Saturday, September 11, 2010

Because God Says So

How can a possibility which never occurred have any substance in truth? It did not pan out, afterall, so how can it be known to be true? Ultimately, truth is about fact, or what actually is, or a correspondence to reality, is it not? So how can a mere possibility be true, what would make it so? The question may seem inconsequential to you, perhaps the musings of too active an imagination, but since counterfactual statements are made in the Bible, I think the issue is more than the cogitations of someone who drank too much coffee and couldn't get to sleep.

If a statement is merely about the future, I think it is simple enough to divide the timelessness of the observer, who could know such things (God), from the timeboundness of the actors. Future tense statements about what will happen will be grounded in fact when the time rolls around. Our access to truth in these cases is a matter of faith. God's access to truth in these cases is from his timeless observation platform, where, for him, the future is real and every bit as accessible as is the present or past.

The case of "what-ifs" statements is not so simple. They never come to pass so never have the opportunity to become fact in reality. Yet, God speaks as if they are not the mere musings of possibilities, but as if they were settled verities, as certain as anything can be. Could they be words spoken by the Lord that return void? No, it is impossible for God to be impotent, in error, or to be lying. If these kind of statements are true, they can only be so because God said it and God does not lie. Of course, that opens whole 'nother can of worms.

If God can make true counterfactual statements, it means that God's omniscience cannot be merely observational, as if God must await the decision of an agent before he can know what that agent will do. God's omniscience must be of the sort that is perfectly analytical and predictive. That raises the specter that whatever an agent will or could do is ascertainable by presently (or formerly) existing facts. That, really, is a deterministic framework: A leads to B leads to C, etc. Follow the trail backward and eventually you end up with a thought in the mind of God and a decision to make it so, or so it would seem.

Do true counterfactual statements demand determinism? No, because that leap is made without understanding how God actually knows what he knows, and ignores what God tells us about what he is and isn't responsible for. I do not think it is possible for us to formulate an understanding of how God knows what he knows--it's too far out of our plane of existence. We know what he tells us about his deliberations, nothing more. He tells us that humans do things on their own, things that never entered his mind to tell them to do. Sin itself is the consequence of an agent truly having the ability to make a choice counter to God, not initiated by God.

Therefore, the grounding for counterfactual statements is nothing less than God's character. I can make counterfactual claims, but they'd always be taken with a grain of salt. How many such claims made by blokes like me have proven out when conditions made them actually possible? It seems to me the problem arises, not in the grounding of such truth, but in how it could be so and still allow for human freedom. There is no puzzle here, truth is not about anything other than what proceeds out of the mouth of God! The question for us comes down to brute faith--we're forced to stand in the simplicity of a child and answer, "because God says so."


  1. I agree with you and think even if there is no comprehenisve response to the grounding objection, the mere fact that God does know these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCF) entail that they are, in fact, true. However, I think many fine attempts have been made at answeing this objection. Alfred Freddoso has offered a great solution, I think.

    Craig points out that the grounding objection rests on the assumption that a certain form of truth-maker theory is correct and argues that the person offering this objection can't simply assume something that controversial without arguing for it. I haven't seen an argument to make me think that these CCF's absolutely need to be grounded in the way the objector wants them to be. As Plantinga says, "It seems to me much clearer that some counterfactuals of freedom are at least possibly true than that the truth of propositions must, in general, be grounded in this way."

  2. I've read Craig's approach and I think there is merit in it. I think looking for grounding for CCF's is actually a fool's errand, because there can never be a way to know for sure. We're in a one way time stream, without replay or edits. It always comes back to just relying on what God said.

    I once suggested in a discussion with a mutual friend that counterfactual propositions made by God are grounded in God. He didn't like the answer, but I honestly see no other way for them to be grounded. So, I think it comes down to CCF's being grounded in God or having no grounding possible (or even necessary).

    I like the Plantinga quote. There really is no way to tie this down.

  3. I don't necessarily want to back into a corner and say we can't know how these truths are grounded, and I think, as I said, Freddoso has given a good solution to that, if it's required. Maybe we can't know exactly how God knows it (like we can't know a lot of things about God), but I don't think a philosophical answer has to be completely comprehensive in that way.

  4. Boss,
    Fair enough. Isn't Freddoso's solution, more or less, that if the antecedent would presently obtain then the consequent would too? If so, I suppose that's as good as grounding future propositions on them obtaining in the future.

    It still seems slippery to me, but I like your disclaimer: "if it's required." That really is the gist, I think, and brings us back to Craig's approach.

    I very much like your last statement as well. It seems to me, that even if we can't fully explain some givens (like how God knows what he knows), it doesn't follow that we can't explore their logical implications.


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