Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Perspicuous CalledtoCommunion

Over at this CalledtoCommunion combox, I asked whether that which the supposedly necessary and infallible Magisterium promulgates is necessarily perspicuous. After initial disagreement, the consensus answer now appears to surprisingly be "no," with the qualification that it is possible for them to clarify what they have said, something Scripture is unable to do.

The (or at least "a") point of the OP was to show that this is the central difference between the "authority paradigms" of RC and Protestantism. But is this difference - that a viva voce can attempt relative perspicuity compared to its previous statements on a subject - meaningful? Since any clarifications they make are in turn not necessarily perspicuous, then how is the RC any better off than the Protestant? As is said in the OP:

Like the Catholic, the Protestant theologian must use his fallible intellect to locate the source of divine authority. Also like the Catholic, the Protestant theologian must use his fallible intellect to construct clarifying questions regarding the content of divine revelation. But unlike the Catholic, the Protestant theologian must also utilize his fallible intellect to construct clarifying answers to whatever second, third, or fourth order questions must be asked in order to arrive a definition or determination of the content of a revealed doctrine. For in order to clarify or determine the content or scope of some theological matter, such as justification, one must necessarily seek answers to second, third, and fourth order questions as described above.

Given that no Magisterial promulgation is necessarily perspicuous, any answer anyone gives to the question of "what is the criterion by which perspicuity can be identified?" must have been discovered by some other means. And since knowledge and application of this criterion will be a precondition for even understanding what Magisterial proclamations in fact mean, it turns out that the sort of private judgment about which RCs lament follows from Protestantism really follows from RC. Note the statement by Bryan Cross I quoted in a post on private judgment (cf. here):

When we approach Scripture, how do we determine what the Holy Spirit is saying? Either each individual is ultimately his own highest authority regarding what the Holy Spirit is saying, or that authority belongs to something outside the individual. In the former case, we are left with “private judgment,” and the endless fragmentation that must accompany it, as history shows.

I might as well ask:

When we approach Magisterial promulgations, how do we determine what the Magisterium is saying? Either each individual is ultimately his own highest authority regarding what the Magisterium is saying, or that authority belongs to something outside the individual. In the former case, we are left with "private judgment," and the endless fragmentation that must accompany it, as history shows.

After all, how many popes are there again? How many authoritative [and extra-biblical] traditions? I dealt with Cross' statement on Protestant terms in the other post. Here, the point is simply that the tu quoque response those at CtC spend so much time trying to refute is shown, right here, to be valid. The tu quoque against RC is not that "there is no difference between what Scripture is capable of as compared to a Magisterium." The tu quoque is that the RC paradigm requires private judgment even while it attacks Protestantism for allegedly requiring it.

Ironically, the real difference between RC and Protestantism is something about which both groups can agree: in comparing RC and Protestantism with their sources of authority, only Protestants believe their source of authority is necessarily perspicuous. Rather than demonstrating RC to be necessary, the CtC post has once again shown off Protestantism as the more attractive option (cf. here).

As an aside, the author of the OP said the criterion of perspicuity must be objective without ever actually explaining what it is (comment #50).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Temporal Indexicals

In my recent post discussing time, I mentioned the difference between the A-series view of time and B-series view of time is essentially that the former think tensed sentences cannot mean the same thing as tenseless sentences.

But if one is a B-series theorist, why even retain tensed sentences? Suppose the B-series theorist is correct in asserting that, say, present-tensed sentences are true only if when they are uttered, they mean to describe an event which occurs simultaneous with their utterance. Why not simply utter tenseless statements?

Another of Helm's chapters in Eternal God, The Two Standpoints, is summarized in God and Time: Four Views (cf. pgs. 55-59, 79-84, 89-91), can be read here. In it, he provides an explanation by showing that

...the events of the created world are creased as a B-series for God, but are capable of being identified indexically for those who are in time, and who need to negotiate efficiently through the temporal series... (Eternal God, pg. 284)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Helm on Divine Freedom

Every so often, I come across a book that confirms an idea I arrived at independently, which is probably why I enjoyed Helm’s chapter on Divine Freedom in his Eternal God as much as I did. When I wrote this post several months ago, I wasn’t aware that Helm had written such strikingly similar arguments. Since he answers a few objections to the idea God’s choice to instantiate this world was necessary which, at the time, I had not considered, I thought I would post them. But firstly, here is how he frames the discussion:

Granted that no one or nothing could coerce such a choice, and that all such choices would be the product of God’s supremely excellent nature, is an eternal God free to choose between or among alternative possible outcomes? And if he is not free to choose between such outcomes does this matter? …does it make sense to suppose that there are alternative equally optimific (or equally reasonable in some other way) outcomes between which God may choose? If not, does this matter? (pg. 172)

Why are these questions important? Well, how one answers them will indicate what position he would hold on divine timelessness, determinism, omniscience, and, by extension, broader topics like epistemology and soteriology. Throughout his chapter, Helm chiefly relies on the first reason I provided in my post for believing that God’s instantiation of this world was necessary (or as Helm will put it, that God “had to” choose what He did); viz. that any reason for God’s choosing to instantiate a possible world implies it:

