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_border25 Lines of Evidence Against Theism

Refutation of Anna Marie Perez

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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_borderHere’s One Way to Resist Naturalistic Arguments: Lack Belief that Matter Exists!

A Christian apologist writing under the pseudonym ‘InvestigativeApologetics’ stated the usual objection to atheism, namely, that it’s impossible to prove or give evidence for the non-existence of God.

The fact is that atheists who yell that “there is no evidence for God (or Christianity)” are protesting too much, so to speak, and they are, in fact, projecting the weakness of atheism onto theism. For truth be told, it is atheism, at least when in its wide and positive sense, that is the view for which there is no evidence or argumentation that could establish its position. (LINK)

I responded as follows:

Yawn. InvestigativeApologetics seems completely oblivious about the ways to establish the truth of atheism. 

LINKS: herehere

InvestigativeApologetics then doubled down on his original claim, but with a very novel justification.

Yawn all you like. I am intimately familiar both with those two links and with the various Evidential Arguments that you present at the Secular Outpost. In fact, funny enough, it was your arguments that inspired me to look into this matter and come to the conclusion that I did concerning the un-evidenced nature of atheism (when viewed broadly and positively).

Now, obviously, I cannot show this conclusion in this particular comment (although further comments may follow) and I am simultaneously–at this point in my life–beyond caring whether people are swayed by my points or not (for convincing a flesh-and-blood person is not the same as having a convincing argument). However, let me just make a few quick points:

1) First, I am not saying that we must prove that a god does not exist with certainty in order to be rational to believe that a god(s) does not exist. Rather, I am saying that the atheist cannot even show that it is more probable than not that a god does not exist…at least not without begging the question in a substantial number of ways that the theist or skeptic need not grant.

2) For example, consider all the evidential arguments that you present on the Secular Outpost in light of the Likelihood Principle (that a data/observation counts as evidence for Hypothesis 1 over Hypothesis 2 if the data/observation is more likely or expected on Hypothesis 1 than on Hypothesis 2):

a
The Evidential Argument from Scale (AS) – Given the kind of being described in my first comment, no specific scale of the universe would count as evidence against its existence, and all “scale types” would be equally expected on both naturalism and that form of theism. Thus, no evidential support for naturalism (and I know that you don’t fully or strongly endorse the argument from scale, but I wished to present it anyway). 

b. The Evidential Argument from the History of Science (AHS) – This argument was ripped apart in a past discussion that I remember (with Crude and CL and others, I believe…I’m sure you will disagree, but that is not surprising given that philosophy is a discipline of disagreement), and it has (at my last count) at least 10 flaws, but its worst flaw is that it assumes both that there is such a thing as “matter” and that there is such a thing as a “naturalistic” cause (or explanation), but neither of these need be accepted by the theist or skeptic, either of whom could be an immaterialist (or a-matterist) and/or an occasionalist (where God is the only true cause). So your argument rests on an assumption that need not be conceded, and hence, the argument is flawed from the start. It is also circular given that you need to deal with the objection from the occasionalist, but to do that, you cannot assume a natural cause, which is what the occasionalist denies; you would either have to disprove occasionalism or disprove the existence of any god through other means, but this, in turn, makes your argument redundant. So the argument is either redundant or begs the question. Not a good state for an argument to be in. Furthermore, even if the existence of “naturalistic” explanations was conceded, it would still be the case that if a deist non-interventionist god existed, we would expect all explanations to be naturalistic even on this type of deism, and so again, there is no evidential value in favor of naturalism or deism with this argument as naturalistic explanations would be equally likely on both worldviews.

