Predictive Prophecy and Biblical Authority.

Predictive prophecy is used as a support to Biblical authority. In order to predict the future God must have foreknowledge. Can he predict the future, especially of free-willed human beings? What is the basis of God’s foreknowledge?

Philosophical Considerations.
What would be the basis of God knowing the future? That is, how is it logically possible for God to know with absolute certainty that a specific kind of event performed by a free-willed human being would take place?

1) Theological determinism. God simply determines what happens. This is the position of Calvinism. God decrees every event in human history. If God does this then it’s no problem at all for God to foreknow and to predict the future. There are three excellent books that take issue with Calvinism from a traditional Christian understanding: Grace Unlimited and The Grace of God, the Will of Man, both edited by Clark Pinnock, and What the Bible Says About God The Ruler, by Jack Cottrell. An excellent debate on the subject can be found in Basinger & Basinger, eds, Predestination and Free Will.

Suffice it to say that if theological determinism is true, then God cannot be a good God because he decrees all of the evil we experience in human history. All of it. No belief in “God’s inscrutable ways” can absolve God of this guilt. And no alternative definition of human freedom can absolve God of this guilt, either. God not only eternally decrees all of our actions; he also decrees that we want to do those very actions. Yet this God blames us alone for doing these actions and will cast billions of our mothers, siblings, children and friends into hell for his own personal glory. Which means he uses human beings for his own selfish ends. But who would ever think it’s praiseworthy to decree all of the human suffering we have experienced and then to cast billions of us in hell forever? There is no reason why this same God couldn’t have decreed that all of us obeyed him and decreed we’d all be in heaven with him. Furthermore, if God told us to do good things and yet decrees that we should do evil things, then he’s lying to us. He’s telling us that he wants us to do something good, but behind the scenes he’s decreeing that we do the exact opposite. That makes him a liar, plain and simple. Consequently, there is nothing God says in the Bible that we can trust him to do. Those Calvinists who defend such a God are participating in what I call Logical Gerrymandering. See also here,here, and here.

2) God is outside of time so he sees everything as present. If this were so, God would have no problems with predicting the future because it is not actually in the future. He’s merely seeing the present from his perspective. Stephen T. Davis, in his book, Logic and the Nature of God (Eerdmans, 1983), argues against this view by claiming that such a timeless being is “probably incoherent.” If God created this universe, then there was a time when it didn’t yet exist, and then there was a later time when it did exist. So he argues: “it is not clear how a timelessly eternal being can be the creator of this temporal universe.” It would also make 2005 B.C and 2005 A.D. simultaneous in God’s eyes. But they are not simultaneous in human historical space and time. Davis argues, “We have on hand no acceptable concept of atemporal causation, i.e., of what it is for a timeless cause to produce a temporal effect.” (pp. 8-24).

From the timeless view of God come the doctrines of God’s immutability (that he cannot change), and impassibility (God cannot suffer). How is that possible?

The notion of a timeless God can be traced to Greek philosophers. Plato argued that God must be an eternally perfect being. And since any change in an eternally perfect being must be a change for the worst, God cannot change. Aristotle argued that all of God’s potentialities are completely actualized. Therefore, God cannot change because he cannot have unactualized potentialities. Christian thinkers like Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas brought these concepts to the Bible. Boethius: “God lives in an everlasting present.” According to Aquinas God has no past, present or future since everything is “simultaneously whole” for him.

But Plato’s argument, for instance, “is straightforwardly fallacious, because it rests on a false dichotomy. It rests on the assumption that all change is either for the better or for the worst, an assumption that is simply false.” We want a watch to reflect the correct time, and so it must change with the time of day. The watch that stays the same all day long, and didn’t change, would be imperfect. Likewise, “when God began to create the universe he changed, beginning to do something that previously he had not done.” Such a change implies no imperfection in God. [(From William Hasker, in The Openness of God, IVP, 1994, pp. 132-133). See also Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God, and the late Ronald Nash, in The Concept of God].

