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Previous: 16.1 Time Up: 16. We Act Sequentially Next: 16.3 The future

16.2 Foreknowledge

There is much yet to be understood concerning the nature of divine eternity and of its relation with our own existence within time. Let us reflect on the balance between divine eternity and processes of change in nature. In Part II, we formulated a process ontology wherein there were dispositions, propensities and events. We found a way to define substances in terms of them. These concepts are very Aristotelian, and they support the idea of a world in which there are real processes that develop according to the powers within them and undergo a succession of states. Natural objects are constituted in their substance by those powers. The future is open, since nothing actually exists until it actually happens. This view suggests that God is developing with us and that God will be developing the world together with us as co-creators.

If God is eternal, he cannot himself be changing in the same way that we change. Every kind of theism asserts that God knows all that has happened, is happening, and everything that is possible to know concerning the future. One weak claim made is that God knows all possible outcomes, with their likelihoods, since that is all that can be known about a future which does not yet exist.16.1This is the claim of process theology or ‘open theism’: that these possibilities are all God knows about the future. God, in this view, has to watch the world to discover what it is actually choosing to do as time goes by. There is certainly no predestination in this view, only desires (or ‘lures’) on behalf of God for what he wants, and people are always absolutely free to choose any action.

According to core theism, however, the eternity of God’s omniscience means that God knows not only all that has happened and is happening, but also what will happen.16.2 God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come.16.3 God is omniscient and hence knows all these things in his foreknowledge. God has foreknowledge of all the actions that we will take in the future, whether these actions be forced or free. God foresees all our free actions that we have yet to make.

Augustine suggested that one way of picturing this foreknowledge is to think of God as ‘outside time’ and hence seeing all time ‘at once’. With modern relativity theory, we can similarly imagine looking at all of space and time together, as space-time. We imagine God seeing, in one glance, every event from the time of the Big Bang to the end of the universe. This makes the world a kind of ‘block universe’, in which everything exists together. The process theorists oppose this by arguing that then nothing ‘actually happens’ and nothing new comes into being, since all past and future events exist simultaneously in an essential sense. They say there would be predestination, since all future events in some sense already exist. Many (non-process) philosophers have advocated determinism in the block universe manner, wherein we are never, in our future actions, free ‘to do otherwise from what we actually do’, and there are no real possibilities in that kind of future. But there are then no possibilities for God changing the world either! Suppose God foresees some undesired future and wants to warn us. Can he do that? Not if the future is already determined,

We need a more sophisticated theory of how eternity and time are related. We need a theory more sophisticated than saying either that God is always with us in the present and does not foresee future free acts (as in process theology or open theism) or that God is outside time and viewing space-time as the block universe and is unable to change any of it. How can we have human freedom and also avoid predestination, if God knows all the future? The process theorists would argue that, if God knows the future and things are as God knows them (no better knowledge is possible), then our future acts are already definite, now. And if they are already definite, we cannot change them, and we are not free to act otherwise. In this case, why would we even make an effort to bring the future about, if what will happen is already is definite? The process theorists cannot see how divine foreknowledge avoids giving rise to the unpleasant doctrines of predestination or fatalism (this fact is what led them to open theism in the first place).

One clue for a resolution is to observe that the eternity of God’s love is different from the eternity of divine wisdom, precisely in the way they relate to time. Love, even divine love, relates to what is present now. I will argue that any actions of God’s are now, in the present. Recall that, in any process ontology, even one that God has created, not even God can change the past after it has been formed. I will argue, from similar principles, that God also cannot change the future directly, except by making changes in the present.16.4 This means that, despite God’s eternal wisdom which knows all times, God need only love and act in the present.


Previous: 16.1 Time Up: 16. We Act Sequentially Next: 16.3 The future

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