Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Jake Chandler (University of Leuven) and Victoria S. Harrison (University of Glasgow) have co-edited what looks to be an excellent new book: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion (OUP, forthcoming).

Here's the blurb:

*A fresh approach to philosophy of religion
*Covers a range of key topics in the field
*Brings together prominent philosophers of science, epistemologists, and philosophers of religion

Probability theory promises promising to deliver an exact and unified foundation for inquiry in epistemology and philosophy of science. But philosophy of religion is also fertile ground for the application of probabilistic thinking. This volume presents original contributions from twelve contemporary researchers, both established and emerging, to offer a representative sample of the work currently being carried out in this potentially rich field of inquiry. Grouped into five parts, the chapters span a broad range of traditional issues in religious epistemology. The first three parts discuss the evidential impact of various considerations that have been brought to bear on the question of the existence of God. These include witness reports of the occurrence of miraculous events, the existence of complex biological adaptations, the apparent 'fine-tuning' for life of various physical constants and the existence of seemingly unnecessary evil. The fourth part addresses a number of issues raised by Pascal's famous pragmatic argument for theistic belief. A final part offers probabilistic perspectives on the rationality of faith and the epistemic significance of religious disagreement.

And here's the table of contents:

1: Jake Chandler and Victoria S. Harrison: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion
Part I: Testimony and Miracles
2: Benjamin C. Jantzen: Peirce on Miracles: The Failure of Bayesian Analysis
3: Tim McGrew and Lydia McGrew: The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous'
4: Luc Bovens: Does it Matter whether a Miracle-Like Event Happens to Oneself rather than to Someone Else?
Part II: Design
5: David H. Glass: Can Evidence for Design be Explained Away?
6: Richard Swinburne: Bayes, God, and the Multiverse
Part III: Evil
7: Richard Otte: Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil'
8: Michael Tooley: Inductive Logic and the Probability that God Exists: Farewell to Sceptical Theism
Part IV: Pascal's Wager
9: Alan Hájek: Blaise and Bayes
10: Paul Bartha: Many Gods, Many Wagers: Pascal's Wager Meets the Replicator Dynamics
Part V: Faith and Disagreement
11: Joshua C. Thurow: Does Religious Disagreement Actually Aid the Case for Theism?
12: Lara Buchak: Can it be it Rational to Have Faith?

ANNOUNCEMENT: The 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

The 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

Recent PhDs and current graduate students are invited to apply to participate in the 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology, a three-week long seminar organized by Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) and Michael Rota (University of St. Thomas). The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 17th to July 6th, 2012. Participants will receive a stipend of $3000, as well as room and board.

Topics and speakers:

Dualism and Materialism Chris Hill (Brown)
Hud Hudson (Western Washington)
Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers)

Freedom and Foreknowledge Linda Zagzebski (Oklahoma)
David Hunt (Whittier)

The Atonement Eleonore Stump (Saint Louis University)
Michael Rea (Notre Dame)
Resurrection Timothy O’Connor (Indiana)

Pascal’s Wager Thomas Kelly (Princeton)
Michael Rota (St. Thomas)

Neuroscience and Philosophy Hans Halvorson (Princeton)
Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA School of Medicine)

The deadline for receipt of applications is December 1, 2011.

For more information, including information on how to apply, go to

This seminar program is funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Williamson vs. Rosenberg on Naturalism -- In the New York Times

Williamson's piece can be found here, and Rosenberg's reply can be found here.

HT: Leiter Reports

UPDATE: Williamson's rejoinder to Rosenberg (here).

Quote for the Day

"It is somewhat misleading to characterize theorists like Adams and Craig as providing a theistic foundation for objective morality. This characterization can easily give the impression that, on their approaches, all objective ethical facts are explained by God. But this is not at all the case. What is really going on is that some objective ethical facts are explained by appeal to other basic ethical facts (some of which are also supernatural facts). Adams, Craig, and I all agree, then, that objective morality is somehow built into reality. We all posit a moral foundation of substantive, metaphysically necessary brute ethical facts. They also see divinity as built into reality, whereas I do not. But it is a mistake to think that on their approaches, the divinity that is built into reality provides a complete external foundation for objective morality. On both types of views, the bottom floor of objective morality rests ultimately on nothing.

The ethical shopping list of Adams, Craig, and Moreland contains items like this: (a) there is a being that is worthy of worship, (b) if the Good commands you to do something, then you are morally obligated to do it, and (c) the better the character of the commander, the more reason there is to obey his or her commands. My ethical shopping list contains items like this: (d) pain is intrinsically bad, (e) inflicting pain just for fun is morally wrong, and (f) it is just to give people what they deserve. None of us can provide an external foundation for every item on our list; each of our lists contains some brute ethical facts."

-Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism", Faith & Philosophy 26:1 (Jan 2009), 39-40.

Kraay on Theistic Multiverse Hypotheses

Although multiverse hypotheses were once commonly resisted by theistic philosophers, a number of such philosophers now see them as having great theoretical utility in natural theology and philosophical theology. As noted on other occasions, Klaas Kraay has written extensively on the relationship between theism and multiverse hypotheses. It's therefore worth pointing out that he has kindly posted his "The Theistic Multiverse: Problems and Prospects" (which is a chapter in the forthcoming book, Scientific Approaches to Philosophy of Religion (Ed. Yujin Nagasawa, Palgrave MacMillan). The chapter is at once an excellent overview of the topic, and a contribution to the current debate.

Many of his other papers can be found here.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Winners of the 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize

The 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize attempts to
identify the three best papers, in English, published in 2010 in the
areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. Out of
forty-four submissions, our selection panel has chosen the following
three winners:

W. Matthews Grant , “Can a Libertarian hold that Our Free Acts are
Caused by God?” Faith and Philosophy 27:1 (January 2010): 22-44.

David M. Holley , “Treating God’s Existence as an Explanatory
Hypothesis” American Philosophical Quarterly 47:4 (October 2010):

Yujin Nagasawa, “The Ontological Argument and the Devil,”
Philosophical Quarterly 60 (October 2010): 72-91.

For more information on this award, including instructions for
submitting a paper for the 2011 prize, go to

Exposition of Morriston's New Paper

Over at Philosophical Disquisitions, John Danaher is expositing Wes Morriston's recent paper, "Ethical Criticism of the Bible: The Case of Divinely Mandated Genocide", Sophia (2011). Below are the installments so far:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Things, Stuff, and the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (draft)

A key move in standard Leibnizian cosmological arguments is the claim that:

(UCB) The universe -- or (if the universe doesn't exhaust physical reality) all physical reality -- is a contingent being.

Now the primary means of support for UCB is a conceivability-possibility inference. Richard Taylor's use of such an inference is representative in this regard. 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 contingent 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 get around it and make legitimate use of a conceivability-possibility inference to support UCB 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.[1] 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.

I've raised worries for Craig's defense of the Leibnizian cosmological argument on other occasions. Here's another one: Craig's defense of UCB makes no real advance over Taylor's. For it seems to assume a "thing" ontology about fundamental reality, while a "stuff" ontology of fundamental reality is epistemically possible.

Let me explain a bit. For simplicity's sake, suppose there are just nine things (quarks, say), and these, in turn, are composed of a more fundamental "stuff" (say, matter-energy, or a relativistic quantum field). Suppose further that the latter is a metaphysically necessary stuff. Finally, suppose the stuff is capable of an unlimited number of modes of existing (e.g., as nine particles, as 18 smaller particles, as one big particle; as quarks to type T, as quarks of type T', etc.). If so, then while the particles -- the things -- are contingent beings,  the "stuff" (viz., matter-energy, or the quantum field) is not. But if this scenario is epistemically possible, then as with Taylor's defense of UCB, Craig's defense of UCB fails to rule out that he's conflating the contingency of things within the universe with the contingency of the stuff of which it's composed. And if that's right, it doesn't seem to me that Craig's defense of UCB makes an advance over Taylor's.

Now one might try to push Craig's point here by saying that we can adequately imagine the universe (or a universe) as composed of different matter-energy, or of matter-energy ceasing to exist. But at the very least, this isn't clear. For even if one grants that imaginability can provide sufficient justification for very many possibility claims, one might yet sensibly worry that its justification-conferring ability does not extend to states of affairs as remote from ordinary experience as the non-existence of all matter-energy, or the existence of a different kind of matter-energy. In this regard, she may find such claims to be on a par with the controversial modal premise of (say) Plantinga’s modal ontological argument (Possibly, an Anselmian Being exists), or of conceivability arguments for dualism (Possibly, I exist apart from my body).

One might object that the previous criticism relies on an arbitrarily selective form of modal skepticism, on the grounds that the demand for justification for exotic possibility claims should then apply to humdrum possibility claims as well. And since the sensible non-theist accepts the latter without argument, she should, to be consistent, accept the former. But this objection is less than persuasive. For a number of plausible accounts of the epistemology of modality have been proposed that provide a basis for distinguishing between justified humdrum possibility claims and unjustified exotic possibility claims. So, for example, it has been argued that our knowledge of metaphysical possibility is grounded in (i) our survival-conducive facility with counterfactual reasoning in ordinary contexts (e.g., Williamson, Nichols) and (ii) arguments from analogy/relevant similarity with the actual world (e.g., Hawke, yours truly). Such theories receive confirmation in a number of ways, such as their ability to explain the epistemic force of paradigm-case thought experiments (e.g., Gettier cases), as well as the lack of such conviction with respect to the more exotic modal thought experiments (involving, e.g., the possible existence of Anselmian Beings and disembodied existence). For the former thought experiment can be grounded in such accounts, while the latter cannot.

Most saliently for our purposes, it’s not at all clear how such accounts of our knowledge of metaphysical possibility could adequately support the possible non-existence of all matter-energy, or of the possible existence of a different kind of matter energy. Thus, it’s not clear how the evolutionary pressures that gave rise to our competence with counterfactual reasoning in daily life (e.g., reliable reasoning about what would happen if one tried to cross a busy intersection) would make us competent to determine something so remote from ordinary experience as the possible non-existence of all matter-energy, or of a different sort of matter-energy.

Nor are such possibility-candidates sufficiently similar to our experience and knowledge of the actual world so as to ground a solid analogical inference from the latter to the former. For the relevant sorts of experiences here would involve observations of the absolute origination and annihilation of matter-energy. But in all of our actual experiences, what we observe is relevantly dissimilar to this, viz., the mere rearrangement of preexisting materials, as well as their decomposition into simpler elements. It therefore appears that a non-theist could sensibly reject an imaginability-possibility inference in support of such exotic claims without thereby engaging in an unprincipled or arbitrarily selective form of modal skepticism.[2]

In short, it seems to me that Craig's recent defense of UCB fails to rule out the epistemic possibility of a stuff ontology of fundamental physical reality. Because of this, his defense of UCB fails to rule out that he's conflating the contingency of things within the universe with the contingency of the stuff of which it's composed. And because this was the worry that Craig's defense of UCB was supposed to avoid, it fails to make a significant advance over Taylor's defense of it.

[1] Joshua Rasmussen has suggested to me that one can also imagine the universe as composed of more or fewer quarks, and that this in turn might confer sufficient justification on UCB. Below I'll raise an objection that challenges these thought experiments as well.

[2]  A final worry: suppose we waive these concerns and grant that conceivability is a reliable guide to possibility, whether the possibilities are humdrum or exotic. Then the worry is that while we can conceive of a universe composed of different matter-energy (of different fundamental "stuff"), we can likewise conceive of a universe without God, or with a different god. But if so, then we have equal justification for thinking that God is no less a contingent being than fundamental physical reality.

Mazzy Star - I'm Gonna Bake My Biscuit

Monty Python - Argument Clinic

A classic.

Free Electronic Sample Issue of International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

Here. Articles in the issue include:

-Xu, Yingjin. "The troublesome explanandum in Plantinga’s argument against naturalism"

-Earl, Dennis. "Divine intimacy and the problem of horrendous evil"

-Snapper, Jeff A. "Paying the cost of skeptical theism"

-Crockett, Clayton. "Review of Nick Trakakis' The End of Philosophy of Religion"

ANNOUNCEMENT: 2012-2013 Fellowships and Grants: The Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame

The Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame, with generous support from the Templeton Foundation, announces the following fellowships and grants available for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Center for Philosophy of Religion Fellowships

There are five residential fellowships for the 2012 - 2013 academic year: the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship ($60,000), awarded to a distinguished senior scholar; up to two Research Fellowships ($40,000 - $50,000, depending on rank); the Frederick J. Crosson Fellowship ($45,000) reserved for foreign scholars and those outside the field of philosophy; and one Visiting Graduate Fellowship ($20,000) awarded to a graduate student in philosophy with research interests in the philosophy of religion. For further details, including application requirements, visit All materials must be received by February 1, 2012.

Analytic Theology Course Awards

These course awards provide funding for the development and implementation of courses, or course segments, in analytic theology at divinity schools and departments of theology and religious studies. The project expects to award five applicants with $15,000 each: $5,000 for the applying faculty member, and $10,000 for the host institution. For more information visit our website at and click on the “course programs” link. Applications are due March 15, 2012.

Analytic Theology Summer Stipends

These stipends provide $5,000 to fund summer research in analytic theology. Successful applicants in year one or two will automatically receive an award in year two or three if they meet the following two conditions: (a) they intend to research a project in analytic theology during the second summer, and (b) their previously funded project has been swiftly accepted for publication at a peer-reviewed journal. For further details visit All materials must be received by February 1, 2012.

Analytic Theology Post-Doctoral Fellowships

These are one-year fellowships for the 2012-2013 academic year. They provide a funded leave of absence to be spent in residence at a center for research on philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. The fellowships are open to faculty who teach in theology, religion, or divinity programs. Applicants must outline a research program that leads to scholarly publications in analytic theology or to new programs of study. Fellows receive a $60,000 stipend plus $15,000 for expenses. For details, including sample topics and application requirements, visit theofellowships.html. All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.

Analytic Theology Cluster Grants

These grants fund interdisciplinary seminars or reading groups. Each funded seminar or group has two leaders – one theologian and one philosopher – and up to eight additional participants. The leaders must be faculty members. We will award up to five Grants with a maximum $15,000 budget per grant. For details visit To apply to be a leader send a 500 word letter of intent and budget to analytictheology. by February 15, 2012. Full proposals will be invited on a competitive basis. (Prospective participants apply to leaders after funding is secured.)

Templeton Dissertation Fellowships in Early Modern Thought

These fellowships provide up to two one-year residential fellowships for the 2012 – 2013 academic year. They fund dissertation research that provides new insights into the way in which evil was treated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fellows are expected to spend the year in residence at the University of Notre Dame. Fellows receive a $25,000 fellowship plus up to $5,000 for expenses. Fellows will also have access to funding to bring in outside speakers. For further details, including application requirements, visit All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.

Templeton Dissertation Fellowships in Evil, Pain, and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

These fellowships provide up to two one-year fellowships for the 2012 – 2013 academic year. They fund research on the nature and utility of pain and suffering, and/or the relations between pain and the problem of evil. Fellows are expected to spend the year in residence at the University of Notre Dame. Each fellow receives a $25,000 award plus up to $5,000 for expenses. For details visit All materials must be received by January 15, 2012.

Kenny Pearce on the Overall-Larmer Debate on Miracles

Here. I look forward to reading through the ensuing comments.

New Philosophy of Religion Articles in Philosophy Compass

The August 2011 issue of Philosophy Compass is now out, and it contains several articles in philosophy of religion:

Naturalistic Explanation for Religious Belief (pages 552–563)
David Leech and Aku Visala

Anselmian Theism (pages 564–571)
Yujin Nagasawa

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Logic and Divine Simplicity (pages 572–574)
Anders Kraal

Now if the articles by Nagasawa and Leech & Visala should somehow find themselves in my inbox, I wouldn't mind it in the least. Just sayin'...

UPDATE: Thanks!

Philosophy Bro on Aquinas' Five Ways


Review of Ekstrom's <i>God, Suffering, and the Value of Free Will</i>

  Kevin Timpe reviews the book for NDPR .