Monday, March 10, 2008

divine foreknowledge

Does God know the future?

  • Yes
  • God knows all the possbilities, but not what will happen
  • God can see the broad strokes of the future, but not individual choice
  • God can see all possible outcomes and their probabilities, but not "the future"
Interesting question, isn't it? A fellow I've been getting to know through church is a philosophy professor at the university where Natasha works; I'm told he's also one of the foremost proponents of open theism in the country.

His contention is that God knows all things that are knowable; however, since the future has not yet happened, God merely knows what may happen: how we may choose to act, how things may fall out, and that the cat potentially is alive but potentially is dead also. To argue that God knows how we will choose also is to argue that our future actions can be known because they already are written, and therefore there is no free will.
I find that this squares well with a lot of Scripture, where we encounter God as a participant in history, discovering new things as history proceeds. In Genesis, he wants to see what Adam will name the animals; in Isaiah (?) he expresses surprise at them, claiming that in their wickedness they have done things that had never occurred to him they would do. Moreover, we see God changing his mind not once but several times: sparing Israel when Moses asks for clemency, extending Hezekiah's life when he already had said he would die, and turning aside from destroying Nineveh when the people repent.
God remains able to intervene in history, through miracles, through his prophets, and what else, but that doesn't mean that he has predestined the twists and turns its current takes. Prophecies of future events also fit in with this: God can intervene to make his will come about, and he also can see the steady march of humanity toward certain inevitable conclusions. Look at places of oppression, and it's not a stretch to see upheaval and rebellion, or race riots, or other such actions; look at famine, and it's not hard to see mass migrations of refugees.
The Hebrew texts in particular depict God as learning things, and even changing his chosen course of action after hearing argument from prophets or seeing how people respond to the prophets' message. And certainly the Incarnation was a new experience for him, and the gospels make no bones about it that Jesus was no Buddha -- he grew wiser as he grew older and experienced more.

I think you could make the argument that we are partners in writing history with the Almighty. As its Author, he set the stage and created the initial characters, but that doesn't mean that he knows everything that the characters will do, or how many of the subplots will play out.
I won't say that Dean's converted me to open theism, especially since we've barely talked about it. (The extent of my philosophical discussions with him have been mostly tongue-in-cheek about the nature of nonexistence, and how the nonexistence of a purely fantastical creature like a unicorn differs qualitatively from the nonexistence of a child who wasn't conceived, or from the nonexistence of the unicorn specifically mentioned in "The Once and Future King.") But I do find that open theism sits well with my understanding of God, and mostly puts a name to something I already have believed.

1 comment:

Vlad the Impala said...

You missed at least three additional options:

Does God know the future?

* No
* Depends which god we're discussing
* Fictional characters aren't capable of knowing anything

And equally important, no matter which answer you choose (one of the originals, or one of mine) -- what makes you think so?

If you're just encouraging people to guess, then I vote for:

* God knows everything that will happen on Tuesdays, down to the most infinitesimal detail, and absolutely nothing about what will happen on Fridays. The rest of the week, He knows some things, but not others.

I reckon my guess has just as much a chance of being correct as those of any other theologian.