Reply to Alan Holland

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Alan Holland, a renowned philosopher for whose work I have the greatest respect, has raised some searching questions and penetrating problems. I consider here his remarks on each of his five themes in turn.

Holland claims in Part I that in effect I introduce God as creator to explain why there is something rather than nothing. But actually, because God, if able to bring about material things, would also be something (and certainly not nothing), the existence of God could not itself possibly explain why there is something rather than nothing. Nor was I suggesting otherwise. Indeed I argued in Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Attfield 2006, 94) that there cannot be a sufficient reason for there being contingent positive states, since necessary explanations cannot explain what is contingent, while contingent states, if put forward as explanations, would be among the states to be explained, and yet these are the only possible kinds of explanations.

Unfortunately Holland's mistaken belief that I was seeking to explain why there is something affects his subsequent would-be refutation of my reasoning. For he represents my reasoning as based on the premise that there being something and not nothing is not self-explanatory, and proceeds to argue that we have sufficient reason to hold that there need not be an explanation for there being something (or indeed for there being nothing).

My reasoning, however, relates not to there being something, but to there being a material universe. The Principle of Sufficient Reason, in the form that I endorse, does not require there to be a sufficient reason where (as in the matter of there being contingent positive states or in that of there being something) no such explanation is possible (see the reasoning presented above). But where there is no sufficient reason why an explanation is impossible, it maintains that there is an explanation; and such, I suggest, is the case with the existence of the material universe. Holland's refutation, with its steps (a) to (e), leaves this reasoning untouched.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Creation, Environment and Ethics
    Creation, Environment and Ethics aims to contribute to a critical understanding of ethics, evolution and creation, and to provide a pluralistic response to some of the most pressing issues facing the global environment today. Following the example of Professor Robin Attfield, this volume aims to reflect the diverse responses with which theological, ethical and evolutionary discourses have contributed to the broad scope of environmental philosophy and also to ongoing debates about creation and evolution. Critiques of the work of Attfield are provided by prominent philosophers, and Attfield provides a clear and thorough response to each of these critiques in turn. Some of the contributions also offer more pragmatic approaches to environmental issues such as climate change, development and sustainability.
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