I’ve had the privilege of helping both Stephen and Cameron in their fruitful debate on the Kalam. (For those interested, I’ve also discussed the Kalam on numerous occasions with Alex Malpass, Josh Rasmussen, and others in this playlist here.) Today, I want to briefly discuss Cam’s response to the Unsatisfiable Pair Diagnosis (UPD) in his closing statement video.
First things first: I will assume that you understand the current dialectic. I will assume you know who’s arguing what, who has the burden of proof, what the UPD and causal finitism are, and so on. If you don’t know these things, watch the debate.
Briefly, here’s the Grim Messenger story: Infinitely many grim messengers are assigned a unique natural number; each messenger writes its number on a piece of paper iff no earlier messenger writes their number on it; and the infinitely many messengers converge to noon from the later than direction, such that messenger #1 is set to activate and instantaneously write its number on the paper at 1 pm; messenger #2 at 12:30 pm; messenger #3 at 12:15 pm; and so on ad infinitum. Each messenger has a clock specifying the messenger’s activation time. This story entails a contradiction.
Here’s the Benign Messenger story: everything is the same as the Grim Messenger story, except messenger #1 is not set for 1 pm but is instead set 25 hours earlier — noon the day before. This story does not entail a contradiction.
Here is my rendition of Cameron’s response to the UPD:
- If there could be infinite causal chains, then the Benign Messenger story is possible.
- For any possible clocks, changing their intrinsic features does not necessarily change the intrinsic features of any other object. (C)
- A clock’s activation time is an intrinsic feature thereof.
- If (2) and (3) are true and if the Benign Messenger story is possible, then it is possible to change the activation time of messenger #1 in the Benign Messenger story so that it activates 25 hours later without changing the activation times of any of the other clocks or any other intrinsic properties of anything.
- If it is possible to change the activation time of messenger #1 in the Benign Messenger story so that it activates 25 hours later without changing the activation times of any of the other clocks or any other intrinsic properties of anything, then the Grim Messenger story is possible.
- The Grim Messenger story is impossible.
- So, there cannot be infinite causal chains.
The argument is valid. Premise (1) requires continuous time, but the stories can be modified and the argument will apply mutatis mutandis assuming there could be both an earliest messenger and infinitely many messengers whose activation times are spread out over an endless future. (The patchwork principle, (C), will allow us to move from this benign set-up to a paradoxical, infinite-past set-up.) So, premise (1) seems reasonable enough for present purposes, and I’m fine to grant it here.
Premise (3) is (or at least can be spelled out in a way that is) true. Premises (4) through (6) are also true (at least if dialetheism is wrong concerning (6)).
That leaves premise (2), i.e., the patchwork principle (C). I will argue here that by the theist’s own lights, (C) is false, and that the theist’s way to avoid this problem will render the argument above unsuccessful. I offer my argument as a tool for service, not as the final word that conclusively settles the debate.
Recall (C): For any possible clocks, changing their intrinsic features does not necessarily change the intrinsic features of any other object. This is equivalent to: For any possible clocks, it is possible to change their intrinsic features without changing the intrinsic features of any other object.
But if it is possible to change a clock’s intrinsic features without changing the intrinsic features of anything else, then it is possible to change the activation time of a clock without changing the intrinsic features of anything else. And so consider a world w in which God exists and a clock is set to noon. By (C), it is possible to change the clock’s activation time to 1 pm without changing the intrinsic features of anything else. But then it’s possible to change the clock’s activation time to 1 pm without changing God’s beliefs (since God’s beliefs are in God’s mind, i.e., they are intrinsic features of God), so that a world w* results such that the only thing that intrinsically changes/varies from w to w* is the clock’s activation time. Since God’s intrinsic features remain the same in w* as they are in w, and since God’s beliefs are intrinsic features of God, it follows that God believes, in w*, that the clock is set to activate at noon. But the clock is set to activate at 1 pm in w*. So God has a false belief. But God cannot have a false belief. Contradiction. Since this contradiction results from the conjunction of theism and (C), by the theist’s own lights (C) is false.
Objection: What if the theist denies that God’s beliefs are intrinsic (and thus denies that God’s beliefs are in God’s mind)?
Reply: This is a very valuable objection. I have three responses, ones that I’m still playing with.
First, this proposal is deeply counter-intuitive. (At least by my lights.)
Second, given divine providence, there must be some sense in which God intends the clock, in w, to have the activation time it has. And surely this intention is at least part of the explanation of why the activation time is as it is. And because the intention partly explains this extrinsic fact, it cannot consist in this extrinsic fact. But this fact seems to be the only fact extrinsic to God which could plausibly constitute (or ground) God’s intention about the activation time. Hence, God’s intention, in this case, is intrinsic — it is not constituted by (or grounded in) things disjoint from him. So, by (C), we could keep this intention unchanged as we move to w*. But that means that in w*, God intends the activation time to be different than it in fact is in w*. But that’s surely absurd — God is omnipotent, and so whatever he intends to occur will occur. It’s not as though God’s intention could be frustrated and fail to be realized. And so we could run the argument in terms of intention, and the extrinsic-belief-reply does nothing to resolve this.
Third, theists will surely grant that God can reveal things to finite creatures, such that the finite creatures’ beliefs are intrinsic to them even though God’s beliefs aren’t. And so surely God could reveal to a finite creature what the activation time is in w. It seems plausible, moreover, that there could be [not that there must be, but that there could be] some distinctive intrinsic phenomenological character associated with this true and veridical revelation that gives the creature utter assurance that the revelation is from God, and that this distinctive intrinsic phenomenological character is only grantable by God through the revelation [a ‘gift of certitude in revealed truth’, we might call it]. Suppose, then, that w is one such possible world wherein God grants the gift of certitude in the revealed activation time to the creature. We can then move from w to w* without changing any intrinsic feature of the creature or God. The creature will then have a false belief in w*. Now, either God revealed this belief to the creature in w* or not. If so, then God is a deceiver, and surely that’s absurd. So, God did not reveal this belief to the creature in w*. But then the creature would not have the distinctive intrinsic phenomenological character associated with the revelation, since that is only grantable by God’s revelation, and we just concluded that God did not, in fact, reveal something to the creature in w*. Contradiction! Remember, moving from w to w* did not change the intrinsic features of the creature; and yet we just concluded that in w but not w*, the creature enjoys this distinctive intrinsic phenomenology. Thus, extrinsicalizing God’s beliefs won’t help, since we can still get a contradiction just by humdrum theistic commitments about God’s ability to reveal things to creatures and grant them distinctive intrinsic phenomenologies associated with such revelations.
For these three reasons, I don’t think the objection at hand succeeds. But I’m still exploring all this stuff right now.
To avoid this problem, it seems that the theist must say that (C) is true so long as its application, when considering certain global features of reality (e.g., that there is an omniscient being with intrinsic belief states), doesn’t entail a contradiction. But then the step-by-step argument above fails, since it applies (C) precisely to a situation wherein its application, when considering the fact that all the messengers apart from #1 are arranged in the contradictory first-member-less way, entails a contradiction.
Overall, then, we seem to have a serious problem for Cam’s response to the UPD on our hands. Obviously I don’t claim the problem is insuperable. Perhaps I have missed something. But I think my criticism can be a valuable part in advancing the discussion. 🙂