Intentional and Causal explanations


Question: Could we have EIA of units smaller than the Cosmos?

An explanatorily intelligible account of any object, whatever that object is, is one where causal (say) and intentional explanations fall together. The causal account provides, let us say, an explanation that makes it clear what the causal antecedents of some object (or event, or phenomenon) are. (For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that theories in Natural Sciences provide us with explanations and that they are causal in nature.) The only kind of explanation we know that provides `meaning’ (or reasons) for objects (or events, or phenomenon) are intentional ones: they postulate an agent; actions, objects and phenomena are seen to embody the intentions (beliefs, hopes, desires, designs, projects, etc.) of the agent. Such an explanation is an intentional explanation.

So, the first issue is: do we have a species of explanation, which fuses causal and intentional explanations together? Yes, and that is religion. We have no other examples.

The second question: could we have such an explanation in the future (of, say, human actions), which is not religion? Yes, logically speaking, we could; but not within the cosmos we live in and not for the kind of beings we are. Why? Because, as human beings, everything we do is subject to regularities that are outside and beyond ourselves (in the first place). In the second place, the reasons we adduce in order to do something might not be the cause of that action. (You might marry someone because you say you love that person; it is not clear how a genetic, physiological, sociological and psychological explanation might transform your intentional explanation.) In other words, the domain of intentional explanation shrinks as the scientific descriptions of the world multiply. (This is one of the insights that support reductionist arguments in the human `sciences’.) Thirdly, it is not clear what `intentions’ are (anymore than what `causes’ are): are they themselves expressions of other causes or something free of any causal influence? In other words, it is totally unclear what it means to ask for an explanation (that is not religion), which fuses causes and intentions together.

2. The reference to `meaning’ alone does not make an account into an explanatorily intelligible one. Consider the issue of the toaster: the human ingenuity makes use of the (causal) properties of objects and phenomena to build a toaster. The toaster has a function; it is man-made; it embodies a design; it is built for a purpose. These general ascriptions are true of all human products. This tells us that one could provide a general intentional account (which is very weak because of its generality) of man-made objects. But this intentional account does not help in the production of the toaster. For the toaster to come into being some or another causal account is required that makes no appeal to the intentions of the human beings but instead to the properties of objects and phenomena. Consequently, we have two distinct accounts of the toaster: an intentional account (of human ingenuity) and a causal account of how to make it and why it works.

One does not need either the house god or the toaster to realize that the accounts we human beings can give do not allow the fusing of causes and intentions. Even the primitive man, who cooked food over the fire, needed to have two such accounts: an account why the fire `cooked’ the food (instead of making it wet, for instance) and what he had to do to `enable’ the fire to cook the food. His desire that his food was cooked did not cook the food; he had to appeal to something outside his intentions to cook it.

In religion, the will and cause are fused. This fusion is accounted for by the EI account that religion is: it is the revelation of God. That is to say, no human being could ever produce an account (of objects in the world) that fuses causes and intentions together. If we could, we could easily prove that religion is a human construct. That is why the `atheist’ explanation of religion revolves around the (probable) causes of religion and religious beliefs. That is, they want to provide a causal account for the coming-into-being of an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos. Hence also the reason why they are not able to capture their object of enquiry: as that which makes both itself and the Cosmos explanatorily¬†intelligible. Instead, they presuppose what they have to prove: that God does not exist; people are causally prone to believe in `supernatural’ entities and so on and so forth.

In other words, if a science of religion, which not theology, comes into being and explains the origin and the reproduction of religion (not of this or that religion but of religion as such) in human societies, then my story is quite simply false.