I’ve been blogging for about 8 years and discussing the existence of God for even longer. From that experience, it is clear the christians are generally pretty sure that God exists, and atheists even surer that she doesn’t. Genuine agnostics are much thinner on the ground.
The strange thing is, each side believes they have killer arguments, but the other side just can’t see them. I’ve met very few people who believe there are good arguments for both sides.
I happen to be one who does think there are good arguments both for and against the existence of God. Paul Draper, Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University, thinks the same. Yet I am a christian and he is an agnostic.
Do either of us know something that most christians and atheists don’t? And if so, which one of us has come to the most reasonable conclusion? I wonder if you can guess what I think? 🙂
Paul Draper’s assessment of the arguments
In a 2004 paper in the American Philosophical Quarterly (Cosmic fine-tuning and terrestrial suffering: parallel problems for naturalism and theism), Draper assesses the two arguments and found interesting parallels between them. The logic is simple.
Cosmologists know that, of all the possible universes allowed by theoretical physics, the number that could support complex life is very, very small. Draper expresses this argument in terms of a universe which supports moral agents – beings capable of ethical thinking and behaviour – because he thinks this makes the strongest argument.
The argument is that such a universe is very unlikely if naturalism is true, but we could believe a personal moral loving God might want to give life to others, so this universe is much more likely if theism is true.
The multiple worlds objection
The main objection to this argument is the possibility of multiple worlds (sometimes called the multiverse). For if multiple worlds exist, then it becomes much more likely that one of them might contain moral agents. However Draper argues that science hasn’t shown, and possibly never can show, that multiple worlds exist, nor that they have physical variables that vary randomly in such a way as is required to explain the apparent fine-tuning of this universe.
Draper concludes that the fine-tuning argument is powerful, and “Therefore some people have very strong evidence supporting theism over naturalism.”
But, Draper observes, the moral agents on earth don’t always live very morally, and many people and animals in the world live lives that include significant suffering. Based on these facts, the well-known argument concludes that the suffering is much more likely if naturalism is true than if a good God exists.
The multiple worlds objection
But, in a new twist for me, Draper suggests there is a many worlds objection here too. Perhaps God has created many worlds, but not randomly as postulated by the multiverse hypothesis, but all good universes to various degrees, but different to ours. Thus, he suggests, it may be argued that as long as this world is more good than bad, God may be justified in creating it provided he has created all the possibly better worlds also.
In the end, Draper concludes, quite reasonably, that this multiple worlds objection is no more successful than the previous one. It is hard to see how God can allow so much suffering and not (at least) remove humans to heaven rather than allow them to continue to suffer.
Draper concludes that the two arguments are approximately equal. This is in line with his overall assessment of all the evidence and arguments about God’s existence (in this 2009 interview):
“The evidence is ambiguous. Some evidence favors theism and some favors naturalism. For example, on theism one would expect the existence of things like consciousness, free will, and objective morality. Their existence is very surprising, however, on naturalism, which is why many naturalists deny that these things are real. Naturalism, however, does a better job than theism of accounting for the suffering in the world, as well as for things like religious diversity and the high degree of dependence of consciousness on the brain. Naturalism also starts out with a higher probability than theism, though this head start is not as large as some naturalists think. The bottom line is that both views have their strengths and weaknesses. That is why I am an agnostic.”
I agree …. and disagree
I agree with Draper that these two arguments tend to balance each other out. And I agree that there are many effective arguments on either side of the question.
But, not surprisingly, I don’t agree with his final agnostic conclusion:
- Overall, I find the balance of the philosophical arguments favours theism. Apart from the problem of evil, which I think is very powerful, I find the other arguments for naturalism less persuasive, and the other arguments for theism, based on the universe and humanity, quite persuasive.
- I don’t think the philosophical arguments are all, or even the main, evidence. I think the evidence of the life of Jesus and the apparent occurrence of healing miracles and visions are very strong, and tip the balance significantly in the direction of christian theism.
These are personal matters
As I said at the start, we all see these things differently.
How do you see things?