If God is supremely good then he could only choose those possible outcomes, instantiate those possible worlds, which are consistent with his having this character, since to act inconsistently is a defect which God could not have. And since God is supremely good it must be supposed that God chooses from all possible worlds that world which is the best, the best of all possible worlds, since to suppose that he might choose a world which was less than the best is to suppose that he might do something which was inconsistent with his supremely good nature. (pg. 172)

So God’s choice of the universe may be contingent in the sense that there are coherent alternative universes which God is powerful enough to have instantiated had he possessed an adequate reason to do so. This argument does not depend on the idea of God choosing between equally optimific outcomes, which would appear to make God’s instantiation of any universe an act of pure reasonless will. Rather the argument is that God’s freedom consists in the rationality of his choice, in his having a good reason for what he instantiates, not in his having no reason. (pg. 178)

Elsewhere, Helm states God can also be said to be free “because he acts in accordance with his supremely excellent nature without coercion or hindrance” (pg. 174). On the same page, he knocks down the following argument:

…the further objection that in choosing God is somehow constricted or constrained in his freedom is a curious one. There seems to be a species of metaphysical delusion at work in the advancing of such an objection. For the objection supposes that it would be some sort of disability to have a supremely wise and good nature and to ‘have to’ act in accordance with it. How much finer and freer, the objection implies, to have a nature which would allow the choosing of what is vile and wretched!

With all this said, I would like to make one clarification to something Helm says about the implications of multiple “optimific” worlds:

If we suppose that [God’s actualizing one of a number of co-optimific goals] makes sense, on what grounds could God decide in favour of one rather than another? Clearly, not by reference to their character. There seem to be two alternatives; either he chooses on the basis of some accidental feature of one alternative lacked by all the others, a feature not related to optimificity, or he chooses as a result of pure whimsy. Neither of these alternatives is very appealing. (pg. 180)

While it is to Helm’s credit that he finds neither appealing, I would and have argued they are not really alternatives at all; in both cases God would choose “as a result of pure whimsy.” What I mean is that if the “accidental feature” according to which God chose to instantiate this world is appealed to as a reason for God’s choice, then the feature turns out to be not so accidental after all. It’s essential, as, in fact, it would set this world apart as that so-called possible world which is most optimific. But in this case, we are back to the supposition that there is only one optimific world, a world which God “had to” instantiate. On the other hand, if the “accidental feature” does not function as a reason for God’s choice – that is, if it wasn’t necessary for God to have chosen this world for the reason that said feature was exclusive to it – then actually, this is no different than the position that God’s choice was arbitrary.

Helm summarizes the chapter thus far very well when he writes:

So far I have defended the contingency of the universe on the grounds that it is the outcome of God’s reasonable choice, against the view of Aquinas, recently endorsed by Stump and Kretzmann, that contingency results from choice among equally optimific outcomes.

But did not God have to choose reasonably? And if he did does this not put paid to his freedom and to the universe’s contingency? In a sense, yes. But the language ofhaving to does not imply constraint in this case. God had to because of who he is and that he did choose is the ultimate explanation of what takes place. Thus to say that God had to is to say that no further explanation of what takes place is possible than that it seemed good to the eternal God that these things should be so. (pg. 181)

Helm notes that this position is not Spinozan, because Spinoza would have said that what exists is “not as the outcome of a divine choice…” (pg. 183), essentially because “Spinoza denies both intelligence and will to God…” (pg. 182). Helm also denies Spinoza’s “metaphysical monism” (cf. pgs. 180, 185-186) and then provides another quick summary of where we stand at this point in the chapter:

The power that creatures have is derived from God, but it is not immediately from God. According to theism I write these words as a result of physical and mental powers given and maintained by God. But this does not imply that it is God who is writing these words…

So far we have maintained that the actual universe is contingent; that God chooses it in accordance with his own nature, and not because it is one of a number of equally optimific alternatives; and that this is a markedly different position from that of Spinoza. (pg. 186)

Now, in the comment section of my post on the necessity of this world, it was argued that such would make creation consubstantial with God. Helm replies:

Certainly the idea of the universe is in the mind of God. But to suppose that the creation is a whole or a part of God would be to suppose that to talk about creation is to talk about God. But this is manifestly unsatisfactory. If Jones disobeys God there are two individuals related. To suppose that in such a situation God really disobeys himself, or that the disobedience is only apparent, would be to maintain something altogether different.

So there is a sense in which a theist (as opposed to a Spinozist) holds that the universe is necessary in only a qualified sense. For according to theism the universe comes about as a result of God’s will, the will of an agent, though an agent who is not, and necessarily not, ever undecided what to do. God is necessarily good, but he is not necessarily good as a result of a decision or an act. The necessary goodness of God is not the result of God’s agency. (pg. 187)

The reply to this objection also affords Helm to finish his chapter with a fine answer to the objection that God is not self-sufficient if he “had to” create as He did:

