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Toronto Philosophy of Religion Work-in-Progress Group

This group is open to graduate students and faculty in the Toronto area who have research interests in analytic philosophy of religion. We try to meet several times each semester. At each meeting, someone presents a draft of a paper, and then we critically and constructively discuss it over refreshments. If you would like to present your work-in-progress, or if you would like to be added to the email list for this group, please contact me. A list of recent speakers and topics is below, along with a few videos.

(If you don't live in the Toronto area, but would like to present a paper to our group via Skype, or participate in our discussions via Skype, please contact me - I would be happy to arrange this.)


Winter 2017
Title:              A Discussion with Peter van Inwagen about Evolution and the Problem of Evil
Speaker:       Peter van Inwagen, University of Notre Dame / Duke University
Date/Time:  Friday, April 28th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      EPH142
new festschrift on Peter van Inwagen's philosophy contains criticisms of his work together with his responses. In Chapter 11, Alex Rosenberg criticizes van Inwagen's argument for the compatibility of Darwinism and theism. In Chapter 8, Louise Antony criticizes van Inwagen's response to the problem of evil. In this session, van Inwagen will lead a discussion of these critics' arguments, along with his replies.  The papers by Rosenberg and Antony will be circulated in advance, along with van Inwagen's replies. If you wish to receive copies, and you are not on the mailing list for this group, email Klaas Kraay at kraay@ryerson.ca.

