Transworld Depravity and the New Logical Problem of Evil

I am teaching philosophy of religion in our short six week winter session and I was re-reading Plantinga’s Free Will Defense. I think I understand it better now than I did back when I was first thinking about these issues.

As I understand it now it might show that there is no contradiction between some evil existing and God’s being omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect but it cannot show that the actual world is among the set of possible worlds that God chose to actualize. The basic idea behind all of Plantinga’s modal logic is just that the counter-factuals of freedom for all of the creaturely essences that God could actualize just shake out in such a way that there is no way to make it the case that everyone always does what is morally right (i.e. the Mackie world where everyone always chooses to do what is right is possible but not actualizable by God).

To be quite honest I find the whole thing pretty confusing. I am sure I must (still) be misunderstanding something about Plantinga’s system. How are we supposed to understand what is actually happening in a case of trans-world depravity? There is a possible world where there is a creaturely essence that, in that world, always chooses to do what is morally right. But then, since the creaturely essence is trans-world depraved, when God tries to actualize that creaturely essence it turns out that they will go wrong with respect to at least one moral choice. This seems like a really strange thing we are being asked to conceive of and now that think it through I am not so sure that it is obvious that we can conceive of what Plantinga says we can.

But even if you set that issue aside I don’t still don’t think that Plantinga’s free will defense does succeed it disarming the logical problem of evil. I am willing to grant that maybe it shows that an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being can possibly allow some evil and so there is no logical contradiction between the claim that God is perfect and some evil exists. But it seems like we can generate a strengthened, revenge-style, logical problem of evil in the following way.

We can start by granting Plantinga the possibility of trans-world depravity. But if God has knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of freedom (which could be denied but as I read Plantinga he accepts) then God will know, in advance, the outcomes of all of the free choices of every creaturely essence. We can then impose an ordering on the creaturely essences in terms of the kind and degree of evil their choices will bring into the world. Morality is a fraught issue and all of us have moral shortcomings but not all of us end up being genocidal mass murders, serial rapists, etc. Thus we can envision God assigning a number between 0 and 1 where 0 is ultimately evil and 1 is ultimately good (one assumes God would merit a 1 on the scale but probably nothing else would). Naturally there will be many many possible worlds for God to average over but that should be no problem for an omniscient being. Thus every creaturely essence will have some final value representing their net ‘evil impact factor’ on the modal landscape

E0 –supremely evil creaturely essence (every morally significant choice chooses immoral option)


E1 -supremely good creaturely essence (every morally significant choice chooses good)

Let us assume that a modal evil impact factor of less than .5 means that generally the possible worlds this creaturely essence is actualized in are ones they choose to act immorally in an egregious way whereas an impact factor above .5 means that you act immorally but in a less than egregious way (maybe one is dishonest and breaks promises and steals but never physically harms anyone or some such).

So even if we are able to make sense of the claim that God cannot actualize the possible world where everyone always freely chooses to do what is morally right (and yet still say that God is omnipotent) we still need an explanation for the kind of evil we find. There is a logical incompatibility between God’s perfection and the kinds of evil which actually exist. A morally perfect God would select the world with the lowest possible total evil impact factor (the combined impact factors of all of the possibly instantiated creaturely essences at that world). You mean to tell me that God could not have actualized the possible world where there is plenty of lying, cheating, stealing, truth telling, loyalty, etc but no murder? He couldn’t have actualized a world in the .75 evil impact factor rage?

What am I missing?

Papers I almost Wrote

In celebration of my ten years of blogging I have been collecting some of my posts into thematic meta-posts. The previous two listed my writing on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness and my writing about various conferences and classes I have attended. Continuing in that theme below are links to posts I have written about various things that are not in either of the two previous categories. Some of these I had thought I might develop into papers or something but so far that hasn’t happened!

