Jul 20

Questions from an Atheist #5: God—The Original Time Lord

Maya Bohnhoff

I’m actually going to consider three of the questions “Maynard” asked on his blog site. The first two are:

#4: Can God change the past? and # 5. Does God know the future?

These questions involve not only our conceptions of God, but our conceptions of time, which is a dimension we understand perhaps less well than others about which we claim some sort of knowledge. We run into time-related issues, in fact, when we try to measure the momentum and location of an entity simultaneously. Thanks to Werner Heisenberg, we know that when we try to do this, the very act of measuring affects the thing being measured—in other words, out of the movie that is the entity’s momentum, we get a single freeze frame . . . and can no longer measure the speed of the film. To the perception of the measuring tool (in this case, the human eye), the film has stopped.

This has all sorts of ramifications, but the one I’m most interested in here is the idea that in trying to observe an arc (metaphorically speaking) we capture only a single point. An essay I was reading this morning expressed it this way: the wave system (or arc) being observed “collapses” to a single actuality.

But does it? Or is it rather that the tools we are using to observe and measure the entity are only capable of capturing a single actuality? That they are, in essence, unitaskers?

What has this got to do with God and time? This is how my fellow blogger, Ian Kluge, put it:

“God is not in time and that ‘past’ and ‘future’ are terms that only apply from the human point of view. They have no meaning vis-a-vis God. The paradoxes that come from trying to answer these questions are artifacts of the human viewpoint, and say nothing about God, i.e. they miss the point.”

(Or, in this case, they catch the point and miss the arc.)

Back to my son’s ideas about the dimension of perspective. We can only measure either momentum or location of an entity. We cannot measure both with real accuracy. Nor can we imagine another person’s point of view even though we are the same sort of being. They may be part of the wave or arc, but we can only experience the point.

The answer to these questions, then, is that ultimately, no one can answer those questions because it’s not in the realm of our experience to do so. Here, we have to go on rational extrapolations from our own experience and observation. In other words, we are giving our “best guess” or, as Mr. Spock would have it, we have made a logical assumption.

I assume a great many of our visitors have watched Dr. Who. (I’ve been a fan for over 30 years and have the convention memorabilia to prove it.) In this amazing TV series, the question of changing the past frequently arises. And with it arises the question: If God—or some random Time Lord—altered our past, how would we know? If I wake up some morning and I’m a successful author with movie options and a bestselling series of books, would I remember that I was ever a struggling writer living from contract to contract?

To me, these are non-questions about which I have to ask, “What’s the point?”

The second half of the question asks if God knows the future. What I understand from Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá’s statements about the future is that certain things—Divine Goals, I guess you could call them—are preordained. Certain processes are preordained. For example, the maturation of mankind from savage to civil, from material to spiritual, from irrational to rational, from selfishness to community-consciousness is preordained, but how that comes about, how long it takes and how much suffering it requires is up to us. We can just sit around wishing or praying for world unity and peace and compassion, or we can learn the skills necessary to bring that about and put them into action.

It’s a lot like a child’s growth from baby to adulthood. You know that that cute little kid in the bassinet is going to grow up, but you don’t really know until that growth is well underway what that adult is going to be like. If, as my son suggests, God is an intelligence with unlimited viewpoints, then it stands to reason that He would also be an intelligence that can see unlimited futures.

My writing provides me with an analog for this. In the novel I’m working on, I arrive frequently at junctures at which I and my characters must make decisions about their courses of action. I know that certain things must happen in the book before the plot completely unfolds, but exactly how my characters will arrive at the end point changes as they navigate turning point after turning point. I have a creator’s eye view of all this, of course, so I can see multiple paths the action could take that would arrive at key points that I know must occur. But oddly enough, if I’m doing it “right”, the interactions between my characters will be what determines their path through my plot rather than my forcing a particular sequence of events.

But again, when it comes to God and futures, this is one of those questions that a human being can’t answer with certainty. How does a being who can only see points answer questions that relate to an arc? It’s as if one of my fictional characters asked another, “Do you think there’s a Writer out there who knows exactly what I’m going to say on page 123?”

In my case, the answer is “no”. I don’t know what my hero is going to say on page 123, but I do know that he will say something like that at some point in his “life” on the page IF he is to arrive at a point I have preordained. Is that the way God works? Only God knows, and beyond that, His Emissaries can only tell us what we are capable of understanding.

Which brings us around to question #6:

Does God know absolutely everything that happens every moment, including every thought of every being?

Is there a Writer out there?

This is a very similar question to the other two and deals with God’s omniscience with regard to time. To human beings, with our singular viewpoints and limitations, omniscience is something of which we can have absolutely no experience. None. Irks the heck out of us, too, but there it is.

I think Buckeroo Bonzai puts it eloquently when he says, “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” We have only our singular viewpoint, that “you are here” on a map of the cosmos, and expecting to know what a super-eminent being knows or does not know unless He tells us (or perhaps even if He tells us) because while His Emissary may say the words that hint at this state of being, we lack the capacity to do more than imagine what omniscience means.

Next time: Does God “do” miracles?

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About the author

Maya Bohnhoff

... is a professional writer, editor, recording / performing artist, and Baha'i. She lives in San Jose, CA.


  1. Borna

    Regarding the last question, from the Kitab-i-Íqán, p.67: “Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing;” [Qur'án, 55:29]
    So I think the answer would be “yes” to that.

  2. Maya Bohnhoff

    I agree. But this, of course, raises the question as to what constitutes a miracle?

    I personally find the fact that any of the revealed religions survived their early years to spread around the globe is one of the most potent miracles. Even rulers as mighty and feared as Shin Shih Huan Ti, or any given Pharaoh or Mayan king have left little behind but cryptic (and sometimes gruesome) mysteries and crumbling monuments. Contrasted with the living legacy of Moses, Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, etc. this seems, to me, rather a poor showing for all that power and prestige.

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