Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Jump Theodicy

Another name-change for my theodicy, to something less irritatingly alliterative and more evocative of its content (by comparison with Fall theodicies), which is now here (Alanyzer's thoughts on it are here). Last January my theodicy was a sketchy talk entitled ‘The Theodolite Theodicy’ at Glasgow (where I was supposed to be continuing with the metaphysics of continuity for my PhD), at which it matured slightly under the questions of Fiona and Akiko.
......In the Spring I happened upon Tim Mawson’s recent paper in Int. J. Philos. Relig. (which was essentially the second chapter of his 2005 introduction to the philosophy of religion), and the theodicy—renamed the Odyssey theodicy—became the final part of my refutation of his arguments for the timelessness of God. I’d finished writing a response to Mawson’s paper (which was essentially this version) by the time of my talk in Aberdeen in July; and its rejection arrived in November, along with three reasons for its rejection, which were so weak as to be interesting.
......The first objection was to my use of the term ‘theodicy’ (as opposed to ‘defence’) on the grounds that, while the reviewer conceded that my speculations might be possible, she (or he) didn’t find them at all plausible. But when atheists find no (so-called) theodicy plausible, are all theodicies thereby misnamed? Hardly, and so (similarly) that she found my theodicy implausible hardly stops it being a theodicy. It should’ve been obvious that I’m not trying to demonstrate the logical compatibility of God’s existence and evil’s occurrence (which is surely trivial) but to maximise the explanatory power of Open theism, by trying to give a good account of why a perfect being would make an imperfect world.
......So her first objection amounted—at best (it may just have been incompetent, in view of the quality of the other two)—to no more than the claim that I’d failed to give a good account of that. As for why I had so failed, there were only the following two objections. Since philosophy ought to be more like amateur science than a professional game, I’d rather add that had she been able to ask me, I could’ve easily cleared up her confusions. Such is blind reviewing.
......Her second objection was that, while one of the aims of Open theism is to bring the philosophical picture of God closer to the Biblical picture, my theodicy would forfeit that aim. However, she said nothing about why it would. And having read the Bible inclusivistically (e.g. with metaphysical humility) and found no incompatibility with my theodicy, I don’t know which verses she was thinking of (or how). If the readers of this post have any ideas of what they might be, I’d be very interested in any possibilities. My theodicy could hardly take us further from the Biblical picture(s) than the doctrine of God’s timelessness has traditionally taken us.
......But what’s most apposite, from the point of view of reviewing a submission, is that even were this objection sound the first half of my submission would still have shown that a perfect person might be everlasting (contra Mawson) and indeed, would be (according to Mawson’s own methodology), while the final half would still have further increased the likelihood of Open theism.
......The final objection was basically a Straw Man fallacy, and was (in full) as follows.
There are several arguments in the literature that it is not possible that there be two omnipotent beings. The relevance of these arguments to the author’s project is obvious. But the soundness of these arguments is no where contested in the paper. If these arguments are sound, then God, as omnipotent, can be quite confident that there are no other unknown deities about.
God presumably is omnipotent but, as I’d argued, it hardly follows that he could be fully justified in being completely sure that he is. And clearly, if God is only fairly confident (and fully justified in being so) then there is, for him, the epistemic possibility that grounds my theodicy. None of those arguments of mine were criticised by her, as though she was unaware of them (despite their obvious relevance). But a trivial consequence of them is that the arguments she mentioned are none of them relevant (not even the one published alongside Mawson).


jeff said...

I'd be fascinated to hear the argument around the idea that God could not be fully aware of his omniscience... Because on the surface, it would seem that if oniscience is knowing everything that is theoretically knowable, the only way he could lack the knowledge as to the status of His own omniscience is if this were somehow inherently unknowable.

As for biblical arguments: it seems to me that a good summary of the biblical arguments for and against open theism can be glimpsed by surveying the debate between calvinists and armenians. Certainly open theism isn't identical to armenian theology, but the calvinists certainly would oppose open theology for many of the same reasons that they oppose Armenian theology.

