The Argument from Absences

(This argument was suggested to me by Joe Schmid.)

Here’s an another argument to add to the list. It proceeds from a principle about absences that several able philosophers defend (E.g., Kris McDaniel):

Necessarily, an absence of Fs exists when there are no Fs.

Suppose the principle is true. Now go to a possible world in which God refrains from creating (assume, as traditional theism does, that God has leeway freedom in creating). In that world, there are contingent things uncreated by God (namely, absences of creatures). But according to traditional theism's aseity-sovereignty doctrine, there can be no contingent things that are not created by God. Therefore, traditional theism is false.


Smilansky's New Pascalian Wager for Atheism

Smilansky, Saul. "Reversing Pascal's Wager: Scepticism About Religious Belief and Its Value", Religious Studies (forthcoming). 

Here's the abstract:

Pascal famously argued that practical reasoning should lead people to try to form within themselves a commitment to religious practice and obedience, based upon a belief in God. I propose to take a less ambitious argument, which I call the Sensible Argument, and use it to present The Puzzle. I argue that there is a huge puzzle here, about the radical dissonance between the beliefs and practices of many of the purportedly religious. There are, I will argue, good reasons to doubt, concerning many (clearly not all or indeed most) purported religious believers, whether they are indeed believers, or at least whether their beliefs are strong; and religion seems to greatly increase the risks of deception, duplicity, and hypocrisy, as well as self-deception and inauthenticity. By turning towards a religious form of life, one will therefore be adding great morality-related risks. Arguably, if there is a God who deeply cares about individual moral behaviour, he would punish religious moral transgressors more than the secular ones. One is unlikely to be saved from hell (or other severe divine punishment) by becoming religious. If one is going to wager, it seems much more sensible to wager on the secular side.

Happy reading!

The Argument from Logic

Rough draft: Post stub.

The fact that orthodox theists, from at least Augustine and all the way to the present, have seen logic as the expression of single, rational, divine Mind is at least some evidence that theism expects and predicts logical monism. But the case against logical monism -- and for the disjunction of logical pluralism and logical nihilism -- is more plausible than the case for logical monism. But the truth of the disjunction of logical pluralism and logical nihilism is prima facie more surprising on theism than on naturalism. Therefore, the case for the disjunction of logical pluralism and logical nihilism provides at least some evidence against theism.

The Argument from Motivated Reasoning

Post stub. Very rough draft.

Recent empirical work on motivated reasoning indicates that it is strongly resistant to detection, even despite our best efforts (Ballantyne 2015; Pronin et al. 2002). Perhaps worse, other work shows that attempts to preempt motivated reasoning reinforce its impact (Ehrlinger et al. 2005; Schwitzgebel & Ellis 2017). This is surprising on theism, given that it's surprising that God would design our cognitive faculties in a way that's highly disposed to unreliability -- and likely without remedy -- especially in ways that can be morally pernicious. By contrast, it's not surprising on naturalism, since nature is "indifferent" to our welfare on that hypothesis, and since motivated reasoning is conducive to survival and reproduction (Mercier & Sperber 2011). Therefore, the existence of motivated reasoning is at least some evidence for naturalism vis-a-vis theism.

Oberle's New Paper on Metaphysical Infinitism and the Thomistic Cosmological Argument

Here's a new paper making a point I've been on about recently: recent work on metaphysical infinitism and coherentism undercuts certain cosmological arguments, and the metaphysical foundationalism presupposed by theism.

Oberle, Thomas. "Grounding, infinite regress, and the Thomistic cosmological argument", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (July 2022).
Abstract: A prominent Thomistic cosmological argument maintains that an infinite regress of causes, which exhibits a certain pattern of ontological dependence among its members, would be vicious and so must terminate in a first member. Interestingly, Jonathan Schaffer offers a similar argument in the contemporary grounding literature for the view called metaphysical foundationalism. I consider the striking similarities between both arguments and conclude that both are unsuccessful for the same reason. I argue this negative result gives us indirect reason to consider metaphysical infinitism as a genuine possibility, the view that chains of ontological dependence or ground can descend indefinitely.



The Ontological Argument and the Metaphysics and Epistemology of Modality

Draft: Post stub.

It's not clear that there's a metaphysics and epistemology of modality that can vindicate a cogent modal ontological argument for classical theism. Theistic activism and theistic conceptualism with respect to possible worlds are a bad fit with the modal ontological argument (circularity). But so is Platonism about possible worlds (runs afoul of the aseity-sovereignty doctrine). Perhaps a dispositionalist/powers-based account of modality is compatible with the modal ontological argument, but prima facie, dispositionalism entails moderate modal skepticism (cf. Jacobs, Vetter), thereby undermining the possibility premise in the modal ontological argument. What's left? Modal fictionalism? That's already been shown to imply devastating problems for the modal ontological argument. 

Upshot: Cogent modal ontological arguments (at least ones friendly to classical theism) seem to have no suitable home in the metaphysics and epistemology of modality.

Substance-First vs. Property-First Ontologies: Beyond the Physicalism/Supernaturalism Distinction

Very rough draft: First pass.

A standard distinction between physicalism and supernaturalism/mentalism goes like this: 
Physicalism is the view that the physical is fundamental -- everything is either physical or dependent upon/grounded in the physical. By contrast supernaturalism/mentalism is the view that one or more spiritual/mental/supernatural beings are more fundamental than the physical -- everything is either mental or dependent upon the mental.
I have at least two worries for this way of carving things up. I've gestured to the first of these on previous occasions -- viz., that the characterization of the distinction presupposes metaphysical foundationalism, and yet metaphysical foundationalism has recently been called into doubt (on both philosophical and scientific grounds), and metaphysical coherentism and metaphysical infinitism have both recently been vigorously defended. 

My second worry is the one I want to briefly focus on in this post. The worry is that it fails to get at what is potentially a deeper distinction, and one that's potentially more illuminating than the distinction between physicalism and supernaturalism. The distinction I have in mind is at the level of basic ontological categories and categorical priority -- in particular, the level of the ontological priority of the categories of substance and property. According to a standard and historically prominent view, substances are more fundamental than properties (or at least: substances are no less fundamental than properties). Accordingly, let's call this sort of view a substance-first ontology.

By contrast, a number of philosophers (e.g., Laurie Paul and Shamik Dasgupta) have recently argued that properties are more fundamental than substances, and indeed that substances may not even exist. Let's call this sort of view a property-first ontology.

Which view is correct: the substance-first view or the property-first view? This question has potentially huge implications for the disagreement between theists and non-theists.[1] This is because, prima facie, orthodox monotheism entails the substance-first view. And this in turn is because, prima facie, God is a substance, and is prior to all else that exists. Therefore, if there are reasons to prefer the property-first view, then there are thereby reasons to prefer non-theism to theism. 

-------
[1] There are other views that are equally powerful threats to theism, such as a stuff-first view, according to which stuffs are more fundamental than substances. Another is Jason Turner's facts-first ontology (as well as related events-first ontologies). However, I leave these sort of threats to the side for the present post.

The Fine-Tuning Argument Against Theism

Draft: Post stub.

The evidence for fine-tuning confirms both demiurgism and panentheism over theism, and in this way is good evidence against theism. This is because the intuitive and empirical evidence against creation ex nihilo creates a strong drag on theism’s prior probability not suffered by demiurgism and panentheism, and so they lap the former in terms of posterior probability. A fortiori, the posterior probability of the inclusive disjunction of demiurgism and panentheism is considerably higher than that of theism given the evidence of fine-tuning.

Neil Manson's New Survey Article on Fine-Tuning, The Multiverse Hypothesis, and the Inverse Gambler's Fallacy

 ...in Philosophy Compass.

Mary, Did You Consent?

 ...is the paper title of Blake Hereth's provocative new paper in Religious Studies. Here's the abstract:

The Christian and Islamic doctrine of the VIRGIN BIRTH claim God asexually impregnated the Virgin Mary with Jesus, Mary's impregnation was fully consensual (VIRGIN CONSENT), and God never acts immorally (DIVINE GOODNESS). First, I show that God's actions and Mary's background beliefs undermine her consent by virtue of coercive incentives, Mary's comparative powerlessness, and the generation of moral conflicts. Second, I show that God's non-disclosure of certain reasonably relevant facts undermines Mary's informed consent. Third, I show that a recent attempt by Jack Mulder to rescue VIRGIN CONSENT fails. As DIVINE GOODNESS and VIRGIN CONSENT are more central to orthodoxy, Christians and Muslims have powerful reason to reject VIRGIN BIRTH.

Prediction Error Minimization Theories of Perception and Religious Visions

Seems to me we have a plausible explanation of religious visions in "strong priors" cases that's at least sufficient to undercut any warrant or justification they might confer. 


A Sketch of How to Explain Everything Naturalistically With L.A. Paul's One Category Ontology

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]

-------------------------------

[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.

The Argument from One-Category Ontology to Atheism

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], [3] 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 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).

Paul's hypothesis of a one-category ontology is much more parsimonious than theism's, which posits irreducible substances -- and irreducibly different kinds of substances -- in addition to qualities. It also also has wider scope than theism, as it can explain God (if there is a god) in terms of a fusion of qualities. It can also explain the existence of God in terms of a derivative being that supervenes upon the modal space of qualities. Unfortunately, the latter two claims are incompatible with classical theism, as they violate the doctrine of divine simplicity and both conjuncts of the aseity-sovereignty doctrine (i.e., the doctrine that (i) God is an absolutely independent being, dependent upon/derivative of nothing and (ii) everything distinct from God depends upon her for their existence). All else being equal, then, a one-category ontology of qualities is a more plausible theory of ultimate reality than theism.

-------------------------------

[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.

Nathan King's "The Apologist's Dilemma"

King, Nathan. "The Apologist's Dilemma", in Matthew A. Benton and Jonathan L. Kvanvig, eds. Religious Disagreement and Pluralism. Oxford University Press, 2022. Here's a few snippets to whet your appetite:







Sanford Goldberg's Important Case for Religious Disagreement as a Defeater for Religious Belief

Read these papers:

Goldberg, Sanford C. “Does Externalist Epistemology Rationalize Religious Commitment?” In Timothy O’Connor and Laura Frances Callahan, eds., Religious Faith and Intellectual Virtue. Oxford University Press, 2013.

-----. "How Confident Should a Believer Be in the Face of Religious Pluralism?" In Matthew A. Benton and Jonathan L. Kvanvig, eds. Religious Disagreement and Pluralism. Oxford University Press, 2022.

For further contextualization and for his line of response to the worry of overgeneralizing, see his "Defending Philosophy in the Face of Systematic Disagreement", in Diego E. Machuca, ed., Disagreement and Skepticism. Routledge, 2013.

A Cogent Argument Against Orthodox Christianity

Barnes, Gordon. "The Sins of Christian Orthodoxy", Philo 10:2 (2007). 

Abstract: Christian orthodoxy essentially involves the acceptance of the New Testament as authoritative in matters of faith and conduct. However, the New Testament instructs slaves and women to accept a subordinate status that denies their equality with other human beings. To accept such a status is to have the vice of servility, which involves denying the equality of all human beings. Therefore the New Testament asserts that slaves and women should deny their equality with other human beings. This is false. Moreover, these same passages in the New Testament implicitly assert that slavery and the subordination of women are morally permissible. This is also false. Therefore orthodox Christianity is false.

Absolutely required reading.

The Everettian Problem of Evil

Post stub

There are infinitely many decohering branches of the universal wave function, such that infinitely many branches contain gratuitous evil.

Fantastic Recent Empirically Informed Atheistic Argument from Moral Psychology

Teehan, John. "Cognitive Science, Evil, and God", in De Cruz, H and Nichols, R. (2016). Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Philosophy. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 39-60.

Here's a summary of the paper from the editors' introduction to the book: 

John Teehan looks in more detail at the problem of evil, a classic challenge to theism in philosophy of religion. This problem has received a lot of attention in mainstream philosophy of religion, and according to Teehan, cognitive science can further strengthen it. He shows this by considering the features of our evolved morality. Traditionally, the fact that humans have some unlearned (probably innate) sense of what is right and wrong has been regarded as evidence for theism; see, for example, formulations of the moral argument by Swinburne (2004). A crucial and often-overlooked feature of evolved morality is that it is an in-group adaptation. As a result, humans are more morally sensitive to those they consider in-group members, and conversely, they can be indifferent or cruel to those they consider part of the out-group. Teehan surveys empirical evidence for this, for instance, that people are less empathetic toward people who experience pain if they believe them to be out-group members (e.g., of different ethnic groups). This suggests that some moral evil, such as prejudice, between-group violence, and dehumanization, results from a properly working system of evolved moral cognition. This presents a challenge to theism. Teehan proceeds to consider some theodicies and argues that none is successful.

Absolutely required reading.


Perhaps the Best Argument from Religious Diversity

 ...is Jason and Jon Marsh's "The Explanatory Challenge of Religious Diversity."

Abstract: The challenge from religious diversity is widely thought to be one of the most important challenges facing religious belief. Despite this consensus, however, many epistemologists think that standard versions of the challenge fail because they threaten to implicate many seemingly reasonable yet highly controversial non-religious beliefs. In light of this we develop an alternative, less discussed, diversity challenge that does not generalize. This challenge concerns why so much religious diversity exists in the first place given common religious, and in particular theistic, views. Although there are some interesting scientific explanations of such diversity, satisfying theistic explanations of its existence are still required.

Required reading.

Marsh on the Problem of Natural Non-Belief

 Marsh, Jason. "Darwin and the Problem of Natural Non-Belief", The Monist 96(3): 349-376.

Abstract: Problem one: why, if God designed the human mind, did it take so long for humans to develop theistic concepts and beliefs? Problem two: why would God use evolution to design the living world when the discovery of evolution would predictably contribute to so much nonbelief in God? Darwin was aware of such questions but failed to see their evidential significance for theism. This paper explores this significance. Problem one introduces something I call natural nonbelief, which is significant because it parallels and corroborates well-known worries about natural evil. Problems one and two, especially when combined, support naturalism over theism, intensify the problem of divine hiddenness, challenge Alvin Plantinga’s views about the naturalness of theism, and advance the discussion about whether the conflict between science and religion is genuine or superficial

Liz Goodnick's Argument Against Reliably Caused Theistic Belief

 Goodnick, Liz.  "A De Jure Criticism of Theistic Belief", Open Theology 2 (Feb 2016): 23-33.

Abstract: An evolutionary by-product explanation entails that religious belief is an unintended consequence of a cognitive process selected for by evolution. In this paper, I argue that if a by-product explanation is true, then religious belief is unwarranted (even if God exists). In particular, I argue that if the cause of religious belief is the god-faculty (HADD + ToM + eToM + MCI), then it is likely unreliable; thus, religious belief is unwarranted. Plantinga argues that de jure criticisms are not independent of de facto criticisms: without knowing whether or not God exists, one can’t say that belief in God is unwarranted, since if God exists, it is possible that God has planned that this mechanism would lead to belief in Him. Against Plantinga, I show that in order for de jure criticisms to have force, it is not necessary to know that God does not exist. Instead, one only needs to doubt His existence. And if by-product explanations turn out to be supported by the evidence, this fact alone gives us reason to doubt God’s existence. Thus, if the by-product explanation is true, belief in God is not warranted; if we know this, then we have reason to doubt theism.


Grim Variations

Grim Variations: By Fabio Lampert and John Waldrop, Published on 04/01/21

Conclusion: "...the paradoxicality of divine omniscience, by the lights of Grim-style considerations, resides in a heretofore undertheorized feature of God’s knowledge: God’s status as a being of perfect rationality from a logical point of view."

Jeremy Koons' New Paper on Theism and the Meaning of Life

Koons, Jeremy. "God's Goodness, Divine Purpose, and the Meaning of Life: Meet the New Euthyphro Dilemma", European Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 14:2 (2022).

Abstract: The divine purpose theory —according to which that human life is meaningful to the extent that it fulfills some purpose or plan to which God has directed us—encounters well-known Euthyphro problems. Some theists attempt to avoid these problems by appealing to God’s essential goodness, à la the modified divine command theory of Adams and Alston. However, recent criticisms of the modified DCT show its conception of God’s goodness to be incoherent; and these criticisms can be shown to present an analogous set of problems for the DPT. Further, the argument can be extended to any account of meaningfulness according to which the value of what humans do can only be conferred by God. Thus, it would seem that there is no tenable version of the view that meaningfulness is conferred on human life by some act or attitude of God’s.

I haven't yet read the paper, but for what it's worth, I've sketched a Euthyphro-stye dilemma for theistic accounts of the meaning of life here, back in 2012.

