Why Mainstream Historical Jesus Scholars Think Christianity is False

An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet

(Summary case. For an example of the case spelled out in some detail, read this piece by Dale Allison and this series of posts.)

Since the publication of Albert Schweitzer's magisterial The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906, the mainstream, middle-of-the-road view among historical Jesus scholars (e.g., E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen et al.) is that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.  This is because this view best explains the various bits of tradition about Jesus that we have most reason to think are authentic better than any competing hypothesis about those bits of tradition. Here's a sampling of data the hypothesis naturally explains: 

D1. Jesus' central teaching was about the coming of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven, which is a thoroughly eschatological concept in ancient Jewish literature.

D2. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.

D3. Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.

D4. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).

D5. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).

D6. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings. E.g., the disciples must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man” comes; Jesus' statement that even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus).

D7. Relatedly, Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic" (e.g., don’t divorce, radical forgiveness, don’t judge others, love one’s enemies, etc.). This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation, and that all needed to repent and prepare for its arrival.

D78 Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

D9. Jesus gathered twelve disciples, which is the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. He also said they were to sit on twelve thrones and serve as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. This reflects the common expectation that at the end of days, all twelve tribes would return to the land. The twelve are a symbolic representation of restored Israel.

D10. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" talk. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.

D11. Jesus’ base followers were all considered to represent the “bottom” of society in his day: the poor, sinners, prostitutes, outcasts, tax collectors, lepers, and the demon-possessed. This is perfectly in line with the standard apocalyptic doctrine of the reversal of fortunes when the kingdom of God comes: “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”.

D12. Jesus performed many exorcisms, which he explicitly identified  with the in-breaking of the kingdom of God on Earth and arrival of the final eschatological events ("But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you." Luke 11:20). In relation to his exorcisms, Jesus spoke of Satan being cast out of the heavens ("I watched Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning." Luke 10:10), and of tying up and plundering Satan ("No one can enter a strongman's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strongman; then indeed can the house be plundered." Mark 3:27). Satan and his minions were being cast out of power and bound up, and the power of the arrival of God's eschatological kingdom on Earth was taking its place. As Dale Allison emphasizes, "These are very strong statements. It is not just that the devil is meeting opposition but rather he is being routed--as people expected him to be in the latter days. So are we not invited to believe that Jesus . . .given his eschatological convictions, associated the defeat of Satan in his ministry with Satan's expected defeat before the eschatological coming of the kingdom?" Allison, "The Eschatology of Jesus", p. 280).

D13. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration, and his subsequent activities there, are best explained in terms of his apocalyptic message and his perceived role in proclaiming it. Jesus went to the temple during the Passover Festival, and spent many days teaching about his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming kingdom of God. The apocalyptic message included the idea that the temple in Jerusalem would also be destroyed.

D14. Jesus caused a disturbance in the temple itself, which appears to have been a symbolic enactment of his apocalyptic teaching about the temple’s destruction.

D15. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and Jesus’ subsequent arrest, is best explained in terms of Judas’ betraying to the religious authorities (the Sadducees and the chief priests) Jesus’ teaching (to his inner circle of disciples) that he would be the King of the Jews in the coming Kingdom of God.

D16. Jesus was executed on the charge of political sedition, due to his claim that he was the King of the Jews. His execution was therefore directly related to his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.

D17. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D18. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D19. Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn) etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of Jesus.

D20. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.

D21. Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first"): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.

D22. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.

D23. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus' putative resurrection was (to use Paul's terminology) the "first fruits" of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. This is an agricultural metaphor. When farmers reaped and ate the first fruits of the harvest, they would then reap the full harvest the very next day -- the "general" harvest was "imminent", as it was "inaugurated" with the reaping of the first-fruits. Similarly, the earliest Christians believed that the final judgement and the general resurrection were imminent, given their belief that Jesus' resurrection was itself the inaugurating event of the general resurrection and the end of all things. Thus, there is a continuity between the beliefs of the early Christians and the beliefs of many Jews of his time: Jesus' resurrection was fundamentally construed in these eschatological terms.

(This is just a sampling. For more, see, e.g., this piece)

But suppose all of this is wrong -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this generation” in the way it seems. Still, Jesus did say that the end would come soon, and his apostles said that these were “the last days” etc.

Furthermore, consider:

D24. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:

-The author is talking about events within his day

-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.

-Using the cipher language of gematria, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to). Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be imminent.

-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.

And so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end. But if so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite simply a false prophet, in which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):

"You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."

And here's another:

"The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)

It needs to be emphasized that this line of reasoning isn't controversial among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics. I'm not talking about a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier. Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning. Why are they still Christians, you ask? I'll tell you: by giving unnatural, ad hoc explanations of the data. For example, Meier gets around the problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels); Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem (Oh, really? So are we also to think that since he's already come again, he's not coming back? Or perhaps there will be a *third* coming? But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that, like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and the gathering of all the elect? And again, what about the author of Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?). Are you convinced by these responses? Me neither. And now you know why nobody outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.

