November 19-21 was this year’s annual Evangelical Philosophical Society’s conference. I coauthored a paper with Dave Beck of Liberty University. This is the third year in a row I’ve had a paper accepted for presentation at EPS.
Abstract: Due to advances in cosmology and theoretical physics the origin of the universe is being relentlessly debated. Nevertheless, whether there is one universe or even an infinite plurality of universes, Thomas Aquinas’ argument for the existence of a first cause from contingency circumvents the debate of temporal beginnings to the universe; such as those that are embedded within the kalam cosmological argument. Tensed, tenseless, dynamic, static, endurantist, and perdurantist theories of time will be irrelevant or be peripheral at best. Physical science as a system will always require further explanation, not mere description, and that explanation will always have to appeal to something outside of itself. This is true for any philosophical and/or theological explanation of science. In this paper we will attempt a consilience of Thomas’ argument from contingency and modern cosmology to show that regardless of whether the universe had a temporal beginning, or what the nature of that beginning might have been, it would still be best explained by a first uncaused cause. We will defend Thomas’ notion of radical contingency and argue against a necessitation understanding of Thomas that is often misattributed to him. This metaphysic will be used as a plausible and defensible abductive cosmological argument, which will appeal to the radical contingency of constituents of the universe, and thus take the form of an argument to the best explanation.
Over the last month or two I’ve been working on a written/audio debate with Justin Schieber of Reasonable Doubts. The topic of the debate was “Does the Christian God Exist?” I imagine the debate may have been released earlier had it not been for my delayed responses due to health issues and moving out of our house and preparing to embark on our move to Scotland. I have apologized to Mr. Schieber concerning this and I extend apologies to the readers and listeners.
I was actually expecting much stronger arguments from Mr. Schieber. Two arguments were off topic and the other one was a far metaphysical and modal stretch. You’ll be able to read his arguments in full but here are my thoughts :
I’ll go through your reply point by point more or less, but I’ll try my best to be concise.
On successful research programs – Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to assume that science and philosophy aren’t continuous. Perhaps this is based on the idea that science is committed to methodological naturalism (MN). But what do you think of the idea that science isn’t looking for the best naturalistic explanations, but the best explanations, period; and it just so happens that naturalistic explanations have a successful track record and supernatural ones don’t? In other words, MN need not be seen as a presupposition of science, but as sensible advice based on past experience – MN has been tremendously successful before, so why not be committed to it? My point is this: it seems that, unless we assume science and philosophy (qua explanatory practice, at least) are discontinuous, your appeal to God as a metaphysical explanation (as opposed to a scientific one) is questionable.
The fine-tuning argument argues that when physics and the laws of nature are expressed mathematically their values are ever so balanced in a way that permits the existence of life. I’m merely arguing that the universe is finely tuned for the essential building blocks and environments that life requires.
Given the fine-tuning evidence, a life permitting universe (LPU) is very, very unlikely under the non-existence of a fine-tuner (~FT): that is, P(LPU|~FT & k) ≪ 1.
Given the fine-tuning evidence, LPU is not unlikely under FT (Fine-Tuner): that is, ~P(LPU|FT & k) ≪ 1.
The following argument is an abductive Thomistic cosmological argument from contingency, which I presented at my recent Ratio Christi debate.
There are contingent constituents to the universe.
Given the contingent constituents of the universe, the existence of the universe (U) is very, very unlikely under the hypothesis that these constituents are themselves uncaused or self-caused (~Cu): that is, P(U|~Cu & k) ≪ 1.
Given the contingent constituents of the universe, the existence of the universe is not unlikely under the hypothesis of a first uncaused cause (Cu): that is, ~P(U|Cu & k) ≪ 1.
Therefore, U strongly supports Cu over ~Cu.
The constituents of the universe include galaxies, planets, stars, cars, humans, leptons, bosons, and other particles. For the constituents of the universe to be uncaused that would mean it is metaphysically necessary. For something to be metaphysically necessary that means that it could not have failed to exist—it exists in every possible world.
For something to be self-caused it must be simultaneously antecedent to itself to produce itself as its own effect. But this contradictory. This would be akin to the ultimate bootstrapping trick.
I’m currently reading on philosophy of religion, and I came across your site. You admit to being a “staunch proponent of abductive arguments”. It made me curious as to what your thoughts were regarding arguments against theistic explanations (such as those given in Gregory Dawes’ Theism and Explanation). For example, theistic explanations don’t fulfill explanatory virtues such as being part of successful research program (most theistic explanations failed in the past), being informative (they don’t describe in great detail the mechanisms involved in divine activity), being testable, being coherent with our background knowledge (arguably, all our knowledge involves embodied minds, so positing a disembodied one is theoretically costly), and having ontological economy (theistic explanations posit a radically new set of substances).
Furthermore, given God’s omniperfection, we can expect that he will fulfill his intentions in the best possible way. But to the extent that the phenomena to be explained don’t seem to be the product of the best possible way of being actualized, it is to that extent we can doubt that God’s activity is the explanation for that phenomena. We need good reason to think the phenomena to be explained was actualized in the best possible way; otherwise, the theistic explanation won’t work.
Is the properly basic belief that I have free will indefeasible? I’m thinking of the fact that a properly basic belief can be defeated, but was wondering how far that goes. So can someone ever provide a defeater for the idea that we have free will? The thought came to me again when I was listening to a podcast by Glenn Andrew Peoples and he made a comment about how we should give up the idea of free will if a good enough theory (of mind) came along that denied free will. I disagree with Glenn on this but was wondering if you ever could be presented with defeaters for free will. I can sort of see an undercutting defeater might but not a rebutting defeater.
For those who may not be familiar with the issue, a properly basic belief is a belief that is held via non-doxastic justification, which is self-evident to the subject. For example, a properly basic belief is the belief that I am a mind or that there is an external reality beyond myself. The first question is whether or not free will is a properly basic belief–and I think not.
I am currently a college student with a strong interest in apologetics. I’ve seen that, by and large, the arguments that apologists use seem to have shown themselves logically sound and hard to disprove despite decades or centuries of them being around. So the theist’s arguments seem to have many strong points. What would be considered the “weak spots” of the apologetic arguments? What arguments might the skeptic use that have the most potential to show that theism is false and that God does not exist?
Thank you. (Shawn)
This is a very interesting question since it seems to me that I’d have to be showing those at the table what my hand is. There are few weak spots in apologetic arguments and I think the two I see most concerning are 1) poor methodology and 2) theoretical implications for parts of the arguments/defense.
Let’s first look at some poor methodology. Most arguments you’ll find in the deductive, inductive, or abductive form. I’m a staunch proponent of abductive arguments. Here’s an example of William Lane Craig’s fine-tuning argument.
While at the VT Debate on the existence of God one of the atheists’, in passing, briefly mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma. Does God command something because it’s good or is it good because God commands it? The first horn makes goodness apart from God and the second makes goodness arbitrary. This came up in the Q&A as well. What if God commanded you to strap a bomb to your chest and blow other people up or rape others? As an advocate of divine command theory the response to this question is a bit more nuanced then any prima facie answer. (Also, see my moral argument I presented at this debate).
The proponent of divine command theory (DCT) claims that whatever God commands to any moral agent becomes a moral obligation. Formulations of the commands are given symbolic form by David Efird as: