O’Connor on Explaining Everything
December 6, 2013 — 17:31

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God Prosblogion Reviews  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Goldschmidt’s volume opens with an essay by Timothy O’Connor who defends the traditional answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing: God. More specifically, the traditional answer O’Connor defends holds that a necessarily existent immaterial agent chose that contingent beings should exist.

There are several well-known difficulties for this kind of view. The first difficulty is, if there must be an explanation of why there are contingent beings, then mustn’t there be an explanation of why there is a God? This is, of course, a version of the much-ridiculed ‘what caused God?’ retort, and O’Connor’s (implicit) answer to it is that God exists necessarily. (O’Connor implies this response by restricting his ‘principles of explanation’ to contingent beings/events/truths; pp. 35-37.) Now this (standard) answer can be understood in one of two ways: either necessary truths don’t need explanations, or else we claim that any necessary truth p is explained by the fact that necessarily p. That is, on the second option, you explain a necessary truth by asserting that it is necessary. However, the second option by itself doesn’t solve the problem, because we can always ask why it is that God necessarily exists. Based on O’Connor’s discussion of ‘opaque necessities’ I suspect that he endorses the first option, denying that necessary truths need explanations. (To me, brute necessities seem intuitively worse than brute contingencies, but I won’t pursue that point here.) So God’s existence, being necessary, doesn’t need an explanation, but the existence of contingent things does.

However, the opponent of the traditional (theistic) view has an easy retort: “Suppose we grant, for the sake of argument, that God exists necessarily. Surely God’s decision to create this world must be contingent, since the world could have been otherwise. So there must be an explanation of why God chose this world.” We actually still haven’t got much deeper than the ‘what caused God?’ question at this point, for there is quite an obvious answer to this challenge. According to the traditional view, the universe’s existence depends on a free choice, and we know how to explain free choices: we cite the agent’s reasons, desires, character, etc.

In traditional treatments of this issue (e.g., Aquinas, Leibniz), the theist would now go on to give some account of the reason why God created this world. O’Connor makes a different move: he argues that the theist need not do this. According to O’Connor, the superiority of theism over its competitors is shown by the fact that it provides an intelligible explanation schema: that is, we can see how an explanation could go, and what sorts of questions would have to be answered in order to complete the explanation.

O’Connor seems to me to be correct that a hypothesis which implies that something is in principle explicable, and specifies a particular sort of explanation it must have, is ceteris paribus to be preferred over a hypothesis which renders that thing in principle inexplicable. This is so even if the hypothesis doesn’t actually explain the phenomenon in question. Now, it is widely held that the existence of contingent beings is in principle inexplicable unless there is a necessary being. Further, since we have some kind of conception of how agential explanations go, the hypothesis that contingent existence is caused by a necessarily existent agent is ceteris paribus to be preferred to the hypothesis that no necessary beings enter into causal relations.

Two important limitations must be observed here. First, no argument has been presented for the claim that the conception of the necessary being as an agent is superior to alternative necessary being theories. Second, the result is merely a ceteris paribus claim. O’Connor accepts both of these limitations, though he does give some consideration to the question of how an all-things-considered comparison of the two views might go. On this latter point, he is criticized by Oppy in the following chapter, so I will leave off discussion of that until my next post.

I should also briefly mention O’Connor’s response to the modal collapse objection. This objection holds that whatever has a necessary explanation is itself necessary, and so the traditional view, far from explaining contingency, denies the existence of contingency. O’Connor’s response is simple: to cite a cause of something is to give one kind of explanation of it, and that’s the kind of explanation he thinks contingent existence needs. Not all causation involves ‘necessary connection.’ Hence, a necessary thing might contingently cause contingent things, and this would not take away their contingency. (O’Connor does not here discuss the regress worry: not only is the proposition this world exists contingent, so is the proposition God causes this world. What’s the explanation of the second proposition? Since O’Connor has written a lot about agent causation, I’m sure he’s discussed this somewhere.) O’Connor thinks that if you are unsatisfied with this it must be because you are looking, as Leibniz was, for a contrastive explanation, an explanation of why things are so rather than otherwise. O’Connor is happy to deny that such explanations exist.

I’m a little concerned about this response; I tend to think that if one has explicability intuitions strong enough to support the argument from contingency, one is unlikely to be satisfied by weak explanations of this sort.

On the whole, O’Connor’s essay is a competent presentation of the traditional view in the context of contemporary analytic philosophy. He departs from the traditional view mostly in his exhortations to epistemic humility. In a way, this essay was a good choice to begin the volume: it lays out the view that most of the other papers will be, in one way or another, attacking. On the other hand, I found each of the three following essays (by Oppy, Kleinschmidt, and Ross – that’s as far as I’ve read) far more interesting. For the specialist, O’Connor’s essay is rather a slow start to the volume.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

The Philosophy & Theology of Immortality: Request for Proposals
September 3, 2013 — 13:44

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

The University of California at Riverside, with the help of a very generous grant from The John Templeton Foundation and under the direction of John Martin Fischer, welcomes proposals to investigate, through philosophical and theological research, questions that concern personal immortality. Such questions are central existential concerns that know no geographical or cultural bounds.
We anticipate proposals that fall under one of the following six categories:

  1. Investigation into whether persons survive, or could survive, bodily death. Such investigation could take the form of philosophical or theological treatments of the relevant empirical evidence, philosophical challenges to post-mortem survival (e.g., challenges to the possibility of continuous pre-mortem and post-mortem personal identity) and responses to such challenges, and more besides.
  2. Exploration of some topic related to the issue of immortality, e.g., puzzles about the goodness of post-mortem survival, the rationality of desiring to survive, the implications of believing/not believing in post-mortem survival, “quantum immortality,” longevity and the postponement of bodily death, etc.
  3. . Exploration of the relationship between immortality and views about the meaningfulness of life, even finite life. (E.g., does reflection on the possibility of meaningfulness in an immortal life shed light on what makes even our finite lives meaningful?)
  4. Investigation into the nature of infinity, and our conceptual grasp of infinity, as these relate to immortality. (Sample questions here might include the following: Can we grasp the nature of infinity in a way that is adequate to envisaging an infinitely long life? Insofar as the mathematical nature of infinite magnitudes are different from finite magnitudes, does this make it difficult to grasp infinitely long life? How do the mathematical puzzles of infinity relate to the possibility of immortality?)
  5. Investigation of the relationship between the badness of death and the desirability of immortality. (E.g., if death is a bad thing for an individual, does it thereby follow that immortality is (or could be) desirable?)
  6. Investigation of one or more explicitly theological issues related to the topic of immortality, e.g., investigation into the nature of “the intermediate state” or purgatorial or post-resurrection existence carried out within a Christian theological framework, the nature of karma carried out within a Buddhist or Hindu framework, post-mortem survival and its place in theodicy, etc.

Full application information can be found on the project web site: http://www.sptimmortalityproject.com/rfps/

Three Responses to the Argument from Contingency
August 28, 2013 — 13:53

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 61

In my view, the cosmological argument from contingency is the most powerful philosophical argument for the existence of God. By a ‘philosophical’ argument, in this context, I mean a way of giving reasons for something that does not depend on detailed empirical investigation, or on idiosyncratic features of a particular individual’s experience or psychology. Thus I do not hold that the argument from contingency is the best reason anyone has for believing in God. I think, for instance, that some people have had religious experiences which provide them with stronger reasons than the argument from contingency could, even making very generous assumptions about their ability to grasp the argument.
This belief of mine, about the relative strengths of the arguments, goes rather against the grain of current discussions. I think the recent philosophy of religion literature overestimates the power of the fine-tuning argument and the first cause argument, and underestimates the power of the argument from contingency.


A Copenhagen story about the problem of suffering before human sin
March 23, 2013 — 10:00

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: ,   Comments: 3

It sure looks like there was a lot of suffering in the animal world prior to the advent of humanity, and hence before any sins of humanity. Yet it would be attractive, both theologically (at least for Christians) and philosophically, if one could say that evil entered the physical world through the free choices of persons. One could invoke the idea of angels who fell before the evolutionary process got started and who screwed things up (that might even be the right story). Or one could invoke backwards causation (Hud Hudson’s hypertime story does something like that). Here I want to explore another story. I don’t believe the story I will give is true. But the story is compatible with our observations outside of Revelation, does not lead to widespread scepticism, and is motivated in terms of an interpretation of quantum mechanics that has been influential.

Begin with this observation. If the non-epistemic Copenhagen interpretation (NECI) of Quantum Mechanics is literally true, then before there were observers, there was no earth and hence no life on earth. Given indeterministic events in the history of the universe, the world existed in a giant superposition between an earth and a no-earth state. The Milky Way Galaxy may not have even existed then, but instead there was a giant superposition between Milky-Way and no-Milky-Way states. And then an observation collapsed this giant superposition in favor of the sort of Solar System and Milky Way that we observe. There are difficult details to spell out here, which we can talk about in the discussion. But note that the story predicts that we will have astronomical evidence of the Milky Way existing long before there were observers on earth, even though perhaps it didn’t–perhaps there was just the giant superposition. For when such a superposition collapses, it leaves evidence as of the remaining branch having been there for a long time earlier.

Now to make this a defense of the idea that suffering in the animal world entered through human sin, I need a few assumptions beyond the above plain NECI story:

  1. the observations that collapse the wavefunction are observations by intelligent embodied observers
  2. quantum states only come to be substrates of conscious states when the wavefunction is strongly concentrated on them (think of a very narrow Gaussian)
  3. prior to there being humans on earth, there were no highly concentrated quantum states of the sort that would be substrates of conscious states
  4. humans were the first embodied intelligent observers of the earth (or of other stuff relevantly entangled with it)
  5. God set up special laws of nature such that if humans were never to make wrong choices, no wavefunctions would ever collapse into the substrates of painful states.
  6. optional but theologically and philosophically attractive: the unsuperposed existence of humans comes from a special divinely-wrought collapse of the wavefunction (this would solve one problem with NECI, namely how the first observation was made, given that on plain NECI before the first observation there was a superposition of observer and no-observer states before it; it would also help reconcile creation and evolution)

One might even connect the giant superposition with the formless and void state mentioned in the Book of Genesis, though I do not particularly recommend this exegesis and I don’t believe the story I am giving is in fact true (and I am mildly inclined to think it false).


God and the Multiverse: A Workshop (Ryerson University February 15-16, 2013)
February 7, 2013 — 9:44

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: News  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 0

On behalf of Klaas Kraay
God and the Multiverse: A Workshop
Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
February 15-16, 2013

Website: www.ryerson.ca/~kraay/multiverse.html
All are welcome to attend.
Please register online at the website mentioned above.
There is no registration fee.
Brief Description:
In recent decades, there has been tremendous growth in scientific theories which postulate the existence of many universes beyond our own. Once considered outré or patently absurd, multiverse theories now appear to be gaining scientific respectability. That said, the details and implications of each one are hotly contested.
In the philosophy of religion, multiverse theories are usually discussed in connection with the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. In its simplest form, this argument runs as follows. If certain features of the universe had been slightly different, the universe would not have been capable of generating and sustaining life. This apparent “fine-tuning”, some say, is best explained by positing an intelligent designer. Critics have countered that multiverse theories undermine this argument. If there indeed are vastly many universes which vary – perhaps randomly – in the relevant parameters, they say, then it is not at all surprising that at least one universe is life-permitting. In this debate, then, multiverse theories are typically offered as naturalistic rivals to theism.
Yet, in a surprising twist, several philosophers have recently offered various reasons for thinking that, if theism is true, there are many universes. Rather than being deemed rivals to theism, then, multiverses are here deemed to be consequences of theism. Moreover, some philosophers have argued that a theistic multiverse model can even help to defend theism against prominent arguments for atheism, including the problem of evil and the problem of no best world. All of these claims are controversial, and a body of literature has recently developed around them.
This workshop aims to thoroughly assess the idea that a multiverse is, in some sense or other, to be expected if theism is true. The presenters (ten philosophers and two physicists) will consider the philosophical, scientific, and theological dimensions of this idea.
If you have questions, please contact the workshop organizer, Klaas Kraay, at kraay@ryerson.ca.

Is Successful Theodicy Possible?
December 30, 2012 — 15:03

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 24

It’s among the importantly neglected problems in philosophical theology that we have no success conditions for theodicy. What conditions must a theodicy meet in order to succeed? I want to approach this problem by considering some (possible) challenges to successful theodicy. I take theodicies to be consistency proofs of a sort. They show that the existence of God (a morally perfect being, a perfectly loving being, etc.) to be consistent with the kinds of evils we actually find in the world. Perhaps ‘thicker’ theodicies will invoke theological doctrine, but I’d rather avoid additional assumptions if possible. Would a theodicy that made any of the following assumptions fail? Must theodicies make one or more of the following assumptions?
(i) There are goods that outweigh the terrible suffering of children, but it’s never morally permissible to allow the suffering of a child as a means to a greater good. And no theodicy can avoid assuming God is doing this.
(ii) There are goods that outweigh the terrible suffering of children, but it’s never morally permissible to allow the suffering of a child as a means to a greater good for others. And no theodicy can avoid assuming God is doing this.


Value Promotion and Sub-Optimal Worlds
August 9, 2012 — 19:38

Author: Dean Zimmerman  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , ,   Comments: 20

Call an objection to the existence of God a ‘problem of sub-optimal worlds’ when it appeals to the claim that God has reason to maximize the value of worlds. Since there are better (feasible) worlds than the actual one, these problems infer in some way or another that God does not exist. Although I haven’t looked at the literature closely, my impression is that every instance of the problem of sub-optimal worlds assumes a very simple relationship between the intrinsic value of a state of affairs and reasons for action (they don’t always talk about reasons, but my point could be cast in terms of virtues or whatever else one prefers). Something like this is typically assumed without comment:
Promotion: For every domain of intrinsic value D and subject S, S has reason to maximize D, i.e., for every additional degree of D that could be attained, S has reason to attain that additional degree of value.
Promotion is plausible for some domains of intrinsic value, such as welfare. It’s plausible that, for every additional degree of welfare that I could bring about in your life, I have some reason to take the necessary means of attaining that additional degree of welfare. But does Promotion hold for every domain of intrinsic value? I don’t think so.


Plantinga’s Abstract Objects Argument
June 22, 2012 — 23:21

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 19

In Where the Conflict Really Lies, which James Beebe has nicely reviewed, Alvin Plantinga writes,

But numbers and sets themselves make a great deal more sense from the point of view of theism than from that of naturalism. Now there are two quite different but widely shared intuitions about the nature of numbers and sets. First, we think of numbers and sets as abstract objects, the same sort of thing as propositions, properties, states of affairs and the like… On the other hand, there is another equally widely shared intuition about these things: most people who have thought about the question, think it incredible that these abstract objects should just exist, just be there, whether or not they are ever thought by anyone. Platonism with respect to these objects is the position that they do exist in that way, that is, in such a way as to be independent of mind… But there have been very few real Platonists, perhaps none besides Plato and Frege, if indeed Plato and Frege were real Platonists (and even Frege, that alleged arch-Platonist, referred to propositions as gedanken, thoughts). It is therefore extremely tempting to think of abstract objects as ontologically dependent upon mental or intellectual activity in such a way that either they just are thoughts, or else at any rate couldn’t exist if not thought of. (287-288)

I am inclined to think that there are numbers and that they are abstract objects, but I don’t have the second intuition that they must be thought. Is there something I’m missing? I do have the intuition that contingently existing objects must have a cause for their existence, but I don’t have the intuition that abstract objects must be thought, which, if they exist, necessarily exist.
Maybe somebody could help motivate this intuition for me? Or is this intuition not very widely shared (contra Plantinga’s remark)?

Paul Draper’s burden of proof for the theist
May 11, 2012 — 13:09

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 17

[x-posted on Newapps] A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Paul Draper, probably one of the most prominent atheist philosophers of religion today. His lecture had a wealth of ideas (including a proposed solution to Hume’s problem!), but I’d like to focus on one tiny piece of the lecture, viz. his argument that the burden of proof is on the theist, and not on the atheist.

Here goes the argument, which Paul was kind enough to discuss with me, prior to posting it. I apologize if there are any remnant misrepresentations.

Let’s assume that there are a number of epistemically possible world views: some are naturalistic, some are supernaturalistic, let’s even grant there are others (non-supernatural, non-natural, but some third, unknown view). Then we can see that the following diagram exhausts all epistemic possibilities: N (naturalism), S (supernaturalism) and not-N and not-S.


Three ontological arguments
April 2, 2012 — 8:44

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 32

The first and third arguments use S5. I will leave filling in the steps in the arguments as an exercise (maybe not so easy in the case of A) for the reader, though I can help out as needed.

Argument A (in a paper I have in Szatkowski’s forthcoming anthology on ontological arguments):

  1. Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, so is any property A that entails B.
  2. Necessarily, if a property B is limiting, its negation is not limiting.
  3. Possibly lacking existence is limiting.
  4. Possibly lacking omniscience is limiting.
  5. Possibly lacking omnipotence is limiting.
  6. Possibly lacking perfect goodness is limiting.
  7. Possibly not being creator of everything else is limiting.
  8. It is not possible that x is a creator of y while y is a creator of x.
  9. So, there exists a necessary being that is essentially omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good and creator of everything else. This being has every property that it would be limiting to possibly-lack.

Argument B:

  1. Every first-order truth is knowable.
  2. The conjunction of all basic first-order truths exists and is a first-order truth.
  3. If all the basic first-order truths of a world w1 hold at a world w2, then w2=w1.
  4. Necessarily, if someone knows p, then p is true.
  5. So, there actually is a being that knows the conjunction of all basic first-order truths.

I don’t have an account of “basic”. Perhaps fundamental will do. I am thinking of “basic” here as a placeholder for a notion that makes (11) and (12) true.

Argument C:

  1. Possibly, an unlimited being exists.
  2. Necessarily, for every proposition q that is possibly true, there is a state of affairs p(q) such that p(q) grounds the possibility of q.
  3. Necessarily, if s grounds the possibility of x not existing or the possibility of x being limited, then s limits x.
  4. Necessarily, nothing limits an unlimited being.
  5. So, there is an unlimited being.