Monday, January 17, 2005

A Dialogue on Naturalistic Explanations

A: You see, of course, that we must all accept naturalism; for naturalistic explanations have had many successes.

B: This is simply an absurd claim.

A: What! Do you deny that scientific explanations have value?

B: On the contrary, I think they have immense value, and that there have been many successes in that quarter.

A: Then you must admit naturalistic explanations are successful; for scientific explanations are successful and scientific explanations are naturalistic explanations.

B: Suppose a Neo-Pythagorean were to come among us and say, "You see, of course, that we must all be Neo-Pythagoreans. Neo-Pythagorean explanations have had many successes." "What!" we reply. "Explain yourself." "The Neo-Pythagorean view is that everything is mathematics, and nothing exists except mathematical principles. Thus you can see that all mathematical successes are Neo-Pythagorean successes. And it is also clear that given the success of mathematical explanations, Neo-Pythagorean explanations are successful. And thus we must all be Neo-Pythagoreans; and thus must say that all non-mathematical explanations are simply false."

A: But this is absurd; we are not Neo-Pythagoreans. Naturalists are making a more palatable claim.

B: And yet you reason just like our hypothetical Neo-Pythagorean.

A: The Neo-Pythagorean errs, however, in thinking that mathematical successes are simply identifiable as Neo-Pythagorean successes.

B: And you err in thinking that scientific successes are simply identifiable as naturalistic successes.

A: But surely they are!

B: Why is that?

A: They do not appeal to God, but only to natural facts.

B: Then they could be theistic successes?

A: I just told you that they do not appeal to God!

B: But why is that relevant? Suppose theism is true. Naturalism is then false. Do the scientific successes under such a supposition become any less successes for all that?

A: This is simply the wrong way to go about the question. Scientific successes show that you do nto need to appeal to God to explain things.

B: How so?

A: You have already admitted that scientific explanations can be successful, and since scientific explanations do not appeal to God, you can have successful explanations that do not appeal to God.

B: Granted. And the relevance?

A: The relevance? Since we can have successful explanations that don't appeal to God, naturalism is the simpler position because we can see that it does not posit anything unnecessary.

B: But this is a simple fallacy. From the fact that some particular explanations that do not appeal to God can be successful, we cannot conclude that every explanation that is successful does not appeal to God.

A: But surely no scientific explanations can reasonably be considered theistic successes?

B: Why not? And what would be the relevance, anyway?

A: Why not!? I have already said about a million times that they don't appeal to God. Thus all scientific explanations are naturalistic explanations. And given the nature of science, this means we have good reason to be naturalists. So that's the relevance!

B: But scientific explanations are not naturalistic explanations. You keep saying that because they do not appeal to God they are naturalistic. But this is simply false.

A: If they do not appeal to God, how could they possibly be anything else than naturalistic?

B: They could be consistent with theism and true in a theistic world. Suppose there is a God and there is a providence. Then what a scientific explanation would be is an explanation of some aspect of natural providence; it just wouldn't signal that fact. Therefore they would be theistic successes; just not explicitly so. They can only become 'naturalistic successes' if we already assume that naturalism is true.

A: But we have no scientific reason to think science is discovering a natural providence.

B: Do we have a scientific reason to think science is discovering a non-providential nature? What would you base that claim on? The success of naturalistic explanations?

A: There's just no reasoning with you, sometimes.

B: I'm not the one holding others to a standard I can't meet myself.

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