Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kahane's Fantastic New Paper on the Axiological Implications of Theism

Kahane, Guy. "If There is a Hole, It is not God-Shaped", in Kraay (ed.). The Axiological Implications of Theism (forthcoming). The penultimate draft can be found here.

Absolutely essential reading.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Deem's New Critique of Plantinga's and Stich's Evolutionary Arguments Against Cognitive Reliability

Deem, Michael J. "A Flaw in the Stich-Plantinga Challenge to Evolutionary Reliabilism", Analysis (forthcoming).

The penultimate draft can be found here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Intriguing New Critique of Theistic Platonism

Baras, Dan. "A Reliability Challenge to Theistic Platonism", Analysis  (2017) doi: 10.1093/analys/anx089.

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 penultimate draft can be found here.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Grinbaum's New Critique of the Argument from the Effectiveness of Mathematics

In the 1960s, Eugene Wegner argued that the effectiveness of mathematics to explain and describe the natural world is a philosophical problem. Since then, a number of theists have appealed to Wegner's work as the basis for a theistic argument.

In a new paper ("The Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Physics of the Unknown", Synthese. (2017). doi:10.1007/s11229-017-1490-0), Alexei Grinbaum offers a reply to Wegner's original argument. The paper can be found here.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

My Debate with Michael Rota on God's Existence

A video of the debate can be found here.

(Apologies about the $2 rental fee. I hold no rights to the video, and I make no profit from it. In fact, I'd have to pay for it to watch it!)

My Podcast Interview on Real Atheology

The interview covers theism's problem of creation ex nihilo and other topics. Those interested can listen here at Real Atheology. Relevant blog posts can be found here

Many thanks to Justin Schieber and Ben Watkins for having me on RA! It's an excellent podcast. I highly recommend it to readers of this blog who are interested in valuable conversations about contemporary philosophy of religion.

Review of Mawson's God and the Meanings of Life

Craig G. Bartholomew reviews the book for NDPR.

Review of Lewis & Barnes' A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely-Tuned Cosmos

Yann Benétreau-Dupin reviews the book for NDPR.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Problem of Teleological Evil

In this post, I’d like to sketch a new (or at least under-explored) version of the problem of evil, which I will dub the problem of teleological evil.

To begin, let’s call something an instance of teleological evil just in case it’s an instance of suffering that occurs in virtue of the natural purpose or design plan of a thing, i.e., it’s part of a thing’s design plan or one of its natural purposes to cause other beings to suffer. A given instance of teleological evil might ultimately trace back to one or more creaturely agents (e.g., a human or a devil), but unless it does, let's say that it falls under the more general category of natural evil.

It’s important not to confuse the problem of teleological evil with the problem of dysteleology. The latter problem traces back to Darwin’s discussions of the imperfect design found in biological organisms and their parts. Commonly discussed examples include the panda’s thumb, the inverted retina, and the convolution of the sexual organs and the digestive organs in humans. The problem of teleological evil differs from the problem of dysteleology in that while the latter appeals to poor design as evidence against a supremely intelligent designer, the former appeals to good design (in particular, design that’s well-suited for causing suffering) as evidence against a supremely benevolent designer. To put it crudely, the problem of dysteleology is the problem of stupid design; the problem of teleological evil is the problem of malevolent design.

Perhaps the most obvious example of teleological evil is the evil of predation. Such evil occurs when one or more organisms are “built” to cause suffering to one or more other organisms by virtue of acting in accordance with their design plans and/or natural purposes, such that it’s part of their design plan to cause organisms to suffer in some way. And it is well known that the suffering caused by the teleological evil of predation is immense. Very, very many types of organisms are such that they aren’t able to get enough nourishment unless they cause other organisms to suffer immensely (for example, by ripping them to shreds and eating them alive). Vivid examples of predatory teleological evil include:

the cruel predatory practices of the margay:
Imagine being a pied tamarin monkey living in the Brazilian rainforest and suddenly a baby’s voice cries out in distress; the urge to go out and help would be overwhelming. But in reality it’s a lure set by a margay, a jungle-dwelling wild cat with remarkable mimicry skills. 
The North American short-tailed shrew:
The North American short-tailed shrew, Blarina brevicauda, secretes venom from salivary glands in its lower jaw to paralyze prey. But the point of the paralysis is not to kill the prey, but to keep it alive for an extended period of time to allow for prolonged feeding. A tiny shrew can infect a mouse, for example, and then graze on it for days and days until it eventually succumbs to its physical injuries. 
The preying mantis:
The mantis is famous because the female often eats the male during intercourse, the latter being easily overpowered by his mate, but hardwired to proceed with the mating process. The sadistic part is that mantises do not bother to kill their prey before eating them: as soon as the insect embraces the hapless lover, it begins to consume it alive. 
The sea lamprey:
Leeches are disgusting creatures, no one’s arguing that. Now, imagine a three-foot-long leech that feeds on the blood of larger prey. Congratulations, you’ve imagined the sea lamprey, a primitive vertebrate that resembles an enormous leech. The sea lamprey is considered a pest in the Great Lakes of North America, because it often kills the fish it attaches itself to. The reason the lamprey is so nightmarish a killer is that its victims have no limbs to fight it off and must wait for their attacker to gorge itself with their blood.
The lancet fluke:

Dicrocoelium dendriticum is a tiny fluke that, in one stage of its life cycle, can be found in the bodies of certain species of ant. The infected ants are controlled by the parasite and during the night, they leave the anthill, climb up grass straws, and simply wait. This leads to them getting eaten accidentally by sheep and other herbivores, inside which the parasite can continue its life cycle. Strangely enough, the ant returns to the colony during the day and proceeds with its usual activities.
 The parasitic wasp:
Parasitic wasps are so horrifying and terrible that Charles Darwin used them as an argument against the existence of a benevolent God. To any of those amongst you that have seen Ridley Scott’s Alien movies. The wasps use a variety of host organisms, such as spiders, caterpillars, or the larvae of other insects. The prey is stung by the wasp, which lays its eggs in it. After the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae slowly consume the victim from inside out, leading to a slow, painful death. (Link to the examples here and above)
Not all natural teleological evil is predatory evil, however. A ready example can be found in the parasitic wasp just mentioned:
Once inside, those eggs "clone" themselves until the still-alive caterpillar is teeming with hundreds of larvae. Strangely, about 50 of the females emerge with large jaws and no reproductive organs. Their sole purpose for living? To devour as many of their brothers as they can, since only a few males are needed to fertilize their sisters. (Link)
Another example is the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, aka the zombie fungus.

Teleological evil appears to be a much more formidable problem for theism than mere moral evil or non-teleological natural evil. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that unlike teleological evil, moral and (non-teleological) natural evil involve no clear or otherwise natural presumption that such evil was intended by God. For when it comes to moral evil and other categories of natural evil, there is always the possibility, and in some cases the plausibility, that while God intended nature and autonomous agents to be good, such agents misused their free will to cause evil, whether directly (in cases of moral evil) or indirectly, by repurposing nature for evil ends (in cases of natural evil). By contrast, with teleological evil, it is part of the very design plan and natural purpose or function of an entity that it causes evil. In such cases, it is natural to infer that if there is a god, then it is part of the very intention of God to ensure horrific suffering, where this suffering isn’t justified in virtue of being necessary to achieve some outweighing good. For example, on the face of it, it seems that God could’ve created a world containing only herbivores.

Furthermore, such evil cannot be accounted for by the misuse of free will (whether human or demonic). For free will defenses assume that nature is good in itself, and that this good is subverted by being used for evil ends by humans or devils. But while a free will defense might have at least a hint of plausibility with respect to moral evil, the same cannot be said with respect to an explanation of teleological evil. For the simplest hypothesis is that such design and purpose was part of the original design plan of predatory organisms.

Objection: Creatures originally lacked evil teleology when God originally made them, but they were later modified for evil ends. 

Reply: Such a hypothesis goes against what we have reason to believe about evolutionary history, and in any case is a less parsimonious explanation than a purely naturalistic hypothesis.

Objection: The argument fails to appreciate the distinction between intending evil and causing evil. For example, one might design a bathtub with the aim of providing an environment in which to wash one’s body, and yet foresee (but not intend) that some will accidentally drown in some of the bathtubs they manufacture. Such a person isn’t clearly culpable for such harms, as they were foreseen but not intended. Similarly, God might have created all the entities at issue with non-malevolent aims, even though he foresaw that they would sometimes result in great harms. God is thus likewise morally off the hook for such harms.

Reply: The argument grants arguendo the truth of the moral relevance of the causing/intending distinction. It just denies that the distinction helps in the case of teleological evil found in nature. It’s extremely implausible to deny that the large, sharp teeth and claws of a tiger are for ripping through the flesh of their prey, and the same goes for the harm-causing features of countless other species.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Important New Paper on the Problem of Evil

Mooney, Justin. "Is the Problem of Evil a Deontological Problem?", Analysis (2017).

Here's the abstract:
Recently, some authors have argued that experiences of poignant evils provide non-inferential support for crucial premisses in arguments from evil. Careful scrutiny of these experiences suggests that the impermissibility of permitting a horrendous evil might be characterized by a deontological insensitivity to consequences. This has significant implications for the project of theodicy.
Happy reading!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another New Grounding-Based Cosmological Argument

We recently noted Pearce's new cosmological argument that applies recent work on the metaphysics of grounding and ontological dependence to the cosmological argument. Another new paper that aims to do the same is Soufiane Hamlie's "On the Ultimate Ground of Being", International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion (2017), 10.1007/s11153-017-9625-2. Here's the abstract:
This paper presents a characterization of the ontological dependence relation between an existent and its sustaining cause, which allows to straightforwardly deduce that the being of any dependent existent is grounded on an independent one. Furthermore, an argument is given to the conclusion that there is a unique independent existent, which is therefore the ultimate ground of being.
And if a copy should find its way to my inbox, I wouldn't mind it in the least.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pearce's New Cosmological Argument

In "Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency" (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 8, forthcoming) Kenny Pearce exploits recent work on the metaphysics of grounding to develop an intriguing new version of the cosmological argument. The paper also won the 2016 Sanders Prize in philosophy of religion. Happy reading!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Schellenberg's New Two-Part Series on Recent Work on the Hiddenness Argument ...

...with Philosophy Compass. The first article focuses on objections to Schellenberg's hiddenness argument. The second discusses new work that expands the scope of the discussion, including work on Maitzen's argument (on hiddenness and the demographics of theism), some new hiddenness-related problems, and also work that might provocatively be described as seeking to reclaim the hiddenness topic for theology.   

Also of note in the new issue are the papers on Pascal's Wager and on epistemic externalism in the philosophy of religion.

Happy reading!

Review of Sterba (ed.) Ethics and the Problem of Evil

Michael Ruse reviews the book for NDPR.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ruloff's Recent Paper on Propositional Platonism and Theistic Conceptualism

Colin Ruloff does excellent work in (among other areas) philosophy of religionSome of his recent work concerns arguments surrounding theistic conceptualism. (See, for example, his "Divine Thoughts and Fregean Propositional Realism", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76:1 (2014), pp. 41-51). His most recent paper on the topic is "On Propositional Platonism, Representation, and Divine Conceptualism", European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 8:4 (2016), which addresses arguments from Gould and Davis against propositional platonism and for theistic conceptualism. Here is the abstract:
Gould and Davis (2014) have recently argued for the claim that Propositional Platonism is mistaken since it is not able to explain how a proposition comes to bear its representational properties. But, say Gould and Davis, if Propositional Platonism is mistaken, then Divine Conceptualism must be true and we should therefore identify propositions with the contents of a divine mind, i.e., God. In this paper, I argue that Gould and Davis’ argument against Propositional Platonism fails since it depends upon a number of assumptions that the Propositional Platonist need not accept.

And if a copy should find its way to my inbox...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Crummett's Intriguing New Paper on Insect Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Recent work on the functional neurobiology of insects seems to suggest that insects may well be conscious, and some philosophers are starting to grapple with the potential ethical implications of this research. Dustin Crummett is one such philosopher. In his new paper, "The Problem of Evil and the Suffering of Creeping Things" (International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, forthcoming), Crummett explores the implications of insect suffering for the problem of evil. Here's the abstract:

Even philosophers of religion working on the problem of non-human animal suffering have ignored the suffering of creatures like insects. Sensible as this seems, it’s mistaken. I am not sure whether creatures like these can suffer, but it is plausible, on both commonsensical and scientific and philosophical grounds, that many of them can. If they do, their suffering makes the problem of evil much worse: their vast numbers mean the amount of evil in the world will almost certainly be increased by many, many orders of magnitude, the fact that disproportionately many of them live lives which are nasty, brutish, and short means that the proportion of good to evil in the world will be drastically worsened, and their relative lack of cognitive sophistication means that many theodicies, including many specifically designed to address animal suffering, would apply to their suffering only with much greater difficulty, if at all. Philosophers of religion should therefore more seriously investigate whether these beings can suffer and what, if anything, could justify God in allowing as much.
 And if a copy should find it's way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!

