One Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God – Part 2

One Problem with Swinburne’s Case for God – Part 2 October 8, 2014

In a previous post I pointed out three different problems related to the third argument in Richard Swinburne’s systematic case for the existence of God.  The third argument is the final argument of his arguments from the nature of the universe.  It is his Teleological Argument from Spatial Order (hereafter: TASO):

(e3) There is a complex physical universe that is governed by simple natural laws and the values of the constants of the laws and of the variables of the universe’s initial conditions make it probable that human bodies will evolve in that universe.

Therefore:

(g) God exists.

The first problem is that the premise might well be false.  The fact that human bodies did evolve several billions of years after the Big Bang, does NOT imply that this event was probable or likely.  In fact, it seems rather improbable that HUMAN bodies would evolve just the way that they did.  However, Swinburne does not really mean “human bodies” literally here.  He means any sort of body that would be suitable for a ‘humanly free agent’, so that leaves open a wide variety of possibilities in addition to the kind of human bodies that actually exist.  Nevertheless, it is not clear to me that it was probable that bodies suitable for ‘humanly free agents’ would evolve in our universe;  the evolution of such bodies could be a lucky accident.

The second problem is that it seems IMPROBABLE that God would use the slow and (literally) painful process of evolution to bring about animals and human bodies, when God could have designed and created millions or billions of animals and humans in the blink of an eye.  God had no need to use the natural biological process of evolution, and no need to build such a process into the fabric of the universe.    Most importantly, instantaneous creation would have bypassed hundreds of millions of years of animals suffering and dying from disease and parasites and predation and injury.  A huge amount of animal suffering was involved in the natural process of evolution, so a perfectly morally good person clearly would NOT have used evolution to produce human bodies when there was a much better solution ready at hand.  So, it seems clear to me that contrary to Swinburne’s view, (e3) does not provide evidence in support of the existence of God, even assuming (e3) to be true; rather it provides evidence AGAINST the existence of God.

The third problem is the most serious, because it affects his whole systematic case for the existence of God. Unlike the premises of his first two arguments for God, the premise of TASO requires a great deal of background knowledge.  In order to know that (e3) is true, one must first know, at least, that the theory of evolution is the correct theory of human origins.

In order to know that the theory of evolution is true, one must know a significant number of scientific concepts, facts, and theories from a variety of scientific disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, and astronomy) plus one must have some awareness of philosophy of science and the history of science.  For all practical intents and purposes, Swinburne has sucked in most of modern scientific knowledge (at least at the level of high school biology, chemistry, etc.) into the background knowledge of TASO and thus into the background knowledge in all the remaining arguments in his case for God.

One big problem is that knowledge of evolution clearly involves knowledge of the problem of evil, at least knowledge of the problem of natural evil.  In order to know that evolution has occurred one must be aware of the fact of natural death, predation, disease, accidental injury, and natural disasters.  Thus, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO, one must deal with the problem of evil, at least with the problem of natural evil.

One option Swinburne has would be to simply dump TASO, to completely remove it from his sequence of arguments, and move on to the first argument in the next phase of arguments (that are based on human life).  That is probably his best option.  But if Swinburne insisted on retaining TASO as the third argument in his sequence of arguments for God, then he would have to deal with the problem of natural evil as part of the evaluation of TASO.

On the face of it, the problem of natural evil sinks TASO; that is to say, if we add (e3) and the required background knowledge to the previous information from his first two arguments, then TASO would REDUCE rather than increase the probability that God exists.  In order to avoid TASO reducing the probability of God, Swinburne would have to engage his theodicy for explaining natural evil, and he would have to do so as a part of his evaluation of TASO.

Swinburne explains natural evil or justifies the perfect goodness of God in view of natural evil by making a few basic points:

  • Natural death provides a limitation on the amount of suffering that one animal or human must endure.
  • The vulnerability of animals and humans to being killed provides many opportunities for humans to make significant choices between good and evil.
  • The existence of evil desires (that cannot be helped) in humans makes it possible for humans to have freedom of choice between good and evil.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to help and comfort animals and humans.
  • The frequent occurrence of suffering and need that results from accidents, diseases, and natural dangers and disasters provides humans with opportunities to investigate and learn about nature (or to choose lazy indifference and ignorance) and with choices in the use of such knowledge either to cause more suffering and need or to help reduce suffering and need or to simply not make use of the knowledge.

It appears to me that in explaining or justifying natural evil, Swinburne focuses in on human beings, and especially on the fact that human beings have freedom to make significant choices for good or evil.  In other words, in order to justify God in the face of natural evil, Swinburne must now pull the problem of moral evil into the picture.  That means, that in order to evaluate TASO and to avoid the conclusion that TASO actually REDUCES the probability that God exists, Swinburne must deal with the whole problem of evil, both natural evil and moral evil.

Furthermore, in order to deal with the problem of moral evil, Swinburne must assume that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  But the next two arguments in Swinburne’s sequence of arguments are based on the premises that humans have conscious awareness and moral awareness.  Thus, in order to evaluate TASO, Swinburne must incorporate not only his response to the problem of evil (which was supposed to be argument number seven in his sequence) but also he must incorporate his argument from consciousness and his argument from moral awareness.  That means that at least three other arguments in his carefully constructed sequence of arguments must be dealt with all at once and summed up all together, in order to evaluate the success or failure of TASO.

Some of the points justifying natural evil (listed above) come from Swinburne’s argument from Providence, so it is hard to see how he could avoid pulling in that argument as well.  Thus, it appears that four out of five of Swinburne’s arguments from the nature of human life must be dealt with in order to evaluate TASO.

This makes a complete mess of his careful sequence of arguments, and destroys the logical neatness of his whole strategy, which is to add facts one at a time, and to analyze the impact of those facts one at a time.  But TASO requires that most of his remaining arguments must be examined all at once, or evaluated all together and not as separate bits of evidence added one bit at a time.

If I am correct in this analysis, then I think Swinburne really has no other option but to toss out TASO completely, and he must simply jump from his second argument from the nature of the universe to his first argument from the nature of human life (the argument from consciousness).  Otherwise, he is forced to abandon his basic strategy of adding facts one at a time, and to evaluate the significance of these facts one at at time.

 

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