Virtual Colloquium: Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne, and Yoaav Isaacs, “Evil and Evidence”
November 18, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Comments: 26

It’s Friday again, and time for the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! A brief administrative note: there will be no colloquium next week (November 25) due to the American Thanksgiving holiday. We will return on December 2.

For today’s colloquium, Matthew Benton presents “Evil and Evidence,” a paper he co-authored with John Hawthorne (USC) and Yoaav Isaacs (UNC). Dr. Benton received his PhD from Rutgers in 2012 and subsequently held positions at Oxford and Notre Dame. Currently, he is assistant professor of philosophy at Seattle Pacific University. His papers on epistemology and other topics have appeared in such journals as Analysis, Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Additionally, he is co-editor (with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz) of Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, soon to be published by Oxford University Press.

Evil and Evidence

Introductory Comments by Matthew Benton

The problem of evil presents the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Recent probabilistic or evidential versions of the argument, due especially to William Rowe (esp. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” 1979; cf. also 1984 and 1996), suggest that the existence of evil (or its distribution and magnitude) are evidence against the existence of God. As such, these arguments claim that at least in the abstract, evil makes less likely the existence of God; and perhaps even given all of the other available evidence, it is strong enough evidence to make belief in God problematic.

Skeptical theists contend that these are not good arguments, and many go so far to deny that evil is evidence against the existence of God. To cite just a few prominent examples: Peter van Inwagen (“The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,” 1996, 169-71) says that “While the patterns of suffering we find in the actual world constitute a difficulty for theism…, they do not—owing to the availability of the defense I have outlined—attain the status of evidence”. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann (“Evil Does Not Make Atheism More Reasonable than Theism,” 2004, 14) argue for the conclusion that “grounds for belief in God aside, evil does not make belief in atheism more reasonable for us than belief in theism”; and Richard Otte argues that “theists should not believe [that] evil, or our ignorance of a good reason for God to permit evil, is evidence against religious belief or the existence of God, at all” (“Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil,” 2012, 127), and that “at best, the theist should refrain from judgement about whether evil is evidence against the existence of God” (2012, 131).

Skeptical theists have various reasons for arguing as they do, involving such notions as ‘CORNEA’ (the ‘Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access’; Wykstra “The Humean Obstacle to Epistemic Arguments from Suffering,” 1984), epistemic appearances, ‘gratuitous’ evils, ‘levering’ evidence, the representativeness of goods, and radical skepticism about the probabilities of evil on the hypothesis of theism, or of no good we know of justifying the kinds of evil in the world. In this essay, we consider each of these notions and aim to dispel some confusions about them, and along the way attempt to clarify the roles of such notions within a probabilistic epistemology. In addition, we examine the role that distinct accounts of evidence play in the discussion, and we develop new responses to the problem of evil from both the phenomenal conception of evidence and the knowledge-first view of evidence.

The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below.

Oxford Studies in Metaphysics Younger Scholars Prize Deadline Approaches
January 1, 2011 — 22:46

Author: Dean Zimmerman  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: Off

I am pleased to announce the imminent publication of the winning essay from the 2009 Oxford Studies in Metaphysics Younger Scholars Prize: “Ontological Nihilism”, by Jason Turner (University of Leeds). It will be the lead article in Vol. 6 of OSM, due early 2011 from Oxford University Press. I am also happy to report that Karen Bennett and I are now co-editors of OSM; Karen has been breathing new life into the series, and the results will already be apparent with Vol. 6.
It is also time to remind all the younger metaphysicians out there that the due date for submission to the 2011 competition is fast approaching! It is NOT January 15 (as last OSM reported), but January 30. The winning essay will be published in OSM (often alongside runners-up) and the author receives an $8,000 prize. You still have a whole month in which to prepare your submissions. Get to it!
The competition is supported by the Ammonius Foundation — which supports a similar $8,000 award for the Younger Scholars Prize for Philosophical Theology, a parallel competition associated with Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (with a deadline of August 31). “Younger” metaphysicians and philosophers of religion (in grad school or within ten years of receiving a Ph.D.) should check out the details at:
Both prizes were dreamed up and are financed by the Ammonius Foundation. The Foundation’s grants have encouraged many younger metaphysicians with generous essay awards (past winners are Rachel Briggs, Graeme A. Forbes, Jason Turner, Jeff Russell, Bradford Skow, Stephan Leuenberger, Matthew McGrath, Cody Gilmore, and Thomas Hofweber), and more senior metaphysicians with individual research grants for projects in metaphysics and philosophy of religion (past recipients include Derek Parfit, Jonathan Schaffer, Mark Johnston, John Hawthorne, Alvin Plantinga, George Bealer, and Jan Cover).
If you just go to the main Ammonius Foundation web site, however, you won’t find any link to a really interesting, closely related page:, the home of Coming to Understanding, the grand metaphysical system constructed by the founder of the Ammonius Foundation, Marc Sanders. The author, aka “Ammonius”, has developed an elaborate monistic, neo-platonic ontological scheme described in a (free!) downloadable book (which includes a critical essay by yours truly, and another by Gordon Graham). There are a lot of interesting ideas in his carefully crafted system, and the religious thrust of the book will resonate with those attracted to a deity like “the Highest One” of Mark Johnston’s recent book, Saving God. (After the manner of philosophers and junior high students, I show my respect for Ammonius’s system by relentlessly attacking it along multiple fronts.)
Marc Sanders is retiring from his role as head of the Ammonius Foundation, and passing the reins to his son, Eric Sanders, who plans to continue the two Younger Scholar Prize competitions, among other things. It has been a real privilege and pleasure to work with Marc and his Foundation over many years. Although Ammonius has a distinctive mission (, much of what the Foundation does has no goal other than to promote serious work in metaphysics and, now, philosophical theology, no matter the conclusions reached. The Foundation’s grants to the Younger Scholars program have been absolutely “no strings attached”; a committee of three judges, culled from editorial board members of OSM, makes the call, not me (committees have included Karen Bennett, Hud Hudson, Trenton Merricks, Ted Sider, Andrew Cortens, Yuri Balashov, and John Hawthorne, among others). I can’t imagine a pleasanter relationship with a grantor than mine with Ammonius.
As Marc steps down, I want to thank him publicly for his steadfast support of excellence in metaphysics. But I know that public praise and attention is the last thing he wants — he wants our attention drawn, not to him, but to the ideas in his metaphysical system. So the only way I can adequately say “thanks” is to encourage you to check it out for yourself: Coming to Understanding.