'Terrible' divine commands revisited: a response to Davis
If God commanded something that would ordinarily be classified as a
terrible evil, would we have a moral obligation to obey? In two previous articles in
this journal, I examined and evaluated several different ways in which a divine
command theorist might answer this question. Richard Brian Davis and W. Paul
Franks have now provided a vigorous rebuttal, in which they argue that my way of
handling the relevant counterpossible conditionals is flawed, and that a divine
command theorist who avails herself of the metaphysical platform of theistic
activism can consistently say that if (per impossibile) God were to command some
terrible evil, it would not be the case that we have a moral obligation to do it. In the
present article, I clarify my own view and defend it against Davis and Franks's
objections. I also argue that the core claim of theistic activism -- that there would be
nothing at all if there were no God -- does not have all the dramatic implications
that Davis and Franks claim for it.
Religious Studies, Available on CJO 2015 doi:10.1017/S0034412515000384
Published online: 12 August 2015
© Cambridge University Press
Skeptical Demonism: A failed response to a Humean challenge
Drawing on materials in Hume's Dialogues, I develop an
argument for saying that it is unreasonable to accept either
the hypothesis that the universe is ruled by perfect
benevolence, or that it is ruled by perfect malice. I then
show how skeptical theists would respond to this argument, and
how their response might be imitated by an imaginary
"skeptical demonist" (a defender of the "perfect malice"
hypothesis). Finally, I give reasons for thinking that neither
skeptical demonism nor skeptical theism is successful in
blunting the force of the Humean challenge.
In Justin McBrayer and Trent Dougherty (eds), Skeptical Theism: New Essays (Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 221-235.
Doubts about the kalam cosmological argument
This paper takes issue with the standard arguments both for the claim that the universe has an absolute beginning, and with the claim that such a beginning must have a cause. It does not try to prove that the universe is past eternal, or that (if it isn't) no cause is needed. It advocates agnosticism with respect to both issues.
in Moreland, Meister, and Sweis, Debating Christian Theism (Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 20-32.
Ethical Criticism of the Bible: The Case of Divinely Mandated Genocide
Taking as a test case those biblical texts in which the God of Israel commands the destruction other nations, the present paper defends the legitimacy and the necessity of ethical criticism of the Bible. It considers, critically evaluates, and rejects the arguments of several contemporary Christian philosophers who have recently defended the view that (in Israel's early history) God had good and morally sufficient reasons for commanding genocide.
Sophia, Vol. 51 (2012), No. 1, pp. 117-135. (doi: 10.1007/s11841-011-0261-5)
God and the ontological foundation of moralityIn recent years, William Lane Craig has vigorously championed a moral
argument for God's existence. The backbone of Craig's argument is the claim that
only God can provide a 'sound foundation in reality' for morality. The present article
has three principal aims. The first is to interpret and clarify the account of the
ontological foundation of morality proposed by Craig. The second is to press
home an important objection to that account. The third is to expose the weakness
of Craig's case for saying that without God morality would be groundless and
Religious Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (2012), © Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S0034412510000740, (Also in Cambridge Online Journals)
Beginningless Past, Endless Future, and the Actual InfiniteOne of the principal lines of argument deployed by the friends of the kalam
cosmological argument against the possibility of a beginningless series of
events is a quite general argument against the possibility of an actual infinite.
The principal thesis of the present paper is that if this argument worked as
advertised, parallel considerations would force us to conclude, not merely
that a series of discrete, successive events must have a first member, but also
that such a series must have a final member. Anyone who thinks that an endless series of events is possible must therefore reject this popular line of argument against the possibility of an actual infinite.
Faith and Philosophy, Vol.
27, No. 4 (Oct. 2010), pp. 439-450.
