instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, December 01, 2003

God's future?

Father Tom of Waiting in Joyful Hope is, alas, inclining away from traditional Christian theology:
On an intellectual level, in my own take on things, I am currently grappling with the question: does God know actual future events, or only all possible potential future events? Most traditional theology would argue the former, but in all honesty I am not so sure....

Traditional doctrine on God holds that God cannot create logically contradictory things (he cannot make 2+2=5, for example), without this reducing his omnipotence. Is there not a parallel also for omniscience? By definition, future being is potential, because the passage of time is that passage from potential to actual. To speak of "actual future being" when all future being is, by definition, potential, seems to be a logical violation. To deny that God knows "actual future being" is no more destructive to God's omniscience, then, than my previous example is to God's omnipotence....

If God in fact does not know "actual future being" (in the strict sense) this solves a lot of problems, most notably the predestination problem (i.e. if God knows the future are we really free?). It gives a lot more room for human free will, and raises interesting speculations regarding the exercise of the divine free will in time. In other words, maybe certain exercises of God's will do depend on the choices we (and the angels & demons) make.
He is harkening to the same siren song of "solving a lot of problems" that has lured the Open Theologians to their doom (in terms of doing good theology, I mean).

Father Tom's specific argument is that, since actual future being does not exist, it is not a limitation of God's knowledge to say God doesn't know actual future being, any more than it is a limitation of God's omnipotence to say He can't make 2+2=5. But potential future being doesn't exist, either, yet God knows that. If God knows the latter but not the former, that suggests that God's knowledge is of a kind similar to ours, only much better. He knows every possible future being in the way a superhuman intelligence might know every possible chess game. To say God's is a superhuman intelligence, though, is to place His intelligence and ours in the same order of being, which is to make God ... well, a super-human.

Simply put, the error of thinking that God does not know "actual future being" is based on the error that there is a future relative to God. For there to be a future, there must be time, and for there to be time, there must be things that change, and God is changeless. God is also simple, so He can't have somehow split off His knowledge to be bound by time "when" He created the world.

Frankly, I'll take the "problem" of predestination (which is actually a mystery) over the problem of a God with limited knowledge any day. (The problem of a God who doesn't know actual future being gets much worse: What can hope possibly mean when God Himself doesn't know what my future holds? Etc.)

Here's a method I think is generally sound for evaluating a theological claim: If it makes God more like us, it's false.