Sunday, June 26, 2022

Against divine temporalism

I stipulate that:

  1. According to pure divine temporalism, God is a being in time without a timeless existence all of whose decisions are made at moments of time.

I will argue that on plausible assumtions divine temporalism is incompatible with divine creative libertarian freedom.

First, we need this:

  1. If pure divine temporalism is true, time has no beginning in the sense that before every moment of time, there was an earlier moment.

This is because everyone agrees that God is eternal. If there were a moment that had no moment before it, then according to pure divine temporalism, that moment would be God’s first moment of existence, without any timeless existence prior to or beyond it, and that is just incompatible with divine eternity. At that first moment it would be correct to say that God has just appeared.

One might object by saying that the first moment has infinite duration, and so it was an infinitely long changeless state. This is difficult to understand. An infinitely long changeless state seems like a timeless state more than anything else. In any case, if the point is pressed, I will simply stipulate that I don’t allow for moments like that.

Now, add this:

  1. Every contingent feature of creation not even partly due to creaturely indeterministic activity was decided on by God with God having had the possibility of deciding otherwise. (Divine creative libertarian freedom)

Next, add some plausible claims:

  1. The fact N that there was a moment of time before which there were no stars obtains.

  2. The fact N is a contingent feature of creation not even partly due to creaturely indeterministic activity.

  3. There is no backwards causation.

  4. Time is linearly ordered: for any distinct moments of time t1 and t2, one is earlier than the other.


  1. For a reductio ad absurdum, assume pure divine temporalism.

What do we have? Well, our assumptions imply that God at some time decided on N while yet having the possibility of deciding to the contrary. But prior to any past time t1, the fact N was already in place. History by time t1 already made it be the case that there was a time before which there were no stars. So if there is no backwards causation, at no past time t1 did God have the possibility of making N not be true. It was always already too late! But divine creative libertarian freedom requires that possibility.

Objection 1: The fact N does not actually obtain. We live in a sequential multiverse and before every time there were already stars in our universe or another.

Response: In that case, let S be the following contingent feature of creation: it was always the case that there already had been at least one star. I.e., for any past time t, there was a time t′ < t at which there had already had been at least one star. And an argument similar to the above goes through with S in place of N. At any past time, it was already too late to make S true, because history at that time was sufficient to make it be the case that prior to every time there was a star.

Objection 2: Fact N is made true by an infinite conjunction of facts such as that in year n there were no stars, in year n − 1 there were no stars, in year n − 2 there were no stars, and God unproblematically makes each of these facts true while having the power not to make it true.

Response: This objection is basically a rejection of (2). It says that some facts (even among the ones that aren’t due to creaturely indeterminism) aren’t freely decided on by God, but are instead consequences of other facts freely decided on by God. This reminds one of the Principle of Double Effect: God need not intend all the consequences of what he intends. He intends Nn, there not being stars in year n, as well as Nn − 1, and Nn − 2, and so on, but doesn’t intend their joint consequence N. I think this is a powerful objection. I don’t want to rule out the possibility of such a thing. But N is a morally unproblematic and structurally central part of the arrangement of reality. It seems very plausible that even if we reject (2) in general, we should accept it in the special case of morally unproblematic and structurally central parts of the arrangement of reality. Otherwise, God isn’t really in charge of creation.


ASBB said...
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ASBB said...

Here's a model on which I think you could solve this problem. I find it very implausible, but let's see if it works.

Assumptions:(i) Facts are concrete Armstrongian-esque States of Affairs. (ii) All facts are time-bound, with exact duplicates taking their place when it appears that they endure. Thus, the fact of my being green is not multiply located at each time I am green, but each time has its own event of me being green then.(I think you need (i) to make (ii) remotely plausible)

Then, at a given moment t, It is God's free choice whether there will be a subsequent moment t+1 or whether history ends there. So God has a free choice over whether some fact will exist at t+1(namely, an instance of the fact (which exists essentially at t+1 and no other time), that WAS(No Stars)). Of course, there already exists a fact WAS(No Stars) at t (and can exist nowhen else), which God freely brought about at t-1.

Note that what we're talking about here are NOT facts like (No stars at time tn) but facts of the form WAS(No Stars). This separates where I am about to go from where your response 2 went.

So for all facts WAS(No stars), God freely brings them about. We could say that that's all there is. Just the individual time-bound facts. Or, we could say that there is some sense to be made of an enduring WAS(No Stars) fact, which is the composite of all the time-bound facts (this would work on eternalism, with facts persisting via perdurance). But if God makes all the parts, and if He wills the laws of composition, then He makes the whole. So God explains the big generic WAS(No Stars) fact.

[As I say, I don't buy it, but worth a shot. How to motivate (ii). Perhaps you could say that my being green now causes my being green in 1 second. Thus my being green now =/= to my being green in one second. Then, apply some A-Theoretic tendencies to identify my being green now, with my being green simpliciter. Once you do this, you can start to motivate (ii)]

Alexander R Pruss said...

Isn't this basically backwards causation, though?

ASBB said...

Where's the backwards causation? Consider a time t and all the facts that exist at t. They all exist because of God's causal activity at t-1. Consider a time t0. It has some facts (I am green, Jim is square, etc.) obtaining then. God decides to create a subsequent time t1, otherwise just like t0 but with an additional angel. Then, God causes t1 to exist, the new angel to exist, as well as some facts (I am green, Jim is square) to exist. These facts exist only at t1. They share properties with some other facts which exist only at t0. For example, a fact at t0 and a fact at t1 share the property "being a fact of Jim being square". A fact at t0 and a fact at t1 also share the property "being a fact of me being green". No backwards causation to be found.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well "So for all facts WAS(No stars), God freely brings them about." But to presently bring about a WAS fact is to engage in backwards causation, even if the WAS fact exists presently.

Compare the presentists who want to solve the problem of diachronic causation by saying that the present WAS(cause) fact causes the present effect fact. There is a very intuitive sense in which these presentists believe in forwards causation. If on, the other hand, they thought that a present cause fact caused a WAS(effect) fact, they would, in a very intuitive sense, be believing in backwards causation. And that's the case even though in both cases the causal relation is between present facts.

Additionally, I want to deny the compositional inference. Compare this case. God has daily willed the following two conditionals:
1. "If yesterday all of reality was nonvacuously red, today it will all be nonvacuously red, too."
2. "If yesterday all of reality was nonvacuously green, today it will all be nonvacuously green, too."
And in fact reality was always nonvacuously green. Then I think a composition argument very similar to yours says that God has willed all-time-greenness. But that's mistaken. God's willings are neutral between all-time-greenness and all-time-redness (and other hypotheses, as well).

Now suppose that God didn't ever will (1), but only (2) every day. Then God's willings are asymmetric, but it's still not true that God has willed all-time-greenness. For by taking a willing away, one doesn't make God to have willed a new thing.

ASBB said...

I see it completely differently. The presentist resolution to diachronic causation you articulate strikes me as a manifest case of simultaneous causation. (The effect begins at t1, the cause - the WAS fact - begins at t1, they are related by causation at t1. How much more simultaneous can you get?).

To get backwards causation is to confuse the WAS fact, with the fact that was. Suppose time passes from p at t0, to ~p & WAS(p) at t1. Now, it was the case that p. But what's the past fact here? What's the fact that was? Clearly it's p. WAS(p) - i.e., the fact that p once was - is a presently obtaining fact, stating the present reality that p used to obtain. Consider the first moment of time t0. As I see it, it's trivial that any agent who can make time pass from t0 to t1, can bring it about that WAS(p) for all facts p which obtain at t0. And the effect that they bring about (i.e. WAS(p)) obtains in the future relative to their action at t0. No backwards causation.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Good point. I think we may want to distinguish between metaphysically simultaneous/backwards/forwards causation and ordinary-language simultaneous/backwards/forwards causation. So on the theory in question, metaphysically all causation is simultaneous. Let's assume that. But we still want to make certain ordinary language distinctions about causation. For instance, we want to be able to talk about "short-term" and "long-term" effects. We can no longer distinguish the two by saying that distinction concerns how far temporally apart the cause and the effect are. But we still need to make the ordinary-language distinction, e.g., by talking of WAS(p) causing q, and discussing how long ago p was. Similarly, then, we will want to distinguish the engineer who claims that she can make an alarm go off tomorrow ("forwards causation") from the nut who claims that she can make an alarm go off yesterday ("backwards causation"). In both cases, metaphysically, we have simultaneous causation. But in one case the causal fact is tensed before the effect fact and the other case the causal fact is tensed after the effect fact (where "WAS(p)" is "tensed before" "q" when "q" has no tense operators, etc.) Do you see what I mean?

So, then, what I should say about your suggestion is that even though the causation is metaphysically simultaneous, it's ordinary-language backwards.

Put it this way. Anyone who thinks that it is absurd to suppsoe that someone can affect the dinosaurs will be unmoved by being told that all causation is simultaneous and affecting the dinosaurs is just a matter of affecting a WAS(q) fact.