EPS 2006 Conference

We just got back from the annual Evangelical Philosophical Society conference in Washington D.C. and I thought I’d share a few highlights

First, questions on Molinism kept coming up.  Steve Cowan (a good friend of Keith’s) and professor of Apologetics at my alma mater read a paper: Molinism, Christian Belief, and Luck.  I beleive he intends on having it published.  According to Cowan, while the grounding objection has recieved much attention, another equally weighty argument can be leveled against the theory of Middle Knowledge.

Cowan points out that on Molinism, God is able to control the course of history by actualizing that possible world where free creatures, do the things that God wants them to do.  But of course, God has no control over which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true, so he cannot just actualize just any possible world that he might want.  Now we must suppose that God, logically prior to scientia media, has a particular plan for how he would like history to turn out.  As it turns out, however, God might be unlucky.  That is, there might be no possible worlds God would actualize that would match his plan.  Cowan concludes that any theory of providence which entails God’s being ‘lucky’ is theologically unnaceptable.  Moreover, such a theory means that the probability of God getting the world that he wants to actualize is either low or inscrutable.

Next, Trenton Merricks of the University of Virginia read as the keynote speaker.  In his paper, Grounding and Subjunctive Conditionals: A Defense of God’s Middle-Knowledge, Among other Things, Merricks attempted provide a defeater for the Truthmaker thesis, and along the way, undercut its usefulness as an objection to Molinism (the grounding objection can be seen as a particualr construal of the truthmaker thesis).  According to the Truthmaker thesis, every truth has a truth-maker, some fact (Russell), state of affairs (Lewis), or whatever, that makes the proposition true.  Truthmaker theorists (save Armstrong), however want to exempt negative existentials from this maxim.  Take the negative existential:

(1) Cerberus does not exist

Many would insist that (1) does not need a truthmaker. 

Merricks argues however, that dispositional conditionals of the kind

(2) If G were struck, then G would shatter,

appear to entail negative existentials of the sort

(3) There is no sorcerer who would keep G from shattering, were G to be struck

But if (2) entails (3), then one cannot object to it using the truth maker thesis.  Similarly, counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are dispositional conditionals.  Hence

(4) If Curley had been offered a $35,000 bribe, he would have freely taken it

is a true counterfactual and this would be immune to the truthmaker thesis and thus the grounding objection.  During the question session, Michael Rea got into an argument with Merricks on one of the finer points of his argument.  The whole time, I couldn’t help but think, ‘man, I really need to learn more logic.’  To be honest, I knew what they were talking about was important somehow.  I just didn’t know what they were talking about.

R. Scott Smith of Biola University read another interesting paper, A Few Issues for Craig’s Fictionalism and Conceptualism.  Smith takes note of Craig’s rejection of the Platonic view of abstract objects and his favorable treatment of Fictionalsim and Conceptualism in his Creation out of Nothing .  He makes some good arguments against the Fictionalist view.  Roughly, Fictionalism denies the existence of abstract objects.  What we concieve of as abstract entities are actually useful fictions we use to describe the world.  Smith suggests that the problem reconciling God and abstract entities this way is not promising.  Similarly, he argues against Craig’s conceptualism which appears to collapse into a kind of nominalism or at best founders on how exactly God’s concepts (say the concept of redness), is related to the property redness in a red box.

Smith suggests a sort of modified platonism akin to Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel’s view, according to which properties are created by God.  During the question time, Craig pointed out the well known flaw in modified platonism.  If God created properties then whence his own?  Did he create them?  Smith, suprisingly, appeared to be taken off guard by that objection.  I don’t understand why, since this is the standard objection to Morris and Menzel’s view.  See Plantinga, Leftow, et. al. (I even make the same objection in my master’s thesis…to brag a bit).  Nevertheless, this is an area of metaphysics that needs a lot of work.  Many of the attempts at resolving the problem of God and abstract objects appear to come with some sort of baggage:  Fictionalism seems theologically unnaceptable , modified Platonism appears to get hoisted on its own petard, Divine Simplicity might do the trick but most analytic theists reject it for other reasons, and Conceptualism appears to collapse into nominalism or Platonism, depending on how you take it.  This is exciting stuff!

Speaking of God and abstract objects, Richard Davis of Tyndale University College read an interesting paper in that vein, God and Counterpossibles.  Brian Leftow’s account of counterpossibles–his attempt to explain just how propositions and other abstract objects depend on God–is put under scrutiny.  Counterpossibles are counterfactuals whose antecedents are impossible.  For example:

(5) If God were to cease existing, then p would not exist

(6) If God were to cease existing, the p would still exist

Here, (5) would be trivially true and (6) trivially false.  Davis points out that, among other things, counterpossibles such as (5) and (6) do not appropriately capture the dependence of propositions on God.  Along the way, Davis suggests some emmendations to Leftow’s view.  One of his radical suggestions is that we not think of propositions as necessary beings at all.  In fact, he says, propositions might be seen as contingent entities such that there are possible worlds where no propositions exist. 

Davis’ God and Counterpossibles is published in Religious Studies 42 (2006): 371–391.  Leftow offers a response in the same issue, Impossible Worlds, Religious Studies 42 (2006): 393–402.  This is the stuff of metaphysics.

All in all, great conference. 

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