Thursday, 11 July 2013

Loar's Defence of Physicalism (Ratio, March 2004)

RATIO, Vol. XVII no 1 (March 04)


Stephen Law

Brian Loar believes he has refuted all those antiphysicalist arguments that take as their point of departure observations about what is or isn’t conceivable. I argue that there remains an important, popular and plausible-looking form of conceivability argument that Loar has entirely overlooked. Though he may not have realized it, Saul Kripke presents, or comes close to presenting, two fundamentally different forms of conceivability argument. I distinguish the two arguments and point out that while Loar has succeeded in refuting one of Kripke’s arguments he has not refuted the other. Loar is mistaken: physicalism still faces an apparently insurmountable conceptual obstacle.

Evidence, Miracles, and The Existence of Jesus (Faith and Philosophy, April 2011)

Stephen Law


The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of independent evidence for an historical Jesus, remain sceptical about his existence.

Naturalism, Evolution, and True Belief (Analysis, Jan 2012)

Stephen Law

Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) is currently one of the most widely discussed arguments targeting philosophical naturalism (see, for example, Beilby 2002).  Plantinga aims to show that naturalism, in combination with evolutionary theory, is, as he puts it, ‘incoherent or self-defeating’. His argument turns crucially on the claim that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief. This, Plantinga supposes, is because natural selection selects only for adaptive behaviour. It is irrelevant, from the point of view of unguided evolution, whether the beliefs that happen to cause that adaptive behaviour are true.

I argue that, even in its most recent incarnation, the EAAN fails. In particular, Plantinga overlooks the fact that adherents of naturalism may hold, seemingly quite plausibly, that there exist certain conceptual links between belief content and behaviour. Given conceptual links of the sort I envisage, natural selection will indeed favour true belief.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Wright's Private Language Argument Refuted

(currently unpublished) copyright to myself. Feel free to link but do not repost.

ABSTRACT: Wright’s Private Language Argument Refuted

Crispin Wright has developed a novel take on the private language argument presented by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations PI 258-60. Wright’s private language argument is ingenious and important, and it has not, to date, been refuted. In this paper I refute Wright’s argument, pointing out that it commits the fallacy of equivocation (it trades on an ambiguity in his use of the phrase “reason to believe”). While there may be a cogent private language argument presented in PI 258-60, Wright has failed to hit upon it.

Friday, 26 June 2009


Stephen Law



In Warrant and Proper Function, Plantinga develops an argument designed to show that naturalism is self-defeating. One component of this larger argument is what I call Plantinga’s belief-cum-desire argument, which is intended to establish something more specific: that if the content of our beliefs does causally effect behaviour (that is to say, semantic content is not epiphenomenal), and if naturalism and current evolutionary doctrine are correct, then the probability that we possess reliable cognitive mechanisms must be either inscrutable or low. This paper aims to refute Plantinga’s belief-cum-desire argument.

Friday, 5 June 2009

THE EVIL GOD CHALLENGE - forthcoming in Religious Studies


My Paper "The Evil God Challenge" is now available online at the CUP journals page

This is the final, published version, appearing in Religious Studies shortly. PDF VERSION.


Stephen Law

NB Note COPYRIGHT RESTS WITH CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS. This is forthcoming in Religious Studies.


This paper develops a challenge to theism. The challenge is to explain why the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-good god should be considered significantly more reasonable than the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-evil god. Theists typically dismiss the evil god hypothesis out of hand because of the problem of good – there is surely too much good in the world for it to be the creation of such a being. But then why doesn’t the problem of evil provide equally good grounds for dismissing belief in a good god? I develop this evil god challenge in detail, anticipate several replies, and correct errors made in earlier discussions of the problem of good.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

EXTRACT: from chpt 3, The War For Children's Minds

The positive side to Liberal education

Let’s now look in more detail at the Liberal alternative to Authority-based moral and religious education.

One way of being Liberal-with-a-capital-L would of course be to ignore morality altogether, to abandon each child to invent his or her own morality from scratch, within a moral vacuum. That’s not the method advocated here. This book recommends a much more specific sort of approach, an approach that involves a training in and the fostering of what might broadly be termed “thinking skills and virtues”. Children should be encouraged to scrutinize their own beliefs and explore other points of view. While not wanting to be overly prescriptive, I would suggest that skills to be cultivated should at least include the ability to: