Monday, November 12, 2007

Why Essential Indexicals Are Really Essential: The Case of Tensed Thoughts

For my dissertation, I've been thinking a lot about essential indexicals and related phenomena and wondering if we could come up with an actual argument that would show that they or some other sort of "perspectival" element sare essential for us rather than merely appealing to intuitions gleaned from thought experiments with grocery carts and ripped bags of sugar. Like most things in philosophy, it probably won't be a knock-down, prove-it-once-and-for-all sort of argument, but that's okay - it still needs to be done. Here's my first pass at such an argument as it relates specifically to temporally perspectival (tensed) thoughts (note that it is extremely rough and a lot of the discussion is oversimplified or not spelled - these are just quick notes I typed out on my computer and in need of polishing over the next few months):

Why do we need tensed representations (count representations which pick out a time via indexicals, demonstratives, first-person representation, etc. as tensed for my purposes here)? Assume we only had tenseless representations. To have these, we need to explicitly represent times in all our representations of what is the case at a time (or times). So when it is some time t, we need a representation T represents t and, to get us to act at the right time, T needs to get us to do at t the actions to be done at t. Two things are needed here: T must be about t and T must in ordinary circumstances only and almost always cause the appropriate actions at t (or t+1). Consider these requirements in reverse order.

For the latter to happen, T must either only show up at all at t or only show up in a certain way at t (say, in the right functional “box”). How would a system, however, acquire such a T? Inference cannot fully explain this since T must either be inferred from a tenseless or tensed representation. As a matter of logic, a tenseless representation cannot follow from a tensed one. And as far as following from a tenseless one, that (or those) would be the T needing explanation. To constantly keep track of the time, T must be something like one syntactic “date” in a system of dates coordinated with actual times via some kind of clock-ish system.

It looks like such a clock system is required if we are only going to used tenseless representations to get us to act. But now that we have the beginnings of an explanation of how the system acquires T, we need an explanation of the semantics for T and the system of temporal representations associated with it, governed by the internal clock. Either the semantics for this system is determined via description or it is not. If it is, then one option is that it is through determining one time via description and then the other times by their relations to this one time. The other option is that they are interdefined in some way.

If it is determined via description in the former way then the only way to do this is by describing events that occur at that time (or using a description of that time which describes it as coming before or after to a certain degree the events of another time). This will involve either a purely qualitative description or else some sort of description involving using a rigidly-designating name of an event (or indexicals – but that’s not allowed). If it’s purely qualitative then there’s no guarantee that we’ll pick out a specific time or even the right time (we might get the description wrong or more than one time could fit it). And that’s bad if we want to act at the time represented. If, on the other hand, it uses the mental concept of an event then either we are directly hooked up to the even with reference not being determined by description or the reference is in fact by description. If by the latter, we have the same problem over again. The former, however, seems unlikely – how would we get hooked up in this way with a specific particular event without some indexicalish phenomena going on?

It looks like determining the semantics of the system via determining the reference of one representation via description won’t cut it. How about if it’s more holistic? Here we have an even greater chance of being off since, given that the syntactic times are all interdefined and will presumably involve descriptions of what goes on at some or all of the times being represented. The problems with specificity might be better but the chance of error is increased.

If, however, the reference is not determined via any sort of description then we have the same problem as with referring to events – it looks like this requires the use of some kind of indexicalish activity. Since these seem to be the only options for getting us to act in a timely and appropriate way using tenseless representations alone and they either do not work or end up involving tensed representation, it looks like we really do need tensed representation.

Explanations of why we need other sorts of perspectival representations are going to be similar (perhaps including first-person and phenomenal concepts).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Yet More Outside Discussions

Two more discussions going on with Alan Rhoda over at his blog:

Click here for our discussion over whether God is timeless - I say yea and he says nay.

Click here for a discussion of this recent post of mine where I argued that many kinds of presentism can't deal with explaining why this time is the present one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weird cult-like folks

Just for fun, this is something I was just looking at...

For some reason, I always find - and am fascinated when I do - the websites of weird cults and sects who want to say that Christians for the past 2 millenia have been basically wrong and suddenly they (usually the one true church, obviously) have suddenly got it right. Sometimes I find these sites because they end up linked to my blog in the ads at the side of the page. Today I found one that was a bit interesting (in a bad way):, which seems to be the ministry of one Neville Stevens.

Check out this quote in their article about who the true church is:
By all means pray for your enemies and those who spitefully use you. This is right and proper. But don't take it upon yourselves to pray for the enemies of God - this is an act of treachery! Don't participate in public rallies for promised 'liberties.' Don't donate money to organisations that attempt to thwart God's judgment. Don't pray for, or support, the starving Cushites that God has judged. God could have sent rain to the famine-stricken African nations and ended the famine - but He didn't! Do you agree that God was just? If you had the power, would you have ended the famine? If the answer is yes, then you are not in agreement with God! You must get your thoughts and your priorities right! If you don't NOW, then you will be in great danger of offending God when the crunch-time comes. You may even find yourself wanting to kill God's two prophets! If you found offence in what God has done to Satan's evil brood in Africa and elsewhere, what will be your reaction be to what happens in your own country? God is in control! You don't have to question His judgment - it is correct! Always! See what Christ said: Luke 21:25 "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the WORLD, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." The translation of these verses is relatively innocuous in comparison to their true meaning. There are plenty of other descriptions about coming events.
Now that's just crazy - this is the sort of wrong-headed, unbiblical hate that really makes people look down on Christians. I also found an article on the book of Galatians where they question whether Galatians is really Scripture (mainly because they both seriously misunderstand it and also because they pretty much agree with the Judaizers that Galatians was opposing - along with some other really bad arguments, of course). This is a bit strange, of course, since almost all the teachings in Galatians can be found elsewhere, such as in Romans. (This also one of the places where the author uses kind phrases like "curdled-brained morons" - and many others - to speak of people who aren't quite up to their standards) There's indeed a lot of "creative" interpretation going on in the articles here (context seems to be important only when it's convenient). Not everything's bad or false, but like other sectarian or heretical groups, its mixed in with a lot that is. Another example of the sort of crazy stuff from this site (from an article on the Passover):
Christ set out the exact format for observing the Passover.If you substitute the Passover ceremony with a ‘lords supper’, then you are worshipping demons!What is more, you are forbidden to do both (some people believe they can observe their ‘lord’s supper’ at any time of the year and fulfill the requirements given by Christ. They can’t!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why is this time the present?

Alright! Back to blogging after a couple weeks of grading of papers...

Here's a problem for most forms of presentism - on most versions, there's no good answer to the question of why this time is the present one. That is, why does the stuff at this time (and in its current arrangement) exist rather than that of some other? Why isn't some other time the present one?

The presentist needs some answer here since intuitively there is indeed an explanation for why (at least a lot of) what exists now does exist and why it (mostly) is the way it is. It can't just be random which time is present and not just because it doesn't conform to how we think present things are explained. We simply don't have random times popping up as present and then another one as the next one - time simply doesn't work that way, even on a spooky tensed view like presentism.

Any plausible answer, if it is to explain why present stuff exists and exists the way it in fact does, must obviously be explanatorily prior to the existence of that stuff and its current arrangement. So on many versions of presentism, to follow William Lane Craig and say that the present time's presentness is explained by the past presentness of past times just won't cut it. This due to the fact that on many versions of presentism, such facts are themselves reducible to or grounded in things that are explanatorily posterior (or at least not prior) to the existence of present things and their current arrangement. Present dispositions, current evidence, or properties of things, hence, cannot do the job since they presuppose this time being the present rather than explaining it.

What about ersatzism a la Craig Bourne and others? This won't work either, for there is no reason for one ersatz time be realized as present rather than another. Having the realized time be the last ersatz time in a terminating series of ersatz time won't help matters either since it still leaves open the question of why this is the last ersatz time (and why the last one should be realized as opposed to some other in the first place).

How about, per Ross Cameron's suggestion, we let the entire world have a single distributional property which grounds all tensed facts and which gives the world its current state? No, that won't work either since this still leaves open why only one state - that is, this particular present one - which is governed by the distributional property should be the one to be realized as present rather than another (see more in my comments on Cameron's post linked at the top of this paragraph).

So most versions of presentism simply fail to explain why this time is the present one and, like I've said before, this is due to the simple problem that presentists in general get things backwards and try to explain the past by the present instead of the other way around.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Recent Discussions Outside This Blog

Here are a few of the discussions I've recently been in that have (a) occurred outside this blog, and (b) taken up the blogging time I would normally use on this blog:

In comments on this post at Alanyzer, I offer some worries and objections relating to an argument by Alan Rhoda against mind-body physicalism. While not convinced by physicalism myself, I thought there were some serious worries about the argument as well as some probable mistakes. Alan was gracious enough to respond to one or two of the worries but left the majority of the criticisms untouched.

For some older stuff from that same blog, see this post where I get into a discussion about the nature of philosophical reduction. See also this post where I critique the arguments in that post that are supposed to be in favor of a tensed theory of time.

Most recently, I've been having a discussion about this post at metaphysical values over whether a certain kind of distributional property could serve as a good presentist truthmaker for past-tensed claims.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Representation, Description and Motivation: A Quick Note

Some quick ideas I'm trying out:

Anytime something is linked directly to motivation or action in a timely way (i.e., tensed or first person representations, ethical representations maybe, etc.), the representation in question which represents the motivating or action-involving fact to the thinker is not fully descriptive but is linked to some outside entity in a more direct, not-so-description-determined way. Tensed representations link us in direct, non-descriptive ways to times, first-person ones link each one of us to ourselves, and so on.

This might give some weight to moral realists or even moral naturalists. For judgment internalists, "moral representations" are ceteris paribus intrinsically motivating. Moral antirealists often point this out to try to shore up their claim that moral "representations" aren't really representational of any kind of moral reality after all. And even moral realist non-naturalists may want to press the Open-Question argument and point out that it is always open to ask whether any particular natural properties is really good. And this argument may be even stronger if it is pointed out that goodness is motivating for us whereas we may not necessarily feel so motivated when it comes to some merely natural property.

The paragraph above the previous one may hold some kind of ammunition for the realist or naturalist against their foes. Moral terms or concepts may indeed not be fully descriptive and yet may refer perfectly well to particular properties - even natural ones. These properties, perhaps, would not under a non-moral description be intrinsically motivating. What moral representation does is put the representation in a form where we can be linked to these moral properties more directly, with less mediation by description, so that these properties can motivate us in the proper way similar to the way a third-person description of the same fact would not motivate me or produce actions of mine in the same appropriate way as a first-person representation of that fact would.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 6

Like the previous chapter (reviewed here and here), chapter 6 of Boyd's book has a lot of interesting stuff in it. However, as usual, there's a lot of looseness, unclarity, confusedness, and so on in his exposition and argumentation. I'll give a few examples. To defend his theory against the charge that whether or not there's free will in the libertarian sense, God could just remove the bad guys from the world or do some other sort of intervention, Boyd postulates that God simply can't terminate the bad guys or interfere with them. He says that it is a "metaphysical implication" of creating free beings that they have their free power to influence over a certain amount of time. So the fifth part of his theory is (TWT5) "The power to influence is irrevocable". At first, this is a bit hard to swallow. It doesn't seem all that hard to remove people's power to influence things. Knock them over the head and you've disabled them for a time, kill them and you have removed that power permanently (that is, putting aside complications relating to any sort of afterlife). So to say that God can't in the sense that he literally isn't able to interfere with bad people's bad free actions seems preposterous.

Often, though, it isn't quite clear what exactly Boyd really wants to say. Sometimes he wants to make this a metaphysical thing as if creating a free person at a given time made it metaphysically impossible to take away that freedom or that person, other times he seems to interpret this "can't" that applies to God in a moral way - that is, God can't interfere in the sense that he has obligated himself not to and must, in virtue of his moral character, stand by his commitment. In these times, Boyd sounds pretty much like he's saying something like what I said here. As usual, though, Boyd doesn't seem to really know exactly what he's trying to say or argue and runs together these two different ideas.

One thing he may mean is simply that in order to count as free one must be freely and uncoercedly self-determining up to the very end of one's self-formation. But then it's not clear what to make of people who have been taken out of the world prior to this point. Or why, if we are justified in interfering with people using their freedom to hurt others, God isn't also. Or why, if God isn't, how we could be in any sense. Boyd never really answers this question, though he does mention it - but I take this to be the hardest point of his theodicy to really address.

Or at least one of them. What about Satan and his angels? Boyd seems to think that they are past the point of redemption - their time of self-making is up and they've made themselves irredeemably bad. So why does God tolerate their continuing influence? Boyd here just uses his TWT5, but on Boyd's own view, Satan's time of freedom being over, there's nothing in interfering with Satan that conflict with TWT5. After all, it is also a part of Boyd's theory that (TWT6) The power to influence is finite. That is, one only has a finite time span to be free to make oneself. And Satan's is up, so that pretty much ruins Boyd's main argument regarding Satan's current continuing and active influence.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture Part 4: The People of God, Israel and the Church

It's been over a month since my last post in this series, so I thought I'd start it back up again. Is there a single people of God like most Christians throughout history have believed or is there two as many dispensationalists believe? Dispensationalists, reacting both to an oversimplified identification between Israel and the Church that is sometimes found and to the view that Israel has been cast aside and is no longer God's people, have in general fallen all the way off the other side of the horse and imposed an oversimplified and massively wrong division between the two, sometimes even going so far as to say that the two have entirely different destinies, covenants, or even administrations of salvation. I think dispensationalists are right to make some distinction between Israel and the Church but they go wrong when they posit to peoples of God instead of one. I don't have enough time to go through this topic in enough detail to really do it justice and list all the relevant Scripture and such, but I'll outline some of my thoughts on this.

In the Old Testament, there was a single people of God, Israel. But then of course there's Israel and then there's Israel. Some within the group were considered truly part of God's people in a way others were not even if those others were supposed to be - some were the remnant or the true Israel. And not all in this group were necessarily ethnic Israelites either since Gentiles too could eventually become incorporated into this body (indeed, many non-Israelites were among those who journeyed out of Egypt and took part in the great events and covenants at the founding of Israel as a nation and people of God). So from the very beginning, Israel was God's people but this people, ethnic Israelite or not, also incorporated converted non-Israelites. At this time (or at least it had become so by NT times), it was generally expected, though, that the converted would combine religious identification and ethnic identification by, among other things, submitting to the right of circumcision and "becoming a Jew". In Jesus' time, Gentiles who wished to convert were also baptized as a right of passage into God's people.

The Old Testament spoke of a time, though, when other nations would call on God and God would acknowledge them and make them his (in fact, this was a main reason of why God chose Israel in the first place - as a beginning to something greater that was meant to sweep out even unto the Gentiles). Somehow, they would follow the Law or join with Israel and yet somehow not exactly. How all this would work out and what it would look like was yet to be revealed.

In the New Testament, we do not see the creation of a new people of God. What do we see instead? We see Jesus, the True Israel himself, taking on the role of Israel and its duties and reforming God's people, Israel, about himself. And what do we begin to see? Non-Jews and non-Israelites seem to be allowed inclusion into this people but the ethnic identification with the Jews is not required of them. As the True Israel, incorporation into Jesus means incorporation into the one people of God, so these Gentiles truly became co-citizens in God's people with their Jewish brethren who were already there for generations. This incorporation therefore means a kind of incorporation into the covenants and promises of the Old Testament. Jesus is the vine, Israel, and we, both Jew and Gentile are the branches of God's people. God's one people are a holy nation, a priesthood, elect, etc. - all terms for Israel now applied to anyone who is incorporated into Jesus by faith in him. The old uses of the Law, its ethnic particulars for the Jews at the point in history before the cross, are now past and it takes on a new role suitable for people of all ethnicities as the people of God is expanded greatly beyond its previous ethnic boundaries.

Jesus' followers, the true Israel, were at first almost entirely Jewish but soon they began actively converting Gentiles and Paul championed full inclusion of the Gentiles in God's people on the basis of faith and declared that they did not need to follow the ethnic particulars of the Law and become Jews - God accepted both Jew and Gentile on the same basis, that of faith. So now, this one people of God which previously was almost entirely roughly identified as Israel included a lot of Gentiles, thus expanding God's people beyond ethnic Israel to form one entity neither Jewish nor Gentile but rather universal and transcending the distinction (and indeed transcending all ethnic distinctions and particularities) - a new thing called the Church which included both. The old covenants, promises, etc. are thus expanded and transcended so that God is no longer simply interested in particular promises to a particular people but more grand, larger promises to all peoples. The promise of the land for the Jews, for instance, is now transcended, and God's people, Jews and non-Jews, are promised the entire earth.

So, as Paul said, Gentiles have been grafted onto the plant, Israel. But some other branches have been cut off because of unbelief - the unbelieving Jews. This, of course, does not mean God is done with them. No, they are the natural sons, the natural branches - they belong on the tree and are meant, if they are willing, to be regrafted. So as you can see, things are not nearly so simple as many dispensationalists make it. Yes, there is some discontinuity between Old Testament Israel and the Church and between how things went on with each. But that doesn't in any way mean that there are two peoples of God. Believing Israel is still the core, the natural trunk of the tree or the main branches of the vine - the others having been cut off - and "the Church" is simply the name for this new thing, this new stage of God's People which transcends all ethnic and national distinctions.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Final post in this series: "The Tribulation and Rapture"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chavez Finally Goes Too Far!!!

According to recent news, Venezuela's radical socialist president, Hugo Chavez, has announced a series of value-based reforms in order to get his country in line with his own tastes. He's done a lot of bad or crazy stuff in the past, but this time he's truly sunk to a new low and shown himself for the true dictator and ultimate evil curmudgeon that he is. CNN reports that "The president has a long list of ... recommendations: Don't douse foods with too much hot sauce, exercise regularly, eat low-cholesterol foods, respect speed limits."

Don't douse foods with too much hot sauce!?! Who does he think he is!?! What an outrage! As if there was really such a thing as too much in the first place! It is time, O Venezuelans to rally against this infernal, cruel and petty dictator, this enemy of hot sauce! Foreign lovers of hot sauce, unite in solidarity with our oppressed Venezuelan brethren!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Presentism and the Direction of Groundings

Presentism (or any other theory that's antirealist about the past), at least in many versions, does not seem to be able to make a distinction between an old universe and a new one which just recently popped into existence with all the appropriate evidence for the past already there. Consider, for instance, a view according to which current dispositions or the state of the universe plus laws of nature provide the truth makers for past-tensed statements. Now take some statement S about the distant past and the presentist's candidate for the truth-maker of S, D (some disposition or state plus laws). It seems perfectly possible that D might be part of the present time and yet S be false - that is, that D might be there and yet the universe could have been very different than it had been or at least that it had not actually existed until very recently. For instance, God could have just created the universe ten minutes ago complete with all the dispositions, laws, et cetra which the presentist takes to make true statements about what the universe was like, say, ten years ago. But of course, if God did in fact just create the universe all such statements will fail to be true. So any such proposal for the truth-maker of a claim like S is going to fail since it seems possible for the truth-maker to be there without in fact making S true.

Of course, now that I've mentioned God here, it might be suggested that God himself could provide a way out of this - God is sort of supposed to be the ultimate ground of reality anyway, so why not let some state or decision of God ground claims like S? But for almost any candidate, it seems hard to see why it would be that kind of state that does the grounding and even once we have that kind narrowed down we may still wonder why this particular state grounds the truth of some statements and not others or why God has some particular contingent grounding-states and not others. If it is something under God's control or subject to his decision then it seems we have an extreme kind of super-Calvinistic view that even many Calvinists would cringe at (though perhaps not all - even though even the staunchest probably should) and certainly it would not leave any room for moral responsibility.

The best candidate, then, appears to be God's memories. That is, God's memory that p grounds its having been the case that p. But this clearly won't work. After all, a state's being a memory that p is itself at least partially grounded in its having been the case that p. And this is incompatible with what was just said about memories grounding it having been the case that such and such. So if we do appeal to memories of God, we cannot appeal to them as memories - they must be some more basic state which, because they ground the past facts, are therefore memories since the past facts ground their even being memories. But now we are left with the same question as before as to how we are to identify such states and why God even has them. And suddenly using states of God no longer looks so much different from using any other piece of reality which we are supposed to hook up in a systematic way with the truth and falsity of past-tensed sentences.

In general, presentism and its ilk is weird because of all the required dependencies of the past on the present rather than vice versa as is most plausible. Indeed, this failing of presentism - which seems to be required since presentism only allows present things to do any grounding in the first place - is what seems to give rise to all the problems I just mentioned above. And it seems crucially connected to the problem I've noticed in this earlier post about how presentists and the like cannot allow for moral responsibility for the past.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 5B

Sorry about the long time between posts - I've been out of town for a week.

Last time, I talked about the first major section of chapter 5 of Boyd's book. Today I finish my discussion of that chapter. From here on out (though with some bumps along the way), Boyd begins to really shine as he really starts to work out his theodicy in greater detail without all the open theistic baggage weighing him down. He begins the final half of this chapter addressing the question of why, given that we should be free so that we can love or reject God, do we have such a strong power to reject, kill, and do other bad stuff to other people. His answer relies on the idea that God didn't just create isolated individuals for one-on-one relationships. Free creatures were created to live in a society bound together by relationships and mutual responsibility for and towards one another. We are supposed to freely love and care for one another. But to be free love and bless means that we are also free to hate and curse and when we begin to start down that dark path, everyone suffers at the hands of everyone else whether directly or indirectly and we share a collective responsibility for much of the evil that transpires. Some of what he says about this even directly reflects some of the same kinds of things I've said in this previous post.

The one major logical mistake he makes is with his TWT3 - "Risk entails moral responsibility" - which is neither supported by what he says nor is in the least bit true. I'm pretty sure he had something else in mind when he wrote this. Other than this, though, this second half of chapter 5 is very well-done and I think there's really a lot of truth in it or at least is pointing us in substantially the right direction.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 5A

After a brief discussion of some "dynamic theories" of time, I thought I'd return to Boyd and talk about chapter 5 of his book (see here for the previous installment). In this chapter, Boyd really now does confront the issue of how, if there is so much indeterminism and free will going on in the world and God doesn't have EDF (Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge), God can ensure that certain things happen according to his plan. After all, it sure seems like his creation could just so happen not to cooperate and thus render God's plan ruined. Things could work out, for instance, so that God would not have a people for himself after all since no one ever freely turns to him. Boyd's answer is, roughly, that unpredictability or indeterminism at an individual level is consistent with very good predictability at a larger level. Complex systems with chaotic, indeterministic parts can emerge extremely stable and very predictable. So at a societal level we can almost certainly guarantee that a certain percentage of people will smoke, etc., but we can't do this kind of thing with anything near certainty with a given individual. On the basis of his exhaustive knowledge of his own character and unwillingness to give up and the predictability of human nature in general, God can be certain that a certain percentage of people (or at the very least, some people) will turn to him or would turn to him if there was ever a Fall.

I don't think this response works. Notice that for all the apparent predictability in complex systems, they are still not completely predictable with absolute certainty if they consist of indeterministic pieces and chance at the larger level is not entirely eliminated. But it's not clear how one could have a system for which, at this larger level, there is no chance whatsoever given that it has chancy parts. It would have to be incredibly complex and have extraordinary, perfectly-functioning, indestructible mechanisms existing for the purpose of instantly and completely correcting at the system level sudden aberrant fluctuations of any kind in the behavior of its parts (and of course this would be a problem if the mechanism itself contains indeterministic parts).

Human societies, though, are not like that at all. They are not so insulated and jerry-rigged that they can't deviate from a large scale pattern of change. History depends in large part on the decisions of individuals - individuals which affect other individuals, and so on throughout history. Often, things which weren't inevitable happen, things which change the entire course of history. The actions of Martin Luther are one example - sure, maybe some other person would probably eventually spark a similar kind of religious revolt against Rome but the very specific writings and character of Luther himself had a very specific and very huge impact on Germany and thus on the rest of the world that would have been different if he himself had not been the one to act as he did in all those important moments when he did. Often in history, specific individuals and sometimes even specific actions of particular individuals hold enormous sway over the course of history in a way that simply cannot be predicted if one does not have prior EDF of the way things will turn out.

So in a complex system like human society, there is indeed quite a bit of predictability. The sheer complexity of society does a lot to dampen the effects of chance due to its individual members (this cancelling-out effect is the benefit reaped for larger complex systems - they are much more stable and predictable than smaller, less organized systems). But it does not fully eliminate it. Sure, we can predict fairly well the percentage of people that will smoke. But that's just what most likely will happen. The more complex and organized things are, the less of a chance things will deviate from their predictable path, the more stable a system is, and the less likely a single chance action or event will be able to upset the course of the system. But the system can still be broken out of its path if there is a sufficiently large, widespread breakdown and a huge, coincidental mass of chance fluctuations all around the same time.

It's incredibly improbable - practically impossible even - for my entire body, for instance, to undergo quantum tunneling and suddenly pop out of my current position and appear in, say, China. It's not so improbable with a single one of my particles but for just one of them to do it wouldn't be for me as a whole to do it - that would require a massive coincidental and simultaneous tunneling by most of my particles in the exact right combination, etc. And that's just probably not going to happen. But it's still possible. In the same way, the prediction of the percentage of smokers is what is most likely going to happen but it is still possible for reality to widely deviate from what is most probable - even if it is almost entirely certain. So even though it is massively improbable that no one would ever respond to God's continuous pursuit of us, it is still possible even if the chance of it is vanishingly small. So, contra Boyd, Boyd's view does in fact commit us to the view that God's plans - which are supposed to happen and be assured to happen - may in fact never happen. But since that goes against Scripture, so much the worse for Boyd's view!

Next time...the rest of chapter 5...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Moral Responsibility and the Unreality of the Past

It is a necessary condition for freedom or moral responsibility concerning some action A that I am the ultimate explanation for A - A ultimately depends on me for its existence. So to be responsible for something, I must be the metaphysical ground for it. But not only that, it is also necessary that I have some sort of control over A, that the fact that A is my action rather than something else is also dependent on me and explained by me. It is my contention that views of time - such as Presentism - which do not acknowledge the reality of the past cannot allow that anyone is morally responsible for their past actions. And if they are not morally responsible for such, then they cannot justifiably be punished or praised (or whatever) for them either.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that if the past does not exist then neither do my past actions. But if I have no past actions, then there are no actions for me to be held responsible for. Anti-realists about the past must, then, make revisionary adjustments to our views about responsibility and insist that we can be "responsible for our past actions" only in the sense that we are responsible for the past-tensed fact that we committed such past actions. Already, this is in conflict with the natural idea that in order for me to be responsible for something there must be some action which is directly ascribable to me as mine - instead, we must have something else that I am responsible for or which is ascribable to me. But let's put that aside for now.

Different views will cash out these past-tensed which we are responsible for in different ways. One way is simply to assert that past-tensed facts are primitive facts, unanalyzable and irreducible to anything more basic (or that these facts involve primitive tensed properties like having performed action A). But why should I or anyone care about such primitive facts or think they have anything to do with whether I ought to punished or praised? After all, if facts about what I could have done are also primitive in the same way and such facts do not justify praise or blame, how could these other facts do the same? What's the difference? In neither case is the fact explained by me or is it something that I am responsible for in any sense. These facts are simply there, free-floating with no input from me as to what they are or how they are and with no relevant dependence on me that could make any difference as to my responsibility for anything. In neither case is there any control over what these things are like. If there was, then I would now have control over the past, which I simply do not - at least not in any significant enough way.

But let's say these past facts aren't primitive facts after all. This is hardly any better. Why should we be held responsible for physical states of the world or states of God or whatever? After all, that things are this way is not in any way up to us or explained by us or relevantly dependent on us. So either way the Anti-Realist goes, there's no getting around the fact that without a real past, there can be no moral responsibility for our past actions. Elsewhere, I've argued that freedom or moral responsibility also requires a real future. So, all in all, friends of moral responsibility ought to be eternalists about time and accept the reality of past, present, and future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 4B

At the end of chapter four (see here for some criticisms of the first part), Boyd, in Satan and the Problem of Evil, gives what he takes to be scientific and experiential support for his open theism - that is, evidence that is supposed to show that the future does not exist (and hence is not known in an exhaustive definite manner by God). Boyd suggests that science supports this view by appealing to the fact that most plausible interpretations of quantum theory in physics require indeterminism. But of course indeterminism - causal "openness" - is perfectly compatible with the future not being open in Boyd's sense. Indeterminism and eternalism (the view that all times past or present or future exist) are perfectly compatible. It is a common confusion not to notice this, but of course Boyd is pretty much entirely confused throughout this science section. He takes indeterminism to show that the irreversibility of time is real, however, I'm not really sure what he even means by "the irreversibility of time". I take it that he has in mind something like the arrow of time - that is, the directedness of time or the things within it. But of course, indeterminism has no direct bearing on this issue, contra Boyd. A system can be indeterministic in a past-to-future direction, a future-to-past direction, or even both. So indeterminism on its own, even quantum mechanical indeterminism, really says little if anything about Boyd's "irreversibility of time" (despite the people he cites in support of what he says - these are issues that scientists unfortunately often get as confused about as lay people). Thus, contra Boyd, quantum mechanics does not in the slightest support his views and is perfectly compatible with all manner of eternalist or anti-open theist views.

If Boyd's discussion of quantum mechanics was somewhat confused, his discussion of relativity theory is a complete mess. First of all, though, he suggests that Scripture treats God as temporal but I've dealt with these sorts of contentions in this previous post. Boyd then notes that relativity theory doesn't show that time is unreal as if that helped him. But of course those who object to theories like Boyd's based on relativity theory would mostly agree with this, so I'm not sure how this is supposed to be helpful. Boyd claims that the theory does not address the ontological status of the future but this is contentious and, I would suggest, false. For instance, say event E1 is in the absolute future of my current space-time coordinate (pretend for the moment that I'm a point-particle). Now, given relativity, any event E2 which is neither in my absolute past nor present nor "light-like" related to me will be simultaneous with me in some reference frames and not in others (these are called "space-like" related to me). So let us take an event E2 which is very close to the space-time cone carved out by my absolute future. There are parts of my absolute future which, in some reference frames are simultaneous with E2 since they are space-like related to it. Assume E1 is space-like related to E2. Now we have two events - E1 and E2 - which lie on a simultaneity line but one of them - E2 - lies on such a line with me and the other lies in my absolute future. So there's no room to say that E1 doesn't exist since it lies on a simultaneity line with E2, which also exists, and everything which lies on a single simultaneity line is equally real. So Boyd (or Capek, who he cites) really can't get out of eternalism without reinterpreting relativity theory or treating it merely instrumentally (which sometimes Boyd confusingly sounds like he's doing, other times not - I'm not sure even he knows exactly what he's trying to do here). The rest of Boyd's discussion is basically the same as the mass of confusions he's posted on his blog and which I've addressed previously in this post.

In response to the argument that time was created with creation and since God is above creation he is above time, Boyd confusingly tries to respond to this by saying that God's experience or measurement of time is different than ours. But that doesn't even address the argument at all since it wasn't about experience or measurement in the first place - this is a metaphysical or physical argument based on the nature of God and the apparent fact that our time dimension is essentially a component of our space-time universe and hence cannot have existed outside of it. I'm really not sure what Boyd was after when he started talking about measurements here.

Boyd's argument from experience is essentially this - our experience of ourselves as free and morally responsible presupposes or is the same as an experience of ourselves as being undetermined. But of course this, again, does not support his views in the slightest. As I've said previously, indeterminism is perfectly compatible with eternalism or anti-open theism. So again, nothing Boyd says here provides even the slightest shred of evidence for his views.

Next time, more on Boyd's book...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 4A

Last time, I finished up with chapter three of Boyd's book, so now we go to chapter four. Here, at the beginning of this chapter, Boyd attempts to address passages that look like they ascribe to God some amount of EDF (exhaustive definite foreknowledge) - passages where God predicts details about future free actions or events which depend on such, passages that cannot plausibly be interpreted as expressing mere conditional intentions on God's part. Part of his answer involves the same sort of idea I've been discussing elsewhere - that real freedom involves deciding who one will be and once that is fixed, that will also fix the range of actions one may do. And if one has made oneself fixedly wicked, for instance, God will know how to arrange it so that you will certainly do, say, action A because he knows your fixed character - a character you cannot any longer act against. The rest of his answer in this section is rather vague and hand-wavy - the real argument comes later. What he's said so far isn't nearly sufficient, but since his main arguments come later, I'll deal with them then and show why he still can't have both open theism and God's certain knowledge of these prophesied events.

Boyd then goes on to criticize Molinism which, in the context of the sort of no-future view Boyd holds, I can agree won't work. His idea, though, of God making plans for every contingency so that lack of EDF does not limit his sovereignty or providence over the future could equally well be put into effect by a non-Molinist believer in EDF - prior (not temporally prior, though) to creating everything and giving out free will, God could have lots of different plans for how things might turn out with his free creations. Posterior to this set of plans, however, is the creation of the space-time universe and God's knowledge of all of history, including EDF. Boyd, however, makes the rather lame claim that God knows more on his view than on, say, the Molinist view since God on his view not only knows what will happen but also what may. This, of course, is rather unfair since the Molinist may claim that they are the ones that allow God to know more since God knows much more of what will happen on their view than on Boyd's. That point aside, I think both Molinists and other EDFers could perfectly well have both EDF and exhaustive knowledge of all those mays and mights that Boyd includes. So, contra Boyd, EDFers may include all the same knowledge Boyd does. So Boyd's just plain wrong when he claims that in his view "God does not know less than the classical view: he knows more." The facts are quite the opposite.

Boyd uses all he's said so far to address the passage of Jesus predicting Peter's denials - God could providentially ensure that things happen such that Peter denies Christ three times. But this requires Peter's character to be fixed in this regard. But it doesn't seem to me that anyone's character can be completely fixed in such a regard without being nearly totally fixed in its entirety. Our character is an organic whole, after all, not some construct made up of behavioral or habitual atoms. And since Peter is by no means a "saint", on Boyd's own view Peter would perhaps be irredeemably lost (having formed a fixed character leading to or involving a denial of Christ). In any case, Peter wasn't the only one involved in the story - there were other free agents as well. They would also have to be significantly fixed in their characters. But there were other free agents around them as well, who could have killed them or done other things to prevent them from talking to Peter. So they would have to fixed as well. But then those people were around free agents as well, and so on. So whatever happened to the people with unfixed character here? It doesn't seem that God, without interfering in ways Boyd wouldn't like or having EDF, could guarantee that Peter would deny Christ three times even if Peter had a fixed character that would otherwise make it certain.

Now to Boyd's philosophical arguments. Consider the argument enshrined in the following passage:

Let four things be granted: (1) God possesses EDF; (2) God's knowledge is infallible, hence unalterable; (3) the past by logical necessity cannot be changed; and (4) we are not free or morally responsible in relation to what we cannot change. These four premises seem to entail that agents are no more free and morally responsible with regard to future events (including their own future chosen actions) than they are with regard to past events. Among the totality of facts in any given moment in the past which we cannot change is the fact of what we shall do in the future - a facticity found in God's EDF and included in the totality of factual truths at any given moment in the past.

This is a completely awful argument. Note that Boyd's argument entails that I am not morally responsible for what I did in the past. But if I'm not morally responsible for, say, my past sins, God cannot justly hold me accountable for them or punish me for them. The only atonement necessary is that provided by the passage of time! But then even present actions are not things I can be responsible for either - in the same sense I cannot change the past since I cannot make something other than what it is, I cannot change the present either. After all, if I am sinning in the present I cannot very well also be not sinning. So on Boyd's lights, I cannot be responsible for past or present actions. What about future actions? Well, on Boyd's view, these do not literally exist, so I cannot be held responsible for actions that are not even there. And in any case, I can hardly at one time be held responsible for something I haven't done yet. So if Boyd's argument works, it shows that there is no free will or moral responsibility! And I think that in turn shows that Boyd's argument has gone seriously wrong.

Boyd's final sentence in the above paragraph represents a huge confusion. For one thing, it's not clear that there are distinct entities called "facts". And if there are, it's not clear that they exist in or at any times at all - they may very well be atemporal. But if some of them do exist at times, they exist wholly at the time they are about. So facts about the future therefore do not exist, exist outside time, or exist in the future, not in the present or in the past. So Boyd's argument doesn't work (see Nathan Oaklander's work on this stuff for more, similar details). Appealing to the pastness or presentness of God's beliefs won't work either since God's beliefs, if he is atemporal, cannot be past or present in the temporal sense anyway. And even if God is temporal, if the beliefs get the content or truth that they do from the actual future events then the fact that God believes such and such is not solely a fact about this current time in any case. So either way Boyd's argument doesn't work. For more criticisms of the sorts of arguments Boyd employs throughout this chapter and book (including criticism of his thought that EDF makes the future unalterable and hence we are not free with regards to it), see my earlier post here and also this one.

Boyd mentions "soft facts" - current or past facts which are dependent on future facts - as a way out of his argument. On this move, God's current belief (supposing he is in time) that E will occur is dependent on E's occurrence in the future. That seems about right to me. But Boyd doesn't like this. He thinks that because God is omniscient we can't affect the content of his past beliefs. But why not? Boyd doesn't really give any kind of argument other than to say that if God in the past wrote down his beliefs about the future then the fact the written document had the content it did or said what it did would be a hard fact. But it wouldn't - Boyd is simply wrong. If God's beliefs are dependent on future fact then so is the document. I think Boyd here is assuming an illegitimate notion of soft facts according to which the only way something can be dependent on the future is if we already have a growing block or presentist view of time and certain facts about the past do not even exist in reality at all since there is no future to determine them. But if we are eternalists and believe that all times and their contents exist and are on a par, we can have dependency relations crisscrossing over time with no problem. So Boyd is simply assuming from the get-go without any kind of real argument that the most plausible opposing views are false. But of course, if you do that, it's not to difficult to argue for your own view.

Next and experience as "evidence" for open theism...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 3B

Okay, part 2 of my notes on chapter 3 from Boyd (see here for part 1). After going through some philosophical arguments to try to show that EDF (exhaustive definite foreknowledge) is incompatible with risk, Boyd then goes on to try to argue that Scripture supports the idea that God lacks EDF and takes risk with his creation. His main argument is that a lot of Scripture looks like it describes God as (a) being temporal, (b) lacking EDF, and (c) taking risks - and that if things were different God would have made them clearer. That is, the way Scripture is written is just what we would expect if all three of those things (a, b, and c) were true. However, it seems - taking at least just a and b for the moment - that if these things were not true, the way Scripture is written is also just what we would expect. That is, we would expect Scripture to be written the way it is regardless of whether a or b are true. Why is that? Well, assume an atemporal God with EDF. How would God's actions in history and revelations of himself look to a normal person? Exactly the way things get described in Scripture. And how would God express what he was like in human terms that would be understandable for almost everyone, terms that would allow people to get the main point of what God's character is like, even those who are unable to understand what it is to be atemporal or what that entails (a lack that Boyd apparently also shares, given a lot of his misconceptions about an atemporal God that show up in this book)? Exactly the way things get described in Scripture. So either way, things would get described this way and hence I see no reason to think that the Scriptures Boyd mentions automatically favors one view over another - it is open to more than one plausible interpretation. But we should get into the nitty gritty of Boyd's interpretations - let's go.

One thing Boyd says to get out of the problem of God needing EDF to give prophecies is that some prophecies are conditional - for instance, God may say "I'm going to destroy X" but this was really a mere threat to get them to do something, not a promise or forecast of what was definitely to come. So some prophecies reveal not God's foreknowledge but rather his conditional intentions about something. But Boyd thinks these sorts of things also support his view. But of course, they do not - or at least no or little more than the opposing view. After all, if God had an unconditional intention, say, to destroy Nineveh (see the book of Jonah), then not destroying it would have been a case of God changing his mind and would have been good evidence of a lack of EDF. But if Boyd is right and lots of these cases were really cases of conditional intentions - of something like a threat - then its perfectly compatible with this that God knew exactly what would come of his threat. After all, a parent may say threateningly, "I'm going to spank you!", and the child may as a result stop what they are doing and avoid the spanking - and all this is perfectly compatible with the parent knowing that the child would avoid the spanking by avoiding the bad behavior (in fact, that was probably precisely why the threat was given in the first place). So Boyd's own strategy to save and support his view seems to also save and support his opposition as well.

To give another example of this phenomenon, consider what Boyd says about II Kings 20:5-6/Isaiah 38:5-6, where as a result of his repentance God is said to heal Hezekiah of his terminal illness (God said he would die) and "add fifteen years to his life". To this, Boyd asks, "If the Lord didn't really change his mind, isn't Scripture misleading when it says the Lord added fifteen years to his life? Conversely, if God was truthful in declaring his intentions to end Hezekiah's life, and if God's later statement was also truthful, then must we not accept that God truly changed his mind?" Well, no and no. No to the first question because the Lord added 15 years to his life in the sense that he made sure Hezekiah would live 15 years longer than he would have had God not healed him of his disease. But that's perfectly compatible with God always from eternity intending to heal him and thus add those years. No to the second question because, as Boyd's already said, God's original statement was not an unconditional one. So this passage doesn't seem to necessarily teach what Boyd thinks it does. Most of the texts from Jeremiah that Boyd looks at are much in the same boat as this one from Kings.

In some passages, though, it does say that God "changed his mind" or "repented of what he had done". Does that mean that God did really change his mind? Or does it merely mean that the condition for the conditional intention was not fulfilled and hence God did otherwise? If the latter, which seems very plausible, then this is perfectly compatible with God having EDF. In the parent-child case above, a parent may have a conditional intention to spank their child, know that they won't because the condition won't be fulfilled, and then this all may come to pass and it will perfectly true in a very real sense that the parent "changed their mind" about the spanking in so far as they didn't carry out their threat and would have done so had the child acted otherwise than the parent knew they would. And we can say all of this and accept these texts at fairly close to their face value without hiding out in the "that's just an anthropomorphism" reply that some EDFers give to such texts. It just so happens that, as I said earlier, the Scriptures in these cases admit of more than one plausible interpretation (something which is actually fairly common with Hebrew styles of writing in general).

