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Department of Philosophy

 


Toronto Philosophy of Religion Work-in-Progress Group
 
    

This group is open to graduate students and faculty who have research interests in analytic philosophy of religion. We typically 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.
 
(If you don't live in the Toronto area, but would like to present a paper to our group via Zoom, or participate in our discussions via Zoom, please contact me - I would be happy to arrange this.)
 
 

Fall 2020 Mini-Conference                                                                                                                                                                                 

 
This event will take place via Zoom in the afternoons of Tuesday, December 8th and Wednesday, December 9th.

The conference will have a "pre-read" format: the papers will be circulated in advance, and each session will consist of a moderated discussion of one paper.
 
If you would like to attend, please email me and I will send you the papers and the Zoom link.
 
Please note that the times below are Eastern Standard Time.
 

Schedule for Tuesday, December 8th

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

1:10-2:00 - Joseph Jedwab (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania), "CSR and the Justification of Belief in Dualistic Life After Death"

Abstract:

I argue that the cognitive science of religion shows us that belief in mind-body dualistic life after death is at least prima facie justified because, roughly speaking, such belief is based on a seeming and any belief so based is prima facie justified.

Belief forms a spectrum. At one end, there are purely intuitive beliefs, and, at the other end, purely reflective beliefs. And, for the most part, intuitive belief determines reflective belief. Every intuitive belief is natural in some way or other. A capacity is natural if its exercise is easy, automatic, and fluent. Among natural capacities, we typically develop some as we mature without any special training or tools (e.g. speaking a native language), whereas others require practice and special cultural conditions to become natural (e.g. reading a native language). Any intuitive belief is maturationally natural if one forms such a belief by the exercise of a maturationally natural mental capacity. Evidence that an intuitive belief is developmentally early is evidence that the belief is maturationally natural.

According to many theorists (e.g. Justin Barrett, Jesse Bering, and Paul Bloom), belief in dualistic life after death is maturationally natural for most. I present an outline of ways our mental tools (e.g. Organism-Describer and Theory-of-Mind) encourage such belief. For example, we think of people as organisms and mental-agents. When someone dies, the Organism-Describer says she is biologically dead, but Theory-of-Mind continues to predict her mental states. We are, after all, accustomed to reason about people who are absent. So, we assume mental life continues after biological death.

Justification is epistemic responsibility: a subject S’s belief that P is justified just if S is epistemically permitted to believe that P. Maturationally natural belief enjoys automatic justification because such belief is directly and indirectly involuntary. Any reflective belief that is based on maturationally natural belief enjoys prima facie justification.

Phenomenal Conservatism says: (PC) If it seems to S that P and if S believes that P on its basis, then S’s belief is prima facie justified.

I argue for a closely related principle, which I call Natural Dogmatism: (ND) If S has a (maturationally) natural belief that P and if S reflectively believes that P on its basis, then S’s reflective belief that P is prima facie justified.

Maturationally natural belief in dualistic life after death is automatically justified. So, given (ND), any reflective belief that is based on such maturationally natural belief is prima facie justified.

2:10-3:00 - Scott Hill (University of Colorado, Boulder), "The No Collapse Theory of the Resurrection of the Dead"

Abstract: Suppose the no collapse interpretation of quantum mechanics is true. Assume a form of materialism according to which persons are identical to their bodies and personal identity through time requires having the right causal connection between a future body and one’s present body. Then when I die, my body will go into a superposition. On the highest intensity branch of that superposition, my body will fall apart and my parts will be recycled in such a way that I cannot be resurrected. But there is a low intensity branch on which this never happens. On that branch my body can be resurrected. This explains how God can bring about the Resurrection of the Dead. This explanation is superior to the explanations of van Inwagen and Zimmerman. Among other things, my explanation is not a mere just so story. I propose that, if materialism is true, this is how God will actually bring about the Resurrection of the Dead.

3:10-4:00 - Eddy Keming Chen (University of California, San Diego) and Daniel Rubio (Princeton), "Evil in a Quantum Multiverse"

Abstract: Fundamental physics sometimes leads to surprising consequences for traditional theism as well as interesting implications for philosophy of religion. In quantum foundations, a particularly simple and elegant way of solving the “quantum measurement problem” is to embrace the reality of a quantum multiverse, in which every possible branch of the quantum wave function is equally real. This is called the Everettian or Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and it seems to amplify the traditional problem of evil in philosophy of religion. On the Everettian interpretation, any possible sequence of events, however awful or remote, is as real as the “actual” sequence of events we observe in this branch. Some philosophers (Zimmerman (2017); Turner (2016)) argue that the Everettian problem of evil may be much more challenging than traditional problems of evil where only one universe is real. We suggest that it does not follow from the argument. In fact, on pain of being empirically inadequate, the Everettian problem of evil should be treated the same way as the problem of evil in a non-branching universe. This is because the Everettian interpretation, to be empirically successful, requires us to treat the branch weights as genuine probabilities. The probabilities will diminish the absolute expected values of the amount and the variety of evil we find in the Everettian multiverse.

4:10-5:00 - Informal Reception

Details to come.

 
 
Schedule for Wednesday, December 9th

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

1:10-2:00 - Anne Jeffrey (Baylor), "Divine Friendship and Moral Motivation"

Abstract: One task of moral theory is to answer the question, “Why be moral?” In ancient western philosophy the question arises in the familiar, agenda-setting passage of Republic Book II where Glaucon claims that “the life of the unjust person is much better than the life of a just one,” (357a4-6, 358c). Unfortunately, answering the why-be-moral question in a satisfying way proves notoriously difficult. According to the problem termed by T.M. Scanlon “Prichard’s Dilemma,” any answer to the why-be-moral question is doomed to fail. In brief, the more successful a reason is in explaining psychological motivation to be moral, the less successfully it recommends actions and attitudes we recognize as part of morality; but the more a reason recommends recognizably moral actions and attitudes, the less able it is to explain how someone not already committed to being moral would come to be psychologically motivated to be moral. In this essay my primary concern is to show that there is a theory of moral motivation arising that navigates between the horns of Prichard’s Dilemma more successfully than current competitors. This theory arises from within a substantive variety of theism. That the theistic view provides such a nice answer does not by itself recommend this variety of theism, but we can think about the argument that it does provide such an answer as an offensive move on the part of that view. Given the need for moral theory to answer the why-be-moral question in a satisfying way, a view’s ability to provide such an answer counts in favor of that view (that is, so long as we do not think the why-be-moral question a pseudo-question or a question that falls away given the correctness of moral sense epistemology). And if the theistic account does that in a uniquely satisfying way, then the account has a noteworthy theoretical advantage in that respect.

2:10-3:00 - Todd DeRose (Ohio State), "Derek Parfit and the Chamber of Guf"

Abstract: “Theory X” is Derek Parfit’s name for a theory of population ethics which would satisfy three main desiderata: solve The Non-Identity Problem (NIP), avoid The Repugnant Conclusion (RC), and explain The Asymmetry (A). In brief, the NIP involves cases where it appears wrong to bring into being persons with substandard well-being even though their lives are still worth living and their particular existence depends on being brought into being under circumstances leading to substandard well-being. The RC is the counterintuitive claim that the value of any population of persons with high well-being can be exceeded by a sufficiently large population of persons with lives that are barely worth living. The Asymmetry is the intuitive but puzzling claim that while there is a duty or moral reason not to bring into being an unhappy person there is no duty or moral reason to bring into being a happy person.

In this paper, I endeavor to show that certain often-held theses in the philosophy of religion—namely the preexistence of souls, the existence of a finite limit on the number of rational beings who can/should exist, and the supererogatory status of God’s decision to create the world—place us, if entertained, in an excellent position to satisfy each of Parfit’s three desiderata respectively. These theses (especially the first two) are likely to strike most contemporary philosophers as highly implausible, and they indeed conflict in various ways with Parfit’s views on human nature and personal identity. I argue, however, that since these beliefs already enjoy some independent philosophical and theological motivation, applying them to Parfit’s puzzles is not ad hoc—and in fact, the ability of these views to help circumvent some of the most vexing questions in contemporary ethics should count in their favor. This package of views deserves more credence as a candidate Theory X than we might have initially thought.

3:10-4:00 - Wes Skolits (Rutgers), "Religious Experience and the Challenge of Diverse Contents"

Abstract: Experiences with purported theological content – i.e., apparent experiences of God – remain a pervasive feature of the contemporary world. Such ostensibly extramundane experiences tend to engender beliefs concerning the (apparent) object of experience. Thus, they serve a fundamental role in the epistemic justification of religious belief. Yet objections abound concerning this process. Given these challenges, what – if anything – is the rational significance of religious experience? My project’s aim is to investigate this question focusing primarily on the objection from the diverse contents of religious experience. I flesh out the envisaged structure of this project in what follows.

The objection from the diversity of religious experience threatens the epistemic status (here, the properties of knowledge and justification) of beliefs formed on its basis. In short, the empirical data derived from the field of cognitive science of religion (CSR) and from folk observation of diverse religious experiences can be marshaled in support of an argument against the positive epistemic status of religious beliefs formed on their basis: roughly, it holds that since religious experience produces logically conflicting outputs, religious experience is an unreliable belief-forming method. And if a belief-forming method is unreliable, its outputs are epistemically unjustified. By way of response, this work is both defensive and constructive: it is the aim of this paper to defuse this argument by constructing a model of religious experience on which a certain “common core” of religious beliefs are epistemically safeguarded. To make my case, I draw from considerations in the epistemology of perception. Moreover, a novel contribution of this paper is the application of recent work in epistemology; thus, I shall be working within a Williamsonian “knowledge-first” epistemological framework in which the principle of “epistemic safety” features prominently. This essay proceeds as follows. In §2 I recount the main objection. Propaedeutic to the discussion of religious experience, in §3-4 I establish some background epistemological principles. In §3 I explicate the principle of epistemic safety, providing some prima facie considerations for the Williamsonian version on which my project depends. In §4 I turn to the epistemology of perceptual experience, in which I shall focus primarily on the epistemic role of unjustified or false background beliefs in cases of cognitively penetrated experience. In §5 I apply the results from prior sections to a problematic test case of conflicting religious beliefs as instanced in the diverse contents objection. In so doing, I argue that—even if we type religious experience very broadly—the incompatible contents of certain fine-grained beliefs fail to threaten the epistemic status of related coarse-grained beliefs derived from religious experience. Finally, in §6 I briefly examine two objections: i. the view that testimonial reports of diverse religious experiences provides an undercutting defeater and ii. the argument that the background beliefs influencing religious experience are culturally contingent.

4:10-5:00 - Informal Reception

Details to come.

 
 

 

 
Archive of Previous Talks                                                                                                                                                                                    

 
Fall 2019

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Liz Jackson (ANU/Ryerson), "An Epistemic Version of Pascal's Wager"

Abstract: Imagine you had an unlimited amount of time to ask an omniscient being anything you wanted. The potential epistemic benefits would be enormous, if not infinite: endless pieces of significant knowledge/true belief/justified belief. I argue that considerations like these point to an epistemic version of Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager normally utilizes conventional decision theory, a formal framework that prescribes action on the basis of one's credences and utilities. However, decision theory has epistemic analogues used to prescribe belief--namely, epistemic decision theory and epistemic consequentialism. Using tools from both frameworks, I argue that there is a strong epistemic reason to believe in God. I compare and contrast this version of the wager with the traditional wager, and argue that the epistemic version has several notable advantages.
 
Date/Time:  Monday, December 16th.
Location:      JOR-502

Michael Almeida (UT-San Antonio), "On Necessary Gratuitous Evil"

Abstract: The standard position on moral perfection and gratuitous evil makes the prevention of gratuitous evil a necessary condition on moral perfection. I argue that, on any analysis of gratuitous evil we choose, the standard position on moral perfection and gratuitous evil is false. It is metaphysically impossible to prevent every gratuitously evil state of affairs in every possible world. No matter what God does -- no matter how many gratuitously evil states of affairs God prevents -- it is necessarily true that God coexists with gratuitous evil in some world or other. Since gratuitous evil cannot be eliminated from metaphysical space, the existence of gratuitous evil presents no objection to essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient, essentially morally perfect, and necessarily existing beings. 
 
