bookmark_borderHere’s One Way to Resist Naturalistic Arguments: Lack Belief that Matter Exists!

A Christian apologist writing under the pseudonym ‘InvestigativeApologetics’ stated the usual objection to atheism, namely, that it’s impossible to prove or give evidence for the non-existence of God.

The fact is that atheists who yell that “there is no evidence for God (or Christianity)” are protesting too much, so to speak, and they are, in fact, projecting the weakness of atheism onto theism. For truth be told, it is atheism, at least when in its wide and positive sense, that is the view for which there is no evidence or argumentation that could establish its position. (LINK)

I responded as follows:

Yawn. InvestigativeApologetics seems completely oblivious about the ways to establish the truth of atheism. 

LINKS: herehere

InvestigativeApologetics then doubled down on his original claim, but with a very novel justification.

Yawn all you like. I am intimately familiar both with those two links and with the various Evidential Arguments that you present at the Secular Outpost. In fact, funny enough, it was your arguments that inspired me to look into this matter and come to the conclusion that I did concerning the un-evidenced nature of atheism (when viewed broadly and positively).

Now, obviously, I cannot show this conclusion in this particular comment (although further comments may follow) and I am simultaneously–at this point in my life–beyond caring whether people are swayed by my points or not (for convincing a flesh-and-blood person is not the same as having a convincing argument). However, let me just make a few quick points:

1) First, I am not saying that we must prove that a god does not exist with certainty in order to be rational to believe that a god(s) does not exist. Rather, I am saying that the atheist cannot even show that it is more probable than not that a god does not exist…at least not without begging the question in a substantial number of ways that the theist or skeptic need not grant.

2) For example, consider all the evidential arguments that you present on the Secular Outpost in light of the Likelihood Principle (that a data/observation counts as evidence for Hypothesis 1 over Hypothesis 2 if the data/observation is more likely or expected on Hypothesis 1 than on Hypothesis 2):

The Evidential Argument from Scale (AS) – Given the kind of being described in my first comment, no specific scale of the universe would count as evidence against its existence, and all “scale types” would be equally expected on both naturalism and that form of theism. Thus, no evidential support for naturalism (and I know that you don’t fully or strongly endorse the argument from scale, but I wished to present it anyway). 

b. The Evidential Argument from the History of Science (AHS) – This argument was ripped apart in a past discussion that I remember (with Crude and CL and others, I believe…I’m sure you will disagree, but that is not surprising given that philosophy is a discipline of disagreement), and it has (at my last count) at least 10 flaws, but its worst flaw is that it assumes both that there is such a thing as “matter” and that there is such a thing as a “naturalistic” cause (or explanation), but neither of these need be accepted by the theist or skeptic, either of whom could be an immaterialist (or a-matterist) and/or an occasionalist (where God is the only true cause). So your argument rests on an assumption that need not be conceded, and hence, the argument is flawed from the start. It is also circular given that you need to deal with the objection from the occasionalist, but to do that, you cannot assume a natural cause, which is what the occasionalist denies; you would either have to disprove occasionalism or disprove the existence of any god through other means, but this, in turn, makes your argument redundant. So the argument is either redundant or begs the question. Not a good state for an argument to be in. Furthermore, even if the existence of “naturalistic” explanations was conceded, it would still be the case that if a deist non-interventionist god existed, we would expect all explanations to be naturalistic even on this type of deism, and so again, there is no evidential value in favor of naturalism or deism with this argument as naturalistic explanations would be equally likely on both worldviews.

1. InvestigativeApologetics’ comments about the AHS are confused. Theism,’ as I have defined it, is the ‘core‘ explanatory hypothesis. Sectarian doctrines like occasionalism and non-interventionism are auxiliary hypotheses, viz., theism does not entail occasionalism or non-interventionism but is compatible with both. They are at, at best, uncertain. The probability calculus specifies how we should deal with uncertain auxiliary hypotheses in a way that conforms with the pattern of probability relations specified by Bayes’ Theorem. I explain this here. What IA needs to do is provide an antecedent reason on theism for expecting that either or both of these auxiliary hypotheses are significantly more likely than their denials. Otherwise, the logically correct conclusion is to dismiss these objections as ad hoc, “just so” stories invented solely to avoid the conclusions of the arguments. “Both worldviews” might have roughly equal explanatory power, but naturalism would trump deism by virtue of having a greater intrinsic probability.
2. More important, a careful reading of my arguments will reveal that my arguments need not presuppose that material objects exist.  Supernaturalism (or “source idealism”) can be defined in a way that is neutral between dualism and idealism.  (The hypothesis that the original causes of any material objects that exist are immaterial does not entail that material objects exist.)  Similarly, naturalism or “source physicalism” can be defined in a way that is neutral between dualism and materialism.  Notice too, that even if my particular definition of supernaturalism implies the existence of material objects, that is compatible with “identity idealism”, which is far more plausible than eliminative idealism, just as identity materialism is far more plausible than eliminative materialism.  (Berkeley was an identity idealist, for example.  He believed that physical objects exist, but thought they were collections of ideas.) (I owe this point to Paul Draper.)

c. The Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution (ABE) / The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds (APM) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure (AE: APP) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Flourishing and Languishing of Sentient Beings (AE: AFL) / The Evidential Argument from Evil: The Self-Centeredness and Limited Altruism of Human Beings (AE: AVV) – See Point (a) – Again, none of these arguments hold any evidentiary weight against a non-interventionist god and so do not support naturalism over such a deism given that all these facts would be equally likely on naturalism or deism.

Now, to be precise, my “arguments for naturalism” are really arguments against theism, though in some sense they are of course both.

