Brute Facts and Intellectual Satisfaction

  1. Given the choice between two alternative beliefs, one of which is less intellectually satisfying than the other, we ought to choose the more intellectually satisfying belief.
  2. Brute Facts are not intellectually satisfying beliefs (they are, in fact, intellectually dissatisfying beliefs).
  3. Therefore, given the choice between believing one of two alternative worldviews, one of which postulates more brute facts than the other, [all things being equal] we ought to choose to believe the worldview with the fewer number of brute facts.
  4. Naturalism simpliciter postulates more brute facts than Theism simpliciter.
  5. Therefore, [all things being equal] given the choice between believing Naturalism simpliciter or Theism simpliciter we ought to choose to believe Theism.
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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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14 Responses to Brute Facts and Intellectual Satisfaction

  1. Grundy says:

    Why do you think premise 2 is true?

    And does the intellectual satisfaction of something imply it’s truth?

    • The intellectual satisfaction of something doesn’t necessarily imply its truth, but then Naturalism seems to me antithetical to the commitment that one ought to believe something for no other reason than its truth (observe, for instance, the logic of Clifford’s famous essay ‘the ethics of belief’). However, even if one wants to value truth for its own sake, it seems plausible that given two beliefs, the one which is more intellectually satisfying is more likely to be true. That’s at least my intuition about intellectual satisfaction.

      However, we can be more modest that the previous statement. We can just say that as an epistemic rule of thumb we ought to prefer to believe in the more intellectually satisfying of any two beliefs (and that remains neutral on the issue of whether that’s because it entails or implies its truth, or even whether we should value truth for its own sake rather than its utility).

      Premise 2 seems to me to be the least controversial premise of the whole argument because brute facts are facts for which there are literally not explanations of why they are true, and so by the very nature of the case postulating a brute fact is the worst cop-out just-so story ever. To postulate a brute fact is to say that ‘such-and-such is so’ and when asked how one knows, or how that could be, or why that is the case, one simply responds with ‘well, I dunno, it’s just a brute fact’. I myself don’t think there are any brute facts, but I designed this argument to appeal even to the person who thinks there are such facts. It seems to me that even the Naturalist likes having explanations for why things are the way they are, at least to the extent that they can answer those questions – that reflects the very human desire to know.

  2. “Naturalism simpliciter postulates more brute facts than Theism simpliciter.”

    No it doesn’t. At least, not as a candidate for the most reduced description of our experience.

    Consider that “stuff happens” contains only one “brute fact”, but fails to recover the data when applied to, say, how an engine works, whereas the Haynes Manual for my car succeeds brilliantly with its oodles of irreducible facts.

    So theism, as a model of observation, needs to be fine-tuned, and all the little fine-tunings are themselves brute facts in the model — in fact they are the same brute facts as the no-gods hypothesis, PLUS the additional god fact. An omnipotent being who “might” do anything is untuned, and therefore we have no right to expect any given pattern of observation, unless and until we add additional brute facts like “it is a brute fact that this particular god would make such-and-such the value of the mass of the electron, or could be expected to taxonomically nest birds within dinosaurs, or would want to raise certain corpses but not others from their tombs etc.

    We need a meta-anthropic principle to explain why, of all the possible pattern-making gods, we just happened to have the one who wants to make the specific patterns we see. Therefore, theism will always have more brute facts, even if it tries to hide them from view by offshoring them into Yaheh’s “nature”.

    • Notice that Theism Simpliciter postulates that there is a sufficient reason for the existence of the set of all contingent beings. Naturalism simpliciter does not (and Naturalism cannot). Theism Simpliciter does not imply any brute facts at all (unless perhaps one thought that Theism entailed that God has libertarian free will, and that libertarian free will were incompatible with the PSR – but I think at least one of those are not only questionable but demonstrably wrong). You say for example that that there are different possible pattern making gods – I think that language is just confused. Perhaps what you mean is that whatever being we call God might have been interested in different patterns, but then why God created the actual pattern would be explained sufficiently in terms of reference to God’s actually wanting to create that pattern.

      Notice that a brute fact is a fact which is ‘just-so’ with absolutely no explanation of why it is so, and which is not a necessary proposition. Keeping this in mind is important for properly understanding the argument.

      Theism may have a richer ontology than Naturalism (it postulates at least one more piece of ontological furniture than does Naturalism) but it does so precisely because it has the advantage of eliminating the big conjunctive contingent fact about everything in the world, whereas Naturalism bites the bullet and asks us to be satisfied with no explanation at all, and no promise it will ever have one, along with a promise that it will never have one.

      • “Notice that Theism Simpliciter postulates that there is a sufficient reason for the existence of the set of all contingent beings…. Theism Simpliciter does not imply any brute facts at all…”

        I’m having trouble understanding how these are not flat contradictions, but then I think you may be using “brute facts” in a highly idiosyncratic way.

        You say for example that that there are different possible pattern making gods – I think that language is just confused. Perhaps what you mean is that whatever being we call God might have been interested in different patterns, but then why God created the actual pattern would be explained sufficiently in terms of reference to God’s actually wanting to create that pattern.

        What is the last bit “confusing” about that language? “We could have gotten a reality where god just irrationally hates Chinese people, or a god who wanted to make a geocentric universe, or a god who sends hurricanes once a week every week to every state that approves gay marriage.”

        Under naturalism, the pattern of observations (under its most reduced description) is the brute fact. Under theism, “god actually wanting to produce this specific pattern” is the brute fact, plus the existence of god — i.e., more brute facts, i.e. flagrant parsimony violation i.e. not intellectually satisfying.

        Notice that a brute fact is a fact which is ‘just-so’ with absolutely no explanation of why it is so, and which is not a necessary proposition.

        Modality has jack to do with squat as far as bruteness goes. There (epistemically) could be brute necessary facts or brute contingent facts or some combination of them. I think you definitely are using the term in a highly idiosyncratic way.

        A brute fact is just whatever we find ourselves quantifying over in our shortest-length description string which recovers the data. Theism cannot recover the data without a “What God Wants” substring of equivalent length to the string corresponding to the best naturalistic model.

        Therefore, theism posits more brute facts, by (non-idiosyncratic) definition.

  3. Sorry, I was short with you in that last post; I even forgot to welcome you to the blog. Well, for what it’s worth, welcome to the blog Staircaseghost.

    You suggest ““We could have gotten a reality where god just irrationally hates Chinese people, or a god who wanted to make a geocentric universe, or a god who sends hurricanes once a week every week to every state that approves gay marriage.”
    In response I would say that the word ‘god’ must refer to some idea which you have, and which just isn’t what I have in mind. When I say the word ‘God’ I mean simply a maximally great being (a being which exists a se, and has all the great-making superlative attributes, whatever those are). As a maximally great being, God would be the paradigm of rationality, not to mention the paradigm of goodness. I would also like to point out that this definition of ‘God’ is precisely not idiosyncratic, but it is what everyone (with very few exceptions) in the western intellectual tradition refers to as ‘God’. On this definition of Theism (that ‘God’ exists) there are no brute facts which are entailed by positing Theism. However, there is at least one more brute fact which Atheism (let’s say ‘Naturalism’) does logically entail – namely, the existence of the whole world.

    You say: “There (epistemically) could be brute necessary facts or brute contingent facts or some combination of them.”
    Well, actually, a brute fact is a fact which is neither necessary nor contingent (or at least, not contingent in the sense that it is both possible for it to have been false, and also in need of some explanation of why it is true). In other words, it is a fact for which there just is no explanation. Let’s take an example; suppose that a goat were to pop into the room out of thin air, and you asked me “where did that come from?” – I could answer by saying “well, from nowhere (meaning it didn’t come from anywhere)”. Then you would ask me “well, why did it just pop into the room like that?” I would again answer “oh, no reason.” You might think I was kidding and ask “no, I mean, how did that happen? What caused it to happen?” I would again answer “There is no cause, there is no ‘how’, it just happened, and there isn’t anything more to it.” That would be a brute fact – a fact which did not have an explanation for why it was so rather than not. However, suppose I now ask you the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The Theist of course has an answer: “because it isn’t logically possible for nothing to exist (i.e., there exists at least one necessary being which can sufficiently explain why everything which exists exists)”. But the Naturalist, by contrast, has to side with Sartre, Russell, Nietzsche, Quine, and et al – There is no answer to that question. In other words, ‘everything’ is a brute fact (thus there is at least one more brute fact on Naturalism than on Theism Simpliciter).

    Very interestingly you say: “A brute fact is just whatever we find ourselves quantifying over in our shortest-length description string which recovers the data. Theism cannot recover the data without a “What God Wants” substring of equivalent length to the string corresponding to the best naturalistic model.”

    Now, if that isn’t idiosyncratic then I don’t know what is. But in any case, I’ve already made it clear to you what a brute fact is (at least insofar as philosophers are concerned). Moreover, I think your definition needs to be more carefully articulated to be coherent (and I’d invite you to do as much). However, even if Theism had to appeal to what you’ve called a ‘what-God-wants’ substring of equivalent length to the string corresponding to the best naturalistic model’ the problem here is one of comparative intellectual satisfaction. Of course Naturalism is simpler in the sense of postulating fewer beings, but it also by consequence postulates more facts for which it has absolutely no explanation. That’s the point I’m trying to obviate.

    • “When I say the word ‘God’ I mean simply a maximally great being (a being which exists a se, and has all the great-making superlative attributes, whatever those are). As a maximally great being, God would be the paradigm of rationality, not to mention the paradigm of goodness.’

      I very much doubt that is “simply” what you mean. You mean Biblegod, not Korangod or Philosophergod or Vedagod, a being whose attributes, beliefs, and desires rule in or out some set of observations.

      But more importantly, your OP was talking about the alleged explanatory power of such a being. In no sense does “maximally great” entail (i.e. make more probable) any set of observations without auxilliary hypotheses. It so happens that cannonballs travel in parabolas, whereas they (epistemically) could have travelled in hyperbolas, or straight lines, or spirals, or etc. I defy you to show how “maximal greatness” entails parabolas.

      Whereas, taking only the equations of classical mechanics + initial conditions as brute facts, we have an empirically adequate model which functions as a reduced description of phenomena. While the description string of theism must contain as brute facts the equations of classical mechanics + initial conditions PLUS a god who in some mysterious sense “makes” them obtain. “It’s just a brute fact that Yahweh likes parabolas…”

      “On this definition of Theism (that ‘God’ exists) there are no brute facts which are entailed by positing Theism. “

      Er, how about “God exists, and hates sodomy, and likes cannonballs which travel in parabolic arcs?”

      This is how the term “brute facts” is employed in philosophy. Again, I don’t mean to be impolite, but I think you are simply confused about what the phrase means.

      “Well, actually, a brute fact is a fact which is neither necessary nor contingent (or at least, not contingent in the sense that it is both possible for it to have been false, and also in need of some explanation of why it is true).”

      Neither necessary nor contingent? Now I’m starting to think you’ve got some slippage going on with those concepts too. They are jointly exhaustive, so “neither necessary nor contingent” makes no sense. Then you seem to slip back and forth between “possible that it could have been false”, and “in need of explanation”, the latter of which has nothing to do with modal status.

      “That [poofing goat] would be a brute fact – a fact which did not have an explanation for why it was so rather than not.”

      Yes, that is closer to the accurate definition of brute fact. You’ll notice it also has nothing to do with the modal claim! Suppose, for the sake of argument, it were true that the goat poofed necessarily at that time and place. That would be a brute fact too, because modal status is not the same thing as explanatory status.

      “Now, if that isn’t idiosyncratic then I don’t know what is.”

      Then by modus ponens, you don’t know what is 🙂

      I don’t know of any good online primers for this, but you should start by taking a look at the wiki entry on MML and the Stanford Encyclopedia section on probabilistic interpretations of parsimony and dig into the bibliographies for more. This is as absolutely mainstream as can be.

      “Moreover, I think your definition needs to be more carefully articulated to be coherent (and I’d invite you to do as much).”

      Apologies, sometimes I take for granted certain backgrounds and start throwing in technical terms without getting a sense of the audience first. How facile are you with the concept of explanations as reduced descriptions?

      “However, even if Theism had to appeal to what you’ve called a ‘what-God-wants’ substring of equivalent length to the string corresponding to the best naturalistic model’ the problem here is one of comparative intellectual satisfaction.”

      It does and it is. Unparsimonious models are intellectually unsatisfying, and theism is unparsimonious, given standard MML notions of parsimony.

      “Of course Naturalism is simpler in the sense of postulating fewer beings, but it also by consequence postulates more facts for which it has absolutely no explanation. That’s the point I’m trying to obviate.”

      The point you’re trying to render unnecessary?

      Regardless, now you’re slipping between “things” and “facts”. And theism, in order to recreate the data posulates the fact that god likes certain kinds of sex but not others, the fact that god likes parabolic arcs, the fact that god likes birds descended from dinosaurs, etc. and these facts are brute in the sense of having no explanation, where explanation means a reduced description rendering them more probable. None of these things trivially (or even non-trivially) falls out of “a maximally great being exists”. You need to add them as irreducible statements in your description string — or show, as has never been shown, how you can reduce their length given mininal properties of philosophergod, or biblegod, or whatever.

      • Well, I question the wisdom of answering you, but (stubborn optimist that I am) I’m willing to hold out hope that this conversation may yet go somewhere. However, might I recommend that you adopt a more charitable posture for conversational purposes? That’s not intended to be condescending, but rather in the interest of helping this conversation go in such a way that it can remain civil and enjoyable.

        So, first, let’s take a look at what you said here: “I very much doubt that is “simply” what you mean. You mean Biblegod, not Korangod or Philosophergod or Vedagod, a being whose attributes, beliefs, and desires rule in or out some set of observations.”

        What I mean by ‘God’ is not Biblegod. I may believe in Biblegod, but that’s not what I’m arguing for when I say ‘Theism simpliciter’ – in fact, to say Theism Simpliciter is just to signal this to the reader, or at least to as many readers as understand the word ‘simpliciter’. I’m arguing, here, for a generic Theism. I suppose that’s about as clear as I can be. However, supposing that I read you charitably, you aren’t saying that I was lying, but you’re reporting to me a psychological fact about yourself, namely that you doubt that what I mean by Theism Simpliciter is a generic Theism (and I’ll just ignore the fact that you must have some meaning in mind for the word ‘simpliciter’ which isn’t what I have in mind, or perhaps you had nothing in particular in mind at all). If that’s the case, then perhaps I have alleviated that doubt?

        Perhaps, though, it was my looseness in conversation that led to this misunderstanding. When I think about God, I think I have the general definition in mind, and then I, in addition to that, believe that Christianity accurately elaborates Theism Simpliciter, such that God is properly described by Christian Theology. Thus, in that sense, I do think that ‘God’ is the God of Christianity, but the term ‘God’ itself does not connote anything about Christian theology.

        Now, you said “But more importantly, your OP was talking about the alleged explanatory power of such a being. In no sense does “maximally great” entail (i.e. make more probable) any set of observations without auxilliary hypotheses.”
        What I mean by explanatory power is not some model with predictive power concerning observations. By explanatory power, here, I mean adequacy. In other words I just mean that something has more explanatory power just in case it postulates fewer brute facts, than some other model. I think that’s pretty clear.

        Then again you say “Whereas, taking only the equations of classical mechanics + initial conditions as brute facts, we have an empirically adequate model which functions as a reduced description of phenomena. While the description string of theism must contain as brute facts the equations of classical mechanics + initial conditions PLUS a god who in some mysterious sense “makes” them obtain. “It’s just a brute fact that Yahweh likes parabolas…””

        So, what you seem to be proposing here, if I’m reading you right, is that for any fact N, where N stands for ‘a brute fact on naturalism’, N represents a brute fact on theism. Not only do I disagree, but I would say that for any fact N*, where N* represents a fact which is not a brute fact on Naturalism, N* is not a brute fact on Theism. Now, why would I disagree with the first of these suggestions? The reason I would disagree with your suggestion (as I’m reading it) is that I can think of at least one fact which is a brute fact on naturalism, but which isn’t a brute fact on theism: namely, the fact that the universe/world exists (where ‘world’ is understood to be the totality or aggregate, real or imagined, of contingent beings). Moreover, I not only cannot think of a single fact N* which would be a brute fact on Theism, but I suggest that there cannot be any such fact (remember that N* has to be a fact recognized by Naturalism, and thus facts like ‘God freely chose to create the world’, will not be possible values of N*). The reason there cannot be any such fact is that the Theist is also a Naturalist, or at least may be – the Theist may also be a supernaturalist, but that just means the Theist believes that at least one being exists which is not strictly a member of the world (as it was defined above). The supernaturalist who is a Theist is never necessarily somebody who doesn’t believe in the natural world, but may be somebody who believes in at least one being in addition to the natural world, along with the natural world. Therefore, any natural explanation which is available to the naturalist, is possibly available to the theist. The difference is that there are some explanations which are available to the theist and which are not available to the naturalist.

        Also, you take “the equations of classical mechanics” and the “initial conditions” to be brute facts. I would say that neither of these are brute facts on Theism, since we can explain them in terms of God’s creating a world patterned on a rational order, and in which the initial conditions are set such that they allow intelligent life and the recognition, in intelligent creatures, of intelligibility. However, even if they were brute facts on Theism, they couldn’t present the theist with ‘more’ brute facts than they present the Naturalist with. This helps illustrate the point.

        I am also very grateful for the articles you have linked to, in part because I think they may have helped me locate where the dialectical ‘problem’ between us lies (I think you were right, that we are using the term ‘brute fact’ differently, but I think we’re also using terms like ‘explanation’ differently, as I’ll discuss below). Obviously parsimony is not the only property by which a theory can commend itself to us. Explanatory scope, explanatory power, (adequacy,) etc, are other such values to which theorists look. However, more to the point, parsimony is actually irrelevant to this issue. One can imagine two theories, one of which is very simple, the other very complex, and where the simpler theory postulates more brute facts – that seems trivially easy to do. Moreover, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, neither page you have linked to talks at all about brute facts. There’s a reason for that, it’s not a coincidence – you are talking and thinking about any ‘given facts’ as though they were brute facts merely in virtue of being basic. However, not all basic facts are brute facts. For instance, you referred earlier to brute facts in the following words:

        “A brute fact is just whatever we find ourselves quantifying over in our shortest-length description string which recovers the data.” You followed up by adding that “Theism cannot recover the data without a “What God Wants” substring of equivalent length to the string corresponding to the best naturalistic model.”

        In the Blackwell dictionary of Western Philosophy it notes: “For empiricism , what is given in sense-perception is brute fact and provides the incorrigible basis of all knowledge. In a relative sense, any fact that must be contained in a higher-level description under normal circumstances is brute in relation to that higher-level description, although in another situation the fact could itself become a higher-level description containing its own brute fact.”

        However, this is imprecise. A brute fact is better defined indirectly in the way the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it: “Do all facts—including the most ordinary ones—demand an explanation? If you accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (= PSR), you will require an explanation for any fact, or in other words, you will reject the possibility of brute, or unexplainable, facts.”

        Brute facts are here properly apprehended to be facts which are unexplained and unexplainable. Brute facts are violations of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Of course Empiricism may reject the PSR (Notice that those who accept the PSR are also, generally, rationalists rather than empiricists – though I have written a paper arguing that at least some of the empiricists, like Berkeley, did maintain something like the PSR). Naturalism, though, necessarily does violate the PSR and entails a rejection of it, but notice that all those who have held to the PSR (Spinoza, Leibniz, Aquinas, etc.) were also Theists precisely because Theism doesn’t postulate any brute facts. In fact, all facts on Naturalism are ultimately brute facts, since there is never any sufficient or total explanation of any contingent fact (i.e., an explanation of contingent truths in terms of a necessary truth). Brute facts are, as I say, facts for which there is simply no (sufficient) explanation at all. To assess the measure of a theory/postulate’s parsimony does nothing to answer the question of whether it violates the principle of sufficient reason. The principle of sufficient reason can be articulated roughly as follows: “For any fact F, if F is contingently true, then F has some explanation of why it is true.” A brute fact, then, is just going to be a contingently true fact F* for which there is no explanation (a violation of the PSR).

        Next, you suggest that you can name at least one fact which Theism postulates which is a brute fact. Let’s take a look: “Er, how about “God exists, and hates sodomy, and likes cannonballs which travel in parabolic arcs?” This is how the term “brute facts” is employed in philosophy. Again, I don’t mean to be impolite, but I think you are simply confused about what the phrase means.”

        Well, suppose we parse this out – if God exists, would God’s existence be a brute fact? No, obviously it would be a necessary fact – a fact which is explained, in this case, by the fact that God exists, if he exists at all, necessarily (a se), in conjunction with the fact that God does exist. What about the suggestion that if God exists, he hates sodomy – would that be a brute fact? Well, I’m not sure how you derived from Theism Simpliciter that God hates Sodomy, but of course if you could derive it from Theism Simpliciter then you would be able to tell us how it is derived, and then it just wouldn’t be a brute fact anymore. Perhaps you have in mind ‘Biblegod’ here? Even if you did, the Christian Theologian is likely going to appeal to Natural Law and suggest that, upon careful rational analysis of nature it can be derived that ‘homosexuality [as an activity] is wrong because it does not aim at the good’. I think that if Natural Law theory holds, then that would follow. Perhaps you want to disagree with natural law theory in ethics? Ok, I’m not sure natural law theory follows clearly or necessarily from Theism, so then you could just imagine Theism without God hating Sodomy, couldn’t you? I can. The same could be said about cannonballs and parabolas. I suspect that’s about as clear as this point can be made, so I’ll move on.

        Now, next you say: “Neither necessary nor contingent? Now I’m starting to think you’ve got some slippage going on with those concepts too. They are jointly exhaustive, so “neither necessary nor contingent” makes no sense. Then you seem to slip back and forth between “possible that it could have been false”, and “in need of explanation”, the latter of which has nothing to do with modal status..”

        Right, I actually agree with you here (to my pleasant surprise), but, if you’ll allow me to, I’ll explain why I introduced that distinction between contingent and brute facts. I was proposing that being a brute fact would represent an alternative to a necessary or contingent fact in part because I suspected that (given experience debating it with Atheists of the highest intelligence) the Atheist may want to call into question the very vocabulary of contingency as such. For example, this was Russell’s tactic when debating Copleston; he said:

        “As to the metaphysical argument: I don’t admit the connotations of such a term as “contingent” or the possibility of explanation in Father Copleston’s sense. I think the word “contingent” inevitably suggests the possibility of something that wouldn’t have this what you might call accidental character of just being there, and I don’t think is true except in the purely causal sense. You can sometimes give a causal explanation of one thing as being the effect of something else, but that is merely referring one thing to another thing and there’s no — to my mind — explanation in Father Copleston’s sense of anything at all, nor is there any meaning in calling things “contingent” because there isn’t anything else they could be.”

        I note, of course, that Russell is there talking about ‘beings’ being contingent, but when Atheists have faced arguments articulated such that the PSR is applied to contingent facts, they very quickly say the very same thing about ‘contingent’ facts. I, in fact, am inclined to agree with you that all facts are either necessary or contingent, but I think that if a fact were a brute fact it could plausibly be recognized by us as being different from either a necessary or contingent fact, depending on what we thought ‘contingency’ involved. However, maybe you will think that I was loading the term ‘contingency’ with too much baggage? If that’s the case, then I suggest that for the purposes of our discussion we should define ‘contingent’ without the baggage which I implied about being ‘possible, not necessary, and having an explanation‘ and reduce the term ‘contingent’ to just meaning ‘possible and not necessary’. Would you be happy with that definition? If you would be, then I would say that on Naturalism there is at least one more contingent fact without any explanation than on Theism; namely ‘that something exists’. If this holds, then my argument holds with it. Moreover, as an aside, I would also say that there is no contingent fact without some explanation (and here I want to invite you to register your agreement or disagreement with this Principle).

        You do say, though, ” Suppose, for the sake of argument, it were true that the goat poofed necessarily at that time and place.”

        Well, I’m not sure what that even means (and I’m not sure you do either). Perhaps you could explain what you could possibly mean by saying that it poofed into the room necessarily? I take it by ‘poofed’ you mean causelessly appeared out of nothing, from nothing, for nothing, by nothing, with no explanation or sufficient reason. How, to your mind, could that be a necessary fact? Notice that necessary here is being understood as a modal term, which is to say that something is ‘necessary’ if and only if it obtains in/at all logically possible worlds.

        “Apologies, sometimes I take for granted certain backgrounds and start throwing in technical terms without getting a sense of the audience first. How facile are you with the concept of explanations as reduced descriptions?”

        I’m not sure if ‘facile’ is the right word, but in any case, I am not familiar with talk of explanations as reduced descriptions. I’d love to hear more, if you’re in a sharing mood. I suspect, though, that you may need to provide some disciplinary context in order for me to understand in what sense you’re using the terms ‘reduced descriptions’. Perhaps you mean ‘reduced sequence descriptions’? I can’t tell. I’d be happy to hear more. However, I would also like to know how it could be relevant – perhaps you can direct me to a paper where ‘explanations as reduced [sequence?] descriptions’ are discussed in relation to analytic epistemology? I’d be much obliged if you could… or even metaphysics come to think of it… or philosophy of language.. actually, let’s just say if you could get me any philosophical paper or book published on the relevance of reduced [sequence?] descriptions for the principle of sufficient reason, or for brute facts, I’d be happy to have you direct me to them. Having said, that, I suspect that it won’t be relevant to the argument I presented above, and therefore for our discussion here below. It seems to me that information theory aims at parsimony, but my concern here is with ‘adequacy’. I think that Naturalism is inadequate with respect to explaining at least one fact which Theism does adequately explain, and that in no respect is the reverse true.

        “Unparsimonious models are intellectually unsatisfying, and theism is unparsimonious, given standard MML notions of parsimony.”

        All things being equal (Ceteris Paribus) we ought to prefer the simpler of two models. However, that isn’t because models which are more complex are less intellectually satisfying per se – for instance if our only adequate model is complex we wouldn’t say that it is dissatisfying to the extent that it is complex. I can imagine a very complex and intellectually satisfying theory. Intellectual satisfaction is, it seems to me, related more clearly to adequacy. For all things to be equal, as it was used above, just means that the two models adequately account for all the same data. Theism is certainly less parsimonious than Naturalism, there’s no doubt about that, but the question is whether Naturalism is as ‘adequate’ an explanation. I am arguing that it is obviously not, and that therefore it is less intellectually satisfying.

        Note also that if parsimony were to be related to intellectual satisfaction, it would only be so given two theories which are as adequate – if parsimony alone were a measure of intellectual satisfaction then we could substitute Metaphysical Naturalism for an even simpler worldview, such as Idealism. Indeed, if one believed in nothing at all, or alternatively believed in only two things, that would be a simpler belief system than Naturalism, but that wouldn’t make that belief system intellectually satisfying. The problem with such simpler belief systems is that they don’t account for what we want them to account for. Theism, though, accounts for facts which Naturalism cannot account for, and thus where Naturalism calls certain facts (like why there exists anything at all) brute facts, Theism can give an explanation of those facts.

        Therefore, I don’t think information theory’s notions of parsimony are relevant to the number of brute facts which one worldview posits compared to another. I don’t think parsimony has much to do with intellectual satisfaction, for the reasons I’ve adduced above. So, I don’t think a discussion about parsimony has any bearing on a discussion about brute facts and adequacy of worldviews/models. Moreover, notice that if complexity were intellectually dissatisfying, and you charge Theism with being more complex than Naturalism, then that would just be to challenge the assumption that ‘all things are equal’ in fact (in premise 3). If this were your objection to Theism, then you could reject Theism and still accept that my argument is logically valid, and even sound.

        “Regardless, now you’re slipping between “things” and “facts”. And theism, in order to recreate the data posulates the fact that god likes certain kinds of sex but not others, the fact that god likes parabolic arcs, the fact that god likes birds descended from dinosaurs, etc. and these facts are brute in the sense of having no explanation, where explanation means a reduced description rendering them more probable.”

        This is interesting. You seem to believe that explanations just are ‘reduced descriptions’, which seems to reflect a radical form of reductionism or empiricism. If that is a key presumption of yours then it may be hard for you to use the word ‘explanation’ more normatively as ‘an adequate account.’ Explanation has, to my mind, nothing to do with simplicity (though explanations can have the quality of being simple or complex), but rather has to do with adequacy. There are some explanations which are not simple (though they may not be very good explanations). There are no explanations which are not adequate, because an explanation is just an adequate account. We only speak informally about explanations which aren’t adequate (inadequate explanations), but inadequate explanations are just not, strictly, explanations. You seem to think the same of explanations as being simple simply a reduced description – but I think that’s incoherent. Even if that is how information theory works, that isn’t how metaphysics or modal logics work. Explanations are adequate accounts.

        However, let’s take some fact, like that cannonballs travel in a certain trajectory under certain conditions. Let us say that they are best explained in terms of reduced descriptions. Now, whatever the explanation the Naturalist has for this fact, is going to be the exact same explanation Theism has of this fact. The Theist, remember, is a Naturalist as well, it is the Naturalist who is not a Supernaturalist. Thus, for any fact X, if X is explained by Naturalism, then X is explained by Theism. Therefore, the Theist’s “description string” is plausibly no longer than the Naturalist’s except with respect to explaining the big conjunctive contingent fact (a phrase borrowed from Pruss).
        The only brute facts which Theism could be in danger of postulating, and which Naturalism does not postulate, are brute facts which follow from Theism Simpliciter. What might such facts be? Perhaps you could say such a fact would be that God hates Sodomy – but that kind of juvenile suggestion doesn’t get very far because “God hating Sodomy” either does or does not follow from Theism Simpliciter, but if it does then there is some account of it (and therefore it is not a brute fact, because Theism can adequately account for that fact), and if it does not follow then Theism Simpliciter doesn’t postulate it.

        “None of these things trivially (or even non-trivially) falls out of “a maximally great being exists”. You need to add them as irreducible statements in your description string — or show, as has never been shown, how you can reduce their length given mininal properties of philosophergod, or biblegod, or whatever.”

        So take my previous suggestion that for any fact X, if it is explained on Naturalism it is explained on Theism. That seems obvious. Then, obviously, the description string on Theism would not be longer in any of the instances you mention. It would be longer only to the extent that it explains some set of facts Y, which are not explained on Naturalism, but are, on Naturalism, brute facts. Theism also is the most parsimonious explanation of the big conjunctive fact of all facts which would be values of X or Y. To see this, consider the following about cannonballs: suppose I have an adequate naturalistic explanation for why some cannonballs travel in an arc (a parabolic arc) under certain conditions, and God exists. Perhaps I could postulate that God likes parabolic arcs – but would the Theist have to postulate that in order to adequately account for the cannonball travelling in a parabolic arc? No, obviously not. Moreover, would the Theist be bound to say that God does like parabolic arcs because cannonballs travel in parabolic arcs? I can’t see why that would be. Moreover, if God did like parabolic arcs, and this was a contributing reason for why cannonballs traveled, under certain conditions, in parabolic arcs, would that imply that this new fact (that God liked parabolic arcs) was a brute fact? No, it obviously wouldn’t follow that it was a brute fact, for it is possible that this fact could be explained in terms of some other fact about God, and ultimately in terms of a necessary fact about God.

        I think I’ve made most of the points I wanted to make, about explanations being adequate accounts instead of parsimonious description strings, about brute facts being violations of the PSR, about the explanatory power of Theism in relation to the explanatory power of Naturalism, that description is not explanation (except on a radical reductionistic view like perhaps logical empiricism), and so on. I’ll just end with a quote [or set of quotes] from Spinoza, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

        Spinoza: “Since existing is something positive, we cannot say that it has nothing as its cause (by Axiom 7). Therefore we must assign some positive cause, or reason, why [a thing] exists—either an external one, i.e., one outside the thing itself, or an internal one, one comprehended in the nature and definition of the existing thing itself.”
        “For the common people suppose they have satisfactorily explained something as soon as it no longer astounds them.” (i.e., once they have described it).

  4. Well, I question the wisdom of answering you, but (stubborn optimist that I am) I’m willing to hold out hope that this conversation may yet go somewhere.

    It may. Your interlocutor is well-read and highly conversant in this topic.

    I’m arguing, here, for a generic Theism. I suppose that’s about as clear as I can be.

    Then, as I anticipated in my first post, you are not positing anything more specific than “Stuff Happens.”

    I hope we can agree that for an explanation to be intellectually satisfying, it must first actually be an explanation. And I hope you can also agree that “stuff happens” is not actually an explanation, and I think you can intuitively realize this is so because it fails to render any particular observation more or less likely.

    The next step is realizing that “philosophergod exists” is as epistemically fecund as “stuff happens”, unless and until you supply some very specific hypotheses about what such a being would or wouldn’t do — which will end up being fine-tuned post hoc to be identical to what the naturalist says simply is.

    However, supposing that I read you charitably, you aren’t saying that I was lying, but you’re reporting to me a psychological fact about yourself, namely that you doubt that what I mean by Theism Simpliciter is a generic Theism (and I’ll just ignore the fact that you must have some meaning in mind for the word ‘simpliciter’ which isn’t what I have in mind, or perhaps you had nothing in particular in mind at all). If that’s the case, then perhaps I have alleviated that doubt?

    I’ve talked to too many apologists both before, during, and after my deconversion to think that any of them are lying (with the exception of those who draw a paycheck from it, in which case they are doing the moral equivalent of lying). In my experience they genuinely and sincerely don’t realize they are equivocating, and in that course committing a very real kind of blasphemy against biblegod.

    Whenever someone points out that it is absurd to believe in a God who would raise the corpse of a failed Mediterranean prophet, someone trained in apologetics will say, “Oh, I was only talking about The Ground of All Being”, denying Christ up and down more times than you can count before the cock crows. But when someone points out that the arguments for philosophergod don’t even get you an intervening god, much less the specific one they admit they believe in, suddenly they are Empty Tomb this and Wouldn’t Die For A Lie that.

    What I mean by explanatory power is not some model with predictive power concerning observations.

    Then you are correct that the conversation is very nearly at an end, since I am attempting to conduct it in English, and this is very much what the term entails in English.

    Try, try to put yourself in my place. Imagine we were arguing over what was a better meal, and I said, “by the phrase ‘good meal’ I don’t mean anything to do with nutrition, taste, or expensiveness”.

    I think you would be in the right to ask whether I had any genuine grasp of the concept of a good meal.

    By explanatory power, here, I mean adequacy. In other words I just mean that something has more explanatory power just in case it postulates fewer brute facts, than some other model. I think that’s pretty clear.

    Stuff happens.

    That is the easy, obvious refutation of your tendentious definition.

    The explanation for why morphological and genetic nested hierarchies in taxonomy display such remarkable convergence is, “stuff happens”.

    The explanation for what causes autism is, “stuff happens”.

    The explanation for why the fundamental constants have the values they do is, “stuff happens”.

    In no sense of the word “adequate” is “stuff happens” an adequate explanation. Except for your sense. Which means, you have failed to properly deploy the concept of “adequate explanation”.

    So, what you seem to be proposing here, if I’m reading you right, is that for any fact N, where N stands for ‘a brute fact on naturalism’, N represents a brute fact on theism.

    True dat.

