The Religious Maniac and Future Fact

Agent Comboni has another potential hand-grenade for the No-Future-Fact doctrine. Imagine, she says, a religious maniac, who has persuaded himself of both of the following:

  • He has had a revelation that God intends to end the world on Burns Night 2015.
  • It is impossible for God to cease to exist or to change His mind.

Then surely, says Agent Comboni, when said religious maniac incants

God will end the world on Burns Night 2015

he will Achtung! be expressing a proposition (with a truth-value) and not a judgement.

Let us allow that our man is utterly certain of his prediction. Let us allow that he thinks he is expressing a proposition. Let us allow that he (thinks he) holds a metaphysic on which there are future facts. Let us allow that he (thinks he) holds an epistemology which allows for infallible revelations of this nature. (After all, our own beloved Pope Benedict would lay claim to all four of these). Does it follow that he is expressing a proposition?

Alas, no. For the point at issue has nothing to do with what individuals might be thinking, reasonably or otherwise. It is a matter of what English can and cannot encode. And of course English encodes alike for the religious maniac and for the man on the Clapham Omnibus. The words will Achtung! mean the same on the lips of any speaker.

Claims of future fact are not expressible in English, and we have given the arguments elsewhere. Here we say only that the existence of the religious maniac does nothing to disturb our doctrine. We just give him the lie direct. Delivered with the sincerest malice.

But perhaps we can anyway press our religious maniac. Would he also assent to

God will end the world on Burns Night 2015 even if He changes His mind

? Presumably not. But if he had been proffering a proposition, a claim of fact, then (as propositional logic dictates) he would be committed to the even-if claim. The defence rests.

Now, Brunellus has some most interesting things to recount concerning the tangles that mediaeval logicians and theologians get themselves into over similar matters, especially over prophecies. Let us hope that he soon has the time to entertain us on these pages.

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