An Argument from the Regularity of Nature to the Falsity of Metaphysical Naturalism

I find the following argument compelling:

P1. If it is both the case that something has an explanation and that explanation is natural, then it has an explanation that depends on the actuality of the regularity of nature.
P2. If something is contingent, it is not the case that it has an explanation that depends upon the actuality of itself.
P3. All things that are actual are possible.
P4. All things that are possible, and not necessary, are contingent.
P5. All things that are contingent have an explanation.
P6. The regularity of nature is actual.
P7. The regularity of nature is not necessary.
P8. If something has an explanation and it is not the case that the explanation is natural, then metaphysical naturalism is false.
C1. The regularity of nature is possible (from P3 and P6).
C2. The regularity of nature is contingent (from P4, P7, and C1).
C3. The regularity of nature has explanation (from P5 and C2).
C4. It is not the case that the regularity of nature has an explanation that depends upon the actuality of itself (from P2 and C2).
C5. It is not both the case that the regularity of nature has an explanation and that explanation is natural (from P1 and C4).
C6. It is not the case that the explanation of the regularity of nature is natural (from C3 and C5).
C7. Therefore, metaphysical naturalism is false (from P8, C3, and C6).

Posted on July 18, 2014, in Naturalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. ,

    //Supernaturalism, and in particular theism, provides us with the concepts of a necessary free personal explanation of nature.//

    How are you not denying the metaphysical possibility of anti-realism only to invoke the same properties in agent causation?

    Natural or physical causes/explanations must necessitate their effects, but agent causation SOMEHOW escapes this metaphysical requirement?

    As you may already know, I (along with possibly most philosophers) think the concept of libertarian free actions is incoherent, or at the very least extremely difficult to accept. And I think this largely due to these issues related to causation and explanation.

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    • Thanks, Ben Crandall. And yes, I agree with you that libertarian free will is criticized by many philosophers. Of course, I am free to disagree with them! Ultimately, I think that contemporary philosophy is plagued with unstated assumptions about the nature of causality and so these apparent problems emerge. I think we have to focus on the ways in which subjective experience, with its teleology, intentionality, ability to abstract and form concepts, and grasp the imperative mood, is unique. Agent causation emerges from these facts and cannot be reduced to the constant conjunction of physical causality. At the end of the day, I want to say that my agreement is more modest than the cosmological argument in that I am only concluding to the falsity of metaphysical naturalism, not the existence of God. You asked how I could countenance the contingency of nature while holding to the PSR. God, I think, is the best answer. I find the alternatives implausible.

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  2. //I agree with you that libertarian free will is criticized by many philosophers. Of course, I am free to disagree with them!//

    Of course you are, my only point being that it is an uphill battle if one wanted to convince people of such an argument :)

    One can make all kinds of crazy arguments if one is unconcerned with whether people will accept the premises!

    //Ultimately, I think that contemporary philosophy is plagued with unstated assumptions about the nature of causality and so these apparent problems emerge.//

    I have a similar perspective, although I would say we likely disagree on where contemporary philosophy goes astray. Personally I think it is more in taking too seriously what Dennett calls “Naive Auto-anthropology,” or that sitting around thinking about what “feels right” to us is necessarily the best way of discovering deep truths about reality, especially when trying to establish broad pronouncements that go beyond strict logical possibility and instead far reaching claims about “metaphysical” necessity and possibility.

    As a point in this favor I would point out the fact that many intelligent people looking at the same metaphysical arguments often come to opposite conclusions. As well as the hard to dispute historical fact that there are many things that people have intuitively rejected metaphysically impossible that are widely accepted today as not even impossible, but likely true (non-euclidean geometry, irrational numbers, complex mathematics, time-dilation, non-locality, spacial and temporal boundaries, etc. etc. etc.).

    I am willing to accept (at least tentatively) something akin to a priori knowledge, but I think reason, history, and science have all given us good reasons to be skeptical of its limits and our own abilities of imagination and conceptualization.

    //I think we have to focus on the ways in which subjective experience, with its teleology, intentionality, ability to abstract and form concepts, and grasp the imperative mood, is unique.//

    I would probably put things in different language, but I do think in a certain sense the intentional stance is certainly important and possibly irreducibly useful in understanding many phenomena… I think you wish to go further though.

