Nicholas Everitt on the Divine Attributes

Everitt provides a helpful overview of recent work on the divine attributes in a recent article in Philosophy Compass (5:1 (2010)). Here is the link.

Quote of the Day

"We saw earlier that Swinburne claims that most contemporary theists need an adequate total theodicy in order to rationally believe that God exists. This is a claim about rationality in the subjective sense (p. 16).[1] Swinburne also holds that no adequate total theodicy except his own is available. Presumably, this means that theists who believe they have such a theodicy are guilty of at least objective irrationality. Furthermore...very few theists will agree with all or even most of the many metaphysical and axiological claims upon which the success of his theodicy depends and so will not, if Swinburne is correct, have an adequate total theodicy in the relevant sense. The surprising implication is that, if everything Swinburne says in his book is true, then most theistic belief is irrational in at least one of Swinburne’s two senses and will remain so no matter how many theists read and understand his book! Further, though additional argument would be required to establish this, it would seem that the internalist irrationality of most theistic belief is antecedently more likely if God does not exist than if God exists, and so is evidence against theism. Thus, Swinburne’s commitment to such irrationality is at least ironic and maybe even significant, especially since Swinburne is arguably the greatest natural theologian of the 20th Century."

-Draper, Paul. “Review of Richard Swinburne’s Providence and the Problem of Evil”, Nous 35:3 (2001), pp. 472-3.

[1] As Draper points out, "Swinburne distinguishes two internalist senses of rationality or justification in this book, one subjective and one objective (pp. 15–17 and 58– 63). A person’s belief is subjectively rational if and only if, given that person’s criteria of probability, it is either rendered probable by that person’s other subjectively rational beliefs or is properly basic. A person’s belief is objectively rational if and only if, given the true criteria of probability, it is either rendered probable by that person’s other objectively rational beliefs or is properly basic." Ibid., p. 473.

Craig's Replies to My Criticisms of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

(Note: I have since offered a longer reply to Craig)

It's been brought to my attention that someone has plagiarized used some of my criticisms of the Leibnizian cosmological argument in a Q and A with Craig. Here is the link.

I hope to give a proper reply at some point, but for now I'll say that his reply is illustrative of the sort of illicit burden of proof shifting that characterizes much of his apologetic work.[1]

Reminder: If you refer to my posts, please abide by the fair use rules indicated in the Creative Commons license for this blog.

[1] Wes Morriston is one of the few philosophers who has called him on illicitly shifting the burden of proof. See, for example, p. 291 of this paper.

Kvanvig's New Book

Over at Prosblogion, Jonathan Kvanvig (Baylor) has kindly posted a draft of his forthcoming collection of papers, Destiny and Deliberation: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Here is the link.

Liberal Naturalism and the Defeat of the Theistic Hypothesis


I think there is a version of naturalism that seems to explain the relevant range of data better than theism. To be a tad more precise: there is a prima facie viable version of naturalism that (a) explains the data appealed to in theistic arguments at least as well as theism, and (b) there is a range of other data that is better explained by this version of naturalism than by theism. Below I will provide a brief sketch of the sort of view I have in mind, as well as some considerations in its favor vis-a-vis theism.

Thus, consider the following hypothesis, which I'll call 'Chalmersian Liberal Naturalism' (in honor of the contemporary philosopher David Chalmers, who appears to accept a view somewhat similar to it. Call the view 'CLN' for short):

(CLN) There are both abstract objects and concrete objects. The abstract objects are eternal, necessary beings. All concrete objects are composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenal or proto-phenomenal (or at least representational or proto-representational) attributes as a part of its essence (alternatively, the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but the physical and mental are composed of it). Furthermore, this kind of substance is factually or metaphysically necessary. It is also eternal, and comprises a multiverse.

It seems to me that CLN can explain all the data appealed to by the standard arguments of natural theology: we'd expect fine-tuning if for every possible combination of fundamental constants, there is a universe that instantiates it -- indeed, a finely-tuned universe is inevitable on such a hypothesis; we'd expect consciousness in animals and humans if proto-phenomenal states are a part of the essence of concrete substance, since consciousness logically supervenes on structures composed of such a substance when it is suitably complex, and such complexity is accounted for in terms of mutation and natural selection; we'd expect abstract objects if they were eternal, necessary beings; we'd expect moral properties if they logically supervene on certain states of affairs, the latter of which are abstract, necessary beings that contingently obtain or fail to obtain; and the contingency of objects in the world is explained in terms of the factually or metaphysically necessary stuff of which it's composed.[1]

Furthermore, it seems to me that CLN explains a wide range of other data better than the hypothesis of theism. Thus, if CLN were true, then we'd expect the data of huge amounts of prima facie gratuitous human and animal suffering; we'd expect the data of divine hiddenness; we'd expect the data of radical religious diversity; we'd expect the data of scientific studies involving double-blind experiments indicating the ineffectivenss of prayer; and we'd expect the religious demographics data that we actually have. However, we wouldn't expect such data if theism were true.

