Hermeneutical Assumptions and Open Theism

January 2, 2007    By: Blake @ 8:58 pm   Category: Foreknowledge,Scriptures,Theology

It is no secret that Open Theists read scriptures with different operative principles of interpretation than those who maintain classical theology. Open theists generally argue that scriptural passages demonstrate that God changes his mind, relents, repents or feels sorrow for things that have occurred. If they are correct, then at least to the extent such scripture is regarded as disclosing what is true of God, then God cannot be, as classical theists maintain: (1) immutable in the strong sense that none of God’s intrinsic properties is subject to change; (2) impassible in the sense that nothing outside of God influences him or otherwise has no feelings comparable to human feelings; (3) timeless in the sense that God is outside of any type of temporal succession; (4) prescient in the sense that God has infallible foreknowledge.

Those who oppose Open Theism argue that the “literal” readings of scripture by Open Theists ignore more general statements about God elsewhere in the Bible; fail to recognize that God adapts himself “anthropomorphically” to speak to mere mortals and that from the divine point of view things look very different than from this view adapted to human weaknesses. We question whether this type of critique of open theists can be coherently maintained. Indeed, it seems that those who critique open theists readings makes several hermeneutical assumptions that are not merely foreign to the text itself, but which assume a view of human knowledge that is both arrogant and impossible from the human stance.

In such a short space we cannot possibly do justice to all of the texts and all of the issues that arise from such a far ranging discussion. Even a discussion that merely adequately defined the various views of the divine attributes would be foolish to attempt in so short a presentation. However, we want to focus on just two texts to tease out the differing hermeneutical approaches and to demonstrate that while both open theists and their opponents bring critical assumptions to the text, their assumptions are not equally problematic. Open theists bring the assumption to the text that its meaning can be teased out by logical principles. Taking the text at what it both says and asserts, they derive conclusions based on simple deductive principles.

Their critics, on the other hand, bring a prior understanding of God to the text that controls what it can possibly be read to establish. The critics, for short, assume scriptural uniformitarianism. That is, all writers of scripture write with a common understanding of God so that if one writer of scriptural records, even removed hundreds of years from another, has a given view of God, then all have a common understanding of God so that they cannot disagree. Thus, if say Isaiah says something that disagrees with the writer(s) compilers of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the text of Isaiah must be read in such a way as to harmonize. Further, the critics argue that this common understanding of God has already been accurately grasped by the tradition and so this traditional reading must control what can be concluded from the text.

Let’s consider just two common texts used to support the Open Theist’s view. Consider the text of Exodus 32 (and its parallel in Deuteronomy 9):

7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”
9 Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, “Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (World English Bible)

There are several key points to be made about this text. God clearly declares that he intends to destroy the Israelites who had made the golden calf and to fulfill his promises by raising up a holy people through the lineage of Moses’ descendants alone. Moses, however, contends with God. Moses “begged” God to both “turn” (bwX) his wrath and “repent” (mhn) of his purpose to destroy Israel. (v. 12) The verbs here show that Moses expected God to change what he had declared he would do. He expected God to change his mind. The Hebrew verb nacham means not merely to change, but its primary meaning is to feel sorrow or regret for what one does. Its primary meaning is emotive. It refers to the emotional tone of one’s feelings about one’s own actions. The Hebrew shuv means to turn around, to turn from, to change one’s course or direction. Moses then asks God to remember (rkz) the covenant he has made to raise seed from them as numerous as the stars. God then “repents” (KJV) or “relents” (NAB) or “changes his mind about the disaster he had planned to bring to his people.” (NRSV). While Moses believes that God’s intentions and declarations can be turned away and changed, he believes that there is something that must remain constant: God’s commitment to his covenant promises. Thus, Moses argues with God based upon the unchanging commitment to his covenant with Abraham to make of him a great nation. What is unchanging for Moses in this narrative is not God; but God’s purposes and promises.

The verb used to describe what God does in response to Moses’s plea is precisely the same as that used by Moses to ask him to not do what he had stated he would: nacham. This verb is used often referring to what God does when he changes his course from what he has already declared he intends to do or has already done: “It repented the Lord that he made man on the earth; and it grieved him at his heart.” (KJV Gen. 6:6) “For it repented the Lord because of their groanings … (Judges 2:18 KJV); “and the Lord repented that he made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam 15:5); “And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.” (2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15); “The Lord repented for this…” (Amos 7:3; 6): “And God saw their works; that they turned from their evil ways: and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them.” (Johah 3:10) God stated that he intended to destroy the idolaters and asked Moses to step aside to let him alone to accomplish it. Destroying the people of Israel was something that “he declared” or “thought to do” (rbd) to his people. The verb declaring God’s intention is derived from dabar and means to speak or declare a divine word of intention to accomplish a purpose. (See Dt. 9:8-10) Yahweh “sorrowfully relented” from his stated and intended purpose. The same verb nacham is used to describe human acts of repentance denoting precisely the same semantic field of change of conduct and remorse that accompanies repentance. (Ex. 13:7; 1 Kings 8:47; Judges. 21: 6, 15; Ez. 14:30; Jer. 20:6).

Now Mormons may argue that in Joseph Smith’s revision of these passages in his Inspired Version of the Bible (“JST”). Joseph Smith changed all references to God’s repentance to the people’s repentance – he clearly believed that God was incapable of doing anything that required repentance. However, on the key issue as to whether God changed his mind, Joseph’s Inspired Version is even more emphatic that God changed from intending to do one thing to another. For example, Joseph changed Ex. 32:14 to read:

And the Lord said unto Moses, If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.

Note that while Joseph changes from God repenting to the people repenting, he nevertheless emphasizes that “God had thought” to execute judgment upon his people. Thus, at one time God intended to execute judgment on his people and at a later time he relented and intended to execute judgment only if they would not repent. However, their repentance is left to the future and is uncertain. Moreover, if God must “turn away his fierce wrath,” then he engages in a course of action that is different that it was before being turned away.

A similar course of events occurs in Jonah 3, except it is a prophet who declares God’s intention; though it is once again God who relents or changes his mind:

1 The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you.”
3 So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey across.
4 Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried out, and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 The news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 He made a proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor animal, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water;
8 but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and animal, and let them cry mightily to God. Yes, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?”
10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it. (Jonah 3 WEB)

In this passage Johah declares the message given to him by Yahweh: “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown.” (v. 3) So God through Jonah declares the destruction of Ninevah and there is nothing in the context to suggest that such a declaration is conditional. It is a starightforward statement of what will occur. Yet the people of Ninevah believed Yahweh (tho apparently not previously Yahwites) and expressed hope that God might change his declared sentence upon the people: “Who knows whether god will turn (shuv) and repent (nacham), and turn away (shuv) his fierce anger..?” The people of Ninevah don’t know whether God will divert his declared course of action; but they didn’t take the declaration as immutably unconditional. When God saw their repentance, he turned away (shuv) and repented (nacham) from what he said he would do.

Now what the Open Theists derive from these passages is clear. Moreover, the hermeneutic applied to derive the conclusions is also clear. God is not immutable because he changed intrinsic properties. Beliefs are intrinsic properties. To change such intrinsic properties by changing beliefs is a “real” change and not merely an extrinsic or apparent change. God changed from believing at one time that he would destroy the Israelites who made the golden calf to a later state in which he turned from that course of action to feeling sorrow for doing so and relenting. So at t1 God believes he will destroy Israel, and at a later time, t2, God no longer has this belief and believes instead that he will not destroy Israel. Thus, God is not immutable in the sense that there is no change in his intrinsic properties. God is not timeless in the sense that there are not temporally successive and distinct states for him. God is not impassible in either the sense that nothing external to God acts upon him (and thus is not a se either) nor in the sense that God does not feel emotions or passions such as anger, wrath and sorrow. Nor is God prescient because if he believed at t1 that Israel would consist of only Moses’ descendants, then his knowledge of the future was most certainly limited. The argument looks something like this:

(1) The scriptures state that at one time t1 God intended to destroy the people; and at a later time t2 God relented and did not intend to destroy the people. (Ex. 32 and Jonah 3)
(2) God is not immutable if his intrinsic properties change.
(3) A change from intending to destroy at t1 to intending not to destroy at t2 is a change in intrinsic properties.
(4) What the scriptures state is true.
(C1) Therefore, God is not immutable. (From 1, 2 and 3)
(5) God is not timeless if he must be distinguished in terms of intrinsic properties had at a moment t1 that are different from those intrinsic properties had at some later temporal moment t2.
(6) A change from intending to destroy the people at t1 to intending not destroy the people at a later moment t2 is a temporal change.
(C2) Therefore, God is not timeless. (From 1, 4, 5 and 6)
(7) God is not impassible-A if anything external to him influences him and is not impassible-B if he feels remorse or sorrow.
(8) The scriptures state that God was influenced to relent his decree to destroy the people by the people’s repentance and that he regretted a course of action that he had declared.
(9) The people’s repentance is an external influence.
(C3) Therefore, God is neither impassible-A nor impassible-B. (From 4, 7, 8 and 9).
(10) God is not infallibly prescient if he believes that at time t1 a course of events would occur that is different that what actually occurred at a later time t2.
(11) The scriptures state that at a time t1 God intended and therefore believed that the people would be destroyed and an a latter time t2 something else occurred.
(C4) Therefore, God is not infallibly prescient. (From 4, 10 and 11)

The assumption made in deriving such conclusions is clear: the text can be interpreted using deductive logic. These conclusions are straightforward deductive conclusions. The text doesn’t comment on any of these attributes of God – indeed never uses the terms “attributes”, “immutable”, “impassible”, “timeless” or “prescient” or even “omniscient” or “properties”. Even the notion that God has attributes as such is not stated in the text. This way of approaching the text may seem natural and perfectly reasonable, but it is not the way that the scripture reasons or presents itself. It is an assumption brought to the text. However, the Open Theist is not arguing that the scripture reasons this way or that it expressly states that these attributes define God in scriptural language. Rather, they assert that it is important not to import these foreign terms derived from Greek philosophy into the text to make sense of them as a preconceived premise that controls interpretation of the text.

1. Rejecting Deductive Logic as a Hermeneutical Tool.
Those who are critical of Open Theism do not disagree (at least with respect to these scriptures) that the scriptural language makes the assertions that God intended to destroy a people and then relented. Rather, they reject premise (4) and assert instead that these statements as to what God declared and that he later relented must be seen as God actually doing or intending something other than what God declared according to these passages. There are a number of different moves to avoid the logical approach to scripture, and one is to simply deny that logic can be used to interpret scripture in this way. Such an approach has been hinted at by Eric Johnson in his essay, “Can God Be Grasped by Reason?”. Johnson asserts:

[T]he understanding of God put forth by open theism is truncated by a rigid use of logic unable to do justice to evidence that appears to contradict its favored set of truths. In the face of the preponderance of scriptural evidence on both sides of such issues as [free will and determining of human actions] the opponents of historical Christian theism must do more than assert that one line of evidence/argument contradicts another line of evidence/argument. Such an ‘argument’ does nothing more than highlight concurrence.

Johnson asserts that there are “apparently” contradictory views in scripture and the fact that we cannot reconcile them logically does not mean that both are not true. He suggests that we ought to put off any judgment as to whether such apparent contradictions are in fact contradictions. He suggests that some views ought to be deferred indefinitely because “some of the mysteries of an infinite God must necessarily transcend the finite capacities of the created mind to grasp them.” Yet such a view does not suggest that we ought to avoid using deductive logic to plumb the meaning of scriptural passages, but only that as we view such passages using such deductive principles we may find views that appear to be contradictory and we must suspend our final view as to how they can be reconciled. Indeed, unless the scriptures were playing the deductive language game in the first place, there would be no basis for comparing such passages to reach a tentative conclusion that they appear to be contradictory.

Can we or should we refrain from using deductive logic to interpret scripture? In reality, the only premise that takes scripture to be playing the language game of logic is premise (1), and it is not a logical conclusion but merely a summary statement as to what the scriptures such as Exodus 32 and Jonah 3 appear to straightforwardly state. The remainder of the argument is an argument based upon various theological conclusions that are contradictory to premise (1). So the open theists interpretation of the scripture is not dependent on the view that scripture plays the language game of deductive logic. Rather, a conclusion is drawn to argue against theological propositions that are in conflict with that conclusion. Indeed, it seems that most if not all open theists would agree that scripture cannot be cited to support the kind of theological propositions that they reject based upon their conclusions as to what scripture teaches.

Moreover, such a view seems to be at odds with a fundamental(ist) view of scripture that insists upon scriptures “inerrancy, necessity, sufficiency, and clarity….” Thus, Talbot concludes that “if god is Scripture’s primary author and its every word is ultimately a word from him, then Scripture will be as truthful and consistent as God himself is.” Yet if “consistency” is required, what else could that mean except “logical consistency”? Such assertions of course raise the longstanding disagreements between those who read scriptural texts in terms of historical criticism and other forms of higher criticism and those who insist on inerrancy. Such a view would indeed require recognition that there are merely apparent and not any real contradictions in the text. However, we will never know based upon the text itself because the text lacks the clarity to resolve such issues. Indeed, the appeal to such standards as consistency, clarity, sufficiency and necessity are clearly not scriptural assertions but conclusions as to what the scriptures must be. However, we would note that these kinds of conclusions are not on par with those of open theist who texts like Exodus 32 and Jonah 3 to require the open the view. The conclusions of open theists are derived from the text itself; the notions of scriptural plenary inspiration and inerrancy are not derived from the text but imposed on it. We suspect that the inerrancy of the scripture is derived largely from precisely the kind of argument Talbot gives.

