In recent posts I have pointed to the existence of different and in some ways incompatible conceptions of truth. As a brief reminder, I suggested that, roughly speaking, (S)cience sees truth as an accurate picture of the world as it objectively is while (R)eligion sees truth as a path which leads to some destination, i.e. God. In this post I wish to further carve out this distinction and the implications that it has on our conception of divine foreknowledge.
One of the more telling symptoms of an S-conception of truth is what can be called the “propositional bias”. If truth is taken to be an accurate picture of the world then the only things which can have any kind of truth value are, in some sense, propositional depictions of how the world may or may not actually be. This propositional bias is clearly evident in the never ending search by philosophers and scientists for the “hidden” presuppositions, assumptions and entailments which logically accompany various speech acts.
If, however, one follows R in seeing truth as a path rather than a picture, then there is no reason to assume that something must be propositional in nature in order to be true or false. Examples of non-propositional truths are not difficult to find once one knows what to look for: Music, fictional stories, persons, organizations and political movements can all be true (or false). It is important to note that these are not taken to be true merely in some metaphorical sense of the word. Instead, when R says that a prophet, a church or a seed is true, it is saying not that every proposition which constitutes or is spoken by these things is an accurate depiction of the world, but that they reliably lead us down the right path.
As a sort of transition to the rather obvious implications which this difference has for our conceptions of divine foreknowledge I wish to block a tempting reconciliation of the two. To say that God has an absolute knowledge of truth, according to R, is NOT to suggest that he has a “map of the terrain” which is perfect in detail and accuracy. Such a map would be a picture of reality and this is not the knowledge which God is believed to have. Rather, what is being asserted is that God knows the way from any and every point in which we might find ourselves with relation to the final destination. Absolute foreknowledge is not a perfectly detailed map, but more like a perfectly reliable compass which always points the way.
At this point, the tension which S cannot help but see between freewill and absolute (fore)knowledge evaporates into thin air. God’s absolute knowledge of the way from any given point has little, if anything to do with the personal decisions we make in our own individual journeys. Naturally, S will claim that this is a watered down, non-absolute version of knowledge, but such a claim takes whatever punch it has from the unjustified assumption that S’s version of truth is the true version against which R’s knowledge is to be measured. I hope the circularity in this assumption is obvious to all by now.
Indeed, I want to press this last point a bit further by exposing one more S-assumption (S-umption?) which has no place in R-thinking. I want to suggest that the very act of raising the question of the compatibility of freewill and absolute foreknowledge is to abandon R-truth for S-truth. To ask this question is to ask how these two objects relate to one another within some picture we are trying to paint of reality. “Framing” (what an S-term!) questions in such a way just is S-thinking through and through.
Let us instead re-approach this issue from the perspective of a person who not only applies R-thinking to God, but to himself as well. From such a perspective a belief in freewill leads us down the path, therefore it is true. A belief in absolute foreknowledge also leads us down the path and must also be true. The question of whether freewill is compatible with absolute foreknowledge, however, will likely be seen as a false question altogether. Again, this is not because the question has some false assumptions built into it as the propositional bias of the S-thinker would suggest. Rather, it is a non-propositional falsity simply because asking such questions does not lead us down the path, period. Accordingly, pretty much all of the theological/philosophical debate regarding the quality or quantity of God’s foreknowledge is seen as pointless at best and heretical at worst… But we can chance that white rabbit some other time.