Wednesday, January 11, 2012

God, eternality, and other attributes/premises

"We do not know how an eternal God operates in time. We scarcely know what time is; it is not at all clear what eternity is (Does God know sequence?), still less how he relates to our time."
--D.A. Carson, Reflections on Assurance
Per Carson, I believe we are indeed too inclined to view God in terms of our own perception of time and creation, and fail to realize that God's eternal nature necessarily makes him independent of such created concepts as past, present, and future. If you believe as I do that time itself is a created thing then it necessarily follows that we can't tie God to the same restrictions that time imposes on us. Namely, from God's native point of view, there really is no such thing as past, present, or future -- By being the creator of time it necessarily follows that God exists (and existed) independent of time.

I submit the following premises, which I hope to elaborate on in some detail later. They are:

P1 - Omniscience -- God has perfect knowledge; Natural, Middle (Molinism), and Free.
P2 - Omnipotence -- God has the power to do anything that is consistent with his nature.
P3 - Omnibenevolence -- God will always do what is best according to his nature.
P4 - Sovereignty -- God's authority to act in accordance with his nature is not contingent upon anyone/thing other than his own said nature.
P5 - Eternality -- That God, as creator of time, is himself beyond time (meta-temporal).  He is not merely traversing time with us -- he has the freedom and even the necessary ability to exist and operate around and within all aspects of time (past, present, and future) simultaneously.

Among other things, one of the conclusions of these premises if accepted as true... 
C - It inescapably follows that, in actualizing this world in accordance with his own nature, that this is in fact the best of all possible worlds.

This is not to be confused with "the best of all conceivable worlds", which is a mis-guided apples-to-oranges criticism that fails to properly distinguish what's "actually possible" from what's "merely conceivable". The alternative is to suggest that it's actually possible for God to have "done better" by actualizing a different reality -- a view which I believe strikes against the very nature of God and so I reject it because accepting it would destroy the very God that I have come to believe all of existence is contingent upon.


  1. Hey. There are some problems with two of your understandings that I wanted to note.

    1) Your thesis assumes that there was only one "best" world that God could create. Certainly the God so described by you could create an infinite number of such "worlds" all with equal value.

    2) I believe that some of the theses to your argument are faulty.

    A) Because God existed before and created time does not necessarily mean that since time began that He operates outside of it. You have begged the question, assuming your conclusion in your premise.

    It is quite possible that God, knowing that creating time would alter the way He operated forever, chose to, of His own free will, under no obligation, being subject to nothing, create time and now operates exclusively in time.

    B) I would agree that God is omniscient. But that is a little different than saying that He knows the future perfectly and completely. Omniscience means knowing all there is to know.

    Since the free will actions of men cannot be perfectly known, then God cannot know the absolute future of all things. Certainly He knows everything in the present perfectly. And He knows men in their entirety as they are presently, therefore has knowlege of what decisions they would make at any given juncture.

    But saying that He has perfect knowlege of all future free will acts of men would be tantamount to pre-determining and fore-ordainimg everything. This would be an absolute attack on His character, for this would make Him culpable for the sins of men. It is the fact that He did not pre-ordain everything that allowed Him to retain His holiness while at the same time knowing that the man He would create would sin. To give man the ability to make free will decisions and not be responsible for their sin, God created time and now operates in it, and does therefore does not know perfectly all the free will decisions of man.

    I am writing on my phone and can't elaborate further for now.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. (Deleted my previous to tweak a couple of statements to be more precise.)

    Hi Antonio. First, though I quoted from Carson I actually found what he said as-a-whole to be pretty lame as he made some very weak attacks against Free Grace ideas. I did like this particular quote from it though, but overall I found it sad reading that really missed on the main points he attempted to cover.

    1) The definition of "best" implies there is only one such thing. You can have multiple "goods and betters" but not "bests" -- that's logically impossible so your objection is inconsistent and self-defeating.

    2)A) I didn't say God doesn't operate within time, only that by being the creator of time that operating within time is not intrinsic to Him. You cannot be both the creator and the created within the same context. Certainly God can operate within time when He pleases, I said no otherwise, but He is not LIMITED to working within time -- I'd argue that with regard to time that God can step-in and step-out as He pleases given that His existence is itself not in any way dependent upon it.

    2)B) I partially agree with your def. of omniscience but find it naive and lacking. Omniscience also means not learning anything and the scenario you paint describes a God who is learning and changing as-He-goes which is more of an attack on God's nature than anything you've charged me with, though even what you did charge is based on a failure to properly distinguish between primary and secondary causes of why a thing is predetermined.

    Also, "eternal/infinite" means you can't increase, yet your view paints a God who has in fact been increasing by successive addition since the advent of time. What you describe is only a "potential eternal/infinite" whereas I argue and hold to a God that is an "actual eternal/infinite." Do you know the difference? It's huge... but many people confuse the two and so... uh.... are confused. :-)

  4. Hi,

    I just consulted several dictionaries and they would disagree with you that "best" implies "that there is only one such thing". Thus we can find expressions like, "The best students", "The best vacations", etc.

