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God’s Specific Foreknowledge Works Sometimes?

Don - September 8, 2009

God’s specific foreknowledge has been discussed before. First I would ask “Is this a black and white, yes or no question?” Is the answer either He does, or He does not have specific foreknowledge?

The sides, if I remember correctly, seemed to be – if He does then it might/could mess with our agency situation. Or He does have some foreknowledge of some things but not specific. Or He’s very good at figuring out all the alternatives considering who He is dealing with and therefore predicts very accurately.

Whatever, I’m not here to re-hash the previous discussions, I just have a question.

According to the scriptures Isaiah prophecied that a man named Cyrus would deliver the jews from captivity. Isaiah wrote this about 500 years before Cyrus was even born. When Isaiah was read to Cyrus he was amazed to see that God had actually called him by name and what his destiny was to be for the jews. So Cyrus allowed them. even paid them to return to Jerusalem out of captivity.

According to some Bible scholars interpretation Daniel prophecied the exact day that Jesus would enter Jerusalem in His triumphal entry. And the exact day that the nation Israel would be again formed.

More specifically to us, in the Book of Mormon we have the prophecy of Joseph / Joseph (Smith Sr.) and Joseph (Smith Jr.)

I’m sure there are other examples of prophecy that is exact prophecy.

So my questions is: If you can have exact prophecy once (or several times for that matter) then does that show that God has specific foreknowledge? If not how is exact prophecy explained? If so then what does that mean to us…if anything?


  1. If you can have exact prophecy once (or several times for that matter) then does that show that God has specific foreknowledge?


    If not how is exact prophecy explained?

    There are lots of possibilities. Use your imagination. The key is that exactly how God can make accurate predictions may be a mystery to us, but at least accurate predictions are not logically incompatible with agency. (That was my main point in this post.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 8, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  2. If time isn’t linear outside our teensy little brains — if it just is — then God can see past / present / future (even as the future is continually altered by human agency) simultaneously.

    Or something. :-P

    Comment by RCH — September 8, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

  3. Part of the question is how God knows what he knows.

    But, I believe he can predict very well, just not absolutely. And he can be an influential participant as well.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 9, 2009 @ 5:40 am

  4. If you can have exact prophecy once (or several times for that matter) then does that show that God has specific foreknowledge?

    Without arguing one side or the other concerning whether God has specific foreknowledge, I’m afraid that, as Geoff J. points out, there will always be alternative ways to explain it. So, my answer to this question would be “not necessarily.”

    Comment by Orwell — September 9, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  5. My own personal theory is also that time is not linear and God is outside time. This doesn’t change agency, etc., but it’s a mental jump and too much to go through in this comment.

    With these cases, I think the issue is somewhat complex to analyze. In one example, it is a cart / horse case. When someone reads in a prophecy that they are going to free the Jews, and then because of that prophecy they free the Jews, perhaps that is a bit self-fulfilling. The unknown here is the denominator. How many other specific prophecies weren’t fulfilled in as straightforward of a manner?

    In the case of Joseph Smith, it’s also not as simple as it seems. The BofM isn’t objectively available. The plates aren’t available to see if someone else translates them the same way. And even for the BofM, it doesn’t appear that JS actually “translated” it the way we generally think of “translation”. It appears that JS was more “inspired” as to what to write with the plates generally covered with a cloth and sometimes not even in the same room. It therefore seems logical that JS could have been inspired by God to put his name in the appropriate places. I don’t know that using a book that I bring forth to make prophecies about me bringing forth the book would stand up in any court of law or hold much weight in any other context.

    Now, granted, I accept that God is vastly beyond our comprehension. These things are all possible, but I don’t know that they can be used to “prove” the point of the post – about specific foreknowledge.

    Comment by Mike S — September 9, 2009 @ 9:42 am

  6. Geoff, Just saying “nope” doesn’t answer the question. Are you saying if God can do it once He can’t do it again? “Nope” Or are you saying He didn’t do it in the first case? “Nope”

    I’m not arguing that His specific foreknowledge effects our agency one way or another.

    Comment by Don — September 9, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  7. I guess my point is if God can prophecy the length of the Babylonian captivity, the name of the actual person who is going to end the captivity and or if He can prophecy the name of the man who will be the prophet of the restoration (as well as his father’s name) – isn’t that specific foreknowledge?

    If God can do it by whatever mystical means Geoff might be talking about then couldn’t he use the same process to have specific foreknowledge of everything?

    I think there is enough scriptural evidence to show that God knows what’s going on in the future and He does have specific foreknowedge.

    Does that effect me personally. Personally I don’t think so.

    Comment by Don — September 9, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  8. Don, a prediction means an educated guess. Sometimes predictions are accurate, sometimes they are not. That is the nature of an open future. And an open future is a non-negotiable requirement for meaningful agency/free will to exist. (That is why all this silly “non-linear time” talk does not help at all — if the future exists now then we are not free. Period.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 9, 2009 @ 11:24 am

  9. If God can do it by whatever mystical means Geoff might be talking about then couldn’t he use the same process to have specific foreknowledge of everything?

