Boethian Eternalism, Fatalism, and Future Contingents

OK, sorry I’ve been absent so long everyone. I was under the weather for a while and so was my wife so I just decided to take a break. Anyway, I promised Attilla that I would give the eternalist response to the problem of foreknowledge and fatalism. Here goes.

Here is how I think it might go. I will sketch the fatalism argument according to Linda Zagzebski as it makes clear some key assumptions (the Principle of the Necessity of the Past, the Transfer of Necessity Principle) in fatalist arguments.Let B = You will answer the telephone tomorrow at 9am.

1) Yesterday, God infallibly believed B (supposition of infallible knowledge)
2) If E occurred in the past, it is now-necessary that E occurred then (Principle of the necessity of the past).
3) It is now-necessary that yesterday God believed B (from 1, 2)
4) Necessarily, if yesterday God believed B, then B (definition of “infallibility”).
5) If p is now-necessary, and necessarily (p → q), then q is now-necessary (Transfer of Necessity Principle).
6) So it is now-necessary that B (3,4,5)
7) If it is now-necessary that B, then you cannot do otherwise than answer the telephone tomorrow at 9am (Definition of “necessary”).
8) Therefore, you cannot do otherwise than answer the telephone tomorrow at 9am (6, 7)
9) If you cannot do otherwise when you do an act, you do not act freely (Principle of Alternate Possibilities).
10) Therefore, when you answer the telephone tomorrow at 9am, you will not do it freely (8, 9, modus ponens).

The Molinist response (see previous post) does not deny any of the premises in this argument. It simply argues that God’s knowledge is such that if B God would infallibly know that B and if –B, then God would have infallibly known –B.

The eternalist however explicitly denies 1). It does not deny that God infallibly believes B, rather it denies that Yesterday, God infallibly believes B. God exists timelessly, and since God does not exist at any time, then He does not hold His beliefs at any time. As God does not exist temporally before events, He does not have fore-knowledge of events, rather God’s knowledge is such that He apprehends in a single complete and infallible grasp, all events in the entire span of time.
God’s knowledge of my answering the phone at 9am then does not make my answering the phone at 9am any more necessary than my seeing Socrates sitting makes Socrates’ sitting necessary. If our cognizance of present things does not make those things necessary, why should it be thought that God’s cognizance of things eternally present to Him makes them necessary?


11 Responses to Boethian Eternalism, Fatalism, and Future Contingents

  1. attilla says:

    well i have a couple issues:

    1. i dont understand something about this. if God is timeless but still has omniscience (in the traditional sense), how is B still not determined. He may live out of time (for the sake of argument) but we dont. if he knows B will happen – then it will. How does it matter if he knows this as a timeless being. To say he is outside of time, doesnt mean he is unaware of it or doesnt understand it…. am i wrong in thinking that he deals with us within a time influenced relationship. help me out here.

    2. they say God doesnt have fore-knowledge. how then would they interepret scripture in order for it to be copasetic with their philosophy… you know the references in question.

  2. Xavier says:

    Some pretty good points you made here.

    1) The timelessness move is made to avoid an essential principle in all fatalist arguments, namely, the notion of the Necessity of the Past. The idea is that the past has a kind of necessity simply in virtue of being past. The past seems to be fixed (“there is no use crying over spilt milk”).
    Your question however seems to wonder if we cannot raise a parallel principle of the Necessity of the Timeless realm. There seems to be a bit of hessitancy among many philosophers to use it though because intuitions about the past’s necessity are more readily grasped about intuitions about eternity’s necessity (as Zagzebski put it “most peoples intuitions about eternity are thin at best”). But it’s a good objection.

    According to the timeless view, God’s relation to time is of a Creator-creature nature. Thus God must transcend it somehow. But if God transcends temporal becoming then just how God relates to temporal creatures is matter that wholly eludes me (though several attempts have been made by some philosophers).

    2) Simple. Talk of God’s having “foreknowledge” is simply “temporal speak” for God’s timeless grasp of all events–even those events that are future to us.
    In fact, all talk of God is in some way analogical.

  3. attilla says:

    2) isnt that convenient.

    how nice.

    i spy a slippery slope.

  4. attilla says:

    oh yeah:

    1) God is trinity
    2) Christ is apart of the trinity
    3) Christ is not timeless
    4) Therefore God is not timeless.

    you can only argue with 3) but i wld find it lacking. defeat 3) and we can talk.

  5. Xavier says:

    Well you’re right. I am going to go after 3). One of the intended consequences of dual-nature Chalcedonian Christology is that statements such as 3) remain ambiguous unless it is followed with a qualification. So the statement:

    3) Christ is not timeless

    is ambiguous among

    3a) Christ with respect to His divine nature (or qua) is not timeless.
    3b) Christ with respect to His human nature is not timeless.
    3c) Christ with respect to His divine and human natures is not timeless.

    Now I think what you want to endorse is 3b) for if you posit 3a) or 3c) in the argument, you would just be begging the question. But from 3b) nothing particularly interesting follows. It doen’t help your argument any.

    It is interesting to note that one might construct another argument like yours for any of the Son’s attributes. Hence:

    1) God is a trinity
    2) Christ is a member of the trinity
    3) Christ is not spaceless
    4) Therefore God is not spaceless.


    1) God is a trinity
    2) Christ is a member of the trinity
    3) Christ is not incorruptible (immune to death)
    4) Therefore God is not incorruptible.


    1) God is a trinity
    2) Christ is a member of the trinity
    3) Christ is not aware of the time of 2nd Coming
    4) Therefore God is not aware of the time of the 2nd coming.

    …and so on. The incarnation is just paradoxical, so reconciling timelessness with the incarnation is no more difficult that reconciling omniscience, omnipotence, infinity etc. with the incarnation.–>

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