We Mormons probably should all be open theists

May 22, 2009    By: Geoff J @ 4:09 pm   Category: Foreknowledge,Theology

Our regular readers know that I have recently been teeing off on Calvinism around these parts in posts and comment threads. Of course in those discussions various Calvinists have tried to defend Calvinism in spite of the narcissistic and cruelly sadistic God it paints. After not having much logical ground to stand on in their attempts some of these Calvinism defenders have plaintively protested: “Well how do you reconcile real free will with God’s foreknowledge then?” My answer is simple: I don’t. I reject the idea of exhaustive foreknowledge because exhaustive foreknowledge requires a fixed future and a fixed future is fundamentally incompatible with real free will.

So when theological push comes to theological shove choosing real free will over a fixed and knowable future is a no-brainer. See several posts with longs discussions on this subject here. Here is the short version of why the choice is a no brainer: A fixed future is tantamount to predestination and it means there is no libertarian free will in the universe. A universe with no libertarian free will is a universe without any real moral responsibility. Besides, exhaustive foreknowledge would be useless to God because it would mean his own future is fixed and unchangeable as well. Rejecting a fixed future and accepting that we really are free agents solves all of those problems.

It is easy to pound on Calvinists with these simple and straight forward facts. But herein lies the problem with Mormons: Most Mormons want to accept exhaustive foreknowledge but we also want to accept robust (libertarian) free will. The problem is that the two don’t logically mix. The solution is simple; just reject the idea of a knowable, fixed future.

There is a name for this kind of thinking: open theism.

I think we Mormons ought to embrace the basic principles of open theism gladly. First because I believe those basic ideas are accurate. Second because they allow us to coherently reject the awful fatalism that encumbers Calvinism. Third because they fit so naturally into the Mormon traditions of emphasizing the agency of all humans while rejecting the unBibilical creedal idea of an unpersuadable God. Fourth because I think we ought to reject any logical nonsense we find in our theology.

Yes, I know that a lot of people really like the idea of a God that exhaustively knows the future. But exhaustive foreknowledge is fool’s gold — what good would it do God to know the fixed, unchangeable future? If it is really fixed and unchangeable then by definition even God could not change it. And the fact is that if God has the capacity to accurately predict future events well enough to fulfill all of his purposes and promises what would the practical difference be for us anyway?

Yes, I think we Mormons who care at all about theology ought to openly embrace a stance similar to open theism.


  1. (Okay, just working my way slowly here…)

    First, thanks for all you’ve been doing on this subject lately. I’ve been following here and at HI4 and I am learning a lot. You have a talent for clearly stating otherwise confusing philosophies.

    Second, can I make a guess about your view on some of the varieties of open theism? I suspect that you reject Voluntary Nescience and Involuntary Nescience—and this because I suspect that you reject any “settled future”. Am I right?

    Third, I’d also be interested in your thoughts on Non-Bivalentist Omniscience versus Bivalentist Omniscience. It seems that the later allows God to want something to happen but fail to achieve his goal.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 22, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  2. I’m don’t think we have to buy into those specific definitions Brian. Suffice it to say that I believe the future is open and that God is proficient enough at analyzing all of the data and predicting events or intervening to bring to pass all of his purposes. All specific future events at specific times must be characterized as “might happen” events but I think it is still safe to say that God has enough power and influence and time to achieve all of his purposes.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  3. This is one of the changes of mind i have made since stumbling onto the blogs. Things do add up better this way.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 22, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  4. I should also note that I am not saying we should be in lock step with every detail of any old variation of open theism. Rather I think we should embrace rather than ignore or try to wish away the logical requirements of robust free agency (aka libertarian free will) and that open theism is built precisely on that principle.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  5. Eric,

    You did put up fight along the way though if I remember correctly. I’m pleased to see you realizing that there is enough value in a rational theology to accept this basic idea (if took me a while to come to this conclusion too). As the old saying says “when you pick up one end of a stick you pick up the other”. Accepting real free will mean we a left with the consequences of accepting robust free will. Thankfully those consequences are basically all good ones in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

  6. Yes I did. I appreciate those who will patiently discuss things with me. I apparently can rub people wrong sometimes. I hope some of my thinking is clearing up, but it is sometimes hard to tell.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 22, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  7. The classic Arminian (and Mormon position) is both robust free will and “simple foreknowledge”, the latter meaning that God just “sees” into the (one and only) future. The problem is no one can explain how that combination is logically possible.

    There are only two reasonable ways out – one is compatibilism and the other is open theism (more or less the fallout of the idea that the future doesn’t exist yet, a concept with a long list of theological corollaries). Open theists are more or less radical Arminians, and are considered practical heretics in many quarters, the Evangelical Theological Society in particular.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 22, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  8. Geoff, you are correct. I was teaching the priests in my ward about the book of Revelation (by their request) and I pointed out that these prophecies are vague enough to allow for multiple interpretations while still promoting the basic message that God is in charge and will bring about his purposes. Open theism is the most compatible with our cosmology in Mormonism too.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 22, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

  9. BrianJ (#1), I don’t think “voluntary nescience” and “involuntary nescience” make a lot of sense. With regard to the first, why would God choose not to know a future that he easily could know? With regard to the second, what in principle makes a settled future unknowable in any particular respect?

    The difference between “bivalentist” and “non-bivalentist” omniscience seems like a technicality to me, although I am sure there is some deep implication in there somewhere.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 22, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  10. Mark D. — I’m not sure that this is what Brian J. is driving at, but there is a pretty big difference between those who hold: (a) there is a future that actually exists in some sense but God cannot know it; (b) there are true propositions about the future but God does not know them; (c) there are many propositions about future contingents that have no present truth value and thus cannot be known now.

    I think that the latter position is the most defensible both in terms of theories of propositions and their relation to truth value and also with respect to the claim that God is all-knowing though he he doesn’t know the truth of future contingent propositions.

    Of course I think that Geoff is entirely correct. The god of Calvinism is sadistic — and the view that God’s knowledge of our free acts is limited by the nature of those acts and the fact that a future doesn’t yet exist to be known solves the problems with Calvinism nicely.

    Comment by Blake — May 22, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  11. Open theism sounds like what I believe. It’s the only way that makes sense to me.

    I’m curious: how well does this harmonize with the scriptures, in your opinion. I’m not looking for scriptural proof or anything, just your general impression. Is there much contradictory scriptural teaching that has to be explained away?

    It does seem to me that a lot of us Mormons have absorbed belief in exhaustive foreknowledge. It comes through in our language a lot, especially when we talk about death.

    Comment by Tom — May 23, 2009 @ 7:22 am

  12. An excellent introduction to the Mormon relationship with Open Theism is in this book. I recommend it highly.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2009 @ 7:38 am

  13. open theism sounds good to me.

    i remember first realizing the problem with the culturally-persistent idea of a God with exhaustive foreknowledge that also allows free will on my mission about a year ago now.

    i believe it was Talmage who called God a “master of probabilities,” which i believe to be a fitting title. i think that he has a very good idea of what could possibly happen, but that the knowledge of those possibilities is in no way binding on what actually does happen when choices are made.

    i did a lot of searching around while i was an office elder (my companions always had way more work to do than i did, so i read a ton) about this exact topic. i remember reading an article about the three main beliefs that members held, and coming to the conclusion that God knows all that is logically possible to know, which would exclude the absolute knowledge of future events.

    i like the topics lately!

    Comment by trevior — May 23, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  14. Blake: Certainly the universe of open theists is wider than the “future doesn’t exist yet” folks. I claim, however, that settled future open theism doesn’t make a lot of sense in the two forms described.

    Involuntary nescience would make sense if “in principle” were changed to “in practice”, but that would involve acknowledging a non-logically-mandated limitation on God’s capacity, which most are rather uninclined to consider.

    Voluntary nescience has a different problem. In order to have a principled basis to “choose” not to see the future, one must first see the future and then decide to forget it. And of course if a settled future were undesirable, barring ex nihilo creation God would be powerless to do anything about it, which seems like a pretty miserable state of affairs to me.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 23, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  15. Tom: how well does this harmonize with the scriptures, in your opinion

    Plenty well for me. If God is powerful enough to bring about all of his purposes then that explains all of the prophecies and all of the comments about God knowing the beginning and the end.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  16. That works for me. I’m not much of a scriptorian and I just wondered if there was some affirmative prophetic teaching that god has exhaustive foreknowledge that we have to deal with.

    Comment by Tom — May 23, 2009 @ 10:47 am

  17. Mark: I think that we are in essential agreement. Certainly open theism includes anyone who believes that God doesn’t know the truth value of all future contingents. However, anyone who claims that the future actually exists and yet God does not know it seems to me to unacceptably limit the scope of God’s knowledge.

    I also agree that voluntary ignorance of the future makes little sense because God must first know the future in order to be able to choose what to forget — and how does an all-knowing being cease to know what it once knew?

    However, there is a different version of voluntary nescience. God could know the future if he could create ex nihilo a fully determinate reality. He could voluntarily decide to remain ignorant of some future contingents because he chooses to create creatures who are free in a libertarian sense. I have argued that God cannot coherently create ex nihilo creatures who are free in a libertarian sense so I don’t believe it is really a coherent position — but almost all open theists in the tradition in fact hold that position.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  18. Sorry to de-rail the thread somewhat Long time reader, first time poster


    I am an Open Theist and LDS, so I am in agreement with your POV as spelled out in vol. 1 of your work. However, what is your take on 2 Nephi 3 and the prediction of JS’s name and father’s name? Boyd in his book on Trinitarian Warfare, in a footnote on Hezekiah’s name being predicted, claims that God limited his parents free-will. However, most scholars reject the authenticity of that passage as well as the parallel event in the text of Isaiah and Cyrus in Isa 45 (as I do).

    Robert Boylan

    Comment by Robert Boylan — May 23, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  19. Blake: I have argued that God cannot coherently create ex nihilo creatures who are free in a libertarian sense so I don’t believe it is really a coherent position

    I vaguely remember reading something like that from you — was it an Element article or just comments online? In any case could you remind me of the short version of the logic you used? (And if you have a link to an article/paper on it that would be great too).

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  20. Robert Boylen,

    We have talked about that 2 Nephi 3 example in the past here. I think there are a couple of plausible solutions:

    1. God simply inspired the parents to name the sons Joseph. That sort of persuasion would be very easy for God to pull off. If he can send angels to Paul and Alma to accomplish his purposes he certainly can inspire righteous people to choose a baby name.
    2. We received the prophesy after-the-fact so a cynic might dismiss it anyway

    I of course like #1 better but #2 is an obvious cynical alternative so I thought I’d mention it too.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  21. Blake,

    I just remembered this comment of yours:

    If you reject foreknowledge, evangelicals still have to account for how a being could be free if God both brings into existence out of nothing and recreates (sustains in existence) this agent in each moment so that each “choice” must be directly created by God. In other words, creatio ex nihilo is not consistent with the kind of libertarian free will necessary to exonerate God from complicity in evil.

    It makes sense. Is there a school of thought where God might create self-sustaining LFW being ex nihilo? That might be a loophole to your argument if any creedal Christian took that position up…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  22. Robert: In addition to the possibilities that Geoff mentions, perhaps God was so persuasive that no other names were possible. Lucy mentions how both names were inspired by dreams and Joseph Smith Sr. was told to name his son after himself in a dream. So I suspect that we have a text further actualized by the after-the-fact reality, the inspiration before the fact and a very wise God.

    Geoff: With respect to my argument(s) that free will is inconsistent with creation ex nihilo, I argue for it at length, giving two extended and separate arguments, in chapter 11 of vol. 2, The Problems of Theism.

    The basic gist of the first argument is as follows: if the causes of our actions are outside of our control, then our acts result from causes that are not within our control. We cannot be free or accountable with respect to actions that are caused by causes outside of our control. If God creates us ex nihilo, then it is our nature to not exist. That is, God not only creates us initially but must sustain us in existence by recreating us in each moment. Otherwise, we would wink out of existence given that it is our nature to not exist. But God must recreate in each moment not only our essential properties, but also our accidental properties. He must create us not only as the person that we are, but must create all of our properties that describe what we are and what we are doing in each moment. Yet if God directly creates our accidental properties, then he also creates ex nihilo our choices. But if God creates our choices, then we are not free.

    Note that this is a general disproof and does not depend on the notion of libertarian free will because it would also extend to any possible notion of compatibilist free will. All compatibilists recognize that there are certain kinds of causes that act upon us that make it so that we are not free. Any kind of compulsion or coercion are the kind of causes that make us not free, tho they believe that there are other kinds of causes (they usually go by the very vague and vacuous description of non-constraining causes). But what could be more constraining, more coercive or compelling that an omnipotent being directly causing my “choices.”

    Thus, I believe that Calvinism, the notion that God directly causes everything, is entailed by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. For that reason, the classical Arminian, open theist, Thomistic and Molinist positions are all incoherent.

    You ask if there is a school of thoughtthat holds that God creates “self-sustaining” beings with LFW. There are distinctions between perdurantists, the view that we have distinct temporal parts, as opposed to endurantists, the view that an individual is wholly present in each moment. There are also concurrentists — the view that God’s causes concur with our own causes to produce a free act. The problem with all of these views is that they begin with an already existing agent – not one that is sustained in existence by being recreated from nothing in each moment as creation out of nothing entails. It really takes thinking thru the implications of creation out of nothing to see why it entails occasionalism.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  23. Geoff: As far as the benefits described in the post of open theism, doesn’t process theology do the same?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  24. Blake,

    First, thanks for the reminder where I read that. I am reminded that I skipped ahead to chapter 13 in my reviews of your Volume 2 so I still have a few chapters I can review.

    not one that is sustained in existence by being recreated from nothing in each moment as creation out of nothing entails.

    This is a provocative argument — the idea that creatio ex nihilo entails God consistently and actively holding all he creates in existence for each moment that it does exist. Have you run into much resistance to that claim?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

  25. Matt: As far as the benefits described in the post of open theism, doesn’t process theology do the same?

    Not that I know of, but I am no expert on process theology. You tell me — does process theology do the same?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

  26. One of the best explanations about God’s foreknowledge was from my friend’s mom. She said that one time her family went cliff jumping and while everyone was jumping off the cliffs, one daughter wanted to participate too. She said that she was going to do it. Her mom (the teacher) said that she wouldn’t. She “knew” that she wouldn’t do it. She knows her daughter so well that she knew that she wouldn’t jump off the cliff. As it turns out, her daughter didn’t jump off the cliff. I guess you could argue that her mother didn’t actually “know”, but it’s as good as knowing as it comes, especially allowing for free agency. And then of course if we think of how much our Heavenly Father knows us and understands the world we live in, He can “know” a lot of things that are either going to happen or not happen without that future being fixed.

    I thought that was a pretty good way to explain it to a 10th grader and it’s still the simplest way for me to think about it.

    Comment by Rusty — May 23, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  27. Geoff: I have met with deafening silence from evangelicals and other traditional Christians who have read and assessed the argument. That is really surprising to me because I am making a very important and central claim that undermines the entirety of traditional theology except for Calvinism — which very few are willing to seriously adopt for the very reasons you have stated in this post. Such a view entails straightforwardly that God is responsible for all evil, ends up calling good what is in fact evil on any sensible and sane assessment, makes God an arbitrary tyrant who chooses to damn some whom he could just as easily save and means that human life is meaningless and free will is not merely an illusion but non-existent for humans.

    The second argument is an expansion of an argument given by Michael Almeida that was published in Religious Studies. His argument has also met with no response. I suspect that it is because those who espouse traditional views just can’t see how to respond. If you can’t answer it, ignore it seems to be the approach.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  28. Wow.

    That is really interesting Blake.

    Ok, that inspires me to post a review on that chapter in Volume 2 soon.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  29. Mark D., have you read any books by the Calvinist, Bruce A. Ware? He has been writing quite prolificly on these matters.

    To honestly follow Geoff, I had better get my scissors out and start cutting out Bible verses that would appear to be “logical nonsense”.

    If Geoff wants to lead the way in all this for LDS, let him do a series of posts on where the KJV Bible could possibly be misleading for LDS people and hampering the forward march to Open Theism.

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 23, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

  30. Todd,

    Do you have blog Torrette Syndrome? Your habit of blurting random questions makes me wonder…

    Anyway, you can keep your whole Bible Todd. I love my KJV. But flee from your Calvinist tendencies when it comes to interpreting that Bible immediately.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

  31. Geoff:

    I am no expert, but just remember it being very similar to open theism in the book I recommended in comment #12. However, This article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy seems to suggest (in section #7) that process theology is even more in tune with Mormonism than Open Theism (which is the opposite impression I received from the book in #12).

    The Quote in question is:

    Openness or free will theists are closer to process theism than the Neo-Thomists or than Alston. They concur with process theists that God cannot determine a creature’s decisions without depriving it of its freedom. They also accept the process view of the nature of time; thus, for God to be influenced by the creatures means that in some respects the future is yet to be determined and God knows it as such. This provides for a straightforward concept of God responding to the creatures and for an interpretive scheme for the dominant Scriptural motif that God is in dynamic interaction with people (in answering prayer, for example). On the other hand, it is this aspect of process theism which seems most disturbing to more traditionally minded Evangelicals, for the lack of knowledge of a detailed future compromises or at least complicates the doctrine of divine providence. How, they ask, can history be the working out of a divine plan if the future is uncertain for God (cf. Hall and Sanders, 2003). Open theists believe that they can mitigate this criticism by not following process theism in the denial of creation ex nihilo. Open theists like William Hasker and John Sanders can speak of God as “a risk-taker,” but they insist that God can still perform miracles and guarantee the ultimate triumph of good over evil (Pinnock, et al., 1994, 151; Sanders 1998).

    To speak of open theism as a school of thought distinct from process theism is ironic since God’s openness to creaturely influence is precisely the shared content of their views. Hartshorne referred to “the openness of God” in 1963, more than thirty years before the openness controversy erupted (Hartshorne 1987, 92). In any event, these controversies began too late for Hartshorne to respond to them. It is noteworthy, however, that he was instrumental in bringing a little known forerunner of free will theism, Jules Lequyer [or Lequier], to the attention of philosophers (Hartshorne & Reese 2000, 227-230; Viney 1997). Because of the dominance historically of classical theism, Hartshorne viewed free will theists more as allies than foes, although he was fully aware of his differences from them and was not without arguments against those aspects of their views with which he disagreed (Viney 1998). A vigorous dialogue between process theists and free will theists is on-going (cf. Cobb and Pinnock 2000).

    Sorry for the length…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  32. (smiling)

    Geoff, I know that you could probably care less about what this Calvinist evangelical has written in engaging civilly with open theists, so I was asking Mark D. :) Place my thinking to more where Bruce is at in viewing the wondrous God. His books are very edifying.

    You love your KJV? That is great. So here is my request. In a separate post (or here), give me your top 50 KJV verses for declaring your view of God and open theism.

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 23, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  33. How does the basic conundrum posited here change if God’s time is truly not man’s time? It seems like an awful lot of the argument here is dependent on “future” meaning the same thing for us as it does for God. If he isn’t moving through time the same way we are, perhaps there isn’t so much of a contradiction. I think it’s pretty common for LDS to think of God being conscious of the past, present, and future all at once (whatever that would mean), but what if we were to also think of him being able to act on all three at once (whatever that would mean).

    Comment by Owen — May 23, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

  34. Todd: Until you actually deal with the open theist post that I had on this site, I don’t see why Geoff should even begin to cite scriptures. It seems to me, based on my engagement with you regarding scriptural texts on open theism, that you don’t take the scriptures seriously or even engage them unless you can wrest them to support you Calvinist view.

    I have engaged in a discussion with other evangelicals (notably Darrell) who do everything they can to avoid a real discussion — who avoid the scriptures and insist on ignoring the texts cited by LDS. I refuse to waste my time with folks who aren’t interested in a good faith dialogue and who insist on having every discussion on their own terms — just like you do here . . . once again.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  35. Owen: We have discussed God’s relation to time quite a bit. Could you explain how you believe such a view changes the problems with foreknowledge and free will? I don’t see how or why you believe that it changes anything even if past, present and future are before God all at once. It merely entails that the future is just like the past — closed to us and beyond our ability to affect. We are not free with respect to the past — so why would you believe that making them all equally open to God’s gaze would solve the problem?

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

  36. (sigh)

    I get the hint. I will retire from popping on NCT.

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 23, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

  37. Todd,

    No one asked you to leave. But it is a bit lazy of you to request that I write a post with my “top 50 KJV verses for declaring your view of God and open theism”. If you have any legitimate arguments against open theism maybe you should write up a nice big comment for this thread. You’ll have plenty of people willing to take you up on that debate.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  38. Geoff, I am still trying to figure out what NCT considers legitimate in the KJV Bible on revelation about God. Always to be changing I suppose.

    I will interact with NCT ideas in the future, but not here. (chuckling) I don’t meet the expectations of your abounding time or your tight logic.


    Comment by Todd Wood — May 23, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  39. Todd W: I have not read anything by Bruce Ware, although I know he is a prominent Calvinist theologian who has written extensively about the problems he perceives in Open Theism.

    The whole problem with systematic theology of course, is that it almost always leads somewhere where traditionalists don’t want to go, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

    Joseph Smith once said: “If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it [will] be a hard matter to get right”

    There are few fields of inquiry where that is more true than theology. In my opinion, scholastic Calvinism is indeed the nearly inevitable conclusion of a handful of strict assumptions that underlie classical theism.

    The problem is that conclusion has aspects that are deeply unsettling. So you have people like Open Theists who back away and say “where exactly did we go wrong?”

    Comment by Mark D. — May 23, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

  40. Todd,

    I’ll be honest — you’re really pretty annoying. That last comment was the sort of passive-aggressive swipes you always seem to take when you know you are completely over matched in a Biblical discussion. (And you always seem to be over matched when it comes to discussing the meaning of the scriptures and theology.) Now admittedly you are generally easy to tolerate lurking around the bloggernacle because you are so passive in your passive aggressive anti-Mormonism that it isn’t all that grating. But come on man — show some spine every once in a while.

    In response to your snark in #38 (which you will no doubt meekly claim was never intended as a snark) — we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. The Church uses the KJV officially. If you can summon the courage to actually engage in a discussion of the Bible let us know. Feel free to show us why Open Theism is incompatible with the KJV if that is what you believe. Otherwise please keep the wormy comments to yourself.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  41. Todd: Look, I like you. I generally find your spirit to be kind and inviting. I would be delighted to discuss the issues of this post with you. But it seems unreasonable for you to show up and say, in effect, I won’t respond to your post and I ask for another post altogether about what I want.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  42. Todd: I don’t meet the expectations of your abounding time or your tight logic.

    That seems like a fairly succinct and accurate summary of the situation. I would add that you also don’t meet my expectation of being willing to discuss things.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 24, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  43. I don’t think I so much see it as solving the problem as changing the entire line of reasoning by invalidating the premise of the question. Sort of like the old “How often do you beat your wife” tactic seen so often in the White House press room. Your approach here is to set up a paradox — God’s foreknowledge vs. free will — and then to solve it by essentially rejecting (to be fair, your more just redefining, I think) one half of the paradox, namely God’s foreknowledge. I’m more of the opinion that both are true — God truly being omniscient relative to our time line and man having some sort of free will that makes him accountable — and that our perception that the two are in conflict is just an artifact of how limited our understanding is. It’s like expecting a two-dimensional being to understand three-dimensional space. From our perspective, how would each version of God’s foreknowledge look any different?

