Can God Learn Anything? (Omniscience & Truth Claims)

In a podcast (transcript here), William Lane Craig says the following:

Dr. Craig: . . . If God is in time then there are tensed truths. That is to say, there are propositions which have verbs in them that are in the past, present, future, and other tenses. And therefore these propositions change their truth values as time goes on. For example, it was once true that Columbus will discover the New World. A little later it was then true that Columbus is discovering the New World, and as time passed it became true and is now true that Columbus discovered the New World—past tense. So what this means is that if there are these objectively tensed truths that change their truth values from going from false to true, then God, in virtue of being omniscient and knowing all truths, will come to acquire new beliefs—he will learn new truths, namely, as the proposition “Columbus discovered America” switches from having the value false to having the value true, this now will come to be believed and hence known by God. And so a God who is in time will have a knowledge that is constantly changing, he will have a knowledge that is constantly growing, we could say learning new things, as new propositions become true. So far from entailing his non-omniscience, God’s omniscience would actually entail that his knowledge will be changing and constantly being added to as new truths come into being.

[Interviewer]: Some people may be thinking that you’re saying that God didn’t know that Columbus, for sure, would discover America and he came to know that when he goes, “Oh, look!”

Dr. Craig: No, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that before the event God knew the future tensed proposition “Columbus will discover America” but he didn’t know the proposition “Columbus discovered America” because that was false at that time. That was false at that time. So that proposition switches truth value once Columbus has made his discovery—it goes from being false to being true, and since God is omniscient (and omniscient means knowing and believing only and all truths) God must come to believe that proposition now. And he will no longer believe the proposition “Columbus will discover America” because that proposition has now become false. It used to be true but it isn’t any longer, so God won’t believe it anymore.

So, you see, God does learn new tensed truths all the time, because he is omniscient. 

Craig and the interviewer go on to claim that “people need to get past third grade Sunday school theology.” apparently claiming that the view that disagrees with them is elementary and naive.

Here we must disagree with Craig, for his mistake leads to a very serious error. Craig makes a mistake by not being precise with his truth statements.  Using his example, Columbus discovered the new world in 1492. In 1491, the statement “Columbus discovered the new world” (past tense) is false, while in 1493 the statement would be true.  However, he is incorrect in saying that the statement made in 1491 changes from false to true, for it is true for all people in all time that the statement made in 1491 “Columbus discovered the new world” is false. The statement was false in 1491 because it was made in 1491, but it is still false for all times that the statement “Columbus discovered the new world” was false in 1491. Likewise, it is true for all people and all times that in 1493 “Columbus discovered the new world” is true. The point Craig was making is that the truth statement changed, when in fact it was merely an imprecise example statement. Using the tensed statement “Columbus discovered the new world” is only meaningful made in time, and when moved to another time either becomes a different statement or becomes imprecise and unknowable. More correctly, we would have to say something like “As of today, Columbus discovered the new world.” We would then have to ask “when is today?” and we would know whether it was true or false. Regardless of when “today” was, the statement would be either true or false for all times. Making a statement with tensed verb apart from a point in time is merely an imprecise example. Again, apart from a time reference, a past tense statement is not meaningful. “In 1492, Columbus discovered the new world” is a past tense statement with a time referent, which has meaning,

This imprecise view of truth leads Craig to hold to the position that God can be omniscient and still learning. To his credit, he does hold that God is not surprised by things, so in that sense Craig holds that God knows all things. However, this is a tortured view of omniscience, saying that God is constantly learning new truths but always knowing all truths, as Craig says in two sentences above.

Rather, holding that God truly does know all truths and does not learn is not a “third grade Sunday school theology.” These statements are unfair, unjustified, and uncalled for. In but one example, the great theologian Charles Hodge says of God’s knowledge:

This distinction between the possible and actual, is the foundation of the distinction between the knowledge of simple intelligence and the knowledge of vision. The former is founded on God’s power, and the latter upon his will. This only means that, in virtue of his omniscient intelligence, He knows whatever infinite power can effect; and that from the consciousness of his own purposes, He knows what He has determined to effect or to permit to occur. (ST, 1.398)

Thus all of God’s knowledge is included in what He has determined to effect or permit to occur, which scripture tells us He knew from the beginning, prior to any earthly human action.  If we include the possible and the actual in God’s knowledge, we have included all states of affairs, therefore God is omniscient in the fullest sense of the word. If God’s knowledge changes in any way, it must result in God being limited in some sense, whether it be knowledge or power. This is a serious error.

 

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Posted in Philosophy, Theology | 1 Comment

Atheist Comments on the Moral Law

If God did not exist, what would be the impact on morality? For the answer, let’s look to those who say that the only things that exist are natural forces:

Morality is a biological adaptation no less than our hands and feet and teeth…Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…and any deeper meaning is illusory.” – Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse

Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends.
Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. –M. Ruse and E. Wilson, The Evolution of Ethics (1989)

Evolutionary biology tells us there are no purposeful principles in nature . . .There are no inherent moral or ethical laws . . .Human beings are marvelously complex machines.  –atheist William Provine

Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.  –Sam Harris, Free Will, p.5

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the
properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. ” –Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden, page 33.

This last quote is most telling. Dawkins, a committed atheist, clearly holds that there is no evil and no good. Clear to the bottom, the universe is blind pitiless indifference. He repeated these words while speaking at an atheist rally in Washington DC. Dawkins clearly holds that there is no moral code that permeates the universe.

Yet in that same short speech in Washington, Dawkins proceeded to call religion evil. His books are replete with justifications of why he believes religion to be a bad thing. So it would seem that Dawkins gives himself away, informing us in one breath that there is no moral code, then in the next breath telling us how he has grounds to measure us by a moral code that applies to all men.

In reality, all of us have a moral code that we measure each other by. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis clearly points out that we do indeed all believe in a moral law that transcends all of us. We clearly make a distinction between the man who tries to trip me and fails and the man who succeeds to trip me by accident. If, as William Provine says, we are but machines, we should hold machines just as morally culpable as we do people. But we do not. When a power saw cuts a finger, we do not hold the saw morally responsible. Why?

Well, because there is a moral law, an ethical code that we all know is there. Men are not machines, but are morally responsible for how we act compared to the moral law that is larger than any civilization or group of civilizations on earth. Moral laws require a moral lawgiver. This we call God.

Posted in Atheism, Morality | 1 Comment

Dr. James Tour: The Problems Evolution Must Overcome

This is an excellent talk by Dr. James Tour, who is a top-tier scientist in his field. He manages to make this both understandable for those not academics in biology and challenging for those who are. I encourage you to listen to his talk.

 

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The Absurdity of Something Arising Without A Cause

The king of skeptics, David Hume, taught that we cannot be certain of even common things that happen around us. He claimed that even when one billiard ball hits another, we cannot be sure that the first caused the movement in the second. But even Hume once said “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as to say that something should arise without a cause.”

To deny that effects need causes is to undermine most everything we know. We would hope no one would assert so absurd a proposition as to say things are happening around us without any cause whatsoever. However, this is exactly what some atheists are saying. They try to say that sub-atomic particles appear from nowhere without a cause, therefore we cannot be sure that the entire universe may have arisen from nowhere without a cause. Even Hume would not assert such a claim. Hume did say that after all the mental games we play, the next morning we must put the game back in the closet and go live a common-sense life.
It is absurd to say that since we don’t know the cause of what happens in the sub-atomic world, then the larger than atomic world could arise from nothing without a cause. Such a claim is an atheist of the gaps argument, unreasonable to its core. Such a claim is certainly not worth basing one’s eternity on.
Posted in Atheism, Philosophy, Skepticism | 24 Comments

At What Level Should the Church Be Involved With Social Issues?

I was saved in an independent, non-denominational evangelical church. That particular church was very involved in social issues. They had a social issues committee that would try to influence culture and a letter writing committee that would meet to write letters to elected officials and tell them what church members think about cultural issues. At no time did they ever endorse a political candidate, but they did advocate for moral positions. They were very active. Since this was the only church I knew, I thought that all churches did such things.

It was only when I moved and joined another church did I learn different. In the many years since I was saved, I have visited many churches, been a member of several, been to seminary, and have been actively involved in ministry where I meet people from many backgrounds. For most of the years since that first church, it has been my experience that social action has been fading or non-existent in churches. Just this year, the largest protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, made a lot of fanfare about a new generation of leaders taking over. There were a lot of headlines about this new group of leaders wanting to leave politics behind.

I find this interesting because in the churches I’ve attended, I have never once seen a candidate recommended from a pulpit. There have been Christian leaders who have endorsed candidates, but not from a pulpit, or at least from any that I have attended, and I have attended very many. Compared to the overall population of protestant pastors and leaders, ones that endorsed candidates have been a significant minority. Further, protestant action has decreased on issues such as abortion, sexual morality, marriage, and divorce. When the Southern Baptists say they want to leave politics behind, many church members understand this as saying they will not be making statements on moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, or marriage. I have heard evangelical ministry leaders specifically speak against mentioning abortion at Christian meetings because they did not believe in getting political.

Compare this to a hundred years ago, when conservative denominations such as Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and Nazarenes were quite vocal about ills such as card playing, dancing, alcohol, and women’s clothes.

So we have a clear, conscious walking away from culture wars in protestant evangelical churches.

Change the channel to the modern black social justice movement. Today a black member of my church sent me an article from the New York Times that explained that black people are leaving mainly white evangelical churches because they do not speak up about black people and the police, immigration, and racial overtones in recent presidential elections. It would seem that white evangelical churches are criticized because they were silent about social justice issues.

So at this point I admit confusion. Is it not the case that race and ethnic based problems are moral issues? Is not abortion a moral issue? Is it not a social justice issue to keep marriages together so that parents can teach children to be effective members of society? Is trying to stop parents from voluntarily killing their children somehow a conservative cause? Is advocating public sexual modesty somehow helping candidates running for office? Is advocating help for destitute people arriving at our borders somehow more moral than stopping violence to a beating heart inside a womb?

Many, if not all, of these issues are moral issues that are distinct from political candidates. No political party has a corner on honesty and morality, and no political candidate has a verse in the Bible with his campaign slogan in it. Yet we are indeed called to be good citizens, which in our country means being educated on the issues and the candidates. That we should vote is a command, not an option, but there are no purely Christian political parties. That we should take action on social issues is expected, and indeed cannot be avoided, for to be silent on an issue is to make a statement about the issue’s relative importance. It seems odd to be expected to make social justice stance on racial issues while being silent on abortion.

Can we be more sensitive to white and black issues? Certainly. Should church leaders endorse candidates from their official positions? It is a bad idea, and I advise against it, but they are citizens and do not give up their rights when they become church leaders.

I fail to understand how we are wrong for advocating for some social justice issues and wrong for not advocating others. Perhaps we have been imbalanced, perhaps hypocritical.  However, we cannot be active on police violence against 20 year old black males while being silent on violence to 20 week old black fetuses.

Posted in Culture, Morality, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Luke Shows Accurate History

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
 
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. . . ” (Luke 3:1-4)

We have to ask ourselves why such a passage would be in the Bible. The section listing the leaders adds no theological point, no spiritual truth, no church law, no personal edification, no religious end. Other spiritual books from the era do not include such passages. Why would someone include such a thing?

Because Luke, being an educated man, knew he was writing history and wanted to attest to the historical accuracy. This passage gives a time and a place. It gives real people who were leaders in real governments, people who can be placed. People writing parables or allegory do not include such details. This is history written by someone who was there.

We can prove the leaders in this section lived in the times and had the titles listed here. Since we can prove the parts we can corroborate, it only makes sense to accept the things we cannot prove, which was that John the Baptist actually spoke in the wilderness and said the things he did. We accept the passages we cannot prove because the passages we can prove are so accurate.

But further, this is tying Jesus to a passage in Isaiah 40. Isaiah says to “prepare the way for the LORD” which uses the name of God almighty. Prepare the way for YHWH, Jehovah God. John the Baptist, inspired by God, is calling Jesus God Almighty.

We have no way around passages such as this other than to accept them as they are: a factual historical account of a prophet of God who was telling us that Jesus was the one and only Deity.

Posted in Apologetics, Theology | 2 Comments

The Cumulative Argument Against Evolution

Evolution is a topic that raises emotions on several sides of the discussion. By itself it is not a subject that should divide people, whether disagreements be between Christians or atheists or faculty members of respected universities. It does divide, however, and raises the interest of many.

The following is a very brief summary of several lines of argument against evolution. They are all summaries, and no attempt is made to build each in detail, for a thorough treatment would take volumes for each. These are merely presented as summaries for thought and further study. This is presented as a summary of a cumulative case. I would ask that any responses be in the same vein.

1. If evolution were true, then all life is only geared toward survival, and what exists is only there due to natural forces, such as gravity or electromagnetism, or natural selection, commonly called survival of the fittest. In an evolutionary world, we cannot explain anything that goes above and beyond the need to survive. Therefore we have no explanation for why the human brain is so extraordinary. If we only need to catch animals and grow vegetables and kill enemies, why would we ever need to figure out advanced math, or complex, abstract concepts. We do not need to figure out nuclear physics to survive. We do not need differential equations, the ability to determine theoretical physics, or art of most any sort. If evolution is true, there is no explanation for the complexity in the human brain.

2. If evolution were true, our senses only exist to help us survive. Problem: If every rabbit runs from every bobcat because they think the bobcat is playing a fun game of tag, the same result will happen as if the bobcat were trying to eat the rabbit. Therefore our senses are not geared toward perceiving reality, but only to help us survive. We have no guarantee our senses are not lying to us, but only that they help us survive. For more on this, see Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism.

3. For most of the years since Darwin, evolutionary biology has dealt with large-scale questions: primates to human, or dinosaurs to birds, or amphibians and reptiles. The actual mechanism of mutations has largely been assumed. It has just been in the last few years that researchers have been able to actually look at DNA and see what is going on. In fact, the world of DNA is still being researched, and there is much still not understood. So far, the data is somewhat questionable as to whether it supports random mutations being able to make evolution work. At least, at the level of DNA mutations, we are just now peeking into that world. Mutations are the starting mechanism that supposedly drives evolution, and DNA is a field that is still relatively new. At the very least, it seems prudent to wait and see. The dogmatism that accompanies evolution seems unwise in the light of the primary mechanism being so much as yet unproven.

4. Similar to 3, the actual mutations that supposedly cause evolution are just now being able to be measured. The mathematicians are just recently getting involved. Unless the math works, then evolution will fail.  While I admit ignorance of mathematical theory, evolutionists are trying t work their way out of some dead ends presented by mathematical models of how evolution would work. Any workable model would have to be a statistical model that had enough random mutations to be able to be filtered by natural selection. To date, there is no valid mathematical model has been shown to work, at least so that the model has widespread acceptance in mathematical circles. The discussion is getting interesting. For more, see “introduction to Evolutionary Informatics” by Marks, Dembski, & Ewert.

5. The world of microbiology has increased by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The level of complexity within each living cell has been shown to be extreme, beyond anything ever dreamed in the past.  This field also has a great deal yet to be understood and is still still being researched. it would seem that standard evolutionary process would break down at the sub-cell level, for claiming that sub-cell systems composed of mechanical and chemical elements should compete with each other seems difficult, yet is essential to standard evolution. Further, the complexity there is so extreme as to stretch the credulity of the explanation of trying to make the sub-cell systems evolve from simple to complex.

6. Even if we eventually find immediate material causes for complex sub-cell structures and systems, material causes cannot explain the information found in DNA. The human genome is not merely a machine that causes something else, for it contains more than mechanisms. DNA contains information and fits well into information theory. The people in the field even use information-centered terms. The words on a page or on a screen are not merely ink and paper or pixels of light and dark, but contain ideas and concepts, reference data, the coding of the computer. I once asked an evolutionary biologist whether DNA contains information. He knew the conundrum he was facing, and answered that “it’s sort of information.”

7. If you get the scientists alone, they will often admit that even in their own areas of specialization, they can at best only understand a portion of the field. When you consider any field anywhere near a whole, the best minds simply do not understand the majority of the subject matter. It’s not because of lack of intelligence or lack of time and focus, but rather because of the level of complexity in most fields of study. Every field of science is extremely complex, and the more they dig, the more they realize they have yet to unlock the mysteries of what they are studying. Further, they have trouble keeping up with the research in their own sub-field or area of specialization. In fact, as much as has been learned in the last few generations leads researchers to realize how much is not yet known. It stretches credulity that all the accumulated knowledge of the history of science understands such a small percentage of something that is unguided and without intelligence.

8. Similar to 7, no one can be expected to understand the other fields of science that they do not study. However, for evolution to work, it would require many, many areas of science: astronomy, astrophysics, microbiology, paleontology, geology, and on and on, each of which must be considered in light of logic and philosophy of science. Each of these fields has many sub-fields, each of which in turn has areas of specialization. So no one has grasped all of their own field, let alone all of every field, yet evolution requires all of these areas for the process to work. At the very least, it would seem wise for evolutionists to dial down the dogmatism and be a bit more humble. It is entirely possible that people within a single field have misunderstood the working together of multiple areas of content.

9. Evolution is not testable and cannot be falsified. Whatever facts that get measured in a lab, evolution can explain, even contradictory facts. For example: Say you are walking on a mountain, and spot a man who has fallen off a cliff and is hanging by one arm, almost ready to fall to his death. You have a choice: you can risk your own life to save him, or let him die. If you risk your life to save his, the evolutionist calls this proof of evolution:  you risk your life to save him because of “tribal instinct” or “herd instinct.” The tribe or heard has a greater chance of survival than an individual. But suppose you take the other choice: you say “If he dies, there will be more food and women for me” and you walk on by, hoping he falls to his death. Well, evolution can explain this too……a selfish person is more likely to survive than a non-selfish one…..more food and women to reproduce with. Other examples exist in biology: If a series of animals can be placed in an evolutionary sequence, then their environment must have changed and they have evolved. If another animal shows long period of stasis, their environment did not change and they did not evolve. So evolution explains whatever data is observed, and there is no scenario that could arise that the evolutionary model could not explain within its scope. Evolution cannot be disproved based on data because it explains contradictory data. Models that explain too much reek of fallacies.

Posted in Evolution | 7 Comments