Saturday, July 26, 2014

Philosophers Reasoning Badly: Graham Oppy

Graham Oppy is one atheist philosopher of religion who is usually mentioned with great respect. In fact, I myself generally have a high opinion of Oppy's work, at least on ontological arguments.

The third chapter of Oppy's Arguing About Gods discusses the cosmological argument. Oppy's treatment of the subject is much better than that of Graham Priest or Nicholas Everitt, to say nothing of the Dawkins-Dennett crowd. Oppy sets out a pretty fair summary of the argument on page 100:
1. Some things are caused.
2. Things do not cause themselves.
3. There are no circles of causes.
4. There are no infinite regresses of causes.
5. (Hence) There are first causes.
6. There is no more than one first cause.
7. (Hence) There is exactly one first cause.
Oppy then goes on to question the truth of the premises, without giving the reader any hint of the arguments used to establish these premises.

Alexander Pruss, in his NDPR review, said it better than I can: 
Oppy accuses Aquinas of giving invalid arguments since the arguments clearly fail to establish the uniqueness of the First Cause (pp. 99, 103, 106). The accusation is ludicrous since Aquinas cannot be intending to establish uniqueness in Question 2 (the Five Ways) of the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae as he explicitly devotes Question 11 to arguing for uniqueness, and Oppy never considers the arguments of Question 11. On p. 101, Oppy speculates about how Aquinas might rule out the possibility of an endless regress of movers, apparently unaware of Aquinas' giving three explicit arguments in the Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 13. In fact, Oppy in general seems quite unaware of the fact that the arguments in the Summa Theologiae are mere summaries, and extended subarguments for the main premises of the Five Ways are given elsewhere. Nor is any use made of the distinction between per se and per accidens series which appears to many to be central to interpreting the text. Without addressing Aquinas' full argument, the comprehensiveness necessary for Oppy's project has not been achieved.
I don't mean to bash Oppy. I think he is a very fair and careful philosopher. I would even say he's one of the better philosophers of religion out there. But the fact that one of the better philosophers of religion doesn't know his way around Aquinas' cosmological argument (or the work that's been done in its defense over the centuries) says a lot about the state of analytic philosophy of religion. Oppy was trained as a philosopher of language. Perhaps it's just the nature of analytically trained philosopher to be weak on any argument older than a century.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Clarifications on the First Step in the Proof for the Existence of God

This is a part of the ongoing series setting out an argument for the existence of God. For an overview of the series, click here. The numbers (e.g., 1.3) refer to the premises. The “1” in 1.3 refers to Step 1, and the “3” refers to the third premise. To see the premises, review Step 1.

Before moving on to the second step in the argument for the existence of God, let us expand on the claim that an infinite series of conditioned realities necessarily does not exist. This turned out to be the most controversial part of the argument for commentators on this blog. First, we will consider in more detail the notion of infinite series, then we will consider some objections.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Step 1: The Necessity of an Unconditioned Reality in the Argument for the Existence of God

This is the third post in the ongoing series presenting an argument for the existence of God. In this post we move into the argument itself, taking the first step toward an argument for the existence of God.

In this first step, I will show that at least one unconditioned reality exists. First, we will define what it means to be a conditioned or unconditioned reality. Then we will proceed to demonstrate that the assertion "there is no unconditioned reality" logically entails that there are no realities at all. In other words, the claim that there are no unconditioned realities is logically equivalent to saying that nothing exists.

Definitions: Realities Conditioned and Unconditioned

Thomas M. Cothran now writes at To view the rest of this post, please go