Philosophy of Religion Archives



More Generally: Philosophy (441)
More Specifically: 'Worshipfulness' (3) Divine Revelation (13) Existence of God (40) Faith (4) Miracles (9) Pascalian Wagers (1) Religious Experience (1) The Problem of Evil (13)

April 23, 2014

Hudson on Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception

The forthcoming Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion is full of interesting stuff! So far, I specially recommend Bishop and Perszyk on alternative conceptions of God and Dougherty and Pruss on apparently unjustified evils as 'anomalies' (in the philosophy of science sense). I have not yet read the last four articles. Here, I want to comment on Hud Hudson's "The Father of Lies?" (This post got longer than I intended, so I've added sub-headings. If you get bored in the middle, please skip to the end. I've also bolded important parts to make for easier skimming.) Hudson's Argument Hudson's central...
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March 18, 2014

March 10, 2014

The Puzzle of Existence: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

I have now completed my series of posts on The Puzzle of Existence. I'll conclude by saying that I enjoyed most of the essays in this book quite a lot, and found them interesting food for thought. Further reflection on the points raised by the various authors stands to enrich metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and the theory of explanation. Additionally, most of the essays are quite accessible for non-specialists, including advanced undergraduate students. Assuming that a less expensive paperback version becomes available, this book would be a great choice for graduate or advanced undergraduate courses covering explanation in metaphysics, the...
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March 4, 2014

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

In his contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, Stephen Maitzen defends the surprising claim that penguins hold the answer to the deep mysteries of the universe. Well, that's not exactly what he says. Maitzen's position is that the only interpretation of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' on which that sentence expresses a legitimate, well-formed question is one on which it is not a deep mystery at all, but a trivial empirical question to which 'because there are penguins' is a perfectly adequate answer. It is interesting to note that Maitzen's article is, in a way, just the reverse...
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March 1, 2014

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

Marc Lange's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, begins with this remark: I read recently about a baby who was trapped during the night of February 26, 2011, in a locked bank vault in Conyers, Georgia. Naturally, I wondered why that had happened (235). In the article which follows this fantastic opening, Lange appeals to the theory of necessity and laws of nature from his 2009 book, Laws and Lawmakers, to argue that one can explain why there is something rather than nothing only by showing that something exists as a matter of natural necessity (or, in a qualification he...
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February 26, 2014

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

When someone asks 'why p rather than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'p is far more probable than q.' When someone asks, 'why is p more probable than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'there are many more ways for p to be true than for q to be true.' According to a well-known paper by Peter Van Inwagen, the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' can be answered in just this fashion: something is far more probable than nothing, because there are infinitely many ways for there to be something,...
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February 11, 2014

Lowe on Metaphysical Nihilism

Like several other contributions to The Puzzle of Existence, the essay by the late E. J. Lowe is devoted to the question whether there might have been nothing. Lowe calls the view that there might have been nothing 'metaphysical nihilism,' and he offers an argument against a certain version of it. Lowe's paper begins with some very helpful context-setting. In 1996, Peter van Inwagen had argued that there is a possible world which was 'empty' in the sense of containing only abstract objects, and no concrete objects. However, according to van Inwagen, out of the infinitely many possible worlds, only...
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February 3, 2014

Why Do We Ask Why?

Several of the essays in The Puzzle of Existence argue, in one way or another, that no non-trivial answer can be given to those who ask why there is something rather than nothing. This may be because the question is somehow confused or mistaken, as in the case of Ross who argues that there is no such entity as everything (the totality of contingent concrete things, the Cosmos, etc.), and hence there can be no explaining the existence of everything. Or it may be because the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false, and so not every legitimate why question has...
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January 9, 2014

Conee on the Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, any answer to the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' must bottom out in "a necessary being, which carries the reason for its existence within itself, otherwise we still would not have a sufficient reason at which we can stop" (Principles of Nature and Grace, sect. 8, tr. Woolhouse and Francks). The coherence of such a being has, however, been questioned. What would it be for a being to 'carry the reason for its existence within itself?' What kind of impossibility could there be in the supposition that some particular being does not exist? Earl...
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January 6, 2014

Christopher Hughes on Contingency and Plurality

According to Christopher Hughes, arguments from contingency for the existence of a necessary being are standardly held to depend on two crucial assumptions: a contingency-dependence principle (which may be thought to derive from the Principle of Sufficient Reason), and the existence of a sufficiently inclusive being. The burden of Hughes's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is to argue that the second assumption can be dispensed with. Let's start by seeing what these two assumptions are, and how they fit into standard arguments. A contingency-dependence principle states that any contingent entity must depend for its existence on some entity outside...
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December 20, 2013

Jacob Ross on the PSR

Leibniz famously claimed that, once we have endorsed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, "the first questions we will be entitled to put will be - Why does something exist rather than nothing?" The answer to this question, he further claimed, "must needs be outside the sequence of contingent things and must be in a substance which is the cause of this sequence, or which is a necessary being, bearing in itself the reason for its own existence, otherwise we should not yet have a sufficient reason with which to stop" ("Principles of Nature and Grace," sects. 7-8, tr. Latta). In...
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December 15, 2013

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR's allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and 'commonsense' explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the...
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December 9, 2013

Oppy on Theism, Naturalism, and Explanation

In his contribution to Goldschmidt's The Puzzle of Existence, Graham Oppy argues that, "as [a] hypothes[i]s about the contents of global causal reality" (p. 51), naturalism is ceteris paribus preferable to theism. Oppy's strategy for defending this claim is to consider three hypotheses about the structure of global causal reality, and argue that naturalism is superior to theism on each hypothesis. Here are his three hypotheses: Regress: Causal reality does not have an initial maximal part. That is, it is not the case that there is a part of causal reality which has no parts that stand in causal relations...
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December 6, 2013

O'Connor on Explaining Everything

Goldschmidt's volume opens with an essay by Timothy O'Connor who defends the traditional answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing: God. More specifically, the traditional answer O'Connor defends holds that a necessarily existent immaterial agent chose that contingent beings should exist. There are several well-known difficulties for this kind of view. The first difficulty is, if there must be an explanation of why there are contingent beings, then mustn't there be an explanation of why there is a God? This is, of course, a version of the much-ridiculed 'what caused God?' retort, and O'Connor's (implicit)...
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November 27, 2013

