Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Thinking about Wales, II

A bit more philosophy-this is a supplement to the Wales thought experiment.

Consider in the context of Metaphysical Naturalism and the Argument from Design, Paley’s famous watch and watchmaker argument. The traditional argument states that if we found a watch assembled in all of its complexity on the beach, it would not only be natural for us to assume a mind behind the design, it would be appropriate. Additionally, let us add what I am calling the “time-telling” assumption. The watch is ticking off seconds, minutes, and hours accurately. It is my argument that we are not justified in believing that it is telling time accurately unless there is a non-natural, non-deceptive agent behind the design (and time-setting) of the watch.

The fact that the watch conveys knowledge of the time of day is significant. Working from a classical notion of knowledge as justified, true belief, the watch can only convey knowledge if it is assembled and calibrated by an intelligent, intentional mind. Removing the assumption of the time-telling characteristic of the watch, we are left with a traditional argument from design that relies on the probabilities of the complexity of the watch coming from chaos and depending only on natural processes. However, if we return the time-telling assumption to the argument, we not only retain the probabilistic aspects of the argument, we add an inference totally separate from mathematics and nature.

Here is the basic form of the argument I am working with. First, even if natural processes are able to assemble a watch that runs, and even if that watch happens to be in alignment with the sun, we have no good reason to justify the belief that the watch is a time-telling watch. This case is similar to the example of me saying, “I believe it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit in Bejing right now” and we then look up the temperature, and it just happens to be 60 degrees in Bejing. I believed it to be true and it happened to be true, but it was not justifiable and therefore was not knowledge. Without the proper justification for believing the watch is a time-telling watch, we do not have the knowledge that the watch is telling time.

What provides the proper justification is the intentional act of a non-deceptive mind; the justification can only be provided by a non-natural entity and a non-natural property. What happens within a closed, naturalistic system lacks intentionality and propositional properties that make rational inference work. Hence, if we do not have the propositional force of a statement like, “the watchmaker assembled the watch and tuned it to the proper time of day,” we are not able to make the rational inference, “this watch is a time-telling watch.” What we would be left with in this metaphysically closed naturalistic system is no rational justification either way. If we lack the force of propositional content to make arguments work, we would lack the rational inference required to justify either, 1) This watch is a time-telling watch, or, 2) This watch is not a time-telling watch.

To make what would probably be a long and complex argument short, I believe we can find from the time-telling assumption that knowledge itself is not possible if we live in a metaphysically naturalistic universe.

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