You can find Craig's reply to this paper here
And you can find my response to Craig's reply here
What if God commanded something terrible? A worry for divine-command meta-ethics
If God commanded something that was obviously evil, would we have a
moral obligation to do it? I critically examine three radically different approaches
divine-command theorists may take to the problem posed by this question:
(1) reject the possibility of such a command by appealing to God's essential
goodness; (2) avoid the implication that we should obey such a command by
modifying the divine-command theory; and (3) accept the implication that we
should obey such a command by appealing to divine transcendence and mystery.
I show that each approach faces significant challenges, and that none is completely
Religious Studies, Vol. 45 (2009), issue 03, pp. 249-267.
© Cambridge University Press
The Moral Obligations of Reasonable Non-Believers: A special problem for divine command metaethics
International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol.
65 (2009), No. 1, pp. 1-10.
The fact that many people do not believe that there is a God creates an obvious problem for divine
command metaethics. They have moral obligations, and are often enough aware of having them. Yet it
is not easy to think of such persons as "hearing" divine commands. This makes it hard to see how a
divine command theory can offer a completely general account of the nature of moral obligation. The
present paper takes a close look at this issue as it emerges in the context of the most recent version of
Robert Adams' modified divine command theory. I argue that, despite a valiant attempt to do so,
Adams does not succeed in giving an adequate account of the moral obligations of non-believers. More
generally, I claim that if divine commands are construed as genuine speech acts, theists are well
advised not to adopt a divine command theory.
Did God Command Genocide? A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist
Philosophia Christi, Vol.11 (2009), No. 1, pp. 7-26.
Permission to post this contribution has been granted by the Editor of Philosophia Christi.
Philosophia Christi is the peer-reviewed journal of the Evangelical
Philosophical Society (www.epsociety.com/philchristi).
Thoughtful Christians who hold the Old Testament in high regard must at some point
come to terms with those passages in which God is said to command what appear (to us) to be
moral atrocities. In the present paper, I argue that the genocide passages in the Old Testament
provide us with a strong prima facie reason to reject biblical inerrancy - that in the absence of
better reasons for thinking that the Bible is inerrant, a Christian should conclude that God did
not in fact command genocide. I shall also consider and reject the attempts of two prominent
Christian philosophers to show that God had morally sufficient reasons for commanding the
Israelites to engage in genocidal attacks against foreign peoples.
Must and Origins Agnostic be a Skeptic?
11 (2008), No. 2, pp. 165-176.
Plantinga claims to give a person who is agnostic about the ultimate
source of his cognitive faculties an undefeatable defeater for all his
beliefs. This argument of Plantinga's bears a family resemblance to his
much better known argument for saying that naturalism is self-defeating,
but it has a much more ambitious conclusion. In the present paper, I try to
show both that Plantinga's argument for this conclusion fails, and that even
if an "origins agnostic" were to succumb to it, a cure for his skepticism is
ready at hand - one that does not involve believing in anything like God.
God Free? Reply to Wierenga
Faith and Philosophy, Vol.
23, No. 1 (Jan. 2006), pp. 93-98.
In a recent paper, Edward Wierenga argues that God is both morally free and
that when there is a best option God cannot fail to choose it. Since God is not
determined by external causes, he is free in all that he does. In this paper,
I present a thought experiment to show that the mere absence of external
causes is not sufficient for divine freedom. The reader is invited to imagine
an uncaused finite being who is "good by nature." I claim that such a being
would lack moral freedom, so that (by analogy) an uncaused God who is
"good by nature" would lack it as well. Various attempts to find a relevant
dissimilarity between the two cases are briefly considered.
"Evidential Argument from Goodness"
Journal of Philosophy, (2004) Vol. XLII, pp. 87-101.
Imagine a "demonist" who believes that there is an omnipotent and omnimalevolent demon. One might suppose that the amount and variety of goodness in the world is sufficient to refute demonism. But my imaginary demonist responds with a defensive strategy similar to that deployed by contemporary "skeptical theists." I argue that the strategy works as well for demonism as it does for theism. I conclude that, on the ground marked out by skeptical theists we cannot make any judgment about God's moral character by appealing to the mixture of good and evil we find in the world.
Metaphysical Time Have a Beginning?
Faith and Philosophy,
Vol. 20, No. 3 (July 2003), pp. 288-306.
In this paper, I seek to establish, first, that the a priori arguments against the infinite past are vital to the overall success of the kalam argument. Merely appealing to the big bang theory of the origin of the universe will not do the trick. In the second place, I show that neither of these arguments is at all successful in showing that "metaphysical time" has a beginning. Along the way, various discoveries are made about the relation of dynamic time to the possibility that the past has no beginning. The final section of the paper shows that if (as is commonly assumed) there is a complete body of truth about the future, then an endless future is (also) an actual infinite.
Plantinga's God have freedom-canceling control over his creatures? A
response to Richard Gale
Philo, Vol. 6, No. 1
(Spring-Summer 2003), pp. 67-77.
According to Alvin Plantinga and his followers, there is a complete set of truths about what any possible person would freely do in any possible situation. Richard Gale offers two arguments for saying that this doctrine entails that God exercises "freedom-canceling" control over his creatures. Gale's first argument claims that Plantinga's God controls our behavior by determining our psychological makeup. The second claims that God causes (in the "forensic" sense) all of our behavior. The present paper critically examines and rejects both of these arguments. The second of Gale's arguments blurs the distinction between causal laws and the conditionals of freedom, whereas the first fails to appreciate the force of the libertarian daim that our psychological makeup may "incline" us in a certain direction without determining our behavior. It also fails to acknowledge the way in which a libertarian like Plantinga might think we contribute to shaping our own characters.
Are omnipotence and necessary
moral perfection compatible? Reply to Mawson
Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4 (December 2003), pp. 441-449.
© Cambridge University Press
In response to an earlier paper of mine, T. J. Mawson has argued that
omnipotence is logically incompatible with wrong-doing, 'whilst accepting that there
is "a genuine, active power knowingly to choose evil" and thus leaving room for a
free-will defence to the problem of evil'. Here, I attempt to show that Mawson is
mistaken on both counts – that his argument for the incompatibility of omnipotence
and wrong-doing is defective, and that the free-will defence cannot be sustained on
the ground marked out by him. Given Mawson's understanding of power and
freedom, I argue that it would be possible for God to create persons who are both
free and unable to make evil choices.
and the Power to Choose: A Reply to Wielenberg
Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 3 (July 2002), pp. 358-367.
Erik Wielenberg has recently proposed a novel definition of omnipotence. One of the virtues of Wielenberg's analysis is supposed to be that it makes omnipotence compatible with essential goodness. In the present paper, I try to show that Wielenberg does not succeed in reconciling omnipotence with essential goodness. Even if there is a conditional sense in which God has the "power" to do things he cannot choose to do, the fact that he cannot choose to do them shows that his basic power of choice is limited in a way that is incompatible with omnipotence.
and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to Craig
and Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 2 (April 2002),233-244.
Defenders of the kalam cosmological argument claim that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. But what if there were no time prior to the beginning of the universe? Would the beginning, universe still have to have a cause? In his reply to an earlier paper of mine, William Lane Craig defends an affirmative answer. Every beginning, he believes -- even the very first event in the history of time -- must have a cause. It makes no difference, he says, whether an event is embedded within time or whether it coincides with the beginning of time -- in either case a cause is necessary. In the present paper, I clarify and defend my case for taking the opposite view. I take a close look at the most important lines of argument in Craig's rejoinder, and conclude that his position is supported neither by a trustwor¬thy a priori intuition nor by a sound empirical generalization.
ex Nihilo and the Big Bang
Philo, Vol. 5, No. 9
William Lane Craig claims that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is strongly supported by the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. In the present paper, I critically examine Craig's arguments for this claim. I conclude that they are unsuccessful, and that the Big Bang theory provides no support for the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Even if it is granted that the universe had a "first cause," there is no reason to think that this cause created the universe out of nothing. As far as the Big Bang theory is concerned, the cause of the universe might have been what Adolf Grünbaum has called a "transformative cause" -- a cause that shaped something that was "already there."
