bookmark_borderPlantinga Calls This A Good Argument for God’s Existence?

The title of my post might come across as snarky, so I want to begin my making it clear that is not my intent. In fact, I want to go on record as saying I have great respect for Plantinga’s skill as a philosopher. Among other things, I think he succeeded in his attempt to refute Mackie’s version of the argument from evil.
Perhaps because I have to come hold Plantinga’s work to such a high standard, I continue to be surprised whenever I read Plantinga’s version of the so-called argument from beauty. In his famous lecture, “Two Dozen or So Theistic Arguments,” Alvin Plantinga sketches what he calls the “Mozart Argument.”

On a naturalistic anthropology, our alleged grasp and appreciation of (alleged) beauty is to be explained in terms of evolution: somehow arose in the course of evolution, and something about its early manifestations had survival value. But miserable and disgusting cacophony (heavy metal rock?) could as well have been what we took to be beautiful. On the theistic view, God recognizes beauty; indeed, it is deeply involved in his very nature. To grasp the beauty of a Mozart’s D Minor piano concerto is to grasp something that is objectively there; it is to appreciate what is objectively worthy of appreciation.

Plantinga doesn’t say how he rates the strength of the individual arguments; it’s possible that he views this argument as providing just a teeny-tiny bit of evidence that is just barely more probable on theism than on naturalism. Of course, it’s also possible that he views this argument as a “killer refutation” of a naturalism. Or, perhaps more likely, maybe he views it somewhere in between.
Let’s evaluate this argument the same way Plantinga evaluates arguments from evil against theism. How do we do that? By trying to clarify the claim the argument makes about the relationship between the evidence to be explained (in this case, objective beauty) and the rival explanatory hypotheses (e.g., theism and naturalism). Nothing in the passage above suggests that Plantinga claims that objective beauty is logically inconsistent with naturalism. Rather, Plantinga seems to be suggesting that objective beauty is less probable on naturalism than on theism.
I’m going to attempt to “steel man” Plantinga’s argument. The most charitable interpretation of Plantinga is that he’s offering the following argument:
(1) Objective beauty exists.
(2) Naturalism is not intrinsically much more probable than theism. [See Plantinga’s argument L]
(3) The existence of objective beauty is more probable on theism than on naturalism, i.e., Pr(beauty|theism) > Pr(beauty|naturalism).
(4) Therefore, everything else held equal, naturalism is probably false, i.e., Pr(naturalism) < 1/2.
I find this argument unconvincing; indeed, I find it so unconvincing I confess I find it hard to understand why Plantinga would endorse it.
First, I think the truth of (1) is far from certain. It’s far from obvious to me that such a thing as objective beauty exists; I don’t even have the intuition that it exists. And Plantinga offers no reason to think that it does. If it doesn’t exist, then there is nothing to explain and this argument cannot even get off the ground.
Second, I think (2) is false. Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper has convinced me that intrinsic probability is determined by modesty, coherence, and nothing else. Again, the only thing I could find in Plantinga’s lecture is a reference to Swinburne’s work on intrinsic probability. Swinburne argues that simplicity determines intrinsic probability. To be sure, there is a correlation between modesty, coherence, and simplicity. But correlation is as far as it goes. And if Draper is correct that intrinsic probability is determined by modesty and coherence, then naturalism is intrinsically much more probable than theism for the simple fact that naturalism (a/k/a “source physicalism”) is much more modest than theism, just as supernaturalism (a/k/a “source idealism”) is much more modest than theism.
Third, let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that (1) is true. There really is such a thing as “objective beauty.” What might be the metaphysical or ontological grounding for it? One option is Platonism, i.e., abstract objects. In other words, facts about objective beauty would be nothing more or less than necessary truths about beauty. And since Draperian naturalism (or “source physicalism”) says nothing about whether abstract objects exist, this metaphysical grounding is available not just to theists, but also to naturalists. And Plantinga offers no reason to reject this naturalistic explanation.
Instead, Plantinga considers an evolutionary explanation. Perhaps, he suggests,

our alleged grasp and appreciation of (alleged) beauty is to be explained in terms of evolution: [it] somehow arose in the course of evolution.