    I’m pretty willing to accept that God knows all possible futures rather than knowing one single immutable future, but even so I think this makes a strong assumption that God’s time is our time. And given how predictable humans seem to me even given my own puny intellect, it seems like God’s capacity for having all things in the universe present before him would make it pretty difficult not to know what people are going to do next.

    This may be one of the reasons why God seems apparently to interfere so infrequently with the natural world — much more intervention might make maintaining agency impossible.

    Comment by Owen — May 24, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  44. Blake, Geoff, Jacob- moving on from Todd, seriously, I am curious, in your more expert opinion, does Process Theology meet the same requirements as Open Theology. I guess I am pretty confused on the differences, as depending on the source I read, it seems they are pretty similar.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 24, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  45. Owen,

    If both sides of a paradox were compatible then there wouldn’t be a paradox. When someone says there is such a thing as a round square they are positing a paradox and in fact they are simply wrong. Either the round part or the square part must go for the proposed shape to make sense. One can wish there were such a thing as a round square but the existence of such a things is logically impossible. Likewise one can wish that real free will can co-exist with a fixed future (which is required for foreknowledge) but the existence of such a things is also logically impossible.

    The problem with a time traveler God is very straight forward as Blake mentioned. If God can see or travel to the future then that future must now exist to be seen or visited. That means the future is currently fixed. That means we are all fated to whatever that future currently is. So if Johnny is fated to hell there is nothing Johnny can do today to change his fate. Worse than that, there is nothing God can do today to change Johhny’s fate.

    If you agree that the future is open and not yet decided, but that there are infinite possible futures then you should have no issue with open theism.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

  46. does Process Theology meet the same requirements as Open Theology

    What does this question mean Matt? What requirements are you talking about?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  47. I’m sorry Geoff. From my limited understanding, it seems the open theology and process theology both allow for Free will by saying there is not a fixed future. I guess I was hoping you or Blake or Clark or someone more expert on these things than I am could make sure I am correct on this. From what I’ve read they both hold this understanding, but I am not sure what the difference is on top of that. It seems like the only people who can tell the difference are the people arguing they aren’t the same thing. Sorry, this is becoming sort of a thread jack…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 24, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  48. Matt,

    I don’t think open theism and process theology are mutually exclusive things. Process theology seems to be a more detailed theology that includes very fundamental metaphysical assertions. Open theism is not nearly as all-inclusive as far as I can tell. Rather, open theism is specifically a way of dealing with the contradiction between libertarian free will and foreknowledge.

    You are right that both agree that foreknowledge must go in order to preserve LFW. But the underlying metaphysical assumptions of process theology are not required for someone to agree with the open theists that foreknowledge is not compatible with libertarian free will.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  49. That was my point. There is no paradox. The perception of a paradox is a result of us living in a different, more limited reality than God does. As I read it, God has told us that he knows everything, including our future. He has also told us that we have enough free will to make us accountable for our actions (with whatever provisos are made at the Judgment). I take him at his word.

    I don’t think you get how far I am going with this. I don’t necessarily even think that our past is fixed for God. I think God’s knowledge of our present and five minutes forward from out present on our time line is roughly equivalent to my current knowledge of ten minutes ago and five minutes ago.

    It seems to me that in some sense his time is perpendicular to ours.

    Comment by Owen — May 24, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

  50. Owen,

    I can only assume you are not thinking through the implications of some of your positions. You really think our past is not fixed? Really? If we don’t have a fixed past then are you of the opinion that in reality there are infinite versions of us living concurrently in parallel universes (a la Star Trek) or something? I can’t tell how “out there” your actual position is.

    Again, here is the the most pertinent question: Do you believe that your personal future already exists for God to know it? If you believe that then libertarian free will is out the door and your fate is sealed before you choose it. At best you might be a compatibilist and that is a terrible “at best” because predestination and fatalism go hand and hand with it. None of that is in harmony with Mormonism.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  51. BTW Owen — There is indeed a paradox. I have already explained why. Simply denying it in the absence of any supporting argument doesn’t help your case.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  52. Interesting thread. I think the “square is not a circle” comment #45 is an excellent illustration of how easy it is to over-analyze the scriptures. Imagine finding the following verse in the scriptures:

    “For the square and the circle shall be one.”

    Logicians would say that prophecy is unfulfillable, but faithful people would point out that a cylinder with a matching depth and diameter is both a circle and a square, depending on the perspective. Of course, only a creature who can perceive 3 dimensions will appreciate how this is true.

    There are many unfulfilled prophecies, especially about the Second Coming. By declaring those prophecies, God has suspended free will: if someone annihilated all humanity by creating a planet-sized black hole, then the prophecies would fail and “God would cease to be God”.

    Whenever God issues a prophecy, he suspends free will. Free will is not absolute. Similarly, parents have the explicit right to suspend their child’s free will; good parents exercise that right carefully. Because free will is not absolute, you can not logically derive absolute arguments from it.

    This discussion reminds me of the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. In the movie, a couple of teenagers go on a time travel adventure and learn about their own certain future. The movie follows the theory that the future is unchangeable, unlike most time travel shows like “Back to the Future” and “Doctor Who”. In some really funny scenes, they even make plans to change the past, then carry out their plans in the future.

    I suppose you could say that by learning of their future, Bill and Ted lost a portion of their free will, but I never had the perception that all of their free will had been compromised. They were still responsible for their choices because they were not told everything.

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  53. Matt: The primary difference between open theology in the tradition and classic process theology is that open theologians generally affirm creation out of nothing and process theologians deny it. In addition, process theology arises out of the process metaphysic of Alfred North Whitehead that defines the most basic realities as actual occasions that essentially exhibit some degree of creativity in the synthesis of one moment in becoming what it is in the next moment. Open theologians need not be tied into this basic metaphysic.

    As Mormons, I believe that we are probably closer to process theologians than open theists on two counts: (1) Mormons also reject creation out of nothing; (2) the basic metaphysic of Mormonism, if there is one, seems to me to be grounded in a physicalist view of a reality that is basically in process.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

  54. Shane: “They were still responsible for their choices because they were not told everything.”

    Actually, what follows from this scenario is that they were never free and never had any free will tp lose in the first place. They are merely ignorant of some facts about which they are not free in the future. But they are not free with respect to both that which they already know to be fixed and that which is fixed whether they know it or not.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  55. I think the compatibilist foreknowledge position is at least intellectually respectable. However it requires that God be timeless, and to have pre-planned and decided all of his present actions in some long distant past. That works reasonably well with conventional Arminianism.

    However, the number one reason why this option doesn’t work for Mormonism is that there is only being for whom it is jointly possible to pre-plan all of his future decisions and timelessly perceive the decisions of all others. On the point of exaltation to a similar timeless state, any other individual would discover that comparable discretion is missing, because all of his future acts had been captured “on film” for his perusal in a manner that did not apply to the first.

    The first exalted person would be able to decide all of his actions with supernatural discretion and foresight. The same advantage would apply to no other. And if there was no first exalted being, then such an advantage would apply to no one.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 24, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  56. There is one out for the scenario I have just described – if people are exalted before they are exalted, i.e. all exalted beings jointly pre-plan the entire future including all their future decisions in both mortal and exalted states, and then take turns being mortal not knowing that they collectively pre-determined their every action umpteen million years prior. Of course one might wonder why beings with such capacity would pre-plan their own sins and transgressions.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 24, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

  57. As I’ve studied the prophecies in the scriptures, I’ve noted that soon to pass prophecies seem to be rich with description, while those further down the road seem to be more and more vague.
    This suggests one of two things:
    1) Either there is libertarian free will, and God’s predictions get fuzzier the further one goes out, or
    2) God intentionally makes his own prophecies fuzzy further out, but there’s no good reason I can think of to explain why. (Why does D&C 87 get into specifics of the upcoming Civil War, but less detail on world wars, and then less details on the slave uprisings that come after that?).

