Tuesday, February 01, 2011

It Takes More Than Just Having an Explanation

Old Philosopher
I am no philosopher. I don't want to be one. As I've recently indicated, I have not been impressed with the philosophical chops of Vincent Torley.

Yet there is some good philosophy of religion out there, and one philosopher who supports the theistic position is Paul Herrick. Herrick has a very interesting article defending the cosmological argument against another philosopher, Keith Parsons, who is an atheist.

Herrick argues that belief in God remains reasonable despite the apparent success of science in explaining the universe. Although I genuinely appreciate the argument and the various inroads Herrick takes to develop and support his points, I think his argument ultimately fails for three reasons:
  1. To my mind, the creator deity described by Herrick bears little resemblance to the god(s) of the Torah, the Christian Gospels, the Qur’an, Hindu texts and so on. Although Herrick argues that the God of philosophical theism created this universe out of love, his cosmological theism seems at odds with the berserker deities of holy books. The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament both depict gods with the all-too-human fits of passion, jealously, and rage.
  2. Philosophical theism is, as Herrick admits, not a scientific explanation. But Herrick’s article attempts to use philosophical theism to explain something that is primarily within scientific jurisdiction. The best explanation will be a scientific one. Non-scientific explanations, although interesting, will always be too speculative for extended consideration.
  3. Herrick’s position rests on a simple distinction. His philosophical theism, he says, “makes rational sense of the existence of the material universe.” Atheism and scientific materialism do not provide a satisfying explanation for this existence. And yet…what if we were to ask Herrick, “Your rational explanation: is it true?” His answer would be, “I’m not sure. I don’t know.” Thus, in the end, Herrick's rational explanation is no better than the scientific explanation which does not make full and complete sense of the material universe. Plus, even the most apparently rational explanations require validation—no matter how “satisfying” some people seem to think these explanations are prima facie. The choice is, then, between a rational explanation without validation and a scientific explanation that is incomplete.
To lead me toward accepting his argument, Herrick would have had to have provided some reason to think that the Creator God of his article was the same as the God of whatever religion. I don't think we can just assume they are the same. Herrick also would have needed to justify his approach, as in explaining why a philosophical explanation would suffice for the scientific question of the origins of the universe. Finally, Herrick would have had to defend the idea that any rational explanation was better than an incomplete-yet-scientifically-justified explanation.

Although I disagree with its conclusion, I heartily recommend Herrick's article. Were I a philosopher, I would want to be able to put together an argument as well as Herrick has.


  1. I too enjoy reading philosophy, and I too am not a philosopher. I'm wondering if you think that an explanation like the one you assessed is about as good as philosophy can do. I for one, think that there comes a time for a leap of faith.

  2. Justin,

    "I'm wondering if you think that an explanation like the one you assessed is about as good as philosophy can do."

    That's an interesting question. I don't think I'm prepared to answer it, however. I think it depends on how one defines philosophy and philosophy's role today.

    I'm not sure what you are getting at with "a leap of faith." If you mean there are points when we need to make and rely upon assumptions, then sure. But we can look into how solid assumptions may be, and we can compare assumptions against one another. So "a leap of faith" doesn't seem to me to be the end of the story.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.