Victor Reppert’s Anti-Naturalistic Argument from Pain

There are a variety of approaches to formulating an argument from evil against theism. Two of the most influential versions of the evidential argument from evil were developed by atheist William Rowe and agnostic Paul Draper. Both involve appeals to pain. In a recent entry on his blog, Victor Reppert tries to turn the tables on proponents of arguments from evil (pain) by arguing that pain is a problem for atheists. Reppert formulates his argument against naturalism as follows.

1. If naturalism is true, then consciousness does not emerge.
2. If consciousness does not emerge, then pain does not exist.
3. Therefore, if naturalism is true, then pain does not exist.
4. Pain exists.
5. Therefore, naturalism is false.

Notice that premise (1) of the above argument entails that naturalism and consciousness are logically incompatible. Reppert’s argument may be reasonably characterized, then, as a very specific example of a logical argument from consciousness against naturalism (as opposed to an evidential argument from consciousness as defended by Richard Swinburne). I believe this characterization is further supported by Reppert’s statement, “the actual internally experienced state of pain is a huge, hard problem for atheistic naturalism, a problem that I personally consider to be logically impossible to solve.”

Does Reppert literally mean what he says? As a so-called logical argument against naturalism, it isn’t clear to me why this argument is in any way an improvement over logical arguments from evil against theism. In particular, Reppert has not yet presented a defense of (1) in its current form (i.e., lacking some sort of probabilistic hedge).

Perhaps, however, Reppert did not intend for his argument to be worded so strongly. Instead, he might say, we should understand his argument as an evidential argument against naturalism. If so, it seems to me that Reppert’s argument from pain violates the Rule of Total Evidence. Allow me to explain. Let us assume, for the sake of argument that Reppert is correct that consciousness is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism. Furthermore, as Reppert points out, pain presupposes consciousness. It doesn’t follow from these two assumptions, however, that the statement, “The kinds and distribution of pain we find in the world is epistemically more probable on naturalism than on theism,” is false.

Here’s why. Reppert has committed the fallacy of understated evidence. In general terms, we could say that Reppert has identified some general fact F (consciousness exists) about a topic X (consciousness) that is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism. It could still be the case that a more specific fact (S) about X is antecedently more likely on naturalism than on theism. As Paul Draper writes, “we know a lot more about phenomenal consciousness than just that it exists” (“Partisanship and Inquiry in the Philosophy of Religion,” unpublished paper). Draper then gives an example of a more specific fact about consciousness, a fact that, given consciousness exists, is more probable on naturalism than on theism. As Draper explains, we also know from neuroscience that the mind is dependent upon the physical brain, a fact that is more likely on naturalism and consciousness than on theism and consciousness. Thus, as Draper concludes, “when the available evidence about consciousness is fully stated, it is far from clear that it significantly favors theism.”

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15799168778162687036 Bilbo Bloggins

    Quoting Draper “we also know from neuroscience that the mind is dependent upon the physical brain, a fact that is more likely on naturalism and consciousness than on theism and consciousness.”

    Bilbo: I’m not sure how this is more likely on naturalism than theism, given that theism doesn’t really entail or require mind-body dualism. Further, even on Christian theism, there are plenty of Christian theists who think non-reductive physicalism is the most theologically satisfying account (e.g. they feel its expected on, and sits better with their notions of theism). There are also theists like C. Stephen Evans who hold to significant minimal dualism and mind-brain dependence is very much bound up with this kind of dualism.

    Bilbo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Bilbo: On the assumption that metaphysical naturalism is true, the physical dependence of the mind upon the brain is exactly what we would expect. If theism were true, however, it would not be surprising if our minds were less dependent upon the brain or even completely independent of the brain. (Remember that theism entails that at least one mind is completely independent of the physical brain, whereas naturalism entails that there are no disembodied minds.)

    You are correct that there are many Christian theists who hold beliefs that are compatible with the evidence from nueroscience. What that shows is that there is no good “logical” argument from mind-brain dependence. It does not, however, undermine the fact that mind-brain dependence is antecedently more probable on naturalism than on theism. Or, in other words, there can still be a good evidential argument against theism based upon mind-brain dependence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15799168778162687036 Bilbo Bloggins

    Jeffrey: You are correct that there are many Christian theists who hold beliefs that are compatible with the evidence from nueroscience. What that shows is that there is no good “logical” argument from mind-brain dependence. It does not, however, undermine the fact that mind-brain dependence is antecedently more probable on naturalism than on theism. Or, in other words, there can still be a good evidential argument against theism based upon mind-brain dependence.

