Philosophy: January 2006 Archives

Two ID Posts

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My fellow Prosblogion contributor Patrick Taylor has posted some worthwhile thoughts on the California school that canceled a philosophy class on intelligent design. He's worried that this sort of reasoning would prevent good philosophy from being done. I've thought of the parallel here too. This is the sort of thing that regularly gets taught in philosophy classes, and the kind of philosophy that this includes should be a regular part of high school curricula. I think it's immoral that high schools can graduate students who have never heard of Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, or Descartes, never mind engaged with some of their arguments. It ranks up there with not even giving Latin as an option to students and actually requiring them to take an actively-spoken foreign language (my main reason for boycotting my local high school, even if it meant not being able to run track, which I had really wanted to do, but tolerating immorality was worse than not running track). High school students ought to be required to take ethics and critical thinking, with an option to take a more comprehensive history of philosophy or topics in philosophy course. I don't expect this ever to happen, but this is a fallen world after all. People do immoral things.

Meanwhile, David Heddle points out a Derbyshire post that somehow is actually friendly to ID. What I found especially interesting in David's post is his response to a common objection against the fine-tuning ID argument. The objection is that the cosmological constants appear fine-tuned, but that's because some simply theory that unifies all physics explains those constants, a theory of the aesthetically pleasing sort that many scientists have been hoping will eventually be shown true. David points out that such a theory would actually support ID. It's true that a universe like that would explain why the cosmological constants are what they are, but it just pushes the question back. Why would the universe be such that an amazingly pretty physical theory is correct? It's a good thing I still haven't done my post on fine-tuning arguments in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, because now I can include that response.

I'm not sure I've ever blogged about the so-called Emergent Church, mostly because I think the whole movement is so radically confused that I never wanted to bother to figure out where to start in pointing out all the philosophical and historical errors that serve as its foundation. But Gnu at Wildebeest's Wardrobe has done that work now in a way that I'm in complete agreement with. His post on this, to my mind, is the defininitive analysis of the Emergent Church. What I'm going to say here doesn't add anything to Gnu's post, but I think I can say the main points more succinctly and without as much technical jargon.

For those unfamiliar with this movement, the Emergent Church (a term some of them have used, but sometimes they prefer the Emergent Conversation) is a movement that had its origins within evangelicalism and has rejected key features of what it sees as modernism within evangelicalism, seeing itself as an emerging generation of those who have accepted that we're now in a postmodern generation and have to conceive of the mission and methods of the church differently in order to capture the good of this overwhelming change in cultural perspective. If you take some of their language seriously, it sounds as if they've left the church and formed something else, something thoroughly postmodernist, rejecting truth or at least any possibility of knowing the truth. If you pay more attention to those who moderate their rhetoric, it sounds as if their claims aren't nearly as strong. So there are these two ways of reading them, and the question is open (as far as I'm concerned) which of them is correct. What I think Gnu has valuably accomplished is figuring out how to categorize these two possibilities and being able to distinguish what follows if each is true.

This is the the nineteenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I presented the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In this post, I'll address what I consider the two best objections to the argument before offering some concluding thoughts.

First, we might think that the universe itself is self-existent. Then the conclusion of the argument is true, but it doesn't give us anything like the traditional theistic God. Suppose that is right. This commits us to a certain view about the universe, namely that it is the sort of thing that couldn't fail to exist. It means it is false to say that there might not have been a universe. This is certainly not a conclusive argument, but many philosophers want to avoid this conclusion.

Suppose you are comfortable with that conclusion. Do we really have an explanation for why there are any dependent things at all? Being self-existent simply because your parts are all explained still doesn't give an explanation of why there are any such parts. The traditional conception of God explains it more fully. It's God's nature to exist. God is the sort of thing that has to exist, but God is also viewed as a creator. Would we see the universe as a creator in the same way? It's hard to see how, which might leave us thinking that the universe as a whole doesn't serve as the kind of explanation that God does. In short, theism as a view explains why God would be self-existent, but I know of no explanation of why the universe would be self-existent. I don't think of this response as a disproof of the objection, but I do think of it as a good reason to prefer the theistic account.

The second objection I have in mind is William Rowe's (see the reference in the previous post in the series). His strategy is to deny PSR altogether. He says there could be a third kind of answer to explanation questions. Something's nature could explain something about it. Something else could explain something about it. But if you deny PSR, you can also simply have facts without any explanation. Philosophers call these brute facts. If PSR is true, there are no brute facts. Every fact is explained. But Rowe wonders why there couldn't simply be one brute fact -- the existence of dependent beings. Then there's no reason why any dependent things exist. Some will think the question is meaningless (like the question of where the universe is or when the timeline is). I get the impression that Rowe doesn't think it's meaningless, but he just thinks there's no answer to it. Either way, this response takes PSR to be right about individual things but not about the kind of explanation this argument calls for.



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