Friday, December 26, 2008

Michael Almeida's New Book...

...The Metaphysics of Perfect Beings, has recently come out.

Here is the summary of the book at its Routledge Press page:
The Metaphysics of Perfect Beings addresses the problems an Anselmian perfect being faces in contexts involving unlimited options. Recent advances in the theory of vagueness, the metaphysics of multiverses and hyperspace, the theory of dynamic or sequential choice, the logic of moral and rational dilemmas, and metaethical theory provide the resources to formulate the new challenges and the Anselmian responses with an unusual degree of precision. Almeida shows that the challenges arising in the unusual contexts involving unlimited options sometimes produce metaphysical surprise.

And here are the chapters listed in the table of contents:

Chapter One: Atheistic Arguments from Improvability
Chapter Two: Rational Choice and No Best World
Chapter Three: On Evil's Vague Necessity
Chapter Four: The Problem of No Maximum Evil
Chapter Five: On the Logic of Imperfection
Chapter Six: Supervenience, Divine Freedom and Absolute Orderings
Chapter Seven: Vague Eschatology
Chapter Eight: Theistic Modal Realism, Multiverses and Hyperspace

In my humble opinion, Michael Almeida is one of the most brilliant and rigorous philosophers of religion alive today. I look forward to reading his new book.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Some Nice Siren Music to Round Off the Year

Alright, I admit it: I have a soft spot for female musicians. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of Hope Sandoval. Here are some other femaie musicians I've been listening to recently that I'm happy to recommend:

Merrick: A live performance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. The songs around the 3/4 mark are the best -- especially "Automatic" and "Flick" at the end. The duo -- Inara George and Bryony Atkinson -- has since disbanded, and each does their own thing. Each musician is still very much worth listening to.

Nellie McKay: Here's a clip from a live interview and performance on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Jesca Hoop: Here's a live (video) studio performance (on NPR) of her song, "Enemy". And here's a link to "Love and Love Again".

Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Paul Draper's Forthcoming Work in Philosophy of Religion

...looks very interesting. It looks like his forthcoming work falls under three main headings: (i) the problem of evil, (ii) confirmation theory (and its implications for issues in philosophy of religion), and (iii) the negative impact of partisanship and polemics in contemporary philosophy of religion.

With respect to (i), he has a forthcoming monograph, The Evidential Problem of Evil, in which he develops a Bayesian version of the problem of evil, and defends it against the responses of various theodicies, the Skeptical Theist response, natural theology, and reformed epistemology. In addition, he's drafting a chapter in a collection of papers edited by Quentin Smith and Paul Pistone (Theism and Naturalism: New Essays). His chapter will be entitled, "Darwin's Argument from Evil".

With respect to (ii), Draper has at least four pieces in preparation. In one paper ("A New Theory of Intrinsic Probability"), Draper develops a theory of intrinsic probability for use in Bayesian probability arguments, and argues that it's more plausible than Richard Swinburne's theory of intrinsic probability. The other three works look to be "application" pieces. In one of these ("Evolution and the Problem of Induction"), Draper raises a worry for naturalists re: the problem of induction. He then uses his new theory of intrinsic probability to answer it. In another, ("Why Theists Bear a Heavy Burden of Proof"), Draper argues that the intrinsic probability of theism is low, and thus theism bears a heavy burden of proof to make its case. The third application piece critiques probabilistic arguments for theism. The piece will be an entry in the new (revised and massively expanded) edition of The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Notably, Draper is co-editing the new edition (with Charles Taliaferro, taking up the editorial role of the late Phillip Quinn).

With respect to (iii), Draper is working on a paper (originally delivered at the 2006 APA Central Division Meeting) that distinguishes between philosophy of religion on the one hand, and atheistic and theistic apologetics on the other. His central contention is that there has been too much of the latter and not enough of the former in contemporary philosophy of religion.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hume's Version of the Problem of Evil in Part XI of the Dialogues

Remember the fine-tuning design argument? Recall that that version isn't an argument from analogy, but rather an inference to the best explanation (alternatively, it can be construed via the machinery of confirmation theory), where the data is the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of nature for life to evolve within it, and the hypotheses are theism and naturalism.

Hume gives an "evil twin" of that argument in Part X of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and then a slightly different version of it in Part XI. We've already discussed the version in Part X. The version in Part XI can be expressed as follows:

There are four major causes of natural evil in the world:

1. Pleasure and pain as the mechanisms of species preservation: Why pain? Prima facie, the same end could be achieved by via the mechanisms of pleasure and its diminishment in the appropriate circumstances.[1]

2. Laws of Nature: Granted, humans and the other animals might well need the world to exhibit a fairly high degree of regularity for a recognizable and decent life, and natural laws provide such regularity. But prima facie, the requisite degree of regularity is compatible with God's frequent direct intervention in the world to prevent apparently gratuitous suffering and enable flourishing. And prima facie, it would’ve been much better for humans and animals if God frequently intervened in nature to achieve such ends (perhaps incognito, if that is required to achieve his aims).[2]

3. The frugal distribution of powers and faculties among humans and animals: Relatively few sentient creatures have a quality of life that can be properly characterized as 'flourishing'. In fact, the quality of life for very many sentient creatures scarcely rises above the minimum required for survival and reproduction. Indeed, most creatures languish for at least a significant portion of their lives. The presence of an advantageous ability in a human or an animal is almost always offset by the lack of one or more other abilities that would allow them to flourish. It appears that the bulk of human and animal suffering could be avoided if they were endowed with just a slightly larger variety of traits and abilities -- or even just a slight improvement of those they do have. Prima facie, then, the aims of nature do not include the flourishing of living things, but only their mere propagation and preservation.[3]

4. The flaws in nature’s mechanisms: To the impartial observer, Nature’s mechanisms appear to operate at a level that's far from optimal. Some mechanisms are sub-optimal in the sense that they not infrequently yield too little or too much of their output. So, for example, the mechanisms that give us rain often don’t operate when they should (leading to drought), or operate in excess (leading to flooding). Other forms of sub-optimal function are more invasive. So, for example, the mechanisms responsible for the functioning of cells and other parts often malfunction, leading to cancer, birth defects, and other ills. Thus, if the universe is really God’s machine (as Cleanthes' version of the design argument in Part II of the Dialogues aims to show), and creaturely flourishing is part of its design plan, it appears to be a tragically imperfect and inefficient one.[4]

Call circumstances (1)-(4), “the data”. What hypothesis best explains the data? Hume points out that the hypotheses reduce to four:

H1. The cause(s) of the universe is (are) perfectly good.
H2. The cause(s) of the universe is (are) perfectly evil.
H3. Some of the causes of the universe are good, and some are evil.
H4. The cause(s) of the universe is (are) neither good nor evil. (Paul Draper calls this ‘the hypothesis of indifference’)

Hume argues that hypotheses H1-H3 are explanations for the data that are less than best:

-H1 and H2 are each ruled out as the best explanation, as unmixed causes (either perfect goodness or perfect evil) can't be the best explanation of mixed phenomena (both good and evil).
-H3 is ruled out as the best explanation, as there is too much regularity in the world to suggest a “battle” between good and evil played out in the universe.

In contrast to H1-H3, H4 conforms very well to what we see with respect to data (1)-(4): we would expect such data if the cause(s) of the universe were neither good nor evil, but rather non-moral entities or mechanisms (such as the mechanisms of the natural world studied in the sciences). Therefore, H4 is the best explanation of the data.

To quote Hume: “Look round the universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organized, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only things worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children.”[5]
[1] Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, J.C.A. Gaskin, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Part XI, pp. 107-8.

[2] Hume notes that it seems that even relatively infrequent divine intervention would lead to a drastic reduction in the worlds ills. "A, regularly and wisely distributed, would change the face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of nature or confound human conduct, than the present economy of things, where the causes are secret, and variable, and compounded. Some small touches, given to Caligula's brain in his infancy, might have converted him into a Trajan: one wave, a little higher than the rest, by burying Caesar and his fortune in the bottom of the ocean, might have restored liberty to a considerable part of mankind. There may, for aught we know, be good reasons, why providence interposes not in this manner, but they are unknown to us: And though the mere supposition, that such reasons exist, may be sufficient to save the conclusion concerning the divine attributes [i.e., that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good], yet surely it can never be sufficient to establish that conclusion." Ibid, p. 109.

[3] Hume so masterfully illustrates this point that he deserves to be quoted at length: "Every animal has the requisite endowments; but these endowments are bestowed with so scrupulous an economy, that any considerable diminution must entirely destroy the creature. Wherever one power is increased, there is a proportional abatement in the others. Animals, which excel in swiftness, are commonly defective in force. Those, which possess both, are either imperfect in some of their senses, or are oppressed with the most craving wants. The human species, whose chief excellency is reason and sagacity, is of all others the most necessitous, and the most deficient in bodily advantages; without clothes, without arms, without food, without lodging, without any convenience of life, except what they owe to their own skill and industry. In short, nature seems to have formed an exact calculation of the necessities of her creatures; and like a rigid master, has afforded them little more powers or endowments, than what are strictly sufficient to supply those necessities. An indulgent parent would have bestowed a large stock, in order to guard against accidents, and secure the happiness and welfare of the creature, in the most unfortunate concurrence of circumstances. Every course of life would not have been so surrounded with precipices, that the least departure from the true path, by mistake or necessity, must involve us in misery and ruin. Some reserve, some fund would have been provided to ensure happiness; nor would the powers and the necessities have been adjusted with so rigid an economy. The Author of Nature is inconceivably powerful: His force is supposed great, if not altogether inexhaustible: Nor is there any reason, as far as we can judge, to make him observe this strict frugality in his dealings with his creatures...In order to cure most of the ills of human life, I require not that man should have the wings of an eagle, the swiftness of the stag, the force of the ox, the arms of the lion, the scales of the crocodile or rhinoceros; much less do I demand the sagacity of an angel or cherubim. I am contented to take an increase in one single power or faculty of his soul. Let him be endowed with a greater propensity to industry and labour; a more vigorous spring and activity of mind; a more constant bent to business and application. Let the whole species possess naturally an equal diligence with that which many individuals are able to attain by habit and reflection; and the most beneficial consequences, without any allay of ill, is the immediate and necessary result of this endowment. Almost all the moral, as well as the natural evils of human life arise from idleness; and were our species, by the original constitution of their frame, exempt from this vice or infirmity, the perfect cultivation of the land, the improvement of arts and manufactures, the exact execution of every office and duty, immediately follow; and met at once may fully reach that state of society, which is so imperfectly attained by the best-regulated government. But as industry is a power, and the most valuable than any, nature seems determined, suitably to her usual maxims, to bestow it on men with a very sparing hand; and rather to punish him severely for his deficiency in it, than to reward him for his attainments. She has so contrived his frame, that nothing but the most violent necessity can oblige him to labour; and she employs all his other wants to overcome, at least in part, the want of diligence, and to endow him with some share of a faculty, of which she has thought fit to naturally bereave him." Ibid., pp. 110-11.

[4] Ibid., pp. 111-12.

[5] Ibid., p. 113.

Bradley Monton's New Critique of Contemporary Design Arguments

I mentioned Bradley Monton in an earlier post. Well, he has a very nice chapter forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Vol. II). It's entitled, "Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe". It's an excellent critique of Behe's design argument from irreducible complexity, as well as design arguments based on Dembski's explanatory filter. He also offers a great critique of Dembski's explanatory filter itself, concluding with a better model. A draft of his paper can be found here.

One reason why I think this paper is important is that it brings the recent experimental evidence that the universe is spatially infinite[1] to bear on issues in philosophy of religion.

P.S. Recall that Monton is an atheist, and yet he's a defender of the in-principle legitimacy of intelligent design in the sciences (as I mentioned in the earlier post, he's coming out with a monograph defending ID, entitled, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design). So here is yet another critique of Dembski's account of detecting design from someone not antecedently against the legitimacy of ID.

[1] based on the measurments of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) of the cosmic background radiation. Its measurements provide strong prima facie evidence that the universe is spatially flat, thereby providing strong prima facie evidence that it's spatially infinite.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hume’s Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument in Part IX of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

(N.B. In reviewing Hume's criticisms, it's interesting that they anticipate, in rudimentary form, contemporary worries for the argument (e.g., a posteriori necessities and the problems they generate for evaluating modal claims pertinent to the argument; and Peter van Inwagen's worries for the argument raised by the material composition debate).)

1st criticism: Any being’s non-existence is conceivable, including God’s. But conceivability is the only relevant evidence we have of possibility. So, any evidence we might have had for the conclusion of a necessary being is rebutted or, at the very least, undercut.

-Reply: God doesn’t wear his necessity on his sleeve, as it were. If we could just grasp his essence, we would see that he exists of necessity.

-Rejoinder: No. It’s clear that even if we could grasp his essence, we still would see that his existence is not necessary. For we can see that it’s true of every being, no matter what their nature might turn out to be like, that they could’ve failed to exist. For we can see that necessity is only a property of certain propositions (e.g., ‘all bachelors are unmarried’), and not of beings.

2nd criticism: But even if it were true that necessity can be a property of beings, and not just propositions, we have no reason to privilege God as the necessary being. For it could equally turn out that the universe is a necessary being.

-Anticipated reply: No. For we can conceive of the non-existence of the universe. And since conceivability is the only relevant source of evidence for possibility, we have good reason to think it’s possible for the universe to fail to exist. And if so, we have good reason to think the universe is not a necessary being.

-Rejoinder: Again, the same goes for God: we can conceive of each – God and the universe -- as failing to exist. So neither hypothesis about the necessary being has an epistemic advantage over the other. (But this point works to the advantage of the skeptic. For the proponent of the argument is offering it as an argument to take one from a state of disbelief or suspension of judgment about theism to a state of belief. So if neither hypothesis is more plausible than the other, then it fails in this task.)

3rd criticism: We can’t rule out – and the defender of the cosmological argument here allows – that the universe is eternal: it could be that there is an infinite, beginningless series of dependent beings, each one caused or explained in terms of the one that preceded it. But if so, then it makes no sense to say that such a series has a cause. For one thing can only be a cause of another if the former preceded the other in time. But there is nothing prior in time to a beginningless series of dependent beings.

4th criticism: If each dependent being in an infinite, beginningless series is caused or explained by the dependent being that preceded it, then nothing’s left to explain. To say that the series of dependent beings needs an explanation in addition to an explanation of each individual being in the series is absurd. For the series of dependent beings isn’t itself a being, any more than a collection of objects in a room is itself an object. One might call collections of objects like this, ‘objects’, but such “objects” go no deeper than linguistic or conceptual convention.

