The Natural Man = Causally Determined Man?

March 26, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:49 pm   Category: Determinism vs. free will,Foreknowledge,Theology

My recent post asserting that exhaustive foreknowledge is a faith crippling and pernicious doctrine spurred a teensy, tiny debate… The exchange has been a very interesting one. I’d summarize that debate, but that wouldn’t do it justice so you’ll have to check it out yourself. One of the challenges posed to me and those of like mind was: “Ok, if God doesn’t see the exact future just how does he pull off prophecy, let alone have assurance things will go his way?” If I wasn’t such a sucker for a challenge I would just say “God is just that smart. It may seem difficult, but at least it is not a paradox like trying to reconcile free agency and a fixed future”. But of course I am a sucker for a challenge so here is a model of how he might pull this off. This is a continuation of my earlier post called “How God could figure out the future without foreknowledge.

So here is the proposed model (from the earlier post):

a. There have been innumerable inhabited worlds before this world from God can draw as a predictive database
b. Since the course of the Lord is one eternal round, I am going to assume the basic plot of the human play is the same for all previous worlds
c. God’s superior intelligence works as an unfathomable super computer which allows Him to crunch all previous data and thus make amazingly accurate predictions (even of people with genuine free agency)
d. Heisenberg was right in his indeterminacy principle and that this principle can be applied to mankind as a group. What I mean is, you can predict with astonishing accuracy to path of the group but you can never predict the path of the individual with such accuracy (because the individual is free, presumably).
e. God is willing to invite people to do good but never compel. However, He mostly stays out of our choices.

Actually nothing has changed in my opinion since I wrote this. In that post I spent most of my energy on point “e”. I will flesh out points “a-d” — especially point “d” — a little better here.

In order to support points a-d I’m going lean on an old nemesis to free will — determinism. For those new to the term, determinists basically say all of our actions are really reactions to causes that are outside of us. This means that the first cause (presumably God) is really the one who is morally responsible for all human acts. Traditional determinism seems to reject the allowance of free will as such. As I understand it, even compatibilists reject the notion of determinism and actual free choices co-existing. They tend to focus on hypothetical free-will, which means even though our choices are determined we had the hypothetical option to choose otherwise (even though we never would). Needless to say, traditional determinism and compatibilism are at odds with Mormon doctrine.

(Note: For those reading along who are not up on all these terms check out the links I provided.)

But I happen to think some of the results associated with determinism need not give way completely to free will and the reality of free will need not be obliterated by the existence of something similar to determinism among humans. As a businessman by trade I’ve read more business books than philosophy books and the action vs. reaction aspect of determinism reminds me of the “be proactive” habit in Stephen Covey’s popular Seven Habits of Highly Effective People book. In that book Covey tells of a great “Ah-Ha” moment he had when he realized that there is always a space between stimulus and response in which humans can choose. He goes into great detail on how this is vital to our power as humans. It mirrors our scriptures that talk about our power to act and the fact that we would be acted upon in our lives. These scriptures recommend we do more acting and get acted upon less and Covey recommends the same thing. As I mentioned, his habit #1 is called “be proactive” as opposed to reactive. It focuses our attention on our unique, God-given ability to act rather than be acted upon.

It would not be necessary for anyone to teach us to “be proactive” if it were a natural thing that everyone already did. The fact is that we as human beings are, in fact, almost purely reactive. For the most part we are predictable. The determinists almost have it right. That is why so many people believe in causal determinism — they see evidence seeming to support it all around them. We all really are products of our environments to one degree or another. All those smart folks who believe in determinism are not idiots.

But just because some force that is similar to determinism plays an important role in all of our lives, it does not mean we can’t “be proactive” and go against the natural man, or against our environmental programming. I believe that when we make those completely unnatural but Godly decisions, it is then that we are really are using our free agency. When we choose to repent it often is a proactive result of our free will, not some reaction to previous conditioning. In other words, when we are “proactive” we exercise our God-like freedom to choose and become a mini “first cause” ourselves. Brigham Young said:

… A great many think there are results without causes; there is no such thing in existence; there is a cause for every result that ever was or ever will be, and they are all in the providences and in the work of the Lord. (JD 13:34) – (Hat tip to Jeffrey on the quote)

So as Brigham said, everything has a cause, but unlike determinist doctrines I believe some things are caused directly by our own proactive, God-like wills.

So how does this help God predict the future? Because when people always react instead of act the practical effects attributed to causal determinism follow. When they act naturally then they are totally predictable. And unfortunately we are very rarely godlike in our natural reactions. This is the very reason why the natural man is an enemy to God. God doesn’t want us to react naturally to everything. He wants us to proactively be like him. When we get cut off on the freeway he wants us to choose our response to that stimulus and proactively not flip the bozo off. When smash our finger he want us to choose not to cuss up a storm.

The appropriate complaint will be that if our actions (other than our unnatural actions like repenting) are if not determined, at least heavily prompted and influenced by stimuli outside of our control how are we responsible for our sins? My answer is that we are responsible because we are tasked to be unnatural on this earth — to repent and change and be Godlike — and we are given the ability to act unnaturally and choose our response to stimuli. It is called agency. When we fail to use our agency and continue on as natural men or women we are responsible for that. In this sense we could say all sins are sins of omission where we fail to choose to suppress natural inclinations. We must proactively choose not to sin. (This view also helps the idea of our “fallen nature” make more sense…)

Because most of humankind does not ever shed the natural man, general predictions of the even distant future seem pretty straight forward — much like the determinists believe. But because some people act rather than react, exhaustive foreknowledge based on determinism is not possible. I suspect that on a macro level this process is very much like the uncertainty principle. The group is always predictable (because nearly all act naturally/predictably) but the individual is not. The difference is that the unpredictablity in the behavior of mankind is not random but rather generated by exercizing of free agency. And even that is mitigated in God’s predictive abilities by my points “a-c”.

Anyway, that utilization of the practical effects of determinism seems to make long term predictions of people with free agency quite plausible to me. As I said, I don’t know how God accurately predicts an open future, but this one theory how he might do it.


  1. Geoff,
    This is very interesting. I had never thought of the “natural man” scripture in this way before. To tell you the truth I have always had issue’s with the “natural man” scripture, but if you were to read it like the way you’ve read it, it would make sense. The implications are, even if we are “repenting”, or doing good things, if we are only doing them because of “fear of punishment”, “reward” or any other stimuli that would cause us to react in this way, then we haven’t gotten past the natural man. So natural men aren’t only those who do evil things, they are also those who do good things, but not freely. I’m liking this idea Geoff.

    Comment by Craig — March 27, 2005 @ 9:53 am

  2. Excellent point Craig. One of the interesting implications here is that even “choosing the right” can be very predictible based on our environment and as such we may not get much credit from the Lord for doing that kind of good. If choosing the right is the natural reaction to environmental stimuli why should it be considered morally commendable? This matches the scriptural ideas like “unto whom much is given, much is required” and “the lamanites… are more righteous than you” and the parable of the talents very well, not to mention the admonition from the Lord for us to “be anxiously engaged” in doing good rather than reacting to requests only. A common idea of all of those scriptures seems to be that in order to be truly repenting — to be truly righteous — we need to actually be unpredictably good. We need to repent in extra-ordinary ways. It is not enough to come into the world a good person and leave a good person. We need to leave the world much better in character than we started. I like it because this all leads to one thing… Repentance.

    (Not to mention the fact that it explains a method God can predict the future, which hopefully will lead to dumping that false doctrine of exhaustive foreknowledge for good…)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 10:56 am

  3. I was thinking this morning about the debate we’ve been having. I thought about Geoff’s title of the thread “The Faith-Crippling doctrine of Foreknowledge”. I started to think about how “faith crippling” the doctrine is. Steve has expressed the belief that the future is open, but that God knows it regardless. I still question how God could possibly know the future absolutely if it is an open future, but since he still believes that the future is open, then can we rightly say his faith is in danger of being crippled? I think our faith is in danger when we resign ourselves and say, “there’s nothing I can do about the future, so there’s no point in trying”. But as long as one does not believe this, I guess it’s ok for them to hold conflicting ideas. It may be intellectually dangerous, but not spiritually crippling, at least I don’t think so. Some would argue that believing in God at all is intellectually crippling, and Kierkegaard claims that the very idea of Christ being born and walking the earth is an inherent contradiction. Latter Day Saints don’t face the same contradiction that other Christians do when it comes to the incarnation, but it still might be something to think about. How important is it that our beliefs do not lead to contradiction? Are contradictions somehow an antithesis to faith? Kierkegaard say’s just the opposite, he say’s that Faith is strengthened in the face of contradiction. I don’t know, I’m not sure how I feel about this, just wondering what you guys think.

    Comment by Craig — March 27, 2005 @ 11:00 am

  4. Interesting post, Geoff. The first portion reminds me of the discussion we had on agency back at Splendid Sun. To echo that, I don’t think that we are accountable for the bulk of our natural man. If agency is emergent, then we are only responsible for that portion of the natural man we have the capacity (in that instant) to overcome.

    I like the uncertainty principle as an analogy; however, I see some big problems with it. Whereas in physics we can show (mathematically) why there are some things we cannot measure, the application to agency is allegorical. We cannot show why God could not determine our choices. We are just assuming that it is true (which seems difficult to swallow).

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 27, 2005 @ 11:07 am

  5. Craig: I think you would be interested in a resent post at Splendid Sun. Faith crippling [shaking my head].

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 27, 2005 @ 11:11 am

  6. Craig (and J.),

    I think you are right that the doctrine of exhaustive or absolute foreknowledge isn’t always faith-crippling and that is the main point Steve, J., and Clark have made. I also concede that. But sometimes with some people it is. So that is enough reason to call it a pernicious doctrine (especially since I believe it is false — which makes it at least a doctrine we shouldn’t teach).

    I mentioned to Clark over at the other post: If your point is that this issue won’t keep anyone from taking advantage of the atonement you are right. If you are saying it doesn’t matter at all I’d disagree. The point I made in the first paragraph of #97 (which also links to your recent post, J.) is still true regardless of what position we hold in the church. I think that for many it is a doctrine that erodes faith whether they recognize it or not. The problem may only become apparent when they need a miracle badly and they stop praying too quickly when the voice in the back of their head says “maybe this is just the way things are supposed to be…” or “maybe I should just ask for help to be at peace with God’s decision”…(as if He had already made a firm decision) or “maybe I should just pray for comfort instead of the miracle I desire so desparately because everything happens for a reason”. If it is a false doctrine, as I firmly believe it is, then the adversary has a fabulous tool at his disposal to keep the saints from getting the miracles they might otherwise get. That’s why I think it is useful to actively discuss this subject.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 11:21 am

  7. The problem is Geoff, you are asssuming that the playing out of the same basic plan ends up with worlds very, very similar. i.e. there aren’t just a few general patterns, but nearly everything is the same. Rome arises with a myth of Romulus and Remus. They adopt the crucifixion practice of the Assyrians. Nothing goes wrong in the reaction to Jesus.

    I’ll be very honest that I have a hard time buying that. Further, if a replay of the starting moments of this universe brought about the same events, with perhaps only the actors changing (if that) then I honestly do not think we have freedom. It is still far, far too deterministic for my tastes.

    I’d add that in the discussion of determinism that I’m not sure I’d agree with the first cause bit. That whole approach is incompatible with Mormonism. But if all entities were actually co-eternal with an infinite past, then there is no first cause and God is no more ultimately responsible for what happens than anyone else. I still don’t accept determinism, mind you. But that’s more because of my views of causality. But what you characterize as the problem doesn’t actually appear to be the problem.

    I’d also add that determinists also believe that there is a point between stimulus and response where we choose. It is just that they say that this is determined by our nature. i.e. when we say I choose we are saying I meaning the structure of who I am, brings about a response to the stimulus.

    Comment by Clark — March 27, 2005 @ 12:44 pm

  8. Clark: The problem is Geoff, you are asssuming that the playing out of the same basic plan ends up with worlds very, very similar. i.e. there aren’t just a few general patterns, but nearly everything is the same. Rome arises with a myth of Romulus and Remus. They adopt the crucifixion practice of the Assyrians. Nothing goes wrong in the reaction to Jesus.

    Why would this need to be so? The plot of the play could simply be that great nations arise and fall, the chosen people are a vassal state to one of those at the meridian of time, that the savior arrives then even as the chosen people are laboring in wickedness, etc. What make you think that the plot must be so exact? What prophecies require something so exact? It seems to me you are applying an unreasonable and unnecessary standard on this subject. I assert the basic play is similar, but it does not follow that details of each world are “very, very, similar”. It only follows that the structure stays the same.

    Think of it like a traditional symphony — the structure is the same among from one to another but the music need not be remotely similar.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 1:02 pm

  9. As I mentioned either here or on my blog, there are numerous prophecies from thousands of years ago relating to the cross.

    Comment by Clark — March 27, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  10. Just to add, I don’t mind God having a knowledge of universals the way you outline. I just don’t know if he could have sufficient knowledge in this fashion.

    Comment by Clark — March 27, 2005 @ 1:08 pm

  11. Clark,
    Being a new comer, for my own sake, could you tell me exactly where you stand on this issue? I think I have you tied down, and then you get away. I’m not sure exactly what it is you are claiming to believe.

    Comment by Craig — March 27, 2005 @ 2:45 pm

  12. Craig,

    First, check out the parallel discussion that has/had been going on over at Clark’s blog (Mormon Metaphysics) if you haven’t already. It started spontaneously and separately from the discussions here and at Splendid Sun when a newcomer named George commented at Clark’s reading club post on Blake’s book (linked off the link I sent you).

    You might find the post where Clark outlines his theory on how the future of this sphere might be fixed while we still remain morally responsible (but I couldn’t. Anyway it is an interesting theory so I’ll try to summarize what I remember about it here. The basic idea (please correct my errors, Clark) is that all humankind made all of our choices at the moment our universe was created. We are now playing out those choices, but the theory purportedly allows God to see and know the exact future of the planet as a fixed future while we are still accountable. The idea is that our intuition is wrong when we think we are choosing now… we really chose earlier and we are playing that all out now. It is a variation on determinism I suppose but it only applies to this planet. That is why Clark can object to terms like “God’s absolute foreknowledge” because he suggests a model where the foreknowledge is not absolute, but only applicable to a fixed future for our planet. The nuances make a difference.

    The primary hole with Clark’s theory (as punched by Blake) is that if we are not conscious of choices we can hardly be held accountable for them so Clark’s model doesn’t really get around the moral responsibility problems determinists have. Blake has a good point and I’m not sure how Clark can get around it.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 6:02 pm

  13. Clark,

    I found that list of ancient scriptures about the cross in a comment over at your blog. Here it is:

    Blake, I was thinking of 1 Ne 11:33, Ether 4:1 and Moses 7:55 all giving rather detailed assertions regarding the manner of Jesus’ execution.

    Blake may have a point in his response over there about his expansion view coming into play with these three modern scriptures. (BTW — where would I find that paper of Blake’s? Is it in Dialogue or something?) I guess without much evidence either way I’ll just have to say I believe that my stated points “a-e” and the details I have added give ample leeway for a predictive model that could foresee a death by cross without a fixed future.

    In any case, I think Blake is right when he asserts that the case for real free agency in a LFW sense in our doctrine and scriptures easily trumps the complaint that it seems it would be difficult for God to make such distant predictions. As I said, some proposed solutions are difficult to reconcile and some are impossible. I think we need to throw the impossible ones out. Your prosposed model seems more difficult to reconcile than the one I have proposed here so I believe it prudent to go with the least difficult option until something better comes along.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  14. If you believe libertarian free will is necessary, then yes, you’ll explain away any scripture that appears to argue otherwise. Although if you reject libertarian free will, you’ll do the same for passages that go the other way.

    Comment by Clark — March 27, 2005 @ 6:42 pm

  15. J. (#4),

    Good point about that discussion on agency. I hadn’t remembered that until you mentioned it.

    You are obviously right that I am using the indeterminacy principle as an analogy. I happen to hold a heavy bias that the way things work with God and our universe are almost always mirrored elsewhere. I am enamoured with the scriptural saying “the course of the Lord is one eternal round“. I personally believe its meaning and applications are wide and deep and that this saying may hold the key to understanding many of the hidden things of God.

    BTW — What do you find hard to swallow? The idea that God cannot determine our choices or the idea of accepting my usage of the uncertainltuy principle as an analogy?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 6:55 pm

  16. Good point, Clark. As you and others have said, most members of the church including leaders probably assume that both libertarian free will and exhaustive foreknowlege can peacefully co-exist (even though they can’t).

    Here a hypothetical question for all. How do you think most members and leaders in the church would vote on a question like this?:

    Only one of the following two options is accurate; which do you believe it is?:

    A) You have real free agency and God does not perfectly know the future but rather is the ultimate predictor of the future.

    B) God does perfectly know of all future events on this planet, but you do not have real free agency — it only feels like the choices you are making are free but they are really determined by prior choices and events.

    My guess is that choice A) would win by a landslide among members of all walks and callings in the church.

    Of course that wouldn’t make anything true or not, but your last comment reminded me that my theories are not a far out there as yours. ;-)

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 27, 2005 @ 7:29 pm

  17. Geoff: BTW -What do you find hard to swallow?

    I don’t want to threadjack with the hyper-comment that would ensue I will instead post it at Splendid Sun when I get a chance this week. :)

    By the way, Happy Easter.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 27, 2005 @ 9:49 pm

  18. It seems to me, Geoff, the real issue is how much predictive knowledge God can actually have. You seem to be assuming perfect predictive power or at least very good predictive power. But I honestly find that tremendously implausible. I think that God knows relatively little about the future in an Open Theist setting. The Open Theist will sometimes disagree. But the question is whether they can make a plausible case for how much of the future God can know.

    Comment by Clarkl — March 28, 2005 @ 10:44 am

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  20. Clark,

    Rather than hold this conversation at both threads I’ll respond here to both comments. Yes, the real issue is how much predictive power God can have. I obviously think he can have a lot more than you do. What I don’t fully comprehend is why it is so hard for you to believe he can predict the future, especially if he has the tools at his disposal I have outlined here. Why would predicting the future be more difficult than, say walking on water; healing the blind, lame, deaf, etc.; parting the Red Sea, etc? These things all seem plausible to us but he pulls them off anyway.

    As for the complaint the Open Theists get, I think your example is not a strong one.

    Afterall some might say what the point of praying about answers is if we can’t trust that God knows the answer. This is actually one of the traditional attacks on Open Theism. If I pray who to marry, think I receive a strong answer, only to find out my spouse is a spouse abuser, I have some strong reason to never trust prayer again. I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer to that from the Open Theist perspective.

    Unlike Craig’s response, I believe that there would be an infinitesimally small chance of God being incorrect on something like this. I believe that God has enough data in the database to predict something that short-term with near exactness. (That’s not to say some one might misread the prompting. He may say something like “you may or may not be happy with the results of marrying this guy — he’s on the edge” and the bride may decide to take that as a yes…)

    A stronger complaint would be something like your example of predictions of things thousands of years in the future. There are so many things that could go wrong in the meantime with an open future. But even there I believe God is wise enough and powerful enough to pull it off. Wise enough to use the predictable nature of the natural man and powerful enough to gently nudge things in the direction he wants if they start going off track. Now that I think of it, that gentle nudging part (point e. above) may be part of the reason God likes to be referred to as the Good Shepherd as well.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 28, 2005 @ 1:34 pm

  21. Craig,

    I think your response to Clark (basically “sure God might be wrong — that’s what an open future means”) greatly strengthen his complaint. That would be a faith-eroding doctrine. How could we have great faith in a God who gives us bad advice and is wrong half the time?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 28, 2005 @ 1:35 pm

  22. Geoff, I think Clark’s example at least shows us that the doctrine has been as faith promoting as it has been “faith-crippling.” That is to say, in a world that is more commonly asking not only why should we believe there is a God but why should we trust God or anyone who tries to tell us what to do, it comes as very reassuring that God knows what will become of us–that he isn’t going to be wrong. Otherwise, what response do we have to someone that says that in this case God is just wrong about his or her life? It seems like your response is “maybe so, but probably not.”
    Either way I think that the real issue is that we trust that there are reasons for placing our complete trust in God. Each side of this debate sees it as a reason for having fiath in God. There are people that have had struggles with believing either side of this debate, so I don’t think that either side is “pernicious” because it causes more fiath problems. In the end, someone is probably right, and those who saw that perspective as limiting probably don’t understand the other side of the debate as they should. Still, I don’t think it is any different form a number of other debates, and while the deabte itself might eventually lead us all to better understanding, making claims that would tend towards eradicating the other belief seems to me to imply a degree of authority to declare our reason just and binding that we just don’t have.
    I also think that you are confusing two issues. I don’t know anyone with a firm belief in simple foreknwoeldge of any sort that doesn’t believe in the efficacy of prayer for that reason.

    Comment by Steve H — March 28, 2005 @ 1:38 pm

  23. Not a bad point, Steve. As has been discussed it is fatalism that is really pernicious. But if a belief in exhaustive foreknowledge naturally leads to fatalism then isn’t the source of the fatalism also pernicious? That is why I remain unapologetic about my opinion that exhaustive foreknowledge is not only false but pernicious. My point is that God can predict the future and be completely worthy of our faith and trust and accomplish all his purposes without it.

    I think the best doctrine to compare exhaustive foreknowledge to is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). It is well established in Mormonism that creatio ex nihilo is a false doctrine. Yet I imagine its defenders use all the same argument you are using here: “How could we believe in a God that cannot create our world out of nothing? Many great people have believed this doctrine, how could they all have been wrong? Who are you to try to place limits on God?

    Yet we teach that it is false because it is false. False doctrines never help our faith in God. The best we can hope is that believing them doesn’t completely erode our faith in God.

    I firmly believe exhaustive foreknowledge as commonly taught is as false as the creatio exnihilo doctrine. Further I have seen it erode the faith of faithful saints. That is why I have proposed this model of how God can still predict the future and still be totally worthy of our faith and worship even without the baggage exhaustive foreknowledge brings.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 28, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

  24. Geoff,
    What I was saying was not that God was wrong in telling the girl that the boy was a good man to marry, he was right. I think I have just as much power to do good, as I do to do bad. God alway’s hopes we will and encourages us to, choose the right, but sometimes we don’t, sometimes we choose wrong. I don’t see how God could predict such actions. That’s the whole reason I argue, that if we are truely free, then it is not possible for God to see or predict my future actions.