Date/Time:  Tuesday, November 26th, 12:00-2:00.
Location:      JOR-440

Kirk Lougheed (Concordia University of Edmonton), "The Autonomy and Dignity Arguments for Anti-Theism"

Abstract: This paper is a draft chapter in a book I'm currently writing. The book explores the axiological status of theism, with particular focus on developing arguments for anti-theism (the view that God's existence does, or would, detract from the value of our world). In this chapter I explore two distinct arguments for anti-theism, one based on autonomy and other on dignity. I first argue that while autonomy has been gestured at in the literature as a reason in favour of anti-theism (including by myself), upon further inspection it's difficult to see how such an argument could be successful. For on many different understandings of autonomy, it's simply false that God's existence does (or would) violate it to any significant degree. I suggest that the worry that God violates our autonomy is better understood as a dignity harm. Thus, in the second half of this chapter I develop an argument for anti-theism based on the idea that God's existence violates our dignity. I argue that on many different conceptions of dignity, it turns out God's existence would (or does) violate our dignity to a significant degree. I conclude that the scope of this argument ultimately rests on whether worlds where people do not have dignity can be better than worlds where those same people do have dignity.
 
Date/Time:  Tuesday, November 19th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Tyron Goldschmidt (University of Rochester), "Possibility Premises"

Abstract: Ontological arguments often depend on a possibility premise, like: a maximally great being is possible. Alas, recent attempts to defend possibility premises don't work. 
 
Date/Time:  Thursday, October 24th, 1:00-3:00
Location:      JOR-440

 
Winter / Spring 2019

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Guy Kahane (Oxford University), "The Coherence of Anti-Theism"

Abstract: Anti-theists hold that God's existence would make things worse, and that we should prefer God not to exist. In this paper, I will consider several arguments against anti-theism put forward by Kraay & Dragos, Schellenberg and (if time permits) Tooley. These arguments try to avoid disputing the anti-theist's substantive axiological claims but instead claim to show, in different ways, that anti-theism is simply incompatible with a proper understanding of what it would mean for God to exist -- because, for example, God-s existence would entail that no gratuitous evil exists. I will try to show that these arguments aren't successful. To reject anti-theism, one must engage in substantive axiological debate.
 
Date/Time:  Monday, May 27th, 10:00-12:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Luke Teeninga (Oxford University), "God and the Value of Free Will"

Abstract: It is standard practice to appeal to libertarian free will to explain how God's existence might be compatible with much of the evil we see in the actual world. Libertarian free will has also been important for certain responses to the argument for atheism from divine hiddenness. But what is often neglected in appealing to libertarian free will is an explanation of why God would create us with such free will in the first place. Laura Ekstrom argues that free will is simply not worth the cost. J.L. Schellenberg takes it a step further and argues that, if it turns out we have libertarian free will, that is actually evidence against God's existence, since the benefit of free will does not outweigh its risk of evil. In this paper I discuss a few reasons God might have for creating libertarian free will.
 
Date/Time:  Friday, May 10th, 12:00-2:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Richard B. Davis (Tyndale University), "From Parts to Whole (and Back Again): Rowe on Clarke on the Cosmological Argument"

Abstract: According to the late William Rowe, Samuel Clarke tries to establish the proposition that it is possible for there to be no dependent beings by inferring it from the proposition that no dependent being necessarily exists" - an  inference not "sanctioned by any valid rule of modal logic." Thus, "a vital portion of the reasoning in the Cosmological Argument rests on [an] unproved premise" (Nous, 1971). I believe that Rowe's modal accusation here is misconceived. I begin with a brief sketch of Clarke's Argument. Then I show that Rowe's composition complaint falters, since (as he admits elsewhere) "it is not always a fallacy to infer that a whole has a certain property from the premise that all of its constituent parts have that property" (Mind, 1962). Clarke's inference, I argue, is an exception to this general rule. 

Date/Time:   Friday, May 3rd, 11:00-1:00.
Location:      JOR-502

Meghan Page (Loyola University, Maryland), "Creativity in Creation"

Abstract: The world actualization model of creation depicts God's creative choice as the selection of one complete state of affairs from many possibilities. While this model dominates current discussions of creation in philosophy of religion, I argue it implies God is a maker rather than a creator.  I develop this distinction with the help of Margaret Boden's work on intellectual creativity, and then explore various ways of relaxing the tension between the world actualization model and divine creativity.  Finally, I sketch an account of divine creativity and show how it might reshape various debates in the philosophy of religion. 
 
Date/Time:  Monday, April 29th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Leland Harper (Siena Heights University, "The Possibility of Racism in Heaven"

Abstract: Many would scoff at the idea that racism could possibly exist in Heaven. Heaven is supposed to be a place that is free of struggles, hatred, violence and pain. The existence of something as negative as racism, at least in its harshest forms, is surely not something that could be compatible with such a place as Heaven. Even if we grant that God created this utopian realm for us to enjoy in the afterlife, a crucial question still remains: for whom is  Heaven supposed to be the greatest possible place? Depending on how that question is answered, and how exactly we flesh out our concept of Heaven, we may end up with a version of Heaven in which the existence of racism is possible. In this paper I argue that if we conceive of a communal Heaven, one that is the greatest possible place for all of its collective inhabitants, then it is not possible for racism to exist there. If, on the other hand, we conceive of personal Heaven, one where each individual has their own distinct "perfect world" in the afterlife, then it is possible that there are certain instances in which Heaven contains racism. This paper serves as a comparative account of two drastically different conceptions of Heaven and details how opting for one over the other could commit the believer to accepting the possibility of racism, or any other number of generally negatively-viewed "isms," existing in certain instantiations of individualized Heaven. 
 
Date/Time:   Friday, March 15th, 11:00-1:00
Location:       JOR-502

 
Fall 2018

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Andrew Moon (Virginia Commonwealth University), "Circular and Question-Begging Ways to Deflect Defeat from Religious Disagreement and Debunking Arguments"

Abstract: This paper is about two underexplored types of higher-level propositions and their relevance to religious epistemology, specifically, religious debunking arguments and religious disagreement. The first type is the epistemically self-promoting proposition, which, when justifiedly believed, gives one a reason to think that one reliably believes it. Such a proposition plays a key role in my argument that certain religious believers can permissibly wield an epistemically circular argument in order to deflect potential defeaters from certain religious debunking arguments. The second type is the epistemically others-demoting proposition, which, when justifiedly believed, gives one a reason to think that others are unreliable with respect to it. Such a proposition plays a key role in my argument that certain religious believers can permissibly wield a question-begging argument in orde to deflect potential defeaters from certain types of religious disagreement.

Date/Time:  Friday, December 7th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-440

Marshall Naylor, (University of Texas, San Antonio), "Sastisfactory Accounts of Divine Creation"

Abstract: Not just any account of divine creation is adequate. For example, accounts that exacerbate the problems of evil, the problem of no best world, the problem of divine freedom, and cannot preserve contingency in metaphysical space would have less theoretical utility than an account which solves these problems. An account with less utility provides fewer reasons to believe it is correct. Multiverse theorists Klaas Kraay, Timothy O'Connor, and Donald Turner have accounts of divine creation. I present some adequacy conditions for divine creation, which I believe enjoy prima facie plausibility. I argue that multiverse accounts meet these conditions to a lesser degree, and so have fewer reasons to believe they are correct, than an alternative account I have in mind.
 
Date/Time:  Friday, November 23rd, 12:10-2:00
Location:      JOR-502

Lara Buchak (UC Berkeley), "A Faithful Response to Disagreement"

Abstract: In the peer disagreement debate, three intuitively attractive claims seem to conflict: that there is disagreement among peers on many important matters; that peer disagreement is a serious challenge to one's own views; and that in important matters one should be able to maintain one's convictions or act on one's own views.  I show that contrary to initial appearances, we can accept all three of these claims. In particular, I argue that when we encounter a peer who disagrees, we should change our assessment of the evidence, but nonetheless remain committed to acting on and to holding convictions on our initial assessment of the evidence.

Date/Time:  Friday, November 9th, 12:10-2:00
Location:      JOR-802

Kirk Lougheed (McMaster University), "Religious Disagreement, Religious Experience, and the Evil God Hypothesis"

Abstract: Conciliationism is the view that says when an agent who believes P becomes aware of an epistemic peer who believes not-P, she encounters a (partial) defeater for her belief that P. Strong versions of conciliationism pose a sceptical threat to many, if not most, religious beliefs, since religion is rife with peer disagreement. In a recent paper, I argue that one way for a religious believer to aviod sceptical challenges posed by conciliationism is by appealing to the evidential import of religious experience. Not only can religious experience be used to establish a relevant evidential asymmetry between disagreeing parties, but reliable reports of such experiences also start to put pressure on the religious sceptic to conciliate toward her religious opponent. Recently, however, Asha Lancaster-Thomas has posed a highly innovative challenge to the evidential import of religious experience. She argues that (i) negative religious experiecnes provide direct evidence for an evil God, and also that (ii) positive religious experiences provide indirect evidence for an evil God. In light of this, both positive and negative experiences aren't just equally compatible with an evil God, they support the existence of an evil God more than that of a good God.

I argue that the strength of Lancaster-Thomas' objection depends on the conception of God she has in view. If her target is monotheism unconnected to any particular religion (and I think it is), then her argument hits its target. The evil God hypothesis gives us reason to reject my argument from religious experience. However, I argue that Lancaster-Thomas's objection doesn't necessarily apply to other theistic conceptions of God. For instance, she too quickly dismisses the legitimacy of appeals to Satan for the Christian theist wanting to use arguments from religious experience. This is because appealing to Satan is no ad hoc addition to Christianity invented only to avoid the evil god challenge. Also, Langaster-Thomas never considers the possibility that the existence of a good God and evil God are compatible. Perhaps there could be two omnipotent beings who cannot overpower each other, if such a requirement is relevantly analogous to demanding that God square a circle. Finally, if we merely take the existence eof religious experience (both negative and positive) as evidence for supernaturalism (and hence against naturalism), it's not clear that the evil God challenge can be raised against supernaturalism. Thus, while Lancaster-Thomas' objection to classical monotheism is correct, more work remains to be done in exploring whether (in the context of religious experience) the evil God challenge supports something like ontological naturalism, or if the evil god challenge applies only to classical monotheism and not any other conceptions of theism. 
 
Date/Time:  Friday, September 21st, 12:00-2:00
Location:      JOR-802

 
Winter / Spring 2017

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

A Discussion with Peter van Inwagen about Evolution and the Problem of Evil

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.
 
Date/Time:  Friday, April 28th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      EPH142

Luke Teeninga (Oxford University), "Who Must Benefit from Hiddenness?"

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.
 
Date/Time:   Tuesday, March 21st, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor (JOR-502)

Kirk Lougheed (McMaster University), "The Goods of Atheism Argument: A Defence of Wide, Impersonal Anti-Theism"

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. 
 
Date/Time:    Tuesday, March 7th, 1:00-3:00
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730)

Guy Kahane (Oxford University), "If There is a Hole, it is Not God-Shaped"

Date/Time:     Tuesday, February 7th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Caleb Cohoe (Metropolitan State University of Denver), "Unity Itself: Plotinus, Divine Simplicity, and Perfect Being Theology"

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.
  
Date/Time:   Monday, January 9th, 2017, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor, Room 730, Ryerson University

 
Fall 2016

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Job Morales (University of Western Ontario), "Why Rhoda's Case for Open Theism Fails"

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. 
 
Date/Time:    Tuesday, December 6th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:        Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor, Room 1043

Marshall Naylor (University of Texas, San Antonio), "God, Evil, and Infinite Value"

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.
 
Date/Time:    Thursday, November 17th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 8th Floor, Room 802.

