Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The problem of divine foreknowledge sans time isn't one.

Suppose time is an illusion. If this were true, there would be no problem of “divine foreknowledge”, and here’s why.

The problem of divine foreknowledge is a problem about truthmakers and propositions. To say God knows at t1 that ‘Derek will write this blog at t2’ entails that ‘Derek will write this blog at t2’ is inevitable. For if it’s not inevitable that ‘Derek will write this blog at t2’ then it’s possible for me to cause God to have a false belief, which is impossible.

Attempts have been made to avoid the problem of inevitability by saying that the reason why God believes at t1 'Derek will write this blog at t2' is because I, at t2, write this blog. Had I decided to not write this blog at t2, then God would have believed something different at t1; namely, that ‘at t2 Derek will not write [a] blog’. I think this works, conceptually speaking, but it still seems to reek of inevitability. Suppose it is the case that had I chose not to write this blog at t2 and consequently at t1 God believes I won’t a write a blog at t2. Nevertheless, because God knows at t1 I will not write this blog at t2, it seems that it is inevitable that I don’t.

So let’s try to avoid this queer predicament by introducing a queerer one. Suppose that there is no time, in which case propositions cannot sensibly be time-indexed. So suppose I write this blog, then God knows that I write this blog. Suppose I didn’t write this blog, then God would know I didn’t. Hence there’s no problem of divine foreknowledge, since there’s nothing for God to ‘foreknow’.

Aside from the violence denying the existence of time would do to our common sense notions of causation and-well, time, it might be objected that denying the existence of time might entail determinism (and hence the inevitability of my actions) In the following way.

(1) Assuming there is no such thing as time, then whatever I do already happened. If what I do already happened, then whatever I will do is inevitable.

I think this argument fails because it employs temporal language, which is language that, ex hypothesi, cannot be applied to non-temporal states of affairs. The word “already” is a temporal notion, meaning something like “before time x”. The same goes for the use “I will” in the consequent clause: to say “whatever I will do” is to employ temporal language because the sense of “I will” means something like “whatever I will do later”. But if time doesn’t exist, then it’s misleading (indeed, incoherent) to describe a timeless state of affairs using temporal language. Hence (1) fails to substantiate the thesis that a timeless state of affairs entails determinism.

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