Spotting and Avoiding Debating Tricks, Part 1: Mischaracterizing the Scope or Degree of Commitment of a Claim

1. Scope
1.1 Claims can have a wider or narrower scope:
1.2 One? Some? Many? Most? All?
1.3 Example: All men are pigs vs. most men are pigs vs. many men are pigs vs. some men are pigs vs. one man is a pig

2. Commitment
2.1 Claims can also have a weaker or stronger degree of commitment
2.2 Certain that P? Probable that P, Plausible that P? Not inconceivable that P, etc.?
2.3 Examples: It is certain that Steve's a pig vs. I know Steve's a pig vs. it's probable that Steve's a pig vs. It's plausible that Steve's a pig vs. it's possible that Steve's a pig

3. Scope, Commitment, and Evidential Standards
3.1 The stronger a claim's degree of commitment, the harder it is to justify it
3.2 The weaker a claim's degree of commitment, the easier it is to justify it
3.3 The wider a claim's scope, the harder it is to justify it
3.4 The narrower a claim's scope, the easier it is to justify it

4. Morals, part I: When arguing your own position
4.1 When arguing your position, don't make a claim with a wider scope than is absolutely required to justify your position
4.2 When arguing your position, don't make a claim with a stronger degree of commitment than is absolutely required to justify your position
4.3 Example 1: "I'm arguing that it's certain that no gods exist"
4.3.1 The claim has maximal scope, and maximal degree of commitment
4.3.2 So, the claim is very hard to justify
4.3.4 Example 2: "I'm arguing that the evidence fails to make the existence of the God of orthodox Christian theism more reasonable than not." Significantly mitigated scope and commitment Thus, your evidential burden is much, much lower But if established, it's sufficient to undercut the rationality of orthodox Christian theism (leave the issue of properly basic beliefs for another occasion)

5. Morals, part II: When others are arguing with you
5.1 It's common for a person to "cheat" by mischaracterizing their interlocutor's claims (cf. the straw man fallacy)
5.2 A common way to do this is to mischaracterize the substance of one's claim or position
5.3 However, another sort of mischaracterization occurs when a person mischaracterizes the scope or degree of commitment of their interlocutor's claim
5.4 Thus, a person will characterize their interlocutor's claim as having a wider scope, a stronger degree of commitment, or both
5.5 In doing this, they unfairly raise the evidential standards for their interlocutor to make their case

Homework: Listen to some William Lane Craig debates. Can you find any instances where Craig mischaracterizes the scope or degree of commitment of his interlocutor's claims? Do his interlocutors mischaracterize the scope or degree of commitment of Craig's claims?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Two Helpful Resources on Epistemological and Metaphysical Issues Pertaining to Miracles

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on miracles.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on miracles.

Another Review of Recent Books on Hume on Miracles

Speaking of reviews of recent books on Hume on miracles, here's one that's hot off the press: Michael Jacovides (Purdue) has a brand-new review of the following books in The Philosophical Review, 117 (2008):

David Johnson, Hume, Holism, and Miracles
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. ix + 106 pp.

John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xi + 217 pp.

Robert J. Fogelin, A Defense of Hume on Miracles
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. xii + 101 pp.

Elliot Sober's Review of Earman's Hume's Abject Failure

As many readers of this blog no doubt know, John Earman wrote an important evaluation and critique of Hume's critique of testimony-based belief in miracles (Section X of Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding). Elliot Sober wrote a helpful review of Earman's book in the March 2004 issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The review can be found here.

The Onion: Bush: "I'm Really Gonna Miss Systematically Destroying This Place"

Details here.

Conceivability Arguments for Dualism, Part II: Stoljar's Critique of David Chalmers' Argument

Notes on Daniel Stoljar's “The Conceivability Argument and Two Conceptions of the Physical” (Phil. Perspectives 15, 2001)

In this paper, Stoljar attacks Chalmers’ conceivability argument for property dualism. Recall that the conceivability argument runs as follows:

1. It is conceivable that I have a zombie-twin, i.e., someone physically identical to me and yet who lacks phenomenal consciousness.
2. If it is conceivable that I have a zombie-twin, then it is possible that I have a zombie-twin.
3. If it is possible that I have a zombie-twin, then physicalism is false.
4. Therefore, physicalism is false.

In addition to his t-physical/o-physical property distinction, Stoljar brings in Van Cleve’s weak/strong conceivability distinction. Weak conceivability is the inability to conceive that P is impossible, and strong conceivability is the ability to conceive that P is possible. Among other problems, the former allows that Goldbach’s Conjecture both is and isn’t conceivable, in which case it is not a reliable guide to possibility. Goldbach’s Conjecture isn’t strongly conceivable, however, and therefore (in conjunction with other virtues) strong conceivability provides prima facie justification for modal propositions.

Stoljar brings these two distinctions to bear upon Chalmers’ conceivability argument by using them to construct a dilemma against it: Start off with the assumption that “conceivable” is intended to be read as “strongly conceivable” throughout Chalmers’ argument. Then:

1. Either “the physical facts” are to be read throughout the argument as “the t-physical facts” or as “the o-physical facts”.
2. If they are to be read as “the t-physical facts”, then although the argument is valid, we have no reason to think it is sound. For the extra, o-physical facts, when combined with the t-physical facts, may then metaphysically necessitate that the twin is not a zombie, in which case (3) would be false.
3. If they are to be read as “the o-physical facts”, then the argument is invalid. For then ‘conceivable’ in (1) can only be truly read as ‘weakly conceivable’ (in which case there is an equivocation in the use of “conceivable” between (1) and (2)).
4. Therefore, either the argument is invalid, or we have no reason to think it is sound.

In short, Chalmers’ argument fails by artificially limiting the consciousness-relevant properties to t-physical properties.

*Stoljar’s own position is “o-physicalism” – the view that physical objects have o-physical properties in addition to their t-physical properties – which is, roughly, a modern version of Russell’s neutral monism.

Conceivability Arguments for Dualism, Part I: Stoljar's Critique of Frank Jackson's Argument

Notes on Daniel Stoljar's “Two Conceptions of the Physical” (PPR, 2002)

This paper is a critique of Jackson’s Knowledge Argument. It distinguishes two conceptions of physical properties: theoretical physical properties (t-physical properties) and intrinsic, categorical, physical properties (o-physical properties). The t-physical properties are exactly those properties dictated to us by physical theory. They are all dispositional, extrinsic, relational properties. The o-physical properties are exactly those properties that are required to give a complete account of the intrinsic, categorical properties of physical objects. The two categories are not co-extensive, as o-properties are intrinsic, and t-properties are not.

Stoljar uses this distinction to construct a dilemma against the Knowledge Argument, the latter of which can be stated as follows:

1. It is possible to know all of the physical facts about seeing red and yet not know all the facts about seeing red.
2. If it is possible to know all of the physical facts about seeing red and yet not know all the facts about seeing red, then physicalism is false.
3. Therefore, physicalism is false.

Stoljar’s dilemma runs as follows:

1. Either “the physical facts” are to be read throughout the argument as “the t-physical facts” or as “the o-physical facts”.
2. If they are to be read as “the t-physical facts”, then although the argument is valid, we have no reason to think it is sound. For the extra facts about what it is like to see red may be o-physical facts, in which case premise (2) would be false.
3. If they are to be read as “the o-physical facts”, then although the argument is valid, we have no reason to think it is sound. For we can’t rule out that knowledge of the o-physical facts, together with knowledge of the t-physical facts, would enable a person to know all the facts about seeing red, in which case premise (1) would be false.
4. Therefore, either way, we have no reason to think that the knowledge argument is sound.

In short, the knowledge argument fails by falsely assuming that knowledge of the physical facts is exhausted by knowledge of the t-physical facts.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

John Hawthorne's Critique of the Fine-Tuning Design Argument

John Hawthorne is another "star" philosopher (currently at Oxford) who is also a Christian.[1] However, he's not a fan of the fine-tuning design argument. Here is a paper on religious belief he's discussed with undergraduates, in which he offers a good criticism of the argument.

[1] Some philosophical lore: I mentioned Dean Zimmerman a few posts ago. Well, John Hawthorne, Dean Zimmerman, and Ted Sider were known as "The Syracuse Three": the young stars seemed inseparable when they were all faculty at Syracuse in the late 90s-2002, or thereabouts. They hung out all the time, and discussed each other's papers as they were drafting them for publication. I'm not absolutely certain, but I think they were all originally Christians (however, Ted Sider -- son of Christian writer and activist Ron Sider -- seems to have left the fold. See his paper, "Hell and Vagueness", in Faith and Philosophy). All the top philosophy programs wanted (and still want) them. But it seemed that you couldn't hire one of them without hiring the other two. In fact, Rutgers hired the three of them in the mid 2000s. However, the Three have recently been separated: Zimmerman's the only one of the Three left at Rutgers, as Hawthorne has recently taken a position at Oxford, and Sider has recently taken a position at NYU.

Tyler Wunder's Dissertation

Tyler Wunder is a recent (2007) philosophy PhD from Boston University. His dissertation, Warrant and Religious Epistemology: A Critique of Alvin Plantinga's Warrant Phase, is (as the title gives away) a critique of Plantinga's externalist account of warrant (as explicated and defended in Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief). I've only read parts so far, but it looks to be very good. A revised chapter from his dissertation is published in the June issue of Religious Studies. It's a critique of Plantinga's argument from the existence of proper function in living things to theism. The article's entitled, "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function". I've just read it, and I must say that it's a thorough and compelling critique.

I should mention that the current issue of Religious Studies is chock full of excellent articles. See, e.g., the exchange on the argument from religious demographics, the Molinist's reply, and the rejoinder. See also Robert McKim's article, "On Religious Ambiguity". Some fun reading over Christmas Break!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dean Zimmerman's New Paper Against Molinism

Molinism -- the view that God knows not only what free creatures do, will do and could do, but also what they would (freely) do in every possible circumstance -- is a popular view among contemporary Christian philosophers. William Lane Craig uses it to account for such things as the compatibility of the inspiration of scripture and human free will, the compatibility of freedom and foreknowledge, and the compatibility of a semi-exclusivist account of soteriology with the fact that many will never hear the gospel and will be damned. And it's arguable that Alvin Plantinga requires molinism for the success of his famous free will defense against the logical problem of evil (although some, such as Swinburne, deny this. Kenneth Perszyk argues that Plantinga's free will defense is doubtful with or without molinism).

Two common criticisms of molinism (cf. R. Adams, Hasker, et al.) are that (i) it leaves the counterfactuals of human freedom without a metaphysical grounding, and that (ii) molinism involves a vicious explanatory circularity. However, "star" metaphysician and Christian philosopher Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) has a huge (90 page) paper coming out (in a collection in honor of Robert Adams), and it offers a critique of molinism that's wholly independent of these two criticisms. It's also persuasive. If he's right, then philosophers like Craig will have to look elsewhere to solve the problems mentioned above.

Here's a link to the paper.

P.S., Dean Zimmerman is one of my favorite contemporary metaphysicians. See his stuff on material composition, David Lewis' global supervenience thesis, his stuff on the A-theory of time, and his stuff on the metaphysics of gunk (I know, funny philosophical jargon).

Nature Red In Tooth and Claw

I mentioned earlier that MIchael J. Murray was writing some books on two important problems for theism since at least the publication of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and A Natural History of Religion: the problem of animal suffering, and the plausibility of naturalistic accounts of religious belief. Well, I've been meaning to post on this for a while, but Michael J. Murray's book-length reply to the problem of animal suffering, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, is now available. It came out a couple of months ago. His book on naturalistic accounts of religious belief, The Believing Primate, which is an edited collection of newly-commissioned papers, is due to come out next April.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Notes on Draper's Article on Behe's Design Argument, Part 6: Are Direct Routes Really Impossible?

In this installment, I complete the series on Draper's critique of Behe's design argument from irreducible complexity.

I. Review and Setup
To review, recall that the article focuses on stage one of Behe's two-stage design argument, which argues that certain biochemical structures couldn't have arisen via gradualistic Darwinian processes. The argument of this stage crucially relies on his notion of irreducible complexity, where this is defined as a system "composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein removal of any of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning".[1] With this notion in hand, Behe argues that there are irreducibly very complex biochemical systems (e.g., the bacterial flagellum), and that these systems can't plausibly be explained in terms of gradualistic evolutionary processes. And the reason is that evolution can only create systems via direct and indirect evolutionary pathways.[2] But evolution can create no irreducibly complex system via adirect evolutionary pathway.[3] And while evolution can create simple irreducibly complex systems via indirect pathways, and reducibly complex systems via direct and indirect evolutionary pathways, the odds are overwhelmingly against creating irreducibly very complex systems via indirect pathways.[4]

Given Behe's argument, there are at least three ways to criticize his argument directly:

(1) Undercut or rebut the claim that his example systems are irreducibly complex (or at least irreducibly very complex)
(2) Undercut or rebut the claim that irreducibly (very) complex systems can't be created via indirect evolutionary pathways
(3) Undercut or rebut the claim that irreducibly complex systems can't be created via direct evolutionary pathways

In previous installments, we saw that Draper has offered criticisms of type (1) and type (2). Each of these criticisms is sufficient by itself to defeat Behe's argument. However, Draper doesn't stop there. In this installment, we'll look at one of Draper's criticisms of type (3).

II. Behe's Argument Against Direct Evolutionary Pathways to Irreducible Complexity
Now as mentioned above, Behe argues that direct routes to irreducibly complex structures are impossible. But why think that? His argument can be stated as follows: consider some irreducibly complex system S composed of parts A and B, which together perform function F. Now since S is irreducibly complex, neither A nor B can perform F by itself. Therefore, if we assume that neither A nor B served some other useful function in the interim[5], then if either A or B came into existence before the other, it would've been eliminated before the second part came into being to interact with the first part to perform F. Therefore, direct routes to irreducibly complex systems are impossible.[6]

III. Draper's Reply
What to make of this argument? To set up Draper's critique, recall that Behe distinguishes between two sorts of evolutionary pathways for creating biological systems: direct and indirect. A gradualistic evolutionary pathway leading to a function F of a biological system is direct if it produces F by continuously improving it without changing F itself, and without changing the system's mechanism. And a gradualistic evolutionary pathway leading to F is indirect if it does so by changing the system's function or mechanism.[7] But as Draper points out, this account of evolutionary pathways is too coarse-grained, as it fails to distinguish different kinds of direct and indirect evolutionary pathways. And it turns out that these further distinctions have a bearing on whether Behe's argument succeeds.

Thus, to redress this shortcoming, Draper distinguishes between two sorts of direct routes to irreducible complexity: simple and complicated. A simple direct route amounts to adding parts to a system without changing the function or the mechanism. By contrast, a complicated direct route can involve both adding and subtracting parts (again, without changing the mechanism or the function).

Thus, Behe fails to distinguish between simple and complicated direct evolutionary pathways. But the problem is that Behe wrongly assumes that all direct pathways are of the simple variety. For as it turns out, it's possible for complicated direct routes to generate irreducibly complex systems. Draper states his criticism as follows:

"The possibility of an irreducibly complex system's being produced by a complicated direct path is fairly obvious. For example, an irreducibly complex two-part system AB that performs function F could evolve directly as follows. Originally, Z performs F, though perhaps not very well. (This is possible because, from the fact that AB cannot perform F without A or B, it doesn't follow that Z cannot perform F by itself.) Then A is added to Z, because it improves the function, though it is not necessary. B is also added for this reason. One now has a reducibly complex system composed of three parts, Z, A and B. Then Z drops out, leaving only A and B. And without Z, both A and B are required for the system to function."[8]

Thus, Draper shows the logical possibility of a complicated direct path to an irreducibly complex system in four stages:

Stage 1: A system S is composed of Z, which performs function F. (simple system)

Stage 2: Part A is added to Z in S, leading to an improvement in F. (reducibly complex system)

Stage 3: Part B is added to Z and A in S, leading to an improvement in F. (reducibly complex system)

Stage 4: Part Z drops out of S, and without Z, BOTH A and B are required for S to continue performing F. (irreducibly complex system)

Draper's criticism surfaces an illicit assumption implicit in Behe's reasoning about what follows from his definition of irreducible complexity: that the irreducible complexity of a system is insensitive to the parts that make it up. But as Draper's counterexample shows, this isn't so: whether a system is irreducibly complex is relative to the constituents of which it's composed. Thus, while a system S may be irreducibly complex if composed of A and B, it may well be reducibly complex if it's composed of C and D. In short, irreducible complexity is parts-relative. And this leaves open the possibility of creating an irreducibly complex system directly by (e.g.) first starting with a reducibly complex system composed of CD, then successively adding parts A and B to improve its function, and finally losing CD, resulting in an irreducibly complex system composed of AB. And given this possibility, Behe's argument against the possibility of direct routes to irreducible complexity is defeated.

IV. Conclusion
As I mentioned earlier, Draper raises a number of other criticisms of Behe's design argument from irreducible complexity, but I think enough of his criticisms have been discussed to indicate that Behe's argument is a failure. For his key clams -- that some biochemical structures are irreducibly complex; that irreducibly very complex systems can't be produced by indirect evolutionary pathways; and that irreducibly complex systems can't be produced by direct evolutionary pathways -- are defeated.
[1] Behe, Michael J. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 39.
[2] Recall that a gradualistic evolutionary pathway leading to a function F of a biological system is direct if it produces F by continuously improving it without changing F itself, and without changing the system's mechanism. And a gradualistic evolutionary pathway leading to F is indirect if it does so by changing the system's function or mechanism. Draper, Paul. "Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: A Reply to Michael J. Behe", Faith and Philosophy 19:1 (2002), p. 5
[3] Irreducibly complex systems "cannot be produced directly, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing even a single part is by definition nonfunctional." Darwin's Black Box, P. 39.
[4] "Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly), however, one can not definitively rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route. As the complexity of an interacting system increases, though, the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously." Behe, Darwin's Black Box, P. 40.
[5] As many -- including Draper -- have noted (e.g., Kenneth Miller), this assumption is fatal to the argument. For from the fact that neither A nor B can perform a particular function F without other parts, it doesn't follow that neither part can perform some other funtion(s). And in fact, there are plausible evolutionary pathways where Behe's paradigm case of an irreducibly complex system -- the bacterial flagellum -- has evolutionary precursors that performed different functions. (See the following YouTube clip of a talk by Kenneth Miller for a helpful example of such a criticism.). However, that sort of criticism is one demonstrating the possibility of indirect pathways to irreducible complexity. I therefore relegate the criticism to a footnote, not because it isn't important, but because it falls outside the scope of the current topic, which focuses on direct evolutionary pathways to irreducible complexity.
[6] This statement of Behe's argument is a paraphrase of Draper's. See Draper. Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: A Reply to Michael J. Behe", Faith and Philosophy 19:1 (2002), p. 15.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.

Craig on the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Although Craig has criticized the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument in a number of places, he offers a brief defense of it in The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003, ed. Paul Copan and Paul Moser).

The Leibnizian cosmological argument depends on some version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). The standard formulation of PSR can be expressed as follows:

(PSR) There is a sufficient reason for the existence of (a) every object, and (b) every state of affairs, either in terms of something else or in terms of its own nature.

A standard criticism of the argument is that PSR(b) is false.[1] Craig states the criticism tersely: "There cannot be an explanation of why there are any contingent states of affairs at all; for if such an explanation is contingent, then it, too, must have a further explanation, whereas if it is necessary, then the states of affairs explained by it must also be necessary." (p. 114)

Craig defends the argument against the criticism by eliminating PSR(b), and just relying on PSR(a) to get the conclusion of a necessarily existing object -- God -- as the explanation of the contingent universe.

However, this won't do. For as Peter van Inwagen points out[2], the conclusion can't be gotten with just PSR(a). For suppose there is an infinite, beginningless series of dependent beings[3], such that each being is explained in terms of another, as follows:

...C --> B --> A

In this series, A is explained by B, B is explained by C, and so on. But if so, then each contingent being in the series is explained by another contingent being. And if that's right, then PSR(a) is satisfied in such a scenario, and yet there is no need to appeal to a necessary being.

Now one might say that the series of contingent beings is itself a being, and so PSR(a) isn't satisfied without appeal to a necessary being. However, things aren't so easy. For ever since Christian philosopher Peter Van Inwagen wrote Material Beings[4], it's not so clear when, or even whether, two or more things compose another thing. Enter the material constitution debate. Thus, whether the collection of dependent beings is itself a being depends on which theory of material composition is true. A universalist (or "allist"), would say that any two or more objects is itself is an object. A nihilist (or "noneist") would say that no two objects compose an object -- there are only simples and their aggregates. Everyone else falls somewhere in between (the moderates). The problem is that every position on the matter has counterintuitive implications. Therefore, at the very least, it will require either a defense of a universalist account of material constitution, or a defense of a moderate account of material composition that allows the collection of dependent beings to count as a being (it should be noted that van Inwagen's own moderate account doesn't countenance the collection of dependent beings as itself a being). Needless to say, Craig has a lot more work to do in defending the Leibnizian cosmological argument against the criticism he raises here.
[1] See for example, Peter van Inwagen's statement of the criticism in his text, Metaphysics (Westview Press).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Of course, Craig argues against the possibility of an actually infinite series such as this in his defenses of the kalam cosmological argument. But as I've argued in other posts (see Section 1.1.2 of my index, here), these arguments for a finite past have undercutting defeaters. But Wes Morriston has stated the problems with Craig's Kalam argument better than I can.
[4] van Inwagen, Peter. Material Beings (Cornell University Press, 1995).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Some Past Exchanges

Victor Reppert, Steve Lovell, and I on the Leibizian cosmological argument

Alan Rhoda and I on God, abstract objects, and other issues relevant to evaluating theism

Bradley Monton

Bradly Monton is a philosopher at UC Boulder. He's also an atheist. However, and perhaps surprisingly, he argues that intelligent design is a legitimate category of explanation in the sciences (in that actions of non-human intelligent agents are detectable in principle, and that appeal to such agency is legitimate in principle in the sciences). Also, he thinks ID should be taught in schools, along side evolution. He's coming out with a book on the topic: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

Another point about Monton: he thinks the fine-tuning argument, although ultimately unpersuasive, is stronger than many philosophers think. See (perhaps) his most important paper of his on this, "God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2006), pp. 405-424.

I agree with him about virtually all of this, and I can't wait to read his book. The reason: I've read the following books and articles on the topic, as well as the standard replies (although, I confess, not the replies of the last few years), and I'm not persuaded by the the latter -- which, by the way, rarely address the specific points made:

Moreland, J.P. Christianity and the Nature of Science, 3rd printing (1992), esp. Ch. 6.

-"Creation Science and Methodological Naturalism", in Bauman, Michael, ed., Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology (1993).

-"Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism", in Moreland, J.P., ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994).

-"The Explanatory Relevance of Libertarian Agency as a Model of Theistic Design", in Dembski, William A., ed. Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design (1998)

Meyer, Stephen C. "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent", in Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994)

Dembski, William. (That's right, I said "Dembski" -- not all is dross in his writings) "On the Very Possibility of Intelligent Design", in Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis (1994)
-"Appendix" in Dembski, Intelligent Design (1999).

Laudan, Larry. “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem,” in R. Cohen and L. Laudan, Eds., Physics, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Reidel, Dordrecht), pp. 111-128.

-“Science at the Bar: Causes for Concern,” Science, Technology and Human Values, 7: 16-19.

Plantinga, Alvin. See his papers on methodological naturalism, the god-of-the-gaps criticism, and his discussions of "Augustinian" vs. "Duhemian" philosophy of science

Ratzsch, Delvin Lee. Nature, Design, and Science (2001).

Reynolds, John Mark. (That's right, I said "John Mark Reynolds". Just because his political blog posts are crazy, it doesn't follow that all is dross in what he has to say). "God of the Gaps", in Dembski, ed. Mere Creation (1998).

Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. (haven't read the new 2004 edition) See especially his discussion of personal vs. scientific explanation

Now I don't think all these pieces are right on everything they say, but they *do* make a good prima facie case for the in-principle legitimacy for appeals to intelligence in scientific explanations -- even in terms of an invisible designer. It's not responsible to ignore these arguments if you're aware of them.

Aristotle appealed to God in his scientific explanations. Was he a moonbat for doing so? No.

Theists -- at least sensible theists -- don't appeal to God in explanation by arguing in either of the following ways:

1. I can't think of an explanation for X in terms of natural causes alone; therefore, God is the explanation of X.

2. X is too complex to be produced by natural causes alone; therefore, God is the explanation of X.

Sophisticated theists make neither a blatant appeal to ignorance (as in (1)), nor an inference from mere complexity (as in (2)); they admit that neither is sufficient to justify an appeal to a designer. Rather, they add a further requirement that *X must also have some earmark of intelligence*. Thus, their reasoning is of the following generic form:

3. (i) x can't be explained in terms of naturalistic mechanisms within a a mature science, and (ii) x bears feature F that's known to be caused by intelligent ageny; therefore, probably, x is at least partly explained in terms of intelligent agency.

Different canditates for earmark F have been proposed throughout the centuries:

(a) x has parts that work together to perform a function. (Paley)

(b) x is irreducibly complex (Behe)

(c) x has specified complexity (Geisler & Anderson, Dembski).

(d) x exhibits "counterflow" (Del Ratzch)

These are all legitimate candidates in my book. So I think there's no problem with appeals to God in science, at least in principle. The problem I have is that they all fail *in practice*. For example, with reference to (a)-(c) above: evolution can produce objects whose parts work together to perform a function; the examples of irreducible complexity have been demonstrated no to be so on further inspection (cf. Kenneth Miller's stuff), and in any case, Behe's argument has big problems, as Paul Draper has shown; and Ratzsch, Collins, and Fitelson have shown that (c) admits of counterexamples.

A caveat: I have zero interest in discussing this topic, unless you've read at least a decent chunk of the works referenced above, and you want to talk about the specific arguments of a specific author listed there (e.g. "Meyer says X in article C in your list. I think that argument doesn't work, for reason Y").

P.S., listen to Brad's podcasted interviews on the topic of ID at his blog (e.g.) here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two Types of Design Argument

Two Types of Design Argument:

Type I: The Classical (“Old School”) Design Argument:

-This version is an argument from analogy.
-It typically appeals to living organisms and their parts as cases of apparent design

1. Human artifacts are intelligently designed.
2. Living organisms and their parts resemble/are analogous to human artifacts (in that they both are complex and their parts that work together to perform a function).
3. Therefore, probably, living organisms and their parts are intelligently designed as well.

-Paley’s version is the most important version of the classical version of the design argument.
-However, this form of the design argument is seldom used today, due to the criticisms we’ve discussed. However, philosophers have come up with a new version of the design argument:

Type II: The Contemporary (“New School”) Design Argument:

-This version is not an argument from an analogy. Rather, it's formulated either in terms of confirmation theory or an inference to the best explanation.
-According to this version, certain features of the universe are treated as data, and then various hypotheses are offered to explain the data
-It typically appeals to non-living aspects of the universe as cases of apparent design
-The two hypotheses typically proposed are (i) intelligent design and (ii) non-intelligent, natural causes. The argument can then be expressed as follows:

Let ‘D’ denote some range of data that needs explaining. For example:

D: The universe is fine-tuned for the existence of life (i.e., there are a large number of fundamental constants of nature. The value had by each of this is independent of each of the others. Each value is just one among an extremely large range of possible values, and each constant had to be assigned the value it has or no life would have arisen in the universe.)

Let ‘H1’ and ‘H2’ denote competing hypotheses offered to explain D:

H1: The fine-tuning of the universe is due to intelligent design.
H2: The fine-tuning of the universe is due to non-intelligent factors, such as chance and necessity.

Then the argument runs as follows:

1. We’d expect D if H1 were true.
2. We wouldn’t expect D (or at least not as much) if H2 were true.
3. If we’d expect the data if H1 were true more than we would if H2 were true, then H1 is more probable than H2.
4. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.

Criticisms of William Dembski's Design Inference -- By Christians

The following is a short list of articles (and chapters) critiquing Dembski's design inference. They are all written by Christian philosophers.

Del Ratzsch:
Appendix: "Dembski's Design Inference", in Nature, Design and Science. SUNY Press, 2001 (in the Philosophy and Biology Series).

Robin Collins:
“An Evaluation of William A. Dembski’s The Design Inference,” in Christian Scholar’s Review, vol. 30:3 (Spring 2001).

MIchael J. Murray:
"Natural Providence (or Design Trouble)", Faith and Philosophy 20:2 (July 2003), pp. 307-327.
-"Natural Providence: Reply to Dembski", Faith and Philosophy 23:3 (2006), pp.337-41.

Timothy McGrew:
"Toward a Rational Reconstruction of Design Inferences", Philosophia Christi 7:2 (2005), pp. 253-298.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Critique of one of William Lane Craig's Arguments For a Finite Past

(The rest of the posts in this series can be found here.)

In some of his popular apologetics writings, Craig uses the following argument to support a key premise in his kalam cosmological argument, viz., that the universe began to exist:

"Suppose we meet a man who claims to have been counting down from infinity and who is now finishing: . . ., -3, -2, -1, 0. We could ask, why didn’t he finish counting yesterday or the day before or the year before? By then an infinite time had already elapsed, so that he should already have finished. Thus, at no point in the infinite past could we ever find the man finishing his countdown, for by that point he should already be done! In fact, no matter how far back into the past we go, we can never find the man counting at all, for at any point we reach he will already have finished. But if at no point in the past do we find him counting, this contradicts the hypothesis that he has been counting from eternity. This shows again that the formation of an actual infinite by never beginning but reaching an end is as impossible as beginning at a point and trying to reach infinity."

Call this "the immortal counter" argument". The argument can be expressed as a reductio, with (1) below as the premise set up for reduction:

1. The past is beginningless (conceived as a set of events with the cardinality A0, and the order-type w*).

2. If the past is beginningless, then there could have been an immortal counter who counts down from such a past at the rate of one negative integer per day.

3. The immortal counter will finish counting if and only if he has an infinite number of days in which to count them.

4. If the past is beginningless, then there are an infinite number of days before every day.

5. Therefore, the immortal counter will have finished counting before every day.

6. If the immortal counter will have finished counting before every day, then he has never counted.

7. Therefore, the immortal counter has both never counted and has been counting down from a beginningless past (contradiction)

8. Therefore, the past is not beginningless (from 1-7, reductio).

The undercutting defeater can be brought out by a careful look at (3). Grant the 'only if'. But why think the immortal counter will finish his count if he has had an infinite number of days to count them? For it's epistemically possible that he's counted down an infinite number of negative integers from a beginningless past, and yet has not counted them all. So, for example, he could now be counting "-3", so that he has just finished counting an infinite number of negative integers, viz., {...-5, -4, -3}, and yet he has not counted down all the negative integers. Given this epistemic possibility, any reason for believing his (3) is undercut.

Craig thinks he has a reply to this.

“I do not think the argument makes this alleged equivocation [from 'infinite' to 'all'. -EA], and this can be made clear by examining the reason why our eternal counter is supposedly able to complete a count of the negative numbers, ending at zero. In order to justify this intuitively impossible feat, the argument’s opponent appeals to the so-called Principle of Correspondence…On the basis of the principle the objector argues that since the set of past years can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of negative numbers, it follows that by counting one number a year an eternal counter could complete a countdown of the negative numbers by the present year. If we were to ask why the counter would not finish next year or in a hundred years, the objector would respond that prior to the present year an infinite number of years will have elapsed, so that by the Principle of Correspondence, all the numbers should have been counted by now.

But this reasoning backfires on the objector: for on this account the counter should at any point in the past have already finished counting all the numbers, since a one-to-one correspondence exists between the years of the past and the negative numbers.” (Craig, “Review of Time, Creation, and the Continuum”, p. 323.)

Thus, Craig thinks the objector is committed to the claim that the counter will finish his count iff the days he's counted can be put into a 1-1 correspondence with the set of natural numbers. And since this can be done at any day of a beginningless past, the counter should always be done. But that contradicts the hypothesis that he's been counting down from a beginningless past.

But this won't do at all. For why, exactly, must the objector presuppose that the counter will finish his count iff the set of days he counts can be put into 1-1 correspondence with the set of natural numbers? Craig says that it's because otherwise the objector can't account for the possibility of an immortal counter who finishes the task on a particular day, as opposed to any other day. Now granted, counting a set of days that can be put into such a correspondence is a necessary condition for counting down a beginningless set of negative integers, but why in the world are we supposed to think it also sufficient?

Call the biconditional above 'Craig's Claim' (hereafter 'CC'):

(CC) The counter will have finished counting all of the negative integers if and only if the years of the past can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with them.

Now consider the following epistemically possible scenario as an undercutting defeater for CC:

Suppose God timelessly numbers the years to come about in a beginningless universe. Suppose further that He assigns the negative integers to the set of events prior to the birth of Christ, and then the positive integers begin at this point. Then the timeline, with its corresponding integer assignment, can be illustrated as follows:

…-3 -2 -1 Birth of Christ 1 2 3…

Suppose yet further that God assigned Ralph, an immortal creature, the task of counting down the negative integers assigned to the years BCE, and stopping at the birth of Christ. Call this task ‘T’. With this in mind, suppose now that Ralph has been counting down from eternity past and is now counting the day assigned (by God) the integer -3. In such a case, Ralph has counted a set of years that could be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of negative integers, yet he has not finished all the negative integers.

This case shows that, while it is a necessary condition for counting all of the events that one is able to put them into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers, we have reason to doubt that it's sufficient. For if the events that are to be counted have independently “fixed”, or, “designated” integer assignments set out for one to traverse, one must count through these such that, for each event, the number one is counting is the same as the one independently assigned to the event. In the scenario mentioned above, God assigned an integer to each year that will come to pass. In such a case, Ralph must satisfy at least two conditions if he is to accomplish T: (i) count a set of years that can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers, and (ii) for each year that elapses, count the particular negative integer that God has independently assigned to it. According to CC, however, Ralph is supposed to be able to accomplish T by satisfying (i) alone. But we have just seen that he must accomplish (ii) as well. Therefore, being able to place the events of the past into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers does not guarantee that the counter has finished the task of counting all the negative integers. And given that this scenario is epistemically possible CC is undercut. But recall that CC is Craig’s rationale for (3). Thus, (3) is undercut.

Summary of William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument

(The rest of the posts in this series can be found here.)

Aquinas thought a temporally finite universe could not be demonstrated by reason. The kalam cosmological argument, by contrast, argues that a temporally finite past can be demonstrated via both a priori and a posteriori arguments.

Craig has offered two a priori arguments and two a posteriori arguments for the finitude of the past. The first argument attempts to show that actually infinite sets of things cannot exist in reality, and so the set of past events cannot be actually infinite. The second argument attempts to show that even if an actually infinite set of things could exist in reality, its members could not be successively traversed. But if not, then since the members of the set of past events have been traversed -- after all, here we are -- that set must be finite.

According to the first a posteriori argument, the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe implies an absolute beginning to spacetime, in which case the past is finite. And according to the second a posteriori argument, the second law of thermodynamics implies an absolute beginning. For since the universe is winding down energywise, it must've been wound up, with an initial, massive imput of usable energy.

So the universe must've had a beginning. And since all things that begin to exist (note the qualification) have a cause of their existence, the universe had such a cause. Now there are two sorts of causes: personal and impersonal. But the cause can't be an impersonal cause, for any such cause must be in a state of quiescence or activity. But neither disjunct will do. For if the cause were in a state of dormancy, then since no events are occurring in that state (remember, we're talking about the cause of the first moment of time, and so no events can occur "before" the first event), it would remain in a permanent state of stasis. On the other hand, if the cause were in a state of activity, then the universe would be eternal. For the effect of an impersonal cause occurs as soon as such a cause is present. And if that's right, then if the cause is eternal, then the effect is eternal. But we've just seen that the effect is finite. Therefore, the effect -- the universe -- did not arise from an impersonal cause, whether active or quiescent.

So an impersonal cause of the beginning of the universe is out. But a personal cause can play the role here. For it can (in principle at least) exist in a state of eventless quiescence and spring into action with a spontaneous, libertarianly free act of the will. Therefore, the universe had a beginning, and it was caused by the spontaneous, free act of a person of some kind. But since it is the cause of spatiotemporal, physical reality, it must be a timeless, immaterial being of immense power. And this, as Aquinas would say, we all call 'God'.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nietzsche on Morality

Philosophers Christopher Janoway and Nigel Warburton provide an excellent, short discussion of Nietzsche's On the Geneology of Morals on the current podcast episode of Philosophy Bites, here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Regina Spektor US

Regina's great. But doesn't the chorus in "Us" capture the current economic moment?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Been Busy

Hi gang,

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I've been under the gun to meet some deadlines, and it looks as though things will remain this way for a while. I'll get back to blogging as soon as I can.



Thursday, August 07, 2008

Science and Religion Discussion

Here is a video of an interesting discussion on science and religion with Alvin Plantinga, W.L. Craig, Richard M. Gale and Quentin Smith.

HT Mike Almeida at Prosblogion

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Review of J.L. Schellenberg's New Book

...The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism, came out the other day at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, here. I haven't yet picked it up, but I understand it's a "must-read" book in philosophy of religion. It's the second of what he projects to be a trilogy on foundational issues in philosophy of religion. The first was entitled, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (NDPR reviews it here), and the forthcoming third volume is entitled, The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion. All three are published with Cornell University Press.

J.L. Schellenberg is a prominent philosopher of religion, known primarily for his seminal book-length exposition and defense of the problem of divine hiddenness, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. He is also known for his articles on the problem of evil and the problem of religious diversity.

