The analogy of God as the author and us as his characters has a venerable history. Here I want to object to one use of the analogy as a way of resolving the tension between providence and creaturely causation, deterministic and especially indeterministic. The puzzles the analogy is addressing are like this:
- How can it be that horses evolved fully under the influence of random stochastic processes, and yet we can also explain the existence of horses in terms of the way they glorify God?
- How is it that Francine freely chose to accept baptism in the name of the most holy Trinity, and yet the choice was entirely caused by God’s grace?
The suggestion made is that in these cases there are two entirely non-competing explanations. The case is parallel to the way that an event in a story can be explained both in terms of the author’s activity, plans and motivations, and in terms of in-story causal processes. Thus, there is no conflict between:
- Colonel Mustard was murdered because the author believed that books about murdered colonial colonels sell well.
- Colonel Mustard was murdered because he knew that Captain Catsup was not as great a tiger hunter in India as he claimed to be.
It would be a mistake to give (3) as the explanation when solving the mystery, except in a post-modern sort of novel–think of the absurdity of the great detective in the novel getting everybody in a room together, and then saying (3).
This use of the author analogy is mistaken for a simple reason. The “because” in (4) is in the scope of a fictionalizing operator. What (4) really says is:
- According to the story (Colonel Mustard was murdered because he knew that Captain Catsup was not as great a tiger hunter in India as he claimed to be).
And “According to the story” is a truth-canceling operator. The “because” in (5) is within the scope of that truth-canceling operator, and hence does not provide an explanation.
Objection 1: This is unfairly pressing the analogy. The case of God is like that of the author, except that the story is true.
Response: I am inclined to agree with the second sentence. But the author analogy was given to solve a puzzle about apparently competing explanations in (1) and (2). No solution is given by an analogy to a case where there is only one genuine explanation and one truth-canceled explanation, since what made the non-competitiveness claim about (3) and (4) plausible was, I submit, precisely the fact that (4) is in the scope of a truth-canceling operator.
Objection 2: There is, of course, an “According to the story” operator in (4). But it does not appear as in (5). Instead, (4) should be read as:
- (According to the story (Colonel Mustard was murdered)) because (according to the story (he knew that Captain Catsup was not as great a tiger hunter in India as he claimed to be)).
On this reading of (4), the “because” is no longer in the scope of the truth-canceling operator.
Response: This reading is mistaken. Facts of the form of “According to the story p” are explained in terms of the author’s authorial activity–they are not facts in the story (generally speaking), in the way p is, but facts about the story. Moreover, consider other cases of this kind of reading. If (6) is to be a paraphrase of (4), the “because” in (6) would have to be the same sort of “because” as in (4). Now, the “because” in (4) is causal–Colonel Mustard’s knowledge caused him to be murdered. But the “because” in (6) need not be causal, because from (3) we learn that the author had a colonel murdered because that would sell books, and that could well be a complete causal explanation, with no overdetermination.
Moreover, whether backwards causation is possible or not, it’s not easy. But if the “because” in (6) were a standard causal “because”, backwards causation would be too easy. For the fact that according to the story Colonel Mustard was murdered could have been made true before the fact that according to the story Colonel Mustard knew about Captain Catsup’s poor show in India. Suppose that the author had serialized the novel, and in the first installment printed the fact that Colonel Mustard was murdered, and only later decided that Colonel Mustard knew about Captain Catsup’s Indian exploits or lack thereof. Then at the time at which it was already true that according to the story Colonel Mustard was murdered, it was not yet true that according to the story Captain Catsup was found out by the colonel.