What did God know, and when did He know it?

Two passages in the Lot and Abraham/Isaac pericopes really caught my eye, but not the usual suspects. Rather, they concern God’s omniscience, a subject long been debated because of the implications for free will. I don’t want to talk about that. These passages struck me because they seem to completely undercut traditional ideas of God’s omniscience.

First, Gen. 18:20-21.

Yahweh said, The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is very great, and their sin extremely grave (lit. “heavy”). I should go down, that I may see whether they have indeed done completely according to the outcry which has come to me. If such is not the case, I will know.

It seems fairly clear that God has received a report, an “outcry” of the behavior of the two cities, and God’s knowledge of whether this outcry is accurate is contingent on his descent. Where is God’s omniscience here?

Similarly, note Gen. 22:12. After Abraham has lifted the knife over Isaac and God stays his hand by saying,

Don’t lay a hand on the lad or do anything whatsoever to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not kept your son, your only son, from me.

The text clearly shows that God has come to know something through Abraham’s actions. Didn’t he know it already? What kind of omniscience is this?

Lest we think this is limited to the OT, I would point out that a similar thing happens in the Temple. God repeatedly sends messengers down to Adam and Eve to check things out and report back to him, implying that he needs such.

Now, there are several points which could be made to get around this. I don’t find most of them particularly helpful.

  1. One could point out that these three things were mediated by mortals, who may have messed up on God’s omniscience, and refer to other scriptures (seemingly) affirming God’s omniscience. However, I would respond by pointing out that every passage affirming the omniscience of God was also mediated by mortals. When deciding what the scriptures teach, we can’t simply point out those that affirm our pre-existing beliefs. Secondly, I cannot think of a scribal or theological motive to make God’s knowledge contingent. What purpose would it serve? We would expect pious stories to affirm God’s omniscience, not challenge it.
  2. With regards to the Temple, one could point out Masonic similarities to the return-and-report theme, implying that it was mortal Joseph who “borrowed” the idea. Tus we could’t take it as a reflection of reality, and God’s omniscence would be protected. However, this does not bring much to the larger discussion, since this is not our only data point. Second, it raises the question of why Joseph would “borrow” something that undermines God’s omniscience. Did Joseph believe God was omniscient in the classical sense?
  3. One could attempt translational arguments to lessen the impact. For example, the conservative Word Biblical Commentary translates Gen 18:21 differently, taking calah as part of an idiom found in Jer. 30:11 and 46:28. “So the Lord said: “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is indeed very serious. I want to go down and see if they deserve destruction as implied by the outcry which has come to me about it, and if not, I wantto know.”

    It notes further that “It is not that God needs to go down to confirm what he knows, but that he is visiting it with a view to judgment.”

    This reading does have the advantage of not having to reinterpret or repoint calah as cullah, “completely, wholly.” However, the idiom in Jeremiah is about causing destruction, not meriting it. I simply don’t find the WBC convincing on this point either on philological or interpretive grounds.

  4. One could argue that God pretends not to know things for the sake of teaching mortals a lesson. I can think of ways to support this idea. However, it also strikes me as somewhat ad hoc, like the idea that God planted dinosaur bones here to test our faith. Furthermore, Abraham’s lesson (whatever it was) would have been the same regardless of whether God knew the outcome ahead of time. There’s no way to make this idea fit with the Gen. 18 passage or the Temple idea either, as far as I can see.

Do I propose a solution?

It’s something I know little about, but find intriguing. John Sanders, a professor of Theology and Philosophy at Huntington University gave a lecture at BYU on openness theology. (He’s also written on the logical possibilities of what happens to those who never hear of Christ.) Everything I’m about to write comes from my notes of that lecture.

Openness theology aims to tackle sticky areas that traditional theology has not done well with, such as God’s omniscience- both in relation to the problem of evil and such scriptures as the two in Genesis. Sanders brought up many others in the lecture.

According to my notes, openness theology posits that God knows the end from the beginning, but not everything in between. God is open to our input and human action. Hence, God can be open to bargaining with Abraham. God confirms Abraham’s obediance by testing him on it. God can’t believe how bad Sodom has become, and so he checks it out for himself.

Openness theology has the advantage of squaring with both the scriptures and human experience. However, it’s also highly offensive to certain strains of traditional Christian thinking. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention rewrote their guidelines explicitly to exclude such ideas. Sanders is well aware of this, and pointed it out himself. He stated that traditional theology has drawn too much from philosophy, and as such has little relevance and relation to both human experience and scripture.

Sanders ideas are appealing to me. They are, as came up in the Q&A afterwords which had several pointed questions by two LDS philosophers, compatible with LDS doctrine as well. Sanders (judging by his lecture and the university he teaches at) is a committed Christian, but his lectures and books show him to be a broad-minded outside-the-box thinker. A good theory is one that accounts for more data than another, and Sanders’ looks good to me.

97 thoughts on “What did God know, and when did He know it?

  1. Other options:

    - It’s just a dramatical, rhetorical tool, designed to make these stories, well, fun and full of tension (kind of like the Garden: does Yahweh really not know where Adam and the Woman are hiding?)

    - It represents an early Yahweh tradtion, not entirely “correlated” out of the Bible.

    Still, the openness theology stuff is very interesting

  2. Ben, this is interesting. I thought that God knew everything, but I have not considered the examples you point out. Hmm. I have thought that to return and report is not really to inform God, but to fully complete the assignment. I will have to think more about openness theology.

  3. You make a good point about rhetoric, Ronan. I’m surprised that didn’t occur to me, since I just finished The Art of Biblical Narrative.

    It also raises the sticky question of how we do and should derive propositional knowledge from the scriptures. In this case, if these are simply a narrative device, is it legitimate to base statements about God’s knowledge on them?

  4. Some things strike me as odd/thought provoking with regards to this thread:

    1. Some modern day prophets have stated that God knows everything and that he is not learning anything else. There are a multitude of scriptures to support this also, especially the one in D&C, can’t remember where specifically, that God sees all things past, present, and future.
    2. If you start asking these kind of questions, then the next questions become, ‘How much does God not know then?’ which would make him fallible in terms of omniscience which then turns into a basis upon which I may not be able to trust God in all things, which is just a load of bunk, or at least that is what I believe!
    3. Your assertion 4, seems the most plausible to me in terms of all these things.
    4. Is there a JST for the 2 scriptures you have listed above because I get the things you are trying to say, but if God does know all things, then the way that this written may need some better translation. Perhaps the 2nd reference you provide should have read: ‘…now you have shown me…’

    Perhaps we should ask the question: Do we believe what the scriptures and prophets have said about God’s omniscience, or do we think that there might be flaws in their thinking because of some seemingly contradictory grammar or syntax within the Bible which we believe to be correct but only as far as it has been translated correctly?

  5. Anonymoose-

    1) This is a true statement, but not as easy as one might wish. Orson Pratt originally argued that God was not progressing in knowledge and knew everything there was to know. Unfortunately for this idea, the First Presidency issued a combined public signed official statement that Orson Pratt was wrong.

    2)

    If you start asking these kind of questions, then the next questions become, ‘How much does God not know then?’ which would make him fallible in terms of omniscience which then turns into a basis upon which I may not be able to trust God in all things, which is just a load of bunk, or at least that is what I believe!

    Sanders addressed this well. But I can’t remember at all what he said :( I don’t think the slope is quite as slippery as you posit here, though.

    4) There’s no JST for either of these.

    Do we believe what the scriptures and prophets have said about God’s omniscience

    That’s just it. If there were a consistant teaching, I’d go with it. However, as one BYU professor has said, you can have it consistant or you can have it all, but you can’t have both.

  6. …I would point out that a similar thing happens in the Temple. God repeatedly sends messengers down to Adam and Eve to check things out and report back to him, implying that he needs such.

    I’m not sure this follows. I think it is more the idea that God works through intermediaries and then have to give an account of their stewardship. That is it uses the type of how Kings operate. But I think it is really stretching things to say it implies much about omniscience.

    The Gen 18 example is interesting since it does definitely portray God as learning as we do. I think in general the older Hebrew texts portray God as much more anthropomorphic in this sense.

    As many know Blake Ostler has written a lot philosophically about openness. Of course the problem is that there are obvious narrative problems for not having foreknowledge that have been frequently discussed. (i.e. the whole Jesus crucifixion issue among others)

  7. I’m not sure this follows.

    It may not, Clark. I’m not always the clearest thinker, especially this week :)

    However, if God already knows things, then certain parts of that return-and-report seem quite extraneous. The messengers should only be delivering messages in one direction, but they’re not.

  8. I should probably also be noted that Orson Pratt’s ideas were re-introduced after President Young’s presidency and that they continue to influence the thoughts of even the prophets (including President Joseph Fielding Smith)

  9. I agree with Ronan on the rhetorical nature of some of these verses (specifically the Sodom and Gomorrah passage). But I do think that Ostler and the Open Theists are right about God’s knowledge — that is that God knows all that is knowable and that exhaustively knowing the future choices of truly free persons is not knowable.

  10. Geoff:

    knowing the future choices of truly free persons is not knowable.

    How do you support that hypothesis in light of scriputres that indicate that God knows our thoughts (ex. Gen 6:5; 1 Chron. 38:9; Job 42:2; to list a few references)? Is he somehow capable of knowing our thoughts but incapable of knowing the behaviors that result from those thoughts? If so what’s the value in knowing our thoughts?

  11. that exhaustively knowing the future choices of truly free persons is not knowable.

    This whole topic gets to the heart of a computabitlity problem, and the philosophical quandries are based on the assumption that it is impossible to know all of the possible outcomes of any given stochastic process. It’s hard for us puny humans to imagine the following is possible but what about this:

    What if God knows the end from the beginning AND is completely capable of knowing every possible choice of every possible outcome all at once? What if he is capable of looking at all the possible choices that every person with free agency can make and all of their possible consequences and how all of those infinite possiblities blend together. To us, this seems impossible. But, what if to God it’s normal? He just normally sees everything all at once. How does this limit agency?

    I’m sure I’m probably restating some well known philisophical problem/theory/conception…

  12. If we discount some sort of four dimensionalism, is it possible that Hod have some knowledge about the future, yet lack emperical knowledge until he witness a certain event? Something similar to the idea that even though (if you accept an omniscient God) He knows that we are going to pray for a certain thing, it doesn’t matter until he experiences our prayer.

  13. Paul: Is he somehow capable of knowing our thoughts but incapable of knowing the behaviors that result from those thoughts?

    Yes. Free will for us (as beings co-eternal with God) entails unpredictability. That is why our personal relationship with God is so rewarding for both us and him — we must constantly choose to love each other. Ostler pushes this in his new book. See my first post on it here.

  14. Concerning the original question, I am inclined to go with Ronan’s rhetorical device explanation. But there is one other possibility that I want to throw out there, if for no other reason than to hear the arguments against it. Namely, that God is omniscient by instrumentality–that is, he may not know everything, but he knows who does know and can retrieve the information at will. Certainly not a traditional view, but it seems to fill all of Ben’s holes.

  15. If we discount some sort of four dimensionalism, is it possible that Hod have some knowledge about the future, yet lack emperical knowledge until he witness a certain event?

    Certainly. Limits on possibility might be deterministic without the particulars being. Consider our knowledge of say the path of an electron in a double slit experiment in quantum mechanics.

  16. Recently I read Alma 7 and how Christ took all upon himself. Of course God’s ways are definately different (and higher) than our ways, and may not be understood in this lifetime if it is not explicitly revealed, but it occurs to me that the Atonement could not be performed without a perfect knowledge of the choices we would make.

    In Alma 7:13 it says: “Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance”.

    It is definately something I experience when I have thoughts or smaller decisions that lead to a bigger decision (sometimes good and some not) and I can just feel that God could see that coming. How he could know that before I was born, though, is beyond me. Unfortunately, we cannot see that part of our existance.

    I’ve enjoyed learning from the comments made on this page, and these are some very difficult questions posted. I can’t wait to find out how it all works someday!

  17. Geoff:

    You didn’t answer the followup question. What’s the value of knowing our thoughts if He is incapable of knowing the choices we make motivated by those thoughts? If an explanation does not exist then one is forced to the conclusion that God retains superfluous powers– not necessarily an appealing concept of God to me.

    Why does “free will” require unpredictability? That’s a huge leap that I don’t think you can support. Game theorists have demonstrated that even with limited information regarding people’s motivations it is quite easy to predict certain choices people will take. The primary barrier game theorists face in their ability to predict choices is incomplete data regarding the thoughts and motivations of individuals– remove the barrier and predicting specific choices becomes a matter of routine. Are you making the argument that God has never studied game theory or that such knowledge for Him is unknowable?

    What I think you are attempting to do is divorce “free will” from our thoughts and motivations so that it stands, all alone, independent of God and thus unknowable to Him. But that in turn would make our own thoughts and motivations irrelevant to us and turn our lives into random choices driven by an unknowable “free will”.

    All and all, I find your response to be apologetic nonsense. A legitimate, contemplative response to the questions I raised would be appreciated.

  18. Ben: “However, if God already knows things, then certain parts of that return-and-report seem quite extraneous.”

    And much of prayer seems extraneous too, asking for things that God already knows that we need. But for some reason, the granting of those requests is contingent upon verbally asking.

    The rejoinder to this is that God is not always efficient _from our point of view_.

    Just because _we_ don’t see the need for something…, etc.

    I struggled with this concept in regards to prayer, that of telling God things he already knows. I then discovered that one of the purposes of prayer is not that God needs to hear me say things, it’s that I need to hear me say things. Somehow, those unspoken feelings of my heart don’t penetrate my conscious mind until I verbalize them.

    Sometimes the path seems to be: heart->mouth->ears->brain. Physically hearing what my heart is feeling, and what my brain is thinking, does something, usually in a positive way.

    Praying is good practice in how to translate feelings and thoughts into words, plus it helps shape and concretize those feelings, transforming them from nebulous things into goals, desires, and even appreciation and supplication, etc.

    Sometimes my thoughts tend to race and multi-task, and I don’t know which thought the Spirit is replying to. Praying is usually single threaded and real-time on a human scale, so I know what the Spirit is replying to.

    Sometimes it helps trim away that which is not good. I’ve forgotten what it was, but I once prayed verbally for something I wanted, and upon hearing it come out of my mouth, I finally realized how stupid it sounded, and apologized for it. Then it just left me.

    So perhaps the “return and report” is not for God’s benefit, but for that of the messengers.

    It could be a teaching moment. Perhaps it’s practice for the messengers in how to describe something for or from an exalted being’s point of view.

    The concept of _words_, spoken and written, is important. “The Word” is one of Jehovah’s alternat names. Words are important. They need to be said. They need to be written.

    As words of testimony (not just of knowledge, but a report of deeds) are important, perhaps God is delegating the needed task of uttering the report to the messengers. Therefore it’s possible that the purpose of “return and report” is not to _inform_ God, but that utterance/recording of the events be made.

    Perhaps God, when asking questions as if he didn’t already know, is acting in a manner similar to that of a good teacher or parent, doing so for the benefit of the child. And if a pertinent detail is left out, God can further teach by asking “And what about…?”

    I see no paradox in the scriptures where God communicates “as if” he didn’t know something. Of course he knows the answers. God knows everything. He’s God. All things are laid out before him. He only has to look, and he sees all past, present and future.

    Asking a question “as if he didn’t know” is for the benefit of the one to whom he is talking.

  19. Paul: What’s the value of knowing our thoughts if He is incapable of knowing the choices we make motivated by those thoughts?

    Are you really implying that the only value to knowing our thoughts is to use that to exhaustively predict our future choices, Paul?

