Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Yet more in answer to Presentism

After a discussion on Facebook (c'mon, guys, put these great comments here and give my poor little personal blog a bit o' traffic), I've decided to say a bit more about the "Jesus is forever hanging on the cross" criticism of the B theory of time.

William Lane Craig's discussion of this alleged problem is worded very strongly indeed. Here is the most pertinent passage:
[T]he idea that God and creation tenselessly co-exist seems to negate God's triumph over evil. On the static theory of time, evil is never really vanquished from the world: It exists just as sturdily as ever at its various locations in space-time, even if those locations are all earlier than some point in cosmic time (for example, Judgement Day). Creation is never really purged of evil on this view; at most it can be said that evil only infects those parts of creation which are earlier than certain other events. But the stain is indelible. What this implies for events such as the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ is very troubling. In a sense Christ hangs permanently on the cross, for the dreadful events of A.D. 30 never fade away or transpire. The victory of the resurrection becomes a hollow triumph, for the spatio-temporal parts of Jesus that were crucified and buried remain dying and dead and are never raised to new life. It is unclear how we can say with Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory!” (I Cor. 15:54) when, on a static theory of time, death is never really done away with. Time and Eternity, p. 214.
I already discussed in the previous entry the fact that the language here seems to suggest, erroneously, that the B theorist holds all times to be present tense. Evil "exists just as sturdily as ever at its various locations in space-time." That is a misunderstanding of the B theory. To say that there are tenseless truths about the past is not to say that the events those truths describe are happening now.

Another possible interpretation of the passage is that Craig is treating the B series block as if it exists within some higher-order time. If that were the case, then one might accuse the B theorist of holding that our B series is eternal (endures infinitely in both the past and the future) within this higher-order time. But that, of course, is not what the B theory says at all. An event on the B series that takes one hour takes one hour. The fact that the event does not become strictly unreal and nonexistent as some reality-creating Now moves past it (a concept that is extraordinarily hard to give meaning to, as I argued in the previous post) does not mean that the event takes more than one hour. There is no sense in which the B theory says that Jesus literally endures his sufferings through an eternity of time. The whole point about tenseless truths is that they are tenseless, not that they make the things they describe go on forever! Temporary events do not "last forever" on the B theory. That would be a complete misunderstanding of the B series.

Further: Ponder for a minute what Craig is asserting here about the alleged superiority of his own presentist view. He is saying that evil is really "vanquished from the world" on his view, but not on the B theory, why? Because evil events, such as the crucifixion, "fade away or transpire" on his view but do not "fade away or transpire" in the sense he wishes to assert (whatever exactly his sense means) on a different theory of time such as the B theory. But that is not victory anyway! The alleged superiority of presentism suggested here is that evil is annihilated from the world by the mere passage of time. The presentism Craig is promoting here would make Jesus' crucifixion just as much gone, done away with, no longer part of reality, even if Jesus had never risen from the dead! Pace Craig's Biblical language about death swallowed up in victory and evil purged and vanquished, presentism as a position in the philosophy of time tells us nothing whatsoever about such triumphal goings on.

Consider: Suppose that an evil man tortures a child for one hour, grows bored, stops, and never does it again. Now suppose, instead, that a good man comes along after an hour, finds the evil man torturing the child, and fights and kills him. In the latter case we could rightly say that evil has been vanquished. In the former case, not. But presentism tells us that the evil of the torture passes into unreality as it becomes past just the same in both cases. Presentism doesn't give us a glorious rescue any more than any other theory of time. Glorious rescues either happen or don't happen contingently within history. On presentism, the events of that hour "fade away or transpire" in some strong metaphysical sense whether evil is vanquished or not.

Given that sort of "victory," evil could be just as surely "vanquished" if evil men went on doing evil unopposed throughout human history, the sun went nova, and (if we are the only intelligent life in the universe) all intelligent life ceased to exist (except for God). The end. Maybe all souls are annihilated in this scenario, or maybe they go on existing in some vague and boring mental state throughout all eternity. Whatever. But no more actual evil acts occur. And the evil acts that have already occurred, according to presentism, have become utterly nonexistent in virtue of being past.

Given that notion of "victory," God could be "victorious" over evil simply by deliberately killing all rational beings, good and evil alike. Salvation of souls, redemption, and heaven, which is what Christians usually have in mind when they talk about God's ultimate victory over evil, need not enter the picture at all.

Craig seems to be confusing the unreality of the past, given presentism, which is not in itself what anyone means by "victory over evil," with actual victory over evil, which comes from victorious events themselves and their causal effects. But of course the B theorist can affirm the reality of such victorious events and of their effects just as strongly as the presentist. If anything, the B theorist can affirm the reality of victorious events and their effects even more strongly, since many wonderful and victorious events (such as Jesus' resurrection) are now in our own past, and the B theorist does not have to say that those events, along with the evils they overcame, have passed into unreality as the Now moves inexorably onward.

This criticism, worded eloquently as Craig words it, may seem to have some rhetorical pull, but it simply does not stand up upon philosophical scrutiny.


William Luse said...

Is Craig confusing God's apprehension of Time as ever-present before Him with with the B theorist's claim that though the past is past, it is not unreal?

For us, time is a thing never fixed, but always moving; for God it is not. If an event is to be truly victorious, it must have been completed ("It is finished"). But if it is then to be considered gone, unreal, disappeared, virtually annihilated, how could it have causal effects far into the future? Anything Craig says about the past must be true of the future. How could a prophet have predicted Christ's coming if the reality of time were not as you describe it? The past lives forever, though not in a manner available to us timebound creatures. Human memory might be an analogue to what God knows of time, but of course a weak one.

Lydia McGrew said...

Because Craig holds the B theory to be false and presentism to be true, he holds that God is indeed in time since the creation of the world. So he would deny that all of time is ever-present to God. He would argue that the past is "disappeared" for God as much as it is for us, though God has perfect recall of it and a perfect ability to know/predict the future.

It's interesting that you bring up the issue of prophecy. Craig is orthodox on the issue of prophecy, unlike a group of theologians whom I consider to be unorthodox, who are sometimes called open theists. The open theists actually hold that future tense claims have no truth value. Hence, prophecy is just a case of God's being a really good guesser. (If any open theist reads this summary, he will no doubt take umbrage, but I consider it accurate as far as it goes.) Craig, in contrast, holds that future statements do have truth values and that God knows them perfectly. However, he doesn't hold this to be "grounded" in the existence of the future as "present to God" or anything like that. He just holds it to be a theological given. God knows the future, period. No grounding of God's knowledge in the _reality_ of the future is, he thinks, necessary.

Lydia McGrew said...

As I thought about it, I decided my answer there wasn't really as good as it could have been, Bill. So let me try saying a little more: My understanding of Bill Craig's position is that he would consider it a real problem for all of time to present to God. He thinks that that makes the "stain of sin indelible." Like you, I just don't see it that way at all. I see God as seeing the whole puzzle of history "worked out" as it were, in panorama before His mind. He sees His own victory over evil. He sees just how He is going to bring good out of evil. It's almost like a piece of music, whole, in the mind of the composer, or like a solved puzzle or a logic problem. Of course that involves His seeing the evil events of the past, but He eternally sees them in relation to their answer, in relation to redemption, heaven, the resurrection, etc. So the reality of the past, including both past evil and past victories, and God's seeing them all in His mind as real events, just isn't a problem, as far as I can see. But Craig thinks it is.

William Luse said...

He thinks that that makes the "stain of sin indelible."

I know he's a real smart guy, but I find this ridiculous, as though God's purity could be polluted by His consciousness of sin. It sounds as if he thinks the stain of sin must genuinely vanish from the universe if there is to be victory. It is a man's memory and consciousness of sin that brings him to redemption. Even if we know that further sins are in his future, he is not necessarily lost. Sin happens "in time," not in eternity; thus, if God is "in some sense" in time (as I take it Craig holds) and yet also timeless, then all human transgressions must at some point have been present to Him. Why was his purity not then contaminated for all eternity by this subjection to time's passage? It's inconceivable.
And I would remind him that the Truth and Innocence of His own Godhead took on human flesh, uniting it in some mysteriously inextricable way to His own divinity, and yet did not disdain to touch, and be touched by, the very sin he came to conquer. And yet that divinity, and the human body and soul through which it manifested itself to the world, came out perfectly clean on the other side.

Lydia McGrew said...

It's interesting to see that this objection can seem to some people to have psychological pull, though, if one states it eloquently enough. A fellow B theorist told me on Facebook that, even though he knew it was wrong, he kind of felt the pull of it.

I think it's a result of our timebound perspective. It's sort of like this: You imagine a kickin' final conflict of good against evil, evil is finally defeated, the new heaven and new earth come in, everything is wonderful. And then, the presentist thinks, the B theorist has to stop and say to himself, "Oh, but dang! If I looked at this from God's timeless perspective, which in some sense is _better_ and _more true_ than my perspective, evil is _still hanging around_ in that ineradicable *past*, before God kicked its rear and kicked it out of here! How depressing. We can never really get rid of it!"

What the objection fails really to grapple with (among other things) is that the whole concept of something's "still hanging around" is itself a temporal concept.

R.C. Dozier said...

An undergraduates take on Dr. Craig's model: