Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reply to a Comment on Tense Logic and the End of Time

A reader of this blog, Patrick, submitted a comment to my previous post, but because of some technical glitches I was experiencing with the Blogger software, I think I deleted the post his comment was attached to. Anyway, his comment is worth a response.
Interesting, Alan. You say, "Let us suppose that the time is now t-minus 10 and that at precisely t-minus 5 time stops for good. In that case, there never exists a time t. Hence, S neither obtains nor does not obtain at t. Hence, both "S will obtain at t" and "S will not obtain at t" are false." Initially I'd wanted to say that in such a case "S will not obtain at t" is true, but I'm not so sure about it now. I was thinking like this: "Look, S will not obtain at t precisely because t is never going to exist! S can't obtain at a time that doesn't exist, so if t is never going to exist, it's true to say that S will not obtain at that time." If that makes sense, then I think your argument may not go through. It looks like the argument depends on whether saying "S will not obtain at t" entails that time t exists. But there might be a meaningful way of saying that S will not obtain at t because t won't exist.
My reply is as follows:

Hi, Patrick. Actually, your response had occurred to me, but I don't think it works. The problem is that the response depends on the possibility of evaluating the truth of "will" propositions differently than one evaluates "will not" propositions. Thus, "S will obtain at t" is construed to imply the future existence of t , whereas "S will not obtain at t" is construed in a way that does not imply the future existence of t. The move is a natural for those who equate "will not" and not-"will". But since the legitimacy of that supposed equivalence is the very point at issue, to invoke it at this point would be question-begging. Moreover, consider the following:

Let t = tomorrow
Let p = Fred mows his lawn
Let q = Fred does not mow his lawn
Let WILL(p,t) be the proposition "Fred will mow his lawn tomorrow"

According to the proposed response to my argument, WILL(p,t) implies the future existence of t, but WILL(not-p,t) does not. But what about WILL(q,t)? Since this has the same form as WILL(p,t) we expect it to commit us to the future existence of t as well. If that is right, then both "Fred will mow his lawn tomorrow" and "Fred will not mow his lawn tomorrow" imply that there be a tomorrow. And if that's right, then the contrast between "will" and "will not" cannot consist in the fact that one implies the existence of a future time whereas the other does not.

To avoid this conclusion, one would have to say that WILL(p,t) is a fundamentally different type of proposition than WILL(q,t), in which case we cannot continue to construe WILL(,) as a univocal propositional operator. Instead, we'll need two future-tense operators. One that includes an existential comittment to future times, and another that does not. I don't find this move very plausible. Is it really necessary to multiply senses of "will" in this way? A better approach, I think, is to accept that WILL(p,t) and WILL(q,t) are of the same propositional type and to deny that WILL(not-p,t) and not-WILL(p,t) are of the same propositional type. But that, of course, plays right into my hands. I'm perfectly willing to grant that not-WILL(p,t) does not imply the future existence of t. Since the scope of the "not" applies to the whole WILL(p,t) proposition, it cancels whatever existential import the latter may have. But with WILL(not-p,t) the "not" occurs within the scope of the tense operator, and so it cannot cancel an existential commitment carried by the operator itself.

Tense Logic and the End of Time

Over the past four months I've been working off-and-on on a paper on tense logic, in which I argue against the common assumption (common, that is, in philosophy of time circles) that the mere fact that some event happens at time t is sufficient for it to have always been the case prior to t, that that event was going to happen at t. More precisely, the thesis I want to reject is
(1) □(∀p)(∀t)(∀u: u<t)(IS(p,t) → WAS(WILL(p,t),u))

i.e., necessarily, for all propositions p, and for all times t and u such that u is prior to t, p is the case at t, then at u it was the case that p will be the case at t.
I like to call this the IS implies WAS(WILL) principle, or IIWW for short.

The main defense of (1) runs as follows: For any state of affairs S and time t, either S obtains at t or S does not obtain at t. One or the either must be true. Now jump back to an earlier time, u, and consider the truth value at u of the propositions "S will obtain at t" and "S will not obtain at t", where the future-tense is to be understood in such a way that it carries no modal force. Thus, "S will obtain at t" is supposed to mean merely "At future time t, S obtains." Since, it must be the case at t either that S obtains or that S does not obtain, and since "S will obtain at t" means merely "At future time t, S obtains" and "S will not obtain at t" means merely "At future time t, S does not obtain", it seems that either "S will obtain at t" or "S will not obtain at t" must be true at u, prior to t, and that which is true at u is determined solely by what obtains at t.

