Category Archives: Philosophy

Tribe A, Tribe B, and Morality: An Illustration and A Conversation

There has been a lot of discussion among non-theists regarding how to understand morality.  The subject has long been a vexing one, considering non-theism does not officially have a set of moral codes.  This has troubled them all the more considering that theists often invoke the “moral argument”; namely, that apart from a belief in God, anything goes – or, at a minimum, nothing is inherently right or wrong.  But modern atheists  have been striking back.  Sam Harris has even written a recent book on the subject, defending a god-less morality.  Generally, non-theists appeal to reason, and to cross-cultural norms that match up with one another.  But these arguments only go so far, as we’re about to see.

 An Illustration:

 Tribe A – This tribe is composed of farmers and herders.  They work hard, love their families, and keep to themselves.  Though they might have communication and trade among other tribes, they have no desire to engage them in conflict of any kind.

 Tribe B – This tribe is one of warriors.  They also work hard and love their families.  They trade and communicate with other tribes, but underlying it all is a desire to conquer them.

In the course of time, Tribe B decides to invade Tribe A, even though Tribe A has done nothing to provoke such an attack.  Tribe B levels the village, burning homes, killing the men, raping and forcing into slavery the women and children.  Tribe A is no more.

(There are many questions raised by such an event, but we will deal only with the moral aspects.)

Is what Tribe A did to Tribe B an immoral act?  If so, why?  What is the basis for condemning it?   If Tribe B’s cultural morality allows violent acts against another culture when tribal improvement is to be gained, how can one go against them without invoking a higher standard of morality?  There are only two options here for the one who condemns this act.  Either one must appeal to a transcendent code (i.e., God), or one must consider one’s own morality, or that of one’s culture, as the standard by which others are to be judged.  The former is automatically ruled out for the non-theist.  That leaves the second option.  But taking this approach is also quite problematic.  For it makes one’s own moral code the ultimate standard, making oneself or one’s culture a kind of God on earth.  The non-theist must then answer how he knows that his understanding of moral norms is the correct one.  I’m not aware of any who can do this.

The dynamics of the Tribe B situation effectively nullifies the modern atheistic approach to accounting for morality.  Neither reason, nor universal cultural norms answers the dilemmas raised.  Tribe B can merely answer: “Why should we listen to you?”  There’s not much the non-theist can say it return, but it might go something like what follows.

A Conversation:

Non-theist: What your tribe did to Tribe A was terrible.  I condemn it in the strongest terms.

Tribe B: We don’t agree. Who says it’s wrong anyway?  You?

Non-theist: It’s wrong to kill people and steal things.  Everybody knows that!

Tribe B: We don’t agree.  We have rules for our own tribe that keeps us functioning, but these others tribes . . . we don’t know them, and we care nothing for them.  So if they have things we need, we take them and dispose of the people.  Simple.

Non-theist: How callous!  How can you not see the immorality of killing innocent people!

Tribe B: We’ll ask again: Who says?  We have our cultural norms and you have yours.  Ours allows us to attack other tribes; yours obviously doesn’t.  Our tribe doesn’t give a hoot what other tribes think about morality.  Your culture seems to like imposing your tribal norms on other tribes.  What a strange culture you must live in.

Non-theist: One reason I say it’s wrong is because I don’t want my society to be attacked by barbaric tribes like yours!

Tribe B: So you really don’t care about Tribe A either, do you?  You’re just afraid for your own safety, right?

Non-theist: No, that’s not what I’m saying.  Yes, I don’t want us to be attacked.  But I also believe that attacking any tribe is wrong.

Tribe B: Then give us a reason why it’s wrong.  Your opinion, or your society’s opinion doesn’t matter to us.  Give us a good, solid, reason (opinions and feelings not allowed) why we shouldn’t attack other tribes.

Non-theist: Okay, for one thing, most other tribes agree with us that it is wrong to kill.  Tribes across cultures, across centuries, have concurred.

Tribe B: You are incorrect.  There are – and have been – many, many tribes just like us that condemn killing in their own society, but have no qualms with killing other societies.  Your view only makes sense within a tribe, not tribe to tribe.  Also, even if what you say were true, it doesn’t make our acts good or bad.  It’s still just an opinion, albeit one held by a lot of people – but still just a one viewpoint against another.

Non-theist: Well . . . this kind of behavior is bad for society.

Tribe B: Not for ours.  Tribe A, yeah, but like we said, we didn’t know them and cared nothing for them.

Non-theist: But this kind of violence will lead to a more violent society in yours also.  Violent acts, even against people you don’t know, creates a violent mindset that will likely lead to chaos is your society also.

Tribe B: Who says?  We have rules against violent behavior in our society, and if they are broken, people are punished quite severely.  To be frank, we don’t have a lot of crime, and we get along rather nicely.  Is this the best you can do?  Give another reason.

Non-theist: But I just don’t really feel that killing .  .  .

Tribe B: Then feel away, but we’re done with this conversation.  You’ve convinced us of nothing!

This conversation illustrates the problems non-theists run into when speaking about ethics and morality.  Some are more honest with the implications.  Atheist professor William Provine has stated that if there is no God: “There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans.”  Few non-theists dare to be so blunt, but this is ultimately what their worldview holds.

But I’m not one to defend mere theism.  Just believing God exists doesn’t get one anywhere.  Who is God?  What is he like?  What does he want from me?  Mere theism cannot answer these questions, and so falls into many of the same moral holes as non-theism and agnosticism.  In fact, it is a form of agnosticism.  But God has not left us wondering.  He has revealed himself to us through his word, and his Son, Jesus Christ.  To say the least, what God says is of utmost importance.  He instructs us about what is right and wrong, yes, but also tells us that every person falls far short of these standards.  By the way, this would be my word to Tribe B:

“What you did was wicked in God’s sight.  He is the one who sets standards, not your tribe or any other tribe.  God has said he will judge eternally all those who kill and steal as you have done.  But he is also a God of love, and has given you a way out of this condemnation.  He has sent his one and only Son to take your punishment.  He died in your place, and yet rose again on the third day.  What you must do is trust him, turn from these immoral ways, and follow him.  Walk as he walked.”

This is why true Christianity makes so much sense.  Not only can we unequivocally state that certain behaviors are inherently wrong, we can also go further and speak of redemption and a future restoration.  It is this message that we must proclaim until Jesus returns.

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Filed under Apologetics, Philosophy, Religion, Theology

A Bane of Non-theism: Unalienable Rights

The Declaration of Independence contains these famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

What isn’t always understood by modern ears, is the exact meaning of “unalienable” (identical in meaning to “inalienable” – used interchangeably here).  It’s not a word most Americans use every day.  The word is defined as “that which cannot be given away or taken away.”  When the Founder’s wrote of “unalienable rights” they meant that there are certain rights that cannot be taken away, namely, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equality.  While individuals and governments can certainly take away these things, they cannot take away the rights to those same things.  For example, someone can take away my car by theft, but he cannot take away my rights to that car, since it’s mine.

Think about these rights for a moment.  If these ideas (life, liberty, etc.) are indeed rights, then there is a right-ness to keeping them, and a wrong-ness to taking them away.  It is wrong to unjustly take away someone’s life, for instance.  But by whose authority is it wrong?  And who decided that certain aspects of our existence were actual rights?  Such language implies – no, demands – an authority.  But who or what can bestows upon human beings rights?  Can governments?  Certainly a group of leaders can give rights by the laws they enact and then enforce.  But these are not unalienable.  They are only as good as the paper they are printed on and the remembrance of those who in power who choose to enforce them.  Given rights can be taken away, inherent rights cannot.  Humans can give rights, but cannot instill an inherent (inalienable) right.

What the Founder’s understood is that in order for there to be such a thing as an unalienable right, it must have been bestowed by the Creator.  In other words, there must be a transcendent being who created us with these rights.  In the same vein, any moral code of right and wrong, if it is to be taken as absolute, must transcend us all.  Otherwise, right and wrong, good and evil, are just opinions, varying by culture and individual.  If there is no higher authority, one who is above all human institutions, unalienable rights cannot be established.

So how is this a “bane” for non-theism?  Because they cannot affirm the most fundamental statement of the Declaration.  To accept it as true would be either hypocritical or inconsistent with their belief system.  Yet this sentence is not only one of the most famous in our nation’s history, it is also one of the most important; for it lays the foundation for the rest of the document, as well as the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  This is perhaps the primary reason non-theists have rarely been elected to the Congress, and never to the Presidency – at least those who are openly so.  Most Americans still intuitively understand what our Founding Fathers knew:  God himself gave us our rights, and there is an unspoken fear that those who do not hold the same values will be the ones who initiate the change to take away those same rights.

An important question is often raised.  Can a non-theist be a good president?  The reality is that some atheists might actually make a great Commander-in-Chief, just as many are good fathers, husbands/wives, neighbors, workers, teachers, leaders, etc.   Yet these “good” behaviors are in spite of their belief system (or lack thereof), not the result of it (And, it could be argued, their morality is largely borrowed from Christian principles – the product of growing up in a country still somewhat immersed in Judeo-Christian values).  The central issue in a country built on many freedoms is that the non-theist cannot uphold unalienable rights.  This is a huge problem, considering the country is built around a central principle: freedom.  If  non-theists cannot affirm that certain freedoms are inalienable, then how can they affirm Constitutional rights?  For sake of worldview consistency, those rights would have to be radically reinterpreted.   And that is what most Americans fear.

 

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How Shall We Then COEXIST?

Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t see the popular “COEXIST” bumper sticker gracing the back of somebody’s car.  It usually accompanies other stickers of a similar ilk, but often stands alone.  I can’t help but wonder about the decision process of the folks who apply this sticker to their bumper.  There seems to be a couple of possibilities:

  1. They simply want people of differing views to get along without violence.  There is no pronouncement of religions being all the same, or of some desire to see a one-world religion.  It is primarily a view of peace.
  2. They want a world of peace and understand that the best way to accomplish this is to promote the view that there is no religion that is better than any other.  Not only war, but any kind of verbal disagreement is seen as the enemy.

Before weighing in on which is the more likely true message, here’s how the website http://www.coexistbumpersticker.org describes the meaning of the sticker and its purpose:

The letters that spell coexist use different religious symbols to represent the different religions. Here are the letters used and what religion they are for.

C – This is a crescent moon that represents Islam

O – This is the peace symbol or pagan/Wiccan pentacle.

E – It is the male/female symbol or a scientific equation.

X – This is the Star of David and represents Judaism.

I – It is a pagan/Wiccan symbol used.

S – This is a Chinese yin-yang symbol.

T – The cross is used to represent Christianity.

Now that you have been enlightened to the coexist bumper sticker meaning, you can see how it is designed to promote peace and coexistence among different people, no matter what your religion is.

Many people don’t think that this is a good idea, but if you think about it, when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less. If you believe that coexistence is a good idea, then this could be the right type of sticker for you to add to your vehicle.” (emphasis mine)

While the makers of the bumper sticker promote the message in a non-threatening and winsome way, there’s good reason to think they have in mind a message more in line with (2) than (1).  The line I’ve italicized betrays this: “when people start to coexist with each other, the problems in the world will become less.”  While the statement on the surface seems innocuous enough, when we consider what it takes to accomplish a lessoning of the “problems in the world” we see that it cannot merely refer to physical or verbal fighting – there are many, many other things wrong with the world: hunger, disease, racial inequalities, environmental issues, etc.  With each religion and/or philosophy comes a differing view about how to approach each problem.  And some problems are viewed as worse than others based upon the particular worldview examining it.  For instance, a New Age person might view environmental issues as the most pressing problem of the day, since in that worldview the earth is all we have and we must treat it (or, her, as the case may be) with much care.  On the other hand, some Muslims (and some Christians, I’m sorry to say) don’t really care about these issues at all.  With such divergent worldviews, it’s a pipe dream to imagine universal agreement on fixing the world’s problems.

With that line of reasoning as our base, let’s think about this for a second.  There’s only two ways, theoretically, to bring about peace and harmony among all peoples, and to cure the world’s ills.  In one, the realization must emerge that only one way is correct.  When the masses understand this, harmony will ensue since there will be a common belief system, and with that common worldview will come a common purpose and outlook.  In the second, the realization must emerge that either there is no true religion or philosophy, or that all religions and philosophies lead to the same ultimate goal, or god.  This too leads to a common worldview and purpose and outlook.

Guess which view the COEXIST crowd is most likely to espouse?  The first is intolerable, since having only one way is viewed as narrow and bigoted.  It almost goes without saying that you would be hard pressed to find someone with the COEXIST bumper sticker holding this first view.  The second must be the choice.  But with the second comes the view that true peace and coexistence can only take place once religion is relegated to the realm of non-importance.  After all, it is supposed, any claims on religious truth leads to discord, and disagreement is not harmonious.

Compare the message with the famous song “Imagine” by John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Lennon’s song has become something of an anthem for the New Age worldview.  It lays out in strikingly unambiguous words what it takes to achieve true peace, true oneness.

But the Christian who holds the Bible as the infallible word of God, and Jesus as the only way of salvation, will understand the COEXIST message in a different way.  There will only be true harmony when every knee is bowed to the one true and living God.  Yet this doesn’t mean that we cannot “coexist” in a more biblical sense.  Here are some guidelines:

  1. As Jesus commanded, we should love our neighbor (i.e., everyone – cf. Mt. 5:44-47)
  2. While we may disagree with the views of others, and may even engage in discussion and debate, we must do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15).
  3. We must seek to “live at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18; cf. Heb. 12:14).
  4. We must pray for a peaceful existence with all people (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
  5. We must do good to all people (Gal. 6:10)
  6. We must understand and teach that biblical coexistence is not about differing belief systems; instead, it is about divergent peoples coming together under a common belief, namely that Jesus is the Messiah who died for sins and rose from the dead.

What we must not do is compromise our message.  If Jesus truly is the Messiah, we must preach it – yes, with respect and gentleness – but also with clarity and boldness.  True love for all people demands nothing less.

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Is There Life on Other Planets? Part 1: Theological Considerations

It is next to impossible to look up at the night sky and not be awestruck.  The vastness of our galaxy is immense and the amazing thing is that what we see with our eyes is but a tiny glimpse of our galaxy – meaning we’re only seeing a few thousand of the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way.  And even more incredible is that our galaxy is but one of at least 200 billion other galaxies in the universe.  Now this should – first of all – inspire us to praise the Maker of such an enormous and wondrous creation.  But sometimes we can’t leave it at that.  Taking a cue from our increasingly secular culture, we look at the sky and wonder if we’re really alone in the universe.  After all, if Earth is the only habitation for living things in such a vast universe, “it seems like an awful waste of space.” (spoken in the movie, Contact

So how do we approach this question as Christians?  Is there life out there waiting to be discovered?  Could there be other planets with intelligent beings like us, needing redemption?  And how does the Bible fit into all of this?  Unfortunately, many Christians blindly accept such notions of extraterrestrials without much objection.  However, I will argue that if the Bible is true, and Christ did rise from the dead, and that he will return again one day for his own, then we have good reason to reject any notion of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. 

First, let me distinguish between extraterrestrial life (ET) and extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).  The former is the more wide ranging term, including anything from basic life (such as a single-celled organism) to more advance life forms.  The latter is a more specific form of ET’s and refers to complex creatures capable of rational thought.  The distinction is an important one.  When most people think of extraterrestrials, they really have in mind ETI, largely thanks to Hollywood’s continual protrayal of ET life as humanoid beings (some of which even speak English, strangely enough). 

There are three areas of biblical truth that have a direct bearing on this subject.  One is the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Another is sin itself and how it has affected the universe.  The third area is the Second Coming of Christ.  These are important issues in the Bible, and a correct understanding of each is fundamental to the Christian worldview. 

The Resurrection of Christ and ETI1 

There are many vital biblical truths that Christians embrace, but none is more important than the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection.  So what does this have to do with ETI?  If there are other moral creatures out there, couldn’t the resurrection include all of them as well?  Or have there been multiple deaths and resurrections, as Larry Norman intimated in his song “UFO”: “And if there’s life on other planets, then I’m sure that He must know, and He’s been there once already, and has died to save their souls”? 

The author of Hebrews writes: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”(1:3b).2  When Jesus, fully God and fully man, ascended into heaven, he sat down at the right hand of the Father, where he now rules and intercedes for the saints.  In light of this truth, the problem for ETI’s in need of salvation is how the Son of God, presently in his glorified body and seated in heaven, can redeem them from their sins.  Would he leave his present state and head for another planet in need of him?  If so, then it seems to follow that someone else would take his place as our mediator and high priest.  Yet Scripture states that “he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Heb. 7:24, emphasis mine). But if he could leave, what form would he have to take?  Considering that currently he is the glorified God-man, would he need to leave behind the human body in heaven—like an empty shell—descend as a spirit to another planet, take the form of another creature, live a perfect life, die for the sins of that race, and rise again as a glorified ET?  If so, how would this work in relation to his present task as our mediator considering that now there would be two glorified bodies to deal with?  Some might argue that the Son could remain at God’s right hand yet still go to another planet to redeem those creatures.  The idea is that he could be in more than one place at one time.  But this does nothing to answer the above questions, nor is the questioner demonstrating a biblical or even workable understanding of incarnational theology.  In addition, the thought that the Son could be in heaven interceding for Earth while at the same time on a distant planet (or two!) dying another death seems strange, if not downright bizarre.  There is simply too much theology we know to be true that would have to be overcome. 

But couldn’t there be other ways of redeeming ETI’s?  Should we place a limit on ways God can redeem other sinful creatures?  But we must trust Scripture which declares that God is holy, and that when rebellion and sinfulness occur his justice must be satisfied.  Forgiveness of sins, biblically, cannot occur by a mere wave of the hand and proclamation of expiation.  Rather, there must be an accounting, a death: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22b).  Furthermore, only the eternal Son of God can accomplish such a feat.  For only if God himself enters the scene in the form and likeness of the sinful race, lives a perfect life, and dies in the stead of that race, will his own justice be satisfied and sin truly propitiated (cf. Rom. 3:20–26). 

The Groaning Creation 

There is also a universal aspect to human sin on this earth.  When Adam sinned, all of the created order was changed.  We read in Romans 8:19-22:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 

We know from this scripture and elsewhere that humanity is not what it should be.  Not only do we have this sinful nature permeating our thoughts and actions, but also our bodies’ age and deteriorate rapidly.  We have aches and pains, get illnesses and diseases, and eventually die.  Similarly, the rest of creation experiences this same kind of deterioration.  Just as we groan, desiring the redemption of our bodies, so also does the rest of creation groan.  We can draw from this that the creation, indeed the entire cosmos, was once as we were, free from corruption to decay.  Therefore, just as we will experience a physical transformation to an incorruptible form, so also will the universe.  This too makes Earth central in God’s plan, and makes ETI very unlikely.  

The Second Coming of Christ

So what will happen when the sons of God are finally revealed?  This will occur when Christ returns.  In his second letter, Peter writes:“the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved” (2 Pet. 3:10).  Believers should live holy lives “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Pet. 3:12).  Notice a couple of things:

First, it certainly appears that the Second Coming of our Lord is closely tied in with the burning of the elements and heavenly bodies.  Obviously, this event would have a significant impact upon other planets and their intelligent inhabitants! 

Second, the coming of Jesus is said to be “hastened” by the saints.3 If so, then it certainly seems logical that the Second Coming and the reforming of the Earth, along with the melting of the heavens, is predicated upon the lives and prayers of earthly believers – not Martians, Klingons, or any other assorted ET creatures.  Therefore, the plan of God in bringing redemption to his people is unique to the planet on which we now reside. 

Third, the Second Coming takes place in accordance with God’s plan concerning Earth and its inhabitants.  Not only has the whole created order (included the other galaxies) been brought low by earthly sin, but the very redemption of the created order will take place when Christ returns to Earth.  Though a small planet in the solar system, even tinier in the Milky Way galaxy, and less than a blip within the whole universe, Earth is actually the most significant place in the entire universe.  For it is here, and only here, that the Maker of the cosmos has placed those made in his image. 

In view of these passages from Hebrews, Romans, and 2 Peter, it is clear that all of the created order was “subjected to futility” and will someday be redeemed from its present state of decay.  This decay was brought about by the fall of mankind, and will only be remedied by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which will accomphish the “revealing of the sons of God.”  These verses do not allow for the inclusion of ETI.  

Many other passages and theological issues could be cited4, but these few will suffice to argue against the existence of ETI, the primary problem being that of sin and redemption.  Although it is my conclusion that the existence of ETI is highly unlikely, the existence of ET in general, meaning microbial or even unintelligent animal life, is within the realm of possibility and does not necessarily pose a threat to the Christian faith.  If there is such life, there would be good reasons for its existence, though it is unclear what those purposes could be.

In the next post(s) on this topic, we will discuss scientific reasons ET life (let alone ETI) is unlikely, along with the idea of the universe being “wasted space.” 

References and Notes:

1.  The idea that the resurrected Christ and ETI poses a theological problem was first introduced to me through a classroom lecture at Boyce College by Dr. Hal Ostrander.

2.  Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

3.  Does the idea that believers hasten the Day of the Lord conflict with what Paul said in Athens that the Lord “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31, emphasis mine)?  Not at all.  The Bible presents God as completely sovereign over all things, along with the fact that he controls what will happen through the actions of people.  In other words, God uses means to achieve what he has purposed to occur.  Those means include the prayers of his saints.  The interaction of divine sovereignty and human freedom is a difficult one, but we can be confident that our prayers do in fact change things, and that God does use them to, paradoxically, hasten what he has fixed from all eternity.

 4.  Another interesting issue is Satan’s place in the discussion of ETI.  Would other planets have their own devil, or does Satan rule everywhere—a universal devil?  Hebrews 2:14 states that the devil’s power, death, has been destroyed.  Has it been destroyed everywhere, or only on earth?

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Psychics, X-Files, and Divine Foreknowledge

Psychics and self-proclaimed prophets permeate our land.  They claim to know anything from a person’s future mate, to the outcome of the fall presidential election.  Sometimes they’re right.  More often, they’re wrong.  In fairness, you’d be hard pressed to find a psychic who isn’t realistic about the limitations of foretelling.  But what bothers me is this: we are never told how a mortal human being can actually know what has not yet occurred.  Are they tapping into some secret of the universe yet to be discovered?  Or are they being channeled by spirit beings that have some insight into how the future will play out?

Another interesting facet of the foreknowledge discussion is whether the future is fixed or flexible.  Put another way, is the future going to happen just as it is foreseen to happen, or can the future be altered?  This theme often plays out in television and movies, as numerous screenplays deal with how to understand the future, and how that future relates to human freedom.  Hollywood is helpful in revealing how these issues play out.  Here’s just a couple of examples:

In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil Conners finds himself awakening into the same day over and over again.  What is of interest is the fact that, other than Phil, everything and everyone else is exactly the same.  There are no nuances except what Phil brings, since he alone is aware of this maddening repetition.  Contrast this to an episode of the cult-classic, X-Files, in which agent Fox Mulder awakens each morning to the same day.  Unlike Phil Conners, however, Mulder does not initially realize this repetition; yet each time he awakens he does not do precisely the same things as the previous same-day.  Nor do the other people in this strange situation do or say exactly the same things.  Later Mulder discovers what has occurred and subsequently discloses to his partner, agent Scully, his belief in free will and a person’s ability to define each day.

The philosophy behind Groundhog Day represents the idea of a deterministic, or set, future.  The X-Files episode on the other hand, reasons that the future is more open.  Since people are free to choose, they decide their own destiny.  The question for us is which one best represents reality.  A clue to figuring out whether the future is fixed or open can be gleaned from pondering the notion of human foreknowledge. 

If someone sees a future event, that event demands that the contingencies leading up to and causing that event happen a certain way.  If anything changes, the foreseen future changes as well, even if ever so slightly.  The following illustration, drawing on the greatest sport ever invented, will help show some of the problems inherent in human foreknowledge:

 (note: though the Reds and Braves are real Major League teams, the names used in this illustration are entirely fictional.)

 The game is in the bottom of the ninth.  There are two outs and the Reds are behind the Braves 4-3.  With two outs and runners on second and third, left-hand hitter Casey Wilson, known to spray the ball in all directions, comes to the plate.  The count goes to 3-2, when the Braves coach, Bobby Holt, does something quite unusual.  He directs an infield shift to the right field side.  The shortstop slides to the first-base side of second, and the second baseman moves about fifteen feet closer to first, leaving the third baseman as the lone fielder on the left side.  This type of shift is normally only used against pull hitters, so for Holt to use it on Wilson is very strange and, some would say, stupid. 

But what nobody knows is that Bobby Holt has seen the future.  For the past seven games he has had a vision regarding a key play in each game, with that play taking place exactly as he foresaw it would.  At first somewhat skeptical, Holt refrained from taking advantage of his visions—until now.  During the top half of the ninth he had yet another vision of a key play yet to take place.  In that vision, pitcher John Smythe throws a breaking ball over the middle of the plate to Casey Wilson, who swings, grounding the ball just out of the reach of the second baseman allowing both runs to score—Reds win.

With the shift on and Smythe ready to deliver the pitch, Holt looks on with confidence, if not a certain amount of apprehension.  The pitch comes and Wilson swings, lining the ball over the head of the first baseman and down the right field line.  Both runs score—Reds win.  Holt is disappointed, wondering why this vision was wrong, whereas the others went exactly as he foresaw.  What happened?

What Holt saw in his vision was not the actual future but rather the potential future.  Had he allowed the play to continue without his interference, Wilson would indeed have hit the ball between the first and second baseman.  But with Holt manipulating the circumstance, the situation changed.  Smythe, knowing that the infield shift is on, still throws a breaking ball; but now he throws it slightly more inside, intending for the hitter to hit the ball to the right.  Wilson would love a ball out over the plate or to the outside edge so he can hit the ball to the left, easily getting a hit.  But when he sees the ball breaking to the inside corner, he goes with its direction and hits it down the line.  So what Holt saw in his vision, meaning the game-winning hit, was contingent upon a number of factors.  Among those factors were the pitch thown, its location, and the mind of the batter.  With the infield shift on, all three of these factors were altered, making Holt’s vision of the future unrealized.

This situation brings about an interesting question.  Is it possible for a human to foresee a fixed future?  On the surface at least, it would seem that it would not be possible.  The vision Bobby Holt saw becomes the fixed future only if he does nothing to change any of it.  But if he does nothing to change it, that means that something is holding him back from doing so, either internal or external to his person.  But internal is an unlikely solution, because it is next to impossible, if not impossible, for a person to do exactly what he would have done had no knowledge of the future taken place.  With foreknowledge comes new information on a certain situation.  And with this new information comes a changed perspective on what to do.  Thus, what would have been done apart from this new information becomes difficult to discern in most cases.  For instance, if Holt was the one who called all of the pitches to be thrown during a game, the possibility of Wilson’s foreseen hit becomes dubious.  However, if Holt has no say on the delivered pitch, Wilson gets his hit.  And if he has no say, but can override it and chooses not to, then his internal impulse keeps his vision of the hit a fixed event.  But with the internal as an only option, the future cannot be fixed, because that would be inconsistent with the persons desire to do something different.  And as long as a person can do something different, then the future is open to change and thus not truly foreknown.

Then there is the external factor.  The external means that even if someone knows the future event and attempts to alter it, the event will still occur as foreseen.  So what if Holt had decided to change the outcome of the game in a fixed future?  If the future is indeed fixed, Holt will be prevented from changing anything he foresaw.  But this raises another question:  Is it possible to foreknow certain events and not others?  For someone like Holt, who is allowed only a glimpse of what will occur as determined by the external, the answer would seem to be ‘yes.’  However, for the external the question is bit trickier.  We must first see that foreknowledge of any event and predetermination of that same event are inextricably linked.  In fact, it might be better to understand the logical order of things as predetermination, then foreknowledge.  So can God predetermine certain events and not others?   If God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive, so also must his foreordination be exhaustive.  All events are intimately related in such a fashion that even the slightest alteration makes either foreknowledge or foreordination shaky at best.  But God’s decrees are certain.  Therefore, foreknowledge is both exhaustive and certain; and foreordination is both exhaustive and certain.

So we see that for the external (God) to have foreknowledge, He must be omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly intelligent.  He must be omniscient because He must know what Holt will do and how his actions might affect the game.  In fact, being omniscient means that God allowed or enabled his vision to happen, and that means that the future was fixed with the truth of Holt’s vision and subsequent actions already worked in.  Therefore God’s prior foreknowledge of His decision to allow for a temporal creature’s future vision, also took into account and perfectly foresaw His own prevention of Holt’s interference of what he saw.  In line with omniscience, God must be omnipotent in order to keep the events in line with what is intended to occur.  But in order for this to be true, the event must be determined (fixed), and for the event to be fixed, all contingencies must be fixed as well.  This all assumes intelligence on the part of God.  And with this intelligence must come a specific end to which all events ultimately lead. 

Therefore, a known, fixed future demands the existence of an intelligent, external agent that is both omniscient and omnipotent, and who is the one that determines what will or will not occur.  All human knowledge of the future must come from this external agent.  Any human vision of the future that does not take place is certain not to have come from this same external agent, and that vision is found to be false.

Then what are we to make of modern psychics?  We must beware of them, for even the sincere ones are deceived.  If they have any ability whatsoever to predict the future, it must come from God.  As shown above, there can be no other source for this type of information.  Anyone can predict several things and expect some to be correct.  But couldn’t some of their predictions come from God?  This is highly unlikely.  Scripturally, the standards for a prophet were extremely high – 100% accuracy was expected as a matter of fact.  Why?  Because God did not want people to be deceived, he wanted to make a distinction between true and false prophets, and he wanted to protect his name.  If God gives the vision, he must receive the glory.  But if visions given in his name do not occur, people are deceived and God’s name is reviled.  Therefore, we would do well to avoid psychics, fortune tellers, and anyone else who claims a special ability to see the future.

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