Craig, Kagan, and Significance
May 4, 2011 — 12:46

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Afterlife Existence of God Links  Tags: , ,   Comments: 112

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).

Synthese and Plantinga’s Advice
April 20, 2011 — 14:59

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Links  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 0

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.

ID and Synthese
December 14, 2010 — 11:02

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Existence of God Links  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 37

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.

Why Are More Petitionary-Prayers Helpful?
November 27, 2010 — 17:40

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 30

This post doesn’t come out of extensive research but just a wondering about petitionary prayer. Consider the following two scenarios:
1) When Percy learns of his wife Sally’s sickness, he says a prayer for her. However, when he hears from the doctor that this sickness is life-threatening, he calls his relatives and church community, asking them to also pray for her healing.
2) Hermione says a prayer for her friend’s well-being. However, Hermione desires more than anything else for her daughter’s well-being in college. She goes to bed every night, asking God for this.
From what I know, many religious communities find the actions in (1) and (2) to be commonplace, normal, and even rational. (We see an analogy to persistent prayer in Jesus’ parable of the woman asking the judge for justice, and we see communal prayer all throughout Acts and the epistles.) But I wonder why, exactly, more petitionary prayers are supposed to be helpful. Here are some possibilities:


Responses To Alston’s RE
November 5, 2010 — 11:24

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , ,   Comments: 15

Regarding religious epistemology, I’m much more well-versed in Plantinga’s work than Alston’s. I’m starting to fix this. I just read his 1986 JPhil paper “Perceiving God” (I taught it for my class) and was quite impressed. He was arguing for an epistemic parity between cases of belief based on sense perception and belief based on religious experience, and he takes on about eight objections which argue for a disparity. Alston responds either that the objections either make use of a double standard (e.g., both require epistemic circularity to justify themselves as sources of belief) or do not point out an epistemic disparity. I hope to read the book Perceiving God some day soon.
Here’s the point of this post. I was wondering if readers of this blog knew some of the key works in philosophy that critically respond to Alston’s claims to parity. I’m also interested in knowing what the best critical responses to Alston’s religious epistemology work are in general. I know that for any well known book, there are your little articles here and there, but I’m most interested in the ones that have actually been influential. Thanks!

DCT, Concepts, Properties
October 7, 2010 — 14:20

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Concept of God Divine Command  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 29

I’ve been trying to work out what I think about God’s relationship to morality. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Philip Quinn’s nice article in the Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. One question is exactly how God’s commands relate to wrongness. He quotes Robert Adams: “My new divine command theory of the nature of ethical wrongness, then, is that ethical wrongness is (i.e., is identical with) the property of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69).
Quinn responds, “I do not find [Adams’ view] attractive because it is ruled out by fine-grained criteria of property identity of a sort I consider metaphysically plausible. An example is of the criterion that property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q and vice versa. According to this criterion, being ethically wrong is not identical with being contrary to the commands of a loving God, since many people, especially nontheists, typically conceive of being ethically wrong without conceiving of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69) Quinn goes on to express his friendliness to a view on which wrongness supervenes on or is causally dependent on or made wrong by God’s commands; identity is too strong.
So, I was wondering about this criterion: property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q. Does anybody happen to know of any arguments for this claim?
Also, is it a possibility that when nontheists conceive of wrongness, they are conceiving of being contrary to God’s commands, but they just don’t realize that that’s what their conceiving? Maybe this is straining the notion of conception, but then Adams’ identity view could meet Quinn’s criterion.
Anyway, these are some areas in metaphysics and philosophy of language that I’m not too strong in, so I’d like to receive some help and perhaps references to literature.

The 2011 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology
September 16, 2010 — 13:42

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: News  Tags: , ,   Comments: Off

Recent PhDs and current graduate students in philosophy, theology, or religious studies are invited to apply to participate in the 2011 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. Twenty participants will be selected; each will receive a stipend of $2,900 and will be provided with accommodations and meals for the duration of the seminar. (Regrettably, funding for travel costs cannot be provided.) Click here for more seminar information and application guidelines.

2009 Excellence in Philosophy of Religion Prizes and Call for 2010 Submissions
September 15, 2010 — 22:22

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Links News  Comments: Off

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, 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.

Fearing God
September 4, 2010 — 12:37

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Religion and Life Virtue  Comments: 11

The Bible refers to the “fear of God” as a good thing.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are commanded, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him… “(10:20)
David prays “Teach me your ways, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
In Proverbs, it says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (31:30).
Jesus warns, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:5).
Multiple questions arise.
1) Textual questions: Are the above Biblical writers talking about the same sort of mental state? Whether they are talking about the same thing or not, what do they mean? Is what they are talking about close in meaning to what we mean in ordinary English if were to say that a person ought to fear another person?
2) Textual-to-Normativity Question: Given that we can accurately grasp what the above writers are referring to, what sort of normativity is being ascribed? Is it prudential or moral (or both or something else)? Given that we grasp which sort of normativity is being ascribed, are the statements true? Why?
3) A-Specific-Normativity Question: This question makes specific what was described in (2). Suppose that they are making moral statements and suppose that by “fear” they mean “being afraid of”. Is it indeed true that it’s a morally good state off affairs to be afraid of God?
Against a positive answer to the question in (3), Russ Shafer-Landau criticizes,


Gutting Again on NYT
August 13, 2010 — 11:41

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Existence of God Links  Comments: 3

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.