Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not from Presentism to Theism

The following is the abstract of Alan Rhoda’s forthcoming “Presentism, Truthmakers, and God
The truthmaker objection to presentism (the view that only what exists now exists simpliciter) is that it lacks sufficient metaphysical resources to ground truths about the past. In this paper I identify five constraints that an adequate presentist response must satisfy. In light of these constraints, I examine and reject responses by Bigelow, Keller, Crisp, and Bourne. Consideration of how these responses fail, however, points toward a proposal that works, one that posits God’s memories as truthmakers for truths about the past. I conclude that presentists have, in the truthmaker objection, considerable incentive to endorse theism.
As a rational continuant, my starting position is (naturally) Presentism. But I wonder, why can’t the reason why, for example, it’s true that I drank that coffee (the one now warming me) be that “I am drinking this coffee” was then (when I drank it) corresponding (in the right way) with reality? In the changing present (that is all that is) those words (involving reference to the present me) have so corresponded, so it seems to me that that they have could be a property that grounds the truth of such related words as “I did drink that coffee” via natural linguistic rules—that that property could continue to be associated with such words much as I continue to be associated with those ‘I’s.
......Such an account could cohere pretty well with common sense when it says—in its informal way—that my drinking that coffee when I did is what grounds the truth of “I did drink that coffee,” since we don’t normally mention obvious linguistic rules when giving ordinary explanations. Of course, that may well not be the correct account; but there are probably quite a few more possibilities yet to be refuted decisively. And if, for example (and firstly), Bigelow’s suggestion—that the world as a whole has past-tensed properties that can ground truths about the past—could be defended under atheism (or similarly, if one of the others could), then Alan’s argument could become (as below) an argument for atheism from Presentism, were (secondly) God’s memories unsatisfying truthmakers.
......Regarding the latter, might God give some creature the freedom to be unobserved for a bit? That does not seem to be impossible. But if so, if God did that then some of such a creature’s acts won’t enter into God’s memories; whence God’s memories could hardly be the truthmakers for truths about the past. And if not, if God’s power can’t go that far then we have, in that, a new reason to doubt that God could give his creatures the sort of totally free wills that require the unreality of the future. Theists would therefore lose one of their main reasons for being Presentists in the first place; and there are those who argue from theism to Eternalism, who might agree with Alan’s conclusion and add that if Presentism implies theism (which implies Eternalism) then so much the worse for Presentism. So even if the truthmakers we want are God's memories, maybe we don’t get to theism unless Eternalism leads there (which remains to be shown).
......Regarding the former, were atheism true nomological necessities would be safe from being over-ridden by God; and it might well be that any world like this (made of this stuff, and having this form) must have begun in a Big Bang (assuming that this one did so begin), which would take care of sceptical scenarios such as Russell’s (the world popped into existence 5 minutes ago). And it is surely possible that a truth about the future might be grounded in a present range of propensities (surely Presentists think so), so why should a truth about the past not be grounded in a present state that must—given present natural laws (constantly specified by the stuff of the world)—have developed from a state so described?
......In short, I think that Alan’s conclusion is inadequately supported by his arguments. Maybe the existing accounts of truthmakers are all inadequate, but why should that mean anything other than that we have, as yet, been insufficiently clever? Alan does not say. And those theorists criticised by Alan could have had ideas that did not work perfectly (if Alan is right; if they don’t) then maybe Alan’s idea won’t pan out either. Why should we think that they will? Alan does not say.
......After all, do you (by analogy) have a reason to endorse atheism because of the problem of evil? Or is it rather than if you are already an atheist then you will see that problem as one of the reasons why your position is a reasonable (an intellectually comfortable) one? Conversely (and more appositely if one is an agnostic Presentist), do the problems facing non-dualistic accounts of mind and matter give us any reason to endorse theism (substantial dualism being more reasonable given an underlying monotheism) rather than, for example, that we have not yet thought of everything, or (more pessimistically) that human concepts just cannot stretch to such explanations, or to endorse panpsychism (and so forth)?
......So there are reasons to be sceptical of any such argument to theism. Much as Alan asks three questions of Bigelow’s account (to motivate rejecting it), so one could question how much one should conclude on the basis of there being such (currently) unanswered questions.

1 comment:

Enigman said...

Upon reflection, Alan's paper strikes me as very good. It's not that I now think there's a good argument from Presentism to Theism that goes via Truthmaker theory. But there's lots of (misplaced) interest in Truthmaker theory, and many philosophers seem to use it as an argument against Presentism. What Alan's paper shows is that such arguments are equally good arguments for Theism. One has to be a committed atheist and uncertain about Presentism to take the Truthmaker argument in the standard way. Philosophers are usually pretty good at identifying implicit unjustified presumptions. So Alan's paper shows that there's an implicit atheism, of a rather strong sort, in much modern analytic philosophy.