A Quick and Dirty Refutation of Plantinga's Parity Thesis

Belief in the existence and endurance of material objects, a past, and other minds are Moorean facts; theistic belief is not; Therefore, ~parity.


Old Epistemology, New Epistemology, and Natural Theology

As we near the end of another year, it's natural to look back on the highlights of the year's events. In a similar spirit, I've been looking back on the highlights of recent and semi-recent work in philosophy of religion, with special focus on religious epistemology.  Epistemology has come a long way over the last several decades, and the insights gained along the way have, for the most part, been helpfully applied to issues in philosophy of religion. Two familiar examples include:

(i) Bayesianism and IBE: Theists (most prominently, Richard Swinburne) have employed Bayes' Theorem and inferences to the best explanation in their formulations of individual arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, etc.) and cumulative case arguments for theism. And non-theists (e.g., Paul Draper and William Rowe) have done the same for (e.g.) the problem of evil.

(ii) Epistemic externalism: Theists (most prominently, Alvin Plantinga) have argued that belief in God can be warrant-basic for a person if their beliefs are formed in a suitably reliable way, even if one doesn't know that such a belief is reliably formed.

But more recent trends include:

(iii) The epistemology of disagreement:  It seems that when a person becomes aware that an equally competent and informed person disagrees with them about an issue, this undermines their evidence to some extent.    A number of philosophers (e.g., Conee, Feldman, Kraft, et al.) have applied the point to religious propositions, arguing that disagreement between epistemic peers A and B with respect to some religious proposition P functions as at least a partial defeater for their respective beliefs about P. 

(iv) Contextualism/pragmatic encroachment: A number of philosophers (e.g., DeRose, Fantl & McGrath, et al.) have argued that whether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).  Rizzieri has brought this thesis to bear on the rationality of theistic belief; McBrayer has employed it in a defense of the skeptical theist response to the evidential problem of evil; and John Hawthorne has a research project underway that aims to justify the rationality of religous belief via appeal to a contextualism/pragmatic encroachment.  

(v) Phenomenal conservatism: A number of philosophers (e.g., Huemer, Conee, Feldman, et al.) have argued that the way things seem is at least prima facie, pro tanto justification for the way things are (absent defeaters). Chris Tucker has used phenomenal conservatism to defend the rationality of theistic belief, and Trent Dougherty recently employed something like phenomenal conservatism in his recent "devil's advocate" defense of the problem of evil in F&P.

(vi) The epistemology of testimony: Ever since at least the publication of C.A.J. Coady's Testimony: A Philosophical Study, much attention has been focused on whether testimony can function as a basic source of at least prima facie pro tanto justification for beliefs. Some theists (e.g., Thomas Crisp) have applied insights in epistemology of testimony literature to argue that it can be reasonable to believe religious claims (including, e.g., the inspiration of the Bible) on the basis of testimony.

Ruse and Coyne Critique Plantinga's New Book on Science and Religion

 Well, sort of. Their remarks can be found here and here.

Underexplored Epistemological Resources for the Cosmological Argument (and Other Arguments in Natural Theology)

Cosmological arguments standardly include a causal or explanatory premise, and proponents of cosmological arguments have argued that such premises are supported in virtue of being analytic or synthetic a priori truths, or via induction, or via claiming that they are presuppositions of reason. However, these bases are often criticized: they don't seem to be analytic or synthetic a priori truths; the sample size of evidence isn't sufficiently large or representative to support them via induction; they aren’t presuppositions of reason. 
But there are at least three more avenues of support for such premises that seem worthy of further exploration. The first has recently been explicitly appealed to, but so far as I know, the second has not:
(i) Reflective equilibrium: we have the data of our intuitions or reflective judgements about whether this or that particular case has, doesn't have, or must have a cause or sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence. We also have general causal or explanatory principles. And the goal is to eliminate the tension between the two by revising our judgements and our principles so that they are no longer in tension, but in harmony -- the cases reflect the principles, and the principles explain the cases. Perhaps it's worth exploring whether this can be done in a way that supports a version of  PSR or causal causal principle(s) sufficiently robust to play a legitimate role in a cosmological argument. Timothy O'Connor is one of the few exceptions who appeals to reflective equilibrium in his defense of the cosmological argument.
(ii) Phenomenal conservatism: the way things seem serves as at least prima facie pro tanto evidence for how things are. Therefore, if it seems to one that some causal or explanatory principle involved in a cosmological argument is true, then one could thereby receive (perhaps) sufficient support for the premise to accept it. I think William Lane Craig should take this route in his defense of the causal premise in his kalam cosmological argument, as well as his defense of a version of PSR in his Leibnizian cosmological argument (as opposed to his current "more plausible than their denials" approach, which Morriston and others rightly point out as inadequate).
 (iii) Inference to the best explanation: Perhaps the best explanation of the data of all the cases of caused or explained phenomena is some version of PSR (and not some weaker principle that doesn't require an inference to a necessary being as explanatory ultimate).
I of course don't mean to imply that the use of such epistemological resources is restricted to the cosmological argument. So, for example, they can be used to support arguments for atheism (Cf. Trent Dougherty's recent (devil's advocate) defense of the problem of evil in F&P, which employs something like phenomenal conservatism in support of a key premise).

