Monday, November 15, 2010

Unification accounts of scientific explanation and theism

According to unificationist accounts of scientific explanation, scientific explanations are bodies of propositions and/or schemata that unify a large variety of phenomena. But why think that a unification is an explanation at all? Why not think it is just the statement of a universal accidental generalization? And shouldn't explanations of contingent events be causal? The firm unificationist may reject these worries, of course, as question-begging. But a theist who is a unificationist can solve both of them.

God is omni-rational in the following sense: when he strongly actualizes a state of affairs, he does so on account of all the good (nonexcluded—this condition won't be relevant in the cases I want) reasons in favor of strongly actualizing that state of affairs. Unification under a natural description is a genuine value—it is an aesthetic value—and hence that a collection of phenomena can be unified under a natural description is a reason to produce that collection of phenomena. And because God is omni-rational, if he in fact strongly actualizes that collection of phenomena, he does so in part because the phenomena can be unified under that description. Hence, the unifiability of a collection of phenomena, by virtue of God's will, partially explains the obtaining of that collection of phenomena. Consequently, unificationist explanations can, in fact, be expanded into theistic causal explanations while doing justice to their unificationist character, in a way that takes care of my two objections to unificationism.

A theist who rejects Molinism, Calvinism and Thomism about indeterministic events, however, cannot run this line in cases where the unifying patterns are entirely the result of creaturely randomness, as in those unlikely worlds where coins flipped always (it's possible, just unlikely) land heads. In those cases, my story above disagrees with the unificationist, because that the arrangement was all heads is not God's reason for producing the arrangement, since God did not determine this detail. However, it is precisely cases like this which are least plausible for the unificationist.

Observe, also, that the theistic story adds something explanatory to the basic unificationist story. It unifies the unificationist explanations. Thus the unificationist would do well to be a theist. That's the intellectually satisfying way of being a unificationist.


Crude said...

You should really collect all of these posts into a book. "100+ New Arguments for Theism" or something. You're the only philosopher I know who routinely rolls out fresh arguments and ideas like this.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Why is a blog not as good as a book?

Mr Veale said...

I recently jested that you should be forced to write a book! Maybe I spoke a true word in jest. While my tongue was in my cheek at the time (and I hope that you realised this), I think that Crude has a point.
Blogs allow a writer to throw out thoughts as they come to them, and it is up to the reader to search for topics, bring them together, and work out how the author's mind deals with an argument.
Throughout this blog, and your academic work, is a strong argument that Christian Theism provides a good explanation for literature, science, imagination, humour, love and many other phenomena.
Another set of posts, that would be worth a detailed look, are centred around the poverty of naturalism. And another set shows that many of the academies naturalistic assumptions are not at all obvious (which is different from showing that they are wrong )

And then there are arguments that could be used to make a personal appeal. For example, your recent posts on CS Lewis' argument from agape.

Now it is an edifying experience for a reader - even a poor man's amateur like me - to pour through your blog (or Ed Feser's, or Prosblogion, etc.) to copy the arguments,then work through them, develop or critique them, think how they might best be used in apologetic conversation and so forth. Of course, this is a helpful exercise.
But reading a book is a different experience to mining a blog. You would guide a reader more reliably through all the arguments, and would put them together in a more compelling, and interesting, manner.
A book gives you a different perspective of a writer's mind. A book can reach a wider audience (as evidenced by blogger James Hannam's "God's Philosophers" in the UK). And Bill Dembski, who is a remarkable polemicist, has noted that books are far more permanent and influential than web-pages.

Mr Veale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Veale said...

You've a scientific training, so it would be difficult for New Atheists (who are surprisingly influential) to dismiss you. You've an impressive knowledge of literature, and popular culture, so you could reach a wide audience. And one benefit of the New Atheism is that more readers are interested in defences of Theism than usual.

So there are some good reasons for writing a book. Of course, you may have better counter arguments. For example, you're short on time, and your family would like to see you now and then! (-:

I hope I haven't been too cheeky. But on reflection, I think that it would be very interesting and edifying to read a popular defence of Christian Theism by Alexander Pruss.

Graham Veale

Alexander R Pruss said...

This is pretty convincing. One problem is that I don't know how to write for the public.

My current writing schedule is:
- dash off a book on free will this summer while I feel up on the literature, assuming it still seems like I have something to say by the end of the semester
- write a book on the problem of evil with Trent Dougherty

Mr Veale said...

I think that your writing schedule is a pretty good objection. (-:

Your ability to write for the public, however, does not provide a good objection. I think that your "deep thoughts" can be entertaining, and your essays are engaging.

(Actually remove the premises and throw in a lot of semi-colons, and your posts remind me of Chesterton. I can't say exactly why.)

If you really had worries about style, you could find someone to collaborate with. But I can't see the problem.
If the "fresh" arguments that Crude refers to where woven together in book form with other Theistic arguments, you would have a very powerful defence of Christian Theism.

Or so it seems to me.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here's a reason to wait. I continue to think up arguments for the existence of God and against naturalism. So if I write the book now, I'll be missing a lot of them.
A guiding idea I have is that everything gives testimony to God's existence. So just about any phenomenon, when one focuses on it enough, can yield an argument for the existence of God. It's just that sometimes one needs to see the phenomenon in a new way. Chesterton had a talent for that.

Crude said...


Why is a blog not as good as a book?

It can be - but it depends on how you're using your blog. If I have you right, you see your blog as a place to think freely and openly - you jot down ideas you come up with, get a little feedback, rethink one thing or another, etc. But I think you'd consider it odd to run around publicizing your blog (As far as I know, you don't do this.)

Let me put it this way. Let's say I have the above right, and that's how you treat your blog. Well, in that case writing your blog could be viewed as one step towards writing a book. You can jot down your thoughts, develop them, then later on collect them, choose them, and publish. Just a thought.

And if you don't feel comfortable writing for we average layman sorts, perhaps work with someone who does.

Here's a reason to wait. I continue to think up arguments for the existence of God and against naturalism. So if I write the book now, I'll be missing a lot of them.

"100+ New Arguments for Theism - Volume I." ;)

Seriously though, I understand if you're too busy, have other projects, don't feel comfortable doing it, etc. I just am fascinated at what I see here sometimes, and wish some of your ideas and arguments hit a wider audience. Books seem ideal for that, even if they're ebooks.

sarraclab said...

I cannot agree more with Crude, I've thought that exact same thing dozens of times reading your blog. I would love to see all these miscellaneous arguments published eventually! The traditional big 3 (teleological, cosmological, ontological) get too much air time anyway.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I will be trying some more of the arguments out on students next spring.

Brandon Reams said...

If you're tallying up the votes, my vote is write it. If you write it, I'll read it. And I'll give copies to all my friends.