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If, as some apologists say, God never changes; surely, then, God lived an

If, as some apologists say, God never changes; surely, then, God lived an infinity before creating the world. One wonders why he changed in order to create people. If for companionship, why are so many people flawed by whatever criteris one uses? This is a very enjoyable blog. JH

Great question -- one that deep thinkers have been worrying about ever since they came up with the idea of God! As the great 4th century Catholic thinker Augustine said, when asked what God was doing all that time before creating the universe he was tempted to answer: preparing Hell for those who ask stupid questions! ... But then he recognized that it was an important question, and gave his own answer to it: since one of the things that God creates is time itself, there IS no time 'before' the creation of the universe -- so you don't have to say what God was doing! ... Now whether this answers your question or not -- i.e. WHY did God create anything -- is not clear, but it may take away a little incentive for raising that question: if God never 'changed' (from not creating to creating), then perhaps we don't need to look for a 'cause' to his changing in the way you framed the question ....

hope that's useful!

(If you're interested, I present some of the classic answers to this question in my book The God Question ...)



I've taken an introductory class in the philosophy of religion and I've read

I've taken an introductory class in the philosophy of religion and I've read some introductory materials about it on the internet. I'm sort of disappointed with the kinds of questions that are considered central to the philosophy of religion because it seems like other questions can be just as central but they aren't mentioned. One of the central questions of the philosophy of religion is whether or not God existence can be proved. While that is undoubtedly an important question "proof" seems to be a high standard even in philosophy and a "succinct" proof that can be written in a formulaic manner is an even higher standard. If you want to argue whether or not Bill Gates is a good man it isn't necessary to prove his existence. You can however attempt to characterize his behavior within a context and from that attempt to evaluate whether he is a good or a bad person. Should not the philosophy of religion, for at least some important strands of religious thinking, work in a similar vein? That is it would...

Thanks for your comments/questions. It's perhaps hard to judge what is 'central' to a discipline or a pursuit, particularly one with as long and varied a history as the 'phil. of religion' (broadly construed). In fact lots more ink (or parchment space) has been devoted to questions of God's nature (perhaps) than to God's existence (as well as to the relationship between God's nature/existence of course, a la the ontological argument). [My own book, The God Question, presents the rather long history of discussion of different aspects of God's nature ...] And anyway re: the kinds of things you lean to at the end of your comments: it seems to me that many of the traditional ways of attempting to prove God's existence proceed exactly as you recommend, ie by 'considering whether the world can be evaluated in terms of God's existence.' The classical versions of cosmological and teleological arguments, as well as their more contemporary updates, seem to do precisely that [again my book presents a number of these ...] .... So I suppose what I am suggesting is that your senses that 'proofs of God' are too central and that there should be greater emphasis on (roughly) empirical approaches to God's existence -- are both inaccurate! In fact lots more gets discussed than merely 'proofs' of God's existence, and those proofs that do get discussed DO have a large empirical component ....

hope that's helpful --


Can someone be an atheist and do good work in the philosophy of religion? what

Can someone be an atheist and do good work in the philosophy of religion? what sorts of issues would attract such a person?

Most certainly. To give just four of many living examples: William L. Rowe, J. L. Schellenberg, Graham Oppy, and Erik Wielenberg. To see which issues they find interesting, start by following those links. One needn't believe that God exists in order to find questions in philosophy of religion worth pursuing, especially since so many people at home and abroad do believe that God exists (or tell pollsters that they do) and allow that belief to guide their behavior. Atheists regard theistic belief as false, but they needn't thereby regard it as unimportant.

Many people bring forth the argument that the chances of life, especially

Many people bring forth the argument that the chances of life, especially intelligent human life, occurring are so ridiculously improbable that the only way to explain it is to bring a creator into the picture. I've heard various figures thrown around and grains of sand in the universe brought in to explain how unlikely it is. But is the actual science behind the probability sound? And do you think that this is a good reason to believe in a creator? And what about a rational, logical argument explaining how this is not a very good reason? Thanks.

First of all, it is nonsense to try to assess the probability of intelligent human life occurring unless we first stipulate what the prior conditions are.

According to evolutionary theory, human beings and other living things are the result of genetic mutations that occur within prior life forms, which are then selected as a result of added fitness within a certain environment. Given the nature of this process, it is all but senseless to assess the (prior) probability that some specific life form would emerge from a (random) mutation in the prior life form, given all of the variables that are pertinent to fitness within a given environment. So if someone thinks they can calculate this as a real probability, I expect they are simply making up the values on which their calculations are based. This is no way to do things!

Now, there may be calculations we can apply to very specific conditions at very specific places and times, with respect the the likelihood that some very specific string of molecules might come together in that environment. People have debated about this with respect the the very origin of life in what has been called the "primordial soup." But a lot of this is also pure speculation, because we don't really know all of the exact conditions in all places and times within that "soup." So I don't find this very useful, either.

Finally, there is something in the logicl of the argument that strikes me as simply fallacious. The argument sseems to go like this:

(1) The likelihood that life (or life form X) would come about in these conditions is absurdly low.
(2) That likelihood goes way up if we assume that the emergence of life (or life form X) was the product of divine intervention.
(3) Hence, it is reasonable to suppose that divine intervention is the real cause of the emergence of life (or life form X) in those circumstances.

There is a lot wrong with this, even if we accept premise 1:

(A) What are the (prior) probabilities of the existence or emergence of a divinity, whose will would be precisely what it needed to be to want life (or life form X) to come about? And if these are incalculable (as I suspect), then why should we accept premise 2? It seems to me that one might suspect that the addition of the potential improbability of the appearance of a divinity (if that notion is even cogent, which some doubt, but which--if not--deduces that probability to zero!) would actually make all of the pertinent probabilities go even lower, rather than higher.

(B) Equally importantly, wwe should reject the inference. Notice what this way of reasoning would do to lottery winners. I am told the Powerball lottery has probabilities of 1 in 80,000,000 that anyone will win it. That's pretty unlikely, right? But if we now add something like premise 2 and make the inference to some version of 3, we will learn that all "lotteries" are actually cheats, because it is more plausible to suppose that some God prefers to pick the winners of the "lotteries" instead of allowing chance to generate the outcome.

I expect that many lottery winners feel that God has blessed them with the win. But that sentiment does not mean that we should accept such reasoning! Improbable stuff happens all the time. Even given the existence of intelligent life and all the rest, what would you say are the prior probabilities that you would ask this question and I would give this exact answer? Who knows, but on the wway of calculating that this sort of argument proposes, my guess is that someone would conclude that it is only the result of God's will that I gave this answer at this time to your question!

(I don't think so...)

Is modern critique of religion (that of past and present) practical or obsolete?

Is modern critique of religion (that of past and present) practical or obsolete? In other terms is the philosophy of religion more of a debate or consensus? And would you say most professors of philosophy grant their attention either way?

My colleagues may disagree, but I think philosophical reflection on religion (pro and con) has never been stronger. Leading journals like Religious Studies, the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Faith and Philosophy, Philo, Philosophia Christi, and others are vibrant places to find contemporary debate on all major topics in terms of religion (the existence of God, the relationship of religion and ethics, religious pluralism, etc). 'Philosophy of religion' is the top pick for topics in philosophy at Oxford by students, and in a poll of several years ago, it was the second preferred area of philosophy in the USA by students (the first choice was ethics). The profession of philosophy today contains many secular atheists and some are hostile to religion and its practices, but it also contains many Christians, people of Jewish faith, Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist philosophers.... So, I would say there is no consensus on religion among all philosophers today, but there is also no consensus on the best ethical theory or philosophy of science or the philosophy of mathematics and so on. This diversity should not (I suggest) lead one to believe that there are no right answers in these different domains. But it should (again I suggest) lead us to be humble when we do profess that theory X is the right answer. I am a theist, for example, while some other panelists are atheists (such as Louise Antony). but I will be the first to say that I might be wrong, and she might be right. For a great look at the lack of consensus in philosophy in many areas, check out Gary Gutting's latest book from Cambridge University Press on what philosophers do and do not know. For one overview of the arguments in philosophy of religion today, check out the free online Stanford Encyclopedia of Religion entry "Philosophy of Religion."

I am not entirely sure of the meaning of your second question. Are you asking about whether most philosophers (past and present) critique or defend or explore religious concerns / beliefs / practices? This is hard to say, but if I had to wager I think that from Socrates to the present, of all the areas of philosophy that have been covered, probably the most attention has gone into ........... I don't think I am in a position to finish that sentence, but topics that bear on religious concerns would be very high on the list, along with ethics and metaphysics (theories of what exists) and certainly more than (for example) philosophy of language or philosophy of mathematics, though I would also say that the latter two are fascinating areas of philosophy and a deep inquiry in religion, ethics, and metaphysics and epistemology (theory of knowledge) should include (and would be enriched by) a solid grounding in philosophy of language and philosophy of mathematics.

In closing it occurs to me you might be raising a different question: do most philosophers make known their views on religion? Very hard to say, though I have noticed in the last ten or fifteen years that older philosophers have seemed more explicit about their faith (like Michael Dummett, John Cottingham, Robert Audi) or their dismissal of religious faith (Simon Blackburn, Mary Midgley, David Lewis).

A recent while ago a person asked why their were so few religious persons in

A recent while ago a person asked why their were so few religious persons in Philosophy departments these days. One philosopher responded that there were many opportunities for abstract thinking in the religion department of universities. Most religion departments are centered around particular religions such as Christianity while historically philosophers have often been spiritual but not affiliated with a religion. So I guess you could still ask why are so few philosophers spiritual in orientation and what educational department could they possibly turn to?

Interesting! There are significant numbers of self-identified "religious persons" throughout the world in different philosophy departments. You may find mostly Muslim philosophers in countries where the culture is Islamic, but that is not always true, as can be seen in the UK and USA. My own school includes a Hindu professor who shares a position with the religion and philosophy and you can find a guide to the many Christian philosophers working in the English-speaking world by looking at the Society of Christian Philosophers website. As for philosophy and spirituality, there are a few secular philosophers who have sought to promote a kind of spirituality without any religious affiliation or theistic framework (this was a project of Robert Solomon, for example). For a fascinating essay by one of the greatest living philosophers on the desire for some kind of spirituality, you should check out Thomas Nagel's essay "Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament." I think this is on his NYU website, but it is also available in a book by that title published with Oxford University Press.

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for atheism. In particular, if there was no designer (God), isn’t it unlikely that something as strange as free will would arise?

As always with questions about free will, the answer to this one depends on how one understands free will. If one defines free will as a God-given power, then yes, atheists who accept that definition would conclude that there is no free will. But that's not a very good definition of free will. If one thinks free will requires a non-physical soul, then atheists who believe there are no such souls, would also think there is no free will. Atheists could believe in such souls, however (just not that they are God-given). Some scientists who say free will is an illusion (I call them 'willusionists') seem to think that the materialist worldview that science seems to provide evidence for rules out free will, because they assume free will, by definition, requires non-physical powers.

But I don't see any good reason to define free will as God-given or instantiated only in souls (and some of my work studying folk intuitions about free will suggests that most people agree with me). Rather, free will is the capacity to make choices and control actions such that one can be responsible for one's actions. This capacity is extremely complex (and for a naturalist like me, it's no surprise that it requires something as complex as the most complexly structured thing in the universe, the human brain--indeed, it's hard to see how a soul, whatever that might be, has the right sort of complexity). But I don't think "strange" is the right word for it.

How could the capacity for free will arise without a designer God. Like everything else in the biological world--the process of evolution. Some of the capacities involved in free will, such as the ability to consciously envision various possible future situations, each of which depends on what one chooses to do, were likely selected for directly because of their contribution to survival (and reproduction). Others, such as the ability to consider one's own mental states, such as desires, may have been a byproduct of abilities selected for other benefits, such as the ability to represent other individuals' mental states (the better to see, for instance, if they are trying to deceive you in complex cooperative ventures).

The upshot is that, once we hone in on a useful and plausible understanding of what it takes to have free will, it looks like it can be naturalized in such a way that it does not depend on God or souls.

I should add that the existence of God notoriously raises problems for free will that atheists don't face. If God knows everything we will choose before we choose it--or worse, if God is the cause of everything, including what we choose--then it is hard to understand how we can choose freely or be in control of what we choose.

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem to think so.

Well much depends on what "scientific" is taken to mean (obviously), and there are plenty of philosophers who think that science strongly supports, provides evidence for, theism -- or at least that science is essentially neutral on the question of theism/atheism. But what does seem deniable is that actual scientific research, and its many applications, makes no explicit reference to God -- so that would seem to support the idea that science works in an atheist framework, on the assumption of atheism, and has managed to be pretty darn successful in so doing. That doesn't mean that various scientific results are not consistent with theism (though of course we want to recognize the difference between believing in "God" in general and believing all the numerous details of any particular religion); but it does suggest that atheism and science have a kind of natural fit, in a way in which theism -- especially when entwined with all the details of the particular religions -- does not.

IMHO, anyway!

Andrew Pessin

Hello Philosophers!

Hello Philosophers! Can anyone defend the Ontological Argument against Kant's criticism that existence is not a predicate?

Some random suggestions: (1) David Pears pointed out that even if Kant's argument were wholly clear and wholly successful, which it is not, it could only show that existence is not an ordinary predicate, if it is a predicate. His view is that it is a predicate, just a very peculiar one; (2) There is also the view of the celebrated logician, mathematician and philosopher Bolzano, who writes in the Theory of Science ("Kinds of Propositions") that 'I take being [Sein] or actuality [Wirklichkeit] to be precisely what language makes it out to be, namely an attribute; whoever denies this confuses (I believe) actuality with substance. By substance I mean an actuality which is not an attribute of another actuality; hence I admit that we cannot truly predicate the putative abstractum of the substance (substantiality) of any object. For it is part of the concept of substance that there is no property of this kind. But it is not the same with actuality, which I consider to be a mere attribute, not only of substance itself but of each of its attributes, since every attribute of an actual thing is itself actual. And since every attribute of an object can be ascribed to it in a judgment of the form 'A has b', why not the attribute of actuality?' (3) There is a related argument deriving from Russell's Theory of Descriptions in my own Philosophical Propositions, despite the fact that Russell himself took the implication of the theory to be that the ontological argument is no good; (4) There is a defence of a stripped-down version of the ontological argument by the late Gary Matthews and Lynn Baker Rudder in Analysis for 2010.

Some people say that you don't have to have faith to be in touch with a

Some people say that you don't have to have faith to be in touch with a supernatural reality, rather you can have an intuitive access to that reality. Isn't that really just faith since it's not based on reason? I mean what is "intuition" anyways? I'm sure there are a lot of different definitions but I could use some of that "analytic" style of philosophy clarity on this concept of intuition. (even if that's by definition impossible)

I wonder if it is faith. There is an Islamic philosopher called Ibn al-Arabi who argued that for him there was no point in proving the existence of God since He is just so obviously all around us. Here he was thinking of one of the beautiful names for God, al-Muhit, the omnipresent. Suppose someone says that the presence of God is so evident to him that it is like believing that today is Thursday, or that the hands I see banging away on the keys of my computer are my hands. As Wittgenstein says, these are not claims that really one needs evidence for.

Perhaps the same could be said for the knowledge that the world is infused with divinity?