport with this definition, nor any clearly supernaturalistic realities that comport with it). Secondly because it is maximally “weak”, i.e. offers the naturalist maximal conceptual flexibility and thus makes it easier to defend her worldview. So for example, this definition allows for physical laws that change, as long as that change is itself expressable mathematically. It allows for the existence of non-physical realms, such as mathematics. It even allows for non-physical existents that have causal powers over physical existents (e.g. minds in the dualistic sense) as long as this causal power is of a mechanical nature itself. Thirdly, this definition is simple and usable. Incidentally, a corollary of this definition is that a supernatural event is not completely subject to mechanical constrains (including the quantitative state of the past and the regularities present in it).

    I would be interested in knowing what you think about the above definition, because the last thing I want is to trivialize naturalism. It is important for me to find out the strongest version of naturalism (or at least not to waste time thinking about what is clearly not the strongest version of naturalism), and for this a good definition is very useful, for it delineates what may count as a version of naturalism in the first place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    Since you asked about my thoughts on your definition of naturalism as "all of reality and its parts (including properties, causes, relations, etc) can be expressed using mathematical language" (substituting your definition of your term for your term to be clear), I'll offer my off the top of my head thoughts on it. (I'd be more thorough if I had considered defining naturalism structurally in a way like you do, but since my approach was different, my thoughts have tended to go in a different direction over the years, so your kind of definition is rather novel to me.)

    Basically, though you intended to avoid this, this strikes me as defining naturalism as synonymous with physicalism. That is, "all of reality … can be expressed using mathematical language" does not strike me as distinguishable from "all of reality … can be expressed in the language of physics."

    I find that identification problematic because, while physicalism might in fact be the best version of naturalism on offer, the truth of naturalism does not depend upon the truth of physicalism. If physicalism is false because there are Platonic abstract objects, or because biological organisms have intentionality or qualia or even libertarian free will, this does not provide evidence that supernatural events occur. It would provide evidence that reality is not physical through and through, perhaps, but not that nature in influenced by something outside of nature. Our conception of what nature is like might change, but not whether nature is influenced by forces external to nature.

    Other than that, I just want to respond to one comment: "In general I find that to argue based on one’s sense of “probable” is particularly tricky (not least because it’s easy to use one’s background beliefs as standards on which to judge probability, i.e. to actually beg the question)."

    I think that this is the wrong standard to set–that "probable" depends upon background beliefs. It's not as if the probability of E-meters being efficacious goes up because one is a Scientologist, but is exceedingly remote if one is not. It's probability is exceedingly remote even if one is a Scientologist.

    Whether something is probable or not is not relative to the inquirer's background beliefs, but to humanity's background knowledge. So, for example, the hypothesis that a symptom is due to a certain biological mechanism may be quite improbable because the existence of that biological mechanism is quite improbable in light of current biology. Perpetual motion machines are quite improbable in light of current physics. Holding a religion which has the central tenet that perpetual motion machines can be built does not increase the objective probability that they can be built. Physics is still the final arbiter as far as the likelihood that there will ever be perpetual motion machines is concerned.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You quote Draper saying this: “ I'm interested in is the merit of being probably true as opposed to the merits of being rational or warranted"

    I haven’t yet read the debate between Draper and Plantinga, but to place rationality and probable truth in opposition strikes me as incoherent. After all it is only by using rationality that we may know that something is probably true.

    You write: “In a supernaturalistic world it is at least more likely than not that there would be some undeniable evidence of supernatural occurrences. There is no undeniable evidence of supernatural occurrences [in our world]. Thus it is at least more likely than not that we live in a naturalistic world. The simplicity of this point is the force of the argument. There is no need to compare possible worlds in order to grasp it.

    I see two problems with the above:

    1) I cannot imagine how you could possibly justify the claim in the first statement above (especially without using some kind of modal logic and conceptualizing possible worlds). Now I can toss a coin many times and justify the claim that observing heads is as *likely* as observing tails. I have handled a lot of apples and I know that an apple more *likely* than not weights less than 1 kilogram. But I have never handled several supernaturalistic worlds to be able to justify the claim that observable supernatural occurrences more *likely* than not obtain in them.

    Perhaps the justification for the first statement above is of a historical nature, and goes like this: Before the advent of science theists used to claim as an undeniable fact that supernatural events are observed all the time. Today science has pretty much falsified that claim, but what counts is that these theists of old knew, or at least *likely* knew, what supernaturalism implies, so we must assume that supernaturalism *likely* implies the presence of supernatural phenomena. If that’s the kind of justification you have in mind then let’s turn the table and consider the fact that naturalists of old believed in determinism (as well as that time had no beginning, that space is flat, that causality is local, and so on). If the argument you suggest is simple and forceful, then by the same measure the following argument is as simple and as forceful:

    “In a naturalistic world it is at least more likely than not that alike causes always produce alike effects. Alike causes do not always produce alike effects in our world (see for example the double slit experiment). Thus it is at least more likely than not that we live in a supernaturalistic world.”

    2) Even if one assumes the truth of the first statement (or perhaps defines "supernatural world" in a way that this statement is true), the conclusion does not follow. This was my point in my previous critique. A naturalist, confronting the above argument for supernaturalism, might respond as follows:

    “I accept that in a naturalistic reality it is likely that alike causes always produce alike effects. I also accept that in our world this is not the case. But this does not justify the conclusion that our world is likely supernaturalistic. Rather it justifies the conclusion that our world, if naturalistic, is of an uncommon type. Which conclusion I have no trouble at all accepting. After all there are many brute facts of our world which appear to be highly unlikely. That our world is of an uncommon naturalistic type is simply one more such brute fact.”

    I don’t see any error in this naturalist’s response to the latter argument. Therefore, I suggest, both the latter argument for supernaturalism as well as the previous argument for naturalism are based on unsound logic, independently of the truth value of their premises.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    "I haven’t yet read the debate between Draper and Plantinga, but to place rationality and probable truth in opposition strikes me as incoherent. After all it is only by using rationality that we may know that something is probably true."

    This is not an accurate characterization of Draper's or my point. The point is that it might be rational to believe in something that turns out to be false, or even that it might be rational to believe in something that's not probably true. (If you take the objective probability that intelligent life exists in the universe elsewhere than Earth to be 50-50, for example, it might be rational to believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. That is much less stringent than saying that intelligent life probably exists elsewhere in the universe. "Rational to believe" is not nearly as tight as "likely to be the case" given the evidence available to us.

    “In a naturalistic world it is at least more likely than not that alike causes always produce alike effects."

    I don't think that your analogy is apt. Naturalism does not entail that "like causes produce like effects." What it entails is that the causes of phenomena occurring in our natural world, where there are causes, will always be natural causes. Supernaturalism denies this, claiming that the causes of phenomena occurring in our natural world will sometimes lie outside of nature. That supernatural events occur (so defined) is the very proposition we call "supernaturalism," so to expect compelling evidence that supernatural events occur is nothing more than to expect knowledge of genuine supernatural events.

    The double-slit experiment is genuine, and it's results are known, but what it reveals is something fundamental about the laws of subatomic physics. It does not reveal that any supernatural events have occurred. No physicists I know of would consider its results (or that of Bell inequality or anything else) to be indicative of the supernatural.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    Reconsidering what you write, I see now that perhaps your general position is this: Naturalism is simply the rejection of supernaturalism, and supernaturalism is the idea that in our world there is a notable amount of supernatural/magical/paranormal effects that contravene the natural order we know via science, it is the idea that our world is a demon-haunted world (to use Carl Sagan’s expression). – If that’s your position then it makes of me a naturalist too. Indeed many people who consider themselves theists also reject such “supernaturalism”. But if that’s your position, it trivializes the issue. For this naturalism-supernaturalism distinction simply reflects the distinction between the understanding of scientifically informed/educated people and the understanding of superstitious/uneducated people, and it’s not terribly illuminating to demonstrate which side is probably correct.

    Rather what is interesting, relevant, and worth thinking about, is metaphysics, which asks and tries to answer questions about the very nature of reality. The difference between theism and non-theism is about how to answer questions such as: “Is the nature of reality ultimately personal or not?”, “Is agent causality the fundamental kind of causality or not?”, “Is purpose based on rational thought the ultimate explanatory principle or not?”. Metaphysical naturalism, as the main or perhaps only idea that represents the non-theistic position, answers “no” to all these questions. According to naturalism (the way I use this concept), reality is ultimately impersonal and uncaring, all causality is ultimately driven by blind quantitative laws, there is no purpose in reality and no rationality underpinning its structure. The common core present in the naturalistic position then is that reality in its whole and in its parts is of a mechanical nature.

    Now, whether my definitions of theism and naturalism above are the “right” ones is not really important, for however one defines theism and naturalism, the contrast between the two abovementioned metaphysical positions remains. The question that I find worthwhile thinking about is which of these two incompatible positions is closer to the truth. How one names these two metaphysical worldviews is simply a matter of convention. For all I care we could call these metaphysical worldviews “personalism” and “impersonalism”. Beyond the naming conventions, I think it is fair to claim that a developed form of the former position will look essentially alike theism, as traditionally understood by the philosophers of religion. On the other hand, arguably, a developed form of the latter position may turn out not to look quite like materialism, or like scientific naturalism (see in this context the recently published “Naturalism in Question” edited by Mario De Caro and David Macarthur).

    As for the epistemology on which to decide between these two metaphysical positions, I’d suggest that a practical and eminently reasonable idea is this: 1) Pick the strongest theistic (or personalistic) worldview you can find, 2) pick the strongest naturalistic (or impersonalistic) worldview you can find, 3) make a list of reasonable comparative criteria (such as internal coherence, compatibility with our experience of life – both objective and subjective, explanatory/predictive power, the absence of conceptual problems and/or defeaters, pragmatical usefulness, intellectual elegance, prima-facie plausibility, etc), 4) compare the strongest theistic and the strongest naturalistic positions under these criteria in order to decide which view is the more reasonable. And then, repeat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    "Naturalism is simply the rejection of supernaturalism, and supernaturalism is the idea that in our world there is a notable amount of supernatural/magical/paranormal effects that contravene the natural order we know via science, it is the idea that our world is a demon-haunted world (to use Carl Sagan’s expression)."

    Yes, that's pretty much how I understand naturalism. Only I'd be a tad more cautious and say that the most likely reason why there is no demonstrable amount of supernatural activity is because there is no supernatural activity. In other words, naturalism is a hypothesis to explain the observation that there is no uncontroversial evidence that any supernatural events have occurred.

    "If that’s your position then it makes of me a naturalist too."

    I doubt that naturalism, so defined, is compatible with Christianity. If you believe the core Christian belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected after being truly dead for three days, for example, then you cannot be a naturalist.

    If you hold to a "demythologized" version of Christianity, where all supernatural elements have been stripped away, it seems to me that you have emptied the substance of the religion and are essentially just advocating rejecting all religions while keeping the nominal Christian dressing–keeping the empty shell that remains for the sake of tradition or something like that.

    "Indeed many people who consider themselves theists also reject such “supernaturalism”."

    As far as I know very few people believe that God or other transcendent realities exist, but do not intervene into nature. The whole point of positing transcendent beings is to explain phenomena happening in this world, and so must require transcendent beings do something to produce those select phenomena.

    "But if that’s your position, it trivializes the issue."

    I disagree. When people talk about resurrections, or parting seas, or miraculously cured people throwing away their wooden legs at Lourdes, that entails a miracle, which is just another world for a supernatural event.

    Perhaps "miracle" means more specifically "supernatural event caused by God" as opposed to some other supernatural agent, like the angel Gabriel or Satan. But in any case any genuine miracle is a supernatural event. When people talk about their guardian angels, or deceased loved ones, lifting them up out of the water and dragging them on to the shore to save them from drowning, that too signifies the occurrence of a supernatural event in such a tale.

    Scores of people, educated and uneducated, believe that such instances occur. I'd guess that around 90% of the world, at least, is a supernaturalist in this sense. I think it is patronizing, then, to characterize the supernaturalist as superstitious or scientifically illiterate. Whether such instances occur is more of an empirical question than a philosophical one, although there are conceptual issues surrounding identifying an event with a supernatural cause in practice. There are also metaphysical issues about the nature of supernatural causation; but there are metaphysical issues surrounding causation when just natural events are concerned, too. At the end of the day, the issue is whether we have good observational reasons to believe that such instances really do occur. Trying to seal it off from empirical inquiry is a mistake, in my view. Only empirical inquiry is going to tell you what the world is like; all else is speculation. It is because comprehensive empirical inquiry has only revealed the undeniable existence of natural causes that I hypothesize that all causes of events within nature are natural causes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    The only thing that approaches (but is one supernatural event short of attaining) a naturalistic belief in God is a belief in a "hands off" deistic kind of God, an absentee landlord Creator. The only actual naturalistic kind of belief in God is a belief in a god who is a part of the natural universe, as Epicurus conceived of the Greek gods (as made up of atoms), or as Thomas Hobbes conceived of God–explicitly as a physical entity.

    "…it’s not terribly illuminating to demonstrate which side is probably correct."

    Again, I find this comment unnecessarily condescending to supernaturalists.

    I agree that naturalism is more likely to be true than supernaturalism (obviously!), but I think it is important to make the case for naturalism because the rest of the world (that 90% I surmised) really does believe in at least some supernatural events.

    "The difference between theism and non-theism is about how to answer questions such as: “Is the nature of reality ultimately personal or not?”, “Is agent causality the fundamental kind of causality or not?”, “Is purpose based on rational thought the ultimate explanatory principle or not?”. Metaphysical naturalism, as the main or perhaps only idea that represents the non-theistic position, answers “no” to all these questions."

    Those are important questions that I think most contemporary naturalists would answer in the negative, but that doesn't make those questions part of what naturalism itself addresses. To use an analogy: Most contemporary naturalists would (rightly) reject the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, even though it is a purely natural being. That doesn't make denial of the existence of Nessie a "tenet" of naturalism. I see naturalism not as a list of 95 theses that all naturalists must accept, but as a hypothesis about whether or not all causes of events in nature are natural causes.

    Strict physicalism is a kind of naturalism–one that layers on top of its rejection of the supernatural a rejection of nonphysical mental properties and Platonic abstract objects as well. So too there are other kinds of naturalism–like those that layer on top of their rejection of the supernatural a rejection of the possibility of nature being "personal" or "fundamentally mental" in some way, I don't know what to call that kind of naturalism, but I'd say that "contemporary naturalism"–the kind believed by most naturalists today–probably fits the bill. Perhaps Spinoza can be considered a naturalist in a different sense, since he explicitly rejected the notion of miracles or disembodied minds, but characterized Nature in a pantheistic way.

    Most naturalists today would also reject the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, though, and yet we wouldn't want to connect that rejection with contemporary naturalism. The reason we might characterize questions about the nature of the natural world (excuse the pun) as connected is because they are more closely related. But they are still separate issues. Naturalism simpliciter, or supernaturalism simpliciter, is a simple "up or down" hypothesis (there either are some supernatural events, or there are none).

    "According to naturalism (the way I use this concept), reality is ultimately impersonal and uncaring, all causality is ultimately driven by blind quantitative laws, there is no purpose in reality and no rationality underpinning its structure."

    There are reasons to view reality in this way, reasons which might mean that naturalists should so view the world, just as they should reject the existence of Nessie. But that doesn't mean this view of the world is essential to naturalism. I would say that it is essential to naturalism as most naturalists today conceive of naturalism, but isn't essential to naturalism simpliciter. Spinoza needn't accept these characterizations of Nature when he rejected miracles and afterlife and so on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    "The common core present in the naturalistic position then is that reality in its whole and in its parts is of a mechanical nature."

    Again, I disagree. When David Chalmers calls his property dualism "naturalistic dualism," he does not say that because he believes that qualia can be quantified mathematically (roughly as you define mechanical). He thinks that qualia cannot be explained physically, but nevertheless (nomologically) supervene upon the physical states of one's brain.

    "Now, whether my definitions of theism and naturalism above are the “right” ones is not really important"

    I agree–in the realm of definition all is stipulation anyway. If I insist upon my distinctions at the expense of yours it is for the sake of clarity about what my view is (not what your view is) about the way things are (not about whether one definition is better than another, which is somewhat arbitrary).

    "The question that I find worthwhile thinking about is which of these two incompatible positions is closer to the truth."

    This strikes me as a false dichotomy. Naturalism simpliciter (I owe Richard Carrier the insight of calling it this) may or may not entail those other propositions. It might be combined with their negation, or it might take a more Spinozist flavor. What takes Spinoza's view out of consideration other than disinterest in it?

    "For all I care we could call these metaphysical worldviews “personalism” and “impersonalism”."

    That would make clearer what the fundamental disagreement is, don't you think?

    "Beyond the naming conventions, I think it is fair to claim that a developed form of the former position will look essentially alike theism, as traditionally understood by the philosophers of religion."

    Christian theists are undeniably supernaturalists insofar as they believe in miraculous occurrences like resurrections.

    Even a deist believes in one miraculous occurrence–creation.

    Unless one is a Hobbesian Christian or an Epicurean polytheist or something like those views, a theist is a supernaturalist.

    "As for the epistemology on which to decide between these two metaphysical positions, I’d suggest that a practical and eminently reasonable idea is this"

    Personally, I find largely conceptual issues (and "how should we characterize nature?" seems to be one of them) to be unamenable to decisive resolution. If the question were empirical one could "simply" do an observational survey. But when I think about what could make hard determinism "beat" soft determinism, or what could make property dualism beat functionalism, I think of only lists of conceptual pros and cons on both sides of such issues, and largely a matter of personal proclivity which cons are acceptable and which pros are essential. Cases could be made for either side on those issues, and in almost all such cases (where pure logical contradiction or necessity doesn't settle the issue, as it might when it comes to the self-stultification of epiphenomenalism) there will never be consensus as to which view is correct. The question can be posed, and possible answers can be laid out along with their individual pros and cons, but that's usually as far as "purely" philosophical inquiry can go. Hence the advisability of focusing on answerable empirical questions (like whether naturalism is true, or whether indeterminism is true).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “"Rational to believe" is not nearly as tight as "likely to be the case" given the evidence available to us.

    Strictly speaking (and outside of the case of direct subjective experience) we can’t speak about what *is the case*, or about what *probably is the case*. We can only speak about our *beliefs* about what is the case, or about what probably is the case. And our beliefs are probably true if and only if they are rational; that is the defining axiom of reason. More specifically, if belief A is more rational then belief B, then and only then can we claim that what belief A says is the case is more probable than what belief B says is the case. So, I still don’t see how rationality and probable truth can be in opposition.

    Of course there are examples where given the evidence at hand we at first judged belief A to be more rational than belief B, and hence that what belief A says is more probably the case than what belief B says – but then found more evidence (a “defeater”) which made us change our mind. But, again, we changed our mind about what is true or what is probably true, because of rational thought, so these cases do not weaken but rather strengthen the role of rationality. It seems to me that at all times the *only* means we have for judging truth, or for judging probable truth, is rationality. Thus to say “I am not interested in rationality, I am only interested in probable truth” makes no sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “I don't think that your analogy is apt. Naturalism does not entail that "like causes produce like effects."

    Neither does supernaturalism entail that miracles (i.e. notable events that break the natural order that science discovers in physical phenomena) take place. Yet you use this property possessed by many but certainly not all supernaturalistic ontologies as the defining characteristic of supernaturalism.

    What [naturalism] entails is that the causes of phenomena occurring in our natural world, where there are causes, will always be natural causes.

    This is well phrased, but the hypothesis that the universe is causally closed is still a bad definition of naturalism, because, again, there are extravagantly supernaturalistic ontologies which are compatible with it. Surprisingly enough the belief that the universe is causally closed does not contradict the belief in a God who massively intervenes in the universe. In other words these two beliefs can both be true at the same time. Here is a possible model of how this can be the case based on what scientific realism tells us about the physical universe. (I personally do not believe that the model described below is a very good description of reality, but it suffices to demonstrate the point I want to make.)

    According to quantum mechanics the future of a physical system can evolve in many different ways. Only one of these ways will actualize in reality in accordance with a particular probability distribution (as described by the system’s wave function). Let us now consider the entire physical universe at some initial state as such a system. Quantum mechanics describes all possible physical universes that can evolve out of this initial state. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, quantum mechanics allows for the evolution of physical universes that would not be “naturalistic” or “causally closed” in the sense we use the terms, and indeed would strike one as strongly “supernaturalistic”. For example quantum mechanics allows for universes similar to ours but in which many people perform miracles such as raising the dead, or where the Statue of Liberty now and then swims around Manhattan, and so on. Let us now define three properties that possible universes can have. The N-property characterizes the universes that would appear to be naturalistic and causally closed under any possible scientific test. So the supernaturalistic-looking universes described above lack the N-property. The G-property characterizes the universes in which God’s will about physical facts would obtain. For example universes in which humans do not evolve according to God’s design, or perhaps where Jesus of Nazareth is not born, would lack the G-property. Finally the H-property characterizes the universes in which the free will of humans about physical facts would obtain – within the limitations of the N- and G- properties. So a universe in which we found ourselves incapable of moving our bodies according to our will (within the limitations of physical law) would lack the H-property. There is a huge number of possible universes which possess both the N, G, and H properties, and which therefore comport with the physical laws and facts that science discovers, and also with the traditional theistic story of a creator and intervening God, and also with our own experience of life including free will. God continuously actualizes one of these N-G-H universes by randomly picking one out of them (so that there are many physical events which are random and are not caused either by God or by any other person). Here then we have the description of a supernaturalistic reality in which non-physical persons who exist in a separate spiritual realm (such as God and ourselves) freely and massively cause events in the physical universe (via the actualization of future physical facts), while all these events remain causally closed under any possible scientific test.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “In other words, naturalism is a hypothesis to explain the observation that there is no uncontroversial evidence that any supernatural events have occurred.

    I accept the fact that no uncontroversial evidence for supernatural events is observed. Obviously one explanation for this fact is that no supernatural events (i.e. events that contravene the natural order that science discovers in physical phenomena) have ever occurred, and you define this hypothesis as “naturalism”. In the previous post I have shown that there are clearly supernaturalistic worlds (such as ones where a transcendental God massively interferes with the facts and history of the universe) and in which no supernatural events ever take place. So I still think this definition is not a good one because it can easily lead to confusion. One thing we must avoid is to define naturalism in such a way that it a world with an creator and interventionist god can be called naturalistic.

    Further consider that naturalism, as you define it, is arguably an implication of theism. According to theism God has designed the natural order and continuously upholds it (what in theology is called God’s “general providence”). Further God is perfect in all respects, including designing capability. Given these theistic beliefs, a theist may argue that naturalism, as you define it, is a probable implication of them. After all, why should the perfect designer ever break or suspend the very order S/He has designed?

    If you believe the core Christian belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected after being truly dead for three days, for example, then you cannot be a naturalist.

    I agree. If God has reanimated Jesus’ corpse then this certainly counts as a supernatural event and thus does not comport with naturalism, as you define it. So, those Christians who do believe in such a resurrection are supernaturalists in your sense. On the other hand, not all Christians believe in this idea of the resurrection (so it is not really a “core” Christian belief), not all theists are Christians, and not all supernaturalists are theists. I mean, pointing at a very narrow case of supernaturalism which comports with your definition is not really good evidence that your definition captures what is the essential characteristic of supernaturalism.

    If you hold to a "demythologized" version of Christianity, where all supernatural elements have been stripped away, it seems to me that you have emptied the substance of the religion

    The existence of miracles or supernatural events (i.e. events willed by some person and which break the natural order) is very far from the substance of theism. If you asked any theologian to write down a list of what theism implies starting from the most essential beliefs and working down to the less important I doubt that the existence miracles would make the top ten in that list. Even those scientifically ignorant Christians who believe that miracles capable of being observed by science happen all the time wouldn’t say that the existence of miracles is the “substance” of their religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “I think it is patronizing, then, to characterize the supernaturalist as superstitious or scientifically illiterate.

    I had understood your definition of supernaturalism as the belief that there is uncontroversial evidence for supernatural events, and it was in that sense that I said that such a supernaturalist can only be a superstitious or scientifically illiterate person.

    The whole point of positing transcendent beings is to explain phenomena happening in this world, and so must require transcendent beings do something to produce those select phenomena.

    It is one thing to believe that a transcendental God has designed and continuously upholds the physical laws that science discovers in the phenomena it studies. It’s quite another thing to believe that God often breaks His/Her own physical laws.

    Scores of people, educated and uneducated, believe that such [supernatural] instances occur. I'd guess that around 90% of the world, at least, is a supernaturalist in this sense.

    Well, probably more than 90% of the world also believe in astrology. Most scientists probably believe that the Darwinian process guarantees the evolution of ever increasing complexity. Many atheists probably agree with Richard Dawkins’s belief that “the God Hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis about the universe”. So it is a plain fact that most if not all people hold false beliefs of one kind or the other. The only relevance I see in this fact is that in any field one wants to invest thought one should consider the best ideas in it, and not the most popular ones.

    There are reasons to view reality in this way, reasons which might mean that naturalists should so view the world, just as they should reject the existence of Nessie. But that doesn't mean this view of the world is essential to naturalism. I would say that it is essential to naturalism as most naturalists today conceive of naturalism, but isn't essential to naturalism simpliciter. Spinoza needn't accept these characterizations of Nature when he rejected miracles and afterlife and so on.

    I suggested that the blind and uncaring nature of reality as an implication of what I think is essential to naturalism, namely the view that all reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature. Spinoza thought that all reality is mechanical, indeed is deterministic. If Spinoza succeeds (and I don’t think he does) to find a way for a deterministic reality to be caring and ethical, then he succeeds in falsifying my views about the implications of what I claim to be essential in naturalism, but not in falsifying my claim about what is essential to naturalism.

    Again, I disagree. When David Chalmers calls his property dualism "naturalistic dualism," he does not say that because he believes that qualia can be quantified mathematically (roughly as you define mechanical). He thinks that qualia cannot be explained physically, but nevertheless (nomologically) supervene upon the physical states of one's brain.

    That’s a good point. Please let me think about it.

    Even a deist believes in one miraculous occurrence–creation.

    If by “miracle” we understand an event that breaks the natural order, then creation cannot count as a miracle as it is the event in which the natural order itself came into existence. If, on the other hand, by “miracle” we should understand any event which a naturalist believes cannot exist, then your definition of naturalism becomes circular: Naturalism is the rejection of miracles, and miracles are what naturalism rejects.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “Most contemporary naturalists would (rightly) reject the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, even though it is a purely natural being. That doesn't make denial of the existence of Nessie a "tenet" of naturalism.

    No naturalist qua naturalist rejects the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. Rather it’s the scientifically educated people, whether theists or naturalists it doesn’t matter, who typically reject (i.e. consider improbable) the existence of the Loch Ness Monster (as they reject astrology, paranormal phenomena, etc). It looks to me like you tend to conflate the concept of “naturalist” with the concept of “scientifically knowledgeable”. If so, this is confusing. After all, there really are scientifically knowledgeable people who are supernaturalists, including several Nobel price winners in physics.

