A dialogue on Calvinism
April 7, 2010 — 15:20

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will Hell Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism  Comments: 55

Ari: Consider this horrific theology: God forces Sally to sin, in a way that takes away her responsibility, and then he intentionally causes eternal torment to her.
Cal: I thought you were smarter than that. That isn’t Calvinist theology! Calvinism holds that God intentionally causes people to sin in a way that retains their responsibility, and then punishes some of them.
Ari: I didn’t say it was a Calvinist theology. You agree that this is a horrific theology, I take it?
Cal: Yes, of course.
Ari: Why?
Cal: Because God is punishing an innocent.
Ari: I said nothing about punishment. I said God intentionally caused eternal torment. I didn’t say that the torment was a punishment.
Cal: How does that make it not be horrific?


The first sin and compatibilism
April 1, 2010 — 8:01

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism Virtue  Comments: 33

Begin with this plausible principle:

  1. If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).

This principle is one that both compatibilists and incompatibilists can accept. Hume certainly accepts it, because he thinks we are culpable insofar as our actions reveal our vicious character. We can imagine cases where an internal state that is in no way vicious necessitates a wrongful action. For instance, one might justifiably believe that some action A is right, and one’s virtuous character might necessitate one to do what one believes to be right, but objectively A is wrong. However, in that case, one is not culpable for A. If there is nothing vicious in x’s character, and the character necessitates an action, it is hard to see how the action could be a culpable action.

But now add these premises:

  1. The first sin was culpable.
  2. The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)

It follows from (1)-(3) that:

  1. The first sinner’s first sin was not necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances.


Parallelism and Mind-Body Law-like Relations
January 27, 2010 — 0:03

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Providence  Comments: 12

I’m going a bit out on a limb and talking about stuff I haven’t read too much about. But if blogs are for learning and fun discussion, I guess I don’t need to be an expert! Also, this post is directed more toward people who are theists, substance dualists, and deniers of open theism.


Adams and “The Virtue of Faith”
November 28, 2009 — 20:32

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Open Theism Theological Fatalism  Comments: 9

I recently finished Robert Adams’ old article “The Virtue of Faith” (chapter 1 of the book The Virtue of Faith), and I found a really interesting point. Uncertainty and faith are necessary for a certain sort of special good in a relationship. I think it’s worth quoting Adams on this:


Problems for the standard view of an everlasting God
November 9, 2009 — 9:48

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Open Theism  Tags: , ,   Comments: 32

The standard view of an everlasting God is that God has existed in time for an infinite amount of time and will continue to exist for an infinite amount of time, and a finite amount of time ago, creation sprang into being. Thus, God existed a year ago, a billion years ago, a trillion years ago, and so on. (I think, though I shall not argue for this here, that if one denies God’s atemporality, one should adopt the standard view on pain of believing something theologically much worse, such as that God has a finite age or that creation is infinitely old. So if the standard view of everlastingness is false, then God is not atemporal.)

I shall talk of the universe springing into being a finite amount of time ago rather than its’ being created a finite amount of time ago, to disambiguate between the time of the cause (God’s act of creating) and the time of the effect (the universe’s springing into being).

Problem 1 (Augustine’s problem): Why did God wait this infinite amount of time before the universe sprang into being, rather than, say, making the universe spring into being a hundred years earlier? Augustine records the old chestnut that God was busy preparing a hell for those who ask such questions. His own answer that time began with the universe’s springing into being is not available to the defender of the standard view. One might take a relational view of time on which the question does not make sense–the world where God create a hundred years earlier is the same world. Only a B-theorist can say that, and not every B-theorist can.

Problem 2 (Deliberation and omniscience): Suppose God at t0 is deliberating what should spring into being and when it should do so. But God being omniscient already knows what will spring into being and when it will do so. How can one deliberate over what one already knows?


Models of creation
September 28, 2009 — 9:53

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Providence Existence of God General Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: Off

God created the world to exemplify certain values. Someone who propounds
a design argument for the existence of God probably needs to have something
to say about these values.

Scientists often propound particular models that instantiate a more
general theory. These models are sometimes intended to be more realistic
and sometimes less, but the hope is that by studying them and by noting the
divergence, if any, between model and reality we will learn something
about the relevant phenomenon. Some realistic models will be empirically testable and others will not, and scientists of course have a preference for testable models. Thus, an evolutionary scientist might offer a
more or less realistic model of the evolution of wings. The model may well predict what kinds of fossils we will find. If the model’s predictions are not borne out, this does not in any significant way affect the probability of
evolution in general, but studying the model is helpful, and if the model’s
predictions–assuming it makes some–match observations, so much the better
for the underlying theory.


God as author and creaturely freedom
April 5, 2009 — 8:53

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Providence Free Will  Comments: 9

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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:

  1. Colonel Mustard was murdered because the author believed that books about murdered colonial colonels sell well.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.