1. InvestigativeApologetics’ comments about the AHS are confused. Theism,’ as I have defined it, is the ‘core‘ explanatory hypothesis. Sectarian doctrines like occasionalism and non-interventionism are auxiliary hypotheses, viz., theism does not entail occasionalism or non-interventionism but is compatible with both. They are at, at best, uncertain. The probability calculus specifies how we should deal with uncertain auxiliary hypotheses in a way that conforms with the pattern of probability relations specified by Bayes’ Theorem. I explain this here. What IA needs to do is provide an antecedent reason on theism for expecting that either or both of these auxiliary hypotheses are significantly more likely than their denials. Otherwise, the logically correct conclusion is to dismiss these objections as ad hoc, “just so” stories invented solely to avoid the conclusions of the arguments. “Both worldviews” might have roughly equal explanatory power, but naturalism would trump deism by virtue of having a greater intrinsic probability.
2. More important, a careful reading of my arguments will reveal that my arguments need not presuppose that material objects exist.  Supernaturalism (or “source idealism”) can be defined in a way that is neutral between dualism and idealism.  (The hypothesis that the original causes of any material objects that exist are immaterial does not entail that material objects exist.)  Similarly, naturalism or “source physicalism” can be defined in a way that is neutral between dualism and materialism.  Notice too, that even if my particular definition of supernaturalism implies the existence of material objects, that is compatible with “identity idealism”, which is far more plausible than eliminative idealism, just as identity materialism is far more plausible than eliminative materialism.  (Berkeley was an identity idealist, for example.  He believed that physical objects exist, but thought they were collections of ideas.) (I owe this point to Paul Draper.)

c. The Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution (ABE) / The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds (APM) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure (AE: APP) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Flourishing and Languishing of Sentient Beings (AE: AFL) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Self-Centeredness and Limited Altruism of Human Beings (AE: AVV) – See Point (a) – Again, none of these arguments hold any evidentiary weight against a non-interventionist god and so do not support naturalism over such a deism given that all these facts would be equally likely on naturalism or deism.

Now, to be precise, my “arguments for naturalism” are really arguments against theism, though in some sense they are of course both.

Now, you could, of course, try to claim that aspects of prior probability or modesty/coherence (from Paul Draper’s ‘Burden of Proof’ Argument, which I know you support) might make atheistic-naturalism more rational or more likely than some type of theism. But again, there are numerous problems with such maneuvers. First, prior probabilities are notoriously difficult to establish objectively, and I, on that basis alone, I would be suspicious of any argument, by an atheist, which just happens to show that atheism (or atheistic-naturalism) has a higher prior probability than theism.

IA knows very well that suspicion is not an argument. And notice that IA gives no reason to doubt that intrinsic probabilities should be determined solely by scope and coherence. Furthermore, he neglects to mention that Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability does result in the conclusion that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. Once that fact is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that Draper’s theory is not biased against supernaturalism. The fact that theism has a smaller intrinsic probability than supernaturalism follows directly from the definitions of supernaturalism and theism. Theism entails supernaturalism but supernaturalism does not entail theism. So the probability of theism cannot be any greater than the probability of supernaturalism but could be less. This is basic, non-controversial set theory.

Second, in all your arguments (and your priors) you begin with the assumption that materialism—in the sense of metaphysical matter actually existing—is true, but I do not concede this assumption (being an a-matterist and thus lacking a belief in the existence of matter) and so this must be proven before any one of your arguments gets off the ground and before you can even set the prior probabilities that you want. Third, modesty and coherence does not favor naturalism, but rather a type of Berkelian immaterialism, for it is that view that makes the least assumptions about reality (only thinking things exist, which we cannot deny, and is thus the most modest) while remaining coherent (and it is arguable that atheistic-naturalism even is coherent), so Draper does not help you much.

Addressed above.

Fourth, even if we grant the existence of matter, given the fact that a “material god” could exist, and given that a good case could be made that the prior probability of a “material god” existing is either just as good or better than the prior probability of straight atheistic-naturalism (for consciousness, language, life, would have a higher probability of existing given the existence of a material god than given just straight atheistic-naturalism), then, once again, your arguments run into trouble.

