Skip to content

The Existence of God 1,2: Inductive Arguments, The Nature of Explanation


Swinburne is laying out a lot of groundwork for his arguments. This is freakin hard. Swinburne’s writing style makes use of a lot of parentheses and (-)’s, which set off more qualifications and thoughts. He also uses a ton of notation, representing arguments as letters. This makes reading each chapter really, really tough. I had to reread a bunch of sections just to know what the heck he was talking about.

Regardless, I’m trudging through.

He is making some good points. First, in a cumulative case argument, you can offer multiple arguments that, while not sufficient alone, can still together be a good argument. This appears to be what his approach will be. A cumulative case, where each argument makes God a little more likely, until together, his existence is more likely than not. Fair enough.

The second chapter is about the nature of explanation. He makes a distinction between scientific explanations and personal ones.

I think Swinburne is off when he says that a personal explanation and a scientific explanation cannot the same thing. A personal explanation would say that an intention A leads to the effect B. A scientific explanation says that a combination of physical laws as well as the brain states and physical states of the agent are followed by the intended event, and thus explained in terms of laws and states of the world.

Swinburne’s response is to use a counter example. He says to imagine a person who intends to get another’s attention, but being shy, only fidgets nervously. Inadvertently, the fidgeting gets the person’s attention. Now we wouldn’t say that the person intentionally got the other person’s attention, even though the intention was the cause of the attention getting. Swinburne says that therefore, the above scientific account of personal causes doesn’t work.

But all we need to do is make a small amendment, and it will work fine. We can state that the act is intentional if the agent has the belief (state of mind) that their action will lead to the intended effect. Since the shy person did not believe that his fidgeting would get the other person’s attention, this makes the attention-getting unintentional.

So an intentional action can only work given a specific belief in the agent. Done. Now we can use a scientific explanation instead of a personal one. Isn’t this good enough to destroy Swinburne’s argument?

What’s also important to point out is that something can be an explanation if it sufficiently leads to the event that occurred, even if the explanation itself is unexplained. In other words, we could explain a moon base by appealing to aliens, even if we can’t explain where the aliens came from. This destroys the ‘who made God’ retort when it is used to try to undermine God as an explanation.

Kindle Notes:

I take the proposition `God exists’ (and the equivalent proposition `There is a God’) to be logically equivalent to `there exists necessarily a person’ without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things’ (110).

By God’s being perfectly free I understand that no object or event or state (including past states of himself) in any way causally influences him to do the actions that he does-his own choice at the moment of action alone determines what he does (115).

By God’s being omnipotent I understand that he is able to do whatever it is logically possible (i.e. coherent to suppose) that he can do (116).

By God’s being omniscient I understand that he knows whatever it is logically possible that he know (117).

By God’s being perfectly good I understand that he always does a morally best action (when there is one), and does no morally bad action (117).

the main reason that atheists have for believing that there is no God has been their claim that there is insufficient evidence, that the theist’s arguments do not make the existence of God probable to any significant degree (142).

In my terminology and using the Hempelian model of scientific explanation, a Davidson-like suggestion amounts to the following. Suppose, first, that E is the result of a basic action. Then, to say that P brought E about intentionally is just to say that an event involving P-that is, P’s intention that E occur J, brought it about. To say that P had the power to bring about E is just to say that P’s bodily condition Y (brain states, muscle states, etc.) and environmental conditions Z (no one having bound P’s arm, etc.) and laws Li are such that an intention’2 such as Jis followed by the event intended, E (532).

Note: Add in the necessity of belief that the action made will bring about the intended effect. That would account for ‘accidents.’

Events brought about by actions are just those that include intentions among their causes. In order to show what is wrong with this, I wish to make two points-first, that the intention in an action that an agent is performing is not the same as any brain event that might be connected with it; and, secondly, that having an intention (in the sense with which we are concerned13) is not a passive state of an agent, but just is the agent exercising causal influence (which will cause the effect intended if and only if the agent has the requisite power) (535).

In order to fulfill the purpose of the definition of `event, we need so to individuate properties that, if you knew which properties had been instantiated in what when, you would know (or could deduce) everything that had happened. This will involve, for example, counting being red and reflecting light of such-and-such a wavelength as different properties-for you could (just by looking at it in normal light) know that something was red without knowing (or being able to deduce) that it reflected light of such-and-such a wavelength, and conversely. It follows immediately that having an intention cannot be the same event as having any brain event, for you could know that someone was intending to do such-and-such in his action without knowing that he was in a particular brain state or any brain state, and conversely (557).

Note: What?

Suppose . . . that a member of an audience keenly desires to attract the speaker’s attention but, being shy, only fidgets uncomfortably in his seat and blushes. We may suppose, further, that he does attract the speaker’s attention by his very fidgeting; but he did not fidget in order to catch the speaker’s attention, even though he desired that result and might well have realized that such behaviour was going to produce it.14 Here we have a case of a desire for E causing E, and yet there is no action (557).

Note: Isn’t it the shyness that is the cause? Or perhaps the fidgeting?

Having an intention is not something that happens to an agent, but something she does. For me to have the intention in acting of moving my hand is to do what (if I were to fail or find it difficult to move the hand) would be called `trying’ to move my hand (588).

Note: Does modern neuroscience affect this?

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: