Be sure to check out Goodness Over God, the counter-apologetics podcast hosted by myself and philosopher Michael Long!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

James Anderson and non-contradiction

Dr. James Anderson has recently completed, with Greg Welty, the forthcoming paper "The Lord of Non-Contradiction," in which he argues for the existence of God from the laws of logic. We may divide the argument into two portions, the first where he holds that there is a necessarily existent mind, and the second that such a mind must be the mind of God. His summary of the first part of the argument proceeds thusly:

"The laws of logic are necessary truths about truths; they are necessarily true propositions. Propositions are real entities, but cannot be physical entities; they are essentially thoughts. So the laws of logic are necessarily true thoughts. Since they are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world. But if there are necessarily existent thoughts, there must be a necessarily existent mind" (p20).

Of course this is a summary only, and in the full paper each step in this argument is carefully defended with sub-arguments. For my own part, while I am mildly suspicious of concluding that propositions are thoughts (as opposed to properties or contents of thoughts, or something along those lines), I only firmly disagree with two steps in this initial argument for a necessarily existent mind: First, it is not the case that the necessary truth of a proposition requires the necessary existence of a proposition; second, it is not the case that the necessary existence (as a thought) of some proposition requires the necessary existence of some particular mind. I do not discuss in this blog post the latter portion of the argument, in which he concludes that the necessarily existing mind is God's.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a contextualist solution to skeptical problems

Consider a skeptical hypothesis H, such as "I am a bodiless brain in a vat," and an ordinary knowledge claim O, such as "I have hands." Adapting the suggestions of Keith DeRose (1995, "Solving the Skeptical Problem," The Philosophical Review 104.1), we may claim the following:

(1) I don't know that ~H;

(2) If I know that O, then I know that ~H;

(3) I know that O.

From these three individually-plausible premises a contradiction appears to follow, and this motivates us to seek a solution to what we can term the "skeptical problem." DeRose's solution is to appeal to epistemic contextualism, which may allow us to affirm (1), (2) and (3) all at once without contradiction. In particular, an epistemic contextualist is free to suggest that the knowledge we have of O is a different sort of knowledge than that we seek for H. On this view, there is a context C1 in which we don't know that ~H, and a context C2 in which we do know that O. Thus the premises may be reformulated as follows:

(4) I don't know/C1 that ~H.

(5) If I know/C1 (know/C2) that O, then I know/C1 (know/C2) that ~H;

(6) I know/C2 that O.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robin Collins' restricted principle of indifference

In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009), Robin Collins presents an argument for the existence of God from the fine-tuning of the constant parameters of our physics models. I see several great problems with the argument, but in this blog entry I want to focus on just one family of problems having to do with his invokation of the controversial principle of indifference (hereafter POI). Philosophers know quite well from a slew of paradoxes dealing with the principle that it is inconsistent in its most general form, and generally avoid appealing to it. However this has not prevented some from developing more rigorous forms of it which they believe are useful and intuitive. Robin Collins has followed in this tradition, and so he presents in Blackwell his own "restricted" version of the principle (hereafter RPOI):

Monday, November 21, 2011

clarification on "mixing models"

[NOTE: This is a post on Pastor Seger's argument. For the discussion with Sye Ten Bruggencate, go here.]

This past Thursday Michael Long and I sat down to have a taped conversation (over Skype) with Sye Ten Bruggencate and Pastor Dustin Segers about the existence of God. We all had a great time, and plan to perhaps do it again at some point in the future. In the mean time, I'd like to clarify some comments I made.

Not surprisingly, they appealed to their "assumption" that God exists, and boldly asserted that God somehow "grounds" the so-called "laws of logic" (among other things). Michael and I expressed our concern, however, that they don't have a coherent idea of what it means for logic to have a "ground," and we asked them to explain how they took God to serve this purpose. (We're also rather skeptical that they have a clear notion of what they're talking about when they refer to "laws of logic," but unfortunately we didn't have much time to get to that in the podcast.) Towards the end, though, Pastor Segers told us that he took the laws of logic to be "necessarily existent thoughts" and suggested that a "ground" for the laws of logic consists of the mind or minds which contain(s) those thoughts. In particular, he said:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

a discussion with Sye Ten Bruggencate

This post originally consisted of an entirely different topic. However the comments for the post took on a life of their own, and so I'm re-posting the original topic here, and leaving this post open for further discussion on Sye's view. It comes after we interviewed him on the Goodness Over God podcast this past Thursday.

To summarize, Sye wants to know how we justify reason itself, and hence our subjective view of the world which we base on our reason. However I take justification to be a part of our reason, and so this is akin to asking, how does a person justify justification? My position is that we don't need justification for using any particular standard of justification as long as that standard is consistent with itself, and with its own application. While this situation may not satisfy us completely, it's the best we have available to us, since any would-be justification for our standard of justification must necessarily have a circular character.

In Sye's view, though, not all circular reasoning is bad, or "vicious." According to him, we should instead use a good or "virtuous" kind of circular reasoning involving the existence of the Christian God. Recall from the podcast (~48:00):

SYE: We're saying that we have a justification---revelation from God.

BEN: Part of what we mean by justification is to satisfy our reason. How could you have a non-circular argument given that that's what we mean by justification?

SYE: We're not saying that our argument isn't circular. We're saying that it's virtuously circular in that God can justify reasoning.

So that's the background to the following discussion. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

an argument for agnosticism

Let us take inductive inference to consist in extrapolating the broadest-according regularities of our experience to universal laws, each within some larger domain or context than the experiences themselves. On a small scale this is easy to envision, and we can appeal to such canonical examples as the inference that all swans are white from a large random sample of uniformly white swans. However, we must also take inductively-inferred laws to "accord broadly" with all of the regularities of our experience. For instance despite the fact that we have only ever personally encountered white swans, perhaps we have heard from a reliable source (wikipedia?) that there exist black swans. To infer that all swans are white under these circumstances might accord narrowly with our first-hand experiences of swans, but not broadly with our other non-swan experiences, namely the experiences which lead us to decide that our source for information on black swans is reliable. So inductive inferences must in this sense comport with the "big picture," so to speak, which is to say that wherever the narrow regularities of our experience conflict, induction must follow the most well-evidenced, i.e. the most well-represented, of these.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

more on the burden of proof for god's existence

In debates over the existence of God, we often find atheists accusing Christians of having "the burden of proof." Defectivebit of wants to remind negative atheists such as myself that we do indeed make positive claims, and according to him this leaves us with our own burden of proof. Now, in a very trivial sense, it is quite true that we must make a certain claim when identifying ourselves as negative atheists. Namely, we are making the claim that we do not believe in God. Furthermore, this seemingly benign statement draws on various concepts, which in turn suggests that by identifying as negative atheists we must take up the positions that they are collectively (and possibly also individually) meaningful. For instance it appears we must assign some positive meaning to the concepts of belief, God, the self, and so on, if we want to truthfully identify as negative atheists. Further still, what appears to me the usual context of accusations of "burden of proof" on the part of negative atheists involves the notion that negative atheism has a sort of "default" epistemic status, i.e. that we should all be negative atheists unless we have reason to adopt an alternative position, and this view will obviously require a defense if challenged.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pruss' grim reaper paradox

Philosopher and mathematician Alexander Pruss in 2008, and again in 2009, discussed on his blog the following paradox: Consider an infinite collection of grim reapers indexed by the positive integers n=1,2,..., where the nth grim reaper is scheduled to kill Fred at 11:00am + 1/n minutes, and where Fred's life is otherwise safe during that period. By hypothesis, he dies from the hand of a grim reaper, say the kth grim reaper. However the (k+1)th grim reaper visited Fred before the kth grim reaper, which means that Fred must already be dead by the time the kth grim reaper visits him. This is a contradiction, and we conclude that there is a logical error in the construction of this unusual and hypothetical situation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

another argument for God's control

We wish to show that every individual event which occurs in God's creation is willfully caused by God, where we understand God to be the omnipotent and omniscient creator of the whole universe, i.e. the creator of everything that exists outside of God.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The sadness of nontheism

Some folks experience conversion from theism to nontheism as a kind of awakening or liberation from the shackles of faith, and delight in their new-found freedom. Not so for me. When I lost my Christian belief, I flew into a panic which lasted several days, and after finally settling down and sorting through my thoughts, I found myself deeply saddened at the emptiness left for me in a nontheistic view of the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some comments on Brian Knapp's post

Unfortunately it has become somewhat common for atheists to deny that they have any burden of proof in religious debates. While this may sometimes be true in some limited sense, I find it problematic for at least three reasons: First, it seems quite evident that many of the atheists who employ this tactic are in fact positive atheists, which is to say that they take the assertive position that there is no God, rather than the weaker position of unbelief in the existence of God. Now, it may be more interesting to talk about the justification for theism rather than that for positive atheism, but nevertheless the position of the nonexistence of God does indeed require some justification, and so anyone defending that position certainly has a burden of proof in that regard. Second, even a negative atheist has basic obligations to facilitate communication. In any two-way conversation, each party shares some measure of responsibility not just for communicating clearly, but also for assisting the other in doing the same. So for example, if a Christian offers an argument for the existence of God to an atheist, then the atheist, to the extent that he is part of that discussion, has a duty to respond in some substantive way. Third, although a negative atheist may not have any actual tenets to justify, depending on the context he may well owe the theist another kind of explanation for his position.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grim's Cantorian Argument Against Omniscience

Philosopher Patrick Grim since the early 1980s has advanced an argument against the existence of God which turns on an incoherence he sees in the concept of omniscience, an essential property of God as understood by most orthodox incarnations of the Abrahamic religions.[1] It runs as follows: There does not exist a set T of all distinct truths. For suppose towards a contradiction that T exists. Let f be a mapping from T into the set P(T) of all subsets of T, and consider the subset S of T of every truth q which is not contained in the set f(q). By definition of S, no truth q is mapped by f to S, and we conclude that f is not surjective. Since f is an arbitrary mapping from T into P(T), it follows that no such map is surjective. Now define a map g from P(T) into T. For each subset A of T (where A is a member of the set P(T)), define g(A) by the truth expressed by the sentence "A is a subset of T." Since every member of P(T) is distinct, then g maps them to distinct truths, which is to say g is injective. So there is an inverse map which induces a map g' from T into P(T), where g' is surjective. This contradicts our conclusion that no such map is surjective. It follows that our assumption must be false---that there can be no collection T of all distinct truths. However, in order to conceive the omniscience of God we must conceive that he knows all distinct truths. Since we can always conceive of known truths as sets, then conceiving the omniscience of God requires that we be able to conceive all truths as a set. Yet we have already shown that there is no such set, and so we cannot conceive all truths in this way. Therefore we cannot conceive the omniscience of God. Since omniscience is an essential property of God, this means we cannot conceive of God at all, and this prevents us from ever affirming that God exists.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Goodness Over God counter-apologetics podcast

I'm pleased to announce that philosophy graduate Michael Long and I have successfully launched the counter-apologetics podcast Goodness Over God, where we tackle religious and philosophical issues on a weekly (more or less) basis. We would like to have guests as often as possible, including but not limited to religious believers who wish to defend their views in a civil and friendly environment. So if you would like to participate, feel free to drop us a line at the following email address:

Here is a list of the episodes so far:

Episode 05 (2011 Apr 30) - God as an Explanatory Hypothesis and Causality (with special guest Rachael Morris)

Episode 04 (2011 Apr 23) - Easter, Miracles, and History

Episode 03 (2011 Apr 09) - Hell and Justice

Episode 02 (2011 Apr 05) - Secular Ethics, Theistic Ethics, and Faith

Episode 01 (2011 Mar 31) - Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument

(Please note that we originally started under the name "Truly Free," so we introduce ourselves that way in our first three podcasts.)

You can also check out the Goodness Over God blog, where we discuss various issues related to the podcast.

If you don't like downloading mp3s, you can stream the podcasts directly from the website, or from right here!

And remember, if you want to be a guest, go ahead and email us at: We can discuss just about anything religion- or philosophy-related. The format is also flexible---we can either have a nice informal conversation, or we can have a more structured (but still friendly) debate, and everything in between. It's up to you!

Enjoy the shows!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mike Licona on Bart Ehrman's Forged

Christian apologist and New Testament historian Mike Licona has written a review of Bart Ehrman's new book, Forged (2011). To my knowledge, it is the first significant review of Ehrman's book to make the rounds on the internet. In this response, I will address a number of Licona's most striking objections, and show that all but one of them are founded on serious mistakes of one kind or another. I will argue that he deeply misunderstands Ehrman in several instances, and that his objections are periodically irrelevant and fantastic. Given all this, it certainly appears to me that Licona has permitted his rather strong religious biases to cloud his reasoning. Overall, I'm very disappointed with his analysis, and can find little insightful in his critique.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anderson and the Epistemic Status of Theism

Philosopher and Calvinist apologist James Anderson, in Paradox In Christian Theology, devotes a chapter spanning 62 pages to outlining the epistemic status of Christian theism. I would like to highlight two observations regarding this chapter which I think are important for best understanding his position: First, he does not present an argument for the existence of God, nor does he attempt to lay out any good reasons for taking a theist position; and second, he neither attempts to show that Christian theism is warranted, but only defends the more modest assertion that it is warranted if it is true. Given these observations, we are obliged to conclude that Anderson's purpose in this chapter is not to secure a convincing case for the existence of God, nor for the truth of Christianity.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Simplified Account of Moral Objectivism

In religious discussions, among other situations, we often raise the issue of whether or not moral values are objectively determined. By "objective" moral values, we typically refer to moral values which are not determined by human opinion or disposition. For instance, CSUSB philosopher Tony Roy characterizes objective moral values as those which are not "dependent on the attitudes of a person, group of persons, tradition, practice, or the like directed at" accepting that value.[1] Apologist-philosopher William Lane Craig considers an objective moral value to be one discovered "independently of whether anybody believes it to be so."[2] In this way, moral objectivism springs from the sense of morality laying in large part beyond our creative power, either as individuals or even as a society. Indeed, I take the view that circumstances far beyond our control determine the most fundamental moral values, and that no mere human opinion or social trend can change the morality or immorality of a given behavior. I thereby propose a trim but rigorous account of moral objectivism designed to capture the spirit of the typical view of objective moral values, and which might serve as a reference for future discussions.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Inductive Standards and Calvinism

Over the course of my various exchanges with presuppositionalist apologist Chris Bolt, he has repeatedly and mistakenly boasted that he has a satisfactory answer to the problem of induction which involves the Calvinist God (he calls it the "Christian" God). Until now, I've largely ignored this unusual (and, as we shall see momentarily, obviously false) claim, instead preferring to vigorously defend my own view of induction. It's usually fairly easy to go on the offensive, and poke holes in another person's argument; but it's considerably more challenging to defend one's own positive arguments for a given position. So, I've been more interested in meeting that challenge of defending my views than I have been in the comparatively simpler task of criticizing Chris's. In the case of induction, I think I've presented a solid case for my view over the course of my Skype debate with Chris and our subsequent written correspondence in the blogosphere. At this time, I'd like to capitalize on that defense by taking a more offensive-minded approach, that is, by pointing out just a few of the myriad of problems I see in Chris's position.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

debate with Jamin Hubner on the existence of God

This past Thursday, 2011 Jan 13, I debated the Calvinist apologist Jamin Hubner, who according to his web page is the professor of theology at Jesus Bible Institute in Rapid City, SD, on the existence of God. You can listen to that debate online here, and read a transcript here. The debate was held over Skype, with moderator Joshua Whipps. Jamin is involved with Prof. James White's Alpha and Omega Ministries, though I do not know in what capacity (except that he blogs on their website). He's a presuppositionalist apologist, and has authored/edited at least three books on that subject in the past few years.