Models of creation
September 28, 2009 — 9:53

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Providence Existence of God General Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: Off

God created the world to exemplify certain values. Someone who propounds
a design argument for the existence of God probably needs to have something
to say about these values.

Scientists often propound particular models that instantiate a more
general theory. These models are sometimes intended to be more realistic
and sometimes less, but the hope is that by studying them and by noting the
divergence, if any, between model and reality we will learn something
about the relevant phenomenon. Some realistic models will be empirically testable and others will not, and scientists of course have a preference for testable models. Thus, an evolutionary scientist might offer a
more or less realistic model of the evolution of wings. The model may well predict what kinds of fossils we will find. If the model’s predictions are not borne out, this does not in any significant way affect the probability of
evolution in general, but studying the model is helpful, and if the model’s
predictions–assuming it makes some–match observations, so much the better
for the underlying theory.

If God created the world to exemplify certain values, one way to generate
a family of models of creation is to consider sets of the values that the
world might have been created to exemplify. For instance, we might consider
the Hedonic Model: the only value the world was created to exemplify is the
value of pleasure-minus-pain. The Hedonic Model predicts that the overall amount of pleasure in the world would be very high. This prediction we cannot easily empirically test, however, both because of the vagueness in “very high” and, more importantly, because we cannot ethically test what happens in any afterlife that there might be (suicide is morally wrong). However, the Hedonic Model makes another prediction: Any pain that exists in the world is a necessary means to a pleasure. Now, there are two ways a pain could be a means to a pleasure: constitutively, as when the pains of physical exertion are partly constitutive of a pleasure, and causally. The causal case might be like this: the pain causes a memory, which then accentuates a pleasure. But any causal role a pain plays could be miraculously duplicated by God. Doing so might make for a nomically more complex world, but nomic simplicity is not one of the values in the present model. Likewise, false memories of pains might sit poorly with the value of truth, but truth is not one of the values the Hedonic Model considers. (One might worry about deontic constraints–maybe God is prohibited from causing false memories. But in bringing in deontic constraints we go beyond the scope of the simple Hedonic Model.) So the Hedonic Model predicts that any pain that exists in the world is constitutive part of a pleasure. But leaving aside weird hypotheses about subsumption of mental states into larger sets of mental states, we have very good reason to think that we sometimes suffer pains that are not constitutive parts of a pleasure.

So, some models of creation can be empirically tested, and rejected. And by thinking them through, I think we learn something about the sorts of values that are involved in creation. (If one thinks that it is contrary to the virtue of humility to think we can gain epistemic access to God’s reasons in creation, we should reflect on the fact that the Christian tradition takes creation itself to be a book of divine revelation. And the approach is, at least in part, a posteriori.)

The Hedonic Model was fairly specific, and generated a testable prediction. A model of creation may be less specific, and yet generate a testable prediction. Here is the Nomic Simplicity and Human-Like Flourishing Model. On this model, one of the values God seeks to make the world exemplify is simplicity of fundamental laws. If that were the only value in the model, the model would make a prediction that we have good reason to think false: that no simpler laws of nature are possible than the ones we have. (Consider a set of laws that prescribes the existence of a single particle that does nothing for eternity.) However, the model has a second part: in addition to nomic simplicity, God is creating the world for the flourishing of human-like beings.

This model makes some predictions as well. Here is one: evils that negatively impact the flourishing of human-like beings must be justifiable by reference to nomic simplicity and the flourishing of human-like beings. Whether this is testable is a difficult question–the sceptical theism literature is relevant. But instead let me make another prediction: the fundamental laws of nature could not be significantly simplified without this negatively impacting the flourishing of human-like beings. This prediction is non-trivial. For instance, it strongly suggests that we won’t find a fundamental force in nature that is too weak to have any significant effects outside the laboratory. (The reason I say “strongly suggests” is that one might argue that such a force could still contribute to human-like flourishing, e.g., by giving joy to its discoverer. Still, it seems fairly plausible that the value of the joy of discovery could be otherwise exemplified, without negatively impacting the value of nomic simplicity.) Here is another prediction, one that the jury is still out on. We now have good reason to think the cosmological constant is a very small but non-zero and positive number. The prediction then is that the cosmological constant is either not fundamental or else that its being non-zero contributes to our universe’s fitness for intelligent life of a human-like sort. Alex Vilenkin told me that he thinks that the universe would be even more fit for intelligent life if the constant were zero. A prediction of my model is that either the cosmological constant is not fundamental or Vilenkin is wrong.

The model is, in fact, probably not quite right. For instance, it does not fit well with the existence of angels, unless we count them as human-like. Moreover, it does not fit with Scriptural data that suggests that God cares about the good of non-human animals. But nonetheless a model is often worth studying as an approximation, so as to highlight certain features of reality. For instance, if a model of creation did a good job of explaining most of what we see, that would give us some reason to think the model is in some way close to right, and in particular it would give us further reason (over and beyond that provided by other theistic arguments) to believe that God exists.

The purpose of this post is to encourage the generation of other, either more or less, realistic models of creation. Note that a more realistic model may include deontological features in addition to axiological ones. Furthermore, the testability of a model might reasonably be extended to include testability against data from divine revelation in addition to empirical testability.

(The task is particularly crucial for Intelligent Design theorists who think that they are doing science–for if they are doing science, they ought to be generating precisely these kinds of specific models, since that is the sort of thing science does, given a general framework theory. I am not saying ID theorists don’t do this–but I think they don’t do enough of this.)