Roundtable Discussion on the Problem of Evil

...with Trent Dougherty, Sam Newlands, and Meghan Sullivan (hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion).

Why Mainstream Historical Jesus Scholars Think Christianity is False

An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet

(Summary case. For an example of the case spelled out in some detail, read this piece by Dale Allison. and this series of posts.)

Since the publication of Albert Schweitzer's magisterial The Quest of the Historical Jesus in 1906, the mainstream, middle-of-the-road view among historical Jesus scholars (e.g., E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen et al.) is that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.  This is because it best explains the various bits of tradition about Jesus that we have most reason to think are authentic better than any competing hypothesis about those bits of tradition. Here's a sampling of data the hypothesis naturally explains: 

D1. Jesus' central teaching was about the coming of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven, which is a thoroughly eschatological concept in ancient Jewish literature.

D2. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.

D3. Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.

D4. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).

D5. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).

D6. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings. E.g., the disciples must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man” comes; Jesus' statement that even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus).

D7. Relatedly, Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic" (e.g., don’t divorce, radical forgiveness, don’t judge others, love one’s enemies, etc.). This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation, and that all needed to repent and prepare for its arrival.

D78 Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

D9. Jesus gathered twelve disciples, which is the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. He also said they were to sit on twelve thrones and serve as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. This reflects the common expectation that at the end of days, all twelve tribes would return to the land. The twelve are a symbolic representation of restored Israel.

D10. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" talk. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.

D11. Jesus’ base followers were all considered to represent the “bottom” of society in his day: the poor, sinners, prostitutes, outcasts, tax collectors, lepers, and the demon-possessed. This is perfectly in line with the standard apocalyptic doctrine of the reversal of fortunes when the kingdom of God comes: “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”.

D12. Jesus performed many exorcisms, which he explicitly identified  with the in-breaking of the kingdom of God on Earth and arrival of the final eschatological events ("But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you." Luke 11:20). In relation to his exorcisms, Jesus spoke of Satan being cast out of the heavens ("I watched Satan falling from heaven like a flash of lightning." Luke 10:10), and of tying up and plundering Satan ("No one can enter a strongman's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strongman; then indeed can the house be plundered." Mark 3:27). Satan and his minions were being cast out of power and bound up, and the power of the arrival of God's eschatological kingdom on Earth was taking its place. As Dale Allison emphasizes, "These are very strong statements. It is not just that the devil is meeting opposition but rather he is being routed--as people expected him to be in the latter days. So are we not invited to believe that Jesus . . .given his eschatological convictions, associated the defeat of Satan in his ministry with Satan's expected defeat before the eschatological coming of the kingdom?" Allison, "The Eschatology of Jesus", p. 280).

D13. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration, and his subsequent activities there, are best explained in terms of his apocalyptic message and his perceived role in proclaiming it. Jesus went to the temple during the Passover Festival, and spent many days teaching about his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming kingdom of God. The apocalyptic message included the idea that the temple in Jerusalem would also be destroyed.

D14. Jesus caused a disturbance in the temple itself, which appears to have been a symbolic enactment of his apocalyptic teaching about the temple’s destruction.

D15. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and Jesus’ subsequent arrest, is best explained in terms of Judas’ betraying to the religious authorities (the Sadducees and the chief priests) Jesus’ teaching (to his inner circle of disciples) that he would be the King of the Jews in the coming Kingdom of God.

D16. Jesus was executed on the charge of political sedition, due to his claim that he was the King of the Jews. His execution was therefore directly related to his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.

D17. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D18. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims

D19. Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn) etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of Jesus.

D20. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.

D21. Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first"): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.

D22. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.

D23. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus' putative resurrection was (to use Paul's terminology) the "first fruits" of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. This is an agricultural metaphor. When farmers reaped and ate the first fruits of the harvest, they would then reap the full harvest the very next day -- the "general" harvest was "imminent", as it was "inaugurated" with the reaping of the first-fruits. Similarly, the earliest Christians believed that the final judgement and the general resurrection were imminent, given their belief that Jesus' resurrection was itself the inaugurating event of the general resurrection and the end of all things. Thus, there is a continuity between the beliefs of the early Christians and the beliefs of many Jews of his time: Jesus' resurrection was fundamentally construed in these eschatological terms.

(This is just a sampling. For more, see, e.g., this piece)

But suppose all of this is wrong -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this generation” in the way it seems. Still, Jesus did say that the end would come soon, and his apostles said that these were “the last days” etc.

Furthermore, consider:

D24. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:

-The author is talking about events within his day

-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.

-Using cipher language, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to). Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be imminent.

-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.

And so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end. But if so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite simply a false prophet, in which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):

"You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."

And here's another:

"The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)

It needs to be emphasized that this line of reasoning isn't controversial among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics. I'm not talking about a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier. Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning. Why are they still Christians, you ask? I'll tell you: by giving unnatural, ad hoc explanations of the data. For example, Meier gets around the problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels); Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem (Oh, really? So are we also to think that since he's already come again, he's not coming back? Or perhaps there will be a *third* coming? But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that, like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and the gathering of all the elect? And again, what about the author of Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?). Are you convinced by these responses? Me neither. And now you know why nobody outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.

To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.

Notice that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz., that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as asserting that the end would occur in his lifetime. This isn't the claim I'm making. Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was an eschatological prophet -- the end time message was what he was all about. It wasn't tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"

Putting it all together, we get the following abductive argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:

H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.

H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.

And let D1-D24 be the data sketched above. Then the argument can be expressed as follows:

1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D24 than H2 (i.e., simpler, wider explanatory scope, more conservative, etc.).

2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D24 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.


3. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.

I'd like to mention a related point. If the mainstream scholars of the historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. For it seems extremely unlikely that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the passage from Deuteronomy above). In any case, it would have been interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet" account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian ProphetE.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of JesusPaula Fredriksen's From Jesus to ChristFredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the JewsGeza Vermes' The Changing Faces of Jesus, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A quick case that utilizes some of the lines of data mentioned above can be found in Allison's "A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology", JBL 113:4 (1994): 651-66, and his "The Eschatology of Jesus". For a sample case spelled out a bit in popular form, see this series of post son Ehrman's book mentioned above.

New Critique of Adams' Finite and Infinite Goods

Decosimo, David. Intrinsic Goodness and Contingency, Resemblance and Particularity: Two Criticisms of Robert Adams's Finite and Infinite Goods", Studies in Christian Ethics 25 (4):418-441 (2012)

Abstract: Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods is one of the most important and innovative contributions to theistic ethics in recent memory. This article identifies two major flaws at the heart of Adams’s theory: his notion of intrinsic value and his claim that ‘excellence’ or finite goodness is constituted by resemblance to God. I first elucidate Adams’s complex, frequently misunderstood claims concerning intrinsic value and Godlikeness. I then contend that Adams’s notion of intrinsic value cannot explain what it could mean for countless finite goods to be intrinsically valuable. Next, I articulate a criticism of his Godlikeness thesis altogether unlike those he has previously addressed: I show that, on Adams’s own account of Godlikeness, a diverse myriad of excellences could not possibly count as resembling God. His theory thus fails to account for a whole world of finite goods. I defend my two criticisms against objections and briefly sketch a more Aristotelian and Christian way forward.

Anyone have a copy?

Quote of the Day

"It's like the idea that Americans have a fundamental constitutional right to own automatic assault weapons: its consequences apart, it's simply a very funny idea, and there's nothing much one can do about it except to make a joke of it. You certainly wouldn't want to invest much time in an argument with someone who would believe it in the first place."

-Peter van Inwagen

A Comedian's Tweet on the Problem of Evil

"Shouldn't the world be just a teensy bit better?"

-Michael Ian Black

Best one-line expression of the problem of evil I've ever heard.

What's Wrong With Plantinga's Proper Functionalism?

I. Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology and His Mature Account of Warranted Belief
Since the 60s, Alvin Plantinga has been arguing that belief in God is "properly basic". That is, like belief in material objects, the past, and other minds, belief in God can be rational in a direct, non-inferential way, wholly apart from propositional evidence and argument. This thesis constitutes the core idea of his version of so-called "Reformed Epistemology".

Plantinga's mature defense of his thesis is grounded in a proper functionalist version of epistemic externalism. Plantinga summarizes his account as follows:

"Put in a nutshell, then, a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced by cognitive faculties [e.g., perception, memory, introspection, reason, and testimony -EA] functioning  properly (subject to no dysfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S's kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth."[1]

So that's what's required for a belief to have any warrant at all on Plantinga's account. But he allows that warrant admits of degrees, and he ties the degree of warrant a belief enjoys to the degree of firmness with which it is believed: "We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it."[2] Thus, for such a belief to have a degree of warrant sufficient for knowledge, it must be held with a very high degree of firmness.

Putting these points together, Plantinga's account can be summed up as follows:
I.   Conditions of warrant are not met = no warrant (whether the belief is held firmly or not)
II.  Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.
III. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.

So that's Plantinga's account of warranted belief in a nutshell. But how does this account connect to his account of warranted theistic belief in particular?

II. Plantinga's Mature Account of Warranted Theistic Belief: The A/C Model[3]
Plantinga argues that it's epistemically possible (consistent with what we know or reasonably believe) that God has designed us in such a way that we are naturally endowed with a cognitive faculty -- what he (following John Calvin) calls the sensus divinitatis -- that, when functioning properly in an epistemically congenial environment, spontaneously and reliably produces true beliefs about God. So, for example, when one looks at the starry heavens, the sensus divinitatis is (when functioning properly) naturally disposed to spontaneously trigger the belief, "God made all this"; when doing something wrong, it's disposed to trigger the belief, "God disapproves of what I've done"; etc. Therefore, if such belief meets all of the conditions of warrant  -- viz., (a) it's produced by a properly functioning cognitive faculty (viz., the sensus divinitatis), (b) the faculty is successfully aimed at truth, and (c) the environment in which such beliefs are formed is epistemically congenial --, Plantinga's account entails that such belief enjoys at least some measure of warrant. And if (d) such belief is held with a very high degree of firmness, the degree of warrant it enjoys is sufficient to constitute knowledge (assuming the belief isn't subject to undefeated defeaters).[4]

We've now looked at Plantinga's account of warranted belief in general and his account of warranted theistic belief in particular. It is now time to take a look at his account of warranted Christian belief.

III. Plantinga's Mature Account of Warranted Christian Belief: The Extended A/C Model[5]
Very roughly, on Plantinga’s model of warranted Christian belief, the Holy Spirit acts on the believer by repairing the sensus divinitatis  from the ravages of sin, so that it naturally, spontaneously, and reliably produces true belief about God in the basic (i.e., non-inferential) way. It also repairs the person's affective equipment, so that it is no longer hostile to God and his purposes, but is rather attracted to them and delights in them. Finally, the Holy Spirit functions as an analogue to a properly functioning cognitive faculty by acting directly on the "heart" of a person to produce belief in the core truths of Christianity (what Plantinga calls the Great Things of the Gospel) when they are presented to them (if the person wills to accept the gospel message).  Therefore, as with warranted theistic belief as described in Plantinga's A/C model,  if Christian belief formed in the way described in his Extended A/C model meets all the conditions of warrant, i.e., (a) it's produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties[6], (b) the faculties are successfullly aimed at truth, and (c) the environment in which they're formed is epistemically congenial, then it enjoys at least some measure of warrant. And if (d) (due to the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit) the belief is held with a very high degree of firmness, the degree of warrant it enjoys is sufficient to constitute knowledge (again, assuming the belief isn't subject to undefeated defeaters).

We've now seen a sketch of Plantinga's account of warranted belief in general, warranted theistic belief, and warranted Christian belief. What to make of these accounts? I mention eight criticisms below from the literature that have real bite (for more elaboration, click on the links).

 IV. Criticisms of Plantinga's Account of Warranted Belief that Have Real Bite
With respect to his accounts of warranted theistic and Christian belief: (i) His analysis of warranted Christian belief can't adequately account for the variability of belief among Christians[7]; (ii) his postulation of a sensus divinitatis in human beings is at odds with the empirical evidence regarding the demographics of theistic belief[8]; and (ironically) (iii) his account entails that the belief of most Christians has little by way of warrant[9]. And of course there's (iv) the Great Pumpkin Objection. But deeper problems lie with his basic account of warrant (see below).

With respect to his account of warranted belief in general: (i) His case for a theistic version of proper functionalism is undercut[10]; indeed, (ii) his theistic version of proper function entails that no beliefs have warrant[11]; (iii) his proper functionalist amendment to straight reliabilism is unmotivated[12]; and (iv) his account of warrant is subject to counterexamples[13] with respect to both to the necessity and sufficiency of the conditions he proposes.

For these reasons, Plantinga's proper functionalism fails to show that Christian or theistic belief can be warranted in the basic or non-inferential way, or even how beliefs can be warranted in general.

V. A Final Note on Plantinga's Methodology
I'll close with a worrisome point about Plantinga's methodology made by Tyler Wunder.  Consider the two main types of analyses/accounts of a concept or property Plantinga deploys in his warrant trilogy:
(i) The strict one of logically necessary and sufficient conditions for concept application.

(ii) A comparatively lax one according to which the logically necessary and sufficient conditions need only apply to a small set of "core", paradigm cases to which the target concept applies. The "penumbral" cases -- i.e., cases where it's at least somewhat less clear that the target concept applies in the most literal sense -- need not satisfy the stricter standards of satisfying the logically necessary and sufficient conditions spelled out in the relevant analysis.
Plantinga applies the strict type-(i) analysis to views he doesn't like, but applies the relaxed type-(ii) analysis to his own accounts of warrant and of proper function. Pending some principled basis for applying this double-standard, such a method of evaluating his own views vis-a-vis others appears to be illegitimate. Let's see how Plantinga's use of this double-standard plays out with the two key notions at issue here: the concept of warrant and the concept of proper function.

A. Double-standards for his concept of warrant
As alluded to above, Plantinga himself rejects the strict, type-(i) standards for satisfactory philosophical analyses when it comes to his own account of warrant. As he puts it:

"I must acknowledge a complication with respect to my way of thinking of warrant. I aim at something in the neighborhood of an analysis of warrant: an account or exploration of our concept of warrant, a concept nearly all of us have and regularly employ. (As we all know, desperate difficulties best any attempt to say precisely what analysis is.) Thus at the least I should be looking for necessary and sufficient conditions. But I very much doubt that there is any short and elegant list of conditions at once severally necessary and jointly sufficient for warrant. This is a way in which philosophy differs from mathematics; and epistemology differs more from mathematics, along these lines, than, for example, philosophy of logic or the metaphysics of modality. Our concept of warrant is too complex to yield to analysis by way of a couple of austerely elegant clauses."(Warrant and Proper Function, ix)

In the place of the strict, type-(i) standards for adequate analysis, Plantinga states the conditions for the more lax, type-(ii) standards for adequate analysis mentioned above:

