Jeff Lowder presents one of the strongest rebuttals against theism, and cases for naturalism I have so far seen

Jeff Lowder of The Secular Outpost debated Frank Turek 22nd september in Kansas. From this debate (video is not available yet), Jeff has compiled a narrated presentation of his powerpoint slides used in the debate, which I think now amounts to one of the strongest cases for naturalism and against the type of theism offered by the likes of William Lane Craig, I have seen to date.

It is long but if you are interested in this sort of thing, it is definitely worth a watch:

113 thoughts on “Jeff Lowder presents one of the strongest rebuttals against theism, and cases for naturalism I have so far seen

  1. OMagain: That does not seem to be your answer. But nonetheless, how do you know it’s your eternal spirit and not some other religions?

    It’s the best you’ll get from Otangelo. He’s an infamous troll whose sole raison d’être is to plug his apologetics website.

  2. Kantian Naturalist:
    But since having a large brain is energetically costly, and the thermodynamic books have to stay balanced long enough for the organism to reproduce, it only pays to have a large brain if the organism can also extract the nutrients it needs from the environment.

    I don’t disagree with anything you write in this post KN, and it seems to me the above is the barrier to big brain evolution.

    It’s actaully not that being more intelligent isn’t advantageous. I can scarcely imagine a situation where being dumber is preferable. Consider the thought experiment of a fly with a human’s intelligence, would it really not fare any better than other flies?
    It’s that the hardware to run that intelligence on uses a lot of fuel. As you say, one way to solve this is with a niche that makes it possible for the benefits to outweigh the costs.

    In a way, even the environment can theoretically facilitate large expansions in energy need if there’s enough readily available food. The colossal body of the blue whale uses a lot of energy, and on land would collapse because it could not support itself, but it’s made possible by the aquatic environment and the abundance of food.

  3. vjtorley: (i) From what I can tell, Lowder doesn’t define the terms “mental” and “physical” in his video. He really needs to define these terms, since he insists that mental states are grounded in underlying physical states.

    You are right he does not do that (there). The video is basically a narration of his presentation in a debate with Frank Turek, using his power point slides. Jeff’s work is mostly from articles and essays he’s written on his blog. Here’s one on definitions: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/04/17/the-nature-of-naturalism/

    (ii) Lowder equates “objective” with “mind-independent.” This definition begs the question against theism.

    That might be so, but it’s actually a definition used by many christian apologists who say (for example) that morality can’t be objective if it’s dependent on minds.

    (iii) Lowder repeatedly asserts that if naturalism is compatible with the existence of X, then X can’t be used to argue against naturalism. This is a fallacy. Rather, one should say: if naturalism can explain the existence of X, then X can’t be used to argue against naturalism. If X is compatible with both theism and naturalism, but X is explained only by theism, then X surely counts as evidence for theism.

    I think you are mistaken that Lowder asserts that if naturalism is compatible with some concept, then it can’t be used to argue against naturalism. Among other reasons because Lowder is a Bayesian, he usually makes evidential arguments using exactly the principle that the likelihood of certain evidences on competing hypothesis is what matters, not mere compatibility. So if anyone would understand that just because something is compatible with hypothesis X, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used as evidence against it, it would be Jeff Lowder.

    Could you point out some specific instances in the video where he does this? I listened to it (again) a few days ago but nothing like that seemed to stick out. I might misremember but don’t want to sit through the whole video again just listening for this.

    (iv) Lowder defends induction on the grounds that uniformity is intrinsically more probable than variety. Nonsense. Consider a straight line curve, exactly 1 unit above the x-axis, going from x = minus infinity to x = 0. Question: where does the curve go next? There are countless ways in which it could diverge from its hitherto straight course, but there’s only one way for it to continue on course. Antecedently, it’s infinitely more probable that the curve will veer off course at some point than that it will always remain on course.

    I think you bring up an interesting counter argument here and I don’t know how Jeff would respond to that himself.

    For my own part I think one could argue about the simplicity of laws required to generate uniformity versus variety. I think a constant and unchanging law is simpler, than one that varies a lot, and simplicty is more probable than complexity.

    Similarly with nature. There are plenty of ways in which it could go off the rails at some point in the future, and a naturalist who thinks that will never happen is being unreasonably optimistic.

    But that same issue plagues both theism and naturalism. There’s an infinite number of ways a God could decide to alter the laws of nature, or indeed bring the entire universe out of existence.

    (vi) Interestingly, towards the end of his video, Lowder acknowledges that consciousness counts as evidence for theism. Good for him. He does go on to argue that certain facts about consciousness are better explained by naturalism. Even if this were true, however, it would be of no use unless the naturalist were able to explain consciousness itself.

    I don’t see what you mean by “it’s of no use”.

    The way I understand it, while Lowder says the apparent irreducibility of consciousness to material interactions is evidence that favors theism, the fact that there are aspects of conscious experience that seem dependent on, if not directly caused by, physical structures and interactions, that means this evidence isn’t as strong as it could have been.
    In other words, it’s still evidence for theism, but it’s weaker than it could have been. There could have been no apparent relation between mind and concscious experience (your mood, thoughts, personality unaffected by whether you had enough sleep, your morning coffee, a nice meal, drugs and medication and so on), yet there clearly is such a relation.

  4. Rumraket,

    if flies were as intelligent as humans, they would stress out about being lonely. Some would become addicted to alcohol, others would be jealous or greedy, or suicidal. They might brood that life is unfair, and why isn’t God nicer to them. They would fight with other flies because they don’t support the same teams as them. Occasionally they would try to poison other flies, or ostracize flies that are the wrong color. Or they would try to make other flies live by their rules, which would constantly change.

    Its highly doubtful that they would survive any better. Your idea is poorly informed to say the least.

  5. I have been reading Lowder for a couple of years. He indeed makes a good case of disassembling William Lane Craig-style arguments. The problem with Lowder is that he thinks William Lane Craig-style arguments are just about all there is to theism. And he does not have an alternative to theism, but this is understandable. Nobody would care to build up an alternative to something they don’t think exists.

  6. phoodoo: But what does that mean? We have to assume that if natural selection is real, that there is a long process of some members of a pack possessing traits that others don’t. How big these differences is left to one’s imagination. They can’t be too small of a difference, or how could it convey any meaningful advantage.

    So there should constantly be a flux of some with a noticeable advantage of some kind. Yes this doesn’t seem to be something we can observe much.

    Moreover, when attempts are made to verify such advantages, e.g. to make generalizations about the IQ of the white race versus other races, the case is dismissed by yelling “Racist!” Darwinism is not having its best days. Last century it gave rise to eugenics, but now this.

  7. Kantian Naturalist: We aspire, in philosophy, to understand how everything fits together. (This is of course impossible…

    If it’s impossible, then why do we philosophers aspire to it? Are we stupid or something? Can you provide an argument to the effect that it’s impossible, so we would stop being stupid?

    Anyway, there are people who have fit things together in several ways several times over. So that they actually fit.

  8. Erik:
    I have been reading Lowder for a couple of years. He indeed makes a good case of disassembling William Lane Craig-style arguments. The problem with Lowder is that he thinks William Lane Craig-style arguments are just about all there is to theism. And he does not have an alternative to theism, but this is understandable. Nobody would care to build up an alternative to something they don’t think exists.

    I expect he thinks theism exists.

  9. Erik: I have been reading Lowder for a couple of years. He indeed makes a good case of disassembling William Lane Craig-style arguments. The problem with Lowder is that he thinks William Lane Craig-style arguments are just about all there is to theism.

    What a silly thing to say. What do you even mean by that? If all you mean by that is that Lowder has ONLY addressed quasi-scientific arguments of the type advanced by Craig and some ID proponents, it’s wrong. If you mean he’s MOSTLY addressed those, so what? Is one required to address in equal amounts, any and all cases for theism? That would be pretty hard to do for a single person.

    And he does not have an alternative to theism

    This is even more silly, since he’s a proponent of metaphysical naturalism.

    Maybe you mean something else by “alternative” than how I understand it. What is it an alternative should provide in order to actually constitute an alternative to theism, you think?

  10. Erik: If it’s impossible, then why do we philosophers aspire to it? Are we stupid or something? Can you provide an argument to the effect that it’s impossible, so we would stop being stupid?

    I take it that, since we are all finite and fallible inquirers, a complete understanding of how everything fits together is beyond our reach. It’s a regulative ideal.

    Anyway, there are people who have fit things together in several ways several times over. So that they actually fit.

    There have been many attempts, and quite a few stand out as majestic monuments of human creativity and genius. But are any of them completely and absolutely true, never needing any correction or revision? That strikes me as implausible on its face.

    (Did the universe speak directly to Aristotle but not to Plotinus? Or the other way around? Did the world reveal itself to Spinoza but not Leibniz, or to Leibniz but not Spinoza? Did reality dictate Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit but not Dewey’s Experience and Nature?)

  11. Kantian Naturalist: I take it that, since we are all finite and fallible inquirers, a complete understanding of how everything fits together is beyond our reach. It’s a regulative ideal.

    Oh, so you’re a Platonist? Finite and fallible? Maybe you are, but I’m not!

  12. Mung: Oh, so you’re a Platonist? Finite and fallible? Maybe you are, but I’m not!

    I don’t understand what this comment is supposed to mean.

    I’m hardly a “Platonist” (whatever that means!) but I’ve read a lot of Plato and continually come back to him in my thinking and teaching. He is the master.

  13. Rumraket: This is even more silly, since he’s a proponent of metaphysical naturalism.

    His arguments, including in the video, regularly say something like “such-and-such does not necessarily exclude atheism” or “there are several ways in which atheism could be compatible with such-and-such”. If so, then atheism and metaphysical naturalism are not a single thing, but a bunch of propositions, very likely mutually exclusive and incompatible. So naturalism is in disagreement with itself, therefore a major anti-theist point, namely that theists disagree among themselves, falls away. This is how naturalism is no alternative. And I think it’s quite unnatural to call it naturalism in the first place.

    ETA: He is not propounding a single alternative system, but piecemeal solutions to things he sees as intellectual problems. Moreover, he sees them as problems precisely because he does not see theism as a single system that explains why such-and-such must be precisely so and is thus not a problem from theist’s point of view.

    Kantian Naturalist: I take it that, since we are all finite and fallible inquirers, a complete understanding of how everything fits together is beyond our reach. It’s a regulative ideal.

    I take it that this is a finite and fallible statement. Arguments from ignorance are not too wise.

  14. Erik: His arguments, including in the video, regularly say something like “such-and-such does not necessarily exclude atheism” or “there are several ways in which atheism could be compatible with such-and-such”. If so, then atheism and metaphysical naturalism are not a single thing, but a bunch of propositions, very likely mutually exclusive and incompatible.

    This literally does not follow at all. In fact you seem to have committed two fallacies here, the bare assertion fallacy and a non-sequitur.

    Please demonstrate how the compatibility of naturalism with various concepts and statements, entails or even implies naturalism is “a bunch of propositions”, and that they are “very likely mutually exclusive and incompatible”.

    So naturalism is in disagreement with itself

    You can’t start with a “so” here when it doesn’t follow from any of your supposed premises.

    therefore a major anti-theist point, namely that theists disagree among themselves, falls away.

    This ALSO doesn’t follow. At best it would demonstrate that proponents of naturalism could be hypocrites, but that would not serve to wash away the mutually contradictory nature of various religious claims and doctrines.

    This is how naturalism is no alternative.

    Okay, then naturalism is “no alternative” by having a lot of issues you have failed to establish that it actually has.

    And I think it’s quite unnatural to call it naturalism in the first place.

    Okay, good for you.

    ETA: He is not propounding a single alternative system

    System of what? You seem to be complaining that naturalism is not, in effect, a religion that tells you how you should live and which governs every aspect of human experience.

    but piecemeal solutions to things he sees as intellectual problems.

    That’s not naturalism. Naturalism is about the nature of the world and what exists. Those piecemeal solutions are their own things, they are not entailed by or a part of naturalism.

    Exactly because naturalism is not a religion, solutions to intellectual problems must be sought elsewhere: In moral philosophy, in science and so on.

    Moreover, he sees them as problems precisely because he does not see theism as a single system that explains why such-and-such must be precisely so and is thus not a problem from theist’s point of view.

    This makes no sense at all. There is no correspondence between this and anything said in the video.

    Kantian Naturalist: I take it that, since we are all finite and fallible inquirers, a complete understanding of how everything fits together is beyond our reach. It’s a regulative ideal.

