One Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 5

Here is a creationist argument for the existence of God:

1. If God exists, then it is very likely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

3. The basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

Therefore:

4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.

Here is another creationist argument for God:

5. If God exists, then it is very likely that human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (ie. less than a thousand years later).

6. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (i.e. less than a thousand years later).

7. Human beings came into existence very soon after the origin of the earth and life on earth (i.e. less than a thousand years later).

Therefore:

4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.

These and other arguments can be summed up as follows:

8. If God exists, then it is very unlikely that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.

9. If there is no God, then it is somewhat likely that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.

10. It is NOT the case that human beings evolved from simple single-celled organisms over a period of billions of years.

Therefore:

4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.

The creationist or anti-evolution premises in these arguments are false, so we can assert the opposite claim, and turn each of the above arguments into an argument against the existence of God. Here is the first argument modified into an argument for atheism:

1. If God exists, then it is very likely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

11. It is NOT the case that the basic kinds of plants and animals all began to exist at the same time.

Therefore:

12. Other things being equal, it is probable that there is no God.

One of the primary reasons or motivations behind creationism is the desire to preserve the belief that the Bible is inerrant, especially the book of Genesis. But the conflict between evolution and religion is NOT limited to a conflict over how to interpret the book of Genesis. All of the arguments for God included in Richard Swinburne’s case for God are based on suppositions about what God would be likely to do (or create) if there were a God. Swinburne’s reasons for what God would be likely to do are independent of the contents of the book of Genesis, as far as I can tell.

Swinburne accepts the theory of evolution as the best explanation for the origin of species, but it seems to me that it is much more likely, a priori, that God would instantaneously create all living things, than that God would create a physical universe that had some tendency to produce living things that would in turn have some tendency to evolve into more complex and more intelligent creatures over a period of billions of years.

In other words, even apart from the book of Genesis, the basic idea of creating all basic kinds of plants and animals at the same time makes more sense as the action of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person, as opposed to the very slow, halting, random, and uncertain process of evolution. If I can make a perfectly good piece of toast in just 30 seconds by using a toaster, why would I spend 50 years making a piece of toast by some other very slow, random, and uncertain process? That would be stupid.

God is the very opposite of stupid. If there is a God, then God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good, and thus we can make reasonable educated guesses about what God would do or not do. God would not use the very slow, random, and uncertain process of evolution to bring humans into existence if he could do so in an instant. God, if God exists, is all-powerful and all-knowing, so God could bring humans into existence in an instant. Therefore, it is very likely that God would NOT use the slow, random, and uncertain process of evolution to bring human beings into existence.

The creationists appear to be correct on that point, even though Genesis does not provide a factually accurate description of the origin of species and of human beings. We do not need the book of Genesis to tell us that it makes more sense for God to create plants, animals, and humans instantly than to use the very slow and random process of evolution to bring about plants, animals, and humans.

  • David_Evans

    I think your premise 1 makes some unwarranted assumptions (probably deriving ultimately from Genesis) about the nature of God. Why should God not be interested in observing the entire process of evolution, up to and beyond us? Or indeed, interested in some property of the universe to which biological life is simply an irrelevant side-effect?

    • Bradley Bowen

      The assumption is that God would be likely to bring about non-human animals and living creatures that are something like human beings.

      That assumption is present in Genesis, but it can be defended without appealing to Genesis either as factual history or as divine revelation.

      Richard Swinburne’s case for God depends on this assumption, and he provides some support for the assumption without appealing to Genesis.

      I suppose you are pointing out that God could have other motivations in addition to the purpose of bringing about non-human animals and human-like creatures. God could have intellectual or aesthetic motivations that favored the use of evolution over instantaneous acts of creation.

      It seems a bit odd to ascribe curiousity to an all-knowing person, but on the other hand, Swinburne argues for a qualified conception of omniscience in which God does NOT have perfect knowledge of every future event (God does have, on Swinburne’s view, perfect knowledge of every past event). So, given this qualified concept of omniscience, there may be room for divine curiousity.

      I have a couple of points in response to your objection. First, although it is possible that God is curious or has aesthetic motivations, these alleged motivations do not appear to follow from the basic divine attributes. In particular, it is not at all clear that being perfectly morally good implies that God would have such motivations. What you describe is perhaps logically possible, but it is not implied by or supported by the basic characteristics that are used to define the meaning of the word ‘God’.

      So, your suggestion is a weak objection, because it is merely a possibility, whereas the assumption that God would be likely to create non-human animals, and to create human-like creatures is based on the fact that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and especially on the fact that God is, by definition, perfectly morally good. Swinburne argues on the basis of God’s perfect moral goodness that God would be likely to bring about animals and human-like creatures.

      A second point is that evolution involves billions of years of suffering and predation and death of sentient animals, whereas instantaneous creation of animals and humans does not. This is an important moral difference, and since God is, by definition, perfectly morally good, God would gladly sacrifice the motivations of curiousity and aesthetics for the sake of doing what is morally best. So, even if I grant your assumption that God does have motivations like curiousity and appreciation of beauty, your objection sitll does not work, because God is first and foremost a perfeclty morally good person, and so moral considerations would trump intellectual curiousity and aesthetic considerations.

      • David_Evans

        I purposely did not specify that God had attributes such as curiosity, because I don’t see how we can know that much about him a priori. I also don’t see how we can know that human-like creatures would be of particular interest to God. Maybe his real interest is what we will evolve into, or what we will create, or something happening elsewhere. You say that would make God morally imperfect. If so, what do you say about the suffering of the many animals throughout history whose lives never impinged on ours?


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