I argue that the atheological claim that the existence of pain and suffering either contradicts or makes improbable God's existence or his possession of certain critical properties cannot be sustained. The construction of a theodicy for both moral and natural evils is the focus of the central part of the book. In the final chapters I analyze the concept of the best possible world and the properties of goodness and omnipotence insofar as they are predicated of God.
What is the status of belief in God? Must a rational case be made or can such belief be properly basic? Is it possible to reconcile the concept of a good God with evil and suffering? In light of great differences among religions, can only one religion be true? The most comprehensive work of its kind, Reason and Religious Belief, now in its fourth edition, explores these and other perennial questions in the philosophy of religion. Drawing from the best in (...) both classical and contemporary discussions, the authors examine religious experience, faith and reason, the divine attributes, arguments for and against the existence of God, divine action (in various forms of theism), Reformed epistemology, religious language, religious diversity, religion and science, and much more. Retaining the engaging style and thorough coverage of previous editions, the fifth edition features revised treatments of omnipotence, miracles, and providence and updated suggestions for further reading. A sophisticated yet accessible introduction, Reason and Religious Belief, Third Edition, is ideally suited for use with the authors' companion anthology, Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Fifth Edition (OUP, 2015). (shrink)
CRITIQUES OF THEODICIES FOR NATURAL EVIL, DERIVED FROM NATURAL LAWS, SUGGEST TWO REQUIREMENTS THAT A SUCCESSFUL THEODICY PURPORTEDLY MUST SATISFY. REQUIREMENT (1)-- THAT THE THEIST MUST SHOW THAT IT IS CONTRADICTORY OR ABSURD FOR GOD TO INTERVENE IN THE WORLD IN A MIRACULOUS FASHION TO ELIMINATE NATURAL EVIL--IS MET BY SHOWING THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO CREATE A WORLD GOVERNED BY DIVINE MIRACULOUS INTERVENTION. AS FOR REQUIREMENT (2) -- THAT THE THEIST MUST SHOW THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR (...) GOD TO CREATE A SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER WORLD THAN THIS ONE, AND THAT THIS IMPOSSIBILITY DOES NOT CONFLICT WITH DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE--I ARGUE THAT IT NEED NOT BE MET, SINCE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DETERMINE EMPIRICALLY WHETHER THIS IS OR IS NOT THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS. (shrink)
The book examines what advocates of the law of karma mean by the doctrine, various ways they interpret it, and how they see it operating. The study investigates and critically evaluates the law of karma's connections to significant philosophical concepts like causation, freedom, God, persons, the moral law, liberation, and immortality. For example, it explores in depth the implications of the doctrine for whether we are free or fatalistically determined, whether human suffering can be reconciled with cosmic justice, the nature (...) of the self, and the character of moral experience. (shrink)
Over the course of his work, Graham Oppy developed numerous important criticisms of versions of the cosmological argument. In this article I am not concerned with his specific criticisms of cosmological arguments but rather with his claim that the cosmological arguments per se are not good arguments, for they provide no persuasive or convincing reason for believing the conclusion that God exists and are embedded in theories that already affirm the conclusion. I want to explore what he believes makes an (...) argument good, contend that cosmological arguments can have functions within worldviews other than persuasion, and consider his recent modifications of the discussion that address competing worldviews. (shrink)
The alleged conflict between religion and science most pointedly focuses on what it is to be human. Western philosophical thought regarding this has progressed through three broad stages: mind/body dualism, Neo-Darwinism, and most recently strong artificial intelligence (AI). I trace these views with respect to their relation to Christian views of humans, suggesting that while the first two might be compatible with Christian thought, strong AI presents serious challenges to a Christian understanding of personhood, including our freedom to choose, moral (...) choice itself, self-consciousness, and the relevance of God to our beginning, being, and ending. (shrink)
James Sterba has constructed a powerful argument for there being a conflict between the presence of evil in the world and the existence of God. I contend that Sterba’s argument depends on a crucial assumption, namely, that God has an obligation to act according to the principle of meticulous providence. I suggest that two of his analogies confirm his dependence on this requirement. Of course, his argument does not rest on either of these analogies, but they are illustrative of the (...) role that meticulous providence plays in his argument. I then investigate the ethical principles Sterba invokes in his use of meticulous providence and suggest that not only do we often not predicate goodness of human persons based on these principles of obligation, but that these principles are much too stringent to function to determine moral obligations and moral goodness. From there, I contend that to think that God has a similar obligation regarding meticulous providence in order to be good encounters several serious problems, especially with respect to the soul-building Sterba wants to preserve. I conclude by considering Sterba’s reply in terms of a limited application of meticulous providence. (shrink)
We ask God to involve himself providentially in our lives, yet we cherish our freedom to choose and act. Employing both theological reflection and philosophical analysis, the author explores how to resolve the interesting and provocative puzzles arising from these seemingly conflicting desires. He inquires what sovereignty means and how sovereigns balance their power and prerogatives with the free responses of their subjects. Since we are physically embodied in a physical world, we also need to ask how this is compatible (...) with our being free agents. Providence raises questions about God's fundamental attributes. The author considers what it means to affirm God's goodness as logically contingent, how being almighty interfaces with God's self-limitation, and the persistent problems that arise from claiming that God foreknows the future. Discussion of these divine properties spills over into the related issues of why God allows, or even causes, pain and suffering; why, if God is all-knowing, we need to petition God repeatedly and encounter so many unanswered prayers; and how miracles, as ways God acts in the world, are possible and knowable. Throughout, the author looks at Scripture and attends to how providence deepens our understanding of God and enriches our lives. (shrink)
Attempts to resolve the problem of evil often appeal to a greater good, according to which God’s permission of moral and natural evil is justified because (and just in case) the evil that is permitted is necessary for the realization of some greater good. In the extensive litany of greater good theodicies and defenses, the appeal to the greater good of an afterlife of infinite reward or pleasure has played a minor role in Christian thought but a more important role (...) in Islamic thought. In a recent article, Seyyed Jaaber Mousavirad invites us to reconsider a greater good theodicy of compensation. He contends that not only are all evils justified in that God compensates the sufferer in an afterlife, but because evils experienced produce some good, God has reason for bringing about or allowing evils in the first place (Mousavirad 211). In what follows I argue that this modified compensation theodicy is flawed in its premises, faces serious problems about its concept of justice, treats people as means only and not as intrinsically valuable, and ultimately fails to show that an afterlife compensation, along with some good produced here and now by evil, justify God bringing about or allowing evil. (shrink)
It is a truism that where one starts from and the direction one goes determines where one ends up. This is no less true in philosophy than elsewhere, and certainly no less true in matters dealing with the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and human free actions. In what follows I will argue that the incompatibilist view that Fischer and others stalwartly defend results from the particular starting point they choose, and that if one adopts a different starting point about divine (...) knowledge the logical incompatibility they envision and philosophically anguish over evaporates. (shrink)
I argue that if deliberation is incompatible with (fore)knowing what one is going to do at the time of the deliberation, then God cannot deliberate. However, this thesis cannot be used to show either that God cannot act intentionally or that human persons cannot deliberate. Further, I have suggested that though omniscience is incompatible with deliberation, it is not incompatible with either some speculation or knowing something on the grounds of inference.
I ARGUE THAT THE NOTION OF THE BEST POSSIBLE WORLD IS MEANINGLESS AND THEREFORE A CHIMERA, BECAUSE FOR ANY WORLD WHICH MIGHT BE SO DESIGNATED, THERE COULD ALWAYS BE ANOTHER WHICH WAS BETTER, EITHER IN BEING POPULATED BY BEINGS WITH BETTER OR A GREATER QUANTITY OF GOOD CHARACTERISTICS, OR ELSE BY BEING MORE OPTIMIFIC.