    I see God as the master chessmaster. He can easily predict the likely outcomes for several moves as most likely (99.9%), and then it decreases as one goes further out on the game. Yet, when a move approaches, the number of options decreases, allowing for a more specific set of predictions again.

    Upon reading Blake Ostler’s argument for libertarian free will, I became one who drifted between his view and Clark Goble’s consideration of compatibilism, as there seem to be evidences for both (how did God know how much of the Gold plates needed to be written twice). But the further I consider it, it seems more answers come from a God that knows all that there is to know right now, but does not know the future for certain.

    We focus on how many of our experiences here are similar to God’s experiences (raising children, having a body, etc), yet think that our ability to predict what our teenager will do next must be different than God’s knowledge of what we will do next.

    Comment by Rameumptom — May 24, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  58. Geez, cool down. I don’t have a ‘case’. I’m just whittlin’ here.

    Given the assumptions you are making (esp. linear time), and the language you are using (human rather than divine or mathematical) there is a paradox, sure. I don’t think our time is God’s time and that whatever his time is is unfathomable to us (everlasting to everlasting…whatever that means), so I don’t have to accept that what appears to me and you as a paradox is to God. I’d bet all of my bananas that the truth is far more “out there” than any of us guess: a being that can know all things across a universe, a being that can accurately calculate things like the number of sands in the sea or stars in the heavens, a being that can hear a billion prayers at once, beings levitating, passing through solid matter, traveling light years without the apparent aid of technology, creating life, existing eternally, knowing what others are thinking, making stones glow by touching them, parting seas, moving mountains, creating beings that can imagine alternate dimensions and realities etc etc… oh, and forgiving sins and cleansing souls… Even hard core Trekkers would think you were jumping the shark if you put all that in one movie.

    I wonder what someone with really good systems theory training thinks of all this. I’m just a B-grade econometrician, but I know just enough about the subject to know that humans just are not wired for understanding simultaneous causality. It totally short circuits people’s internal logic. But with the right mathematical constructs, it works just fine and we can estimate the strengths of relationships. Positing some sort of mutual causality across time doesn’t seem like it would be all that much of a stretch in terms of the math.

    What do you mean “exist” when you talk about the future existing for God to know it? I think the temporal nature of our language is fouling up that thought. By using that word you are implicitly referencing a moment in time–some present common to one event and a subsequent event. With God knowing the intents of our hearts, all the laws of nature, and where every given sparrow (if not atom) is at any given moment (can he know both their positions and their velocities?), I just can’t see how he could help knowing the end from the beginning. But he says we are free to choose. He’s tricky, that one.

    Comment by Owen — May 24, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

  59. Rameumptom: I think what you are observing in the specificity of prophesy probably has something to do with the prophet. The prophet’s vocabulary seems to fail the more different the future he is describing is from his own.

    Haven’t prophets said pretty explicitly that certain spirits (e.g. Adam and Eve) were specifically chosen because God knew they would do what he needed them to do?

    And what about the crazy specifics in some patriarchal blessings? Maybe they’re just like horoscopes that we read into what we want to see, but most of the ones I’ve read seem pretty freaky good at predicting the future, including things that depend on other people’s agency. If that near 100% prediction ability God has is longer than my life span, what’s the diff?

    Comment by Owen — May 24, 2009 @ 7:05 pm

  60. Blake:

    Let’s say that this universe, including God, is actually a computer program and the entire timeline is deterministic. Let’s also say that this is not a very special program, but just one of many that some hacker runs for fun on his lunch hour. It’s an advanced form of Conway’s Game of Life. The hacker runs it to see if real intelligence will emerge, but so far, only trivial things have evolved.

    If that is the truth, then you might say we have no freedom. The troublesome thing is that we have no way of knowing whether the universe is nothing but a computer program. Virtual machine technology has proven that any hardware can be emulated in software, leading to all sorts of new tricks. Why not the whole universe? If we’re going to live for eternity, with potentially infinite resources, why not? Because the universe is too big? Infinity makes the computer I’m talking about look absolutely tiny.

    Thus the notion of absolute free will seems foreign to me. I don’t think it’s possible to know whether free will is absolute. Instead, I consider free will to be something granted to me. It is a blessing, not a property of the universe.

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  61. Shane (#52),

    First, welcome to the Thang. Second, you are batting about .000 in your first comment here. Let me explain:

    but faithful people would point out that a cylinder with a matching depth and diameter is both a circle and a square

    That is all well and good but it is just changing the subject. A cylinder is not a square and it is certainly not a round square.

    Further, the scriptures have nothing specific in them regarding free will or foreknowledge that comes close to your hypothetical “For the square and the circle shall be one” verse.

    Similarly, parents have the explicit right to suspend their child’s free will;

    I think not. Parents can restrict privileges but they never suspend actual free will. In fact a quadriplegic in solitary confinement has as much free will as you and I. We shouldn’t confuse liberty to act with freedom to choose our thoughts and desires and character.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

  62. Shane (#60), That is essentially an argument for compatibilism, i.e. the position that what we perceive as free will is actually a manifestation of Laplacian determinism.

    There are physical constraints, by the way, that suggest that any computer powerful enough to accurately simulate the universe must be comparable in extent, size, and complexity as the universe itself, and further that such a computer would not be able to produce results at a significantly faster rate than the universe computes its own history. If course if you want to dump accuracy or physics out the window, things are different.

    Hey Mr. Computer, could you please tell me what I am going to decide to have for breakfast tommorrow? {smile}

    Comment by Mark D. — May 24, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

  63. Shane: have I written anything that disagrees with the view that free will is not something from the universe but a gift?

    However, it seems to me that intelligences are free and able to choose and that such freedom is inherent in their make-up. We are simply such that we have free choice — until we become mortal. When we become mortal, we are at the mercy of the forces of nature to become a natural man and remain unfree. We would not be free to choose for ourselves in this sphere of reality (i.e., mortality) except for the atonement. Thus, free will is a gift in this life; but it is something that we had before this life.

    Could you explain what you mean by “absolute free will”? I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who believes in absolute free for mortals. After all, I could be hit hard on the head and lose consciousness and free will. That suggests that mortal beings such as ourselves have a free will that is possible for persons embodied in mortal bodies.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  64. Owen,

    First, I forgot to welcome you to the Thang, so welcome. Second, please don’t confuse my direct language with me getting hot under the collar. I can assure you that I wasn’t steamed at all when I last responded to you. I was just being direct. You will see quickly that this isn’t a Gospel doctrine class where people are afraid to aggressively debate.

    Now on to your points. You are making the common mistake of confusing mystery and nonsense. I fully agree that there are many mysteries of God. God can do all things that are impossible for us to do based on our knowledge and technology. But that does not mean God will ever be able to do something that is logically impossible. It is a mystery how God does much of what he does but is it nonsense to insist he accomplished something that is logically impossible. That is the reason I used the square circle example. It is logically contradictory and even God can’t do that.

    So here is the issue about the future. If God can travel to or even see our future then our future already exists to be seen. If it exists it is fixed just like our past is fixed. So let’s say God sees your future and reveals it to you and you find out you are destined for hell. If God knows now you are destined for hell and even if you know it, you can’t avoid going to hell no matter what you try to choose in the meantime. That is the problem. If the future exists to be known at all — if any being could possibly know it — then predestination and fatalism are correct teachings.

    Further, as I said in the post, knowing the future is totally useless to God. If he knows you are destined for hell even he can’t change it.

    Now if your point is that God is a really good predictor and that he knows what is most likely to happen and then I agree. When you throw in his ability to intervene on earth it is easy to see why he can accomplish all of his purposes on earth. None of that requires exhaustive foreknowledge with its associated fixed future though.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  65. Ok, it seems I was confused about terms. :-) Each time I said free will, I meant “agency”, which is the freedom to act. I thought you and all of the comments were also referring to agency. Silly me.

    So God grants limited agency, as do parents. You might say that Bill and Ted’s universe has no agency because the future is predetermined, but I suggest their agency was not limited until they were given a knowledge of the future, and that they retained most of their agency.

    When I first heard that God can watch me anywhere, it frightened me a bit, but over time I came to terms with it. He watches me without limiting my agency. If He can watch me anywhere in space without limiting my agency, maybe He can watch me anywhere in time as well without limiting my agency.

    Perhaps people who gain a perfect knowledge of their own future replace agency with timelessness, and perhaps timelessness is greater than agency. Just an idea. (I’m not suggesting everyone who is timeless is like God.) Admittedly, I don’t like the idea. Timelessness sounds too predictable! Right now, I prefer an unpredictable universe where God uses fantastic probability models. However, I haven’t heard anything that can disprove the notion that everything is predictable. The concept of the universe as a virtual machine is too compelling.

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  66. This is a very informative thread for those of us novice in theology and philosphy. Thanks everyone.

    I hadn’t heard of Process Theology before today, but what caught my eye on the Wikipedia article was the bit about reality being composed of relationally-connected events. It seems related to the ideas of physicist Julian Barbour pertaining to time as an illusion.

    Shane (60): At the end of his book The Irrational Atheist, author, blogger and game designer Vox Day includes a chapter called “Master of Puppets or Game Designer?,” and he reaches exactly the opposite conclusion you do about free will in a computer simulation.

    He tells a story of his partner/lead programmer demonstrating a squad-based 3D game for the publisher. It was a POW rescue mission, and he describes what happened thus:

    During the demo, Big Chilly and the three AI-controlled members of his fireteam had successfully taken out both the wide patrol and the guards, and they were just beginning to lay the explosives to blow the door that held the prisoners captive when there was a sudden burst of bright laser fire that caused him to jump in his seat and emit a startled shriek loud enough to make everyone else in the room jump, too. While his AI squadmates shot down the intruder before anyone’s battlesuits took too much damage, what shocked Big Chilly was that for the first time in hundreds of playings, an enemy AI had taken it upon itself to circle around behind the rescue force and attack it from an unexpected direction.

    But how could this happen? How could a lowly artificial intelligence surprise a lead programmer who was demonstrably omniscient and omnipotent in the AI’s world? How can the created do what the creator did not will? The answer, when viewed in this context, should be obvious.

    Surprise was possible because the programmer was not choosing to exercise either his knowledge or his power at that particular point where real-time intersected game-time. While he could have easily provided that particular character with a scripted path and prevented the character from being able to depart from it, he had already elected not to do so. He could have constructed the character in such a way that its head would have exploded for the sin of attempted deicide, or even as punishment for the sin of merely daring to look upon him in all his pasty geek glory, but he did not do that, either. And finally, while he could have been scanning that particular AI’s “thought” processes and known what it intended to do in the very instant the intention was born, instead he refrained and so learned about its actions through entirely “natural” means.

    If it is not difficult to accept that an omniscient and omnipotent programmer can reject omniderigence, why should it be hard to imagine that an all-powerful God might choose to do the same?

    Sorry for the length; I thought it was a great story.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 24, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  67. Note: my point wasn’t to suggest that I agree with Vox Day’s theology (I don’t in many ways), but that the Openness of God seems to allow for both predictability and free will.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 24, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  68. Shane: “but I suggest their agency was not limited until they were given a knowledge of the future, and that they retained most of their agency.”

    What difference does it make that they were ignorant of the fact that the future is fated and fixed? The fact that we are ignorant of a fact doesn’t make it any less of a fact.

    I have no idea how God could timelessly watch me, say, eat a hamburger. That takes time and a distinction between the time before I begin to eat and the time after it is consumed. I have no idea what it could mean to timelessly watch me do anything since doing anything is a process that takes time and a distinction of before and after. Just because an idea is mysterious, that doesn’t make it an acceptable explanation.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  69. Ben: the story of Big Chilly is problematic because God must choose what to be ignorant about based upon his knowledge of it. Obviously if God knows what to remain ignorant about something, he ain’t ignorant about it.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  70. Shane: but I suggest their agency was not limited until they were given a knowledge of the future

    To add to Blake’s comment, this is all well and good if you are ok with being fated/predestined to heaven or hell prior to your birth and that you are ok with having no power to choose anything other than your fate. (Whether you know your fixed future or not is moot.) You’d fit right in with the Calvinists with a theology like that. The problem is that if you are a Mormon predestination just doesn’t fly in Mormonism.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

  71. Yes Ben, Blake is right on. The problem always boils down to a fixed future. If the future can be known exhaustively then pernicious fatalism is true. There is a huge difference between “highly likely to happen” and “will happen”.

    And I am still waiting for someone to explain how exhaustive foreknowledge could be remotely useful to God anyway.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  72. Ben (#66): It’s a cool story, but let’s say the programmer then decides to turn that game into a test case (perhaps using a specific random seed) so that the AI will make that decision again for future players. Now the programmer has re-enabled predictability. Our universe could be a mere test case for some other universe. ;-)

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  73. Blake and Geoff, that makes sense to me. I like the God-as-game-designer theory in a geeky way, but I think I agree that it’s incompatible with an open future.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 24, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  74. Blake: facts I don’t know about do not affect my decisions, so I don’t lose my agency just because someone else knows what I am going to do. I operate on the faith that if there are people who do know what I am going to do, they will either be benevolent or they will leave me alone. :-)

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

  75. Shane: How could they know what you are going to do unless there is already some truth to be known about what you will do? If there is some truth about what you will do before you do it, how did it get fixed as a truth unless it exists as a fixed fact in some sense? The fact that there is already a fixed fact about what you will do before you do it entails that you cannot do otherwise whether you know it or not. Your ignorance that you are not free doesn’t somehow mean that you are free.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2009 @ 10:12 pm

  76. Shane: I don’t lose my agency just because someone else knows what I am going to do

    That may be true. But if we give up free will as you are so willing to do, we give up much of the heart of Mormonism. If we can’t choose our character or anything other than the great causal chain leads us to choose then we give up the idea that this life is a probation, we give up all moral responsibility for humans, we give up the long taught concept of free agency. And what do we get in return? An impotent God who is as powerless to change our fates are we are.

    In other words, I think it is theological insanity for a Mormon to argue for that tradeoff.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 10:14 pm

  77. The scripture that keeps all these weird ideas about time in my head is Alma 40:8:

    “Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.”


    I don’t feel like the probability model fits this scripture, because in the probability model, you can’t say that it “mattereth not” when people die. In the probability model, it is essential to predict when people will die so that certain people will fulfill prophecies.

    Explanations that could fit the scripture include perfect foreknowledge and time travel. The type of time travel could be like Doctor Who, where it actually is possible to change the timeline, and special physical laws apply if you create paradoxes.

    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 24, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  78. FWIW, here is another incompatibility between the computer simulation model of the universe and Mormonism. The former seems to assumes creation ex nihilo, and additionally requires God to continuously act in order for the existence of each individual to continue (e.g. He has to leave the computer on, pay the electric bill, etc.).

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 24, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  79. Shane — One way to take that “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men” is to say it is simply pointing out that God is immortal and does not have a expiration clock ticking in his ear like mortals do. But there are many ways that could be interpreted.

    Ben — Good point.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  80. Geoff J (#70), Care should be taken to distinguish between predestination and ordinary determinism. In particular, predestination means that God determines where each person will end up prior to any actual action on their part.

    Predestination is compatible with determinism if God creates the universe ex nihilo, otherwise you can have predestination without determinism, and determinism without predestination.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 24, 2009 @ 11:21 pm

  81. Ok, I studied this some more. Like you guys, Einstein believed strongly that the mere existence of an immutable future implies the non-existence of free will. To me, agency is nothing more than the right to act out my choices, and I don’t care if my choices turn out to be perfectly predictable. However, I will defer to Einstein on that connection.

    But of course free will *does* exist, so there must not be an immutable future, and even God can not know all of the future. Instead, He causes certain events and uses His keen intelligence to predict others. That’s very interesting.

    So, when these scientists get around to turning on their lasers, something surprising will happen, rather than what they expect:


    Comment by Shane Hathaway — May 25, 2009 @ 12:58 am

  82. In Asimov’s Foundation series there is a scientist named Hari Seldon who discovers the ability to “predict” the future with some accuracy. It largely consists of taking in as much facts as possible and then predicting the future, not on an individual basis, but on a societal level. His “prophecies” fail when an extraordinary individual, the mule, uses his free will to change things.

    I often think that God is a great predictor but that he can never know the future with certainty. He can intervene to help shape it when necessary, unlike Hari Seldon, but there is always the individual free will that can change things. I like the terms the Christian writer Dominic Crossan uses, Divine Necessity and Human Inevitability. In the context of this discussion, I believe God understands humans and us at such a level that he understands human inevitability. The future is not fixed, we are free, and yet God can make surprisingly accurate analysis and predictions.

    Comment by J. Madson — May 25, 2009 @ 1:49 am

  83. The problem is that if you are a Mormon predestination just doesn’t fly in Mormonism.

    Note that the predestination Mormonism tends to object to is more the Calvinist like view where God controls everything. It takes no stance on the universe simply being what it is outside of God’s control. Some Mormons want God to have total control and I think that a theological mistake. But I think pushing things beyond it also a mistake. But we’ve debated that before and I’ll not belabor it.

    Comment by clark — May 25, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  84. Clark: Predestination outside of God’s control is not properly speaking predestination at all.

    Compatibilist Arminians generally have a problem of course, because ex nihilo creation + determinism = classical predestination. Non-compatibilist Arminianism, on the other hand, practically entails unsettled future open theism. Most Arminians (and Catholics – whose position is similar) don’t really like either option.

    Clearly there are compatibilist Mormons, and of course LFW Mormons – but I have never met someone who could properly be considered a Calvinist Mormon, in the full sense of the term – i.e. God directly or indirectly dictates everything that happens.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 25, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  85. Clark and Mark,

    I’ll be more precise in the future for your sake. I used “predestination” in that comment mostly for dramatic effect.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 25, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  86. Mark: There is no such thing as a compatibilist Arminian vis a vis determinism. There are of course compatibilists Arminians vis a vis foreknowledge. However, the rejection of determinism and adoption of libertarian free will is definative for Arminianism.

    I also disagree with Clark. The “predestination” that Mormons reject is not merely God predestinating us, but the mindless and purposeless universe determining our fate. Predestination can extend to anything outside of human control that pre-determines what humans will do. I agree that divine predestination requires God, but it seems to me that the term is broad enough to include any force or mind that pre-determines our destination in life outside of our control.

    Comment by Blake — May 25, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  87. Well done, Geoff. I applaud your efforts to raise inconsistencies between certain beliefs within the mormon community. Apparent inconsistencies between notions of absolute foreknowledge or pre-destiny and agency are issues worthy of enlightened discussion.

    I personally have a difficult time reconciling absolute knowledge of things to come with true agency. For instance, the Savior had a choice to not go through with the atonement. If he did not have a choice then it would not have been a meaningful act. Was Heavenly Father absolutely certain that the Savior would go through with it? I don’t know, but the Savior was able to make a choice – He could have chosen to not go through with it. All that really matters is that he did complete the atonement, but these are issues that are fun to explore.

    Comment by Dave Collingridge — May 25, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  88. Blake, I agree that compatibilist Arminianism is virtually a contradiction in terms, although I seem to have run across someone trying to defend that odd combination.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 25, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  89. Blake, when predestination is usually discussed in Church, it’s opposed to the idea of God controlling. Now it may be the case that some are opposed to the fatalism you outline but from what I can see few even think about that issue. Those who tend to bring the issue up tend to adopt a form of LFW which entails Open Theism and that may bias the issue. But from what I can see most Mormons are naively compatibilists unless the issues are drawn out for them.

    Comment by Clark — May 26, 2009 @ 9:41 am

  90. I should add that the “outside of our control” is where things get a bit complex. That’s because of course LFW proponents disagree over what “control” consists of.

    Comment by Clark — May 26, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  91. God “pre-deciding” or “pre-determining” where someone will end up is the proper use of the term “predestination”. The Church explicitly rejects predestination in that sense, in virtually the same way and for the same reason as the Arminians do.

    Due to creatio ex nihilo, Arminians don’t really have the freedom to be determinists. Mormons do, although it certainly seems to be a minority position. I have certainly never heard a Church authority reject determinism in the same way “predestination” is often rejected.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 26, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

  92. Clark: My experience is that LDS are libertarians and only people who have thought about determinism and action could even begin to formulate compatibilism. The work of Knobe at the UofU I believe strongly supports my assertion.

    Comment by Blake — May 26, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  93. I think Knobe’s work isn’t quite relevant since it avoids the theological question of God’s foreknowledge. Most Mormons believe God has foreknowledge until the debate is explained carefully to them.

    Comment by Clark — May 27, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  94. I’m waaay late in bringing this up since Todd Wood has already retired from the conversation, but Geoff, I think you’re being a little harsh on Todd.

    Yes, there’s the passive-aggressive thing. Yes, he doesn’t often engage the argument with the detail most of us would like (if he engages at all). But I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. He has a different style in blog-interaction. It bugged me for a while, but I kinda got over it, and now I just appreciate that he interacts without ridiculing and screaming at us. He’s generally civil and polite about things, so why bag on him?

    If it comes to the aggressive Calvinist thing, that showdown wasn’t even Todd’s fault to begin with. If anyone started it, it was you and Aaron S.

    Since Aaron quit the field when the heat got too much, it seems to me that Todd’s suddenly become the whipping boy in a fight he didn’t even start.

    Just a suggestion, but you might want to lay off just a touch. If you find a post of his bafflingly irrelevant, then don’t respond to it. We can’t all be rigorous debaters.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 27, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  95. Seth,

    I have laid off Todd for years. This is the first time I have really called him out on his passive aggressive style. But come on — should we forever condescendingly treat him like the retarded little kid in the corner? I think calling him out is a show of respect. I choose to believe he can do better than drive-by inane comments. I think he should at least try to defend his positions every once in a while.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 27, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  96. Geoff: “should we forever condescendingly treat him like the retarded little kid in the corner?”

    Look, I’m the last person who will insist that you have to be PC — especially on your own blog. But Shheeessh Geoff.

    Comment by Blake — May 27, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

  97. Hehe. Maybe I should have used “mentally challenged”?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 27, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  98. I should note that my comment indicates that Todd is not retarded and so we should not treat him as if he were if that wasn’t clear…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 27, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  99. Open Theism has a possible outcome that must be considered. The outcome that Satan wins the game.

    Comment by Patrick — May 31, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  100. Non-open theism has a possible outcome that must be considered. The conclusion that God is a rock.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 31, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  101. Hehehe.

    Nice Mark.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 31, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

  102. Rejoinder aside, this is a serious issue. I just don’t think it is compelling enough to conclude the case.

    In my opinion, however, God will win in the end because he is right.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 31, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  103. ==Open Theism has a possible outcome that must be considered. The outcome that Satan wins the game.==

    This is incorrect, though Bruce Ware and others like to make this claim (see God’s Diminished Glory).

    Open Theists such as myself, Blake, Greg Boyd, John Sanders, etc., believe that God is infinitely intelligent, therefore, he knows all the possible outcomes of the future perfectly well, so he will not be shocked or surprised by any outcome (though disappointed, through resulting sin and the like). Further, in OT, God knows that, regardless of all the possible outcomes of the future, that he will be victorious over sin and will be glorified at the last day. All Open Theists I have read hold to this view. It is like the OT view on Jesus’ mission–it was inevitable that, at some time and some place, He would have to atone for the sins of mankind, but the questions of who would kill him, when, and how were still open.

    The OT concept of God, however, is potent, unlike the Calvinist “god” who *has* to control everything, including decreeing sin and hell to ensure that he will win at the end; the OT concept of God, however, is that God is so potent that he can allow us to have proper free-will yet still know that he will be victorious at the last day.


    Robert B.

    Comment by Robert Boylan — June 1, 2009 @ 2:04 am

  104. Patrick,

    Can you be more precise about what you mean by “possible” and “win the game”? Are you talking about logical possibility or practical possibility? By saying it is possible do you mean to also say it has a reasonable probability? By “win the game” do you mean that all of God’s purposes could be thwarted such that he couldn’t save anyone, or do you mean that some people may not be saved?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 1, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  105. Owen #59:

    If God knows all things in futurity, why can’t he help the prophet be more specific? D&C 87 has nothing in it that requires twisting of words. The major nations in Joseph’s day are still around today. The Civil War started in South Carolina: a specific. England would be asked by the South to assist them: a specific. England would ask other nations to help them when war falls on all nations: a specific.
    Slave would rise up against their masters marshaled in the disciplines of war: a non-specific. Wouldn’t it have been easier to say, that Russia and other slave nations would be overthrown by their slaves?
    The remaining slaves would become angry and vex the Gentile nations: a non-specific. Wouldn’t it have been easier to say the Muslims would attack the West?

    God caused Adam and Eve to fall, btw. He gave them time in the Garden to choose for themselves between having children (a commandment they were ignoring) or not eating of the tree of knowledge. Only when God allowed the serpent to test them did they fall – and there are differing statements on whether Adam and Eve were smart or just dupes.

    Patriarchal blessings can be very generic. While I believe them to be inspired, I see them sometimes as being as generic as the astrology chart in the newspaper. God anticipates what he wants done, but does not necessarily foresee it. He can give specific direction in a blessing, and then work to have it accomplished. But there are many blessings given that do not come to pass exactly as they state, and we end up trying to find the mystery meaning. My patriarchal blessing is a great guide to me. It has helped make me what I am today. But I do not know whether that’s because it predicted my future, or whether I followed its guidance, which now reflects my present.

    Once again, God is a grand chess master. He can highly predict the moves up close, but they get more open the further he goes down. As he needs to step in and massage the results, he does, to ensure his overarching plan is accomplished.

    In this way, he can give commandments and promises to people in the scriptures, and then when they disobey, he revokes them. This happened with Thomas Marsh and David W. Patten, who were to go England on missions, but didn’t. Why not? Because their agency went a different direction.

    Comment by rameumptom — June 1, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  106. Sorry to be late to the party, but I’m curious: Can Geoff J or Blake (or anyone) direct me to an argument in favor of Mormonism and compatibilism. Whether on this blog, or elsewhere, has anyone (Clark maybe?) set forth this argument in a respectable form? I confess I’m totally with Geoff and Blake here, 100%, to the point that I am utterly mystified by the notion that any LDS committed to intuitively appealing notions of free will (and at all inclined to think carefully about the question) could possibly entertain thinking otherwise. But I admit my mystification could merely be evidence of my failure to engage serious arguments that are out there. So a reference to a Mormon compatibilist argument in top form would be appreciated.

    Aaron B

    Comment by Aaron Brown — June 1, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  107. Aaron,

    J Nelson-Seawright and Adam Greenwood formed an unlikely alliance to defend compatibilism for Mormons in this thread. Clark less vigorously chimed in at the follow up thread here. And here is a post where I stand all amazed at the number of Mormons who kinda sorta like compatibilism (Jeff G does most of the compatibilism defending there with Christian Cardall assisting to some degree).

    Of course I think all the Mormon compatibilism defenders fail in the end but at least they give it the ol’ college try…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 1, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  108. Thanks, Geoff. I actually read portions of the JNS/Greenwood tagteam a couple months back, and it’s that thread that actually inspired me to ask this question. (I figured if JNS was trying to make compatibilism respectable, it can’t be completely silly, can it?). I’ll have to revisit it. Thanks.


    Comment by Aaron Brown — June 2, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  109. I think compatibilism is a somewhat respectable perspective on the question of free will. My problem with non-creatio ex nihilo compatibilism is the consequent impossibility of assigning a substantive reason for anything.

    i.e. people become compatibilists because they do not like the idea of events without antecedent causes, and subsequently lose the ability to identify an original or primary cause for anything. Classical theists aside, in the philosophical sense, compatibilism is essentially the denial of causes.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 2, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  110. Aaron,

    For all that JNS has been frustrated with folks on this blog for not giving compatibilism a fair shake, he has not yet told us where to find the treatment of compatibilism that we are neglecting. So, I am with you.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 2, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  111. I’m not a real regular internet participant so it’s hard for me participate in discussions.

    I made my comment based on what I see as a continued good faith effort on the part of Satan to thwart everything God is doing, and I believe he thinks he can win. When dealing with free agents, the failure of all participants in the plan is a possible outcome. I think the flood is a good example of this. The flood represents a hard reset, a “let’s start this over again”.

    Ultimately God will not fail because he always has the hard reset as an option.

    Comment by Patrick — June 2, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

  112. Patrick,

    the failure of all participants in the plan is a possible outcome

    So it sounds like you are saying it is a logical possibility. Which means I agree with your point.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 2, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  113. In terms of everything that really matters, I would call the flood more like a detour than a reset. A reset would be like Brigham Young’s concept of the second death – reduction to spirit dust. I don’t think the latter is very economical, and it may not even be possible. Economical as in repent and repair rather than damn and destroy.

    IMO, real divine power is completely contingent on consent and concurrence, so even a detour is not enough. The offered plan must be better than all available alternatives. If the folks in charge promoted a plan significantly inferior to a ready alternative, I would say they would likely suffer a loss of confidence. I can’t imagine a flood like decision being undertaken in heaven without an overwhelming sustaining vote.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 2, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

  114. I agree Mark. Consent and concurrence is what made our Father in Heaven our Spiritual Father. Inferred in God’s purposes of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, is the establishment of a divine society. When it became obvious that God’s children had sufficiently moved away from evolving towards a divine society then the flood became necessary. The toddler had to be redirected away from the cliff.

    Comment by Patrick — June 7, 2009 @ 7:25 am

  115. Consent and concurrence is what made our Father in Heaven our Spiritual Father. Inferred in God’s purposes of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, is the establishment of a divine society. When it became obvious that God’s children had sufficiently moved away from evolving towards a divine society then the flood became necessary. The toddler had to be redirected away from the cliff.

    Comment by meizitang — April 25, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

  116. It isn’t just calvinism that is the problem.

    It is Ex Nihilo creation in general.

    I made a new video on Free Will and Ex Nihilo creation.


    Comment by Stephen Michael Purdy — March 9, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

  117. Patrick,

    I made my comment based on what I see as a continued good faith effort on the part of Satan to thwart everything God is doing, and I believe he thinks he can win.

    I don’t think Satan thinks he can win the whole war. He is miserable and he wants others to be miserable like him; He is a true hater.

    I think Satan is satisfied with winning small battles and individual souls, while by now he realizes that he will never overcome God in the big picture.

    By the way, I posted the last video here, so I will give you the link to part 2

    2 Origins of Ex Nihilo – Genesis

    Comment by Stephen Michael Purdy — March 11, 2012 @ 1:34 am

  118. Sorry …

    I just realized I didn’t give the link. Since then there have been 2 additions to the series. The newest is found at:


    The title is “The Big Bang – Ex Materia”

    by Khhaaan1

    —— Previous Videos ——

    1 Ex Nihilo Creation – Free Will

    2 Ex Nihilo Creation – Genesis

    3 Ex Nihilo VS Ex Materia



    Comment by Stephen Michael Purdy — March 19, 2012 @ 12:33 am

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