Re: Natural Order & Belief

From: Tom Caylor <>
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2006 12:47:04 -0800

Brent Meeker wrote:
> Tom Caylor wrote:
> > Brent Meeker wrote:
> >> Tom Caylor wrote:
> >>> Brent Meeker wrote:
> >>>> An excellent essay. I agree with almost everything you wrote; and you put it very well. Would you mind if I cross posted it to Vic Stenger's AVOID-L mailing list. You can check out the list here:
> >
> >>> Although Victor Stenger doesn't use the word "anti-natural", the
> >>> following equation is what he is assuming in his atheistic arguments:
> >>> supernatural = anti-natural.
> >
> >>> Therefore he thinks that a proof of theism would amount to finding a
> >>> violation of natural law. Since he finds no such violation (which I
> >>> would argue is a circular argument based on the definition of natural)
> >>> he claim this proves atheism beyond a reasonable doubt (what is the
> >>> measure of certainty/uncertainty?).
> >
> >
> >>> In terms of Bruno's provability, this is akin to saying that a proof of
> >>> the existence of a non-trivial G*/G can be obtained by finding an
> >>> inconsistency in G. This does not make sense. This is like saying the
> >>> only god that can exist is an inconsistent god.
> >
> >> A theist God (as opposed to a deist God) is one who intervenes in the natural order, i.e. does miracles. Stenger will readily admit that his argument does not apply to a deist God.
> >
> >> Brent Meeker
> >
> > The problem (or challenge :) is that the meaning of "natural order"
> > is open to much debate, especially here on the Everything List.
> I'd say it's almost only on the Everything List that it is much debated. Which of course because once you postulate that everything (in some sense or another) happens, you are then faced with the question of why what actually happens is so regular.

This is one of the reasons why I like the Everything List. I think
that in this context it is easier to discuss and reveal the deep
assumptions that have about reality and belief. This is the level at
which C.S.Lewis was talking in his book.

> > Everything is up for grabs, so much so that it can be a challenge to
> > figure out where any order comes from, resulting in problems such as
> > white rabbits. When we start with Everything, the problem is not just
> > "How can anything interesting happen (like life, not to mention our
> > stereotypical 'miracles'?" (the something-from-nothing question),
> > but also "How can any order be birthed out of the plenitudinous sea
> > of disorder?" So in this Everything context, not having the whole
> > picture of what the "natural order" is implies a lack of knowledge
> > of what it would be to "intervene" on the natural order.
> >
> > Of course if we're talking about theism, then the nature of
> > "intervention" is limited by certain parameters related to whatever
> > god is supposedly intervening. These parameters are a function of
> > contingent aspects, such as, in the case of the biblical God's
> > universe, the presence of evil and sacrificial love. But such facts
> > are probably considered too contingent for a List like this, where
> > Everything is supposed to be impersonal. (Is it?) Unfortunately, as
> > Blaise Pascal noted, if the solution to the problem of evil is based on
> > contingent facts, then staying at a general metaphysical (Everything)
> > level is not going to get us in contact with the solution. One
> > possible insight that we can get from Everything-level discussion, if
> > the thinker is willing to accept it, is to realize that a solution
> > based on contingent facts in history is not ruled out by general
> > philosophical thought about Everything.
> There is a very simple and widely accepted solution to the problem of evil - there is no omnipotent, benevolent God.

The existence of evil by itself, even without a God, is a problem. But
again, this is probably more suited for a discussion on "religion"