Introducing The Puzzle of Existence

I am currently in the process of putting together a review of The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?, edited by Tyron Goldschmidt, for Faith and Philosophy. For edited volumes like this, reviews never allow enough space for substantive discussion every contribution, which is prima facie unfortunate. (I say prima facie because if the reviews were that long, I, at least, would probably read a lot fewer of them.) In light of this situation, I have resolved, before writing my review, to write blog posts with critical comments on each of the chapters. This post is...
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November 19, 2013

Some Historical Context to Locke on Faith and Reason

Most debates about faith and reason in the Western tradition carry the background assumption that 'faith' is or involves believing the teachings of the Bible. This gives rise to a rather obvious strategy for resolving any apparent conflicts between faith and reason: reinterpret the Bible. Much of what Locke says in "Of Faith and Reason, and their distinct Provinces" (EHU 4.18) depends crucially on this assumption, and this is why, in the 4th edition, Locke saw fit to add a chapter "Of Enthusiasm" (4.19) against those who claimed a direct revelation from God not mediated by language. In this post,...
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September 5, 2013

Quote of the Day: Childs on Miracles

[I]n the Old Testament a miracle is not some purely supernatural event, but rather something that evokes surprise and astonishment by which God is revealed as its source.

- Brevard S. Childs, commentary on Isaiah 29:13-14


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August 28, 2013

Three Responses to the Argument from Contingency

In my view, the cosmological argument from contingency is the most powerful philosophical argument for the existence of God. By a 'philosophical' argument, in this context, I mean a way of giving reasons for something that does not depend on detailed empirical investigation, or on idiosyncratic features of a particular individual's experience or psychology. Thus I do not hold that the argument from contingency is the best reason anyone has for believing in God. I think, for instance, that some people have had religious experiences which provide them with stronger reasons than the argument from contingency could, even making very...
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June 18, 2013

Quote of the Day: D. Z. Phillips on the Christian 'Image'

Consider the following example. There is a gentleman who appears advertising cigars on television. No sooner does this immaculate man light up cigars than women come from all quarters to gather round him. We can imagine people reacting in certain moods by saying, 'What a man!' Here, 'man' is clearly not a purely descriptive term. They are extolling, praising, wondering. A cluster of images influence their attitude: success, flair, charm, panache, the great seducer, etc., etc. At the heart of Christianity is a very different event. It is that of a torn body on a cross. Here, too, it was...
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April 12, 2013

Does Religious Experience Have an Expiration Date?

A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term 'religious experience' non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won't provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at...
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September 28, 2012

The Value Component of Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A defense (in Plantinga's sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God's goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga's focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence...
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September 15, 2012

"Berkeley's Philosophy of Religion"

I have posted a new paper, "Berkeley's Philosophy of Religion," which is my contribution to The Continuum Companion to Berkeley, ed. Richard Brook and Bertil Belfrage. This is an early draft, so comments and suggestions are welcome.
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September 12, 2012

Carroll on God and Physics

Sean Carroll has a great article on God, physics, and explanation up on his web-site. I've posted some comments regarding it over at Prosblogion.
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July 26, 2012

Leibniz, Lewis, and Freedom to Break Laws/Divine Decrees

In his classic paper, "Are We Free to Break the Laws?", David Lewis argued that although we are not free to break the laws of nature, we are free to perform certain actions such that, if we performed them, a law would have been broken. This is supposed to allow compatibilists to secure alternate possibilities: it's true that in order for me to raise my arm right now, either the past or the laws of nature would have to have been different, but it's not true that if I raised my arm right now I would thereby alter the past...
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July 7, 2012

"Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" in JHI

My paper, "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" has been accepted to Journal of the History of Ideas. This is a direct descendent of the paper I presented at the International Berkeley Conference in Zurich last summer. The paper examines Berkeley's relationship to Locke's conservative religious critics, with focus on Edward Stillingfleet, John Sergeant, and Peter Browne, and argues that, on the questions about faith and reason which exercised these critics, Berkeley self-consciously and intentionally sides with Locke. In accordance with the journal's self-archiving policy, I have made my final draft of the paper available here.
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May 17, 2012

A Brief History of Christian Conceptions of the 'Soul'

It is sometimes said that Christianity presupposes the existence of a soul, that, due to the progress of science, this view is no longer credible, and that, therefore, Christianity can no longer be taken seriously. It is very probable that there are some combinations of views, widely held among self-identified 'Christians', which can be effectively criticized along these lines. However, there are several puzzling features about this line of thought. The first is that it is not clear what the relevant 'progress of science' is supposed to be. Neuroscience is indeed advancing, but it can hardly be considered so advanced...
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May 5, 2012

Fictions, Imaginations, and the Prima Facie Case Against Divine Benevolence

In chapter 6 of his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross undertakes the very ambitious task of showing that the evil in the world does not provide even a prima facie case against divine moral perfection. Ross takes the phrase 'a prima facie case' in the legal sense: to provide a prima facie case is essentially to bring charges that need answering. So, for instance, someone who says that the evils in the world are justified by some greater good which would be impossible without them is conceding that there is a prima facie case and attempting to answer it....
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April 12, 2012

Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics

Philosophy of religion, as practiced by religious believers, is often confused with apologetics. (Perhaps it is even so confused, on occasion, by some of its practitioners.) Indeed, if we use the term 'apologetics' more broadly, to include not just the giving of an apologia (defense) of religion, but of just any belief system, then we could say that philosophy in general is often confused with apologetics. This is, I think, a serious mistake. The philosopher, qua philosopher, is up to something quite different than the apologist, qua apologist. The 'qua' clauses are necessary, because of course the same person may...
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November 19, 2011

Counterpossible Reasoning in Philosophy of Religion (and Elsewhere)

The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of...
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October 14, 2011

Berkeley on Miracles and Transubstantiation

It was the custom among 17th and 18th century English philosophers to take as many potshots at the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as possible. Sometimes it almost seems that a desideratum for a theory of metaphysics is that it should be inconsistent with that doctrine. This desideratum is, of course, easily satisfied: most theories of metaphysics are inconsistent with transubstantiation. All versions of the doctrine require that it be metaphysically possible for flesh to exist under the 'species' of bread, and a conservative interpretation of the doctrine popular in the early modern period further required that numerically the same...
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September 1, 2011

