The Transfer of Nonsense Principle

A concept that’s gained some popularity among Determinists is that God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with libertarian free will. One proponent of this idea is Dr. Linda Zagzebski, who has published works arguing this concept based upon the ‘Transfer of Necessity Principle’ (TNP)

Necessarily Non-Transferrable
The basic argument can be understood from a determinist dilemma by Diodorus Cronus, which I provide {translation} for where appropriate.

Let S = the proposition that there will be a sea battle tomorrow.

(1L) Yesterday it was true that S. [assumption]
(2L) If some proposition was true in the past, it is now-necessary that it was true then. [Form of the Necessity of the Past]

{we can’t change the fact that ‘S will happen tomorrow tomorrow’ was true in the past}
(3L) That yesterday it was true that S is now-necessary. [1, 2]
{we can’t now change that S happening tomorrow was true in the past}
(4L) Necessarily, if yesterday it was true that S, then now it is true that S. [omnitemporality of truth]

{if the proposition of a sea battle happening tomorrow was true yesterday, then it’s also true today}
(5L) If p is now-necessary, and necessarily (if p then q), then q is now-necessary. [Transfer of Necessity Principle]
(6L) Therefore, that it is true that S is now-necessary. [3L, 4L, 5L]

{there’s nothing we can do about the sea battle occurring tomorrow}
(7L) If its being true that S is now-necessary, no alternative to the truth of S is now-possible. [definition of “necessary”]
{it’s not possible now to prevent the sea battle tomorrow}
(8L) So no alternative to the truth of S is now-possible [6L, 7L]
(9L) If no alternative to the truth of a proposition about the future is now-possible, then what the proposition is about will not be brought about by free human choice. [Version of Principle of Alternate Possibilities]
(10L) Hence, the sea battle tomorrow will not be brought about by free human choice. [8L, 9L]

Simplifying this argument, it basically states,

P1 We have no power to change our past now. [necessity of the past]
P2 Propositions about what will happen in the future were true in our past.
C1 Therefore we can’t now change the truth about the propositions concerning the future that were true in the past, which implies we can’t do anything to affect the future. [transferring necessity of the past to the present]

The inoperability of this sort of logic can be demonstrated with little difficulty. It’s akin to the hypothetical example a man who is speeding at 90 mph in a 35 zone. A patrol officer pulls him over to ticket him, but the man protests that he couldn’t have done differently because of his speedometer’s reading:

“Yesterday, it was true that the speedometer was going to hit 90 mph in this zone today. The speedometer functions perfectly, so its indication of the car’s speed is accurate. I obviously can’t ever change what’s in the past, so I couldn’t change what the speedometer was going to say, therefore I couldn’t help how fast the car was going to travel because of my speedometer’s reading.”

Try that one on a traffic cop some time and see how it works. This is of course an absurd statement; the question is ‘why?’

Temporal Dependence of Omnitemporal Truth

The flaw in this argument is failure to distinguish between events in the past and propositional truth values in the past. What’s the difference? One word: dependence. Events from the past are completely independent (and thus aren’t affectable) by events after that point in the past. I drove to work yesterday. This is a fact from the past, and nothing after that point in the past can affect it. What if I yesterday put forth the proposition that the stock market would fall 5 points today? Is the truthfulness of that proposition likewise completely independent of anything that happens today? Certainly not; its truthfulness rather depends on what happens today.

Propositions about events within time aren’t true in and of themselves, they’re true based upon the events they reference actually occurring within time. The problem with the syllogism arises with the premises,

(2L) If some proposition was true in the past, it is now-necessary that it was true then. [Form of the Necessity of the Past]
(3L) That yesterday it was true that S is now-necessary. [1, 2]
4L) Necessarily, if yesterday it was true that S, then now it is true that S. [omnitemporality of truth]

But if S being true depends upon the event that it references actually occurring on the prescribed date, then S being true isn’t ‘now necessary,’ it’s rather contingent upon that future event, and doesn’t really prove anything about S being necessarily true between yesterday and when that event is to occur. Thus the argument for necessity by transfer of necessity principle being applied to truth values is invalidated with the arguments:

P1 For phenomenon P to be non-affectable by anything at point in time B, it must be independent of anything at B.
P2 Events at point in time A (which is prior to B) are independent of anything at B.
C1 Past events are independent of, and therefore aren’t affectable by any events subsequent to the point of time in which they occur.

P3 Per C1, past events are independent of & not affectable by subsequent events.
P4 Let Pr be a proposition about an event at point in time C (C is subsequent points A and B). Whether Pr is true or false at point in time A is completely dependent upon events in point in time C.
C2 Therefore the future-independent events at point A not being affectable by anything subsequent to A, tells us nothing about future-dependent truth values at point A not being affectable by anything subsequent to A.

Clearly, if it can’t be shown that “event X isn’t affectable at point A,” then it can’t rightly be said, “event X is necessary at point A.”

How can we now establish or falsify the truth value of propositions in the past? If someone made a proposition in the past that I would write on philosophy at this moment in time, then that proposition’s truthfulness wasn’t completely settled by a past event, it’s unarguably settled by my choice now; it indeed had a truth value in the past, but was still entirely dependent upon this moment. Truth being omnitemporal (thus spanning all time, not merely localized) can contain true propositions about future events that have dependencies on those future events as the basis of their truth values.

Some may argue that this is ‘retro-causation,’ but retro-causation involves time-bound phenomena (making what comes after in time cause what comes before in time). The omnitemporal truth can be point-in-time dependent, but isn’t time-bound (truth isn’t an ‘event’), and therefore the sequence is logical, not chronological. The implication,

“There will be a sea battle tomorrow -> therefore the proposition made yesterday that there will be a sea battle tomorrow is true”

is then perfectly sound. Therefore, it’s quite valid to say that whether previously made propositions about future events are true or not depends upon those events – not vice-versa. The line of argumentation some Determinists propose appears to rely upon events being subject to the truth values of certain propositions (the logical effect of the events) rather than recognizing that the truthfulness of propositions that reference events in time are dependent upon those events at that point in time, and thus are not very different from the above “the speedometer made me do it” argument. With this in mind, we address Zagzebski’s dilemma of foreknowledge.

Dilemma of Foreknowledge and Modal Temporal Asymmetry

I’ll again provide {translation} where appropriate. Zagzebski writes,

…let T = the proposition that you will answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am.

(1f) There is (and was before now) an essentially omniscient foreknower (EOF) [Assumption for dilemma]
{God knows what will happen}
(1f) and the Principle of the Necessity of the Past tells us that
(2f) Either it is now-necessary that the EOF believed T before now or it is now-necessary that the EOF believed not T before now.

{you can’t now-affect whether God has believed you’d answer the phone}
From (1f) and the definition of an EOF it follows that
(3f) Necessarily (The EOF believed before now that T -> T), and necessarily (The EOF believed before now that not T -> not T).

{the event has to happens as God believes it will}
By the Transfer of Necessity Principle (TNP), (2f) and (3f) entail
(4f) Either it is now-necessary that T or it is now-necessary that not T.
(4f) is logically equivalent to
(5f) Either it is not now-possible that T or it is not now-possible that not T.

{if you will or won’t answer the telephone, there is nothing you can do now to affect it}
From the Principle of the Contingency of the Future we get
(6f) It is now-possible that T and it is now-possible that not T.

{if you really have free will, you can now affect whether you’ll answer the phone or not}
But (6f) contradicts (5f).
{to say “you can affect it” and “you can’t affect it” is a contradiction}

Same mistake, different words. All that’s been done is replacing truth-values with God’s knowledge. I do firmly believe that God exhaustively knows the future, but it doesn’t follow that men have no power of choice. I’ve expressed my belief that God is both transcendent and immanent; His knowledge transcending time, and thus not being constrained therein (implying that He doesn’t need to ‘wait’ for the future to happen to know what will unfold). I’ve also speculated that His knowledge of individuals’ choices may be derived from integral factors of self-determination abstracted from space-time (but manifest in time as our choices), which constitutes a sort of transcendent middle-knowledge. Both have the commonality that God’s knowledge of individual human choices is to some degree dependent upon the individuals’ independent self-determination.

As such, God’s “knowledge in the past” that concerns our choices in the future, just as propositional truth values in the past concerning the future, wouldn’t be independent of what it’s derived from. Thus Zagzebski’s premises:

(1f) and the Principle of the Necessity of the Past tells us that
(2f) Either it is now-necessary that the EOF believed T before now or it is now-necessary that the EOF believed not T before now.
,

are incorrect: Assuming the omniscient God has allowed T to be decided by the agent’s self-determination, whether He has believed/not-believed T about our future isn’t now-necessary (i.e. out of the agent’s control), because it’s not independent of what the agent wills. If God infallibly knows something about the future based upon agent causation, then that event isn’t necessary, but certain due to that contingency. Zagzebski’s argument, assuming that God can know the future without causing it and substituting ‘certainty’ for ‘necessity,’ would come out as,

Assuming for sake of argument, K = that God foreknows one’s free choices based upon his independent self-determination

