Notes on Morriston's "Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?"

Analytical Outline: Morriston’s “Must there be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?”, Philosophia Christi 3:1 (2001), pp. 127-138.

1. Setup: Divine command theory and the Euthyphro Dilemma
1.1 DCT preserves a strong notion of God’s sovereignty
1.2 Problem: it falls prey to the Euthyphro Dilemma
1.3 Choice point: Either bite the bullet and say his commands are arbitrary, or say they’re somehow independent of God’s will (while still preserving sovereignty)
1.4 The focus of the paper: The second choice — modified divine command theory

2. Modified Divine Command Theory: Two Versions
2.1 Both versions attempt to go between the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma by modifying DCT so that something is morally right or wrong just in case a good God commands it, and by saying that the objective standard of goodness is internal to God.
2.2 However, they differ in their account of how God serves as ground of goodness
2.3 Version I: Platonism (broadly construed) about God's nature: 
2.3.1 God’s essential properties, which he has in all worlds in which he exists. 
2.3.2 Goodness supervenes directly on God’s nature, i.e., the properties
2.4 Version II: Alston (and, to a close enough approximation, Adams  -EA):
2.4.1 non-Platonistic account of God’s nature 
2.4.2 Goodness supervenes directly on God’s being — on God himself

3. Problem for the Platonic version: falls prey to a Euthyphro-like dilemma, applied to God’s properties
3.1 Either God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, or the properties are good because God has them.
3.2. If God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, then the moral properties are the standard of goodness -- not God.
3.3. If the properties are good because God has them, then goodness is arbitrary.
3.4. Therefore, either moral properties are the standard of goodness (and not God), or goodness is arbitrary

4. Alston’s (/Adams') Attempted Solution to the Euthyphro-like Dilemma: God, Kripke, and the Standard Meter Stick
4.1 Identify God himself, and not his properties, as the ultimate standard of Goodness 
4.2 On this sort of view, when it comes to goodness, God functions in a way analogous to Kripke's  standard meter stick (the SMS for short) functions in grounding the truth-conditions of 'meter'
4.3 While the length of SMS is not analyzed in terms of any other standard beyond itself, the SMS serves as the standard by which all other lengths have the property of being a meter in length: an object is a meter in length just in case its length exactly resembles the length of that stick (viz., the SMS).
4.4 Similarly, while God (qua the Good) is not analyzed in terms of any other standard beyond himself, he serves as the standard by which all other entities have the property of goodness: an object is good just to the extent that it resembles that being (viz., God qua the Good).

5. Problems for Alston’s (/Adams’) Version
5.1 The meter stick illustration fails, part I: like Kripke’s case, it’s arbitrary what we use to fix the referent of ‘Good’.
5.1.1 The standard meter stick is replacable — any old stick of that length can play the same role, so why can’t any old being — or even just the combination of properties — play the role of the Good? Appeal to God as standard is arbitrary in at least this sense (see Jeremy Koons' paper for other senses)
5.1.2 Reply: No, only God has the unique morally perfect nature to play the role (only God is perfectly loving, just, etc.)
5.1.3 Rejoinder: If this is the answer, then we have reverted back to the Platonic account of Goodness, as the justification is that God uniquely has the Good-making properties. So it’s the properties that do the work after all.
5.1.4 Reply: Not being satisfied with Alston's (/Adams'  -EA) "God = the Good" account reveals an arbitrary preference for the Platonic account. For neither account can give a further answer as to why the analysans should/must be counted as the Good (property combo vs. God). But explanations must come to an end somewhere.
5.1.5 Rejoinder: Maybe so, but that’s a problem that works to the advantage of the Platonist. For their theory is simpler without loss of scope and fit. The Platonist says it’s enough to say that goodness supervenes on the combination of properties that make up God’s nature. Alston says, no, that’s not enough; goodness supervenes on this combination of properties only because of the further fact that they are the characteristics of God. more complicated superfluous theological window-dressing
5.1.6 Reply: the complication isn’t superfluous; these character-constituting properties can’t have moral force without there being instantiated in a person who has that character. 
5.1.7 Rejoinder (tu quoque) Not true: both accounts fail to entail that anyone who understands the moral ideal thereby has at least some inclination to pursue it. Compare: “I understand the property of being compassionate, but I have not the slightest desire to be compassionate.” “The creator of the universe is compassionate, but I have not the slightest desire to be compassionate.” on both the Platonic and Alstonian (/Adamsian  -EA) accounts, there will be some who aren’t motivated to be moral.
5.1.8 Reply: the complication is worth it, as it preserves God’s sovereignty, while the Platonist account does not.
5.1.9 Rejoinder: No it doesn’t. More on this below.
5.2 The Meter Stick illustration fails, part II: God and the standard meter play similar roles in the truth conditions for the application of the predicates in question.
5.2.1 On the standard Kripkean account, the standard meter is used only to fixthe reference of ‘meter’. As such: Other sticks with the same length would work equally well. Other sticks would still have the property of being a meter long even if the standard meter stick shrunk, expanded, or was annihilated.
5.2.2 Therefore, the SMS does not figure in the analysis of whatit is to be a meter long.
5.2.3 True, it can serve as a criterion for determining when the truth- conditions for applying the predicate ‘meter’ are satisfied, but that’s not the same thing.
5.2.4 Therefore, if God played the same role with ‘Good” as the standard meter stick plays with ‘meter’ then, analogously, God would not figure into the analysis of what the Good is. Indeed, if the analogy is meant to be tight, it would be the relevant properties God has, and by which we mean to fix the reference of ‘Good” that does the heavy lifting here. Goodness supervenes directly on the properties, and not directly on God's being. Even if God’s nature changed, or he stopped existing, the validity of those properties of the standard would remain unchanged.
5.2.5 Therefore, if they play similar roles, then the analogy supports the Platonic account, and not the Alston/Adams view.
5.2.6 Reply: The problem here goes no deeper than Alston’s chosen analogy of the standard meter stick and the predicate, ‘meter’. If we pick another predicate — say, Reaganeque or Clintonesque— then the illustration goes through: the relevant persons must figure into the truth- conditions for predicate ascription in these cases. Similarly for God with ‘The Good’.
5.2.7 Rejoinder 1: This isn’t clearly so. Example. A fictional character like Don Quixote can figure into the truth-conditions for ‘quixotic’, in which case no real person must exist to do that work. But if not, then it’s not clear why the existence of Reagan or Clinton must figure into the truth- conditions of ‘Reaganesque’ and ‘Clintonesque’.
5.2.8 Rejoinder 2: The heart of the issue: concerns whether God plays an essential role in the truth-conditions for the applicability of ‘Good’. And the answer seems to be ‘no’. Our intuitions here largely depend on our intuitions about the following counterpossibles:
1. If God did not exist, then no one could be morally good or bad.
2. If God were not loving or just, then no one could be morally good or bad. But both seem clearly false. But if so, then God plays no essential role in the truth- conditions for the applicability of ‘Good’
5.2.9 Objection: Lewis-Stalnaker semantics for counterfactuals entail that counterpossibles are true.
5.2.10 Reply: Yes, but only because they entail that they are vacuously true, which they are not. To see this, compare:
3. If God did not exist, then a person could still be morally good or bad.
4. If God were not loving or just, then a person could still be morally good or bad.
The person who accepts Alston’s analysis of ‘Good’ is committed to saying that (3) and (4) are both false. So they’re likewise committed to denying that all counterpossibles are vacuously true, in which case, they’re committed to rejecting Lewis-Stalnaker semantics, in which case they can’t consistently raise the present objection.

6. Implications of Platonism I: Ways in Which Platonism Doesn’t Restrict God’s Sovereignty
6.1 It doesn’t compromise God’s moral authority
6.1.1 God is omniscient, and so he has perfect knowledge of morality.
6.1.2 For the same reason, he has perfect knowledge of what’s in our hearts
6.1.3 He is also perfectly good, 
6.1.4 If so, then his moral authority is intact
6.2 It doesn’t compromise God’s sovereignty over creation
6.2.1 God creates our natures
6.2.2 Our natures determine what is harmful and beneficial for us
6.2.3 As such, they partly determine what is morally right and wrong for us
6.2.4 In this way, God is the source of moral truths about what is good and bad for us.
6.3 It’s compatible with God creating obligations by issuing commands
6.3.1 It could turn out that it’s a necessary truth (though not in virtue of God’s commands) that creatures ought to obey the commands of a loving creator.
6.3.2 The content of these commands need not even reflect necessary truths (e.g., we ought to obey the Sabbath)

7. Implications of Platonism II: Ways in Which Platonism Restricts God’s Sovereignty
7.1 Puts standards of supreme moral goodness beyond God’s control
7.1.1 Not created by God
7.1.2 Not causally dependent upon God
7.1.3 Not identical to God (contra divine simplicity theorists)
7.1.4 God is subject to them: he must live up to them to be good.
7.2 This isn’t problematic
7.2.1 The same goes for the laws of mathematics and logic
7.2.2 Almost all philosophers have no problem with this
7.2.3 So, they shouldn’t have a problem with moral goodness God could make it that 1 and 1 equal 3 God could make it that it’s morally good to be cruel Both seem equally impossible
7.3 No plausible theory accepts that there are no limits on God’s sovereignty
7.3.1 Even theistic activists like Morris deny that God could make the laws of logic and math different
7.3.2 On both the Platonic account and Alston’s(/Adams' -EA) account, the standard of moral goodness is not up to god. For according to them: God is essentially morally perfect by nature It’s not up to God what his nature is, God’s nature fixes the standards of moral goodness. Therefore, it is not up to God what the moral standard of goodness is. Therefore, even modified divine command theory, like Platonism, makes moral goodness beyond the control of God.
( Therefore, it’s not at all clear that modified divine command theory is motivated over straight Platonism)

Jeremy Koons' Excellent Critique of Plantinga on Properly Basic Theistic Belief

Koons, Jeremy Randall. "Plantinga on Properly Basic Belief in God: Lessons from the Epistemology of Perception", The Philosophical Quarterly 61:245 (2011): 839-50.  

Here's the abstract: 
Plantinga famously argues against the evidentialist that belief in God can be properly basic. Consideration of the epistemology of cognitive faculties (like perception and memory) that produce psychologically non-inferential belief helps us understand how various inferentially-justified theoretical beliefs are epistemically prior to our memory and perceptual beliefs, preventing such beliefs from being epistemically basic. Taking seriously Plantinga’s analogy between the sensus divinitatis and cognitive faculties like memory and perception, I argue that such considerations give us good reason to think that the deliverances of the sensus divinitatis cannot be properly basic, either. We close by considering a number of objections to our argument by and on behalf of Plantinga. 
The penultimate draft can be found here.

Intuition Check

Intuition check: Assume Platonism about properties, propositions, and possible worlds. Such is the natural backdrop of the modal ontological argument. Assume further that the key possibility premise of the modal ontological argument is true, viz., that there is a possible world at which maximal excellence is exemplified. Then by Axiom S5 and that premise, we get the God of classical theism -- or do we? Seems to me we don't. For the picture is that God is ontologically posterior to and dependent upon the existence and ontological structure of the platonic multiverse -- God's existence is the ontological consequence of the nature and structure of platonic space. But if that's right, then God is, in a real sense, a dependent being, in which case classical theism is false.

Dan Baras' Reliability Challenge for Theistic Platonism

In "A Reliability Challenge for Theistic Platonism" (Analysis 77(3): 479-87 (2017)), Dan Baras argues that theistic platonists face something analogous to Street's evolutionary debunking argument. Here's the abstract:
Many philosophers believe that when a theory is committed to an apparently unexplainable massive correlation, that fact counts significantly against the theory. Philosophical theories that imply that we have knowledge of non-causal mind-independent facts are especially prone to this objection. Prominent examples of such theories are mathematical Platonism, robust normative realism and modal realism. It is sometimes thought that theists can easily respond to this sort of challenge and that theism therefore has an epistemic advantage over atheism. In this paper, I will argue that, contrary to widespread thought, some versions of theism only push the challenge one step further and thus are in no better position than atheism. 
The next step is to apply the debunking argument to God's moral knowledge in particular.

Nice Paper by Marsh on Procreative Ethics and the Problem of Evil


Partial Notes: Morriston's "A Critical Evaluation of the Kalam Argument"

As we saw in the previous post, Morriston's (2000) paper, "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?" critiques the second stage of Craig's kalam cosmological argument -- i.e., his argument that the cause of the universe must be a person. (For a statement of that argument, see section 1 of the notes in the previous post).  However, Morriston makes further remarks on the argument in section 7 of his (2002) paper, "A Critical Evaluation of the Kalam Argument" that I think are also worth considering. The following notes aim to cover that section.

1. Stage 2 of the Kalam Argument: Craig's "Eternally Sitting Man" Analogy
1.1 In his defense of stage 2, Craig introduces a thought experiment involving an eternal man sitting from eternity past who then freely and spontaneously wills to stand up.
1.2 This is supposed to be analogous to how an eternal God could exist timelessly, and yet eternally will to create a universe that has a beginning in time.
1.3 Craig realizes that (if his arguments for a finite past succeed) this entails that God’s decision to create cannot involve a change in God, as that would involve a temporal sequence, which is ruled out by his arguments.

2. Worries Morriston Raises But Does Not Pursue
2.1 Craig's model of personal agency is extremely controversial among philosophers of action
2.1.1 Many of them think acts of will  are not the ultimate causes of our actions. Rather, these willings are caused by a person's beliefs, desires, and preferences, which in turn are caused by other things.
2.1.2 There are therefore reasons to doubt that personal causes work  the way Craig thinks they do (e.g., maybe libertarian agency isn’t real)
2.2 Perhaps there are more types of causes besides “mechanical” and “personal” (N.B. Indeed, if it should turn out that (a) contingent concrete reality had a beginning, (b) such a beginning requires a cause, and (c) neither personal nor “mechanical” causes are epistemically viable candidates for such a causal rule, then one has grounds to G.E. Moore shift one’s way to the conclusion that there are more than these two types of cause).

3. Morriston's Main Worry: Craig's Analogy Breaks Down:
3.1 In humans, a free act:
3.1.1 (a) requires a change in the agent — one that ultimately traces back to a decision in the mind
3.1.2 (b) the effect of the act is straightaway — indeed the effect often occurs faster than the effect of natural, “mechanical” causes.
3.2 But the problem is that both (a) and (b) can’t apply to God in Craig’s scenario:
3.2.1 (a) requires temporal change/succession, which is problematic on at least two counts: (i) it seems incompatible with God’s omniscience (for then it seems God didn’t always know what to do and what he was going to do); and (ii) it contradicts Craig’s scenario here, according to which God is existing in a timeless state. (But even if we grant some time prior to creation, Craig’s arguments against an infinite past require that God’s decision have its ultimate origination from God “while” in a state of timelessness.)
3.2 In a nutshell, Morriston’s main objection is that Craig’s timeless personal cause of the universe (God) faces the same dilemma as the one Craig poses for a timeless, natural, “mechanical” cause:
3.2.1 Either (a) God decision was with him in his timeless state, or (b) it wasn’t.
3.2.2 If (b), then it seems God could never will to create a universe., in which case the universe would have never arisen.
3.2.3 But if (a), then either the analogy holds or it doesn't.
3.2.4 if the analogy holds, the effect of creation should be as eternal as the cause, which contradicts his conclusion. (N.B. maybe there’s no problem with that if the universe can be a 4D block, even if it destroys Craig’s argument).
3.2.5 But if the analogy doesn’t hold, then his case for a personal cause loses its epistemic force.
4. Morriston's Reductio Argument: 
4.1 The reductio
Craig’s argument for a personal cause assumes:
1. An eternal sufficient cause must have an eternal effect. 
But since it’s natural to assume Craig thinks God needs no help in creating a universe, he seems to also accept: 
2. God’s will to create a universe with a beginning is sufficient to produce it.
 Now we’ve seen that Craig asserts:
 3. God’s will to create a universe with a beginning is eternal.
 But from (1)-(3) it follows that
 4. A world with a beginning is eternal. 
Which is self-contradictory. (N.B. again, assuming real temporal becoming and rejecting a 4D block universe view, which Craig thinks he must reject to keep the need for a cause for the beginning of the universe.).
Craig therefore must reject at least one of (1)-(3).
4.2 Craig's first reply: God's will as a necessary but not sufficient cause
4.2.1 In print, Craig seems to reject (2).
4.2.2 However, this is problematic: it seems incompatible with God’s omnipotence: How can God’s eternally willing a universe fail to accomplish its effect? It seems that that would accomplish its effect if anything would.
4.3 Craig's second reply: intending vs. undertaking
4.3.1 Craig attempts to mitigate the problem by making a distinction between intending and undertaking: God timelessly, eternally intends a universe with a beginning but it doesn’t occur until he undertakes the task by exercising his causal power to bring about his intention.
4.3.2 Problem: This only pushes the problem back a step: What’s the relationship between God’s willing/intending and his undertaking? If his willing/intending to create is sufficient for his undertaking/exercising causal power to create, then his undertaking/exercising causal power to create should be eternal, in which case the universe should be eternal. The only way out is to deny that God’s will/intention is sufficient for both creating the universe and (even) for undertaking to create the universe. But this is implausible. For to keep the analogy between human and divine willing/personal causation going, we have to keep the analogy between the cases where willing and undertaking come apart. But the problem is that the analogy breaks down. For there are three main causes for the coming apart of intending and undertaking in human willing, and none apply to God: (i) When the chosen time to act has not yet arrived: God is in a timeless state “when” he both intends and undertakes to create, and thus can’t delay in creating. (ii) When we change our mind/plans: God is omniscient, and thus can’t change his mind/plans; (iii) When we succumb to weakness of will: God is omnipotent, and thus can’t succumb to weakness of will.

Notes on Morriston’s “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?”

Most of the criticisms of Craig's kalam argument critique one of the two main premises of Stage 1 of the argument, i.e., they aim to undercut the premise that the universe had a beginning, or that whatever begins to exist has a(n efficient) cause. However, much less attention is focused on Stage 2 of the argument, i.e., that the cause of the beginning of the universe is a person. But in Morriston's important paper, "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?", (Faith & Philosophy 17:2 (2000), pp. 149-169), Morriston masterfully dismantles Stage 2 of the kalam argument.  Below is an outline of Part Two of the paper.

1. Setup: Reconstructing Craig’s argument for a personal cause: (i.e., his argument for Stage 2 of the kalam cosmological argument).
1. The universe hasn’t always existed.
2. The cause of the universe must be eternal (otherwise it, too, would have a beginning and would thus require a cause).
3. The cause of the universe must be either a personal agent or a non-personal sufficient condition (“mechanical cause”).
4. If “a causal condition sufficient for the production” of the universe exists from eternity, then the universe has always existed.
5. So the cause of the universe is not a non-personal sufficient condition.
6. The cause of the universe must therefore be a person.
2. First Problem: It’s doubtful that Craig can consistently endorse (3).
2.1When responding to the quantum indeterminacy objection to the causal premise of the kalam argument, Craig glosses it in a way that it only requires one or more necessary conditions for any coming to be.
2.2 But if so, then to be consistent, Craig must allow the possibility of a non- personal cause existing from eternity as a merely necessary condition for the coming to be of the universe.
2.3 And if that’s right, then Craig must allow for more than the two candidates for the cause of the universe listed in (3).

