Friday, September 26, 2008

Two kinds of scientific accounts

Science can provide two kinds of accounts in response to our observations:

  1. Sometimes, science explains why it is that the things we observe are as we observe them.
  2. At other times, science will explain why it is that we make the observations we do despite these observations not matching reality.
I think there ought to be a strong preference for the first kind of scientific account. Thus, we should prefer a story on which the universe evolves from a Big Bang to a story on which the universe comes into existence full-blown five minutes ago with false memories of a longer past. Likewise, we should prefer a story on which other people are conscious to a solipsist story explaining why we ascribe consciousness to others.


Charel Weng said...

On the personhood of others appearing like yourself to be persons:

It seems to me that if one accepts a traditional account of God, that there is no reason to consider remote the possibility that since God's considerations are beyond our ken that all other apparent persons are in reality simulacra that God for whatever reason chooses to surround you with. One possible reason he may do such a thing is that he wishes to create many persons and wants to a la Hick have them in an environment conducive to moral development but prevent the possibility of harm to third parties by placing each of these many persons in an environment that includes only simulacra. If a person in such an environment upon the completion of the moral development that leads to entry into some redemptive paradise is informed of the setup it would seem that a reaction akin to tears of joy or relief, particularly if her sins would have been otherwise very harmful to others, would result.

On the thrust of your post, I agree but I think there must be something that grounds our preference. It would seem as I have suggested above that traditional theism might be an obstacle in that grounding. There seems to me to be the dilemma that theism needs to appeal to God's being beyond our ken in answering the problem of evil but to the extent that appeal makes God beyond our ken, theism becomes vulnerable to the skeptical objection I outlined above.

Enigman said...

A nice distinction, Alexander, but I'm not sure why we should prefer the former kind, although it seems natural that we would, and I do. Why not just whichever kind has the most explanatory power?

Charel, does theism need to appeal to God's mystery? I ask because on my theodicy the universe has an accessibly scientific purpose, one that would be best served by our all being real people (an aspect that your comment here has reminded me to include in my write-up), since our real but non-physical connections (e.g. empathy and such) might help to orient us correctly, towards the heavenly.