Re: God and time, and warning labels

Don Page (
Sun, 16 Nov 1997 00:30:05 -0700

I, as a B-theorist, have enjoyed reading the discussion by Garry
DeWeese (Thu, 13 Nov 1997 09:09:16 -0700) as an A-theorist, since I don't
recall interacting much with anyone who believes in A-theory. (John Leslie
was here the past two days, and he was trying to explain to me that
A-theorists that also believe in radical indeterminacy would have the only
counter-argument that he considered viable against the smooth operation of
the doomsday argument, but since Leslie says he is a B-theorist, I can't
have expected him to have given me compelling reasons for believing in
A-theory, and he didn't.)

I appreciate the information that "A-theorists believe that there is
an ontological (not merely epistemic) asymmetry between past and present, on
the one hand, and the future on the other. The past and the present are
real, while the future is not." However, I am slightly confused, since I
thought Leslie told me today that A-theorists believe the present exists but
neither the future nor the past. Are such people also A-theorists, or is
there actually yet a different name for those who believe that only the
present exists?

I also appreciate the point that "The fundamental issue here is not
what can be known but what exists. There is always the danger of conflating
epistemic with ontological claims." But now I am curious as to what the
evidence is that leads an A-theorist to claim that the future does not
exist. Also, for an A-theorist who believes that the past as well as the
present exists, what is the evidence that the past exists but not the future?

In Garry's later posting (Thu, 13 Nov 1997 09:18:07 -0700) on God
and time he states, "I think we absolutely must distinguish between
metaphysical time (God's time) and the measured time of the physical
universe. Even if we cannot do better than an operationalist notion of
physical time, we still are not forced to give up the idea of absolute
simultaneity." Similarly, in his posting of Fri, 14 Nov 1997 21:55:45 -0700
he notes, "Even if people persist in moving relativistically, it seems that
we only are forced to give up our knowledge of simultaneity, not the thing
itself." I think I agree that I don't see (at least yet) how to force an
A-theorist to give up the idea of absolute simultaneity, but I would like to
ask what the evidence is that there is any such thing. Also, of what use is
the idea if it can never be known?

Perhaps a clue to a possible motivation for an A-theorist is given
by Garry's final words of his posting of Fri, 14 Nov 1997 21:56:12 -0700,
"If temporal becoming is not a real feature of the universe, but is only
psychological, then I believe that it is difficult to give any real meaning
to the notion of causation, let alone to escape the fatalist dilemma."
Since I myself don't find these supposed problems with the B-theory nearly
sufficient to cause me to adopt the A-theory, I am curious as to whether
there is any more positive evidence for the A-theory than this.

Since John Leslie told me there are plenty of respected A-theorists,
I am really just confessing my ignorance of what their arguments are, so now
I am taking the lazy man's approach (or am I trying to be more efficient?)
of trying to find what their arguments are without having to take the bother
of actually reading philosophy texts on what I have thought was a very
implausible view (especially if the past is supposed to exist but not the
future; saying that only the present and neither the future nor the past
exist seems more nearly plausible to me). So perhaps Garry can enlighten me.

Don Page