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_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 8: The Design of the Human Brain

The third argument in Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for God is another development of his argument from design, and it has many of the same problems as the second argument in Phase 2.   
Here is the third argument, sticking closely to the words used by Geisler:
ARGUMENT #3 of PHASE 2  
26. God designed our brains. (WSA, p.26)  
27. IF God designed our brains, THEN God knows everything there is to know about the way we think.  (WSA, p.26)
THUS:  
28. God knows everything there is to know about the way we think.  
29. IF God knows everything there is to know about the way we think, THEN God had great intelligence.  
THEREFORE:  
30. God had great intelligence.  
Once again Geisler misuses the word “God”, making his argument unclear and confusing.  Geisler is trying to make a case for the existence of God, so to assert that “God designed our brains” as a premise in his argument for the existence of God blatantly begs the question at issue.  That is, if Geisler was using the word “God” in it’s normal sense, then premise (26) would clearly commit the fallacy of begging the question.  
But Geisler does NOT believe that he has proven the existence of God (in the nomal sense of the word) at this point in his argument. He does think that his initial argument from design proved the existence of “a Great Designer of the universe”.  So, when Geisler uses the word “God” here, he probably means “the designer of the universe”.  
To avoid confusion, the word “God” needs to be stripped out of this argument and replaced with the phrase “the designer of the universe”:
ARGUMENT #3 of PHASE 2  (Rev.A)  
26a. The designer of the universe designed human brains.   
27a. IF the designer of the universe designed human brains, THEN the designer of the universe knows everything there is to know about the way humans think. 
THUS:  
28a. The designer of the universe knows everything there is to know about the way humans think.  
29a. IF the designer of the universe knows everything there is to know about the way humans think, then the designer of the universe had great intelligence.  
THEREFORE:  
30a. The designer of the universe had great intelligence.  
But Geisler’s conclusion in this part of Phase 2 is that “whatever caused the universe…had…great intelligence.”  (WSA, p.26) So, once again, he needs premise (25), which he also needed in Argument #2 of Phase 2:  
25. Whatever being caused the universe to begin to exist is also the designer of the universe.  
From the combination of (30a) and (25), Geisler can infer his desired conclusion:  
31. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist had great intelligence.  
Because Argument #3 of Phase 2 requires premise (25), this argument FAILS, because premise (25) is questionable, and because Geisler FAILS to provide any reason whatsoever to believe that (25) is true.  Because this argument rests upon (25) it FAILS, just like Argument #2 of Phase 2, which also rested upon (25).
Here is a diagram of Argument #3 of Phase 2 (Rev.A), with the conclusion at the top, and the supporting premises below it: 
Argument 3 of Phase 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The other main premise of this argument is (30a), but this premise is obviously controversial and needs to be supported with a strong reason or argument.  Accordingly, Geisler provides us with an argument in support of (30a):
28a. The designer of the universe knows everything there is to know about the way humans think.  
29a. IF the designer of the universe knows everything there is to know about the way humans think, THEN the designer of the universe had great intelligence.  
THEREFORE:  
30a. The designer of the universe had great intelligence.  
The inference in this argument is logically valid (a standard modus ponens), so the only question we need to consider is whether both premises are true.  
Is premise (29a) true or false?  This premise is clearly FALSE, because there is a break in the logical connection between the antecedent and the consequent.  The antecedent uses the present tense verb “knows”, while the consequent uses the past tense expression “had great intelligence”.  So, the time-frames don’t match up.  
The fact that Joe knows calculus NOW, after passing the final of his third semester of calculus classes does NOT show that Joe “had a good grasp of calculus” when he was six years old, and just starting elementary school.  People can learn things and grow in knowledge and intelligence over time.  Similarly, even if the designer of the universe has a lot of knowledge NOW, this proves nothing about the knowledge or intelligence of the designer of the universe a thousand years ago, or a million years ago (the human brain has been around at least one million years).  
Geisler screwed up the reference to time frames in this argument, because he is a sloppy and unclear thinker.  The key time-frame that he FAILED to clearly point out and designate is this: when the human brain was being designed.  If there was a being who was “the designer” of the human brain, and if the design for the human brain was developed at some point in time (at least one million years ago), then “the designer” of the human brain must have had the required level of knowledge and intelligence to create such a design at the time when the design for the human brain was being produced.  For all we know, the designer of the human brain might have had less knowledge or intelligence prior to that time, and might have declined in knowledge or intelligence after the design of the human brain was completed.
For premise (29) to have any chance of being true, the time-frame in the antecedent must correspond to the time frame in the consequent:  
29b.  IF the designer of the universe knew (when the human brain was being designed) everything there was to know about the way humans think, THEN the designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the human brain was being designed).  
And for premise (28) to affirm the antecedent of (29b), it must be modified to also refer to the same time frame:  
28b.  The designer of the universe knew (when the human brain was being designed) everything there was to know about the way humans think.  
The conclusion of this modus ponens inference must also be modified to refer to the same time-frame:  
30b. The designer of the universe had great intelligence (when the human brain was being designed).  
What about premise (29b)?  Is it true or false?  Since we have revised the premise so that the time-frame reference in the antecedent matches the time-frame reference in the consequent, I see no reason to doubt or reject (29b).  
So, the question of whether to believe that (30b) is true or false rests upon whether we believe that premise (28b) is true or false.  Premise (28b) is a controversial claim, and it is not obviously true, nor is it a necessary analytic truth.  In fact, as we will see later, there is a very good reason to doubt that (28b) is true.  But Geisler has provided us with an argument for (28b), so we need to examine that argument.  First we need to modify the time-frame reference in the consequent of premise (27), so that the inference to (28b) will be logically valid: 
26a. The designer of the universe designed human brains.   
27b. IF the designer of the universe designed human brains, THEN the designer of the universe knew (when the human brain was being designed) everything there was to know about the way humans think.
THUS:  
28b.  The designer of the universe knew (when the human brain was being designed) everything there was to know about the way humans think.  
Because we have fixed the confusion about time-frames in Geisler’s argument, the inference here is logically valid.  So, we just need to determine whether the premises are true or false.  Is (26a) true or false?  Geisler has FAILED to show that there is such a thing as “the designer of the universe”, so (26a) might literally be talking about nothing at all.  If there is no such being as “the designer of the universe” , then (26a) would be neither true nor false, since the expression “the designer of the universe” has no referent.  
Suppose that there were a being that was “the designer of the universe”, would it be reasonable in that case to believe that this being “designed human brains”?  There are some good reasons to doubt this.  
First, there is good reason to believe that the human brain is the product of random, unthinking forces and processes (i.e. evolution), and thus that even if there were a being that was “the designer of the universe” that being was NOT the designer of the human brain, because the human brain was not the product of ANY intelligent designer.  
Second, the universe has been in existence for billions of years, so the designer of the universe, if there ever were such a being, might well no longer exist, and might well have ceased to exist billions of years ago.  Since the human brain did not exist until about one million years ago, if there was a designer of the human brain, that being might well only be a few million years old, not old enough to be the designer of the universe.  So, even if there was a designer of the universe and a designer of the human brain, they might well have been two different beings who existed in different time-frames, separated by billions of years.  
Third, even if there was a designer of the universe, and even if that being still exists today, it might well still be the case that some OTHER intelligent designer produced the design of the human brain.  Geisler has provided no reason or argument in support of (26a), so given that there are good reasons to doubt (26a), and no good reason to believe (26a) is true, we ought to reject this premise as probably false.  
What about premise (27b)? Is that premise true?  There is a good reason to believe this premise to be false.  If there was a designer of the human brain, then this designer produced the design of the human brain at least one million years ago, because human brains have been around for at least that long.  The structures and functions of the human brain have a very large influence over “the way humans think”, but another significant influence over “the way humans think” is cultural in nature:  language, child-rearing, story-telling, education, religion, art, history, music, and philosophy.  These various social and cultural factors shape “the way humans think”.  
But human languages, cultures, stories, religions, art, history, music, philosophical ideas, are all complex historical phenomena that develop in random and unpredictable ways.  It seems impossible for any being, no matter how much knowledge it had of the biology and physiology of the brain, could predict all of the detailed ways in which human thinking would develop and evolve over the span of hundreds of thousands of years.  
Predicting the specific behaviour of fairly simple systems of physical objects accurately over hundreds of thousands of years is extremely difficult, so the much more complex and random developments of human cultures and societies (plus the interactions between various human cultures and societies) appears to be an impossible task, even for a being of superhuman intelligence.  Thus, there is good reason to doubt that even a being that had a good grasp of the structures and functions of the human brain would be able to anticipate the myriad of random details that would develop in human cultures and societies which would in turn have significant impacts on “the way humans think”.  Premise (27b) should be rejected because it is probably false.  
Because both of the premises in Geisler’s argument for (28b) are probably false, the argument for (28b) is very probably an UNSOUND argument, so we ought to reject that argument.  Furthermore, (28b) is subject to some of the same objections as the premises it is based upon.  Like (26a) it might well be talking about NOTHING, since it is questionable whether there is such a being as “the designer of the universe”, and Geisler has FAILED to show that there is such a being.  Like (27b), there is the problem of knowing about all of the various details of how human cultures and societies will evolve hundreds of thousands of years BEFORE those developments actually occur.  So, we have good reason to believe that (28b) is false, and Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe that (28b) is true, so we ought to conclude that (28b) is probably false.
Because (28b) is probably false, the argument provided by Geisler in support of premise (30b) is probably an unsound argument.  Furthermore, we have good reason to doubt that premise (30b) is true.  Premise (30b) is subject to some of the same objections raised against other premises in this argument.  
First, the assumption that there is such a being as “the designer of the universe” is highly questionable, and Geisler has provided no good reason to accept this assumption.  Second, even if there were such a being as “the designer of the universe” it is quite possible that this being ceased to exist billions of years ago,  billions of years before human brains were being designed, and thus it would not be true that “the designer of the universe” had great intelligence at the time the human brain was being designed.  Third, there probably is no such thing as the time “when the human brain was being designed” because the human brain is the product of random, unthinking forces and processes (i.e. evolution).  Fourth, even if there was such a thing as “the designer of the universe” and there was such a thing as “the designer of the human brain”, these beings might well have been different beings, and thus the intelligence of “the designer of the human brain” would have no relevance for determining the intelligence of “the designer of the universe.”  
Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe that premise (30b) is true, and there are some good reasons to doubt that (30b) is true, so we ought to reject (30b) as probably false.  So, Geisler has FAILED to provide a sound argument for this conclusion:
31b. The being that caused the universe to begin to exist had great intelligence (when the human brain was being designed).
CONCLUSION:
Here is the diagram of my final version (Rev.B) of  this argument:
Argument 3 of Phase 2 RevB
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I have argued that every premise in Argument #3 of Phase 2 ought to be rejected, except for premise (29):

