Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Theological Fatalist's Modal Fallacy

Theological fatalists posit that God's foreknowledge of future events mean that it is not possible for anything other than what happens to happen. Since God knows every event that will happen, then aren't those events necessary?

This mode of thinking works out like this:

1) Necessarily, if God foreknows x will happen, then x will happen
2) God foreknows x will happen
3) Therefore, necessarily x will happen

which would take the form:

□ P -> Q
P
___
□ Q

But this is a non sequitur. All that would actually follow from the premises displayed is Q. In terms of God's foreknowledge, all that would follow is that x will happen, not that necessarily x will happen.

Theological fatalists have tried to remedy this by positing that the second premise is also necessary. So the argument would go:

1) Necessarily, if God foreknows x will happen, then x will happen
2') Necessarily, God foreknows x will happen
3) Therefore, necessarily x will happen

which takes the valid form:


□ P -> Q
□ P
___
□ Q


This would make the syllogism valid, but is premise 2' true? At first glance, no. If it is necessary that God knows a specific event will happen, then God is as fatalistically determined as everyone else. It certainly seems like God's knowledge of future events isn't necessary, because it is possible that God could have chosen not to create the universe, meaning there would be no future events.

But the fatalist is aware of this, so they say that premise 2' isn't logically necessary, but chronologically necessary; meaning that since God foreknew x in the chronological past, that event (the event of God knowing x) is now necessary in the past. But, no philosopher has been able to explain how this works out and why this should be true.

In fact, we could say that since God's knowledge of future events is contingent on those events actually happening (otherwise He would know that those events would not happen) then we could say that God's knowledge of x, while chronologically prior to x, is actually logically subsequent to x. God knows x because x will happen. x isn't necessitated by God knowing x.

So, in the case of free human actions, we have the ability to act in such a way that determines what God knows in the past. Take the example William Lane Craig likes to use. Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny Him. The moment before Peter denied Jesus, he had the ability to act in such a way that if he did, Jesus would not have prophesied as He did. Peter didn't have the ability to contradict Jesus' prophesy, because Jesus is infallible. However, Peter did have the ability to make it so Jesus would not have prophesied that Peter would deny Him.

For a really good lecture on this, and what inspired this post, listen here.

16 comments:

The Seeking Disciple said...

Good stuff. Thanks brother.

A.M. Mallett said...

In fact, we could say that since God's knowledge of future events is contingent on those events actually happening (otherwise He would know that those events would not happen) then we could say that God's knowledge of x, while chronologically prior to x, is actually logically subsequent to x. God knows x because x will happen. x isn't necessitated by God knowing x.

That is a good statement. I would add that logically the determinist also limit's God's knowledge to those things He has decreed i.e. God can know nothing but what He has decreed. In a sense, Calvinism places a limitation upon the omniscience of God via their dogma. Of course they will deny this but then, they tend to deny every other logical quandary pointed out to them.

bossmanham said...

Roy,

Thanks so much, brother!

AM,

Thanks to you too. Craig differentiated between determinists, who think God knows things because He decrees them, and fatalists, who think things must happen since God knows them in the lecture. But I've seen Calvinists argue more along the lines of things must happen because God knows rather than the former.

It's interesting to see the divergence from the historic forms of Calvinism to the modern pop-Calvinism.

Marcus McElhaney said...

These are some great posts! Here is a response that I don't think will fit easily into the comments box.

http://mmcelhaney.blogspot.com/2010/05/brennons-thoughts-theological-fatalists.html

Marcus McElhaney said...

Thanks, guys.

Steven said...

"That is a good statement. I would add that logically the determinist also limit's God's knowledge to those things He has decreed i.e. God can know nothing but what He has decreed. In a sense, Calvinism places a limitation upon the omniscience of God via their dogma. Of course they will deny this but then, they tend to deny every other logical quandary pointed out to them."

How is it a limitation upon God's omniscience? In the first place, no Calvinists say that the only things God can know are what he decrees, because all Calvinists think God knows things he didn't decree--like that he exists, that 7+5=12, etc. But it may even be that God *can't* know the future unless he decrees it because of a lack of truthmaker for propositions about the future.

SLW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SLW said...

Brennon,
I appreciate your skill in communicating material like this.

How would a change of God's mind about a statement of foreknowledge factor into the equation? So when Jonah pronounced God's word to Nineveh, or even his statements to Moses about destroying Israel and starting again, at some point chronologically, statement (1) would have been false, no?

A.M. Mallett said...

Steven wrote:
How is it a limitation upon God's omniscience? In the first place, no Calvinists say that the only things God can know are what he decrees, because all Calvinists think God knows things he didn't decree--like that he exists, that 7+5=12, etc. But it may even be that God *can't* know the future unless he decrees it because of a lack of truthmaker for propositions about the future.

I reply:
I have yet to encounter the Calvinist who states the LORD did not decree everything relative to our existence (the LORD's existence withstanding because such an origin is beyond any comprehension you or I could imagine). Even mathematical truths are subject to God's order unless you are going to posit that 2 + 2 exists outside of God's existence. Of course I digress. However, you have confirmed my statement and accomplished the negating of your own statement with the highlighted comment above. Let's test your assumptions ...

"Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire [for] burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake [it], neither came [it] into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter." (Jer 19:4-6 AV).

How does that fit into your Calvinist scheme of decrees?

Steven said...

“I have yet to encounter the Calvinist who states the LORD did not decree everything relative to our existence (the LORD's existence withstanding because such an origin is beyond any comprehension you or I could imagine). Even mathematical truths are subject to God's order unless you are going to posit that 2 + 2 exists outside of God's existence.”

(i) I don't know what it means to say that the Lord's existence's origin is beyond any comprehension.
(ii) The question is not the existence of numbers; the question is the truth of mathematical propositions.
(iii) Which Calvinists do you know, and can quote, that say that God makes 2+2=4 true?

“How does that fit into your Calvinist scheme of decrees?”

I'm not sure what the text has to do with whether or not God can know future propositions. I said it is possible that God cannot know future propositions unless he decrees them because if he's going to know them, they have to be true—but what truthmakers could there be for future propositions apart from God's will (assuming presentism or a growing block theory)?

A.M. Mallett said...

Steven wrote:
I don't know what it means to say that the Lord's existence's origin is beyond any comprehension.

I reply:
Steven, you first must quote properly and then perhaps it would make sense. I stated "the LORD's existence withstanding because such an origin is beyond any comprehension you or I could imagine". That statement goes to the heart of our impossible task of comprehending the origins of an eternal God. Perhaps you are the one man who can grasp this and I am sure we would all be appreciative to have you share such an epiphany.

Steven wrote:
The question is not the existence of numbers; the question is the truth of mathematical propositions.

I reply:
Oh but it is very much a question of numbers and how they are subject to the natural laws the LORD has placed into existence. Lacking any physicality, the concept of 2+2 has no rational existence. Mathematics is a function of numbers and numbers are a function of order. Order is in turn a result of creation.

Steven wrote:
Which Calvinists do you know, and can quote, that say that God makes 2+2=4 true?

I reply:
I cannot get hardly a Calvinist to admit their caricature of God makes Him the author of wickedness even though the implications of hard determinism shout such a conclusion from the rooftops of their leading seminaries. you as well cannot see that numbers, mathematics, order and creation all exist solely because the LORD breathed creation into existence.

Steven said...

"Oh but it is very much a question of numbers and how they are subject to the natural laws the LORD has placed into existence. Lacking any physicality, the concept of 2+2 has no rational existence. Mathematics is a function of numbers and numbers are a function of order. Order is in turn a result of creation."

I don't know what it means for numbers to lack "rational existence". Do they exist irrationality? (Maybe the square root of 2 does...)

"I cannot get hardly a Calvinist to admit their caricature of God makes Him the author of wickedness even though the implications of hard determinism shout such a conclusion from the rooftops of their leading seminaries. you as well cannot see that numbers, mathematics, order and creation all exist solely because the LORD breathed creation into existence."

I don't even know what you're talking about anymore.

And you ignored the bit about truthmakers, which was the meat of my initial reply to you.

etiologue said...

Good straightforward stuff indeed. I can only add that omniscience interferes with free at two levels : both of men's and of God's

(see details at: http://etiologue.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/omniscience-and-free-will/ )

Drew said...

The truthmaker objection is a bad one, because it means that there cannot be true statements about future events, but surely that's ridiculous! We express our beliefs in the truth of future contingent propositions all the time, like when we say "I told you so"

In fact, the very concept of gambling is based on the truth of future contingent propositions.

Rey said...

I'm not sure that the second makes the syllogism valid. Posting it here for reminder.

□ P -> Q
□ P
___
□ Q

The only conclusion you get from this syllogism is Q, not necessarily Q. I think the argument is supposed to be structured like this:

Necessarily (□)[God foreknows(p) X happens(q)]
X happens (q).
Therefore, necessarily X happens (□ q).

Which I think should look like this:
□ p -> q
q
□ q

The difference here is that X Happens. The argument is sort of inverted in that it looks to the past. Now I *think* it's valid and comes with all the problems you proceed to talk about (which renders it highly unlikely to be true). At this point it winds up being a question about the □p which Craig brings up in the audio.

Craig talks about it in more detail here: http://bit.ly/hArPNs and he has a variation of it against Dave Hunt in four views of divine foreknowledge.

bossmanham said...

Rey, that is the very syllogism that is invalid. Positing a conditional statement as necessary does nothing unless the antecedent itself is necessary. Nothing about God foreknowing an event makes it necessary that that event happens.

If the antecedent is indeed necessary, if it is indeed necessary that God knows a future event will happen, then that event must actually happen necessarily. But no one has shown that God's knowledge of a specific future is necessary.

See a discussion on the modal fallacy here.