Review of Hermon Philipse's God in the Age of Science (Part 2)

 photo god-in-the-age-of-science_zpstdmh9rzj.jpg
About the graphic: obviously the cover of the book. It's a cool cover. Try to enlarge because this is one of the best paintings of a great moment in science. Robert Boyle used the air pump to prove air was good to breath. Put a rat in the chamber and pumped the air out, it died. Therefore, air is good. The thing the guy is pointing to is the dead rat in the glass chamber.The man on left facing us is Boyle, with shawl, The look on his face is priceless it says "O my God I've proved something!" The two little girls look devastated, it was probably their pet rat. What they thought before that when people suffocated I do not know. Boyle and the air pump where the center of my dissertation. It's very important in the history of science, not so much for his discovery but for the protocols of experimentation that he invented around the air pump. Also his conflict over it with Thomas Hobbes. See a book Leviathan and the Air Pump. By Shapen and Shaffer.

Turning to the Review of the book, Part 1, last Wednesday

Philipse uses the issue of of explanatory power to justify using Bayes to establish the illusion of technique for deciding the matter.[24]Of course his explanatory power is a scientific explanation but he never bothers to justify it. A scientific explanation would have to be limited to the workings of the physical world and modern theology doesn't claim to answer that. Swinburne finds God probable in the prior[25] (Bayes works by establishing a prior probability as a basis from which to begin calculations). The problem is Swinburne uses simplicity as the criterion to set the prior. Philipse apparently can't dispute it. Thus, he objects to simplicity as the criterion rather than try to argue that God is complex as did Dawkins (see above). He argues against simplicity as criterion on the basis of lack of empirical evidence. He then takes up the issue of final cause. Theists sometimes use final cause as an “ultimate explanation.” “God forms a more natural stopping place [for theists] than, say, the existence of the universe.”[26] The existence of the universe is what is in question so of course that in itself can't prove its origin. He is calling into question the satisfying nature of final cause, apparently assuming that the infinite causal regress (ICR) is not unsatisfying. He asserts that defense of God as explanation can't be “full” and “final” because it doesn't answer the kinds of questions science answers. He couches this in terms of introducing “questionable metaphysical assumptions.”[27] It seems that they are talking at cross purposes because each means something different by “full” and “complete.” For Swinburne this is causal and includes motivations. Philipse contrasts motivations as part of the cause with naturalistic explanations which are about “causal laws of nature.”[28] So Swinbure is talking about “why” and Philipse is talking about how. It may be a matter of taste but it seems that asking after why is a philosophical view and more satisfying in some ways, whereas the scientific explanation has to exclude why as though there is not one and that seems less “full” as an explanation. If there is no why there is none but why should we just assume a priori there is none? If the explanation is only a scientific one then that is what we must do. That's why we should prefer the philosophical and asked “is there a why?” When we find one that should be it.

At this point he brings in what he takes to be the ultimate “brute fact” of God's existence as a negation of a complete explanation. In order to pull this off he establishes synchronic and diachronic both as requirements of a “complete” explanation.[29] The former refers to causes immediately temporal effecting the given outcome, while the latter entails causes perpetuated through time before the event. In other words, synchronic, the match burst into flame due to friction caused by the striking board. Diachronic, the match burst into flame due to the factory used to make chemicals, applied these chemicals to the match at a given time, and the store that sold the matches and every other aspect of buying the matches, up though the motion of my hand of running the match along the striking board. So he's saying that because we don't have that sort of knowledge about God then God can't be a full explanation. Then he's going to spend a lot of time picking apart the motivations of God, such as the motivation to create humanity.[30]Because we can't understand God's exact motivations, nor is there a set of diachronic explanations for God's being, then the explanation can't be full.

There are two problems with this argument. Philipse has defined “full explanation” and “ultimate” explanations in ways that favor scientific kinds of information. The philosophical understanding does not necessarily require the same kinds of explanation. Why do we need to know, for example, what exactly God's motivation to make man felt like or even what it was? We can understand the motivation of love, all of God's motivations can be summed up in love. The demand for scientific exactitude is a smokescreen. We might qualify “full” and “complete” and limit it to matters we can understand. God as the final explanation can be based upon both the final cause and the bestowing of meaning via reasons for our own existence; these have to be in general terms such as “love” because we can understand love (at least on an instinctive level). The second problem has to do with the idea of God as brute fact (BF).

The concept of brute fact turns upon the notion of their being no reason for the BF. A BF is a fact for which there is no reason at all. That's not to say no cause but no reason other than the naturalistic causal nexus of the physical world. The BF is a slippery concept because many philosophers mean different things by the term. John Hospers understands BF simply as something that can't be explained.[31] Does this mean we don't even know a scientific cause? For Some Philosophers it does and for some it does not. Eric Barnes lists several philosophers who use the term to mean no known explanation, not even a scientific one (Freidman, Kitcher, Lipton).[32] Barnes himself says “it is my view that brute facts need not be thought to represent any gap whatsoever in scientific understanding.”[33]We can side step the problem because we can't get a scientific explanation of God. God is not given in sense data, thus it is an a priori truth that we can't have a scientific explanation of God. To say that without a scientific explanation we have not a full or complete explanation is merely to exchange one set of metaphysical assumptions for another. Privileging science as the only valid form of knowledge is just as much a metaphysical assumption as is belief in God.

Moreover, these are two fundamentally different kinds of explanations, scientific and purposive. There is no purpose in naturalistic processes and forces of nature. If that is all there is then all reality is a brute fact. For me brute fact means no higher reason than just bare existential facts. There is no higher purposive reason for God than God. That is not the same as saying the world just happens to be here for no reason other than the natural causal connections involved in its coming to be. Naturalistic processes are all cause and effect, they are all contingent. That puts God on a different level than anything else. God is the only truly non contingent reality. With all temporal natural things necessities are themselves contingent upon higher necessities. That is until we come to God. We should expect that the process of necessity and contingency would keep on going, although that leads to questions about infinite causal regress (ICR). If there is ICR it's not there for a reason. But God gives us not only a stopping point for causes but also a higher purpose in life.

That explanation is more full in terms of purpose and more complete in terms of causation. This reasoning could be circular if one is not careful. It begs the question to assert that there must be a “higher level” reason. But the opposite is also true; the assumption that there isn't a higher reason also begs the question. One way around this is to embrace the final cause argument. Another way would be to take it as axiomatic based upon proper basicality or some intuitive sense or experience that there is higher purpose.

At this point Philipse turns to Bayes theorem as a means of proving God is not probable. So he moves from denuding the empitus for belief by calling it "unscientific" to a reason not to believe. I have shown that Bayes can't be applied to God.
My Answer to Lowder's attack on my Bayes article
24 Ibid., 91

25-27 Ibid. 192

28 Ibid. 195

29 Ibid 193

30 Ibid 195

31 John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (1997) p. 211

32 Eric Barnes, “Explaining Brute Facts,” PSA: Proceedings of the biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science Association.. Vol 1994, Volume one: Contributed Papers, (1994), 64-68, 64.

33 Ibid.


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