    The reason I would disagree with your suggestion (as I’m reading it) is that I can think of at least one fact which is a brute fact on naturalism, but which isn’t a brute fact on theism: namely, the fact that the universe/world exists (where ‘world’ is understood to be the totality or aggregate, real or imagined, of contingent beings).

    I have to ask, in what language is the term “world” restricted to “contingent beings”?

    That question was rhetorical.

    Moreover, I not only cannot think of a single fact N* which would be a brute fact on Theism, but I suggest that there cannot be any such fact (remember that N* has to be a fact recognized by Naturalism, and thus facts like ‘God freely chose to create the world’, will not be possible values of N*). The reason there cannot be any such fact is that the Theist is also a Naturalist, or at least may be – the Theist may also be a supernaturalist, but that just mean the Theist believes that at least one being exists which is not strictly a member of the world (as it was defined above). The supernaturalist who is a Theist is never necessarily somebody who doesn’t believe in the natural world, but may be somebody who believes in at least one being in addition to the natural world, along with the natural world. Therefore, any natural explanation which is available to the naturalist, is possibly available to the theist. The difference is that there are some explanations which are available to the theist and which are not available to the naturalist.

    Apologies, I’m at a loss to understand what this has to do with anything at all.

    Also, you take ” the equations of classical mechanics” and the “initial conditions” to be brute facts. I would say that neither of these are brute facts on Theism, since we can explain them in terms of God’s creating a world patterned on a rational order, and in which the initial conditions are set such that they allow intelligent life and the recognition, in intelligent creatures, of intelligibility.

    No. No, you cannot explain them by “theism simpliciter” any more than you can explain them by “stuff happens”.

    For precisely the same reasons.

    “A patterned rational order” doesn’t predict which pattern we actually see without additional hypotheses, which are, any way you slice it, brute facts. It is a brute fact that Yahweh chose this particular pattern among all the logically possible patterns

    Therefore, in order to be an explanation (as that term is understood in English and every other language of which I am aware), it needs to recover the data.

    However, even if they were brute facts on Theism, they couldn’t present the theist with ‘more’ brute facts than they present the Naturalist with. This helps illustrate the point.

    “Oh, and also, God exists”.

    You’ll find that’s game, set, and match.

    Now for the play-by-play. Consider the pattern “2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, __, 16, 18”. Now, to describe this (i.e. to recover the data) you could just use the string “2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, __, 16, 18.” But there is a pattern here. The length of the string can be reduced (and therefore, by standard definitions from probability theory from the links I gave you) made more probable by describing the pattern as “Y=2x” where x is the position on the string. It even allows you to fill in that missing piece of data by predicting it will be 14!

    Likewise you could model each and every position of each and every cannonball on each and every trajectory. This would be a loooooooooooong string. But you can recover the data by positing the (very simple i.e. very short stringed) laws of classical mechanics and just plugging in the intitial values. A much more parsimonious and computationally elegant model. We explain things just when we make the description string as short as possible to recover the data. Once you’ve made it as short as you can, there’s nothing left over to make it “intellectually satisfying”; you’ve exhausted the process of explanation for the phenomenon in question.

    There is no a priori constraint on the modal status of the propositions contained in that description string. If some of them happen to be contingent, it’s not the case that they still “stand in need of explanation”, because formulating the MML exhausts the concept of being an explanation, and hence, of being intellectually satisfying.

    Now, either cannonball parabolas are necessary, or they are contingent. Suppose Yahweh is alleged to “explain” why they are parabolas instead of hyperbolas. To explain something is to shorten the string by showing how the observation can be derived from a simpler set of propositions. But if parabolas are derived from a “necessary truth”, then parabolas are necessary! In fact, you end up saying that every truth is a necessary truth, which, if you don’t mind my saying so, is ridiculous. Contrariwise, if it’s just a contingent fact that Yahweh chose parabolas, then (as I have been saying over and over again since my first reply) your string must contain “and Yahweh just contingently chose to do things this way.”, one such proposition for every fact you purportedly “explain” in this manner.

    So you can see, there is a one-to-one correspondence between every statement of each party’s MML description, with the exception that you take up however many bits you need to describe gods. Which means, you have one more unexplained (unreduced) fact. Which means your explanation is intellectually unsatisfying.

    However, more to the point, parsimony is actually irrelevant to this issue.

    On the contrary, it is the only relevant issue here, except for explanatory scope, which I’ve demonstrated conclusively that your “stuff happens” theory displays an infinite lack of.

    There’s a reason for that, it’s not a coincidence – you are talking and thinking about all basic facts as brute facts.

    I now see that by brute facts you only meant to include contingent facts, however strange that use of the term may be. I have also shown, alternatively, that 1) there is no non-question-begging way to eliminate contingent claims from one’s description string available to the theist that is not available to the nontheist, but more crucially, 2) this criterion is irrelevant to what one actually wants for an explanation to be “intellectually satisfying”.

    In the Blackwell dictionary of Western Philosophy it notes: ” For empiricism , what is given in sense-perception is brute fact and provides the incorrigible basis of all knowledge. In a relative sense, any fact that must be contained in a higher-level description under normal circumstances is brute in relation to that higher-level description, although in another situation the fact could itself become a higher-level description containing its own brute fact.”
    
However, this is imprecise. A brute fact is better defined indirectly in the way the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it: ” Do all facts—including the most ordinary ones—demand an explanation? If you accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (= PSR), you will require an explanation for any fact, or in other words, you will reject the possibility of brute, or unexplainable, facts.”

    Oh, the definition-shoppping game. How droll.

    Brute facts are, as I say, facts for which there is simply no (sufficient) explanation at all.

    Explain why Yahweh chose parabolas instead of hyperbolas. I double dog dare you. What is the “sufficient reason” why Yahweh chose parabolas instead of hyperbolas?

    To assess the measure of a theory/postulate’s parsimony does nothing to answer the question of whether it violates the principle of sufficient reason.

    No, but it does rather address the question of whether it is likely to be true. Which I thought is one of the prime causes of a thing being “intellectually satisfying”, as against adherence to some arbitrary and useless rule.

    Well, suppose we parse this out – if God exists, would God’s existence be a brute fact? No, obviously it would be a necessary fact – a fact which is explained, in this case, by the fact that God exists, if he exists at all, necessarily (a se), in conjunction with the fact that God does exist.

    “Every thing we see is necessarily the case, and could not be otherwise.”

    There! I’ve adhered to the letter of this silly “principle of sufficient reason”. How “intellectually satisfying” do you find this maneuver? Do you not rather find yourself asking, “by what right can he simply declare or stipulate that something is necessary and still be taken seriously?”

    Precisely.

    What about the suggestion that if God exists, he hates sodomy – would that be a brute fact? Well, I’m not sure how you derived from Theism Simpliciter that God hates Sodomy, but of course if you could derive it from Theism Simpliciter then you would be able to tell us how it is derived, and then it just wouldn’t be a brute fact anymore.

    …and if you could tell us how parabolas instead of hyperbolas for cannonballs are derived, then that wouldn’t be just a brute fact anymore.

    But you won’t, because you can’t, and this is no bad reflection on you, because it can’t be done. But it is absolutely a sign of progress that you now understand that you need to show how your hypothesis explains parabolas in order for it not to be a brute fact, and in the absence of such derivation you are not entitled to count any given fact as non-brute (given your weird definition of brute as contingent).

