Inductive Arguments (The Improbability of God)

An inductive argument does not try to eliminate the possibility of God; instead, it simply tries to eliminate the probability of God. Since this argument tries to prove far less, it carries far more weight. Consider this argument from agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell:

Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would probably say, ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world.’[1]

This illustration doesn’t make God impossible; it just makes him improbable. That is, when we look at this world, as it spins out of control, it is difficult to believe that a sovereign God is in control of all things. Doesn’t the existence of evil make God improbable?

In order to offer a case for the inductive problem of evil, we need to study the beginning of evil, as well as the end of evil, in order to live in the middle of evil. Or, in other words, we need to see how evil originated in the past and how it will be defeated in the future, in order to suffer victoriously in the present. If we were just considering an argument against an all-powerful and all-loving God, then evil might be good evidence. However, if we include all of the Christian doctrines about the fall, the cross, and the restoration of the world, we find that the Christian God becomes far more probable. Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne writes, “While evil may provide a good inductive argument against the existence of God (bare theism); it does not provide a good inductive argument against Christian theism (theism plus the central Christian doctrines incorporated in creeds).”[2]

To illustrate this, consider if you were trying to calculate the probability that Joe –a random college student –was a beer drinker. Well, given the fact that 90% of college students drink beer, you’d probably say that this was a 90% chance. However, what if I told you that Joe was currently enrolled at Brigham Young University, where 90% of the students do not drink alcohol? This background information would greatly change these percentages. In the same way, while an all-powerful and all-loving God might be unlikely in the presence of evil and suffering, these percentages change, when we consider several of the major doctrines of Christianity.

Let’s begin at the beginning…

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[1] Emphasis mine. Russell, Bertrand, and Paul Edwards. Why I Am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967. 13.

[2] Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004. 265.