It turns out I missed the point in my last post… While the idea the God might be bound by our time is objectionable to many, the idea that God does not have an exact foreknowledge is the real hot button. So here is how I think God does it!
As I mentioned before, most Mormons buy into something that sounds a lot like the creedal version of God’s foreknowledge – though I don’t think most have given the idea a lot of thought. Nevertheless, suggesting that God doesn’t really see the future is apparently viewed as heretical to a lot of people.
There are lots of good arguments why God does live in time and not out of it (Blake does a nice job of illuminating those in his book). There are likewise good arguments why knowledge of a fixed future is basically a useless parlor trick. Clark Goble is the only one I have so far found who has stepped up to the plate with an explanation how there could be a fixed future combined with agency by both God and man. His explanation, though, is counter-intuitive to say the least. But Clark is pretty good at punching holes in explanations of how God acts if he can’t see the future. Here are a couple of models that have been submitted:
1. Predictive power purely based on past patterns (a little alliteration…)
This means God knows us so well he can tell what we’re going to do next as a result of our previous action. Clark shot this down pretty well recently by saying: Such predictions are only possible because the entities in question aren’t free in the Libertarian sense. So you can certainly say that this is how God knows, but then you’ve simply adopted causal determinism and are a Compatibilist. I think Ostler, among others, argues well for why that kind of Compatibilism is hard to reconcile to the gospel.
2. Influence and not Compulsion
Another approach is to say God uses influence rather than compulsion to cause his predictions and desires for the future to come to pass. Clark complains that it is hard to imagine truly free will occurring if we are constantly being herded around by God here on earth. If this is the only method God uses it does seem that our agency is largely hampered.
So for my big proposal of the day I ask: How about a third attempt with a synthesis of the previous two models?
Here are the parts I will assume in this proposal:
a. There have been innumerable inhabited worlds before this world from God can draw as a predictive database
b. Since the course of the Lord is one eternal round, I am going to assume the basic plot of the human play is the same for all previous worlds (and no, I can’t prove that so don’t ask…)
c. God’s superior intelligence works as an unfathomable super computer which allows Him to crunch all previous data and thus make amazingly accurate predictions of free-willed people
d. Heisenberg was right in his indeterminacy principle and that this principle can be applied to mankind as a group. What I mean is, you can predict with astonishing accuracy to path of the group but you can never predict the path of the individual with such accuracy (because the individual is free, presumably).
e. God is willing to invite people to do good but never compel. However, He mostly stays out of our choices.
So from here I see a model that is not causal determinism for man, but is sympathetic to that idea. There is a course a “natural man” will take unless he actively chooses to leave that course. The vast majority of mankind goes with the flow and remains the natural man, so it might be reminiscent of determinism. But God does choose which spirits go to which body, and he knows the especially valiant spirits will not go with the flow of natural men and will become spiritual leaders here on earth. The deliberate placement of those spirits in those bodies at those times makes the predictive process more believable. Lastly, God is willing to invite individuals to choose the right via the Holy Spirit but the individual remains free to heed or ignore such promptings. I tried this model to explain the unusual case of Peter’s thrice denial to Clark:
If Christ and the Father had sufficient knowledge of Peter, they would know under which of the pressures and circumstances that would surely follow he would deny Christ three times. They could easily prompt their apostle to be in the right place, knowing that he would obey. Promptings do not coerce – they just invite. So no agency is violated there. By the same token God could invite any number of the mob via promptings to point out Peter as a follower of Christ. Perhaps in that mob hundreds had to be prompted before three chose to heed the promptings… in any case there is no violation of agency. It is like when I teach a Sunday school class and ask for a volunteer to give the prayer. There is no coercion, just an invitation and an acceptance. Everyone is free to choose throughout.
The vast majority of other prophesies are explainable through the predictive models I used above. I think this combination of factors could explain (at an elementary level) some of the ways God could predict and influence (even, in a sense “know”) the future while still allowing for full and unencumbered agency of humankind.
What do you think?