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Argument from Evolution

Many conservative Christians and lay atheists alike claim that if biological evolution is true, then God does not exist. Ironically, while many conservative Christians have attacked evolution because it supposedly entails atheism, no contemporary atheist philosopher has used evolution as evidence for atheism. Indeed, the only philosopher who has formulated an argument for the claim that evolution is evidence against theism and for metaphysical naturalism is agnostic philosopher Paul Draper.

Draper defends an evidential argument from evolution for metaphysical naturalism, a hypothesis that entails atheism. Specifically, he grants that evolution is logically compatible with the existence of God. However, he argues that, all other things held equal, known facts about the origin of complex life are prima facie evidence against theism.

Draper's sophisticated defense of this argument can be summarized in two points. First, he observes that the falsity of special creationism is much more probable given naturalism than given theism. If naturalism is true, then by definition special creationism is false. If, however, theism is true, special creationism is at least as likely to be true as it is likely to be false.

Second, assuming special creationism is false, evolution is much more probable given naturalism than given theism. Given that complex life exists, what makes evolution so likely given naturalism is the lack of plausible naturalistic alternatives to evolution. Given theism, however, alternatives to evolution are somewhat more likely, simply because there is less reason to assume the complex must arise from the simple.

Draper concludes, accordingly, that evolution is antecedently much more probable on naturalism than on theism.

-- Jeffrey Jay Lowder

A Counterclockwise Paley (2002) by Kyle J. Gerkin

Gerkin takes the classic theistic Argument to Design from William Paley's Natural Theology, "the watchmaker analogy," argues that it is logically flawed as an argument for theism, then turns it on its head and reformulates it as an argument for atheism, incorporating an atheological argument from biological evolution.

Review of Michael Ruse's Darwin and Design (2005) by Anthony Campbell

Campbell reviews Michael Ruse's Darwin and Design, which considers whether biological evolution has any purpose or direction. Ruse concludes that despite the attempts of theistic evolutionists to reconcile evolution and traditional monotheism, "Darwinism is a major challenge to religious belief" because evolutionary processes seem to leave no room for divine purpose. Campbell describes the book as "a thoughtful and quite detailed discussion of the design question in evolution" which "is particularly good on the background of the people who figure in [Ruse's historical] narrative of events."

Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil (Great Debate) (2007) by Paul Draper

In this chapter, Paul Draper appeals to natural selection in order to show that the failure of many humans and animals to flourish is strong evidence against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect God. Treating theism and naturalism as hypotheses that aim to explain certain features of our world, Draper sets out to test each hypothesis against various known facts, including facts about human and animal suffering. After demonstrating that, prior to such testing, naturalism is more probable than theism in virtue of its smaller scope and greater simplicity, Draper goes on to argue that naturalism has far greater "predictive power" than theism, concluding that this provides strong grounds for rejecting theism.

Objections to Draper's Argument from Evil (Great Debate) (2007) by Alvin Plantinga

Paul Draper argues that all else held equal, "naturalism is much more probable than theism," and therefore "theism is very probably false"; moreover, naturalism is simpler and smaller in scope than theism, and has much greater predictive power than theism with respect to evolutionary facts about suffering. In this response, Alvin Plantinga disputes that theism has larger scope than naturalism, and argues that what is really at issue for epistemic probability is not simplicity as Draper understands it (as "uniformity"), but "epistemic naturalness"--and that theism is more epistemically natural than naturalism. Moreover, if we treat theism as a hypothesis (rather than as a fact), theism might be subject to prima facie defeat by facts about suffering and misery, but nevertheless explain or predict a whole range of other data better than naturalism, such as our possession of reliable cognitive faculties, the existence of objective morality, the fine-tuning of the universe, the existence of abstract objects, and so on. But if some theists know that theism is true (in virtue of religious experiences, say), then their theism is not subject to defeat by facts about suffering even disregarding these explanatory advantages.

On the Plausibility of Naturalism and the Seriousness of the Argument from Evil (Great Debate) (2007) by Paul Draper

Alvin Plantinga does not challenge (and thus implicitly concedes) the soundness of Paul Draper's argument for the conclusion that certain facts about good and evil are strong evidence against theism. Plantinga does, however, challenge Draper's view that naturalism is more plausible than theism, which Draper needs to reach the further conclusion that, other evidence held equal, theism is very probably false. In addition, Plantinga challenges the significance of this final conclusion. In this chapter, Draper defends his views on plausibility and then argues that Plantinga's challenge to the significance of his final conclusion fails for two reasons. First, Plantinga fails to show that this further conclusion does not threaten the rationality or warrant of most theistic belief. Second, he mistakenly assumes that, in order to be significant, this conclusion must threaten the rationality or warrant of most theistic belief.

Why I Am Not a Christian (2006) by Richard Carrier

In this explanation of why he is not a Christian, Richard Carrier outlines the top four reasons why he rejects Christianity: God's silence, God's inactivity, lack of evidence, and the overt conflict between discovered reality and Christian theory. Though a lay exposition geared at a general audience, the essay appeals to a variety of atheistic arguments, including the argument from religious confusion, an evidential argument from evil, divine hiddenness, the argument from biological evolution, and the argument from physical minds. In an interesting twist on the argument from design, Carrier turns the fine-tuning argument on its head, noting that several features of our universe--features predicted by naturalism--are highly improbable if Christian theism is true.

Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.