If I have seen further [than other scientists/philosophers] it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.- Isaac Newton
We act as if they’re [philosophers without current knowledge of science] authorities about something; they knew nothing!- Lawrence Krauss
Lawrence Krauss recently appeared on the English [UK] radio show “Unbelievable?” In this radio program, Krauss and Randy Holder, a Christian, were in dialog about “A Universe from Nothing?” [not necessarily Krauss’ book, but the subject in general]. The dialog, unfortunately, showed that Krauss continues in his ignorance of the importance of philosophy to his own subject, as well as his own flippant dismissal of generations of scientists.
At one point in the program (around the 26:00 mark), Krauss says the following:
I don’t [indiscernible–he may say “also”] care about what Mr. Leibniz said… we refer to philosophers who wrote at a time when we didn’t know that there were a hundred billion galaxies. [So?] Who cares what they say? We act as if they’re authorities about something; they knew nothing!- Lawrence Krauss
I can’t think of a more galling statement for a contemporary cosmologist to make. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, for those who don’t know, happened to be one of the men who discovered infinitesimal calculus. He also (among countless other contributions to mathematics, science, social sciences, engineering, and philosophy) developed a calculator, contributed to the development of binary language, was one of the first to posit that space was relative, and developed the principle of sufficient reason (which supports all scientific investigation).
Yet, according to Krauss, because he lived in a time before we know how large the universe was, he “knew nothing!” You see, Krauss, and some other scientists and thinkers with a scientistic/physicalist bent, too often throw out the very basis of their thought. How far do you think Krauss could get in his cosmological research without infinitesimal calculus? How would Krauss go about investigating the causes of various natural phenomena without the principle of sufficient reason?
The answer is pretty simple: he wouldn’t get anywhere.
Krauss, like those before him, stands on the shoulders of giants. But, unlike those who are humble enough (or who know enough about philosophy and history?) to admit it, Krauss says “We act as if they are authorities about something, they knew nothing!”
Really, Krauss? Let’s see how well your next research project goes if you throw out all the contributions they made to your methodology. Next time you do an experiment, try to do it without parsimony or inference to the best explanation. Write to me how that goes!
What’s happened with people like Krauss, and I can think of others (like Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins) who do the same thing, is that in their gusto for the marvels of modern science, they have forgotten the very basis for their methods, their research, and their rationality.
Without philosophy, there would be no way to infer causes from effects; without the principle of sufficient reason, there would be no reason to think that causes even have effects; without a well developed notion that what will happen can be inferred from what has happened, these scientists could not even get going. But then they have the absurd tendency to turn around and reject philosophy. They say things like the quote Krauss fired off above.
Here’s the thing: science is utterly dependent upon philosophy to survive. If we didn’t have philosophy–if we didn’t have the developed notions of rationality, inference, and the like–there would be no science. Other theists (and philosophers) have contributed things like parsimony/Occam’s Razor to the wealth of philosophical methodological backbone which makes the scientific enterprise possible. In fact, there is still debate over whether we can reliably make inferences from science (for one example philosophically defending scientific inference, see Wesley Salmon, The Foundations of Scientific Inference). Some scientists have now apparently become those who sit in the ivory towers, blissfully ignorant of how their own research depends upon others’ outside of their field.
I suspect a multifaceted problem behind the motivation of those who throw philosophy out the window once they’ve embraced full-fledged empiricism. First, many of these thinkers have demonstrated they don’t actually know what empiricism means as a–that’s right–philosophical system. Apart from Krauss and Hawking, one could cite the recent example of Richard Dawkins admitting that he doesn’t know what “epistemic” means. Note to those who embrace that philosophical system of Krauss et al.: without epistemology, you would not even be able to justify inferences to best explanation. How’s that for a dose of reality?
Second, there is a kind of blatant ignorance of–or even intentional trampling on–the historical development of scientific inquiry. I hesitate to say that philosophy makes a “contribution” to science, because that’s not what it is. A simple study of schools of knowledge reveals that science, by its very nature, is utterly dependent upon epistemological research. Without such development, there would be no scientific method.
Third, these scientists constantly make philosophical claims, apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that they are philosophical claims. For example, in the same dialog Krauss argues that “the universe certainly doesn’t care what I like…” and throughout the discussion points out that it doesn’t matter what we think, the universe is revealed in a certain way by research.
He apparently seems utterly oblivious to the fact that that, in itself, is a philosophical position. One could take a rival position and argue that the appearances of nature don’t actually determine reality because everything is mind-dependent (idealism, solipsism, or other schools). It’s not enough to just point at nature and say “see, this is how things are!” because if that’s all one does, then someone could say “Your ideas about how things are are dependent upon your mind and ideas, and therefore don’t have any access to reality.” No scientific research could rebut such an argument, only a philosophical position in which nature can give us a reliable record for rationality can ground science.