Now, you could, of course, try to claim that aspects of prior probability or modesty/coherence (from Paul Draper’s ‘Burden of Proof’ Argument, which I know you support) might make atheistic-naturalism more rational or more likely than some type of theism. But again, there are numerous problems with such maneuvers. First, prior probabilities are notoriously difficult to establish objectively, and I, on that basis alone, I would be suspicious of any argument, by an atheist, which just happens to show that atheism (or atheistic-naturalism) has a higher prior probability than theism.

IA knows very well that suspicion is not an argument. And notice that IA gives no reason to doubt that intrinsic probabilities should be determined solely by scope and coherence. Furthermore, he neglects to mention that Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability does result in the conclusion that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. Once that fact is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that Draper’s theory is not biased against supernaturalism. The fact that theism has a smaller intrinsic probability than supernaturalism follows directly from the definitions of supernaturalism and theism. Theism entails supernaturalism but supernaturalism does not entail theism. So the probability of theism cannot be any greater than the probability of supernaturalism but could be less. This is basic, non-controversial set theory.

Second, in all your arguments (and your priors) you begin with the assumption that materialism—in the sense of metaphysical matter actually existing—is true, but I do not concede this assumption (being an a-matterist and thus lacking a belief in the existence of matter) and so this must be proven before any one of your arguments gets off the ground and before you can even set the prior probabilities that you want. Third, modesty and coherence does not favor naturalism, but rather a type of Berkelian immaterialism, for it is that view that makes the least assumptions about reality (only thinking things exist, which we cannot deny, and is thus the most modest) while remaining coherent (and it is arguable that atheistic-naturalism even is coherent), so Draper does not help you much.

Addressed above.

Fourth, even if we grant the existence of matter, given the fact that a “material god” could exist, and given that a good case could be made that the prior probability of a “material god” existing is either just as good or better than the prior probability of straight atheistic-naturalism (for consciousness, language, life, would have a higher probability of existing given the existence of a material god than given just straight atheistic-naturalism), then, once again, your arguments run into trouble.

What is a “material god”? The word “material” tells us that such a being is composed of matter. The word “god,” I gather, is supposed to tell us that such a being has supernatural powers or abilities. The hypothesis that such a being exists is a very specific version of supernaturalism and so, like theism, has a smaller intrinsic probability than supernaturalism and naturalism. (The more a hypothesis claims, the more ways there are for that hypothesis to be false and so the lower the intrinsic probability.) So-called ‘theistic evidences’ — such as consciousness, language, life, and so forth — determine the explanatory power of the ‘material god’ hypothesis, not its intrinsic probability. Furthermore, notice that IA lists only alleged theistic evidences. It seems rather one-sided to estimate the probability of a material god existing by considering only theistic evidences, while ignoring naturalistic evidences (such as pain and suffering, evolution, nonresistant nonbelief, mind-brain dependence, and so forth). Once the evidence is fully stated, it’s doubtful that IA’s “material God” exists.

Now, I am certain that you might scoff at certain proposals that I have put forward (for example, immaterialism or occasionalism) as being not worthy of consideration. And that’s fine. But my point is this: I do not need to concede to the very assumptions which are latent in so many of the arguments that you put forward, and the moment I do not concede to those assumptions, not only do your arguments lose nearly all their force (if not all), but you actually have the burden to prove the things that you are asserting. And demonstrating such things (such as the actual existence of matter, for example) is a very difficult task to say the least. Furthermore, until and unless you do demonstrate the existence of these things you just essentially assumed, I could readily contend that you hold to them with little more than blind faith. And so these are just some of the brief reasons why, when atheistic arguments are thoroughly deconstructed, and when we realize the various underlying assumptions that they make—assumptions which we need not grant—and when we also understand that the atheist is literally denying the existence of all reasonably possible gods, which could and would include a god such as a non-interventionist one, then we can begin to understand why the atheistic position, when viewed broadly and positively, lacks any evidence for its claim. 

I’m not sure about “scoffing,” but I will say this. If the best response a person has to my arguments is to doubt or deny the existence of matter, then I’m feeling pretty good about the arguments. This must be how Christians feel when atheists use certain far-fetched objections.(“If this is the lengths they have to go to in order to deny the argument, then let them have it.”)

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 5: Chapter 6

Chapter 6. New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?

Drawing upon the work of sophisticated Intelligent Design (ID) theorists such as William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells, this chapter uses many of the state-of-the art Intelligent Design (ID) arguments against evolution by natural selection. It also defends ID against various objections.
(i) Objections to Natural Selection: G&T argue that macroevolution is defeated by the following objections: (a) genetic limits; (b) cyclical change; (c) irreducible complexity; (d) the nonviability of transitional forms; (e) molecular isolation; and (f) the fossil record.
(a) Regarding genetic limits, G&T repeat the standard creationist claim that there are natural limits to genetic change. In their words:

Unfortunately for Darwinists, genetic limits seem to be built into the basic types. For example, dog breeders always encounter genetic limits when they intelligently attempt to create new breeds of dogs. (142)

