bookmark_borderTheistic Prejudice: A Case Study with Stan

Over at Randal Rauser’s blog, Stan wrote the following:

Free thinking does not mean disciplined logical thought; it means being free to think that whatever you might think at the moment is Truth, including that there is no truth. Free Thought is much like removing the timing from your engine’s combustion system to allow it “freedom”.
Logic demands discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning. Atheists have no concept of this, for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Free Thinking is the act of rationalizing the emotional position which causes Atheism in the first place.

I posted the following response.

This is an expression of prejudice. It is just as prejudicial (and no better supported than) the statement, “Theists have no concept of this [discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning], for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.”
We have three claims.
1. Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
What we don’t have is evidence for these claims.

If you were expecting Stan to admit that he got carried away with his rhetoric, you’d be disappointed. Instead, Stan decided to double down and defend the indefensible.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.
The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.
Feel free to refute that, if you have material evidence for atheism or a disciplined deductive argument leading incorrigibly to atheism at the expense of theism.
Addendum: I stand by my statement regarding “free thought”.

So let’s go through his claims one at a time.
Stan’s Claim #1: Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
Well, that’s rich. Stan himself has failed to provide a valid (deductive) argument to support claim #1. Look at his justification again.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.

Let’s try to identify his argument’s logical structure.
(1) Stan has spoken to a great many atheists.
(2) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with have studied logic 101.
(3) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them.
(4) Therefore, most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
For someone who makes so many references to logic, deductions, rules of deductive reasoning, and the like, Stan seems to have missed the fact that this argument is invalid, i.e., it fails as a deductive argument. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. At best, Stan has spoken with a subset of atheists and made accurate observations about them. Even if that were the case, there is no rule of inference which would enable him to construct a deductively valid argument which moves from a statement about a sample to a universal generalization about an entire population. Furthermore, even if Stan tried to reformulate his argument as an inductive argument, it would still fail. (Stan provides no reason to believe that the atheists he has spoken with are representative of atheists. And we have no reason to believe Stan’s claims in premises (2) or (3).)
Stan’s Claim #2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Stan’s justification for this claim fails for the same reason his justification for his first claim fails.
Stan’s Claim #3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
Let’s look again at his justification for this claim.

The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.

Again, let’s analyze the logical structure of his supporting argument.
(4) There is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(5) There is no disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(6) Therefore, the Atheist case cannot be based on evidence or disciplined deductive argument.
(7) Some people who identify as atheists redefine “atheism” to mean “without theist beliefs.”
(8) Therefore, atheism is an emotional position of rejectionism.
As an argument for claim #3, however, it seems to me this argument is multiply flawed. First, it’s invalid. The conclusion, (8), does not follow from (4)-(7). Even if Stan were correct that atheists have no good arguments for believing that God does not exist, it doesn’t follow that atheism is the result of an emotional position. Think of all the people who have gotten the wrong answer on a multiple choice geometry test. Would anyone claim that the people who got wrong answers did so for emotional reasons? Of course not! Along the same lines, even if we assume that (4) and (5) are true, his conclusion still wouldn’t follow. It would still be possible that atheists simply made an error in reasoning, in which case they would be guilty of sloppy argumentation but not of rejecting theism for emotional reasons.
But in fact I think Stan’s premises are mistaken. For example, consider (4). I have written extensively about the nature and meaning of evidence in general, as well as how to formulate an inductively correct explanatory or evidential argument for metaphysical naturalism. (See here.) Based on that approach to evidence, it’s clear that the following is evidence which favors metaphysical naturalism over theism.

Since metaphysical naturalism entails atheism, it follows that evidence for metaphysical naturalism is necessarily evidence for atheism.

bookmark_borderThe Argument from Silence, Part 7: Victor Stenger on the Absence of Scientific Evidence for God

In this post, I want to revisit an argument from silence used by Victor Stenger against the existence of God based on the absence of scientific evidence for God.
In his 2010 debate with William Lane Craig, Stenger argued that “the absence of evidence for God is evidence of absence” of God. In his words, “If God plays such an active role in the universe, then his actions should surely have been observed by now.” As I understood him, he offered four examples of scientific evidence which could have been found but is lacking. I summarize those four examples below in the Prediction Table below.

Table 1. Prediction Table Based on Stenger’s 2010 Opening Statement
Topic Theistic Prediction Naturalistic Prediction Observation(s)
Revelation God talks to people and occasionally provides information which they could not have known any other way. Not one verified revelation from God. Not one verified revelation from God.
Prayer God occasionally answers prayers. No scientific confirmation of answered prayers. No scientific confirmation of answered prayers. No evidence that prayer has any benefit whatsoever on health.
Design Life shows evidence of design. Life does not show evidence of design. Science has shown how order can arise from complexity — Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Biological life is imperfect and contains useless DNA. Hence, it does not show evidence of design; instead, it looks just like what we would expect from an unguided evolution.
Cosmology The universe should have possessed some degree of order at the moment of creation. If the universe has a beginning, it should have begun with no structure or organization. The universe “began with complete chaos.”

Stenger’s Formulation of His Argument

Following Ted Drange‘s “Lack of Evidence Argument” (LEA), Stenger explicitly formulated his argument in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis (p. 22), as follows.

(1) Probably, if God were to exist, then there would be good objective evidence for his existence.
(2) But there is no good objective evidence for His existence.
(3) Therefore, probably, God does not exist.

In his 2010 debate with Craig, Stenger states that this argument shows “beyond a reasonable doubt” (!) that God does not exist.
I don’t think Stenger manages to substantiate either (1) or (2), much less establish them “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Consider (1). What reason is there to believe (1) is true? One reason is that “God wants us to believe in Him and so would provide good objective evidence of His existence.” But it’s far from obvious that reason is correct. Why couldn’t God use other methods, such as religious experience? According to Stenger, a deity who did so “would not be perfectly loving” (p. 22). But this answer just misses the distinction between, on the one hand, God’s goal or end (belief in Him), and, on the other hand, God’s method or means for bringing about that goal (such as objective evidence, subjective evidence, and so forth). If God makes Himself known to humans through religious experiences, why would that fact call into question whether God is “perfectly loving”? Stenger never says.
As for (2), I have two comments. First, this premise is probably false given a common definition of “evidence” known as the positive relevance view of evidence.  To say that evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 is just to say that we have more reason to expect E on H1 than we do on H2. Notice that this definition of evidence does not require that E greatly favor H1 over H2; all that is required is that E is at least very slightly more probable on H1 than on H2. With such a weak threshold for evidence, however, it should not be surprising to find evidence both for and against God’s existence.
Second, not only can there be evidence both for and against God’s existence, but there can be evidence both for and against God’s existence within the same domain or discipline. Thus, broad, sweeping statements (such as “There is no evidence whatsoever that prayer has any benefit on health”) are riskier than narrower, more precise statements (such as “There is no evidence whatsoever that prayer has ever healed an amputee”). Why make the riskier claim if it’s unnecessary? (As an aside, I should mention that I find Stenger’s sweeping claim about prayer to be counter-intuitive: even on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true, we would expect prayer to have at least some benefit on health, however small, not because prayers are answered by God but because prayers can induce a placebo effect.)
I conclude, therefore, that the LEA is unsound. This does not mean, however, that Stenger’s points have no evidential value whatsoever. Stenger could greatly strengthen his case by focusing his evidence statements on what we do know, rather than what we don’t know, as summarized below in Table 2.

