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Sep 07

Lawless Events and Evidence for God

There is a very interesting post by Kenny Pearce on The Prosblogion called Lawless Events and the Existence of God. He gives two versions of an argument—one inductive and one deductive—for thinking that a God with the traditional attributes would create a world with few lawless events (or none). I’ll only quote Pearce’s inductive version of the argument from the original post here:

    

Inductive Version

1. A perfectly rational being who could create a world would, ceteris paribus, create a world in which there was as little disorder as possible.

2. Lawless events would be instances of disorder.

3. It is (subjectively) highly probable that, among all the worlds an omnipotent being could create, there are some which are just as good as the actual world in other respects and have no lawless events.

Therefore,
4. On the hypothesis that the world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly rational being, it is highly probable that there are no lawless events.

 

One of the interesting aims of the article is a discussion of miracles. Miracles are believed by some to be lawless events (some law is broken). This is then used as evidence that there must be a supernatural power capable of bringing about a state of lawlessness. If the argument above is correct, though, then law breaking miracles actually count as evidence against God. Accepting the argument above would instead lead to a position that miracles are lawful, but incredibly improbable events. If I were a theist, I would hold this position. I’m not even sure we can adequately make sense of a notion such as lawlessness on certain definitions.

 


 

The reason I bring this argument up is not to parse out how we should regard miracles. No, this would be a strange task for an atheist. Instead, I want to talk about some further implications of the above conclusion. Let’s try continuing the argument:

 

5. A world with no lawless events is one in which every event can be explained by a natural cause.

6. A world in which every event can be explained by a natural cause is the type of world postulated by naturalism. 

Therefore,
7. On the hypothesis that naturalism is true, it is highly probable that there are no lawless events.

 

We now have arguments that mirror each other with opposing conclusions. The trouble I see for theism is that everything naturalism will want to claim as evidence will then be co-opted as consistent with God, even though we have opposing conclusions. Let’s see how this might happen.

 

Popular-level claims might say something like, “life cannot come from non-life without supernatural intervention”. Fast forward into the future and imagine we have successfully demonstrated this can be done naturally with no intervention. Their initial assertion is wrong. But you might think there is an escape route with the lawful approach. The person holding the position regarding lawless events would agree with the naturalist all along. They would never say that life could not naturally come from non-life. Instead, they would say it had to come naturally because God works naturally. But this reaches a strange stopping point. We would both be looking for the exact same thing as evidence of our position. So who is really favored by natural explanations? Well, naturalism is favored ceteris paribus. If something is explained naturally, then why insert God into the causal description? A popular mocking version of this is to say that leaves rustle because of the wind…but also because there is a spirit within the tree.

 

The theist must turn elsewhere to tip the scales in their favor. Then they might say in light of these other arguments, we have reason to favor theism. These arguments must be strong enough to overcome the initial improbability in favor of naturalism. That means that if we can rebut or at least cast significant doubt on these other arguments, then we are still justified in saying that lawful events favor naturalism.

 

So, I think this argument actually leads us to realize that either option—lawlessness or lawfulness—counts as evidence against the existence of God.

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2 comments

  1. Matt DeStefano

    Interesting article. I think, however, the idea that lawless events would be considered evidence against God is incoherent. Here’s premise (1):

    “1. A perfectly rational being who could create a world would, ceteris paribus, create a world in which there was as little disorder as possible.”

    The solution here for the theist seems easy: disorder (or in this case, instances of lawless events) are necessary for Jesus to prove His divinity. In fact, a clever theist might realize that this exact argument could also explain why miracles don’t happen today, because they are no longer necessary for God’s plan.

    I know this wasn’t the intent of your entire post, but it’s one caveat I found interesting.

  2. Mike

    Thanks for the comment, Matt.

    If you follow the link to the original article, there is some very interesting (and technical) discussion about the premises – both in the post and in the comments.

    It does make identifying a miracle more difficult, though. They have to turn to severely improbable events, but then of course those seem to happen naturally too. And then I think if you follow that line of reasoning you run into the same problem as in my post.

    For my part, I feel like the law breaking type of miracle is going to be practically impossible to explain or understand. So, even if it’s true, what an epistemic roadblock it has! I may be in the minority on this type of thing, though. For example, I don’t think it’s sensible to say God would be supernatural.

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