3. Second Problem: Given (4), it’s not clear that positing a personal cause will help Craig avoid concluding that the universe must be as eternal as its cause.
3.1 By (4), that can only be done if there is no eternal state of the divine agent that is sufficient for causing the universe.
3.2 Craig tries to avoid this implication with his eternal sitting man analogy: It’s possible that an eternal man sits in a chair from eternity past, and then decides or wills to freely stand up.
3.3. Problem: The analogy breaks down when applied to God:
3.3.1 He’s supposed to be omniscient, and thus knows from eternity what he will do. 
3.3.2 Prima facie, such knowledge includes his intention/will re: what he will do. 
3.3.3 But on standard views of an omnipotent will, God’s willing is sufficient to produces its effect
3.3.4 So by (4), the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.4 Craig’s reply: the intending/undertaking distinction: God’s “eternal decision”/intention to create a universe with a beginning is eternal, but his undertaking to bring it about is not.
3.5 Problem: This just pushes the problem back a step
3.5.1 Surely God’s deciding/intending is causally sufficient to create the universe. 
3.5.2 So by Craig’s hypothesis that his intention to create is eternal, the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.6 One might think there is an easy way out here: 
3.6.1 Craig says, not that God eternally decided to create a universe, but that he eternally decided to create a universe with a beginning. 
3.6.2 But no universe with a beginning is eternal. 
3.6.3 Problem solved.
3.7 Reply: Craig can't consistently take this route
3.7.1 Such a claim, when combined with other claims Craig is committed to, jointly entail a contradiction: 
1. alpha has a beginning.
2. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is eternal.
3. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is causally sufficient for the existence of alpha.
4. If a cause is eternal and sufficient for the existence of something, then that thing is also eternal (from (4) of the argument above).
5. If a thing is eternal then that thing doesn’t have a beginning.
6. Therefore, alpha both does and doesn’t have a beginning.
3.7.2 Something has to give, but the only ones which it is plausible to give up are the ones Craig needs for stages 1 and 2 of his kalam argument, viz., (1) and (4). Craig needs (1) for stage 1 of the kalam argument (2) seems to follow from God’s eternality and omniscience. No one with standard views about God’s omnipotence will want to deny (3) (4) might be resisted by saying that while God’s eternally willing alpha makes the statement, “There is a world with a beginning” eternally true, it doesn’t make the world eternal. But this isn’t a move that would help Craig here. For there seems no principled basis for denying this distinction for a non-personal eternal sufficient condition for the beginning of the universe. And if that’s right, then such a reply would undercut stage 2 of his kalam argument. (5) is analytic (N.B. Is it? What about a 4d block universe?).

4. What went wrong in Craig’s reasoning? Morriston’s diagnosis:
4.1 Craig is switching back and forth between two conceptions of eternity: (i) beginningless and endless duration, and (ii) timelessness/atemporality.
4.2 He needs conception (ii) to make sense of God’s existence and willing being causally, but not temporally prior to the existence of the universe.
4.3 But he also needs conception (i):
4.3.1 He needs it to make plausible the idea that God could eternally will a universe with a beginning.
4.3.2 He also needs it to explain why a non-personal cause couldn’t have produced a universe with a beginning, as the effect would be as eternal as the cause.
4.4 But when you pin him down to either conception of eternity, the epistemic advantage of personal causes over non-personal causes disappears:
4.4.1 Re: (i) If large temporal gaps between the (eternal) will of a personal cause and its effect is possible, why can’t the same be true of a non-personal cause? It’s not at all clear that action at a temporal distance is any more mysterious than action at a spatial distance. (Cf. his earlier discussion of quantum indeterminacy and eternal necessary (but not sufficient) causal conditions comes in.)
4.4.2 Re: (ii) There can be no temporal gap between the timeless cause and the effect with a personal cause, any more than there can with a non-personal cause.  Craig’s freezing temperature/frozen water analogy breaks down at just this point. For an atemporal non-personal cause has no temporal duration at all, and thus would not be freezing “for all eternity” (having no duration at all). 
4.5 Craig therefore has no argument against the possibility of a timeless non-personal cause.
4.6 Craig might reply that non-personal causes can’t be atemporal, but:
4.6.1 No argument has been given for that. 
4.6.2 In any case, the same sorts of grounds arise for the hypothesis of an atemporal personal cause both are hard to make intelligible. both are contrary to all experience.

Important Forthcoming Book on the Problem of Evil

Trakakis, Nick. The Problem of Evil: Eight Views in Dialogue (OUP, forthcoming). One paper in the volume especially worthy of note is Yujin Nagasawa's "The Problem of Evil for Atheists". The penultimate draft can be found at his website (here).

Important Recent Paper by Thornhill-Miller and Millican

Thornhill-Miller, Branden, and Peter Millican. “The Common-Core/Diversity Dilemma: Revisions of Humean thought, New Empirical Research, and the Limits of Rational Religious Belief.” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7, no. 1 (2015): 1–49. (Accessible version here.)

Here is the abstract:
This paper is the product of an interdisciplinary, interreligious dialogue aiming to outline some of the possibilities and rational limits of supernatural religious belief, in the light of a critique of David Hume’s familiar sceptical arguments – including a rejection of his famous Maxim on miracles – combined with a range of striking recent empirical research. The Humean nexus leads us to the formulation of a new ‘Common-Core/Diversity Dilemma’ (CCDD), which suggests that the contradictions between different religious belief systems, in conjunction with new understandings of the cognitive forces that shape their common features, persuasively challenge the rationality of most kinds of supernatural belief. In support of this conclusion, we survey empirical research concerning intercessory prayer, religious experience, near-death experience, and various cognitive biases (e.g. agency detection, theory of mind, egocentric and confirmation bias). But we then go on to consider evidence that supernaturalism – even when rationally unwarranted – has significant beneficial individual and social effects, despite others (such as tribalism) that are far less desirable. This prompts the formulation of a ‘Normal/Objective Dilemma’ (NOD), identifying important trade-offs to be found in the choice between our humanly evolved ‘normal’ outlook on the world, and one that is more rational and ‘objective’. Can we retain the pragmatic benefits of supernatural belief while avoiding irrationality and intergroup conflict? It may well seem that rationality is incompatible with any wilful sacrifice of objectivity (and we appreciate the force of this austere view). But in a situation of uncertainty, an attractive compromise may be available by moving from the competing factions and mutual contradictions of ‘first-order’ supernaturalism to a more abstract and tolerant ‘second-order’ view, which itself can be given some distinctive (albeit controversial) intellectual support through the increasingly popular Fine Tuning Argument. We end by proposing a ‘Maxim of the Moon’ to express the undogmatic spirit of this second-order religiosity, providing a cautionary metaphor to counter the pervasive bias endemic to the human condition, and offering a more cooperation- and humility-enhancing understanding of religious diversity in a tense and precarious globalised age.

The paper has already garnered a good deal of attention. To track down the articles containing the main criticisms of the paper and follow the current discussion, see the authors' reply piece (accessible version here).

Required reading.

Review of Iddo's Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World

Stephen C. Campbell and Sven Nyholm review the book for NDPR.

Notes on Morriston's "Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?"

Analytical Outline: Morriston’s “ Must there be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God ?”,  Philosophia Christi  3:1 (2001), pp. 127-1...