The book adapts St. Thomas's Third Way of demonstrating the existence of God in light of contemporary issues in philosophy. Major topics in this study are causation, the principles of causation and sufficient reason, logical and real necessity, causation of the cosmos, and non-dependency of the cosmological on the ontological argument.
Over the course of his work, Graham Oppy developed numerous important criticisms of versions of the cosmological argument. Here I am not concerned with his specific criticisms of cosmological arguments but rather with his claim that cosmological arguments per se are not good arguments, for they provide no persuasive reason for believing the conclusion that God exists and are embedded in theories that already affirm the conclusion. I explore what he believes makes an argument good, contend that cosmological arguments can (...) have functions within worldviews other than persuasion, and consider his recent modifications of the discussion that address competing worldviews. (shrink)
The book's key questions concern whether we have a right to believe whatever we choose and whether we have significant control over our beliefs. After exploring four case studies in which the question of a right to believe arises and querying what epistemic obligations are, we consider how epistemic obligations might be grounded, whether in prudence, morality, or human virtues. Some argue that epistemic excellence is less concerned with our obligations to believe the truth and avoid falsehood than with seeing (...) that the beliefs we hold are justified. We argue that our epistemic responsibility is best fulfilled somewhere in between the strict objectivist and strict subjectivist views. We proceed to defend the thesis that we have not only indirect but direct control over our beliefs. We then examine the nature of belief, contending for belief as both disposition and an action. In the final chapter we discuss the relation between epistemic obligations and moral accountability. (shrink)
I argue that "obligation" is a referential notion, flowing from actual or potential relationships. Applied to future persons, our relationship with them is established by virtue of the significant effects that our acts will have on them, and this in turn provides the basis of our obligation to them. Referential problems arise particularly in the types of cases where alternative acts bring different people into existence, for here there is no clear referent of the obligation. In such cases a theistic (...) model has an advantage by delineating lines of obligation through God. (shrink)
I consider four recently suggested difference between killing and letting die as they apply to active and passive euthanasia : taking vs. taking no action; intending vs. not intending the death of the person; the certainty of the result vs. leaving the situation open to other possible alternative events; and dying from unnatural vs. natural causes. The first three fail to constitute clear differences between killing and letting die, and "ex posteriori" cannot constitute morally significant differences. The last constitutes a (...) difference but is not morally significant. (shrink)
First, I consider J.L. Mackie's deductive argument from evil, noting that required modifications to his premises, especially those dealing with what it is to be a good person and omnipotence, do not entail that God would be required to eliminate evil completely. Hence, no contradiction exists between God's existence, possession of certain properties, and the existence of evil. Second I evaluate McCloskey's arguments against reasons for evil often suggested by the theist: that evil is a means to achieving the good, (...) that evil is a by-product of securing the good, and that certain goods are logically dependent on the existence of certain evils. I argue that in none of these objections is McCloskey successful. (shrink)
Two objections have been raised against the re-creationist thesis that the individual human person can be re-created after death. The objection that the re-created person would not be the same person as the deceased because he would lack spatial-temporal continuity with that person I answer by showing that spatial-temporal continuity with that person is not a necessary condition for all cases of personal identity. To the objection that the decision to call the re-created individual the same as the deceased either (...) uses criteria like memory which themselves presuppose bodily continuity or is merely an unjustified convention, I show that these criteria do not presuppose continuity, and through a decision is called for, it is not an unjustifiable or arbitrary decision. (shrink)
I reply to Houston Craighead, who presents two arguments against my version of the cosmological argument. First, he argues that my arguments in defense of the causal principle in terms of the existence being accidental to an essence is fallacious because it begs the question. I respond that the objection itself is circular, and that it invokes the questionable contention that what is conceivable is possible. Against my contention that the causal principle might be intuitively known, I reply to his (...) contention that again I have begged the question. Begging the question is not applicable in that I have not argued that a denial of the principle it possible, only that if it be denied, other endeavors likewise become impossible. Second, against my contention that the causal principle is really necessary, he asserts that the necessity predicated of propositions is solely logical necessity. I reject his contention that a really necessary proposition must either be logically necessary or else a plain contingent factuality. (shrink)
I reply to criticisms of the divine command theory with an eye to noting the relation of ethics to an ontological ground. The criticisms include: the theory makes the standard of right and wrong arbitrary, it traps the defender of the theory in a vicious circle, it violates moral autonomy, it is a relic of our early deontological state of moral development. I then suggest how Henry Veatch's view of good as an ontological feature of the world provides a context (...) in which the divine command theory can be reasonably justified. (shrink)
I contend that William Hasker’s argument to show omniscience incompatible with human freedom trades on an ambiguity between altering and bringing about the past, and that it is the latter only which is invoked by one who thinks they are compatible. I then use his notion of precluding circumstances to suggest that what gives the appearance of our inability to freely bring about the future (and hence that omniscience is incompatible with freedom) is that, from God’s perspective of foreknowledge, it (...) is as if the event has already occurred, but that as if conditions do not tell us about the conditions under which the act was performed (whether it was free or not). (shrink)
In an earlier issue of "Philosophical Studies" George Mavrodes provided a general definition of omnipotence. I argue that his general definition is inadequate because it fails to exclude from being omnipotent beings who have finite abilities but who possess their limited abilities necessarily.
After writing about the need for explanation and types of explanations, I present three cosmological arguments: the argument from contingency, the kalam cosmological argument, and the inductive argument from the inference to the best explanation. I respond to major objections to each of them.
First I employ Bayes's Theorem to give some precision to the atheologian's thesis that it is improbable that God exists given the amount of evil in the world (E). Two arguments result from this: (1) E disconfirms God's existence, and (2) E tends to disconfirm God's existence. Secondly, I evaluate these inductive arguments, suggesting against (1) that the atheologian has abstracted from and hence failed to consider the total evidence, and against (2) that the atheologian's evidence adduced to support his (...) thesis regarding the relevant probabilities is inadequate. (shrink)
I first discuss the Buddhist concept of the self as lying between nihilism and substantialism, understood in terms of sets of skandhas and later momentariness. I then discuss the role of karma as a causal nexus that brings the skandhas into a state of co-ordination and whether this role is subjective or objective. Finally, I discuss the import of this view that there is no substantial self but only momentary events of various discrete sorts on the meaning and possibility of (...) life after death and the rootedness of the law of karma in justice. Finally, I consider the implications of this for rebirth and nirvana. (shrink)
It is commonly held that professors in university communities should not profess but should uphold the ideals of presuppositionless investigation, unbiased presentation of materials, and open dialogue. In particular it is believed that professors professing in the classroom is inconsistent with being a truly Socratic professor. I argue that this is a misreading of Socrates' claim not to know (be barren), but rather is a result of three myths: the myths of neutrality, of expressionism, and of denigration, and that when (...) these are properly debunked, professing in the classroom which seeks to engage, challenge, and empower students is proper for a truly Socratic professor. Our goal is not to make disciples of our students, but to enable students to advance reflectively beyond us. (shrink)
In his recent book Is a Good God Logically Possible? and article by the same name, James Sterba argued that the existence of significant and horrendous evils, both moral and natural, is incompatible with the existence of God. He advances the discussion by invoking three moral requirements and by creating an analogy with how the just state would address such evils, while protecting significant freedoms and rights to which all are entitled. I respond that his argument has important ambiguities and (...) that consistent application of his moral principles will require that God remove all moral and natural evils. This would deleteriously restrict not only human moral decision making, but also the knowledge necessary to make moral judgments. He replies to this critique by appealing to the possibility of limited divine intervention, to which I rejoin with reasons why his middle ground is not viable. (shrink)
This text uses the educational objectives of Benjamin Bloom as six steps to critical thinking (namely: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation). The book starts with the absolute basics (for example, how to find the topic, issue, and thesis) vs. the usual "explaining and evaluating arguments" and fine distinctions that easily can lose students.