"The structure of [warrant], I believe, involves a central picture, a group of central paradigms – clear and unambiguous cases of knowledge – surrounded by a penumbral belt of analogically related concepts, concepts related by different analogies and standing in different degrees of closeness to the aboriginal paradigms. Between the central core area and this penumbral belt there is a more shadowy area of borderline possible cases, cases where it isn’t really clear whether what we have is a case of warrant in the central sense, or a case of one of the analogically extended concepts, or neither of the above; and beyond the penumbral belt we have another area of borderline cases. Hence perhaps a good way to characterize our system of analogically related concepts of warrant is to give first, the conditions necessary and sufficient for the paradigmatic core. (Even here, as we shall see, there is no stylishly sparse set of necessary and sufficient conditions: various qualifications, additions and subtractions are necessary.) Second, what is needed is an exploration of some of the analogical extensions, with an explanation of the analogical bases of the extensions. This way of proceeding is less elegant and pleasing and more messy than the analysis that we learned at our mother’s knee: it is also more realistic. (Warrant and Proper Function, ix)

Thus, as we've pointed out above, Plantinga thinks the necessary and sufficient conditions of a proper analysis need only apply to the “core” or paradigm cases; proposed counter-examples that only apply to the “penumbral” cases are not successful counter-examples to the proposed analysis of a given concept. But Plantinga’s proposed counter-examples to naturalistic analyses of function and proper function appear to involve just the penumbral cases. But if so, then if we apply such relaxed standards to naturalistic analyses of function and proper function, then Plantinga’s proposed counter-examples appear to be unsuccessful.

B. Double-standards for his concept of proper function
Again, Plantinga himself rejects the strict, type-(i) standard of analysis when it comes to his own “intelligent design" account of proper function:

“Perhaps it is true that our concept of proper function doesn’t have non-trivial necessary and sufficient conditions, but if that’s true, it is not in my opinion a defect in the concept; in particular, it isn’t grounds for supposing the concept unintelligible. (Many magnificently intelligible concepts do not have nontrivial necessary and sufficient conditions – for example, red, horse, and belief). (Plantinga, “Reliabilism, Analyses, and Defeaters”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (1995), pp. 454-455.)

But if Plantinga accepts such relaxed standards of analysis for his own accounts, then it’s not clear what principled grounds he could offer against the naturalist applying the same standards to naturalistic accounts of proper function. But if not, then since Plantinga's proposed counter-examples to naturalistic accounts of proper function all appear to involve only "penumbral" cases, it looks as though his proposed counter-examples against such accounts are unsuccessful.
[1] Warranted Christian Belief, p. 156.
[2] Ibid.
[3] (Plantinga calls his account of warranted theistic belief The A/C Model, inspired as it is by the writings of Aquinas and Calvin.)  The following is a rough summary of some key points in ch. 6 of Warranted Christian Belief.
[4] Question: If all human beings are endowed with a sensus divinitatis, then why do very many people fail to form theistic belief -- at least in the basic, non-inferential way Plantinga describes? Answer: The sensus divinitatis has been damaged by the Fall of Man and human sin. More on this in the next section.
[5] The following is a very rough summary of some key points in chs. 7-9 of Warranted Christian Belief.
[6] This part is a bit tricky. For, again, according to the model, the Holy Spirit doesn't produce warranted Christian belief via the cognitive faculty of the sensus divinitatis. Rather, it produces it by acting directly on the "heart" of the person. Therefore, strictly speaking, specifically Christian belief isn't produced by a reliable cognitive faculty, but rather by a reliable process. As you might have guessed, people have raised concerns about this. See, for example, Craig and Moreland's Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003), pp. 168-169; Beilby, James. Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga's Religious Epistemology (Ashgate, 2005), pp.151-153.
[7] Cf. Beilby, Epistemology as Theology, pp. 153-156.
[8] Cf. Maitzen, Stephen. "Divine Hiddenness and the Demographics of Theism" (Religious Studies 42 (2006), pp. 177-191.
[9] See, for example, Beilby. "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief", in Peter-Baker, Deane. Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 146; DeRose, Keith."Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?" APA Eastern talk, 1998. Available here; Chignell, Andrew. "Epistemology for Saints: Alvin Plantinga's Magnum Opus", Books & Culture (March/April 2002), p. 21.
[10] Cf. Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function”, Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224; Bardon, Adrian. “Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction”, Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (Jan. 2007), pp. 47-64; Graham, Peter. "Intelligent Design and Selective History: Two Sources of Purpose and Plan" (in Jonathan Kvanvig, ed. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Volume 3, 2011). (A link to the paper can be found here)
[11] In addition to my formulation of the objection at the link above, see R. Douglass Geivett and Greg Jesson. "Plantinga's Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology", Philosophia Christi 3:2, pp. 329-340.
[12] Feldman, Richard. “Proper Functionalism”, Nous 27 (1993), pp. 34-50.
[13] See, for example, Greco, J. 2003. “Virtue and Luck, Epistemic and Otherwise,” Metaphilosophy 34:3, 353-6; Lehrer, Keith. "Proper Function vs. Systematic Coherence", in Kvanvig, Jonathan. Warrant in Contemporary Epistemology: Essays in Honor of Plantinga's Theory of Knowledge (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), pp. 25-46, esp. pp. 32-33; Feldman, “Proper Functionalism”,  pp. 34-50; Senor, Thomas. “A Critical Review of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief”, International Philosophical Quarterly 42:3, Issue 167 (September 2002), 395-396.

Quote of the Day

" supposition is that most Christians would be unimpressed if they were told that the explanation of how Christian beliefs could have warrant could also be used by Advaita Vedanta Hindus, ‘Voodoo Epistemologists,’ and maybe even atheists. They would, I think, reject Plantinga’s Extended A/C Model as a good explanation of the epistemic status of their religious beliefs and maybe conclude that this state of affairs was supportive of some version of religious pluralism. Of course, Plantinga would be pleased by neither of these conclusions. In the final analysis, therefore, a consideration of the Great Pumpkin Objection focuses attention on what may be the most disturbing problem with his approach to religious epistemology – its applicability to Christian belief."

-Beilby, James. "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief", in Baker, Peter-Deane (ed.). Alvin Plantinga (Contemporary Philosophy in Focus Series), p. 145 (Kindle edition).

Alter and Nagasawa's Explication and (Partial) Defense of Russellian Monism

As longtime readers of this blog know, I'm sympathetic to Russellian monism. Torin Alter and Yujin Nagasawa provide a clear explication and partial defense of the view in "What is Russellian Monism?", Journal of Consciousness Studies 19, pp. 67-95.  Here's the abstract:

Russellian monism offers a distinctive perspective on the relationship 
between the physical and the phenomenal. For example, on one version of the view, 
phenomenal properties are the categorical bases of fundamental physical properties, 
such as mass and charge, which are dispositional. Russellian monism has prominent 
supporters, such as Bertrand Russell, Grover Maxwell, Michael Lockwood, and David 
Chalmers. But its strengths and shortcomings are often misunderstood. In this paper 
we try to eliminate confusions about the view and defend it from criticisms. We 
present its core and distinguish different versions of it. We then compare these 
versions with traditional theories, such as physicalism, dualism, and idealism. We also 
argue that the knowledge argument and the conceivability argument are consistent 
with Russellian monism and that existing arguments against the view, such as the 
argument from weirdness, are not decisive. We conclude that Russellian monism is an 
attractive view that deserves serious consideration.

J.L. Schellenberg's New Website

Leading philosopher of religion J.L. Schellenberg has an excellent new website. The site includes several new papers not available elsewhere, recent notes on divine hiddenness, access to the trilogy (now available in paperback!), and information about his forthcoming book, Evolutionary Religion (with OUP), among other things. Check it out!

UPDATE: Schellenberg has kindly added an extract from Evolutionary Religion.

New iPhones App for Philosophers


H/T Leiter Reports

Lovering on Immoral Theistic Belief

Lovering, Rob. "On the Morality of Having Faith that God Exists", Sophia 51:1 (2012), 17-30.

AbstractMany theists who identify themselves with the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) maintain that it is perfectly acceptable to have faith that God exists. In this paper, I argue that, when believing that God exists will affect others, it is prima facie wrong to forgo attempting to believe that God exists on the basis of sufficient evidence. Lest there be any confusion: I do not argue that it is always wrong to have faith that God exists, only that, under certain conditions, it can be.

The Secular Outpost: Paul Draper's Essay, "Darwin's Argument from Evil"...

The Secular Outpost: Paul Draper's Essay, "Darwin's Argument from Evil"...: The entire chapter is available for free courtesy of Google Books. You may need to be logged into a Google account in order to view this. ...

Absolutely essential reading.

New Paper on the Cosmological Argument

Gustavo E. Romero and Daniela Perez. "New remarks on the cosmological argument", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 72:2 (October 2012), 103-113.

Abstract: We present a formal analysis of the Cosmological Argument in its two main forms: that due to Aquinas, and the revised version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument more recently advocated by William Lane Craig. We formulate these two arguments in such a way that each conclusion follows in first-order logic from the corresponding assumptions. Our analysis shows that the conclusion which follows for Aquinas is considerably weaker than what his aims demand. With formalizations that are logically valid in hand, we reinterpret the natural language versions of the premises and conclusions in terms of concepts of causality consistent with (and used in) recent work in cosmology done by physicists. In brief: the Kalam argument commits the fallacy of equivocation in a way that seems beyond repair; two of the premises adopted by Aquinas seem dubious when the terms `cause' and `causality' are interpreted in the context of contemporary empirical science. Thus, while there are no problems with whether the conclusions follow logically from their assumptions, the Kalam argument is not viable, and the Aquinas argument does not imply a caused origination of the universe. The assumptions of the latter are at best less than obvious relative to recent work in the sciences. We conclude with mention of a new argument that makes some positive modifications to an alternative variation on Aquinas by Le Poidevin, which nonetheless seems rather weak.

