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_borderWhen Are Appeals to Human Ignorance a Legitimate Defeater of an Evidential Argument?

(A1) Evidential arguments from ‘evil’ say: known facts about the types, quantity, and distribution of good and evil are much more probable on naturalism than on theism.
(O1) Critics of evidential arguments from evil say: we don’t know that. We have far too limited an understanding of the interconnectedness of things to make such a judgment with confidence. On the assumption that theism is true (and there exists a morally perfect and omniscient being), there could easily be reasons, way beyond our understanding, why such a being would allow the facts about good and evil to obtain.
(A2) Evidential arguments from cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ say: the life permitting conditions of our universe are much more probable on theism than on naturalism.
(O2) Critics of such arguments say: we don’t know that. We have far too limited an understanding of the early universe, the total mass-energy of the universe, quantum gravity, etc. to make such judgments with confidence. (Cosmology is a very young discipline and there is much we still don’t know. For example, 95.1% of the total mass-energy of the universe is mysterious, composed of either ‘dark energy’ (68.3%) or ‘dark matter’ (26.8%).) On the assumption that naturalism, a/k/a source physicalism, is true (and there was no one around at the earliest stages of the universe’s history to make physical observations), there could easily be mechanistic explanations, way beyond our understanding, why our universe is life-permitting.
I’ve never understood why most proponents of (A2) seem to think (O1) is a good defeater of (A1) while not simultaneously thinking (O2) is a good defeater of (A2).

bookmark_borderRichard Dawkins and Moral Realism

Christian apologists who love to substitute quote-mining for actual argumentation are fond of quotations like the following, in order to conclude that atheism somehow undermines morality.

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133

For people whose search for truth involves more than selectively quoting ‘hostile’ authorities, however, this quotation raises more questions than answers. Let’s start with a basic question for apologists who like to use this quote. Why are you quoting Dawkins on this point? Is it because you think he is an expert on the implications of atheism for morality? Is it because you think Dawkins has given a good argument for the conclusion that in a godless universe there is “no evil and no good”? Is it both? Or is it something else?
(1) Does the Quotation Support a Correct Inductive Argument from Authority?
While some arguments from authority can be logically correct, this one is not. Let P be the statement “If naturalistic evolution is true, then there is no good and no evil,” and let S be metaethics. Using Wesley Salmon’s schema for inductive arguments from authority,[1] we can then formulate the argument from authority as follows.

(1) The vast majority of statements made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S are true.
(2) P is a statement made by Richard Dawkins concerning subject S.
(3) [probably] P is true.

This argument does not satisfy Salmon’s conditions for an inductively correct argument from authority, in two ways. First, even if we treat Dawkins as an expert on metaethics, the argument would still be evidentially worthless. As Salmon observed, an appeal to one group of authorities has no evidential value when another group of authorities who are equally competent disagree.[2] And there are many qualified experts on metaethics who believe P is false.[3] Second, with all due respect to Dawkins, he is not a reliable authority on subject S. He is an evolutionary biologist with a D.Phil. in biology, not a philosopher who specializes in metaethics. Therefore, premise (1) is dubious. The upshot is that this argument from authority provides literally zero evidence for statement P.
Even if we cannot accept P on the basis of Dawkins’ authority, however, it is still possible that Dawkins has a good argument for believing it. I’ll consider that possibility in a moment. For now, I want to make one other point. Have you ever noticed that Christian apologists love to quote Dawkins as a hostile witness when it supports their desired conclusion but not when it doesn’t? If Dawkins’ opinion about morality (that it’s not objective) is supposed to be evidence for an apologist’s claims about the moral implications of atheism, then Dawkins’ opinion about God (He doesn’t exist) should also be evidence for atheism.  It seems rather one-sided to appeal to Dawkins’ authority when it helps theism (by lending support to a dubious moral argument for God’s existence), but to ignore Dawkins’ authority when it hurts theism (by lending support to a robust evidential argument from evil against God’s existence).
(2) Does the Quotation State an Inductively Correct Argument against Moral Realism?
Again, here is what Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.

What properties does Dawkins have in mind when he claims that the universe has the properties “we should expect” if there is no objective meaning or morality? And why would those properties be expected?
Let’s parse this quotation one step at a time. He writes: “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication…” This suggests he is talking about an explanatory hypothesis I’ll call “naturalism.”

naturalism (N) =df. causal reality is limited to physical reality, i.e., there is no such things as minds which can exist apart from arrangements of matter

Continuing on, he writes, “some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, or any justice.  …  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” This suggests that he is talking about the evidence to be explained (E).

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against theism seems to be this:

(1) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | N) >> Pr(E1 | T).

In the quotation, Dawkins also writes the words, “no evil and no good.” This suggests another explanatory hypothesis:

O: ontologically objective moral values (i.e., moral goodness or “good”) and disvalues (i.e., badness or “evil”) exist.

And, again, the evidence to be explained would seem to be the same as before:

E1. Distribution of good and evil, pain and pleasure, success and failure, triumph and tragedy, etc. is morally random.

And so a key premise in his argument against O seems to be this:

(1’) Known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e., Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).

Dawkins’ argument against theism is much better than his argument against ontologically objective moral values. Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument from evil is consistent with the very powerful defense of an evidential argument from evil by Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper. But what about Dawkins’ terse statement of an evidential argument against moral realism or objectivism? Not so much. It’s far from obvious why known facts about evil are much more probable on the assumption that O is false than on the assumption that O is true, i.e.,
Pr(E1 | ~O) >> Pr(E1 | O).
Dawkins writes, “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” The problem is that DNA and O have nothing to do with each other.  There are two possibilities:
(1) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is true.
(2) DNA is indifferent to the moral value of pain and pleasure; and O is false.
For example, it could be the case that moral anti-reductionism is true (and so moral properties are not reducible to non-moral properties) and the Good exists. Or it could be the case that naturalistic moral reductionism is true (and so moral properties are reducible to physical properties) and the Good is desirable; facts about universal human desires rooted in human biology help inform us about the Good.
In sum, Dawkins has overstated his conclusion. It’s far from obvious why DNA (or anything about the “universe we observe”) is just what we would expect on the assumption O is false.
Notes
[1] Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] E.g., Adams; Hick; Moore; Morriston; Nielsen; Pojman; Post; Rottschaefer; Sagi and Statman; Shafer-Landau; Q. Smith; Swinburne; and Wielenberg.
More on Theistic Quote-Mining of Atheists on the Topic of Morality

More Posts by Lowder about Atheism and Morality

Posts by Other Secular Outpost Authors on Atheism and Morality

Wes Morriston’s Critiques of Attempts to Argue that Morality Needs God

Erik Wielenberg’s Critiques of Theistic Metaethics

Stephen Maitzen

John Danaher’s Critiques of Moral Arguments and Theistic Metaethics

Ex-Apologist’s Blog Posts

 

bookmark_borderIn Defense of an Evidential Argument from Evil: A Reply to William Lane Craig

Abstract: In a popular article about general arguments from evil against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God, William Lane Craig raises objections to such arguments that are consistent with those he earlier raised against Paul Draper’s evidential pain-and-pleasure argument from evil in an oral debate with Draper in 1998. In this article Jeffery Jay Lowder considers whether Craig’s points have any force in rebutting Draper’s writings on his pain-and-pleasure argument, ultimately concluding that they leave Draper’s argument unscathed.
LINK

bookmark_borderThe VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics

My latest video, “The VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics: The Things Apologists Falsely Say Depend on God, But, if God Exists, God Depends on Them,” is now available on YouTube. It is a narration of some of the many hundreds of PowerPoint slides I created in preparation for my recent debate with Frank Turek on naturalism vs. theism.

This video presentation is a (roughly) 2 hour 30 minute critique of Frank Turek’s latest book, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Turek accuses atheists of stealing from God in order to argue against God. How do atheists steal from God when arguing against God’s existence? According to Turek, this is summed up by the acrostic CRIMES (Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science). So his argument is that atheists must assume each of those things, but each of those things in turn presuppose God’s existence.
For each letter in CRIMES, atheism can steal these concepts from God if and only if: (a) atheism is logically incompatible with the concept represented by that letter; and (b) positing an all-powerful God explains that concept, not just assumes it. But as I will explain, each letter in CRIMES fails one or both conditions.
Now, since repeatedly accusing an innocent person of a crime harms the accused, I’m going to frame my response as an acrostic of my own: VICTIM (Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality). Instead of talking about crimes, what we instead need to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics. The VICTIMs of Christian apologetics are things which Christian apologists falsely claim depend on God, but the truth is that God depends on them.
Since the video is quite long and detailed, the following serves as a handy index:
Counter Apologist went through the effort to list the topics covered and give time-stamps/links for each topic which you can find below:

HT: Counter-Apologist for creating the index

bookmark_borderAn Evidential Argument from Evil: Natural Inequality

I want to quickly sketch an evidential (aka “explanatory” aka “abductive” aka “F-Inductive“) argument from evil, one which focuses exclusively on natural inequality.  The argument is not mine; it belongs to Moti Mizrahi.
The key point of Mizrahi’s argument, which he credits to an insight of John Rawls, is this:

natural endowments are undeserved.Now, if natural endowments are undeserved, then the fact that one person is more innately endowed than another is arbitrary from a moral point of view. In that case, if one person has more natural talents or is more talented than another person, then that is an unequal distribution of natural talents. From a moral point of view, it is not fair that one person is taller, healthier, faster, thinner, more intelligent, more beautiful, more agile, and otherwise more naturally endowed than another person. Both did not deserve their shares of natural talents (or lack of natural talents, for that matter). The talented do not deserve to be talented just as the untalented do not deserve to be untalented. More generally, the haves do not deserve to have just the have-nots do not deserve not to have. (p. 6)

Using this insight enables to Mizrahi to frame the natural inequality version of the problem of evil as follows:

Now, since moral arbitrariness in the distribution of natural endowments gives rise to unequal distributions, which are unfair because they are undeserved, as when some (e.g., Albert Einstein) get all the cognitive goods, whereas others (e.g., microcephalics) get nothing, the problem is to say how could God—who is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent—allow for this sort of natural inequality. In other words, if God is morally perfect, why is the distribution of natural endowments so unequal? How could an all-good God be so unfair in distributing natural endowments? This is the problem of natural inequality, which is a new evidential (not logical or incompatibility) problem of evil, or so I argue. (pp. 6-7)

I find Mizrahi’s paper very convincing, but I think it is also incomplete, since it never actually states the logical form of his evidential argument. But this problem is easily solved. Using the generic structure for F-inductive arguments, this passage (and the paper as a whole) inspire the following F-inductive version of the problem of natural inequality.
Let E = a statement about known facts about natural inequality: the unequal distribution of natural endowments (such as height, health, speed, weight, intelligence, beauty, agility, and so forth).
(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Theism is not much more probable intrinsically than naturalism, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not >! Pr(|N|).
(3) E is much more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | N) >! Pr(E | T).
So, (4) Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | E) < 0.5.
Assessment
Premise (1) is beyond reasonable doubt.
Premise (2) is eminently plausible, for reasons which I have discussed on this blog many times before. (See the recent guest post by Paul Draper for a primer.)
This leaves premise (3). The justification for (3) may be summed up as follows:
On naturalism, E is just what we would expect. If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to the distribution of natural endowments and incapable of distributing them fairly. Everything else held equal, on naturalism, we would expect natural endowments to be distributed randomly (such as in the shape of a bell curve).
But if theism is true, God is neither indifferent nor incapable of distributing natural endowments evenly. God is capable of distributing natural endowments evenly because God is by definition all-powerful. God is interested in the distribution of natural endowments because God is both loving and morally perfect. God’s love for his creatures, as well as his moral perfection, entails that God allows a state of affairs to obtain only if he has a good moral justification for doing so. But, as noted by both Rawls and Mizrahi, natural endowments are not morally justified. For example, there is nothing Michael Phelps did to deserve to be born with the kind of physiology which made his athletic achievements possible, just as there is nothing Nick Vujicic did to deserve to be born with no limbs.
Furthermore, as Mizrahi notes, the lack or minimal presence of natural endowments relating to intellectual ability, such as microcephaly, can prevent people from responding to God appropriately. So the distribution of natural endowments, in some cases, also causes important restrictions on people’s ability to have a relationship with God. Again, blind nature is both indifferent to (and incapable of) taking such factors into account while conducting what Rawls calls the “natural lottery,” but God has no such limitations.
This leaves (4), which is the inference drawn from (1)-(3). 4 follows deductively from (1)-(3) as a natural consequence of Bayes’ Theorem.
I conclude that the problem of natural inequality, especially as manifested in individuals with microcephaly or other severe intellectual disabilities which prevent a relationship with God, is strong, prima facie evidence against God’s existence.

bookmark_borderHypocrisy on Moral Arguments, Arguments from Evil, and Logical Inconsistency

Many theists are fond of linking the problem of evil with a moral argument for God’s existence. The idea is that by making an argument from evil against God’s existence, the atheist has supposedly contradicted herself since the the argument from evil presupposes an objective evil and objective evil, in turn, presupposes God’s existence.
Since I’ve refuted that claim before, I want to explore a different aspect of linking these two kinds of arguments, namely, the double standard which some theists apply to these (allegedly) linked arguments. When it comes to the problem of evil, these theists will say there are two kinds of arguments from evil, logical and evidential. Logical versions claim that God and evil are logically incompatible, while evidential versions merely claim that evil is evidence against God. These theists will be quick to tell you that logical arguments from evil were discredited long ago by Alvin Plantinga, who demonstrated there is no logical inconsistency between:

(1) God exists.

and:

(2) Evil exists.

Yet these same theists seem to forget everything Plantinga taught them about proving two propositions are logically inconsistent when it comes to making a moral argument for God’s existence. Since these theists think the problem of evil is linked to (their favorite version of) the moral argument for God’s existence, it’s hypocritical for them not to apply the same logical scrutiny to both families of arguments.
Allow me to expain. Let’s begin by saying there are two kinds of moral arguments for God’s existence, logical and evidential. Logical versions claim that moral values and/or duties are logically incompatible with God’s nonexistence, while evidential versions merely claim that moral values and/or duties is evidence for God’s existence. Using the exact same techniques applied by Plantinga to logical arguments from evil, these theists should recognize that no one has ever successfully proven a logical contradiction between atheism and objective morality. To be precise, no one has ever proven that:

(3) God does not exist.

and:

(4) Objective moral values and/or duties exist.

are logically inconsistent.
It seems rather one-sided and, indeed, hypocritical to require proof of logical inconsistency when it’s convenient (in response to an atheistic argument) but then not require the parallel proof when it’s inconvenient (in support of a theistic argument).
For my part, I agree that Plantinga refuted J.L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil and I think no one has ever demonstrated a logical incompatibility between atheism and ontologically objective moral values or duties.

bookmark_borderThe Fragility of Value and God’s Non-Existence

I’m working on a new version of the problem of evil. I don’t know if the argument works, but I’ll summarize it here in the hope of getting feedback.
The basic idea is the fragility of value, viz., how (relatively) easy it is to destroy things  compared to how (relatively) difficult it is to create things, especially things of great value. Assuming that statement (or something like it) is true, the argument would be evidential. It would argue that the fragility of value is antecedently more likely on the assumption that metaphysical naturalism (conjoined with background information) is true than it is on the assumption that theism (conjoined with background information) is true.
When I came up with the idea for this argument, I thought to myself, “I’ve never seen anyone make this point in the literature, but surely someone has written about this before.” If you know of anyone who has has written about the fragility of value in the context of the problem of evil, I’d be grateful for a citation or even just a name.
I floated this argument with Dr. Paul Draper. He had an interesting observation: the fragility of value is also relevant to the free will theodicy. Because of the fragility of value, morally significant choices are usually choices between preventing great harm and not preventing it. We rarely get to choose between producing great positive value and not producing it. In other words, we spend much more of our time trying to prevent disaster instead of creating things of great value. So even if (for the sake of argument) the free will theodicy were successful in explaining the so-called ‘problem of moral evil,’ it would do so only at the expense of mystifying another fact about evil (the fragility of value).
Your thoughts?