Did Darwin undercut all Paley-style arguments?
November 30, 2010 — 9:30

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 68

Classic Paley-style design arguments go like this: There is some complex biological feature C which is such that

  1. God would have good reason to produce C, and
  2. C is extremely unlikely to occur through a random combination of elements.

It is concluded that probably God produced C, and hence probably God exists. The standard story is that Darwin undercut Paley-style arguments by providing a plausible explanation that does not involve God.

I shall suggest that the story is not so simple, and that, in fact, a very powerful Paley-style design argument may continue to go through.

The reason I say “suggest” reather than “argue” is that my argument is based on a crucial simplifying assumption. I shall assume a physics with a classical Hamiltonian dynamics satisfying Liouville’s Theorem. (To some readers this may already give a lot of my game away.) The justification is two-fold. First, for aught that we know, the correct dynamics of the world, whether deterministic or not, is such as to support some analogue of Liouville’s Theorem. Second, Darwin’s work appears to be consistent with classical mechanics, and was developed when classical mechanics was king. Thus, if Darwin’s work refutes classic Paley-style design arguments, this refutation should be consistent with classical mechanics.

Now, begin by posing this question: The standard story claims that Darwin naturalistically explained the explanandum of a Paley-style argument in a way that undercut that arguments–what is that explanandum?


4th Annual Sophia Forum Lectures
October 27, 2010 — 12:11

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: Off

Philosophy Program
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa California
This forum aims at promoting the project of Christian philosophy and recognizing those who have substantially contributed to that project.
This year recognizes the work of Dr. Alvin Plantinga. He will be presenting two lectures:
February 16th
“Science and Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies”
Is there a conflict between Christian belief and evolution or is the conflict between Christian belief and naturalism? What is the proper framework for Christians to think about these issues?
February 17th
“Evolutionary Psychology and Scripture Scholarship: More Alike Than you Might Have Thought”.
Given that Christians ought to be enthusiastic about science, how should Christians think about some theories of evolutionary psychology and some types of scripture scholarship? Should Christian beliefs that conflict with such scientific theories be given up?
For details go to:

Modern Cosmology and Theology
October 8, 2010 — 21:40

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 14

At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundamental constants of nature were set by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. Stephen Hawking has suggested that such fluctuations might be very likely to produce a world like ours. If correct, the thought goes, this would undermine the fine-tuning argument. However, it would also do something more: if the laws of nature make it very likely, but not certain, that a world like ours, capable of supporting life, will come into being, this is a fact that theists will have difficulty explaining. Why did God make probabilistic laws? Would God have intervened if the early fluctuations had gone otherwise? If so, then why didn’t he set things up so as to ensure that they came off right without intervention? If not, why did he decide to take this risk? In short, can we make sense of the idea of a god – a literal god, not a figure of speech – who ‘plays dice’?
Here I think Sobel, following Quentin Smith, has put his finger on what is perhaps the deepest and most interesting question at the intersection of theology and modern science. (Certainly it is deeper and more interesting than any issue raised by evolution.) However, Sobel fails to mention any possible solution to it. I find it hard to believe that he can’t think of any possible solution: there’s one right under his nose. One of the main historical figures Sobel has been discussing is Hume, and it seems that if we can develop a Humean (descriptive) theory of natural law which is able to deal with probabilistic laws, then we will have solved, or at least greatly mitigated, the problem. (Of course, this is no easy task!) On such a descriptivist reading, it is possible that although the probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics are the laws of our world, God chooses how each wave-function collapses, and chooses for reasons. All that is required is that those reasons do not lead to regularities of the sort that could displace the quantum laws as the laws of our world. For instance, we might make it a principle of our descriptive theory of laws that physical laws are not teleological. Thus if God chooses that the wave-function collapse a certain way in order that intelligent beings later arise, this does not threaten to replace quantum mechanics with a different set of physical laws.
Note that this is not a ‘hidden variable’ theory: hidden variable theories say that there is some more fundamental, deterministic physical law behind quantum mechanics, whereas on this view quantum mechanics (or we should rather say: whatever theory of quantum gravity physicists eventually work out, which will no doubt still be indeterministic) is the most fundamental physical law; it’s just that there are deeper explanations than physical laws.
This is just one solution. There are probably others. But I was impressed that Sobel pointed out the difficulty, because I think that it is one of the deepest and most interesting difficulties contemporary theists face, and it is far too often ignored.
[Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]

