Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trouble for Open Theists

One of my criticisms of Open Theism is that it makes God a less-than-omniscient being. Now process theologians may have no problem with that, but their cousins the Open Theists may. Typically, they do not want to say God lacks this perfection. Usually, the idea is that God is omniscient because he knows all the truths there are to know (because the future conditionals are unknowable; they lack a truth value).

This line of defense by the Open Theist will seem to many to be dubious. However, there may be some merit to their line of thinking. Consider issues surrounding God’s omnipotence. There are several paradoxes or problems with omnipotence presented. For example, God’s actions and man’s free will. A man cannot be forced to freely do something. The standard line of defense is to claim this is a logical impossibility, and so God cannot be faulted for not being able to achieve this (it is not, strictly speaking, a thing to be achieved). Therefore, God is still omnipotent, for there is no non-logical limit to his power.

Is the same defense not open to the Open Theist? Can she not say that God is still omniscient here, because there is no non-logical limit to his knowledge? At first blush, this seems very promising. But upon further examination, it seems that it all depends on the idea that God’s foreknowledge and future conditionals (or relevantly-free counterfactuals) are incompatible, in a completely logical sense. This will take quite some work to show.

I would argue that if it is even possible for God to have knowledge of future contingents, then any being worthy of the title “God” must necessarily have that knowledge. Essentially, if it is even possible the Open Theist is wrong, then his lack of foreknowledge would be a non-logical limit on his knowledge. Any such conception of God would be inferior in Perfect Being Theology.

There are plenty of good reasons to reject the idea that future contingents and God’s foreknowledge cannot go together (in a logical sense). See William Lane Craig’s The Only Wise God for more on that. Dialectically, Open Theists claim that a traditional understanding of God’s omniscience is faulty because he logically cannot know certain propositions taken for granted under the traditional model. The response is that if it is even possible God does know them, then the Open Theist is wrong. It is therefore up to the Open Theist to overcome the objections made by Craig and construct a positive case for this. If they cannot, it looks for all the world as though they have constructed an inferior god.


  1. Hi Randy,

    Great post – even if I’m not 100% sure about it. In the book Four Views on Divine Providence, Greg Boyd spends a good deal of time working with might counterfactuals vs would counterfactuals. There seems to be times in Scripture where God is testing or finding out what someone might or might not do (Deut 8:2, 13:1-3 for example). God also expresses regret, surprise and had expectations that people would act differently in other places. Jesus also prayed very hard asking that this cup be taken from him if it was possible. I struggle with trying to understand these passages in a Molinist sense – it just rings hollow to me. That doesn’t mean I’m declaring Molinism false or anything, it’s just means I’m not fully convinced; this may be the only area Dr. Craig hasn’t fully convinced me of something!

    I’m not sure if “might” and “might not” propositions are contained in “will” and “will not” propositions. Certainly they are contained if the future is ASSUMED to be settled, but what if we remove that presupposition? Certainly some things are settled but do we have to assume that everything is?

  2. Hi Larry, thanks for the comment! Technically, the biblical objections, being implicit, will falter before the philosophical. This is because the biblical considerations rest on interpretation while the philosophical considerations of the article rest on metaphysics. However, that would be a boring response to your interesting comments! :)

    It's all right that Craig hasn't convinced you of everything he teaches. I am one of the biggest WLC fans around and I disagree with him on a couple of minor points. With the examples typically given, I tend to think these are anthropomorphisms. What I mean when I say that is that these trials, tests, and questions are not done for God's benefit--they're done for the recipients'. As to the Jesus example, I don't think (and I think most theologians would agree) that the point is to express ignorance concerning possibility, but rather a lament for what was to come. Moreover, the example of Jesus' incarnation is certainly not a normal one. That is to say we should only hesitantly draw doctrine from it.

    As to might-counterfactuals and will-propositions, if any will propositions are true, there are true might counterfactuals. As Craig mentions, "would-counterfactuals logically imply might-counterfactuals." This means that if it's true that "if X were in S at T, X would freely A," then it is not true that "If X were in S at T, X might A." In any case, I am wholly with Craig concerning counterfactual logic. It seems Boyd is confused when he attempts to allow mights without woulds. Craig goes on to say, "It's important to understand that on the traditional semantics for counterfactual conditionals, might-counterfactuals are simply defined—contrary to their usage in ordinary language—to be the negations of would not-counterfactuals."

    Anyway, I've gone on too much. :) Thanks for bearing with me!

    1. Yikes, I need to edit a statement: This means that if it's true that "if X were in S at T, X would freely A," then it is true that "If X were in S at T, X might A." There.

  3. "if X were in S at T, X would freely A," then it is true that "If X were in S at T, X might A."

    I guess that's exactly what rings hollow. There seems to be no "might" about it. It's just "would". There doesn't appear to be any domain of might, X was placed in S with no chance that S "might" do otherwise. God knew X would freely A and created the scenario in which it happens. Might appears illusory.

    I always strive to take the Bible at its face-value word if I can (considering genre, culture, time period, customs, etc). I agree we shouldn't take doctrine from extreme examples, but there are quite a few examples of God testing people or showing surprise, remorse, etc - it isn't that rare in the Bible. I'm just not comfortable declaring them all anthropomorphisms - you may be right - but it doesn't sit perfectly with me, that's all.

    Great topic though!

    1. Remember, "might" is not used in terms of possibility. That is a colloquial, not technical, usage. It's this conflation that plagues Boyd as well. :) So if we were to say X might not do something, counterfactually, he would not do it (for in counterfactual semantics, it's not true that if X would do A, then X might not do A. But "might" doesn't indicate possibility as much as propensity. It's the reason "might" isn't discussed much; it just doesn't tell us much about what someone would do (though it can serve to delimit what one would do). Thanks for the discussion!

  4. I don't even know if this is exactly a fair version of open theism you're critiquing here. While OT is not monolithic, I, like some other open theist would say that God knows every possible choice a free agent could make so God would know the future. So it's not that he has no foreknowledge, it's just that certain aspects of the future have not been decided upon yet by free agents. They are still open. It's not so much what God knows or doesn't know but whether or not possibilities are real or not.

    1. Hi Erik, thanks for commenting!

      My above article does set forth the standard open theist response (namely, that would-counterfactuals and future contingents have no truth value, and hence God does not and cannot know them). Furthermore, I thought this was charitable because I pointed out that open theists do not want to claim God is ignorant, but rather that it is a matter of logic (if future contingents have no truth value, then it is a logical impossibility for anyone to know the truth value [from the law of non-contradiction]). I'm certainly sorry if I offended anyone.

      I find your statement here, "I, like some other open theist would say that God knows every possible choice a free agent could make so God would know the future," to be interesting. If God knew mere possibilities, presumably this would not be enough for God to know what the future would be (unless, of course, each person only has one possible course of action for each scenario open to them--but then we have fatalism). So my question is how God's knowledge of how any agent could act results in God's knowing what the future is?

  5. Something might happen is completely different than something will or will not happen. The latter compiliation assumes that somewhere or somehow the outcome is already fixed. But what if it isn't, what if it truly at this point of time could go either way? Hence, will or will not happen doesn't exaust all the possible outcomes. For free will individuals making future free will decisions it isn't even the right category of language. We only know in retrospect whether something did or didn't happen. Classical Theists are making a big unfounded assumption when saying that a future choice would or would not happen. Their assumption is that someone it is already fixed. But it isn't.

  6. Hi Tim, thanks for your comments. I would like to address a few things contained therein.

    First, what do you mean when you say the outcome is "fixed"? Apparently, you mean that if something will or will not happen, it could not happen the other way (indicated by your use of "could"). But why think this is true? Why assume that a simple description of what will be the case indicates a prescription of what could/could not (and, by extension, necessarily must) be the case?

    Next, it appears as though a conflation of epistemology and ontology has taken place. This is evidenced when you say, "we only know in retrospect." (italics added) The issue of whether or not truths will or will not happen is an ontological one (i.e., it describes a state of affairs corresponding to the actual way the world will/will not be); epistemology is totally relative to persons.


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