Oppy and Pearce's Excellent New God Debate Book

I'm really enjoying Oppy and Pearce's new debate book, Is There a God? A Debate (Routledge, 2021).

Here's the blurb:
Bertrand Russell famously quipped that he didn’t believe in God for the same reason that he didn’t believe in a teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars: it is a bizarre assertion for which no evidence can be provided. Is belief in God really like belief in Russell’s teapot? Kenneth L. Pearce argues that God is no teapot. God is a real answer to the deepest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? Graham Oppy argues that we should believe that there are none but natural causal entities with none but natural causal properties—and hence should believe that there are no gods. Beginning from this basic disagreement, the authors proceed to discuss and debate a wide range of philosophical questions, including questions about explanation, necessity, rationality, religious experience, mathematical objects, the foundations of ethics, and the methodology of philosophy. Each author first presents his own side, and then they interact through two rounds of objections and replies.

Pedagogical features include standard form arguments, section summaries, bolded key terms and principles, a glossary, and annotated reading lists. In the volume foreword, Helen De Cruz calls the debate "both edifying and a joy," and sums up what’s at stake: "Here you have two carefully formulated positive proposals for worldviews that explain all that is: classical theism, or naturalistic atheism. You can follow along with the authors and deliberate: which one do you find more plausible?"

Though written with beginning students in mind, this debate will be of interest to philosophers at all levels and to anyone who values careful, rational thought about the nature of reality and our place in it.

Important Recent Work on Theodicy

Hill, Scott. "Why God Allows Undeserved Horrendous Evil", Religious Studies (Online First 28 Sept. 2021). In the paper, Hill applies recent work on the non-identity problem in ethics to the problem of evil. Vince Vitale has recently written a monograph applying insights from the non-identity problem literature to the problem of evil as well. Required reading for anyone working on the problem of evil today.

Quantum Modal Realism and a "Victorious" Ontological Argument for Naturalism

Rough draft.

One can run a minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism with just two simple premises:  

1. Possibly, a necessarily existent natural universe exists.

2. What's necessary doesn't vary from possible world to possible world.

3. Therefore, there is a necessarily existent natural universe.

(2) follows from Axiom S5 of S5 modal logic, and most philosophers accept S5, so it's fairly uncontroversial. So the argument comes down to the plausibility of (1). 

But (1) is plausible as well. For the most plausible interpretation of quantum mechanics is arguably the Everettian interpretation, and as Alastair Wilson has recently argued, one can provide a plausible naturalistic account of modality in terms of Everettian quantum mechanics, which he dubs quantum modal realism (QMR). Roughly: a possible world is a branch of the universal wave function; something is possible just in case it exists in at least one branch of the wave function; and something is necessary just in case it exists in every branch of the wave function. Finally, because the empirical evidence underdetermines whether the decohering branches of the wave function share an initial segment (the overlapping interpretation) or have qualitatively identical yet numerically distinct initial segments (the diverging interpretation), de re modality can be spelled out either in terms of transworld identity (which corresponds to the overlapping interpretation) or in terms of counterpart theory, according to which individuals are worldbound (which corresponds to the diverging interpretation). So in light of the machinery of QMR, (1) asserts that it is true within at least one branch of the wavefunction that the natural universe exists in every branch of the wave function (which is true in our branch, and of course in every branch), where the de re modal properties of the natural universe are given either an overlapping, transworld identity gloss or a diverging, worldbound/counterpart-theoretic gloss.

Furthermore, (1) seems more plausible than the theistic possibility premise in the corresponding modal ontological argument for theism. For the truth of the latter premise requires acceptance of the compossibility of a large swath of exotic properties, such as omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, immateriality, and the capacity for creating individuals and/or stuffs out of nothing. It also requires the possibility of personal attributes being instantiated as basic, rather than derivative, properties, which is contrary to experience and our best scientific theories. Therefore, it appears that one has more reason to accept the minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism than the standard modal ontological argument for theism.

A Minimal Modal Ontological Argument for Naturalism

One can run a minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism with just two simple premises:  

1. Possibly, there is a necessarily existent essentially natural thing or stuff.[1]  (i.e., the two properties are compossible).

2. What's necessary doesn't vary from possible world to possible world.

3. Therefore, there is a necessarily existent essentially natural thing or stuff.

(2) follows from Axiom S5 of S5 modal logic, and most philosophers accept S5, so it's fairly uncontroversial. So the argument comes down to the plausibility of (1). But (1) just says that being necessarily existent and being an essentially natural thing or stuff are compossible properties, which seems more plausible than the theistic possibility premise in the corresponding modal ontological argument for theism. For the truth of the latter premise requires acceptance of the compossibility of a large swath of exotic properties, such as omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, immateriality, and the capacity for creating individuals and/or stuffs out of nothing. It also requires the possibility of personal attributes being instantiated as basic, rather than derivative, properties, which is contrary to experience and our best scientific theoriesTherefore, it appears that one has more reason to accept the minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism than the standard modal ontological argument for theism.


[1] Or whatever ultimately composes natural things: quantum fields; wavefunction stuff (whether in ordinary 3-space or a massively higher-dimensional Hilbert space); physical forces; symmetries or invariances; the strings of string theory; the entities of causal set theory or loop quantum gravity, etc. Henceforth assume this qualification when left unstated.

A Modal Ontological Argument for Spinozistic Naturalism

Rough draft: 

Here's another argument to add to the list:

Consider the following argument for a version of Spinozistic naturalism:

1. It's possible that there is a being who has all perfections essentially.

2. Infinite thought, infinite extension, and necessary existence are perfections.

3. Therefore, it's possible that there is a being who has necessary existence, infinite thought, and infinite extension essentially.

4. What's possible doesn't vary from possible world to possible world.

5. Therefore, a being who has infinite thought and infinite extension essentially actually exists.

This argument is better than the standard modal ontological argument for theism, since the theistic God lacks extension, and Spinoza seems to be correct in thinking that infinite extension is a perfection. At the very least, infinite extension seems to have at least as much going for it as the attributes of the god of theism. Therefore, at the very least, one has at least as much reason to accept the above argument for Spinozistic naturalism as the standard modal ontological argument for theism.

The Problem of Divine Achievement

John Pittard's new paper points to another argument against theism: the problem of divine achievement. In rough terms, the argument is that being worthy of agential praise requires achieving something that is creditworthy. But achieving something that is creditworthy requires doing something that one finds difficult. But if classical theism is true, then none of God's actions are difficult for God. And if not, then none of God's actions are creditworthy, in which case none of God's actions are worthy of agential praise. (Pittard argues that the problem can be avoided, but he admits that it can't be done without incurring some costs.) It seems to me that the problem of divine achievement is another significant problem for classical theism. The list keeps growing.

Alastair Wilson's Excellent New Critique of the Fine-Tuning Argument

At the end of his excellent book, The Nature of Contingency: Quantum Physics as Modal Realism, Alastair Wilson offers a game-changing undercutting defeater for fine-tuning arguments for theism. It's a real advance in the literature, as it offers a persuasive reply to Roger White's celebrated "this universe" objection. The basic idea is that Everettian quantum mechanics implies the existence of a multiverse, and if you (rightly, in my view) accept the Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics as abductively best, and if you antecedently come to the data of fine-tuning with a low credence in theism, then you thereby have good reason to think the diversity of universes to be of the right sort to explain the fine-tuning of our universe. Highly recommended.

Rdzak's Nice Paper on the Incompatibility of PSR and Libertarianism

Rdzak, Brandon. "The Principle of Sufficient Reason and Libertarianism: A Reply to Pruss", Philosophia (2021),  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-021-00364-0. 

Abstract: Alexander Pruss’s Principle of Sufficient Reason states that every contingent true proposition has an explanation. Pruss thinks that he can plausibly maintain both his PSR and his account of libertarian free will. This is because his libertarianism has it that contingent true propositions reporting free choices are self-explanatory. But I don’t think Pruss can plausibly maintain both his PSR and libertarianism without a rift occurring in one or the other. Similar to the old luck/randomness objection, I contend that Pruss’s libertarianism is susceptible to what I call “the inexplicability objection”, which attempts to show that agents’ free choices involve contingent brute facts. Pruss may be able to partially explain a proposition such that Jones freely chose A for reason R, but he cannot adequately explain a contrastive proposition such as that Jones freely chose A for R rather than B for R*. The result is that either PSR is too explanatorily permissive for libertarianism, or libertarianism is too explanatorily impermissive to satisfy PSR. After considering what I take to be Pruss’s best response to the inexplicability objection, I conclude that his attempt to reconcile PSR and libertarianism is unsuccessful.

The Argument from PSR to Monism

Here's yet another argument to add to the list. A commitment to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) is commonly thought to go hand in hand with a commitment to traditional theism. However, as Michael Della Rocca has recently argued, PSR entails monism. Therefore, to the extent that one has reason to accept PSR, one has reason to reject theism.

Fantastic New Paper on Fine-Tuning as Evidence for a Multiverse

Yoaav Isaacs, John Hawthorne, and Jeffrey Sanford Russell. "Multiple Universes and Self-Locating Evidence", Philosophical Review (forthcoming).

Is the fact that our universe contains fine-tuned life evidence that we live in a multiverse? Hacking (1987) and White (2000) influentially argue that it is not. We approach this question through a systematic framework for self-locating epistemology. As it turns out, leading approaches to self-locating evidence agree that the fact that our own universe contains fine-tuned life indeed confirms the existence of a multiverse (at least in a suitably idealized setting). This convergence is no accident: we present two theorems showing that in this setting, *any* updating rule that satisfies a few reasonable conditions will have the same feature. The conclusion that fine-tuned life provides evidence for a multiverse is hard to escape.

Fantastic New Critique of Molinism by Climenhaga and Rubio

 Climenhaga, Nevin and Rubio, Daniel. "Molinism: Explaining Our Freedom Away", Mind (forthcoming).


Molinists hold that there are contingently true counterfactuals about what agents would do if put in specific circumstances, that God knows these prior to creation, and that God uses this knowledge in choosing how to create. In this essay we critique Molinism, arguing that if these theses were true, agents would not be free. Consider Eve’s sinning upon being tempted by a serpent. We argue that if Molinism is true, then there is some set of facts that fully explains both Eve’s action and everything else Eve does that influences that action; and that if this is the case, Eve does not act freely. The first premise of this argument follows from the explanatory relations the Molinist is committed to, and the second premise follows from libertarian intuitions about free will.

The Argument from Modal Normativism Against Theism

Here's another argument to add to the listModal normativism is growing in popularity as an account of the nature of modality. However, on that view, modal properties are metaphysically lightweight, and do not exist as features of mind-independent reality. However, on standard theism, modal properties are not metaphysically lightweight, but rather exist as features of mind-independent reality (e.g., the necessary existence of god and the contingent existence of the universe). Therefore, to the extent that one has reason to accept modal normativism, one thereby has reason to reject standard theism.

Three Excellent New Critiques of the Kalam Cosmological Argument from Malpass and Morriston

Malpass, Alex. 2021. "All the Time in the World", Mind. https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzaa086. 

Morriston, Wes. 2021. "Infinity, Time, and Successive Addition", Australasian Philosophical Quarterly. DOI: 10.1080/00048402.2020.1865426

Malpass, Alex and Morriston Wes. 2020. "Endless and Infinite", The Philosophical Quarterly 70(281): 830-849. 

Theism's Problem of Reasoning Under Moral Uncertainty

 Rough draft

Ever since the 2000 publication of Ted Lockhart's Moral Uncertainty and its Consequences, philosophers have become increasingly concerned about the problem of reasoning under moral uncertainty. Even after a long period of deep study and reflection, many people are uncertain about which moral theory is correct, and even about when one moral principle is weightier than another. Many people are also uncertain, even after a long period of deep study and reflection, about the moral status of at least non-human animals and insects. However, there are many ordinary moral contexts where the moral rightness or wrongness, or goodness or badness, of an action depends on which moral theory is correct, which moral principle is weightier than another, or whether non-human animals and/or insects have moral standing. Furthermore, often the choice between acting on one moral theory (or principle, or view about the moral standing of non-human animals and/or insects) is such that if we make the wrong choice, we've done something horrendously bad or wrong.  Here's a simple intuitive example from Carr (2020):

Go Vegan? Sally is uncertain about whether non-human animals have moral standing. She is certain that, if animals dont have moral standing, its a little better for her to eat meat, eggs, and dairy occasionally for gustatory and social reasons. Shes also certain that, if animals do have moral standing, itbadly morally wrong for her to eat non-vegan foods.

The phenomena of moral uncertainty of this sort and others is highly surprising on theism, since it is widely held that on that hypothesis, one major purpose for humans in this world is that of exercising our moral freedom to make serious moral choices and to develop our character. In any case, at the very least, it's surprising on theism to find the world to be one of moral Russian roulette. By contrast, the phenomena of reasoning under moral uncertainty is not surprising on the hypothesis of naturalism, since on that hypothesis, there is no personal god who has made the world to be an arena for exercising moral freedom and character development. The phenomena of reasoning under moral uncertainty therefore constitutes at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Laura Ekstrom's New Book on the Problem of Evil

God, Suffering, and the Value of Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2021) is now out, and promises to be a major contribution to the problem of evil. Can't wait to read it.

New Critique of Brower's Truthmaker Analysis of Divine Simplicity

 Da Vee, Dean. "Why truthmaker theory cannot save divine simplicity", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (2021). 


Although the doctrine of divine simplicity has faced substantial criticism in recent years, Jeffrey Brower has recently offered a novel defense of the view by appealing to contemporary truthmaker theory. In this paper, I will argue that Brower’s defense of divine simplicity requires an implausible account of how truthmaking works for essential intrinsic predications. I will first argue that, unless Brower is willing to make an ad hoc exception for how truthmaking works in God’s case, he is committed to saying that essential intrinsic predications about any object are made true by that object alone, not by its having essential properties. I will then argue that reflecting on cases where distinct essential intrinsic predications about an object have different causal explanations behind them shows that this general view of truthmaking is implausible.

Nice Paper on the Impossibility of a Rational Omnipotent Agent

Baker, Derek. "Deliberators Must Be Imperfect", PPR 93(2): 321-347. The aim of the paper is to critique theories that explain practical reason in terms of perfectly rational omniscient agents, but of course the point is  of interest to philosophers of religion as well. Here's the abstract:

This paper argues that, with certain provisos, predicting one's future actions is incompatible with rationally deliberating about whether to perform those actions. It follows that fully rational omniscient agents are impossible, since an omniscient being could never rationally deliberate about what to do (omniscient beings, the paper argues, will always meet the relevant provisos). Consequently, theories that explain practical reasons in terms of the choices of a perfectly rational omniscient agent must fail. The paper considers several ways of defending the possibility of an omniscient agent, and concludes that while some of these may work, they are inconsistent with the aim of explaining practical normativity by appeal to such an agent.

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).

The Argument from Expressivism

Metaethical expressivism is a powerful and popular theory of the nature of moral statements. However, the theory entails that there are no moral facts. This is surprising on theism, since on that view, there are moral facts, and God has moral attributes that seem to entail the existence of moral facts about his/her nature. By contrast, the non-existence of moral facts isn't surprising on naturalism, since it seems to make no predictions about the existence of moral facts. Therefore, those who accept metaethical expressivism thereby have at least some grounds for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Malpass' Nice Critique of the Argument from Logic

Malpass, Alex. "Problems for the argument from logic", Sophia (forthcoming).

The Argument from the Autonomy of Ethics Against Theism

There are several secular ethical theories (e.g., contractarian theories, consequentialist theories, deontological theories, sentimentalist theories, etc.) that explain our moral intuitions better than religious accounts, such as divine command theory. This is surprising on standard forms of theism, since on those hypotheses, morality is not independent of the existence, nature, and/or commands of God. Therefore, the phenomenon of the autonomy of ethics is one piece of data in an inference to the best explanation for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

The Argument from Ontological Nihilism Against Theism

There are non-trivial reasons in support of strong ntological nihilism, according to which there are no individuals. This isn't surprising on naturalism, since naturalism doesn't predict the existence or emergence of individuals. By contrast, ontological nihilism is surprising on theism, since prima facie, theism entails that God is an individual, and that human beings are individuals. Therefore, the data in support of ontological nihilism provides at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

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...