    I take it that this is a finite and fallible statement.

    How long does the average human being live? Could you explain how one could obtain “a complete understanding of how everything fits together” with this limited amount of time? And this is disregarding whether one could even know that one’s understanding was “complete”.

  15. Kantian Naturalist: Mung: Oh, so you’re a Platonist? Finite and fallible? Maybe you are, but I’m not!

    I don’t understand what this comment is supposed to mean.

    Erik doesn’t seem to make much sense at all to be frank. His posts mostly look like angry rants.

  16. Rumraket: This literally does not follow at all. In fact you seem to have committed two fallacies here, the bare assertion fallacy and a non-sequitur.

    My “bare assertion” comes from having read Lowder for about two years and from having watched the video. Just an observation: He deals with problems piecemeal, no internal universal consistency, and the problems are problems precisely because of seeing things piecemeal, not holistically the way theism sees them.

    Rumraket: System of what?

    This proves the point perfectly. Of course you would see no need for a system when you don’t see of what and what for it should be.

  17. Erik: My “bare assertion” comes from having read Lowder for about two years and from having watched the video. Just an observation: He deals with problems piecemeal, no internal universal consistency, and the problems are problems precisely because of seeing things piecemeal, not holistically the way theism sees them.

    Thank you for your opinion.

  18. Rumraket: This literally does not follow at all. In fact you seem to have committed two fallacies here, the bare assertion fallacy and a non-sequitur.

    Please demonstrate how the compatibility of naturalism with various concepts and statements, entails or even implies naturalism is “a bunch of propositions”, and that they are “very likely mutually exclusive and incompatible”.

    You can’t start with a “so” here when it doesn’t follow from any of your supposed premises.

    This ALSO doesn’t follow. At best it would demonstrate that proponents of naturalism could be hypocrites, but that would not serve to wash away the mutually contradictory nature of various religious claims and doctrines.

    Okay, then naturalism is “no alternative” by having a lot of issues you have failed to establish that it actually has.

    This makes no sense at all. There is no correspondence between this and anything said in the video.

    How long does the average human being live? Could you explain how one could obtain “a complete understanding of how everything fits together” with this limited amount of time? And this is disregarding whether one could even know that one’s understanding was “complete”.

    Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate how spurious and arbitrary Erik’s line of reasoning here is, despite his claims to “rationalism” and “basic logic”.

  19. One issue that Lowder seems to touch on, but evades more than he should, is the historicity of notions like “naturalism” or “supernaturalism” (which is why these concepts are impossible to define in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions). Several of the philosophical doctrines of antiquity — Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Aristotelianism — could be retrospectively classified as “naturalism” or as “non-naturalism” depending on what one thinks deserves emphasis. Likewise, whether one thinks of, say, Spinoza as a naturalist depends on whether one focuses on the rationalistic method by which he constructs his system or the substantive views about immanent efficient causation that he arrives at.

  20. Rumraket,

    I did read that, though I still haven’t listened to the video.

    I think I am still suspicious of the idea that metaphysical naturalism (and supernaturalism) can be defined in ahistorical, decontextualized terms. I worry that the cultural ascendance of the mechanistic world-picture that accompanied the scientific revolution really complicates how we can retrospectively assess pre-modern metaphysics as “naturalistic” or “non-naturalistic”.

    That’s not to say that we should avoid using these words. It’s to say that we should notice that our use of them should be attentive to context and history.

    And I think we should bear in mind the significance of Nietzsche’s claim, “only that which has no history can be defined.”

  21. Kantian Naturalist: Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate how spurious and arbitrary Erik’s line of reasoning here is, despite his claims to “rationalism” and “basic logic”.

    Says the person who (1) didn’t watch the video and (2) goes on to borrow a point I made.

    You just hate to agree or what?

  22. Erik: Says the person who (1) didn’t watch the video and (2) goes on to borrow a point I made.

    You just hate to agree or what?

    Where did you make a point about the historical character of our ideas about what counts as “natural” and “supernatural”? All I saw was a lot of unsubstantiated claims about how naturalism can’t be this or can’t do that, with no argument at all.

  23. Kantian Naturalist: Where did you make a point about the historical character of our ideas about what counts as “natural” and “supernatural”?All I saw was a lot of unsubstantiated claims about how naturalism can’t be this or can’t do that, with no argument at all.

