Tonight: Keith Parsons on Think Atheist Radio

Tonight on Think Atheist Radio, Keith Parsons (University of Houston, Clear Lake) will discuss (among other things) the case for theism and the burden of proof.

Forthcoming from OUP: The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology

Here's the blurb:
  • Innovative handbook mapping the current and ongoing revival of interest in this cross disciplinary area of study
  • Clear volume structure with thirty-eight original essays ordered into five thematic sections, engaging historical, theological, philosophical, scientific, and cultural/aesthetic perspectives on natural theology
  • Refuses easy definitions of the scope of natural theology, and encompasses the breadth of debate over the issues involved
The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology is the first collection to consider the full breadth of natural theology from both historical and contemporary perspectives and to bring together leading scholars to offer accessible high-level accounts of the major themes. The volume embodies and develops the recent revival of interest in natural theology as a topic of serious critical engagement. Frequently misunderstood or polemicized, natural theology is an under-studied yet persistent and pervasive presence throughout the history of thought about ultimate reality - from the classical Greek theology of the philosophers to twenty-first century debates in science and religion.

Of interest to students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines, this authoritative handbook draws on the very best of contemporary scholarship to present a critical overview of the subject area. Thirty eight new essays trace the transformations of natural theology in different historical and religious contexts, the place of natural theology in different philosophical traditions and diverse scientific disciplines, and the various cultural and aesthetic approaches to natural theology to reveal a rich seam of multi-faceted theological reflection rooted in human nature and the environments within which we find ourselves.

Readership: Students and scholars of philosophy, theology, history, science, and cultural studies

And here's the table of contents:

I: Historical Perspectives on Natural Theology
1: Stephen Clark: Classical Origins of Natural Theology
2: Christopher Rowland: Natural Theology and the Christian Bible
3: Wayne Hankey: Natural Theology in the Patristic Period
4: Alexander Hall: Natural Theology in the Middle Ages
5: Scott Mandelbrote: Early Modern Natural Theologies
6: Matthew Eddy: Nineteenth-Century Natural Theology
7: Rodney Holder: Natural Theology in the Twentieth Century
II: Theological Perspectives on Natural Theology
8: Daniel Frank: Jewish Perspectives on Natural Theology
9: Robert Morrison: Natural Theology in Eastern Religions
10: Jessica Frazier: Perspectives on Natural Theology from Eastern Religions
11: Denis Edwards: Catholic Perspectives on Natural Theology
12: Russell Re Manning: Protestant Perspectives on Natural Theology
13: Christopher Knight: Natural Theology and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition
14: Andrew Moore: Theological Critiques of Natural Theology
III: Philosophical Perspectives on Natural Theology
15: Keith Parsons: Perspectives on Natural Theology from Analytical Philosophy
16: Russell de Manning: A Perspective from Continental Philosophy
17: David Ray Griffin: Process Thought and Natural Theology
18: Neil A. Manson: The Design Argument and Natural Theology
19: William Schweiker: Morality and Natural Theology
20: Mark Wynn: Religious Experience and Natural Theology
21: Clayton Crockett: Postmodernity and Natural Theology
22: Pamela Sue Anderson: Feminist Perspectives on Natural Theology
23: Wesley Wildman: Comparative Natural Theology
24: Charles Taliaferro: Philosophical Critique of Natural Theology
IV: Scientific Perspectives on Natural Theology
25: Michael Ruse: Natural Theology: The Biological Sciences
26: Paul Ewart: Physical Sciences and Natural Theology
27: David Knight: Chemical Sciences and Natural Theology
28: John Polkinghorne: Mathematics and Natural Theology
29: Christopher Southgate: Natural Theology and Ecology
30: Fraser Watts: Sciences of the Mind and Natural Theology
31: Richard Fenn: A Sociological Perspective on Natural Theology
32: Philip Clayton: Scientific Critiques of Natural Theology
V: Perspectives on Natural Theology from the Arts
33: Frank Burch Brown: Aesthetics and the Arts in Relation to Natural Theology
34: Douglas Hedley: Imagination and Natural Theology
35: Guy Bennett-Hunter: Natural Theology and Literature
36: Jeremy Begbie: Natural Theology and Music
37: Kristof Nyiri: Images in Natural Theology
38: Robert Johnston: The Film Viewer and Natural Theology God's "Presence" at the Movies
Conclusion: The Future of Natural Theology


Brian Leiter's Forthcoming Book on the Preferential Treatment of Religion in Law and Society

Brian Leiter's Why Tolerate Religion? (Princeton UP) is due to come out in November 2012. Here's the blurb:

This provocative book addresses one of the most enduring puzzles in political philosophy and constitutional theory--why is religion singled out for preferential treatment in both law and public discourse? Why, for example, can a religious soup kitchen get an exemption from zoning laws in order to expand its facilities to better serve the needy, while a secular soup kitchen with the same goal cannot? Why is a Sikh boy permitted to wear his ceremonial dagger to school while any other boy could be expelled for packing a knife? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not?

In Why Tolerate Religion?, Brian Leiter argues that the reasons have nothing to do with religion, and that Western democracies are wrong to single out religious liberty for special legal protections. He offers new insights into what makes a claim of conscience distinctively "religious," and draws on a wealth of examples from America, Europe, and elsewhere to highlight the important issues at stake. With philosophical acuity, legal insight, and wry humor, Leiter shows why our reasons for tolerating religion are not specific to religion but apply to all claims of conscience, and why a government committed to liberty of conscience is not required by the principle of toleration to grant exemptions to laws that promote the general welfare.

Philosophical Disquisitions: Morriston on God and the Ontological Foundation of...

Philosophical Disquisitions: Morriston on God and the Ontological Foundation of...: ( Part One ) This is the second part in a brief series on Wes Morriston’s article “ God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality ”. T...

Law's New F&P Article on Evidence, Miracles, and the Existence of Jesus

Stephen Law has kindly posted his recent paper, "Evidence, Miracles, and the Existence of Jesus", Faith & Philosophy 28:2 (April 2011), pp. 129-151. Here's the abstract:

The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of independent evidence for an historical Jesus, remain sceptical about his existence.

I should say that I myself am quite persuaded that Jesus is a historical figure.

Forthcoming from OUP: From Morality to Metaphysics: The Theistic Implications of our Ethical Commitments

This looks like it might well be a moral argument for theism worth reading, as it includes a serious attempt to address the most plausible contemporary secular accounts of ethics. At least in this regard, it looks to follow in the footsteps of Adams in his Finite and Infinite Goods.

Here's the blurb:
  • Original work at the intersection of philosophy of religion and ethical theory
  • A distinctive argument for theism
  • Engages with a wide range of leading secular philosophers
From Morality to Metaphysics offers an argument for the existence of God, based on our most fundamental moral beliefs. Angus Ritchie engages with a range of the most significant religious moral philosophers of our time, and argues that they all face a common difficulty which only theism can overcome.

The book begins with a defence of the 'deliberative indispensability' of moral realism, arguing that the practical deliberation human beings engage in on a daily basis only makes sense if they take themselves to be aiming at an objective truth. Furthermore, when humans engage in practical deliberation, they necessarily take their processes of reasoning to have some ability to track the truth. Ritchie's central argument builds on this claim, to assert that only theism can adequately explain our capacity for knowledge of objective moral truths. He demonstrates that we need an explanation as well as a justification of these cognitive capacities. Evolutionary biology is not able to generate the kind of explanation which is required--and, in consequence, all secular philosophical accounts are forced either to abandon moral objectivism or to render the human capacity for moral knowledge inexplicable. This case is illustrated with discussions of a wide range of moral philosophers including Simon Blackburn, Thomas Scanlon, Philippa Foot, and John McDowell.

Ritchie concludes by arguing that only purposive accounts of the universe (such as theism and Platonism) can account for human moral knowledge. Among such purposive accounts, From Morality to Metaphysics makes the case for theism as the most satisfying, intelligible explanation of our cognitive capacities.

And here's the table of contents:

Part I: The 'Explanatory Gap'
1: Why Take Morality to be Objective?
2: The Gap Opens: Evolution and our Capacity for Moral Knowledge
Part II: Secular Responses
3: Moral Quasi-Realism: Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard
4: Procedures and Reasons: Tim Scanlon and Christine Korsgaard
5: Natural Goodness: Philippa Foot
6: Natural Goodness and 'Second Nature': John McDowell and David Wiggins
Part III: Theism
7: From Goodness to God: Closing the Explanatory Gap
8: Purpose without Theism? Axiarchism and Neoplatonism

Today's Psychology Lesson

Short introduction to the original Milgram Experiment.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Review of A Brief History of the Soul

Angela Mendelovici and Karen Nielsen  (both at the University of Western Ontario) reviewed the book for NDPR (here).

Your Newest Favorite Thing

Part I:

Part II:

Also: you can follow Henri on Twitter.

You're welcome.

A tip of the hat to T.M. and W.M. (not related)

Quote of the Day

One has, I think, to go through a conceptual turn-around in general ontology somewhat like the one Newton executed for physics. Aristotelian physics made motion problematic and rest unproblematic. The question then was: "Why is there motion (here, or there, or at all) rather than rest? Newton saw that motion was no more problematic than rest. What had to be explained was change: from motion to rest, or conversely. Similarly, in general ontology one has to understand that existence is, in general, no more problematic than non-existence. Existence isn't somehow "harder" or inherently less likely than non-existence.

-Dallas Willard, "Language, Being, God, and the Three Stages of Theistic Evidence", in Moreland, J.P. and Kai Neilsen, Does God Exist? The Great Debate (Prometheus, 1993).

Call for Submissions for the 2011 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize

Call for Submissions for the 2011 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize

The 2011 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize attempts to identify the three best papers published in 2011 in the areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. A panel of three expert reviewers will select three winners. Each winner will receive an award of $2,000.
Papers should have a date of publication of 2011. (If the actual paper will not appear until 2012, that is acceptable, as long as the official publication date of the journal issue or book is 2011.) Preference will be given to papers that are published in academic forums (e.g., peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes). Entries will be judged on quality of argumentation, clarity of exposition, the significance of the positions argued for, and the degree to which the paper advances the discussion on the topic in question. Entries are limited to one per person. Self-nominations are encouraged. Nominations of a paper by someone other than the author(s) are accepted, but only with permission of the author. Papers should be published in English.
Please submit entries by email to, and write "Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize" in the subject line of your email. Attach an electronic copy of your paper (Word or pdf) to your email. Please also include your contact information and a bibliographical entry for your paper in the body of your email. The deadline for submissions has been extended to April 20, 2012. Winners will be announced September 15, 2012.
For a list of winners of the 2009 and 2010 prizes, see
This prize is made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

A Short Dialogue on Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A. There is at least one metaphysically possible world at which every single person God could've created suffers from transworld depravity (TWD).[1]

B. How could that be?

A. We can support the thesis as follows: (1) Each creaturely essence is transworld depraved at some possible world or other. Therefore, (2) there's bound to be one possible world at which every creaturely essence is transworld depraved.

B. Why think that? First, the notion of transworld depravity relies on the notion of counterfactuals of creaturely (libertarian) freedom (CCFs). But there are powerful reasons to think that the notion of a CCF is incoherent.

Second, (1) would entail that no possible creature is essentially morally perfect. But if you allow that a god could be essentially morally perfect, then there is pressure on the proponent of the free will defense to give a principled basis for why a created being cannot be essentially morally perfect as well.

Finally, the inference from (1) to (2) commits a modal operator shift fallacy:

1. (x)(CEx  --> <>TWDx)
2. <>(x)(CEx  --> TWDx)

Such is the same illicit pattern of inference involved in reasoning that if each book in the library is such that it's possible to read it in a single day, then it's possible to read each book in the library in a single day. In fact, the inference from (1) to (2) relies on the unargued assumption of the truth of Interworld Plenitude. But if Intraworld Plenitude better captures the distribution of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, then not only is the inference from (1) to (2) demonstrably false, but (2) is false as well. And as it turns out, Plantinga and others have (to date) failed to show that the former is more plausible than the latter. Therefore, not only is the inference from (1) to (2) undercut, but (2) is undercut as well.

Third, there are burden-shifting grounds against (2).   For what grounds the counterfactuals of freedom here? Presumably, it's the character or nature or preference structure of a given being. This seems to be the most plausible explanation for why it's supposed to be that the redeemed in heaven never do wrong.  So, for example, the Christian tradition speaks of the renovation of the "heart" of the Christian into one that, like God's, finds sin repulsive -- or at least uninteresting --, and which delights in what is right and good. But if so, then all that's required to create a free being that wouldn't sin is to endow them with such a "heart", and with a sanctified and glorified nature or character. (This needn't obviously require that there is no possible world at which such creatures freely do wrong, but only that, relative to the possible world in question, there is no "close" world (in the Lewis/Stalnaker sense) at which they do wrong).  So, for example, it's not implausible that at any possible world W God could've created, God can create  tokens of a type of creature that has libertarian free will, but also has a nature that makes it "grossed out" by the thought of doing wrong (on a par with, say, eating a shit sandwich), and that makes them delight in what is right and good. Such creatures have the power to do wrong; it's just that their inclinations are strongly against it. As such, the possible worlds at which they freely do wrong aren't "close" (in the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) to W, in which case God can't actualize them -- i.e., they aren't "feasible" worlds.  But if so, then there is no metaphysically possible world at which every creaturely essence God could create suffers from transworld depravity. And if that's right, then Plantinga's free will defense is unsuccessful.