Krauss dismisses philosophy very nonchalantly. It seems as though he (and others like him) is oblivious to the fact his entire system is philosophical. Consider the claim that “science can examine reality.” How does one go about proving it? One could argue that one could simply make a test and show that over and over again in circumstances y, x result happens, so we are justified that when we assert that if y, then x. But of course we would have to justify that a test can be connected to reality; we’d have to figure out what it means to have “justified” belief; we have to show that our scientific method is trustworthy; we have to assume that mathematical truths are true; we have to operate within a rational perspective; etc. All of these are philosophical positions. Some of them are debates within philosophy of science, in fact. The bottom line is that whenever someone does science, they are utterly reliant upon philosophy. By simply taking the empirical world as something which can be explored, they have made a number of philosophical assumptions, whether realized or not. Scientists take much of the philosophical development as a given before they even start their research. And then, some of them, like Krauss, have the gall to turn around and dismiss philosophers as though they “know nothing.” Suddenly, he has undermined his own system of thought, without even acknowledging that it is a system of thought.
Frankly, some of these scientists are just confused. Thankfully, many scientists operate with a system that respects the contributions of philosophy to science and encourage the interplay between the fields of knowledge.
Here’s the bottom line for those scientists who agree with Krauss: your entire field of research can only proceed if you grant over a thousand years of philosophical development. One major contribution was made by Leibniz, whom people like Krauss casually dismiss. But without the theistic philosopher with the awesome wig, scientists would have nothing. Thanks, philosophy! Thanks again, Christianity!
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Timothy O’Connor’s brief Theism and Ultimate Explanation has already garnered much discussion since its publication in 2008. Notably, the most recent edition of Philosophia Christi features a book symposium on the work. What is all the fuss about?
Theism and Ultimate Explanation is broken into two parts. Part I addresses “The Explanatory Role of Necessity” while Part II addresses “The Necessary Shape of Contingency.”
Part I contains some fantastic arguments. O’Connor outlines various views on modality and seeks to defend modal realism, which takes modal truths to be actual truths about our world (and other worlds). Further, he defends the possibility of a priori truths against attacks from those who argue that all such truths need to be established empirically.
There are some who argue that empirical evidence (such as quantum mechanics) helps to undermine belief in some methods of reasoning, such as the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor counters this by pointing out that those who make the argument that the “odd” data which may seem to contradict the method of reasoning against which their argument is directed are using the very methods of reasoning which they are trying to undermine. Another possibility is that the empiricist making this claim has switched to a different method of reasoning in order to critique that which holds to things like the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor points out that a critique from such a method is “underwhelming” at best (46).
In Part II, O’Connor argues that it is coherent to ask the question, “Why is there anything (contingent) at all?” (65). He further argues that the only possible answer to this question is a termination in a necessary being. “If the universe truly is contingent, the obtaining of certain fundamental facts or other will be unexplained within empirical theory, whatever the topological structure of contingent reality… it will have to ground in some way… in a necessary being, something which has the reason for its existence within its own nature” (76).
He then turns to the question of what the nature of that necessary being may be, by examining two possibilities: “chaos” and “logos“. Logos is the view which calls the necessary being God, whilst chaos argues that it is a random being or a brute fact. O’Connor argues that logos is the most rational view to hold.
Finally, in chapter 6, O’Connor turns to theological reflections on the argument thus far. He argues that the concept of an immutable, timeless being seems contradictory to things like the trinity, but maintains that a less restricted of both of these views is plausible. He argues against molinism briefly, by stating that the counterfactuals involved would have no truthmakers.
O’Connor’s book weighs in at about 144 pages of text, but he makes use of every word. My biggest complaint about the book is how short it is. Often, it seems as though O’Connor simply doesn’t take the time to address the issues he is discussing in enough detail. Part I and the argument for the necessary being do seem to be adequately established, but chapter 6 in particular doesn’t do justice to opposing views. For example, the molinist could respond to O’Connor’s argument by saying that the “truthmaker” of such counterfactuals is simply existence in the mind of God. This could lead to an argument for determinism on molinism, but then the molinist could point to the distinction between de re and de dicto necessity. The arguments leveled against a timeless deity or an immutable one suffer similarly from limitations of space. I think O’Connor should have used the space of this chapter to expand the other ideas already present in his work.
As it stands, Theism and Ultimate Explanation is a fantastic work which is great reading for the philosopher of religion. It can be finished in one sitting, but the ideas therein will keep readers contemplating the work for quite a while afterwards. It comes recommended, but with the stipulation that readers may be left wanting more.
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One of my personal favorite areas of philosophy of religion is studying the arguments for existence of God. One type of argument for God is the Cosmological Argument, and one of these arguments was developed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
A simple version of the argument, in syllogistic form, goes as follows:
1) Everything which exists has an explanation of its existence
2) If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God
3) The universe exists
4) The universe has an explanation of its existence
5) Therefore God exists (Craig, 54ff)
Now I think this outlining of Leibniz’s argument is a little forward. Premise 2 may be a bit strong. I’ve edited it some, though I’m sure many others have outlined it similarly, to become:
1) All entities which exist have explanation of their existence. This explanation is either their own necessity or (for contingent entities) an external cause. (P1)
2) The universe exists (Axiom [A] 1)
3) The universe’s existence is not found in its own necessity (P2)
4) Therefore, the universe has an external cause (P1, P2)
5) There cannot be an infinite series of non-necessary causes (A2)
6) Therefore, the cause of the universe is transcendent (external) to it and necessary (4, A2 [I’m skipping a few steps here, but it would end up here eventually, as follows from 4 and A2])
What the Argument Demonstrates
I’m content with settling for the conclusion found in 6). Demonstrating that an external, necessary entity caused the universe is as close as to God as many arguments can go. A being which causes the universe would obviously be exceedingly powerful, the argument itself states it is transcendent to the universe, and the being exists necessarily. Many (most?) theists tend to agree that the other attributes Classical Theism has generally assigned to God follow quite easily from the acknowledgement that such a being exists.
The question must now turn towards reasons why we should believe that this valid argument is true.
Defense of the Premises
1) seems as though it should be accepted simply as a given. I don’t think I should need to defend 1). If we abandon the idea that everything which exists has an explanation (either contingently–from something outside of itself, or necessarily–from its own necessity), then we should expect any number of utterly random things to pop into and out of existence for no reason whatsoever! After all, it would be the height of self-delusion to think that, while all things require reasons to exist, it just so happens (how fortuitously!) that our universe is the only thing which exists for no reason. I’ll leave it at that for now… such ideas are more important for the Transcendental Argument, after all.
2) simply doesn’t need a defense.
Step 3) is alongside step 1) as the only two premises which are capable of being denied (for 2 is, again, obvious, and 4) follows simply from the first 3; we will discuss step 5 shortly) to avoid the conclusion. Denying step 1), I think, is clearly unacceptable, so denying step 3) is really the only way to go for the anti-theist. But what reasons do we have for thinking the universe exists necessarily? I think this is patently not the case. After all, everything which exists necessarily exists (necessarily) forever! Therefore, a necessary universe must have existed for an infinite amount of time (for time is part of the universe). But if this is the case, we run into the insurmountable problems which an infinite past brings up (these problems are also important for the Kalam Cosmological Argument).
I’ll pick just one problem to demonstrate: if the past is actually infinite (as it must be, granting a necessary universe), then we could never get to the present moment, for we would have had to traverse an actually infinite amount of time to get here! Not only that, but as time passes, there is no time being “added” to what came before. Infinity is infinity and it cannot be increased by adding to it or decreased from taking away from it. Therefore, every second which seems as though it is lengthening our lives is actually not doing anything of the sort, despite every commonsense notion with which we have lived out whole lives saying otherwise! The universe, on this view, is a deceptive place, in which nothing is as it seems.
Not only that, but if the universe were necessary, then it seems as though hard determinism–that is, the view that there is no freedom of the will whatsoever–must be the case. For, if the universe exists necessarily, then it has possessed all of its parts necessarily, forever.
Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any reason as to why the universe could not have been different. To assert the universe exists necessarily, once again, means to assert that no part of the universe could have failed to exist. Think of it this way: the universe in which I ate breakfast this morning (as opposed to this universe, in which I did not [shame on me, I know]) is logically impossible. Why? Because things which exist necessarily cannot change!
Worse yet, the explanation of a necessary universe leads to the question of why exactly everything is as it is. The anti-theistic view of such a universe is that, necessarily, the universe exists as it does, which happens to have an extraordinary amount of order, laws of nature which happen to allow for life, etc. (this objection was brought to my attention through Stephen Parrish’s God and Necessity, 241).
Thus, even if we grant that it is possible the universe exists necessarily, the individual properties of the universe still call out for explanation: why is it that the universal constants are what they are, and don’t deviate by the infinitesimal amount which would have prevented the existence of life? Ultimately, then, the necessary universe theory falls victim not just to objections against the idea of a necessary universe, but it also falls victim to the objections against the universe existing for no reasons whatsoever.
This means that we have established 1-4. Step 5 is an axiom which I have proposed, because it seems to me quite clear that an infinite regress of contingent causes is a vicious regress–an impossibility. Everything in such a chain would have to, by 1), have a cause outside of itself. If we take C1 to be caused by C2, but both are contingent, then C2 calls for an explanation, C3, which calls for C4, which calls for C5… ad infinitum. I don’t see any reason to deny that this regress is vicious.
Thus, 1-5 have been established. If this is the case, however, then 6 follows, simply because at some point the series of causes C1…C5… would have to be terminated in N1 (a necessary cause). Furthermore, this cause would be external to the universe, from step 1). Thus, the Leibnizian Cosmological argument provides us with powerful reasons to think that a transcendent, powerful, necessary entity brought the universe into existence. I don’t see any reason to call this entity anything but God. There are many reasons to think that an entity with these properties (namely, necessary existence, transcendence, omnipotence) would possess many or all the other properties generally assigned to God.
Therefore, God exists.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard. David C. Cook Publishers. 2010.
Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 1997.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.