This is not a good objection to evolution, however. The dog breeding example is just confused. The whole point of dog breeding is to produce dogs, not new species of dog-like animals. But let that pass. The much more important point is this: G&T, like most creationists, admit that microevolution occurs. If microevolution occurs, then we already have good antecedent reason to expect macroevolution also occurs: macroevolution just is microevolution carried on for a longer period of time. If a species accrues enough “small” changes over time, eventually all of those “small” changes added together become “big” changes and the result is another species. In other words, the difference between microevolution and macroevolution is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
(b) Regarding cyclical change, G&T claim that “the changes within types appears to be cyclical.” They take this to be evidence against macroevolution since macroevolution “requires” that changes be “directional toward the development of new life forms” (144). That is a very weak objection to evolution, however.  First, while cyclical change can and does occur, it hardly follows that all evolutionary change is cyclical. Second, contrary to what G&T imply, macroevolution does not require that all evolutionary change is “directional toward the development of new life forms.” If a species lives in a cyclical environment, then evolution predicts the species would display cyclical changes in response to the cyclical environment.
(c) Regarding irreducible complexity, G&T draw upon biochemist Michele Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.[1] Following Behe, they argue that the cell is an “irreducibly complex system,” i.e., a system that is “composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the systems to effectively cease functioning” (145). Furthermore, they argue, objections to Behe’s argument, such as those made by biologist Kenneth Miller, are unsuccessful.
Contrary to G&T, however, I don’t think that Behe has successfully shown that there are any irreducibly complex systems. To say that a biological system is “irreducibly complex” assumes that if the system was missing a part, it could not have been functional in any environment forany reason. But a predecessor to that system could lack a part and yet still be functional because some part of its environment is different than the environment of its descendants. In fact, this is precisely what the Darwinian naturalist claims happened. What Behe calls “irreducibly complex systems” evolved indirectly from systems that performed slightly or very different functions in our ancestors. In order to justify his claim that a system is irreducibly complex, Behe must show that precursors could not have performed different functions in those ancestors. Behe hasn’t shown this.[2]
(d) Regarding the viability of transitional forms, G&T argue that transitional forms could not survive.

For example, consider the Darwinian assertion that birds evolved gradually from reptiles over long periods of time. This would necessitate a transition from scales to feathers. How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers? Feathers are irreducibly complex. (148)

The question, “How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers?”, is just that: a question, not an argument.  This question can give the illusion of having refuted the possibility of transitional forms only by ignoring the relevant scientific evidence available at the time I Don’t Have Enough Faith was written: (1) the 1861 discovery of a reptile-bird Archaeopteryx, which had both feathers and reptilian features (such as teeth, claws, and a long, bony tail); and (2) the 1996 discovery of Sinosauropteryx, which had evidence of primitive feathers (“a layer of thin, hollow filaments covering its back and tail”).[3] Additionally, since the publication of the book, we may add (3) the 2009 discovery of Tianyulong, a small dinosaur with hairlike “feathers,” which some scientists believe is evidence that all dinosaurs may have had hairy or feathery bodies.[4] The fact that such creatures existed refutes the idea that such creatures could not survive.
Regarding the claim that “feathers are irreducibly complex,” G&T provide no argument to justify that claim, but it’s not hard to imagine what such an argument would look like. For example, such an argument might appeal to two claims: (1) reptile-bird transitional forms could not use their less-than-fully developed feathers (“proto-feathers”) for flight; and (2) reptile-bird transitional forms could not have used their proto-feathers for other functions (besides flight). The second claim is false. Scientists have no problem identifying other uses for proto-feathers, including insulation and sexual selection,[5] and G&T provide no reason at all to reject such explanations. But this entails that G&T have not shown that such indirect routes for the evolution of modern feathers are improbable.
(e) Regarding molecular Isolation, G&T appeal to Michael Denton ‘s 1986 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.[6] Commenting on Denton’s work, they write:

If all species share a common ancestor, we should expect to find protein sequences that are transitional from, say, fish to amphibian, or from reptile to mammal. But that’s not what we find at all. (150)

In his review of Denton’s book, however, Philip Spieth, a geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that Denton’s conclusions are erroneous. It is worth quoting Spieth at length:

These conclusions are erroneous: in his interpretation of “molecular equidistance,” Denton has confused ancestor-descendant relationships with cousin relationships. The telltale clues of molecular data are not, directly, concerned with parents and offspring, intermediate forms, and “missing links.” They are, instead, reflections of relative relatedness between contemporary cousins. Twentieth-century bacteria are not ancestors of twentieth-century turtles and dogs: they are very distant cousins, and, as the data in Denton’s presentation show, the bacteria are roughly equally distant cousins of both turtles and dogs (and all the other organisms that Denton included in Table 12.1).
Cousin relationships between contemporary individuals are governed by the number of generations since there last was an ancestor in common to the individuals. Different members of a group of close relatives always have the same relationship to a more distantly related individual who stands outside the group. Two sisters are equally related to a mutual first cousin. Members of a group of siblings and first cousins are all equally related to a mutual fifth cousin. Lampreys are equally distant cousins of both fish and humans because the last ancestor that lampreys had in common with humans was the same ancestor lampreys had in common with fish. The “molecular equidistance” argument that Denton invokes is invalid, resulting from making comparisons between a single distantly related organism and various members of a more closely related group.
There is an irony in Denton’s presentation to anyone familiar with the data of molecular evolution. Reflections of genealogical relationships are so strong in molecular data that Denton, in spite of his arguments to the contrary, is unable to hide them. The missing “trace” of which he speaks is not a trace; it is a shout. Simple inspection of the data in Table 12.1 will reveal that cytochrome C found in horses, for example, is quite similar in its molecular structure to that found in turtles, slightly less similar to that in fish, still less similar to that in insects, and very much less similar to that in bacteria. The traditional evolutionary series is very much in evidence.
Denton provides a series of diagrams (pp. 282-87) in which nested e[l]lipses, arranged on the basis of molecular data, are used to illustrate his spurious “molecular equidistance” thesis. In these delightful figures organisms are seen to cluster fully in accord with the genealogical relationships that evolutionary biologists deduced from comparative anatomy and paleontological evidence long before molecular data were available. In the final figure, humans and chimps are seen side by side as each other’s closest cousin. Anyone who wants to argue that these nested groups of organisms constitute separate, distinct, and unbridg[e]able groups has to contend with obvious hierarchical patterns of relatedness among the various groups. Notions of relatedness are, of course, antithetical to a typological view of organisms.[7]

(f) Regarding the fossil Record,G&T make three points: (1) gradualism predicts that we should find “thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now,” but that prediction is false; (2) the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is inconsistent with Darwinism because “nearly all of the major groups animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly…, fully formed, and at the same time;” and (3) the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships.
I shall argue that each objection is unsuccessful.
(1) is an argument from silence. Given the enormous popularity of this argument (hereafter, “the missing links argument”) in the anti-evolution literature, it is worth showing in detail that it is not successful.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, arguments from silence are a special version of a type of inductive argument known as an explanatory argument. If we let be our background information; S be some truth about the silence of a potential source of evidence; H1 and H2 be rival explanations; Pr(x) be the epistemic probability of some proposition x;[8] and Pr(x | y) be the epistemic probability of x conditional upon y, then we can define arguments from silence according to the following argument schema.

(1) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2) The prior probability of H1 is not much greater than H2, i.e., Pr(H1 | B) is not much greater than Pr(H2 | B).
(3) H2 gives us more reason to expect S than H1, i.e., Pr(S | H2) > Pr(S | H1).
(4) Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & S) < 1/2.

Like any other explanatory argument, an argument from silence can be logically correct if there is good reason to believe that premises (1)-(3) are true.
With this schema in place, let’s return to the missing links argument. If we abbreviate “the fossil record does not contain any transitional fossils” as S and let E represent evolution, then the missing links argument can be summarized as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) E is not intrinsically much more probable than ~E.
(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, E is probably false, i.e., Pr(E | B & S) < 1/2.

In support of the first premise, G&T use another type of inductive argument, the argument from authority. Their authority is the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; they claim he agrees with S on the basis of the following quotation.

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1). Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they appear; Morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2). Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.'[9]

Commenting on this quotation, G&T conclude, “In other words, Gould is admitting that fossil types appear suddenly, fully formed, and remain the same until extinction without any directional change…” (152). We shall abbreviate this conclusion as P.
The most charitable formulation of this argument from authority would be to formulate it as a special version of the inductive argument form known as the statistical syllogism.[10]

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record are true.
(6) P is a statement made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record.
(7) Therefore, P is true.

While some arguments from authority are inductively correct, this one is not. A careful reading of the Gould quotation does not support G&T’s interpretation. Gould wrote, “The history of most fossil species …,” not, “The history of all fossil species…” This basic distinction is crucial to a correct understanding of Gould’s point (and punctuated equilibrium in general), but anti-evolutionists often fail to recognize it. Indeed, Gould himself repeatedly stated that critics of evolution were quoting him out of context. In 1984, Gould wrote, “It is infuriating to be quoted again and again–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.”[11] He continued, “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.”[12] Note that Gould does not say that transitional forms are completely lacking at the species level, only that they are generally lacking. More recently, in 1994 Gould gave a specific example of a transitional sequence in the fossil record:

I am absolutely delighted to report that our usually recalcitrant fossil record has come through in exemplary fashion. During the past 15 years, new discoveries in Africa and Pakistan have added greatly to our paleontological knowledge of the earliest history of whales. The embarrassment of past absence has been replaced by a bounty of new evidence– and by the sweetest series of transitional forms an evolutionist can find. Truly, we have met the enemy and he is now ours. Moreover, to add blessed insult to the creationists’ injury, these discoveries have arrived in a gradual and sequential fashion– a little bit at a time, step by step, from a tentative hint, 15 years ago to a remarkable smoking gun early in 1994.[13]

It is a misuse of arguments from authority to misquote or misinterpret an authority.[14] Since G&T have misquoted or misinterpreted Gould, their argument from authority is fallacious. It does not support (1’).
But G&T have an independent supporting argument for (1’). Citing molecular biologist Jonathan Wells,[15] G&T also appeal to the so-called Cambrian “explosion” in support of (1’). In their words,

… nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period (which many scientists estimate to have occurred between 600 and 500 million years ago). (152)

Again, G&T do not provide the logical form of their argument, so, again, I will offer what I believe to be the most charitable formulation. Let RC be the reference class of “the major groups of animals known to exist” and AC be the attribute class of “appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period.” Then we can formulate the argument in the above quotation as an inductive argument type known as the statistical generalization.[16]

(8) Nearly all of the observed members of RC are AC.
(9) Therefore, nearly all RC are AC.

I have four replies.
First, the name Cambrian “explosion” is misleading insofar as it suggests to popular audiences—who are not used to thinking in geological timescales (i.e., tens to thousands of millions of years)—that there was a single event. In fact, this “explosion” represents a series of events over the course of 15 -20 million years. Alan Gishlick explains:

The Cambrian Explosion is, rather, the preservation of a series of faunas that occur over a 15-20 million year period starting around 535 million years ago (MA). A fauna is a group of organisms that live together and interact as an ecosystem; in paleontology, “fauna” refers to a group of organisms that are fossilized together because they lived together.[17]

Second, the fact—if it is a fact—that there are no known Cambrian transitional fossils is compatible with the existence of other, later transitional fossils. In other words, even if there are no known transitional fossils which can be dated between 600 and 500 million years ago, it doesn’t follow that there are no later transitional fossils, i.e., fossils which can be dated between 500 million years ago and the present. In fact, the fossil record does contain numerous transitional forms, forms which G&T do not acknowledge, much less refute, in their book.[18]
Third, as written, this statement is false: “most of the major groups of animals known to exist” do not appear in the fossil record in strata from the Cambrian period. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals do not appear in the fossil record until very much later than the Cambrian period, just as evolution predicts. The most charitable interpretation I can give to G&T’s statement is to assume that it is a typo. Instead of “nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist,” I assume that what G&T meant to write is “nearly all of the animal body plans known to exist.” Thus, we should revise RC as follows:

RC’: the reference class of “the animal body plans known to exist”

And the revised statistical generalization becomes:

(8’) Nearly all of the observed members of RC’ are AC.
(9’) Therefore, nearly all RC’ are AC.