  1. Freedom and Evil
    • This was written for a debate at Brooklyn College entitled ‘If there is a God, Why does Evil Exist?” sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
  2. There is No Santa
    • Is it wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa? I think so!
  3. What’s So Unobservable about Causation?
    • This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut
  4. Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory
    • Freedom of speech means freedom of assertion but not the freedom to perform any speech act one wants
  5. Reason and The Nature of Obligation
    • A discussion of Locke and Hobbes on reason and obligation. I think this was first written for a class I had on social and political philosophy. I argue that both are committed to the view that reason is the source of moral obligation but fear (or some external motivator) is required to get people to conform to reason.
  6. Logic, Language, and Existence
    • I discover the problem of necessary existence, and, as usual, also discover that I have reinvented (a crappier version of) the wheel
  7. Timothy Williamson on Necessary Existents
  8. Stop your Quining!!!
    • Are there any counter-examples to some common analytic truths? I don’t think so
  9. What God Doesn’t Know
    • Can we invent Liar Paradox-type sentences involving God’s knowledge? Spoiler alert: yes!
  10. A Counter-Example to the Cogito?
    • Are you nothing more than an alternate personality of the all-power Evil Genius?
  11. Conceptual Atomism, Functionalism, and the Representational Theory of Mind
    • Can we construct quaility-inversion-type scenarios for the mental attitudes? I give it my best shot.
  12. Did Quine Change His Mind?
    • No he did not. The axioms of logic are revisable but we haven’t got any good reason to revise them (yet)
  13. God v. the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser
    • one of my most popular posts.
  14. The Evolutionary Argument against Rationalism
    • Evolution may have built certain facts about our local reality into the brain, thus generating a priori justification (of a sort)
  15. The A Priori Argument against Rationalism
    • Is it conceivable that there are no necessary truths?
  16. The Empirical Justification of Mathematics
    • Could there be empirical disconfirmation of basic arithmetic?
  17. Invoking God Doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism
    • Doesn’t the case of Job from the bible undermine Descartes’ claim that God is not a deceiver?
  18. The (New) Agnostic’s Manifesto: Part 1 –Preamble
  19. Secular Ethics vs. Religious Ethics
  20. Breaking Promises
    • When is a promise broken versus excused?
  21. Second Thoughts about Pain Asymbolia
  22. Transworld Saints
  23. The Logical Problem of Omniscience
  24. Empiricism and A Priori Justification
  25. Reduction v. Elimination
  26. Why I am not a Type-Z Materialist
  27. Pain Asymbolia and a Priori Defeasibility
  28. Summa Contra Plantinga
  29. The Unintelligibility of Substance Dualism
  30. What is Philosophy that it Sucks so Bad?
  31. Identifying the Identity Theory
  32. Can we think about Non-Existant Objects?
  33. The Zombie Argument Depends on Phenomenal Transparency
  34. Bennett on Non-Reductive Physicalism
  35. News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!
  36. Kant’s response to Hume’s Challenge in Ethics
  37. The Identity Theory in 2-D
  38. Outline of the Case for Agnosticism
  39. Consciousness Studies in 100 words (more) or less
  40. The Argument from Photosynthesis
    • Could humans be photosynthetic? The answer seems to be yes and this i bad news for the problem of evil
  41. The Design Argument for the Simulation Hypothesis
  42. Consciousness as an M-Property (?)
  43. If Consciousness is an M-Property then it is Physical
  44. Do We Live in a Westworld World??
  45. Eliminativism and the Neuroscience of Consciousness

The Argument from Photosynthesis

Though I very much enjoy the taste of food I have always thought that the actual act of eating is very primitive and mildly repulsive. Described abstractly eating involves the mastication of organic substances which are then broken down in digestive acids to produce sugars that are then used to fuel metabolic activity. The mastication process involves mechanically breaking down the organic substances and mixing them with saliva and in the process the organic substance is rubbed over the taste buds in our tongues and released gasses interact with the olfactory receptors via the nasal passages.

Now compare this process with the process of photosynthesis. In photosynthesis light energy is converted to sugar with oxygen as a waste product. This process is more elegant and much cleaner than eating (eating/digestion has excrement as its waste product versus oxygen for photosynthesis). However, the naturally evolved photosynthesis we find here on Earth is not very efficient (it captures somewhere in the area of 3-6% of the energy available in sunlight) and as a result we do not find vertebrates that use photosynthesis, though there is recent evidence that salamanders have photosynthetic cells and we might have an invertebrate or two that uses it.