The whole notion that God doesn’t change seems to imply that God never has a new thought, or idea, since everything is an eternal NOW, and there is nothing he can learn. This is woodenly static. God would not be person, but a block of ice, a thing. To say he does nothing NEW, thinks nothing NEW, feels nothing NEW, basically means he does nothing, thinks nothing, feels nothing, for it’s all been done. What would it mean for a person not to take risks, not to plan (for it’s already been planned), or to think (thinking involves weighing temporal alternatives, does it not?). But if God cannot have a new thought then he cannot think--he is analogous to block of ice.

4) The Inferential View. God just figures out from the range of options which choices we will make. He does this because he knows who we are completely and thoroughly as the “ultimate psychoanalyst.” He can take us in our present state and absolutely with certainty know what we will do next, and next, and next, and so on, and so on. He knows the future because he deduces it from who he knows us to be now. This option actually means, however, that what we do is somehow "programmed" into us. The determinist claims that it's all in the genes and environment, so this viewpoint commits the believer to the same position as the determinist. If God can predict future human actions 500 years from now, based upon what he knows about people living today, then we are merely environmentally and genetically programmed rats. There is no human freedom.

5) The Innate View. God just has comprehensive knowledge of the future. He just “sees it” because he is omniscient. But this isn’t an explanation at all! When I asked Dr. William Lane Craig in class how it is that God has foreknowledge, Craig, who would normally have elaborate arguments and defenses for his views, merely said, as if this is all that needed to be said, "It's innate, God just has it." What? How? This answer actually triggered my mind, and in time led me to reject God’s foreknowledge of future human free-willed choices.

From these philosophical considerations, I just don’t see any real basis for believing that a good God can have absolute and certain foreknowledge of future truly free-willed human actions. Therefore, along with a great many recent Christian philosophers, I do not believe God can predict the future of human history with certainty. God cannot offer prophecies of the future because any prophecy, especially more than 50 years in the future, will depend upon human free actions. And since I also reject theological determinism, then there is no basis for predestination either, whether due to God’s supposed foreknowledge of what we will do, or in God’s decrees.

15 comments:

Joe E. Holman said...

Looking back at the issue from a non-religiously committed perspective, I'm convinced that the predestinationist's position must be true, even though some passages appear strongly to teach it, while others seem to oppose it...

Ephesians 1:4-5, "4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,"

Romans 8:29, " 29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."

Jude 1:4, "4For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation,"

Then there's...

I John 2:2, "2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

I Timothy 2:4, "4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."


I think these latter passages can be interpreted in light of the Calvinist position also. As I touched on in my article, things will only be the way God intends them, so it seems the other positions just don't hold up to the Calvinist's view.

Of course, this makes God quite the monster as he commands us to depart from evil, yet has things set up so that we haven't the freewill to step outside of the casuality he has for us, so he still holds us accountable for sins he is responsible for...

"19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:19-20)

(JH)

John W. Loftus said...

Joe, I just think the Bible is inconsistent on the issue you raised. As a former non-calvinist I interpret the Bible differently.

It was Calvinistic notion of God that Jean Paul Sartre rebelled against. I think Calvinism creates atheists out of us simply because of the horrific implications of this God.

Let's see, some girl is imprisioned by some heinous pervert for months and forced to do all kinds of sexual acts, and God caused this because of some selfish seeking glory/honor that he receives out of this? That makes God just as heinous as that pervert. In fact, God is a pervert. Such a God does not deserve any worship whatsoever...he deserves to be derided, punished and spat upon.

But according to Calvinists, God gets a free ride and can do anything with impunity to us on earth and we're supposed to love it...or else. Such a God, if he exists, may rightly cause us to fear him. But love? NO WAY. If he exists, and if I am forced to follow him, then I will do so out of my own need to avoid pain. But I would hate him every step of the way.

However, since I do not think any God would do this to us, then I believe the Calvinist's God does not exist.

Bahnsen Burner said...

John wrote: “Let's see, some girl is imprisioned by some heinous pervert for months and forced to do all kinds of sexual acts, and God caused this because of some selfish seeking glory/honor that he receives out of this?”

Here’s the end justifying the means in Christianity that Daniel may want to focus on, namely "God's glory," which can be invoked to justify any evil.

Greg Bahnen’s “answer” to the problem of evil is found in his declaration that

“God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.” (Always Ready, p. 172)

According to this philosophy of “morality,” God’s ends can be met through evil means. For those evil means are justified by "a morally sufficient reason to allow" them to take place. And since God’s ends are always “good” by definition (since they work to his own “glory”), then this is clearly saying that the evil means are justified by God’s “good” ends (since those ends somehow further his "glory"). Not only are we expected to accept this kind of scenario’s premises and its horrific view of morality, we are also supposed to accept the view of the Christian god as a “loving father.” But “father” of what? Certainly not of the young girl who is imprisoned by the pervert ordained to fulfill God’s will. What “father” would allow this to happen to his own daughter? This god sounds more like a father of anguish.

As I've said before, while Christianity cannot overcome the problem of evil, it's clear that the Christian has no problem with evil, for he worships a god which operates on a "morality" which justifies the use of evil to achieve its ends.

Regards,
Dawson

Steve T said...

Hi, John. Not a bad summary, or at least a meaningful start on the philosophical issues, but I'll add a handful of thoughts.

First, immutability and impassibility, as you probably know, are heavily debated and nuanced subjects themselves. So your remarks would not cover everyone, I think, who would embrace those doctrines. What these terms mean, in themselves, is an important consideration.

Second, I agree that there are significant problems with the B/static theory of time. I think this also yields determinism, since future events must indeed be fixed (already existing) for God to actually see them. Furthermore, Craig, I believe, has argued that this view of time would mean a derivative, rather than innate, knowledge of the future, because God would have to observe, rather than simply know, the future. Innate knowledge seems to better fit the notion of Anselmian perfection, if such knowledge is possible (logically and otherwise).

Third, however, I find Craig's innate view to be reasonable. You haven't shown that God cannot have such innate knowledge of human freedom, you've only raised questions about how God knows. As I mentioned above, this would fit with Perfect Being theology. And human freedom, understood in a libertarian sense, would seem to be sui generis, and it seems to me likely that there is no intermediate mechanism or other account for explaining knowledge about it.

But the move you seem to make here is that if God's innate knowledge is a mystery to us, this is an unreasonable response. But surely this isn't necessarily true. How does the (immaterial) mind cause a movement in the (material) body, for example? Not only that, but what of the many things we innately know, ourselves, but have no suitable explanation for?

God's knowledge of human freedom may just be a fundamental aspect of who He is, of His greatness. We're working at the limits of our philosophical acumen here, and in that neighborhood, I don't find this conclusion at all unreasonable.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, thanks for your respectful and intelligent comments. You're right about God's supposed immutability and impassibility, though I find Open Theism's critiques of these two doctrines to be correct. The impassibility doctrine simply cannot be found in the Bible itself, and immutability means no more than that God's nature and purposes don't change, that's probably all.

But you find Craig's innate view as reasonable, eh?

There are a lot of things we believe that are not necessarily true. It's not necessarily true that I am sitting at my computer typing out a response to you. But it's very probable that I am, even though I may not know with certainty what reality is like around me.

As a materialist I believe brain waves make my body move based upon goals that I have learned in my life that make me happy. I'm not a brain scientist, but that's what they tell me, even though you may be right that we cannot explain it all. But if you told me there was a spirit inside my body which caused my body to move, then I must insist on you telling me what the point of contact is betwen my spirit and my body such that my spirit can cause my body to move. Without such an explanation I would find reasons to reject I have such a spirit.

The bottom line for me is that if there is no known mechanism for how God could know future incompatiblistic free actions, then I have reasons to reject that God can foreknow such actions.

There are a lot of things that are possible, but to say that it's possible to walk to the moon without telling the means by which you claim to be able to do this, allows me to reject the claim a priori.

And as far as the mysterious nature of God goes.....isn't that also used to explain how God has always existed, or why he lets innocent children suffer, or the supposed incarnation/trinity, or how Jesus' death on the cross helps us, or how God inspired men to write his very words (when there are obvious stylistic differences), or whether his commands are good merely because he commanded them, or commanded because they are good (the Euthyphro dilemma)?

Punting to mystery here and there and everywhere is a sure sign that someone believes things he shouldn't. And when we see that the origin of these beliefs come from a superstitious ancient people, then we have every reason to reject them.

Steve T said...

Thanks, John, for your kind remarks. I enjoy the dialogue. Let me turn now to your comments. You wrote:

There are a lot of things we believe that are not necessarily true. It's not necessarily true that I am sitting at my computer typing out a response to you. But it's very probable that I am, even though I may not know with certainty what reality is like around me.

I think I could have chosen my words a bit better. What I said was "the move you seem to make here is that if God's innate knowledge is a mystery to us, this is an unreasonable response...surely this isn't necessarily true." What I meant was that unreasonableness doesn't seem to follow, logically, just from an admission of ignorance about a phenomenon. You need to supply the missing premise(s) to arrive at that conclusion.

As a materialist I believe brain waves make my body move based upon goals that I have learned in my life that make me happy. I'm not a brain scientist, but that's what they tell me, even though you may be right that we cannot explain it all. But if you told me there was a spirit inside my body which caused my body to move, then I must insist on you telling me what the point of contact is betwen my spirit and my body such that my spirit can cause my body to move. Without such an explanation I would find reasons to reject I have such a spirit.

The bottom line for me is that if there is no known mechanism for how God could know future incompatiblistic free actions, then I have reasons to reject that God can foreknow such actions.


Point of contact between body and spirit? Pineal gland, of course! Where have you been?

Seriously, though, I thought we might have some disagreement on that point about the soul and the body. I'll suggest, in response, that the problem of causation is at least as puzzling for the materialist. May I take the liberty to ask a question in response? What makes billiard ball B move when billiard ball A travels across the table and is, as Hume would say, contiguous in space and time with B?

Aside from this line of inquiry, it seems to me that neuroscientists have not the resources at their disposal to explain the "I" at the center of your quote above--that very odd thing which is necessary not only to distinguish your body from others, but also to believing, experiencing happiness, and having goals. It's difficult to move from third-person descriptions to first-person realities.

There are a lot of things that are possible, but to say that it's possible to walk to the moon without telling the means by which you claim to be able to do this, allows me to reject the claim a priori.

Clearly we have reasons to think that walking on the moon is not possible--at least without extraordinary measures. But I haven't yet heard your reasons for thinking that God's knowledge of future free actions is impossible. Or I may have missed them...

And as far as the mysterious nature of God goes.....isn't that also used to explain how God has always existed, or why he lets innocent children suffer, or the supposed incarnation/trinity, or how Jesus' death on the cross helps us, or how God inspired men to write his very words (when there are obvious stylistic differences), or whether his commands are good merely because he commanded them, or commanded because they are good (the Euthyphro dilemma)?

Punting to mystery here and there and everywhere is a sure sign that someone believes things he shouldn't. And when we see that the origin of these beliefs come from a superstitious ancient people, then we have every reason to reject them.


Providing a litany of one-liners, I think, isn't going to advance the discussion much, if you don't mind me saying so. It's not difficult to do the same with regard to atheism and its rampant population of "brute facts"--like the existence of the universe, human freedom and responsibility, human value/rights, the phenomenon of consciousness and associated mental qualia, the origin of life, and so on and so forth (none of which is predicted by a materialist worldview, but which are all reasonable and coherently related to theism), which are so often, consciously or unconsciously, assumed by the average atheist. So let's not go there. I'm a lot more interested in exploring issues in depth than I am in winning a debate.

A lot could be said about mystery and God; and probably a lot more than I'm capable of, too. Let it suffice for now that God would not be worth His salt if there weren't mystery about Him, and what He's capable of, and the depth, say, of His love for you and your colleagues-in-blogdom. If we could completely comprehend Him, He wouldn't be God now, would He? Let me challenge you this way: unless your epistemology is open to mystery, there's a whole lot of reasonable beliefs that you're going to have to dispense with. Much more than you realize, I'd wager.

Regarding those "superstitious ancient people," isn't that rather question begging? I mean, the whole point from your angle is whether or not God exists, am I right? So to call them superstitious from the get-go seems to assume that what they confessed about God and His dealings with man was false, and this should be the conclusion, rather than the premise of your argument.

Thanks again for taking the time to write back, and for slogging through my rather tedious remarks above. For some reason I was drawn to these subjects about a decade ago, and I really do enjoy conversation on them with those who are both as friendly and articulate as you, John.

Take care,

Steve

John W. Loftus said...

Steve: What I meant was that unreasonableness doesn't seem to follow, logically, just from an admission of ignorance about a phenomenon. You need to supply the missing premise(s) to arrive at that conclusion.

Read my post again. I didn't say it was unreasonable to do this. Besides, there are a lot of things that may follow logically but which seem implausible to believe.


Clearly we have reasons to think that walking on the moon is not possible--at least without extraordinary measures. But I haven't yet heard your reasons for thinking that God's knowledge of future free actions is impossible. Or I may have missed them...

I don't think it's question begging to ask you to provide a mechanism for how God can do this? How can he? I don't know of any, and without one I am justified in thinking one isn't available.

Maybe the way to engage me on this topic is to discuss why you believe in the Christian God in the first place, because what I'm doing is pointing out an anomally for your faith which you cannot answer.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, I said this: to say that it's possible to walk to the moon without telling the means by which you claim to be able to do this, allows me to reject the claim a priori.

Let me challenge you this way: unless your epistemology is open to mystery, there's a whole lot of reasonable beliefs that you're going to have to dispense with. Much more than you realize, I'd wager.

This is true. But there's is nothing wrong with simplifying things as much as possible by the principle of parsimony. I want as little mystery as I possible, okay?

Regarding those "superstitious ancient people," isn't that rather question begging? I mean, the whole point from your angle is whether or not God exists, am I right? So to call them superstitious from the get-go seems to assume that what they confessed about God and His dealings with man was false, and this should be the conclusion, rather than the premise of your argument.

See
here, here, and here.

Steve T said...

Hi, John -

If you wouldn't mind, I think it might be profitable to back up just a bit, since we're having a little trouble communicating. 'Probably my fault. In your first post, you gave a nice overview of the options on foreknowledge, and I think you did a reasonable job of eliminating some. My disagreement was mainly on the last option. Craig had opted for foreknowledge of freely chosen actions as being innate for God. Your objection to that was (1) Craig normally has a lot more to say on a subject, and he didn't here (did you press him for further comment? just wondering...); and (2) you raised the "How?" question--How would God do this? Money quote from last time:

I don't think it's question begging to ask you to provide a mechanism for how God can do this? How can he? I don't know of any, and without one I am justified in thinking one isn't available.

My response is really two-fold:

First, you really haven't given argumentation to show that it is impossible for God to have such knowledge innately. You had a lot to say about why the other options were bad ones, but the innate option was remarkably thin where reasons might be expected. I was just asking, then, for you to provide something more.

Second, you're insistence on a mechanism, is, I think, ultimately wrongheaded, for a few reasons which I'll give below.

(1) The nature of the phenomenon: human freedom seems remarkably unsuited for discussion of mechanism in the first place. As I said before, it's sui generis, something that defies deterministic explanation, or inferential calculation (as you pointed out), and therefore should not be confined to the scope of such explanations. I think this provides an appropriate, particular context for the argument in (2), below.

(2) The nature of explanations: The posing of "mechanisms" to explain a phenomenon can only go so far. Eventually they run out of steam and one has to admit that there just are capabilities to things that we take for granted, so why not for God? That's why I suggested the mind/soul-body interaction question to you. You shot back, as I expected, that I ought to provide a "point of contact...between my spirit and my body such that my spirit can cause my body to move." In other words, you "insist[ed]" upon some intermediate mechanism situated between the two that can do that. (I think this is similar to the problem you're raising between God on the on hand, and human freedom on the other, though the linkage is ontological rather than epistemological.) Thus my challenge to you: explain to me the causal relationship between a couple of billiard balls, such that the movement of one causes the movement of the other. I could be wrong, but my suggestion is that if you actually take the time to go through the exercise, it might shed some light on your concerns, and how reasonable they really are in the case at hand.

(3) The nature of God: Classically, God has been understood as the greatest possible Being. Innate knowledge is therefore the better fit than something additional tacked on to His inherent abilities, just from a historico-theoretical point of view.

(4) Innate knowledge & human experience: I suggested that we, as human beings, also have intuitive knowledge that is beyond our own ability to explain, yet we don't abandon the possibility, or demand an explanation before acting upon such knowledge. Why should we in this particular case?

