Fundamental Reality VIII: The Hard Problem of Consciousness

To my mind, the true implications of Philosophy of Mind, far from being an argument against Theism, are actually an argument for Theism.  To see this, we must start, not with God's mind, but our own.

It is indisputable that Consciousness exists.  Or rather, it has been disputed, but it ought never to have been.  However many fallacies Descartes may have committed later in his arguments, I think therefore I am has always seemed perfectly sound to me.  It is in fact more certain than anything else.

What would it mean to say that I am wrong about being self-aware?  That would require me to be aware of some perceptions or arguments that make me think I have awareness or thinking—but in fact I am wrong, because I only think I think!  This is manifestly absurd and self-contradictory.

In the case of other people, or certain animals, we assume they have conscious self-awareness because of their similarity to us.  This is an argument by analogy which (even though it is very reasonable) could potentially be mistaken.  But in the case of our own conscious self-awareness, there can be no doubt.  This consciousness includes specific qualia or experiences such as blueness or sounds, as well as many other things.

Now this is a very interesting fact, primarily because, as far as I can see, there is no way you could possibly logically deduce it even if you knew all the Laws of Physics, and everything about Neurology which one could possibly learn from external observation alone.  It is quite inexplicable, if all you know are the physical Laws of Nature, why some of those physical systems should have the additional property of having subjective experiences.  Physicists mostly don't think about this issue since it's not our specialty, but when asked most of us would probably admit that there's a deep mystery here.  This mystery is known in Philosophy circles as the “hard problem of consciousness” (a term coined by David Chalmers).

Please don't think I'm saying more than I am.  I'm not talking about the question of why our material brains are arranged in the complex pattern that they are, as one might in an Argument from Design.  Presumably Darwinian evolution is at least a large part of the answer to that question.  I am asking why, once they are arranged into these patterns, they experience self-awareness.

Nor does this argument imply that there has to exist a detachable “soul”, which is separate from our bodies, and survives death.  I'm not denying that the brain has a lot to do with our minds, or even that the brain and mind are in one-to-one correspondence (or more likely, many-to-one).  I am only saying that we could not possibly deduce this correspondence from the Laws of Physics plus Logic alone.  It might even be metaphysically necessary that living brains (and maybe artificial intelligences if we ever make them) have minds.  But if so, we've just learned something about Metaphysics!

That Consciousness tells a story against Naturalism can be seen by the great efforts which many Naturalists take to resist the unavoidable conclusion.  The first main counterattack is to try to deny the existence of the problem at all, through some type of “eliminative” or “reductionist” materialism.  Maybe Consciousness is just another name for certain kinds of information processing which happen to occur in the brain.  As in the Sondheim musical: “The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood!”

As much as I respect philosophers like Daniel Dennett for trying to make this idea precise, I just don't think it can work.  Self-awareness might well turn out to be related to certain types of causal events in the brain, but we knew that we were self-aware long before we knew anything about neuroscience.  So we cannot say that self-awareness is by definition a certain pattern of neurons.  If folks like Dennett are right that there's no hard problem to explain, then their position has to be true by logical necessity.  And it just isn't, because no matter what you tell me about the physics, I could assert without contradiction that nothing in it is self-aware.

The second main counterattack is to say: “We may not know the answer now, but Science will discover it one day!  Once upon a time, some people used to think that biological life was due to some inexplicable élan vital, but now we know that it can be explained entirely through ordinary chemical processes.  The same will one day be true of Consciousness.”

It's a little presumptuous to appeal to future scientific discoveries as an argument for any position, since by definition those discoveries haven't happened yet.  That is why these people instead make an inductive argument, based on imagined triumphs of Science over Mysticism in the past.

But there is a key dis-analogy between Life and Consciousness: we are directly aware of the latter but not of the former (except insofar as it includes the latter).  And the argument that Physics cannot explain Consciousness is not based on the detailed form of the Laws of Physics.  So long as they consist of formal mathematical equations which merely describe the spatio-temporal patterns of material entities, it seems that the problem remains insoluble.  At the very least, a radical change in how we even do Physics would be necessary.  And as for neurological studies, surely brain researchers could go on and on making lists of which neural processes correspond to which conscious sensations, and classifying them into patterns, without ever explaining from the basic Laws of Physics why that particular set of correspondences should hold (or any set).

I said earlier that I am going to confine myself to plausibility arguments, but in this stage of the argument I think strict demonstration is possible: to deny that we are conscious clearly contradicts experience; but to say that our consciousness follows logically from the known Laws of Physics is also manifestly false when consciousness is properly defined.  So it appears that our description of the Universe in terms of physical laws is incomplete.

This is why many of the early Enlightenment philosophers and scientists were Dualists.  Because they assigned all conscious, sensory, and “secondary” qualities to mind rather than matter, they were free to construct scientific descriptions of matter which made reference only to their “primary” qualities, those capable of mathematical modeling.  Having assigned these quantities to the “soul”, they were free to do quantitative physics on the rest.  To go one step further and also banish these secondary qualities from the mind, was for them obviously inconsistent. As the philosopher St. Ed Feser says:

...the reductive method in question is like the method of getting rid of all the dirt in the house by sweeping it under a certain rug.  While this is a very effective way of getting rid of the dirt everywhere else, it is not a strategy that could possibly be used to get rid of the dirt under the rug itself.  On the contrary, it only makes the problem of getting rid of that dirt even worse.  And that is exactly why the mind-body problem as it is understood today essentially came into existence with Galileo, Descartes, and Co. and has remained unsolved to the present day.  What these early modern thinkers wanted (for certain practical and political ends) was a completely quantitative, mathematical description of the world.  Irreducibly qualitative features—secondary qualities, final causes, and the like—since they would not fit this model, were thus essentially defined away as mere projections, “swept under the rug” of the mind as it were. But that only makes the idea of dealing with the mind itself in the same manner even more hopeless.  For these early moderns, the mind just is, you might say, the holding tank for everything that doesn’t fit their quantitative method.  Naturally, then, that method cannot coherently be applied to the mind itself.

This does not mean that a Cartesian mind-body Dualism is the only or best way of describing our situation—I think it isn't—but at least it recognizes explicitly some of the problems at stake.  (There are several other options which recognize the objective reality of the mind, which go by names such as “Property Dualism”, “Hylomorphic Dualism”, “Epiphenomenalism”, “Idealism”, etc.)  But any view which says that all mental quantities can in principle be derived from a purely physical description of the brain, is necessarily incoherent and wrong on philosophical grounds.   And no amount of progress in empirical Science can ever prove that which is logically impossible.

Note that the logical contradiction lies in a reductionistic form of materialism which claims that all of our mental properties can be derived from external, physically measurable properties.  On a non-reductionistic definition of "matter", to mean "that mysterious thing which we are made of, which may have additional properties besides those which can be externally measured", it would not necessarily be a contradiction to say that we are entirely made out of matter.  Such a viewpoint would be a type of Property Dualism, which asserts that that we are one type of entity which has both physical and mental properties.

My arguments should stand on their own apart from any suspicions about my motivations.  But since this term “soul” has popped up, let me add that for many years, I thought it was possible to reconcile Christian theology with the view that the human mind is identical to the material brain.  I thought then, and I still think now, that the reason we will live forever is because of God's promises and his faithfulness, and not because of what we are “made out of”.  It was not my interest in Theology, but trying to make sense out of the Philosophy of Mind, which led me to see the contradiction in a purely materialistic conception of human beings: that we are solely what can be physically measured about the brain.

Next: Stories and Atoms

[Next-to-last paragraph added later.]

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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68 Responses to Fundamental Reality VIII: The Hard Problem of Consciousness

  1. TY says:

    Dr Wall,
    This is tough reading but powerful stuff indeed. Keep it coming.

    Although deep in my bones I feel I’m a dualist, I’m still faced with this real phenomenon: people who have survived brain damage (say from a bullet or from a terrible head injury) are not the same people we used to know. So their minds, their consciousness, their total awareness, if you will, have been altered because their brains have been altered. Given the brain-mind correspondence -- i.e., the mind being the product of the brain -- can you say a functioning brain and a functioning mind are identical? And if the answer is yes, what do we say to the materialist who by definition denies the duality of brain and mind..
    Thanks for your insights.
    TY

  2. Paul says:

    The dualism that Aquinas/Feser supports is not the same as Descartes, as Aron wisely points out. Hylopomorphism postulates that the brain and mind are separate, yet interacting entities. There's also the issue that the ancient Jews and St. Paul the Apostle seem to have believed in some form of monism, where the brain and the mind are two different entities, though they are not separable. They're not separable until death, that is. You generally find more Protestants as monists, and more Catholics as dualists. Of course, there are notable exceptions, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig being among them.

    Consciousness poses huge issues for materialism. The fact that something immaterial exists falsifies the idea, hence the attempts to deny it through eliminativism (Churchland and Dennett in particular). It's interesting, actually. Over the last 20 or so years, naturalist philosophers have been moving towards the idea of either monism or a naturalistic dualism.

  3. Witten says:

    I think the problem with line of argumentation against materialism is that it can be used to deny any explanation for consciousness. Explanations are not the same thing as our own experiences, so if you won't accept them as answering the "why" question of consciousness, you've defined consciousness as unexplainable. You'd end up with your own subjectivity as some sort of brute fact.

    I suppose there could be some sort of retreat to metaphysics where you won't accept empirical facts as explanations, but will accept metaphysical beliefs as ones, but metaphysical beliefs aren't the same thing as your experiences either, so the objection would remain.

  4. Aron Wall says:

    TY,
    I am not concerned to deny the obvious truth that our personalities and thoughts depend in some pretty dramatic ways on the matter that makes up our brains. Pretty much every viable point of view can accomodate this. For example, a Cartesian dualist could say that the matter in the brain interacts with the soul and affects its experiences. A property dualist or a hylomorphic dualist would, I think, EXPECT material changes in the brain to also have an effect on the mental properties of a person.

    "Identical" is a tricky word. It might well be that the human mind is a property of a purely material entity, but what is certainly false is that consciousness can be derived using the methods of physical science as applied to that physical entity. Thus one must have at least "property dualism".

  5. Aron Wall says:

    Witten,
    Thanks for your challenging comment.

    I do think it's possible to explain consciousness---at least to some extent---by way of metaphysical beliefs. Whereas it is not possible to explain it entirely by physical methods. But I deny that this is an arbitrary restriction, due to some prejudice against physical explanations. I think it follows from the nature of Physics and Metaphysics as disciplines.

    In Physics we attempt to understand the world by creating precise mathematical models to describe the causal interactions between different systems. This allows us a great deal of flexibility, but it is an abstraction away from reality. Anything which could not in principle be derived from the equations, we can no longer talk about. Once we start talking about what the physical entities REALLY are, and whether they might in part be mental, we've ceased to do Physics and are now doing Metaphysics.

    Metaphysics is less precise---typically it is expressed using ordinary sentences instead of math---but it goes deeper. For example, here are 3 different (very incomplete) "metaphysical explanations" of consciousness. My point is not to endorse any of these theses, but to try to indicate things that somebody MIGHT say:

    1. There exist entities called "souls", whose nature it is to be conscious. Souls come into existence when a new human being is conceived, and cease to exist when a human being dies. They interact with the physical world, but are not the same as it.

    2. Matter is one kind of substance which can possess both physical and mental properities. Accordingly, there exist two types of laws of nature: physical laws which say how matter behaves causally, and psychophysical laws which say which arragements of matter are conscious, and which types of experiences occur given which configurations of matter.

    3. In fact, it is not possible to explain consciousness from nonconscious entities. Therefore, the most fundamental thing in existence is a mind, and we are parts of that mind. Matter is just a delusion which this mind believes in for some unknown reason. (I don't find this view plausible at all, but that's not the point.)

    Now, none of (1-3) are complete explanations, in that all of them raise rather a lot of questions which they don't provide good answers for. Why do these souls exist? What ARE the psychophysical laws? Why does the Ubermind have delusions? But there's one thing which they all have in common, which materialism does not. And that is that they give some account of why consciousness comes to be. Even a very limited account, that raises all sorts of questions, is better than no explanation at all.

    The test is as follows. Given any of beliefs (1-3), it logically follows that consciousness exists. Given the Standard Model of particle physics, it does not logically follow that consciousness exists. Therefore, the metaphysical beliefs 1-3 are "explanations" for consciousness in a way that the Standard Model of particle physics is not. That does not necessarily mean that they are complete explanations, or plausible explanations, but they are explanations of a sort.

    PS Let me also say that I'm not quite sure what you mean by "empirical facts". It seems to me that empirical facts are PART of any good explanation, but they are never the COMPLETE explanation for anything, even if we don't talk about anything so esoteric as consciousness. For example, it is an empirical fact that the moon is visible in the sky, and also an empirical fact that the tides are in sync with the moon's orbit, but in order to explain the tides from the moon, we need to postulate not only the existence of the moon, but also the existence of the law of gravitation. The law is not something which is tangible and physical in the same sense that the moon is tangible, but we need to postulate it in order to get anywhere. So I explain the tides using the moon (a tangible physical object) together with the laws (a metaphysical construct). Nevertheless, when I postulate this law I say that I am doing Physics, rather than Metaphysics, because I confine myself to formulating said law in a mathematical framework, and don't ask really deep questions like "What is a law?" and "Why do the laws exist?"

    You could say that the "law of gravitation" is empirical in a different sense, namely that we postulate its existence via induction from empirical measurements. But in that case, I don't see why a "pyschophysical law" might not be an empirical fact in a similar sense. It is certainly an empirical fact (to me) that my own consciousness exists, and also an empirical fact that my brain exists, and it is not unreasonable to connect these two things. But when I do so, I am saying things which could not be logically derived from the laws of physics alone.

  6. Witten says:

    Thank you for your reply.

    When I say empirical facts I just mean objects of experience. So, the moon, the tides, gravity, consciousness etc. and probably statements like "our best model of gravity is this model." Some of these things will be necessarily fuzzy.

    I think that when most materialists say that everything is the result of material interactions, there not saying results of the model, but results of the physical entities that the model points to. The Mathematical model of gravity doesn't cause the tides, but the moon the earth and the gravitational field certainly does. But physics is your profession, I don't want to get into a side debate about what scientific models "really" are.

    I can't write a longer comment now, but I'll think about it more. But could your objection to material explanations for the mind be boiled down to a charitable interpretation of the statement.

    "You can't get to what it feels like to be cold through logic+the standard model of physics."

    I think that your saying something like that, (and I'm not sure I agree, but it's a totally defensible position).

  7. Aron Wall says:

    "You can't get to what it feels like to be cold through logic+the standard model of physics."

    Yeah, that's more or less what I'm saying.

    Note that this is still compatible with a rather broad set of philosophical positions, including various forms of non-reductive materialism.

    Rather than saying that we are made of a soul-part and a body-part, I'm much more comfortable with saying that we know about who we are by both external and internal methods, and that each method tells us things which we couldn't possibly have learned from the other method. (And there is no guarantee that the set of both methods gives us a complete picture either.) It is a difficult and very fascinating question what we should conclude from this about the nature of existence in general.

  8. David says:

    There's a speculative proposal out there in the "quantum-mind problem" by Penrose and Hameroff that consciousness is a self-collapsing wave function: Orch-OR (I'm confident that this can be reproduced in non-collapse interpretations). But; here's the cool part. Paola Zizzi published a new version of LQG (Computational LQG) to combined it with quantum computing, in which she applies the Orch-OR model to the wave function of the universe. So the universe itself would be conscious (if the model is correct). She calls it the "big wow" it's pretty interesting.

  9. TY says:

    Dr Wall,
    Thank you for the reply. I like the comments from your readers as well. All help make sense of this subject. I also want to add St John Polkinghorne. In his book Beyond Science, published 1996, he suggests "dual-aspect monism" as a way to understand the mind and brain, and the suggestion is like the wave-particle aspect of light, the collapsible wave function that David mentions in his comment.
    It seems to me that in mentioning all of this, we are at the same time building a credible argument for indeterminism and free will versus the determinism of naturalism, which is an atheistic worldview.

  10. Aron Wall says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for letting me know. However, like most physicists and neurologists, my opinion is that the Penrose and Hameroff "Orchestrated objective reduction" model of wave function collapse (in microtubules of the brain, supposedly causing consciousness) is totally nuts. To attempt to combine it with Loop Quantum Gravity seems positively crackpot. From looking briefly at her papers on the arxiv, I think much of what she says does not in fact make sense either in terms of physics or philosophy, i.e. she is a crackpot.

    Both consciousness and quantum mechanics are profoundly mysterious facts about the world. But one wants to avoid a "mystery mongering" where one haphazardly connects all of the mysteries of the universe together in a way that doesn't really make sense, or explain anything.

  11. Aron Wall says:

    TY,
    I do believe in free will for theological reasons, but philosophically it's a very tricky concept, and I don't think it follows simply from the fact that we have conscious experiences. That consciousness collapses the wavefunction is a very speculative idea; I don't know how one would even start to try to prove it.

    It's all right to use wave-particle duality as a kind of a loose analogy to talk about the general fact that paradox can be a useful way to understand mysterious phenomena, but it's not like we can draw any kind of mathematically precise analogy between quantum mechanics and anything having to do with consciousness. So let's be careful here. We know that the universe is quantum mechanical at some level, and we know that consciousness exists, but we don't know how or if they are connected.

    (And contrary to Penrose and Hameroff, most neurologists think that the actual computations occuring in the brain appear to be at a scale which is essentially classical/thermodynamic, not quantum mechanical in its behavior. Although it is true that our behavior is ultimately affected by various quantum mechanical events at the quantum level, and is therefore indeterministic.)

  12. Steve says:

    Dr. Wall,

    I have a question for you. What if determinism of naturalism turned out to be true and false free will, would have many theological problems but that worries me most is the problem of evil because God would not create free beings if not determined by the laws of nature.

    Then what would happen to the problem of evil, God still could have a morally sufficient reason to allow evil to exist in a given by the laws of nature or the world would be a logical contradiction that a good God and evil can co-exist?

  13. TY says:

    Thank you for your reply and the comments, all instructive. To fair to St Polkinghorne, he was not offering a new philosophy of mind based on the wave function, but rather expressing a view, his view of dual-aspect monism -- which is mind/consciousness and body being different aspects of the same substance or underlying reality.

  14. Aron Wall says:

    Steve,
    There are a great many Christians who believe that we don't have free will. This is the Augustinian-Calvinist viewpoint. There are passages in the Bible which seem to support such ideas of predestination, while other passages seem to suggest the existence of something like free will.

    Theologically, it is motivated either by believing that 1) God is so great and "sovereign" that it would be inconceivable for anything to ever happen which he didn't decree beforehand, or else 2) that human beings are so fallen and wicked that the only way they could possibly be saved is by God giving "sufficient grace" which overrides their ability to choose, since otherwise they will choose evil.

    I am not a Calvinist. It seems to me that 1) God shows even greater glory and power by his ability to create creatures which are truly free and who can resist him, and 2) even granting that we are all so wicked that we cannot turn to God on our own apart from grace, God could still provide an amount of grace which is sufficient to give us a choice, but doesn't compell us to turn to him. This is the Arminian-Wesleyan viewpoint.

    When it comes to the Argument from Evil, the existence of free will is one possible response for why God would allow some evils. But it only covers cases where the evil occurs through choices of moral agents, not "natural evils" such as tsunamis and so on. So in any case, some additional ideas are needed. Personally I find it plausible that suffering builds character. Much as I would rather build character in other ways.

    So I don't think free will is strictly necessary to reconcile the existence of God and evil.

    However, if you include the Christian doctrine of Hell, it becomes much more disturbing that somebody would be eternally damned without having had any real ability to choose otherwise. I don't think that is in line with the character of a good God, which is one of the reasons I'm not a Calvinist. (Of course, the idea of eternal damnation is disturbing in any case, but I mean it becomes far more problematic if Calvinism is true.)

  15. TY says:

    Dr Wall,
    Perhaps you can do a future post of this paragraph: "When it comes to the Argument from Evil, the existence of free will is one possible response for why God would allow some evils. But it only covers cases where the evil occurs through choices of moral agents (Type A) , not "natural evils" such as tsunamis and so on (Type B) . So in any case, some additional ideas are needed. Personally I find it plausible that suffering builds character. Much as I would rather build character in other ways."
    1) The presence of Type A evil as an argument for theism; and
    2) Reconciling type B evil (unjustified or gratuitous evil) with a loving and merciful God.
    They are in apparent contradiction, but if they aren't, how can it be shown by any convincing argument -- Natural, philosophical and theological?

  16. Dr. Wall,

    You state the following:

    “When it comes to the Argument from Evil, the existence of free will is one possible response for why God would allow some evils. But it only covers cases where the evil occurs through choices of moral agents, not ‘natural evils’ such as tsunamis and so on.”

    The most basic biblical theodicy (theological reason for evil) is found in the first two chapters in the book of Job: God needs to test us to know how we will respond to God in the face of suffering. Will we say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him”? For the theodicy to work we need both the reason for the suffering (as I just gave it), but also compensation equal to all undeserved suffering. (C.S. Lewis said that the redeemed will one day say, “We have never known pain,” even though they had suffered horribly in this life. Likewise, Paul said that the pain we suffer now is not worth comparing to glory that awaits us.) For those who think that sounds too Open Theist a view (even though it is a thoroughly biblical view), we might rather say that God needs us to be people who freely make the choice to do the good of clinging to the God who yet deserves our commitment or of doing the evil of rejecting God. This is a free will theodicy focused on the recipient of suffering. Most commonly discussed free will theodicies (or defenses) are focused on the agent of evil. Thus considering only the agent oriented free will theodicy, you suggest it only deals with moral evil and not natural evil. The recipient oriented free will theodicy does answer both problems of evil; the agent oriented free will theodicy only answers the problem of moral evil (and a bit inadequately at that if taken alone). There are other biblical theodicies which are needed as supplements to produced a robust answer to various forms of the problem of evil, but we won’t get anywhere until we begin by returning to the recipient oriented free will theodicy.

  17. Aron Wall says:

    Dennis,
    The exact quote from St. Lewis's book The Great Divorce is "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven". I do not think this is at all equivalent to "We have never known pain". In the book, St. George MacDonald says that "Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory". But I do not think that glory and agony are antonyms, not in a religion that centers around the Cross.

    I am also not sure that the book of Job is intended to present anything like a complete theodicy concerning why God causes suffering. The dialogue between God and Satan does indeed provide something of a reason or context for the affliction of Job, but is it the complete reason? (Why should God accomodate Satan's skepticism?) Tellingly, when Job demands a reason God does not provide it; instead he asks Job more questions, highlighting Job's inability to understand God's reasons. And this is more comforting than a pat explanation could possibly have been. Similarly, although Job is indeed given double at the end, his previous children are not restored, and it is not clear that the earthly compensation is a simple "balance" for what has gone before. (More likely Job's real compensation is the experience of God, and the earthly compensation is to spite moral prudes like Satan who think that good people shouldn't also have nice things.) I think the book of Job is offering something much deeper and more subtle than a theodicy.

    In a way, constructing theodicies reverses the proper roles: we are not allowed to test God; rather God tests us. However, if we attempt in our limited knowledge to construct a (necessarily partial) theodicy, I agree with you that free will is more promisingly deployed in the "recipient oriented" way that you describe. One additional problem with the "agent" approach, is that if God's primary purpose is to give human beings the ability to exercise free will, he doesn't seem to have provided all that much of it. We are creatures of addiction, habit, and upbringing which greatly diminish our ability to independently choose between good and evil. Even the New Testament focuses not on our free ability to choose, but rather on our need to be freed from slavery to sin. "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (Romans 11:32).

  18. Dr. Wall,
    Thanks for letting us dig into to this most important topic.

    “We have never known pain” and “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven” seem virtually or at least almost equivalent, though I agree that we must never push the theodicy to the point of making suffering a non-entity or even, as some think, an illusion. (And forgive me for using quotation marks when I shouldn’t have. I should have remembered the original quotation well enough not to.) We do need to affirm the abhorrence, the hideousness, the stench, the utter ugliness of evil. Heaven will work itself backwards as Lewis says, but never to the point that we will not remember the horror of evil and the reason God so abhors it.

    I would argue that the Book of Job does provide an adequate and sufficient theodicy for certain evils, particularly undeserved suffering of conscious beings who relate to God, though even for such evils we should look for additional reasons in other biblical theodicies.

    Why indeed should God merely accommodate Satan’s skepticism unless God did not know that Job would be faithful? Wouldn’t God have simply told Satan, “Hey, I know Job won’t fail me, so don’t mess with my servant!” (or something like that). Satan would have known that God would know this and that God cannot lie and that would have been the end of the story given Molinism or simple foreknowledge. Craig points out that simple foreknowledge destroys providence, however. How can God control the course he desires history to take if he knows how history will go before he decides how it should go? God was just lucky that Judas happened to choose to betray Jesus and carry out God’s plan. (See Craig’s arguments in Beilby and Eddy’s Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views.) But Craig’s Molinism fares no better in the light of Job 1 and 2. Again, why did God test Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son if God knew he would pass the test? Why, after passing the test, did God say, “Now I know that your fear God” if he knew the outcome before he passed the test? God did not merely accommodate Satan’s skepticism of Job’s faithfulness, God needed to know as well and Job needed to endure the test.

    So it appears that the best answer is that God does not know future free choices. (I think a good case can be made that it is feasible that it is logically impossible for God to know such, given certain reasonable assumptions.) God needs to know what our choice would be in the face of suffering and we need to be people who would make such a choice. Our freely choosing God and choosing the good, and especially so choosing in the face of suffering, is so much more important to God than our merely being created to choose exactly and only what God desires. It does not in any way malign God’s nature to say that God gave us freedom and gave up the power to determine our choices for us.

    You say, “Tellingly, when Job demands a reason God does not provide it; instead he asks Job more questions, highlighting Job's inability to understand God's reasons.”

    Of course, Job does not actually demand anything of God, at least not after God speaks out of the whirlwind. He rather stands completely abased and speechless and only speaks when God demands it. Rather than pointing out his inability to understand God’s reasons, God’s refusal to give Job reasons may highlight the need for Job to trust God when he does not know the answers and is not given the answers. In any case, the reason given in the first part of Job is not difficult to understand. If we were simply unable to understand God’s reasons, Job 1&2 would have been written very differently.

    This is not to say that we have answers to every facet of the problem of evil. I think in some cases we do need to fall back on the skeptical theism of people like Craig and Plantinga. As just one example, I don’t think that the problem of animal pain can be completely and adequately answered except by resorting to skeptical theism. Perhaps in God’s speech we see an important reason God did not tell Job the reason he allowed his suffering. God wanted Job to be aware that even if no reason is given, he still has reason to trust that God has good reason.

    “Although Job is indeed given double at the end, his previous children are not restored, . . .”

    Here I think the important thing to remember is that we are dealing with Hebrew poetry. The principle of equal compensation is clearly present even though it could not be literally fulfilled for Job given Job’s (or the writer’s) view of death. Only a much later belief in an afterlife would allow the possibility that God could fully “wipe away the tears” of the righteous.

    Yes, the Book of Job does offer “something much deeper and more subtle” than just a theodicy; but that does not mean it does not at all offer a theodicy, and a very powerful theodicy at that.

    Constructing theodicies is not testing God, it’s merely searching out the reasons God has given us through revelation and through our ability to reason under God’s leading and illumination. Indeed, that God tests us is the core or essence of the Jobian (recipient oriented) theodicy.

    Both the recipient and agent oriented theodicies require free will. And I agree that we do have far less of it in this world than we usually think. But if we do not have free will for at least some moral and salvific choices, those decisions cannot be responsible decisions.

    Romans 11.32 is a very important verse but, ironically, its importance likely consists more in showing us that we do have free will than almost anything else. If God shows mercy to all, it can only be through offering salvation to all as a gift to be freely chosen or as a gift that will be irresistibly received by all. Any other interpretation does not work. If the universalist interpretation is affirmed, then, of course, we would have to look elsewhere for biblical justification for belief in free will. But if the universalist interpretation is rejected, it can only mean that God shows mercy to all by offering salvation to all.

    In my last post I tried to downplay my open theistic views by suggesting how the Jobian theodicy is compatible with a more classical Christian theism. It is still possible. For example, a Molinist could say that God knew that Job would not fail but allowed the test because Job needed to endure the testing. So if you cannot accept my open theism, I hope you and the other readers would still be open to the Jobian or recipient oriented theodicy. I think it is the most important biblical theodicy. I hope that by showing my hand, by arguing for some open theistic points, this won’t distract everyone from the more important issue of evaluating and possibly adopting this theodicy.

  19. Aron,
    I think I misrepresented your view in my last comments. You weren’t really saying that equating always having been in heaven and never knowing pain were mistaken because it makes evil an illusion. Rather, making evil an illusion was the conclusion I would want to avoid. You seemed to be saying that there may still be something of a kind of pain or agony inherent in the joy of heaven; which may be true, but I am not prepared to make a judgment at this time. Sorry I misrepresented your statement.

  20. Aron Wall says:

    Dennis,
    I agree that your "recipient oriented theodicy" does not require Open Theism. This is a good thing, since I think that Open Theism has fatal flaws:

    1. It is very difficult to reconcile with the metaphysical views I am arguing for in this series, where God is the unchanging, eternal reality that explains everything else. As I said in part IV, "Something that exists necessarily cannot come into being, or cease to be, or indeed change in any way. [It] must just exist timelessly.".

    Open Theism would require that there is a difference between God at time t_1 and God at time t_2, which would mean that he cannot be simple, nor is he eternally unchanging. His life would be parcelled out from moment to moment, not eternally self-sufficient. God would have to be a composite of something which can change and something which cannot change. This is radically different from the Classical Theist conception of God as unchanging (see also James 1:17).

    2. It does not seem compatible with physics, because physics suggests that Time is a contingent part of the created universe, and therefore cannot be a part of God's eternal existence. Furthermore Space and Time are unified into Spacetime, which means that if God is outside of Space he must also be outside of Time. Otherwise he would pick out a "frame of reference" in violation of the Principle of Relativity.

    3. It does not seem compatible with the Bible, which explicitly states in many places that God knows the future. In Psalm 139, St. David says that "Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be," which, if it does not refer to predestination in the Calvinist sense, must at least refer to God's knowledge of David's future. Similarly, St. Paul talks about how God foreknew us before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and chose us in Christ to be adopted as his children. Clearly, if God does not know the future, this would not have been possible. None of us would even exist if our ancestors had made slightly different choices!