I take this revised statistical generalization to be charitable, since it would make G&T’s point consistent with the recent, published work of Stephen Meyer, another leading ID theorist.[19]
Fourth, even (8’) is false. As Gishlick points out, many of the Cambrian body plans—including those of cnidrians, molluscs, sponges, wormlike metazoans, bilateral animals, and possibly arthropods—do not appear “abruptly.” We have fossilized remains of their precursors from fossils dating 10-60 million years older than their Cambrian descendants. As Gishlick explains:

Sixty million years is approximately the same amount of time that has elapsed since the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, providing plenty of time for evolution. In treating the Cambrian Explosion as a single event preceded by nothing, Wells misrepresents fact – the Cambrian explosion is not a single event, nor is it instantaneous and lacking in any precursors.[20]

The upshot is that both supporting arguments for (1’) fail. Thus, G&T have not given any good reasons to think (1’) is true. Furthermore, again, there is very good reason to think (1’) is false, namely, all of the fossilized intermediate and transitional forms, including reptile-birds, reptile-mammals, ape-humans, legged whales, and legged seacows.[21]
Let’s move onto the missing link argument’s premise (3’). G&T write:

If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now. (2770-2771)

Since it is implied that if Darwinism is false, we would not expect to find transitional fossils, it seems reasonable to interpret G&T as asserting (3’). For convenience, here it is again.

(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).

As it stands, however, (3’) is not obviously true. By itself, evolution doesn’t predict how many transitional fossils we would find today. Rather, by itself, evolution predicts that there were “thousands, of not millions,” of transitional forms, i.e. living beings. After a living being dies, its remains may or may not be destroyed (such as being eaten by other animals or by decay). If its remains are not destroyed, the remains may or may not become fossilized. If a dead organism is fossilized, that fossil may or may not survive intact to the present day. If the fossil survives intact to the present day, that fossil may or may not be found. If the fossil is found, it may or may not have preserved enough information to determine whether it is transitional. If the fossil preserves enough information to identify it as transitional, it may or may not have been examined yet by someone knowledgeable enough to identify it as such.[22]
The hypothesis of evolution says nothing about any of this. We get predictions about the number of transitional fossils only when we combine evolution with one or more auxiliary hypotheses about the frequency of fossilization, fossil preservation, fossil discovery, and fossil classification. G&T do not defend any of these auxiliary hypotheses and so their case for (3′) is, at best, incomplete.
So why should we believe (3’) is true? According to G&T, the answer is “because Darwin said so.”

… [Charles Darwin] did recognize that the fossil record posed a big problem for his theory because it didn’t show gradualism. That’s why he wrote, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain, and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”(152)

There is little doubt that G&T’s quotation of Darwin has great rhetorical value; it is analogous to the courtroom strategy of obtaining testimony from a hostile witness. What this quotation has in rhetorical value, it lacks in logical or evidential value.  Once again G&T making an argument from authority and, once again, the argument is logically incorrect because G&T have quotemined that authority.
The quotation appears in Darwin’s Origin of Species, sixth edition, in chapter 10, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record.” As Jon Barber points out, “Darwin’s writing style was to ask a rhetorical question and then give an answer.”[23]  In order to show Darwin’s tendency “in action,” I’m going to quote a longer excerpt of the book than G&T did, with the portion quoted by G&T in italics.

But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
In the first place, it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on the theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself forms DIRECTLY intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants. To give a simple illustration: the fantail and pouter pigeons are both descended from the rock-pigeon; if we possessed all the intermediate varieties which have ever existed, we should have an extremely close series between both and the rock-pigeon; but we should have no varieties directly intermediate between the fantail and pouter; none, for instance, combining a tail somewhat expanded with a crop somewhat enlarged, the characteristic features of these two breeds. These two breeds, moreover, have become so much modified, that, if we had no historical or indirect evidence regarding their origin, it would not have been possible to have determined from a mere comparison of their structure with that of the rock-pigeon, C. livia, whether they had descended from this species or from some other allied species, such as C. oenas.
So with natural species, if we look to forms very distinct, for instance to the horse and tapir, we have no reason to suppose that links directly intermediate between them ever existed, but between each and an unknown common parent. The common parent will have had in its whole organisation much general resemblance to the tapir and to the horse; but in some points of structure may have differed considerably from both, even perhaps more than they differ from each other. Hence, in all such cases, we should be unable to recognise the parent-form of any two or more species, even if we closely compared the structure of the parent with that of its modified descendants, unless at the same time we had a nearly perfect chain of the intermediate links. (boldface mine)

The extended passage, especially the sentence I’ve boldfaced  above, exposes the inaccuracy in G&T’s selective quotation of Darwin. Not only does the extended passage fail to support (3’); it provides clear and decisive evidence against it. Furthermore, Darwin’s explanation also directly refutes the familiar creationist claim, parroted by G&T, that “All animal groups appear separately, fully formed, and at the same time” (###).
G&T also object to the fossil record as evidence for evolution for another reason. Following Michael Denton and Jonathan Wells, G&T argue that “the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships” (###).  As Mark Vuletic has argued, however, Denton relies upon “unreasonably strict criteria” for recognizing transitional forms. I will quote Vuletic at length.

Now to the fossil record. Similar to the creationists, Denton proposes that there are not enough transitional forms in the fossil record, and that what transitional forms do exist are rather dubious in nature because they do not show soft organ changes (since organs aren’t fossilized) and are not intermediate in every single characteristic. Thus, Archaeopteryx lithographica, perhaps the most famous transitional form of all time, is inadequate because its wings and feathers were fully formed. Never mind that Archaeopteryx sported more reptilian skeletal characteristics than it did avian ones, and ignore the fact that its skeletal characteristics very closely match a class of wingless reptiles called therodonts that existed around the same time and in the same geographical location. It is apparent, then, that Denton’s standards for labeling a fossil a “transitional form” are unreasonably restrictive.
As far as soft organ characteristics go, researchers can indeed also obtain information on a fossilized organism’s soft anatomy and behavior by paying attention to structural characteristics. Thus, the recent find of Ambulocetus natans (Berta, 1994) lends further credence to the ungulate-to-whale transition that Denton finds so incredulous, because the skeletal arrangement of the creature is such that it could undulate its spine to produce a motion not unlike that of the whale’s tail motion (not to mention that Ambulocetus was found geographically and temporally just about where evolutionists hoped to find it). Similarly, examination of the configuration of basal ridges in fossilized reptile-mammal transitional form skulls shows how endothermy developed gradually, even though the evolution of the soft, complex endothermic apparatus could not be directly observed (Hillenius, 1994).
Denton’s denial of the fish-to-amphibian transition as demonstrated by Eusthenopteron (a late Devonian fish) and Icthyostega (a late Devonian amphibian) is a striking example of the excessive demands he makes on transitional forms. He echoes creationist Duane Gish’s criticism that Icthyostega has well developed limbs for terrestrial movement, while Eusthenopteron has mere fins. In the first place, it is unreasonable to expect a transitional form to be transitional in every single skeletal characteristic it exhibits. Secondly, the correlation between the skull and vertebral characteristics of the two creatures is impossible to account for in a framework of typology:
The crossopterygian fish Eusthenopteron is linked to the early amphibian Icthyostega by a number of characteristics: (1) same pattern of skull bones as Icthyostega, (2) internal nostrils (found only in land animals and sarcopterygians – a taxonomic group encompassing lungfish and crossopterygians), (3) teeth like amphibians’, (4) a two-part cranium (icthyostegids are the only other vertebrates that have this characteristic), and (5) same vertebral structure. (derived from McGowan, 1984, 152-153)
Every once in a while, a new transitional form turns up and strengthens the evolutionary pattern inherent in the fossil record . But in any case, to deny that the ones that already exist are what they appear to be is a sure indication of unreasonably strict criteria for transitional forms.[24]

In summary, then, all of G&T’s objections to biological evolution fail.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
[2] Paul Draper, “Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: a Reply to Michael J. Behe,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2002), 3–21.
[3] Carl Zimmer, “Evolution of Feathers: The Long Curious Extravagant Evolution of Feathers,” National Geographic  (February 2011). Republished electronically at
[4] Zimmer 2011.
[5] Zimmer 2011.
[6] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1986).
[7] Philip T. Spieth, “Review: “Evolution — A Theory in Crisis” Zygon 22 (1987), 249-68. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.1987.tb00849.x. Republished electronically at
[8] By “epistemic probability,” I mean this. “Relative to K, p is epistemically more probable than q, where K is an epistemic situation and p and q are propositions, just in case any fully rational person in K would have a higher degree of belief in p than in q.” See Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. by Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 27.
[9] Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 86 (1977): 13-14, quoted in G&T 2004, 152.
[10] See Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 98.
[11] Stephen Jay Gould, Hens Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: Norton & Co., 1983), 260. Reprinted in “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 123-24. Italics are mine.
[12] Gould 1983, 261.
[13] Stephen Jay Gould, “Hooking Leviathan by its Past” Natural History 5/94, 11.
[14] Salmon 1984, 98.
[15] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000).
[16] Salmon 1984, 90.
[17] Alan Gishlick, “Icons of Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution is Wrong” National Center for Science Education (October 23, 2008),, 11-12.
[18] See L. Beverly Halstead, “Evolution–The Fossils Say Yes!” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 240-254; Roger J. Cuffey, “Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 255-281; Laurie R. Godfrey, “Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record” Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 193-218.
[19] Meyer argues that Cambrian animal forms contain “functionally specified information” and so are irreducibly complex systems; moreover, this morphological irreducible complexity is independent of the sort of biochemical irreducible complexity argued by Behe. Meyer’s argument, however, fails for the following reasons. (i) Even if the origin of Cambrian animal forms were evidence favoring ID over naturalism, at best Meyer’s argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Meyer neglects to mention other known facts about Cambrian animal forms, facts which favor naturalism over ID. For example, (a) the Cambrian era did not include animal forms much more impressive than known Cambrian forms; (b) the creation of new information is habitually associated with embodied minds; and (c) all living animals on Earth are the gradually modified descendants of Cambrian animals. (ii) According to Meyer, an unknown Intelligent Designer used an unknown, mysterious mechanism to design Cambrian animal forms for an unknown purpose. It follows, therefore, that Meyer’s intelligent design “hypothesis” is, at best, an explanation name, not an actual explanation, because the Intelligent Designer’s methods and purposes are unknown and, indeed, mysterious. As philosopher Paul Draper pointed out (in an unrelated context), “Mystification is the opposite of explanation.” See Stephen L. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life (New York: Harper One, 2013); and Paul Draper, “A Darwinian Argument from Evil,” unpublished paper. Cf. Gregory W. Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009).
[20] Gishlick 2008, 13.
[21] See Douglas Theobald, “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Part 1: The Unique Universal Phylogenetic Tree,” The TalkOrigins Archive (2013),
[22] Mark Isaak, “Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CC200.1” The TalkOrigins Archive (2005),
[23] See Jon Barber, “Quote #75” in The Quote Mine Project: Or Lies, Damned Lies, and Quote Mines at The Talk.Origins Archive (2003-2004),
[24] Mark I. Vuletic, “Review of Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,” The Talk.Origins Archive (1996-97),