I think this is a decent rebuttal of your claims. You haven't provided reasons to think God's innate foreknowledge is impossible. And I think your approach, requiring a mechanism, is not the right one -- its just not what one should be expecting -- given the phenomena (human freedom, innate knowledge) we're dealing with, and the sorts of explanations that seem to apply and would be satisfying in this case. As such, I think it is very reasonable to relax the epistemic requirements you've adopted to this point. I'm not arguing that you have to believe in God, or affirm that He has such foreknowledge; I'm only suggesting that there's a better way to consider the subject at hand and to allow for the possibility.

Hopefully that's a bit better organized and clearer than my earlier posts. :-)

Take care,

Steve

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, you are clearly one of the more thoughtful responders to what I say. Thanks for allowing me to clarify and expand on what I said. I can see how your answer is satisfying to you. It is not to me.

Plato/Socrates argued that humans have innate knowledge. But we could still ask how that is possible. Plato/Socrates's answer was that the soul is immortal so that all learning is recollection of that which we already knew before this existence. Plato offers a mechanism--we already had it.

For Descartes, presumably the reason why we have innate ideas is because God gave them to us (hence the problem of Cartesian circularity). Descartes offers a mechanism...God.

John Locke argued against innate ideas. For instance, if they are innate then why do we have to learn them, and so on....but that's another matter.

Now when it comes to God here, no mechanism was offered by Craig for HOW he can have innate foreknowledge of future free-willed actions which have not yet occurred. [No I didn't press Craig on it. I was somewhat shocked at the time that this is all he had to say...which can be an indicator that the argument was weak, although that's just my opinion. He did argue that if a Christian wants to deny the other views then he must accept that all God's foreknowledge is innate, but that presupposes what I no longer believe.]

I'm not arguing that God's foreknowledge is impossible. I'm arguing that it's not plausible. There are far and away too many things that might be possible in our experience and with existence that such a criterion is far and away too stringent.

Whether what I say is plausible or not will depend upon whether I've exhausted the alternative possibilites and eliminated them. There is another possibility and that's called Backward Causation where events in the present can cause events in the past. This is pretty much a scientific question I didn't address, but even if there were such a thing it would only apply to physical events. Since God is not a physical being then the question arises how a physical event can cause a spiritual event. This involves understanding the nature of both events and an explanation of how they can interact with each other.

I think it is very reasonable to relax the epistemic requirements you've adopted to this point.

You've said this before when it came to allowing mystery into my epistemology. I do. Just not here, because there are just too many other things that are mysterious with your views compared to mine, as I said. That's my judgment, not yours.

As far as Hume's billiard ball scenario goes (BTW, I love the game of pool. I wrote a book on it and currently write a monthly column for a national billiard magazine). I agree with Hume that we do not see cause and effect. We deduce it from observations as we see one event follow from another one.

There are necessary and sufficient conditions for any caused event, but a sufficient condition here would be that I struck the cue ball with enough force to send the object ball into the corner pocket. Newton's math can tell us how it happened and how long it would take the object ball to reach the corner pocket after being correctly struck by the cue ball. So, I caused the object ball to go in the pocket by my bodily movements. And while I cannot say with certainty that I caused it to take place, it's certainly plausible that I did, and I've offered a sufficient mechanism for it happenning...my actions.

Intuitive knowledge is empirically gained knowledge which the brain brings up at fortuitous moments. Here's an example: Women have better intuitive knowledge about their men because they think about us much more than we do them. Being the historically dominated gender women must be students of men out of self-preservation and the desire to have a peaceful existence with their more physically powerful men.

Steve T said...

Hey, John. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I really do appreciate the conversation.

I'll see if I can follow up with you sometime this weekend, but I have to get some studying in...

Until next time, take care,

Steve

Steve T said...

Hi, John -

Just taking a moment to follow up on our previous exchange. You've been kind to indulge me and to go into more detail on your thinking. I'll respond to a few of your thoughts below:

I'm not arguing that God's foreknowledge is impossible. I'm arguing that it's not plausible. There are far and away too many things that might be possible in our experience and with existence that such a criterion is far and away too stringent.

I agree that probability and/or plausibility is more important than possibility. I don't think you've actually said much that would reduce the plausibility of God having foreknowledge. Your argument seems to be fully set upon the absence of a mechanism, which I'll take up again below.

Steve: I think it is very reasonable to relax the epistemic requirements you've adopted to this point.

John: You've said this before when it came to allowing mystery into my epistemology. I do. Just not here, because there are just too many other things that are mysterious with your views compared to mine, as I said. That's my judgment, not yours.


I agree in one way there is more mystery to Christianity than to atheism. Theism, and Christianity in particular, simply have more abundant and interesting content than atheism; they actually have something to say to the human condition, and thus have more opportunity for mystery (as well as illumination) to arise. A play with actors and dialogue will always inspire more intrigue and wonder than the empty stage. When God is one of the actors, we ought to expect it all the more. I don't say this to assuage your particular concerns in this situation, just to try to meet your more general expectations where they are.

As far as Hume's billiard ball scenario goes (BTW, I love the game of pool. I wrote a book on it and currently write a monthly column for a national billiard magazine). I agree with Hume that we do not see cause and effect. We deduce it from observations as we see one event follow from another one.

Is your book still available? I looked on Amazon, but didn't spot it. I've never taken up the game, but if I do, it would be beneficial to have a guide to some of the finer points.

But back to our discussion: strictly speaking, one can't deduce cause and effect from observations alone. More likely we add our own experience of volition and the power we exercise to cause things in the real world, then attribute the same to other entities by extension. So even cause and effect, so fundamental to science, seem to be tied to prior knowledge of our first-person, conscious states. But that's another matter...

There are necessary and sufficient conditions for any caused event, but a sufficient condition here would be that I struck the cue ball with enough force to send the object ball into the corner pocket. Newton's math can tell us how it happened and how long it would take the object ball to reach the corner pocket after being correctly struck by the cue ball. So, I caused the object ball to go in the pocket by my bodily movements. And while I cannot say with certainty that I caused it to take place, it's certainly plausible that I did, and I've offered a sufficient mechanism for it happenning...my actions.

Here I think may be an opportunity for progress. You use terms like "struck" and "force", and cite Newton in the same vein. Movement of the balls, though, doesn't come down to actual contact, at the basic level of explanation. It comes down to forces acting upon one another. But what are those forces? And how do they do what they do, John? By what mechanism?

Intuitive knowledge is empirically gained knowledge which the brain brings up at fortuitous moments. Here's an example: Women have better intuitive knowledge about their men because they think about us much more than we do them. Being the historically dominated gender women must be students of men out of self-preservation and the desire to have a peaceful existence with their more physically powerful men.

There are classic cases of intuitive knowledge which cannot be gained through empirical observation. In fact, a number are presupposed by the very Newtonian physics that one would employ to calculate the trajectory of billard balls struck by the cue. Consider mathematics alone. Does 1 + 2 equal 3 only contingently, or necessarily? Is it 3 only in the examples we've seen so far? How does one move from the contingent to the necessary in terms of empirical observation?

You've been good enough to explore the billard example I suggested, and you took up my analogy of human intuitions as well. I think both are still in my favor, reinforcing the argument I made earlier that your requirement of a mechanism over and above simple, intuitive knowledge on God's part, is overly demanding.

Thanks again for the dialogue, John. Until next time, take care.

Steve

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, come back as much as you want. Unlike some others who visit here, I'm interested in a good dialogue. We learn from each other.

Steve T said...

Thanks, John. Iron sharpens iron... ;-)

Take care,

Steve

Jim said...

My favorite way of explaining this:
God sits in heaven knowing everything...How many hairs will be on your head at any given point in your life, who you will marry, the names of your children, the way you are going to die, etc.

So, he reaches in to the house of souls and pulls out a soul and he says you are going to be named Ghandi and you are going to save more lives and influence people to do peace. But you will never believe in me, so you are going to hell.

But then (for the extreme opposite) he pulls out another and says: You will be named Hitler and you will kill 12, 000, 000, 000 jews and steal and destroy all sorts of countries. However, you are a Christian so you will be able to go to heaven.

The point is that if you believe god knows all then you need to see that HE is the one who sends people to hell since he creates them to accept or not to accept him as lord and savior.

Ironically I find hope in chaos. If no one knows what is going to happen then I can change my evil ways (if I had them) they are not pre determined by some diety who programmed me to go to hell or heaven.