Saints, Sceptics and Scholars

This page includes information about articles (and links to some of them) that are academic in nature and more advanced than those appearing elsewhere on the site.

‘Explaining Away and the Cognitive Science of Religion’ (David Glass)
In order to evaluate the claim that theistic belief can be explained away by science, four models of the relationship between science and theism are developed and their relevance to explaining away explored. These models are then used to evaluate an argument against theistic belief based on developments in the cognitive science of religion. It is argued that even if the processes that produce theistic belief are unreliable, this is insufficient to show that explaining away takes place. Indeed, given the difficulty of showing that the conditions for explaining away are met, it is very unlikely that such an argument can succeed.

This article was published in the journal Theology and Science 14 (2016), 288-304. A version of it can also be found here.

‘Science, God and Ockham’s razor’ (David Glass)
In discussions about the existence of God, it is sometimes claimed that the progress of science has removed the need for God. This paper uses a Bayesian analysis of Ockham’s razor to formulate and evaluate this argument, which is referred to as the science explains away God argument (SEAGA). Four different strategies for responding to this argument are presented and evaluated. It is argued that one of these strategies highlights how difficult it is to show that the conditions for applying Ockham’s razor are satisfied and hence why SEAGA is very unlikely to succeed.

This article has been published in the journal Philosophical Studies (2016), doi:10.1007/s11098-016-0747-7. It is an open access article and so is freely available here. [A more popular article addressing this topic by David Glass and Mark McCartney has been published in Philosophy Now (Issue 115 August / September 2016, pp. 30-33) and is available here.]

‘Explaining and explaining away in science and religion?’ (David Glass and Mark McCartney)
There is no good reason to think that there is a necessary conflict between science and the existence of God, but is there still some way in which science might support atheism? The most plausible strategy for atheism is to argue that scientific explanations can remove the need for God in some cases via ‘explaining away’. This paper proposes a number of questions to help identify whether explaining away takes place in a given context and explores several cases where explaining away might be thought to occur, with particular attention given to the most obvious case: the theory of evolution.

This article was published in the journal Theology and Science 12 (2014), 338-361. A version of it can also be found here.

‘Can evidence for design be explained away?’ (David Glass)
In cases where two hypotheses could account for a piece of evidence, the evidence can provide initial confirmation for each of them. However, if one hypothesis is found to be true this will typically lower the probability of the other hypothesis via what is known as explaining away. Nevertheless, the first hypothesis need not completely explain away the evidence for the other hypothesis and so there might be some residual confirmation of the latter. Indeed, in some cases this residual confirmation can be quite substantial and there are even cases where discovering that one hypothesis is true actually enhances the confirmation of the other hypothesis. This paper defines the concepts of partial and complete explaining away as well as corresponding concepts of undermining via explaining away to treat cases where there is some independent evidence in favour of one hypothesis. Based on simple probabilistic models represented using Bayesian networks, the paper presents the conditions under which the various types of explaining away and undermining occur. These results are then applied to design arguments in the context of biological complexity and fine-tuning in cosmology. It is argued that even if alternative explanations explain away evidence for design to some extent, there are reasons for believing that the evidence still provides significant confirmation of design.

This article is published as a chapter in the book Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, edited by J. Chandler and V. Harrison (Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 77-102.

It will only be of interest to those who have a good understanding of probability theory. Although it is not available online, some slides relating to it are available here. Further details about the book are available here.

Darwin, Design and Dawkins’ Dilemma (David Glass)
Richard Dawkins has a dilemma when it comes to design arguments. On the one hand, he maintains that it was Darwin who killed off design and so implies that his rejection of design depends upon the findings of modern science. On the other hand, he follows Hume when he claims that appealing to a designer does not explain anything and so implies that rejection of design need not be based on the findings of modern science. These contrasting approaches lead to the following dilemma: if he claims that Darwinism is necessary for rejecting design, he has no satisfactory response to design arguments based on the order in the laws of physics or the fine-tuning of the physical constants; alternatively, if Humean arguments are doing most of the work, this would undermine one of his main contentions, that atheism is justified by science and especially by evolution. In any case, his Humean arguments do not provide a more secure basis for his atheism because they are seriously flawed. A particular problem is that his argument for the improbability of theism rests on a highly questionable application of probability theory since, even if it were sound, it would only establish that the prior probability of God‟s existence is low, a conclusion which is compatible with the posterior probability of God‟s existence being high.

This article was published in the journal Sophia 51 (2012), 31-57. A version of it can also be found here.

Probability and the Presumption of Atheism (David Glass)
This paper reconsiders the presumption of atheism, which was initially proposed by Anthony Flew. In particular, Alvin Plantinga’s response to an early form of the presumption is reviewed and found to be unsuccessful, although the reasons cited in favour of the presumption are also unsuccessful. More recently, Michael Tooley has defended the presumption of atheism using probability theory. His approach provides a straightforward way of making sense of the presumption in terms of a low prior probability for theism, but his defence of the presumption faces several serious criticisms. It is argued that, in addition to probability, explanatory considerations are also relevant in that the opponent of the presumption should be able to draw to some extent on the explanatory role that God would play. Understood in this way, it is argued that there is no good reason to believe that there is a presumption of atheism.

This article was published in the the Yearbook of the Irish Philosophical Society (2010), 58-68. A version of it can also be found here.