Evaluating Arguments, Part 7: Expectation, Causation, and Conceptuality


Today we continue our series on the ways to evaluate arguments. Let’s dig in!

(1) A person argues that we should expect to see some sort of evidence/observation/prediction/fact under some hypothesis Y, and we can suppose that we do see Y. But the person ignores that under the hypothesis we should ALSO be seeing X and Z, but we don’t see X and Z at all, and also we should NOT be seeing A and B, but we DO see A and B. In other words, some justification or defense ignores some facts A and B that have a bearing on the justification’s or defense’s probability. This is the fallacy of understated evidence.

Some theists, when confronted with the problem of animal pain/suffering, will argue that pain has a crucial biological role in that it causes animals and humans to act in ways that are self-preserving. And, as a result, pain is necessary for this end, and it justifies God’s creation of pain.

Of course, one problem here is that this response merely presupposes the existence not only of natural disasters and things which cause suffering, but also threatening organisms that voraciously attempt to rip other organisms to shreds. But the question of animal pain is, at least in part: why are there such evil things that cause suffering in the first place?

But, more importantly and more relevant to (1), if pain serves the express purpose of guiding biological organisms to self-preserving ends, not only do we have facts which run contrary to this, but this explanation fails to account for the absence of other facts. Allow me to explain:

  1. Some instances of pain in human and non-human organisms (and some diseases for that matter) cause pain for which the organism lacks any awareness of its function such that it doesn’t affect its behavior in any clear ways. In such cases, the organisms suffer without being guided towards biologically self-preserving ends. This is an example of pain which doesn’t serve a biological end — something that contradicts the explanation on offer.
  2. Some instances of pain occur as an organism dies, such as a fawn being burned in a forest fire, or an elephant being eaten alive at the claws and teeth of lions. Such pain clearly serves no self-preserving end, since there is no self to be preserved in the process of dying an agonizing death.
  3. If the offered explanation were true, we would expect to see certain observations that we do not, in fact, see. For example, some instances of biological ends which would be crucial to self-preservation are associated with little to no pain — for instance, breathing in carbon monoxide. We would expect, under this hypothesis, that people who inhaled fumes with deadly chemicals should feel pain. After all, that’s precisely pain’s purpose — to direct organisms to self-preserving biological ends. But this is a clear absence of something that is predicted/expected to be true under the given hypothesis.

(2) Infers a faulty causal connection

If we have two events, A and B, and there is some connection or correlation between them, a number of potential inferences can be drawn.

A may cause B

B may cause A

For both of the above, an example would be “drinking coffee caused me to become alert”.

C may cause both A and B

For example, the increase in temperature during the summer causes both crime rates and sales of ice cream to increase. Crime rates and ice cream sales do not have a causal relation to each other.

A and B are neither causally related nor caused by any confounding variables. They are causally unrelated.

For example, the number of pirates has decreased while global temperatures have increased.

A faulty inference example from above:

Some have argued that homosexual men have been found to have higher levels of abuse when they were younger. Therefore, homosexuality is caused, at least in part, by abuse.

This is a faulty inference, and it may be a “directional” mistake where the causal direction of the correlation is mistaken. It could easily be the case that young homosexual individuals (like teens) — or at least ones that exhibit behavioral and personality tendencies broadly characteristic of homosexual individuals — are bullied and abused more because of their homosexuality. This could conceivably be the case rather than such individuals becoming homosexual because of their abuse. Other confounding factors abound in situations of young individuals with abusive parents.

Now, I am not making any claims here concerning homosexuality and its causes. All I am stating is that there are alternative explanations for correlations, and that we cannot conclude that abuse causes homosexuality merely from some (potential) indication that the two are correlated.

(3) Failure to think conceptually prior to a certain point or state of affairs

Some attempt to offer the following God-justifying reason for actualizing states of affairs involving immense animal suffering:

“If we think it is a good thing for there to be embodied organisms, then certain other things have to be true. There have to be mechanisms by which these organisms can protect themselves from bodily injury.”

Arguably, though, this is a failure to think conceptually prior to the world that we currently inhabit. This response to the problem of animal suffering merely presupposes the prior existence of evil and external threats. But the problem of animal pain asks us to think conceptually prior to the world we currently inhabit. Even if he creates embodied physical beings, God — it is argued — ought not to have created other physical beings that cause harm to the physical beings in question in the first place. God (again, it is argued) also ought not to have created natural disasters which cause the need to have pain mechanism systems in the first place. It seems entirely possible for there to exist embodied organisms (a good) without having (i) other embodied organisms which cause suffering to such embodied organisms, and (ii) natural disaster events which cause suffering to such embodied organisms. Since both of these problems are still present for the theist, the the proffered God-justifying reason seems inadequate.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to assess an argument? If so, feel free to comment them below or email them to me!

Author: Joe

Email: NaturalisticallyInclined@gmail.com

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