    It’s because I was not making an argument. I was sharing my impressions about the way Lowder makes arguments. This may be hard to grasp for you as long as you haven’t seen the video.

    And you continued with the notion of naturalism where I left off. It should be called physicalism, to be right. Historically it was called materialism. To call it naturalism is to hijack a word that means more to make it mean less.

  24. Erik: It’s because I was not making an argument. I was sharing my impressions about the way Lowder makes arguments. This may be hard to grasp for you as long as you haven’t seen the video.

    And you continued with the notion of naturalism where I left off. It should be called physicalism, to be right. Historically it was called materialism. To call it naturalism is to hijack a word that means more to make it mean less.

    The thing about Erik is he’s mostly statements of opinion and very little logic and argument. He offers no reason to think any of this is true, he just sits there and informs us about his opinions. Well, cool, I guess.

  25. Rumraket: The thing about Erik is he’s mostly statements of opinion and very little logic and argument. He offers no reason to think any of this is true, he just sits there and informs us about his opinions. Well, cool, I guess.

    Given the nature of atheism, its arguments can only work if the other side has been heard first. But atheists show no willingness to hear the other side. Just my opinion of course.

    In reality you can surely tell the difference between for example Zeus and God, right? Roughly the way Plato made the distinction. Because he used Zeus and God as distinct concepts. And you knew this because you are a well-informed atheist, not brainwashed to see just your own side the way I am, right?

  26. Erik: Given the nature of atheism, its arguments can only work if the other side has been heard first.

    Or you can just give evidence against the existence of God. All you need for that is a definition of God.

    So, what you said was wrong.

    But atheists show no willingness to hear the other side.

    You say this in a thread started to show a video where Jeff Lowder actually read and responded to Frank Turek’s book and listened to his debate arguments and responded to them. In fact I’m here right now, reading your posts.

    So what you said there is also wrong. Perhaps you have mistaken “willingness to hear” with “uncritically swallow”?

    In reality you can surely tell the difference between for example Zeus and God, right?

    That depends on how they present themselves doesn’t it? According to greek mythology, Zeus could pretty much transform into any physical form (including animals) and also perform miracles and use magic. He was, after all, a god of greek mythology. That implies Zeus could take the physical appearance of Jesus and perform miracles. How would you then know it wasn’t actually Jesus? Consult voices in your head? Start scouring Plato’s works for proof the man in front of you that looks like Jesus and is performing miracles, is actually Zeus? Please.

    Roughly the way Plato made the distinction. Because he used Zeus and God as distinct concepts. And you knew this because you are a well-informed atheist, not brainwashed to see just your own side the way I am, right?

    And here we see Eric commit the fallacy of the false dilemma, by pretending the only two options is that one happens to know about some particular factoid of Plato, otherwise one is “brainwashed to just see your own side”.

  27. Erik: In reality you can surely tell the difference between for example Zeus and God, right?

    Yes, one is a specific version of a God and the other is not.

  28. Erik: In reality you can surely tell the difference between for example Zeus and God, right? Roughly the way Plato made the distinction. Because he used Zeus and God as distinct concepts. And you knew this because you are a well-informed atheist, not brainwashed to see just your own side the way I am, right?

    From a logical point of view, sure; God is defined as a necessary being and Zeus is a contingent being.

  29. Rumraket: Or you can just give evidence against the existence of God. All you need for that is a definition of God.

    Correct. And all you need to do is to hear what the definition is saying. But we never got that far on this particular forum. For example,

    Erik: In reality you can surely tell the difference between for example Zeus and God, right?

    newton: Yes, one is a specific version of a God and the other is not.

    No comment.

  30. Erik: Rumraket: Or you can just give evidence against the existence of God. All you need for that is a definition of God.

    Correct. And all you need to do is to hear what the definition is saying. But we never got that far on this particular forum.

    I have seen multiple definitions of God on this very forum. I have even used one myself, which I think corresponds to how a lot of christians use it. No protestation was offered at the time.

    Do you wish to discuss the existence of God? If so, I’d be willing to hear your case (and definition of God).