If the foregoing argument is sound, then (1) is correct. But is it sound? I don't think so. And I think I can show this by pointing to the possibility of time coming to an end. First of all, is it possible that time come to an end? I don't see why not. There's no obvious contradiction, and any argument that purported to demonstrate a contradiction would have to show that the mere fact that one event comes after another requires that there be a third event after that one, and so on. In other words, to show that there could not possibly be an end to time one would have to show that "A occurs after B" implies "Some event, C, occurs after B". That inference is certainly not valid as it stands, and I don't see any way to make it both valid and sound.

So let's suppose that it is possible that time come to an end. What bearing does this have on (1)? A lot. Consider our pair of propositions "S will obtain at t" and "S will not obtain at t". Let us suppose that the time is now t-minus 10 and that at precisely t-minus 5 time stops for good. In that case, there never exists a time t. Hence, S neither obtains nor does not obtain at t. Hence, both "S will obtain at t" and "S will not obtain at t" are false. And what that means is that those two propositions, even when interpreted in the strictly non-modal way that I've indicated, are not contradictories, but contraries.

Let me restate things to make my point clear. My argument does not depend on the assumption that time will come to an end, but only on the logical possibility that it come to an end. Once that is granted, (1) must be false. That it is now true that S will obtain at t requires not only that S obtain at future time t, but also that there be a future time t. Hence, the mere fact that S obtains at t does not suffice to ground the prior truth of the proposition "S will obtain at t". What we would also need to know is that as of that prior time it is not possible that there not be a future time t.

Okay, but if "S will obtain at t" and "S will not obtain at t" are contraries and thus can both be false, then what is true when both are false? What, in other words, is the third possibility? Simply this, that there is no future time t.

The significance of this argument for my purposes concerns the issues of whether the 'Peircean' or the 'Ockhamist' system of tense logic is to be preferred. As I discussed in a previous post, there is a prima facie problem for the Peircean, for it seems hard to deny that there are such propositions as the Ockhamist's non-modal propositions about the future. Given that there are such propositions, by the argument I gave on behalf of (1) above, it seems that the only way for the Peircean to reject (1) is to deny bivalence. So the Peircean seems to face a serious dilemma: Either (a) take the implausible tack of denying that Ockhamist-style propositions about the future are really propositions, or (b) take the implausible tack of denying the principle of bivalence. What I have now argued by appealing to the possibility of ending time is that this is a false dilemma. The Peircean can concede the Ockhamist his propositions and retain bivalence by showing that even on the Ockhamist's own terms 'will' and 'will not' are not contradictories, but contraries.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Steven Pinker on Faith and Reason

In a recent issue of The Harvard Crimson, well-known psychology prof. Steven Pinker has an interesting editorial critique of a new report by the Harvard Committee on General Education. The editorial gets off to a pretty good start, but then descends into absurd posturing on the relation between faith (= religion) and reason (= science), which for Pinker are fundamentally at odds.

For example, consider Pinker's list of scientific accomplishments:
[T]he picture of humanity’s place in nature that has emerged from scientific inquiry has profound consequences for people’s understanding of the human condition. ... [F]or example, that our planet is an undistinguished speck in an inconceivably vast cosmos; that all the hope and ingenuity in the world can’t create energy or use it without loss; that our species has existed for a tiny fraction of the history of the earth; that humans are primates; that the mind is the activity of an organ that runs by physiological processes; that there are methods for ascertaining the truth that can force us to conclusions which violate common sense, sometimes radically so at scales very large and very small; that precious and widely held beliefs, when subjected to empirical tests, are often cruelly falsified. [emphasis mine]
I'll grant that some of these claims have been established beyond a reasonable doubt, but some, in particular the two I've italicized, can hardly be said to be deliverances of science. If anything, they are deliverances of Pinker's philosophical materialism, not science. First, that our planet is merely an "undistinguished speck" is opposed by a convergence of information from many quarters suggesting that the universe as a whole, and our solar system and planet in particular, are quite special indeed (for a small sampling of sources, try here and here), and may even have been "fine-tuned" for life. Second, that the mind just is the activity of the brain, is a controversial philosophical theory that, while popular among academics, faces stiff challenges (e.g., here and here). Moreover, the view is arguably self-refuting. If thought is simply the result of physiological processes that are ultimately governed by the laws of chemistry and physics, then rationality would seem to be an illusion (for argument, see here). If so, then if the view is right, no one could rationally believe that it was right.

What's absurd, though, is not that Pinker would throw out a few questionable ideas, but that he would then go on to say that "a person for whom this understanding is not second-nature cannot be said to be educated", as though there were no longer any reasonable controversy on any of the points made in the quotation above. That, as I've argued, is simply false. Moving on,
[U]niversities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these.
Now, this kind of sweeping juxtaposition of faith and reason is utterly without foundation. Despite what Pinker claims, "faith" does not mean "believing something without good reason". The term "faith" has a range of uses in our language, but the core idea is simply that of trust - not trust without good reason - but just simply trust. For example, I can equally say that I "have faith" in my wife that she'll remain faithful to me or that I "trust" my wife to remain faithful to me. Since the core idea behind "faith" is that of trust, it is clear that faith is compatible with reason. In fact, reason presupposes faith. Suppose that I want to become a great scientist but I refuse to trust anyone or anything. I don't trust my teachers or parents, I don't trust the reliability of my instruments or even my senses, and so forth. How could my scientific investigations ever get off the ground? I don't see how they could.

Okay, so some kinds of faith are compatible with, and even necessary to, reason. But what about religious faith? What about faith in God? Perhaps Pinker's idea is that this sort of faith is intrisically opposed to science. Again, that is not so. A number of studies of the historical development of science (e.g., here) have documented that it was religious faith, in particular theistic religious faith, that provided an encouraging worldview framework in which modern science could get off the ground. How so? Well, theism encourages science because it teaches that the universe is a creation of an intelligent being in whose image we are made. Thus, if theism is right, then we should expect the physical universe to be intrinsically intelligible and intelligible to us. Contrast this with Hinduism, the central teaching of which is that the physical world is an illusion that we have to transcend. Modern science could not (and obviously did not) have emerged in such a context. What about atheistic materialism? Could that worldview have given birth to modern science? Probably not. There is little in materialism to encourage the idea that the physical universe is intrinsically intelligible and intelligible to us. The fact that we as a species have survived and thrived suggests that we can make sense out of nature on a rudimentary or commonsense level. But what we don't get, as we do with theism, is a reason for thinking that we ought to be able to get at the deep or fundamental structure of things. At any rate, the historical record is that theistic faith did in fact encourage the development of modern science.

Finally, Pinker writes
For us to magnify the significance of religion as a topic equivalent in scope to all of science, all of culture, or all of world history and current affairs, is to give it far too much prominence. It is an American anachronism, I think, in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it.
I think Pinker vastly understates the importance of religion because he is preoccupied with one particular species of it, namely, theism, and because he fails to appreciate the deep role that religious beliefs play in defining the worldviews that shape out outlook on everything, including history, science, culture, etc. A worldview is a framework of answers for the most basic questions that confront us: Where did everything, including ourselves, come from? How come there seems to be so much evil and suffering in the world, the so-called "human condition." What, if anything, can be done about it? What, if anything, is the meaning or purpose of our existence? These questions and a few others are ones that every worldview must answer in one way or another. They are also the questions that all religions answer in one way or another. Just as everyone has a worldview, however inarticulate it may be, it is also the case that everyone has a religion, at least in the broad Tillichian sense of something that is of "ultimate concern" to that person. For Pinker it appears that materialistic science is his religion. He trusts it - has faith in it - to give his life a sense of meaning and purpose and he believes that it can ultimately deliver us from many of the evils of the human condition.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Does Divine Timelessness Imply a B-Theory of Time?

Linda Zagzebski thinks not. In her book The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, she argues that the classical doctrine of divine timelessness is compatible with an A-theory of time. She begins by laying out her understanding of the B-theory of time in terms of four theses, and then argues that denials of at least the first three theses are compatible with divine timelessness. The four theses are (p. 46):
  1. At every moment of time t, all events past, present, and future relative to t are equally real.
  2. The B-relations (i.e., earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than) are ontologically more basic than the A-properties (i.e., past, present, and future), which are reducible to B-relations.
  3. Temporal becoming is purely subjective.
  4. All true propositions can be fully expressed without using A-properties. Tenses and temporal indexicals are eliminable.
I've reworded her theses a bit for precision's sake. With the exception of (4), this is a fairly noncontroversial explication of the B-theory of time. (4) would be rejected by many B-theorists today. The standard line nowadays is to concede that tense in not eliminable but to maintain that tensed sentences can be given tenseless truth conditions.

Anyway, why might one think that divine timelessness entails a B-theory of time? Well, if God is essentially timeless and essentially omniscient (i.e., knowing all and only truths), then God's state of knowledge must be immutable, or unchanging. And since God is the perfect knower, it seems that God's perspective on things would have to the fundamentally correct or true perspective. So if God's sees all of history at once from the standpoint of eternity, then all of history must be realized at once from a timeless perspective, which is just what the B-theory of time states.

Zagzebski demurs, however. With regard to (1), she says (p. 48):
The A- and B-theories are competing theories about the status of events in some temporal observer's future. The A-theory maintains that events future relative to t are not real at t, while the B-theory maintains that events future relative to t are real at t. Tenet [(1)] is therefore a claim about the status of events relative to a time t. How events are related to a reference point outside of time is not part of either the A- or B-theories of time.
Her description of the difference between the A- and B-theories is mistaken, however. For one thing, her account of the A-theory is not consistent with all versions of the A-theory of time. That the future relative to a time t is not real at t is true for two versions of the A-theory, namely, presentism and the 'growing-block' theory, but it is not true for other versions, such as the 'moving spotlight' theory or Storrs McCall's branch attrition model. For another, it is false that either the A- or the B-theory aspires to be a theory of the status of events in some temporal observer's future. No. Each aspires to be a theory of reality from, as it were, a God's-eye perspective. In other words, each aspires to be a purely objective account of reality. Thus, whether or not they acknowledge the existence of God, B-theorists conceive of the temporal series as a static block because, so they think, if we could look at the temporal series from the outside, that's what it would look like. Advocates of divine timelessness agree, since they think God, who is outside of time, grasps the whole of time all at once, as though it were a static block.

Zagzebski responds to the charge that the proponents of divine timelessness is committed to theses (2) and (3) in much the same way (p. 50):
The view that Aquinas is committed to [(2)] and [(3)], like the view that he is committed to [(1)], founders on the assumption that the way temporal events look from an atemporal perspective implies something about the way they really are from a temporal perspective.
But again, the issue is not a matter of how events look from a temporal perspective, but how they really are. According to the A-theorist, temporal becoming is objective, such that from a God's-eye view of things the set of propositions that are true as of time t is not the same as the set of propositions that is true as of all other times. In particular, for the A-theorist there is an objective fact of the matter as to what time it is now. Thus, God, if he is omniscient, must know that fact. According to the B-theorist, however, temporal becoming is subjective, such that from a God's-eye view of things the set of propositions that are true as of any time is identical to the set of propositions that are true as of every other time. Truth, in short, is timeless, so there is no point (indeed it is positively misleading) on the B-theorist's view to even talk about truth at a time or of what is true as of a time.

As for thesis (4), Zagzebski initially concedes it. If God is omniscient, then he knows all and only truths. If there were ineliminably tensed true propositions, then he would have to know them. But then God couldn't be timeless because to know such propositions would mean that God's state of knowledge must be characterized by an ever-changing knowledge of what time it is now. Because she thinks God is timeless, Zagzebski concludes that (4) must be true. But if that's the end of the story, then the B-theory wins. Since truth supervenes on being, if all true propositions are fundamentally tenseless, then all of reality must be fundamentally tenseless.

To avoid this consequence, Zagzebski has two suggestions. The first is that God's knowledge may be nonpropositional, in other words, that God's knowledge simply consists in an intuition of all of reality. I'm sympathetic to this view of God's knowledge, but I don't see how it helps. If the A-theory of time is true, then there are tensed facts and an objective now. Consequently, God's intuition of reality would have to be internally tensed, and, since the referent of 'now' is continually changing, the content of God's intuition would have to change with it, which is incompatible with divine timelessness.

Zabzebski's second suggestion is to shift to a relativized conception of truth (p. 53):
If both the temporal and atemporal modes of being are ontologically real, it may turn out that propositions true from one perspective are nontrue from the other. The truth of a proposition would be relative to a perspective on this view. So even if tenet [(4)] is false and tenses are not eliminable from propositions expressing truths from the temporal perspective, such propositions are not true from the atemporal perspective and, hence, it is no problem that God does not know them.
Now I must confess that I find this suggestion to be very problematic. Consider the claim that "the truth of a proposition is relative to a perspective". Is that claim true? If not, then this suggestion immediately collapses. If it is true, however, then we must ask from which perspective, the temporal or atemporal one? If the answer is from both, then truth isn't relative to perspectives after all because the same principle applies equally to all perspectives. If the answer is from one but not the other, and if the A-theory is correct and tense is objective, then an atemporal God's knowledge of creation would be out of sync with creation, which means that he would't really have knowledge of creation, but only knowledge of his perspective on creation.