painless evolution
October 7, 2010 — 15:50

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 27

I take as non-starters suggestions such as (i) animals do not feel pain, (ii) animals do feel pain, but it’s not so painful (iii) animals suffer but we will eventually all hold hands in the peaceable kingdom and (iv) animals suffer, but they serve some greater human good, etc. I do not claim that none of these is true. I do claim that no one should believe any of them. But of course animals do and have suffered immensely for millions of years, and it’s to Mike Murray’s [recent credit](http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199237271?tag=ektopos-20) to sharply underscore the importance of this to the problem of evil. It looks to me nearly impossible to respond to this problem without saying nutty things. But I have this (perhaps crazy) argument.
1. There are worlds W in which God predicts or prophesies, before he creates anything, that some divine aims will be achieved through painless, indeterministic, evolution of sentient beings.
2. It is true in W that evolution is a painless, indeterministic process that achieves some divine goals.
3. Since the evolutionary process in W is indeterministic, it is true in W that, possibly, the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals (perhaps animals evolve toward carnivorism, for instance)
4. There is a world W’ in which the evolutionary process is a painful process that achieves some divine goals.
5. If there are worlds W’ in which the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals, then there is a world in which God coexists with a painful evolutionary process.
6. /:. The following propositions are consistent: God exists, there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.
Now I think (1) and (2) are true. But if they are, then there are genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. But if it is a genuinely indeterministic process, then it is possible that things evolve contrary to God’s prediction (though of course God is a perfect predictor). In worlds where things go contrary to God’s prediction, its always been true that God never made such a prediction. So we have two choices. Either we say that there are no genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. Or we say that there are worlds in which God exists and there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.

Rowe’s evidential argument from evil
October 7, 2010 — 13:44

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 27

Rowe’s argument is basically:

  1. E is an evil for which despite serious study we can’t see a justifier.
  2. Therefore, probably, E has no justifier.
  3. Therefore, theism is false.

This argument is a bad piece of non-deductive reasoning. I will explain why.

Whenever someone gives us an inductive argument involving a particular case, it is appropriate to worry about selection effects in the choice of the case, and incorporate evidence arising from the nature of the selection procedure into the argument. In the case of (1), Rowe did not start with a list of the trillions of evils that happen in the world, and then pick out one, E, at random, and observe that we can’t see a justifier for it. There are many evils where people to whom they happened claim to know justifiers, and Rowe picked none of those. Rather, Rowe picked (or imagined) a particular case, E, which was such that we couldn’t see a justifier for it despite serious effort.

Thus, once we fill in the story about the selection method, Rowe’s argument really is:

  1. There exists an evil for which despite serious study we can’t see a justifier.
  2. Therefore, probably, there exists an evil that has no justifier.
  3. Therefore, theism is false.


Evolution and Teleological Arguments
September 29, 2010 — 23:39

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Books of Interest Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 28