Basic Properties, Derivative Properties, and Perfect Beings

It's common to see arguments in philosophy of religion that aim to establish the existence of a perfect being, where the perfections are taken to be maximal expressions of a special subset of personal qualities (e.g., omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection). Standard arguments include ontological arguments and so-called "Stage Two" reasoning in cosmological arguments.

A standard objection to such arguments is that it's not at all clear that such properties are individually possible and/or collectively compossible. But I want to raise a deeper problem that, so far as I've been able to tell, has never been put directly. The problem is that such arguments not only assume that such properties are compossible, but also that they are instantiable as basic or foundational properties. But of course the non-theist will have principled worries, based on what they take to be our best theories about the world, that personal attributes are not properties that can be instantiated as basic our foundational properties -- i.e. they're not ground-floor properties, but rather derivative properties that are grounded (at least in part) in the physical. They will thus have non-trivial, substantive worries that it's metaphysically impossible for personal attributes to exist at the metaphysical ground floor -- at least unaccompanied by physical properties (or whatever the physical is ultimately composed of).

So take Plantinga's modal ontological argument, for example. He packs these personal attributes into his definition of maximal greatness: What constitutes the property of maximal greatness? Maximal excellence at every possible world. What constitutes maximal excellence? Being essentially all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good. But what is left unstated yet assumed is that these properties are foundational properties in a maximally excellent being. But again the problem is that this is contrary to all experience (or at least our best theories): in all our experience (or: in our best theories), those properties come on the scene pretty late, and in any case seem to depend for their existence and functioning on brains and central nervous systems. So it seems they're not ground-floor properties, but rather derivative properties that are grounded (at least in part) in the physical. So it looks like we have non-trivial worries about the crucial possibility-premise in Plantinga's modal ontological argument.

Similarly for Stage Two cosmological arguments. A generic example of a Stage Two cosmological argument runs (very roughly) as follows: The necessary being at the foundation of reality must be an absolutely unlimited being. For (assuming we can show that a necessary being doesn't have essential internal limits that are knowable, if at all, a posteriori) the only way that a being could have limits is if there were some other entity that limited it, and yet we are talking about the foundation of reality, where (assuming we could show that there is only one "plank" in reality's foundation) there is nothing external around to limit it. So it must have unlimited attributes, where these include the personal attributes mentioned above (Why not also unlimited non-personal attributes, such as infinite spatial extension? Spinoza must be rolling in his grave.). But as with Plantinga's modal ontological argument, what is left unstated yet assumed is that personal attributes are or can be basic or foundational, ground-floor properties, and not derivative, non-foundational properties. But as we've seen, such an assumption is contrary to all experience (or at least our best theories), in which case there are non-trivial worries that a personal foundation of at least that sort may well be impossible. So it's completely question-begging against at least certain standard pictures of naturalism. 

What about a liberal naturalist like myself? I'm in print as having Russellian monist  -- indeed, priority cosmopsychist -- sympathies. But even on that view, physical characteristics are also fundamental, and essentially so. So we can't get support for the theistic picture from there, either. 

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
29. The argument from suboptimal design

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

VIII. Arguments from Consciousness and Personhood
72. 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
104. The argument from theism to radical skepticism
109, 110. The problem(s) of religious luck
111. The argument from Mandevillian intelligence
112. The argument from secondary qualities against the reliability of perception
113. The argument from Bayesian theories of perception (esp. prediction error minimization theories)
114. The argument from wave function realism against the reliability of perception
115. The problem of theistic evidentialist philosophers

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

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

XIX. Arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Non-Belief
122. Deductive arguments from divine hiddenness
123. Probabilistic arguments from divine hiddenness
125. 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)
126. Omnipotence (see also)
127. Omniscience (see also)
129. Beauty
130. Omnipresence
132. 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
160. The problem of classical deism
178. The problem of the inclusive disjunction of rival supernaturalisms/worldviews

XXIV. Arguments from the Success of Naturalistic Explanations

XXV. Arguments from Private Evidence
180. 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
233. Oppy’s abductive cumulative case argument for naturalism
237. Various cumulative IBE arguments from large conjunctive disjuncts of 1-229.

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. 

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Notes:
[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).

What God Would Have Known...

 ...is the title of J.L. Schellenberg's forthcoming book , which offers a large number of novel arguments against Christian theism. I...