The success of non-theistic explanations in natural science is evidence for, or proves that…

(Pick one or more)

1.) … it is evidence or proof that such explanations will never be successful. Just as the Dr. Phil principle tells us that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so too future successes are best predicted on the basis of past successes.

2.) it is evidence or proof that we judge natural explanations, when given, as antecedently more likely than supernatural ones, and that the gradual advance of the sciences has born this out.

3.) …it is evidence or proof of nothing but that natural science can be successful. Natural science is defined a priori as an attempt to explain things in light of natural causes, and all we can gather from its success at doing so is that one can successfully do so. Natural science seeks causes that act by interacting, or, in St. Thomas’s terms, it seeks causes that are moved movers. There are many such things to find, and we have found them for a few centuries now. Great.

4.) …it is evidence or proof that natural science can be successful for at least as long as it has been so. There is a grue-bleen problem here: how do we know the difference between a science that is supposedly “naturalist” and one that is naturalist until time T? This point would be especially significant to one who thinks that science is only naturalist for experiential or a posteriori reasons, i.e. that we only use methodological naturalism because we have seen it work.

5.) ….it is evidence or proof that natural science is insufficiently developed. The relevant accounts of God see him as an ultimate cause or first mover, and so we should not expect God to enter into an explanation until the science reaches an ultimate stage of development. But everyone (except Sean Carroll?) thinks that we just have not reached such a stage.

6.) …it is evidence or proof that sciences advance by becoming less and less theistic. Aristotle proved the existence of an absolute first mover and thought thinking itself, continually moving the universe as a final cause. Newton proved the existence of a being that gave planets their initial velocity and kept the universe from collapsing, though otherwise did not seem to be needed. Einstein appealed to “the old one” who accounted for how we could have a science and for causal determinism, but who did nothing in the universe itself, and apparently was incapable of doing so. Thus, the success of non-theistic explanations is part of a larger arc of continually diminishing the need for divine action.

7.) …it is evidence or proof that the progress of science is inseparable from a greater and greater understanding of the character of the supernatural. Aristotle’s first mover was localized in place and was part of a manifestly natural system, suggesting that the sub-celestial sphere of natures could not even act of their own. Newton’s divinity was minimally necessary to the natural system, who simply supplied initial conditions and provided minimal aid to allow the universe to act of its own. Einstien’s divinity allowed the universe to fully act of its own, so much so that there was no need for divine supplementation to account for the activity of the universe. God was, in this sense, fully separated from the natural system.

The Aristotelian god pushed everything around. The Newtonian god pushed only the primordial planet, and did this only once. The Einsteinian God pushes nothing, but explains the very possibility that there be science at all by explaining intelligibility and causal determination.

8.) …it is evidence or proof that Enlightenment involves the gradual elimination of gods. Marx was right – the historical progress of all explanation is towards a critique of all gods.

9.) ….it is evidence or proof that scientific success is radically incomplete. God exists and causes things, and the failure of natural science to account for how this happens is simply an area of research in need of development.

10.) …it is evidence or proof that even a complete science would not exhaust all possible ways of truly explaining the world. The set of all possible true explanation of the world is larger than the set of all possible scientific explanations.

11.) it is evidence or proof that we view proper causes as preferable to remote ones. When any natural phenomenon is in question, we want a natural and not a supernatural cause for it, so far as this is possible. This is not because of a preference for non-theism, but for what is immediately causative. We seek to approach the remote only by way of a string of mediate causes.

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3 Comments

  1. May 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    IIRC, you have in the past maintained, in spite of the Thomistic underpinnings of your philosophic perspective, the superiority of modern natural science to classical natural science.

    Now, if we grant the truth of a Thomist or Aristotelian metaphysic, mustn’t we say that modern natural science is, in whole or in part, false?

    In other words, how can a non-teleological physics that not only fails to acknowledge all the causes, but even implicitly denies some of them, be true simpliciter?

    • May 8, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      In this post I’m just brainstorming all the various hypotheses that would predict the fact that the natural science does not find any supernatural causes. True, I mention a few hypotheses that turn on the idea of science progressing to fuller truth over time, and I might even believe the particular, very narrow details of this progression, but they shouldn’t be read as any advocacy for ancient or contemporary physics.

      In one sense we already know that modern natural science is false: its has competing grand theories that can’t both be true, it bases itself on idealizations that we know don’t exist (like point particles, ideal gasses, spaces without gravity, etc.), it leaves off vast portions of reality (secondary qualities, consciousness, cognition, moral value, the light of faith), etc. There are ways in which it must be seen as casting out important aspects of Aristotle’s system, even his Philosophy of Nature (his notions of time, place, space, and the non-actuality of elements in a substance need substantial correction) But there are other ways in which Aristotle’s system is a critique of science, or at least philosophies about what science is doing. Darwinianism, for example, is teleological, though its telos is rarely noticed (namely, the diversity of species that will have been). Aristotle is also right about the natural being formally the mobile and about it working through contact and interaction (though this is not a very controversial point)

  2. Wade McKenzie said,

    May 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you for your clear reply to my query.

    The question of theism or non-theism in relation to natural science is, of course, ultimately to be equated with the question of whether or not reality or the cosmos is in some sense governed by mind–reason, intelligence, wisdom.

    While my own sympathies are not with the modern scientific project–which I find to be simplistic and uninteresting, and, what’s worse, to give rise to consciously ignoble societies–it’s impossible to deny that non-theistic explanations in natural science have experienced unprecedented success.

    Continuing with the theme of your post above, would it be fair to say that this success constitutes evidence that reality or the cosmos is not wholly governed by reason, intelligence and wisdom?


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