Minority Report is a blockbuster movie (based on a Philip K. Dick short story) that examines determinism and free will. In the movie the PreCrime Dept. is tasked with identifying and arresting criminals before they commit a crime. They do this based on information provided by the Precogs, three humans who have the ability to see into the future. Danny Witwer of the DOJ is evaluating PreCrime and questions the premise on which it is based:
Danny Witwer: I’m sure you all understand the legalistic drawbacks to Precrime methodology. … let’s not kid ourselves: we are arresting individuals who have broken no law.
Jad: But they will.
Gordon Fletcher: The commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics.
The questions that the movie wrestles with is whether the future can be changed or not. Are the Precogs, who are similar to Laplace’s Demons, accurately seeing the future because all future events are determined? And what does determinism mean if it is possible for a future event to be prevented by the choices made be PreCrime agents. After all they arrest a criminal prior to the crime thus the determined event is never committed.
I couldn’t help but think that the PreCrime Dept. makes for an interesting (though imperfect) analogy to consider the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). If we consider the moment that God created the universe and all that is in it and call this “day 1” then we need to step back into the “time” (if we can refer to it as time) that occurred before “in the beginning”. We will call this “Day Zero” and this will stand for some point in eternity past prior to the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) . On Day Zero nothing we know exists.There is no space, matter, or time. Only the Triune God exists.
We need to think about what occurred on Day Zero because it is then that the eternal decrees of God were made. That is when God elected or decided who would be saved and who would not.
According to the Westminster Confession (Chapter 3.iii):
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death
R.C. Sproul succinctly summarizes the Reformed view of election in Chosen By God (link):
From all eternity, before we existed, God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish.
On Day Zero all the people that would ever be created were divided into one of two groups. Some of the people were chosen to be placed in the group known as the elect. Those who are in this group are the ones whom God will show mercy and grant eternal life. The rest of the people, often referred to as the reprobate, were placed in the group that will be hardened, condemned, and will perish (Romans 9:22; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4). God’s placement of people on Day 0 is considered an unchangeable decision. It resembles what we see Jesus doing upon His return (Matt 25:31-33) when He separates people into two groups based on this eternal decree (sheep/elect and goat/reprobate).
On what grounds are the reprobate condemned?
Most Calvinists hold to infralapsarianism, Under this view they would assert that on Day 0, when God divided humanity, He saw all of the people that would ever be created as criminals (fallen and sinful) because He knows that they will commit crimes (sin). God is judging all people as guilty before the creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) and before anyone has been born or done anything (Rom 9:10-13).
The identification of the reprobate who are marked for condemnation for their future sins is where the resemblance to the PreCrime Dept comes in.
Angel #1: I’m sure you all understand the legalistic drawbacks of sentencing people before they are born or have done anything. We are condemning individuals who have broken no law.
Angel #2: But they will.
How does God know that these individuals will break the law?
We might offer the answer that God foreknows all future events. He can “see” the sins that each person will commit ahead of time. This would be similar to the Precogs in the Minority Report who had visions of the future.
Those who don’t hold to a Reformed/Calvinist view would hold to something similar to this idea. God sees in advance the free will choices of people. His foreknowledge of the future is contingent on the choice that is made by the person.
C.S.Lewis (see this post on his theology) writes in Mere Christianity:
Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. … But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call “tomorrow” is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call “today.” All the days are “Now” for Him.
and in The Discarded Image:
Strictly speaking, he never forsees; He simply sees. … He sees (not remembers) your yesterday’s acts because yesterday is still ‘there’ for Him; he sees (not forsees) your tomorrows acts because He is already in tomorrow.
However, Reformers would argue that God is not like the Precogs. He does not know the future because He can see things ahead of time. God knows the future because He has planned it. His foreknowledge of the future is contingent on the plan that He made.
A. W. Pink, the Reformed theologian, writes:
God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be.
Charles Hodges, also a Reformed theologian, states it this way:
By the decrees of God are to be understood the purpose of God rendering certain the occurrence of future events.
God knows His plan and therefore knows the future. Going back to Day 0, God condemns the reprobate for the future crimes they will commit because they are rendered certain by His plan.
In the movie Witmer wants to know if the Precogs are ever wrong. Unlike the Precogs, God’s vision of the future would not be considered flawed. However, if the events in God’s plan are certain it does open up questions on how God insures that His plan will play out just as He has determined. If the plan determines what will happen, then in what way does God cause the plan to happen? If He does not look ahead to future contingent choices then it doesn’t seem that “permission of acts” could be an accurate description of what is happening here.
It is your destiny?
According to the Reformed view, the eternal fate of every person that will be created was decided on Day 0. Before they were born. Before they did anything. The decision was not based on what they would do in the future. But rather on what God planned that they would do in the future.
How is this different from fatalism – which according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as “a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them“?
Unless you redefine fatalism. Hodge notes the similarity of the Reformed view on decrees to fate:
There is only one point of agreement between these doctrines. They both assume absolute certainty in the sequence of all events.
To avoid being called fatalism, Hodges asserts three differences:
- fate has no purpose but the decrees of God are ordained to accomplish His purposes.
- fate is determined by “unintelligent causes and effects”, but the decrees are made by God who acts with wisdom and reason.
- fate sees agents acting according to deterministic laws of nature, but God decrees while also preserving the freedom and responsibility of man.
The future commission of the crime is absolute metaphysics. How do you understand this challenging question?