Honey, I’m home…
May 18, 2010 — 14:56

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 23

I stopped blogging a few months before I went on the job market. I persist in thinking that being openly religious in a traditional/unfashionable religion hurts one in getting a job at non-religious institutions, especially fashionable ones (which is different than hurting one on the job market generally, where, I think, it helps (as it happens I had multiple interviews on both sides of the line and felt a bit of hostility toward my pretty traditional Catholicism on both sides of it).
Baylor has been an extremely welcoming community and made sure that my first year was not burdensome in the least (far from it), by, among other things, sheltering me from anything that didn’t move me toward tenure.*** Still, I had a full plate of commitments for writing and speaking, so the blogs stayed on hiatus (though I did quietly pass the 100 post/1000 comments mark with my very sporadic forays).
I’m more busy than ever, the busiest I’ve ever been in my life, but blogging is too much fun to forego any longer, so I’m going to be posting a bit more regularly this summer (though I will not have time to polish them, and that’s the great thing about a blog, a place to mull things over).
It’s good to be back!
***One of the things I was enabled to do, though, was put together a Philosophy of Religion Colloquium series, which I post below. If anyone will be around during these times, feel free to contact me about attending.
Sept 10th – Linda Zagzebski (Oklahoma) – TBA
Oct. 29th – Timothy O’Connor (Indiana) – TBA
February 25th – Eleornore Stump (SLU) – TBA
April 8th – Richard Cross (Notre Dame) – Analogical Predication
November 18th – Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame)
March – Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) (tentative)

  • Mathis

    That is, I can’t take seriously any view that entails either the proposition that some contingent fact occurred for no reason or that in essentials, the universe (or world or nature or whatever you want to call it) couldn’t have been relevantly different from the way it in fact is.
    Same here, but for completeness, the – at least to me – less crazy alternative might be to say that explanation is agglomerative in such a scenario.

    May 18, 2010 — 15:47
  • Trent Dougherty

    “explanation is agglomerative in such a scenario”
    I don’t know what that means.

    May 18, 2010 — 15:50
  • Andrew

    This has bothered me as well. I am reading Moreland’s “Recalcitrant Imago Dei”, and although some of the arguments he gives against naturalists attempts to solve/resolve the problems facing them regarding the “ontology of the Imago Dei” in humans are somewhat hand-wavy, I think he rightly points out that it is rather implausible (and ad hoc) to claim that those various features of the imago dei (e.g., consciousness, libertarian free-will, rationality, normativity, etc.) are merely brute facts.

    May 18, 2010 — 16:06
  • Welcome home!
    But, I don’t see how God or mind solves or alleviates the brute fact problem. After all, if they are at the beginning, or eternal, that’s about as brute a fact as you can get. The sourceless source is itself inexplicable, therefore brute.
    @ Andrew: naturalists don’t claim that consciousness, rationality and normativity are brute facts, but rather outcomes (somehow!) of our being cognitive creatures living together in cultures (most naturalists discount libertarian free will as non-existent). Figuring out how c, r and n arise is the interesting bit that keeps us naturalists busy.
    Btw, I’ve reviewed Moreland at http://www.naturalism.org/Morelandreview.htm

    May 18, 2010 — 18:54
  • Mathis

    The Explanation Is Agglomerative Objection.
    A crucial step in the argument was the claim that The Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact in a given world is explainable only by the free action of a necessary being. It could be objected in the name of Hume that if the conjunction were infinite, with each conjunct being explained by another conjunct, the entire conjunction would thereby be internally explained. This assumes that explanation is agglomerative, meaning that it is closed under conjunctive introduction: If there is an explanation for P and another explanation for Q, there is an explanation for the conjunction (P & Q).

    Not that I buy that.

    May 19, 2010 — 2:20
  • I–unfortunately–find myself able to take naturalism seriously. However, if I were a naturalist, I would be a Pyrrhonian sceptic, and then I’d be a wreck. (I think naturalism undercuts our reasons to believe any substantive normative (moral and epistemic), abstract, metaphysical, mathematical, scientific and empirical claims, roughly in this order.)
    P.s. Baylor didn’t shelter you from my accosting you in the hallway or even in your office with comments and questions that have no chance of moving you towards tenure.

    May 19, 2010 — 9:46
  • Correction: I couldn’t both be a naturalist and a Pyrrhonian. Rather, being a naturalist would slide me to Pyrrhonianism. One of the reasons is related to Trent’s remarks. If all the basic facts were brute contingencies, I don’t think there would be any objective probabilities; but where there are no objective probabilities, there should be no subjective ones either; and where there are no probabilities, there can be no science.

    May 19, 2010 — 9:54
  • Emotionally I find naturalism to be a threat to my theistic views, but when I think through many of the features of reality–the ones discussed by Moreland in his “Recalcitrant Imago Dei”–I’m reminded of why I believe Christian theism to be true. I think that the moral aspects of reality are central parts of the case for theism and against naturalism, many of which are discussed by Moreland in his book (the following is a portion of a review of mine):
    Moreland offers an argument that the following features are defeaters for a naturalist worldview. To fully appreciate and evaluate his argument of course requires reading the chapter in the book, but I’ll give a quick summary of his points.
    1. The existence of objective moral value: If the universe starts with the Big Bang, and over its history we find the arrangement of microphysical entities into increasingly complex physical compounds, how does value arise? How can a naturalist, as a naturalist, embrace non-natural, objective, values?
    2. The nature of the moral law: The moral order presents itself imperatively, that is, as something which commands action. The sense of guilt one feels for falling short of the moral law is best explained if a good God is the source or ultimate exemplification of that law. As Moreland puts it, “One cannot sense shame and guilt towards a Platonic form (p. 147).”
    3. The instantiation of morally relevant value properties: Even if a naturalist allows for the existence of some Platonic realm of the Forms, the naturalist has no explanation for why these universals were and are instantiated in the physical universe.
    4. The intersection of intrinsic value and human persons: How is it that human beings are able to do as morality requires, and that such obedience to the moral law also happens to contribute to human flourishing? Theism has an obvious answer to such questions, but it is not clear, and is far from obvious, how naturalism would account for this.
    5. Knowledge of intrinsic value and the moral law: Given that such values are not empirically detectable and cannot stand in physical causal relations with the brain, how is it that we could know such things? Evolutionary explanations fall short because of what is selected for in such processes on naturalistic versions of evolutionary theory.
    6. The nature of moral action: Here, I will simply quote Moreland, “…evolutionary naturalism would seem to predict a world of wantons. Since genuine moral agents understand moral duty and conflicts involving moral duty, wantons cannot be depicted as such. What is at issue is whether evolutionary naturalism has the intellectual resources to avoid implying a wanton world. In my view, evolutionary naturalism does not have those resources (p. 153).”
    7. An adequate answer to the question, “Why should I be moral?”: Both naturalists and theists can respond, “Because it is the moral thing to do.” But beyond this, when thinking about the question outside of the moral point of view, the issue becomes why is it rational to adopt the moral point of view rather than an egoistic one? According to Moreland, this is a problem for the naturalist. But the theist can offer a variety of reasons to adopt the moral point of view–the moral law is true; it is an expression of the non-arbitrary character of a good, loving, wise, and just God; and we were designed to function properly when living a moral life.

    May 19, 2010 — 10:14
  • Alex, if you were a Pyrrhonian skeptic, you wouldn’t be a wreck, you’d live well and fortuitously attain tranquility.

    May 19, 2010 — 10:14
  • I sympathize with your comments regarding naturalism and the need for a explanatory ground for modality, experience and value. I wonder, though, at your skepticism about an impersonal force as explanation. I read Timothy O’Connor’s recent book, and he had a great discussion of “logos vs. chaos” as alternative explanatory entities. Unlike him, I thought chaos was more plausible, since one didn’t have to model how a personal theistic agent would operate. I wonder if there are philosophers who endorse a “chaotic” necessarily existing force (is your reference to John Leslie?)
    Best regards, – Steve Esser

    May 19, 2010 — 10:25
  • A Lurking Crazy

    Says Trent, “…I can’t take seriously any view that entails…the proposition that some contingent fact occurred for no reason….”
    That’s basically why I can’t take seriously Molinism and its brutely contingent counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. 🙂

    May 19, 2010 — 12:43
  • Trent Dougherty

    This is kinda funny, I had two posts written up, one on being back to blogging and one on naturalism. In it, I mention that the “agglomerative” move leaves me unmoved, for traditional reasons. I think I’ll post the whole thing.
    The Moreland book sounds to me like it’s on the right track (though I’d want to tighten things up), I hope the book gets the attention it deserves (including from me).
    It’s the million, zillion little things in life that make sense on some kind of supernaturalism, especially traditional theism, especially especially Christian theism, that keep me a Christian theist.
    Of course, the move from some vague supernaturalism to traditional theism is “a whole ‘nother step” in the argument, and, unsurprisingly, I’m Swinburnian here too. One person with two properties held in the simplest way is the simplest hypothesis I’m aware of that covers the data.
    I don’t understand why it’s supposed to be hard to “model how a personal theistic agent would operate.” We know how persons operate from the inside. We can approach sufficient understanding of the theistic part by apophatic and analogical reasoning.
    I think Swinburne covers this particularly well, I think in the “Explanatory Power of Theism” chapter in The Existence of God. Roughly (there will need to be come caveats and Chisholming), a state of affairs is rendered probable to the degree that in instantiates a real good.
    To the extent that we think the existence and nature of the world are a real good, to that extent it is not surprising to find it in a theistic world.
    *Agency* is the key explanatory notion. Everything else we understand, we understand from it. Naturalists are right to try to eliminate it (in an instrumental sense of “right”).

    May 19, 2010 — 13:34
  • Robert Gressis

    I’m curious about the millions of things that you think make sense, or make more sense, on theism, that don’t make sense, or make less sense, on naturalism. I’ll just forward two possibilities:
    (1) Modality
    (2) Morality
    Here’s how I see the modality claim working: what makes it the case that something X truly is possible even though it’s not actual is the powers or dispositions of existing things. For instance, what makes it the case that if I dropped my coffee cup then it would break is that the glass out of which my cup is constructed is disposed to break if it impacts a stone floor with suitable force behind it. But what makes it the case that the universe could have been radically different from what it is? If theism is true, then God makes it the case: since God is omnipotent, he has the power to bring about a radically different universe. If naturalism is true, then what makes it the case is some fact about the singularity. It seems like a tie to me. Alternatively, the universe couldn’t be radically different from what it is, but that doesn’t strike me as a problem.
    Here’s how I see the morality claim working: naturalism can’t explain why it is the case that I ought to do anything at all, or at least why I ought to do something (or refrain from doing something) when it’s in my self-interest to do so (or, if you’re not a consequentialist, why it can be wrong to do something even when it would make most people, or even everyone, happier). Now, most naturalists who aren’t philosophers claim to be perfectly happy to be non-cognitivists or nihilists about morality. But most naturalist philosophers want to be moral realists of some sort. The problem, if you’re a naturalist, is how to explain this objectivity given that on naturalism we are just matter in motion.
    It seems to me that you can’t explain it: either you just accept it as inexplicable, or you say that we can’t help but to be committed to it, or you try to explain it by saying that an ought can be derived from an is. I don’t see how theism adds to this. Is the way theism is supposed to help by adding a certain kind of moral motivation? That’s my take on it, but I’d be curious to see what you guys think.

    May 19, 2010 — 14:08
  • Robert Gressis

    I should have said, “Alternatively, the universe couldn’t be radically different from what it is, but that doesn’t strike me as a big problem for the naturalist if the naturalist wants to assert this.”

    May 19, 2010 — 14:10
  • Andrew

    Moreland’s book can be said to aim at what you said, “*Agency* is the key explanatory notion. Everything else we understand, we understand from it. Naturalists are right to try to eliminate it (in an instrumental sense of “right”).” He argues that the theistic explanation of the imago dei is not as problematic as the naturalists explanation, since for the theist agency is the grounding of ontology.
    He identifies the places where naturalism needs to try to reduce/eliminate and then tries to argue that such reductions/eliminations fail (At the very least, I think those reductions/eliminations give us much less of a reason for thinking naturalism to be true.)

    May 19, 2010 — 15:07
  • louis.email

    So many interesting remarks! Where to start?
    I guess, first of all, I found a reference to this paper that attempts to give an account of a non-natural, non-theistic morality:
    Title In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism Author Wielenberg, Erik J Source Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 23-41, January 2009 ISSN 0739-7046
    I’m working on getting my hands on this right now. Has anyone read it?
    Second, in response to Robert, wouldn’t theism provide the ontological ground for nearly any moral framework? For instance, suppose we wanted to proceed along Aristotelian lines. Wouldn’t the existence of God render the fundamental Aristotelian teleological question intelligible? Namely, Aristotle basically says to know what the good is, we must know what makes the particular thing in question good. Therefore, in ethics we are asking what makes a human a good human. Specifically, we’re concerned with the attributes that are essentially human (as opposed to attributes that are shared by other beings). If naturalism were true and evolution were the cause of the origin of the human race, what makes a human good might be a more or less intelligible question. However, if we know that the human race were designed, the question would become fully intelligible, since man would have a definitive function.
    Now, along the lines that I’m thinking, the reason the question of man’s good becomes fully intelligible is that when God created the universe he knew that the human race would arise inexorably from the initial conditions that he set into motion. Therefore, it seems to me that God can be the basis for morality, assuming two things: (1) he is omniscient, or at least sufficiently prescient so that we could rightly say that the human race has been designed and thereby have reason to judge what a good human is in an Aristotelian fashion, and (2) that the universe is deterministic…though maybe that is implicit in (1)? I’m not sure. The reason I think (2) might be needed is that if God did not know that the human race would assuredly arise in the way that it did with the qualities it has, then, it would be hard to say that we are truly designed. Everyone’s help in fleshing this out would be great. Also, I’m not sure if this is what Andrew and Trent are getting at with “agency.”
    Third, the book you mention, Steve, sounds interesting, but I can’t seem to find it by searching that author’s name. Would you be able to provide more details?
    Finally, I should mention that there is a blog post here about the question of naturalism and the reliability of human reason. I think his points are quite convincing, but I think it’s not really convincing regarding morality (though I doubt he intended to account for morality) nor with abstract entities / realities in general.

    May 19, 2010 — 18:37
  • louis.email

    Steve, nevermind, I suppose you must have been referring to Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency, Blackwell, 2008.

    May 19, 2010 — 21:14
  • louis.email-
    I haven’t read the paper by Wielenberg in Faith and Philosophy, but I’ve closely read his book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. It’s very clear and challenging, and worth reading.
    I’d be very interested in the more recent paper you reference, since in his book he merely states that there are necessary ethical truths, and that these are just a part of the furniture of the universe. No further explanation is given, but of course such things seem very strange on naturalism given its ontology, but very likely and easily explained on theism.

    May 19, 2010 — 21:54
  • Ben H

    Here is the aforementioned Erik J. Wielenberg paper

    May 20, 2010 — 3:32
  • louis.email

    Thanks for the reply, Mike. I just got a copy of it, so I’ll let everyone know soon.

    May 20, 2010 — 15:02
  • Tom, two things. 1. I want the best explanation of what I know to be true. Best explanations posit fewer basic tokens and types. Theism posts one basic entity with two basic properties held in the simplest way. Naturalism is stuck with myriad heterogeneous and highly specific brutes. I’ll take the former over the latter any day. 2. I think God is a necessary being of the sort that needs no explanation. Any plausible PSR is not going to range over things that cannot not be.

    May 26, 2010 — 15:38
  • Trent:
    Thanks for posting my comment. Simplicity (fewest basic tokens and types) is of course just one criterion of a good explanation. Besides, even on that criterion, naturalistic physics is on the trail of the simplest common building blocks – an open-ended investigation. But that means you’re right for the time being: thus far nothing natural can compete with God as a brute unexplained explainer.
    Explanation the way I see it, fwiw:

    May 26, 2010 — 18:30
  • Tom, sorry for the delay, I’ve forgotten most of what I knew about negotiating the server side of Moveable Type.
    I’m tempted to let “you’re winning for now” be the end of the story, but I’ve never been one to let a dead horse lie. Thus…
    1. Yes, simplicity is only one factor, but it’s one of only *two* factors, the other being explanatory power. And a la curve-fitting problem, explanatory power can be pretty cheap. Thus, the search for the simplest adequate theory is *the* sine qua non of explanation.
    2. Just think of what a physical theory would have to look like to even be a competitor. Theism posits one basic entity with two basic properties held in the simplest possible way.
    This means that the theory would have to posit one entity with one property with no parameters. There just seems no hope here. Persons are very simple things, and Will and Thought are familiar properties (more familiar than any other properties (with the possible exception of some kind of “being”)). God’s will and thought have no non-logical limits. A parallel theory about a non-personal entity with one property with no limit is not going to result in anything like the kind of universe we have.
    And, to flog this poor, decaying equine, there’s no current physical theory that even seems to be anywhere near this kind of simplicity.

    May 26, 2010 — 21:24