Reply to Argument II

I first note that many of the arguments in natural theology do not treat theism as a scientific hypothesis. Dawkins seems to suppose that if God exists, God's existence should be evident in gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear forces, lumps of matter, rocks, asteroids, and black holes. But while theism (rightly, I think) can serve as a justified explanation of some events in the cosmos (I subscribe to a theistic argument from religious experience), the chief evidence of much theistic natural theology is the very existence and endurance of our contingent cosmos as a whole. Those of us who accept a version of the cosmological argument hold that to fully explain the existence and endurance of this cosmos requires appeal to the intentional agency of a necessarily existing, good being (see Chapter 10). Contrary to Dawkins et al., theism is better seen as a philosophical explanation of the cosmos rather than as a scientific account of events in the cosmos.

Let us now turn to Narveson's argument. Narveson wants scientific details about how divine agency works. He compares explanations that work (water boils because of molecules in motion) with those that do not (God commanded that there be light and, lo, there was light). But consider an example of human agency: You light a candle in order to see your beloved. Most of us assume that such acts are truly explanatory. There may be highly complex layers to such an intentional account, distinctions between basic and nonbasic actions, and there would be a physiological story to tell about muscles and brains and so on, but most would hold that the intention to see the beloved was part of the account (Searle 1983, 1992, 1997, 2004). I suggest that if intentions are truly explanatory, then there must be a sense in which they are not reducible to the physiologically detailed explanations. "I wish to see my beloved" may need backing in terms of other intentions such as "I like to see her golden hair," but I suggest that if agency is genuinely causal, there must be a sense in which it is basic in the sense that it is not fully accounted for in other terms (Danto 1965; Swinburne 1997). If every intentional explanation were acceptable only if it involved a further intentional explanation (I intended to turn on the lights A by intending action B, and I intended B by C ad infinitum), then I should never be able to undertake the first intentional act. I shall further spell out a positive account of agency in response to Rundle's work, but I now wish to make the further observation against Narveson that the physical sciences themselves are not inimical to basic explanations. In contemporary particle physics, objects without mass are posited with primitive charges or spins, which are presumed to be the basic foundations for explaining more complex events. Positing a basic power, terrestrial or divine, is not, ipso facto, explanatorily empty. On this point, Phillips's observation cited earlier about science seems curious. In the sciences, we may well claim that with respect to any explanation, further questions can be asked of it, but this is not the same thing as claiming that science does not or cannot posit basic powers and accounts that are not themselves explained by further powers or scientific accounts. If the sciences can allow that subatomic particles have basic powers, it is hard to see how we can rule out that intentional agents have basic powers. (Phillips's claim that science is "not concerned with 'the structure of the world' " also seems curious. The atomic theory of matter seems unintelligible unless it is interpreted as offering a description and explanation of the structure of the world.)

If Narveson's dismissal of theism is unsuccessful, it is hard to see how Bagger's a priori ruling out of theism is more promising. This is especially true because Bagger's form of naturalism does not seem linked to a strict naturalism or some form of reductive physical-ism. Bagger's form of naturalism allows for almost anything but theism.

Despite the occasional references to natural law and science both here and in the final chapter which might suggest otherwise, I intend my use of "natural" to entail (1) no commitments to a physicalistic ontology; (2) no valorization of the specific methods, vocabularies, presuppositions, or conclusions peculiar to natural science; (3) no view about the reducibility of the mental to the physical; (4) no position on the ontological status of logic or mathematics; and

(5) no denial of the possibility of moral knowledge. Beliefs, values, and logical truths, for example, count as natural and folk psychological explanations, therefore, are natural explanations. The concept of the natural, in the sense I use it, has virtually no content except as the definitional correlative to the supernatural, taken here as a transcendent order of reality (and causation) distinct from the mundane order presupposed alike by the natural scientist and the rest of us in our quotidian affairs. (Bagger 1999, p. 15)

Imagine, however, that a physicalist ontology is found wanting and (as suggested earlier) that we need to be open to nonphysical states, processes, and the like. Imagine that the mental is irreducible to the physical and that we give no primary place to the natural sciences, and that we further allow that intentional explanations involving purposes are all permissible. Bagger seems to allow for all of this; but once such a wider framework is taken seriously, it is hard to see how one can (in principle) know that theistic explanations are never acceptable.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment