Friday, April 29, 2016

Analogy and intervention

Since "Reformed Thomism" is popular among some young Calvinists, I'd going to consider two such positions. Once again, I'll be using Brian Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (3rd ed.), as a reference point. 

1. Analogy

As Davies explains, Thomism rejects univocal predication in favor of analogical predication (ibid. 147-52). 

Although this discussion can get into the weeds, it raises a fundamental question, both in principle and practice, about whether God is knowable. Can we pray to God? 

i) One issue is whether analogical predication is parasitic on univocal predication. If we can't pinpoint what two things have in common, then do they really have anything in common. 

ii) I don't deny that our knowledge of God includes analogical knowledge. But I deny that we can't have univocal knowledge of God. Sometimes it's one or the other or both. Let's illustrate:

A sundial and a Rolex are analogous objects. In terms of function, they are univocal. They have an identical function, as timepieces. Yet the way they tell time is very different, so in that respect they are analogical. 

In this case, the relationship can be both univocal and analogies, in differing respects. 

Another comparison might be wooden and aluminum baseball bats. Different composition, but identical function.

iii) If I make something, and God makes something, is that attribution analogical or univocal? Let's begin with definitions. What do we mean by causation? David Lewis proposed that this represents our intuitive concept of causation:

We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it. Had it been absent, its effects — some of them, at least, and usually all — would have been absent as well.

Offhand, I think that nicely captures our pretheoretical intuition. And this, in turn, leads him to define causation thusly:

e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were to occur e would occur; and if c were not to occur e would not occur.

Again, seems reasonable to me.

If I make a batch of cookies and God makes the world, is that analogical or univocal predication? No doubt there are categorical differences, but is the meaning of the terms and the core concept the same? Well, let's plug these examples into the formula:

a) Absent divine agency, the world would not exist.

b) Absent human agency, the cookies would not exist.

The world causally depends on God if the world would not exist unless God did something.

The cookies causally depend on me if the cookies would not exist unless I did something. 

(There are other ways of phrasing it, to the same effect.) 

Of course, in both cases, the prior action has to suitably related to the outcome. Nevertheless, I think it's unavoidable that based on this definition, "making" means the same thing in reference to God and human agents alike. 

The fact that God and human agents are so different, the fact that how they bring about the result is so different, the fact that what they make is so different, is irrelevant to the fact that the same idea covers both actions.

What makes it work is comparing two things at a high enough level of abstraction that you eliminate differences which are incidental to the core idea. 

2. Intervention

Davies has problems with an interventionist model of miracles (chap. 11). So does Ed Feser. 

i) In one sense I agree. I think the word can be misleading. But that's because God's relationship to the world is too complex to be summed up in a word. Single words can't do the work of concepts. But we need a word to denote the concept. The real issue is fleshing out the concept. 

ii) It depends in large part on what analogies or metaphors we use to model miracles. Suppose we view the physical universe as a machine. Indeed, much of the natural world has a mechanical quality to it. Machines within machines. The human body is like a superbly engineered machine. Indeed, that's not really a metaphor. There's a sense in which the human body is a machine. An organic machine.

That's only a problem if you think "machine" or "mechanical" has pejorative connotations. But why think that? In fact, Davies even quotes Aquinas defining a miracle as "an event that happens outside the ordinary processes of the whole of created nature" (258). 

Well, that conjures up the image of what is normally a closed system. A miracle would involve outside agency. 

Now, automated machines are programmed to do the same thing. Likewise, natural processes are unintelligent. They simply do what they were designed to do. 

But personal agency can reprogram the machine. Personal agency can redirect a natural process, or bypass the process altogether. 

The knock against a "mechanical" model of miracles is that it makes God looks like an inefficient watchmaker. But that's an uncharitable interpretation. 

To begin with, in a fallen world, some miracles do involving repairing the damage. Take healing miracles. 

In addition, "intervention" doesn't imply a design flaw or lack of foresight. Automation is useful, but what makes it useful makes it limited. Automation is indiscriminate. But sometimes it's better to circumvent the process, to achieve a more discriminating result. Human agents do this all the time.

"Intervention" doesn't mean "the world is able to carry on independently" (239) of God. That misses the point. It doesn't mean the cosmos is actually a closed system. 

Rather, it means God made a world in which natural processes generally yield uniform results. All things being equal, physical causes produce the same effects. 

And surely that's undeniable. That's how the natural world operates. What's the alternative? Idealism? Occasionalism?

Sure, God is still the "ground of being," without which the universe would cease to exist. "Intervention" doesn't mean God is normally uninvolved in that sense. 

Now, as with illustrations generally, the mechanical illustration has its limitations. A different illustration would be a film in which, at one level, the director causes everything. He doesn't "step in" to change the plot in midstream, because he wrote the plot in advance. He's scripted every scene.

However, a film involves an interplay between personal agents and their physical environment. Things happen as a result of human interaction that would not occur in crystal formation. 

Likewise, the director can write a "coincidence" into the plot. Timely, opportune meetings between one person and another, or a character and something he needs at that very moment. This doesn't require the director to introduce "breaks" into the continuity of the plot. Rather, they reflect the coordination of otherwise independent chains of events to achieve an intended goal. Something beyond the ability or ken of characters inside the story. 

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