Friday, December 31, 2010

An Intro to the Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 2

Given how often we deliberate over tough choices and decisions, it seems intuitive that the future is not settled.  The proposal that God is omniscient (knows all past, present, and future facts) leaves one to puzzle not only whether omniscience is possible, but whether human free will and omniscience are compossible.  At first glance, divine foreknowledge of future events seems to imply that those events could not have been otherwise.

Rea and Murray don't reject open theism right off the bat:
"Surely, then, it was true yesterday that you would today be reading a book. Suppose someone had said yesterday, 'You will read a book tomorrow.' Given that you are reading a book, what they would have said certainly wouldn't have been false.  And it is hard to take seriously the idea that their statement might have been neither true nor false.  So it would have been true."
Past, present, and future
Many scientific theories (eg., special and general relativity) provide confirmation that past and future events exist at some "spatio-temporal distance from here and now." Elvis enjoys the same reality as your left foot.  This view, called eternalism, is one of the four-dimensional hypotheses about time.  If the future is already out there, then it's hard to deny that an omniscient being has exhaustive knowledge of it.  There is also presentism, the view that only the present exists.  On this view, the future is not settled, and our experience of passing time is a real phenomenon.

Eternal or Everlasting
An eternal being is timeless, while an everlasting being is exists for all time. (This doesn't define God's relationship to spacetime: for instance, a timeless being could be located at every spacetime point, or else be outside of spacetime but experience a succession of mental states.)  The doctrine of eternity consists of four principles:
  1. An eternal being possesses life (as opposed to other abstract objects like numbers and set that are merely atemporal)
  2. The life of an eternal being is without beginning and end
  3. The life of an eternal being is of infinite duration
  4. An eternal being does not experience succession of events, but "possesses it's entire life all at once."
Even if temporal passage is an illusion, humans definitely experience life sequentially.  "For an eternal being, however, every aspect of its life is always immediately present."

But what if some some great-making properties require change, such as being personal or being an agent?  Perhaps we should entertain the possibility that God is everlasting.  Not everyone agrees that a timeless being can't be personal.  A minimum requirement for agency is that an agent's intentions accompany it's action; but must those intentions explain the behavior, or merely be part of the explanation?  Explanatory relations are not always temporal.  For instance, imagine a bowling ball sitting on top of a pillow. The bowling ball "explains" why the pillow assumes a curved shape.  Now imagine that the bowling ball and pillow exist timelessly (this is a William Lane Craig example, not from the book).  Can an all-knowing being existing temporally?  One problem is this being would constantly have to update it's beliefs about what the present time is (assuming that temporal passage is real).  But it isn't at all clear that an omniscient being couldn't undergo change (which the doctrine of eternity denies).  The reality of temporal passage is a difficult problem on it's own, much less with an eternal or everlasting being thrown into the mix.

One threat to our common sense intuitions about omniscience--as the idea that God knows everything--is the another common sense intuition that the future isn't perhaps God doesn't know the future?  This modification appears helpful if we want to maintain a sense of freedom in our own actions; how could God know the future actions of a creature, yet still that creature's actions remain free?  

counterfactual power: the power to do somethign that one didn't in fact do, such that had one exerecised that power, the past would have been different

Four Views on Divine Providence
  1. Open Theism holds that some future facts (particularly those involving free agents) are without truth value, and unknown to God.
  2. Responsivism: God has foreknowledge and makes providential decisions based on it.  But if God's foreknowledge explanatorily proceeds his providential decisions, it seems we are stuck with two options: a) He has incomplete foreknowledge or b) his provident decisions explain and are explained by his foreknowledge (think about it: if he has complete foreknowledge, that already includes his future acts).
  3. Molinism: the idea is that God has middle knowledge of counterfactual truths.  Necessary truths are independent of His will (natural knowledge).  Contingent truths, for the most part, are dependent on His will (free knowledge).  However, the third category of middle knowledge contains truths that are contingent but nevertheless independent of God'will.  For instance, "If David were to propose to Tracy, she would freely accept."  This happens to be true in the actual world, but there is also a possible world where this counterfactual is not true.  It is not entirely up to God which counterfactuals obtain.  God basically knows what his free creatures would do in a variety of situations, and uses this middle knowledge when making decisions about creative/providential acts.  God has a great deal of control (given his middle knowledge of how we would act), but there may be situations where nothing God can do can bring about certain free responses from us...for instance, freely choosing to trust in God for salvation.  "Nevertheless, God could at least guarantee that everyone who would, under some possible set of circumstances, freely choose a relationship with him finds themselves in just such circumstances." This view affords some interesting responses to the problem of evil (why God allows suffering) as well as the question of hell.  But there are also problems.  It's difficult to explain how counterfactuals of freedom are made true.  What grounds the truth of "If David were to propose to Tracy, she would accept?"
  4. Calvinism: all truths are dependent on God, but human freedom is compatible with determinism.  Calvinists take quite literally verses like Prov 16:33.  It is impossible for creatures to thwart the will of God.  This makes the problem of evil a greater obstacle, since God ordained all events...even evil ones.  But nevertheless, humans are morally accountable even though their actions are fully determined.


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