Aug 20, 2011

naturalism as explanation

I'm currently reading a paper by Peter van Inwagen on whether God is an unnecessary hypothesis and am absolutely drinking it up.

Thought I'd share (the insight below is not particularly controversial, but I find it is helping to clarify some things; you've gotta love analytical philosophy. I don't think I've ever seen this stated so clearly and it leads on to a bunch of things that I'm excited about.), partly as a reminder to me in future to read it again when I have time to scribble some thoughts on related things:

Consider the proposition that there exist natural things. This is a fact, and one easily verified by observation. Has it a purely natural explanation? That seems unlikely. How could facts about the properties of natural things and how they are related to one another (which are the only facts a purely natural explanation may appeal to) explain the existence of natural things? The difficulty of seeing how there could be an answer to this question suggests a general principle: To explain the existence of things of a certain type, we must somehow appeal to things that are not of that type.


Reflection on the fact that there are natural things suggests that the best course for the proponents of the superfluity argument to take might be to say that they hadn’t got their premise quite right, and to qualify it as follows: insofar as an observed fact has an explanation, this explanation is a purely natural one. That is, perhaps they should concede that some observed facts have no explanation at all, and go on to say that those observed facts that do have an explanation have a purely natural one. They could say that the proposition that there are natural things was a necessary truth, and thus had no explanation – at any rate, no causal explanation. But it doesn’t seem very plausible to suppose that the proposition that there are natural things is a necessary truth. The friends of the superfluity argument would, I think, do better to maintain that the fact that there are natural things is a brute, contingent fact – a fact because there are natural things, contingent because there might have been no natural things, brute because there is no explanation whatever of there being natural things.

How plausible is the thesis that every fact has either a purely natural explanation or else no explanation at all? Theists will certainly not find this thesis
plausible. Theists think that at least one observed fact, the fact that there are natural things, has an explanation and has no natural explanation – its explanation being, of course, that there are natural things because God created them. Doesn’t the thesis that everything we observe either has no explanation whatever or else has a purely natural explanation simply assume the falsity of theism?

No comments:

Post a Comment