Selected by graduating philosophy majors for a $1000 departmental teaching award, 2005 Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Excellence Award, University of Colorado, 2001 resident’s eaching cholar, niversity of olorado, 1992-94 Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Excellence Award, University of Colorado, 1981..
A one-credit seminar devoted to theological issues. Can be taken three times for credit. This semester, we'll be discussing Thomas Morris's highly readable book on Pascal and the meaning of life. To give you a quick sense of what this book is about, here are the chapter titles, followed by a few paragraphs from the first chapter.
In a recent paper, I claimed that if a familiar line of argument against the possibility of a beginningless series of events worked as advertised, it would work just as well against the possibility of an endless series of pre-determined events. The present paper is my response to objections by William Lane Craig. It argues that neither Craig’s claim that an endless series of events is a merely potential infinite nor his claim that future events don’t exist is successful in (...) blocking my original conclusion. (shrink)
Taking as a test case biblical texts in which the God of Israel commands the destruction other nations, the present paper defends the legitimacy and the necessity of ethical criticism of the Bible. It takes issue with the suggestions of several contemporary Christian philosophers who have recently defended the view that (in Israel’s early history) God had good and morally sufficient reasons for commanding genocide.
In recent years, William Lane Craig has vigorously championed a moral argument for God's existence. The backbone of Craig's argument is the claim that only God can provide a ' sound foundation in reality' for morality. The present article has three principal aims. The first is to interpret and clarify the account of the ontological foundation of morality proposed by Craig. The second is to press home an important objection to that account. The third is to expose the weakness of (...) Craig's case for saying that without God morality would be groundless and illusory. (shrink)
Is goodness without god good enough? A debate on faith, secularism, and ethics Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11153-010-9243-8 Authors Wes Morriston, University of Colorado, Boulder Department of Philosophy Boulder CO 80309-0232 USA Journal International Journal for Philosophy of Religion Online ISSN 1572-8684 Print ISSN 0020-7047.
One of the principal lines of argument deployed by the friends of the kalām cosmological argument against the possibility of a beginningless series of events is a quite general argument against the possibility of an actual infinite. The principal thesis of the present paper is that if this argument worked as advertised, parallel considerations would force us to conclude, not merely that a series of discrete, successive events must have a first member, but also that such a series must have (...) a final member. Anyone who thinks that an endless series of events is possible must therefore reject this popular line of argument against the possibility of an actual infinite. (shrink)
People who do not believe that there is a God constitute an obvious problem for divine command metaethics. They have moral obligations, and are often enough aware of having them. Yet it is not easy to think of such persons as “hearing” divine commands. This makes it hard to see how a divine command theory can offer a completely general account of the nature of moral obligation. The present paper takes a close look at this issue as it emerges in (...) the context of the most recent version of Robert Adams’ modified divine command theory. I argue that, despite a valiant attempt to do so, Adams does not succeed in giving an adequate account of the moral obligations of non-believers. More generally, I claim that if divine commands are construed as genuine speech acts, theists are well advised not to adopt a divine command theory. (shrink)
If God commanded something that was obviously evil, would we have a moral obligation to do it? I critically examine three radically different approaches divine-command theorists may take to the problem posed by this question: (1) reject the possibility of such a command by appealing to God's essential goodness; (2) avoid the implication that we should obey such a command by modifying the divine-command theory; and (3) accept the implication that we should obey such a command by appealing to divine (...) transcendence and mystery. I show that each approach faces significant challenges, and that none is completely satisfying. (shrink)
Plantinga claims to give a person who is agnostic about the ultimate source of his cognitive faculties an undefeatable defeater for all his beliefs. This argument of Plantinga’s bears a family resemblance to his much better known argument for saying that naturalism is self-defeating, but it has a much more ambitious conclusion. In the present paper, I try to show both that Plantinga’s argument for this conclusion fails, and that even if an “origins agnostic” were to succumb to it, a (...) cure for his skepticism is ready at hand—one that does not involve believing in anything like God. (shrink)
Tim Mawson argues that the ability to choose what one knows to be morally wrong is a power for some persons in some circumstances, but that it would be a mere liability for God. The lynchpin of Mawson's argument is his claim that a power is an ability that it is good to have. In this rejoinder, I challenge this claim of Mawson's, arguing that choosing a course of action is always an exercise of power, whether or (...) not it is good for one to have that power. I then go on to develop an argument for saying that if (for the reasons presented by Mawson) it is not good for God to have the ability to make evil choices, then it isn't good for us to have it either, in which case the free-will defence is unsustainable. (shrink)
severe and prolonged pain, in heartbreak and destruction, in disloyalty and betrayal, in the suffering of the innocent, in unjust punishment. He has, in short, an intense dislike for anything that you or I might approve of or enjoy. If he had his druthers we'd all be utterly miserable and come to a bad end. Now I' ve certainly never met a demonist, and I suppose we can agree that demonism would be an extraordinarily implausible view. Still, it is worth (...) asking why this is so, What is it that makes demonism so absurd?' In part 1 of this paper, I explore and critically evaluate the suggestion that we know the Demon does not exist because there are so many instances of goodness that such a being would have no apparent "reason" for allowing. Throughout, myAemonist will be helping himself to the "insights" of theists who defend classical theism against a parallel problem Ã¢â¬â the so-called evidential problem of evil Ã¢â¬â by claiming that we just don't know enough to make the argument go through. In part 2, I draw out two implications. First, that this purely defensive strategy works just as well for demonism as for theism. And second, that if this approach to the argument from evil works as well as some theists believe, then there is no.. (shrink)
In response to an earlier paper of mine, T. J. Mawson has argued that omnipotence is logically incompatible with wrong-doing, ‘whilst accepting that there is “a genuine, active power knowingly to choose evil” and thus leaving room for a free-will defence to the problem of evil’. Here, I attempt to show that Mawson is mistaken on both counts – that his argument for the incompatibility of omnipotence and wrong-doing is defective, and that the free-will defence cannot be sustained on the (...) ground marked out by him. Given Mawson's understanding of power and freedom, I argue that it would be possible for God to create persons who are both free and unable to make evil choices. (shrink)
According to Alvin Plantinga and his followers, there is a complete set of truths about what any possible person would freely do in anypossible situation. Richard Gale offers two arguments for saying that this doctrine entails that God exercises “freedom-canceling” control over his creatures. Gale’s first argument claims that Plantinga’s God controls our behavior by determining our psychological makeup. The second claims that God causes (in the “forensic” sense) all of our behavior. The present paper critically examines and rejects both (...) of these arguments. The second of Gale’s arguments blurs the distinction between causal laws and the conditionals of freedom, whereas the first fails to appreciate the force of the libertarian claim that our psychological makeup may “incline” us in a certain direction without determining our behavior. It also fails to acknowledge the way in which a libertarian like Plantinga might think we contribute to shaping our own characters. (shrink)
William Lane Craig claims that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is strongly supported by the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. In the present paper, I critically examine Craig’s arguments for this claim. I conclude that they are unsuccessful, and that the Big Bang theory provides no support for the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Even if it is granted that the universe had a “first cause,” there is no reason to think that this cause created (...) the universe out of nothing. As far as the Big Bang theory is concerned, the cause of the universe might have been what Adolf Grünbaum has called a “transformative cause”---a cause that shaped something that was “already there.”. (shrink)
In a series of much discussed articles and books, William Lane Craig defends the view that the past could not consist in a beginningless series of events. In the present paper, I cast a critical eye on just one part of Craig's case for the finitude of the past – viz. his philosophical argument against the possibility of actually infinite sets of objects in the ‘real world’. I shall try to show that this argument is unsuccessful. I shall also take (...) a close look at several considerations that are often thought to favour the possibility of an actual infinite, arguing in each case that Craig's response is inadequate. (shrink)
On a Molinist account of creation and providence, not only is there is a complete set of truths about what every possible person would freely do in any possible set of circumstances, but these conditional truths are part of the very explanation of our existence. Robert Adams has recently argued that the explanatory priority of these conditionals undermines libertarian freedom. In the present essay, I take at close look at Adams’ argument and at the Molinist response of Thomas Flint. After (...) showing that Flint’s response is inadequate, I develop what I believe to be a more successful Molinist response to Adams’ argument. Along the way, I seek to provide some insight into the nature of libertarian freedom and the proper interpretation of the much discussed “principle of alternate possibilities.”. (shrink)
This paper elaborates and defends an argument for saying that if God is necessarily good (morally perfect in all possible worlds), then He does not have the maximum conceivable amount of power and so is not all-powerful. It considers and rejects several of the best-known attempts to show that necessary moral perfection is consistent with the requirements of omnipotence, and concludes by suggesting that a less than all-powerful person might still be the greatest possible being. Great is your power, and (...) your wisdom is immeasurable. Psalm 147.5. (shrink)
Can God be both omnipotent and essentially good? Working with the Anselmian conception of God as the greatest possible being, a number of philosophers have tried to show that omnipotence should be understood in such a way that these properties are compatible. In the present paper, I argue that we can, without inconsistency or other obvious absurdity, conceive of a being more powerful than the Anselmian God. I conclude that contemporary Anselmian philosophers have conflated two logically distinct questions: (1) How (...) much power would be possessed by the best possible God? and (2) How much power is required for omnipotence? When these questions are distinguished, it can be seen that the Anselmian God does not have maximal power and is not omnipotent. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to take a close look at some little discussed aspects of the kalam cosmological argument, with a view to deciding whether there is any reason to believe the causal principle on which it rests (“Whatever begins to exist must have a cause”), and also with a view to determining what conclusions can be drawn about the nature of the First Cause of the universe (supposing thatthere is one). I am particularly concerned with the problems (...) that arise when it is assumed (as it often is) that that the First Cause is timeless and that it timelessly creates time. I argue that this forces the defender of the kalam argument to analyze the concept of “beginning to exist” in a way that raises series doubts about its main causal principle, and that it also undercuts the main argument for saying that the cause of the universe must be a person. (shrink)
Many Christian philosophers believe that it is a great good that human beings are free to choose between good and evil – so good, indeed, that God is justiﬁed in putting up with a great many evil choices for the sake of it. But many of the same Christian philosophers also believe that God is essentially good – good in every possible world. Unlike his sinful human creatures, God cannot choose between good and evil. In that sense, he is not (...) ‘morally free’. (shrink)
Must there have been a First Event in the history of the universe? Or might it be the case that something or other (maybe something very small) has always existed? Aquinas famously held that this question could not be settled by natural reas onÂ–that without divine revelation we would have no way of knowing that God created the world out of nothing finitely many years ago. But other medieval theologians, less under the sway of Aristotle, rejected this view of the (...) matter. According to these thi nkers, it could be proved that the universe had a beginning in time. And to their way of thinking, this provided the crucial premise for a very simple demonstration of God's existenceÂ–or at least of the existence of a First Cause that brought the u niverse into existence finitely many years ago. (shrink)
At the dramatic climax of the book of Job, God answers Job from a whirlwind; but it is notoriously difficult to see how this answer addresses the problem posed by Job's suffering. In this paper, I am especially concerned with the following questions. What underlying problem is the poet wrestling with? How is God's answer to Job supposed to be relevant to this problem? And why is Job satisfied by it? I critically consider what seem to me to be two (...) of the most important interpretations. Neither of them turns out to be completely satisfying. I then conclude by suggesting that the book of Job itself oscillates back and forth between two quite different conceptions of God's relation to the world. (shrink)
In an impressive series of books and articles, Alvin Plantinga has developed challenging new versions of two much discussed pieces of philosophical theology: the free will defense and the ontological argument.' His treatment of both subjects has provoked a tremendous amount of critical comment. What has not been generally noticed', however, is that when taken together, Plantinga's views on these two subjects lead to a very serious problem in philosophical theology. The premises of his version of the ontological argument, when (...) combined with the presuppositions of the free will defense, appear to entail that God is not free to choose between good and evil and thus is not "good" in the distinctively moral sense of this word. In the present paper, I shall explain how this problem arises, and explore two different ways of trying to deal with it. (shrink)
In an article published several years ago, Nelson Pike recast his well known argument for the incompatibility of divine omniscience and human freedom in terms of a “possible worlds” analysis of human power. In this version, the argument is based on the assumption that past circumstances in the actual world “help to determine present powers.” If I am able to do something at the present time, Pike claims, there must be a possible world with a past just like the past (...) of the actual world in which I do it.In a recent discussion, Joshua Hoffman attacks Pike’s argument and the analysis of power on which it is based. Specifically, he presents two objections to Pike’s thesis about past circumstances helping to determine present powers. Both objections are attempts to produce counterexamples to Pike’s claim.In the present paper, I hope to accomplish two things. I shall try to work out a reasonably precise formulation of the thesis about power on which Pike bases his argument. I shall also try to show that both of Hoffman’s objections to Pike’s thesis are mistaken. I shall argue that one of them is based on a serious misinterpretation of Pike’s claim, and is successful only against a thesis that is not required for Pike’s argument. The remaining objection, I shall argue, is based on a claim that is demonstrably false.Whether or not Pike’s thesis about power is correct is a larger question that I will not try to decide here. My only concern is to meet Hoffman’s objections. (shrink)