    In Isaiah 41-46, God brings it up as a sign of his superiority to worthless idols, that he knows the future and they do not, and then he goes on to predict things that would happen hundreds of years in advance, including the name of King Cyrus who allowed Israel to return from captivity. And there are many other prophecies of the future in Scripture, many of which seem to refer to choices freely made by human beings.

    It is true that sometimes the Bible talks as if God changed his mind or his plan in response to human choices. But Christian tradition as always interpreted these passages as accomodations to human forms of speech, in light of the clarity of the explicit teaching of the other passages. Even if God knows the future, he can temporarily pretend not to know it as a way of being in dialogue with changing human beings.

    4. I also don't think there is any logical contradiction between God knowing the future and people making free choices, so Open Theism is also completely unnecessary. Here I would adopt the viewpoint of St. Boethius and say that God sees the future in exactly the same way he sees the present, because God is not in time at all.

    Nor do I think Molinism makes metaphysical sense, since I think it is absurd to think that there is a fact of the matter about what creatures with free will who don't exist would do. St. Luis de Molina proposed that God knows what the creatures would do in each situation, and then says which world should be real. Metaphysically, this gets things backwards. Things can't make choices unless they first exist. God always intitiates; human beings respond.

    Furthermore, if Molinism were the case, then statements like this might be true: "I chose to steal those pears, but if instead I had chosen not to steal those pears, then I would probably never have existed, because God might have instead actualized a completely different world, e.g. where dolphins had evolved into the most intelligent species." That doesn't seem very compatible with common sense.

    For these reasons I am a Classic Arminian: free will and divine foreknowledge are both true. This is the view advocated by St. David Hunt in the 4 views book you mentioned.

    And note that this view is perfectly compatible with the Job theodicy you wish to make. If God had not tested St. Job, then (contra St. Molina) there would not necessarily have been a fact of the matter concerning how Job would respond. Given that God did allow Satan to test Job, there was a fact of the matter, and so God knew it from the beginning.

  21. Charlie says:

    While we're on the topic, Aron, there's a (growing) "quantum idealism movement" that's caught the eye of J.P. Moreland (philosopher friend of WLC), where they try to prove panentheism using quantum physics.

    One person in particular makes really high quality videos on YouTube with a physics graduate. (Inspiring philosophy and JohananRaatz). I know you don't seem to like video, so if I get maybe one or two in transcript would you consider giving your opinion on it somewhere?

    Thx. I think God is using you to spread his message

  22. Aron,
    I strongly affirm only a particular point of Open Theism, that God does not know future free choices. Some other points you critique I might be much more open to question as well. Since you accept a tenseless B theory of time, you might reply that there isn’t a real problem with God simply seeing and knowing all of time and space as one whole. But I mentioned some problems with a simple foreknowledge view in my last comments and it seems to me that the same problems apply to a tenseless view of time. Yet even accepting a tenseless view of time, on further reflection it seems to me that it is important to God not only that we be people who make free choices for the good in the face of suffering but that God know what those choices will be. If God was able to know our entire history prior to creation, it was still most important to God to know how we would choose.

    One other quick comment about theodicies and then I’ll defend my view of foreknowledge more next time. I think the other important biblical theodicy looks at the outside observer of suffering, as it were. This follows especially Jesus’ teachings (Lk 4.18) as well other teachings in the OT and NT. What will we do when we become aware of others suffering? Will we seek to alleviate the pain, pray for and weep before God for those who suffer, anguish over them as God does? God wants to know if we will seek to have his heart, if we will seek to become like him. And God wants us to choose to become like him. Many times God will not act to bring about the good which God desires to occur, remove suffering God desires removed, until we call out to God. And often God is waiting for us to act to alleviate the suffering of others. Some suffering must occur in our world for the recipient oriented theodicy to work, but it usually need not be a great as it turns out to be—thus the observer oriented theodicy also has a place.

  23. Aron Wall says:

    Dennis Jensen wrote:

    I strongly affirm only a particular point of Open Theism, that God does not know future free choices.

    That is what I take the definition of Open Theism to be---and that is the view I was trying to critique with my arguments (1-4).

    I’ll defend my view of foreknowledge more next time.

    I'm especially interested in seeing how you can reconcile your view with the Scriptural themes I mentioned that seem to explicitly say that God knows the future (including many things that would seemingly depend on free choices).

    By the way, regarding Heaven and pain, if we narrow the question to interpreting what St. Lewis thought, it seems clear he was willing to speculate that there might be pains in Heaven. In the last Screwtape letter: "Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure." The Problem of Pain: "Even if there were pains in Heaven, all who understand would desire them."

    However, in the context of the quote from The Great Divorce, about Heaven working backwards, I think the point is not that there will be any new pain in our final state of rest, but that the remembered suffering that we experienced on Earth will be transfigured into glories. Haven't you had experiences that seemed extremely painful and pointless at the time, and perhaps tempted you to despair, but later on you saw that God was using them to change you, and that without them you would not be the person you are today? I think that's the kind of thing St. Lewis is talking about. And the obvious thing about this experience: even though it changes the past suffering in our memory to make it seem holy and good, it does not make us forget that there was agony involved in the experience. Or if we do forget, we have failed to learn anything from the experience. We aren't talking about a superficial time-travel story in which you can "make it didn't happen". Nothing will ever change the fact that Christ agonized on the Cross, but that was still Heaven because it was love, and because that one sacrifice opened up a eternal fountain of life and joy and salvation.

  24. Aron Wall says:

    Charlie,
    Thanks for your comment.

    The idea that you could prove panentheism using quantum mechanics seems really crazy. I would find any such argument highly suspect. I've looked before at Johanan Raatz's website and I don't think he knows what he's talking about, for example when he talks about the holographic principle.

  25. Charlie says:

    I appreciate your politeness. I think he extroplates from highly suspect physics (or interpretations of physics).

  26. In response to your Jan 17 comments, Aron:

    Re 1. I agree that God must exist timelessly but only sans creation. With creation God could enter time. I’m sure you are aware that this is W. L. Craig’s view as well. (I mention this only because I’m insecure enough that it feels good to have a leading theologian on my side at least once in a while. :-) ) Now Craig sometimes downplays a little the need for God’s absolute simplicity and emphasizes more God’s explanatory sufficiency. Nevertheless, if we have God existing timelessly sans creation, we have the same benefit, namely that in God’s primordial being God is more likely absolutely simple. Might God not choose to enter time and gain pluralistic and complex knowledge of the universe as God chooses to create? If God’s primordial nature (sans creation) is absolutely simple, then we would see a greater intrinsic probability for self-existence in this being.

    You say that “something that exists necessarily cannot come into being, or cease to be, or indeed change in any way.” I agree with the first two but wonder how you would argue for the last option. Why would God entering into change make God “not eternally self-sufficient”? It seems to me that something of God’s being must be completely unchanging, but I don’t see that all must be. I agree that this denies God’s absolute simplicity, but only with the absence of creation does God need absolute simplicity.

    To say that there could be some change in God’s being does not mean that God could become other than God. James’ comment (in 1.17) about God being unchanging primarily focuses on God’s moral nature. God cannot become evil in any way whatsoever or change his mind except in response to our moral and (sometimes) other choices (see e.g. Jon 3.10; 4.2). These changes follow from God’s unchanging moral nature. God’s nature requires that his moral nature cannot change. James, like the other apostles and prophets, and indeed virtually all of Hebrew thought, assumed that God was a being in time though God was not bound by time. A trillion years or a nanosecond were the same to God (Ps 90). Yet, as I said, with the creation God is in time in that God acts in time in response to our choices and actions in time.

    2. I see time as primarily change and I’m not sure that it need be anything other than change. Time is contingent in that God need not have allowed time to exist. We can imagine something spacial being changeless and thus timeless. Perhaps we would see space-time as simply having no size in the temporal dimension. We can also imagine the non-spacial as having a temporal dimension; maybe God choosing to have a sequence of distinct or different thoughts. Time need not be a part of God’s essential existence, though it may be seen as something God could choose for at least part of his being to participate in.

    Why would picking a “frame of reference” violate the Principle of Relativity? Couldn’t God be in any or all spacial-temporal frames of reference God desires to be in and aware of time as they occur for all of them?

    You say that “Space and Time are unified into Spacetime, which means that if God is outside of Space he must also be outside of Time.” This I just cannot see. I mentioned something that could be in time but outside of space. Just because our universe is a space-time block (if it is), does it follow that all time must be part of this block? And might the non-spacial time correspond to timeframes in that block? (I hope my understanding of some of these scientific terms is not too far off, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.)

    3, Notice that Psalm 139 does not say anything about God knowing the future choices we make. But furthermore, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (16) is more straightforward than the Hebrew actually suggests. Yet if this translation (the NIV) is correct, it could still mean nothing more than that God ordained that each person should face certain choices and life situations and that their further “ordained days” would follow from or be ordained according to the choices they would make. A choice at t1 may determine whether one attains one life situation or a different one at t2 and God knows these different alternatives which will follow each choice. In this sense our future days are written in God’s book.

    Concerning Isaiah 41-46, I’m not denying that God foreknows the future insofar as it does not involve the free choices of human (and possibly other) agents. God simply determines what that future will be by controlling all causal factors. How difficult is it for God to control the mind of a king so as to have him name his son Cyrus? No human free choice was even involved in this case. I’d have to go through all six chapters to see if there is any passage there referring to foreknowledge of the outcome of a free choice.

    In the first paragraph (following 3 above) I offered a scenario which would allow God to control the course of history by accommodating human free will. Romans 1 talks about God giving some people over to the evil they desire as they continually reject the good they know they should do. For example, in the Exodus account God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only after Pharaoh first hardened his own heart. Likewise, some may do a certain good acts so often that they eventually are no longer free to do evil in that regard. I would suggest that Judas made negative moral choices earlier in his life by which God chose him to be the one who would betray Jesus. Judas was no longer free to do otherwise when the time came. Had he made morally good decisions at those earlier points in his life, God would have chosen someone else for the task. God must wait until we make the initial free choices before using or not using us and other events to direct history as God desires. This must be because the free choice of a person other than God is by definition something God cannot control.

    Concerning Eph 1.4, we are not told that this choosing “before the foundation of the earth” is irresistible. We are told elsewhere that God desires that no one should perish and for all people to be saved (2 Pet 3.91; Tm 2.4). Might Eph 1.4 be saying the same thing? God can foreknow us without foreknowing or determining our choices. I know that Ephesians 1 goes on to say in v. 5 & 11 that we are predestined to be adopted as sons. But they both say “according to God’s plan” or “will” or “pleasure” or “purpose.” Well, might God’s plan or will be that we be predestined to salvation but according to our free choice? Thus God would predestine according to his plan of allowing us to choose. This means we are predestined to salvation if we so freely choose.

    There is another possible interpretation of Ephesians 1 which could be, so far as I can see, as likely as the one I just gave. Paul may be saying that all people are chosen and predestined to be children of God. There are several pretty undeniably universalistic passages in scripture, and this may just be another universalist passage. How to reconcile them with the exclusivist passages, the ones that say that some will never be accepted by God, is an entirely new and different question, however (and this issue should probably not be opened for consideration at this time). Both of the above interpretations of Ephesians 1 involve no foreknowledge of human free choice.

    “None of us would even exist if our ancestors had made slightly different choices!”

    The physical bodies we happen to have now with each person’s particular genetic code were determined by our ancestors’ choices. But God put into each body exactly the person he intended to exist at any given time. When and where, or even whether we as persons exist or not depends entirely upon God’s choice, not our ancestors’ choices.

    “Even if God knows the future, he can temporarily pretend not to know it as a way of being in dialogue with changing human beings.”

    If God does foreknow the future completely, in most cases he could still just as easily dialogue with us without pretending not to know. And you must admit that a God who must resort to “pretending” not to know something will strike most people as a deceptive God. Usually the more obvious and straightforward and, should I say, literal interpretation is simply that God does not know certain things.

    Generally, you seem to be saying that passages which speak of God not knowing future free choices (U passages; U for unknown) should be interpreted in the light of ones that say that God does know them (F passages; F for foreknown). But which are truly the more sure or more basic passages? We can’t just arbitrarily pick one group over the other. And just because influential theologians of the past have claimed one view over the other shouldn’t make a difference. We should certainly listen to these theologians and evaluate their claims and the logic of their claims, but they have no intrinsic authority over any other Christian writers. No creeds, confessions, or counsels have any intrinsic authority except insofar as they summarize or repeat clear scriptural teachings. Christian “tradition” should mean nothing. We must never forget Jesus’ teachings concerning the emptiness of human tradition (Mk 7.5-13).

    I’ve argued that the F passages you’ve given have better U interpretations. Well, I do admit that the F interpretation may be a little stronger in some cases. But we see that at least the U interpretation is not impossible for any of the F passages. But I think any attempted F interpretation for the U passages I’ve given seems very forced. For example, to talk of God pretending not to know a future choice just doesn’t fit passages like Genesis 22 where God says after the event, “Now I know you fear God.” The entire point of a testing for Abraham hardly seems needed if God already knew. Or wouldn’t God have told him, “I knew you would pass the test, but I had to let you go through it because it was important that you actually do so.” It is just too unlikely God would act as though this is new knowledge unless it really was. All in all, I think the U passages cannot generally be interpreted as easily with a F understanding, and more of the F passages can too easily be interpreted with a U understanding.

    4. Yes, I agree that you can have a workable model of God knowing future free choices like Boethius believed. The tenseless B view of time fits this view. God sees it all as it is happening and thus God can foreknow and even provide prophecies of freely chosen events before they occur. It works but at a cost. The problem is that God cannot control the course of history under this view. How can he get Pilate to freely condemn Jesus and thus effect his greatest plan for humanity? If Pilate was truly free, he could have just said no and God’s plan for history would have been thwarted. God needs to be active in history and history cannot all be merely set, finished, and accomplished before God can act. What an enormous amount of luck God had that all of these free human choices occurred just as God wanted at just the right pivotal points in history.

    Molinism could also solve the problem. But Molinism has its flaws as well. If God could know what we would do in any given moral situation before we exist, God could put the right people in the right places in history so that that everyone freely chooses to do exactly what God wants them to do so that his plan in history proceeds as he desires. But like you, I think that it is absurd to think that something can be known which does not exist (without God merely determining that it should exist). I completely agree with your critique of Molinism.

    One final point. Christian theologians have for centuries recognized that omnipotence should not include the ability to do the logically impossible. Open theists would simply claim that we should also admit that God cannot know what is logically impossible to know and that it seems very feasible that knowledge of future free choices is logically impossible to know. This doesn’t seem to me to be a very extreme claim. For classical Christian theism to hold so tenaciously to a stronger view of omniscience—indeed only a slightly stronger view at that—seems to me to be somehow almost arbitrary and capricious. And yet many orthodox Christians treat open theism as one of the most abominable heresies to ever rear its head. This should not be.

    Concerning your Jan 19 comments:

    I have C. S. Evans little Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion. He mentions some other points of open theism other than merely its denial of foreknowledge of future contingents. I particularly dislike some of the theodicies and theistic defenses for the problem of evil that I sometimes hear from its advocates. All in all, however, it does look like the foreknowledge question is the big issue.

    I like your comments about heaven and pain. Some of Lewis’ comments may be borrowing from or alluding to his belief in purgatory. Yet purgatory as well may contain some aspects of heaven. But of course he is saying much more than that and your thoughts are very insightful.

