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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Omniscience / Free Will Paradox

God is omniscient. He knows everything. He understands the past, present, and future. But if He knows the future, can we have free will? Are we free agents choosing our own path? After all, if God knows what I will do tomorrow, then I have no choice but to do that thing. If I do not, then God was wrong and He is not omniscient. If I do, then His knowledge means I do not have the freedom to do otherwise.Therefore, it seems our free agency is proof that God is not omniscient. The Christian God claims omniscience, so He cannot exist.

This argument, along with The Omnipotence Paradox and The Problem of Evil, is used by atheists to disprove the Christian God, is known as the Omniscience/Free Will Paradox, among other names. The problems with it are sometimes difficult to see because it is not often put into a syllogistic form, but if it were, it would look like this:

    (1) A necessary condition for an act’s being free is that it is possible for the agent that is going to perform the act not to perform it.
    (2) If God knows that an agent is going to perform an act, then it is not possible that the agent is not going to perform it.
    (3) If God knows that an agent is going to perform an act, then it is not the case that that act is free.
    (4) If an omniscient God exists, then if an agent is going to perform an act then God knows that that agent is going to perform that act.
    (5) If an omniscient God exists, then if an agent is going to perform an act then it is not the case that that agent is going to perform that act freely.
    (6) There is an agent that is going to perform an act freely.
    (7) It is not the case that an omniscient God exists.

This argument actually fails for many reasons. Here, I mention only a few.

Potential and Actual Futures

The first problem with this argument is the first premise, “...it is possible for the agent that is going to perform the act not to perform it.” This premise claims that it must be possible for the agent to not do what he will do. This is not only a non-sensical premise, but it has nothing to do with whether or not there is an omniscient God.

If a free agent has two choices, choice A or B, then he has two potential futures, based on which of the two choices he chooses. However, one and only one of them will become his actual future. Not only that, but one of them must become his actual future. It is not possible that he does not have an actual future, unless he were to die, in which case it wouldn't matter much anyway.

If I were to see the free agent freely choose choice A, then I travel back in time before he made the choice, then he would still freely choose choice A, but my knowledge does not force him to make that choice. Instead, my knowledge is the effect of his choice, not the cause. The reason he doesn't choose B is not because of my foreknowledge or because he is not free, but because I observed what he will do, not what he could do. That is, I saw the actual future, not a potential future.

So this argument is based on the expectation that one can change the future. It's the expectation that one could not do what he will do. That is a non-sensical statement. It is possible that I not follow one of those potential futures, but it is not possible that I do not follow my actual future, whatever I decide it is. I am free to choose what I will do, but it is not possible that I don't do what I will do. The main premise of this argument, then, is based on a self-contradictory idea.

Incidentally, the existence of an actual future may sound like determinism, but that is not the case. Even in a completely random universe, there would still be an actual future, because even if what will happen in the future has absolutely no connection to the present, one thing is still certain: something will happen. So if God is omniscient, then he would still know the future in an entirely random universe.

Cause and Effect

However, the main claim of this argument is that we are not free to choose for ourselves what we will do in the future because God's knowledge of the future causes us to make the decisions He knows we will make, but whether or not there is an omniscient being has absolutely no effect on whether or not we are free.

Imagine a world in which there is no God. A person in this world would freely make a string of choices throughout their life that determines there future. In this world, the person would have free agency. This world must still have an actual future. By that I mean there are facts about the future. Now, if we were to place an omniscient being in this world who has knowledge of these facts about the future, how does it change anything about those facts? If, in a world without omniscience, you freely choose to eat breakfast, how does the presence of an observer change that fact? Your actual future is your actual future regardless of whether or not there is an omniscient God who knows what that future is. Our actions determine God's foreknowledge and not the other way around, and if we chose differently then God's knowledge would be different.

In the example above, the free agent does not choose A because God knows he'll choose. Rather, God knows he'll choose A because he will choose A. God's knowledge is the effect, not the cause. If the free agent had made different decisions, God's knowledge would have been different.

