Re: Can Prayer Change the Past? Try It!
John, as some may have no doubt (no pun intended) guessed, I’ve been pushing the issue of time so much that I’ve probably been labeled as the unofficial “time keeper” of Tweb.
You take an interesting twist on it. Let’s explore this topic, shall we?
If God exists and if he has foreknowledge, then he can foreknow believers prayers. If he can do this then he can prevent something from happening in the past. So, my challenge is to have Christians pick any event in the past, announce that they are praying to change it, and then watch what happens. It's simple. It could be to prevent the Holocaust, the terrorist 9/11 attacks, or any tragic event reported in the daily newspaper.
This argument won’t convince believers. But I think it’s a good argument, depending to some extent on certain conceptions of God and of foreknowledge.
Well, we should clarify what exactly “foreknowledge” means in this concept. Foreknowledge can be synonymous with “precognition.” There are actually two types of precognition.
1. x-->y. The if then. I can predict y if x happens. This is sometimes called soft determination.
2. y. In this context, time is linear/unchangeable and there are no choices made by anyone.
We should clarify this first. Which one does god have?
There are certain conceptions of God that this argument will have a great deal of force against. If a believer thinks God exists outside of time, then God can actually change what we consider to be the past based upon his knowledge of what we pray for (there would be no time indexed prefix “Fore” to this knowledge of God’s because he would be present for all events timelessly).
There are certain conceptions of foreknowledge that this argument will have a great deal of force against, as well. If a believer is a Molinist, then his God would know what believers would be praying for regardless of whether the event occurred or not. Based upon God's counter-factual knowledge of future free-willed contingent actions, he could intervene to prevent tragic events regardless of whether these events have occurred or not. Based upon this foreknowledge, God could answer these, as yet, unspoken prayers, by preventing the events before they occurred.
But this argument has force against any Christian theist who believes God has foreknowledge. For if God foreknows the prayers of believers, then God should be able to prevent the past based upon his foreknowledge of these future prayers.
I see. It seems as though you have separated the concepts. Good.
It is extremely difficult to discuss anything that “exists outside of time” There is nothing that exists outside of time. Although time and existence are distinct concepts, they are inseparable. The only way for God to exist outside of time would be if he or she did not exist. I think we are granting the assumption that god exists for the sake of this argument.
I suggest the following resolution.
God’s time is relative to our time.
YLT: And this one thing let not be unobserved by you, beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; 2 peter 3:8
The same claim is made in psalm 90:4.
Let us grant that God is capable of time travel as well.
One objection is that the past cannot be changed. If a tragic event has already occurred in the past then it will do no good to pray for God to change it, because the past is fixed and unalterable. Well, there is some debate about whether the past is unchangable, especially if God exists. One thing is that in a universe like this one that is fundamentally chaotic on a micro level, and where there’s the possibility of wormholes, and time travel, who knows what can or cannot be done?
“With god, all things are possible” or something like that… I think the ideal of praying to change the past is within the constraints of requesting something of God.
However, all I’m referring to when arguing about prayer changing an event in the past is that prayer would be changing what God foreknows, since he supposedly has foreknowledge of the future. Christian philosopher George Mavrodes thinks the past can be altered and argues that whenever he does something then he also prevents God from ever having foreknown that he didn't do it. [“Is the Past Unpreventable” Faith and Philosophy
Vol. 1, no. 2, (April 1984).
If we are using the model of x--->y, then I think it’s possible. There are a few solutions to this.
1. God could erase our memories or they would be erased. While we would not know that we prayed for it, the past still would have been changed.
2. God could create an alternate universe. That way something would have occurred in this universe, but not in the other. In actuality, God could answer ALL prayers that way. “God answered my prayer, but not in this universe.”
Whether the past can be changed really isn’t the issue here anyway, since I’m talking about whether God could prevent an event from happening before it occurred based upon his foreknowledge of a believers prayers. Here is where the argument has some force to it. If Mavrodes is correct that when he does something he also prevents God from ever having foreknown that he didn't do it, then the prayers spoken after a tragic event can be answered if and only if believers actually pray! By praying, believers alter what God knows in the past, namely God’s foreknowledge of what they do. In other words, if God can only foreknow what a believer does, then he can only retroactively answer prayers spoken after a tragic event if and only if they actually pray to change that event. If they don't pray then there are no prayers for God to retroactively answer. Believers must pray for God to foreknow that they would do so, thereby allowing God to answer these prayers by preventing the tragic event before it actually happens.
It’s possible that God would answer the prayers that said believers would have prayed for had they happened.
One more time. Believers “change” or “alter” or “prevent” the past everyday by what they do. What do they “change” or “alter” or "determine," according to Mavrodes? They determine what God foreknows by their actions, and prayer is something they do. But God cannot foreknow what a believer does if he or she doesn’t do it. So they must do it to alter the past, specifically what God knows about our future actions. By praying after a tragic event occurred in the past believers are determining what God foreknows from all eternity. And based upon his foreknowledge God can prevent the past from happening before it happens. The problem is that since God foreknows what believers do, he supposedly also foreknows that they won’t be praying for a particular event to be changed. But if they do pray then God would have this foreknowledge. Whew! That’s complicated.
Not when you add multiple universes into the equation.
One last objection is that if God did decide to prevent an event in the past based upon his foreknowledge of the future prayers of believers, then no one would know God changed that event. That’s a good argument, since all knowledge about an event, even the prayers themselves, would no longer exist. There would supposedly be no memory of those spoken prayers too. Let’s say believers prayed to change the 9/11 terrorist attacks and God foreknew these prayers and prevented it. Then we wouldn’t have any knowledge of that event or the fact that anyone prayed to change it, since we would be on a different time line.
This argument is just one of many leading me to think that either God does not exist, or he doesn't have foreknowledge, or he doesn't care.
pseudo Christian: Dear Lord Jesus, you said in your word that if we ask anything in your name, then it would be done. I pray right now that you will go back in time and stop the Cuban missile crisis from turning into a Nuclear holocaust. You know how bad it is right now. I know that you did not want all those people to die. I ask that you may go back and Help JFK to reason with those atheistic communists. In your name I pray, Amen”
See? None of use even remembers the nuclear holocaust.
Your argument does raise some interesting questions though.
If there exists a god, then god has the property of free will. It's not the case that god has the property of free will; therefore, it's not the case that there exists a god. [∃G→G(fw)]&~G(fw)∴~∃G