  27. TY says:

    Dr Wall,

    Notions of God’s omniscience and human free will are not so straightforward when you start unpacking them. I have been discovering this in the excellent posts, all stimulating.

    I would like to hear your thoughts after reading those of other distinguished thinkers, including yours in this series: Does God absolutely now the future?

    1. In The Polkinghorne Reader, Science, Faith and the Search for Meaning, page 24, St Polkinghorne makes the point: “If the universe is one of true becoming, with the future not yet formed and existing, and if God knows the world in its temporality, then that seems to me to imply that God cannot yet know the future…..Omniscience is self-limited by God in the creation of an open world of becoming.” Polkinghorne goes on to talk of the “divine knowledge” having the character of “current omniscience” (knowing all that is knowable now) rather than an “absolute omniscience” (knowing all that will ever be knowable). Polkinghorne is proposing this “limited” view of omniscience and argues it is consistent with the developmental nature of the world, accommodates free will and it simplifies theodicy.

    It seems to me your comment (Aron Wall says: January 17, 2015 at 2:42 PM) would be in disagreement.
    “ It does not seem compatible with physics, because physics suggests that Time is a contingent part of the created universe, and therefore cannot be a part of God's eternal existence. Furthermore Space and Time are unified into Spacetime, which means that if God is outside of Space he must also be outside of Time. Otherwise he would pick out a "frame of reference" in violation of the Principle of Relativity.”

    2. What do make of the distinction between current omniscience and future omniscience?

    3. Given God’s foreknowledge of Judas' betraying Jesus, an act that was necessary for the fulfillment of Scripture (crucifixion and resurrection), did Judas sin? Did God know he was going to test Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son? And if God knew Abraham's response, why bother testing him?

    4. If Abraham’s and Judas’ actions were known in advance, were they acting out of free will?

    Thank you.

  28. Ty,
    Thanks for the added comments. I think some of your statements and quotations might help to clarify some of my own questions and objections. However, concerning your fourth point (4.), I think Aron did adequately show that such free choices could be foreknown. God simply sees the whole of time and all of the free acts that occur in one image and thus God knows it all at once. I did go on to point out a problem with this view.

    I think I made one concession that I should not have made, however. I think I was wrong when I said that prophecies of future free choices could occur under this model. God cannot speak to a prophet (say at t1) who might foretell (at t2) a future free choice by an agent (occurring at t3).

    The possible world God foresees and does not act in (W1) is not the same as the possible world in which God does give information to the prophet and the prophet speaks this information (W2). God cannot know W2 all at once in the same way God knows W1. There would need to be numerous knowledge gaps or holes; God would not have access to this knowledge (for example, the events at t1 and t2) until God sees the whole of the (hole filled) world in which free choices are made. When the agent makes a choice at t3, then (maybe if God has his own temporal dimension) God can act in that world to produce the different W2. W2 cannot exist for God to see it as a whole since God must first see the decision at t3 to create W2.

    With problems like this, it’s almost tempting to become a Calvinist and deny libertarian free will altogether. If God just determines how everything will be ahead of time with no free will in that world, then foreknowledge would be easy. But of course, then we’re stuck with an evil God, a God who holds people responsible for choices they have no control over. It seems to me that only open theism provides an acceptable solution.

  29. David says:

    For anyone interested: There's a mock debate between John Polkinghorne and Chris Isham on physics, the block universe and theology. Called "Can God Know the Future? Reflections on the Block Universe". Which can be viewed on Cambridge's site. They talk about God's omnipotence and the various parts of physics supporting each view. Definitely worth viewing - I'm not aware of any transcript however - sorry to disappoint

  30. David, I found the debate/discussion at http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/Shop.php?Mode=Add2&ItemID=Item_Multimedia_154&width=720&height=460

    Isham speaks so fast he's hard to follow. Takes a bit of concentration.

  31. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Dennis.

    I agree that God must exist timelessly but only sans creation. With creation God could enter time.

    Of course he can enter time---by uniting himself to a created nature which is temporal, the body and soul of Jesus Christ.

    But that's not what you meant. You meant that God acts to limit himself in his divine nature, so that he doesn't know the future because it doesn't exist yet. But God is uncreated and immutable, so it is absurd for him to change his own nature in this way by the act of creation.

    This of course presupposes the A-theory of time, which is itself logically contradictory and absurd, since conceptually all things must either exist or not exist. "To exist in the future" must either be a type of existence (in which case B-theory is true) or a type of nonexistence (in which case the present is all that is real).

    I’m sure you are aware that this is W. L. Craig’s view as well. (I mention this only because I’m insecure enough that it feels good to have a leading theologian on my side at least once in a while. :-) )

    You can't tell that a theologian is "leading" unless he's been dead for at least a hundred years. They say that "In Theology, all that is new is wrong." Considering the fact that practically all theologians of note were on the other side until the 20th century (an era not known for its theological orthodoxy in other respects) perhaps you should be worried!

    Why would God entering into change make God “not eternally self-sufficient”? It seems to me that something of God’s being must be completely unchanging, but I don’t see that all must be. I agree that this denies God’s absolute simplicity, but only with the absence of creation does God need absolute simplicity.

    On this model, it seems that God would have multiple parts (since he isn't simple) some of which are eternal and others of which change with time. But if so, the "parts" which change with time would not really be divine in the sense of being the foundational reality of the metaphysical sort I am arguing for in this series. They would be an exalted created being.

    You are right that the James 1:7 passage has some ambiguity, although of course the same could be said for the classic proof texts of omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on...

    "James, like the other apostles and prophets, and indeed virtually all of Hebrew thought, assumed that God was a being in time though God was not bound by time."

    This statement is much too broad, and I don't see how you could possibly know it simply from the fact that the apostles and prophets used temporal language (like human beings always do). But you are probably right about most of them. Yet I don't think "assumed" is the right word to use here, as if it were a conscious rejection of the other position. One has to have a certain amount of philosophical sophistication to even have the concept that God might be "outside of time" in the Boethian sense (though I think Philo got there in the 1st century AD), and of course God did not wait for his people to have philosophical sophistication before starting a relationship with them.

    Why would picking a “frame of reference” violate the Principle of Relativity? Couldn’t God be in any or all spacial-temporal frames of reference God desires to be in and aware of time as they occur for all of them?

    There are infinitely many different ways to slice spacetime into "space" and "time". This symmetry is a key property of Nature. For God to exist in just one reference frame, and thus to choose to relate to the universe in a way that breaks this symmetry, seems ugly and artificial to me as a physicist.

    If, preserving this symmetry, God chooses to simultaneously exist in all possible reference frames, then at any given spacetime point there would be multiple versions of God, each with different sets of knowledge, deciding what happens at that spacetime point! That seems much more likely to lead to paradox than anything involving foreknowledge. Or you could postulate that there is a separate "version" of God at each point of spacetime. But then God wouldn't know what was happening "right now" at the Andromeda Galaxy, since the light hasn't had time to reach us yet.

    Anyway, all of this parcelling God out into pieces is completely rejected by Classical Theism.

    I don't know Hebrew, but the NIV seems to agree with the majority of translations of Psalm 139:16. But it hardly matters: this is just the most vivid of many passages which talk about God knowing a prophet or some other person before they were formed.

    Of course God could have forced Cyrus' parents to name him that (and forced Peter to deny him, etc.). But I thought the point of this exercise was to preserve free will. As David Hunt says in p. 53 of that 4 views book we've both read:

    Given exhaustive foreknowledge, it follows that the future is epistemically settled in the divine mind; but it does not follow that the future is causally settled in any way that conflicts with human freedom. Boyd [the Openness guy]'s acceptance of this fallacious inference, and his consequent rejection of exhaustive foreknowledge in the interests of human freedom, has the ironic result that he finds less free agency in the Bible than I do; for every time that the Scriptures are unambiguously clear that someone's actions are divinely foreknown, Boyd must deny that person's freedom."

    You wrote:

    For example, in the Exodus account God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only after Pharaoh first hardened his own heart.

    Yes. But even before that, God predicts that he will harden Pharoah's heart (Ex. 4:21), so your solution doesn't work unless you accept divine foreknowledge.

    It seems highly implausible that Jesus would have chosen Judas as an apostle, thus aggravating his damnation ("It would be better for that man if he had never been born"), if he was already irredeemably corrupt at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, and thus completely incapable of benefiting from Jesus' teachings. Surely he must have had some apostolic gifts which would have suited him for the role he was called for. It seems to minimize the tragedy of the situation to make Judas' final fatal choice have nothing to do with his reaction to Jesus' ministry. In any case your solution doesn't work---Jesus clearly taught that his betrayal by one of the Twelve was prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures, which were written before Judas was born. Thus in this one case, the Openness view implies unconditional divine reprobation, the least palatable doctrine of Calvinism.

    Concerning Eph 1.4, we are not told that this choosing “before the foundation of the earth” is irresistible.

    OK, suppose it is resistable. That would be relevant if I were a Calvinist, but I'm not. If God predestines an individual to play a particular role before the foundation of the world, then he must foreknow something about that individual, and this is true even if the person, like King Saul, ultimately is rejected for the role that they were called to.

    There is another possible interpretation of Ephesians 1 which could be, so far as I can see, as likely as the one I just gave. Paul may be saying that all people are chosen and predestined to be children of God.

    That is a more plausible method of escape, but then it has to mean something completely different from the passages that teach individual predestination (e.g. Gal 1:15).

    The physical bodies we happen to have now with each person’s particular genetic code were determined by our ancestors’ choices. But God put into each body exactly the person he intended to exist at any given time. When and where, or even whether we as persons exist or not depends entirely upon God’s choice, not our ancestors’ choices.

    Really? So if a man freely commits adultery with a woman and she bears a child, you think that the same person would have been born to different parents if they had remained chaste?

    This view, that our personal identities consist of "souls" arbitrarily inserted into corporeal bodies, seems more like a Gnostic than a Christian anthropology. Our body is an essential part of who we are (hence the Incarnation and the General Resurrection) and it is not irrelevant to the formation of the soul, or our personal identity. It doesn't even make sense to ask what I would be if I'd had different parents. "I" would be a completely different person.

    This view preserves personal freedom only at the price of saying that human freedom makes no difference to the most important "spiritual" matters in life. True, we are but instruments in the hands of God, but even that implies that God uses parents to create children.

    If God does foreknow the future completely, in most cases he could still just as easily dialogue with us without pretending not to know. And you must admit that a God who must resort to “pretending” not to know something will strike most people as a deceptive God.

    It's not that deceptive. God never explicitly says "I don't know the future". He just presents his attitude as responsive to what we do, which conveys the most essential truth about the situation. Whereas my proof texts do involve God explicitly claiming to know facts about the future. It makes sense that God would not normally tell us the results of our own free actions in advance, even if he knows them.

    Generally, you seem to be saying that passages which speak of God not knowing future free choices (U passages; U for unknown) should be interpreted in the light of ones that say that God does know them (F passages; F for foreknown). But which are truly the more sure or more basic passages? We can’t just arbitrarily pick one group over the other.

    Similarly, there are many passages, especially in the Old Testament, which speak as though God had body parts (face, arms, hands, eyes, ears---more deception?) while those which seem to imply God has no body are very few in number. Yet, the Christian tradition has (apart from Mormonism), with virtual unanimity, rejected the idea that God has a body, and regards it as the heresy of anthropomorphism. Why?

    The answer is that one should use sound philosophical reasoning to decide which passages are literal and which figurative. One has to decide which point of view offers the most philosophical point of view about God.

    And just because influential theologians of the past have claimed one view over the other shouldn’t make a difference. We should certainly listen to these theologians and evaluate their claims and the logic of their claims, but they have no intrinsic authority over any other Christian writers. No creeds, confessions, or counsels have any intrinsic authority except insofar as they summarize or repeat clear scriptural teachings. Christian “tradition” should mean nothing. We must never forget Jesus’ teachings concerning the emptiness of human tradition (Mk 7.5-13).

    So Nicea is out then, because the Arians also quoted their own proof-texts that seemed to indicate the Son was inferior to the Father.

    I agree that Jesus taught the primacy of Scripture over tradition, and that traditions are to be rejected when they conflict with clear Scriptural teaching (as in the examples pointed out by Jesus). But I strongly disagree with the extreme form of "Sola Scriptura" you have presented here. You also have to deal with passages like 1 John 16:13, Acts 15:28, Matt 18:18, 1 Cor 12 and so on which talk about how the Spirit guides the Church. What you said above is tantamount to saying that the Holy Spirit left the church without guidance immediately following the death of the last apostle. Indeed, unless the post-apostolic church was guided by the Holy Spirit to some extent, I don't see why we should trust their decisions about which books belong in the canon of Scripture (Did you really decide to accept Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and Jude independently of any previous tradition or authority?).

    The entire point of a testing for Abraham hardly seems needed if God already knew.

    If God had not tested Abraham, there would have been no fact of the matter concerning whether Abraham would have obeyed. And thus God would not have known.

    The problem is that God cannot control the course of history under this view. How can he get Pilate to freely condemn Jesus and thus effect his greatest plan for humanity? If Pilate was truly free, he could have just said no and God’s plan for history would have been thwarted. God needs to be active in history and history cannot all be merely set, finished, and accomplished before God can act. What an enormous amount of luck God had that all of these free human choices occurred just as God wanted at just the right pivotal points in history.

    This is the central issue. Once again, I note that you seem to be a Calvinist whenever the rubber actually meets the road in the Scriptures. My position gives Pilate free will; yours does not. If Pilate had chosen not to condemn Jesus, I assume that redemption would nevertheless have occured in some other way (and would also have been prophesied to occur in that different way). A master Go player is not thwarted by his opponent's freedom to move in any space he chooses. He still accomplishes his purpose.

    Secondly, your statement that "history cannot all be merely set, finished, and accomplished before God can act" seems to view God's decision making in excessively anthropomorphic terms, as if he needs to do things in a certain order. To talk as though God would first use his foreknowledge to see what happenes, and then choose to act in history (perhaps saying, "Oops, everything is determined now so I have nothing left to control") still places God in time. Instead, God acts timelessly in a self-consistent way to create a world, knowing from the beginning what the outcome will be. One might worry about time travel paradoxes, but presumably God is clever enough to avoid them.

    From your more recent message:

    God cannot speak to a prophet (say at t1) who might foretell (at t2) a future free choice by an agent (occurring at t3).

    Sure he can. I wasn't able to identify any argument which proves that this is logically inconsistent. I couldn't make out you argument about "gaps" and "holes":

    The possible world God foresees and does not act in (W1) is not the same as the possible world in which God does give information to the prophet and the prophet speaks this information (W2). God cannot know W2 all at once in the same way God knows W1. There would need to be numerous knowledge gaps or holes; God would not have access to this knowledge (for example, the events at t1 and t2) until God sees the whole of the (hole filled) world in which free choices are made. When the agent makes a choice at t3, then (maybe if God has his own temporal dimension) God can act in that world to produce the different W2. W2 cannot exist for God to see it as a whole since God must first see the decision at t3 to create W2.

    If W2 is the world that actually occurs, then it is W2, not W1, which God foreknows. He doesn't need to wait for anything. This entire paragraph seems to be based on the idea that God is in time. On the Boethian view, you should not use words like "until", "when", "first" when describing God's knowledge. Thus you are assuming the very point which needs to be proven.

    Also, you seem very confident about what God can and cannot do.

