Theism's Explanatory Gap Problem

Ever since at least Russell (1927), many philosophers[1] have argued that materialism – and, I now point out, classical theism – have an “explanatory gap” problem of another sort. For science only tells us about the structure and dynamics of matter -- i.e., its extrinsic, relational properties -- and not its intrinsic properties[2]. As D.M. Armstrong (1968) put it:

"...[I]f we look at properties of physical objects that physicists are prepared to allow them, such as mass, electric charge, or momentum, these show a distressing tendency to dissolve into relations one object has to another. What, then, are the things that have these relations to each other? Must they not have a non-relational nature if they are to sustain relations? But what is this nature? Physics does not tell us." (p. 282)

Subsequent progress in science only seems to underscore this point (cf. Ladyman and Ross 2007; Davidson 2014). Many thus now argue for ontic structural realism, according to which reality consists of relations without relata, and it is only “relations all the way down”. Unfortunately, to date, even the most strident defenders of ontic structural realism have failed to give a fully satisfying account of the view (cf. McKenzie 2017). Incoherence threatens. This is the explanatory gap problem for both conservative naturalism and theism: both views give us a physical universe with a hollow core, as neither provides the resources to provide intrinsic properties to ground its extrinsic, relational properties.

There is thus pressure to say that there must be some stock of intrinsic properties to physical reality, and yet physical reality seems to lack such properties. What is a naturalist or a theist to do? The Russellian monist answers: The only intrinsic properties we know of are phenomenal properties of subjective experience. The Russellian monist thus posits that phenomenal properties ground the relational properties of physics. Happily, then, Russellian monism appears to solve both the hard problem of consciousness and the intrinsic properties problem in one stroke. The structure-and dynamics-argument therefore offers another powerful line of support for liberal naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

[1] See, for example, Russell (1927), Strawson (1986), Chalmers (1996), Stoljar (2006), Pereboom (2011), Alter & Nagasawa (2012), Alter (2016) and Goff (2017).

[2]Lewis (1986) argued that shape is an intrinsic property of material objects, but Davidson (2014) has argued persuasively that shape is relative to a given inertial reference frame.


Alter, Torin. 2016. “The Structure and Dynamics Argument Against Materialism”, Nous 50 (4): 794-815.

-----. and Yujin Nagasawa. 2015. Consciousness in the physical world: Perspectives on Russellian Monism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Armstrong, D.M. 1968. A Materialist Theory of Mind. New York: Routledge.

Chalmers, David. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Davidson, Matthew. 2014. “Special Relativity and the Intrinsicality of Shape”, Analysis 74 (1): 57-58.

Goff, Phillip. 2017. Consciousness and Fundamental Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ladyman, James and Don Ross, with David Spurrett and John Collier. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, Oxford University Press.

Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McKenzie, Kerry. 2017. “Ontic Structural Realism”, Philosophy Compass 12 (4): e12399.

Pereboom, Derk. 2011. Consciousness and the Prospects for Physicalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Russell, Bertrand. 1927. The Analysis of Matter. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Stoljar, Daniel. 2006. Ignorance and Imagination: The Epistemic Origin of the Problem of Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Strawson, Galen. 2008. Real Materialism: And Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion: Free Downloads!

For readers of this blog who don't know already, the books in the Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion are available for free download for two weeks after their original publication!

Check them out!

Theism, Substance Dualism, Personal Identity, and Quantum Mechanics

(Extremely rough draft.)

Ever since at least Ladyman and Ross's Every Thing Must Go (with David Wallace, Peter Lewis, David Albert, Tim Maudlin and many others in chorus) more and more philosophers have been coming to grips with the need for radical revisions in traditional analytic metaphysics in the light of  quantum mechanics (QM) (cf. Jenann Ismael, Alyssa Ney, Peter Lewis, Kerry McKenzie, Jessica Wilson, Jonathan Schaffer, Ted Sider, Shamik Dasgupta, and many others).[1]   However (aside from worries for the causal principle in cosmological arguments), it seems that the waves of the quantum revolution have yet to be felt in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. I noted one potential implication on another occasion. Here are a few more.

Prima facie, on any plausible interpretation of quantum mechanics (Bohmian, Everettian, and GRW), there are many worlds/universes. As Peter Lewis points out, non-Everrettian interpretations of quantum mechanics are just many-worlds accounts in denial[2]. This has serious implications for the metaphysics of personal identity and other issues related to philosophy of religion. 

