The Argument from Scale (AS) Revisited, Part 6

In Part 1 of this series, I critically reviewed Nicholas Everitt’s formulation of the argument from scale (AS). In Part 5, I critically reviewed John Loftus’s defense of AS on his blog. In this post, I want to review Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s formulation of AS in his (Loftus’s) book, Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (Bloomington: Trafford, 2008). It’s important to note that in his book Loftus also defends a version of AS against evangelical Christianity; I will not evaluate that argument here.

Everitt’s Argument from Scale (AS)

Here is Everitt’s formulation:

(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.[1]

Let us now turn to Loftus’s comments.

Commenting on (1), Loftus writes:

He’s [Everitt’s] asking us what we would expect to find before we had any scientific knowledge about the universe, given the fact that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that universe. It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

What does Loftus mean by “pinnacle of creation”? It appears that he is using "that phrase as a substitute for Everitt’s expression “jewel of creation,” which Everitt defines as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe.[2]

Now what about (3)? Let’s look again at the second sentence in the above quotation:

It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence).(96)

Like Everitt, Loftus is not claiming that the scale of the universe is a proof of the falsity of theism or even that it makes theism probably false. Rather, like Everitt, Loftus claims that the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism. So what I want to do is evaluate whether the scale of the universe is evidence against classical theism, for the reasons given by Loftus.

Does Theism “Predict” That Humans are the Pinnacle of Creation?

Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation, we may treat the hypothesis that humans are the jewel of creation as an auxiliary hypothesis. Let us first define the “Jewel of creation” hypothesis (J) as the doctrine that human beings are the most valuable things in the physical universe. Then, according to the theorem of total probability,

Pr(E | T & B) = Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B) + Pr(~J | T) x Pr(E | ~J & T & B)

Now since the whole point of conjoining J with T is to try to increase the value of Pr(E | T & B), we may effectively ignore the second half of the right-hand side of that equation and focus on the first half: Pr(J | T) x Pr(E | J & T & B). What reason is there to think Pr(J | T) is greater than Pr(~J | T)? In Part 2 (revised) of this series, I criticized Everitt’s three reasons for thinking that Pr(J | T) > Pr(~J | T). What reasons does Loftus give? As I read him, he provides three reasons of his own: (i) it confirms his expectations; (ii) the scale of the universe is wasteful; and (iii) there is no understandable reason why God would have created a universe with the scale that ours has. Let’s consider these in detail.

First Reason: Confirms Expectations

First, Loftus says that the argument confirms his expectations.

There is just something about Everitt’s argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God doesn’t exist. I think the argument is a good one even if theists and skeptics themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .(98)

Loftus is correct that just because others disagree, that’s no reason not to make a particular argument one thinks is correct. But that’s not the question. The question is whether the argument is either a valid deductive argument or a correct inductive argument. As Loftus himself knows, subjective feelings of approval do not make an argument (deductively) valid or (inductively) correct.

Indeed, imagine if a Christian apologist defended William Lane Craig’s moral argument along the same lines as Loftus.

There is just something about Craig’s moral argument that resonates with me. It confirms my expectations, and as such confirms for me that God exists. I think the argument is a good one even if atheists and theists themselves might disagree with me. It’s no reason to cease making a particular argument merely because people disagree with you on both sides of the fence. . . .

Atheists (and probably many theists) would rightly blast such a weak defense of the moral argument. I see no relevant difference between such a hypothetical defense of Craig’s moral argument and Loftus’s defense of Everitt’s argument from scale.

Second Reason: The Scale of the Universe is Wasteful

Second, Loftus quotes Richard Carrier, who writes:

For the Christian theory does not predict what we observe, while the natural theory does predict what we observe. After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God’s plan. You cannot predict from “the Christian God created the world” that “the world” would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life. But we can predict exactly that from “no God created this world.” Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism.[3]

Now Loftus quotes Carrier while discussing Everitt’s argument against classical theism, not an argument against the “Christian theory.” But let’s put that worry to the side. Does Carrier’s argument work against classical theism? I suspect that Carrier is correct that CT does not predict E, but the fact that CT does not predict E is evidence against CT if and only if CT predicts not-E (~E). So does CT predict ~E? According to Carrier, CT predicts ~E because E would be wasteful. But Carrier overlooks the fact that the concept of waste only applies to situations where there are limited resources. God, if He exists, is an omnipotent being with unlimited time and unlimited creative resources, so it’s a category error to say that the concept of waste applies to God.