    For classical Christian theism to hold so tenaciously to a stronger view of omniscience—indeed only a slightly stronger view at that—seems to me to be somehow almost arbitrary and capricious. And yet many orthodox Christians treat open theism as one of the most abominable heresies to ever rear its head. This should not be.

    Well properly speaking it could only be a heresy if you hold to it obstinately and it interferes with a proper relationship with God. On that point, I don't feel called to cast stones. However, you shouldn't be surprised that people react poorly, when they are used to thinking of God's knowledge of the future as a source of consolation and reassurance. It's a pastoral issue as well as a theological one. I myself find this doctrine spiritually useful, and I do think that churches should explicitly teach divine foreknowledge. But I don't see any reason to question your spiritual standing before God.

  32. TY says:

    David and Dennis: Thank you for that link. My view is that on the general principle of the omniscience of God, there is no question, but it's the unpacking of this notion that raises questions, deep questions, which show we do not fully understand God's mind, and that may be a good thing. So I highly recommend this video to hear two saints, John Polkinghorne and Chris Isham, men of science talk about God’s omniscience. Listen to St Polkinghorne carefully and you’ll see his open theology is still very much traditional.

    Dr Wall: You stated above: "If God had not tested Abraham, there would have been no fact of the matter concerning whether Abraham would have obeyed. And thus God would not have known" From this, I conclude you do believe that God cannot know everything in advance, and it makes sense; furthermore, when you said in objection to Molinism: "St. Luis de Molina proposed that God knows what the creatures would do in each situation, and then says which world should be real. Metaphysically, this gets things backwards. Things can't make choices unless they first exist. God always initiates; human beings respond."

    Question for Dr Wall: Must the Fundamental Reality “know what the creatures would do in each situation? I think you’ve answered the question by the remark on Molinism, but I just want to be sure in my mind.
    Thank you.

  33. Aron Wall says:

    TY,
    1. It seems my position is in disagreement with St. John Polkinghorne, as evidenced by your quotation. Before he was a priest he was a professor of Physics, but since the particular quote you mention doesn't explain how his view is compatible with relativity, I don't see any way to respond other than saying that it seems to me to be a serious problem. Perhaps they discuss this issue in the video which I haven't watched yet.

    2. The distinction is not compatible with special relativity, which denies that there is an unambiguous notion of simultaneity. Nor is it compatible with classical theism which denies that God has parts or participates in temporal becoming. If the future really did not exist, then God would not need to know it, but then I also think that it would never come into existence. (Historically, even Christian philosophers who have believed in real "becoming" have nevertheless thought that God knows the future.)

    3. Yes, Judas sinned (Matt 18:7, John 19:11). For God to foreknow an evil action is not the same as for him to force the person to do it. Had Judas not betrayed Jesus, perhaps the prophets would have written something else. (Predicting the future is a form of backwards causation.)

    4. Yes.

    Concerning Abraham, I would not say that "God cannot know everything in advance". Rather, I say that God DOES know everything in advance, including what Abraham did, but that if, counterfactually, God had not tested Abraham, there might have been no fact of the matter concerning what Abraham "would" do, since Abraham would never have been placed in the situation to decide.

    Omniscience implies that God know anything which is real in any way, but if there is no fact concerning a particular matter, then there is nothing for God to know. For this reason I reject the Molinist idea that God knows free counterfactuals. Of course Scripture contains some examples of God talking about what people would have done had things been different, but I think these are a round-about way of talking about people's actual dispositions in the real world (similar to how we humans use counterfactuals).

    Of course, when God talks about counterfactuals concerning what HE would have done, then that might be different since God has the wisdom to forsee all possible circumstances, and he could, if he wanted to, decide what he would have done in each of them (a sort of reverse Molinisim).

  34. TY says:

    Thank you Dr Wall. May I squeeze in one question in what is one of your longest blog posts. Since God knew what Adolph Hitler and similar characters would do, why did God not abort their fetuses than allowing them to be born and then grow up to be mass killers? I heard explanations to the effect that God allowed these terrible things to happen to serve as lessons, but I wonder if this is a cop out because history is so full of repeated bloody acts but human beings still haven't learned.

    I realise if I continue along this line on inquiry I should be asking why God did not create a perfect and peaceful world, but clearly conflicts with the notion of free will and I'm in the Arminian-Wesleyan camp.

    Still I wonder why in certain exceptional circumstances, such as the holocaust and other germicides, God appears to NOT want to intervene!.

    Great post.

  35. Sorry to be taking so long in getting a reply back to you, Aron. But you did give a long reply (mine may be even longer) and some obligations have come up that are pressuring me for immediate attention. I hope I’ll have some comments in a day or so. Maybe someone else has something to contribute in the meantime.

    Ty,
    I do have time to make a short comment concerning my view as to why God didn’t have Hitler miscarried before he was born. (I know you were asking Aron for his view, and he has given some answers already, but I think it would be interesting to see if his view would differ greatly from mine.) Whether or not God knew in advance what Hitler would do, he knew that the holocaust must occur. (If I had enough space, I’d qualify my statement that the holocaust had to occur.) So God would have chosen someone else who was just as evil to take Hitler’s place had Hitler not so given himself over to evil as to be chosen to carry out the holocaust. The horror of the holocaust could have been far less had believers intervened by prayer and intercession; had Christians and non-Christians fulfilled their moral obligations to hide and protect and aid the Jews and others who were being hunted down; had we all done what we could have to stop that evil. The Cory and Casper ten Booms of the world did make the suffering of the holocaust far less. Just think how much less suffering there would have been had all believers done what God asked them to do. Whether God has tenseless knowledge or tensed foreknowledge or lacks knowledge of future free choices, God still needs (or needed) to know how we would respond to such evils and we need to be people who make those free choices. Even with a block view of space-time which God sees as a whole, God needed to see what our free moral choices would be in these situations.

    Also, God needed to know how people would respond to the suffering. We must all be tested. Some are given greater suffering than others because God knows what we can take. All undeserved suffering will be compensated, so God cannot be accused of evil. But there is a reason for the suffering: God needs to know if we will remain committed to the God who yet deserves our commitment, whether in the face of suffering or not. This testing applies to non-theist as well as theists. Even the atheist must ask him or herself, “If there is a God who deserves my commitment, will I acknowledge that commitment even in the face of suffering?” This, God wants to know. Would we rather have a painless world in which God never finds out whether we will stand for him or not? Would we rather have a world in which we will never be able to say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him”?

    See, even what I intended to be a short answer turned out to be long. I guess the answer to a question like this can hardly be reduced to a blurb to fit on a bumpersticker.

  36. A says:

    Aron can I ask what is wrong with that use of the holographic principle? If s = a/4 then since entropy almost always increases the universe must almost always expand. Perhaps this is a dodgy version of the hp but I don't know.

    I thought I heard you argue that the entropy decreases when a timelike curve contracts (on scientific American), but it was a while since I read it. Doesnt the same apply to the universe as a whole when you apply the hp to the universe

  37. It’s good to hear the theologian in you coming out a bit more, Aron. Thank you for a very invigorating discussion. And thanks to Ty and anyone else who has participated.

    I’m happy you see some value in a recipient oriented theodicy whatever our view of time and foreknowledge. In my thinking, time and foreknowledge are in comparison secondary issues. Good theodicies and theistic defenses are so greatly needed in the church. I’m much more open to change my view concerning time and foreknowledge.

    We are using some terms fairly interchangeably so I want to first make sure there is no confusion here. We are talking about two views of time: The first is called the A-theory, or tensed time. Only the present is real; the past and future do not exist. The second is called the B-theory, tenseless time, the block view of timespace, or Minkowski or Minkowskian spacetime. All of time—past, present, and future—is complete and actual in this view. In some unperceived way, all of time is occurring now. If you think I am using any of these terms incorrectly, please correct me.

    Unless I say otherwise, all quoted lines or paragraphs will be statements you had made.

    “God is uncreated and immutable, so it is absurd for him to change his own nature in this way by the act of creation.”

    But whether God is immutable is exactly what is in question. I mentioned before that some aspects of God’s being must be unchanging, but the question is whether all must be. Also, I’m not saying that it was by means of God creating that he changed his nature. Rather with the creation God chose to enter time. God may have entered time prior to the physical creation. Time was likely created prior to the creation of our temporal universe by bringing about change in God’s own being.

    Let me illustrate one way I think God changes without his underlying nature changing. God’s absolute goodness expresses itself primarily in love but also secondarily in mercy and justice. The Israelite rulers and higher classes oppressed the poor by excessively taxing them until they had to sell themselves into slavery. At other times they would not allow their Israelite slaves their freedom after their six years of service was over. Sins like these were so horrible in God’s sight that they brought out God’s wrath. God’s wrath followed from his justice. When God’s judgment was completed, God again had mercy on his people. (His anger lasts for a moment but his mercy is forever.) In fact, God’s love was never absent, even when he was angry with his people. God changes by expressing either wrath or mercy but God’s underlying nature of goodness and love is unchanged. These secondary expressions of mercy or justice follow in response to our actions in time. Thus God changes in time while his underlying nature does not.

    Jaroslav Pelikan (I’m reading his The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition) makes a point about the impassibility of God. Pretty much as soon as we have record of the Fathers talking about it, the church accepted this doctrine fairly completely. But they did so, he says, not because scripture taught it but rather because of Greek philosophical influences.

    “This of course [God changing his nature] presupposes the A-theory of time, . . .”

    Don’t you think that if God could change in any way, he could do it given a B-theory of time as well? God could just create the block time-space and enter the time dimension without entering the spacial dimension (as I mentioned last time).

    “The A-theory of time . . . is itself logically contradictory and absurd, since conceptually all things must either exist or not exist. ‘To exist in the future’ must either be a type of existence (in which case B-theory is true) or a type of nonexistence (in which case the present is all that is real).”

    The A-theory does face the difficulty of saying that both the past and the future, in different ways for each, both do not exist, but their nonexistence is not quite the same as something which never has existed or will exist. But might this problem be rather a problem concerning our ability to understand and/or to verbalize our condition? The problem with the B-theory is that it says that past and future things exist “now” in the same way that present things exist. And this contradicts our experience. A-theory says that only the immediate present is real and B says that this awareness is an illusion. But our immediate experience of the present and nothing other than the present is undeniable. B-theory needs to attempt to account for this and I don’t think it does. C. S. Lewis mentioned one of his own misgivings with this view: Are we to believe that Jesus has and will for the endless ages be enduring the agonies of the Passion?

    “You can't tell that a theologian is ‘leading’ unless he's been dead for at least a hundred years.”

    I’m thinking of “leading” as a more relative term. That is to say Craig is more esteemed by the contemporary Evangelical church. In fact, he may not even match up to other contemporaries who are specialists as theologians. Craig is a very good philosopher more than a theologian. But he is enough of a theologian that he can develop and present his own distinct position and defend it very well.

    “[The part of God which changes] would be an exalted created being.”

    I just don’t see why you think that, Aron. It isn’t truly created because it is not other than God. God simply made a part of his being to be different than it was before.

    “This statement [that every human in the Bible assumed God was in time] is much too broad, and I don't see how you could possibly know it simply from the fact that the apostles and prophets used temporal language (like human beings always do). But you are probably right about most of them.”

    But because they spoke this way, this should be our prima facie assumption. We should question it only once we have reason to question it and to the degree we have reason to question it. We do see a philosophical need for God to be outside of time (to understand God’s nature via an answer to Augustine’s question, What was God doing before he created?). But we do not need God to be outside of time with the creation, we only need this sans creation. By keeping God in time where we can do so, we keep closer to the mindset of the biblical writers.

    “For God to exist in just one reference frame, and thus to choose to relate to the universe in a way that breaks this symmetry, seems ugly and artificial to me as a physicist.”

    So you admit that there is a way to do it. I may not understand the scientific issue sufficiently and that may be what keeps me from seeing it as ugly. I don’t even understand why it might be said to break any symmetry.

    “If, preserving this symmetry, God chooses to simultaneously exist in all possible reference frames, then at any given spacetime point there would be multiple versions of God, each with different sets of knowledge.”

    But we don’t really need to understand that God exists there. Even omnipresence does not necessarily mean that God is actually located in all physical locations. God could just be aware of everything in each different frame of reference, including time and how time is proceeding in that frame. If omnipresence does mean that God is actually present in all locations but is in no way divided, why couldn’t God be present in all reference frames but not divided? Why might God not have the knowledge of all of the many different reference frames? Doesn’t Psalm 90 indicate that God could know the time of different reference frames?

    “This [Ps 139.16] is just the most vivid of many passages which talk about God knowing a prophet or some other person before they were formed.”

    Concerning my questioning of the NIV reading of this text, David may be saying that it is his unformed substance, his embryo, which was written in the book (see the LEX). Still, it looks as though it is at least saying that the writer’s days were fashioned for him “when as yet there was not one of them” (NASB). It says nothing about the days being fashioned in detail or inalterably. It could mean that God intended each person’s days would contain, for each respectively, certain kinds of choices, certain kinds of temptations, certain types of life situations. It certainly does not say that God knows the moral or salvific decisions that will be made. And it is entirely possible that one’s “fashioned” days might be altered according to those moral decisions. This is indeed beautiful poetic literature. But we know that poetic literature should not be read in quite the same way as other literature. For example, it should not be taken literally like an historical narrative even if it did clearly state that each free choice was completely foreknown.

    “Of course God could have forced Cyrus' parents to name him that (and forced Peter to deny him, etc.). But I thought the point of this exercise was to preserve free will.”

    In one of your earlier blogs you mentioned that you think there are far fewer human free choices in the world than are usually assumed, and I agreed with you. If we think about it a bit we should realize that most of our routine everyday choices occur as the result of a kind of mental autopilot. Or think about even major decisions we face. If I visit the Grand Canyon and stand by a steep ledge, I don’t have to fear that I will freely choose to jump. Most of my choices are set and determined by decisions I’ve made long ago or they never even arise in my mind as a decision to be made. So I would say that though there are important moral and salvific decisions which we all must freely make, there are many others, even moral decisions, which we do not freely decide. I discussed some scenarios earlier (maybe in my last comments) which would suggest ways this might occur.

    My Calvinist friends (if I have any left after some of my comments) will explain very reasonably and persuasively how one’s choices may seem to be free but are actually determined by even a very slight unbalance of pros and cons in one’s mind, an unbalance God could easily plant in our thoughts. They talk about the chosen and the unchosen not being forced or dragged to do God’s will, whether it be to choose damnation or salvation, but how they seem to willingly do exactly what God desires them to do. Of course I don’t agree with them about God controlling everything, but I do understand how it would be very easy for God to control our every choice without any sense of coercion. Cyrus’ parents (or whatever appropriate court or royal authority was appointed this task) could have easily been made to name the heir Cyrus.

    “But even before that, [before Pharaoh hardened his heart before God hardened it] God predicts that he will harden Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 4:21), so your solution doesn't work unless you accept divine foreknowledge.”

    Unless Pharaoh first hardened his heart in some other ways (h1) which determined his future self-hardening (h2). That prior self-hardening (h1) could have been what God saw (not foresaw) that allowed God to say he, God, would, as a result of Pharaoh’s choice, eventually harden his heart (h3). My point would be that these passages cannot be used to show the mechanism God uses to produce the final hardening (h3). From these passages alone, we don’t know if it was God’s decision alone, God foreseeing Pharaoh’s future choice (h2), or a prior decision by Pharaoh (h1) which produced the final irresistible hardening (h3).

    Having said that, I could still admit that it was God who first hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that the self-hardening was entirely God’s act and not Pharaoh’s. If no free choice was involved on Pharaoh’s part, then God could easily know what Pharaoh would later do. But in this case, I would simply say that Pharaoh was not morally responsible for his act. God was merely using Pharaoh to bring about a particular course in history. The main purpose was to move the Israelites to the land God had promised. Another purpose was to punish the people and leaders of Egypt who had enslaved the Israelites.

    I admit that the hardening-of-Pharaoh’s-heart passages are not good proof-texts. So I shouldn’t have used it as a proof text. But I think this was a good illustration of the idea I was trying to portray, that one’s prior free moral choices may determine one’s later moral choices.

    “It seems highly implausible that Jesus would have chosen Judas as an apostle, thus aggravating his damnation ("It would be better for that man if he had never been born"), if he was already irredeemably corrupt at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.”

    At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples that one of the twelve would betray him and he eventually indicated exactly who would do it (Mk 14.18-21, Jn 13.21-30). He even told Judas that he was the one (Mt 26.24-25).

    Judas wasn’t necessarily irredeemably corrupt at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Your argument has force only if Jesus never said this to Judas at any previous time in which it was still possible for Judas to refrain from betraying Jesus. It may be that Judas could then have set his will not to commit this kind of evil and he could have taken other steps to gain the spiritual strength not to (perhaps) become so attached to money or (perhaps) to demand a military messiah. Had Judas taken the proper steps, God would have chosen someone else to betray Jesus. By the time of the Last Supper, Judas was unable to choose otherwise. Jesus’ statement then, that it would be better had he never been born, was then no longer a warning but a description of God’s judgment upon Judas.

    I have no evidence that Jesus did say this to Judas before it was too late and so I never should have given this biblical reference as evidence for my claim. But the possibility that Jesus did do so shows that you cannot use this example as evidence for foreknowledge of the outcome of free choices. A better example I should have used was Jesus’ prediction to Peter that he would deny Jesus.

    In fact, I even take this prophecy as conditional. In the garden before Jesus was arrested, Jesus told him to pray lest he enter temptation. He might have been telling Peter that he had a chance that he would not deny him. Had Peter earnestly called upon God for help, I think Jesus would have come back and told him that God had heard his prayer and that now Peter will be given the strength not to deny him. If I’m wrong, then it appears that Peter’s will was so weakened by the time Jesus told him he would deny him that he was by then no longer able to do otherwise.

    “Surely he [Judas] must have had some apostolic gifts which would have suited him for the role he was called for. It seems to minimize the tragedy of the situation to make Judas' final fatal choice have nothing to do with his reaction to Jesus' ministry.”

    If Judas made his final morally determining decisions while a disciple of Jesus, he may indeed have had apostolic gifts and could have benefited from Jesus’ teachings. Those teachings likely influenced him to keep him from becoming the one who would betray Jesus. But evidently those influences were not enough to alter his final decision or decisions which bound him. So Judas’ “final fatal choice” to give himself over to certain sins did (under this scenario) have much “to do with his reaction to Jesus’ ministry.”

    “Jesus clearly taught that his betrayal by one of the Twelve was prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures, which were written before Judas was born.”

    Jesus only said that it was written that he, Jesus, would die (Mk 14.21, //Mt 26.24, Lk 22.22) probably referring primarily to Isaiah 53. He never said it was prophesied that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve or even that he would be betrayed. Peter said David prophesied concerning Judas concerning his loss (Ac 1.16, 20 referring to Ps 69.25; 109.8) but he does not say that the scripture said the betrayer would be one of the twelve or would be a particular person. Psalm 41.9 may be a prophecy of the betrayal and indicate that someone close to Jesus would betray him. But certainly nothing in any of the prophecies indicates that it had to be a particular person. If Judas’ final morally determining decisions were made while he was Jesus’ disciple, this would leave plenty of time for someone else to have been selected to betray Jesus had Judas not failed the tests.

    “If God predestines an individual to play a particular role before the foundation of the world, then he must foreknow something about that individual.”

    Yes, God would know what kind of person he will be creating; God will know this person’s temperament under given conditions. It still does not follow that God knows what they will freely choose. You also bring up Gal 1.15. Paul was called and set apart from birth but not necessarily irresistibly. Also, the context of this passage indicates that this calling may only be referring to the special task Paul was called to.

    “So if a man freely commits adultery with a woman and she bears a child, you think that the same person would have been born to different parents if they had remained chaste?”

    Yes.

    “Our body is an essential part of who we are (hence the Incarnation and the General Resurrection) and it is not irrelevant to the formation of the soul, or our personal identity.”

    The soul constitutes the essential person. When it is united with a body, that may in some nonessential ways influence the nature of the person, but I still don’t see that a soul might not be given to any body God desires. The Jewish view of the resurrection did tie the resurrected body to the body which died. The corruptible puts on incorruptibility. Still, this does not show that each person must have a particular body to be that particular person. From the intertestamental period when so many were martyred and the doctrine of the resurrection began to develop, Jewish thought recognized that a body could be so completely destroyed that God could resurrect a person with a completely new body. Again, if you think we will have some kind of intermediate body before the general resurrection, that body does not have any connection with the earthly body since the earthly body is still on earth. Wouldn’t this also suggest that God can place us into any body God desires?

    I don’t see why you think of this as a Gnostic view. More importantly, I wonder what scriptural support you would want to give for your claims. I can’t think of any. Of course, I have none for my view either. But if this is something scripture does not speak of, why should one view have precedence over another.

    “This view preserves personal freedom only at the price of saying that human freedom makes no difference to the most important ‘spiritual’ matters in life.”

    I take it that you are speaking about my general claim that some spiritual and moral decisions some of us make are not free but are determined by our prior moral and spiritual choices. Here I would say that our most important moral and spiritual decisions are sometimes determined by a wider context of free moral and spiritual decisions we make. And this does not apply to everyone. Some may make their salvific decision quite independently and sometimes in full contradiction to their past decisions. The most morally corrupt person can be given the power to freely choose when God’s Spirit moves upon that person’s heart.

    “Similarly, there are many passages, especially in the Old Testament, which speak as though God had body parts (face, arms, hands, eyes, ears—more deception?) while those which seem to imply God has no body are very few in number.”

    For many of these passages it is very clear that these are poetic or metaphorical anthropomorphisms. The original readers or listeners would never have taken many of these statements to be literal. And good hermeneutics cannot be a matter of counting proof texts. What matters is finding the more reasonable interpretation of each passage, admitting weaker interpretations for each (when there are some), and comparing the whole. I agree that philosophical reasoning does come into play and this should be a solid part of comparing scripture with scripture. The question of whether God has a physical body with parts is best resolved by exactly this method.

    When Moses saw God’s back while he was on the mountain, he may have actually believed God had a physical body. Looking at this incident in the light of the rest of scripture, we now think this was likely a theophany. At Moses’ death, the error was probably corrected. But until then, God had no good reason to correct this misunderstanding. Fuller revelation was not to come until later.

    “You also have to deal with passages like . . . John 16:13, Acts 15:28, Matt 18:18, 1 Cor 12 and so on which talk about how the Spirit guides the Church. What you said above is tantamount to saying that the Holy Spirit left the church without guidance immediately following the death of the last apostle.”

    John 16.13 is speaking specifically to the apostles. They are the ones whom the Spirit will “guide into all truth” by later reminding them of Jesus’ teachings and revealing new truth they were previously not yet ready to receive. Acts 15.28, James giving his ruling concerning the issue of how Gentiles are to be received in the church, is another example of the above. Matthew 18.18, the authority of the apostles to bind, is another good example of the authority given the apostles alone.

    First Corinthians 12 speaks of the variety of spiritual gifts. Some such gifts do give new information to believers, and not just the first apostles. I do believe such gifts are for our age as much as for any age in the church. But notice that when such information is purportedly given, it should be tested (1 Cor 14.29, Deut 13, 18). A prophecy or similarly inspired information may eventually be judged to be true, but even then it should be distinguished from the information we were given by Jesus and his apostles. So I don’t think the Holy Spirit left the church without guidance after the death of the apostles. If, say, a prophecy was given during the time of the Montanists, if it was preserved and passed all of the tests for a prophecy, and if we had evidence for those tests today, then we should accept it as true. That does not mean we should accord it the status of scripture. Whenever we confront such prophecies, we should test them (to the extent of our ability and easy access to the relevant information).

    No confessions, creeds, or counsels provide such evidence. They should be strongly accepted only as they summarize or repeat clear scriptural teaching. After much evaluation one may accept more tentatively a creedal statement which is not clearly stated in scripture.

    “Unless the post-apostolic church was guided by the Holy Spirit to some extent, I don't see why we should trust their decisions about which books belong in the canon of Scripture.”

    Shouldn’t we determine which books should be in scripture because of the historical evidence? Isn’t that what the Fathers did? I’m not denying that believers should trust the Holy Spirit, but the Fathers did not do this in such cases in the absence of historical evidence. They didn’t have a number of books in front of them which they knew nothing about and then merely asked God which ones to accept. From the earliest writings we have we know that some books were never disputed; their historical evidence was too strong and their canonicity has never essentially been in question. We aren’t concerned about them. But there were some disputed books that fit your criticism.

    Just before the turn of the fifth century at the councils of Carthage and Hippo, the final content of the NT was set. Before that, the lists and discussions of canonical books sometimes left out some books as questionable which are now accepted as canonical. Did the Holy Spirit only speak to those at Carthage and not to those earlier Christians who questioned some of these books? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Christians today should evaluate the historical evidence for themselves and possibly question or even reject some books if they do not have sufficient backing.

    When we accept without question the teaching of an authority like a counsel, creed, confession, or church Father; or a theologian like Augustine, Luther, or Aquinas; or an ex cathedra papal statement; we fail the scriptural mandate to test all things; we fall to the error of trusting in the teachings or tradition of man.

    I made the statement that “the entire point of a testing for Abraham hardly seems needed if God already knew.” To this you responded, “If God had not tested Abraham, there would have been no fact of the matter concerning whether Abraham would have obeyed. And thus God would not have known.”

    I do see what you are saying, but I think that the larger point I was trying to get at was that God would never have said, “Now I know you fear God.” God would have just said something like, “I knew you would do this and that you fear me and therefore I will bless you.”

    “Once again, I note that you seem to be a Calvinist whenever the rubber actually meets the road in the Scriptures. My position gives Pilate free will; yours does not.”

    No, if my position were Calvinistic, I would say that Pilate or Caiaphas never had any free choice. The fact that Pilate made moral choices earlier in his life is what makes all the difference in the world. One may be bound by an earlier free moral choice which determines one’s later unfree actions.

    It is not so much that I want to get rid of free choice more than you do, it is rather that I think that free will is only needed (and it definitely is needed) at certain points in human and creaturely experience. When it is not needed, we should not assume that God must take steps to make sure that it is there. And when a good explanation for a theological and philosophical problem involves a removal of free will in some situations, that may be sufficient reason to posit free will as missing there.

    Just as by some people’s continual sinning, God can give them “over in the sinful desires of their hearts” and they can exchange “the truth of God for a lie” (Rm 1.24, 25), so others can likewise be bound to sins because of their prior actions.

    “If Pilate had chosen not to condemn Jesus, I assume that redemption would nevertheless have occurred in some other way (and would also have been prophesied to occur in that different way).”

    You’re advocating a kind of backward causation as you’ve mentioned elsewhere. So there is a causal priority or sequence though you put God’s actions outside of time and you make all other causal processes in the world tenseless. So the block world God looks down on is at once complete and tenseless and is also one with which God is timelessly interacting. God’s actions into this world are a part of this world. To avoid the image of God looking at himself acting in the world, perhaps we could say God is watching this tenseless world while also timelessly acting in the world where there is a need for God to act. God sees the whole tenseless world which includes God’s acts in this world.

    After spending more time trying to think out your explanation, I have to admit that I can no longer see that your tenseless view leads to the absurdities I have mentioned previously. It may still be self-contradictory in ways which I am simply unable to see, and I do still suspect that this might be the case.

    But the B view of time is so extremely counterintuitive that I just cannot accept it. And it seems that Polkinghorne has shown that it is not necessary to accept a block view of time given general or special relativity. Possibly I did not adequately follow Isham’s counterarguments. He was somewhat difficult to hear or understand and some of his claims may have required more scientific background than I possess. After having heard the Polkinghorne/Isham dialogue, would you be willing to present an argument for Minkowski space-time? If you have done something like this previously, please don’t repeat your argument but do point us to the proper page or pages on your website.

    Now since it is clear that I’m not going to convince you that a tensed view of time of correct, I wonder if you couldn’t adopt some of the open theist ideas to your tenseless view. You mention that God works out his plans for history like a master Go player. This sounds strangely similar to the way some open theists talk about God being a master chess player (Boyd may have said this in the Four Views book and Polkinghorne might have said it also). This analogy bother me because it sounds as though it is possible, though only remotely possible, that God might fail to effect his plans.

    If you can have God manipulate history, though in a tenseless world, why not have God manipulate earlier events to remove human free will when it is not needed and when God wants certain events to unfold.

    Why not have Pilate’s childhood or teen years be such that at some point he vows to himself never to do anything that will endanger his anticipated political and military career. Even that may not be needed. Pilate may have grown up assuming and affirming that he should do things he knows are not morally right if his life, or even just his career, depended upon it. It appears likely that had Jesus’ trial occurred even a few years earlier, Pilate would have let Jesus go free. It is likely that Jesus died in 33 since by that time Pilate was under heavy political pressure to do exactly what the Jewish leaders wanted him to do. (Read Harold Hoehner’s fascinating look at the relevant political history of the time in his Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.)

  38. Steve says:

    I have another question Dr. Wall, thanks for your answers and its beautiful articles on this blog. My question is: how likely or unlikely is that there is something like free will? I read that most contemporary philosophers argue libertarianism, I have also seen that there is a point of view Compatibilist. What do you think is the most plausible?

    It seems that those who support the libertarian free will are all dualistic, while a point of view is Compatibilist is a non-reductive materialism of mind.

    What is your opinion on these views of free will?

  39. Luke P says:

    Dr. Wall,

    I thought your post was excellent and I agreed with almost everything in it(which is quite a rare thing).

    I appreciate your affirmation of free will and it sounds like you think it is important. I think that it is essential for moral responsibility. Furthermore, free will must be more than a set of counterfactuals about what we would do.(I know this is not your view) Indeed, such a set of counterfactuals could describe a computer which has no free will at all. Rather, to have free will we must truly have "the ability to do otherwise" in these situations. I am blameworthy for giving into temptation in virtue of the fact that it was morally wrong to do so and I had the ability to do otherwise.

    Now you say that foreknowledge is not at odds with free will but I think it must be with respect to this kind of free will. If I could genuinely choose X or Y then there must be no "fact of the matter", as you say, about which I will choose. Will implies must.

    I understand that you affirm the B theory of time. This is where I think there is a real conflict with free will. The B theory implies that all time is equally real and that the future exists. If the future does exist, as described by the B theory, then all of the facts of the matter are fixed and unchangeable.

  40. Aron Wall says:

    Welcome, A.

    Yes, that is a dodgy use of the holographic principle. For one thing, whatever is the correct theory of quantum gravity should reduce to General Relativity in an appropriate limit, but in GR there is no contradiction with a contracting universe where the thermodynamic arrow of time points to the future (i.e. entropy tends to increase).

    For a second thing, we can't just talk about "areas" in the abstract. There are lots of different possible 2-dimensional surfaces we can identify in space, and each of them has an area. When we talk about entropy increasing with time, we have to select two of these surfaces to compare their areas. There have to be some rules about which surfaces we pick. To just say that the area of any arbitrary surface at time t_1 must be less than the area of any arbitrary surface at time t_2 \gt t_1 isn't a sufficiently precise constraint to be meaningful. Some surfaces at t_2 will have smaller area, and some surfaces will have greater area.

    The thing that does seem to be true is the "Generalized Second Law" which states (classically, ignoring the entropy in Hawking radiation) that the area of a causal horizon is increasing with time. A causal horizon is the boundary of what can be seen by a worldline which lasts infinitely to the future. If the universe were to contract down to a Big Crunch singularity, there would be no such worldine.

    This formulation of a holographic Second Law is not powerful enough to derive what Raatz wants to prove. But formulations which are significantly more powerful have a tendency to be inconsistent.

  41. Aron Wall says:

    Dear TY,

    God knows everything that happens. Thus, when Adolf was born, God knew of the role he would play in the Holocaust. But, God knew this because it was real. Had Adolf never been born, there would have been no fact of the matter regarding what he would do. Therefore, God cannot selectively abort only those fetuses who will grow up to be evil, even though he knows which ones they are, because that would produce a logical contradiction.

    Even if we allow for the Molinist idea that God knows what people would do, this makes a mockery of free will, if the choice is to either do what God wants, or to not exist in the first place.

    Anyway, God has the resources to prevent Holocausts without needing to abort anybody (see the book of Esther for an example). However, he does not always do so. Furthermore, I cannot see why any Christian---whose religion centers around an innocent Jew being shamefully tortured to death---should find God permitting the Holocaust remotely implausible. (Do you know the original meaning of the word "holocaust"?) "For God's gifts and his callings are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). Both the King and his people suffer together:

    For in bringing many sons to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God---all things exist for Him and through Him---should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying:

    `I will proclaim Your name to My brothers;
    I will sing hymns to You in the congregation.'

    Again, `I will trust in Him.' And again, `Here I am with the children God gave Me.'
    (Hebrews 2:10-13)

  42. TY says:

    Thank you Dr Wall.

    I looked up the original meaning of "Holocaust" and I understand the point you make in that specific context. I agree that God would be acting illogically if we argued He created human with free will of "the full-blown libertarian kind", and nevertheless interveed to stop certain actions by certain people. But I wonder: Is God so cnstrauned by logic alone that he might not act "illogically" but mercifully once in while, in "special circumstances". After all, the God of Abraham is also compasionate.

    Thanks for this post, for it has stimulated a lot of good discussion. There is never a dull moment in the Christian jourrney.

  43. Aron Wall says:

    Dennis, David.

    I watched the video, and I still agree with Chris Isham! Perhaps I'll write a post on God and Time soon...

  44. TY says:

    Dr Wall,
    I'm not at all familiar with the understanding of time (past, present, and future) as seen from Newtonian (classical) physics, Special Theory of Relativity, General Theory of Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. I read about Block Theory or Time, A and B theory time and would like to know a whole lot more on what they mean for a Christian's understanding of God (Fundamental Reality) and his omniscience.
    I look forward to the post, God and Time,
    Thanks.

  45. TY says:

    TY
    Forgot to include this link:
    http://www.iep.utm.edu/time/

  46. David says:

    That's great to hear Aron, I'll look forward to it. Thanks.

  47. Seth says:

    Based on what I've read in the comments I believe St Wall's views mirror my own: B Theory of time, God knows the future, we have free will.
    I do want to point out a few things:
    As to how classical Jews viewed God and time I would point out the "Prayer of Joseph" and the texts concerning the ascension of Enoch. In both cases a human born AFTER the Fall of Man becomes an angel that existed BEFORE it. I'm not advocating these works as inspired just pointing out that Classical Jews had more nuanced views on time and shouldn't be pigeon holed into any particular one.
    St Wall already mentioned and discounted such examples but I think David at Keilah (1 Sam 23) should be counted as a possible example of God not only knowing the future but all possible unactualized futures.
    2 Chr 18 could be an example of God knowing the future, preordaining it, but free will agents take part in the process.
    And because there seems to be some confusion: prophecies would be made based on future free choices NOT those choices were unfreely made because of past prophecies.

  48. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for your comments, Seth. (I've corrected your scripture reference to 1 Sam 23.)

    There are indeed several Scriptures in which God talks about what people would have done. Keilah is one of them , another is the counterfactual repentance of the Sodomites described in Matthew 11:23. Molinists would like to use these as proof-texts for their idea that God has "middle knowledge" of free counterfactuals.

    However, there is a serious problem with this argument (besides the usual Grounding Objection to Molinisim) and that is that human beings make counterfactual statements all the time (including about human actions) and nobody claims that we have middle knowledge. When people make counterfactual statements, it is always a roundabout way of saying something about the real, actual world. Since this is the usual meaning of counterfactuals, it is most plausible to interpret counterfactuals of divine knowledge the same way. God knew that the character and current/future plans of the Keilahites were such that, had David entrusted himself to them, with high probability they would have betrayed him. This was a fact about the Keilahites in the actual world.

  49. Seth says:

    I would say I mostly agree with what you're saying. I will say that like all analogies, however, there are divergent points. One is that human minds and understanding are limited while God's is perfect and complete. But even more so human counterfactuals, existing only in the minds of their conceiver, have a very different kind of existence than actual events. However both God's counterfactuals and actual events exist in the mind of God so the distinction becomes somewhat fuzzier.
    Note that I'm not stating that this makes "God knows all possible futures so therefore all possible futures are equally real and/or complete" true. Only that it can't be definitively discarded.
    I'm no fan of the MWI. I think there are many good points against it. But I have to acknowledge points that may argue in its favor and further acknowledge there is no definitive argument against it.
    For the record I'm not a fan of molinism either. Like the MWI I feel, despite the extreme enthusiasm of its proponents, it adds far more and worse problems than it solves.

  50. John says:

    To my primitive mind, this seems to be the most valid argument:

    3. In fact, it is not possible to explain consciousness from nonconscious entities. Therefore, the most fundamental thing in existence is a mind, and we are parts of that mind. Matter is just a delusion which this mind believes in for some unknown reason. (I don't find this view plausible at all, but that's not the point.)

    This is a longstanding view from oriental philosophy, and it intrigues me why you don't find it plausible.

  51. Steve says:

    Aron,

    I have understood that you do not share the molinism, view which asserts That God knows what the creatures would do in each situation. William Lane Craig points out That "without middle knowledge, God would find himself, so to speak, with knowledge of the future but without any logical prior planning of the future." what would be your response to this statement?.

    I think like you that the Classical Arminian view is the most plausible! Thank you for your answers.

  52. Aron Wall says:

    I would say that on the Arminian (non-Molinist) view, God is still free to take into account things that happen in the future, when he decides what to do in the past, so long as he does it in a way that does not lead to any contradictions due to time travel paradoxes. I'm not completely sure how easy or hard it is to avoid such paradoxes, but since there do indeed appear to be prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years later, apparently God was clever enough to find a way to avoid them.

    I know that it is logically possible to have a system of free choices which cannot be placed in any temporal sequence (such that "future" choices only depend on "past" choices) since I designed a consistent mathematical model along those lines when I was in college. Perhaps I'll blog about it sometime.

  53. Kevin says:

    Dennis Jensen says:

    "You mention that God works out his plans for history like a master Go player. This sounds strangely similar to the way some open theists talk about God being a master chess player (Boyd may have said this in the Four Views book and Polkinghorne might have said it also). This analogy bother me because it sounds as though it is possible, though only remotely possible, that God might fail to effect his plans."

    Aron, I wonder what is your opinion about this comment from Dennis Jensen, which you did not answer, thanks.

  54. Aron Wall says:

    Kevin,
    I didn't answer the huge comment from St. Dennis because it was huge, and because I was hoping to cover the territory in my (currently on hold) series on God and Time.

    You can find passages in Scripture where God kvetches that he had great plans for his people which were thwarted by rebellion. (You can also find passages where he predicts in advance that this will occur.) So I don't at all accept the Calvinist idea that God's grace is irresistible. If the concern is that God's ultimate plans for history will be thwarted (in a worse way than some people being eternally lost, which seems to be actual and not just possible) then if God chooses to have his plans depend on some human beings eventually freely choosing to do certain things, then it seems in principle he could lose whatever game he is choosing to play. But if the probability is vanishingly small, then I'm not sure this is relevant.

    Especially if God knows the future and can assure us that this will not, in fact, happen. Openness certainly doesn't seem to help with this problem!

  55. Philip Wainwright says:

    I'd be interest in your comment on this paper by Max Tegmark at http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.1219.

    The abstract is:
    We examine the hypothesis that consciousness can be understood as a state of matter, "perceptronium", with distinctive information processing abilities. We explore five basic principles that may distinguish conscious matter from other physical systems such as solids, liquids and gases: the information, integration, independence, dynamics and utility principles. If such principles can identify conscious entities, then they can help solve the quantum factorization problem: why do conscious observers like us perceive the particular Hilbert space factorization corresponding to classical space (rather than Fourier space, say), and more generally, why do we perceive the world around us as a dynamic hierarchy of objects that are strongly integrated and relatively independent? Tensor factorization of matrices is found to play a central role, and our technical results include a theorem about Hamiltonian separability (defined using Hilbert-Schmidt superoperators) being maximized in the energy eigenbasis. Our approach generalizes Giulio Tononi's integrated information framework for neural-network-based consciousness to arbitrary quantum systems, and we find interesting links to error-correcting codes, condensed matter criticality, and the Quantum Darwinism program, as well as an interesting connection between the emergence of consciousness and the emergence of time.

  56. Aron Wall says:

    Philip,
    Wow! Judging from the abstract, Tegmark doesn't even seem to be trying not to be mistaken for a crackpot, anymore.

    However, the following can be said in his defence: at least he knows that the intepretation of QM and consciousness are extremely hard problems, and he isn't pretending that he's solved everything. He's a very smart guy, albeit one who has proposed some really wild and strange ideas (e.g. that all mathematical structures exist physically.)

    I haven't read the whole article, but I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this paper shouldn't really be classified as crackpot, just very very very speculative. (I'm not saying the mathematical theorems are likely to be wrong, but that's of course different from the theorems being truly relevant to the philosophy of mind.)

  57. Saizer says:

    I have a few objections to this article.

    My first objection is that there is nothing illogical with defining consciousness as a particular set of functions, as long as the definition is not-self refuting, contradicts empirical data, or has any other linguistical problems.

    To quote you, "but to say that our consciousness follows logically from the known Laws of Physics is also manifestly false when consciousness is properly defined." So then, what is consciousness? In the entire article there is not a single attempt to define consciousness. That is my second objection.

    Thirdly, you said, "It was not my interest in Theology, but trying to make sense out of the Philosophy of Mind, which led me to see the contradiction in a purely materialistic conception of human beings: that we are solely what can be physically measured about the brain."

    Another quote, "But any view which says that all mental quantities can in principle be derived from a purely physical description of the brain, is necessarily incoherent and wrong on philosophical grounds. And no amount of progress in empirical Science can ever prove that which is logically impossible."

    You stated this, but not once in the article do you show that such a materialistic conception is contradictory, or is necessarily incoherent on philosophical grounds. I am curious to know your reason for saying these things, mainly because physicalism is a widespread doctrine within the philosophy community.

  58. Aron Wall says:

    Welcome Saizer,
    I'm not sure why you say that a definition could contradict "empirical data", definitions are stipulations for meanings of words, they aren't true or false in the usual sense, although once we have defined a thing we can ask whether that thing actually exists as described. And you can have a self-contradictory description like a "married bachelor" which couldn't possibly exist.

    Obviously even if a definition is non-self-contradictory, it can still be a bad definition if it fails to capture the intended meaning. For example, there is nothing self-contradictory about defining a "dog" as "a pair of blades joined together at a hinge", but it is clearly the wrong definition by the standards of normal English. (I suppose you could say this falls under the category of "other linguistical problems".)

    I'm sorry you didn't find my article clear about the definition of consciousness, I tried to at least give examples when I said: "This consciousness includes specific qualia or experiences such as blueness or sounds, as well as many other things." Let me be more specific and say that consciousness is defined as the quality of having subjective experiences of various things. For example, when I look at a blue vase it is my own perceptual awareness of the vase which would be a form of consciousness. Anything which you are directly aware of, as oppose to aware by means of some intermediate stages of perception. (E.g. I am not directly aware of the vase, because light has to bounce off of it first to reach my eyes. And I am also not directly aware of things in my eyes, because they don't influence my consciousness unless the information enters my brain. But, at least some of the information in my brain I seem to be directly aware of. For, if there was nothing I was directly aware of, I wouldn't have any experiences at all; I would just be a mindless automaton.)

    Anyway, the problem with defining consciousness as "a particular set of functions" (I'm not sure what you have in mind there) is that you have to show it is in fact the same thing as what people usually mean by consciousness. Consciousness does not refer to the external grunts and noises a system makes from the outside, nor does it refer to neurons firing per se, instead it refers to the propery of subjective awareness. (Have you ever wondered whether insects and frogs and so on have conscious experiences? "What is like to be a bat?", as Nagal put it. This seems like a meaningful question, but it also seems impossible to answer with certainty from any scientific experiment I can imagine.)

    There are multiple possible definitions of physicalism (I didn't use the word myself in the article) but one common approach is roughly as follows: Physicalism is the thesis that all properties of systems supervene on (i.e. are determined by) their physical properties. Physical properties are those which can be logically deduced from the laws of physics, together with the physical state of the system in question.

    In order for physicalism to be true, the existence of consciousness would have to logically follow from the state of our brain (assuming we measured it with sufficient accuracy). Like I said, that's part of the definition of physicalism! You're allowed to use experiment and observation to figure out what are the precise form of the laws of physics, and the neurobiology of the brain, but after that every property has to follow from logical deduction.

    But, it seems clear that even if I could list all of the elementary facts about my neurons in a giant spreadsheet, and make as many logical deductions (not reasonable extrapolations, I mean deductive syllogistic reasoning) as you like, I would never be able to prove I have any subjective awareness, anything it was like to be me. (Or equivalently, I could always add to the spreadsheet the proposition "I have no conscious awareness or experiences of any kind" and this would be compatible with the propositions already listed; no contradiction could be proved from them).

    If you think a contradiction can be proved from them, please explain how. It seems obviously impossible to me. Just like there is no way to prove "Roses are red" from the axioms of Euclidean geometry. The proposition is simply of a radically different kind than anything which exists within the system. No matter how many geometric propositions you prove about polygons you could never get from them a radically new kind of property of shapes, like "color". Yet we know that consciousness does exist because we all experience it. Hence the system is too limited; it leaves part of reality out.

    There are (at least) two ways to violate the rules of logic. One is to make a statement from which a contradiction follows. The other is to assert that something leads to a contradiction when in fact it doesn't. Both are equally bad, since the rules of logic hold by necessity, so if something does not follow from logic it necessarily does not follow. (This is related to the modal logic principle that \Diamond p \to \Box \Diamond p.) The self-contradiction of physicalism is of the latter kind.

