The Best Argument for God’s Existence: The Argument from Moral Agency

Continuing my theme of summarizing arguments about God’s existence inspired by the writings of Paul Draper, this time I have chosen to summarize an argument for God’s existence, the “argument from moral agency.” Draper’s full argument may be found in his paper “Cosmic Fine-Tuning and Terrestrial Suffering: Parallel Problems for Naturalism and Theism.” (The link will take you to JSTOR, where the paper sits behind a ‘paywall,’ so if you don’t have JSTOR access you won’t be able to read the paper.)

I’ve thought about this argument often since I first read Draper’s paper many years ago. I’m inclined to believe this is the strongest argument–by far–for theism I have ever read. It is surprising that so many theists continue to press boilerplate fine-tuning arguments when the argument from moral agency is so vastly superior (or, at least, so it seems to me). It is equally surprising that the argument has not garnered the critical attention of atheist philosophers.


>!: much greater than
E: there exist embodied moral agents
T: theism
N: naturalism

Argument Formulated:

(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | T) >! Pr(E | N).
(3) N is not intrinsically much more probable than T.
(4) Other evidence held equal, Pr(T) > Pr(N).

Draper’s Defense of (2)

“I do not contend that the existence of moral agents is certain on theism; for example, a morally perfect God might, for all we know, create only moral patients rather than moral agents or create only moral agents that are not embodied. Nevertheless, there are reasons on theism that we do not have on naturalism to expect the existence of moral agents. For example, the fact that such beings have a distinctive sort of dignity or worth does not raise the probability of their existing on the assumption that naturalism is true, but does raise the probability of their existing on theism. In addition, moral agency requires moral responsibility, which in turn (pace Harry Frankfurt) requires libertarian free will, and libertarian free will is for a variety of reasons much more likely on theism than on naturalism.4 Of course, given that there are moral agents, the fact that they are embodied is more probable on naturalism than on theism, but not much more probable. So there is an interesting argument from moral agency in support of theism quite apart from any ‘fine tuning data.’

“The fine tuning data, however, greatly strengthen this argument, because they show that moral agency is extremely improbable on naturalism. (It is only because of this strengthening that the argument from moral agency can compete in the same league as the argument from evil.) The argument for this is fairly convincing, though unfortunately it requires relying on the claims physicists make about the fine tuning data. According to this data, only a small proportion of the range of possible values that certain ‘cosmic constants’ could have had would be life permitting, and only a small proportion of the possible initial conditions that could have obtained in our world would be life-permitting. Thus, the antecedent probability of life given naturalism is extremely low. But in a naturalistic world, moral agency almost certainly depends on the existence of living beings. Thus, moral agency is extremely unlikely given naturalism.”

In later sections of the paper, Draper considers the multiverse objection to both his argument from moral agency and the argument from evil. In a brilliant move, Draper argues that the multiverse objection is a much stronger objection to arguments from evil than it is to the argument from from moral agency.

I don’t have an opinion on whether the multiverse objection to arguments from evil succeeds, but I am inclined to agree with Draper that the multiverse objection to the argument from moral agency (and to fine-tuning arguments in general) are failures.

On the other hand, I think premise (3) is false: I think N is intrinsically much more probable than T. (Indeed, I’m not sure, but I think Draper himself may also now share this view.) But I am not sure how to weigh the prior IMprobability of theism against theism’s explanatory power with respect to moral agency.

Also, it’s worth mentioning, in the spirit of Draper’s “Fallacy of Understated Evidence,” that Draper, in a later paper, argued a more specific fact about moral agency favors naturalism over theism: the variety and frequency of conditions that severely limit our freedom.