analytic philosophy

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Book Review: “Atheism? A Critical Analysis” by Stephen E. Parrish

Stephen E. Parrish analyzes atheism with the sharpest tools of analytic philosophy in his latest book, Atheism? A Critical Analysis. After an introductory chapter looking at the issues at hand (circularity, the meaning and extent of worldview, definitions of key words like faith, and the specific type of atheism he’s analyzing–the most prominent one in contemporary philosophy today, naturalistic atheism), Parrish takes up the task of inspecting atheism from all sides, with chapters on competing theories of existence, the existence and order of the universe, the existence of the mind, ethics, and beauty and evil.

The chapter on competing theories of existence is insightful as it both helps divide different worldviews and categorize them and offers a fuller look at what Parrish calls ‘perfect being theism’ which is essentially classical theism sans a strong view of divine simplicity. With definitions under the belt, Parrish then dives into the critical analysis of naturalistic atheism.

The first question explored is that of the universe’s existence and order. Here, Parrish surveys the various possibilities. On naturalistic atheism, the universe may either exist by chance or necessity. He then offers deep analysis of each possibility. The concept of brute fact–that the universe just exists as it does by chance–is, frankly, brutalized in Parrish’s analysis. For example, the idea that our universe is the way it is and ordered because it just happens to be the one in an untold trillions chance that we exist and observe it, and that any other universe would have been just as likely, so we just happened to be likely, does not stand up to scrutiny when one also factors in the selection of an orderly, life-permitting universe like our own. As Parrish’s example points out, if we roll one trillion fair/unloaded dice, what is the likelihood of getting a six on every roll? Each additional sequence would be exponentially less likely. Then, if one rolls the trillion dice a trillion times, the odds of getting this sequence is remote in the extreme. That is, unlikely dice rolls are much, much, much more likely than lucking out and selecting the desired sequence of all 6 rolls. So even if there are an infinite number of possible universes, there is still a set of universes within that overall set of possible universes which would be infinitely less likely to exist, for we’d be trying to select a specific universe with a specific set of circumstances (eg. our own, as opposed to one in which no life is possible, or all that exists is a single star, or a black hole or something of the sort). So brute fact theory still has not accounted for the unlikely nature of our own universe. It is, effectively, equivalent to hand waving and saying the odds don’t matter, we just exist. Calling that an explanation for the existence of the universe is a misnomer at best (see Parrish’s analogy on p. 118). The universe as existing with necessity is analyzed by Parrish in a similar, thought-provoking fashion.

The existence of mind is the next question, and Parrish has done significant work on this question from a philosophical perspective in another work of his, The Knower and the Known (see my two part review: part 1, part 2). Here, Parrish offers a more succinct but nevertheless thorough analysis of the major philosophical positions on the mind from a naturalistic perspective. After a survey of the main options (eg. eliminativism, identity theory, supervenience, and more), he turns to pointing out problems with materialism such as the relationship between the brain and consciousness (146-147), the notion that consciousness is an illusion (147-148), and intentionality–that thoughts sem to be about things (148). Dualism, Parrish notes, has its own set of difficulties, but theism is able to offer a better explanatory power than naturalism because theism has reality as fundamentally personal due to the personal nature of God, thus allowing for an explanation for mind that does not reduce it to nothing, make it illusory, or any other position that suffers from the problems of effectively making consciousness a fiction, or, minimally, a non-intentional state (163).

The next two chapters cover ethics, value, and beauty and note how though these things seem to be observable aspects of our universe, naturalistic atheistic attempts to explain them fail on a number of levels. In particular, they struggle to explain how they can either exist or be objective. Two appendices at the end of the book provide a look at atheism’s ideological development and the social impacts of atheism. The latter appendix is particular aimed to be an answer to those that charge religion specifically is the cause of the worst of society’s ills.

Of the admirable aspects of this book, there is a noted effort to both present the strongest arguments atheists have to offer, including such noted names as J.L. Mackie and Graham Oppy, and an effort in tandem to avoid making arguments that not all Christians could agree with (eg. avoiding making something like ID theory a primary pillar of analyzing atheism in regards to natural order).

It should be noted that this work is intended for a more general audience, with more analogies and basic information presented than in Parrish’s other work. Nevertheless, it still remains deep and incisive in its reasoning and analysis, and readers of any level of expertise in relevant areas will find parts of interest. It would be hard to find a more well-reasoned, deeper look at analyzing atheism in the analytic tradition in a way that is written with accessibility to a more general readership in mind. Words and phrases like “worldview” and “probability structure” are utilized throughout the text, but Parrish defines them in the introductory chapters in such a way that readers will be able to grasp them. When it comes to the analysis itself, because of his engagement with major thinkers and positions in modern atheism, the book will be useful to any reader who finds the topic of interest. Atheism? A Critical Analysis comes recommended without reservations. Any reader can benefit from this extraordinary work.

Full Disclosure: I am named in the acknowledgements of the book, read an early draft, and provided some feedback on the early draft as well. I received a review copy from the author.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Knower and the Known by Stephen E Parrish– I wrote an extensive two-part review of Stephen E. Parrish’s book on dualism and naturalistic theories of mind. See the second part as well.

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response” by Kevin Diller

ted-dillerKevin Diller’s Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response is a work that seeks to offer a unified approach from Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga to a major difficulty in Christian doctrine: reconciling the necessity of having theological knowledge with the notion that our cognitive capacities are somehow faulty due to sin. But the book is much more than that, for throughout the book Diller gives major, applicable insight into the thought of both Plantinga and Barth.

Diller first goes deeper into the epistemological problem, then analyzes Barth’s view of revelation and his theological epistemology, and wraps up the first part of the book with a deep look at Plantinga’s concept of warrant and how it may impact the question of theological epistemology. He puts forward a consistent interpretation that allows for a unified perspective of Barth’s and Plantinga’s thought. The second part focuses on this unified perspective and puts it forward in analysis of natural theology, human knowledge of God, and Scripture.

Such a brief summary of contents does not do justice to the broad scale of the book, which touches upon many different topics of importance, while always remaining centered on the question of knowledge in theology. Diller has thoughtfully brought forth key aspects of the thoughts of both Barth and Plantinga in such a way as to demand reflection from both philosophers and theologians.

Some of the most interesting insights come from Diller’s integration of Barth’s concept of revelation with Plantinga’s concept of warrant. By focusing on God as self-revealing and self-attesting (Barth), believers are able to maintain warrant in their knowledge of theology (Plantinga).

Another area of profound interest is the way that both Barth and Plantinga approach natural theology–they largely argue that it cannot succeed in its end goal–to demonstrate the existence of God. Barth’s thought reflects this because God will necessarily be hidden from unaided human reason, while Plantinga argues that the arguments of natural theology are part of but do not ground warrant for belief in God. This latter section has much to reflect upon for one who, like me, thinks natural theology can be largely successful.

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma is a superb, worthwhile read for anyone with interest in the questions of how we may have knowledge within the worldview of Christianity. I highly commend it to my readers.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism

Knowing all the possible circumstances, persons, and permutations of these, God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen. (William Lane Craig, 86).

I’ve argued previously that molinism allows for human freedom and God’s perfect knowledge of the future. One objection which has been raised to my argument is that, granting all of it, it would seem that God is just really lucky that the world He wants to actualize is possible. Looking back, we can see that the argument flows from the logical priority of God’s knowledge. Central to my defense was the notion that the possible worlds are full of the free choices of creatures. The objection therefore argues that God must simply “get lucky.” There must be a possible world which God actually wants to actualize.

The argument would look something like this:

1) God can only create that which is possible

2) The set of possible worlds covers all possibilities.

3) Therefore, if there is a world which God wants to create, He would have had to be simply lucky–there would have had to be a possible world that contained the outcomes God desired.

The objection is quite thoughtful. It is not easy to resolve. Before rebutting this objection, it is important to note that the set of all possible worlds is the same whether one is a determinist, open theist, or molinist. Granted, open theists deny that this set would include future contingents, but for now that is irrelevant. All the positions agree the set of possible worlds includes no contradictions. Thus, any position must account for the “God got lucky” objection.

I believe that molinism offers a way around this difficulty, and it does so by again focusing upon logical priority. William Lane Craig’s  quote above illustrates this. God’s will is at the forefront. I suggest that God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. Consider the following argument, which focuses upon the redemption (as one of the outcomes God would desire):

1) God only wills what is possible
2) God wills the redemption
3) Therefore, the redemption is possible (modus ponens, 1-2)
4) Whatever is possible exists in the set of possible worlds (tautology)
5) Therefore, the redemption exists in the set of possible worlds (3, 4)

From this argument, it wouldn’t be too difficult to draw the inference that God isn’t lucky in regards to the possibilities–God’s will would have some kind of determining power over the set of possible worlds, because anything God wills would have to exist in a possible world. In other words, God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. That which God’s will must be possible, so it is not the set of possible worlds that determines what God can will, it is rather God’s will which determines the set of possible worlds.

A potential objection I could see is that this argument just moves the debate up another level–does God will things because they are possible or are they possible because God wills them? My response would again point to logical priority, and I would say that God’s nature (will) is logically prior to the set of possible worlds.

An objection could then be raised: “Why doesn’t God will for a world without evil?” Answer: Free will defense would work here also. God could clearly will for a world to have the redemption without destroying free will for all persons, but to will a world without evil would (possibly) impinge on all persons’ free will.

Therefore, it seems that only molinism can adequately account for both human free will and God’s omniscience and providence. Whatever God wills will occur. God is not lucky, rather, God is sovereign.

SDG.

Sources

William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence” in Four Views on Divine Providence ed. Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers, 79-100 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

Image Credit: I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Christian Doctrines and Analytic Philosophy

I’ve been pondering the possibility for analytic philosophy to explore Christian Doctrine. Clearly, the prospects aren’t terribly dim, for some (such as Alvin Plantinga and, to a greater extent, Richard Swinburne) have done this exact thing. I think it is important to utilize philosophy and theology in a mutually beneficial relationship, and I personally find the results when this happens to be singularly beautiful.

Why undertake this project? First, because I’ve seen a number of objections to core Christian theology which have been disturbing to me. This includes challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity, redemption/atonement, baptism, etc. Second, because I think it is necessary–or at least expedient–to outline doctrines in forms that can be analyzed. Objections to Christianity often come in the form of “X doctrine of Christianity is unintelligible, so it’s false.” If it can be demonstrated that X is intelligible, then such objections fail.

Is such a defense Scriptural? I believe so. Paul often utilized philosophy in his witnessing (see Acts 17:28 for an example). He argued from Scripture, but also utilized philosophical insights to witness to the Greeks. Not only that, but Jesus instructs us to love God with all of our mind (Mark 12:30).

How might such a defense look? It will look AWESOME. Okay, seriously, it will look something like this:

Sin (hereafter s) is broadly defined as any act which distances one from God. Now, on Christianity, s is that for which we must be atoned, for all have committed at least one act that can be classified as s. However, all who commit such acts are to be held accountable. But before God, who can stand (Psalm 130:3)? Therefore it must be an act of God to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I put that together just now for the sake of an example, but I’ll be going into more depth as I explore various Christian doctrines in light of analytic philosophy and Scripture.

I’m excited for this project, though I must admit it will likely take quite a bit of time to put anything together for it, as one must not only utilize analytic philosophy, but also doctrine and exegesis for this kind of project.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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