    Bilbo: I don’t see how we’d be less likely to expect mind-brain dependence on bare theism than on atheism.

    Bilbo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Bilbo: I thought I already explained this, but I’ll try again. Theism entails the existence of at least one disembodied mind (God). Naturalism, which I define as the non-existence of all supernatural beings including God, entails the nonexistence of disembodied minds. Therefore, we have more antecedent reason on naturalism than on theism to expect that minds are dependent upon the physical brain. Since naturalism entails atheism, it follows that mind-brain dependence is evidence favoring atheism over theism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15799168778162687036 Bilbo Bloggins

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your patience.

    You write:
    Bilbo: I thought I already explained this, but I’ll try again. Theism entails the existence of at least one disembodied mind (God).

    Bilbo: I’m not sure it does – perhaps classical theism. Mormons for instance would be theists who believe in an embodied God. And I am a theist and am open to the notion. But let’s assume it does….

    You write: Naturalism, which I define as the non-existence of all supernatural beings including God, entails the nonexistence of disembodied minds. Therefore, we have more antecedent reason on naturalism than on theism to expect that minds are dependent upon the physical brain.

    Bilbo: I don’t see how this works.

    My first problem is that it seems more accurate to say that minds *are* the physical brain on Naturalism (not merely dependent on them). And since this has not been demonstrated, it would beg the question to assert that the postulate that “minds are the physical brain” provides evidence for Naturalism.

    But the Christian views I mentioned also make it antecedently probable that minds will be dependent on the brain. Let’s use the structure of your argument with Christian non-reductive physicalism (hereafter NRP):

    CNRP, which I define as the non-existence of all supernatural beings, except for those that are divine, entails the nonexistence of disembodied human minds. Therefore, we have as much antecedent reason on CNRP as on Naturalism to expect that minds are dependent upon the physical brain.

    Further, on a view like CNRP, it seems that we have more antecedent reason to expect the existence of brain-dependent minds. CNRP renders it antecedently more likely that minds/brains would exist at all, which, on Naturalism, seems antecedently improbable.

    Bilbo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15799168778162687036 Bilbo Bloggins

    Correction….

    2nd to last paragraph should read:

    CNRP, which I define as the non-existence of all supernatural beings, except for those that are or were at some point divine (angels, demons, God, etc.), entails the nonexistence of disembodied human minds. Therefore, we have as much antecedent reason on CNRP as on Naturalism to expect that human minds are dependent upon the physical brain.

    Bilbo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15799168778162687036 Bilbo Bloggins

    Also – Hasker’s emergent dualism is another Christian view that entails mind-brain dependence.

    Bilbo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08026334505132729732 Steven Carr

    BILBO
    But the Christian views I mentioned also make it antecedently probable that minds will be dependent on the brain.

    CARR
    So what does that do to Victor’s argument, which starts ’1 If naturalism is true, then consciousness does not emerge.’?

    If it is perfectly possible for minds to be dependent on the brain, then this is just false.

    As Victor is also a theistic evolutionist, and a Big Bang supporter of consciousness (we either have it or we don’t), he must believe that we are descended from animals which were not conscious, and that at some point in time, animals which were not conscious bore offspring which were injected by God with consciousness.

    If Victor believes that a system which lacks concsciousness cannot generate consciousness, then how do people in a coma ever regain consciousness?

    What generates consciousness in that case?

    Presumably Victor believes the comatose man still has a soul.

    Perhaps Victor believes the unconscious soul takes a free will decision to be conscious again?

    Which seems self-contradictory.

    Or God decides to bring around the comatose man.

    Which leads to other problems as many comatose people die.

    It is just as deep a puzzle how an unconscious soul can become conscious as how an unconscious piece of flesh can become conscious.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02953996312802424922 Leo MacDonald

    your following on the premise that influence equals dependency the same can be equally be said about consciousness and it’s effect on the brain so influence does not equal dependency.


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