bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God – Part 2

In a previous post I pointed out three different problems related to the third argument in Richard Swinburne’s systematic case for the existence of God.  The third argument is the final argument of his arguments from the nature of the universe.  It is his Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO):
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
The first problem is that the premise might well be false.  The fact that human bodies did evolve several billions of years after the Big Bang, does NOT imply that this event was probable or likely.  In fact, it seems rather improbable that HUMAN bodies would evolve just the way that they did.  However, Swinburne does not really mean “human bodies” literally here.  He means any sort of body that would be suitable for a ‘humanly free agent’, so that leaves open a wide variety of possibilities in addition to the kind of human bodies that actually exist.  Nevertheless, it is not clear to me that it was probable that bodies suitable for ‘humanly free agents’ would evolve in our universe;  the evolution of such bodies could be a lucky accident.
The second problem is that it seems IMPROBABLE that God would use the slow and (literally) painful process of evolution to bring about animals and human bodies, when God could have designed and created millions or billions of animals and humans in the blink of an eye.  God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.    Most importantly, instantaneous creation would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand.  So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true; rather it provides evidence AGAINST the existence of God.
The third problem is the most serious, because it affects his whole systematic case for the existence of God. Unlike the premises of his first two arguments for God, the premise of TASO requires a great deal of background knowledge.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must first know, at least, that the theory of evolution is the correct theory of human origins.
In order to know that the theory of evolution is true, one must know a significant number of scientific concepts, facts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, and astronomy) plus one must have some awareness of philosophy of science and the history of science.  For all practical intents and purposes, Swinburne has sucked in most of modern scientific knowledge (at least at the level of high school biology, chemistry, etc.) into the background knowledge of TASO and thus into the background knowledge in all the remaining arguments in his case for God.
One big problem is that knowledge of evolution clearly involves knowledge of the problem of evil, at least knowledge of the problem of natural evil.  In order to know that evolution has occurred one must be aware of the fact of natural death, predation, disease, accidental injury, and natural disasters.  Thus, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO, one must deal with the problem of evil, at least with the problem of natural evil.
One option Swinburne has would be to simply dump TASO, to completely remove it from his sequence of arguments, and move on to the first argument in the next phase of arguments (that are based on human life).  That is probably his best option.  But if Swinburne insisted on retaining TASO as the third argument in his sequence of arguments for God, then he would have to deal with the problem of natural evil as part of the evaluation of TASO.
On the face of it, the problem of natural evil sinks TASO; that is to say, if we add (e3) and the required background knowledge to the previous information from his first two arguments, then TASO would REDUCE rather than increase the probability that God exists.  In order to avoid TASO reducing the probability of God, Swinburne would have to engage his theodicy for explaining natural evil, and he would have to do so as a part of his evaluation of TASO.
Swinburne explains natural evil or justifies the perfect goodness of God in view of natural evil by making a few basic points:

  • Natural death provides a limitation on the amount of suffering that one animal or human must endure.
  • The vulnerability of animals and humans to being killed provides many opportunities for humans to make significant choices between good and evil.
  • The existence of evil desires (that cannot be helped) in humans makes it possible for humans to have freedom of choice between good and evil.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to help and comfort animals and humans.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to investigate and learn about nature (or to choose lazy indifference and ignorance) and with choices in the use of such knowledge either to cause more suffering and need or to help reduce suffering and need or to simply not make use of the knowledge.