To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.
Notice that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz., that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as asserting that the end would occur in his lifetime. This isn't the claim I'm making. Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was an eschatological prophet -- the end time message was what he was all about. It wasn't tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Putting it all together, we get the following argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:

H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.

H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.

And let D1-D24 be the data sketched above. Then the argument can be expressed as follows:
1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D24 than H2. (i.e., simpler, wider explanatory scope, more conservative, etc.)
2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D24 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.
3. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.

I'd like to mention a related point. If the mainstream scholars of the historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. For it seems extremely unlikely that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the passage from Deuteronomy above). In any case, it would have been interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet" account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, E.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Geza Vermes' The Changing Faces of Jesus, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Shorter defenses by Allison can be found here and here. For a sample case spelled out a bit in popular form, see this series of posts on Ehrman's book mentioned above.

Arguments From Consciousness for God's Existence

A number of contemporary Christian philosophers think there's a good argument for God in the phenomenon of consciousness, including Richard Swinburne, Robert M. Adams, J.P. Moreland, and Victor Reppert. There are at least two forms of the argument.

The first argument postulates God's activity as the best explanation for why our concious states are correlated in a lawlike way with certain brain states. Thus, it's utterly mysterious why one set of brain states actualizes experiences of, say, the color red, rather than some other set of brain states, if God doesn't exist. For if the natural world is all there is, then the conscious states of the color red are indentical to or otherwise reducible to physical states in the brain. But if so, then there should be no mystery: just like any other scientific phenomenon in the physical world, once you know the physical basis of phenomenon, there is no residual mystery why *that* physical state gives rise to *this* phenomenon. E.g., once you hear the scientific story of heat as molecular motion, it's no longer mysterious how heat, as opposed to, say, cold, is caused by molecular motion. Not so with our experience of red. For once you hear the scientific story about c-fibers firing in the brain, there's *still* a residual mysteriousness as to why *that* brain state gives rise to *this* experience of red. Therefore, if the lawlike correlation between brain states and conscious states is to have an explanation, it must be in terms of something beyond the natural world. And God is the best explanation. The idea is that God creates the lawlike correlations, and if he felt like it, he could've correlated the different brain states with our experience of, say, red. Call this 'The Correlation Argument'.

The second argument postulates God as the best explanation for the mere existence of consciousness. This argument has various forms: some try to argue that we have immaterial souls that can survive the death of our bodies (at least in principle), and posit God as the best explanation of the existence of souls (where else could they come from? The Big Bang? Evolution?). But a weaker version brackets the question of whether we have souls that can survive the death of our bodies, and just focuses on the fact that consciousness is extremely difficult to make sense of if the natural world is all there is. For consciousness has properties that don't seem reducible to the properties of physical objects. Therefore, since conciousness can't be accounted for purely in terms of the physical world, it must have a cause in terms of something beyond it, and the best candidate for such a cause is a god. Call this 'The Soul-Stuff Argument".

In effect, both arguments have the following five-step strategy. In Step One, they tell the naturalist that the kinds of entities in their ontology are limited, of necessity, to very few, and only have a limited set of properties (viz., the entities describable by the language of chemistry and physics). In Step Two, they point out that they must therefore explain all phenomena in the universe in terms of just those entities. In Step Three, they argue that certain phenomena (e.g., consciousness, the correlation between certain conscious states and certain brain states) can't be explained in terms of just those entities alone. In Step Four, they assert that theism is the only plausible view that has an ontology that's adequate to explain those phenomena. And in Step Five, they invite you to conclude that theism is true.

I think these arguments are both flawed, and that the flaw in each occurs at Step One, i.e., that the kinds of entities in the naturalist's ontology are necessarily limited to those describable in the language of chemistry and physics. This is because there is no good reason why the naturalist must accept the miminalist ontology foisted upon him by the theist. And if not, then the options for the naturalist aren't "(i) shoehorn all phenomena into a limited ontology of fundamental entities described by chemistry and physics or (ii) believe in gods and souls and become a theist." For there is a sensible third option, viz., (iii)* postulate more entities in your basic ontology*. Let me elaborate on this reply.

Recall the different versions of naturalism discussed in a previous post. Thus, there is Conservative Naturalism, which claims that the natural world can be exhaustively defined in terms of the language of contemporary chemistry and physics (or some revised account of chemistry and physics not too dissimilar from their current construals). By contrast, Moderate Naturalism allows abstract objects to be a part of the ontology of the natural world, and Liberal Naturalism goes further to include not only abstract objects, but further attributes of concrete objects that allow non-physical properties to be a part of their essence.

In light of this account of the varieties of naturalism, we can state the underlying dubious assumption in both The Correlation Argument and the Soul-Stuff Argument: both assume that Naturalism entaills Conservative Naturalism. That is, both arguments assume that if certain aspects of conciousness can't be accounted for in terms of the language of contemporary chemistry and physics, then we need to bring in such exotica as immaterial substances, such as souls and God (who, after all, is supposed to be just a "great big" unembodied soul).

The reason why this is a dubious assumption is because Naturalism *doesn't* entail Conservative Naturalism. But if not, then we have more options on the table before positing God if it turns out that some aspects of consciousness can't be accounted for in terms of the world described by the language of chemistry and physics. Thus, instead of the following false dichotomy of options implied by the Arguments From Consciousness:

CN: the world is composed of all and only things exhaustively desribed by the language of chemistry and physics.

T: the world is composed of two kinds of substances: purely phsyical substances and purely immaterial substances, and these two sorts of substances are distinct entities.

There are really three that are relevant:

CN: the world is composed of all and only things exhaustively desribed by the language of chemistry and physics.

LN: the world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or protophenomenal (or at least representational or protorepresentational) attributes (an alternative version of LN: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

T: the world is composed of two kinds of substances: purely phsyical substances and purely immaterial, mental substances (conscious minds), and these two sorts of substances are distinct entities.

But if so, then before the theist can infer God and immaterial substances as the best explanation of conciousness, he must not only rule out CN (Conservative Naturalism), but he must *also* rule out LN (Liberal Naturalism). And this he hasn't done. But if not, then since both versions of the Argument From Consciousness only rule out CN (at most) before inferring T, both are unsound.

Now I know you're thinking that LN is a weird view. But the problem is that Theism is *at least* as weird as LN. But if so, then it seems that the Christian philopher is in trouble. For it seems that he'll never be able to say why we should prefer T to LN. For *LN explains consciousness at least as well as T*. To see this, let's see how each of the two arguments from consciousness fare in light of replies from the standpoint of LN:

I. The LN-based reply to the Soul-Stuff Argument: LN allows that the features of experience are not reducible to the *physical* aspects of natural objects, yet they are nonetheless reducible to the *phenomenal* (or perhaps protophenomenal) aspects of natural objects, and the latter are just as essential and basic to natural objects as the physical aspects. Thus, consciousness *is* reducible to the basic properties of natural objects postulated by Liberal Naturalists. But if so, then the key premise of The Soul-Stuff Argument is undercut.

II. The LN-based reply to the Correlation Argument: According to some versions of LN, such as Spinoza's version -- or more recently, David Chalmers' version -- natural objects have both physical and protophenomenal attributes as a part of their essence. Furthermore, the protophenomenal attributes are inherently representational, and they accurately represent the physical attributes. Think of the fundamental stuff of the universe as information. Now information can be expressed in physical form or phenomenal (or protophenomenal) form; indeed, perhaps each form is just a different side of the same coin. if so, then it's *not* mysterious why certain brain states are correlated to certain phenomenal states in a lawlike way -- if the latter is just a sort of "mirror" of the former, then it couldn't have been otherwise! if so, then LN explains the correlation between the physical and the mental, in which case the key premise of The Correlation Argument is undercut.

If what I have said above is on track, then *even if you grant* that the phenomena highlighted by the Arguments From Consciousness, these points, by themselves, don't yet give you an argument that points to God as the best explanation. Let me belabor the point a little bit more. Suppose we treat the phenomena of the Arguments From Consciousness as data, and LN and T as hypotheses attempting to explain the data. Thus, suppose we have:


D: The phenomena of (i) the mere *existence* of consciousness, and (ii) the apparently contingent yet lawlike *correlation* between conscious states of one type and brain states of another type.


CN: the world is composed of all and only things exhaustively desribed by the language of chemistry and physics.

LN: the world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or protophenomenal (or at least representational or protorepresentational) attributes (an alternative version of LN: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed out of it).

T: the world is composed of two kinds of substances: purely phsyical substances and purely immaterial, mental substances (conscious minds), and these two sorts of substances are distinct entities.

Now the problem is that even if you think that P(CN/D) is extremely low, you don't *thereby* have reason to think that P(T/D) is greater than 1/2. For since you would expect D if LN were true about just as much as you would expect D if T were true, it looks as though T and LN are roughly equally probable, if all the evidence we have is D; that is, P(LN/D) = P(T/D). But if so, then the Arguments from Consciousness, whether individually or collectively, don't make theism more likely than not.