If God is self-sufficient does he need to create? In one sense, obviously not. If a country is self-sufficient it does not need to import goods. But an individual may be self-sufficient in the sense that nothing else is necessary for that individual’s existence and yet he may wish to act or communicate himself, though not because he has a psychological need or deficiency, or some other defect of existence or character such that he has to communicate or create. To want to do something may be a sign not of weakness by of strength, not of deficiency but of fullness. So that it seems perfectly consistent with the fact that God does not need anything that he nevertheless wishes to have other beings and creates in accordance with these wishes. And it would be a perverse piece of argumentation which attempted to qualify this by saying, ‘Ah, yes, but this means that God needs to wish to create.’ This is rather like the claim that all human actions are selfish. There is a sense, a perfectly trivial sense, in which all human actions are selfish, in the sense that all such action is the action of the self who performs it. But there is a non-trivial sense in which what a person does is selfish because it is at the expense of the legitimate interests of others. In the same way there is a trivial sense in which it might be said, from the very fact that God has created the universe and you and me in it, that God needs you and me. Otherwise why would he have created us? But there is another sense in which he clearly did not need you and me, in the sense in which neither you nor I are necessary for God’s being God. We may be pretty important people but it would be taking things a bit too far to suppose that our non-existence would result in God’s non-existence as well. Although the language may seem rather extravagant to our ears, Jonathan Edwards is expressing a perfectly consistent and intelligible position when he writes that ‘a disposition in God, as an original property of his nature, to an emanation of his own infinite fullness, was what excited him to create the world’. (pgs. 193-194)

Creation is metaphysically contingent on God, not the other way around. Who God is is not derived from but is rather the precondition for creation. That God had to create or that God created necessarily is not to be explained in terms external to God but rather in terms of who God is or, equivalently, that it was according to His good pleasure to create. And that is just natural: Jonathan Edwards also correctly noted that individuals choose what which they most strongly desire or please. That such would apply to God as well as men does not suggest God is not meaningfully free, nor is it not a blurring of the Creator-creature distinction: “It is perfectly consistent with the basic theistic distinction between the creator and the creature to suppose that the actual universe should be the only possible universe” (pg. 188). Just the opposite: it is a stamp of reassurance that while rationally independent, God is personal rather than some Spinozan, abstract principle: “What God actualizes in timeless eternal fashion is not by logic but by his own nature” (pg. 187). In our creaturely capacity, we only know what God reveals to us. Hence, it may be that we cannot understand why no other world was possible. But that doesn’t imply there is no answer or that we cannot learn the answer:

About many of such possibilities regarding the future we are now able to say that for all we know they may come to pass. They represent present epistemic possibilities and logical possibilities. But if we were to know everything, or more than we do, then we would see that these possibilities are only abstract. They do not represent real possibilities and never did. The thought that they did was the product of our ignorance. (pgs. 188-189)

I appreciate Helm’s book as a whole, but this chapter was genius. He makes many other observations in it, in particular by relating each of these points to time[lessness]. But that would go beyond the scope of this post.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Van Tilian Essay on Reymond and Clark

A friend of mine looking at online apologetics courses brought to my attention this paper by a student, and I'm going to comment on the remarks he makes on Clark's epistemology:

In chapter four of his systematic theology, “The Fact of Divine Revelation”, Reymond makes clear that he holds to the epistemology put forth by Gordon Clark in the twentieth century.

Chapter 4 in the second edition of Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (NSTotCF) is The Nature of Biblical Truth, not The Fact of Divine Revelation. Clark isn't mentioned in the latter chapter at all, so I think he just missed that. As will be seen momentarily, however, it appears that the author did not read Reymond's book very closely.

Also, I would note that Reymond sympathized with Clark, but he certainly wasn't completely “Clarkian.” See, for example, pgs. 66-74 in his book The Justification of Knowledge. If Reymond held to Clark's view, Clark would have had no reason to respond to him in Language and Theology as well as Clark Speaks from the Grave.'s knowledge is totally dependent upon God's and is consequently qualitatively different from God's... This statement makes clear what Van Til means by the qualitative difference between God's knowledge and man's. Van Til simply means that we can never know anything originally as God does because he alone is omniscient.

How does man's epistemic dependency imply his knowledge is qualitatively different from God's? Of course we can't know anything "as" God does, but this is not a difference in content of knowledge but in the mode in which one knows. Our knowledge is derivative and dependent. God's knowledge is intuitive and independent. This isn't the question. The question is whether the content of what man knows differs from the content of what God knows.

While we may not be able to know comprehensively what a "cow" is - as that would indeed require knowledge of it's relations to everything else and, hence, omniscience - it does not follow that what we do know about a cow (i.e. what He who is omniscient has revealed about such) is qualitatively different from God's knowledge. Yet that is what Van Til contended: "we dare not maintain that [God's] knowledge and our knowledge coincide at any single point... [the knowledge of the creature] can never be identified with the knowledge which the infinite and absolute Creator possesses of the same proposition" (cf. pg. 5, column 3 here). I discuss all of these points more fully in this post, the primary points being as follows:

God is omniscient. What we know, then, must be what God knows. Self-defeating skepticism... is the alternative.

...God can univocally communicate His eternal thoughts to man by divine illumination pertaining to what He has revealed in His word. This is the method by which a man comes to univocally know both the truth of propositions and, hence, the infima species of the subjects of propositions by which one subject is individuated from another. The issue then simply becomes a comparison of the extent of our knowledge [about a subject] to God's, and no Clarkian thinks he is omniscient.

...the point is that one doesn't need to know the biblical meaning “in the context of all other propositions” in order to know what God knows. It is sufficient to know the infima species of the biblical subject “Jesus,” i.e. a minimal, finite number of propositions which would individuate “Jesus of Nazareth” from “Jesus of Strauss” et. al. Omniscience is not required. In fact, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for a Scripturalist, the “context of propositions” in which the biblical meaning of the statement “Jesus is Lord” is properly understood is found in the very context of Scripture.


