Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Craig's Appeal to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem in His Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Craig regularly appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (BGV) as strong empirical evidence that (a) the universe or multiverse -- or at any rate, matter-energy -- had an absolute beginning. From there, he argues that (b) it had a cause, and that (c) the cause is a person.

Is Craig's appeal to BGV sufficient evidence for accepting (a)? Not unless the relevant experts agree with him that BGV is correct, and that it's strong evidence for (a). Appeal to an expert's testimony that P is legitimate iff (i) the expert is reliable and credible in the given context, (ii) they're speaking within their area of expertise, (iii) their expertise is a genuine field of knowledge, and (iv) the consensus among the experts is that P. Therefore, unless the consensus of the relevant experts is that BGV shows what Craig's thinks it shows, Craig's assertion is an illegitimate appeal to expert testimony: whether Craig is right or not, I'm not justified in thinking so.[1]

But let's waive that. Suppose it shows what he thinks it shows: multiverse or not, there's an absolute beginning of spacetime. Should I then infer (b) and (c)? Not obviously.  For it's far from clear that the claim that the universe (or multiverse) arose from an efficient cause without a material cause is any more plausible than the claim that it arose from neither. For both involve a strongly counterintuitive origination of something from no pre-existing materials. (To say that a log cabin popped into existence out of nothing is bizarre; it is no less bizarre to be told that a lumberjack built it without using building materials.) Therefore, pending expert consensus about the implications of BGV pointing toward Craig's assertion (viz., that it shows an absolute beginning to the universe or multiverse), it's not clear why a G.E. Moore Shift against (a) isn't an equally plausible inference.

But suppose all this is wrong. Would Craig's inference to (c) (i.e., that the cause of the absolute beginning of the universe or multiverse is a person) then be the most plausible inference? Again, this is far from clear. For there are well-known serious concerns about the coherence of a timeless agent-cause of a temporal effect. 

Wes Morriston has written a number of papers that are very good with respect to points in the vicinity of those mentioned above:

UPDATE: For those who may be interested, I offer a fuller exploration of Craig's appeal to the BGV here.

[1] It's true that Craig and Sinclair offer detailed arguments that BGV shows what they think it shows. But of course those arguments rely on specialized scientific knowledge that non-experts are not in a position to evaluate properly, and so, again, we're back to deference to expert consensus about the success of those arguments.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Contrarian Philosophy of Religion Assertion Friday

At every possible world W, there are infinitely many God-actualizable free creaturely essences that  aren't transworld depraved at W.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

On a Common Apologetic Fallacy

In this post, I discuss a dialectical norm that's often violated in the apologetics literature (though of course apologists don't have a corner on the market for this fallacy or any other). First, though, some stage-setting.

1. Statements, Stances, and Evidence
There are three main propositional attitudes or "stances" one might take with respect to a given proposition, P:

(i) Believe that P is true.
(ii) Believe that P is false, i.e., believe that ~P is true.
(iii) Suspend judgment with respect to P: neither believe that P is true nor believe that ~P is true.

The epistemically appropriate stance for one to take with respect to P is a function of the evidence one has with respect to P. Thus, if one's basic or non-basic evidence at least slightly favors P, then one rationally ought to believe that P is true, where the strength of one's belief is proportioned to the strength of the evidence for P; if one's evidence at least slightly favors ~P, then one rationally ought to believe that P is false, where the strength of one's belief is proportioned to the strength of the evidence against P; and if one's evidence favors neither P over ~P, nor ~P over P, then one ought to suspend judgment about whether P is true, neither believing P nor believing ~P.

2. Defeaters and Dialectical Context

Now consider the following common dialectical context: person A asserts to another person B that statement P is true, and points B to basic or non-basic evidence E in support of P. In this context, unless B has an independent, outweighing reason to believe that P is false or unjustified (note the important qualification), B has at least some reason to adopt the stance of belief over the stances of disbelief and suspension of judgment with respect to P.

However, B loses such a reason to believe that P is true -- a reason to retain the stance of suspending judgment about P or believing that ~P -- if B has a defeater for P -- i.e., an independent reason for thinking that P is false or unjustified. Now there are two main types of defeaters: rebutting defeaters and undercutting defeaters. A rebutting defeater for P provides one with a reason to think that P is false. By contrast, an undercutting defeater merely neutralizes one's evidence for the truth of P. A common form of undercutting defeater for P is a live epistemic possibility (i.e., a scenario that one's evidence can't rule out as false or unjustified) that, if true, entails that P is false.

We’ve just seen that (absent other reasons for P) a rebutting defeater for P gives one a reason to believe that ~P, and an undercutting defeater gives one a reason to suspend judgment with respect to P.  An important implication of this is that a defeater D may fail to show that P is false, and yet succeed in indicating a live epistemic possibility that's incompatible with the truth of P. In such a case, D succeeds in showing that B ought to suspend judgment about the truth of P, even though D fails to show that B ought to believe that P is false.

Given the frequency of such dialectical contexts, the point is worth belaboring: from the fact that D fails as a rebutting defeater for P, it doesn't follow that D fails as an undercutting defeater for P. Therefore, if a person A asserts that P is true, and another person B offers D as a defeater for P, it's not enough for A to show that D fails to show that P is false; A must also show that D fails to neutralize the evidence for P.

3. Dialectical Norms, Dialectical Fallacies, and a Common Apologetic Fallacy

The previous points put us in a position to understand an important dialectical norm in the context of assertions. Thus, consider the following dialectical context:  A believes that P is true, B does not believe P is true or justified, and A is trying to rationally persuade B that P is true. Toward this end, A offers evidence E for P. Now suppose that B considers E, but on reflection becomes aware of a defeater D for P. Finally suppose that A replies by showing that D fails to show that P is false. Should B therefore believe that P is true?

Not necessarily. For as we’ve seen, it may be that D fails as a rebutting defeater for P, and yet succeeds as an undercutting defeater for P. That is, even if A shows that D fails to indicate that P is false, A might yet fail to rule out D as an undefeated, live epistemic possibility that's incompatible with the truth of P. But if so, then even if B ought not believe that P is false, B nonetheless ought to suspend judgment about P.

The preceding discussion reveals a dialectical norm: in dialectical contexts of the sort sketched above, a person in A's position must not only show that (i) D fails as a rebutting defeater for P, but also that (ii) D fails as an undercutting defeater for P. And to assume that A discharges their dialectical obligations in offering justification for P to B in such contexts by accomplishing (i) alone is to commit a certain sort of dialectical fallacy

The fallacy sketched above occurs so frequently in the apologetics literature that I hereby label it the Apologetics Fallacy. The Apologetics Fallacy is the dialectical fallacy that occurs when one assumes, in contexts of the sort sketched above, that because one has shown that D isn't a rebutting defeater for P, one has thereby shown that D isn't an undercutting defeater for P. A paradigm case of the Apologetics Fallacy can be found on pp. 291-292 of this article. And a paradigm case of the appropriate response to the Apologetics Fallacy can be found on the same pages of the same article.

Monday, September 03, 2012

New Critique of Anselmian Theism

Einar Duenger Bohn, "Anselmian Theism and Indefinitely Extensible Perfection", The Philosophical Quarterly 62, Issue 249 (October 2012), 671-683. 

AbstractThe Anselmian Thesis is the thesis that God is that than which nothing greater can be thought. In this paper, I argue that such a notion of God is incoherent due to greatness being indefinitely extensible: roughly, for any great being that can be, there is another one that is greater, so there cannot be a being than which nothing greater can be.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Pruss's Cannonball and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument


A standard criticism of the Leibnizian cosmological argument exploits the point that there are cases in which a whole is explained in virtue of its parts. Examples:

Hume such a chain or series of items, each part is caused by the part that preceded it, and causes the one that follows. So where is the difficulty? But the whole needs a cause! you say. I answer that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one organic body, is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind and has no influence on the nature of things. If I showed you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I would think it very unreasonable if you then asked me what was the cause of the whole twenty. The cause of the whole is sufficiently explained by explaining the cause of the parts.
-Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part IX
Paul Edwards:
The demand to find the cause of the series as a whole rests on the erroneous assumption that the series is something over and above the members of which it is composed. It is tempting to suppose this, at least by implication, because the word "series" is a noun like "dog" or "man." Like the expression "this dog" or "this man" the phrase "this series" is easily taken to designate an individual object. But reflection shows this to be an error. If we have explained the individual members there is nothing additional left to be explained. Supposing I see a group of five Eskimos standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th Street and I wish to explain why the group came to New York. Investigation reveals the following stories: 
- Eskimo No. 1 did not enjoy the extreme cold in the polar region and decided to    move to a warmer climate. 
- No. 2 is the husband of Eskimo No. 1. He loves her dearly and did not wish to live without her. 
- No. 3 is the son of Eskimos 1 and 2. He is too small and too weak to oppose his parents. 
- No. 4 saw an advertisement in the New York Times for an Eskimo to appear on television. 
- No. 5 is a private detective engaged by the Pinkerton Agency to keep an eye on Eskimo No. 4. 
Let us assume that we have now explained in the case of each of the five Eskimos why he or she is in New York. Somebody then asks: "All right, but what about the group as a whole; why is it in New York?" This would plainly be an absurd question. There is no group over and above the five members, and if we have explained why each of the five members is in New York we have ipso facto explained why the group is there. It is just as absurd to ask for the cause of the series as a whole as distinct from asking for the causes of individual members.
          -"The Cosmological Argument" (1959)

Alexander Pruss offers a reply (section to this sort of objection. His strategy is to use the examples from Hume and Edwards to generate a variations on a general explanatory principle (the so-called 'Hume-Edwards Principle'), and then to offer counterexamples to them. Thus, after some chisholming, Pruss considers the following explanatory principle to be the most plausible:

(HECP) For any proposition p such that one has explained every conjunct of a proposition, one might have thereby explained the whole.
(where "might" is construed as epistemic possibility)

In reply, Pruss offers the following as a counterexample to HECP:

At noon, a cannonball is not in motion, and then it starts to fly.  The cannonball flies a long way, landing at 12:01 pm.  Thus, the cannonball is in flight between 12:00 noon and 12:01 pm, in both cases non-inclusive. 
Let pt be a proposition reporting the state of the cannonball (linear and angular moment, orientation, position, etc.) at time t.  Let p be a conjunction of pt over the range 12:00 < t < 12:01.  I now claim that p has not been explained unless we say what caused the whole flight of the cannonball, e.g., by citing a cannon being fired.  This seems clear.  If Hume is right and it is possible for causeless things to happen, then it could be that there is no cause of the whole flight.  But that is just a case where p has not been explained.  To claim that there was no cause of the flight of the cannonball but we have explained the flight anyway would be sophistry. 
But if the HECP is true, then there might be an explanation of p without reference to any cause of the flight of the cannonball.  For take any conjunct pt of p.  Since 12:00 < t, we can choose a time t* such that 12:00 < t* < t.  Then, pt is explained by pt* together with the laws of nature and the relevant environmental conditions, not including any cause of the flight itself.  By the HECP wemight have explained all of p by giving these explanations.  Hence, by the HECP we might have explained the flight of a cannonball without giving a cause to it.  But that is absurd.
What to make of this reply? One might worry that it's uncharitable to assume that Hume and Edwards are assuming a general explanatory principle in their examples and relying on it for the epistemic force of their point. Relatedly, one might worry that making such an attribution and then offering counterexamples to it is a red herring, as such general principles aren't required for the success of their criticisms. For their success only requires that (i) they represent singular epistemically possible cases where an explanation of each part of a thing or state of affairs thereby provides an explanation of the whole, and that (ii) such cases are relevantly similar to those the cosmological argument must exclude; showing that there are counterexamples to the general principles that Pruss attributes to Hume and Edwards is consistent with the claim that the particular examples of Hume and Edwards (or analogues thereof) are genuine, relevant cases of wholes explained in terms of facts about their parts. 

But let's waive these worries, as Pruss seems to recognize as much:
Thus not only is the HECP false in general, but it is false precisely in the kind of cases to which Hume, Edwards and Campbell want to apply it: it is false in the case of an infinite regress of explanations, each in terms of the next.
Is Pruss's reply, thus sharpened, successful? 

No, it isn't. For there are at least two different sorts of infinite regresses to consider here: (i) those involving a clear case of a prior originating cause of the series, and (ii) those that don't. Now Pruss's cannonball example seems telling against the sufficiency of HECP for adequate explanations of facts in a type-(i) series.  But the problem is that the relevant sort of infinite regress here is that of type-(ii). For what cries out for explanation in Pruss's cannonball case is the cannonball's transition from a state of rest to a state of motion. The relevant sort of parallel case here would thus be one involving an explanation for a transition from a state of there being no universe (or at least no matter-energy) to a state of there being a universe. But most naturalists take the universe's history (or at least matter-energy's history) to be beginningless, and therefore lacking any such transition. Unlike Pruss's cannonball scenario, therefore, the former scenario lacks a comparable transition that cries out for explanation. It therefore looks as though Pruss has failed to deflect the Hume-Edwards criticism at issue.
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