Even if we did go the "anthropomorphism" route, which isn't even necessary, many of Boyd's criticisms of that option still fall short. He speaks as if the anthropomorphic texts would be less accurate than others - but this, of course, is complete baloney. The fact that a text makes use of some kind of symbolism or anthropomorphism or whatever does not make it less accurate than a text that speaks literally - this is to automatically privilege literal philosophical styles of discourse over symbolic ones, a move which is surely illegitimate to say the least. What next, is Boyd going to claim that the Psalms or Prophets or other symbolic literature in the Bible are less accurate than, say, the Gospels? Clearly, this objection proves too much. In any case, Scripture isn't even intended to teach us about the exact, literal metaphysical nature of everything about God - Scripture is more interested in God's character and great acts in history rather than how he relates to time. So Boyd's claim that the anthropomorphic reply would make it the case that, contra Scripture, Moses didn't really know God that well misses the point - one can know someone really well without knowing specifics of their metaphysical nature and vice versa. I, for instance, know my wife better than probably any other human being outside the two of us, but I'm sure a lot of biologists or physicians or psychiatrists or whatever probably know more about her nature as a human than I do. But that's not what's most important in knowing someone. And that's something I think Boyd's missed here. (I won't even mention Boyd's discussion of Calvin here on this subject since his argument is one of the worst howlers I've seen and completely uncharitable to Calvin)

Most of the other passages Boyd considers are in pretty much the same boat as the ones discussed above. And many of them come from prophetic passages telling stories or otherwise symbolically talking about God's dealings with Israel. To just think that one can automatically take them as literally true and, not just that, literally true and this in an open theist sense like Boyd tends to do is a fine example of an implementation of the faulty Hermeneutic of the Literal (yes, it afflicts others - not just dispensationalists and their ilk). Other passages quite simply do not directly support an open theist interpretation (though they are certainly in harmony with it) over any other. In other places, Boyd seems to assume that knowledge of the future is incompatible with the future being open to influence (see, for instance, his discussion of God's use of 'may' or 'perhaps' in speaking of future events) - but, of course, an argument for this is still needed and hence cannot be used to force an open theist interpretation on the relevant passages. After all, for all Boyd's said, it may be the case that an actual future p is perfectly compatible with the possibility of an alternate future not-p. If that's the case, though, then Boyd's argument suffers. And I think it is the case.

So much for Boyd's arguments from Scripture. For more problems with open theism and scripture, see this post on Parableman. Next time in this series, I'll begin my discussion of chapter 4...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Notes on Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil Chapter 3A

I've been reading open theist Gregory Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil off and on for a while now. His Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, which he describes in this book, is interesting and there's a lot to be said for it. I won't say much about it in this post but it is many ways fairly plausible. And then there's the open theist stuff which is interwoven with the actual theodicy (though, as he admits, it is not essential to it). The arguments for open theism here are really not very convincing and make all sorts of errors including logical errors, failure to deal with all the alternatives, confusions about the opposition's beliefs, confusions about modality and temporality, and so on. Rather than attack his open theism, let me here just respond to a few things he says in favor of open theism in chapters three and four of the book.

Chapter three of the book is meant to argue for the following thesis:

(TWT2): Freedom implies risk.

However, all he actually does in this chapter is argue that risk and exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) are incompatible and that Scripture seems to support the ideas of both risk and lack of EDF. None of that, of course, proves that TWT2 is true. That's just a (very simple) matter of logic. I'm really not sure how Boyd could seriously do what he actually does in the chapter and claim that he's argued for TWT2. One could accept everything from this chapter and yet reject TWT2.

Let's take some quotes and see some other mistakes:

"It seems that a decision cannot be risky if its outcome is known an eternity before it is made." Well, it may seem that way, but this is false. After all, a decision can be risky for me even if someone else knows what the outcome will be so long as I do not know. But maybe Boyd meant that for a given individual, if that individual knows the outcome of that individual's decision an eternity before it was made then the decision cannot be risky for that individual. That sounds much better. But it still won't give us what Boyd wants - this can still be false given everything he's said so far in the book. The decision can still be risky, after all, if the knowledge is dependent on the outcome of the choice and not vice versa. That is, if the knowledge does not enter into the account of why someone decided as they did or what the outcome is like but rather the outcome or decision instead enters into the account of why they have the knowledge of the outcome or decision then decision can still be risky. And this does not change if we make the knowledge begin temporally prior to the decision or its outcome - what matters is teleological or explanatory priority, not temporal priority here. Even better, if (as I believe) God is outside of time then his knowledge of free decisions or their outcomes cannot correctly be said to be temporally before the decisions or their outcomes in the first place. So either way, it seems that what Boyd says here and in the rest of this part of the chapter to argue that EDF and risk cannot coexist simply does not work.

For instance, speaking of those who will end up in hell, "If their damnation was certain to God, the impossibility of their salvation was also certain, and there was no risk involved in God's decision to create them." Again, for reasons stated above, not true. God can know that someone will be damned without it being impossible that they will be saved and therefore without it being certain that it is impossible. That p is the case does not entail that not-p is impossible. What is impossible is that both p and not-p, but that hardly says anything about risk. God's creation of a person and then their subsequent creation of their own choices may be explanatorily prior to God's knowledge of those choices, which would answer Boyd's "question of why God would create individuals he knows will end up in hell". The simple answer would be that the knowledge depends on the actual way things turn out, not the other way around - someone who believes in EDF need not also be a Molinist, after all (that is, someone thinks that there are definite facts about which free actions a person does or will do or will in fact do metaphysically prior to the occurrence of such actions or even in the absence of such actions). This in fact would perfectly mirror Boyd's own response to the same question, just without the additional questionable move of denying the existence of a definite future.

Boyd does consider a view somewhat like this that he calls "the simple foreknowledge view", according to which "God knows that certain individuals will be damned but cannot on this basis refrain from creating them". However, according to Boyd, this view "holds that God simply knows what will take place but cannot alter it in the light of this knowledge". This sentence contains a number of confusions. For one thing, the sense in which God cannot alter what he knows is a very trivial one - if someone knows that p then p is the case and if p is the case then not-p is not the case. And one cannot make contradictions true, so one cannot make both p and not-p the case. There's nothing more to this supposed inability of God to alter what he knows. But this hardly raises any sort of problem, let alone any kind of problem over whether God can control what goes on in light of his foreknowledge. After all, foreknowledge is not a monolithic thing - it's not as if all God's knowledge or action will be posterior to what goes on. After all, it may be the case that p at time t and God may, as a result, know that p at time t and therefore decide to do A at some other time (temporally before or after) which in turn makes other stuff happen so that God's knowledge of this other stuff may (depending on the nature of the events) both depend on how things turn out and God's own intentions in action. And so on.

So Boyd unfairly saddles the simple foreknowledge view outlined above (which is actually closer to or perhaps even a version of Boyd's "classical Arminian" picture, contra Boyd) with the additional, inessential commitment to God's foreknowledge being explanatorily useless. So Boyd clearly overlooks other elaborations of this sort of view, ones that do not suffer from any of these problems. In fact, much of his criticisms also saddle the view with belief in a temporal God, something which simple foreknowledge folks may safely and consistently deny. Even if we put my other criticisms aside, were a simple foreknowledge theorist to be an atemporalist about God, most of Boyd's arguments in this section would fall to pieces (for instance, his argument comparing God on this view to the mythological Cassandra).

More on chapter three's arguments from Scripture still to come...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Quick Note on Self-Formation and Evil

Another quick thought related to the subject of my previous post:

This self-formation view (in combination with Incompatibilist views of freedom) seems to not only solve the Problem of Heavenly Freedom but it also seems to add some extra teeth to the Free Will Response against the Problem of Evil. How so? Well, one reason that might count in favor of allowing people to choose and do evil things is that without allowing that, God is not allowing people to choose for themselves who to be - he is hindering their freedom and autonomy as self-makers and self-choosers. By only allowing a choice for good, God (it may be argued) would be engaging in a kind of coercive violence at the very deepest level in a person - a kind of violation of the worst sort possible.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Freedom, Heaven, and Purgatory

One motivation for my taking on the self-formation view (see more about it here and here) is that it seemed to me to solve what I hear is now called the Problem of Heavenly Freedom (I had only heard of it once in my semester after high school at community college and I hadn't heard any more about it or even knew anyone was working on this until just recently). In a nutshell the problem is that the redeemed will not be able to sin when we are in our resurrected state when heaven and earth have been fully joined and the kingdom of God has been consummated. That is a very important part of the Christian tradition. But it is also an important part that in heaven we will be free - free agents with a free will (no matter what you might say different about our current, fallen state). What makes this even more difficult is when, along with the majority of the tradition, we adopt an Incompatibilist notion of free will (that is, a notion of free will according to which free will is incompatible with our will being determined). Incompatibilism seems to require that for an action or choice to be free we must have been genuinely able to do or decide otherwise. In fact, that's part of the basis of the Free Will Defense against the Problem of Evil - free will requires the ability for me to do good but also do otherwise than the good. But if we are in our eternal state then we can't decide or do otherwise than to decide and do the good. So we've got a problem here - either we can't really be free in our final state or we can do evil in our final state and there's no apparent guarantee that we won't.