I conclude, then, that Zagzebski's attempt to reconcile divine timelessness with an A-theory of time fails. The primary reason for this failure is that she does not properly locate the dispute between the A- and B-theorist.

I Am the Delta and Omega

Can you spot the typo? As reported by the New York Times (may require a subscription), this is a poster for a gathering of what might appropriately be called "evangelical atheists", that is, atheists of the Richard Dawkinsesque sort who think that theism is intrinsically bad and therefore something vigorously to be opposed. They're quite obviously trying to convey the idea that science and religion are fundamentally at odds (note the two figures arm-wrestling in the middle) and that science is better because it gives us real answers (!) rather than mere speculations (?).

What's funny about this is that whoever put the poster together is clearly either (a) careless, (b) has an inexcusable (given their profession) ignorance of the Greek alphabet, or (c) can't be bothered to get informed about theistic ideas and to represent them accurately. Of course, those aren't mutually exclusive.

Spotted the typo yet? It's in the upper-left hand corner. It's supposed to be an Alpha (Α) and an Omega (Ω), the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying that God is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

(HT: Uncommon Descent)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil

Does open theism have any advantages vis-a-vis other theories of divine providence, in particular, theological determinism (hereafter 'Calvinism') and theological compatibilism (hereafter 'Molinism'), with respect to the problem of evil? The answer, I think, is a clear 'Yes'. Before stating my case, let me briefly define my terms.

By Calvinism I mean the view that God has, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, meticulously decreed "whatsoever comes to pass". In other words, everthing that happens ultimately does so because God sovereignly willed it to happen, and there are no limits, other than those coming from God's own nature, that contrain what God can bring to pass.

By Molinism I mean the view that God has meticulously decreed whatsoever comes to pass, but that there are limits apart from God's own nature, that constrain what God can bring to pass. Specifically, according to Molinism, God's creative decision is based on his pre-volitional knowledge of so-called (would-) counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF's), over which he has no control. Thus, according to Molinism, God knew, for any possible free creature S placed in any possible free choice-situation C (with circumstance-relative options A and not-A), either that If placed in C, S would freely do A or that If placed in C, S would freely refrain from doing A (i.e., do not-A). Because God has no control over which of these counterfactuals are true, his creative options are narrowed from the class of all possible world to the class of all feasible worlds (i.e., those possible worlds that are compatible with the true CCF's).

By open theism I mean the view that God has not meticulously decreed whatsoever comes to pass but rather has left some aspects of history 'open', to be determined by the free decisions of his creatures.

Finally, the problem of evil is a standard challenge to theism to reconcile the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God with the existence of extensive, and often apparently gratuitous, evil in the world. Theists generally try to meet the problem, at least in part, by developing 'theodicies' that try to explain how God is justified in allowing various kinds of evils in the interests of promoting various kinds of goods. There are many theodicies that have been proposed, but it is generally agreed that the most useful and plausible theodicies center around what is known as the Free-Will Defense. The basic idea is that giving creatures free will, so that they can genuinely choose between good and evil, is a really good thing because it makes possible things like genuine loving relationships that would not be possible otherwise. But, so the idea goes, God could not have given creatures free will and also have guaranteed in advance that they never misused it. Thus, God is justified in giving us free will (because it is such a good thing), but when creatures do misuse it to do evil, it is they, and not God, who are to blame.

Of course, the Free-Will Defense is not a complete theodicy on its own. In particular, it says nothing about the suffering resulting from 'non-moral' evils like earthquakes and tsunamis. But it does seem to go a decent ways toward reconciling 'moral' evil with theism.

Now, let's look at our three theories of divine providence.

Calvinism as I've defined it seems clearly more limited in its theodical options because it has to eschew the Free-Will Defense. After all, if theistic determinism is true, then God can be 100% assured of getting exactly what he wants. Hence, if such a God exists, then it follows that God does get exactly what he wants. If the Holocaust happened, then God must have specifically wanted it to happen. Why? God only knows.

Furthermore, Calvinism implies that God has created either the best of all possible worlds, or, if there is more than one such world, then one of the class of best possible worlds, or if there is no precise standard for determining a class of "best" possible worlds, then one of the class of "pretty darn good" possible worlds. It is far from clear, however, that this is such a world.

Molinism seems to fare better. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF's) that it posits possess their truth values independently of God. Thus, if God creates Adam and puts him in a certain situation, then God can be certain ahead of time that Adam will freely choose to sin, and God can do nothing about it short of either not creating Adam or creating him but not allowing him into any situation in which he would freely choose to sin. So God can't be sure of getting anything he might want because the truth values of CCF's limit his options.

In addition, the Molinist can make some use of the Free-Will Defense, for if Adam freely sins, then God is at least partially exonerated because Adam is the one who sinned, and nothing God could have done could have prevented Adam from freely sinning in the very conditions in which he does freely sin.

But, one wonders, why didn't God do something different if he was sure that Adam would freely sin? One suggestion is that Adam, along with every other free creature God could have created, possessed "trans-world depravity". In other words, no matter which free creature God could have created, eventually that being would have chosen to sin if allowed into any significant range of circumstances. I must admit that I find this idea of trans-world depravity highly implausible. Surely, one would think, given the trillions upon trillions of possible free creatures that God could have created and the unknown multitudes of circumstances he could have situated them in, surely at least a few of them wouldn't have done what Adam did. And if so, then why didn't God create that kind of world instead?

Furthermore, Molinism implies that God has created either the best of all feasible worlds, or, if there is more than one such world, then one of the class of best feasible worlds, or if there is no precise standard for determining a class of "best" feasible worlds, then one of the class of "pretty darn good" feasible worlds. Again, it is far from clear that this is such a world.

What about open theism? Open theism rejects the meticulous providence of both Calvinism and Molinism. So we don't have the problem of God eternally decreeing evils or of God's willing to create a world that he definitely knew ahead of time would contain all the evils that ours does. According to open theism, God has sovereignly decided to create a world with libertarianly free creatures and, since there are no true (would-) counterfactuals of creaturely freedom for God to know and since, according to open theists, libertarian freedom is incompatible with meticulous foreknowledge, God could not know for sure ahead of time what kinds of choices his free creatures will make. God would seem to be less blameworthy for not preventing evils that he didn't know in advance would happen.

On the open theist view, an all-good God would be expected to create not the best of all possible worlds or the best of all feasible worlds, but the best of all possible means to the best of all possible worlds. Or if there is no unique best means, then one of the class of best possible means. Or, if there is no precise standard for determining a class of "best" possible means, then one of the class of "pretty darn good" possible means. Or, qualifying the goal as well, a "pretty darn good" means to a "pretty darn good" possible world. And now, I think, it is not so clear that our world is not such a world. Not knowing in advance what choices his free creatures would make, the God of open theism would have to govern in accordance with general policies to maintain a high probability of things staying on track.

But surely God knew in advance that it was possible for egregious evils to happen? Why, then, didn't God "head them off at the pass", so to speak? One possibility is this: If God curtails our freedom to do egregious evil, then this would also curtail our freedom to do extraordinary goods. Perhaps any general policies that could have ensured that there be no Holocaust would also have ensured that there be no individuals like Mother Theresa.

Okay, but could the God of open theism be guaranteed to defeat evil in the end? In short, Yes. Despite what some critics have charged, God never surrenders his sovereignty in the open theist model. The world remains exactly as open as God wants it to be, no more and no less. Thus, if God wants to put an end to evil once and for all, all he has to do is call "time up" and judge the world. If he has decided to put up with evil for the time being, that is presumably because he thinks that the chances are high that much of it can still be turned for good.

In summary, then, I conclude that open theism does fare significantly better vis-a-vis its two main competitors with respect to the problem of evil. Of course, this is not to say that the problem of evil is not a serious problem for the open theist, just that the problem is somewhat more tractable.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Flat Earth Myth

Did most people up until a couple centuries ago believe that the Earth was flat? Did Christopher Columbus encounter opposition from flat-earthers? Is the idea that the Earth is approximately spherical a discovery of "modern science"?

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the answers to all three of those questions is a resounding, NO!

The ancient Greeks knew that the Earth was round and they had a pretty good estimate of how large it was (<5% error). One has to look really hard to find anyone of any significant stature during the Middle Ages who thought the world was flat.

