Re: [asa] Contemplations on Chance & Free Will - Comments?

From: Christine Smith <>
Date: Tue Jan 13 2009 - 13:33:20 EST

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your comments.

A few questions/comments in reply...first, to clarify, I'm not trying to "prove" anything in the scientific sense of the word. I'm simply trying to come to some sort of conscensus within my own mind as to what to think on this topic.

The reason I am splitting, as you say, things between determinism and free will is that I honestly don't understand how they can co-exist. If I understand you right, you are basically saying that we have free will in the sense that we can choose one possible alternative from a pre-defined set of alternatives--am I correct?

But here's where I get stumped with this idea. If we can truly, actually choose between a pre-defined set of possibilities, such that any outcome we pick can become the reality, than this must mean (does it not?) that God does *not* have full knowledge of the future; partial knowledge - yes, but full knowledge - no. But, if you maintain that God must have full knowledge of the future, in the sense that He knows ahead of time what you will "choose", and that it *will not* be anything other than this foreseen conclusion, then this must mean (does it not?) that it never was really a true choice to begin with. To use an example, if a parent gives a child a choice between several pre-defined alternatives, the parent may be able to predict, with reasonable confidence, what choice the child will make. But they cannot *know* for certain until the child has actually made the choice. This is because although parents "create" their children, they do not "create"
 their children's entire timeline. This is free will within the parent-child relationship. But, in the case of God, before the universe (the "child" if you will) is ever created, God has the power to not only create the universe itself, but the entire timeline of the universe. So when He creates, logically, He must either a) create the universe and its complete timeline (has full knowledge of the future, equates to predestination; any "free will" we have is an illusion), or b) create the universe with an incomplete timeline (one that allows some variation depending on our choices, God has only partial knowledge of the future, equates to true free will).

My understanding is that "option a" is more or less the traditional view (I'm sure I'm missing some nuances here), and that "option b" is more or less the open theology view. Is there an "option c" here that I'm missing? I know that ultimately, all of this is beyond human comprehension anyway, but still, I'd like to try and wrestle with this.

Regarding God's "position" relative to time. It was not my intent to suggest that God is in time (whether placing God in time is officially the open theology view, I don't know, I'm still learning). In what I suggested, I thought I was retaining the doctrine that God was outside time--I guess my articulation needs some work. To attempt this again...well, let's back up...what is meant by saying that God is "outside of time"? Maybe this phrase needs to be defined first....does it mean outside of our own time and space (such that God could paradoxically have created His own time and space?)...does it mean that God cannot change (change at all, change His "emotions", change His substatitative character?)...does it mean that God must be/may be present at all times simultaneously?

The verses you bring up only complicate this question for me--if God is outside time, how can we speak of Him "foreknowing" anything? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say that He "knows", since every moment is the "present" for Him? And what or whom does He foreknow and glorify? Individuals? The Church? Certainly, Romans 9 would indicate even individuals are foreknown, but I could see the other verses you cited as possibly being applied to the church body as a whole (unless there's a translational nuance here that says otherwise). Is it possible, and theologically appropriate to suggest, as my husband has to me, that some people (those crucial to His plan of salvation) are predestined one way or the other, and other people are not?

Thanks again for your thoughts,

"For we walk by faith, not by sight" ~II Corinthians 5:7

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--- On Sat, 1/10/09, D. F. Siemens, Jr. <> wrote:

