I’ve read Draper’s paper, and I am puzzled

On Monday, Justin Schieber of Reasonable Doubts tweeted his endorsement of Paul Draper’s argument from moral agency for the existence of God:

The link is to a blog post from two years back by Jeffery Jay Lowder, which also called Draper’s argument “The Best Argument for God’s Existence.” My initial reaction to that post was that it looked like a rehash of standard fallacies, particularly setting up a false dichotomy between theism and naturalism, but got a copy of the paper anyway to take a look.

Looking at the paper… well, I was sort of right. Draper frames the issue as theism vs. naturalism, but it’s pretty clear he knows they don’t exhaust the logical possibilities. He says his argument from moral agency “is perhaps better described as an argument against naturalism rather than as an argument for theism, but of course in some sense it is both.” The same paper discusses a version of the argument from evil, and contains a parallel comment about that argument being more an argument against theism than an argument for naturalism.

But if you think you’ve got strong arguments against each of two views, and you know those two views don’t exhaust the options, isn’t the natural thing to conclude that neither view is true? Draper could, for example, believe in a flawed or morally indifferent creator, as suggested in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Granted, a generic indifferent creator wouldn’t have reason to create moral agents, but I think you could come up with motives that wouldn’t cost the hypothesis too much simplicity, and which would avoid being troubled by the problem of evil.

My guess is that Draper would say all such alternatives are far less intrinsically probable than either theism or naturalism, but it’s hard to see why he would think that.

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  • staircaseghost

    There are no Draperian moral agents with LFW, so the keystone premise is false.

    If the best argument for a position requires you to already take on board multiple highly-contestible metaphysical sub-theses, then your position doesn’t look good at all.

  • johzek

    Draper asserts that the fact that embodied moral agents possess a distinctive sort of dignity or self worth, is more probable on theism than naturalism. This eliminates Christianity and Islam from consideration immediately. These religions see man as fundamentally depraved and guilty, and deserving of eternal punishment if not believing in the right ancient holy book. A person is commanded to not rely on his own intellect but to submit to the authority of those who claim divine revelation. I see no dignity in such views and certainly nothing that could be described as self worth.

  • Joco

    I don’t have access to the paper, but if Lowder’s summary is correct, it looks like every single one of Draper’s premises is not true, and two of the three are demonstrably false.

    First, “There exist moral agents.” As far as I can tell, there’s no explicit definition of “moral agent.” Without that, there’s no way to assess the truth or falsity of that statement. In some religious traditions, it’s moral to murder people for leaving the faith (and this is enshrined in law in many countries). When Europeans colonized the New World, it was moral to baptize native children and immediately smash their heads open with rocks to “save their souls.” Without a clear definition of what is “moral,” this premise can’t be considered true.

    Second, “The probability of the existence of moral agents given theism is much greater than the probability given naturalism.” Under a “golden rule” definition of morality – i.e., behavior is moral if everyone is better off when everyone follows it, even if it requires personal sacrifice – this is demonstrably false. Huge piles of evidence from both biology and game theory show that such behavior arises naturally, not just in animals with brains, but in unthinking automatons like bacteria and simple computer algorithms. By any reasonably objective definition of “moral agent,” this claim is patently false.

    Finally, “Naturalism (meaning a naturalistic universe? unclear) is not intrinsically more probable than theism.” It’s hard to imagine how anyone could even think that this was a valid premise. The testable, falsifiable evidence for a naturalistic worldview literally encompasses every known fact about the universe. The testable, falsifiable evidence supporting a theistic worldview is literally the empty set.

    None of the starting premises are actually true, meaning the conclusion is completely wrong.

    • UWIR

      I think you might be confused about what the word “moral” means. It can mean “good”, but it can also mean “having to do with good and evil”. A moral agent is not someone who chooses to do good, but someone who is confronted with the choice of whether to do good. So, for instance, a boulder might do something good, such a rolling downhill, hitting a tree, and knocking loose some fruit that you want to eat, or it might do something bad, such as rolling downhill and killing you, but in both cases it is not a moral agent, because it is not making a choice whether to be good or bad. People can do bad things or good things, but in both cases they are moral agents, because they are making choices about morality.