Saturday, May 26, 2012

PSR Without Necessary Concreta (of Any Sort)

As I mentioned in two previous posts, it's commonly thought that a naturalist can't plausibly accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), on the grounds that (i) she thereby commits herself to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being (more carefully, a metaphysically necessary concrete object), and that (ii) this is incompatible with any plausible version of naturalism. I critiqued (i) in the first of the two posts and (ii) in the second. Here I'd like to return to (i) and offer one more critique of it.

My previous criticism of (i) was that merely factually necessary beings are sufficient to satisfy a plausible version of PSR. Here my criticism shall be that a plausible version of PSR can be satisfied without appeal to necessary beings of any sort -- i.e., it can be satisfied merely in terms of continent, dependent beings. This sort of criticism goes back to Hume, of course, but William Lane Craig has tried to circumvent Hume's criticism in recent years. Therefore, as with the previous two posts on this topic, I'll use some of his work on the topic as my foil.

Perhaps the first thing that stands out about Craig’s version of PSR is that it’s a bit weaker than standard versions. Thus, a standard formulation of PSR can be expressed as follows:

(PSRs) There is an explanation for (a) the existence of every being, and for (b) the obtaining of every state of affairs.[1]

A standard criticism of PSRs is that clause (b) seems false, i.e., it seems that not all states of affairs can have an explanation. Craig states the standard criticism of PSRs tersely: "There cannot be an explanation of why there are any contingent states of affairs at all; for if such an explanation is contingent, then it, too, must have a further explanation, whereas if it is necessary, then the states of affairs explained by it must also be necessary."[2] In response to this criticism, Craig attempts to salvage a version of PSR by eliminating PSR(b), and just relying on PSR(a), i.e., by restricting the range of things needing an explanation to objects alone. He expresses his resultant version of PSR as:

(PSRc) Every existing thing has an explanation for its existence, either in terms of the necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.[3]

Craig then deploys (PSRc) as premise (1) of his version of the Leibnizian cosmological argument to infer that a contingent universe requires an explanation in terms of a necessarily existent God.  Craig expresses his version of the argument as follows:

1. Every existing thing 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 is an existing thing.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God.[4]

The argument is clearly valid. Furthermore, (4) follows from (1) and (3), and (5) follows from (2) and (4). That leaves (1), (2) and (3). Why should we accept them?

For the purposes of this post, I'm granting the truth of Craig's version of PSR, viz., his (1) above. Troubles arise, however, with (2) and (3). For Craig's use of 'the universe' is ambiguous in these premises. On the one hand, it might mean 'our universe', i.e., the (roughly) 13.7 billion year old entity that began with our Big Bang. But if this is Craig's intended referent of the term, then while (3) seems true, it's less than clear that (2) is true.[5] To see this, suppose there is a beginningless series of contingent universes such that each such being is explained in terms of its predecessor, as follows:

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

In this series, A is explained by B, B is explained by C, and so on. But if so, then each contingent being in the series (including our universe) is explained by another contingent being. And if that's right, then PSRc is satisfied in such a scenario without an appeal to a necessarily existent God, in which case premise (2) is undercut.[6]

On the other hand, by 'the universe' Craig might mean 'all physical reality'. But if this is Craig's intended referent of the term, then whatever the merits of (2), it's not at all clear that (3) is true. For it's epistemically possible that there is more (perhaps much more) to physical reality than our universe. So, for example, our scenario above involving a beginningless series of contingent universes is such a possibility.  But at least since the publication of Peter van Inwagen's Material Beings[7], it has become extremely unclear when – or even whether – two or more things compose a further thing. And if that’s right, then a fortiori it is controversial that all physical reality is a thing. Thus, whether the collection of all contingent things is itself a thing depends on which theory of material composition is correct. Universalists about material composition say that any two or more things is itself a thing. At the other end of the spectrum, nihilists about material composition say that no two things compose a thing -- there are only “simples” (or part-less beings) and their aggregates. Finally, moderates are those who fall somewhere in between universalists and nihilists, allowing that two or more things sometimes compose a thing, depending on whether they stand in a certain special relation to one another. So, for example, Peter van Inwagen’s moderate account entails that two or more things compose a new thing just in case they function together in such a way that their activities constitute a life.[8] For a moderate like van Inwagen, then, there are just two sorts of things: simples and living beings.

The problem this debate poses for Craig's argument is that each position has significant problems, in addition to their own set of strengths, and it's not clear how one should weigh each of these in determining which theory is correct.[9]  It therefore seems that an adequate defense of (3) would require a widely persuasive defense of a position in the material composition debate that entails that the universe (i.e., all physical reality) is itself a thing. Now universalism entails that the universe is itself a thing, while nihilism entails that it is not, and it's at least conceivable that a moderate position could be developed that is more plausible than universalism and nihilism, and which entails that all physical reality is itself a thing. So an adequate defense of (3) would seem to require a defense of either a universalist account of material composition or a defense of a moderate account that meets the desiderata mentioned above.[10] Unfortunately, though, Craig has yet to offer such a defense.

To sum up the criticism expressed above: the expression, 'the universe' is ambiguous in (2) and (3) of Craig's Leibnizian cosmological argument. Either (a) it means 'our universe' or (b) it means 'all physical reality'. If (a), then (3) is undercut. For it leaves open the possibility that our contingent universe is explained in terms of an infinite regress of universes (or in any case of contingent beings), where each is the cause of its successor. And if (b), then (2) is undercut. For it's extremely controversial among those who specialize in the material composition debate whether the universe (i.e., all physical reality) is a thing. And in any case, it's not at all clear that it's the sort of entity that requires an explanation.  Either way, Craig's argument appears to contain at least one dubious premise.

Craig has offered two main responses to the objections raised above.  His first response is to argue that we can tell that the universe is a thing independently of an argument on behalf of a particular account of material composition. For here we can appeal to our intuitions, which indicate that the universe is, in fact, a thing -- or at least it was a thing, during the earliest stages of its existence:  “ . . . the universe is obviously an existing thing (especially evident in its very early stages when its density was so extreme), possessing many unique properties such as a certain density, pressure, temperature, space-time curvature, and so on . . .”[11] In this way, Craig defends the standard reply that the collection of all contingent beings or things in the series is (or at least was) itself a being, in which case PSRc requires an explanation of the universe in terms of a necessary being.

His second response is to argue that the material composition debate can be sidestepped altogether, on the grounds that whether the universe is properly considered a thing or not, it is nonetheless the sort of entity that requires a cause or explanation: "I do not mean to pronounce here on ontological debates about what constitutes an object, but merely to claim that the universe is just as much a thing as are other familiar entities which we recognize to have causes, such as chairs, mountains, planets, and stars.”[12]

What to make of these responses? Now I’m inclined to agree with Craig that, at least in its earliest stages, our universe was a single existing thing, or at least the sort of entity that requires a cause or explanation in terms of one or more or other things. However, it’s not clear how this helps to answer the criticism raised above. For absent an independent argument that our universe is co-extensive with all physical reality, it’s epistemically possible that our universe is properly explained in terms of temporally prior processes involving other universes (or in any case, other natural contingent entities), and so on back ad infinitum. To answer the criticism above, therefore, it looks as though Craig will need to provide a reason for thinking that a collection of beings of the latter sort (i.e., a beginningless series of contingent universes) is itself a contingent being – or at least the sort of entity that requires a cause or explanation.

Unfortunately, the reasons we’ve looked at from his writings don’t look plausible when applied to the latter sort of case. For unlike our universe during its earliest stages, it’s just not clear that a beginningless series of contingent universes is itself a thing, or even (thing or not) an entity that requires a cause or explanation. It therefore looks as though the material composition debate cannot be sidestepped so easily after all.

In short, it looks as though Craig has more work to do in defending the Leibnizian cosmological argument against the criticisms raised here. Absent such a defense, even those who accept his version of PSR are left without a good reason for thinking there is a metaphysically or factually necessary being.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] This formulation is equivalent to that stated in Rowe, William. Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, 4th ed. (Wadsworth, 2006), pp. 23.

[2] Craig, “The Cosmological Argument”, p. 114. Cf. Rowe, William. The Cosmological Argument (Fordham University Press, 1998), pp. 103-111; Van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 2nd edition (Westview, 2002), pp. 119-122.

[3] Cf. Craig, “The Cosmological Argument”, in Copan, Paul and Paul K. Moser, eds. The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003), p. 114; Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (Crossway, 2008), p. 106. 

