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Lecture

Baier (Lecture Schemata 9)

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHIL 1200
Professor
David Matheson
Semester
Winter

Description
9   Baier:  Obviating  the  need  for  the  transcendent     Science  vs.  religion?     Traditional  theistic  arguments     Objections  to  scientific  atheism  answered       The  objection  from  purposelessness       The  objection  from  death     In  his  contribution,  Austrian  born  American  philosopher  Kurt  Baier  notes  that  on  the   Christian  world  view—which  remains  in  broad  outlines  the  same  now  as  centuries  ago— the  falsity  of  Premise  2  of  the  Nihilist’s  Worry  is  a  given:     To  [a  Christian  living  in  the  Middle  Ages]  it  would  have  seemed  quite  certain  that  life  had   a  meaning  and  quite  clear  what  it  was.  The  medieval  Christian  world  picture  assigned  to   man  a  highly  significant,  indeed  the  central  part  in  the  grand  scheme  of  things.  The   universe  was  made  for  the  express  purpose  of  providing  a  stage  on  which  to  enact  a   drama  starring  man  in    the  title  role.  (82)     But,  Baier  continues,  since  the  modern  era  (roughly,  late  16  century  onwards)  and  the   development  of  natural  science,  this  world  view  has  been  crumbling.  The  result—assuming   that  the  central  scientific  challenges  to  the  Christian  world  view  will  hold  good  for  any   transcendentalist  world  view  that  we  might  take  seriously  in  connection  with  the  meaning   of  life—is  that  the  likes  of  Premise  2  of  the  Nihilist's  Worry  should  now  be  accepted.  Thus,   Baier  writes:     The  scientific  world  picture  which  has  found  ever  more  general  acceptance  from  the   beginning  of  the  modern  era  onwards  is  in  profound  conflict  with  all  this.  At  first,  the   Christian  conception  of  the  world  was  discovered  to  be  erroneous  in  various  important   details.  The  Copernican  theory  showed  up  the  earth  as  merely  one  of  several  planets   revolving  around  the  sun,  and  the  sun  itself  was  later  seen  to  be  merely  one  of  many  fixed   stars  each  of  which  is  itself  the  nucleus  of  a  solar  system  similar  to  our  own.  Man,  instead   of  occupying  the  center  of  creation,  proved  to  be  merely  the  inhabitant  of  a  celestial  body   no  different  from  millions  of  others.  Furthermore,  geological  investigations  revealed  that   the  universe  was  not  created  a  few  thousand  years  ago,  but  was  probably  millions  of   years  old.     Disagreements  over  details  of  the  world  picture,  however,  are  only  superficial  aspects  of   a  much  deeper  conflict.  The  appropriateness  of  the  whole  Christian  outlook  is  at  issue.  For   Christianity,  the  world  must  be  regarded  as  the  “creation”  of  a  kind  of  Superman,  a  person   possessing  all  the  human  excellences  to  an  infinite  degree  and  none  of  the  human   weaknesses,  Who  has  made  man  in  His  image,  a  feeble,  mortal,  foolish  copy  of  Himself.       …     As  the  natural  sciences  developed,  however,  more  and  more  things  in  the  universe  came   to  be  explained  without  the  assumption  of  a  supernatural  creator.  Science,  moreover,   could  explain  them  better,  that  is,  more  accurately  and  more  reliably….  In  fact,  scientific   explanations  do  not  seem  to  leave  any  room  for  this  hypothesis.  (83-­‐4)     2   “Could  explain  them  better”  and  “do  not  leave  any  room”  in  the  sense  that  the  hypothesis  of   atheism  is  more  rational  than  the  hypothesis  of  theism,  in  the  light  of  such  scientifically   respectable  principles  as  Ockham’s  Razor:     Ockham’s  Razor  (aka  the  Principle  of  Simplicity,  the  Principle  of  Parsimony):  _________   when you have two competing hypothesis or explanations that come to ________________________________________________________________________________________________________     ________________________________________________________________________________________________________.     (William  of  Ockham  (c.  1325)  was  a  late  medieval  philosopher  and  theologian  who  strongly   insisted  that  this  sort  of  principle  should  be  respected  in  theorizing  about  the  world.)     The  idea  is  that  if  you  have  two  competing  hypotheses,  designed  to  explain  a  given   phenomenon,  then,  provided  they  both  do  an  equally  good  job  of  explaining  the   phenomenon  in  all  other  respects,  you  should  accept  the  hypothesis  that  commits  you  to   fewer  kinds  of  claims  or  postulates  fewer  kinds  of  entities.     Ockham’s  Razor  thus  counsels  us  to  cut  away  unnecessary  commitments  in  attempting  to   explain  things,  because  the  more  we  are  committed  to  unnecessarily,  the  more  we  have  to   be  wrong  about.     In  effect,  although  he  doesn’t  come  right  out  and  say  so,  Baier  is  relying  on  principles  like   Ockham’s  Razor  when  he  suggests  that  science  has  made  religious,  theistic  worldviews  like   Christianity  unacceptable.  Postulating  God  in  addition  to  the  natural  world  that  science  can   explain  is  to  postulate  an  unnecessary  entity.     If  that  is  correct,  then  it  would  seem  that  the  only  rational  thing  to  do  is  to  accept  the  likes   of  Premise  2  of  the  Nihilist's  Worry.     But  maybe  this  isn't  correct:  maybe  all  else  is  not  equal,  in  the  sense  that  the  hypothesis  of   theism-­‐-­‐the  belief  that  there  is  a  God  in  addition  to  the  natural  world-­‐-­‐  is  necessary.  If  it  is   necessary  to  believe  that  there  is  a  God,  then,  despite  it's  greater  complexity,  the  hypothesis   of  theism  wouldn't  be  precluded  by  principles  like  Ockham's  Razor.     Traditional  theistic  arguments,  i.e.,  traditional  arguments  for  ________________________________     the existence of God ______________________________________________  are  intended  to  show  that  the  hypothesis  of  theism   is  necessary  in  this  sense.  In  assuming  that  the  hypothesis  of  theism  is  not  necessary,  Baier   is  in  effect  assuming  that  these  arguments  are  no  good.     To  decide  whether  we  agree  with  this  assumption  of  Baier's,  let's  consider  some  of  the   most  well  known  traditional  theistic  arguments.         3   1 The  Ontological  Argument  (Anselm  of  Canterbury,  c.  1095)   (Background  thoughts:  the  idea  of  God  =  the  idea  of  the  greatest  conceivable  being.  Also,  it’s   always  better  for  a  good  thing  to  exist  in  reality  than  merely  in  the  mind.)     P1  You  have  the  idea  of  God  in  your  mind.   you could not have the idea of God P2  If  God  didn't  exist  in  reality  as  well,  then  _____________________________________________________       ____________________________________________________________________________________________________.     (For  then  it  wouldn’t  be  the  idea  of  the  greatest  conceivable  being  that  you  have  in  your     mind—you  could  imagine  a  greater  or  better  being,  viz.,  one  that  exists  in  reality  as     well.)   C   Therefore,  God  exists  in  reality  as  well.     (The  name  of  this  argument  comes  from  the  Greek  word  for  the  being/nature/essence  of   something,  ontos.)     2 The  Cosmological  Argument  (Thomas  Aquinas,  c.  1250)   (Background  thoughts:  contingent  being  =  something  that  might  not  have  existed;   necessary  being  =  something  than  must  always  have  existed.)     P1  Every  contingent  being  requires  _______________________________________________________________.   P2  The  natural  world  as  a  whole  (like  everything  within  it)  is  a  contingent  being.   C   Therefore,  the  natural  world  as  a  whole  requires  something  else—i.e.,  the  necessary     being  we  call  God—to  explain  it.     (Here,  the  name  comes  from  the  Greek  word  for  world,  cosmos.)     3 The  Teleological  Argument  (William  Paley,  c.  1790)   (aka  the  Argument  from  Design)     a high degree of complexity and order P1  The  natural  world  manifests  ___________________________________________________________________.   P2  A  high  degree  of  complexity  and  order  implies  purposeful  design.   C1  Therefore,  there  is  purposeful  design  behind  the  natural  world.     P3  Purposeful  design  implies  ______________________________________________________________________.   C2  Therefore,  there  is  a  designer  behind  the  natural  world,  i.e.,  God.       Even  if  we  agree  with  Baier's  (unstated)  assumption  that  none  of  these  traditional  theistic  
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