As we near the end of another year, it's natural to look back on the highlights of the year's events. In a similar spirit, I've been looking back on the highlights of recent and semi-recent work in philosophy of religion, with special focus on religious epistemology. Epistemology has come a long way over the last several decades, and the insights gained along the way have, for the most part, been helpfully applied to issues in philosophy of religion. Two familiar examples include:
(i) Bayesianism and IBE: Theists (most prominently, Richard Swinburne) have employed Bayes' Theorem and inferences to the best explanation in their formulations of individual arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, etc.) and cumulative case arguments for theism. And non-theists (e.g., Paul Draper and William Rowe) have done the same for (e.g.) the problem of evil.
(ii) Epistemic externalism: Theists (most prominently, Alvin Plantinga) have argued that belief in God can…
arguments standardly include a causal or explanatory premise, and proponents of cosmological arguments have argued that such premises are supported in virtue of
being analytic or synthetic a priori truths, or via induction, or via claiming that
they are presuppositions of reason. However, these bases are often criticized: they don't seem to be analytic or synthetic a priori truths; the
sample size of evidence isn't sufficiently large or representative to
support them via induction; they aren’t presuppositions of
reason. But there are at least three more avenues of support for
such premises that seem worthy of further exploration. The first has recently been explicitly appealed to, but so far as I know, the second has not:(i) Reflective equilibrium:
we have the data of our intuitions or reflective judgements about
whether this or that particular case has, doesn't have, or must have a cause or
sufficient reason for its existence or
occurrence. We also…
God might have made us so that when we consider evidence for the non-existence of God or the unreliability of the Scriptures or the illusory nature of religious experience, the strength of our theistic belief would actually increase. Maybe all such evidence is in the end deeply misleading and God does not want us to err in matters of ultimate importance. So a student, call her “Faith", takes a philosophy of religion class from a brilliant atheist who presents convincing versions of arguments for all the above theses. She cannot see a thing wrong with any of them. But in accordance with her design-plan, the strength of Faith’s conviction in the central tenets of Christianity is thereby strengthened, not weakened. Indeed, perhaps with enough apparently sound arguments for the falsity of Christianity her belief will become maximally warranted!
Now Plantinga can, of course, say that her design plan is not like this. There are potential defeaters for God’s existence and the claims of C…
Here's a hypothesis I'm toying with that's inspired by recent work in the pragmatic encroachment literature and the epistemology of disagreement literature (although it employs the notions from both bodies of literature in a bit of an unorthodox way):
Suppose that A and B are true epistemic peers, and that they are aware of the same body of evidence E for some religious proposition P. E pushes A to accept P; E fails to push B to accept P; A and B bring up the topic of P, and then discuss E. After patient and careful discussion of E, A and B still disagree about whether E is sufficient to put one in a position to know (or be justified in believing) that P is true. What's going on here? Are they both epistemically in the right, or has the awareness of their disagreement deflated their evidence at least a bit, (in which case they should each move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes)?
Blurb: An original account of necessity and possibilityA new argument for God's existenceA detailed theory of the mind of GodEngages with medieval and modern philosophy and theologyA landmark work at the intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of religionBrian Leftow offers a theory of the possible and the necessary in which God plays the chief role, and a new sort of argument for God's existence. It has become usual to say that a proposition is possible just in case it is true in some 'possible world' (roughly, some complete history a universe might have) and necessary just if it is true in all. Thus much discussion of possibility and necessity since the 1960s has focussed on the nature and existence (or not) of possible worlds.God and Necessityholds that there are no such things, nor any sort of abstract entity. It assigns the metaphysical 'work' such items usually do to God and events in God's mind, and reduces 'bro…
It looks like it'll be a while until it hits the presses (Aug. 2012!), but as has come to be expected with the series, it looks to be very good. Below is the table of contents:
Jonathan Kvanvig: Editor's Introduction List of Contributors 1: Yuval Avnur: In Defense of Secular Belief 2: Daniel Bonevac: Two Theories of Analogical Predication 3: William L. Craig: Nominalism and Divine Aseity 4: Neal Judisch: Meticulous Providence and Gratuitous Evil 5: Shieva Kleinschmidt: Many-One Identity and the Trinity 6: Christian Miller: Atheism and Theistic Belief 7: Paul Moser: God, Flux, and the Epistemology of Agape Struggle 8: Duncan Pritchard: Wittgensteinian Quasi-Fideism 9: Meghan Sullivan: Semantics for Blasphemy 10: Dennis Whitcomb: Grounding and Omniscience
Jeff Lowder has done a great job of reviving the Secular Outpost. There is now a regular stream of interesting posts, and he has gotten a lot of excellent philosophers and other scholars on board as contributors (e.g, Graham Oppy, Louise Antony, Bradley Monton, Stephen Law, and Julian Baggini, to name a few). I have a link to the blog in the column on the right, but here is a link to save you the trouble of scrolling and searching for it.