  31. I’d much rather discuss some of the philosophical problems with naturalism and how to solve them. Yet another interminable discussion about whether God exists doesn’t seem like a prudent use of my time and energy. But by all means, you people do what you want to do.

  32. I got three minutes in the video before I lost my patience with it.

    The critique of naturalism is that there are certain concepts — say, intentionality, value, the reliability of induction, etc. — which are logically incompatible with naturalism and which theism explains. Against this, Lowder says that all he needs to show is (a) that these concepts are logically compatible with naturalism and (b) theism doesn’t explain them, but rather assumes them.

    That can’t be right.

    First, logical compatibility is too easy to achieve. The bar is set too low. One can always establish some ‘logical compatibility’ by manipulating the senses of concepts. What needs to be shown here is that the conceptual analysis itself can both do justice to the philosophical work that the concept is called upon to perform and is consistent with one’s preferred metaphysics. And even then, everything depends on how one is setting up the metaphysics, since there are many different versions of naturalism (and of theism).

    Second, I think Lowder is just wrong when he says that theism doesn’t explain these concepts but merely assumes them. That’s wrong for two reasons. The first is that any explanation must presuppose the existence of the thing being explained. That’s a simple point about the logic of explanation that Lowder seems to miss. The second is the simple fact that theism does offer explanations for the phenomena of philosophical interest here.

    Third, what the naturalist needs isn’t just showing that these concepts are logically compatible with naturalism, but rather showing that the naturalist can explain these concepts.

    Put in a nutshell, the epistemological question is not “does theism offer explanations or just assumptions?” but rather “are theistic explanations good explanations?” and also “are naturalistic explanations good explanations?”

    Only with those on the table can we address the question, “are naturalistic explanations better than theistic explanations?”

    But seeing that as the relevant question requires putting an end to game of burden tennis and recognizing that both theism and naturalism do offer explanations of the things we want explaining. The question is which explanations are better, and on what grounds.

  33. Kantian Naturalist: Second, I think Lowder is just wrong when he says that theism doesn’t explain these concepts but merely assumes them. That’s wrong for two reasons. The first is that any explanation must presuppose the existence of the thing being explained. That’s a simple point about the logic of explanation that Lowder seems to miss. The second is the simple fact that theism does offer explanations for the phenomena of philosophical interest here.

    I really don’t agree with this.

    I really don’t see how “there is a god” actually explains these things, nor how it can be that it doesn’t presuppose them. Nor why you suggest it as necessary that an explanation must presuppose what it is explaining.

    Take an analogy, to bring up something from a recent thread: proteins. Why are there proteins? They evolved by gradual accumulation of smaller fragments, while subject to natural selection along the way. That’s an explanation for why there are proteins. In what way does it presuppose what it is explaining?

    Maybe I don’t really understand what you mean by presuppose. Could you elaborate? I’m no philosopher, but I find it interesting, so take it slowly 😛

  34. “Why is it raining?”

    “Because warm air holds more moisture than cold air, and when warm air cools suddenly when meeting cold air, the air can’t hold as much moisture, so it comes out of solution. Gravity does the rest.”

    Here the explanation of rain presupposes the fact that it is raining.

    Generally speaking, explanations consist of an explanandum and an explanans. The explanandum is the fact that needs to be explained, and the explanans is the explanation (in science, often but not always a simplifying model).

    In short, you couldn’t have an explanation without acknowledging the fact that needs to be explained — whether that’s rain (in this silly example) or the stuff that Lowder is talking about: objective moral values, intentionality, consciousness, the reliability of induction, causal inference, etc.

    Now, it is true that one needs a distinct argument to establish that there are objective moral values. One can’t appeal to God in order to establish that there are objective moral values and then appeal to God to explain why there are objective moral values. The explanandum and the explanans have to be logically distinct in order to avoid vicious circularity.

    But, if one does think that there are objective moral values, then it is a question of asking whether theism or naturalism gives a better explanation of them.

    Likewise for intentionality, consciousness, the reliability of induction, the uniformity of laws, etc.

    There’s a separate question that needs to be attended to here: should we think of theism as an explanation at all?

  35. Kantian Naturalist:
    “Why is it raining?”

    “Because warm air holds more moisture than cold air, and when warm air cools suddenly when meeting cold air, the air can’t hold as much moisture, so it comes out of solution. Gravity does the rest.”

    Here the explanation of rain presupposes the fact that it is raining.

    Does it? Must it? If I’m playing a computer game (which I don’t, so no good example), I might want to explain how a precious relic might have gotten behind a wall. If so, I’m not really presupposing that any precious relic got behind a wall, nor that any such explanation tells me how I come to see that it has ended up behind a wall. It’s still an explanation, even if the truly causal explanation has to do with programming transistors to act in a certain way.

    Getting back to some long pointless (at least after the issues had been laid out sufficiently) discussions, we want explanations that work and predict, whether or not we’re in Elon Musk’s simulation or in some god’s mind. We prefer that this is reality, and everything we know suggests that it is, but science works whether or not it really is reality.

    There’s a separate question that needs to be attended to here: should we think of theism as an explanation at all?

    I thought that was Rumraket’s point. To be fair, surely theistic explanations were explanations in the past, as it seemed that movement was caused by living beings (hence a god or gods cause the wind), and why should it rain except to keep plants alive and humans fed anyway? This seems a poor sort of explanation now, but it worked with what they knew. The trouble with it today is that theistic explanations seem not to be explanations any more, no matter how much some want them to be. Explanation of “natural phenomena” seems to have been taken over by science, judging by the results.

    Glen Davidson

  36. GlenDavidson: Does it? Must it? If I’m playing a computer game (which I don’t, so no good example), I might want to explain how a precious relic might have gotten behind a wall.If so, I’m not really presupposing that any precious relic got behind a wall, nor that any such explanation tells me how I come to see that it has ended up behind a wall.It’s still an explanation, even if the truly causal explanation has to do with programming transistors to act in a certain way.

    I think that this is a nice illustration of the ways in which explanations are context-sensitive. Explaining the features of a game layout doesn’t have to be in terms of the microphysical layout of circuit pathways — and that kind of explanation would surely not aid in understanding why the game has the features that it has!

    Then again, I do think that we can talk about causes at many different “levels” (so to speak), and in many cases the causes at the level of fundamental physics are not the ones that are most important for explaining the fact that is of interest to us.

    Getting back to some long pointless (at least after the issues had been laid out sufficiently) discussions, we want explanations that work and predict, whether or not we’re in Elon Musk’s simulation or in some god’s mind. We prefer that this is reality, and everything we know suggests that it is, but science works whether or not it really is reality.

    This is one of those tricky issues where I want to resist the move to instrumentalism. I’m a scientific realist because I think it’s the only view that makes scientific progress seem to be non-miraculous. And whereas a few people here — yourself, Neil Rickert, and I think Petrushka — think that pragmatism requires taking an instrumentalist view of theories, I take the position that pragmatism and realism are not only compatible, but mutually supporting in a strong sense: pragmatic realism is the most philosophically adequate version of both pragmatism and realism. (This can be taken as an indication that I take my pragmatic realism from Dewey, C. I. Lewis, and Sellars, but much less so from Quine and Putnam.)

    I thought that was Rumraket’s point. To be fair, surely theistic explanations were explanations in the past, as it seemed that movement was caused by living beings (hence a god or gods cause the wind), and why should it rain except to keep plants alive and humans fed anyway? This seems a poor sort of explanation now, but it worked with what they knew. The trouble with it today is that theistic explanations seem not to be explanations any more, no matter how much some want them to be. Explanation of “natural phenomena” seems to have been taken over by science, judging by the results.

    I am no specialist in philosophy of religion, to be sure, but I am not so sure that theistic articulations of reality have functioned as explanations, at least historically. I am inclined to think that the function of animistic narratives is to convey a sense of how reality is articulated at its most basic level that is of relevance to human life and concerns, relative to the physical environment on which that society depends. This is why animism is about animal spirits, sky spirits, earth spirits, and so on. It’s more about conveying a sense of the whole rather than explaining why any particular aspect of reality is the way it is.

    In the history of Western philosophy, given the fragments available to us, I would say that it is the Milesians (Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes) who first saw the possibility of explanation. Parmenides changed the game by stressing the logical impossibility of certain kinds of explanation, and subsequent philosophers — Democritus, Plato, Aristotle — tried to respond to that challenge (and to each other).

