Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Thursday, September 01, 2022

Claremont Theist Embarrassed By Theology

In the conservative Claremont Review, Spencer Klavan uses the Marvel multiverse to launch a survey of many-worlds theory that starts well but stumbles badly halfway through.

Klavan ably summarizes the Marvel multiverse and the related science of quantum physics. He touches on the idea of possible intelligent design in the life-friendly fixing of our universe's two-dozen fundamental constants. He even admits that we can dispense with a designer if we take the simple but breathtaking step of considering all possible universes to be equally real. But his stumbling begins when he posits that this step is just hubris from physicists, instead of exploring the academic philosophy behind the idea: Modal Realism.

Klavan is trivially correct to complain that multiversal realism should not pretend to be a scientific/empirical truth, on par with quantum physics or Big Bang cosmology. But he uses this strawman to ignore the possibility that a multiverse theory can be epistemologically superior to his preferred theory (involving a loving God who "invites" humankind to know "His glory"). Klavan simply shrinks from the challenge of comparing two philosophical theories: 1) that all universes are equally real, or 2) our universe was created and fine-tuned by a loving superhero of unknown origin, operating via unknowable mechanisms, and who reportedly has an obsessive interest in H. sapiens.

Here is the closest he can bring himself to a bake-off between those two theories:

They are competing theologies—one of them handed down to us through ancestral wisdom, the other dictated to us by scientistic pseudo-clerics and by the spirit of our fractious age. One way of adjudicating between theologies, though, is to ask whether they can inspire art that expresses the full range of man’s nature in a satisfying way. 

That's it. No discussion of parsimony. No discussion of the epistemological trade-offs in the two offerings. Just a fawning hand-wave toward "ancestral wisdom", coupled with a drive-by ad-hominem against "scientistic pseudo-clerics". And then a silly attempt to use artistic track records as a way to adjudicate the truth-value of competing theories.

The giveaway, of course, is that Klavan calls them "competing theologies" instead of "competing epistemologies". In doing so, he circularly smuggles into his argument his foregone conclusion: that any fundamental explanation of existence should be considered a "theology". With his unquestioned assumption that any theory of reality must posits gods (or their equivalents), it's easy to shill for your society's traditional sky-fathers.

The subtext here is amusing: Klavan recognizes that the crutch of "theology" is embarrassing for any modern philosophy, and his only defense of it is to allege that the other side is guilty of it too. Only a few centuries ago, theologians were proud of their vocation, and claimed to have multiple independent proofs of the existence of their god. (Aquinas had five!) Now, even theists accidentally use "theology" as a kind of intellectual slur. Game over.

Claremont is supposed to represent the pinnacle of current intellectual conservatism. Is this really the best they've got?