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Toronto Philosophy of Religion Work-in-Progress Group

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Toronto Philosophy of Religion Work-in-Progress Group

This group is open to graduate students and faculty who have research interests in analytic philosophy of religion.

We typically organize two academic conferences per year: an online one in late fall, and an in-person one in early summer.

Sometimes the conferences are on particular themes, and sometimes they are open to any topic in philosophy of religion. We typically invite some speakers, whereas others are selected by a double-blind refereeing process. Calls for Abtracts will be posted here, on PhilEvents (external link) , and distributed via email.

If you have any questions, or would like to be added to the email list for this group, please contact Klaas Kraay (

Summer 2024 Conference: God and Value Theory

This event will take place in person on TMU's campus from June 4-6, 2024.

If you plan to attend, please  (google form) register at this link (external link) .

The schedule is below. Please click on any of the titles to view the abstracts.

Most of the sessions will have a 'read-ahead' format, as follows:

    (a) instead of giving presentations, speakers will briefly summarize their papers, and the rest of the session will be devoted to Q&A; and
    (b) participants will be expected to read the papers in advance.

Links to the full text of some of the papers can be found below; others will be posted here in due course.

If you have questions, please contact any of the organizers:

    - Liz Jackson (
    - Daniel Rubio (
    - Klaas Kraay (

Tuesday, June 4th

Abstract: Jesus Christ is unqualifiedly divine and unqualifiedly human. This fundamental problem has been overwhelmingly focused on the non-normative features associated with Christ's divinity and Christ's humanity. I will argue that, not just on my own somewhat eccentric view of God's ethics but on any plausible view, the complete set of normative requirements that belong to being divine are distinct from and direct one toward actions that are incompatible with the actions to which one is directed by the complete set of normative requirements that belong to being human. Thus to Christ belong two incompatible ethics. I will sketch a solution to the problem, which has the benefit of relying only on what is already part of Christian orthodoxy: dyothelitism, the thesis that Christ has two wills.

Wednesday, June 5th

 (google doc) [Full Paper (external link) ]


Praise and thanksgiving prayers are significant and dominant practices in all the Abrahamic religions. In recent years, John Pittard and Daniel Howard-Snyder have presented arguments that challenge the rationality of these practices. In my paper, I will reply to their arguments. Both arguments challenge the rationality of praise/thanksgiving prayers by showing that the classic-theist God is not the kind of agent who deserves agential praise/thanks. Agential praise/thanks is the kind of praise/thanks that is justified by the agent's merit. Howard-Snyder's argument rests on the claim that God cannot act otherwise than he does, while Pittard's argument rests on the claim that nothing requires effort from God. Both conclude that these features of God diminish His moral credit and therefore undermine the rationality of offering Him agential praise/thanks.

In order for these arguments to pose a challenge to the religious person, these arguments must assume that agential praise/thanks should play a role in the ideal religious life. i.e., that if agential praise/thanks are unjustifiable then an important component of the religious life, as it should be, is unjustifiable. Moreover, I will try to show that the justification for religious praise/thanks arises from the virtues of the agent offering praise/thanks and not from the moral standing of God.

My main argument can be presented in the following formal manner:

(1) If ideal religious life includes the practice of directing praise/thanks to God, then this stems either from God's command or from the fact that this is a crucial part of establishing a relationship with God or from a more general moral obligation, regarding praise and thanks, of which God's case is a particular case.
(2) If the ideal religious life includes the practice of directing praise/thanks to God stems from God's command, then there is no significant role to agential praise/thanks.
(3) If ideal religious life includes the practice of directing praise/thanks to God stems from a general moral obligation, regarding praise and thanks, of which God's case is a particular case then there is no significant role to agential praise/thanks.
(4) If ideal religious life includes the practice of directing praise/thanks to God, then there is no significant role to agential praise/thanks in ideal religious life. (from 1, 2, 3)

The first assumption constitutes the review of the possibilities that exist in the religious and moral literature to justify the practice of prayers of praise/request in particular, and religious practices in general. Therefore, in my paper, I focus on the three additional assumptions (2) and (3) and I will support these premises by appealing both to the contemporary analytical-philosophical literature, and to religious writings, mostly from Jewish tradition. If I succeed in establishing the correctness of all these premises, then I will be justified in concluding that the whole agential-praise/thanks discussion is misguided.

Depending on the time limit, I will also discuss Howard-Snyder’s claim according to which God does not pose any moral credit because he cannot act differently from the way he does. This claim is derived from the philosophical principle called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). My claim will be that many religious traditions, mainly within the Jewish world (but also from the Christian world), reject this principle. These traditions embrace a different view, “reason responsivness” (RR), which posits that an agent that is forced by the right reasons to behave in a specific way not only poses a moral credit, but is also even the ideal moral agent. Therefore, according to this view, the fact that God cannot act differently does not undermine his moral credit but rather grounds and strengthens his moral credit and even his moral perfection.  

[ (google doc) Full Paper (external link) ]


About halfway through The Sovereignty of Good, Iris Murdoch identifies what she takes to be one of the main problems for moral philosophy: “are there techniques for the purification and reorientation of an energy which is naturally selfish, in such a way that when moments of choice arrive we shall be sure of acting rightly? (55)”

That Murdoch would call this “one of the main problems of moral philosophy” is remarkable. Contemporary moral philosophers typically take their central questions to concern not strategies for moral formation but such things as what it is to act rightly in the first place. Equally remarkable is that Murdoch connects the question of how we can “make ourselves morally better” (52) with a topic that moral philosophy does not discuss, namely, prayer. Rather than disparage prayer, Murdoch acknowledges its importance to the moral life: “Whatever one thinks of its theological context, it does seem that prayer can induce a better quality of consciousness and provide an energy for good action that would not otherwise be available” (83). Nonetheless, Murdoch does not recommend that agents should pray in order to become better, since she believes there to be no God. Accordingly, Murdoch finds herself casting about for alternatives to prayer, asking: “What becomes of a such a technique in a world without God …. Is there a substitute … for prayer, that most profound and effective of religious techniques”? (55, 69)

The primary question we pursue is whether Murdoch is correct to assume that “in a world without God” we need to find alternatives to prayer. The answer we’ll develop is that we do not. Techniques of religion, such as prayer, can play an important role in the ethical life regardless of one’s theological commitments. Indeed, we’ll go a step further, contending that prayer has important advantages over Murdoch’s proposed alternatives, even for those who lack religious faith.
We build the case for these claims by addressing three questions. The first is: Why does Murdoch hold that techniques of the soul deserve such a central place in the moral life? The answer lies in the Murdochian notion of _attention_. Techniques of the soul develop this crucial capacity of human beings. While Murdoch has ideas about prayer, her discussion of it is brief and includes little detail. So it’s natural to ask: How does prayer function as a technique of the soul? This is our second question, which we address by exploring how the religious tradition most aligned with Murdoch's Platonism, Eastern Christianity, approaches prayer. Finally, we’ve noted that Murdoch writes as if prayer is unavailable to the non-religious. Is she correct to assume that prayer can function as a technique of the soul only if one believes in God? That is the question taken up in the final section. Drawing upon recent work of Nicholas Wolterstorff, we identify important options regarding prayer available to those who, like Murdoch, do not believe in God.

Abstract: In this paper, I explore whether the reactive attitudes -- e.g., grief, resentment, and love -- are godly. More precisely, I investigate whether God experiences these attitudes similarly to how we experience them. On the one hand, it might be a mistake to think that God's emotional life is anything like ours! Furthermore, the purported attributes of impassability and immutability imply, respectively, that God wouldn't respond (emotionally or otherwise) to things that we do and also that God wouldn't experience the changes in emotion that we do over time. But on the other hand, a God that doesn't share our grief, resent wrongdoing, or love the good seems impoverished. Furthermore, because the reactive attitudes are responses to the world that can be appropriate and inappropriate, they contain an epistemic element that an omniscient God presumably would possess.

[Full Paper (external link) ]

Abstract: Many religious traditions attribute to God a merciful, gracious, loving stance toward humanity. I hone in on God's reasons for showing mercy in particular. My discussion aims to illuminate points of contact between divine mercy and mercy within human legal institutions as characterized by contemporary moral and political philosophy. Eschewing appeals to repentance (another common ground for mercy), I present a two-pronged approach to justifying God's mercy on the basis of God's role as storyteller and of humanity's having already suffered "poetic justice."

Abstract: In her recent book, Eleonore Stump (2022) takes up a question she thinks has been unduly neglected: Is the world as good as it would have been had original sin, and all subsequent sin and suffering, not occurred? Stump contends that if we do not answer this question in the affirmative, we are left with a problem -- a picture of a world which is a disappointment to God. And, she reasons, such a disturbing consequence could undermine belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God. Thus Stump sets out to defend the felix culpa view -- the view that the world is better with the Fall than it would have been without. However, I argue that the felix culpa view has the unacceptable consequence that God prefers that sin occur rather than not for the good that it makes possible, which runs afoul of something like an analogue to the doctrine of double effect.

Thursday, June 6th


Theodicies generally posit that God allows (at least the possibility of) evil in order to achieve some good.  A major challenge is that the relevant good often doesn’t seem valuable enough to justify allowing particularly horrible tragedies. For example, Ekstrom (2021, p 68) claims that a world with libertarian free will and moral responsibility “​​seems just not worth it” if it means having a world with “murder, rape, theft, persistent physical pain, the abuse of children, and wrongdoing and victimization of all sorts.” So the problem faced by many responses to the problem of evil is:

The value problem: is the good appealed to valuable enough to justify allowing horrible evils or tragedies?

The goal of this paper is to explore and defend a particular solution to the value problem.

The eternally increasing value response: God allows evil (at least in part) in order to achieve something that generates at least a small amount of final value at infinitely many future times.

For example, Robin Collins (2012) appeals to the eternal value of connections that we can build with each other in response to evil. Consider a relationship built out of one person sacrificially helping another during a time of suffering. If their relationship lasts forever, and the sacrificial origin is perpetually appreciated by both parties, it seems plausible that there is at least a small gain in final value at infinitely many times. Perhaps a relationship based on this sort of connection has at least slightly more intrinsic value than an equally happy relationship not so based.

If we have a small gain in value at infinitely many times, then, if these gains sum in a straightforward way, we will get enough value to outweigh the disvalue of very great evils. Thus providing a response to the value problem. A nice feature of this response is that it can help make sense of why many people will have the “just not worth it” intuition. In the short run, the good results do not outweigh allowing terrible suffering. It is only when taking an extremely long view that we can see a justification.

This paper will explore the following matters.

Aggregation issues

Does the eternally increasing value response require implausible commitments about how many small goods outweigh large evils? Do we end with implausible results in, for example, weighing small boosts in pleasure for many people against saving one life?

We respond that, when trading off harms between individuals, considerations of distributive justice may prevent at least certain sorts of counterintuitive aggregation. However, within lives, we argue that refusing the relevant kind of aggregation leads to implausible results (such as the rationality of intransitive preferences), and that the intuition that we should not do so can be error theorized via appeal to known cognitive biases (such as scope insensitivity). Intra individual trade-offs may be all the theodicist needs, so there is no good objection to the account here.

Does the eternally increasing value response prove too much? Would it implausibly imply that pretty much any finite evil would be justified by appeal to an eternally increasing good.

What should the response say about parallel cases of eternally increasing disvalue?

If A seriously harms B, might that permanently limit the value of their relationship? If so, might such eternal losses counteract the gains from cases of eternally increasing value.

We defend the eternally increasing value response against these potential objections. We then discuss:

Which sorts of responses to the problem of evil can make the best use of eternally increasing value response?

We will argue that views like Collins’, on which the relevant good is a result of the occurrence of evil, are not best suited to appeal to the eternally increasing value response.

Instead we argue that Prevention Theodicies provide a better framework.

Prevention Theodicies: God is justified in allowing the possibility of some evil E because of some good that would occur if E were prevented by someone else. (No justifying good needs to follow from E’s actually happening).

If the relevant good results from E then, solving the value problem by appeal to the eternally increasing value response, leads, we will argue, to a distinct problem (the asymmetry problem):

Why doesn’t God’s justification for allowing evil E also justify humans in allowing evil E?

We will argue that prevention theodicies handle the asymmetry problem much better than views on which the relevant good results from evil. We will also present an attractive prevention theodicy based on the value of our being responsible for preventing each other’s suffering. And we will show how it can make use of the eternally increasing value response.

[ (google doc) Full Paper (external link) ]


Even though it's one of two traits Jesus attributes to himself, gentleness hasn't quite captured the theological or philosophical imagination. Nevertheless, I argue that gentleness is a profound and explanatorily rich aspect of divine goodness. In a broad sense, gentleness involves a benevolent sensitivity to the frailty of individuals, justifying and motivating the advancement of their wholeness, preciousness, or integrity. My contention is that the biblical God is distinctly attuned in to what Alisa Carse terms dignitary vulnerability—namely, the myriad ways that challenge, diminish, or obscure the unique dignity and self-respect of individuals. God isn't just attuned to imperfection or incompleteness; rather, God's glory is expressed through commitments to restore the capacities that uphold dignity, impaired by the vicissitudes, violence, or vice.

The first part of the paper provides a sketch and brief defense of the frailty-attunement model of gentleness. Contrasting it with the historically dominant anger-taming model, I articulate its cognitive, conative, and affective dimensions. Moreover, I highlight certain epistemic, motivational, and axiological virtues associated with this model, showcasing how gentleness is notably responsive to conditions of care, compassion, and awe.

The second part showcases the gentleness of God in three key biblical episodes: Esau’s encounter with Jacob, God’s response to Job from the eye of the storm, and the divine maternal enveloping of daughter Zion in Second Isaiah. In each instance, God is attuned to dignitary vulnerability or diminishment of another agent (individual or corporate). God responds to the explicit normative demands of the diminished and attends to the aesthetics of their deeper vulnerability. The representation of God’s attunement to the vulnerable subverts audience expectations with by profound depth of divine care, compassion, or wonderment. In each case, the vulnerable individual is dignified through experiences that not only manifest divine presence but also redefine their self-understanding as a collaborating agent with a trustworthy God. In a tumultuous world, amidst imperfect and incomplete individuals, the connection between God and the vulnerable is marked co-presence, reintegration in a community, and a certain playfulness and delight in the development of joint-agency.

The final section argues that the gentleness of God is expressed paradigmatically and subversively in the Incarnation. Paradigmatically, the incarnate God seems particularly committed to redress the humiliation of those afflicted by somatic, psychological, moral, or political vulnerabilities: the leper, the blind, the lame, the prostitute, and the tax-collector. Subversively, the Cross not only reshapes normative ideals for humanity but challenges conventional notions of maleness. In that era, the normative male ideal aligned with the disciplined, brave, and brutally violent Roman soldier. Rome deified cruelty in its divinization of war emperors. Think of Augustus, immortalized in the well-known fresco depicting the rape of Britannia by Claudius. The Roman god-man elevates himself by humiliating a vassal through penetration. As for Paul, we behold the power, wisdom, and fullness of God in a crucified body. A penetrated, humiliated male is co-opted into the presence and agency of God. The Cross reconfigures at once our normative expectations for divinity, humanity, and maleness.

Abstract: In my paper I defend a view I call 'restricted theistic modal realism'. Like standard Lewisian modal realism, theistic modal realism takes possible worlds --both actual and non-actual -- to be existing, concrete entities. On such a view, 'actual' is an indexical, and simply picks out the possibility that we inhabit. Theistic modal realism extends this standard modal realism to allow for God's necessary existence. My view further constrains standard theistic modal realism: restricted theistic modal realism is not committed to the existence of an unrestricted plenitude of worlds, but only the existence of those possible worlds that are morally optimal. I argue that a restricted theistic modal realism allows us to secure God's non-arbitrariness, while avoiding some pitfalls of unrestricted theistic modal realism, especially with respect to the possibility of coherent moral discourse.

[ (google doc) Full Paper (external link) .]

Abstract: There is a commandment, in Judaism, to beautify the ways in which one fulfils religious commandments. There's a Rabbinic debate as to whether this commandment is an additional commandment - such that if you beautify your fulfilment of commandment X, you have thereby fulfilled two commandments (i.e., X plus beautification) - or whether the beauty requirement is just part of each commandment. This talk explores this discussion and the value-theoretic presuppositions on both sides. Are aesthetic values part and parcel of what makes the service of God valuable, or are aesthetic values somehow orthogonal or additional to the underlying value of the service of God?

Abstract: Gary Gutting (2009) claims that many of the influential developments in 20th century analytic philosophy are due the "persuasive elaboration" of  alternative pictures. Here I will engage in the persuasive elaboration of a picture that I will call Intrinsic Value Theism, according to which the concept of intrinsic value serves as a central, unifying theme. As I describe it here, Intrinsic Value Theism starts with the idea that the trope of God's intrinsic value plays the role of goodness itself. First I will offer a detailed characterization of the notion of intrinsic value which, despite its ancient pedigree, still seems to suffer from lingering skepticism.. Then I will explain why God is intrinsically valuable, and explain how this can be used to understand God's holiness. Finally, I explain how Intrinsic Value Theism helps us to approach the problem of evil differently, to understand worship, and to explain the nature of love.


Events Archive

Fall 2023 Conference

Schedule for Dec 14th, 2023



Our goal in this paper is to show that Molinists cannot accept PAP. Here is our argument applied to a particular case:      

Suppose that prior to creation, God decides that he will not tolerate a world where his creatures freely lie to one another. God then looks at the possible individuals and circumstances, as well as the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and decides to actualize a world where none of his creatures freely lie, a world that includes Abe. And suppose further that there are plenty of occasions where Abe considers lying but freely refrains from doing so, God of course knowing all along that Abe would.

1. If Abe freely refrains from lying on some occasion and PAP is true, then Abe is free to do otherwise than refrain from lying on some occasion—that is, Abe is free to lie on some occasion.

2. If Abe were to lie on some occasion, then God’s past intentions would have been different.

3. God’s past intentions are explanatorily independent of Abe’s behavior.

4. So, if Abe freely refrains from lying on some occasion and PAP is true, then Abe is free to do something such that, were he to do it, an explanatorily independent past fact would have been different.

5. No agent is free to perform an act such that, were he to do it, an explanatorily independent past fact would have been different.

6. So, either Abe does not freely refrain from lying on some occasion or PAP is not true. 7. Abe does freely refrain from lying on some occasion.

8. Therefore, PAP is not true.

We will also respond to various objections to this argument.


Before the Fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony with God’s will. Then, they violated God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and were thus expelled from Eden. But why would knowledge of good and evil precipitate the Fall? Many, following Augustine, attribute the Fall to disobedience rather than the forbidden knowledge itself. But this leaves significant questions unsettled. Why would God make this prohibition specifically? Why didn’t he prevent it? And why did this disobedience corrupt mankind?

I draw answers from an unusual source: the alignment problem in AI, i.e. the problem of aligning a program’s behavior with the programmer’s will. Programmers guide their programs through the formal representation of their objectives. However, this can result in “reward hacking”, which occurs when an AI optimizes this literal, formal measurement of its objective at the expense of the programmer’s intent. Think of a student who, pursuing good grades as a proxy for learning, responds instead by cheating, offering bribes, or dropping difficult classes. As Goodhart’s Law puts it: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

I interpret the Fall as such an alignment problem. God imbued humans, like animals, with an intuitive sense of what should be pursued and avoided. Yet metaethical reflection on these intuitions produces abstract conceptions of to-be-pursuedness and to-be-avoidedness – knowledge of good and evil – that disrupt our spontaneous relationship with these intuitions and with it our moral innocence. We pursue not what God designed us to pursue but goodness itself, a literal, formal measurement of God’s will that is thus not quite identical to it. Like Bostrom’s paperclip maximizer, which corrupts its designer’s intent by exterminating the human race, so too does the pursuit of goodness misalign human behavior from God’s will.


Epistemology of religion in the western tradition has prioritized propositional belief, where the recent focus is largely on the rationality of such belief. Yet within monotheistic traditions, this emphasis has developed in tension with other notions which are often given non-propositional glosses: for example, recent accounts of faith and interpersonal knowledge need not reduce to, or entail, propositional belief. In this paper I develop an epistemological framework centered on the relational aspects of interpersonal knowledge. This framework makes room for two seemingly discordant notions: on the one hand, someone could believe and know that there is a God, without knowing God interpersonally; but on the other hand, someone could know and relate to God interpersonally while believing a number of false claims about God, and even without believing (under certain guises) that there is such a God. I propose an account of interpersonal faith in God which makes good on how one would relate to God as a person, how such faith can be a virtue, and how it is that, when one's faith is mature, it explains what it is to trust God in terms of how one relates to God as a person. Such an account also offers distinctive ways of understanding divine hiddenness and religious pluralism.

Fall 2023 Conference

Schedule for Dec. 15th, 2023



Moral exemplar (or moral influence) theories of the atonement have become increasingly favored in some circles as a means for ameliorating concerns about sacralizing violence in Christian doctrine. In offering such an account to this effect, Meghan Page and Allison Krile Thornton write that “Christ’s death on the cross is an example of God’s insurmountable love for us, intended to inspire a response of love within human creatures via an affective blueprint.” In this paper, I articulate a challenge – here termed the ableism problem – which moral exemplar accounts face in virtue of their apparent requirement that persons have particular cognitive faculties (e.g., the capacity for self-reflection) in order to fully benefit from the atonement. In dialogue with Page and Thornton’s account, I demonstrate the ableism problem’s force against moral exemplarism in attempting to craft a communal soteriological solution to it and showing how this merely creates a two-track application of the atonement, failing to resolve the problem. Therefore, I contend that moral exemplarism best avoids the ableism problem via combination with other atonement theories into a mashup or kaleidoscopic view rather than by attempting to stand on its own.


The principle of modal continuity has become an increasingly popular bit of modal epistemology, featuring prominently in debates about the cosmological and ontological arguments. It claims, roughly, that degreed properties are modally unified. So, if the property of being three inches tall is possibly exemplified, the property of being four inches tall, and being five inches tall, etc. must all too be possibly exemplified.

Despite its plausibility, in this paper I show that there is a large class of counterexamples to modal continuity: what I call ‘powered properties.’ Powered properties are properties which encode the features of a powerset: their extensions can always be represented as the powerset of some base set S. Powered properties are counterexamples to modal continuity because they contain necessary ‘exponential jumps.’ For instance, if one thinks being a material object is a powered property––say, because one is a mereological universalist, and so thinks that the set of objects in any world is the powerset of the set of atoms––then there is no possible world where there are only two material objects: either there are one or three object(s).

After outlining why powersets serve as a counterexample to continuity, I argue that there are several examples of powered properties in our everyday discourse. More surprisingly, however, I then proceed to show that an instance of these powered properties is entailed by another widely popular modal principle: the Lewisian patchwork principle. Thus, despite appearing to be similar, modal continuity is in deep tension with the patchwork principle. This result, aside from being interesting in its own right, suggests that two approaches to modality––the recombination approach and the continuity approach––cannot both undergird the premises they usually aim to support in various cosmological and ontological arguments.


According to public reason liberals, justifications for laws should allow religiously and philosophically diverse citizens to mutually accept those laws, and so not depend solely on, e.g., sectarian religious premises (Rawls 1993, Gaus 2011). Critics of public reason liberalism point out that there are some policy debates—like the debate about abortion—in which the justification for any policy choice will depend on controversial religious or philosophical beliefs that make that policy unacceptable to some who are subject to it (Eberle (2002), Reidy (2000)). Moreover, these cases of (what I call) justificatory impasse lead some advocates of religion to reject requirements of public justification (Eberle (2002), Wolterstorff (2016)). However, I contend that cases of justificatory impasse should lead us to supplement, rather than reject, those requirements. At least when a justificatory impasse bears on matters of basic justice, I argue, democratic actors should engage in conscientious inquiry: they should reconsider and inquire further about the controversial religious or philosophical beliefs that underpin their disagreement with a view to finding a more mutually acceptable resolution. This requirement for conscientious inquiry sits uneasy with Alvin Plantinga (2000)’s contention that religious believers may be epistemically justified in holding to certain controversial religious beliefs, even in the face of disagreement with others who might appear to be their epistemic peers. If believers are in fact justified in holding to their religious beliefs in such contexts of disagreement, that may seem to give them license not to engage in further inquiry about those beliefs. In response, I argue that in political contexts, believers have moral reasons to inquire further about their controversial religious beliefs so as to achieve a higher level of justified confidence in them before acting on those beliefs, even if those beliefs are already epistemically justified (Brown 2008; Roeber 2018).


“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” In his poem God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins articulates a tension common in religious thought: creation displays the glory of God and “wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.” While many religious believers find this “mixed-world” view intuitive, its truth implies serious epistemic obstacles to obtaining knowledge of the divine. How might an epistemic agent move from perceptions of a mixed-world to knowledge of its divine source?  In this talk, I will argue that many accounts of the God-world relation in both philosophy of religion and theology amplify the epistemic problem, and as a result threaten their own epistemic justification. I suggest this follows from an implicit use of causal models to mediate the inferential relationship between knower and maker. Perhaps a remedy to this problem can be found by developing an alternative account of knower-to-maker inference modeled after the contemplation of art. I end with a discussion of how this intervention might impact various conversations in philosophy of religion and natural theology. 

Winter 2023 Talks



Date/Time:      Thursday, Jan 19th, 11:10am-1:00pm
Location:         Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor, Room 440 (Philosophy Department Boardroom)
Zoom Link: (external link) 

Abstract: Though philosophers concerned with explicating ideas of import to various sub-Saharan African cultures make reference to the meaning in life, it is only recently that a literature explicitly devoted to this topic has emerged. I aim to improve upon that literature by continuing to more fully develop a theory of meaning in life based on the concept of life force which is important to a substantial number of Africans in the sub-Sahara (see Agada 2020; Anyanwu 1987; Attoe 2019, 2020, 2021; Metz 2020; Mlungwana 2020). While traditional life force implies a large invisible ontology which includes God, spirits, departed ancestors, and the living dead, Thaddeus Metz has recently developed an entirely naturalistic version of it known as liveliness (Metz 2012, 2020, 2022). Metz objects to the prospect of appealing to it as a theory of meaning in life based on the claim that liveliness cannot account for certain intuitions about the value of certain types of knowledge because in the African philosophical tradition knowledge isn’t usually thought of as valuable in itself. I respond by noting that in other work, Metz has developed a defense of the intrinsic value of knowledge that is consistent with certain African traditions by appealing to the idea that meeting a person’s existential needs can be important for self-realisation and hence for their meaning (2009). If this is right, then the community ought to support such a person in their pursuit of knowledge even if doing so leads to no useful consequences. I conclude by examining whether this response is more plausible on a traditional understanding of life force instead of Metz’s secular version.


God and Gratuitous Evil

Schedule for May 9th, 2022


Abstract: Philosophy has just begun to view the Atrocity Paradigm (a non-ideal ethical theory stemming from the work of Claudia Card) as a unique difficulty for theism. This paper briefly summarizes the paradigm’s anti-theodicy arguments, and then focuses on the transmuted goods reply to the Atrocity Paradigm (under which, systemic, transmuted goods can function within a divinely-instituted moral order to alter—or, transmute—a person who has suffered atrocity. Positive transmutation seems impossible for the Atrocity Paradigm, which considers atrocious harms as those which irreparably denigrate someone’s dignity.) A current difficulty, however, with the transmuted goods reply to Card is that it seems susceptible to the critique of theodicy it is developed to avoid, the “redemptive suffering” critique (RS): theism could value atrocious harms if it turns out that they produce or result in some later, greater good not otherwise possible without the atrocity. If the transmuted goods reply is susceptible to RS, it should neither be viewed as a unique contribution to theodicy (since theodicy writ large is critiqued by the paradigm for valuing the refining quality of suffering) nor as adequate to address the theodical problem of atrocious harm. But, I will argue that the transmuted goods reply can rely on a foundational transmuted good—love—to explain positive transmutation in a way that escapes RS. Transmuted goods have the systemic and transmutative qualities of transmuted harms but create a life capable of experiencing great goods...which seems inexplicable from the paradigm's atheist perspective. In strengthening the theist's reply to the paradigm and avoiding RS, then, the theist finds a new and distinctive challenge for atheism. The theist can avoid a theodicy threatened by the redemptive suffering critique, and she can actually strengthen the transmuted goods reply to atrocious harm.

Abstract: It is widely assumed that a good can justify God in allowing suffering only if the good is at least as good as the suffering is bad. If some suffering has -100 units, then the good that justifies it must have a positive value of at least 100 units. I argue that this view is false. God has autonomy, the capacity to self-govern and self-make. Autonomy’s great value explains why, within limits, God can determine what projects to pursue and who to become (e.g., one who remains alone for eternity, one who suffers along with creatures, etc.). Within limits, autonomous agents can write their own story, set their own destiny. These limits allow God some freedom to autonomously choose projects when autonomously preventing some suffering would have exemplified even greater value. I argue first that autonomy gives human agents the freedom to choose lesser goods over preventing greater evils. Then I argue that, if that’s the way autonomy works for human agents, that’s the way it works for a divine agent too.

Abstract: Some theists believe that God’s providence over the created world is risk-free, meaning roughly that God is sovereign over every detail of history, and so there is no risk that events might fail to unfold in precisely the way God wants them to. It is tempting to think that, if God’s providence is risk-free, then there is no gratuitous evil. For if God is in complete control of every detail of history, then God can ensure that the only evils that occur are evils that are required for a greater good that God wishes to bring about. And, presumably, if God could ensure that only evils of that sort occur, God would do so. But I am going to argue that, even if providence is risk-free, and even if God has powerful moral reasons to use God’s risk-free providential resources to systematically prevent gratuitous evil, nevertheless, God might also have powerful second-order moral reasons to disregard those first-order reasons. I will use this idea to reconcile risk-free providence with an open theist approach to theodicy.

God and Gratuitous Evil

Schedule for May 10th, 2022


Abstract: Van Inwagen's 'no minimum' reply to the evidential argument from evil (2001, 2006) appeals to vagueness. Specifically, it asserts that, for any precise quantity of evil sufficient for God's purposes, there is some lesser quantity which would also suffice. This observation helps to reconcile the existence of gratuitous evil with the existence of God. The principle to which van Inwagen appeals, however, deserves close scrutiny. An example involving a series of different worlds, with increasing quantities of evil, reveals a potential problem with van Inwagen's principle: It commits us to the conclusion that, simply by relabeling these worlds, God could accomplish His divine purposes in one more world than previously.

Abstract: A number of authors have recently argued that the existence of a perfect God is compatible with the existence of gratuitous evil (e.g., Hasker 1992, van Inwagen 2006, McCann 2012, Murphy 2017, and Rubio 2018). These arguments challenge a longstanding and central piece of theistic thought. The belief that God must have a justifying reason for permitting evil is the very backbone of the voluminous literature on the problem of evil, a belief which Wykstra (1984, 76) goes as far as calling “a basic conceptual truth deserving assent by theists and nontheists alike.” I am sympathetic to orthodoxy on this matter. Following the recent trend, it seems to me, is tantamount to accepting that there are instances of evil for which God could say to the relevant victim, without displaying any imperfection: “I love and care for you personally, but there is nothing that justifies my permission of this particular evil you have suffered; I knew of it, I could have prevented it, I had no justifying reason not to prevent it, and I still did nothing about it.” It isn’t hard to find that suggestion simply incredible. Nonetheless, in this paper I will argue that things are not much brighter on the other side. The traditional view that God has a justifying reason for allowing every actual instance of evil commits us — I say — to the unpalatable view that we ourselves have justifying reasons for allowing every actual instance of evil as well. Though it may seem at first that this is an easily avoidable consequence, I will work through the main ways in which philosophers have conceptualized the idea of God having justifying reasons for evil and argue that, on close inspection, they all fall prey to what I call “the symmetry problem.” There are, however, different ways of seeing the upshot of my argument — assuming I am right. On the one hand, it could be taken as support for the recent trend in favor of the compatibility of God and gratuitous evil, since it removes some of the attractiveness of the alternative. On the other hand, it could be taken as the beginning of a new kind of argument from evil. To the extent that the conclusions of the recent trend and the consequences of the traditional view both seem unacceptable, to that extent we have reason to belief that a perfect God does not exist. Undoubtedly there is evil, after all, and the existence of a perfect God might now seem problematic whether that evil is justified or not. My goal in this paper, however, is not to settle the broader issue of the dialectical impact of my argument. I will simply spend my time defending the relevance of the symmetry problem instead.  

Abstract: This paper draws together and engages with two recent – and independent – discussions of the problem of evil. Bruce Russell (2018) examines four arguments for atheism that appeal to suffering. He rejects the first three, but defends the fourth. Meanwhile, and separately, William Hasker has discussed close variants of the third and fourth argument. In an important and  underappreciated series of papers, he criticizes the former. More recently, he has deployed his criticism against the latter as well (Hasker 2019). The order in which Russell treats these four arguments is helpful and instructive, and so I will follow it. I will briefly discuss the first and second. I will then set out Hasker’s criticism of the third argument, and comment on Hasker’s most recent defence of it against an important objection. I then turn to the final argument, which I call the argument from excessive gratuitous evil. Russell and Hasker both think that it constitutes a formidable problem for theism. I agree. I do not discuss Russell’s defence of it. Instead, I examine Hasker’s latest objections to it – including his new deployment of his earlier criticism – and I find them all wanting.

Fall 2021 Mini-Conference

Schedule for December 8, 2021


Abstract:  The maximal God thesis is a recent and radical stance that aims to defend perfect being theism against a varied slew of attacks. To do so, it claims that God's perfections should be viewed as the maximal consistent set of knowledge, power, and benevolence. In this paper I argue that the Evil-god challenge can effectively undermine this version of perfect being theism. To do this, I establish a parallel thesis, the maximal Evil-god thesis, which claims that God's perfections should be viewed as the maximal consistent set of knowledge, power, and malevolence. I offer two arguments to retain alethic symmetry between the two theses. First, I argue that benevolence and malevolence are similarly likely 'great-making candidates'. Second, in what I call the 'threshold argument', I claim that maximal God collapses into maximal Evil-god because the maximal God theist cannot guarantee the level of benevolence needed to call God 'good'.

Abstract: Most characterizations of God in both testaments of the Christian scriptures gender God as masculine.  Likewise, it has been standard practice throughout the Christian tradition to characterize God in predominantly masculine terms. Many contemporary Christians (theologians, ministers, and ordinary believers) think that this pattern of characterization is theologically mandatory – that, aside from the few instances we find in scripture, it is somehow inappropriate to use feminine pronouns and imagery for God. In this talk, I argue against that view. I first show that it is not more accurate to characterize God as masculine rather than feminine. I then go on to argue that, given that it is not more accurate to characterize God as masculine rather than feminine, there is no reason to think it is more appropriate, theologically speaking, to do so. Thus, there is a clear sense in which those who insist that it is mandatory to characterize God as masculine are misgendering God.

Abstract: To offer a defense of the rationality of belief in an absolutely perfect divine creator of the universe in the face of the suffering in our world by appealing to the free will of created beings is to assume that the power of free will is enormously valuable.  It would have to be enormously valuable in order to uphold the perfect goodness and other perfections of God.  If the power of free will were not worth the cost of the suffering it introduces into the world, then it would have been a bad idea for God to create beings with free will – but God by nature cannot have or act upon bad ideas.  Just how valuable is it that we persons have free will – or how valuable would it be, were we to have it?  In this paper, I build upon previous work to explore this issue further.  

Axiology of Theism Conference

Schedule for June 28th, 2021.


Abstract: There has been increasing interest among contemporary philosophers in nontheistic forms of ontological idealism, in contrast to the canonical theistic idealism of Berkeley. Given the ontological role that God plays in Berkeley’s metaphysics, it’s natural to think that questions of the value-impact of God will be greater in an idealistic context. Thus, it seems fruitful to ask: What does God add to (or detract from) an idealist world? This paper assesses the benefits and costs that come from moving to an idealism which is not (essentially) theistic. I explicate various dimensions along which theistic and nontheistic idealisms differ. Most of these metaphysical differences are surprisingly value-neutral. The one respect in which God’s (in)existence makes a distinctive value-impact within an idealistic context is in the intelligibility of reality. This is a variant of what Lougheed (2020) calls the Complete Understanding Argument. But the argument takes on a new significance within the idealistic context. Here, the inability to fully comprehend God doesn’t merely pose a challenge for understanding the God-part of reality, or the occasions on which God interferes with the naturalistic causal order. It presents a challenge to understanding the very nature of reality, itself. Finally, I consider what sort of value difference this is, distinguishing between two sorts of value that God’s existence might confer: value for a world (including its inhabitants) and value for a theory.

Abstract: If God exists, would that make the world a better place? Pro-theists say it would; anti-theists deny this. In this paper, I offer a novel argument for pro-theism. Guy Kahane has recently argued that the goods pro-theists appeal to—such as eternal life and cosmic justice—do not strictly require God’s existence. There are possible atheist worlds where we enjoy these things. And those atheist worlds would be free of certain downsides which Kahane thinks are intrinsic to God’s existence, such as our subservience to Him. But I think there is a good which does require God’s existence. Imagine a beautiful sketch is hanging on your wall. It’s always been in the family, but no one knows who the artist is. Then one day you discover, somehow, the artist is Leonardo Da Vinci. You now see the thing has enormous value, not only because of its beauty but because of its history. It bears the touch of the great artist. It enjoys a borrowed majesty. It seems to me if God exists then the whole world is like that. Every valuable thing would be made by Him, owned by Him, given by Him, and that would make it much more valuable. The Grand Canyon is sublime even without God (I think). But if God exists, there is a great artist behind it, and thus an added value. And the value would be substantial. Just consider the value gained if the sketch is drawn by Da Vinci. Unlike cosmic justice or eternal life, the value here requires God’s existence, because this is a kind of value that arises in virtue of a relation between God and various things in the world. Lesser deities could also provide some of this value, but a perfect being would provide even more. If the sketch on your wall were made by some lesser artist, say, a Klimt or a Schiele, it would still be really cool, but not nearly as cool as Da Vinci. The greatness of the artist is relevant to the value conferred. So a perfect God would generate an amount of value not attainable in any possible atheist world or even theistic worlds with imperfect gods. This offers both an answer to Kahane’s anti-theist argument, and its own positive case for pro-theism. It also raises the question: What exactly are the worth-bestowing relations God bears to the world? I have already mentioned three: making, owning, and giving. I believe, in fact, there are a total of ten, and a constructive aim of this essay is to map them out.

Abstract: The axiology of theism debate is about whether God’s existence would be a good thing. Pro-theists answer in the affirmative and anti-theists answer in the negative. Both sides have focused on various goods God’s existence might afford or deny persons—e.g., meaningful lives (see Metz 2019) or privacy (Lougheed 2020). However, less attention has been paid to the epistemic goods on which God’s existence might bear. This paper extends the axiology of theism debate to the area of epistemology by using recent work on the phenomenon of pragmatic encroachment to argue for narrow, personal anti-theism. The pragmatic encroachment debate is about whether the practical encroaches on the epistemic (Kim 2017). I argue that, because the pragmatic encroaches on epistemically justified belief (Ross and Schroeder 2014), God’s existence would make persons epistemically worse-off. A brief summary of my argument is as follows. I start with this axiological assumption: ceteris paribus, persons with more justified beliefs are epistemically better-off than persons with less justified beliefs. Pragmatic considerations encroach on the epistemic justification of belief such that in high stakes scenarios certain beliefs are no longer justified. God’s existence greatly raises the stakes on a sub-set of persons’ beliefs (e.g., moral, religious, political) because God judges persons for holding those beliefs. Therefore, in theistic worlds, persons lack epistemic justification for that sub-set of their beliefs. Therefore, persons in theistic worlds have less epistemically justified beliefs. Therefore, ceteris paribus, persons in theistic worlds are epistemically worse-off than persons in atheistic worlds. In sections 1 and 2 of the paper, I give important background on the axiology of theism and pragmatic encroachment debates respectively. One might object to the above argument by rejecting pragmatic encroachment, so I also defend the notion that the pragmatic encroaches on justified belief. Moreover, I argue that even some proposed error theories of pragmatic encroachment (e.g., Jackson 2019) allow for modified versions of my epistemic argument for anti-theism. In the final sections of the paper, I consider several other objections. For example, one might object to the notion that God’s existence raises the stakes on a sub-set of our beliefs. But, on a plausible expansion of bare theism, God judges us for certain (religious or ethical) beliefs and this judgement can result in grave punishment. So, as Pascal seemed to suggest, the stakes are very high for persons who hold such belief. However, my argument may even prove successful on Universalism—we might think that God’s judgement or opinion of a person’s belief is stakes raising regardless of any associated punishment. One might also object that my argument is not specific to theism: there are atheistic worlds where the cosmic stakes of certain beliefs are high enough such that persons will lack epistemic justification for those beliefs. I offer two responses. First, while there are some atheistic worlds where this is true, I argue that every theistic world is one in which persons have less justified beliefs because of the mind-like nature of God. Second, I argue that if the specificity objection is successful, those who use the promise of an after-life with God to argue for pro-theism must choose between their own argument and the specificity objection to my argument. They cannot hold both.

Abstract: The axiology of theism concerns the question of whether we should want God to exist. Pro-theists say that God’s existence would be a good thing, because if God exists, there is ultimate cosmic justice, human lives are meaningful, and no evil is gratuitous. Anti-theists say that God existence would be a bad thing, because if God’s exists, this invades our privacy, renders morality incoherent, and makes some lives meaningless and absurd. However, little work has been done on the epistemic axiology of theism. This paper seeks to fill that gap and answer the question: would God’s existence be an epistemically good thing? After a brief overview of the main theories of epistemic value, I explore considerations both in favor of epistemic pro-theism and epistemic anti-theism, and ultimately conclude in favor of epistemic pro-theism. In favor of epistemic anti-theism, if God exists, fundamental aspects of reality may be transcendent or even inscrutable. Drawing on work from Maitzen (2018) and Lougheed (2020), I explore potential epistemic drawbacks of theism. However, I ultimately argue these epistemic anti-theistic considerations either fail or are outweighed by other epistemic goods. I then focus on three epistemic pro-theistic considerations: belief in God, divine revelation, and the afterlife. If God exists, we can justifiably believe one of the most important facts about the world and our existence (see Kraay forthcoming: sec. 4.2.6); furthermore, divine revelation is an extremely epistemically valuable source of knowledge. Finally, if God exists, there is very likely an afterlife. Further, this afterlife is, on many religious traditions, extremely epistemically valuable. The afterlife provides one direct access to God. One can ask God any question, about any topic that they want. This is not only ‘objectively’ epistemically valuable on almost any theory of epistemic value—one has access to unlimited true beliefs, knowledge, accurate credences, understanding, etc.—but it is also an epistemic good that is likely to be desirable to many. I close by replying to two objections: the first on the nature of epistemic value and time, and the second concerning the possibility of hell.  

Axiology of Theism Conference

Schedule for June 29th, 2021.


Abstract: (Impersonal) pro-theism is the view that the world is better overall if theism is true. (Impersonal) anti-theism is the view that the world is better overall if atheism is true. Arguments for pro-theism and anti-theism typically make use of traditional theism (the view that an omni-God exists) and generic atheism (the view that an omni-God doesn’t exist). In my view, when the debate between pro-theists and anti-theists makes use of traditional theism and generic atheism, pro-theism clearly comes out on top. In this paper, I consider whether this result (i.e. pro-theism’s advantage over anti-theism) changes if we bring axiarchism into the mix: I compare axiarchistic theism and axiarchistic atheism. General axiarchism is the view that the world exists because it is good that it exists, and extreme axiarchism is the view that the world exists because it is the best possible world. When we take general axiarchistic theism and general axiarchistic atheism as our worldviews for comparison, I argue that there is no significant change with respect to anti-theism and pro-theism: neither position is able to capture goods that are traditionally associated with the other position, and so pro-theism still wins out. However, if we instead compare extreme axiarchistic atheism with extreme axiarchistic theism there is a significant change: while the case for pro-theism remains the same (because, I argue, it is not able to capture any of the goods of anti-theism), the case for anti-theism is greatly strengthened, because it is able to capture nearly all of the goods of pro-theism (e.g. the good of an afterlife, of cosmic justice, of there being no gratuitous evil, etc.). In other words, given extreme axiarchism, atheistic worlds can (and will) house goods that are traditionally associated with theistic worlds (e.g. those listed prior). This means that, given extreme axiarchism, pro-theists can’t appeal to those goods as favoring their position: since they obtain whether our world is atheistic or theistic, they don’t favor pro-theism over anti-theism; the case for anti-theism has been strengthened. (Alternatively, we may say that the case for pro-theism has been weakened.) Ultimately, there is (at least) one good that extreme axiarchistic atheism does not enable anti-theism to capture, namely, God’s intrinsic unlimited goodness, and (I argue) this shows that there is still a gap between pro-theism and anti-theism; while the gap has been substantially narrowed, it has not been eliminated. Thus, I suggest that the best route forward for anti-theists is to cast doubt on the view that God’s intrinsic goodness is unlimited.

Abstract: According to a fitting-response account (FRA) of value, being valuable is grounded in being a fitting (appropriate, worthy, or some such) object for a range of favorable responses. For example, medical research is valuable because it is fitting to esteem it and to financially support it. A trip to the beach is valuable because it is fitting to hope for it and to recall the experience with others afterwards. (Note that salient responses can include both attitudes and actions.) FRA in general seeks to be sensitive to a variety of modes of value, reflected in the variety of responses available, yet surprisingly little has been written concerning the value of God within this framework. Meanwhile, philosophers who do think about the value of God tend to approach the issue with a rather Moorean bent: what would God (or God’s existence) contribute to the overall value or disvalue of the world? I propose to bring the rich resources of FRA to bear on the question of God’s value, focusing on God’s non-instrumental value (FRA can also capture God’s instrumental value, but that is left as homework). The valuing responses mentioned above are all plausibly fitting toward God. It seems fitting to esteem God, as well as to hope for certain interactions with God. Many religious traditions deem it fitting to financially support organized activities related to God (e.g., tithe) and to recall certain experiences of God (e.g., “give one’s testimony”). Plausibly, then, God is valuable at least in the familiar modes marked out by these responses. In addition, though, God intuitively matters in other, more distinctive ways. With that in mind, I focus on responses that seem uniquely fitting toward God. In particular, I discuss the responses of worship, petitionary prayer, and awe. Briefly, I understand these responses as follows. Worship includes both attitudes and acts that express complete devotion toward the object of worship together with subordination of oneself. Petitionary prayer is the act of asking for something of someone in total humility and transparency. Awe is an attitude toward an object that is surpassingly great (what is sometimes called the sublime). I argue that worship and prayer are different in kind from responses that might be fitting toward any other being, and awe differs at least in degree, if not in kind, from responses that are appropriately fitting toward others. Thus, this syndrome of uniquely fitting responses—worship, prayer, and awe—would seem to explain how God bears distinctive modes of value not found elsewhere. In fact, the conclusion that God is valuable in virtue of these responses, where value is positively valenced, might be too quick. Neither worship, prayer, nor awe are clearly favorable responses toward God. For all that has been said, these are no less fitting toward a great evil being, say, the Manichean dual of God. One might argue that there are duals to these responses—worship*, awe*, prayer*—that are fitting toward the Manichean dual. But given how thinly I have characterized the original responses, it is doubtful both (1) that worship, awe, and prayer would not be fitting toward the Manichean dual, and (2) that there exist these alternative responses worship*, awe*, and prayer*. Instead, I urge a much broader notion of mattering. Value and disvalue are categories for positively- and negatively-valenced modes of mattering, but there are non-valenced modes of mattering as well. The significant responses of worship, prayer, and awe show that God, for one, matters in non-valenced ways, even if God also matters in valenced ways.

Abstract: Generic pro-theism is the view that things are better on theism than on naturalism because of God’s existence, nature, or activity. But what sort of 'things' are held to be better? Most pro-theistic arguments concentrate on the actual world and the lives of person as the relevant value-bearers. In this presentation, I explore a vastly more ambitious view - global, wide, modal space pro-theism - which holds that modal space, writ large, is overall better on theism than on naturalism because of God's existence, nature, or activity. After clarifying this view, I distinguish three ways to support it. The first holds that on theism, but not on naturalism, every world is overall unsurpassable. The second holds that on theism, but not on naturalism, every world is overall good. The third holds that on theism, every world is overall better than it would be on naturalism. I trace the relative advantages and disadvantages of these three ways, and discuss objections to each one.

Abstract: The axiology of theism asks whether God’s existence would be good, bad, or neutral. Thus far the literature has focused on comparing theism as represented by Western monotheism to atheism as represented by metaphysical naturalism. Furthermore, the comparison has focused on comparing the actual world to a nearby epistemically possible world. I examine a recent view explored by Klaas J. Kraay (forthcoming) which expands the comparison between theism and atheism to all of modal space. Global, wide modal space pro-theism is the view that the entirety of modal space containing every possible world is better on theism than on atheism. According to Kraay, one reason for holding this view is that God’s existence logically entails that there is no gratuitous evil in every single possible world. I object that one potential downside of this view is that theists now have to explain how God’s existence is compatible with all of the evil throughout modal space instead of just the evil in our own world.

Axiology of Theism Conference

Schedule for June 30th, 2021.

Abstract:  In the West, philosophers sympathetic towards a religious account of what is central to meaning in life have changed their account of late. For much of the modern era, up until about 20 years ago, the dominant view amongst those who believe that life’s meaning depends crucially on God or a soul (as characteristically conceived by the Abrahamic faiths) has been that such spiritual conditions are necessary for any one of our lives to be meaningful. Positions have included the claims that: a meaningful life is a purposeful one, where God alone could provide an objective one; only God could ground a universal morality without which life would not make sense; living up to a universal morality, and hence living meaningfully, would require having an indestructible spiritual nature that is able to overcome the physical laws of nature; meaning in life consists of coming close to God or of God meting out justice, which can be done only if we have immortal souls. Call these rationales instances of ‘extreme supernaturalism’, for entailing that, if neither God nor a soul exists, all our lives are meaningless, which involves denying that anything merits pride or admiration or that there are any values higher than animal pleasures and satisfactions. However, in the 21st century, many western religious thinkers––beyond those inclined towards a naturalist approach to meaning in life––have found objections to extreme supernaturalism compelling. One powerful intuition has been that at least the lives of Gandhi, Einstein, and Mandela had been meaningful, even on the supposition that there exists only a physical universe. Supernaturalism has not died out, but instead has morphed into a more moderate version. A salient view amongst religious philosophers of life’s meaning has become that, while a meaningful life is possible in a world without God or a soul, a greater or ultimate meaning would be possible only in a world with them. Explicit adherents to this view include thinkers such as Philip Quinn, John Cottingham, Richard Swinburne, Timothy Mawson, and Clifford Williams. There have been a variety of specifications of what constitutes a great or ultimate meaning, with moderate supernaturalists yet to debate amongst themselves which is most promising. In this article, I critically discuss a temporal and quantitative interpretation of
greatness of ultimacy, according to which it is the longest and largest amount of meaning.
According to this sort of moderate supernaturalism, while an earthly life could offer a  limited or finite meaning, only a life with a soul and God and could offer an eternal or infinite one. William Lane Craig can be read as providing an important argument for the view that only with God and a soul could our lives have an eternal, as opposed to temporally limited, significance. According to him, without such spiritual conditions, our moral decisions make no ultimate difference, neither to the world nor to our lives, whereas if those conditions obtain, then our moral decisions do make an ultimate difference. According to him, ‘Death is the great leveller’. After briefly expounding this argument in the following section (2), I present objections to it. I contend that, in fact, if God existed and we had souls that lived forever, then, in fact, all our lives would turn out the same (section 3). One central rationale is that, if God and a soul exist, then we cannot make any difference to the quality of others’ lives, since, in terms of harms, God would compensate others for any that befall them and, in terms benefits, we could not improve on the infinity in Heaven coming to them from God. It is rather eternal life that would be the great leveller, or so I argue. After that I maintain that, if this objection is wrong, so that our moral choices would indeed confer an eternal significance on our lives (only) in a supernatural realm, then Craig could not capture the view, aptly held by moderate supernaturalists, that a meaningful life is possible in a purely natural world (section 4). Basically, an eternal significance would be ‘too big’, reducing any meaning possible during an earthly life to nothing by comparison. I conclude that moderate supernaturalists would probably be wise to avoid appealing to eternal or infinite meaning when spelling out the respect in which God and a soul could alone impart a great meaning to our lives; some other notion of greatness should be considered, probably a qualitative one (section 5).

Abstract: In this paper, I focus on an axiological puzzle for pantheism. ‘Pantheism’, as I understand it, denotes a metaphysic of the divine on which God is identical with the cosmos. I assume that ontological naturalism is true, where by ‘ontological naturalism’ I mean the hypothesis that “reality, the whole of being, is constituted by the spacetime world” (Armstrong 1999, 84). Differently stated, according to ontological naturalism, the universe and the existents constitutive of it are all that exists. Ergo, given the foregoing, on the pantheistic metaphysic of the divine I assume, if God exists, then God is identical with the totality of existents constitutive of the universe. In particular, I maintain that, if pantheism is correct, then the universe is a divine mind (where the ‘is’ is the ‘is’ of identity). Understanding pantheism in this way allows us to make a principled distinction between it and other similar metaphysics of the divine such as panentheism, proponents of which can truthfully assert that “God is everything.” (The universe would be a [proper] part of God, according to the panentheist. God would be identical with everything — where ‘everything’ denotes the universe plus any distinctively divine properties.) The axiological puzzle with which I am interested is over whether a pantheistic metaphysic of the divine delivers a conception of God on which its being true that God exists results in an overall better state of affairs for the cosmos as a whole than would be the case if it were not true.  To some, it may be natural to assume that, if pantheism is true, then God’s existence or non-existence makes little difference axiologically. After all, it may seem that if the universe is a cosmic mind that we can describe as divine, then nothing changes in terms of value. To the contrary, I argue that if there is a description under which the universe can be truthfully described as God, then this is axiologically significant. In particular, I argue that the sort of connectedness of the parts of the universe that we would find if pantheism is true results in an overall better state of affairs than would obtain if no such connectedness exists. I maintain that it would be both intrinsically and extrinsically better for the truthmakers for pantheistic representations of the universe as the divine mind to exist in the world than not. I compare pantheism to a generic version of traditional omniGod theism and unqualified atheism and compare the epistemic, ethical, and existential value of these alternatives in considering the axiological case for pantheism.  I argue that the state of affairs that obtains if pantheism is true in the actual world is, ceteris paribus, an overall better state of affairs than we would have if the alternatives I consider are true.

Spring 2021 Talk

I  (PDF file) have argued that (external link, opens in new window)  religious believers have much to learn by engaging in religious disagreement. An important objection to this idea says that committed believers should nonetheless avoid religious disagreement, on the grounds that this is disloyal to God. For religious disagreement, at least the sort the objector is concerned with, puts you at risk of forming negative beliefs about God -- for example that he is less likely to exist or be perfectly good. And forming negative beliefs about someone, or even being open to doing so, is disloyal. The objector says that a loyal person should instead exhibit doxastic partiality, doing her best to believe positively about the other party, even at the cost of accurate beliefs. This holds no less when the other party is God. I discuss two arguments from doxastic partiality that aim to show that religious disagreement is typically disloyal. I argue that even given doxastic partiality, religious disagreement is not typically disloyal, and can in fact be loyal. But then I argue that doxastic partiality is false: negative beliefs are not automatically disloyal. I defend an epistemically oriented account of loyalty, which is concerned with knowing the other party as she really is. This opens up new ways in which religious disagreement for the sake of learning about God can be loyal to him.

Fall 2020 Mini-Conference

Schedule for December 8th



I argue that the cognitive science of religion shows us that belief in mind-body dualistic life after death is at least prima facie justified because, roughly speaking, such belief is based on a seeming and any belief so based is prima facie justified.

Belief forms a spectrum. At one end, there are purely intuitive beliefs, and, at the other end, purely reflective beliefs. And, for the most part, intuitive belief determines reflective belief. Every intuitive belief is natural in some way or other. A capacity is natural if its exercise is easy, automatic, and fluent. Among natural capacities, we typically develop some as we mature without any special training or tools (e.g. speaking a native language), whereas others require practice and special cultural conditions to become natural (e.g. reading a native language). Any intuitive belief is maturationally natural if one forms such a belief by the exercise of a maturationally natural mental capacity. Evidence that an intuitive belief is developmentally early is evidence that the belief is maturationally natural.

