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...

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