Responding to Craig and Hunt (Part 5 – the metaphysical argument)

By | February 9, 2015


This is the fifth installment in a series of posts responding to a 2013 paper by William Lane Craig and David Hunt (hereafter, C&H) entitled “Perils of the Open Road”. In the paper C&H critique two papers defending open theism: a 2006 paper (hereafter, RBB) that I co-wrote with Greg Boyd and Tom Belt entitled “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future” and a 2007 paper (hereafter, DT) by Dale Tuggy entitled “Three Roads to Open Theism.”

In part 1 of this series I laid some groundwork by defining key terms like “open theism” and “future contingent” and distinguishing between different types of future contingent proposition (FCP). In part 2 I examined C&H’s dismissive discussion of arguments for the incompatibility of future contingency with an epistemically settled future. In part 3 I replied to C&H’s criticisms of RBB’s and DT’s use of branching diagrams to depict an indeterministic future. In part 4 I replied to C&H’s criticism of RBB’s semantic argument for the incompatibility thesis (IT), the claim that a causally open future entails an alethically open future.

In this installment I respond to C&H’s criticisms of RBB’s metaphysical argument for IT, wherein we argue that a causally and ontically open future entails an alethically open future.

Overview of the metaphysical argument for IT

As presented in RBB, the metaphysical argument (MA) assumes a correspondence theory of truth (CTT) and a temporal ontology according to which concrete future events and states of affairs do not exist. Both presentism and the growing-block theory satisfy this ontological constraint, but for simplicity we focus on presentism. The central contention of MA is that since, given presentism, there is nothing in reality for will and will not propositions about future contingents to correspond to, and since, given CTT, a proposition’s truth requires that there be something in reality for it to correspond to, will and will not propositions about future contingents are not true.

In other words, if the future is ontically open (presentism) and causally open (future contingency), then it must also be alethically open because the correspondence condition for truth cannot be satisfied. If the future were ontically settled, as on a linear-block theory of time, then the truth of will and will not propositions about future events could be grounded in the future events themselves. Likewise, if the future were causally settled, then the truth of will and will not propositions about future events could be grounded in presently existing conditions and causal laws. But if there are no future events, and if determinism is false, then nothing in reality would be sufficient to underwrite the truth of will and will not propositions about future contingent events.

I develop this line of argument with greater sophistication in a later paper (esp. pp. 82–83), but I think the formulation in RBB remains defensible, as I will now try to show.

C&H’s formulation of MA

In their paper, C&H provide (pp. 68–69) an 8-step distillation of MA that serves as the focus of their critique:

  1. A proposition is true iff the state of affairs it posits obtains (correspondence theory of truth).
  2. No non-present states of affairs obtain (presentism).
  3. Therefore, a proposition is true iff the state of affairs it posits obtains now.
  4. Therefore, if there are true [contingent] propositions about the future, they must be true in virtue of the present obtaining of some future-tense state of affairs.
  5. If a proposition about the future is now true, then it is true in virtue of what is now the case.
  6. Therefore, future-tense states of affairs obtain only insofar as the future is present in its causes.
  7. What is now the case must somehow bear upon what will be the case.
  8. The present bears upon the future in the manner of a cause upon its effect.

It should be emphasized that this is their formulation of MA. 1–4 are supposed to capture RBB’s explication of presentism and truth as correspondence (p. 68), whereas 5–8 are supposed to capture RBB’s argument based on 1–4 that “there are no true future contingent propositions” (p. 69). The first half (1–4) is clearly and fairly stated. There is a clear line of inference from 1 & 2 to 3 and from 3 to 4. But the second half (5–8) is a poor reconstruction, for several reasons:

  • 5 is redundant. It restates 4 without adding anything substantive. If (as per 4) truths about the future must be true “in virtue of the present obtaining” of something, then obviously they must be true (as per 5) “in virtue of what is now the case”.
  • The chain of thought from 5–8 is unclear and, since there’s a much more sensible way of reconstructing the argument consistent with what RBB actually say, also uncharitable. The simplest way of improving the argument is to swap 6 and 8. 5, I’ve already noted, follows from 4. 7, then, naturally follows from 5 because it makes clear what’s implicit in 5, namely, that if truths about the future are true in virtue of what is now the case, then what is now the case must somehow bear upon what will be the case. 8 then plausibly follows from 7 because the most straightforward way of cashing out how the present bears upon the future is in terms of causality. 6 can then be understood as plausibly following from 4 and 8. The reasoning behind this reconstruction could, of course, be tightened up, but it’s much more reasonable than what C&H provide.
  • The reconstruction omits the expected conclusion to the effect that there are no will or will not truths about future contingents. To get to that conclusion from 6 we need a premise that links future contingency with the absence of presently existing causes sufficient to ground the truth of will or will not propositions (cf. RBB, pp. 447–448).

Truth, correspondence, and grounding

As readers of my series of replies to C&H will have come to expect by now, C&H have a long litany of objections to MA. Their most fundamental objection is that MA depends upon a strong version of the truthmaker maxim, a version that is not (they insist) entailed by the correspondence theory of truth (CTT). As they put it,

It is … no part of the correspondence theory of truth that true propositions need to be grounded in reality. That is the theory of truth-makers, a controversial addendum to correspondence theory that has been defended by a minority of recent philosophers. (p. 66)

This claim is tendentious, however. As Marian David points out in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the correspondence theory of truth,

truthmaker theory may be presented as a competitor to the correspondence theory or as a version of the correspondence theory. This depends considerably on how narrowly or broadly one construes “correspondence theory”, i.e., on terminological issues. Some advocates would agree with Dummett (1959, p. 14) who said that, although “we have nowadays abandoned the correspondence theory of truth”, it nevertheless “expresses one important feature of the concept of truth…: that a statement is true only if there is something in the world in virtue of which it is true”. Other advocates would follow Armstrong who tends to present his truthmaker theory as a liberal form of correspondence theory.

In other words, the relation of CTT to truthmaker theory is a matter of philosophical debate, and given the range of narrower and broader ways of understanding CTT, to understand CTT as implying that true propositions need to be grounded in reality or as implying that truths need truthmakers, is within the bounds of acceptable philosophical usage.

Given the range of views on CTT, it would have been helpful if C&H had told us what they take CTT to be, if not the claim that true propositions need to be grounded in reality. In a footnote on p. 66 C&H reference Craig’s 2001 paper Middle Knowledge, TruthMakers, and the ‘Grounding Objection’, but Craig mentions “correspondence” only once in that paper and without much by way of explanation. Here’s the context:

The theory presupposed by the grounding objection [to Molinism] appears to be a certain construal or version of a view of truth as correspondence which has come to be known as the theory of truth-makers. … Russell and Wittgenstein thought that in addition to truth-bearers, whether these be sentences, thoughts, propositions, or what have you, there must also be entities in virtue of which such sentences and/or propositions are true. Various names were employed for these entities, such as “facts” or “states of affairs.” Among contemporary philosophers they have come to be known as “truth-makers.”

A truth-maker is typically defined as that in virtue of which a sentence and/or a proposition is true. … But historically the orthodox view has identified truth-makers with such abstract realities as facts or states of affairs—more often than not, the fact stated as a proposition’s truth condition, as disclosed by the disquotation principle. Thus, what makes the statement “Al Plantinga is an avid rock-climber” true is the fact that Al Plantinga is an avid rock-climber or the state of affairs of Al Plantinga’s being an avid rock-climber.

Note, first, that Craig here accepts truthmaker language as a legitimate way of cashing out CTT. Correspondence is said to be a relation between truthbearers and truthmakers, with the latter being something that grounds or explains the truth of the former. Note, second, that according to the so-called “orthodox view” that Craig seems partial to, a truthmaker is a kind of abstract entity, namely, “the [abstract] fact stated as a proposition’s truth condition, as disclosed by the disquotation principle.”