So is it possible that humans might be able to someday use photosynthesis? Some have recently argued that we have a moral obligation to get rid of meat eating animals and replace them with herbivores. But herbivores are carnivores as well in the strict sense. While I don’t think that eating plants is as morally problematic as eating animals I still think it would be nice to free ourselves from eating all together. At least I would like to be able to do so for myself. So might I ever be able to? As it stands it looks like it would be difficult to do because extant photosynthetic processes are relatively inefficient and so even if we did successfully integrate photosynthetic cells over the entire area of our skin we would need to be exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation to meet our energy demands. Still it is certainly possible to improve photosynthesis and in fact scientists are working on it now and so while it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon it certainly seems possible that there could be photosynthetic humans at some point in the future. We might not be able to quit eating all together, we might still do it for pleasurable experiences of taste etc or we might have to eat some limited amount to supplement the energy from photosynthetic process, but still it is not physically impossible that this could happen and it does seem morally and aesthetically preferable to what we have now.

Aside from this bioethical issue I think this raises issues for those who think that there is evidence for design in the human body and it also puts new light on the problem of evil. Certainly if it is conceivable that we could produce a photosynthetic animal, human or not, then it must be possible for God to have created such a creature. But if so then why aren’t we photosynthetic? I mean God could have made it so that we run on solar energy, and even had the pleasurable taste and ‘mouthfeel’ experiences that makes eating enjoyable (perhaps different wavelengths and/or frequencies of light would produce different gustatory experiences). Doing this 1.) seems like a much better design. It is simpler and more elegant than eating is and 2.) seems much more humane. The sheer amount of suffering produced by eating meat over the course of evolution is nearly unimaginable. It seems to me that this argument from photosynthesis is as decisive as one can get in this area and I wonder why it has not received more attention…or maybe it has and I just haven’t found it yet?

Consciousness and its Place in Physical Reality

In the Spring 2013 semester I initiated a new course at LaGuardia that had the theme Cosmology, Consciousness, and Computation. The basic idea was to explore issues relating to physicalism. Intuitively, physicalism is the view that everything that exists is physical but what is the nature of physical reality? The idea I had was to have the couse divided into three sections. In the first section we would do a conceptual physics course talking about the development of physics from the ancient world to the present day. Then we would turn to issues about consciousness and mind and where they fit in the physical picture we have so far developed. After that we turn to issues about computation; Is the universe computable? Or perhaps does it instantiate some computation? Is consciousness computational? Are we living in a simulation? Is the universe a hologram?

In my quest to have low cost book options for students I have adopted the Terminator book I co-edited and have supplemented that with readings from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other online material. The reception to the course was very good and I am really looking forward to doing it a second time in Fall 2013. I have updated the syllabus and, as usual, would welcome any suggestions or feedback.

Week I: Introduction
• →Richard Brown on What is Philosophy? –

Week 2: Early Attempts to Understand Mind and Physical Reality
• →Terminator Ch 10: The Nature of Time and the Universe
• Time-
• Richard Brown on Pre-Socratic Philosophy-
• Pre-Socratic Philosophy-
• Ancient Theories of the Soul-
• Parmenides-
• Zeno’s Paradoxes-
• Ancient Atomism-
• Democritus-
• Intentionality in Ancient Philosophy-
• Time-

Week 3: Modern Philosophy and Modern Science
• →Terminator Ch 2 –Animal consciousness, Descartes, and Emotions
• Descartes’ Physics-
• Descartes’ Epistemology-
• Descartes’ Theory of Ideas-
• Other Minds-
• Animal Consciousness-
• Locke on Real Essence-
• Locke’s Philosophy of Science-
• Newton’s Philosophy-
• Isaac Newton-
• Newton’s Views on Space, Time, and Motion-
• The Contents of Perception-
• The Problem of Perception-

Week 4: Relativity Physics
• →Terminator Ch 8: paradoxes of time travel
• Einstein for Everyone:
• Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe on NOVA-
• Time Travel and Modern Physics-
• Time Machines-
• The Equivalence of Mass and Energy-
• The Hole Argument-
• David Lewis’ The Paradoxes of Time Travel-

