Thursday, October 21, 2004

Time and Omniscience

I promised to do something on the continuing Wierenga/Craig debate in Faith and Philosophy, but they have made me rather impatient, since I think neither of them are making much sense. My two-minute summary of why:

1) The sort of inference in question in these things is always:

(1a) God knows temporal things; therefore God must know them temporally.

2) Only an insane person would regard this as a direct inference, since (as I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog) similar patterns of reasoning fail in virtually every other case under the sun.

3) The only way this inference can be salvaged is to explain why time is different from other characterization of things. Or, in other words: the inference needs middle terms.

4) No reasonable middle terms have ever been provided.

5) The reason atemporalists like myself belief that divine omniscience, divine eternity, and temporal facts are a consistent trio is a) their inconsistency has never been shown and b) (1a), which comes up again and again and again and again and again is really undeniably dubious. If it turns out to work, it will be an astonishing discovery.

6) The question of whether the trio in (5) is consistent, or whether (1a) works, is not affected one way or another by whether one accepts an "A-theory" of time or a "B-theory" of time, or, if there were any other Alpha Bits used, any of them, either. At least, unless you can show that (1a) actually works (which it probably doesn't).

Actually, it's not really all that bad; neither of them are actually being unreasonable in any way. But I do find that there are a lot of red herrings that get thrown about in these discussions, which contribute to it in no clear way. I also dislike the tendency to assume that tensed facts would be a 'difficulty' for the trio in (5). Why? Craig always goes about talking as if "If God is timeless, He does not know tensed facts" were a necessary truth; but this claim is, as far as I can see, completely unfounded, and is dubious for the same reason (1a) is dubious. (It is, in fact, a family relation of (1a).) There is no reason for thinking it true. It is not necessary to go into a long account of the nature of time in order to recognize that no reason is being provided for (5); all we need to do is look and see if a reason is being provided. And yet every single person goes immediately into the long account of the nature of time, needlessly, pointlessly, uselessly, as if (5) were in any way plausible, which it is not unless we have in hand a good, clear reason for treating tense so differently from everything else.

Part of the problem is the very odd view that we need to explain how God knows things. I take a very dim view of such projects, because I am a firm proponent of orthodox negative theology, the whole point of which is that, while we can know facts about God, our knowledge of how God does anything is sharply limited by (1) divine infinity; (2) divine simplicity; (3) the general difficulty of our knowing precise detailed facts about God; (4) the absolute impossibility of our knowing what it is like to be God. What we do have are good reasons to believe that God is eternal (in the traditional sense, which is often misunderstood, since it is a negative term, not a positive one), that God is omnisicent, and that other things are not eternal. Given this, there is no need for a 'defense' of the consistency of the three; if we have good reasons for all of them, and no proof of their inconsistency is forthcoming, their consistency can be presumed, as we always presume consistency when we have good reasons for things that haven't been shown to be inconsistent.

To be fair to Craig, though, anyone interested in the subject should read his discussion here.

I'm not sure how coherent I'm being, given that its 3:30 in the morning; and I am a bit cranky at having had to read about A-theory and B-theory when there are so many more interesting things that might be argued on the subject. We'll see if I find any of this making sense in the cold light of day.

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