Monday, February 28, 2011

Conference Announcement

Readers on the west coast may be interested in the Society of Christian Philosophers Mountain-Pacific Regional Conference this weekend, March 3-5, at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. The plenary speakers are Robert Roberts (Baylor University) and Jay Wood (Wheaton College), and the theme of the conference is "Knowledge and Virtues."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Omnipotence and necessary existence

A common argument against theism is to argue that some of God's properties are inconsistent. For example, the logical problem of evil is the objection that God's omnipotence is logically incompatible with his benevolence. I want to highlight another potential incompatibility that I have not seen discussed in the literature: between God's omnipotence and necessary existence. (If I've missed it, please let me know.)

Theists generally agree that God is omnipotent and exists necessarily. On the standard semantics for modal logic,  existing necessarily is existing in every possible world. It's important to notice, however, that existing in every possible world does not entail existing at every time in every possible world. Consider a non-theological example. It may be true that, in each possible world, there exists a first event in the history of that possible world. Perhaps for our world this is the first instant of the Big Bang. On a presentist theory of time, for which only the present exists, it will not be the case that in each possible world the first event in the world's history always exists.

I've shown that necessarily existing and necessarily always existing can come apart. This opens up logical space for two kinds of arguments against theism, understood as the thesis that there is one and only one maximally perfect being that exists at all times in all possible worlds.

The first argument:
(1) God necessarily exists. That is, for all possible worlds W, there is at least one time t in W at which God exists.
(2) Necessarily, in virtue of God's omnipotence, God can bring it about that God no longer exists. That is, for all worlds W, there is at least one time t* at which it is possible that God does not exist.
(3) It is not the case that there is at least one maximally perfect being at all times in all possible worlds, i.e. theism is false.

The second argument:
(4) God necessarily exists. That is, for all possible worlds W, there is at least one time t in W at which God exists.
(5) Necessarily, in virtue of God's omnipotence, God can bring it about that another maximally perfect being also exists. That is, for all worlds W, there is at least one time t* at which it is possible that God is not the only maximally perfect being that exists.
(6) It is not the case that there is at most one maximally perfect being at all times in all possible worlds, i.e. theism is false.

What should we think of these two anti-theistic arguments? While I don't think either one is sound, I think they're both interesting insofar as they highlight two ways in which omnipotence and necessary existence can be incompatible. One way is if God is capable of bringing it his own non-existence. Another is if God is capable of bringing about another maximally perfect being. Now, the second possibility might be objected to on the grounds that two maximally perfect beings cannot coexist. If that scenario is a logical impossibility, then it will not fall under God's omnipotence to be able to bring it about. 

The first scenario, that of God bringing about his own non-existence, is perhaps a more interesting case. A theist might object that this scenario is metaphysically impossible, since God exists necessarily. But, because I've shown that necessarily existing and necessarily always existing can come apart, this objection requires further elaboration. 

Another objection that the theist might appeal to is that the non-existence of God is a state of affairs that God would never choose to bring about, even if he were able to. For example, it may be that God's bringing about his own non-existence is incompatible with God's benevolence, since temporal slices of worlds in which God does not exist are far less valuable than slices of those worlds in which God does exist. So, God's non-existence is an inferior option, and a maximally good being would never choose something inferior-- therefore, God would never will his own non-existence, even if he were capable of doing so. I suspect this is the more promising route for the theist to take in responding to the first argument. 

While these arguments are ultimately not sound, they are useful for getting a grip on some interesting ways in which one might try to argue that God's omnipotence and his necessary existence are incompatible.

Coming attractions

An exciting lineup of original philosophy of religion posts is in the works. Here's what coming up:

Omnipotence vs. Necessary Existence: Can these properties of God conflict?

Leibniz on God's creation and the doctrine of the 'striving possibles'

Joshua Rasmussen's "A New Argument for a Necessary Being"

The problem of evil and the structure of harm: a powerful theistic response?

Evidence and surviving death

Nietzsche's eternal recurrence and his objections to Christianity

Monday, February 14, 2011

New journal: Anamnesis

A new peer-reviewed journal, titled Anamnesis, may be of interest to readers interested in the political aspects of philosophy of religion. The editorial statement tells us that the journal is devoted to "the study of Tradition, Place, and 'Things Divine.'" As examples of philosophers and other intellectuals that the journal will be concerned with, the statement lists Gadamer, Charles Taylor, MacIntyre, Hauerwas, T.S. Eliot, Hume, and many others. With a talented editorial board, this will surely be a journal to watch.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Reviews Vol. 1

Drawing on both philosophical and empirical resources, McGraw argues that "religious institutions, even religious political parties, can and have contributed positively to the stability and flourishing of liberal democratic political institutions."

This collection of Cohen's essays on Levinas touches on the philosopher's relation to Judaism and the philosophical tradition.

Concentrating on the work of Maritain, Rawls and MacIntyre, Kozinski explores the difficult question of how Catholicism should relate to democracy.

The Soul Hypothesis: Investigations into the Existence of the Soul by Mark C. Baker and Stewart Goetz (eds.)
A collection of nine essays on materialism and the soul, focusing on whether contemporary science is consistent with a philosophical commitment to the existence of a soul. The science here is dealt with at a high level; one of the contributors (Halvorson) is a philosopher of science at Princeton who has published on quantum mechanics in leading physics journals.

Death and Mortality in Contemporary Philosophy by Bernard Schumacher
A monograph concerning how to define death and whether it is an evil.


Welcome to Faith in Philosophy! This site aims to be a valuable resource for philosophers interested in religion, and theologians interested in philosophy. I will provide regular updates with links to new book reviews, journal articles, conferences, and other events related to faith and philosophy to keep readers up to date on the state of the art. I may also host discussions of journal articles or books, as well as write regular blog posts on philosophy of religion topics.