The Argument from the Disunity of the Self Against Theism

On a reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence, there is no deep synchronic unity of the the self, and there is no real diachronic identity of the self. But if not, then, prima facie, humans lack the sort of unity and persistence conditions required for moral accountability or personal immortality. This data is surprising on traditional theism, since that hypothesis entails both moral accountability and personal immortality. By contrast, such data isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that sort of hypothesis, there is no antecedent reason to expect the conditions required for either moral accountability or personal identity. Therefore, the data regarding the disunity of the self provide at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis traditional theism.

The Argument from Hard Incompatibilism Against Theism

There is a good case for the view that, whether or not causal determinism is true, no one is free or morally responsible for anything. This view is known as hard incompatibilism. But hard incompatibilism is surprising on orthodox theism, since on that hypothesis, we are held responsible for our actions, whether in this life or an afterlife. By contrast, hard incompatibilism isn't surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no expectation that we are free and responsible for our actions. Therefore, the data in support of hard incompatibilism provides at least some evidence in favor of naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

On the Compatiblity of Determinism and Libertarian Freedom: A Quick Sketch

Call the following view Everettian libertarianism: Everything's determined by the initial conditions of the universe plus the Schrodinger equation to play out as it does, but you perform different actions (and thus have alternative possibilities open to you) in different branches of the wave function. In fact, you bring about every possible alternative action in some branch or other of the wave function. So: (i) everything is determined, and yet (ii) all alternative possibilities are open to you. So libertarian freedom and determinism are compatible after all.

Objection: That's not you in other branches of the wave function; those are just counterparts of you.

Reply:  On a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the current scientific evidence, human beings are not single, numerically identical selves in a even a single world, whether at a given time or over time. So if the objection is based on some assumed requirement of numerical synchronic or diachronic personal identity for free will, then that assumption will equally undermine free will even if you only exist in one branch of the wave function. On the other hand, on a more relaxed account of personal identity (say, causal continuity or continuity of memory or personality), then all of your "counterparts" in various branches of the wave function are "you".

Aikin and Talisse Revisit the Problem of Worship


Sarah Adams New Paradox of Omnipotence

 Adams, Sarah. "A New Paradox of Omnipotence", Philosophia 43 (2015): 759-785.

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that the supposition of divine omnipotence entails a contradiction: omnipotence both must and must not be intrinsic to God. Hence, traditional theism must be rejected. To begin, I separate out some theoretical distinctions needed to inform the discussion. I then advance two different arguments for the conclusion that omnipotence must be intrinsic to God; these utilise the notions of essence and aseity. Next, I argue that some necessary conditions on being omnipotent are extrinsic, and that this means omnipotence cannot be intrinsic to God. I consider three different ways of resolving this conflict, but contend that each is unsuccessful. Before concluding, I explain why the type of strategy used to resolve the traditional paradoxes of omnipotence cannot be successfully employed against the paradox presented here.

Two Recent Papers from Sarah Adams and John Robson

"Does Absence Make Atheism Grow Stronger?", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 79:1 (2016), 49-68.
Abstract: Discussion of the role which religious experience can play in warranting theistic belief has received a great deal of attention within contemporary philosophy of religion. By contrast, the relationship between experience and atheistic belief has received relatively little focus. Our aim in this paper is to begin to remedy that neglect. In particular, we focus on the hitherto under-discussed question of whether experiences of God’s absence can provide positive epistemic status for a belief in God’s nonexistence. We argue that there is good reason to accept an epistemic parity between experiences of God’s presence and experiences of God’s absence

"Analyzing Aseity", Canadian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming), 1-17.
Abstract: The doctrine of divine aseity has played a significant role in the development of classical theism. However, very little attention has been paid in recent years to the question of how precisely aseity should be characterized. We argue that this neglect is unwarranted since extant characterizations of this central divine attribute quickly encounter difficulties. In particular, we present a new argument to show that the most widely accepted contemporary account of aseity is inconsistent. We then consider the prospects for developing a new account of aseity which avoids the pitfalls we have highlighted.

Quentin Smith Has Passed

Yet more sad news. It has come to my attention that Quentin Smith died last month. An obituary can be found here

Yet Another Version of the Problem of Creation Ex Nihilo

There is both strong intuitive and abductive empirical support for the principle that all made things and stuffs are made from other things or stuffs. Given this, any comprehensive metaphysical theory will incur a strong theoretical cost by including a thesis that falls crosswise of the principle, such as the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. In particular, the cost will significantly reduce such a theory's prior probability, putting it at a severe disadvantage to comprehensive metaphysical theories that can explain all the same data, and yet don't include the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Examples of theories of the latter sort include panentheism and demiurgism. Given that (for example) panentheism and demiurgism can explain roughly all the same data as theism, prima facie, theism can never catch up to panentheism and demiurgism with  respect to posterior probability, given the strong drag on its prior probability incurred by its inclusion of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Therefore, theism is a significantly less probable comprehensive metaphysical theory than either panentheism or demiurgism.

A Quick and Dirty Refutation of Fine-Tuning Arguments for Theism

Since creation ex nihilo is prima facie metaphysically impossible, the posterior probability of the god of theism creating a fine-tuned universe ex nihilo is zero. But if so, then the fine-tuning of the universe is best explained in terms of something that involved the use of pre-existing matter-energy (or whatever matter-energy is ultimately made of). The simplest, most conservative type of explanation of fine-tuning is therefore some sort of natural cause.

The Argument from Anti-Religious Experience

Many people have experiences that trigger the belief that reality is a cold and uncaring place, indifferent to their welfare. Such belief-triggering experiences are surprising on theism, since on that hypothesis, we'd expect God to design our cognitive faculties in such a way as to reliably trigger true beliefs about reality, according to which (on that hypothesis) reality is not a cold and uncaring place that is indifferent to our welfare. By contrast, such belief-triggering experiences are not surprising on naturalism, since on that hypothesis, reality really is a cold and uncaring place that is indifferent to our welfare. Therefore, the existence and pervasiveness of anti-religious experience provides at least some confirming evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Update: I've been reminded that a version of this sort of argument has been carefully developed and defended by Sarah Adams and John Robson in their excellent paper, "Does absence make atheistic belief grow stronger?", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 79 (2016), pp. 49-69. Thanks to Kaspian for the reminder.

Craig and Wielenberg's New Book on God and Morality

William Lane Craig and Erik Wielenberg's book, A Debate on God and Morality (ed. Adam Lloyd Johnson) is now out. A helpful review of the book can be found here.

Schellenberg's New Book on Monotheism and the Rise of Science

J.L. Schellenberg's new book, Monotheism and the Rise of Science, is the latest in the Cambridge Elements in Religion and Monotheism series, and downloads are free until December 7th! Here's the book's description to whet your appetite:

This Element traces the effects of science's rise on the cultural status of monotheism. Starting in the past, it shows how monotheism contributed to science's rise, and how, returning the favour, science provided aid and support, until fairly recently, for the continuing success of monotheism in the west. Turning to the present, the Element explores reasons for supposing that explanatorily, and even on an existential level, science is taking over monotheism's traditional roles in western culture. These reasons are found to be less powerful than is commonly supposed, though the existential challenge can be made effective when framed in an unusual and indirect manner. Finally, the Element considers how the relationship between science's high standing and the status of monotheism might appear in the future. Could something like monotheism rise again, and might science help it do so? The Element concludes that an affirmative answer is possible.

William Wainwright Has Passed

 More sad news. Details here.

Ben Arbour Has Passed

 I am saddened to announce that Ben Arbour recently passed in a tragic car accident, along with his wife. They are survived by their four children. They will be missed.

Further details here. A GoFundMe sight has been created on behalf of their surviving children. Please consider donating.

Wielenberg's Terrific New Paper on the Kalam Argument

 Wielenberg, Erik. "Craig's Contradictory Kalam: Trouble at the Moment of Creation", TheoLogica (Online First, October 9, 2020). DOI:

Here's the abstract:

Abstract:William  Lane  Craig’s  much–discussed kalamcosmological argument for God’s existence is intended to provide support for a particular theistic  explanation  of  the  origin  of  the  universe.I argue here that Craig’s theistic  account  of  the  origin  of the  universe entails  two  contradictions  and hence   should   be   rejected.The   main   contribution   of   the   paper   is   the identification     of     some     relatively     straightforward     but     previously unrecognized problems in Craig’s hypothesis that the beginning of the universe was a temporal effect of a timeless personal cause.

Fantastic Recent Paper on Pragmatic Encroachment and Religious Experience

I've been waiting for about 10 years for someone to carefully lay out the argument in the following paper, and my wait is now over:

Gillham, Alex X. "Religious Experience, Pragmatic Encroachment, and Justified Belief in God", Open Theology 1:6 (2020): 296-305

Here's the abstract:

The secondary literature on religious epistemology has focused extensively on whether religious experience can provide evidence for God’s existence. In this article, I suppose that religious experience can do this, but I consider whether it can provide adequate evidence for justified belief in God. I argue that it can. This requires a couple of moves. First, I consider the threshold problem for evidentialism and explain pragmatic encroachment (PE) as a solution to it. Second, I argue that religious experience can justify belief in God if one adopts PE, but this poses a dilemma for the defender of the veridicality of religious experience. If PE is true, then whether S has a justified belief in God on the basis of religious experience depends on how high the stakes are for having an experience with God. This requires one to determine whether the stakes are high or low for experiencing God, which puts the experient of God in an awkward position. If the stakes are not high, then justified belief in God on the basis of religious experience will be easier to come by, but this requires conceding that experiencing God is not that important. If the stakes are high, then the experient can maintain the importance of experience with God but must concede that justified belief in God on the basis of experience with God is less likely to happen, perhaps impossible.

Add this one to the list.

Negative PSR and Naturalism

(Rough Draft)

Spinoza appealed to a version of PSR that has both a positive and negative component:

Spinoza's Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR): every fact that obtains has a complete explanation for why it obtains, and every fact that fails to obtain has a complete explanation for why it fails to obtain. 

Suppose you accept Spinoza's PSR. Then you have a reason to think that every possible world is, and must be, actual. Otherwise, you will be hard pressed to find an explanation for why some possibilities fail to obtain. But if so, then there is an under-appreciated rational explanation for why the universe exists, rather than nothing. It is also an under-appreciated rational explanation for why our universe exists, rather than another. In this way, Spinoza's PSR provides the materials for a cosmological argument for naturalism.

Here is one way to exploit Spinoza's PSR to argue for naturalism. According to L.A. Paul's one-category ontology, there is just one kind of thing: qualities (i.e., properties). Qualities are universals -- i.e., repeatable entities -- that (arguably) exist necessarily and a se, and have a nature closer to Aristotle's immanent (non-substantial) forms than Plato's transcendent forms (there are no uninstantiated qualities). All the rest of reality is ultimately explained in terms of mereological fusions of n-adic qualities.[1] The fusion relation is a composition relation, and so derivative entities are composed of basic qualities.[2] The resultant picture is mereological bundle theory:

On my view, matter, concrete objects, abstract objects, and perhaps even spacetime are constructed from mereological fusions of qualities, so the world is simply a vast mixture of qualities, including polyadic properties (i.e., relations). This means that everything there is, including concrete objects like persons or stars, is a quality, a qualitative fusion, or a portion of the extended qualitative fusion that is the world-whole. I call my view mereological bundle theory. (Paul, "A One Category Ontology", p. 2)

According to mereological bundle theory, the world (here, I need not confine myself to the physical world, so by ‘‘world’’ I mean the whole world, not just the cosmos) is a vast mixture of properties, some with a single location (whether in configuration space, or in spacetime, or in something else), some with many locations, some located everywhere, and perhaps even some without any location at all (Locations are defined by n-adic properties. For simplicity, take the fundamental space to be relational, and define up ‘‘points’’ in the space using these relations and properties). The world is constructed from arrangements of properties and relations that are fused together to make things of all sorts: concrete objects, abstract objects, events, states of affairs, facts, fields, regions, and anything else there is. So, according to the mereological bundle theorist, fields, particles, entangled systems of particles, spaces, molecules, cells, bodies, persons and societies are all constructed, most fundamentally, from fusions of properties and relations. (Paul, "Building the World From Its Fundamental Constituents", p. 242).

Paul's one category ontology provides a nice an ontological framework for contemporary physics:

...consider the wave-function realist who takes the world-whole to be a wavefunction. On the GRW theory of the world, the world is a universal wave function that evolves in accordance with the dynamical laws. Understood in terms of mereological bundle theory, the wavefunction is the fusion of amplitude and phase properties (along with any other properties of the system) with structuring properties or relations, including the structuring relations described by Schrodinger’s equation and by the collapse postulate. A variant of this view can fit the Everettian approach, and one can also fit David Albert’s (1996) treatment of Bohmian mechanics by adding a world-particle that is simply a fusion of properties to the plurality of things. (Ibid., p. 254).

I think a naturalist who adopts Paul's one-category ontology can exploit her account to explain the existence and fine-tuning of our universe. To start, consider that if we assume with Paul that the world-whole is just the sum of all qualities, and they can combine in various ways in accordance with the constraints of their intrinsic natures, what prevents them from combining in every possible such way? It would be mysterious why they fuse/bundle in some ways and not others if they didn't fuse/bundle in every way consistent with their natures. Paul's one-category ontology thus naturally generates pressure to accept a mereology-focused variant of Spinoza's negative PSR:

Negative Mereological PSR (NMPSR): a given plurality of qualities will fuse/bundle unless there is a sufficient reason for why they do not.

Given NMPSR, then, we should assume that all possible bundles/fusions exist in the world-whole. If so, then we can explain everything the theist wants explained: 

Why does anything exist? Because qualities exist and they're necessary beings that exist a se

Why does a universe exist? Because (as we know from our observations of the actual world) there is a compossible distribution of qualities in some "region" of the world-whole that comprises a universe. So by that fact and NMPSR, there is a presumption to think that it is inevitable that there is a fusion/bundle of those properties -- i.e., a mereological fusion of qualities that make up a configuration space, along with a fusion of phase and amplitude properties, that compose a universal wavefunction. From non-spatiotemporal property configurations like this, you necessarily get spatiotemporal universes that logically supervene upon them.[3]  

Why does this universe exist? By NMPSR, absent a good reason to think otherwise, we should assume all possible universe quality fusions exist inevitably and necessarily within the world-whole of qualities, and this is one of them.[4]

To circle back to the original point: Spinoza has been making a comeback in recent decades in the study of early modern philosophy. His negative PSR is at least one reason why philosophers of religion should celebrate this.


[1] On Paul's account, the relation of mereological bundling here is not a fundamentally spatiotemporal one of spatiotemporal parts composing a spatiotemporal whole. This is because contemporary physics seems to have shown that spacetime isn't fundamental (think, for example, of wave function realism with respect to quantum mechanics, theories of quantum gravity that take spacetime to be emergent, etc.).

[2] Question: How does a quality become spatiotemporally localized on Paul's view? Answer: By bundling with spatiotemporal properties/relations: "Objects may have their locations in virtue of being fused with whatever location properties and relations there are that define the actual space of the world, and many objects will have a physical structure in virtue of having location properties and relations as parts of their fusions, or in virtue of being part of a larger fusion which has location properties and relations as parts. The character of the space might not be what we take the character of ordinary spacetime to be, but the structure of the space is generated by fusing qualitative properties with relevant properties and relations that define the space as determined by modern physics. Hence, the view is consistent with (and explicitly accommodating of) various approaches in modern physics: it is friendly to structuralism, and is perfectly consistent with realist interpretations of the ontology of quantum mechanics, for example, with realism about the wavefunction." (Paul, Building the World From Its Fundamental Constituents", p. 242).

[3] As Paul points out, her one-category ontology is compatible with a parts-to-whole mosaic, as well as a holistic whole-to-parts picture. She prefers the latter because it's a better fit with with quantum holism/entanglement phenomena.

[4] We might not even have to appeal to NMPSR here. For there are good grounds for thinking Everettian QM (EQM) is true, and as Alastair Wilson points out, EQM allows for different fundamental parameters within the universal wavefunction (indeed, it allows for all possible parameter variations). If so, then (given this fact plus the decoherence mechanism of EQM) EQM can generate something akin to a level-5 multiverse, where every possible universe exists in some branch or other of the universal wavefunction. 

A New Version of the Problem of Natural Evil

 (Rough draft)

Here's yet another argument to add to the list. It will take me some time to flesh it out properly, but the argument is a version of the problem of natural evil. The version I have in mind appeals to system 1 and system 2 of dual process theory in cognitive psychology, but I think a similar line of argument would go through on other accounts of cognitive systems. The core idea is that: (i) a significant portion of the population is destined, beyond factors it cannot control, to fail to reliably avail itself of system 2 reasoning (or to defer to those who can); (ii) this reliably leads to large quantities of suffering to both groups of people; (iii) (i) and (ii) are surprising on theism, but not on naturalism; therefore, (iv) such data provide at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Malpass' New Paper Critiquing the Argument from Logic

Malpass, Alex. "Problems for the Argument from Logic: a Response to the Lord of Non-Contradiction", Sophia (forthcoming)

Here's the abstract:

James Anderson and Greg Welty have resurrected an argument for God’s existence (Anderson and Welty 2011), which we will call the argument from logic. We present three lines of response against the argument, involving the notion of necessity involved, the notion of intentionality involved, and then we pose a dilemma for divine conceptualism. We conclude that the argument faces substantial problems.

Now Available in Paperback!

My book, Is God the Best Explanation of Things? A Dialogue (with Josh Rasmussen) is now available in paperback! You can now get it for 22.99 on Amazon and other venues. 

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.

The Problem of Permissivism

 Here's yet another new argument against traditional theism: Epistemic permissivism is a view that's growing in popularity amongst epistemologists. Permissivism is the view that there are cases (and belief in God is a case that's commonly used as an example) where there is more than one rational response to a given body of evidence. But according to traditional theism, permissivism is false, since the permissivism allows that one person can be justified by the relevant total body of evidence for God, and another can blamelessly disbelieve on the same body of evidence. At the very least, the truth of permissivism is considerably more surprising on the hypothesis of traditional theism than on the hypothesis of naturalism. Therefore, at the very least, the data of permissivism provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis traditional theism.

Jordan's Important New Paper on Evil and Divine Sovereignty

Jordan, Jeff. "Evil and Divine Sovereignty", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion: 1-14 (forthcoming).

Since at least the tenth century, some theists have argued that God’s sovereignty as creator exempts God from moral evaluation, and so any argument employing moral principles or the idea of God as morally perfect is fallacious. In particular, any argument contending that the occurrence of pointless evil presents strong evidence against the existence of God is flawed, as God morally owes his creation nothing. This appeal to divine sovereignty, however, fails to rescue any theistic tradition proclaiming that God loves humans, as no one would be indifferent concerning the pointless suffering of her beloved.

