Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Potential Voting Strategy

Suppose you are confronted in the US Presidential election with precisely three candidates (with no option for a write-in, just because). You find both Candidates A and B, the two favorites, such that you cannot cast your vote for them, and you are trying to figure out whether you should vote for Candidate C or just refrain from voting altogether. You’ve been told both that a vote for C is a vote for A, and a vote for C is a vote for B; you’ve also been told that a lack of vote is a vote for A, and a lack of vote is a vote for B. Suppose you want to find out what the best strategy is: to vote for C, who will almost assuredly not win, or not vote at all, to register your displeasure at the system, to retain your moral integrity, because you’re apathetic, or any combination of these.

Conveniently, in our stipulated story, there are only 99 voters in your state (whew, now that’s low turnout!). Also convenient is the fact that you know that Candidate A has received 50 votes (50.5%), Candidate B has received 48 votes (48.5%), and Candidate C has received 1 vote (1.01%)[1]. Consider the following four scenarios:

1.     You vote for Candidate A.

This has the effect of increasing A to 51%, decreasing B to 48%, and decreasing C to 1%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for A or refrain from voting at all.[2]

2.     You vote for Candidate B.

This has the effect of decreasing A to 50%, increasing B to 49%, and decreasing C to 1%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for B or refrain from voting at all.

3.     You refrain from voting at all.

This has the effect of maintaining A, B, and C. Your actual impact on the election is not known, given how we’re using “actual impact” and the fact we haven’t investigated C yet.

4.     You vote for Candidate C.

This has the effect of decreasing A to 50%, decreasing B to 48%, and increasing C to 2%. Your actual impact on the election is minimal, given that A wins whether you vote for C or refrain from voting at all.

Here, then, is the upshot: if you cannot in good conscience vote for A or B, then in terms of sheer outcome (winner), it doesn’t matter, given the parameters, whether you vote at all. But if you want to vote your conscience, voting for C has the effect of registering your disapproval of A and B (by decreasing their share of the vote) while also registering your approval of C [edited for coherence] (by increasing C’s share). So, kids: in this type of a case, math supports you.[3]

[1] I have clearly rounded each of these numbers.

[2] Here, I am using “actual impact” to differentiate between only two options: voting for a particular candidate or not at all. It’s just a way of keeping track between the two strategies, and I wanted to show A’s and B’s significance in the whole thing. I also recognize that the relative percentages A and B may have in the real world can vary: I’m really just investigating this type of situation (and sufficiently similar ones).

[3] I realize, of course, that there are other, principled reasons to vote for a third-party candidate or not at all. I just thought this was a neat way, in relevant cases, to choose between the two options.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Is the A-Theory Properly Basic?

In the last blogpost, we covered the A and B theories of time. I also mentioned the fact that the A-theory, being the theory most comfortable with our tensed language, is the most intuitive.[1] But there is another issue to consider. Is belief in the A-theory of time properly basic? More explicitly, is belief that things are objectively coming into and going out of existence—that time is really passing—properly basic?

First, we should understand proper basicality. I’m not going to explain the whole thing here (I actually want to keep this somewhat brief). However, I will say that some belief is properly basic when one is rational for holding the belief, even if he does not have evidential, non-circular justification for it. Consider, for example, the laws of logic (specifically let’s take the law of noncontradiction). Suppose you cannot quite explain why the law of noncontradiction holds. Suppose (as is the case) you cannot give non-circular justification for why you believe this law. Are you irrational for holding it? No, in fact you are at the height of rationality in holding it, and would be in the depths of irrationality in so denying it. When one tries to articulate the justification for her beliefs, there will come a stopping point (that is, when she tries to spell out just how she knows that she knows, for example). That stopping point is most plausibly a foundation. Some belief is foundational, then, as it is properly basic. Other beliefs may be quite right and rational to hold, but they will be properly based—that is, they will be deduced from properly basic beliefs (or at least can be).

This isn’t to say that properly basic beliefs cannot be defeated; they certainly can. It is a properly basic belief to take one’s perceptive faculties as delivering the truth of the world around you; generally, you can trust what you see as being true. However, this doesn’t mean your eyes can never play tricks on you, or that you can never be wrong. It appears, from our view, that the sun rises; but our best science says that is mistaken.

So, is the A-theory like this? Is belief that time passes such that it is properly basic? Well, it seems that it is. It’s quite intuitive to think that there is such a thing as “now,” and that tensed language describes the truth of the matter. Combining this view with a view of warranted true belief (a theory of knowledge) called proper functionalism will illustrate this.