We might say that Van Til understood that truths must be logically related because they are revealed, where for Clark and Reymond we can acknowledge that something is revealed only if we can see its logical relationship.

I disagree with the implicit assertion that Clark and Reymond subordinate divine revelation to one's perceptions of what is logical. For instance:

If it be suggested that angels also have rational knowledge, they too must have been created in God's image and therefore must have been created in God's image and therefore man is not the only image of God. This is plausible since the Psalms say that man was created a little lower than the angels. But it does not militate against man's being the image of God. And further, while the Bible distinctly asserts the image in man, it does not make this assertion of angels. The creation of angels is left in obscurity, and so we too must leave it there. (Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, pg. 15)

So long as there is a possible answer to an objection, there is no problem. The problem Clarkians have with Van Tilian appeals to paradoxes is that they are often made when there is no such possible answer to a logical objection, e.g. analogical knowledge leads to skepticism. This appears especially ridiculous when Van Tilians cite Scripture to chastise their opponents, as if the opponents cannot retort that because they only know Scripture analogically, then on their own grounds Van Tilians must admit the possibility that in the broader context of what can be known, truth could be compatible with what their opponents believe.

...consider the three friends of Job. When one reads the book of Job and notices the chain of reasoning that these men employed, it becomes apparent that they, on a practical level, believed that logic was a sufficient tool to explain the revelation of God. In this sense Job's friends were proto-Clarkian in their epistemology. A syllogistic summary of their argument might look like this:

  • God judges sin, not righteousness.
  • God is judging you, Job.
  • Therefore, you must have sinned.
Here we have a logically sound piece of argument, and yet how flawed was the conclusion!

Firstly, the argument in question is valid, not sound. And frankly, this sort of accusation evidences ineptitude. "God is judging you, Job" was never divinely revealed explicitly nor implicitly - "by good and necessary consequence," a phrase in the WCF with which Clarkians heartily agree - so no consistent Clarkian would assent to it.

In this context, the author takes the opportunity to reference the so-called "presumptions" of Clark and Reymond, which is ironic because no corresponding example is provided. No instance is given of Clark or Reymond actually making unnecessary inferences; rather, they are injudiciously and presumptuously lumped in with Job's accusers. Instead, the author continues to pontificate as to what Reymond would have replied to a divine command to kill his son, as though he thinks there is no possible answer to the objection that such would have contradicted Genesis 9:5-6. On the one hand, if there is a possible answer, why wouldn't the author be charitable enough to allow that Reymond could appeal to it? On the other hand, if there is no possible answer, then that shows just how meaningful is his claim that he is not advocating irrationality.

I suspect it is the former, as the author is elsewhere uncharitable towards Reymond by either dismissing Reymond's arguments or imputing false positions to him. For example:

It is important to remember that we are not advocating “irrationality” as Reymond implies must be the case.

What Reymond actually says is devastating to any notion of "paradox" in which no possible answer can be provided to an objection:

...once one asserts that a truth may legitimately assume the form of an irreconcilable contradiction, he has given up all possibility of ever detecting a real falsehood. (NSTotCF, pg. 106)

The author doesn't address this, which must be remembered when he later chides Reymond for remarking that the giving up of this possibility leads to "the death of all rational faith," which is quite true. Continuing, the author writes:

Reymond avers that it is merely the “erring exegete” who understands the facts of revelation in such a way that they are apparent contradictories though reconciled to the mind of God.

No, what Reymond actually says on pg. 108 is:

Certainly it is possible for an erring exegete so to interpret two statements of Scripture that he thinks that they teach contradictory propositions. But either he has misinterpreted one statement (maybe both), or he has attempted to relate two statements that were never intended to be related to one another.

Reymond doesn't mention apparent contradictions at all, let alone that such could be reconciled in the mind of God. Continuing:

Reymond, in marked contrast to this position, insists that the facts of revelation must not only come as the self-attesting correspondents of God's knowledge, free of all true contradiction, but must be reconcilable “before the bar of human reason.”

Nowhere on the page the author cites (NSTofCF, pg. 109) does Reymond say such a thing. Continuing:

Reymond, not content to “take all the factors of Scripture and bind them together into systematic relations with one another as far as we can”...

Reymond never says this. The author assumes Reymond disagrees with this statement because it was made in the context of a quotation of Van Til with which Reymond disagreed. Actually, Reymond only expressed disagreement with the idea that "the Bible will often (always, according to Van Til) set forth its truth in irreconcilable terms..."

The author essentially makes the following mistake: suppose I say "Clark was smart and Van Til was smart," and suppose the author disagreed with that statement. I could assume that if he disagrees with one part of the statement he disagrees with all of it, but that would be rather "presumptuous," wouldn't it? I could assume he thinks neither Clark nor Van Til were smart, but actually, he may have thought Van Til was smart though Clark was dumb. Now, I really shouldn't have to explain this, because it's pretty obvious. But it does illustrate that one should always check the source material to see if an author is honestly and faithfully portraying its views.

I might add that even if Reymond was "not content" with this, it would mean he disagrees with Clarkian epistemology. So what was the author's point?

