Robert Arp has issued a call for abstracts for The Devil and Philosophy: Deliberation, Deduction, Debate, and Details, of Course. This will be in the Open Court pop culture and philosophy series. You can find the call for abstracts here.
Recently in Links Category
I want to draw Prosblogion readers' attention to a very interesting paper by CalTech physicist Sean Carroll, "Does the Universe Need God?" (hat tip: ex-apologist). The article is to be published in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. The article is a model of constructive dialog between philosophy and physics. Carroll shows engagement with the major philosophical arguments under discussion, and does not come off as condescending or dismissive. He also provides concise and helpful summaries of the relevant physics. Additionally, the article shows an admirable degree of epistemic humility, noting that there are many unsolved problems in physics and that our theory of the early universe is not polished and completed, while still arguing that we have enough information to shape our views on origins. The article is quite readable, and would certainly be helpful for students.
Let me make a few remarks on Carroll's actual arguments and positions. Near the beginning of the article, Carroll quickly summarizes the possible responses to 'first cause'-type cosmological arguments. It seems to me that he is on firm ground here: it is unclear whether there even is a first moment, and if there is then it is not clear that it even makes sense to ask what caused the state of the universe in that first moment, if we are looking for another cause in the series of causes. Besides (although Carroll does not make this point), classical philosophical theology does not conceive of God as one more cause in the series of causes. So the first cause argument isn't really going anywhere. I myself think that insofar as the first cause argument is tempting, this is because it gets confused with the argument from contingency: people aren't really asking what caused the first state of the universe, they are asking why was the state of the universe as it was, and it's quite clear that, if there really is a first moment, then the answer to that question could not possibly be another ordinary physical cause: either it has no answer, or it has an answer of a very different sort.
Carroll next offers detailed criticism of the 'fine-tuning' argument. The main point Carroll makes here is that the multiverse hypotheses which physicists take seriously are not just introducing enormous numbers of universes as ad hoc posits for the purpose of getting rid of fine-tuning. One sort of multiverse, for instance, falls neatly out of inflationary cosmology, which is a well-verified physical theory. (Brian Greene's latest book, The Hidden Reality, surveys the range of multiverse theories and the different degrees of evidence for them.) So to say that the multiverse is excessively complex and so should be rejected is to misunderstand the sort of simplicity we should be looking for. Now, Carroll runs over some distinctions between different multiverse theories here; my understanding on the basis of Greene's book is that the multiverse theories that do the most to eliminate fine-tuning are the least well-supported and widely accepted among those on offer, and that it is true of some of these theories that their main attraction for their adherents is to get rid of fine-tuning. I'm not, however, convinced that that's bad: apparent fine-tuning is one of the things physicists try to explain. If a particular multiverse hypothesis provides a simple explanation of a particular apparent fine-tuning, then good for it. And I agree with Carroll on what simplicity should mean here. Leibniz said that God would create the world which was simplest in principles and most varied in phenomena (see, e.g., DM 5). This is the kind of simplicity that matters here: simplicity of the fundamental principles. If they generate many and varied phenomena (e.g. an enormous variety of universes), this is no stroke against them. Again, point Carroll.
Near the end of the article, Carroll does come to discuss the argument from contingency. Unfortunately, he does not, in my view, take it as seriously as it deserves. He essentially says that, although we ought always to look for explanations with respect to things in the universe, there can be no such explanation of the universe as a whole or its most basic laws. In The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment Alexander Pruss makes the case that the PSR cannot be restricted in any non-ad hoc way without undermining the assumptions of explainability made in ordinary scientific practice. Carroll ultimately simply pronounces that "There is no reason, within anything we currently understand about the ultimate structure of reality, to think of the existence and persistence and regularity of the universe as things that require external explanation." He doesn't give an adequate account of exactly what restrictions he is placing on explainability, or how they are justified. He seems to be supposing that what things we take to be in need of explanation depends on our physical theory. The trouble is, our practices with respect to explanation must be at least partly a priori in character: we have to start looking for explanations before we've got any explanations. Furthermore, Carroll's example, that in modern physics there is no need for Aristotle's Prime Mover because of the Law of Inertia, neglects the fact that an appeal to the Law of Inertia is itself an explanation of why objects continue in their state of motion. It is not that we've discovered that these things don't need explanation, but rather that we've discovered that the correct explanation is of a very different sort from what Aristotle had in mind.
The argument from contingency, however, takes God outside the realm of physics. God here provides a different kind of explanation to a different kind of problem. This, to my mind, is one of the key reasons why the argument from contingency and the ontological argument are far more credible than either the first cause argument or the fine-tuning argument. That theism is not a credible physical theory is transparently obvious. Whether it is a credible metaphysical theory is another question entirely. I also note that the standards of credibility for metaphyiscal theories are quite lax compared to those for physical theories. Might theism enjoy the same level of (objective) support as quantum field theory? Not a chance. Might it enjoy the same level of (objective) support as (say) our best theories of universals? On this latter point I would say, it can, and it does.
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.
Michael Bergmann (Purdue)
Thomas Kelly (Princeton)
Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern)
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 message in which you state your name, contact information, and the title of your paper. Preferred file formats include Word 97-2003 (.doc), Word 2007 (.docx), and PDF. Please send submissions to tomas DOT bogardus AT snc DOT edu.
The deadline for submissions is Friday, February 10th, 2012.
The organizing committee warmly invites all interested philosophers to attend and participate in the conference. If you plan to attend, please email Tomas Bogardus at the above address so that we can plan to accommodate the group's size.
Commentators will be selected for some papers. If you would be willing to comment, please indicate your interest in an email (with a current CV attached) by Friday, February 10th, 2012. One need not present a paper in order to serve as a commentator.
For further information on the Killeen Chair in Theology & Philosophy, please visit http://www.snc.edu/killeen/
Through a generous grant from the Templeton Foundation, I'm pleased to announce a writing retreat and workshop that I'm hosting next spring on 'Divine Freedom'. Details of the retreat can be found here: http://people.nnu.edu/ktimpe/research/flyer.pdf
To apply, send a no more than two page letter of interest and a CV via email.
If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to email me.
I've now watched this debate between William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan twice: once alone and once with interested ethics students (for extra credit!). It's very good, and Kagan pushed buttons on Craig's arguments in many of the ways I thought that his arguments should be pushed.
There's an intuition that if there is no God or afterlife, then life loses its significance. Paul writes, "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15:32b). The author of Ecclesiastes (2:15-16) writes
Then I thought in my heart, 'The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?' I said in my heart, 'This too is meaningless.' For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
Craig has written,
Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again. (Reasonable Faith, p. 59, 1994 edition).
Many existentialist philosophers have seemed to agree with this line of thinking. You get this impression from Sartre, Camus, and Nietzsche.
Kagan calls this into question. In his closing statement, in the last minutes of the recording, he says,
It seems to me that one essential point of disagreement between Craig and me is something that I asked about several times. It's this move that, to my mind, is the move from the thought that, without theism, then our actions don't have eternal cosmic significance, to the conclusion that, therefore, without theism our actions don't have significance - objective, moral significance. That just seems to me to be a mistake. It seems to me that if I love somebody, the reality of that loving relationship is valuable, of real value, of genuine objective value, and it's not in any way threatened by the fact that I will die, my wife will die, my children will die ,and eventually the universe will come to an end. The fact that billions and billions of years from now, it's all going to be the same doesn't mean it's all the same now. I certainly want to concede that if you're looking for this kind of cosmic significance, atheism's not going to provide it for you. But that wasn't the subject of tonight's debate. The subject of tonight's debate was whether you needed that kind of cosmic significance to have morality, and on that issue, I'm quite confident that the answer is 'no'.
I take Kagan to be insightfully calling into question this premise:
1) If x does not have eternal, cosmic moral significance, then x does not have objective, moral significance.
And I must say that (1) still has a strong pull on me. Yet, Kagan's reasoning in his quote here (and throughout the debate) seem compelling as well. I was wondering if anybody had arguments either for or against (1).
In this post, I intend to just be a distributor of information (just as I was when I posted my friend's account of the Plantinga-Dennet exchange). Readers of this blog will be interested to know that Leiter is proposing a boycott on Synthese for reasons having to do with their issue on intelligent design, specifically, with the editorial practices involved. See here and here for details.
Also of interest to readers of this blog might be a recent blog post by Jon Cogburn, found here. Of note is Cogburn's third point:
I can't help but feeling like Plantinga's truly awful "Advice to Christian Philosophers" is lurking in the background here, since it provides coverage for using philosophy just to support beliefs you never intend to call into question, something I think of as neither Christian (and like Plantinga I am a member of a Reformed church) nor philosophical (this much should be clear); it can't be an accident every philosophy professor I know who believes transparent absurdities such as the literal truth of the Bible (and there are shockingly many now) both cite Plantinga as one of the main reasons they decided to make a career of academic philosophy and also try to argue that Plantinga's epistemology somehow makes it O.K. that their (demonstrably false!) religious beliefs are non-revisable (please note that this is exactly the opposite of what "reforming" is supposed to mean in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition!), and...
I posted a comment on Cogburn's blog.
Anyway, these posts tend to provoke visceral reactions (from either side). I am primarily intending to share information and maybe see what people have to say, but I'd rather avoid the name-calling and personal attacks that tend to dominate these discussions. (If there is to be name-calling and personal attacks, I'd rather people do them in person rather than on a blog; that actually takes a little more courage.) This is for anybody who wants to respond to this post.
The latest issue of Synthese is devoted to Intelligent Design. The Introductory article by Glenn Branch starts with a story about J.P. Moreland and then traces some history of the movement. It mentions how there are many philosophers (as "eminent" as Alvin Plantinga) supporting the movement. I thought some Prosblogion readers might be interested, so I'm drawing attention to it.
The St. Thomas Philosophy of Religion Project announces the winners of the 2009 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize, for the three best papers published in 2009 in the areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. The winners are:
Jeffrey E. Brower for "Simplicity and Aseity," in The Oxford Handbook to Philosophical Theology, eds. Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 105-128.
Hud Hudson for "Omnipresence," in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, eds. Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 199-216.
Wes Morriston for "What if God commanded something terrible?: A worry for divine-command meta-ethics," Religious Studies 45:3 (Sept. 2009): 249-267.
Call for Submissions for the 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize
The 2010 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize attempts to identify the three best papers published in 2010 in the areas of philosophy of religion or philosophical theology. A panel of three expert reviewers will select three winners. Each winner will receive an award of $2,000.
Papers should have a date of publication of 2010. (If the actual paper will not appear until 2011, that is acceptable, as long as the official publication date of the journal issue or book is 2010.) Preference will be given to papers that are published in academic forums (e.g., peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes). Entries will be judged on quality of argumentation, clarity of exposition, the significance of the positions argued for, and the degree to which the paper advances the discussion on the topic in question. Entries are limited to one per person. Self nominations are encouraged. Nominations of a paper by someone other than the author(s) are accepted, but only with permission of the author. Papers should be published in English.
Please submit entries by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and write "Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prize" in the subject line of your email. Attach an electronic copy of your paper (Word or pdf) to your email. Please also include your contact information and a bibliographical entry for your paper in the body of your email. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2011. Winners will be announced September 15, 2011.
Gary Gutting has another article in the NYT. This time, he's critiquing Dawkins' criticisms. It's nice to have some professional philosophy in mass media.
Yesterday, a funeral Mass was held for the inimitable James Ross. He was a truly remarkable philosopher and a remarkable man. He was one of my earliest inspirations for combining analytic philosophy with Medieval philosophy (a very natural fit as it turns out). And that was back in the 80's (I was Medieval when Medieval wasn't cool!)
A few years ago, I was privileged to be a commentator on the MS of his, as it turns out, last book, Thought and World: Hiddenn Necessities. It was an amazingly erudite monograph covering a vast range of topics for which he seemed to have the knowledge at his fingertips. He seemed to have read everything. It was a pleasure to know him.
Philly.com has a really nice obit.
It notes "For 54 years, he was married to Kathleen Fallon Ross, a nurse. They grew up in the same neighborhood and renewed their friendship when he had a summer job in Providence while in college. She died May 23." He made it less than two months without her. Having been with Sarah for 20 years now, I can totally understand that. I hope God grants me the grace of dying before her or not long after.
It's a testament to his optimism and remarkable productivity that he left a considerable list of unfinished projects in his CV.
His Phil Papers section also testifies to his productivity.
In Leiter's recent post on Jason Stanley's nice article on the relationship between philosophy and the humanities, somebody asked, "What eternal truths have philosophers discovered in the last 2,000 years that have any bearing on life such that anyone in any discipline outside of philosophy ought to care?"
There was a lot of discussion on what philosophers (and analytic philosophers) have discovered, and so I cited Plantinga's argument in the Nature of Necessity for the conclusion that the existence of God and evil are compatible. Most theists and atheists who work on the problem of evil (at least in analytic philosophy) think that his argument was successful. I thought that this was a conclusion that people in the humanities (outside of philosophy) should care about.
I'm bringing attention to this discussion at this blog partly because, if you have the time, I want to ask that you make sure that I'm not saying false things. (One guy thought that I was kidding!) (Also, here, I am really asking only those people who work on PoE and are familiar with the literature.) Second, I would like to give good PR to philosophy of religion; it's largely ignored in these sorts of discussions, but I think it's an area where real progress - progress that nonphilosophers should care about - has been made. And most philosophers who frequent this blog will care that phil. religion gets good PR.