A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism
January 29, 2013 — 17:29

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 42

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.)
Now, I suppose there are some reasons for this. One is that the free-will defense is widely thought to be the best response to the problem of evil, and is widely thought to require libertarianism. Another is that theists are often committed to some notion of punitive justice which is also widely thought to require free will. A third reason is that if God is a necessary being, and libertarianism is not true at least about divine freedom, then we inherit all of Leibniz’s difficulties in trying to carve out any contingency in the world at all. Now, it is perfectly possible to be a libertarian about God’s freedom and a compatibilist about human freedom. According to some (most?) interpreters, Aquinas adopts this view. On the kind of view in question, libertarian freedom would be the most perfect sort of freedom, and perhaps one might even concede that it’s a sort of freedom that we (prideful) human beings often think we have, but one would say that compatibilist freedom is sufficient for moral responsibility and is all that we actually have. Nevertheless, if the theist is committed to saying that God has libertarian freedom, then the theist is committed to saying that libertarian freedom is at least a coherent notion, and it’s easy to see why that would be at least correlated with claiming that we actually have libertarian freedom.
On the other hand, I think there are special philosophical reasons for theists to accept compatibilism. Reasons, that is, which are specially philosophical (as opposed to theological or scientific) and also specially applicable to theists. Consider the following argument:


Theism, naturalism and simplicity
December 20, 2012 — 8:19

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Existence of God  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 39

When one’s book in sexual ethics is coming out (shameless self-promotion), one’s thoughts naturally turn to the philosophy of science. 🙂 A standard line of thought is that naturalism is a simpler theory than theism in that it only posits one kind of entity, the natural world, while theism posits that and God.

A standard theistic response is to concede the point but say that theism wins out through greater explanatory power. Trent and I have, however, been exploring a different line of thought: One measures the simplicity of a theory (with “simplicity” understood in such a way that it is an intellectual merit of a theory that it be simple) primarily by looking at the simplicity of the theory’s explanatorily fundamental posits (this has some structural resemblance to Huemer’s work) rather than at claims explained by the theory.

For instance, suppose that according to our best physics certain laboratory conditions not occurrent in nature produce a Zeta particle. Alien scientists, who are the only ones ever to have the technology for this, are facing a great natural disaster they cannot avert that will destroy their civilization. As one last hurrah for science, they plan to produce a Zeta before the disaster. Unfortunately, at the last minute, they find that an extremely expensive part, which there is no time to repair, has only probability 1/2 of functioning.

Consider the theories: (S) They will succeed in producing a Zeta due to the part functioning and (F) They will fail in producing a Zeta due to the part malfunctioning. Theory S posits the instantiation of a new kind of particle that F does not. If explained phenomena also count towards the complexity of a theory, S is more complex. But that just seems wrong: S and F are on par simplicity-wise. Besides, if S were more complex than F, then if all other intellectual merits are equal–which they sure seem to be–then we should take S to be more likely than F. But that would violate what seems an unproblematic instance of the Principal Principle–F and S should have the same probability.


Defending Divine Perfection, Live today at 2:30 Eastern
December 4, 2012 — 13:01

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Concept of God News  Tags:   Comments: 1

At HuffPost Live, today at 2:30pm Eastern, I’ll be responding to this NYT Opinionator blog post which throws God’s perfection overboard.
Tune in!

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases
November 30, 2012 — 18:56

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 19

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has the advantage of allowing us to understand omnipotence without first solving the puzzles about power. A disadvantage, however, is that it does answer all of the questions of the form “does God have the power to…” (which I take to be equivalent to “can God…” on the most usual meaning of the latter in these sorts of questions). Indeed, without an analysis of power, our account does not answer any questions of that form. What it does do is tell us enough about what an omnipotent being would be like that if we did have an analysis of power we would presumably be able to give the correct answer to each such question and explain why these are the correct answers.
One such question which is of particular interest is, “does God have the power to do evil?” According to the Pearce-Pruss theory, the claim that God is omnipotent entails the following two claims:


Sacrificing a theistic argument to the Problem of Evil
October 8, 2012 — 10:40

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , ,   Comments: 20

It’s hard to come up with reasonable priors for such theses as Naturalism and Theism and with reasonable conditional probabilities for such evidence as Evils We Can’t Theodicize on Theism. But we can sometimes come up with reasonable comparisons of the strength of evidence. And this might lead to some helpful non-numerical probabilistic reasoning.

For instance, we might have the judgment that the evidential strength of the Problem of Evil (POE) as an argument against theism is no greater than the evidential strength of the Finetuning Argument (FTA) as an argument for theism. Two thoughts in support of this: (1) the low-entropy initial state of the our universe has been estimated by Penrose to be utterly incredibly unlikely (my paraphrase of his 10^(-10^123)) and some of the other anthropic coincidences come with what are intuitively extremely narrow ranges; the theist has proposed various theodicies–they may not be convincing, but it seems reasonable to say that the probability that together they answer the POE is no less, indeed quite a bit greater, than the incredibly tiny probabilities that FTA claims; (2) just as thinking about naturalistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of FTA, thinking about theistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of POE (cf. Turner and Kraay’s work); (3) just as in the case of FTA we might worry that there is some nomic explanation of the coincidences that we haven’t found, so too in the case of POE we have sceptical theism.

This means that the theist can simply sacrifice FTA to POE: the FTA either balances POE or outbalances POE (I think the latter, because of point (1) above).

Then the theist has a nice supply of other strong and serious theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, non-FTA design arguments (e.g., Swinburne’s laws of nature argument), ontological, religious experience, moral epistemology (theism has a much better explanation than naturalism of how we can know objective moral truths), etc. The atheist has a few other arguments, too, but I think they are not very impressive (the Stone and other issues for the Chisholming of divine attributes, Grim-style worries about omniscience and infinity, worries about the interaction between the physical and nonphysical). At least once POE is completely out of the picture, even if FTA is lost, the theist can make a very strong case.

The Value Component of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense
September 28, 2012 — 19:37

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 8

A defense (in Plantinga’s sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God’s goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga’s Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga’s focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence of Molinism and the possibility of every creaturely essence suffering from TWD. The value component is almost completely ignored. Plantinga supposes that, if every creaturely essence suffered from TWD, then God would create a world with evil, and this would not in any way impugn his goodness. But why does Plantinga think this? I suppose he probably endorses:

(1) God’s perfect goodness consists in his actualizing the best world he can


(2) If every creaturely essence suffered TWD, then the best world God could actualize would contain some evil.


Modal realism and God
August 24, 2012 — 10:54

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God  Tags: ,   Comments: 27

According to David Lewis’s modal realism, every possible world exists as a concrete universe, and a proposition is possible provided it holds at some universe. But this seems incompatible with theism. For necessarily God believes every truth, and we can now run the following argument.

Necessarily, if p is true, God believes p. So, if p is possible, possibly God believes p. Thus, possibly, God believes that there are no horses, since the proposition that there are no horses is possibly true. So there is a universe, say u1, at which God believes that there are no horses. Now God either actually has this belief or not. If he actually has this belief, then he actually has conflicting beliefs, since he actually believes that there are horses. But God does not have conflicting beliefs. So we have to say that while at u1 God believes there are no horses, actually God instead believes there are horses. Thus, what propositions God believes differs between universes. But how could that make any sense? Granted, perhaps our beliefs can be localized to brain hemispheres and then at a location in my left hemisphere I believe p and at another I don’t. If that can be made sense of, then one could give a sense to the locution “believes p at x“. But God’s beliefs surely do not have any such localization. Wherever God is present, he is wholly present. He is not a material being to have partial presence of the sort that might allow for a spatial distribution of our beliefs.

A moderately smart being that knows all necessary truths can know everything
June 1, 2012 — 11:47

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Open Theism  Tags:   Comments: 40

Suppose Fred knows all necessary truths and is at least as smart as the author of this post. Fred wants to know whether a proposition p is true. So Fred says: “I stipulate that P is the singleton set {p} and that S is the subset of all the members of P that are true.” But sets have their members essentially. So S is necessarily empty or necessarily non-empty. If S is necessarily empty, then Fred knows that, and if S is necessarily non-empty, then Fred knows that, too. Since Fred is at least as smart as the author of this post, if Fred knows that S is necessarily empty, he can figure out that therefore S is empty, and hence that all the propositions in P are false, and hence that p is not true. And if Fred knows that S is necessarily non-empty, then Fred can figure out that therefore S is non-empty, and hence that p is true. In either case, then, Fred can figure out whether p is true.

To make this pointed, note that those open theists who think that there are facts about the future that God doesn’t know tend to think that God knows all necessary truths.

Effortlessness and omnipotence
May 23, 2012 — 8:25

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God  Tags: ,   Comments: 37

All of the extant definitions of omnipotence are missing what seems to me to be an important ingredient. A typical definition says something like: “God can do anything that’s logically possible.” But that’s not quite enough. One needs to specify that God can do everything effortlessly. This is an easy emendation, of course, but an important one.

Survey Results: Alternative Concepts of God
May 22, 2012 — 4:04

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 2

As part of our Templeton Funded project “Exploring Alternative Concepts of God”, Andrei Buckareff (Marist College) and I conducted a survey in January this year. The following is our analysis of the results. We are sorry it took so long to post this. We would like to thank everyone who responded to the survey.