bookmark_borderGraham Oppy: Yes, There Really Is Such a Thing as Expertise in Philosophy of Religion, and, No, You Can’t Get it from Pop Philosophy of Religion Books

Note: The following post is written by Graham Oppy and posted with his permission.
Suppose I wanted to learn all about quantum gravity, starting from a position of total ignorance. How likely is it that there is a book that physicists could recommend to me that I could read, and that would give me the knowledge that I’d like to have? On the one hand, I have to be able to understand the book; on the other hand, the book has to be sufficiently sophisticated for me to acquire genuine knowledge from it.
Perhaps some scientists think that there must be pop philosophy of religion books that play the same kind of role that is played by pop science books. But, in my view, you can’t come to a genuine knowledge of the science simply by reading pop science books. (And this despite the fact that there are pretty uncontroversial results in science. Sure, you can get a nodding acquaintance with results from pop science books; but this does not mean that you have a genuine understanding of the science.)
No doubt my opinion is warped by my views about reason and argument: I think that even most professional philosophers of religion don’t really understand how to assess arguments and how to evaluate the rationality of the beliefs of those with whom one vehemently disagrees. (If you are interested in a topic in philosophy of religion, you almost certainly don’t want arguments; what you want to know about is the relevant evidence and the range of best competing theories. In order to make use of this knowledge, you don’t need to know anything about arguments; rather, you need to know how to weigh the theoretical virtues of competing theories.)
Despite what many well-known scientists (and philosophers) claim, there really is such a thing as expertise in philosophy of religion.

bookmark_borderGod, Multi-verses, and Modal Realism

(redated post originally published on 16 November 2011)
I have heard in various quarters recently the claim that Lewis’ version of modal realism is (a) just a kind of multi-verse theory; and (b) intrinsically incompatible with theism. A partial discussion of this issue may be found in the pages of Philosophia Christi:
Richard Davis ‘God and Modal Concretism’ Philosophia Christi 10, 1, 2008, 57-74
Graham Oppy ‘Reply to Richard Davis’ Philosophia Christi 11, 2, 2009, 423-36
Richard Davis ‘Oppy and Modal Theistic Proofs’ Philosophia Christi 11, 2, 2009, 437-44
I think that (a) and (b) are both mistaken. But, in order to explain why, we need to have some details of the relevant theories before us.
A. Lewis’ Plurality of Worlds
Here are some of the salient features of the Lewisian view:
1. Individuals are world-bound: no individual exists in more than one world.
2. Worlds have no external relations to one another.
3. (Consequence of 1.) There are no ‘extra worldly’ individuals who are externally related to more than one world.
4. (Consequence of 1.) If there are gods, then gods are world-bound individuals related to exactly one world.
5. There are no ‘island universes’: in each world, there is but one connected spatio-temporal manifold.
6. If there are gods, then spatio-temporal relations are not the sole external relations (since gods are then externally related to spatio-temporal manifolds and yet that external relation is not spatio-temporal). If there are island-universes, then spatio-temporal relations are not the sole external relation (since island universes are externally related to one another, and yet that external relation is not spatio-temporal).
7. The worlds–and their ‘contents’–are truth-makers for (de re) modal claims. ‘I might have Fd’ is true just in case there is a world in which a counterpart of mine Fs.
8. Standard theism receives the following formulation on Lewis view: In every world, there is exactly one all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good being that creates the single connected spatio-temporal manifold of that world (if there is one), and these beings are all counterparts of one another. On Lewis’s account of (de re) modal claims, this state of affairs would make-true the sentence ‘Necessarily, God creates whatever spatio-temporal manifold there is’. (Of course, Lewis does not accept standard theism. The point here is just that this is what the view would look like in a Lewisian framework.)
B. Multi-verses
1. Possible worlds may ‘contain’ many universes, i.e. many maximally connected spatio-temporal domains. If the actual world is a multi-verse, then it ‘contains’ many universes. (There is a question about whether to allow connections involving wormholes, or singularities, or the like. I think that this is simply a verbal question about the definitions of ‘maximal connectedness’ and ‘universe’.)
2. Individuals are universe-bound: no individual exists in more than one universe.
3. Universes have no ‘regular’ external relations to one another. (No information can pass through a wormhole or a singularity, if wormholes or singularities are held to ‘connect’ universes. Etc.)
4. Standard theism receives the following formulation: There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good being that exists in every world and that creates all of the universes in every one of the worlds (whether there are many, one, or none). (‘Necessarily, God creates whatever universes there are.’)
5. The multi-verse hypothesis is neutral on the logic, semantics, and metaphysics of modality. Defenders of this hypothesis could be: ersatzists, or primitivists, or fictionalists, or (I say) even (modified) Lewisian realists.
C. What modifications are needed?
1. We need to give up the idea that there is just one connected spatio-temporal manifold in each world.
2. On grounds of simplicity, Lewis prefers a view on which there is just one external relation: worlds just are universes, i.e., maximally spatio-temporally related entities. But, he recognises that his view can accommodate further external relations (and would need to do so, if, for example, it was to allow that it is possible that there are gods or island universes).
3. On grounds of simplicity, Lewis is opposed to island universes. However, as just noted, provided that he admits further external relations, his view can perfectly well accommodate island universes.
D. What might be controversial about the fore-going?
It goes without saying that Lewis’s account of (de re) modality is controversial. Famously, Kripke thought that invoking counterparts as truth-makers does not do justice to the thought that (de re) modal claims are about the very individuals to which they refer. But this is not an issue that has anything particularly to do with theism; if it succeeds, it’s equally an objection to the proposition that Lewis theory can accommodate (de re) modal claims about any other individuals (e.g. you or me). When we ask whether we can accommodate standard theism in a Lewisian framework, we only have an interesting question if we set aside global worries about the adequacy of the Lewisian account of (de re) modality.
I imagine some theists might say: no view can be acceptable if it allows that there are universes that are not made by God (where ‘God’ is taken to refer to a being that exists in the actual world). Now, it is true that this claim would be true on the above version of Lewis’ view. But it is also true, on the above version of Lewis’s view, that it is impossible that there is a universe that is not made by God. Does this mean that the above version of Lewis’ view is contradictory? No.
On the version of Lewis’ view in question, there are no ACTUAL universes that are not made by the ACTUAL God — even though there are non-ACTUAL universes that are not made by the ACTUAL God. Our objecting theist should be happy to accept that there are MERELY POSSIBLE universes that are not made by the ACTUAL God — but, by Lewis’s lights, that’s all that you are required to commit yourself to when you accept that there ARE universes that are not made by God.

