PSR, PvI, and the Multiverse

According to a strong and unrestricted version of the principle of sufficient reason, everything that exists or occurs has a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence, where sufficient reasons are taken to entail or necessitate the existence or occurrence of the entity in question. For our purposes, call this version PSR.

Peter van Inwagen famously argued that PSR is implausible, as it entails that everything exists or occurs of metaphysical necessity, and that this is absurd (since many things seem to be contingent and not necessary). Call this the PvI objection. Now people tend to react to the PvI objection in one of three ways: 

(i) Hold on to PSR, while accepting that it entails everything exists or occurs of metaphysical necessity.
(ii) Restrict PSR so as to make conceptual space for things to occur contingently.
(iii) Reject PSR in order to make conceptual space for things to occur contingently.

However, it seems to me that there is another option: 

(iv) Hold on to PSR and its implication that everything exists or occurs of metaphysical necessity, but deny that it entails that everything exists in our universe exists or occurs of necessity in all universes.

To motivate this option, note that the PvI objection gets most of its bite by assuming that
1. Our universe is the only universe that exists at the actual world. 
For then it seems to follow from (1) and the PvI objection that
2. Whatever exists or occurs in our universe at the actual world exists or occurs in all possible universes at all possible worlds
However, if it's possible that there is a multiverse comprising an infinite number of universes (where these are sufficiently diverse so as to capture our modal intuitions about the space of metaphysical possibilities), then this inference doesn't go through.

Option (iv) exploits the epistemic possibility of a multiverse of the sort sketched above to block the inference from (1) and the PvI objection to (2).  Those who take this option grant that PSR entails that everything exists or occurs of metaphysical necessity, in the sense that the multiverse  at the actual world exists at all possible worlds. However, they deny that all that exists or occurs in our tiny corner of the multiverse exists or occurs at all other universes within the multiverse. In this way, they deflate the epistemic significance of the intuition of contingency that gives the PvI objection its bite.  By choosing option (iv), then, one can have one's explanatory cake and eat it, too.

I'm not saying that option (iv) doesn't raise questions of its own. (E.g., does it commit one to Lewisian modal realism and/or counterpart theory? Etc., etc.). All I'm saying is that (iv) is an option that's no worse off than the others, and that it's not clear that it fares worse than PvI's option in terms of a theoretical cost-benefit analysis between the respective views. At a minimum, it's an option that deserves more consideration than it has hitherto received.

Metaphysically Necessary Beings, Factually Necessary Beings, and Two Kinds of Brute Facts

I've argued for the live epistemic possibility that matter/energy (or, if matter/energy isn't fundamental, the stuff of which matter/energy is ultimately composed) is factually necessary. That is, it's a live epistemic possibility that while there might be possible worlds at which matter/energy does not exist, it's eternal, uncaused, existentially independent, and de facto indestructible at the actual world. I've also argued that factually necessary matter/energy satisfies a weaker version of PSR:
(PSRfn): Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in terms of the factual necessity of its own nature or in terms of an external cause.
Finally, I've attempted to motivate this proposal and answer a number of objections to it on various occasions. Here, however, I'd like to set aside these points and defend PSRfn by means of a tu quoque argument of sorts. Here's a thumbnail sketch of the argument: A number of proponents of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) have accepted a revised version that allows for brute facts of certain sorts, on the grounds that unrestricted versions of PSR lead to absurdities, or conflict with other things we have reason to accept. And because of this, they reason, such revisions, and the resultant acceptance of certain sorts of brute facts, are acceptable. But (I argue) if such a basis for revising and restricting PSR (and thereby allowing for certain sorts of brute facts) is acceptable, then by the same token, so is the basis for further revising PSR to PSRfn, and, consequently, granting the acceptability of the brute existence of a factually necessary being.

Of course the key move in the argument is following recent proponents of PSR in accepting a distinction between between objectionably vs. unobjectionably brute facts. Here's a quick sketch and illustration of the distinction:

1. Objectionable: there is no explanation of a contingent fact, and there is no good reason to accept this. 

-Example: an iPhone pops into existence without any cause whatsoever. 

-Example: an iPhone is produced without preexisting materials.

2. Unobjectionable: there is no sufficient reason for a contingent fact, but there is a good independent reason to accept this.

(a) Assuming that x has a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence leads to an apparent absurdity. 

-Example: Such an assumption entails that everything exists or obtains of absolute 
necessity, that we lack free will, that quantum indeterminacy isn't real, etc.

(b) Assuming that x has a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence conflicts with other things we have reason to accept. 

-Example: Such an assumption conflicts with (say) a priori and/or a posteriori evidence that no being is  metaphysically necessary.

Here's my claim: Positing that there is no sufficient reason for why an independent being exists beyond the factual necessity of its own nature, and is thus a brute fact, is of an unobjectionable sort. In particular, it's a brute fact of type 2(b), since assuming the contrary conflicts with something else that we have reason to believe, viz., that no being is metaphysically necessary. Here are three reasons one might offer for thinking that no being is metaphysically necessary: 

(i) Modal evidence: We have modal intuitions that for any being, there are worlds at which it doesn’t exist.

(ii) Abductive evidenceour extensive experience of an extremely wide variety of concrete objects is such that we find them all to be contingent. What explains this? The simplest, most conservative explanation of the data with the widest explanatory scope is the hypothesis that all concrete objects are contingent beings. 

(iii) Origin essentialism: Widely shared intuitions support the Kripkean thesis that objects have their origins of metaphysical necessity: for any world W and objects x, y, and z, if x was produced by y and z at W, then x was produced by y and z at every other world W' at which x exists. So by implication, if an eternal universe lacks an origin at the actual world, then it lacks an origin at every world. And if that's right, then it's metaphysically impossible for such a universe to have a further explanation for its existence. 

For at least these reasons, then, the existence of a factually necessary universe is unobjectionably brute, since assuming the contrary conflicts with other things we have reason to accept. 

Craig On Causal Candidates for the Origin of the Universe

(Very rough draft)

Leaving aside formal and final causes, there appear to be four possible scenarios for the origin of our universe:

(i) Both an efficient cause and a material cause
(ii) An efficient cause without a material cause
(iii) A material cause without an efficient cause
(iv) Neither an efficient nor a material cause

Now William Lane Craig thinks (iv) is prima facie implausible, and so the position of last resort. However, it should be noted that even Craig grants that (iv) is unobjectionable if the universe is a 4-dimensional block of some sort. But the worry is that many scientists and philosophers think that ours is such a universe.  Many will therefore part company with Craig at this early stage of his argument. However, let's waive this objection for the moment, and grant, arguendo, that Craig is right. Now Craig  ultimately wants to argue that (ii) is the most probable candidate scenario for the origin of the universe. What about the other options?

One might think that, prima facie, (i) is the most natural to assume as a starting point. Indeed, Craig seems to agree. However, Craig has argued that (ii) is the most plausible, on the grounds that our best scientific models indicate that there was an absolute beginning to the expansion of all physical reality, including the multiverse, if such there be. Craig thinks this is supported by the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.

At this point, one might quite reasonably object that a beginning to the expansion of the universe (or multiverse) doesn't entail a beginning to the existence of the universe (or multiverse). For the universe could've existed in a quiescent state. However, Craig has argued that such a purely naturalistic quiescent universe can be ruled out on the grounds that it would be in an state of absolute rest, from which no event could arise (barring supernatural intervention). However, Wes Morriston has argued persuasively that a similar worry arises for the hypothesis of the creation of the universe by a God who is quiescent prior to the creation of the universe. If so, then neither the theistic hypothesis nor the quiescent naturalistic universe hypothesis has an epistemic advantage over the other. Therefore, (iii) seems to be at least on an epistemic par with (ii).

To add to this debate, I'd push the point further and argue that if (ii) and (iii) really were the two most plausible candidates, (iii) has an epistemic advantage over (ii), on the grounds that we have strong a priori and a posteriori reasons for thinking that a version of the principle of material causality (PMC) is true, and thus that creation ex nihilo is metaphysically impossible. Indeed, it looks as though PMC provides roughly equal grounds for preferring just about any of the other candidates over (ii). However, given the prima facie oddity of a universe arising from an absolutely quiescent state, candidate (i) (i.e., matter/energy, or its ultimate constituents, are eternal, and thus that our universe arose from prior materials) and candidate (iv) (in particular, an eternal 4d block universe) appear to have an epistemic advantage over both (ii) and (iii).

Book Symposium on Metz's Meaning in Life

Thaddeus Metz's account of meaning in life is the focus of the October 2015 issue of The Journal of Philosophy of Life. The journal have kindly collected all of the papers into an open access book, which can be found here.

New Paper on Hume on Miracles

Ahmed, Arif. "Hume and the Independent Eyewitnesses", Mind (first published online August 2015). The paper offers a reply to the "independent witnesses" criticism raised by Earman, McGrew, et al. Here's the abstract:
The Humean argument concerning miracles says that one should always think it more likely that anyone who testifies to a miracle is lying or deluded than that the alleged miracle actually occurred, and so should always reject any single report of it. A longstanding and widely accepted objection is that even if this is right, the concurring and non-collusive testimony of many witnesses should make it rational to believe in whatever miracle they all report. I argue that on the contrary, even multiple reports from non-collusive witnesses lack the sort of independence that could make trouble for Hume.
And if a copy should find its way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!

Two Important New Books By J.L. Schellenberg...

...are now out:

The Hiddenness Argument: Philosophy's New Challenge to Belief in God (OUP, 2015).

Evolutionary Religion (OUP, 2015).

Also, be on the lookout for Adam Green & Eleanore Stump (eds.) Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief: New Perspectives (CUP, 2016), which is due to come out in January.

Morriston's Important New Paper on Divine Command Theory

Morriston, Wes. "‘Terrible’ divine commands revisited: a response to Davisand Franks", Religious Studies (August 2015). Here's the abstract:
If God commanded something that would ordinarily be classified as a terrible evil, would we have a moral obligation to obey? In two previous articles in this journal, I examined and evaluated several different ways in which a divine command theorist might answer this question. Richard Brian Davis and W. Paul Franks have now provided a vigorous rebuttal, in which they argue that my way of handling the relevant counterpossible conditionals is flawed, and that a divine command theorist who avails herself of the metaphysical platform of theistic activism can consistently say that if (per impossibile) God were to command some terrible evil, it would not be the case that we have a moral obligation to do it. In the present article, I clarify my own view and defend it against Davis and Franks's objections. I also argue that the core claim of theistic activism – that there would be nothing at all if there were no God – does not have all the dramatic implications that Davis and Franks claim for it.

In Memoriam: William Rowe (1931-2015)

Very sad news. Details here.

De Cruz's New Paper on Irrelevant Influences

Helen De Cruz has a fascinating new paper on irrelevant influences on views in philosophy of religion. Here's the abstract:
To what extent do factors such as upbringing and education shape our philosophical views? And if they do, does this cast doubt on the philosophical results we have ob-tained? This paper investigates irrelevant influences in philosophy through a qualitativesurvey on the personal beliefs and attitudes of philosophers of religion. In the light of these findings, I address two questions: an empirical one (whether philosophers of religion are influenced by irrelevant factors in forming their philosophical attitudes), andan epistemological one (whether the influence of irrelevant factors on our philosophicalviews should worry us). The answer to the empirical question is a confident yes, to the epistemological question, a tentative yes.
The paper is still in draft, so the relevant norms about that apply.

Workshop Announcement: What Difference Would -- or Does God's Existence Make?

What Difference Would - or Does - God's Existence Make?
A Workshop on the Axiological Consequences of Theism
Ryerson University
Toronto, Canada
September 11-12, 2015

For complete details, and to register, go to:


- Toby Betenson (Birmingham)
- Richard Davis and Paul Franks (Tyndale University College)
- Scott Davison (Morehead State University)
- Guy Kahane (Oxford)
- Stephen Maitzen (Acadia)
- Myron A. Penner (Trinity Western) and Ben Arbour (Institute for Philosophical and Theological Research)
- John Schellenberg (Mount Saint Vincent)
- Meghan Sullivan (Notre Dame)
- Michael Tooley (Colorado)
- Erik Wielenberg (DePauw)

This workshop is the capstone event of a three-year research project entitled "Theism: An Axiological Investigation", that was generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

For more information about this project, see:  

(Thanks to Klaas Kraay for the pointer.)

Steinhart's New Phil. Compass Article on Naturalistic Theories of Life After Death

Here. Below is the abstract:
After rejecting substance dualism, some naturalists embrace patternism. It states that persons are bodies and that bodies are material machines running abstract person programs. Following Aristotle, these person programs are souls. Patternists adopt four-dimensionalist theories of persistence: Bodies are 3D stages of 4D lives. Patternism permits at least six types of life after death. It permits quantum immortality, teleportation, salvation through advanced technology, promotion out of a simulated reality, computational monadology, and the revision theory of resurrection.
(We've noted his podcast interview on Our Digital Afterlives on another occasion.)

And if a copy should find its way to my inbox....

Dougherty & Tweedt's New Survey Article on Recent Work in Religious Epistemology...

...has recently come out at Philosophy Compass. Here's the abstract:

Religious epistemology is the study of how subjects' religious beliefs can have, or fail to have, some form of positive epistemic status (such as knowledge, justification, warrant, and rationality) and whether they even need such status appropriate to their kind. The current debate is focused most centrally upon the kind of basis upon which a religious believer can be rationally justified in holding certain beliefs about God (whether God exists, what attributes God has, what God is doing, etc.) and whether it is necessary to be so justified to believe as a religious believer ought (in some sense of ‘ought’ more general than rational justification). Engaging these issues are primarily three groups of people who call themselves ‘fideists’, ‘Reformed epistemologists’, and ‘evidentialists’. Each group has a position, but the positions are not mutually exclusive in every case, and in the debate, the names better describe the groups' emphases than mutually exclusive positions in the debate. In this article, we will first give a brief historical survey of evidentialism, fideism, and reformed epistemology. Second, we will give the fideist's position. Third, we will give the evidentialist's position. Fourth, we will give the reformed epistemologist's position, and last, we will include some comments on the current state of the debate, where we will show that the groups' positions are not mutually exclusive.
And if a copy should find its way to my inbox...
UPDATE: Thanks, all!

(Thanks to Clayton Littlejohn for the pointer.)

Videos and Podcasts: New Insights and Directions in Religious Epistemology

New Insights and Directions in Religious Epistemology was arguably the most important conference and workshop series in analytic philosophy of religion in recent memory. The videos and podcasts for its concluding event are now available online. Here's the list of speakers and topics:

International Conference on New Insights and Directions for Religious Epistemology
23 - 25 June 2015, Oxford University

Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Phenomenal Conservatism and Religious Belief"
Peter van Inwagen (Notre Dame), The Rev'd Bayes and the Life Everlasting"
Paulina Sliwa (Cambridge), Show and Tell"
Keith DeRose (Yale), How to Appear to Know that God Exists"
Hans Halvorson (Princeton), Foundations of the Fine-Tuning Argument"
Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern), What is Justified Group Belief?"
John Hawthorne (Oxford/USC), Fine-Tuning Fine-Tuning"
Roger White (MIT), Reasoning with Plentitude"

John Hawthorne's Recent Defense of the Fine-Tuning Argument

Stay tuned for his recent talk, "Fine-Tuning Fine-Tuning".

(For what it's worth, here's my own worry for fine-tuning arguments for classical theism.)

Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 7... due to come out next March. Here's the table of contents:

1. Evil and Evidence, Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne, and Yoaav Isaacs
2. Is Petitionary Prayer Superfluous?, Isaac Choi
3. Where Skeptical Theism Fails, Skeptical Atheism Prevails, Paul Draper
4. The Right, the Good, and the Threat of Despair: (Kantian) Ethics and the Need for Hope in God, Kyla Ebels-Duggan
5. A Problem with Theistic Hope, Jeff Jordan
6. Religious Skepticism and Higher-Order Evidence, Nathan L. King
7. Temporary Intrinsics and Christological Predication, Timothy Pawl
8. Can God Repent?, Rik Peels
9. Divine Creative Freedom, Alexander R. Pruss
10. The Permissibility of the Atonement as Penal Substitution, Jada Twedt Strabbing

Hooray for Sanity and Goodness

New Issue of the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

In defense of the timeless solution to the problem of human free will and divine foreknowledge
Ciro De Florio & Aldo Frigerio

Grace and favor in Kant’s ethical explication of religion
James DiCenso

Schopenhauer on religious pessimism
Dennis Vanden Auweele

Does cognitive humility lead to religious tolerance? Reflections on Craig versus Quinn
Michael S. Jones

Atheism and epistemic justification
J. Angelo Corlett & Josh Cangelosi

Why pan-dispositionalism is incompatible with metaphysical naturalism
Travis Dumsday

The epistemology of divine conceptualism
Nathan D. Shannon
Book Review

Fiona Ellis, God, Value, and Nature
Erik J. Wielenberg
Book Review

Trent Dougherty, The problem of animal pain: a theodicy for all creatures great and small
Michael J. Murray
Book Review

Terry F. Godlove, Kant and the meaning of religion
James J. DiCenso

Special Issue of Theologica In Honor of Dean Zimmerman

  Here . His replies to participants should be available by the end of the year.