Wainwright on Berkeley and Edwards
March 16, 2017 — 5:39

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: General  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

The second essay in Idealism and Christian Theology is “Berkeley, Edwards, Idealism, and the Knowledge of God” by William J. Wainwright. The aim of this article is to explore and explain similarities between Berkeley and Edwards in terms of the religious and cultural context in which they wrote, particularly the threat of deism and freethinking to these (relatively) traditional religious thinkers. This is an extremely interesting project, and it is for the most part well-executed, though the brevity of a single paper necessitates glossing over certain details, leaving some points underdeveloped, and so forth.

Wainwright’s central contention, I take it, is that Berkeley and Edwards share a concern with the ways in which God is coming to seem distant in a world governed by mechanistic science. The world is, increasingly, viewed as a grand machine that keeps rolling along without any outside assistance. Berkeley and Edwards regard it as insufficient to reason (as, for instance, Leibniz and Paley do) that behind a great machine there must be a great Engineer, for this may secure the existence of God, but it will not secure the nearness of God to the believer, or God’s immanence in the world. I am not very familiar with Edwards, but Wainwright’s account of Berkeley’s motivations and concerns is certainly sound. For instance, in the conclusion of the Principles Berkeley writes, “to an unbiassed and attentive mind, nothing can be more plainly legible, than the intimate presence of an all-wise Spirit, who fashions, regulates, and sustains the whole system of being” (sect. 151, my boldface) and that God “is present and conscious to our innermost thoughts” (sect. 155). Further, Berkeley tells us that “the main drift and design of [his] labours” was (among other things) to “inspire [his] readers with a pious sense of the presence of God” (sect. 156). Thus, for Berkeley, the mere existence of God is not enough. Similarly, in Alciphron it is said that the divine language argument “proves, not a Creator merely, but a provident Governor, actually and intimately present, and attentive to all our interests and motions, who watches over our conduct, and takes care of our minutest actions and designs throughout the whole course of our lives, informing, admonishing, and directing incessantly, in a most evident and sensible manner” (sect. 4.14). So Wainwright seems to be on firm ground (at least with respect to Berkeley) when he identifies the nearness of God as a key object of concern, and it is easy to see how the Berkeley-Edwards brand of idealism might be thought to do that. This paper is, in my view, quite a welcome addition to the literature. Too often, Berkeley’s religious motivations are treated as an embarrassment, as though the ‘real’ philosophy has been encumbered with a lot of nonsense from which we must separate it if we are to get the value out. Perhaps that may, in the end, turn out to be the case with respect to present-day philosophical value, but if we don’t see Berkeley’s religious vision clearly we’ll never understand his philosophy in the first place and our ‘disentanglement’ will go awry.

Of course, there are also differences between Berkeley and Edwards. Wainwright makes an interesting and plausible suggestion about the source of these differences: Calvinism. (Of course, Calvinism is always at the forefront with Edwards!) Now, I think Wainwright is a little oversimplistic here when he says that “Because Anglicans, like Berkeley, were not [theological determinists], he may have assumed that humanity’s contra-causal freedom required the existence of relatively independent and autonomous choosing substances” (41). Berkeley says almost nothing about human freedom, and what he does say (e.g., in the later sections of Alciphron 7) is pretty ambiguous. The theological debate between Calvinists and Arminians does not exactly track the metaphysical debate between compatibilists and libertarians (though it does track fairly closely), and not all Anglicans were Arminians. Indeed, prior to the Laudian reforms of the 1630s Calvinism had been the dominant view, and Archbishop James Ussher, the primate of Ireland at the time, had vigorously opposed the attempt to impose Arminianism. What was actually going on (several decades later) in the post-Restoration Anglican Communion was more that folks were keeping pretty quiet about the issues in the hope of keeping it from blowing up again. (Civil wars are not fun.) In my previous post I claimed that Berkeley was a latitudinarian. If so, that would explain why he is so carefully ambiguous on these points: part of the latitudinarian strategy was to try to make room for Calvinists and Arminians within the same church.

Nevertheless, Berkeley, while denying the existence of inanimate secondary causes and attributing the causation of sensory ideas to God, tries to carve out some room for genuine, autonomous human agency. Wainwright provides documentation that Edwards (unsurprisingly, for a radical Calvinist) has no such concerns. Indeed, in emphasizing our dependence on God, Edwards (in the quotes provided by Wainwright) appears driven nearly to Spinozism. I expect this issue regarding Edwards will be addressed further in some of the later essays.