> From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Contemplations on Chance & Free Will - Comments?
> To:
> Cc:
> Date: Saturday, January 10, 2009, 9:39 PM
> I detect a very common error in splitting things between
> determinism and
> free will/chance. Human freedom is self-determination, a
> subdivision of
> causal relationships. It is human choice between
> alternatives in an
> orderly world that is the freedom we have. This cannot be
> proved, because
> no one can go back and choose an alternative. We cannot go
> back to an
> earlier situation once we have passed through it. The
> repeat experiments
> to test a scientific hypothesis are not the same, just
> retain what are
> considered the relevant dimensions.
> Open theology puts God in time, so there is a before and
> after for him.
> Classical theology claims that the divine eternity is
> different from ours
> in being timeless. If God has already glorified those whom
> he knew before
> the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29, 30; Ephesians
> 1:4), he has to
> know the end "before" the beginning. This seems
> to me to negate the
> claims of open theology. Time is so much a part of us that
> it is very
> difficult to express timeless existence, as noted in the
> first verses of
> John. And it also is ascribed to all things, because some
> of us can't
> think of any other way to be.
> I contend that an omniscient and omnipotent God can create
> a world in
> which we choose between alternatives with free will, not
> indeterminate.
> This is also reflected in that what is called a chance
> mutation, for
> example, has to fit into some rather strict controls. There
> are a limited
> set of changes possible, with some possibility for repairs,
> and only some
> changes can continue as genetic drift and others as
> beneficial
> alterations (or anticipation of beneficial alterations).
> Dave (ASA)
> On Sat, 10 Jan 2009 17:32:05 -0800 (PST) Christine Smith
> <> writes:
> > Hi all,
> >
> > Our local ASA chapter met today and discussed
> Dembski's article
> > about chance in the latest issue of PSCF. From that
> discussion, I
> > gained a few, very rough insights that I wanted to put
> into words
> > and get some feedback on...
> >
> > When it comes to determinism vs. chance (and by
> extension,
> > predestination vs. free will), the question basically
> boils down to
> > this: Does God's sovereignty REQUIRE God to be
> fully knowledgeable
> > about the future? As represented by Dembski (I
> haven't read the book
> > he's critiquing, so I give him the benefit of the
> doubt that he's
> > representing the author's viewpoint faithfully),
> Bartholomew is
> > arguing an open theism position in which chance--true
> chance, in
> > which God Himself does not know the outcome of a
> random
> > event--exists and is used by God to achieve His
> purposes--in effect,
> > Bartholomew says "no", full knowledge of the
> future is NOT required
> > for God to remain sovereign. Dembski, representing the
> more
> > traditional viewpoint, argues that yes, for God to be
> sovereign, He
> > must have full knowledge of the future, and therefore
> true chance
> > doesn't exist; he articulates the rebuttal to open
> theism by writing
> > "In particular, strict uncertainty about the
> future
> > means that God cannot guarantee his promises because
> the autonomy
> > of the world can then always overrrule God. Of course,
> to say that
> > God can always step in when things get too out of hand
> defeats the
> > whole point of openness theology."
> >
> > In contemplating this, and the whole question of
> determinism vs.
> > chance (and predestination vs. free will), neither one
> has totally
> > made sense to me. Surely God must be sovereign.
> Dembski's first
> > critique is a valid one--for God to be God, He must be
> able to bring
> > about His will and fulfill His promises. Yet at the
> same time, it
> > has always seemed to me that determinism and
> predestination were
> > inadequate solutions, because implicitly it draws the
> questions
> > "well why bother if everything's already
> foreordained?" and "how can
> > evil exist in a world in which God has predestined
> everything and
> > everyone, except to say that God ordained the
> occurrence of evil
> > itself?
> >
> > But then, going back to Dembski's critique, two
> things struck me.
> > First, why would he assume that strict uncertainty
> means that God
> > can be overruled? Second, why does He assume that
> God's intervention
> > defeats the purpose of open theology? Keeping these
> two questions in
> > mind, a brief digression is in order, which will tie
> in later...
> >
> > ...going back to Genesis 1, we are told that in the
> beginning was
> > chaos, with everything being formless and void, and
> that God imposed
> > order on this chaos. What if, just like the world
> being created
> > "good" but not "perfect", creation
> was made "ordered" but not
