David Manley's New Paper on God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence

Manley, David. "God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

Contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God are often formulated within a broadly Bayesian framework. Arguments of this sort focus on a specific feature of the world that is taken to provide probabilistic evidence for or against the existence of God: the existence of life in a ‘fine-tuned’ universe, the magnitude of suffering, divine hiddenness, etc. In each case, the idea is that things were more likely to be this way if God existed than if God did not exist—or the other way around. Less attention, however, has been paid to the deeper question of what it takes for something to count as evidence for or against the existence of God. What exactly is being claimed when it is said that some feature of the world is more or less likely given the existence of God, and how should we go about assessing such a claim? This paper is about epistemological issues—and in particular, certain potential cognitive errors—that arise when we reason probabilistically about the existence of God. The moral is not that we should refrain from reasoning in this way, but that we should be mindful of potential errors when we do.

Beth Seacord's Excellent New Entry on the Problem of Evil

Seacord, Beth. "Evil as a Problem for Theism", Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming).

Recent Work by Graham Oppy

Graham Oppy continues to produce fantastic work in philosophy of religion at a blistering pace. Recent single-author books include books on ontological arguments, naturalism and religion, atheism and agnosticism, and a primer on atheism. Recent edited and co-edited work includes a new edition of the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, a massive series on Inter-Christian and Interreligious Philosophical Dialogues (with Nick Trakakis), a comprehensive History of Western Philosophy of Religion (with Nick Trakakis), and another massive volume (with Joseph Koterski), Theism and Atheism: Opposing Arguments in Philosophy. Finally, he has written a number of important and compellingly argued chapters and papers focusing on ultimate naturalistic causal explanations (also laid out here) that are absolutely required reading for anyone interested in the question of ultimate origins.

Wielenberg's New Paper on Divine Command Theory

Wielenberg, Erik. "Divine Command Theory and Psychopathy", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

I advance a novel challenge for Divine Command Theory based on the existence of psychopaths. The challenge, in a nutshell, is that Divine Command Theory has the implausible implication that psychopaths have no moral obligations and hence their evil acts, no matter how evil, are morally permissible. After explaining this argument, I respond to three objections to it and then critically examine the prospect that Divine Command Theorists might bite the bullet and accept that psychopaths can do no wrong. I conclude that the Psychopathy Objection constitutes a serious and novel challenge for Divine Command Theory.

There are Lots of Arguments Against Theism That Don't Reduce to the Problem of Evil

Rough draft:

Forget the god of classical theism for a moment. Consider instead the hypothesis that there is a being who is omnipotent and omniscient, yet morally indifferent, and who is reliable at achieving their goals. Call this view blahtheism. Suppose further that we add to blahtheism the hypothesis that such a god is interested in creating a hospitable environment for humans (suppose they have a goal  to be reliable in creating and conserving communities of humans in the way the some build and maintain ant farms). What would you then expect Earth to be like? The answer is simple: one that is hospitable to human life. Therefore, the datum that the Earth is inhospitable to humans is surprising on blatheism. By contrast, a human-inhospitable environment is not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, life on Earth is shaped solely by evolutionary factors, shaping the world into a hostile place, due to the competition for scarce resources. Therefore, the datum that the Earth is a human-inhospitable environment provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis blahtheism.

The point of this exercise isn't just to call attention to a piece of disconfirming evidence against blatheism; it is rather to point out that at least some data that supports naturalism vis-a-vis supernaturalistic hypotheses does not reduce to the problem of evil. Evil doesn't play a role one way or the other in the argument above; rather, (i) facts about rational omniscience and omnipotence, plus (ii) facts about the god's interests/aims, and (iii) facts suggesting the aims were not achieved, sufficed to generate the problem. This was highlighted by the fact that the blatheistic hypothesis excludes moral properties from the divine nature, and yet we could make reasonable predictions about what such a being would do, given certain intentions. The salient facts here were facts suggesting an aim/outcome mismatch between God's intentions and the world. 

I will go further. I'm betting that other lines of evidence for naturalism (see, e.g., many arguments on this list) seem to have the same feature, viz., their evidential force turns on aim/outcome mismatches of various sorts that don't essentially appeal to God's love or moral perfection (although of course I don't mean to imply that all other arguments against theism besides evil rely on aim/outcome mismatches).

The moral is that the widely held assumption that most arguments against theism reduce to the problem of evil is wrong.

The Argument from Autonomy Against Theism

Rough draft:

On another occasion, we noted Kahane's excellent (2011) paper, "Should We Want God to Exist?" (PPR 82(3): 674-696). The paper suggests a data point that can be transformed into an argument against the hypothesis of classical theism. 

The sort of argument I have in mind can be gleaned from the following passages:
“Imagine that instead of growing up to become an independent adult, you would forever remain a child, forever under the protection of wise and loving parents. Or imagine living in a land ruled by a benevolent monarch who, although keeping constant watch over everything his subjects do, grants them extensive liberties. These counterfactual worlds would be better, even much better, in various respects. Yet few of us, I believe, would prefer them to the way things actually are, however imperfect. The anti-theist believes we should make a similar choice.”
“The thought is that in a world where complete privacy is impossible, where one is subordinated to a superior being, certain kinds of life plans, aspirations, and projects cannot make sense. I suspect that certain actual life plans, aspirations, and projects that revolve around these values do not make sense, if the world is like that. (Compare: many life plans are incompatible with childhood. If it becomes clear that, contrary to appearance, there is no escape from childhood, then many lives would become absurd and pointless. And discovering that this childhood is eternal would make things worse, not better. As Williams reminds us, immortality is useless if one’s life has no meaning.) Theists sometimes claim that if God does not exist, life has no meaning. I am now suggesting that if God does exist, the life of at least some would lose its meaning. 
Of course this outcome wouldn’t be averted if God were to hide Himself—say if He were to hide Himself only from those who would, in this way, be most grievously hurt by His existence. This wouldn’t help. It would only give these persons the illusion that certain values can be realized—that their lives have meaning.”
It would take much more work to properly develop and defend the argument, but briefly, the way I have in mind to use his core point here as evidence against theism is as follows. If autonomy is required for the flourishing of properly functioning adult humans, then being a subordinate who lacks privacy to even their own thoughts is contrary to the flourishing of mature, properly functioning adult humans, in which case beings made for autonomy of this sort is prima facie surprising on theism. For one would expect God to create beings that are capable of flourishing within his universe.

By contrast, the existence of beings with a prima facie rational and fitting desire for autonomy of this sort is not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no such being to which we are subordinate. Rather, evolution selected for a preference structure that desires this sort of autonomy -- an autonomy that's compatible with interdependence with similar creatures, but which favors using one's own judgement for navigating our way through life when (e.g.) the wisdom of others seems wrong. Beings with a natural desire or preference of this sort would seem to have an evolutionary advantage over those that do not, since the wisdom of the group might go wrong in ways that are contrary to their survival and reproduction. Therefore, the existence of a prima facie rational and fitting preference for this kind of autonomy provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

David Manley's New Paper on God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence

Manley, David. " God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence ", Religious Studies (forthcoming). Abstract: Contemporary ar...