05 / 06
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Can God Change?

Closer to Truth interviews William Lane Craig

Time : 00:05:56

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS' "Closer To Truth") interviews William Lane Craig about God's omniscience. Questions explored: Can God change His mind? Is it possible for an omniscient being to change His mind? Isn't there instances in Scripture where God changes His mind?


Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Bill, can God change his mind?


Dr. Craig: I don’t think that God can change his mind, because as an omniscient being, he knows everything that will happen, including his own decisions. God has foreknowledge not only of everything that creatures will do, but also knowledge of his own acts.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: That’s not circular reasoning?

Dr. Craig: No, not at all. If God knows the truth value of all true future tense propositions—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Including his own.

Dr. Craig: —then he will know the truth value of propositions about his own actions—like God will part the Red Sea; he knows that. So, God would have knowledge of everything in the future, and therefore there could be no basis for changing his mind. An omniscient being cannot change his mind, it would only be an ignorant being, a being that is ignorant, that could acquire some new reason for doing something that would cause him to change his mind.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: You know, classically I assumed changing your mind would be considered an imperfection—something less than a perfect being, greatest possible being. It’s not clear to me that that would be the case, because a greater perfection to me might be an improvement, progress—making progress, rather than eternally static.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that might be the case for finite creatures, but if changing one’s mind is, as I think, rooted in ignorance, then if ignorance is an imperfection, then a perfect being cannot change his mind. And it does seem to me that changing one’s mind is rooted in ignorance.

It is only someone who is ignorant and who can acquire a new reason for doing something that can say, “Aha! Now I see it correctly, and I’m going to change my mind, and now I will improve; I will bring my thinking into accord with the way things really are.” And that is an improvement. But that’s rooted in a prior imperfection of being ignorant of what will be the case.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: But if God is in the process of creating creatures like us, which you believe—

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: —and that we are progressing toward higher states or towards closer relationships with God—God’s accumulated life existence—because of our now coming into it enhances God’s existence, I would think. Or else, why did he do it?

Dr. Craig: I don’t think it improves God. It doesn’t render him more loving, more perfect, more knowing. Why did he do it? The answer would be: It cannot be for any benefit of his own, since he is already perfect. It can only be for the benefit of the creature; and therefore, I think that creation, like salvation, is an act of total grace on the part of God.

It is not only salvation by grace that Christians believe in, but creation by grace. It is a condescension of God for the benefit and the sake of the creature to give finite created persons the unfathomable privilege of coming into relationship with the source of infinite value and love and goodness, namely God himself.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: And this does not improve God?

Dr. Craig: No, because God existing in the self-sufficiency of his own being is already perfect goodness, unalloyed holiness and perfection. He knows all truth, he’s omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. So, there isn’t an improvement to God, but there is improvement to the creatures in that they come into relationship with this ultimate good.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: There are some Scriptures which, at least superficially to a layperson, looks like God’s changing his mind.

Dr. Craig: Certainly.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Jonah and the whale and Nineveh where God was going to destroy the city unless something happened, and he seemed to change his mind.

Dr. Craig: Right.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Wrestling and discussing with Abraham about what he’s going to do to some of these cities or something. How do you deal—from the biblical record which you support—how do you deal with those apparent accounts?

Dr. Craig: Yes. It’s vital that we understand the literary genre, or type, of most of these biblical stories. The Bible is in the form of narratives. They’re stories about God told from the human point of view. And so, a good storyteller will tell his story with all the vivacity and color that he wants to enhance his narrative.

And so, you’ll find stories in the Bible about God, told from a human perspective where God not only lacks knowledge of the future, but even lacks knowledge of what’s going on presently. God comes down to Abraham and says, “I’ve heard the outcry in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m going to go see if what I’ve heard is really happening there.”

Robert Lawrence Kuhn: [Laughs]

Dr. Craig: Well, that would deny not only God’s foreknowledge, but his knowledge of the present. And there are other passages where God is spoken of in anthropomorphic terms of having nostrils and eyes and arms and other sort of bodily parts—wings. If you take all of these literally, God would be a sort of fire-breathing monster.

And so, these are anthropomorphisms. They are literary devices that are part of the storyteller’s art, and shouldn’t be read like a philosophy of religion or systematic theology textbook. There’s just a naïve view of the type of literature that Scripture is. [1]

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    Total Running Time: 5:54