Friday, August 22, 2014

New Issue of Philo

The issue's focus is Herman Phillipse's recent book, God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason (Oxford UP, 2012). I'm currently unable to access the current issue page for Philo, but here's a link to their Facebook page, which shows the current contents.

UPDATE: Here's the link to the current issue. Although a bit redundant, here's the table of contents:

Guest Editor’s Preface
1.Rik Peels, A New Case for Atheism


2. Herman Philipse, A Decision Tree for Religious Believers

3. Gijsbert van den Brink, What Is Wrong with Revelation? Herman Philipse on the Priority of Natural Theology

4. Jeroen de Ridder, Mathanja Berger, Shipwrecked or Holding Water? In Defense of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Believer

5. Rik Peels, A Bodiless Spirit? Meaningfulness, Possibility, and Probability

6. Emanuel Rutten, On Herman Philipse’s Attempt to Write Off Cosmological Arguments

7. Boudewijn de Bruin, The Epistemology of Religious Testimony

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Substantially Revised SEP Entry on Religious Diversity


New Book on Cognitive Science of Religion

Smith, Aaron CT. Thinking About Religion: Extending the Cognitive Science of Religion (Palgrave, 2014). Here's the blurb:
Thinking about Religion presents a case for an inter-disciplinary science of religion, proposing that religion operates as a kind of psychological and social placebo effect. Religious belief combines thought, feeling and experience in a way that leverages the natural tendency of the mind to latch on to socially and personally useful concepts. This effect delivers tangible benefits because religious concepts and practice feed the mind's natural drive to cling to strong beliefs. At the same time, beliefs are reinforced by favourable emotional responses. Thinking about Religion explains how these elements work together to make religious belief such a powerful placebo effect. Belief is the currency of thought, and religious belief offers a powerful return on investment. Religious activity concentrates the mind's capacity to hold ideas that effectively galvanize groups and cultivate belonging.
Further details here.

Vol. 6 of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion... due to come out next February. Here's the table of contents:

1: Alexander Arnold: Knowledge First and Ockhamism
2: Michael Bergmann: Religious Disagreement and Rational Demotion
3: Gregory W. Dawes: The Act of Faith: Aquinas and the Moderns
4: Laura W. Ekstrom: Religion on the Cheap
5: Gregory Fowler: Simplicity or Priority?
6: John Heil: Cartesian Transubstantiation
7: Jonathan D. Jacobs: The Ineffable, Inconceivable, and Incomprehensible God: Fundamentality and Apophatic Theology
8: Bruce Langtry: Rightmaking and Wrongmaking Properties, Evil, and Theism
9: R. Zachary Manis: The Doxastic Problem of Hell
10: Richard Swinburne: Could God be a Necessary Being?
11: N. N. Trakakis: The Ecclesiological Problem of Evil
12: Christina van Dyke: Aquinas's Shiny Happy People: Perfect Happiness and the Limits of Human Nature

Further details here.

Philosophical Disquisitions: The Journal Club ♯2 - Karlsen on God and the Benef...

Philosophical Disquisitions: The Journal Club ♯2 - Karlsen on God and the Benef...: Welcome to this, the second edition of the Philosophical Disquisitions Journal Club. The goal of the journal club is to encourage peopl...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of Models of God and Alternative Ultimate Realities

Kelly James Clark reviews the book for NDPR.

Review of Smith's Book to Resume Shortly

Hi gang,

Sorry for pausing the chapter-by-chapter blogging on Smith's Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality, but several things I need to attend to have gotten in the way (not the least of which is prepping my classes for the upcoming semester). I'll resume shortly.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Announcement: Special One-Day Conference on the Philosophy of Richard Swinburne

The Philosophy of Richard Swinburne

September 12, 2015

Oriel College, Oxford University
Oxford, United Kingdom

Keynote speakers:
Richard Swinburne, Oxford University


The Philosophy of Richard Swinburne

to be held in Oriel College, University of Oxford, on Saturday 12th September, 2015, from 9:00 a.m. until 9.45 p.m.

The main speakers will be Christoph Jaeger (Innsbruck), Brian Leftow (Oxford), Cyrille Michon (Nantes), Howard Robinson (Central European University), and Mark Wynn (Leeds). Richard Swinburne will offer replies.

In addition to the papers given by these speakers on aspects of Richard’s Philosophy, there will be a series of presentations throughout the day on the use of Richard’s Philosophy in teaching the Philosophy of Religion to A-level students.

The conference has been timed to follow on directly from the usual biennial BSPR conference, at which Richard himself will be presenting a paper of his own, and it is planned that there will be a combined booking form. Further details of both then will be circulated in due course. The secretary of the BSPR is Victoria Harrison (


Saturday, August 09, 2014

Fantastic New Paper on Skeptical Theism

Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Yoaav Isaacss. "Evil and Evidence", Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming)

Here's the abstract: 
The problem of evil is the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Skeptical theists contend that it is not a good argument. Their reasons for this contention vary widely, involving such notions as CORNEA, epistemic appearances, 'gratuitous' evils, 'levering' evidence, and the representativeness of goods. We aim to clarify some confusions about these notions, and also to offer a few new responses to the problem of evil.
Required reading. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Call for Papers: Logos 2015 - Religious Experience

Logos 2015: Religious Experience
May 7-9 at the University of Notre Dame

Religious experience is central to religious faith and practice. It often serves as evidence of belief; it contributes to the development of doctrine; and it, or the desire for it, is often a major motivator for church attendance, mediation, commitment to spiritual disciplines, and other religious practices. Religious experience has received a great deal of attention within both philosophy and theology; but important questions remain unanswered. What is the nature of religious experience? What, exactly is (or should be) its relationship to religious belief and religious practice? If God exists and loves human beings, why aren't vivid unambiguous religious experiences more widely available? What can religious experiences tell us about the nature of God? Might religious experiences be the result, in part, or particular skills or virtues of the people who have them? The Logos 2015 Workshop will be devoted to addressing these and other philosophical and theological aspects of religious experience.
Online registration will be open in early 2015.
To have your paper considered for presentation at Logos 2015, please submit an abstract of the paper or the paper itself no later than October 15, 2014. Other things being equal, preference will be given to those who submit full papers by the deadline. We will let you know by December 1, 2014 whether your paper has been provisionally accepted. Full acceptance will be conditional on submission of the full reading version of the paper by April 1, 2015. It is expected that papers presented at the Logos Workshop will be works in progress that can benefit from the group discussion. Consequently, we ask that authors not submit papers that will be published before the conference has ended.
Please send Abstract or Full Papers to


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blogosphere Skirmish on Whether Phil. of Religion Should Be Taught in Colleges

Here. I thought this was a joke when I first read about it (and of course it is among philosophers). In any case, the comments from Draper, Schellenberg, and Almeida are spot on, and the post itself says pretty much all else that needs to be said. Here I'll just say a few more things.

First, it's perhaps worth pointing to a more comprehensive list of readings on the topic of bias in philosophy of religion than the one in the post linked to above. Here you go.

Second, the fact that several in the field of philosophy of religion use the discipline as a means of engaging in partisan apologetics is irrelevant to whether the questions pursued in the field are worthy of research or teaching. It's only a reason not to follow their example, and to focus on the work of non-apologetically oriented philosophers of religion. There are of course very many who fall in this camp. Important examples include Paul Draper, J.L. Schellenberg, and Wes Morriston.

Third, as alluded to in the Daily Nous post, there is already a movement afoot in philosophy of religion to not only address the issue of bias and partisanship in philosophy of religion, but to pursue the discipline in a way that is overtly unmoored from the influence of theistic traditions in philosophy of religion. On this, see (e.g.) Schellenberg's recent trilogy and his Evolutionary Religion, and be on the lookout for books new and forthcoming from Oppy and Draper.

Finally, many of the criticisms floating around on this issue seem to conflate the philosophy of religion with the philosophy of theism, or even the philosophy of Christian theism.  The tacit claim of equivalence is of course false. There is thus much work to do in the field even for those who find the arguments against theism persuasive. 

On the current skirmish, one can do no better than quote J.L. Schellenberg's comment at the original post:
Having done philosophy of religion as an atheist for more than twenty years, I find the idea that atheistic belief should lead one to view philosophy of religion as useless or pernicious a bit out of touch with reality. Theistic work in philosophy of religion is, for cultural reasons, getting the lion’s share of attention. But this should not prevent us from noticing that the field is in fact rather well populated by non-theists. Rather, it gives us a reason to try to bring them – people like Paul Draper, Evan Fales, Steve Maitzen, Graham Oppy, Robin LePoidevin, William Rowe, and plenty of others — a lot more visibility. Those who call for an end to philosophy of religion might get some insight into just what they’re talking about (and then productively fall silent) if they consulted the work of people like these to discover why even an atheist might spend a lifetime doing philosophy of religion.

The answer is not that an atheist might spend a lifetime crawling through the minutiae of non-Christian or non-theistic religious belief systems. Here it is helpful to have formed some general conception of what philosophy of religion is about. Philosophy of religion, as I see it, involves bringing to bear on both actual and possible religious ideas and practices the resources of the rest of philosophy (ethics, epistemology, etc.) and, reciprocally, bringing to bear on the rest of philosophy the best results from philosophy of religion. If anyone thinks that the work of Christian philosophers exhausts either of these dimensions of the field, or that the most important such work has been completed if/when we recognize that there is no personal deity, they are sadly mistaken. Even if theism is false, other religious ideas – including the most fundamental (which should therefore be of greater interest to philosophers) – remain to be explored. Many of these ideas and explorations will not bring us into the embrace of some living religious tradition, but rather call for us to stretch our imaginations beyond the results of a few millenia of activity on the part of religious people.

Atheism, as I see it, therefore marks not the end of philosophy of religion but is something more like its beginning. Of course, if one is suffering from such common afflictions as the assumption that there are no real intellectual options in this realm other than traditional theism and metaphysical naturalism, or the virus that subtly turns one’s mind from a love of truth to an activist orientation, then one cannot be expected to make much sense of this. But philosophy is supposed to deliver us from such afflictions.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Puryear's New Critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Puryear, Stephen. "Finitism and the Beginning of the Universe", Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming). Here's the abstract:
Many philosophers have argued that the past must be finite in duration because otherwise reaching the present moment would have involved something impossible, namely, the sequential occurrence of an actual infinity of events. In reply, some philosophers have objected that there can be nothing amiss in such an occurrence, since actually infinite sequences are ‘traversed’ all the time in nature, for example, whenever an object moves from one location in space to another. This essay focuses on one of the two available replies to this objection, namely, the claim that actual infinities are not traversed in nature because space, time and other continuous wholes divide into parts only in so far as we divide them in thought, and thus divide into only a finite number of parts. I grant that this reply succeeds in blunting the anti-finitist objection, but argue that it also subverts the very argument against an eternal past it was intended to save.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Ch. 1 of Smith's Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

In chapter 1, Smith begins his case against naturalism's ability to account for our capacity for knowledge of the external world. Toward that end, he offers a brief explication and critique of D.M. Armstrong's naturalistic account of direct realism with respect to perception. Below is a quick sketch of some particulars of Armstrong's account, and some of his motivations for it, that are relevant to Smith's evaluation.

Armstrong is an empiricist. However, unlike traditional empiricists (e.g., Hume, Locke, et al.), Armstrong rejects representationalist accounts of perception, according to which perceptual awareness of external objects is mediated through sense-data. Armstrong worries that sense-data theories fall prey to radical skepticism with respect to knowledge of the external world. For if sense-data stand as intermediaries between ourselves and the outside world, then there is no way to know if they are caused by or accurately represent it. 

In the place of sense-data theories, Armstrong offers a direct realist account of perception, according to which the immediate and direct object of perception is the external world itself. In its barest essentials, Armstrong's account is that perceptual knowledge is just reliably caused belief about the world by means of the senses.[1] Armstrong is thus a reliabilist and externalist about perceptual knowledge. 

Smith raises three main criticisms against Armstrong's account. First, he argues that it suffers from the so-called "causal chain" problem. For if our beliefs are the result of a long causal chain, and we can only be aware of the last member of that chain, then we can never know if our belief is caused by, and accurately represents, an object in the external world.

Smith acknowledges that Armstrong has a reply to the above criticism, viz., that this objection rests on a mistake, conflating the causal conditions for perception (which involve intermediaries between perceiver and object) with the epistemic state of perception itself (which is immediate). However, Smith is not persuaded:
. . .the central issue posed by the argument . . .is not identifying perception with the causal conditions themselves. Rather, it is our inability to traverse, or transcend, the causal chain. . .and have epistemic access to the originating object itself. . .without that ability, Armstrong seems left with no way for us to know that we match up with the real, physical objects in the world.  (p. 17)
I'm not sure what to make of this criticism, however. For while Smith is aware that Armstrong's theory is a version of epistemic externalism, Smith seems not to appreciate that externalist theories of knowledge (including Armstrong's) lack such stringent epistemic requirements. For according to externalist theories, it's enough for the process of perception to be reliable in order for it to produce knowledge; one need not also be privy to internally accessible evidence that the process of perception is reliable in order to have knowledge via perception.[2] Perhaps Smith wants to argue that externalist theories of knowledge are inadequate, but no such argument is made here.

Smith's second criticism is that Armstrong's theory of perceptual knowledge can't account for the possibility of forming accurate concepts of objects in the external world. For (argues Smith) accurate concept formation of an object requires the ability to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate conceptions of thing, which in turn requires direct awareness of it.

I find the second criticism puzzling: why think such an ability requires direct awareness of the referent? Smith thinks it's because "otherwise, we will be forming concepts of something else [besides the external referent]". But why think that? It seems to me that even indirect realist/sense-data theories of perceptual knowledge seem capable of accounting for accurately forming concepts of objects, so long as the relevant sense-data are caused by, and accurately represent, their referents. Smith might reply that one could never "see beyond" the veil of sense-data to the external world to verify that they are veridical, but we've already seen that such a worry seems answered by an externalist account of perceptual knowledge. For as long as the sense data reliably represent external objects, the basic conditions seem to be in place for accurate concept formation.

Perhaps there is a further worry about distinguishing between veridical and illusory perceptual states. Smith seems to have such a further concern when he raises the familiar example of the straight stick that appears bent when submerged in water (p. 18). But surely even an epistemic internalist and representationalist has the resources to handle cases of accurate concept formation in such cases. For they could give an explanatory justification (in terms of, say, an account of light refraction) for thinking that the straight-stick experiences are veridical, while bent-stick experiences are not. Such accounts have of course been around since at least Descartes.

Finally, Smith argues that Armstrong's theory of perceptual knowledge can't account for the intentionality or "aboutness" of perceptual beliefs. For beliefs are about things -- in the cases at issue here, they are about objects in the external, mind-independent world. But this "aboutness" is not one of the basic properties described in physics and chemistry textbooks, and it is hard to see how intentionality could be built up from such properties. There should thus be an initial presumption against the ability of Armstrong's theory of perception to account for intentionality.

One worry I have with Smith's third criticism is the one I mentioned in the inagural post in this series, viz., that Smith equates naturalism with physicalism.  But as I mentioned last time,  there are other versions of naturalism that accept non-physical entities into their ontology (e.g., abstract objects). But if so, then even if we assume arguendo that intentionality can't be reduced to the physical, there are other versions of naturalism that are perfectly compatible with that.

That's it for now. My next post will take a look at ch. 2.
[1] Notice the implication that on Armstrong's account, perceptual experiences -- i.e., sensations -- that seem to be of the world, are not essential to perceptual knowledge (cf. blindsight cases, etc.).
[2] Alternatively, an externalist could appeal to Sosa's distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge, and then say that basic externalist perceptual knowledge is of the former sort, but not the latter sort.