    Why does “free will” require unpredictability?

    Robust free will in a libertarian sense does require an unfixed future and thus there can be no exhaustive foreknowledge. See long debates on this subject here (I’d rather not start from scratch). I am not saying future events cannot be predicted accurately (because I think God is the ultimate predictor) — I am saying that an open future cannot be exhaustively known. The two ways people generally explain God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is via causal determinism or via living outside of time — both prove unworkable in Mormonism I believe. That is why I side with the open theists.

    All and all, I find your response to be apologetic nonsense.

    Wow. That comment seems a bit uncalled for don’t you think?

  20. Asking a question “as if he didn’t know” is for the benefit of the one to whom he is talking.

    You’ve enumerated my #4 above, but I still can’t see it as resolving the dilemma in these two passages.

    What is the benefit to Abraham if God pretends not to know whether Abraham can do it or not? Abraham isn’t told this until *after* he is tested.

    Whom is God addressing in Gen 18:20-21 and what is the benefit to them that God pretends not to know just how bad things are in Sodom?

  21. The two ways people generally explain God’s exhaustive foreknowledge is via causal determinism or via living outside of time — both prove unworkable in Mormonism I believe.

    Just to note, if the exhaustive foreknowledge (or at least finite subset out of exhaustive possibility) is seen as just of this universe then neither causal determinism or living outside time are necessary. God might live outside of our universe and thus our particular space-time. But of course he would still live within a time.

  22. True Clark (#21). (Perhaps you should link to the post with your theory on all of our actual choices happening “in the beginning” and our lives now simply playing out those choices even though it appears we are choosing on the spot…) But I think that gets too nuanced for this conversation. Even you agree that real free will requires unpredictability at some point for God. That is the real issue here I think.

  23. Geoff:

    Are you really implying that the only value to knowing our thoughts is to use that to exhaustively predict our future choices, Paul?

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. What are the alternatives? Our thoughts become our actions. Our thoughts become our “free will.”

    I have read your post at NCT as well as your comments on the subject at various other blogs so I think I have a good read on your beliefs. My problem is that your treatment of “free will” and the “unfixed future” amount to flawed reasoning because you essentially create a tautology. Here’s how your reasoning seems to progress.

    A. Man is given from God “free will”
    B. “Free will” requires an unfixed future
    C. Therefore, the future is unfixed

    Now, even if I grant that all your inital postulates are correct, your conclusion is flawed. It’s a fixed system of logic where your conclusion (C) cannot be drawn from any logical combination of your postulates (A and B). You are missing a key element between A and B or B and C without which your entire proposition is nonsensical (do you like that phrase better?).

  24. Paul, there’s quite a bit of extensive argument for (B). I disagree, but I have to admit that particularly the argument from responsibility is quite strong. But I think it could potentially be resolved by doing a revisionist account of responsibility.

  25. Clark:

    The problem with B above is the postulate itself requires a proof getting from “fixed future” to “unfixed future” without resorting to “free will”. Failure to do that perpetuates the tautology.

  26. Paul,

    Here’s how your reasoning seems to progress.

    A. Man is given from God “free will”
    B. “Free will” requires an unfixed future
    C. Therefore, the future is unfixed

    Alright — that helps. I’d amend my position to be something like this:

    A. Man is uncreated and beginningless like and God really has (and always has had) a robust free will (in the libertarian sense).
    B. “Free will” requires an unfixed future (Yes — you got this right. A fixed future leaves us with the anemic “hypothetical free will” compatibilists tout. I think it is just dressed up predestination.)
    C. Therefore, the future is unfixed (Yes, if there is such a thing a real and robust free will then possibilities must remain truly open until the moment of choice.)

    What are the alternatives? [To implying that the only value to knowing our thoughts is to use that to exhaustively predict our future choices]

    Well it seems to me that knowing what we are praying for in our hearts might be useful to God. It seems that knowing our thoughts and fears and desires might be useful to a loving Father who as an act of grace offers a personal relationship with us. Further, it seems like our entire spiritual goal is to build that personal relationship to the point which we become one with the Godhead and understand their unified minds as they understand ours.

    In other words, I can think of lots of reasons other than reading a fixed future why God knowing our thoughts is valuable. I might also add that his knowledge of all things present explains why he can be right about the future in a way that appears to exhaustive foreknowledge of a fixed future to us.

    Our thoughts become our actions.

    I can buy that. But that does not mean God exhaustively foreknows our every thought from now on throughout eternity.

  27. > All and all, I find your response to be apologetic nonsense.
    > Wow. That comment seems a bit uncalled for don’t you think?

    I wasn’t going to _say_ it, but I _thought_ it. I agree with Paul M’s assessment.

  28. Re: Asking a question “as if he didn’t know” is for the benefit of the one to whom he is talking.

    Ben: What is the benefit to Abraham if God pretends not to know whether Abraham can do it or not? Abraham isn’t told this until *after* he is tested.

    The statement to which you’re responding wasn’t intended to describe Abraham’s test, it was describing the “return and report” or other teaching scenario.

    But to the question, what benefit was there in God allegedly “hiding” his exhaustive foreknowledge from Abraham, even after the test? Maybe there were to be more tests. Maybe God hadn’t revealed his exhaustive foreknowledge to Abraham at that poing. Or maybe it was just rhetorical.

  29. It’s easier to chime in with an “amen” than to back up your position, Bookslinger. If you have good arguments why you think a robust free will is compatible with a fixed future I am all ears.

  30. Paul,
    The mistake I see in Geoff J’s logic is his equating an unfixed future with an unknown future, and a known future with a fixed future. I’ve tried to follow Geoff J’s reasoning in that, but his arguments devolve into a semantic assumption.

    I contend that an unfixed future can still be known, especially when the action is viewed by beings existing at different viewpoints, mortal versus immortal, limited versus exalted, temporal versus eternal.

  31. I contend that an unfixed future can still be known

    Oh good grief. I suppose you contend that the can be a round square too? How exactly can God know something will happen if that future event is not fixed? If it is unfixed then something else might happen so God didn’t know it will happen.

    (Sheesh, I’m becoming as impatient as Blake now too aren’t I…)

  32. It’s easier to chime in with an “amen” than to back up your position.

    Amen!

    If you have good arguments why you think a robust free will is compatible with a fixed future I am all ears.

    You’ve never demonstrated that a “known future” from God’s viewpoint equates to a “fixed future” at our viewpoint. You’ve always put that forth as a given, and danced around it. You speak as if it is intuitively obvious.

    I contend it is not. To me, it is intuitively obvious that “known” from God’s viewpoint does not mean “fixed” in our viewpoint. Our tests take place in our temporal sphere, and from our present viewpoint, not in God’s. You’re assertions are trying to either put us in God’s viewpoint, or put him into ours.

    You’ve made fatal assumptions before you even bring “free will” into the equation, and that’s why you perceive a paradox where others don’t.

  33. You speak as if it is intuitively obvious.

    It is intuitively obvious.

    Our tests take place in our temporal sphere, and from our present viewpoint, not in God’s. You’re assertions are trying to either put us in God’s viewpoint, or put him into ours.

    Um, this looks like English… but I have no idea what it means. Can you explain it please?

    that’s why you perceive a paradox where others don’t.

    There is a paradox. Others are free to use their robust free will to ignore it if they choose to. Simply saying “no there isn’t” doesn’t deal with the obvious paradox that exists.

    If God knows what I will do at 2:34 PM on Feb 11, 2009 then how is that future event anything but fixed? That is a simple enough question I think. Can you or anyone answer it for me so as to disabuse me of the idea that exhaustive foreknowledge requires a fixed future?

  34. To me, it is intuitively obvious that “known” from God’s viewpoint does not mean “fixed” in our viewpoint.

    Then what you mean by known and what I mean by known clearly are very, very different. To me to know entails that what is known is true.

  35. How exactly can …

    Maybe because God operates on a higher plane/sphere/whatever than we do, that could be how.

    The scriptures are clear about God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. The scriptures are clear that free will is an essential part of our temporal and mortal existence. But it’s _God_ who has the exhaustive foreknowledge, not us. We can’t even comprehend what that’s like. And it’s _we_ who are in the temportal/mortal plane, not God.

    I’ve had many “divine appointments” in my life that some might describe as pure coincidences. There were hundreds or maybe thousands of small decisions on my part that put me at certain places at certain times. Yet I had divinely appointed encounters with other people at those times/places who also were apparently there due either to coincidence, or to a thousand small decisions.

    But God somehow foresaw all of my decisions, and the decisions of the other people involved, and melded that knowledge together and used it to shape events that they and I had no control over. How he does that is a grand mystery to me. But I’ve seen the results.

    He lets us decide, and yet he knows.

  36. Bookslinger and Paul:

    If God knows the future, then the future must be there already in some sense to be known. If it is already there to be known, then it is at least as fixed as the certainty with which it is known. Either it is fixed; or it is uncertain. Geoff has given the argument showing that the future is fixed if God has absolute foreknowledge in the posts to which he cited. He doesn’t have to re-create the wheel. So read it and come back and report.

    The problem is not resolved by placing God in a different framework unless you can somehow explain what that framework is and how it relates to the present framework so that it can be foreknown with certainty without being fixed.

    Further, Geoff, you could have just pointed out that Paul’s argument in 23 is logically valid. Of course, premise B needs to be unpacked — but you’ve done that many times. Frankly, I’ve been asking Clark for several years to explain how his view of God could give any notion of a God related to our time-strand in such a way that God could interact with it in such a way as to know it — the silence remains deafening.

    Further, Bookslinger’s post in #18 attests better than anything that I can say to the fact that petitionary prayer is pointless if God has absolute foreknowledge. If God has foreknowledge then petitionary prayer is pointless in the sense that we cannot have faith that God can grant our prayers because of our prayers. I would add that the benefit Bookslinger derives from prayer could be derived whether there is a God or not so long as he believed he was talking to god (e.g., talking to himself) — and God turns out to be the great Rogerian psychologist on such a view. Listen and reflect back what is said. That is a really weak view of prayer in my view and certainly not like anything that Jesus taught about prayer expecting that we can receive what we ask for.

  37. If God knows what I will do at 2:34 PM on Feb 11, 2009 then how is that future event anything but fixed? That is a simple enough question I think. Can you or anyone answer it for me so as to disabuse me of the idea that exhaustive foreknowledge requires a fixed future?

    You’re asking it backwards. The question should be:

    “Given that I can choose what to do and where to be at 2:34 PM on Feb 11, 2009, then how does God know now what I’ll be doing, and where I’ll be at that future point in time?”

    The answer is that “now” and “then” and “time” mean different things to us than they do to God. He sees it all laid out before him. We can’t.

  38. Then what you mean by known and what I mean by known clearly are very, very different. To me to know entails that what is known is true.

    I think were we disagree is on the meaning of “fixed” not “known.”

  39. Blake: (#37)
    The scriptures and modern prophets also make it clear that God knows what we need before we ask, but that the act of asking is often a prerequisite for the granting of the petition. Your argument seems to demand a God who must be “efficient” in the human view.
    Yes, God grants because we ask, but that does not require him to be ignorant before we asked. Perhaps it’s akin to a parent requiring a child to say “Please.”
    The scriptures also indicate in several places that the Spirit often tells us what to pray for. Now there’s a double double redundancy for you: an all-knowing God waiting for us to ask, but also telling us what to ask for.

    The problem is not resolved by placing God in a different framework unless you can somehow explain what that framework is and how it relates to the present framework so that it can be foreknown with certainty without being fixed.

    Don’t the scriptures do that? (Place God in a different framework.) Don’t they repeatedly say that God’s ways are not our ways? That he’s all-seeing, all-knowing, sees into our heart, knows all our thoughts, is all-powerfull, and we are not?

    Don’t the scriptures say that God is so high above us humans as the stars are above the earth? Isn’t the phrase “sees the end from the beginning” in scripture, or at least uttered and affirmed by modern and living prophets?

  40. Bookslinger : But God somehow foresaw all of my decisions

    I don’t doubt God’s intervention in your life. He intervenes and sets things up for me too. That does not say anything about exhaustive foreknowledge though.

    The answer is that “now” and “then” and “time” mean different things to us than they do to God. He sees it all laid out before him. We can’t.

    That doesn’t sound like an answer at all to me. Similarly, one that believes God can create a round square would say “He just knows how to do it and we don’t”. Why not assume God does what is hard (appear to have exhaustive foreknowledge despite our free will) instead of that he does something logically impossible (like create a round square)?

    The scriptures and modern prophets also make it clear that God knows what we need before we ask

    Knowing what we need has nothing to do with exhaustive foreknowledge of our future free choices.

  41. I agree with Bookslinger on foreknowledge and free will.

    However, Ben said in his original post that he did not want to talk about the implications of God’s omniscience re the concept of free will. And yet this thread veered off in that direction very quickly, didn’t it? :)

    All the Scriptures Ben cited seem to me to be examples of the author trying to make the story more vivid (Ronan #1) so that the readers would learn an important lesson. It seems logical to me to see the question/answer format in the scriptures as a teaching device–used both by God to individuals, and by the writers of the scriptures to future readers. (Bookslinger #29, Ronan #1)

    Re the temple, this is particularly true. Are we forgetting that we have been told that things are presented in a symbolic fashion? Lots of interaction there that only makes sense when viewed symbolically. But the very format helps us understand certain relationships, and something of the ordered way in which God chooses to accomplish many things.

  42. Bookslinger: Your argument seems to demand a God who must be “efficient” in the human view.

    My argument does no such thing. God doesn’t have to grant any petition. My argument was not that God always grants petitions, but that he must be able to grant them sometimes and on your view he never can. Your problem is that you cannot affirm that God sometimes responds to prayers in the sense that he brings something about that would not bring about without the prayer. If God sees the future, then God cannot change what he sees will be the case. God is just stuck with what he sees before he can deliberate about or plan for it. So God is literally powerless to change anything that he sees before he can do anything at all. So God’s knowledge is useless to him and he is literally fated to a single, fixed future.

    Your respone is also circular and logically incoherent. You believe that god knows what I will ask before I ask. You believe that what god’s knowledge of what I will do is dependent on what I will do. You also believe that what god does is dependent on what he knows. So you have a viscious circle of dependence. The knowing is dependent on what God knows, his knowing is dependent on what I do, and his response is dependent on his knowledge — it follows that there is a circularity that is logically incoherent. (You might want to look at ch. 5 of my book for the more complete argument).

    The scriptures don’t place God in a different frame of reference with respect to knowledge of our acts. God must somehow be in our own frame of reference to know what we will do and what we will do must be accessable by God. It explains nothing to suggest that God is way more intelligent than we are so his ways are not our ways.

    Finally, you keep saying that the “modern prophets” say that God knows the future. First, the very scriptures cited in this post (and there are many others) show that the scriptures speak in many different voices on this issue. Second, the First Presidency stated twice in official statements of the First Presidency (in 1860 and again in 1865) that Orson Pratt’s assertion: “God knows all there is to be known because he knows all things past, present and future” was — and I quote — “false doctrine”. Moreover, Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, and Wilford woodruff all stated clearly that God is growing in knowledge. So your categorical statement about what the modern prophets say is false.

  43. RoAnn: You miss he point of the scriptures cited above. It expressly states that God says in the first person: “now I know,” so it isn’t Abraham learning; it is God.

    Also, you might note that my posts say nothing of free will. There are plenty of other problems that arise with the assumption of absolute foreknowledge — not the least of which are the mental gymnastics necessary to make sense of scriptures that rather clearly assume that God is learning and the future is yet to be settled. There are scriptures that appear to go the other way as well. Since I don’t believe in doctrinal uniformity of scriptures or inerrancy, that is not problem. The approach taken that the scriptures must speak with a single voice on all issues is very difficult to make sense of in my view.

