The Coincidentalist Reply to the No-Miracles Argument

Erkenntnis 83 (5):929-946 (2018)
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Proponents of the no-miracles argument contend that scientific realism is “the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle.” Bas van Fraassen argued, however, that the success of our best theories can be explained in Darwinian terms—by the fact they are survivors of a winnowing process in which unsuccessful theories are rejected. Critics of this selectionist explanation complain that while it may account for the fact we have chosen successful theories, it does not explain why any particular one of those theories succeeds. Against this I defend the claim that if selectionists manage to account for the former, they have no burden to account for the latter; the success of any particular one of our best theories might as well be an extraordinary coincidence. I refer to this enhanced selectionist reply as “coincidentalism” and argue that it is a serious but underappreciated response to the no-miracles argument. More generally, I argue the considerations raised in favor of this response show that versions of the no-miracles argument focusing on the success of particular theories are misguided.

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Kenneth Boyce
University of Missouri, Columbia


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