Other examples of sloppy reading could be cited, but I think the one's mentioned are sufficient to the purpose.

In the last section of his paper, he mentions that:

Historically, the expository case for a Clarkian epistemology has been largely made from a certain translation of the Johannine logos...

Now, in all of the posts I've written defending Scripturalism, I've mentioned that verse a grand total of once, and that only in conjunction with John 14:6, which I assume the author would agree asserts that Christ is the truth. I got the impression that his haggling over Clark's rendering of John 1:1 - and honestly, it doesn't take a Greek scholar to see that he logic is a legitimate rendering of logos - is minutiae meant to obscure the real arguments for Scripturalism. For this reason, I was a bit amused when the author said:

Perhaps aware of these difficulties, Reymond does not emphasize Clark's understanding of the Johannine logos in his argument for a Clarkian epistemology.

Or, perhaps aware of its relative insignificance, Reymond focused on those aspects of Clark's understanding which are more fundamental to Clarkian epistemology.

The author then goes in to another tangent, i.e. whether Paul's gospel was derived from one or multiple revelations. It's really bizarre. Of course, examples of "logical extension" can be found in Scripture. Jesus accused the Sadducees for failing to draw out the implication that God is a God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:23-33). And the author himself makes logical extensions when speaking about the Trinity, a word not found in Scripture. So I don't see what the fuss is about.

The author does get one thing right:

At the heart of Reymond‟s epistemology is a denial of the Creator/creature distinction in the realm of knowledge.

Well done, Reymond.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ayn Rand, Causation, and Inductive Reasoning

While reading through Ayn Rand's books, I came across a "workshop" in which she and a few other Objectivists informally discussed the topics related to her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Unfortunately, this isn't "canon" - she didn't publish or endorse the printing of this originally taped material - so I'm not going to include it in the essay I'm going to write on her philosophy. So I'll just comment on a few things here.

The topic of this subsection is induction. The reason this caught my eye in particular is that it is the only attempt, so far as I can tell, that Rand actually attempted to back up her lament - and, hence, her Objectivist boast - in For the New Intellectual (pg. 25-26) that:

When Hume declared that he saw objects moving about, but never saw such a thing as "causality"-it was the voice of Attila [i.e. mystics of muscle] that men were hearing...
[Post-Renaissance philosophers] were unable to offer a solution to the "problem of universals," that is: to define the nature and source of abstractions, to determine the relationship of concepts to perceptual data - and to prove the validity of scientific induction. Ignoring the lead of Aristotle, who had not left them a full answer to the problem, but had shown the direction and the method by which the answer could be found, the philosophers were unable to refute the Witch Doctor's [i.e. mystics of spirit] claim that their concepts were as arbitrary as his whims and that their scientific knowledge had no greater metaphysical validity than his revelation.

The implication is that she was able to offer "solutions." But the following account of her attempt to establish causal connections and to prove the validity of scientific induction is just amateurish:

Prof. H: This is a common question relating to induction. Someone is boiling water, and he notices that every time the water gets to a certain temperature, it boils. Now he wants to know: does all water boil at that temperature, or is it only due to some accidental feature about this particular water? How does he determine whether it’s accidental or essential?

AR: By whether you can or cannot establish a causal connection between what you have determined to be the essential characteristic of water and the fact that it boils at a certain temperature.

Prof. H: I suppose what I’m asking is: how do you establish the causal connection?

AR: That’s a scientific question. But, in essence, what you do is this. Let’s say you have to establish the molecular structure of water. How do those molecules act at a certain temperature? And if you see that something happens to the molecules which causes boiling at a certain temperature, you conclude: that’s essential to the nature of water, adding the parenthesis: “within the present context of my knowledge.” You will later discover that water behaves differently at a different altitude. So you never claim water necessarily, as an absolute, will always and everywhere boil at the same temperature. No, you say, “Within my present context, omitting elements of which I have no knowledge at present, water will always boil at a certain temperature, because boiling is a state depending on certain kind of molecular motions, and water’s molecules will always reach that stage at a certain temperature.”

Now, with later development, you might discover that maybe there are differences in certain molecules of water when in an impure state. Or with atomic additions, say, something else happens. But then your context has changed. You don’t say that water has changed. It’s only that your definition of how the essential characteristic of water will function will have to include more: what water will do at sea level, what it will do at higher altitudes, and what it will do under new molecular or atomic influences, or in relation to some scientific phenomenon not yet known to any of us. But the principle there is the same. Does that answer it?

Prof. H: I have to think about it.

AR: Okay, but ask again later, because I don’t want to leave you with semi-answers. And that is the rational procedure : think it over, and if a further question occurs to you, then ask me later. This applies to everybody else as well. If any answer is only partial, the right thing to do is to think it over, because one can’t discuss it and integrate it at the same time. If you see that there is still an area not covered, then ask me later.

Firstly, notice her initial evasion of the actual issue at hand: "...if you see that something happens to the molecules which causes boiling at a certain temperature, you conclude..." The question wasn't what to conclude once a causal connection is established, it's how to establish such in the first place.

Secondly, she hedges her bets by a rigid appeal to the context in which an experiment is conducted. But ultimately, her strict qualification of what “within the present context of my knowledge” means ruins her case for induction: it means that "the result of an experiment will always be reproduced so long as subsequent experiments exactly reproduce the context of the original," which, while true, is tautologous (not inductive) and scientifically impossible.