I explore various ways in which the karma we create is believed to affect our environment, which in turn is instrumental in rewarding or punishing us according to our just deserts. I argue that the problem of explaining naturalistically the causal operation of the law of karma and of accounting for the precise moral calculation it requires point to the necessity of a theistic administrator. But this option faces a serious dilemma when attempting to specify the relation of God to (...) the law of karma. (shrink)
I reply to David Basinger who, in an article printed in the same issue, develops objections to my original argument (IPQ XIX, 203-212) that it makes no sense to inquire whether God could create the best possible world since the concept of a best possible world is a meaningless notion. I argue that if the number of possible worlds is infinite, there cannot be an upper limit to this order, and without an upper limit, there can be no best possible (...) world. (shrink)
I review two contrasting books. Whereas Hasker constructs what he takes to be a successful theodicy, invoking an eschatology where there will be a world of fulfilled human lives engulfed in intimacy with God, Keller undertakes a critique not only of the free-will/soul-making theodicy, but of a more broadly conceived problem of evil, including issues of divine hiddenness and miracles.
William Alston proposed an understanding of religious experience modeled after the triadic structure of sense perception. However, a perceptual model falters because of the unobservability of God as the object of religious experience. To reshape Alston’s model of religious experience as an observational practice we utilize Dudley Shapere’s distinction between the philosophical use of ‘observe’ in terms of sensory perception and scientists’ epistemic use of ‘observe’ as being evidential by providing information or justification leading to knowledge. This distinction helps us (...) to understand how religious experience of an unobservable God can be an epistemic practice that satisfies our epistemic obligations and justifies religious belief. (shrink)
In a recent article in Religious Studies, Professor P. W. Gooch attempts to wean the orthodox Christian from anthropological materialism by consideration of the question of the nature of the post-mortem person in the resurrection. He argues that the view that the resurrected person is a psychophysical organism who is in some physical sense the same as the ante-mortem person is inconsistent with the Pauline view of the resurrected body; rather, according to him, Paul's view is most consistent with that (...) which affirms the disembodied survival of the person. ‘I want to argue’, he writes, ‘for the thesis that a Pauline resurrection body may well be ontologically the same as a disembodied person.’ I intend to show that Professor Gooch has failed to provide any support for this view and indeed that his own view falls prey to the criticisms which he has raised against other views. (shrink)
In "Scientific Realism" I lay out the debate between scientific realism and nonrealism, developing arguments for the respective positions,assessing the views, and ultimately defending realism on the grounds that nonrealists fail to provide an explanation for why science and its predictions work.
Richard Swinburne claims that Christ’s death has no efficacy unless people appropriate it. According to religious inclusivists, God can be encountered and his grace manifested in various ways through diverse religions. Salvation is available for everyone, regardless of whether they have heard about Christ’s sacrifice. This poses the question whether Swinburne’s view of atonement is available to the inclusivist. I develop an inclusivist interpretation of the atonement that incorporates his four features of atonement, along with a subjective dimension that need (...) not include specific knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice. (shrink)
Treatments of God's goodness almost always appeal to the traditional Christian doctrine that God is necessarily good, but this introduces the question whether God's goodness properly can be understood as necessary. After considering an ontological conception of God's goodness, I propose that God's goodness is better understood as satisfying six criteria involving moral virtue, intellectual virtue, right actions, right motives, freedom of choice, and freedom of choice with respect to the rightness of the action. I defend the result -- that (...) God's goodness must be understood contingently, not necessarily -- against recent critics of this view. (shrink)
I review Copan's and Craig's book, in which they present the kalam cosmological argument for God's existence, and Rundle's book refuting the existence of God. The latter argues that theological language has no empirical cash value and hence cannot assist in explanation. Further, since the only genuine substances are material, there is no place for God in explaining the universe. The universe simply necessarily is.
In "Religious Realism," I trace the realism/nonrealism debate in religion, arguing that although religions are psychological and sociological phenomena, they make truth-claims about reality. I develop the epistemic religious nonrealism of Buddhism an contrast it with Christian realism, focusing particularly on Thomas Morris's treatment of the incarnation. In the end I argument that realism matters because of the content of religion, the importance of making truth claims, and for resolving the human predicament.
