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Showing posts from 2008

Michael Almeida's New Book...

...The Metaphysics of Perfect Beings, has recently come out.

Here is the summary of the book at its Routledge Press page:
The Metaphysics of Perfect Beings addresses the problems an Anselmian perfect being faces in contexts involving unlimited options. Recent advances in the theory of vagueness, the metaphysics of multiverses and hyperspace, the theory of dynamic or sequential choice, the logic of moral and rational dilemmas, and metaethical theory provide the resources to formulate the new challenges and the Anselmian responses with an unusual degree of precision. Almeida shows that the challenges arising in the unusual contexts involving unlimited options sometimes produce metaphysical surprise.

And here are the chapters listed in the table of contents:

Chapter One: Atheistic Arguments from Improvability
Chapter Two: Rational Choice and No Best World
Chapter Three: On Evil's Vague Necessity
Chapter Four: The Problem of No Maximum Evil
Chapter Five: On the Logic of Imperfection
Chapter S…

Some Nice Siren Music to Round Off the Year

Alright, I admit it: I have a soft spot for female musicians. If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of Hope Sandoval. Here are some other femaie musicians I've been listening to recently that I'm happy to recommend:

Merrick: A live performance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. The songs around the 3/4 mark are the best -- especially "Automatic" and "Flick" at the end. The duo -- Inara George and Bryony Atkinson -- has since disbanded, and each does their own thing. Each musician is still very much worth listening to.

Nellie McKay: Here's a clip from a live interview and performance on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Jesca Hoop: Here's a live (video) studio performance (on NPR) of her song, "Enemy". And here's a link to "Love and Love Again".

Happy Holidays!


Paul Draper's Forthcoming Work in Philosophy of Religion

...looks very interesting. It looks like his forthcoming work falls under three main headings: (i) the problem of evil, (ii) confirmation theory (and its implications for issues in philosophy of religion), and (iii) the negative impact of partisanship and polemics in contemporary philosophy of religion.

With respect to (i), he has a forthcoming monograph, The Evidential Problem of Evil, in which he develops a Bayesian version of the problem of evil, and defends it against the responses of various theodicies, the Skeptical Theist response, natural theology, and reformed epistemology. In addition, he's drafting a chapter in a collection of papers edited by Quentin Smith and Paul Pistone (Theism and Naturalism: New Essays). His chapter will be entitled, "Darwin's Argument from Evil".

With respect to (ii), Draper has at least four pieces in preparation. In one paper ("A New Theory of Intrinsic Probability"), Draper develops a theory of intrinsic probability for…

Hume's Version of the Problem of Evil in Part XI of the Dialogues

Remember the fine-tuning design argument? Recall that that version isn't an argument from analogy, but rather an inference to the best explanation (alternatively, it can be construed via the machinery of confirmation theory), where the data is the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of nature for life to evolve within it, and the hypotheses are theism and naturalism.

Hume gives an "evil twin" of that argument in Part X of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and then a slightly different version of it in Part XI. We've already discussed the version in Part X. The version in Part XI can be expressed as follows:

There are four major causes of natural evil in the world:

1. Pleasure and pain as the mechanisms of species preservation: Why pain? Prima facie, the same end could be achieved by via the mechanisms of pleasure and its diminishment in the appropriate circumstances.[1]

2. Laws of Nature: Granted, humans and the other animals might well need the world to ex…

Bradley Monton's New Critique of Contemporary Design Arguments

I mentioned Bradley Monton in an earlier post. Well, he has a very nice chapter forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Vol. II). It's entitled, "Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe". It's an excellent critique of Behe's design argument from irreducible complexity, as well as design arguments based on Dembski's explanatory filter. He also offers a great critique of Dembski's explanatory filter itself, concluding with a better model. A draft of his paper can be found here.

One reason why I think this paper is important is that it brings the recent experimental evidence that the universe is spatially infinite[1] to bear on issues in philosophy of religion.

