A Journal Discussion on O’Connor’s Theism and Ultimate Explanation

January 13, 2011
Posted by Administrator

The Winter 2010 issue of Philosophia Christi features a notable discussion about Tim O’Connor’s Theism and Ultimate Explanation. Our tremendous thanks to Jeremy Evans for his helpful coordination and guest editorial work on this featured presentation.
Below is a snapshot of the discussion. You can get your copy of the entire 12:2 (Winter 2010) issue by purchasing at our store.
“Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency”
Twentieth-century analytic philosophy was dominated by positivist antimetaphysics and neo-Humean deflationary metaphysics, and the nature of explanation was reconceived in order to fit these agendas. Unsurprisingly, the explanatory value of theism was widely discredited. I argue that the long-overdue revival of a modalized, broadly neo-Aristotelian metaphysics and an improved perspective on modal knowledge dramatically changes the landscape. In this enriched context, there is no sharp divide between physics and metaphysics, and the natural end of the theoretician’s quest for a unified explanation of the universe is God, an absolutely necessary, transcendent, and personal source of all contingent reality.
“On the Tenability of Brute Naturalism and the Implications of Brute Theism”
Timothy O’Connor’s book Theism and Ultimate Explanation offers a defense of a new version of the cosmological argument. In his discussion, O’Connor argues against the coherence of a brute fact “explanation” of the universe and for the claim that the God of theism cannot be logically contingent. In this paper, I take issue with both of these arguments. Regarding the former, I claim that contrary to what O’Connor asserts, we have no good reason to prefer an account according to which the universe is explained via a necessary being to that of a naturalist who thinks that the universe is contingent and ultimately unexplained. Regarding the latter, I argue that the possibility of a logically contingent God is fully consistent with traditional theism.
“The Shape of Causal Reality: A Naturalistic Adaptation of O’Connor’s Cosmological Argument”
In Theism and Ultimate Explanation, Tim O’Connor sets out and defends a cosmological argument from contingency. In my paper—which might have been titled “Naturalism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency”—I argue that, even if you grant O’Connor his various controversial assumptions about modality and causality, the argument that he sets out provides stronger support for naturalism than it does for theism. In particular, I claim that considerations about theoretical and ontological parsimony favour a naturalistic necessary shape for contingency over a theistic necessary shape for contingency.
“Modality and Sovereignty: On Theism and Ultimate Explanation
Two important aspects of O’Connor’s Theism and Ultimate Explanation are explored. The first is whether God’s existence should be considered ontologically necessary. I suggest that although existence is essential to God, it is not a matter of ontological necessity. The second is whether prior to creating God deliberates about what universe or universes to create. I argue that he does not, that to say he does is to mistake creation for a kind of manufacturing. Implications of these claims regarding divine sovereignty are briefly discussed.
“O’Connor’s Permissive Multiverse”
I distinguish restrictive and permissive multiverse solutions to the problems of evil and no best world. Restrictive multiverses do not admit a single instance of gratuitous evil and they are not improvable. I show that restrictive multiverses unacceptably entail that all modal distinctions collapse. I consider Timothy O’Connor’s permissive multiverse. I show that a perfect creator minimizes aggregative suffering in permissive multiverses only if the actual universe is not included in any actualizable multiverse. I conclude that permissive multiverses do not offer a credible solution to the problems of evil and no best world.
“Is God’s Necessity Necessary?”
Replies to Senor, Oppy, McCann, and Almeida
I briefly defend the following claims in response to my critics: (1) We cannot make a principled division between features of contingent reality that do and features that don’t “cry our for explanation.” (2) The physical data indicating fine-tuning provide confirmation of the hypothesis of a personal necessary cause of the universe over against an impersonal necessary cause, notwithstanding the fact that the probability of either hypothesis, if true, would be 1. (3) Theism that commits to God’s necessary existence makes more sense than theism that denies it. (4) God is likely to have created an infinity of universes, and this conclusion helps with (though does not solve) the many problems of evil.