bookmark_borderOpening Statement from My Debate with Frank Turek

Although I’ve recently been too busy to spend any time writing original content for this blog, I’ve decided to post my opening statement from my 2016 debate with Frank Turek. Enjoy!


Introduction

Good evening! I’d like to thank Craig Freerksen for organizing this debate. I’d also like to thank Dr. Turek for agreeing to participate. Finally, I’d like to thank all veterans, including my opponent, for defending the right to have a debate like this. Now, speaking of our country, I thought I’d borrow a slogan from the presidential campaign. I’m not selling any hats, but I’m here to “make atheism great again.”

Definitions

In this debate, we’ve been asked to assess what best explains reality: naturalism or theism? Before we can answer that question, we need to have some idea of what we’re talking about, so let me begin by defining some terms.
First, by “naturalism,” I mean the view that the physical exists and, if the mental exists, the physical explains why the mental exists.[1] If naturalism is true, then there are no purely mental beings which can exist apart from a physical body and so there is no God or any person or being much like God.
Second, by “supernaturalism,” I mean the view that the mental exists and, if the physical exists, the mental explains why anything physical exists.[2] If supernaturalism is true, then there is no purely physical matter which can exist without some sort of ultimate mental creator.
Third, “personal supernaturalism” is a type of supernaturalism; it adds on the claims that one or more personal mental entities exist and, if a physical world exists, it or they produced the physical world for a purpose.[3]
Fourth, “theism” is a type of personal supernaturalism; it adds on the claim that there is just one mental entity, God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect.[4]
Finally, fifth, “otherism” is a catch-all category. It says that both naturalism and supernaturalism are false.[5]
Now the question before us in tonight’s debate is this. What best explains reality: theism or naturalism?
In support of a naturalistic answer to that question, I’m going to defend three basic contentions:
(1) The best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy;
(2) Naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism; and
(3) Naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism.

First Contention

Let’s look, then, at my first basic contention: the best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy.
By “intrinsic probability” of a hypothesis, I mean the probability independent of the evidence we have for or against it. The intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is determined entirely by its modesty and coherence.[6]
By “accuracy” of a hypothesis, I mean the degree to which a hypothesis’s predictions correspond to reality. We measure accuracy by looking at “evidence.”
By “evidence” I mean something which makes something else more probable than it would have been otherwise. Let me give you an example.[7] Imagine you have two jars of red and blue jellybeans. In the first jar, 90% of the jellybeans are blue and the rest are red. In the second jar, 90% of the jellybeans are red and the rest are blue.
Now imagine you are handed a jelly bean from one of the jars, but you don’t know which jar it came from. If it’s a blue bean, that’s evidence it came from the first jar, not the second. The blue bean doesn’t disprove that it came from the second jar because the second jar also has blue beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the first because there are more blue jellybeans in the first than in the second. Similarly, if it’s a red bean, that’s evidence it came from the second jar. The red bean doesn’t disprove that it came from from the first jar because the first jar also has red beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the second because it has many more red beans.
Mathematicians have a formula called Bayes’ Theorem, which can be used to specify the relationship between intrinsic probability, accuracy, and the overall or final probability of a hypothesis. It follows from Bayes’ Theorem that a hypothesis is probably true, just in case it has a greater overall balance of intrinsic probability and explanatory power than do its alternatives collectively.

Second Contention

Let’s look, then, at my second basic contention: naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism.
Intrinsic probability is determined by modesty, coherence, and nothing else. By “modesty,” I mean a measure of how much the hypothesis asserts.[8] The more a hypothesis claims, the more ways there are for it to be false and so, before we start looking at evidence, the less likely it is to be true.
By “coherence,” I mean a measure of how well the parts of a hypothesis fit together.[9] If the different parts count against each other, the hypothesis is less coherent and less likely to be true.
Now consider naturalism and supernaturalism. They are symmetrical claims: naturalism claims that the physical explains the mental, while supernaturalism claims that the mental explains the physical. Both claims are equally modest and equally coherent. Before examining the evidence, both positions are equally likely to be true.[10]
With these definitions in mind, then, I can now defend my second contention. Theism is a type of supernaturalism but could be false even if supernaturalism is true. Furthermore, theism is less modest than either supernaturalism or naturalism. Therefore, before we look at evidence, it is less likely to be true than supernaturalism or naturalism.[11] But that entails that naturalism is intrinsically more probable than theism.

Third Contention

Finally, let’s move onto my third contention: naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism for many facts.
I’d like to present seven lines of evidence that are red jellybeans, i.e., things more probable on naturalism than on theism.[12]

Physical Matter

(1) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that physical reality exists.[13]
If naturalism is true, then physical reality must exist. That’s just part of what naturalism means.
If theism is true, however, things look quite different. The existence of physical reality doesn’t disprove theism; if God exists, God could have created physical space, matter, and energy as part of a plan to create a universe for human beings. But God could have also chosen to create other minds without physical bodies, such as angels. Or God could have chosen to create nothing at all. In other words, God’s existence doesn’t require a physical reality.
So because the physical has to exist on naturalism but does not have to exist on theism, it follows that the existence of physical reality is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Success of Science

(2) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that science has been so successful without the supernatural.[14]
Imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences—such as physics, chemistry, and biology—and summarizes current scientific knowledge. The percentage of such knowledge which makes no appeal to the supernatural is extremely high.
Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But, even if that is or were true, the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of the reverse. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, unlikely to be true.
Such explanatory success is just what we would expect on naturalism–which entails that all supernatural explanations are false–than it is on theism.[15] And that’s my second line of evidence against theism.

Biological Evolution

(3) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that complex life  evolved from simple life.[16]
I’m going to list five scientific facts which support biological evolution. Since Dr. Turek likes acronyms, I’m going to give you the evidence in an acronym, BONES.

  • B is for biogeography;
  • O is for vestigial organs;
  • N is for natural selection;
  • E is for embryology; and
  • S is for stratified fossil record.

Let’s look very briefly at each of these.

Biogeography

First, the evidence indicates that the habitats of plants and animals are distributed in a puzzling way. For example, why are there no land-based mammals on any island more than 300 miles away from the mainland? As University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne puts it, “The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it.”[17]

Vestigial Organs

Secondly, a variety of animals have organs which display traits that would be unnecessary if the organs had been designed from scratch, but would have been useful to an ancestor.

Natural Selection

Thirdly, when the genetic differences between living things provides an advantage, things with that advantage tend to be more successful at survival and reproduction than things without that advantage. This is the essence of the process Darwin called natural selection.

Embryology

Fourthly, as Coyne points out, the evidence indicates that all vertebrate embryos begin development in the same way, looking like embryonic fish, but as they progress, they often go through strange contortions before reaching their final form.[18]

Stratified Fossil Record

Fifthly, the available fossil evidence indicates that as one goes from the oldest to the youngest layers of the fossil record, the layers show gradual change from simple to more complex life forms.
Taken together, the BONES evidence is much more probable on biological evolution (which says that complex life evolved from simple life through trans-generational genetic change)[19] than it is on special creationism (which says that God created all life virtually simultaneously).[20]
If either naturalism or supernaturalism is true, life could exist or not exist. If naturalism is true and life exists, evolution pretty much has to be true. But if theism is true, God didn’t have to use evolution. Furthermore, since theism says that at least one mind existed before any physical matter, it gives a reason to expect that any other minds are fundamentally nonphysical. But that, in turn, leads us to predict conscious life was created independently of nonconscious life, contrary to what evolution claims.[21] So theism predicts that evolution is false.
Thus, the scientific fact of evolution is more likely on naturalism than on theism, and so that’s my third line of evidence against theism.

Pain and Pleasure

(4) Naturalism is the best explanation for the biological role (and moral randomness) of pain and pleasure.[22]
I’m going to give three lines of evidence.
First, moral agents experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Suppose you are a teenager sleeping in a hotel that has caught on fire. The hotel is old and doesn’t have smoke alarms. The fire gets closer and closer to you until you are actually in pain from the smoke and the intense heat. Your pain wakes you up in time for you to escape; you survive and start a family in your twenties. Your pain in this case was biologically useful because it contributed to your survival. This is just what we would expect on naturalism (and human beings are the products of evolution by natural selection).
Second, moral patients experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Most human beings are moral agents, people who can be held responsible for their actions and their consequences. But some human beings, such as young children and humans with certain mental disabilities, as well as non-human sentient animals, such as primates and dolphins, are moral patients: sentient beings who can be harmed from their own point of view, but are not responsible for their actions.
On naturalism, we would expect that (biological) sentient beings, including moral patients, would experience pain and pleasure because moral patients are biologically similar to moral agents. On theism, however, we would predict that moral patients do not suffer the same kind of pain as moral agents because such pain plays no known moral role in the lives of the moral patients who experience it.
Third, sentient beings experiencing gratuitous pain and pleasure.
Consider, for example, an animal trapped in a forest fire, suffering horrific pain as it slowly burned to death. On the one hand, this kind of pain is biologically appropriate: it is biologically useful that animals in general feel pain when they come in contact with fire. But, on the other hand, this specific instance of pain was not biologically useful because it did not contribute to the biological goals of survival or reproduction.
On naturalism, this is just what we would expect.  If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to suffering and incapable of preventing it.
But if theism is true, God could “fine tune” animals so that they only experience physical pain and pleasure when it was morally necessary. So theism leads us to expect that pain and pleasure are fundamentally moral phenomena, which just happens to be connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction. That’s a huge coincidence that naturalism doesn’t need.
So this evidence is very much more probable on naturalism than on theism.

Mind-Brain Dependence

(5) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that human minds are dependent upon the physical brain.[23]
Philosopher Paul Draper of Purdue University puts it this way: “Consciousness and personality are highly dependent on the brain. Nothing mental happens without something physical happening.”[24] Now Michael Tooley, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has stated five lines of evidence in support of this claim.[25]

  • When an individual’s brain is directly stimulated and put into a certain physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.
  • Certain injuries to the brain make it impossible for a person to have any mental states at all.
  • Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. Which capacity is destroyed is tied directly to the particular region of the brain that was damaged.
  • When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.
  • Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain.

Take together, this evidence is much more probable on physicalism, which says that the mind is made only of physical matter, than it is on dualism, which says says that the mind is made of two substances (the physical and the mental). if God exists, God is not in any sense dependent on physical arrangements of matter. So theism entails the existence of at least one unembodied mind. Furthermore, if God wanted to create other minds, he didn’t need them dependent on physical brains.
So the dependence of human minds on brains is evidence against the existence of any being who is supposed to have an unembodied mind, including God. Therefore, the physical nature of minds is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Empathy and Apathy

(6) Naturalism is the best explanation for the neurological basis of empathy and apathy, including some moral handicaps.[26]
In many cases, our ability to choose do morally good actions depends upon our having properly functioning emotional capacities, especially empathy, i.e., our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion.[27]
We now know, thanks to the relatively new discipline of neuroscience, that certain brain abnormalities cause people to experience less or even no empathy.[28] According to Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, “There is a consensus in neuroscience that at least ten interconnected brain regions are involved in empathy.”[29] These regions are shown on the slide.
For example, violent psychopaths may know in some abstract sense that their behavior is morally wrong, but utterly lack empathy.[30]
While theism is compatible with a neurological basis for moral handicaps, the fact that at least some moral handicaps can be explained neurologically is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. If theism is true, then that means both 

(a) God creates some human beings with moral handicaps that are not the result of the freely chosen actions of any human being;

and

(b) These moral handicaps make it more likely that they will harm others.

What moral justification would God have for allowing both (a) and (b) to obtain? This seems utterly surprising and completely random from a theistic, moral point of view, but precisely what we would expect on naturalism (and blind nature is indifferent to the moral consequences of brain abnormalities).[31]

Nonresistant Nonbelief

(7) Naturalism is the best explanation for nonresistant nonbelief (in God).[32]
Imagine you’re growing up in an orphanage and I told you I had met a man who claims to be your father and who really wants a relationship with you. Days, weeks, even months go by but you never actually meet your father. You never get a card, letter, phone call. In fact, the only evidence that your father is alive is my claim that he exists. Why haven’t you heard from him? Perhaps your father is ashamed for abandoning you. Or maybe he’s a prisoner of war and his captors won’t even let him write you. Although you hope your father is alive and wants to meet you, you remain skeptical.
Just as you do not believe your father is alive and wants to meet you, there are people who do not believe that God exists.[33] But notice that, whatever reasons we might invent to explain your earthly father’s absence do not explain their heavenly father’s absence.
At least some of the people who deny God’s existence are “nonresistant” nonbelievers. As philosopher John Schellenberg explains, their nonbelief is “not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.”[34] Such nonbelievers are open to having a relationship with God—in fact, they may even want it—but are unable to have such a relationship. But why, if God exists, does that happen?
On naturalism, blind nature doesn’t care whether anyone believes in God and so the fact of nonresistant nonbelievers is hardly surprising. On theism, however, this fact is very surprising. On theism, we would expect a perfectly loving God to always make a meaningful relationship available to those He loves.

Conclusion

So, in sum, we’ve seen seven lines of evidence that naturalism is true. I also happen to think there is some evidence for theism, but that it is outweighed by the evidence for naturalism.[35] In my other speeches, I will explain why I think this as I respond to Dr. Turek’s arguments.[36]

Notes

[1] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[2] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[3] This definition is similar to, but not identical with, one offered by Paul Draper.
[4] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[5] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[6] I owe this to Paul Draper.
[7] I owe this jelly bean analogy to Paul Draper. Draper’s full analogy also includes an equal number of yellow jelly beans in both jars, where yellow signifies something that is equally likely to have come from either jar and hence is not evidence that it came from either jar. I have omitted the yellow jelly beans solely in the interest of time.
[8] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[9] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[10] Paul Draper, “God and the Burden of Proof,” Secular Outpost (July 21, 2014), https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/07/21/new-by-paul-draper-god-and-the-burden-of-proof/
[11] Paul Draper, “More Pain and Pleasure: A Reply to Otte” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (ed. Peter van Inwagen, Eerdmans, 2004), 41-54 at 49.
[12] Let N stand for naturalism, T for theism, and F for any of these facts. Using the symbol “Pr(F | H)” to stand for the epistemic probability that F is true conditional upon H, then the claim that some fact is evidence favoring naturalism over theism should be understood as the claim that Pr(F | N) > Pr(F | T).
[13] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “Potential Objections to Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument,” The Secular Outpost (March 17, 2014), https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/03/17/potential-objections-to-swinburnes-cosmological-argument/. Note that here I am using the word “matter” as a way to provide a concrete example of something “physical.”
[14] See Keith M. Parsons, Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Ph.D. Dissertation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Queen’s University, 1986), 46; Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 223-24; and idem, “God, Science, and Naturalism” Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William Wainwright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 272-303; and Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection” Philo 3 (2000): 7-29.
[15] Draper 2004.
[16] See Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 219-230; cf. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion (Mayfield, 2001), chapter 6.
[17] Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True (New York: Penguin, 2009), 88.
[18] Coyne 2009, 56.
[19] Draper 1997, 221.
[20] I’m using “virtually simultaneously” as a shorthand way of accounting for the seven literal days described in Genesis 1, in order to contrast that chronology with the sort of geological timescales needed for evolution.
[21] Draper 1997, 224.
[22] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Nous 23 (June, 1989), 331-350.
[23] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[24] Paul Draper, “Opening Statement” in William Lane Craig and Paul Draper, Does God Exist? (videotape, West Point, NY, 1996).
[25] Michael Tooley, “Dr. Tooley’s Opening Arguments”  in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley, The Craig-Tooley Debate: Does God Exist? (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-tooley2.html), 1994, spotted 25 Jan 99.
[26] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[27] Simon Baron-Cohen, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 16.
[28] Baron-Cohen 2012, 39.
[29] Baron-Cohen 2012, 28.
[30] As Baron-Cohen points out, the neurological basis for moral handicaps challenges traditional views about moral responsibility. “If zero degrees of empathy is really a form of neurological disability, to what extent can such an individual who commits a crime be held responsible for what they have done? This gets tangled up with the free will debate, for if zero degrees of empathy leaves an individual to some extent “blind” to the impact of their actions on others’ feelings, then surely they deserve our sympathy rather than punishment.” See Baron-Cohen 2012, 160.
[31] Some theists have pointed out that moral evil, such as fallen angels or demons choosing to do evil, might explain so-called “natural evils.” This argument makes the inverse point: certain natural evils explain at least some moral evil.
[32] J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); idem, 2007.
[33] This sentence, of course, assumes that at least some (if not most) professions of atheism are genuine. Those familiar with intra-Christian debates on apologetic methodologies will notice that I have just ruled out the claim of some (or all?) presuppositionalists, namely, that there are no atheists and instead there are only professed atheists. I agree with  John Schellenberg: “it would take something like willful blindness to fail to affirm that not all nonbelief is the product of willful blindness (even if some of it is).” See J.L. Schellenberg, “What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof” God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence (http://infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html), 2008.
[34] Schellenberg 2008.
[35] It follows from a Bayesian approach to evidence sketched in my first contention that there can be “true evidence” for a false proposition. Consider, for example, people convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony for crimes they didn’t commit, only to be exonerated years or decades later by DNA evidence. The eyewitness testimony was some evidence for a false proposition (“The defendant is guilty”), but it was greatly outweighed by the DNA evidence against that false proposition. The fact that there can be true evidence for false propositions should serve as a “warning flag” to anyone who wants to claim that there is absolutely no evidence for naturalism (or theism). “There is no evidence for naturalism (or theism)” does not follow from “Naturalism (or theism) is false” or even “I believe naturalism (or theism) is false.”
[36] I am grateful to Paul Draper, John Danaher, Robert Greg Cavin, and Eddie Tabash for helpful comments on a previous version of this speech.

bookmark_border25 Questions for Theists

Almost five years ago, I published my “20+ Questions for Theists.” They say hindsight is 20/20. After reading the numerous comments in the combox, I can see that I was not as clear as I would have liked to have been. So I’d like to offer a clarification before reposting the list of questions, which has now grown to 25 (or so).
Many people incorrectly assumed that the list was supposed to function as a list of “gotcha!” questions. Even our own Keith Parsons commented, “Any Bible-believing Christian could easily answer these.” Sure enough, many did. It’s easy to invent “just-so,” ad hoc explanations for why, if God exists, God allowed some fact F to obtain. But that is of very little philosophical interest. (More on that in a moment.) But even more important, it misses the point.
These questions are not meant to be used as “gotcha!” questions; rather, they are intended to simply introduce my evidential case against theism (see, e.g., here, here), which is still very much a work in progress. Each question is a specific instance of a more generic ‘meta-question’: “Which explanatory hypothesis, naturalism or theism, is the best explanation?” For details, see “Basic Structure of My Evidential Arguments.” That page lays out the schema for all of my evidential arguments.
That page also explains the logically correct way for evaluating potential answers to my questions. Allow me to explain. Let’s assume an answer has the following generic form:

An. God exists; allows some fact F to obtain for reason n.

Such answers function as auxiliary hypotheses to the ‘core’ hypothesis of theism. Accordingly, they need to be evaluated using what Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper calls the “Weighted Average Principle” or WAP.  Using WAP forces us to ask two questions. First, assume that theism is true but, for a moment, ignore the evidence for F. On theism alone (i.e., ignoring the evidence for F), what reason is there to expect that An would be true? If theism alone doesn’t “predict” An, then An is an ad hoc auxiliary hypothesis and so An cannot be used to successfully defend theism. Second, assume that An is true. What reason is there to expect that F is true? This matters because if An doesn’t “predict” F, then appealing to An is literally irrelevant to the task of defending theism. (Again, for details, see “Basic Structure of My Evidential Arguments.”)
Here, then, is my list of questions:
Continue reading “25 Questions for Theists”

bookmark_borderVideo of Lowder’s Debate with Frank Turek on Naturalism vs. Theism

Topic: “What Better Explains Reality? Naturalism or Theism”
Link: https://youtu.be/ENZYEPpR2Jc
[youtube]https://youtu.be/ENZYEPpR2Jc[/youtube]
Links to Specific Elements of Debate:

This debate featured many arguments. Against theism, Lowder defended the following evidential arguments:

Against naturalism, Turek argued that atheists have to steal several intellectual concepts from God in order to argue against God. These concepts include Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science, as summed up by the acrostic CRIMES. In response to the alleged ‘CRIMES’ of atheism, I argued that what we really needed to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics: Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality).
See also my comments about the debate (written a day or two after the debate).
I haven’t watched the video yet, but I’d love to hear what you think of the arguments.

bookmark_borderThe VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics

My latest video, “The VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics: The Things Apologists Falsely Say Depend on God, But, if God Exists, God Depends on Them,” is now available on YouTube. It is a narration of some of the many hundreds of PowerPoint slides I created in preparation for my recent debate with Frank Turek on naturalism vs. theism.
[youtube]https://youtu.be/xXWTc6-toDo[/youtube]
This video presentation is a (roughly) 2 hour 30 minute critique of Frank Turek’s latest book, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Turek accuses atheists of stealing from God in order to argue against God. How do atheists steal from God when arguing against God’s existence? According to Turek, this is summed up by the acrostic CRIMES (Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science). So his argument is that atheists must assume each of those things, but each of those things in turn presuppose God’s existence.
For each letter in CRIMES, atheism can steal these concepts from God if and only if: (a) atheism is logically incompatible with the concept represented by that letter; and (b) positing an all-powerful God explains that concept, not just assumes it. But as I will explain, each letter in CRIMES fails one or both conditions.
Now, since repeatedly accusing an innocent person of a crime harms the accused, I’m going to frame my response as an acrostic of my own: VICTIM (Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality). Instead of talking about crimes, what we instead need to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics. The VICTIMs of Christian apologetics are things which Christian apologists falsely claim depend on God, but the truth is that God depends on them.
Since the video is quite long and detailed, the following serves as a handy index:
Counter Apologist went through the effort to list the topics covered and give time-stamps/links for each topic which you can find below:

HT: Counter-Apologist for creating the index

bookmark_border25 Lines of Evidence Against Theism

Refutation of Anna Marie Perez

Previous | Index | Next

 

First Paragraph

Here is Perez’s first paragraph:

Atheism is a religion.  Atheists act like Dracula confronting a cross when faced with the fact that their beliefs rely solely on faith.  They hate the word faith, even though it’s all they’ve got.  They try to make the claim that their religion is based on science, although actual science doesn’t support their claims any more than science can prove the existence of God.  When they are called out for having faith, they’ll say something like, “An absence of belief isn’t faith,” yet their claim of an absence of a belief is a lie.

Atheism is a religion in the same sense that baldness is a hair color, which is to say that atheism isn’t a religion at all. Although atheism, by itself, is not a religion; there can be atheistic religions. or example, I think some versions of Buddhism are atheistic, but I would definitely count Buddhism, in all of its forms, as a religion.
But let’s move onto her third sentence. Her third sentence is false. If she’s defining the word “faith” the same way as the Biblical book of Hebrews does (“confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”), then she’s wrong to assume that “atheists,” without qualification, hope that no God or gods exist and that there is no afterlife. Yes, there are some atheists who hope for those things, but there are other atheists who hope for the opposite, and many more atheists who are indifferent. But if she’s defining the word “faith” to mean “belief without evidence” or even “belief against the (weight of the total) evidence,” then she’s mistaken.
Let’s start with some definitions:

naturalism (N) =df. The physical exists and, if the mental exists, the physical explains why the mental exists.
supernaturalism (S) =df. The mental exists and, if the physical exists, the mental explains why the physical exists.

Naturalism (N) and supernaturalism (S) are mutually exclusive: they cannot both be true. But they are not jointly exhaustive: they can both be false. To account for the possibility that both N and S are false, we can introduce a third, ‘catch-all’ option:

otherism (O) =df. Both N and S are false.

If N is true, then atheism is true by definition because N denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. So one way to defend atheism is to defend N. And one way to defend N is to present evidence which is more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that theism (T) is true. That is precisely what I am going to do here, by presenting twenty-five lines of evidence which are more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true.
1. The Existence of the Universe
The universe–which may be defined as the sum total of all matter, energy, space, and time–exists. This fact is entailed by N: if N is true, then by definition the physical universe exists. But, although logically consistent with T, this fact is not entailed by T. If is true, God could create the universe, but God could also choose not to create the universe. Thus, contrary to the claims of both the Leibnizian and kalam versions of the cosmological argument, the existence of the physical universe is more probable on N than on T.[1]
In formal terms, the argument may be formulated as follows. If we let B be our background information; E be the existence of the universe; then the explanatory argument is as follows:
(1) E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
(2) T is not intrinsically much more probable than N, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|N|).
(3) Pr(E | N & B) =1 > Pr(E | T & B).
(4) Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 1/2.
2. The “Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument”
This argument may be summarized as follows:

(1) Everything that had a beginning comes from pre-existing material.
(2) The universe had a beginning.
(3) Therefore, the universe came from pre-existing material.

Now I think it is far from certain that (2) is true. Let’s make a distinction between:

(2a) The expansion/inflation of the universe had a beginning.

and:

(2b) The universe itself had a beginning, viz., the universe began to exist.

It appears that (2a) is accepted by the vast majority of cosmologists. So let’s assume not only that (2a) is true, but that we know (2a) is true with certainty. It doesn’t follow that (2b) is true. In fact, as far as I can tell, (2b) does not enjoy the same widespread consensus among cosmologists as (2a) does. So there is reasonable doubt about (2b). But (2), like its theistic counterpart in the kalam cosmological argument, requires that (2b) is true. Because there is reasonable doubt about (2b), there is also reasonable doubt about (2).
But what if both (1) and (2b) are true? In that case, it would follow that (3) is true. But (3) entails the universe was not created ex nihilo, viz., created from (absolute) nothing. The falsity of creation ex nihilo is entailed by N (and physical reality’s existence is factually necessary and uncreated), but extremely unlikely (if not impossible) on T (and physical reality was either created ex nihilo or created ex deo [out of the being of God]).
3. The Continuing Existence of Physical Reality
Some theists, most notably Aquinas, talk about God as the “sustaining cause” of the universe. The idea is that even if the universe were eternal, it would somehow still require God to “sustain” it in existence. If God did not exist or, if God did exist but chose not to continue sustaining the universe, the universe would somehow cease to exist. So T is not only compatible with God never creating the universe at all, but also with the possibility of God creating the universe and causing or allowing it to cease to exist.
In contrast, if N is true, then there exists no being or thing capable of knocking physical reality out of existence. (If a multiverse exists, maybe there is a physical process which can “knock” baby universes out of existence just as there might be a physical process which can bring baby universes into existence. But there would be no physical process capable of knocking the multiverse as a whole out of existence.)
Since physical reality’s continuing existence is entailed by N but not by S, this is additional evidence favoring N over T.
4. The Scale of the Universe
Humans do not enjoy a privileged position in the universe, either spatially or temporally.[2] This fact is just slightly more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true. Why? Because it is slightly more likely on T than on N, though unlikely on both, that there would be a reason why we would have a spatially or temporally privileged position (e.g., God’s desire to relate to us immediately after His creation of the universe rather than waiting billions of years, God’s desire to emphasize our importance to Him, etc.).
Notice that this argument does not entail the claim that we would expect human beings to have a privileged position in the universe if T is true. I, for one, don’t think we have an antecedent reason on T to expect that humans would have a privileged position in the universe. For all we know, if God exists, God may have created embodied moral agents throughout the universe. Indeed, for all we know, if God exists, God may have created embodied moral agents in an infinite number of physical universes!
Just as it is easy to imagine antecedent reasons on T why humans would have a privileged position (e.g., God’s desire to relate to us immediately after His creation of the universe rather than waiting billions of years, God’s desire to emphasize our importance to Him, etc.), it is also easy to imagine antecedent reasons on T why humans would not have a privileged position (e.g., God’s desire that the non-human scale of the universe be an illustration of the vastness of God Himself, God’s desire to increase the maximize the beauty of the universe, etc.). Let’s call the former set of reasons “privilege-supporting reasons” and the latter “privilege-defeating reasons.” Based solely on the content of T, we have no reason to assign different probabilities to privilege-supporting reasons and privilege-defeating reasons.
While the last paragraph shows that we have no reason to give either set of reasons greater weight than the other, the privilege-defeating reasons are compatible with God giving many (to say the least) non-privileged positions to humans, while there are so few privileged positions.[3] Thus, the specific way in which humans have a non-privileged position in the universe is (slightly) more probable on N than on T, even if the non-privileged position of humans in the universe (generically speaking) is equally probable on both T and N.
5. Evidence from the Hostility of the Universe to Life
So much of the universe is highly hostile to life, such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth. This more probable on N than it is on T.
6. The Unimpressiveness of Human Beings Compared to the Abilities of God
The omnipotence of God is taken for granted in the context of theistic arguments like the cosmological argument, the cosmic design argument (aka the misnamed ‘fine-tuning argument’), and arguments about alleged miracles. But the relationship of God’s omnipotence to his alleged creation or design of human beings is neglected. As Draper explains:

Or consider the fact that the most intelligent and most virtuous life form we know to exist is merely 20 human. While we are no doubt wondrous simians in many respects, given theism one might have expected something more impressive, something more worthy of the creative capacities and concerns of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being.[4]

So the unimpressiveness of human beings, relative to the abilities of God, is much more probable on N than it is on T.
7. Complex Life Evolved from Simple Life
Intelligent life is the result of evolution. For a defense, see the Talk.Origins archive. See also my refutation of Perez’s third paragraph.
To be sure, biological evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution to create life. But if T were true, God could have also used many other methods to create life, methods which are impossible if naturalism is true. Here are just two examples. First, God could have created living things according to a literal interpretation of the Genesis chronology. Second, God could have created all things simultaneously, i.e., on the same “day,” in contradiction to a literal interpretation of the Genesis chronology. Both of these examples show that God, as an omnipotent being, was not required to use evolution in order to create life.
In contrast, if N is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. Furthermore, since T implies a metaphysical dualism, it is antecedently likely on T that minds are fundamentally nonphysical entities and therefore that conscious life is fundamentally different from nonconscious life. But this in turn makes it likely that conscious life was created independently of nonconscious life–that evolution is false. Thus, the scientific fact of biological evolution is more likely on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true.[5]
8. The Biological Role (and Moral Randomness) of Pain and Pleasure
Physical pain and pleasure plays the same biological role as other biological systems, i.e., physical pain and pleasure aid survival and reproduction. But from a moral point of view, the distribution of pain and pleasure appears random.[6]
For example, consider the horrific suffering endured by someone who slowly burns to death while trapped at the top of a burning building, or the pain endured by someone dying from a terminal illness. Feeling pain while burning is generally useful because it alerts and motivates the organism to a direct threat to their survival. But such pain serves no biological use whatsoever in situations where the organism is unable to avoid death. And from a moral point of view, it is intrinsically bad that they have to experience such horrific suffering. In such cases, it would be better if they could “flip a switch” and turn off the biological structure(s) which make pain possible.
Likewise, consider the orgasmic pleasure experienced by male rapists. It’s generally useful for men to derive pleasure from orgasm because of the role it plays in reproduction. But if anything is morally bad, surely rape is. Once again, it appears that pain and pleasure play a biological role but are morally random. It’s as if certain gratuitous experiences of pain and pleasure occur only because the biological system isn’t ‘fine-tuned’ enough to prevent such experiences.
This is precisely what we would expect if N is true (and blind nature is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure), but very, very much surprising if T is true (and there exists a God who would have both the means and the motive to have the morality and biology of pain and pleasure better aligned). If N is true, then all living things are the product of unguided evolution by natural selection; there seems to be no way for creatures to have evolved so that they only feel pain when it will aid survival. In contrast, if T were true, God could “fine tune” humans so that they experience pain only when it is necessary for some greater good. If God did exist, what possible reason could He have for allowing people trapped in burning buildings or people with terminal illnesses to endure such agonizing pain until they finally die? The chances that such a reason would intersect with the biological goal of survival is pretty slim. Thus, the biological role of pain and pleasure is much more likely on N than on T.
9. Intelligibility of the Universe without the Supernatural
If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations work. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most scientific theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, implausible, even on the assumption that theism is true. Such explanatory success is antecedently more likely on N–which entails that all supernaturalistic explanations are false–than it is on T. Thus the history of science is some evidence for N and against T.
10. Human Mental Dependence upon the Physical
Scientific evidence shows that human consciousness and personality are highly dependent upon the brain. In this context, nothing mental happens without something physical happening. That strongly implies that the mind cannot exist independently of physical arrangements of matter. In other words, we do not have a soul. And this is exactly what we would expect if N is true. But T predicts the opposite. First, if T is true, then God is a disembodied mind; God’s mind is not in any sense dependent on physical arrangements of matter. Second, if T is true, then souls or, more generally, minds that do not depend on physical brains, are a real possibility. It is no coincidence that theists have traditionally believed in the existence of other supernatural persons, besides God, who also have disembodied minds, e.g., angels and demons. For these reasons, then, it is hardly surprising that until neuroscience discovered the dependence of the mind upon the brain, all or virtually all theists were dualists. It was not until after these discoveries were made, were theists forced to reexamine their dualism and consider ad hoc hypotheses like dualist-interactionism instead. But if nothing mental happens without something physical happening, that is evidence against both the existence of souls and the existence of any being who is supposed to have a unembodied mind, including God. Therefore, the physical nature of minds is unlikely if T is true, but what we would expect if N is true.
11. Neurological Basis for Moral Handicaps
In many cases, our ability to choose do morally good actions depends upon our having properly functional emotional capacities, especially empathy, i.e., our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion.[7]  We now know, thanks to the relatively new discipline of neuroscience, that certain brain abnormalities cause people to experience less or even no empathy.[8] For example, violent psychopaths may know in some abstract sense that their behavior is morally wrong, but utterly lack the affective capacity for empathy which enables them to understand the impact of their actions on others’ feelings.[9]
While T is compatible with a neurological basis for moral handicaps, the fact that at least some moral handicaps can be explained neurologically is much more probable on N than on T. If T is true, then that means both

(a) God creates some human beings with moral handicaps that are not the result of the freely chosen actions of any human being;

and

(b) These moral handicaps make it more likely that they will harm others.

What moral justification would God have for allowing both (a) and (b) to obtain? This seems utterly surprising and completely random from a theistic, moral point of view, but precisely what we would expect on N (and blind nature is indifferent to the moral consequences of brain abnormalities).[10]
12. Flourishing and Languishing of Sentient Beings
Only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive. In other words, very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy. An even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives, and almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives. If naturalistic evolution is true, this is what we would expect. If all living things are in competition for limited resources, then the majority of those organisms will not survive long enough to thrive. Moreover, even those organisms that do thrive for much of their lives will, if they live long enough, deteriorate. However, if T is true, why would God create a world in which all sentient beings savagely compete with one another for survival? Does anyone really believe that this could be morally justified? The fact that so few sentient beings ever flourish is more likely on N than on T.[11]
13. Self-Centeredness and Limited Altruism of Human Beings
Humans are effectively self-centered; our tendency to behave in self-centered ways is usually much stronger than any tendency to behave in selfless ways. These selfless or altruistic behaviors can be divided into two types: kin altruism and non-kin altruism.
As Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper has argued, the mixture of moral goodness and moral badness we find in Homo sapiens is easy to explain on Darwinian naturalism.[12]  The Darwinian naturalist explanation for our overwhelming tendency towards self-centered behavior is obvious. Kin altruism is also easy to explain: behaviors that promote the survival and reproduction of my kin make it more probable that my genes will be inherited by future generations. Non-kin altruism is weaker than kin altruism and also absent more often than kin altruism. Given that kin altruism exists, this pattern or distribution is exactly what we would expect on Darwinian naturalism.
On T, either God created humans directly (special creation) or indirectly (Darwinian theism or theistic evolution).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He could create humans without making them inherently self-centered. Since God is morally perfect, He would have good moral reasons for creating altruistic humans. Furthermore, He would not create inherently self-centered humans unless He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. So given that humans are inherently self-centered, T entails both that God is not constrained by biological goals like survival and reproduction (and hence does not need to create human beings who are inherently self-centered) and that He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. And that’s a really big coincidence that Darwinian naturalism doesn’t need.[13]
14. Triumph and Tragedy
There are three additional facts about good and evil which favor N over T.
First, to paraphrase Paul Draper, our world contains much horrific suffering and relatively little glorious pleasure. As he puts it, “Indeed, triumph is the exception and tragedy the rule on our planet, where the deepest and the best aspirations of human beings are routinely crushed by a variety of circumstances beyond their control.”[14]
Second, horrific suffering often destroys a person, at least psychologically, and prevents them from growing morally, spiritually, and intellectually.[15]
Third, many people do not seem to feel God’s comforting presence during tragedies.[16] Just as loving parents would, say, comfort a child undergoing chemotherapy, we would expect a loving God to comfort human beings who suffer as the result of tragedies. If T is true, then God loves his creatures and wants all of his creatures to love Him in return. However, many people find it hard to love God when they do not understand the reasons for their suffering and God seems so far away. In other words, even if God has a reason for allowing tragedies, He could still comfort victims of suffering so that they know He loves them. Yet there are many victims of tragedies who report not feeling God’s comforting presence. This is not at all what we would expect if T were true. However, if N is true, we would expect victims of tragedies not to experience God’s comforting presence for the simple reason that there is no God. Thus, God’s silence in the face of tragedies is much more probable on N than on T.
Now, ask yourself: if God exists, why is there so much horrific suffering and so little glorious pleasure? Even after thousands of years of theological reflection, theistic philosophers still have no idea. They just assume that there must be a reason for God allowing evil. For example, Alvin Plantinga, one of the most influential theistic philosophers of our time, admitted, “Many of the attempts to explain why God permits evil … seem to me shallow, tepid, and ultimately frivolous.”[17] Naturalists, on the other hand, have a plausible explanation: there is no all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing being to intervene. Therefore, facts about triumph and tragedy are much more likely on N than on T.
Of course, it’s logically possible that God has a reason for allowing tragedies, a reason we humans do not understand. But it’s also logically possible–and no less likely–that God has extra reasons for preventing tragedies, reasons we also do not understand.
15. Ethical Disagreement
The philosophical discipline of ethics is notorious for its controversy. Not only do philosophers disagree over general ethical theory (such as utilitarianism vs. deontological ethics), they also genuinely disagree about the morality of specific acts, like war, abortion, the death penalty, gun control, and sexual behavior.
The problem is not just that people disagree about morality. The problem is also that theists, including Christians, disagree about morality. Now this tends to be very awkward for the Christian. A Christian, at least if he admits there is genuine ethical disagreement, has to believe both that God wants humans to behave morally and that He has left them in the dark about whether specific kinds of behavior are morally acceptable.
On B, however, there is no God, just impersonal nature. And impersonal nature gives us even less reason to expect moral agreement than T does. So ethical disagreement is more probable on N than on T.
16. Moral Progress and the Lack of Moral Prophets
Not only is there ethical disagreement in modern times, but there is ethical disagreement across different time periods throughout human history. To cite just one example: slavery was once widely considered moral, whereas it is now widely considered massively immoral. Ethical relativists will cite this phenomenon as evidence that morality is relative to culture, while moral objectivists interpret this same fact as evidence of moral progress.
If T is true, why aren’t there “moral prophets” in the sense that they clearly perceive objective moral truths which are ahead of their time, such as someone 2,000 years ago declaring that slavery, misogyny, and homophobia are wrong? Why do we instead observe moral progress? For example, why did much of humanity, for most of human history, believe that slavery was morally acceptable? What possible moral justification could God have for allowing people, on such a massive scale, to have mistaken moral beliefs about so many things?
If we make an analogy between God and human parents, believing in T and moral progress is analogous to a human parent letting children believe that it’s okay to, say, hit other people, until the children grow up to become teenagers, at which point the children “discover” that assault is not so morally acceptable after all. Since a good human parent would never do this, why would a good God do this?
In contrast, if N is true, blind nature is indifferent to whether people have correct moral beliefs.[18] Thus, moral progress and the lack of moral prophets is more likely on N than on T.
17. Nonresistant Nonbelievers
There are people who do not believe that God exists.[19] At least some of those people are “nonresistant” nonbelievers—that is, their nonbelief is “not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.”[20] Such nonbelievers are open to having a relationship with God—in fact, they may even desire it—but are unable to have such a relationship.
Given that human beings exist, the fact that some of them are nonresistant nonbelievers is much more probable on the assumption that N is true (and blind nature is indifferent to religious belief) than on the assumption that T is true (and there exists a perfectly loving God who would ensure that a meaningful relationship was always available to those He loves).
18. Former Believers
As Schellenberg points out, such individuals, “from the perspective of theism, were on the right path when they lost belief. If theism is true, indeed, then these individuals already were in relationship with God and the loss of belief has terminated that relationship.” [21]
19. Lifelong Seekers
Schellenberg defines lifelong seekers are ”individuals who don’t start out in what they consider to be a relationship with God and may not even be explicitly searching for God, but who are trying to find out where they belong and, in their wanderings, are open to finding and being found by a Divine Parent–all without ever achieving their goal. These are individuals who seek but do not find.”[22]
20. Converts to Nontheistic Religions
As Schellenberg puts it, there are individuals who investigate other serious conceptions of the Ultimate and who turn up evidence that produces religious belief in the context of nontheistic religious communities and/or on account of nontheistic religious experiences–and the truth of atheistic claims may be seen to follow by implication.[23]
21. Isolated Nontheists
Here is Schellenberg again: “those who have never been in a position to resist God because they have never so much as had the idea of an all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual being who is separate from a created universe but related to it in love squarely before their minds–individuals who are entirely formed by, and unavoidably live their whole lives within, what must, if God exists, be a fundamentally misleading meaning system.”[24]
22. The Geographical Distribution of Theistic Belief
The distribution of theistic belief is uneven around the world. Why does the epistemic or moral defectiveness of non-believers vary dramatically with cultural and national boundaries? For example, why is more than 95% of Saudi Arabia Muslim, while Thailand is 95% Buddhist and only 5% theist? Given the widely held assumption that, generically speaking, epistemic and moral defects are evenly distributed among the world’s peoples, it is hard to see how that question could be answered.[25]
23. The Temporal Distribution of Theistic Belief
Maitzen argues that especially compared to naturalistic explanations, none of the theistic explanations of blameworthy or blameless non-belief accounts for how the global incidence of theistic belief has varied dramatically during the existence of the human species.[26]
24. God’s Silence About His Purpose(s) for Creating Humans
If humankind was created for a purpose by God and had a role to play in carrying out this purpose, then God would want us to have a possibility of achieving our role so that he would have a possibility of achieving His goal. For us to have a possibility of achieving the purpose for which we were created, we would need to understand our role in carrying out this purpose. The purpose for which humanity was created is unclear in the Bible and elsewhere. Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, God has not provided any clarification about his purpose or our role. God would not have chosen to remain silent about our role in carrying out his purpose because, following from the first premise, this would be self-defeating. Therefore, humankind was not given a role to play in carrying out a purpose of God.[27]
This may also be categorized as another, more specific fact about divine hiddenness. Why? Despite the lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life, it is antecedently more probable on T than on N that God not only created humans for a purpose, but that humankind would be given a role to play in carrying out that purpose. For the same reason, the lack of any role for humankind to play in carrying out God’s purposes is evidence favoring N over T.
25. The Distribution, Types, and Effects of Religious Experience
Theists will often appeal to religious experience as evidence favoring over N. But the fact that people have religious experiences hardly exhausts what we know about the distribution, types, and effects of those experiences.[28]
First, not everyone has theistic experiences. Given that some people have religious experiences, the fact that not everyone does have such experiences is more likely on N than on T.
Second, those who do have religious experiences almost always have either a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to theistic religion. The distribution of theistic experiences we find is antecedently more likely given N than given T.
Third, the subjects of religious experiences pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others. Theism gives us reason to expect that worshiping God is a source of moral strength, a source not available to those who do not worship God, and so T gives us some reason to ‘predict’ that theists would live significantly more moral lives than atheists. The fact, if it is a fact, that no one religious path has produced significantly more moral fruit than another would be more likely if all of these experiences are delusory (which follows from N) than if some or all are genuine revelations from God (and T is true).[29]
So once the evidence about religious experience is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that that it favors T over N.

Notes

[1] Indeed, when properly understood, it becomes clear that neither the Leibnizian nor the kalam versions of the cosmological argument are arguments from the existence of the universe. Rather, the former is an argument from the contingency of the universe and the latter is an argument from the beginning of the universe.
[2] This is based on a brief sketch of an AS in Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser, eds., Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 199-200.
[3] I owe this point to Paul Draper.
[4] Paul Draper, “God and Evil: A Philosophical Inquiry,” 19-20.
[5] Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), pp. 219-230; cf. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion (Mayfield, 2001), chapter 6.
[6] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists” Nous 23 (3): 331-350 (1989).
[7] Simon Baron-Cohen, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 16.
[8] Baron-Cohen 2012, 39.
[9] As Baron-Cohen points out, the neurological basis for moral handicaps challenges traditional views about moral responsibility. “If zero degrees of empathy is really a form of neurological disability, to what extent can such an individual who commits a crime be held responsible for what they have done? This gets tangled up with the free will debate, for if zero degrees of empathy leaves an individual to some extent “blind” to the impact of their actions on others’ feelings, then surely they deserve our sympathy rather than punishment.” See Baron-Cohen 2012, 160.
[10] Some theists have pointed out that moral evil, such as fallen angels or demons choosing to do evil, might explain so-called “natural evils.” This argument makes the inverse point: certain natural evils explain at least some moral evil.
[11] Paul Draper, “Darwin’s Argument from Evil” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (ed. Yujin Nagasawa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 49-70 at 61.
[12] Draper 2012.

[13] Draper 2012.
[14] Draper 2013, 73.
[15] Paul Draper, “Evil and Evolution,” unpublished paper. Cf. J.L. Schellenberg, The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 243-69. Cf. Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God” in The Problem of Evil (ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 209-221.
[16] William Rowe, “The Evidential Argument from Evil: A Second Look,” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder, Indiana University Press, 1996), 276.
[17] Alvin Plantinga, “Epistemic Probability and Evil” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), 70.
[18] For the sake of simplicity, I am using “moral beliefs” as a catch-all phrase to include beliefs about both ethical and non-ethical propositions, and so “moral progress” over time  includes correcting past, mistaken beliefs of both types.
[19] This sentence, of course, assumes that at least some (if not most) professions of atheism are genuine. Those familiar with intra-Christian debates on apologetic methodologies will notice that I have just ruled out the claim of some (or all?) presuppositionalists, namely, that there are no atheists and instead there are only professed atheists. I agree with  John Schellenberg: “it would take something like willful blindness to fail to affirm that not all nonbelief is the product of willful blindness (even if some of it is).” See J.L. Schellenberg, “What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof” God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence (http://infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html), 2008.
[20] Schellenberg 2008.
[21] Schellenberg 2007, 229.
[22] Schellenberg 2007, 233.
[23] Schellenberg 2007, 236.
[24] Schellenberg 2007, 238.
[25] Stephen Maitzen, “Divine Hiddenness and the Demographics of Theism” Religious Studies 42 (2006): 177-91.
[26] Maitzen 2006.
[27] Brook Alan Trisel, “God’s Silence as an Epistemological Concern” The Philosophical Forum, 43 (2012): 383–393.
[28] Paul Draper, “God and Perceptual Evidence” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 32 (1992): 149-65.
[29] Paul Draper used this argument in a debate with William Lane Craig on the existence of God, but he now believes that there is insufficient sociological evidence to prove that theists do not live more moral lives than atheists. I have chosen to follow Draper’s lead, so I have presented this point tentatively.

bookmark_borderPaul Draper, the Fallacy of Understated Evidence, Theism, and Naturalism

(Redated post originally published on 23 November 2011)
Paul Draper has usefully identified a fallacy of inductive reasoning he calls the “fallacy of understated evidence.” According to Draper, in the context of arguments for theism and against naturalism, proponents of a theistic argument are guilty of this fallacy if they “successfully identify some general fact F about a topic X that is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism, but ignore other more specific facts about X, facts that, given F, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.”[1]
What makes this so interesting is Draper’s assessment of how various (inductive) theistic arguments commit this fallacy. By reviewing his writings, I’ve compiled the following summary of Draper’s assessment of the evidence, illustrating how Draper believes the fallacy of understated evidence applies in practice to contemporary arguments in the philosophy of religion.

Theistic Argument Name General Fact More Specific Facts
Cosmological Argument Finite Age of the Universe Humans do not occupy a spatially or temporally privileged position in the universe.[2]
Argument from Complexity Complexity of the Universe 1. The universe arose from a much simpler early universe.[3]
2. Micro-level simplicity.[4]
Arguments from Spatial and Temporal Order Intelligibility of the Universe So much of our universe is intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency.[5]
Fine-Tuning Argument Existence of Intelligent Life 1. Our universe is not teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life.[6]
2. The only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe.[7]
3. Intelligent life is the result of evolution.[8]
Argument from Beauty Beauty (Goodness) 1. While the universe is saturated with visual beauty, it is not saturated with auditory, tactile, or other sensory beauty.[9]
2. Pain and pleasure are systematically connected to the biological goal of reproductive success.[10]
3. Our world contains an abundance of tragedy.[11]
Arguments from Free Will and Consciousness Libertarian Free Will & Phenomenal Consciousness 1. Conscious states in general are dependent on the brain.[12]
2. The very integrity of our personalities are dependent on the brain.[13]
3. The apparent unity of the self is dependent on the brain.[14]
Argument from Moral Agency Moral Agency[15] The variety and frequency of conditions that severely limit our freedom.[16]
Religious Experience People have religious experiences apparently of God 1. Many people never have religious experiences. Those who do almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion.[17]
2. The subjects of theistic experiences pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others.[18]
3. Victims of tragedy are rarely comforted by theistic experiences.[19]

Notes
[1] Paul Draper, “Partisanship and Inquiry in the Philosophy of Religion,” unpublished paper. Cf. Paul Draper, “Cumulative Cases,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, Philip L. Quinn, Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (John Wiley and Sons: 2010), 414-24 at 421-22.
[2] To be precise, Draper mentions this fact under the category of “cosmological evidence” and not specifically in reference to temporal versions of the cosmological argument such as the kalam cosmological argument. But the only other evidence he mentions in that same category is evidence for the finite age of the universe, so I think it’s appropriate to list the two items of evidence together. See Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Daniel Howard Snyder and Paul K. Moser, eds., Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 199-200. Cf. my attempt to formulate a Bayesian argument for naturalism based upon the fact that humans do not occupy a privileged position in the universe in “The Argument from Scale Revisited, Part 4.”
[3] Draper 2010, 421.
[4] Draper 2010, 421.
[5] Draper n.d., 13.
[6] Draper 2010.421.
[7] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” The Secular Web (2008), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/no-design.html.
[8] Draper 2002, 201.
[9] Draper 2002, 204.
[10] Draper 2002, 203.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 12; and Draper 2002, 202.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Paul Draper, “Cosmic Fine-Tuning and Terrestrial Suffering: Parallel Problems for Naturalism and Theism.” American Philosophical Quarterly 41:4 (October 2004): 311-21.
[16] Draper 2010, 421.
[17] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 12-13; and Draper 2002, 204-205.
[18] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 13; and Draper 2002, 205.
[19] Draper n.d., 13; Draper 2002, 205.

bookmark_borderWeighing Theistic Evidence Against Naturalistic Evidence

In the next-to-last paragraph of his book, C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, Victor Reppert makes a very interesting statement:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

I think this is a very interesting statement for two reasons. First, Reppert acknowledges that the so-called “problem of evil” — which is probably misnamed (see here) — is an evidential problem for theism. All by itself, that is a significant concession that is all too rare among theistic philosophers. But second (and more important), Reppert claims that naturalism’s ‘problem of reason’ is as big of a problem, if not a bigger problem, for naturalism as the ‘problem of evil’ is for theism. I want to focus on this second feature of interest about Reppert’s statement.
I recently asked, “Why Do So Many People Have a “Winner Takes All” Approach to Evidence about Gods?” Suppose you agree with my conclusion that there can be evidence for false propositions, so there can be evidence for atheism if God exists, and so there can be evidence for theism if God does not exist.
As soon as you admit that possibility, you have to be prepared to confront another possibility. How do you weigh competing items of evidence, especially when we don’t have numerical probability values (or likelihoods or Bayes’ factors) to work with? Here are two versions of this problem.
(1) Weighing Two Individual Items of Evidence
Suppose you have two items of evidence, E1 and E2, and two rival hypotheses, H1 and H2. E1 is evidence favoring H1 over H2, i.e., Pr(E1 | H1)  > Pr(E1 | H2). Let B1 the “Bayes’ factor” for E1 , i.e., the ratio of Pr(E1 | H1)  to Pr(E1 | H2). E2 is evidence favoring H2 over H1, i.e. Pr(E2 | H2) > Pr(E2 | H1). Let B2 be the Bayes’ factor for E2, i.e., the ratio of Pr(E2 | H1) to Pr(E2 | H2). If E1 is stronger evidence for H1 than E2 is evidence for H2, then B1 > 1/B2. Likewise, if E2 is stronger evidence for H2 than E1 is evidence for H1, then 1/B2 > B1. But how do you show that?
In some cases, it may be possible to show this is true by definition. For example, in my F-inductive argument from consciousness, I argue that Pr(consciousness | theism) =1 because theism entails the existence of consciousness. Now compare that result to a very weak argument against theism, the argument from scale. I have argued before that, as an argument against mere theism, the evidence of scale provides very weak evidence favoring naturalism over theism. So it seems obvious that if Pr(consciousness | theism) = 1, then consciousness is much stronger evidence for theism than scale is against it.
Or consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution. The key insight to understanding that argument is this. It is really an argument against special creationism, combined with a rigorous argument that special creationism is a viable auxiliary hypothesis to theism. In other words, theism provides a significant antecedent reason to expect that special creationism is true conditional upon the assumption that theism is true, where “antecedent” emphasizes the idea that we are abstracting away all of our evidence from biology. Draper’s evidential argument from biological evolution argues that Pr(special creationism | naturalism) = 0, whereas Pr(special creationism | theism) >= 1/2. Now suppose you have some extremely weak argument for theism, such as the argument from beauty. I don’t think beauty provides any evidence for theism, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend that it does. In that case, it would be obvious that the falsity of creationism is much stronger evidence against theism than beauty is evidence for it.
Not all comparisons of evidence will involve cases where at least one hypothesis entails neither the evidence to be explained nor the denial of the evidence to be explained. In those cases, it seems to me it will be more difficult, possibly impossible, to justify an objective comparison of evidential strength. (Whether it is impossible or merely difficult will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.)
(2) Weighing Cumulative Cases Against One Another
Suppose now you have two “real” cumulative cases done the right way. In favor of H1, you have items of evidence E1 through E5. In favor of H2, you have items of evidence E6-E10. For example, let H1 be theism and H2 be naturalism. Then let our items of evidence be:
E1: the contingency of the universe
E2: the beginning of the universe
E3: the life-permitting conditions of the universe
E4: consciousness
E5: intentionality
E6: the hostility of the universe to life
E7: biological role of pain and pleasure
E8: falsity of special creationism
E9: mind-brain dependence
E10: psychopathy
You believe that E1-E5 are individually and collectively evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Likewise, you believe that E6-E10 are individually and collectively evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
As before, we’ll use “B” to represent the Bayes’ factor. Let B1-5 represent the ratio of Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |T) to Pr(E1 & E2 & E3 & E4 & E5 |N). Let B6-10 represent the ratio of Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | T) to Pr(E6 & E7 & E8 & E9 & E10 | N).
How in the world are you supposed to show that B1-5 > 1/B6-10?
(3) Is Naturalism’s ‘Problem of Reason’ as Big or Bigger than Theism’s ‘Problem of Evil’?
Let us now return to Reppert’s statement I quoted at the beginning of this post:

However, I contend that the arguments from reason do provide some substantial reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. The “problem of reason” is a huge problem for reason, as serious or, I would say, more serious, than the problem of evil is for theists. (emphasis mine)

Reppert does not attempt to defend this claim in his book, but in fairness we should note the argument from reason is a neglected topic in the philosophy of religion. It seems reasonable to devote an entire book just to (re-?)introducing the argument and defending it. But it would be a major accomplishment in the philosophy of religion, I think, if Reppert were able to successfully defend this claim. Perhaps he can devote his considerable philosophical talents to this task in a future book.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 4: Chapter 5

Chapter 5. The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?

 
In this chapter, G&T defend a design argument focused on the first life. They also present a variety of objections to scientism and materialism.
I will provide a very brief summary of their points, before providing my critique.
(i) Argument to Design of the First Life: G&T argue that the origin of the first life is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. They emphasize the following points:  (1) all life, including the first life, contains specified complexity; (2) only an intelligent cause could generate the specified complexity required for the first life; (3) objections to naturalistic explanations for the origin of life; and (4) the impossibility of life arising from nonlife by chance alone.
(ii) Some Critical Comments:
(a) Straw Men: This chapter is an instance of a familiar feature of anti-atheism apologetics: caricaturing the actual beliefs and arguments of atheists to make them look as stupid as possible.Consider, for example, G&T’s portrayal of evolution: “This, of course, is the theory of macroevolution: from the infantile, to the reptile, to the Gentile; or from the goo to you via the zoo” (###). This strategy is pretty much beneath contempt.
(b) Naturalistic Explanations of the Origin of Life: Another problem with this chapter is the extremely biased presentation of alternative theories. G&T consider two naturalistic explanations: spontaneous generation and panspermia. But G&T provide no reason to believe that these two explanations are representative of naturalistic explanations in general. Furthermore, one of these explanations, spontaneous generation, is probably rejected by every scientist working on the origin of life.[1]
(c) The Origin of Life and the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy: Why would anyone believe that the origin of life has a naturalistic explanation? According to G&T, there is only one reason: such a person must rule out even the possibility of an intelligent cause. This is why they make statements like: “their preconceived ideology–naturalism–prevents them from even considering an intelligent cause” (119).
While such statements are red meat for G&T’s partisans in the intelligent design community, G&T commit what philosophers Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti have dubbed the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy: the fallacy of dismissing objections to theistic arguments on the basis of the myth that these objections presuppose a naturalistic ideology, viz., the supernatural does not exist.[2] G&T falsely assume that only naturalists believe that life has a natural origin because G&T rule out even the possibility of an empirical case for a natural origin, a case which might impress both naturalists and theists.  This case is based largely on the fact that naturalistic explanations have a much better track record than supernatural ones. Prior to scientific investigation of the origin of life, this fact makes it very likely that the cause of life is natural, not supernatural.  Furthermore, this is true even on the assumption that God exists. So naturalists are not the only ones who are justified in predicting that the origin of life is natural, not supernatural. Supernaturalists, including theists, are also justified in making this prediction.
Indeed, as Paul Draper explains, theists presumed

… that natural events have natural causes existed long before the rise of modern science. Indeed, even in the Bible, explanations appealing to God, even if they are not the last resort, are often not the first (e.g., 1 Samuel 3).
Because it is unlikely that the authors of the Bible are guilty of some anti-religious metaphysical bias or that they believe that a faithful or generous God would never act directly in the world, what is the source of this pre-scientific presumption in favor of naturalistic explanations? No doubt it is a simple induction from past experiences. In very many cases, a little investigation reveals natural causes for natural events, even unusual ones. Thus, it follows inductively that, prior to investigation, the probability that the immediate cause of any given natural event is itself natural is high. We did not need science to teach us this.[3]

Furthermore, as Draper points out, science has greatly strengthened this presumption of naturalism.

In many cases in which no naturalistic explanation seemed particularly promising, sufficient effort in searching for one turned out to bear fruit. This is presumably why even William Dembski (1994, 132), a leading critic of methodological naturalism, claims that one should appeal to the supernatural only when one has good reason to believe that what he calls one’s “empirical resources” are exhausted. Thus, although Dembski attacks the view that naturalistic explanations are better than non-naturalistic ones, he does not deny that, prior to investigation or even after considerable investigation, they remain more likely to be true. On this point almost everyone will agree. For example, what philosopher or scientist, no matter how deeply religious, believed or even took seriously the sincere claim of some members of the Cuban community in Miami that God miraculously prevented Elian Gonzalez from getting a sunburn while at sea (rather than that his fellow survivors lied when they claimed he had been in the water for three days after his boat sank)? It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, almost all natural events have other natural events as their immediate causes.[4]

This strong presumption of naturalism does not, however, justify an absolute exclusion of supernatural causes from scientific explanations. As Draper explains, it justifies a modest methodological naturalism.

A strong presumption of naturalism based on everyday experience and the success of naturalistic science justifies a modest methodological naturalism: the reason scientists should not look for supernatural causes is that natural causes are much more likely to be found. A methodological naturalism justified in this way is “modest” because it implies that scientists should look first for naturalistic explanations, and (depending on how strong the presumption of naturalism is) maybe second, third, and fourth, too, but it does not absolutely rule out appeals to the supernatural. … We can state this more modest methodological naturalism as follows: scientific explanations may appeal to the supernatural only as a last resort. Both Meyer (1994, 97) and Dembski (1994, 132), two leading opponents of methodological naturalism understood as an absolute prohibition, seem to agree with this principle, which does not depend on any metaphysical or anti-religious bias.
It should be emphasized, however, that even this modest form of methodological naturalism does not sanction god-of-the-gaps theology. It does not imply that an appeal to the supernatural is justified simply because scientists fail after much effort to find a naturalistic explanation for some phenomena. Very strong reasons to believe there is no hidden naturalistic explanation would be required as well. In other words, the search for natural causes should continue until the best explanation of the failure to find one is that there is none.[5]

The upshot is that the past success of naturalistic explanations justifies the prediction, made by both theists and naturalists alike, that the origin of life has a natural cause.
(d) The Origin of Life and the Poverty of Theistic Explanation: G&T’s entire chapter presupposes that intelligent design (ID) is not just an explanation for the origin of life, but the best explanation. But ID cannot be the best explanation if it is not even an explanation. So why should anyone think that intelligent design explains the origin of life?
Contrary to what some atheists have argued, the problem is not that it is impossible for theism to be an explanation of anything; I believe it is possible for a theistic explanation to be a scientific explanation. (In other words, I’m not offering an “in principle” objection to theistic explanation.) Rather, the problem is that ‘the’ theistic ‘explanation’ for the origin of life isn’t well defined.  I have read a decent amount of the latest ID literature, including Stephen Meyer’s book-length treatment of the origin of life (see here and here),[6] and I still haven’t found a well-defined statement of the (theistic) ID explanation.  Allow me to explain.
A personal explanation explains one or more observations by positing a person with certain goals who uses a mechanism to achieve those goals; a theistic explanation just is a personal explanation where the person is God.[7] In order to have a theistic explanation for the origin of life, it follows that we need to know (1) why God designed life (“God’s goals”); and (2) how He did it (“God’s mechanisms”). If we don’t have both of those things, then we don’t have a theistic explanation.
So what, then, is the theistic explanation offered by G&T for the origin of life? All they provide are vague references to an “intelligent cause.” But in order to explain the origin of life, it’s not enough to posit the existence of an intelligent designer (God).  G&T must also describe God’s goals and mechanisms. Here their argument absolutely breaks down because they say nothing about God’s goals or mechanisms for designing the first life.
It gets worse. The problem is not just that their “explanation”—if we can even call it that—is poorly defined or incomplete. The implied mechanism is mysterious. To paraphrase Gregory Dawes,

A theistic [intelligent design] explanation, in order to be an explanation, presupposes a mechanism—the action of a spiritual being within the material world—that is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar. Not only does this mechanism lack analogy; it is also wholly mysterious.[8]

Mystification is the opposite of explanation.
But if G&T’s intelligent design “explanation” is incomplete in this way, it is not (yet) an explanation. And therefore it cannot—yet—be be the best explanation. Indeed, to simplify matters, suppose we were offered only the following two choices:

(1) Biological information in the first life is the result of an unknown, naturalistic (undirected) mechanism.

(2) Biological information in the first life is the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism used for an unknown purpose.

It’s far from obvious that (2) is a better explanation than (1). Perhaps G&T might reply that (2) is a better explanation of (1) in light of our background knowledge that the creation of messages (i.e., ‘complex specified information’) requires an intelligent being. But that reply understates the evidence, viz., the relevant background knowledge. All non-question-begging examples of conscious activity are dependent upon a physical brain, which is itself dependent upon matter. So a better description of the relevant background knowledge seems to be, “the creation of messages (i.e., ‘complex specified information’) requires matter.” This shows that once the background knowledge about the creation of new information is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors a theistic explanation over a naturalistic explanation.
Furthermore, G&T, like other ID theorists, neglect the track record of theistic explanations. But we need to compare the track record of supernatural explanations to that of purely naturalistic explanations. Here is Dawes:

Not only are they in competition, but a comparison of their track records will count against theism. For the naturalistic research programme of the modern sciences has been stunningly successful since its inception in the seventeenth century. Again and again, it has shown that postulating the existence of a deity is not required in order to explain the phenomena. Sir Isaac Newton (1642—1727) still required God to fine-tune the mechanics of his solar system, but by the time of Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749—1827), the astronomer notoriously had no need of that hypothesis. Until 1859, it seemed that the diversity of living organisms could not be accounted for without reference to God, but Charles Darwin offered us a more successful, natural alternative. … From a Bayesian point of view, you might argue that the past failure of the tradition of theistic explanation lowers the prior probability of any proposed theistic hypothesis.[9]

So, again, even if we grant Meyer the crucial premise that “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity,” it’s not clear that that fact offsets the other facts, listed above, which count against conscious activity as the cause of biological information.
(iii) Objections to Scientism: In a debate with William Lane Craig, Peter Atkins claimed that “science can account for everything.” G&T summarize Craig’s response to Atkins, which is that science cannot prove the following five rational beliefs: (a) mathematics and logic; (b) metaphysical truths; (c) ethical judgments; (d) aesthetic judgments; and (e) science itself. G&T then add, “Atkins’s claim that science can account for everything is not false only because of the five counterexamples Craig noted; it is also false because it is self-defeating” (##). Craig, Geisler, and Turek are correct. Atkins’s scientism is not only false, but also self-defeating.
(iv) Arguments against Materialism: They emphasize the following objections to materialism:  (a) it’s unable to explain specified complexity in life; (b) human thoughts are not comprised only of materials; (c) scientists are unable to create life using all the materials of life; (d) spiritual experiences; and (e) arguments from reason.
Regarding (a) (specified complexity), we’ve already addressed that.
Regarding (b) (human thought), this argument–assertion might be a better word, since it is not much of an argument as it stands–simply begs the question against the materialist.  The refutation of this argument is similar to one of the earlier refutations of their design argument. G&T can conclude that human thought is not comprised only of materials only by assuming that materialism is false. But G&T also claim that the fact that human thoughts are not completely materially based is supposed to lead to the conclusion that materialism is false. So the presupposition that materialism is false is both an assumption and a conclusion of this argument.
Regarding (c) (creation of life in a lab), G&T argue that our inability to create life is evidence against theism. This argument does nothing to refute the previous objections of this chapter. Again, the past success of naturalistic explanations justifies the prediction that the origin of life has a natural cause, consisting solely of pre-existing material ingredients.
Regarding (d) (spiritual experiences), there is a difference between “spiritual experiences” of something and “theistic experiences” (of God). Philosopher Paul Draper has identified four factors which affect how much direct evidence is provided by experiences, and applied these factors to theistic experiences.[10] These factors and their applicability to theistic experiences are summarized in the table below.

Factor Applicability to Theistic Experiences
Specificity Basic claims about theistic experiences are highly specific.
Significance Basic claims about theistic experiences are highly significant.
Nature of (Allegedly) Experienced Object God is an extraordinary object.
Mode of Perception Theistic experiences are nonsensory. Basic claims about theistic experiences are “claims to perceive something by means of an extraordinary mode of perception.”[11]

Table 1

Taken together, these four factors show that, accordingly, claims about theistic experiences “should be treated with initial skepticism rather than initial credulity” or trust.[12] To be more precise, Draper concludes that while theistic experiences “confer some prima facie probability on” claims about such experiences, they are not “strong direct evidence for such claims – that they make such claims prima facie more probable than not.”[13]
While spiritual experiences are some evidence for theism, G&T once again understate the evidence. The fact that people throughout history have had such experiences hardly exhausts what we know about such experiences, however. Draper identifies three additional facts about the distribution of religious experience.
First, we also know that many people never have religious experiences and those who do almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion. To paraphrase Draper, “it seems rather one-sided to argue that spiritual experiences are evidence for theism and not consider whether the fact that many people never have a theistic experience is evidence against theism.”[14]
Second, we also know that the subjects of spiritual experiences pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others.  As Draper notes, this is “much more likely if these experiences are all delusory than if some or all are veridical and so is much more likely on naturalism than on theism.“[15]
Third, we also know that many victims of tragedy do not seem to be comforted by spiritual experiences.[16] Again, paraphrasing Draper, “While this fact is compatible with theism—it’s logically possible that God exists and has some unknown reason for allowing us to suffer alone—it is still much more probable on naturalism than on theism.“[17]
Once the evidence about spiritual experiences is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors theism over materialism.
Regarding (e) (arguments from reason), G&T actually present three related but separate arguments. The first is a version of the so-called “argument from reason.” The second is an argument that reason cannot be justified if materialism is true. The third is an argument against the evolution of consciousness.
Regarding the first argument, I think G&T are being incredibly uncharitable to materialists. Let me quote their argument in its entirety.

Finally, if materialism is true, then reason itself is impossible. If mental processes are nothing but chemical reactions in the brain, then there is no reason to believe that anything is true (including the theory of materialism). Chemicals can’t evaluate whether or not a theory is true. Chemicals don’t reason, they react. (129)

The word “chemicals” conjures up the image of a scientist wearing a white lab coat pouring liquids from one beaker to another. No one, not even eliminative materialists, believes that such simple, inorganic chemicals have the ability to reason. G&T are either attacking a straw man of their own creation (by equating materialism with the belief that minds are nothing but simple, inorganic chemicals) or committing the logical fallacy of composition (by assuming that what is true of the individual chemical elements of the brain must also be true of the brain as a whole). Materialists do not believe that “mindless matter” has the ability to reason; rather, materialists believe that we might call “mindful matter”—i.e., minds that are nothing but matter configured into physical brains—has the ability to reason. Simple slogans about “chemical reactions” do nothing to refute that. They especially don’t establish the ‘impossibility’ of “reason itself.”
The second argument, which I take to be very similar to the transcendental argument for God’s existence, is equally fallacious. They write:

As J. Budziszwewski [sic] points out, “The motto ‘Reason Alone!’ is nonsense anyway. Reason itself presupposes faith. Why? Because a defense of reason by reason is circular, therefore worthless. Our only guarantee that human reason works is God who made it.” (130)

Budziszewski is correct that “a defense of reason by reason is circular,” but it hardly follows from that fact that “our only guarantee that human reason works is God who made it.” If we’re allowed to start outside of what can be justified by reason alone (and instead go with presuppositions), then it’s far from obvious why the belief, “reason is justified,” is any less worthy of being presupposed than, say, the belief “God exists.”[18]
In their explanation of Budziszewski’s argument, G&T present what I interpret as a third, unrelated argument. According to this argument, the fact that we are intelligent is much more probable on theism (and our intelligence arose from preexisting intelligence) than on naturalism (and our intelligence arose arose from mindless matter). They support this claim with two supporting arguments. According to the first supporting argument, the emergence of intelligence is surprising on naturalism because

… it contradicts all scientific observation, which demonstrates that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. You can’t give what you haven’t got, yet materialists believe that dead, unintelligent matter has produced intelligent life. This is like believing that the Library of Congress resulted from an explosion in a printing shop! (130)

It is, of course, beyond reasonable doubt that the Library of Congress cannot result from an explosion in a printing shop. But this example is not of obvious relevance to materialism, which gives us no reason to expect that intelligent life has such a sudden, abrupt origin. In fact, a moment’s reflection reveals that this sort of explosive start for intelligent life is virtually impossible if materialism is true. Given that intelligent life exists, the gradual emergence of intelligent life is antecedently likely on materialism, for two reasons. First, there are no plausible materialist alternatives to evolution, which entails that complex living things are the gradually modified descendants of less complex living things. Second, materialism gives us strong antecedent reason to believe that intelligence plays the same sort of biological role as other organic systems and so has the same evolutionary origin as these other systems, an origin which rules out the abrupt appearance of intelligence.
Another worry I have about this argument is that it cuts both ways. If “you can’t give what you haven’t got,” then that means also means that God cannot give what He hasn’t got, namely, physical matter. God is, by definition, an immaterial being. Theism asks us to believe that an immaterial being can somehow interact with matter to make it intelligent. It’s far from obvious that “the immaterial can interact with the material” is any more plausible than “intelligence can come from nonintelligence.”
According to the second supporting argument, the emergence of intelligence is probable on theism because our minds are “made in the image of the Great Mind—God” (130). But this argument is multiply flawed. First, appealing to the doctrine that humans are made in the image of God is ad hoc. At this point in the book, G&T are arguing for what we might call ‘mere’ theism, not Christian theism. It’s far from obvious that the content of ‘mere’ theism would lead one to expect that God would create human minds in His image. At the very least, this much is clear: G&T give us no reason to think that it does.
Second, this argument also understates the evidence. Let’s assume that the existence of intelligent beings (qua conscious beings) is evidence favoring theism over naturalism. The fact that such intelligent beings exist hardly exhausts everything we know about conscious beings. Given that there are intelligent beings, the fact that there are no known (physical) creatures much more intelligent than humans favors naturalism over theism. Paul Draper explains.

… I am not denying that human beings are impressive in many ways. But examined from the perspective of what is possible for an omnipotent being, we are, in terms of intelligence, a hair’s breadth away from monkeys. Again, one would expect this on … [materialism] because the more intelligent the life, the less likely it is that naturalistic processes would produce it. Of course, if one believes in God and, looking around, finds nothing more impressive than human beings, one will be forced to conclude that God wanted to make beings with very limited intelligence. But surely one would not have predicted this beforehand. There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. Antecedently, a God would be more likely to create these more impressive creatures than to create us.[19]

Moreover, we also know that conscious states are highly dependent upon a (physical) brain. While this fact is logically compatible with the existence of an immaterial “soul,” given that intelligent creatures exist, this fact is more probable on naturalism than on theism. [20] So, again, once the evidence is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors theism over naturalism.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] “Spontaneous generation” is the hypothesis that at least some organisms (such as fleas or maggots) originated suddenly and directly from inanimate matter (such as dust). Spontaneous generation was experimentally discredited long ago; I am not aware of any scientist specializing in origin of life studies who is a proponent of spontaneous generation. In contrast, “chemical evolution” is the hypothesis that the first self-replicating genetic molecules originated by a series of chemical processes involving organic compounds.
[2] Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti 2013, 15.
[3] Paul Draper, “God, Science, and Naturalism” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William J. Wainwright, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 296.
[4] Draper 2005, 296.
[5] Draper 2005, 297. I have added the italics to the last sentence.
[6] Stephen L. Meyer, The Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009).
[7] Gregory Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009), 9, 108.
[8] Dawes 2009, 128.
[9] Dawes 2009, 130-32. Italics are mine.
[10] Paul Draper, “God and Perceptual Evidence,” Philosophy of Religion 32 (1992): 149-65.
[11] Draper 1992, 159.
[12] Draper 1992, 159.
[13] Draper 1992, 160.
[14] Draper 1992, 161.
[15] Draper 2002, 204-205.
[16] Paul Draper, “Cumulative Cases,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, Philip L. Quinn, Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (John Wiley and Sons: 2010), 414-24 at 421; Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (ed. Daniel Howard Snyder and Paul K. Moser, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 204-205.
[17] Draper 2002, 204-205.
[18] D. Gene Witmer, “Atheism, Reason, and Morality: Responding to Some Popular Christian Apologetics,” talk given to the Atheist, Agnostic, and Freethinker Student Association, University of Florida, September 26, 2006.
[19] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” in God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence, The Secular Web (2008), http://infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/no-design.html.
[20] Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions Of a Practicing Agnostic,” Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 197-214 at 202-203.

bookmark_borderIndex: The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds (APM)

The purpose of this page is to provide an index for my blog series on the evidential argument against theism based on the dependence of human minds upon physical brains.

See also:

bookmark_borderLowder-Vandergriff Debate on God’s Existence Now Out!


I’m pleased to announce that my debate on God’s existence with Mr. Kevin Vandergriff is now out! Here are the options for accessing the debate.

Topic and Format
The topic and format for our debate was as follows.
Topic: Naturalism vs. Christian Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point?
Format: 
Mr. Lowder’s Opening Statement: 20 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Opening Statement: 20 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s First Rebuttal: 15 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s First Rebuttal: 15 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s Second Rebuttal: 10 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Second Rebuttal: 10 minutes
Mr. Lowder’s Closing Statement: 5 minutes
Mr. Vandergriff’s Closing Statement: 5 minutes
This debate was not a live debate but was instead recorded over a series of many weeks. Once I recorded my initial opening statement, each speech was due within a week of the previous one being available to the other debater. Once all of the speeches were complete, the crew at Reasonable Doubts merged all of the files together into a single file for the podcast. As an added bonus, both Vandergriff and I provided PowerPoint slides for each and every speech, which should make it that much easier to follow the debate.
Summary of Mr. Lowder’s Case for Naturalism:
First Contention. Naturalism is a much simpler explanation than Christian theism (where simplicity is defined in terms of modesty and coherence).
Second Contention. Naturalism is a more accurate explanation than Christian theism.
2.1. Physical Matter
2.2. Intelligibility of Universe without Appeal to Supernatural Agency
2.3. Cosmic Hostility
2.4. Biological Evolution
2.5. Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure
2.6. Flourishing and Languishing
2.7. Triumph and Tragedy
2.8. Mind-Brain Dependence
2.9. Types and Distribution of Moral Agents
2.10. Limitations on Human Freedom
2.11. Nonresistant Nonbelief
2.12. Ethical Disagreement
Note: some of these lines of evidence were not mentioned until after Mr. Lowder’s opening statement, specifically, 2.2, 2.9, 2.10, 2.12, and 2.14.
Summary of Mr. Vandergriff’s Case for Christian Theism:
First Contention: Naturalism is not significantly more simple than Christian theism.
Second Contention: Even if naturalism is significantly more simple than Christian theism, it doesn’t matter because God exists necessarily.
2.1. Origin of the Universe
2.2. Why There is Something Physical Rather than Nothing
Third Contention: Christian theism is a more accurate explanation than naturalism.
3.1. Discoverability of the Universe
3.2. Applicability of Mathematics
3.3. Evolution
3.4. Formational Economy of the Universe
3.5. Self-Aware Beings
3.6. Embodied Moral Agents plus Fine-Tuning
3.7. The Connection between Moral Beliefs and Necessary Moral Truths
3.8. The Connection between Necessary Moral Truths and Flourishing
3.9. Worthwhileness of Life
3.10. Resurrection of Jesus
Note: some of these lines of evidence were not mentioned until after Mr. Vandergriff’s opening statement, specifically, 3.3 and 3.4.
Related Topics Discussed in This Debate
1. The differences between metaphysical naturalism and the “hypothesis of indifference”
2. The Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument
3. Neo-Aristotelian Ethical Naturalism, namely, Larry Arnhart’s version as defended in his book, Darwinian Natural Right
4. The Bayesian Interpretation of “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” (ECREE) and the Bayesian Anti-Resurrection Argument
5. Physical cosmology, including the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) Theorem and quantum indeterminacy
6. God’s relationship with time
7. Animal pain
Major Selling Points and Drawbacks for this Debate
I think this debate is fairly unusual, if not unique, for theism and atheism debates for a number of reasons.
Selling Points

  • I think both debaters were pretty evenly matched in terms of speaking ability or, at the very least, the delayed audio format gives that appearance. (That is, in fact, a major point of the delayed audio format.)
  • Both debaters treated their opponents with respect. Anyone who was watched or listened to a number of these debates knows that this does not always happen, which is unfortunate.
  • Both debaters approach the question, “Does God exist?”, as an empirical question. This means that, for the most part (but not entirely), they avoided a priori, deductive arguments and instead gave evidential arguments. (Thomistic scholars like Ed Feser and other critics of “theistic personalism” won’t be happy.) Furthermore, they both adopt a Bayesian approach to evidence.
  • The naturalist debater actually attempted to present a positive case for metaphysical naturalism. Mr. Lowder provided nine (9) lines of evidence for naturalism in his opening statement, and five additional lines of (understated) evidence in later speeches.
  • As mentioned above, the theist debater actually attempted to provide theistic explanations for (alleged) naturalistic facts, rather than appeal to so-called “skeptical theism.” In other words, the theist actually attempted to defend a theodicy.
  • In fact, for the most part, I think both sides defended their position using arguments and objections which are representative of the best scholarship on both sides. I think both debaters avoided the typical blunders we see from both sides in these debates. (Mr. Lowder in particular is proud of the fact that he pretty much ignored every piece of the horrible debating advice offered by the late Victor Stenger.) For example, both debaters avoided making positive arguments which many, if not most, philosophers of religion would say have been discredited: the naturalist debater did not use the Lack of Evidence Argument (LEA) for atheism and the theist debater didn’t defend an ontological version of the moral argument (which claims that God is required as the ontological foundation for moral values and duties). Along the same lines, both debaters avoided using some more of the dubious objections to their opponent’s arguments: the naturalist debater didn’t respond to alleged cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ by appealing to the multiverse hypothesis and did not respond to the Resurrection argument using simplistic arguments for Jesus mythicism. The theist debater did not respond to the argument from biological evolution by denying the fact of common ancestry and he did not respond to various arguments from evil by appealing to so-called “skeptical theism.”[1]

Drawbacks
On the other hand, I think this debate has one, maybe two, major drawbacks.
First, Vandergriff and I discuss a large number of arguments. If you didn’t like the number of arguments in my opening statement for my debate with Phil Fernandes, then you’re probably going to be very unhappy with the number of arguments in this debate. (I think the grand total by the end of the debater was somewhere around 23-25.) I don’t think this ever would have worked in a live debate but, given the unique “audio swap” format, we mutually decided beforehand to debate more, rather than less, arguments on each side. I hope that the PowerPoint slides will make the debate comprehensible.
Second, both debaters spoke faster towards the end of the debate and our speaking rates probably pushed the limits of what is reasonable. For people who listen only to the audio (as opposed to watching the YouTube version), this will make it hard to follow.
Vandergriff Did Not Cheat
Several people on the web noticed that Vandergriff used audio editing software to artificially speed up his speaking rate and to edit out the natural pauses in at least some of his speeches, in order to cram more content into his speeches. Based on that, they have accused Vandergriff of cheating.
I can see why listeners might reach that conclusion, but Vandergriff did not cheat and I want those accusations to stop.  Not only did he not cheat, but  I fully believe that Vandergriff neither had any intention to cheat nor did he believe at any point that he was doing so. Why? The rules for the debate did not impose a limit on the words per minute (WPM) ratio for each speech. They definitely did not prohibit the use of audio editing software. I have no doubt that Vandergriff chose to speaker at a higher WPM ratio because of his collegiate debate background, where it absolutely the norm for debaters to exceed 300 WPM in their speeches. (This convention is the primary reason I decided against participating in undergraduate debate, despite my university debate team’s attempt to recruit me.)
The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a huge disconnect between the way competitive debaters do debates and the way the general public thinks about debates. I believe that speaking faster than 190 WPM is a huge turn off for the general public, whether for a podcast or in a live debate. Even if Vandergriff had not edited the audio file and instead chose to speak (naturally) as fast as possible, I predict that many listeners still would have complained about the fast delivery. I can see how the use of audio editing software might lead people to think Kevin had cheated, but that conclusion is mistaken. He did not.
Operating from a collegiate debate perspective, Vandergriff opted to increase his WPM ratio as needed in order to address every single in the point in every single speech. Some people call that the “Gish Gallop” approach but, as anyone with high school or college debating experience can confirm, that’s the way they do it in that style of debating.
In contrast, my approach was to speak at a more comfortable pace (< 190 WPM). Of course, that meant I could not include as much content into my speeches as Vandergriff included in his. Instead of simply “dropping” arguments, however, my strategy was to “group” various arguments together in a way so that one objection could apply to many of his arguments at the same time. If our debate were judged by collegiate debate judges using collegiate rules, it’s quite possible they may have voted for Vandergriff as the winner. Since this wasn’t a collegiate debate, however, and since I did respond to all of his points at least indirectly (through grouping), I don’t care how a collegiate debate judge might vote. My courtroom was the court of public opinion and my intended “judge” was the judgment of the general public.
The real risk is that, once transcripts of the debate are made available, they may give Vandergriff an unfair advantage insofar as it will be much easier for readers to understand a written transcript of his speed talking than it is for listeners to understand an audio recording of his speed talking. I think that we can manage risk that by putting some sort of note at the beginning of the transcript which explicitly addresses the WPM issue.
Lessons Learned
In my opinion, this debate is a “lesson learned” for all parties involved. If I could go back in time, I would have proposed the following:
(1) No cap on the number of arguments because I think the only way to truly test both worldviews in a debate is to actually debate this large number of arguments.
(2) A modified time limit structure, such as 25 minute openings, 20 minute first and second rebuttals, and 15 minute closings. These longer speeches would provide both debaters more time to address the points raised by their opponents.
(3) A strict cap on the maximum allowed WPM, which I would probably set at 190.
(4) The use of audio editing software to manipulate WPM would be allowed, but rendered irrelevant by rules 2 and 3.
Vandergriff and I have already talked about the possibility of having a re-match in the future using the above proposal or something similar. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we both hope this re-match happens. For my part, I greatly appreciate his informed, thoughtful, and novel approach and think it deserves a fair hearing by everyone interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of these topics.
We’d love to know your reaction to this debate; please feel free to leave your reviews of the debate and/or debate the arguments yourself in the combox!
 
Notes
[1] I recognize that several of the claims in this paragraph will be controversial. For example, some theists deny the truth of common ancestry. Even more important, in my opinion, is the fact some theistic philosophers believe that God is required as the ontological foundation for morality and that skeptical theism is a good response to arguments from evil. I obviously disagree, but I’m not going to attempt to defend my perspective in this blog post.