Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Another explanatory question for A-theorists

Suppose that it is now the first moment of time. This is surely possible. While there might not in fact be a first moment of time, surely there could be. So, it's the first moment of time, and according to the A-theory this is an objective fact about the world. Question:

  1. Why is there no past?
The question is pressing. After all, at most times, indeed at all but at most one time, there is a past.

Maybe one could say: "Because God is presently beginning to create." But we can then ask:

  1. Why is God only presently beginning to create?
It is natural to answer: "What do you expect? How could he create any earlier, given that there is no past?" But the natural answer "Because there is no past" to (2) won't work since we've claimed that there is no past because God is presently beginning to create.

Or perhaps we can try to answer (1) with: "Because God wasn't creating any earlier." But this doesn't seem informative. If there is no past, then by golly God wasn't creating any earlier. But when we ask why there is no past, we're basically asking why nothing at all was happening earlier.

While theistic answers seem the only hope—perhaps an unreal hope—for answering (1), A-theoretic theists have a pressing need to answer (1). For if theism is true, then all contingent truths had better have at least a partial explanation in terms of God's will. (Maybe in the case of free creaturely action, the divine will explanation is only partial—God created the being in such and such a state—and a fuller explanation needs the creature's choice.) But how could one explain (1) in terms of the divine will?

Still, maybe there is a theistic answer possible. Maybe at the first time, t0, God wills that there be a future but no past. He could, instead, have willed there to be a past then. That would have involved backwards causation, but there is no absurdity in backwards causation for God.

While this solution seems not unattractive to me, I think most A-theorists are suspicious of backwards causation.

But without backwards causation, I cannot see how (1) could be explained by the divine will—or in any other way.


Joseph Davis said...

I think this issue depends on what you say time "is". If time entails or requires events then a simple explanation is that sans God's creation there are no events and that creation constitutes the first event, this is why there is no past. I think it is a bit question begging to ask a question to A-theorists assuming that time is "thing" that exists in any ontologically positive way as opposed to just being a descriptor of the occurrence of events.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But how do we explain why there were no earlier events?

Joseph Davis said...

I think "why" can be misappropriated to extend indefinitely and produce uninformative questions even if answered.

If we have reason to think that there is a finite number of events, then there is a first event. So the answer to "why" is because there is a finite amount of events. At least as a "Surface answer". Why, on theism, God chose the first event that he did seems to be a side question.