    What I think really characterizes naturalists is not how scientifically knowledgeable they are; indeed many naturalists do not really know much science. Neither is it the case that what characterizes theists is how scientifically ignorant they are, even though many are. Rather, I insist, what characterizes naturalists is the belief that reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature, whereas what characterizes theists is the belief that reality is ultimately of a personal nature. That’s why naturalists almost always describe reality using mechanical terms similar (or modeled upon) the concepts used by the natural sciences to describe the mechanical order present in physical phenomena, whereas theists almost always describe reality in psychological terms (such as love, purpose, responsibility, justice, etc.). Similarly, naturalistic explanations are almost always of a mechanical nature (state X was produced by state Y blindly following Z mechanical laws). Whereas theistic explanations are based on agent causality (state X was willed by personal agent Y to achieve purpose Z; and if Y is a human person then the physical laws of our universe only delimit the power of what Y can effectively will).

    Which reminds me of what you wrote in a previous post: “If physicalism is false because there are Platonic abstract objects, or because biological organisms have intentionality or qualia or even libertarian free will, this does not provide evidence that supernatural events occur. It would provide evidence that reality is not physical through and through, perhaps, but not that nature in influenced by something outside of nature. Our conception of what nature is like might change, but not whether nature is influenced by forces external to nature.

    This is interesting, and perhaps points to the direction towards which naturalism will evolve. I do have an observation about libertarian free will though. I understand you are saying that if naturalist philosophers from David Hume to Daniel Dennett have considered libertarian free will to be incompatible with naturalism, it was not because of the fact that libertarian free will contradicts a mechanistic understanding of reality, but because they were committed to an unnecessarily strong and perhaps false version of naturalism, namely physicalism (including supervenience physicalism), which happens to entail a mechanistic understanding of reality. Fair enough, so far. My question now is this: If reality is non-theistic but also non-physical in some of its dimensions, even then how do you suggest we may possess libertarian free will? After all don’t the thinking processes in our brain, and whatever else it is we actually willfully do, form part of the physical closure of the universe? If they do, then they can’t be free in the libertarian sense. And if they do not, then our physical universe is not causally closed because it is influenced by non-physical dimensions of reality. Which in turn implies that methodological naturalism as used by the natural sciences is false. In short, I am having trouble fitting libertarian free will within a naturalistic reality, even in one which is not physical through and through.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    In the previous post I have shown that there are clearly supernaturalistic worlds (such as ones where a transcendental God massively interferes with the facts and history of the universe) and in which no supernatural events ever take place.

    I don't think this is a coherent position if one means by supernaturalism what I mean by it.

    If "no supernatural events ever take place" then supernaturalism is false, pure and simple. Even when you invoke quantum mechanics, if God is interfering with quantum processes to produce effects that would not occur without that interference, then divine action is incompatible with a completely natural explanation for an event. If quantum events follow their own natural course–and in fact their inherent randomness is actually incompatible with being directed–this is indistinguishable from the absence of divine action. No evidence of supernatural interference is prima facie grounds to presume no supernatural interference is actually going on. It is only when an event deviates from the normal course of events that we might look for a supernatural cause; without that deviation, there is no reason to posit more than natural causes.

    One thing we must avoid is to define naturalism in such a way that it a world with an creator and interventionist god can be called naturalistic.

    Agreed; but there are only two ways in which a god could be compatible with naturalism-the-antithesis-of-supernaturalism: (1) if that "god" is itself a part of the natural world, just another natural being like an extraterrestrial lifeform; or (2) if that god exists outside of nature and never intervenes into nature.

    I don't agree with your presumption that a god outside of nature could "massively [interfere] with the facts and history of the universe" without performing a supernatural act. The very act of intervention into nature from outside of it makes it a supernatural act. If things plod along just as they would have done with no intervention, no intervention would be necessary, and so there would be no intervention.

    Further consider that naturalism, as you define it, is arguably an implication of theism.

    It might be compatible with absentee-landlord deism, but not with a personal God. A personal God, it seems to me, is by definition interventionist: i.e., he answers prayers on the spot, he causes resurrections that would not have occurred naturally, he parts seas miraculously, etc.

    According to theism God has designed the natural order and continuously upholds it…

    If there was no natural realm of any kind (not our universe or any others), and God created nature, the act of creation is a nonnatural cause of an event within nature: the beginning of physical time. That's why I doubt that even deism would count as naturalism, although it comes close since it posits only that one supernatural event (creation).

    As for continuously upholding the universe, I don't know what that means, so I can't comment. How does God "continuously uphold" anything? If I create a clay statue, I don't "continuously uphold" it–it exists on its own (until it weathers away) once it has been created without the need for being "upheld."

    After all, why should the perfect designer ever break or suspend the very order S/He has designed?

    An excellent argument for the near-naturalism known as deism (not theism).

    The problem is that all religions posit personal, intervening gods. I know of no system of beliefs that entails that (a) spirits exist but (b) never intervene into nature.

    The God you speak of is a philosopher's God, not the god of any major world religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    not all Christians believe in this idea of the resurrection (so it is not really a “core” Christian belief)…

    I disagree. If Jesus' resurrection is taken symbolically (as the reemergence of a new political order after Jesus' death, for example), one has gutted Christianity of its content, its substance. An atheist could believe that an influential religious leader changed the politics of his time. Jesus would be just a man under that conception, like Julius Caesar or Buddha.

    …not all theists are Christians, and not all supernaturalists are theists.

    Well, a philosopher's God might not conform to the god of any religion, but once the religious gods are abandoned, the need for positing any gods at all pretty much evaporates. I mean, if absentee-landlord deism is true and God has no interest in human affairs, failing to intervene in the here and now and failing to guarantee us any sort of afterlife, who cares whether or not such a being exists? His existence or nonexistence would be equally irrelevant to human life.

    I mean, pointing at a very narrow case of supernaturalism which comports with your definition is not really good evidence that your definition captures what is the essential characteristic of supernaturalism.

    My definition of supernaturalism entails the sorts of examples of the supernatural I mention. If those examples are never realized, then supernaturalism as I define it is false.

    If there is a natural world, and there is something beyond that world that intervenes into nature, that is the way things are according to supernaturalism.

    There are metaphysical schemes where neither natural nor supernatural categories apply, like idealism, where is all mental, and so nothing is "physical or supervenient upon the physical," and thus nothing is natural–and so nothing can intervene from outside of the natural world as 'Nature' is replaced with 'Mind'. So too with solipsism.

    The existence of miracles or supernatural events … is very far from the substance of theism.

    Traditional theism nevertheless implies supernatural events. Take them away, and you have pantheism or deism or some other watered-down belief in God.

    If you asked any theologian to write down a list of what theism implies starting from the most essential beliefs and working down to the less important I doubt that the existence miracles would make the top ten in that list.

