RE: The die (er, lot) is cast...

Berger, Dan (
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 12:48:01 -0500

Please excuse the extensive quotations; I will try to respond to Chuck's points
below, but for coherence I have to quote his quotations of my previous post as

> >However, certain theologian/scientists -- John Polkinghorne, for example --
> >contend that quantum indeterminacy and chaos (the sensitive dependence of
> >results on initial conditions -- which may couple with quantum
> indeterminacy to
> >produce results which are truly unpredictable-in-principle) result in the
> >universe being truly free, and not merely free "as a character in a book is
> >free." This would produce a basic epistemological indeterminacy which
> would
> >truly preclude God's total foreknowledge (as opposed to his infinitely
> >reasonable planning).
> While parts of the universe is in principle unknowable to us,
> is this implied about God? For instance, Eph 1:4 ff and Romans
> 8: 29-30* speak of God's foreknowledge and predestination. How
> is this reconciled to Polkinghorne's view?

Let's remember (I realize that this is an evangelical group and I am a
catholic...) that St. Paul spoke in terms of the science and philosophy he
knew. While the philosophy is largely still valid, a lot of the science is
not. St. Paul (and St. Augustine, not to mention Jean C) had no knowledge of
either macroscopic chaos (in the formal sense) or of quantum indeterminacy. In
brief, Polkinghorne's contention is that God created a universe with true
indeterminacy built in, from the quantum level all the way up to human freedom
to do not only evil but things which make no sense even to the one doing them.

The epistemological difficulty about knowing the future is, Polkinghorne and
others contend, basic to the structure of God's created (and contingent)
physical laws; it may be necessary (though it has not been proved to be so!)
not only to free choice by humans but also to the existence of life at all.

And epistemological inability to know the future means inability *even in
principle.* The contention is that God can no more know the future (of course,
He can plan better than the rest of us) than create a 4-sided triangle or know
the exact position and the exact momentum of a particular electron at the same
moment. In other words, Polkinghorne is taking quantum and chaotic
indeterminacy seriously.

> If God knew us before
> the beginning of time, then would He not know all the circumstances
> that brought about our individual existance, our parents' exisitance,
> etc., all of which could be effected by quantum and sensitive chaotic
> effects of nature?

Leaving Scriptural considerations aside for the moment, what you are arguing
for is a hidden-variable theory, like David Bohm's: nature is exactly
determined, we just can't see all the influences. The more conventional view
is what I have tried to explicate above: certain things (including future
states of the universe) are unknowable-in-principle; that knowledge of the
future is impossible not in the sense that we could do it if we had more
abilities, but in the sense that having an electromagnetic interaction between
one particle is impossible.

Polkinghorne's contention is that God knows all that it is possible to know,
but no more than that.

> >...God's love is shown by his kenotic limitation of his own omniscience
> >in order to give freedom to his beloved creatures.
> So in your definition of freedom, there must be an element
> of unpredictability, even to God.

A comment: now I understand why Dorothy Sayers spent a number of pages in the
introduction to "The Mind of the Maker" railing against those who don't read
properly. In reference to her essay, "Creed or Chaos," she consistently wrote
"the Church says" this, "the Church believes" that. Invariably, reviewers
talked about _her_ beliefs, which had in no wise entered into her explication.
The position I am explicating is John Polkinghorne's, to the best of my memory
and ability. Whether it is mine in its entirety is something else again...
though I certainly *like* it.

> Let me ask this question,
> let us, for argument sake, say that God knew all the actions
> He will take for the next 1000 years. Would that imply that God
> is not free for those 1000 years?

Of course not. If I know all the actions I am about to take for the next ten
minutes (let's say I'm putting together a bicycle for my daughter), am I not
free for those ten minutes? I am still free to choose whether or not to
assemble the bicycle, even after having made that choice; and I remain free to
suspend operations at any time after I have actually begun. There's plenty of
stuff in the OT where God says, "I was planning to do this but I won't do it
because so-and-so has done thus-and-such."

John Polkinghorne, unlike the process theologians, maintains freedom for God to
do what he likes -- including change his mind, interfere in the lawful progress
of his creation, etc.

> I suggest that there is another
> feature to consider in freedom, the ability for creatures or beings to
> do what they desire.

Right. And the point of argument here is whether the desire is a deterministic
product of our omnipotent genes (designed or not) or a product of our being
made in the image of a free Creator, Who *chose* to make us because He loves us
and wants us to be free to love Him. (Gee, you can't tell what my position is,
can you?)

I have no particular objection to milder forms of predestination; I can
certainly envision a process in which God could make it next-to-impossible for
a particular person to reject Him, and this would constitute single
predestination. But the idea that the universe is the creation of a Writer who
intends that this character or that will be evil, and therefore eternally
damned, without the ability to choose is, to my way of thinking, the contention
that the universe was created by an Omnipotent Amorality -- at best.

I think Polkinghorne's speculations about indeterminacy offer a way out.

Daniel J. Berger | PH: (419) 358-3379
Associate Professor of Chemistry | FAX:(419) 358-3323
Bluffton College |
Bluffton OH 45817-1196 |
Scientists may not believe in God. But they should be taught why
they ought to behave as if they did. -- Max Perutz, Nobel 1962