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: