Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Strategic inscrutability

There's a family of objections to God as an explanatory principle. There's Elliott Sober's objection that you can't draw a design inference unless you know the intentions of the designer. There's a related objection to skeptical theism as a double-edged sword: it relieves the problem of evil at the expense of making God generally inscrutable and our corresponding intuitions generally unreliable. 

But let's take a comparison. In games like chess, poker, and football–as well as stratagems in warfare–the intentions of the agent are often inscrutable to an outsider. Why did the chess player make this move rather than that move? 

It would, however, be erroneous to conclude that just because we may not be able to figure out what the agent is up to, therefore the agent's actions are random. That there is no reason for what he did.

Indeed, we can put a sharper point on that. In the aforesaid examples, the agent will deliberately mask his intentions. He doesn't want his opponent to know what he's up to. He tries to throw him off the scent.

Not only are his intentions obscure, but they are obscure by design. Strategic inscrutability. 

So even if an agent's intentions are puzzling, that doesn't mean we should be agnostic about his having intentions. That doesn't mean the outcome is equivalent to chance. Indeed, in cases like military deception, we should infer design especially when the agent's behavior is puzzling. It's not merely that the agent's intentions happen to be obscure; rather, they are intentionally obscure. 

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