The Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 1

There is something about Nicholas Everitt’s argument from scale for atheism that appeals to my intuitions, but I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on what it is. So I’m going to try to reformulate the argument from scale as a Bayesian argument. Before I do, however, let’s review Everitt’s formulation of the argument. In his book, The Non-Existence of God, Everitt begins by introducing the generic form for the family of arguments of which the argument from scale is a member:

Everitt’s General Argument Form
(1) If there is an agent with nature N, beliefs B, and intention I, then he will produce change C in the world.
(2) The world does not display C. So:
(3) There is evidence against the hypothesis that there is an agent with N and I and B.[1]

Everitt then turns to his argument from scale.

We are now in a position to present Everitt’s formulation of the argument from scale:

Everitt’s Argument from Scale (AS)
(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e. one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.
(2) The world does not display a human scale.
(3) Therefore, there is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.[2]

At the outset, notice that the AS does not exactly match the general argument form we reviewed earlier. Whereas the first premise of the general argument includes references to the agent’s nature, beliefs, and intentions, the AS explicitly only refers to God’s nature (“classical theism”) and intentions (“purposes traditionally ascribed to him”). It says nothing about God’s beliefs. Whether this is a problem remains to be seen.

Premise (2) is undeniable. For a very cool graphic demonstration of the scale of the universe, see here. (HT: Luke Muehlhauser)

As for premise (1), I am much less confident about the truth of premise (1) than I am about premise (2). As I read him, Everitt gives two supporting arguments (or sketches of such arguments) for (1).

First Supporting Argument
(4) If classical theism is true, then humans are the “jewel of creation.”
(5) If humans are the jewel of creation, then “the rest of the universe will be at least not unremittingly hostile or even indifferent to human flourishing.”
(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale.

One worry I have about this argument is (4). The key terms “classical theism” and “jewel of creation” are not as well defined as I would like. As I understand the terms, “classical theism” does not logically entail that humans are the “jewel of creation;” furthermore, it’s not obvious to me that “classical theism” makes it probable that humans are the “jewel of creation,” especially if “classical theism” means “generic theism.” Given classical theism, God could have created creatures which are more impressive than humans, in other parts of the universe or even in other universes (if there is a multiverse).

Premise (5) is also questionable. Even if humans are “the jewel of creation,” it is not obvious that “the rest of the universe will be at least not unremittingly hostile or even indifferent to human flourishing.” Humans do not occupy “the rest of the universe,” so it’s not obvious why God would need to create the rest of the universe in such a way that it is supportive of human life. For example, the purpose of my car is to transport humans; the inside of my car is quite comfortable. The rest of the car (e.g., under the hood, the tailpipe, the gas tank, etc.), however, is indifferent or even hostile to human flourishing. Indeed, there may be a further analogy between my car and the scale of the universe. Just as these other parts of my car are necessary for it to work, perhaps (for reasons relating to the so-called ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe) the rest of the universe is somehow necessary for the flourishing of human life. This isn’t a perfect analogy, since an omnipotent being presumably could have created a universe with radically different physical laws such that the rest of the universe were unnecessary for the existence of human life. Nevertheless, I think (5) is doubtful.

Let’s turn, then, to what I consider to be Everitt’s second supporting argument for (1).

Second Supporting Argument
(6) The human scale of the universe described by the Genesis stores of creation is just what we would expect “[g]iven the hypothesis of theism and [the author(s) of Genesis had] no scientific knowledge.”
(7) Metaphysical naturalism provides no antecedent reason to expect the universe to display a human scale. [implicit premise]
(1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale.

I’ve added premise (7) to the argument, which I consider to be an unstated and implicit premise.

This argument is invalid: (1) does not follow from (6) & (7). The argument seems to move from a conclusion about the human authorship of the Genesis stories to a conclusion about God’s purposes in creating the universe. While there might be an argument against Biblical inerrancy looming here, I’m not sure this argument works against classical theism.

I conclude, then, that (1) is unsupported. Nevertheless, there is something about the argument from scale which appeals to my intuitions. In my next post on the topic, I will try revising and reformulating the argument in Bayesian form to see if I can build a stronger version.

Series on the Argument from Scale

Notes

[1] Everitt, The Non-Existence of God, p. 213.

[2] Everitt, p. 225.

Index: Draper's Evidential Argument from Pain and Pleasure
G&T Rebuttal, Part 6: Chapter 7
My Recent Call-In Segment with Trent Horn on Catholic Answers Live
Link: "The End of the Teapot Argument for Atheism (and All Its Tawdry Imitators)" by Mark F. Sharlow
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.


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