Scientific Evidence Against God’s Existence: A Reply to Joe Hinman

In response to my recent blog post, “Six Findings from Experimental Science that Disconfirm Theism,” Joe Hinman (aka Metacrock) recently posted a rebuttal on his blog ‘AtheistWatch.’

1. His post begins with a graphic which shows two pie charts, one showing the distribution of different religious beliefs among the general public and one showing that same distribution among scientists. There are many things which could be said about that topic, but I’m going to pass over that since (1) Hinman doesn’t appeal to the graphic in the text of his post; and (2) the (un)popularity of religious belief among the general public (or among scientists) is not, by itself, of obvious relevance to God’s existence. The popularity of theism among the general public is no better evidence for God’s existence than is the widespread lack of theistic belief among scientists as evidence against God’s existence: neither fact provides any evidence at all for or against God’s existence.

2. Hinman next proceeds to make some preliminary comments about my abductive arguments (or, as I prefer to call them, “evidential” or “explanatory” arguments) against theism. As I read him, his first point is this:

But we must weigh the value of those concepts that are best explained by naturalism against the value of those best explained by theism.

If we are trying to arrive at a final estimate of the probability of naturalism or theism by considering all of the evidence, then I agree with Hinman. (I would replace “the value of those concepts” with “the evidential force of those facts” in that sentence of his.) This isn’t of obvious relevance to my blog post, however, since I wasn’t trying to do that. Rather, my claim was more modest: I simply claimed that six findings from experimental science are more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.

3. Hinman’s next point seems to be that:

there is a difference in “disconfirm theism” and “best explained by naturalism.” The latter is not proof, it’s a form of inference used when proof is not forthcoming. The former implies actual disproof of theism. My argument will be that neither is the case, except maybe in some instances where we understand the naturalistic reasons better, but they don’t out weigh the instances where theism is the better explanation.

First, we can quickly dispatch Hinman’s point about “proof.” Whereas I have offered a detailed, explicit explanation of what I mean by evidence (see here), he doesn’t explicitly say what he means by “proof.” He seems (?) to have in mind something stronger than evidence, perhaps such as the kind of “proof” one reads in a mathematics textbook, where the conclusion is absolutely certain. I don’t claim to “disprove” God’s existence in that sense. I think a charitable reading of my post (and the other posts linked from it) is that by “disconfirm” I mean “provide evidence against.”

Second, I didn’t claim that naturalism is the “best” explanation for these six facts, although I suspect it is. Rather, I claimed that naturalism is a “better” explanation than theism for those six facts. I trust the importance of this distinction will be obvious to the reader.

Third, all of my explanatory arguments follow the same pattern or have the same logical form.

1. F is known to be true, i.e., Pr(F) is close to 1.

2. Theism is not intrinsically much more probable than naturalism, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much more than Pr(|N|).

3. Pr(F | N & B) > Pr(F | T & B).

4. Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & F) < 0.5.

So when I say that some finding from experimental science “disconfirms” theism, I mean that there is an argument, of the form listed above, where F represents that finding from experimental science.

In response to arguments of this form, it is irrelevant to make objections of the form, “But F is logically compatible with T!” Indeed, to make such an objection is to miss the point. The whole point of evidential or explanatory arguments is to grant, at least for the sake of argument if not in fact, that F is logically compatible with rival hypotheses but more probable on one than on the other. And yet Hinman makes this fundamental blunder in his reply to some of my arguments.

In reply to my first argument, he asks, “Why can’t God create the universe with time as opposed to in time?” But that argument doesn’t claim that God cannot create the universe with time. Rather, it simply claims that the universe’s beginning with time is more probable on naturalism than on theism.

Similarly, in response to the argument from biological evolution, he writes, “No reason why God could not use evolution as a mechanism.” Again, Hinman points out that a finding from experimental science is logically compatible with theism and, again, I reply that he’s missed the point of explanatory arguments in general and this argument in particular. Yes, God could have used evolution. God also could have used other methods to create life besides evolution, methods which are logically incompatible with naturalism. Prior to examining the scientific evidence for evolution, theists had good reason to predict that evolution is false. In contrast, if naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. (I’ll say a little bit more about this in a moment.)

4. Hinman seems to misunderstand what I mean by “theism.” He writes:

One other preliminary point. This is not an attack on Jeff. The assumptions he seems to makes behind each of these points is that theism us [sic] represented by fundamentalism of the YEC kind. I’, [sic] basic liberal or perhaps neo-Orthodox, so these things don’t pertain to what I think of as theism. I understand he was answering a creationist so of course he makes that assumption. Not a criticism. 

Contrary to what Hinman claims, however, I don’t think theism is “represented by fundamentalism of the YEC kind.” The idea that Hinman brings YEC into the discussion strikes me as odd, since nowhere in my post did I even mention the age of the universe. I think it’s charitable to assume that what Hinman really means is that I think theism is “represented by fundamentalism of the anti-evolution kind,” i.e., the kind of theist who denies what Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper calls the “genealogical” and “genetic” theses (see here for definitions and references). This interpretation would be more understandable since I do appeal to evolution against theism. He’s wrong to conclude, however, that my appeal to evolution presupposes that theism = fundamentalist, anti-evolution theism. (More on that in just a moment.)

In fact, following Draper (see references here), I define theism as follows:

supernatural person: a person that is not part of nature but can affect natureExamples of supernatural persons include God, angels, Satan, demons, ghosts, etc.
theism: the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person (God) who created the universe. 

Since my definition of theism is so generic, it is obviously logically compatible with a belief in theistic evolution. So why, then, do I argue that evolution is evidence against theism? Hinman needs to read the section, “Evaluating Auxiliary Hypotheses,” in my essay, “Basic Structure of My Evidential Arguments.” If both God and life exist, then God either directly created life (aka so-called “special creationism”) or He indirectly created life (through either guided evolution [“theistic evolution”] or unguided evolution [“Darwinism”]). These options are auxiliary hypotheses to theism. As Draper has shown, the auxiliary hypothesis of special creationism is antecedently much more probable on theism than either the auxiliary hypothesis of theistic evolution or the auxiliary hypothesis of Darwinism. (Skip down to the section “Draper’s Defense of A” in this post.)

5. I’m going to stop my reply to Hinman here, at least for now. I’ve left some of his objections unaddressed, but for now I’ll just say this. I think that if you follow the links in my original post to my other posts which defend these arguments in much greater length, you’ll find that I’ve already addressed most, if not all, of his remaining objections.

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