Table 2. Proposed Revisions to Stenger’s Evidence Statements
Topic Original Evidence Statement Revised Evidence Statement
Revelation Not one verified revelation from God. 1. Many people never receive a divine revelation. Those who do almost always have a prior belief in God or extensive exposure to a theistic religion.
2. The content of alleged divine revelations are notoriously contradictory.
3. The accuracy and informativeness of alleged revelations is just what we would expect on the null hypothesis and no such revelations are actual revelations from God.
Prayer No scientific confirmation of answered prayers. 1. So much in medical science is intelligible without any appeal to answered prayers or other forms of supernatural agency.
2. The history of medicine contains no examples of answered prayers replacing a naturalistic explanation for healing.
Biology Life does not show evidence of design. 1. All known life forms are the gradually modified descendants of earlier organisms. (Descent with modification).
2. Pain and pleasure are fundamentally biological rather than moral phenomena.
3. Facts about the flourishing and languishing of sentient beings:
3.1. Only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive. In other words, very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy.
3.2: An even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives.
3.3: Almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives.
Cosmology The universe “began with complete chaos.” 1. Our best scientific evidence indicates that the universe began with time, not in time.
2. The universe began with complete chaos.

bookmark_borderPlantinga on the Alleged “Irrationality” of Atheism

Alvin Plantinga
 
I want to comment on Gary Gutting’s recent interview of Alvin Plantinga in the New York Times. Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are quotations of Plantinga.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.
In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

1. Unlike some people who identify as atheists, I’m fine with joining Plantinga in defining atheism as the belief that there is no God. Notice, however, that there is an equivocation or, at least, a sort of ‘translation error’ here on Plantinga’s part. What Plantinga seems to forget is that many of the people who identify as atheists don’t use the definition of atheism Plantinga (and I) do; they define atheism as merely the lack of belief that God exists. As such, they are precisely what Plantinga would call an agnostic. So when those people say “the lack of evidence for theism is justification for atheism,” they are NOT saying “the lack of evidence for God’s existence is evidence against God’s existence.” Rather, they are are saying, “the lack of evidence for God’s existence is justification for lacking the belief that God exists.”
2. On the other hand, there are some atheists who indeed do argue that the lack of evidence for God’s existence is evidence against God’s existence. Atheist philosopher Theodore Drange calls that argument the “lack of evidence argument” (LEA). Drange has refuted that argument; I join both Plantinga and Drange in rejecting it.
3. While I agree that atheism (the belief that God does not exist version) does have a burden of proof, atheism doesn’t have nearly the same burden of proof as theism. Why? Because theism has a lower prior probability than naturalism and naturalism entails atheism. This contradicts Plantinga’s claim, “Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence” (my italics).

The so-called “problem of evil” would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low. But of course there are also arguments for theism. Indeed, there are at least a couple of dozen good theistic arguments. So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities. This isn’t at all easy to do, but it’s pretty obvious that the result wouldn’t anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism. (emphasis mine)

1. The text I have italicized and boldfaced is ridiculous. His “two dozen or so” theistic arguments, philosophically speaking, consist of practically everything but the kitchen sink as evidence for theism. When it comes to arguments for atheism, however, he writes as if the argument from evil is the only argument for atheism (or, at least, the only argument for atheism that provides evidence against theism.) This reeks of a double standard. Plantinga knows very well that atheists have offered serious arguments for naturalism (which entails atheism), including the argument from nonculpable nonbelief (aka “divine hiddenness”), the evidential argument from biological evolution, and the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence. Once we consider the total evidence, it’s far from obvious that it ‘nearly supports straight-out theism as opposed to agnosticism.’
2. Indeed, this paragraph is notable for the fact that it refers to one or more arguments which commit the fallacy of understated evidence. By way of review: 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.” (More on that in a moment.)

I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

1. As Paul Draper has argued, “if theism does make it likely that some human beings have a properly functioning sensus divinitatis, then it makes it likely that everyone has one or at least that everyone who is not resistant to belief in God has one, which, pace John Calvin, is not what we observe.”
2. Furthermore, as Draper goes on to point out,

… the cognitive science of religion is not wholly supportive of Plantinga’s position. Human beings instinctively believe in all sorts of invisible agents, not just in gods and certainly not just in a single creator-God let alone the specific creator-God of metaphysical theism. So we seem to have a broad sensus actoris instead of a narrow sensus divinitatis. (Cognitive scientists sometimes use the term “hyperactive agency detector,” which sounds so much less impressive than a “sensus divinitatis.”) …

3. As Keith Parsons has argued, the non-existence of the sensus divinitatis is evidence for the non-existence of God.

My argument is simple. I think that Alvin Plantinga is right. If God exists, humans will very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a God-detecting faculty, which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, will present us with warrant-basic (both warranted and epistemologically basic) awareness of his existence. If this is so, and if God does exist, then humans, provided that their sinfulness has not impaired the proper functioning of their sensus, will have a warrant-basic awareness of God’s existence. On the other hand, if there is no God, it is extremely unlikely that humans would possess a cognitive faculty that would produce the warranted (but false) belief that God exists. In this case, evidence that belief in God is not caused by a warrant-conferring cognitive faculty, but rather is generated by a noncognitive process that does not confer warrant on that belief, will, ipso facto, constitute evidence against the existence of God. An atheological argument can therefore be set out semi-formally like this:
1) If God exists, then humans very likely possess a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive faculty which, when functioning properly and in the appropriate circumstances, produces the warrant-basic belief that God exists.
2) If there is no sensus divinitatis, then God probably does not exist, unless the background probability of his existence is very high.
3) It is not the case that the background probability of God’s existence is very high.
4) There is no sensus divinitatis.
5) Therefore, God probably does not exist.

Let’s move on and return to quoting Plantinga.

One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.

This would be exhibit A of the fallacy of understated evidence in Plantinga’s interview. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that cosmological fine-tuning is evidence for theism over naturalism (and hence atheism). Given that the universe is fine-tuned, however, there are three more specific facts which favor naturalism over theism. First, the only intelligent life we know of is human and it exists in this universe. As Paul Draper explains:

“while it may be true that on single-universe naturalism the existence of anything as impressive as human beings is very unlikely, it is also true that on theism the existence of intelligent beings as unimpressive and flawed as humans is very unlikely. Further, given that human beings do exist, it is certain on single-universe naturalism, but not on theism, that they exist in this universe (i.e., in the one universe that we know to exist).”

Second, intelligent life is the result of evolutionGiven that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that it developed as a result of biological evolution is more probable on naturalism than on it is on theism.
Third, so much of the universe is hostile to lifeGiven that intelligent life of some sort exists in some universe, the fact that so much of our universe is highly hostile to life–such as containing vast amounts of empty space, temperatures near absolute zero, cosmic radiation, and so forth–is more probable on naturalism than it is on theism.
The upshot is this. Even if the general fact of cosmic “fine-tuning” is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that naturalism is true, 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, it’s far from obvious that facts about cosmic “fine-tuning” favor theism over naturalism.

Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.
As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

What is lame is Plantinga’s rather uncharitable representation of the evidential argument from the history of science. The explanatory success of non-lunar explanations for lunacy is not greater (or, at least, not significantly greater) on the assumption that a-moonism is true than on the assumption that moonism true. In contrast, the explanatory success of naturalistic explanations is antecedently more likely on naturalism than on theism.

Thomas Nagel, a terrific philosopher and an unusually perceptive atheist, says he simply doesn’t want there to be any such person as God. And it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, there would be what some would think was an intolerable invasion of privacy: God would know my every thought long before I thought it. For another, my actions and even my thoughts would be a constant subject of judgment and evaluation.

1. This ignores the evidence from the testimony of other atheists, including myself, who say that they wish that theism were true.
2. Even with Nagel, his hope that atheism is true doesn’t entail or make probable that his reasons for atheism are wrong. Consider an analogy. A Holocaust survivor hopes that what the Nazis did was morally wrong, but no one would argue that the Holocaust survivor is incorrect simply because they hoped that the Nazis were morally wrong.
3. It gets worse. To see why, let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose you are arrested, put on trial, convicted for a crime you did commit, and are sentenced to prison. You probably wouldn’t say to yourself, “Well, I don’t want to live as if I am going to prison, so I’m going to invent a bunch of arguments in order to justify the belief that I am not going to prison.” While it’s possible that someone might do that, probably virtually everyone would accept the reality that they are going to prison. To be sure, they might complain about things (such as the fairness of the law, the judge, or the sentence), but they wouldn’t deny the reality that they were going to prison.
4. Besides, Plantinga’s dismissive attitude towards the reasons why atheists are atheists just assumes that all atheists want to “live as if God does not exist” and that desire outweighs any other desires atheists might have. So far as I can tell, that assumption is false. First, though I don’t have the data to back this up, I suspect that even most atheists wish that some sort of life after death is true. (They may not want to live forever and they may want a different kind of afterlife than the one offered by Christianity, but that’s beside the point.) And any sane, rational person desires to avoid torture, especially eternal torture in Hell. It’s not obvious why anyone should think that those desires would always be outweighed by the desire to “live as if God does not exist.”

Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiologicalproperties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine.
Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.

This is Plantinga’s well-known “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (EAAN).
1. The basic problem with the argument is that it’s false that “Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.” Rather, as Draper pointed out in his debate with Plantinga, “More generally, the long term survival of our species is much more to be expected if our cognitive faculties are reliable than if they are unreliable, and that entails that the long term survival of our species is strong evidence for R.”
2. Furthermore, “In addition, it is very unlikely that belief-producing mechanisms that do not track the truth would systematically promote survival in a very diverse and often rapidly changing environment.”

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science, Part 5: Reply to RD Miksa

In the combox on Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea blog, RD Miksa posted a thoughtful, four part assessment of the evidential argument from history of science (AHS). In this post, I want to reply to Miksa.

Miksa’s Reply to the Informal Statement of the Argument

The Definition of “Science”

Miksa correctly points out that my post did not provide an explicit definition of the crucial term “science.” Following Paul Draper, let’s define two kinds of sciences.
nomological or inductive science: the attempt to “determine how nature normally operates or functions–to discover, classify or explain unchanging laws or properties of nature.”[1]
historical science: an activity, the main goal of which is “to reconstruct sequences of historical events and to explain particular features of nature by reference to the past”.[1]
Unless otherwise specified, I will use “science” as a catch-all phrase which includes both kinds of sciences.

The Theme of the History of Science

I wrote: “If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic explanations work.” Miksa’s reply:

Next, it is arguable that the unifying theme of science is that naturalistic explanations work. For example, I could argue that the unifying theme of the history of science is that the more discoveries science makes, the less it seems to know and explain (dark matter, origin of life, language, consciousness, etc.). In addition, another theme would be that the history of science shows that science is still unable to explain, to any degree of adequacy, fundamental problems that have existed since its beginning: as mentioned above, the origin of life, the origin of biological diversity, human language, human consciousness, etc. Given these facts, why put any substantial weigh into the fact that the so far, naturalistic examples seem to work for an enterprise that creates more questions than it provides answers, and which still seems so unable to answer fundamental questions that it arguably should have answered some time ago.

He also asks:

Furthermore, what is your definition of “work”? For you, does work mean “provide the truth”?

To say that an explanation “works” is just to say that an explanation is inductively justified: the inductive probability of the explanation is greater than fifty percent.

If so, then again, this point is arguable given the fact that any scientific theory, given its necessarily “always-open-to-falsification” stance, means that it is indeed questionable whether scientific discoveries can ever truly provide us with knowledge of that which is true. At best, they can only provide a best explanation given the current state of evidence. That might make a scientific theory rational to believe, but not necessarily true.

I agree with most of this, but I obviously disagree with Miksa’s suggestion that the “always-open-to-falsification” stance undermines my point about the history of science. The fact that an explanation may be falsified in the future says nothing about its inductive probability today, and so does nothing to undermine the point that “naturalistic explanations work.”

But What about “Methodological” Naturalism?

Next, Miksa asks, what about the role of methodological naturalism in science? Doesn’t science’s commitment to an absolute methodological naturalism force it to automatically exclude supernatural explanations, even if those explanations are the best available explanations? In Miksa’s words, “So, given methodological naturalism, is it any wonder that science only seems to discover naturalistic explanations?”
As I’ve defined it, science, including nomological science and historical science, is not committed to an absolute methodological naturalism. Rather, science is committed to a modest methodological naturalism: scientific explanations may appeal to the supernatural, but only as a last resort.  To avoid a potential misunderstanding, it’s important to point out that even this modest methodological naturalism does not justify god-of-the-gaps arguments: just because no naturalistic explanation has been found for some fact F, it doesn’t follow that a supernatural explanation of F is the best explanation. Before we are justified in concluding that a supernatural explanation is the best scientific explanation, we would need good reason to believe there is no unknown naturalistic explanation as well. As Draper puts it, “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.”[1]
Elsewhere, Miksa writes:

You said:
“Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most scientific theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, implausible, even on the assumption that theism is true.”
Not much to say here, except: If you mean the very same scientific theists that have been trained in the principle of methodological naturalism and have had this principle enforced upon them on pain of being called “unscientific”, then is it any surprise that even such scientists only offer naturalistic explanations when they do science.

This is a red herring. As Draper writes:

As Philip Clayton (1997, 172) points out, the presumption that natural events have natural causes existed long before the rise of modern science. Indeed, even in the Bible, naturalistic explanations of unusual events are typically the first choice, with appeals to the supernatural being adopted only after the most likely naturalistic explanations are ruled out. For example, according to 1 Sam. 3, the prophet Samuel, upon hearing a voice in the temple, considered the possibility that it was Yahweh only after repeated attempts to find a human cause failed.
Since 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.[1]

What About Scientific Discoveries Which Support Theism?

Miksa writes:

Finally, to end off Part One on a tangential but relevant note, does your argument take into account the fact that the history of science also seems to point to the fact that many “theistically-supportive” discoveries seem to be made in opposition to the expected and conventional scientific wisdom. Take, for example, the Big Bang and Fine-Tuning as two examples of this.

Unlike many atheists, I don’t rule out the possibility that cosmological fine-tuning could provide evidence for theism and against naturalism. Indeed, I think one closely related argument for God’s existence, the “argument from moral agency,” is the best argument for theism. Even so, that does not undermine my point here, which is that the success of naturalistic explanations is prima facie evidence against theism. In other words, all I am claiming is that the success of naturalistic explanations is one piece of evidence favoring naturalism over theism. I’m not claiming there is no evidence favoring theism over naturalism. If specific 20th-century scientific discoveries are evidence favoring theism over naturalism, then so be it. And it is still the case that the overwhelming success of naturalistic explanations is evidence favoring naturalism. It’s possible, at the same time, for both the overwhelming success of naturalistic explanations to be evidence favoring naturalism over theism and specific 20th-century scientific discoveries to be evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Indeed, it’s possible that the items of theistic evidence (individually or combined) are much stronger than the evidence from the success of naturalistic explanations. But again, all of that is compatible with the claim that the success of naturalistic explanations, by itself, favors naturalism over theism.

Miksa’s Reply to the Formal Statement of the Argument

Is the “Evidence to be Explained” Genuine  Evidence?

In my original post, I cited two items of evidence. Here is the second item.
E2. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.
Miksa questions the accuracy of E2.

First, this does not take into account my earlier point that I made in a previous post (see “Point 2” in one of my other posts), which calls into question whether the naturalist would ever accept a supernaturalistic explanation for an empirical fact or rather whether the naturalist wouldn’t simply create some far-fetched naturalistic explanation for the fact in order to allow him to maintain his naturalism. I would argue not only that naturalists would do this, but that they do do it, thus making it unsurprising and not very worthy from an evidentiary perspective to find out that naturalists always seem to claim that there is “some” naturalistic explanation for any empirical event, no matter how strange such a naturalistic explanation might be.

Although I believe that open-minded naturalists would accept a supernatural explanation when justified, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. Miksa has shifted the topic from “the history of science” to “the history of naturalists’ attitudes towards supernatural explanations.” But the attitudes of naturalists isn’t the topic. Even if Miksa were correct that naturalists have offered (and continue to offer) “far-fetched” naturalistic explanations so as to avoid supernatural conclusions, that merely biographical fact would be of little philosophical or evidential significance. All that matters is whether item of evidence E2 is epistemically probable.  Miksa’s claim about naturalists’ attitudes towards supernatural explanations does nothing to show that E2 is improbable.
Miksa then proposes rewording E2 because it is “arbitrary” and open to naturalists’ “confirmation bias.” I disagree that Miksa’s proposed rewording is necessary, but I’m going to let that pass. Instead, I want to focus on Miksa’s proposed counterexamples to E2.

… your statement about “NO supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones” is just false. Two examples will illustrate the falsity of your claim. First, exorcism events that are assumed to be naturalistic, and are initially treated as such, but are then shown to have no naturalistic explanation that is nearly as reasonable as a supernatural explanation. And the same thing for healing events that happen at such places as Lourdes. Even though assumed as naturalistic in origin, and even though assessed by multiple people in order to discover a naturalistic explanation, a few such events simply are best explained as supernatural in origin. And since you posit that there have been NO such events, and since I claim that at least in these cases, any reasonable person would see that there are a few such cases, then your statement is false.

This objection is multiply flawed. First, the fact that various phenomena are “assumed to be naturalistic, and are initially treated as such, but are then shown to have no naturalistic explanation that is nearly as reasonable as a supernatural explanation,” is not of obvious relevance to E2.  For E2 refers to explanations, not a presumption about the type of explanation (naturalistic or supernatural). For example, the best scientific explanation for the origin of species used to be special creation, but that explanation has been replaced by the theory of common descent. Miksa’s objection, however, fails to make this distinction. I suspect that Miksa is probably correct that both exorcism events and the Lourdes healings are presumed to be naturalistic events, i.e., events that are presumed to have a naturalistic explanation. But that presumption is not the same thing as the actual explanation itself. In order for either of those events to be a counter-example to E2, Miksa needs to:
(1) identify some naturalistic explanation X ;
(2) show that X used to be widely accepted by the scientific community;
(3) identify some supernatural explanation Y; and
(4) show that the scientific community later replaced X with Y as the best explanation.
Miksa hasn’t yet done this, however. Therefore, the objection is, at best, incomplete.
Second, let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that there is no good, known naturalistic explanation for exorcism events or Lourdes healings. Just because no good naturalistic explanation has been found for some fact F, it doesn’t follow that a supernatural explanation of F is the best explanation. What’s needed is an argument which shows that the best explanation of the failure to find a natural cause of F is that there is none. I do not find such an argument in Miksa’s comments.
Third, Miksa is correct that E2, as worded, makes a universal generalization: it says that there have been no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.  Let us suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that that generalization is false and there have been examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic explanations. Even so, it still wouldn’t follow that the history of sciences provides no evidence favoring naturalism over theism.  To put the point somewhat crudely or simplistically, imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, medicine, etc. Suppose that the textbooks summarize all currently plausible scientific explanations for those fields. The percentage of such explanations which make no explicit appeal to supernatural agency is extremely high, while the percentage of such explanations which do explicitly appeal to supernatural agency is, at best, very small.

Is AHS an Argument for Naturalism?

Miksa also argues that, even if AHS succeeds as an argument against theism, it fails as an argument for naturalism.

You said:
“Such explanatory success is antecedently more likely on naturalism–which entails that all supernaturalistic explanations are false–than it is on theism. Thus the history of science is some evidence for naturalism and against theism.”
Even if we admit—for the sake of argument—that your argument is sound and valid (and this is a pretty big “if”), your conclusion still does not follow. At best, this is an argument against theism. But it does nothing to support naturalism. Why? Because the so-called “success of naturalism” in the sciences is completely and utterly compatible with deism; the deist would be perfectly comfortable admitting the success of naturalism in the sciences all the while noting that this fact would do absolutely nothing against the deistic position.
So, really, what you have is maybe an argument that weakens theism. You do not, however, have a positive argument for naturalism.

This is false. Let’s consider two versions of supernaturalism.
Theistic supernaturalism (theism or T): there exists a supernatural person who (timelessly or temporally) creates and sustains the natural world, acts in it, and is omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, and worthy of worship.
Deistic supernaturalism (deism or D): there exists a supernatural person who created the natural world but does not act in it and is not worthy of worship.
The fact that some item of evidence (E) is “utterly compatible” with deism (D) does nothing to support Miksa’s claim that AHS “does nothing to support naturalism. ” The objection ignores the prior probabilities of naturalism and deism. Once we take this prior probabilities into account, however, it becomes clear that deism’s compatibility with the evidence doesn’t undermine AHS as a prima facie argument for naturalism. We can extend the formulation of AHS as follows.
(1) E is known to be true.
(2) E is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false. [from (1), (2), and (3)]
(5) N and supernaturalism (S) have equal intrinsic probabilities.
(6) On the assumption that S is true, D is not certain. [from the definitions of S and D]
(7) Therefore, D is intrinsically less probable than S. [from (6)]
(8) Therefore, N is intrinsically more probable than D. [from (5) and (6)]
————————————————————————-
(9) Therefore, other evidence held equal, N is probably true. [from (4)-(8)]
 

Notes

[1] Paul Draper, “God, Science, and Naturalism.”

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science, Part 4: Reply to ‘cl’

Introduction

Theists hold that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe. Metaphysical naturalists, on the other hand, hold that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. Metaphysical naturalism (N) denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. Therefore, N entails that any true scientific explanations must be naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones.

In my post, “Evidential Argument from the History of Science,” I appeal to evidence (E) regarding the nature of scientific explanations. E1 states the overwhelming  number of plausible scientific explanations for physical phenomena which do not appeal to supernatural agency. While readers may think of the topics that are standard fare for “science and religion” discussions (such as biological evolution, mind-brain dependence, etc.), the scope of E is much broader than that. To put the point somewhat crudely or simplistically, imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, medicine, etc. Suppose that the textbooks summarize all currently plausible scientific explanations for those fields. The percentage of such explanations which make no appeal to supernatural agency is extremely high, while the percentage of such explanations which do appeal to supernatural agency is, at best, very small.

Furthermore, E2 states that the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones. Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But that in no way denies the point that there have been numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.

The central claim of the evidential argument from the history of science (AHS) is its premise (2), which states E is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism (T) is true. In symbols:

(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).

And, for convenience, here again is the entire structure of AHS in its logical form.

(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false.

CL’s Objections

cl does not find AHS in the least bit convincing. In his words, “there is so much wrong with this argument he does not where to start.” As I read his reply, his entire response to AHS is based upon his denial of (2), which he supports with three objections.

First, he presents a dilemma: natural explanations “work” either because of their utility or because they allow us to get the job done. This is a weak objection. Natural explanations “work” in the sense that they are plausible scientific explanations for physical phenomena which do not appeal to supernatural agency.[1] The sheer quantity of such naturalistic explanations is much more probable on N than on T. N entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations, whereas T is compatible both with true non-supernatural scientific explanations and with true supernatural scientific explanations.

Second, he correctly observes that I reject what he calls “intrinsic methodological naturalism” (IMN) and instead accept something like what he calls “provisional methodological naturalism” (PMN).[2] What, then, is the problem?

Lowder defines a “supernatural” person or cause as one who exists outside of “the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.” Well, science can’t investigate anything outside the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities! At most, a scientist could posit a “supernatural” explanation for hitherto unexplained phenomena—then get beat over the head with God of the gaps retorts. So Lowder’s PMN seems to lead directly to fallacious thinking.

This objection presupposes that the only way a supernatural explanation could be justified is by appealing to a “God of the gaps” strategy, but that’s false. cl seems to be completely unaware of abductive inference, inference to the best explanation, and Bayesian or explanatory arguments, none of which need to appeal to our ignorance. To cite just one example, I recently blogged about Paul Draper’s argument from moral agency against naturalism. That argument appeals to scientific data about cosmology to support its claim about the improbability of moral agency on naturalism. Furthermore, that argument is a model of how a supernatural explanation for scientific phenomena could be justified without using a “God of the gaps” approach.

Third, cl argues that AHS begs the question. How, precisely, does AHS beg the question? According to cl, AHS claims that

the history of science is evidence for naturalism / atheism because natural explanations replace supernatural ones, but that premise presupposes that the explanations are ultimately natural (read: godless).

The word “ultimately” is key here. Suppose we have data about some scientific phenomena, which we call our evidence E. Assume that current scientific wisdom says that hypothesis H1 is the best explanation for E and that H1 does not make any appeal to supernatural agency. For example, E could be, “objects dropped from the roof of a house fall to the ground,” and H1 could be gravitational attraction. H1 could have an “ultimate” supernatural explanation just in case H1 is best explained by another hypothesis (call it H2), which does appeal to supernatural agency. For example, a theist might say, “H1 is true because God wills it to be true.” Let us call H1 an example of a primary explanation and H2 an example of an ultimate explanation, i.e., an explanation for one or more non-ultimate explanations.

Contrary to what cl claims, E1 and E2 do not claim that plausible scientific explanations are ultimate explanations. In fact, to avoid any misunderstandings, we can make this explicit with alternative wordings of E1 and E2.

E1′. The percentage of pla
usible scientific explanations for natural phenomena which have naturalistic primary or non-ultimate explanations is extremely high.

E2′. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic primary or non-ultimate explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural primary or non-ultimate explanations replacing naturalistic ones. 

Not only are E1′ and E2′ logically compatible with theism, but E1′ and E2′ are also compatible with all of these primary or non-ultimate explanations having a further, ultimate explanation which appeals to supernatural agency. Thus, this objection, like the two before it, fails.

Using the alternative wording provided by E1′ and E2′, it should now become even more clear why (2) is true. N entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations; if N is true and a primary scientific explanation has a deeper ultimate explanation, that ultimate explanation is also non-supernatural. In contrast, T is compatible with both true non-supernatural explanations and with true supernatural explanations (primary, ultimate, or otherwise). In other words, if N is true, true scientific explanations have to be naturalistic, whereas if T is true, true primary scientific explanations could have directly appealed to supernatural agency. Thus, E1′ is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true, and hence strong evidence favoring N over T.

Notes

[1]  By “plausible,” I mean “has a high epistemic probability.”

[2]  Earlier in this series, following Draper, I used the expression, “modest methodological naturalism.”

bookmark_borderIndex: The Evidential Argument from the History of Science (AHS)

Informal Statement of the Argument
If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations work. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most scientific theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, implausible, even on the assumption that theism is true. Such explanatory success is antecedently more likely on naturalism–which entails that all supernaturalistic explanations are false–than it is on theism. Thus the history of science is some evidence for metaphysical naturalism and against theism. Since metaphysical naturalism entails that no supernatural beings exist, including God, the history of science is some evidence for atheism.
Series Index
Part 1“: a summary and defense of Paul Draper’s explanatory version of AHS, plus some responses to objections
Part 2: Detailed Reply to Randal Rauser“: a refutation of Rauser’s argument that an auxiliary hypothesis to theism known as “transcendent agent” models of divine action refute AHS.
Part 3: Reply to Rauser on Defining Metaphysical Naturalism“: a refutation of Rauser’s claim that metaphysical naturalism is compatible with the existence of an interventionist God
Part 4: Reply to cl“: a point-by-point rebuttal to cl’s reply to AHS.
Part 5: Reply to RD Miksa: a rebuttal to Miksa’s reply to AHS.

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science, Part 3: Reply to Rauser on Defining Metaphysical Naturalism

Randal Rauser really doesn’t like the argument from the history of science (AHS). After I refuted his initial objections to AHS, he seems to have abandoned those objections. Instead, he now takes issue with the definition of metaphysical naturalism itself, a point he makes over the course of no less than three separate, additional replies. (See here, here, and here.) According to Rauser, metaphysical naturalism “is a vacuous cipher that is consistent with belief in the existence of an interventionist God.”

At first glance, his new approach seems like a stroke of genius. If metaphysical naturalism is consistent with theism, then it’s impossible for literally anything to be evidence favoring naturalism over theism. And therefore one doesn’t have to get bogged down in messy, contingent issues about which hypothesis (i.e., naturalism or theism) best explains the data; indeed, one doesn’t even have to deal with tricky issues about what counts as evidence! Instead, one can play the sort of semantic games which give philosophy a bad name, in which empirical evidence isn’t important. One might ask, “But what about all those high-falutin’ philosophers, from both sides of the aisle, like Plantinga, Swinburne, Moreland, Draper, Schellenberg, and Smith (to name just a few) who think that metaphysical naturalism is a serious alternative to theism?” I guess Rauser would say that he knows better than they do; they simply (and quite literally) do not know what they are talking about.

This is, of course, absurd. Just as it is misguided for noncognitivists to try to deny that theism is an explanatory hypothesis (by denying that “God exists” expresses a proposition), it is equally a mistake to try to deny that metaphysical naturalism is an explanatory hypothesis (by claiming that metaphysical naturalism is consistent with theism). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lest I be accused of offering an inductively incorrect argument from authority, I want to consider his arguments.

Since Rauser pins so much of his latest batch of replies on my definition of metaphysical naturalism, let us begin by reviewing the definitions I’ve used throughout our exchange. Following Paul Draper, I’ve offered the following definitions.

physical entity: the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists. Examples of physical entities include atoms, molecules, gravitational fields, electromagnetic fields, etc.[1]
causally reducible: X is causally reducible to Y just in case X’s causal powers are entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of Y.[1]
ontologically reducible: X is ontologically reducible to Y just in case X is nothing but a collection of Ys organized in a certain way.[1]
natural entity: an entity which is either a physical entity or an entity that is ontologically or causally reducible to a physical entity.[1]
nature: the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.[1]
supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect nature. Examples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.[1]
metaphysical naturalism (hereafter, “N”): the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.
theism (hereafter, “T”): the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe.

It is trivial to show, by substitution of synonyms for synonyms, that N contradicts T. According to T, God created the universe. Since God created the universe, God is not part of the universe. Furthermore, God’s act of creation of the universe is an act which, by definition, affects the universe. Therefore, T entails that a being (God) which is outside of the universe affected (created) the universe. Thus, T contradicts N, which denies the existence of any being that is not part of the natural world but somehow affects it.

Semantics

I’m going to start with Randall’s article, “Not Even Wrong: The Many Problems with Naturalism.”

1. Rauser begins by complaining that I failed to provide a definition of N: “Unfortunately, in his definitive list of definitions Lowder doesn’t provide a definition for metaphysical naturalism.” Rauser seems to have confused “definitive list of definitions” with “exhaustive list of definitions.” I provided the definition of N just a little bit farther down in the article, under the heading “Rival Explanatory Hypotheses.” I give there the same definition of N which I provide above. To his credit, however, Rauser attempts to reconstruct my definition of naturalism from the other terms. He arrives at a definition which, while not identical to my actual definition, isn’t horrible. (I will briefly address why I don’t care for his reconstruction at the end of this post.)

2. Next, he writes, “nature is defined in such a way that it encompasses whatever science describes in the future as either natural or in relationship with the natural.” As we have just seen from my actual definitions, however, this is an oversimplification. The phrase, “in relationship with the natural,” is ambiguous: it could include ontological reduction, causal reduction, or–here’s the important part–some other unspecified type of “relationship.” The definition of “natural entity” does not allow for any other type of relationship. But let’s put that aside. What, precisely, is the problem?

According to Rauser, “Lowder’s naturalism is consistent with science establishing the existence of a non-physical substance that interacts causally with the realm of nature.” And why is that a problem? Rauser writes that one such reason is that

it is possible that a future neuroscience may have reason to affirm the existence of a non-physical substance that interacts with the brain. In the same way that the existence of subatomic particles can be inferred from their effects, so it is conceivable that a soul could be inferred from its effects.

An entity is logically compatible with N if and only if either (a) it is a physical entity, or (b) it is ontologically or causally reducible to a physical entity. How, precisely, would a ‘soul’ be logically compatible with N? Rauser’s scientific ‘soul’ (hereafter, ‘shmoul’) cannot be ontologically reducible to one or more physical entities, since he says it is (or is made out of?) a “non-physical substance.” Thus, if a shmo
ul is compatible with N, that is because a shmoul is causally reducible to a physical entity. Is it? Is it an unembodied mind? For that matter, what are the causal powers of a shmoul? Can shmouls which are not somehow associated with a physical brain (i.e., ghosts) somehow affect physical entities? Can shmouls exist without a physical universe? Rauser says nothing about this. In ordinary English, however, a “soul” is not causally reducible to physical entities, i.e., a soul’s causal powers are not entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of physical entities. So it’s hard to see how the existence of a “soul,” at least as that word is defined in ordinary English, could be consistent with N.

I want to emphasize that I don’t rule out the possibility of a future scientific discovery which could provide evidence for souls (or shmouls). If such evidence is discovered that would be evidence for T and against N. But then it follows from the probability calculus that the non-existence of souls is evidence for N and against T.

3.This same problem refutes Rauser’s argument that N is consistent with the existence of God.

So now we’ve identified that Lowder’s naturalism is consistent with the existence of an indefinite range of non-physical substances interacting in nature. Whether or not we can identify one of those substances as God from within scientific discourse is quite irrelevant. The point remains that Lowder’s naturalism is consistent with God interacting in the physical world.

Again, Rauser seems to have forgotten the role of “natural entity” in the list of definitions I provided earlier. Yes, N is consistent with the existence of natural entities which are not physical entities. Such entities, however, must be either ontologically or causally reducible to physical entities. The theistic God, however, is neither ontologically nor causally reducible to physical entities.

4. Similarly, this same problem refutes Rauser’s claim to have discovered a contradiction.

On the one hand, Lowder’s naturalism is open to the existence of non-physical substances causally interacting in the physical world. On the other hand, it categorically denies this. So which is it?

Again, Rauser seems to have forgotten the role of “natural entity.”

What About Abstract Objects?

Let’s move onto Randall’s article, “Prejudice Against Supernatural Persons.” He asks why metaphysical naturalists (in my sense of metaphysical naturalism) believe there are no supernatural beings, while being open to abstract objects? Draper answers this question well: “[W]hile our knowledge of nature may provide reason to believe that nothing is supernatural, it provides little basis for the further conclusion that nature is all there is.”[2] This is also why I don’t care for Rauser’s attempt at reconstructing my definition of metaphysical naturalism.

Addendum: Open-Ended Metaphysical Naturalism?

I want to revisit Rauser’s complaint that N, as I have defined it, is open-ended. Again, he writes, “Thus, nature is defined in such a way that it encompasses whatever science describes in the future as either natural or in relationship with the natural.” The worry seems to be that if physicists or chemists in the future were to suddenly start appealing to God or other supernatural persons in their theories, then, God or other supernatural persons would suddenly become physical entities, just by virtue of the fact that physicists or chemists have appealed to them.

I have two comments, one very minor and one substantive. The minor comment is that physicists and chemists do not today appeal to supernatural agents in their theories, so God and other supernatural persons are clearly not physical entities today. (Okay, I said that was a minor point.) The more substantive comment is this. One can easily revise and expand the definition of N as follows:

physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today.[3]

Thus, even if physicists or chemists of the future appeal to God in their theories, God would not be a physical entity because He “is not subject to laws relating him to atoms, fields, and the like, nor would he share any common origin with such entities.”[4]

Notes

[1] Paul Draper,  God, Science, and NaturalismOxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William Wainwright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 272-303.
[2] Draper 2004, 279-280.
[3] Draper 2004.
[4] Draper 2004.

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science, Part 2: Detailed Reply to Randal Rauser

Introduction

Theists hold that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe. Metaphysical naturalists, on the other hand, hold that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. Metaphysical naturalism (N) denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. Therefore, N entails that any true scientific explanations must be naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones.

In my post, “Evidential Argument from the History of Science,” I appeal to evidence (E) regarding the nature of scientific explanations. E1 states the overwhelming  number of plausible scientific explanations for physical phenomena which do not appeal to supernatural agency. While readers may think of the topics that are standard fare for “science and religion” discussions (such as biological evolution, mind-brain dependence, etc.), the scope of E is much broader than that. To put the point somewhat crudely or simplistically, imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, medicine, etc. Suppose that the textbooks summarize all currently plausible scientific explanations for those fields. The percentage of such explanations which make no appeal to supernatural agency is extremely high, while the percentage of such explanations which do appeal to supernatural agency is, at best, very small.

Furthermore, E2 states that the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) ones. Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic (i.e., non-supernatural) explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But that in no way denies the point that there have been numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.

The central claim of the evidential argument from the history of science (AHS) is its premise (2), which states E is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism (T) is true. In symbols:

(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).

And, for convenience, here again is the entire structure of AHS in its logical form.

(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false.

Randal Rauser does not find AHS in the least bit convincing. In his words, “it provides no evidence that theism is false or that naturalism is true.” As I read his reply, his entire objection to AHS is based upon his denial of (2).

Science, Theology, and “Proper Spheres”

Here is Rauser:

Now let’s consider the opening sentence: “If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that scientific explanations work.” While this is certainly true, we should make sure we are very careful in considering how it is true.

Unfortunately, Rauser’s proposed terminological swap voids my sentence of its intended meaning and instead makes it look like a truism or a tautology. If theism is true, it could have been the case that successful scientific explanations were supernatural explanations, i.e., explanations which directly appealed to supernatural agency. For example, biology could have discovered that all animals are not the relatively modified descendants of a common ancestor; neuroscience could have discovered no correlations at all between human minds and brains, etc. Rauser says nothing about this in his reply.

Instead, he argues that science and theology each have their own “proper spheres.”

Science is to the object of its study (i.e. the physical structure of the universe) as hammers are to nails: a great tool for that specific use. However, we would balk at any person who reasoned that the continued success of hammers at pounding nails provided evidence that hammers could replace the other tools on the belt. It would be equally in error to suppose that the continued success of science at explaining the physical structure of the natural world could replace other explanations in their proper spheres.

It may surprise Rauser to learn that there is a certain sense in which I agree with him. Here is an example from ethics. For example, while science has discovered facts about the biological nature of human beings, facts which can and often do have moral significance, science as such tells us nothing about which normative ethical theories are true. I agree with Rauser that it would be a mistake to argue that the success of science shows that all ethical theories are false or that naturalistic explanations have replaced ethical explanations. But so what? Scientific explanations and normative ethical theories are not rival theories. For example, there is no ‘ethical theory of gravity’ as opposed to the scientific theory of gravity. Or again, there is no ‘scientific theory of the good’ as opposed to the Platonic Form of the Good.

Rauser’s “proper sphere” approach, however, breaks down when we try to apply it to science and theology, in the way he wants to apply it. There are obviously many claims in theology which everyone agrees are completely outside the scope of science (i.e., doctrines about salvation, the afterlife, etc.). But there are other possible theological claims which can conflict scientific explanations. For example, what accounts for biogeography, i.e., the distribution of plant and animal life, both as we find it today and as we find it in the fossil record? Some theists, i.e., young earth creationists, have offered a straightforward, supernatural explanation: God flooded the entire Earth for 40 days and nights as described in Genesis (the “Genesis flood”). I’m assuming that Rauser rejects the Genesis flood explanation, but the fact remains that the Genesis flood explanation is just that: a rival, potential (but false) explanation, one which attempts to explain physical phenomena in terms of supernatural agency. Thus, Rauser’s “proper spheres” approach does nothing to undermine premise (2) of AHS.

God of the Gaps Theology

Rauser next quotes an earlier editorial in which he argued against God-of-the-Gaps theology. His crucial point seems to be this.

But God-of-the-gaps theology is not only mistaken because it tends to shrink the conceptual space in which God can act. In add
ition, I believe it depends on the flawed assumption that a natural explanation for a given phenomenon excludes the need for a supernatural explanation.