  • Premise (25) is questionable, and because Geisler FAILS to provide any reason whatsoever to believe that (25) is true.
  • There are good reasons to doubt (26a), and no good reason to believe (26a) is true, we ought to reject this premise as probably false.
  • Premise (27b) should be rejected because it is probably false.  
  •  We have good reason to believe that (28b) is false, and Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe that (28b) is true, so we ought to conclude that (28b) is probably false.
  • Geisler has FAILED to provide a good reason to believe that premise (30b) is true, and there are some good reasons to doubt that (30b) is true, so we ought to reject (30b) as probably false.

I did argue that premise (29a) was clearly and obviously FALSE, because Geisler screwed up the references to time-frames in that premise.  But after revising (29) to fix the problem with the mis-matched time-frames between the antecedent and the consequent of that premise, I accepted the revised premise (29b) as a true premise.  Other than this one premise, which is true only because I fixed an obvious problem with that premise, every other premise in the argument ought to be rejected.  
This argument is a hot steaming pile of dog shit.  It is completely unworthy of a professional philosopher who has spent decades teaching and writing about the philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics.  
How can Geisler write such crap?  I think part of the blame goes to Thomas Aquinas* and to Thomists who follow in the footsteps of Aquinas.  As Richard Swinburnes says somewhere, Aquinas’s Five Ways are probably the least successful parts of the philosophical reasoning by Aquinas.  But many view the Five Ways as good or plausible arguments for the existence of God, and this widespread delusion creates a very low bar for arguments for the existence of God.  The Five Ways should be viewed as examples of HOW NOT TO ARGUE for the existence of God.  Because they are often viewed as examples of good arguments for the existence of God, many people are led astray.
Another, perhaps more obvious, problem is that Geisler is preaching to the choir.  The audience or readers of Geisler’s books are generally Evangelical Chrstian believers who just want someone in a postion of authority to say “We have very good reasons and arguments to show that God exists, that Jesus is divine, and that the Bible is the Word of God.”  These Christian believers are uncritical thinkers, at least when it comes to theology and philosophy, so they will accept any pile of dog shit that Geisler serves them on a china platter.  Because Geisler writes for readers who are not skeptical and who are uncritical thinkers, he is intellectually lazy and sloppy, and has no real incentive to do any better.
 
*I should note that although I think the Five Ways of Aquinas are lousy arguments for the existence of God, I also think that Aquinas never intended the Five Ways to be taken as arguments for the existence of God.  Rather, they are merely the initial arguments of a long and complex case for the existence of God that extends far beyond the one page or so where he presents the Five Ways.  His case for God is presented in the “Treatise on God” in the First Part of Summa Theologica, specifically the first 26 Questions covered in Summa Theologica, consisting of about 150 pages of interconnected arguments.

bookmark_borderA Very Rough Sketch of an Objection to Quentin Smith’s Argument for Moral Realism

In his book, Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language, Quentin Smith defends an argument for moral realism which he calls the argument from veridical seeming.

(1)  Ordinary ethical sentences and commonsense first-level moral beliefs imply moral realism (or “Moral realism tacitly seems to be true in ordinary commonsense moral attitudes”).
(2)  There are no empirical or a priori reasons to believe that first-level moral beliefs are all false.


(3)  Therefore, it is more reasonable to believe moral realism that not to believe this.
(4)  There is no reason to believe that the conjunction of (1) and (2) is a defective reason to believe moral realism.


(5)  Therefore, the belief in moral realism is indefeasibly justified.[1]

In this post, I’m going to sketch a brief objection to (4) based on what I will call “naturalistic evolution.” According to this objection, naturalistic evolution furnishes naturalistic evolutionists who are also moral realists with a defeater for their belief in moral realism, a defeater which cannot be defeated.
Let us begin by reviewing Smith’s definitions of key terms.

“moral realism” = df. “the metaethical theory that human life has an objective ethical meaning,”[2] viz., “moral facts obtain independently of whether humans believe they obtain.”[3]
“objective ethical meaning” = df. “ethical sentence have truth-value and sometimes correspond to moral facts that obtain independently of our beliefs about whether they obtain.” [4] “If human life has an objective ethical meaning, then there is a class of intrinsic goods, a class of properties and relations that possess the property of goodness.”[5]
“first-level ethical belief” = df. the belief that “something is good or evil or that something is of equal or greater value than something else, for example, that philosophical understanding is at least as valuable as aesthetic enjoyment.”[6]
“second-level ethical belief” = df. a belief “about some or all first-level ethical beliefs. The belief that ‘the intuition that the proposition that philosophical understanding is at least as valuable as aesthetic enjoyment is true does not absolutely justify belief in the proposition’ is an example of a particular second-level ethical belief, and the belief that “life is meaningful but absurd’ is an example of a general second-level ethical belief.”[7]

To Smith’s definitions I will add the following definitions (all taken from Paul Draper):

“hypothesis” = df. a proposition which we do not know with certainty to be true or false
“metaphysical naturalism” = df. the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it

“genealogical thesis” = df. complex life evolved from simple life

“genetic thesis” = df.  all evolutionary change in populations of complex organisms either is or is the result of trans-generational genetic change
“evolution” = df. the genealogical thesis conjoined with the genetic thesis