"Critics accused the president of caving in again to pressure from
some Republicans on a counter-terrorism issue for fear of being painted
in next year's election campaign as weak and of failing to defend
Human Rights Watch said that by signing the bill Obama
would go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite
detention without trial in US law."
"About 97.3 million Americans
fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning
between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new
supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a
fuller picture of poverty. Together with
the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as
poor, they number 146.4 million, …
96:3 (July 2013) Naturalizing Religious Belief
Deadline for Submissions: July 31, 2012
Advisory Editor: James Beebe, University at Buffalo (email@example.com)
The cognitive science of religion brings the methods and resources of
the cognitive sciences to bear on questions about religious thought and
action, such as how ordinary cognitive structures inform and constrain
the transmission of religious ideas, why people believe in gods, why
religious rituals tend to have the forms that they do, and why afterlife
and creation beliefs are so common. Findings in the cognitive science
of religion raise a variety of philosophical questions, such as whether
these findings undermine, threaten or explain away religious belief;
whether those who believe in the supernatural can consistently accept a
strongly naturalistic explanation of those beliefs; and whether
traditional notions of religious belief are compatible with the view
that explicit expressions of religious commitment are …
I've recently added two new RSS feeds in the bar on the right: (i) one announcing the latest calls for papers, talks, and conferences of interest to philosophers of religion, and (ii) one for the latest papers in philosophy of religion.[*] I hope you find them useful.
Together with the extant RSS feeds for new and forthcoming issues of the standard philosophy of religion speciality journals, the blog now provides a single location for virtually all the latest available work in philosophy of religion.
[*]In providing these features, I'm indebted to David Chalmers and David Bourget for their extremely helpful philosophical tools, PhilPapers and PhilEvents.
craig, v. (a) to engage in dialectically illegitimate argumentative maneuvering, such as (e.g.) construing an interlocutor as offering a rebutting defeater for P when it's more charitable to construe them as offering an undercutting defeater for P; (b) to maintain a somewhat positive image of one's positions in part by choosing not to address, mention, or cite the strongest criticisms of them; (c) to take up, critique, and/or ridicule an uncharitable construal of the theses and arguments of one's interlocutor.
 Relatedly: to infer or otherwise assume that because a reply fails to rebut P, it also fails to undercut P.
As indicated in the title, the paper further develops Schellenberg's line of argument in his "The Free Will Offense" (IJPR 56, pp. 1-15), and ch. 12 of his The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (Cornell UP, 2007).
Suppose one were to believe in the possibility of a beginningless past on the basis of the following inference:
1. Every finite subset of events in a beginningless past is traversable.
2. Therefore, the whole set of events in a beginningless past is traversable.
This is obviously a bad reason for that belief. For to infer (2) from (1) is to commit the fallacy of composition.
Interestingly, William Lane Craig attributes this fallacious inference to the late J.L. Mackie in reply to Mackie's criticism of the Kalam argument in the latter's The Miracle of Theism. It's perhaps worth noting that Craig repeats this reply to Mackie's criticism in virtually all of his books and contributing chapters in which he defends the kalam cosmological argument. Furthermore, Mackie's is arguably the main criticism he raises to his argument in these writings.
I think Craig's characterization of Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here is uncharitable at best, and mista…
Justin McBrayer (Fort Lewis College) is an excellent young philosopher. He's also an up-and-comer in philosophy of religion, with special focus on the skeptical theist response to the problem of evil (We've noted his overview of recent work on skeptical theism in Philosophy Compass, and his IEP entry on the topic on otheroccasions). His most recent contribution makes an advance in the discussion by applying recent work on epistemic contextualism (and also, in this case, Schaeffer's contrastivism) to the topic. The paper can be found here.
A while back, I complained about the strange dearth of work in philosophy of religion that applies the recent hot topic of contextualism in epistemology. It's nice to see that things are starting to change in that regard.
