Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Logos vs. Chaos, Part Two

This the second of two posts -- the first post is here.

So, according to Timothy O’Connor, there are two kinds of necessary being (NB, for short) which could provide the right kind of ultimate explanation for our contingent reality: a personal agent (Logos), or an impersonal primordial world generator (Chaos). In Chapter 4 of his book, Theism and Ultimate Explanation, he examines these options to see which provides the better explanation.

O’Connor considers several types of Chaos models. He distinguishes between single-stage (all creation at once) and multi-stage models. For single-stage models, he describes three versions: Immutable Chaos, Abundant Chaos, and Random Chaos.

In the Immutable Chaos model, the world is necessarily a product of the NB’s nature. On reflection, O’Connor finds this model hard to credit: it seems unlikely that our large, highly arbitrary and extensively structured world should need to follow from the NB’s nature. Also, the idea of a single world being a necessary product runs afoul of the need for the NB to provide a non-fully contrastive cause, as discussed earlier in the book.

In the Abundant Chaos model, many worlds are produced, including ours. Oddly, to me at least, O’Connor uses the same sort of objection he had to Immutable Chaos to argue against the plausibility of this model:

“For surely it is no explanation of why the nature of Chaos is ordered to this effect to say that it is because it is ordered to that entire range of effects, and this is one of them. Really, the situation is just made more problematic. How is it that a highly unified source could be causally ordered to just this effect, and also to just that one, and… (Emphasis original, p.94)”

This analysis seems wrong to me. If there are many worlds (perhaps an infinite number of them), then arguing from the highly particular nature of our world loses its force. It is, after all just our local neighborhood in a great expanse. In the extreme case, one might see the NB giving rise to (or, in the panentheistic mode, being constituted by) all metaphysically possible worlds. I’ll return to this point again below when I review O’Connor’s later invocation of the fine-tuning argument as a guide to choosing the correct NB model.

The third Chaos option is labeled Random Chaos. Here, the NB generates a world from its nature utilizing something like a random number generator. O’Connor sees this as having more merit than the other Chaos options. To me, however, this didn’t seem much different in a crucial sense from the Abundant Chaos model: myriad possibilities are viable and we find ourselves in one of them.

O’Connor also considers multi-stage versions of Random Chaos. For instance, perhaps at the termination point of a world (like Big Bang/Big Crunch points) a successor world is generated with random alterations from the previous entry. He says such models may have merit although the mechanisms are somewhat obscure to him (for a multiverse proposal with this feature, see physicist Lee Smolin’s first book). I didn’t find the single-stage/multi-stage distinction very important in all of this.

At this step in his discussion, O’Connor sees the Random Chaos model as the best alterative to the Logos (or agent) model. How might one choose between them? At this point, O’Connor invokes the fine-tuning argument. He believes that the fine-tuning argument fails as a stand-alone design argument for the existence of a NB, but given independent motivation of the NB from the cosmological argument from contingency, he thinks it can help choose between the options as to the NB’s nature.

I’ll skip reviewing some of O’Connor’s discussion of the fine-tuning argument, which would be familiar to those who have spent time on it (a nice summary is on these posts at Parableman). He concludes that it does succeed in elevating the Logos option over Chaos. He thinks the particular nature of our world argues for a NB which is an agent acting on purpose-driven intentions in creating our world. I disagree with this conclusion because I believe the (independently motivated) existence of a multiverse removes the force from the fine-tuning argument. O’Connor, on the other hand, concedes that the multiverse idea dilutes the force of fine-tuning, but he doesn’t think it eliminates it.

O’Connor does say that the strongest multiverse concept (for the purpose of countering fine-tuning) is one which invokes the existence of myriad metaphysically possible worlds as opposed to the cosmological models offered to-date by physicists (I agree). In evaluating whether the multiverse defeats the fine-tuning argument, he first offers the objection that positing the multiverse is less parsimonious then positing a NB designer -- however he concedes this is not obviously persuasive. Then he offers a second objection, which I found dubious, saying that a multiverse option would be but one of many “totality” possibilities, many of which may not contain intelligent life. But if the multiverse is the complete metaphysical manifold, then this objection is ill-founded. I conclude that O’Connor does not find a compelling objection to the metaphysical multiverse model as a defeater for the fine-tuning argument (discussion takes place on pages 107-108). Therefore, the fine-tuning argument fails to provide a basis for preferring Logos.

Further, we should recall the rationale we used for positing some kind of NB in the first place, which is to ground real modal truths of necessity and possibility. Given a robust modal realism (which O’Connor and I both endorse) I think we should conclude that the NB is the source for (and should perhaps even be identified with) the full manifold of metaphysical possibilities. (By the way, I don’t think it matters for this discussion whether the other possibilities are concretely realized or abstract.) So, I conclude that a “Chaos” model of the NB is the preferred model. I judge this on the grounds of parsimony, since the personalized Logos model needs to have the same metaphysical scope, but also adds extra features (purposes, intentions) which are unneeded.

For now, I will not be blogging about the last two chapters of O’Connor’s book. Chapter 5 deals with the matter of how many worlds a Logos NB would create and discusses how this applies to the problem of evil and other matters. Finally Chapter 6 is of less purely philosophical interest as O’ Connor discusses issues in Christian theology and the problem of reconciling the God of metaphysics to the God of the Bible.

So, this concludes my discussion of O’Connor’s though-provoking book. I will be following up, though, with some additional reflections on this topic of inferring the nature of a transcendent necessary entity from what we know about our world. Also, I understand that Peter Van Inwagen discussed this Chaos/Logos topic in his Metaphysics, so I may have some thoughts after reading the relevant passages (which I intend to do soon).

[UPDATE: 2 September 2008] In the paperback 2nd edition of Van Inwagen’s book (linked above), he concludes that the multiverse objection is decisive against the fine-tuning argument. He says: “It is the possibility of an interplay of chance and an observational selection effect that is the undoing of the teleological argument in the form in which we are considering it (p.158).” When subsequently discussing the options of Logos and Chaos, he therefore sees no reason to prefer one over the other:

“As far as our present knowledge goes (aside from any divine revelations various individuals and groups may be privy to), we have no reason to prefer either of the following two hypotheses to the other:
• This is the only cosmos, and some rational being has (or rational beings have) fine-tuned it in such a way that it is a suitable abode for life.
• This is only one among a vast number of cosmoi (some of which are -- a statistical certainty -– suitable abodes for life) (p.161).”

To be sure, he does not give any credence to my argument that the chaos option is preferable to logos on grounds of parsimony.

I might also mention some context for those who haven’t read the book: Van Inwagen, while being one of our most prominent philosophers who is also a theist, finds none of the traditional philosophical arguments for theism (ontological, cosmological and teleological) compelling.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, Van Inwagen also seems not to think that philosophy has ever argued a truly compelling argument on a subject. One paraphrase of a claim made by him is that "If ever a position were someday decisively settled in philosophy, it would mark the first time such an event took place."

Steve said...

Thanks - that's good context for my last point above.