On Mass Hallucinations and the Resurrection of Jesus


Not really a straight philosophy of religion topic, but perhaps of interest to some who visit this blog.

John Hawthorne Wins Million-Plus Grant to Work on Religious Epistemology

Here. It looks like my desire to see more application of insights from the contextualism/pragmatic encroachment literature to issues in philosophy of religion will finally be fulfilled!

HT: Leiter Reports.

Details here.

Louise Antony's NYT Piece, "Good Minus God"


Quote for the Day

God might have made us so that when we consider evidence for the non-existence of God or the unreliability of the Scriptures or the illusory nature of religious experience, the strength of our theistic belief would actually increase. Maybe all such evidence is in the end deeply misleading and God does not want us to err in matters of ultimate importance. So a student, call her “Faith", takes a philosophy of religion class from a brilliant atheist who presents convincing versions of arguments for all the above theses. She cannot see a thing wrong with any of them. But in accordance with her design-plan, the strength of Faith’s conviction in the central tenets of Christianity is thereby strengthened, not weakened. Indeed, perhaps with enough apparently sound arguments for the falsity of Christianity her belief will become maximally warranted!

Now Plantinga can, of course, say that her design plan is not like this. There are potential defeaters for God’s existence and the claims of Christianity, and we are not made to believe more strongly when we confront them. That is probably true (although given Plantinga’s assumptions about the damage that the Fall has done to our faculties where our belief in God is concerned, I am not sure how he can be confident in reading off the design-plan from our actual cognitive function). But, even if that’s right, the counter-example still remains in place. For Faith’s belief is produced by a successfully truth-aimed, properly functioning cognitive faculty operating in an appropriate environment and believed with maximal firmness. Plantinga’s epistemological theory entails that beliefs with these properties are maximally warranted – hence, they are as warranted as one’s belief in one’s own existence.

Senor, Thomas. “A Critical Review of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief”, International Philosophical Quarterly 42:3, Issue 167 (September 2002), 395-396.

New Blog Look

Hi gang,

As you can see, the blog looks a bit different than it did yesterday.  I'm not sure, though, if I'm going to keep it.  Thoughts?

Also, I haven't been able to figure out how to get the RSS feeds and links to display with the new look.  Any help with this would be greatly appreciated.


A Quick Thought About the Phenomenon of Reasonable Religious Disagreement

Here's a hypothesis I'm toying with that's inspired by recent work in the pragmatic encroachment literature and the epistemology of disagreement literature (although it employs the notions from both bodies of literature in a bit of an unorthodox way):

Suppose that A and B are true epistemic peers, and that they are aware of the same body of evidence E for some religious proposition P. E pushes A to accept P; E fails to push B to accept P; A and B bring up the topic of P, and then discuss E. After patient and careful discussion of E, A and B still disagree about whether E is sufficient to put one in a position to know (or be justified in believing) that P is true. What's going on here? Are they both epistemically in the right, or has the awareness of their disagreement deflated their evidence at least a bit, (in which case they should each move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes)? 

Here's my tentative hypothesis: It depends. For w
hether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).   Therefore, if the practical stakes for (say) A are lower than they are for B with respect to P, then it might be that A is entitled to say that she knows (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E, and B is entitled to say that she doesn't know (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E. In other words, there might be cases where both are right to hold their current propositional attitudes, even after their discussion of the evidence. On the other hand, if it turns out that the practical stakes for A and B are the same with respect to P, then both A and B ought to move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes.  

In any case, that's the basic idea. Thoughts? 

More Forthcoming Books to Look For from OUP

Leftow, Brian. God and Necessity.

