Friday, January 18, 2013

Counterfactuals and Imaginable Worlds

So far as I’m aware, how imaginative one is can only be gauged relatively and is an inexact science. I can’t think of a standard by which to measure one’s imagination. For example, while half our thoughts may be good and half may be bad, what would it mean for half our thoughts to be [un]imaginative? But if there were a standard, then given that God has ultimately determined everyone’s imagination, clearly He, the Creator of all things, would be it. He is the most imaginative person there is: He knows what is possible for us to think and imagine because He has determined our thoughts and imaginations.

Sometimes, requiring the exercise of our imagination can get across a truth more poignantly than does the usual literal statement of it. Consider parables. Are these stories “based on a series true events”? Have they literally occurred in the actual world? Well, these sorts of questions really miss the point of a parable. The point is not for those who hear it to woodenly understand random literal events. Rather, by imagining the narrated scenario, each parable is able to communicate a spiritual truth or truths for which the story primarily functions as a metaphor. Even if the parables are fictitious, they can still tell us something we can and should use as motivation for obeying God’s word. That’s what important.

Is it far-fetched to suppose that God could relate to us truths by counter-factual conditionals which, in fact, could not have occurred? I don’t think so. Further, if I want to lead a person or persons to make certain choices, hyperbole can be an effective stimulant to action. It engages the imagination and occasions proper motivation. The upshot of this is would be that as a necessitarian, I would not necessarily have to account for multiple possible worlds. So perhaps I’m biased. In any case, a critical reader will point out that it is possible parables could [have] occur[red].

But it is fairly routinely argued that passages which warn churches of apostasy are purely hypothetical: final apostasy can’t actually occur in sincere believers. Of course, the unfortunate fact is that churches are often not composed of believers alone; nevertheless, warnings can have a significant impact on actual believers too, reminding them to make their calling and election sure. We can imagine what would be the case if we were to fall away even though we can’t fall away. How? Because we know there are two categories of sinners – believers and unbelievers – and we know what actually will accordingly happen to both. 

By abstraction, we can imagine a character in a novel plucked from one story and implanted in another as well as what would occur on that basis. And as novelists, we can even invest our own created characters with such imaginations, with acute “self-awareness” of themselves in the context of their status as a character. But in a significant sense, we too are characters – in a divine drama.


Drake Shelton said...

Have you seen the recent Triablogue article about us?

Ryan said...

Yes. I am still considering whether or how to respond.