The objection goes as follows. If evolution is true, then human beings have developed from non-human animals as a result of natural selection, genetic drift, etc.  As many writers have observed, evolution provides a plausible reason to expect (1) even on the assumption that moral realism is false. Theism provides a strong antecedent reason to trust the reliability of our metaethical intuitions (i.e., our second-level ethical intuitions), namely, God, as a morally perfect being, would want to ensure that all moral agents had moral intuitions which corresponded with what we might call “moral reality.” In contrast, if metaphysical naturalism is true, there is no God overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution, including the evolution of reliable metaethical intuitions. In short, “blind nature” provides us with no antecedent reason at all to believe that our metaethical intuitions are correct.
The potential unreliability of naturalistic metaethical intuitions does not prove that moral realism is false. (To suggest otherwise would be to commit the genetic fallacy by confusing moral epistemology with moral ontology.) For all the metaphysical naturalist knows, it could be the case that both metaphysical naturalism and moral realism are true. Nevertheless, a metaphysical naturalist’s belief in naturalistic evolution seems to undermine a metaphysical naturalist’s belief that moral realism is true. In other words, it could be the case that both metaphysical naturalism and moral realism are true, but if one knows the former, one cannot know the latter. At least, that’s what this objection claims.
This argument is similar to Alvin Plantinga’s famous Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, but it has an important difference. As I understand it, Plantinga’s EAAN seeks to show that the naturalist has what I will call a ‘global defeater,’ i.e., a defeater for all of her beliefs, including her belief that naturalism is true. In contrast, the objection I’ve sketched above only claims there is a ‘local’ (or localized?) defeater, i.e., a defeater just for the belief that moral realism is true.
Notes
[1] Quentin Smith, Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 171-72.
[2] Smith 1997, 159.
[3] Smith 1997, viii.
[4] Smith 1997, 159.
[5] Smith 1997, 11.
[6] Smith 1997, 18.
[7] Smith 1997, 19.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 5: Chapter 6

Chapter 6. New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?

 
Drawing upon the work of sophisticated Intelligent Design (ID) theorists such as William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells, this chapter uses many of the state-of-the art Intelligent Design (ID) arguments against evolution by natural selection. It also defends ID against various objections.
(i) Objections to Natural Selection: G&T argue that macroevolution is defeated by the following objections: (a) genetic limits; (b) cyclical change; (c) irreducible complexity; (d) the nonviability of transitional forms; (e) molecular isolation; and (f) the fossil record.
(a) Regarding genetic limits, G&T repeat the standard creationist claim that there are natural limits to genetic change. In their words:

Unfortunately for Darwinists, genetic limits seem to be built into the basic types. For example, dog breeders always encounter genetic limits when they intelligently attempt to create new breeds of dogs. (142)

This is not a good objection to evolution, however. The dog breeding example is just confused. The whole point of dog breeding is to produce dogs, not new species of dog-like animals. But let that pass. The much more important point is this: G&T, like most creationists, admit that microevolution occurs. If microevolution occurs, then we already have good antecedent reason to expect macroevolution also occurs: macroevolution just is microevolution carried on for a longer period of time. If a species accrues enough “small” changes over time, eventually all of those “small” changes added together become “big” changes and the result is another species. In other words, the difference between microevolution and macroevolution is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
(b) Regarding cyclical change, G&T claim that “the changes within types appears to be cyclical.” They take this to be evidence against macroevolution since macroevolution “requires” that changes be “directional toward the development of new life forms” (144). That is a very weak objection to evolution, however.  First, while cyclical change can and does occur, it hardly follows that all evolutionary change is cyclical. Second, contrary to what G&T imply, macroevolution does not require that all evolutionary change is “directional toward the development of new life forms.” If a species lives in a cyclical environment, then evolution predicts the species would display cyclical changes in response to the cyclical environment.
(c) Regarding irreducible complexity, G&T draw upon biochemist Michele Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.[1] Following Behe, they argue that the cell is an “irreducibly complex system,” i.e., a system that is “composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the systems to effectively cease functioning” (145). Furthermore, they argue, objections to Behe’s argument, such as those made by biologist Kenneth Miller, are unsuccessful.
Contrary to G&T, however, I don’t think that Behe has successfully shown that there are any irreducibly complex systems. To say that a biological system is “irreducibly complex” assumes that if the system was missing a part, it could not have been functional in any environment forany reason. But a predecessor to that system could lack a part and yet still be functional because some part of its environment is different than the environment of its descendants. In fact, this is precisely what the Darwinian naturalist claims happened. What Behe calls “irreducibly complex systems” evolved indirectly from systems that performed slightly or very different functions in our ancestors. In order to justify his claim that a system is irreducibly complex, Behe must show that precursors could not have performed different functions in those ancestors. Behe hasn’t shown this.[2]
(d) Regarding the viability of transitional forms, G&T argue that transitional forms could not survive.

For example, consider the Darwinian assertion that birds evolved gradually from reptiles over long periods of time. This would necessitate a transition from scales to feathers. How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers? Feathers are irreducibly complex. (148)

The question, “How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers?”, is just that: a question, not an argument.  This question can give the illusion of having refuted the possibility of transitional forms only by ignoring the relevant scientific evidence available at the time I Don’t Have Enough Faith was written: (1) the 1861 discovery of a reptile-bird Archaeopteryx, which had both feathers and reptilian features (such as teeth, claws, and a long, bony tail); and (2) the 1996 discovery of Sinosauropteryx, which had evidence of primitive feathers (“a layer of thin, hollow filaments covering its back and tail”).[3] Additionally, since the publication of the book, we may add (3) the 2009 discovery of Tianyulong, a small dinosaur with hairlike “feathers,” which some scientists believe is evidence that all dinosaurs may have had hairy or feathery bodies.[4] The fact that such creatures existed refutes the idea that such creatures could not survive.
Regarding the claim that “feathers are irreducibly complex,” G&T provide no argument to justify that claim, but it’s not hard to imagine what such an argument would look like. For example, such an argument might appeal to two claims: (1) reptile-bird transitional forms could not use their less-than-fully developed feathers (“proto-feathers”) for flight; and (2) reptile-bird transitional forms could not have used their proto-feathers for other functions (besides flight). The second claim is false. Scientists have no problem identifying other uses for proto-feathers, including insulation and sexual selection,[5] and G&T provide no reason at all to reject such explanations. But this entails that G&T have not shown that such indirect routes for the evolution of modern feathers are improbable.
(e) Regarding molecular Isolation, G&T appeal to Michael Denton ‘s 1986 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.[6] Commenting on Denton’s work, they write:

If all species share a common ancestor, we should expect to find protein sequences that are transitional from, say, fish to amphibian, or from reptile to mammal. But that’s not what we find at all. (150)

In his review of Denton’s book, however, Philip Spieth, a geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that Denton’s conclusions are erroneous. It is worth quoting Spieth at length:

These conclusions are erroneous: in his interpretation of “molecular equidistance,” Denton has confused ancestor-descendant relationships with cousin relationships. The telltale clues of molecular data are not, directly, concerned with parents and offspring, intermediate forms, and “missing links.” They are, instead, reflections of relative relatedness between contemporary cousins. Twentieth-century bacteria are not ancestors of twentieth-century turtles and dogs: they are very distant cousins, and, as the data in Denton’s presentation show, the bacteria are roughly equally distant cousins of both turtles and dogs (and all the other organisms that Denton included in Table 12.1).
Cousin relationships between contemporary individuals are governed by the number of generations since there last was an ancestor in common to the individuals. Different members of a group of close relatives always have the same relationship to a more distantly related individual who stands outside the group. Two sisters are equally related to a mutual first cousin. Members of a group of siblings and first cousins are all equally related to a mutual fifth cousin. Lampreys are equally distant cousins of both fish and humans because the last ancestor that lampreys had in common with humans was the same ancestor lampreys had in common with fish. The “molecular equidistance” argument that Denton invokes is invalid, resulting from making comparisons between a single distantly related organism and various members of a more closely related group.
There is an irony in Denton’s presentation to anyone familiar with the data of molecular evolution. Reflections of genealogical relationships are so strong in molecular data that Denton, in spite of his arguments to the contrary, is unable to hide them. The missing “trace” of which he speaks is not a trace; it is a shout. Simple inspection of the data in Table 12.1 will reveal that cytochrome C found in horses, for example, is quite similar in its molecular structure to that found in turtles, slightly less similar to that in fish, still less similar to that in insects, and very much less similar to that in bacteria. The traditional evolutionary series is very much in evidence.
Denton provides a series of diagrams (pp. 282-87) in which nested e[l]lipses, arranged on the basis of molecular data, are used to illustrate his spurious “molecular equidistance” thesis. In these delightful figures organisms are seen to cluster fully in accord with the genealogical relationships that evolutionary biologists deduced from comparative anatomy and paleontological evidence long before molecular data were available. In the final figure, humans and chimps are seen side by side as each other’s closest cousin. Anyone who wants to argue that these nested groups of organisms constitute separate, distinct, and unbridg[e]able groups has to contend with obvious hierarchical patterns of relatedness among the various groups. Notions of relatedness are, of course, antithetical to a typological view of organisms.[7]

(f) Regarding the fossil Record,G&T make three points: (1) gradualism predicts that we should find “thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now,” but that prediction is false; (2) the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is inconsistent with Darwinism because “nearly all of the major groups animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly…, fully formed, and at the same time;” and (3) the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships.
I shall argue that each objection is unsuccessful.
(1) is an argument from silence. Given the enormous popularity of this argument (hereafter, “the missing links argument”) in the anti-evolution literature, it is worth showing in detail that it is not successful.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, arguments from silence are a special version of a type of inductive argument known as an explanatory argument. If we let be our background information; S be some truth about the silence of a potential source of evidence; H1 and H2 be rival explanations; Pr(x) be the epistemic probability of some proposition x;[8] and Pr(x | y) be the epistemic probability of x conditional upon y, then we can define arguments from silence according to the following argument schema.