    As for the philosophers, a recent survey finds that 56.5% of philosophers accept or lean toward physicalism, which is hardly an overwhelming endorsement. And only 16.0% were willing to endorse the statement that p-zombies (people physically identical to external observation, including any brain state, but with no consciousness) are inconceivable. If you meant, it is surprising that any substantial fraction would accept a thesis which is deductively wrong, I would answer:

    1) everything in philosophy is controversial, including the things that shouldn't be,
    2) some of them may have been defining physicalism in some other way which is less problematic (as I indicated in my article, consciousness may be logically compatible with nonreductionistic forms of materialism),
    3) scientism is part of the current zeitgeist and influences people more than it ought to. In the mid-part of the 20th century, even more obviously absurd ideas like behavioralism and postivism were in vogue, which are now widely believed to be untenable.
    4) there are indeed strong probability arguments that we shouldn't postulate mysterious new phenomena taking place in one particular system (the brain), it's just there are even stronger, deductive arguments from self-evident premises, on the other side. So if you close one eye, the evidence for physicalism can seem very strong. But in the end, deductive arguments trump probability arguments.

  59. Saizer says:

    1) The problem with characterizing consciousness as subjective experience is that the phrase "subjective experience" itself is very vague. Defining consciousness this way is akin to the phrase "gender identity," both have definitions, but the definitions themselves are not meaningful, in the sense that they are very vague. It is nonetheless true (or at least in my experience) that when people use the term "consciousness," they are referring to subjective experience. But doing this is problematic, as I have explained above. Yet, I feel that bringing this up is unfair, because I only seemed to be asking for what you defined consciousness to be.

    2) It seems to me that it is logically fallacious to argue that subjective experience cannot be deduced from physical principles just because it hasn't been done before, or that it just seems absurd. You basically said that it is absurd because the conclusion would be radically different from the first premises, but that is not a good argument. I say that it is not a good argument because it is mainly based on a person's intuition, not on rigorous logical principles. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that it is absurd, but to claim that something is impossible based on one's intuition is something else, I think.

    3) I am mostly interested in why you think that physicalism is self-contradictory. You basically said in your 3rd to last paragraph that it commits the contradiction of saying that something is a contradiction when in fact it is not. I think I sort of understand why you think it is a contradiction then. Let me write it out in argument form, and you can then tell me if my reasoning follows your own idea about how physicalism is contradictory.

    P1: Physicalism can only be true, if it is necessarily true.
    P2: If physicalism is necessarily true, then it would be a contradiction to deny it.
    P3: The negation of physicalism is in at least 1 possible world.
    P4: If something is conceivable, then it is possible.
    P5: It is not a contradiction to deny physicalism.
    P6: Physicalism is not necessarily true.
    P7: Therefore, physicalism cannot be true.

    If I can assert without contradiction that physicalism is false, then that means it is not possible to deduce mental states from physical properties, right? Please tell me if my reasoning is correct.

  60. Aron Wall says:

    Saizer,
    Thanks for your continued push-back, it's a very valuable service to make sure I'm expressing things clearly!

    1) I'm not sure if the problem is that the term "consciousness" is hard to define because it is ambiguous what it refers to. Rather, the problem is that it refers to something which is so basic that we can't really define it in terms of other things, we just have to gesture at it and presume that, because the person we are speaking to is a human being, they will understand what we mean. For example, I can define anxiety as "well you know that feeling you get in your stomach when you are uncertain about the outcome of something important to you", and this isn't really a good definition from the logical point of view but if you are a fellow human being you will know exactly what I mean.

    In a way, consciousness is easier to define than other mental constructs, because it literally refers to every single experience we have---as long as it is not a matter of indirect deduction, e.g. if I perceive an object, consciousness refers to how the feeling I get in my mind when I sense it, not to the external object that I postulate exists in order to explain why I get that sensation. For example, "red light" in the sense of 650 nm light is a very different thing from "red light" in the sense of the vivid color I perceive in my visual field after my eyes and brain have processed it and (somehow, mysteriously) I become aware of it. It is the latter kind of thing which "qualia" refers to. In the case of a color-blind person, the same wavelength of light may hit their eyes but the resulting experience will be quite different.

    Now, this does not necessarily mean there is NO uncertainty about the contents of our experience, I guess one could imagine edge cases like dim lights or background noises which I couldn't necessarily tell you whether it rose to the level of conscious perception or not. But as a general rule, when we experience something we know we are experiencing it; it is not a matter of deduction but of immediate awareness.

    A complementary approach is to say that conscious experiences must exist because our other concepts presuppose it. For example, consider the scientific method in which we study the world by performing experiments on some physical object. Well the sine non qua of an experiment is that the results of manipulating the object being tested must result in an outcome which is observable. In fact it must be not only observable but observed. Otherwise, nobody learns anything from the experiment. But what does it mean for something to be observed? Nothing other than that the outcome becomes a matter of conscious awareness to some human being. Of course, that person may go on to write up the results in a journal article, but that itself is just a way of getting the outcome to enter the conscious awareness of some other human being. Otherwise there's no point. So without the concept of "consciousness", the concept of "experiment" makes no sense.

    Suppose we have a hard-core positivist who wants to eliminate from his worldview absolutely everything which is unscientific, unmeasurable, unobservable. To many such people it seems like spooky, hard-to-quantify concepts such as the mind/soul should be the first thing on the chopping block. But really consciousness should be the absolute last thing that a hard-core positivist should abandon, because the very nature of his criterion (reject everything which is not observable) requires appeal to consciousness. For consciousness is observable by definition.

    2. I'm not sure that "intuition" is the best word to describe the argument that you can't derive conscious awareness from physics. "Intuition" is a tricky word because philosophers use it to describe rationalizations of radically different strength. My intution that Trump will lose the election is a radically different kind of thing than my "intuition" that two things which are equal to the same are equal to each other. One is a self-evident truth, the other is just a guess.

    My argument is not merely based on the fact that "it hasn't been done before" (although all attempts to do so have in fact been failures), nor is it based merely on a feeling of incongruous suprise (as one would be suprised if one put sand in a box and found that it had hardened into stone), rather it is more similar to arguments from mathematical induction. For example, suppose you start with the number 1 and successively add +2 to it. No matter how many times you do it, you'll never get an odd number, because an odd number plus 2 is still an odd number. Even more obviously, you will never get something that isn't a number at all!

    The difficulty of deriving a conscious, 1st person perspective from impersonal, 3rd person facts is exactly like this. No matter how many conjunctions you take of 3rd person propositions which refer the position and state of unconsicous unfeeling atoms, you will only get a more complicated proposition expressed in impersonal 3rd person terms. The mere process of iterating to get more and more complicated propositions cannot produce something fundamentally new (1st person consciousness), any more than you can get the concept of "justice" by adding together enough numbers in a sufficiently complicated way. True, I haven't tried all the combinations yet, but I'm pretty sure that none of them will work because the sum of any number of numbers is another number.

    Now it may well be the case, that whenever you combine atoms together in a particular configuration, that consciousness inevitably results. But that's different from saying that it follows by analytic necessity, as (the particular form of) physicalism which I am discussing does.

    3. Yes, that's basically a correct statement of my argument, although some minor quibbles are in order:

    a) P1 should be modified to say "is necessarily true, given the physical facts about neurology etc" (since those are clearly empirical matters). In other words, a physicalist might be open to physicalism being contingently false if we found empirical evidence that e.g. ghosts really exist, or if we found somebody who managed to think even though their brain had been removed, or some other weird scenario like that. What they cannot consistently say is that, once you know all the physical facts about the brain, it is still an open question whether it possesses consciousness or not. That is the step which needs to be necessary for physicalism to be true.

    b) As you have stated the argument, premise P4 is actually superfluous. That would change if you replaced "possible world" with "concievable world" in P3.

    c) There are different kinds of necessity/possibility, and it is important to clarify that we are here referring to conceptual/logical necessity (as indicated in P4). There is a distinct notion of "metaphysical necessity", which is not at stake here.

  61. Saizer says:

    1) You said, 'I'm not sure if the problem is that the term "consciousness" is hard to define because it is ambiguous what it refers to. Rather, the problem is that it refers to something which is so basic that we can't really define it in terms of other things, we just have to gesture at it and presume that, because the person we are speaking to is a human being, they will understand what we mean.'

    But, what about mass? Mass is a very basic physical property, yet it is not difficult to define it (I am talking about the mass referred to in physics, and chemistry). Mass is the measure of resistance to acceleration. Mass is considered a fundamental quantity in physics, yet it is easy to define, so I do not think that fundamental = hard to define.

    2) You then say, 'A complementary approach is to say that conscious experiences must exist because our other concepts presuppose it. For example, consider the scientific method in which we study the world by performing experiments on some physical object. Well the sine non qua of an experiment is that the results of manipulating the object being tested must result in an outcome which is observable. In fact it must be not only observable but observed. Otherwise, nobody learns anything from the experiment. But what does it mean for something to be observed? Nothing other than that the outcome becomes a matter of conscious awareness to some human being. Of course, that person may go on to write up the results in a journal article, but that itself is just a way of getting the outcome to enter the conscious awareness of some other human being. Otherwise there's no point. So without the concept of "consciousness", the concept of "experiment" makes no sense.'

    I am going to have to disagree with the idea "that conscious experiences must exist because our other concepts presuppose it." You use the scientific method to support this idea, but the word "observable" can easily, and without contradiction, be replaced with the word "detected." When it is replaced by this word, the core principles of the scientific method remain the same. I think it is possible that we are all merely non-conscious computers interacting with "each other."

    3) So it seems that you just have a hard time seeing that mental states can be deduced from physical things such as mass, flux, density, etc. I also am very skeptical of mental states being deduced from physical properties. So maybe a posteriori physicalism would be more plausible? What do you think?

    4) Now, the beef that I have against the argument that I just posted is that it can only be true that a priori physicalism is false, if it is first presupposed that a priori physicalism is false in the first place. So the argument seems to be begging the question. That's the most popular response I have seen against this sort of anti-physicalist argument.

  62. Kevin says:

    Saizer, the Descartes in me feels like simply by using words like 'I' you presuppose consciousness of a sort. You have to be aware (or conscious) of this conclusion in order to draw it. But I am sympathetic with your use of the word "detected" I think it is a good way of thinking of a different alternative. I suppose we could all be machines programmed to respond to certain "detections" by recording them or drawing conclusions from them etc. But that doesn't seem to be what's going on. Or at least it isn't what's going on when I do an experiment. I'm certain that I'm conscious, but then I can't be certain about any of you guys...

  63. Aron Wall says:

    Saizer,
    1. Of course, I could just ask you what you mean by "resistance", and then when you define that keep asking you questions about that...

    People do argue about whether F = ma is a definition of force or a definition of mass!

    Have you read any Plato? The basic thing you learn from a Socratic dialogue is that when you keep asking questions about something basic and obvious, you eventually realize that you don't know what you're talking about. But this kind of back and forth is hard to do in a blog comment section... in that respect Instant Messaging may be more philosophical...

    Anyway, I did give some definitions of consciousness, at least in terms of synonyms.

    2.

    "I think it is possible that we are all merely non-conscious computers interacting with "each other."

    I don't even know what to say in response to such a doubt of the blatantly obvious. Are you claiming to be a p-zombie? It's true that I do not have any direct access to your consciousness, but I have access to mine, and I know for a fact that I have experiences. You seem like an intelligent person but I have difficulty seeing how somebody could say this in good faith.

    3. I assume that by a posteriori physicalism, you mean something like the physical brain is identical to the mind but the relationship between physical and mental properties must be learned from experience (double meaning intended) rather than deduced logically.

    From a philosophy of mind perspective, I don't really have any strong objections to this. It seems potentially viable, at least as applied to the human brain. Although, I wouldn't accept physicalism as a general proposition because I believe in God, who isn't physical. (And angels, which probably aren't.)

    In the next post of this series I argued that the existence of consciousness makes it probable that the most fundamental reality is like a mind, but I don't claim that this deduction to Theism is a matter of logical certainty; just that it's highly suggestive.

    4.
    I don't think so. It could be question begging if I were talking about metaphysical impossibility (for which your P4, conceivability implies possibility, is a highly controversial proposition, which I don't believe.) But logical impossibility is defined constructively as everything which contradicts the rules of logic acting the definition of the concepts in question. By default, everything is logically possible, unless it is equivalent to a contradiction. And in my previous posts I've tried to explain why we have specific good reasons to believe that a brain without consciousness couldn't be equivalent to a contradiction, because there is no rule of logical inference which allows one to transition from objective physical facts to subjective awareness.

  64. Mactoul says:

    "I think it is possible that we are all merely non-conscious computers interacting with "each other." "

    Affirmation of the external reality and of other conscious beings is PRIOR to any (sane) reasoning.

  65. Mactoul says:

    "It is quite inexplicable, if all you know are the physical Laws of Nature, why some of those physical systems should have the additional property of having subjective experiences."

    It is only inexplicable if one starts with a wrong notion of the laws of physics. The Laws of Nature is a broader category. For instance, that a virgin can not conceive is a law of nature, a law of human biology, to be more specific. But it is not a law of physics.

    Now, physics deals only with inanimate bodies. Applied to animate bodies, it is concerned solely with the inanimate aspects of the living bodies. Once one grasps this point, it is highly explicable that the laws of physics have no room for subjective experiences. It could not have been otherwise.

    It is the universalizing the domain of physics, the approach that has been called scientism, that creates the problem of consciousness.

  66. Saizer says:

    Thank you Dr. Aron Wall for answering all my questions, and objections. I hope I did not irritate you.

    I would just like to add that some form of physicalism may be compatible with the existence of a God, as long as such a being is supervenient on physical properties. But I suppose it would still contradict mainstream Christianity, given that it says that God is transcendental.

  67. Aron Wall says:

    Saizer,
    You haven't irritated me, so don't worry about that.

    Regarding a physicalist theism, I see your point but it seems unlikely that such a being would have enough of the standard properties of divinity to be worth calling by the same name of "God". Also the laws of physics (at least as we know them) do not seem to have any way of supporting a universal intelligent mind which is extended throughout the entire universe. So this kind of Pantheism seems rather far-fetched.

    I plan to reply to your comment on the next post later, but it won't be today (I'm pretty tired since it's at the end of a day in China where I'm going to a string theory conference, and I also have a cold...)

  68. Trevor says:

    I realize I'm late to the party, but I think that the whole reason we have a Hard problem of consciousness for physicalism and an interaction problem for dualism (whether property or substance) is because of a deeper problem - the Explanatory Discontinuity Problem. Namely, the idea of mind independent physical necessarily entails that there is a logically explanatory gap in between an object with that property and its relation (either in interaction or in causing) to a mind. Since experience and all notions corresponding to subjectivity have been removed from such an idea, such a thing is logically wholly separated from mind and experience, and can therefore have nothing to do with either on a purely logical basis alone! So we either have to throw out the PSR (that everything has some kind of an explanation, either in its logical necessity or an underlying cause which entails in some sense the effect implicitly in its very notion), or reconceive the relationship between the mind and the physical world. I think the strongest candidate for reconceiving our notions lies in the concept of perception. If we note how such transcends the subject/object gap, we can begin to reconceive of the physical in such a way that consciousness is entailed in the very notion of it. I think that your idea of knowledge for God of an object as actually being the object has relevance here, especially since God's consciousness on your view would be the source of our own.

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