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)