Thursday, 7 January 2016

New Books on Providence: The Mechanics of Divine Foreknowledge and Providence and Abraham’s Dice

Here are details of a couple of forthcoming books on providence. First of all, here’s the blurb for T. Ryan Byerly’s The Mechanics of Divine Foreknowledge and Providence:

How exactly could God achieve infallible foreknowledge of every future event, including the free actions of human persons? How could God exercise careful providence over these same events? Byerly offers a novel response to these important questions by contending that God exercises providence and achieves foreknowledge by ordering the times.

The first part of the book defends the importance of the above questions. After characterizing the contemporary freedom–foreknowledge debate, Byerly argues that it has focused too narrowly on a certain argument for theological fatalism, which attempts to show that the existence of infallible divine foreknowledge poses a unique threat to the existence of creaturely libertarian freedom. Byerly contends, however, that bare existence of infallible divine foreknowledge cannot threaten freedom in this way; at most, the mechanics whereby this foreknowledge is achieved might so threaten human freedom.

In the second part of the book, Byerly develops a model for understanding the mechanics whereby infallible foreknowledge is achieved that would not threaten creaturely libertarian freedom. According to the model, God infallibly foreknows every future event because God has placed the times that constitute the history of the world in primitive earlier-than relations to one another. After defending the consistency of this model of the mechanics of divine foreknowledge with creaturely libertarian freedom, the author applies it to divine providence more generally. A novel defence of concurrentism is the result.

I’ve not read Byerly’s book yet, of course, but already I’m wondering about how novel is his approach. It’s fine to contend that ‘God exercises providence and achieves foreknowledge by ordering the times’, but I’m not sure how this differs from many within mainstream Augustinian–Calvinist traditions. I suppose much depends on what Byerly means by ‘primitive earlier-than relations’.

The second book – Abraham’s Dice – is a volume edited by Karl W. Giberson:

Most of us believe everything happens for a reason. Whether it is “God's will,” “karma,” or “fate,” we want to believe that an overarching purpose undergirds everything, and that nothing in the world, especially a disaster or tragedy, is a random, meaningless event.

Abraham’s Dice explores the interplay between chance and randomness, as well as between providence and divine action in the monotheistic religious traditions, looking at how their interaction has been conceptualized as our understanding of the workings of nature has changed. This lively historical conversation has generated intense and engaging theological debates, and provocative responses from science: what of the history of our universe, where chance and law have played out in complex ways? Or the evolution of life, where random mutations have challenged attempts to find purpose within evolution and convinced many that human beings are a “glorious accident.” The enduring belief that everything happens for a reason is examined through a conversation with major scholars, among them holders of prestigious chairs at Oxford and Cambridge universities and the University of Basel, as well as several Gifford lecturers, and two Templeton prize winners.

Now, as never before, confident scientific assertions that the world embodies a profound contingency are challenging theological claims that God acts providentially in the world. The random and meandering path of evolution is widely used as an argument that God did not create life. Organized historically, Abraham’s Dice provides a wide-ranging scientific, theological, and biblical foundation to address the question of divine action in a world shot through with contingency.

The contents of this one – found here – reveal quite a few interesting-looking titles and some big-name contributors (e.g., Oliver Crisp, John Hedley Brooke, and Alister McGrath). And I’ll be interested to see if any fresh or alternative angles will be on view.


  1. One wonders which century these dudes live in - perhaps the 19th!
    Havent they ever heard about the unpredictable nature of quantum Reality as signalled by Einstein's famous E=MC2 equation which tells us that all of this is essentially a Light Show!

    Me thinks that all of these dudes should familiarize themselves with the contents of this website, which is very much about the paradoxical nature of quantum Reality
    And the many references featured on this site too:

    And these two essays too: