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Jonas, Silvia (2021): Mathematical Indispensability and Arguments from Design. In: Philosophia, Vol. 49, No. 5: pp. 2085-2102

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The recognition of striking regularities in the physical world plays a major role in the justification of hypotheses and the development of new theories both in the natural sciences and in philosophy. However, while scientists consider only strictly natural hypotheses as explanations for such regularities, philosophers also explore meta-natural hypotheses. One example is mathematical realism, which proposes the existence of abstract mathematical entities as an explanation for the applicability of mathematics in the sciences. Another example is theism, which offers the existence of a supernatural being as an explanation for the design-like appearance of the physical cosmos. Although all meta-natural hypotheses defy empirical testing, there is a strong intuition that some of them are more warranted than others. The goal of this paper is to sharpen this intuition into a clear criterion for the (in)admissibility of meta-natural explanations for empirical facts. Drawing on recent debates about the indispensability of mathematics and teleological arguments for the existence of God, I argue that a meta-natural explanation is admissible just in case the explanation refers to an entity that, though not itself causally efficacious, guarantees the instantiation of a causally efficacious entity that is an actual cause of the regularity.

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