Free Will

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this argument is that it assumes that foreknowledge implies causality. This is certainly not the case, since there is no clear difference between a world with an omniscient God and a world without one. Instead, God's knowledge is the effect of our actions, rather than the cause. Therefore, the idea of free will is entirely consistent with the existence of an omniscient God.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Omnipotence Paradox

The Paradox of Omnipotence

Can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it? This question, like the Omniscience/Free Will Paradox, is viewed as an argument against the existence of God as He is commonly conceived, and is one of the most popular, next to The Problem of Evil. No matter how you answer the question, you seem to be admitting that God is not omnipotent. The God of Christianity claims omnipotence, therefore, He cannot exist. The argument goes like this:
(1) God either can or cannot create a rock that is so heavy that he cannot lift it.
(2) If God can create a rock that is so heavy that he cannot lift it, then God is not omnipotent.
(3) If God cannot create a rock that is so heavy that he cannot lift it, then God is not omnipotent.
(4) God is not omnipotent.
(5) If God exists then he is omnipotent.
(6) God does not exist.

This argument doesn't really work, though.

Situational Ethics

If we are to judge a Christian God, we must do so by examining the Christian text that describes Him. The ethical system we see at play in scripture is called situational ethics. Situational Ethics is the idea that actions are not intrisically good or evil, but they are made good or evil by the context in which they are performed.

For example, to kill one person to save ten is not the same as killing ten to save one, all other factors being equal. Likewise, killing one to save ten is not the same as killing one to save a thousand. Killing Adolf Hiter is not the same as killing Mother Teresa.

We can see many more examples of this in scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord commanded the children of Israel to break almost all of the Ten Commandments, but these things were acceptable for a specific context and condemnable for many others. Likewise, when Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for breaking Levitical laws regarding the Sabbath, he said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” (Mark 2:27). He also argued, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:6). The Lord also says in the Book of Mormon, “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Ne 4:13)

So, according to a Christian text, a Christian God may perform any action depending on the context in which it is to be performed.

Conditional Omnipotence

So with God all things are indeed possible, but not all things are possible all the time. He can perform any action which the current set of circumstances render “good”, whatever that might mean. So a set of circumstances might require that God creates a rock, but would not require that he lift it. Later, the circumstances might change such that He now needs to lift it. He would then find it within His power to lift it.

It may seem odd to places limitations on omnipotence, but He remains omnipotent because he still possesses all power. He is capable of performing any action. In fact, this may be the only true form of omnipotence, since it is the only intelligible way to answer the above paradox, while also reconciling the fact that "with god, all things are possible"(Matt 19:26) with the claim that "it was impossible for God to lie" (Heb 6:18). He must simply comply with the “good”, but that is not a new idea to Christianity. Many admit that God's power does not extend to logical contradictions, for example, like creating four-sided triangles or married bachelors.

Also, since the Bible also teaches that "[God] cannot lie" (Titus 1:2), our modern definition of "omnipotence" clearly does not apply in the way we'd think. So even if we ignore situational ethics the paradox would still not work because omnipotence in the sense that he can do any thing at any time is not an attribute he claims to have.

So can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it? Yes, and He can lift it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Old-Earth Creationism

1 IN the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
According to the Genesis account of the universe's creation, "the heavens and the earth" are the first things created. This phrase, in Hebrew, reads, "hashamayim we ha' erets," and it refers to the entire universe, all of creation and everything that can be sensed or physically exists. This indicates that the heavenly bodies like the Earth, Sun, Moon, and stars were created "in the beginning" before the six "days" of creation.

Other verses in scripture describe the earliest stages of the creation event in a way that conforms to what modern science has just recently discovered. It should be noted that in Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew word used for "created" ("bara") means a "creation from nothing," as though something is brought into existence. A start from nothing is a good description of what cosmologists call a "singularity," which was the starting-point of the Big Bang.

A "singularity" is all the potential mass (matter), energy, and dimensions (including time) of the cosmos, compacted into an infinitely small point of zero volume. Notice that the dimensions also started at the point of zero length, width, etc.

This same concept is brought up again in Hebrews 11:3 which claims that "the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." The original starting-point for the universe was there, but not visible, because it had zero volume.

In addition, Old Testament prophets were aware that the Earth was a free-floating mass in space. Job 26:7 says, "He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." This is not a perspective attainable from Earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the faceof the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Scientists say the Earth experienced meteoric impacts for more than 500 million years during what is known as the Hadean Era. These impacts would have produced enough energy and heat to vaporize the upper layers of the Earth so that the surface would have been mainly molten liquid at that time. As the impacts stopped and the planet cooled, lighter minerals rose to the surface and hardened to become the outer crust of the Earth.

