Awhile back I posted on God’s decision making process and examined some reasons that foreknowledge does not render decision making trivial. On that thread, Mark made the following comment and I mentioned my intention to dedicate an entire post to the same point:
Knowledge of possible futures does not seem to be much of an advantage. As each one is conditioned on the free will of multiple parties, choosing an actual direction to take is still reduced to an exercise in risk management and statistics. (Mark D)
In order to illustrate what Mark is getting at, I think it will be helpful to represent on open future with some pictures. The pictures below chart “possibilities.” For the purpose of this post I will follow the wiki definitions and clarify that I am not talking about logical possibilities, but rather, things that are both nomologically and temporally possible. In simple terms, the possibilities I am talking about are things that are possible according to the laws of nature AND could still happen given the history of the universe as it has unfolded so far. So, if the universe is perfectly deterministic in the sense that what happens in this moment is the one and only thing that could have happened given the causal forces in the previous moment, our chart would look like this:
Notice that if things are fully determined, there are no more possibilities of the kind I am talking about. There is one and only one possible future which will play out over time as things continue to bump into each other.
However, for those of us who believe in LFW, the future is open and we can represent the openness of free choices with a fork representing the different ways that things could go. Thus, in an LFW paradigm, the future has many possibilities and looks like a bushy tree with many branches. In the picture below, I have labeled the “ends” with letters representing various possible futures (A,B,D,E,F).
In my previous post, I pointed out that since the future goes on forever, there is never really a stopping place at which to “compare” futures. In this post, I want to focus on the fact that even if God knows all possible futures, he can never choose a specific future. Rather, the best he can do is choose which half of the infinitely large tree of possibilities we will continue down.
To see why this is, consider that each of these forks in the future represents a person making a choice. Most of the choices are not made by God, but by regular chaps like you and me. So, if God is sitting at the beginning of this chart looking into a future of possibilities, he can choose the branch in which (A) and (B) are possible or the one in which (D), (E), and (F) are possible. He cannot, however, choose (A), (B), (D), (E), or (F) outright unless he overrides or manipulates all the decisions between now and then. Are you with me so far?
So, what happens if (A) is a really excellent future which I definitely want to choose, but (B) is a terrible one that I definitely want to avoid? Well, we might notice that the path to (A) and (B) diverge some time from now, so perhaps we don’t have to anything about that until later. But, if the choice at the point of divergence is going to be made by some free agent (i.e. not God), then we can see what Mark (I think!) was getting at in his comment above. Perhaps God knows the probability that this particular person will choose the fork heading toward (A) rather than (B). He can make some decision now (God is at the first fork remember) based on his knowledge that the odds for avoiding (B) are good even if we head toward it now. Assuming that there are statistical probabilites for what will happen in each choice, is God making decisions based on playing the odds and managing the various risks out there in the future?
Of course, I haven’t mentioned (D), (E), and (F). Supposing these futures represent a mix of good and bad possibilities, it may begin to look like a wash. Either way, we have some good possible futures and some bad ones still out there. Remember, God (or anyone for that matter) is not choosing a specific endpoint in the distant future, he is choosing one half of the infinitely large possibilities of futures over the other infinitely large possibilities of futures. The difference between (A) and (B) and (F) begins to look rather irrelevant to the question of what God should do now.
If we were to assign some probability to each of the legs of our tree, then the probability of (A) obtaining would be the product of the probabilities of each leg along the way. Let’s suppose (A) is very likely and that at every choice, the leg leading to (A) had a 60% chance of being chosen. There are seven legs between now and (A), so even this event in the very near future (only 7 choices from now) would have a probability of a little less than 3% (.6^7). In other words, even this very probably event is not that likely given the numbers I just made up.
Of course, all of this is based on my crude drawing. To get an idea how quickly the number of possible futures multiplies in real life, let’s refresh ourselves on how possibilities unfold in the game of chess. If we count each time a chess piece changes position as a “move,” we find that after just 2 moves, there are 400 possible games of chess. If we allow each player to move 4 times (8 moves), we are up to just shy of 85 billion possible games of chess. Yes, billion with a “b.” Here is how it looks:
(from this website on 2/26/06).
You can see why we still cannot solve the game of chess even with our modern super computers. The numbers simply blow up to ridiculous magnitudes very quickly. Considering that there are somewhere between 5-6 billion people on the earth today, you can imagine that the number of possible futures 24 hours from now is quite large (there are only 32 pieces in chess) and the corresponding probability of any one of those futures is relatively small.
The points in this post combined with the points in the previous post combine to convince me that divine foreknowledge can’t take the fun out of decision making. We sometimes suppose that God’s foreknowledge renders his decision making totally dissimilar from ours. Increasingly, I have come to believe that God makes decisions in very much the same way that we do, albeit with more knowledge and better intentions.