A Critical Examination of the
Kalam Cosmological Argument
God Matters, ed. by Ray
Martin and Christopher Bernard (Longman: 2002).
William Lane Craig's version of the kalam cosmological argument tries to establish (1) that the series of all past events must have a beginning; (2) that there is a First Cause of this series of events; (3) that the First Cause is a timeless person; and (4) that this person created the universe out of nothing. In the present paper I take issue with Craig's arguments for all of these conclusions. I show (1) that neither of his philosophical arguments against the infinite past is successful; (2) that it is far from obvi-ous that the beginning of the whole temporal series (even if it has one) must have a cause; (3) that Craig's argument for the claim that the first cause is a person cannot be sustained in the context of the sort of theism that he himself wishes to defend; and (4) that Craig's arguments for creation ex nihilo are not cogent. Morriston does not offer an alternative explanation of the universe -- suggesting instead that we simply don't have enough to go on to answer all of the hard questions we are capable of asking about the origin of the natural world.
Craig on the
Religious Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2 (June
© Cambridge University Press
In a series of much discussed articles and books, William Lane Craig
defends the view that the past could not consist in a beginningless series of events.
In the present paper, I cast a critical eye on just one part of Craig's case for the
finitude of the past -- viz. his philosophical argument against the possibility of
actually infinite sets of objects in the 'real world'. I try to show that this
argument is unsuccessful. I also take a close look at several considerations that
are often thought to favour the possibility of an actual infinite, arguing in each case
that Craig's response is inadequate.
There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?
Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, no.1, 127-138.
It is often said that God possesses, to the maximum possible degree, certain morally admirable traits of character. He is perfectly loving, just, compassionate, merciful, faithful, and so on. This claim is then combined with the suggestion that God is the Good and that there is no other standard of goodness that God must satisfy in order to be good. In this paper, I raise what I take to be a very serious objection to this view. I ask: Is God morally good because he possesses these wonderful character traits, or are they morally good because God posseses them? If, as I argue, God is good because he is loving and just and the rest, then these properties (and not God) are the ultimate standard of moral goodness both for God and for creatures.
and the Anselmian God
Philo, vol 4, no. 1
(Spring-Summer 2001), 7-20.
Can God be both omnipotent and essentially good? Working with the Anselmian conception of God as the greatest possible being, a number of philosophers have tried to show that omnipotence should be understood in such a way that these properties are compatible. In the present paper, I argue that we can, without inconsistency or other obvious absurdity, conceive of a being more powerful than the Anselmian God. I conclude that contemporary Anselmian philosophers have conflated two logically distinct questions: (1) How much power would be possessed by the best possible God? and (2) How much power is required for omnipotence? When these questions are distinguished, it can be seen that the Anselmian God does not have maximal power and is not omnipotent.
and Necessary Moral Perfection: Are they compatible?
Studies, Vol. 37 (June 2001), 143-160.
© Cambridge University Press
This paper elaborates and defends an argument for saying that if God is
necessarily good (morally perfect in all possible worlds), then He does not have the
maximum conceivable amount of power and so is not all-powerful. It considers and
rejects several of the best-known attempts to show that necessary moral perfection
is consistent with the requirements of omnipotence, and concludes by suggesting
that a less than all-powerful person might still be the greatest possible being.
Priority and the Counterfactuals of Freedom
Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 1 (January 2001), 21-35.
On a Molinist account of creation and providence, not only is there is a complete set of truths about what every possible person would freely do in any possible set of circumstances, but these conditional truths are part of the very explanation of our existence. Robert Adams has recently argued that the explanatory priority of these conditionals undermines libertarian freedom. In the present essay, I take at close look at Adams' argument and at the Molinist response of Thomas Flint. After showing that Flint's response is inadequate, I develop what I believe to be a more successful Molinist response to Adams' argument. Along the way, I seek to provide some insight into the nature of libertarian freedom and the proper interpretation of the much discussed "principle of alternate possibilities."
