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.

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...