Guest blogger John D of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought. Visit John’s blog for more helpful summaries of contemporary philosophical works.
In this series I am looking at Paul Draper’s article “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists”. In it, Draper argues that certain observations (O) we have made concerning the biological utility of pain and pleasure are more surprising on the hypothesis of theism (T) than they are on the hypothesis of indifference (HI).
In part 2, I summarised Draper’s basic argument. In part 3, we saw how standard theistic answers to the problem of evil do nothing to undermine this basic argument. In this final part, we will see whether there are any other considerations that can tip the balance of probabilities in favor of theism.
An analogy will help set things up. When Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, he showed how it could explain certain facts about the geographical distribution of species and the existence of atrophied organs better than the alternative hypothesis of special creation.
Now, over one hundred and fifty years later, as evolution continues to grow as an explanatory theory and as a scientific research program, no evidence has been found that could resurrect special creation. We are still waiting for those rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.
Is there any reason to think that the hypothesis of theism could overcome the hypothesis of indifference? Draper thinks there are four reasons why this would be difficult.
First, HI is not ad-hoc and it’s difficult to see how T could be more intrinsically probable than HI. After all, T is a very specific supernatural claim with a strong ontological commitment at its core. HI is neither of these things: it is consistent with a variety of naturalistic and supernatural claims and it contains no positive ontological commitments.
Second, most of the other arguments for the existence of God are not rationally compelling. That is to say, even the majority of theists do not think they do enough to coerce people to believe.
Third, most of these arguments – e.g. argument from design, cosmological argument, argument from consciousness – do nothing to establish the moral character of the divine being. At best, they establish the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent being, but that being could be morally indifferent. This would be consistent with the hypothesis of indifference.
Fourth, the popular brands of religious experience epistemology, such as those promoted by William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, tend to be morally ambiguous. While theists might be inclined to believe in a good God when life is sweet and satisfying, they can also have experiences of indifference and moral ambiguity (the dark night of the soul) that undermine that belief.
In other words, such believers might have non-propositional evidence for the existence of some creative force, but that evidence is unable to outweigh the propositional evidence in favor of moral indifference.