Philip Shadd (Research Associate, Institute for Christian Studies) and Joshua Shadd, MD., "Institutions as Conscientious Objectors? Yes (and No)"

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.
 
Date/Time:  Thursday, October 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      SLC 516

Kirk Lougheed (McMaster University), "Religious Disagreement"

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.
 
Date/Time:  Tuesday, September 13th, 12:00-2:00
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

 
Winter / Spring 2016

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Joseph Milburn (University of Pittsburgh), "Faith, Evidence-Gathering, and Rationality"

Abstract: 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.
 
Date/Time:   Friday, April 29th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Travis Dumsday, (Concordia University of Edmonton), "Regularities, Laws, and an Exceedingly Modest Premise for a Cosmological Argument"

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.
 
Date/Time:   Friday, March 18th,  12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  2nd Floor Boardroom

Trent Dougherty (Baylor University), "Faith as a Species of Reason"

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.
  
Date/Time:   Friday, March 11th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Andrew Moon (Rutgers University), "Skeptical Theism, Plantinga's Religious Epistemology, and Debunking Arguments"

Abstract: 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. 

Date/Time:   Friday, February 26th, 1:00-3:00pm
Location:      Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Yishai Cohen (Syracuse University), "Theistic Modal Realism and Gratuitous Evil?"

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.

Date/Time:   Friday, February 12th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:       Jorgenson Hall,  5th Floor Boardroom

 
Fall 2015

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Matthew Baddorf (University of Rochester), "Situationism and Soul-Making"

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.
 
Date/Time:         Friday, November 20th, 12:00-2:00pm
Location:            Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Toby Betenson (Bangor University / Ryerson University), "I Don't Want the World to be Like That! Recasting Anti-Theism."

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. 
 
Date/Time:       Friday, November 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:           Jorgenson Hall, 10th Floor Boardroom (JOR-1043)

Kirk Lougheed (McMaster University), "Skepticism, Personal Anti-Theism, and the Meaningful Life Argument: A Reply to Myron A. Penner"

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. 
 
Date/Time:         Tuesday, October 27th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:             Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Joel Chopp (University of Toronto), "God's Good World: Aquinas, Kretzmann, and Dewan on Divine Freedom in Creation"

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.
 
Date/Time:   Tuesday, October 13th 12:00-2:00pm
Location:      Jorgenson Hall, 7th Floor Boardroom (JOR-730)

Yishai Cohen (Syracuse University), "Counterfactuals of Divine Freedom"

Abstract: 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.
 
Date/Time:      Tuesday, September 29th, 11:30-1:30pm
Location:          Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502),

 
Winter / Spring 2015

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.

Kirk Lougheed (Monash University), "Who is an Epistemic Peer and Why it Matters for Religious Disagreement"

Abstract: 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. 
 
Date/Time:   Friday, May 8th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Jennifer Hart Weed (University of New Brunswick), "Aquinas and Maimonides on Relations"

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.
 
Date/Time:   Tuesday, April 28th, 12:30-2:30
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Ian Wilks (Acadia University), "The Skeptical Rejoinder to the Problem of Evil"

Abstract: 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.
  
Date/Time:   Friday, April 24th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 4th Floor Boardroom (JOR-440)

Josh Mugg (York University), "Considering the Impossible: Cognitive Decoupling and the Axiological Investigation of God's Existence"

Abstract: 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). 
 
Date/Time:   Friday, March 27th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, 5th Floor Boardroom (JOR-502)

Richard Davis and W. Paul Franks (Tyndale University College), "On Plantingean Pro-Theism: Transworld Depravity, Incarnation, and Atonement"

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. 
 
Date/Time:    Thursday, March 5th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Fifth Floor Boardoom (JOR-502)

Christopher di Carlo (Ryerson), "The Evolution of Religion: Memetic Equilibrium as a Proximate Cause"

Abstract: 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.
 
Date/Time:   Wednesday, February 18th, 12:00-2:00
Location:       Jorgenson Hall, Second Floor Boardroom (JOR-204)

 
Fall 2014

View abstracts by clicking on the titles below.