(1) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2) The prior probability of H1 is not much greater than H2, i.e., Pr(H1 | B) is not much greater than Pr(H2 | B).
(3) H2 gives us more reason to expect S than H1, i.e., Pr(S | H2) > Pr(S | H1).
(4) Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & S) < 1/2.

Like any other explanatory argument, an argument from silence can be logically correct if there is good reason to believe that premises (1)-(3) are true.
With this schema in place, let’s return to the missing links argument. If we abbreviate “the fossil record does not contain any transitional fossils” as S and let E represent evolution, then the missing links argument can be summarized as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) E is not intrinsically much more probable than ~E.
(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, E is probably false, i.e., Pr(E | B & S) < 1/2.

In support of the first premise, G&T use another type of inductive argument, the argument from authority. Their authority is the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; they claim he agrees with S on the basis of the following quotation.

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1). Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they appear; Morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2). Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.'[9]

Commenting on this quotation, G&T conclude, “In other words, Gould is admitting that fossil types appear suddenly, fully formed, and remain the same until extinction without any directional change…” (152). We shall abbreviate this conclusion as P.
The most charitable formulation of this argument from authority would be to formulate it as a special version of the inductive argument form known as the statistical syllogism.[10]

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record are true.
(6) P is a statement made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record.
(7) Therefore, P is true.

While some arguments from authority are inductively correct, this one is not. A careful reading of the Gould quotation does not support G&T’s interpretation. Gould wrote, “The history of most fossil species …,” not, “The history of all fossil species…” This basic distinction is crucial to a correct understanding of Gould’s point (and punctuated equilibrium in general), but anti-evolutionists often fail to recognize it. Indeed, Gould himself repeatedly stated that critics of evolution were quoting him out of context. In 1984, Gould wrote, “It is infuriating to be quoted again and again–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.”[11] He continued, “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.”[12] Note that Gould does not say that transitional forms are completely lacking at the species level, only that they are generally lacking. More recently, in 1994 Gould gave a specific example of a transitional sequence in the fossil record:

I am absolutely delighted to report that our usually recalcitrant fossil record has come through in exemplary fashion. During the past 15 years, new discoveries in Africa and Pakistan have added greatly to our paleontological knowledge of the earliest history of whales. The embarrassment of past absence has been replaced by a bounty of new evidence– and by the sweetest series of transitional forms an evolutionist can find. Truly, we have met the enemy and he is now ours. Moreover, to add blessed insult to the creationists’ injury, these discoveries have arrived in a gradual and sequential fashion– a little bit at a time, step by step, from a tentative hint, 15 years ago to a remarkable smoking gun early in 1994.[13]

It is a misuse of arguments from authority to misquote or misinterpret an authority.[14] Since G&T have misquoted or misinterpreted Gould, their argument from authority is fallacious. It does not support (1’).
But G&T have an independent supporting argument for (1’). Citing molecular biologist Jonathan Wells,[15] G&T also appeal to the so-called Cambrian “explosion” in support of (1’). In their words,

… nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period (which many scientists estimate to have occurred between 600 and 500 million years ago). (152)

Again, G&T do not provide the logical form of their argument, so, again, I will offer what I believe to be the most charitable formulation. Let RC be the reference class of “the major groups of animals known to exist” and AC be the attribute class of “appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period.” Then we can formulate the argument in the above quotation as an inductive argument type known as the statistical generalization.[16]

(8) Nearly all of the observed members of RC are AC.
(9) Therefore, nearly all RC are AC.

I have four replies.
First, the name Cambrian “explosion” is misleading insofar as it suggests to popular audiences—who are not used to thinking in geological timescales (i.e., tens to thousands of millions of years)—that there was a single event. In fact, this “explosion” represents a series of events over the course of 15 -20 million years. Alan Gishlick explains:

The Cambrian Explosion is, rather, the preservation of a series of faunas that occur over a 15-20 million year period starting around 535 million years ago (MA). A fauna is a group of organisms that live together and interact as an ecosystem; in paleontology, “fauna” refers to a group of organisms that are fossilized together because they lived together.[17]

Second, the fact—if it is a fact—that there are no known Cambrian transitional fossils is compatible with the existence of other, later transitional fossils. In other words, even if there are no known transitional fossils which can be dated between 600 and 500 million years ago, it doesn’t follow that there are no later transitional fossils, i.e., fossils which can be dated between 500 million years ago and the present. In fact, the fossil record does contain numerous transitional forms, forms which G&T do not acknowledge, much less refute, in their book.[18]
Third, as written, this statement is false: “most of the major groups of animals known to exist” do not appear in the fossil record in strata from the Cambrian period. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals do not appear in the fossil record until very much later than the Cambrian period, just as evolution predicts. The most charitable interpretation I can give to G&T’s statement is to assume that it is a typo. Instead of “nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist,” I assume that what G&T meant to write is “nearly all of the animal body plans known to exist.” Thus, we should revise RC as follows:

RC’: the reference class of “the animal body plans known to exist”

And the revised statistical generalization becomes:

(8’) Nearly all of the observed members of RC’ are AC.
(9’) Therefore, nearly all RC’ are AC.

I take this revised statistical generalization to be charitable, since it would make G&T’s point consistent with the recent, published work of Stephen Meyer, another leading ID theorist.[19]
Fourth, even (8’) is false. As Gishlick points out, many of the Cambrian body plans—including those of cnidrians, molluscs, sponges, wormlike metazoans, bilateral animals, and possibly arthropods—do not appear “abruptly.” We have fossilized remains of their precursors from fossils dating 10-60 million years older than their Cambrian descendants. As Gishlick explains:

Sixty million years is approximately the same amount of time that has elapsed since the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, providing plenty of time for evolution. In treating the Cambrian Explosion as a single event preceded by nothing, Wells misrepresents fact – the Cambrian explosion is not a single event, nor is it instantaneous and lacking in any precursors.[20]

The upshot is that both supporting arguments for (1’) fail. Thus, G&T have not given any good reasons to think (1’) is true. Furthermore, again, there is very good reason to think (1’) is false, namely, all of the fossilized intermediate and transitional forms, including reptile-birds, reptile-mammals, ape-humans, legged whales, and legged seacows.[21]
Let’s move onto the missing link argument’s premise (3’). G&T write:

If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now. (2770-2771)

Since it is implied that if Darwinism is false, we would not expect to find transitional fossils, it seems reasonable to interpret G&T as asserting (3’). For convenience, here it is again.

(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).

As it stands, however, (3’) is not obviously true. By itself, evolution doesn’t predict how many transitional fossils we would find today. Rather, by itself, evolution predicts that there were “thousands, of not millions,” of transitional forms, i.e. living beings. After a living being dies, its remains may or may not be destroyed (such as being eaten by other animals or by decay). If its remains are not destroyed, the remains may or may not become fossilized. If a dead organism is fossilized, that fossil may or may not survive intact to the present day. If the fossil survives intact to the present day, that fossil may or may not be found. If the fossil is found, it may or may not have preserved enough information to determine whether it is transitional. If the fossil preserves enough information to identify it as transitional, it may or may not have been examined yet by someone knowledgeable enough to identify it as such.[22]
The hypothesis of evolution says nothing about any of this. We get predictions about the number of transitional fossils only when we combine evolution with one or more auxiliary hypotheses about the frequency of fossilization, fossil preservation, fossil discovery, and fossil classification. G&T do not defend any of these auxiliary hypotheses and so their case for (3′) is, at best, incomplete.
So why should we believe (3’) is true? According to G&T, the answer is “because Darwin said so.”

… [Charles Darwin] did recognize that the fossil record posed a big problem for his theory because it didn’t show gradualism. That’s why he wrote, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain, and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”(152)

There is little doubt that G&T’s quotation of Darwin has great rhetorical value; it is analogous to the courtroom strategy of obtaining testimony from a hostile witness. What this quotation has in rhetorical value, it lacks in logical or evidential value.  Once again G&T making an argument from authority and, once again, the argument is logically incorrect because G&T have quotemined that authority.
The quotation appears in Darwin’s Origin of Species, sixth edition, in chapter 10, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record.” As Jon Barber points out, “Darwin’s writing style was to ask a rhetorical question and then give an answer.”[23]  In order to show Darwin’s tendency “in action,” I’m going to quote a longer excerpt of the book than G&T did, with the portion quoted by G&T in italics.

But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
In the first place, it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on the theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself forms DIRECTLY intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants. To give a simple illustration: the fantail and pouter pigeons are both descended from the rock-pigeon; if we possessed all the intermediate varieties which have ever existed, we should have an extremely close series between both and the rock-pigeon; but we should have no varieties directly intermediate between the fantail and pouter; none, for instance, combining a tail somewhat expanded with a crop somewhat enlarged, the characteristic features of these two breeds. These two breeds, moreover, have become so much modified, that, if we had no historical or indirect evidence regarding their origin, it would not have been possible to have determined from a mere comparison of their structure with that of the rock-pigeon, C. livia, whether they had descended from this species or from some other allied species, such as C. oenas.
So with natural species, if we look to forms very distinct, for instance to the horse and tapir, we have no reason to suppose that links directly intermediate between them ever existed, but between each and an unknown common parent. The common parent will have had in its whole organisation much general resemblance to the tapir and to the horse; but in some points of structure may have differed considerably from both, even perhaps more than they differ from each other. Hence, in all such cases, we should be unable to recognise the parent-form of any two or more species, even if we closely compared the structure of the parent with that of its modified descendants, unless at the same time we had a nearly perfect chain of the intermediate links. (boldface mine)

The extended passage, especially the sentence I’ve boldfaced  above, exposes the inaccuracy in G&T’s selective quotation of Darwin. Not only does the extended passage fail to support (3’); it provides clear and decisive evidence against it. Furthermore, Darwin’s explanation also directly refutes the familiar creationist claim, parroted by G&T, that “All animal groups appear separately, fully formed, and at the same time” (###).
G&T also object to the fossil record as evidence for evolution for another reason. Following Michael Denton and Jonathan Wells, G&T argue that “the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships” (###).  As Mark Vuletic has argued, however, Denton relies upon “unreasonably strict criteria” for recognizing transitional forms. I will quote Vuletic at length.

Now to the fossil record. Similar to the creationists, Denton proposes that there are not enough transitional forms in the fossil record, and that what transitional forms do exist are rather dubious in nature because they do not show soft organ changes (since organs aren’t fossilized) and are not intermediate in every single characteristic. Thus, Archaeopteryx lithographica, perhaps the most famous transitional form of all time, is inadequate because its wings and feathers were fully formed. Never mind that Archaeopteryx sported more reptilian skeletal characteristics than it did avian ones, and ignore the fact that its skeletal characteristics very closely match a class of wingless reptiles called therodonts that existed around the same time and in the same geographical location. It is apparent, then, that Denton’s standards for labeling a fossil a “transitional form” are unreasonably restrictive.
As far as soft organ characteristics go, researchers can indeed also obtain information on a fossilized organism’s soft anatomy and behavior by paying attention to structural characteristics. Thus, the recent find of Ambulocetus natans (Berta, 1994) lends further credence to the ungulate-to-whale transition that Denton finds so incredulous, because the skeletal arrangement of the creature is such that it could undulate its spine to produce a motion not unlike that of the whale’s tail motion (not to mention that Ambulocetus was found geographically and temporally just about where evolutionists hoped to find it). Similarly, examination of the configuration of basal ridges in fossilized reptile-mammal transitional form skulls shows how endothermy developed gradually, even though the evolution of the soft, complex endothermic apparatus could not be directly observed (Hillenius, 1994).
Denton’s denial of the fish-to-amphibian transition as demonstrated by Eusthenopteron (a late Devonian fish) and Icthyostega (a late Devonian amphibian) is a striking example of the excessive demands he makes on transitional forms. He echoes creationist Duane Gish’s criticism that Icthyostega has well developed limbs for terrestrial movement, while Eusthenopteron has mere fins. In the first place, it is unreasonable to expect a transitional form to be transitional in every single skeletal characteristic it exhibits. Secondly, the correlation between the skull and vertebral characteristics of the two creatures is impossible to account for in a framework of typology:
The crossopterygian fish Eusthenopteron is linked to the early amphibian Icthyostega by a number of characteristics: (1) same pattern of skull bones as Icthyostega, (2) internal nostrils (found only in land animals and sarcopterygians – a taxonomic group encompassing lungfish and crossopterygians), (3) teeth like amphibians’, (4) a two-part cranium (icthyostegids are the only other vertebrates that have this characteristic), and (5) same vertebral structure. (derived from McGowan, 1984, 152-153)
Every once in a while, a new transitional form turns up and strengthens the evolutionary pattern inherent in the fossil record . But in any case, to deny that the ones that already exist are what they appear to be is a sure indication of unreasonably strict criteria for transitional forms.[24]

In summary, then, all of G&T’s objections to biological evolution fail.


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

Notes
[1] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
[2] Paul Draper, “Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: a Reply to Michael J. Behe,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2002), 3–21.
[3] Carl Zimmer, “Evolution of Feathers: The Long Curious Extravagant Evolution of Feathers,” National Geographic  (February 2011). Republished electronically at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2011/02/feathers/zimmer-text
[4] Zimmer 2011.
[5] Zimmer 2011.
[6] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1986).
[7] Philip T. Spieth, “Review: “Evolution — A Theory in Crisis” Zygon 22 (1987), 249-68. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.1987.tb00849.x. Republished electronically at http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/review-evolution-theory-crisis
[8] By “epistemic probability,” I mean this. “Relative to K, p is epistemically more probable than q, where K is an epistemic situation and p and q are propositions, just in case any fully rational person in K would have a higher degree of belief in p than in q.” See Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. by Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 27.
[9] Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 86 (1977): 13-14, quoted in G&T 2004, 152.
[10] See Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 98.
[11] Stephen Jay Gould, Hens Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: Norton & Co., 1983), 260. Reprinted in “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 123-24. Italics are mine.
[12] Gould 1983, 261.
[13] Stephen Jay Gould, “Hooking Leviathan by its Past” Natural History 5/94, 11.
[14] Salmon 1984, 98.
[15] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000).
[16] Salmon 1984, 90.
[17] Alan Gishlick, “Icons of Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution is Wrong” National Center for Science Education (October 23, 2008), http://ncse.com/files/pub/creationism/icons/gishliick_icons_critique_complete.pdf, 11-12.
[18] See L. Beverly Halstead, “Evolution–The Fossils Say Yes!” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 240-254; Roger J. Cuffey, “Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 255-281; Laurie R. Godfrey, “Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record” Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 193-218.
[19] Meyer argues that Cambrian animal forms contain “functionally specified information” and so are irreducibly complex systems; moreover, this morphological irreducible complexity is independent of the sort of biochemical irreducible complexity argued by Behe. Meyer’s argument, however, fails for the following reasons. (i) Even if the origin of Cambrian animal forms were evidence favoring ID over naturalism, at best Meyer’s argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Meyer neglects to mention other known facts about Cambrian animal forms, facts which favor naturalism over ID. For example, (a) the Cambrian era did not include animal forms much more impressive than known Cambrian forms; (b) the creation of new information is habitually associated with embodied minds; and (c) all living animals on Earth are the gradually modified descendants of Cambrian animals. (ii) According to Meyer, an unknown Intelligent Designer used an unknown, mysterious mechanism to design Cambrian animal forms for an unknown purpose. It follows, therefore, that Meyer’s intelligent design “hypothesis” is, at best, an explanation name, not an actual explanation, because the Intelligent Designer’s methods and purposes are unknown and, indeed, mysterious. As philosopher Paul Draper pointed out (in an unrelated context), “Mystification is the opposite of explanation.” See Stephen L. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life (New York: Harper One, 2013); and Paul Draper, “A Darwinian Argument from Evil,” unpublished paper. Cf. Gregory W. Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009).
[20] Gishlick 2008, 13.
[21] See Douglas Theobald, “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Part 1: The Unique Universal Phylogenetic Tree,” The TalkOrigins Archive (2013), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html#morphological_intermediates.
[22] Mark Isaak, “Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CC200.1” The TalkOrigins Archive (2005), http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200_1.html.
[23] See Jon Barber, “Quote #75” in The Quote Mine Project: Or Lies, Damned Lies, and Quote Mines at The Talk.Origins Archive (2003-2004), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/part1-4.html.
[24] Mark I. Vuletic, “Review of Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,” The Talk.Origins Archive (1996-97), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/denton.html.

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_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 3: Chapter 4

Chapter 4. Divine Design

 
G&T provide a brief introduction to what they call ‘the’ Teleological Argument, which they formulate as follows.
1. Every design had a designer.
2. The universe has a highly complex design.
3. Therefore, the universe had a Designer. (95)
Like the cosmological argument, this argument is deductively valid. Again, my plan is to provide a very brief summary of G&T’s defense of this argument, before providing some critical comments of my own.
(i) Evidence of Design: G&T provide a helpful metaphor with NASA’s Apollo 13 mission to introduce their readers to the basic thrust of their design argument, in which they emphasize the following “anthropic constants”: (1) oxygen level; (2) atmospheric transparency; (3) moon-earth gravitational interaction; (4) carbon dioxide level; and (5) gravity. In order for life to be possible, the value of each constant has to be within a very narrow range. They list ten additional such constants and then refer to astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who has identified a total of 122 such constants.
How does this constitute evidence of design? First, G&T argue that if any of the anthropic constants had a value outside of a very narrow range, life would have been impossible. Next, they ask us to imagine lots of different possible universes, each with different values of the anthropic constants. If we compare the number of life-permitting universes to the number of possible universes, we will find that only a small portion of the possible universes are life-permitting.  Indeed, summarizing Ross’s calculations, G&T report that the probability that all 122 of these constants would have life-permitting values for any planet in the universe by chance is 1 in 10138.
(ii) Atheistic Objections: G&T then consider atheistic responses to this argument: (1) an admission of a Designer; (2) chance (in the form of the Multiple Universe or multiverse hypothesis). After presenting a series of objections to the multiverse hypothesis, G&T triumphantly conclude that the anthropic principle shows “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the universe is designed (111). Furthermore, they claim that atheists who remain atheists in the face of this design argument are irrational and unwilling to admit there is a designer (112).
(iii) Some Critical Comments: Having now outlined the case which G&T make for divine design, I shall now make some critical comments.  As will become clear from my comments, I think that G&T only considered the weakest objections to their argument.
(a) Question-begging: First, G&T’s version of the teleological argument is a petitio principii, viz., it begs the question.[1] Why do G&T not consider the possibility that the universe’s life-permitting conditions are the result of impersonal, mechanistic causes? Because they rule out that possibility in advance. G&T can conclude “the universe has a highly complex design” only by assuming that the universe’s life-permitting conditions had a Designer. But G&T also claim that the design argument is supposed to lead to the conclusion that the universe had a Designer. The presupposition that the universe had a Designer is both an assumption and a conclusion of G&T’s design argument. This vicious circularity nullifies their argument in its present form.
In order to repair the argument, G&T would have to rely upon non-question-begging premises. For example, let’s start with the statement about the “anthropic constants.” Then the first premise of the repaired argument can be written as follows.

1’. We know that only a small portion of the range of possible values that the anthropic constants could have had would be life permitting.

Next, we need to add a statement about how theism “predicts” the cosmic design data better than atheism.

2’. The fact that the anthropic constants have life permitting values is much more probable on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption that God does not exist.

Finally, we conclude with a statement about the direction and weight of the evidence.

3’. The fact that the anthropic constants have life permitting values is strong evidence for the existence of God.

Although G&T don’t explicitly appeal to 1’-3’, I trust that even they would agree that their version of the design argument depends upon the truth of all three statements. Furthermore, unlike G&T’s version, this design argument doesn’t beg the question. Finally, this repaired argument is useful because its premises clarify some of the key disputes between proponents and critics of this type of design argument. This leads to my next point.
(b) G&T Understate the Evidence: Even if we assume that so-called cosmic “fine-tuning” is evidence favoring theism over naturalism, that argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence.[2]  In other words, even if the general fact of fine-tuning is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that naturalism is true, it ignores other, more specific facts about fine-tuning, facts that, given fine-tuning, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.
What are these other facts?
(1) So much of the universe is highly hostile to life. Most of the universe is incredibly hostile to life, such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.[3]
(2) Our universe is not teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that our universe is not known to have relatively more impressive life is much more probable on single-universe naturalism than it is on theism.[4]
(3) The only intelligent life we know of is human. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in the universe, the fact that the only intelligent life we know of is human is very many times more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.[5]
(4) Intelligent life is the result of evolution. G&T dispute the fact of biological evolution, so we will address their objections later.  For now we will simply note the following. Given that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution (if it is a fact) is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.[6]
The upshot is this. Even if the general fact of cosmic “fine-tuning” were more probable on theism than on naturalism, there are other, more specific facts about cosmic “fine-tuning,” facts that, given cosmic “fine-tuning,” are more likely on naturalism than on theism. Once all of the evidence about cosmic “fine-tuning” has been fully stated, however, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor theism over naturalism.
(c) Completely Arbitrary Probability Estimates: Recall that G&T appeal to Ross’s probability estimates in order to show that the probability of 122 anthropic constants having life-permitting values is 1 in 10138.[7] Ross arrives at this ridiculously low number, in part, from multiplying together his estimates of the probabilities for each anthropic constant or parameter. Consider, for example, the relative abundances of different exotic mass particles. Ross estimates that the probability of that parameter having a life-permitting value is 0.1.
But there are two problems with Ross’s methodology. First, Ross doesn’t describe the range of possible values for each parameter or, more important, the subset of such values which would be life-permitting (even if we grant the bogus assumption that life as we know it is the only possible kind of life). In the absence of such a range, it’s hard to independently test his probability estimates.
Second, if these probability estimates are subjective probabilities—and that’s unclear—then Ross provides no justification for accepting them. The problem is not that they are subjective probabilities per se. The use of subjective probabilities can be justified if (a) the estimator is calibrated; and (b) there are no equally competent authorities who disagree. Rather, the problem is that Ross provides no evidence that his estimates of his own uncertainty are “calibrated,” i.e., that he consistently avoids a bias towards overconfidence or underconfidence when estimating subjective probabilities.[8] Without a reason to believe that Ross is a calibrated estimator, we have no reason to put any credence into his estimates. And it’s highly probable that Ross is not a calibrated estimator, for the simple reason that calibration training teaches subject matter experts to estimate a range of numerical values, rather than providing point estimates such as those provided by Ross.
(d) Varying the Constants but Fixing the Physics: G&T’s argument depends upon counting the number of possible universes with different values for the anthropic constants but with the same laws of physics. But why restrict the set of possible universes to only those with the same laws of physics? Why not also include possible universes with different physics? Bradley Monton makes this point extremely well; it’s worth quoting him at length.

The general point is as follows: when faced with the fine-tuning evidence, it is reasonable to not be surprised. We already knew that there are many possible universes that are not life-permitting, and yet are similar in certain ways to our actual universe. The fine-tuning argument encourages us to focus our attention on those possible universes that have the same laws of physics as ours, but different fundamental constants. But why not focus on those possible universes that have the same types of particles as ours, but different fundamental laws? Or why not focus on those possible universes that have the same density distribution as ours, but different types of particles? Before I was faced with the fine-tuning evidence, I already knew that our universe was special, in the sense that there are many possible universes similar to ours in certain ways and yet not life-permitting. I already knew that, if God existed, God would have to choose to actualize our life-permitting universe from among a sea of similar non-life-permitting universes. I already knew that, if God did not exist, there’s a sense in which we are lucky that the universe is life-permitting—there are many possible universes similar to ours which are not. The fine-tuning evidence doesn’t change any of that, and hence the fine-tuning evidence doesn’t change my probability for the existence of God.[9]

The upshot is that if our goal is to count the relative frequency of life-permitting universes among all possible universes, then we have to consider all possible universes, not just those with the same laws of physics. Since neither G&T nor Ross have done that, it follows that their defense of this crucial premise (and hence their design argument as a whole) is, at best, incomplete.
(e) The (Im)probability of Fine-Tuning on Theism: Consider an analogy. Let E be the evidence that I rolled a four when rolling a fair six-sided die; geocentrism (G) be the hypothesis that the earth is the center of the solar system; and heliocentrism (H) be the hypothesis that the sun is the center of the solar system. H gives us virtually no reason at all to expect that I would roll a four. In fact, based upon our background knowledge (B) about fair dice, we would predict that I did not roll a four. In other words, H and B combined predict not E (~E). But this would be a horrible reason for saying that E favors G & B over H & B. Why? G and B combined also predict ~E. So there’s no reason at all to think my rolling a four is more probable on G than on H. But then it follows that there’s no reason to think my rolling a four is evidence favoring G over H.
This same point applies to G&T’s design argument. In order to show that the anthropic constants (or any other potential evidence) favor theism over atheism, one has to do more than show that the data is improbable on atheism. One also has to show that (i) theism predicts the data while atheism does not; (ii) atheism predicts the non-existence of the data while theism does not; or (c) that the data is more probable on theism than on atheism.  Otherwise, by definition, there is literally no reason at all to believe that the data is evidence favoring theism over atheism. With that in mind, then, we may ask the following question. What reason do G&T offer for thinking that the anthropic constants are more probable on theism than on atheism? So far as I can tell, the answer is, “None whatsoever.”
Furthermore, it’s far from obvious that the anthropic constants are more probable on theism than on atheism. As G&T explain, theism is the belief that “a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe” (22). On the assumption that theism is true, it’s far from obvious that God would fine-tune a physical universe for life. In fact, this is still far from obvious even if we assume that God wants to create other minds besides his own, which is itself a debatable assumption. Even if God wants to create other minds besides his own, why should we assume that He would want to create embodied minds rather than just immaterial souls or spirits? G&T never say; in fact, G&T don’t even consider the question. This is yet another reason why G&T’s design argument is, at best, incomplete.

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

Notes
[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Edited and with Commentary by Nelson Pike (Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merill, 1970); Antony Flew, “Arguments to Design” The Secular Web (1996), http://infidels.org/library/modern/antony_flew/design.html. I am grateful to Robert Greg Cavin for bringing Nelson Pike’s commentary to my attention.
[2] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” The Great Debate (2008), http://infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/no-design.html.
[3] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “Hostility of the Universe to Life: Understated Evidence about Cosmic Fine-Tuning?” The Secular Outpost (January 22, 2013), https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2013/01/22/hostility-of-the-universe-to-life-understated-evidence-about-cosmic-fine-tuning/.
[4] Draper 2008.
[5] Draper 2008.
[6] Draper 2008.
[7] Incidentally, intelligent design theorist William Dembski has argued that any event with a probability less than 1 in 10150 can be expected to happen by chance alone during the lifetime of our universe. If Dembski is correct, then this point may undermine the significance of Ross’ probability estimates. But I do not wish to place any emphasis on this point since I was unable to analyze Dembski’s argument before finishing this review. Interested readers may wish to consult William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield,m 2002). Thanks to Richard Carrier for making me aware of this point.
[8] Douglas W. Hubbard, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business (3rd ed., New York: Wiley, 2014).
[9] Bradley Monton, “God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2006): 405-424 at 420-21. Italics are mine.

bookmark_borderIndex: Draper’s Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution

The purpose of this page is to provide an index for my blog series on Paul Draper’s evidential argument against theism based on biological evolution.

  • Part 1: a summary of the argument
  • Part 2: a critical assessment of William Lane Craig’s attempt to turn the tables on Draper and argue that evolution is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.

See also:

 

bookmark_borderDraper on Pain and Pleasure: Part 4

This post is part of a series on Paul Draper’s classic version of the evidential argument from evil. In the previous entry, I summarized Draper’s refutation of three theodicies which might be used as an objection to the claim that HI explains the facts about the biological role of pain and pleasure much better than T does. In this post, I’m going to review the final section of Draper’s classic 1989 article on the evidential argument from evil.
1. Darwin’s Argument from Evil
In the final section of his paper, Draper sets up an analogy between Darwin’s evidential argument against special creationism and Draper’s evidential argument against theism. It is worth quoting Draper’s remarks about Darwin’s argument in full.

“Darwin argued that his theory of the evolution of species by means of natural selection explains numerous facts (e.g., the geographical distribution of species and the existence of atrophied organs in animals) much better than the alternative hypothesis that each species of plant and animal was independently created by God. (Let us call this latter hypothesis “special creationism.”) Darwin’s results were significant partly because special creationists at Darwin’s time did not have nor were they able to obtain evidence favoring special creationism over evolution theory that outweighed or at least offset Darwin’s evidence favoring evolution theory over special creationism. For this reason, many theists, while continuing to believe in creationism, which is consistent with Darwin’s theory, rejected special creationism. And those theists who were familiar with Darwin’s arguments and yet remained special creationists did so at a cost: their belief in special creationism was no longer an epistemically rational one.”

Draper says that the significance of his evidential argument from evil is to be determined in an analogous way, viz., it depends upon whether theists have evidence favoring T over HI, evidence which could offset his evidence O favoring HI over T. (N.B. Draper points out this evidence could be propositional evidence, non-propositional evidence, or both.) If a theist confronted with his argument lacks and cannot find such offsetting evidence, Draper argues, the theist “cannot rationally continue to believe that theism is true.”
2. Prospects for Theistic Offsetting Evidence
Draper then offers four reasons for doubting the theist will be able to find such offsetting evidence. It is interesting to compare those reasons (offered in 1989) with the positions Draper has adopted later in his career.
(1) In his 1989 paper, Draper claims that it is “doubtful that it could be shown that HI is ad hoc or that T is intrinsically more probable than HI.” It is noteworthy that, long after his 1989 paper, Draper finally started developing his new theory of epistemic probability. When that theory of epistemic probability is applied to HI and T, it yields the result that the intrinsic probability of HI is significantly greater than T.
(2) Next, Draper argued in 1989 that “Traditional and contemporary arguments for theism are far from compelling.” Since 1989, Draper has gone on record as stating that several facts are evidence favoring T over naturalism (which entails HI). Indeed, he even published a paper arguing that the argument from moral agency is “in the same league” as his evidential argument from evil. But Draper also usefully identified a new fallacy of inductive reasoning he calls the “fallacy of understated evidence.” According to Draper, many (most?) evidential arguments for theism, including his own argument from moral agency, commit the fallacy of understated evidence.
(3) Draper’s third reason (in 1989) for thinking that the theist’s search for offsetting evidence will be difficult is this.

Many traditional and contemporary arguments for theism … may not solve the theist’s position even if they are sound and recognized by the theist to be so. For they at most purport to show that an omnipotent and omniscient being exists–not that the being is morally perfect.”

This point seems (to this writer) as true in 2014 as it was in 1989.
(4) Finally, Draper argues (in 1989) that religious experience doesn’t solve the problem identified in (3): “Religious experience is ambiguous with respect to the moral attributes of the creator.” Furthermore, he notes that theistic justification derived from theistic experiences is offset by atheistic justification derived from “experiences of indifference.” Not only is this yet another example of the fallacy of understated evidence, but Draper wrote an article in 1992 on the evidential value of religious experience. In that article, Draper concluded that three specific facts about religious experience favor atheism over T.