> > "perfectly ordered" other words, the
> order in the world that
> > we see (which I'm defining to include true
> randomness as well as
> > natural laws) is not totally reflective of His will,
> but
> > unconsciously defies it in ways that we call
> "natural evil".
> > Similarly, at the beginning, no "will"
> existed, yet we believe that
> > God wanted a people who would *freely* love and serve
> Him. So what
> > if he created a world in which true, free will exists,
> but it is not
> > yet "perfect free will" -- it is not yet a
> free will that completely
> > corresponds to God's Will. In short, what if both
> natural order
> > (including chance) and free will exist in this
> creation, but both
> > are imperfect, waiting to be perfected in the new
> > creation. In the meantime, the corruption of each --
> natural evil
> > and sin-- exist simultaneously alongside the good, in
> defiance of
> > God.
> >
> > How does this relate to the two questions I posed
> earlier? If God's
> > purpose is to take a will-less, chaotic beginning and
> transform it
> > into a perfectly ordered, perfectly willed creation, I
> tentatively
> > propose this undermines Dembski's critique.
> >
> > Specifically (taking question 2 first), if God
> intervenes in the
> > world, it would be for the purpose of correcting the
> problems that
> > arise as a result of imperfect order and imperfect
> free will, in
> > order to redirect creation towards the proper goal.
> Through this
> > process, God is essentially "teaching"
> creation how to properly use
> > the gifts endowed to it, from which God will bring
> forth the new,
> > perfected creation. In intervening then, God does not
> eliminate
> > order and free will, anymore than a professor who
> intervenes to
> > correct a student is eliminating that student's
> innate intelligence.
> > Rather, God is ultimately improving it. As the
> preservation of true
> > free will and true randomness is, as I understand it,
> the
> > philosophical impetus for open theism, this would seem
> to undermine
> > Dembski's second assumption.
> >
> > Likewise, going back to question 1, the lack of
> knowledge about the
> > future does NOT equate to a lack of power to bring
> about His will,
> > if one asserts that His will is the perfection of
> creation in a
> > manner that retains true freedom. This is for two
> reasons: first,
> > there is no set timetable regarding the perfection of
> creation --
> > the goal is a qualitative state that is independent of
> time,
> > therefore the lack of knowledge of the future has no
> bearing on
> > whether this goal is achieved. It simply happens
> whenever this
> > condition is met, whether tomorrow or 50 billion years
> from now.
> > Second, because God is the only one who has the power
> to perfect
> > creation by bringing forth the new creation, creation
> itself can not
> > withhold this power from Him; it may resist this power
> through
> > rebellion, but creation cannot escape the fact that
> within it lies
> > the seeds of the new creation that God is constantly
> nurturing and
> > pruning it to ensure it's eventual growth and
> > success.
> >
> > To summarize and conclude my thoughts...I would
> tentatively suggest
> > that true randomness in nature and true free will in
> humanity do
> > exist. God self-limits His knowledge of the future to
> make room for
> > each of these to exist, intending to take what is now
> imperfect, and
> > to make them perfect in the new creation, so that
> ultimately, a
> > perfectly ordered, perfectly willed creation comes
> into being. In
> > the meantime, God retains His sovereignty and
> guaranteers His
> > promises in spite of His lack of knowledge of the
> future, by
> > interacting with creation along its journey,
> responding to errors
> > and countering resistance with measures that keep
> creation on course
> > and help us to better understand how our gifts are to
> be used.
> > Though the old creation can never perfect itself, we
> see in Christ
> > the inauguration of the new creation which
> emphatically asserts that
> > God's will will be done, and that the final
> destination will be
> > reached.
> >
> > Anyway, this is sketched out pretty roughly, and
> I'm sure it has
> > pitfalls in it that I haven't thought of yet, so
> have at it :)
> > Thanks ahead of time for your comments, questions, and
> critiques.
> >
> > In Christ,
> > Christine
> >
> > "For we walk by faith, not by sight" ~II
> Corinthians 5:7
> >
> > Help save the life of a homeless animal--visit
> to
> > find out how.
> >
> > Recycling a single aluminum can conserves enough
> energy to power
> > your TV for 3 hours--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Learn
> more at
> >
> >
> >
> > To unsubscribe, send a message to
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> >
> >
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Received on Tue Jan 13 13:33:35 2009

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