Title:               Who Must Benefit from Hiddenness?
Speaker:        Luke Teeninga, D.Phil Candidate, Oxford University
Date/Time:   Tuesday, March 21st, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor (JOR-502)
Abstract:   What I will call the "patient-centred principle" states that God would allow some person S to be the victim of an evil for the sake of some good G only if G sufficiently benefits S. Is the patient-centred principle true, and, if so, is a similar principle true of divine hiddenness? That is, would God remain hidden from some person S for the sake of some good G only if G sufficiently benefits S? I will argue that the patient-centred principle has a number of exceptions, even in the case of evil, and so only a fairly qualified version of it might be true. I will also argue that nothing like it is true with regards to divine hiddenness.
Title:                The Goods of Atheism Argument: A Defence of Wide, Impersonal Anti-Theism
Speaker:         Kirk Lougheed, PhD Candidate, McMaster University
Date/Time:    Tuesday, March 7th, 1:00-3:00
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730)
Abstract:     Consider two possible worlds that are as similar as can be, except that atheism is true in one world and theism is true in the other world. Which world is rational to prefer? In this paper, I explore a defence of the somewhat counterintuitive claim that it is rational to prefer the atheistic world, all else being equal. This view has recently been called 'anti-theism'. The focus of my argument will be to show that there are goods that obtain on atheism that contribute to the positive overall value of the world. Such goods include the ability to solve problems on one's own, take immediate responsibility for one's actions, bravery, autonomy, and privacy. Thus, the obtaining of these goods makes it rational to prefer that God not exist (at least when the alternative world would be a similar theistic world). I conclude by responding to the most promising objection to the argument, which is that the goods of atheism could never outweigh certain goods that obtain on theism.
Title:                 If There is a Hole, it is Not God-Shaped
Speaker:          Guy Kahane, Oxford University (via Skype)
Date/Time:    Tuesday, February 7th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Title:               Unity Itself: Plotinus, Divine Simplicity, and Perfect Being Theology
Speaker:        Caleb Cohoe (Metropolitan State University of Denver)
Date/Time:   Monday, January 9th, 2017, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor, Room 730, Ryerson University
Abstract:    I show why Plotinus thinks that strong divine simplicity follows from two principles that perfect-being theologians are committed to: (1) the ultimate being  needs no further explanation; and (2) the ultimate being is absolutely ontologically independent. Plotinus argues that the ultimate being cannot have internal parts. If the ultimate being has distinct metaphysical parts, the whole world would depend up on them in some way, violating (2). If the ultimate being's attributes were distinct from each other, then we would need a further explanation of why they are united in one being, violating (1). Plotinus' formulations put pressure on moderate classical theists to find weakened versions of these principles that are still strong enough for their purposes. Attackers of metaphysical theism, by contrast, may use Plotinus' views as a reductio ad absurdum.
Fall 2016
Title:                 Why Rhoda's Case for Open Theism Fails
Speaker:          Job Morales (PhD Candidate, University of Western Ontario)
Date/Time:    Tuesday, December 6th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor, Room 1043 (Ryerson University)
Abstract:     Alan Rhoda (2008) defines generic open theism as the commitment to the following theses: (1) broadly classical theism, that there exists a God with a maximal set of compossible, great-making properties; (2) future contingency, that the future is in some respects causally open; and (3) EC incompatibility, that it is impossible for the future to be epistemically settled in any respect in which it is causally open. In his 2007, Rhoda defends generic open theism against non-open free-will theism, which affirms future contingency but denies EC incompatibility. He thinks that the truth of EC incompatibility depends up on the truth of AC incompatibility, the thesis that it is impossible for the future to be alethically settled in any respect in which it is causally open. For Rhoda, the truth of this latter thesis depends on the correctness of Peircean semantics over Ockhamist semantics. According to the Ockhamist, the truth of a future proposition depends only on what will obtain in the future. According to the Peicean, the truth of a future proposition depends on whether sufficient conditions for its truth obtain at the time of its utterance. In my paper, I attempt to undermine Rhoda's argument for generic open theism by defending Ockhamist semantics over Peircean semantics. Whereas Rhoda thinks that predictions of varying degrees of modal or causal force facour Peicean semantics over Ockhamist semantics, I argue that they favour the opposite. I also address Rhoda's objection that even if Ockhamist semantics is correct, no one - not even God - could properly assert unqualified predictions about the future.
Title:                 God, Evil, and Infinite Value
Speaker:          Marshall Naylor (MA Candidate,  University of Texas, San Antonio) [Via Skype]
Date/Time:    Thursday, November 17th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 8th Floor, Room 802, Ryerson University
Abstract: The traditional problems of evil and their solutions assume that the overall value of a world can be increased or decreased. Furthermore, the traditional problems of evil and their solutions make the distinction between gratuitous and non-gratuitous evil central to their approaches. In this paper, I argue that problems of evil and their solutions are both mistaken. Traditional theism conceives God as unsurpassably and infinitely good. Mark Johnson, taking a cue from Georg Cantor's work, understands God's value as absolutely infinite: an undiminishable and unsurpassable value that exceeds the cardinality of every infinite set. Since God necessarily exists, every possible world is absolutely, infinitely good. I conclude that the overall value of a world cannot be increased or decreased given God's omnibenevolence, and the distinction between gratuitous and non-gratuitous evil is irrelevant to both the problems and solutions.
Title:               Institutions as Conscientious Objectors? Yes (and No)
Speakers:      Philip Shadd (Research Associate, Institute for Christian Studies) and Joshua Shadd, MD.
Date/Time:  Thursday, October 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      SLC 516
Abstract:   On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that doctors in Canada should be allowed to help their patients die. But while the ruling recognizes individual doctors as having a right of refusal, a more controversial question raised is this: Can institutions, and not just individuals, claim conscientious objector status? Would-be claimants might include Catholic and Mennonite hospitals. In this article, we outline a two-part case for institutions as conscientious objectors. First, we consider conditions for the possibility of institutional objection. Institutional rights ought not be dismissed on the grounds that institutions like hospitals cannot have rights. The growing body of philosophical literature on group agency, such as that of List and Pettit (Group Agency, 2011), indicates they can. Neither should it be assumed that institutional rights are reducible to individual rights. At least in regards to medical assistance in dying, conscientious objection at the institutional level importantly differs from the individual level. Having established institutional objection as a coherent possibility, the second part of the paper develops the following argument for why qualifying institutions deserve this status. Hospitals possess an institutional right of refusal because they possess a more general right of institutional self-governance which includes the prerogative both to choose their institutions' governing values and to choose in light of these values what medical procedures they will deliver. And they possess a more general right of self-governance because they exist alongside government, not beneath it, as institutional agents of equal moral status. Ours is an argument from institutional equality, informed by the neo-Calvinist tradition of political theology unique for its emphasis on institutional pluralism. Our argument implies that while hospitals have a right of refusal, it is a mistake to conceive this right in terms of religious freedom. Moreover, this is a principled right not based simply on pragmatic considerations, one based not on consequentialist but deontological grounds. The issue and argument should especially be of interest to anyone concerned with religion, given that religious reservations to physician-assisted death are common.
Title:              Religious Disagreement
Speaker:       Kirk Lougheed, PhD Candidate, McMaster University
Date/Time:  Tuesday, September 13th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Abstract:  Many religious believers do not appear to take the existence of religious disagreement as a serious challenge to the rationality of their religious beliefs. Bryan Frances notes that "in an enormous number of cases people think, at least implicitly, that their group is in a better position to judge [the truth about religious claims]. I will think my group knows something the critics have missed" (Frances 2014, 165). Perhaps at least implicitly, religious believers tend to dismiss worries based on disagreement by appealing to the fact that they enjoy a special insight that their opponent fails to possess. This special insight can constitute a relevant epistemic asymmetry between two opponents who are otherwise epistemic peers, thereby justifying reasonable religious disagreement. I argue that this type of explanation is underdeveloped, given that appealing to a special insight is equally available to both opponents in disputes over religious beliefs. Self-trust, immediacy, and the reliability of introspection are not good enough candidates to explain the special insight view. As such, there is good reason to reject responses to religious disagreement that appeal to special insight as the justification for reasonable religious disagreement. Religious believers need to do more work to explain the relevant epistemic advantage they allegedly have over their non-religious opponents. A potential explanation may lie in empirical investigations of religious experience, since such studies will be able to offer a potential relevant epistemic asymmetrey in objective nad public terms. However, in this work on religious experience, Phillip K. Wiebe speculates that religious experiences might be obective, but also private. This differs significantly from scientific evidence which is public. I conclude that if religious experiences are private, they can potentially justify a religious believer remaining steadfast in the face of disagreement. Initially, it might be thought that the private nature of such experiences explains why apealing to them may not be satisfying to opponents. But if testimonial knowledge of private religious experiences are legitimate, not only do they solve the problem of religious disagreement for the religious believer, but they start to put epistemic pressure on the religious sceptic.
Winter/Spring 2016

Title:               Faith, Evidence-Gathering, and Rationality
Joseph Milburn, Visiting Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh (via Skype)
Date/Time:   Friday, April 29th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440), Ryerson University

: In recent papers, Laura Buchak has presented a view of faith that makes it primarily a practical matter.  On Buchak's view, an individual S has faith that X expressed by an act A just in case the following is true.  X is a proper object of faith and (i) S performs act A, (ii) performing A constitutes a risk on X; and (iii) S prefers {to commit to A before she examines additional evidence for X} rather than {to postpone her decision about A until she examines additional evidence for X}.  In this paper I argue that Buchak's account fails as an account of faith because it cannot distinguish between instances in which one acts on faith and instances in which one is merely hedging one's bets. Pace Buchak, faith is a doxastic matter.  However, I argue that while Buchak's view does not correctly describe faith, it does correctly describe a preliminary stage to having faith.  Oftentimes before we have faith we must in some ways verify the claims of faith; furthermore, oftentimes the only way of verifying faith involves a radical commitment that, for all we know before we make it, may prevent us from coming to know the truth or achieving some important goods in life.  Buchak correctly describes what goes into making this radical commitment and provides us with a framework for assessing its rationality.

Title:               Regularities, Laws, and an Exceedingly Modest Premise for a Cosmological Argument
Travis Dumsday, Canada Research Chair in Theology and Philosophy of Science, Concordia University of Edmonton
Date/Time:   Friday, March 18th,  12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  2nd Floor Boardroom (JOR-204, inside the Economics Department), Ryerson University

Abstract: In reply to certain cosmological arguments for theism, critics regularly argue that the causal principle ex nihilo nihil fit may be false.  For example, responding to a portion of Aquinas' third way, Mackie (1982, p. 89) entertains the idea that contingent objects can come into existence out of nothing without a cause: "A third objection concerns the premise that 'what does not exist cannot begin to be except through something that is'.  This is, of course, a form of the principle that nothing can come from nothing; the idea then is that if our series of impermanent things had broken off, it could never have started again after a gap.  But is this an a priori truth?  As Hume pointed out, we can certainly conceive an uncaused beginning-to-be of an object; if what we can thus conceive is nevertheless in some way impossible, this still requires to be shown." A bit later, challenging that same principle as employed in the Kalam argument, Mackie (1982, p. 94) reiterates: "We have no good ground for an a priori certainty that there could not have been a sheer unexplained beginning of things." Various theistic counter-replies to this challenge have emerged.  One type of strategy is to double down on ex nihilo nihil fit by: (a) emphasizing its apparent intuitive appeal; (b) challenging the claim that it is either genuinely imaginable or conceivable that something pop into existence without a cause, or that conceivability entails possibility; (c) employing inference to the best explanation (i.e., we never experience objects popping into existence seemingly at random, and the best explanation for the absence of such chaos is that random beginnings are impossible); or (d) situating it within a broader modal ontology that explicitly rules out the possibility of objects popping into existence causelessly. Another, very different strategy of counter-reply is to grant for the sake of argument that the principle is false, while maintaining that sound cosmological arguments can be formulated even with this concession in place. Notably, one can employ weaker opening premise formulated in modal terms, proceeding for instance from the proposition that for any contingent object coming into existence it is at least possible that it (or a duplicate) have a cause.

My aim here is to try out a related strategy for weakening the relevant opening premise.  Granting that it is possible for a contingent object to come into existence out of nothing without a cause, I proceed from the extremely modest claim that the obtaining of exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularities demands an explanation. As such, the contingent regularity that empirically accessible macro-level contingent objects do not pop into existence causelessly demands explanation.  And as it turns out, that explanation will have to be in terms of an object or objects possessed of at least some of the traditional divine attributes. More precisely, I will explicate and defend the following argument:
Premise 1: All exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularities have an explanation that accounts for why they obtain.
Premise 2: It is an exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularity that empirically accessible macro-level contingent objects do not come into existence out of nothing without a cause.
Premise 3 / Conclusion 1: Therefore, there is an explanation that accounts for why that exceptionless (or nearly exceptionless) longstanding contingent regularity obtains.
Premise 4: An explanation for that regularity can be found only in a causally powerful and indestructible object (or objects).
Premise 5: / Conclusion 2 Therefore there exists a causally powerful and indestructible object (or objects). 
Premise 6: If an object is indestructible, then it is non-physical.
Premise 7 / Conclusion 3: Therefore there exists a causally powerful, non-physical object (or objects). 
Premise 8: If there exists a causally powerful, non-physical object (or objects), then metaphysical naturalism is false.
Final Conclusion: Therefore metaphysical naturalism is false.

Title:               Faith as a Species of Reason
Trent Dougherty, Baylor University
Date/Time:   Friday, March 11th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Abstract:   Some people think faith and reason our opposed to one another. Others think faith and reason are in harmony. I argue that faith -- in its doxastic sense -- just is a kind of evidence.  The key to making this work is understanding the difference between doxastic faith and the act of faith.  I argue that we need to stay away from William James and instead travel with Locke on one side and Pascal on the other.

Title:               Skeptical Theism, Plantinga's Religious Epistemology, and Debunking Arguments
Andrew Moon, Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University
Date/Time:   Friday, February 26th, 1:00-3:00pm (via Skype)

Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

: A de facto objection to theistic belief claims that it is false, and a de jure objection (or "debunking objection") claims that it was formed in an improper or unreliable way.  Alvin Plantinga (2000) developed and defended a religious epistemology, which he then used to formulate a strategy for responding to common de jure objections to theistic belief.  This strategy has become a common way of responding to de jure objections to theistic belief in the cognitive science of religion and evolutionary debunking literature.  In this paper, I argue that Plantinga's religious epistemology is in conflict with skeptical theism, a view often used in response to the problem of evil.  Hence, a common way of responding to many de jure objections to theistic belief conflicts with a common way of responding to the problem of evil.  An additional implication of my paper is that the skeptical theist has one less option by which to defend the rationality or warrant of theistic belief.


Title:               Theistic Modal Realism and Gratuitous Evil?
Yishai Cohen, PhD Candidate, Syracuse University
Date/Time:   Friday, February 12th, 12:00-2:00pm

Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Abstract: According to theistic modal realism, there is an Anselmian God that exists in every concrete possible world. Michael Almeida argues that theistic modal realism has the resources to account for the possibility of gratuitous evil, an evil such that its prevention would result in a net-benefit of goodness. This is because God's prevention of a gratuitous evil from befalling some person implies that there is a (concrete) possible world in which God permits that evil to occur to that person's counterpart. I argue that, once we focus upon the distinction between preventing an evil and merely doing something that does not result in the occurrence of that evil, there is good reason to think that theistic modal realism is in fact incompatible with the possibility of gratuitous evil.

