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July 28, 2008


Val Larsne

Nathan's analysis of God's foreknowledge doesn't take account of the fact that God is outside of time. A being who is outside of time cannot be surprised by anything that happens in time. Everything that will happen has (in effect) already happend for a being who is outside of time. That he knows what comes next does not compromise the free will of the actor. For God to observe us making a choice (even from outside of time where all choices and their consequences are foreknown) does not make the choice any less free than someone observing us make the same choice from within time. However, it does make it hard to understand how any prophesies could fail to be fulfilled.

While it does not compromise free will, God having perfect foreknowledge does raise the problem of evil. If God is outside of time and if all other beings are contingent, then he would foreknow the consequences of creating each creature, including for example, Satan. How can a God who has foreknowledge of what his creatures will do and who has the option of not creating them (and, consequently, the evil they will do) escape accountability for the evil done by the creatures he made but didn't have to make. Since there is no logical contradiction between freedom and righteousness, God should have been able to create only those free beings that he foreknew would always freely choose to do the right thing. Since on his discretion, the orthodox God created Satan and all kinds of wicked human beings when he didn't have to, he must be held responsible for the evil his creatures do.

Nathan Smith

Well, I sort of agree with Val. It's true that there's not a logical problem, though there is a sort of conceivability problem, with God being outside of time and thus having perfect foreknowledge of our choices even as we have free will, as long as divine foreknowledge never plays an active role in history. If God knows the future and sometimes reveals it, his revelations should influence the course of events and falsify his own predictions. This is sort of a problem with *Oedipus Rex,* which is often hailed as depicting the power of the fates but strikes me as a sort of improbable practical joke. Obviously, the oracle altered the behavior of Oedipus and his father; it doesn't appear that they were fated to follow a course of action regardless of the oracle and had no free will. It turns out that their actions make the oracle true, but this occurs through a series of wacky coincidences. We're left with a very weird idea of how fate operates: people are, it seems, generally free, yet the fates conspire to bring certain fantastic and arbitrary evils about regardless of our actions, and somehow always succeed in doing it. For divine foreknowledge to have this character is unacceptable to a Christian who regards God as infinitely wise and good.

Can I conceive of *anything* outside of time? Sure: numbers! And other purely ideal or logical entities. Memory also seems to be rather ambiguously positioned in time: on the one hand, it records the events of time, and the process of thinking and remembering is a temporal process, but, on the other hand, certain memories may linger for decades with a strange freshness, you may not even remember when they happened, while other things are immediately forgotten, and certain chords of old, remembered yearnings can become like new events that eclipse the present... In short, old and new and times past and present become all intermingled. And what if one remembers an eternal truth, a truth of mathematics, say? Is memory linking two times-- the time you learned the truth and the time you remember it? Or is memory linked the temporal and the timeless? And what if memory recalls an image, only the image is idealized, and gets its peculiar force by symbolizing something eternal?

Where the difficulty comes is in conceiving God as at once eternal and *personal*. Mathematical truths may be outside time but they are certainly not persons. It seems to be of the essence of persons to be in time, or, if it's not, it's hard to imagine what a person who inhabits eternity would be like. One cannot have a conversation with the number *pi*, or the fact that 2+2=4, or the idea of the artist, as opposed to a particular artist. Yet some people have, it is said, conversed with God.

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