Tuesday, July 19, 2016

God and Inferences to the Best Explanation

Pascal famously stitched a dictum in his coat sleeve declaring, "FIRE.  God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.  Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace.  God of Jesus Christ."  
Clearly, it is a long way from the God of the philosophers to the God of Jesus Christ.  This distance has for many simply meant that when speaking about these two gods, one is speaking about two different matters entirely. The God of the philosophers is a projection of our own best moral and rational characteristics; the God of Jesus Christ is other than this, a God forever tied to the phenomenon of salvation freely given by the Other to unworthy men and women.  
Theologians have often assumed that the identity conditions for gods are found in the meanings that these gods have for those thinking them.  The idealist penchant in theology is a very long and rich.  Phenomenological theological starting points which trace to the zu den Dingen selbst understand the "thing" as a noema, a content intended by the noetic act of the agent.  Accordingly, the god of philosophy apprehended in such-and-such a way is a different noema than the God of Jesus Christ given in such-and-such a way.  There are different identity conditions for different things thought about, and so the identity conditions of the God of Jesus Christ are simply different than those for the god of the philosophers.  
We have been idealist so long in our theology that we don't understand the relevance Frege's seminal "On Sense and Reference" should have for theology.  Frege understood his notion of Sinn (sense) to be of a kind with Husserl's noema, and argued persuasively that two different senses can be simply different "modes of presentation" of the same thing.  Famously, the Evening Star has a different sense the does the Morning Star, yet Frege realized that 'Evening Star' and 'Morning Star' are, nonetheless, coreferential expressions picking out the same planet Venus. They are not, however, simply different names, but instead constitute different senses with their own unique identity conditions, senses which nonetheless are able to pick out the same object in the actual world.  
Applying this insight to the situation of Pascal's two gods, one might claim that 'god of Jesus Christ' and 'god of the philosophers' are neither simply two different objects or entities nor merely different names of one individual God (with a big 'G'), but rather they name different senses picking out that same God.  We ought not simply assume that because 'god of the philosophers' has a different sense than 'god of Jesus Christ', these senses can't be referring to the same God.  Simply put, why assume that the sense of God encountered in the philosophical enterprise does not pick out the same individual as the sense of god encountered in theology?  Why think that when one apprehends God philosophically, one is not referring to the very same God one apprehends theologically?  
I have never been wary of using the tools of philosophy within theology because I am both a theological realist as well as a monotheist.  As a realist, I assume that theology is talking about something that is God and that philosophy is talking about something that is God.  As a monotheist, I reject the claim that there is more than one god. It follows from this, of course, that philosophy and theology must be talking about the same thing, though in radically different ways.  Although the experience, the "mode of presentation" and the conceptuality of the two may differ markedly, the reference is the same.  While one linguistic description may be far more accurate than the other -- 'God of Jesus Christ' may describe God more deeply -- this does not entail that the other expression, 'God of the philosophers' does not refer.   It is in the spirit of 'God of the philosophers' referring that I offer the following brief reflection.

