A Problem for the Classical View of Divine Foreknowledge

One problem every Christian must deal with is why the world is not a better place. There are certain conditions in the world which are great, but many that are not. One of the more striking problems for Christians is the belief that only a remnant will be saved. This is found both in the Old and New Testament. Narrow is the path to heaven, but large is the gate to Hell. Many will try to enter the narrow gate, but few will find it (Matthew 7:13-14). When that belief is connected to the belief that God knows all future actions, we have a problem. Why would God create a world where the majority of the people would not be saved? One answer could be that He could not create any world better than this one. This may come in the form of trans-world depravity. I find this implausible. What reasons do we have supposed that God could do no better than this world? The traditional concept of God seems that He would have enough power, knowledge, and creativity, to make creatures that would choose what is right (If He could foreknow their actions). On the whole, it seems very plausible that God could have created a world where the majority of people would have been saved. As long as that is correct, there are only a few moves one can make: (1) God has created multiple worlds, (2) reject the traditional idea of divine foreknowledge, or (3) bite the bullet. I am open to either (1) or (2). Perhaps God has created multiple worlds and this world was one of the less good ones, but still better to create than not. However, for those who reject (1), they must come to the belief that the traditional view of God’s foreknowledge is mistaken.

A Brief Defense of Open Theism

Open Theism is a position within the divine foreknowledge debate. I believe it is the least defended view. The other three primary views are Predestination, Molinism, and Simple Foreknowledge. Within these positions are different debates as well. Now, I wish to outline why I currently favor Open Theism over the other views. It should be noted that I believe in free will, this Predestination/Calvinism is ruled out for me. However, Simple Foreknowledge and Molinism are still live options.

Open Theism can be outlined in a few different ways. God cannot know future propositions even though their truth values exist, God cannot know future propositions because they don’t currently have truth values, or God chooses not to know future propositions. Both the former and latter have some deep flaws, thus I opt for option two. The toughest challenge option two faces is the question ‘how does God seem to know some future propositions?’. Here I think His omnipotence comes into play, He can override people’s wills at times, some future statement might be certain while the majority are open to probabilities. Take a game of chess as an example. Most of the moves are freely chosen between multiple options, but the game can go in such a way that one player only has one move she can make. In the same way, the world can have a similar state of affairs where only one option becomes available because of the former free will choices. Even if such a state of affairs doesn’t exist, God certainly has enough power to make His will happen even if it overrides free will sometimes. What is important is that He does not override it in a way that affects whether a person will go to heaven or hell. For example, say He overrode my decision to go to a restaurant and I found myself walking in a park instead. It could be the case that going to the restaurant would have been an amoral choice, but he wanted me to meet someone who was at the park. I see no reason why God couldn’t do this. But this is likely to be off-putting to some peoples’ view of God. However, I think both positions I have defended are scripturally sound. Look at Daniel 4:33, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to act like an animal in the field. God did this so that Nebuchadnezzar would repent and this is sufficient evidence to show that God will sometimes override our free will.

Open Theism has been sufficiently outlined. I believe there is a solid scriptural case for Open Theism as well. There are two times that God regretted; Genesis 6:6–7; 1 Samuel 15:11. There are multiple ways of explaining these verses, but Open Theism clearly has simple tools. God regretted because He didn’t know things would turn out the way they did. Another route to take is the one John Piper does. He says that God emotions are complex and can both be the best option, but still feel regrettable or unfortunate. While this is true, it seems odd to me that God best option would be to make Saul king when it turned out poorly. The God who can turn rocks into Abraham children couldn’t make a king that wouldn’t cause regret? I find that hard to believe. Because of this, I think Open Theism is a better option.

I believe there are more scriptural reasons to believe Open Theism as well such as God changing his mind. However, I would like to cover a philosophical reason for this view. God has an option between creating W1 and W2. W1 and W2 are almost identical so all the same people exists. If God creates W1, 15 more people would choose God than if W2 would have been created. However, there are 10 people that would have been saved in W2 that don’t choose God in W1. This seems to go against the tenant that God cares about each individual as well as mankind as a whole. Because those 10 people would have had an eternal loving relationship with God if He had just chosen to make W2 instead. I believe it would be unfair to those ten people to lose out on an eternal relationship with God ultimately because of the world He chose to create.

Lastly, I find the idea that God is the master of probabilities who can maneuver his ship in an uncertain sea to his destination no matter, a beautiful theory. I tend to think of His knowledge about the future like a never ending decision tree in which He knows every probability and knows just how to act in each scenario. Every choice a person has two or more branches which lead to two or more branches. And thinking about how God can keep up with that and still have control over where the world goes creates a sense of awe for Him within me.

G.K. Chesterton’s argument(s) for God’s existence 

G.K. Chesterton did not write a formal argument for the existence of God, but there are sketches of one in his book Orthodoxy. This isn’t surprising since his goal was to defend Christianity. This is attempt to take his argument from the chapter Ethics of Elfland. One argument is:                                                                                                                                             1. Life is a story                                                                                                                                     2. All stories have story-teller(s).                                                                                               Therefore,                                                                                                                                                 3. Our life has a story teller(s)

I find his defense of one intriguing, “Now, the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape. I should have fancied for a moment that it must be some local secret society. So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot.” (Orthodoxy, p 57)

His argument summed up is this: unlikely similarities indicate a plot, and nature has unlikely similarities, thus there is an ultimate plot. There is clearly some intuitiveness to this, since it is a version of a design argument.

Epistemic Uniqueness

My friend Joel wrote about a possible counter-example to Epistemic Uniqueness.

“Epistemic Uniqueness: for any body of evidence, E, and any proposition, P, E permits at most one rational attitude toward P (i.e., given E, it is either rational to believe P, disbelieve P, or suspend judgment about P, but not more than one). ” (http://joelballivian.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-counterexample-to-epistemic-uniqueness.html)

I commented on why I thought the counter-example he gave failed. But as I was reflecting on some different today, I thought there might be a counter-example. Person S is aware of all the different theories of T for Y because they are an expert in T. They have assigned probabilities of each T: A: 5%, B: 10%, C:15%, and D: 45%. There are no other theories which are above 1%. It seems that person S is justified in both believing D and suspending judgment about D. Since, P(D)>P(C+B+A), but Pr(D) is still under 50%. It is the most likely, yet not likely at the same time. It seems pragmatically one would believe D, but also keep wondering if D was true. In addition, I think it likely that there are epistemologists who fit this scenario in the structure of knowledge debate.

What is a Metaphor?

I picked up a book called Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphors because of how cheap it was. I have almost no experience in the philosophy of languages and thought it was strange that metaphors were being examined rigorously. To my knowledge, metaphors played almost no role in arguments, unlike analogies. The reason that metaphors are examined is because they cause major problems for theories of language, since most language is direct.  I have only read two chapters from the book and am going to give my uninformed thought. As of now I think metaphors are mini-poems for sentences, paragraphs, etc… One problem of this view is that we need a definition of poem which might be just as elusive. A second problem is if one creates a metaphoric poem, then really it is just a poem-poem, which is intuitively wrong. A possible solution to this is that it is a poem within a poem, which is sensible. Overall, I am not too optimistic about this view. If it is wrong, I will likely adopt Max Black’s interaction view.

