Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ronald Nash on Omniscience and Divine Foreknowledge

Here's a piece I'm always working on, and I've now decided to post this version on the blog.

This study will focus on Ronald Nash's analysis of future-tensed propositions within the context of divine omniscience. At stake is the issue of whether future-tensed propositions have truth value and, if not, how does the lack of truth value for future-tensed propositions affect our understanding of divine omniscience?

Ronald Nash discusses future-tensed propositions in his work The Concept of God (55). [See also Rosenkrantz and Ockham.] The important question is whether propositions about the future have truth values (whether they are true or false). In order to address this question, Nash uses the familiar Aristotelian example concerning a sea-battle: "There will be a sea fight tomorrow." Is this proposition about the future true or false? [See Gerard Hughes]

If the proposition is now true (presently) then it would seem that there must be a sea-battle tomorrow which would entail that fatalism is true. [difference between fatalism and determinism] Conversely, it is possible to read Aristotle's argument as an example of argumentum reductio ad absurdum (Nash, 56). add note. Nash quotes Anthony Kenny to this effect. Kenny notes that if "future-tensed propositions about singulars" [qualification] are now true, then fatalism logically follows from this premise. Yet fatalism is evidently absurd. On the other hand, "since many future events are not yet determined" (Kenny writes) it seems that propositions or claims regarding future-tensed propositions that reference singulars have no truth-value (they are neither true nor false). See Nash, 56. Granting the truth of what Kenny has written (without necessarily accepting it), Nash then applies Aristotle's argument to the case of future (free) human actions. He insists that if these acts have no truth-value, if they are neither yet true nor false, then not even an omniscient God has the power to know future human actions since they lack any truth-value.

Nash contends that the Aristotelian view greatly hampers God's scientia to the extent that God cannot predict what Peter or Abraham will do in the future because if Peter or Abraham act freely (evidently defined in a libertarian sense), their actions putatively cannot be known. Foretelling the future becomes logically impossible for God (Nash 56). At best, it appears that God is an excellent guesser based on probable outcomes about the future. But if the future (free) actions of humans are unknowable, then God is not omniscient in the classical sense of the word. Nash therefore suggests that it is difficult to harmonize Aristotle's view of truth-values with the "scriptural" articulation of divine omniscience. [See Joel Green, et. al.]

Nash then posits that one model of divine omniscience which might result in a harmonization between divine omniscience and human freedom is what he labels "book of the future." The book of the future model is analogical language that sets forth three scenarios which account theoretically for God's knowing what S will freely do.

1) The first scenario depicts God opening the figurative "book of the future," wherein he finds every "true proposition about the future" (57). God's knowledge of all true propositions that concern the future (particularly those propositions about singulars) betokens (according to this model of divine omniscience and human free will) that God exhaustively knows all things (i.e. events) that "will" happen in the future (57).

2) According to the second possible scenario of this model, God opens (so to speak) the book of the future but he finds that each page is blank. What is being described by Nash in this instance is the view of Aristotle that there are no truth-values concerning future propositions that reference singulars. If Aristotle is correct, Nash contends, then God (the deity of Scripture) cannot infallibly know future events nor can any other being know what will occur in the future. But maybe those who affirm God's omniscience do not have reason to be troubled since all that may follow logically from Aristotle's view is that God knows all that it is possible to know. [Swinburne and Thomas] It may not be possible to know (with infallible certainty) events that have not yet occurred.

3) The third possible scenario discussed by Nash is that the book of the future is just not complete: "some pages contain propositions, there are gaps, sometimes very large gaps. Many pages may be completely blank" (Nash, 57). Nash argues that this scenario indicates that God may have only "partial knowledge" concerning future events in view of the fact that God possibly elects to restrict what he knows about the future so that human free will may be safeguarded. This view appears to make the claim that God knows that what he has willed must occur but God does not know or elects not to know those future events which have not been willed in accordance with his sovereign purpose (57). The view that Nash identifies as the third scenario is reminiscent of what Jehovah's Witnesses say about divine omniscience and human freedom.

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