Two New Books from Schellenberg

The first -- Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate (Bloomsbury) came out on the 8th.  Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:
Progressive Atheism shows how atheism can make progress in humanity's future. It presents a new way of arguing that God doesn't exist, based on a portrayal of God so positive that you may sometimes wonder whether you're reading the thoughts of a believer.  
Starting with the simple idea that our understanding of what it takes to be a good person has changed and grown over time, J. L. Schellenberg argues that our understanding of the goodness of God must now change too. Masculine images of God as haughty King or distant Father have to be replaced by God as a paragon of nonviolence and relational openness.  
This more evolved conception of God is incredibly attractive and admirable. But by the same token it has become less believable. Each moral advance, applied to God, makes it even clearer that such a being would never create a world like ours.  
Atheists have often approached the subject of God with disdain. Progressive Atheism proves that admiration will be far more powerful.

The second -- Religion After Science: The Cultural Consequences of Religious Immaturity (Cambridge) -- comes out in October. Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:
In this provocative work, J. L. Schellenberg addresses those who, influenced by science, take a negative view of religion, thinking of it as outmoded if not decadent. He promotes the view that transcendently oriented religion is developmentally immature, showing the consilience of scientific thinking about deep time with his view. From this unique perspective, he responds to a number of influential cultural factors commonly thought to spell ill for religion, showing the changes - changes favorable to religion - that are now called for in how we understand them and their proper impact. Finally, he provides a defense for a new and attractive religious humanism that benefits from, rather than being hindered by, religious immaturity. In Schellenberg's view, religion can and should become a human project as monumental as science.
Both look to be required reading for those interested in philosophy of religion.

My New Book With Joshua Rasmussen Is Now Out

Readers of this blog might be interested in my new book with Joshua Rasmussen, Is God the Best Explanation of Things? A Dialogue (Palgrave Macmillan).  (Besides the hardcover version, the e-book version is available here, and a softcover version is available here (link in top right corner)).




Some of my points rely on my previous work in modal epistemology. Those interested in seeing further development and defense of that sort of view might be interested in reading the contributions of myself and others in a book I co-edited with Bob Fischer: Modal Epistemology After Rationalism (Springer, 2017).


For a Limited Time: Free Downloads of Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion!

Several new books have recently been released in the excellent Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of  Religion Series:



For a limited time, they are available for free download Check them out!

Special Issue: Alternative Concepts of God

Andrei Buckareff and Yujin Nagasawa guest edited a terrific new issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion on alternative concepts of God. Here is the table of contents:


Guest Editors’ Introduction
Andrei Buckareff, Yujin Nagasawa

The Awe-some Argument for Pantheism
T. Ryan Byerly

Against Mereological Panentheism
Oliver D. Crisp

Being Perfect is Not Necessary for Being God
Jeanine Diller

Panentheism, Transhumanism, and the Problem of Evil - From Metaphysics to Ethics
Benedikt Paul Göcke

Nothing Else
Samuel Lebens

Infinity and the Problem of Evil
John Leslie

Personalistic Theism, Divine Embodiment, and a Problem of Evil
Chad Meister

Neoplatonic Pantheism Today
Eric Steinhart

By Whose Authority: A Political Argument for God's Existence
Tyler McNabb, Jeremy Neill

God, Elvish, and Secondary Creation
Andrew Pinsent

Assessing the Resurrection Hypothesis: Problems with Craig's Inference to the Best Explanation
Carlos Alberto Colombetti, Robert G. Cavin

Check it out!

Soul-Making Theodicies and Lack-of-Character Data

Soul-making theodicies aim to defeat the problem of evil. In broad outline, they argue that moral virtues  (e.g., patience, kindness, compassion, etc.) are among the greatest possible goods, and that God must allow suffering in order to give us the opportunity to develop virtue (e.g., developing patience requires undergoing hardships; developing courage requires facing danger; developing compassion requires experiencing suffering yourself (to empathize) and seeing and responding to the suffering of others, etc.). Therefore, God is justified in permitting evil or suffering in order to allow for these goods.

The problem is that, as John Doris and others have recently argued, there is a robust set of data regarding human behavior that casts serious doubt on the hypothesis that humans have the capacity to develop virtue. And if that's right, then soul-making theodicies are thereby undercut.

Two Notions of Necessity (and the Theistic Arguments that Conflate Them)

There are two notions of necessity floating around that easily get conflated: (i) exists in all possible worlds, and (ii) can't not exist. But (ii) can't be captured by (i); (ii) is more fine-grained than (i).  Indeed, it's epistemically possible that a being is necessary in sense (i), but not in sense (ii). 