Around the same time period, scientists say the out-gassing of gases trapped inside the Earth started to form an atmosphere around the planet. The atmosphere eventually cooled and water started to condense. Heavy rains poured down on the planet and after a few hundred million years of constant rain, the oceans formed on the surface. The extent to which the water covered the Earth cannot be verified. However, many scientists believe the quantity of water was sufficient to cover the entire planet.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Regarding light on Earth, science says that our young solar system was filled with a cloud of gas, dust and debris. As the Earth cooled and its gravitational field increased, it attracted meteorites and other debris that collided with the earth for over 500 million years (known as the Hadean Era). So although the Sun ignited before the Earth formed, the early Earth would have been surrounded by a thick, dense mixture of cosmic gases and debris that blocked out sunlight for many millions of years.

Does this conflict with the Bible? No. The Bible tells us that the earth was dark and formless before God began His creative work there. On the first "day," God separated light from darkness and caused daylight to appear. On the fourth "day," God caused the Sun, Moon and stars to appear in the sky. This totally agrees with what science says of the early Earth. At first, the atmosphere would have been opaque and blocked all sunlight. Over time, the atmosphere would have become translucent, allowing some sunlight to penetrate the darkness (the first "day"). After this, the atmosphere would become transparent, revealing the heavenly bodies in the sky (the fourth "day").

6 ¶ And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

The account of the second "day" speaks of God separating the waters. The water of the land from the water of the sky. This parallels a section of Psalm 104, called the "creation Psalm." There, God is described creating the upper waters, the watery clouds of heaven (104:3), and the lower waters of the earth (104:6). So it seems that Genesis 1 is describing an atmospheric division involving water, not the creation of the Earth's atmosphere (the air surrounding the Earth).

9 ¶ And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Scientists typically agree that the continents formed several hundred million years later. This occurred as molten rock rose upward and erupted to form "island arcs." These arcs slowly drifted across the planet and clumped together forming progressively larger pieces of land that eventually became continents. This was the result of plate tectonics.

According to plate tectonics theory, the uppermost portion of Earth's interior consists of two parts: the lithosphere, the solidified top layer, and an inner viscous layer known as the asthenosphere. The lithosphere exists as separate and distinct "tectonic plates" that float on the fluid-like asthensophere. It is the movement of these "plates" that causes the formation and breakup of continents. Mountain ranges and other features of the Earth's surface are also the result of tectonic compression, folding and faulting processes.

Does science conflict with the Bible? No. Genesis 1:2 indicates the Earth had an atmosphere and was covered by water prior to the six creation "days." This agrees with the scientific view of the Earth in the latter stages of the Hadean Era. According to science, the continents appeared after the great oceans formed (through plate tectonics). Again, there is no conflict with Scripture. The Bible tells us on the third "day," God separated the water and caused dry land to appear. The Hebrew verb in this passage (hayah) means to come into existence. Because the land was not an instantaneous bara creation, the land could have appeared gradually as God orchestrated the process of plate tectonics.

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

The Bible teaches that plants and trees were created before sea and land creatures. The Bible does indicate sea creatures were created on the fifth "day" and land creatures on the sixth "day." However, one should be careful not to assume too much about the narrative of the third "day." The Hebrew phrase at the end of verse 11, "and it was so," is better translated "and it did come to pass." This indicates the command was completed but it does not indicate an immediate completion—it could have been completed in the future. Thus, it is entirely possible the land continued to produce new plants and trees well into the following "days."

It is noteworthy that the verb "bring forth" (dasha) in verse 11 ("produce" in some translations) represents an incomplete action. It indicates the land was to be the agent producing the command. This, with the ending phrase "and it did come to pass," implies this command took longer than 24 hours to complete. A completion within 24 hours would require that we ignore the usual meanings of these words.

Science places simple plants before fruit trees. This is correct. Does this conflict with the Bible? No. The Bible tells us God commanded the land to produce seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees. It does not refer to all plant life on the Earth. So God could have introduced a series of simple plants before the plants and trees He created on the third "day."

Some say that the Bible teaches flowering plants were created before insects. This is based on the belief that flying insects were created with birds on the fifth "day" and crawling insects with land animals on the sixth "day." The text does not support that view. The Hebrew words for the birds and land animals God created do not normally refer to insects. Since insects play a critical role in the pollination of many plants, we are left with two possibilities: either God created plants and insects together, or God pollinated the plants until insects were created.

Science places insects before flowering plants. This is also correct. Science places the first insects in the Devonian Period, about 400 million years ago. The first flowering plants—the angiosperms—appeared 145 million years ago. Does science conflict with the Bible? No. The Bible does not tell us when insects were created. It should be noted, however, that science places the appearance of pollinating insects much later, at about the same time as the appearance of the flowering plants.

14 ¶ And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

The narrative of the fifth "day" describes the creation of two types of sea creatures: great creatures and creatures with which the water teems. The Hebrew word for great creatures (tanniyn) refers to "enormous creatures or whales.” The Hebrew word for the other creatures (sherets) means swarming things. In verse 20, both these creatures are referred to as living things. The Hebrew word used here (nephesh) connotes creatures with the attributes of mind, will and emotion. This indicates the sea creatures created on the fifth "day" were not fish but air-breathing mammals—whales, dolphins, porpoises and the like (according to Rodney Whitefield’s Reading Genesis One-Comparing Biblical Hebrew with English Translation ).

The first birds are placed in the Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago, although recent discoveries, such as Protoavis, suggest true birds may have appeared around the time of the first dinosaurs.

24 ¶ And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

The narrative of the sixth creation "day" talks about the creation of three types of land animals: livestock, creatures that move along the ground and beasts of the earth. The Hebrew word for livestock (behema) refers to large four-footed mammals that are easy to domesticate. The Hebrew word for creatures that move along the ground (remes) refers to the locomotion of small creatures—small rodents and possibly small reptiles. The Hebrew word for wild beasts (chay) means wild or alive. Chay comes from the root haya that conveys living life to the fullest. Because this requires the attributes of mind, will and emotion; chay seems to refer to wild mammals.

Science places the first land mammals in the Triassic Period, about 250 million years ago, and the first whales in the Tertiary Period, about 50 million years ago. Does this conflict with the Bible? No. The Bible tells us whales were created on the fifth "day" and land mammals on the sixth "day." However, the narrative of the sixth "day" only speaks only of advanced land mammals: wild and easy to domesticate large mammals and small, low to the ground mammals. The fossil dates for these mammals post-date the first whales by many millions of years.

Based on the Hebrew word meanings, it is evident the text does not describe the creation of all sea and land creatures. The fifth "day" speaks of whales and other sea mammals, while the sixth "day" speaks of large mammals, small mammals and possibly certain small reptiles. Therefore, we can only speculate as to where fish, amphibians, large reptiles, dinosaurs, insects and a host of other sea and land creatures fit into the scheme of the six creation "days."

Why doesn’t it include these details? I think the main reason is that, ultimately, it’s just not that important. The Book of Genesis describes the origin of many things: The Earth, Life, Sin, Mankind, the House of Israel, etc., but it was not intended to describe the origin of all things.

26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
29 ¶ And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Animal Death

Some Christians refer to Genesis 1:31—"God saw all that He had made, and it was very good." They think that God would not call a creation that included animal death "very good." However, one must be careful not to rely on our modern, western ideas of what "good" means. The Bible does not tell us the creation was “perfect”. The Hebrew word for good, towb, connotes a practical or economic benefit. Thus, the creation was "very good" for the purpose of achieving God's goals for mankind—namely, to allow rational, morally free agents to come into existence and make free choices to love, obey and be in relationship with Him. Animal death in no way conflicts with that goal.


While studying Genesis 1, we should try to determine as clearly as possible what God meant by the language He guided His inspired prophet to employ. We must read it through the understanding of the author, not through ours. This requires that we go beyond the English translations no matter how well those translations seem to fit our personal view of what we’d prefer to believe, and carefully examine the text in the original Hebrew. When we do, we see the supposed conflict between Genesis 1 and the factual data of science does not exist. Rather than contradicting Genesis 1, science underscores the veracity of the Bible. If it is the case that there is no conflict between modern science and ancient revelation, it certainly makes me wonder what possible explanation there could be besides divine revelation?

I can’t pretend to perfectly understand the creation event and do not claim anything above as any sort of official doctrine (There’s a few things even I disagree with), but at very least I think it makes the Genesis Account seem more plausible. In fact, I don't understand how it could be false.

With this in mind, I am forced to wonder, if there is no God communing with the writers of scripture, how did they know?
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