If we step back from the methodological exclusion of God as a causally relevant entity within naturalistic scientific theory, and consider an inference to the best metaphysical explanation of why there is a universe at all with the cosmological constants necessary to support life -- and why there is self-organizing life of sufficient complexity to develop human consciousness -- we are faced with the following question: What is the probability of there being Reason (a Designing Agent or God) present prior to the emergence of the universe? 
Bayes Theorem (derivable in standard probability theory) states that the probability of the occurrence of a state of affairs or event S given a particular set of experiences (or other states of affairs or events) E is equal to the product of probability of E on the hypothesis of S and the probability of S, over the product of probability of E given S and the probability of S plus the product of the probability of E given ~S and the probability of ~S. 
Consider then that the "forward" probability of a Designing Agent's existence is .1% (S). Now what are rational assignments of probabilities to the following?
  1. What is the probability that a universe would exist tuned for development of human beings with the complexity of consciousness on the supposition that a Designing Agent exists? (It seems that were there to be a Designing Agent, it is highly likely that a universe like ours would exist with the complexities of human consciousness. Let us set this at 99% 
  2. What is the probability that a universe would exist seemingly tuned for the development of human beings with the complexity of consciousness on the supposition that a Designing Agent does not exist? (If the authors of the "multiverse" solution to the existence of the universe are to be trusted, our universe is highly unlikely, much greater than the order of .000001%.) 
Now do the calculation: .99 x .001 = .00099/[.00099 + (.00000001 x .99 = .0000000099)]. Thus we obtain .00099 over (.00099 + .0000000099) or .00099/.0009900099 = .99999900001 or 99.99%. The probability that a Designing Agent exists given the state of the universe and its development to the complexities of human consciousness is 99.99% even though the forward probability of that Agent's existence is only .001 or .1%. 
We realize that the plausibility of the multiverse hypothesis in quantum cosmology is based on an admission of the overwhelming unlikely odds of the universe existing with the features its has. Admitting this, drives the inference to the best metaphysical explanation for there to be a Designing Agent/Reason (God). The only way to avoid this conclusion is to claim that the existence of God in itself is almost as unlikely as a forward probability as is the conditional probability of the existence of the universe with features making possible the complexity of human life on the supposition that God does not exist. But why would any rational agent believe that the existence of God as the supreme rational agent is almost as unlikely as the universe developing into the order it has on the supposition of there being no supreme rational agent at all? 
It appears that someone claiming that a multiverse is needed to explain the universe must either be irrationally prejudiced against the forward probability of God's existence or be unable or unwilling to do the simple calculations in basic probability theory. 

Does this reflection prove somehow the God of Jesus Christ?  Of course not!  Does it make more plausible the existence of the God of the philosophers?  One might readily affirm it is so.  But if the rumination in Section I is plausible and the 'God of Jesus Christ' has the same referent as the 'God of the philosophers', then the claim that the God of Jesus Christ exists is strengthened by the rumination of Section II.  Advances in theology may be possible if we have the courage to do things differently.  


  1. Jonathan Sorum8:38 AM

    What does probability have to do with faith? Is there any kind of straight line from the Designer who "probably" exists to the radically contingent God of the Bible? Sovereign reason has to concede a probability--assuming your argument is successful. But what can sovereign reason do with a God who simply chooses a Middle Eastern nomad and ties his whole divinity to his success in keeping the promises he made to that nomad? What can sovereign reason do with a God whose own Word incarnate chooses a cross for our sake and who then unilaterally raises him from the dead as the firstborn of a new creation? The analogy between the Evening Star and the Morning Star as having the same referent but different senses would seem to break down here. The "God" that sovereign reason would deign to acknowledge by force of argument and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would seem to be two different Gods. The problem that human reason cannot take account of its sin, our failure to have true fear, love and trust in Go--that is, a God who really is God and not the product of our own calculations. The gospel is the declaration of the actuality that brings an end to all such calculations.

  2. The crux of the argument is the evaluation of P(E|~S). The intuition of many would be to judge this probability "large." Matters become stickier when asked to provide a "reason" for their intuition. The Many Worlds hypothesis is one such response. This is like asking what is the probability of a coin flipped a very large (effectively infinite) number of times landing on its edge? Given a nearly infinite number of tries even an astronomically low probability event will occur. By this means the event E, despite its seeming low probability, will occur. As a consequence, P(E|~S) will be judged "large." What is missing in your Bayesian description is the Background or context in which the judgment is made. We might say, e.g., that P(E|~S & ~ManyWorlds) to be very small and the P(E|~S & ManyWorlds) is "large." I suppose we could compare the ManyWorlds hypothesis and the hypothesis of the existence of an intelligent designer. There is one possibility favored by many: the Just-Is hypothesis. This hypothesis rejects the principal of sufficient reason and simply posits that there is no "explanation," nothing more that can be said. It seems to me that ultimately all metaphysics ends with this characteristic, whether it is an intelligent designer or a multiverse. There still seems to be a difference between these ontologies and the Just-Is position. The Just-Isness of God accounts for the way this world is. The Just-Isness of a Multiverse accounts for there being a world like this. But the Just-Isness of this world says nothing of why this world is this way and not another. It seems to make this world into a kind of God, of which we can say nothing more.