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Maybe God Doesn’t Know the Future

As Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic magazine sees it, “Augustine saw God as definitionally changeless through time. That idea is now under attack.”

Indeed, and Plato and Einstein as well. As Mark Vernon writes in the Templeton Foundation’s Big Questions Online

But the block universe, and the notion of God’s timelessness, have been challenged by scientists who also work on the relationship between science and religion. I’m thinking here of two physicists who are also well known as theologians, John Polkinghorne and Ian Barbour. in Their questioning of the classical idea of God’s timeless nature presents an enormous challenge to received ideas about God. Interestingly, it’s a challenge that stems from both scientific and theological concerns.

Both men have received the Templeton Prize, both earned doctorates in theoretical physics and theology, both have given the Gilford Lectures, both have published many books on the subject of religion and science. In addition, Polkinghorne is a Fellow of the Royal Society (England’s academy of science) and an Anglican priest.

Polkinghorne borrows another notion, from process thought. In process thought, change is not regarded with the suspicion that it is in the Platonic thought of Augustine. Change might be for the better — as evolution seems to imply, with its tendency to greater complexity and the emergence of consciousness, and then the moral sensibilities of self-consciousness. Surely, such change is a good thing. What this implies, for Polkinghorne, is that God can’t know the future because the future is not fully determined by the present. There is genuine novelty in the universe.

But where does that leave God?

Subject to time too. God’s perfect knowledge of the universe is not absolute omniscience but current omniscience: God knows about what exists, not about what doesn’t yet exist.

The two theologians argue that this apparent limitation on God is a distinctively Christian notion. It’s called kenosis, and is revealed in the incarnation of Jesus when, as Paul’s letter to the Philippians has it, Christ emptied himself of his divine (eternal) nature and became human (temporal). God does so out of love, in order to be alongside his creation.

It seems to me that Richard Swinburne was arguing this same thing. Hmm: Polkinghorne and Swinburne are both at Cambridge.

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