How to Consider the Evidence for Theism
by David Glass
In popular atheism belief in God is often portrayed as an irrational belief to be ridiculed rather than a serious viewpoint to be evaluated. The impression is given that theism is just too crazy a belief to be taken seriously and as a result God is placed in the same category as the Tooth Fairy and Mother Goose. Some who would not put in quite such stark terms nevertheless believe that God’s existence is far too improbable to merit thoughtful consideration. Theism is not viewed as a credible hypothesis.
When evaluating any hypothesis, whether scientific, personal, historical, religious or whatever, at least two factors come into play. The first is the plausibility of the hypothesis to begin with and the second is the ability of the hypothesis to account for relevant evidence. It can be difficult to consider the evidence for God when some atheists insist that theism is so implausible that detailed consideration of the evidence is unnecessary. As an example, consider how Richard Dawkins deals with the fine-tuning of physical constants and other features of the universe which are just right for life. Does the fine-tuning constitute evidence for God? Not according to Dawkins. While he is not overly impressed with some of the naturalistic explanations on the table, such as appeals to a multiverse, he still rules out God. Why? Because God is so improbable to begin with that he cannot be considered as an explanation for fine-tuning.
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Is there any good reason to think that God’s existence is so implausible that it can be effectively ruled out without further consideration? Or to put in terms of probability, is there any good reason to think that the prior probability (i.e. the probability before relevant evidence is taken into account) of God’s existence is so incredibly low that it cannot be treated as a credible hypothesis?
Dawkins has provided an argument based on organized complexity to support this view, but his argument fails for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is that there is no good reason to think that God would possess the kind of organized complexity required for Dawkins’ argument to work . Many atheists who are not committed to Dawkins’ argument nevertheless have a strong intuition that his conclusion is right even if his argument is invalid. That is, they simply find theism too strange to be taken seriously. Obviously, such an intuition does not constitute an argument and, just as obviously, an argument is needed since many people do not share this intuition.
At one level, that’s all that needs to be said. In the absence of a decent argument, there is no good reason to think that theism is extremely implausible. But can we go further and give some positive reasons for believing that it is not at all implausible? Here I want to suggest a number of factors…
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