Proper functionalism is the view that a belief is warranted just in case it is produced by cognitively reliable faculties operating in a proper epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth. Our cognitive faculties do seem to be generally reliable, which is helpful for survival. And, we do operate in an appropriate epistemic environment in general. However, what about the belief that tensed language is true? Is our environment proper for that? I don’t see that we’re in an epistemic environment that’s inappropriate (for example, we don’t have reason to think that an evil demon is manipulating our thoughts so that we merely think time is passing in such a way). And, for Christians especially, we have good reason to think that the design plan is successfully aimed at truth. So it seems then, that the A-theory is both properly basic and stands as warranted, in the absence of a defeater.[2]

Now some may protest: “But won’t this mean just any belief counts as warranted, so long as you believe it?” No, for a number of reasons: first, there are defeaters for any number of beliefs. Second, there are beliefs formed from improperly functioning cognitive faculties (such as would be the case were I suddenly to form the belief that I had made myself invisible through a loud whooshing noise). We could go on, but it wouldn’t be the case that just any and all beliefs would be permissible.

Tensed language is an important part of our lives, and I suspect that it’s nearly impossible to rid ourselves of, even while paying lipservice to the B-theory. Thus, I hold to the A-theory as a quite intuitive one!

[1] I realize this is controversial, and one could be forgiven for claiming that this theory is no more intuitive than the one where spacetime exists as a four-dimensional block. But I submit such a view is not really intuitive at all; rather, it is a view that has been ingrained in us by years of repetition and education. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not intuition. It’s a presupposition—taken for granted, perhaps—but not an intuition.

[2] Of course, one may shrug her shoulders and simply say, “Well, I’ve got your defeater right here.” So be it. My main concern is that belief in the A-theory is properly basic, or at least warranted in the lack of a good defeater.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

What about Theories of Time?

In this post, I’ll attempt to explain the basics of two major theories of time and some implications.[1] They are called, perhaps unimaginatively, the A-theory and the B-theory of time. Currently, the B-theory is the most popular view, and so we shall explore this first.[2]

The B-theory of time is also called the “static” theory of time. This is because time is not literally moving; things are not really coming into and going out of existence, as it may seem. The most common version of this theory is the theory of four-dimensional spacetime. This spacetime forms a block, along which lie a great many points. Any event that happens in time, then, can be located or indexed to a particular point in spacetime (this, along with the flux capacitor, is what makes time travel possible). While once regarded as a heuristic, it is now taken to be the sober truth by most popular understandings of physics. Early Einstein, for example, did not believe in the literal truth of spacetime.[3] However, it has been propounded enough that most people believe that time is as much of a physical entity as is space (in fact, they are bound together in a spacetime block!). This theory is also referred to as the “tenseless” theory of time, since tensed language is not literal, but instead stands for the particular indexed point along spacetime. For an example, if I say “I will go to the store in one hour,” and it is now 2 pm on Saturday, I am really saying, “I go to the store at 3pm on Saturday” (it’s actually much more specific than this); the idea is that our language is a simpler way of communicating a complex, and more specific, truth.

The A-theory of time is also called the “dynamic” theory of time. This is because time really is moving; things are really changing; things are really coming into and going out of existence, just as it seems. On this view, there really is such a thing as an objective “now” (whereas there is not on B-theory). On this view, there is not really any such thing as the spacetime block. Events are not spatiotemporally indexed to particular points along the block. Instead, an event (such as, say, Washington’s becoming the first U.S. president) comes into being during a particular moment and then passes out of being once the object of the event no longer exists (in this case, the “becoming”; there was a moment when Washington was not the president; the next moment, he is becoming the president; a moment later, he simply is the president, or he had become the president). This theory is also referred to as the “tensed” theory of time, since tensed language is literally describing the truth of the matter. Many people believe that the A-theory implies the truth of presentism, the teaching that only the present moment exists.

There are advantages that A-theory has over B-theory, and I’d like to list/talk about a few of them:

1.     It takes our tensed language seriously.

This one might be quite big. It’s a tall order to suggest that all of our sentences using tensed language are literally false. Further, it accords with our intuition that there really is a “right now” to talk about. Speaking of which:

2.     It allows us to use “now” for necessary language.

The tensed theory gives us important information, such as “Your flight is leaving now!” The tenseless theory can give us information, such as “Your flight is leaving at 4pm,” but it cannot communicate to you that it is now 4 pm. In fact, while you can look at a clock and all of that good stuff to get on the plane, the tenseless theory alone cannot account for a crucial fact that the tensed theory can; namely, it is now 4 pm.

3.     It allows for evil to be truly vanquished.

When Christ comes and the eschaton is fully realized, evil events and actions will not exist.[4] On the B-theory, the worst evils ever committed are always there, in their full existence, indexed along the block. Nothing God does or even can do rids these actions from the block. This seems like an issue, but it may not move everyone.

4.     It gives a more intuitive understanding of temporal persons.

The issue of how to persist through time is one that has plagued philosophers. An “essential parts” doctrine might make sense here, where you persist through time just in case you have the parts that are essentially you present at any and all times at which you exist (substance dualism tends to do well with this). However, at the B-theory, it is difficult to see how it is that you exist at any one time. You are a discrete bundle of time-slices that is not wholly present at any one time. Are any of the individual time-slices you? It seems that it may not be. Regardless of any putative answers, on an A-theory you are wholly present at every moment at which you exist; this is far more intuitive than the B-theory.

Nonetheless, B-theorists believe they can offer advantages over the A-theory as well, and they are worth explanation:

1.     God may be able to avoid being temporal.

On an A-theory, it seems difficult to construe God as being outside of time; if there is an objective now, it seems that if God is sustaining this present “now” in existence, then God is sustaining the present “now” in existence, well, now. If that is so, then on an A-theory, God is in time. While there are potential answers that some A-theorists may attempt, it’s worth noting that, on B-theory, it looks like God can simply interact with the spacetime block and, since time just is the block, be outside of it.

2.     The redeemed are experiencing their glorification.

While it would be a mistake to say the redeemed are experiencing their final glorification now (at least, it would be if they are not currently dead nor are we in the eschaton), it nonetheless is true, on a B-theory, that the redeemed are worshipping around the throne in eternal bliss with God at particular spatiotemporal points that lie along the block in our relative (but non-literal) future. The A-theory cannot account for this, instead having to say that, while the Earthly living saints are not experiencing eternal bliss in glorification with God, one day they will—that will become reality. This point in favor of the B-theory has been theologically attractive to many.

Interestingly, which theory you adopt (or unconsciously assume) can lead you to accept or reject various other arguments in philosophical theology. Even now, I find myself reading an essay and will think, “This only works if such-and-such theory of time is true!” So what do I think? I think the A-theory is true, as I find myself very attracted to intuitive views in philosophy. My point in this article, though, is to suggest that any view one adopts will have problems, and any view one adopts will have advantages over the other. Pick your favorite set and have fun! J

[1] I am aware that there are more than two theories; there are different versions of A and B theories, and there are even hybrid attempts between the two. Nonetheless, I am going to try to describe either what the various views have in common (e.g., what makes a theory an A-theory), or the most popular version of one of the major two theories. I hope I can be forgiven for this in a blog post.

[2] I’ve noticed something quite interesting about the popular understanding of time, however: people hold contradictory notions of it. I suspect that large part of this is due to people’s natural intuitions clashing with common scientific language about the nature of time. That’s a post for another . . . time, I guess.

[3] Mitch Stokes, How to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 107. It is worth noting that after he had developed his theories on relativity and espoused them, he came to accept a realist view of these entities.
[4] It should be noted, however, that there is a crucial caveat which must be addressed: for those who do not embrace some kind of annihilationism or universalism (which I do not), then it may be that evil events take place throughout eternity, on either view. This would be so if the condemned in Hell accrue further punishment by acting in evil rebellion toward God.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Some Positions I Hold on Issues

The following is a list, in no particular order, of various positions I hold within philosophy and theology. I don’t really explain these positions as follows. I also hold these positions to varying degrees ranging from “fairly certain” all the way down to “leaning this way,” and I don’t provide any way to distinguish these degrees in this list. I encourage you to comment on some of my positions, whether you want clarifying questions (I’m happy to explain both the question and the answer) or want to know the degree to which I hold these things. I am also willing to answer questions about positions I forgot to include!

Theism: Theistic personalism
Worldview: Christianity
Human constitution: Cartesian dualism, dichotomy
Modal actualism/modal realism: Modal actualism
Omniscience: Yes, full omniscience
Providence: Molinism (middle knowledge)
Soteriology: Corporate election and individual election
Eschatology: Premillennial, pre-tribulational
Dispensational/Covenant: Progressive dispensationalism
Sign gifts: Moderate cessationalist
Science, realism/anti-realism: Realism
A priori knowledge: Yes, intuitionism
Justification: Basic foundationalism
Epistemology: Reformed epistemology, proper functionalism
Perception: Direct realism (adverbial theory)
Abstract objects: Nominalism-Divine conceptualism (tie)
Internalism/Externalism: Externalism
Natural Theology: Yes
Ontological argument: Yes, including original and modal formulations
Apologetic method: Cumulative case
Free will: Soft libertarianism
Ethics: Objective morality, deontological, divine command theory
Coherence of moral law: non-conflicting absolutism
Truth: Correspondence theory
Knowledge: warranted true belief
Time: A-theory
Bible: Inspired, inerrant
Trinity: Trinity Monotheism model of Social Trinitarianism
Impeccability/Peccability of Christ: Impeccability
Original sin/Original guilt: Original sin
Atonement: Kaleidoscope theory
Eternal security: Yes
Creation/Evolution: Creation
Genesis 6, fallen angels or godly/ungodly lines: Lines
Rahab: sin/innocence: Innocence
Logical Problem of Evil: Free will defense
Probabilistic Problem of Evil: Skeptical theism

Theodicy: Kaleidoscope theodicy approach