P.S. Recall that Monton is an atheist, and yet he's a defender of the in-principle legitimacy of intelligent design in the sciences (as I mentioned in the earlier post, he's coming out with a monograph defending ID, entitled, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelli…

Hume’s Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument in Part IX of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

(N.B. In reviewing Hume's criticisms, it's interesting that they anticipate, in rudimentary form, contemporary worries for the argument (e.g., a posteriori necessities and the problems they generate for evaluating modal claims pertinent to the argument; and Peter van Inwagen's worries for the argument raised by the material composition debate).)

1st criticism: Any being’s non-existence is conceivable, including God’s. But conceivability is the only relevant evidence we have of possibility. So, any evidence we might have had for the conclusion of a necessary being is rebutted or, at the very least, undercut.

-Reply: God doesn’t wear his necessity on his sleeve, as it were. If we could just grasp his essence, we would see that he exists of necessity.

-Rejoinder: No. It’s clear that even if we could grasp his essence, we still would see that his existence is not necessary. For we can see that it’s true of every being, no matter what their nature might turn out to be like, that …

Spotting and Avoiding Debating Tricks, Part 1: Mischaracterizing the Scope or Degree of Commitment of a Claim

1. Scope
1.1 Claims can have a wider or narrower scope:
1.2 One? Some? Many? Most? All?
1.3 Example: All men are pigs vs. most men are pigs vs. many men are pigs vs. some men are pigs vs. one man is a pig

2. Commitment
2.1 Claims can also have a weaker or stronger degree of commitment
2.2 Certain that P? Probable that P, Plausible that P? Not inconceivable that P, etc.?
2.3 Examples: It is certain that Steve's a pig vs. I know Steve's a pig vs. it's probable that Steve's a pig vs. It's plausible that Steve's a pig vs. it's possible that Steve's a pig

3. Scope, Commitment, and Evidential Standards
3.1 The stronger a claim's degree of commitment, the harder it is to justify it
3.2 The weaker a claim's degree of commitment, the easier it is to justify it
3.3 The wider a claim's scope, the harder it is to justify it
3.4 The narrower a claim's scope, the easier it is to justify it

4. Morals, part I: When arguing your own position
4.1 When arguing your posi…

Another Review of Recent Books on Hume on Miracles

Speaking of reviews of recent books on Hume on miracles, here's one that's hot off the press: Michael Jacovides (Purdue) has a brand-new review of the following books in The Philosophical Review, 117 (2008):

David Johnson, Hume, Holism, and Miracles
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. ix + 106 pp.

John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xi + 217 pp.

Robert J. Fogelin, A Defense of Hume on Miracles
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. xii + 101 pp.

Elliot Sober's Review of Earman's Hume's Abject Failure

As many readers of this blog no doubt know, John Earman wrote an important evaluation and critique of Hume's critique of testimony-based belief in miracles (Section X of Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding). Elliot Sober wrote a helpful review of Earman's book in the March 2004 issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The review can be found here.

Conceivability Arguments for Dualism, Part II: Stoljar's Critique of David Chalmers' Argument

Notes on Daniel Stoljar's “The Conceivability Argument and Two Conceptions of the Physical” (Phil. Perspectives 15, 2001)

In this paper, Stoljar attacks Chalmers’ conceivability argument for property dualism. Recall that the conceivability argument runs as follows:

1. It is conceivable that I have a zombie-twin, i.e., someone physically identical to me and yet who lacks phenomenal consciousness.
2. If it is conceivable that I have a zombie-twin, then it is possible that I have a zombie-twin.
3. If it is possible that I have a zombie-twin, then physicalism is false.
4. Therefore, physicalism is false.

In addition to his t-physical/o-physical property distinction, Stoljar brings in Van Cleve’s weak/strong conceivability distinction. Weak conceivability is the inability to conceive that P is impossible, and strong conceivability is the ability to conceive that P is possible. Among other problems, the former allows that Goldbach’s Conjecture both is and isn’t conceivable, in which case it…

Conceivability Arguments for Dualism, Part I: Stoljar's Critique of Frank Jackson's Argument

Notes on Daniel Stoljar's “Two Conceptions of the Physical” (PPR, 2002)

This paper is a critique of Jackson’s Knowledge Argument. It distinguishes two conceptions of physical properties: theoretical physical properties (t-physical properties) and intrinsic, categorical, physical properties (o-physical properties). The t-physical properties are exactly those properties dictated to us by physical theory. They are all dispositional, extrinsic, relational properties. The o-physical properties are exactly those properties that are required to give a complete account of the intrinsic, categorical properties of physical objects. The two categories are not co-extensive, as o-properties are intrinsic, and t-properties are not.

Stoljar uses this distinction to construct a dilemma against the Knowledge Argument, the latter of which can be stated as follows:

1. It is possible to know all of the physical facts about seeing red and yet not know all the facts about seeing red.
2. If it is pos…

John Hawthorne's Critique of the Fine-Tuning Design Argument

John Hawthorne is another "star" philosopher (currently at Oxford) who is also a Christian.[1] However, he's not a fan of the fine-tuning design argument. Here is a paper on religious belief he's discussed with undergraduates, in which he offers a good criticism of the argument.

[1] Some philosophical lore: I mentioned Dean Zimmerman a few posts ago. Well, John Hawthorne, Dean Zimmerman, and Ted Sider were known as "The Syracuse Three": the young stars seemed inseparable when they were all faculty at Syracuse in the late 90s-2002, or thereabouts. They hung out all the time, and discussed each other's papers as they were drafting them for publication. I'm not absolutely certain, but I think they were all originally Christians (however, Ted Sider -- son of Christian writer and activist Ron Sider -- seems to have left the fold. See his paper, "Hell and Vagueness", in Faith and Philosophy). All the top philosophy prog…

Tyler Wunder's Dissertation

Tyler Wunder is a recent (2007) philosophy PhD from Boston University. His dissertation, Warrant and Religious Epistemology: A Critique of Alvin Plantinga's Warrant Phase, is (as the title gives away) a critique of Plantinga's externalist account of warrant (as explicated and defended in Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief). I've only read parts so far, but it looks to be very good. A revised chapter from his dissertation is published in the June issue of Religious Studies. It's a critique of Plantinga's argument from the existence of proper function in living things to theism. The article's entitled, "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function". I've just read it, and I must say that it's a thorough and compelling critique.

I should mention that the current issue of Religious Studies is chock full of excellent articles. See, e.g., the exchange on the argument from religious demographics, the Molinist's reply, and the rejoinder. See also …

Dean Zimmerman's New Paper Against Molinism

Molinism -- the view that God knows not only what free creatures do, will do and could do, but also what they would (freely) do in every possible circumstance -- is a popular view among contemporary Christian philosophers. William Lane Craig uses it to account for such things as the compatibility of the inspiration of scripture and human free will, the compatibility of freedom and foreknowledge, and the compatibility of a semi-exclusivist account of soteriology with the fact that many will never hear the gospel and will be damned. And it's arguable that Alvin Plantinga requires molinism for the success of his famous free will defense against the logical problem of evil (although some, such as Swinburne, deny this. Kenneth Perszyk argues that Plantinga's free will defense is doubtful with or without molinism).

Two common criticisms of molinism (cf. R. Adams, Hasker, et al.) are that (i) it leaves the counterfactuals of human freedom without a metaphysical grounding, and that (ii…

Nature Red In Tooth and Claw

I mentioned earlier that MIchael J. Murray was writing some books on two important problems for theism since at least the publication of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and A Natural History of Religion: the problem of animal suffering, and the plausibility of naturalistic accounts of religious belief. Well, I've been meaning to post on this for a while, but Michael J. Murray's book-length reply to the problem of animal suffering, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, is now available. It came out a couple of months ago. His book on naturalistic accounts of religious belief, The Believing Primate, which is an edited collection of newly-commissioned papers, is due to come out next April.

Notes on Draper's Article on Behe's Design Argument, Part 6: Are Direct Routes Really Impossible?

In this installment, I complete the series on Draper's critique of Behe's design argument from irreducible complexity.

