I won't talk much about Grayling's paper, as it is the usual atheistic rant against religion in its many forms. Without context, I wouldn't have been able to distinguish the essay from a passage of "The God Delusion." I was disappointed that our instructor did not select a reading which responded directly to arguments of the sort made by Swinburne. But maybe this was the point. As Grayling writes,
The God that Swinburne defends bears little or no resemblance to the God of religious dogma which people really seem to want to believe in. Without the additional filter of religious tradition, his conception of God is virtually irrelevant to daily life, and might as well lead to a humanistic ethical outlook."Part of the sleight of hand at work here becomes obvious when one notes the great difference between what ordinary votaries of a religion believe and what their theologians and high priests say."
But what is Swinburne's conception of God (as presented in the essay), and how does he arrive at his conclusion? He acknowledges that a deductive inference of God's existence, in which the conclusion is mandatory given the premises, will not hold water. "It is most implausible," he says, "to suppose that such a statement as 'there is a physical universe but no God' ... contains any internal contradiction." Instead, Swinburne uses what he calls an "inductive inference". (Well, "induction" seems to imply an inference to the continuation of a pattern that has happened in the past; it might be better to characterize his argument strategy as "inference to the best explanation," for it is hard to establish a pattern when you only have one universe to reason from). He lays out four criteria that make for good induction, given a hypothesis H and observed phenomena P:
- If H is true, then one ought to expect P
- If H is false, then P is very improbable
- H is simple (i.e., postulates "the existence and operation of few entities, few kinds of entities, with few easily describable properties behaving in mathematically simple kinds of way.")
- H fits with our background knowledge
- Why a physical universe exists at all
- Why this universe obeys orderly physical laws, rather than seethes in chaos
- Why this universe is fine-tuned to allow the evolution of complex life
We do not have an explanation for these three phenomona, nor is it possible to attain one through science (even if we get our unified theory of physics, it can never explain why physics exists in the first place). However, Swinburne writes,
The personal explanation for the universe is, of course, God, which Swinburne defines as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (his justification is that a God with no limitations is a simpler hypothesis than a God with some arbitrary limitation. I actually like this point, and will come back to it in a future post). This God brings forth the universe the way it is because He would want to create life; whereas if there is no God, there is no reason to suppose that anything would exist at all. God fits with our background knowledge because many people have had religious experiences (that is a topic which I shall cover in future posts). God is also simple because He does not have arbitrary limitations. Therefore, Swinburne concludes, all four conditions of the inference are met, so we should accept God as the best explanation for our world. (This is a highly condensed summary; I would suggest that you read the essay yourself to get a better understanding of what he wants to say)."...there is another kind of explanation of phenomena which we use all the time and which we see as a proper way of explaining phenomena. This is what I shall call the personal explanation.... Personal explanation involves persons and purposes. If we cannot give a scientific explanation of the existence and orderliness of the universe, perhaps we can give a personal explanation."
- The first criterion is not met: if there is an omniscient, omnipotent creator, why should we expect him to create anything at all? Should he not be self-sufficient? Swinburne claims that God would want to create conscious creatures - but as this seems difficult or impossible to justify a priori, it has the force of a bald assertion. Swinburne says something about an orderly universe being "beautiful" and intrinsically "good," but that is about all of an explanation he or anyone else can muster.
- The second criterion is not met: Swinburne argues that on the hypothesis that there is no God, we should not expect a universe to exist at all. Again, this seems to be more of an assertion that something which is justifiable: how could you know, a priori, that the universe is unlikely to come about without a personal explanation? Swinburne writes that "since there cannot be a scientific explanation of the existence of the Universe, either there is a personal explanation or there is no explanation at all." I am dubious; could there really be no alternate metaphysical explanation? (And why, for that matter, must we commit to any explanation in matters this incomprehensible?) If someone could propose other explanations of the universe that meet the four criteria, then the God explanation would fail to impress. For example, perhaps there is a law of logic which immediately entails the existence and properties of our universe.
- The third criterion is not met: personal explanations are not simple. I will discuss this in more detail below.
- The fourth criterion is not met: God does not fit with our background knowledge. In other words, we impeach the explanatory scope of the God hypothesis by drawing on other knowledge of the world, such as the existence of pointless suffering, and the failure of religious dogma. If God exists, we would not expect to see such things.
My Objection to all Teleological Inference
The essential property of God is not the fact that He (or She) is the metaphysical ground of reality; rather, it is the fact that He is personal (for we might imagine that the metaphysical ground of reality is impersonal, and therefore not something to bother worshipping). Swinburne argues that agency is a completely valid means of explanation:
This is perfectly reasonable, as far as it goes. The fallacy lies in supposing that we can extract the personal from its physical embodiment in the universe, thereby using it to explain the universe. To do so is to make a category error. Agency does not simply correlate with physical brains; we have great reason to suppose that it is caused by the brain (e.g., brain damage reduces consciousness, drugs affect decision-making, etc.). If this is the case, then we do not know what it means for an agent to be simple or nonphysical. It does not help to say that God is merely agent-like, for it is difficult to pin down what this could possibly mean. We might as well say that the universe exists "by magic." Given this line of reasoning, it does not matter if we cannot explain fine-tuning or the orderliness of the universe by other means - whatever the case, we can be fairly certain that a "personal God" is not the explanation."We often explain some phenomenon E as brought about by a person P in order to achieve some purpose or goal G.... this is a different way of explaining things from the scientific. Scientific explanation involves laws of nature and previous states of affairs. Personal explanation involves persons and purposes."
And Now for Something Slightly Different...
- Everything which exists either has an explanation distinct from itself, or it does not.
- The universe exists.
- Therefore, the universe has an explanation distinct from itself, or it does not.
- Recursive explanations are absurd; i.e., we cannot have an infinite chain of explanations of explanations.
- Therefore, something must exist which does not have an explanation apart from itself.
- Occam's razor states that we should not multiply entities beyond necessity.
- It is not necessary to suppose that the universe has an explanation apart from itself.
- Therefore, to suppose that the universe has an explanation apart from itself is to multiply entities beyond necessity.
- Therefore, we should not suppose that the universe has an external explanation.
Necessity of Existence
- Necessary entities exist by definition.
- Contingent entities do not exist in and of themselves, but if they do exist, they must be begotten by necessary entities.
- Necessary entities always beget other necessary entities.
- Therefore, contingent entities do not exist.
- Therefore, the universe is a necessary entity
Conservation of Existence
- Things which exist cannot cease to exist
- Things which do not exist cannot begin to exist
- Had the universe once been nonexistent, it could not, by premise (2), have begun to exist.
- Therefore, the universe must have "always" existed.
In any case, I'm cutting the discussion short here. The task of examining the above three arguments is left as an exercises to the reader. I make no promises that the arguments are worth anything.