For example, take standard theistic accounts of substance dualism, and take the increasingly popular Everettian interpretation of QM (in fact, strictly speaking, it's not an interpretation: it just is QM). On that account, humans are constantly branching, hydra-like, into hugely many alternate universes, at virtually every moment of their lives. But if so, then prima facie, either (i) only one branch is you, or (ii) they all are you. On (i), God creates (directly, ex nihilo, or indirectly, through natural processes) new souls for each branch self at virtually every moment. On (ii), you have many selves. On either option, the sameness of soul account of personal identity is starting to look seriously unmotivated.

Furthermore, what are we to make of the afterlife? On (ii), all of your counterpart branch souls have an existence in an afterlife. Now combine that with the traditional doctrine of the soul being joined to a physical body at the final judgement.  Prima facie, our world essentially involves QM and branching universes, in which case ,prima facie, so does any post-resurrection universe. Prima facie,   all of the branching selves will be resurrected in different alternate universes, with counterpart Christs. On (i), it's hard to get an intelligible grasp of how all of my branching selves could be "me", each in their own resurrected bodies in alternate universes.

Furthermore, what are we to make of the person and work of Christ? For example, Jesus has many branch selves. Which one is the "real" Jesus? One? Some? All? Presumably, then, there are many Christs, and there will have to be many crucifixions. From this example, it becomes apparent that a host of other problems arise for the incarnation, atonement, trinity, and related doctrines. 

In short, it looks as though quantum mechanics poses serious problems for both substance dualism and for theism. In fact, it's looking as though QM, all by itself, is incompatible with-- or, at the very least, highly surprising on -- traditional accounts of Christian theism and religious monotheism in general. Prima facie, then, QM provides at least strong abductive evidence against traditional monotheism.

[1] The other main revolution in physics is relativistic quantum field theory (RQFT), according to which fields are more fundamental than particles: what we call 'particles' are really just field excitations. But that is another can of worms.
[2] Lewis, Peter J. Quantum Ontology: A Guide to the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Three Dozen (or so) Atheistic Arguments

A popular view in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is that while there are many arguments for theism -- cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments; moral arguments; arguments from consciousness; etc. (by Plantinga's lights, two dozen or so) -- there are only one or two arguments for atheism, viz., the problem of evil and (more recently) the argument from divine hiddenness.

This is a misconception. Off the top of my head, here are nearly four dozen:

1. The standard deductive argument from evil (Various)
2. The evidential argument from evil (Rowe and others)
3. The argument from divine hiddenness (Schellenberg) 
4. The argument from pain/pleasure (Draper)
5. The argument from lack of extensive empathy (Draper)
6. The argument from flourishing/languishing (Draper) 
7. The argument from religious ambiguity/diversity (Draper and others)
8. The argument from the mind’s dependence on the brain (Draper and others)
9. The argument from evolution (Draper)
10. The Free Will Offense (Schellenberg)
11. Schellenberg's new deductive argument from evil. (Schellenberg) 
12. The argument from the absurdity of life in a Christian (and, arguably, any traditional theistic) universe (Wielenberg)
13. An abductive argument for naturalism (Oppy)
14. The argument from ordinary morality (Maitzen)
15. An ontological disproof of theism (Maitzen)
16. The problem of theistic evidentialist philosophers (Lovering)
17. The argument from autonomy (Kahane)
18. The argument from ugliness (Aikin and Jones)
19. The common core/diversity dilemma (Thornhill-Miller and Millican
20. The argument from the philosophy of nature (Cordry)
21. The argument from natural inequalities (Mizrahi)
22. The argument from social evil (Poston)
23. The argument from insect suffering (Crummett)
24. The argument from scale (Everitt)
25. The argument from religious evil (Kodaj)
26. The argument from idolatry (Linford and Megill)
27. The argument from indifference (Linford and Megill)
28. The argument from the requirement of divine interference (Maring)
29. The argument from eternally separated lovers (Hassoun)
30. The argument from peer disagreement
31. The argument from the impropriety of worship (Aikin)
32. The argument from the impropriety of belief (Nagel)
33. The argument from abstract objects (Davidson, Craig, me)
34. The argument from inhospitable environment (me)
35. The argument from teleological evil (me)
36. The argument from material causality (me)
37. The argument from revulsion (me)
38. The argument from the ineffectiveness of prayer (various)
39. The argument from divine evil (Lewis)
40. The argument from hell (Sider)
41. The argument from the meaning of life (Megill and Linford)
42. The argument from the demographics of theism (Maitzen)
43. The problem of no best world (Rowe, others)
44. The problem of incoherent/incompatible properties (various)
45. The problem of mitigated modal skepticism (me)
46. The structure and dynamics argument (me)
47. The argument from (1)-(46).

Elliott Sober Discusses his New Book on the Design Argument...

...on New Books Network . Thanks to Yujin Nagasawa for the pointer.