To see this, say that a world stub is some initial temporal segment of a possible world (whether beginningless or not). Now consider that it it's epistemically possible for a god (an uncreated, metaphysically independent being) G to exist in the world stub of every possible world, and yet go out of existence at some time downstream of the world stub of at least one -- but perhaps many, and perhaps even every -- possible world (say it commits suicide due to eternal boredom, or it's annihilated by some other being downstream of one or more world stubs). It's therefore epistemically possible for G to be necessary in sense (i), but not in sense (ii).

This has non-trivial implications for some theistic arguments. Some contemporary theistic arguments --  "minimal modal ontological arguments" (as van Inwagen defines them), certain Leibnizian cosmological arguments, etc. --  deploy S5 modal logic to show that an Anselmian being currently exists. In particular, they aim to show that

1. A necessary being exists in at least one possible world.

and then infer from (1) and Axiom S5 of S5 modal logic to infer that

2. A necessary being exists in every possible world.

And finally, from (2) they infer that

3. A necessary being exists.

Now of course many -- myself included -- have raised doubts about (1). But the preceding discussion raises a problem for the inference from (2) to (3). For as we've seen above, (3) doesn't follow from (2). Therefore, even if one establishes that there is a necessary being in the sense captured by sense (i) above -- viz., the necessity operator of modal logic --, one has not thereby established that such a being currently exists. And because of this, theistic arguments of the sort mentioned above that rely on an inference from (2) to (3) to establish God's existence are bound to fail.

Theism and Mandevillian Intelligence

In keeping with recent posts on non-standard arguments against theism, I'll here briefly sketch  another proposed argument in that vein: the argument from Mandevillian intelligence. Roughly, 'Mandevillian intelligence' denotes intellectual vices of individuals that, when taken collectively (i.e., among a group of similar individuals), result in positive epistemic outcomes. An example is intellectual stubbornness. Such a trait is clearly vicious in an individual, but when a group of intellectually stubborn individuals interact through (say) philosophical argumentation, it leads to the investigation of vast swathes of epistemic space, which is clearly a good epistemic outcome.

Mandevillian intelligence is prima facie surprising on theism, as individual intellectual vices seem bad, and something God would want us to eliminate in ourselves. By contrast, Mandevillian intelligence is unsurprising on naturalism, as blind evolutionary forces don't "care" about intellectual vice, but rather about whatever happens to help individuals and groups survive and reproduce. And clearly such vices can contribute to achieve such an end, as in the above case. Therefore, Mandevillian intelligence provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Theism's Explanatory Gap Problem

Ever since at least Russell (1927), many philosophers[1] have argued that materialism – and, I now point out, classical theism – have an “explanatory gap” problem of another sort. For science only tells us about the structure and dynamics of matter -- i.e., its extrinsic, relational properties -- and not its intrinsic properties[2]. As D.M. Armstrong (1968) put it:

"...[I]f we look at properties of physical objects that physicists are prepared to allow them, such as mass, electric charge, or momentum, these show a distressing tendency to dissolve into relations one object has to another. What, then, are the things that have these relations to each other? Must they not have a non-relational nature if they are to sustain relations? But what is this nature? Physics does not tell us." (p. 282)

Subsequent progress in science only seems to underscore this point (cf. Ladyman and Ross 2007; Davidson 2014). Many thus now argue for ontic structural realism, according to which reality consists of relations without relata, and it is only “relations all the way down”. Unfortunately, to date, even the most strident defenders of ontic structural realism have failed to give a fully satisfying account of the view (cf. McKenzie 2017). Incoherence threatens. This is the explanatory gap problem for both conservative naturalism and theism: both views give us a physical universe with a hollow core, as neither provides the resources to provide intrinsic properties to ground its extrinsic, relational properties.

There is thus pressure to say that there must be some stock of intrinsic properties to physical reality, and yet physical reality seems to lack such properties. What is a naturalist or a theist to do? The Russellian monist answers: The only intrinsic properties we know of are phenomenal properties of subjective experience. The Russellian monist thus posits that phenomenal properties ground the relational properties of physics. Happily, then, Russellian monism appears to solve both the hard problem of consciousness and the intrinsic properties problem in one stroke. The structure-and dynamics-argument therefore offers another powerful line of support for liberal naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

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[1] See, for example, Russell (1927), Strawson (1986), Chalmers (1996), Stoljar (2006), Pereboom (2011), Alter & Nagasawa (2012), Alter (2016) and Goff (2017).

[2]Lewis (1986) argued that shape is an intrinsic property of material objects, but Davidson (2014) has argued persuasively that shape is relative to a given inertial reference frame.


References:

Alter, Torin. 2016. “The Structure and Dynamics Argument Against Materialism”, Nous 50 (4): 794-815.

-----. and Yujin Nagasawa. 2015. Consciousness in the physical world: Perspectives on Russellian Monism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Armstrong, D.M. 1968. A Materialist Theory of Mind. New York: Routledge.

Chalmers, David. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Davidson, Matthew. 2014. “Special Relativity and the Intrinsicality of Shape”, Analysis 74 (1): 57-58.

Goff, Phillip. 2017. Consciousness and Fundamental Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ladyman, James and Don Ross, with David Spurrett and John Collier. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized, Oxford University Press.


Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


McKenzie, Kerry. 2017. “Ontic Structural Realism”, Philosophy Compass 12 (4): e12399.

Pereboom, Derk. 2011. Consciousness and the Prospects for Physicalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Russell, Bertrand. 1927. The Analysis of Matter. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Stoljar, Daniel. 2006. Ignorance and Imagination: The Epistemic Origin of the Problem of Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Strawson, Galen. 2008. Real Materialism: And Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion: Free Downloads!

For readers of this blog who don't know already, the books in the Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion are available for free download for two weeks after their original publication!

Check them out!

Theism, Substance Dualism, Personal Identity, and Quantum Mechanics

(Extremely rough draft.)

Ever since at least Ladyman and Ross's Every Thing Must Go (with David Wallace, Peter Lewis, David Albert, Tim Maudlin and many others in chorus) more and more philosophers have been coming to grips with the need for radical revisions in traditional analytic metaphysics in the light of  quantum mechanics (QM) (cf. Jenann Ismael, Alyssa Ney, Peter Lewis, Kerry McKenzie, Jessica Wilson, Jonathan Schaffer, Ted Sider, Shamik Dasgupta, and many others).[1]   However (aside from worries for the causal principle in cosmological arguments), it seems that the waves of the quantum revolution have yet to be felt in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. I noted one potential implication on another occasion. Here are a few more.

Prima facie, on any plausible interpretation of quantum mechanics (Bohmian, Everettian, and GRW), there are many worlds/universes. As Peter Lewis points out, non-Everrettian interpretations of quantum mechanics are just many-worlds accounts in denial[2]. This has serious implications for the metaphysics of personal identity and other issues related to philosophy of religion. 

For example, take standard theistic accounts of substance dualism, and take the increasingly popular Everettian interpretation of QM (in fact, strictly speaking, it's not an interpretation: it just is QM). On that account, humans are constantly branching, hydra-like, into hugely many alternate universes, at virtually every moment of their lives. But if so, then prima facie, either (i) only one branch is you, or (ii) they all are you. On (i), God creates (directly, ex nihilo, or indirectly, through natural processes) new souls for each branch self at virtually every moment. On (ii), you have many selves. On either option, the sameness of soul account of personal identity is starting to look seriously unmotivated.

Furthermore, what are we to make of the afterlife? On (ii), all of your counterpart branch souls have an existence in an afterlife. Now combine that with the traditional doctrine of the soul being joined to a physical body at the final judgement.  Prima facie, our world essentially involves QM and branching universes, in which case ,prima facie, so does any post-resurrection universe. Prima facie,   all of the branching selves will be resurrected in different alternate universes, with counterpart Christs. On (i), it's hard to get an intelligible grasp of how all of my branching selves could be "me", each in their own resurrected bodies in alternate universes.

Furthermore, what are we to make of the person and work of Christ? For example, Jesus has many branch selves. Which one is the "real" Jesus? One? Some? All? Presumably, then, there are many Christs, and there will have to be many crucifixions. From this example, it becomes apparent that a host of other problems arise for the incarnation, atonement, trinity, and related doctrines. 

In short, it looks as though quantum mechanics poses serious problems for both substance dualism and for theism. In fact, it's looking as though QM, all by itself, is incompatible with-- or, at the very least, highly surprising on -- traditional accounts of Christian theism and religious monotheism in general. Prima facie, then, QM provides at least strong abductive evidence against traditional monotheism.

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[1] The other main revolution in physics is relativistic quantum field theory (RQFT), according to which fields are more fundamental than particles: what we call 'particles' are really just field excitations. But that is another can of worms.
[2] Lewis, Peter J. Quantum Ontology: A Guide to the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).


Two New Books from Schellenberg

The first --  Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate   (Bloomsbury)   came out on the 8th.  Here's the blurb t...