  • An original account of necessity and possibility
  • A new argument for God's existence
  • A detailed theory of the mind of God
  • Engages with medieval and modern philosophy and theology
  • A landmark work at the intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of religion
Brian Leftow offers a theory of the possible and the necessary in which God plays the chief role, and a new sort of argument for God's existence. It has become usual to say that a proposition is possible just in case it is true in some 'possible world' (roughly, some complete history a universe might have) and necessary just if it is true in all. Thus much discussion of possibility and necessity since the 1960s has focussed on the nature and existence (or not) of possible worlds. God and Necessity holds that there are no such things, nor any sort of abstract entity. It assigns the metaphysical 'work' such items usually do to God and events in God's mind, and reduces 'broadly logical' modalities to causal modalities, replacing possible worlds in the semantics of modal logic with God and His mental events. Leftow argues that theists are committed to theist modal theories, and that the merits of a theist modal theory provide an argument for God's existence. Historically, almost all theist modal theories base all necessary truth on God's nature. Leftow disagrees: he argues that necessary truths about possible creatures and kinds of creatures are due ultimately to God's unconstrained imagination and choice. On his theory, it is in no sense part of the nature of God that normal zebras have stripes (if that is a necessary truth). Stripy zebras are simply things God thought up, and they have the nature they do simply because that is how God thought of them. Thus Leftow's essay in metaphysics takes a half-step toward Descartes' view of modal truth, and presents a compelling theist theory of necessity and possibility.

Table of contents:
1: Modal Basics
2: Some Solutions
3: Theist Solutions
4: The Ontology of Possibility
5: Modal Truthmakers
6: Modality and the Divine Nature
7: Deity as Essential
8: Against Deity Theories
9: The Role of Deity
10: The Biggest Bang
11: Divine Concepts
12: Concepts, Syntax, and Actualism
13: Modality: Basic Notions
14: The Genesis of Secular Modality
15: Modal Reality
16: Essences
17: Non-Secular Modalities
18: Theism and Modal Semantics
19: Freedom, Preference, and Cost
20: Explaining Modal Status
21: Explaining the Necessary
22: Against Theistic Platonism
23: Worlds and the Existence of God

Almeida, Michael. Freedom, God, and Worlds.

BlurbMichael J. Almeida presents a powerful argument which holds that several widely believed and largely undisputed objections to the idea of the existence of God are in fact just philosophical dogmas. He challenges some of the most well-entrenched principles in philosophical theology, which have served as basic assumptions in influential apriori, atheological arguments. But most theists also maintain that the principles express apriori necessary truths, including those principles that are presumed to follow from the nature of an essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient, essentially perfectly good and necessarily existing being. Among the atheological arguments that deploy these philosophical dogmas are the Logical Problem of Evil, the Logical Problem of the Best Possible World, the Logical Problem of Good Enough Worlds, the Problem of Divine Freedom, the Problem of No Best World, and the Evidential Problem of Evil. In Freedom, God, and Worlds Almeida claims that these arguments present no important challenge to the existence of an Anselmian God. Not only are these philosophical principles false, they are necessarily false.

Table of contents:

1: A Moderate Anselmian Plea
2: Metaphysical Atheological Arguments and the Free Will Defense
3: Three Important Objections
4: Unrestricted Actualization, Freedom and Morally Perfect Worlds
5: The Logical Problem of Evil Redux
6: Four Important Objections
7: Four More Objections
8: Redeeming Worlds
9: Conclusions

Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 4

It looks like it'll be a while until it hits the presses (Aug. 2012!), but as has come to be expected with the series, it looks to be very good. Below is the table of contents:

Jonathan Kvanvig: Editor's Introduction
List of Contributors
1: Yuval Avnur: In Defense of Secular Belief
2: Daniel Bonevac: Two Theories of Analogical Predication
3: William L. Craig: Nominalism and Divine Aseity
4: Neal Judisch: Meticulous Providence and Gratuitous Evil
5: Shieva Kleinschmidt: Many-One Identity and the Trinity
6: Christian Miller: Atheism and Theistic Belief
7: Paul Moser: God, Flux, and the Epistemology of Agape Struggle
8: Duncan Pritchard: Wittgensteinian Quasi-Fideism
9: Meghan Sullivan: Semantics for Blasphemy
10: Dennis Whitcomb: Grounding and Omniscience

Christopher Hitchens: RIP

                                 (photo of a younger Hitchens, taken at a protest in the 60s)

Although I could never quite understand his defense of the Iraq War during the Bush (Jr.) Administration, he was of course a great man and a sharp mind.

Slate has a nice collection of remembrances (here).

The Secular Outpost -- Revamped!

Jeff Lowder has done a great job of reviving the Secular Outpost. There is now a regular stream of interesting posts, and he has gotten a lot of excellent philosophers and other scholars on board as contributors (e.g, Graham Oppy, Louise Antony, Bradley Monton, Stephen Law, and Julian Baggini, to name a few). I have a link to the blog in the column on the right, but here is a link to save you the trouble of scrolling and searching for it.

Thomas Kelly's Paper on the Theistic Argument from Common Consent

"Consensus Gentium: Reflections on the ‘Common Consent’ Argument for the Existence of God", in Kelly Clark and Raymond Van Arragon (eds.) Evidence and Religious Belief (OUP): 135-156 (2011)

Phillip Kitcher on Talk Atheist Radio


HT: Leiter Reports


"Critics accused the president of caving in again to pressure from some Republicans on a counter-terrorism issue for fear of being painted in next year's election campaign as weak and of failing to defend America.

Human Rights Watch said that by signing the bill Obama would go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law."

Details here.

My only hope is that Obama did what he did because he thinks his concession to the GOP won't go through, on the grounds that it will be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: More doom.

"About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That's up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure."

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Monist: Special Call for Papers

96:3 (July 2013)
Naturalizing Religious Belief

Deadline for Submissions: July 31, 2012
Advisory Editor: James Beebe, University at Buffalo (jbeebe2@buffalo.edu)

The cognitive science of religion brings the methods and resources of the cognitive sciences to bear on questions about religious thought and action, such as how ordinary cognitive structures inform and constrain the transmission of religious ideas, why people believe in gods, why religious rituals tend to have the forms that they do, and why afterlife and creation beliefs are so common. Findings in the cognitive science of religion raise a variety of philosophical questions, such as whether these findings undermine, threaten or explain away religious belief; whether those who believe in the supernatural can consistently accept a strongly naturalistic explanation of those beliefs; and whether traditional notions of religious belief are compatible with the view that explicit expressions of religious commitment are often post hoc rationalizations of intuitive but often unconscious inclinations of evolved mental structures. Contributions are invited that address these and other philosophical questions raised by the cognitive science of religion.

Link to the site: here.
Submission guidelines: here.

Plantinga in the News (Again)


HT: M.C.

New RSS Feeds

I've recently added two new RSS feeds in the bar on the right:  (i) one announcing the latest calls for papers, talks, and conferences of interest to philosophers of religion, and (ii) one for the latest papers in philosophy of religion.[*] I hope you find them useful.

Together with the extant RSS feeds for new and forthcoming issues of the standard philosophy of religion speciality journals, the blog now provides a single location for virtually all the latest available work in philosophy of religion.

[*]In providing these features, I'm indebted to David Chalmers and David Bourget for their extremely helpful philosophical tools, PhilPapers and PhilEvents.


HT: C.L.

Deng on Carnap, Le Poidevin and Theism

Deng, Natalja. "Questions about ‘Internal and external questions about God’", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

Proposal for a New Entry in the Philosophical Lexicon

craig, v. (a) to engage in dialectically illegitimate argumentative maneuvering, such as (e.g.) construing an interlocutor as offering a rebutting defeater for P when it's more charitable to construe them as offering an undercutting defeater for P[1]; (b) to maintain a somewhat positive image of one's positions in part by choosing not to address, mention, or cite the strongest criticisms of them; (c) to take up, critique, and/or ridicule an uncharitable construal of the theses and arguments of one's interlocutor.

[1] Relatedly: to infer or otherwise assume that because a reply fails to rebut P, it also fails to undercut P.

Stephen Law's New Paper on Plantinga's EAAN

We've noted Stephen Law's critiques of Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) on other occasions. His latest critique is in the current issue of Analysis. Here is the link

Some Great Papers from Schellenberg Now Available Online

-(forthcoming). "Skepticism as the Beginning of Religion", In Ingolf Dalferth (ed.), Skeptical Faith. Mohr Siebeck.

-(2010) "Divine Hiddenness", in Paul Draper & Charles Talliaferro (eds.), A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

-(2009). "The Evolutionary Answer to the Problem of Faith and Reason", in Jonathan Kvanvig (ed.), Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, vol. 2.

-(2009). "Why Am I a Nonbeliever? I Wonder...", in Udo Schuklenk & Russell Blackford (eds.), 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Wiley-Blackwell.

Maitzen's Recent Lecture, "God vs. Morality"

Stephen Maitzen (Acadia University) recently gave an excellent public lecture -- "God vs. Morality" -- at Amherst College in September. Here is the link.

The file is about 79 minutes, but the lecture goes until only 39:05, at which point the Q&A begins.

Required Reading

Schellenberg, J.L."God, Free Will, and Time: The Free Will Offense Part II", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, forthcoming (Published Online Nov 2011).

As indicated in the title, the paper further develops Schellenberg's line of argument in his "The Free Will Offense" (IJPR 56, pp. 1-15), and ch. 12 of his The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (Cornell UP, 2007).

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

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 uncharitable at best, and mistaken 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's criticism is 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]

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 going from a state of not having traversed to having traversed an infinite series of events in a beginningless past. The only sort of scenario that involves a transition from a finite to an infinite traversal is one involving a beginning of the traversal at some point. And on the most charitable and forceful interpretation of Mackie's criticism, this is why he says that the proponent of the kalam argument 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 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.[*]

[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.
[*] An exposition of the standard criticisms of Craig's philosophical arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites can be found here.

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...