Thursday, March 2, 2023

Theism and the absolute present

Some people believe in an absolute present. An absolute present would define a privileged absolute reference frame. Suppose that there is an absolute present. Would we have any reason to think that the privileged absolute reference frame is anywhere close to our reference frame? If not, then for all we know, the things around us have an absolute geometry quite different from the one we think they have: that clock on the wall isn’t absolutely a circle, but an oval, say.

If the reason for accepting an absolute present is doing justice to common sense, then we not only need an absolute presnet, but an absolute present that defines a frame close to our frame. And that would be almost literally a version of anthropocentrism.

Of course, if we are in the image and likeness of God, the anthropocentrism may be defensible. And maybe only then.

If this is right, then the A-theory of time (which seems to require an absolute present) makes a lot more sense on theism. (Anecdotally, there is a correlation between being a theist and accepting the A-theory of time.) But on the other hand, the A-theory of time requires God’s beliefs to be changing.


Alithea said...

Thank you, Dr. Pruss, for presenting a good argument against Craig's interpretation of relativity politely. Based on the other responses I heard, I was starting to believe that it was impossible to be polite in this matter.

Honestly, I don't know about the A-theory vs B-theory debate. On one hand, there are arguments against an actual infinite, (which I know you reject,) and an infinite future. There's also the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

On the other hand, it works less with divine timelessness, has problems with truthmaker theory, and it is more complex.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On reflection, perhaps the best response to my argument is this. If there is a true absolute frame, it would likely be something like that of the cosmic microwave background, and that wouldn't be very anthropocentric. And we are only moving at 0.002c relative to that ( ). This corresponds to a relativistic spatial dilation factor of only three parts in a million. Our ordinary geometric perceptions ignore such minor deviations.

That said, these deviations are sufficient to be observable. I suspect that if we put a lot of effort in, we could manufacture a glass circle whose circularity was better than three parts in a million. But on views on which there is an absolute frame, unless it is anthropocentric, our measurements would be objectively wrong. I don't think this is a difficult bullet to bite, though.

Atno said...

"But on the other hand, the A-theory of time requires God’s beliefs to be changing."

Which is no problem whatsoever, even for someone who affirms divine immutability and simplicity.
I myself am both an open theist and a classical theist.
Classical theists should be especially aware that one cannot simply infer "God changes/undergoes intrinsic change" from "God's beliefs are changing".

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, wait. I am inclined to agree that God's beliefs changing does not contradict the claim that God undergoes no intrinsic change, just as God's beliefs varying across worlds does not contradict the claim that God has no accidental properties. But it may be that there is more to the doctrine of immutability than merely the ontological claim that God undergoes no intrinsic change. There can be a doctrine of steadiness of God which rules out changes of belief. There may be an imperfection in changes of belief going beyond the imperfection in lacking intrinsic change. (Similarly, we wouldn't say God is fickle. Lack of fickleness, however, is not just lack of intrinsic change.)

Alithea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alithea said...

I think the doctrine of immutability is against intrinsic and extrinsic change. If there is an extrinsic change in God, there is still a before and after in God. That would mean that God is not timeless. There is a solution, however. One could say that God has a real relation to the world, while the world does not have a real relation to God. This is the route Aquinas uses.
So, God's knowing something is identical to Him causing it to exist. Since timeless things can cause effects in time, God can still remain timeless. There is no extrinsic change in God because the world is not really related to God. I still think divine timelessness is better and simpler with B-theory, however. Looks like you were right, Dr. Pruss.

Atno said...

"But it may be that there is more to the doctrine of immutability than merely the ontological claim that God undergoes no intrinsic change."

The immutability I (along with most classical theists) am interested in is the one that can be derived from the classical arguments, such as Aquinas's first way. It means God having no passive potentiality. As long as God is the purely actual actualizer of everything else, with no passive potentiality, I am happy as a classical theist.

"There can be a doctrine of steadiness of God which rules out changes of belief. There may be an imperfection in changes of belief going beyond the imperfection in lacking intrinsic change. "

Personally, I don't feel pressured to these. I accept classical immutability (God has no passive potentiality; doesn't undergo change of intrinsic properties) because I think the traditional arguments for it are strong.
You could try making an argument from perfection and "steasiness" etc., but that seems vague to me, and dependent upon other specific metaphysical views. For instance, I am a presentist who believes the future is open, so to me it is simply impossible/nonsensical to say anyone could know future libertarian free choices. And of course, what is impossible cannot be a perfection. Otherwise someone could also argue that omnipotence should require being able to create anything, and it would be more perfect and impressive if God could make square circles, or an infinite series of causes, etc.
If, for example, the future is open and A theory is true, then it just is the case that the most perfect possible being would have a changing knowledge. And if God's knowledge follows an externalist model (as I believe, and as most classical theists believe) then God can always steadily know every truth at every moment, and just get to know more and more truths as time goes on, etc. That would be the most perfect kind of knowledge under A theory.

So again, as a classical theist (and open theist) I don't really feel threatened by the idea that God's beliefs change over time.

Atno said...

"That would mean that God is not timeless."

This seems to assume a confused view of time for the presentist. I also affirm divine timelessness. But I prefer to think of time through the traditional Ariatotelian view of its being the measure of change.
God's being timeless to me just means that God doesn't change (doesn't undergo any intrinsic change; has no passive potentiality) which again is all that the traditional classical theist arguments establish

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