Monday, April 9, 2007

Report on the APA

Sorry about the lack of blogging lately - I've been in the Bay Area at the annual Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association. It was kinda cool seeing all these famous people and not knowing they were famous people until someone called them by name. Anyway, I caught the first two sessions of the second and last day of the Mini-Conference on Models of God and it was semi-interesting. I sat in for the first session on open theism, which was interesting. Alan Rhoda made the good point, which I had not considered before, that an open theist might take the point of view that the future is settled in the sense that every meaningful statement about the future is either determinately true or determinately false. This sort of open theist, by stating that God does not know all future contingents, denies that God knows everything - there are truths about the future that God just doesn't know. I think that's not a very plausible position to take, if not incoherent, but it's a point well-taken that this sort of position would also count as an open theist position.

Another panelist made the claim that a lot of the debaters in the controversy over open theism are simply evaluating things based on differing values or ordering of values. For instance, non-open theists think that a God who takes risks is somehow less than God - it is not befitting of God or his greatness. Open theists respond that, on the contrary, a God who doesn't is somehow less than God - it is not befitting of God or his greatness to constrain people. This clearly seems to be a disagreement about values at the fundamental level - if you start with grandeur then you're not likely to be an open theist whereas if you start with love and self-sacrifice you are more likely to be one. While much of this debate may be like this, however, I think a lot of it is not. Whether open theism can do justice to biblical prophecy, biblical teaching on God's knowledge and control, whether it can provide a coherent or plausible view of time and God, and so on are not subjects in which values mainly come to the fore - these are primarily exegetical and metaphysical issues.

Another one of the panelists reported and agreed with the writings of some open theist scholar to the effect that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, far from being influenced by or a product of Greek philosophical thought as is sometimes claimed, was actually a reaction to such influence. According to this viewpoint, Arius and other heterodox thinkers, influenced by Greek ideas of the kinds of gulfs between human and divine and oneness and simplicity, etc., objected to the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity was an attempt to resist what was thought to be an effort to squeeze the Divine Persons into the procrustean bed built for it by Greek thought and sensibilities. He also claimed, however, that Trinitarianism was the answer to the anti-open theism of the day and that reflection on the Trinity demands open theism. This move, however, was vastly unclear and I really have no idea how one is supposed to get from Trinity to God not knowing future contingents - this was quite a leap.

I also saw the panel on panentheism but this was pretty unclear and boring (at least to me). The first speaker was not a native speaker and unfortunately I wasn't able to clearly make out a lot of what he said because the accent was so thick. So I wasn't quite sure what his paper was about and he wasn't quite sure what was going on when audience members asked questions, which was too bad. Panentheism (for those who don't know) is, by the way, the view that God includes the world in himself. God is more than the world, but the world is not a separate being from God even though God and the world are different entities. The basic metaphor of many panentheists is that the world is "God's body" in some weird sense. I'm not sure about the whole "God's body" thing - which is pretty weird - but something like panentheism used to be highly attractive to me. I think an adequate theory of God ought to take on the kernel of truth in panentheism but jettison the whole "God's body" business and treating the physical world as if it was a literal proper part of God.

In the remainder of the conference, I went to a lot of talks. A lot were hard for me to follow and I didn't get much out of them - this was most of the time due to lack of sleep, my generally poor attention span even under normal conditions, being too far in the back or unable to see the speaker well, etc. A few of the ones of note from Thursday and Friday: David Papineau argued that identity theorists must not really fully believe mind-brain identity since even to them the association seems contingent. If they really fully believed it, this wouldn't even appear contingent to them. David Chalmers noted that in a substantive dispute, the terminological dispute associated with the dispute is due to the dispute itself whereas in a merely terminological dispute the order of dependency is reversed. Chalmers gave a heuristic for uncovering merely terminological disputes: disallow the offending the word and make each party rephrase their position without it. If the respective rephrasings do not conflict, this is a merely terminological dispute. If they do, then it isn't. Some words, however, cannot be so eliminated. Chalmers dubs these "bedrock" and debates involving these words are probably going to be substantive rather than merely terminological since there are no more basic words in which to frame the disagreement and display the lack of substantive disagreement.

On Saturday morning, I commented on Stephan Torre's paper "In Defense of a Formulation of the Date Theory" (I think I got that title about right). It went pretty well. I'll have to keep in touch with Stephan since we have some similar projects in trying to defend a tenseless view of time. The last time session of Saturday was on a paper attempting to show that our temporal biases in our concern for others is conflicted and irrational. Our very own Cody Gilmore commented on the paper and argued against the thesis. During the discussion period, I offered some objections of my own. At a session on perception later that day, all I remember is that the idea of a Spinozistic system was introduced. In a Spinozistic system (perhaps perception is one of these as is testimony), this system directly gives us a belief which we only afterwards evaluate and decide whether to reject it or keep it. This nicely explains how brainwashing and cult indoctrination works - keep telling people stuff often enough and don't give them the opportunity or ability to evaluate or decide for themselves whether to keep such beliefs and they will keep them by default.

At the Society for the Philosophy of Time group meeting Saturday night, Cody presented the idea of a new theory of persistence - distension theory. According to this theory, objects wholly occupy temporally thick regions of spacetime where the thickness is determined by size, complexity, and kind. This is a pretty interesting view, and congenial to me in various ways. It's definitely better than endurantism, I think, but I'll have to think more about how it compares with perdurantism.

This coming Saturday - another conference in the Bay Area...


stanford gibson said...

I like the word Spinozistic - seems like you could build a good band name out of it - a good determinist band name.

Good discussion on openess. I am surprised that the philosophical community takes such an interest in what I hought was an innermural debate.

Ian said...

Or it could be the name of a hip hop disc jockey. "Yo, word up! Dis is DJ SpinOZistic in da hizouse!"

As far as interest in open theism goes, the philosophical community at large isn't much interested in it - only people who do philosophy of religion or have some interest in it. Debates over whether God is temporal or atemporal and whether divine foreknowledge is compatible with human free will and whether free will is needed to get out of the problem of evil, how prophecy could work, how providence could work, and so on - these are big debates in philosophy of religion and so open theism, since it takes a definite stance on these, is mixed up in the middle of all of this.