Announcement: Workshop on Religious Epistemology, Contextualism, and Pragmatic Encroachment

Workshop on Religious Epistemology, Contextualism, and Pragmatic Encroachment

Oxford University 13 &14 March 2013

The New Insights and Directions in Religious Epistemology project at Oxford University invites the submission of papers related to the application of contextualism and pragmatic encroachment to any question in the philosophy of religion or analytic theology.

Papers should be suitable for blind review and be no longer than 3000 words in length. Submissions should be accompanied by a cover letter including the name, affiliation, and contact details of the author.

Papers should be submitted to

Submission deadline is January 15, 2013.

Trisel's New Papers on Divine Silence and on the Value of Unintended Lives

Trisel, Brooke Alan. "God's Silence as an Epistemological Concern", Philosophical Forum 43:4 (2012), 383-393.

Here's the abstract:
Throughout history, many people, including Mother Teresa, have been troubled by God’s silence. In spite of conflicting interpretations of the Bible, God has remained silent. If God exists and he created humanity as a means to fulfilling a purpose, then one would think that God would have clarified his purpose and our role by now. To help God carry out his purpose, we would need to have a clear understanding of our role. Thus, by failing to clarify our role, God would be undermining himself in achieving the purpose he conceived, which would not make sense. Is there a good reason that explains God’s silence or is God’s silence evidence that humanity was not created by God as a means to fulfilling a purpose? I will argue for the latter view. In the companion article “Intended and Unintended Life,” I will then argue that one’s life can be meaningful regardless of whether one’s own life or life in general was intended.

Here is the link to the companion article, "Intended and Unintended Life", (same issue), and here is the abstract:
Some people feel threatened by the thought that life might have arisen by chance. What is it about “chance” that some people find so threatening? If life originated by chance, this suggests that life was unintended and that it was not inevitable. It is ironic that people care about whether life in general was intended, but may not have ever wondered whether their own existence was intended by their parents. If it does not matter to us whether one's own existence was intended by one's parents, as will be hypothesized, then why should it matter whether there was some remote intent behind the creation of the first unicellular organism(s) billions of years ago? I will discuss three possible scenarios by which life might have originated. I will then argue that, in regard to whether one’s individual life can be meaningful, it does not matter whether life was intended or arose by chance. If complex life was unintended and is rare in this universe, this is not a reason to disparage life, but a reason to appreciate and value our existence.

John Turri's New Critique of Ontolological Arguments

Turri, John. "Doomed to Fail: The Sad Epistemological Fate of Ontological Arguments", in Miroslaw Szatkowski, ed. Ontological Proofs Today (Ontos Verlag, forthcoming).

Quote of the Day

...why may not the material universe be the necessarily existent Being, according to this pretended explication of necessity? We dare not affirm that we know all the qualities of matter; and for aught we can determine, it may contain some qualities which, were they known, would make its non-existence appear as great a contradiction as that twice two is five. I find only one argument employed to prove that the material world is not the necessarily existent being; and this argument is derived from the contingency both of the matter and the form of the world. 'Any particle of matter', it is said, 'may be conceived to be annihilated; and any form may be conceived to be altered. Such an annihilation or alteration, therefore, is not impossible'. But it seems a great partiality not to perceive, that the same argument extends equally to the Deity, so far as we have any conception of him; and that the mind can at least imagine him to be non-existent, or his attributes to be altered. It must be some unknown, inconceivable qualities, which can make his non-existence appear impossible, or his attributes unalterable. And no reason can be assigned, why these qualities may not belong to matter.

-from Part IX of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

PSR Poll

Hi gang,

I'm taking a poll. For those who accept a strong version of PSR (i.e., one that requires a sufficient reason for the existence of both objects and states of affairs). What is the basis for your acceptance of PSR? (i) Rational intuition? (ii) Phenomenal conservatism? (iii) Inference to the best explanation? (iv) Enumerative induction? (v) Reflective equilibrium? Is it (vi) a presupposition of reason? Is it (vii) properly basic? Something else? If your answer is (iii), (iv), or (v), please explain the data that a strong version of PSR aims to explain. Inquiring minds want to know.


A Slew of Excellent New Papers from Stephen Maitzen

"Questioning the Question," forthcoming in The Puzzle of Existence: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?, ed. Tyron Goldschmidt (Routledge)

"'Agnosticism', Skeptical Theism, and Moral Obligation," forthcoming in Skeptical Theism: New Essays, ed. Trent G. Dougherty and Justin P. McBrayer (Oxford University Press)

"Atheism and the Basis of Morality," forthcoming in What Makes Us Moral?, ed. A. W. Musschenga and Anton van Harskamp (Springer)

"The Moral Skepticism Objection to Skeptical Theism," forthcoming in A Companion to the Problem of Evil, ed. Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (Wiley-Blackwell)

More of Maitzen's excellent work in philosophy of religion can be found here.

Nice Exploration of Koons' New Paper on Divine Command Theory

Over at Philosophical Disquisitions, John Danaher is exploring Jeremy Koons' interesting new paper on divine command theory. Here is the first post in his series on the article.

New Paper on Skeptical Theism

Tucker, Chris. "Why Skeptical Theism isn't Skeptical Enough", in Dougherty, Trent and Justin McBrayer, eds. Skeptical Theism: New Essays (OUP, forthcoming).

Multiple Choice

Some criticize the Free Will Response to the problem of evil, claiming that: 
a. If God’s free, then it’s possible to free and never do evil; and if God’s not free, then free will must not be one of the greatest goods
b. If there’s freedom in heaven, then it’s possible to be free and never do evil; if there’s no freedom in heaven, then free will isn’t one of the greatest goods
c. The good of free will doesn’t outweigh the bad of all the evil in the world
d. Even if free will justifies moral evil, it doesn’t justify natural evil
e. All of the above

Quote of the Day

If the HOT-account [i.e., the higher-order thought account -EA] of phenomenal consciousness were correct and if animals lacked the capacity for HOTs, then animals would be incapable of experiencing pain. . . Are we justified in rejecting the HOT-account of phenomenal consciousness, i.e., do we have evidence that the HOT-account is false? The answer is "Yes." First, we have reason to think that the HOT-account of phenomenal consciousness is false when applied to humans, because human infants and severely retarded human beings experience (morally significant) pain, even though they aren't capable of forming HOTs.

We also have independent evidence that many animals are capable of experiencing pain, evidence that parallels the evidence we have for thinking our fellow humans are capable of feeling pain: We witness pain behavior, not just reflex actions to noxious stimuli (protective pain), but subsequent pain-induced behavioral modification caused by bodily damage (restorative pain); we observe significant anatomical and neurophysiological similarity between humans and many animals (including all mammals and most vertebrates); endogenous serotonergic and opioid pain-control mechanisms are present in all mammals (Why would organisms incapable of feeling pain have endogenous pain-control systems?); efferent and afferent nerves run throughout their bodies; analgesics and anesthetics stop animals from exhibiting pain behavior, presumably because these substances prevent the pain itself in much the way they prevent pain in humans; and there is compelling experimental evidence that the capacity to feel pain enhances survival value in animals, based on the self-destructive tendencies displayed by animals that have been surgically deafferented. Based on this cumulative observational, analogical, and experimental evidence, we are clearly justified in accepting that animals can feel pain, and so, we're justified in rejecting any neo-Cartesian explanation that denies animals have this ability, based on what we justifiably accept. Consequently, all neo-Cartesian CDs fail, for they fail to meet even the low bar that Murray sets for CD-success. Neo-Cartesian CDs are not "as plausible as not, overall" given our justified acceptances.

-from Mylan Engel Jr.'s NDPR review of Michael J. Murray's Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Workshop: God and the Multiverse

Friday, February 15 2013 - Saturday, February 16 2013

Department of Philosophy, Ryerson University

63 Gould Street

In recent decades, there has been tremendous growth in scientific theories which postulate the existence of many universes beyond our own. Once considered outré or patently absurd, multiverse theories now appear to be gaining scientific respectability. That said, the details and implications of each one are hotly contested.

In the philosophy of religion, multiverse theories are usually discussed in connection with the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. In its simplest form, this argument runs as follows. If certain features of the universe had been slightly different, the universe would not have been capable of generating and sustaining life. This apparent “fine-tuning”, some say, is best explained by positing an intelligent designer. Critics have countered that multiverse theories undermine this argument. If there indeed are vastly many universes which vary – perhaps randomly – in the relevant parameters, they say, then it is not at all surprising that at least one universe is life-permitting. In this debate, then, multiverse theories are typically offered as naturalistic rivals to theism.

Yet, in a surprising twist, several philosophers have recently offered various reasons for thinking that, if theism is true, there are many universes. Rather than being deemed rivals to theism, then, multiverses are here deemed to be consequences of theism. Moreover, some philosophers have argued that a theistic multiverse model can even help to defend theism against prominent arguments for atheism, including the problem of evil and the problem of no best world. All of these claims are controversial, and a body of literature has recently developed around them.
This workshop aims to thoroughly assess the idea that a multiverse is, in some sense or other, to be expected if theism is true. The presenters (nine philosophers, two physicists, and one philosopher-astrophysicist) will consider the philosophical, scientific, and theological dimensions of this idea.

Further details can be found at:

Paul Kurtz Has Died

See here and here for some thoughtful remarks about Paul.

H/T J.S. and G.O.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Call for Papers

The Mountain-Pacific Region of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) is now accepting papers for its annual conference to be held March 8-9 at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  We welcome both Christians and non-Christians as presenters, commentators, and participants. Although we are particularly interested in papers on the intersection of faith and reason (e.g., religious epistemology, the concept of faith, the reasonableness of faith, or arguments for God’s existence), papers on any topic of philosophical interest will be considered.

Submissions should include a paper that is 3,000 words or less and is prepared for blind review in an accessible format (e.g., .doc, .docx, or .pdf).  In addition to the paper, submissions should include a cover letter that includes your name, institutional affiliation, email address, paper title, and an abstract of 200 words or less. Submissions should be sent to Jonathan Spelman at (jonathan.spelman [at] on or before January 6, 2013. Note that there is a $500 award for the best graduate student paper!