To use one of Marian David’s examples (cf. (5) in David’s SEP article), Craig’s 2001 view seems to be the following:

  1. “Snow is white” is true iff it corresponds to the fact that snow is white,

with the added stipulation that the “fact” in question is an abstract fact or state of affairs. If this is indeed Craig’s 2001 view, then it is worth noting that, according to David, (9) “misrepresents the correspondence theory” (emphasis added) in part because it lends itself to a deflationary understanding of truth. (According to the deflationary theory, <p> is true if and only if p, and this disquotation principle tells us all that we need to know about truth.) Arguably, the correspondence to fact referenced in (9) doesn’t do any useful work because the abstract “fact” p just restates the proposition <p> without the quotes. Ockham’s razor would, therefore, encourage us to dispense with such facts and stick with the disquotation principle as our analysis of truth.

At any rate, Craig’s 2001 understanding of CTT is highly implausible, especially for a synthetic, singular proposition like <Al Plantinga is an avid rock-climber>. Surely it is not merely in virtue of corresponding to an abstract fact or state of affairs that this proposition is true. What after all, does the facthood of that fact consist in? What could make it a fact except some concrete state of affairs, one that includes Al Plantinga himself as a constituent? And if we are given that concrete state of affairs then it’s not clear why the proposition can’t be true in virtue of corresponding to that concrete state of affairs rather than some abstract fact that, arguably, merely restates the proposition.

In general, even if it is the case that some truths (e.g., <2+2=4>) are true in virtue of corresponding to abstract entities, this can’t be the case in general because some truths require for their truth that the concrete world—dare I say “reality”?—be a certain way. (For that matter, what are abstract facts if not part of “reality”? If they are not real, then they are nothing, and therefore can’t stand in a correspondence relation.) The Plantinga proposition is a case in point. It must be grounded in concrete reality because it represents concrete reality as being a certain way. If concrete reality were not such that Plantinga, the flesh-and-blood person, is an avid rock-climber, it would not be true. Likewise, will and will not propositions about future events represent concrete reality as being or, rather, as going-to-be a certain way. So, it would seem, they too must have their truth grounded in concrete reality.

So, even if C&H are right that 1–3 rest on controversial or overly broad understandings of presentism, CTT, or truthmaker theory, none of this significantly undermines 4. Contingent propositions about the future represent concrete reality as going-to-be a certain way. So such propositions, if true, are true in virtue of concrete reality’s going-to-be that way. But if presentism is true, then there is not any concrete future reality that can ground the present truth of those propositions. Nor does there remain any past concrete reality that can ground their truth. Nor (if we allow room for Craig’s idiosyncratic understanding of presentism) is there any timeless or tenseless reality that can ground their truth because (a) the propositions in question are (Craig would agree) ineliminably tensed, (b) they concern temporal events, and (c) if a timeless reality did ground their truth then the propositions in question would have to be timelessly true, whereas tensed propositions can’t be timelessly true. So such propositions, if true, must be grounded in present concrete reality. And since such propositions represent the future as going-to-be a certain way, only present realities that bear upon the future in some way could be relevant for grounding. Hence, (4), if will and will not propositions about future contingents are true, they must be true in virtue of concrete, presently obtaining, future-implicating (or “future-tensed”) states of affairs.

On confusing truthmakers and truth conditions

In addition to insisting on a sharp distinction between the correspondence theory and truthmaker theory—a distinction that, we have seen, is hardly as sharp as they make it out to be—C&H also charge that we conflate truthmakers with truth conditions:

Curiously, Rhoda et al. illustrate (4) by stating, “Thus, <A sea battle will occur tomorrow> is true now if and only if a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow now obtains.” This correctly illustrates what follows from correspondence theory as they have formulated it, for it states merely the truth condition of the relevant proposition, not its alleged truth-maker. Rhoda et al. confuse truth conditions and truth-makers throughout their article, beginning with their exposition of the “Truth Conditions Argument,” according to which the sentences “It will rain tomorrow” uttered on Monday and “It rained yesterday” uttered on Wednesday have, in their words, “exactly the same truth conditions, namely, rain on Tuesday.” Rain on Tuesday is not a truth-condition, but a concrete event or entity which a truth-maker theorist might call upon to serve as the truth-maker of any number of propositions. Rain falls from the sky and waters the earth; truth conditions do neither. Similarly, that a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow now obtains serves as the truth condition of the relevant proposition, whether or not it has a truthmaker. (p. 68)

In response, I categorically deny that any such conflation has taken place.

In the first place, in our illustration of (4), a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow, was intended to represent a presently-existing future-tense state of affairs as the ground or truthmaker for <A sea battle will occur tomorrow>. It was not intended merely to represent its truth conditions (i.e., its logical implications). C&H are simply misreading us at this point. They apparently take a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow to be merely a disquotational restatement of <A sea battle will occur tomorrow> with “is going to” taking the place of “will”. But in reading our illustration of (4) in this way C&H overlook the context, for in the immediately following paragraphs we argue that a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow must be understood as something concrete, and therefore as a truthmaker (since truth conditions are necessarily abstract):

But what is it for a future-tense state of affairs to obtain? What could that possibly amount to in concrete terms? Given presentism and correspondence, if a proposition about the future is now true, then it is true in virtue of what is now the case. Accordingly, what is now the case must somehow bear upon what will be the case. … How can present reality bear upon a future that does not yet exist? The obvious answer … is that the present bears upon the future in the manner of a cause upon its effect. For example, it is now true that the Sun will rise tomorrow. Why? Because the world in its current state is governed by nomic regularities that, barring a miracle, guarantee the Sun’s rising tomorrow. It would appear, then, that the future-tense state of affairs the Sun’s going to rise tomorrow consists in the present state of reality tending inexorably in that direction. The future is in that respect already present in its causes. (RBB, p. 447; bold emphasis added)

With respect to the “Truth Conditions Argument,” our presentation of this was based on a passage from Nicholas Rescher that Craig approvingly quotes in more than one place (cf., e.g., The Only Wise God, p. 58). In the passage, Rescher argues that “It will rain tomorrow” (asserted on April 12) and “It did rain yesterday” (asserted on April 14) “make … precisely the same claim about the facts, viz., rain on April 13.” Rescher doesn’t use the term “truth conditions” in this context, but that seems to be what he has in mind when he refers to “rain on April 13”. After all, he describes this as a “claim.” It would seem then that Rescher is not referring to the concrete event of rain falling on April 13, but as a truth condition, one that could be aptly represented as the proposition <It rains on April 13>. So, again, C&H are simply misreading us here. This particular misreading may be excusable, and perhaps in retrospect we shouldn’t have used the term “truth conditions” in the Truth Conditions Argument, but it’s a misreading nonetheless.

Truthmaking and difference-making

Continuing their assault, C&H charge that our position on truthmaking is “particularly crude” and “manifestly wrong-headed”:

“How,” they wonder, “is reality different because some future-tense state of affairs obtains from what it would have been had that state of affairs not obtained?” … They seem to think that the future-tense state of affairs must be itself some sort of concrete, detectable reality. But such an assumption is manifestly wrong-headed, for manifold kinds of states of affairs may obtain without concrete, detectable differences of that sort. Think of ethical states of affairs, for example, such as its being wrong to torture a child for fun. That state of affairs obtains whether there even are children or not and whether any that exist ever are tortured. Or think of mathematical states of affairs involving inaccessible cardinals, which are so large they do not correspond to any concrete realities. (p. 69, bold emphasis added)

This charge is part straw man and part red herring.

It is part straw man because, while C&H are correct that we think that the future-tense states of affairs upon which truths about future-contingents depend for their truth are concrete, they gratuitously add the word “detectable.” But we never use that term or any other to suggest that truthmakers must satisfy an epistemic accessibilty requirement. Sure, they would have to be detectable by God, but that goes without saying. By inserting the word “detectable” C&H make it seem that we are crude neo-positivists who believe that if something can’t be empirically detected by us then it is meaningless or doesn’t exist.

It is part red herring because C&H’s appeal to ethical and mathematical truths is beside the point. The Metaphysical Argument is concerned only with truths about future contingents, the standard examples of which like <A sea battle will occur tomorrow> are always non-normative propositions about concrete events. We make no claim to the effect that all truths must depend on concrete events.

On Ockhamism and begging the question

In the course of responding to objections against MA, RBB consider Craig’s view that the truthmakers of will and will not propositions about future contingents are “presently existing future-tense states of affairs” that obtain in virtue of the concrete future occurrences of the corresponding events. In other words, on Craig’s view it is because of the concrete occurrence of rain on Tuesday that the future-tense state of affairs it’s going to rain on Tuesday obtains on Monday. That future-tense state of affairs, in turn, is then supposed to be the truthmaker (on Monday) of the present-tense proposition <It will rain tomorrow>. Among other things, we argue that Craig’s view begs the question in favor of Ockhamism:

That tomorrow’s obtaining of a sea battle suffices to make it true now that a sea battle will occur tomorrow is just the is implies was(will) thesis that, as we saw in section three, only seems obvious to those already in the grip of Ockhamism. (RBB, p. 449)

C&H respond that we misconstrue the dialectical situation:

Rhoda et al.’s response … is to protest that “it begs the question by taking Ockhamism for granted.” This retort shows that Rhoda et al. have lost their way in the argument. It is they who are claiming to prove that the correspondence theory of truth and an A-Theory of time jointly entail that there are no true future contingent propositions. To defeat that claim, the Ockhamist need not prove or even assume that Ockhamism is true but merely epistemically possible. The Ockhamist offers an epistemically possible hypothesis on which correspondence, presentism, and future contingent truth are compatible. It is maladroit to accuse the Ockhamist of taking his hypothesis for granted. Rather Rhoda et al. must show the Ockhamist hypothesis (in this case, that the truth-makers of future contingent propositions are presently obtaining future-tense states of affairs) is impossible. (C&H, p. 70)

I concede that C&H do have a point here. If we restrict our attention solely to section IV of our paper in which we press the Metaphysical Argument (MA), then in that dialectical context it is our job to show that Ockhamism is incompatible with the combination of CTT and presentism. In that context, therefore, it is not question-begging for C&H to presuppose Ockhamism despite the fact that in section III of our paper we explicitly call Ockhamism into question. Since MA is supposed to be a stand-alone argument, we can’t rightly press the question-begging charge.

But there’s another sense in which in which C&H’s appeal to Ockhamism does beg the question against the MA. For in their response, mirroring what Craig has written in other places, they insist that the presently existing future-tense states of affairs that serve as the truthmakers for will and will not propositions about future contingents obtain only because of the future obtaining of the concrete present-tense states of affairs predicted by those propositions. If this “because” relation is what it seems to be, namely, a type of explanatory relation, then this begs the question against the MA by implicitly assuming the falsity of presentism. For the only way that any entity can explain anything is if it has positive ontological status. So the only way future states of affairs can explain the present existence of future-tense states of affairs like a sea battle’s going to occur tomorrow is if those future states of affairs exist. But presentism explicitly denies that any future entities have positive ontological status. So the appeal to Ockhamism is inconsistent with presentism. Ockhamism requires non-present, in this case future, realities to play a genuine explanatory role, whereas presentism precludes them from being able to play such a role. The appeal to Ockhamism, therefore, is dialectically inappropriate, for it implicitly calls into question the grounds rules (i.e., the assumption of presentism) under which the whole discussion of the MA by RBB is premised. And since presentism conflicts with Ockhamism, given the former, pace C&H, Ockhamism isn’t so much as epistemically possible.


Thus concludes my series of posts responding to Craig and Hunt. I believe I have shown that their objections against RBB and against Tuggy’s paper rest, by and large, on grossly uncharitable readings of those papers. The few places where they score a substantive “hit” are pretty easily fixable and provide no reason to think that the general lines of argument pursued by both RBB and Tuggy are fundamentally defective.

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