Thus, it seems to me that CLN explains not only all the data appealed to in theistic arguments at least as well as theism, but it also better explains a wide range of data that is only awkwardly explained if explained at all by the hypothesis of theism. But CLN is a version of naturalism. Therefore, I conclude that naturalism is a better explanation of the range of relevant data than theism.

Some objections and replies:

Objection 1: "CLN is too weird to be true!"
Reply: True, CLN is weird. However, I don't know how to validly argue from "x is weird" to "x is false". A theory accrues support in virtue of embodying various theoretical virtues (simplicity, explantory scope, explanatory power, etc.), and so the theory stands or falls on that basis and that basis alone. Furthermore, CLN is certainly no weirder than the hypothesis of theism. For compare CLN to theism:

T: The world is composed of two really distinct kinds of substance: purely physical substances and purely immaterial substances. Furthermore, these two sorts of substances are capable of interacting with one another. In addition, there are both finite and infinite immaterial substances -- human (and perhaps animal) souls and God -- and the infinite immaterial substance created the finite immaterial substances (and perhaps the material ones, too), and created them without pre-existing materials (i.e., out of nothing).

Things get even more exotic if we move to specifically Christian theism, with its additional doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation. But the point is that both hypotheses -- theism and CLN -- include odd and problematic theses, and when one does a "cost-benefit analysis" of the two views, comparing the oddities and problematic features of the two hypotheses, it seems to me to be, at best, a wash.

In any case, it's a mistake to think that one must be a Liberal Naturalist to accept the conclusions here. One could be a Conservative or Moderate Naturalist -- or even a skeptic or agnostic -- and yet still properly accept the crucial claim here, viz., that whether it's the actual explanation of the relevant data or not, it's a better explanation of the data than theism -- or at the very least: as good an explanation of the data as theism --, in which case the data doesn't favor theism over naturalism.

Objection 2: CLN is too complex to be plausible.
Reply: Two points. First, CLN posits two sorts of entities -- abstract and concrete -- and they require separate treatment. As to the former: Since the abstract objects are posited as necessary beings, they need no explanation. That leaves us with the realm of concrete objects, and here we have postulated one type of substance, which in turn gives rise to a multiverse. Is this hypothesis complex?

Well, it's complex in one sense; in another it's not. The objector mistakenly assumes that there is only one kind of theoretical parsimony, viz., *quantitative* parsimony (i.e., the explanation postulates fewer entities). However, as David Lewis has taught us, another type is *qualitative* parsimony (i.e.,the explanation postulates fewer *kinds* of entities). And while the theistic hypothesis is a much more *quantitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (it explains all of the data in terms of just one entity, viz., a god), the CLN multiverse hypothesis is a more *qualitatively* parsimonious explanation of the data (since it explains all of the data solely in terms of one *kind* of entity, viz., Chalmersian panprotopsychist substance). And it's not clear which type of theoretical parsimony is more important here.

[1] Objection: "but I can imagine the fundamental stuff failing to exist. And since conceivability is sufficient evidence for possibility, it's possible for the fundamental stuff posited by CLN to fail to exist, in which case we have reason to doubt that such stuff is metaphysically necessary, in which case it can't explain the data of contingency." Reply: Either conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility or it isn't. If it isn't, then of course the data of the conceivable non-existence of a Chalmersian multiverse isn't sufficient evidence of its possible non-existence, in which case the objection fails. On the other hand, suppose conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility. Then since it's conceivable that both God and the Chalmersian multiverse fail to exist, then there's sufficient evidence that it's possble that both God and the Chalmersian multiverse fail to exist, in which case it looks as though no being of the relevant sort could be metaphysically necessary, in which case the jig is up for arguments from contingency, in which case contingency falls out of the range of data that needs explaining. Either way, then, the objection fails.

Interesting Recent Paper on Expressivism and Divine Command Ethics

Unwin, Nicholas. "Divine Hoorays: Some Parallels Between Expressivism and Religious Ethics", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research LXXVII No. 3 (November 2008), pp. 659-684.

Here's the abstract:
Divine law theories of metaethics claim that moral rightness is grounded in God’s commands, wishes and so forth. Expressivist theories, by contrast, claim that to call something morally right is to express our own attitudes, not to report on God’s. Ostensibly, such views are incompatible. However, we shall argue that a rapprochement is possible and beneficial to both sides. Expressivists need to explain the difference between reporting and expressing an attitude, and to address the Frege-Geach problem. Divine law theorists need to get past the Euthyphro dilemma, and to avoid moral externalism. This paper shows how a combined theory helps us to achieve this.

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...