Over on my personal blog, I have, for the last six weeks or so, been reflecting on Jordan Howard Sobel’s 2003 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God, and I have been invited to continue my series here at Prosblogion. Earlier posts have discussed, among other things, a variety of ontological and cosmological arguments. We join the discussion in chapter 7, Sobel’s critique of teleological (design) arguments.
Much of this chapter is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for the former, the ‘analogical’ version of the teleological argument is, I think, not the strongest version and, although I haven’t conducted a survey of the various treatments, I would be surprised if Hume’s version turned out to be the best. After all, Hume is at most a half-hearted supporter of the argument; even he doesn’t think his argument is all that compelling. (Because the argument is contained in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, there are even some who doubt whether Hume means to endorse it at all.)
The first really interesting thing in this chapter is the discussion of whether the appearance of design in the biological world, or other facts about biology, might manage to make theistic evolution more probable than unguided evolution (pp. 272-277). Sobel makes essentially two points: first, with the possible exception of pre-biotic evolution (the development of the first life forms) there aren’t really any ‘gaps’ left for a God to plug, and, second, that given what we now know, evolution really doesn’t look planned or, at least, whoever was doing the planning could’ve done a better job of it.
The first point, I think, is completely misguided, but I am not inclined to blame Sobel because so many of his opponents are misguided in this way. Hume (according to Sobel) believed that some kind of indefinite and probably imperfect designer was needed to bring about life. ‘Intelligent Design’ advocates frequently claim that there is some feature of the world that must have happened by a supernatural entity interfering with the course of nature. Hume didn’t mean to be defending the religious tradition, but many of the ID folks are trying to do just that. Now, a frequently cited problem with ‘God-of-the-gaps’ arguments is that history shows that ‘gaps’ have a tendency to get plugged with perfectly naturalistic solutions. Some ID folks have tried to solve this by giving some kind of reason for thinking that some of the ‘gaps’ are special and unlikely to be plugged. For those who are trying to defend the religious tradition, however, there is a bigger problem: the doctrine of divine sovereignty. The God of western monotheism can never be a ‘God-of-the-gaps’: either he is Lord of all creation, or he does not exist. This is not, in itself, an argument against law-breaking miracles (though I’ve got some of those); it is just to say that, from the perspective of the religious tradition, we must attribute the whole natural order to God, rather than only crediting God with deviations from the natural order. In my view, then, the plugging of ‘gaps’ should not be troubling to traditional theists, though it might be troubling for non-traditional theists/deists such as Hume might have been. This, let it be stressed, is because even if there were unfillable ‘gaps,’ this would not help to support theism. I would even go so far as to say that such ‘gaps’ would be evidence against the existence of God, as traditionally conceived. (In addition to my paper, see Christine Overall, “Miracles as Evidence Against the Existence of God,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 23 (1985): 347-353. Also, I recently stumbled upon this short news item which quotes Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer, comparing ID to Paganism, on the same grounds I’ve mentioned.)
Sobel’s second point is more interesting. Although Sobel doesn’t consider a theory that has God accomplishing his purposes through natural evolutionary processes without law-breaking interventions (this is the account I favor), he does point to some issues that should trouble evolutionary theists. The evolutionary process is brutal and seems to proceed by fits and starts. Many species die out; many animals have useless organs of various kinds; the system depends crucially on death and suffering. Wouldn’t we expect God to do better?
On the other hand, from an engineering/design principles perspective, evolution is really quite pretty: it’s a self-improving system. And not just self-improving like Bayesian learning for artificial intelligences; self-improving like going from ooze to the human brain. That’s quite an improvement! There are problems about a benevolent God accomplishing his purposes through death and suffering, and I don’t mean to minimize those. But they may be counter-balanced, at least to some degree, by the sheer impressiveness of the system. Furthermore, since Sobel is interested in considering non-traditional gods (p. 259), we might consider a designer who doesn’t care about pain and suffering and just wants to generate sophisticated and intelligent creatures from the simplest basic principles possible. Such a designer would, it seems, be very likely to choose a process like evolution.
It seems to me, then, that evolutionary theory has two effects on the debate at this point: (1) it rules out some, but by no means all, non-traditional gods, and (2) it introduces some new complexity to our treatment of the problem of evil. However, contrary to Sobel’s assertions (pp. 272-274), it has not undermined any argument for the traditional God which was any good to begin with.
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]

Models of creation
September 28, 2009 — 9:53

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Providence Existence of God General Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: Off

God created the world to exemplify certain values. Someone who propounds
a design argument for the existence of God probably needs to have something
to say about these values.

Scientists often propound particular models that instantiate a more
general theory. These models are sometimes intended to be more realistic
and sometimes less, but the hope is that by studying them and by noting the
divergence, if any, between model and reality we will learn something
about the relevant phenomenon. Some realistic models will be empirically testable and others will not, and scientists of course have a preference for testable models. Thus, an evolutionary scientist might offer a
more or less realistic model of the evolution of wings. The model may well predict what kinds of fossils we will find. If the model’s predictions are not borne out, this does not in any significant way affect the probability of
evolution in general, but studying the model is helpful, and if the model’s
predictions–assuming it makes some–match observations, so much the better
for the underlying theory.