P.S., He did an excellent job defending the argument from divine hiddenness against the philosopher Jeff Jordan, here (scroll down to the bottom).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Linda Zagzebski

...has a novel and interesting paper defending the rationality of religious belief, based on a Foley-style argument from intellectual trust in oneself and others. It can be found at her department webpage at the University of Oklahoma, here. It's the one entitled, "Is it Reasonable to Believe in God?" The paper doesn't look to be published yet, but has only been delivered in the form of a quasi-popular talk.

Zagzebski remains one of the leading philosophers of religion. The other papers there (not to mention her books) are well worth reading.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Michael C. Rea a young "star" philosopher at Notre Dame who specializes in metaphysics. He's especially known in this field for his work on the problems of material composition -- e.g., the problem of how two or more material things could compose a new thing (I know this sounds like a trivial problem, but believe me, it's a very hard problem. To see why, read Peter van Inwagen's seminal book, Material Beings). However, he is also a Christian, and a young star in the field of philosophy of religion. For example, he is known for using ideas from his work on the nature of material composition to attempt to give a coherent account of the doctrine of the trinity. He's probably best known in recent years for his book, World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism, which, as you may have guessed, is a critique of naturalism (and a very rigorous one at that). I remember reading it in grad school while still a Christian (still with dreams of infiltrating academia and contributing to the "revolution" in philosophy of religion that began with the advent of Alvin Plantinga's work). He has also recently co-authored a primer text in philosophy of religion with Michael J. Murray, (dazzlingly entitled) An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion.

Here is the link to Michael Rea's department webpage. He also has a good many papers online, a number of which are in philosophy of religion, here. He's does excellent and careful work in philosophy of religion, so his work is well worth reading.

P.S., If you download his cv, you'll see that he has a bunch of books and papers in the field of philosophy of religion that are forthcoming.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Notes on Draper's Article on Behe's Design Argument, Part 5: Are Indirect Routes Really Too Improbable?

I. Review
We've seen that Behe's argument turns on two key claims:

(i) Some biochemical systems are irreducibly (very) complex

(ii) Irreducibly (very) complex systems can't plausibly be accounted for in terms of evolution.

Thus, if one rebuts (i.e., shows false or otherwise contrary to reason), or at least undercuts (i.e., undermines the evidence for), (i) or (ii), then one has shown that Behe's argument is a failure. We've seen that Draper has offered apparently decisive criticisms against (i), and thus has already defeated Behe's argument. However, Draper goes beyond this and offers two main criticisms of (ii) as well -- i.e., he argues that evolution can produce a biochemical system even if it's irreducibly complex. In the current installment, we'll focus on Draper's first main criticism of (ii).

II. Behe's Argument Against Indirect Pathways
Recall the two routes or pathways that evolution can take to producing a given biological system -- direct and indirect -- and that an indirect evolutionary pathway is one that creates a system by changing either its function or its mechanism (or both). Further, recall Behe's claim that it's extremely improbable for an irreducibly complex system to be created via an indirect evolutionary pathway.[1] Why are we supposed to think this? Behe's answer consists in an analysis of one possible kind of indirect pathway, which can be stated in terms of a two-stage developmental sequence:

Stage 1: Two or more separate, independent systems arise, whether reducibly complex or irreducibly complex.

Stage 2: Once they are all "up and running", the parts from these different systems begin to interact, thereby becoming parts of a new system performing a new function.

Behe then argues that this indirect pathway to an irreducibly complex system is too improbable to be a plausible explanation. To see why, recall Behe's original definition of irreducible complexity:

(IC1) A system S is irreducibly complex if and only if:

(i) S is composed of several interacting parts
(ii) S's parts are well-matched
(iii) removal of one or more of S's parts would cause S to cease functioning

Now in our previous installments on Draper and Behe, we focused on the way in which Behe exploits clause (iii) of IC1 to argue against the evolution of irreducibly complex systems. But in his argument against indirect routes to irreducibly complex systems, he exploits clause (ii): that the parts are well-matched; that is, the parts are tailored to one another in such a way that the size, shape, etc. of each part is much better-suited to interact with the relevant other parts than if they had different sizes, shapes, etc.

With these ideas before us, we're now in a position to understand Behe's argument for why indirect pathways to irreducibly complex systems are too improbable to be a plausible explanation: if the system in question is irreducibly complex, then by clause (ii) of (IC1), its parts are well-matched. But if so, then the move from stage 1 to stage 2 would require the parts to be well-matched before they could interact in a way for the new, irreducibly complex system to function. But tailoring the parts to make them well-matched takes time, and the new system would be non-functional until then. But if so, then evolution would eliminate the system before that ever happened. Therefore, it's too improbable for an indirect evolutionary pathway to get us from stage 1 to stage 2.

III. Draper's Criticisms
What to make of this argument? Draper makes two points in his reply. First, even if Behe is right, he can't reach this conclusion with the notion of well-matched parts in clause (ii) of IC1. For, at least in principle, a system might perform its function at least poorly without well-matched parts, and so the new system at stage 2 could do so for a time, in which case it would be functional while evolutionary processes finished fine-tuning the parts of the system until they are well-matched. Thus, in order to block this possibility, Behe would need to revise his account of irreducible complexity again, such that an irreducibly complex system's parts aren't just well-matched, but irreducibly well-matched. Since we saw last time that he has aleady revised (what we're calling) IC1 once before to (what we've called) IC2 (to some handle criticisms of his argument in the literature), we'll call the new definition 'IC3':

(IC3) A system S is irreducibly complex if and only if:

(i) S is composed of several interacting parts
(ii') S's parts are well-matched to such a degree that even fairly minor alterations to their shapes, sizes, etc. would cause S to cease functioning
(iii') A subset x of S's parts are such that removal of one or more of x's parts would cause S to cease functioning

This brings us to Draper's second point: even the irreducible well-matchedness of parts in a system that satisfies IC3 isn't sufficient to put indirect routes to irreducibly complex systems beyond reasonable probabilities. For while Draper grants that Behe's own example of an indirect pathway to such a system may well be ruled out if we assume IC3, there are lots of other possible indirect pathways to irreducible complexity that Behe doesn't discuss, and these haven't been shown to be beyond reasonable probability -- even assuming their parts are irreducibly well-matched. Draper sketches the relevant pathway here as follows:

"The sort of route I have in mind occurs when an irreducibly complex and irreducibly specific [his expression for our 'irreducibly well-matched'] system S that serves function F evolves from a precursor S* that shares many of S's parts but serves a different function F*. Notice that parts that S and S* share and that are required for S to perform F need not be required for S* to perform F* even if they contribute to F*, and parts that are irreducibly specific relative to F may only be reducibly specific relative to F*. Thus, both S* and the specificity of its parts may have been gradually produced via a direct evolutionary path. Then one or more additional parts are added to S*, resulting in a change of function from F* to F. And relative to F, the parts and their specificity, which had not been essential to F*, are now essential."[2]

In sum, even if Behe could solve the worries for his claim that at least some biochemical systems are irreducibly complex, his other key claim -- that such systems can't arise via evolution -- is undercut.

But Draper doesn't end his criticisms here. In the next and final installment, we'll see that Draper undercuts Behe's claim that direct evolutionary pathways to irreducibly complex systems are impossible.
[1] "Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly), however, one can not definitively rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route. As the complexity of an interacting system increases, though, the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously." Behe, Darwin's Black Box, P. 40.
[2] Draper, "Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: A Reply to Michael J. Behe", Faith and Philosophy 19:1 (2002), pp. 3-21.
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