The value of philosophy (1)

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6. An Inductive Cosmological Argument

Richard Swinburne contends that the cosmological argument is not deductively valid; if it were so, “it would be incoherent to assert that a complex physical universe exists and that God does not” (1979, 119). Rather, he develops an inductive cosmological argument that appeals to the inference to the best explanation. Swinburne distinguishes between two varieties of inductive arguments: those that show that the conclusion is more probable than not (what he terms a correct P-inductive argument) and those that further increase the probability of the conclusion (what he terms a correct C-inductive argument). In The Existence of God he presents a cosmological argument that he claims falls in the category of C-inductive arguments. However, this argument is part of a larger, cumulative case for a P-inductive argument for God's existence.

Swinburne notes that if only scientific explanations are allowed, the universe would be a brute fact. If the universe is finite, the first moment would be a brute fact because no scientific causal account could be given for it. If the universe is infinite, each state would be a brute fact, for though each state would be explained by the causal conditions found in prior states plus the relevant physical laws, there is no reason why any particular state holds true rather than another, since the laws of physics are compatible with diverse states. That is, although the features F of the universe at time t are explained by F at time t1 plus the relevant physical laws L, and F at t1 is explained by F and L at t2, given an infinite regress there is no reason why F or L at tn might not have been different than they were. Since F and L at tn are brute facts, the same holds for any Fexplained by F and L at tn. Hence, regardless of whether the universe is infinite or finite, if only scientific evidence is allowed, the existence of the universe and its individual states is merely a brute fact, devoid of explanation.

The universe, however, is complex, whereas God is simple. But if something is to occur that is not explained, it is more likely that what occurs will be simple rather than complex. Hence, though the prior likelihood of neither God nor the universe is particularly high, the prior probability of a simple God exceeds that of a complex universe. Hence, if anything is to occur unexplained, it would be God, not the universe. On the other hand, it is reasonable to appeal to God as an explanation for the existence of a complex universe, since there are good reasons why God would make such a complex universe “as a theatre for finite agents to develop and make of it what they will” (Swinburne 1979, 131). Consequently, if we are to explain the universe, we must appeal to a personal explanation “in terms of a person who is not part of the universe acting from without. This can be done if we suppose that such a person (God) brings it about at each instant of time, that L operates” (Swinburne 1979, 126). Although for Swinburne this argument does not make the existence of God more probable than not (it is not a P-inductive argument), it does increase the probability of God's existence (is a C-inductive argument) because it provides a more reasonable explanation for the universe than merely attributing it to brute fact.

Swinburne's point is that to find the best explanation, one selects among the possible theories the theory that provides the best explanation. In light of the complexity of the universe, which of the overarching theories of materialism, humanism, or theism provides the best explanation? Swinburne notes four criteria to be used to determine the best explanation: an explanation is justified insofar as it provides predictability, is simple, fits with our background knowledge, and explains the phenomena better than any other theory (1996, 26). He suggests that fit with background knowledge does not apply in the case of the cause of the universe, for there are no “neighbouring fields of enquiry” where we investigate the cause of the universe. Indeed, he suggests, this criterion reduces to simplicity, which for him is the key to the inductive cosmological argument (1996, chap. 3). Appeals to God's intentions and actions, although not leading to specific predictions about what the world will look like, better explain specific phenomena than materialism, which leaves the universe as a brute fact. Swinburne concludes that “Theism does not make [certain phenomena] very probable; but nothing else makes their occurrence in the least probable, and they cry out for explanation. A priori, theism is perhaps very unlikely, but it is far more likely than any rival supposition. Hence our phenomena are substantial evidence for the truth of theism” (Swinburne 1976, 290).

Why does Swinburne hold that God provide the best or ultimate explanation of the universe? Part of the answer is that the Principle of Causation does not apply to God or a necessary being. On the one hand, there can be no scientific explanation of God's existence, for there are neither antecedent beings nor scientific principles from which God's existence follows. On the other hand, the Principle of Causation applies only to contingent and not to necessary beings. Explanation is required only of what is contingent. It is not that God's existence is logically necessary, but that if God exists, he cannot not exist. That God is eternal and not dependent on anything for his existence are not reasons for his existence but his properties. (See 3.5 above for Mackie's discussion of this argument and replies.)

A second reason for Swinburne is that explanation can be reasonably thought to have achieved finality or completeness when one gives a personal explanation that appeals to the intentions of a conscious agent. One may attempt to provide a scientific account of why someone has particular intentions, but there is no requirement that such an account be supplied, let alone be possible. We may not achieve any better explanation by trying to explain physically why persons intended to act as they did. However, when we claim that something happened because persons intended it and acted on their intentions, we can achieve a complete explanation of why that thing happened.

Third, appeal to God as an intentional agent leads us to have certain expectations about the universe: that it manifests order, is comprehensible, and favors the existence of beings that can comprehend it. For Swinburne, who in his works often discusses this antecedent probability, this accords with his predictability criterion. Finally, Swinburne introduces a fourth feature, namely, the simplicity of God that, by its very nature, makes further explanation either impossible or makes theism the best explanation.[4] This consideration leads to discussion of God's properties and the nature of simplicity.

Still, Mackie notes, raising the probability of God's existence is not of great assistance, for “the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely.” (Mackie, 100). Indeed, it is very unlikely that a God possessing the traditional theistic properties exists. Hence, increasing the probability of something very unlikely initially leaves us with the unlikely. Swinburne's response is that although theism is perhaps very unlikely, it is far more likely than any supposition that things just happen to be. So we return to what constitutes the best explanation of the existence of the universe. Swinburne and his critics leave us with the difficulties of determining what counts as an adequate explanation, of defining simplicity, and of determining prior probabilities.

Finally, even if the cosmological argument is sound or cogent, the difficult task remains to show that the necessary being to which the cosmological argument concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of which religion. Rowe suggests that the cosmological argument has two parts, one to establish the existence of a first cause or necessary being, the other that this necessary being is God (1975, 6). It is unclear, however, whether the second contention is an essential part of the cosmological argument. Although Aquinas was quick to make the identification between God and the first mover or first cause, such identification seems to go beyond the causal reasoning that informs the argument. Some (Rasmussen, O'Connor, Koons) have plowed ahead in developing this stage 2 process by showing how and what properties — simplicity, unity, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, and so on — might follow from the concept of a necessary being. Others have proposed a method of correlation, where to give any religious substance to the concept of a necessary being lengthy discussion of the supreme beings found in the diverse religions and careful correlation of the properties of a necessary being with those of a religious being is conducted, to discern compatibilities and incompatibilities (Attfield). Which ever method is chosen, while defenders of the cosmological argument point to the relevance and importance of connecting the necessary being with the being of religion, critics find themselves freed from such endeavors.

ETHICS by James Fieser (4)

The field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into three general subject areas: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean. Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions? Metaethical answers to these questions focus on the issues of universal truths, the will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgments, and the meaning of ethical terms themselves. Normative ethics takes on a more practical task, which is to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. This may involve articulating the good habits that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behavior on others. Finally, applied ethics involves examining specific controversial issues, such as abortion, infanticide, animal rights,environmental concerns, homosexuality, capital punishment, or nuclear war.

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