Intuition Check

Intuition check: Assume Platonism about properties, propositions, and possible worlds. Such is the natural backdrop of the modal ontological argument. Assume further that the key possibility premise of the modal ontological argument is true, viz., that there is a possible world at which maximal excellence is exemplified. Then by Axiom S5 and that premise, we get the God of classical theism -- or do we? Seems to me we don't. For the picture is that God is ontologically posterior to and dependent upon the existence and ontological structure of the platonic multiverse -- God's existence is the ontological consequence of the nature and structure of platonic space. But if that's right, then God is, in a real sense, a dependent being, in which case classical theism is false.

Dan Baras' Reliability Challenge for Theistic Platonism

In "A Reliability Challenge for Theistic Platonism" (Analysis 77(3): 479-87 (2017)), Dan Baras argues that theistic platonists face something analogous to Street's evolutionary debunking argument. Here's the abstract:
Many philosophers believe that when a theory is committed to an apparently unexplainable massive correlation, that fact counts significantly against the theory. Philosophical theories that imply that we have knowledge of non-causal mind-independent facts are especially prone to this objection. Prominent examples of such theories are mathematical Platonism, robust normative realism and modal realism. It is sometimes thought that theists can easily respond to this sort of challenge and that theism therefore has an epistemic advantage over atheism. In this paper, I will argue that, contrary to widespread thought, some versions of theism only push the challenge one step further and thus are in no better position than atheism. 
The next step is to apply the debunking argument to God's moral knowledge in particular.

Nice Paper by Marsh on Procreative Ethics and the Problem of Evil


Partial Notes: Morriston's "A Critical Evaluation of the Kalam Argument"

As we saw in the previous post, Morriston's (2000) paper, "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?" critiques the second stage of Craig's kalam cosmological argument -- i.e., his argument that the cause of the universe must be a person. (For a statement of that argument, see section 1 of the notes in the previous post).  However, Morriston makes further remarks on the argument in section 7 of his (2002) paper, "A Critical Evaluation of the Kalam Argument" that I think are also worth considering. The following notes aim to cover that section.

1. Stage 2 of the Kalam Argument: Craig's "Eternally Sitting Man" Analogy
1.1 In his defense of stage 2, Craig introduces a thought experiment involving an eternal man sitting from eternity past who then freely and spontaneously wills to stand up.
1.2 This is supposed to be analogous to how an eternal God could exist timelessly, and yet eternally will to create a universe that has a beginning in time.
1.3 Craig realizes that (if his arguments for a finite past succeed) this entails that God’s decision to create cannot involve a change in God, as that would involve a temporal sequence, which is ruled out by his arguments.

2. Worries Morriston Raises But Does Not Pursue
2.1 Craig's model of personal agency is extremely controversial among philosophers of action
2.1.1 Many of them think acts of will  are not the ultimate causes of our actions. Rather, these willings are caused by a person's beliefs, desires, and preferences, which in turn are caused by other things.
2.1.2 There are therefore reasons to doubt that personal causes work  the way Craig thinks they do (e.g., maybe libertarian agency isn’t real)
2.2 Perhaps there are more types of causes besides “mechanical” and “personal” (N.B. Indeed, if it should turn out that (a) contingent concrete reality had a beginning, (b) such a beginning requires a cause, and (c) neither personal nor “mechanical” causes are epistemically viable candidates for such a causal rule, then one has grounds to G.E. Moore shift one’s way to the conclusion that there are more than these two types of cause).

3. Morriston's Main Worry: Craig's Analogy Breaks Down:
3.1 In humans, a free act:
3.1.1 (a) requires a change in the agent — one that ultimately traces back to a decision in the mind
3.1.2 (b) the effect of the act is straightaway — indeed the effect often occurs faster than the effect of natural, “mechanical” causes.
3.2 But the problem is that both (a) and (b) can’t apply to God in Craig’s scenario:
3.2.1 (a) requires temporal change/succession, which is problematic on at least two counts: (i) it seems incompatible with God’s omniscience (for then it seems God didn’t always know what to do and what he was going to do); and (ii) it contradicts Craig’s scenario here, according to which God is existing in a timeless state. (But even if we grant some time prior to creation, Craig’s arguments against an infinite past require that God’s decision have its ultimate origination from God “while” in a state of timelessness.)
3.2 In a nutshell, Morriston’s main objection is that Craig’s timeless personal cause of the universe (God) faces the same dilemma as the one Craig poses for a timeless, natural, “mechanical” cause:
3.2.1 Either (a) God decision was with him in his timeless state, or (b) it wasn’t.
3.2.2 If (b), then it seems God could never will to create a universe., in which case the universe would have never arisen.
3.2.3 But if (a), then either the analogy holds or it doesn't.
3.2.4 if the analogy holds, the effect of creation should be as eternal as the cause, which contradicts his conclusion. (N.B. maybe there’s no problem with that if the universe can be a 4D block, even if it destroys Craig’s argument).
3.2.5 But if the analogy doesn’t hold, then his case for a personal cause loses its epistemic force.
4. Morriston's Reductio Argument: 
4.1 The reductio
Craig’s argument for a personal cause assumes:
1. An eternal sufficient cause must have an eternal effect. 
But since it’s natural to assume Craig thinks God needs no help in creating a universe, he seems to also accept: 
2. God’s will to create a universe with a beginning is sufficient to produce it.
 Now we’ve seen that Craig asserts:
 3. God’s will to create a universe with a beginning is eternal.
 But from (1)-(3) it follows that
 4. A world with a beginning is eternal. 
Which is self-contradictory. (N.B. again, assuming real temporal becoming and rejecting a 4D block universe view, which Craig thinks he must reject to keep the need for a cause for the beginning of the universe.).
Craig therefore must reject at least one of (1)-(3).
4.2 Craig's first reply: God's will as a necessary but not sufficient cause
4.2.1 In print, Craig seems to reject (2).
4.2.2 However, this is problematic: it seems incompatible with God’s omnipotence: How can God’s eternally willing a universe fail to accomplish its effect? It seems that that would accomplish its effect if anything would.
4.3 Craig's second reply: intending vs. undertaking
4.3.1 Craig attempts to mitigate the problem by making a distinction between intending and undertaking: God timelessly, eternally intends a universe with a beginning but it doesn’t occur until he undertakes the task by exercising his causal power to bring about his intention.
4.3.2 Problem: This only pushes the problem back a step: What’s the relationship between God’s willing/intending and his undertaking? If his willing/intending to create is sufficient for his undertaking/exercising causal power to create, then his undertaking/exercising causal power to create should be eternal, in which case the universe should be eternal. The only way out is to deny that God’s will/intention is sufficient for both creating the universe and (even) for undertaking to create the universe. But this is implausible. For to keep the analogy between human and divine willing/personal causation going, we have to keep the analogy between the cases where willing and undertaking come apart. But the problem is that the analogy breaks down. For there are three main causes for the coming apart of intending and undertaking in human willing, and none apply to God: (i) When the chosen time to act has not yet arrived: God is in a timeless state “when” he both intends and undertakes to create, and thus can’t delay in creating. (ii) When we change our mind/plans: God is omniscient, and thus can’t change his mind/plans; (iii) When we succumb to weakness of will: God is omnipotent, and thus can’t succumb to weakness of will.

Notes on Morriston’s “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?”

Most of the criticisms of Craig's kalam argument critique one of the two main premises of Stage 1 of the argument, i.e., they aim to undercut the premise that the universe had a beginning, or that whatever begins to exist has a(n efficient) cause. However, much less attention is focused on Stage 2 of the argument, i.e., that the cause of the beginning of the universe is a person. fIn Morriston's important paper, "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?", (Faith & Philosophy 17:2 (2000), pp. 149-169), Morriston masterfully dismantles Stage 2 of the kalam argument.  Below is an outline of Part Two of the paper.

1. Setup: Reconstructing Craig’s argument for a personal cause: (i.e., his argument for Stage 2 of the kalam cosmological argument).
1. The universe hasn’t always existed.
2. The cause of the universe must be eternal (otherwise it, too, would have a beginning and would thus require a cause).
3. The cause of the universe must be either a personal agent or a non-personal sufficient condition (“mechanical cause”).
4. If “a causal condition sufficient for the production” of the universe exists from eternity, then the universe has always existed.
5. So the cause of the universe is not a non-personal sufficient condition.
6. The cause of the universe must therefore be a person.
2. First Problem: It’s doubtful that Craig can consistently endorse (3).
2.1When responding to the quantum indeterminacy objection to the causal premise of the kalam argument, Craig glosses it in a way that it only requires one or more necessary conditions for any coming to be.
2.2 But if so, then to be consistent, Craig must allow the possibility of a non- personal cause existing from eternity as a merely necessary condition for the coming to be of the universe.
2.3 And if that’s right, then Craig must allow for more than the two candidates for the cause of the universe listed in (3).

3. Second Problem: Given (4), it’s not clear that positing a personal cause will help Craig avoid concluding that the universe must be as eternal as its cause.
3.1 By (4), that can only be done if there is no eternal state of the divine agent that is sufficient for causing the universe.
3.2 Craig tries to avoid this implication with his eternal sitting man analogy: It’s possible that an eternal man sits in a chair from eternity past, and then decides or wills to freely stand up.
3.3. Problem: The analogy breaks down when applied to God:
3.3.1 He’s supposed to be omniscient, and thus knows from eternity what he will do. 
3.3.2 Prima facie, such knowledge includes his intention/will re: what he will do. 
3.3.3 But on standard views of an omnipotent will, God’s willing is sufficient to produces its effect
3.3.4 So by (4), the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.4 Craig’s reply: the intending/undertaking distinction: God’s “eternal decision”/intention to create a universe with a beginning is eternal, but his undertaking to bring it about is not.
3.5 Problem: This just pushes the problem back a step
3.5.1 Surely God’s deciding/intending is causally sufficient to create the universe. 
3.5.2 So by Craig’s hypothesis that his intention to create is eternal, the universe should likewise be eternal.
3.6 One might think there is an easy way out here: 
3.6.1 Craig says, not that God eternally decided to create a universe, but that he eternally decided to create a universe with a beginning. 
3.6.2 But no universe with a beginning is eternal. 
3.6.3 Problem solved.
3.7 Reply: Craig can't consistently take this route
3.7.1 Such a claim, when combined with other claims Craig is committed to, jointly entail a contradiction: 
1. alpha has a beginning.
2. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is eternal.
3. God’s willing-to-create-alpha is causally sufficient for the existence of alpha.
4. If a cause is eternal and sufficient for the existence of something, then that thing is also eternal (from (4) of the argument above).
5. If a thing is eternal then that thing doesn’t have a beginning.
6. Therefore, alpha both does and doesn’t have a beginning.
3.7.2 Something has to give, but the only ones which it is plausible to give up are the ones Craig needs for stages 1 and 2 of his kalam argument, viz., (1) and (4). Craig needs (1) for stage 1 of the kalam argument (2) seems to follow from God’s eternality and omniscience. No one with standard views about God’s omnipotence will want to deny (3) (4) might be resisted by saying that while God’s eternally willing alpha makes the statement, “There is a world with a beginning” eternally true, it doesn’t make the world eternal. But this isn’t a move that would help Craig here. For there seems no principled basis for denying this distinction for a non-personal eternal sufficient condition for the beginning of the universe. And if that’s right, then such a reply would undercut stage 2 of his kalam argument. (5) is analytic (N.B. Is it? What about a 4d block universe?).

