Sunday, November 16, 2014

Call for Papers: Divine Hiddenness

The British Society for the Philosophy of Religion 2015 Conference

Submission deadline: March 31, 2015

Conference date(s):
September 10, 2015 - September 13, 2015

Conference Venue:
Oriel College, Oxford University 
Oxford, United Kingdom

The British Society for the Philosophy of Religion 2015 Conference

Divine Hiddenness 

Oriel College, Oxford, Thursday 10th – Sunday 13th September 2015.

Saturday 12th will focus on the legacy of Richard Swinburne in honour of his 80th birthday 

Keynote Speakers: Professor Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Professor Stephen R. L. Clark (Liverpool), Professor Sarah Coakley (Cambridge), and Professor Paul Moser (tbc) (Loyola University, Chicago) 

Call for Papers 
The problem of the "Hiddenness of God" has been explored in analytic philosophy of religion in recent decades mainly as an issue of theodicy and providence: if God wishes to make Godself transformatively available to humans, why does God not do so more obviously and openly? Many, such as Russell and, more recently, Schellenberg, have taken this to be an argument against theism. 

There is however also a deeper ontological issue at stake, that of the apparently intrinsic divine transcendence of God as creator. What philosophical sense can be made of a God who is (it is said) utterly unknowable in 'essence' but equally utterly available ‘in energies’, grace and revelation? Is there anything to be gained by a comparison with modern cosmological speculation here? We know what ‘dark matter’ does (namely, pull visible baryonic matter into stars and galaxies) but not what it is. 

There is also an epistemological problem, with echoes in other (non-religious) spheres. We may hope one day - though perhaps without much reason - to know the nature of 'dark matter', whereas - we are told - God is forever incomprehensible. How - as Hume enquired - does an incomprehensible divinity differ from an equally incomprehensible, non-divine, origin? How does "God does it" differ from "we can never know what does it"? Papers are invited which probe these philosophical issues from different directions, in connection with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or classical pagan traditions, both ancient and modern, and from the perspective of abstract metaphysics and epistemology. The theodicy question in the earlier discussion need not be neglected, but should be considered in the light of the metaphysical and epistemological issues already named. 

Please send abstracts either in the body of an email or as a .doc file (no pdfs) of a maximum of 250 words to me ( by the end of March 2015. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to consider abstracts that exceed the word limit or that are submitted after the closing date (allowance being made to colleagues in other time zones). 

Final versions of accepted papers will be due one month before the conference begins. Preference will be shown towards papers that are on the theme of the conference. Time and space at the conference will be limited, so we shall have to be selective, even allowing for the fact that we plan to run parallel sessions and request people presenting papers to keep to half-hour slots. 

In order to keep to the tight timetabling required to permit participants to hear (the whole of) as many papers as possible, papers should take ideally fifteen minutes and an absolute maximum twenty minutes to deliver, leaving ten minutes or so for discussion.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Quick Inductive Argument Against Anselmian Beings

The argument is simple: We've observed a huge quantity of an extremely wide variety of concrete objects, and all of the concrete objects we've observed are contingent; so, probably, all concrete objects whatsoever are contingent. But no Anselmian being is contingent. So, probably, there are no Anselmian beings.

An abductive version of the argument can be constructed as well: Our uniform experience of concrete objects is that we find them to be contingent. What explains this? The simplest, most conservative explanation of the data with the widest explanatory scope is the hypothesis that all concrete objects are contingent beings. It is thus the best explanation of the data. But no Anselmian being is a contingent being. Therefore, probably, there are no Anselmian beings.

If needed, an abductive (or inductive) argument could be run for a weaker, defeasible, yet burden-shifting principle that normally, concrete objects are contingent. It would take a bit more work to show it, but I think that even apart from the sorts of considerations above, such a principle, when combined with several other considerations, suffices to serve as an undercutting defeater for the key modal premise of the modal ontological argument, as well as the key principle of cosmological arguments, which links the existence of contingent beings to the requirement of their explanatory ground in a necessary being.

One might of course reply that such a hypothesis (viz., that all concrete objects are contingent) has narrower scope than the hypothesis that there is a necessary being as well, on the grounds that the latter, but not the former, can account for the fact that there are contingent beings at all, rather than just nothing. However, the reasons we have for thinking that such an account is needed rely upon the principle of sufficient reason, which is itself in need of inductive or abductive support from our uniform experience. If so, then even if such evidence is likewise universal, we have a mutual canceling-out of the epistemic force of both my hypothesis and the principle of sufficient reason, in which case the PSR doesn't favor the proposed competing hypothesis over mine. But even if this weren't true, we've seen on other occasions that the most defensible versions of PSR may well be satisfied even on the assumption that there are only contingent beings.

The Autumn '14 Issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion... now out. The issue includes a symposium on Brian Leftow's important new book, God and Necessity.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Robust Ethics: Hardback: Erik J. Wielenberg - Oxford University Press

On another occasion, we noted that Wielenberg has been working on a systematic defense of non-theistic non-natural moral realism in ethics. I'm happy to say that it's now out. Thanks to John Danaher for alerting me to this.

UPDATE: John Danaher is doing us a kindness by explicating the main theses and arguments in the book. Here are the first two posts in his series.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Post Index: Blogging Through R. Scott Smith's Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

Introductory Post: Overview of the book and some preliminary remarks
Smith's critique of Armstrong's theory of perceptual knowledge
Smith's critique of Dretske/Tye/Lycan accounts of perceptual knowledge
Getting clear on Smith's core argument against naturalistic accounts of concept acquisition, correction, and application
Smith's core critique of naturalistic accounts of perceptual knowledge
Smith's core critique of naturalistic accounts of concept correction
Smith's core critique of naturalistic accounts of concept formation
Smith's core critique of naturalistic accounts of intentionality

Smith's Argument Against Naturalistic Accounts of Intentionality

(Very rough draft)
So far, we've looked at Smith's arguments against naturalistic accounts of (i) perceptual knowledge, (ii) concept formation, and (ii) concept correction. In this post, I aim to finish (or at least nearly finish) discussing Smith's book by focusing on Smith's last main type of argument against naturalism: (iv) arguments against the compatibility of perceptual knowledge and naturalistic accounts of intentionality.

As before, Smith's focus is (broadly speaking) Dretske-style accounts of intentionality. According to such accounts, a concept or perceptual state is of or about its referent just in case the former reliably covaries with the latter when functioning properly. So, for example, when functioning properly under normal conditions, thermometer readings co-vary with temperature, and scale readings co-vary with the weights of objects on the scale. Because of this, thermometer readings reliably represent temperatures, and scales reliably represent the weights of objects. In a similar way, sensations reliably represent the external environment when functioning properly under normal conditions. 

The heart of Smith's criticism is that if naturalistic accounts of intentionality are correct, then we can't know if our perceptions are veridical. Smith uses two main arguments to support this conclusion. Smith's first main argument is that if naturalistic accounts of intentionality are correct (again, think Dretske et al.), then intentionality is essentially a matter of a law-like correlation between external object and internal brain state. On such accounts, the object of immediate awareness is the internal brain state, and there is no way to "see" beyond it to see if such states are caused by, and reliably represent, their external referents. And finally, if that's right, then there is know way to know if the former reliably represents the latter, since (argues Smith) knowledge of some x requires the potential knower to have immediate, direct acquaintance with x. Therefore, naturalistic accounts of intentionality entail that we can't have perceptual knowledge of the external world.

What to make of this argument? As we mentioned in the last post in this series, Smith is aware that Dretske and other naturalists can appeal to an externalist account of knowledge, according to which knowledge doesn't require "getting outside one's own skin", as it were, to check if one's beliefs and/or internal representations reliably represent their external referents. Rather, all that's required for knowledge, on such accounts, is that the connection between beliefs and/or referents are, in fact, reliable. However, Smith replies that this sort of response is inconclusive at best, since he thinks knowledge requires conceptualization of its object, and he thinks he has shown that the forming the requisite concepts is impossible given naturalism. Therefore (argues Smith), epistemic externalism is at best necessary, but not sufficient, for knowledge. Unfortunately, as we saw in the previous post in this series, it's not at all clear that Smith is right about that.

Smith second main argument is that if naturalistic accounts of intentionality are correct (again, think Dretske et al.), then we shouldn't think our concepts are veridical, on the grounds that intentionality is at root a causal process. But the problem is that causes always modify what they act upon. But if so, then intentionality must modify the relevant brain states involved in perception. And if that's right, then (claims Smith) perceptual experience must be (or at least probably is?) distorted. And if it's distorted, then it's not veridical. Smith then goes on to use the point as a reply to Dretske's epistemic externalist rejoinder to Smith's "causal chain" objection to naturalistic perceptual knowledge. For if intentionality distorts perception, then we have grounds for thinking that perception is distorted.

What to make of this argument? Perhaps the most obvious worry is the inference from "causes modify" to "causes distort". For while a cause can modify its object for the worse, it can also modify it for the better. And this is no less true when the object of modification is representational. To take an obvious example, consider perceptual registrations in the eye. In this sort of process, the pupil of the eye receives light from the external environment, which in turn registers an accurate two-dimensional image of its referent on the retina at the back of the eye. So here we have a case of a cause that modifies its object for the better from a representational point of view. And given the prima facie plausibility of the view that reliably tracking one's environment is conducive to survival and reproduction, there are strong reasons to think that evolution would select for reliable representational processes in organisms. (Smith claims that his argument doesn't depend on Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, so let's leave discussion of the latter for another day).  I therefore find this argument unpersuasive.

New Podcast Episodes: New Insights and Directions for Religious Epistemology

Here. Required listening.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Work From Schellenberg

As can be seen from recent updates at his academic page,  J.L. Schellenberg's trend of producing lots of important work in philosophy of religion continues unabated. I'm especially looking forward to his two forthcoming books: 

(i) Renewing Philosophy of Religion: Exploratory Essays (with Paul Draper). OUP, forthcoming in 2016. I expect that it will be the book to look to in relation to the current trend to unmoor philosophy of religion from the undue influence of apologetically-oriented Christian theism.

(ii) The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God. OUP, forthcoming in 2015. The book's aim looks to be to bring the arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason to a general audience.

He has also added a slew of new papers to his site. No doubt they will be required reading, along with the rest of his corpus. Happy reading!