Monday, June 02, 2008

Post Index: Argument from Contingency

1. Explaining and Defending the Argument
1.1 The argument stated and explained
1.2 Outline of Rowe's chapter on the argument in his Philosophy of Religion: part I, part II
1.3 Defending the argument against common criticisms

2. Criticisms of the Argument
2.1 Summary of some more serious criticisms of the argument
2.2 Mackie's criticisms of the argument
2.3 Peter van Inwagen's criticisms of the argument
2.4 Summary of my own worry for the argument


karl said...


This argument (for theism) makes sense to me intuitively, but theism in general makes sense to me. That's how I'm built. I am well aware that others will disagree and with good reason.

Let me test out something that I've been thinking:

What if God made things so that no argument for his existence will ever be conclusively undeniable so that humans always have a reasonable way out of believing in him? Wouldn't that make sense for a God who places great value on free will? Does that go along well with the idea of "epistemic distance"?

I know I haven't asked the question very well, but I think you can fill in the gaps.
Plus, this is probably something that has been already dealt with, if so, please point me to the relevant literature.

ps. sorry for the sloppy post

exapologist said...

Hey Karl,

I think your point about epistemic distance is a good one (cf. Pascal, Hick, and Swinburne, et al.). However, I believe a key element in plausible versions of the notion of epistemic distance is the following two-part principle

(ED) The evidence for the existence and nature of God is such that (a) it's sufficiently ambiguous to resist it "for those whose hearts are closed", and (b) it's sufficiently strong "for those whose hearts are "open"-- i.e., it makes the existence of god at least a smidge more probable than not.

However, one might worry that ED(b) is false, i.e., that the evidence doesn't make it at least a smidge more probable than not that a god exists. This is pretty much my view: the evidence is counterbalanced at best.

One might bring in Pascal's Wager at this point, and thus argue that even if the evidence doesn't make it more probable than not, it can yet be reasonable to "wager" on God on prudential grounds, assuming the evidence is counterbalanced. But that's another conversation...

About the argument from contingency: if you take the way things seem as prima facie, defeasible evidence for how they are, then the worry is that the criticisms linked to here undercut the seeming truth of PSR in particular and the argument from contingency in general -- at least that's what they do to my seemings. Think of Plantinga's example of an undercutting defeater: you see a bunch of widgets coming down the assembly line, and you form the belief that they are pink (since that's how they appear or seem). However, you then learn that there are pink lights shining down on them, and thus would look pink even if they weren't. Assuming you have no other evidence about the color of the widgets, it appears that your evidence from the way things seem has been undercut, and so you no longer have evidence for the way things are with respect to the widgets' color.

You might even find that there is a rebutting defeater for your belief that the widgets are pink, e.g., if you took one of the widgets outside into the light of day, and saw that it's actually white. In that case, you would not just have reason to suspend judgment about the proposition that the widget is pink (as with the undercutting defeater case of the pink lighting); you would have reason to think it's false.

Similarly, suppose you accept PSR, because it seems true, and because they way things seem is prima facie, defeasible evidence for how they are. Suppose then that you learn about the criticisms of PSR mentioned in the links in this post. At least in my own case, I find that some of these criticisms at least undercut the appearance of PSR's truth, and some of them rebut it.

karl said...

Thanks exap.

I'll have to think about what you've said.

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