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution: Part 1

Many conservative Christians and lay atheists alike claim that if biological evolution is true, then God does not exist. Ironically, while many conservative Christians have attacked evolution because it supposedly entails atheism, only one contemporary atheist philosopher has argued that evolution is evidence for atheism: Paul Draper.
Draper defends an evidential argument from evolution for naturalism. In other words, Draper’s argument does not claim that evolution is logically inconsistent with the existence of God. Rather, it claims that known facts about evolution that are consistent with theism nevertheless provide evidence against it. Draper argues that, all other things held equal, known facts about the origin of complex life are prima facie evidence against theism.
This argument is focused on God in general, not necessarily the Christian God. This doesn’t make the argument irrelevant to Christian theism, however. Since Christian theism entails theism, the probability of Christian theism cannot be greater than the probability of theism simpliciter.
Informal Statement of the Argument
This argument assumes the truth of biological evolution; for a defense of that assumption, see the Talk.Origins archive. To be sure, biological evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution to create life. But if theism were true, God could have also used many other methods to create life, methods which are impossible if naturalism is true. In contrast, if naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. Furthermore, since theism implies a metaphysical dualism, it is antecedently likely on theism 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 naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
Formal Statement of the Argument
Definitions
genealogical thesis: complex life evolved from simple life
genetic thesis: all evolutionary change in populations of complex organisms either is or is the result of trans-generational genetic change.
evolution: the genealogical thesis conjoined with the genetic thesis
Darwinism: the much more specific claim that natural selection operating on random genetic mutation is the principal mechanism driving the evolutionary change that results in increased complexity
supernatural person: a person that is neither a part nor a product of the physical universe
perfect person: perfect in power (omnipotent), perfect in knowledge (omniscient), and perfect in moral goodness (morally perfect).
God: a perfect supernatural person
hypothesis: a proposition which we do not know with certainty to be true or false
theism: the hypothesis that God is the creator of the physical universe.
metaphysical naturalism: the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.
Note: Draper mentions Darwinism only to clarify that his argument is not an evidential argument for naturalism from Darwinism, which would be question-begging, but an evidential argument for naturalism from evolution (as defined above).
Draper’s Evidential Argument from Evolution
Logical Form
(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.
(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. [From 1 and 2]
(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. [From 3 and 4]
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. [From 5 and 6]
Legend
Pr(x): the epistemic probability of any proposition x
Pr(x/y): the epistemic probability of any proposition x conditional upon y
“>!”: “is much more probable than”
“>!!”: “is very much more probable than”
E: evolution
T: theism
N: metaphysical naturalism
P: pain and pleasure are systematically connected to reproductive success (cf. Draper’s argument from the biological role of pain and pleasure)
Draper’s Evidential Argument from Evolution Restated
(1) Pr(E/N) >! Pr(E/T).
(2) Pr(P/E&N) >! Pr(P/E&T).
(3) Pr(E&P/N) >!! Pr(E&P/T). (From 1 and 2)
(4) Other evidence held equal, Pr(N) >= Pr(T).
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, Pr(N/E&P) >!! Pr(T/E&P). (From 3 and 4)
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, Pr(T/E&P) <!! 1/2. (From 5 and 6)
Draper’s Defense of His Premises
First Premise
Here, again, is Draper’s first premise:

(1) Pr(E/N) >! Pr(E/T).

Let S ≡ special creationism. E entails ~S. Therefore, E is logically equivalent to ~S & E.

Pr(E/N) >! Pr(E/T) iff Pr(~S&*E/N) >! Pr(~S&E/T)

Using axioms of the probability calculus, this becomes:

Pr(E/N) >! Pr(E/T) iff Pr(~S/N) x Pr(E/~S & N) >! Pr(~S/T) x Pr(E/~S&T)

Therefore, Draper’s strategy for showing that Pr(E/N) >! Pr(E/T) is to show that
A. Pr(~S/N) >! Pr(~S/T), and
B. Pr(E/~S&N) >= Pr(E/~S&T)
Draper’s Defense of A
N entails that S is false. So Pr(~S/N) = 1.
Given T, however, S might be true. So Pr(~S/T) <1. Therefore, Pr(~S/N) > Pr(~S/T). But, Draper observes, we can make a much more interesting claim than that, namely, that Pr(~S/T) <= 1/2. In other words, Pr(S/T) >= 1/2. The reasons for believing this are as follows:

  • “At first glance, it seems that the evidence for evolution is the only strong reason theists have for believing that God is not a special creator (which is to say that we don’t have any strong antecedent reasons for believing this).”
  • “We know by past experience that God, if He exists, has at least latent deistic tendencies.” Even independent of the evidence for evolution, the past success of naturalistic science does provide some reason for theists to believe that God is not a special creator.
  • Theists have a very strong antecedent reason for believing that God did create at least some complex life independently: the division between conscious and nonconscious life is enormously significant if theism is true.
  • “Before Darwin, many theists were special creationists.”

Thus, Pr(~S/T) <= 1/2. But notice that this entails that “~S is at least twice as probable antecedently on naturalism as it is on theism, which implies that it at least doubles the ratio of the probability of naturalism to the probability of theism.”
Draper’s Defense of B
The probabilities in B are to be assessed relative to the background knowledge that various complex life forms exist.
N entails that S is false, so ~S&N is logically equivalent to just N. Given that complex life exists, what makes evolution so likely given N is the lack of plausible naturalistic alternatives to evolution.
Given T, however, alternatives to evolution are somewhat more likely, simply because there is less reason to assume the complex must arise from the simple.
Therefore, Pr(E/~S&N) >= Pr(E/~S & T).
Second Premise
Recall that P represents the statement, “pain and pleasure are systematically connected to reproductive success.” Here, again, is Draper’s second premise:

(2) Pr(P/E&N) >! Pr(P/E&T).

In order to see why, let’s bring Darwinism (D) back into the conversation. Recall that D is the claim that natural selection operating on random genetic mutation is the principal mechanism driving the evolutionary change that results in increased complexity. D is much more probable given evolutionary naturalism than given theism.

Pr(D/E&N) !> Pr(D/E&T)

First, consider Pr(D/E&N).

  • D explains the increase in the complexity of life over time better than other potential naturalistic explanations;
  • D solves an explanatory problem for naturalism: the problem of explaining teleological order in organic systems;
  • Natural selection is just the sort of “blind” process one would expect to drive evolution if naturalism is true, since natural selection explains teleological order in organic systems without itself displaying such order

Second, consider Pr(D/E&T). Since evolutionary theism can explain teleological order in terms of God’s conscious purposes, it would not be surprising at all if the principal mechanisms driving evolution were such that they themselves displayed teleological order.
For these reasons, then, Pr(D/E&N) !> Pr(D/E&T).
Let us now return to the second premise:

(2) Pr(P/E&N) !> Pr(E&T).

Here are the supporting arguments.

  • E&N&D provide an antecedent reason for believing that pain and pleasure, like anything else produced by natural selection, will be systematically connected to reproductive success, which is what P states.
  • Our background knowledge includes the fact many other parts of organic systems are systematically connected to reproductive success.
  • Given E&T, however, P would be true only if the biological goal of reproductive success and some unknown justifying moral goal happened to coincide in such a way that each could be simultaneously satisfied. That’s a really big coincidence that E&N&D don’t need.
  • In fact, evolutionary naturalism (E&N) entails nothing that would provide an antecedent reason for doubting that pain and pleasure will resemble other parts of organic systems by being systematically connected to reproductive success. On the assumption that E&N is true, it would be extremely surprising if pain and pleasure appeared to be anything but morally random, whereas on the assumption that theism is true, a discernible moral pattern would be less surprising.

References
See 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.
Related Material

bookmark_borderGOP Creationist Believes in Evolution Within Phyla

Check this out:
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/11/gop-lawmaker-claims-evolution-doesnt-square-with-facts-big-or-little-dogs-are-still-dogs/#.VFqEGyIxkoU.email
In addition to the usual nonsense, there is something interesting here. This guy says he believes in evolution up to a point, that is, within a phylum. Creationists all along have endorsed evolution within “kinds,” whatever those are. Supposing that this guy knows what a phylum is, he seems to extend the “kind” all the way to phyla. In short, he seems to think that you or I could have evolved from any chordate ancestor. I guess he would endorse the old song (To the tune of “It’s a Long way to Tipperary”):

It’s a long way from Amphioxus
It’s a long way to us.
It’s a long way from Amphioxus
to the meanest human cuss.
Goodbye fins and gill slits.
Hello teeth and hair!
Its a long, long way from Amphioxus,
But we came from there!

Really?!? Of course, I cannot see how this is not giving away the store. You and I might have evolved from, say, Pikaia, back in the Cambrian, but evolution cannot handle a bigger change then that. Howcome???