Debate: “What Difference Would – or Does – God’s Existence Make?”
Date/Time: Friday, March 6th, 4:00-5:30 pm (reception to follow)
Location: Oakham Lounge, 2nd Floor of Oakham House, 63 Gould Street, Ryerson University
Registration: To register to attend, please click here.
For more information, please see: www.ryerson.ca/~kraay/theism.html.
Peter van Inwagen and Jonathan Bennett developed a simple and influential argument that the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) entails that there is no contingency in the world. Everything that happens, necessarily happens. The problem is deeper than it first appears. If PSR is true and God explains everything else, as many theists believe, then the cost of preserving God’s perfect rationality is the loss of His freedom, His moral perfection, and His providence and sovereignty. We are left with a single necessary world. The costs also include the loss of contingency and moral agency among created beings in the world. On the other hand, the cost of abandoning His perfect rationality is the unintelligibility of the world (which has disastrous effects on our reasoning with one another) and the unintelligibility of God’s actions in it. We cannot easily give up PSR.
The argument can look gimmicky, and I’ve heard that criticism of it. But it’s no gimmick. Suppose we talk of the explanation of states of affairs derivatively, and the explanation of propositions directly. For every true contingent proposition p, PSR requires that there is some explanation q such that q explains p if and only if ☐(q ⊃ p). But the conjunction P of all true contingent propositions is a contingent proposition, so P too has an explanation. Let G be the explanation of P. G must be a necessarily true proposition, since otherwise G would be a conjunct in P. But then G would be a contingent proposition that explained, among other things, itself. No contingent propositions explain themselves. So, P has an explanation just in case for some Q, ☐(Q ⊃ P) & ☐Q. But it follows uncontroversially from this that ☐P, and we are left with all of the unwanted implications above. I think there’s a neat way out of this problem that does not require weakening PSR, or adopting a weaker notion of explanation or defending infinite chains of contingent explanation.
[note: this blogpost collects some scattered thoughts I hope to organize in article form sooner rather than later, for my British Academy project on religious social epistemology, see here]
There is an ongoing debate what we should do when we are confronted with disagreement with an epistemic peer; someone who is as knowledgeable and intellectually virtuous in the domain in question. Should we revise our beliefs (conciliationism), or not engage in any doxastic revision (steadfastness)? Epistemologists aim to settle this question in a principled way, hoping general principles like conciliationism and steadfastness can offer a solution not only for the toy examples that are being invoked, but also for real-world cases that we care passionately about, such as scientific, religious, political and philosophical disagreements. However, such cases have proven to be a hard nut to crack. A referee once commented on a paper I submitted on epistemic peer disagreement in science that the notion of epistemic peer in scientific practice was useless. S/he said “It works for simple cases like two spectators who disagree on which horse finished first, but when it comes to two scientists who disagree whether a fossil is a Homo floresiensis or Homo sapiens, the notion is just utterly useless.”
We are pleased to provide advance notice of a conference to be held at Purdue University in September 2014 (*not* 2013) in honor of and on themes from the work of Richard Swinburne. The main speakers will be:
â¢ Marilyn McCord Adams, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
â¢ Paul Draper, Purdue University
â¢ Hud Hudson, Western Washington University
â¢ Jonathan Kvanvig, Baylor University
â¢ Alvin Plantinga, University of Notre Dame and Calvin College
â¢ John Schellenberg, Mount Saint Vincent University
â¢ Eleonore Stump, Saint Louis University
â¢ Peter van Inwagen, University of Notre Dame
â¢ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University
â¢ Dean Zimmerman, Rutgers University
Richard Swinburne will also be in attendance.
This conference is organized by Michael Bergmann and Jeffrey Brower and sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion, and the Society of Christian Philosophers. More details will be available over the next year, as the conference date approaches.
Suppose that I know that if I cause A, then either B or C will eventuate. Suppose that each of B and C furthers my plan, and neither of them furthers it better than the other. Then it does not seem that sovereignty would require me to know or decide prior to my decision to cause A which of B and C would eventuate. Sovereignty perhaps requires that nothing happens that is contrary to God’s plan, but it does not require that God’s plan should determine every detail.
Here is try at a notion of sovereignty built on this idea:
- x sovereignly executes plan P iff x successfully executes P and if we let Q be what x strongly and knowingly actualizes in executing P, and we let K be all that x knows explanatorily prior to x‘s decision to strongly actualize Q, and we let W be the set of all worlds at which both Q and K hold, then no world in W better fits the goals of P than any other.
In other words, x is sovereign in the execution of a plan provided that, given what x does and knows, he can’t be disappointed in respect of the quality of the plan’s execution.
One way to ensure sovereignty in the execution of a plan is to strongly and knowingly actualize every little detail. This is a Calvinist or maybe Thomistic way. Another way is to know exactly how the details would turn out. That’s a Molinist way. Another way is the “chessmaster way” (not my terminology or original idea; I think the view has been developed by W. Matthews Grant and Sarah Coakley): to choose a plan in such a way that no matter how things turn out, the goal wouldn’t be any the less well achieved by the lights of the plan. One can do this in two ways: setting one’s goal appropriately (so that whatever turns out, fits–that’s not how chessmasters do it) or choosing the plan very carefully or some combination of the first two disjuncts.