Draper’s Reply to Welty

Philosopher Greg Welty wrote a brief response to Paul Draper’s brief summary of his position regarding God and the burden of proof. Here is Draper’s reply to Welty.

Greg Welty has written an interesting reply to my post on “God and the Burden of Proof”.  He does a very good job of explaining my argument (for which I am grateful), but then he gets into some trouble.  My reason for pointing this out is that it will, I think, help to clarify my argument.

Crucial to my argument is that theism is a specific version of supernaturalism and so is intrinsically less probable than supernaturalism.  Welty disagrees.  He says that “supernaturalism could be one among many ways to be a theist . . . . For instance, perhaps the only things that exist are (immaterial) perceivers and their ideas, and there is no matter, and God is the most important Perceiver of all. That would be a form of theism, but it wouldn’t be supernaturalism (as defined by Draper).”  On the contrary, idealist versions of theism are in fact forms of supernaturalism as I define that term.  I define “supernaturalism” as the view that the mental world existed prior to ANY physical world and caused ANY physical world to come into existence.”  On this definition, a supernaturalist could be a dualist about the mental and the physical.  But she could also be an idealist.  She could, for example, be an identity idealist like George Berkeley, who believed that physical objects exist but are just collections of ideas.  In other words, for identity idealists, the physical is a subtype of the mental.  A supernaturalist could also be an eliminative idealist, denying that physical objects even exist.  I allow for this by using the word “any” in front of “physical world” in my definition.  (Saying, for example, that “any trespassers will be shot” does not imply that there are any trespassers.)  Similarly, naturalism as I define it is compatible with dualism, identity physicalism, and eliminative physicalism.  So there is symmetry, contrary to what Welty thinks.  My definition of “theism” does say that God creates “the” physical world, so I assume that a theist is by definition not an eliminative idealist and does not think that God has for all eternity had a physical body.  My apologies to anyone who actually takes seriously those two options!

Welty’s second objection to my argument just changes my definition of atheism.  I admit my argument won’t work if you change my definitions!  By “atheism,” I just mean the denial of theism. Granted, this doesn’t fit perfectly with common usage, but it is one meaning of the term, and in any case that’s why I was careful to define my terms before stating my argument.

Welty’s third objection isn’t really developed but he’s in good company in making it.  Alvin Plantinga, for example, agrees with him.  Plantinga and Welty (and Locke and Leibniz) can’t imagine how the physical could produce the mental.  Yet somehow they can imagine the mental producing the physical.  I have a physicalist colleague who objected to my argument because he has the exact opposite intuition.  He can imagine the physical producing the mental (he sees or thinks he sees this happen in nature), but he can’t imagine how mere thinking could bring into existence a physical object (he never sees such magic happen in nature).  Of course, what we see happen in nature is irrelevant to the *intrinsic* probabilities of naturalism and supernaturalism.  If substance dualism is true, then I agree it’s hard to imagine how the mental could produce the physical or vice versa since (arguably) that seems to require bringing something into existence out of nothing.  If physicalism or idealism is true, then it’s easier to imagine either bringing about the other.  In either case, we have symmetry between naturalism and supernaturalism, which is all I need for my argument.