A. I'm not sure you're right about that. For suppose God creates creatures with a "heavenly" character from the get-go. Then since they didn't form their character through their free choices, they're not free at all. But whether or not we say such beings are free, perhaps we should say that it's better to be able to shape one's character through free choices than to come "ready-made" as it were with a morally perfect character.

B. If you're right, then it would seem to follow that since God is supposed to be morally perfect essentially, he's had his morally perfect character or nature from the get-go, in which case he's not free. Furthermore, the same assumptions seem to imply that God's essentially morally perfect character is inferior to those whose character was shaped by their free choices.

A. Nevertheless, I still think there's a crucial difference here between a perfect-from-the-get-go God and a perfect-from-the-get-go created person. For unlike the created person, God is the ultimate source of his actions. That is, he acts on his own reasons, and nothing external to God determines his actions. Because of this, God is free and morally responsible. By contrast, if God created persons with a morally perfect nature, they could not be the ultimate source of their actions. Rather, God would be the ultimate source, as he would be an external cause of their nature, which in turn would ensure that their actions are always good. The only way for God to create free creatures, then, is to create them with the ability to choose between good and evil. Therefore, while the freedom of created beings requires the ability to do evil, God's freedom does not.[2] 

 B.  That's an ingenious and elegant proposal, but I'm not persuaded. Here's why. Consider two finite persons, Alpha and Beta[3]. Alpha and Beta are both morally perfect, and thus unable to do what is morally wrong. They differ, however, in their origins: while Alpha was made to be morally perfect by external causes (e.g., heredity and environment, God, etc.), Beta was not. Rather, Beta just popped into existence. Now if the account of freedom and responsibility you propose is correct, then we should say that while Beta is a free and morally responsible agent, Alpha is not. For while Alpha's nature was caused by an external source, no external source caused Beta's nature. And because of this, we should evaluate the following subjunctive conditionals differently:

1. If Alpha existed, she'd be free and morally responsible. (F)
2. If Beta existed, she'd be free and morally responsible.   (T)

But this doesn't seem right: whether their natures had an external cause doesn't seem to make a difference to the issue of whether they're free or responsible.  What matters here is that the actions of both are due to natures they did not create and for which they are not responsible. Thus, either being is free and morally responsible just in case the other one is. The proposal is therefore an unsuccessful reply to the criticism of the free will defense at issue.

A. That's an equally ingenious and elegant rejoinder, but I'm not persuaded. For the scenario depicted in your thought experiment seems metaphysically impossible. For it seems metaphysically impossible for a being to just pop into existence. And if it's not metaphysically possible, it can't undermine my account.[4]

B. Whether the scenario is metaphysically possible or not is irrelevant. For per impossible arguments clearly have epistemic force, and have proper use in the evaluation of counterpossible conditionals.[5] Therefore, even if the thought experiment should turn out to depict a metaphysically impossible scenario, we can construe the subjunctive conditionals above as counterpossible conditionals, and we can use the thought experiment to evaluate them. The rejoinder is therefore unsuccessful.[6]

The moral seems to be this: According to orthodox Christian theism, there are at least three sets of free beings: (i) the fallen creatures on earth now, (ii) the redeemed and glorified creatures in heaven, and (iii) God. But the problem is that Plantinga's free will defense gives an account of free beings in (i) that's prima facie incompatible with an account of free beings in (ii) and (iii). Plantinga's free will defense is therefore an unsuccessful response to the logical problem of evil.
[1] Plantinga's claim here is one about the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. He is arguing that there is a metaphysically possible world W at which every single one of the (non-denumerably?) infinitely many libertarianly-free creaturely essences he could create at W would do wrong at least once; the would-counterfactuals of freedom of each such creaturely essence are "messed up" at W, so that although there may be metaphysically possible worlds W*1-W*n where each such creature always freely does right, none of those worlds are "close" (in the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) to W. As such, those are metaphyically possible-yet-infeasible worlds.
[2] Cf.Morriston, Wes. "What is so Good About Moral Freedom?", The Philosophical Quarterly 50:3 (2000), pp. 343-358. 
[3] The following is a paraphrase of Ibid
[4] Ibid.
[5] Indeed, counterpossible reasoning had better be legitimate; otherwise it'd be impossible in principle to evaluate competing philosophical theses, each of which is necessarily true if true at all.
[6] Ibid.

Resto Quiñones's New Argument Against Perfect Being Theism

Resto Quiñones, Jashiel. " Incompatible And Incomparable Perfections: A New Argument Against Perfect Being Theism ", International...