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...

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