Baldwin and Thune's Recent Paper

Here's yet another example of the relevance of the current epistemology of disagreement debate to issues in philosophy of religion. Erik Baldwin and Michael Thune offer a defeater for properly basic belief in God in "The Epistemological Limits of Experience-Based Exclusive Religious Belief", Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 445-455.[1]

Here's the abstract:

Alvin Plantinga and other philosophers have argued that exclusive religious belief can be rationally held in response to certain experiences – independently of inference to other beliefs, evidence, arguments, and the like – and thus can be ‘properly basic’. We think that this is possible only until the believer acquires the defeater we develop in this paper, a defeater which arises from an awareness of certain salient features of religious pluralism. We argue that, as a consequence of this defeater, continued epistemic support for exclusive religious belief will require the satisfaction of non-basic epistemic criteria (such as evidence and/or argumentation). But then such belief will no longer be properly basic. If successful, we will have presented a challenge not only to Plantinga's position, but also to the general view (often referred to as ‘reformed epistemology’) according to which exclusive religious belief can be properly basic.

Worth a read!

[1] Btw, Thune's dissertation is on the epistemology of disagreement. He argues for a moderate view, according to which disagreement between two epistemic peers regarding some proposition P partially defeats each peer's justification for believing that P.

Otte and Plantinga's Recent Exchange on the Free Will Defense

Richard Otte is a philosopher of religion at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work is characterized by applying the probability calculus to issues surrounding the rationality of belief in God. One can find links to many of his papers here.

Otte had an exchange with Plantinga on the latter's famous Free Will Defense (FWD) in a recent issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. In Otte's paper, he shows that Plantinga's definition of transworld depravity (TWD) is necessarily false(!). However, Otte goes on to offer an alternative notion that plays a similar role in Plantinga's FWD. Interestingly, Plantinga agrees with Otte's points.

Below are links to the papers:

Otte, Richard. "Transworld Depravity and Unobtainable Worlds", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78:1, pp. 165-177.

Plantinga, Alvin. "Transworld Depravity, Transworld Sanctity, and Uncooperative Essences", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78:1, pp. 178-191.

Paul Waldman on Glenn Beck


Dennett's Recent Paper on Descartes and the Design Argument

Here is a link to Daniel Dennett's recent paper, "Descartes's Argument from Design", The Journal of Philosophy, Volume CV, Number 7 (July 2008), pp. 333-345.

HT: Ryan

Review of David Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

J.F.P. Wynne (Northwestern University) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

Neil A. Manson

Neil A. Manson is a philosopher at the University of Mississippi. One of his primary research interests is the design argument, especially the argument from fine-tuning. He is the editor of God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science, and is the author of a number of excellent articles on the topic. Interestingly, although he is now a critic of the argument from fine-tuning, he appears to have once been a proponent it. On this, see his dissertation, Why Cosmic Fine-Tuning Needs to be Explained.

One can find his articles on the argument at his department webpage. For those unfamiliar with the argument, perhaps the best point of entry is his paper on the design argument written for undergraduates. After that, take a look at his Introduction to the God and Design volume. It provides a very clear and helpful overview of the key issues involved in the debate over various versions of the design argument, including the fine-tuning argument. From there, move on to his paper, "There Is No Adequate Definition of 'Fine-Tuned for Life". Then give a careful read to the journal articles.

P.S., if you have access to the journal Philosophy Compass, don't miss his article, "The Fine-Tuning Argument". The paper offers a nice overview of the contemporary state of the debate on the argument. The article is very helpful in particular for getting up to speed on recent discussions of the Multiverse Objection and the Normalization Objection to the argument.

Review of John Foster's The Divine Lawmaker

Evan Fales (University of Iowa) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

A Problem for Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

The Argument: If theism is true, then, probably, none of our beliefs have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant; therefore, probably, theism is false.

The Argument Expanded: If theism is true, then Plantinga's account of warrant is probably correct. Now, roughly, Plantinga analyzes warrant in terms of beliefs formed by properly functioning, (successfully) truth-aimed cognitive faculties in congenial epistemic environments. However, he rejects naturalistic accounts of function, instead requiring essential appeal to intentional design in any adequate account of function.[1] However, he also thinks God is a person with cognitive faculties, and that his faculties weren't designed. Therefore, on his own account, they lack functions, in which case, a fortiori, they can't function properly. But if not, then on his own account, God's beliefs lack warrant. But if God's beliefs lack warrant, then it's hard to make intelligible the notion of God as a competent designer of our cognitive faculties. Therefore, if theism is true, then our beliefs probably don't have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant. Therefore, probably, theism is false.

UPDATE: I recently read an article in which (Christiian philosopher) R. Douglass Geivett and Greg Jesson raise roughly the same criticism against Plantinga's account of warrant. See their "Plantinga's Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology", Philosophia Christi 3:2, pp. 329-340.
[1] Plantinga argues for this claim in ch. 11 of Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993). A more recent, explicit statement from Plantinga that proper function entails intelligent design, see Plantinga and Tooley, Knowledge of God: ". . . this notion, the notion of proper function, essentially involves the aims and intentions of one or more conscious and intelligent designers" (p. 29).  For a critique of Plantinga's claim here, see, e.g., Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function", Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224; and Bardon, Adrian. "Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction", Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (2007), pp. 45-64. (Btw, Bardon offers a nice revised version of Bigelow and Pargetter's naturalistic analysis of functions in the latter paper.)

The Devil's Lying Wonders

I just finished reading an interesting paper.

Assume, at least arguendo, that Humean arguments against the rationality of belief in miracles fail. Would it then be rational to believe that a given miracle is from God? John Beaudoin (Northern Illinois University) argues "no" in "The Devil's Lying Wonders" (Sophia 46:2 (2007), pp. 111-126). Here is the abstract:

That demonic agents can work wonders is a staple of much Judeo-Christian theology. Believers have proposed various means by which the Devil's work can be distinguished from the miracles wrought by God, primarily so that no one is led astray by the Devil's 'lying wonders. I consider the likelihood of our using the suggested criteria with any success. Given certain claims about the demonic nature and certain facts about the way theists often handle the problem of inscrutable evil, it seems unlikely that any of the criteria I examine can be relied upon.

In Memoriam: William P. Alston

I learned, via Prosblogion (and Leiter Reports), that William P. Alston passed away today. Alston was a leading philosopher of religion (see esp. his excellent book, Perceiving God), and also made outstanding contributions in epistemology (see, e.g., Epistemic Justification and Beyond "Justification") and philosophy of language (see, especially, Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning). I have learned, and continue to learn, much from his excellent work.

Review of Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe

John Cottingham (University of Reading, Emeritus) reviews the book for NDPR, here. Wielenberg's book is an excellent critique of the common apologetic argument that without God, value and meaning cannot be accounted for.

Btw, Cottingham has a new book out defending religious belief: Why Believe?. The recent book seems to be continuous with two of his previous books: On the Meaning of Life and The Spiritual Dimension.

More Lolcat Weekend Funnies

Lolcat Weekend Funnies

On Craig's Standard Reply to Mackie on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

(slightly revised and reposted)

Suppose one were to believe in the possibility of a beginningless past on the basis of the following inference:

1. Every finite subset of events in a beginningless past is traversable.
2. Therefore, the whole set of events in a beginningless past is traversable.

This is obviously a bad reason for that belief. For to infer (2) from (1) is to commit the fallacy of composition.

Interestingly, William Lane Craig attributes this fallacious inference to the late J.L. Mackie in reply to Mackie's criticism of the Kalam argument in the latter's The Miracle of Theism.[1] It's perhaps worth noting that Craig repeats this reply to Mackie's criticism in virtually all of his books and contributing chapters in which he defends the kalam cosmological argument. Furthermore, Mackie's is arguably the main criticism he raises to his argument in these writings.

I think Craig's characterization of Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here is mistaken at best, and uncharitable at worst. In what follows, I'll attempt to point out where Craig goes wrong in this rejoinder to Mackie. But before I do so, I'll need to set things up with a brief discussion of the relevant part of the dialectic between Mackie and Craig.

Mackie replied to the line of argument at issue that, ". . .[i]t assumes that, even if past time were infinite, there would still have been a starting-point of time, but one infinitely remote, so that an actual infinity would have had to be traversed to reach the present from there. But to take the hypothesis of infinity seriously would be to suppose that there was no starting point, not even an infinitely remote one, and that from any specific point in past time there is only a finite stretch that needs to be traversed to reach the present." (The Miracle of Theism, p. 93).

Craig's offers two main points in his rejoinder. First, he says that it’s Mackie, and not the proponent of the kalam argument, who fails to take a beginningless past seriously. For the latter construes such a past as having no beginning at all – not even one infinitely distant from the present. But if so, then this makes the problem worse, not better. For then one couldn’t even get going to make progress in traversing an infinite set of events to reach the present moment.[2] Second, Mackie’s point that each event in a beginningless past is only finitely distant from the present is irrelevant. For the issue isn’t whether any finite segment of a beginningless past can be traversed to reach the present, but rather whether the whole infinite past can be so traversed. To think that a whole infinite set can be traversed because each finite segment can be traversed is to commit the fallacy of composition.[3]

So much for stage-setting. What to make of this exchange? Mackie is correct, and Craig has misunderstood him -- or at least he has given Mackie's reply an uncharitable gloss. First, Mackie is correct to say that proponents of the kalam argument have misconstrued a beginningless traversal. For to say that the past is beginningless is to say that some infinite set of events or other has been traversed before every point in the past. But if so, then if a beginningless past is possible -- which is the very issue under dispute -- there can be no hurdle of going from a state of not having to having traversed an infinite in a beginningless past. Therefore, the only way in which one could go from a finite to an infinite traversal is if you began your traversal at some point. And this is why Mackie says that Craig conflates a beginningless past (i.e., {…, -3, -2, -1}) with a past that had a beginning an infinite amount of time ago (i.e., {1, 2, 3, …} or, say, {1, …-3, -2, -1}).

Second, in light of the previous point, we see why Craig is mistaken, or at least being uncharitable, in saying that Mackie has committed the fallacy of composition. For on the more charitable and forceful construal of Mackie's reply, Mackie is not arguing that because every finite segment of a beginningless past is traversable, the whole infinite past traversable. Rather, he’s saying that if the past is beginningless -- which, again, is the very issue under dispute -- then an infinite set of events has already been traversed before every point of a beginningless past, and that is why there is only a finite set of subsequent events between that point and the present. I thus conclude that Craig has failed to dislodge Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here.

[1] See, for example, "The Cosmological Argument", in Copan, Paul and Paul K. Moser, eds. The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003, 124-135.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Lolcats Bible Translation Project

My favorite version of the Bible is the Lolcats Version, here. As the name suggests, it's a version of the Bible written completely in lolspeak. A couple of basic translations to help you on your way: Yahweh is denoted by 'Ceiling Cat', and the Devil is denoted by 'Basement Cat'. Here's a sampling from Genesis 1.

You're welcome.

UPDATE: Here is a list of arguments for and against the existence of God in lolspeak. Gold, pure gold.

UPDATE: Did you know you can follow Ceiling Cat on Twitter? Now you do.

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...