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 my way through Sobel. The book is quite large (well over 600 pages), and has some very technical parts, so I will probably not be finishing it before classes start, and then other things will slow me down, but I'll do what I can.

What I am going to do is, as I read, pick out the arguments I take to be the most interesting and/or persuasive, try to explain how they are supposed to work, and what, if any, effect they have had on my credences (that is, my beliefs and levels of confidence in those beliefs) and why. Sobel's book is not really polemical, and my responses won't really be polemical either. Sobel's book, as far as I can tell from the introduction and first chapter, is not intended to convince anyone that there is no God, but, rather, to explore beliefs (note the plural) in God (as he explains in his introduction, this means both the propositions believed and the mental attitudes of the believers) and the reasons for them, and evaluate their merit. I'm going to try to do the same. My goal will not be to defeat Sobel in some kind of debate (although we obviously have different opinions on the merits we are evaluating), but to come to an accurate understanding of these beliefs and the reasons for them and their merits.

It is precisely because of this non-polemical aim that I have chosen Sobel, rather than a popular polemicist, like one of the 'New Atheists'. If my goal were to persuade atheists who were not professional philosophers, then I would certainly be well-advised to refute the arguments of the popular atheist polemicists. As it is, however, my goal is rather to come to a correct evaluation of the merits of the very best versions of theistic belief (and non-belief) and the very best arguments for and against such belief. This also, it seems, is Sobel's goal, and he has come to conclusions which are at odds to my prior beliefs. This will, I hope, make engaging with his thoughts and arguments a very useful thing for me to do, for the purpose of getting closer to an accurate and unbiased evaluation.

I have an unofficial rule about my frequency of posting: I try to post no more than once per calendar day, and no less than once per calendar week. (I don't always succeed, but I try.) The reason for this is that I myself am more likely to read blogs regularly if they follow this rule and I believe (correctly or incorrectly) that the same is true for others. There are a lot of blogs that I put into my RSS feed reader and try to look at at least the title of every post, to see if it looks interesting. Blogs that post more than once daily often get removed (unless, like the Prosblogion or GetReligion, they are exceedingly interesting), so I don't feel flooded, and then I might look back at them just occasionally. Blogs that post too rarely, on the other hand, I often give up on and delete and forget about completely. The upshot is that, although I am going to cover as much of the book as possible this week, in order to keep my rule I am going to write up my posts and save them so that I can post them one at a time on days when I don't have anything else to say.

Whenever I refer to the published work of a particular thinker, I create a category for that individual. Those who were alive and writing at a time when I was old enough to be reading their work I categorize as contemporary thinkers, and those who were not I categorize as historical thinkers. You'll be able to follow my ongoing discussion of Sobel's book on my Jordan Howard Sobel category archive.

Also, if any readers are familiar with Sobel's book and would like me to discuss a specific portion or argument, you can let me know in the comments to this page.

Posted by Kenny at August 17, 2010 8:21 PM
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Divine Freedom and Worship
Excerpt: 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 metaphy...
Tracked: August 18, 2010 7:50 PM
A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments
Excerpt: 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 simp...
Tracked: August 30, 2010 10:11 PM
Explanatory Principles and Infinite Propositions
Excerpt: 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 tha...
Tracked: September 28, 2010 10:14 PM
Joining the Prosblogion
Excerpt: 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
Tracked: September 28, 2010 10:19 PM
Evolution and Teleological Arguments
Excerpt: Much of Sobel's chapter on teleological (design) arguments is devoted to Hume interpretation and 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 th...
Tracked: September 29, 2010 9:38 PM
Omniscience and Simplicity
Excerpt: The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel's treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following ...
Tracked: November 9, 2010 5:19 PM
A Technical Difficulty in Sobel's Treatment of the Logical Problem of Evil
Excerpt: 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 adequat...
Tracked: January 31, 2011 6:12 PM
Sometimes It's Rational to Act Arbitrarily
Excerpt: 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 ea...
Tracked: February 11, 2011 8:17 PM
Sobel on Pascalian Wagers
Excerpt: 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 ...
Tracked: March 2, 2011 7:01 PM
Faith and Rationality
Excerpt: 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, ...
Tracked: March 18, 2011 11:27 AM

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