Friday, January 13, 2017

CfP: The Pantheism and Panentheism Project Summer Stipend Program

Submission deadline: April 15, 2017


The Pantheism and Panentheism Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, welcomes applications for summer stipends from scholars and writers who wish to spend the summer writing a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, a reputable magazine (if they wish to write for a popular audience), or an edited collection to be published by a leading academic publisher. We offer £1000 each to 10 applicants in the summer of 2017 and 9 awards of £1000 each in the summer of 2018. Co-authors are welcome to apply together but they will be awarded only one joint stipend of £1000.

Application Process:

Applicants are required to submit the following items electronically:

· A curriculum vitae

· An project abstract of no more than 200 words

· A project proposal of 1000-1500 words

Please email all of the above as a single PDF document by 15 April 2017 to

The Pantheism and Panentheism Project focuses on the following three main problems. Applicants are required to address at least one of these problems directly or indirectly from a philosophical, historical, theological or scientific perspective. It is not required that applicants defend pantheism or panentheism. Applications from critics of these views are also welcome.

· The problem of personality: Pantheism and panentheism say that the cosmos is identical with, is constituted by, or is part of God. This appears to suggest that, contrary to the classical theistic view, God is not a person or a personal being. Critics claim that this is problematic because a concept of God that is non-personal does not seem to be adequate for theological discourse. Can pantheists and panentheists respond to this problem by developing a plausible account of personhood that makes the pantheistic or panentheistic God qualify as a person or a personal being?

· The problem of unity: Classical theists maintain the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, according to which God created the cosmos out of nothing. This doctrine entails that God is ontologically distinct from the cosmos. Classical theists face the following intractable question: How could God, who is understood by classical theists as an incorporeal, timeless, changeless being, create the cosmos, which consists of matter, time and space, out of nothing? Pantheists and panentheists avoid such a question by maintaining that the cosmos is not ontologically distinct from God. Yet it is not very clear how the cosmos, which includes an extremely large number of entities, can be considered a single, unified entity that can be described as divine. Can pantheists and panentheists coherently maintain that the cosmos is a unified whole?

· The problem of evil: Classical theists face the problem of evil because they maintain that the cosmos, which includes apparently pointless pain and suffering, was created by an all-powerful and all-good God. One of the main virtues of pantheism and panentheism is that they do not face this problem. Since they do not postulate the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God the problem of evil for classical theists cannot be directed at them. However, pantheism and panentheism do face a variation on the same problem: How could the cosmos be identical with or be part of God if it contains apparently gratuitous pain and suffering?

Selection Criteria:

The selection criteria are (i) the quality of the abstract, (ii) relevance to the project topics and (iii) the applicant’s publication track record.

Project Leaders:

Andrei Buckareff (Marist College, USA)

Yujin Nagasawa (University of Birmingham, UK)


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Volume on God and the Meaning of LIfe

Seachris, Joshua W. and Stewart Goetz (eds.) God and Meaning: New Essays. Bloomsbury, 2016.

Mawson's New Book on God and the Meaning(s) of LIfe

Mawson, T.J. , God and the Meanings of Life: What God Could and Couldn't Do to Make Our Lives More Meaningful. Bloomsbury, 2016.

Benton's New Paper on Religious Diversity and the Epistemology of Disagreement

Benton, Matthew. "Religious Diversity and Disagreement", In N. J. L. L. Pedersen, M. Fricker, P. Graham & D. Henderson (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Social Epistemology. Routledge (forthcoming).

Here's the abstract:
Epistemologists have shown increased interest in the epistemic significance of disagreement, and in particular, in whether there is a rational requirement concerning belief revision in the face of peer disagreement. This article examines some of the general issues discussed by epistemologists, and then considers how they may or may not apply to the case of religious disagreement, both within religious traditions and between religious (and non-religious) views.
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