Malpass' Nice Critique of the Argument from Logic

Malpass, Alex. "Problems for the argument from logic", Sophia (forthcoming).


The Argument from the Autonomy of Ethics Against Theism

There are several secular ethical theories (e.g., contractarian theories, consequentialist theories, deontological theories, sentimentalist theories, etc.) that explain our moral intuitions better than religious accounts, such as divine command theory. This is surprising on standard forms of theism, since on those hypotheses, morality is not independent of the existence, nature, and/or commands of God. Therefore, the autonomy of ethics provides at least some evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Beyond the Problem of Evil

Here's a quick sketch of a case for naturalism vis-a-vis theism that makes no crucial appeal to the problem of evil (the sampling of arguments here is taken from this list):

First, prima facie, concrete individuals and stuffs with originating or sustaining efficient causes require originating and sustaining material causes, respectively. But according to classical theism, at least one concrete individual or stuff had an originating or sustaining efficient cause without an originating or sustaining efficient cause, respectively. Therefore, classical theism is false.

Second, suppose for reductio that it's metaphysically possible that a necessary being exists, and that this being is the god of classical Anselmian theism. Let's follow Plantinga's claim here that such a being has the property of maximal greatness, where: (i) a being's maximal greatness entails maximal excellence in every possible world, (ii) maximal excellence includes the classical attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection, and (iii) omnipotence includes the capacity to create or sustain concrete objects distinct from itself without a material cause. Therefore, if it's metaphysically possible that a maximally great being exists, then such a being exists in all metaphysically possible worlds. Therefore, a maximally great being exists in all metaphysically possible worlds. By the above conception of maximal excellence, for any world W that contains a universe of concrete objects distinct from God, if God exists in W, then God originates or sustains the universe in W without a material cause. But the origination or sustenance of any such universe without a material cause is metaphysically impossible. Now a universe of concrete objects exists at the actual world. Therefore, the god of classical Anselmian theism did not originate or sustain the universe that exists at the actual world. Therefore, the god of classical Anselmian theism doesn't exist at the actual world. But this contradicts the above line that he exists in all possible worlds. Therefore, the existence of the god of classical Anselmian theism is metaphysically impossible.

Third, lots of controlled, double-blind scientific studies have shown that prayer is ineffective in a wide variety of health cases. This is surprising on theism, but not on naturalism. Therefore, the ineffectiveness of prayer provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Fourth, prima facie, on any plausible interpretation of quantum mechanics (Bohmian, Everettian, and GRW), there are many worlds/universes. As Peter Lewis points out, non-Everrettian interpretations of quantum mechanics are just many-worlds accounts in denial[2]. This has serious implications for the metaphysics of personal identity and other issues related to philosophy of religion. 

For example, take standard theistic accounts of substance dualism, and take the increasingly popular Everettian interpretation of QM (in fact, strictly speaking, it's not an interpretation: it just is QM). On that account, humans are constantly branching, hydra-like, into hugely many alternate universes, at virtually every moment of their lives. But if so, then prima facie, either (i) only one branch is you, or (ii) they all are you. On (i), God creates (directly, ex nihilo, or indirectly, through natural processes) new souls for each branch self at virtually every moment. On (ii), you have many selves. On either option, the sameness of soul account of personal identity is starting to look seriously unmotivated.

Furthermore, what are we to make of the afterlife? On (ii), all of your counterpart branch souls have an existence in an afterlife. Now combine that with the traditional doctrine of the soul being joined to a physical body at the final judgement. Prima facie, our world essentially involves QM and branching universes, in which case ,prima facie, so does any post-resurrection universe. Prima facie, all of the branching selves will be resurrected in different alternate universes, with counterpart Christs. On (i), it's hard to get an intelligible grasp of how all of my branching selves could be "me", each in their own resurrected bodies in alternate universes.

In addition, what are we to make of the person and work of Christ? For example, Jesus has many branch selves. Which one is the "real" Jesus? One? Some? All? Presumably, then, there are many Christs, and there will have to be many crucifixions. From this example, it becomes apparent that a host of other problems arise for the incarnation, atonement, trinity, and related doctrines. 

In short, it looks as though quantum mechanics poses serious problems for both substance dualism and for theism. In fact, it's looking as though QM, all by itself, is incompatible with-- or, at the very least, highly surprising on -- traditional accounts of Christian theism and religious monotheism in general. Prima facie, then, QM provides at least strong abductive evidence against traditional monotheism.