Actually, one of her collaborators also recognized her question-begging:

Prof. A: How would you answer this common objection to your answer? In relating the boiling of water to the energy required to break certain molecular bonds, you haven’t actually made any progress in regard to the induction, because you’ve only got the same kind of generalization on the molecular level that you had before on the gross, macroscopic level. You now know, “In a given number of cases, it has always taken a certain amount of energy to break this molecular bond.” But that fact has the same sort of status as the fact you started with: “In a given number of cases, I heated the water to 212 degrees, and it always boiled.” I know the objection is crazy, because in some way you do have more knowledge when you’ve gone down to the molecular level. But I can’t see what the error is.

AR: But you see, you answered it. When you simply boil water, you do not know that it has molecules, nor what happens to those molecules. When you arrive at that later stage of knowledge, you’ve discovered something about water and the conditions of its boiling which you didn’t know before. And, therefore, within your present context, this is a sufficient explanation, even though it’s not the exclusive and final explanation. To reach that you would have to have omniscience. But, if you can say, “It’s in the nature of water that it’s composed of molecules, and something happens to those molecules at a certain temperature, this explains to me why water boils,” that is a causal explanation. It isn’t the same thing as saying, “I don’t know why it boils, but if I heat it, it bubbles up.” That’s all that you knew before. And, therefore, your knowledge is now further advanced.

Prof. A: But it seems that the certainty that you were first trying to attach to the idea that water boils under certain conditions is derivative from the degree of certainty you have concerning the idea that a certain amount of energy disrupts the molecules.

AR: If this is supposed to be on the same level, what would the person raising this objection consider to be a different level?

Prof. A: Yes, that’s exactly the problem.

AR: That’s not the problem. No. That’s the method of ruling his objection out. Because you discover that he has no ground for his conclusion that you’re on the same level. Look at the facts. You observe that water boils. You discover something in the constituent elements of water that causes it. You know more than you did before. But he tells you, “No, you’re at the same place.” Then you ask him, “What place do you want to go to? What do you regard as knowledge?”

Prof. E: And then his answer would be that he wants a mystic apprehension of “necessity,” which he hasn’t yet received. All he has is “contingent” facts.

AR: Yes. And you ask him what does he regard the facts of reality as: a necessity or a contingency? He’ll say, “Of course it’s a contingency, because God made it this way, and he could have made it another.” And you say, “Goodbye.”

Again, at no point does she explain how one moves from "You observe that water boils" to "You discover something in the constituent elements of water that causes it."

Furthermore, it is pretty apparent why she arbitrarily assumes how a "mystic" will respond - that the "facts of reality" are contingent rather than necessary - viz. so that she can lump everyone in the boat to avoid having to answer the objection that she can't differentiate a necessary connection given atheism and indeterminism. But what about we "mystics" who are theistic, absolute determinists (link)?

The most interesting point, however, is her admission that "To reach [the exclusive and final explanation] you would have to have omniscience." Of course, I would and have argued that recourse to the revelation of one who is omniscient is sufficient for knowledge - [propositional] belief in which the possibility of error is precluded - but more to the point, if Rand does not consider an "exclusive and final explanation" to be possible, then to what end is an explanation be "sufficient"? Certainly not to an epistemic end, because even if she attempts to narrow the context of one's explanations, there will necessarily be a context which needs to be known [and knowable] and, hence, an answer to the question of how one knows that he can legitimately "contextualize" without being able to know (by definition, since Rand isn't omniscient) the "reality" - as Rand would put it - from which one contextualizes.

It is true that towards the end of this particular discussion, she says that knowledge's "purpose is for you to deal with that which you are studying." Now, can one deal with what one doesn't know (as defined above)? I believe so, at least as long as one also has a sound epistemology which can account for the general though not necessary reliability of opinions. This caused me to wonder about Rand's meta-epistemology. Earlier in her book, she defines knowledge ambiguously as "a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality..." (pg. 35). Does "grasping" connote "certainty"? On pg. 67, she states that one can "correct" one's knowledge, which would imply that one cannot know with certainty. In the Virtue of Selfishness (pg. 90), on the other hand, she writes that " epistemology, the cult of uncertainty is a revolt against reason..." And then again, she says numerous times that she assumes the reliability of the senses. So anyone's guess is as good as mine. Given her strong opposition to Pragmatism, I would lean toward the belief she believed that at least some of man's knowledge can be held with certainty, although given the above paragraph, on her view this belief would be groundless. She touches on the meaning of knowledge in her next reply to another professor who presses the same question Rand has yet to answer, although she doesn't give definitive answer one way or the other:

Prof. F: But I am not clear why it is a significant step when one goes from the macroscopic phenomenon, boiling, to the molecular level. Why does one then say, “Aha! Now, within our present context of knowledge, we’ve made a satisfactory advance.”

AR: Let’s ask something wider: what is knowledge? And what is study, what is observation? It’s the discovery of properties in the nature of certain objects, existents, entities. All knowledge consists of learning more and more about the nature—the properties and characteristics—of given objects. So first you see only water—just that. Then you observe that it boils at a certain point. Your knowledge is advanced. You know more about water than you did when you only observed it in a lake. Then you discover such a thing as molecules, then you discover the molecular structure of water. Your knowledge about what water is still greater. Now you observe what happens to those molecules when you apply a certain amount of energy. Your knowledge is still greater. If it isn’t, what do you mean by knowledge?