    Therefore, it is legitimate to state that God, possessing the attributes as you have described of Him, could conceive of an infinite number of "best worlds", each with equal value. These would be in contrast to the infinite number of conceived worlds that are inferior to the "best worlds".

    Your premise: "best implies there is only one such thing" begs the question, in other words, assumes your conclusion. This is a fallacy of logic.

    Best: 1) of the highest quality, excellence, or standing
    2) the highest quality to be found in a given activity or category of things

    At the very least, you must stipulate that there can be two or more items, identical, that could be considered "the best". But seeing that no definition of "best" necessitates a singular, but in fact, facilitates plural understandings, your objection to my response is completely untenable.

    The best is simply the highest of quality. It is manifestly and universally evident that two items can possess the same degree of quality. Therefore, your conclusion that this world is the singular best of all worlds is invalid. According to God's nature, He could have actualized an infinite number of worlds, each with the highest of quality. This is, of course, not saying that He could have done better. It is saying that He could have at least done as well.

    You have asserted the claim that God's "existence is itself not in any way dependent upon it." This I would agree to. This, nevertheless, is different than saying that God is not subject to time.

    You would aregue "that with regard to time that God can step-in and step-out as He pleases given that His existence is itself not in any way dependent upon it."

    But this is a non-sequitur. The conclusion that God can step in and out of time does not follow from the premise that He is not dependent upon it. This, in fact, is an obvious absurdity. I am subject to the laws of the United States of America. But my existence does not depend on those laws!

    Because God's existence does not depend on time does not legitimately justify the conclusion that He therefore is not subject to it and can step in and out as He pleases. It is quite possible, as I described above, that God willingly and voluntarily subjected Himself to time by virtue of creating it. This would not impinge on God's attributes at all. The creation of time was an implementation upon the entire universe. He created a principle that now applies throughout the whole universe, of which He is a resident.

    Omniscience does not necessarily mean "not learning anything". That could only be true if it were qualified. The proper articulation would be that omniscience is the full, complete, and instantaneous understanding and knowlege of all things that are able to be known. Nothing that can be known is needed to be learned, but is fully possessed. But if there were things that could not be known, as I discussed above (the full knowledge of all future free will actions of people), that at some point are able to be known, through what agency, other than learning, might omniscience be apprised of any and all future knowable knowlege (that is not knowable at present)? Call it what you will, it would be God knowing all there is to know, and then later appropriating the knowlege of things as they become able to be known.

    Your secondary and primary sources is but a red herring, beside the point. Notice this reasoning:

  5. 1. It is now true that Stephen will eat a salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow (Stipulated Premise)

    2.It is impossible that God should at any time believe what is false, or fail to know anything that is true. (Stipulated Premise: divine omniscience)

    3.God has always believed and known that Stephen will have a salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow. (Conclusion #1: Deduced From Point 1 & Point 2)

    4.If God has always believed a certain thing, it is not in anyone’s power to bring a situation about that has God not always having believed and known that thing. (Premise: the unalterability of the past)

    5.Therefore, it is not in Stephen's power to bring a situation about that has God not always having believed and known that he would have a salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow. (Conclusion #2: Deduced From Point 3 & Point 4)

    6.It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed and known that Stephen would have a salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow, and that Stephen does not in fact have one tomorrow for lunch. (Conclusion #3: Deduced From Point 2)

    7.Therefore, it is not in Stephen’s power to refrain from having a salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow. (Conclusion #4: Deduced from From Point 5 and Point 6)

    8. Therefore, Stephen's eating of the salami sandwich for lunch tomorrow is not an act of free choice. (Conclusion #5: Deduced from Point 7 and the definition of libertarian free will.)

    9. Stephen is not responsible for his actions, because they are not done by his free choice and will, but are necessitated by God's prior knowlege and beliefs about them.

    If premise 4 is true and if we have free will, then it is not possible for God to know everything that we will freely do in the future. But, if premise 4 is true, and God knows everything perfectly and completely concerning all future actions of men, then they are necessarily not culpable for their actions, for they were not done by their free will. Their actions were necessitated by God's pre-knowlege and beliefs concerning them.

  6. Stephen,

    You are equivocating with your use of "infinite". That a being is "infinite" does not preclude that being from the gaining of additional knowlege which was unknowable at a certain juncture which subsequently becomes knowable.

    Furthermore, knowlege, arguably, is a finite concept. God does not have infinite knowlege, He has all (knowable) knowlege. Do you know the difference? its huge... but many people confuse the two and so... uh... are confused. :-)

    By your logic, if God's knowlege is not infinite, He is not infinite. This is equivocation and non-sequitur. God's knowlege does not have to be infinite (in the sense of possessing an infinitude of knowlege) in order for him to be infinite as to his understanding. His understanding is without bounds, but His knowlege is limited to only those things that can be known, and in all probability, there is a finite number of things that can be known.

    At any rate, at every juncture, God's understanding is limitless and infinite, although His possession of knowlege is limited to all things that can be known at any specific juncture.


  7. Antonio, I'll only address a couple of things since the bulk of what you wrote really doesn't line up with anything I've actually claimed. At the moment I'm talking about time as the proverbial "apples" and you're rebutting me as-if I were talking about "oranges".

    0) With regard to "best", You are taking the use of the term in subjective contexts and inserting it into an objective context. Sorry dude, don't fly -- In an objective technical sense "best" means "best" which means there is ultimately only one. Objectively used, if multiple things are of equal objective value then none of them can objectively be said to be "best" so your argument is again based on a fallacy and so fails to succeed.

    1) I never said God's knowledge was "infinite", I in fact largely agreed with your own prior definition so let me state it plainly and maybe you'll understand this time. Omniscience simply means knowing all there is to know. Where we seem to disagree is whether what's knowable is perpetually changing or is in fact a fixed quantity. Having made that clear, please try to stay on target.

    2) Your entire line of "salami sandwich" reasoning assumes, without justification, that God is bound to time and that "the future" is somehow meaningfully different than "the past" from God's perspective -- a notion I refute and so reject because God reducing the nature of his existence from being an actual infinite to only a potential infinite would compromise his very nature -- (P2) no amount of omnipotence can accomplish that which is inconsistent with his Nature. The reason God knows I'll eat whatever it is I choose to eat isn't because He "looks ahead", it's because from His perspective He's already there! From God's perspective (necessarily retaining a presence outside the bubble of time by His very nature) Him knowing what WE perceive as "the future" with absolute certainty isn't really any different than Him knowing what WE call the past and neither are the moral implications any more severe. From a meta-temporal perspective, past present and future aren't nearly the different things you make them out to be.

    More later... maybe.

  8. Some add'l thoughts:

    Despite the logical and philosophical weakness of your view, the more critical problem is that it defies the many biblical expressions of God that portray him as knowing anybody's "future" with certainty. Take a simple statement like this from Psalm 139:16 for example:

    All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

    Your view denies that God could actually know any such thing since it's dependent not only on choices you make yourself but also on the choices of others as well. If, for example, God knows "all the days ordained for you are 81.6275 years" it would (by your reasoning) preclude you from choosing to nobly sacrifice your life before then to protect your family from an intruder -- or it may just as well preclude the intruder from choosing that course of action which led to your demise in the first place. In order to sustain your claim then, that God can't know the future decisions of free agents, you'd have to dismiss PS 139:16 as either a lie, misleading, or simply wrong -- You'd have to maintain that God can't and therefore doesn't know all the days ordained for you (or anyone else).

    or, I suppose you could say the verse is referring specifically and only to David, but all that does is shift the epicenter of the problem. Such a shift does nothing to resolve the fundamental problem however or the unavoidable implications it has concerning the choices of numerous others whose actions would have to be known and accounted for as well to prevent them from either ending or extending David's lifespan to be any different than precisely that which had already been ordained and known.

    Your view places virtually all of prophecy in a similar conondrum as well since it denies that God could actually make reliable prophetic statements since many (all?) prophecies are dependent in some way upon the "future" choices of entire chains and masses of people. Your view reduces biblical prophecy from "what will happen" to "God's best educated guess."

    As usual then, your view is full of holes which sacrifice the character and attributes of God (at least omniscience and eternality in this case, arguably others as well) to sustain your unfounded assertion that "the future" isn't set when numerous biblical passages clearly portray otherwise.

    Antonio: "I am subject to the laws of the United States of America. But my existence does not depend on those laws!"

    See, this shows that you really don't get it. You being subject to US law doesn't logically contradict the nature of your existence so your analogy is meaningless in this context. What you continually fail to both comprehend and address is that an "actual eternal/infinite" cannot possibly confine itself to the laws of a non-infinite/non-eternal state because that would compromise the nature of its truly eternal existence.

    Antonio: "Your secondary and primary sources is but a red herring, beside the point."

    Where your reasoning really breaks down is at point 7, because it's loaded with a premise that is not logically valid in the first place. Like positing "If God has, or doesn't have, the power to create a rock so big that even He can't lift it then, either way, he's not omnipotent". Your reasoning at 7 is similarly flawed because it falsely asserts that an inability introduce a counterfactual reality is a limit of either power, freedom, or both. The premise is loaded as neither power nor freedom are the issues at point 7, but rather truth. No amount of power or freedom can alter truth and so your reasoning fails.