Week 5: Quantum Mechanics
• Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos on NOVA-
• Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics:
• Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics-
• The Uncertainty Principle:
• Quantum Entanglement and Information:
• The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Argument in Quantum Theory-
• Measurement in Quantum Theory:
• Quantum Mechanics-
• Richard Feynman on Double Slit Experiment-

Week 6: The Nature and Origin of the Universe
• →The Scale of the Universe-
• Hubble Deep Field:
• Cosmology and Theology-
• Atheism and Agnosticism-
• Religion and Science-
• Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence-
• Cosmological Argument-
• The Possible Parallel Universe of Dark Matter-

Week 7: The Possibility of Life Beyond Earth
• Life-
• Molecular Biology-
• Finding Life Beyond Earth-

Week 8: Consciousness in the Physical World?
• Consciousness-
• Representational Theories of Consciousness-
• Functionalism-
• The Mind/Brain Identity Theory-
• Dualism-
• Zombies-

Week 9: Beyond Physicalism?
• Eliminative Materialism-
• Folk Psychology as a Theory-
• The Philosophy of Neuroscience-
• Panpsychism-

Week 10: Transhumanism
• →Terminator Ch 4: Extended Mind, Transhumanism
• A History of Transhumanist Thought-
• Biohackers: A Journey into Cyborg America-
• Tim Cannon on Potential Benefits of Sensory Augmentation-
• Aubrey de Grey on Defeating Aging-

Week 11: A.I. and The Singularity
• →Terminator Ch 1: A.I., Chinese Room, Transhumanism
• →Terminator Ch 3: Why always with the killing?
• The Chinese Room Argument-
• The Turing Test-
• The Frame Problem-
• David Chalmers’ The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis-
• David Chalmers on Simulation and Singularity-

Week 12: The Simulation Argument & The Holographic Hypothesis
• Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument Website-
• Nick Bostrom on The Simulation Argument-
• David Chalmers’ The Matrix as Metaphysics-
• Leonard Susskind on The World as a Hologram-

Recent Events

Well, the semester at LaGuardia is finally coming to a close (our schedule is out of step with the rest of CUNY). A lot has been going on and I have barely had time to do anything but since today is our reading day and I have a brief break before final exams come in, I thought I would quickly talk about what has been going on.

My new course, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Computation was a huge success and the students really seemed to enjoy the chance to take these kinds of questions seriously. The basic idea behind the course is to explore issues related to physicalism but after a grounding in the actual physics. My experiment to use the Stanford Encyclopedia as a primary text seemed to work ok as well. Some of the readings are fairly technical but I gave students the choice of which to read and which to write a one page summary/reaction to. They also seemed to like the Terminator book, which was nice. This is the first time I have used it in a class. I am toying with the idea of maybe recording the lectures for this course over the summer as I prepare to teach it again next semester (but I am also teaching philosophy of religion and ethics over the summer and I am tempted to record my philosophy of religion as well…they do overlap a bit so maybe I’ll do both!). For those interested, here is the syllabus. As with any new class I expect to update a lot of it in light of what happened this semester and any feedback would be appreciated.

All of that will have to wait until later in July, though, since I am currently getting ready for my trip to San Diego for the 17th meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC). This year I have organized a symposium on the Role of the Prefrontal Cortex in Conscious Experience. The speakers are Rafi Malach, Joe Levine, Doby Rahnev, and myself. I am really looking forward to it, as well as to the rest of the program! I am hoping to post a video of my talk in the nearish future.

I have also been working on a new paper, which came out of discussion at the 5th Online Consciousness Conference. It is entitled Consciousness is (Probably) a Biological Phenomenon. Those who know me know that I am attracted to an identity theory when it comes to consciousness and that I harbor the suspicion that consciousness is a uniquely biological phenomenon. This paper is my first attempt to spell out an answer to Chalmers’ fading and dancing qualia arguments using empirical results (in particular the partial report results that have figured in the overflow debate (see here and here)). It is extremely drafty (I have been working on it an hour here and hour there for the last few weeks) and any feedback would be much appreciated.