Lawless Events and the Existence of God

Christine Overall famously argued that miracles, conceived as violations of the laws of nature, would be evidence against the existence of the traditional God. A lengthy debate with Robert Larmer ensued, in which Larmer argued that only slight modifications to the law-breaking account of miracles are necessary in order for miracles to serve as evidence for, rather than against, the existence of God. Larmer tries to argue that miracles do not violate the laws of nature, but nevertheless holds that they are different from ordinary events in that they don't follow from the laws of nature. (I don't have Larmer's...
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August 18, 2011

A Dialectical Role for the Ontological Argument

It has been nearly a month since I've posted anything, and for this I apologize. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic - I was on vacation, and had to rush off to an unexpected funeral in another state, then came home and had to replace a car and a computer (the computer was expected, the car was not). Anyway, it seems the my world has more or less righted itself, and I am getting prepared for the semester to start on Monday. Here's what I'm thinking about today (not related to that dissertation I need to start working on...). Suppose we make an ontological argument with the following general form:
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June 2, 2011

Miracles and Competence

I'm currently thinking about miracles and laws of nature, because I am working on revising this paper on the subject. Also on my mind is a paper of mine called "Divine Language, Unperceived Objects, and Berkeley's Response to Skepticism" which I will be presenting at the International Berkeley Society group session at the Eastern APA in December. It occurred to me that these two subjects of thought interact in an interesting way. In the Berkeley paper, I argue that we should take quite seriously Berkeley's claim that the laws of nature form the grammar of a language (PHK 108-110), and...
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May 26, 2011

True and Immutable Natures in Descartes's Ontological Argument

In the Fifth Meditation, Descartes argues that "from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and hence that he really exists" (CSM 2:46). Caterus famously replied with the 'existing lion' objection (parallel to Gaunilo's 'Lost Island'): we can't think of anything as an existing lion without thinking of it as existing, so the existing lion must exist (CSM 2:72). In fact, Caterus didn't need to add 'existing' at all: existence is a necessary condition for the exemplification of any property whatsoever. Nothing can be red, blue, five feet...
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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 22, 2011

An Argument from Reactive Attitudes for the Existence of God

In The Second-Person Standpoint, Stephen Darwall notes the fact that "we speak of being grateful for good weather" as a possible objection to his view that reactive attitudes are 'second-personal'. He goes on to dismiss the objection on grounds that such gratitude "evidently involves the conceit that the weather is a free gift, as if from God" (p. 73). This remark struck me because I have known people who feel a sort of psychological need to believe in God in order to have someone to be grateful to (or, in other cases, angry at) for events beyond human (or animal,...
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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 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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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 12, 2011

The Target of Leibniz's "Comments on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil'"

Toward the end of his Theodicy, Leibniz included a section which in the Huggard translation has the title "Observations on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil' Published Recently in London." The French title is: "Remarques sur le Livre de L'Origine du Mal, Publie depuis peu en Angleterre." (Note that, unless there is a disagreement between different French printings, 'London' is a mistake for 'England' in the title, but in the first paragraph Leibniz does identify London specifically as the place of publication.) I just spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify the book in question, so I...
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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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February 4, 2011

Malebranche and Robert Adams on Creating the Best

Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this: The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world. A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices. Therefore, The actual world is the BPW. Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise...
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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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December 21, 2010

Leibniz's Short Proof of Classical Theism

In a single paragraph near the beginning of the Theodicy, Leibniz gives a very compressed version of an argument a contingentia mundi (from the contingency of the world) from which he purports to derive not just the existence of God, but several of the most important traditional divine attributes (from which, Leibniz seems to think, the other divine attributes follow). In this post, I'll try to unpack Leibniz's reasoning. I'm not going to do too much evaluation of the arguments, since this post will be long enough without that; I'll just lay out the arguments as I see them and...
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November 2, 2010

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

It appears that I'm going to be getting a bit behind on my Sobel series due to other commitments. Here is some Leibniz to make up for it. One of the problems with those forms of teleological (design) arguments that posit necessary 'gaps' in naturalistic explanation is that they are revisionary with respect to scientific practice: that is, it is a principle of scientific methodology to keep looking for naturalistic explanations no matter what. Now, most philosophers think that taking a revisionary attitude toward scientific practice is bad since the track record of science, on its current methodology, is stellar...
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October 21, 2010

A Lame Response to the Problem of Evil

I very rarely say anything negative about Leibniz, especially when it comes to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. This, however, is just ridiculous: [T]he world is not only the most wonderful machine, but also in regard to minds it is the best commonwealth, by whose means there is bestowed on minds the greatest possible amount of felicity or joyfulness; and it is in this that their physical perfection consists. But, you will say, we find in the world the very opposite of this. Often the worst sufferings fall upon the best men; the innocent (I speak not only of...
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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 27, 2010

Joining the Prosblogion

I am pleased to announce that I have been invited to join The Prosblogion, the premier philosophy of religion blog! As the invite seems to have resulted largely from my series on Sobel's Logic and Theism, I suppose that, in addition to thanking the Prosblogion folks for inviting me, I should thank Jonathan for challenging me to engage seriously with an atheist writer on my blog, and Brandon for suggesting Logic and Theism as the text of choice. From now on, any serious, contentful posts on philosophy of religion (including the remainder of the Sobel series) will appear both here...
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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 21, 2010

"Leibnizian Miracles" in Pomona

I have just officially accepted an invitation to present "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles" at the Southern California Philosophy Conference, to be held in Pomona Saturday, November 6.
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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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August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: Gutting on Dawkins

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren't appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one's own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply...
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August 12, 2010

More on FWD and Brute Contingencies

Yesterday, I noted that Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), as it appears in The Nature of Necessity (NN) involves some very odd brute contingencies. These brute contingencies are not determined by God, or by anything else at all. They are truly brute: there is no reason or explanation for them. Furthermore, they limit God's power. When Plantinga admits that according to his theory "the power of an omnipotent God [is] limited by the freedom he confers upon his creatures" (NN 190), he cites William Wainwright, "Freedom and Omnipotence", Nous 2 (1968): 293-301. As it turns out, Wainwright is responding to...
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August 11, 2010

Some Odd Brute Contingincies in Plantinga's Free Will Defense

Once upon a time, many philosophers believed that there was a logical problem of evil. That is, it was held that the (obviously true) proposition that there is some evil in the world logically entails that there is no God. (Where God is conceived as omnipotent and perfectly good.) I imagine that a lot of philosophers still believe this, but today few are arguing for it in print. Instead, atheist philosophers now typically put forth an evidentiary problem of evil. That is, they propound an argument something like this: The more evil there is, the less likely it is that...
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June 7, 2010

Why Listen to 'Continental' Philosophers?

In a recent edition of Faith and Philosophy (the October 2009 edition, to be exact), there is an exchange between James K. A. Smith and Bruce Ellis Benson about what can or should be done to improve 'Continental' philosophy of religion. The discussion focuses on the reduction of 'enclaves' - i.e. on getting 'Continental' philosophy of religion into mainstream venues, and having dialogue with mainstream (analytic) philosophy of religion. Now, something about this exchange struck me as rather odd: the exchange takes place in a mainstream venue, a philosophy of religion journal read mostly by analytic philosophers. Yet the exchange...
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May 11, 2010

Leibniz + Adams = Calvinist Theodicy

As I have said before, it is my belief that revealed theology cannot resolve the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Both views (at least in their moderate forms) are both plausible and orthodox; any reason to prefer one to the other will be a philosophical reason, a conclusion of fallible human reason. With this understanding of revealed theology in mind, I reject Calvinism on philosophical grounds, one of which is that I think Calvinism has an extremely difficult time with the problem of evil. In a recent post, The Problem of Evil 101, at Reason From Scripture, Nathanael Taylor presents a 'Reformed' response...
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March 19, 2010

Locke and Leibniz on Armchair Teleology

[I]f we may conclude that God hath done for men all that men shall judge is best for them, because it is suitable to his goodness so to do, it will prove not only that God has imprinted on the minds of men an idea of himself, but that he hath plainly stamped there, in fair characters, all that men ought to know or believe of him, all that they ought to do in obedience to his will, and that he hath given them a will and affections conformable to it. This, no doubt, everyone will think it better for...
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January 29, 2010

Seeing the World Through Teleology-Colored Glasses

My previous post on evaluating traditional theistic arguments has generated a lot of discussion! Thanks to Jonathan, Lewis, and Clayton for helping to clarify some issues with my initial presentation. Most of the discussion centered on the teleological argument. I'm not sure if that's just because I presented it first, or because it was the most problematic...Anyway, let me try to make my version of the argument a little more precise, and consider some objections. (The most important objection, I take it, is that we see the world through teleology-colored glasses, as it were; more on that below.) In trying to make the argument the more precise, I will ...
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January 25, 2010

Evaluating the Traditional Arguments for God

Kant famously classified traditional arguments for the existence of a divine being into three categories: ontological, cosmological, and teleological. Very few, if any, philosophers today think that any of these forms of argument is conclusive. However, some philosophers do believe that a cumulative case for the existence of a divine being can be made out from these arguments. Atheist colleagues often respond that "three leaky buckets won't hold water any better than one." However, this reply assumes that the traditional arguments don't show anything at all. Specifically, those who respond this way are often assuming that the arguments are straightforwardly...
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December 8, 2009

Why are There So Few Atheist/Agnostic Philosophers of Religion?

The results of a survey of the opinions of professional philosophers on philosophical topics were released today, and Trent Dougherty has some interesting discussion of some philosophy of religion numbers at The Prosblogion. I was recently bemoaning the scarcity of atheist/agnostic philosophers of religion. The survey numbers back me up: among philosophy faculty at top English-speaking universities, only 14.6% said they "accept" or "lean toward" theism. However, among faculty whose main area of specialization is philosophy of religion, that number was 72.3%. Now, it's hardly surprising that atheists and agnostics don't feel the desire to dedicate their entire careers to investigating religious claims...
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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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November 9, 2009

What Caused God?

In comments to my post on Dawkins and the Philosophers, atheist blogger Jonathan West has been pushing back against Michael Ruse's claim that Dawkins' prominent use of the "what caused God?" question is, as Jonathan puts it, 'fatuous.' Jonathan has also pushed this point in a recent blog post which considers this question in light of Swinburne's 'necessary being' arguments in The Existence of God. I will first make a few remarks about Swinburne's work in this area, and then proceed to show why the "what caused God?" question is indeed confused. To be fair, I admit...
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November 5, 2009

Dawkins and the Philosophers

I am periodically asked by my fellow Christians how Christians should respond to Richard Dawkins. I confess to being puzzled by the question of how I personally should respond to Dawkins. This is because a great many non-philosophical atheists take his word as Gospel, and a great many Christians are troubled by his arguments and assertions, but the fact of the matter is that, on the intellectual merits, Dawkins is simply not worth the effort of refuting. In philosophy, it is our practice, in arguing against positions, to target the best version of the view. This is why, for instance,...
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November 4, 2009

"A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles"

I have posted a new paper draft to my writings page entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". The aim of the paper is to defend a conception of miracles on which no violation, suspension, or circumvention of the laws of nature is required. Comments are welcome.
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November 3, 2009

Miraculous Early Modern Blogging!

As previously mentioned, I am currently working on a paper entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". After a few more rounds of edits, I will post a draft, so stay tuned. In the meantime allow me to point you to a few miraculous instances of early modern blogging (both posted today, incidentally)...
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October 13, 2009

Leibniz's Theistic Case Against Humean Miracles

Most of the recent philosophical literature on miracles focuses on Hume's argument against belief in miracles in EHU 10. There, Hume asserts that all miracles are "violation[s] of the laws of nature" (10.12) and argues that we could never be justified in believing in such events. Call these Law-Breaking Events (LBEs). As Hume recognizes, being an LBE cannot be sufficient for being a miracle; miracles must have the right kind of theological/religious significance. Hume thus gives in a footnote a more precise definition: "A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition...
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July 28, 2009

Correlation, Causation, and Salvation

The New Testament uses a number of criteria to identify the 'saved' (in this post, I won't be concerned with what exactly 'saved' means, though I will be assuming, somewhat controversially, that its meaning is more or less consistent). For instance, the saved are identified as: Those who 'bear fruit' (Matt. 7:16-20), where this seems to involve undergoing some kind of general change of character (Gal. 5:22-25). Those who perform particular good or loving deeds (Matt. 7:21, 1 John 1:6, 2:3-6), especially care for the poor (Matt. 25:31-46). Those who abstain from particular evil or hateful deeds (1 John 2:9-11)....
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July 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Praying Agnostic

There is no reason why someone who is in doubt about the existence of God should not pray for help and guidance on this topic as in other matters. Some find something comic in the idea of an agnostic praying to a God whose existence he doubts. It is surely no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen.      - Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers,...
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May 13, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stillingfleet on the Natural Immortality of the Soul

You [Locke] say, That all the ends of Religion and Morality are secured barely by the Immortality of the Soul without a necessary Supposition that the Soul is Immaterial. I am of the opinion that the great ends of Religion and Morality are best secured by the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul from its Nature and Properties; and which I think can prove it Immaterial. I do not question whether God can give Immortality to a Material Substance; but I say it takes off very much from the evidence of Immortality, if it depend wholly on God's giving...
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May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on Survival of Death

One of the quandaries I ran into in writing my paper on Berkeley on resurrection is the question of what the 'revealed' Christian doctrine is supposed to be. In particular, there is the question of natural versus miraculous immortality of the soul. Some writers who seek to defend the Christian doctrine of survival of death assume that it is part of the doctrine that this survival is miraculous. (For a recent example, see Lynne Rudder Bakker's "Persons and the Metaphysics of Resurrection" which appeared in Religious Studies in 2007; James Ross also brought this up in his criticisms of my...
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April 3, 2009

Apologetics: The Good and the Bad

I have been meaning for some time to write a post about apologetics: not to engage in it - though I do that sometimes - but to examine it as a practice. Brandon's recent post, "On Controversial Blogging and Temperament," touches some of the same issues I have been thinking about, so I thought that I would build on it. To start from the beginning: 'apologetics' derives from the Greek apologia, meaning 'defense' (as, for instance, a court-room defense), and it means just that: the giving of reasoned defenses. Christians often talk about the importance of engaging in apologetics...
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January 19, 2009

Alex Byrne on Contemporary Debate About the Existence of God

The latest edition of the Boston Review is running an article by MIT philosopher Alex Byrne on the state of philosophical debate about the existence of God. For a popular article, it is in many ways quite good. It focuses on the ontological argument and the teleological argument (although it doesn't consider versions of the latter like the one I advocate), which are probably the two most interesting of the traditional arguments, and it has interesting things to say about each of them. I do, however, have a few complaints. First, early in the article we find this colorful phrase...
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October 22, 2008

"Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?'

My paper "Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?", which is to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division conference next week is now available on the conference web-site. I would greatly appreciate any comments or criticisms.
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October 8, 2008

Baber on the Real Presence

Some of the papers to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference have now been posted. Mine isn't up yet, but I will provide a link when it is. For now, I want to point readers to a paper by the University of San Diego's Harriet Baber which she has entitled simply "The Real Presence". We have previously discussed here the difference between transubstantiation and real presence. Baber describes this quite nicely in her introduction...
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September 18, 2008

Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference

A paper of mine entitled "Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?" has been accepted to the Society Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference on "Mind, Body, and Free Will" at UC Riverside Oct. 30 - Nov. 1. The conference organizers plan to post papers online, and I will provide a link when they do. In the meantime, I've discussed some of the material in the paper here and here. My official abstract is as follows: Orthodox Christianity affirms a bodily resurrection of the dead. That is, Christians believe that at some point in the eschatological future, possibly after a period of (conscious or unconscious) disembodied existence, we will once again live and animate our own bodies...
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August 30, 2008

Quote(s) of the Day: A Pair of Responses to van Inwagen's "Body Snatching" Account of the Resurrection

Peter van Inwagen famously argued in his 1978 paper "The Possibility of Resurrection" that the only way God can bring a dead person back to life is to raise the very same body. However, if the body has decayed or been cremated, then it doesn't exist to be raised. Therefore, van Inwagen reasons, if Christianity is true, God must, at the moment of death (or immediately prior) surreptitiously remove the dead/dying body and spirit it away somewhere, replacing it with a simulacrum. Otherwise, there could be no afterlife. Unsurprisingly, this has met with some "incredulous stares." Here are a couple...
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March 15, 2008

Berkeley's Theory of Reference and the Critique of Matter

George Berkeley is well known for his critique of matter. By "matter" he means Locke's "material substratum." At the end of the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous he actually does acknowledge that one might use the word "matter" simply to mean "the stuff of the physical world" (that's not a direct quote) and he doesn't object to this, so he actually isn't opposed to the way the word was used in your physics or chemistry classes, but only to the way it was used in early modern metaphysics. The critique of matter is tied up in the critique of...
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February 18, 2008

A Moderate and Plausible Arminianism, Based on John 6:40 and Romans 8:29

My position on the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the more moderate forms of each are both plausible and orthodox. Hyper-Calvinism can slide into the heresy of fatalism, or the denial that God loves all people; hyper-Arminianism slides, of course, into Pelagianism. It is only the moderate forms of each which are, I say, plausible and orthodox. These moderate forms, I hold, represent two different man-made philosophical and theological systems designed to uphold the same doctrines revealed in Scripture. I believe that when the disagreement actually reaches all the way down to Biblical hermeneutics, rather than staying in...
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December 26, 2007

Aristotle and Transubstantiation (Some More)

Tim Troutman (formerly known as "The God Fearin' Fiddler") of The God Fearin' Forum has responded to my latest discussion of Eucharistic theology and Aristotle. Perhaps I have not been very clear. Whatever the case, Tim persistently misunderstands both my claim and my argument for it. I am going to try to make what I am claiming very clear here:
The doctrine of transubstantiation, as expounded by Trent, is rendered incoherent by any system of metaphysics sufficiently different from Aristotle's.
This should not be confused with any of the following claims, which I do not make...
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November 2, 2007

Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence

The God Fearin' Fiddler has a post up on the historical significance of transubstantiation which has led to some interesting discussions. The principle problem with this post and the discussion that follows it, however, is that no one seems to understand the difference between transubstantiation and the Real Presence. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert on this either, but I do think I know enough to clear up some historical and metaphysical confusion. I am going to use two principal sources - session 13 of the Council of Trent, and the relevant article from the Catholic Encyclopedia - to explain the historical development and specific content of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and then attempt to show two things...
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October 26, 2007

"The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley"

My paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley" is now available on my writings page. An earlier version of this paper served as my undergraduate honors thesis, and a somewhat reduced version of it has been accepted for publication by Religious Studies. I haven't heard anything about what issue it will appear in. This paper discusses Berkeley's theory that our sense perceptions (especially visual perceptions) form a language by which God communicates with us, and asks how we are to interpret this language. In particular, it argues...
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October 9, 2007

"Dionysius" on God-Talk

A collection of writings have come down to us under the name "Dionysius the Aereopagite" (after Acts 17:34) which effectively form the foundation of the tradition of Christian mysticism. Most scholars today believe the writer lived in Syria, c. 500 AD. The general consensus is that he couldn't have written earlier than this because he seems to have been influenced by 5th century Neo-Platonists. All this by way of background; I don't have any particular opinion as to when the writer lived or by whom he was influenced. The principle work of "Dionysius" is only a few pages long and...
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September 21, 2007

On Theological Method

Last night, I had a brief friendly debate with some Calvinists, which has me thinking about theological method. Briefly, I approach the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism from the perspective primarily of philosophy rather than revealed theology. That is, I argue that libertarian free will, which is incompatible with most (but, surprisingly, not all) versions of Calvinism, but is central to Arminianism, is a philosophically attractive thesis on grounds of, for instance, human moral responsibility, the problem of evil, and the phenomenology of choice. (I don't claim that Calvinists can't provide accounts of these things, I simply claim that Arminians...
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August 17, 2007

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures

Here it is, finally! Almost exactly 13 months after the last post, I am finally continuing my series. For those of you who have forgotten (probably most of you), in May of 2006 I outlined a proposed series providing an argument for belief in the Bible. I'm going to give a fairly detailed recap here because it has been so long since my last post. In Part 1: Plan of Attack I outlined the argument I intended to give. The basic claim of the argument is that historical investigation renders the idea that the canon of Scripture as we have it is divinely inspired a live option...
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Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures"

July 5, 2007

Paper #2: For Real This Time

Before I left last week, I sent in to Religious Studies the final draft of my paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley," which they have accepted for publication. The paper discusses the meaning of the "universal language of the Author of Nature" Berkeley argues for in the Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision and elsewhere. Essentially, the question I try to begin to answer is "if sense perception is a language by which God speaks to us, then what is he saying?" (I say "begin" because I have not developed a detailed semantic theory, but only offered...
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June 27, 2007

The Teleological Argument

While we are talking a bit about intelligent design, I'd like to take the opportunity to post a little paper I wrote last semester on the teleological argument for the existence of God. The assignment was to give the strongest possible version of the teleological argument, discuss the most important objection, and whether the objection succeeds (and why). The catch: it all had to fit on one page. (This sort of thing is, by the way, a very useful exercise for budding philosophers; I recommend it.) So, without further ado: Teleological arguments for the existence of a divine being attempt to show...
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June 26, 2007

Theological Implications and "Scientificness"

It is popularly believed that if a theory has theological implications, then the theory is somehow "unscientific." A post (NOTE: MovableType won't let me link directly to this post because the URL contains an unescaped ' contrary to the HTTP spec so the above link goes to the daily archive) at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog challenges this claim. I think the article is unnecessarily long and involved, but I'm quite impressed with the insight. The argument is a reductio that works more or less like this...
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June 6, 2007

Discussions on Scripture and Tradition

Just a couple quick links: John Fraiser of Chaos and Old Night discusses the attitude Evangelical Protestants ought to take to Church tradition in his post, Sifting Through Church Tradition. Fraiser argues that we need to recognize the influence tradition has on us, and we ought not to try to escape from that influence, but, at the same time, we need to recognize that it is Scriputre and not tradition which is authoritative. I mostly agree with what Fraiser said...
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May 24, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day: Selections From Berkeley's Letter to Sir John James

In the course of a bit of research on Berkeley's views on the epistemology of religion, I have just come across a little letter Berkeley wrote to one Sir John James, dated June 7, 1741. James was, apparently, an Anglican living in Boston who was considering converting to Roman Catholicism. While for some reason (perhaps because he was Irish) Berkeley is often mistakenly believed to have been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was, in fact, a member of the clergy of the Church of England, and wrote against Roman Catholicism on a number of occasions, this being...
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April 19, 2007

Calvinism and Arminianism: On Making the Right Objection

I want to make an important point about something that is either a reasoning mistake (if done accidentally) or an underhanded rhetorical trick (if done intentionally). I've seen it a lot (and done it myself, accidentally) in debates between Calvinists and Arminians (mostly on a popular level, but sometimes even in the writings of philosophers and theologians), so I'm going to use this debate to provide examples ... The issue is this: all of us believe implicit contradictions, because we are unable to determine all the consequences of our beliefs. This means that there is a big difference between rejecting a belief p and accepting a belief q which, unbeknownst to you, logically entails not-p. So, if you believe ...
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March 26, 2007

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no...
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March 19, 2007

Rational Atheism Entails Rational Solipsism?

In the Fourth Dialogue of Berkeley's Alciphron, Alciphron the "Free-Thinker" challenges Berkeley's spokesman, Euphranor, to present a proof of the existence of God. Alciphron, however, lays down some quite stringent conditions: First then, let me tell you I am not persuaded by metaphysical arguments; such, for instance, as are drawn from the ideas of an all-perfect being, or the absurdity of an infinite progression of causes. This sort of arguments I have always found dry and jejune; and, as they are not suited to my way of thinking, they may perhaps puzzle, but never will convince me. Secondly, I am...
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March 17, 2007

The Historicity of the Doctrine of Inerrancy

Jeremy Pierce of Parableman has an excellent post refuting the claim that the doctrine of inerrancy was invented in the 19th century as a response to theological liberals. I intend someday to get back to my long-stalled Why Believe the Bible? series, and when I do some of what Jeremy says here will be important for the next post, which is supposed to be on the witness of the Church to the Scripture. My one complaint about this post is that, in a fashion that is unfortunately typical of my fellow Protestants, it jumps through Church history from the New Testament, to Augustine, to Luther and Calvin, as though there was nothing in between...
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February 7, 2007

Quote of the Day: A Puzzle About Infinity

The following is from William Lane Craig's "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe". It is part of the defense of premise 2.11 of his version of the kalam cosmological argument, which says that "an actual infinite cannot exist:" Perhaps the best way to bring home the truth of (2.11) is by means of an illustration. Let me use one of my favorites, Hilbert's Hotel, a product of the mind of the great German mathematician, David Hilbert. Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are full. When a new guest arrives asking for a room, the proprietor apologizes, "Sorry, all the rooms are full." But now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and suppose once more that all the rooms are full...
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January 27, 2007

Scripture and Tradition in Protestantism

At the new blog Metaphysical Frameworks, Johnny-Dee (also of Fides Quaerens Intellectum fame) discusses the meaning of sola scriptura in its application to the practical methodology of Protestant theology. His suggestion is that "protestants consider the Bible to be like the Constitution, and the theological tradition to be like legal precedents from the Supreme Court." In other words, the determinations made by previous generations of Christians as to the teaching of Scripture are to be given great weight and not overturned lightly, but, ultimately, they are interpretations of Scripture and it is Scripture that is ultimately authoritative. Therefore, as much...
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January 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

Philosophy of religion, I believe, is best viewed as a process of critical dialog... Such a critical dialog is risky. Probably everyone has heard a story of a student in a strict religious environment who loses his faith as a result of the critical challenges hurled at him at a university. But there is something unhealthy and even dishonest about a faith which hides from such a challenge. Can one really believe in God wholeheartedly and at the same time assert that one can only continue to believe by refusing to consider the evidence against one's belief? Such a "belief"...
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November 1, 2006

Quote of the Day

ALCIPHRON: ... But what apology can be made for nonsense, crude nonsense? ... Look here, said he, opening a Bible, in the forty-ninth Psalm : ... "Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the wickedness of my heels shall compass me about?" The iniquity of my heels! What nonsense after such a solemn introduction! EUPHRANOR: For my own part, I have naturally weak eyes, and know there are many things that I cannot see, which are nevertheless distinctly seen by others. I do not therefore conclude a thing to be absolutely invisible, because it is so to...
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August 16, 2006

Inerrancy of the Autographs: Does it Matter?

A common argument levelled against Evangelicals (most recently by Neal in the comments to my post on Jesus' witness to the Hebrew Bible) is that if, as most Evangelicals believe, it is that autographs of the Biblical books that are inerrant, then the doctrine of inerrancy is irrelevant since the autographs no longer exist ... What this amounts to is the claim that the inerrancy of the autographs is irrelevant because there is uncertainty about what the autographs in fact said. This is very similar to the claim that inerrancy is made irrelevant by the uncertainty in our interpretation. Both of these arguments are seriously flawed in precisely the same way. What I hope to do here is, by making some very simple applications of the Bayesian probability calculus...
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July 24, 2006

William Lane Craig on the Historicity of the Resurrection

Over the course of this summer, I've been forming an argument for belie in the Bible. Part 2 of my argument was critically depndent on the claim that "if we accept ... [the] postulate ... that a very powerful being is trying to get our attention, then the most coherent ... [explanation] ... is that ... Jesus did in fact rise from the dead." This is, of course, a fairly modest claim, as it explicitly presupposes a pretty substantial chunk of theology (there is a God, he actually cares what we think/do, he wants us to know about him, etc.). However, some would still dispute it. Some time ago, after reading this post on The Prosblogion, I downloaded the transcript of the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman on the historicity of the resurrection, and I've just now got around to reading it...
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July 19, 2006

Truth-Makers, Truth-Conditions, and Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is a problem that has been bothering me for quite some time now. It goes like this: middle knowledge is knowledge of the truth or falsity of counterfactuals of freedom, where a counterfactual of freedom (sometimes called a counterfactual of creaturely freedom) is a statement about what some agent having libertarian free will would do in a purely hypothetical situation, i.e. one that never has and never will occur. Libertarian free will means that one is free because one could do otherwise than one actually does. So, for instance, if human beings (including me) have libertarian free will...
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July 18, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible

Here, finally, is part 3 of my series on divine revelation. The story so far: part 2 argued that the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth constitute a self-revelation of God to mankind, and that the New Testament documents, and especially the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), constitute generally reliably historical sources as to the content of that revelation. These points will be assumed to have been established (but feel free to comment on the previous post if you want to contest them), and I will now argue that the entirety of the Hebrew Bible is included by reference in this revelation...
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Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible"

July 12, 2006

Infallible vs. Irresistable Grace

Gerald at Iustificare has written several posts on grace and free will in recent weeks. The latest post, a discussion of Augustine's treatment of the issue, introduces an interesting distinction I had not heard before: the distinction of infallible vs. irresistable grace. Gerald describes the distinction as follows: Infallible grace is �grace that always accomplishes it purpose� �nothing more or less. Infallible grace can be resisted, but is not. Infallible grace can fail, but does not...
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June 27, 2006

Tradition Essay Posted at the Sergius Bulgakov LiveJournal

My essay "Tradition as the Platonic Form of Christian Faith and Practice", which I posted on my writings page a few months ago, was published online today at the Sergius Bulgakov LiveJournal, a blog devoted to the 20th century Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, whom I cited in the essay. It looks like there are some other interesting materials up at the site as well. I reccomend checking it out. Also, this seems like a good time to remind everyone that all of my writings on this site are released under Creative Commons licenses. There are different licenses for this...
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June 6, 2006

Why Believe The Bible?
Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

Welcome to part 2 of my promised series on divine revelation! My apologies for the long delay (it's been over a month since I first posted my plan of attack), but I've been very busy moving here there and everywhere, and I still don't have all my books and stuff unpacked (nor do I have a desk). According to the plan of attack, this part of the argument "will argue in a manner based heavily on Swinburne that there is good reason to suppose that the life and teachings of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth represent a revelation of...
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Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth"

May 13, 2006

What's a Fundamentalist?

Reported without comment: According to Alvin Plantinga, "on the most common contemporary academic use of the term," the word 'fundamentalist' means "stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine." (HT: Chrisendom)...
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May 4, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

There has been a lot floating around about the doctrine of inerrancy recently. I posted on this subject not long ago, responding to a post at World of Sven and a lengthy series at Chrisendom. Since then, there has been a second World of Sven post, and also a post from the No Kool-Aid Zone about just how important inerrancy is. This is a problem that I've been thinking seriously about for some time. Actually, I started by asking the question "just why do I believe in the Bible?" then realized that the answer to that question would have a...
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Part 1: Plan of Attack"

May 2, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said: There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable...
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April 17, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy

Update (4/17/2006) There seem to have been some errors in my post on inerrancy. (How ironic!) I would like to take some steps to correct these. First: the Council of Nicaea did NOT proclaim that canon of Scripture. This is a widely circulated myth (google it, and see esp. this article). In fact, the canon of Scripture we have was never proclaimed by any ecumenical council, and several books continue to be disputed (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Canon of the New Testament". I'm still working on what this means theologically. Second: as you can see from the comments,...
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March 15, 2006

"Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy"

I have just posted on my writings page a new essay, "Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy." This served as my mid-term essay in my class on the Greek Orthodox Church here at DIKEMES in Athens where I am studying this semester. I have attached a short preface explaining the relationship of the views presented in my essay (realizing that the essay is supposed to explain the teaching of the Orthodox Church) to my actual beliefs and my reasons for deciding to publish the essay. Please post here with any comments or objections. If...
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March 2, 2006

Dennett v. Swinburne on the Origin of Religion and the Existence of God

Prospect Magazine has published a series of letters between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Dennett regarding the existence of God and the historical origin of religious belief, following the publication of Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's book argues that an evolutionary explanation for religious belief exists, and that religion can and should be examined empirically by science with the initial presumption of "methodological naturalism" (i.e. we must assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist in order to take on this investigation). Swinburne argues that no such investigation can be adequately...
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January 31, 2006

Uncredible Double Carnival

Both the Philosopher's Carnival and the GOD or NOT Carnival are up at The Uncredible Hallq. I didn't get a submission in for this month's GOD or NOT, on the theme of "Definition of God," but the philosopher's carnival contains a link to my recent post on persons as events....
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January 30, 2006

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while. An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as...
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January 14, 2006

Tying Up Some Loose Ends: Greek Musterion in the New Testament

I've been meaning for some time to write a post tying together two topics that I had previously discussed. The items in question are my discussion of translation and transliteration and my suggestion in this post that Pagan religion might have had an influence on the New Testament's mode of expression. The common tie? The word "mystery." This word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is first attested with the definition "A religious truth known or understood only by divine revelation; esp. a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving" in the Wyclif Bible of...
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January 7, 2006

Christianity and Aristotelian Metaphysics

In a recent discussion with Suzanne McCarthy, my views were compared to Aristotle's, and I pointed out that I am really more of a Platonist and am often irritated at the continuing dominance of basically Aristotelian metaphysical ideas in Christian philosophy. In this post I will discuss the nature of these Aristotelian metaphysical claims, the manner in which they have been incorporated into Christian thought, and my reasons for objecting to said incorporation. Before I start, I should note that I am not an expert on Aristotle, so I will be examining only basic points of Aristotelian metaphysics, and relying...
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December 22, 2005

Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck

Nearly a month ago, I posted without commentary a Leibniz quote about materialism and supernaturalism. At the time I was busy with classes and didn't have time to really address the issue I saw the quote raising, but now that finals are over, I'd like to take a minute and look at this. When I read this quote, I immediately thought of "creation science." Leibniz here describes what he sees as two false extremes: the one is represented today by the likes of Peter Atkins, the Oxford Chemist who insists that in order to properly follow scientific methodology one must...
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December 12, 2005

The Myth of Narnia

I'm studying for finals right now, and don't have time for a full discussion, but I want to give a quick note on this New York Times editorial on the commericalization of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," and the ensuing fight between the Christian right and secular Narnia lovers. I think the author of this editorial is right on in taking the middle road with her claim that, on the one hand, the "religious subtext" is obviously present but, on the other hand, C.S. Lewis would not appreciate attempts by Christians to make that subtext overt or to...
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November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We know that while there have been, on the one hand, able philosophers who recognized nothing except what is material in the universe, there are, on the other hand, learned and zealous theologians who, shocked at the corpuscular philosophy and not content with checking it's misuse, have felt obliged to maintain tha tthere are phenomena in nature which cannot be explained by mechanical principles; as for example, light, weight, and elastic force. But since they do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for the corpuscular philosophers to reply to them, they injure religion in trying...
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November 28, 2005

Can The New Testament Be Both Influenced By Plato and Inspired by God?

The God Or Not Blog Carnival is a cool idea. It happens once or twice a month. For each carnival, there is a theme and the carnival host selects an approximately equal number of posts on that theme by atheists and theists for inclusion. The theme of the December 12 carnival is miracles. I have dealt substantially with miracles on this blog in a general way already, and so I've decided to post on applying my views to one very specific miracle which is central to the claims of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism: the inspiration of Scripture. The story so...
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October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19: Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a...
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August 31, 2005

Ecclesiology in Swinburne's Revelation

I've just finished reading Richard Swinburne's Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, in which he strives to create a rational foundation for belief in (a particular understanding of) "the Christian revelation" (which, on Swinburne's account is not exactly equivalent with the Bible, but we'll get there). The beginning of this book is very good. Swinburne argues forcefully that if the God of traditional Western monotheism exists, then there is good reason to expect that He would reveal Himself to mankind, and, of course, if we have an a priori expectation that there is probably a revelation out there somewhere, then much less evidence is required to identify some specific item as that revelation than if we had a view of the world which makes such a revelation unlikely (note that Swinburne establishes the authority of the Bible on the basis of the existence of God, not vice versa). However, as one moves on further in Swinburne's book, into the specifics of his theory of revelation, his statements become increasingly problematic (read: false). Swinburne's departure from sound doctrine is not due to flawed philosophical reasoning, but rather to correct reasoning from a false premise. The departure occurs at a very definite point and comes from a very definite cause: the horrible ecclesiology assumed, not argued for, in chapter 8...
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August 28, 2005

Christian Faith is No Good Unless It's True!

Professor Douglas Groothuis of Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon has a post arguing primarily that Christianity is incompatible with postmodernism (I would have thought this point was obvious, but apparently not). I wanted to post a link to it here because Professor Groothuis spends some time arguing for a point much-belabored on this blog and in my life: Christian faith is no good unless its content is true. He even cites 1 Corinthians 15, as I often do. If you take away one point from Professor Groothuis's writing or mine, let it be this: in order for Christian...
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July 19, 2005

God, Science, and the Teleological (Design) Argument Revisited

I've just finished the deeply moving experience of reading one of the most brilliant, and beautiful, philosophy papers I have been exposed to to date. The paper, "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the Way Down'" by Dr. Del Ratzsch, a philosopher of science at Calvin College, appears in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, and academic journal published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. (The latest issue is dated October 2004 - they're a little behind.) The paper discusses a broad range of issues related to the interaction between theology and science. There are two points that I find particularly beautiful and compelling and would like to discuss. The first is his argument that the success of science (not any particular scientific endeavor, but the entire enterprise) actually amounts to experimental support (albeit inconclusive) for traditional monotheism. The second is his discussion of "infinite regression" of naturalistic explanations...
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