Monday, March 16, 2009

Peirce's "Suggestion" of God

Peirce's "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God" has two very interesting features:

1. It overturns the usual view that science and belief in God are at odds.

And 2. It has a one-way valence with respect to logical entailment. It will be helpful to review the latter before moving on. Peirce claimed that an analogue of mind is "suggested" by the universal feature of a scientific understanding of the universe, that it provides for "later stages in earlier ones." (Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.") Presumably he meant to call attention to the fact that both human understanding and the universe proceed by "working towards" their "conclusions." And to use Chomsky's words, quoted in the comment to the previous post, "...our mental constitution permits us to arrive at knowledge of the world insofar as our innate capacity to create theories happens to match some aspect of the structure of the world." ("On Interpreting the World" in Problems of Knowledge and Freedom, p. 20.) Presumably, then, the human mind's unfolding understanding of the world and the world's unfolding that the human mind studies share common features. Peirce's God hypothesis simply notes this.

But in noting "this," how could anyone reach a deeper understanding of the "suggestion," or "hypothesis" in order to critique it? The clear problem is that the needed commonality that supports the suggestion underlies any ability to critique itself. Stated metaphorically, we can't get "behind" the point of view that Peirce uses to suggest his God hypothesis, and yet every explanation that science does succeed in making furthers the suggestion. The valence is, therefore, one-way.

But the argument is a form of the teleological argument, only brought to the level of the core assumption of any ability of ours to understand the world. As such it bears some similarity to the critique of the fine tuning argument by way of the anthropic principle.

My aim in this (last) post on Peirce's argument is to eliminate a reason why a scholar looking at it might discount its worth prior to examining it carefully. (And my hope in posting on it here is to do my small part in drawing attention to it as possibly an important--but "Neglected," as Peirce claimed--argument.

But those who critique the fine tuning argument by way of the anthropic principle do so by suggesting that we shouldn't be surprised to live in a universe finely adapted to supporting human life: Otherwise we wouldn't be here! Therefore the apparent improbability of such fine tuning has no implicative force (and I am being simplistic with the purpose of just "suggesting" the argument here). See here.

But that move will not work to critique Peirce's argument. For to claim that any universe that we can understand will have to share basic features with the human mind is exactly Peirce's point: the universe suggests an analogue of mind--in fact human understanding of the universe implies it.

That the universe works like a mind cannot be doubted by a mind that claims to understand the universe. And a mind that doesn't claim to understand the universe cannot comment. One-way valence.

How strong is the suggestion? That question implies the ability to critique the "suggestion," which is precisely what cannot be done by a mind that assumes it.

That's why the suggestion of God cannot be eliminated...

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