In addition to all of this I have just returned from my trip to the Omaha Kripke Conference (during which I was also on my first dissertation committee at the Grad Center, which was very much fun but then I also had to read and think about a dissertation!), which was a really rewarding experience. Omaha is a wonderful town and the conference itself was excellent, if exhausting. Three days of excellent papers and excellent discussion, and it was very cool to see Saul so active and engaging with the material. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, he came late and so he missed my talk but there was none the less a lot of very helpful discussion. The main objection was Dan Shargel’s ‘hierarchy objection’ which he presented at Tucson last year (the basic idea is that we can move the argument up to the level of appearance and imagine that we have that appearance without the neural state, etc). I have got to get better at explaining what my answer to that objection is. After the discussion at the conference I have come to think that the main problem is that we are using ‘how pain appears to me’ as a way to pick out two different states, one a psychological state and the other a neural state. On the one hand we use it to pick out the pain sensations, that is the first-order sensing of bodily damage. But we can also use it to pick out the neural state that the appearance is identical to (note: not the neural state that the sensation is identical to, but the neural state that is identical to the awful painfulness appearance. We can use the appearance property as a way to pick out that state itself). It is in that second sense that we avoid the charge of regress. This takes some spelling out to make sense of it and I am hoping to write something more detailed on it in the nearish future (hopefully before I head out to the ASSC).

During and after one of the other sessions I had the chance to talk to Saul about his 1963 paper Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic, which I have discussed previously on the blog. When I suggested that it was a cost to one’s theory to give up logical constants in your quantified modal logic he insisted that it was not. This was because for any sentence with a logical constant in it we could translate it into a sentence without the constant without loss of meaning using Quine’s trick of inventing a predicate. This led me to wonder whether this made it the case that we could reformulate the bothersome proofs using translated sentences. At the time I wasn’t able to come with a way to do this but once I got home I thought about it a bit more and came up with the following.

In the original reductio we used this sentences ☐∃x(x=k), where this is read as ‘there exists an x such that x is identical to Saul Kripke’. How would we translate this sentence to get rid of the constant? We would replace the constant with a predicate, say ‘K’ (‘the Kripisizer’) and thus we would get ☐∃x(x=Ky) but this has a free variable in it so we would have to take it as asserting the ‘closed’ version, so we get ∀y☐∃x(x=Ky). We can then proceed to prove this in the same way as before using a reductio

1. ~∀y☐∃x(x=Ky) -assumption for reductio
2. ∃y~☐∃x(x=Ky) -1, quantifier exchange
3. ∃y◊~∃x(x=Ky) -2, definition of ☐
4. ∃y◊∀x~(x=Ky) -3, quantifier exchange
5. ∃y◊~(Ky=Ky) -Universal instantiation on 4
6. ∀y☐(Ky=Ky) -instance of axiom of identity
7. ~∃y~☐(Ky=Ky) -6, quantifier exchange
8. ~∃y◊~(Ky=Ky) -7, definition of ☐
9. ∃y◊~(Ky=Ky) & ~∃y◊~(Ky=Ky) -4,8 -conjunction introduction
10. ∀y☐∃x(x=Ky) -1-9 reduction

I think the main issue with this reformulated proof is line 5 when I use ‘Ky’ as an instance of x in 4. It seems to me that this move should be allowed, though. This is because part of the whole point of the 1963 paper was that we could block these kinds of proofs and still keep our traditional quantification theory. So we should be able to use UI, but if we are not allowed the use of constants then we will have to use predicates, which is what I did. Also, the variable in 5 is not free and is bound by the existential quantifier. So all in all I think this reformulated proof works but I really haven’t had the time to think about it very carefully.

Well that is enough for now…time to head over to Brains to read some of the commentaries in the Symposium on Louise Richardson’s “Flavor, Taste and Smell”.

Happy Christmas

Reposted from November 2009…my thoughts are generally unchanged since then…

Secular Christmas!

Well, the holiday season is upon us again…

As some of you may know, I am no fan of Santa Claus. It is immoral to lie to children and to abuse their credulity. Some argue that we are not lying to children but are rather pretending that Santa exists with them. I doubt that most people are pretending, but if they were I would agree that there is nothing morally wrong with that.

