Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can God change his mind?

Instead of delving into any Biblical exegesis involving passages that on the surface appear to say that God can/cannot change his mind, I want to think about some of the philosophical consequences of however one chooses to answer this question.  Consider this argument:

1. It is a mark of human integrity to be able/willing to change one's mind. (Premise)

2. God cannot change his mind. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God does not exhibit the human element of integrity to change his mind. (From 1 and 2)

I fully endorse this argument.  The problem is that I don't see how it does any damage to God's character.  Of course God doesn't always exhibit the same virtues as humans in the same manner.  Yet, that only raises an additional question: why should God have to be able/willing to change his mind in order to be maximally great?  Think of it this way:

4. An omniscient mind, God, knows every propositional truth. (Definition)

5. Necessarily, if God knows every propositional truth, then God would never have to change his mind. (Premise)

6. Therefore, God never has to change his mind. (From 4 and 5)

Where, then, is the conflict between (3) and (6)?  In fact, it would be a sign of weakness for God to change his mind when he already possesses all propositional knowledge!

Similar comments can be made about human nature exhibiting both actuality and potentiality.  It is a sign of a human's virtue to actualize his or her potentiality.  However, God qua pure actuality, has no need to actualize any potentiality, since he simply doesn't exhibit any potentiality.


  1. Not only does God have no need to cahnge His mind, He simply cannot do so since He is timeless and immutable.
    Even if this God exist and is the creator of everything, that's where His role stops. In everyday life such a God is completely irrelevant. He may not technically be a deist God, but most certainly he cannot interfere in any sort of way.


  2. Unless, of course, God eternally planned some such interference.

  3. The thomiost God is a-temporal and immutable. So, theer is no possible way for Him to interfere in a temporal world. The only way for Him to 'interfere' (and before you start complaining, this is not an insult) is by initializing the universe in such a way that at tx some event y will happen.
    But with this kind of God you have closed the gap between theism and atheism, because, while I see no reason to believe in such God, His existence would not make any difference to the way I lead my life.

  4. I prefer the term, "intervene," as opposed to "interfere," even though I mistakenly used the latter. It's not a complaint; I don't care which term you use. Either way, you and I obviously have very different conceptions of what it means to intervene or even to have an effect on. Only if intervention entails change in the acting agent is there any conflict.

  5. Don't mistake this with my argument against the possibility of creation by an immutable being. Although I strongly believe that is impossible, I am willing to assume that it is possible for the sake of this argument.
    So, I am not claiming here that it's impossible for God to have an effect on reality, but since God is a-temporal, this can only be in the form of some very intricate equation that from eternity says something like ,"Reality is such that at tx, Y will happen."
    Since God cannot change His mind, the fact that Y will happen is eternally true, hence complete determinism.

  6. Let's just assume for the sake of argument that there is determinism. How does that entail a lack of divine intervention? By the same logic, there is no human intervention, either.

  7. Are humans a-temporal beings? Are they responsible for setting in motion the whole universe? Of course humans can intervene. Possibly this interventing is determined, but nevertheless it is true that on 19 March, at 7.35 pm (around here anyway) I replied to you. That is an intervention. It inter venes, it comes in between. To come in between requires temporality, which God lacks, or at least does not have, if 'lacking' is too negative a term.

  8. You originally said God cannot intervene because that would result in determinism. Now that human beings have entered the picture, their deterministic actions can be counted as interventions because of their temporality? Where did you get these criteria from? God's effects are temporal - hence, why He is able to intervene - though God Himself is timeless.

  9. I did not say God cannot intervene because that would result in determinism. I said that, since God cannot change His mind, everything resulting from His a-temporal creation is determined.

  10. That doesn't follow, but let's stay on topic.

  11. It does follow, and it is completey on-topic.

  12. Well, since God does not change His mind everything He has decided since eternity will happen. if He has decided that it will rain tomorrow, then it will rain tomorrow. So, the rain tomorrow is determined by God's eternal plan.
    The only way out of this is by letting God create an initial condition of the universe that odes not determine the outcome. But in that case, there is no propositional truth about any event in the future and the whole idea of God not needing to change His mind because He knows all propositional truths does not work.

  13. Sure there would be propositional truth about the future. There would still be various conditional truths about what future states of affairs may obtain. Besides, given that omniscience only applies to propositional truths, if there are no propositional truths about the future, then God's not knowing the future would in no way affect his omniscience.

    Moreover, you didn't explain how determinism would entail the absence of intervention. What you did attempt to explain was how God's not changing his mind would entail determinism.

  14. A conditional truth is a truth of the form 'If C then X' this conditional entails that X is determined by condition C. Therefore, as soon as God decides that C obtains, X necessarily also obtains. So, if God does not change His mind, X is determined. So, if God decides that it will rain tomorrow, it will rain tomorrow as a result of His unchanging mind. Now, if God intervenes and stops the rain, He is going against His own eternal plan and changes His mind.
    You might object that God's intervention could have been part of His eternal plan, but since God is a-temporal, claiming that His plan can include something like 'at T I will stop the rain' is incoherent. A-temporal beings cannot do anything 'at T'.

  15. Just to add. even if you hold to the idea of open theism that God cannot know the future and still be omniscient, that does nothing to His (in)ability to intervene. All that means is that God wouldn't even be able to determine everything so as to avoid disasters and that, if disasters occur, He cannot intervene.
    While the classical Thomist God is necessarily a non-interventionist God, He could nevertheless have arranged things in such a way that everything will go OK, the God you are proposing here (probably for the sake of the argument, because I don't think you are an open theist)cannot even guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow.
    Both Gods, however, lack any sort of moral relevance.

  16. You're jumping all over the place. Somehow you're going from determinism to non-intervention, and now to moral irrelevance? The problem is that you're simply defining intervention in such a way to exclude an atemporal entity from having any temporal effects, which is false. Now, I don't where you're getting moral irrelevance from.

  17. An atemporal entity may have temporal effects such as if He atemporally creates, which caused y at t, then it can be said that this is a temporal effect of God, but it should be noted that it is an indirect temporal effect. For an atemporal entity to have a direct temporal effect, the entity in question must be an indeterministic cause of this effect. That means that the decision of this entity to create the effect cannot be a sufficient condition for the effect to occur.
    As for moral irrelevance, that is a direct consequence of the non-interventionist God you propose. I just mentioned it to show you have close you've come to closing the gap between atheists and theists. You are almost there.

  18. Not even close. These are mere assertions. Moral irrelevance is a direct consequence of non-intervention? Says who? And now you're dividing direct and indirect temporal effects? I'm not sure there's even a non-vacuous distinction there.

  19. Walter, keep in mind that I'm only accepting some of your conclusions for the sake of argument. I don't agree that non-intervention follows from atemporality, or that moral irrelevance follows from non-intervention, or that determinism follows from atemporality and omniscience. Nevertheless, I'm trying to get you to support these contentions. I should also point out that even if any or all of these contentions were true, it would have no impact on the conclusion that God cannot change his mind. Do you see how off-topic your points have become?

    1. You don't have to accept any of my conclusions, Doug. But nothing I have said is off-topic. I do not challenge the conclusion that God cannot change his mind. That follows logically from his immutabilty and a-temporality,as do all other conclusions I have drawn here.
      And unless some very strong arguments are brought against my conclusions, my position as an atheist and apatheist is firmly established.

  20. If you want to believe that, go ahead. I'm not going to go around in circles with you.

  21. No problem, I can't force anybody to accept the logical conclusions of his beliefs.