Finally, isn’t reason presupposed in the very use of language? If God says that he intended to do one thing and then, after Moses dialogues with God, God declares a different course in response to Moses, how can we avoid the conclusion that Moses influenced God, the God listened and took into consideration what Moses said, that God had stated an intention to do one thing and that later his intention was different than previously stated? The fact that God gives weight to Moses’ reasons, though not deductive arguments per se, shows that the text itself presupposes that human reasons have merit with God.

2. Arguing that the Scripture Does not Accurately Portray God Because it is Language Adapted to Human Limitations. The most common approach of those who reject the Open Theist’s conclusions is to argue that the language of scripture in these instances in merely anthropomorphic and should not be taken literally.

The most obvious problem with such a view is that there is no principled basis for distinguishing non-literal or metaphoric readings from those that should be taken as literal. All language is “anthropomorphic” in the sense that it is the tool we use to express, refer and communicate. So all and any language is to some extent “anthropomorphic” or irredeemably limited by our own epistemic horizons and linguistic usages and practices. We cannot escape our own skin. Yet limiting the scripture by denying any conclusion that could be drawn that is not expressed in the very quoting of scripture itself without any grasp of what is asserted makes reading scripture rather pointless. We can read the words, but not grasp or understand in any way what is being said by those words. Thus, all language is metaphoric since the sign is not what is pointed to by the sign or words used. To that extent, this objection is over-broad. Moreover, it would rule out the possibility not only of the deductive conclusions of open theists but also certainly the classical view which is, if anything, even more far removed from the scriptural language.

Moreover, there is no rule or set of criteria provided in the scripture itself to discern whether something should be taken literally or merely metaphorically. When the scripture straightforwardly asserts that Moses saw God and spoke with him face to face, or that God has the form of the appearance of a human as Ezekiel asserted, the traditional views have uniformly asserted that a prior commitment to God’s immaterial nature rules out taking such statements as descriptions of what God is really like. Mormons take these passages literally as statements revealing God’s likeness and image. When the scriptures rather straightforwardly state that God changed his mind, repented or relented, how do we decide that these are not actually statements describing what God actually did instead of some metaphor to human experience to allow us to grasp some bare notion of what God actually did? We suggest that arguments that such passages should be taken metaphorically and not as assertions stating what God actually did are driven by prior theological commitments and not the text. In fact, there is nothing in these texts suggesting merely a metaphorical reading. The explanation that the language is merely metaphorical is thus a conclusion not based on the text from outside the text based on prior commitments that conflict with the text. Yet how could our views of God ever be informed by the text if we read the text in this manner? Such a way of approaching the text is presumptuous because it assumes that we already know more than the text and can correct the text based upon extra-textual theological commitment or linguistic practices.

A more promising solution has been suggested often. God speaks to motivate repentance, knowing all along that the people will repent. God’s statements about his intentions always imply a conditional statement and an unstated clause about his knowledge of what will really occur. This approach suggests that there is always an implicit condition in all of God’s assertions about his intentions conditioned upon the repentance of the people. Such an approach is buttressed by Jeremiah 18:7-10 which states:

Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom. But if that nation which I have threatened turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do. Sometimes, again, I promise to build up and plant a nation or kingdom. But if that nation does what is evil in my eyes, refusing to obey my voice, I repent of the good with which I promised to bless it. (NAB)

So all of God’s threats and promises are conditional on what the people do. In and of itself such a position seems to severely undermine the classical view which relies on absolute decrees which are not contingent on anything done by humans. If God knows what the future is or cannot be influenced to change what he already knows will occur, then there are no such conditions. However, John Piper suggests that such a view is not inconsistent with a more moderate view of divine decrees that admits God can change his intentions but which does not adopt the open theists view.

It is entirely possible to see the ‘plan’ of God here to be the thought or intention of his mind that went something like this: ‘I will bring calamity against a people that is evil and unrepentant.’ This is true and sincere. In other words, God’s ‘plan’ or ‘intention’ or ‘thought’ or ‘mind’ may simply be such a fixed resolve in his mind. If the people repent, God’s resolve or ‘plan’ or intention toward that people changes, that is what is meant by his relenting or his repenting. This does not necessarily mean he has not foreknown tis change in his ‘plan.’ In fact, the expression of his resolve to punish the kind of people he sees may be the means he uses to bring about the change in them that he foreknows so that his own change of resolve will accord with their new condition.

Piper agrees that there is a real change in God’s mind, so that God is not immutable in the classical sense. But he argues that such an admission does not mean that lacks foreknowledge: “I say that there is a real change in God’s mind, but that this does not imply a lack of foreknowledge. God can express an intention or a resolve toward a people that accords with what is true now, all the while knowing that this condition will not be true in the future and that his resolve will also be different when their condition is different… God speaks this way owing to the fact that he really means for his word to be the means of bringing about changes in people to which he himself responds in way that he knows he will.”

Piper applies this reasoning to the text in Jonah and suggests that God’s unconditional declaration that Ninevah would be overthrown was in reality based on a condition of repentance “that if the Ninevites meet, they will be spared.” So Jonah 3:4 should be read with the implicit condition, which if made explicit would say: “Yet forty days and Ninevah will be overthrown unless you repent.” The people of Ninevah repented, so God was not mistaken and the prophecy by Jonah was accurate because, Piper claims, all such prophecies of threat of destruction must be understood to contain such a conditional clause as suggested by Jeremiah 18:7-10. Yet it seems fairly clear that there is in reality no change in God’s intentions as Piper claims. All along God knew that Ninevah would repent and all along he intended that Jonah’s prophecy would be the catalyst to bring about that repentance. God intended to relent when Ninevah repented all along. However, it also follows that what Jonah declared was neither true nor an accurate reflection of God’s intention. Ninevah was not overthrown in forty days, as Jonah declared it would be. Nor did God ever intend that it would be; rather, he intended and knew that Ninevah would repent and that Ninevah would not be destroyed.

Piper’s strategy doesn’t do justice to the text. There is no such conditional stated in the text of Jonah 3:4. What Jonah asserted did not come to pass. However, barring arguments of the uselessness of simple foreknowledge or the circularity arguments against middle knowledge, given the text alone as a guide it is at least possible that God intended the people to repent and knew that his threat through Jonah would bring it about. Perhaps the Israelites had such an implicit understanding as suggested by Jeremiah. The absolute prophecy of destruction of Ninevah may then be read as a conditional because all prophecies are conditional. Even if God knows the future, it may be the case that God knows of the repentance which his prophecy brings about.

However, this strategy fails miserably in the context of Exodus 32. If we alter Exodus 32:10 along the lines suggested by Piper, it reads as follows with implicit assertions made explicit: “Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation unless they repent — and I know that they won’t repent.” There is a problem with Piper’s suggested strategy, however. The Israelites did not repent and if God knew the future, then God knew they wouldn’t repent. However, God changes his intentions anyway. So God’s change of intentions cannot be explained by Israel’s repentance. God’s change of intentions was not occasioned by the repentance of Israel, but by Moses’s steadfast stand for his people and willingness to ask God to relent what he had declared. So the actual change is not about repentance but about Moses’s argument. So Exodus 32:10 must be changed as follows: “Now therefore leave me alone [even though I know that you will not leave me alone but argue against what I am now suggesting], that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation unless you argue with me to not do so – as you are now doing and I know that I will not do what I am now saying I will.” The problem with amending Exodus 32 along the lines suggested by Piper is that it results in not merely non-sense, but in God flatly contradicting what he declares his intentions to be. It also results in the dialogue becoming disgenuine and contrived.

There are thus four reasons why such an “anthropomorphic metaphor” argument should be resisted. First, there are no competent guides or basis for deciding when texts should be read literally or metaphorically. These texts don’t suggest that they should be read metaphorically but give every indication of attempting to actually express God’s intentions and actions. Second, such a way of reading scripture makes it impossible for scripture to reveal anything about God to us. Rather, we impose a prior understanding on the text and that prior understanding controls what the text can mean. Third, these texts become nonsense when read as a mere metaphor or with assumed implicit conditions governed by classical theological presuppositions. Finally, the text is not allowed to speak but is read in way that requires it to say what it does not.

135 Comments »

  1. Nicely done Blake. As you know I’m on board with your ideas here. (Was this a paper used elsewhere?)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 2, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  2. Geoff: Yeah, this was a draft for a presentation at the AAR this year. I couldn’t attend because I went to Europe instead. However, since the paper was directly on point, I thought it might be useful.

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  3. Ok, Blake, I am having a hard time making it through this one. You may have addressed this somewhere in the above, but I am going to put this out there before I finish reading and risk looking like a nitwit. Anyway, the God saying he will destroy then changing his mind issue… this doesn’t really seem like a strong arguement against foreknowledge. (Please keep in mind, I am currently not sold on foreknowledge and think complete knowledge is adequate without knowledge of the future. I am just playing with the logic here.)

    It doesn’t seem like a strong arguement because if:

    1. God knows the future
    2. God knows saying he will utterly destroy will have a certain effect and cause certain actions.
    2. God knows these certain actions will enable him to rescend his call to utterly destroy without causing him to have told a lie.
    3. God says he will utterly destroy.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  4. Oh, and my wife gave your book to her grandfather before I got to read it. I am ordering another. On the bright side, you are making more royalties…

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 8:39 am

  5. Matt: I don’t believe that what you say is entirely unreasonable. It is the approach taken by Piper whom I quote in the above post. However, I don’t believe that it makes sense of the text either. In particular, it doesn’t work with Ex. 32 because God’s words don’t affect Moses to repent or change; rather, Moses’s words convince God to relent. Thus, condition 1 and 2 don’t really apply to Ex. 32. Further, it makes the entire dialogue disgenuine — God doesn’t really mean it when he says it.

    Moroever, God leaves Jonah hanging out there with a prophecy God knows isn’t true even though God tells Jonah it is. God can of course give directions that lead us to accidentally discover something much more important (as he did when God wanted to know if Abraham would sacrifice Isaac — commanding Abraham to do something he never intended to have him carry out). However, telling Jonah that something would occur that God knows is untrue at the time stated places god’s truthfulness into question. That is a pretty hard pill to swallow.

    Further, number 1 isn’t asserted in the text; rather, it is a “control belief” that determines what the text can mean that is outside the text itself. If we approach scripture this way, we preclude any opportunity to learn what the text has to teach by what it says. It seems to me that the clear implication is that God doesn’t know exactly how prophets will respond — and he allows the prophets a role in shaping the future in co-creating it with him. However, as I said I don’t believe that it is simply irrational to take the approach you suggest.

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  6. Blake:

    Foreknowledge, for me, only becomes problematic as it bumps up against free will or agency. It does there become very problematic. I guess there are two types of foreknowledge, the one future model and the infinite futures model. The infinite futures model seems to allow for free will, but is incomprehensible to me currently.

    As for “God knowing the future” being a control belief, I am certain the “Pro-foreknowledge” types have their scriptures to argue this. For kicks, I just hit “Foreknowledge” on the LDS website, and 1 Peter 1:2 and Acts 2:23 come immediately to hand (I won’t use the BOM at this time, as I am not really arguing this point of view, but am trying to assume the role of a biblical inerrantist for the purpose of this discussion. The LDS trump scripture for a foreknowledge proponant is http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/130/7b, which I am surprised has not been touched upon or has it?)

    Anyway, Acts 2:23, has some bizarre implications, since Christ was delivered by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge” of God, does this mean Judas was innoscent of sin?

    And I admit it, I would love to Discuss D&C 130:7, as it looks like it may crash an LDS argument for no foreknowledge.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  7. It seems that the more interesting issues are in LDS scripture rather than the OT. Having said that though I do agree with many of the hermeneutic points. However I also think the “language adapted to human limitations” is a big deal. I think that ultimately we can’t push scriptural language as far as most philosophers would like. I’m not sure that entails it is metaphoric. But it does mean it is limited.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  8. Clark,

    Which passages of LDS scripture do you have in mind?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 3, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  9. Matt: Foreknowledge, for me, only becomes problematic as it bumps up against free will or agency.

    Then I think basically all foreknowledge of people’s actions should be a problem for you. For instance, if God knows what you will be doing, thinking, or saying 10 minutes from now that means you are not free to choose otherwise. Now if we replace that knowledge with God predicting what you will be doing, thinking, or saying 10 minutes from now (even if he does so accurately) then there is no problem because it leaves you free to choose otherwise. That freedom to choose otherwise is crucial.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 3, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  10. Well the common one quoted against OT is D&C 130:7. It’s been more than a year since the debate about the future and knowledge raged here and at my blog. But I seem to recall quite a few other examples, such as the name Joseph in the Book of Mormon. As I recall offhand Blake can explain that by seeing it as expansion in the Book of Mormon.

    The problem is that without clear unambiguous evidence any text can be explained away by OT using the same hermeneutic principle Blake dealt with above: it’s just metaphoric. When any scripture or other text can be rejected as either metaphoric or God speaking in our flawed language or cultural assumptions then how can we adjudicate the discussion? We can’t.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  11. Clark: Look again at 130:7: “But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.”

    First of all — who are “they who reside in God’s presence? From D&C 130 “they” are the angels who do not reside on an earth like this. So what is in God’s presence is not the future and past and present, but merely the angels. Second, what is it that is manifest? All things that are for the glory of these angels in the past, present and future. Does that require that virtually all things past, present & future are present to God? Clearly not. It requires merely that what God has planned for the glory of these angels is revealed. In other words, it is God’s plan for their glorification and not the past, present and future that are before God. That doesn’t require the actual existence of anything, but only that such glory is already manifest because it a certain part of God’s plan for these angels. That may not satisfy you, but that is how I read it.

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  12. Whoops, Clark, I missed your last comment in #10. I could explain the prophecy of Joseph as: (1) an expansion; (2) as God’s intervention to insure its fulfillment; (3) as conditional on Joseph’s free acceptance of his call as a prohet and the first 116 pages being lost. I prefer (3), but I’m open to (1) and (2).

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  13. Geoff #9

    That’s why I said It does there become very problematic.

    God predicting with perfect knowledge is the same as or equivilant to foreknowledge of infinite futures I think. So I agree with you, I guess.

    Blake #12
    The issue of the lost pages is a very interesting case, and definitely deserves attention. I guess an unanswered question is how far the small plates go. It would seem that we can not have all the small plates and that they must continue on, as the coincidence of there being the exact equivilant to the 116 pages would be impossible without foreknowledge of an explicit future.

    But then Words of Mormon is an exact fit between the lost and the found. Could it be a modern revelatory addition?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  14. May I just slip in for a minute,guys?

    Blake, before I respond to your thought-provoking article (probably on my blog, sometime here in the future), may I ask some questions that would provide better understanding for me on the “official” LDS concept of God? Do the current LDS authorities have an official stance in agreement to what you have proposed? I know for the most part, authorities deal with practical issues of the Church, but would they be presently in solid agreement with you on resisting any “anthropomorphic metaphor” arguments of God in Scripture? More specifically, are there any “official” Conference statements by LDS authorities, maintaining disagreement with the four premises that you mentioned in the first paragraph? This would greatly enhance my perceptions on what is the LDS authoritative interpretation on the nature of God as I seek to hopefully converse with you. And could I ask one more question . . . may any LDS believer disagree with your entry today and still remain an orthodox, actively-teaching Latter-day Saint? By the way, I am happy to see your interaction with John Piper.

    Comment by Todd Wood — January 3, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  15. Blake, yes, that’s one possible response. I’d just note that the angels in question are folks like us and that we’ll become like that. i.e. the angels who’ve ministered to this earth. So I don’t find that a persuasive answer.

    A better one is to argue that the “thing for their glory” are plans. i.e. generals rather than particulars.

    However you can understand why not everyone would read it that way.

    The point is though – and this was my point – is that both sides can explain away easily the claims of the other. So the “debate” never really is.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  16. Matt, I don’t think the small plates are exactly 116 pages. Why do you say that?

    The big problem to Open Theists is Mormon knowing that only the account of Lehi through the first few hundred years would be lost. Either this is an expansion (which frankly seems difficult to reconcile) or else God has astounding knowledge. Or that God was controlling the whole thing, which makes God into a questionable entity.

    And yes, I know Blake has responses to this and other such things such as the manner of Jesus’ execution. I personally don’t find it that plausible. But others do.

    The point being that there are some pretty long stretches that the OT has to do. At least as long as the foreknowledge proponents have to do to deal with responsibility.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  17. Clark, I was using 116 in a non-literal sense, meaning “the content of the missing portion of the book of Mormon” and it’s alignment whith Words of Mormon and the rest of the book of Mormon. While Christ dying on the cross, His name being Jesus, etc. could be expansion or christianizing of the text, the very real and literal explanation around the small plates replacing the “book of lehi” with the inclusion of the words of Mormon seems very challenging and problematic.

    I am curious by what you mean by saying God was controlling the whole thing, which makes God into a questionable entity.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  18. Todd,

    There is no official LDS position on the specific topics covered in Blake’s paper. Various leaders have occasionally expressed opinions on related issues but none of those represent an official church position.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 3, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  19. Matt, by “God controlling the whole thing” I was thinking of God taking away freedom to force someone to do wrong. That seems to be the no-no with respect to OT explanations. It verges too much into the the kinds of criticisms OT folks make of Calvinism.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  20. Todd,

    may any LDS believer disagree with your entry today and still remain an orthodox, actively-teaching Latter-day Saint?

    Yes. In fact, most do just that.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 3, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

  21. Clark (#16),

    Aren’t you leaving off the possibility that God did not know the 116 pages would be lost, but planned for it as a contingency? Who knows how many other possibilities God as planned for, including the possibility that Joseph himself would fall and need to be replaced.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 3, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  22. Clark:

    So, if I understand you correctly, you frame the problem as either God has foreknowledge which destroys free will, or God is controlling events, which destroys free will?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  23. Jacob:

    I don’t know that the contingency option is viable, considering that if God did not know the pages would be lost, but did know the exact contents of what would be lost, so that the small plates, plus an addition from Mormon would link perfectly with the new section.

    The options are that the Words of Mormon are modern revelation,There are more small plates untranslated,This was some form of training for Joseph, or that God allowed Joseph to hand over the manuscript pages at only the exact moment where such a linkage would occur. Or, of course, God can see the future.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  24. Matt, no – that’s why I think the OT is committed to discounting scripture via later expansion. However IMO this doesn’t work well for many events. The 116 pages, Christ’s crucifixion, the name of Joseph etc. If one is, a priori, committed to OT then the alternative is sufficiently worse so as to demand these readings though.

    As for me, I’m agnostic about free will of the sort normally discussed. But if we can explain away these sorts of predictions then I don’t see the problem adopting a revisionist account of responsibility, (i.e. the medicalization of the soul by a limited co-eternal God) Indeed I think revisionist accounts of responsibility mesh welll with traditional understandings of the Plan in Heaven.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  25. Clark: I apologize, but I think you think I am smarter than I am. I have no idea what comment #24 means…

    Comment by Matt W. — January 3, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  26. Clark: I don’t see why the view that God intervened to bring about the lost 116 is problematic. It may be that God had an important lesson to Joseph an opportunity to learn — i.e., listen to God the first time and don’t try to pester him for something different once you’ve got a response. It is also quite possible that it was merely a condition that God foresaw was possible among others. If it doesn’t occur, then the Words of Mormon don’t become part of the record. Mormon states explicitly that God didn’t tell him why the small plates were to be stuck into the large plates, he just does it for a wise purpose. However, I don’t expect that to be convicing to you — anymore than Ex. 32 and Jonah which expressly state that God relented from doing what he had determined to do. If such express statements won’t do it, it is unlikely that anything would be adequate. But such an approach leaves us with rather impotent scriptures, don’t you think?

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  27. Clark: re: # 15 — I don’t see how the angels being from earth changes the analysis at all. In fact, I would think that fact — if it is a fact — would strengthen my argument. So I am at a loss as to why you believe your observation makes my response less plausible. I’m not arguing with you, I guess I just don’t understand your response. I also don’t understand what you’re getting at in # 24 either. Could you explain?

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  28. I guess the point is that we’re talking about angels knowing the future. What else is needed? Unless you think knowing the future in heaven is OK whereas it isn’t here. Which I confess doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Blake, God intervening to lose the 116 pages means God intervened to ensure someone sinned. If you don’t see that as problematic…

    But as I originally said the discussion is kind of pointless. There’s no objective way to adjudicate the discussion since for any example the OT can simply say, “God did it” or “It was a late addition” thus making things unfalsifiable. As I said, I think some of these responses are pretty problematic. But how problematic someone finds them depends upon their a priori commitment to OT.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  29. Clark,

    If you think every discussion which cannot be objectively adjudicated is pointless, I am at a loss to explain why you read so much philosophy. Nevertheless, you seem determined to brand this discussion as pointless.

    Although neither position (Open Theism/Classical Theology) can be conclusively shown to be correct, the point of a discussion like this is to explore the strengths/weaknesses of both positions so that people can weigh them and make up their own minds.

    It is obvious from your responses that you find some arguments more persuasive than others. Thus, presenting the various arguments is not pointless. It is part of the process of studying it out in our minds. It seems like we are having to make this point a lot around here lately, but as often as I am forced to make it, I am happy to do so.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 3, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  30. It’s not pointless to the degree that one sees what the issues are. It’s pointless in the sense that there’s really nothing to lead one to one side or the other beyond ones already established biases. Contrast this with something like BoM geography where at least one can say one model has more strength.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  31. Clark,

    I think you are underestimating the power these discussions have to help readers and participants form opinions. For instance I had no firm opinion on the subject of foreknowledge vs. free will when I first encountered a debate between you and Blake a couple of years ago at T&S but have since concluded that Blake was right and you were sooooo wrong… That’s valuable right? ;-)

    But seriously, I too am interested in figuring out what you meant in #24. Was your #28 the explanation?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 3, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  32. Geoff, regarding #24.

    Revisionist accounts of responsibility and punishment usually say we ought move from a traditional responsibility/punishment metaphor to an actor/medical treatment metaphor. That is punishment should be seen as a way to improve the individual and responsibility should be seen in terms of the relationship of the act and actor in some sense. There’s no one revisionist account and arguably no really ultimately successful one yet. But it’s oft discussed in the free will debates.

    However the lack of success is why I’m ultimately at this stage still agnostic. However the idea of moving to a “repair” mode makes the whole point of this life make a lot more sense (IMO). God is limited in what he can do with us. His finite (in some senses) nature entails that punishment and rewards are tied up in helping us establish our greatest potential.

    My point in #24 was simply that the those embracing foreknowledge have to deal with the problem of responsibility. (i.e. in what sense is responsibility possible if the future is fixed?) Those rejecting foreknowledge have to produce “unnatural” readings of various narratives or passages. They are, of course, possible readings. I don’t dispute this.

    But ultimately there’s no real rational reason to pick one above the other.

    At least in terms of the evidences we can discuss. Now if, for instance, one had a revelation of the future clearly that would bias one for foreknowledge. Likewise if one had a revelation that there was no foreknowledge the opposite is true.

    The “utility” of the discussions to lead us to form opinions isn’t really in question. Rather my point is the basis for our opinions in terms of reason.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  33. Clark: re: #28. How are we talking angels knowing the future? There is nothing in D&C 130:7 that says angels know anything. It merely says that everything for their glory is already manifested. That doesn’t require any leap to suggest that it has nothing to do with either timelessness nor God’s knowledge in any way.

    Moreover, I don’t believe that it is a sin to lose 116 pages and I am at a lost to figure out how you think it is. Of course, if Nephi could be commanded to behead Laban but God couldn’t arrange for Martin’s wife to steal the 116 pages, then I would have real problems reconciling just what drives your view.

    Further, don’t we all have some commitment to the OT and that it represents in some sense the story of God’s dealings with Israel? However, a believer doesn’t need to adopt a naive or totally indefensible view of scripture to deal with it. I have been preaching for years that a naive view is not necessary to faith and abandonment of that view is not abandonment of faith but a very much needed transformation. However, I am absolutely convinced that the Hebrew believed that God relatented, changed his mind and that they didn’t give a woof what that meant for a doctrine of God’s omniscience which they just didn’t have. I’ll even bet you agree with that much!

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

  34. Blake, if you look back to #15 you’ll note I already acknowledged that reading. I simply suggest that if one reads this as engaging particulars that this implies foreknowledge.

    I don’t think any text requires foreknowledge. Thus my point about there being an impasse.

    I don’t think “we all have some commitment to the OT” unless you took OT to mean Old Testament rather than Open Theology. I meant by it Open Theology. My apologies if this lead to confusion. I’m not sure in your answer which you are referring to, but I suspect you are taking my use of OT to refer to the Old Testament.

    Comment by Clark — January 3, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

  35. You’re right Clark, I thought OT meant Old Testament. My bad.

    Comment by Blake — January 3, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

  36. Blake, there is no official Church position, yea or nay, on the first four premises in the first paragraph of your article as this deals directly with the nature of the God worshipped in church? Geoff and Blake have only hightened my curiosity.

    Wouldn’t this be a fundamental issue for church authorities?

    Comment by Todd Wood — January 3, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

  37. Todd (#36),

    The revelation from God have not clarified the answers to lots of mysteries of the Universe.

    You’re an evangelical Christian right? Any denomination? What is your church’s official stand on the “first four premises in the first paragraph”? And who are the authorities that you defer to on such hermeneutical questions?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 12:28 am

  38. Clark (#32): But ultimately there’s no real rational reason to pick one above the other.

    I just don’t agree with this conclusion of yours. You laid out a pretty rational reason to choose a free-will-friendly reading in the preceding paragraph I thought. One is left to choose between a) nobody ever being truly responsible for any choice or act, and b) reading the scriptures in a way that allows for free will and thus responsibility (even if it is at the expense of exhaustive foreknowledge). I think that Blake’s paper provides some solid and rational reasons to choose the free-will-friendly reading as well (that was the point of the paper wasn’t it?).

    That decision seems like a no-brainer to me — especially for a Mormon considering how much church leaders have hammered on the free will concept (“free agency” on classic Mormon-speak) for the last 175+ years.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 12:55 am

  39. Todd: There is no official LDS Church stance on any of the four premises of my argument. I doubt that those who have authority to make official statements for the Church would even understand the premises of the argument except premise (1) — and the only official stance there is that what the scriptures assert is in some sense true. However, as Geoff said, there is a solid and official stance in favor morally robust free will and accountable agency and that we are free to choose without what we choose being dictated by prior causes or whatever environment we might find ourselves in. There is a strong rejection of the kinds of doctrines that Calvinists adopt such as predestination and perseverence and salvation by grace without a free choice being involved. So I think that those who think determinism is compatible with Mormonism just don’t grasp what is being asserted. There are those who disagree — but as I said, I believe they are just being somewhat obtuse.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 7:21 am

  40. Blake:

    It is my opinion that in Mormonism, Determinism is what happens when people fail to utilize the atonement. I am working with only the “wikipedia” version of determinism though, so perhaps I am not seeing all the implications that has.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 4, 2007 @ 8:04 am

  41. The issue though Geoff isn’t hte “free agency” concept but rather Libertarian free will. It’s an error to conflate the two I think. I suspect some might draw the conclusions you do based upon making that connection, but I don’t think it a legitimate one. The debate really isn’t about free will but the meaning of scriptural language.

    I’ll stick to my guns and say there’s really no rational basis to pick one above the other.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  42. Clark,

    Well, if the Closed Theists are correct, then there is no rational basis for anything you do, think, or believe, in which case you are spot-on in your claim.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 4, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  43. What’s a closed theist?

    And how does your claim follow?

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 12:33 pm

  44. Clark,

    “Closed Theists” is a name I just made up for those who oppose “Open Theism.” Sorry, I was hoping context would make it clear.

    As to how my claim follows: You say in #41 that you think it is a mistake to conflate “free agency” and LFW. All the efforts to have “free agency” without LFW are, by definition, attempts to show that we can have “free agency” without ever having the ability to do something other than what we actually do. If we never have a choice between alternatives that are genuinely open to us, then I don’t see how any of our actions can have a basis in reason.

    In truth, it was unwise of me to make the flippant statement that I did, as it could only cause a thread-jack. My apologies.

    More to the point, I am amazed you are sticking to your guns by saying there is no rational basis for adopting one view verses the other. Can you give me a more concrete idea of what counts as a “real rational reason”? You mentioned BofM geography, which seems to be better in your mind because one argument can conform better to the text or to a proposed geography. But, as I said, it is obvious from your responses that you find some arguments more persuasive than others (e.g. #28). Aren’t such judgments of persuasiveness based on how well each view conforms to the scriptural record as a whole, how well they conform to our experiences with God, how well they conform to our understanding of the plan of salvation? We can disagree about which one conforms better (which is why it is good to have a discussion), but I don’t see why you would claim that these considerations are not rational bases for making a decision one way or another.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 4, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  45. Clark: Could you tell me which of the premises in my argument above you don’t find compelling? Do you really believe that the Hebrews weren’t saying that God genuinely changed his mind and regretted his action? I believe that you accept that fact — and the rest follows. Given that fact, open theism follows. I don’t need to say anything about free will or moral responsibility or the fine points of agent causation. None of it is presented in the argument above. So I am having hard time accepting that you don’t find the view that God changes his mind as the overwhelmingly persuasive reading of the text.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  46. I don’t think the fact that God changed his mind contradicts foreknowledge, for one. I think a foreknowing being could easily change their mind. They’d just know they’d change their mind (assuming they foreknew that particular event: limited foreknowledge obviously is a different situation)

    I also think that the JST can’t be neglected quite as cavalierly as you suggest.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

  47. If we never have a choice between alternatives that are genuinely open to us, then I don’t see how any of our actions can have a basis in reason.

    I guess I just don’t see how that follows. Reasons seem independent of choices. Reasons, as typically explained, are merely the logical chain of thought (justifiable or not) for our actions. But in a determinist system everything would have reasons just as in a libertarian system.

    Indeed arguably there are more reasons in the determinist system since the ultimate point of choice in libertarian free will has no reason: it is a pure choice.

    Can you give me a more concrete idea of what counts as a “real rational reason”?

    A scripture or something similar that can’t be argued away by one side or the other. Something more explicit than we have.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  48. Clark: If God changes his mind it means he changes beliefs about what he is going to do and therefore entails a change about knowledge of the future. If God intends to do A at T1 to bring about X at T3, then God believes that X will occur at T3 as a result of his action. If he changes his mind at T2 to bring about Y at T3 instead, then at T2 he believes Y will occur at T3 — in which case what God believes will occur at T3 must change between T1 and T2. It follows that God cannot believe at T1 that Y will occur. The situation you suggest, that God knows at T1 that he will change his mind at T2 to bring about Y rather than X is incoherent because then God does not intend to bring about X at T1, instead he knows that he will bring about Y at T1 and therefore cannot intend to bring about X at T1. So the scenario you give us is just incoherent.

    Clark, I believe that what Jacob is getting at is the kind of argument I have given that if my choices are explained by my reasons, and my reasons are fully explained by the state of my neurons (or physical prior states) that cause those reasons, then my “reasons” cannot follow laws of rationality because my neurons cause thought based on laws of causation, not laws of rationality. Since neurons cannot reason, the results of neural behavior that are fully explained by the causal determination of neurons cannot be rational either. Having “reasons” is not enough for rationality — I could go the store because I believe it will cause the stars to fall. I could go to the store because my neurons simply fire in such a way that my body moves that direction. I have a “reason” that causes my behavior, it just isn’t a rational scenario.

    Further, the notion that we just make choices without some sufficient reason (or with insufficient data) is often true. However, the notion that there are not teleological reasons for libertarian choices is sheer bunk. It is true that there cannot be a causally sufficient reason for every choice if libertarian free will obtains — but we know from or experience that we don’t always have sufficient reasons for what we do (sometimes we in fact do act irrationally and just plain stupidly). However, you ought to read Randolph Clark on the Luck Objection and Derk Pereboom on whether libertarian free will is incoherent. A libertarian can surely argue that sometimes we have reasons, even competing reasons, and we choose which reasons we will make our own and which values we will adopt to give weight to our reasons. In other words, we can have reasons without bare reasons dictating the outcome of our choices because we give different weight to various reasons, and the weight we give is a choice based upon the values we choose to define us.

    If there are no choices among alternatives, then how could I act rationally? “Choosing” assumes that I have some alternatives among which I choose. There is no choice if what I do has no alternatives. Further, if there is but one possible outcome given the past, how could it be “reason” which dictates the outcome because the outcome was determined long before I reasoned about it? I’d like to hear your answer to that.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:21 pm

  49. Clark: I missed your statement about some how I treat the JST cavalierly. How do I do that? I thought I treated it very carefully and seriously. I’m mystified, so could you enlighten me?

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  50. Clark (#47),

    To switch from talking about choices having a basis in reason (i.e. logic/rational thought) to talking about choices having reasons (i.e. causes) is simply to change the subject. Blake correctly captured my meaning in the second paragraph of #48, so I won’t restate the point.

    A scripture or something similar that can’t be argued away by one side or the other. Something more explicit than we have.

    So, let me get this straight, if the people on both sides of an argument can explain away the evidence put forward by the other side, then there is no rational basis to choose one sides position over the other.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 5, 2007 @ 12:16 am

  51. Sorry, perhaps not the best word choice. By “cavalierly” I meant that you simply ignored the significance of the change to the verses in question that OT addresses. Regarding the other JST evidence you present I just don’t see it indicating a change of the sort you address. God’s thought (which you see changing) is wrapped up in counterfactuals. Further, as I mentioned somewhere (in this thread or the other) foreknowledge does not entail that one can’t chose or change ones views. It simply means ones knows one will do this. But if our thoughts are wrapped up in emotions and not just propositions and logic then we’d expect any foreknowing being to do this.

    (As a somewhat irrelevant aside, The Watchers, has a foreknowing character who does just this)

    I know you’ll probably disagree so I’ll hold off that discussion until I get to your chapter on petitionary prayer in your book.

    Jacob, if both sides can fairly successfully explain the other’s evidence then that evidence loses is strength. We can obviously have opinions. But the reasons for them are ultimately weak in terms of evidence. Clearly we can be rational and have opinions though. For instance I disagree with Blake and I think my thinking is rational. But I don’t think there is a clear reason to prefer one above the other.

    There’s lots of things like this. Consider the interpretations of QM’s ontology for example.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  52. Clark in #51: Further, as I mentioned somewhere (in this thread or the other) foreknowledge does not entail that one can’t chose or change ones views. It simply means ones knows one will do this. But if our thoughts are wrapped up in emotions and not just propositions and logic then we’d expect any foreknowing being to do this.

    I refuted that already in # 48: Clark: If God changes his mind it means he changes beliefs about what he is going to do and therefore entails a change about knowledge of the future. If God intends to do A at T1 to bring about X at T3, then God believes that X will occur at T3 as a result of his action. If he changes his mind at T2 to bring about Y at T3 instead, then at T2 he believes Y will occur at T3 — in which case what God believes will occur at T3 must change between T1 and T2. It follows that God cannot believe at T1 that Y will occur. The situation you suggest, that God knows at T1 that he will change his mind at T2 to bring about Y rather than X is incoherent because then God does not intend to bring about X at T1, instead he knows that he will bring about Y at T1 and therefore cannot intend to bring about X at T1. So the scenario you give us is just incoherent.

    If God changes his mind, it follows that he didn’t know what the future would be before he changed his mind.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  53. Blake, that’s what I dispute. The relation you take between intents and propositional knowledge. I don’t believe a counterfactual conditional belief entails what you take it to entail.

    Therefore I don’t think God’s changing his mind entails a lack of knowledge.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  54. This is my third attempt to post this:

    Ok, I have been trying to organize my thoughts on what God’s Foreknowledge is and is not. The Scriptures for and against foreknowledge have been readily discussed, so I thought a good starting place would be LDS.org and some of the more authoritative statements there.

    A recent Ensign article on Agency notes:


    We do not believe in a deterministic God—that is, one who determines in advance the eventual fate of His children. Rather, we believe in a God who has perfect foreknowledge of the choices His children will make. He may use this foreknowledge to guide us or even to warn us, but He does not use it to preempt our agency. He allows us to become what we truly desire to become. As Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “[God] knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.”
    Most Christian churches believe God created His children ex nihilo—out of nothing. If this were true, then God might be held accountable for any evil we would do because He created us with flaws and weaknesses. But we know our Heavenly Father did not create us out of nothing, and He is not responsible for our weaknesses or sins. He merely places us, His spirit children, in spheres where we can learn and grow by exercising our agency, if we employ it correctly.

    Now I am not sure what Elder Talmage here means in the last sentence by saying what surely will be, and not what must be. I do not understand the difference.

    Speaking on some of the world wide issues of Prayer, Truman G. Madsen comes close to the issue as well


    There is first the notion that God, being all-knowing, is therefore unchanging. Since He knows all that will occur, having, it is said, absolute foreknowledge, prayer is pointless. For if God knew yesterday what is happening today, including all that I am going to do, it is pointless to ask that it be changed. One can insist that his foreknowledge is not a cause. One can still ask, “But am I a cause truly, if in fact the eventuations could not have been otherwise?”
    The heritage of prayer in this church teaches us that however we settle the question of foreknowledge there is point in reaching up to that person, not a thing, who is himself free and has used his freedom to forbid to himself the use of force. He is not a computer, I am grateful to report. He is a conscious being. And it is our relation in freedom to his freedom that does make a difference. Our history is replete with instances again and again of the inevitable, as it seems, not happening because of the intervention of our prayers and his response.

    But he sort of side steps the issue here looking to deal with a greater one. (Although the article reminds me how much I love him and recommits me to seeking out more of his works)

    In Priesthood and Relief Society, we were taught by Joseph F. Smith:

    God, doubtless, could avert war, prevent crime, destroy poverty, chase away darkness, overcome error, and make all things bright, beautiful and joyful. But this would involve the destruction of a vital and fundamental attribute in man—the right of agency. It is for the benefit of His sons and daughters that they become acquainted with evil as well as good, with darkness as well as light, with error as well as truth, and with the results of the infraction of eternal laws. Therefore he has permitted the evils which have been brought about by the acts of His creatures, but will control their ultimate results for His own glory and the progress and exaltation of His sons and daughters, when they have learned obedience by the things they suffer. The contrasts experienced in this world of mingled sorrow and joy are educational in their nature, and will be the means of raising humanity to a full appreciation of all that is right and true and good. The foreknowledge of God does not imply His action in bringing about that which He foresees, nor make Him responsible in any degree for that which man does or refuses to do.

    To me this implies a concept of foreknowledge which is not-exhaustive, but perhaps what we could term predictive.

    This all leads us to Elder Maxwell’s most recent (I think) comments on foreknowledge, which are:


    Our own intellectual shortfalls and perplexities do not alter the fact of God’s astonishing foreknowledge, which takes into account our choices for which we are responsible. Amid the mortal and fragmentary communiques and the breaking news of the day concerning various human conflicts, God lives in an eternal now where the past, present, and future are constantly before Him (see D&C 130:7). His divine determinations are guaranteed, since whatever He takes in His heart to do, He will surely do it (see Abr. 3:17). He knows the end from the beginning! (see Abr. 2:8). God is fully “able to do [His] … work” and to bring all His purposes to pass, something untrue of the best-laid plans of man since we so often use our agency amiss! (see 2 Ne. 27:20).

    and

    Amid all this, God, who lives in “eternal now,” is relentlessly and lovingly accomplishing His work, using His unique foreknowledge to ensure that all His purposes will prevail—not just some of them. The Prophet Joseph said: “The great Jehovah contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth, pertaining to the plan of salvation, before it rolled into existence, or ever ‘the morning stars sang together’ for joy. … He knew … of the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family, their weakness and strength, their power and glory, apostasies, their crimes, their righteousness and iniquity; … He was acquainted with the situation of all nations and with their destiny; … He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption.”

    The reference to an Eternal Now points back to a quote from the Times and Seasons attributed to Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith. There is some speculation that this article may have been done by John Taylor, but in any case, the idea of an Eternal Now is not original to Mormonism as it is seen in Protestant John Wesley’s Sermon 58 :

    The sum of all is this: the almighty, all-wise God sees and knows, from everlasting to everlasting, all that is, that was, and that is to come, through one eternal now. With him nothing is either past or future, but all things equally present. He has, therefore, if we speak according to the truth of things, no foreknowledge, no afterknowledge. This would be ill consistent with the Apostle’s words, “With him is no variableness or shadow of turning;” and with the account he gives of himself by the Prophet, “I the Lord change not.” Yet when he speaks to us, knowing whereof we are made, knowing the scantiness of our understanding, he lets himself down to our capacity, and speaks of himself after the manner of men. Thus, in condescension to our weakness, he speaks of his own purpose, counsel, plan, foreknowledge. Not that God has any need of counsel, of purpose, or of planning his work beforehand. Far be it from us to impute these to the Most High; to measure him by ourselves! It is merely in compassion to us that he speaks thus of himself, as foreknowing the things in heaven or earth, and as predestinating or fore-ordaining them. But can we possibly imagine that these expressions are to be taken literally? To one who was so gross in his conceptions might he not say, “Thinkest thou I am such an one as thyself?” Not so: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than thy ways. I know, decree, work, in such a manner as it is not possible for thee to conceive: But to give thee some faint, glimmering knowledge of my ways, I use the language of men, and suit myself to thy apprehensions in this thy infant state of existence.

    For Maxwell, it could be argued that Wesley’s view of God living outside of time is his view as well. However in private conversation, he seems to have indicated flexibility on this with Blake Ostler. Further, the March 2006 ensign article seems Authoritative in nature and seems in conflict with this.

    An issue we have discussed and that has led me to need to discuss this more clearly is the “book of Lehi” Incident. Elder Maxwell has also dealt with this directly:


    In the episode involving the lost manuscript from the Book of Mormon, we see the interplay of the foreknowledge of God and the agency of man (with our freedom to fail) and the perfect foresight of a loving Lord who 1,500 years before the “emergency” was ready with an alternative. (See D&C 10 and W of M 1)

    It is in this very same talk where Elder Maxwell evokes the idea that our Lord is not bound by time, referencing the “eternal now” concept. But what does that mean really happened here? What does all this mean regarding God’s foreknowledge.

    As I currently see it, there are three alternatives for a believer here, but both require a set of assumptions and implications.

    1. God can see the future to such a degree that 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for a future event.
    2. God knew Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, and His Wife so well that 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for that future event.
    3. God knew that the process of bringing forth the book of Mormon would require a few events to occur, no matter who was involved, and 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for that future event.

    I will leave the assumptions and implications of these three possibilities open at the moment. Which do you feel is correct? Are there other possibilities?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 5, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  55. Clark: There isn’t a single conditional counterfactual in my analysis! Perhaps you could point to one? Moreover, usually in such discussions there is some effort to point out what the offending statements or propositions are and how they are faulty.

    However, if you say that I know and believe that at 5:00 I will eat an ice cream cone, but I intend to refrain from eating that ice creame cone, then I suggest you don’t grasp what it means to know and believe something. You make an assertion about the relation between statements about knowledge and beliefs about what one or another will do and intentions about the same things, but we can seperate what I know I will do from what I intend to do. Very simply, I cannot intend to do what I know I will not do. I know I will not make the earth turn on its axis, and I cannot intend to do so precisely for that reason. Could you give a coherent example where an omniscient being could possibly know what will occur but intends to bring about a different state of affairs instead? I assert once again that this very notion is incoherent.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  56. then I suggest you don’t grasp what it means to know and believe something.

    And I’ll say you conflate intents and beliefs.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 2:36 pm

  57. To expand, I think we have to unpack what an intention is. If an intention is a goal of an action which we can then judge successful or unsuccessful then there is absolutely no contradiction in having a goal while knowing you won’t achieve it.

    BTW – the counterfactuals were in the JST you quoted in your post.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  58. “However, if you say that I know and believe that at 5:00 I will eat an ice cream cone, but I intend to refrain from eating that ice creame cone, then I suggest you don’t grasp what it means to know and believe something.”

    BTW – I’d say variations on the above are actually quite common events in regular life. I’m on a diet. I know I won’t completely follow it but I intend to completely follow it.

    I’m surprised you find this problematic.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  59. Clark: I’d say variations on the above are actually quite common events in regular life. I’m on a diet. I know I won’t completely follow it but I intend to completely follow it.

    Clark I’m astonished that you are sticking to your guns on this. The question is not about intents and beliefs, it’s about knowledge of future acts or not.

    You don’t know you won’t completely follow your diet — you just assume and believe you won’t. That is because you don’t have foreknowledge. Therefore the example in your life doesn’t work as an analogy at all.

    The question I want an explanation to is how can God actually be a participant in this alleged fixed future and still be free to choose himself? It is nonsense to me. If he knows the future then that future — including his role in it — cannot be changed. If that were true it would leave us with a puppet for a God. As a doctrine that is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 5, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  60. And the Lord said unto Moses, If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.

    Clark: Could you show me the conditional counterfactual here? God states he had one intention. Then he had another. That is not a counterfactual but a statements of states of affairs that have actually obtained.

    Clark — FYI you’re not omnsicient and your will is weak and can’t be counted on. There can be a gap between your weak will and your knowledge. You know you have a weak will. You know that you will not carry out your intentions. If you knew you would always keep the diet, and intended not to do so, then the problem I point to would arise (now there is a counterfactual). I’m surprised you don’t see this.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  61. But Geoff, I am claiming I do know that I won’t completely follow my diet. The only basis to argue otherwise, assuming knowledge is justified true belief, is to say that because the future is undetermined that it can’t be true. But I think you’d agree that I can believe it and that I can have justification for the belief. The truth condition is the external condition but there’s nothing in the truth condition that demands anything about my intents.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  62. Just to add the reason I can make the claim I do – if we are talking only about rational deliberation then I think Blake’s claim (well actually the standard claim in the literature) follows. However what I’m arguing is for a distinction between intents and deliberation.

    I just noticed Blake’s comment.

    Regarding the JST. “If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.”

    The countefactual is at the beginning. That implies that the “had thought” at the end is tied to this counterfactual.

    Regarding the argument from will. I don’t think that gets rid of the issue. If God has emotions and emotions affect intentions (i.e. God is not purely rational) then this follows. I can change my intentions. Your claim is that my knowledge and intents only fail to line up due to my will. I’d argue that this isn’t the case. Rather I am an emotional being with moods and my moods change. I know my moods will change and thus what I intend now won’t be what I intend in a different mood.

    So long as I am not a purely rational actor (which I think is well open for Mormon views of God) then my intents can change temporally even though I know what my final act will be since I know what my mood will be at the point in question.

    This issue of mood is, from I can see, neglected by the literature simply because they are all written in a context where God is without body, parts or passions and deliberation is always taken as purely rational deliberation. i.e. too strong a tie between reason and choice is made.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  63. Of course I’ve just given away part of my criticism of your book I’d planned to write tonight…

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  64. Clark: But Geoff, I am claiming I do know that I won’t completely follow my diet.

    You can claim you know you won’t completely follow your diet (let’s say starting next Monday and continuing for the next 2 months) but it still isn’t true that you know that will happen. For instance, it is logically possible that you will learn this evening that failing to keep your diet strictly for the next two months will lead to your sudden and painful death. The odds of you completely keeping your diet would surely go up dramatically then. But even then you don’t know you will completely keep the diet until it is accomplished. Sure, you can know your intentions now, but that is not at all the same as knowing you will completely keep the diet until the time comes and goes.

    If God did have a knowledge of the future then the future would be fixed (including his role in it) so Blake is completely correct in saying that God could not have honest and legitimate intentions to do anything he knew would never happen. In fact the entire notion of intentions simple makes no sense if such foreknowledge exists. A foreknowing God could have no “intentions” because the entire concept of intentions assumes and requires an open future.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 5, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  65. Just because something is logically possible as a falsifier doesn’t imply I can’t know. You are equating certainty with knowledge. They aren’t the same. Now I suspect you’ll bring up God’s knowledge as being certain. But note that this isn’t the point I’m making. I’m saying that intents and knowledge are allowed to be incompatible. The argument in question demands that they always be compatible. But that premise is simply wrong.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

  66. Clark: You are equating certainty with knowledge. They aren’t the same.

    Can you explain this? I can’t see how one can have actual knowledge of a future event but have not certainty about it. Sure, one could accurately predict a future event but not be certain it would happen, but that is not the same as having actual knowledge that something will happen.

    I’m saying that intents and knowledge are allowed to be incompatible.

    And I’m saying that there is no coherent meaning of the concept of “intent” for a knower of a fixed future. If the future is fixed (as is the past) then saying that a person intends today to do something tomorrow make no more sense than saying that a person intends today to do something yesterday. I can’t intend to do something yesterday because the concept of intention implies that I believe I have power to actually do it. But since yesterday is fixed I know I can’t change anything about it I can’t actually intend to do change my actions yesterday. The same applies to a fixed future — one can’t “intend” to change something if one knows beforehand what one will do and has no power to do otherwise.

    So it is incoherent to say I intend to graduate high school on a different date than I did. If the future were fixed and I knew it I couldn’t coherently say I intend to do anything there either. I would simply know what I will do and would be powerless to do otherwise.

    My point is that you are using a word that assumes and requires an open future be coherent to defend the notion of a fixed future. It doesn’t work for you.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 5, 2007 @ 4:29 pm

  67. I believe I am completely within the use of the term, even in epistemology, to state that I know the sun will rise tomorrow even though I am not certain it will rise.

    As I said I have the belief. I have the justification (with pretty compelling inductive reasons). The only question is the external condition: truth. Now those who believe the future is completely indeterminate typically (although not always) would say that there are no truths about the future and thus I can’t know. Which to me seems ridiculous since we talk about knowing things like the sun coming up all the time.

    If your intuitions go the other way, that’s fine. I can but say that your intuitions don’t line up with how language is used. I’ll suggest a test. Go around and tell people they don’t know the sun will rise tomorrow and see how many agree with you.

    The problem with making an analogy between intentions towards the future and intentions towards the past is that our language use of the term don’t allow intentions towards the past. To draw from this that it is because of the “open nature” is, I believe, fundamentally mistaken.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  68. Just to add, to argue that these words entail the requirement of an open future seems demonstrably wrong since the words are often used with respect to futures that you’d claim are unknowable. So if we go by language use as illustrating language meaning then you’re simply mistaken.

    That’s independent, of course, of narrower uses (as some philosophers do). So there certainly are philosophers who use knowledge not in its common sense but in the narrow sense of certainty. A lot of philosophers disagree with that use, but that’s a whole other discussion. If we concede that use though then the word knowledge becomes useless since no one has such knowledge.

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  69. Clark,

    I don’t disagree that we talk about knowing things a lot. But that is in a loose daily language kind of way. When we really get down to it, I think nearly everyone I asked would agree that none of us actually knows that that the sun will rise tomorrow even if the odds are astronomically high that it will. (There may be a newly completed space station that I’ll call, say, a “Death Star” orbiting the earth which is preparing to destroy our planet in an awesome display of the power of the group that created it — let’s call them, say, “The Empire”… ) But seriously, when we talk about God’s knowledge in these theological discussions we no longer use “know” in the loosey goosey every day sense but rather we get very specific about actually knowing or not.

    The reason we can talk about knowing the future is because it is self-evident that none of us has actual foreknowledge. But it is not so clear to people that God does not have foreknowledge (since there is no future to know) so we can’t be as loose with the term “know” in this discussion as you want to be.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 5, 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  70. Clark,

    I should also note that I don’t think any Open Theists would object to the idea of foreknowledge in the way you are trying to use it here — as in the type of “foreknowledge” you or any of us have. The problem is that what you are loosely describing as foreknowledge (like your “knowledge” that the sun will come up tomorrow) most people would call “not foreknowledge” when applied to God.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 5, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

  71. Clark: If you’re going to talk about justified true beliefs, and if God foreknows the future, then he must have some basis for such knowledge. Whatever makes his foreknowledge to be “knowledge” would fix the future so that it can’t change. God cannot see that in the future X occurs at t1, and yet intend to bring about Y at t1. That is just absurd. I join Geoff on this one. I can’t believe you’re defending this position. Moreover, God is emotionally conflicted about the future he has seen so he could then intend to bring about Y at t1 knowing that at t1 X will occur? That too strikes me as just absurd on its face.

    What kind of “god” are we talking about here? One whose emotions cloud his judgments so much that even though he foreknows X will occur at t1, he still intends to bring about Y at t1? Who would give $2 for a “god” like that? Where in the scriptures could you support such a view of “god” that his emotional conflicts cloud is ability to judge so much that he is just mistaken about what he can bring about?

    Further, “if they will repent of the evil they have done, I will spare them” is not a counterfactual — it is merely a conditional of present intent.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 7:00 pm

  72. I can but say Blake that I don’t find it absurd in the least. I don’t have any problem with God knowing what his choice will be but being unfree about intents. I don’t think beliefs, most intents and so forth are directly volitional. Our emotional state affects them. So unless one narrows down considerably what counts as an intent then I think we often intend things we know we won’t do.

    Further I think, as I mentioned, that we have to distinguish between intents and rational deliberation.

    Comment by clark — January 6, 2007 @ 12:26 am

  73. The phenomena of intending to bring about X while also knowing that I will bring about Y instead is an instance of self-deception. It is an instance of double-mindedness of the kind James says is the essence of sin. I maintain that such a possibility exists for a being who in fact engages in self-deception and is subject to being unaware at some level of what one knows on another level. However, the notion that an omniscient being could hide the truth from himself is absurd. Inherent in the notion of omniscience is that God is not unaware at some level. He cannot hide the truth from himself. So it is just a conceptual impossiblity.

    The notion that god engages in self-deception = this being isn’t God. So I do have huge problems with what you suggest. Moreover, nothing like such an explanation is suggested in the scriptures cited in my post. God simply doesn’t have knowledge of how free people will respond to his threats and apportunity to avert destruction basd on a request to repent.

    Who could have faith in such a being? Lacking specific foreknowledge (and yet being morally perfect and omniscient nonetheless) doesn’t challenge faith in any way approach what asserting that God is just self-deceptive from time to time must. Isn’t such a being rather like a person who is often deceptive and clueless about who they are, what they want and what reality is?

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 8:42 am

  74. Any takers on Comment #54?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 7, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  75. Blake – Amen.

    Matt W. – I think most of those statement represent opinions and just that. And frankly I doubt that most of them are well informed opinion with regard to the nuances of this particular discussion so it doesn’t seem like they are all that applicable here. (None of them claim to be revelations after all.) The strongest opinions seem to be in favor of Libertarian Free Will (LFW) and there are extremely convincing arguments that have been made (by Blake among others) that LFW is not and can not be compatible with exhaustive foreknowledge. (See Blake’s Volume 1). I think that there are myriads of possible explanations of the lost manuscript episode though — many more than those you have presented.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 7, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  76. Matt re #54: I had some of the same questions that you do. However, let me air a few out here:

    (1) who wrote the Ensign article? It has no authorship attribution. Is it the Ensign staff?

    (2) What authority should it have? It hasn’t been accepted by common consent and it isn’t particularly well thought out.

    (3) I have previoulsy observed that Talmage’s response is quite beside the point. The argument showing that foreknowledge is logically incompatible with free will doesn’t assume that it is God’s knowledge that causes human actions, so his observation is simply mistaken. Further, his view assumes a type of character determinism that is itself incompatible with free will. In all, I don’t see much to recommend his argument. Should we accept it because it is in Jesus the Christ and the Church endorses that book? Is that your argument?

    (4) I have discussed the foreknowledge issue with Truman Madsen and as I understood him he doesn’t come down firmly one way or the other; but he leans in favor of limited foreknowledge. However, he is squarely against timelessness.

    (5) With respect to Elder Maxwell, I believe that he probably went back to the fleshpots of Babylon on the timelessness issue (I say this with the deepest respect BTW). However, how could an embodied being exist in an eternal now where past present and future are all at once present? We can always ask how long it takes to travel the distance between the outstretched arms of God, so there is necessarily time with any embodied being. I see such a view as simply and straightforwardly incoherent. He is also simply unable to address the incompatiblity of free will and foreknowledge though he appears to assert them both. Man I wish I could have another opportunity to go to lunch with him to discuss these issues again at this point. Alas, at this point he belongs to history and I don’t mind telling you that I dearly miss him.

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  77. Geoff J: I would be interested in any other possible explanation that doesn’t fall into 1-3. I’m not sure I see one. I tried to make the fairly broad, and think nuanced entires would fall into those three groups. I would agree they are opinions, but the question is what weight do these opinions have. I do not post them as a claim to authority, but only as an added dimension to the puzzle.

    Blake:

    1-3 It is unattributed, and it is not really the Talmage quote I find interesting, as I find it problematic as well. It seems more the view of someone who isn’t “pushing” the issue, but letting it be. I noted the article as the most direct and outspoken piece at LDS.org in addressing foreknowledge in a dressed down “Foreknowledge is not deterministic” manner. I do not exactly know what authority the article should have. I am afraid that the “by common consent” rule is a little unclear to me. I was not making an arugment at this point, I was merely trying to flesh out my eventual thoughts on the nephi section of the book of Mormon. My point was that I do not understand the sentence “He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” by Talamage. It does not make any sense to me. What falls in the category of “what surely will be” and not into the cateogry of what “must be”? This is beyond my capacity to reason out.

    4.- I love Truman Madsen. He is brilliant and extremely accessable. I have recently (today) made the decission to get and read everyting of his I can.

    5. Elder Maxwell wrote an article in the ensign which changed my life. It is the only article in the ensign I can say had that level of impact on me. I have a very deep respect for him, and I understand his reasoning, based upon the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith “One Eternal Now” Quote. I do have some concerns regaridng whether Joseph Smith truly authored the sentiment or what it’s origin is. (Thus John Wesley’s Sermon quoted above though the italics did not work for that one.) In any case, if the “One Eternal Now” article is truly from Joseph Smith and “revelatory” in nature, we are, at least, honor bound to give it a most thorough working in our analysis of foreknowledge. It may just be that JS was saying that God has foresight on steroids, but I think it ought be addressed.

    Anyway, I’d really prefer to stay in the nuts and bolts of the 116 pages relationship to foreknowledge, as it puzzles me much more than the preceding statements.

    Do we fell your idea of how the Golden Plates included the Words of Mormon as an Authentic Ancient Record falls into one of my 3 categories. If so which one? If not, what then?

    D & C 10 and Words of Mormon together make Maxwell’s footing pretty comfortable in one sense, but we all know the implications of that have there own set of deterministic problems.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 7, 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  78. My point was that I do not understand the sentence “He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” by Talamage. It does not make any sense to me. What falls in the category of “what surely will be” and not into the cateogry of what “must be”?

    He’s talking of Calvinism. i.e. the idea that the future is exactly what God makes it. God controls everything.

    Mormon rejects that both explicitly and also as an implication of our rejection of creation ex nihilo. Thus Talmage, from what I can see, sees a fixed future as acceptable so long as it isn’t controlled by God or others. (i.e. that the self in part determines the future) This is unacceptable to Libertarians though.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:27 pm

  79. The phenomena of intending to bring about X while also knowing that I will bring about Y instead is an instance of self-deception.

    Only if one equates intents and deliberation in a certain way.

    I don’t see any self-deception in it. Futility perhaps. But that’s quite a different matter. It would only be self-deceptive if he pretended not to know (or engaged in repression or the like)

    Now it is true that one can add properties to God that might make this claim impossible. Typically by reducing passions as a reality and elevating reason aka logic. I tend to think that God is more human and so thus can intend things he knows will fail; can have desires he knows will be unfulfilled; and so forth.

    But that’s neither here nor there. My point was just to point out that this is a common phenomena. Thus one can’t simply discount it for God without bringing in further premises that must be made explicit.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  80. Blake:

    However, how could an embodied being exist in an eternal now where past present and future are all at once present?

    In their mind or spirit only? Instead of timelessness, one could take the route of perfect recall and clairvoyance?

    Clark: I will have to examine liberterianism more closely. In texas, it is merely the “political” group where people refuse to pay taxes. My problem with God knowing what will be without causing it to happen is that the Lord either causes things to happen or does nothing. The scriptures clearly show he is not doing nothing.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 8, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  81. In the context of free will debates Libertarianism is a particular analysis of what it means to be free. Typically it is the rejection of the idea that determinism or foreknowledge are compatible with free will. (A position that used to be the dominant one in philosophy although I suspect Libertarianism is now dominant, although perhaps the simple rejection of free will is.)

    There are some historic connections between the development of political libertarianism and philosophical Libertarianism but they are ultimately unrelated. i.e. one could reject Libertarianism as a metaphysical position yet politically be a Libertarian or vice versa.

    Comment by Clark — January 8, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  82. Ok guys, I have posted a blog exchange in response to Blake. Blake, I am curious to your input over at my blog.

    Geoff, in response to post #37, I would best be classified as a fundamental Baptist. And yes the pastors of the FBF (Fundamental Baptist Fellowship) across the country have discussed and made resolution about issues in open theism. This is an extremely important topic. I don’t understand why Blake, you, and others are more engaged than the LDS authorities on such vital matters. Come on over to HI4LDS and share your opinion.

    Comment by Todd Wood — January 10, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

  83. Todd: I have read your post — all of it. Frankly, it is so far ranging with so little contact with responsible issues that I choose to not respond on your blog. I invite you to raise issues in smaller bites here so that we can deal with them. So come back here and let us engage in the context of this discussion. It would be irresponsible to allow such a thread-jack.

    However, I will observe that your very world-view of scriptue is upset by this issue because you deal with these scriptural passages by rejecting premise (4) and asserting that they just don’t mean what they say. Yet how can a fundamentalist Baptist say that? The biggest problem is that you read the Old Testament through the lens of baptist theology as if the Hebrews were just fundamentalist Baptists. (BTW many Mormons make the same mistake of assuming that the writers of the Old Testament were just Mormon but a long time ago). So engage in this discussion responsibly and in a way that allows us to respond to your objections. Your post is just not focused enough to allow any coherent response that would be a meaningful dialogue as I see it.

    Comment by Blake — January 12, 2007 @ 7:54 am

  84. Blake, is this a fair proposition?

    Snarklenacle has me pegged as an obnoxious troll on Geoff’s blog.

    Comment by Todd Wood — January 12, 2007 @ 12:47 pm

  85. Todd said: “I appreciate Blake reading my post. And I acknowledge the “far ranging” aspects. On this thread, let me try again by narrowing my comments in the discussion to premise 4 or what Blake chooses.”

    Todd: Thanks for the invitation. I still have misgivings about excluding others from the dialogue. So I will post here and then I will also post on New Cool Thang. Here you can respond if you choose; but I will post your responses for comment by others also at New Cool Thang.

    Here is what I mean by my statement that you reject premise (4) — which seems to me a strange premise for a fundamentalist baptist to reject. I cite numerous scriptures that say that God changes his mind, relents or repents. However, your response is that these scriptures don’t mean what they say — which is what premise (4) entails. However, I am convinced that the Hebrews who penned these writings believed that God did exactly what they reported and they had no problem with such a view. Let’s look again:

    Ex. 32:14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (World English Bible)
    Jonah 3:10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it. (3 WEB)
    “It repented the Lord that he made man on the earth; and it grieved him at his heart.” (KJV Gen. 6:6) “For it repented the Lord because of their groanings … (Judges 2:18 KJV); “and the Lord repented that he made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam 15:5); “And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.” (2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15); “The Lord repented for this…” (Amos 7:3; 6): “And God saw their works; that they turned from their evil ways: and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them.” (Johah 3:10) God stated that he intended to destroy the idolaters and asked Moses to step aside to let him alone to accomplish it. Destroying the people of Israel was something that “he declared” or “thought to do” (rbd) to his people. The verb declaring God’s intention is derived from dabar and means to speak or declare a divine word of intention to accomplish a purpose. (See Dt. 9:8-10) Yahweh “sorrowfully relented” from his stated and intended purpose. The same verb nacham is used to describe human acts of repentance denoting precisely the same semantic field of change of conduct and remorse that accompanies repentance. (Ex. 13:7; 1 Kings 8:47; Judges. 21: 6, 15; Ez. 14:30; Jer. 20:6).

    So the notion that Yahweh changes his mind or repents of what he had decided to do is not an anomoly, it is the established view that appears in writings in virtually every strata of writing in the OT. Let me point out something more important — these scriptures don’t merely say that God changes his mind; they also demonstrate it. That is, they show that God declares one thing will occur and then another thing occurs. So it isn’t merely the pronouncement that God changed his mind that has force, it is the entire narrative that is built around the fact that God had planned to do one thing and then changed his plan in response to the free actions of his people.

    How do you respond? Well, you reject the view that what these scriptures say is true — you reject premise (4) of my argument. Scriptures that say that God changed is mind must be taken “with a grain of salt” as one commenter on your blog noted. Why? Because there is a control belief that these passages cannot mean what they say.

    First of all, you note that there is a conflict with other passages that appear to assert that God has absolute foreknowledge. Now from my perspective, let’s assume for a moment that your scriptures do in fact say or imply that God has absolute foreknowledge. From my view what that entails is that the scriptures are not consistent. Some writers believed it; some didn’t. You’re the one who insists on scriptural uniformity (all scriptures are consistent) so that is a problem for your view and not mine.

    However, I doubt that the scriptures are that clear. Let’s take the strongest one you cite: Isaiah 46:9-10: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purposes.”

    Does this scripture assert that God has foreknowledge? Well, it doesn’t say that. It can be read that way if one throws in the Calvinist assumption that God brings about everything that occurs. Without that assumption, however, all that it says is that God will bring about his purposes. In fact, to me it supports the view that what God knows about the future is a function of what he has planned to bring about himself to accomplish his purposes. However, God does not bring about the acts of free persons; otherwise, they aren’t free. Thus, God knows what he needs to in order to accomplish his plan; but it doesn’t say or entail that God foreknows or brings about everything. Virtually every other scripture you cite can be explained in the same way.

    I should also add that I don’t believe that Isaiah penned this scripture. I believe that second Isaiah is responsible – and it is just possible that the writer in the exile had very different views than pre-exilic Hebrews. So I leave that as a possibility.

    You also raise the issue as to whether we must take these passages as literal or whether we should see them as metaphors for something else. I ask: what suggests to you that these sriptures are asserting that God changes his mind are all merely metaphorical? Moreover, could you give me some coherent way or rule of deciding when passages are metaphorical? It is at this point that making the Bible a guide-book for theology breaks down. Any passages at all can be taken as metaphorical. If we are free to pick and choose, then we have no basis for taking anything in the Bible literally, including that God acts at all in any way. Moreover, we cannot learn anything from the Bible because we can assume that we know more about God than the writers of the Bible and when it says God does something we don’t believe is proper for God we can always just chalk it up to mere metaphor. I’m sure that you don’t want to go there because it makes the Bible impotent to teach us anything and assumes we already know more than it says for itself.

    So I suggest that we take passages as metaphorical if we have textual indications of metaphor — one thing is compared to another. That doesn’t happen in these passages. However, if you truly accept that God changes his mind in response to human choices, then my argument follows. Which will it be?

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2007 @ 10:04 am

  86. Blake,

    Right on. Your point about the whole narrative being framed around God changing his plan is a good one. A couple of observations along the lines of what you said:

    First, it is a far more compelling demonstration of the way things are than a proof-text which says God knows the end from the beginning. Thus, I think folks like Todd do better when they switch from proof-texts like Isa. 46:9-10 to the principle of prophecy (as Matt did in this thread). Prophecies are part of the narrative of what happened (God declared that “x” would happen and then later, behold, “x” did indeed happen), so they strike me as a better counter-attack. Of course, Piper’s whole argument about God’s prophecies having implicit conditionals not mentioned in the text seems to undercut the reliability of prophecy signficantly. The Bible has some examples of prophecy which could be construed as requiring foreknowledge, but Mormons seem to have more difficult prophecies to account for than Baptists (e.g. lost 116 pages fixed with small plates, or the prophecy that the Nephites would fall away four hundred years after Christ’s visit (3 Ne. 27: 32).). So, oddly, I expect Todd’s use of prophecy against your position to be weaker than Matt’s.

