March 27, 2016

Easter Thoughts

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 6:20 pm

Christianity, unlike most other religions, is a religion grounded in a particular historical event that either did or did not happen. That event—resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—is susceptible to historical investigation just like any other. Attempts to place the resurrection beyond the reach of falsification by taking it out of the messy, gritty realm of concrete, objective, investigable fact and putting it into the “safer” realm of subjective, spiritual, internal experience is dishonest in the extreme.

If Jesus didn’t actually come back to life with a body that could be poked and prodded by skeptics or embraced and kissed by friends, I don’t give a damn what heart-warming lessons can be drawn from the story. But if he did, nothing else could have more profound existential ramifications. The following passage from Wright’s magisterial book on the resurrection is worth quoting at length:

The early Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as the action of the creator god to reaffirm the essential goodness of creation and, in an initial and representative act of new creation, to establish a bridgehead within the present world of space, time and matter through which the whole new creation could now come to birth. Calling Jesus ‘son of god’ within this context of meaning, they constituted themselves by implication as a collection of rebel cells within Caesar’s empire, loyal to a different monarch, a different kyrios. Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter-­imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.

Once again we must not confuse ‘meaning’ in this sense with ‘referent’. Just as ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ does not refer to the fact that ‘my sins have been forgiven’, even though it means that within its wider world of implication, so that same sentence does not refer to the fact that the true god disapproves of brutal tyranny, even though it means that. Some recent books, eager to bring out the political implications of the resurrection, have allowed this political ‘meaning’ to take over entirely, and have supposed that this argument is strengthened by suggesting that nothing much happened on the third day after Jesus’ death. Get rid of the original referent, and (so it appears) you allow the implication to take its place. But this misses the point the early Christians were eager to make, the point that brought them quickly into confrontation with the authorities both Jewish and pagan. To imply that Jesus ‘went to heaven when he died’, or that he is now simply a spiritual presence, and to suppose that such ideas exhaust the referential meaning of ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’, is to miss the point, to cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique. Death is the ultimate weapon of the tyrant; resurrection does not make a covenant with death, it overthrows it. The resurrection, in the full Jewish and early Christian sense, is the ultimate affirmation that creation matters, that embodied human beings matter. That is why resurrection has always had an inescapable political meaning; that is why the Sadducees in the first century, and the Enlightenment in our own day, have opposed it so strongly. No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching, detached from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection (or when, for that matter, the resurrection is affirmed simply as an example of a supernatural ‘happy ending’ which guarantees post-mortem bliss).

…The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.[1]

That being said, as a Christian doing graduate work in philosophy, I often wonder what non-Christian philosophers would make of arguments for the resurrection, whether the historiographical treatments of Wright[2] and Licona[3] or the more philosophically rigorous formulations of Swinburne[4] and the McGrews[5], especially in light of how the standard Humean objection to miracles has been shown to be demonstrably fallacious.[6] Philosophers read and think about stuff all the time. It is their job, after all. Given the monumental significance of the resurrection, if true, don’t non-Christian philosophers owe it to themselves to read at least a few good books on the topic, and to devote some honest thought to how good of a case there is for it?[7] Some have done that, to be sure. But they are few. Most non-Christian philosophers are, I imagine, blissfully unaware that serious arguments for the resurrection even exist. But I suppose their lot is understandable. They’re no doubt too busy tackling the really important questions, like whether the principle of substitutivity of identiticals holds when substituting codesignators within the scope of temporal and modal operators.

February 18, 2015

Why do Philosophy of Religion?

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 5:17 pm

It’s hard for me to shake the impression that many professional philosophers aren’t satisfied with their four years of high school, and so view the profession of philosophy as an indefinite extension of that period of adolescence. There’s the popular crowd meangirlswho fancy themselves gate-keeping trendsetters, as well as the characterless shadows who seek the vicarious thrill of riding the cool kids’ coat tails. And for some time the Mean Girls of philosophy have declared that philosophy of religion is for losers. It is passé, unworthy of the time and attention of more enlightened minds; philosophers of religion are just posers from the vacuous field of theology trying weasel some clout by rubbing shoulders with real philosophers. This is a common subtext at gossip blogs like NewApps and Leiter Reports, which act as playgrounds for the philosophoney showoffs and bullies.

They are wrong, of course. But convincing them of that would be pointless. Peer pressure is a stronger force than the weight of argument. One can only hope they’ll someday grow up to reminisce with embarrassment on their high school years like the rest of us. But until then, if you have received a suspicious eye (or more) because of your interest in philosophy of religion, as I have, then it might be prudent to have something ready to say lest your silence be interpreted as shame. In that spirit here are five reasons why philosophy of religion (hereafter PoR) is one of the choicest fields of philosophy.

December 31, 2014

Review of Hasker

Hasker Philosophy in Review‘s final issue for 2014 includes my review of William Hasker’s Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God.

As I point out in the review, the main philosophical strides forward are made in the final chapters of the book. The first 3rd is historical stage-setting, but you’d be better off getting your history from historical theologians or the primary sources themselves. The second 3rd of the book is a useful and judicious summary of important contemporary work on the Trinity, but such summaries can be found elsewhere.

August 31, 2014

Review of Leftow

Filed under: Metaphysics,Philosophical Theology,Philosophy of Religion,Reviews — camcintosh @ 3:24 pm

G&NMy review of Brian Leftow’s mammoth tome, God and Necessity, is now available over at Philosophy in Review. Clearer writing probably could have saved OUP about 200 pages, but it is otherwise a very good book. Leftow is one smart dude.

I should have a few more reviews coming out before the year’s over.

July 25, 2014

Feisty Feser on “What Caused God?”

If you want to be able to say anything intelligent about cosmological arguments, especially if you teach philosophy and are intellectually honest, read Edward Feser’s righteous shredding of the beloved “If everything has a cause, what caused God?” “objection” (scare quotes) to “the cosmological argument” (scare quotes) that you hear at the beginning of every semester in Philosophy 101 classes; you know, that rhetorical Sherman’s march through theism whose unstoppable force is matched only by the brilliance and originality of the questioner.WCG

In addition to offering a much needed but yet unheeded point of correction, Feser also raises suggestive sociological questions that need to be asked about those who continue to peddle the “objection.” Their profiles, despite being “professional philosophers,” do not seem to markedly differ from that of the freshman who I saw raise the “objection” during the last Intro to Philosophy class I TAed for: unamused, inattentive, saying anything to meet the requirement of saying something. Dispatching “the cosmological argument” for this student demanded as much thought as waiving a fly away, requiring not even that she avert her gaze from Facebook.

March 16, 2014

A Materialist Picture of the Imago Dei

Suppose you accept the following two propositions, as I am inclined to:

(1) If S is created in the image of God, then S is a human.
(2) If S is a human, then S has a particular kind of body (i.e., having a particular kind of body is essential to having a human nature).

It follows that

(3) If S is created in the image of God, then S has a particular kind of body.

But we don’t want to interpret (3) as saying humans image God in having a particular kind of body, as if God has a particular kind of body, do we? Well, maybe we do. So far as I can tell, the following is fully consistent with Orthodox thought.

Designate the set of properties essential and exclusive to divinity {P}. Sans creation, God knows this counterfactual:

(4) If the second Person of the Trinity were embodied in W, that’s how He’d be.

where one of the things the demonstrative ‘that’s’ indicates is the having of a particular kind of body. Why that particular kind of body? I dunno. Maybe a particular kind of body is required for a perfect person to be perfectly embodied in W. At any rate, the picture God has from (1) is that of a perfect embodied person, a person with all those properties in {P} with a particular kind of body. What this would amount to in the actual world, W@, is the post-resurrected incarnate Christ. So suppose that the kind-essence that results from embodying a divine person in W@ is humanity. A perfect embodied person in W@ would therefore be a perfect human person—a human person who is necessarily morally perfect, perfectly free, incorruptible, etc. God sees that this would be very good.

Seeing that it would be good, God decides to create persons like that—i.e., humans. However, properties like being uncreated and being omnipotent are essential and exclusive to divinity. So, any non-divine human persons God creates must lack those and other properties in {P}. In other words, God creates with this counterfactual in mind:

(5) If a human person were not divine, that’s how he’d be

imago deiwhere the picture is the same as in (4) save only those properties essential to divinity. The result is, in effect, pre-Fall Adam—a truly human person, albeit a merely human person—a human person who is not necessarily morally perfect, not necessarily perfectly free, not necessarily incorruptible, etc.

If I were a materialist about human beings—and I am as of yet unsure that I am—I would think about human persons qua created in the image of God along these lines.

Discussions of the incarnation sometimes give the impression that the incarnation is logically posterior to humanity; humanity is something antecedently there, and Christ sort of steps down into the middle of things and acquires a human nature. But on the view sketched here, humanity is logically posterior to the incarnation. God starts at the middle (so to speak) with God incarnate, then goes back to the beginning and sets the course of humanity to anticipate the incarnation.

January 9, 2014

Can There Be More Than One Creator? II

Filed under: Attributes of God,Natural Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 2:43 pm

In the last post I argued that there cannot be more than one creator if the creator creates ex nihilo. So the “there could be multiple creators” objection to kalam cosmological arguments fail.

But here’s a simple argument for the conclusion that there cannot be more than one creator if the creator is an uncreated concrete being that creates everything concrete other than itself. Say there exists one such being, U1. If there existed another such being, U2, U1 would not be an uncreated being that creates everything concrete other than itself, for either U1 is created by U2 (contrary to our hypothesis) or U2 would be a concrete being not created by U1 (contrary to our hypothesis).

Thus, the ‘multiple creators’ objection also fails against cosmological arguments that show there exists an uncreated concrete being that creates everything concrete other than itself, which is characteristic of Thomistic cosmological arguments.

January 8, 2014

Can There Be More Than One Creator? I

Filed under: Attributes of God,Natural Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 7:28 pm

One common criticism of cosmological arguments is that, even if successful, they do not establish the existence of a single creator. It remains possible that there be multiple beings one of which created, or that creation be the joint effort of multiple beings. Thus cosmological arguments for the existence of a monotheistic God are failures.

Typical replies appeal to Ockham’s Razor: in the absence of reasons for postulating more, we’re justified in thinking cosmological arguments establish the existence of just one being because just one is sufficient for the task. Here’s another reply, sketched in a rough and intuitive way, the theist might make. As far as I can tell, it will only work (if it works) for cosmological arguments that establish creatio ex nihilo, such as the kalam.

Creatio ex nihilo implies the creator be omnipotent. The ‘distance’ between existence and non-existence is ‘infinite,’ so to speak, and only a being of infinite power could traverse it. Some have argued that there is no greater difference than that between the abstract and the concrete. But it seems more plausible that there is no greater difference than that between existence and non-existence. Any being that has such difference-making power has power none greater than which can be conceived. This is little more than an intuition pump, but it pumps my intuitions at least. So, plausibly, for any x, if x has the power to create ex nihilo, x is omnipotent (Cf. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding §7.18, 20).

But now we can bring in the familiar arguments for the conclusion that there cannot be more than one omnipotent being. Quick and dirtily: suppose there are two omnipotent beings, O1 and O2, and that for any x such that x is omnipotent, x can bring about p or bring about ~p. Possibly, O1 brings about p at t and O2 brings about ~p at t. But that’s not possible. For either p or ~p to obtain at t, O1 or O2 must fail to be omnipotent. Thus there can be only one omnipotent being.

So if there can be only one omnipotent being, and creatio ex nihilo implies the creator be omnipotent, there can be only one being able to create ex nihilo. So if a creator created the universe ex nihilo, there is only one creator and the ‘multiple creators’ objection fails. See here for an argument that the objection also fails against Thomistic cosmological arguments.

May 30, 2013

Review of Zagzebski

omnisubjectivityHere is a review, by yours truly, of Linda Zagzebski’s 2013 Aquinas lectures, Omnisubjectivity: A Defense of a Divine Attribute. It was a fun read! But it felt more like reviewing an article than a book. Brevity is not always correlated with density!

As far as I know, this is the first book in which my name is printed. I was grateful to have interacted with Zagzebski on earlier drafts of the lecture. The attribute of omnisubjectivity is largely responsible for capturing my interest in philosophical theology, and it is a great example of how much of a philosophical watershed philosophy of religion can be.

May 28, 2013

Do We Owe God a Perfect Life?

Consider what Michael Rea identifies as “common to the most well-known versions of the satisfaction theory” of the atonement:

The satisfaction theory start with something like the following characterization of the human predicament: Our sin has put us in the position of owing God something that we cannot possible repay on our own. From birth, we have owed God a perfect life. By sinning we have failed to give him his due, and we have also rendered it impossible for him to receive his due from us (since we can’t take back our sin and thus give him the perfect life we initially owed him). Moreover, we have affronted God by failing to give him what we owe; so we now owe something further to make up for the affront But we cannot compensate God for the affront for precisely the same reason that we cannot make restitution for our sins: anything we tried to offer up as restitution or compensation would only be what we already owed in the first place. [“Introduction,” in Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology (Oxford, 2009), pp. 14-15.]

The starting premise—shared by other theories of the atonement as well—is that “we owe God a perfect life.” In saying we owe God a perfect life, presumably what is meant is that we have an obligation or duty before God to live a morally perfect life, one free of sin. And we incur debt—i.e., blameworthiness—by failing to give God his due, failing to fulfill our duty or obligation before God.

But why think this starting premise is true? How is it that just by being born we are under obligation to live and offer God a perfect life and are blameworthy for failing to do so? There is the vague thought that the premise might be conceptually entailed by facts about our relation to God. But it’s hard to see what those facts might be. God is our morally perfect creator and sustainer, but how does it follow from this that we owe him a morally perfect life? It’s much easier to see difficulties with the premise. Here are two:

1. It is often taken as axiomatic in ethics that “ought” implies “can.” But if we mere humans cannot live a morally perfect life and cannot repay God what we owe him, then it’s not true that we ought to live a morally perfect life or repay God what we owe him. But rejecting the axiomatic ought-implies-can principle doesn’t seem like a promising route.

2. Suppose a mere human can live a morally perfect life, and someone in fact does. Is she not praiseworthy for living such a life? I think so. But one is not praiseworthy for doing one’s duty or fulfilling one’s obligations. Doing what is required is not praiseworthy. And living a perfect life cannot ex hypothesi be supererogatory.

So the premise clashes with two potent moral intuitions—that ought implies can and that one would be praiseworthy for living a morally perfect life. Is the premise essential to theories of the atonement? What reasons are there for thinking the premise is true? And, most interesting: is an alternative, perhaps more modest premise available?

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