When nature burps
The following is a guest post by Alex Papulis. It is a response to Dave Muscato’s previous article, “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results.“ Enjoy!
Dave claims that global skepticism, with one slight qualification, is the most defensible position, and I ask: with what does Dave think he can defend any position, be it global skepticism or any other position?
Let’s frame the issue with a little story. Imagine a universe where things have no purpose or design. Things just happen the way they do. Imagine, now, that in one corner of the universe, a bunch of particles happen to get together and form the letters of the sentence “Giraffes exist.” Imagine also that in some other corner of the universe, another bunch of particles happen to get together and form the letters of the sentence “Giraffes don’t exist.” I have two questions: 1) why should we think that one versus the other of these sentences that the universe has produced reflects something true about the universe, and 2) how does the universe in this story significantly differ from our universe? Does the production of the sentences differ significantly in character or circumstance from the production of our beliefs, and in either universe do we have a reason to think on any particular occasion reality has been correctly reflected?
The fact of the matter is, our beliefs are just as much a product of nature as hurricanes, dust, and cloud formations, and nature doesn’t aim at anything, it just is what it is. Dave’s beliefs (including the “I think therefore I exist” sort) are the product of something that doesn’t aim at truth, so unless he has some other belief-forming mechanism that he can invoke when he wants to defend global skepticism or any other position, I don’t see how we can actually speak of defense.
A deistic creator, i.e. one that winds the world up and lets it go and perhaps the sort that Dave writes that he is dangerously close to believing in, doesn’t make the situation any better. Put simply, if the creator isn’t concerned with whether or not human beliefs correctly reflect reality, then even if we did believe in such a creator, we still have no reason to think any of our beliefs our true.
Dave writes that what he’s concerned with is what works. If using evidence gets things right, then he’s satisfied. But that’s just not going to work. First, his beliefs about what works or gets it right are just as indefensible as any other belief; he has no reason to think they’re true. When nature burps, we believe, and that’s that. Aren’t his beliefs that such-and-such activity works and gets it right caused by unconcerned nature just as much as the theist’s? And furthermore, doesn’t his global skepticism apply to these beliefs about what works?
Second, and perhaps more importantly: is Dave saying that science doesn’t actually tell us about the world? If he does think it tells us about the world, then he needs to address, in addition to the bigger problem above, the issue of induction: why should we think the past/observed states are a reliable guide or evidence for the future/unobserved states of the world? If, on the other hand, he doesn’t think science tells us about the world, then we should be clear about that.
Have I made a mistake? Think I’m wrong? Let me know in the comments or feel free to send me an email/FB message.
Alex Papulis is a former Mizzou student, now in his first year of UW-Milwaukee’s philosophy MA program.
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