2016 St Thomas Summer Seminar
September 21, 2015 — 14:08

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

The 2016 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

Recent PhDs and current graduate students in philosophy, theology, or religious studies are invited to apply to the 2016 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 14th to June 29th, 2016. Participants will receive a stipend of $2000, as well as room and board.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, see:

http://www.stthomas.edu/philosophy/grants/templeton/project/

Topics and Speakers:

THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF DISAGREEMENT:  Earl Conee andThomas Kelly

PASCAL’S WAGER: Thomas Kelly, Gideon Rosen and Michael Rota

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL: Gideon Rosen and Eleonore Stump

UNIVERSALISM: Keith DeRose and Eleonore Stump

EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL:Michael Murray and Jeff Schloss

HELL: Frances Howard-Snyder and Peter van Inwagen

RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE: Christopher Eberle andPaul Weithman

PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION FOR A GENERAL AUDIENCE: Janet Martin Soskice

The deadline for receipt of applications is December 1, 2015.

Funded by:

The John Templeton Foundation

The University of St. Thomas

The Society of Christian Philosophers

The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion

The John Cardinal O’Hara Chair in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame

The Rutgers Center for Philosophy of Religion

The mystical security guard
February 17, 2015 — 10:58

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 8

One objection to some solutions to the problem of evil, particularly to sceptical theism, is that if there are such great goods that flow from evils, then we shouldn’t prevent evils. But consider the following parable.

I am an air traffic controller and I see two airplanes that will collide unless they are warned. I also see our odd security guard, Jane, standing around and looking at my instruments. Jane is super-smart and very knowledgeable, to the point that I’ve concluded long ago that she is in fact all-knowing. A number of interactions have driven me to concede that she is morally perfect. Finally, she is armed and muscular so she can take over the air traffic control station on a moment’s notice.

Now suppose that I reason as follows:

  • If I don’t do anything, then either Jane will step in, take over the controls and prevent the crash, or she won’t. If she does, all is well. If she doesn’t, that’ll be because in her wisdom she sees that the crash works out for the better in the long run. So, either way, I don’t have good reason to prevent the crash.

This is fallacious as it assumes that Jane is thinking of only one factor, the crash and its consequences. But the mystical security guard, being morally perfect, is also thinking of me. Here are three relevant factors:

  • C: the value of the crash
  • J: the value of my doing my job
  • p: the probability that I will warn the pilots if Jane doesn’t step in.

Here, J>0. If Jane foresees that the crash will lead to on balance goods in the long run, then C>0; if common sense is right, then C<0. Based on these three factors, Jane may be calculating as follows:

  • Expected value of non-intervention: pJ+(1−p)C
  • Expected value of intervention: 0 (no crash and I don’t do my job).

Let’s suppose that common sense is right and C<0. Will Jane intervene? Not necessarily. If p is sufficiently close to 1, then pJ+(1−p)C>0 even if C is a very large negative number. So I cannot infer that if C<0, or even if C<<0, then Jane will intervene. She might just have a lot of confidence in me.

Suppose now that I don’t warn the pilots, and Jane doesn’t either, and so there is a crash. Can I conclude that I did the right thing? After all, Jane did the right thing—she is morally perfect—and I did the same thing as Jane, so surely I did the right thing. Not so. For Jane’s decision not to intervene may be based on the fact that her intervention would prevent me from doing my job, while my own intervention would do no such thing.

Can I conclude that I was mistaken in thinking Jane to be as smart, as powerful or as good as I thought she was? Not necessarily. We live in a chaotic world. If a butterfly’s wings can lead to an earthquake a thousand years down the road, think what an airplane crash could do! And Jane would take that sort of thing into account. One possibility was that Jane saw that it was on balance better for the crash to happen, i.e., C>0. But another possibility is that she saw that C<0, but that it wasn’t so negative as to make pJ+(1−p)C come out negative.

Objection: If Jane really is all-knowing, her decision whether to intervene will be based not on probabilities but on certainties. She will know for sure whether I will warn the pilots or not.

Response: This is complicated, but what would be required to circumvent the need for probabilistic reasoning would be not mere knowledge of the future, but knowledge of conditionals of free will that say what I would freely do if she did not intervene. And even an all-knowing being wouldn’t know those, because there aren’t any true non-trivial such conditionals.

