Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Predestined" does not equal "predicted"

A common analogy used by many to try to explain God's knowledge of future events (and yet maintain some level of man's autonomy) is one that explains it as a very, very educated prediction. One such analogy involves a stock broker who is familiar with the trends of the stock market, and so accordingly plans his trading with those trends. Another version is of a veteran football coach who is well aware of his opponent's strategies and thus plans his game accordingly. However, both these examples are dangerous, because they lead one into the doctrine known as open theism.

Permit me to explain a few problems with these analogies:
  • These scenarios present someone with fallible knowledge. That is, the stock broker does not know for sure what is going to happen, only an educated guess at what will happen. The football coach might likewise have a general idea of how his opponent will behave, but not an infallible foreknowledge of what will happen. This introduces the idea that God has limited knowledge of future events.
  • These scenarios present the possibility of both men being wrong. Even if we say the stock broker is right 99% of the time, there is still that 1% wherein he is wrong. The same for the football coach. This introduces the idea that it is possible for God to be wrong about future events.
  • In both these scenarios, the taking in of knowledge is passive and the reaction is just that - a reaction. Neither the stock broker nor the coach have any form of sovereignty over future events or that which they are responding to. This presents the idea that God does nothing but merely react to the actions of His creation.
Herein is our dilemma: that God has a limited knowledge of future events, that it is possible for Him to be wrong, and that He is simply responding to all that occurs...all these are the traits of Open Theism.

Open Theism, of course, is the teaching that God does not have infallible knowledge of future events. However, it would be wrong to represent it as simply a helpless God worried about the next day, as if God is sitting in heaven biting His proverbial fingernails. Most Open Theists liken it to a master chess player playing against a novice: although he does not know for sure what will happen next and may have one or two surprises, God is still able to maneuver around the actions of creation and still come out on top. Their argument is that if God knows something will happen, and there is no possibility of it not happening, then that is merely an indirect form of determinism. To quote an Open Theist source:
However, in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the "future" is not a present reality-it does not exist-and God knows reality as it is.

This view may be called dynamic omniscience (it corresponds to the dynamic theory of time rather than the stasis theory). According to this view God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God's knowledge of the future contains knowledge of that which is determinate or settled as well as knowledge of possibilities (that which is indeterminate). The determined future includes the things that God has unilaterally decided to do and physically determined events (such as an asteroid hitting our moon). Hence, the future is partly open or indefinite and partly closed or definite and God knows it as such. God is not caught off-guard-he has foresight and anticipates what we will do. [source]
This more accurate definition sounds like the examples we looked at in the beginning of this post. Those who use these examples to try to teach a libertarian free will are inadvertently teaching Open Theism instead. They are presenting a God who has fallible knowledge of future events, no assurance of what will happen, and almost every action of God is merely a response to His creation. Both examples are therefore simply fallacious analogies to make.