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BGND Presentations

BGND Philosophy of Religion Conference

San Antonio, TX

November 8-10, 2012

See the conference schedule.


Kyla Ebels-Duggan (Northwestern), "Kant on Morality, Religion, and Purpose in Life"

Commentator: Jill Graper Hernandez (UT-San Antonio)

Abstract: Kant rejects all of the standard accounts of the dependence of morality on religious claims or commitment. He nevertheless thinks that morality “leads to” religion. I defend an account of this “leading to” relationship, arguing that it is the result of his struggle to characterize the normative import of happiness.

Laura W. Ekstrom (William & Mary), "The Cost of Freedom"

Commentator: Dan Bonevac (Texas)

Abstract: If it is true that contemporary theistic philosophers tend to be free will libertarians, why is this so? One motivating thought is this: if we were able to choose and to act freely in only a compatibilist sense and not in a libertarian one, then ultimately the responsibility for the miseries of the world would lie with God and not with human beings. Whatever the cogency of the line of reasoning in support of this thought, it raises a legitimate and natural concern: namely, that free will cannot possibly bear the weight it is forced to bear in prominent lines of theistic explanation of the suffering of human beings and other sentient creatures. Given how widespread this concern appears to be, it is surprising how little attention the matter is given in the most prominent developments of the free will defense, for instance, those of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen. Free will must, indeed, be of enormous value, if its realization is sufficiently worthy to outweigh the horrendous sufferings in which its misuse results. Yet proponents of free will defenses and theodicies rely on its value as an undefended, or only sparsely defended, premise. ‘Enormous value’ is an understatement. For a story along the lines of the free will defense set out in van Inwagen’s Gifford lectures to be credible, libertarian free will would have to be judged by God to be of such high value that it is worth the cost – the sum of the pain of murder, genocide, assault, bigotry, betrayal, sexual violence including the rape of children, hatred of an intensity that motivates severe brutality, the hoarding of resources that leaves millions of people starving and in anguished need of safe water and medical care, and medical malpractice that kills some patients and leaves others in permanent pain. This paper addresses the question of whether or not libertarian free will can be worth it.

Steve Evans (Baylor), "Paradoxicality as a Criterion of an Authentic Revelation"

Commentator: Christian Miller (Wake Forest)

Abstract: In The Book on Adler Kierkegaard gives arguments against the possibility of rational criteria for recognition of an authentic revelation from God; for example, he argues against the use of miracles as such a criterion. The arguments he provides against such criteria are clearly unsound. However, they are motivated by a genuine concern. Traditionally, Christians have held that the contents of a revelation from God are to be believed because they have been revealed by God. Call this the revelation-authority principle. The revelation-authority principle carries with it two valuable implications: it connects belief in the content of the revelation with trust in God and it explains how the recipients of a genuine revelation might acquire rational belief (or even knowledge on some views of knowledge) of truths that they could not acquire through other means.

Kierkegaard’s concern is that some arguments for the validity of a revelation undermine the revelation-authority principle, by implying that a revelation can be known to be a true revelation from God because its contents can be known to be true independently of the revelation itself. So, for example, if I argue that I should believe what St. Paul says in Romans because Paul is an exceptionally wise and learned person who in that capacity says many things that I can independently certify to be true, it may be that I have implicitly undermined the revelation-authority principle. Some contemporary discussions of revelation show that Kierkegaard’s worries here continue to be relevant. Not all arguments for the authenticity of a revelation that appeal to the content of a revelation undermine the revelation-authority principle, but some of them clearly do so. I shall argue that one way rational criteria for a revelation can be advanced without undermining the revelation-authority principle is to give arguments for the authority of the messenger that are independent of the content of the message.

Kierkegaard himself, at least implicitly, provides one argument for the authority of a revelation that does involve the content of the revelation that does not undermine the revelation-authority principle: he argues that a genuine revelation from God would include content that is surprising and counter-intuitive, even paradoxical. Interestingly, Thomas Aquinas at one point gives a very similar argument for the genuineness of the Christian revelation. This proposed criterion raises many interesting questions: Can such paradoxicality be distinguished from sheer bizarreness or apparent falsity? If so, how? Might the paradoxicality be such that on reflection (after one has received the revelation) the paradoxicality goes away or is reduced? If so, how might this occur? And if this did occur, would this undermine the revelation-authority principle?

Jon Jacobs (SLU), "Fundamentality and Apophatic Theology"

Commentator: Robert Koons (Texas)

Abstract: The theologians responsible for carefully formulating and vigorously defending the central orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith---those who, for example, went to great lengths to distinguish homoousios from homoiousios---also insisted that God is ineffable, inconceivable, and incomprehensible. Such claims are not merely part of some mystic sideshow; they are firmly entrenched in the Christian tradition. And yet, such claims from apophatic theology are deeply puzzling, to put it mildly. They appear straightforwardly inconsistent. Even if consistent, they appear to require that all of the doctrines that orthodox Christians believe---that saints throughout the ages have died defending---are false. In this paper I aim to defend the coherence of these claims of apophatic theology against these charges by using tools from contemporary, analytic metaphysics---in particular, the concepts of `fundamental' and `derivative' truths. I shall defend as consistent the claim that all truths about God are derivative.

Mark Murphy (Georgetown), "God's Own Ethics"

Commentator: Tom Senor (Arkansas)

Abstract: My central aim in this paper is to make trouble, lots and lots of trouble, for the idea that an Anselmian God would be morally good in any sense that would allow the argument from evil to gain traction. I also consider the extent to which rival conceptions of God — God as that being who is supremely worthy of worship, and God as that being who is the supremely fitting object of allegiance — remain an appropriate target for the argument from evil.

Amy Seymour (Notre Dame), "Erasing or Covering Sin?: Presentist and Eternalist Pictures of the Atonement"

Commentator: Joshua Thurow (UT-San Antonio)

Abstract: The blood of Christ, it is said, covers our sin. For those atoned, their past sins are “no more”. One might think that this picture would be better captured by presentism – our past sins, like the dinosaurs, don’t exist. However, there is good reason to think that this way of “expunging” sins trivializes the atonement. And if the atonement is to cover sin, presentism appears problematic, since Christ’s salvific death also no longer exists. Here eternalists might try and claim superiority – according to their view, Christ’s death always exists. However, eternalism has trouble regarding the wiping out of sin – if I’ve already sinned, certain consequences of my sin can be dealt with, but my sin will forever exist. I conclude that we should revisit the metaphor of sins being “wiped out”, since neither presentism nor eternalism captures a naïve reading of the metaphor.

Jada Twedt Strabbing (Fordham), "Making Sense of the Atonement as Penal Substitution"

Commentator: Neal Judisch (Oklahoma)

Abstract: The atonement is the doctrine that Christ’s person and work liberate us from sin and reconcile us to God so that we can have eternal life in His presence. One common model to explain the atonement is the penal substitution model. On this model, Christ takes the punishment for our sin in our place. Although I think that it is unlikely that we can understand the atonement solely in terms penal substitution, I think that it is an important model, and I therefore seek to defend it against a common objection. This objection is that, as David Lewis puts it, Christians seem to be double-minded about penal substitution. They believe that it is permissible for Christ to take the punishment for sin that they deserve, but yet they think that it is wrong to allow, say, a willing mother to take her guilty son’s prison sentence. Although many instances of penal substitution are clearly wrong, I argue that Christians are not in fact double-minded about it: the atonement is a permissible case of penal substitution. This is because penal substitution is permissible when: 1) the offender cannot bear the punishment, 2) a substitute can and is willing, and 3) there is no viable alternative to the offender having to take that punishment but penal substitution. I show that the atonement satisfies these three conditions. First, we cannot bear the punishment for our sins, which is spiritual death. Second, Christ can bear that punishment and is willing to do so. Third, there is no viable alternative to our taking the punishment for our sin except penal substitution. This is because the expressive function of punishment entails that God must punish our sins to the appropriate extent or undermine his moral goodness and authority, but the latter is not a viable alternative. Thus penal substitution in the case of the atonement is morally permissible.

Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) "Presentism, the Moving Spotlight, and Eternal Truths"

Commentator: Meghan Sullivan (Notre Dame)

Abstract: To say that something is eternally true or to ascribe eternal existence to a thing may just mean: it has always been true, is now true, and will always be true; or that it has always existed, does now, and ever will exist. But sometimes philosophers or theologians mean something quite different: There are supposed to be timelessly eternal truths and timelessly existing things — including Platonic universals and God. I explore various things one might mean by ascribing timeless existence to God, and examine the ways in which they might be rendered consistent with presentism and other theories of time.