    So which is it? Is it just blind, contingent luck that our universe has Parabolagod instead of Hyperbolagod, or is there only one logically possible geometry for any god to choose?

    If you say, “yes, there are possible worlds with hyperbolas” then there’s your brute, contingent fact right there. Mutatis mutandis with every other fact you need to reconstruct the data of our experience, i.e. every other fact incorporated into the reduce description string the naturalist believes in, plus “oh, and god exists”.

    If you say, “no the actual world is the only possible world”, then 1) good luck convincing anyone of that and 2) this move is identically available to the nontheist.

    There’s no way out of this dilemma for the theist. Trust me on this.

    If that’s the case, then I suggest that for the purposes of our discussion we should define ‘contingent’ without the baggage which I implied about being ‘possible, not necessary, and having an explanation‘ and reduce the term ‘contingent’ to just meaning ‘possible and not necessary’. Would you be happy with that definition?

    Yes, since that corresponds to the actual definition.

    If you would be, then I would say that on Naturalism there is at least one more contingent fact without any explanation than on Theism; namely ‘that something exists’. If this holds, then my argument holds with it.

    God exists, and is not nothing… gosh, what is the word I’m looking for that means “the opposite of nothing”?

    Oh right, “something”.

    Are these kinds of arguments really the foundation of your hope to see your loved ones after death and your confidence in your authority to tell other consenting adults what they can and can’t do with their genitals? Give me a dinos-on-the-ark fundamentalist any day instead of “why is there something rather than nothing”.

    Does your “explanation” shorten the string or lengthen it?

    Well, I’m not sure what that even means (and I’m not sure you do either). Perhaps you could explain what you could possibly mean by saying that it poofed into the room necessarily?

    It is not possible that the goat did not poof into existence at that time. Here, I’ll even translate it into philosophese for you: There does not exist a possible world in which the goat failed to poof into existence.

    Intellectual satisfaction is, it seems to me, related more clearly to adequacy. For all things to be equal, as it was used above, just means that the two models adequately account for all the same data. Theism is certainly less parsimonious than Naturalism, there’s no doubt about that, but the question is whether Naturalism is as ‘adequate’ an explanation. I am arguing that it is obviously not, and that therefore it is less intellectually satisfying.

    Theism fails the adequacy criterion for the same reason “stuff happens” fails the adequacy criterion. Because it is not adequate. It fails to recover the data.

    Note also that if parsimony were to be related to intellectual satisfaction, it would only be so given two theories which are as adequate – if parsimony alone were a measure of intellectual satisfaction then we could substitute Metaphysical Naturalism for an even simpler worldview, such as Idealism.

    How fortunate that no one at any time has said parsimony is the sole criterion. Did my repeated invocation of the parsimonious “stuff happens” not register?

    And I am not a metaphysical naturalist, and idealism is not simpler for reasons isomorphic to why theism is not simpler, and I find it at any rate far more plausible to than metaphysical naturalism.

    Moreover, notice that if complexity were intellectually dissatisfying, and you charge Theism with being more complex than Naturalism, then that would just be to challenge the assumption that ‘all things are equal’ in fact (in premise 3). If this were your objection to Theism, then you could reject Theism and still accept that my argument is logically valid, and even sound.

    How is it possible that you have not noticed me repeatedly attacking the notion that all things are equal? How many times have I compared theism “simpliciter” to Stuffhappensism?

    The problem with the jargon of apologetics is that it enables and encourages those who imbibe too deeply to construct arguments where the conceptual confusions are so ramified and multifaceted that it’s hard for the rest of us to stay focused on just one error. It is a target rich environment.

    This is interesting. You seem to believe that explanations just are ‘reduced descriptions’, which seems to reflect a radical form of reductionism or empiricism. If that is a key presumption of yours then it may be hard for you to use the word ‘explanation’ more normatively as ‘an adequate account.’

    A good explanation is the most reduced description which recovers the most data. You can see I have no such difficulty.

    Explanation has, to my mind, nothing to do with simplicity (though explanations can have the quality of being simple or complex), but rather has to do with adequacy.

    Surely you don’t mean that. Surely you don’t mean parsimony has literally nothing to do with an explanation being good.

    Even if that is how information theory works, that isn’t how metaphysics or modal logics work. Explanations are adequate accounts.

    Good lord, do you have to talk about modal logic?

    And if metaphysics cannot accommodate the demands of established science and mathematics, then so much the worse for metaphysics. Fortunately, not all philosophers interested in metaphysics adopt a position of sneering philistinism towards the hard-won results of scientific inquiry.

    However, let’s take some fact, like that cannonballs travel in a certain trajectory under certain conditions. Let us say that they are best explained in terms of reduced descriptions. Now, whatever the explanation the Naturalist has for this fact, is going to be the exact same explanation Theism has of this fact.

    I can hear the flint striking the steel…

    Remember when I said the theist’s string must contain a one-for-one analog of every proposition in the nontheist’s string? (several times?)

    Thus, for any fact X, if X is explained by Naturalism, then X is explained by Theism.

    If you think naturalism is in the business of making strings shorter than they already are, you are mistaken. It is simply the behavior of abandoning the quest to reduce the strings once they’ve succeeded in recovering the data in the most parsimonious ways available to the empirical sciences. Whereas theism has this bit-intensive bolt on which performs no explanatory work. This is a fundamental asymmetry which can be cleanly cashed out in formal information-theoretic terms.

    Therefore, the Theist’s “description string” is plausibly no longer than the Naturalist’s except with respect to explaining the big conjunctive contingent fact (a phrase borrowed from Pruss).

    It is longer because it must contain the description of God, which is very very long indeed, and fails adequacy because it does not make the “observation” that there is something instead of nothing more probable in a non-question-begging way not available to the nontheist.

    The only brute facts which Theism could be in danger of postulating, and which Naturalism does not postulate, are brute facts which follow from Theism Simpliciter. What might such facts be? Perhaps you could say such a fact would be that God hates Sodomy – but that kind of juvenile suggestion doesn’t get very far because “God hating Sodomy” either does or does not follow from Theism Simpliciter, but if it does then there is some account of it (and therefore it is not a brute fact, because Theism can adequately account for that fact), and if it does not follow then Theism Simpliciter doesn’t postulate it.

    And if it’s true then theism “simpliciter” doesn’t explain it, for any reasonable definition of “explain”. So you must either 1) show how it can be derived (in which case, every such parabola fact and incarnation fact and anti-gay hurricane fact is necessary!) or 2) admit that you have a boatload of “brute” (contingent) facts for which you have no explanation, over and above all the “brute” facts the nontheist posits.

    Remember when I said this the first time? In my first post?

    So take my previous suggestion that for any fact X, if it is explained on Naturalism it is explained on Theism. That seems obvious. Then, obviously, the description string on Theism would not be longer in any of the instances you mention.

    It must include the description of God. Let me tell you, my house has several feet of shelf space devoted to this enterprise. The string is anything but short.

    Perhaps I could postulate that God likes parabolic arcs – but would the Theist have to postulate that in order to adequately account for the cannonball travelling in a parabolic arc? No, obviously not.

    Then in no sense have you “accounted” for the data for any relevant definition of “account”; meanwhile you have posited this rather bit-intensive entity with no gain in predictive power. “Intellectually satisfying”, my left foot.

    • You said: “Then you are correct that the conversation is very nearly at an end, since I am attempting to conduct it in English, and this is very much what the term entails in English.”

      I burst out laughing at this. Now, don’t worry, I’ll address the rest of your concerns one at a time, but let me jump the gun here and just ask you whether you subscribe to the more than dead and buried Positivist theory of semantics espoused and developed by the members of the Vienna Circle and their intellectual progeny in the early to mid 20th century. Do you? If you do, perhaps you would be interested to look at my post here:
      https://thirdmillennialtemplar.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/positivism-and-recent-creation-a-damning-set-of-objections/

      If so, the conversation is, far from being ‘about at an end’, about to get much more interesting.

      • Also, ‘for a limited time only’, if you’d like to get in touch and talk about this live through some kind of chat program then I would be more than willing. It would be less work than I imagine it will be to “sort you out” 😛 by responding to all of your concerns. If you’re interested, then please get in touch with me with your skype or paltalk or other information by sending it to me at (excuse the following email) T_Diddy_003@Hotmail.com

        I will return to delete this message in a relatively short time.

      • Now, don’t worry, I’ll address the rest of your concerns one at a time, but let me jump the gun here and just ask you whether you subscribe to the more than dead and buried Positivist theory of semantics espoused and developed by the members of the Vienna Circle and their intellectual progeny in the early to mid 20th century.

        I have no idea what part of the quoted text prompted this question. I would have been less surprised to be asked if this meant I were a hockey fan, or a vegetarian.

        Is it one of those things where I say the claims of the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to be able to levitate are ludicrous, and you turn around and say that’s “just” because I “must have an apriori bias against miracles”, or when I say “that claim appears to be nonsensical” it must be “just because I subscribe to the semantic theory of logical positivism?

        At any rate, no I am not a verificationist, for well-trodden reasons.

  5. So… Perhaps you can explain to me then how you think that something is an explanation if and only if it has predictive power with respect to observations? What is it you mean by this if not what the verificationists meant?

    • Verificationism has nothing to do with explanations, it is a theory of what it is for anything to count as a meaningful utterance at all. To the verificationist, the abstract claims of metaphysics, normative utterances etc. are not wrong in the sense of being “false” but wrong in the sense of being literally meaningless. Like most counterintuitive claims in philosophy, there is a kernel of truth or insight here in the insistence that our thoughts earn their keep in our mental household by having at least some bearing on our experience and our behavior — believing or disbelieving a sentence ought to make some difference in praxis — but as a doctrine it both falls prey to well-known self-refutation objections and more importantly fails to capture the diversity of language games we play that aren’t directly concerned with generating empirical models. Thank you very much, Quine and especially later Wittgenstein.

      So, one asks, “what is it these humans are trying to do when they explain things? what constitutes ‘winning’ in the language game ‘Explain X’? what are some common formal characteristics that the players seem to agree are shared by paradigmatically good explanations, and some common attributes of paradigmatically bad ones?” And from there, one can go on to generate normative claims, hypothetical imperatives of the form, “well, given that your goal in this language game is to do such-and-such, you should maybe try altering your strategy to do more of this and less of that.”

      Newton’s physics are a good example I’ve already invoked. Everyone agrees that he’s done something they all call a “good explanation”. What’s good about it; what is it about it that makes it good? Precisely what I’ve described. It is a parsimonious model for predicting (and retrodicting) our empirical observations. If it failed to do this, we would modify or abandon it. And it did, and we did, once Einstein came along. Contra the claims of the radical social constructivists, Einstein’s explanation wasn’t accepted as better “because it was more creative” or “because the high priests of science approved it” or “because of the ideological needs of the bourgeoisie to maintain control over the means of production”. It was better because it more accurately modeled more of our observations, where a model is just a string which eats priors and poops out predictions in a way with lower Kolmogorov complexity.

      How does your theory of explanation (“fewer contingent facts”) account for why Relativity is a better explanation? It’s hard to imagine anyone making that connection. All of the claims in both models are contingent. If anything, GR contains oodles and oodles more contingent facts, since it applies to a wider domain of phenomena. But it gets Mercury right where Newton gets it wrong, and it gets Hiroshima and Nagasaki right where Newton couldn’t have even conceived of there being something to have theories about.

      Try my theory vs yours out on any number of mundane, everyday examples and see what works. Here are a few scenarios:

      I come home from work and the cat food is gone from the bowl. Also, there is cat poop in the litterbox. A very good explanation is that my cat ate the food and turned it into cat poop. Why is it a good explanation? Because in my experience cats are experts at turning cat food into cat poop, and so simply by plugging in my initial observations into the model which makes the later outcome more probable allows me to recover the data.

      Of course, it could be the case that the CIA has a prisoner alien who only eats cat food and so they are breaking into people’s houses, stealing it, and placing fake poop in litterboxes. Why is this explanation not as good? It certainly has nothing to do with the modal status of any of its claims.

      Pavlov’s dogs use induction to form the simple model: bell=food to recover the data. They don’t use the data and conclude “bell=food but not on wednesdays after the year 2017”. Or take my even numbers example above. The parsimonious model (i.e. the better model) is the one that predicts the empty slot will be “14”, not “27” and not “purple monkey dishwasher”. You will find yourself at a loss to explain why “y=2x” is a better model without recourse to the language of parsimony weighted against predictive power.

      Take your theory T about God and whatever role you believe he had in creating the universe. Now take my theory T+1, which contains every claim yours does but also posits an eternally existing undetectable carrot cake in the 8th Dimension, which exists necessarily but by definition has no impact on any conceivable observation. T+1 is intrinsically less likely to be true, and my theory of what makes for a good explanation makes perfect sense of this distinction, where yours cannot recover the intuitive and obvious conclusion that invisible cakes are wildly unlikely.

      I very much encourage you to try this yourself. Try to think of mundane, neutral, non-jury-rigged examples where you and I would both agree that one explanation is better than another, and see if you can come up with even a single such pair where the predictive power is equivalent, but the less parsimonious one is better, or where the Kolmogorov complexity is the same, but the one with less predictive power is better.

      I notice from your bio that you have a theology background but are moving in a philosophical direction, academically speaking. This method of discourse — analyzing and accounting for as broad a sample as possible and generating consensus around an elegant model by appealing to the minimum possible number of presuppositions — requires patience and practice to internalise, and is fundamentally different from the way theology teaches people to argue, so many (most) apologists are ill-prepared by their formal training when they first attempt to join the conversation of philosophy.

      It’s a cliche, but it’s true: much more important than what you think is how you think. Effecting a change there is much more difficult than arguing for the truth of any specific proposition, and so harder to reduce to the outcome of any given debate. So many times, pastors/apologists think that they can save someone who is beginning to have doubts about the faith if they could just get the doubter to understand this article about the Eucharist, or this exegesis of a difficult Bible passage, where in reality it’s too late. The doubter has adopted a different method of inquiry, because he sees it is a better general and domain-neutral strategy for attaining truth. And I’m sorry to report, but Christianity simply cannot pay its epistemic way under this new method.

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