According to many theorists (e.g. Justin Barrett, Jesse Bering, and Paul Bloom), belief in dualistic life after death is maturationally natural for most. I present an outline of ways our mental tools (e.g. Organism-Describer and Theory-of-Mind) encourage such belief. For example, we think of people as organisms and mental-agents. When someone dies, the Organism-Describer says she is biologically dead, but Theory-of-Mind continues to predict her mental states. We are, after all, accustomed to reason about people who are absent. So, we assume mental life continues after biological death.

Justification is epistemic responsibility: a subject S’s belief that P is justified just if S is epistemically permitted to believe that P. Maturationally natural belief enjoys automatic justification because such belief is directly and indirectly involuntary. Any reflective belief that is based on maturationally natural belief enjoys prima facie justification.

Phenomenal Conservatism says: (PC) If it seems to S that P and if S believes that P on its basis, then S’s belief is prima facie justified.

I argue for a closely related principle, which I call Natural Dogmatism: (ND) If S has a (maturationally) natural belief that P and if S reflectively believes that P on its basis, then S’s reflective belief that P is prima facie justified.

Maturationally natural belief in dualistic life after death is automatically justified. So, given (ND), any reflective belief that is based on such maturationally natural belief is prima facie justified.

Abstract: Suppose the no collapse interpretation of quantum mechanics is true. Assume a form of materialism according to which persons are identical to their bodies and personal identity through time requires having the right causal connection between a future body and one’s present body. Then when I die, my body will go into a superposition. On the highest intensity branch of that superposition, my body will fall apart and my parts will be recycled in such a way that I cannot be resurrected. But there is a low intensity branch on which this never happens. On that branch my body can be resurrected. This explains how God can bring about the Resurrection of the Dead. This explanation is superior to the explanations of van Inwagen and Zimmerman. Among other things, my explanation is not a mere just so story. I propose that, if materialism is true, this is how God will actually bring about the Resurrection of the Dead.

Abstract: Fundamental physics sometimes leads to surprising consequences for traditional theism as well as interesting implications for philosophy of religion. In quantum foundations, a particularly simple and elegant way of solving the “quantum measurement problem” is to embrace the reality of a quantum multiverse, in which every possible branch of the quantum wave function is equally real. This is called the Everettian or Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and it seems to amplify the traditional problem of evil in philosophy of religion. On the Everettian interpretation, any possible sequence of events, however awful or remote, is as real as the “actual” sequence of events we observe in this branch. Some philosophers (Zimmerman (2017); Turner (2016)) argue that the Everettian problem of evil may be much more challenging than traditional problems of evil where only one universe is real. We suggest that it does not follow from the argument. In fact, on pain of being empirically inadequate, the Everettian problem of evil should be treated the same way as the problem of evil in a non-branching universe. This is because the Everettian interpretation, to be empirically successful, requires us to treat the branch weights as genuine probabilities. The probabilities will diminish the absolute expected values of the amount and the variety of evil we find in the Everettian multiverse.

Fall 2020 Mini-Conference

Schedule for Wednesday, December 9th


Abstract: One task of moral theory is to answer the question, “Why be moral?” In ancient western philosophy the question arises in the familiar, agenda-setting passage of Republic Book II where Glaucon claims that “the life of the unjust person is much better than the life of a just one,” (357a4-6, 358c). Unfortunately, answering the why-be-moral question in a satisfying way proves notoriously difficult. According to the problem termed by T.M. Scanlon “Prichard’s Dilemma,” any answer to the why-be-moral question is doomed to fail. In brief, the more successful a reason is in explaining psychological motivation to be moral, the less successfully it recommends actions and attitudes we recognize as part of morality; but the more a reason recommends recognizably moral actions and attitudes, the less able it is to explain how someone not already committed to being moral would come to be psychologically motivated to be moral. In this essay my primary concern is to show that there is a theory of moral motivation arising that navigates between the horns of Prichard’s Dilemma more successfully than current competitors. This theory arises from within a substantive variety of theism. That the theistic view provides such a nice answer does not by itself recommend this variety of theism, but we can think about the argument that it does provide such an answer as an offensive move on the part of that view. Given the need for moral theory to answer the why-be-moral question in a satisfying way, a view’s ability to provide such an answer counts in favor of that view (that is, so long as we do not think the why-be-moral question a pseudo-question or a question that falls away given the correctness of moral sense epistemology). And if the theistic account does that in a uniquely satisfying way, then the account has a noteworthy theoretical advantage in that respect.

Abstract: “Theory X” is Derek Parfit’s name for a theory of population ethics which would satisfy three main desiderata: solve The Non-Identity Problem (NIP), avoid The Repugnant Conclusion (RC), and explain The Asymmetry (A). In brief, the NIP involves cases where it appears wrong to bring into being persons with substandard well-being even though their lives are still worth living and their particular existence depends on being brought into being under circumstances leading to substandard well-being. The RC is the counterintuitive claim that the value of any population of persons with high well-being can be exceeded by a sufficiently large population of persons with lives that are barely worth living. The Asymmetry is the intuitive but puzzling claim that while there is a duty or moral reason not to bring into being an unhappy person there is no duty or moral reason to bring into being a happy person.

In this paper, I endeavor to show that certain often-held theses in the philosophy of religion—namely the preexistence of souls, the existence of a finite limit on the number of rational beings who can/should exist, and the supererogatory status of God’s decision to create the world—place us, if entertained, in an excellent position to satisfy each of Parfit’s three desiderata respectively. These theses (especially the first two) are likely to strike most contemporary philosophers as highly implausible, and they indeed conflict in various ways with Parfit’s views on human nature and personal identity. I argue, however, that since these beliefs already enjoy some independent philosophical and theological motivation, applying them to Parfit’s puzzles is not ad hoc—and in fact, the ability of these views to help circumvent some of the most vexing questions in contemporary ethics should count in their favor. This package of views deserves more credence as a candidate Theory X than we might have initially thought.

Abstract: Experiences with purported theological content – i.e., apparent experiences of God – remain a pervasive feature of the contemporary world. Such ostensibly extramundane experiences tend to engender beliefs concerning the (apparent) object of experience. Thus, they serve a fundamental role in the epistemic justification of religious belief. Yet objections abound concerning this process. Given these challenges, what – if anything – is the rational significance of religious experience? My project’s aim is to investigate this question focusing primarily on the objection from the diverse contents of religious experience. I flesh out the envisaged structure of this project in what follows.

The objection from the diversity of religious experience threatens the epistemic status (here, the properties of knowledge and justification) of beliefs formed on its basis. In short, the empirical data derived from the field of cognitive science of religion (CSR) and from folk observation of diverse religious experiences can be marshaled in support of an argument against the positive epistemic status of religious beliefs formed on their basis: roughly, it holds that since religious experience produces logically conflicting outputs, religious experience is an unreliable belief-forming method. And if a belief-forming method is unreliable, its outputs are epistemically unjustified. By way of response, this work is both defensive and constructive: it is the aim of this paper to defuse this argument by constructing a model of religious experience on which a certain “common core” of religious beliefs are epistemically safeguarded. To make my case, I draw from considerations in the epistemology of perception. Moreover, a novel contribution of this paper is the application of recent work in epistemology; thus, I shall be working within a Williamsonian “knowledge-first” epistemological framework in which the principle of “epistemic safety” features prominently. This essay proceeds as follows. In §2 I recount the main objection. Propaedeutic to the discussion of religious experience, in §3-4 I establish some background epistemological principles. In §3 I explicate the principle of epistemic safety, providing some prima facie considerations for the Williamsonian version on which my project depends. In §4 I turn to the epistemology of perceptual experience, in which I shall focus primarily on the epistemic role of unjustified or false background beliefs in cases of cognitively penetrated experience. In §5 I apply the results from prior sections to a problematic test case of conflicting religious beliefs as instanced in the diverse contents objection. In so doing, I argue that—even if we type religious experience very broadly—the incompatible contents of certain fine-grained beliefs fail to threaten the epistemic status of related coarse-grained beliefs derived from religious experience. Finally, in §6 I briefly examine two objections: i. the view that testimonial reports of diverse religious experiences provides an undercutting defeater and ii. the argument that the background beliefs influencing religious experience are culturally contingent.

Fall 2019 Talks


Abstract: Imagine you had an unlimited amount of time to ask an omniscient being anything you wanted. The potential epistemic benefits would be enormous, if not infinite: endless pieces of significant knowledge/true belief/justified belief. I argue that considerations like these point to an epistemic version of Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager normally utilizes conventional decision theory, a formal framework that prescribes action on the basis of one's credences and utilities. However, decision theory has epistemic analogues used to prescribe belief--namely, epistemic decision theory and epistemic consequentialism. Using tools from both frameworks, I argue that there is a strong epistemic reason to believe in God. I compare and contrast this version of the wager with the traditional wager, and argue that the epistemic version has several notable advantages.
Date/Time:  Monday, December 16th.
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: The standard position on moral perfection and gratuitous evil makes the prevention of gratuitous evil a necessary condition on moral perfection. I argue that, on any analysis of gratuitous evil we choose, the standard position on moral perfection and gratuitous evil is false. It is metaphysically impossible to prevent every gratuitously evil state of affairs in every possible world. No matter what God does -- no matter how many gratuitously evil states of affairs God prevents -- it is necessarily true that God coexists with gratuitous evil in some world or other. Since gratuitous evil cannot be eliminated from metaphysical space, the existence of gratuitous evil presents no objection to essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient, essentially morally perfect, and necessarily existing beings. 
Date/Time:  Tuesday, November 26th, 12:00-2:00.
Location:      JOR-440

Abstract: This paper is a draft chapter in a book I'm currently writing. The book explores the axiological status of theism, with particular focus on developing arguments for anti-theism (the view that God's existence does, or would, detract from the value of our world). In this chapter I explore two distinct arguments for anti-theism, one based on autonomy and other on dignity. I first argue that while autonomy has been gestured at in the literature as a reason in favour of anti-theism (including by myself), upon further inspection it's difficult to see how such an argument could be successful. For on many different understandings of autonomy, it's simply false that God's existence does (or would) violate it to any significant degree. I suggest that the worry that God violates our autonomy is better understood as a dignity harm. Thus, in the second half of this chapter I develop an argument for anti-theism based on the idea that God's existence violates our dignity. I argue that on many different conceptions of dignity, it turns out God's existence would (or does) violate our dignity to a significant degree. I conclude that the scope of this argument ultimately rests on whether worlds where people do not have dignity can be better than worlds where those same people do have dignity.
Date/Time:  Tuesday, November 19th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: Ontological arguments often depend on a possibility premise, like: a maximally great being is possible. Alas, recent attempts to defend possibility premises don't work. 
Date/Time:  Thursday, October 24th, 1:00-3:00
Location:      JOR-440

Winter / Spring 2019 Talks


Abstract: Anti-theists hold that God's existence would make things worse, and that we should prefer God not to exist. In this paper, I will consider several arguments against anti-theism put forward by Kraay & Dragos, Schellenberg and (if time permits) Tooley. These arguments try to avoid disputing the anti-theist's substantive axiological claims but instead claim to show, in different ways, that anti-theism is simply incompatible with a proper understanding of what it would mean for God to exist -- because, for example, God-s existence would entail that no gratuitous evil exists. I will try to show that these arguments aren't successful. To reject anti-theism, one must engage in substantive axiological debate.
Date/Time:  Monday, May 27th, 10:00-12:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: It is standard practice to appeal to libertarian free will to explain how God's existence might be compatible with much of the evil we see in the actual world. Libertarian free will has also been important for certain responses to the argument for atheism from divine hiddenness. But what is often neglected in appealing to libertarian free will is an explanation of why God would create us with such free will in the first place. Laura Ekstrom argues that free will is simply not worth the cost. J.L. Schellenberg takes it a step further and argues that, if it turns out we have libertarian free will, that is actually evidence against God's existence, since the benefit of free will does not outweigh its risk of evil. In this paper I discuss a few reasons God might have for creating libertarian free will.
Date/Time:  Friday, May 10th, 12:00-2:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: According to the late William Rowe, Samuel Clarke tries to establish the proposition that it is possible for there to be no dependent beings by inferring it from the proposition that no dependent being necessarily exists" - an  inference not "sanctioned by any valid rule of modal logic." Thus, "a vital portion of the reasoning in the Cosmological Argument rests on [an] unproved premise" (Nous, 1971). I believe that Rowe's modal accusation here is misconceived. I begin with a brief sketch of Clarke's Argument. Then I show that Rowe's composition complaint falters, since (as he admits elsewhere) "it is not always a fallacy to infer that a whole has a certain property from the premise that all of its constituent parts have that property" (Mind, 1962). Clarke's inference, I argue, is an exception to this general rule. 

Date/Time:   Friday, May 3rd, 11:00-1:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: The world actualization model of creation depicts God's creative choice as the selection of one complete state of affairs from many possibilities. While this model dominates current discussions of creation in philosophy of religion, I argue it implies God is a maker rather than a creator.  I develop this distinction with the help of Margaret Boden's work on intellectual creativity, and then explore various ways of relaxing the tension between the world actualization model and divine creativity.  Finally, I sketch an account of divine creativity and show how it might reshape various debates in the philosophy of religion. 
Date/Time:  Monday, April 29th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: Many would scoff at the idea that racism could possibly exist in Heaven. Heaven is supposed to be a place that is free of struggles, hatred, violence and pain. The existence of something as negative as racism, at least in its harshest forms, is surely not something that could be compatible with such a place as Heaven. Even if we grant that God created this utopian realm for us to enjoy in the afterlife, a crucial question still remains: for whom is  Heaven supposed to be the greatest possible place? Depending on how that question is answered, and how exactly we flesh out our concept of Heaven, we may end up with a version of Heaven in which the existence of racism is possible. In this paper I argue that if we conceive of a communal Heaven, one that is the greatest possible place for all of its collective inhabitants, then it is not possible for racism to exist there. If, on the other hand, we conceive of personal Heaven, one where each individual has their own distinct "perfect world" in the afterlife, then it is possible that there are certain instances in which Heaven contains racism. This paper serves as a comparative account of two drastically different conceptions of Heaven and details how opting for one over the other could commit the believer to accepting the possibility of racism, or any other number of generally negatively-viewed "isms," existing in certain instantiations of individualized Heaven. 
Date/Time:   Friday, March 15th, 11:00-1:00
Location:       JOR-502

Fall 2018 Talks


Abstract: This paper is about two underexplored types of higher-level propositions and their relevance to religious epistemology, specifically, religious debunking arguments and religious disagreement. The first type is the epistemically self-promoting proposition, which, when justifiedly believed, gives one a reason to think that one reliably believes it. Such a proposition plays a key role in my argument that certain religious believers can permissibly wield an epistemically circular argument in order to deflect potential defeaters from certain religious debunking arguments. The second type is the epistemically others-demoting proposition, which, when justifiedly believed, gives one a reason to think that others are unreliable with respect to it. Such a proposition plays a key role in my argument that certain religious believers can permissibly wield a question-begging argument in orde to deflect potential defeaters from certain types of religious disagreement.

Date/Time:  Friday, December 7th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-440

Abstract: Not just any account of divine creation is adequate. For example, accounts that exacerbate the problems of evil, the problem of no best world, the problem of divine freedom, and cannot preserve contingency in metaphysical space would have less theoretical utility than an account which solves these problems. An account with less utility provides fewer reasons to believe it is correct. Multiverse theorists Klaas Kraay, Timothy O'Connor, and Donald Turner have accounts of divine creation. I present some adequacy conditions for divine creation, which I believe enjoy prima facie plausibility. I argue that multiverse accounts meet these conditions to a lesser degree, and so have fewer reasons to believe they are correct, than an alternative account I have in mind.
Date/Time:  Friday, November 23rd, 12:10-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Abstract: In the peer disagreement debate, three intuitively attractive claims seem to conflict: that there is disagreement among peers on many important matters; that peer disagreement is a serious challenge to one's own views; and that in important matters one should be able to maintain one's convictions or act on one's own views.  I show that contrary to initial appearances, we can accept all three of these claims. In particular, I argue that when we encounter a peer who disagrees, we should change our assessment of the evidence, but nonetheless remain committed to acting on and to holding convictions on our initial assessment of the evidence.

Date/Time:  Friday, November 9th, 12:10-2:00
Location:      JOR-802

Abstract: Conciliationism is the view that says when an agent who believes P becomes aware of an epistemic peer who believes not-P, she encounters a (partial) defeater for her belief that P. Strong versions of conciliationism pose a sceptical threat to many, if not most, religious beliefs, since religion is rife with peer disagreement. In a recent paper, I argue that one way for a religious believer to avoid sceptical challenges posed by conciliationism is by appealing to the evidential import of religious experience. Not only can religious experience be used to establish a relevant evidential asymmetry between disagreeing parties, but reliable reports of such experiences also start to put pressure on the religious sceptic to conciliate toward her religious opponent. Recently, however, Asha Lancaster-Thomas has posed a highly innovative challenge to the evidential import of religious experience. She argues that (i) negative religious experiences provide direct evidence for an evil God, and also that (ii) positive religious experiences provide indirect evidence for an evil God. In light of this, both positive and negative experiences aren't just equally compatible with an evil God, they support the existence of an evil God more than that of a good God.

I argue that the strength of Lancaster-Thomas' objection depends on the conception of God she has in view. If her target is monotheism unconnected to any particular religion (and I think it is), then her argument hits its target. The evil God hypothesis gives us reason to reject my argument from religious experience. However, I argue that Lancaster-Thomas's objection doesn't necessarily apply to other theistic conceptions of God. For instance, she too quickly dismisses the legitimacy of appeals to Satan for the Christian theist wanting to use arguments from religious experience. This is because appealing to Satan is no ad hoc addition to Christianity invented only to avoid the evil god challenge. Also, Langaster-Thomas never considers the possibility that the existence of a good God and evil God are compatible. Perhaps there could be two omnipotent beings who cannot overpower each other, if such a requirement is relevantly analogous to demanding that God square a circle. Finally, if we merely take the existence of religious experience (both negative and positive) as evidence for supernaturalism (and hence against naturalism), it's not clear that the evil God challenge can be raised against supernaturalism. Thus, while Lancaster-Thomas' objection to classical monotheism is correct, more work remains to be done in exploring whether (in the context of religious experience) the evil God challenge supports something like ontological naturalism, or if the evil god challenge applies only to classical monotheism and not any other conceptions of theism. 
Date/Time:  Friday, September 21st, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-802

Winter / Spring 2017 Talks


new festschrift (external link)  on Peter van Inwagen's philosophy contains criticisms of his work together with his responses. In Chapter 11, Alex Rosenberg (external link)  criticizes van Inwagen's argument for the compatibility of Darwinism and theism. In Chapter 8, Louise Antony (external link)  criticizes van Inwagen's response to the problem of evil. In this session, van Inwagen will lead a discussion of these critics' arguments, along with his replies.  The papers by Rosenberg and Antony will be circulated in advance, along with van Inwagen's replies. If you wish to receive copies, and you are not on the mailing list for this group, email Klaas Kraay at
Date/Time:  Friday, April 28th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      EPH142

Abstract: What I will call the "patient-centred principle" states that God would allow some person S to be the victim of an evil for the sake of some good G only if G sufficiently benefits S. Is the patient-centred principle true, and, if so, is a similar principle true of divine hiddenness? That is, would God remain hidden from some person S for the sake of some good G only if G sufficiently benefits S? I will argue that the patient-centred principle has a number of exceptions, even in the case of evil, and so only a fairly qualified version of it might be true. I will also argue that nothing like it is true with regards to divine hiddenness.
Date/Time:   Tuesday, March 21st, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor (JOR-502)

Abstract: Consider two possible worlds that are as similar as can be, except that atheism is true in one world and theism is true in the other world. Which world is rational to prefer? In this paper, I explore a defence of the somewhat counterintuitive claim that it is rational to prefer the atheistic world, all else being equal. This view has recently been called 'anti-theism'. The focus of my argument will be to show that there are goods that obtain on atheism that contribute to the positive overall value of the world. Such goods include the ability to solve problems on one's own, take immediate responsibility for one's actions, bravery, autonomy, and privacy. Thus, the obtaining of these goods makes it rational to prefer that God not exist (at least when the alternative world would be a similar theistic world). I conclude by responding to the most promising objection to the argument, which is that the goods of atheism could never outweigh certain goods that obtain on theism. 
Date/Time:    Tuesday, March 7th, 1:00-3:00
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730)

Date/Time:     Tuesday, February 7th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: I show why Plotinus thinks that strong divine simplicity follows from two principles that perfect-being theologians are committed to: (1) the ultimate being needs no further explanation; and (2) the ultimate being is absolutely ontologically independent. Plotinus argues that the ultimate being cannot have internal parts. If the ultimate being has distinct metaphysical parts, the whole world would depend up on them in some way, violating (2). If the ultimate being's attributes were distinct from each other, then we would need a further explanation of why they are united in one being, violating (1). Plotinus' formulations put pressure on moderate classical theists to find weakened versions of these principles that are still strong enough for their purposes. Attackers of metaphysical theism, by contrast, may use Plotinus' views as a reductio ad absurdum.
Date/Time:   Monday, January 9th, 2017, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor, Room 730, Ryerson University

Fall 2016 Talks


Alan Rhoda (2008) defines generic open theism as the commitment to the following theses: (1) broadly classical theism, that there exists a God with a maximal set of compossible, great-making properties; (2) future contingency, that the future is in some respects causally open; and (3) EC incompatibility, that it is impossible for the future to be epistemically settled in any respect in which it is causally open. In his 2007, Rhoda defends generic open theism against non-open free-will theism, which affirms future contingency but denies EC incompatibility. He thinks that the truth of EC incompatibility depends up on the truth of AC incompatibility, the thesis that it is impossible for the future to be alethically settled in any respect in which it is causally open. For Rhoda, the truth of this latter thesis depends on the correctness of Peircean semantics over Ockhamist semantics. According to the Ockhamist, the truth of a future proposition depends only on what will obtain in the future. According to the Peicean, the truth of a future proposition depends on whether sufficient conditions for its truth obtain at the time of its utterance. In my paper, I attempt to undermine Rhoda's argument for generic open theism by defending Ockhamist semantics over Peircean semantics. Whereas Rhoda thinks that predictions of varying degrees of modal or causal force facour Peicean semantics over Ockhamist semantics, I argue that they favour the opposite. I also address Rhoda's objection that even if Ockhamist semantics is correct, no one - not even God - could properly assert unqualified predictions about the future. 
Date/Time:    Tuesday, December 6th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor, Room 1043

Abstract: The traditional problems of evil and their solutions assume that the overall value of a world can be increased or decreased. Furthermore, the traditional problems of evil and their solutions make the distinction between gratuitous and non-gratuitous evil central to their approaches. In this paper, I argue that problems of evil and their solutions are both mistaken. Traditional theism conceives God as unsurpassably and infinitely good. Mark Johnson, taking a cue from Georg Cantor's work, understands God's value as absolutely infinite: an undiminishable and unsurpassable value that exceeds the cardinality of every infinite set. Since God necessarily exists, every possible world is absolutely, infinitely good. I conclude that the overall value of a world cannot be increased or decreased given God's omnibenevolence, and the distinction between gratuitous and non-gratuitous evil is irrelevant to both the problems and solutions.
Date/Time:    Thursday, November 17th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 8th Floor, Room 802.

Abstract: On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that doctors in Canada should be allowed to help their patients die. But while the ruling recognizes individual doctors as having a right of refusal, a more controversial question raised is this: Can institutions, and not just individuals, claim conscientious objector status? Would-be claimants might include Catholic and Mennonite hospitals. In this article, we outline a two-part case for institutions as conscientious objectors. First, we consider conditions for the possibility of institutional objection. Institutional rights ought not be dismissed on the grounds that institutions like hospitals cannot have rights. The growing body of philosophical literature on group agency, such as that of List and Pettit (Group Agency, 2011), indicates they can. Neither should it be assumed that institutional rights are reducible to individual rights. At least in regards to medical assistance in dying, conscientious objection at the institutional level importantly differs from the individual level. Having established institutional objection as a coherent possibility, the second part of the paper develops the following argument for why qualifying institutions deserve this status. Hospitals possess an institutional right of refusal because they possess a more general right of institutional self-governance which includes the prerogative both to choose their institutions' governing values and to choose in light of these values what medical procedures they will deliver. And they possess a more general right of self-governance because they exist alongside government, not beneath it, as institutional agents of equal moral status. Ours is an argument from institutional equality, informed by the neo-Calvinist tradition of political theology unique for its emphasis on institutional pluralism. Our argument implies that while hospitals have a right of refusal, it is a mistake to conceive this right in terms of religious freedom. Moreover, this is a principled right not based simply on pragmatic considerations, one based not on consequentialist but deontological grounds. The issue and argument should especially be of interest to anyone concerned with religion, given that religious reservations to physician-assisted death are common.
Date/Time:  Thursday, October 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      SLC 516

Abstract: Many religious believers do not appear to take the existence of religious disagreement as a serious challenge to the rationality of their religious beliefs. Bryan Frances notes that "in an enormous number of cases people think, at least implicitly, that their group is in a better position to judge [the truth about religious claims]. I will think my group knows something the critics have missed" (Frances 2014, 165). Perhaps at least implicitly, religious believers tend to dismiss worries based on disagreement by appealing to the fact that they enjoy a special insight that their opponent fails to possess. This special insight can constitute a relevant epistemic asymmetry between two opponents who are otherwise epistemic peers, thereby justifying reasonable religious disagreement. I argue that this type of explanation is underdeveloped, given that appealing to a special insight is equally available to both opponents in disputes over religious beliefs. Self-trust, immediacy, and the reliability of introspection are not good enough candidates to explain the special insight view. As such, there is good reason to reject responses to religious disagreement that appeal to special insight as the justification for reasonable religious disagreement. Religious believers need to do more work to explain the relevant epistemic advantage they allegedly have over their non-religious opponents. A potential explanation may lie in empirical investigations of religious experience, since such studies will be able to offer a potential relevant epistemic asymmetrey in objective nad public terms. However, in this work on religious experience, Phillip K. Wiebe speculates that religious experiences might be objective, but also private. This differs significantly from scientific evidence which is public. I conclude that if religious experiences are private, they can potentially justify a religious believer remaining steadfast in the face of disagreement. Initially, it might be thought that the private nature of such experiences explains why apealing to them may not be satisfying to opponents. But if testimonial knowledge of private religious experiences are legitimate, not only do they solve the problem of religious disagreement for the religious believer, but they start to put epistemic pressure on the religious sceptic.
Date/Time:  Tuesday, September 13th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Winter / Spring 2016 Talks


Abstract: In recent papers, Laura Buchak has presented a view of faith that makes it primarily a practical matter.  On Buchak's view, an individual S has faith that X expressed by an act A just in case the following is true.  X is a proper object of faith and (i) S performs act A, (ii) performing A constitutes a risk on X; and (iii) S prefers {to commit to A before she examines additional evidence for X} rather than {to postpone her decision about A until she examines additional evidence for X}.  In this paper I argue that Buchak's account fails as an account of faith because it cannot distinguish between instances in which one acts on faith and instances in which one is merely hedging one's bets. Pace Buchak, faith is a doxastic matter.  However, I argue that while Buchak's view does not correctly describe faith, it does correctly describe a preliminary stage to having faith.  Oftentimes before we have faith we must in some ways verify the claims of faith; furthermore, oftentimes the only way of verifying faith involves a radical commitment that, for all we know before we make it, may prevent us from coming to know the truth or achieving some important goods in life.  Buchak correctly describes what goes into making this radical commitment and provides us with a framework for assessing its rationality.
Date/Time:   Friday, April 29th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Abstract: In reply to certain cosmological arguments for theism, critics regularly argue that the causal principle ex nihilo nihil fit may be false.  For example, responding to a portion of Aquinas' third way, Mackie (1982, p. 89) entertains the idea that contingent objects can come into existence out of nothing without a cause: "A third objection concerns the premise that 'what does not exist cannot begin to be except through something that is'.  This is, of course, a form of the principle that nothing can come from nothing; the idea then is that if our series of impermanent things had broken off, it could never have started again after a gap.  But is this an a priori truth?  As Hume pointed out, we can certainly conceive an uncaused beginning-to-be of an object; if what we can thus conceive is nevertheless in some way impossible, this still requires to be shown." A bit later, challenging that same principle as employed in the Kalam argument, Mackie (1982, p. 94) reiterates: "We have no good ground for an a priori certainty that there could not have been a sheer unexplained beginning of things." Various theistic counter-replies to this challenge have emerged.  One type of strategy is to double down on ex nihilo nihil fit by: (a) emphasizing its apparent intuitive appeal; (b) challenging the claim that it is either genuinely imaginable or conceivable that something pop into existence without a cause, or that conceivability entails possibility; (c) employing inference to the best explanation (i.e., we never experience objects popping into existence seemingly at random, and the best explanation for the absence of such chaos is that random beginnings are impossible); or (d) situating it within a broader modal ontology that explicitly rules out the possibility of objects popping into existence causelessly. Another, very different strategy of counter-reply is to grant for the sake of argument that the principle is false, while maintaining that sound cosmological arguments can be formulated even with this concession in place. Notably, one can employ weaker opening premise formulated in modal terms, proceeding for instance from the proposition that for any contingent object coming into existence it is at least possible that it (or a duplicate) have a cause.