It appears to me that in explaining or justifying natural evil, Swinburne focuses in on human beings, and especially on the fact that human beings have freedom to make significant choices for good or evil.  In other words, in order to justify God in the face of natural evil, Swinburne must now pull the problem of moral evil into the picture.  That means, that in order to evaluate TASO and to avoid the conclusion that TASO actually REDUCES the probability that God exists, Swinburne must deal with the whole problem of evil, both natural evil and moral evil.
Furthermore, in order to deal with the problem of moral evil, Swinburne must assume that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  But the next two arguments in Swinburne’s sequence of arguments are based on the premises that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  Thus, in order to evaluate TASO, Swinburne must incorporate not only his response to the problem of evil (which was supposed to be argument number seven in his sequence) but also he must incorporate his argument from consciousness and his argument from moral awareness.  That means that at least three other arguments in his carefully constructed sequence of arguments must be dealt with all at once and summed up all together, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO.
Some of the points justifying natural evil (listed above) come from Swinburne’s argument from Providence, so it is hard to see how he could avoid pulling in that argument as well.  Thus, it appears that four out of five of Swinburne’s arguments from the nature of human life must be dealt with in order to evaluate TASO.
This makes a complete mess of his careful sequence of arguments, and destroys the logical neatness of his whole strategy, which is to add facts one at a time, and to analyze the impact of those facts one at a time.  But TASO requires that most of his remaining arguments must be examined all at once, or evaluated all together and not as separate bits of evidence added one bit at a time.
If I am correct in this analysis, then I think Swinburne really has no other option but to toss out TASO completely, and he must simply jump from his second argument from the nature of the universe to his first argument from the nature of human life (the argument from consciousness).  Otherwise, he is forced to abandon his basic strategy of adding facts one at a time, and to evaluate the significance of these facts one at at time.
 

bookmark_borderDid God Create Nuclear Weapons?

Christians and other believers in God often say, ‘God created everything.’  If we take this literally, as a young child would do, we might start thinking of some objections or possible counterexamples: ‘Did God create nuclear weapons?’ ‘Did God create the ebola virus?’ etc.  The doctrine of divine creation leads quickly to the problem of evil. Naive View
A common response to such an idea would be to say that ‘God created humans, and it was humans who created nuclear weapons–not God.’  So, God is one-step removed from the creation of nuclear weapons, and this supposedly relieves God of the moral responsibility for the creation of nuclear weapons. God created humans.   Richard Swinburne has done some thinking about the meaning of the view of theists that ‘God is the creator of all things.’  Here is his analysis of this basic aspect of theism:
 
God is the creator of all things in that for all logically contingent things that exist (apart from himself) he himself brings about, or makes or permits other beings to bring about, their existence.  He is, that is, the source of the being and power of all other substances.  (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.94)
 
Swinburne has a more sophisticated view of creation than fundamentalists and many evangelicals.  Swinburne accepts the theory of evolution as the correct explanation for the origin of the human species (although he also believes that human mental lives are best explained as the result of non-physical minds or ‘souls’ that have complicated causal connections with human brains).  Swinburne’s view is that God created the universe, and that the initial conditions and natural laws of the universe made the evolution of human beings (or at least human bodies) possible and even probable.  In a sense, the universe “created” or produced humans; the physical universe is viewed as an intermediary step between God and the origin of human beings.  His view is illustrated by the diagram below: God created the universe However, just as Swinburne’s analysis of the belief that God is the creator allows for God to bring about humans indirectly via the natural processes of the physical universe, so his analysis also allows for God to bring about the existence of the universe indirectly, by creating a powerful supernatural being, such as an angel, and allowing the angel to design and create a universe: God created an angel.
Once this possibility is admitted, then further intermediaries can also be postulated.  For example, God could have created a finite god (a powerful supernatural being that is less than omnipotent and omniscient), and the finite god could have had the power to create an angel, and the angel could have then created a physical universe: God created a finite god
Furthermore, if God can create one finite god, then God can create many finite gods: God created many gods.
There appears to be no contradiction in the idea of God being able to create many finite gods, in the way that there does appear to be a contradiction in the idea of there being more than one infinite God (there appears to be a contradiction in the idea of there being two omnipotent persons– If one wills an event E to happen, and the other wills for event E to NOT happen,. then one of them must fail to obtain what was willed to happen).  God is by definition omnipotent, so God has the power to create finite gods, as many finite gods as he wishes to make.   So, although we often think of polytheism as an alternative to theism, it is clear that polytheism is logically compatible with traditional theism; an infinite God can create many finite gods.
 
Swinburne’s view, however, is that human beings are an important part of God’s motivation for creating the physical universe, perhaps the most important reason why God created the physical universe.  But it is important to keep in mind that his concept of God as creator allows for intermediaries between God and humans, and while this allows Swinburne to avoid a fundamentalist anti-scientific view of the origin of human beings, it also opens the door to God being, potentially, quite remote from human beings.  His conception of God as creator leaves open the possibility of a Hindu-like view where there are hundreds  or thousands or millions of layers of deities and supernatural beings that exist between human beings and God: Finite gods created many gods.

bookmark_borderOne Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God

In The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG), Richard Swinburne lays out a systematic cumulative case for the claim that it is more likely than not that God exists.
I have a specific objection to the third argument in this case, but I believe this objection throws a monkey wrench into the works, and creates a serious problem for the case as a whole.
To understand my objection, it is important to understand the general logical structure of Swinburne’s case for the existence of God. It is always natural and tempting to immediately focus in on the question of the truth of the premises of an argument for God, so in order to get a clear grasp on the logical structure of Swinburne’s case, it may be best to FIRST consider that structure apart from the specific content of the premises of the arguments in his case. The content of the premises will be important to make my objection, so we will get to the specific content at a later point.
One key idea in Swinburne’s logic is that we begin from a state of ignorance in which we are to imagine that we know ZERO empirical claims (both facts and theories). Swinburne thus controls the flow of empirical data, introducing one fact at a time, and arguing that in each case (with the exception of the problem of evil)  that the added fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists.
The basic strategy is to (1) put forward an empirical fact, (2) show that the empirical fact is more likely to be the case if God were to exist than if there were no God, (3) conclude that the fact increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the a priori probability that God exists (i.e. the probability based on ZERO empirical facts), then (4) introduce a second fact, (5) show that the second fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first fact is the case) than if God does not exist (and the first fact is the case), (6) conclude that the second fact in conjunction with the first fact increases the probability that God exists above the probability based on the first fact by itself, (7) put forward a third fact, (8) show that the third fact is more likely to be the case if God exists (and the first two facts are the case) than if God does not exist (and the first two facts are the case), (9) conclude that the third fact in conjunction with the previous two facts increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists above the probability based on just the previous two facts, and so on…slowly increasing the probability of God’s existence with each new fact.
Swinburne changes the strategy a bit when he gets to the argument from religious experience (in Chapter 13 of EOG), but the above pattern of reasoning is supposed to hold up until that point, and the above pattern of reasoning, filled in with the empirical facts that Swinburne has selected, is supposed to get us to the point where the probability of the existence of God is about .5 (meaning there is about a 50/50 chance that God exists).
Swinburne uses Bayes’ theorem to justify key inferences in his reasoning, so I will reformulate the above description of the logical structure of Swinburne’s case in terms of conditional probability statements.  Let’s use the letter e for evidence, plus a number to indicate which empirical claim we are talking about in the sequence of empirical claims introduced by Swinburne.  Thus, e1 represents the first empirical  claim in Swinburne’s case, and e2 the second empirical claim, and so on.
g: God exists.
k: [tautological background knowledge – analytic truths, truths of logic, math, and conceptual truths]
The probability of e1 being the case given that God exists is written this way:
P(e1|g & k) 
Here is how we represent the idea that the first factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge) than if God does not exist (and we have only tautological truths as background knowledge):
P(e1|g & k) > P(e1|~g & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that e1 provides evidence that increases the probability that God exists, over the a priori probability that God exists (the probability based on ZERO empirical facts):
P(g| e1 & k) > P(g| k)
Then Swinburne introduces a second factual claim e2. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming e1 as part of our background knowledge, for after consideration of the first argument we are no longer completely ignorant of all empirical facts):
P(e2|g & e1 & k) > P(e2|~g & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this second empirical fact to the first empirical fact has again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first fact by itself:
P(g| e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e1 & k)
Then Swinburne introduces a third factual claim: e3. Again Swinburne argues that this factual claim is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist (now assuming both e1 and e2 as part of our background knowledge):
P(e3|g & e2 & e1 & k) > P(e3|~g & e2 & e1 & k)
From this Swinburne makes use of Bayes’ theorem and infers that the addition of this third empirical fact to the first empirical fact has yet again increased the probability of the existence of God, over what it was based on just the first two facts:
P(g| e3 & e2 & e1 & k) > P(g| e2 & e1 & k)
There are problems and objections that can be raised against each of the particular arguments that Swinburne uses to get up to the point where the probability of the existence of God supposedly reaches the halfway mark, but this post will focus on the third argument in the systematic cumulative case that Swinburne presents: The Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO).
TASO can be stated fairly briefly:
(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.
Therefore:
(g) God exists.
Remember, this is NOT a deductive proof for the existence of God.  (e3) is put forward NOT as a conclusive reason for (g), but merely as evidence for (g); (e3) is an empirical claim that is supposed to increase the probability of (g) relative to the probability of (g) based on just the two previous empirical claims:
(e1) There is a complex physical universe.
(e2) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws.
One problem is that it is not clear to me that (e3) is in fact true.  The fact that human bodies evolved once in this universe does NOT imply (by itself) that it was probable that human bodies would evolve in this universe.  I think a good deal of argumentation and evidence would be required to establish the truth of (e3).
Another more important problem with (e3) is one that Swinburne himself mentions and briefly discusses: “What reason would God have for taking an evolutionary route?” (EOG, p.188).  Swinburne goes on to talk about the beauty of the long cosmological “evolution” of the universe, and the beauty of plants and animals that resulted from the long history of biological evolution.  But this is all beside the point. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could have brought about all of the beautiful plants and animals on earth including human beings in the blink of an eye.
God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.  The story in Genesis makes much more sense than evolution as the way that God would create animals and humans.  If there really was an omnipotent and omniscient person, then that person could have brought about all life on earth in an instant.  Most importantly, doing so would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand: create plants, animals, and humans instantly, as in the book of Genesis. So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true.
But there is a deeper problem here than just the inductive inference from (e3) to (g).  What do we need to know in order to determine that (e3) is true?  I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe, that the theory of evolution is true, and I think we have to know, or have good reasons to believe that the Big Bang theory of the universe is true.  What do we need to know in order to determine that the theory of evolution is true and that the Big Bang theory is true?  I think we need to know at least a little about: chemistry, biology, physics, paleontology, geology, cosmology, and astronomy.  We might not need to be experts in any of these scientific fields, but we need to have some grasp of some key facts, concepts, and theories in these areas of knowledge.
Furthermore, since the theory of evolution has been generally opposed by many Christian and Muslim religious believers, we need to have given some consideration to the problem of the apparent conflict between science and religion.  For example, if the Pope were to declare that evolution is a false theory, would that be a sufficient reason to reject this theory, even given all of the scientific evidence we have supports the theory?  What if the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world 6,000 years ago, is that sufficient reason to reject the theories and findings of geology and astronomy that indicate the age of the earth to be billions of years?  Unless one has done some thinking about science vs. religion, I don’t see how one can be fully justified in believing the theory of evolution. In sum, to have a justified belief in the theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory, one must have a bit of knowledge about the history and philosophy of science, in addition to knowing a good deal of scientific facts, concepts, and theories from several scientific disciplines.
OK.  Here is the big problem.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must have a good deal of knowledge about science and about a number of important scientific disciplines, including a good deal of basic facts, concepts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines.  This means that the background knowledge that is in play in evaluating this third argument has grown exponentially.  A large portion of human knowledge has been pulled back into the picture, and Swinbure has completely lost control of the flow of data.  Because of the significant amount of empirical facts, concepts, and theories that are required to determine whether (e3) is true,  it is difficult to distinguish between such a sizable collection of information and knowledge and our normal everyday background knowledge.
One very important implication of this is that the problem of evil has itself been pulled back into the picture.  Knowing that the theory of evolution is true involves knowing that there has been hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering from disease, injury, parasites, and predation.  Swinburne’s strategy was to put off the problem of evil until after several empirical facts that favor the existence of God had been put forward one at a time, and the probability of the existence of God had been bumped upward several times.  But since the problem of evil has come rushing back in with just the third argument, it is no longer clear whether his logical strategy can work.  At any rate, the problem of evil cannot be dealt with after three or four more factual claims have been put forward in support of God’s existence.  The problem of evil must be faced as part of the consideration of the significance of (e3).