Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Theistic explanations

Jeff Lowder commented on a post by Wintery Knight. 
I'm going to comment on some of Jeff's comments:
Cambrian animal forms are the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism, designed for an unknown purpose. 
I don't know why Jeff assumes that a theistic explanation must involve a "mechanism." What about God directly effecting a result, absent an intervening mechanism?
In light of all the unknowns in these theistic “explanations,” one can hardly be blamed for concluding that “creation” and “design” are simply explanation names, not actual explanations. Compare to a naturalist saying, “X is the result an unknown, naturalistic (undirected) mechanism operating without a purpose.” It’s unclear why any of these unknown theistic explanations are supposed to be better than their unknown naturalistic counterparts.

Let's take some comparisons:

1) Consider the famous stone statues (Moai) on Easter Island. From what I've read, scientists still don't know how the statues were transported and erected. In addition, we don't know their purpose. In principle, we could postulate two different explanations:

i) The statues weren't designed. Their humanoid facial appearance is the result of natural weathering. Likewise, natural forces somehow transported them to their present location and raised them to a vertical position, in rows, facing the same direction. 

ii) The status were carved by human agents. Human agents positioned them.

Is one explanation superior to another? Both involve unknowns. 

Even so, postulating human agency has far more explanatory power than postulating natural forces. That's because, even though we don't know why they were carved or how they were transported, we know that human agents are able to do things that natural forces are not. Humans can be very ingenuous. Indeed, the very flexibility of that postulate is part of its explanatory power. The fact that human agents may have more than one way of solving a problem or performing a task. That opens up many possibilities. 

By contrast, it's not just that we don't know how natural processes could sculpt the stones, transport them, and erect them. Rather, it's what we do know about natural processes. From what we know about natural forces, they would be utterly incapable of accounting for the statues on Easter Island.

Stonehenge raises similar issues. So does Incan masonry. 

2) Likewise, take petroglyphs and cave paintings. We may not know how these were executed. We may not know what methods were used. We may not know their purpose. 

But even if the mechanism is unknown, even if the purpose is unknown, postulating human agency has more explanatory power to account for cave paintings and petroglyphs than postulating natural processes.

3) Or take a poker player who consistently beats the odds. The casino may not know how he's cheating. But the casino may be right to suspect cheating. Which has more explanatory power: dumb luck or human cunning? 

No comments:

Post a Comment