Sunday, March 25, 2012

On "Where the Conflict Really Lies" (Pt. 11)

[Series explanation and index here.]

Chapter 9

Deep Concord
"Modern Western empirical science originated and flourished in the bosom of Christian theism and originated nowhere else."1
According to Plantinga, this is no accident. Theism — and Christianity in particular — provides the deep ideas necessary for science to flourish. And here I thought science started with Greeks, was fostered by Arabs, and finally awoke in Christian Europe after a millennium of slumber. What was holding science back all those years, if the soil was more fertile than ever? No answers from Plantinga here. Let's see what he does have to say.

The Supreme Knower

According to the Bible, humanity is made in the image of God. God is maximally great at knowing things. So to be like God, our nature must include a faculty for knowing things about the world.
"Notice that it is blind luck if the human science-forming capacity, a particular component of the human biological endowment, happens to yield a result that conforms more or less to the truth about the world. From the point of view of theistic religion, this is not blind luck. It is only to be expected."2
This strikes me as rather roundabout.

Thought 1: I can know things about the world.
Thought 2: There is a God who knows everything, and that I'm modeled after God, so I can know things about the world!

Did everyone sit around worried that they couldn't know anything until Christians spread around that second thought? Later in this book, Plantinga will argue that naturalists should be terribly worried that we can't know anything if God isn't around ensuring that we can.

Faith in Nature's Order
"Furthermore, science requires more than regularity: it also requires our implicitly believing or assuming that the world is regular in this way."3
Why is the world orderly instead of "unpredictable, chancy, or random"? Because God made it that way. Why did God make it that way? Here Plantinga presents a medieval debate over whether God's will or God's intellect is primary. Ockham was on team will; Aquinas on team intellect. Plantinga backs Aquinas by saying that God's intellect has to be primary for the world to be orderly. A God whose will is greater than his intellect would be capricious. So...

Thought 3: The world is orderly.
Thought 4: A God whose intellect takes precedence over his will created the world, therefore the world is orderly.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?

(Not) Breaking the Law

The laws of nature are unlike civil laws because we can't violate the laws of nature, try as we might. Why not? They don't seem to be logically necessary. Plantinga suggests they are "propositions God has established or decreed, and no creature—no finite power, we might say—has the power to act against these propositions, that is, to bring it about that they are false."4

God serves as the explanation for why some things are impossible in our world, even though they aren't logically impossible. Naturalists once again have to assume the world just is a certain way. Theists can assume God is a certain way and does certain things to produce the world we see.


Why is the natural world so amenable to mathematical analysis? Because "sets, numbers and the like [...] are best conceived as divine thoughts."5 God's creations would, therefore, conform to mathematics.

Irony...I mean: Simplicity!
"Complicated, gerrymandered theories are rejected. Complex Rube Goldberg contraptions are ridiculed. When confronted with a set of data plotted on a graph, we draw the simplest curve that will accommodate all the data."6
Like mathematics, the concept of simplicity (or parsimony or beauty) works surprisingly well as a way of comprehending our world. Why is this? Because God likes simplicity. He created a world which conforms to his ideals. Since we're made in God's image, we have the same preference for simplicity. "This fit is only to be expected on theism, but is a piece of enormous cosmic serendipity on naturalism."7

The Formula

Find something unexplained. Posit a creator God with the right kind of attribute to explain why his creation would display the otherwise-unexplained feature. Deny naturalists the same opportunity to posit a world with the right kind of attribute to directly explain the feature in question.

1. Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism [Kindle Edition]. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 266
2. ibid. p. 269
3. ibid. p. 271
4. ibid. p. 281
5. ibid. p. 291
6. ibid. p. 298
7. ibid. p. 299

1 comment:

  1. Your formula is spot-on, of course. I'd add "blithely ignore the fact that the naturalist's position is both simpler and more supported by the evidence".

    However, I'd like to comment on one point:
    Why is the world orderly instead of "unpredictable, chancy, or random"?"That's not exactly right. The world *is* unpredictable, chancy, and random. It's just that it is so on a scale far smaller than the human, day-to-day scale. So what we're seeing is an average, and that appears orderly. The trajectory of a single fundamental qunatum particle is so random that it's essentially just covering all of the options - it goes everywhere it can, at whatever velocities it can, and so on. But when you sum up all the options (do a Fenyman integral), you get that a large ball will move in the classical orderly trajectory because all the other ones cancel each other out.

    This doesn't quite explain all order, because the way that the world is disordered is still ordered. But saying the world is not random or so on is certainly misleading.