But this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Plantinga isn’t comparing a naturalistic explanation of objective beauty to a theistic explanation of objective beauty. On the naturalistic side of the equation, he’s not considering the explanatory power of naturalism to account for objective beauty; rather, he’s considering the explanatory power of naturalism conjoined with an auxiliary hypothesis (about evolution) to account for our grasp and appreciation of alleged beauty. Similarly, on the theistic side of the equation, he’s not considering the explanatory power of theism to account for objective beauty; rather, he’s considering the explanatory power of theism conjoined with an auxiliary hypothesis (about God’s nature) to account for … what, precisely? Our grasp and appreciation of real, not just merely alleged, beauty? God’s causation of objectively beautiful features of the natural world? Something else? Plantinga never says.
The problem isn’t that he invokes auxiliary hypotheses; the problem is that doing so raises a whole bunch of questions which Plantinga doesn’t even ask, much less answer. For example, what’s the antecedent probability of his proffered evolutionary explanation, conditional upon the truth of naturalism? Likewise, what’s the antecedent probability of his auxiliary hypothesis to theism, that facts about objective beauty are somehow related to God’s nature, conditional upon the truth of theism? (And how does that compare to an alternative auxiliary hypothesis about theism, namely, that facts about objectively beauty are grounded in an autonomous realm of abstract objects?) Since Plantinga doesn’t answer these questions, his defense of his Mozart argument is far from complete.
Fourth, let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that premise (3) is true. The fact, if it is (were?) a fact, that objective beauty exists hardly exhausts what we (would?) know about “beauty.” As Draper points out, while the universe is saturated with visual beauty, it is not saturated with auditory, tactile, or other sensory beauty. Given that beauty “exists” at all, facts about the kinds and distribution of beauty favor naturalism over theism. So, once the evidence about beauty is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that it favors theism over naturalism.
In fairness to Plantinga, I want to remind readers that Plantinga was merely sketching his Mozart argument in the context of a speech about two dozen or so arguments; he wasn’t trying to give a sustained or even a precise defense of the argument. Nevertheless, I think the above objections pose significant obstacles to such an argument. Even when the argument is steel manned, as I have tried to do here, I cannot see how the argument can overcome these objections.

bookmark_borderDraper on Pain and Pleasure: Part 3

This post is part of a series on Paul Draper’s classic version of the evidential argument from evil. In the previous entry, I summarized Draper’s first argument, which attempts to show that certain facts about the types, quantity, and distribution of pain and pleasure (P&P) are much more probable on the hypothesis of indifference (HI) than on theism (T), and so constitute strong evidence against T and for HI. In this entry, I summarize Draper’s discussion of theistic explanations for those facts.

I apologize for the size of the text in my graphics. If you find it hard to read, you should be able to see the graphics at “full size” by clicking on them one-at-a-time in your browser window.
1. “Theodicies” and Theistic Explanations for Facts about Good and Evil
As Draper observes, “Explaining some phenomenon in terms of a statement usually involves adding other statements to that statement.” The relevance to the problem of evil is obvious: people who offer a theistic explanation for facts about good and evil add to T (the proposition that God exists) some additional statement Tn (the proposition that God must allow certain evils in order to achieve some goal).In the philosophy of religion, such additional statements are called “theodicies.” In inductive logic, additional statements of this sort are generically called ‘auxiliary hypotheses.’ In Draper’s terminology, he refers to them as “expansions.”

expansion statement: “a statement h* is an ‘expansion’ of a statement h just in case h* is known to entail h. (Notice that h* can be an expansion of h even if it is logically equivalent to h.)”

With this in mind, consider’s the second part of Draper’s evidential argument from evil again.

A. O is known to be true.
B. T is not much more probable intrinsically than HI.
C. Pr(O/HI) >! Pr(O/T).
So, D. Other evidence held equal, T is probably false.

Draper argues that if a theodicy is to successfully defeat an argument from evil against theism, it must somehow undermine premise (C) by raising the value of Pr(O / T). In order to evaluate whether an expansion Tn of theism raises Pr(O / T) enough to defeat (C), Draper proposes that we use the “Weighted Average Principle” (WAP):
Pr(O / T) = Pr(O / Tn) x Pr(Tn / T) + Pr(O / ~Tn) x Pr(~Tn / T).
As Draper points out, this formula is an average because Pr(Tn / T) + Pr(~Tn / T) = 1. It is not a simple straight average, however, since those two values may not equal 1/2; that is why it is a weighted average. The higher Pr(Tn / T), the closer Pr(O / T) will be to Pr(O / Tn & T); similarly, the higher Pr(~Tn / T), the closer Pr(O / T) will be to Pr(O / T & ~Tn).
Draper states that the second part of his evidential argument from evil assumes that theodicies do not “significantly raise” Pr(O / T) and so the argument effectively treats Pr(O / T) as roughly equal with Pr(O / T & ~Tn). In order to show that this assumption is justified, he says he needs to show that Pr(O / Tn) is “not significantly greater” than Pr(O / T & ~Tn). As he puts it:

In other words, I would need to show that, independent of the observations and testimony O reports, we have little or no more reason on Tn than we have on theism ~Tn to believe that O is true.

In his 1989 article, Draper considers three theodicies:
T1: The Free Will Theodicy, version 1;
T2: The Free Will Theodicy, version 2; and
T3: The Human Ignorance Theodicy.
(Note that while the T1 – T3 notation is Draper’s, the titles of T1 – T3 are mine.)
Before we can discuss T1 and T2, we first need to define a key term:

freedom*: “An action is free* only if
(i) it is free in an incompatibilist sense–that is, in a sense incompatible with its being determined by antecedent conditions outside the agent’s control–and
(ii) if it is morally right, then at least one alternative action that is open in an incompatibilist sense to the agent is such that it would be morally wrong for the agent to perform that alternative action.”

Both T1 and T2 agree that God endows humans with freedom*. They offer contradictory explanations for the existence of pain, however. According to T1, “God permits pain in order to advance morality.” In contrast, T2 explains pain by adding to T a statement about how one of God’s goals is to “increase the responsibility humans have for their own well-being and the well-being of others and thereby increase the importance of the moral decisions humans make.”
Let’s turn to Draper’s objections to each of these expansions of T.
2. “Free Will and the Advancement of Morality”
Let T1 stand for the following expansion of T:

God exists, and one of his final ends is a favorable balance of freely* performed right actions over wrong actions.

Draper begins his response to T1 by making a very charitable concession to the theodicist. He grants, for the sake of argument, that Pr(T1 / T) is high. In order to defend (C) against T1, his strategy instead is to show that:

Pr(T1 / T) is not much greater than Pr(O / T & ~T1).

I interpret Draper’s 1989 article as offering two reasons to believe that.
First, Draper argues that T1 provides a reason we do not have on T & ~T1 to expect that “the world will contain both pain that influences humans to perfom morally right action and pain that is logically necessary for some of the right actions humans perform.” As Draper points out, “O reports the existence of pain of both these sorts,” so those predictions of T1 are confirmed.
But O also reports other facts which T1 predicts should not be true. O also reports both:
(a) that pain often influences humans to perform morally wrong actions; and
(b) that pain is logically necessary for many of the wrong actions humans perform.
Draper concludes that the combination of (a) & (b) is more surprising on the assumption that T1 is true than on the assumption that T is true and T1 is false.
Second, Draper argues that “the world does not contain a very impressive balance of right over wrong actions performed by humans and that this is due in part both to a variety of demoralizing conditions like illness, poverty, and ignorance, and to the absence of conditions that tend to promote morality.” He concludes, accordingly, that this (balance of right over wrong actions) is more surprising on the assumption that T1 is true than on the assumption that T is true and T1 is false.
3. “Free Will and Responsibility”
Let T2 stand for the following expansion of T:

T2: God exists, and one of His final ends is for humans to have the freedom* to make very important moral decisions.

Again, Draper assumes for the sake of argument that the antecedent probability of this theodicy is high, viz., Pr(T2 / T) is high. Again, his strategy is to show:

Pr(O / T2) is not >! Pr(O / T & ~T2)

Draper points out that, “assuming there is no better way,” T2 may provide us with a reason that we do not have on T & ~T2 to expect “the existence of pain for which humans are morally responsible.” But, he argues, Pr(O / T2) is not >! Pr(O / T & ~T2) since other facts O reports are even more surprising on T2 than they are on T & ~T2.
First, “Many humans are plainly not worthy of the freedom* to do serious evils.” On the assumption that T2 is true, however, we would predict that humans would only be given great responsibility when they are worthy of it.
Second, “Nor is the human race making any significant amount of moral progress.” If T2 were true, however, we would expect that humans would be “benefitted by having such responsibility.”
Third, there have been (and are) humans who had (or have) great responsibility, who have abused that responsibility, and did not have their responsibility decreased by God “until they are worthy of a second chance.” But if T2 were true, that is what we would expect.
Draper concludes, accordingly, that Pr(O / T2) is not significantly greater than Pr(O / T & ~T2).
4. The Human Ignorance Theodicy
Here is T3:

T3: God exists and has a vast amount of knowledge about good and evil and how they are related that humans do not have.

Unlike T1 and T2 where Draper granted for the sake of argument that they were antecedently very probable on T, Draper does not make such a concession for T3. It isn’t necessary. As Draper correctly states, Pr(T3 / T) = 1. This, in turn, entails that Pr(O / T) = Pr(O / T3).
But, as Draper argues, T3 fails to defeat O because

We have no more antecedent reason to expect that [God’s additional knowledge is such that he would permit any of the facts O reports to obtain], than to expect that God would have unknown reasons for preventing evil.

Observant readers will notice that the sentence just quoted just is an application of WAP to the idea that God has unknown reasons for his actions.
Furthermore, however much reason we might have on T3 to expect humans would be “unable to product a plausible theistic explanation” for the facts O reports, we have “even more reason” on  HI to expect this. Thus, T3 does not significantly raise the value of Pr(O / T).