My recent post asserting that exhaustive foreknowledge is a faith crippling and pernicious doctrine spurred a teensy, tiny debate… The exchange has been a very interesting one. I’d summarize that debate, but that wouldn’t do it justice so you’ll have to check it out yourself. One of the challenges posed to me and those of like mind was: “Ok, if God doesn’t see the exact future just how does he pull off prophecy, let alone have assurance things will go his way?” If I wasn’t such a sucker for a challenge I would just say “God is just that smart. It may seem difficult, but at least it is not a paradox like trying to reconcile free agency and a fixed future”. But of course I am a sucker for a challenge so here is a model of how he might pull this off. This is a continuation of my earlier post called “How God could figure out the future without foreknowledge.“
So here is the proposed model (from the earlier post):
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
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 (even of people with genuine free agency)
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.
Actually nothing has changed in my opinion since I wrote this. In that post I spent most of my energy on point “e”. I will flesh out points “a-d” — especially point “d” — a little better here.
In order to support points a-d I’m going lean on an old nemesis to free will — determinism. For those new to the term, determinists basically say all of our actions are really reactions to causes that are outside of us. This means that the first cause (presumably God) is really the one who is morally responsible for all human acts. Traditional determinism seems to reject the allowance of free will as such. As I understand it, even compatibilists reject the notion of determinism and actual free choices co-existing. They tend to focus on hypothetical free-will, which means even though our choices are determined we had the hypothetical option to choose otherwise (even though we never would). Needless to say, traditional determinism and compatibilism are at odds with Mormon doctrine.
(Note: For those reading along who are not up on all these terms check out the links I provided.)
But I happen to think some of the results associated with determinism need not give way completely to free will and the reality of free will need not be obliterated by the existence of something similar to determinism among humans. As a businessman by trade I’ve read more business books than philosophy books and the action vs. reaction aspect of determinism reminds me of the “be proactive” habit in Stephen Covey’s popular Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book. In that book Covey tells of a great “Ah-Ha” moment he had when he realized that there is always a space between stimulus and response in which humans can choose. He goes into great detail on how this is vital to our power as humans. It mirrors our scriptures that talk about our power to act and the fact that we would be acted upon in our lives. These scriptures recommend we do more acting and get acted upon less and Covey recommends the same thing. As I mentioned, his habit #1 is called “be proactive” as opposed to reactive. It focuses our attention on our unique, God-given ability to act rather than be acted upon.
It would not be necessary for anyone to teach us to “be proactive” if it were a natural thing that everyone already did. The fact is that we as human beings are, in fact, almost purely reactive. For the most part we are predictable. The determinists almost have it right. That is why so many people believe in causal determinism — they see evidence seeming to support it all around them. We all really are products of our environments to one degree or another. All those smart folks who believe in determinism are not idiots.
But just because some force that is similar to determinism plays an important role in all of our lives, it does not mean we can’t “be proactive” and go against the natural man, or against our environmental programming. I believe that when we make those completely unnatural but Godly decisions, it is then that we are really are using our free agency. When we choose to repent it often is a proactive result of our free will, not some reaction to previous conditioning. In other words, when we are “proactive” we exercise our God-like freedom to choose and become a mini “first cause” ourselves. Brigham Young said:
… A great many think there are results without causes; there is no such thing in existence; there is a cause for every result that ever was or ever will be, and they are all in the providences and in the work of the Lord. (JD 13:34) – (Hat tip to Jeffrey on the quote)
So as Brigham said, everything has a cause, but unlike determinist doctrines I believe some things are caused directly by our own proactive, God-like wills.
So how does this help God predict the future? Because when people always react instead of act the practical effects attributed to causal determinism follow. When they act naturally then they are totally predictable. And unfortunately we are very rarely godlike in our natural reactions. This is the very reason why the natural man is an enemy to God. God doesn’t want us to react naturally to everything. He wants us to proactively be like him. When we get cut off on the freeway he wants us to choose our response to that stimulus and proactively not flip the bozo off. When smash our finger he want us to choose not to cuss up a storm.
The appropriate complaint will be that if our actions (other than our unnatural actions like repenting) are if not determined, at least heavily prompted and influenced by stimuli outside of our control how are we responsible for our sins? My answer is that we are responsible because we are tasked to be unnatural on this earth — to repent and change and be Godlike — and we are given the ability to act unnaturally and choose our response to stimuli. It is called agency. When we fail to use our agency and continue on as natural men or women we are responsible for that. In this sense we could say all sins are sins of omission where we fail to choose to suppress natural inclinations. We must proactively choose not to sin. (This view also helps the idea of our “fallen nature” make more sense…)
Because most of humankind does not ever shed the natural man, general predictions of the even distant future seem pretty straight forward — much like the determinists believe. But because some people act rather than react, exhaustive foreknowledge based on determinism is not possible. I suspect that on a macro level this process is very much like the uncertainty principle. The group is always predictable (because nearly all act naturally/predictably) but the individual is not. The difference is that the unpredictablity in the behavior of mankind is not random but rather generated by exercizing of free agency. And even that is mitigated in God’s predictive abilities by my points “a-c”.
Anyway, that utilization of the practical effects of determinism seems to make long term predictions of people with free agency quite plausible to me. As I said, I don’t know how God accurately predicts an open future, but this one theory how he might do it.