I. Review and Setup
To review, recall that the article focuses on stage one of Behe's two-stage design argument, which argues that certain biochemical structures couldn't have arisen via gradualistic Darwinian processes. The argument of this stage crucially relies on his notion of irreducible complexity, where this is defined as a system "composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein removal of any of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning".[1] With this notion in hand, Behe argues that there are irreducibly very complex biochemical systems (e.g., the bacterial flagellum), and that these systems can't plausibly be explained in terms of gradualistic evolutionary processes. And the reason is that evolution can only create systems via direct and indirect evolutionary p…

Craig on the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Although Craig has criticized the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument in a number of places, he offers a brief defense of it in The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003, ed. Paul Copan and Paul Moser).

The Leibnizian cosmological argument depends on some version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). The standard formulation of PSR can be expressed as follows:

(PSR) There is a sufficient reason for the existence of (a) every object, and (b) every state of affairs, either in terms of something else or in terms of its own nature.

A standard criticism of the argument is that PSR(b) is false.[1] Craig states the criticism tersely: "There cannot be an explanation of why there are any contingent states of affairs at all; for if such an explanation is contingent, then it, too, must have a further explanation, whereas if it is necessary, then the states of affairs explained by it must also be necessary." (p. 114)

Craig defends the argument against the criticism by eliminating PSR…

Bradley Monton

Bradly Monton is a philosopher at UC Boulder. He's also an atheist. However, and perhaps surprisingly, he argues that intelligent design is a legitimate category of explanation in the sciences (in that actions of non-human intelligent agents are detectable in principle, and that appeal to such agency is legitimate in principle in the sciences). Also, he thinks ID should be taught in schools, along side evolution. He's coming out with a book on the topic: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

Another point about Monton: he thinks the fine-tuning argument, although ultimately unpersuasive, is stronger than many philosophers think. See (perhaps) his most important paper of his on this, "God, Fine-Tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2006), pp. 405-424.

I agree with him about virtually all of this, and I can't wait to read his book. The reason: I've read the following books and articl…

Two Types of Design Argument

Two Types of Design Argument:

Type I: The Classical (“Old School”) Design Argument:

-This version is an argument from analogy.
-It typically appeals to living organisms and their parts as cases of apparent design

1. Human artifacts are intelligently designed.
2. Living organisms and their parts resemble/are analogous to human artifacts (in that they both are complex and their parts that work together to perform a function).
3. Therefore, probably, living organisms and their parts are intelligently designed as well.

-Paley’s version is the most important version of the classical version of the design argument.
-However, this form of the design argument is seldom used today, due to the criticisms we’ve discussed. However, philosophers have come up with a new version of the design argument:

Type II: The Contemporary (“New School”) Design Argument:

-This version is not an argument from an analogy. Rather, it's formulated either in terms of confirmati…

Criticisms of William Dembski's Design Inference -- By Christians

The following is a short list of articles (and chapters) critiquing Dembski's design inference. They are all written by Christian philosophers.

Del Ratzsch:
Appendix: "Dembski's Design Inference", in Nature, Design and Science. SUNY Press, 2001 (in the Philosophy and Biology Series).

Robin Collins:
“An Evaluation of William A. Dembski’s The Design Inference,” in Christian Scholar’s Review, vol. 30:3 (Spring 2001).

MIchael J. Murray:
"Natural Providence (or Design Trouble)", Faith and Philosophy 20:2 (July 2003), pp. 307-327.
-"Natural Providence: Reply to Dembski", Faith and Philosophy 23:3 (2006), pp.337-41.

Timothy McGrew:
"Toward a Rational Reconstruction of Design Inferences", Philosophia Christi 7:2 (2005), pp. 253-298.

Obama Our New President-Elect!!!

A landslide victory for sanity, competence, and goodness.

A Critique of one of William Lane Craig's Arguments For a Finite Past

(The rest of the posts in this series can be found here.)

In some of his popular apologetics writings, Craig uses the following argument to support a key premise in his kalam cosmological argument, viz., that the universe began to exist:

"Suppose we meet a man who claims to have been counting down from infinity and who is now finishing: . . ., -3, -2, -1, 0. We could ask, why didn’t he finish counting yesterday or the day before or the year before? By then an infinite time had already elapsed, so that he should already have finished. Thus, at no point in the infinite past could we ever find the man finishing his countdown, for by that point he should already be done! In fact, no matter how far back into the past we go, we can never find the man counting at all, for at any point we reach he will already have finished. But if at no point in the past do we find him counting, this contradicts the hypothesis that he has been counting from eternity. This shows again that the formation…

Summary of William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument

(The rest of the posts in this series can be found here.)
Aquinas thought a temporally finite universe could not be demonstrated by reason. The kalam cosmological argument, by contrast, argues that a temporally finite past can be demonstrated via both a priori and a posteriori arguments.
Craig has offered two a priori arguments and two a posteriori arguments for the finitude of the past. The first argument attempts to show that actually infinite sets of things cannot exist in reality, and so the set of past events cannot be actually infinite. The second argument attempts to show that even if an actually infinite set of things could exist in reality, its members could not be successively traversed. But if not, then since the members of the set of past events have been traversed -- after all, here we are -- that set must be finite.
According to the first a posteriori argument, the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe implies an absolute beginning to spacetime, in which case t…

Sarah Palin's Debate Flowchart

HT: The Daily Dish (I blush to confess I've been visiting Andrew Sullivan's blog recently), who in turn got it from Ph33r and Loathing

Getting Some Perspective

HT: Obsidian Wings

That Pretty Much Sums it Up

Been Busy

Hi gang,

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I've been under the gun to meet some deadlines, and it looks as though things will remain this way for a while. I'll get back to blogging as soon as I can.



A Review of J.L. Schellenberg's New Book

...The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism, came out the other day at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, here. I haven't yet picked it up, but I understand it's a "must-read" book in philosophy of religion. It's the second of what he projects to be a trilogy on foundational issues in philosophy of religion. The first was entitled, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (NDPR reviews it here), and the forthcoming third volume is entitled, The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion. All three are published with Cornell University Press.

J.L. Schellenberg is a prominent philosopher of religion, known primarily for his seminal book-length exposition and defense of the problem of divine hiddenness, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. He is also known for his articles on the problem of evil and the problem of religious diversity.

P.S., He did an excellent job defending the argument from divine hiddenness against the philosopher Jeff …

Linda Zagzebski

...has a novel and interesting paper defending the rationality of religious belief, based on a Foley-style argument from intellectual trust in oneself and others. It can be found at her department webpage at the University of Oklahoma, here. It's the one entitled, "Is it Reasonable to Believe in God?" The paper doesn't look to be published yet, but has only been delivered in the form of a quasi-popular talk.

Zagzebski remains one of the leading philosophers of religion. The other papers there (not to mention her books) are well worth reading.

Michael C. Rea a young "star" philosopher at Notre Dame who specializes in metaphysics. He's especially known in this field for his work on the problems of material composition -- e.g., the problem of how two or more material things could compose a new thing (I know this sounds like a trivial problem, but believe me, it's a very hard problem. To see why, read Peter van Inwagen's seminal book, Material Beings). However, he is also a Christian, and a young star in the field of philosophy of religion. For example, he is known for using ideas from his work on the nature of material composition to attempt to give a coherent account of the doctrine of the trinity. He's probably best known in recent years for his book, World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism, which, as you may have guessed, is a critique of naturalism (and a very rigorous one at that). I remember reading it in grad school while still a Christian (still with dreams of infiltrating aca…

Notes on Draper's Article on Behe's Design Argument, Part 5: Are Indirect Routes Really Too Improbable?

I. Review
We've seen that Behe's argument turns on two key claims:

(i) Some biochemical systems are irreducibly (very) complex

(ii) Irreducibly (very) complex systems can't plausibly be accounted for in terms of evolution.

Thus, if one rebuts (i.e., shows false or otherwise contrary to reason), or at least undercuts (i.e., undermines the evidence for), (i) or (ii), then one has shown that Behe's argument is a failure. We've seen that Draper has offered apparently decisive criticisms against (i), and thus has already defeated Behe's argument. However, Draper goes beyond this and offers two main criticisms of (ii) as well -- i.e., he argues that evolution can produce a biochemical system even if it's irreducibly complex. In the current installment, we'll focus on Draper's first main criticism of (ii).

II. Behe's Argument Against Indirect Pathways
Recall the two routes or pathways that evolution can take to producing a given biological system -- direc…