A Four-Case Defense of the Authorial Model of Divine Providence

I’m pleased to report that my paper “A Four-Case Defense of the Authorial Model of Divine Providence” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Analytic Theology.

Abstract: Some advocates of the doctrine of meticulous (“risk-free”) divine providence, in response to the charge that such a strong view of divine providence makes God the “author of evil,” have appealed to an authorial model according to which the relationship of God to his creation is analogous to that of a human author and his or her literary creation. This response appears vulnerable to the objection that there is a critical disanalogy between the two kinds of authorship: in the case of divine authorship, unlike that of human authorship, the story is intentionally actualized, and thus the divine author is morally culpable for the evils written into that story. Call this the “actuality objection.” In this paper, I develop a four-case defense of the authorial model that aims to neutralize the actuality objection. I also respond to five objections to the authorial model and my defense of it.

A preprint version is available here.

A Four-Case Defense of the Authorial Model of Divine Providence Read More »

An Epistemological Argument Against Naturalism

Consider the following epistemological argument against Naturalism (as defined below):

  1. If Naturalism is true, then all factual knowledge (i.e., knowledge of facts) is acquired empirically.
  2. Knowledge of necessary facts cannot be acquired empirically.
  3. We have some knowledge of necessary facts.
  4. Therefore, Naturalism is not true.

The insights behind the argument aren’t original to me, but the formulation is mine. Before I defend the three premises, let me clarify the key terms used in the argument.

Naturalism refers to the ontological thesis that only natural things exist, that is, things that exist spatiotemporally and can be described according to our best physical theories. On this definition, Naturalism is roughly equivalent to physicalism, the view that the fundamental ‘stuff’ of reality is physical and whatever exists can be accounted for (in principle) in terms of physical reality (physical particles, physical forces, etc.).1

Factual knowledge refers to knowledge of facts about the world; specifically, facts about an external world that exists independently of our minds. Factual knowledge is distinct from (1) analytical knowledge (i.e., knowledge of logical or conceptual truths, such as that a triangle is a polygon) and (2) knowledge of internal mental states (e.g., that I am currently experiencing pain). A simple example of factual knowledge would be that there are, at this present moment, more than two turtles in Turtle Pond.

Empirically means by way of sense experience or observation, that is, by means of our sensory organs (the standard five senses or any others we might have that operate on a similar basis).

Necessary facts are facts about what must be the case, as opposed to what merely is the case or could be the case. To know a necessary fact is to know not merely that something actually is the case, but also that it could not possibly have failed to be the case. Knowledge of necessary facts is a species of factual knowledge (as defined above).

Now, back to the argument. I think it’s fairly clear that the argument is logically valid: the conclusion follows from the three premises. If premises 2 and 3 are true, it follows that some factual knowledge is not acquired empirically, in which case — by modus tollens from premise 1 — Naturalism is not true.

So why think that the premises are true? Consider each in turn.

  1. The physicalism could be reductive or non-reductive; I don’t think it makes a difference to the argument. Some self-professed naturalists hold to a more liberal ontology, e.g., allowing for sets or abstract mathematical objects. Whether those more liberal versions of naturalism are vulnerable to this argument is an open question that I won’t address here.

An Epistemological Argument Against Naturalism Read More »

The Best Defenders and Defenses of Atheism?

Who are the best defenders of atheism? Where can one find the strongest defenses of atheism?

I get asked those questions from time to time, and they’re good questions, so I’m going to offer my own answers (for what they’re worth) in this post.

First, however, a few observations and caveats. For the last couple of decades, Christian apologists have tended to focus on the so-called New Atheists, most notably the “Four Horsemen” of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. There’s good sense in that. Among proponents of atheism, those writers receive the most attention from the public and media, whether or not they deserve it. They’re the loudest, most entertaining, most provocative, and most influential voices for the atheist cause in the public square. They’ve had a significant impact in promoting anti-religious skepticism and turning people away from Christianity. I continue to hear stories of ‘ex-Christians’ who say that reading The God Delusion or God Is Not Great shook their faith “to the core” and eventually destroyed it. I’m always taken aback by such reports, because I’ve read those books too, and there’s precious little in the way of serious and substantive argument in them. (Dennett is the most intellectually serious of the Four Horsemen, but he doesn’t so much argue for atheism as just take it for granted.)

But here’s the thing: the New Atheists are hardly the best and the brightest of contemporary atheists (despite Dennett’s unironic attempt to self-advertise as “the brights”). Their criticisms of religious beliefs do need to be refuted, of course, but as I’ve said before, that’s low-hanging fruit. The most sophisticated and formidable arguments in defense of atheism, and specifically for naturalism, come from academic philosophers, particularly those who specialize in philosophy of religion. They’re trained in logic and critical thinking. They’ve studied the scholarly literature. They’re well-versed in the arguments for and against the existence of God, both classical and contemporary. They actually know what they’re talking about.

The Best Defenders and Defenses of Atheism? Read More »

Did Cornelius Van Til Coin the Term “Transcendental Argument”?

A transcendental argument, simply defined, is an argument purporting to demonstrate that some X (such as a particular concept, belief, or state of affairs) is a necessary precondition of some undeniable feature of human cognition (e.g., that we have orderly experiences or make judgments). At least, that is the conventional understanding of the term today. But who was the first to use the term in that sense?

Surprisingly, it might have been Cornelius Van Til.

I’m currently working on a monograph on Van Til’s transcendental argument for God (more precisely, for Christian theism). Preparatory research has required me to review everything Van Til says, explicitly or implicitly, about transcendental argumentation across his corpus, and to take a deep dive into the contemporary literature on transcendental arguments. In the process, I discovered something quite interesting.

Did Cornelius Van Til Coin the Term “Transcendental Argument”? Read More »

Suggested Readings on Epistemology

I was recently asked to suggest reading lists on (1) epistemology in general, (2) religious epistemology, and (3) Reformed presuppositional/Van Tilian/Framean epistemology. Here’s my response, in case it’s useful for other folk. Obviously these are just start-up lists, and there may be better introductory texts/articles that I haven’t come across. (Registered users, feel free to make further recommendations in the comments.)

I think the following books should get you up to speed on contemporary epistemology in general (and religious epistemology more specifically):

  • Robert Audi, Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (3rd ed.)
  • Ernest Sosa et al, eds., Epistemology: An Anthology (2nd ed.)
  • Matthias Steup et al, eds., Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (2nd ed.)
  • William Alston, Perceiving God
  • Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief
  • Richard Swinburne, Epistemic Justification
  • John M. DePoe & Tyler McNabb, eds., Debating Christian Religious Epistemology

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has many helpful articles on topics in epistemology, but start with these:

Kelly James Clark’s article “Religious Epistemology” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a good overview of the contemporary landscape (along with a helpful bibliography).

On Reformed presuppositional/Van Tilian/Framean epistemology, I recommend the following for starters:

Suggested Readings on Epistemology Read More »

Van Til and Analytic Philosophy

An essay written for a forthcoming collection of essays “in the Van Til tradition.”

The main thesis: While Van Til was rightly critical of the early forms of analytic philosophy (Moore, Russell, etc.), there is no inherent conflict between Van Tilian philosophy and contemporary analytic philosophy; in fact, there are significant points of affinity or complementarity. Thus, “analytic Van Tilianism” is not a contradiction in terms, but rather a project worth pursuing.

Van Til and Analytic Philosophy Read More »

Greg Welty on Alvin Plantinga

Greg Welty’s book Alvin Plantinga hits the bookstore shelves today. I’m sure you’re dying to hear what I think about it, so here’s my endorsement:

Alvin Plantinga by Greg WeltyAlvin Plantinga is one of the titans of contemporary Christian philosophy and it would be almost unforgivable to omit him from P&R’s Great Thinkers series. His writings over the course of a six-decade career combine an astonishing degree of creativity with rigorous analytical precision, a delightful sense of humor, and a refreshingly uncomplicated Christian piety. Until now, there has existed no reliable introduction to Plantinga’s work that I could enthusiastically recommend to students, pastors, and other interested readers. That deficiency is now remedied with the publication of Greg Welty’s Alvin Plantinga, a superlative addition to an already excellent series. As a seasoned teacher-scholar with advanced degrees in theology and philosophy and a firm commitment to confessional Reformed doctrine, Dr. Welty was the ideal person to write this book. In a concise and eminently readable style, Welty clearly explains Plantinga’s major contributions and argues that, despite Plantinga’s own deviations from the Reformed tradition at points, his most valuable contributions can be comfortably accommodated by that tradition. I would never suggest reading only one book on Plantinga, but if it must be one, make it this one.

If you want to find out a bit more about the book and its distinctive contributions, I recommend this interview with the author.

The book is available from the publisher at a significant discount right now ($10.39 instead of $15.99). So what are you waiting for? Go order a copy!


Greg Welty on Alvin Plantinga Read More »

Philosophy after Christ: A Short Review

Philosophy after ChristTony Flood was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, Philosophy after Christ, and I promised I would post a brief review. As the introduction explains, the title of the book is inspired by Colossians 2:8, where the apostle Paul contrasts two kinds of philosophy: philosophy that is “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” and philosophy that is “after Christ” (KJV). The English word ‘after’ translates the Greek preposition kata, which in this context might be better rendered ‘according to’. As such, Flood’s agenda is not to expound a philosophy that is subsequent to Christ or beyond Christ, but rather according to Christ. Since Christ is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) only a philosophy founded on Christ and his Word can succeed. Philosophy after Christ is thus a spirited and invigorating defense of a truly Christian approach to philosophy and apologetics. As the author notes, the material in the book is not entirely new but consists of revisions of essays written between 2018 and 2021, some of which began life as articles on Flood’s website. However, it is useful to have them collected and systematically arranged in one volume; the assembled whole carries more force that the sum of the parts.

Part I (“Basics”) makes the initial argument that Christian philosophy must be conducted self-consciously in the context of biblical Christian worldview, and, more provocatively, that even non-Christian philosophies tacitly depend on a Christian theistic worldview for their very intelligibility. Flood rightly recognizes that there can be no such thing as an autonomous or worldview-neutral philosophy:

If philosophical problems are embedded in a worldview, then the adjudication of worldview-conflict cannot be such a problem. The attempt to address such conflict also operates at the level of worldview. There is no worldview-neutral stance from which to undertake such a task. (p. 4)

Flood proceeds to argue that if Christ is indeed the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) and the Word of God (John 1:1) then no philosophy that is anti-Christ can ultimately stand, and if autonomous thought must be shunned then philosophers need to recognize their dependence upon divine revelation. As Flood vividly puts the point (with acknowledgements to Scott Oliphint), Christ is “our philosophical GPS” that not only supplies our map but also (crucially) tells us our position. Developing further this recognizably Van Tilian line of thought, Flood contends that the God of the Bible is “under the floorboards” of every argument, even those arguments leveled against God. Moreover, since God’s existence is not only evident (Rom. 1:19-20) but “the very ground of evidence-seeking,” atheists have no excuse for their unbelief.

Philosophy after Christ: A Short Review Read More »

What is the Problem of Induction, and Why are Christians Uniquely Situated to Answer It?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

The problem of induction is a notorious philosophical problem concerning inductive inferences; more specifically, whether that form of reasoning is generally reliable or rationally justified. An inductive inference aims to draw a general conclusion from a series of particular observations. For example, if I observe one thousand swans, and every one of those swans is white, I can infer inductively that probably all swans are white, and on that basis predict that any future swans I observe will (probably) be white. Unlike deductive inferences, in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises, inductive inferences cannot deliver absolute certainty—for example, the possibility of observing a non-white swan in the future cannot be decisively ruled out—but all else being equal, the greater the number of past observations confirming a general law or pattern, the stronger the inductive conclusion becomes.

Inductive inferences have been widely used in scientific research to discover laws of nature. To take one example, Newton’s universal law of gravitation was inferred inductively from empirical observations of the attractive forces between two masses. We haven’t observed the forces between every pair of masses in the universe at every point in time, of course, so we don’t have direct and infallible knowledge of a universal law. Nevertheless, we have made enough observations to be confident that they are instances of a universal law, and we can make reliable predictions about future events by positing that the universal law holds.

Continue reading…

What is the Problem of Induction, and Why are Christians Uniquely Situated to Answer It? Read More »