Ep15-The Attributes of God Ch 9 - Denying That God's Past Knowledge is Fixed

We talk about arguments that try to attack God's past knowledge/beliefs as fixed. We talk about the idea that a timeless God is exempt from past necessity, and even go over universal possibilism and the multiverse theory.

Topics Discussed:
• Distinguishing Logical and Theological Fatalism
• Argument D
• Hard Facts As Intrinsic Properties of Past Events
• Does The Doctrine of Timelessness Resolve the Incompatibility?
• Multiple Past Compatibilists

Show Notes:


“William Ockham (ca. 1285–1347) responded to the incompatibilist argument by denying its most fundamental and seemingly incontrovertible premise: that if God believed at all past times that S would do X at t2, then it is beyond the power of anyone to change this fact about the past. Ockham maintained that such propositions are merely “verbally about the past” but are in reality about the future and therefore do not partake of the necessity of the past. That is, Ockham would deny that premise (B4) is true.”

“Ockham held that propositions about God’s acts bringing about future events such a predestination are not really but merely verbally about the past and are really about the future.”

Distinguishing Logical and Theological Fatalism

Tell us about Aristotle's views and then Ockham's views.

“Ockham distinguished between propositions which are “merely true or false” and those propositions which are “determinately” true or false.”

“According to Ockham, the relevant time for assessing the determinate truth value of propositions known by God is not at any past time at which it could be stated truthfully that “God knows that X will occur at t2,” but only at t2 when X actually occurs and removes all potency in things for X to not occur.”

“The fact that “God believed at t1 that X will occur at t2” is not a historical fact about the past moment t1 but about the future moment t2 in Ockham's view."

Logical Fatalism vs Theological Fatalism

Argument D

Logical Fatalism-Take the God out

“(Dl) It has always been true that “Rock will rob the 7-Eleven tomorrow” (assumption omnitemporality of truth);
(D2) If it has always been true that “Rock will rob the 7-Eleven tomorrow,” then it is not now in anyone’s power to do any act which entails that Rock will not rob the 7-Eleven tomorrow (assumption past necessity of propositions);
(D3) It is not in anyone’s power to act in a way that entails that it was not always true that “Rock will rob the 7-Eleven tomorrow” (from Dl and D2);
(D4) “Rock refrains from robbing tomorrow” entails that it has not always been true that “Rock will rob the 7-Eleven tomorrow” (necessary truth);
(D5) Therefore, it is not in Rock’s power to refrain from robbing the 7-Eleven tomorrow (from D3 and D4);
(D6) If Rock acts freely when he sins tomorrow, then he also has it in his power to refrain from sinning tomorrow (assumption categorical free will);
(D7) Therefore, Rock does not act freely when be sins tomorrow (from D5 and D6).”

“I think that it is obvious that Ockham has a point when he speaks of the truth value of propositions: The omnitemporal truth value of a proposition about the future is not a historical event which occurs independently of the events described in the proposition itself. The truth value of propositions about future events is not a part of the past history of the world and thus should not be taken into account when describing what is part of the historical events of the world and the temporally necessary propositions which are really about the past because they describe those events. Thus, I can still do something to make it true that “Ostler will refrain from robbing a 7-Eleven tomorrow” or I can make it true that “Ostler will rob a 7-Eleven tomorrow”—and I can render either proposition true without changing the past history of the world. Argument D is therefore not sound because premise (D2) is not true.”

“If this assertion could be demonstrated, then the argument for incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge based upon the fixity of the past is in real trouble because then premise (B4) of argument B too would not be sound.”

“If, on the other hand, propositions about God’s foreknowledge can be shown to be really about the past, or to contain an unchangeable feature about the past which must be changeable if persons are to have free will, then the incompatibility argument can be vindicated against this line of reasoning”

“Bruce Reichenbach:
The objector contends that no one has power to act so that the past would be different than it was. Though this is true in a non-relational sense—one cannot alter facts about the past which have no intrinsic relation to the present—it is “not true in a relational sense. For example, I have the power to act so that Martin Luther was born exactly 502 years before I wrote this paragraph by writing it on November 10th, 1985. However, I also have the power to so act that Martin Luther was not born exactly 502 years before I wrote this by delaying my writing. Here I have power to act so that the past is different than it was, because what is brought about is relationally dependent on the present. Of course, my power is limited. I do not have it in my power to act so that, by writing this now, Martin Luther landed on the moon 502 years before I wrote this. My power relates only to the part having to do with me. But this is what is involved with respect to God’s foreknowledge. What God knows about the acts of a person is relationally dependent on what the person who is the object of the knowledge does. Thus, in this relational sense a person has the power to act so that the past is what it is, that is, that God truly believes something about the present. Consequently, there is no contradiction between my human freedom and divine foreknowledge.”

