Monday, April 22, 2013

A Finger Acting Alone

Few are more instructive of the dark arts than Mencius Moldbug.  Very few.  But I do have a quibble with something he noted recently:
It's certainly true that historical Christianity contains many superstitious and/or miraculous conceits, but it does not depend on them either for its practical efficacy as a social institution, or even for its logical coherence.  Every scientific period is a small bubble of the known in an infinite unknown space.  It is always possible to plausibly postulate an undisprovable entity.  When mankind was young and knew little, we could postulate a God who was a giant snake that lived in the river and made it rain.  Now, we can postulate a God who is an alien system administrator who runs the servers that make quantum mechanics work.  We can easily disprove the giant snake, but not the four-headed IT jock.  Ergo, we are left with the choice of two fundamentally aesthetic arguments - Occam's razor versus Paley's watchmaker.
Close to the mark, but I’m afraid our Creator did not grant us such freedom of choice.

Material forces cause effects by moving across space over time.  In other words, matter is only a cause insofar as it’s an effect.  Enlightenment thinkers believe they can use science to identify causes in the mortal domain, but nothing man can observe has the capacity to cause without having been caused.  The unmoved mover, Paley’s designer, rendering effect without cause, is beyond the material world, since all material forces have themselves material causes.

Therefore, all man’s observations must necessarily be effects and not causes.  For instance, gravity is not a cause of the ball dropping.  Gravity is a term we use to describe a phenomenon that we observe.

Men (even Enlightenment philosophers using science) cannot discover causes of material phenomena; men uncover facts about material phenomena.  If it were otherwise, there would be no problem of induction but only the solution of induction.

In this way, every chain of effects in the material world is like a line of dominoes collapsing.  Man may be able to observe the dominoes, but he cannot observe the flick of the finger setting the collapse in motion.  A domino is to the creature's mind controlling that finger as you, tender reader, are to the Creator of everything you can be aware of.

If Occam’s razor is applicable to the mortal domain, then Paley’s watchmaker is revealing of what is beyond it.   Occam’s razor provides a useful perspective that guides man in employing reason to understand material phenomena.  Paley’s watchmaker reminds that, since design implies designer, inductive reasoning is insufficient to understand the cause of any material phenomenon, since doing so would require a material unmovable mover.

A material unmovable mover!  And a finger acting alone, with no palm, arm, or shoulder attached to it and no mind to control it, flicks a line of dominoes into motion!

We now see why it is that anyone who sees a choice between Occam’s razor and Paley’s watchmaker will choose the former, but those who understand what Paley’s watchmaker reveals know that there is no choice at all.

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