  44. “If God knows the future, then the future must be there already in some sense to be known. If it is already there to be known, then it is at least as fixed as the certainty with which it is known.”

    Blake and Geoff,

    How do you account for God’s knowing that the parents of Joseph Smith Sr. would choose to name him Joseph, that Joseph Smith Sr. would choose to marry and bear children, that he’d choose to name one of his sons Joseph, and that he would choose not to kill him on his third birthday, way back when Joseph was in Egypt?

  45. Matt: Easy, God inspired them and caused them to do it. What makes you think that they were free in the naming of a person? Is that a morally significant action that God must leave free?

  46. Blake,

    The prophecy hinges on more choices of Joseph Smith Sr’s than just naming, so even if we were to assume that naming isn’t morally significant, and also that our free will extends only to morally significant decisions (both of which I think are mistaken — names have consequences (Hel. 5:6-7), and we feel equally free making trivial choices as we do making morally substantive ones), God still had to know that Joseph Smith Sr would make the very significant moral choices of: not committing suicide, choosing to marry, choosing not to kill his pregnant wife when he was angry, choosing not to strike down his son, etc. Saying that God inspired him just begs the question of God’s knowing Joseph would heed the inspiration.

  47. Blake: that he must be able to grant them sometimes and on your view he never can.

    Now you’re putting words in my mouth.

    blake: Your problem is that you cannot affirm that God sometimes responds to prayers in the sense that he brings something about that would not bring about without the prayer.

    I said no such thing. Did you infer that merely because I left it unsaid in one my message about prayer? When I said “one of the purposes of prayer is not that God needs to hear me say things, it’s that I need to hear me say things” I think you infered something that is not there, or at least not intended. That was not in reference to a petition prayer, but in reference to pouring out the contents of my heart, one of the other purposes of prayer, as described often in scriptures.

    The “pouring one’s heart out” is indeed something that God doesn’t need to hear in order to know, because He already knows it.

  48. >> The answer is that “now” and “then” and “time” mean
    >> different things to us than they do to God. He sees
    >> it all laid out before him. We can’t.

    > That doesn’t sound like an answer at all to me.

    I’m sorry. I look forward to when both of us can better understand each others’ viewpoint.

    My understanding, or “eureka moment” on this topic of God’s foreknowledge came while reading Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut deals with this very subject.

  49. Blake: “So your categorical statement about what the modern prophets say is false.”

    I disagree. I’ve heard “God knows the end from the beginning” at conference. _LIVING_ prophets have said it. (and _recently_ dead ones, too.)

  50. Blake: “God must somehow be in our own frame of reference to know what we will do and ….”

    Wrong. God doesn’t have to be _in_ our frame of reference, he merely has to _observe_ our frame of reference.

    _He_ is in the “bosom of eternity.” We are not. We are in a temporal and localized frame of reference.

  51. Blake: “Second, the First Presidency stated twice in official statements of the First Presidency (in 1860 and again in 1865) that Orson Pratt’s assertion: “God knows all there is to be known because he knows all things past, present and future” was — and I quote — “false doctrine”. Moreover, Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, and Wilford woodruff all stated clearly that God is growing in knowledge. So your categorical statement about what the modern prophets say is false.”

    You neglect to mention that BY’s denunciation of Orson’s statement was overturned by later prophets.

  52. Bookslinger,

    Well at least we have that to agree on — I enjoyed Slaughterhouse 5 immensely too. That book is some world-class fiction.

    BTW – Can you show me where later First Presidencies overturned the FP statements in 1860 and 1865?

  53. Matt (#47)

    You seem to be assuming God does not even influence righteous people. If you felt a strong and undeniable impression to name your son Joseph what would you do? Joseph Sr. and Lucy were righteous people and influencing them to name a son Joseph is a pretty trivial task for God to accomplish don’t you think? God need not compel the righteous to get the job done — there are non-compulsive ways to do things too (see section 121). None of the events surrounding Joseph Smith had to be pre-fixed — I believe that God has enough power and influence to accomplish he own purposes even with a non-fixed future.

  54. Blake: “You believe that what God’s knowledge of what I will do is dependent on what I will do.

    No. His knowledge is dependent on, or rather a function of, his exaltation, which affords him a position from which he perceives
    all things. What you and I call “the future” is already in his
    field of view. We see time as a line extending from past through the present, and into the future. I believe he sees it all as “present.”

    I believe it a mistake to force our linearity on God. I think your apparent insistence on linearity is a possible source of the apparent paradoxes.

    To God, who see’s what Geoff is going to do on Feb 11 2009, Goeff has already done it. And, in God’s viewpoint, Geoff has already CHOSEN it. To borrow Vonnegut’s terminology, Geoff already chose it, he is choosing it, and he always will choose it. That thing he’ll be doing at 2:34 pm, Geoff has already done it, he is doing it, and he always will be doing it. What’s left, to you, to me, and to Geoff, is to demonstrate to us all, here in this temporal sphere, what it actually is. You, he, and I all need to experience that thing he did/does/will do at 2:34 PM Feb 11 2009, whether it’s bowling, or petting his cat on the head, or driving off a cliff.

    Now maybe you call that “fixed”. Maybe it is fixed __from God’s exalted viewpoint__. But not “fixed” in the sense that Geoff’s power of choice was removed. We aren’t definining “known” differently, we’re defining “fixed” differently.

    But from yours, mine, and Geoff’s viewpoint, it isn’t fixed, because he can, in our frame of reference, choose to not go bowling, or not pet his cat, or not drive off a cliff.

    But, once that tidbit of information (of what happended/happens/will happen at 2:34pm 11-Feb-2009) is transfered from the exalted sphere of Heavenly Father, to our localized sphere, it messes everything up. The time-line would be “polluted” to use the Star Trek phrase, or rather it pollutes or free-will or taints the power to choose.

    Now, here’s a bone thrown in your direction.

    I think you do have a point in that God _occasionally_ influences our desires and choices. I remember a couple instances when I had desires to do something well up in me, and I could not explain _why_ I wanted to do that thing. I could think of no reason to, other than “I wanted to.” I was not prompted or motivated by the Spirit, there was no still small voice. It was just a desire that struck me. I prayed over it, and got no answer. I still had a choice though. And I chose to follow the desire. And it resulted in many miraculous “coincidences” and turned into a huge learning experience, and a great blessing.

    I also grant the possibility that free agency is a localized phenomenon that is limited to our temporal sphere, or limited to our non-exalted-ness. It could be an illusion due to the veils. Not only the veil of forgetfulness, but the veil that prevents us from seeing the spiritual realm. Maybe this mortal/temporal existence is merely a laboratory to teach us who we are and what we are made of, and that our free-will choices only appear to be choices from this frame of reference.

    Maybe free-will is limited to pre-mortal spirits, mortals, and dis-embodied (post-mortal) spirits. Because once someone is resurrected, their resurrected body then corresponds to their desintation kingdom, celestial-(A/B/C), terrestrial, or telestial.

  55. Ben,
    To try to get this back to your original questions….

    I think Gen 18:20-21 is a rhetorical device for the purpose of communication.

    Maybe not exactly the same, but similiar things, are when Jehovah speaks as if he were Heavenly Father, such as in the Pearl of Great Price. Or the angel/spirit that appears to Nephi in 3rd Nephi and says “Tomorrow I come into the world.” It’s been pointed out by apostles in the last 20 or 30 years (more than once) that that personage was not Jehovah, but an angel authorized to speak in his name.

    The over-arching principle is that sometimes the Lord (and angels) speak from different reference points in order to communicate or teach something.

  56. “You seem to be assuming God does not even influence righteous people.”

    Geoff,

    I don’t think anything I’ve written suggests that. I’m asking how God could know that someone will choose to heed his influence before they do, given that they’re agnecy makes them free to reject God and his influence. Unless you’re arguing that Joseph Smith Sr. was not morally free to reject marriage, commit suicide, kill his pregnant wife, and to otherwise reject God, then for God to know thousands of years in advance which of those choices Joseph Smith Sr. would and would not make seems to require a compatabilist answer.

  57. I’m not sure God knew that Joseph Jr. would always choose to heed his influence beforehand. D&C 3 seems to clearly indicate that Joseph 1)was not irreplacable, and 2)was entirely capable of becoming a fallen prophet. Further, it also indicates that God is fully capable of accomplishing his work even when human beings screw up; in this case, Joseph would just cease to be a part of it. There’s a difference between foreordination and foreknowledge.

  58. I do not know whether God has exhaustive foreknowledge or not.

    I am sure, however, that compared to human foreknowledge, His foreknowledge is exhaustive. And it seems to me, like the principles of the imaginary science of “psycho history” described by Asimov in his Foundation series, the future of civilizations as a whole is more exhaustively foreknowable that the future of a particular individual. (Just as actuarial projections become more accurate the larger the group of people with respect to whom they are made.)

    As Ben’s post suggests, the scriptures do not unequivocably state that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive. These passages could be construed, as other posters as noted, in a different way that is compatible with exhaustive foreknowledge. But I think the passages that suggest exhaustive foreknowledge could be read in a manner compatible with the principle that God is still learning and some things are not yet known (i.e., that God knows all that can be known, but some things not even He can know).

  59. Do those of you who believe that God lacks exhaustive knowledge of the future but has exhaustive knowledge of the past and present reject relativity of simultaneity? If not, what do you mean by “the future”?

  60. Chris, reconciling presentism to special relativity really isn’t that hard. One can argue that science more naturally entails eternalism (the idea that past, present and future are all equally real). Quine did that as an argument against presentism. But there are quite a few papers in the philosophy of science repository that discuss this. If you are really interested I heartily recommend Sider’s Four Dimensionalism. I’ve written on it before..

    The debate really is about what is logically entails about foreknowledge and whether such logical entailments are reconcilable with other deeply held beliefs, such as a kind of responsibility enabling just judgments of our actions. The problem for all this is that the scriptures weren’t written for scientists and philosophers. Further the most interesting texts are narrative ones regarding just the question Ben asked. But by their very nature such narratives tend to be so highly colored that one can’t necessarily push them to the detail a philosopher or scientist would wish.

    My personal feeling is thus to look towards science and try to best interpret the implications of our scientific knowledge for our religious beliefs. Thus, probably like Chris, I see that definitely pushing for Four Dimensionalism. Yet that tends to have exactly the same implications as foreknowledge. Thus the main arguments against foreknowledge are defused. Yet both due to some ambiguity as well as advanced physics being somewhat specualtive, this clearly isn’t a slam dunk in the least.

  61. Matt,

    Since you asked specific questions I did not address in my responding post I’ll respond here.

    I’m asking how God could know that someone will choose to heed his influence before they do, given that they’re agnecy makes them free to reject God and his influence.

    He doesn’t have to. He could be almost always right in his predictions and he could always have a back-up plan (see the Martin Harris situation in D&C 3). If he understands the possible futures he could be prepared for them. All that matters is that his work is accomplished and that his promises are fulfilled.

    Unless you’re arguing that Joseph Smith Sr. was not morally free to reject marriage, commit suicide, kill his pregnant wife, and to otherwise reject God, then for God to know thousands of years in advance which of those choices Joseph Smith Sr. would and would not make seems to require a compatabilist answer.

    Joseph Smith Sr. was free to do whatever he chose to do. He could have rejected marriage — but God could have chosen another righteous man named Joseph to be the father of the spirit that became JS Jr. Had he tried to kill his pregnant wife God could have struck him dead on the spot and the prophecy would still have be fulfilled. I think the weakness of your position is that you assume there was only one way that God could have brought us a prophet of the restoration named Joseph who was the son of another man named Joseph. That is simply an untenable position — God is still God even if the future is open.

  62. Clark (like some of my students) apparently thinks that asserting that a question has an easy answer is an acceptable substitute for answering it. For those of you actually interested in posting an answer to my question, here’s a more specific form of it: The planet Vulcan is 20 light-years from Earth. I send a radio signal to Vulcan announcing the existence of intelligent life on Earth. Someone on Vulcan, let’s call him Ned, miraculously receives and understands my message. He prays for further light and knowledge about these Earthlings after which he immediately sends me a reply, which I receive 40 years to the day after my first message was sent. During that 40-year interim, many different things happened on Earth. Which of them could God not reveal to Ned when he prayed because He (God) lacked knowledge of them?

  63. Chris: If God’s spirit is already present to all things, as LDS scriptures assert, then God is not removed at a distance from us or anything else. So God could reveal immediately everything that transpired during the 40 year period that is accessible from any inertial frame of reference by any observer.

  64. Whoa. Blake. That’s a very strong claim with huge implications. Are you truly sure you wish to assert that?

  65. Chris, I didn’t suggest the answer was easy. I just wished to point out that many people have answered it. (And then gave a link to a book that discusses the answer) I’m not sure the comments here is the place to give an answer that takes numerous pages of careful philosophy.

    Here are a few papers that address the issue as well, beyond the ones I linked to at my blog posts. I should add that I don’t really agree with say William Craig’s attempts at reconciling SR and presentism. On the other hand this paper arguing that the debate is a non-debate is also interesting.

    Just to add, as a point of clarification, while I think SR and presentism can be reconciled, I think that the reconciliation is still problematic and definitely do think that physics points towards eternalism and thus the fixity of our futures. I’d stated that earlier (and many times at my blog). I just don’t think we can dismiss out of hand the presentism, unless they make additional claims such as Blake just did.

  66. Clark:

    (1) Is there really much difference between asserting that an answer “isn’t that hard” and asserting that such an answer is “easy”? Both responses come across as rather dismissive.

    (2) References to books and articles that reconcile presentism with SR but that don’t reconcile the two with a Divinity with exhaustive knowledge of the past and present who is willing and able to regularly engage in Special Revelation seem to me to be beside the point.

    (3) If these books really do answer my question, what is the answer? I precociously sent this radio signal to Vulcan in 1966 when I was 4. How many of the last 40 World Series could God reveal the outcome of to Ned? The answer to this question is one of the first 40 natural numbers. This is a multiple-choice question. You do not need to justify your answer. The answer should not require “numerous pages” unless you’re using 1200 pt fonts.

    (4) I thought William Lane Craig was a Lorentzian and rejects relativity of simultaneity. Are you saying that he doesn’t?

  67. Clark: Not only do I want to adopt the view I elucidated, but I already have and defend it for no less an entire chapter on God’s relation to time in volume 1 of my book.

  68. Matt: Nothing you noted would require God to refrain from acting decisively to insure that his Plan is realized. He could act causally and even coercively without us knowing it in many instances; but he cannot cause us to love him. He trusted Joseph Smith to do that. If he didn’t then would have appointed another in his stead — just as our revelations say.

  69. Hi, Blake. You wrote:

    God could reveal immediately everything that transpired during the 40 year period that is accessible from any inertial frame of reference by any observer.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, everything that transpired during the 40 year period that is thus accessible is . . . nothing, right? In other words, aren’t you saying that God can only reveal events accessible along (backward-pointing) timelike curves, and there is no timelike curve connecting Vulcan at the time of the reception of my message with Earth after I sent it? Occasionally, Latter-day Saints pray for God to communicate information to others. (“Please let our missionary son know we’re thinking of him.”) Your restriction would mean that God’s ability to communicate messages between mortals would be constrained by the speed of light, so if Ned and I were to offer reciprocal prayers of this sort it would make the comical delays in satellite phone interviews on CNN seem infinitesimal by comparison.