    To the extent that the Abrahamic religions are also playing the explanation game, it is because of how they were influenced by philosophy — especially Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism.

  37. Kantian Naturalist: I am inclined to think that the function of animistic narratives is to convey a sense of how reality is articulated at its most basic level that is of relevance to human life and concerns, relative to the physical environment on which that society depends. This is why animism is about animal spirits, sky spirits, earth spirits, and so on. It’s more about conveying a sense of the whole rather than explaining why any particular aspect of reality is the way it is.

    It’s true that animist (and also more sophisticated theist) explanations convey a sense of the whole, but when you properly understand what this means, you also understand that the explanation to why any particular aspect of reality is the way it is lies in its being a part of that whole. Lose the sense of holism and you lose the explanation.

    Mechanistic physicalist world view has clearly lost all sense of explanation. There are people here saying that why-questions are stupid or that why-questions don’t exist. And you personally say incomplete provisional explanations are best that can be had. Obviously, when someone is looking for explanations, you are not the person to be recommended for answers.

  38. Erik: It’s true that animist (and also more sophisticated theist) explanations convey a sense of the whole, but when you properly understand what this means, you also understand that the explanation to why any particular aspect of reality is the way it is lies in its being a part of that whole. Lose the sense of holism and you lose the explanation.

    Mechanistic physicalist world view has clearly lost all sense of explanation. There are people here saying that why-questions are stupid or that why-questions don’t exist. And you personally say incomplete provisional explanations are best that can be had. Obviously, when someone is looking for explanations, you are not the person to be recommended for answers.

    Right, so we should replace actual explanations with made up shit piled on top of foundations made of just more made up shit. Cool story bro.

    Things are the way they are because they need to fit together, magic man says so.

    What a wonderful explanation, it really “explains” so much. How did we overlook this for so long?

  39. Rumraket:
    Things are the way they are because they need to fit together, magic man says so.

    What a wonderful explanation, it really “explains” so much. How did we overlook this for so long?

    As opposed to “I explain this by brute fact, and it’s a provisional explanation. Consistency is an antiquated primitive requirement.” To each his own.

  40. Erik: As opposed to “I explain this by brute fact, and it’s a provisional explanation. Consistency is an antiquated primitive requirement.” To each his own.

    I agree, if that was what was being offered it wouldn’t be for me either. But thanks for your non-contribution.

  41. Rumraket: I agree, if that was what was being offered it wouldn’t be for me either. But thanks for your non-contribution.

    You mean now you agree that things need to fit together? So, your alternative to “made up shit” (which is not what theists do, if you give it some minimal thought) is to contradict yourself at every turn and call it a contribution? In the quantitative sense it is indeed quite a contribution, can’t argue with that.

  42. Erik: You mean now you agree that things need to fit together?

    What do you mean I “now” agree? I have haven’t ever disagreed with that. Who the hell would?

    So, your alternative to “made up shit” (which is not what theists do, if you give it some minimal thought)

    Well so you say…

    is to contradict yourself at every turn and call it a contribution?

    You have yet to demonstrate even a single self-contradiction by me, let alone “at every turn”. See, this is you making shit up.

    Enough with this mindless blather, start showing (as in demonstrating by quoting examples, or with logical arguments) what you are asserting. Show me the contradictions. I expect multiple. Get to work.

  43. Erik: There are people here saying that why-questions are stupid or that why-questions don’t exist.

    I’ve said it’s impossible to answer “why” questions adequately without ending up in infinite regress. I don’t recall anyone else saying “why” is stupid or non-existent. It’s answers that are non-existent. I often wonder about why things are why they are but I have to content myself with not having answers.

  44. Erik: I’m here. Any other questions?

    Yes, the post you reply to contain two. But never mind.

    Please see the previous post of mine, the one you read but ran away from.

  45. Rumraket: Yes, the post you reply to contain two. But never mind.

    Your two questions:

    1. Hey Erik, why did you run away?
    2. Where aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare youuuuuuu?

    When I am present to answer the second question, it self-evidently follows that I didn’t run away.

    I will answer to any further sensible questions you may have. On the actual topic, which is Jeff Lowder’s way of tackling theism.

    It’s actually KN who ran away. He couldn’t survive the video for more than three minutes.

    Meanwhile, has the debate itself been uploaded somewhere?

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