My aim here is to try out a related strategy for weakening the relevant opening premise.  Granting that it is possible for a contingent object to come into existence out of nothing without a cause, I proceed from the extremely modest claim that the obtaining of exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularities demands an explanation. As such, the contingent regularity that empirically accessible macro-level contingent objects do not pop into existence causelessly demands explanation.  And as it turns out, that explanation will have to be in terms of an object or objects possessed of at least some of the traditional divine attributes. More precisely, I will explicate and defend the following argument:
Premise 1: All exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularities have an explanation that accounts for why they obtain.
Premise 2: It is an exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularity that empirically accessible macro-level contingent objects do not come into existence out of nothing without a cause.
Premise 3 / Conclusion 1: Therefore, there is an explanation that accounts for why that exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularity obtains.
Premise 4: An explanation for that regularity can be found only in a causally powerful and indestructible object (or objects).
Premise 5: / Conclusion 2 Therefore there exists a causally powerful and indestructible object (or objects). 
Premise 6: If an object is indestructible, then it is non-physical.
Premise 7 / Conclusion 3: Therefore there exists a causally powerful, non-physical object (or objects). 
Premise 8: If there exists a causally powerful, non-physical object (or objects), then metaphysical naturalism is false.
Final Conclusion: Therefore metaphysical naturalism is false.
Date/Time:   Friday, March 18th,  12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  2nd Floor Boardroom

Abstract: Some people think faith and reason our opposed to one another. Others think faith and reason are in harmony. I argue that faith -- in its doxastic sense -- just is a kind of evidence.  The key to making this work is understanding the difference between doxastic faith and the act of faith.  I argue that we need to stay away from William James and instead travel with Locke on one side and Pascal on the other.
Date/Time:   Friday, March 11th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: de facto objection to theistic belief claims that it is false, and a de jure objection (or "debunking objection") claims that it was formed in an improper or unreliable way.  Alvin Plantinga (2000) developed and defended a religious epistemology, which he then used to formulate a strategy for responding to common de jure objections to theistic belief.  This strategy has become a common way of responding to de jure objections to theistic belief in the cognitive science of religion and evolutionary debunking literature.  In this paper, I argue that Plantinga's religious epistemology is in conflict with skeptical theism, a view often used in response to the problem of evil.  Hence, a common way of responding to many de jure objections to theistic belief conflicts with a common way of responding to the problem of evil.  An additional implication of my paper is that the skeptical theist has one less option by which to defend the rationality or warrant of theistic belief. 

Date/Time:   Friday, February 26th, 1:00-3:00pm
Location:      Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: According to theistic modal realism, there is an Anselmian God that exists in every concrete possible world. Michael Almeida argues that theistic modal realism has the resources to account for the possibility of gratuitous evil, an evil such that its prevention would result in a net-benefit of goodness. This is because God's prevention of a gratuitous evil from befalling some person implies that there is a (concrete) possible world in which God permits that evil to occur to that person's counterpart. I argue that, once we focus upon the distinction between preventing an evil and merely doing something that does not result in the occurrence of that evil, there is good reason to think that theistic modal realism is in fact incompatible with the possibility of gratuitous evil.

Date/Time:   Friday, February 12th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom

Fall 2015 Talks


Abstract: Soul-making theodicies seek to justify God's permitting some or all of the evil in the world on the grounds that evil can help us achieve, through our moral decision-making, valuable character traits. Philosophical situationism is a movement in ethical theory based on the situationist school in psychology; situationists hold that character traits either do not exist in humans, or that they are neither as common nor as robust and stable as we tend to think. I argue that situationism provides an unappreciated difficulty for a prominent sort of soul-making theodicy: if situationism is correct, then this gives us strong evidence that the world does not tend to produce the sorts of character traits that the soul-making theodicist needs. I also make a tentative recommendation to soul-making theodicists about how they might avoid, or at least minimize, the problem situationism introduces.
Date/Time:         Friday, November 20th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:            Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract:  It seems to me that anti-theism, understood as the claim that 'God's existence makes the world worse', will always struggle to be viable. There are various routes to this conclusion; I find these arguments convincing and I will not retrace well-worn ground. However, I think the viability of anti-theism can be saved if we reconsider what 'anti-theism' could mean, what other forms it could take. I will argue that we can (and should) recast 'anti-theism', not as the claim that God's existence makes the world worse, but as the preference that it (counterfactually) would. That is, anti-theism is a statement of preference for a world of equal or greater value than our own, but in which God's existence is not a good thing. I will illustrate the viability of this preference with a few (highly plausible) analogous examples, and conclude with a tentative attempt to offer a new definition of anti-theism: A preference for/pro-attitude towards/'being for' the closest possible world in which God would not be a better-making feature of your world, where that world is of equal or greater value to the world in which God would be a better-making feature of your world. I conclude by pointing out that this new version of anti-theism is easily connected with the traditional statements of anti-theism (e.g., 'I don't want the world to be like that!'), and can be justified by entirely plausible, rational, and mundane preferences; as a result, this version of anti-theism looks to be viable. 
Date/Time:       Friday, November 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:           Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor Boardroom (JOR-1043)

Abstract: In a recent article, Myron A. Penner develops, defends, but ultimately rejects what he takes to be the best argument for personal anti-theism: the Meaningful Life Argument. Penner's objections focus on human fallibility with respect to identifying and weighing goods that contribute to a meaningful life, and only obtain if God does not exist. I argue that Penner's account is flawed for two reasons. First, while the type of skepticism about human judgment about goods might be justified, it cuts both ways. If the Meaningful Life Argument fails, then so do any arguments for pro-theism based on identifying and weighing goods that contribute to a meaningful life. Second, I show that the debate about the Meaningful Life Argument would be better advanced by an assessment of the specific goods in questions, rather than worrying about skepticism that applies equally to all parties in the debate. 
Date/Time:         Tuesday, October 27th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: Thomas Aquinas affirmed that God is both maximally good and genuinely free, particularly with respect to God's choice to create the world. Norman Kretzmann has challenged Aquinas' position, arguing that given his commitment to the Dionysian principle of the diffusiveness of the Good, Aquinas should have held that the creation of some possible world external to God was a necessary entailment of God's being. Lawrence Dewan has responded to Kretzmann, arguing that creation cannot be absolutely necessary given that it is properly said to be an act of the will, and when an act of the will is ordered toward an end but is not necessary for the existence of that end it cannot be absolutely necessary. In this paper, I argue that Dewan's objection misfires: what would be required for Kretzmann's account to fail Dewan's condition for acts of the will would be Kretzmann claiming that this actual world is the necessary result of God's being, that is, that God had neither the freedom of contrariety or contradiction in his choice to create. However, this is not Kretzmann's position: he affirms the freedom of contrariety but not contradiction. I conclude by offering an alternative critique of Kretzmann's proposal, suggesting that necessity of the externality of the diffusion of Goodness is the vulnerable point in his argument. I argue that by locating the diffusion of the Good within the Triune life of God one can affirm the Dinoynsian principle, deny the necessity of creation, and nevertheless account post factum for creation in terms of God's being and Goodness.
Date/Time:   Tuesday, October 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730)

Abstract: Contrary to the commonly held position of Luis de Molina, Thomas Flint and others, I argue that counterfactuals of divine freedom (CDFs) are pre-volitional for God within the Molinist framework. That is, CDFs are not true even partly in virtue of some act of God's will. As a result, I argue that the Molinist God fails to satisfy an epistemic openness requirement for rational deliberation, and thus she cannot rationally deliberate about which world to actualize.
Date/Time:      Tuesday, September 29th, 11:30-1:30pm
Location:          Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502),

Winter / Spring 2015 Talks


Abstract: In the epistemology of disagreement literature, revisionism is the view that when an agent encounters epistemic peer disagreement about her belief in a proposition P, a certain amount of weight must be given to both parties and hence the agent should revise her belief in P. This could require lowering her confidence in P or withholding her belief that P. Revisionism poses a serious challenge to the rationality of religious belief. When a believer encounters epistemic peer disagreement about a religious belief she must lower her confidence in, or suspend judgment about that belief. In the first section of this paper I argue that it is often assumed throughout the literature that epistemic peers must be strict cognitive and evidential equals. In the second section I claim that on such a strict account of epistemic peerhood there are rarely any epistemic peers in cases of complex real-world disagreements. This is significant because it implies that epistemic peerhood rarely obtains in cases of religious disagreement. The believer can avoid any challenge to the rationality of her religious beliefs from disagreement merely by pointing out that her opponents are not her epistemic peers. In the third and final section I offer a new account of epistemic peerhood. My account is (i) broad enough to obtain in many cases of complex real-world disagreements, including disagreements about religion; and (ii) narrow enough to preserve the epistemic weight of disagreement required for revisionism to be true. Thus, even if the commonly used strict conception of epistemic peerhood rarely obtains in cases of real-world religious disagreement, there is still a significant challenge to the rationality of religious belief based on the existence of disagreement. 
Date/Time:   Friday, May 8th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Abstract:  In Book I, chapter fifty-two of The Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides claims that there are no relations that hold between God and creatures, including relations of similarity.  He argues that since God is absolutely simple, he does not possess any relations.  In contrast, Thomas Aquinas argues in De potentia Dei that God is related to creatures through relations of reason.  In this paper, I will outline each of these views in order to determine if Aquinas is successful in his defense of relations of reason and whether or not this defense is an improvement over Maimonides' approach to relations.  I will question also whether the respective views of relations of Maimonides and Aquinas are compatible with the doctrine of divine simplicity and with the theological doctrine of creation.  I will conclude by showing that the philosophy of relations of Maimonides and Aquinas contributes greatly to their respective approaches to naming God.
Date/Time:   Tuesday, April 28th, 12:30-2:30
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Abstract: How does the theist explain God's permission of great evils like genocide?  One response is to shift the burden of argument; why should anyone expect an answer to this question anyway, given how little we should expect to know about God's purposes?  My presentation takes issue with this response.  There are various theistic convictions that in fact do presuppose insight into God's purposes (such as the conviction that God would never engage in systematic deception of the human race).  Those convictions cannot easily be maintained in the face of the above burden-shifting argument.
Date/Time:   Friday, April 24th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Abstract: According to the theist who thinks God's existence is necessary, the following conditional is a counterpossible: 'if God did not exist, then the world would be better (or worse).' Likewise, according to the atheist who thinks God's nonexistence is necessary, the following is a counterpossible: 'if God existed, then the world would be better (or worse).' On standard semantics (such as both Lewis and Stalnaker's), counterpossible conditionals are trivially true. This threatens the possibility of an axiological investigation of God's existence. Others, such as Davis and Franks (forthcoming), have argued that counterpossibles can be meaningful. This assuages metaphysical worries, but one might still protest: even if such claims are meaningful, we cannot evaluate them because the antecedent is not conceivable. Thus, the objection against an axiological investigation of God's existence moves from being metaphysical to being psychological. My purpose here is to reply to this psychological objection. I do so by applying work on cognitive decoupling to considering counterpossibles. Cognitive decoupling occurs when subjects extract information from a representation and perform computations on that extracted information. I offer examples from two domains: pretend play and abstract reasoning. According to Nichols and Stich (2003), Leslie (1987), and Stanovich (2011), cognitive decoupling occurs when subjects make an informationally impoverished copy of a primary representation. Subjects can use this secondary representation in combination with other propositional attitudes (including beliefs, acceptances, or 'imaginings'). I argue that if a subject ignores those propositions that generate contradictions when combined with the antecedent of the counterpossible, then that subject can consider the counterpossible.  I use impossible pictures (such as 'Waterfall' or 'Ascending and Descending,' by Escher) to elucidate my position: it is no problem for us to conceive of portions of these sketches. Problems only arise when we try to conceive of what is represented in the picture as a whole. This has an important upshot for the axiological investigation of God's existence: the dialectic will have to move forward piecemeal-wise, rather than conceiving of maximal states of affairs in which God does exist (on the one hand), and in which God does not exist (on the other). 
Date/Time:   Friday, March 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: According to Alvin Plantinga, the logical problem of evil isn't a problem, since (as he thinks) it is entirely possible that "sinless worlds" -- worlds in which creatures are significantly free but never go morally wrong -- cannot be actualized by God. But if so, then given that God has actualized a morally good world, it follows that evil does exist. Hence, the existence of God and the existence of evil are compatible. More recently, Plantinga has suggested an axiological extension of his conclusion, claiming that "it is plausible to think...the best possible worlds contain Incarnation and Atonement, or at any rate Atonement, and hence also contain sin and evil." In this paper, we attempt to show that the modal concepts at work in Plantinga's free will defense fail to support (and in fact wholly undercut) this interesting idea that Incarnation and Atonement worlds (hereafter, I&A) are among the best. We argue that if Plantinga's argument succeeds, as many believe that it does, I&A worlds are actually impossible. Presumably, this isn't an outcome Plantinga would welcome. 
Date/Time:    Thursday, March 5th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract: In this paper, I examine the evolution of religious belief in light of known constraints on human cognitive evolution. I consider factors in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness such as hominin migratory patterns, food acquisition, physiological, climatological and geographic changes, tool use, and various artefact records. I also consider the emergence of consciousness and language, the use of human reasoning skills, and specific neuroendocrine factors, to develop a hypothesis regarding proximate causes of religious behaviour. Religions developed as a memetic response to natural occurrences viz. the emergence of conscious symbolic representation in relation to currently evolved conceptual schemas. As human consciousness and languages evolved, so too did our ancestors' capacity to solve environmental problems in more conceptually sophisticated ways. Problem solving produces a feeling of environmental control, stability, in short - memetic equilibrium. But the pay-off is not merely practical - it is biochemical - and it comes in the form of neurotransmitters.
Date/Time:   Wednesday, February 18th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Second Floor Boardroom (JOR-204)

Fall 2014 Talks


Abstract: Kahane (2011) suggests an argument for anti-theism - the claim that if God does not exist, the world is better than it would otherwise be.  The values of human moral equality and autonomy cannot be fully realized if God exists, he thinks - our status cannot be the one we want.  Fine-tuning this argument, the key premises seem to be these: (1) the degrees to which these values are realized in some Godless world relevantly similar to ours are higher than those to which they are realized in any such Godly world, and (2) the value of their realization in that Godless world is comparable to its value in some Godly ones.  Against this reasoning, I argue that equality and autonomy are probably not realized to any significant degree in any Godless world unless their realization there is far less valuable for us than in some close Godly world.  The realization and value of equality and autonomy have metaphysical preconditions, I contend, and these are not very probable on atheism but highly probable on some forms of theism.  The values of equality and autonomy thus turn out to be reasons for pro-theism.  If it is good that we are autonomous equals, the world is better (for us, in that respect) if God exists.  Since I doubt the antecedent I do not accept this line of argument either.  But those who value equality and autonomy probably should. 

Date/Time:   Friday, December 5th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Abstract: Skeptical theism is, in part, a claim about the scope of our moral cognition. We often make judgments about the scope of our cognitive capacities - that is, we often make judgments about what putative bits of information we could, or couldn't, plausibly acquire given the kinds of cognitive equipment we possess. Sometimes these scope judgments are automatic and pre-reflective; sometimes these scope judgments are more reflective and considered.  Sometimes these judgments are justified (possibly evidence-based or the result of reliable or properly functioning truth-apt faculties); sometimes these judgments are not justified. In this paper, I set out some plausible conditions that specify when skepticism in general, and skepticism about cognitive capacities in particular, is justified.  Using Michael Bergmann's canonical formulation of skeptical theism, I then argue that skeptical theism is an instance of justified skepticism. This is because there is good philosophical and empirical support for the skeptical theist's claims about the scope of our moral cognitive faculties. 
Date/Time:    Tuesday, November 4th, 12:00-2:00
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502)

Abstract:  In his 2006 essay "A Kenotic Christological Method for Understanding the Divine Attributes," R.J. Feenstra develops "a version of kenotic Christology that attempts to adhere to Christological orthodoxy" and argues that it can account for certain "perplexing biblical claims about Jesus Christ," such as his growth in wisdom or his lack of knowledge about the time of the end of the world.  He believes that such an orthodox kenotic account "offers a fruitful method for deepening our understanding of the divine attributes." On his theory, "omniscience-unless-kenotically-incarnate" is an essential attribute of God. This theory, however, seems to imply a change in God, which is excluded by the Chalcedonian formula which Feenstra himself accepts as a normative statement of Christian faith regarding the mystery of the incarnation. Instead, I propose an alternate Christological model which conceives of nature not as a set of properties but as an interior principle of operation. This model enables one to maintain that Christ is omniscient according to his divinity but limited in his knowledge according to his humanity without compromising the unchanging character of God.  
Date/Time:    Tuesday, October 21st, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502)

Abstract: I argue that it is, at least, epistemically possible that much of the natural evil that exists is justified, on Christian theism, due to the intrinsic preferability of natural evil to bring about God's purposes. This preferability arises from God's ability to make use of or permit natural evil in a way that reduces the amount of moral evil for which humans would, otherwise, be responsible. In other words, for all we know, the amount of moral evil will be higher in a world, all things being equal, in which God does not utilize (or permit) natural evil than in one where God does utilize (or permit) natural evil. This preferability for natural evil over moral evil arises from the simple fact that, by definition, natural evil does not merrit the same responsibility and, thus, consequences as moral evil - namely, separation from God, hell, and so on. In this paper, I argue that for all we know this preferability exists and examine its resulting explanatory power and scope. I conclude that the intrinsic preferability thesis presents an epistemically  possible account for the existence of many natural evils. 
Date/Time:    Friday, October 17th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502)

Abstract: Since its advent in the work of Gottlob Frege, many prominent analytic philosophers such as Willard Van Orman Quine, Anthony Kenny and Peter van Inwagen have defended what has been called the "thin theory" of existence (TT). Advocates of (TT) claim that the meaning of "exists" is fully exhausted by the so-called "existential quantifier" of modern predicate logic, which is ultimately to say that existence amounts to nothing more than a "denial of the number zero". Beginning from Aristotle's famous dictum that "being is not a genus", this presentation aims to uncover some of the motivations behind the nearly universal rejection of (TT) and similar theses in the development of classical theism. 
Date/Time:    Wednesday, October 1st, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440)

Winter / Spring 2014 Talks


Abstract: Pro-theism is the view that God's existence would be good in that God's existence increases the value of a world. Anti-theism is the view that God's existence would decrease the value of a world. In this paper, we develop and defend the Morally Good Agent Argument for pro-theism. The basic idea is that morally good agents tend to add value to states of affairs, and God, moral agent par excellence, is no exception.  Based on the added value that moral agents can add to any state of affairs, we argue that the existence of God would be, on balance, a good thing and therefore something that one can rationally desire to be true. As a maximal being, God lacks neither the desire, power, nor knowledge to do good in the ways that are experienced by finite humans. One type of objection we consider is that God's existence might be constrained in ways such that God's existence would decrease the value of certain states of affairs. We also consider objections that arise if it's the case that the nature of God's goodness diverges too greatly from one's own intuitions about the nature of the good. We believe that the Morally Good Agent Argument can be successfully defended against these objections.
Date/Time:    Friday, May 9th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440)

Abstract: In Meaning in Life (OUP 2013), Thaddeus Metz presents a robust and innovative naturalistic account of what makes an individual's life objectively meaningful. In Chapters 5 and 6, Metz advances objections to six main arguments for the purpose theory of meaning in life that are found in the contemporary literature. Purpose theory holds that "one's life is meaningful just insofar as one fulfills a purpose that God has assigned to one" (80). Metz also proposes a novel argument that aims to undermine purpose theory by showing that it is inconsistent with the best argument for a God-centered theory of meaning. The main thrust of his novel argument is that an infinite, immutable, simple, atemporal being could not be purposive or active. I aim to defend purpose theory against Metz's objections by (a) defending the first two arguments for purpose theory against Metz's criticisms and then (b) arguing that Metz's novel argument against purpose theory fails.
Date/Time:  Friday, April 25th, 2014, 1:00-3:00pm
Location:      POD358, Ryerson University

Abstract: J.L. Schellenberg maintains that the existence of an all-loving God is incompatible with the existence of people who, through no fault of their own, fail to believe that God exists (nonresistant nonbelievers). Since nonresistant nonbelief occurs, this would entail that God does not exist, and this argument has come to be known as the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. One of the suggestions for why an all-loving God might allow, at least for a time, the existence of nonresistant nonbelief is that such nonbelief is necessary to bring about some good or another. Such "greater goods" style solutions to the problem are rejected by J.L. Schellenberg, who suggests that a relationship with God is the greatest good for creatures. Since belief in the existence of God is necessary for having a relationship with Him, no lesser good would give God a sufficient reason to withhold from his creatures evidence sufficient for belief. Contra Schellenberg, I argue that God could reasonably allow, at least for a time, the existence of nonresistant nonbelief because by doing so a multitude of goods would be made possible. I consider several of these goods suggested in the literature, and then identify another good which has not yet been proposed.
Date/Time:  Wednesday, April 16th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:     Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440),

Abstract: There is much to recommend the Thomistic view that God is the first cause of free human choices and actions. That view, however, can seem to imply that human beings are not free agents, but rather puppets manipulated by God. Barry Miller's account of divine and creaturely causation removes that appearance. In Miller's account, God and creatures are causes in different senses of the word: God's causing is always ex nihilo, and creaturely causing always changes a previously existing thing or situation. Unlike created causes, God never acts on anything. Hence the illusion that God manipulates created agents is removed.
Date/Time:   Friday, April 4th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502),

Abstract:  In response to two arguments for atheism, some analytic philosophers of religion have argued that if God exists, it is likely that He would create a multitude of universes. This view is called the Theistic Multiverse.  I point out that in this model of divine creation there is the implicit assumption that Molinism is true.  Molinism is the controversial view of divine foreknowledge whereby God knows what every free creature would do in any circumstance.  My project assumes that Molinism is false and considers the compatibility of the Theistic Multiverse with a rival model of divine foreknowledge: Open Theism.  In the literature, there are two attempts to marry the Theistic Multiverse and Open Theism.  I argue that both are inadequate models of an Open Theistic Multiverse, and attempt a more plausible model that avoids the criticisms the other two models face.  
Date/Time:   Thursday, March 20th, 2014, 2:15-4:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR802)

Abstract: According to Edward Wierenga, the considerations in favour of the Lewis-Stalnaker consensus on counterpossibles (namely, that they are all trivially true) are sufficient to overturn any reason a classical theist might have for thinking some counterpossibles - e.g. if God didn't exist, the world would still exist - are nontrivially false. In this paper, I examine these considerations as they coalesce into two lines of related support for the Standard Account: David Lewis' original "SHRUG" defence, and the more recent Zagzebski-Wierenga argument based on logical entailment ("ABLE", for short). I attempt to show that the problems besetting these defences give rise to additional reasons for classical theists to break with the consensus and divide the counterpossible terrain nonvacuously into the true and the false. 
Date/Time: Tuesday, March 11th, 2014, 3:00-5:00pm.
Location:    ENG-LG-05, George Vari Engineering and Computer Centre, Ryerson University

Abstract: In response to the claim that thought experimentation is mere theology and thus of no cognitive value, this paper investigates the relationship between thought experiments and theology, and this in three respects. First, it explores the theological dimension of Newton's famous bucket experiment. Second, it looks at the role of the biblical narrative of Adam's Fall in discussions that resulted in the foundations of modern science. Finally, the paper argues that there are at least two classes of thought experiments in medieval thought that depend for their existence on theological assumptions.  

Date/Time:   Tuesday, February 25th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR802)

Abstract: The strongest arguments for atheism all seem to have one thing in common: they all target inconsistencies and contradictions that, in some way or another, have to do with God's action in our world.  The classical theist, while providing some responses that may resolve particular aspects of each atheistic argument, has yet to provide a convincing account of theism that is able to adequately defend against all, or even many, of these atheistic arguments.  In smoothing out one part of the sheet, so to speak, the classical theist is left only to deal with even more wrinkles elsewhere.  The reason for this is the classical theist's reluctance to abandon a theistic worldview that calls for an active God.  Currently, I am exploring an alternative to classical theism that I call the deistic multiverse.  Initially it seems that many of the stronger arguments for atheism can be dealt with if the idea of an active God is denied, while some (or all) of the divine attributes typically ascribed to God can be maintained through the inclusion of a multiverse worldview.  My overall aim is to provide a worldview that maintains the existence of God, maintains as many of the classically ascribed attributes of Him as possible, and provides better responses to arguments for atheism than classical theism can.  
Date/Time:    Friday, February 21st, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm.
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502)

Fall 2013 Talks


Abstract:  In a series of articles in Religious Studies, Wes Morriston has launched what can only be considered a full-scale assault on the divine command theory (DCT) of morality. According to Morriston, proponents of this theory are committed to an "alarming" counterpossible: that if God did  command an annual human sacrifice, it would be morally obligatory. Since only a "terrible" deity would do such a "terrible" thing, we should reject DCT. Indeed, if there were such a deity, the world be a terrible place - certainly far worse than it is. We argue that Morriston's non-standard method for assessing counterpossibles of this sort is flawed. Not only is the savvy DCT-ist at liberty to reject it, but Morriston's method badly misfires in the face of theistic activism - a metaphysical platform available to DCT-ists, according to which if God didn't exist, neither would anything else. 

Date/Time:   Wednesday, December 18th, 2013, 1:00pm-3:00pm.
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, Seventh Floor Boardroom (JOR730)

Abstract: The epistemology of disagreement has been a very popular topic in the recent philosophical literature. The debate focuses on how I should respond when I disagree with an epistemic peer over a particular proposition, P, which I believe, and my peer disbelieves. The revisionist position holds that when I encounter such disagreement, equal weight must be given to both views and hence I should revise my belief in P. This could require lowering my confidence in P or withholding belief in P. The anti-revisionist view claims that there are cases in which awareness of my peer's belief that not-P does not require changing my belief that P. Thus, the revisionist denies that there can be rational disagreement between epistemic peers, whereas the anti-revisionist claims that epistemic peers can rationally disagree. The revisionist position, if true, poses a serious threat to the rationality of religious belief. This is because the believer, when faced with peer disagreement over a religious proposition, is forced to lower or withhold her belief in that proposition. In this paper I seek to accomplish three tasks: First, I outline some of the prominent arguments in the literature on disagreement for the revisionist position. Second, I argue that framing the problem of disagreement in terms of acceptance, rather than belief in a proposition, offers support for the anti-revisionist position. When I accept a proposition I choose to act as if it is true, regardless of whether or not I believe that proposition to be true. Third, I claim that the concept of faith is coherent with acceptance, not just belief. I conclude that, at least in some cases, faith as acceptance provides a way for there to be rational peer disagreement over religious propositions.
Date/Time:    Thursday, November 28th, 2013, 11:00am-1:00pm.
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR 802)

Abstract: In this talk I explore an argument for pro-theism (the view that God's existence would be, on balance, a good thing and as such it is rational to want it to be the case that God exists).  The first premise claims that if it's rational to believe that God's existence would, on balance, be a good thing, then it's rational to want it to be the case that God exists.  The plausibility of this premise turns both on the sense of rationality one has in view and on the relationship between preferences and rational belief.  The second premise claims that it is rational to believe that God's existence would, on balance, be a good thing. I explore whether this premise is plausible based on considerations of how morally good  agents tend to add value to states of affairs into which they are introduced. 
Date/Time:   Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013, 3:00-5:00pm.
Location:       Kerr Hall West Room 057,