Friday, December 23, 2011

A Quick and Dirty Refutation of Plantinga's Parity Thesis

Belief in the existence and endurance of material objects, a past, and other minds are Moorean facts; theistic belief is not; Therefore, ~parity.


Old Epistemology, New Epistemology, and Natural Theology

As we near the end of another year, it's natural to look back on the highlights of the year's events. In a similar spirit, I've been looking back on the highlights of recent and semi-recent work in philosophy of religion, with special focus on religious epistemology.  Epistemology has come a long way over the last several decades, and the insights gained along the way have, for the most part, been helpfully applied to issues in philosophy of religion. Two familiar examples include:

(i) Bayesianism and IBE: Theists (most prominently, Richard Swinburne) have employed Bayes' Theorem and inferences to the best explanation in their formulations of individual arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, etc.) and cumulative case arguments for theism. And non-theists (e.g., Paul Draper and William Rowe) have done the same for (e.g.) the problem of evil.

(ii) Epistemic externalism: Theists (most prominently, Alvin Plantinga) have argued that belief in God can be warrant-basic for a person if their beliefs are formed in a suitably reliable way, even if one doesn't know that such a belief is reliably formed.

But more recent trends include:

(iii) The epistemology of disagreement:  It seems that when a person becomes aware that an equally competent and informed person disagrees with them about an issue, this undermines their evidence to some extent.    A number of philosophers (e.g., Conee, Feldman, Kraft, et al.) have applied the point to religious propositions, arguing that disagreement between epistemic peers A and B with respect to some religious proposition P functions as at least a partial defeater for their respective beliefs about P. 

(iv) Contextualism/pragmatic encroachment: A number of philosophers (e.g., DeRose, Fantl & McGrath, et al.) have argued that whether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).  Rizzieri has brought this thesis to bear on the rationality of theistic belief; McBrayer has employed it in a defense of the skeptical theist response to the evidential problem of evil; and John Hawthorne has a research project underway that aims to justify the rationality of religous belief via appeal to a contextualism/pragmatic encroachment.  

(v) Phenomenal conservatism: A number of philosophers (e.g., Huemer, Conee, Feldman, et al.) have argued that the way things seem is at least prima facie, pro tanto justification for the way things are (absent defeaters). Chris Tucker has used phenomenal conservatism to defend the rationality of theistic belief, and Trent Dougherty recently employed something like phenomenal conservatism in his recent "devil's advocate" defense of the problem of evil in F&P.

(vi) The epistemology of testimony: Ever since at least the publication of C.A.J. Coady's Testimony: A Philosophical Study, much attention has been focused on whether testimony can function as a basic source of at least prima facie pro tanto justification for beliefs. Some theists (e.g., Thomas Crisp) have applied insights in epistemology of testimony literature to argue that it can be reasonable to believe religious claims (including, e.g., the inspiration of the Bible) on the basis of testimony.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ruse and Coyne Critique Plantinga's New Book on Science and Religion

 Well, sort of. Their remarks can be found here and here.

Underexplored Epistemological Resources for the Cosmological Argument (and Other Arguments in Natural Theology)

Cosmological arguments standardly include a causal or explanatory premise, and proponents of cosmological arguments have argued that such premises are supported in virtue of being analytic or synthetic a priori truths, or via induction, or via claiming that they are presuppositions of reason. However, these bases are often criticized: they don't seem to be analytic or synthetic a priori truths; the sample size of evidence isn't sufficiently large or representative to support them via induction; they aren’t presuppositions of reason. 
But there are at least three more avenues of support for such premises that seem worthy of further exploration. The first has recently been explicitly appealed to, but so far as I know, the second has not:
(i) Reflective equilibrium: we have the data of our intuitions or reflective judgements about whether this or that particular case has, doesn't have, or must have a cause or sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence. We also have general causal or explanatory principles. And the goal is to eliminate the tension between the two by revising our judgements and our principles so that they are no longer in tension, but in harmony -- the cases reflect the principles, and the principles explain the cases. Perhaps it's worth exploring whether this can be done in a way that supports a version of  PSR or causal causal principle(s) sufficiently robust to play a legitimate role in a cosmological argument. Timothy O'Connor is one of the few exceptions who appeals to reflective equilibrium in his defense of the cosmological argument.
(ii) Phenomenal conservatism: the way things seem serves as at least prima facie pro tanto evidence for how things are. Therefore, if it seems to one that some causal or explanatory principle involved in a cosmological argument is true, then one could thereby receive (perhaps) sufficient support for the premise to accept it. I think William Lane Craig should take this route in his defense of the causal premise in his kalam cosmological argument, as well as his defense of a version of PSR in his Leibnizian cosmological argument (as opposed to his current "more plausible than their denials" approach, which Morriston and others rightly point out as inadequate).
 (iii) Inference to the best explanation: Perhaps the best explanation of the data of all the cases of caused or explained phenomena is some version of PSR (and not some weaker principle that doesn't require an inference to a necessary being as explanatory ultimate).
I of course don't mean to imply that the use of such epistemological resources is restricted to the cosmological argument. So, for example, they can be used to support arguments for atheism (Cf. Trent Dougherty's recent (devil's advocate) defense of the problem of evil in F&P, which employs something like phenomenal conservatism in support of a key premise).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Mass Hallucinations and the Resurrection of Jesus


Not really a straight philosophy of religion topic, but perhaps of interest to some who visit this blog.

John Hawthorne Wins Million-Plus Grant to Work on Religious Epistemology

Here. It looks like my desire to see more application of insights from the contextualism/pragmatic encroachment literature to issues in philosophy of religion will finally be fulfilled!

HT: Leiter Reports.

Details here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Louise Antony's NYT Piece, "Good Minus God"


Quote for the Day

God might have made us so that when we consider evidence for the non-existence of God or the unreliability of the Scriptures or the illusory nature of religious experience, the strength of our theistic belief would actually increase. Maybe all such evidence is in the end deeply misleading and God does not want us to err in matters of ultimate importance. So a student, call her “Faith", takes a philosophy of religion class from a brilliant atheist who presents convincing versions of arguments for all the above theses. She cannot see a thing wrong with any of them. But in accordance with her design-plan, the strength of Faith’s conviction in the central tenets of Christianity is thereby strengthened, not weakened. Indeed, perhaps with enough apparently sound arguments for the falsity of Christianity her belief will become maximally warranted!

Now Plantinga can, of course, say that her design plan is not like this. There are potential defeaters for God’s existence and the claims of Christianity, and we are not made to believe more strongly when we confront them. That is probably true (although given Plantinga’s assumptions about the damage that the Fall has done to our faculties where our belief in God is concerned, I am not sure how he can be confident in reading off the design-plan from our actual cognitive function). But, even if that’s right, the counter-example still remains in place. For Faith’s belief is produced by a successfully truth-aimed, properly functioning cognitive faculty operating in an appropriate environment and believed with maximal firmness. Plantinga’s epistemological theory entails that beliefs with these properties are maximally warranted – hence, they are as warranted as one’s belief in one’s own existence.

Senor, Thomas. “A Critical Review of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief”, International Philosophical Quarterly 42:3, Issue 167 (September 2002), 395-396.

New Blog Look

Hi gang,

As you can see, the blog looks a bit different than it did yesterday.  I'm not sure, though, if I'm going to keep it.  Thoughts?

Also, I haven't been able to figure out how to get the RSS feeds and links to display with the new look.  Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.


A Quick Thought About the Phenomenon of Reasonable Religious Disagreement

Here's a hypothesis I'm toying with that's inspired by recent work in the pragmatic encroachment literature and the epistemology of disagreement literature (although it employs the notions from both bodies of literature in a bit of an unorthodox way):

Suppose that A and B are true epistemic peers, and that they are aware of the same body of evidence E for some religious proposition P. E pushes A to accept P; E fails to push B to accept P; A and B bring up the topic of P, and then discuss E. After patient and careful discussion of E, A and B still disagree about whether E is sufficient to put one in a position to know (or be justified in believing) that P is true. What's going on here? Are they both epistemically in the right, or has the awareness of their disagreement deflated their evidence at least a bit, (in which case they should each move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes)? 

Here's my tentative hypothesis: It depends. For w
hether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).   Therefore, if the practical stakes for (say) A are lower than they are for B with respect to P, then it might be that A is entitled to say that she knows (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E, and B is entitled to say that she doesn't know (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E. In other words, there might be cases where both are right to hold their current propositional attitudes, even after their discussion of the evidence. On the other hand, if it turns out that the practical stakes for A and B are the same with respect to P, then both A and B ought to move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes.  

In any case, that's the basic idea. Thoughts? 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More Forthcoming Books to Look For from OUP

Leftow, Brian. God and Necessity.

  • An original account of necessity and possibility
  • A new argument for God's existence
  • A detailed theory of the mind of God
  • Engages with medieval and modern philosophy and theology
  • A landmark work at the intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of religion
Brian Leftow offers a theory of the possible and the necessary in which God plays the chief role, and a new sort of argument for God's existence. It has become usual to say that a proposition is possible just in case it is true in some 'possible world' (roughly, some complete history a universe might have) and necessary just if it is true in all. Thus much discussion of possibility and necessity since the 1960s has focussed on the nature and existence (or not) of possible worlds. God and Necessity holds that there are no such things, nor any sort of abstract entity. It assigns the metaphysical 'work' such items usually do to God and events in God's mind, and reduces 'broadly logical' modalities to causal modalities, replacing possible worlds in the semantics of modal logic with God and His mental events. Leftow argues that theists are committed to theist modal theories, and that the merits of a theist modal theory provide an argument for God's existence. Historically, almost all theist modal theories base all necessary truth on God's nature. Leftow disagrees: he argues that necessary truths about possible creatures and kinds of creatures are due ultimately to God's unconstrained imagination and choice. On his theory, it is in no sense part of the nature of God that normal zebras have stripes (if that is a necessary truth). Stripy zebras are simply things God thought up, and they have the nature they do simply because that is how God thought of them. Thus Leftow's essay in metaphysics takes a half-step toward Descartes' view of modal truth, and presents a compelling theist theory of necessity and possibility.

Table of contents:
1: Modal Basics
2: Some Solutions
3: Theist Solutions
4: The Ontology of Possibility
5: Modal Truthmakers
6: Modality and the Divine Nature
7: Deity as Essential
8: Against Deity Theories
9: The Role of Deity
10: The Biggest Bang
11: Divine Concepts
12: Concepts, Syntax, and Actualism
13: Modality: Basic Notions
14: The Genesis of Secular Modality
15: Modal Reality
16: Essences
17: Non-Secular Modalities
18: Theism and Modal Semantics
19: Freedom, Preference, and Cost
20: Explaining Modal Status
21: Explaining the Necessary
22: Against Theistic Platonism
23: Worlds and the Existence of God

Almeida, Michael. Freedom, God, and Worlds.

BlurbMichael J. Almeida presents a powerful argument which holds that several widely believed and largely undisputed objections to the idea of the existence of God are in fact just philosophical dogmas. He challenges some of the most well-entrenched principles in philosophical theology, which have served as basic assumptions in influential apriori, atheological arguments. But most theists also maintain that the principles express apriori necessary truths, including those principles that are presumed to follow from the nature of an essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient, essentially perfectly good and necessarily existing being. Among the atheological arguments that deploy these philosophical dogmas are the Logical Problem of Evil, the Logical Problem of the Best Possible World, the Logical Problem of Good Enough Worlds, the Problem of Divine Freedom, the Problem of No Best World, and the Evidential Problem of Evil. In Freedom, God, and Worlds Almeida claims that these arguments present no important challenge to the existence of an Anselmian God. Not only are these philosophical principles false, they are necessarily false.

Table of contents:

1: A Moderate Anselmian Plea
2: Metaphysical Atheological Arguments and the Free Will Defense
3: Three Important Objections
4: Unrestricted Actualization, Freedom and Morally Perfect Worlds
5: The Logical Problem of Evil Redux
6: Four Important Objections
7: Four More Objections
8: Redeeming Worlds
9: Conclusions

Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 4

It looks like it'll be a while until it hits the presses (Aug. 2012!), but as has come to be expected with the series, it looks to be very good. Below is the table of contents:

Jonathan Kvanvig: Editor's Introduction
List of Contributors
1: Yuval Avnur: In Defense of Secular Belief
2: Daniel Bonevac: Two Theories of Analogical Predication
3: William L. Craig: Nominalism and Divine Aseity
4: Neal Judisch: Meticulous Providence and Gratuitous Evil
5: Shieva Kleinschmidt: Many-One Identity and the Trinity
6: Christian Miller: Atheism and Theistic Belief
7: Paul Moser: God, Flux, and the Epistemology of Agape Struggle
8: Duncan Pritchard: Wittgensteinian Quasi-Fideism
9: Meghan Sullivan: Semantics for Blasphemy
10: Dennis Whitcomb: Grounding and Omniscience

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: RIP

                                 (photo of a younger Hitchens, taken at a protest in the 60s)

Although I could never quite understand his defense of the Iraq War during the Bush (Jr.) Administration, he was of course a great man and a sharp mind.

Slate has a nice collection of remembrances (here).

The Secular Outpost -- Revamped!

Jeff Lowder has done a great job of reviving the Secular Outpost. There is now a regular stream of interesting posts, and he has gotten a lot of excellent philosophers and other scholars on board as contributors (e.g, Graham Oppy, Louise Antony, Bradley Monton, Stephen Law, and Julian Baggini, to name a few). I have a link to the blog in the column on the right, but here is a link to save you the trouble of scrolling and searching for it.

Thomas Kelly's Paper on the Theistic Argument from Common Consent

"Consensus Gentium: Reflections on the ‘Common Consent’ Argument for the Existence of God", in Kelly Clark and Raymond Van Arragon (eds.) Evidence and Religious Belief (OUP): 135-156 (2011)

Phillip Kitcher on Talk Atheist Radio


HT: Leiter Reports

Thursday, December 15, 2011


"Critics accused the president of caving in again to pressure from some Republicans on a counter-terrorism issue for fear of being painted in next year's election campaign as weak and of failing to defend America.

Human Rights Watch said that by signing the bill Obama would go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law."

Details here.

My only hope is that Obama did what he did because he thinks his concession to the GOP won't go through, on the grounds that it will be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: More doom.

"About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That's up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Monist: Special Call for Papers

96:3 (July 2013)
Naturalizing Religious Belief

Deadline for Submissions: July 31, 2012
Advisory Editor: James Beebe, University at Buffalo (

The cognitive science of religion brings the methods and resources of the cognitive sciences to bear on questions about religious thought and action, such as how ordinary cognitive structures inform and constrain the transmission of religious ideas, why people believe in gods, why religious rituals tend to have the forms that they do, and why afterlife and creation beliefs are so common. Findings in the cognitive science of religion raise a variety of philosophical questions, such as whether these findings undermine, threaten or explain away religious belief; whether those who believe in the supernatural can consistently accept a strongly naturalistic explanation of those beliefs; and whether traditional notions of religious belief are compatible with the view that explicit expressions of religious commitment are often post hoc rationalizations of intuitive but often unconscious inclinations of evolved mental structures. Contributions are invited that address these and other philosophical questions raised by the cognitive science of religion.

Link to the site: here.
Submission guidelines: here.

Plantinga in the News (Again)


HT: M.C.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New RSS Feeds

I've recently added two new RSS feeds in the bar on the right:  (i) one announcing the latest calls for papers, talks, and conferences of interest to philosophers of religion, and (ii) one for the latest papers in philosophy of religion.[*] I hope you find them useful.

Together with the extant RSS feeds for new and forthcoming issues of the standard philosophy of religion speciality journals, the blog now provides a single location for virtually all the latest available work in philosophy of religion.

[*]In providing these features, I'm indebted to David Chalmers and David Bourget for their extremely helpful philosophical tools, PhilPapers and PhilEvents.


HT: C.L.

Deng on Carnap, Le Poidevin and Theism

Deng, Natalja. "Questions about ‘Internal and external questions about God’", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Proposal for a New Entry in the Philosophical Lexicon

craig, v. (a) to engage in dialectically illegitimate argumentative maneuvering, such as (e.g.) construing an interlocutor as offering a rebutting defeater for P when it's more charitable to construe them as offering an undercutting defeater for P[1]; (b) to maintain a somewhat positive image of one's positions in part by choosing not to address, mention, or cite the strongest criticisms of them; (c) to take up, critique, and/or ridicule an uncharitable construal of the theses and arguments of one's interlocutor.

[1] Relatedly: to infer or otherwise assume that because a reply fails to rebut P, it also fails to undercut P.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stephen Law's New Paper on Plantinga's EAAN

We've noted Stephen Law's critiques of Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) on other occasions. His latest critique is in the current issue of Analysis. Here is the link

Friday, December 09, 2011

Some Great Papers from Schellenberg Now Available Online

-(forthcoming). "Skepticism as the Beginning of Religion", In Ingolf Dalferth (ed.), Skeptical Faith. Mohr Siebeck.

-(2010) "Divine Hiddenness", in Paul Draper & Charles Talliaferro (eds.), A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

-(2009). "The Evolutionary Answer to the Problem of Faith and Reason", in Jonathan Kvanvig (ed.), Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, vol. 2.

-(2009). "Why Am I a Nonbeliever? I Wonder...", in Udo Schuklenk & Russell Blackford (eds.), 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Wiley-Blackwell.

Maitzen's Recent Lecture, "God vs. Morality"

Stephen Maitzen (Acadia University) recently gave an excellent public lecture -- "God vs. Morality" -- at Amherst College in September. Here is the link.

The file is about 79 minutes, but the lecture goes until only 39:05, at which point the Q&A begins.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Required Reading

Schellenberg, J.L."God, Free Will, and Time: The Free Will Offense Part II", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, forthcoming (Published Online Nov 2011).

As indicated in the title, the paper further develops Schellenberg's line of argument in his "The Free Will Offense" (IJPR 56, pp. 1-15), and ch. 12 of his The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (Cornell UP, 2007).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Note on Craig's Standard Reply to Mackie on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Suppose one were to believe in the possibility of a beginningless past on the basis of the following inference:

1. Every finite subset of events in a beginningless past is traversable.
2. Therefore, the whole set of events in a beginningless past is traversable.

This is obviously a bad reason for that belief. For to infer (2) from (1) is to commit the fallacy of composition.

Interestingly, William Lane Craig attributes this fallacious inference to the late J.L. Mackie in reply to Mackie's criticism of the Kalam argument in the latter's The Miracle of Theism.[1] It's perhaps worth noting that Craig repeats this reply to Mackie's criticism in virtually all of his books and contributing chapters in which he defends the kalam cosmological argument. Furthermore, Mackie's is arguably the main criticism he raises to his argument in these writings.

I think Craig's characterization of Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here is uncharitable at best, and mistaken at worst. In what follows, I'll attempt to point out where Craig goes wrong in this rejoinder to Mackie. But before I do so, I'll need to set things up with a brief discussion of the relevant part of the dialectic between Mackie and Craig.

Mackie's criticism is that, ". . .[i]t assumes that, even if past time were infinite, there would still have been a starting-point of time, but one infinitely remote, so that an actual infinity would have had to be traversed to reach the present from there. But to take the hypothesis of infinity seriously would be to suppose that there was no starting point, not even an infinitely remote one, and that from any specific point in past time there is only a finite stretch that needs to be traversed to reach the present." (The Miracle of Theism, p. 93).

Craig's offers two main points in his rejoinder. First, he says that it’s Mackie, and not the proponent of the kalam argument, who fails to take a beginningless past seriously. For the latter construes such a past as having no beginning at all – not even one infinitely distant from the present. But if so, then this makes the problem worse, not better. For then one couldn’t even get going to make progress in traversing an infinite set of events to reach the present moment.[2] Second, Mackie’s point that each event in a beginningless past is only finitely distant from the present is irrelevant. For the issue isn’t whether any finite segment of a beginningless past can be traversed to reach the present, but rather whether the whole infinite past can be so traversed. To think that a whole infinite set can be traversed because each finite segment can be traversed is to commit the fallacy of composition.[3]

What to make of this exchange? Mackie is correct, and Craig has misunderstood him -- or at least he has given Mackie's reply an uncharitable gloss. First, Mackie is correct to say that proponents of the kalam argument have misconstrued a beginningless traversal. For to say that the past is beginningless is to say that some infinite set of events or other has been traversed before every point in the past. But if so, then if a beginningless past is possible -- which is the very issue under dispute -- there can be no going from a state of not having traversed to having traversed an infinite series of events in a beginningless past. The only sort of scenario that involves a transition from a finite to an infinite traversal is one involving a beginning of the traversal at some point. And on the most charitable and forceful interpretation of Mackie's criticism, this is why he says that the proponent of the kalam argument conflates a beginningless past (i.e., {…, -3, -2, -1}) with a past that had a beginning an infinite amount of time ago (i.e., {1, 2, 3, …} or, say, {1, …-3, -2, -1}).

Second, in light of the previous point, we see why Craig is mistaken, or at least uncharitable, in saying that Mackie has committed the fallacy of composition. For on the more charitable and forceful construal of Mackie's reply, Mackie is not arguing that because every finite segment of a beginningless past is traversable, the whole infinite past traversable. Rather, he’s saying that if the past is beginningless -- which, again, is the very issue under dispute -- then an infinite set of events has already been traversed before every point of a beginningless past, and that is why there is only a finite set of subsequent events between that point and the present.[*]

[1] See, for example, "The Cosmological Argument", in Copan, Paul and Paul K. Moser, eds. The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003, 124-135.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[*] An exposition of the standard criticisms of Craig's philosophical arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites can be found here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Orwell Was Right, Installment 9,457

"The United States gets reassuring stories on stress and overwork. The rest of the world learns about the fight for democracy in Egypt"

Two Helpful Papers for Evaluating van Inwagen's The Problem of Evil

Fischer, John Martin and Neal Tognazzini. "Exploring Evil and Philosophical Failure: A Critical Notice of Peter van Inwagen's The Problem of Evil", Faith & Philosophy 24:4 (October 2007), 458-474.

Boyce, Kenneth and Justin McBrayer. "Van Inwagen on the Problem of Evil: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly"

McBrayer's New Contextualist/Contrastivist Twist on Skeptical Theism

Justin McBrayer (Fort Lewis College) is an excellent young philosopher. He's also an up-and-comer in philosophy of religion, with special focus on the skeptical theist response to the problem of evil (We've noted his overview of recent work on skeptical theism in Philosophy Compass, and his IEP entry on the topic on other occasions). His most recent contribution makes an advance in the discussion by applying recent work on epistemic contextualism (and also, in this case, Schaeffer's contrastivism) to the topic. The paper can be found here.

A while back, I complained about the strange dearth of work in philosophy of religion that applies the recent hot topic of contextualism in epistemology. It's nice to see that things are starting to change in that regard.

Excellent Online Collection of van Inwagen's Work

Andrew M. Bailey has done the philosophical community a great service by providing an online collection of Peter van Inwagen's papers.

A teaser: two of van Inwagen's most important papers on the problem of evil:

"The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy"

"The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence"

UPDATE: Bailey also has an online collection of John Martin Fischer's papers (here)! HT: Paul

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oppy, Moreland, and the Common Apologetic Strategy

Over at the Secular Outpost, Graham Oppy recently noted a series of exchanges he's been having with J.P. Moreland on the argument from consciousness for theism. One of Oppy's main points in the post is that a naturalist can (a la Chalmers) take consciousness or proto-conscious representational properties as fundamental features of the natural world, thereby undercutting the argument from consciousness.[1] As Oppy puts it:

The most important point to note -- vis a vis this discussion -- I think, is this: The worst case for the naturalist is one in which 'conscious state' is an ideological primitive, with an ideologically primitive connection to 'neural state' (or the like). But, for theists like Moreland, 'conscious state' is evidently an ideological primitive -- for, of course, Moreland thinks that God is conscious, and does not suppose that God's consciousness is explained in terms of something else -- and the connection between consciousness and the rest of God's 'state' is also ideologically primitive. So, on a proper accounting of theoretical costs, the worst case for the naturalist is no worse than par with the view that Moreland defends.

And as Oppy points out, Moreland completely ignores this reply, choosing instead to argue that less "liberal" forms of naturalism can't account for consciousness.

I think this is an excellent demonstration of the failure of what I have called the Common Apologetic Strategy.
[1] I've tried to make this point as well. See, for example, here and here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Podcast Interview with Graham Oppy


HT: The Secular Outpost

Quote for the Day

"I’ll conclude with a brief comment on the exceedingly low standard Bill [Craig] sets for a “good” philosophical argument. The premises don’t even need to be “plausible,” he says – “just more plausible than their opposites.” But surely, when you don’t know enough even to say, “This is plausible,” you don’t have a foundation on which to build an argument for a conclusion that you can believe! To see just how bad the problem is, suppose that each of the logically independent premises Bill needs to get all the way to the conclusion that a personal God created the universe meets this low standard. By way of illustration, suppose that there are just four logically independent premises, and make the very generous assumption that the probability is two to one in favor of each of them. Then the probability that all of them are true is less than 0.2, and the probability that at least one of them is false is greater than 0.8! Imagine a ladder with four rungs, and suppose that the probability that at least one of them will break is in the neighborhood of 0.8. Would you trust that ladder? No? Then you shouldn’t put too awfully much weight on this version of the cosmological argument!"

-Wes Morriston (from his opening statement in is dialogue with William Lane Craig)

Wes's comments on the dialogue with Craig can be found here.

Update on the Synthese Affair


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: Killeen Chair Conference on Religious Disagreement

HT: Prosblogion

Killeen Chair Conference on Religious Disagreement

Hosted by St. Norbert College, Green Bay, Wisconsin
April 14th through 15th, 2012

The organizing committee for the Killeen Chair of Theology & Philosophy announces a conference on the epistemology of religious disagreement, to be held at St. Norbert College on April 14-15, 2012.

Keynote Speakers:
Michael Bergmann (Purdue)
Thomas Kelly (Princeton)
Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern)

Additional Speakers:
Nathan King (Whitworth)
Jonathan Matheson (North Florida)
Andrew Moon (Missouri)
Tim Pickavance (Biola)

The organizing committee invites the submission of papers for two or three additional speakers. Papers should relate in some way to the epistemic significance of religious disagreement, and each should be suitable for a thirty-five minute presentation (roughly 3,500 words).

Papers should be prepared for blind review and submitted electronically. Please send your file attached to an e-mail message in which you state your name, contact information, and the title of your paper. Preferred file formats include Word 97-2003 (.doc), Word 2007 (.docx), and PDF. Please send submissions to tomas DOT bogardus AT snc DOT edu.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, February 10th, 2012.

