Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Open theism and divine perfection

  1. It is an imperfection to have been close to certain of something that turned out false.

  2. If open theism is true, God was close to certain of propositions that turned out false.

  3. So, if open theism is true, God has an imperfection.

  4. God has no imperfections.

  5. So, open theism is not true.

I think (1) is very intuitive and (4) is central to theism. It is easy to argue for (2). Consider giant sentence of the form:

  1. Alice’s first free choice on Monday is F1, Bob’s first free choice on Tuesday is F2, Carol’s first free choice on Tuesday is F3, …

where the list of names ranges over the names of all people living on Monday, and the Fi are "right", "not right" and "not made" (the last means that the agent will not make any free choices on Tuesday).

Exactly one proposition of the form (6) ends up being true by the end of Monday.

Suppose we’re back on the Sunday before that Monday. Absent the kind of knowledge of the future that the open theist denies to God, God will rationally assign probabilities to propositions of the form (6). These probabilities will all be astronomically low. Even though Alice may be very virtuous and her next choice is very likely to be right, and Bob is vicious and his next choice is very likely to be wrong, etc., given that any proposition of the form (6) has 7.6 billion conjuncts, the probability of that proposition is tiny.

Thus, on Sunday God assigns miniscule probabilities to all the propositions of the form (6), and hence God is close to certain of the negations of all such propositions. But come Tuesday, one of these negated propositions turns out to be false. Therefore, on Tuesday—i.e., today—there a proposition that turned out false that God was close to certain of. And that yields premise (2).

(I mean all my wording to be neutral between the version of open theism where future contingents have a truth value and the one where they do not.)

Moreover, even without considerations of perfections, being close to certain of something that will turn out to be false is surely inimical to any plausible notion of omniscience.


Peter said...

I have no sympathy for open theism, but I must confess that I don’t find 1 to be intuitive at all. If we took “almost certain” to be something like a feeling of confidence, then perhaps, but this is not what open thesists should mean by “close to certain” in 2. Instead, they should just say that God has certain true beliefs about the features that exist at t1 that ground objective probabilities for what will occur at t2.
Suppose that open theists are correct in thinking that it is impossible for anything to have knowledge of future undetermined events. In that case, why think it is any imperfection at all to have precise knowledge of the features of the world now and the way these ground probabilities in the future?
Can you say much about why you find 1 very intuition?
Here is a thought, though: even if it is not an imperfection, perhaps a knowledge that was limited in this way would not be good enough for an Anselmian being, and so if this is the best knowledge possible, then an Anselmian being is impossible. Alternatively, if we accept Mark Murphy’s methodological claims about how to think about Anselmian perfections (that if an Anselmian being would be greater for having some feature, then that is a reason to think that it is possible for a being to have that feature), then we would have some reason to think that open theists are wrong in their claims about the limits of possible knowledge. I am not convinced that we should accept such a principle, though.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe my intuitions are guided (misled) by the thought that having a credence very close to one does not differ much from believing. But believing falsely is bad.

Here's another thought in the vicinity, albeit only in the case where there are positive facts about future contingents. To have a credence on the other side of 1/2 from the facts is intrinsically bad to one's narrow well-being. So if God doesn't know future contingents, we can impose narrow harms on God, viz., by acting contrary to his predictions. But to be able to be narrowly harmed is an imperfection.

Peter said...

It does seem intuitively obvious that believing a falsehood is bad, and it also seems that having a credence close to 1 is believing. I am not sure what to make of this. I suppose I was including God's beliefs about the present state and the way the present state grounded probabilities about the future (and both of these involved credences of 1, since God was certain both about the state of the world now and about how this grounded probabilities in the future). But I was leaving out any belief about what would happen in the future. Perhaps this was illegitimate on my part (or maybe we should avoid such probable beliefs about the future and replace them with beliefs about merely the present probabilities).