    Second, I have a hard time getting into Piper’s mindset because of the inherent logical complications of God acting freely when he knows the future exactly. Piper wants us to believe that God said he was going to destroy Ninevah because he knew that this threat would cause Ninevah to repent. But, at what point did God make the determination that this threat would have a certain desired effect?

    The idea that God acts in a certain way to bring about one outcome instead of another assumes that God deliberates at some time about what he should do in light of various possible futures. At some point, God had to see that Ninevah was not going to repent and decide that by threatening them he could get them to repent. But, on Piper’s view, I don’t know when such a time of deliberation could have taken place. When God spoke to Moses, he already knew what he would say to Ninevah in the time of Jonah by virtue of his foreknowledge, just as he knew that Ninevah would repent. No matter how far I go back, God already knows what the future will, in fact, be. So, when does he ever have the opportunity to deliberate on how he should act in the context of more than one possible future?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 13, 2007 @ 12:35 pm

  87. Jacob: I agree with you that a demonstration of foreknowledge is much more difficult to deal with than a mere assertion that God will bring about his purposes. However, I think it is clear that God can bring about things like the small plates as a replaceent for the 116 pages by a little foresight of possibilities as opposed to knowledge of actualities. A demonstration of a particular instance where God prophesied something would come about, and then it comes about, always leaves open the possibility that in this instance God acted but generally does not act to bring about things unless they are essential to His plan. Moreover, we would need an instance where something is genuinely predicted regarded free decisions before the free decision is made and where the text is published before the event prophesied. Why the latter condition? Because it is easy to express a prophesy with greater detail and accuracy after an event occurs than before an event occurs. I suggest that we have such detail in the Book of Mormon in Lehi’s/Nephi’s vision of the history of the Nephites and the founding of America. I believe that there were in fact prophecies — but they have been actualized by later knowledge in terms of precision and description.

    Is there any instance that you can think of where something was prophesied in detail regarding free acts before the event prophecied, and the text was actually published before the event, except for what God himself purposed to bring about (such as perhaps the Savior’s atonement — and event there, the OT prophecies are a lot more vague than Book of Moromon prophecies that are rather clearly actualized by knowledge of NT events after the fact)?

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

  88. How about Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of the Temple?

    Joseph’s prediction of the Civil War being over Slavery and starting in X Carolina (Can’t recall which one now.)?

    Isaiah’s numerous predictions not related to Christ about the destruction of this that and the other?

    Isaiah’s Joseph Smith reference which is expounded in the book of Mormon regarding Charles Anthon? pre-expounding?

    Isaiah prophesying the BoM will be a voice from the Dust?

    Ezekial speaking of the Stick of Joseph and Stick of Ephraim coming together?

    (All of these are gut reactions without research, so take them in stride, I guess…)

    Comment by Matt W. — January 13, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  89. Matt: Perhaps you didn’t notice, I asked for prophecies published before the events described. All of the gospels are post-destruction (otherwise they wouldn’t have known of the fulfillment of the prophecy). That prophecy was clearly actualized in the NT by knowledge of the later events.

    You’ll have to get more specific about Isaiah’s numerous prophcies about destruction — are any of them pre-exilic? All Book of Mormon prophecies are clearly after the events described. Joseph’s prediction of the civil war was obvious to anyone in 1832 when South Carolina had already declared it would secede. The remainder of that prophecy isn’t clear or detailed enough to really tell if it was fulfilled by the civil war or not. Isaiah 29 regarding the book that speaks from the dust admits of numerous possible interpretations and it is actualized with greater detail in the Book of Mormon translation than in Isaiah. Ditto Ezekiel’s sticks — I’m sure that you’ve noticed that they aren’t detailed enough to convince anyone not already LDS that they in fact address any event before the fact. Moreover, prophecies of events of nations don’t involve individual acts of free will by persons — to assume otherwise commits the logical fallacy of composition.

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  90. Blake,

    Ultimately, I agree with your conclusion about foreknowledge. I am curious as to exactly how you envision these prophecies being actualized by later knowledge. Take the example I gave in #86:

    But behold, it sorroweth me because of the fourth generation from this generation, for they are led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold, and for that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal. And in that day will I visit them, even in turning their works upon their own heads. (3 Ne 27:32)

    Obviously the falling away of the Nephites is not something God would intentionally bring about, so that doesn’t work on this prophecy. I suppose you are saying that the fact of it happening four generations later could have been a redaction by someone after the fulfillment of the prophecy (Mormon?, Joseph Smith?). I am wondering what you think the original prophecy might have looked like. “It sorroweth me, because they will eventually fall away…”?

    Comment by Jacob — January 14, 2007 @ 2:09 am

  91. Here are a few more:

    God knowing John the Baptist, Samuel, Isaac, etc would be boys and not girls.

    Here is a threadjack:

    We have discussed here God being constrained in Space and Time by his physical Body. Is God really constrained by his body? If so, how did he conceive Christ with Mary and Mary was still a Virgin and did not physically see Heavenly Father?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 14, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  92. Jacob: Predictions of entire populations are not predictions that logically entail anything about an individual’s free actions. Thus, the prediction regarding the Nephites is not an issue. As I said, to assume otherwise commits the logical fallacy of composition.

    Matt: God could easily intervene to insure that John was a boy — after all, his mother was already too old for children, was barren anyway, and the angel Gabriel told Zacharias he would have a sons. These are all instances of God bringing about an event, not foreknowing it through knowledge of the future. Mary was about 14 when she conceived — she would have been fairly fertile. How hard is that? Moreover, are you really asserting that in those olden days there was a free choice about whether a baby would be a boy or a girl? These just aren’t instances that are problematic to account for given that God has decreedd to bring about a certain plan, but leaves the future open for free choices.

    Comment by Blake — January 14, 2007 @ 12:36 pm

  93. Blake,

    I was addressing the issue of God’s foreknowledge, not the issue of free will. I don’t see where I have committed the logical fallacy of composition, so please point it out more specifically. If I were to argue that the Nephite nation had free will in the same way that individual Nephites had free will, and that Jesus’ foreknowledge is in conflict with that free will, that would include a fallacy of composition (as I understand it). I am not saying that.

    I am pointing out that the scripture portrays Jesus as sorrowing over something that had not yet happened, and prediciting the time at which the Nephite nation would fall away. The question is: How did Jesus know that? Also, why was he so certain as to say he was already sorrowful about something which had not yet happened and might not happen? I am not arguing that there are no possible answers to these questions; I am just interested in how you answer them.

    Comment by Jacob — January 14, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

  94. threadjack more:

    Ok, I teach 16-17 year olds. and their request was for more “philosophical discussion” as they know it all already. Now I get to count commenting here as “research.”

    Comment by Matt W. — January 14, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  95. Matt and Jacob,

    I wrote a post around two years ago that is relevant to your questions to Blake. It was called “How God could figure out the future without foreknowledge“. My views are a bit more nuanced since then but I think the post is still applicable.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  96. Jacob: There are two redactors who had a chance to actualize the prophecy: both Mormon and Joseph Smith. Ex eventu prophecies are always more specific because hindsight is 20/20.

    In addition, I presume that God knew the spirits of those who would be sent to the 4th generation and that unless that changed there would be massive rebellion — he saw the same thing regarding the Jews in Jesus’ day before it occurred (although also clearly actualized by the NT writers in their interpretation of the OT texts). Moreover, he likely knows a lot about sociological dynamics and the cycle of prosperity to pride and from pride to sin and from sin to destruction that repeatedly cycles through the Book of Mormon. In fact, in a sense that is the primary message of the Book of Mormon. So what Geoff has written has appeal to me.

    However, the short answer is that I don’t know exactly how God knows such things — I can offer possibilities that make sense to me.

    Comment by Blake — January 14, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

  97. Jacob: I should add that projections of population dynamics and sociological frequency are a lot easier than predicting the actions of an individual. We can predict right now within about 5% how many deaths there will be on the highways this coming Labor Day. That doesn’t require that we have access to the future, but only to past data. Undoubtedly God’s data base is more complete and more accurate that ours. So sociological or population frequency predictions are one thing; predicting the acts of individuals is another.

    Comment by Blake — January 14, 2007 @ 9:15 pm

  98. SO are we all agreeing with my first proposition that Perfect Knowledge is sufficent for God to “know the future” as he does, as the future does not yet exist. (?)

    I’d take this to mean, Blake that for you, your reasoning for the 116 plates falls under #3 from my comment # 54.

    To restate:
    1. God can see the future to such a degree that 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for a future event.
    2. God knew Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, and His Wife so well that 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for that future event.
    3. God knew that the process of bringing forth the book of Mormon would require a few events to occur, no matter who was involved, and 1500 years before an event occurred, he prepared a contingency for that future event.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 14, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  99. Geoff,

    I’ve read your post, let me make sure I have correctly capture your view. You believe God is able to predict the behavior of societies/nations with extreme precision even if he cannot predict the behvaior of an individual person with the same degree of accuracy. Is that right? So, it seems that on your view, civilizations behave in basically deterministic ways given the initical conditions of the society. God’s knowledge of all previous worlds gives him enough data points to find a close match in terms of initial conditions, and he predicted the Nephite downfall based on such a comparison.

    I am not sure I find this approach particularly compelling because I don’t think societies have the sort of properties this view assumes. But, be that as it may, it is a very different explaination than saying that precision was added to the original prophecy by a redactor. It is interesting to see the different angles people choose on this stuff.

    Comment by Jacob — January 14, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

  100. Jacob,

    That group predictability idea is just one of the things I think makes sense when it comes to guessing how God could accurately predict the future. I also think that God can have a lot of influence over people without interfering with free will (as mentioned in that post). Having said that, I also think there is real merit to the redactor points Blake brings up — all of these ideas/factors could be complementary to each other I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  101. Blake,

    #96 – I follow all of this. I appreciate the candor and humility of the last sentence.

    #97 – “We can predict right now within about 5% how many deaths there will be on the highways this coming Labor Day.”

    We can predict how many deaths there will be next Labor Day, but can we predict when civilization will be wiped out by a nuclear holocaust? The difference seems to be that one is a fairly regular phenomenon which lends itself to statistical analysis. I am not convinced the the same is true for nuclear holocaust. If Jesus’ sorrowful prediction is based on his knowledge of the pride cycle, then I am surprised, but I acknowledge that it could be the case.

    Comment by Jacob — January 14, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  102. Jacob: The difference seems to be that one is a fairly regular phenomenon which lends itself to statistical analysis.

    Well with a database of worlds without end and the inhabitants thereof to draw from there is certainly a regular pattern to pull from I’d imagine. That was sort of my point in that other post.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  103. Geoff,

    Yes, I got your point about the database. My point is that I am not convinced nations self-destruct with the type of uniformity that people die in car accidents on Labor Day.

    Comment by Jacob — January 15, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  104. Jacob,

    I’m having trouble understanding your position here… In #101 it seems like you are saying the problem with predicting behavior of nations is with sample size but in #102 you shift gears and imply that even with large sample sizes in the database the uniformity/predictability of nations is somehow different than other things (like motorists). Is that really what you mean? If so, what do you base that on?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  105. Geoff,

    When I say that nuclear holocaust is not a “fairly regular phenomenon which lends itself to statistical analysis,” I don’t have sample size in mind. You do have that in mind, which appears to be the disconnect. I am saying the two sorts of predictions are fundamentally dissimilar.

    Imagine that we have the “database” of previous worlds to tap into, which fixes the sample size discrepancy between comparing Labor Day to Destruction Day. Now we have lots of examples of civilizations rising and falling to draw from. Does it then follow that we will be able to predict when our current society will self-destruct? or that it will self-destruct?

    No such thing follows. If anything follows from the analogy, you might reasonably argue that God can predict how many societies will self-destruct during the coming year across all of his many worlds (Moses 1:35). Such a claim seems plausible.

    If you are going to say that God can predict what will happen to this specific civilization (or that one) based on his database, this assumes that the behavior of a specific civilization is highly predictable based solely on the initial conditions (the conditions at the time of the prediction). Now, that sort of prediction is totally different than predicting the number of deaths on Labor Day.

    To say the same thing one more way (since I am nervous I am not explaining myself well): On Labor Day, there are lots of people, each one of which might die on the highway. Statistically, only a certain percentage of those driving will die in a car accident. Societal melt-down, on the other hand, is a corporate level phenomenon. It is not just the sum of smaller events which happen with statistical regularity. Thus, the analogy between the two predictions is flawed.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  106. Now, that sort of prediction is totally different than predicting the number of deaths on Labor Day.

    I agree with you on that.

    But if we overlay the indeterminacy principle (and some dispute the idea that we can) it seems safe to me to say that the future of a society would we far more predictable than the future of any individual member of a society. So God predicting the fate of a nation with accuracy seems to be not much of a problem based on his knowledge and database, but because of free will the fates people are inherently harder to predict individually.

    So I agree that it is not correct to compare predicting the odds that nations will implode to the odds that any given individual will die in an auto accident on Labor Day; but the problem with your position is that given enough data, predicting the fate of a nation would theoretically be far easier than predicting the fate of an individual driver and not the other way around.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  107. Geoff: but the problem with your position is that given enough data, predicting the fate of a nation would theoretically be far easier than predicting the fate of an individual driver and not the other way around.

    That may be the case, or it may not. You certainly have not shown that it is the case (your post simply assumes it). If you want to make analogies to predicting things in physics (as you did by bringing up quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle), then I would be inclined to bring up chaos theory and the so-called butterfly effect. Many (if not most) natural phenomenon are “chaotic” (using that term in the technical sense, not the vernacular), meaning that they are sensitive to initial conditions. To put it more bluntly, chaotic systems are fundamentally unpredictable (unless you can understand all of the initial conditions with infinite accuracy, which is, even in theory, impossible). You said that “it seems safe to me to say that the future of a society would be far more predictable than the future of any individual member of a society.” That doesn’t strike me as a safe thing to say.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  108. That doesn’t strike me as a safe thing to say.

    Indeed. Though I did qualify that by mentioning that we would have to first assume that we could overlay the uncertainty principle onto societies. Since you reject that assumption then of course the conclusion is rejected as well.

    Of course I certainly can’t prove any of this and I’m not even all that convinced the theory is correct.

    But back to the bigger issue — it seems you are rejecting the various theories proposed to explain Jesus’s sorrow for the future falling of the Nephites (you seem not to buy the post-event redactors idea, the Heisenberg-inspired nation predicting idea, and presumably the influence idea…) and yet you also reject exhaustive foreknowledge. So do you have another theory to answer your own question in #93?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

  109. Hate to interject, but I think possible explanations can follow the same routes taken on the 116 pages issue.

    1. exhaustive foreknowledge

    2. God knew the premortal nephite spirts of the future so well that even years before an event occurred, he wept for that future event.

    3. God knew that the general direction of cultural movements surrounding the nephite culture and when it would approximately reach and influence the nephite culture. He new this interaction would require a few events to occur, no matter who was involved, years before an event occurred, he wept for that future event.

    It could a combination of all 3 of course…

    Comment by Matt W. — January 15, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  110. Matt: It could a combination of all 3 of course…

    Actually I don’t think it could be a combination.

    Your “1.” would make the other two moot. Your “2.” assumes causal determinism (and implies your 1. in the process). We are discussing the merits of your “3.” in this thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  111. I am not sure how 2 implies 1. I know my daughter well enough that when we eat out she is going to order Chicken Nuggets and French Fries. How does this imply exhaustive foreknowledge.

    I think a combination of 2 and 3 are possible, and a combination of 1 only if I redid 1 as “limited foreknowledge” or “some form of foreknowledge” as opposed to “exhaustive foreknowledge.” “Exhaustive foreknowledge” was a poor word choice.

    I don’t see how you’ve adressed 3, at least not clearly. By 3, I am saying God knew that by year Y Society X would expand to point P, which would cause it to come in contact with Society Q, which, due to variance in the Societies, would cause dystopia of the general populace, if not the whole.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 15, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  112. Matt: I know my daughter well enough that when we eat out she is going to order Chicken Nuggets and French Fries. How does this imply exhaustive foreknowledge.

    Well you do know what she is likely to order — that is not the same as knowing what she is going to order. But I do agree that knowing what someone is likely to do is a major help in predicting the future of that person and you are right that your #2 does not necessarily entail causal determinism (which is one way people explain foreknowledge).

    I actually agree with your #3 — my comment was simply pointing out that it is #3 that Jacob and I have been discussing in the last several comments. Jacob is less in agreement with it than I am.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  113. Geoff (#108),

    I have not rejected the post-event redactor explanation. Sorry if I gave the impression somewhere that I do.

    This particular prophecy has always seemed to me like one of the hardest (maybe the hardest) to explain in a non-exhaustive-foreknowledge context. It is sort of like Peter’s denial of Christ (because it is a prophecy of something God does not want to happen)except it is not open to the arguments which solve that one for me.

    Another thing that makes this prophecy interesting is that it appears in more than one place in the BofM, going all the way back to Nephi. This instance is interesting:

    9 But the Son of righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness.
    10 And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell. (2 Ne 26)

    The language here about having seen the future and thereby knowing what would happen is pretty strong. It also seems like an odd thing for Mormon or Joseph Smith to add.

    So, I admit that I have misgivings about the various explanations that I am aware of. One I haven’t responded to is Blake’s and Matt’s suggestion that God knew which spirits would be coming in the forth generation. I don’t know if that is intended to imply that God was going to send a big batch of less valiant spirits at that time, or if is just intended to imply that God can predict things based on knowing us individually (character determinism).

    All things considered, I am currently much more convinced that exhaustive foreknowledge is incompatible with free will than I am convinced that this prophecy entails that God has exhaustive foreknowledge. Thus, I hold my view without being able to account for all of the counter arguments in a satisfactory way.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  114. Jacob, I feel very much in the same boat. I think that is why I have sort of played both sides of the fence for these couple of posts.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 15, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  115. Jacob & Matt: The easiest answer is that the Book of Mormon language is actualized by later knowledge. I think that such actualization of the language in light of knowledge of the New Testament is evident throughout the book. So the challenge remains to find a passage that predicts free acts which is published before the act predicted. I am not aware of any. Only such an instance is truly preditive however.

    Comment by Blake — January 15, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

  116. Blake, that is all well and good, but surely you must realize that that is sort of a “cheap” answer. To say that Nephi’s Vision was post-happening redaction is to cheapen a central theme of the Book of Mormon, In my opinion. It may be true, but it just doesn’t seem like a satisfactory answer to me.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 16, 2007 @ 10:05 am

  117. Matt: You might not like it; but the actualization of the language to make it more specific and to take into consideration knowledge of later events in demonstrable. It is simply what actually is the case. Does it cheapen it? To the extent that the Book of Mormon cannot be used as a cheap proof-text for foreknowledge it does; but who wants a cheap proof-text anyway? The New Testament writers also repeatedly did the same with Old Testament prophecies that they took and applied to Christ by actualizing their language to make it more defininte and giving additional information. Proof of prophetic foreknowledge requires a text actually published before the events prophecied have occurred. That is why the prophecy of the Civil War in the D&C is rather vague compared to the prophecies of Christ’s coming in the Book of Mormon. I expect that the original text was much more vague but could be actualized by a prophet who realized its realization either in redacting or translating. Why shouldn’t a prophet actualize a text to make the prophecy more plain and obvious?

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  118. Blake: The easiest answer is that the Book of Mormon language is actualized by later knowledge.

    This puts us back at my question in #90. The verses in #113 are a good example of language I wouldn’t imagine being added by a redactor. While the type of passage you call preditive is the only kind that will conclusively speak against your view, I don’t think it is the only kind of passage that might cause a person to question that view. As I said, I have an opinion about the big issue, but I am not yet fully comfortable with my explanation for a few passages of scripture (i.e. none of the explanations I am aware of for those passages is without problems). If you have an opinion on what these passages (as mentioned in #90 and #113) would have looked like before redactors, I would be interested (if not, that’s fine). If nothing else, I would understand more precisely how you imagine the expansion taking place.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  119. Blake, the reason I say “cheap” is that it leaves the large question of “What did Nephi actually see in his vision?” and “What did Joseph Smith add?” I guess if we accept the text as is as God’s will for us, the point is moot, but it does raise difficulty as to what is God, what is Nephi, and what is Joseph Smith in this text we hold above all in our doctrinal understanding by common consent. For that matter, why would God want it to appear as if he had foreknowledge.

    Yes, I am aware that I a “flip flopping” on this. It’s the American way, I guess.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 16, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  120. Matt,

    I guess if we accept the text as is as God’s will for us, the point is moot

    I don’t think it makes the point moot, because we still need to figure out what the text means, and resolving these sorts of issues can have a big impact on what we understand the text to mean. I expect you agree with me on this, but I wanted to respond anyway.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  121. I agree. This is yet another example of me typing while I think instead of formulating my ideas in an intelligible articulate fashion. Take it as evidence of my own internal confusion on the subject, I guess.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 16, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  122. Jacob: If you have an opinion on what these passages (as mentioned in #90 and #113) would have looked like before redactors, I would be interested (if not, that’s fine).

    I think (as Matt pointed out) your question boils down to the oft-asked question of how much of the BoM is “expansion” and how much is ancient text. I think that if one accepts the expansion theory that will always be a question though because we currently have no way of knowing.

    Matt: For that matter, why would God want it to appear as if he had foreknowledge.

    That is a tough question indeed.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  123. Geoff,

    I think that if one accepts the expansion theory that will always be a question though because we currently have no way of knowing.

    That is true, but I think we should be able to say something about what types of expansion we expect and which we don’t. For example, what Blake referred to as “the actualization of the language to make it more specific and to take into consideration knowledge of later events” is the kind of redaction I expect, and which we can demonstrate elsewhere. However, the language in the verses of #113 are not the kind of change I would expect in an expansion of the text by Joseph Smith. In such a case, I will likely look for alternate explanations of the text. Surely you agree that an expansion explanation will fit better in some places than in others.

    That is where I am coming from in asking the questions I have asked. I think the redactor explanation would make much better sense on 3 Ne 27:32 than it would on 2 Ne 26:9-10, but in the BofM, the prophecies appear to be related, making it more difficult to use the redactor explanation on 3 Ne 27:32. Am I making any sense yet? I don’t think the question I am asking is quite as vague and unanswerable as you make it sound in #122. Either expansion is a reasonable explanation of 2 Ne 26:9-10 or it is not. If not, I will need to look elsewhere (even if I continue to believe in the general principle of the BofM as a modern expansion of an ancient text).

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  124. Jacob: I think that you might be missing the point of expansion in the Book of Mormon. Looking for the aporia or lacunae in texts makes sense if the action is one of conscious editing or reworking of a text. However, with the Book of Mormon the expansion is inherent in the very nature of translation received through revelation. The text just is the revelation as it was mediated through the categories of understanding of Joseph Smith. So the kind of expectation you have is valid with respect to the usual job of redacting, but translation by the gift and power of God isn’t that kind of re-working or adding and deleting material.

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  125. Blake,

    That is obviously a very important point you make. I have been sloppy because the two have been referred to here as equivalent, but I have been trying to refer to redaction when I meant redaction, and expansion when I meant expansion. I have not been as careful or accurate as I should have been, so I appreciate your comment and pledge to do better.

    If I understand you correctly, your suggestion that prophecies are actualized according to later knowledge is an instance of redaction, rather than expansion. That said, I still don’t think you’ve addressed the question I’ve been trying to ask in #90, #113, #118 about whether you see this language as reasonably explained by a later redactor(s).

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  126. Jacob: No, I see it explained as an expansion inherent in the nature of the translation through revelation. Joseph Smith didn’t consciously expand; that is the way it was given to him and he understood the text. However, the original text would not be as explicit.

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  127. that is the way it was given to him and he understood the text.

    If the text was given to him showing God’s foreknowledge in such a powerful fashion, then Why?

    Geoff wants to go with “Divinely approved false doctrine”. I have a problem with that.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 16, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

  128. Matt,

    I would call the passages implying exhaustive foreknowledge a permissible misunderstanding on the part of the 1828 Joseph. I agree with Blake that the revelation was filtered through Joseph and thus reflects (subtly in most cases) Joseph’s theological assumptions at the time.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

  129. Geoff: I know that’s how you fill, I am just saying that for me, that’s a pretty large misunderstanding. It is reasonably preferrable for me* to go with a combination of the possibilities 2 and 3 I’ve previously stated, with perhaps a sprikle of limited foreknowledge.

    ___________________________
    * Your reasoning may of course bring you different results.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 17, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  130. Open Theism is motivated by the presupposition (stolen from Hellenic metaphysics) that since God is a being his *knowing* that X will happen makes X’s happening *necessary.* Why does free will require the possible falsification of God’s foreknowledge? Why not simply deny that divine foreknowledge is opposed to human freedom in the first place? The assumption that it does has some intuitive appeal but no theological or Christological basis. God cannot sin but that does mean that He is good out of necessity rather than free choice.

    A bigger and more obvious problem in Western theology is libertarian freedom in the eschaton; both Catholics and Protestant deny that the saints in the eschaton have libertarian freedom or freedom with alternative possibilities. There is only one object of choice for them: God. This has three flaws: first, it implies that Christ’s human will in the Garden was sinful or evil; secondly, it makes it impossible to explain the fall of Adam or Satan, and thrirdly, it makes it impossible to explain why God would allow the possibility of evil in the first place if we end up right where we started.

    Comment by William B — February 5, 2007 @ 10:04 am

  131. God does not require determinism in order to foreknow anymore than He needs pre-existing matter in order to create.

    Comment by William B — February 5, 2007 @ 10:05 am

  132. William B., I have been mulling over the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. This could be the flipside of Blake’s original look in Exo. and Jonah (God’s declaration of judgment but the people repenting).

    Now, we have God’s expectation of good, but the people not matching up – wild grapes.

    Blake, would you use Isaiah 5 in defense of open theism? The actual demonstration of a winepress in the vineyard?

    Comment by Todd Wood — February 8, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  133. Todd: I suppose that Isaiah 5 could be read that way since the vineyard didn’t flourish as the husbandman had expected. Yet the genre is parable and poetry and I think we can conclude that one need not speak with exactness and can include matters one doesn’t really adopt for dramatic effect in presenting the parable. So I wouldn’t use it as a text supporting open theism but at least consistent in outlook with open theism.

    Comment by Blake — February 8, 2007 @ 9:08 pm

  134. Thanks.

    One of these days, I am going to bite the bullet and obtain the first two volumes in your series. I am sure that is only fair in seeking to fully engage you on your systematic theology. When did you say your third volume will be in print? And is this the last in the series?

    And will there be a special deal for all three? :)

    Comment by Todd Wood — February 9, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  135. Actually no matter if someone doesn’t know then its up to other people
    that they will assist, so here it occurs.

    Comment by mac repair in elk grove village — August 21, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

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