Prophecy in Harry Potter
August 7, 2008 — 9:39

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Open Theism Theological Fatalism  Comments: 12

[cross-posted at Parableman]
I’m working on a chapter for the forthcoming Blackwell Philosophy and Harry Potter on the topic of destiny, and one of the things I’m trying to do in the chapter is distinguish between different metaphysical analyses of prophecy. I’ve come up with three, and I’m inclined to think that it might be exhaustive enough for the purposes of a popular-level work like this, but I’m curious if anyone here can think of any others.
Here’s what I’ve got (and how I’m presenting it in the draft I’m writing):
1. They involve mere likelihoods. No one has access to the actual future, but someone might have magical access to information that’s derived from what’s likely. Given what’s true about the various people involved, it’s very likely that a certain outcome will happen. That means prophecies, even the ones Dumbledore is inclined to call genuine, are not infallible. They can turn out get it wrong.
2. They do not derive their content from the actual future. Rather, they make the future happen. When a genuine prophecy occurs, it influences those who hear it in such a way that they end up doing things that will fulfill the prophecy. This kind of prophecy is self-fulfilling in a very literal sense.
3. The seer has some intuitive connection with the way things will really happen, such that the words of the prophecy are true about a future that really will be that way. If it’s a genuine prophecy, it can’t be wrong, because its origin lies in the very future events that it tells about. In the same way that a report about the past can bring knowledge about the past only if there’s some reliable connection with the actual events in the past, a genuine prophecy in this sense must derive its truth from a reliable method of getting facts about the future.
My understanding of J.K. Rowling’s view of prophecy, judging by this interview and my sense that the Albus Dumbledore character represents her views when he discusses this issue with Harry Potter, is that she wants to treat Professor Trelawney’s two genuine prophecies as the first kind, a kind of prophecy an open theist could accept.
There are hints in at least two of Dumbledore’s conversations with Harry that he thinks something like the second kind is going on, but it’s clearly not a reduction of prophecy to what happens in #2, because the characters in question (mostly Lord Voldemort) still make free choices and aren’t simply caused by the prophecy to do anything the way some ancients thought Laius was caused by Apollo’s prophecy to do what he did that led to Oedipus eventually killing him.
My argument at this point is that there isn’t really a way for Dumbledore to distinguish between Trelawney’s two genuine prophecies and all her vague predictions that can often be interpreted as coming true unless the genuine ones are of the third kind (because the pseudo-prophecies are of the first kind, and the genuine ones can’t be completely explained by the second kind). Rowling doesn’t seem to want to accept that, and Dumbledore is clearly with her, so there’s a consistency issue here both for the character and the author. But my argument depends on the options I’ve listed being exhaustive. Is that true?

Theism and Creatures Accidentally Created
June 24, 2008 — 14:39

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Divine Providence  Comments: 9

I’m thinking about whether it is possible that Swampman exists, where Swampman is a creature that is created by lightning which hits a swamp and the atoms just happen to arrange in to the exact arrangement of the atoms which constitute Donald Davidson (or some human). I’m also thinking about whether it is possible that Theodore exist, where Theodore is the accidental byproduct of a clumsy angel’s trying to create something else (like a statue).
Plantinga gives the following (he calls ‘inconclusive’) argument:

But if there is such a person as God, it is unlikely that it is possible that a being capable of belief and moral agency should just pop into existence, unintended and undesigned by God. According to the Christian tradition, only God can create beings capable of belief and moral agency; I am inclined to think this is right. But even if it isn’t, even if it is possible that God should delegate the task of creating such beings to some of his creatures, it still wouldn’t be possible that such a creature pop into existence unintended by God. (1995, PPR 55:2, p. 460)

I have a few questions. First, where in the Christian tradition does it say this?
Secondly, is it possible that a creature that is capable of belief and agency come into existence, and it is not intended by God?
Thirdly, is it possible that a creature that is capable of belief and agency come into existence, and it is not designed by God?
I take it that to design something takes a little more than intending its existence. The owners of Honda could intend for there to be the creation of more cars, but the engineers of Honda might have to design those cars. I also take it that some facts are unintended by God. I am a certain distance from an atom on your left cheek – it’s not obvious (and probably not the case) that God intended this fact to be the case. This is probably an unintended byproduct of other things God intended. Both of these points can be disputed.

Evidence of Divine Guidance
June 3, 2008 — 12:04

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Divine Providence Molinism  Comments: 34

In Molinist worlds nothing is left to chance, not even undetermined events. God does not choose any object or person or circumstance randomly in anyone’s life-history. Tom Flint describes the traditional view of providence captured in the Molinist account.

Isn’t it natural to think that He has arranged it so that, not just some things, but everything fits together in such a way that his love is made manifest? Isn’t it natural to think that nothing is left to chance, that nothing haphazard or unexpected from the divine perspective occurs . . .? (p. 13, DPMA).

If God is directing each and every undetermined event toward his chosen goals, then we should not observe a chance pattern in the occurence of those events. We should rather observe evidence of God’s direction. We should find the frequency of undetermined events diverging from their chances. The problem for Molinism is that there is no evidence that God is using counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to direct undetermined events in the world. We simply do not observe any divergence between frequency and chance.