One option is just to reject incompatibilism and another is to allow sin in the consummated kingdom, but we should see what we can do without going to such potentially extreme lengths (the latter option being, however, much more extreme than the former, of course). This is where self-formation comes in. If true freedom - true free will - involves being able not simply to form one's actions or decisions but to, more primarily, form one's character than we can see that so long as one has the character one has freely then the fact that one's character excludes some evils from the range of potential actions one can take is no bar to one's choice or will still being free in that action. After all, the limits to one's will are ones that are freely chosen by the agent. So if it is at least in part a result of my freely chosen character that I cannot sin in my final resurrected state then the fact that I cannot sin is then no bar to my freedom. Once upon a time I could sin and therefore choose freely to make for myself a good or bad character, but now that my self-making is over, I have a freely chosen character that excludes sin. Problem solved.

One interesting thing that I've notice, however, and I now know others have noticed as well (Tim Pawl and Kevin Timpe have an interesting paper on Prosblogion where they argue for the same basic sort of view as is presented in this post), is that this sort of view seems to lend support to the idea of some kind of Purgatory. After all, all or at least most of us do not achieve a perfected, fully fixed character in our pre-death lifetimes. So the fixing has to come after death - either in some sort of intermediate state or after resurrection and prior to the final state. Now, if our free abstaining from sin in the final state is to be really free, that fixed character has to be a result of our free actions. But that seems to require that the process of formation and choosing continue after death. It seemingly cannot come instantly at death or resurrection since character is supposed to be a free thing, a result of a process of free formation run by our choices for good or bad. Such a process cannot be too short since character is complex and so is the formation of it and it must be fleshed out with long patterns of activity. So how then do we achieve such a thing? One answer is that we need something like a Purgatory - a kind of opportunity to finish our self-making process freely and prepare ourselves for the consummated kingdom wherein there can be no sin or imperfection.

What about the common Protestant objection to Purgatory that since Christ has paid for our sins, we have no need to be punished for them and since Christ merited eternal life for us, we have no need to do anything to make ourselves fit for the kingdom? This objection seriously misses the mark and misses the whole idea behind this version of Purgatory. On this version, Purgatory is not there to purge the guilt from you or make you merit or otherwise legally fit for the kingdom. This is the common Western Christian mistake of automatically taking everything in terms of merit. This is not about merit or legal status at all, this is about the actual state of our character and whether we are still in fact sinful creatures or not. Sure, maybe Scripture doesn't talk about Purgatory, but so what if it doesn't? There are lots of truths or theological insights that are not explicitly taught in the Bible. So long as there's good evidence for it and it doesn't contradict Scripture, I see no reason to hold against the theory the fact that it isn't explicitly taught in God's Word. So at least this version of Purgatory is perfectly consistent with Protestant ideas in general. If I'm right about this, we have a good case for a kind of Protestant doctrine of Purgatory! Now, I'm still not sure about all of this, but it is interesting and seemingly very plausible.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture Part 3: Modern Israel and Biblical Prophecy

A lot of dispensationalists (particularly, the Hal Lindsey types) tend to interpret everything that is or will soon happen in current world news as being the literal fulfillment of scriptural prophecies. Even if most do not go to the extremes of Lindsey, a large proportion still think that the modern day creation of a Jewish state in the land formerly occupied by biblical Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy and that this modern state is the focus of a lot of the Bible's prophecy. Unfortunately, there is very little real evidence for this contention, as nice as it sounds. For one thing, it confuses the modern secular state with the biblical nation - these are definitely not the same thing.

For another, it ignores the fact that the Bible's promises or blessings for the Jewish people are not for each Jew unconditionally - they are meant for the "children of promise" (to quote from Paul) since "a man is not a Jew if he is one outwardly but only if he is one inwardly, and true circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh" (to badly paraphrase Paul) and "not all who are descended from Abraham are his children" (Paul, again). That is, it is the Jewish people as a people who have faith in God that are in the center of God's promises - God intends for Jews to have faith in him and then, as a result, receive the inheritance or blessings they were meant to have. To act as if modern Israel was the focus of all this is anachronistic and simply wrong. This is not to say that unbelieving Jews are no better than nonbelievers or that they have no place in the divine economy. Far from it - but that's a subject for a later post.

But what about the prophecies about a return of Jews to the land of Israel? Wasn't that fulfilled by the modern state? Well, no. Again, if you read the actual prophecies it is a purified people who are faithful to God who return - unbelieving Jews such as make up the bulk of the modern state are simply not included in this prophecy. Not only this, but the prediction of a literal physical return to the physical land of Canaan was already fulfilled over 2400 years ago! The Jews (well, at least a lot of them - some were left behind) got carted off to Babylon but the purified remnant (finally no longer so tempted by idols and false gods and now finally zealous for God's law) were allowed by Cyrus the Great and subsequent Persian Kings to return to their land and to rebuild the temple (another prophecy people point to as still to be fulfilled which has in fact already occurred here in the 5th century B.C.).

To be fair, of course, the Bible does speak as if the exile was still going on, as if the return both happened and yet was still to occur. But of course this has to do with the first set of imagery I listed in my last post in this series. The exile was seen as still ongoing, even though they were back in the land, because they were still seemingly under a curse, under sin, slaves, and in need of final restoration from God's judgment on them. And they still needed to return, despite having physically returned, in the sense that the new creation and restoration to a perfect relationship with God was still required in the future. They knew that though they were back in the land, they still had not arrived into full salvation and peace with God. So the physical return and restoration of the physical temple have indeed already happened, but the prophecies are not fully fulfilled yet since the fullness of "creation, restoration, exodus, return from exile, and final vindication or justification" is yet to come (though it was foreshadowed with the physical return and came in its inception - though not yet in its fullness - in the person of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection). Dispensationalists simply fail to notice the levels symbolism and complexity in the relevant prophecies. Indeed, a lot of this prophecy (as hinted at in the last parenthetical remark) was actually fulfilled or will be fulfilled by Christ, who is the true Israel who takes on Israel's destiny upon himself.

This is not to say that there is no prophecy about believing (or unbelieving for that matter) Jews that is yet to be fulfilled - I still believe, for instance, that the land of Canaan was promised to them and that God does not go back on his promises. But I also believe that just as the People of God was expanded to include Gentiles (they were grafted onto Israel according to Romans), so too the promise of the land has been expanded (and I think was already hinted at in the Old Testament) for all believers, Jew or Gentile, to cover the whole earth.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2

Further posts in this series: "The People of God, Israel and the Church" and "The Tribulation and Rapture"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Quiz Results

You scored as Amillenialist, Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension. People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your view.



Moltmannian Eschatology








Left Behind




What's your eschatology?
created with

Note: this is interesting given that there are versions of premillenialism that I would be more than comfortable with. Note also that on the first time I took the test, 'Left Behind' and 'Dispensationalist' both got a score of 15% and Moltmann tied amillenialism for 90%. Some of the questions are vague or ambiguous, so it's not surprising that the answers would slightly change between each time taking the test.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Self-formation, Aristotle, Augustine, and Kierkegaard

In a previous post, I've listed some thoughts on true freedom as self-formation. It's interesting to note some of the connections or insights that flow between this sort of view and the views of philosophers such as Aristotle, Augustine and Kierkegaard. In particular, my view owes a lot to Aristotle. On Aristotle's view, one becomes virtuous or acquires virtue by habituation. That is, one becomes courageous by doing courageous sorts of things and abstaining from non-courageous sorts of things and one becomes generous by doing generous sorts of things and staying away from miserly sorts of things, etc. Of course, at first one will not be doing such virtuous actions virtuously. For that, one must have a steady character - that is, a virtuous one - from which the virtuous action is flowing, one must have knowledge of the action, and must choose the virtuous action for its own sake.

Being virtuous means not merely doing the appropriate actions but having the appropriate feelings in the correct proportions and with regard to the correct things, having appropriate motives, and taking pleasure and pain from the appropriate things in the appropriate amount. If one is not vicious, one's feelings will not always be appropriate, nor will one's actions or the apportionment of pleasure or pain. Pleasure (and pain) are not our sole goals we strive for (or against), for we can shape our character to take pleasure or pain in all sorts of things. Pleasure is the natural response to getting what we most want or from doing what is most natural to us and pain the opposite. The bad person will take great pleasure in bad things and will be pained by good things (or at least find them boring or unexciting compared to bad things) precisely because they are bad and their character is off. This is part of the reason why, the more firmly a vice is entrenched, the harder it is to get rid of it - one's character, actions, feelings, etc. get formed around and by performing these vicious deeds. And the more one's character, etc. gets formed as a vicious one, the more one will be vicious and the more vicious one is the more one will form a vicious character, and so on. Both virtue and vice in this sense are self-perpetuating cycles. The further along you are on a certain path, the harder it is to jump from one cycle to another. This is why it is so important to seek virtue early and to never, even once go down the path to vice - each vicious action forms one's character and actions for the future and begins or renews or firms up a cycle of viciousness that will destroy a person morally.

This has interesting connections with Augustine, according to whom there are certain things of which it always must be true that "I believe in order to understand" - that is, belief or initial knowledge must come before true understanding or the knowledge of why this is true can come. Certain things can only be understood from the inside. Morality is one subject like this - the person who doesn't already believe in right and wrong won't understand morality or see how or why certain moral judgments are true. They won't see what the big deal is or why one should be moral. The truths of Christianity are another subject like this - one must assent to believe before one can really understand them or see how they are true. The person who has not internalized such things simply will not have a mind appropriately formed to handle such things in the appropriate manner.

And this takes us to Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard held that there are three stages of life. In the initial one, one is not an ethical person and one does not grasp ethical truths or seek to be ethical. To get to the ethical stage of life requires a leap of faith. In that next stage, one seeks the ethical and can now have some understanding. Another leap of faith is required to get to the last stage of human fulfillment - the pinnacle of human life - the religious life, how our lives were meant to be. Here we now seek the religious and have some understanding of it - our life is now organized under a single guiding light, it is focused, free, and unified and not divided or enslaved by all the various goals or external goods which vie for attention. In this stage you "become who you are" - that is, your most important identities line up in a single true identity (see this previous post for more on the different kinds of identity). To tie all of these threads together, to become who you really are requires making yourself a virtuous, religious person, slowly progressing in understanding and knowledge but driven along initially in the faith that things will work out. (Further exercise: compare all these ideas with Bonhoeffer's advice that if one is short on faith, one ought to obey more, and if one is short on obedience, one ought to have more faith)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bad Responses

Here is one category of things that I see a lot in papers (or even in print) that annoys me. I also often here people say these things as well. Usually, people use these sayings as an excuse or escape hatch to avoid having to actually think about or critically evaluate the issues at hand or as a rationalization for avoiding having one's beliefs challenged. In these sorts of cases, it's really a kind of intellectual laziness that gives rise to these. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that these are never the right things to say. There may very well be times where one of these actually is the appropriate response. But it takes a discerning, critical mind to tell when it is appropriate and it more often than not actually isn't. Indeed, to come to one of these as a conclusion about some matter ought in most cases to be a hard-fought, carefully won conclusion - not something that one should simply assume at the outset or use as an escape hatch from the conversation. I've written these up for my students in hopes that some of it will sink in and grouped them according to a few different types.

Lazy objections or responses to get out of having to actually think about the subject:

Gotta have faith - 'You just have to have faith', 'Everything they say is just based on faith', etc.

Who knows? - 'There's no way to prove either side', 'We'll never be able to figure this out', 'No one can understand this issue', 'No one has any evidence/proof either way', 'Not everyone agrees with this', etc.

Just obey - 'Don't question God', 'Who can understand why God does things?', etc.

I'm confused - 'What they say confuses me', 'What they say is vague/ambiguous/unclear', 'The other person's argument is easier to understand', etc.

Who died and made you king? - 'Who's to say/judge that p is the case?', 'What right have we to say that p?', etc.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Some Teacher's Proverbs: Thoughts Thought While Grading a Bunch of Papers

Never underestimate your students' ability to misunderstand, misinterpret and confuse.

If you want some awful papers, ask your students to write about the nature of morality.

If you want some awful, confused papers, ask your students to write about God or religion.

If you want some awful, confused, torture-to-read papers, ask your students to write about the nature of morality and God or religion.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture Part 2: Prophetic Literature

This series, introduced in my last post, is about (big surprise!) dispensationalism and the interpretation of Scripture. The sorts of traditional views common among dispensationalists of various stripes include the following:

  • A belief in multiple "dispensations" or administrations of God's salvation or providence throughout history
  • A strict separation between Israel and the Church, God's plans for them, God's ways of dealing with them, and the Scriptures talking about them (and perhaps a strict separation between the covenant appropriate to each)
  • A very literal interpretation of biblical prophecy and a focus on a modern day return of the Jews to the land of Israel (thought by many to have been fulfilled with the founding of the modern state of Israel) and in some cases an eventual reestablishment of the temple and sacrificial system when Christ returns
  • A belief that the church is a kind of parenthesis in God's plans (more common among older versions) - the Jews being the real focus
  • Premillenialism (Christ will return bodily to earth and then visibly reign for a literal one thousand years before the Final Judgment)
  • Pretribulation rapture (the Church will be removed from the world with Christ's secret, invisible first Second Coming and taken to heaven - after which will follow seven years of very bad stuff called "the tribulation" during which an Antichrist will gain control of things)

Not every dispensationalist agrees with every one of these points in every detail (though I believe that all of them believe in the last two at least). Not everything I say in this series therefore will apply to every dispensationalist, though at least something will! To avoid having to talk about every kind, I'll stick to a version that subscribes to the theses above as I've written them - a kind of generic dispensationalism.

The topic of this post is about prophetic literature in general and how the dispensationalist Hermeneutic of the Literal goes wrong in interpreting such writings. The key idea here is that a presumption in favor of literal interpretation, when applied to such writings, is just plain wrong. Prophetic literature is a highly symbolic form of literature and it is often just as likely that a symbolic meaning was meant rather than a literal meaning. In some cases - apocalyptic, for example - the presumption is rather the other way around and one must presume that what is said is meant symbolically unless there is good reason to think otherwise. All of this is not a matter of preference but simply a matter of the kind of literature this is - literary genre and the conventions and uses for such a form of literature. To treat it otherwise is to ignore the genre and the conventional use to which language is put within such a genre. But once we recognize the genre and its conventions and the symbolic use of language within it, dispensationalism's house of cards quickly begins to crumble.

Here are just a small few of the key symbolic or otherwise interesting uses of language throughout the prophetic writings (and indeed used elsewhere in the Bible as well) which the dispensationalist hermeneutic generally simply does not take into account:

  • Fall, curse, slavery, exile, and final judgment are all spoken of in terms of each other and using symbolism derived from others. Similarly, creation, restoration, exodus, return from exile, and final vindication or justification are all spoken of in terms of each other and using symbolism derived from others.
  • Numbers are generally symbolic rather than literal (especially numbers like three, seven, ten, or twelve - or multiples thereof such as 144,000 or 1,000)
  • Imagery of grand cosmic events (like the eclipse or "the sky being rolled up like a scroll") are generally used to talk about earthly events - especially sociopolitical ones - that are of great theological or spiritual significance.
  • Prophecies are not always concerned with single events that are to happen all at once but often present us with a single vision which is really of multiple events that are to happen at different times - that is, prophecies are not necessarily always fulfilled completely all at once but one bit or aspect may be fulfilled at one time and another at another time. Indeed, prophecies or prophetic books are not necessarily even in any kind of chronological order at all (except perhaps for the chronological order in which the prophet saw his visions) and may even be speaking of the same event or sequence of events more than once within a text using different images or visions to get at the target in multiple ways.
  • Israel is spoken of as a vine, vineyard or olive tree. It is also spoken of as a woman, wife, or mother and as priests, chosen or elect, saints, a holy nation, God's son, God's anointed, etc.
  • The Messiah is spoken of using imagery or titles that apply to Israel (since, of course, the Messiah is the true Israel - Israel's representative and fulfiller of its destiny).

Previous posts in this series: Part 1

Further posts in this series: "Modern Israel and Biblical Prophecy", "The People of God, Israel and the Church" and "The Tribulation and Rapture"