Intriguing New Paper on the Evidential Problem of Evil

BernĂ¡th, L., Kodaj, D. Evil and the god of indifference. Int J Philos Relig (2020).
Abstract: The evidential problem of evil involves a rarely discussed challenge, namely the challenge of defending theism against the hypothesis of a morally indifferent creator. Our argument uses a Bayesian framework and it starts by showing that if the only alternative to classical theism is naturalistic atheism, then fine-tuning can render theism virtually certain, even in the face of evil. But if the alternatives include the hypothesis of a morally indifferent creator, theism is defeated even if the fine-tuning premise is accepted. The resulting version of the evidential problem is unsolvable using the tools that are currently deployed by theists against evil.

Does EAAN Defeat God's Beliefs?

Hendricks, Perry and Anderson Tina. "Does the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism Defeat God's Beliefs", Sophia (2020).

Abstract: Alvin Plantinga has famously argued that the naturalist who accepts evolutionary theory has a defeater for all of her beliefs, including her belief in naturalism and evolution. Hence, he says, naturalism, when conjoined with evolution, is self-defeating and cannot be rationally accepted. This is known as the evolutionary argument against naturalism. However, Tyler Wunder has recently shown that if the EAAN is framed in terms of objective probability and theism is assumed to be non-contingent, then either theism is necessarily false or the EAAN is unsound. Neither option is attractive to the proponent of the EAAN. Perry Hendricks has responded to Wunder’s criticism, showing that the EAAN can be salvaged and, indeed, strengthened, by framing it in terms not of naturalism, but of a proposition that is entailed by N that is also consistent with theism. We will show that once Hendricks’ solution to Wunder’s objection is accepted, a puzzle ensues: if the EAAN provides the naturalist with a defeater for all of her beliefs, then an extension of it appears to provide God with a defeater for all of his beliefs. After bringing out this puzzle, we suggest several ways in which the proponent of the EAAN might solve it, but also show some potential weaknesses in these purported solutions. Whether the solutions to the puzzle that we consider ultimately succeed is unclear to us. that we consider do solve the puzzle while the other author does not.) However, it is clear to us that this is an issue that proponents of the EAAN need to address.

Thanks to A.G. for the pointer.

Russell's Fantastic Recent Paper on the Problem of Evil

Russell, Bruce.  2018. "The Problem of Evil and Replies to Important Responses", European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 10(3): 105-131.

The paper offers Russell's mature formulation of the problem of evil, as well as strong replies to important theodicies and defenses. And in response to the G.E. Moore Shift reply, Russell devotes the last half of the paper to a careful exposition and critique of Plantinga's reformed epistemology and Swinburne's Bayesian case for theism.

Absolutely required reading.

The Problem of Demiurgism

Here's yet another argument to add to the list. Demiurgism -- the view that a divine being made the world from uncreated, primordial stuff -- explains all the same data that classical theism can explain. And while it is slightly less simple than classical theism, it more than makes up for it in terms of conservatism, since (unlike classical theism) it doesn't fall afoul of the problem of creation ex nihilo. Therefore, prima facie, demiurgism is at least a slightly better explanation of the relevant data than classical theism.

The Problem of Polytheisms and the Problem of Alternative Theisms

Here's yet another argument (or two) to add to the list. In Lataster and Philipse (2017) and Lataster (2018), it is argued that alternative, rival supernatural hypotheses provide good grounds for thinking classical theism is very much less likely than not.

The Problem of Divine Authority: A New Argument Against Theism

Rough Draft:
Here's a new argument to add to the list. Michael Huemer has recently powerfully argued that the concept of political authority is incoherent. If he's right, then prima facie, the concept of divine authority over humans is incoherent. Furthermore, theist Mark Murphy has likewise argued that standard views of divine authority must be rejected, and that only a much weaker view of divine authority requiring prior human consent can be sustained. Finally, Luke Maring has argued that even if God's authority over humans has been granted by humans, the validity of such authority requires his intervention and protection. But the latter condition has not been met for at least many humans. But on classical theism, God has divine authority over us, and it is independent of human consent. Therefore, classical theism is false.

What God Would Have Known... the title of J.L. Schellenberg's forthcoming book , which offers a large number of novel arguments against Christian theism. I...