The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Theological Investigations and Mea Culpa

So we were coming back from a really nice ski through the woods the other evening and my eldest--Fiona (8)--asks me: "Daddy, does God know what we're going to do when we get inside the house?" Now for some bizarre reason which I don't understand--I suspect Screwtape, though that might just be transference--I took her to be making an oblique request for hot chocolate. Let me briefly defend my stupidity. We always have hot cocoa when we come back from skiing and she's got a habit of asking about it and we've asked her not to ask about it since it's a given.

Now, as a philosopher, I tend to frame issues in an abstract way. So "Does God know the future?" sounds like a well-formed question to me, but "Does God now what we'll do when we get inside?" is so concrete that it seemed there had to be some point to why she was asking about that particular frame of reference and my mind leapt to the conclusion that she was insinuating the question of whether we'd be having hot cocoa.

Yes, I am embarrassed about this. I don't know why my mind assumed the worst, because she's such a great kid (inspiringly so). At any rate, the next day we talked about it and here's what I said. Some people won't like it, so feel free to critique me.

"That was a very good question you asked last night, I'm sorry I misinterpreted it, will you forgive me for that? ["Yes, Daddy."]

It's a question that guys called 'theologians'--guys who think a lot about God and stuff--have been asking for a long long time. Most of them think that God does know the future, though not all of them do and the ones who think he can are not agreed on how he does so.

Any time we have knowledge, we have knowledge *of* something, so the real question is whether the future is already "there" in some sense to be known. I think that if the future is there, then God knows it. But I'm not sure if there is a future there to be known. If not, then God knows all the things that could happen and knows what all their probabilities are at all times. He could keep perfect track of all that and so never really be surprised. The most important way God can definitely know the future is by knowing that he'll do something in the future. I know I'm going to pat you on the head when I'm done with this sentence even though I can't "see" into the future: it's just that I have the power to do that, so I can know its going to happen.

God has the power to do anything logically possible, so he can know lots of things just by knowing what he's going to do. Probably all the really important stuff is in there, so its safe to say he knows all the important stuff about the future. Here's one way to think of how the future could exist and so God could know it directly. Have you ever thought about the shortest amount of time you can notice? The shortest amount of time your watch can measure is a second--one thousand one--but it's easy to chop that up, like we just said three words in a second. So a moment is shorter than a second but it does last for some amount of time, that's called 'duration'. It could be that some people can focus on larger or smaller amounts of time than others. A moment could be of longer or shorter duration for some people.

Well, it could be that for God a moment is the whole history of the universe. Remember on Independence Day when we watched the big fireworks explode? Well they exploded so fast that it kind of happened 'all at once' didn't it? Well now imagine a tiny little ant and maybe to the ant it happened slow enough that they could see the explosion start and and then get half-way through and then finish. We saw all that too, but we saw it 'all at once'. Some theologians think that from God's perspective the universe happens 'all at once'. It's like a great big hugemungus explosion, the greatest firework ever and we're like tiny little bugs in the middle of it. So to us it seems to go slow and we can't see the end part like God can.

It's like when we drive to the ski mountain and we can only see a few cars ahead of us at the time, but when we get way high up on the mountain we can see the whole line of cars coming into the parking lot. It could just be all a matter of perspective. We can't see the other cars, but they're there; we can't see the other side of the Earth, but it's there; we can't see the future, but its there. And if it's there, I think God knows it.

So think about those things and keep asking such great questions. Maybe some day you'll be a theologian. Maybe you already are."


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