Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Open Theism, the Future, and Free Will - Comments on Some Recent Articles Pt. 1

In the Fall 2006 issue and Winter 2007 issues of Faith and Philosophy (which I've just recently received), there are a number of interesting articles, two of them from an open theist perspective. While some of their arguments I could agree with, their arguments in favor of one or another open theist position left something to be desired. I'll tackle these in chronological order in two different posts.

First we have a paper, "Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future", by Alan Rhoda, Greg Boyd (the Evangelical Godfather of open theism), and Thomas Belt. One of things they do is to argue that the future's causal openness (that is, the state of affairs where the future is not causally determined to be a certain way) is incompatible with the denial of semantic openness for associated future-tensed sentences (a sentence is semantically open if it is neither determinately true nor determinately false). They argue for this incompatibilism by arguing that 'will' in normal cases has 'causative force' - when we utter such future-tensed sentences we are indicating that there is some (high, perhaps) causal probability that what we are saying is going to occur. And supposedly that shows that if the future is causally open then such sentences cannot be semantically closed. But if 'will' does have causative force, that to me still doesn't seem to decide the issue in favor of their incompatibilism unless they simply already assume that if 'It will be the case that p' has causative force that must be because it means something like what their semantics says it does and includes that causitive factor already in the way the semantics works. But why think that unless one were already antecedently convinced of something like open theism? Why think the causative force must show up in the semantics? After all, there's a very important distinction between saying and indicating - when I say that p, I am also indicating that I believe that p, but 'p' in my mouth doesn't have anything about me in its semantics. So 'It will be the case that p' may very well indicate something causal without that showing up in the semantics at all. In fact, their whole argument seems to trade on a confusion between evidence or conditions of rational assertibility on the one hand and truth conditions or semantics on the other. Just because the causal probability of p is a condition for its rational assertion doesn't mean its a condition for its truth. All sorts of things show up in the conditions for all sorts of propositions' rational assertibility without them being conditions on truth. Only a verificationist would want to deny this - but this seems to be what the authors need to affirm to get to their conclusion of incompatibilism. So the argument is just awful.

But let's say 'will' does function in the way the authors suggest. This tells us nothing about tenseless sentences that don't use 'will'. So you can still have sentences about the future with determinate truth values so long as you don't use 'will'. Or if that's not kosher, we could decide to use 'will' stripped of its causal significance and so still have sentences about the future with determinate truth values even in the face of causal openness. So who cares, ultimately, about whether 'will' has causative force or not? Maybe it does, but so normally does 'if' and we can perfectly well use that stripped of causal significance as well. So in sum, their argument for incompatibilism doesn't really even begin to get off the ground (unless of course they are already assuming that the future doesn't exist, but that would be a very different argument which they give later - one that I'm quite happy with since I deny the assumption).

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is pure Bull S--T! Stupid is as stupid does.! The only thing you got right is the fact that the futrue does not exist for open theist. But you would'nt understand this because you my friend have not done your homework to learn anything about this model of theism! Maybe you should try to do some reading on the subject. You may just suprise yourself and learn something. However, I don't think this would be something you would do because you seem to be wise in your own conceit!

Ian said...

Perhaps if the previous commentator had actually read what I wrote in the post they are commenting on, practiced the golden rule, learned how to interpret philosophical dialogue, paid attention to what I was actually doing in the post or to the actual tone of it, tried to use rational thought rather than insults, or basically act like a loving, considerate, rational human being in any way, they may have correctly interpreted the post or said something which in some way might have actually reflected the post or me, its author. As it is, I can't seem to find any connections between what is said in the post and what is said in the comments. The post, for instance, was not even about open theism at all but rather about one recent argument for it which appears in some open theists' work (which I have read - gasp!). Anyone who reads the post will see that. Perhaps the anonymous poster posted on the wrong blog?

Anonymous said...

OK Mr. thin skin. Explain to me just where specifically this statement you made is found in any of the material you claimed to have read.< They argue for this incompatibilism by arguing that 'will' in normal cases has 'causative force' - when we utter such future-tensed sentences we are indicating that there is some (high, perhaps) causal probability that what we are saying is going to occur. And supposedly that shows that if the future is causally open then such sentences cannot be semantically closed> So how is it possible for the furture to be open and determined at the same time? Tell the audience the rules of logic you use to determine why you can make statements that do not follow absolute premises and then expect others to follow this irrationality! You should know sanity is your risk is you continue in your wanting to be right.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I have been too hasty in my judgement. Just let me get my bearings on part of what you said as follows; Quote "They argue for this incompatibilism by arguing that 'will' in normal cases has 'causative force' - when we utter such future-tensed sentences we are indicating that there is some (high, perhaps) causal probability that what we are saying is going to occur. And supposedly that shows that if the future is causally open then such sentences cannot be semantically closed." If you don't mind tell me exactly where you have read this material. Specifically, as to how the future can be both opened and determined at the same time. Do you understand the risk involved in moving from soverign decree to limited omniscience? Explain this in lay terms.

Ian said...

Mr. Anonymous (I'm assuming this is all the same person - please leave your name if you wish to continue the discussion), I would graciously request that you stay civil and respectful and resort to questions or reasoned arguments and not insults, questioning my integrity, or presumptions as to my intentions, particularly since you do not seem to know me in the slightest. If you cannot disagree or ask questions in a loving, civil, and respectful way, I would just as soon close this discussion. I deal with criticism all the time in my work, but am used to people treating each other with proper manners. Please extend such courtesies when dealing with others.
In your second comment (out of the three thus far) you say, "So how is it possible for the furture to be open and determined at the same time? Tell the audience the rules of logic you use to determine why you can make statements that do not follow absolute premises and then expect others to follow this irrationality! You should know sanity is your risk is you continue in your wanting to be right." I'm really not sure how this relates in any way to the passage from my blog you cite or anything I say there. Perhaps you are not conversant in philosophical circles and do not understand the terminology or ways of expressing things.
In your final comment you say: "Quote "They argue for this incompatibilism by arguing that 'will' in normal cases has 'causative force' - when we utter such future-tensed sentences we are indicating that there is some (high, perhaps) causal probability that what we are saying is going to occur. And supposedly that shows that if the future is causally open then such sentences cannot be semantically closed." If you don't mind tell me exactly where you have read this material."
I already said in the blogpost where this comes from (are you asking for a specific page number?). The article is in Faith and Philosophy 23 (2006): 432–459.
You then say:
"Specifically, as to how the future can be both opened and determined at the same time."
I never said this and neither did the authors of the article I am commenting on - I'm not sure where you are getting this.
"Do you understand the risk involved in moving from soverign decree to limited omniscience? Explain this in lay terms."
I'm not sure what risk (risk of what, for whom, as a result of what) you are thinking of here specifically (partly because I don't know of your own persuasions). I can think of a number of things you might mean, but I'm not sure to what you refer specifically or why you want me to explain them to you if you already know.