An additional interesting point from Wainwright’s essay has to do with the theory of the world as divine language found in both Berkeley and Edwards. I don’t think Wainwright gets Berkeley’s version of that theory quite exactly right, but this is one of my pet issues and I’ll refrain from nitpicking about it here. More importantly: Wainwright notes that Berkeley believes that the status of the world as a language can be established by empirical and philosophical reasoning, and the fact that the world is a language shows that it must have a speaker. Hence the divine language can be used to establish the existence of God. Edwards, on the other hand, seems to take as a starting point a “two books” theology and a principle of typological interpretation. Thus the world, like the Bible, is a communication from God in the form of types and figures in which the presence of Christ must be discerned. This is justified primarily theologically.

I will conclude with one nitpick: Wainwright says that “Recent scholars agree that Berkeley and Edwards arrived at their idealism separately” (48n2). This claim is meant, I suppose, to underline the importance of identifying common contextual factors in order to explain the similar views of Berkeley and Edwards. In support of this claim, Wainwright cites the introduction to the science and philosophy volume of Edwards’ Works. Now this edition of Edwards’ Works was published from 1957–2008 and Wainwright does not indicate when this particular volume was released, so it is not clear what’s meant by “recent.” In any event, Edwards was taught philosophy at Yale by Berkeley’s disciple Samuel Johnson. (Based on the extant correspondence between Berkeley and Johnson, I do not think ‘disciple’ is too strong a word.) I don’t know what the state of the evidence is regarding whether Edwards actually read Berkeley’s works, but there is certainly a vector for indirect influence, at least. In places I took Wainwright to be implying that if we couldn’t uncover some shared contextual factors explaining the similarity of Berkeley’s and Edwards’ views that similarity would have to be regarded as sheer coincidence, and this is much too strong. Nevertheless, this point does nothing to detract from Edwards’ status as an original thinker, or from the interest of Wainwright’s analysis of Edwards’ similarities and differences from Berkeley.

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

Science, Philosophy, and Religious Commitment: Catholic engagement in philosophy of science
February 16, 2016 — 13:32

Author: Tim Pawl  Category: News Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Science, Philosophy, and Religious Commitment:

Catholic engagement in philosophy of science

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN

26 – 28 June 2016

The aim of this conference is to cultivate sober perspective and insight into the history and current state of engagement with philosophy of science among Catholic intellectuals with an eye to “What now?” sorts of questions. We hope to begin to articulate, explore, and evaluate a variety of approaches to philosophy of science present in Catholic thought over the last 150 years (roughly from John Henry Newman to the present). These approaches include explicit philosophies of science, as well as ones implicit in and shaping theological work, hierarchical church documents and actions, and evaluations of the relevance of the special sciences to metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and theology.

The conference is interested to explore a broad range of issues, approaches, and figures and aims to cultivate productive cross-fertilization, collaboration, and exploration among philosophers, theologians, and scientists today.


Paul Allen (Concordia University)

Nicanor Austriaco, OP (Biology, Providence College)

Stephen Barr (University of Delaware)

Gianfranco Basti (Pontifical Lateran University)

Robert Deltete (Seattle University)

David Diekema (Seattle Pacific University)

Flavia Marcacci (Pontifical Lateran University)

Patrick McDonald (Seattle Pacific University)

Meghan Page (Loyola University Maryland)

Anne Peterson (University of Utah)

Lidia Obojska (Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities)

Brendan Sweetman  (Rockhurst University)

Nicholas Teh  (University of Notre Dame)

Free and open to the public. (Registration will be required.)

Future information, including schedule and registration, will be posted at the conference website.

Questions or inquiries? Contact Peter Distelzweig.

Hosted and sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Philosophy. Cosponsored by the Terrence J. Murphy Institute, the Science and Theology Network, and the International Research Area on Foundations of the Sciences at the Pontifical Lateran University.

Coorganized by Peter Distelzweig (University of St. Thomas) and Karen Zwier (Drake University).

CFP: Meta-Philosophy of Religion & Meta-Theology
January 13, 2016 — 4:36

Author: Martín Montoya  Category: News  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 0


We are delighted to announce the new journal TheoLogica, a peer-reviewed international journal. TheoLogica is a multidisciplinary research journal focused on philosophy of religion and theology (analytic theology, natural theology, philosophical theology), exploring philosophical and theological topics with the standards of conceptual clarity and rigorous argumentation, which are recognized (in particular but not exclusively) in the analytic tradition. The Journal adopts the Open Access Journal (free access) in order to promote research and development of philosophy of religion and theology in the Spanish-speaking academy. In order to contribute equally to international scientific discussions held in several languages, articles and reviews written in Spanish, French, English, Italian and German are accepted.

We invite submissions for the first issue of the journal: Meta-philosophy of religion & Meta-theology. The authors will be expected to discuss the nature, methods and aims of philosophy of religion and/or theology from a metaphilosophical or metatheological perspective. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of possible research topics:

  • What are philosophy of religion and/or analytic theology? What are their subject, their methods and aims?


