C. S. Peirce’s “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” possess this extraordinary feature: It blocks critique on the level at which it is presented. That feature is at once, potentially, a troubling and/or exciting feature of the argument. It deserves our attention.
Recall the core of the extremely short presentation from last week.
A universal feature of our scientific understanding of the universe is “its provision for later stages in earlier ones.”1
This line of reflection “will inevitably suggest the hypothesis of God’s Reality.”2 (By “God” here Peirce meant “an analogue of mind.”3)
Since you can refer back to the previous post, I will get right to the extraordinary feature, and to make it stand out, I will present it in the starkest possible terms.
The extraordinary feature becomes apparent when we review how science confirms Peirce’s “God hypothesis.”
The only way to confirm the hypothesis that an analogue of mind is suggested by the universe’s “provision for later stages in earlier ones,” is to examine it to the best of one’s ability to see whether it conforms to human understanding. Thus, the success of science becomes the basis for belief in God.
Peirce, however, was careful to separate the Reality of God from this misunderstanding: that God “reacts with other like things in the environment,” which he called “fetishism.”5
But if so, neither can the kind of understanding science provides undermine the God hypothesis. For that would be to analyze the God hypothesis at the logical level of fetishism. (See comments for further explanation.)
Consequently, Peirce’s argument advances a hypothesis that science and only science can support, but cannot critique.
Peirce sometimes calls his “Argument” a “suggestion”; other times a “hypothesis”; it is in fact a hypothesis based on an analogy. He goes into some depth, actually, to explain the “retroductive”—-yes, yet another word for it--reasoning used in this “Argument” as a form of what he elsewhere called “an appeal to one’s own instinct, which is to argument what substance is to shadow…”6
In summary, Peirce begins with an analogy, and science supports it, but cannot critique it without falling into “fetishism.” That's the "feature." If I were to write a monograph explicating the idea, I would call it "The Flaming Sword of God" to make use of the Genesis Chapter 3 metaphor.
In the following comment to the Templeton Foundation’s Big Question site on “Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete” I suggested that the Foundation might “assign an investigation of Peirce’s view to a real scholar." (I had actually posted the comment with the thought that it was for internal use, not public, and addressed it to “The Editors” of the site to explicitly make that designation. After the fact I realized that it is customary for publications to post letters “To the Editor.” If my web readers think that in meeting me they would be impressed by my evident brilliance, keep that in mind. :-) That said, this post shows that my hubris is tenacious: I fear that any “real scholar” who evaluates of Peirce’s argument may very well miss the “extraordinary feature” I just pointed out. That's the reason for this post. At any rate, it will be interesting to see whether anything comes of this.)
RE: Whole Series
I just came across an article by the founder of pragmatism, C.S. Peirce, titled "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God." Its content is tremendously relevant to this conversation. Peirce thought that "many of the [scientists] of [his] generation" believed in the reality of God, without knowing it. Why? Because "the discoveries of science, [with] their enabling us to predict what will be the course of nature, is proof conclusive that . . . we can catch a fragment of [God's] thought."
Peirce's view follows from his claim that a universal feature of our scientific understanding is "its provision for later stages in earlier ones" and from his view that the statement in quotes entails an analogue of mind, and therefore God. In Peirce's view, science is the confirmation of the God hypothesis. Since a famed philosopher of science and the founder of America's only native philosophy framed a view of the relationship of science and God that turns your "Big Question" upside down, I thought you'd like to know about it.
It's an idea that brings to mind Paul Davies's "The Mind of God" and Einstein's famous statement to the effect that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility. So the idea's been around, but Peirce was correct in calling it a neglected argument. It deserves better. Maybe someone at your foundation should assign an investigation of Peirce's view to a real scholar. My guess is that people of good will on all sides could applaud it.
1. Charles Sanders Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," here.
3. "The Concept of God," in Philosophical Writings of Peirce, (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1955) 376.
6. "Concept," 377.)