Yesterday Jeff Lowder posted the following tweet:
But Jeff disagreed:
So if you hear a new heavy album and the guitars sound like they’re being played by second year guitar students, that provides a good reason to think the album wasn’t recorded by Metallica. Sure, all things being equal, that makes sense. (Having said that, I also know that Metallica is a creative band who are known to push the boundaries in all sorts of directions, so that may very well chasten my tendency to quick judgments.)
Is there more that can be said here? Yes, it turns out that Lowder was tacitly drawing on Paul Draper’s claim that humanity is (relatively) unimpressive and this fact better supports naturalism than theism. (Thanks to Joshua Parikh for helping clarify this point.)
So if we want to pursue this line of thought further, we should take a look at Draper’s reasoning. Here is a sampling:
“More importantly, if theism is true, then God is not only morally perfect, he is omnipotent and so could make many different sorts of intelligent life, probably infinitely many, including intelligent beings that are much more impressive than human beings. On single-universe naturalism, by contrast, one would expect that, if there is intelligent life, it will be relatively unimpressive. I want to emphasize the word “relatively” here, because I am not denying that human beings are impressive in many ways. But examined from the perspective of what is possible for an omnipotent being, we are, in terms of intelligence, a hair’s breadth away from monkeys. Again, one would expect this on single-universe naturalism because the more intelligent the life, the less likely it is that naturalistic processes would produce it. Of course, if one believes in God and, looking around, finds nothing more impressive than human beings, one will be forced to conclude that God wanted to make beings with very limited intelligence. But surely one would not have predicted this beforehand. There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. Antecedently, a God would be more likely to create these more impressive creatures than to create us.” (Source)
As we can see, Draper is arguing here that the currently available evidence of relatively unimpressive human beings is more to be expected on “single-universe naturalism” than on theism.
Regarding the first claim that human beings fit well with naturalism, let me just say I’m not convinced. For example, human beings have abilities to intuit synthetic a priori facts and moral facts, and neither of these extraordinary capacities seems likely on naturalism. As Pascal famously observed, “Man is only a reed, the most feeble thing in nature. But he is a thinking reed.” I’d say thinking reeds are pretty cool.
What about theism? If theism is true, would we expect God to create more impressive creatures than us? On this point I have four responses.
My first response is “not necessarily.” This point begins with the claim that God can be understood analogically to an artist. And artists regularly choose to work under self-imposed constraints. For example, the great artist Pablo Picasso is justly famous for the works of his Blue Period during which he generally limited his palette to hues of blue and green. A critic unfamiliar with Picasso’s oeuvre or his reasoning behind the self-imposed limitations of the Blue Period may not appreciate the unique quality of these works. They may believe that a true artistic genius worthy of the reputation of Picasso would utilize a broad palette of colors. And they’d be wrong.
For those of us who accept biological evolution, God chose to create under the constraints of evolutionary processes. That’s the divine equivalent of painting in a blue phase. So just as the works of Picasso’s Blue Period need to be assessed with an acknowledgement of the self-imposed constraints of the artist, so we should assess God’s creative works with an acknowledgement of his decision to create through the self-imposed limitations of evolutionary processes.
My second response is “maybe he did, and if he did we shouldn’t expect to know it“. In the last month cosmologists have now upped the number of galaxies in the universe ten-fold to two trillion. With two trillion universes and habitable planets perhaps numbering in the quadrillions, we are in no place at all to opine on the spectrum of impressive creatures that may inhabit this cosmos.
My third response is “we need to evaluate species within systems.” Earthworms may be relatively unimpressive on their own, but they serve the function of the whole system. Even if human beings are earthworms, we need to be evaluated for our role within the system on the whole. So what constitutes the system? Is it “Mother Earth” or the Solar System, the Galaxy or the entire universe? Good question. It seems to me that the more we understand about chaotic systems and quantum entanglement and countless other extraordinarily dynamic and relational dimensions to the cosmos, the more we need to see our place within the broadest conception of the system. And that in turn undermines our ability to evaluate our significance as a species in negative terms.
My final response is “God did create more impressive creatures.” They are called angelic beings, and apart from the fact that they are far more intelligent and powerful than human beings, we know little else about them. (Of course naturalists don’t accept that angels exist. But so what? Insofar as they’re trying to provide a defeater to theists, they need to deal with what theists believe exists. Of course, they could try to provide defeaters to the existence of angels, but until they succeed in doing that the point stands.)
In sum, I’ve provided a couple reasons to reject the claim that properly functioning human persons are unimpressive in a way that supports naturalism. And I’ve provided four reasons to undermine the claim that the existence of human persons should be surprising on theism.