Philosophy: October 2006 Archives

Greg Ganssle has produced the most fun and readable introduction to philosophy of religion I have ever encountered. His target audience runs from high school seniors to introductory college students, and I can say that I have enjoyed teaching an introductory philosophy course using this book. He presents the issues in a clear-headed way while drawing readers in with fun examples and humor.

After arguing for the value of thinking through philosophical questions in a reasonable way, Ganssle argues for open-mindedness in the sense of not being so sure of your views that you are not open to reason, but he also dismisses the idea that we must be neutral or that we must not make exclusive truth claims. Open-mindedness does not require having no views in those ways. I especially like seeing this in a book designed for younger students unfamiliar enough with philosophy to need some kind of way of heading off the simplistic kind of relativism that many students of philosophy find themselves stumbling over.

The main body of the work considers philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God. His presentation of the cosmological argument is the clearest I have ever seen, avoiding technical terminology when it is not needed but making the concepts as clear as can be done without such terms. His treatment of the design argument focuses on the fine-tuning argument after showing why very few are today convinced of biological design arguments, a choice perhaps reflecting a desire to stay out of intelligent design controversies in the political realm but nonetheless reflecting the philosophical consensus among believing philosophers today. His moral argument discussion helpfully begins by showing the difficulties in naturalistic accounts of morality, thus showing reasons why someone would turn to God as an explanation. I wish he had treated some naturalistic accounts of morality that are not relativist or eliminativist, and I really wished for a discussion of Euthyphro objections, but I do think his treatment of this argument is among the best I have read at this level.

This is the the twenty-second 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 looked at the fine-tuning design argument for the existence of God, along with an initial look at the many-worlds conjecture as a response to the argument. This post will spend some more time comparing that conjecture with the designer explanation for the fine-tuning of constants in physics.

Is this objection decisive? It's an alternative explanation, and we need just one alternative explanation to show that the argument original designer explanation isn't the only one. So we have two explanations to consider. Which should we prefer? Which is more reasonable, theism or all these myriads of cosmoi? Both explanations do seem to explain the surprising fact about the constants of physics, and they seem to account for this fact equally well, but how do you weigh the simplicity of each theory? It's not as if both agree on the core that everyone agrees on, and then one goes beyond that to postulate all this excess baggage. Both scenarios contain something that in their theory about ultimate reality beyond what a naturalist might want to say.

Theism, even the minimal sort necessary if you accept this argument, involves a designer or creator, which certainly goes beyond naturalism. Simplicity might nudge us to discount theism in favor of the many-worlds conjecture, since those worlds all seem to be additional parts of nature -- the kind of thing a naturalist already believes in. There are just lots more of them than the one we originally believed in. However, the many-worlds conjecture may require going beyond naturalism as well. Why do all the possible cosmoi (i.e. all the possible sets of constants) get generated? Is there some mechanism that generates these different universes, maybe all at once in different universes or maybe one after the other? What would this mechanism be? It's certainly not something you can just read off physics. There's no explanation offered why there would be such a mechanism. So it's not clear if this response really fits the naturalistic picture either. The many universes would be more of what we already believe in (though many, many more things), but the mechanism to get many universes is beyond the core theory. Yet theism involves a wholly different kind of thing, a designer, though just one thing and not very, very many. A theory can be simpler in terms of how many things it requires, and a theory could be simpler in terms of what kinds of things it requires. We have two theories. Each one is more complex than the other but in a different way.

This is the the twenty-first 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 two versions of the design argument for the existence of God, along with some standard responses. This post focuses in on a third version, the fine-tuning design argument.

The laws of physics contain some constants that govern how things in the universe behave. Physicists have no idea why these constants have the values they do, but they know that if they had been just slightly different then we couldn't exist. Stars couldn't form, never mind rational life. (Some might argue that rational life vastly different from anything we've seen might still be possible. That is hard to speculate about, but perhaps it's worth considering.)

Physicists all accept this fact about the laws, which leaves philosophers to figure out what to say. Some argue that, since the chances are so low of getting these exact constants, it's too much of a coincidence that the constants we happen to have are the ones that allow the possibility of rational life. This leads some to conclude that the universe must have been designed with the purpose of leading to at least the possibility of rational life.

This is the the twentieth 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 finished discussing the cosmological argument for the existence of God. In this post, I'm moving on to the design argument for the existence of God.

[note: These design argument posts are based largely on discussions by Peter van Inwagen in his Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (2002) Westview Press and Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press.]

The main idea behind the design argument is that something about nature is unexplainable unless a creator designed the universe for a specific purpose. Nature is hard to explain otherwise. As with finding a watch on a beach, it seems hard to conclude that it just occurred naturally on its own. It seems to be put together in such a way that calls out for an explanation.

Sometimes the argument is based on of the beauty of the world or the universe, and sometimes it picks out a specific fact. Can the fact that we find music beautiful be explained by science? Why do we happen to enjoy patterns of sound that just happen to be mathematically interesting? Some have looked at beauty in the world and wondered how anything can explain such wonder without appealing to a designer who wanted it to be beautiful. Others have questioned such arguments by saying the only reason we find it beautiful is because our preferences happen to match what's there.

The issue turns on what beauty is, what it is we perceive when we see beauty, if scientific theories can explain the nature of beauty, and many other issues. I'll focus on one particular fact that has led some to believe in a designer, but let's first look at the history of this general argument type when based on aother kinds of facts.

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