bookmark_borderMoreland on Consciousness

(redated post originally published on 14 November 2011)
There have been some further developments in this discussion. See:
Graham Oppy “Critical Notice of J. P. Moreland’s Consciousness and the Existence of God” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 3, 1, 2011, 193-212
J. P. Moreland “Oppy on the Argument from Consciousness: A Rejoinder” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 3, 1, 2011, 213-226
Graham Oppy “Consciousness in not Evidence for Theism” in C. Meister, J. P. Moreland, and K. Sweis (eds.) Oxford Contemporary Dialogues Oxford: OUP, forthcoming. (Should be out early in the new year. Also contains a chapter by Moreland, defending his argument from consciousness, which I haven’t yet seen.)
Re the above link to Moreland’s blog: In Arguing about Gods, I discuss two arguments from consciousness. First, I (briefly) consider the argument in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding that is critiqued by Mackie in The Miracle of Theism. Second, I provide a fairly lengthy discussion of the argument in Swinburne’s The Existence of God. I do not think that the main criticism that I make of these argument in Arguing about Gods is that “the theist’s use of personal explanation regarding consciousness is a bogus form of explanation” (cf. the claim in Moreland’s blog). (See p.401 of Arguing about Gods for a summary of five of the criticisms that I make of Swinburne’s argument. The claim that Moreland attributes to me is not among these five criticisms ….)
The most important point to note — vis a vis this discussion — I think, is this: The worst case for the naturalist is one in which ‘conscious state’ is an ideological primitive, with an ideologically primitive connection to ‘neural state’ (or the like). But, for theists like Moreland, ‘conscious state’ is evidently an ideological primitive — for, of course, Moreland thinks that God is conscious, and does not suppose that God’s consciousness is explained in terms of something else — and the connection between consciousness and the rest of God’s ‘state’ is also ideologically primitive. So, on a proper accounting of theoretical costs, the worst case for the naturalist is no worse than par with the view that Moreland defends. (And, of course, if the naturalist can provide a ‘reduction’ of consciousness, then the naturalist has a theoretically more virtuous position.) But, if this is right, the considerations about consciousness cannot possibly favour theism (regardless of the outcome of attempts to provide a naturalistic ‘reduction’ of consciousness).