Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plantinga's Forthcoming Book on Science, Religion, and Naturalism

Alvin Plantinga has a book that's due out in September with Oxford University Press: Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.

Here's the blurb:

A long-awaited major statement by pre-eminent analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies illuminates one of our biggest debates--the conflict between science and religion. Plantinga examines where this conflict is said to exist--looking at areas such as evolution, divine action in the world, and the scientific study of religion--and considers claims by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. He makes a case that their arguments are not only inconclusive, but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, due to the methodological naturalism used by science. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines--for instance, some versions or interpretations of quantum mechanics provide useful models for divine action. He goes on to outline the deep and massive consonance between theism and the entire scientific enterprise. In the last chapter, Plantinga argues that one can't rationally or sensibly accept both current evolutionary theory and naturalism, the thought that there is no such person as God or anything like God. The book concludes that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and religion, in particular theistic religion, and superficial concord but deep conflict between naturalism and religion.

And here's the table of contents:

1. Evolution and Christian Belief (1)
2. Evolution and Christian Belief (2)
3. Divine Action in the World
4. The New Picture
5. Evolutionary Psychology and Scripture Scholarship
6. Defeaters?
7. Fine-Tuning
8. Design Discourse
9. Deep Concord
10. Deep Conflict

Another Welcome Exploration of Liberal Naturalism

Mario De Caro and David Macarthur offer another volume exploring liberal naturalism: Naturalism and Normativity (Columbia University Press, 2010). Benedict Smith (Durham University) recently reviewed the book for NDPR. Here is the link.

We've noted another recent volume sympathetic to Moderate and Liberal versions of naturalism (though perhaps unintentionally so) here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is Kant's Criticism of the Ontological Argument Irrelevant?

Plantinga is credited for having shown that it is. However, in "The relevance of Kant’s objection to Anselm’s ontological argument" (Religious Studies 47 (2010), 345-57), Chris Heathwood (U of Colorado, Boulder) challenges Plantinga's claim. The paper can be found here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Two New Papers from Wes Morriston

(i) "God and the ontological foundation of morality", Religious Studies, doi:10.1017/S0034412510000740, Published online by Cambridge University Press 15 February 2011. (In Cambridge Online Journals)

(ii) "Beginningless Past, Endless Future, and the Actual Infinite", Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct. 2010), pp. 439-450.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reply to William Lane Craig

As previously noted, someone recently put some of my criticisms of the Leibnizian cosmological argument to William Lane Craig (some of the relevant posts where I present the criticisms can be found here, here, here, here, and here), and Craig offered a reply. I offer a rejoinder below, but first, a couple of initial comments and clarifications:

First, both the person who puts my arguments to Craig (alias "Midas") and Craig himself discuss several points I never asserted. For example, I don't deny that certain representative mental states can function as prima facie justification for possibility claims, and I don't take Kripke/Putnam a posteriori necessity cases to undermine the general reliability of modal seemings. Nor do I think occasional errors in modal inferences undermine the prima facie justification of possibility claims, any more than I think occasional errors in perceptual seemings undermine the justification of perceptual beliefs. My primary area of specialization is modal epistemology, and I can tell you right now that those are pretty bad criticisms of conceivability-possibility inferences. So I certainly don't want to be associated with such claims.

Second, whether intentionally or not (I'll assume the latter) Craig wastes a lot of space mischaracterizing my fourfold categorization of concrete beings (contingent dependent beings, contingent independent beings, necessary dependent beings, and necessary independent beings), and then subjecting them to criticism[1]. But of course that's just to change the subject and attack straw men. (Variations of my own categorization can be found here, here, and here.)

So much for my initial concerns; on to the bigger points. Let me start by stating the version of the Leibnizian cosmological argument Craig defends, which is Stephen T. Davis' version of it:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in terms of the necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3)
5. Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)

The first thing to note is that premise (1) is ambiguous. Now Craig is certainly right in saying that the premise carves up logical space so that it represents two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories of beings; there is thus no third category of beings between the two categories. But of course it doesn't follow that there isn't a further sub-categorization within at least one of the two categories. And the epistemic possibility of the latter sort of sub-categorization is what I'm asserting. For consider the notion of "a being whose existence is explained in terms of the necessity of its own nature" in that premise. As Craig defines the notion in Reasonable Faith (p. 107 of the 3rd edition) such a being is one that exists of its own nature, and thus has no external cause. But this definition allows for at least two epistemically possible sorts of beings that could play such a role: metaphysically necessary beings and factually necessary beings. Metaphysically necessary beings are necessary in the sense that their inner nature causes them to exist in all possible worlds. By contrast, factually necessary beings are necessary in the sense that, while there are possible worlds at which they do not exist, their inner nature renders them eternal, indestructible, uncaused[2] beings at all the possible worlds at which they do exist. Either sort of being stands in contrast to his notion of beings whose existence is explained in terms of an external cause (Call the latter sorts of beings 'dependent beings'). Because premise (1) admits of these two different interpretations, we should keep them separate. Thus, call the first version the Metaphysical Necessity version, and the second version the Factual Necessity version.

Now one of my main criticisms of Leibnizian cosmological arguments is that it's epistemically possible that all dependent beings are ultimately composed of factually necessary beings (e.g., perhaps matter-energy is a factually necessary being). In this scenario, then, the dependent beings (e.g., rocks, trees, planets, you and I, etc.) come into being when two or more factually necessary beings are combined, and they (i.e., the dependent beings) cease to exist when they decompose into their elements. However, the elements of which dependent beings are composed (i.e., the factually necessary beings) can't pass away, for while there are possible worlds at which they don’t exist, they are uncaused, eternal and indestructible at all possible worlds in which they do exist.

So that's the epistemically possible scenario that I take to be an undercutting defeater for the argument. The scenario functions as an undercutting defeater for different premises, depending on which version of premise (1) is being asserted. On the Metaphysical Necessity version, the scenario undercuts premise (1). For if my scenario is epistemically possible, then it needs ruling out before premise (1) can be accepted.[3] Now Craig says he has defended the premise elsewhere with independent support (see the section on the argument in Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition), but that support appears to boil down to two primary considerations: (i) The principle stated in the premise is intuitively plausible, and (ii) it avoids criticisms of a stronger version of the principle (e.g., van Inwagen's argument that the principle entails that every truth is a necessary truth, and everything that obtains does so of necessity). What, then, about Craig's claim that the principle is intuitively plausible? Well, it's not clear to me that it is, but even if it were, that plausibility is undercut by my epistemically possible scenario stated above. And what about the consideration that it avoids the criticisms of a stronger version of the principle? The obvious answer is that that only shows that it's not prima facie false; it does nothing to show that it's prima facie true.[4]

So my epistemically possible scenario undercuts the Metaphysical Necessity interpretation of premise (1). But does the argument fare any better on the Factual Necessity interpretation? No, for then the scenario functions as undercutting defeater for premise (2). For even if the dependent beings ultimately require explanation in terms of one or more factually necessary beings, the factually necessary beings could be the fundamental constituents or stuff of physical reality (matter-energy, say), and not God.[5]

So that's my main criticism, suitably contextualized so as to apply to Craig's (and Davis') version of the argument. In light of that, we can see why Craig's main reply to my criticism is fundamentally misguided. He writes:

We generally trust our modal intuitions on other familiar matters (for example, our sense that the planet Earth exists contingently, not necessarily, even though we have no experience of its non-existence). If we are to do otherwise with respect to the universe’s contingency, then the non-theist needs to provide some reason for his skepticism other than his desire to avoid theism.

In reply, note that the criticism shows a fundamental misunderstanding of my main objection. For my criticism is not that the universe is metaphysically necesary. Rather, my criticism was that it's epistemically possible that the fundamental constituents of the material world are factually necessary. But of course that's compatible with saying that the universe does not exist at some possible worlds, and is thus contingent in that sense. And if so, then even if our modal intuitions are generally reliable, and even if they confer prima facie justification on the claim that there are possible worlds at which our universe does not exist, such evidence wouldn't favor the hypothesis that our universe is composed entirely of dependent beings over the hypothesis that our universe is partly composed of factually necessary beings.[6]

Now Craig appeals to four other considerations in support the claim that the universe isn't factually or metaphysically necessary: it is supported by: (i) Richard Taylor's thought experiment involving the translucent sphere, (ii) Craig's thought experiments involving objects composed of quarks different from those in the actual world, (iii) his a priori arguments against the existence and traversability of an actually infinite series of events, and (iv) a posteriori evidence that our universe began to exist in a singularity (the Big Bang). Let's consider these in turn.

Now (i) and (ii) are thought experiments offered as evidence of the possible non-existence of our universe and its constituents. But that's just to offer evidence that the universe isn't a metaphysically necessary being. But since both dependent beings and factually necessary beings fail to exist at some possible worlds, such evidence doesn't favor the hypothesis that the universe is composed solely of dependent beings over the hypothesis that it's at least partly composed of factually necessary beings.[7] (For further criticisms of Craig's use of these examples, see my post, "Modal Epistemology and the Cosmological Argument".)

What about (iii), i.e., the a priori arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites? Unfortunately, as I and others have argued, the a priori arguments against a beginningless past are undercut.

What about (iv), i.e., the a posteriori evidence? Unfortunately, we lack sufficient warrant to accept Craig's claim that the universe had an absolute beginning in a Big Bang singularity. For starters, unless one has adequate specialized training in the relevant scientific fields, one will not be competent to evaluate the evidence for this claim on one’s own. I take it that this applies to most of us; we must therefore defer to the consensus view on this matter among the relevant experts. But the problem is that there is significant divergence of opinion among the experts on this issue, as there is no consensus among them that our universe had an absolute beginning in a singularity.[8] Craig is thus relying on a faulty appeal to authority.[9]

Also, as (atheist defender of the in-principle possibility of intelligent design science) Bradley Monton has pointed out, Craig's case for an absolute beginning in a singularity is based on false physics. Now Craig often appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem to argue that there must be an absolute beginning to the material world on any interpretation of the data, but James Sinclair[10] (Craig's co-arguer on this issue) has admitted that this conclusion depends on the outcome of a number of technical arguments. And the problem is that these arguments cannot be competently assessed by non-specialists; the best we can do is sit tight in our agnosticism about the issue until there is a consensus of the experts to which we can defer.[11]

-----------------------------
[1] First example: Craig misconstrues my notion of a necessary dependent being as one that has an external cause, and yet also exists of its own inner nature. But of course that's a pretty egregious mischaracterization of the notion of a necessary dependent being I offered. My notion of a necessary dependent being is of one that exists at all possible worlds (hence, necessary), but in virtue of an external cause, and not its own inner nature (hence, dependent). Indeed, Craig seems to understand that this is the notion at issue, as he clearly understood Midas' example of the theistic conceptualist account of abstracta: if abstract objects are divine concepts, then they exist at all possible worlds, and yet they are dependent upon the mind of God. The illustration I originally offered was one I borrowed from leading philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne, viz., that of God the Son being willed by God the Father as an act of essence. For more on this latter example, see Swinburne's book, The Christian God.

Second example: Craig misconstrues my notion of a contingent independent being as a being that is self-caused, and then rightly points out that such a notion of a being seems incoherent, as it would appear to require that it is explanatorily prior to itself. But of course that's not the notion of a factually necessary being that I and a number of theistic philosophers of religion have in mind. Rather, the notion is of a being that does not exist at some possible worlds (hence, contingent), but is nonetheless uncaused (not self-caused), eternal (or everlasting), and indestructible at all possible worlds at which it does exist (hence, independent). The illustration I originally offered comes from Richard Swinburne as well, viz., his view of the first person of the trinity as a factually necessary being.

Perhaps, though, Craig might push the objection by saying that factually necessary beings are self-caused in some sense -- viz., it is their own internal nature that causes them to exist --, but if that is the notion of being self-caused at issue, then the same would seem to apply to metaphysically necessary beings in excelsis.

Third example: At one point Craig conflates my category of contingent independent beings with brute facts -- a conflation he earlier disambiguated by means of his illustration of God as a factually necessary being. It seems to me that there is a significant difference between saying that there is no reason at all why a being exists (brute fact) on the one hand, and saying that a being exists because it has the properties of being uncaused, eternal, and indestructible at all worlds at which it exists (factually necessary). Thus, suppose there is a world W at which a being x exists and has the properties of being uncaused and beginningless. Suppose further that, at W, there is no being y such that y that has what it takes to destroy or annihilate x. Then x has the world-indexed property of being-indestructible-at-W, and these facts about x at W ground the counterfactuals regarding x's indestructibility, so that (using Lewis-Stalnaker possible worlds semantics for counterfactuals) x is indestructible in all the worlds "closest" to W. X is thus a factually necessary being.

In short, it seems to me that my account of a factually necessary being is quite different from at least some notions of a brute fact. For unlike a being that has no explanation at all as to why it exists, a factually necessary being's existence is explained in terms of its own inner nature. In particular, its existence is explained in virtue of being beginningless and uncaused, and in virtue of the fact that nothing else that exists at W, or at any relevant world counterfactual to W, has what it takes to annihilate it. Now my question is, why in the world should we think that such a thing needs an explanation in terms of something beyond it? I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that it wouldn't be surprising in the least if it had no further explanation. But Craig will have none of that. No terminus of explanation will do besides a being that exists in all possible worlds. But surely this is explanatory overkill. For as my epistemically possible beinbg points out, there are less metaphysically extravagant, modally extreme candidates that can end the terminus of explanation in a satisfactory manner.

[2] Again the relevant epistemically possible beings here are uncaused, beings, and not self-caused beings, as Craig uncharitably attributes to the view I'm asserting at one point.

[3] Contrary to what Craig says, this scenario is a genuine threat to the plausibility of premise (1), and not a bizarre possibility on a par with, say, the possibility that our perceptual experiences are caused by Descartes' evil demon, and not the material world. For it's a genuinely live epistemic possibility (i.e., consistent with what we know or justifiedly believe) that dependent beings are explained in terms of metaphysically necessary beings or factually necessary beings. Indeed, Richard Swinburne is one of the leading Christian philosophers of religion alive, and he takes God to be a factually necessary being, as do many other Christian philosophers. So, contrary to what Craig says, it's not some far-fetched scenario trotted out solely by atheists and agnostics to avoid accepting the argument's conclusion. Rather, it's a genuinely live epistemic possibility. As such, it functions legitimately as an undercutting defeater for the premise.

[4] Indeed, it seems to me that Craig's restricted version of PSR is ad hoc. For it avoids van Inwagen's objection only by conceding that some states of affairs lack a sufficient reason for why they obtain. But if he allows this for states of affairs, he loses the grounds for denying it for objects: What principled basis could be offered for saying that objects require sufficient reasons, while states of affairs do not? In any case, it should be noted that even if Craig's restricted version of the principle avoids one of van Inwagen's criticisms, it falls prey to another of his criticisms. I made this point a few years ago, here.

[5] In his reply, Craig thinks the postulation of the fundamental stuff of material reality as necessary beings is really a concession to the theist. I'm not so sure, though, since such a reply seems to me to rely on the dubious assumptions of The Common Apologetic Strategy. But let us waive this objection. For it is a concession only if the necessary beings are taken to be metaphysically necessary, and not factually necessary. For of course matter-energy has been taken to be factually necessary among scientists ever since their discovery of the first law of thermodynamics.

[6] I should note that recent work in modal epistemology casts doubt on whether our modal judgments are reliable when they stray too far from the actual world. However, Craig thinks such modal skepticism is untenable:

We generally trust our modal intuitions on other familiar matters (for example, our sense that the planet Earth exists contingently, not necessarily, even though we have no experience of its non-existence). If we are to do otherwise with respect to the universe’s contingency, then the non-theist needs to provide some reason for his scepticism other than his desire to avoid theism.

Thus, Craig thinks that doubts about modal claims remote from ordinary experience 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 the humdrum possibility claims as well. And since we accept the latter without argument, we should, to be consistent, accept the former. But this objection is unpersuasive. For a number of plausible accounts of our knowledge of possibility have been proposed that allow for knowledge of humdrum metaphysical possibilities, while leaving exotic possibility claims unjustified. For example, it has been proposed that our knowledge of metaphysical possibilities is grounded in (i) our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts (Timothy Williamson), (ii) our folk theory of how the world works (Williamson, Rebecca Hanrahan, your truly), and (iii) arguments from analogy/relevant similarity with the actual world (Peter Hawke, yours truly). Such accounts can nicely explain the epistemic force of relatively uncontroversial thought experiments involving humdrum metaphysical possibilities (e.g., the Gettier cases), while leaving the more "far out" or exotic modal claims unjustified (e.g., "it is possible that I exist apart from my body", "it is possible that an Anselmian Being exists", etc.). Most saliently for our purposes, it appears that such accounts leave Craig's modal claim involving the possible non-existence of the fundamental constituents of reality unjustified: it's not clear how such a claim could be justified via relevant similarity with the actual world, our folk theory of how the actual world works, or our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts. In any case, my criticism doesn't rely on this point, as it allows that our modal judgements about our universe's contingency are reliable.

[7] A related concern is that Craig seems to assume a thing ontology (as opposed to a stuff ontology) of fundamental material reality in these thought experiments. Thus, consider Craig's thought experiment involving a universe composed of different quarks. The reasoning is supposed to be that the thought experiment provides evidence that the types of quarks composing our universe are contingent beings, and not (metaphysically) necessary beings. But the worry is that even if quarks are the most fundamental sorts of things in the universe, it's still an open question whether (i) these beings are, in turn, further composed of an even more fundamental stuff (matter-energy, say), and (ii) this fundamental stuff is metaphysically necessary.

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" (matter-energy, say). Suppose further that the latter is a metaphysically necessary substance. 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, etc.). If so, then while the particles -- the things -- are contingent beings, matter-energy -- the "stuff" -- is not. But if this scenario is epistemically possible, then Craig's reply here 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.

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 our universe (or a universe) ceasing to exist (or of a possible world at which no material objects 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.

[8] There are several alternative models to the standard Big Bang model that don't involve the origin of the universe in a singularity, but here's one. According to M-theory (the theory that unifies the five versions of superstring theory), there are entities called 'branes', or n-dimensional membranes, and our universe is just one brane among many branes existing within a larger 11-dimensional space-time. Most saliently for our purposes, though, according to M-theory, the beginning of our universe is not the absolute beginning of concrete particulars, and the realm of concrete particulars may well have no beginning. On M-theory, then, the need for an absolute temporal beginning of concrete particulars doesn't arise. For a popular account of M-theory, see, e.g., Greene [2003].

[9] A standard account of the conditions for proper appeal to authority is given in (e.g.) Trudy Govier's A Practical Study of Argument:

(i) The expert is reliable and credible in this context

(ii) Their claim falls within their area of specialization

(iii) The expert’s area of specialization is a genuine field of knowledge
(iv) The experts in that field agree about the claim in question

.

6th Edition (Wadsworth, 2005).

[10] It needs to be emphasized that while James Sinclair has degrees in the relevant sciences, he isn't a researcher in them. Indeed, he doesn't even have a Ph.D. in them. Rather, he's a war researcher for the U.S. Navy with a B.S. and an M.S. in physics.

[11] One final point about Craig's appeal to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem: In his dialogue with William Lane Craig on the kalam cosmological argument (a dialogue that occurred almost two years ago, and has not been released online, so far as I have been able to check), Wes Morriston notes that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem relies on the assumption that "the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some non-zero value, no matter how small. " (Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One,, p. 175). But this assumption has recently been called into question by a number of scientists. So, for example, Aguirre and Gratton, and Carrol and Chen, have proposed models according to which the expansion rate falls below non-zero values.

New Paper on Plantinga's Latest Defense of the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

Ye, Feng. "Naturalized Truth and Plantinga’s Argument against Naturalism". The final version of the paper appears in the current issue of the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Initial Rejoinder to Craig

***NOTE: A substantially revised and expanded reply can be found here.***

As previously noted, someone recently put some of my criticisms of the Leibnizian cosmological argument to William Lane Craig, and Craig offered a reply. I offer a rejoinder below:

Craig's most important reply is his charge that my key criticisms entail an untenable modal skepticism:

We generally trust our modal intuitions on other familiar matters (for example, our sense that the planet Earth exists contingently, not necessarily, even though we have no experience of its non-existence). If we are to do otherwise with respect to the universe’s contingency, then the non-theist needs to provide some reason for his scepticism other than his desire to avoid theism.

My reply to this objection is similar to the one I offer in a paper I'm currently working on (with some modifications. See below):

"One might object that my 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 the humdrum possibility claims as well. And since we accept the latter without argument, we should, to be consistent, accept the former. But this objection is unpersuasive. For a number of plausible accounts of our knowledge of possibility have been proposed that allow for knowledge of humdrum metaphysical possibilities, while leaving exotic possibility claims unjustified. For example, it has been proposed that our knowledge of metaphysical possibilities is grounded in (i) our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts[1], (ii) our folk theory of how the world works[2], and (iii) arguments from analogy/relevant similarity with the actual world[3]. Such accounts can nicely explain the epistemic force of relatively uncontroversial thought experiments involving humdrum metaphysical possibilities (e.g., the Gettier cases), while leaving the more "far out" or exotic modal claims unjustified (e.g., "it is possible that I exist apart from my body", "it is possible that an Anselmian Being exists", etc.). Most saliently for our purposes, it appears that such accounts leave Craig's modal claim involving the possible non-existence of the fundamental constituents of reality[4] unjustified: it's not clear how such a claim could be justified via relevant similarity with the actual world, our folk theory of how the actual world works, or our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts.

Exposition of Beaudoin's "The Devil's Lying Wonders"

We've noted John Beaudoin's "The Devil's Lying Wonders" on another occasion. John Danaher has provided a nice series of expository posts on the paper over at Philosophical Disquisitions. Below are the links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Buckareff's Critique of William J. Abraham's Recent Defense of Rational Christian Belief

Here. It looks as though Abraham's case relies on a relativized version of Roderick Chisholm's epistemic particularism (i.e., Chisholm's notion of a "clear case" of knowledge is not taken to mean "clear to virtually everyone" -- i.e., Moorean facts --, but rather "clear to folks in my community"), and thus suffers from the same sorts of problems that inflicted Plantinga's version of it in the pre-warrant phase of his reformed epistemology.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Some Concerns for Rasmussen's Third Premise

ROUGH DRAFT: DO NOT COPY OR CITE WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR. COMMENTS WELCOME!

Recently, Joshua Rasmussen offered an original argument for the existence of a necessary being.[1] Rasmussen states his argument as follows:

(1) Normally, for any intrinsic property p that (i) can begin to be
exemplified and (ii) can be exemplified by something that has a cause,
there can be a cause of p’s beginning to be exemplified.
(2) The property c of being a contingent concrete particular is an intrinsic
property.
(3) Property c can begin to be exemplified.
(4) Property c can be exemplified by something that has a cause.
Therefore,
(5) There can be a cause of c’s beginning to be exemplified (1–4).
(6) If (5), then there is a necessary being.
Therefore,
(7) There is a necessary being.[2]

In this paper, I shall argue that premise (3) lacks adequate support, and thus that Rasmussen’s new case for a necessary being is unsuccessful.

Two initial points of clarification about premise (3) are in order for our purposes. First, it’s important to emphasize that premise (3) is a modal claim. In particular, (3) asserts that a particular state of affairs is broadly logically possible, i.e., metaphysically possible. Second, the relevant state of affairs Rasmussen asserts to be metaphysically possible is a beginning to the existence of all contingent concrete particulars.[3] Rasmussen helps to further clarify the sort of state of affairs he has in mind by having us imagine “…a beginning to the existence of contingent bits of matter as they explode out of an initial singularity.”[4] Putting these two points together, then, we see that (3) asserts that it is metaphysically possible that there is a beginning to the existence of all contingent concrete particulars.

I can think of two ways in which one might attempt to support (3). First, one might argue that it’s actually true that all contingent concrete particulars had a beginning to their existence, and since whatever is actually the case is possibly the case, it follows that it’s possible that all contingent concrete particulars had a beginning to their existence. So, for example, Rasmussen might say that we can appeal to scientific confirmation of the beginning of all contingent concrete particulars in the singularity described in standard models of the Big Bang theory of the origin of our universe. This is at least hinted at in his assertion mentioned above that, "...we can imagine a beginning to the existence of contingent bits of matter as they explode out of an initial singularity".

This brings me to my first criticism of premise (3). For unless one has adequate specialized training in the relevant scientific fields, one will likely not be competent to evaluate the evidence for this claim on one’s own. I take it that this applies to most of us; we must therefore defer to the relevant experts. But the problem is that there is significant divergence of opinion among the experts on this issue, as there is no consensus among them that our universe had an absolute beginning in a singularity.[5]

The other way in which one might support (3) is by appeal to an inference from imaginability to possibility. As with the first line of support for (3), this sort of support also seems suggested by Rasmussen’s previously mentioned remark: one can imagine all concrete particulars having a beginning of existence in a singularity.[6] According to this line of reasoning, then, our ability to imagine a scenario consisting in a beginning to the existence of all contingent concrete particulars constitutes sufficient prima facie evidence of its metaphysical possibility.

To evaluate the justification above for (3), we’ll need to distinguish between two different sorts of things one could be asked to imagine here: a beginning to the existence of the contingent concrete particulars of the actual world, or a beginning to the existence of those of some other. Assuming the truth of the other premises in Rasmussen’s argument, the possibility of either sort of state of affairs would suffice as the referent of (3) to reach Rasmussen’s conclusion that a necessary being exists; we will therefore have to evaluate the possibility of each.

Take the former first. The problem here is that we immediately fall afoul of the problem of imaginability-possibility inferences in a posteriori necessities contexts. To see this, suppose we give our universe a Kripkean baptism: We say (pointing to the universe), "Let that be called 'Uni'. 'Uni' is now a rigid designator, and thus refers only to our universe in all the possible worlds in which it exists. Holding our universe fixed via the term ‘Uni’, we can start considering modal claims about it. There are two relevant possibilities for us to consider in this regard: (i) Uni has its origin in the causal activity of a necessary being, and (ii) Uni has no origin. Now if (i) is true, then by origin essentialism, this is an essential property of Uni, in which case there is no possible world in which Uni lacks such an origin. On the other hand, if (ii) is true, then Uni lacks an origin in the causal activity of a necessary being, and so this fact about Uni is essential to it, in which case there is no possible world in which it has an origin in the causal activity of a necessary being. The moral, then, is that if we accept origin essentialism like good Kripkeans, then we will think that facts about whether our universe has an explanation in terms of a necessary being don't vary from world to world. But if so, then we can't know whether our universe could have a beginning unless we know beforehand that it in fact had a beginning.[7]

The previous criticism seems to apply with some force to the second sort of candidate referent, i.e., the possible beginning of existence for some other possible universe distinct from our own. For if our modal imaginination is unable to probe the nature of our universe deeply enough to determine whether it can begin to exist, then there is reason to doubt that it could probe deeply enough into the nature of any other universe to determine whether it could begin to exist.

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 the humdrum possibility claims as well. And since we accept the latter without argument, we should, to be consistent, accept the former. But this objection is unpersuasive. For a number of plausible accounts of our knowledge of possibility have been proposed that allow for knowledge of humdrum metaphysical possibilities, while leaving exotic possibility claims unjustified. For example, it has been proposed that our knowledge of metaphysical possibilities is grounded in (i) our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts[8], (ii) our folk theory of how the world works[9], and (iii) arguments from analogy/relevant similarity with the actual world[10]. Such accounts can nicely explain the epistemic force of relatively uncontroversial thought experiments involving humdrum metaphysical possibilities (e.g., the Gettier cases), while leaving the more "far out" or exotic modal claims unjustified (e.g., "it is possible that I exist apart from my body", "it is possible that an Anselmian Being exists", etc.). Most saliently for our purposes, it appears that such accounts leave Rasmussen's modal claim involving the possible beginning to the existence of all contingent concrete particulars unjustified: it's not clear how such a claim could be justified via relevant similarity with the actual world, our folk theory of how the actual world works, or our facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts.

Finally, it's not clear that all of the non-necessary particulars are contingent in the sense required for the truth of (3). To see this, consider the following epistemically possible scenario: There are just two sorts of concrete particulars within the space of metaphysically possible worlds: contingent dependent beings (e.g., rocks, trees, planets, galaxies, you and me, etc.) and contingent independent, “free-standing” beings, out of which all the contingent dependent beings are composed (perhaps matter-energy is like this). In this scenario, then, the contingent dependent beings come into being when two or more contingent independent beings are combined, and they cease to exist when they decompose into their elements. However, the elements of which they're composed -- the contingent independent beings -- can't pass away, for while there are possible worlds at which they don’t exist, they are eternal and indestructible at all possible worlds in which they do exist.

The account of contingent concrete particulars above is epistemically possible. But if so, then since such an account, if correct, entails that not all contingent concrete particulars can have a beginning of existence, the scenario serves as an undercutting defeater for premise (3) of Rasmussen's argument.

In conclusion, I have argued that Rasmussen’s new case for a necessary being is unsuccessful. The main reason is that it relies on a modal premise that lacks sufficient justification from both armchair and scientific sources. Unless Rasmussen can offer such justification, the argument will remain unpersuasive.

Endnotes
[1] Rasmussen [2010: 1-6].
[2] Rasmussen [2010: 1-2].
[3] Rasmussen [2010: 4].
[4] Rasmussen [2010: 4].
[5] There are several alternative models to the standard Big Bang model that don't involve the origin of the universe in a singularity, but here's one. According to M-theory (the theory that unifies the five versions of superstring theory), there are entities called 'branes', or multi-dimensional membranes (ranging from 0 (for point-particles) to 10 dimensions, and our universe is just one 4-dimensional brane among many branes existing within a larger 11-dimensional space-time. Thus, according to M-theory, the beginning of our universe is not the absolute beginning of concrete particulars, and the realm of concrete particulars may well have no beginning. On M-theory, then, the need for an absolute temporal beginning of concrete particulars doesn't arise. For a popular account of M-theory, see, e.g., Greene [2003].
[6] Rasmussen [2010: 4].
[7] One could of course reject origin essentialism, or restrict its scope in a way favorable to the argument, but then the worry is that the audience for the argument will shrink considerably.
[8] Williamson [2007].
[9] Williamson [2007]; Hanrahan [2007: 125-146].
[10] Hawke [forthcoming].


References
Greene, Brian 2003. The Elegant Universe, New York: Norton & Norton Company, Inc.
Hanrahan, Rebecca 2007. "Imagination and Possibility", The Philosophical Forum 38/2: 125-146.
Hawke, Peter forthcoming. "Van Inwagen's Modal Skepticism", Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).
Rasmussen, Joshua 2010. “A New Argument for a Necessary Being”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88/3: 1-6.
Williamson, Timothy 2008. The Philosophy of Philosophy, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Quote of the Day

Peter Millican on John Earman's Hume's Abject Failure:

"It is, admittedly, very hard to assess the originality of the Bayesian themes in Hume’s
essay, because this will depend on the interpretation of many previous discussions of testimony and miracles (e.g. how far the Port-Royal Logic’s application of the distinction between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ circumstances should be seen as implying the same kind of weighing up of probabilities for and against the reported event). What certainly does distinguish Hume’s essay, however, is its proximity to Bayes’s (and Price’s) seminal contribution to probability theory, and the intriguing albeit circumstantial evidence that the latter may have been developed in direct response to Hume’s Enquiry, including in particular his discussions of induction and of miracles in impact on the credibility of the testimony which reports it (and in doing so, he effectively defends the assumption of independence, as alluded to earlier). If there is anything at all in this, then it surely puts Earman’s extreme invective in a very ungenerous light. For even if Hume’s only original contribution in his discussion of miracles had been to present the arguments in a sufficiently clear, striking, and epistemologically principled manner to provoke Bayes to ‘open a new epoch in the history of statistics’, this would still rank as a major achievement, against which Earman’s immoderate insults seem inappropriate and churlish."