Again,  it may surprise Rauser to learn that I agree with him: the fact that some physical phenomenon has a natural explanation does not exclude the possibility of a supernatural explanation. Possibility, however, is the key word here. AHS is an evidential argument, i.e., it grants that E is logically compatible with T. Instead, AHS explicitly appeals to probability. Thus, it is irrelevant to cite mere logical possibilities. Rauser needs to present some reason for doubting that premise (2) is true.  His God-of-the-Gaps editorial doesn’t do this.

Rauser’s Pit Bull

Finally, Rauser quotes from an earlier post where he gives his pit bull illustration. Nothing in that illustration is relevant to AHS, however. In his illustration, Suzy’s misfortune is not evidence for the truth of Ray’s advice and against Randy’s advice because her misfortune is equally antecedently probable on both the assumption that Ray’s advice is true and on the assumption that Randy’s advice is true. (Rauser gets it wrong when he writes, “No, it doesn’t, for the simple reason that both Ray and Randy offered advice fully consistent with this unfortunate outcome.” Talk of “consistency” completely misses the point; the relevant question is whether the data is antecedently more probable on the assumption that one hypothesis is true than on the assumption that a rival, competing hypothesis is true.)

But that is irrelevant because the pit bull illustration is itself irrelevant. Here is Rauser.

By the same token, discovering the natural genesis of lightning does not constitute evidence for MCN because the natural genesis of lightning is fully consistent with the existence of God and his action in the world. (Indeed, to assume that there is such a thing as special divine action entails that there is such a thing as regular action in which natural processes are operative, including the discharge of lightning under the right conditions.)

Again, Rauser seems to be confused about AHS. To borrow jargon from the contemporary literature of the philosophy of religion on the problem of evil, AHS is an evidential argument, not a logical argument. In other words, AHS does not claim that E is logically incompatible with T. Rather, AHS claims that E is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that N is true than on the assumption that T is true. Thus, Rauser’s pit bull illustration provides no reason whatsoever to deny premise (2).

It is not until the very end of Rauser’s post that we find a point which could, at least, be potentially relevant to (2).

For at least fifteen hundred years countless theologians have developed what I call transcendent agent models of divine action in the world which view God as the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific explanation in its proper sphere. So once again, and for good measure, the advance of science in its proper sphere which it has rightfully claimed from other disciplines, provides no evidence that those other disciplines do not have their proper spheres. And thus it provides no evidence that theism is false or that naturalism is true.

I addressed this in the updated version of my last post on AHS. For convenience, I will quote my reply there in its entirety.

On the assumption that theism is true, what reason is there to believe that transcendent agent models of divine action in the world are true? Is there any reason that is independent of the success of  non-supernatural explanations?

Let’s define A as the hypothesis that “God is the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific explanation in its proper sphere.” A is clearly logically compatible with E, but the question is whether A undermines premise (2) of AHS. In order to properly evaluate the evidential impact of A, if any, on AHS, I propose that we treat A as an auxiliary hypothesis (to theism). It follows from the theorem of total probability that:

Pr(A | T) = Pr(A | T) x Pr(E | A & T) + Pr(~A | T) x Pr(E | T & ~A)

In the context of explanatory arguments, Draper calls that theorem the “weighted average principle” (WAP).[6] As Draper points out, this formula is an average because Pr(A | T) + Pr(~A | T) = 1. It is not a simple straight average, however, since those two values may not equal 1/2; that is why it is a weighted average.[7] The higher Pr(A | T), the closer Pr(E | T) will be to  Pr(E | A & T);  similarly, the higher Pr(~A | T), the closer  Pr(E | T) will be to Pr(E | T & ~A).[8]

WAP shows that, in order to be successful, an objection to an evidential argument must do more than simply identify an auxiliary hypothesis which can explain the data. The objection must also provide an antecedent reason for thinking that A is true, i.e., a reason for thinking that A is more probable given the core hypothesis–in this case, theism–than given the negation of the core hypothesis. Without such a reason, the objection reduces to the fact that E is merely logically compatible with the core hypothesis (in this case, T), which is no objection at all to an evidential argument.

For this reason, then, this objection is, at best, incomplete. It successfully identifies a relevant auxiliary hypothesis (A), but does not (yet) provide an antecedent reason for expecting that hypothesis to be true, on the assumption that theism is true.

I hope it is now clear why my original reply focused solely on Rauser’s appeal to A and why the other parts of his reply are not even relevant to AHS.

Addendum: Rauser’s Second and More Critical Look at AHS

Due to the fact that my initial response to Rauser only addressed one of his objections to AHS, he posted a second article criticizing AHS.   I want to comment on that response here.

Theologians in Perpetual Retreat?

In direct response to Rauser’s positing the transcedent agent model, I proposed that we treat that model as an auxiliary hypothesis (A). In order to determine if this model is just an ad hoc proposal invented to accomodate E, I asked what antecedent reason exists on theism to expect that A is true.  Rauser writes:

Theologians had biblical reasons for adopting a TA model (e.g. explaining the relationship between human and divine agency in election).

The evidential argument from the history of science (AHS) is an argument against theism, not Christian theism per se. Now before anyone says, “Aha! Lowder admits AHS doesn’t touch Christian theism,” I say, “Not so fast!” Since Christian theism entails theism, it logically follows from the axioms of the probability calculus that the probability of Christian theism cannot be greater than (generic) theism. (Anyone who doubts this should draw a simple Venn diagram for proof.)

So how does TA affect the antecedent probability
of E in AHS? “Biblical reasons for adopting a TA model” are evidentially relevant if and only if the probability relations specified by the Weighted Average Principle (WAP), which follows from the theorem of total probability, are satisfied. Rauser’s reply says nothing about WAP, however. So Rauser has not yet provided an antecedent reason to think that such Biblical reasons are more probable than not, on the assumption that theism is true. And therefore he has not yet provided any reason to think the “TA model” refutes premise (2) of AHS.

Rauser continues:

And they had countless philosophical and theological reasons as well. For instance, TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality, two mainstays of classical theism. So theologians prior to the rise of science had many reasons to endorse TA models of divine action.

The claim, “TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality,” is just that: a claim, an assertion, in need of support. I don’t find that support in what Rauser has written (so far).

bookmark_borderThe Evidential Argument from the History of Science (AHS)

Informal Statement of the Argument
If there is a single theme unifying the history of science, it is that naturalistic explanations work. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most scientific theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, implausible, even on the assumption that theism is true. Such explanatory success is antecedently more likely on naturalism–which entails that all supernaturalistic explanations are false–than it is on theism. Thus the history of science is some evidence for naturalism and against theism.[1]
Formal Statement of the Argument
Definitions:
physical entity: the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists. Examples of physical entities include atoms, molecules, gravitational fields, electromagnetic fields, etc.[2]
causally reducible: X is causally reducible to Y just in case X’s causal powers are entirely explainable in terms of the causal powers of Y.[2]
ontologically reducible: X is ontologically reducible to Y just in case X is nothing but a collection of Ys organized in a certain way.[2]
natural entity: an entity which is either a physical entity or an entity that is ontologically or causally reducible to a physical entity.[2]
nature: the spatio-temporal universe of natural entities.

Note: there may be additional entities currently unknown to physics but which may be discovered in the future. If and when such entities are discovered, they may be called physical and natural based on their relationship to known physical or natural entities. Thus, this definition of “nature” may only capture nature as currently understood.[2]

supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect nature. Examples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.[2]
non-natural entity: any entity that is not a natural entity. There are two kinds of non-natural entities: personal and impersonal. Personal non-natural entities are supernatural persons or agents. Impersonal non-natural entities are abstract objects.
presumption of naturalism: prior to investigation, the probability that the immediate cause of any given natural event is very high.[2]
modest methodological naturalism: scientific explanations may appeal to the supernatural only as a last resort.[2]
naturalistic explanation:  a non-supernatural explanation.

Note: a common misunderstanding is the idea that a “naturalistic explanation” means an explanation based on metaphysical naturalism. That is not how “naturalistic explanation” is used here. Rather, a naturalistic explanation simply means any explanation that does not appeal to supernatural agency.

B: The Relevant Background Information
1. The universe is intelligible.
E: The Evidence to be Explained
1. So many natural phenomena can be explained naturalistically, i.e., without appeal to supernatural agency.
2. The history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of supernatural explanations replacing naturalistic ones.
Rival Explanatory Hypotheses
T: theism: the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe.
N: 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.
The Argument Formulated
(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | B & N) >! Pr(E | B & T).
(3) T is not much more probable intrinsically than N.
————————————————————————-
(4) Therefore, other evidence held equal, T is probably false.
Defense of (2) 
N entails that any true explanations must be naturalistic ones.  Thus, on the assumption that N is true, we have an extremely strong reason to expect that successful scientific explanations will be naturalistic ones. In contrast, if T is true, then it could have been the case that that successful scientific explanations were supernatural explanations. For example, biology could have discovered that all animals are not the relatively modified descendants of a common ancestor; neuroscience could have discovered no correlations at all between human minds and brains, etc. If the history of science were like that, then that would have supported T over N.  But then the success of science in finding naturalistic explanations must be evidence for N over T. How strong is this evidence? I agree with Draper:  “the more likely it is that there are true naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena (i.e., the stronger the presumption of naturalism), the more unlikely it is that there are supernatural beings.”[3]
Objections to AHS
Objections to (2)
Objection: AHS “depends on conflating the old pagan religions and animisms with the Abrahamic religious beliefs. . . .  [T]here is a clear distinction between those who believed in the old gods and spirits, and those who held to the Judeo-Christian notion of a transcendent and eternal Creator God. What ended the attribution of supernatural causes to natural processes wasn’t the advent of rationalism through the science but the spread of Christianity and it’s adherence to a transcendent Creator God who acted uniquely in history to create a universe that acted in accordance with certain laws and principles.”[4]
Reply:  This reply confuses the distinction between what we might call the “socio-historical explanation” for E with its “metaphysical explanation.” The spread of Christianity is an example of the former, while AHS is focused on the latter. Even if that socio-historical explanation for E is correct, it doesn’t follow that T, much less Christian theism, is correct. The objection notes that the universe acts “in accordance with certain laws and principles.” That fact is irrelevant to AHS, which explicitly includes the intelligibility of the universe in its background information. At best, the fact of the intelligibility of the universe might provide evidence favoring T over N. It does not in any way undermine the claim that, given that the universe acts in accordance with certain laws and principles, the fact that science has been so successful in providing natural explanations for natural phenomena is evidence favoring N over T. To deny this point is to commit the fallacy of understated evidence.[5]
Objection: “For at least fifteen hundred years countless theologians have developed what I call transcendent agent models of divine action in the world which view God as the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific [naturalistic] explanation in its proper sphere. So once again, and for good measure, the advance of science in its proper sphere which it has rightfully claimed from other disciplines, provides no evidence that those other disciplines do not have their proper spheres. And thus it provides no evidence that theism is false or that naturalism is true.”[6]
Reply: On the assumption that theism is true, what reason is there to believe that transcendent agent (TA) models of divine action in the world are true? Is there any reason that is independent of the success of  non-supernatural explanations?
Let’s define A as the hypothesis that “God is the primary metaphysical agent of all natural events in a way that is completely consistent with the advance of scientific explanation in its proper sphere.” A is clearly logically compatible with E, but the question is whether A undermines premise (2) of AHS. In order to properly evaluate the evidential impact of A, if any, on AHS, I propose that we treat A as an auxiliary hypothesis (to theism). It follows from the theorem of total probability that:
Pr(A | T) = Pr(A | T) x Pr(E | A & T) + Pr(~A | T) x Pr(E | T & ~A)
In the context of explanatory arguments, Draper calls that theorem the “weighted average principle” (WAP).[7] As Draper points out, this formula is an average because Pr(A | T) + Pr(~A | T) = 1. It is not a simple straight average, however, since those two values may not equal 1/2; that is why it is a weighted average.[8] The higher Pr(A | T), the closer Pr(E | T) will be to  Pr(E | A & T);  similarly, the higher Pr(~A | T), the closer  Pr(E | T) will be to Pr(E | T & ~A).[9]WAP shows that, in order to be successful, an objection to an evidential argument must do more than simply identify an auxiliary hypothesis which can explain the data. The objection must also provide an antecedent reason for thinking that A is true, i.e., a reason for thinking that A is more probable given the core hypothesis–in this case, theism–than given the negation of the core hypothesis. Without such a reason, the objection reduces to the fact that E is merely logically compatible with the core hypothesis (in this case, T), which is no objection at all to an evidential argument.
For this reason, then, this objection is, at best, incomplete. It successfully identifies a relevant auxiliary hypothesis (A), but does not (yet) provide an antecedent reason for expecting that hypothesis to be true, on the assumption that theism is true.
Objection: Theologians had Biblical reasons for adopting A.
Reply: “Biblical reasons for adopting a TA model” are evidentially relevant if and only if the pattern of probability relations specified by the Weighted Average Principle (WAP) are satisfied. Unless there is an antecedent reason to think that such Biblical reasons are more probable than not, on the assumption that theism is true, there is no reason to think A refutes premise (2) of AHS.
Objection: Theologians also had countless philosophical and theological reasons as well. For instance, TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality, two mainstays of classical theism. So theologians prior to the rise of science had many reasons to endorse A.
Reply:  The claim, “TA models flow naturally from a commitment to divine simplicity and atemporality,” is just that: a claim, an assertion, in need of support.
Objection: Naturalism is unable to explain some 20th-century scientific discoveries, ranging from what happens to when one shoots a photon into space to certain 20th-century scientific discoveries, such as cosmological fine-tuning.
Reply: First, metaphysical naturalism neither logically entails nor makes probable the claim that metaphysical naturalism itself is the explanation for everything studied by the sciences. Rather, metaphysical naturalism entails that all true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations. According to (2), the fact that so many true scientific explanations are non-supernatural explanations is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
Similarly, the fact that non-supernatural explanations have replaced supernatural explanations, while no supernatural explanations have replaced non-supernatural explanations, is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
Second, I don’t rule out that the possibility that scientific discoveries, such as cosmological fine-tuning, could provide evidence for theism and against naturalism. Indeed, I’ve blogged on The Secular Outpost about Draper’s argument from moral agency for theism and against naturalism. I’ve gone so far as to call that argument the best argument for theism. None of this, however, undermines the conclusion of AHS, which is that the history of science is prima facie evidence against theism. The words “prima facie” are important because they highlight that the argument assesses the evidential impact of one item of evidence only. To put the point another way, AHS doesn’t claim to examine the total available relevant evidence. It’s possible that both the argument from moral agency and AHS are correct. Indeed, it’s possible that both are correct, but the former outweighs the latter!
Notes
[1] 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), 38-39; and Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the ConnectionPhilo 3 (2000): 7-29.
[2] Draper 2004.
[3] Draper 2004.
[4] Jack Hudson, “Arguments for God: The Historically Unique Nature of God.” Wide as the Waters (August 10,2010), http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/the-historically-unique-nature-of-creation/(spotted June 16, 2012).
[5] Paul Draper, “Partisanship and Inquiry in the Philosophy of Religion,” unpublished paper. Cf. Draper 2004, 43-44.
[6] Randal Rauser, “A Critical Look at Jeff Lowder’s Evidential Argument from the History of Science.” Randal Rauser (July 13, 2012), http://randalrauser.com/2012/07/a-critical-look-at-jeff-lowders-evidential-argument-from-the-history-of-science/(spotted July 13, 2012).
[7] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for TheistsNoús 23 (1989): 331-50 at 340.
[8] Draper 1989.
[9] Draper 1989.
Related Resources
Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “The Perimeter of Ignorance.” Natural History Magazine (November 2005).