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. 

[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).

Varieties of The Principle of Material Causality and the Problem of Creation Ex Nihilo

Very rough draft. 

There are at least seven versions of the principle of material causality:

1. Strong De Dicto PMC: Necessarily, all individuals and stuffs that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause have an originating or sustaining material cause, respectively.

2. Strong De Re PMC: All individuals and stuffs (in the actual world) are such that, necessarily, they have an originating or sustaining material cause whenever they have an originating or sustaining efficient cause, respectively.

3. Standard PMC: All individuals and stuffs that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause have an originating or sustaining material cause, respectively.

4. Defeasible PMC: Normally, individuals and stuffs with originating or sustaining efficient causes have originating or sustaining material causes, respectively.

5. IBE PMC: Theories that conform to PMC are more theoretically virtuous than those that fail to conform to PMC.

6. Bayesian PMC: Theories that conform to PMC have a much higher prior probability than those that fail to conform to PMC.

7. Weak PMC: Possibly, all individuals and stuffs that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause have an originating or sustaining material cause, respectively.

From each principle, one can generate a defensible version of the problem of creation ex nihilo. There are therefore at least seven defensible versions of the problem of creation ex nihilo for theism.

The Argument from Metaphysical Coherentism/Infinitism

Here's another argument to add to the list. According to theism, God is the metaphysical foundation of reality, and thus all else depends upon God. In other words, theism entails metaphysical foundationalism. Of course, atheism is compatible with metaphysical foundationalism, and strong cases have been given for non-theistic metaphysical foundationalism. However, there is also a strong case to be made that either metaphysical infinitism or metaphysical (holistic) coherentism is true. Therefore, to the extent that one is persuaded that the case for either metaphysical infinitism or metaphysical coherentism is stronger than the case for metaphysical foundationalism (or at least that the case for the disjunction of infinitism and coherentism is stronger than that for foundationalism), one thereby has a reason to reject theism. (And at the very least, if one finds that case for metaphysical infinitism, coherentism, or their disjunction at least as plausible as that for metaphysical foundationalism, one thereby has an undercutting defeater for theism.)

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...