Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Open Theism

Open Theism is a subject I haven't thought much about. One of my facebook friends asked for suggestions to blog about. I threw out a suggestion that he didn't want to write about because he hadn't thought much about it. For me, though, blogs are sometimes an opportunity to think out loud, so I decided to blog about something I hadn't thought much about just to show that it can be done. I'm thinking about open theism right now, and I'm going to share my thoughts with you.

First, lemme tell you what I take open theism to be, and mind ye this is just hearsay. Open theism is the view that God does not know everything that is going to happen in the future. More specifically, he doesn't know what free creatures are going to decide in every case.

The first criticism that ordinary theists (closed theists?) might make is that God is all-knowing. That's standard Christian doctrine. And an ordinary theist might accuse an open theism of denying God's omniscience.

The response of an open theist, from what I understand, is that God is all-knowing. To be all-knowing means to know all true propositions. But God can't be faulted for not knowing something when there's nothing to know. God doesn't know what colour my girlfriend's hair is for the simple reason that I don't have a girlfriend. But that doesn't mean he isn't all knowing. There's no answer to the question, "What colour is my girlfriend's hair"? There's no true proposition for God to know. In the same way, say the open theists, there's no true answer to the question, "What is Bob gonna do with that apple?" if Bob has free will and is just as likely to eat it as he is to throw it away.

It's an interesting thing to think about. Open theism depends on the notion of libertarian free will. In compatibilist free will, our choices are determined by our natures, including our desires, biases, motives, beliefs, etc. But in libertarian free will, our choices are not determined by any antecedent causes or conditions, including our mental predispositions. Since nothing determines what a person will do under libertarianism, anything is possible (within physical limits, of course). Somehow, Open theists seem to think this removes all truth value from future tensed propositions when it comes to describing the future actions of free creatures.

One way they might get there is to say that if there is some definite truth about what you are going to choose in the future, then you can't choose otherwise since, if you did, then the original "truth" would not have really been true after all. So if there is some definite truth about your future choices, then you cannot have libertarian free will. But since you do have libertarian free will, then there's no definite truth about what you're going to choose in the future. That's a logically valid argument, but I dispute both premises. I don't believe we have libertarian free will. I'm a compatibilist. But I don't think there being definite truths about our future choices amounts to our choices being determined, so I don't think future tensed truths are inconsistent with us having libertarian free will. I won't go into that because I wrote about it here.

Also, I gave some philosophical arguments for compatibilism in various other blogs, which I linked to here. I argued in there that compatibilism makes better sense out of morality than libertarianism does. So if we have moral obligations, then compatibilism is more likely to be true than libertarianism.

But lots of Biblical arguments have been made for compatibilism, too. One of the best I've read was Martin Luther's book on The Bondage of the Will.

But even without appealing to compatibilism over and against libertarianism, a person could argue against open theism by pointing to the many prophecies in the Bible that seem to depend on human decision for their fulfillment. Clearly, God knew what people were going to do. Otherwise, he would not have been able to make those certain predictions. The Bible clearly portrays God as knowing the future actions of his creatures.

I suppose an open theist could respond by saying that since God doesn't exhaustively predict all future acts of all his creatures, these Biblical prophecies do not negate open theism. They could argue that in the case of prophecy, God overrides libertarian free will, but he only does so in isolated circumstances in order to bring his prophecies to fulfillment. It isn't his usual course of action. I don't really have an answer for that. I'd have to look up passages to see exactly what it says about God's future knowledge.

Open Theism also seems to depend on a dynamic theory of time. If time is static, and God exists outside of time and is able to observe the entire spectrum of time as if it were all "now" from his point of view, then it seems obvious that he would know everything that every free creature would ever choose. Only if God is in time, like the rest of us, would any problem arise, it seems to me, because then God would either have to predict the future or wait to see what happens. So if it turns out that the static view of time is correct, that would probably be a good argument against open theism. I happen to subscribe to the dynamic theory of time, though, so I wouldn't go that route.

7 Comments:

At 4/26/2011 5:38 PM , Blogger Kyle Hendricks said...

You're right that an open theist would say God decrees some things for the future, but not exhaustively. For example: God decreed that He would have a bride (the church), but who is going to be part of that bride is "open."

When it comes to freedom, Boyd seems to think we eventually "become our choices/habits." Our personalities eventually become solidified by our personal decisions in life. "Our choices become our habits; our habits become our character; and our character becomes our destiny." Libertarian free will is provisional and is meant to bring us to a sort of compatibilistic freedom. We might eventually become so good that our very being is good, so we act in accordance with that being. My character has been solidified in such a way that it's guaranteed that I won't kill my father tomorrow. This can happen if we become more evil as well.

 
At 4/26/2011 5:43 PM , Blogger Sam said...

That's interesting. I didn't know that about Boyd. I guess that would solve the problem of how God can guarantee that there will never be another "fall of man" once God restores everything to perfection. Those who are saved will no longer have libertarian free will once they have been raised to immortality.

By the way, I tweaked my paragraph about divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will.

 
At 4/26/2011 7:06 PM , Blogger Kyle Hendricks said...

Here's a series of interviews with Boyd that might help.

http://www.closertotruth.com/search_results.php?search=Greg+Boyd&x=0&y=0

 
At 6/21/2011 4:24 PM , Blogger Dogbyte said...

I guess I am a closed theist then, because given all that the Bible says about the Book of Life, would indicate that the total foreknowledge of His creation was known before it was even created.... does that even include time itself? I think so...

This is where i would disagree that "who is going to be part of that bride is open".

Once sin is destroyed, the reason it will not rise again is because everyone up to that point, will now be aware of its consequences...

The existence of free will, i believe, was a big part of the "great accuser's" argument... at which point the curse of sin, and its consequences were not known...

How else would God prove otherwise, if not by recording those consequences in the Book of Life?

Wouldnt this require total knowledge of all information? If anyone had such knowledge, wouldnt that make time irrelevant? Seems to me its only an issue if you are bound by time itself.

 
At 6/21/2011 8:05 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Once sin is destroyed, the reason it will not rise again is because everyone up to that point, will now be aware of its consequences…

How would being aware of the consequences of sin prevent people from sinning? It seems to me it would only work by giving people a motive that was sufficient to guarantee that they would never sin. But if that's the case, then compatibilism would be true. Are you saying that you subscribe to compatibilism, at least in the after life?

I'm not sure I'm following you in your last three paragraphs. Are you trying to make an argument that since God has perfect knowledge of the future that whether we have libertarian freedom or compatibilist freedom is not an issue?

 
At 6/27/2011 12:05 PM , Blogger Dogbyte said...

"How would being aware of the consequences of sin prevent people from sinning? It seems to me it would only work by giving people a motive that was sufficient to guarantee that they would never sin. But if that's the case, then compatibilism would be true. Are you saying that you subscribe to compatibilism, at least in the after life?"


Well to me, as I currently understand things, sin serves a purpose, it really does cause the knowledge of "good and evil".

Motive will not be a future issue i feel, because as non-cursed beings, on par with angels if its easier to think about it in that way... we will no longer have the carnal nature we have today. That does not mean we are incapable of sin however, after all Lucifer was capable, and he was indeed a special angel. It may be that all God needed to ensure sin never reoccurs, is to stay its execution through intercession once, make provisions to save those effected (Jesus' intercession), and make the best possible outcome a reality based on His foreknowledge of all information, all a way to share His love. Once sin is destroyed in the lake of fire, the idea of sin will no longer be a mystery, all created beings will have seen its effect.

That effect, and its entire mystery, will be answered by the Book of Life. A recording made prior to each of our existences. The Bible also talks about "books" being opened in heaven's court (daniel 7, Rev 20, mal 3) after Jesus is found worthy to inherit the Fathers kingdom, where these books of deeds are reviewed, and i think, are compared to the book of life and serves as evidence. When they are found to be a match, no one can blame God for destroying sin in the way the Bible reveals. A written and recorded knowledge of all future events and info, will be in accordance to the book of deeds recorded as they happened, by who i do not know...maybe angels. Angel does mean "messenger of God", but this detail i have not come across yet.


Love requires free will, and love is His gift to all, all that would receive it anyway. We cannot save ourselves, we did not have a hand in God's choice to freely give, but nevertheless, what we do with that gift will be recorded. Committing the unpardonable sin will ultimately make or break the decision on Jesus' part, to act as an intercession between sins punishment, and our salvation.


"I'm not sure I'm following you in your last three paragraphs. Are you trying to make an argument that since God has perfect knowledge of the future that whether we have libertarian freedom or compatibilist freedom is not an issue?"

Im afraid I do not understand your question, but if i was up to snuff on exactly what libertarian and compatibilist freedom was, then maybe I could...

But i have a feeling that it may involve whether or not God's knowledge of all information dictates whether or not we have a choice... is that close?

Here is where misuse of the word "predestination" occurs in my opinion. I have no issue with events being predestined by God, but I do take issue with man's free will being predestined. These are two very different and distinct things.

One may give us the opportunity to make a decision, the other one negates the need for a decision all together.

Love is best experienced when it is shared.

Ive not taken this causation very far or put a ton of thought behind it, but to me its fun to try and see where it may lead...

Love requires free will. Free will requires the possibility of sin. The possibility of sin requires salvation and therefore a savior. Salvation and a savior requires more love.

I dont know, haha, here is where i start to get cross eyed....

But from God perspective, His choosing of the elect, was known before hand. From Man's perspective, our lack of that foreknowledge makes "the elect" a moot point, because His decision, is based on the decisions we make while we are alive.

 
At 10/20/2011 1:53 PM , Blogger Jay Wile said...

You say, "The Bible clearly portrays God as knowing the future actions of his creatures," but that's not always true. In fact, the open theists point to a lot of Scripture that seems to indicate just the opposite.

For example, in Jeremiah 26:3, God says, "Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way..." Indicating that He doesn't know that they will. Exodus 4:8 has God saying, "If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign" This indicates God doesn't know what His creatures are going to do.

In Jeremiah 3:6-7, God says, "...Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it." This indicates what God thought would happen did not happen.

There are many, many, many examples like this. Indeed, the main thrust of the book of Jonah seems to be that God changed His mind. It is hard to understand why God could change His mind if He knew that the people of Ninevah would repent.

This is one of the main reasons for open theism - there are parts of the Bible that really don't portray God as knowing the future actions of his creatures.

I am not an open theist, but I can understand how verses like these motivate the theology.

 

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