Sunday, 21 October 2012

Suffering and limited omniscience

My question relates to suffering. Most suffering can be explained as due to our exercise of free will. More suffering can be explained by our having to live in a rule-governed world. But why would God create such a world if (according to orthodoxy) he knew our future in his eternity, knew about Auschwitz. But if he is inside time then why create a universe not knowing where it would go???

Response: Trying to grasp a “god’s eye view” of anything is pretty well impossible for humans.  “my thoughts are not your thoughts” etc..

But John (and I) think that the least misleading way of thinking/speaking about this is that God chooses to limit his knowledge in order to give us true freewill and hence the possibility of true love.  Omniscience does not mean “God knows everything” but “God knows everything that God chooses to know” (otherwise it would be a limit on God’s omnipotence).  And we now understand through Quantum Mechanics that observing something is not quite the purely passive act that was previously supposed.

The only thing we know is that the ultimate answer to “Why does God to X” is “God chooses to do this motivated by perfect Love”

But the questioner said: It’s not good enough to say that God’s thoughts  are not our thoughts’ : that is Muslim theology: ‘What God does is right because God does it’. Just putting God as the subject of a verb doesn’t make the related action necessarily right. Quoting quantum mechanics is a real get-out. Exactly what does quantum mechanics have to say about the morality of creation (I have studied quantum mechanics)?  How can God choose NOT to know about Auschwitz unless he knows about Auschwitz and then chooses to dismiss it from his knowledge?

My question remains: at the point of creating did God know the course to be taken by his creation or did he not? No matter which answer is given to the question God stands condemned either for his knowledge or for his ignorance.

By the way, I am not an atheist trying to make difficulties, but a committed Christian trying to hold on to my faith. Having spent 24 years in one of the poorest countries in the world the problem of theodicy, a suffering world and an apparently omnipotent and compassionate but passive God, remains top of my list of moral perplexities.

Second Response: Sorry you don’t seem to have read the response clearly.

We say that God’s Omniscience means that he knows what he chooses to know (but does not know what He chooses not to know).

He deliberately limits His knowledge because only in that way can we have true freewill. He knew of course that evil would arise in the world, but chose not to know the specifics because only (we think) by not knowing the specifics can He endow us with the freedom for Love.

I’m sorry if I didn’t explain myself clearly enough before.

To which: No, I HAVE read you correctly. God cannot CHOOSE what he will know unless he has before him a mixture of what he will determine to know and what he will determine not to know. So at that point, presumably before the act of creation, he knows even what he will decide not to know. Eliminating some part of what he knows cannot absolve him from responsibility for what at some point he knew. But you appear to be suggesting that God gave us free will at the cost of not knowing where that free will would lead us. Isn’t that precisely my second point: it would surely be irresponsible to start a process deliberately not knowing where that process would lead us and without the possibility of interfering to eliminate evil?

Your last response to my question Why did God create?’ is to me meaningless: ‘God chooses to do this motivated by perfect love.’ Is it perfect love to put into our hands a free will that is not in some way limited in its choices by love...which would then not be free will at all?

Third Response: The statement “God cannot do X” can only be true if X is logically impossible. It is clearly logically possible to decide not to know/find out something that you could know/find out, without knowing it.  I do not know the value of 12345*6789*11 but I could easily calculate it if I wished. God is not some kind of “idiot savant” who automatically “knows” everything. Our point is that knowing is an act of will.  At no point did God “know” things that He chooses not to know.

You say it would “surely be irresponsible” to create the world in a way which gives true freedom. Well I can see that it might perhaps be irresponsible, it would depend what the alternative courses of action were, whether one had given them due consideration etc...   However the idea that we can accuse God of being “irresponsible” given our almost complete lack of knowledge of these topics is somewhat ridiculous, and there is a big difference between “X might perhaps be the case” and “X is surely the case”.  It seems to me self-evident that the present creation, with all its love and suffering, is vastly preferable to a creation with no love and no suffering.

It's also perhaps worth remarking that although we have free will our choices are obviously quite substantially limited. Most people can do very little evil, and even the vilest dictators and demagogues pass away after a few decades, and they can only do evil because other people let them.  But the value of love is eternal.

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