Steven Law's Reply to Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument from Naturalism

As we've noted on other occasions, Stephen Law has been working on a reply to Plantinga's EAAN. He has since completed and submitted it for publication, and It has recently been accepted at Religious Studies. Stephen has kindly posted the penultimate draft of the article as a blog post, here.

P.S., he also has a paper on the problem of evil forthcoming in the same journal. Here is a link to the penultimate draft.

Michael J. Murray and Paul Bloom on Psychology, Biology, and Belief in God

A quick note before I head off to Father's Day festivities:

Last month, Michael J. Murray and Paul Bloom had a discussion at bloggingheads on issues related to Murray's new book, The Believing Primate: mainly, psychological and evolutionary explanations of belief in God, and whether they undermine the rationality (and perhaps the warrant) of theism.

P.S., Here is a short piece by Murray that discusses several atheistic arguments from psychology of religion.

Why are you doing this to me?

Why are you doing this to me?

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End of the Quarter

Hi gang,

It's finals week where I teach, and tomorrow I administer my last final exam for the quarter. After that, I'm off to the beach for a vacation with family and friends. As such, posting will probably be light for about a week or so. Until then, be well!


DePoe's Forthcoming Piece on the Problem of Religious Disagreement

As we've noted on other occasions, the problem of religious disagreement is a potential hot topic in philosophy of religion, as the slightly broader topic of reasonable disagreement is currently "hot" in epistemology. Here is another relevant data point in this regard: John DePoe (Ph.D. candidate, University of Iowa) has recently written a paper on the topic. Here is a link.

P.S. He has a number of other interesting papers in philosophy of religion (scroll down a little to find them).

Wielenberg's Recent Paper on Non-Naturalistic, Non-Theistic Ethics

If you don't know already, Philosopher's Digest is an excellent new philosophical resource. As the site's title suggests, philosophers write short but careful summaries of recent articles of note in their respective areas of specialization (including philosophy of religion), and offer worries or criticisms of their arguments to indicate their strengths and weaknesses.

Recently at PD, John Milliken posted a digest of Erik Wielenberg's recent paper, “In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism” (Faith and Philosophy 26:1 (January 2009), pp. 23-41). The paper argues that moral truths are necessary truths, and that moral facts are non-natural facts (which is my own view, for what it's worth). He further argues that the criticisms of Wainwright, Moreland, and Craig to this sort of view would, if cogent, apply with equal force to their own, theistic accounts of ethics.

Recent Mischaracterizations of Aquinas' Five Ways

A number of contemporary non-theists have criticized Aquinas' Five Ways (e.g., Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.). However, in "On Misinterpreting the Thomistic Five Ways" (Sophia 48:1 (Feb., 2009), pp. 15-34), Joseph A. Buijs argues that, whether or not Aquinas' arguments are unsound, common contemporary criticisms of them are based on misunderstandings. The article is currently available for free viewing, here.

A Review of John Bishop's Believing by Faith: An Essay on the Epistemology and Ethics of Religious Belief... Andrei Buckareff, can be found here. Just click on either the "PDF" or the "HTML" button when you get there.

Modal Epistemology and the Cosmological Argument

William Rowe formulates the Leibnizian cosmological argument (roughly) as follows:

1. Either everything can be a dependent being, or there is a self-explanatory being.
2. Not everything can be a dependent being.
3. Therefore, there is a self-explanatory being (from 1 and 2)

A common objection is that the argument depends on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), and that there are successful undercutting and rebutting defeaters for PSR. We've discussed those sorts of worries on other occasions (here, for example), but here I want to discuss a variation on a different criticism that goes back at least to Hume: suppose we grant, at least arguendo, that the argument's sound. The worry is that the argument still doesn't get us to theism. For the necessary or self-explanatory being might, for aught we know, be the universe, and not the god of theism.