Fifth, according to a growing chorus of voices, (i) there are strong grounds for accepting a realist construal of quantum mechanics (QM), and (ii) the most plausible interpretations of QM entail that the wave function is a real entity that exists in a configuration space of very, very many dimensions (about 3x10 to the 80th, according to current estimates). But it's not at all clear how the ordinary three dimensions of our experience can be accounted for via this configuration space. In fact, some (e.g., Alyssa Ney) have argued that they probably can't, in which case there is non-trivial epistemic pressure to think the three dimensions of ordinary experience are, in an important sense, mirage-like (L.A. Paul has similar worries, but doesn't explicitly come down on the matter one way or the other. Jill North and Jenann Ismael have stronger suspicions). But if so, then there is non-trivial epistemic pressure to think that ordinary perceptual experience is massively unreliable.

Now according to many theists, if God exists, then God designed us in such a way as to ensure that our perceptual faculties reliably track the truth about the world, where this includes beliefs about the ordinary objects of experience having extension in length, width, and depth. But if the above worry is at all on track, then ordinary perceptual experience is massively unreliable. And if that's right, then something has to give: either (i) theism is false, or (ii) the existence of the God of theism doesn't make it likely that our perceptual faculties are reliable. The first disjunct is of course fatal to theism. The second might well be equally so, given a few more premises concerning God's omni-attributes and a bridge principle from those attributes to the reliability of sense perception. However, even if this can't be done, the second disjunct still causes trouble for a number of theistic apologetic strategies. For example, it would be devastating to Plantinga's theory of warranted Christian belief. Either way, then, if the growing chorus is onto something, troubling epistemic consequences for theism follow.

Sixth, the etiology of religion, religious experience, and religious practices are better explained on the hypothesis of naturalism than on the hypothesis of theism. Therefore, such data provides at least some evidence in support of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Seventh, many people have experiences that trigger the belief that reality is a cold and uncaring place, indifferent to their welfare. Such belief-triggering experiences are surprising on theism, since on that hypothesis, we'd expect God to design our cognitive faculties in such a way as to reliably trigger true beliefs about reality, according to which (on that hypothesis) reality is not a cold and uncaring place that is indifferent to our welfare. By contrast, such belief-triggering experiences are not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, reality really is a cold and uncaring place that is indifferent to our welfare. Therefore, the existence and pervasiveness of anti-religious experience provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Eighth, Michael Huemer has powerfully argued that the concept of political authority is incoherent. If he's right, then prima facie, the concept of divine authority over humans is incoherent. Furthermore, theist Mark Murphy has likewise argued that standard views of divine authority must be rejected, and that only a much weaker view of divine authority requiring prior human consent can be sustained. Finally, Luke Maring has argued that even if God's authority over humans has been granted by humans, the validity of such authority requires his intervention and protection. But the latter condition has not been met for at least many humans. But on classical theism, God has divine authority over us, and it is independent of human consent. Therefore, classical theism is false.

Ninth, there is a good case for the view that, whether or not causal determinism is true, no one is free or morally responsible for anything. This view is known as hard incompatibilism. But hard incompatibilism is surprising on orthodox theism, since on that hypothesis, we are held responsible for our actions, whether in this life or an afterlife. By contrast, hard incompatibilism isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no expectation that we are free and responsible for our actions. Therefore, the data in support of hard incompatibilism provides at least some evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Tenth, on a reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence, there is no deep synchronic unity of the self, and there is no real diachronic identity of the self. But if not, then, prima facie, humans lack the sort of unity and persistence conditions required for moral accountability or personal immortality. This data is surprising on traditional theism, since that hypothesis entails both moral accountability and personal immortality. By contrast, such data isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that sort of hypothesis, there is no antecedent reason to expect the conditions required for either moral accountability or personal identity. Therefore, the data regarding the disunity of the self provide at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis traditional theism.

Eleventh, there are non-trivial reasons in support of ontological nihilism, according to which there are no individuals. This isn't surprising on naturalism, since naturalism doesn't predict the existence or emergence of individuals. By contrast, ontological nihilism is surprising on theism, since prima facie, theism entails that God is an individual, and that human beings are individuals. Therefore, the data in support of ontological nihilism provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Twelfth, there is a lot of data indicating that human minds are riddled with cognitive biases that regularly distort our thinking. This is surprising on the hypothesis of theism, as one would expect such a god to design our cognitive faculties so as to reliably track the truth. By contrast, such data is expected on the hypothesis of naturalism, for then one would expect evolutionary pressures to produce haphazard, makeshift cognitive faculties that track the truth enough to ensure the ability to survive and reproduce, but not much more. The data of cognitive biases therefore provides at least some confirming evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

A thirteenth line of evidence appeals to the fact that there are several secular ethical theories (e.g., contractarian theories, consequentialist theories, deontological theories, sentimentalist theories, etc.) that explain our moral intuitions better than religious accounts, such as divine command theory. This is surprising on standard forms of theism, since on those hypotheses, morality is not independent of the existence, nature, and/or commands of God. Therefore, the autonomy of ethics provides at least some evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Finally, theism has an explanatory gap problem. For science only tells us about the structure and dynamics of matter -- i.e., its extrinsic, relational properties -- and not its intrinsic properties[2]. As D.M. Armstrong (1968) put it:

"...[I]f we look at properties of physical objects that physicists are prepared to allow them, such as mass, electric charge, or momentum, these show a distressing tendency to dissolve into relations one object has to another. What, then, are the things that have these relations to each other? Must they not have a non-relational nature if they are to sustain relations? But what is this nature? Physics does not tell us." (p. 282)

Subsequent progress in science only seems to underscore this point (cf. Ladyman and Ross 2007; Davidson 2014). Many thus now argue for ontic structural realism, according to which reality consists of relations without relata, and it is only “relations all the way down”. Unfortunately, to date, even the most strident defenders of ontic structural realism have failed to give a fully satisfying account of the view (cf. McKenzie 2017). Incoherence threatens. This is the explanatory gap problem for both conservative naturalism and theism: both views give us a physical universe with a hollow core, as neither provides the resources to provide intrinsic properties to ground its extrinsic, relational properties.

There is thus pressure to say that there must be some stock of intrinsic properties to physical reality, and yet physical reality seems to lack such properties. What is a naturalist or a theist to do? The Russellian monist answers: The only intrinsic properties we know of are phenomenal properties of subjective experience. The Russellian monist thus posits that phenomenal properties ground the relational properties of physics. Happily, then, Russellian monism appears to solve both the hard problem of consciousness and the intrinsic properties problem in one stroke. The structure-and dynamics-argument therefore offers another powerful line of support for liberal naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

To recap: the first two arguments provide prima facie sound deductive arguments against theism. The remaining twelve lines of evidence, when taken together, constitute a strong cumulative case against theism (modulo consideration of other arguments for and against theism). And the point of this exercise is to indicate that one can generate a prima facie case against theism without ever appealing to the problem of evil.

The Argument from Ontological Nihilism Against Theism

There are non-trivial reasons in support of ontological nihilism, according to which there are no individuals. This isn't surprising on naturalism, since naturalism doesn't predict the existence or emergence of individuals. By contrast, ontological nihilism is surprising on theism, since prima facie, theism entails that God is an individual, and that human beings are individuals. Therefore, the data in support of ontological nihilism provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

The Argument from the Disunity of the Self Against Theism

On a reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence, there is no deep synchronic unity of the the self, and there is no real diachronic identity of the self. But if not, then, prima facie, humans lack the sort of unity and persistence conditions required for moral accountability or personal immortality. This data is surprising on traditional theism, since that hypothesis entails both moral accountability and personal immortality. By contrast, such data isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that sort of hypothesis, there is no antecedent reason to expect the conditions required for either moral accountability or personal identity. Therefore, the data regarding the disunity of the self provide at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis traditional theism.

The Argument from Hard Incompatibilism Against Theism

There is a good case for the view that, whether or not causal determinism is true, no one is free or morally responsible for anything. This view is known as hard incompatibilism. But hard incompatibilism is surprising on orthodox theism, since on that hypothesis, we are held responsible for our actions, whether in this life or an afterlife. By contrast, hard incompatibilism isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no expectation that we are free and responsible for our actions. Therefore, the data in support of hard incompatibilism provides at least some evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

On the Compatiblity of Determinism and Libertarian Freedom: A Quick Sketch

Call the following view Everettian libertarianism: Everything's determined by the initial conditions of the universe plus the Schrodinger equation to play out as it does, but you perform different actions (and thus have alternative possibilities open to you) in different branches of the wave function. In fact, you bring about every possible alternative action in some branch or other of the wave function. So: (i) everything is determined, and yet (ii) all alternative possibilities are open to you. So libertarian freedom and determinism are compatible after all.

Objection: That's not you in other branches of the wave function; those are just counterparts of you.

Reply:  On a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the current scientific evidence, human beings are not single, numerically identical selves in a even a single world, whether at a given time or over time. So if the objection is based on some assumed requirement of numerical synchronic or diachronic personal identity for free will, then that assumption will equally undermine free will even if you only exist in one branch of the wave function. On the other hand, on a more relaxed account of personal identity (say, causal continuity or continuity of memory or personality), then all of your "counterparts" in various branches of the wave function are "you".

Malpass' Nice Critique of the Argument from Logic

Malpass, Alex. " Problems for the argument from logic ", Sophia (forthcoming).