For additional information about the conference, please contact either Jonathan Spelman at (jonathan.spelman [at] or Ashley Taylor at (ashley.taylor [at], or visit the conference website:

Contrarian Philosophy of Religion Assertion Friday

If divine command theory is correct, then nothing is really (i.e., intrinsically) right or wrong.

Contrarian Philosophy of Religion Assertion Friday

Some Moorean facts: Material objects exist; there is a past; there are other minds; there are vast amounts of gratuitous evil.

Mohan Matthen Critiques Plantinga's EAAN NewAPPS.

UPDATE: Matthen points to this excellent paper, which argues that evolution favors truth-tracking cognition in a number of cases.

UPDATE: Nicholas McGinnis has a nice follow up post over at Engaging Science.

New(ish) Paper on DCT and the Euthyphro Dilemma

John Milliken, "Euthyphro, the Good, and the Right", Philosophia Christi 11:1 (2009), 149-159.

Abstract: The Euthyphro dilemma is widely deployed as an argument against theistic accounts of ethics. The argument proceeds by trying to derive strongly counterintuitive implications from the view that God is the source of morality. I argue here that a general crudeness with which both the dilemma and its theistic targets are described accounts for the seeming force of the argument. Proper attention to details, among them the distinction between the good and the right, reveals that a nuanced theism is quite unscathed by it.

P.S., Note well the concessions made in fn. 27 (though of course Robert Adams has made them as well in his Finite and Infinite Goods). The defense of DCT thus comes at the expense of denying that morality is essentially dependent upon God (at least on a Finean analysis of essence).

Reformed and Evolutionary Epistemology and the Noetic Effects of Sin... the title of an interesting new paper by Helen De Cruz and Johan De Smedt. Here's the abstract:

Despite their divergent metaphysical assumptions, Reformed and
evolutionary epistemologists have converged on the notion of proper
basicality. Where Reformed epistemologists appeal to God, who has
designed the mind in such a way that it successfully aims at the truth,
evolutionary epistemologists appeal to natural selection as a mecha-
nism that favors truth-preserving cognitive capacities. This paper
investigates whether Reformed and evolutionary epistemological ac-
counts of theistic belief are compatible. We will argue that their chief
incompatibility lies in the noetic e ects of sin and what may be termed
the noetic e ects of evolution, systematic tendencies wherein human
cognitive faculties go awry. We propose a reconceptualization of the
noetic e ects of sin to mitigate this tension.

On Craig's Appeal to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem in His Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Craig regularly appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (BGV) as strong empirical evidence that (a) the universe or multiverse -- or at any rate, matter-energy -- had an absolute beginning. From there, he argues that (b) it had a cause, and that (c) the cause is a person.

Is Craig's appeal to BGV sufficient evidence for accepting (a)? Not unless the relevant experts agree with him that BGV is correct, and that it's strong evidence for (a). Appeal to an expert's testimony that P is legitimate iff (i) the expert is reliable and credible in the given context, (ii) they're speaking within their area of expertise, (iii) their expertise is a genuine field of knowledge, and (iv) the consensus among the experts is that P. Therefore, unless the consensus of the relevant experts is that BGV shows what Craig's thinks it shows, Craig's assertion is an illegitimate appeal to expert testimony: whether Craig is right or not, I'm not justified in thinking so.[1]

But let's waive that. Suppose it shows what he thinks it shows: multiverse or not, there's an absolute beginning of spacetime. Should I then infer (b) and (c)? Not obviously.  For it's far from clear that the claim that the universe (or multiverse) arose from an efficient cause without a material cause is any more plausible than the claim that it arose from neither. For both involve a strongly counterintuitive origination of something from no pre-existing materials. (To say that a log cabin popped into existence out of nothing is bizarre; it is no less bizarre to be told that a lumberjack built it without using building materials.) Therefore, pending expert consensus about the implications of BGV pointing toward Craig's assertion (viz., that it shows an absolute beginning to the universe or multiverse), it's not clear why a G.E. Moore Shift against (a) isn't an equally plausible inference.

But suppose all this is wrong. Would Craig's inference to (c) (i.e., that the cause of the absolute beginning of the universe or multiverse is a person) then be the most plausible inference? Again, this is far from clear. For there are well-known serious concerns about the coherence of a timeless agent-cause of a temporal effect. 

Wes Morriston has written a number of papers that are very good with respect to points in the vicinity of those mentioned above:

UPDATE: For those who may be interested, I offer a fuller exploration of Craig's appeal to the BGV here.

[1] It's true that Craig and Sinclair offer detailed arguments that BGV shows what they think it shows. But of course those arguments rely on specialized scientific knowledge that non-experts are not in a position to evaluate properly, and so, again, we're back to deference to expert consensus about the success of those arguments.

Contrarian Philosophy of Religion Assertion Friday

At every possible world W, there are infinitely many God-actualizable free creaturely essences that  aren't transworld depraved at W.

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...