I am not familiar with the phrase "narrow wellbeing," but I find this second argument convincing if we remove instances of 'narrow' (I cannot evaluate it with these uses). It seems that agents could even attempt and sometimes succeed in intentionally harming God by acting contrary to predictions. This might even be pretty easy. We would simply need to make choices based upon indeterministic outcomes outside of anyone's control. If we could make indeterministic machines (or just observe indeterministic events) we could assign future choices (drink Coke or drink Pepsi) to possible outcomes, and at least some of the time we will get unlikely outcomes to our indeterministic events (assuming we set up our system well) and we thus would perform unlikely actions. We thereby render God's predictions about our own action false.
(I am skeptical of our ability to know the likelihoods of our own future actions, so I am not convinced we could act contrary to God's predictions by trying to act spontaneously.)

Peter said...

I wonder whether we cannot build a structurally similar argument for divine determinism. Here is an attempt:
To have one’s consequent will frustrated is a harm. If divine determinism is false, and supposing God has consequent desires about undetermined events, then God’s consequent desires can be frustrated. But to be harmed is an imperfection.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Examples may help:

Gain of narrow well-being: enjoying reading a good book.
Gain of wide well-being: one's child winning a Latin competition (which typically leads to a gain of narrow well-being when one finds out about it; but the wide well-being is increased by benefits to those one cares about, even when one doesn't know); posthumous fame even if there is no afterlife
Loss of narrow well-being: stubbing a toe; acting shamefully
Loss of wide well-being: one's best friend dying (which normally leads to a loss of narrow well-being when one finds out about it); posthumous infamy

The terminology isn't Aquinas', but the idea is. Aquinas has this interesting problem: How can we have love of friendship for God, given that love of friendship involves benefiting the other, and an unchangeable transcendent being cannot be benefited? He in effect answers by distinguishing narrow and wide well-being. We can do nothing about God's narrow well-being. But we can improve God's wide well-being, because a person's wide well-being include the well-being of those he loves. Thus, God's wide well-being includes the well-being of everyone, as he loves everyone, and so we can benefit God with respect to his wide well-being by doing good to our neighbor.

God's consequent will is never frustrated. His antecedent will is. Is it a harm, though, to have one's antecedent will be frustrated?

Peter said...

Thanks for the explanation--that helps a lot.

It is difficult for me to see how God's consequent will would not be frustrated if divine determinism is false, unless it is somehow in our power in some robust sense (greater than mere counterfactual power) what God's consequent will looks like. Perhaps, though, this isn't a special problem, but just an instance of the worry that without divine determinism, it is hard to see how God's knowledge can be independent of all other entities (whether those entities are humans or true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom). If we can solve this problem (or learn to accept that some divine states are causally dependent on non-divine entities) then we can say that God consequently wills whatever he knows will occur. This, though, seems to endanger divine aseity, doesn't it?

Or we can say that God's consequent will is sketchy and schematic to such an extent that whatever we do, we satisfy this will.

For what it is worth, it seems to me that Aquinas gets around these worries by embracing a sort of divine determinism, but I know that is controversial.

I am not sure if your last question, (Is it a harm, though, to have one's antecedent will be frustrated?) is rhetorical or not. At first I thought it surely was not a harm to have one's antecedent will frustrated, but upon further reflection, I am unsure. At the very least, it doesn't sound obviously crazy to think it might be a sort of imperfection. But, granted, I needed to hedge quite a bit in that last claim.

Alexander R Pruss said...

As for aseity, I think one needs to hold that God's knowledge of contingent things is partly extrinsically constituted. In other words, radical externalism holds of his knowledge. The truthmaker of "God knows Peter exists" is both God and Peter. I defend this in my "Two problems of divine simplicity" in the first volume of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

Peter said...

Interesting. I will need to track this down. Since I don't see this one on your Selected Papers and Essays page, I am assuming it is not freely available online. Is that correct?

Do you think that the truth-maker for "Gods consequently wills that Peter refrains from telling a lie on 11/16/2017 at 10:55 AM EST" is both God and Peter?

Alexander R Pruss said...

You can email me and I'll send you a copy.

I am not sure what exactly to make of refraining and truthmakers, because of the problem of truthmakers for negative truths. I think this is just a technicality, though.