Huge Book Sale at Palgrave Macmillan

All books are currently on sale for 9.99 USD/EUR, including my recent book with Joshua Rasmussen. Code: CYBER19PAL. Free shipping! Sale ends Dec. 3rd, so don't delay!

Thanks to Gabriele Contessa, Yujin Nagasawa, and August Dyarchy for the pointer.

David Manley's New Paper on God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence

Manley, David. "God and the Bayesian Conception of Evidence", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

Contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God are often formulated within a broadly Bayesian framework. Arguments of this sort focus on a specific feature of the world that is taken to provide probabilistic evidence for or against the existence of God: the existence of life in a ‘fine-tuned’ universe, the magnitude of suffering, divine hiddenness, etc. In each case, the idea is that things were more likely to be this way if God existed than if God did not exist—or the other way around. Less attention, however, has been paid to the deeper question of what it takes for something to count as evidence for or against the existence of God. What exactly is being claimed when it is said that some feature of the world is more or less likely given the existence of God, and how should we go about assessing such a claim? This paper is about epistemological issues—and in particular, certain potential cognitive errors—that arise when we reason probabilistically about the existence of God. The moral is not that we should refrain from reasoning in this way, but that we should be mindful of potential errors when we do.

Beth Seacord's Excellent New Entry on the Problem of Evil

Seacord, Beth. "Evil as a Problem for Theism", Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion (forthcoming).

Recent Work by Graham Oppy

Graham Oppy continues to produce fantastic work in philosophy of religion at a blistering pace. Recent single-author books include books on ontological arguments, naturalism and religion, atheism and agnosticism, and a primer on atheism. Recent edited and co-edited work includes a new edition of the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, a massive series on Inter-Christian and Interreligious Philosophical Dialogues (with Nick Trakakis), a comprehensive History of Western Philosophy of Religion (with Nick Trakakis), and another massive volume (with Joseph Koterski), Theism and Atheism: Opposing Arguments in Philosophy. Finally, he has written a number of important and compellingly argued chapters and papers focusing on ultimate naturalistic causal explanations (also laid out here) that are absolutely required reading for anyone interested in the question of ultimate origins.

Wielenberg's New Paper on Divine Command Theory

Wielenberg, Erik. "Divine Command Theory and Psychopathy", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

I advance a novel challenge for Divine Command Theory based on the existence of psychopaths. The challenge, in a nutshell, is that Divine Command Theory has the implausible implication that psychopaths have no moral obligations and hence their evil acts, no matter how evil, are morally permissible. After explaining this argument, I respond to three objections to it and then critically examine the prospect that Divine Command Theorists might bite the bullet and accept that psychopaths can do no wrong. I conclude that the Psychopathy Objection constitutes a serious and novel challenge for Divine Command Theory.

There are Lots of Arguments Against Theism That Don't Reduce to the Problem of Evil

Rough draft:

Forget the god of classical theism for a moment. Consider instead the hypothesis that there is a being who is omnipotent and omniscient, yet morally indifferent, and who is reliable at achieving their goals. Call this view blahtheism. Suppose further that we add to blahtheism the hypothesis that such a god is interested in creating a hospitable environment for humans (suppose they have a goal  to be reliable in creating and conserving communities of humans in the way the some build and maintain ant farms). What would you then expect Earth to be like? The answer is simple: one that is hospitable to human life. Therefore, the datum that the Earth is inhospitable to humans is surprising on blatheism. By contrast, a human-inhospitable environment is not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, life on Earth is shaped solely by evolutionary factors, shaping the world into a hostile place, due to the competition for scarce resources. Therefore, the datum that the Earth is a human-inhospitable environment provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis blahtheism.

The point of this exercise isn't just to call attention to a piece of disconfirming evidence against blatheism; it is rather to point out that at least some data that supports naturalism vis-a-vis supernaturalistic hypotheses does not reduce to the problem of evil. Evil doesn't play a role one way or the other in the argument above; rather, (i) facts about rational omniscience and omnipotence, plus (ii) facts about the god's interests/aims, and (iii) facts suggesting the aims were not achieved, sufficed to generate the problem. This was highlighted by the fact that the blatheistic hypothesis excludes moral properties from the divine nature, and yet we could make reasonable predictions about what such a being would do, given certain intentions. The salient facts here were facts suggesting an aim/outcome mismatch between God's intentions and the world. 

I will go further. I'm betting that other lines of evidence for naturalism (see, e.g., many arguments on this list) seem to have the same feature, viz., their evidential force turns on aim/outcome mismatches of various sorts that don't essentially appeal to God's love or moral perfection (although of course I don't mean to imply that all other arguments against theism besides evil rely on aim/outcome mismatches).

The moral is that the widely held assumption that most arguments against theism reduce to the problem of evil is false.

The Argument from Autonomy Against Theism

Rough draft:

On another occasion, we noted Kahane's excellent (2011) paper, "Should We Want God to Exist?" (PPR 82(3): 674-696). The paper suggests a data point that can be transformed into an argument against the hypothesis of classical theism. 

The sort of argument I have in mind can be gleaned from the following passages:
“Imagine that instead of growing up to become an independent adult, you would forever remain a child, forever under the protection of wise and loving parents. Or imagine living in a land ruled by a benevolent monarch who, although keeping constant watch over everything his subjects do, grants them extensive liberties. These counterfactual worlds would be better, even much better, in various respects. Yet few of us, I believe, would prefer them to the way things actually are, however imperfect. The anti-theist believes we should make a similar choice.”
“The thought is that in a world where complete privacy is impossible, where one is subordinated to a superior being, certain kinds of life plans, aspirations, and projects cannot make sense. I suspect that certain actual life plans, aspirations, and projects that revolve around these values do not make sense, if the world is like that. (Compare: many life plans are incompatible with childhood. If it becomes clear that, contrary to appearance, there is no escape from childhood, then many lives would become absurd and pointless. And discovering that this childhood is eternal would make things worse, not better. As Williams reminds us, immortality is useless if one’s life has no meaning.) Theists sometimes claim that if God does not exist, life has no meaning. I am now suggesting that if God does exist, the life of at least some would lose its meaning. 
Of course this outcome wouldn’t be averted if God were to hide Himself—say if He were to hide Himself only from those who would, in this way, be most grievously hurt by His existence. This wouldn’t help. It would only give these persons the illusion that certain values can be realized—that their lives have meaning.”
It would take much more work to properly develop and defend the argument, but briefly, the way I have in mind to use his core point here as evidence against theism is as follows. If autonomy is required for the flourishing of properly functioning adult humans, then being a subordinate who lacks privacy to even their own thoughts is contrary to the flourishing of mature, properly functioning adult humans, in which case beings made for autonomy of this sort is prima facie surprising on theism. For one would expect God to create beings that are capable of flourishing within his universe.

By contrast, the existence of beings with a prima facie rational and fitting desire for autonomy of this sort is not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no such being to which we are subordinate. Rather, evolution selected for a preference structure that desires this sort of autonomy -- an autonomy that's compatible with interdependence with similar creatures, but which favors using one's own judgement for navigating our way through life when (e.g.) the wisdom of others seems wrong. Beings with a natural desire or preference of this sort would seem to have an evolutionary advantage over those that do not, since the wisdom of the group might go wrong in ways that are contrary to their survival and reproduction. Therefore, the existence of a prima facie rational and fitting preference for this kind of autonomy provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

200 (or so) Arguments for Atheism

A popular view in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is that while there are many arguments[1] for theism -- cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments; moral arguments; arguments from consciousness; etc. (by Plantinga's lights, two dozen or so), there are only two arguments for atheism[2], viz., the problem of evil and (more recently) the problem of divine hiddenness. Indeed, some argue that the problem of divine hiddenness reduces to a version of the problem of evil, and thus that there is only one argument -- or at most, one category of argument -- for atheism.

This is a misconception. Here are over 200 arguments for atheism, spanning 28 categories:

I. Cosmological-Type Arguments
1. Epicurean cosmological arguments for naturalism 
2. The argument from metaphysical infinitism/coherentism

II. Ontological-Type Arguments
17. A minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism
18. Quantum modal realist ontological argument for naturalism

IV. Dysteleological Arguments
28. The argument from suboptimal design

V. Arguments from Religion/Religious Experience
33. The argument from idolatry

VIII. Arguments from Consciousness and Personhood
71. The argument from substance dualism to non-theism

X. Arguments from Reason

XI. Arguments from Logic

XIII. Arguments from the Nature of Causation
XIV. Nomological Arguments

XV. Arguments from General Ontology, Metaphysics, and Metametaphysics (that Don't Fit Neatly Into other Categories)

XVI. Epistemological Arguments
103. The argument from theism to radical skepticism
108, 109. The problem(s) of religious luck
110. The argument from Mandevillian intelligence
111. The argument from secondary qualities against the reliability of perception
112. The argument from Bayesian theories of perception (esp. prediction error minimization theories)
113. The argument from wave function realism against the reliability of perception
114. The problem of theistic evidentialist philosophers

XVII. Arguments from Aesthetics
115. The argument from ugliness
116. The argument from revulsion

XVIII. Normative Arguments (Apart from problems of evil)
117. The argument from the impropriety of worship
118. The argument from autonomy 

XIX. Arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Non-Belief
121. Deductive arguments from divine hiddenness
122. Probabilistic arguments from divine hiddenness
124. Drange's argument from non-belief

XX. Arguments from Incoherence Within/Among the Divine Attributes and Related Matters (Incomplete. These just scratch the surface. For more, see e.g. Oppy's Describing Gods)
125. Omnipotence (see also)
126. Omniscience (see also)
128. Beauty
129. Omnipresence
131. Eternity

XXI. Arguments from Lower Comparative Prior Probability

XXII. Arguments from Explanatory Inferiority 

XXIII. Arguments from Rival Supernaturalisms and/or Worldviews with Equal or Greater Explanatory Power and Related Matters
159. The problem of classical deism
177. The problem of the inclusive disjunction of rival supernaturalisms/worldviews

XXIV. Arguments from the Success of Naturalistic Explanations

XXV. Arguments from Private Evidence
179. Bartolome's argument from private evidence

XXVI. Arguments from Evil 
(See also these collections on problems of evil) 

XXVII. Pragmatic/Prudential Arguments
XVIII. Cumulative case/Combinatorial Arguments
231. Oppy’s abductive cumulative case argument for naturalism
235. Various cumulative IBE arguments from large conjunctive disjuncts of 1-227.

Some things worthy of note. First, there are very many more arguments for atheism than commonly supposed. Second, while categorization is inevitably somewhat arbitrary, there are clearly very many more types of atheistic arguments than commonly supposed -- on my reckoning, 27 other types of atheistic argument besides the problem of evil. Third, the list doesn't include arguments specifically against orthodox Christianity. If it did, the list would be considerably longer. Fourth, roughly 75-80% of atheistic arguments have nothing to do with the problem of evil -- problems of evil are in the minority. 

Fifth, the evidence against theism appears to be systemic -- it provides non-trivial grounds for thinking the data from virtually every major aspect of reality (e.g.: the origin, existence, and structure of the universe; consciousness; agency; morality and moral psychology; reason; logic; abstract objects; the nature of causation; the laws of nature; epistemology; religions, religious practices, and religious experience; aesthetics; the meaning of life; general ontology, metaphysics, and meta-metaphysics; and yes, suffering and hiddenness, too) points away from theism and towards some form of naturalism. One can cull very large subsets of compatible arguments from the list above to generate a variety of large abductive cumulative case arguments. Prima facie, there is very strong promise that when this is done, naturalism will embody the theoretical virtues (e.g., simplicity, scope, conservatism, etc.) better than orthodox theism. I would argue that this remains so even after throwing in all the viable data points standardly appealed to in the case for theism, in which case the relevant data renders a form of naturalism more probable than orthodox theism.  (A similar point applies to taking all these data points to run a comprehensive Bayesian argument for naturalism.)

Sixth, the previous points constitute non-trivial grounds for thinking the case for atheism doesn't essentially depend on the success of the problem of evil and hiddenness, in which case theists have much more work to do besides addressing those arguments. 

Finally, most people who care about arguments for and against theism are adherents of some form of orthodox religious monotheism or other. Among such groups, it's typically thought that the case for their faith must be persuasive, such that no (or almost no) mature, rational, properly functioning human being who appraised the relevant evidence could non-culpably fail to believe after assessing it (on the grounds that (i) God holds people morally responsible for their belief, and (ii) God would be less than perfectly good if he held people morally responsible for their belief if the evidence were less than persuasive). Thus, consider some rational, mature, properly functioning adult agnostic, Joewho has strongly grasped, internalized, and carefully appraised the above arguments, as well as all the arguments for theism on the other side of the ledger. Suppose further that after long and careful reflection, Joe finds the grounds for atheism to be either stronger than those for theism, or at least, counterbalanced with them. Finally, suppose that Joe thereby either disbelieves or suspends judgement about theism. According to the group of theists specified just above, there can be no one like Joe: The evidence for orthodox monotheism is so good that for any person S, if is a rational, mature, properly functioning agent, and (after careful reflection and deliberation) fails to find the evidence to support theism over atheism, or if S merely finds the evidence to be counterbalanced -- or indeed, if S finds themself unable to tell, with any confidence, which way the evidence points -- then S is morally culpable for failing to believe in the relevant version of orthodox monotheism. In light of the case for atheism expressed in the arguments listed above, this looks to be implausible, if not ridiculous. 

[1] Here and henceforth, I use the notion of an argument broadly, so as to include deductive, inductive, and abductive arguments. I also follow Richard Swinburne in recognizing the distinction between what he calls C-inductive arguments (which are arguments that raise the probabilities of their conclusions at least to some degree, although not necessarily rendering their conclusions more probable than not) and P-inductive arguments (which are arguments that raise the probabilities of their conclusions above 1/2), and include both C-inductive and P-inductive arguments to count as arguments for theism and for atheism.

[2] Here and henceforth, I follow Jeanine Diller and Paul Draper in distinguishing between global atheism (the denial of all gods) and local atheism (denial of a specific god or type of god). I'm taking the arguments in the list below to be arguments for local atheism with respect to the god of orthodox monotheism (although many arguments on the list provide at least some grounds for rejecting at least some other types of gods).

Helen De Cruz's Excellent Recent Work in Philosophy of Religion

On numerous occasions, we've noted Helen De Cruz's terrific work in philosophy of religion. Here I'd like to provide an update with some recent examples (if you haven't seen them already):

Religious Disagreement (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

"Religious conversion, transformative experience, and disagreement", Philosophia Christi, 20(1) (2018): 265 - 275.

"Etiological challenges to religious practices". American Philosophical Quarterly, 55 (4): 329 - 340.

These papers and many others can be found at her academic webpage. Check them out!

The Argument from Cognitive Biases

There is a lot of data indicating that human minds are riddled with cognitive biases that regularly distort our thinking. This is surprising on the hypothesis of theism, as one would expect such a god to design our cognitive faculties so as to reliably track the truth. By contrast, such data is expected on the hypothesis of naturalism, for then one would expect evolutionary pressures to produce haphazard, makeshift cognitive faculties that track the truth enough to ensure the ability to survive and reproduce, but not much more. The data of cognitive biases therefore provides at least some confirming evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

UPDATE: I recently learned that Aron Lucas gave this argument in 2018

Kraay's New Paper on Divine Satisficing

On other occasions, we noted Klaas Kraay's important paper on divine satisfying, as well as Chris Tucker's important reply. Kraay's rejoinder, "Is Motivated Submaximization Good Enough for God?" is now out with Religious Studies. Here's the abstract:
In a recent article (Kraay 2013), I argued that some prominent responses to two important arguments for atheism invoke divine satisficing – and that the coherence and propriety of this notion have not been established. Chris Tucker (2016) agrees with my evaluation of divine satisficing, but disagrees with my exegesis of these responses. He argues that they should be understood as invoking motivated submaximization instead. After reviewing the dialectical situation to date, I assess whether motivated submaximization can be deployed in such a way as to defeat these arguments for atheism. I argue that it's far from clear that it can.

Two New Books from Schellenberg

The first -- Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate (Bloomsbury) came out on the 8th.  Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:
Progressive Atheism shows how atheism can make progress in humanity's future. It presents a new way of arguing that God doesn't exist, based on a portrayal of God so positive that you may sometimes wonder whether you're reading the thoughts of a believer.  
Starting with the simple idea that our understanding of what it takes to be a good person has changed and grown over time, J. L. Schellenberg argues that our understanding of the goodness of God must now change too. Masculine images of God as haughty King or distant Father have to be replaced by God as a paragon of nonviolence and relational openness.  
This more evolved conception of God is incredibly attractive and admirable. But by the same token it has become less believable. Each moral advance, applied to God, makes it even clearer that such a being would never create a world like ours.  
Atheists have often approached the subject of God with disdain. Progressive Atheism proves that admiration will be far more powerful.

The second -- Religion After Science: The Cultural Consequences of Religious Immaturity (Cambridge) -- comes out in October. Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:
In this provocative work, J. L. Schellenberg addresses those who, influenced by science, take a negative view of religion, thinking of it as outmoded if not decadent. He promotes the view that transcendently oriented religion is developmentally immature, showing the consilience of scientific thinking about deep time with his view. From this unique perspective, he responds to a number of influential cultural factors commonly thought to spell ill for religion, showing the changes - changes favorable to religion - that are now called for in how we understand them and their proper impact. Finally, he provides a defense for a new and attractive religious humanism that benefits from, rather than being hindered by, religious immaturity. In Schellenberg's view, religion can and should become a human project as monumental as science.
Both look to be required reading for those interested in philosophy of religion.

My New Book With Joshua Rasmussen Is Now Out

Readers of this blog might be interested in my new book with Joshua Rasmussen, Is God the Best Explanation of Things? A Dialogue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). If you've enjoyed anything I've written and/or enjoy work in philosophy of religion, please consider buying a copy. If you have a copy and enjoyed the book, please consider ranking the book on Amazon (or another bookseller venue) and leaving a comment.

“This is a terrific book. It is bold in its approach, and interesting in its details. Rasmussen and Leon are to be congratulated both for the spirit in which their investigation is conducted and for the contributions that they make to advancing discussion.” (Graham Oppy, Professor of Philosophy, Monash University, Australia)

“The authors of this clear and absorbing volume are intent on saying the best that can presently be said on behalf of theism and naturalism. Energetically, they produce clever arguments for their respective views, many of them new or interestingly refashioned, grounded in the latest relevant results from a wide range of areas. But Leon and Rasmussen have also adopted a more deliberately collaborative and constructive approach than is visible in any similar work. And by this means they succeed in exposing how much more flexible and variously construable are the concepts of theism and naturalism themselves than the history of their discussion would have led one to expect. One almost dares to think that a future agreement on the God question is possible!” (J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada)

“Felipe Leon and Joshua Rasmussen bravely tackle the most profound ontological question we can ask: what is the foundation of existence? Exploring this question in dialogue, they offer a fascinating exchange of ideas regarding such philosophical issues as causation, morality, evolution, the fine-tuning of the universe, consciousness, and the existence of God. I found this to be one of the most engaging, informative, and thought-provoking philosophical dialogues I have ever read.” (Yujin Nagasawa, H. G. Wood Professor of the Philosophy of Religion, University of Birmingham, UK)

“Is God the Best Explanation of Things?  is an exemplar of the virtues a philosophical dialogue should display.  It is about fundamental issues, is engagingly written, and offers original arguments.  Moreover, it is a genuinely open-minded series of exchanges that exhibit the philosophical progress that can be achieved when the interlocutors are eager to learn from one another and see themselves as partners in their search for the truth of the matter.” (Evan Fales, Professor of Philosophy (emeritus), University of Iowa, USA)

“This book brings together the formidable talents of two philosophers to bear on one of the most intractable problems in philosophy: the question of whether or not we have good reason to accept the existence of God. The prose is clear and accessible, and the arguments are well-developed and rigorous. It should be of interest and value to a wide range of readers and would make an excellent text for courses in the philosophy of religion, in particular.” (Andrei Buckareff, Associate Professor of Philosophy; Co-Director of the Cognitive Science Program, Marist College, USA)

Some of my points rely on my previous work in modal epistemology. Those interested in seeing further development and defense of that sort of view might be interested in reading the contributions of myself and others in a book I co-edited with Bob Fischer: Modal Epistemology After Rationalism (Springer, 2017).

For a Limited Time: Free Downloads of Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of Religion!

Several new books have recently been released in the excellent Cambridge Elements in Philosophy of  Religion Series:

For a limited time, they are available for free download Check them out!

Special Issue: Alternative Concepts of God

Andrei Buckareff and Yujin Nagasawa guest edited a terrific new issue of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion on alternative concepts of God. Here is the table of contents:

Guest Editors’ Introduction
Andrei Buckareff, Yujin Nagasawa

The Awe-some Argument for Pantheism
T. Ryan Byerly

Against Mereological Panentheism
Oliver D. Crisp

Being Perfect is Not Necessary for Being God
Jeanine Diller

Panentheism, Transhumanism, and the Problem of Evil - From Metaphysics to Ethics
Benedikt Paul Göcke

Nothing Else
Samuel Lebens

Infinity and the Problem of Evil
John Leslie

Personalistic Theism, Divine Embodiment, and a Problem of Evil
Chad Meister

Neoplatonic Pantheism Today
Eric Steinhart

By Whose Authority: A Political Argument for God's Existence
Tyler McNabb, Jeremy Neill

God, Elvish, and Secondary Creation
Andrew Pinsent

Assessing the Resurrection Hypothesis: Problems with Craig's Inference to the Best Explanation
Carlos Alberto Colombetti, Robert G. Cavin

Check it out!

Soul-Making Theodicies and Lack-of-Character Data

Soul-making theodicies aim to defeat the problem of evil. In broad outline, they argue that moral virtues  (e.g., patience, kindness, compassion, etc.) are among the greatest possible goods, and that God must allow suffering in order to give us the opportunity to develop virtue (e.g., developing patience requires undergoing hardships; developing courage requires facing danger; developing compassion requires experiencing suffering yourself (to empathize) and seeing and responding to the suffering of others, etc.). Therefore, God is justified in permitting evil or suffering in order to allow for these goods.

The problem is that, as John Doris and others have recently argued, there is a robust set of data regarding human behavior that casts serious doubt on the hypothesis that humans have the capacity to develop virtue. And if that's right, then soul-making theodicies are thereby undercut.

It seems to me that the point can also be used as the basis for an argument against theism. For by similar reasoning, theism predicts an arena for free moral choices which in turn serve as the basis of moral development. It's therefore surprising on theism that character formation for virtue is ineffective. By contrast, such phenomena is not at all surprising on naturalism. For on that hypothesis, there is no antecedent reason to think evolution would aim at producing bodies capable of cultivating stable virtuous character traits. Therefore, lack of character data provide at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Two Notions of Necessity (and the Theistic Arguments that Conflate Them)

There are two notions of necessity floating around that easily get conflated: (i) exists in all possible worlds, and (ii) can't not exist. But (ii) can't be captured by (i); (ii) is more fine-grained than (i).  Indeed, it's epistemically possible that a being is necessary in sense (i), but not in sense (ii). 

To see this, say that a world stub is some initial temporal segment of a possible world (whether beginningless or not). Now consider that it it's epistemically possible for a god (an uncreated, metaphysically independent being) G to exist in the world stub of every possible world, and yet go out of existence at some time downstream of the world stub of at least one -- but perhaps many, and perhaps even every -- possible world (say it commits suicide due to eternal boredom, or it's annihilated by some other being downstream of one or more world stubs). It's therefore epistemically possible for G to be necessary in sense (i), but not in sense (ii).

This has non-trivial implications for some theistic arguments. Some contemporary theistic arguments --  "minimal modal ontological arguments" (as van Inwagen defines them), certain Leibnizian cosmological arguments, etc. --  deploy S5 modal logic to show that an Anselmian being currently exists. In particular, they aim to show that

1. A necessary being exists in at least one possible world.

and then infer from (1) and Axiom S5 of S5 modal logic to infer that

2. A necessary being exists in every possible world.

And finally, from (2) they infer that

3. A necessary being exists.

Now of course many -- myself included -- have raised doubts about (1). But the preceding discussion raises a problem for the inference from (2) to (3). For as we've seen above, (3) doesn't follow from (2). Therefore, even if one establishes that there is a necessary being in the sense captured by sense (i) above -- viz., the necessity operator of modal logic --, one has not thereby established that such a being currently exists. And because of this, theistic arguments of the sort mentioned above that rely on an inference from (2) to (3) to establish God's existence are bound to fail.

Theism and Mandevillian Intelligence

In keeping with recent posts on non-standard arguments against theism, I'll here briefly sketch  another proposed argument in that vein: the argument from Mandevillian intelligence. Roughly, 'Mandevillian intelligence' denotes intellectual vices of individuals that, when taken collectively (i.e., among a group of similar individuals), result in positive epistemic outcomes. An example is intellectual stubbornness. Such a trait is clearly vicious in an individual, but when a group of intellectually stubborn individuals interact through (say) philosophical argumentation, it leads to the investigation of vast swathes of epistemic space, which is clearly a good epistemic outcome.

Mandevillian intelligence is prima facie surprising on theism, as individual intellectual vices seem bad, and something God would want us to eliminate in ourselves. By contrast, Mandevillian intelligence is unsurprising on naturalism, as blind evolutionary forces don't "care" about intellectual vice, but rather about whatever happens to help individuals and groups survive and reproduce. And clearly such vices can contribute to achieve such an end, as in the above case. Therefore, Mandevillian intelligence provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Theism's Explanatory Gap Problem

Ever since at least Russell (1927), many philosophers[1] have argued that materialism – and, I now point out, classical theism – have an “explanatory gap” problem of another sort. For science only tells us about the structure and dynamics of matter -- i.e., its extrinsic, relational properties -- and not its intrinsic properties[2]. As D.M. Armstrong (1968) put it:

"...[I]f we look at properties of physical objects that physicists are prepared to allow them, such as mass, electric charge, or momentum, these show a distressing tendency to dissolve into relations one object has to another. What, then, are the things that have these relations to each other? Must they not have a non-relational nature if they are to sustain relations? But what is this nature? Physics does not tell us." (p. 282)

Subsequent progress in science only seems to underscore this point (cf. Ladyman and Ross 2007; Davidson 2014). Many thus now argue for ontic structural realism, according to which reality consists of relations without relata, and it is only “relations all the way down”. Unfortunately, to date, even the most strident defenders of ontic structuralism have failed to give a coherent account of the view, and many of its sympathizers admit that the current evidence fails to support its most plausible construals (cf. McKenzie 2017). Incoherence threatens. This is the explanatory gap problem for both conservative naturalism and theism: both views give us a physical universe with a hollow core, as neither provides the resources to provide intrinsic properties to ground its extrinsic, relational properties.

There is thus pressure to say that there must be some stock of intrinsic properties to physical reality, and yet physical reality seems to lack such properties. What is a naturalist or a theist to do? The Russellian monist answers: The only intrinsic properties we know of are phenomenal properties of subjective experience. The Russellian monist thus posits that phenomenal properties ground the relational properties of physics. Happily, then, Russellian monism appears to solve both the hard problem of consciousness and the intrinsic properties problem in one stroke. The structure-and dynamics-argument therefore offers another powerful line of support for liberal naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

[1] See, for example, Russell (1927), Strawson (1986), Chalmers (1996), Stoljar (2006), Pereboom (2011), Alter & Nagasawa (2012), Alter (2016) and Goff (2017).

[2]Lewis (1986) argued that shape is an intrinsic property of material objects, but Davidson (2014) has argued persuasively that shape is relative to a given inertial reference frame.


Alter, Torin. 2016. “The Structure and Dynamics Argument Against Materialism”, Nous 50 (4): 794-815.

-----. and Yujin Nagasawa. 2015. Consciousness in the physical world: Perspectives on Russellian Monism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Armstrong, D.M. 1968. A Materialist Theory of Mind. New York: Routledge.

Chalmers, David. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Davidson, Matthew. 2014. “Special Relativity and the Intrinsicality of Shape”, Analysis 74 (1): 57-58.

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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...