    There is no such thing as a "theistic theologian." There are Christian theologians, or Muslim theologians, or Jewish theologians, and so on.

    The theologies of all major world religions today posit the occurrence of supernatural events. For Christianity, that Jesus rose miraculously is a core Christian belief. Christianity without supernatural events is an empty shell of the religion.

    Even those scientifically ignorant Christians who believe that miracles capable of being observed by science happen all the time wouldn’t say that the existence of miracles is the “substance” of their religion.

    Convince such Christians that God doesn't answer prayers, miraculously heal those who pray to saints or visit Lourdes, look out for one's personal behalf, have a plan for them individually, or guarantee them an afterlife, and they'll ultimately conclude that one might as well stop believing in God. They have about as much use for the Abstract Postulate in the Sky as they do for Platonic abstract objects. Just as not much hinges on whether Platonic realism is true or not (even if it is an interesting question), not much hinges on whether the Abstract Postulate in the Sky exists, either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    I had understood your definition of supernaturalism as the belief that there is uncontroversial evidence for supernatural events…

    Almost. Supernaturalism is the belief that supernatural events sometimes occur. They might occur just under the radar of us being able to uncontroversially detect them. I imagine that this is the position that any supernaturalist would be force to take given the lack of uncontroversial evidence that supernatural events occur.

    My view is that if supernatural events sometimes occur prima facie we should have some uncontroversial evidence of supernatural occurrences.

    Well, probably more than 90% of the world also believe in astrology.

    Perhaps thousands of years ago, but I doubt that's true today.

    Many atheists probably agree with Richard Dawkins’s belief that “the God Hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis about the universe”.

    That may need some qualification, but that doesn't strike me as that far from the truth. An all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly loving God has certain characteristics in virtue of having those defining features. We would expect his work to reflect those characteristics. Grotesque aspects of sentient life (e.g., intense pain that serves no purpose, for example for those who are terminally ill) contradict what we'd expect. In some sense that is an empirical falsification that such a God exists.

    I suggested that the blind and uncaring nature of reality as an implication of what I think is essential to naturalism, namely the view that all reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature.

    Why not talking about a mechanical worldview, then, instead of a naturalistic one? I don't believe that all natural phenomena are necessarily mechanical, but that doesn't make me a supernaturalist.

    …reality to be caring and ethical…

    How can reality, not being a sentient being, be caring or ethical? Only sentient creatures could conceivably have cares or behave ethically. This is not a consequence of naturalism, but of existence. Electrons aren't sometimes unethical or "cold." They behave, but unconsciously. This is true whether naturalism is true or whether it is false.

    If by “miracle” we understand an event that breaks the natural order, then creation cannot count as a miracle as it is the event in which the natural order itself came into existence.

    As I understand it an act of creation would not conform to any laws of nature.

    If, on the other hand, by “miracle” we should understand any event which a naturalist believes cannot exist…

    But this is your crude characterization, not mine. As I mentioned before, a supernatural cause would be a nonnatural [agent] cause of an event within nature.

    No circularity exists given my definition.

    No naturalist qua naturalist rejects the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

    No naturalist qua naturalist rejects the existence of the nonmechanical. Perhaps a physicalist, or just a certain kind of physicalist, might.

    It looks to me like you tend to conflate the concept of “naturalist” with the concept of “scientifically knowledgeable”.

    No. I'd say that a respectable naturalist believes in what science and history have revealed and little else more. There is some logical, mathematical, and first-person experiential knowledge in addition to that.

    Supernaturalists tend to believe in a great deal more than what science and history have revealed, what logic or mathematics entails, and what they've encountered in their own experience. Catholics, for example, believe in a hierarchy of angels whose structure seems to be based on thin air.

    After all, there really are scientifically knowledgeable people who are supernaturalists, including several Nobel price winners in physics.

    There really are scientifically knowledgeable people who believe in cryptozoological creatures and paranormal phenomena, too. Some of them have Nobel Prizes. So what?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    What I think really characterizes naturalists is not how scientifically knowledgeable they are…

    No one ever suggested this characterization of them other than you…

    …whereas what characterizes theists is the belief that reality is ultimately of a personal nature.

    Wiccans and panpsychists might believe this too. That doesn't make them theists.

    That’s why naturalists almost always describe reality using mechanical terms…

    If naturalists usually describe reality in mechanical terms, that's only because science has discovered that most phenomena can be explained mechanistically (or better, in terms of event causation). That doesn't mean that all of them can be.

    …theists almost always describe reality in psychological terms (such as love, purpose, responsibility, justice, etc.).

    It's rather anthropocentric to project one's own subjective life on to the rest of reality, don't you think? I mean, we don't say that rocks are angry, rivers are sad, and so on. What makes your psychological terms different?

    I understand you are saying that if naturalist philosophers from David Hume to Daniel Dennett have considered libertarian free will to be incompatible with naturalism, it was not because of the fact that libertarian free will contradicts a mechanistic understanding of reality, but because they were committed to an unnecessarily strong and perhaps false version of naturalism, namely physicalism (including supervenience physicalism), which happens to entail a mechanistic understanding of reality.

    Philosophers who have rejected libertarian free will, in my view, have rejected it because it seems incoherent, not because it is not compatible with naturalism. (Evan Fales is a naturalist philosopher who believes in libertarian free will.) The problem for the libertarian is that free will seems to be incompatible with being either caused (determined) or uncaused (random, spontaneous), and every event must be one or the other. So if you can't have free will either of those ways, you can't have it at all. But this reasoning would hold even if spirits were observed levitating tables, and so is irrelevant to whether supernatural events occur.

    After all don’t the thinking processes in our brain, and whatever else it is we actually willfully do, form part of the physical closure of the universe? If they do, then they can’t be free in the libertarian sense. And if they do not, then our physical universe is not causally closed because it is influenced by non-physical dimensions of reality.

    If we have immaterial souls, the thinking processes in our soul form part of a causal chain–a mental causal chain rather than a physical one. My thought Z now was caused by my earlier thought Y, which was caused by my still earlier though X, and so on and so forth. There is still causal determinism even when talking about potentially nonphysical events. So whence libertarian free will?

    Suppose that "the thinking processes in our brain" do not "form part of the physical closure of the universe" because our mental events are partially brain-caused, and partially soul-caused. In that case there will be no causal closure of the physical, but a broader sort of closure: causal closure of the mental-and-physical. Mental causes will be added to the deterministic causal chain–but it will still be deterministic. So again, whence libertarian free will?

    My argument would be that we can't have libertarian free will whether or not naturalism is true: the free will proponent gets impaled on the horns of the dilemma; neither horn leads to any genuine sense of free will.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    Even though the main theme of our discussion is the proper definition of philosophical naturalism, and what arguments for it there are, in the next posts I could not resist the temptation to moreover discuss other interesting issues you raise, including the nature of randomness, the relevance of the absence of a particular kind of evidence, the nature of God’s general providence, and the nature of libertarian free will. You define naturalism as the rejection of supernaturalism, and therefore as the rejection of theism also, so these issues have some relevance in our discussion.

    First some clarifications.

    I do indeed concern myself only with the god of the philosophers, simply because I wish to think only about the strongest possible theistic position. In this respect those followers of individual religions or individual denominations who feel committed to the respective dogmas are in a disadvantage. Anybody who is interested in ontological truth should only care about what in their judgment are the strongest competing ontological positions. Beyond the matter of truth, the proper definition of naturalism must be such that it is not compatible with the strongest theistic position. And, obviously, the arguments for naturalism must work against the strongest theistic position too, otherwise they are strawmen arguments. Conversely, one means for discovering the strongest theistic position, is to consider how badly naturalistic arguments fare against it. And vice versa of course: one means for discovering the strongest naturalistic position, is to consider how badly theistic arguments fare against it. Now I understand a potential implication of following this strategy, namely of producing the irrelevant supernaturalism of an absentee landlord creator; or, conversely, of producing a Frankenstein naturalism that consists of an ad hoc agglomeration of physical and non-physical realms of various kinds. But if either such result should obtain then it would be obvious to any freethinker which ontology is the weaker one.

    Speaking then about the strongest theistic position, I think it’s obvious that a god who designs nature in such a way that S/He is free to play an active role in His/Her creation without breaking His/Her own physical laws, is greater than a god who fails in this sense and is obliged to break His/Her own physical laws in order to play an active role in His/Her creation. Indeed the remarkable fact that the physical laws which science has uncovered are such that God is free to massively intervene in the history of the universe without breaking its physical closure, can form the grounds for a particularly strong version of the theistic argument from design.

    In any case, sticking with the strongest positions helps prod along the debate between theism and naturalism, which otherwise can become quite inefficient and uninteresting, with both sides apt to waste everybody’s time building up strawmen. So, for example, I am sure that you agree that Biblical literalism is not the strongest theistic position, so it would be a waste of time for you to raise arguments of the form “look what the Bible says here”, or “only Biblical Christianity is authentic Christianity”. Similarly I trust we agree that whatever exactly happened to Jesus of Nazareth’s corpse is not a weighty matter for anyone, theist or naturalist, who is thinking about the strongest theistic position.

    Finally, a semantic point. All monotheists (or “theists” for short) speak of the same one god, who in English is called “God”, in Arabic is called “Allah”, etc. The fact that monotheists disagree among themselves about particular beliefs about God is irrelevant, and is understandable as metaphysics is a famously difficult field of knowledge. Similarly, all naturalists agree that there is one nature, not withstanding the fact that they disagree about some pretty basic points, such as whether nature consists of one or of many universes, and, in the latter case, whether the same physical laws obtain in all of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “ If quantum events follow their own natural course–and in fact their inherent randomness is actually incompatible with being directed–this is indistinguishable from the absence of divine action.

    Actually it is misleading to think that data may have inherent randomness. Randomness is a property of sources and not of data. For example, consider this sequence of digits: 314159265358979323846. The question of whether this sequence is random or not is incoherent. If one has reason to believe that the source of this sequence was the algorithm that produces the digits of the number pi then that source is not random. If the source of this sequence was the repeated throw of a 10-sided fair die then that source was random. The only thing one can reasonably claim is that a set of data *looks* random, in the sense that it successfully passes a series of statistical tests. The decimal expansion of the number pi passes all statistical tests we know of, but is clearly not produced by a random source.

    What is the relevance of the above discussion about randomness? Well, consider for example the scientific theory of Darwinism. Let us assume that scientific realism is true. Let us moreover assume that we have at hand the entire sequence, mutation by mutation or even quantum event by quantum event, that describes the physical process by which the human race evolved, and that it looks random under any statistical test we apply. To ask whether that sequence is random (and hence undirected), is an incoherent question; the only meaningful question is to ask whether the source of that sequence is random. Science has nothing to say about this, because whether the source is random or not has no effect to the truth of the theory of evolution. The question about the nature of the source is a metaphysical one, and the theistic biologist will believe that the source is not random, whereas the naturalistic biologist will believe that it is.

    But doesn’t science at least say that there is no reason to hypothesize some outside direction to the whole process? That, as you say, the facts are indistinguishable from the absence of divine action? The exact question here is this: Given the initial physical conditions (the initial state of the universe plus physical laws) how probable is it that a random (undirected) Darwinian process would produce a species as complex as humans? This at least is a proper scientific question. Unfortunately no scientist today has the slightest idea what that probability is, and this question may turn out to be unanswerable for practical reasons. For all we know today that probability may be quite small, in which case the truth of the theory of evolution may be evidence *against* philosophical naturalism. Indeed some theistic philosophers, such as Keith Ward, have argued that this probability must be small. For the record, my own guess is that this probability is high. On the other hand, how quiet the cosmos appears to be is kind of unnerving.

    In conclusion, when some naturalists (e.g. Richard Dawkins) claim that natural evolution explains how forms of life as complex as we are can evolve in a naturalistic reality (in which only undirected Darwinian evolution can take place), they are making a claim twice removed from what can be justified on the science. And if they suggest that their claim is based on the science then their claim is twice removed from the truth. In fairness though it’s probable that most of them are not aware of that, for it is easy for scientists who do not understand the philosophical issues to confuse their naturalistic assumptions with their scientific knowledge. What is certain is that as a result of such misleading claims by many scientists the majority of theists and of atheists alike are under the firm impression that there are scientific grounds for holding that the biological evolution of humankind was unguided, with the unfortunate result that many theists conclude that there must be something amiss with the science of evolution.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “No evidence of supernatural interference is prima facie grounds to presume no supernatural interference is actually going on.

    That’s highly questionable. After all, in general, it is not true that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. In our current context I’d say that we have prima facie grounds to presume no supernatural interference is going on, if and only if we have prima facie grounds to presume that a supernatural being *could not* massively interfere with the physical universe without breaking any physical laws and thus being noticed (a presumption I trust I have falsified by demonstrating in a previous post the model of just such a reality), or else if we have prima facie grounds to presume that a supernatural being *would not* want to massively interfere with the physical universe without being noticed (but there are several prima facie plausible theistic explanations why God would want to do precisely that; see for example, among others, John Hick’s idea about the need for epistemic distance). So, in conclusion, it seems to me that there are good grounds to reject your statement above.

    I think this is a key point in our discussion. For if it is possible for God to massively intervene with the history of the universe in a way that does not break the natural order under any possible scientific test, then one can’t define supernatural action as the action which breaks the natural order. Now you are suggesting other ways to define supernatural event, such as that “the very act of intervention into nature from outside of [nature] makes it a supernatural act”, and “a supernatural cause would be a nonnatural cause of an event within nature”. But this leads us to a circularity, for you define naturalism as the rejection of supernaturalism, you define supernaturalism as the existence of supernatural events, and you define supernatural events using the concepts of “nature” and of “nonnatural”.

    In your master’s thesis you suggest six conditions that jointly are necessary and sufficient for establishing the likely presence of a supernatural event. But beside the fact that this list looks kind of ad-hoc, I would suggest that several of these conditions need not be present. For example we saw that a supernatural event need not “appear to violate well-established scientific laws” (condition #4). Given modern science and particularly non-locality it’s very much conceivable that the causes of *natural* events are not located in space and time either, thus negating condition #2.

    In general I am dissatisfied with the idea of defining naturalism as the rejection of supernaturalism. First, because such definition gives the impression that supernaturalism is a concept which is more concrete and easier to understand than naturalism. Secondly, with such a definition arguments for naturalism will tend to be arguments based on supernaturalistic thought or premises, such as that God would not want to massively interfere with the history of the universe without being noticed. Thirdly and more importantly I feel that naturalism is a positive metaphysical position and hence deserves a positive definition. Imagine for example a civilization where religions and other supernaturalistic ideas had never evolved. How would naturalistic philosophers in that civilization explain their ontological beliefs? Surely, it’s not like they would have to first imagine and describe supernaturalistic ideas just in order to define their ontological worldview as the rejection of them.

    In my judgment what is essential in the naturalistic mindset is the idea that reality is ultimately of a mechanical nature. What do you think of the following definition: According to philosophical naturalism reality is such that all predictive knowledge about the future state of reality can be expressed as a mathematical function over the quantifiable properties of the current state.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “ As for continuously upholding the universe, I don't know what that means, so I can't comment. How does God "continuously uphold" anything? If I create a clay statue, I don't "continuously uphold" it–it exists on its own (until it weathers away) once it has been created without the need for being "upheld."

    In a naturalistic reality physical things have an autonomous existence. But according to ancient and classical theistic understanding, the existence of physical things as well as their lawful behavior is contingent on the continuous application of God’s will. So if an apple (or a clay statue) stays on the table where we have put it, it’s only because God upholds its continuous existence. And if an apple left free in the air falls accelerating towards Earth in a manner that can be modeled mathematically in a particularly elegant way, what causes that event is again the application of God’s will. Incidentally, here we find another problem with your definition of “supernatural event”: On classical theism your definition implies that even the falling of an apple is a supernatural event because it is caused supernaturally by a supernatural being from outside of nature.

    Now at this juncture a naturalist will ask: Isn’t the naturalistic understanding of the existence and behavior of the apple way simpler and hence preferable than the theistic understanding? Why stipulate the existence of a supernatural being such as God when our observations of an apple can be explained without that hypothesis?

    Well, if our observations of an apple could be thus explained then the naturalist would be right. Only, since the birth of the cosmological argument in antiquity, philosophers have found that the idea of the autonomy of physical existence led to conceptual problems. Significantly, and rather surprisingly, modern science has produced knowledge that has wildly exacerbated the problem. Here are a few such problems:

    1. Science has advanced very far in explaining physical phenomena without the need to hypothesize the existence of consciousness. That consciousness exists is very easy to explain on the God hypothesis, but the very fact that there is such a thing as the observation of apples is hard to explain on naturalism.

    2. We now know that the fundamental physical constants appear to be extremely fine-tuned, a fact which is easy to explain if one assumes the existence of God but turns out to require extremely un-simple hypotheses to explain naturalistically.

    3. Quantum mechanics is the most successful scientific theory we have. Surprisingly though quantum mechanics has turned out to be very hard to interpret naturalistically, i.e. it is difficult to describe what kind of naturalistic reality would produce the phenomena that quantum mechanics describes. The problem is not so much that there are several mutually contradictory naturalistic interpretations, and no clear idea about how to decide which one is the correct one. The problem rather is that each interpretation turns out to be fantastically implausible. In contrast, if one hypothesizes the existence of God then there is no “mystery” whatsoever in quantum mechanics.

    4. It could have been the case that the complex behavior of large physical things were the result of adding up the simple behavior of it constituent physical parts, but it turns out that according to modern science the opposite is the case, namely the apparently simple behavior of large physical things is the result of adding up the complex behavior of the physical particles that constitute them. Take, for example, the case of a physical primitive such as the electron. It has no internal moving parts, nor access to any computing machinery. Nevertheless it displays a computationally very complex behavior. Barring the classical theistic understanding according to which God’s will guides the behavior of all physical things including that of electrons, how does the electron actually manage to behave in such a complex way?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Keith-A,

    You write: “ Philosophers who have rejected libertarian free will, in my view, have rejected it because it seems incoherent, not because it is not compatible with naturalism.

    Can you name some theistic philosophers who think that libertarian free will is an incoherent concept?

    The problem for the libertarian is that free will seems to be incompatible with being either caused (determined) or uncaused (random, spontaneous), and every event must be one or the other.

    I have heard of this argument before, but can’t make heads or tails of it. On theism at least, free will is not supposed to be an effect caused by something else. Rather it is supposed to be an uncaused first cause. On theism to ask what caused this person to freely will X makes no sense at all, indeed is self-contradictory. The only question that makes sense to ask is *why* this person freely willed X.

    Now, libertarian free will (or “free will” for short) is not really a theistic concept. Rather it refers to a basic property of what we mean when we speak of the human condition, or of our experience of life. We all know what free will is, so let me try to consider the issue from a naturalistic point of view. To the best of our scientific knowledge physical systems behave neither in a determined nor in a random fashion, but rather in a probabilistic fashion. What can be known about the future state of a physical system is a probabilistic distribution which is a mathematical function over its current state. To simplify what I want to say let me use as an analogy of the behavior of any physical system the throw of three dice and the adding up the three numbers that come up. So, for example, the event of getting an 11 has a probability of about 11.6%. We shall consider the event of getting an 18 (i.e. getting three sixes) the probability of which is about 0.5%. Now according to all versions of naturalism I know (including, to my knowledge, the supervenient understanding of the human mind which David Chalmers’s “naturalistic dualism” favors) human will is an effect caused by the physical processes that take place within the human brain. Suppose that given the state of my brain a particular event of my will (say, for me to decide to pay my fair share of taxes when I have lawful means of avoiding doing so) is 0.5%. According to naturalism there is no fundamental difference between the two above mentioned events of the equal probability 0.5%. But according to my sense of free will there is an obvious difference: Even though it is true that both events are of equal probability, it is absolutely not in my power to make the three dice come up 18, whereas it is trivially in my power to decide to pay my fair share of taxes. So, if free will as I experience it is caused by something, that cause cannot be of the same nature of a probabilistic machine, because what event a probabilistic machine will produce cannot be determined or even affected by anyone or anything, inside or outside of it. Our sense of free will then contradicts what naturalism says is the case, which implies that either naturalism is nonsense or else that our sense of free will (and hence a huge part of our experience of life, as well as our sense of morality and of personal responsibility) is nonsense.

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