Friday, January 27, 2012

Omnipotence, Suicide, Counterpossibles, and Aseity

Here's a question I'm toying with: Can an omnipotent being commit suicide? It seems to me that it could, at least in one sense:

1. If God were to attempt to commit suicide, he would (or might) succeed.

Richard Swinburne seems to agree (cf. his The Coherence of Theism). But if that's right, then it seems to me that no being -- not even a theistic God -- could be inherently indestructible. But if not, then there can be no being that is inherently metaphysically necessary.

Here's a half-baked objection and reply:

Objection: A theistic god is by definition essentially morally perfect. Therefore, while God could commit suicide (in virtue of his essential omnipotence), there is no possible world in which he would do so (in virtue of his essential moral perfection). The objection therefore depends on the thesis that there are non-trivially true counterpossibles, viz., (1).  But there are no non-trivially true counterpossibles; so, the objection fails.

Reply: I disagree. First, I seriously doubt that moral perfection precludes suicide. But more importantly, I think there are non-trivially true counterpossibles (e.g., (1)).  But at the very least, such a criticism is controversial, as accounts of non-trivially true counterpossibles are all the rage at the moment, and many philosophers who study such things (theist and non-theist alike, fwiw) accept the existence of non-trivially true counterpossibles. As such, one would like to see a good reason to think that all such accounts are bound to fail before one accepts the objection. Pending a case, (1) seems to indicate that while there may be something intrinsic to God's nature qua morally perfect being that prevents his non-existence (via suicide), there is nothing intrinsic to God's nature qua aseity, considered in itself, that prevents his non-existence. For given God's omnipotence, it seems to follow that he can annihilate himself. But if that's right, then it casts doubt on the thesis that a substance (e.g., God), qua type of substance, could be metaphysically necessary merely in virtue of its self-existence. Or in other words, the "stuff" of God's being, so to speak, isn't inherently indestructible. And if not, it's not inherently metaphysically necessary.



Comic Relief


Nailed it.

Wierenga on Plantinga, Defeaters, and the EAAN

In "Plantinga's 'Defeat'" (draft -- don't cite) Edward Wierenga evaluates Plantinga's analysis of defeaters. Near the end of the paper, he raises some interesting criticisms of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.

The Real Problem With Craig's Version of Reformed Epistemology (Slightly Revised)

In Reasonable Faith, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and in several places online (here, for example),  William Lane Craig endorses a modified version of Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology. According to Craig's version, the Christian can know that Christianity is true in the basic (i.e.,immediate, non-inferential) way by means of "the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit". As Craig summarizes his view:

. . . the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premiss in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as "God exists," "I am condemned by God," "I am reconciled to God," "Christ lives in me," and so forth; that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity's truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it.

Although both Plantinga's and Craig's models of warrant-basic belief in Christian theism make essential reference to the activity of the Holy Spirit, Craig's model differs from Plantinga's in terms of the means by which the Holy Spirit's activity generates such belief:

Plantinga's model involves crucially what is usually called the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. In his model the Holy Spirit functions on the analogy of a cognitive faculty, producing beliefs in us. I myself prefer to think of the Spirit's witness either as a form of literal testimony or else as part of the experiential circumstances which serve to ground belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel. In either case His deliverances are properly basic.(ibid)

Furthermore, Craig is a bit more explicit than Plantinga with respect to whether he thinks such Holy-Spirit-generated belief can function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for objections to Christianity:

Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it. For it seems to me inconceivable that God would allow any believer to be in a position where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy and renounce Christ. It seems to me rather that in such a situation a loving God would intensify the Spirit's witness in such a way that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters such a person faces. (Ibid. Emphasis mine.)

Two common complaints about William Lane Craig's "Holy Spirit epistemology" (to borrow an expression from Michael Martin) are that (i) it's a form of fideism and that (ii) it's an unacceptable form of dogmatism. According to (i), Craig is asserting that one can know that Christianity is true without evidence (or at least without sufficient evidence). According to (ii), Craig inappropriately asserts that one can and should believe that Christianity is true even if no arguments for God are persuasive, and even if there is very strong evidence against Christianity. I think that both criticisms of Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology fail. However, I think there is a successful criticism of it that grants the failure of (i) and (ii).

First, though, here is why I think criticisms (i) and (ii) fail. The basic problem is that both fail to appreciate the core idea of Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology: Craig takes the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to present the truth of the Christian faith in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts (or at least beliefs roughly analogous to such in terms of force, vivacity, and warrant. Hereafter I leave this qualification implicit). That is, (following Plantinga) Craig thinks the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of the Christian faith in such a way that it's on a par with the claims that I exist, that material objects exist, and that there are other minds besides my own. This comes out in the analogies he mentions in his discussions of his account. Thus, he appeals to Plantinga's "purloined letter case" to illustrate the notion of an intrinsic defeater-defeater, which can be summarized as follows:

The Purloined Letter Case: Suppose I have means, motive, and opportunity to steal an embarrassing letter that was in fact stolen from the office of my department chair. There is also very strong evidence against me (e.g., I've been known to steal in the past; a trustworthy colleague says he saw someone who looks like me enter the Dean's Office on the day of the incident, etc.). However, I have a clear and vivid memory of being alone in the woods all day on the day of the incident. In this case, I'm rational to retain my belief that I didn't steal the letter because of my memory, even without propositional evidence and argument that could defeat the reasons brought against me. My memory of being alone in the woods all day on the day of the incident is thus an intrinsic defeater-defeater of the claim that I stole the letter.

Or consider the illustration he offers here, regarding the certainty that one is alive:

The "I'm Alive" Case: "Pick any belief that you hold confidently and then imagine a state of affairs in which that belief would be false if that state of affairs obtained. For example, I am absolutely sure that I am alive; but if someone were to discover a grave containing my bones, then that belief would be falsified. Should I worry?"

In both cases, it's not prima facie implausible that the corresponding beliefs (that I was alone in the woods all day; that I'm alive, etc.) are justified or warranted in the basic (i.e., direct, non-inferential) way. Furthermore, it's not prima facie implausible to think that in such cases, the force, vivacity, and warrant such beliefs enjoy is so strong that they can function as intrinsic defeaters of very strong evidence against them. And Craig (following Plantinga) is arguing that Christian belief, when grounded in attentiveness to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, is sufficiently relevantly similar to such cases in terms of force, vivacity, and warrant.  Therefore, since the latter can function as intrinsic defeaters to virtually any evidence that comes into conflict with them, so, likewise, can the former.  

Given this sketch of Craig's variation on Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology, we can see why criticisms (i) and (ii) fall far short of being persuasive. First, criticism (i) is less than persuasive, since most will not find the acceptance of ordinary Moorean facts to be a form of fideism. So if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts, then such people should likewise grant that acceptance of the former is not a form of fideism.

Criticism (ii) is less than persuasive as well. For it's not obviously inappropriate to accept Moorean facts even in the face of seemingly good arguments and evidence to the contrary (cf. The Purloined Letter Case and the "I'm Alive" Case). So if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts, then it might well be appropriate for such people to likewise accept the former in the face of seemingly good arguments to the contrary. (At least I grant this for the sake of argument.)

Although I find criticisms (i) and (ii) less than persuasive, I think there is a simple yet decisive criticism of Craig's Holy Spirit epitemology: at least for the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (if such there be) fails to present the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's anywhere near being on a par with ordinary Moorean facts. In this regard, Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology suffers from a key problem shared by Plantinga's account of warranted Christian belief. Therefore, as with Plantinga's account, Craig's account fails to provide an epistemically possible account of how Christian belief can be warrant-basic for the typical Christian  (or at least how Christian belief can enjoy sufficient warrant to function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for strong objections to it).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Real Problem with Craig's Version of Reformed Epistemology

In Reasonable Faith, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and in several places online (here, for example),  William Lane Craig endorses a modified version of Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology. According to Craig's version, the Christian can know that Christianity is true in the basic (i.e.,immediate, non-inferential) way by means of "the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit". As Craig summarizes his view:

. . . the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premiss in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as "God exists," "I am condemned by God," "I am reconciled to God," "Christ lives in me," and so forth; that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity's truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it.

Although both Plantinga's and Craig's models of warrant-basic belief in Christian theism make essential reference to the activity of the Holy Spirit, Craig's model differs from Plantinga's in terms of the means by which the Holy Spirit's activity generates such belief:

Plantinga's model involves crucially what is usually called the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. In his model the Holy Spirit functions on the analogy of a cognitive faculty, producing beliefs in us. I myself prefer to think of the Spirit's witness either as a form of literal testimony or else as part of the experiential circumstances which serve to ground belief in God and the great truths of the Gospel. In either case His deliverances are properly basic.(ibid)

Furthermore, Craig is a bit more explicit than Plantinga with respect to whether he thinks such Holy-Spirit-generated belief can function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for objections to Christianity:

Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it. For it seems to me inconceivable that God would allow any believer to be in a position where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy and renounce Christ. It seems to me rather that in such a situation a loving God would intensify the Spirit's witness in such a way that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters such a person faces. (Ibid. Emphasis mine.)

Two common complaints about William Lane Craig's "Holy Spirit epistemology" (to borrow an expression from Michael Martin) are that (i) it's a form of fideism and that (ii) it's an unacceptable form of dogmatism. According to (i), Craig is asserting that one can know that Christianity is true without evidence (or at least without sufficient evidence). According to (ii), Craig inappropriately asserts that one can and should believe that Christianity is true even if no arguments for God are persuasive, and even if there is very strong evidence against Christianity. I think that both criticisms of Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology fail. However, I think there is a successful criticism of it that grants the failure of (i) and (ii).

First, though, here is why I think criticisms (i) and (ii) fail. The basic problem is that both fail to appreciate the core idea of Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology: Craig takes the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to present the truth of the Christian faith in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts (or at least beliefs roughly analogous to such in terms of force, vivacity, and warrant. Hereafter I leave this qualification implicit). That is, (following Plantinga) Craig thinks the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of the Christian faith in such a way that it's on a par with the claims that I exist, that material objects exist, and that there are other minds besides my own. This comes out in the analogies he mentions in his discussions of his account. Thus, he appeals to Plantinga's "purloined letter case" to illustrate the notion of an intrinsic defeater-defeater, which can be summarized as follows:

The Purloined Letter Case: Suppose I have means, motive, and opportunity to steal an embarrassing letter that was in fact stolen from the office of my department chair. There is also very strong evidence against me (e.g., I've been known to steal in the past; a trustworthy colleague says he saw someone who looks like me enter the Dean's Office on the day of the incident, etc.). However, I have a clear and vivid memory of being alone in the woods all day on the day of the incident. In this case, I'm rational to retain my belief that I didn't steal the letter because of my memory, even without propositional evidence and argument that could defeat the reasons brought against me; My belief that I was alone in the woods all day on the day of the incident is thus an intrinsic defeater-defeater of the claim that I stole the letter.

Or consider the illustration he offers here, regarding the certainty that one is alive:

The "I'm Alive" Case: "Pick any belief that you hold confidently and then imagine a state of affairs in which that belief would be false if that state of affairs obtained. For example, I am absolutely sure that I am alive; but if someone were to discover a grave containing my bones, then that belief would be falsified. Should I worry?"

In both cases, it's not prima facie implausible that the corresponding beliefs (that I was alone in the woods all day; that I'm alive, etc.) are justified or warranted in the basic (i.e., direct, non-inferential) way. Furthermore, it's not prima facie implausible to think that in such cases, the force, vivacity, and warrant such beliefs enjoy is so strong that they can function as intrinsic defeaters of very strong evidence against them. And Craig (following Plantinga) is arguing that Christian belief, when grounded in attentiveness to the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, is sufficiently relevantly similar to such cases in terms of force, vivacity, and warrant.  Therefore, since the latter can function as intrinsic defeaters to virtually any evidence that comes into conflict with them, so, likewise, can the former.  

Given this sketch of Craig's variation on Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology, we can see why criticisms (i) and (ii) fall far short of being persuasive. First, criticism (i) is less than persuasive, since most will not find the acceptance of ordinary Moorean facts to be a form of fideism. So if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts, then such people should likewise grant that acceptance of the former is not a form of fideism.

Criticism (ii) is less than persuasive as well. For it's not obviously inappropriate to accept Moorean facts even in the face of seemingly good arguments to the contrary. So if the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit presents the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's on a par with ordinary Moorean facts, then it might well be appropriate for such people to likewise accept the former in the face of seemingly good arguments to the contrary. (At least I grant this for the sake of argument.)

Although I find criticisms (i) and (ii) less than persuasive, I think there is a simple yet decisive criticism of Craig's Holy Spirit epitemology: at least for the majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (if such there be) fails to present the truth of Christianity in such a way that it's anywhere near being on a par with ordinary Moorean facts. In this regard, Craig's Holy Spirit epistemology suffers from a key problem shared by Plantinga's account of warranted-basic Christian belief. Therefore, as with Plantinga's account, Craig's account fails to show how Christian belief can be warrant-basic -- at least in the sense that Christian belief enjoys sufficient warrant to function as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for strong objections to Christian theism.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Post Roundup: Criticisms of Plantinga's Argument from Proper Functionalism to Theism

-Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function”, Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224. (Notes here.)
-Bardon, Adrian. “Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction”, Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (Jan. 2007), pp. 47-64. (Notes here.)
-Graham, Peter. "Intelligent Design and Selective History: Two Sources of Purpose and Plan" (in Jonathan Kvanvig, ed. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Volume 3, 2011). (A link to the paper can be found here)

Post Roundup: Counterexamples to Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

Here, here, and here.

Plantinga's Proper Functionalism Unmotivated

Plantinga argues that internalist accounts of warrant are inherently inadequate, and thus that some form of externalism must be correct. However, he also argues that standard versions of externalism -- e.g. Goldmanian reliabilism -- are inadequate as well, on the grounds that they can't account for the fact that a belief can't be warranted if it's formed by a mechanism or process that is only accidentally reliable:

"Suppose I am struck by a burst of cosmic rays, resulting in the following unfortunate malfunction. Whenever I hear the word 'prime' in any context, I form a belief, with respect to a randomly chosen natural number less than 100,000, that it is not prime. So you say "Pacific Palisades is prime residential area" or "Prime ribs is my favorite"...; I form a belief, with respect to a randomly selected natural number between 1 and 100,000 that it is not prime. The process or mechanism in question is indeed reliable (given the vast preponderance of non-primes...) but my belief -- that, say, 41 is not prime -- has little or no positive epistemic status. The problem isn't simply that the belief is false; the same goes for my (true) belief that 631 is not prime, if it is formed in this fashion. So reliable belief formation is not sufficient for positive epistemic status." (Warrant: The Current Debate (OUP, 1993), p. 210.).

Plantinga then goes on to argue that an externalist about warrant can avoid the problem of accidental reliability if they go proper functionalist, as a properly functioning truth-aimed cognitive process or faculty precludes accidental reliability. Or so argues Plantinga.

However, Richard Feldman (“Proper Functionalism,” Nous 27 (1993), pp. 34-50) has constructed a variation on Plantinga's "primes" counterexample above to show that the problem of reliably-formed-yet-unwarranted beliefs arises for Plantinga's proper functionalist version of externalism as well. Thus, Feldman changes the counterexample so that the cause of the beliefs about primes is not a burst of cosmic rays, but rather a cognitive faculty formed by an intelligent designer who designs the person to naturally and spontaneously form such beliefs about prime numbers whenever they hear the word 'prime'. In such a case, all of Plantinga's conditions of warrant are satisfied: according to the thought experiment, we have a cognitive faculty that, when functioning properly, reliably produces sufficiently firmly-held true beliefs when in epistemically congenial environments. However, such beliefs have little by way of warrant.

Therefore, the conditions laid out in Plantinga's proper functionalism are not sufficient for warrant. And since his proper functionalist amendment to straight reliabilist externalism fails to rule out the problem cases he raises for the latter, the former appears to be unmotivated.

Tim Maudlin on Philosophy of Cosmology

Here.

HT: Leiter Reports

New Issue of Faith & Philosophy

As indicated in the RSS feed on the right (scroll down a bit), Faith & Philosophy 28:4 is now out. Here is a link to the full ToC.

Monday, January 16, 2012

de Ridder's Reply to Baldwin and Thune

In "Religious Exclusivism Unlimited" (Religious Studies 47:4 (2011)), Jeroen de Ridder (VU University, Amsterdam) replies to Baldwin and Thune's recent critique of Plantinga's account of warrant-basic Christian belief. Here is the link.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Alain de Botton on Atheism 2.0

...on Philosophy Bites. The podcast episode can be found here.

Quote(s) for the Day

“I, however, have not been blessed with Plantinga faith. I believe that I have been blessed enough to have had experiences that are in some ways like those Plantinga describes, but for me, the most I have received directly from the Holy Spirit have been gentle nudges toward belief, certainly nothing even approaching the firm and certain conviction of which Plantinga speaks. And if the people I’ve talked to are to be believed — and they are — there are many who would be thrilled to receive faith as Plantinga describes it, but who have not, despite Plantinga’s claim that faith — presumably as he defines it, as a firm and certain conviction — “is given to anyone who is willing to accept it”

-Keith DeRose, "Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?" APA Eastern talk, 1998. Available here.

"Plantinga's theological minimalism can be seen in the lack of applicability of his Extended A/C model to the faith of typical Christians. While he speaks a great deal about the recipients of faith, those who have had their religious affections cured and who have been given the divine gift of firm and certain belief in the great things of the gospel, it is far from clear whether there are any people whose faith looks like that in Plantinga's model . . .While it is undoubtedly easier to describe and defend the warrant of "epistemological saints", because the Extended A/C model describes the ideal, fully formed faith of paradigmatic believers rather than the usual, in-process faith of typical believers, Plantinga's attempt to use the Extended A/C model to provide a good way for Christians (including, I assume, typical Christians) to think about the epistemology of Christian belief is in jeopardy. Since the faith of typical believers looks very different from that described in Plantinga's model, they have a choice between questioning the warrant of their belief about God or rejecting Plantinga's model as a good explanation of the warrant of their religious beliefs. Since Plantinga himself argues that the beliefs of "most Christians" are "both externally rational and warranted", the most reasonable option for the typical Christian is the latter."

-James K. Beilby, "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief", in Peter-Baker, Deane. Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 146.

(Andrew Chignell makes the same point in "Epistemology for Saints: Alvin Plantinga's Magnum Opus", Books & Culture, March/April 2002, p. 21)

The passages above underscore the point I'm getting at here: Plantinga's model of warranted belief states that a belief enjoys at least some degree of warrant if (and only if) it's produced by properly functioning, truth-aimed cognitive faculties operating in a congenial epistemic environment. However, it also states that the degree of warrant such a belief enjoys is a function of the degree of firmness or conviction with which it's held. But if so, then Plantinga's model entails if one's faith falls far short of "a firm and certain conviction", then it has little by way of warrant. And the worry is that the latter is the predicament of perhaps most Christians, in which case Plantinga's model entails that their beliefs have little by way of warrant (at least if they're not based on propositional evidence and argument).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Manson on the "Why Design?" Question

Manson, Neil A. "The "Why Design?" Question", in Nagasawa, Yujin and Erick Wielenberg (eds.) New Waves in Philosophy of Religion (Ashgate 2008).

Friday, January 13, 2012

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