May 20, 2009

Presuppositionalism, Part 5 (Or: What Counts As a Worldview?)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Worldview tagged , , , , , at 9:55 am by Andrew

Continuing the discussion of presuppositionalist arguments for Christianity, one common thread seems to be that Christianity as a worldview better “explains” certain features of the world than does a naturalist/physicalist worldview. While I have previously challenged the dichotomy inherent in the argument — one need not be a naturalist/physicalist in the strong sense to be an atheist, of course — I also challenge the premise itself.

So let’s start with first principles: what does it mean to give an “explanation” for something? One need not accept Kant’s epistemology to nevertheless recognize the distinction Kant drew between (1) the analytic and (2) the synthetic. An analytic explanation is one where the explanation is derived entirely from the predicate of the proposition; put more simply, when I say, “That object is a triangle, because it has three sides,” I have given an analytic explanation. I haven’t told you anything about the triangle that you didn’t already know, because the definition of a triangle is that it has three sides.

On the other hand, if I say that object is green because it was painted with watercolors, I have given you a synthetic explanation; that is, one in which the proposition contains more information than is simply found in the predicate.

Now, to the point: it seems to me that only a synthetic proposition truly counts as an ‘explanation.’ If I say that the grass is green because it has a “green-producing nature,” that isn’t really an explanation. Ultimately I’ve told you that the grass is green because the grass is green. An explanation doesn’t just tell us that something exists; it tells us how.

And this is the problem I have with presuppositional apologetics and comparative worldview arguments. It’s just not an explanation in the synthetic sense to say “God did it.” It doesn’t tell us ‘how,’ it just gives us another name for the problem.

So my question to those of you who favor those sorts of comparative “worldview” arguments: what’s your criterion/-ia for what counts as an “explanation?”

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7 Comments »

  1. Shamelessly Atheist said,

    I’ve often said that “God did it” is no explanation at all, just another way of saying “I don’t know” since it neither provides any information nor a mechanism by which a god could have ‘done it’.

    All too often we are given the “God did it” answer framed in a false dichotomy. Saying that because we have no good explanation for a phenomenon (often in denial that naturalism has already supplied a well-supported mechanism) therefor it must be due to God distills to the statement that “I don’t know, therefor I know.” Hardly logically consistent.

  2. Andrew said,

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that “God did it” is your answer to a particular problem — I just think that it is no basis for a comparative argument that the Christian “worldview” is superior to any other worldview on the basis of explanatory power, since it has none.

  3. Shamelessly Atheist said,

    It’s not necessarily wrong, but more importantly it can not be demonstrated to be right, either. Thus, there is no basis for being confident that the statement “God did it” is correct.

  4. Cinderella said,

    There is a one way street here. The Naturalist could just as easy say “nature did it”. In fact, this is the explanation that is often given when the “how” is unknown.

    And are either of you a non-naturalistic atheists? Who cares if hypothetically all atheists aren’t necessarily naturalists. I’m still waiting to meet one!

    And using God as an explanation depends on how God is being defined. If God were defined to be personal, eternal, immutable, all good being, etc, then this would happen to be some of the necessary criterion for a real morality and the laws of logic, thus we would say that God can explain this.

    Finite matter and energy doesn’t meet this criterion, hence why I would never say that it is the derivative of a real morality and the laws of logic.

    And saying Gos is self-sufficient and eternal is explaining how He exists. Explaining “how” doesn’t necessarily always demand prior causes.

  5. Cameron said,

    (please delete the above – I used someone elses alias)

    There is a one way street here. The Naturalist could just as easy say “nature did it”. In fact, this is the explanation that is often given when the “how” is unknown.

    And are either of you a non-naturalistic atheists? Who cares if hypothetically all atheists aren’t necessarily naturalists. I’m still waiting to meet one!

    And using God as an explanation depends on how God is being defined. If God were defined to be personal, eternal, immutable, all good being, etc, then this would happen to be some of the necessary criterion for a real morality and the laws of logic, thus we would say that God can explain this.

    Finite matter and energy doesn’t meet this criterion, hence why I would never say that it is the derivative of a real morality and the laws of logic.

    And saying Gos is self-sufficient and eternal is explaining how He exists. Explaining “how” doesn’t necessarily always demand prior causes.

  6. Hylomorphic said,

    The bare fact that you can without self-contradiction think “God might not have done this” proves that “God did it” is a synthetic proposition. An analytic proposition is one that cannot possibly be thought false. It is a proposition that is true literally by definition.

    Likewise, “The grass is green because it has a green-producing nature” is also synthetic. “Green” is not synonymous with “has a green-producing nature.” It is perfectly thinkable that the world might be greyscale, and colors are simply imputed to things by a flaw in human perception.

    It may or may not be the case that only synthetic propositions can count as explanations, but it is certainly not the case that all synthetic propositions are explanations.

    • Andrew said,

      Hylomorphic,

      I fully accept that my understanding of Kant may be wrong, but that doesn’t seem to be how I read the Prolegomena. To wit:

      Analytical judgments express nothing in the predicate but what has been already actually thought in the concept of the subject, though not so distinctly or with the same (full) consciousness. When I say: All bodies are extended, I have not amplified in the least my concept of body, but have only analyzed it, as extension was really thought to belong to that concept before the judgment was made, though it was not expressed, this judgment is therefore analytical.

      Now we plug that in to the Christian worldview — where God made everything — and it seems to me that saying “God made X” is the equivalent of saying “bodies are extended.”

      My understanding is that the test of non-contradiction of the will is what we use to evaluate categorical imperatives, but not the line differentiating analytical from synthetic judgments. That line — as Kant says above — is whether the object is contained entirely within the predicate.


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