[4] Cf. Craig, “The Cosmological Argument”, p. 114-116, esp. p. 114; Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (Crossway, 2008), pp. 106-111, esp. p. 106. Craig notes his indebtedness to Stephen T. Davis for his formulation of the argument. Cf. Davis, “The Cosmological Argument and the Epistemic Status of Belief in God”, Philosophia Christi 1:1 (New Series) (1999), pp. 5-15.

[5] The following criticism is based on Peter van Inwagen's. See, for example, van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (Westview, 2002), pp. 126-128.

[6] Craig is of course known for his arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites in relation to his defense of the kalam cosmological argument. Discussion of those arguments is beyond the scope of this post. However, I've discussed virtually all of Craig's (and Moreland's) arguments on this score on other occasions (e.g., here and here). I refer the interested reader to those posts.

[7] Cornell University Press, 1995.

[8] Cf. Material Beings.

[9] For an overview of the range of positions and their strengths and weaknesses, see (e.g.) Markosian, Ned. “Restricted Composition”, in Hawthorne, John, Theodore Sider, and Dean Zimmerman (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics (Basil Blackwell), 2007, pp. 341-364.

[10] In this regard, it's worth reiterating that van Inwagen's own moderate account does not countenance the collection of all dependent beings -- whether construed as our own universe or as all physical reality - as itself a being or thing.

[11] “The Cosmological Argument”, p. 115,

[12] Ibid., p. 130, fn. 6.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 21st Century Monad Solution to the Problem of Evil

This is not the actual world!

Genius lyrics:

I admit I lost my faith
When I felt the shake from a Lisbon quake
And I could not believe
This is how things ought to be
So I wondered from place to place
But the evils of the human race
They made themselves apparent
That they were inherent

My life felt like someone else’s dream
And that’s when it came to me, and I could see

This is not the actual world

Yeah we’re in world 223
And a world like this must in some sense be
For God’s not choosing it to be praiseworthy
And what else could explain
This seeming random distribution of pleasure and pain?
On the just and the unjust alike
Falls the same rain

This theodicy it might seem odd
But it helped me make my peace with God, and now I see

This is not the actual world


You're welcome.

Another Fine-Grained Analysis of the De Cruz Survey

Philosophers of religion rate PoR arguments differently than other philosophers. Details here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Millikan's Reply to Plantinga

On other occasions, we noted Plantinga's "Content and Natural Selection" (CNS), which is (I believe) his most recent paper on the topic of his evolutionary argument against naturalism. In this short paper (forthcoming in PPR), Ruth Millikan argues that Plantinga has severely misread her theory of teleosemantics in CNS.

HT: Andrew Bailey

Naturalism and Necessary Beings (Very, Very Rough Draft)

(Revised a bit more in light of J.D.'s helpful comments)

As I mentioned in a previous post, it's commonly thought that a naturalist can't plausibly accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), on the grounds that (i) she thereby commits herself to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being (more carefully, a metaphysically necessary concrete object), and that (ii) this is incompatible with any plausible version of naturalism. In the previous post, I offered reasons to doubt (i). Here I'll briefly argue that (ii) is doubtful as well. As before, I'll use some remarks from William Lane Craig as my foil.

As a part of his defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument, Craig has argued that the universe cannot plausibly be considered a metaphysically necessary being. He offers three main lines of argument for this conclusion: (1) our modal intuitions indicate that there could've been no universe at all, which is evidence that our universe isn't metaphysically necessary; (2) our modal intuitions indicate that there could've been a different universe, composed of different quarks, which is evidence that the universe isn't metaphysically necessary; and (3) there are good scientific arguments (esp. the ones in support of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem) and philosophical arguments (viz., Craig's arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites) that the universe had an absolute beginning, which is evidence that our universe isn't metaphysically necessary. I find Craig's type-(3) arguments unpersuasive, for reasons I've discussed on other occasions. I will therefore ignore them here and focus on (1) and (2).

Start with (1): our modal intuitions indicate that there could've been no universe at all, which is evidence that our universe isn't metaphysically necessary. In support of this claim, Craig appeals to Charles Taliaferro's account of justification-conferring inferences from conceivability to possibility: "If one can conceive that a state of affairs obtain, and one has carefully considered whether the state of affairs is internally consistent (self-consistent at a minimum) and consistent with what one justifiably believes, then one has prima facie reason to believe it is possible for the state of affairs to obtain."[1] Therefore, if this account captures a correct principle of justified modal inference, then if you can conceive of the non-existence of the universe in this way (i.e., on reflection you find no internal inconsistency in the idea, and you find the idea to be consistent with what you justifiedly believe), then you thereby have prima facie reason to think the universe's non-existence is metaphysically possible. And if that's right, you have prima facie reason to think the universe is not a metaphysically necessary being.

What to make of this argument? Let's grant that we can conceive of the non-existence of the universe in the way sketched above. The concern is not with that step of Craig's argument, but rather with Craig's recommended principle of justified modal inference. Here I will just say that even if Craig's has identified a correct principle of justified modal inference, it's a dialectically ineffective tool if offered to the atheist or agnostic in the context of Craig's defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. To see this, consider a reflective agnostic who can conceive of God's non-existence as well. So, for example, she coherently conceives of eternal, uncreated, existentially independent matter in a godless universe. Furthermore, she finds that this conception remains intelligible to her after careful evaluation of its internal consistency, and of its consistency with the other things she justifiedly believes. Therefore, on Craig's recommended account of justifified modal inference, she has prima facie reason to believe that God's non-existence is likewise metaphysically possible.

Let's look at (2), then: our modal intuitions indicate that there could've been a different universe composed of different quarks (or with more quarks or less), which is evidence that the universe isn't metaphysically necessary. Now we've seen that Craig's preferred account of justified conceivability-possibility inferences is dialectally ineffective (at least in the present context). However, let's grant that even without an adequate account of justified modal inference in hand, we have a good deal of justified modal beliefs. Suppose we further grant that the possible existence of a universe composed of different quarks (or with more quarks or less) is among them. The problem is that we have similar modal intuitions about God: Assume the triune God of Christian theism exists. Why this God, instead of, say, a non-trinitarian God (e.g., the God of Islam)? Pending an adequate criterion of modal inference, this line of reasoning is a problem for the metaphysical necessity of both God and the universe if it's a problem for either one.

Beyond this, one could argue that much of the plausibility of the reasoning in (2) turns on the assumption that our universe is the only one there is. For if instead we live in a multiverse that contains all possible universes -- where all possible kinds, quantities, and configurations of quarks exist --, then much of the puzzlement about the universe's seeming particularity evaporates.

One might reply that there is a remaining puzzlement about why the multiverse exists at all, but we've seen that the same applies to God. We've further seen that Craig's preferred criterion of justified modal inference can't help us adjudicate between the modal status of the two broad hypotheses here (God and the material universe).  It therefore seems that we are still in need of a reason to think that God, but not the universe, is a suitable candidate for a metaphysically necessary being.

---------------------------------------------
[1] "The Cosmological Argument", in Copan, Paul and Moser, Paul. The Rationality of Theism (Routldege, 2003), p. 130, fn. 8. Cf. Taliaferro, Charles. "Sensibility and Possibilia: A Defense of Thought Experiments", Philosophia Christi 3, 2 (new series) (2001), pp. 403-420. The account is given on p. 407. It should be noted that Craig endorses a slightly modified version of Talieferro's account, as he has removed the requirement that one form a mental image or visualization of the referent of a given thought experiment. I've read Craig's remarks in another venue that seem to indicate that this is intentional; he seems to reject imagination-based accounts of modal epistemology.

[2] One might attempt to get around these criticisms by offering a cogent ontological argument. If one could do that, then one could successfully argue that while the universe's non-existence is conceivable, God's is not. But if one had such an argument in hand, the Leibnizian cosmological argument would be superfluous. In any case, the ontological argument itself relies on an inference from conceivability to possibility, just as the cosmological argument under consideration here. Unfortunately, though, Craig's recommended criterion of modal inference seems to be just as dialectically ineffective in this context as it is in the context of the cosmological argument.

To see this, let's return to our reflective agnostic and follow along with her as she applies Craig's recommended criterion of modal inference to the key premise of the modal ontological argument (viz., that a necessarily existent Anselmian being is metaphysically possible). Thus, she finds no incoherence in the concept of an eternal, uncreated, free-standing universe devoid of a god. Furthermore, she finds no inconsistency between this concept and her other beliefs. So if Craig's recommended criterion of justified modal inference is correct, it follows that she has prima facie reason to think it's metaphysically possible for the scenario to obtain.

On the other hand, she also finds no internal incoherence in the concept of a necessarily existent Anselmian being, and she sees no inconsistency between this concept and her other beliefs (at least sans her newly acquired beliefs above. If we add those beliefs, then by Craig's criterion of modal inference, the claim that an Anselmian being is metaphysically possible is inconsistent with her other beliefs, in which case the latter is thereby defeated(!). But let's waive this problem here.)  So if Craig's recommended criterion of justified modal inference is correct, it follows that she has prima facie reason to think it's metaphysically possible for the scenario to obtain.

Here's the thing, though: Our reflective agnostic of course also sees that the two beliefs are mutually inconsistent -- they can't both be true. For if a godless universe is metaphysically possible, then there is a metaphysically possible world at which God does not exist, in which case a necessary being is impossible (and the key premise of the modal ontological argument is false). On the other hand, if a necessarily existent Anselmian being is metaphysically possible, then an an Anselmian being exists in all metaphysically possible worlds, in which case a godless universe is metaphysically impossible (and the key premise of the modal ontological argument is true).

Thus, after reflecting on all of this, our agnostic finds that her prima facie reasons for believing each of the two modal propositions (i.e., that a godless universe is metaphysically possible, and that a metaphysically necessary Anselmian being is metaphysically possible) are undercut. She therefore finds herself undecided about the metaphysical possibility of an Anselmian being, and thus undecided on the key premise of the modal ontological argument. As with the cosmological argument, then, Craig's criterion of justified modal inference is of no help in vindicating God as a metaphysically necessary being via the ontological argument.

(I've offered a sketch of more general critique of the use of modal epistemology to vindicate the modal ontological argument on another occasion.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Derek Parfit on Contingency and Fine-Tuning

Here is Parfit's "Why Anything? Why This?" A shorter, earlier statement of several of his key points can be found here.

I was just thinking of a reply to Craig's "Why these quarks, and not others (and why this many, and not more or fewer)?" criticism of naturalistic accounts of a metaphysically necessary being along (some of) these lines.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hooray for Sanity



PHOTOS: Francois Hollande Sworn In As France's New President

"In his first presidential speech, Hollande promised to fight financial speculation and "open a new path" in Europe but acknowledged that he inherits huge government debt. He has pushed back against austerity measures championed by Germany amid Europe's debt crisis and wants government stimulus instead. Hollande also pledged to bring "dignity" to the presidential role – something voters felt that Sarkozy did not always do."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

PSR for Naturalists

(Revised in light of Dr. Rizz's excellent comments)

It's commonly thought that a naturalist can't accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), on the grounds that (i) she thereby commits herself to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being, and that (ii) this is incompatible with any plausible version of naturalism. I have my doubts about (ii), but here I want to focus on (i). For it seems to me that (i) is false. To be a tad more precise: there is a plausible version of PSR, the acceptance of which doesn't thereby require one to admit a metaphysically necessary being into one's ontology. William Lane Craig has recently defended a version of PSR as a component of his favored formulation of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. I will therefore use his treatment of PSR as a foil.

In several places, William Lane Craig has endorsed the following restricted version of PSR:

(PSRc) Every existing thing has an explanation for its existence, either in terms of the necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.

But it seems to me that there is an ambiguity in Craig's notion of a thing having an explanation  "in terms of the necessity of its own nature". 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 such that their inner natures cause them to exist in all possible worlds. By contrast, the necessity of factually necessary beings is world-indexed. Thus, a being must meet at least two conditions if they are factually necessary at a given possible world. First, their inner natures render them uncaused, beginningless, and existentially independent. And second, while there are possible worlds at which they fail to exist, they are de facto indestructible in the possible world at issue -- i.e., nothing else exists in that possible world that has what it takes to knock them out of existence.

It's important to note that both metaphysically necessary beings and factually necessary beings stand in contrast to beings whose existence is explained in terms of an external cause. Furthermore, both sorts of beings stand in contrast to brute facts -- i.e., beings whose existence have no explanation at all. Because of this, we should distinguish two versions of Craig's PSR to account for the distinct glosses:

The Metaphysical Necessity Version of PSR (PSRmn): Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in terms of the metaphysical necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.

The Factual Necessity Version of PSR (PSRfn): Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in terms of the factual necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.

Given these distinctions, it seems to me that one could accept a version of PSR -- viz., PSRfn -- even if one did not accept the existence of metaphysically necessary beings. For it's epistemically possible that all contingent dependent beings are ultimately composed of factually necessary beings (i.e., contingent independent beings). So, for example, perhaps matter-energy is a factually necessary being. According to such a scenario, the contingent dependent beings (e.g., rocks, trees, planets, you and I, etc.) come into being when two or more factually necessary/contingent independent beings are combined, and the contingent dependent beings cease to exist when they decompose into their elements. However, the elements of which contingent dependent beings are composed (i.e., the factually necessary beings) can't pass away, for there is nothing around in the actual world that has what it takes to knock these uncaused, beginningless, existentially independent beings out of existence.

On this picture, then, we have an explanation for all contingent dependent beings in terms of contingent independent beings. Furthermore, we have an explanation of contingent independent beings in terms of the factual necessity of their own nature -- i.e., in terms of their eternality, existential independence, and de facto indestructibility. Is PSR violated in this scenario? It depends: PSRmn is, but PSRfn is not. It therefore seems to me that a naturalist can accept a version of PSR without thereby committing herself to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being.

The point I argued for above, if at all on track, is significant in itself. However, I think there is promise for the naturalist to go further than this and to argue that PSRfn is to be preferred to PSRmn on theoretical grounds. Here's a sketch of how this might be argued. First, PSRfn appears to at least match PSRmn in terms of explanatory scope, as both versions provide an explanatory terminus for the existence of contingent dependent beings.[1]   Second, PSRfn is more theoretically conservative and qualitatively parsimonious than PSRmn with respect to the ontology it entails.

Finally, beyond its theoretical virtues as an explanatory principle with respect to actual phenomena, PSRfn arguably does a better job of explaining our modal intuitions with respect to merely possible phenomena. So, for example, we seem to have little or no trouble imagining or conceiving of worlds in which God does not exist.  We also have no trouble imagining or conceiving of contingent independent beings (i.e., factually necessary beings). So if conceivability is at least prima facie evidence of metaphysical possibility, then the existence of contingent independent beings, and the non-existence of God, are both prima facie metaphysically possible. But if either is possible, PSRmn is false. Neither possibility poses a problem for PSRfn, however.

In this way, then, one might plausibly argue that PSRfn has more going for it than PSRmn. But if it does, then PSR is not only consistent with naturalism; it's more at home in a naturalistic universe than in a theistic one.
 -----------------------------------------------------------------
[1] One might reply that PSRmn has wider explanatory scope, as it can also explain the existence of contingent independent beings (i.e., factually necessary beings), if any such beings exist. However, this is mistaken, as the latter sorts of beings are beginningless, uncaused, and existentially independent essentially.

Nagasawa and Alter's Forthcoming Book on Russellian Monism

Long-time readers of this blog may have noticed that I'm somewhat inclined toward Russellian monism. I'm therefore excited to see that Yujin Nagasawa and Torin Alter have a forthcoming book on the topic (with Oxford University Press).

Those who follow Nagasawa's work will know that he's been interested in non-physicalist versions of monism for some time now, and headed (with Max Velmans) a recent (2009-11) Templeton-funded project on the topic.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

ANNOUNCEMENT: Purdue Conference on the Epistemology of Moral and Religious Belief

On September 6-8, 2012, Purdue University will host an interdisciplinary conference entitled “Challenges to Religious and Moral Belief: Disagreement and Evolution”.
The conference will focus on three main challenges to religious and moral beliefs:
  1. Widespread interpersonal disagreement among intellectual peers on religious and on moral topics provides reason to doubt these beliefs;
  2. Belief-source disagreement on moral issues between commonsense moral intuitions and religious belief sources raises doubts about both methods of belief formation;
  3. Evolutionary accounts of the origins of our religious and moral beliefs creates doubts about these beliefs by undermining our confidence in the reliability of their sources.
 Conference Participants:
  • Robert Audi                              University of Notre Dame (Philosophy)
  • Sarah Brosnan                         Georgia State University (Psychology)
  • Kelly James Clark                    Calvin College (Philosophy)
  • Stephen Davis                          Claremont McKenna College (Philosophy)
  • Kyla Ebels-Duggan                  Northwestern University (Philosophy)
  • William FitzPatrick                   University of Rochester (Philosophy)
  • John Greco                              Saint Louis University (Philosophy)
  • John Hare                                Yale University (Divinity School)
  • Kevin Hector                            University of Chicago (Divinity School)
  • Timothy Jackson                     Emory University (Candler School of Theology)
  • Jordan Kiper                            University of Connecticut (Anthropology)
  • Jennifer Lackey                       Northwestern University (Philosophy)
  • Dustin Locke                           Claremont McKenna College (Philosophy)
  • Charles Mathewes                  University of Virginia (Religious Studies)
  • Christian Miller                        Wake Forest University (Philosophy)
  • Mark Murphy                           Georgetown University (Philosophy)
  • John Pittard                             Yale University (Philosophy & Religious Studies)
  • Jeffrey Schloss                        Westmont College (Biology)
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong        Duke University (Philosophy)
  • Richard Sosis                           University of Connecticut (Anthropology)
  • Sharon Street                           New York University (Philosophy)
  • Ralph Wedgwood                     University of Southern California (Philosophy)
  • Erik Wielenberg                        DePauw University (Philosophy)
 Organizers:
  • Michael Bergmann                  Purdue University (Philosophy)
  • Patrick Kain                             Purdue University (Philosophy)
For more information, including how to register, go to www.knowinginreligionandmorality.com/conference.html.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Review of Mark C. Murphy's God and the Moral Law: On the Theistic Explanation of Morality

Michael Almeida (University of Texas, San Antonio) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

Interview with Stephen Maitzen

...on Think Atheist Radio. In the interview, Maitzen provides nice, intuitive summaries of his work on (e.g.) the argument from divine hiddenness, Anselmian atheism, skeptical theism, and the cosmological argument.

(Incidentally, this is my 1,000th post.)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion

Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (Yujin Nagasawa, ed.) is due out in August. Here is the table of contents:

Series Editors' Preface
Notes on Contributors
Introduction: Y.Nagasawa
PART I: DIVINE ATTRIBUTES
The Necessity of God and the Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking; R.Le Poidevin
Why Would Anyone Believe in a Timeless God?: Two Types of Theology; B.Murphy
PART II: GOD, CREATION AND EVOLUTION
Darwin's Argument from Evil; P.Draper
Attributing Agency: Fast and Frugal or All Things Considered?; G.Wood
PART III: GOD AND THE UNIVERSE
On Non-Singular Spacetimes and the Beginning of the Universe; W.L.Craig & J.D.Sinclair
The Theistic Multiverse: Problems and Prospects; K.J.Kraay
PART IV: RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
How Relevant is the Cognitive Science of Religion to Philosophy of Religion?; D.Leech & A.Visala
The Rationality of Classical Theism and Its Demographics; T.J.Mawson
PART V: RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE AND DISAGREEMENT
Coercion, Consequence and Salvation; S.Clarke
Polarized yet Warranted Christian Belief; D.Efird
PART VI: THE COMPATIBILITY OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
Freedom, Science, and Religion; K.A.Rogers
The Compatibility of Science and Religion: Why the Warfare Thesis is False; M.Ruse
Index

Further details here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Forthcoming from OUP: Zagzebski's Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, and Autonomy in Belief

Here's the blurb:

In this book Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski gives an extended argument that the self-reflective person is committed to belief on authority. Epistemic authority is compatible with autonomy, but epistemic self-reliance is incoherent. She argues that epistemic and emotional self-trust are rational and inescapable, that consistent self-trust commits us to trust in others, and that among those we are committed to trusting are some whom we ought to treat as epistemic authorities, modeled on the well-known principles of authority of Joseph Raz. Some of these authorities can be in the moral and religious domains.


Why have people for thousands of years accepted epistemic authority in religious communities? A religious community's justification for authority is typically based on beliefs unique to that community. Unfortunately, that often means that from the community's perspective, its justifying claims are insulated from the outside; whereas from an outside perspective, epistemic authority in the community appears unjustified. But as Zagzebski's argument shows, an individual's acceptance of authority in her community can be justified by principles that outsiders accept, and the particular beliefs justified by that authority are not immune to external critiques.


Why have people for thousands of years accepted epistemic authority in religious communities? A religious community's justification for authority is typically based on beliefs unique to that community. Unfortunately, that often means that from the community's perspective, its justifying claims are insulated from the outside; whereas from an outside perspective, epistemic authority in the community appears unjustified. But as Zagzebski's argument shows, an individual's acceptance of authority in her community can be justified by principles that outsiders accept, and the particular beliefs justified by that authority are not immune to external critiques.

Table of contents and further details can be found here.

James Kraft's New Website

On other occasions, we've noted James Kraft's work on the epistemology of religious disagreement. He now has a new website on religious knowledge and religious epistemology. Here is the link.
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