    //Agent causation emerges from these facts and cannot be reduced to the constant conjunction of physical causality.//

    Not sure 100% what this means. I think one’s stance towards intentional agents are not reducible to the physical stance, though I think it is entirely constrained by fundamental physics. There is an asymmetric relationship by which intentional agency cannot be derived from fundamental physics, however I think that any claims to the effect that such-and-such a mental phenomena exists where that phenomena contradicts fundamental physics should be rejected. Fundamental physics constrains the special sciences (including psychology, etc) but the reverse is not true.

    Do you think anything occurs in the brain, mental processes, etc. that goes against fundamental physical law? If so, shouldn’t that be empirically observable, and if not, why not?

    Sorry if this is straying from the OP.

    //At the end of the day, I want to say that my agreement is more modest than the cosmological argument in that I am only concluding to the falsity of metaphysical naturalism, not the existence of God.//

    I am still not entirely sure how you are delineating “naturalism.” You mention “that which falls within the scope of science…. however one can imagine things that in theory would be beyond the scope of science, but would none-the-less seem in no way “supernatural” (whatever that would mean as well). For instance there could very well be a perfectly “natural” rock crystal that was so far away it existed beyond the horizon of light capable of reaching the earth within the universes life-span. It would seem to be entirely outside of the ability of science to study, but still most would call it “natural.”

    You also said nature is “that which undergoes change”… setting aside the fact that postulating agent causation without change seems inconceivable… dare I sat metaphysically impossible? :) to me, is a protons mass not “natural?” As far as I know their mass does not change, or do you mean it in another sense than this?

    //You asked how I could countenance the contingency of nature while holding to the PSR. God, I think, is the best answer. I find the alternatives implausible.//

    Not to state the obvious, but I find the existence of an orthodox concept of God implausible… But maybe I just have failed to understand the arguments so far, doing my best (read the Christopher Shield’s book on Aristotle, Oderberg’s Real Essentialism, any other modern recommendations? I have read some Feser, he usually seems too polemical and haphazard for me though, haven’t read any whole books though…. Oderberg seemed FULL of “this sounds about right to me so no need to defend it with an argument” in my opinion. Would you recommend any of the “Scientific” Essentialists? I have read some Putnam and Brian Ellis)

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    • Hi Ben,

      Some thoughts in reply:

      //As a point in this favor I would point out the fact that many intelligent people looking at the same metaphysical arguments often come to opposite conclusions. As well as the hard to dispute historical fact that there are many things that people have intuitively rejected metaphysically impossible that are widely accepted today as not even impossible, but likely true (non-euclidean geometry, irrational numbers, complex mathematics, time-dilation, non-locality, spacial and temporal boundaries, etc. etc. etc.).

      I am willing to accept (at least tentatively) something akin to a priori knowledge, but I think reason, history, and science have all given us good reasons to be skeptical of its limits and our own abilities of imagination and conceptualization.//

      I completely agree that people have varying metaphysical intuitions. I tend to view metaphysical arguments, like the one here, not so much as definitive proof, but as thinking through the implications of the metaphysical intuitions one has, and perhaps prodding those who share those intuitions to reach similar conclusions. Also, it helps to draw out the cost for those who don’t share my intuitions. To escape this argument, given that it is valid (as far as I can tell) you have to reject one or more premise. Some of the premises are more costly to reject than others.

      //Do you think anything occurs in the brain, mental processes, etc. that goes against fundamental physical law? If so, shouldn’t that be empirically observable, and if not, why not?//

      I don’t think we have sufficient scientific knowledge to assert that physics is a closed system. Perhaps quantum mechanics provides elbow room for agent causation to emerge in the system. I would say that I only lean towards libertarian free will in humans. Perhaps we don’t have libertarian free-will, but only God does.

      //I am still not entirely sure how you are delineating “naturalism.” You mention “that which falls within the scope of science…. however one can imagine things that in theory would be beyond the scope of science, but would none-the-less seem in no way “supernatural” (whatever that would mean as well). For instance there could very well be a perfectly “natural” rock crystal that was so far away it existed beyond the horizon of light capable of reaching the earth within the universes life-span. It would seem to be entirely outside of the ability of science to study, but still most would call it “natural.”//

      I don’t see this as too problematic as I see spatial location as accidental. Besides, a rock that is outside of our capacity to observe is still of the same kind as other rocks. We could refine the definition on what could be studied by the sciences where the appropriate conditions met. But let’s see what you have to say about the other definition, since that is the one I am more willing to defend.

      //You also said nature is “that which undergoes change”… setting aside the fact that postulating agent causation without change seems inconceivable… dare I sat metaphysically impossible? :) to me, is a protons mass not “natural?” As far as I know their mass does not change, or do you mean it in another sense than this?//

      I would have to see why agent causation would have to undergo the change from potency to act. While theistic personalists, like Craig, think that God suddenly and spontaneously brought the universe into existence a finite time ago, I am more wedded to the notion that God is immutable. So I would say that God’s will is free in that it was not antecedently determined by some prior state, it was not caused by something external to God’s nature, and it was not necessitated by God’s nature. Now, the effect of God’s action would introduce a change external to God, and that would be consistent with the idea that God caused nature to be by bringing it from potency to actuality. So, I don’t see this as a challenge to my second definition of natural as that which undergoes change. When I am talking about “undergoes change” I am referring to substances, not quantities, qualities, or other specific accidental properties. A substance might have a particular property that doesn’t change while it is that substance. But all natural substances are a composite of act/potency. This would still preclude God, as classically defined, from being natural. Is it a coherent concept, well that may be a topic for another day. All I can say is that a good deal of ink has been spilled by classical theists in trying to explicate what they take to be a coherent concept.

      //Not to state the obvious, but I find the existence of an orthodox concept of God implausible… But maybe I just have failed to understand the arguments so far, doing my best (read the Christopher Shield’s book on Aristotle, Oderberg’s Real Essentialism, any other modern recommendations? I have read some Feser, he usually seems too polemical and haphazard for me though, haven’t read any whole books though…. Oderberg seemed FULL of “this sounds about right to me so no need to defend it with an argument” in my opinion. Would you recommend any of the “Scientific” Essentialists? I have read some Putnam and Brian Ellis)//

      Well, I am not sure if your aim is to understand Aristotelian metaphysics better, or classical theism better. If the aim is to understand Aristotelian metaphysics, I recommend David Charles “Aristotle on Meaning and Essence”, and Lloyd Gerson’s “Aristotle and other Platonists” as some further books to explore. “Philosophical issues in Aristotle’s Biology” (edited by Gottheif and Lennox) is an important collection of essays too.

      The question of theistic personalism v. classical theism is raised by Brain Davies in “The Reality of the Problem of Evil”. Most contemporary philosophers of religion are theistic personalists. They have drunk deeply the presumptions of contemporary property metaphysics, quantified modal logic, and the like. My own interests are in how the presumptions of our logical syntax and semantics inform our modal intuitions. I recommend Kit Fine “Modality and Tense” and some work by James Ross.

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  3. Does an agent causal explanation necessitate its explananda? If so, where does contingency come from? If not, why couldn’t there be a physical explanation that does not necessitate its explananda?

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    • Free agent causal explanations cannot necessitate their explananda. Consequently, free agents do not behave in law-like ways. We might be able to predict how agents behave to some degree of accuracy, but never with absolute precision. This is why I think prayer experiment tests are misguided. They assume that the agency in question, namely God, will behave in a predictable way, like a mechanism. And they assume that they are providing the mechanism with the right sort of stimulus to generate a statistically significant result.

      We have access to agent causal explanations because of our subjective perspective. We can report our thoughts in language.

      As to whether physical explanations necessitate their explananda, we are predisposed to think so. This is the regularity that I speak of. We never observe necessity, as Hume rightly noted. But we do see constant conjunction, and infer necessity from it. If we saw violations of constant conjunction, we would not be able to universalize and abstract laws from natural phenomena, and nature would not be intelligible in itself.

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  4. /All things that are actual are possible./

    This is false because God may be actual, but God is impossible.

    QED

    FUNDIE

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