What is a “material god”? The word “material” tells us that such a being is composed of matter. The word “god,” I gather, is supposed to tell us that such a being has supernatural powers or abilities. The hypothesis that such a being exists is a very specific version of supernaturalism and so, like theism, has a smaller intrinsic probability than supernaturalism and naturalism. (The more a hypothesis claims, the more ways there are for that hypothesis to be false and so the lower the intrinsic probability.) So-called ‘theistic evidences’ — such as consciousness, language, life, and so forth — determine the explanatory power of the ‘material god’ hypothesis, not its intrinsic probability. Furthermore, notice that IA lists only alleged theistic evidences. It seems rather one-sided to estimate the probability of a material god existing by considering only theistic evidences, while ignoring naturalistic evidences (such as pain and suffering, evolution, nonresistant nonbelief, mind-brain dependence, and so forth). Once the evidence is fully stated, it’s doubtful that IA’s “material God” exists.

Now, I am certain that you might scoff at certain proposals that I have put forward (for example, immaterialism or occasionalism) as being not worthy of consideration. And that’s fine. But my point is this: I do not need to concede to the very assumptions which are latent in so many of the arguments that you put forward, and the moment I do not concede to those assumptions, not only do your arguments lose nearly all their force (if not all), but you actually have the burden to prove the things that you are asserting. And demonstrating such things (such as the actual existence of matter, for example) is a very difficult task to say the least. Furthermore, until and unless you do demonstrate the existence of these things you just essentially assumed, I could readily contend that you hold to them with little more than blind faith. And so these are just some of the brief reasons why, when atheistic arguments are thoroughly deconstructed, and when we realize the various underlying assumptions that they make—assumptions which we need not grant—and when we also understand that the atheist is literally denying the existence of all reasonably possible gods, which could and would include a god such as a non-interventionist one, then we can begin to understand why the atheistic position, when viewed broadly and positively, lacks any evidence for its claim. 

I’m not sure about “scoffing,” but I will say this. If the best response a person has to my arguments is to doubt or deny the existence of matter, then I’m feeling pretty good about the arguments. This must be how Christians feel when atheists use certain far-fetched objections.(“If this is the lengths they have to go to in order to deny the argument, then let them have it.”)

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_borderStan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism

Stan Stephens has finally decided to respond to my list of sixteen (16) lines of empirical evidence which favor naturalism over theism. Here is the first sentence of his reply.

Jeffery Jay Lowder provided a list of empirical proofs. (emphasis added)

I’ve emphasized Stan’s use of the word “proofs” because it exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the arguments. The word “proof” has the connotation of certainty. But I’ve never claimed that my list of arguments are “proofs.” Rather, my list of evidence is a list of inductive arguments for naturalism. By definition, inductive arguments do not establish their conclusions with certainty. In short, Stan manages to completely miss the point of my arguments–and, indeed, all inductive arguments–in the very first sentence of his reply! 
It gets worse. After quoting my list of evidence, Stan then writes this.

In order to assess these as empirical arguments which disprove categorically the nonexistence of deity, it is only necessary to ask for the experimental data for each item on the list, and to see if that data proves incorrigibly that a deity cannot exist. One quick way to do that is to take the title of each line item and add this statement to it: “therefore there cannot exist a deity”.

Yes, it’s that bad. In fact, the purpose of inductive arguments couldn’t be more different than what Stan claims. At the risk of repeating myself, the purpose of inductive arguments for atheism is not, as Stan falsely claims, to prove that God cannot exist. Rather, the purpose of inductive arguments is to show that God probably does not exist.
Let E represent any item of evidence in my list. For each item of evidence, we assume that E could be true and that God exists. The question to ask is this, “What’s the best explanation for E?” For example, take the hostility of the universe to life. It’s possible that the universe is hostile to life and that God exists. But what’s the best explanation?
But in order to answer that question, Stan will need to drop his obsession with “categorical disproofs”– which I’ve already addressed here (skip down to the “Deductive Argument Objection”) and here–and instead engage with my actual arguments, not his straw man versions of them.

bookmark_borderTheistic Prejudice: A Case Study with Stan

Over at Randal Rauser’s blog, Stan wrote the following:

Free thinking does not mean disciplined logical thought; it means being free to think that whatever you might think at the moment is Truth, including that there is no truth. Free Thought is much like removing the timing from your engine’s combustion system to allow it “freedom”.
Logic demands discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning. Atheists have no concept of this, for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Free Thinking is the act of rationalizing the emotional position which causes Atheism in the first place.

I posted the following response.

This is an expression of prejudice. It is just as prejudicial (and no better supported than) the statement, “Theists have no concept of this [discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning], for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.”
We have three claims.
1. Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
What we don’t have is evidence for these claims.

If you were expecting Stan to admit that he got carried away with his rhetoric, you’d be disappointed. Instead, Stan decided to double down and defend the indefensible.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.
The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.
Feel free to refute that, if you have material evidence for atheism or a disciplined deductive argument leading incorrigibly to atheism at the expense of theism.
Addendum: I stand by my statement regarding “free thought”.

So let’s go through his claims one at a time.
Stan’s Claim #1: Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
Well, that’s rich. Stan himself has failed to provide a valid (deductive) argument to support claim #1. Look at his justification again.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.

Let’s try to identify his argument’s logical structure.
(1) Stan has spoken to a great many atheists.
(2) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with have studied logic 101.
(3) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them.
(4) Therefore, most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
For someone who makes so many references to logic, deductions, rules of deductive reasoning, and the like, Stan seems to have missed the fact that this argument is invalid, i.e., it fails as a deductive argument. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. At best, Stan has spoken with a subset of atheists and made accurate observations about them. Even if that were the case, there is no rule of inference which would enable him to construct a deductively valid argument which moves from a statement about a sample to a universal generalization about an entire population. Furthermore, even if Stan tried to reformulate his argument as an inductive argument, it would still fail. (Stan provides no reason to believe that the atheists he has spoken with are representative of atheists. And we have no reason to believe Stan’s claims in premises (2) or (3).)
Stan’s Claim #2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Stan’s justification for this claim fails for the same reason his justification for his first claim fails.
Stan’s Claim #3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
Let’s look again at his justification for this claim.

The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.

Again, let’s analyze the logical structure of his supporting argument.
(4) There is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(5) There is no disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(6) Therefore, the Atheist case cannot be based on evidence or disciplined deductive argument.
(7) Some people who identify as atheists redefine “atheism” to mean “without theist beliefs.”
(8) Therefore, atheism is an emotional position of rejectionism.
As an argument for claim #3, however, it seems to me this argument is multiply flawed. First, it’s invalid. The conclusion, (8), does not follow from (4)-(7). Even if Stan were correct that atheists have no good arguments for believing that God does not exist, it doesn’t follow that atheism is the result of an emotional position. Think of all the people who have gotten the wrong answer on a multiple choice geometry test. Would anyone claim that the people who got wrong answers did so for emotional reasons? Of course not! Along the same lines, even if we assume that (4) and (5) are true, his conclusion still wouldn’t follow. It would still be possible that atheists simply made an error in reasoning, in which case they would be guilty of sloppy argumentation but not of rejecting theism for emotional reasons.
But in fact I think Stan’s premises are mistaken. For example, consider (4). I have written extensively about the nature and meaning of evidence in general, as well as how to formulate an inductively correct explanatory or evidential argument for metaphysical naturalism. (See here.) Based on that approach to evidence, it’s clear that the following is evidence which favors metaphysical naturalism over theism.

Since metaphysical naturalism entails atheism, it follows that evidence for metaphysical naturalism is necessarily evidence for atheism.

bookmark_borderSean Carroll’s 11 Lines of Evidence for Naturalism over Theism

This is my attempt to summarize the slides from Sean Carroll’s recent debate with WLC where he very quickly skimmed through eleven (11) lines of evidence which favor naturalism over theism. I don’t claim this is perfectly accurate; any corrections would be welcome and, in fact, appreciated!

Facet Theism (Theistic Prediction) Naturalism (Naturalistic Prediction) Lowder’s Comments
Amount of Tuning Just Enough Sometimes too much (e.g., entropy). A natural mechanism could incredibly over-tune in a way that has nothing to do with the existence of life. The entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. New Argument
Parameters of Particle Physics Enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason Random and a mess Not sure what this was about — I had a hard time transcribing this one
Role of Life Life to play a special role in the universe Life is very insignificant in the universe. Photo from Hubble Space Telescope of hundreds of galaxies.The theistic explanation for cosmological fine-tuning asks you to look at this picture and say, “I know why it’s like that. It’s because I was going to be here. Or we were going to be here.” But there is nothing in the universe that justifies the sort of flattering story we like to tell about ourselves. Very similar to arguments from scale.
Evidence God should be obvious. God hides from us. Nonculpable Nonbelief (aka Divine Hiddenness)
World Religions Religious beliefs universal Multiple competing religions Religious Confusion
Doctrinal stability Eternal, unchanging Affected by social progress New Argument (This is arguably a more specific fact about religious confusion.)
Moral teachings Transcendent, progressive Inconsistent, tribal Ethical Confusion
Sacred Texts Valuable information Mishmash of really good parts, boring parts, really bad parts New Argument (not sure I transcribed this accurately)
Design Biological forms designed Biological forms result from twists and turns of evolutionary history Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution
Minds Minds should be independent of bodies Personality should change if you’re injured, tired, or you haven’t had your cup of coffee yet Evidential Argument from Physical Minds
Problem of Evil No random suffering; life should be essentially just The universe is not just/perfect; it should be kind of a mess. Evidential Argument from Evil

bookmark_borderExtremely Low Entropy of the Early Universe as Evidence against Theism?

One of the topics from last Friday’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll was the extremely low entropy of the early universe. As I type this blog post, the video of the debate isn’t available, so I’m going from memory. But I thought I heard Carroll argue that the extremely low entropy of the early universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
In The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Carroll seems to make a similar point:

An example of fine-tuning well beyond anthropic constraints is the initial state of the universe, often characterized in terms of its extremely low entropy (Penrose 1989). Roughly speaking, the large number of particles in the universe were arranged in an extraordinarily smooth configuration, which is highly unstable and unlikely given the enormous gravitational forces acting on such densely packed matter. While vacuum energy is tuned to 1 part in 10120, the entropy of the early universe is tuned to 1 part in 10 to the power of 10120, a preposterous number. The entropy didn’t need to be nearly that low in order for life to come into existence. One way of thinking about this is to note that we certainly don’t need a hundred billion other galaxies in the universe in order for life to arise here on earth; our single galaxy would have been fine, or for that matter a single solar system.

If anything, the much-more-than-anthropic tuning that characterizes the entropy of the universe is a bigger problem for the God hypothesis than for the multiverse. If the point of arranging the universe was to set the stage for the eventual evolution of intelligent life, why all the grandiose excess represented by the needlessly low entropy at early times and the universe’s hundred billion galaxies? We might wonder whether those other galaxies are spandrels — not necessary for life here on earth, but nevertheless a side effect of the general Big Bang picture, which is the most straightforward way to make the earth and its biosphere. This turns out not to be true; quantitatively, it’s easy to show that almost all possible histories of the universe that involve earth as we know it don’t have any other galaxies at all. It’s unclear why God would do so much fine-tuning of the state of the universe than seems to have been necessary.
(Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?” The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, Kindle location 6467 – 6493).

This passage from Carroll’s essay suggests yet another example of how cosmological fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence commit the fallacy of understated evidence: given that our universe is fine-tuned for life, the fact that the early universe had such extremely low entropy favors naturalism over theism.
See also:
Stenger on Zero Total Energy as Evidence for Atheism
The Evidential Argument from Scale (Index)
Paul Draper, The Fallacy of Understated Evidence, Theism, and Naturalism

bookmark_borderThe Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 6

In Part 1 of this series, I critically reviewed Nicholas Everitt’s formulation of the argument from scale (AS). In Part 5, I critically reviewed John Loftus’s defense of AS on his blog. In this post, I want to review Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s formulation of AS in his (Loftus’s) book, Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (Bloomington: Trafford, 2008). It’s important to note that in his book Loftus also defends a version of AS against evangelical Christianity; I will not evaluate that argument here.