(1) Yesterday God infallibly knew T rather than ~T. [Supposition of infallible divine knowledge]
(2) If E was in the past, it is now-certain that E was then. [Principle of the Fixity of the Past]
(3) It is now-certain that yesterday God knew T. [1, 2]
(4) Certainly, if yesterday God knew T, then T. [Definition of “infallibility”]
(5) If p is now-certain, and certainly (p -> q), then q is now-certain.
(6) So it is now-certain that T. [3,4,5]
(7) If it is now-certain that T, then you won’t do other than answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am. [Definition of “certain”]
(8) Since certainty doesn’t imply necessity, then certainty of T doesn’t negate the fact that T comes about by your independent self-determination. [K, Distinction of certainty from necessity]
(9) Because the truth value of T is independently decided by the agent, and the decision wasn’t necessary, the truth value of ~T was also decided upon by the agent -> ~T was an available option. [K, 8]
(10) Therefore, despite the available option to not answer the telephone, you will choose to answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am. [6, 7, 9]
(11) If you can do otherwise (have other options available) when you act, you are acting freely. [10, Principle of Contrary Choice]
(12) Therefore, when you answer the telephone tomorrow at 9 am, despite God’s certain and infallible knowledge of T, you are doing it freely. [1, 8, 11]

Do We “Change What God Knows?” – Arguments Against Transcendent Foreknowledge

The transcendence argument has been proposed before, and Zagzebski makes a move to counter it:

I have argued (Zagzebski 1991, chap. 2) that the timelessness move does not avoid the problem of theological fatalism since an argument structurally parallel to the basic argument can be formulated for timeless knowledge. If God is not in time, the key issue would not be the necessity of the past, but the necessity of the timeless realm. So the first three steps of the argument would be reformulated as follows:

(1t) God timelessly knows T.
(2t) If E is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that E.
(3t) It is now-necessary that T.

Perhaps it is inappropriate to say that timeless events such as God’s timeless knowing are now-necessary, yet we have no more reason to think we can do anything about God’s timeless knowing than about God’s past knowing.

The author of that statement misses the obvious here: what’s in the “timeless realm,” assuming God is transcendent and not merely divorced from time, necessarily encompasses what’s in the temporal. Since God’s perspective would encompass all associated with what we know as space-time (much as an exhaustive printed timeline would be to us), this would necessarily include our independent self-determination. Thus, the choices we make in what is our ‘now’ must be reflected in what God perceives as ‘all time,’ which would account for God’s knowledge of libertarian decisions. When you make a choice among possible options now, you aren’t “changing what God knows,” but your choices/self-determination are rather what constitute what He perceives (and therefore knows).

This is quite akin to the philosophical misconception about truth values discussed above. Actions and events today don’t change what was true yesterday, they establish which propositions about today are true at all times. Likewise, what we choose doesn’t change what God knows about our choices, it is what God knows about our choices.

Conclusion

The Transfer of Necessity as applied by Cronus to propositional truth values and Zagzebski to divine foreknowledge raises numerous problems and absurdities, as well failing to adequately address the resolution of epistemological certainty based upon non-temporally-limited perception.

Of course, if Determinists want to try to limit God’s knowledge by time in arguing He can’t now know the future unless He exhaustively predetermined it beforehand, the same kind of flawed logic present in the above TNP arguments they propound can be just as easily turned around:

P1 God elected some men unto salvation.
P2 The truth of the names and number of all the elect was also true prior to God electing them.
C Applying transfer of necessity of the past, the identities of the elect were then necessary at the point when God elected them -> Therefore God couldn’t have chosen who to save any differently than He did, and He didn’t freely choose who to save.

Cleaning up the mess TNP makes by applying the distinction between events and truth values of propositions (as well as certainty versus necessity), the ridiculous argument for God having no freedom in election becomes:

P1a God elected some men unto salvation.
P2a The truth of the names and number of all the elect was also true logically prior to God electing them, but was directly dependent upon His choice.
Ca Therefore God conceivably could have chosen differently than He did, and thus was free in His choosing.

So the truth of who the elect are and how many they are is dependent upon God’s free choice; His choosing isn’t subject to some higher-than-God immutable truth value that compels Him to choose specific people. And our patrol officer retorts:

“Yesterday, it was true that the speedometer was going to hit 90 mph in this zone today. The speedometer functions perfectly, so its indication of the car’s speed is accurate; and yes, you obviously can’t ever change what’s in the past. But your actions today were what made that proposition in the past a true one, so that proposition being true was irrelevant in determining your choice today, therefore the speed it registered doesn’t mean you couldn’t have done differently, therefore you’re still gettin’ your ticket wiseguy.”

Advertisements