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Conservation, discontinuous time, and causal continuity


William Vallicella poses a dilemma for continuous-creation accounts of conservation, which he attempts to solve by conjoining presentism and four-dimensionalism. I claim that presentist four-dimensionalism fails to appreciate the real problem behind continuous creation and persistence, which is a presumption of the discontinuity of time. I will argue that if we assume that time is discontinuous, then, (1) presentist four-dimensionalism cannot alone account for persistence, and (2) created entities are also not in clear need of conservation in Vallicella's solution. Lastly, I conclude by suggesting that the worry over persistence for continuous creation is a problem only if persistence requires causal continuity.

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1. William Vallicella ‘The creation-conservation dilemma and presentist four-dimensionalism’, Religious Studies, 38 (2002), 187–200, 188.

2. Craig William LaneCreation and conservation once more’, Religious Studies, 34 (1998), 177188, 184.

3. Philip Quinn has argued for this, claiming that a single individual cannot be introduced more than once, though it can be created (even with temporal gaps) repeatedly. See Philip Quinn ‘Divine conservation, continuous creation, and human action’, in A. Freddoso (ed.) The Existence and Nature of God (Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).

4. Craig ‘Creation and conservation’, 183.

5. Vallicella ‘The creation-conservation dilemma’, 190.

6. Vallicella's objection might also be criticized on the basis that it rules out God's atemporal activity. If God exists outside of time, then it seems reasonable to suggest that God could conserve objects without acting at particular times. I thank an anonymous reader for this journal for this point.

7. Jonathan Kvanvig & Hugh McCann make a similar point that entities lack the power to sustain themselves over time in ‘Divine conservation and the persistence of the world’ in T. Morris (ed.) Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1988), 37–42.

8. I'm not really sure about Vallicella's point here. It seems possible that an enduring object could also have a tendency to go out of existence; enduring wholes at a time can easily lapse into nonexistence if there is no temporal continuity such that the next moment in time is one where the subject no longer exists. I will claim later that this picture of lapsing into nonexistence is not an issue between perdurantism and endurantism but one of temporal and causal continuity.

9. Michael Rea ‘Four dimensionalism’, in Michael J. Loux & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds) The Oxford Handbook for Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). However, Vallicella seems to be borrowing the phrase from Berit Brogaard ‘Presentist four-dimensionalism’, The Monist, 83 (2000), 341356.

10. Vallicella ‘The creation-conservation dilemma’, 194.

11. Kvanvig and McCann argue that subjects lack self-sustaining power, and it does not matter whether these subjects are enduring wholes or temporal parts. The problem is that an entity at some time lacks ‘temporal inertia’ such that they will not persist through time without divine help.

12. Pavelich Andrew makes a similar point in ‘On the idea that God is continuously re-creating the universe’, Sophia, 27 (2007), 720. However, he argues for a different conclusion, that continuous recreation is tantamount to the nonexistence of time.

13. René Descartes Selected Philosophical Writings, tr. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, & Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 96.

14. Pavelich ‘On the idea that God’, 11.

15. This is not a general problem for the doctrine of temporal parts. This is a problem for any account that assumes the discontinuity of time, for each entity (whether a whole or a temporal part) is temporally isolated from every other entity at a distinct moment of time, even if that entity is the same object (as in an enduring whole) or a distinct one (as in a temporal part).

16. David Vander Laan is at pains to come up with several options as to what it might be that can maintain genuine persistence, whether it is an immanent-causation of character, divine-fiat theory, or a no-account theory. See Laan David VanderPersistence and divine conservation’, Religious Studies, 42 (2006), 159176.

17. I will grant that it is odd to say ‘some infinitesimal point after’, for it is odd to imagine how we splice time up into its parts anyway. However, I think the argument is effective to those accounts that assume that each moment of an object's existence is recreated by God and so discontinuous from every other moment. Given the independence and isolation of every moment of an object's existence, I suppose that it is possible to say that God could recreate some object even if the moments of an object's existence were split far apart. However, given that we experience a flow of time that has no breaks, it helps to imagine that when God recreates the world at each time, it happens at such an infinitesimally small gap that no one notices (though clearly this is not how God really has to do it).

18. Lynne Rudder Baker Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Personal identity, for Baker, requires both a mereological sum of the same type and a first-person perspective or reference to that mereological sum.

19. Merricks TrentonThere are no criteria of identity over time’, Nous, 32 (1998), 106124.

20. Zimmerman DeanCriteria of identity and the “identity mystics”’, Erkenntnis, 28 (1998), 281301.

21. Inwagen Peter vanDualism and materialism: Athens and Jerusalem’, Faith and Philosophy, 12 (1995), 486.

22. Zimmerman DeanThe compatibility of materialism and survival: the “falling elevator” model’, Faith and Philosophy, 16 (1999), 194212. He explicates immanent-causation and partial-cause in detail in Zimmerman DeanImmanent causation’, Philosophical Perspectives, 11 (1997), 433471. David Vander Laan also uses the notion of immanent-causation in ‘Persistence and divine conservation’.

23. Zimmerman ‘Compatibility of materialism and survival’, 198.

24. I am thankful for the comments and criticisms from those who attended a presentation of an earlier draft at the 41st meeting of the North Texas Philosophical Association, in particular Andrew Pavelich for many helpful comments. For their comments, I would also like to thank the Editor and an anonymous referee for Religious Studies. I am indebted to Neal Judisch for many discussions on the topic and for helpful suggestions on an earlier draft.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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