Review of Zagzebski's book, which develops a defense of the position that freedom is compatible with divine foreknowledge. After critiquing previous attempts at reconciliation, including Boethius, Ockham, and Molina, she develops her own view that the relation between God's knowledge and human existence must accord with human models of knowing.
Diving into the Gospel of John displays the rich and diverse arguments John presents for his thesis that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, readers/listeners will find eternal life. John’s arguments are developed in four parts. The first two chapters develop the author’s literary techniques that are often based on ambiguity and his key symbols and concepts, the understanding of which are essential to fully appreciate the Gospel. Chapters three through six progressively portray the (...) author’s evidence for his thesis in the form of signs, testimony of those who encounter Jesus, Jesus’s self-identification, and Jesus’s relationships to others. Chapters seven and eight show how the author uses theatrically-patterned dialogues and triadic discourses to convey Jesus’s identity and mission. Finally, chapters nine through eleven provide important hints that the author gives for his thesis: Jesus’s appeals to time, the indirect use of seven as the number of completeness, and invocation of parentage in pointing to salvation. Through diving into the Gospel, readers will discover the richness of John’s argument, the Jesus he portrays, and the God Jesus reveals. The book aims to stimulate commitment, challenge mind and spirit, and encourage further study and conversation. (shrink)
Heidegger affirms that we find authenticity in resolutely affirming our own death; but how might the death of another provide meaning for one’s life? We explore how Mel Gibson portrays the meaning of Jesus’ death for others in his movie, ’The Passion of the Christ’, by considering the movie’s diverse views of atonement. The movie contains clear statements of the ancient ’Christus victor’ and moral transformation themes, though Gibson misses that moral transformation requires more than a resilient death. Although he (...) leaves other views of atonement, such as healing and compensation, undeveloped, Gibson emphasizes Mary’s relationship to Jesus as coredemptrix. (shrink)
I review John Shepherd's "Experience, Inference and God," in which he contends that we can argue to God's existence abductively from religious experience. He goes on to flesh out the nature of this Cosmos-Explaining Being, describing the properties of the deity that emerge from the argument from contingency.
Review of a Thomist critique of the Reformed Epistemology of Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff. The authors contend that P & W misunderstand Aquinas and that their own project of Reformed epistemology is either inadequate or mistaken.
Salvation plays a central role in the Gospel of John, although the author never develops an abstract theory of salvation. Rather, by various narrative techniques, and ultimately by his overall dramatic narrative, John suggests diverse soteriological concepts. He introduces rebirth bringing about children of God, depicts Jesus drawing people by being lifted up and dying on behalf of others, claims victory over the devil, and demonstrates healing. Underlying and unifying all these themes is the fundamental thesis that salvation brings life, (...) both qualitatively and quantitatively. This study investigates his medley of soteriological concepts, explores their relation to Old Testament themes, and inquires how they connect with the fact of Jesus’s death and its necessity. (shrink)
I review Kvanvig's "The Possibility of an All-Knowing God," in which he argues that God by virtue of his middle knowledge would know all truths and how each possible person would act in any given world.
Through his subtle use of structured sevens throughout his work, the author of the Gospel of John, no stranger to linguistic intricacy, indirectly points to the completeness of his case for Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, and for establishing Jesus’ function and mission to bring life to believers. I trace these instances, noting how they contribute to John’s overarching argument and theology and connect with the book of Genesis, and indicate how in important places he contrasts (...) structures of seven with the presence of six, indicative of incompleteness. (shrink)
In "Experience and the Unobservable" I argue that scientific and religious theories generate ideas or experiments about new data that can be used to discriminate between and test theories, and that a pragmatist account of truth can be used to supplement the correspondence account of truth. I note that science uses "observation differently than does philosophy, and that religion's use of "observation" is closer to that of science than of philosophy.