In reply, a number of proponents of the argument add premises that, when conjoined to the other premises, entail that the necessary or self-explanatory being is the god of theism. For our purposes, we can keep things simple and add two more premises to get such a conclusion:

1. Either everything can be a dependent being, or there is a self-explanatory being.
2. Not everything can be a dependent being.
3. Therefore, there is a self-explanatory being. (from 1 and 2)
4. If there is a self-explanatory being, then it is either the universe (or the stuff of which it's composed) or the god of theism.
5. The self-explanatory being is not the universe (or the stuff of which it's composed).
6. Therefore, the self-explanatory being is the god of theism. (from 3-5)[1]

Since we're simplifying in the ways mentioned above, we'll avoid questions about (4). What about (5)? Why should we think the universe isn't a self-explanatory being? In answering this question, the proponent of the argument relies on some substantive assumptions that fall within the sub-field of modal epistemology. In particular, the proponent of the argument relies on a substantive thesis about the connection between conceivability and possibility. Thus, she argues that we're able to conceive (or imagine, or intuit) the universe failing to exist. And since (here comes the crucial assumption) conceivability is prima facie evidence of metaphysical possibility, we're prima facie justified in thinking that it's possible for the universe to fail to exist. And since nothing that can fail to exist is a necessary or self-explanatory being, the universe is not such a being.

Richard Taylor's use of the conceivability-possibility inference is typical. Thus, he argues that for any object in the universe, we can imagine that it fails to exist (e.g., a six-foot-in-diameter translucent sphere). But if imaginability is evidence of possibility, then this is evidence that, for any arbitrary object in the universe (whether a stamp or a solar system), it's possible for it not to exist. But we can just as easily imagine the whole universe failing to exist. Therefore, we can say with equal justification that the universe can fail to exist, in which case it's a dependent being.

Is the line of reasoning above for the contingency of the universe a good one? One might think not, on the grounds that Taylor conflates evidence for the possible non-existence of a material object (a stamp, a solar system, etc.) with evidence for the possible non-existence of the stuff of which it's composed (matter-energy).

William Lane Craig is aware of this sort of worry. However, he thinks he can make legitimate use of a conceivability-possibility inference in support of premise (5) by cutting to the chase and asking us to imagine the most fundamental constituents of reality -- quarks (assuming the string theorists are wrong) -- failing to exist; alternatively, he asks us to imagine a universe composed of different quarks. Given this modification of the thought experiment, he assumes that we can adequately imagine this, and further that this is sufficient prima facie evidence that such things are possible.

Has Craig sufficiently addressed the worry that plagues Taylor's inference? Not obviously. For one might think (as Hume and others have thought) that the line of reasoning proves too much. For one might think that the same goes for God: we can conceive of his non-existence, in which case we should conclude that God, too, is a contingent or dependent being.[2] Thus, consider Peter van Inwagen’s “knownos”.[3] A knowno is a being who knows there are no necessary beings. Now I fail to see any incoherence in the notion of a knowno. Alternatively, I see no incoherence in a purely physical, contingent, yet metaphysically independent or “free-standing” universe: there are the fundamental particles, and all else logically supervenes on that. So if conceivability is a guide to possibility, it’s also reasonable for me to believe that there are no necessary beings.

I think this Humean criticism has a lot of force. Furthermore, it should be noted that Craig fails to even mention it, let alone address it, in the piece linked to above. For Craig to adequately address this worry, then, he'll need a principled basis for saying that the conceivability-possibility inference for the No Quarks and Different Quarks thought experiments are justified, while the conceivability-possibility inference in the No God thought experiments are not.

But what could such a basis be? Presumably, it'd be a substantive account of modal epistemology, and one that underwrites the legitimacy of the No Quarks and Different Quarks thought experiments, but precludes the legitimacy of the No God thought experiments. As a matter of fact, he has elsewhere endorsed Charles Taliaferro's account.[4] Taliaferro states his account as follows:

"If one can conceive (picture, visualize, imagine) that a state of affairs obtain and one has carefully considered whether the state of affairs is internally consistent (self-consistent at a minimum) and consistent with what one justifiably believes, then one has prima facie reason to believe it is possible for the state of affairs to obtain."[5]

Does this account of the epistemology of possibility ground a principled basis for saying that Craig's Quark thought experiments are justified, while No God thought experiments are not? Unfortunately, no. For the states of affairs depicted in the No Gods thought experiments are also conceivable in Taliaferro's sense. So, for example, I can coherently conceive of a universe where there are a set of metaphysically contingent yet independent or "free standing" fundamental particles, and all else in the universe logically supervenes upon them. This state of affairs seems internally consistent, and consistent with what I justifiably believe. Therefore, according to Taliaferro's account, I have prima facie reason to believe it is possible for this state of affairs to obtain. But such a state of affairs is incompatible with any state of affairs involving a necessarily existent God. Therefore, Craig's modification of Taylor's defense of premise (5) is unsuccessful.

What are the prospects for an adequate account of modal epistemology that could underwrite Craig's thought experiments, yet preclude the legitimacy of the No God thought experiments? My own worry is this. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on modal epistemology and thought experiments. And while I don't want to give away my bag of tricks while I have some papers on them out for review, let me just say that it's extremely dubious that our knowledge of what's metaphysically possible is extensive enough to underwrite Craig's inference from conceivability to possibility here. The basic worry is that while we do have knowledge of a significant range of possibilities, such knowledge is constrained by our knowledge of actuality in various ways. Unfortunately, though, we don't have relevant actual-world knowledge (or at least not enough of it) to ground the justification of the claim that there could be no quarks (or strings), or that there could've been a universe composed of different quarks (or strings). And if that's right, then we don't know -- nor can we have sufficiently justified belief -- that the states of affairs depicted in Craig's thought experiments are possible.

At any rate, whether I'm right about our knowledge of possibility or not, Craig hasn't given a principled basis for distinguishing between the conflicting thought experiments. Therefore, as it currently stands, Craig's modification of Taylor's defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument is subject to a dilemma: either his account of modal epistemology is legitimate or it isn't. If it is, then it equally justifies the possible non-existence of God. But if it isn't, then he loses his basis for believing in the possible non-existence of quarks. Either way, his modification of Taylor's defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument is inadequate (at least when offered to the antecedently unconvinced).
[1] Here I compress instances of Modus Ponens and Disjunctive Syllogism to minimize the number of explicit steps.

[2] Now one might attempt to get around the criticism by offering a cogent ontological argument. If one could do that, then one could argue that while the universe's non-existence is conceivable, God's is not. But of course, if one had such an argument in hand, the cosmological argument would be superfluous. In any case, the ontological argument itself relies on a substantive connection between conceivability and possibility, just as does the cosmological argument under consideration here. And as I have argued elsewhere, our modal knowledge doesn't extend to matters as remote as that of the metaphysical possibility of Anselmian beings. My current task in this post is to begin to argue that, perhaps surprisingly, the relevant modal intuitions involved in the Leibnizian cosmological argument are just as dubious as those involved in (say) Plantinga's ontological argument.

[3] Van Inwagen, Peter. Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002), pp. 107-108.

[4] "The Cosmological Argument", in Copan, Paul and Moser, Paul. The Rationality of Theism (Routldege, 2003), pp. 112-131, esp. p. 115, and p. 130, fn. 8.

[5] "Sensibility and Possibilia: A Defense of Thought Experiments", Philosophia Christi 3, 2 (new series) (2001), pp. 403-420. The account is given on p. 407.

Joshua Rasmussen's Defense of the Cosmological Argument

While we're on the topic of the cosmological argument: Joshua Rassmussen is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at Notre Dame. He has recently written a number of nice papers on the cosmological argument. See especially the following three papers:

(i) "From States of Affairs to a Necessary Being", Philosophical Studies (forthcoming)

(ii) "From a Necessary Being to God", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming).

(iii) "A New Argument for a Necessary Being"

The pre-print versions can be found at his webpage, here. As he states, do not copy or share.

P.S., he has a nice, thorough critique of Craig's kalam cosmological argument at his site. See his paper, "Kalam Calamity".

Bradley Monton's Forthcoming Book

Bradley Monton's book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, is scheduled to come out on July 31st. Here is the book's page at Broadview Press. Looking forward to reading it!

Craig on the Kalam Argument in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

I'm starting to go through the new Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Skimming William Lane Craig's chapter on the kalam argument, it looks as though Craig, again, has chosen not to address Wes Morriston's criticisms of his arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites (although, to his credit, he does attempt to deal with Morriston's criticisms of the causal premise). Given that Morriston's criticisms are the most forceful in the literature, and given that, arguably, the force of the argument hangs on the cogency of those arguments, this is disappointing.

If I were to submit an article to a journal that failed to mention - let alone address -- the most important and well-known criticisms of my position, I'd get a rejection letter with no comments.

Slow Posting

Hi gang,

Sorry for the dearth of posts as of late. The causes are many (post-dissertation defense partying and bliss, lots of paperwork associated with formatting and filing the final copies of my dissertation (finished today -- woo-hoo!), end-of-quarter grading, family and friends catch-up time, etc., etc.). I hope to get back into the swing of things in a week or so.

All the best,


Schmid's Excellent New Paper on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Schmid, Joseph C. " Benardete paradoxes, patchwork principles, and the infinite past ", Synthese , forthcoming. Abstract: Benardet...