Third Reason: No Purpose for the Scale of the Universe

Even so, we may still wonder, if CT is true, what would be the purpose of creating a universe on such a massive scale? For all we know antecedently, when creating the universe, God could have had other goals in mind besides humans (such as artistic beauty, the creation of sentient life throughout the universe, and so forth). As Loftus himself writes:

This argument depends to some degree on whether or not God might have other purposes for creating such a universe even granting mankind as the jewel of his creation, and whether or not, given the existence of an infinitely creative mind, he would’ve made the universe on such a scale as we find it. (99)

Carrier provides no reason to think that if CT is true, God probably would not have had other purposes.

Fourth Reason: Theists Believed the Universe Was Small Until the Rise of Modern Science

On his blog, Loftus suggests a fourth reason for thinking that theism leads us to expect that humans would be the jewel of creation: theists throughout history thought the universe was on a human scale. In his words:

The best way to know what people would expect to find prior to the rise of modern science is to investigate what people thought of the universe before its rise. …

Western believers used to claim God (or Zeus) lived on Mt. Olympus. But then someone climbed up there and he wasn’t to be found. Then they claimed God lived just beyond the sky dome that supported the water, called the firmament. But we flew planes and space ships up into the air and found he wasn’t there either. Believers now claim God exists in a spiritual sense everywhere. What best explains this continual retreat? Doesn’t it sound more like the attempt to defend one’s faith as science progresses, rather than progressively understanding what God is like? Lowder’s argument falls to the ground unless he can show historically that there were a majority of Christians who concluded the universe could be as vast as it ended up being. Philosophy won’t solve this problem. Historical evidence will. Dante’s Divine Comedy says otherwise, most emphatically. Just look at how he described the heavens. Do some research on how popular his work was. Hint: it was so popular he is even called the "Father of the Italian language," more influential than Shakespeare was on the English language, and we know his influence was immense.

I have no objection to any of Loftus’s historical claims about what people thought of the universe before the rise of modern science. But Loftus is simply repeating one of Everitt’s supporting arguments, which I already addressed. I wrote that even if it’s historically accurate that theists throughout history believed the universe was on a human scale,

it is evidentially irrelevant. What matters is whether classical theists had any good antecedent reason on classical theism to believe J [that humans are the Jewel of creation]. Furthermore, it seems to me that classical theism provides an antecedent reason to deny J. In a discussion of the multiverse objection to an argument from evil, Paul Draper provides a fascinating argument for the conclusion that a multiverse is highly probable on theism. Here is Draper:

God, if she existed, would be very likely to create vast numbers of good worlds. Indeed, we can transcend our anthropomorphism just for a moment, the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being would create just our world and no others borders on the absurd. What a colossal waste of omnipotence and omniscience that would be! Surely a perfectly good God of limitless creative resources would create vastly many worlds, including magnificent worlds of great perfection as well as good but essentially flawed worlds that are more in need of special providence.[15]

To be sure, Draper himself acknowledges that this argument makes “some very controversial axiological assumptions,” which he defends.[16] While a discussion of those assumptions is beyond the scope of this paper, I think it is safe to say that Draper’s argument provides a prima facie reason, at least, to deny J. In short, on the assumption that theism is true, God probably did create creatures which are more impressive than humans, in other parts of our universe and in other universes.

Conclusion

I conclude, then, that neither Loftus nor Carrier have provided a good reason for thinking that humans would probably be the jewel of creation on the assumption that classical theism is true. Accordingly, I don’t think Loftus has successfully defended Everitt’s AS as an argument against classical theism.

Notes

[1] Everitt, The Non-Existence of God, p. 225.

[2] Cf. Everitt 2004, 221: “theism is committed to saying that humans are the most valuable things in creation.”

[3] Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” The Secular Web (2006), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html. Quoted in Loftus 2008, 99.

ETA: Added the text between  the paragraph which begins,“Now what about (3)?”, and the paragraph which begins, “Since theism does not entail that humans are the jewel of creation…”

ETA (8-Feb-12): Added the section on the fourth supporting argument.

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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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