    Comment by Craig — March 28, 2005 @ 3:17 pm

  25. Craig,

    The problem with that argument is that if it is true it justifies all of the criticisms Clark and Steve and others have about Libertarian Free Will. If God can’t warn my daughter that the boy she is about to marry has a relatively high chance of being an abuser then that God is hardly worthy of my worship in my estimation. Do you see the problem? If we go too far with the free will thing then God’s predictive ability becomes as impossible as reconciling free-will and foreknowledge.

    That is the whole point of this post. My idea is that God can use the practical effects of determinism plus the other points I mention to know that the boy my daughter wants to marry has a 40-44% chance of abusing her in the future. He can then warn her about that and she can freely choose to marry the boy or not. But to believe in a God who heartily endorses the boy only to be as shocked as my daughter and I are later when he starts abusing her is an unacceptable notion of God to me.

    So how can God know? Well he can crunch the data points

    -What was the character of this boy throughout eternity? How has he behaved in the eternities past?
    -What are all the details of this boy’s life on earth… Was he abused? Has he had troubles with uncontrollable anger all along?
    -What physiological things are happening in his brain? Is something ready to go sproing that may lead to a mental illness that is likely to include uncontrollable rage etc?

    Dump these and loads of other data points into God’s super computer and why wouldn’t he be able to know there is a 40-44% chance of the boy being an abuser?

    The key is that because he has real free agency it still is just that — a chance. The exhaustive Foreknowledge crowd insists these things must be 100% or 0%.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 28, 2005 @ 5:34 pm

  26. But Geoff, as I’ve tried to emphasize, a belief in the fixity of the future does not lead to fatalism. (The belief that nothing I do matters) If there is a problem with foreknowledge, it is likely a result of people misunderstanding it and not something rationally entailed by its existence. Which may be why God doesn’t clearly answer the free will debate. As Jack Nicholson said, you can’t handle the truth. I suspect that there is a lot God doesn’t reveal because we can’t handle it. So he talks to us in vague and ambiguous ways, according to the understanding we have.

    The problem with a predictive God is that I think most people when they stop to consider the roll of free agents and all the uncertainty, simply find it hard to believe that God could predict much at all. Your claim that he can, is simply an act of faith. You’ve not really demonstrated that it is plausible to believe that he can except that your theology more or less demands it. But, it seems like that is rather damaging to faith (IMO).

    The problem really is why we should pray about many things if, as the Libertarian seems to demand, God can’t know the answers. . .

    Comment by Clark — March 28, 2005 @ 11:18 pm

  27. Geoff, has God answered too man prayers by given statistics? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that. Well, I can think of one prayer that was like that, but most aren’t.

    Comment by Clark — March 28, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

  28. Clark: In the second volume of my book I argue that petitionary prayer — asking God to bring about something dependent on the asking for it in prayer — makes sense only if the future is open and God can choose among futures. We ask our parents for things all of the time and we know that they don’t know the future completely. What is important is not the knowledge of the future, but the power or ability to bring about what is requested. So you’re going to have to give us some logical (or at least semi-logical) argument for why you believe that Liberatarian free will somehow makes prayer unsensible. As for your statement that “God can’t know the answers … ” that response is that he can if he determines to respond. I just haven’t seen any good reason (or anything even approaching a good reason) to suggest somehow it doesn’t make sense to pray if God doesn’t already know exactly how the future will turn out.

    Comment by Blake — March 29, 2005 @ 12:19 am

  29. The problem, Blake, is that often our prayers are about the future acts of free agents. Something that God seems limited in affecting if he is to allow them to be free. So if we ask how we ought act given free agents, then we are stuck with either God acting on something like middle knowledge or having a rather extensive knowledge of the future. I just don’t see how his power is that helpful in those circumstances.

    Comment by Clark — March 29, 2005 @ 12:41 am

  30. Clark: I deal with this issue at great length in the second chapter of the second volume. So I’m just going to wait until it comes out to come back to this. However, let me say that praying for others is problematic on any view of God’s knowledge if you believe that God respects their agency. However, it makes most sense to pray for others where we believe that God has probablistic middle knowledge of others and that he can intervene as the most masterfully and lovingly persuasive agent in the universe — within a process perspective where everyone is connected to everyone else as aprrehending prehension.

    Comment by Blake — March 29, 2005 @ 8:14 am

  31. Clark,

    I agree that most people can’t handle the truth. I believe that is why God leaves these subjects in the bloggernacle rather than letting Pres. Hinckley break the news that while we truly are free agents, God’s “foreknowledge” is actually ultimate predictive power. (And yes, such a statement would damage some people’s faith in such foreknowledge — but what good is faith in a false doctrine? ;-)) I know you don’t agree, so I can only restate that if we have to choose between real free agency and a fixed future, I believe our doctrine dictates that real free agency must win.

    Actually it is refreshing to me that my position is not free enough for some traditional LFW views of the world but still too free and open for believers in a fixed future. I take that as a sign I’m on the right track.

    Not surprisingly, I agree with Blake regarding this petitionary prayer issue. I think my example in #25 shows how God can always be trusted as an advisor. If he knows the basic odds of what will happen (even with other free agents) why wouldn’t he be able to give my daughter the best possible advice? If I knew the odds, I would only give a green light to marry a young man that had virtually no chance of becoming an abuser. I suspect God feels the same way about my little girls. (But just because he can give such advice doesn’t mean all will ask for it or even heed it when they get it.)

    Anyway I am also looking forward to reading Blake’s second book later this year to see how he deals with these subjects.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 29, 2005 @ 9:57 am

  32. Clark,
    Re: #27 — Could you restate your question? It seemed like an interesting point but I wasn’t sure exactly what you were referring to.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 29, 2005 @ 10:00 am

  33. Blake,
    Any word on when your book is coming out? I’m anxiously anticipating it. Has Greg Koffard got his stuff together?

    Comment by Craig — March 29, 2005 @ 10:32 am

  34. June 2005 — God willing.

    Comment by Blake — March 29, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  35. I don’t typically like discussing spiritual experiences and especially not what I’d call personal revelation in a public forum. I’ll just be vague and say I have had impressions where many outcomes were presented with an impression of the approximate likelihood of each.

    Comment by Clark — March 29, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

  36. Why should we think that absolute infallibility is a prerequisite to trust? I trust tons of fallible people every day and it works very well for the most part. As a pragmatic matter, I can’t think of a good reason to require infallibility of God — just enough power to bring about the salvation I righteously desire.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) — March 30, 2005 @ 12:45 pm

  37. Clark,

    Thanks for including that last comment. Does that mean you are agreeing with my notion (#25) of how God would know probabilities and could warn me or my daughter?


    I agree.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — March 30, 2005 @ 5:25 pm

  38. Geoff, I don’t think that method is sufficient for many prayers nor the faith we need in God. It is for some though.

    Comment by Clark — March 31, 2005 @ 12:48 am

  39. Needless to say, I believe that Goeff gives an accurate and insightful presentation of the notion of the natural man — a person who is acted upon but doesn’t act for themselves. A person who merely reacts to the past and to the natural environment rather than as a creator and conscious chooser. However, it follows that the natural man is entirely predictable — those who have been delivered from their naturally evil state are not. Volume 2 will be out by the end of July 2005. Galleys are finished and we’re waiting on the printer and cover design.

    Comment by Blake — July 21, 2005 @ 2:44 pm

  40. Thanks Blake. I’m pleased to hear that.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 24, 2005 @ 7:18 pm

  41. Yes Blake, I am glad to hear that too. I’ve been waiting a long time for this one. I’m glad Kofford finally pulled it off. :) Did you say you would have it at the FAIR conference? Or did you say you would have it at the Sunstone conference? I can’t remember which.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — July 24, 2005 @ 10:04 pm