  • Is theology continuous with philosophy and with science? Can it be called a science and in what sense?


  • What are the ultimate sources of theology (Scripture, Councils, Tradition, Reason, etc.) and their relative roles? What is the relationship between Scripture and the analytical style of philosophizing? What is the epistemological status of the Scripture in these disciplines?
  • What is the place of argumentation in the methodology of theology?
  • Is there such a thing as theological knowledge? What are the epistemic sources of theological knowledge?


  • Is theological knowledge necessary? Are there epistemic conditions for Salvation?


  • Do philosophy of religion and theology aim at Wisdom? How is this sapiential dimension to be fostered? Is the analytic style a hindrance for this aim?


Deadline for sending the paper: April 30st, 2016

Full papers should be submitted via our website: http://revistatheologica.com, or send your paper to: managingeditor.theologica@gmail.com. Visit the TheoLogica homepage for a description of the journal and instructions to authors.

Philosophers and their religious practices, part 6: An eastward-looking Anglican
April 2, 2015 — 10:42

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

This is the sixth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.

This interview is with Steven Horst, Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University.


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.

Why Do We Ask Why?
February 3, 2014 — 20:59

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God Prosblogion Reviews  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 8

Several of the essays in The Puzzle of Existence argue, in one way or another, that no non-trivial answer can be given to those who ask why there is something rather than nothing. This may be because the question is somehow confused or mistaken, as in the case of Ross who argues that there is no such entity as everything (the totality of contingent concrete things, the Cosmos, etc.), and hence there can be no explaining the existence of everything. Or it may be because the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false, and so not every legitimate why question has an answer. This line is taken by Kleinschmidt. John Heil aims to go further: to show that the question arises only within a certain sort of philosophical paradigm. Heil aims, further, to call this paradigm into question and show that an alternative paradigm is possible.

Heil’s essay opens with a fascinating historical narrative. On Heil’s telling, Aristotle held that “what a thing does or would do is determined by the thing’s nature” (168). However, late Medieval thinkers thought that this way of seeing things did not allow for a sufficiently robust conception of divine omnipotence. We need to allow that God could have made the very same sorts of things behave differently than those things in fact do, and so we need to regard “what a thing does or would do” as external to that thing and imposed on it by God. This leads to a conception of God as a legislator imposing laws on the world. Subsequent philosophers have tried to delete God from this picture, but the deletion leaves a void to be filled, and philosophers have attempted to fill it in a variety of ways. (One is reminded here of the similar point about moral philosophy famously made by Elizabeth Anscombe.)

Heil’s narrative provides a new and interesting take on the argument from contingency for the existence of God. On this view, the point being made by the argument from contingency is that the ‘modern’ way of looking at things is in fact (despite what some people will tell you) a fundamentally theistic point of view, from which God has never been fully excised. (Perhaps it would be better to say it is a fundamentally deistic point of view; the idea that fits in most neatly with the views of modern thinkers like Galileo, Descartes, and Newton is the notion of an absent watchmaker.) Heil, however, wants to deny that this is a good reason for believing in God. Instead, he thinks, once belief in God has (for whatever reason) been rejected, a new paradigm is needed. That ‘new’ paradigm turns out to be an old one: Aristotle’s. This, Heil argues, is not actually inconsistent with modern science, for one can still think of science as an effort to discover laws (179); one merely takes the laws to be grounded in the powers, rather than vice versa. On this kind of view, Heil thinks, the universe starts to look more, as it were, self-contained, and we are less tempted to go looking for something outside it to explain it.

One of the reasons I find Heil’s suggestion is interesting is that, as a sociological matter, I suspect that (due in part to the influence of Roman Catholic theology) neo-Aristotelian views are presently correlated with theism. Heil thinks, though, that Aristotelianism is what the atheist needs to break out of the theistic paradigm.

Heil is fairly compelling in his discussion of this paradigm and its influence. This, by itself, is enough to make this a very valuable essay. There are (at least) three issues on which, I think, further discussion and debate is called for: (1) Do attempts to de-theologize this paradigm really fail, as Heil thinks? (2) What viable alternative paradigms can be constructed? (3) Do these alternative paradigms really sit more comfortably with atheism than the standard (‘modern’) paradigm?

The third question is, I take it, most crucial. After all, Aristotle himself believed in a God (who probably deserves a big ‘G’), and, on Heil’s own telling, it was not until long after Christianity became the dominant intellectual force that the now-standard paradigm arose. Hence many people have thought (and still think) that a God is needed within an Aristotelian paradigm as well.

Heil’s thesis in this paper is, I take it, a relatively modest one: the assumptions that lead to the question, ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ are optional. However, Heil relies on a strong conception of ‘nothing,’ excluding even God, and so holds that “If there is something there could not have been nothing” (180). This clearly follows on an Aristotelian notion of possibility as potentiality. If, however, our question is not ‘why is there anything at all?’ but rather, ‘why is there anything physical?’ or ‘why is there anything concrete and contingent?’ then perhaps we will be led once again to posit a necessarily existent God. So it is not clear that Heil’s Aristotelianism is a better fit with atheism after all.

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

RFP: Science Beyond Scientism
October 17, 2013 — 8:44

Author: Jeroen de Ridder  Category: News  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 0

The Abraham Kuyper Center for Science and Religion under the direction of René van Woudenberg welcomes proposals to investigate scientism and its manifestations in research into free will, moral belief formation and moral character, rational decision-making, and religious belief. The research project Science beyond Scientism is embedded in the research of the Theoretical Philosophy section of the Department of Philosophy at VU University Amsterdam. VU University Amsterdam is an accredited research university with excellent library and other research facilities.
Project description
Scientism is the view that science, and science alone, can give us knowledge, tell us what exists, and answer our moral, existential, and religious questions. Scientism is rampant in contemporary intellectual culture: it is assumed and endorsed in- and outside academia by influential scientists and philosophers writing about evolutionary theory, genetics, brain science, psychology, and philosophy. From there, scientism also wields influence on various social and professional practices, such as medicine, law, education, religion, and child rearing. We think scientism is not only false, but also harmful. False, because there are other sources of knowledge besides science. Harmful, because it undermines notions that are central to human self-understanding and flourishing, and to various social and professional practices; notions such as free will, rational decision-making, moral character, and religious belief.


Templeton Foundation Fall Funding Cycle
August 5, 2013 — 23:08

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

As part of its fall open submission cycle, the John Templeton Foundation welcomes online funding inquiries in the areas of philosophy and theology. The submission window is August 1 to October 1, 2013. Proposed philosophical projects need not have religion or theology as a focus. To submit an online funding inquiry, please visit http://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/our-grantmaking-process.
Please note that the Templeton Foundation does not normally provide dissertation fellowships through this open submission process. For more information on the kinds of projects that the Foundation can support, visithttp://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/core-funding-areas/science-and-the-big-questions.
A list of Foundation grants in the areas of philosophy and theology can be found here: http://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grant-search/results/taxonomy%3A5

Fully funded PhD position in Philosophy – VU University Amsterdam
June 18, 2013 — 22:27

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: ,   Comments: 0

Link: http://www.vu.nl/nl/werken-bij-de-vu/vacatures/2013/118.asp
For 1.0 fte
Vacancy number 13184
VU unit: Faculty of Philosophy
The PhD student will work in the research project “Science Beyond Scientism” which investigates how scientism influences our thinking about rationality, free will, morality and religious belief and explores the way in which science can be taken seriously without succumbing to scientism. A description of the project, as well as of the PhD project can be found at www.abrahamkuypercenter.vu.nl/phdposition.


Summer Seminar in Science and the Big Questions
May 1, 2013 — 16:43

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , ,   Comments: 0

August 19-23, VU University Amsterdam
The Abraham Kuyper Center for Science and Religion at VU University Amsterdam hosts a summer seminar on science and the big questions. Experts will give lectures and engage in debates in the following areas:
* cognitive science of religion
* free will and brain research
* evolution, morality and Christian belief
* cosmology, fine-tuning, and God.
Confirmed speakers include: Patricia Churchland (UCSD), David Lahti (Queens’ College, CUNY), Rodney Holder (Cambridge), Jesse Bering (New York), Johan Braeckman (Ghent U), Herman Philipse (Utrecht U), Gijsbert van den Brink (VU University Amsterdam), Michiel van Elk (U of Amsterdam), Leon de Bruin (Radboud U / VU University Amsterdam) and Tim O’connor (Indiana U).
The seminar is intended for two groups:
(1) (PhD-)students / post-docs working in the natural sciences who have an interest in positively and intelligently relating the topics they cover in their fields of study to philosophical questions and (2) (PhD-)students / post-docs in the fields of philosophy and theology who have an interest in speaking knowledgeably about the intersection between science and religion. The goal of the seminar is to create a learning environment for (PhD-)students / post-docs in which they interact with highly qualified scholars on science / religion issues so as to move beyond the easy warfare rhetoric.
Dates: August 19-23, 2013
Location: VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Costs: The fee for the seminar is 100 euros for (PhD-)students and 200 euros for others. This fee includes lunches and dinners and some surprise social activities in the beautiful old city of Amsterdam.
Application: The seminar has room for at most have 60 participants. Please send a brief statement of interest to abrahamkuypercenter@vu.nl by June 1, 2013.
More information and updates about speakers can be found on the seminar website:
This seminar, as well as the Kuyper Center, are made possible by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation.
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