Saturday, December 01, 2007

And then......

On the issue of God’s relation to time there are two main views. One is that God is timelessly eternal, existing in a state in which there is for him no before and after, who creates and sustains the universe by a timeless act of will. In what follows I shall refer to this as the eternalist view. On this view creation is usually taken to be cum tempore, as with Augustine, but there is no necessity to this.

The other is that God is purely sempiternal, existing for all times, backwardly and forwardly everlasting, who creates the universe at some instant of this temporal series and (on some accounts) in creating and sustaining an orderly universe brings about the metrication of time, which is (prior to the creation) otherwise temporally amorphous. I shall refer to this as the sempiternalist view.

In his numerous writings on God and time William Lane Craig endeavours to appropriate elements of each these views, combining them together. For example in various papers, such as 'The Tensed vs. Tenseless Theory of Time: A Watershed for the Conception of Divine Eternity' ; his books, Time and Eternity, and God, Time and Eternity , and Creatio ex Nihilo (with Paul Copan) ; and his contribution to Four Views on God and Time. In all these places Craig has argued that God is timeless sans creation and in time avec creation. God is timeless but not necessarily timeless. God was timeless but is so no longer. As far as I can see Craig's views are expressed in a consistent way throughout these various sources, though with varying emphases, and I shall assume that his view is presented consistently, and so I shall refer to these sources indifferently.

So he states

Suppose…. that God did not exist temporally prior to creation. In that case he exists timelessly sans creation. But once time begins at the moment of creation, God either becomes temporal in virtue of his real causal relation to time and the world or else he exists as timelessly with creation as he does sans creation. But this second alternative seems quite impossible. At the first moment of time, God stands in a new relation in which he did not stand before (since there was no before)…..Even if the beginning of the temporal world is the result of a timeless volition of God, the fact that the world is not sempiternal but began to exist out of nothing demonstrates that God acquires a new relation at the moment of creation. At the moment of creation, God comes into the relation of sustaining the universe or at the very least that of coexisting with the universe, a relation which he did not before have. As God successively sustains each subsequent moment or event in being a multiplicity of new relations result. So that even if God is timeless sans creation, his free decision to create a temporal world constitutes also a free decision on his part to enter into time and to experience the reality of tense and temporal becoming.

Elsewhere he writes of ‘two phases of God’s life, one timeless and one temporal’. So let’s call this the two phases view.

At least two philosophical positions motivate the central claim of the ‘two phases’, a view which Craig rather disarmingly calls 'curious', 'extremely bizarre', 'startling and not a little odd’. The first position is his adherence to the Kalam cosmological argument, with its commitment to an actual infinite universe, which requires that the first moment of time is also the first moment of the creation. This is inconsistent with the view of God’s life as sempiternal in the sense of being backwardly and forwardly everlasting, with the creation occurring in time. By itself, this adherence to the Kalam would be consistent with pure eternality, if pure eternality is consistent with the universe's first moment being the first moment of time, the Augustinian cum tempore, as it appears to be. So why does Craig not opt for the eternalist view? His answer identifies the second philosophical source that motivates the two-phases view: it is that pure eternality commits one to the B-series account of the temporal order of the creation which he thinks is philosophically weaker than the A-series account, and which he rejects. He may also have theological reasons for preferring the A-series account, but I shall not be considering what these views might be in this paper.

So Craig's argument is not simply an ingenious approach to the vexed question of God's relation to time, but an essential requirement of other important features of philosophical things that Craig believes.

In what follows I shall offer a set of critical reflections on Craig’s view. I approach his view in a spirit of curiosity rather than of hostility. Craig wants to have his cake and eat it too, and who can blame him for that? I shall conclude, nevertheless, that there are serious difficulties with what he claims about which he has said little or nothing. Finally, I try to show that the pure eternalist view, the view that God is necessarily timeless, the traditional timelessness view, the view which Craig significantly modifies, can be stated in a way that meets at least some of Craig’s problems with it.

Reactions to Craig

(a) The peremptory reaction

Craig’s view is sometimes peremptorily rejected as being straightforwardly incoherent. So Brian Leftow says (without referring explicitly to Craig, though perhaps with Craig in mind), that God cannot first be timeless, and then later be temporal. ‘For then God's timeless phase is earlier than His temporal phase, and whatever is earlier than something else is in time'. In an explicit reference to Craig, Daniel Hill similarly claims that 'The very word 'become' is a temporal word, and so we cannot truthfully say that an atemporal being can become anything.' And Paul Helm has accused Craig of holding the view that God is timeless before he created the universe and temporal afterwards.

Perhaps Craig would complain that such a reaction doesn't pay sufficient regard to his idea that the two phases of God's life, the timeless and the temporal, are not related to each other as earlier to later. Such a rejection of the two-phase view is based upon the belief that they are earlier and later phases of the divine life, and perhaps that it is Craig’s view that they must be earlier and later phases in the divine life. But Craig insists

Detractors of this position (viz. that God is simply timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation) simply assume that if God’s life lacks earlier and later parts, then it has no phases. But why could there not be two phases of God’s life, one timeless and one temporal, which are not related to each other as earlier and later? Critics have perhaps too quickly assumed that if any phase of God’s life is timeless, then the whole must be timeless.

I now have some sympathy with such a complaint about the critics’ accuracy, though sometimes it seems that Craig’s way of characterizing his position lends plausibility to the peremptory rejection, as when he writes ‘God acquires a new relation at the moment of creation’ and ‘Once time begins at the moment of creation…. God becomes temporal in virtue of his real causal relation to time’. Nevertheless I wonder whether the peremptory critics do sufficient justice to Craig's statement of his own view on the question of the relationship between the two phases of God's life. Craig might grant to the peremptory view that God’s being in time cannot be after his being timeless, but nevertheless his being in time can be subsequent to his being timeless. Perhaps the temporality of God is a logically subsequent phase, not temporally after. For Craig might say that the creation of the universe is (or logically entails) the abdication of divine timelessness.

On such a construction, there is a phase of God's life that is his timelessness, in this sense only, that had there been no creation then God would have been timeless. Had there been no creation God is timeless would have been almost the complete answer to the question of how God’s existence relates to issues of time. The reality would have been that God is timeless. Almost complete but not quite, for the complete answer, or a more complete answer, is: God is contingently timeless. Perhaps it would be less misleading than using the word 'phase' to say that Craig's view amounts to there being two modes of God's existence, a temporal mode which logically follows the will to create the universe, which ipso facto dissolves or terminates the timeless mode which logically preceded it.

This sort of thing, the loss of a modal property, is surely familiar enough to us. The change that Craig supposes occurs in the eternally timeless life of God upon creation is not a temporal change, but more like a change of status, as when a monarch, on abdicating his position, ipso facto loses the prerogatives of the monarch, such as immunity from prosecution. Or, employing the language of the theologians, we might say that what Craig proposes is a kind of divine kenosis, not as this applies particularly to the second person of the Trinity, but to the entire godhead. In virtue of creating, the timeless God necessarily foregoes his timelessness just as on some versions of kenoticism, in becoming incarnate the eternal Son loses his omniscience, perhaps even his impeccability. Yet the comparison with kenoticism is not perhaps perfectly apt. For on standard kenoticism, the self-abnegation is voluntary. On Craig’s view, construed kenotically, the creation is voluntary, the dissolution or abdication of timelessness follows as a logical consequence. In creating, God necessarily loses his timeless immutability.

I am not altogether certain whether this discussion and the analogies I have suggested convey Craig’s sense better than that which either Leftow or Hill (or an earlier phase of my own existence) held to be his position. Craig himself comes near to using the language of kenoticism, as when he says that the second phase is the result of ‘a free decision on his [God’s] part to enter into time and to experience the reality of tense and temporal becoming’. So I think that it does go some way to giving Craig’s sense, and I shall employ this understanding in what follows. Of course on such an understanding if God had of necessity to create some temporal universe or other then he could not have been timeless, though one might wonder whether sustaining such a world would entail change. In these circumstances there could be no fulfilable truth–conditions for the proposition God is timeless.

What could this be, a ‘phase’ that is not earlier than the first moment of time, and with a temporal universe not later than that phase? Craig says little or nothing more than that the two phases are not related to each other as earlier and later (nor, presumably, as simultaneous, though he does not say this). This explanatory silence is a rare act of philosophical self-denial on the part of a philosopher who is not usually stumped for offering positive reasons in support of any philosophical position that he holds. God’s eternal phase is a state from which changes in time stem, but he brings these changes about not by being before, nor simultaneous with, the changes, nor do the changes occur temporally after what brings them about. One might think, perhaps, that a phase that is not earlier than another phase is ‘above’ it in some hierarchical sense. But if so then, we might ask, how could that more exalted phase be touched by time, how could it be sufficiently unstable to have to abdicate its superior hierarchical position by something that occurs in time, the occurrence of which is in no way temporally related to it? In any case, how does what occurs in time succeed in destabilizing the eternal in a way that produces the effect temporally after the cause? If the timelessly eternal phase is not earlier than the temporal phase, in what positive relation is the first phase to the second? I think that it is fair to say that Craig has difficulty in answering that question.

But let us try to answer it. If, in so doing, we take a closer look at Craig’s claim, then with respect to Craig’s two-phase proposal there appear to be three possibilities:

First, that it boils down to the view that God is eternally timeless. He eternally wills the creation, as Craig puts it, and is nothing other than eternally timeless. One might suggest, from things that Craig says, that if it is possible for God voluntarily and eternally to will some event, like the first created something or other, which Craig claims, then it is surely possible for him eternally and voluntarily to will a series of such things. On such a view there would be no abdication of eternality. This would be eternality of the Augustinian-Boethian variety. God’s will is an eternal cause, or causes, the efficacy of which does not require an intrinsic change in God. But Craig rules out such a view for various reasons, chiefly, as I’ve said, on account of his adherence to the A-series view of the temporal order.

Anyhow, I think we can rule out God’s being timelessly eternal avec creation, given Craig’s clear statements on the matter. He says that this view is ‘quite impossible’. This leaves two other possibilities.

A second possibility is that given that there is a creation, and therefore God having created, there is not a true pre-abdication phase in the life of God. And, I suggest, nor ever was there. It is possible for us to imagine such a phase, but there truly isn’t one or wasn’t one. I can imagine Mr Blobby, but it does not follow that there could be a Mr Blobby. However, it may be said, not only can one imagine a pre-abdication phase of the life of God, it is possible to conceive of such a phase, in rather the same way that one can conceive of the edge of the desk. But the edge of the desk is not a part of the desk, a spatial phase, like its lid or its inkwell, it is simply where the desk ends. So it is possible for us as creatures to conceive of a pre-creation phase of God’s life. But this phase does not exist, it is simply the limit of his temporal phase, in the way in which two o’clock is the later limit of the hour between one o’clock and two o’clock, not a non-temporal phase of that hour. So if there is no true pre-abdication phase then there’s no abdication; there could never have been. That is, if one presses the idea that there are two phases, not related as earlier and later, this now – by which I mean the ‘now’ during the ‘later’ phase of the divine life - entails that the ‘reality’ of the first phase is purely conceptual. And a purely conceptual phase is not a real phase at all, any more than two o’clock is a very short temporal phase.

The third possibility is provided for us by supposing that there is no creation. That is, God eternally and voluntarily refrains from creatio ex nihilo. In this case ex hypothesi there are not two phases, only one. So again, as with the second possibility, there is no true abdication. But in this situation the one atemporal phase, the ‘first’ phase of Craig’s way of thinking, is not merely conceptual, a creature of thought, but real. God is really timelessly eternal. So he’s really timelessly eternal if there is no creation, but not really timelessly eternal if there is a creation.

There is a kind of oddity to this, if these reasonings are sound. On Craig’s view if God creates then his eternal, timeless phase is only ideal, conceptual, based upon a mere distinction of the reason. He is no longer timeless because he never was timeless. However, if he refrains from creating then his eternity is not merely ideal, it is real. Paradoxically, it is not so much creating that has a real impact upon the being of God as refraining from creating. Refraining from creating would ensure that God is timelessly eternal. Our first and third possibilities preserve pure eternalism. On their accounts of the matter there is no true temporal phase, either because, in the case of the first, there is creation but no second phase and a fortiori no temporal phase, or because (as with the third possibility) the temporal phase is an unactualised possibility. Another way of putting this would be: on the third possibility God’s temporality is purely counterfactual. For if he had not created then he would have been timelessly eternal.

In correspondence with Craig he has suggested that there is another possibility which better captures what he wants to say. He provides the following illustration of God’s really being in a state of timelessness which ceases to obtain at the moment of creation. It’s like a world that consisted of nothing but mathematical objects. Somehow, one of these underwent a change, and time would automatically spring into being and a temporal state would obtain, but it would not occur chronologically after the tenseless state, but it may nevertheless have explanatory priority

The trouble I find with this suggestion is that it is perfectly possible to construct a narrative of an extraordinary kind, one in which timelessly eternal objects become temporal. But the fact it is possible to tell such a story does not mean that it represents a logical possibility, nor even the presumption of one, any more than the story of the Owl and the Pussycat does. Besides the narrative there has to be some reason given to think that this is how it could be. The state of divine timelessness can only be explanatorily prior to the state of divine temporality if there is such a state, and telling a story which says that it is is simply a petitio.

Reasons against the two-phases view - memory and God's unity

If it is as Craig suggests, that God's eternity dissolves or terminates as a logical consequence of the coming into being of a temporal order, what else happens to God when this happens? The answer is: Quite a lot, actually.

Although Craig tells us that in creating God becomes temporal he does not say whether or not all that is God becomes temporal. It follows from his account that timelessness is a contingent feature of God, because in creating God loses it. Losing it looks like it entails a certain kind of change in his knowledge and in his willing. He wills what is other than himself, and his knowledge becomes counterfactually charged and tensed. But perhaps there are other essential features of God that retain their atemporality, that are in some way immune from the abdication of timelessness with respect to knowing and willing.

Suppose we think of timelessness not as an attribute of God, but as a mode of possessing attributes. And suppose we think that God possesses a large number of properties expressible as one-place predicates. Such properties might be divisible into two sorts: those he has necessarily timelessly, and those he has which have a temporal phase avec creation. There are those that survive creation unscathed, and those that do not.

So perhaps what happens to God upon creation is something like this: in creating God abdicates his timeless knowledge and will, but (perhaps) his timeless goodness, or his timeless truthfulness are unruffled by the onset of time. Perhaps we could say that God is immutably good or truthful because these properties are had timelessly. It is not possible for him to abdicate these. However, his knowledge and his will change with his creating. And we might defend this division by noting that creatio ex nihilo is a pretty remarkable business. Upon creation there is something, however inferior, that is other than God. Little wonder if this unparalleled act has deep consequences for God.

So – we are supposing - God’s timelessness continues avec creation, albeit in a mutated, not to say mutilated form, in the form of a set of properties he possesses timelessly, and a set of properties that he possesses in a temporal mode. Or rather, (as Craig has suggested to me) God has essential properties, such as being necessary, being self-existence, being morally perfect etc. whether he is timeless or temporal. But maybe we just don’t know. Craig supposes that in becoming temporal God becomes a temporal being. But maybe not. It’s hardly a matter of stipulation. Perhaps in becoming temporal only some of God’s essential properties become temporal. Craig does not canvass such a possibility, but it is I think consistent with his overall outlook. But of course the character of God would then be much more complex, and it may be that attempting to work out the details of such complexity takes us in the direction of incoherence.

But such a categorizing of divine powers may be too simplistic. For those in the timelessness column will be affected by those in the temporalist column. God’s truthfulness entails his being truthful, and his being truthful in a situation in which his knowledge is temporal would seem to require the adaptation of his truthfulness to temporality, its infection by temporality. And similarly with any power which involves intentional beliefs or propositional attitudes. Perhaps we could sort out this complexity carefully, but it looks as if the introduction of such complexity will create more problems, rather than provide us with help in coming to terms with the existing ones. In any event, as Craig says in becoming temporal God’s knowledge will switch from knowing truths tenselessly to knowing tensed truths: God in time literally foreknows whereas a timeless God does not.

Further, if the first act is a timelessly eternal act, as we have been supposing, then in that act God does not know what will happen, or what is presently, in a temporal sense, happening, only what happens in a sense that Craig may prefer to leave unspecified. In coming into time God necessarily acquires a memory, but he has no memory, nor any expectations, in his timelessly eternal phase. Having created, what would God know by memory? Presumably every detail of the unfolding temporal creation that he has brought into being. Would he also remember what it was like to be timelessly eternal? This seems more problematic. To remember anything, to least in the sense of remember that we are interested in here, what is remembered must necessarily be in the past. Was God's timeless eternity over when the temporal world first came into being? Did it have a temporal boundary coincident with that first moment of time? Or did it have a temporal boundary coincident with the sustaining of what was first (in a purely serial sense) created? Was the beginning of time the moment of the end of timeless eternity? If God's pre-creation phase was not before the creation then it is impossible to remember that phase. Is he nevertheless aware of it? If so, is he aware of something that never was the case?

Taking the Craigian story a step or two further, it must follow that God's capacities change on creating the universe and so coming to be in time. In certain respects he becomes incapacitated, in other respects he gains new capacities. Prior to the creation he had the direct awareness of timelessness, whatever that's like. After the first moment of the creation he lost that capacity to be directly aware timelessly or at least it became impossible for him to exercise that capacity even if we suppose that he retains it. And he gains other capacities, of course, or the ability to exercise other capacities, particularly the capacity of experiencing things one after the other, the use of temporal indexicals, and (at least on some accounts of propositions) he gains knowledge of the temporal order (that expressed by indexical propositions), and loses those items of knowledge that are only expressible timelessly.

So, teasing out Craig’s view, the disunity or disruption in God’s mind may become even deeper, because those properties he possesses in timeless mode may not be accessible to him while he is operating in temporal mode, avec creation.

More than that, let us presume that the direct awareness of timeless eternity is a unique kind of awareness. The truth that God is thus timelessly aware of may be representable propositionally, which those in time may share some understanding of, however partial that understanding is. But the sensibility, the phenomenal awareness that is unique to a state of timelessness is something unique to being timeless. Like the sensibility that comes from being weightless, it can be reported in propositions but only had by those who are in that state. In creating God loses whatever sensibility the awareness of timelessness is, or he loses the capacity to exercise it. Does he lose it for ever? Perhaps he does. But perhaps not.

Let's suppose what is logically possible, if creatio ex nihilo is possible, namely the total annihilation of the universe, not simply the change of the world as we know it into something else, but its ceasing to be in any form. Let's call it annihilatio . Given annihilatio there is no time subsequently. At that point presumably God ceases to be temporal. His memories vanish, he resumes timeless eternity. ‘If there were to be annihilatio then God would resume timelessness’. Is this counterfactual true? Or is it that once temporal, never not temporal? Do God’s memories carry over into his resumed state of timelessness? Does timeless eternity start again? Does temporality stop at the point of annihilatio? Is it necessarily the case that if time has a beginning it can have no end? Is contingent timelessness and a two-phase view of the divine life going to deliver a coherent doctrine of God?

I hope you agree that our attempt to provide some positive content to the two-phase view has not enjoyed much success. It seems to yield a sense of God’s eternality that is purely counterfactual. For it does not look as though any essential aspect or power of God can be timeless avec creation. How the metaphysical unity of God survives the transition from one mode to the other is not apparent. And what story we should tell on the supposition of annihilatio is not clear.

The remainder of this paper will appear in January 2008

Analysis 9 - 'Saving the Planet': What's the best bet?

But which side shall we take? Reason can decide nothing here
- Blaise Pasc

(Note. Much of this Analysis and the one to follow has been occasioned by reading Michael Northcott’s A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming, (London, Oxfam/Darton, Longman and Todd, 2007). Northcott is Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh. It is in my view a pretty dreadful book, but the business of trying to get clear why it is so bad has nevertheless been quite stimulating. Page references in this Analysis and the next, ‘Saving the Planet’ – What’s the stake? are to this book.)

It is current political wisdom in the UK that the planet is getting warmer and that this is being caused by the excess emission of greenhouse gases. It is believed that this warming is so serious that, unless we take appropriate measures, there will be calamitous, irreversible damage to the ecosystem. Some say that it already be too late. So we’ve all had to become used to the ridiculous phrase ‘saving the planet’.

But not everyone agrees with the current orthodoxy. It is unclear how the evidence adduced is to be interpreted. Is it a case of CO2-induced changes, or of long term trends that occur irrespective of such emissions? In other words, is the warming part of a trend that not even Superman could affect? Some deny that there is global warming (GW). Still others say that GW is caused by sunspots, or by volcanoes, or that it is unclear what causes it. Others argue that greenhouse gases ought to be reduced anyhow. Still others believe the GW lobby is fuelled by a statist political agenda, reminding us of what H.L. Mencken said: ‘The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it’.

This confused debate is further confused by the plain fact that Europe is coming to depend on Russia for natural gas supplies. So maybe it’s in our own political interest no longer to rely upon fossils for power but instead to develop a new generation of nuclear power plants, or to make electricity from the wind and the waves. But that’s a separate political question, one to be kept apart from the issue of GW.

Scientists themselves differ sharply on these questions, often, sadly, reflecting the views of their paymasters or grant-awarders. This shows not so much the subjectivity of science as the bias of scientists, and therefore the limitations of science. (Often, minority views on the question of GW and what to do about it are suppressed. This shameful state of affairs is not our present concern, however.)

What follows is not addressed to those for who are already convinced of anthropogenic GW and of the possibility of anthropogenic policies to reduce or reverse it, or who are already convinced of the opposite.

For others, including Christians, who think that the evidence for an against is finely balanced, this is a time of some perplexity. It is a situation of radical uncertainty about an important, though not (of course) an all-important, matter. (Don’t you sometimes gain the impression that Christians who pick up the ‘one world’ emphasis of modern environmentalism find it very difficult to sustain the particularism that is intrinsic to the gospel?) Even though the evidence for and against GW may be finely balanced, or impossible to interpret, some action must be taken. But what action? One possibility is to opt out, to continue as before. But if our choices are ‘forced’, to opt out is in fact to make a choice. For to continue as before is in fact to choose to ignore the issue.


One way of addressing GW is by intellectual analysis. It is obvious enough that there are plenty of ways of criticising our modern world. The idea that happiness and human fulfilment are found in acquiring bits and pieces; the idea that moral and other kinds of progress can come from technology; the way in which the optimism of political liberalism has so quickly become a panicky pessimism.

On the other hand, the smugness and self-satisfaction of the ‘spirituality’ of the advocates of renewability is also fair game.

All these points are well taken. But criticising others and analysing ‘the problem’ does not prescribe what we should be doing. Such critique is no doubt necessary, and perhaps there is not enough of it, but it is essentially negative.

It is the aim of this Analysis, and the next one, to make some suggestions by way of an answer to the question, what action ought we to take in regard to GW?

Pascal’s strategy

So, if we don’t opt out altogether, what’s the way forward?

It has been suggested (by Stephen Heller) that in this situation of great uncertainty over a great issue we should adopt Blaise Pascal’s strategy. (274) Pascal famously argued that in a situation in which it could not be proved either that God exists or that he does not exist the rational thing to do is to gamble on his existence. If we win the wager we shall escape judgment, and if we lose there won’t be a judgment to escape. Whereas if we gamble on his non-existence we shall suffer punishment if we are wrong and be obliterated if we are correct, and we have a 50-50 chance of being wrong.

‘Either God is, or He is not’ But which side shall we taken? Reason can decide nothing here; there is an infinite chaos between us. A game is on, at the other side of this infinite distance, and the coin will fall heads or tails. Which will you gamble on either; according to reason you cannot defend either choice….Yes, but you must bet. There is no option; you have embarked on the business. Which will you choose? Let us see. Since you must choose let us see which will profit you less. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and our happiness. And your nature has two things to avoid: error and misery. Since you must necessarily choose, it is no more unreasonable to make one choice than the to her. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weight the gain and loss in calling heads, that God exits. Let us estimate the two chances; if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you have nothing. Do not hesitate, then; gamble on His existence’. (Pensees, trans. Krailsheimer (Penguin) 157).

Pascal stressed that the outcome of his Wager is of infinite consequence. It is well frequently to remind ourselves that despite the rhetoric of some environmentalists, we are concerned with possible outcomes which are finite.

(Northcott quite misunderstands the Wager. He thinks that it has to do with action in situations of uncertainty. (274) But this is to miss Pascal’s point, which has to do with choices of momentous consequence about which we are equally uncertain. It is not that we have no ‘certain knowledge’ of the future, but that we have no knowledge at all (of whether or not God exists), according to Pascal. Making a Pascalian wager is not to be confused with the everyday business of balancing probabilities.)

Yet perhaps in a situation of radical uncertainty about finite consequences, coupled with the possibly dangerous consequences of inaction we should gamble, in Pascalian fashion, on the GW ‘scientific consensus’ being correct. If we were to do this, what would follow?

The trouble with Pascal’s Wager – as many critics have pointed out – is that there is not just one alternative, atheism or theism. There are many religions, gods many and lords many, as the Apostle Paul noted. So it’s not a case of a straight wager for or against ‘God’, for this raises the question ‘Which god ought I to wager on?’

And similarly with betting on GW. Suppose that we are inclined to gamble on the planet’s future by going with the ‘scientific consensus’. Then we need to get clear what such a bet implies. What does my wagering tell me that I should do and not do? The trouble is, those who warn against GW offer many prescriptions, some at the international and governmental level, some at the personal level. Some are sensible, some plain daft. Not all of them are consistent.

A simple bet that some disaster will happen unless….does not imply a similarly simple bet on the multitude of means that are proposed to avoid the catastrophe. So in wagering that GW is occurring, which prescription or prescriptions ought we to adopt? A number of competing and conflicting prescriptions are offered. These are usually based upon the reasons that people have for why greenhouse gases are reckoned to have ballooned, and what their effect on the globe will be.

Global capitalism

Perhaps we should blame global capitalism for GW , believing ‘neoliberalism’ to be the cause of the increase in greenhouse gases. If so, gambling on GW would mean doing our bit to achieve the dismantling or radical modification of capitalism. Perhaps we should support the imposition of taxes and tariffs, or restrict trade in other ways., Perhaps we should support the outlawing of the practice of growing food in poor Africa and flying it to rich Europe and the US, abandon oil exploration and exploitation, and henceforward forbid logging, or control it very strictly.

Global capitalism no doubt has its faults, but it is in the business of satisfying demand, the various demands of its customers. The consumer choices made by you and me, in other words. The more customers that Tesco (or Walmart) has, and the more choices made for Tesco’s products, then the better for Tesco. If we think of capitalism in this way, then if (say) there was a sudden and sustained demand for C. H. Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David in Scouse we can be sure that Tesco would stock that book and sell it at a discount, just as it presently finds a place on its shelves for cheese-and-onion-flavoured roasted almonds.

Tesco and its global capitalistic friends follow demand like trade used to follow the flag. If demand changes, then their way of meeting that demand will change too. Hardly a surprise. If we stop demanding cheap (or not so cheap) fresh French beans in February then Tesco will quickly cease offering them to us.

But don’t Tesco and the other multinationals create demand? Don’t they invent things for us to buy? They most certainly do. Don’t they impose these newly-invented products on us? Aren’t they part of a tyrannical conspiracy? Isn’t neocapitalism ‘unaccountable’? Isn’t an example of ‘moral perversion’? (37) Is there not ‘an intrinsic connection between global warming, modern imperialism (i.e. Tesco) and neoliberal global capitalism (Tesco again)? (43)

To which questions the answer is: most certainly not. Global capitalism is accountable to us. If we don’t want the newly-invented products of ‘neocapitalism’ then we don’t buy them. Then Tesco and their suppliers are left with unsold lines, which is not a happy prospect for them. Capitalism is not morally perverse, it’s morally neutral. Much more so than governments and international agencies. Perhaps Tesco satisfies demands that we ought not to have. But that’s a rather different issue. If it does, then who’s to blame? We shall briefly return to this.

The market

Perhaps it’s not tyrannical global providers but ‘mechanistic’ free markets that are to be blamed for global warming. Markets, of course, convey immeasurable benefits to us. They identify our demands and supply them, bringing inventor, manufacturer, seller and buyer together in a way in which no other humanly-devised scheme do. But maybe the market is also a harmful institution. Maybe ‘GW is the earth’s judgment on the global market economy’. (7)

There are some serious misunderstandings about the market. One important one is that the market panders to our selfishness. So maybe climate change is due to selfishness, pure and simple. We curb our selfishness by shutting down or ‘regulating’ the market which satisfies it. So this prescription involves curbing the market, bringing in rationing, banning certain products, and so on.

Certainly the market it is concerned with demand, but why is all demand selfish? A person might go into the market and then give away what he buys. ‘Selfishness’ suggests action which is by intention to deprive others of what is rightfully theirs. Is there any reason to think that a mother who buys bread or trainers for her children is being selfish?

But there’s another reason to protect the markets, and the freedom of new providers to enter markets, a freedom (incidentally) that is easily eroded, particularly by corrupt governments. It is this. But what those who blame the markets for ‘anthropogenic global warming’ fail to note that if we are to be rescued from global warming by our own efforts then it is the market that must come to our rescue. If we are to ‘save the planet’ by changing our behaviour then it is the market that will be the engine of that salvation.

What’s the solution to the growing oil consumption? Ought we to ban the private car, change motorways into bus lanes, and ‘ration’ car use by granting road licences only to special cases, to doctors and nurses and journalists and MPs and….(You can imagine, can’t you, the potential here for frustration and corruption?) Aren’t buses more efficient? Yes and no. They can carry 30 people from A to B using less fuel than thirty cars can. But if part of efficiency is convenience, then the answer is, in general, no.

So suppose we do nothing, keeping our gas-guzzling cars and leaving the house lights on. What’s the solution to this burgeoning, wasteful demand for oil and gas? It’s the solution that the market provides, one that is, alas for the gas-guzzling public, ruthlessly efficient.

Barring presently unforeseen political upheavals, either the supply of oil will roughly keep pace with the rising demand for it, or it will not. If it will, no problem: the gas guzzler may continue to guzzle, and houselights can stay on.

If it does keep pace with rising demand, this may well be because rising prices make some of the trillions of barrels of oil still in the ground worth extracting. A rise in the price of oil may well call forth an increase in supply.

If it fails to keep pace, if oil begins to run out, then what will happen? Its market price will rise, perhaps very sharply. And then what else will happen? Other forms of propulsion will become relatively cheaper, and the market will reward ingenious and inventive entrepreneurs who make petrol engines run more efficiently, or who invent and produce new types of fuel, and new forms of propulsion. Life will change, but travel will not stop; forms of travel will alter, and the cost of travel may increase relatively to other costs. The market will come to the aid of the traveller.

So, if we wager on GW occurring, what does such a gamble commit us to? What are the costs of wagering? We shall try to explore these questions further in the next Analysis.