Over at the Secular Outpost, Graham Oppy recently noted a series of exchanges he's been having with J.P. Moreland on the argument from consciousness for theism. One of Oppy's main points in the post is that a naturalist can (a la Chalmers) take consciousness or proto-conscious representational properties as fundamental features of the natural world, thereby undercutting the argument from consciousness. As Oppy puts it:
The most important point to note -- vis a vis this discussion -- I think, is this: The worst case for the naturalist is one in which 'conscious state' is an ideological primitive, with an ideologically primitive connection to 'neural state' (or the like). But, for theists like Moreland, 'conscious state' is evidently an ideological primitive -- for, of course, Moreland thinks that God is conscious, and does not suppose that God's consciousness is explained in terms of something else -- and the connection between consciousness and th…
"I’ll conclude with a brief comment on the exceedingly low standard Bill [Craig] sets for a “good” philosophical argument. The premises don’t even need to be “plausible,” he says – “just more plausible than their opposites.” But surely, when you don’t know enough even to say, “This is plausible,” you don’t have a foundation on which to build an argument for a conclusion that you can believe! To see just how bad the problem is, suppose that each of the logically independent premises Bill needs to get all the way to the conclusion that a personal God created the universe meets this low standard. By way of illustration, suppose that there are just four logically independent premises, and make the very generous assumption that the probability is two to one in favor of each of them. Then the probability that all of them are true is less than 0.2, and the probability that at least one of them is false is greater than 0.8! Imagine a ladder with four rungs, and suppose that the probabili…
Killeen Chair Conference on Religious Disagreement
Hosted by St. Norbert College, Green Bay, Wisconsin April 14th through 15th, 2012
The organizing committee for the Killeen Chair of Theology & Philosophy announces a conference on the epistemology of religious disagreement, to be held at St. Norbert College on April 14-15, 2012.
Keynote Speakers: Michael Bergmann (Purdue) Thomas Kelly (Princeton) Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern)
Additional Speakers: Nathan King (Whitworth) Jonathan Matheson (North Florida) Andrew Moon (Missouri) Tim Pickavance (Biola)
The organizing committee invites the submission of papers for two or three additional speakers. Papers should relate in some way to the epistemic significance of religious disagreement, and each should be suitable for a thirty-five minute presentation (roughly 3,500 words).
Papers should be prepared for blind review and submitted electronically. Please send your file attached to an e-mail mes…
I recently realized that last month marked this blog's 5th anniversary. I'm still enjoying it quite a bit, so I plan on continuing for the foreseeable future. Thanks to all of you for visiting and/or commenting.
... is the name of a new book by R. Scott Smith (Biola). Here is the blurb:
Philosophical naturalism is taken to be the preferred and reigning epistemology and metaphysics that underwrites many ideas and knowledge claims. But what if we cannot know reality on that basis? What if the institution of science is threatened by its reliance on naturalism?
R. Scott Smith argues in a fresh way that we cannot know reality on the basis of naturalism. Moreover, the "fact-value" split has failed to serve our interests of wanting to know reality. The author provocatively argues that since we can know reality, it must be due to a non-naturalistic ontology, best explained by the fact that human knowers are made and designed by God. The book offers fresh implications for the testing of religious truth-claims, science, ethics, education, and public policy. Consequently, naturalism and the fact-value split are shown to be false, and Christian theism is shown to be true.
Timothy Pawl (St. Thomas) provides an extremely clear explication of Aquinas's five proofs of God's existence, as well as key objections and replies, in "The Five Ways", forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Thomas Aquinas (ed. Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump).
Jeffrey Jay Lowder recently noted Doug Geivett's argument from evil to God, which runs as follows:
1. Evil exists. 2. Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. 3. If there is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be. 4. Therefore, there is a way things ought to be. 5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things. 6. If there is a design plan for things, then there must be a Designer. 7. Therefore, there must be a Designer.
It appears that Geivett's argument is a variation on Plantinga's argument from proper function to God. In both arguments, there is a claim about the existence of normativity in the natural world that's grounded in purpose and plan. And in both arguments, there is a claim that such purpose and plan can only come from an intelligent designer (or at least that intelligent design is the only known way to get purpose and plan, and the prospects for a naturalistic account of pur…
(The rest of the posts in this series can be found here).
Consider the following argument from Craig:
"Suppose...that each book in the library has a number printed on its spine so as to create a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers. Because the collection is actually infinite, this means that every possible natural number is printed on some book. Therefore, it would be impossible to add another book to this library. For what would be the number of the new book? . . .Every possible number already has a counterpart in realty, for corresponding to every natural number is an already existent book. Therefore, there would be no number for the new book. But this is absurd, since entities that exist in reality can be numbered."
We can put the argument more carefully as follows:
1. If concrete actual infinites are possible, then a library L with an infinite set of books is possible.
2. If L is possible, then it’s possible to assign a unique natural number to each boo…
Here's the book's description from OUP: In May 2010, philosophers, family and friends gathered at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the career and retirement of Alvin Plantinga, widely recognized as one of the world's leading figures in metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion. Plantinga has earned particular respect within the community of Christian philosophers for the pivotal role that he played in the recent renewal and development of philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Each of the essays in this volume engages with some particular aspect of Plantinga's views on metaphysi…
I can't believe I never posted about this, but there's an old (but excellent) review of Divine Hiddenness: New Essays at NDPR by Robert McKim.
As many of you know, McKim wrote a superb book on the problems of divine hiddenness (more specifically, the problem of religious ambiguity) and religious diversity a while back, and has another book on the problem of religious diversity forthcoming with OUP.
*A fresh approach to philosophy of religion *Covers a range of key topics in the field *Brings together prominent philosophers of science, epistemologists, and philosophers of religion
Probability theory promises promising to deliver an exact and unified foundation for inquiry in epistemology and philosophy of science. But philosophy of religion is also fertile ground for the application of probabilistic thinking. This volume presents original contributions from twelve contemporary researchers, both established and emerging, to offer a representative sample of the work currently being carried out in this potentially rich field of inquiry. Grouped into five parts, the chapters span a broad range of traditional issues in religious epistemology. The first th…
The 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology
Recent PhDs and current graduate students are invited to apply to participate in the 2012 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology, a three-week long seminar organized by Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) and Michael Rota (University of St. Thomas). The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 17th to July 6th, 2012. Participants will receive a stipend of $3000, as well as room and board.
"It is somewhat misleading to characterize theorists like Adams and Craig as providing a theistic foundation for objective morality. This characterization can easily give the impression that, on their approaches, all objective ethical facts are explained by God. But this is not at all the case. What is really going on is that some objective ethical facts are explained by appeal to other basic ethical facts (some of which are also supernatural facts). Adams, Craig, and I all agree, then, that objective morality is somehow built into reality. We all posit a moral foundation of substantive, metaphysically necessary brute ethical facts. They also see divinity as built into reality, whereas I do not. But it is a mistake to think that on their approaches, the divinity that is built into reality provides a complete external foundation for objective morality. On both types of views, the bottom floor of objective morality rests ultimately on nothing.
Although multiverse hypotheses were once commonly resisted by theistic philosophers, a number of such philosophers now see them as having great theoretical utility in natural theology and philosophical theology. As noted on other occasions, Klaas Kraay has written extensively on the relationship between theism and multiverse hypotheses. It's therefore worth pointing out that he has kindly posted his "The Theistic Multiverse: Problems and Prospects" (which is a chapter in the forthcoming book, Scientific Approaches to Philosophy of Religion (Ed. Yujin Nagasawa, Palgrave MacMillan). The chapter is at once an excellent overview of the topic, and a contribution to the current debate.
The 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize attempts to identify the three best papers, in English, published in 2010 in the areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. Out of forty-four submissions, our selection panel has chosen the following three winners:
W. Matthews Grant , “Can a Libertarian hold that Our Free Acts are Caused by God?” Faith and Philosophy 27:1 (January 2010): 22-44.
David M. Holley , “Treating God’s Existence as an Explanatory Hypothesis” American Philosophical Quarterly 47:4 (October 2010): 377-88.
Yujin Nagasawa, “The Ontological Argument and the Devil,” Philosophical Quarterly 60 (October 2010): 72-91.
For more information on this award, including instructions for submitting a paper for the 2011 prize, go to
Over at Philosophical Disquisitions, John Danaher is expositing Wes Morriston's recent paper, "Ethical Criticism of the Bible: The Case of Divinely Mandated Genocide", Sophia (2011). Below are the installments so far:
A key move in standard Leibnizian cosmological arguments is the claim that:
(UCB) The universe -- or (if the universe doesn't exhaust physical reality) all physical reality -- is a contingent being.
Now the primary means of support for UCB is a conceivability-possibility inference. Richard Taylor's use of such an inference is representative in this regard. Thus, he argues that for any object in the universe, we can imagine that it fails to exist (e.g., a six-foot-in-diameter translucent sphere). But if imaginability is evidence of possibility, then this is evidence that for any arbitrary object in the universe (whether a stamp or a solar system), it's possible for it not to exist. But we can just as easily imagine the whole universe failing to exist. Therefore, we can say with equal justification that the universe can fail to exist, in which case it's a contingent being.
Is the line of reasoning above for the contingency of the universe a good one? One might think not…
The Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame, with generous support from the Templeton Foundation, announces the following fellowships and grants available for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Center for Philosophy of Religion Fellowships
There are five residential fellowships for the 2012 - 2013 academic year: the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship ($60,000), awarded to a distinguished senior scholar; up to two Research Fellowships ($40,000 - $50,000, depending on rank); the Frederick J. Crosson Fellowship ($45,000) reserved for foreign scholars and those outside the field of philosophy; and one Visiting Graduate Fellowship ($20,000) awarded to a graduate student in philosophy with research interests in the philosophy of religion. For further details, including application requirements, visit http://philreligion.nd.edu. All materials must be received by February 1, 2012.
Analytic Theology Course Awards
These course awards provide funding for the development and impleme…