Everitt’s Argument from Scale (AS)

Here is Everitt’s formulation:

(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.
(2) The world does not display a human scale.
(3) Therefore, there is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.[1]

Let us now turn to Loftus’s comments.

Commenting on (1), Loftus writes:

He’s [Everitt’s] asking us what we would expect to find before we had any scientific knowledge about the universe, given the fact that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that universe. It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

What does Loftus mean by “pinnacle of creation”? It appears that he is using "that phrase as a substitute for Everitt’s expression “jewel of creation,” which Everitt defines as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe.[2]

Now what about (3)? Let’s look again at the second sentence in the above quotation:

It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

Like Everitt, Loftus is not claiming that the scale of the universe is a proof of the falsity of theism or even that it makes theism probably false. Rather, like Everitt, Loftus claims that the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism. So what I want to do is evaluate whether the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism, for the reasons given by Loftus.

Does Theism “Predict” That Humans are the Pinnacle of Creation?

Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation, we may treat the hypothesis that humans are the jewel of creation as an auxiliary hypothesis. Let us first define the “Jewel of creation” hypothesis (J) as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe. Then, according to the theorem of total probability,

Pr(E | T & B) = Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B) + Pr(~J | T) x Pr(E | ~J & T & B)

Now since the whole point of conjoining J with T is to try to increase the value of Pr(E | T & B), we may effectively ignore the second half of the right-hand side of that equation and focus on the first half: Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B). What reason is there to think Pr(J | T) is greater than Pr(~J | T)? In Part 2 (revised) of this series, I criticized Everitt’s three reasons for thinking that Pr(J | T) > Pr(~J | T). What reasons does Loftus give? As I read him, he provides three reasons of his own: (i) it confirms his expectations; (ii) the scale of the universe is wasteful; and (iii) there is no understandable reason why God would have created a universe with the scale that ours has. Let’s consider these in detail.

First Reason: Confirms Expectations

First, Loftus says that the argument confirms his expectations.

There is just something about Everitt’s argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God doesn’t exist. I think the argument is a good one even if theists and skeptics themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .(98)

Loftus is correct that just because others disagree, that’s no reason not to make a particular argument one thinks is correct. But that’s not the question. The question is whether the argument is either a valid deductive argument or a correct inductive argument. As Loftus himself knows, subjective feelings of approval do not make an argument (deductively) valid or (inductively) correct.

Indeed, imagine if a Christian apologist defended William Lane Craig’s moral argument along the same lines as Loftus.

There is just something about Craig’s moral argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God exists. I think the argument is a good one even if atheists and theists themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .

Atheists (and probably many theists) would rightly blast such a weak defense of the moral argument. I see no relevant difference between such a hypothetical defense of Craig’s moral argument and Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s argument from scale.

Second Reason: The Scale of the Universe is Wasteful

Second, Loftus quotes Richard Carrier, who writes:

For the Christian theory does not predict what we observe, while the natural theory does predict what we observe. After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God’s plan. You cannot predict from “the Christian God created the world” that “the world” would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life. But we can predict exactly that from “no God created this world.” Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism.[3]

Now Loftus quotes Carrier while discussing Everitt’s argument against classical theism, not an argument against the “Christian theory.” But let’s put that worry to the side. Does Carrier’s argument work against classical theism? I suspect that Carrier is correct that CT does not predict E, but the fact that CT does not predict E is evidence against CT if and only if CT predicts not-E (~E). So does CT predict ~E? According to Carrier, CT predicts ~E because E would be wasteful. But Carrier overlooks the fact that the concept of waste only applies to situations where there are limited resources. God, if He exists, is an omnipotent being with unlimited time and unlimited creative resources, so it’s a category error to say that the concept of waste applies to God.