The challenge of the debate on the biblical basis of the nature of God's temporal status is that there are lots of good quotes that can be taken out of context and used by either side... and there are more than a few quotes which can be taken within context and used by either side.
Moreover, somebody arguing against God's existence outside of time would owe an explanation for the apparent fufillment of a wide variety of prophecies. These fufillments atleast grant the appearance that God is somehow outside of time and knows the end before the beginning has begun.

(I'm not, by the way, suggesting that these arguments are valid... though I would be interested in hearing your response.)

Enigman said...

Hi Jeff, the argument that God couldn't be fully aware of his omniscience is in the third section ('Omniscience') of The Jump Theodicies. I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.

Regarding your first thoughts on the bare notion, that's right. I argue that it's inherently (or in principle) unknowable. The basic idea is that knowledge of one's uniqueness is knowledge of a negative existential fact about an essentially empirical matter, and that such knowledge could never be fully justified: As empirical its grounds are external, and as negative they're nonexistent. God's knowledge is perfect, so it requires perfect justification. So God would know perfectly well that he could not fully justify complete certainty about his uniqueness.

There are Biblical arguments against Open theism, but they're not very good, not the one's I've seen. But the reviewer's idea seemed to be that there were especially obvious and good Biblical arguments against my theodicy over and above whatever Biblical arguments there might be against Open theism. It's that that I've no idea about.

Regarding prophecy, God could be stating what he will arrange or what there are strong tendencies towards. The latter would not be certain, but Jonah indicates prima facie that not all prophecies were certain. The former would be certain. God, being omnipotent, could easily arrange for his prophets to be infallible. There shouldn't be any appearance of timelessness. That there is such springs, I think, from a fallacy (e.g. the mistaking of God's powers for those of a mighty king).

If a king says that a village will be destroyed, his men tell him that his wish is their command and they go and destroy the village. If a prophet says that a city will be destroyed and a volcano erupts and destroys it, there need be no greater appearance of timelessness than in the former case. And even where, for example, Jesus says that Peter will betray him thrice before the cock crows, maybe Jesus saw a highly probable future, given the way things were moving objectively, and Peter's character and all; or maybe that and his Father being able to intervene if required (maybe not having to but the prophecy being certain because he could've done), and so forth.

There's a prima facie appearance of timelessness with that particular prophecy, but there's always a prima facie appearance of changeability with such acts as Jesus choosing to talk to people who could have heard him but chose not to (not to mention Lot and so on). The overall appearance is one of changeability, not timelessness. And if deception is invoked to explain the appearance of changeability, then why could we not invoke deception to explain the rather smaller appearance of timelessness with a few of the prophecies? There could be mistakes in the recounting of those prophecies, or God could (in his omnipotence) have arranged for the prophecy to be fulfilled (e.g. by secretly asking Peter to betray Jesus, but there are lots of possibilities, obviously).

The thing about existence outside time is that it makes a lot of what happens pointless; but existence within time (so to speak) by a God is quite compatible with large chunks of the world having futures that are fully known, at least in parts, to God. God can set up the world as a deterministic machine, for example, and then add free willed aspects to that as he chooses, a few or a lot. So any prophecy, however tricky, can be explained as easily with a temporal God as with a timeless God.

But if God is timeless then what's the point of prophecy? Those who think of God as timeless have yet to answer that question. Really, the bulk of the questions remain with the traditionalists, even after all this time. They owe us all sorts of explanations and they usually just ask us to have faith, or mention ineffability or some such. What they now owe us, after all that, is an account of how their doing that is compatible with their being able to understand any answer we give them. I don't see how we owe anyone an explanation of anything, not after all this time.

I like answering your questions, Jeff, as you are clearly sincere and furthermore you know more about most of this than I do. But those historical debates, really I can see little but old politics there, and that only darkly.

Jeff said...

Thanks, Enigman. If this were some sort-of break dancing battle I believe that I'd have been served on the topic of prophecy. Your points are well-taken. Particularly on the point of Jonah. (Strangely, when most people approach the apparently unfufilled prophecy of Revelations they don't seem to take this into account: the idea that there is biblical precendent for propehcies which won't come to pass.)