    Furthermore, this would seem to imply that God’s body can’t move faster than the speed of light, since otherwise he could convey messages more efficiently through a celestial version of Sneakernet. How does this affect the timing of the appearance of celestial messengers on Earth in the flesh?

  70. Chris: I claim that God is simultaneously present to all inertial frames of reference in virtue of his being the immediate concurrent cause of all that occurs. He knows everything that is known from any inertial framework so he knows every occurrence that is either past or present to any inertial framework.

  71. But Blake that entails backwards causaltity and thus the fixity of the future. You do see that, right? The whole point of relativity is that such simultaneity is impossible.

    Regarding your other point, as you recall, I disagreed with your argument in your book. But it’s been so long I can’t recall exactly how I disagreed. Perhaps I need to return to it.

    Chris, we’re talking two different things. Craig does adopt a kind of Lorentzeanism. Thus, as you pointed out, it’s not really relevant to certain claims about God. But when you talked about “easy” it was in reference to a comment of mind merely relating SR and presentism. I didn’t really assert more than that.

  72. Frankly, I’ve been asking Clark for several years to explain how his view of God could give any notion of a God related to our time-strand in such a way that God could interact with it in such a way as to know it — the silence remains deafening.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Are you speaking of the physics? Clearly at this stage there is no model for multiverse interactions, although that’s partially due to how the multiverse is conceived. There are a few quasi-multiverses such as brane theory where interactions seem reasonable. But alas my physics knowledge just doesn’t extend into the very difficult mathematics of string theory. It’s my goal. But first I have to make enough selling chocolates to retire and do physics and carpentry the rest of my life… (grin)

    So I am assuming interaction is possible. But it seems a bit unfair to require an explanation for how it is possible.

  73. Just a note. I went back and reread Blake’s segment (starting around page 153) on SR. I really disagree. His argument is basically that both GR and SR are epistemological limits but not real descriptions of the universe. Thus there is, as opposed to what SR claims, the possibility of real similarity and preferred reference frames.

    Whoa. I’d forgotten just how much I disagree with that. I’ll try to put up some responses at my blog. (It’s a technical topic that I assume most at M* aren’t interested in) I’d urge those considering Craig’s neo-Lorentz interpretation of SR to read this paper I’d mentioned above.

    But taking GR and SR as just epistemological limits is really problematic (IMO). It’s been too long since I thought about this. I need to return to this, as I think it a big problem in Blake’s book.

  74. Clark: I don’t claim there are preferred reference frames. I claim that God inhabits all reference frames and is privy to them. If you get off not explaining how multi-verses interact, I suppose I don’t have to explain how a single divine person could have access to all reference frames.

  75. The problem Blake is whether such a scheme is compatible with the physics. I think there are good reasons to think not.

  76. Clark: No, the issue is whether such a view is required by scripture. Frankly, the view that I adopt ias at least as plausible as the one you espouse on GR and SR — what isn’t plausible is that everything that ever happens flows merely from the Big Bang and God has causal access to our universe from outside of it. Further, the amount of revision of our common experienced is so radical on your view that clearly explained I’m quite sure that it would just leave most scratching their heads.

    So for example on your view when God appears to Joseph Smith he isn’t really there and not really interacting at all — it is just a big illusion arising from causal results set out (liberarianly) in the Big Bang? Doesn’t God actually interact with us in our own frame — and inhabit every inertial frame of reference in the sense that he is in and through all things and his power is manifest in the light that gives life to all things and the law by which they abide? Admittedly we are getting into deep waters here — I just have a hard time taking seriously the view that God is in another universe of the multiverse and everything was set up causally 265 billion years ago.

  77. The reason I postulate a multiverse is because LDS theology requires an infinite past, which is incompatible with a finite universe and the big bang. Thus there has to be more. If there is more, and the big bang happened, then there has to be information flow between the universes. Now combine this with the fact that there are physical theories that allow just this, and I think it’s fair to talk about them in the context of LDS theology.

    Put an other way, I see no other way to reconcile our faith with science.

    Now one can do, as you are, and simply reject it. But then how do you deal with the idea of infinity in LDS thought? You end up having to reject an awful lot of science. For instance GR/SR is rejected to allow presentism of the sort your theology demands. The big bang must be rejected – not just the big bang, but most of the big crunch for a long period after the time of the big bang.

    At what point though, are you merely rejecting science for a particular reading of scripture? That is, in what way are you different from someone like say Rob Osborn who rejects both evolutionary science and most of the physical history of the earth as claimed by biologists? The only difference I can see is that rather than rejecting biological evolution to support a scriptural reading you are rejecting stellar evolution.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. As I said, I have no idea what the truth is and consider it more interesting to work out the possibilities. Yet I also confess that I put a prime value on being compatible with what we know about science. Thus, while I don’t mind talking about what isn’t clearly known by science, I get nervous when one simply discounts out of hand science that doesn’t support ones theories. That’s not to say I don’t recognize the fallible nature of science. But just as I strongly doubt all claims about the basic history of biological life on the planet to be completely wrong, I doubt it about the same history in physics. There will be corrections and refinements and even new phenomena. But I just can’t see there being the radical reformulations of theory that I think your position entails – just as I don’t think we’ll suddenly discover all life is only 6000 years old.

  78. When in 2002 or so they computer-aidedly found and examined distantly occuring (in the past) supernovas, they discovered that the distant universe is speeding up and not slowing down. This makes it necessary for there to be what’s called a cosmological constant for the universe’s numbers to crunch right. And one way to accomplish a cosmological constant is to posit that the universe is eternally being created–that creation is an ongoing process.

    It’s so much easier to mathematically and conceptually work with a “closed universe” model since this universe must be finite. (In other words, a closed univers will have a total mass within it of omega, which will be a finite number of Planck units, the tiniest possible.) An “open universe” is much more daunting, of course, because the mathematicians must reckon instead with a total mass for the universe where omega is literally mathematical infinity. (This infinity might be possible by there being finite mass at any moment but that this mass is constantly being added to.)

    So lots and lots of cutting edge cosmologists, such as at Princeton, actually will posit an infinite past and future. But how can this be reconciled with the big bang? Well, if both the universe’s end- and beginning points and ever “spiralling onward” (or backward), the closer in reality to either end point one conceives of features an exponentially faster faster universe–so that within actual space-and-time itself, at least, these eternally “receding away from us in space-and-time” endpoints can never be reached (that is, again, at least NOT in space and time).

    However, this is not to say that the ultimate endpoint big whimper or the ultimate endpoint big bang don’t exist. They do–just beyond space and time . . . .

    Long post. Sorry.

  79. Kimball, that’s partially why I was careful about talking about periods close to the big bang. My personal feeling is that all bets are off when the universe gets too small. We don’t know what’s going on then (long before the singularity) simply because we don’t have a model of quantum gravity. However long after the hypothetical singularity the universe still is finite in mass and the properties of the universe are such that it just wouldn’t work theologically.

    Put an other way, you end up with an infinite past ala the Stoic universe with that pesky problem of the universe turning to fire.

    So I’m definitely not arguing against an infinite past per se nor am I saying much about the big bang. Rather I’m talking about the history of the universe from say day 1 on.

  80. Just to add to that other post. I hope you don’t take that as an attack Blake. (I’m sure you don’t, but I figured I better be careful – I know how tone doesn’t communicate) This ultimately is my core concern. And I just can’t see how it can be resolved.

    However I have come around to just conceding the responsibility issue. I can’t see anyway out of it despite a lot of reading and thought. So, following Vargas, I think it wise to concede that it is impossible to reconcile responsibility. There then becomes the troubling question of implications. Do we, as Vargas suggests, attempt to revise our concept of responsibility? If so, can a concept be revised compatible not only with foreknowledge but with the other apparent demands of LDS theology? I don’t know.

  81. Clark: No problem. I can see how you arrive where you do. It just isn’t plausbile to me. I believe that my take on SR and GR is both plausible and well within the realm of open possibilities given our present knowledge and the state of physics. I’m still in the question regarding the big bang — and perhaps a multiverse is necessary if there was a big bang. However, Kimball explains one way the universe could be open at both ends even with a big bang. The fact is that we don’t know and cannot explain, in principal, what is involved beyond the Planck time.

