In the Secular Outpost at Patheos, the insightful atheist and naturalist philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder wrote an interesting post criticizing theistic explanations.
One sentence at the end of the text caught my attention:
“At this point, the naturalist can hardly be blamed for comparing the track record of naturalistic explanations to that of theistic explanations and sticking with naturalistic explanations.”
The problem with that comparison is that it is very similar to a kind of black-and-white thinking.
He opposes naturalism (A) against everything incompatible with naturalism (B) and states that if on average science is much more consistent with A than with B, then A must be true.
But this is a fallacious dichotomy. Let us consider different theoretical supernatural models, whose existence as ideas is independent of the first time they came up in a human mind.
B1: Spiritism: everything we see around us is caused by invisible forces
B2: Intervention Theism: there are some automatic processes but God has to intervene all the time to fix things
B3: Lazy Theism: many things work automatically according to the laws created by God but he has to intervene for important things like the creation of new species
B4: Evolutionary Theism: God created the laws of nature in such a way he can work in the universe without violating them.
B5: Deism: God just created our universe and doesn’t care anymore about it, he has been from the very beginning an absent landlord.
B6: Panentheism (Phillip Clayton): there are strong emergent properties and phenomena which cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts. God is the greatest being this strong emergence can possibly produce.
If one adopts an epistemological version of Occam’s razor (which I don’t as I explain here) it is clear that B1 and B2 have been constantly pushed back as science progressed and from Darwin’s time, the same thing has been occurring for B3 despite all the efforts of ID creationists to show the contrary.
Now, many atheists (tough not necessarily Jeff himself) reason like this: on average, B has been constantly shoved away by the advances of science which is completely compatible with A, so since B4 and B5 belongs to B, they must also be much less likely to be true than A.
But that’s a clear example of a fallacious reasoning.
If you want to show that B5 is much less likely than A, you have to DIRECTLY compare them.
And the extraordinary success of science to find natural and logical explanations would have been a prediction of B5 (and even B4) three thousand years ago.
Therefore you cannot use the success of natural explanations to favor A over B4, B5, B6 because the three models predicted the same things.
All you can say is appealing to the epistemological razor of Occam: when two theories explain equally well the same data, the simplest one is always the most likely one.
But as I’ve explained, nobody has been able to prove this without begging the question and smuggling assumptions about the actual simplicity of the cosmos into the argumentation.
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