It seems that I'll need to read the section of the Jump theodicies that you reference (are they online/linked somewhere? I assume so...) in order to give the get the full wieght of the argument.
Based on your summary my initial questions would be:

#1) For most entities, knowledge of uniqueness would be negative in that it really means that there are none other like you.
However, if a characteristic is limited to only one entity in the universe, then it is tautalogical. If part of the definition of "The President of the USA" is that there can only be 1 president of the time, if I knew that George W. was president, I wouldn't have to wonder if anybody else was. Similarly, if it turns out that there can only be 1 God, and if I am clearly God, I wouldn't need to wonder if anybody else is also God (or even God-like.)

Secondly, I think God's knowledge of many things would be much better justified than ours. But I'm not sure about the idea that God's knowledge would be perfectally justified, for 2 reasons.
#1) The way in which God's knowledge is justified is likely to look quite different than justification for our knowledge. If somebody said to me "Why do you believe that?" The evidence would look quite different than the evidence God provides, I think. I wonder if, in fact, if God's knowledge would be paralell to the way we simply know things in dreams-- whatever justification he had for a proposition being inexplicable to our little brains.

Secondly, it seems like this prevents God from making probablistic claims. If God's knowledge were to be required to be perfectally justified, he couldn't say "So-and-so is likely to do such-and-such." Anytime he spoke, it'd be only with throrough certainty. The whole prophecies in Jonah thing then becomes problematic, as the prophecy turned out to not come to pass.

But again, perhaps I'll need to read the full argument.

Enigman said...

are they online/linked somewhere?
There's a link at the end of the first line of this post, now here (also on 'My Web Page' (links via the top left-hand corner of my blog))!!! I thought that was obvious, sorry (it never fails to amaze me how wrong some of my presumptions are:) The pursuit of the truth can indeed seem just like a competative game (the difference is quite obscure, yet all-important, you know)...

Regarding your question (1), if there can be only one divinity as a matter of metaphysical necessity (as I believe is plausible) then IF God knows that he's divine IN THAT SENSE (and as seems plausible, that he knows all about the divine essence etc.) then he knows that he's uniquely so, but I think that's a pretty big 'if.' God would know that he created the universe (that he's our one and only real god), and would know that he's divine in other senses, but why in that sense? This seems to be a case of subtly begging the question, to me.

I might be wrong, as I consider in that section you should read. But consider your example in more detail. If you knew that George was President then you'd know that no one else was. But if you were George and it seemed to you (as it must still to George) that you were President, and then you found out that some one else was (e.g. you'd been in a coma for a couple of weeks, and Obama's just become President) then you'd know that you weren't. And if any similar scenario was just even only remotely possible, then even though you're President you're not fully justified in being completely certain that you are (at least, not on a Rationalistic approach to justification, which would seem to be the apposite sort).

On some of those scenarios you might still be the most powerful man in the world, and even the leader of the free world, just not President. So you might be President, and you might (although this is incomprehensible to me) be fully justified in being completely certain that you were the most powerful man in the world and the leader of the free world. And indeed, you might know that you're President in the sort of way that we now know that the Earth orbits the Sun (even though it's possible that future physics will discover that really its not quite like that). But you could only have a zero epistemic possibility of someone else being President by being (be it ever so slightly) irrational.

It occurs to me now that I only got clear about this theodicy after doing an undergraduate course in Epistemology, which was all about philosophical responses to Cartesian scepticism. I may need to say something about scepticism in my third section. Anyway, regarding justification, I say in a footnote in my third section: His beliefs on ethical and physical matters, which cause the moral and scientific facts we pursue, are true for no other reason than that he so wishes; but nonetheless they’re fully supported, since their holder is their sole ground. This is indeed incomprehensible to us, and analogous to our dreams, but the concept of justification would still apply. I think that the concept of justification must apply if we are to think of God as having knowledge. But God could still have probabilistic knowledge. E.g. he could have complete knowledge of current tendencies towards various futures. We probably don't have good enough concepts of probability ourselves to comprehend what he might know probabilistically, but that's a different question.