Theistic ethics workshop
December 3, 2014 — 14:07

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: News  Comments: 1

The organizers of the first annual Theistic Ethics Workshop encourage abstract submissions for our inaugural meeting at the Graylyn Conference Center (www.graylyn.com) on the campus of Wake Forest University. The workshop will be held on October 8-10, 2015, and details can be found here:

http://users.wfu.edu/millerc/Theistic%20Ethics%20Workshop

Authors of accepted abstracts will have all their expenses covered, including travel. This workshop is being supported by generous funding from the Thomas J. Lynch Funds of the Wake Forest University Philosophy Department. Please direct any questions to millerc@wfu.edu.

All the best,

Mark Murphy (Georgetown)
Christopher Tucker (William and Mary)
Christian Miller (Wake Forest University)

Hiddenness and the Necessary Condition Fallacy
October 6, 2014 — 22:10

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God  Tags:   Comments: 17

There is an old Soviet joke. A visitor arrives in the Soviet Union and by the airport he sees two workers with shovels. The first digs a hole. Then the second covers up the hole. He asks the workers what they are doing. They say: “The worker who puts the trees in the holes didn’t show up.”

The joke illustrates this fallacy of practical reasoning:

  1. I have good (very good, excellent, etc.) reason to make p hold.
  2. A necessary condition for p is q.
  3. Thus, I have good (very good, excellent, etc.) reason to make q hold.

There is good reason to plant a tree. Digging a hole and filling in a hole are necessary conditions for planting a tree. But that only gives one reason to dig the hole when one expects a tree to be put in, and it only gives one reason to fill in the hole when the tree has been inserted.

One’s reason to make p hold transfers to a similar weight reason to make the necessary condition q hold only when it is sufficiently likely that the other conditions needed for p will come to be in place.

We can call inferences like (3) instances of the Necessary Condition Fallacy.

Now consider this familiar line of thought.

  1. If God exists, then for each sufficiently epistemically rational person x, God has an overriding reason to bring it about that x enters into a love relationship with him.
  2. A necessary condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s entering into a love relationship with God is that x will believe that God exists.
  3. A necesasry condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s coming to believe that God exists is x‘s having evidence of God’s existence.
  4. So, a necessary condition for a sufficiently epistemically rational x‘s entering into a love relationship with God is that x have evidence of God’s existence. (5 and 6)
  5. So, if God exists, for any sufficiently epistemically rational human x, God has an overriding reason to bring it about that x has evidence of God’s existence. (4 and 7)
  6. But what God has an overriding reason to do always happens.
  7. So, if God exists, every sufficiently epistemically rational person has evidence of God’s existence.
  8. But not every sufficiently epistemically rational person has evidence of God’s existence.
  9. So God doesn’t exist.

But the derivation of (8) is a clear instance of the Necessary Condition Fallacy.

So the question now is whether there is a way of deriving (8) without making use of this fallacy. If it were the case that

  1. every sufficiently epistemically rational creature would be very likely to enter into a love relationship with God upon receiving evidence that God exists,

then (8) would have some plausibility. (I say “some”, because I am not sure the overridingness transfers from (4) to (8) given merely a high probability of success in producing a love relationship.) But (13) is not particularly plausible, especialy given that it seems likely that there are people who rationally believe in God but don’t love him. (One thinks here of the line from the Letter of James about demons who know that God exists and tremble—but surely don’t love.)

Objection: Even if God sees that a person is unlikely to enter a relationship with him, why wouldn’t he at least try, by providing the person with evidence of his existence? What does God have to lose here? (This objection is basically due to Heath White.)

Two responses:

(i) It’s generally intrinsically worse when someone who knows about God’s existence doesn’t love God than if someone ignorant of God’s existence doesn’t love God. Moreover, it can be instrumentally worse: when someone who knows about God’s existence doesn’t love God, that bad example can make it harder for others to have a good relationship with God (hypocrisy is harmful). So there is something to be lost by giving someone knowledge that God exists when the person is unlikely to love God.

(ii) It’s likely that there are some cases where the probability of ultimately loving God is higher if instead of revealing himself at t1, God waits until t2 for the person to mature morally and/or psychologically before revealing his existence. For instance, living longer without believing in God might lead the person ultimately to become more firmly convinced that there is no happiness apart from God. And ultimately loving God can be much more important–infinitely more important, if people live forever–than the benefits of the extra love of God between t1 and t2 should God reveal himself earlier. Given eternal life, God has reason to optimize the time at which belief in God starts so as to optimize the chance of ultimately coming to love God.

Granted, one might wonder how widespread cases like (i) and (ii) are. I suspect they’re not very rare. But in any case the argument from hiddenness is supposed to hold that if God existed, then no epistemically virtuous agent could ever lack evidence for God’s existence. And to cut down that claim, all that’s needed is for (i) or (ii) to be logically possible.

Final remark: It could also be that some people if they come to believe and have a relationship of love with God at t1 are more likely to lose that relationship than they would be if they matured more prior to believing and entering into the relationship. One thinks here of Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand.

2015 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology
September 24, 2014 — 13:59

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

[Mike Rota asked me to post this.]

Recent PhDs and current graduate students in philosophy, theology, or religious studies are invited to apply to the 2015 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 16th to July 1st, 2015. Participants will receive a stipend of $2000, as well as room and board.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, see:

http://www.stthomas.edu/philosophy/grants/templeton/project/

Featuring:
Thomas Flint and Dean Zimmerman on providence
Eleonore Stump and Linda Radzik on the Atonement
Jeff Brower and Trenton Merricks on divine simplicity
Jeff Brower and Brian Leftow on the Trinity
Luke Barnes, William Lane Craig, Neil Manson, and David Manley on the fine-tuning argument.

The deadline for receipt of applications is December 1, 2014.

Do some inductions require a necessary first cause?
August 21, 2014 — 8:16

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 5

Suppose that we’ve observed a dozen randomly chosen ravens and they’re all black. We (cautiously) make the obvious inference that all ravens are black. But then we find out that regardless of parental color, newly conceived raven embryos have a 50% chance of being black and a 50% chance of being white, and that they have equal life expectancy in the two cases. When we find this out, we thereby also find out that it was just a fluke that our dozen ravens were all black. Thus, finding out that it’s random with probability 1/2 that a given raven will be black defeats the obvious inference that all ravens are black, and even defeats the inference that the next raven we will see will be black. The probability that the next raven we observe will be black is 1/2.

Next, suppose that instead of finding out about probabilities, we find out that there is no propensity either way of a conception resulting in a black raven or its resulting in a white raven. Perhaps an alien uniformly randomly tosses a perfectly sharp dart at a target, and makes a new raven be black whenever the dart lands in a maximally nonmeasurable subset S of the target and makes the raven be white if it lands outside S. (A subset S of a probability space Ω is maximally nonmeasurable provided that every measurable subset of S has probability zero and every measurable superset of S has probability one.) This is just as much a defeater as finding out that the event was random with probability 1/2. (The results of this paper are driving my intuitions here.) It’s still just a fluke that the dozen ravens we observed were all black. We still have a defeater for the claim that all ravens are black, or even that the next raven is black.

Finally, suppose instead that we find out that ravens come into existence with no cause, for no reason, stochastic or otherwise, and their colors are likewise brute and unexplained. This surely is just as good a defeater for inferences about the colors of ravens. It’s just a fluke that all the ones we saw so far were black.

Now suppose that the initial state of the universe is a brute fact, something with no explanation, stochastic or otherwise. We have (indirect) observations of a portion of that initial state: for instance, we find the portion of the state that has evolved into the observed parts of the universe to have had very low entropy. And science appropriately makes inferences from the portions of the initial state that have been observed by us to the portions that have not been observed, and even to the portions that are not observable. Thus, it is widely accepted that the whole of the initial state had very low entropy, not just the portion of it that has formed the basis of our observations. But if the initial state and all of its features are brute facts, then this bruteness is a defeater for inductive inferences from the observed to the unobserved portions of the initial state.

So some cosmological inductive inferences require that the initial state of the universe not be entirely brute. I don’t know just how much cosmology depends on the initial state not being entirely brute, but I suspect quite a bit.

What if there is no initial state? What if instead there is an infinite regress? Here I am more tentative, but I suspect that the same problem comes back when one considers the boundary conditions, say at time negative infinity. If these boundary conditions are brute, then we’ve got the same problem as with a brute initial state. Likewise, a contingent first cause will not help, either, since the argument can be applied to its state.