Third Reason: No Purpose for the Scale of the Universe

Even so, we may still wonder, if CT is true, what would be the pu
rpose of creating a universe on such a massive scale? For all we know antecedently, when creating the universe, God could have had other goals in mind besides humans (such as artistic beauty, the creation of sentient life throughout the universe, and so forth). As Loftus himself writes:

This argument depends to some degree on whether or not God might have other purposes for creating such a universe even granting mankind as the jewel of his creation, and whether or not, given the existence of an infinitely creative mind, he would’ve made the universe on such a scale as we find it. (99)

Carrier provides no reason to think that if CT is true, God probably would not have had other purposes.

Fourth Reason: Theists Believed the Universe Was Small Until the Rise of Modern Science

On his blog, Loftus suggests a fourth reason for thinking that theism leads us to expect that humans would be the jewel of creation: theists throughout history thought the universe was on a human scale. In his words:

The best way to know what people would expect to find prior to the rise of modern science is to investigate what people thought of the universe before its rise. …

Western believers used to claim God (or Zeus) lived on Mt. Olympus. But then someone climbed up there and he wasn’t to be found. Then they claimed God lived just beyond the sky dome that supported the water, called the firmament. But we flew planes and space ships up into the air and found he wasn’t there either. Believers now claim God exists in a spiritual sense everywhere. What best explains this continual retreat? Doesn’t it sound more like the attempt to defend one’s faith as science progresses, rather than progressively understanding what God is like? Lowder’s argument falls to the ground unless he can show historically that there were a majority of Christians who concluded the universe could be as vast as it ended up being. Philosophy won’t solve this problem. Historical evidence will. Dante’s Divine Comedy says otherwise, most emphatically. Just look at how he described the heavens. Do some research on how popular his work was. Hint: it was so popular he is even called the "Father of the Italian language," more influential than Shakespeare was on the English language, and we know his influence was immense.

I have no objection to any of Loftus’s historical claims about what people thought of the universe before the rise of modern science. But Loftus is simply repeating one of Everitt’s supporting arguments, which I already addressed. I wrote that even if it’s historically accurate that theists throughout history believed the universe was on a human scale,

it is evidentially irrelevant. What matters is whether classical theists had any good antecedent reason on classical theism to believe J [that humans are the Jewel of creation]. Furthermore, it seems to me that classical theism provides an antecedent reason to deny J. In a discussion of the multiverse objection to an argument from evil, Paul Draper provides a fascinating argument for the conclusion that a multiverse is highly probable on theism. Here is Draper:

God, if she existed, would be very likely to create vast numbers of good worlds. Indeed, we can transcend our anthropomorphism just for a moment, the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being would create just our world and no others borders on the absurd. What a colossal waste of omnipotence and omniscience that would be! Surely a perfectly good God of limitless creative resources would create vastly many worlds, including magnificent worlds of great perfection as well as good but essentially flawed worlds that are more in need of special providence.[15]

To be sure, Draper himself acknowledges that this argument makes “some very controversial axiological assumptions,” which he defends.[16] While a discussion of those assumptions is beyond the scope of this paper, I think it is safe to say that Draper’s argument provides a prima facie reason, at least, to deny J. In short, on the assumption that theism is true, God probably did create creatures which are more impressive than humans, in other parts of our universe and in other universes.

Conclusion

I conclude, then, that neither Loftus nor Carrier have provided a good reason for thinking that humans would probably be the jewel of creation on the assumption that classical theism is true. Accordingly, I don’t think Loftus has successfully defended Everitt’s AS as an argument against classical theism.

Notes

[1] Everitt, The Non-Existence of God, p. 225.

[2] Cf. Everitt 2004, 221: “theism is committed to saying that humans are the most valuable things in creation.”

[3] Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” The Secular Web (2006), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html. Quoted in Loftus 2008, 99.

ETA: Added the text between  the paragraph which begins,“Now what about (3)?”, and the paragraph which begins, “Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation…”

ETA (8-Feb-12): Added the section on the fourth supporting argument.