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Saturday, March 05, 2022


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This is a very interesting post.

You wrote: “Logically prior to the question of what the motor of history is, is the question of whether it has one. If history has a motor, it lies deeper than the succession of events and any empirical regularities the events display; it lies deeper as the driver of these events and the ground of their patterns and regularities.”

As I see it, this is exactly right.

You also noted that according to theistic views that accept divine providence, “God created the world and he created it with a plan in mind... He created it for a purpose and in particular he created us for a purpose. For theists God is the hidden motor, …”

As a theist, I accept this view, namely, that God created the world for a purpose and according to a plan sufficient to accomplish that purpose.

But there are problems with this view, particularly if human beings have libertarian free will (LFW). I’m a libertarian myself, and I’ve explored this problem in two articles published in Philosophia Christi.

In short, the first paper raises and answers objections to the claim that God created the world according to a plan and purpose. The objections suggest that God is practically irrational, which is absurd. I argue that if Molinism is true, the objections fail. The second paper presents an argument that if Open Theism is true, then logically prior to creation God cannot reliably plan the actualization of a world that goes according to his purpose if that world contains creatures with LFW.


Thanks for the comment. There is of course the problem of reconciling LFW with divine foreknowledge. Feel free to insert links here to your Phil Christi papers.


Here are the links to the papers at Philosophy Documentation Center. I emailed you the pdfs for reading if you'd like.



Bill, yes, there is a problem of reconciling LFW with divine foreknowledge. It's a tough nut to crack.

But it seems to me that the problem of reconciling LFW with an atheistic motor of history is even more difficult. I wonder if it is even coherent to accept both LFW and a worldview that appeals to an atheistic driver of human history. And if there is no room for LFW in such a worldview, then it's difficult from the perspective of that worldview to hold someone morally responsible for what side of history he is on. (I'm skeptical that soft determinism or any other form of causal determinism has the resources to account for free will and moral responsibility.)

Thank you for this clarifying post, Bill. I overreached in my own post, perhaps, when I insisted that "history in itself, being just 'what happens, isn’t the sort of thing that can have intrinsic aims and values." This doesn't mean that there mightn't be forces that drive history in a particular direction, or that we can't form a picture of what these forces might be by studying the book of history - just as we can learn about gravity by watching things roll downhill. I should have been clearer about the point being normativity.

That said, the theist's case is easy (leaving aside the problem of free will), but the atheist has a difficult job to do, if he is to read any telos into history: first, he must demonstrate that the drift of history actually is moving toward some definite end, and second, he must explain why that end is objectively good (after all, we'd need a reason to rule out the possibility that history is in steady motion toward some end that is morally neutral, or even wholly undesirable).

We might also ask him, if history does indeed just happen to be moving toward an end that is normatively good, why, in the absence of God, it should happen to be doing so!

Professor JM Smith left a good comment about the first of these difficulties, over at my place:

Eric Voegelin wrote that modern materialists extrapolate the telos of history from observed trends. Voegelin points out that these extrapolations are meaningless, even when they are not tendentious, because we cannot know that our sample size is large enough to be significant. If we imagine history as a book, we have no idea whether we are near the end, in the middle, or still on the first page.

If we look at the Hegelian roots of this idea, we see that Hegel believed he could extrapolate the telos of history from the trend of events in his own lifetime. Marx is just the same. And disconfirming evidence was coming in before Marx could finish Capital, which is why the old fabulist suppressed it.

So: the atheist who talks about the "right side of history" has "some 'splainin' to do"! And if he does have answers for these questions, we can still ask why, then, he bothers talking about History at all, and doesn't just refer to whatever it is that puts the "sides" into history in the first place.

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