    Again, see that post I linked to in #1. Agency (as understood in Mormonism) is logically incompatible with a fixed future. There is a world of difference between a mystery and a paradox.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 9, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  10. Here’s another related question: By telling the prophet to make that particular prophecy, did God actually cause Cyrus to make the decision he did? I think the answer is unequivocally yes. It’s easy to predict the future if you mess with it by making self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Another question is just how much free will you actually have when someone tells you they have seen the future and you will do X.

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  11. #9: Agency and a “known” future are compatible in some frameworks. If time is another dimension, all things can be seen at once by someone “outside” of time. Someone “trapped” in the moving reference frame of time can decide to do whatever they want. Quantum uncertainty can occur. Yet simultaneously, someone outside can see what will happen.

    It doesn’t seem to make intuitive sense at first, a lot like the wave-particle ramifications of quantum theory. But if you ponder it for a while, it makes sense. At least to me.

    Comment by Mike S — September 9, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  12. Mike, the problem with that is that if God knows what we will do then there is no point in his working to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” If it’s already a known fact to him who will have eternal life and who will not, then there’s little point to our current understanding of his “work” and his gospel as we understand it.

    Personally, I believe God knows a lot about everything, including the future, but he doesn’t know everything about everything and he can’t know the future precisely because it’s not yet written and there are choices that have yet to be made and random chances that will affect the outcome.

    God’s all-encompassing knowledge of the present and of his children makes him able to know many things about what will happen, and he can, of course, cause certain things to happen (as he did with Cyrus) but he doesn’t know everything that will happen.

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

  13. Mike S: It doesn’t seem to make intuitive sense at first

    I’m afraid it doesn’t make sense no matter how many times people say this sort of thing. That’s because it is, you know, nonsense. If your future is fixed then you are not presently free to choose any alternative than your fixed fate. That isn’t complicated. All this “outside of time” and “wave-particle” talk is a red herring.

    See here for dozens of posts and thousands of comments on this very subject.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 9, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  14. The great thing is that if God decides to make a prophecy come true, He can. Not because He knew the future perfectly in the past, but because of His influence in the present. Christ more than once specifically says that He is doing things with the _intent_ of fulfilling prophecies.

    Also, prophecies are allowed to fail. See Paul. ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 9, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  15. I need a more specific reference than that Thomas. What prophecy failed with Paul?

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  16. Hey MCQ, not Paul’s prophecies failed or a prophecy about Paul failed, but Paul says that prophecies can fail (will fail).

    1 Cor 13

    8 Charity never faileth: _but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail_; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
    9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 9, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  17. Interesting. I never thought of that scripture that way.

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

  18. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

    Now that I think about it, that is directly applicable to this post.

    Comment by MCQ — September 9, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  19. but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail

    Nice reference Thomas. I’ll remember that one for later.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 9, 2009 @ 11:45 pm

  20. MikeS:

    Non-linear time, or time as another dimension simply misses the point. Geoff is right, it is nonsense.


    That is a great scripture pull. Nicely done.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 10, 2009 @ 5:46 am

  21. I respectfully disagree, although I don’t think I’ll be able to explain the concept I picture in my head. I’ve never been able to articulate it very well.

    In my opinion, mortality exists for us, not God. The essence of mortality is being trapped in a moving plane of time. We have numerous references to scriptures that hint at this, that our time is not God’s time, that God is endless, that we had to come down for a period as a test, etc.

    While here in mortality, we have uncertainty, choices, etc., and can choose what we what to do. I think the biggest part of mortality and the necessity for the veil is so that we can choose to do what is right without compulsion. This necessitates 2 main things: something blocking our minds from the concept of eternity, and a world where uncertainty is a fundamental building block. Our challenge, therefore, is learning to choose God’s way given limited knowledge and uncertainty. Interestingly, the main principle upon which this is possible is faith – the first principle of everything.

    When we die, we will be freed from the time constraints of mortality. We will step back and see our whole lives’ “path”. We will live eternally, not bound by the constraint of mortality.

    Assuming all of this is true, it sounds a lot like God exists outside of our timeframe. He knows the past, present and future. All things are before Him. In this case, it is easy for Him to see what is going to happen. A select few prophets have been blessed with this vision as well, where they could see all that would befall man.

    I also think that he could easily tell us exactly what is going to happen in our lives, but this would break the fundamental purpose of mortality as described above. This is why prophecies are “clouded” in language that is not always readily apparent. If he told us exactly what was going to happen, it would “game” the system and we would live our lives in self-fulfilling prophecy mode and would lose the chance to experience uncertainty for ourselves.

    As the ultimate goal, we are trying to prove that we can make correct decisions in the setting of uncertainty and limited perspective so we will make the right decisions when we are Gods, as JS taught.

    I don’t know if this is any clearer than mud. At least it’s my attempt.

    Comment by Mike S — September 10, 2009 @ 7:03 am

  22. Not much clearer than mud.

    The real issue, from a free will perspective, is whether or not we have real, destiny shaping, livertarian freedom. If the future exists in any concrete form, and is knowable to God or anyone else, then we are not really free in the libertarian sence. We are incapable of doing anything other than what it is known we will do. We may have a sensation of freedom, and God may not be coersing us, but that does not define free will.

    What you seem to be pushing for might be called hypothetical free will or something, but it is not destiny shaping.

    This would be EXPECIALLY true if God were outside of time. Your explanation of God being outside of time makes things even worse for free will, not better.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 10, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  23. livertarian?? Expecially?? (probably others) sheesh, I either can’t type or can’t spell.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 10, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  24. I know what Mike thinks he means. If we are unable to see the future, and if God doesn’t tell us about it, then we have at least the sensation of free will. But Mike, that sensation is an illusion if our future is already fixed and known by God. That’s not real free will.

    Comment by MCQ — September 10, 2009 @ 10:56 am

  25. #22: Don’t care about spelling errors – I make plenty.

    God must be outside of what we perceive as time. We have scriptural references to his time being endless and eternal. We are told that God knows the past, present and future (although what “knows” actually means is obviously up for debate). There must be some mechanism for getting “outside” of time spiritually as well, as we have records of prophets being shown visions of what would happen to men millenia in the future. Interestingly, they were forbidden to tell us what what they say in most cases, but it does appear they were also able to see a time line into the future.

    #24: I would still argue that God knowing what we will do doesn’t force us down that path, even if he knows that that path is. He just knows that that is what we will choose.

    And in any event, whether we have “true” free will or just an “illusion” of free will, I would argue that it doesn’t matter. We are all born into different circumstances. It doesn’t really matter our situation, but we are to learn how to choose correctly in what we are given. We will also be judged by God by our choices. So, if the point of all this is to help us learn how to choose to be more like God, as long as we have that choice (even if just an illusion) we still have that choice.

    Comment by Mike S — September 10, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  26. Endless and eternal does not necessarily mean one can time travel into the future. It does not necessarily mean timeless.

    You bring up a great point for your case with prophesies. I might guess that what they were shown was a representation of the future and not an actual future. And that perhaps part of the reason they were forbidden to tell us what they saw is because it might change.

    The coercion of God is not the issue. The issue is whether or not we are able to choose any differently than we are choosing. I have heard others argue that we can still be held accountable for who we are regardless of whether or not we have destiny shaping free will. I don’t like it, but it is better than saying absolute forknowledge and robust free will are compatible in my opinion.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 10, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

  27. FWIW, I think the name Cyrus was written into Isaiah after the fact, so I don’t even count that one as a prophecy.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  28. The cruel irony associated with the exhaustive foreknowledge argument is that people who insist God lives outside of time and knows the future don’t realize that if such a thing were true God would be completely powerless to influence the world right now. In an attempt to declare the omnipotence of God they end up describing a totally impotent God instead.

    If God lives outside of time and knows you are going to commit horrible crimes in 2017 (because he lives there too somehow) there is no amount of promptings or intervention he could try to change that fixed future. He couldn’t even kill you now (lest the future not be fixed after all) — he would just be stuck with the future he knows must happen. In such a scheme God becomes a powerless spectator (just like we would be) instead of a destiny-making participant in the present.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  29. Excellent point Geoff. I think that’s similar to what I was trying to say earlier. If God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, then he must not know the future or it must not be fixed, otherwise there would be no work to do and not much glory in waiting for a fixed future to simply play itself out.

    Comment by MCQ — September 13, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  30. What if he’s running the world’s timeline over and over again, tweaking it by way of the random quantum fluctuations in spacetime, which via the butterfly effect bubble up into the macro world, particularly through the pathways of brains, which happen to be uniquely efficacious at bringing microscopic actions (neuronal firings) into the real world through the interaction of our thoughts and our wills?

    We’re trapped in the timeline, and we’re exercising our agency to the hilt, meanwhile he’s tweaking the spacetime continuum the way a composer tweaks the score of a master symphony he’s in the process of writing. In this composition, though, the entire orchestra gets to interact with the composer’s gigantic artwork by inserting their own themes and melodies. The future, then, would be both dynamic and static. That’s how I see it. God definitely knows the future, and we’re completely free to make our own choices. What seems to many people like a logical contradiction makes perfect sense in such a framework.

    Comment by Tatiana — September 20, 2009 @ 6:45 am

  31. The idea that God is hopping around in time, or putting time on repeat, is pure unadulterated pig swill. ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 20, 2009 @ 7:04 am

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