Fall 2015

Title:                   Situationism and Soul-Making
Speaker:               Matthew Baddorf (PhD Candidate, University of Rochester)
Date/Time:         Friday, November 20th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Abstract: Soul-making theodicies seek to justify God's permitting some or all of the evil in the world on the grounds that evil can help us achieve, through our moral decision-making, valuable character traits. Philosophical situationism is a movement in ethical theory based on the situationist school in psychology; situationists hold that character traits either do not exist in humans, or that they are neither as common nor as robust and stable as we tend to think. I argue that situationism provides an unappreciated difficulty for a prominent sort of soul-making theodicy: if situationism is correct, then this gives us strong evidence that the world does not tend to produce the sorts of character traits that the soul-making theodicist needs. I also make a tentative recommendation to soul-making theodicists about how they might avoid, or at least minimize, the problem situationism introduces.

Title:                 I Don't Want the World to be Like That! Recasting Anti-Theism.        
Speaker:             Toby Betenson (Bangor University / Ryerson University)
Date/Time:       Friday, November 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:           Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor Boardroom (JOR-1043)

Abstract: It seems to me that anti-theism, understood as the claim that 'God's existence makes the world worse', will always struggle to be viable. There are various routes to this conclusion; I find these arguments convincing and I will not retrace well-worn ground. However, I think the viability of anti-theism can be saved if we reconsider what 'anti-theism' could mean, what other forms it could take. I will argue that we can (and should) recast 'anti-theism', not as the claim that God's existence makes the world worse, but as the preference that it (counterfactually) would. That is, anti-theism is a statement of preference for a world of equal or greater value than our own, but in which God's existence is not a good thing. I will illustrate the viability of this preference with a few (highly plausible) analogous examples, and conclude with a tentative attempt to offer a new definition of anti-theism: A preference for/pro-attitude towards/'being for' the closest possible world in which God would not be a better-making feature of your world, where that world is of equal or greater value to the world in which God would be a better-making feature of your world. I conclude by pointing out that this new version of anti-theism is easily connected with the traditional statements of anti-theism (e.g., 'I don't want the world to be like that!'), and can be justified by entirely plausible, rational, and mundane preferences; as a result, this version of anti-theism looks to be viable.


Title:                   Skepticism, Personal Anti-Theism, and the Meaningful Life Argument: A Reply to Myron A. Penner
Speaker:               Kirk Lougheed (PhD Candidate, McMaster University)
Date/Time:         Tuesday, October 27th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Abstract: In a recent article, Myron A. Penner develops, defends, but ultimately rejects what he takes to be the best argument for personal anti-theism: the Meaningful Life Argument. Penner's objections focus on human fallibility with respect to identifying and weighing goods that contribute to a meaningful life, and only obtain if God does not exist. I argue that Penner's account is flawed for two reasons. First, while the type of skepticism about human judgment about goods might be justified, it cuts both ways. If the Meaningful Life Argument fails, then so do any arguments for pro-theism based on identifying and weighing goods that contribute to a meaningful life. Second, I show that the debate about the Meaningful Life Argument would be better advanced by an assessment of the specific goods in questions, rather than worrying about skepticism that applies equally to all parties in the debate.

Title:                   God's Good World: Aquinas, Kretzmann, and Dewan on Divine Freedom in Creation
Speaker:               Joel Chopp (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto)
Date/Time:         Tuesday, October 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730), Ryerson University

Abstract: Thomas Aquinas affirmed that God is both maximally good and genuinely free, particularly with respect to God's choice to create the world. Norman Kretzmann has challenged Aquinas' position, arguing that given his commitment to the Dionysian principle of the diffusiveness of the Good, Aquinas should have held that the creation of some possible world external to God was a necessary entailment of God's being. Lawrence Dewan has responded to Kretzmann, arguing that creation cannot be absolutely necessary given that it is properly said to be an act of the will, and when an act of the will is ordered toward an end but is not necessary for the existence of that end it cannot be absolutely necessary. In this paper, I argue that Dewan's objection misfires: what would be required for Kretzmann's account to fail Dewan's condition for acts of the will would be Kretzmann claiming that this actual world is the necessary result of God's being, that is, that God had neither the freedom of contrariety or contradiction in his choice to create. However, this is not Kretzmann's position: he affirms the freedom of contrariety but not contradiction. I conclude by offering an alternative critique of Kretzmann's proposal, suggesting that necessity of the externality of the diffusion of Goodness is the vulnerable point in his argument. I argue that by locating the diffusion of the Good within the Triune life of God one can affirm the Dinoynsian principle, deny the necessity of creation, and nevertheless account post factum for creation in terms of God's being and Goodness.

Title:                Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom
Speaker:            Yishai Cohen (PhD Candidate, Syracuse University)
Date/Time:      Tuesday, September 29th, 11:30-1:30pm
Location:          Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Contrary to the commonly held position of Luis de Molina, Thomas Flint and others, I argue that counterfactuals of divine freedom (CDFs) are pre-volitional for God within the Molinist framework. That is, CDFs are not true even partly in virtue of some act of God's will. As a result, I argue that the Molinist God fails to satisfy an epistemic openness requirement for rational deliberation, and thus she cannot rationally deliberate about which world to actualize. 