The organizing committee warmly invites all interested philosophers to attend and participate in the conference. If you plan to attend, please email Tomas Bogardus at the above address so that we can plan to accommodate the group's size.

Commentators will be selected for some papers. If you would be willing to comment, please indicate your interest in an email (with a current CV attached) by Friday, February 10th, 2012. One need not present a paper in order to serve as a commentator.

For further information on the Killeen Chair in Theology & Philosophy, please visit

New IEP Entry on Omnipotence


Monday, November 07, 2011

5th Anniversary

I recently realized that last month marked this blog's 5th anniversary. I'm still enjoying it quite a bit, so I plan on continuing for the foreseeable future. Thanks to all of you for visiting and/or commenting.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

... is the name of a new book by R. Scott Smith (Biola). Here is the blurb:

Philosophical naturalism is taken to be the preferred and reigning epistemology and metaphysics that underwrites many ideas and knowledge claims. But what if we cannot know reality on that basis? What if the institution of science is threatened by its reliance on naturalism?

R. Scott Smith argues in a fresh way that we cannot know reality on the basis of naturalism. Moreover, the "fact-value" split has failed to serve our interests of wanting to know reality. The author provocatively argues that since we can know reality, it must be due to a non-naturalistic ontology, best explained by the fact that human knowers are made and designed by God. The book offers fresh implications for the testing of religious truth-claims, science, ethics, education, and public policy. Consequently, naturalism and the fact-value split are shown to be false, and Christian theism is shown to be true.

And here is the table of contents:


Part 1 Direct Realism: An introduction to direct realism:
-The views of D.M. Armstrong
-The representationalism of Dretske, Tye, and Lycan
-Searle's naturalism and the prospects for knowledge

Part 2 Philosophy as Science: Neuroscience, Neurophilosophy and Naturalized Epistemology:
-Cognitive science, philosophy, and our knowledge or reality, part 1: the views of David Papineau
-Cognitive science, philosophy, and our knowledge of reality part 2: the views of Daniel Dennett
-Can the Churchlands' neurocomputational theory of cognition ground a viable epistemology? (Errin Clark)

Part 3 Other Alternatives and Naturalism's Future:
-Other proposals: Pollock's internalism, Kim's functionalism (with Peggy Burke) and more externalist considerations
-The future directions of naturalism and the scientific method, and other implications

I haven't read it yet, but it looks like yet another instance of The Common Apologetic Strategy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

An Excellent Overview of St. Thomas's Five Ways

Timothy Pawl (St. Thomas) provides an extremely clear explication of Aquinas's five proofs of God's existence, as well as key objections and replies, in "The Five Ways", forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Aquinas (ed. Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Quick Note on Geivett's Argument from Evil to God

Jeffrey Jay Lowder recently noted Doug Geivett's argument from evil to God, which runs as follows:

1. Evil exists.
2. Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be.
3. If there is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be.
4. Therefore, there is a way things ought to be.
5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
6. If there is a design plan for things, then there must be a Designer.
7. Therefore, there must be a Designer.

It appears that Geivett's argument is a variation on Plantinga's argument from proper function to God. In both arguments, there is a claim about the existence of normativity in the natural world that's grounded in purpose and plan. And in both arguments, there is a claim that such purpose and plan can only come from an intelligent designer (or at least that intelligent design is the only known way to get purpose and plan, and the prospects for a naturalistic account of purpose plan are unpromising).

The problem is that the claim that purpose and plan in nature requires an intelligent designer has been undercut by recent papers from Adrian Bardon, Tyler Wunder, and Peter J. Graham. These papers focus on Plantinga's use of the claim in his argument from proper function to God. But since the premise is the same in Geivett's argument, his argument from evil to God is likewise undercut.

How Fox News Rolls

Friday, October 21, 2011

W.K. Clifford Was Right, Take 45,753

It really, really matters whether your beliefs are proportioned to the evidence. Case in point: Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Plantinga in the News

Seeing that Plantinga hired a Dutch Reformed air conditioner repairman was an especially nice touch.

Hat tip: MD and SC

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Craig’s Case Against the Existence of Actual Infinites, Part 5: More Objects than Numbers (Revised)

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

Consider the following argument from Craig:

"Suppose...that each book in the library has a number printed on its spine so as to create a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers. Because the collection is actually infinite, this means that every possible natural number is printed on some book. Therefore, it would be impossible to add another book to this library. For what would be the number of the new book? . . .Every possible number already has a counterpart in realty, for corresponding to every natural number is an already existent book. Therefore, there would be no number for the new book. But this is absurd, since entities that exist in reality can be numbered."[1]

We can put the argument more carefully as follows:

1. If concrete actual infinites are possible, then a library L with an infinite set of books is possible.
2. If L is possible, then it’s possible to assign a natural number to each book in L.
3. If it’s possible to assign a natural number to each book in L, then it’s possible to assign all the natural numbers to books in L without remainder.
4. If it’s possible to assign all the natural numbers to books in L without remainder, then if it’s possible to add a new book B to L, then it’s impossible to assign a natural number to B.
5. It’s possible to add B to L.
6. It’s possible to assign a natural number to B.
7. Concrete actual infinites are impossible.

This argument is valid.[2] Furthermore, (1), (2), (3), and (5) look to be true. Unfortunately, (4) seems false. Thus, consider library L again. Now suppose we reassign the natural numbers to the books in L as follows: assign ‘2’ to the first book, ‘3’ to the second book, and so on all the way through the rest of the books in L. Then we can free up ‘1’ to be assigned to the new book. But if so, then it is possible to assign a natural number to B, in which case (4) is false.[3] What does seem true, though, is not (4) but rather:

(4’) If it’s possible to assign all the natural numbers to books in L without remainder, then if it’s possible to add a new book B to L, then it’s impossible to assign a natural number to B if we hold fixed the original assignment of numbers to books.

Let’s revise the argument accordingly. To preserve the argument’s validity, we’ll also need to revise (6) to account for the new qualification:

(6’) It’s possible to assign a natural number to B (even) if we hold fixed the original assignment of numbers to books.

Does the revised version of Craig’s argument fare any better?

No, it doesn’t. For while (4’) seems clearly true, (6’) seems clearly false. For if we hold fixed the assignment of natural numbers to the books in L prior to the addition of B, then of course no unique natural number remains that can be assigned to B. But the problem here lies not with actual infinites, but rather with the internal coherence of Craig’s assertion that it must be possible to assign a unique natural number to a new book, even under the stipulation that all the unique natural numbers have already been assigned to other books.

What went wrong in Craig's argument? Recall premise (6) in the initial version of the argument:

(6) It’s possible to assign a natural number to B.

As Craig indicates in the quoted passage above, he accepts (6) on the grounds that:

(a) Any entity that exists in reality can be numbered.

This seems to be true. But (a) is not what Craig needs to derive (6). What he needs instead is

(b) Any entity that exists in reality can be numbered via a natural number.

Unfortunately, (b) looks to be false. For consider a library L’ that contains a set of books that can be put in a 1-1 correspondence with the irrational numbers. Such a set of books would be non-denumerably infinite; that is, it’d be actually infinite, but it couldn’t be put into a 1-1 correspondence with the natural numbers. Therefore, while all such books in L’ can be numbered, they can’t all by numbered via the natural numbers.

This example illustrates two salient points: (i) some sets of entities can’t be numbered via the natural numbers, and (ii) such entities can yet be numbered via other numbers, as there are more numbers than just the naturals. But given (i) and (ii), the door is open for numbering the new book in Craig’s library with a unique non-natural number.

We can sum up the problem with Craig's argument as follows. Either we hold fixed the assignment of natural numbers to books in Craig's infinite library or we don't. If we don't, then it's possible to reassign the natural numbers so as to free up a unique natural number for the new book. On the other hand, if we do hold fixed the original assignment of numbers to books, then it is impossible to assign a unique natural number to the new book. But of course there are more numbers than the naturals, and the new book can be numbered with one of these. If Craig yet demands that the new book be numbered with a natural number, even after all the natural numbers have been assigned to other books, then the problem lies not with the possibility of his infinite library, but rather with the coherence of the task demanded for it. Either way, then, Craig's argument is unsuccessful.

[*] Thanks to D.D. for reminding me of this argument of Craig's.
[1] Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: MacMillan, 1979), p. 83.
[2] Proof:

P=concrete actual infinites are possible
Q= a library L with an infinite number of books is possible
R=It’s possible to assign a unique natural number to each book in L
S=It’s possible to assign all the natural numbers to books in L without remainder
T= It’s possible to add a new book B to L
U=It’s impossible to assign a natural number to B

Then we have:

1. P -> Q Premise
2. Q -> R Premise
3. R -> S Premise
4. S -> (T - > U) Premise
5. T Premise
6. ~U Premise
7. P Assumption
8. Q 1, 7 MP
9. R 2, 8 MP
10. S 3, 9 MP
11. T -> U 4, 10 MP
12. U 5, 11 MP
13. ~T 6, 11 MT
14. T 5 R
15. ~P 7-14 ~I
[3] Wes Morriston makes this criticism in "Craig on the Actual Infinite", Religious Studies 38 (2002), pp. 147-166, esp. 149-150.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Forthcoming Book on Plantinga's Work

As you'll recall, there was a conference at Notre Dame early last year to celebrate Alvin Plantinga's retirement. The papers delivered at the conference (or rather, polished descendants of them) are forthcoming in a volume with OUP: Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind: New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga (Kelly James Clark and Michael Rea, eds.).

Here's the book's description from OUP:
In May 2010, philosophers, family and friends gathered at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the career and retirement of Alvin Plantinga, widely recognized as one of the world's leading figures in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion. Plantinga has earned particular respect within the community of Christian philosophers for the pivotal role that he played in the recent renewal and development of philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Each of the essays in this volume engages with some particular aspect of Plantinga's views on metaphysics, epistemology, or philosophy of religion. Contributors include Michael Bergman, Ernest Sosa, Trenton Merricks, Richard Otte, Peter VanInwagen, Thomas P. Flint, Eleonore Stump, Dean Zimmerman and Nicholas Wolterstorff. The volume also includes responses to each essay by Bas van Fraassen, Stephen Wykstra, David VanderLaan, Robin Collins, Raymond VanArragon, E. J. Coffman, Thomas Crisp, and Donald Smith.

Videos of the original talks at the conference can be found here.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Review of Divine Hiddenness: New Essays

I can't believe I never posted about this, but there's an old (but excellent) review of Divine Hiddenness: New Essays at NDPR by Robert McKim.

As many of you know, McKim wrote a superb book on the problems of divine hiddenness (more specifically, the problem of religious ambiguity) and religious diversity a while back, and has another book on the problem of religious diversity forthcoming with OUP.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Jake Chandler (University of Leuven) and Victoria S. Harrison (University of Glasgow) have co-edited what looks to be an excellent new book: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion (OUP, forthcoming).

Here's the blurb:

*A fresh approach to philosophy of religion
*Covers a range of key topics in the field
*Brings together prominent philosophers of science, epistemologists, and philosophers of religion

Probability theory promises promising to deliver an exact and unified foundation for inquiry in epistemology and philosophy of science. But philosophy of religion is also fertile ground for the application of probabilistic thinking. This volume presents original contributions from twelve contemporary researchers, both established and emerging, to offer a representative sample of the work currently being carried out in this potentially rich field of inquiry. Grouped into five parts, the chapters span a broad range of traditional issues in religious epistemology. The first three parts discuss the evidential impact of various considerations that have been brought to bear on the question of the existence of God. These include witness reports of the occurrence of miraculous events, the existence of complex biological adaptations, the apparent 'fine-tuning' for life of various physical constants and the existence of seemingly unnecessary evil. The fourth part addresses a number of issues raised by Pascal's famous pragmatic argument for theistic belief. A final part offers probabilistic perspectives on the rationality of faith and the epistemic significance of religious disagreement.

And here's the table of contents:

1: Jake Chandler and Victoria S. Harrison: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion
Part I: Testimony and Miracles
2: Benjamin C. Jantzen: Peirce on Miracles: The Failure of Bayesian Analysis
3: Tim McGrew and Lydia McGrew: The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous'
4: Luc Bovens: Does it Matter whether a Miracle-Like Event Happens to Oneself rather than to Someone Else?
Part II: Design
5: David H. Glass: Can Evidence for Design be Explained Away?
6: Richard Swinburne: Bayes, God, and the Multiverse
Part III: Evil
7: Richard Otte: Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil'
8: Michael Tooley: Inductive Logic and the Probability that God Exists: Farewell to Sceptical Theism
Part IV: Pascal's Wager
9: Alan Hájek: Blaise and Bayes
10: Paul Bartha: Many Gods, Many Wagers: Pascal's Wager Meets the Replicator Dynamics
Part V: Faith and Disagreement
11: Joshua C. Thurow: Does Religious Disagreement Actually Aid the Case for Theism?
12: Lara Buchak: Can it be it Rational to Have Faith?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: The 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

The 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

Recent PhDs and current graduate students are invited to apply to participate in the 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology, a three-week long seminar organized by Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) and Michael Rota (University of St. Thomas). The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 17th to July 6th, 2012. Participants will receive a stipend of $3000, as well as room and board.

Topics and speakers:

Dualism and Materialism Chris Hill (Brown)
Hud Hudson (Western Washington)
Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers)

Freedom and Foreknowledge Linda Zagzebski (Oklahoma)
David Hunt (Whittier)

The Atonement Eleonore Stump (Saint Louis University)
Michael Rea (Notre Dame)
Resurrection Timothy O’Connor (Indiana)

Pascal’s Wager Thomas Kelly (Princeton)
Michael Rota (St. Thomas)

Neuroscience and Philosophy Hans Halvorson (Princeton)
Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA School of Medicine)

The deadline for receipt of applications is December 1, 2011.

For more information, including information on how to apply, go to

This seminar program is funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Williamson vs. Rosenberg on Naturalism -- In the New York Times

Williamson's piece can be found here, and Rosenberg's reply can be found here.

HT: Leiter Reports

UPDATE: Williamson's rejoinder to Rosenberg (here).

Quote for the Day

"It is somewhat misleading to characterize theorists like Adams and Craig as providing a theistic foundation for objective morality. This characterization can easily give the impression that, on their approaches, all objective ethical facts are explained by God. But this is not at all the case. What is really going on is that some objective ethical facts are explained by appeal to other basic ethical facts (some of which are also supernatural facts). Adams, Craig, and I all agree, then, that objective morality is somehow built into reality. We all posit a moral foundation of substantive, metaphysically necessary brute ethical facts. They also see divinity as built into reality, whereas I do not. But it is a mistake to think that on their approaches, the divinity that is built into reality provides a complete external foundation for objective morality. On both types of views, the bottom floor of objective morality rests ultimately on nothing.

The ethical shopping list of Adams, Craig, and Moreland contains items like this: (a) there is a being that is worthy of worship, (b) if the Good commands you to do something, then you are morally obligated to do it, and (c) the better the character of the commander, the more reason there is to obey his or her commands. My ethical shopping list contains items like this: (d) pain is intrinsically bad, (e) inflicting pain just for fun is morally wrong, and (f) it is just to give people what they deserve. None of us can provide an external foundation for every item on our list; each of our lists contains some brute ethical facts."

-Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism", Faith & Philosophy 26:1 (Jan 2009), 39-40.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kraay on Theistic Multiverse Hypotheses

Although multiverse hypotheses were once commonly resisted by theistic philosophers, a number of such philosophers now see them as having great theoretical utility in natural theology and philosophical theology. As noted on other occasions, Klaas Kraay has written extensively on the relationship between theism and multiverse hypotheses. It's therefore worth pointing out that he has kindly posted his "The Theistic Multiverse: Problems and Prospects" (which is a chapter in the forthcoming book, Scientific Approaches to Philosophy of Religion (Ed. Yujin Nagasawa, Palgrave MacMillan). The chapter is at once an excellent overview of the topic, and a contribution to the current debate.

Many of his other papers can be found here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: Winners of the 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize

The 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize attempts to
identify the three best papers, in English, published in 2010 in the
areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. Out of
forty-four submissions, our selection panel has chosen the following
three winners:

W. Matthews Grant , “Can a Libertarian hold that Our Free Acts are
Caused by God?” Faith and Philosophy 27:1 (January 2010): 22-44.

David M. Holley , “Treating God’s Existence as an Explanatory
Hypothesis” American Philosophical Quarterly 47:4 (October 2010):

Yujin Nagasawa, “The Ontological Argument and the Devil,”
Philosophical Quarterly 60 (October 2010): 72-91.

For more information on this award, including instructions for
submitting a paper for the 2011 prize, go to

Monday, September 12, 2011

Exposition of Morriston's New Paper

Over at Philosophical Disquisitions, John Danaher is expositing Wes Morriston's recent paper, "Ethical Criticism of the Bible: The Case of Divinely Mandated Genocide", Sophia (2011). Below are the installments so far:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Things, Stuff, and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (draft)

A key move in standard Leibnizian cosmological arguments is the claim that:

(UCB) The universe -- or (if the universe doesn't exhaust physical reality) all physical reality -- is a contingent being.

Now the primary means of support for UCB is a conceivability-possibility inference. Richard Taylor's use of such an inference is representative in this regard. Thus, he argues that for any object in the universe, we can imagine that it fails to exist (e.g., a six-foot-in-diameter translucent sphere). But if imaginability is evidence of possibility, then this is evidence that for any arbitrary object in the universe (whether a stamp or a solar system), it's possible for it not to exist. But we can just as easily imagine the whole universe failing to exist. Therefore, we can say with equal justification that the universe can fail to exist, in which case it's a contingent being.

Is the line of reasoning above for the contingency of the universe a good one? One might think not, on the grounds that Taylor conflates evidence for the possible non-existence of a material object (a stamp, a solar system, etc.) with evidence for the possible non-existence of the stuff of which it's composed (matter-energy).

William Lane Craig is aware of this sort of worry. However, he thinks he can get around it and make legitimate use of a conceivability-possibility inference to support UCB by cutting to the chase and asking us to imagine the most fundamental constituents of reality -- quarks (assuming the string theorists are wrong) -- failing to exist; alternatively, he asks us to imagine a universe composed of different quarks.[1] Given this modification of the thought experiment, he assumes that we can adequately imagine this, and further that this is sufficient prima facie evidence that such things are possible.

I've raised worries for Craig's defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument on other occasions. Here's another one: Craig's defense of UCB makes no real advance over Taylor's. For it seems to assume a "thing" ontology about fundamental reality, while a "stuff" ontology of fundamental reality is epistemically possible.

Let me explain a bit. For simplicity's sake, suppose there are just nine things (quarks, say), and these, in turn, are composed of a more fundamental "stuff" (say, matter-energy, or a relativistic quantum field). Suppose further that the latter is a metaphysically necessary stuff. Finally, suppose the stuff is capable of an unlimited number of modes of existing (e.g., as nine particles, as 18 smaller particles, as one big particle; as quarks to type T, as quarks of type T', etc.). If so, then while the particles -- the things -- are contingent beings,  the "stuff" (viz., matter-energy, or the quantum field) is not. But if this scenario is epistemically possible, then as with Taylor's defense of UCB, Craig's defense of UCB fails to rule out that he's conflating the contingency of things within the universe with the contingency of the stuff of which it's composed. And if that's right, it doesn't seem to me that Craig's defense of UCB makes an advance over Taylor's.

Now one might try to push Craig's point here by saying that we can adequately imagine the universe (or a universe) as composed of different matter-energy, or of matter-energy ceasing to exist. But at the very least, this isn't clear. For even if one grants that imaginability can provide sufficient justification for very many possibility claims, one might yet sensibly worry that its justification-conferring ability does not extend to states of affairs as remote from ordinary experience as the non-existence of all matter-energy, or the existence of a different kind of matter-energy. In this regard, she may find such claims to be on a par with the controversial modal premise of (say) Plantinga’s modal ontological argument (Possibly, an Anselmian Being exists), or of conceivability arguments for dualism (Possibly, I exist apart from my body).

One might object that the previous criticism relies on an arbitrarily selective form of modal skepticism, on the grounds that the demand for justification for exotic possibility claims should then apply to humdrum possibility claims as well. And since the sensible non-theist accepts the latter without argument, she should, to be consistent, accept the former. But this objection is less than persuasive. For a number of plausible accounts of the epistemology of modality have been proposed that provide a basis for distinguishing between justified humdrum possibility claims and unjustified exotic possibility claims. So, for example, it has been argued that our knowledge of metaphysical possibility is grounded in (i) our survival-conducive facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts (e.g., Williamson, Nichols) and (ii) arguments from analogy/relevant similarity with the actual world (e.g., Hawke, yours truly). Such theories receive confirmation in a number of ways, such as their ability to explain the epistemic force of paradigm-case thought experiments (e.g., Gettier cases), as well as the lack of such conviction with respect to the more exotic modal thought experiments (involving, e.g., the possible existence of Anselmian Beings and disembodied existence). For the former thought experiment can be grounded in such accounts, while the latter cannot.

Most saliently for our purposes, it’s not at all clear how such accounts of our knowledge of metaphysical possibility could adequately support the possible non-existence of all matter-energy, or of the possible existence of a different kind of matter energy. Thus, it’s not clear how the evolutionary pressures that gave rise to our competence with counterfactual reasoning in daily life (e.g., reliable reasoning about what would happen if one tried to cross a busy intersection) would make us competent to determine something so remote from ordinary experience as the possible non-existence of all matter-energy, or of a different sort of matter-energy.

Nor are such possibility-candidates sufficiently similar to our experience and knowledge of the actual world so as to ground a solid analogical inference from the latter to the former. For the relevant sorts of experiences here would involve observations of the absolute origination and annihilation of matter-energy. But in all of our actual experiences, what we observe is relevantly dissimilar to this, viz., the mere rearrangement of preexisting materials, as well as their decomposition into simpler elements. It therefore appears that a non-theist could sensibly reject an imaginability-possibility inference in support of such exotic claims without thereby engaging in an unprincipled or arbitrarily selective form of modal skepticism.[2]

In short, it seems to me that Craig's recent defense of UCB fails to rule out the epistemic possibility of a stuff ontology of fundamental physical reality. Because of this, his defense of UCB fails to rule out that he's conflating the contingency of things within the universe with the contingency of the stuff of which it's composed. And because this was the worry that Craig's defense of UCB was supposed to avoid, it fails to make a significant advance over Taylor's defense of it.

[1] Joshua Rasmussen has suggested to me that one can also imagine the universe as composed of more or fewer quarks, and that this in turn might confer sufficient justification on UCB. Below I'll raise an objection that challenges these thought experiments as well.

[2]  A final worry: suppose we waive these concerns and grant that conceivability is a reliable guide to possibility, whether the possibilities are humdrum or exotic. Then the worry is that while we can conceive of a universe composed of different matter-energy (of different fundamental "stuff"), we can likewise conceive of a universe without God, or with a different god. But if so, then we have equal justification for thinking that God is no less a contingent being than fundamental physical reality.

Mazzy Star - I'm Gonna Bake My Biscuit

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Monty Python - Argument Clinic

A classic.

Free Electronic Sample Issue of International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

Here. Articles in the issue include:

-Xu, Yingjin. "The troublesome explanandum in Plantinga’s argument against naturalism"

-Earl, Dennis. "Divine intimacy and the problem of horrendous evil"

-Snapper, Jeff A. "Paying the cost of skeptical theism"

-Crockett, Clayton. "Review of Nick Trakakis' The End of Philosophy of Religion"

Friday, September 02, 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT: 2012-2013 Fellowships and Grants: The Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame

The Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame, with generous support from the Templeton Foundation, announces the following fellowships and grants available for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Center for Philosophy of Religion Fellowships

There are five residential fellowships for the 2012 - 2013 academic year: the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship ($60,000), awarded to a distinguished senior scholar; up to two Research Fellowships ($40,000 - $50,000, depending on rank); the Frederick J. Crosson Fellowship ($45,000) reserved for foreign scholars and those outside the field of philosophy; and one Visiting Graduate Fellowship ($20,000) awarded to a graduate student in philosophy with research interests in the philosophy of religion. For further details, including application requirements, visit All materials must be received by February 1, 2012.

Analytic Theology Course Awards

These course awards provide funding for the development and implementation of courses, or course segments, in analytic theology at divinity schools and departments of theology and religious studies. The project expects to award five applicants with $15,000 each: $5,000 for the applying faculty member, and $10,000 for the host institution. For more information visit our website at and click on the “course programs” link. Applications are due March 15, 2012.

Analytic Theology Summer Stipends

These stipends provide $5,000 to fund summer research in analytic theology. Successful applicants in year one or two will automatically receive an award in year two or three if they meet the following two conditions: (a) they intend to research a project in analytic theology during the second summer, and (b) their previously funded project has been swiftly accepted for publication at a peer-reviewed journal. For further details visit All materials must be received by February 1, 2012.

Analytic Theology Post-Doctoral Fellowships

These are one-year fellowships for the 2012-2013 academic year. They provide a funded leave of absence to be spent in residence at a center for research on philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. The fellowships are open to faculty who teach in theology, religion, or divinity programs. Applicants must outline a research program that leads to scholarly publications in analytic theology or to new programs of study. Fellows receive a $60,000 stipend plus $15,000 for expenses. For details, including sample topics and application requirements, visit theofellowships.html. All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.

Analytic Theology Cluster Grants

These grants fund interdisciplinary seminars or reading groups. Each funded seminar or group has two leaders – one theologian and one philosopher – and up to eight additional participants. The leaders must be faculty members. We will award up to five Grants with a maximum $15,000 budget per grant. For details visit To apply to be a leader send a 500 word letter of intent and budget to analytictheology. by February 15, 2012. Full proposals will be invited on a competitive basis. (Prospective participants apply to leaders after funding is secured.)

Templeton Dissertation Fellowships in Early Modern Thought

These fellowships provide up to two one-year residential fellowships for the 2012 – 2013 academic year. They fund dissertation research that provides new insights into the way in which evil was treated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fellows are expected to spend the year in residence at the University of Notre Dame. Fellows receive a $25,000 fellowship plus up to $5,000 for expenses. Fellows will also have access to funding to bring in outside speakers. For further details, including application requirements, visit All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.

Templeton Dissertation Fellowships in Evil, Pain, and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

These fellowships provide up to two one-year fellowships for the 2012 – 2013 academic year. They fund research on the nature and utility of pain and suffering, and/or the relations between pain and the problem of evil. Fellows are expected to spend the year in residence at the University of Notre Dame. Each fellow receives a $25,000 award plus up to $5,000 for expenses. For details visit All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.
Site Meter