Are universes clickable?

Over at the conservative blog What’s Wrong with the World (‘W4’ for short), Lydia McGrew critiques what she calls The Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. Here’s how she starts:

When philosophers talk about the Problem of Evil (aka “the POE”), they sometimes cast the question like this: “Why did God create a universe in which Adam chose to sin rather than a different universe in which Adam did not choose to sin? Was there no possible universe God could have created in which Adam did not choose to sin?” Then they go on to discuss these questions.

I think this is a confusing way for philosophers to cast the issue.

The reason that I think it is confusing is that it implies that God, in an act of creation, makes an entire world-history, an entire possible world with all that happens in it. I call this the Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. The picture it always gives me is of a pretty Microsoft Desktop arrangement, with a tasteful blue background, and all the possible worlds laid out on it as little icons. God has a mouse. He decides which one to create by clicking on it, and when he does so, that whole universe, history and all, is then fated to come into existence.

But that’s not right.

Such a topic ties in rather nicely with that of Apolonio’s post God and Infinite Choices; but the W4 combox discussion, unlike that of Apolonio’s post, centers on the issue of God’s knowledge of future contingents. And that, it seems to me, is how it should be.

For the question Apolonio addressed in his post, namely whether God can be accounted less then perfectly good if he doesn’t actualize the best world he can, cannot be usefully raised unless we first settle the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world. And answers to the question whether and/or how God knows what free beings will do surely affect, even if they don’t t settle by themselves, the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world.

There are other questions here too, such as that of whether ‘universe’ and ‘actual world’ have the same referent. But let’s try to tackle one question at a time.

12 Responses

  1. Mike,

    Dean Zimmerman also pointed that out to me when I was doing my independent study with him on this issue. The problem with that view, it seems to me, is that it leads to open theism.

  2. Apolonio:

    The open-theism issue is discussed in the W4 thread, but I’d like to do that here.

    Thus: How does McGrew’s view lead to open theism? What is objectionable about open theism, and why? Is there any way to fix either in order to remove what’s objectionable? If not, why not?

    Best,
    Mike

  3. Mike,

    Open theism is a huge project so I don’t know how much I can really say here.

    Now, McGrew said,

    “If God is going to create a free being at all, God doesn’t decide whether the being sins or not.”

    Well, the classical view would agree with this. But what McGrew seems to be saying is that if God actualizes world A (by “world” I mean it the way Plantinga defines it), then Adam is not really freely choosing what he wants, maybe even sin. Well, what the difference of foreknowing all of the events that will happen, all of the actions Adam will do, etc. and creating a world? If God simply creates Adam but foreknows what will happen, then it seems to me that that is simply the same thing as creating a world.
    But strict libertarians want to get rid of this and think there are some propositions in the future that God does not know. I think this runs against immutability and omniscience.

  4. …strict libertarians want to get rid of this and think there are some propositions in the future that God does not know. I think this runs against immutability and omniscience.

    I know why many people draw your conclusion, but I don’t think it follows. It would follow only on two assumptions

    The strict-libertarian view “runs against immutabiity” only on the assumption that, if God knows future contingents, that is because he gathers information from them or, at the very least, from what (antecedently) causes them to be so. But if God knows all things only by knowing his will, then God’s knowledge of what people will freely do does not depend on his gathering information from anything mutable.

    The strict-libertarian view “runs against omniscience” only on the assumption that future contingents always have truth-values, so that in order for God to be omniscient, he must know all future contingents. But some libertarians argue that future contingents as such have no truth-values; they only acquire truth-values when the time comes for them to be either true or false, in which case they are no longer future. Hence, there is nothing to know prior to their occurrence, so that God’s failure to know them is not a lack in his knowledge. Omniscience only means knowing everything there is to know, and future contingents qua future are not among the things there are to know.

    Best,
    Mike

  5. But if God knows all things only by knowing his will, then God’s knowledge of what people will freely do does not depend on his gathering information from anything mutable.

    Response:
    How is this compatible with open theism?

    You said,
    But some libertarians argue that future contingents as such have no truth-values; they only acquire truth-values when the time comes for them to be either true or false, in which case they are no longer future

    Response:
    Well, to say that future contingents have no truth-values is a bit weird. “The sun will probably rise tomorrow.” Next day: “Apolonio, you were right!” Or, let’s say Adam just ate the apple. Take the proposition:

    “Adam is not in Eden.”

    But this means that the proposition:

    “Adam will not be in Eden”

    is also true. That is, when Adam was deliberating on whether to eat the apple.

    Some open theists try to make up some weird way to explain the weirdness there. It seems that the simplest answer is simply to admit the truth-value of the future.

    Or take this proposition:

    “If Adam and Eve do not have sex, neither of them will have children.”

    So certainly, we can know things about the future because of what is in the present or even the past; present events entails the future.

    Here’s an idea…the truth-makers of the future depends on the present. God is always in the present. He knows the present. Ergo..he knows what will know in the future.

    Suppose we reject that argument. Counterexample: we are always in the present and we know present events. But it doesn’t mean we can know all future events! Well, the weird part is, what’s the difference between our knowledge and God’s? Maybe because God knows every events that is in the present moment that He knows the future. I don’t know…I’m a little off today so I don’t know how good this arugment is.

  6. “If Adam and Eve do not have sex, neither of them will have children”

    Compare – “If Joseph and Mary do not have sex, neither of them will have children”

    The other examples are open to being handled similarly I think. And in any case they seem to beg the question. Assuming that we’re willing to accept some sort of correspondence account of truth, the libertarian position seems to me to be that there just is no fact of the matter (yet) with which the proposition/statement could or could not correspond. There may be probabilities or likelihoods of things turning out to be true, and we may well speak informally as if something that is overwhelmingly likely to turn out true (“The sun will rise tomorrow”) is in fact true now, but that doesn’t make it so.

    If you then want to shift the ground to God’s being outside the temporal sequence, I think you have to recognize that we have no conception of what it might be like to be a being “outside” time having knowledge of temporal events. We have (and can have) no idea of what that would “look like”, so to speak. So I don’t think that God’s non-temporal knowledge can be used to draw any conclusions at all about whether or not future contingents possess truth-values.

    But I could be wrong.

  7. thomas,

    what about when Jesus knew he was going to die? Isn’t that knowledge of the future?

  8. Perhaps, or perhaps not.

    The easiest, most obvious response is to simply point out that this could be more or less analagous to “knowing” that the sun will rise tomorrow. You have a high degree of subjective certainty regarding a highly probably future event. That’s not knowledge of the future, in the sense that we’re discussing.

    Or you could make it stronger, and say Jesus knew because the Father had told him that it was his will that he be crucified, or that he knew in virtue of his own omniscience. In that case we’re no longer dealing with a future _contingent_ are we? The Father’s will is certainly ineluctable and in no sense contingent. Something similar may apply to Jesus’ omniscience in time as well (though I confess I am way out of my depth in trying to understand Jesus’ psychology).

    Hopefully I am not begging questions here (redefining terms willy-nilly to suit my argument) – but it seems that while some statements about the future are not contingent (when God wills something) and others may not be (say, the precise orbital trajectory of Mercury for the
    next week, assuming no quantum effects at the macro level), others (i.e. those involving free agents) are and have to be if “free will” is to have any meaning. And I don’t think any of the above entails that statements about future contingents possess truth-values.

  9. I don’t understand what “subjective certainty” is. Certainty is actually stronger than knowledge.

    If the Father tells Jesus x, it is a future contingent in that x is an event that depends on the event (s) y. So yes, Jesus would know a future contingent. It is also contingent in that x is not metaphysically necessary.

    You said that things about the future are not contingent when God wills something. I think one needs to distinguish one kind of contingency you have in mind.

    One can also argue that God wills everything and therefore knows every future event. But that’s beggin the question

  10. Dr. Liccione (and Apolonio, if possible),

    Hence, there is nothing to know prior to their occurrence, so that God’s failure to know them is not a lack in his knowledge. Omniscience only means knowing everything there is to know, and future contingents qua future are not among the things there are to know.