Thus, it appears that LN should be a real headache for theists. For LN explains the phenomena highlighted by both formulations of the argument from conciousness at least as well as T. Therefore, even if LN is weird it's *no weirder* than theism, and its view of the mind as a distinct immaterial substance that interacts with the brain. Indeed, the fact that LN doesn't suffer from the interaction problem that plagues substance dualist accounts of the mind (not to mention the hypothesis that God -- an immaterial substance -- interacts with the world) seems to give it a slight *advantage* over theism in explaining the phenomena in question. But if so, then the arguments from consiousness don't give us sufficient reason to accept T -- LN stands as a nasty obstacle between CN and T. And if that's right, then the prospects for a successful argument for God from consciousness looks pretty bleak.

To sum up: Arguments From Consciousness point to the existence of consciousness and/or its contingent yet lawlike correlation with certain brain states as a problem for naturalists. Their strategy is to get you to accept a very minimal ontology, and then say that if you can't shoehorn everything into it, then the only way out is to become a theist. Many naturalists attempt to tackle the argument head-on, accepting the costraints of explaining everything (including consciousness) in terms of this limited ontology, but then arguing that they can do so. My strategy is different and easier: just *broaden your ontology*, so that there are more fundamental properties to get the explanatory work done.

Some Thoughts About the Argument From Reason

Just in case you're interested: I recently had an enjoyable discussion at Victor Reppert's "Dangerous Idea2" blog with a philosopher (and a nice guy!) named Alan Rhoda (UNLV) on The Argument From Reason. Here's the link.

I'm still thinking about the argument. Let me know what you think (and please point out my blunders!)

Some Varieties of Naturalism

There are several versions of naturalism. Naturalists share in common the view that the natural world is all there is -- there is no supernatural realm of spiritual beings. However, naturalists differ in how they define 'the natural world'. Now there are at least three broad ways of characterizing "the natural world", and so there are at least three kinds of naturalists -- let's call them 'Conservatives', 'Moderates', and 'Liberals'.

Conservative naturalists are straight physicalists -- nothing exists but the physical, and the physical is characterized by all and only the properties listed in physics and chemistry textbooks.

Moderate naturalists differ from Conservative naturalists, in that they expand their conception of natural world so as to include abstracta (e.g., propositions, properties, possible worlds, etc.). Recent proponents include Tyler Burge, Jeff King, W.V.O. Quine, Roderick Chisholm, and Kit Fine.

Finally, Liberal naturalists differ from Moderates and Conservatives, in that they admit into their ontology of the natural world the abstracta of the Moderates, but they also allow for a conception of concreta according to which they have more properties and powers than the Conservatives and Moderates allow. Thus, perhaps they're straight Spinozists, or type-F monists, or panprotopsychists, etc. Liberal naturalists include Benedict Spinoza, Bertrand Russell, Galen Strawson, Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers, Daniel Stoljar, and Derk Pereboom.

In light of this sketch of the varieties of naturalism, we see that from the fact that one is a naturalist, it doesn't follow that one is averse to entities that don't belong to the ontology of Conservative naturalism. To put it differently: naturalism doesn't entail Conservative naturalism.

A Quick Thought About Universals

Sometimes there is, I think, a resistance to Platonism about abstract objects. Here's my hunch about the cause of resistance: only substances can exist independently of other entities, such as physical objects, and perhaps immaterial substances, such as souls, if such there be. But abstract entities aren't substances; therefore, they can't exist independently of other things. But Platonism entails that they *can* exist indepedently of susbtances; therefore, Platonism is false.

I think this line of reasoning is flawed. To see this, consider the following distinction. It's a truism that everything exists. However, not everything that exists is instantiated. So, for example, the property of being a Wal*Mart one cubic foot larger than any currently existing Wal*Mart is a property that *exists*, and yet it isn't *instantiated* anywhere. Lots and lots of properties exist that aren't instantiated; in fact, many properties *can't* be instantiated (e.g., being a married bachelor). Others are actually yet contingently instantiated (e.g., the property of being the President of the United States), and some are necessarily instantiated (e.g., the second-order property of being a property is necessarily instantiated by all properties). Thus, there's a distinction between existing and being instantiated. Many things both exist and are instantiated; many others exist and are not.

In light of this distinction, I think I can put my finger on the mistake in the line of reasoning underwriting the anti-Platonistic intuition of many: they plausibly think that:

1. No property can be *instantiated* without an ontologically prior substance in which to inhere.

and conflate that with the claim that:

2. No property can *exist* without an ontologically prior substance in which to inhere.

Unfortunately, while (1) is at least plausible (although notice that it's false: recall the example of the second-order property of being a property: it's instantiated, and yet by another *property* -- not a *substance*), (2) seems outrageous.

Schmid's Fantastic New Paper on the Grim Reaper Paradox

Schmid, Joseph C. " The End is Near: Grim Reapers and Endless Futures ", Mind (forthcoming). Abstract: José Benardete developed a...