bookmark_borderHow the Suffering and Death of Billions and Billions of Kids Completely Disproves the Existence of a Good and Loving God – Including Wrecking Free Will Theodicy in the Process

This essay is in association with the June 2022 Biblical Studies Carnival you can check out at https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/test-post-for-june-2022-biblical-studies-carnival

Just the Stat’s Ma’am

I first got a hint of the facts that — as screamingly obvious as they are have gone shockingly ignored — refute the premise presented in the Bible and other scriptures that there is a benign and moral creator deity when I many a decade ago was reading the opening sentences of the preface of my SciFi/futurist hero’s Arthur C. Clarke’s novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Clarke casually noted that around 100 billion people have been born. That caught my attention because it seemed a high number. Where he got the value from I do not know, but it is correct. All serious calculations agree on the basic figure, plus or minus about 20%. ~10 billion were born in the 1900s alone, and with humans being around for a few hundred thousand years, 10,000 of them since agriculture allowed large populations, it adds up.

The big a/theist debate is usually over whether any gods exist or not. But that is not really the point. What most theists imagine is not only that at least one deity is in charge of the big show, but that it is also a very fine and good creator God. One that according to Christian opinion is for reasons not at all clear all powerful, all knowing, all wise and all good. The goodness is as important as the existence – if the proposed god were not very good or evil that few would be interested in its existence much less adhering to its dictates. 

The simple question of the existence of a deity cannot be scientifically entirely refuted. What can be tested and proven is whether or not a creator power is moral or not. It’s a matter of demographic statistics run through the mill of logic and basic decency.

To wit, eventually it began to occur to me that the birth of a hundred or so of billion people has a dark side to it. One that directly torpedoes and sinks the common conceit believed by billions that God not only exists – itself a big, antiscientific stretch for reasons we shall not go into here – but also happens to be so righteous and wise that is worthy of and requires worship in exchange for the boons that it offers. That is a double super stretch.

The critical issue is clear enough. It’s those demographics. Until the advent of the modern medical science that humans devised after 99+% of our existence of living short and brutal lives, and without the aid of supernatural forces that apparently do not care, the juvenile mortality rate was ~50%. That means that in the area of 50 billion children have died from natural causes. If you have not heard that figure before it is because we live in a society that has covered up the biggest disaster in human history, the Holocaust of the Children.

For reasons that have me scratching my head no one bothered to take the number of those born and divided it by the childhood death rate and published the terrible toll of the children, leaving the global population shockingly ignorant. It has been a demographic and ethical scandal that has been allowing the churches et al. to get away with promoting being religious as moral. So I did the easy math and published it for the first time in 2009 in the academic journal Philosophy and Theology (http://www.gspauldino.com/Philosophy&Theology.pdf), with more recent up dated follow ups in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism (in two parts https://americanhumanist.org/what-we-do/publications/eph/journals/volume28/paul-1 & http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/03_Paul-SkeptoTheoPt2.pdf — these studies contain the majority of the references this little essay is based upon).

Christians and other theists like to go on about how humans cause evil, not God. But only a small percentage of children who have died have been dispatched by adults with bad intent. The greatest kid killer by far is the vast host of diseases that infest the planet and ruthlessly  torture children to death. Microbes and other afflictions that humans had nothing to do with creating and until of late had little ability to defeat. Even today some 15,000 children are lost to natural causes.

That is after birth. Before it is even worse in terms of numbers. The human reproductive complex is very inefficient so there is a lot of wastage, which is a reason why it is rather hard for women to get pregnant and stay that way. Three quarters or more of conceptions naturally fail to come to term, apparently because our genetics are so complicated that they are delicate and prone to malfunction (simpler mice do not have high rates of spontaneous miscarriage). Far from the womb being a safe refuge for the preborn, it is such a death trap that most do not make it out alive. As geneticist William Rice states, accidental abortion is “the predominant outcome of fertilization [and] a natural and inevitable part of human reproduction at all ages.” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326485445_The_high_abortion_cost_of_human_reproduction). Doing the again why-had-they-not-been-done-it-before-they-being-easy-to-do calculations, I was the first to publish in the P&T piece that about a third of a trillion pregnancies have failed due to causes beyond human control: note that even modern medicine can do little to bring down the natural abortion rate. There is something of a saving grace to this in that most pregnancies fail before implantation, or shortly after, when the zygote has not the slightest awareness of its existence and no ability to suffer.

Ergo, if there is an all-powerful supernatural creator, then far from being the prolife, children loving beacon of sage morality that all must and should owe loyalty and fealty, it does not give a damn about the comfort, safety and lives of the innocent immature humans from conception on, and has not lifted a cosmic finger to save the lives of the hundreds of billions of youngsters, the great majority of conceptions having died, often under barbarically cruel circumstances, before their preteens due to Mother Nature.

The Great Theodist Evasion 1.0

The alleged font of divine wisdom, the Holy Bible, says nothing about this. Nada. Not once is the massive slaughter by nonhuman means of the young, preborn or born, directly addressed and explained. The Good Book does not even bother to detail what happens to the supposed souls of the little ones after they have died before growing up. Do they go the Hell because they have not accepted the glorious gift of the Grace of Christ? That would be as unfair as it is brazenly cruel. Do they get a free ticket to His Perfect Heaven where only those souls who during their earthly test of worthiness and willingness are allowed to ascend because the Perfect Lord of Paradise refuses to force any to worship Him for eternity without their enthusiastic concurrence? The reason what is purported to be the word of the flawless God avoids the death of children like the plagues that have wacked so many of them off is because it is not in any way possible to explain these massive irresolvable contradictions.

And as I detail in the P&T and EPH papers, the theological community — including the theodists whose insoluble business it is to try to explain how a brutally imperfect world is compatible with a perfect creator — has been dodging the problem of the death of billions of youth for millennia. Not once have the directly addressed much less successfully dealt with the incredible number who have died in the womb or their youth. And the reason is all too obvious, they too have no ability to devise a clever answer because none exists. So they simply sweep it under the rug.

Free Will Theodicy is a Great Big Lie

The primary go-to thesis that Christians intellectual and lay have long been employing is Free-Will and Best of All Possible Worlds theodicy. The not so smart idea is that because the Perfect God only wants willing worshippers in His Perfect Paradise, that the fair and wise creator plops us on this sometimes beautiful and other times horrid planet in order that we can make a free will choice regarding our eternal fate. The gaping problem that notion that has gone unaddressed is that in order to have free will – assuming for the sake of argument such exists at all – one has to survive long enough, say a decade or two, to have the necessary level of mental choice. Plus, adequate information about the all-important choice. Obviously, the proposed creator has allowed the planet to be so kid toxic that it is killing off most of them before they can make the bid decision. That many adults have not heard the word of Christ – half those born lived before 30 CE, and vast swathes of the continents did not hear up it until of late – and a good number are gravely mentally dysfunctional, means that when one runs the calculations that out of the few hundred billion conceived and 100 billion born only about 10 billion have heard the Word of Christ, and only maybe half that become Christians. Not a very successful Divine Utopia Project. Built as it is on the bodies of billions of youngsters denied their free will in order to satisfy the incoherent desires of an all too imperfect entity who craves attention.

To explain the mass natural abortion of the lives and free will of most conceptions requires one of the following. There is no supernatural creator. There is, but it is an amoral incompetent idiot. There is but it is evil to some serious degree. One way or another any creator is guilty of mass negligent or deliberate homicide and crimes against humanity. It is not possible for a powerful deity to be worthy of our loving adoration and obedience.

This is a brief summary of the situation. For the all too grim details and in-depth atheodistic analysis check out the P&T and EPH papers. The latter in particular include why the mode of divine creation, whether it be inept Biblical creationism, premeditated intelligent design theory, or callous Darwinian evolution, does not come close to solving the moral paradox.

The Great Evasion 2.0

After the P&T paper came out in 2009 I sent a PDF to all the major theodists alive at the time who had spent their careers avoiding dealing with death of the children problem – Haught, Hicks, Polkingorn, Plantinga, Swinburne and the like – for their consideration. Not a peep out of them, either one-on-one or in public. Not surprising since what are they going to say? Those who are still alive cynically continue to promote Free Will Theodicy even as they ignore its all too fatal flaws. That was not surprising. Also not paying attention was the news media that has long chronically under covered atheism (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/theocancel-culture-discrimination-by-neglect-the-chronic-news-and-opinion-media-bigotry-against-atheists). That was somewhat surprising because the first study to document the enormous numbers of deceased children was patently news worthy, as was how that overturns classic free will theodicy. And my work on how more atheism tends to correlate with superior national societal conditions had garnered a good deal of international coverage. The news media paid the P&T piece not the slightest mind. Funny thing though. They atheist community too has continued to be perturbingly slack on the issue that should be of great import to nontheism.

It’s the Animals Too

To try to address the continuing attention gap is one of the reasons I produced the EPH follow ups. Which go yet further on the problem of the suffering of the blameless. Immature H. sapiens are not the only innocents that have suffered vastly under the dominion of the perfectly idiotic creator. So have animals for the few hundred millions of years that they have had sufficient brain capacity to feel serious affliction. Notably, some of the same theodists who have avoided trying to excuse the mass slaughter of youthful humans have gone to lengths to try to deal with the enormous problem of animal suffering. In doing so they have expressed profound ignorance of biology via knowledge gaps that interestingly atheist evolutionists often succumb to as well, such as the “Balance of Nature” in which the harsh side of premature mortality is a necessary part of the system. Which it is not, there not being such a thing as the balance of nature that having been discredited way back in the last century. The arguments presented by the loving theodists have an air of self-indulgent casual cruelty that would justify beating your dog.

The Great Moral Challenge

The chronically under-appreciated Megadisasters of the Innocents are not just about disproving the reality of a beneficent creator of good intentions. It is about the problem of those who worship such an evil entity. The subject is covered in Part 2 of the EPH studies. Theists Christians especially love to go on and on with self-indulgent self-praise about how they are doing the selfless thing of worshipping a moral God. In the process they are prone to bash those who do not do so, either by not adoring the correct God i. e. the one they happen to follow, or by not following any deity. That is cynical projection of a high order. Many if not most atheists in turn merely claim that those who choose not to believe in matters supernatural can be as moral as those that do, and demand the respect that theists likewise mandate for themselves. That is not correct in that while atheism is morally neutral and atheists are free to be highly ethical, deity worship in search of boons is inherently morally corrupt. When theists are moral as they often are, it’s despite their religion, not because of it.

Even today 15,000 children die every 24 hours. By historical standards that is a remarkable, science and technology based achievement in mortality percentage terms that shows humanity cares vastly more than any creator who has shown stunning indifference to the fate of the preborn and children. On the other hand in absolute numbers it is a fairly typical per annum toll that has been seen for millennia. In principle humans can drive that number even lower by running a better world, but that will be very difficult to do, and it is not the fault of the children that so many still die like flies.

If there is God as a powerful as billions claim there is without any actual evidence to that effect, then it can put a stop to the death of the children in an instant. But Christians don’t care about that all that much. Seriously, they don’t. What is the priority of a devout Christian? Or Muslim? Is it to save the lives of children? No, that is the side show – would be very nice, but they have dreams much more important in their narcissistic eyes. Their true goal is to get to their god’s paradise. Which requires total obedience, and no criticism of their God lest they lose their ticket to heaven and perhaps get one to hell. So whatever God does is OK. Overseas a planet that causes immense suffering to trillions of animals for millions of years, and aborts billions of preborn and tortures to death billions more tykes? Not a problem, the ways of God being mysterious and all. Because Christians and the like are seeking gifts from God in exchange for looking the other way, they are hypocritical moral relativists and self-aggrandizer of a high order.

Atheists are not that. Not in that regard.

The EPH articles got about as much attention from the news media has had the P&T paper. None. And much the same response from the theologians. After a bluntly stated press release on part one was rejected by Religion News Service, and more cleverly written PR for the second half did the trick (https://religionnews.com/2021/11/22/new-academic-study-on-free-will-theology), not that it resulted in any coverage.

The lack of media coverage of the children’s holocaust in a world swamped with God is good chat is an outrage. As is how for thousands of years theism has flipped the truth by managing to make it out that the creator of a child killing planet is perfect in its morality when such is impossible, while making it seem that the humans who have saved billions of young lives with modern medicine are sinful entities. It is a pernicious scam being pulled off by the religion industry that has enjoyed tremendous success – but is faltering in a world increasingly skeptical of organized theism.

So what to do about it? That is discussed in Part 2 of the EPH work. That atheists have not gotten the news about the mass death of the premature out to the general population is a massive failure that goes way back, should have been done decades ago if not earlier. So time for us nontheists to get our rational and caring about the kids butts in gear and spread the bad news. Go on the moral offensive. Explain the that the vast scale of the Holocaust of the Children and the Brutalization of the Animals leaves no doubt that if there is a creator, it is a nasty piece of work. One unworthy of worship. And that doing so is gravely immoral. Seriously, why not do this? It is the truth, and it may be the moral straw that finally breaks the ethical back of religion that is already crashing in much of the world while a good chunk of what remains goes depraved reactionary.

As per, throw the mass death of the preborn in the laps of the forced birth movements, which is almost entirely an effort by the evangelical and Catholic right to reimpose a conservative Christian culture on Americans in violation of the 1st Amendment (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/the-forced-birth-movement-hates-real-religious-liberty-how-to-use-that-against-them-by-making-abortion-a-religious-and-medical-right). Who are they to claim that induced abortion is sinful murder when the creator whose behind they kiss in their search for a nice afterlife is fine with his nature killing off the unborn at a rate ten times higher than what mothers do by artificial means? If there is a creator then it is the Great Murderer of the Unborn, we humans are just running a little sideshow on that – specifically, during the period of Roe v Wade over 60 million induced abortions occurred, which is dwarfed by the nearly billion natural miscarriages over the same period in the US. If the theoconservatives really think that abortions should be stopped, then they should first demand that their God save the lives of all the over 1 million that miscarry each and every day, about 30,000 of them in these United States. Which would show that there is a God that actually gives a damn about it. But they won’t do that. Why? because they dare not challenge the deity they hope will assign them to His Heaven. So they are as corrupt as they are hypocritical in wanting to make induced abortion a crime. And because deep down a lot of them know it is all a fantasy.

On the larger scale, to the thesits issue the Great Moral Challenge. Tell them to stop selfishly worshipping their gods that they want stuff from until it puts a stop to the deaths of the children. Of course they won’t do it. But it will expose the falsity of their divine morality to a degree not yet seen.

Getting the Information Out to a Secularizing World

Spare me the negative and not all that useful chat about what is the point of the above seeing as how religion just keeps chugging along despite believers being called out on the absurdity and immorality of their beliefs since the classical Greeks. For one thing, religion is in a demographic crisis of a scale it has never seen before in the face of modernity (http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf, also see Ronald Inglehart 2021 Religion’s Sudden Decline: What’s Causing Ir, and What Come’s Next). And the religious community has never been faced square on with the scale of the loss of immature humans, and how that wrecks Free Will Theodicy and any possibility of basic decency in a God or in worshipping such a brutal being. Could be a game changer. Or not. The only way to gauge what popularization of the Megadisaster of the Innocents would accomplish is to put it out there big time and see what it does or does not do. Let’s go on moral the offense.

That includes putting the prominent theologians who keep pushing the Good God thesis while ignoring the 50 billion dead kids to at long last directly address the question on the spot to either come up with a compelling answer that actually makes sense. And if and when they can’t do so admit they are wrong. Again not bloody likely to happen but they will have been shown up for the vacuity of their arguments. Again, let’s go on the ethical offense.

It is, after all, what the deceased too soon children deserve. No?

And check out the P&T and EPH papers, and tell your friends. The more the better.

bookmark_borderCraig’s Dismissive Attitude Towards Arguments from Evil

On Twitter, user @BissetteHunter tweeted this fifteen second video clip of William Lane Craig discussing arguments from evil:


In the case the link doesn’t work, here is the transcript:

“Therefore, this problem of evil, I think, though emotionally powerful–I grant it is emotionally powerful–philosophically it is very difficult to  run any kind of successful argument against God based on the evil and suffering in the world.

Commenting on this clip, user @ChristourLord1 tweeted the following:


There are several points I want to make regarding the statements from both Craig and @ChristourLord1.
(1) Craig’s statement is pure bluster. Consider: what does it mean for an argument–any argument–to be successful?
(a) Coerciveness. Well, one standard might be coerciveness. One might say that an argument is coercive if anyone who understands the argument believes the conclusion to be true. While a coercive argument would indeed seem to qualify as a “successful” argument, the standard of coercion seems much too high; we need a more modest standard.
(b) Soundness. Another standard might be soundness. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises; a sound argument is a valid argument in which all of the premises are true. While soundness might be sufficient to render an argument “successful,” it is hardly necessary. There are many inductive argument patterns regarded as successful, but which are invalid. So soundness cannot be the only way for an argument to achieve “success.”
(c) Strength. Another standard might be strength. An inductive argument is strong if the premises are true and the premises make it probable (but not certain) that the conclusion is true. Inductively strong arguments are successful.
I don’t claim the above three standards constitute an exhaustive list; there may very well be other standards of argument “success” besides those I’ve listed here. But even if that is the case, it would still be true that soundness is a sufficient condition for a successful deductive argument and strength is a sufficient condition for a successful inductive argument.
But are any arguments from evil or suffering successful in either sense?
Consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from pain and pleasure.
(1) E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
(2) T is not intrinsically much more probable than N, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|N|).
(3) E is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(EN & B) >> Pr(E | T & B).
(4) Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 0.5.
Although classified as an “evidential” argument (for reasons which are not important here), Draper’s argument is a deductive argument and thus should be assessed using the soundness standard described above. So… is Draper’s argument sound? It is clearly valid: (4) follows from (1), (2), and (3) based on the pattern of probability relations specified by Bayes’s theorem. And, contrary to Craig’s attempts to suggest otherwise, the premises are true. It follows that Draper’s argument is sound, which, in turn, entails that it is a “successful” argument in that sense.
(2) References to ‘the problem of evil’ obscure the fact that there is a robust family of arguments against theism based on known facts about evil, suffering, and imperfection. In my experience, when theistic apologists refer to ‘the problem of evil,’ they almost always proceed to divide the problem into (at least) two types: the so-called “emotional” or “pastoral” problem of evil and the “intellectual problem of evil,” which is a kind of umbrella category for all philosophical arguments against theism based on evil and suffering. @ChristourLord1, however, takes this tendency to the next level. He denies that there is an intellectual problem of evil at all. He accomplishes this amazing philosophical feat–why didn’t any theistic philosopher in the last 4000 years think of it?–by collapsing ‘the intellectual problem of evil’ into ‘the emotional problem of evil.’ Here, again, is the tweet:


What @ChristourLord1 claims is not only nonsense, but dismissive nonsense. It is one thing to claim, as Craig incorrectly does, that there is no successful argument from evil and suffering against God. It is entirely another thing to claim, as @ChristourLord1 does, that there are no “intellectual” arguments from evil and suffering against God. In order to get the point across to ignorant theists like @ChristourLord1, I am half-tempted to propose that atheists stop dignifying theistic arguments as “arguments” and instead refer to them as “problems” and specifically as “emotional problems.” For example: instead of the “moral argument,” we have the “emotional problem of morality without God.” We then declare, by fiat, that there is no intellectual problem of morality without God, only an emotional problem, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.
When theists understand why that is is a ludicrous reason to dismiss moral arguments for theism, they will understand why it is equally ludicrous to dismiss arguments against theism from evil, suffering, and imperfection as mere “emotional problems.”

bookmark_borderDraft: William Lane Craig on the Evidential Argument from Evolution

This is a draft article I’ve been working on. Any feedback would be appreciated.


Abstract: Paul Draper defends what may be called an “evidential argument from evolution” against theism, viz., an argument which purports to show that evolution constitutes strong evidence against theism. In response to this argument, William Lane Craig argues that Draper’s argument depends upon three “dubious” probability estimates. I examine one by one Craig’s objections to these estimates and show how they miss the mark.


Introduction

The idea that evolution is somehow a threat to “religion” is nothing new. Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, there have been allegations of a “war” between “science” and “religion,” with evolution arguably constituting one of the war’s front lines. For most of this “war’s” history, the philosophical “fighting” has focused on questions of logical compatibility, such as whether evolution is compatible with Christian theism (specifically, with a literal interpretation of the Biblical book of Genesis) or, more broadly, whether it is even compatible with “mere” or “generic” theism; no one had bothered to make a serious effort to consider, apart from questions of logical compatibility, whether the truth of evolution might constitute evidence against theism even if it is consistent with it. This changed in 1997. Philosopher of religion Paul Draper, well-known for writing what is widely considered one of the best versions of the argument from evil (1996), developed what may be called the “evidential argument from evolution.” It takes the following form:

(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.
(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. (From 1 and 2)
(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. (From 3 and 4)
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. (From 5 and 6) (Draper 1997)

Strictly speaking, the argument is both an evidential argument from evolution and an evidential argument from evil: (1) appeals to the fact of evolution, whereas (2) appeals to facts about pain and pleasure (a type of so-called “natural evil”).
The argument includes several propositions in the relevant background knowledge:

B1: Pain and pleasure, if they exist, have intrinsic moral value.
B2: A physical universe—which operates according to natural laws, is intelligible, and which supports the possibility of intelligent life—exists.
B3: Living things, including sentient beings, exist on Earth. These sentient beings include, but are not limited to, human beings.
B4: Some (Earthly) sentient beings are not moral agents but are biologically very similar to (Earthly) embodied moral agents.
B5: Humans are goal-directed organic systems, composed of parts that systematically contribute to the biological goals of these systems.

So the argument can be restated as follows:

(1) Pr(E| N & B) >! Pr(E | T & B).
(2) Pr(P | E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B).
(3) Pr(E & P | N & B) >!! Pr(E & P | T & B). (From 1 and 2)
(4) Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|).
(5) Pr(N | E & P & B) >!! Pr(T | E & P & B). (From 3 and 4)
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, Pr(T | E & P & B) <!! 1/2. (From 5 and 6)

In the twenty years since it was published, the evidential argument from evolution has attracted the attention of several philosophers, including William Lane Craig (2003, pp. 548-550), Alvin Plantinga (2011), and Daniel Howard-Snyder (2017). In this paper I want to critically assess Craig’s objections. Now if Craig claimed no more with respect to the evidential argument from evolution than the truism that “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens,” namely, that one’s degree of belief in the falsity of an argument’s conclusion can exceed one’s degree of belief in an argument’s key premise (Craig 2003, p. 549), then the defender of the evidential argument from evolution would have no dispute with Craig, pointing out that the argument’s “other evidence held equal” clause preempts Craig’s punting to theistic arguments. Fortunately for discussion’s sake, Craig’s appraisal of the evidential argument from evolution is mostly independent of his appeal to theistic arguments.  According to Craig, “Draper’s argument hinges on three probability estimates which seem dubious in light of our discussion” (Craig 2003, p. 549). In this response, I hope to show that the argument is, in fact, considerably stronger than Craig acknowledges.

Part 1: Craig’s Objections in His Written Work

First Objection: The Argument for Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|)

Craig’s first objection is that Draper (1997) assumes that theism and naturalism have equal prior probabilities. In Craig’s (2003, p. 549) words, Draper assumes that

naturalism and theism are equally probable with respect to our general background knowledge (Pr (N) = Pr (T)), which we have seen reason to dispute (recall chaps. 23-24).

As an objection to Draper 1997, however, this is simply misguided.
(i) First, Craig has confused prior probability with intrinsic probability. The former is a measure of the probability of a hypothesis conditional upon the relevant, extrinsic background information, whereas the latter is the probability of a hypothesis determined solely by intrinsic factors related to the content of a hypothesis, e.g., its scope and modesty. Allow me to introduce some mathematical symbols to make this clear:
Let Pr(|X|) =df. the intrinsic probability of X
Let Pr(X | B) =df. the prior probability of X conditional upon background information B
So Craig’s objection assumes that Draper’s argument either contains (or implies) a premise which says:

(4′) Pr(T| B) = Pr(N | B).

But this is false. The actual premise in Draper’s argument is:

(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism, i.e., Pr(|T|) =< Pr(|N|).

Even if Craig were correct that theism had a higher prior probability than naturalism, this would be irrelevant to (4), which states that theism is not intrinsically more probable than naturalism. So far as I am aware, Craig has never interacted with any of Draper’s work on intrinsic probability. (write a lot more here)
(ii) Even if Draper’s argument had claimed that theism and naturalism contained equal prior probabilities, Craig’s selection of background propositions—i.e., the propositions which constitute the relevant background knowledge—is biased. Again, Craig (2003, p. 49) writes:

naturalism and theism are equally probable with respect to our general background knowledge (Pr (N) = Pr (T)), which we have seen reason to dispute (recall chaps. 23-24).]

What, precisely, were the reasons offered in chapters 23 and 24? The cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments. Here I think Craig has not expressed himself very well. What could it mean to say that a set of arguments constitutes “our general background knowledge”? I am not even sure what that means. One option would be to include the conclusions of those arguments in our background knowledge:

B6. A maximally great being exists, i.e., a maximally great being exists in every possible world including the actual world. (Craig 2003, p. 496)
B7. The universe has a cause. (Craig 2003, p. 468)
B8. The explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Craig 2003, p. 466)
B9. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design. (Craig 2003, p. 484)
B10. God exists. (Craig 2003, p. 495)

That can’t be right because several of those conclusions (B6, B8, and B10) either explicitly state or imply that God exists. It’s illegitimate to include, in the background knowledge of a Bayesian argument, a proposition which entails the truth or falsity of the rival explanatory hypotheses under consideration. But three of these conclusions (B6, B8, and B10) either state or imply God’s existence, which renders them unsuitable for inclusion in the relevant background knowledge of an evidential argument about God’s existence. Furthermore, B6, if true, would entail that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary. It would be very odd, I think, to include “God’s existence is metaphysically necessary” in the background knowledge of any evidential argument against God’s existence. If God’s existence were metaphysically necessary, then we wouldn’t say that fact ought to be included in an evidential argument against God’s existence. Rather, we would say that all evidential arguments against God’s existence are fundamentally misguided, since there is no possible world in which God does not exist.
Another option would be to include in our background knowledge the key evidence to be explained in each of those arguments.

B6′. It is rational to believe that it is possible that a maximally great being exists. (From Plantinga’s ontological argument)[1]
B7′. The universe began to exist. (From the kalam cosmological argument)[2]
B8′. The universe has an explanation for its existence. (From the Leibnizian cosmological argument)[3]
B9′. The universe is life-permitting. (From Craig’s teleological argument)[4]
B10′. Objective moral values exist. (From the axiological argument)[5]

This second option–focusing on the evidence to be explained–seems to be the most favorable to Craig’s goal of boosting the prior probability of theism over naturalism.
The second option fails, however, because it violates the inductive Rule of Total Evidence. Why does it violate the Rule of Total Evidence? Because it considers only some propositions (those which Craig believes to be favorable to theism) while ignoring other propositions (those favorable to naturalism). For example:

B11. It is rational to believe that it is impossible that a maximally great being exists.[6]
B12. The physical exists. (From the evidential argument from physicality)[7]
B13. It is rational to believe that it is impossible for a timeless being to create anything.
B14. So much of our universe is intelligible without appeal to supernatural agency. (From the evidential argument from the history of science)[8]
B15. Conscious states in general are dependent upon the physical brain. (From the evidential argument from mind-brain dependence)[9]
B16. The world contains an abundance of tragedy and relatively little triumph. (From the evidential argument from triumph and tragedy)[10]

To sum up: Craig’s first objection mistakenly treats intrinsic probability as synonymous with prior probability. Furthermore, even if premise (4) had appealed to prior probability, Craig would still have failed to show that theism enjoys a higher prior probability than naturalism.

Second Objection: The Argument for Pr(P | E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B)

Craig’s second objection appeals to what I call the “skeptical theism defense” (Lowder 2016). Craig (2003, p. 549) writes:

Second, he believes that the probability of the distribution of pain/pleasure in the world is greater on naturalism and evolution than it is on theism and evolution (Pr (P/E&N) > Pr(P/E&T)). But we have seen reason to question whether we are in an epistemic position to make justifiably this sort of probability judgement.

What reason is that?

What makes the probability [that God has no morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur] here so difficult to assess is that we are not in a good epistemic position to make these kinds of probability judgments with any sort of confidence. As finite persons, we are limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end of history from its beginning and providentially orders history so that his purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve his ends God may well have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils that appear pointless or unnecessary to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework. (Craig 2003, p. 543)

By interacting solely with Draper 1997, it appears that Craig missed the fact that Draper 1996 (p. ##) already answered this objection. To sum up: it’s possible that God has unknown reasons for allowing evil. But it’s also possible—and antecedently just as likely—that God has unknown reasons for preventing evil. So the possibilities of unknown reasons for allowing evil and unknown reasons for preventing evil “cancel out.” We’re right back where we started, namely, working with what we do know: P. In fact, this is pretty much the point of using epistemic probabilities. If we had perfect, complete information, then we wouldn’t need to use probabilities at all. So human ignorance is not a good objection to comparing Pr(P | E & N & B) to Pr(P | E & T & B).
Furthermore, as numerous philosophers (nontheists and theists alike) have pointed out, logically consistent natural theologians cannot appeal to the limitations of human cognitive abilities to defeat evidential arguments from evil (Draper 1996b, p. 188). Allow me to explain. If human cognitive limitations really did prevent us from assessing whether God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil, including facts about pain and pleasure, then Craig can kiss goodbye all of his arguments from natural theology for God’s existence. Consistent skeptical theists should also insist that human cognitive limitations prevent us from assessing:

  1. the antecedent probability of our universe beginning to exist on theism, i.e., Pr(beginning | theism);
  2. the antecedent probability of so-called cosmological ‘fine-tuning’ on theism, i.e., Pr(‘tuning’ | theism); and
  3. the antecedent probability of the Resurrection on theism, i.e., Pr(Resurrection | theism).

This is why logically consistent natural theologians, like Oxford University philosopher Richard Swinburne, don’t rely upon skeptical theism. Instead, they attempt to provide theodicies—explanations for why God, if He exists, would allow facts about the kinds, amounts, and distribution of evil in the world to obtain (Draper 2010, p. 18).
Finally, Craig is completely silent on Draper’s supporting arguments for believing that Pr(P | E  & N & B) !> Pr(P | E & T & B). As I read him, Draper gives three such arguments. First, our background knowledge includes the fact many other parts of organic systems are systematically connected to reproductive success. Second, Draper points out that evolutionary naturalistic Darwinism (E & N & D) provides an antecedent reason for believing that pain and pleasure, like anything else produced by natural selection, will be systematically connected to reproductive success, which is what P states. In fact, evolutionary naturalism (E&N) entails nothing that would provide an antecedent reason for doubting that pain and pleasure will resemble other parts of organic systems by being systematically connected to reproductive success. Third, given E&T, however, P would be true only if the biological goal of reproductive success and some unknown justifying moral goal happened to coincide in such a way that each could be simultaneously satisfied. That’s a really big coincidence that E & N & D doesn’t need.
Thus, on the assumption that E&N is true, it would be extremely surprising if pain and pleasure appeared to be anything but morally random, whereas on the assumption that theism is true, a discernible moral pattern would be less surprising. Draper concludes, accordingly, that (2) is true and Pr(P & E & N & B) >! Pr(P | E & T & B).

Third Objection: The Argument for Pr(E| N & B) >! Pr(E | T & B)

Craig’s third objection seeks to undercut (1) by appealing to the (alleged) improbability of life on naturalism. In his (2003, p. 549) words:

Finally, he argues that the probability of evolution on naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution on theism (Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T)). For if naturalism is true, evolution is the only game in town; but if theism is true, God had more alternatives. But this assessment is confused. What Draper’s argument supports is the assessment that evolution is more probable relative to naturalism and the existence of biological organisms than to theism and the existence of biological organisms (Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B)). But we have seen from our discussion of the teleological argument (chapter 23) that the existence of biological organisms (and, hence, their evolution) is virtually impossible relative to naturalism alone and that we should therefore expect a lifeless world given naturalism, which cannot be said of theism. Without his three crucial probability estimates Draper’s evidential argument from evil founders.

As an objection to (1), however, this objection is multiply flawed.
(i) I think Craig is being uncharitable to Draper. In Draper’s writings, he does not explicitly refer to background knowledge in his probabilistic notation; thus, “Pr(E / N)” can be charitably restated in its more explicit form as, “Pr(E / N &  B),” where “B” represents the relevant background information. Indeed, this is precisely how I have presented Draper’s argument in this article. The key point here is that, in Draper’s original article, “probability of evolution on naturalism” means “probability of evolution on naturalism and our background information” and “probability of evolution on theism” means “probability of evolution on theism and our background information.”
(ii) What about the possibility of biological organisms on naturalism alone? Here Craig attempts to change the subject by appealing to the teleological argument. Let’s grant, but only for the sake of argument, that the probability of a life-permitting world on theism is greater than the probability of a life-permitting world on naturalism, i.e., Pr(life-permitting world | T) > Pr(life-permitting world | N). That fact, if it is a fact, is not of obvious relevance to the evidential argument from evolution. For the evidential argument from evolution compares the antecedent probability of evolution on naturalism and on theism, i.e., Pr(E | N & B) > Pr(E| T & B). Craig seems to think that if he can show that if a life-permitting world is extremely improbable on naturalism, it somehow follows that (1) is false. In other words, Craig seems to move from:

The probability of a life-permitting world on naturalism is extremely low, i.e., Pr(life-permitting world | N) << 0.5.

to:

It is false that the probability of evolution on naturalism (and background information) is greater than the probability of evolution on theism (and background information), i.e., it is false that Pr(E | N & B) > Pr(E| T & B).

The problem, however, is that this does not follow. For the sake of argument, it may be the case that the fact that our universe is life-permitting is more probable on theism than on naturalism, but, given that our universe is life-permitting, the fact that all living things are the gradually modified descendants of earlier living things is evidence favoring naturalism over theism. Indeed, this is precisely Draper’s (2001) position!
 
 

References

Craig, William Lane (2003). “The External Problem of Evil,” in J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (pp. 548-550). Downers Grove: InterVarsity.
Draper, Paul (1996). “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Noûs, 23 (3): 331-350. Reprinted in Daniel Howard-Snyder (Ed.), The Evidential Argument from Evil (pp. 12-29). Indianapolis, IA: Indiana University Press.
Draper, Paul (1997) “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Louis Pojman (Ed.), Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (pp. 219-230). 3rd ed., Belmont: Wadsworth.
Draper, Paul (2001). “Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic” in Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser (Eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (pp. 197-214). New York: Oxford University Press.
Draper, Paul (2010). “God and Evil: A Philosophical Inquiry” (October 1, 2010). Talk presented at the University of Notre Dame Ninth Annual Plantinga Lecture, Notre Dame, Indiana. <https://philreligion.nd.edu/assets/44795/1011lecture.pdf>
Howard-Snyder, Daniel (2017). “The Evolutionary Argument for Atheism” in John-Christopher Keller (Ed.), Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes from Van Inwagen (pp. 241-62). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lowder, Jeffery Jay (1998). “Summary and Assessment of the Craig-Draper Debate on the Existence of God (1998).” The Secular Outpost blog. <https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/02/20/summary-and-assessment-of-the-craig-draper-debate-on-the-existence-of-god-1998/>, site accessed December 20, 2016.
Lowder, Jeffery Jay (2016). “In Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig.” The Secular Web. <https://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/pain-and-pleasure.html>, site accessed September 1, 2019.
Oppy, Graham (2016). TBD
Plantinga, Alvin (2011). Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Notes
[1] I think the truth of B6′ is far from obvious. Indeed, as Graham Oppy (2016, p. TBD) points out, “opponents of the argument are bound to challenge the acceptability” of B6. He continues, “And, of course, they do. Let’s just run the argument in reverse.” Oppy then runs the argument as follows:

There is no entity which possesses maximal greatness.
(Hence) There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.

Oppy concludes: “Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won’t agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second. So, as a proof of the existence of a being which possesses maximal greatness, Plantinga’s argument seems to be a non-starter.”
[2] Even if we assume, but only for the sake of argument, that B7′ is more probable on theism than on naturalism, this argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Given that the universe began to exist, the fact that it began to exist with time, not in time, is more probable on naturalism than on theism.
[3] Even if we grant that the universe has an explanation of its existence, it doesn’t follow that the explanation is God. Other possible explanations include: (i) an infinite regress of contingent universes; and (ii) our universe’s factual necessity. If our universe is factually necessary, then its existence would be partially explained by its own nature (which is uncaused, beginningless, and independent / free-standing) and partially explained by virtue of other things that happen to exist (i.e., nothing around it has what it takes to knock the universe out of existence). I owe this objection to Felipe Leon.
[4] Even if we assume, but only for the sake of argument, that B9′ is more probable on theism than on naturalism, this argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Given that the universe is life-permitting, the fact that so much of it is hostile to life is more probable on naturalism than on theism. Furthermore, given that the universe is life-permitting, the fact that life is the result of evolution is much more probable on naturalism than on theism.
[5] B10′ is not more probable on theism than on naturalism. Theism assumes, not explains, the existence of objective moral value.
[6] TBD
[7] TBD
[8] TBD
[9] TBD
[10] TBD

bookmark_borderA Problem for the Problem of Evil?

whack-a-mole
William Lane Craig once gave a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Along the same lines, maybe someday I should a talk entitled, “Top 10 Worst Objections to the Argument from Evil.” But, for now, I want to focus on just one of the top ten objections, the idea that the argument from evil (for atheism) can be flipped on its head into an argument from evil (for theism).
I’ve refuted this objection over and over again, which might lead some regular readers of this blog to complain that I am beating a dead horse. But, since this is a meme which won’t die, I think a better analogy than dead horses is the game of “whack-a-mole.” Continue reading “A Problem for the Problem of Evil?”

bookmark_borderIs Ravi Zacharias a Hypocrite Regarding Christian Sexual Morality?

Steve Baughman reports that Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who I critiqued long ago, has admitted to receiving sexually explicit photos from a married woman not his wife. If true, this would obviously not be a crime, but it would definitely be a violation of Christian sexual morality.
As a reminder, Baughman previously documented how Zacharias had exaggerated his academic credentials.

bookmark_borderDoes “Science” Make Theism Likelier than Atheism?

Victor Reppert recently linked to an article on the blog Saints and Sceptics (S&S), Why Science Makes Theism Likelier than Atheism.” In this blog post, I’m going to critically assess that article.
1. What is the Evidence to be Explained?
S&S begin their article as follows:

Should we view the order of the universe, and our ability to comprehend that order, as evidence of God?

This question suggests two related but independent items of evidence to be explained:

E1. The universe is orderly.
E2. The universe contains intelligent beings able to comprehend that order.

Regarding E1, S&S don’t clarify or explain what they mean by phrases like “the order of the universe” or, elsewhere, “the high degree of order” of the universe. In order to be charitable, I’m going to “steel man” their argument by assuming they are appealing to something similar to what Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne calls the “arguments from spatial and temporal order” in his book, The Existence of God.  The argument from temporal order appeals to the fact that “there are regular successions of events, codified in laws of nature.”[1] The phrase “regular succession of events” is key; this is why, I suppose, Swinburne calls it the argument from temporal order. In contrast, the argument from spatial order appeals to the fact that, given our universe conforms to simple, formulable, scientific natural laws, “our bodies are suitable vehicles to provide us with an enormous amount of knowledge of the world and to execute an enormous variety of purposes in it.”[2] This “steel man” interpretation seems highly charitable, since E1 seems to correspond with Swinburne’s argument from temporal order, whereas E2 is very similar to Swinburne’s argument from spatial order.[3]
Accordingly, we may clarify E1 as follows.

E1′. The universe conforms to simple, formulable, scientific laws.

With the evidence to be explained sufficiently clarified, let’s unpack their argument.
2. What, Precisely, Is the Argument?
Before I can turn to the logical structure of S&S’s argument, let’s first review some notations which will make it easier to summarize the argument in a concise form.

Pr(x): the epistemic probability of any proposition x
Pr(x | y): the epistemic probability of any proposition x conditional upon y
“>!”: “is much more probable than”
“>!!”: “is much, much more probable than”
T: theism
A: atheism. A is logically equivalent to ~T.

The first premise of the argument is a simple statement of E1′:

(1) E1′ is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E1′) is close to 1.

Let’s now return to S&S:

Let’s start with atheism. From an atheistic perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the order in the universe; it would just be a brute fact or a ‘happy accident’ as Polkinghorne puts it.
But that doesn’t seem good enough. In the absence of an explanation, we would have no reason to expect the high degree of order that we find. But does theism fare any better? To many it seems very likely that if the universe is the product of an intelligent mind, it would exhibit order.  …

So the second premise of the argument seems to be:

(2) An orderly universe is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true, i.e., Pr(E1′ | T) > Pr(E1′ | A).

The third premise is a simple statement of the evidence E2.

(3) E2 is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E2) is close to 1.

Returning to S&S:

But does theism make an intelligible universe – especially one which is governed by comprehensible laws and which can described by mathematics – any more likely? …
If our minds are the result of design we could rely on them to discover the truth. Rational rulers used laws to govern – and God was the ruler of the universe. And it would not be surprising to discover that mathematics could describe the universe if the divine mind and human minds were analogous in at least some respects. Finally if the universe is created by a good God, he would not systematically deceive us. In light of these considerations, Kepler and his fellow scientists were surely right to think that there is much more reason to expect an intelligible universe if there is a God than if there is not.

So the next premise seems to be:

(4) An intelligible universe is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that theism is true and an orderly exists than on the assumption that atheism is true and an orderly universe exists, i.e., Pr(E2 | T & E1′) > Pr(E2 | A & E1′).

Finally, S&S concludes:

So it is obvious that any complex, valuable, beautiful and intelligible state of affairs – including our universe – is much, much more likely given theism than chance.

And so the conclusion of their argument is:

(5) Therefore, theism is a much, much more likely explanation for the order and intelligibility of the universe than chance, i.e., Pr(T | E1′ & E2)  >!! Pr(chance | E1′ & E2).

We are now in a position to concisely state the argument in its logical form.

(1) Pr(E1′) is close to 1.
(2) Pr(E1′ | T) > Pr(E1′ | A).
(3) Pr(E2) is close to 1.
(4) Pr(E2 | T & E1′) > Pr(E2 | A & E1′).
(C) Therefore, Pr(T | E1′ & E2)  >!! Pr(chance | E1′ & E2).

Let us now turn to evaluating the strength of this argument. While I have many objections to this argument, let me present just four.
3. First Objection: The Argument Ignores Intrinsic Probabilities
This argument is a deductive argument about inductive probabilities. As stated, however, the argument is incomplete. It does not contain any premises regarding the prior probabilities of theism and atheism. But Bayes’ Theorem shows that posterior or final probabilities are a function of two things: prior probability and explanatory power. S&S write much about the latter, whereas they are completely silent about the former. This invalidates their argument. It’s possible that (1) – (4) could all be true and yet the conclusion, (C), still might not follow if the prior probability is extremely low.
In order to repair the argument, S&S would need to add a premise to their argument which explicitly addresses the prior probabilities of theism and atheism. Now, applying the concept of a “prior probability” to a metaphysical hypothesis like theism is tricky. It isn’t clear from S&S’s article which propositions they would include in their background information for the purpose of assessing a prior probability, and I do not know of a non-controversial way to choose such propositions. Fortunately we don’t have to solve that problem; another option is to replace “prior probability” with “intrinsic probability.” As the name implies, an intrinsic probability is the probability of a hypothesis based solely on intrinsic factors relating to its content (i.e., what it says); it has nothing to do with extrinsic factors, such as the relationship between a hypothesis and the evidence to be explained.
In an attempt to “steel man” S&S’s argument, I propose that we adopt Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which says that the intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is determined by its scope, its modesty, and nothing else. Draper explains modesty and scope as follows.

a. Modesty: The modesty of a hypothesis is inversely proportional to its “content”—to how much it says. Hypotheses that say less—for example, because they make fewer claims or less specific claims or claims that are narrower in scope—are, other things being equal, more likely to be true than hypotheses that say more.
b. Coherence: The coherence of a hypothesis depends on how well its components fit together.
c. If we abstract from all factors extrinsic to a hypothesis, then the only thing that could affect the epistemic probability of that hypothesis is how much it says and how well what it says fits together. No other factors affecting probability could be intrinsic to the hypothesis.

Using these criteria, we’re now in a position to compare the intrinsic probabilities of theism and atheism. Before we do that, however, we need to start with the intrinsic probabilities of naturalism and supernaturalism. Here’s Draper:

4. The intrinsic probabilities of naturalism and supernaturalism
a. Naturalism is the statement that the physical world existed prior to any mental world and caused any mental world to come into existence.
b. Supernaturalism is the statement that the mental world existed prior to any physical world and caused any physical world to come into existence.
c. Otherism is the statement that both naturalism and supernaturalism are false.
d. Naturalism and supernaturalism are equally probable intrinsically because they are equally modest and coherent. Since the intrinsic epistemic probability of otherism is greater than zero, naturalism and supernaturalism are each less probable intrinsically than their denials. (So both naturalists and supernaturalists bear a burden of proof and that burden is equal.)
5. The intrinsic probabilities of theism and atheism
a. Theism is a very specific version of supernaturalism and so is many times (i.e. at least 10 times) less probable intrinsically than supernaturalism.
b. Naturalism is a specific version of atheism and so is many times less probable than atheism.
c. Thus, since naturalism and supernaturalism are equally probable intrinsically, it follows that atheism is many times more probable intrinsically than theism, which entails that atheism has a high intrinsic probability (certainly higher than .9) while theism has a very low intrinsic probability (certainly lower than .1)….

Let me introduce a bit more notation:

Pr(|x|): the intrinsic probability of any proposition x

Using that notation, we are now in a position to add the missing premise to S&S’s argument:

(5) Atheism is many times more probable intrinsically than theism, i.e., Pr(|A|) > .9 >!! Pr(|T|) < .1.

Unfortunately for S&S, however, it is far from obvious that the evidence to be explained, E1′ and E2, outweigh the very low intrinsic probability of theism. Accordingly, it’s far from obvious that the conclusion, (C), follows from premises (1)-(5).
4. Second Objection: Pr(E1′ | A) May Be Inscrutable
My second objection to S&S’s argument is that Pr(E1′ | A) may be inscrutable. If it’s inscrutable, then they can’t compare Pr(E1′ | T) to Pr(E1′ | A). Accordingly, the truth of (2) would be unknown. While I’m open to the possibility that (2) is true, I cannot figure out a way to defend it.
Why think Pr(E1′ | A) is inscrutable? In the context of E1′, A is a catch-all hypothesis. A is logically equivalent to A conjoined with all possible explanations for temporal order in the universe apart from theism.[4] For example:

A1: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #1.
A2: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #2.

An: A is true, and the explanation for temporal order in the universe is naturalistic explanation #n.

That’s a lot of potential explanations. Accordingly, this constitutes a prima facie reason to be skeptical of the claim that Pr(E1′ | A) can be known well enough to support a comparative claim such as (2). The only way to reject this prima facie reason would be to identify some intrinsic feature of A which either ruled out a naturalistic explanation for E1′ or which made such an explanation antecedently less likely than it would be on T. Is there such a reason?
Let’s reconsider part of what S&S write in support of (2):

From an atheistic perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the order in the universe; it would just be a brute fact or a ‘happy accident’ as Polkinghorne puts it.

By “brute fact,” I assume that S&S mean “a fact which has no explanation.” By “happy accident,” I assume that Polkinghorne means due to chance. But “brute fact” and “happy accident” hardly constitute an exhaustive set of the possibilities. Let me add just one more to the list: factual necessity. Metaphysical naturalism (as defined in the Draper quote, above) is antecedently very probable on the assumption that atheism is true. If metaphysical naturalism is true, then it seems highly plausible that physical reality — whether that consists of just our universe or a multiverse — is factually necessary.  If physical reality is factually necessary, it seems highly plausible that temporal order could also be factually necessary. But if temporal order is factually necessary, then it is just factually necessary and there is nothing for atheism to explain.
Admittedly, the hypothesis, “our universe and its laws are factually necessary,” is highly speculative and not known to be true. But, to paraphrase a point once made by CalTech physicist Sean Carroll, theists like S&S are the ones proposing bizarre thought experiments involving the fundamental laws of nature. So we have to consider such speculative possibilities due to the very nature of the topic and the argument. In any case, this much is clear: S&S give no evidence of having even considered, much less addressed, such a possibility.
5. Third Objection: The Conclusion Confuses Atheism with Chance
My third objection is closely related to my point about factual necessity.

So it is obvious that any complex, valuable, beautiful and intelligible state of affairs – including our universe – is much, much more likely given theism than chance.

The conclusion of the argument does not follow from the premises because the conclusion compares theism to chance, not theism to atheism. But, as we’ve just seen, atheism functions as a catch-all hypothesis. Atheism is compatible with the proposition, “The universe and its temporal order are factually necessary.” N.B. That proposition denies that the order of the universe is due to chance. And S&S provide no reason to think that chance is antecedently much more probable on atheism than factual necessity.
6. Fourth Objection: The Argument Commits the Fallacy of Understated Evidence
As is the case with E1′, I’m open to the possibility that E2, either by itself or when conjoined with E1′, is evidence favoring theism over atheism.[5] In other words, I’m open to the idea that (4) is true. I don’t think S&S have successfully shown this, however. Rather than pursue that objection here, however, I’ll leave that as an exercise for interested readers. Instead, I want to pursue a different objection: even if (4) were true, it would commit the fallacy of understated evidence.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the intelligibility of the universe really is evidence favoring theism over atheism. Given that the universe is intelligible, the fact that so much of it is intelligible without appealing to supernatural agency is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. (I’ve defended this argument at length elsewhere, so I will refer interested readers to that defense.) Since naturalism entails atheism, it follows that this evidence favoring atheism over theism.
The upshot is this: even if the intelligibility of the universe is evidence favoring theism, there is other, more specific evidence relating to its intelligibility which favors naturalism (and hence atheism) over theism. It’s far from obvious that the former outweighs the latter.
7. Conclusion
As we’ve seen, there are four good objections to S&S’s claim that science makes theism more likely than atheism. I conclude, then, that S&S’s argument is not successful.
Notes
[1] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (second ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 153.
[2] Swinburne 2004, p. 154.
[3] The main or only difference between Swinburne’s argument from spatial order and S&S’s E2 is that the former also appeals to our ability “to execute an enormous variety of purposes” in the world, whereas the latter does not.
[4] Herman Phillipse, God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 258.
[5] For what it’s worth, I think E2 is much more promising than E1′ as a potential source of theistic evidence.

bookmark_borderDoes Atheism Undercut the Case for Equal Human Rights?

Philosopher Victor Reppert thinks so.  I’m not certain, but I think his argument for this claim is supposed to be found in an earlier post of his. At the same time, Reppert, like the overwhelming majority of theists who write about such topics, completely glosses over what atheist intellectuals who specialize in the topic have written. (The writings of Erik Wielenberg would be a great place to start.)
I’d have more respect for Reppert’s argument if he at least gave the appearance of interacting with his dialectical opponents. But, at least in this case, he didn’t do that. What he’s done is no more respectable than, say, an atheist giving an argument from evil and completely ignoring all defenses and theodicies.

bookmark_borderChristian Emotional Coercion

Steve Hays at Triablogue writes:

I don’t owe transgender soldiers any more gratitude than I owe squeegee bandits. Don’t do something I didn’t ask you to do, want you to do, or approve of, then pretend you were doing it for me. Don’t attempt to put me in your debt against my will. Your emotional coercion is illegitimate.
I’m going to put aside the topic of transgender soldiers, and ask that any comments on this post do the same.
Instead, I want to point out that, with just a small amount of editing, Steve’s words would probably sum up the way all non-Christians, not just atheists, feel about our supposed ‘debt’ to Jesus for dying on the cross.
I don’t owe transgender soldiers Jesus any more gratitude than I owe squeegee bandits. Don’t do something I didn’t ask you to do, want you to do, or approve of, then pretend you were doing it for me. Don’t attempt to put me in your debt against my will. Your emotional coercion is illegitimate.
There. Fixed it for him.

bookmark_borderLink: Matthew Ferguson on “Understanding the Spirit vs. the Letter of Probability”

A while back, I wrote a brief commentary on William Lane Craig’s critique of Bart Ehrman on the probability of miracles. Matthew Ferguson recently weighed in. He agrees with my conclusions, but greatly amplified them by writing an entire essay expounding on supporting points. I highly recommend his essay to anyone interested in the topic of the probability of miracles in general and the probability of Jesus’ alleged resurrection in particular.

bookmark_borderVideo of Lowder’s Debate with Frank Turek on Naturalism vs. Theism

Topic: “What Better Explains Reality? Naturalism or Theism”
Link: https://youtu.be/ENZYEPpR2Jc


Links to Specific Elements of Debate:

This debate featured many arguments. Against theism, Lowder defended the following evidential arguments:

Against naturalism, Turek argued that atheists have to steal several intellectual concepts from God in order to argue against God. These concepts include Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science, as summed up by the acrostic CRIMES. In response to the alleged ‘CRIMES’ of atheism, I argued that what we really needed to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics: Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality).
See also my comments about the debate (written a day or two after the debate).
I haven’t watched the video yet, but I’d love to hear what you think of the arguments.