Prof. F: Both you and your positivist opponents would agree that the knowledge is greater. But they would then raise the question of whether one has to go a further step or not—or why one should have made this step in the first place. Why does the breaking of the macroscopic down into the molecular constitute a significant step, whereas the addition of some other type of knowledge—

AR: Such as?

Prof. F: Such as the knowledge of, say, the shape of the water at present, or the electrical charges involved.

AR: All that is knowledge. The knowledge of anything that can happen to water—what temperature it will freeze at, how it reflects light—any characteristic of a given object of study is knowledge. If you can establish that this characteristic pertains to water, you have learned something new about water.

But if the problem here involves the issue of necessity vs. contingency, then it’s a prescientific problem, a strictly philosophical problem. What do you mean by “necessity”? By “necessity,” we mean that things are a certain way and had to be. I would maintain that the statement “Things are,” when referring to non-man-made occurrences, is the synonym of “They had to be.” Because unless we start with the premise of an arbitrary God who creates nature, what is had to be. We have to drop any mystical premise and keep the full context in mind. Then, aside from human action, what things are is what they had to be.

The alternative of what “had to be” versus what “didn’t have to be” doesn’t apply metaphysically. It applies only to the realm of human action and human choice. For instance, will you wear a gray suit or a blue suit? That’s up to you. You didn’t have to wear either one. Let’s assume you have only one suit. Even then you can’t say you had to wear it.

You chose to wear it rather than be naked. Anything pertaining to actions open to human choice raises the question: “Is it necessary or is it volitional?” But in regard to facts which are metaphysical—that is, not created by a human action—there is no such thing as necessity—or, the fact of existence is the necessity.

Prof. A: I think that was exactly my problem. I was assuming that the fact that a certain entity had always done a certain thing had no significance in itself—that it could be otherwise tomorrow. But actually, something would act differently tomorrow only if a new factor entered in.

AR: Yes.

Prof. A: And by going to the molecular level, you tend to exclude any new factor; you have more awareness of the mechanism operating, so you have more knowledge of what is going to affect it and what isn’t; you understand what the process is that’s happening. I was assuming exactly what you were saying, that the fact that the energy required was so-and-so today, might change tomorrow, because of God knows what. So the answer lies in the point that necessity is just identity.

AR: Exactly.

Prof. C: On this issue of boiling water and finding out that it must boil because of understanding its molecular structure: isn’t it related in some way to the issue of unit-economy in concepts? Because in theory-formation one attempts to condense a vast amount of knowledge into a smaller and smaller number of principles. And when one is able to explain the boiling of water in terms of the electrons and protons, not only does one explain boiling as necessary from these few facts, but also one explains a vast number of other characteristics, properties, and set of behaviors for water and a whole scad of other substances.

AR: Oh yes.

Prof. C: So when you go to that level, you have widened your knowledge to a much larger scope by integrating the data to a few simple laws, such as, in this case, the properties of the electrons.

AR: You mean, it is also applicable to more than water, and if you discover how the molecules of water react to heat, you then open the way to discoveries concerning how other elements react to heat, and you learn a great deal about other elements that way.

Prof. C: Right.

AR: Oh, of course.

Prof. C: So the objection of the logical positivist would be valid only if one learned nothing else relating water at the molecular level to other substances. Then one would say one has additional knowledge, but one doesn’t have a more fundamental knowledge.

AR: No, the objection wouldn’t be valid even then. To begin with, the supposition is impossible. Everything that you discover about one kind of subject or element opens the way for the same type of inquiry and discovery about other elements.

But let’s assume for a moment that it had no other applications. Even then, you learn something about water and how to handle it and what you can obtain from it. If you discover that its molecules move in a certain way and that causes boiling, this can lead you to discover other things you can do with water, such as what happens under a deep freeze or what happens with liquid oxygen—which is all derived from the same type of knowledge, from the same category of science.

And don’t forget—it is important here—what the purpose of knowledge is. The purpose is for you to deal with that which you are studying. And if you discover why water boils, you will know something more and will be able to do more things with water than the primitive man who knows only that if he holds it over fire a certain length of time it will boil.

By discovering such issues as temperature and molecular structure, you have made yourself infinitely more capable of dealing with water and using it for your purposes than the primitive man who only made the first observation.

This ends the discussion, and this whole latter half of the conversation is really beside the original point of the discussion, especially since experiments are not "non-man-made occurrences" nor "aside from human action." They don't mention the possibility of observer effects. This seemingly was meant to be the resource to which Objectivist readers could turn to prove the so-called validity of induction and to establish causal connections, but it really just ended up asserting them for no reason other than convenience.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A tentative philosophy of time

The philosophy of time is a very complex subject. I've put further study of it on hold since I started preparing for a few essay contests on Ayn Rand's philosophy, but a friend recently asked me some questions about it, and I think the following summary I provided is a good indication of where I stand.

While I'm still open to the idea that God is not timeless, the primary problem I have with it is that it seems to be incompatible with even a weak understanding of divine immutability, a doctrine I think is Scripturally supported.

If God is temporal, then an A-series theory of time - which I will explain shortly - is true, and His knowledge literally changes. For example, the proposition "x will occur" would be true until x occurs in time, after which it would be false - so God would know "x will occur" at one point in time but not another. If God's knowledge changes, God changes.

I've tried to construct an argument that God could not be omniscient unless He is timeless, but to be honest, I haven't thought of one which holds. Of course, the meaning of "omniscience" would have to be qualified if God is temporal - it would have to mean something like "knowledge of all propositions which are now true" rather than simply "knowledge of all true propositions[, each of which are unchangingly true]" - but so long as one accepts determinism, God could control under what conditions His knowledge changes.

That's one reason I didn't really like the TF article on time. Parkinson didn't discuss an A-series vs. a B-series view of time, eternal creation, the meaning of omniscience, etc. The discussion is more complicated than "if God's knowledge changes then God is not omniscient," for why couldn't it be the case that God's knowledge changes in accordance with divinely predetermined changes?

Parkinson also doesn't seem to realize omnitemporality traditionally refers to the view that God has an infinitely extended past and future, or at least that He is at all times (contrary to atemporality). He can define omnitemporality in a certain way to make it compatible with Calvinism if he likes, but to me it seems like trying to define free will similarly - it's more likely to confuse than help.

Anyways, for "now," the best argument for divine timelessness I can think of is the argument that it follows from explicit Scriptural testimony of divine immutability. There do appear to be good philosophical arguments against an A-series view of time, however (e.g. McTaggart's paradox), which could also be used as arguments for divine timelessness. I haven't studied those enough to cite them as support for divine timelessness, though.

As for a defense of divine timelessness from counter-arguments, some language used to describe God is anthropomorphic, figures of speech not literally true. This includes words such as "past," "present," "now," and "future." Temporal events are not literally related this way. The A-series view of time says they are and that there is an objective "now." A simple way of thinking about it is to say that the A-series view of time regards some language as irreducibly tensed. So, for instance, a proposition like "I am writing this post now" cannot be reduced to "I write this sentence at 10:51 pm, June 16, 2012." Both may be true, A-series theorists say, but what they each mean is different.

A B-theory view of time, on the other hand, believes events are related by means other than tensed language. Or, at least, any tensed sentence expresses a tenseless meaning (hence, tensed language is non-literal). So in place of words like "past," "present," "now," ""future," yesterday," "today," "tomorrow," "was," will," "did," "had," etc., B-series theorists substitute words like "earlier than," "simultaneous with," and "later than." These substitutes are not tensed phrases. "I write this sentence simultaneous with Jodie driving a car, you sleeping, etc." is not tensed. "I write this sentence later than my reading of your post" is not tensed. No time has a privileged status of "now" or "present" on a B-series view of time. It rather relates events in the direction of logical causation. An event is earlier than another because the earlier event causes the latter event. Events may be caused by other events without its being necessary that they could have been, at some point, modified by the word "now."

If God is timeless and omniscient, a B-series view of time must be true. Otherwise, propositions describing events would be tensed, God would have to know those propositions, and God's knowledge of tensed propositions would necessitate and A-series view of time. This would lead to divine mutability, as shown earlier, which I find problematic.

How does a B-series view of time square with creation? Paul Helm theorizes an "eternal creation." To be eternal is simply to be atemporal or timeless. What does this mean? Well, A and B-series views of time define time in terms of the tensed or tenseless relations events possess (e.g. past/present/future vs. earlier/simultaneous/later). So the point is that God does not acquire [new] relations if He is timeless. What relation[s] God has to the universe, then, must be timeless - that is, on the B-series view of time, these relations cannot be earlier than, simultaneous with, or later than any other events.

Hence, as Helm puts it, God does not will "in" time but rather "with" time; He eternally or timelessly decrees {event A at time t1, B at t2, etc.}. He does not eternally decree {to will event A at time t1, to will B at t2, etc.}. God's will is eternal - it does not occur in time. So the whole temporal order is timeless, though the events in this order are temporal because of their tenseless yet temporal relations with each other (earlier/simultaneous/later).

In my own words, I think of the whole temporal order - the entire B-series - as a set: {A, B, C...}. A is the earliest event (or events) within this order, B is the next, and so on. A causes B, B causes C, and so on. While the entire set is eternally or timelessly created - hence God stands in static relationship to it and the events of the set, none of which possesses the tensed distinction of being "the present" - the set itself is not earlier/simultaneous/later than any other event, for there is no other event to which the creation of the temporal order could stand in [temporal] relation. However, A, B, C, etc. do stand in relation to each other in such a way, which is why we can say such events occur in time. They are earlier/simultaneous/later with respect to each other.

Thus, since there is no earlier event, the creation of the temporal order (the entire B-series set of events) is eternal. The entire created order is metaphysically dependent upon God's will, however (by definition, since created), so that creation would be eternal does not empty the word of its meaning.

If anyone is finding this difficult to understand, don't feel bad. I've read Craig's Time and Eternity (which was very helpful in introducing the material and written by an A-series theorist) Helm's Eternal God, and God and Time: Four Views, and I still have a hard time keeping it straight. I would recommend reading these books. Helm's summary view presented in God and Time: Four Views is viewable on googlebooks. It seems that he updated his views in Eternal God, though (e.g. possible worlds).