  82. As I said, to me the issue isn’t what happens before Planck time but before about a few years while we’re still very much in the classical arena.

  83. IMPORTANT THREADJACK

    First I have to say that free will does NOT ENTAIL unpredictability. There is no causal connection between the two ideas. Though it may seem that if God is omniscient then we do not possess free will, there is no direct connetion, no causation, or coercion that removes our free will. Whenever someone argues this they state their assumption that free will entails predicatability and then say the if God is omniscient then the future is set and therefore you don’t make any decisions because your actions are pre determined. However, no explaination has ever been offered that shows where the decision making process of each of us was compromised. When did we loose that ability? I decided to put a white shirt on today, sometimes on Sunday I wear a blue shirt (if I’m feeling rebelious, just kidding). If God knew a million millenia ago that I would wear the white shirt today, how did that remove from me the decision I made this morning to wear the white shirt. It sure felt like I decided and I didn’t feel like someone was guiding my arms. Even if God knew it before where, when and how did I loose my freedom?

    The very best explaination I could ever give to explain to those who CHOOSE not to see how these two seemingly conflicting ideas can peacefully coexist is the following: The past and the future are both set in the sense that they are both knowable by God in the past present and future. However, we were still free to make the decisions that are now in our past. The decision I made earlier today to wear the white shirt is set, I can’t go back and change it (as far as I know). This does not mean I did not have free will or that because my decision can’t be changed now that I didn’t make the decision when it was the present.

  84. As for the scriptural accounts where God appears not to know of events that seem imminently knowable by an omniscient god I would have to go with the idea that the prophets were explaining a story as they understood it or even as they had heard it. Genesis was written how long after Adam? Or
    Abraham? These scriptural stories were passed down through ages before we got them.

    I’m not saying the gist of these stories were wrong at all, only the details. Like Revelations where John sees what is probably a loco-motive and calls it a steel horse. Or he saw a tank or whatever he really saw he described in his terms.

    While I’d have to disagree that no scribe had any motive to change a translation to include God questioning Abraham or Adam or Mary to discover something He already knew (there are those who believed that omniscience removed free will even back then) I believe the real reason for these “error” in reporting is due to a lack of thought on the part of the one sharing the revelation.

    When a prophet tells a story they often have to explain what happened and tell the story in their own words. They probably aren’t thinking about what happened with regard to details that don’t seem to relate to the main points of the spiritual experience and just tell the story. Like Joseph Smith sharing his experience about the First Vision. He gave at least 3 versions, all true, but only shared the parts of the experience that he was either prompted to or remembered to share at the time. Here we have a young man sharing the most important vision he had ever experienced and that changed the world and he gave different versions that reflected what he was trying to share or what he thought the particular audience he was addressing needed/wanted to hear.

    Similarly, the story of Abraham is about sacrifice and dedication, not about God’s omniscience or what God knows. If he knew Abraham’s thoughts then clearly he knew before the moment what Abraham would do, but (here is the important part) the only way for Abraham to KNOW what he would do is for God to let him experience it right up to the moment. Abraham’s recollection days, months, years later and the record Moses had to rely on to write Genesis probably did not contain an exactly perfect rendition of the words spoken and if it did then certainly God only did so to teach.

  85. Blake, both GR & SR do apply in the classical arena. Indeed they’re typically considered classical as opposed to the area before the Planck time. Quantum Mechanics is opposed to Classical Physics. So while both SR & GR are different from Newton, they are still clasical physics.

    In any case they most definitely apply for the period of a day to a thousand years after the big bang.

  86. There are also numerous scriptures throughout our sacred texts that imply or even require omniscience or an ability to “see” the future.

  87. Oh, my explaination for God’s omniscience is that if an object with mass reaches the speed of light it becomes infinitely massive and time comes to a stop. Believing that God is a being of light I assert that God is outside time as we know it, maybe He can move around in time.

    Potentially His act of becoming a being of light created the universe through the infinite amount of energy being translated to an individual. Maybe the infinite mass is connected with God and or His spirit.

  88. Heli (#89), I tend to agree. However the Libertarians will say those are either metaphoric or refer to God’s power to bring about his ends.

    Ultimately the problem is that the scriptures simply weren’t written to philosophers and scientists. They were written to relatively uneducated regular folk and one ought keep that in mind when pushing the words to applications outside of that context. (IMO) I think both sides tend to be guilty of this a lot.

    Your other point (#90) is wrong in that an object with mass can’t reach the speed of light. The other problem is that such a being couldn’t act the way we assert God as acting. If God is massless (and thus not really material) this poses a problem for our notion of resurrection.

  89. Clark, I’d have to agree that we cannot conceive of mass reaching the speed of light because it would take an infinite amount of energy and we certainly can’t even understand the infinite much less understand how it would be possible to produce that kind of energy. But we also cannot understand how a big bang could originate or how an infinite atonement is possible, yet many believe one or both of these events occurred.

    I am not proposing that God is massless, but that his existence is beyond our conception at the moment. In fact his ability to be a being of light with mass is part of the reason he is outside of time as we understand it. We theorize about strings or dimensions or multiverses and he is living in whatever really exists.

    There are references to the idea that a mortal before God would wither in His presence and that one must be transfigured or carried away to see God. (How these reports are consistent with the Saviors post ressurection visits I don’t know).

  90. Of course God knows everything. How could you know the beginning,and the end, but not the middle? If the middle changes things, the end may also change.

    How could the God who created the entire universe…the mind-numbing complexities of nature… forget to provide light in the barges used by the Jaredites? He knows what things we need, BEFORE we ask Him. It is us who are here to learn and grow, not Him. This is why He encourages us to study and work out a decision and THEN ask Him if it is right. The reason for his interaction with us, His children, is a result of our free-agency. The fact that we have agency requires that He be able to interact with us, and assist us as we allow Him. Since He knows everything, it would be possible, and easy, for Him to control everything, including each detail of our lives (as Lucifer planned to do). Yet, because of agency, He does not. That He does not control every thing, that He allows us the opportunity to work things out without the complete knowledge of the future that He has, shows the marvel and wisdom of sending us here in the first place.

    The examples from the scriptures of Heavenly Father or Christ’s interaction with His children where there seems to be some waiting on us, or expecting on His part– for me, only proves one thing: That He gave us free agency.

    Just because we don’t know everything that He does, doesn’t mean that He doesn’t know it.

    Val

  91. Val I agree, if you have any doubt whether God has given men free agency just take a look around at all the good and evil men and women are doing. No question that we have agency, clearly we are not being controlled. So if God knows the beginning from the end and can set in motion the answer to a prayer before we even ask, then he must know the future. If He can show us a vision of the future it must exist in some form.

    So since its clear we have agency and its logical that God knows all knowable things then it must be that foreknowlege does not remove agency or free will.

  92. If the answer is that God is inconceivable, then what’s the point of invoking GR? It wouldn’t apply since GR applies to conceivable entities. (grin)

    While I know I won’t convince anyone, it seems to me that the fundamental big different in the Restoration over the other religions at the time is that we believe God is conceivable. That he isn’t metaphysically other. As the revelations of the Restoration continued, it was to bring man and God closer together in our natures and to move farther and farther away from the divide that I think philosophy had put between God and Man in religion.

  93. But GR is only a description of phenomena we can see, its not necessarily the unification theory, though it seems pretty close. There were those scientist who were able to get light to go faster than the previous limit for example, who knows how or why but it shows that what we may have thought was certain for 90 years may not be.

    I don’t think making God infinite makes Him unreachable, the knowlege that He was like us and is our spiritual father is what makes Him close, saying that he is potentially falible doesn’t bring me closer.

  94. Pingback: A God I Could Believe In | Wheat and Tares

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