Re: [asa] How Could God Know the Future?

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <dfsiemensjr@juno.com>
Date: Sat Mar 14 2009 - 18:59:27 EDT

I love the way these several groups are prescribing limits for God. There
is also the stupidity of confusing knowledge with causation, and the
failure to distinguish the human view from the divine. There's at least
one other restriction that was not mentioned: the claim that there cannot
be an incarnation because the infinite cannot become finite.
Dave (ASA)

On Sat, 14 Mar 2009 17:29:20 -0400 "Dick Fischer"
<dickfischer@verizon.net> writes:
Interesting contribution. It’s not just knowing what people will do in
given situations, trillions of external factors effect our lives every
day causing deaths and births and stuff in between.

FROM THOMAS FLINT, PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME:

Perhaps the first thing to note about the question “How could God know
the future?” is that it could be taken in two very different ways. First,
by emphasizing the "How,” one might think the question is asking for an
explanation of something that we know occurs—i.e., as asking, “Given that
God knows the future, what accounts for or explains God's knowledge?” So
understood, the question is akin to asking of a magician, “I know you
made her disappear, but how did you do it?” Alternatively, by emphasizing
the “could,” we might take the question as implicitly challenging the
claim that God does know the future—as asking, rhetorically, “Why on
earth think that God knows what’s going to happen?” Understood in this
second way, the question is similar to reacting to a friend’s suspicions
by asking plaintively, “How could I betray you?” On the contemporary
philosophical scene, the question, taken either way, has been much
discussed.

Those who call themselves "open theists" deny that God has comprehensive
knowledge of the future. In particular, they deny that God can know what
people will freely do. Some open theists think that there simply are no
facts about future free actions; others say that, though there are such
facts, there’s no way anyone can know them, or at least no way God can
know them, since God's knowing now that I will do such-and-such tomorrow
would entail that I’d have no alternative but to do such-and-such
tomorrow, and thus wouldn’t do it freely. All open theists, though, agree
that God’s knowledge of the future is quite limited, and hence that God
needs to take risks in interacting with creation.
Open theism, though, is very much a minority view among those engaged in
philosophical theology. The far more traditional view—that God, being
omniscient, has perfect and complete knowledge of the future—is still
dominant. But traditionalists are hardly united in their explanations of
how God knows the future.

One traditional explanation holds that God knows what will happen in time
because God isn’t in time. The doctrine of divine eternity holds that God
is not limited, as we are, by temporal or spatial boundaries. God's is a
perfect life, not one balanced on the knife’s edge of the present, the
barely existing dividing line between the no-longer-existent past and the
not-yet-existent future. God’s being outside of time, these "eternalists"
say, affords God perfect access to every moment in time, much as (to use
a favorite eternalist metaphor) an observer on a mountaintop can see in
one glance every member of a single-file troop marching below him, while
those involved in the march have a much more limited perspective.
According to eternalists, speaking of divine foreknowledge is at best
misleading. God knows what, from our perspective in the march of time, is
in the future—but it’s not future to God.

Many traditionalists, though, find the eternalist explanation of how God
knows the future unsatisfying. The observational metaphor it employs,
they argue, points to a God whose knowledge of the future is purely
passive. But the God of traditional monotheism, they insist, isn’t one
who just likes to watch: God’s an active creator, the providential
sovereign whose world develops as it does because God planned that it so
develop. So even if God is outside of time, we can’t use that to explain
God's knowledge of the future.

Traditionalists who adopt this line have developed it in two very
different directions. Some suggest that God knows the future because God
determines everything that takes place. As the “first cause,” God has
complete understanding of the causal ramifications, both short run and
long term, of all that God does. Everything that occurs, then, can be
traced back to God's own creative intentions; in knowing God's
intentions, God knows our future. The metaphor of the author is sometimes
used to explain how this divine determination is compatible with our
freedom. An author decides how a character in her novel behaves, but in
the world of the novel, the character can still be acting freely.

Other traditionalists find this account bizarre. If God is determining
how we act, then we’re just fooling ourselves if we pretend that we have
genuine freedom. God exists and acts in our world, not in a separate
authorial plane. So if God’s causing us to act as we do, then we’re
simply not free. The only way to reconcile God’s active foreknowledge
with our genuine freedom, they say, is to see God's providence as acting
through the knowledge of how we would freely respond if God were to put
us in various situations. Knowledge of this sort is often called "middle
knowledge," since, as knowledge of what would happen, it can be thought
of as located between knowledge of what could happen (knowledge of what’s
possible) and knowledge of what will happen (knowledge of what’s actual).
A God who has middle knowledge and decides which situations we will be
in, the advocates of this position contend, would know all that we will
freely do—and know it without causing it, thereby safeguarding our
freedom.

This “middle knowledge” answer to the question of how God knows the
future has many advocates (including me), but also many critics, who
charge (among other things) that there’s simply nothing in the world that
could ground the sort of what-would-happen-if truths that middle
knowledge requires.

So the issue of divine foreknowledge is one that is currently quite
unsettled among philosophers and theologians. Where will this discussion
head in the future? Only God knows. Perhaps.

Dick Fischer, GPA president
Genesis Proclaimed Association
"Finding Harmony in Bible, Science and History"
www.genesisproclaimed.org
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Received on Sat Mar 14 19:05:17 2009

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