Reppert on Theistic Explanation

Reppert on Theistic Explanation September 9, 2013

Victor Reppert has chimed in on my reply to Wintery Knight.

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

Since it is at least possible that an omnipotent being occasionally works through secondary causes, the question at least makes sense. For example, if I remember correctly, Richard Swinburne says that God fine-tuned the initial conditions of the universe and the values of the various constants in physical laws of nature, such that intelligent beings like humans would evolve. In one sense, we might say that, on Swinburne’s view, God’s fine-tuning of the universe explains the evolution of human beings. In other words, Swinburne might say, “The explanation for the existence of human beings is that God fine-tuned the initial conditions and constants of the universe in such a way as to cause the evolution of human beings.” Now suppose we ask, “But what explains the initial conditions and constants of the universe?” Suppose Swinburne said, “God used the power of omnipotence to get it done.” That statement may very well be true, but we wouldn’t have an explanation in the sense I have been talking about in my last few posts.

Again, imagine a naturalist responding to a cosmological fine-tuning argument. He says, “there is a naturalistic explanation for cosmological fine-tuning, but we have no idea what it is or how it works. Science hasn’t figured it out yet.” That statement may very well be true, but it hardly counts as an explanation. It’s hard to see how the theist’s “using the power of omnipotence” is any more informative or explanatory than the naturalist’s “there is an answer, but science hasn’t figured it out yet.” At this point, the naturalist can hardly be blamed for comparing the track record of naturalistic explanations to that of theistic explanations and sticking with naturalistic explanations.

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