bookmark_borderIndex: Draper’s Evidential Argument from Biological Evolution

The purpose of this page is to provide an index for my blog series on Paul Draper’s evidential argument against theism based on biological evolution.

  • Part 1: a summary of the argument
  • Part 2: a critical assessment of William Lane Craig’s attempt to turn the tables on Draper and argue that evolution is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.

See also:


bookmark_borderCavin and Colombetti on the Resurrection of Jesus Part 3: The Projection and Unknown Removal Theories

What I want to do in this post is to summarize (and offer my own interpretation of) Cavin’s third main contention in his debate with Michael Licona on the Resurrection of Jesus:

CC3. There is an alternative theory to the Resurrection that is a far superior explanation.

1. Explanatory Power Revisited
Although repetitive, for the convenience of the reader, I’m going to repeat what I wrote at the beginning of Part 2 since it bears directly upon Part 3. In order to properly assess CC3,

… it’s crucial that we first clarify what “explanation” means. In order to do that, let us begin by reviewing some basic concepts from Part 1 of this series. Let us divide the evidence relevant to the Resurrection into two categories. First, certain items of evidence function as “odd” facts that need to be explained.  Let us call these items the “evidence to be explained.” Second, other items of evidence are “background evidence,” which determine the prior probability of rival theories and partially determine how well those theories explain the evidence to be explained.
These two types of evidence have two probabilistic counterparts: (1) the prior probability of a hypothesis H and (2) the explanatory power of H. (1) is a measure of how likely H is to occur based on background information B alone, whether or not E is true. As for (2), this measures the ability of a hypothesis (combined with background evidence B) to predict (i.e., make probable) an item of evidence.

In Part 2, we saw that H (combined with B) does not predict E more than not-H (~H), and so H does not explain E. In this post, I will discuss C&C’s argument that one version of ~H, the combination of the “Projection” and “Unknown Removal” Theories, when combined with B, does predict E more than H, and so ~H does explain E.
2. Why Even Outlandish Naturalistic Hypotheses Are Better Explanations than the Resurrection
Here is C&C on slides 250-251:

What this means is that, their protestations to the contrary not withstanding, resurrectionists do not take the (alleged) historical facts seriously—they have no explanation for the empty tomb or the postmortem appearances of Jesus. Even the most outlandish “naturalistic” hypothesis—e.g., Deceptive Space Aliens—is a better explanation of the (alleged) historical facts than the indeterminate unknown postulated by the “X-Man” theory!

Let R be the Resurrection hypothesis and let X be any naturalistic hypothesis which predicts (i.e., makes probable) the evidence to be explained. In its logical form, then, C&C’s argument seems to be this.

(1) Given two or more rival explanations for the evidence to be explained, the best explanation is the explanation which has the overall greatest balance of prior probability and explanatory power.
(2) The evidence to be explained–Jesus’s empty tomb and his postmortem appearances–is known to be true. [assumption]
(3) R has an extremely low prior probability, i.e., Pr(R|B) is virtually zero. [From the Anti-resurrection Prior Probability Argument]
(4) R, by itself, has no explanatory power, i.e., Pr(E|R&B) = 0.
(5) X explains the evidence to be explained and has explanatory power B, i.e., Pr(E|X&B) > 1/2. [by definition]
(6) X has a non-zero prior probability, i.e., Pr(X|B) > 0.
(7) X has a greater overall balance of prior probability and explanatory power than R, i.e., Pr(X|B) x Pr(E|X&B) > Pr(R|B) x Pr(E|R&B).

If correct, this argument shows that even outlandish naturalistic theories–i.e., those with very low but not negligible prior probabilities–are better than the Resurrection theory as an explanation. But, C&C argue, there is a non-outlandish naturalistic theory which explains the data even better.
3. The Projection and Unknown Removal Theories
As I read them, C&C defend what I call a “Combination Theory” to explain the postmortem appearances of Jesus and the empty tomb. They defend what I call the “Projection Theory” as an explanation for the postmortem appearances of Jesus and what I call the “Unknown Removal Theory” to explain the empty tomb. In their words:

This theory of the unknown removal of the corpse of Jesus from the tomb and group hallucinations based on strong expectations has a higher overall balance of prior probability and explanatory power than the Resurrection! [slide 263]

Regarding this Combination Theory, they write:

Such hallucinations might be nocturnal and hypnopomic—coming out of dreams “replaying” the suggestions of the premortem Jesus—and thus seem utterly real! Being in the form of visions, the idiosyncratic nature of the group hallucinations would be of no concern. The tomb in Jerusalem would be too far away to aversely affect the disciples’ expectations. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the body of Jesus would have been moved from the tomb without his family and followers knowing.  [slides (259-262)]

I reconstruct C&C’s argument for this Combination Theory as follows.
B: The Relevant Background Evidence
1. Jesus saw himself as some kind of messianic figure.  [defended on slides 254-257]
2. Jesus believed he must die in that capacity.  [defended on slides 254-257]
3. Jesus told his disciples to go to Galilee, after his death, where they would see him in heavenly glory.  [defended on slides 254-257]
4. The disciples were eagerly expecting Jesus to rise from the dead and appear to them from “heaven” in Galilee. [defended on slides 254-257]
5. “On Friday, April 7, 30 C.E.: Jesus was brutally scourged and crucified by Roman soldiers as a political criminal; he died on the cross at about 3:00 P.M.”[1]
6. “By sunset Friday, April 7. 30 C.E.: Jesus was removed from the cross, placed in graveclothes, and laid in a tomb; and a very heavy stone was set in front of the entrance.”[2]
7. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the body of Jesus would have been moved from the tomb without his family and followers knowing. [slide 262]
E: The Evidence to be Explained
1.  “Mary Magdalene and other women found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb, at about sunrise on Sunday, April 9, 30 C.E. The graveclothes in which Jesus had been buried were found lying neatly on the bench of the tomb somewhat later that morning.”[3]
2. “Certain individuals and groups, at various times and places, had what they took to be encounters (visual and auditory) with Jesus risen from the dead. These witnesses were:
a. Mary Magdalene and another woman near the tomb on the morning of Sunday, April 9,30 C.E.
b. Simon Peter in Jerusalem in the late morning or early afternoon of Sunday, April 9, 30 C.E.
c. The eleven disciples in Jerusalem on the evening of Sunday, April 9, 30 C.E.
d. The disciples in Galilee sometime in late April or early May 30 C.B.
e. A group of over five hundred individuals in Galilee (7) sometime in late April or early May 30 C.B.
f. James (the presumed brother of Jesus) sometime in later.
g. All of the apostles (including James) sometime later.”[4]
H: Rival Explanatory Hypotheses
R’: A supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, involving Jesus as a bodily raised corpse, took place. [see slides 188-189]
P: The disciplines projected their expectations in the form of group hallucinations and false memories. [see slide 258]
U: Unknown to the disciples, someone removed the corpse of Jesus from the tomb.
The Argument Formulated

(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Pr(E | P & U & B) > Pr(E | R’ & B).
(3) Pr(P & U | B) !> Pr(R’ | B).
(4) Therefore, Pr(P & U | E & B) > Pr(R’ | E & B). [From (2) and (3)]

4. Conclusion
C&C conclude that the combination of P&U is a vastly superior explanation of the empty tomb and postmortem appearances of Jesus to the Resurrection hypothesis.
[1] Robert Greg Cavin, “Miracles, Probability, and the Resurrection of Jesus: A Philosophical, Mathematical, and Historical Study,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Irvine, 1993, p. 313.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid, pp. 313-314.

bookmark_borderA Good F-Inductive Argument for Theism based on Consciousness

I was waiting for someone to bring this up in the combox on my recent post on Swinburne’s cosmological argument, but no one did. The argument from consciousness (to theism) is a parallel argument to the cosmological argument against theism.
In the cosmological argument against theism, I pointed out that naturalism entails a physical universe whereas theism does not. Since a physical universe exists, it follows that the universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
The parallel argument based on consciousness goes like this. Theism entails that consciousness exists whereas naturalism does not. Since consciousness does exist, it follows that consciousness is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.
We formalize this as follows. Let B be our background information; E be the existence of human consciousness; T be theism; and N be naturalism. Here is the explanatory argument.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(|N|) is not much greater than Pr(|T|).
3. Pr(E | T) =1 > Pr(E | N).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) < 1/2.
So far as I can tell, this is a good F-inductive argument. Just as everyone except eliminative idealists should admit that the universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism, everyone except eliminative materialists should admit that consciousness is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.
Related Posts:
The Best Argument for God’s Existence: The Argument from Moral Agency
The Evidential Argument from Moral Agency Revisited

bookmark_borderF-Inductive Arguments: A New Type of Inductive Argument

In his extensive writings, the prestigious philosopher Richard Swinburne makes a useful distinction between two types of inductive arguments. Let B be our background information or evidence; E be the evidence to be explained; and H be an explanatory hypothesis.
“C-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses confirm  or add to the probability of the conclusion, i.e., P(H | E & B) > P(H | B).
“P-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses make the conclusion probable, i.e., P(H | E & B) > 1/2.
It seems to me that there is a third type of inductive argument which should go between C-inductive and P-inductive arguments. I’m going to dub it the “F-inductive argument.”
“F-inductive argument”: an argument in which the evidence to be explained favors one explanatory hypothesis over one or more of its rivals, i.e., P(E | H1 & B) > P(E | H2 & B). Explanatory arguments are F-inductive arguments and have the following structure.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. H1 is not intrinsically much more probable than H2, i.e., Pr(|H1|) is not much greater than Pr(|H2|).
3. Pr(E | H2 & B) > Pr(E | H1 & B).
4. Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & E) < 0.5.
Good F-inductive arguments show that E is prima facie evidence — that is why (4) begins with the phrase, “Other evidence held equal.” They leave open the possibility that there may be other evidence which favors H1 over H2; indeed, they are compatible with the situation where the total evidence favors H1 over H2.
F-inductive arguments are “stronger” than C-inductive arguments insofar as they show E not only adds to the probability of H2, but that E is more probable on the assumption that H2 is true than on the assumption that H1 is true. They are weaker than P-inductive arguments, however, because they don’t show that E is ultima facie evidence — they don’t show that E makes H2 probable.
One final point. Although I believe I am the first to give F-inductive argument a name and place within Swinburne’s taxonomy of inductive arguments, the structure for such arguments is not mine. Paul Draper deserves the credit for that.