Is So Good About Moral Freedom?
Vol. 50, Issue 3 (July 2000), 344-358.
Many Christian philosophers believe that it is a great good that human beings are free to choose between good and evil -- so good, indeed, that God is justified in putting up with a great many evil choices for the sake of it. But many of the same Christian philosophers also believe that God is essentially good -- good in every possible world. Unlike his sinful human creatures, God cannot choose between good and evil. In that sense, he is not 'morally free'. It is not easy to see how to fit these two theses into a single coherent package. If moral freedom is such a great good in human beings, why is it not a grave defect in God that he lacks it? And if the lack of moral freedom does not detract in any way from God's greatness, would it not have been better for us not to have it? In this paper I shall develop, but ultimately reject, what I take to be the strategy that offers the best chance of moving between the horns of this dilemma. Since the problem is especially acute for Plantinga's version of the free will defence and for Swinburne's theodicy, I shall begin with a brief discussion of their views.
the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?
Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2000),
The aim of this paper is to take a close look at some little discussed aspects of the kalam cosmological argument, with a view to deciding whether there is any reason to believe the causal principle on which it rests ("Whatever begins to exist must have a cause"), and also with a view to determining what conclusions can be drawn about the nature of the First Cause of the universe (supposing that there is one). I am particularly concerned with the problems that arise when it is assumed (as it often is) that that the First Cause is timeless and that it timelessly creates time. I argue that this forces the defender of the kalam argument to analyze the concept of "beginning to exist" in a way that raises series doubts about its main causal principle, and that it also undercuts the main argument for saying that the cause of the universe must be a person.
Must the Past Have a Beginning?
Philo, Vol. 2 (1999) no. 1, 5-19.
William Lane Craig has repeatedly claimed that an infinite series of events could not be "formed by successive addition." From this he draws the conclusion that a beginningless series of discrete events is metaphysically impossible. In the present paper, I expose a crucial ambiguity in the idea of being "formed by successive addition." When the claim is understood in such a way that it does not simply assume that every series of discrete events has a beginning, it provides no support whatever for Craig's conclusion.
God's Answer to Job
Religious Studies, Vol. 32 (1996), 339-356.
© Cambridge University Press
Job's complaint and God's Answer from the Whirlwind are described in some detail, and several traditional interpretations are considered and rejected. In the end, I claim that the book of Job moves back and forth between quite different and conflicting ideas about God and providence. On the one hand, we have a God who cares about the doings of particular men like Job. On the other hand, we have a God who is too big, too mysterious, too wholly other, for anything like that to make sense.
Is God Significantly Free??
Faith and Philosophy,
Vol. 2, No. 3 (1985), 257-264.
In an impressive series of books and articles, Alvin Plantinga has developed
challenging new versions of two much discussed pieces of philosophical theology:
the free will defense and the ontological argument.' His treatment of both subjects
has provoked a tremendous amount of critical comment. What has not been
generally noticed', however, is that when taken together, Plantinga's views on
these two subjects lead to a very serious problem in philosophical theology. The
premises of his version of the ontological argument, when combined with the
presuppositions of the free will defense, appear to entail that God is not free to
choose between good and evil and thus is not "good" in the distinctively moral
sense of this word. In the present paper, I shall explain how this problem arises,
and explore two different ways of trying to deal with it.
Plantinga's God Omnipotent?
Vol. 23, No. 3 (1984), 5-57.
This paper focuses on Plantinga's idea that God's power is limited by the truth values of what have come to be callsed "the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom." I show that being limited in this way is not inconsistent with God's possessing the maximum possible degree of power.
Freedom, Determinism, and Chance in the Early Philosophy of Sartre
Vol. 58 (1977), 5-57.
This paper expounds and interprets Sartres doctrine of radical freedom and argues that it is indistiguishable from mere chance.