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2013 Waco Presentations

Eighth Annual Philosophy of Religion Conference

Waco, TX

February 28 - March 2, 2013

See the conference schedule.


Andrew Bailey (Yale) – "One God Composed of Three Persons"

According to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, though there are three divine persons, there is exactly one god. Reconciling these two claims--saying how they might be true without contradiction--is a central problem when it comes to thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity. In this paper, I develop a novel mereological approach to that problem, according to which exactly one god is literally composed of (has as parts) three divine persons. I will show how distinctive creedal claims about the Trinity can be sustained without contradiction on this account, and compare it favorably with extant models. The upshot is that a mereological model of the Trinity is more viable than many have thought and may well be the sober truth.

John Heil (Wash U-St. Louis) – “Cartesian Transubstantiation”

According to the received view of the metaphysics of the Eucharist endorsed by the Catholic Church after the thirteenth century, sacramental bread and wine are ‘converted’ into Christ’s body and blood (this is transubstantiation), but the accidents of the bread and wine remain on the altar inhering in no substance. Such a view is difficult to square with Aristotelian physics, but much more difficult to reconcile with the physics of Descartes. Two ill-fated attempts by Descartes to provide an account of transubstantiation consistent with his conception of the material universe are discussed in the context of a broader discussion of related metaphysical issues.

Hud Hudson (Western Washington) – "The Father of Lies?"

A severe and underappreciated problem confronts anyone who holds a certain popular combination of theses - namely, that there is such a thing as knowledge by revelation alone and that a defensive maneuver known as skeptical theism is sufficient to undermine a variety of popular arguments from the magnitude, intensity, duration, and distribution of evil to the nonexistence of God. After briefly characterizing and commenting on these two positions, I identify and explore the puzzle generated by their combination, and I critically examine a variety of proposals for responding to that puzzle.

Bradley Monton (Colorado-Boulder) – "An Atheistic Defense of Christian Science"

Should the Christian community engage in Christian science—doing science starting from the standpoint of the Christian evidence base? I argue that the answer is “yes”. Moreover, this is an answer that both Christians and atheists can agree upon. Scientific progress should not be shackled by methodological naturalism; instead we need an ecumenical approach to science, which will allow for various high-level research programmes to count as science (including Christian science). If one does science by giving scientific arguments for or against such research programmes, one will fulfil the goal of having science be objective, open, and universal, not constrained by a methodology that favours the naturalistic worldview.

Timothy Pawl (U. of St. Thomas) – “Conciliar Christology and the Problem of Incompatible Predications”

Let Conciliar Christology be the conjunction of the claims made concerning the incarnation in the (first) seven Ecumenical Councils. In this talk I will present and evaluate an argument for the incoherence of Conciliar Christology. That argument stems from a charge of incoherence due to apparently incompatible predications both being true of the same one person, the God-man Jesus Christ. After presenting the argument, I consider nine possible responses to the argument, arguing that at least seven of them will not work.

Kenneth Taylor (Stanford) – “How to Vanquish the Fading Shadow of the Long Dead God”

This essay takes its inspiration from Nietzsche's lament in The Gay Science that despite the death of God there may still be caves, for thousands of years in which what he calls God's "tremendous, gruesome shadow" will still be shown. I offer an interpretation of Nietzsche's talk of living in the shadow of God according to which it amounts to a kind of bad faith in which we mistakenly, desperately and dishonestly seek out immanent stand ins to play the sort of grounding roles that divine command, divine love, or divine nature were formerly thought to play. On Nietzsche's view to fully vanquish the last vestiges of the shadow of God, we must forthrightly acknowledge that once God has gone, all that was supposedly grounded in God must go as well. I shall argue that our collective tendency to cling to the shadow of God is most evident in the wide-spread belief in objective moral truth. Though many philosophers firmly and decisively reject divine commandment theories of morality, I shall argue that it is harder than most have imagined to make ultimate metaphysical sense of anything like the notion of objective moral truth in the absence of a transcendent being that might serve as the ultimate and trumping normative authority. But contrary to those who take the putative existence of objective moral truth to be a basis for belief in God, I shall argue that wiser course—the course that allows us to extinguish the fading shadow of the long dead God—is to learn to give up our misguided hankering after such truth in the first place.

Joshua Thurow (UT-San Antonio) – “Some Reflections on Cognitive Science, Doubt, and Religious Belief”

David Hume observed in his Natural History of Religion that “the belief of invisible, intelligent power has been very generally diffused over the human race, in all places and in all ages." Today cognitive scientists of religion take Hume's observation seriously and have developed sophisticated, testable theories to explain it. Each of these theories is naturalistic - they explain why humans have religious beliefs without in any way appealing to the existence or activities of gods. Some have thought that these naturalistic explanations of religious belief cast doubt on religious belief. In this paper, I examine whether this is so. After distinguishing several different ways in which propositions can cast doubt on other propositions, I argue that one popular way of arguing that these theories cast doubt on religious belief - via a debunking argument - fails. I conclude by suggesting that the cognitive science theories of religion may have a better chance of casting doubt on religious belief by undermining some reasons, evidence, or arguments for religious beliefs.

Chris Tucker (Aukland/William & Mary) (co-authored with Mark Murphy) – “Welfare and the Problem of Evil”

It seems almost undeniable that a morally perfect being would allow someone to suffer intensely only if that suffering is necessary for some purpose. This intuition is most salient, and thus most commonly given concrete expression, in the literature on the argument from evil. In fact, it is so commonly endorsed by both defenders and detractors of the argument that it has been dubbed the Standard Position. We take no stand on whether the Standard Position is true. Our goal is more irenic than that: we argue that it is incompatible with what are widely regarded as the strongest versions of the arguments from evil. As a very secondary aim, we also show that jettisoning the Standard Position weakens the problem of evil.