    Does this mean that had Adam not fallen, we wouldn’t have come to know the 2nd Person of the Trinity or that the 2nd Person of the Trinity would not have been?

    The above quoted statement seems to imply that God’s knowledge and, subsequently, His Actions depends on a linear sequence of events, which I am not sure to be correct given that even Augustine (e.g., in his Confessions) posited that God exists outside of time.

    Please forgive my ignorance in thse matters concerning theology & philosophy (which I hope to decrease even if narrowly by my negligible participation in musings as these). I hope you might be able to indulge me.

    Thanks.

  11. Apolonio,

    In order:

    1). “Subjective certainty” – what I have in mind here is only the feeling of “sureness” on Jesus’ part. That’s all – it may well be muddying the waters to call it any kind of “certainty”, but hopefully that at least clears up what I meant.

    2). I am thinking here of contingent as opposed to determinate – not contingent as opposed to metaphysically (or otherwise) necessary. Certainly many kinds of things can, in principle, be determinate without being metaphysically necessary. I tried to give two fairly non-controversial examples (the express will of God and the orderly functioning of physical laws). The question then really comes down to whether there are “actually indeterminate future events”. That’s a nasty bit of violence to the English language, but I can’t think of a better way to express it at the moment. It seems to me that if a). human agents are actually free, then b). their future actions must be in a real sense indeterminate (i.e., not always perfectly predictable, even in principle by an effectively omniscient _temporal_ observer). From that it seems to follow that a statement at time t about some indeterminate event at time t+x cannot (at time t) have a settled truth value.

    This, however, is where I was worried about begging questions. The assumption that there are indeterminate (what I was calling contingent) future events may not be one you feel you have to grant.

    3). Surely you can’t argue that God wills literally “everything”. Can God will that someone sin? Wouldn’t that be equivalent to God willing that his will not be carried out? That seems incoherent to me. But I suspect you didn’t mean that as more than an off-hand remark.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  12. A few reflections on the question of events in time, and a couple of questions.
    We can take it, I imagine, that God created this ‘actual’ universe. I suppose that he could have created others (if he could not, he would not be omnipotent). Therefore, this universe somehow fulfills his purpose – whatever that might be – better than any other could (otherwise he would not be infallible). If the universe he created is *at least* the physical universe we inhabit, then (and in the following I shall simplify greatly) what God creates (note tense change) is a four-dimensional physical entity in which ‘events’ are the spatially and temporally extended occupants of sub-regions of spacetime. The four-dimensional physical universe is atemporal – there is no *absolute* distinction between past, present, and future; therefore, all ‘events in space and time’ are there at the moment of its creation. Therefore, the physical world and all it contains (including ‘concrete human actions’) *exactly reflects* God’s intention.
    Without rejecting any of the premises above, there are several possible responses to this puzzle:
    (1) God created *all* possible worlds: we just happen to live in one of them. In some other, there was no Fall; in another, humans don’t exist, etc. etc. This is physically possible; it would square to a certain extent with the many-worlds interpretation; however, it makes God look like some cosmic Mad Scientist running mice through mazes.
    (2) There are no other possible worlds; this world reflects God’s entire intention, but we cannot grasp that intention. If I were a believer, I would tend to this explanation (call it ‘optimistic fatalism’); and indeed, it comes down to simply accepting that ‘the world is like that’ and that our choices concerning physical action (even though we continue to make them!) are entirely determined by the causal structure of the physical world. However, free will has no real meaning.
    (3) Allowing dualism, God is concerned not by our physical actions, but by our *mental attitude* to those actions (given also that our mental experience of time is ‘seriously tensed’, and that it inhabits a ‘local present’). This would also resolve the mind-body problem (two stones with one Bird!).
    There are certainly others – but are there any that would exactly square with Catholic doctrine, or does doctrine require that the Catholic philosopher reject an atemporal understanding of four-dimensional spacetime? I know that some Christian thinkers try and juggle with endurantism or with our interpretation of (in this case) special relativity, but I don’t know whether they’re specifically Catholic.

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