The idea that the world was filled with flat-earthers a couple centuries ago is flat-out false, and was made-up in the late 19th century as part of an ongoing anti-religious polemic on the part of Darwinian naturalists and positivists.

See the link below for additional details.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Incompatible Properties Arguments against Theism (Part 3)

Drange's third argument (see here) claims that divine immutability, the idea that God is incapable of change in any sense, is incompatible with divine omniscience, the idea that God knows all and only truths. He argues as follows:
The Immutability-vs.-Omniscience Argument
  1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
  2. If God exists, then he omniscient.
  3. An immutable being cannot know different things at different times.
  4. To be omniscient, a being would need to know propositions about the past and future.
  5. But what is past and what is future keep changing.
  6. Thus, in order to know propositions about the past and future, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 5).
  7. It follows that, to be omniscient, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 4 and 6).
  8. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be omniscient (from 3 and 7).
  9. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 8).
As with the previous argument, I'm quite unmoved by this because I think premise 1 is false. I don't think that God is immutable in the strong sense of being incapable of any sort of change. At most, this argument is a refutation of this idea of divine immutability, not a refutation of theism per se.

But suppose we accept for the moment the idea that theism entails divine immutability. Can the argument still be resisted?

Premise 2 is very hard for a theist to deny. Given that God is supposed to be the greatest possible being, unless it can be shown that there are truths that simply cannot be known, by anyone, it seems that the greatest possible being would have to know them. Are there any such truths? It's hard to see what they could be. And even if there are any, the incompatibility argument will still go through unless the class of unknowable truths permanently includes certain truths about the past and the future, which is highly implausible. Let's concede premise 2 and move on.

Premise 3 is beyond question because it simply draws out what's implied by the notion of immutability.

Premise 4, however, is strictly false. An omniscient being would only need to know propositions about the past and the future if there are any such propositions that are true. But suppose that an immutable God has eternally decided never to create. In that case, there never will be any temporal reality to make any temporal propositions true. That said, the argument can be reformulated to avoid this criticism by adding the premise that there are true propositions about the past and the future. But then we can't get an internal contradiction within theism from this argument. The most we can get is a contradiction between theism and the claim that truths about the past and the future exist.

This brings us to premise 5. For my part I accept this premise, but one concerned to affirm divine immutabilty and omniscience could reject it simply by opting for what's known as the 'B' theory of time. According to the 'B' theory, temporal becoming is not real, but merely apparent. If that's so, then truth is timeless, and thus does not change over time. For example, on this view, that JFK is assassinated in 1963 is eternally the case even though from earlier temporal points of view this is not apparent.

In the absence of an a priori refutation of the 'B' theory of time, therefore, this argument fails to refute the conjunction of divine immutability and omniscience. Given the popularity of the 'B' theory of time today among philosophers, that's probably easier said than done.

Drange mentions at this point another argument that he thinks might refute theism:
It should be noted that a somewhat different incompatible-properties argument could also be constructed using the divine attribute of transcendence instead of immutability. The argument would focus on the point that a transcendent being must be timeless and a timeless being cannot know propositions about the past and future. However, an omniscient being, as shown above, must know propositions about the past and future. Therefore, it is impossible for a transcendent being to be omniscient.
The weak point of this argument is the claim that "a transcendent being must be timeless". Why? Contrary to what Drange seems to think, the doctrine of divine transcendence is not the idea that God is "outside" space and time. Rather, it is at bottom the idea that God is "outside" creation; that God is in no sense "part" of creation or in any way dependent on creation for his existence. These two understandings of divine transcendence are often conflated on the basis of the following argument:
  1. God exists "outside" creation.
  2. Creation includes space, time, and all that exists "in" space and time.
  3. Therefore God exists "outside" space and time. (from 1 and 2)
But the problem here is that premise 2 is open to question. Theists like myself who reject divine immutability would not say that time is a created thing or that it is part of creation. There are some who hold that time is a necessary concomitant of activity internal to God himself, such that God could not exist atemporally. I don't hold that view. What I hold is that time is a necessary concomitant of the act of creating. In other words, simply by virtue of creating, God brings about a before-after relation between two different states of affairs: (a) God and God alone existing, (b) God and creation existing.

In conclusion, neither the Immutability-vs.-Omniscience argument, nor the Transcendence-vs.-Omniscience argument poses much of a challenge to theism.