Winter/Spring 2015

Title:             Who is an Epistemic Peer and Why it Matters for Religious Disagreement
Speaker:         Kirk Lougheed, PhD Candidate, Monash University
Date/Time:   Friday, May 8th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440), Ryerson University

In the epistemology of disagreement literature, revisionism is the view that when an agent encounters epistemic peer disagreement about her belief in a proposition
P, a certain amount of weight must be given to both parties and hence the agent should revise her belief in P. This could require lowering her confidence in P or withholding her belief that P. Revisionism poses a serious challenge to the rationality of religious belief. When a believer encounters epistemic peer disagreement about a religious belief she must lower her confidence in, or suspend judgment about that belief. In the first section of this paper I argue that it is often assumed throughout the literature that epistemic peers must be strict cognitive and evidential equals. In the second section I claim that on such a strict account of epistemic peerhood there are rarely any epistemic peers in cases of complex real-world disagreements. This is significant because it implies that epistemic peerhood rarely obtains in cases of religious disagreement. The believer can avoid any challenge to the rationality of her religious beliefs from disagreement merely by pointing out that her opponents are not her epistemic peers. In the third and final section I offer a new account of epistemic peerhood. My account is (i) broad enough to obtain in many cases of complex real-world disagreements, including disagreements about religion; and (ii) narrow enough to preserve the epistemic weight of disagreement required for revisionism to be true. Thus, even if the commonly used strict conception of epistemic peerhood rarely obtains in cases of real-world religious disagreement, there is still a significant challenge to the rationality of religious belief based on the existence of disagreement.

Title:             Aquinas and Maimonides on Relations
Speaker:         Jennifer Hart Weed, University of New Brunswick
Date/Time:   Tuesday, April 28th, 12:30-2:30
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440), Ryerson Universiy

Abstract: In Book I, chapter fifty-two of The Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides claims that there are no relations that hold between God and creatures, including relations of similarity.  He argues that since God is absolutely simple, he does not possess any relations.  In contrast, Thomas Aquinas argues in De potentia Dei that God is related to creatures through relations of reason.  In this paper, I will outline each of these views in order to determine if Aquinas is successful in his defense of relations of reason and whether or not this defense is an improvement over Maimonides' approach to relations.  I will question also whether the respective views of relations of Maimonides and Aquinas are compatible with the doctrine of divine simplicity and with the theological doctrine of creation.  I will conclude by showing that the philosophy of relations of Maimonides and Aquinas contributes greatly to their respective approaches to naming God.

Title:             The Skeptical Rejoinder to the Problem of Evil
Speaker:         Ian Wilks, Acadia University
Date/Time:   Friday, April 24th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440), Ryerson University

How does the theist explain God's permission of great evils like genocide?  One response is to shift the burden of argument; why should anyone expect an answer to this question anyway, given how little we should expect to know about God's purposes?  My presentation takes issue with this response.  There are various theistic convictions that in fact do presuppose insight into God's purposes (such as the conviction that God would never engage in systematic deception of the human race).  Those convictions cannot easily be maintained in the face of the above burden-shifting argument.


Title:             Considering the Impossible: Cognitive Decoupling and the Axiological Investigation of God's Existence
Speaker:         Josh Mugg, PhD Candidate, York University
Date/Time:   Friday, March 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

According to the theist who thinks God's existence is necessary, the following conditional is a counterpossible: 'if God did not exist, then the world would be better (or worse).' Likewise, according to the atheist who thinks God's nonexistence is necessary, the following is a counterpossible: 'if God existed, then the world would be better (or worse).' On standard semantics (such as both Lewis and Stalnaker's), counterpossible conditionals are trivially true. This threatens the possibility of an axiological investigation of God's existence. Others, such as Davis and Franks (forthcoming), have argued that counterpossibles can be meaningful. This assuages metaphysical worries, but one might still protest: even if such claims are meaningful, we cannot evaluate them because the antecedent is not conceivable. Thus, the objection against an axiological investigation of God's existence moves from being metaphysical to being psychological. My purpose here is to reply to this psychological objection. I do so by applying work on cognitive decoupling to considering counterpossibles. Cognitive decoupling occurs when subjects extract information from a representation and perform computations on that extracted information. I offer examples from two domains: pretend play and abstract reasoning. According to Nichols and Stich (2003), Leslie (1987), and Stanovich (2011), cognitive decoupling occurs when subjects make an informationally impoverished copy of a primary representation. Subjects can use this secondary representation in combination with other propositional attitudes (including beliefs, acceptances, or 'imaginings'). I argue that if a subject ignores those propositions that generate contradictions when combined with the antecedent of the counterpossible, then that subject can consider the counterpossible.  I use impossible pictures (such as 'Waterfall' or 'Ascending and Descending,' by Escher) to elucidate my position: it is no problem for us to conceive of portions of these sketches. Problems only arise when we try to conceive of what is represented in the picture as a whole. This has an important upshot for the axiological investigation of God's existence: the dialectic will have to move forward piecemeal-wise, rather than conceiving of maximal states of affairs in which God does exist (on the one hand), and in which God does not exist (on the other).

Title:             On Plantingean Pro-Theism: Transworld Depravity, Incarnation, and Atonement
Speaker:         Richard Davis and W. Paul Franks, Tyndale University College
Date/Time:    Thursday, March 5th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardoom (JOR-502), Ryerson University

Abstract: According to Alvin Plantinga, the logical problem of evil isn't a problem, since (as he thinks) it is entirely possible that "sinless worlds" -- worlds in which creatures are significantly free but never go morally wrong -- cannot be actualized by God. But if so, then given that God has actualized a morally good world, it follows that evil does exist. Hence, the existence of God and the existence of evil are compatible. More recently, Plantinga has suggested an axiological extension of his conclusion, claiming that "it is plausible to think...the best possible worlds contain Incarnation and Atonement, or at any rate Atonement, and hence also contain sin and evil." In this paper, we attempt to show that the modal concepts at work in Plantinga's free will defense fail to support (and in fact wholly undercut) this interesting idea that Incarnation and Atonement worlds (hereafter, I&A) are among the best. We argue that if Plantinga's argument succeeds, as many believe that it does, I&A worlds are actually impossible. Presumably, this isn't an outcome Plantinga would welcome.


Title:             The Evolution of Religion:  Memetic Equilibrium as a Proximate Cause
Speaker:         Christopher di Carlo
Date/Time:   Wednesday, February 18th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Second Floor Boardroom (JOR-204), Ryerson University

In this paper, I examine the evolution of religious belief in light of known constraints on human cognitive evolution. I consider factors in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness such as hominin migratory patterns, food acquisition, physiological, climatological and geographic changes, tool use, and various artefact records. I also consider the emergence of consciousness and language, the use of human reasoning skills, and specific neuroendocrine factors, to develop a hypothesis regarding proximate causes of religious behaviour. Religions developed as a memetic response to natural occurrences viz. the emergence of conscious symbolic representation in relation to currently evolved conceptual schemas. As human consciousness and languages evolved, so too did our ancestors' capacity to solve environmental problems in more conceptually sophisticated ways. Problem solving produces a feeling of environmental control, stability, in short - memetic equilibrium. But the pay-off is not merely practical - it is biochemical - and it comes in the form of neurotransmitters.

Fall 2014

Title:             Pro-Theism, Anti-Theism, and Human Status
Speaker:         Julien Beillard (Ryerson University)
Date/Time:   Friday, December 5th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR-440), Ryerson University

Kahane (2011) suggests an argument for anti-theism - the claim that if God does not exist, the world is better than it would otherwise be.  The values of human moral equality and autonomy cannot be fully realized if God exists, he thinks - our status cannot be the one we want.  Fine-tuning this argument, the key premises seem to be these: (1) the degrees to which these values are realized in some Godless world relevantly similar to ours are higher than those to which they are realized in any such Godly world, and (2) the value of their realization in that Godless world is comparable to its value in some Godly ones.  Against this reasoning, I argue that equality and autonomy are probably not realized to any significant degree in any Godless world unless their realization there is far less valuable for us than in some close Godly world.  The realization and value of equality and autonomy have metaphysical preconditions, I contend, and these are not very probable on atheism but highly probable on some forms of theism.  The values of equality and autonomy thus turn out to be reasons for pro-theism.  If it is good that we are autonomous equals, the world is better (for us, in that respect) if God exists.  Since I doubt the antecedent I do not accept this line of argument either.  But those who value equality and autonomy probably should.

Title:              Skepticism, Skeptical Theism, Moral Cognition
Speaker:         Myron A. Penner (Trinity Western University)
Date/Time:    Tuesday, November 4th, 12:00-2:00
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502), Ryerson University

Abstract: Skeptical theism is, in part, a claim about the scope of our moral cognition. We often make judgments about the scope of our cognitive capacities - that is, we often make judgments about what putative bits of information we could, or couldn't, plausibly acquire given the kinds of cognitive equipment we possess. Sometimes these scope judgments are automatic and pre-reflective; sometimes these scope judgments are more reflective and considered.  Sometimes these judgments are justified (possibly evidence-based or the result of reliable or properly functioning truth-apt faculties); sometimes these judgments are not justified. In this paper, I set out some plausible conditions that specify when skepticism in general, and skepticism about cognitive capacities in particular, is justified.  Using Michael Bergmann's canonical formulation of skeptical theism, I then argue that skeptical theism is an instance of justified skepticism. This is because there is good philosophical and empirical support for the skeptical theist's claims about the scope of our moral cognitive faculties.


Title:              'Nature is Difficult to Define': A Response to R.J. Feenstra Concerning Kenotic Christological Method
Speaker:          Eric Mabry (Doctoral Candidate, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto)
Date/Time:    Tuesday, October 21st, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502), Ryerson University

In his 2006 essay "A Kenotic Christological Method for Understanding the Divine Attributes," R.J. Feenstra develops "a version of kenotic Christology that attempts to adhere to Christological orthodoxy" and argues that it can account for certain "perplexing biblical claims about Jesus Christ," such as his growth in wisdom or his lack of knowledge about the time of the end of the world.  He believes that such an orthodox kenotic account "offers a fruitful method for deepening our understanding of the divine attributes." On his theory, "omniscience-unless-kenotically-incarnate" is an essential attribute of God. This theory, however, seems to imply a change in God, which is excluded by the Chalcedonian formula which Feenstra himself accepts as a normative statement of Christian faith regarding the mystery of the incarnation. Instead, I propose an alternate Christological model which conceives of nature not as a set of properties but as an interior principle of operation. This model enables one to maintain that Christ is omniscient according to his divinity but limited in his knowledge according to his humanity without compromising the unchanging character of God.


Title:              Might God Prefer Natural Evil?
Speakers:        Jeremy Dawson (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:    Friday, October 17th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502), Ryerson University

I argue that it is, at least, epistemically possible that much of the natural evil that exists is justified, on Christian theism, due to the intrinsic preferability of natural evil to bring about God's purposes. This preferability arises from God's ability to make use of or permit natural evil in a way that reduces the amount of moral evil for which humans would, otherwise, be responsible. In other words, for all we know, the amount of moral evil will be higher in a world, all things being equal, in which God does not utilize (or permit) natural evil than in one where God does utilize (or permit) natural evil. This preferability for natural evil over moral evil arises from the simple fact that, by definition, natural evil does not merrit the same responsibility and, thus, consequences as moral evil - namely, separation from God, hell, and so on. In this paper, I argue that for all we know this preferability exists and examine its resulting explanatory power and scope. I conclude that the intrinsic preferability thesis presents an epistemically possible account for the existence of many natural evils.


Title:              The Thin Theory of Existence: A Theistic Critique
Speakers:        Josh Harris (Doctoral Candidate, Institute for Christian Studies / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Date/Time:    Wednesday, October 1st, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440), Ryerson University

Since its advent in the work of Gottlob Frege, many prominent analytic philosophers such as Willard Van Orman Quine, Anthony Kenny and Peter van Inwagen have defended what has been called the "thin theory" of existence (TT). Advocates of (TT) claim that the meaning of "exists" is fully exhausted by the so-called "existential quantifier" of modern predicate logic, which is ultimately to say that existence amounts to nothing more than a "denial of the number zero". Beginning from Aristotle's famous dictum that "being is not a genus", this presentation aims to uncover some of the motivations behind the nearly universal rejection of (TT) and similar theses in the development of classical theism.

Winter/Spring 2014

Title:              Pro-Theism and the Added Value of Morally Good Agents
Speakers:        Myron A. Penner (Trinity Western University) and Kirk Lougheed (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:    Friday, May 9th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440), Ryerson University

Pro-theism is the view that God's existence would be good in that God's existence increases the value of a world. Anti-theism is the view that God's existence would decrease the value of a world. In this paper, we develop and defend the Morally Good Agent Argument for pro-theism. The basic idea is that morally good agents tend to add value to states of affairs, and God, moral agent par excellence, is no exception.  Based on the added value that moral agents can add to any state of affairs, we argue that the existence of God would be, on balance, a good thing and therefore something that one can rationally desire to be true. As a maximal being, God lacks neither the desire, power, nor knowledge to do good in the ways that are experienced by finite humans. One type of objection we consider is that God's existence might be constrained in ways such that God's existence would decrease the value of certain states of affairs. We also consider objections that arise if it's the case that the nature of God's goodness diverges too greatly from one's own intuitions about the nature of the good. We believe that the Morally Good Agent Argument can be successfully defended against these objections.

Title:            Defending the Purpose Theory of Meaning in Life
Speaker:        Jason Poettcker (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:  Friday, April 25th, 2014, 1:00-3:00pm
Location:      POD358, Ryerson University

: In Meaning in Life (OUP 2013), Thaddeus Metz presents a robust and innovative naturalistic account of what makes an individual's life objectively meaningful. In Chapters 5 and 6, Metz advances objections to six main arguments for the purpose theory of meaning in life that are found in the contemporary literature. Purpose theory holds that "one's life is meaningful just insofar as one fulfills a purpose that God has assigned to one" (80). Metz also proposes a novel argument that aims to undermine purpose theory by showing that it is inconsistent with the best argument for a God-centered theory of meaning. The main thrust of his novel argument is that an infinite, immutable, simple, atemporal being could not be purposive or active. I aim to defend purpose theory against Metz's objections by (a) defending the first two arguments for purpose theory against Metz's criticisms and then (b) arguing that Metz's novel argument against purpose theory fails.


Title:                   Many Goods from Nonresistant Nonbelief
Speaker:               Luke Teeninga (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:         Wednesday, April 16th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, Fourth Floor Boardroom (JOR440), Ryerson University

: J.L. Schellenberg maintains that the existence of an all-loving God is incompatible with the existence of people who, through no fault of their own, fail to believe that God exists (nonresistant nonbelievers). Since nonresistant nonbelief occurs, this would entail that God does not exist, and this argument has come to be known as the Problem of Divine Hiddenness. One of the suggestions for why an all-loving God might allow, at least for a time, the existence of nonresistant nonbelief is that such nonbelief is necessary to bring about some good or another. Such "greater goods" style solutions to the problem are rejected by J.L. Schellenberg, who suggests that a relationship with God is the greatest good for creatures. Since belief in the existence of God is necessary for having a relationship with Him, no lesser good would give God a sufficient reason to withhold from his creatures evidence sufficient for belief. Contra Schellenberg, I argue that God could reasonably allow, at least for a time, the existence of nonresistant nonbelief because by doing so a multitude of goods would be made possible. I consider several of these goods suggested in the literature, and then identify another good which has not yet been proposed.

Title:            If God is the First Cause of Everything that Happens, can Creatures be Free?
Speaker:        Elmar Kremer (Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto)
Date/Time:   Friday, April 4th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502), Ryerson University

Abstract: There is much to recommend the Thomistic view that God is the first cause of free human choices and actions. That view, however, can seem to imply that human beings are not free agents, but rather puppets manipulated by God. Barry Miller's account of divine and creaturely causation removes that appearance. In Miller's account, God and creatures are causes in different senses of the word: God's causing is always ex nihilo, and creaturely causing always changes a previously existing thing or situation. Unlike created causes, God never acts on anything. Hence the illusion that God manipulates created agents is removed.

Title:            An Open Theistic Multiverse? 
Speaker:        Tim Blank (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:   Thursday, March 20th, 2014, 2:15-4:00pm
Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR802), Ryerson University

In response to two arguments for atheism, some analytic philosophers of religion have argued that if God exists, it is likely that He would create a multitude of universes. This view is called the Theistic Multiverse.  I point out that in this model of divine creation there is the implicit assumption that Molinism is true.  Molinism is the controversial view of divine foreknowledge whereby God knows what every free creature would do in any circumstance.  My project assumes that Molinism is false and considers the compatibility of the Theistic Multiverse with a rival model of divine foreknowledge: Open Theism.  In the literature, there are two attempts to marry the Theistic Multiverse and Open Theism.  I argue that both are inadequate models of an Open Theistic Multiverse, and attempt a more plausible model that avoids the criticisms the other two models face.

Title:             Theism and the Counterpossible Consensus
Speaker:         Richard Brian Davis (Tyndale University College)
Date/Time:   Tuesday, March 11th, 2014, 3:00-5:00pm.
Location:       ENG-LG-05, George Vari Engineering and Computer Centre, Ryerson University

Abstract: According to Edward Wierenga, the considerations in favour of the Lewis-Stalnaker consensus on counterpossibles (namely, that they are all trivially true) are sufficient to overturn any reason a classical theist might have for thinking some counterpossibles - e.g. if God didn't exist, the world would still exist - are nontrivially false. In this paper, I examine these considerations as they coalesce into two lines of related support for the Standard Account: David Lewis' original "SHRUG" defence, and the more recent Zagzebski-Wierenga argument based on logical entailment ("ABLE", for short). I attempt to show that the problems besetting these defences give rise to additional reasons for classical theists to break with the consensus and divide the counterpossible terrain nonvacuously into the true and the false. (This talk is also part of Ryerson's Philosophy Department Visiting Speaker Series.)

Title:            Intellectual Tennis without a Net? Thought Experiments and Theology
Speaker:        Yiftach Fehige (University of Toronto)
Date/Time:   Tuesday, February 25th, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm
Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR802), Ryerson University

In response to the claim that thought experimentation is mere theology and thus of no cognitive value, this paper investigates the relationship between thought experiments and theology, and this in three respects. First, it explores the theological dimension of Newton's famous bucket experiment. Second, it looks at the role of the biblical narrative of Adam's Fall in discussions that resulted in the foundations of modern science. Finally, the paper argues that there are at least two classes of thought experiments in medieval thought that depend for their existence on theological assumptions.

Title:              The Deistic Multiverse
Speaker :         Leland Harper (Doctoral Candidate, University of Birmingham, UK)
Date/Time:    Friday, February 21st, 2014, 12:00-2:00pm.
Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardroom (JOR502), Ryerson University

The strongest arguments for atheism all seem to have one thing in common: they all target inconsistencies and contradictions that, in some way or another, have to do with God's action in our world.  The classical theist, while providing some responses that may resolve particular aspects of each atheistic argument, has yet to provide a convincing account of theism that is able to adequately defend against all, or even many, of these atheistic arguments.  In smoothing out one part of the sheet, so to speak, the classical theist is left only to deal with even more wrinkles elsewhere.  The reason for this is the classical theist's reluctance to abandon a theistic worldview that calls for an active God.  Currently, I am exploring an alternative to classical theism that I call the deistic multiverse.  Initially it seems that many of the stronger arguments for atheism can be dealt with if the idea of an active God is denied, while some (or all) of the divine attributes typically ascribed to God can be maintained through the inclusion of a multiverse worldview.  My overall aim is to provide a worldview that maintains the existence of God, maintains as many of the classically ascribed attributes of Him as possible, and provides better responses to arguments for atheism than classical theism can.

Fall 2013

Title:             Counterpossibles and the "Terrible" Divine Command Deity
Speakers:       Richard Brian Davis and W. Paul Franks (Tyndale University College)
Date/Time:   Wednesday, December 18th, 2013, 1:00pm-3:00pm.
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Seventh Floor Boardroom (JOR730), Ryerson University

  In a series of articles in Religious Studies, Wes Morriston has launched what can only be considered a full-scale assault on the divine command theory (DCT) of morality. According to Morriston, proponents of this theory are committed to an "alarming" counterpossible: that if God did  command an annual human sacrifice, it would be morally obligatory. Since only a "terrible" deity would do such a "terrible" thing, we should reject DCT. Indeed, if there were such a deity, the world be a terrible place - certainly far worse than it is. We argue that Morriston's non-standard method for assessing counterpossibles of this sort is flawed. Not only is the savvy DCT-ist at liberty to reject it, but Morriston's method badly misfires in the face of theistic activism - a metaphysical platform available to DCT-ists, according to which if God didn't exist, neither would anything else.


Title:              Faith as Acceptance: A Solution to the Problem of Religious Disagreement
Speaker:          Kirk Lougheed (MA Candidate, Ryerson University)
Date/Time:    Thursday, November 28th, 2013, 11:00am-1:00pm.
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, Eighth Floor Boardroom (JOR 802), Ryerson University

Abstract: The epistemology of disagreement has been a very popular topic in the recent philosophical literature. The debate focuses on how I should respond when I disagree with an epistemic peer over a particular proposition, P, which I believe, and my peer disbelieves. The revisionist position holds that when I encounter such disagreement, equal weight must be given to both views and hence I should revise my belief in P. This could require lowering my confidence in P or withholding belief in P. The anti-revisionist view claims that there are cases in which awareness of my peer's belief that not-P does not require changing my belief that P. Thus, the revisionist denies that there can be rational disagreement between epistemic peers, whereas the anti-revisionist claims that epistemic peers can rationally disagree. The revisionist position, if true, poses a serious threat to the rationality of religious belief. This is because the believer, when faced with peer disagreement over a religious proposition, is forced to lower or withhold her belief in that proposition. In this paper I seek to accomplish three tasks: First, I outline some of the prominent arguments in the literature on disagreement for the revisionist position. Second, I argue that framing the problem of disagreement in terms of acceptance, rather than belief in a proposition, offers support for the anti-revisionist position. When I accept a proposition I choose to act as if it is true, regardless of whether or not I believe that proposition to be true. Third, I claim that the concept of faith is coherent with acceptance, not just belief. I conclude that, at least in some cases, faith as acceptance provides a way for there to be rational peer disagreement over religious propositions.


Title:            Pro-Theism and the Added Value of Morally Good Agents
Speaker:        Myron A. Penner (Trinity Western University)
Date/Time:   Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013, 3:00-5:00pm.
Location:       Kerr Hall West Room 057, Ryerson University 

: In this talk I explore an argument for pro-theism (the view that God's existence would be, on balance, a good thing and as such it is rational to want it to be the case that God exists).  The first premise claims that if it's rational to believe that God's existence would, on balance, be a good thing, then it's rational to want it to be the case that God exists.  The plausibility of this premise turns both on the sense of rationality one has in view and on the relationship between preferences and rational belief.  The second premise claims that it is rational to believe that God's existence would, on balance, be a good thing. I explore whether this premise is plausible based on considerations of how morally good agents tend to add value to states of affairs into which they are introduced. (This talk is also part of Ryerson's Philosophy Department Visiting Speaker Series.)