“Unfortunately, Reichenbach overlooks one very important way in which his two examples differ. I can exercise my power to write this paper or refrain from writing this paper, and either alternative is compatible with the past fact that Luther was born in 1483. My act does not require any change in the intrinsic past fact that Luther was born in 1483. However, since it is true that I write this paper in 2001, “God believed in 1483 that I write this paper in 2001” is also true on the supposition of infallible foreknowledge. However, if I exercised my power to refrain from writing this paper in 2001, there would have to be a change in the intrinsic past event itself, i.e. the past fact that “God believed I write this paper in 2001” would be changed to “God believed that I refrain from writing this paper in 2001.” The two past events do not appear to be the same. Unless we can understand the two events to be the same intrinsic past event, then Reichenbach’s example fails.”

Explain “soft facts about the past.” vs "Hard Facts"

 “establishing a set of facts consistent with the world ending after the event occurs. Clearly, if a fact is consistent with the world ending after it occurs then it is not about the future, it is a historical event really about the past.”

Hard Fact: “(HF) A fact F is a hard fact about t1 if F’s occurrence entails that F obtains at t1 and F is consistent with there being no times after t1.”

Soft Fact: “(SF) A fact F is a soft fact about t1 if F’s occurrence at t1 is not consistent with there being no times after t1 because F entails that some other, contingent fact occurs at some later time t2.”

Explain "Soft Facts with Hard Parts" Sun rising example

“To sort out these different types of facts, consider the following propositions (where t1 represents all past moments or any given past moment such as 1 April 4004 B.C.):
(a) It was true at t1 that “Rock will rob at t2.”
(b) God believed at t1 that “Rock will rob at t2.”
(c) Aaron told Moses at t1 that “Rock will rob the 7-Eleven at t2.”

“Proposition (c) is different than (a) because it presents a historical event, the historical event of Aaron’s telling Moses that Rock will rob at some future time. Our basic intuition of what constitutes a “past event” dictates that (c) be understood as a hard fact, for uttering a string of words on a given date certainly represents an event which is fixed and cannot be changed once it is past.”

“ If (SF) is acceptable, then the compatibilist is triumphant because she has succeeded in showing that God’s beliefs are soft facts about the past. Argument B requires that God’s beliefs are really and not merely verbally about the past. Thus, premise (B4) of Argument B appears to be in real trouble.”

but... “consider also this proposition:
(c*) God told Moses at t1 that “Rock will rob at t2.”

“Were any being other than God involved, (c*) would clearly be a hard fact under (HF). Proposition (c) is a hard fact because it is consistent with the world ending immediately after t1.”

Also we do this “(b*) Jones believed at t1 that “Rock will rob at t2.”

Friend with weird belief he wishes he could go back and change example

“if it is a historical event for a person to be in a certain state of belief, then it is also a historical event for God to be in that same state of belief.”

Kvanvig: “Perhaps for most persons, coming to believe a certain claim is normally an event, but not for God. He does not generally come to believe any truth, rather he has always believed that a claim is true if it in fact is.”


“If God is put in the same class as mere humans, the incompatibility conclusion follows. If his uniqueness is preserved by placing him in a class all by himself, then the argument for incompatibilism is undermined. Further, the intuitive answer here is clear: there is nothing sufficiently like God for ontological purposes to be put in the same class as him."

Zagzebski and 'Thomistic Ockhamism'. Childs face reflecting features.....explain

Problem...“I go to Oregon next Saturday” and “I do not go to Oregon next Saturday,” are both equally reflected and that causes a contradiction. “She never explains how God can distinguish which of the future contingents is true if all are equally reflected in God’s essence.”

“It now becomes clear why the Mormon concept of God makes a crucial difference in the discussion of whether God’s past beliefs are past events and therefore beyond anyone’s power to alter, for Mormonism unabashedly claims that God the Father and the Son are “persons” in the fullest sense of the word, though certainly not “mere mortals.”

“It seems to me that the debate ultimately turns on whether God’s having a belief is relevantly similar to humans having beliefs. That is, if God is utterly unique so that our concept of what it is for a person to have a belief at a time does not apply to God, then God’s beliefs or nonpropositional knowledge cannot be shown to be hard because we don’t know what it means to say that “God has beliefs at time Tl.” If, on the other hand, God is a member of a kind, then his beliefs are like the beliefs of the other members of that kind. The words of the Prophet

Joseph Smith on this subject seem to be relevant:
What kind of being is God? Ask yourselves. . . . [I will show you] what kind of being was God in the beginning. . . . 1st God sits enthroned [and] is a man like one of yourselves. That is the great secret. If the veil were rent to day & the great God who holds this world in its sphere or its orbit—the planets—if you were to see him to day you would see him in all the person image, very form of man, For Man was created in the very fashion of God.”

Hard Facts As Intrinsic Properties of Past Events

“I suggest that we understand the properties that are really possessed by events at past times in terms of intrinsic or real properties possessed by events at past times.”

Explain intrinsic and extrinsic properties and why they are relevant to this discussion. And “past relata and a future relata.”

Gettysburg address relation to writing this book example

“the set of fixed properties (fp) as follows:
(fp) All intrinsic properties of past events or agents identified in a past relata of a past-future relational proposition are unchangeable and fixed.”

“This conclusion follows from (PEP2): If a person S does not have it within his power to alter x, and if S does not have it within his power to alter the fact that if x then y, then S does not have it within his power to alter the fact that y either.”

“Thus, we can define a fixed intrinsic properties principle (“FIPP”) in terms of intrinsic properties possessed by events at past times:
(FIPP) If it is true that if an agent A were to perform an action X at a time t2, then some event which possessed an intrinsic property P at some time prior to t2 would not have possessed P at that prior time, then A cannot do X at t2.”

Does the Doctrine of Timelessness Resolve the Incompatibility?

“Aquinas believed that the incompatibility argument premised on the necessity of the past could be avoided by removing God from the arena of human history. ”

“God did not know anything “at t1” because God’s knowing is not temporally located.”

“Indeed, it is as if Rock has already robbed, repented, died and sits exalted beside the timeless God in the eternal now. Certainly this is a difficult notion.”

“Alvin Plantinga and Paul Helm have argued that even if God is not in time, still the proposition “God knows timelessly that Jones will do X at t2” was true at all times prior to t2.”

“I do not think that it is within the power of a person to so act that what a timeless God knows (timelessly) could be different. The problem is not past necessity, but the divine immutability entailed in the notion of timelessness. ”

“It may be objected that the property (P5) “believing timelessly that Jones will do X at t1” is not an intrinsic property, but an external or relational property.”

“Nevertheless, I think that there are good reasons to interpret the dispositional properties of even a timeless being as intrinsic properties which cannot be changed given that (in a nontemporal sense) such a property is possessed immutably.”

“It seems plausible to suppose that on the notion of divine timelessness God is in a certain cognitive state in the eternal now and while the fact that God is in this cognitive state may be a contingent fact about God, nonetheless, the fact that God is in this cognitive state is an immutable property relative to God’s belief. Thus it is impossible to alter this cognitive state by performing an act which would entail that God is in a different cognitive state.”

“fixed immutable intrinsic properties (FIIP):
(FIIP) If it is true that a temporal agent A were to perform an action X at a time t, then some individual S who immutably possesses an intrinsic property P would not possess P, then A does not have power to do X at t.”

Problem of prophecy for a Timeless God: “(c**) At t1 Moses heard (apperceived) the timeless God infallibly telling him that “Rock will rob at t2.”

Multiple Past Compatibilists

“Thomas Flint argues that God’s middle knowledge is brought about by agents who have counterfactual power over the past. However, this power over the past is not limited to bringing about the actual past, for he claims that persons also possess the power to alter the past so that it never happened! Thus, the past is not fixed.20

Flint explains:
[Take the] case of Christ’s prophesying Peter’s betrayal as [an] example. At the time when Peter issues his denials, the history of the world already includes Jesus’ having foretold the denials. This is a fact about the past which has already had causal consequences (e.g., Peter has a memory of Jesus’ having uttered these words). Yet there is something that Peter is free to do (namely, not deny Jesus) such that, were he to do it, Jesus would never have foretold those denials—assuming, of course that Jesus could not be mistaken on such a matter. So Christ’s prophesying the denials is not a fixed fact about the past, despite the clear causal consequences of that act of prophesying.”

“this positions requires acceptance of “indexical possibilism” regarding possible worlds. Indexical possibilism holds that all possible worlds are equally actual; the actual world is not the only actual world.”

Let's discuss multiverses...

“One final question remains: What is it that makes a human action necessary if the necessity is not caused by God’s foreknowledge itself?”

“Have I then succeeded in showing that there is no omniscient being if there are free agents? Is it possible to reject premise (B1) without rejecting premise (B2)? It is to these questions that we now turn.”


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