I have also argued that a non-religious person shouldn’t celebrate christmas because it is a Christian holiday. But I came to be convinced that really there are two holidays that happen to fall on the same day and happen to have the same name. There is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus and there is the secular celebration of charity and family. The birthing pains of this new secular holiday also goes by the name ‘the war on christmas’. The latest contraction is here in the form of an ad campaign by the American Humanist Association that says “No God? …No Problem!” and encourages people to “be good for goodness sake”. I very much like this. It suggests that the secular holiday is a celebration of the Good Will (roughly in Kant’s sense), or of the virtuous person’s recognition that a virtuous action is done, in part, because it is virtuous and we recognize aiming at virtue as an intrinsic good.

So I say viva the war for (secular) christmas!

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

108th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to the 108th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! I don’t know what is going on with the Carnival but  the last few editions have not had very many interesting submissions and I did not get a lot of acceptable submissions for this issue…but I know that there are interesting posts out there  so I scoured the internets to find the best that the philosophy blogosphere has to offer…I also checked a few other disciplines for some food for thought.
  1. Tuomas Tahko presents Draft: The Metaphysical Status of Modal Statements posted at
  2. Andrew Bernardin presents Beneath Reason: An Iceburg of Unconscious Processes posted at 360 Degree Skeptic.
  3. Eric Michael Johnson presents Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward posted at The Primate Diaries.
  4. Terrance Tomkow presents Means and Ends posted at, saying, “If your only available means of doing something are impermissible, does it follow that it is impermissible for you to do that thing? Judith Jarvis Thomson says, “yes”. Tomkow argues, “no”.”
  5. Thom Brooks presents The Brooks Blog: Thom Brooks on “A New Problem with the Capabilities Approach” posted at The Brooks Blog.
  1. Over at Conscious Entities Peter discusses Justin Sytsma’s recent JCS paper in Skeptical Folk Theory Theory Theory
  2. Over at Alexander Pruss’s Blog said blogger discusses Video Games as Art
  3. Not to long ago we had a very interesting post over at Brains on breeding pain free livestock. Anton Alterman has a somewhat polemical but interesting response at Brain Scam in Pains in the Brain: On LIberating Animals from Feeling
  4. Over at Siris we are reminded how malleable language is and the effect it has on reading past philosophers in Every Event Has a Cause
  5. Over at Practical Ethics Toby Ord asks Is It Wrong to Vote Tactically? I don’t want to spoil it for you but he thinks the answer is ‘no’
  6. Over at Evolving Thoughts John Wilkins discusses Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting in You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothing But Mammals
  7. Did you know that a Quine is a computer program that can print its own code? It’s true and over at A Piece of Our Mind John Ku discusses them in Meta Monday: Ruby Quines
  8. Over at Neuroschannells Eric sums up his current views on perception and consciousness in Consciousness (13): The Interpreter versus the Scribe
  9. Over at Specter of Reason there is a discussion of Pete Mandik’s Swamp Mary thought experiment in Swamp Deviants, Part II
  10. Over at the Arche Methodology Blog Derek Ball asks Do Philosophers Seek Knowledge? Should They?
  11. Over at Philosophy on the Mesa Nina Rosenstrand wonders if Neanderthal’s raped early Humans in They Are Us? News from the Primate Research Front
  12. Is the idea that the mind in the head an a priori prejudice? Ken Aizawa thinks not in So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?
  13. Over at Inter Kant Gary Benham discusses Free Speech and Twitter
  14. Over at The Ethical Werewolf Neil Shinhababu discusses his recent run on Bloggingheads and Hedonism
  15. Over at Logical Matters Peter Smith talks about Squeezing Arguments and comments on Fields characterization of them in Saving Truth from Paradox
  16. Over at In Living Color Jean Kazez discusses just how outrageous espousing moral realism really is in Torturing Babies Just for Fun is Wrong
  17. Over at Philosophy Talk: The Blog Ken Taylor discusses Culture and Mental Illness
  18. Over at In the Space of Reasons Tim Thornton discusses Aesthetic Self-Knowledge
  19. Over at the Philosophy North Blog Aiden McGlyn discusses The Problem of Vanishing Warrant
  20. Finally, have you heard about this Philosopher’s Football match? Virtual Philosopher has a nice report of the madness in Philosopher’s Football -Match Report from the Ref.
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnivalusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival |

The (New) Agnostic’s Manifesto: Part 1 –Preamble

There is no denying that we live in an age of religious extremism; hell even the atheists are extreme nowadays. But just what ought one to believe about this? As some of you may know, I advocate agnosticism which is the view that the most rational thing to do when one is in our position is withhold judgment. I claim that we do not know that God exists, but nor do we know if He doesn’t exist. Furthermore I claim that we have good evidence on both sides of the dispute. Some of the traditional arguments for God’s existence are rationally compelling, some of the arguments against the existence of God are also rationally compelling. Given this the only rational choice, I argue, is agnosticism. To believe in God is to believe something with insufficient evidence; so too, though, is the belief that there is no God. Neither belief is supported by the evidence.  But before I try to give an argument for what I say above I want to say a few introductory things.

1. Religion vs. Theism

But this does not mean that I am, or have to be, agnostic about organized religion. The verdict is in on that one and I am in agreement with the Richard Dawkins of the world. Religion is at best silly and at worst pernicious.  Sadly a brief look at history reveals that it is mostly pernicious. It is people with religious beliefs that fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up at public places, shoot doctors who perform abortions, go on crusades, believe in talking snakes, etc, etc, etc.

This is to be distinguished from theism which is the belief that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being who created the Heavens and the Earth. Belief in theism in not associated with any one religion. It is, in fact, the thing that unites (most of) the major religions.  Belief in theism automatically rules out (most if not all) religious beliefs. A supremely loving God would not command you to blow up innocent civilians or to go on crusades or to hate gays, etc, etc, etc.

Thus ‘should I believe in theism or atheism’ is a question that can be rationally addressed (the answer is believe neither: be agnostic), but ‘should I be a Christian or a Muslim’ is not (the answer is be neither: they are both silly). Each of the beliefs specific to these religions, aside from theism, is, in its own way, patently absurd and ridiculous and is obviously the creation of man.

2. Universal Agnosticism?

Some agnostics, like Bertrand Russell, argue that we have to be what I call universal agnostics. That is, they argue that if we are agnostic with respect to the Christian God then we must agnostic with respect to the Greek gods, the Hindu gods, etc. I do not think that this is true. I think that the evidence we have FOR the existence of God is sufficient for us to conclude that IF there is a God then it will be the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing one that the theist posits.

3. Reason vs. Faith

The question I am interested in this ‘what should a rational person conclude vis a vis theism?’ I am not interested in questions of faith (by which I mean believing in something without evidence or in spite of the evidence). Faith, in my opinion, can be a good thing in small doses but when it gets to the point where it is totally immune from reason then we have crossed into the danger zone. This way lies religious beliefs and fanaticism. So, in this sense, it is possible for an agnostic to have faith. It could happen that someone convinced themselves that they should withhold belief in theism but nonetheless wanted the social benefits of a religion. They might conclude ‘I know that rationally I shouldn’t believe but I can’t help it, I just have faith that there is a God’. This kind of ‘Humean’ faithful agnostic is strange, but according to me, possible and consistent (not the view I have or recommend, though).

Invoking God doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism

Descartes argues that God could not be a deciever and so his clear and distinct ideas, which presented themselves to him as self-evidently true, really were necessary truths. If it was the case that Descartes had this strong belief that there are physical objects when there weren’t any really then God would be the Evil Demon; but that isn’t possible. God wouldn’t allow Descartes to be decieved in this way. I often joke that Descartes must not have read the Book of Job because God does allow Job to be decieved (though, it is true that God is not the one doing the decieving) into thinking that it is God who is the one responsible for Job’s misfortunes. But actually, after having thought about it for a bit I now think there is a serious problem for Cartesian epistemology here.   

How are we supposed to rule out that we are not in some Job-like situation in which God allows the Evil Demon to decieve us into thinking that there is a physical world (in order to test us or whatever). So even if you grant all of Descartes’ premises you still don’t really have any justification to believe in the existence of the physical world because you can’t rule out this final Evil Demon scenerio (i.e. the one where God allows him to decieve you).