4. What went wrong in Craig’s reasoning? Morriston’s diagnosis:
4.1 Craig is switching back and forth between two conceptions of eternity: (i) beginningless and endless duration, and (ii) timelessness/atemporality.
4.2 He needs conception (ii) to make sense of God’s existence and willing being causally, but not temporally prior to the existence of the universe.
4.3 But he also needs conception (i):
4.3.1 He needs it to make plausible the idea that God could eternally will a universe with a beginning.
4.3.2 He also needs it to explain why a non-personal cause couldn’t have produced a universe with a beginning, as the effect would be as eternal as the cause.
4.4 But when you pin him down to either conception of eternity, the epistemic advantage of personal causes over non-personal causes disappears:
4.4.1 Re: (i) If large temporal gaps between the (eternal) will of a personal cause and its effect is possible, why can’t the same be true of a non-personal cause? It’s not at all clear that action at a temporal distance is any more mysterious than action at a spatial distance. (Cf. his earlier discussion of quantum indeterminacy and eternal necessary (but not sufficient) causal conditions comes in.)
4.4.2 Re: (ii) There can be no temporal gap between the timeless cause and the effect with a personal cause, any more than there can with a non-personal cause.  Craig’s freezing temperature/frozen water analogy breaks down at just this point. For an atemporal non-personal cause has no temporal duration at all, and thus would not be freezing “for all eternity” (having no duration at all). 
4.5 Craig therefore has no argument against the possibility of a timeless non-personal cause.
4.6 Craig might reply that non-personal causes can’t be atemporal, but:
4.6.1 No argument has been given for that. 
4.6.2 In any case, the same sorts of grounds arise for the hypothesis of an atemporal personal cause both are hard to make intelligible. both are contrary to all experience.

Important Forthcoming Book on the Problem of Evil

Trakakis, Nick. The Problem of Evil: Eight Views in Dialogue (OUP, forthcoming). One paper in the volume especially worthy of note is Yujin Nagasawa's "The Problem of Evil for Atheists". The penultimate draft can be found at his website (here).

Important Recent Paper by Thornhill-Miller and Millican

Thornhill-Miller, Branden, and Peter Millican. “The Common-Core/Diversity Dilemma: Revisions of Humean thought, New Empirical Research, and the Limits of Rational Religious Belief.” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7, no. 1 (2015): 1–49. (Accessible version here.)

Here is the abstract:
This paper is the product of an interdisciplinary, interreligious dialogue aiming to outline some of the possibilities and rational limits of supernatural religious belief, in the light of a critique of David Hume’s familiar sceptical arguments – including a rejection of his famous Maxim on miracles – combined with a range of striking recent empirical research. The Humean nexus leads us to the formulation of a new ‘Common-Core/Diversity Dilemma’ (CCDD), which suggests that the contradictions between different religious belief systems, in conjunction with new understandings of the cognitive forces that shape their common features, persuasively challenge the rationality of most kinds of supernatural belief. In support of this conclusion, we survey empirical research concerning intercessory prayer, religious experience, near-death experience, and various cognitive biases (e.g. agency detection, theory of mind, egocentric and confirmation bias). But we then go on to consider evidence that supernaturalism – even when rationally unwarranted – has significant beneficial individual and social effects, despite others (such as tribalism) that are far less desirable. This prompts the formulation of a ‘Normal/Objective Dilemma’ (NOD), identifying important trade-offs to be found in the choice between our humanly evolved ‘normal’ outlook on the world, and one that is more rational and ‘objective’. Can we retain the pragmatic benefits of supernatural belief while avoiding irrationality and intergroup conflict? It may well seem that rationality is incompatible with any wilful sacrifice of objectivity (and we appreciate the force of this austere view). But in a situation of uncertainty, an attractive compromise may be available by moving from the competing factions and mutual contradictions of ‘first-order’ supernaturalism to a more abstract and tolerant ‘second-order’ view, which itself can be given some distinctive (albeit controversial) intellectual support through the increasingly popular Fine Tuning Argument. We end by proposing a ‘Maxim of the Moon’ to express the undogmatic spirit of this second-order religiosity, providing a cautionary metaphor to counter the pervasive bias endemic to the human condition, and offering a more cooperation- and humility-enhancing understanding of religious diversity in a tense and precarious globalised age.

The paper has already garnered a good deal of attention. To track down the articles containing the main criticisms of the paper and follow the current discussion, see the authors' reply piece (accessible version here).

Required reading.

Intuition Check

I ntuition check: Assume Platonism about properties, propositions, and possible worlds. Such is the natural backdrop of the modal ontologic...