-"Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities", pp. 22-23.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Formidable Challenge to the "In Principle" Construal of Hume's Argument Against Rational (Testimony-Based) Belief in Miracles

...and one that, as John Earman has noted, has been around a long time:

“The slightly longer Part II of Earman’s book contains extracts from writings of the century and a half surrounding Hume’s Enquiry which show the context and subsequent development of the debate….They end with Babbage’s brilliant (though not fully clear) demonstration that it is always possible to assign a number of independent witnesses, the improbability of the falsehood of whose concurring testimonies shall be greater than that of the improbability of the miracle itself’. From this general result Babbage shows that if m persons have died without being resurrected and we use Laplace’s rule that in that case the probability that (m+1)th person to die will not be resurrected is m+1/m+2, even if m=1,000,000,000,000, the combined testimony that the (m+1)th person was resurrected of eleven independent witnesses who tell the truth 99 out of 100 occasions, will suffice to make that resurrection overall probable. Such is the improbability of independent coincident false testimony.”

-Richard Swinburne, “Review of John Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles" (Mind XXXX, pp. XX-XX).

Brian Leiter on Ronald Reagan's Presidency

Here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Robert Audi's Forthcoming Book

Robert Audi's Rationality and Religious Commitment is due to come out in September. It looks as though it will be an important contribution to the field, building off of his prior work in philosophy of religion and, perhaps especially, his important and influential work in epistemology and ethics. I'm willing to bet that it will prove to be among the most important book-length defenses of rational theistic belief in recent years (although whether it will be considered as such is another matter). I look forward to giving it a careful read.

Here's some basic information about the book from the OUP website:

-Powerful defence of religion as a rational way of living
-Offers a fuller understanding of what it means to be religious
-Major new work from one of America's leading philosophers
-Clearly written: accessible to non-specialists
-Shows that religion is not incompatible with a scientific worldview

Rationality and Religious Commitment shows how religious commitment can be rational and describes the place of faith in the postmodern world. It portrays religious commitment as far more than accepting doctrines--it is viewed as a kind of life, not just as an embrace of tenets. Faith is conceived as a unique attitude. It is irreducible to belief but closely connected with both belief and conduct, and intimately related to life's moral, political, and aesthetic dimensions.

Part One presents an account of rationality as a status attainable by mature religious people--even those with a strongly scientific habit of mind. Part Two describes what it means to have faith, how faith is connected with attitudes, emotions, and conduct, and how religious experience may support it.

Part Three turns to religious commitment and moral obligation and to the relation between religion and politics. It shows how ethics and religion can be mutually supportive even though ethics provides standards of conduct independently of theology. It also depicts the integrated life possible for the religiously committed--a life with rewarding interactions between faith and reason, religion and science, and the aesthetic and the spiritual.

The book concludes with two major accounts. One explains how moral wrongs and natural disasters are possible under God conceived as having the knowledge, power, and goodness that make such evils so difficult to understand. The other account explores the nature of persons, human and divine, and yields a conception that can sustain a rational theistic worldview even in the contemporary scientific age.

And here's the table of contents:

Preface
Part I: Epistemological Foundations: Rationality, Justification, and Knowledge
1: Rationality in Thought and Action
2: Justification, Knowledge, and Reasonableness
Part II. The Dimensions of Rational Religious Commitment
3: Belief, Faith, Acceptance, and Hope
4: The Elements of Religious Commitment
5: Experiential and Pragmatic Grounds for Religious Commitments
6: Religious Commitment and Moral Obligation
Part III. The Rationality of Religious Commitment in the Postmodern World
7: Religious Integration and Human Flourishing
8: Internal Challenges to the Rationality of Religious Commitment
9: The Problem of Evil
10: The Challenge of Naturalism
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

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Announcement: The Canadian Society of Christian Philosophers Annual Meeting

The Canadian Society of Christian Philosophers (CSCP) is currently accepting submissions for the 2011 edition of its annual general meeting. The meeting will take place on Thursday June 2nd, 2011 from 9 A.M. until 6 P.M. at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It is held at the same time as the annual general meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association and the larger Congress of the Humanities.

The CSCP accepts papers from a broad range of perspectives. The primary purpose of the Canadian Society of Christian Philosophers is to provide a forum for discussion and exchange on topics in philosophy and religion--especially where these two disciplines meet. Like the Society of Christian Philosophers in the United States, the Canadian Society is ecumenical in composition with respect to Christian denomination, theological perspective and philosophical orientation. Participation in its meetings has, however, always been open to those who do not share its Christian commitment.

This group is designed as an outlet to raise awareness of the society and its aims. It will also serve as an informal place of discussion for the philosophical discussion of Christianity.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send a copy to Jason West, President of the Canadian Society of Christian Philosophers at jason.west@newman.edu. Submissions should be sent in by February 15th, 2011.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Philosophy Bro

My newest guilty pleasure.

Bonus: He even created a tshirt for my primary area of specialization.

Kraay's BCPoR Chapter on the Problem of No Best World

Klaas Kraay (Ryerson University) provides an excellent overview of the recent No Best World argument for atheism as advanced by (e.g.) Rowe, Wielenberg, et al. Here is the link.
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