Here is an example of each sentence is just as poetic as the poem

“Love is a walk in the rain at night,
Two hands, holding onto each other tight;
Love is honey on a pair of lips,
Onto a tender heart it drips;
Love is a soft and gentle touch;
Your heart, a child’s hand may clutch,
Love is a song that stains the air,
Dead or not, it’s always there;
Love is both the sun and moon,
Across the sky, like stars, it’s strewn;
Love is a tree of abundant fruit,
Giving and serving with every new shoot;
Love is a document, faithful and strong,
To one another, now do you belong;
Love is a river that rages with passion,
Finding ways to calm pools no matter the fashion”  (http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/love-is-4)

Two Solutions to the Gettier Problem

I think the current mind set in philosophy is that there is no progress. That for every one problem possible solved, two new problems emerge. One example is the Gettier Problem. (Here is a link to the original paper: http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/gettierphilreading.pdf) For example, Linda Zagzebski argued that the problem is insoluble. (1) I do not know if she still holds that the Gettier Problem is insoluble. But I do believe there is a general feeling that this may be the case. Even if that is wrong, it is certain many epistemologists still wrestle with solving Gettier Problems.

I have taken quite the opposite view from the majority here. I not only believe the Gettier problem is soluble, but that it has at least two solutions. It is possible there are more, but I think there are only two strong contenders once simplicity is taken into consideration. One solution is older than the popularized version of the problem — the infamous Russellian Solution. And the other is a rather new solution; Earnest Sosa’s virtue epistemology. One is an internalist solution and the other is primarily externalist. Interestingly both give primacy to the rational features of the human mind. I believe this shows, contra Plantinga, that the Gettier problem shows the necessity of internalism.

 

(1) Zagzebski, Linda. “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems.” The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 44.174 (1994): 65-73. JSTOR. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

The Principle of Credulity according to Swinburne

  In Mind, Brain, and Free Will, Richard Swinburne states the Principle of Credulity (hereafter, PC) is,

“a fundamental a priori epistemic principle…that any basic belief is probably true on the believer’s evidence that he believes it – in the absence of evidence in the form of other basic beliefs of that believer which makes it probably that he is mistaken.”1

This means that what seems to be true is probably true. Swinburne endorses this a fundamental epistemic principle to avoid extreme skepticism (extreme skepticism meaning that most of our ordinary beliefs are not probably true). However, Swinburne does not motivate PC other than giving a dilemma between endorsing PC or extreme skepticism and does not give any reason to suppose all other solutions fail, strong foundationalism, coherentism, or externalism.2 In part this is because Swinburne believes that the debate between externalism and internalism is simply a dispute about words.3 Most, including myself, believe the externalism/internalism controversies is more than a dispute about words.  Lastly, there seems to be an inexplicit notion that memory belief(s) can only be justified if PC is accepted and that if memory belief(s) are not justified then not many of our ordinary beliefs are. If memory beliefs can only be justified through PC, then this is motivation for accepting it. However, there are a couple of problems with Swinburne’s version of PC.

       Other than the problem already noted that Swinburne does not give explicit reasons why any position would lead to extreme skepticism, he also does not give any good ground to think PC is in fact truth conducive. Most philosophers tend to agree that just because skeptical scenarios could be true, that does not mean they are likely.

If skeptical scenarios are true, then we would not be able to see defeaters from our vantage point. Take this example, if we are really in a matrix pod there is no way of seeing that is so. There could never be any defeaters in such a world and all our perceptual knowledge would be false. More importantly, as epistemologists we should not rule out extreme skepticism simply because it is unappealing, since it may be our current predicament. To respond to the skeptical worry with PC when PC is motivated by avoiding skepticism is question begging.

      Despite Swinburne’s version of PC being unmotivated and unconvincing there is a more suitable version of it, PC*; that what appears to be the case is rational to hold unless there is evidence against the prima fascia belief. I believe this is a common sense version of PC. If I think I see a chair in the corner of my room then I am rational to believe there is a chair there unless I have stronger evidence against the belief. Stronger evidence against the belief would be trying to feel it and see my hand go right through where the chair is supposed to be, thus now it is rational to believe it is a hologram. The strength of PC* is that it allows skepticism to be possibly right, does not claim to be truth conducive, but still gives guidance towards rational inquiry. If we are not in the skeptical position, then PC* is likely to be truth conducive as well.

1. Swinburne: Mind, Brain, Free Will,  p. 42 (2013)

2. Ibid., p. 44

3. Ibid., p 40