Paul Draper, the Fallacy of Understated Evidence, Theism, and Naturalism

(Redated post originally published on 23 November 2011)

Paul Draper has usefully identified a fallacy of inductive reasoning he calls the “fallacy of understated evidence.” According to Draper, in the context of arguments for theism and against naturalism, proponents of a theistic argument are guilty of this fallacy if they “successfully identify some general fact F about a topic X that is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism, but ignore other more specific facts about X, facts that, given F, are more likely on naturalism than on theism.”[1]

What makes this so interesting is Draper’s assessment of how various (inductive) theistic arguments commit this fallacy. By reviewing his writings, I’ve compiled the following summary of Draper’s assessment of the evidence, illustrating how Draper believes the fallacy of understated evidence applies in practice to contemporary arguments in the philosophy of religion.

Theistic Argument NameGeneral FactMore Specific Facts
Cosmological ArgumentFinite Age of the UniverseHumans do not occupy a spatially or temporally privileged position in the universe.[2]
Argument from ComplexityComplexity of the Universe1. The universe arose from a much simpler early universe.[3]

2. Micro-level simplicity.[4]

Arguments from Spatial and Temporal OrderIntelligibility of the UniverseSo much of our universe is intelligible without any appeal to supernatural agency.[5]
Fine-Tuning ArgumentExistence of Intelligent Life1. Our universe is not teeming with life, including life much more impressive than human life.[6]

2. The only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe.[7]

3. Intelligent life is the result of evolution.[8]

Argument from BeautyBeauty (Goodness)1. While the universe is saturated with visual beauty, it is not saturated with auditory, tactile, or other sensory beauty.[9]

2. Pain and pleasure are systematically connected to the biological goal of reproductive success.[10]

3. Our world contains an abundance of tragedy.[11]

Arguments from Free Will and ConsciousnessLibertarian Free Will & Phenomenal Consciousness1. Conscious states in general are dependent on the brain.[12]

2. The very integrity of our personalities are dependent on the brain.[13]

3. The apparent unity of the self is dependent on the brain.[14]

Argument from Moral AgencyMoral Agency[15]The variety and frequency of conditions that severely limit our freedom.[16]
Religious ExperiencePeople have religious experiences apparently of God1. Many people never have religious experiences. Those who do almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion.[17]

2. The subjects of theistic experiences pursue a variety of radically different religious paths, none of which bears abundantly more moral fruit than all of the others.[18]

3. Victims of tragedy are rarely comforted by theistic experiences.[19]


[1] Paul Draper, “Partisanship and Inquiry in the Philosophy of Religion,” unpublished paper. Cf. Paul Draper, “Cumulative Cases,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, Philip L. Quinn, Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (John Wiley and Sons: 2010), 414-24 at 421-22.

[2] To be precise, Draper mentions this fact under the category of “cosmological evidence” and not specifically in reference to temporal versions of the cosmological argument such as the kalam cosmological argument. But the only other evidence he mentions in that same category is evidence for the finite age of the universe, so I think it’s appropriate to list the two items of evidence together. See Paul Draper, “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic,” in Daniel Howard Snyder and Paul K. Moser, eds., Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 199-200. Cf. my attempt to formulate a Bayesian argument for naturalism based upon the fact that humans do not occupy a privileged position in the universe in “The Argument from Scale Revisited, Part 4.”

[3] Draper 2010, 421.

[4] Draper 2010, 421.

[5] Draper n.d., 13.

[6] Draper 2010.421.

[7] Paul Draper, “Collins’ Case for Cosmic Design” The Secular Web (2008),

[8] Draper 2002, 201.

[9] Draper 2002, 204.

[10] Draper 2002, 203.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 12; and Draper 2002, 202.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Paul Draper, “Cosmic Fine-Tuning and Terrestrial Suffering: Parallel Problems for Naturalism and Theism.” American Philosophical Quarterly 41:4 (October 2004): 311-21.

[16] Draper 2010, 421.

[17] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 12-13; and Draper 2002, 204-205.

[18] Draper 2010, 421; Draper n.d., 13; and Draper 2002, 205.

[19] Draper n.d., 13; Draper 2002, 205.