> >Another insight is to realize
> > that there is no solution to the problem of evil (or the mind-body
> > problem...) at the (non-contingent) Everything level. And if there's
> > no solution to a problem that is part of the universe, then perhaps the
> > (impersonal) Everything approach is not sufficient for dealing with
> > everything.
> >
> > Getting back to the more impersonal question, as has been observed on
> > this List multiple times, there is a problem with discerning the source
> > of order in the universe.
> Actually Vic has just published a book on the subject, "The Comprehensible Cosmos". I recommend it.
> >Where does this natural order come from that
> > we can make laws about it, and predict nature's actions fairly
> > accurately, at least for our purposes? Why is it that we aren't
> > destroyed by savage white rabbits out of nowhere? Proposed
> > explanations include the use of ideas such as the Anthropic Principle,
> > Occam's Razor, some kind of "measure", numbers, local order at
> > the expense of disorder somewhere else far away, etc. So again, in the
> > light of this lack of understanding, it seems pretty presumptuous for
> > us to say that there must not be interventions in the natural order
> > simply because we don't see any as we've defined them. (Then we
> > trap ourselves even more when we attach the label "natural order"
> > to Everything we observe, whether we can explain it "naturally" or
> > not.) Perhaps the following analogy will help to open up the
> > possibilities (not probabilities!) in our brains. This is from C.S.
> > Lewis as he put it in his book "Miracles".
> >
> > Tom
> >
> > "Let us suppose a race of people whose peculiar mental limitation
> > compels them to regard a painting as something made up of little
> > coloured dots which have been put together like a mosaic. Studying the
> > brushwork of a great painting through their magnifying glasses, they
> > discover more and more complicated relations between the dots, and sort
> > these relations out, with great toil, into certain regularities. Their
> > labour will not be in vain. These regularities will in fact
> > "work"; they will cover most of the facts. But if they go on to
> > conclude that any departure from them would be unworthy of the painter,
> > and an arbitrary breaking of his own rules, they will be far astray.
> > For the regularities they have observed never were the rule the painter
> > was following. What they painfully reconstruct from a million dots,
> > arranged in an agonizing complexity, he really produced with a single
> > lightning-quick turn of the wrist, his eye meanwhile taking in the
> > canvass as a whole and his mind obeying laws of composition which the
> > observers, counting their dots, have not yet come within sight of, and
> > perhaps never will. I do not say that the normalities of Nature are
> > unreal. The living fountain of divine energy, solidified for purposes
> > of this spatio-temporal Nature into bodies moving in space and time,
> > and thence, by our abstract thought, turned into mathematical formula,
> > does in fact, for us, commonly fall into such and such patterns. But to
> > think that a disturbance of them would constitute a breach of the
> > living rule and organic unity whereby God, from his own point of view,
> > works, is a mistake. If miracles do occur then we may be sure that not
> > to have wrought them would be the real inconsistency."
> But it's not a mistake to assume a magical Daddy in the sky who'll torture you in hell if you don't flatter him? Lewis must have enjoyed this arrogant view of his own perception that could point to the mistakes of strawmen he invented for the purpose.

I don't know the names of the fallacies. My brother has a law degree,
but my mathematical mind can at least recognize a fallacy when I smell
one. So here's an analogy. The laws of physics etc. that we deduce
from empirical data give us models with which we can predict the
behavior of "nature" (being defined by that which we can predict). It
is like we deduce that all of nature is like rolling hills of grass.
Perhaps we aren't able to predict the grass down at the blade-by-blade
level, but we've come up with probabilitistic models that predict the
statistics of the blades (a la quantum mechanics). Now we can imagine,
and we've been told stories, that there is such a thing as a forest,
made up of trees. Based on our grass behavior models, we conclude that
such a thing is impossible, and therefore does not exist. Why, a pine
tree going up instantaneously 100 feet just defies all of our grass
behavior models, producing impossible singularities. But then someone
comes along and says, let's have an open mind and admit that it's
possible that our grass models don't fit the entire reality, and it's a
mistake to forever be decided otherwise. Perhaps every once in a while
there really is a forest, even though we can't predict where these
forests are. Perhaps people in the past have actually seen these
forests and passed on the word that they exist. Then your torturing
magical Daddy argument would be like saying, "But surely there can't be
forests, because it would be a mistake to assume the existence of a
torturing magical Daddy unicorn tree."


> Brent Meeker
> He's like a philosopher who says, "I know it's possible in
> practice. Now I'd like to know whether it's possible in
> principle."
> --- Daniel Dennett

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Received on Tue Nov 14 2006 - 15:47:22 PST

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