Saturday, December 3, 2011

Material and Spiritual (Non)explanations

Alvin Plantinga, the "analytical theist", writes: "Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God. Of course the same goes for any other view; on any view explanations come to an end. The materialist or physicalist, for example, doesn't have an explanation for the existence of elementary particles: they just are".

However, I would add to this that these two "explanatory dead ends" do not seem to me to be equally defensible as logical conclusions of the respective underlying trains of thought. This is because, on this view, elementary particles would seem to be something of an anomaly - the only unexplainable (or perhaps self-explanatory?) material objects in the whole universe. "The act of divine creation", on the other hand, would be no more unexplanaible (or self-explanatory) than myriad other mental events, including probably most of our aesthetic choices and many of our moral choices.

Why do you like the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci more than that of Raphael? It appears to me that "because I do, period" is a perfectly legitimate answer, and I do not see any way in which its intentional features could be meaningfully deduced from the physical composition of the answerer. "Basic beliefs" and "basic desires", as well as "basic choices" that follow from them, do not normally strike us as epistemologically problematic. The act of divine creation can, it seems to me, be plausibly treated as one of such basic choices. The stipulation of "basic material objects", on the other hand, sounds to me like a rather poor intellectual cop-out for a philosophical materialist, not at all compatible with the causal character of the world as described by the natural sciences.

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