Jordan Howard Sobel Archives



More Generally: Contemporary Thinkers (160)

April 1, 2011

Concluding Remarks on Sobel's Logic and Theism

Having finished my series of discussions on Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism, I thought I should post some concluding thoughts. The parts of Sobel's book I found most interesting were his discussions of a variety of ontological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. His book is quite thorough (as it should be, given its length) and, in general, I think his evaluations are careful and fair. I, of course, have found plenty of occasions to disagree with him. However, I found his discussions consistently interesting and well-informed, and never simply dismissive of opponents. He chooses his opponents...
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March 18, 2011

Faith and Rationality

In my previous post on Sobel's treatment of Pascalian wagers, I indicated that, although I accept a strong thesis about the autonomy of theoretical reason, I believe that religious faith has more to do with practical than with theoretical reason. Now, faith can have as its object either a person or a proposition. (There are also other uses, like having faith in a theory, but I take these two to be the central ones.) Call the former faith-in (as in, 'I have faith in you') and the latter faith-that (as in, 'I have faith that everything will turn out alright')....
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March 2, 2011

Sobel on Pascalian Wagers

In the 13th and final chapter of his book, Sobel discusses Pascalian wagers. According to Sobel, there need not be anything wrong with the practical reasoning involved in a Pascalian wager. In addition to defending this controversial claim, Sobel must explain how, if the Pascalian reasoning is correct, he can be justified in holding on to his atheism. As the chapter unfolds, both contentions are defended as a package. In general, for reasons to be explained below, I disagree with Sobel's approach here. However, I do agree with him on one thing: religious faith is more a matter of practical...
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February 11, 2011

Sometimes It's Rational to Act Arbitrarily

In the middle sections of his 12th chapter, Sobel goes through a series of adjustments to his deductive argument from evil designed to get around various versions of the Free Will Defense and other tactics attempted by theists. For reasons mentioned earlier, I am not happy with Sobel's formal treatment of these arguments, so I'm going to reconstruct the substance of the argument somewhat differently. Consider the following: If there were a perfect being, it would take a best course of action available to it in creating the world If a perfect being took the best course of action available...
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January 31, 2011

A Technical Difficulty in Sobel's Treatment of the Logical Problem of Evil

Unlike most other recent writers on the subject, Sobel believes that the logical problem of evil - that is, the problem of showing that it is logically possible for God and evil to coexist - is a serious problem which recent treatments have not adequately dealt with. In his 12th chapter, he considers several deductive arguments from evil against the existence of God. In future posts, I will consider the specific arguments that Sobel makes, but here I just want to point out a flaw or limitation in the way Sobel frames his arguments. Each version of the problem of...
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January 19, 2011

Skeptical Theism and the 'Beforehand-Switch'

I return now from my hiatus to blog through the last three chapters of Sobel's Logic and Theism. There are two chapters on arguments against the existence of God, mostly focused on arguments from evil, and one on Pascalian wagers. In chapter 11, section 4, Sobel presents what he takes to be Hume's evidential argument from evil, and discusses skeptical theist responses to it. Now, in general, the dialectic between the evidential arguer from evil and the skeptical theist goes something like this: the evidential arguer from evil says, a perfect being would probably create a world with very little...
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November 9, 2010

Omniscience and Simplicity

The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel's treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also 'Pascalian' practical arguments for belief in God. The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a...
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October 26, 2010

On Omnipotence

In my last Sobel post, I discussed Sobel's proposal that, since the Stone Paradox shows essential omnipotence to be incoherent, the traditional God, since he would have his properties essentially, would have essential ONSLIP, or only necessarily self-limited power, but that this would not amount to omnipotence. Here I want to propose an alternative account of omnipotence, an attribute worthy of that name and which would be had essentially. First, however, we must distinguish power from freedom. To be omnipotent is to be all powerful. God is also supposed to be free in his exercise of power, and this creates...
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October 17, 2010

Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power

After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotence (roughly) as the ability to do anything that can be done. (He improves this basic definition in a few ways, but these need not concern us.) The Stone Paradox, Sobel rightly recognizes, is no real problem for omnipotence as such, for if a being can do anything that can be done, then that being can take away some of the powers...
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October 8, 2010

Modern Cosmology and Theology

At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundamental constants of nature were set by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. Stephen Hawking has suggested that such fluctuations might be very likely to produce a world like ours. If correct, the thought goes, this would undermine the fine-tuning argument. However, it would also do something more: if the laws of nature make it very likely, but not certain, that a world like ours,...
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September 29, 2010

Evolution and Teleological Arguments

Much of Sobel's chapter on teleological (design) arguments is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for the former, the 'analogical' version of the teleological argument is, I think, not the strongest version and, although I haven't conducted a survey of the various treatments, I would be surprised if Hume's version turned out to be the best. After all, Hume is at most a half-hearted supporter of the argument; even he doesn't think his argument...
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September 28, 2010

Explanatory Principles and Infinite Propositions

In the course of his discussion of cosmological arguments, Sobel argues against the Principle of Sufficient Reason and similar strong explanatory principles. In particular, he argues that even a weak principle like "there is a deductive explanation that has only true premises for every contingent truth" will result in modal collapse (p. 218). In Sobel's terminology, an argument 'deductively explains' its conclusion iff (1) the argument is sound, and (2) the conclusion does not entail the premises (p. 219; condition (2) applies to contingent conclusions only). Sobel now introduces the following two premises: (3) If there is any true contingent...
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September 23, 2010

A Non-Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

In my last Sobel post, I reconstructed the cosmological argument Sobel attributes to Leibniz in such a way that there was no obvious contradiction in the premises by using Leibniz's own resources. Here I want to try to produce an argument with more widely accepted premises. Recall that Sobel's reconstruction is as follows: (1)The World - the Cosmos - exists. (2) The World is contingent, it is a contingent entity. (3) For everything that exists - for every fact and every existent entity - there is a sufficient reason for its existence. (4) The sufficient reason for the existence of...
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September 15, 2010

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 13, 2010

What is Supposed to be Proved in Aquinas's Five Ways?

I'm not a Medieval scholar, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but that's ok. Sobel's fifth chapter is concerned with Aquinas's Second Way, one of the classic texts for the cosmological argument. Sobel raises some concerns about the premises, but for the most part he finds them plausible (though he may ultimately reject one or more of them). His main concern is that, as he schematizes the argument, a fallacy of equivocation occurs at the very end. Sobel reads the 'good' part of the argument as (perhaps) justifying the 'Preliminary Conclusion'...
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September 7, 2010

Would a Being With All Positive Properties Be God?

Sobel's final objection to ontological arguments is that, even if they are sound, their conclusion does not mean that God exists. That is, according to Sobel, a necessarily existing 'being than which none greater can be conceived' or 'being with all perfections' or 'being with all positive properties' would not be God. His argument for this is rather confusing and depends (1) on a controversial modal intuition, and (2) on an odd definition of 'worshipfulness'. As far as I can tell, the argument goes like this: it is clear (so Sobel claims) that such properties as consciousness, knowledge, power, love,...
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September 2, 2010

Modal Collapse: Sobel's Objection to Gödel's Ontological Argument

The last ontological argument Sobel discusses is the Leibniz-inspired argument put forward by the famous logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel sets up a formal system in third-order quantified modal logic with equality and abstraction (!) and proves within that system the theorem: □∃xG(x) Where the predicate G is defined as follows: Gx ↔ ∀φ[P(φ) → φ(x)] Where P is primitive. (Sobel includes the complete source texts for Gödel's proof on pp. 144-146.) Now, unsurprisingly, given that the proof was originated by Gödel, everyone agrees that the proof is valid in the formal system. The question is whether there are any interpretations...
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August 30, 2010

A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments

Sobel spends much of the third chapter Logic and Theism evaluating the dialectical status of ontological arguments, and, in particular, whether ontological arguers are entitled to the premise that it is possible that there be a perfect being. I am simply going to take the occasion here to state my opinion on the matter. There is a fundamental dialectical tension in the ontological arguments that start from this premise. If, on the one hand, necessary existence follows trivially from the stipulated definition of perfection, then the argument will beg the question as Sobel suggests that Anselm's argument does. That is...
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August 25, 2010

Sobel's Argument Against Believing in the Possibility of a Perfect Being

My previous posts on Sobel's Logic and Theism, have been pretty favorable and made only minor criticisms or qualifications. In this post, my criticism will be much more strenuous for, in his criticism of modern modal ontological arguments, Sobel has made a serious error. Sobel wants to argue that there is no strong presumption in favor of the possibility of a perfect being, and that, because of contrary evidence (e.g. the problem of evil), if the ontological argument is to benefit the theist (by showing that, necessarily, there is a perfect being), rather than harm the theist (by showing that...
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August 24, 2010

The Dialectical Appropriateness of Ontological Arguments

After, for some reason or other, spending some 30 dense pages of Logic and Theism on the laughable ontological arguments of Descartes and Spinoza, Sobel moves on to the more interesting argument advanced by Anselm. (The next chapter deals with versions of the argument set in modern modal logic, such as those of Hartshorne and Plantinga.) In my view, the Descartes and Spinoza arguments don't even look good; the Anselm version at least produces puzzlement, insofar as the reasoning looks valid, yet it seems, intuitively, that no such strong conclusion could ever be derived from such weak premises. Sobel (fairly uncontroversially...
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August 20, 2010

Normative Skepticism and the Existence of God

As I discussed in my last post, Sobel argues that the main requirement anything has to fulfill in order to count as a god is that it must be deserving of worship. However, as Sobel argues on pp. 24-25 of Logic and Theism, this requires that it makes sense to talk about something being worthy or unworthy of worship. An error theory of the normative (a view that questioned whether statements about 'worthiness' and other such things were ever correct), such as the view espoused by J. L. Mackie, would have the result that no matter what might exist in...
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August 18, 2010

Divine Freedom and Worship

This is the first substantive post in my discussion of Sobel's Logic and Theism. The first chapter of Sobel's book focuses on the question of what people disagree about when they disagree about whether God exists. There are a lot of interesting metaphysical and linguistic issues here, like the meaningfulness of negative singular existentials, but this is all really preliminary to the real purpose of evaluating beliefs in God and the reasons for them, so, although these issues are interesting, I'm going to keep discussion of them to a minimum, and focus on what I take to be the first
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August 17, 2010

Sobel's Logic and Theism: An Introduction to my Forthcoming Discussion

Some time ago, I promised that I would take time on this blog to seriously engage with some recent work arguing in favor of atheism. The book chosen, mostly on Brandon's recommendation, was Jordan Howard Sobel's 2003 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. This summer I had a fairly long reading list of things more closely related to my main research directions in metaphysics and early modern philosophy so, unfortunately, I did not get started on this earlier. I have, however, now (one week before the start of classes) completed my other reading and begun working...
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November 12, 2009

Best Recent Books For and Against Religious Belief

Right now there are two very active comment threads on this blog: the first discussing whether or not I should read The God Delusion and the second listing philosophical science fiction stories. As such, I thought I would combine the religious discussion with the successful attempt at blog bibliography by asking readers to list the best recent books for an against religious belief. I will admit that I actually haven't read any of the books below all the way through; I list them because they are commonly excerpted in philosophy of religion readers (I have read excerpts of most of...
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