It seems that the only way out of scepticism about cosmology is if there is a necessary first cause. And I also suspect that the impact of the argument may go beyond cosmology. Presumably, we continue to come into causal contact with portions of the initial state that we have previously not been in contact with, and couldn’t that affect us in all sorts of ways that undermine more ordinary inductive inferences (e.g., a burst of radiation might kill us all tomorrow, and no probabilities can be assigned to the burst, and hence no probabilities can be assigned to any positive facts about what we will do tomorrow)? If so, then we lose quite a bit of our predictive ability about the future if we hold the initial state to be brute.

Baylor – Georgetown – Notre Dame conference 2014
August 18, 2014 — 12:01

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: News  Tags:   Comments: 0

The 2014 Baylor/Georgetown/Notre Dame Philosophy of Religion Conference will be held at Georgetown University October 9 through October 11.  All sessions will be held in New North 204.  Below is the schedule.  Please contact Mark Murphy (mark.murphy@georgetown.edu) if you plan to attend.  Please also let him know if you need conference hotel information.  And if it would help you to get funding to attend the conference if you served as a chair for one of the sessions, let him know that, also.

Thursday, October 9

7-8:30 PM   Karen Stohr (Georgetown), “Hope for the Hopeless” (Commentator: Micah Lott, Boston College)

8:30 PM Reception in New North 204

Friday, October 10

9:00-10:25 Kathryn Pogin (Northwestern), “Redemptive or Corruptive? The Atonement and Hermeneutical Injustice” (Commentator: Katherin Rogers, Delaware)

10:35-12  Neal Judisch (Oklahoma), “Redemptive Suffering” (Commentator: Siobhan Nash-Marshall, Manhattanville)

12-2:30   Lunch on own

2:30-3:55  Christian Miller (Wake Forest), “Should Christians be Worried about Situationist Claims in Psychology and Philosophy?” (Commentator: Dan Moller, Maryland)

4:05-5:30  Chris Tucker (William and Mary), “Satisficing and Motivated Submaximization (in the Philosophy of Religion)” (Commentator: Kelly Heuer, Georgetown)

Saturday, October 11

9:00-10:25 Julia Jorati (Ohio State), “Special Agents: Leibniz on the Similarity between Divine and Human Agency” (Commentator: Kristin Primus, Georgetown/NYU)

10:35-12  Kris McDaniel (Syracuse), “Being and Essence” (Commentator: Trenton Merricks, UVA)

12-2:30 Lunch on own

2:30-3:55  Meghan Page (Loyola (MD)/Baylor), “The Posture of Faith: Leaning in to Belief” (Commentator: Mark Lance, Georgetown)

4:05-5:30  Charity Anderson (Baylor), “Defeat, Testimony, and Miracle Reports” (Commentator: Andy Cullison, SUNY-Fredonia)

BGND2014 is organized by Mark Murphy (Georgetown), Jonathan Kvanvig (Baylor), and Michael Rea (Notre Dame). 

Handling the infinities in Pascal’s Wager
January 23, 2014 — 12:01

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism General  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 24

In its classical formulation, Pascal’s Wager contends that we have something like the following payoff matrix:

God exists No God
Believe +∞ a
Don’t believe -b c

where a,b,c are finite. Alan Hajek, however, observes that it is incorrect to say that if you don’t choose to believe, then the payoff is finite. For even if you don’t now choose to believe, there is a non-zero chance that you will later come to believe, so the expected payoff whether you choose to believe or not is +∞.

Hajek’s criticism has the following unhappy upshot. Suppose that there is a lottery ticket that costs a dollar and has a 9/10 chance of getting you an infinite payoff. That’s a really good deal intuitively: you should rush out and buy the ticket. But the analogue to Hajek’s criticism will say that since there is a non-zero chance that you will obtain the ticket without buying it—maybe a friend will give it to you as a gift—the expected payoff is +∞ whether you buy or don’t buy. So there is no point to buying. So Hajek’s criticism leads to something counterintuitive here, though that won’t surprise Hajek. The point of this post is to develop a rigorous principled response to Hajek’s criticism entailing the intuition that you should go for the higher probability of an infinite outcome over a lower probability of it.

A gamble is a random variable on a probability space. We will consider gambles that take their values in R*=R∪{−∞,+∞}, where R is the real numbers. Say that gambles X and Y are disjoint provided that at no point in the probability space are they both non-zero. We will consider an ordering ≤ on gambles, where XY means that Y is at least as good a deal as X. Write X<Y if XY but not YX. Then we can say Y is a strictly better deal than X. Say that gambles X and Y are probabilistically equivalent provided that for any (Borel measurable) set of values A, P(XA)=P(YA). Here are some very reasonable axioms:

  1. ≤ is a partial preorder, i.e., transitive and reflexive.
  2. If X and Y are real valued and have finite expected values, then XY if and only if E(X)≤E(Y).
  3. If X and Y are defined on the same probability space and X(ω)≤Y(ω) for every point ω, then XY.
  4. If X and Y are disjoint, and so are W and Z, and if XW and YZ, then X+YW+Z. If further X<W, then X+Y<W+Z.
  5. If X and Y are probabilistically equivalent, then XY and YX.

For any random variable X, let X* be the random variable that has the same value as X where X is finite and has value zero where X is infinite (positively or negatively).

The point of the above axioms is to avoid having to take expected values where there are infinite payoffs in view.

Theorem. Assume Axioms 1-5. Suppose that X and Y are gambles with the following properties:

  1. P(X=+∞)<P(Y=+∞)
  2. P(X=−∞)≥P(Y=−∞)
  3. X* and Y* have finite expected values

Then: X<Y.

It follows that in the lottery case, as long as the probability of getting a winning ticket without buying is smaller than the probability of getting a winning ticket when buying, you should buy. Likewise, if choosing to believe has a greater probability of the infinite payoff than not choosing to believe, and has no greater probability of a negative infinite payoff, and all the finite outcomes are bounded, you should choose to believe.

Proof of Theorem: Say that an event E is continuous provided that for any 0≤xP(E), there is an event FE with P(F)=x. By Axiom 5, without loss of generality {XA} and {YA} are continuous for any (Borel measurable) A. (Proof: If necessary, enrich the probability space that X is defined on to introduce a random variable U uniformly distributed on [0,1] and independent of X. The enrichment will not change any gamble orderings by Axiom 5. Then if 0≤xP(XA), just choose a∈[0,1] such that aP(XA)=x and let F={XA&Ua}. Ditto for Y.)

Now, given an event A and a random variable X, let AX be the random variable equal to X on A and equal to zero outside of A. Let A={X=−∞} and B={Y=−∞}. Define the random variables X1 and Y1 on [0,1] with uniform distribution by X1(x)=−∞ if xP(A) and X1(x)=0 otherwise, and Y1(x)=−∞ if xP(B) and Y1(x)=0 otherwise. Since P(A)≥P(B) by (7), it follows that X1(x)≤Y1(x) everywhere and so X1Y1 by Axiom 3. But AX and BY are probabilistically equivalent to X1 and Y1 respectively, so by Axiom 5 we have AXBY. If we can show that AcX<BcY then the conclusion of our Theorem will follow from the second part of Axiom 4.

Let X2=AcX and Y2=BcY. Then P(X2=+∞)<P(Y2=+∞), X2* and Y2* have finite expected values and X2 and Y2 never have the value −∞. We must show that X2Y2. Let C={X2}=+∞. By subdivisibility, let D be a subset of {Y2}=+∞ with P(D)=P(C). Then CX2 and DY2 are probabilistically equivalent, so CX2DY2 by Axiom 5. Let X3=CcX2 and Y3=DcY3. Observe that X3 is everywhere finite. Furthermore P(Y3=+∞)=P(Y2=+∞)−P(X2=+∞)>0.

Choose a finite N sufficiently large that NP(Y3=+∞)>E(X3)−E(Y3*) (the finiteness of the right hand side follows from our integrability assumptions). Let Y4 be a random variable that agrees with Y3 everywhere where Y3 is finite, but equals N where Y3 is infinite. Then E(Y4)=NP(Y3=+∞)+E(Y3*)>E(X3). Thus, Y4>X3 by Axiom 2. But Y3 is greater than or equal to Y4 everywhere, so Y3Y4. By Axiom 1 it follows that Y3>X3. but DY2CX2 and X2=CX2+X3 and Y2=DY2+Y3, so by Axiom 4 we have Y2>X2, which was what we wanted to prove.

Pascal’s Wager in a social context
December 18, 2013 — 11:11

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

One of our graduate students, Matt Wilson, suggested an analogy between Pascal’s Wager and the question about whether to promote or fight theistic beliefs in a social context (and he let me cite this here).

This made me think. (I don’t know what of the following would be endorsed by Wilson.) The main objections to Pascal’s Wager are:

  1. Difficulties in dealing with infinite utilities. That’s merely technical (I say).
  2. Many gods.
  3. Practical difficulties in convincing oneself to sincerely believe what one has no evidence for.
  4. The lack of epistemic integrity in believing without evidence.
  5. Would God reward someone who believes on such mercenary grounds?
  6. The argument just seems too mercenary!

Do these hold in the social context, where I am trying to decide whether to promote theism among others? If theistic belief non-infinitesimally increases the chance of other people getting infinite benefits, without any corresponding increase in the probability of infinite harms, then that should yield very good moral reason to promote theistic belief. Indeed, given utilitarianism, it seems to yield a duty to promote theism.

But suppose that instead of asking what I should do to get myself to believe the question is what I should try to get others to believe. Then there are straightforward answers to the analogue of (3): I can offer arguments for and refute arguments against theism, and help promote a culture in which theistic belief is normative. How far I can do this is, of course, dependent on my particular skills and social position, but most of us can do at least a little, either to help others to come to believe or at least to maintain their belief.

Moreover, objection (4) works differently. For the Wager now isn’t an argument for believing theism, but an argument for increasing the number of people who believe. Still, there is force to an analogue to (4). It seems that there is a lack of integrity in promoting a belief that one does not hold. One is withholding evidence from others and presenting what one takes to be a slanted position (for if one thought that the balance of the evidence favored theism, then one wouldn’t need any such Wager). So (4) has significant force, maybe even more force than in the individual case. Though of course if utilitarianism is true, that force disappears.

Objections (5) and (6) disappear completely, though. For there need be nothing mercenary about the believers any more, and the promoter of theistic beliefs is being unselfish rather than mercenary. The social Pascal’s Wager is very much a morally-based argument.

Objections (1) and (2) may not be changed very much. Though note that in the social context there is a hedging-of-the-bets strategy available for (2). Instead of promoting a particular brand of theism, one might instead fight atheism, leaving it to others to figure out which kind of theist they want to be. Hopefully at least some theists get right the brand of theism—while surely no atheist does.

I think the integrity objection is the most serious one. But that one largely disappears when instead of considering the argument for promoting theism, one considers the argument against promoting atheism. For while it could well be a lack of moral integrity to promote one-sided arguments, there is no lack of integrity in refraining from promoting one’s beliefs when one thinks the promotion of these beliefs is too risky. For instance, suppose I am 99.99% sure that my new nuclear reactor design is safe. But 99.9999% is just not good enough for a nuclear reactor design! I therefore might choose not promote my belief about the safety of the design, even with the 99.9999% qualifier, because politicians and reporters who aren’t good in reasoning about expected utilities might erroneously conclude not just that it’s probably safe (which it probably is), but that it should be implemented. And the harms of that would be too great. Prudence might well require me to be silent about evidence in cases where the risks are asymmetrical, as in the nuclear reactor case where the harm of people coming to believe that it’s safe when it’s unsafe so greatly outweighs the harm of people coming to believe that it’s unsafe when it’s safe. But the case of theism exhibits a similar asymmetry.

Thus, consistent utilitarian atheists will promote theism. (Yes, I think that’s a reductio of utilitarianism!) But even apart from utilitarianism, no atheist should promote atheism.

The 2014 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology
November 6, 2013 — 13:30

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

Recent PhDs and current graduate students in philosophy, theology, or religious studies are invited to apply to the 2014 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. The seminar will be held at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, from June 17th to July 2nd, 2014. Participants will receive a stipend of $2000, as well as room and board. For more information and instructions on how to apply, go to:

http://www.stthomas.edu/philosophy/templeton/project.html

Featuring:
Michael Bergmann and John Hawthorne on the epistemology of religious belief
David Albert and Dean Zimmerman on cosmology and philosophy
Louise Antony and Peter van Inwagen on the problem of evil
John Greco on testimony and religious knowledge, and
Stephen Davis, Craig Evans and Evan Fales on historical evidence and Christianity.

The deadline for receipt of applications is December 1, 2013.

Funded by:
The John Templeton Foundation
The University of St. Thomas
The Society of Christian Philosophers
The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion
The John Cardinal O’Hara Chair in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame
The Rutgers Center for the Philosophy of Religion

(Posting on behalf of Mike Rota)