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omniscience

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A God Who Risks… too much?- A Difficult Dilemma for Open Theists

gwr-sandersOpen theism is, briefly, the notion that God does not comprehensively know the future [edit: strictly speaking, the view is that there is no settled “future” to know to begin with, so it is not a lack of knowledge but rather the absence of such a thing as a future that will occur; see next sentence and thanks for a clarifying comment below]. The future, it is held, is in some sense “open” because it is undetermined, even for God. Most frequently, this claim is put forth in terms of denial of knowledge of free creaturely action. Representative is the claim of John Sanders:

God cannot know as definite what we will do unless he destroys the very freedom he granted us… The future is not completely fixed, but open, to what both God and humans decide to do, so there are numerous possible futures (not just one). God knows as possibilities and probabilities those events which might happen in the future. (Sanders, 206, cited below)

Thus, it is fairly central to the open theistic perspective that God does not (and indeed cannot) know the future exhaustively, and the parts God does not know exhaustively are such because free will is involved. For the open theist, then, the proposition: ‘God does not know the future free actions of creatures with certainty’ is true. Gregory Boyd, another prominent open theist, puts it this way: “open theists hold that if God is omniscient… and if the future is in fact partly comprised of ontological possibilities, then God must know the future as partly comprised of such possibilities” (Boyd, 195, cited below).

Because of this, we may fairly state the open theistic perspective as holding the following proposition to be true: “God does not know [future] counterfactuals of creaturely freedom [CCF].”

The Dilemma

I propose that open theism, because of its commitment to denial that God knows the future free actions of agents, raises an enormously difficult dilemma for those who hold to the position:

Either God possibly created knowing that it was possible no one would be saved or at least one counterfactual is true.

The dilemma draws its strength from propositions open theists, by their own writings, accept. Open theists, as demonstrated above, deny that God knows CCF. Thus, the following statement is unknown to God according to open theism:

If I (God) create the universe, at least one free creature will be saved.

Open theists must deny this statement as being known by God in order to maintain their stance that God cannot know the future free actions of creatures. But denying this counterfactual is theologically very problematic, because it means that the God who risks (to use John Sanders’ terminology) effectually risked so much that God decided to create a universe populated by moral agents without so much knowing that even one of these agents would be saved. Sure, one of the possibilities was probably that all such moral beings would be saved, but another possibility is that all moral beings would be damned. On open theism, God just didn’t know.

Now it could be that God was 99.999999999(repeating)% sure that at least one agent would be saved, but according to open theism, God could not know. I would suggest that any theological system which seriously puts forth the notion that God would create without knowing that at least one being would be saved is a theological system that cannot maintain the moral benevolence of deity.

The second part of the dilemma is also a serious problem for the open theist. Suppose the open theist embraces this part and counters “Very well, then God knew that at least one being would be saved.” But of course this would have been a CCF when God chose to create. Thus, the open theist would be forced to accept that at least one of these future counterfactuals is true. But if one is true, what possible grounds could there be for denying that others are true as well? It seems the open theist would either have to accept that CCF can be known without restraint (and therefore overthrow the philosophical framework of open theism) or simply engage in special pleading for those CCFs that must be maintained in order to not impugn the moral character of God.

Counter Arguments

Character Settled?

Greg Boyd has argued that free agents may have settled characters such that free will may not be a consideration (for the sake of space I’ve greatly summarized here; see Boyd 193-194 for one example). Perhaps at least one creature could have a settled will such that they are saved and thus God could know their salvific status without threatening to know CCFs. My response to this would be to note the highly controversial nature of this argument on a number of levels: 1) it suggests that humans are capable of, by their own free will, coming to such a point that they change their will into a form that will, with certainly, act according to God’s will, which is objectionable on a number of Scriptural grounds; 2) it holds to a view of human nature that both affirms and denies compatibilism; 3) the possibility of a “settled will” is difficult to establish or define; etc.

CCFs not Denied

Perhaps the open theist could respond by arguing that open theism need not deny that God knows CCFs. I do not think this would be possible while still maintaining open theism because it would mean God knows comprehensively the future including my future free actions.

God’s Character not Impugned?

Perhaps the most fruitful counter for the open theist would be to deny that God’s moral character is impugned by creating without knowing that at least one person would be saved. Perhaps such an activity is merely morally neutral, or God’s other reasons for creating could overcome the difficulty.

I think this is, as I said, the best avenue for open theists to pursue, but on reflection I think that the real possibility that God would create in such a way as to not know that the moral agents God brought into being would be saved–that they all might be damned despite that not being God’s intent–is extremely problematic.

Conclusion

I believe that the dilemma offered above is, frankly, lethal to open theism. I have read several works by leading proponents of open theism and think that many arguments against the same are off the mark because they often do not hit on the points open theists actually hold. Here, however, I have presented an argument derived from the core of open theistic thought. Thus, I believe that open theism is untenable. It either impugns God’s character or is self-referentially incoherent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Consolation of Counterfactuals: The Molinism of Boethius– Boethius was an early Christian thinker who thought of a very insightful way to discuss counterfactuals of freedom.

Is God Just Lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism– I examine the set of possible worlds from a molinistic perspective.

The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will– I present a general case for molinism, analyzing various positions and concluding that God does know what we will do without predetermining it.

Sources

John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007).

Gregory Boyd “God Limits His Control” in Four Views on Divine Providence edited Gundry and Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Molinism and Aseity- A knock-down argument against middle knowledge?

stpeters2One of the most recent “Straight Thinking” podcasts–a podcast put on by Reasons to Believe–featured Travis Campbell discussing Middle Knowledge (which is an aspect of the philosophical theological position known as molinism). Middle Knowledge is, essentially, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–that is, the knowledge of things like “If someone talks about molinism, J.W. Wartick will be interested.” That is a counterfactual because it states something which may be contrary to fact–that is, it depends on some condition to be fulfilled in order to be true (in the example above, it is the occasion of someone to talk about molinism).

On the second part of the interview, Campbell discussed some objections to molinism which he felt made the position intractable. One of the first objections he presented was an objection from “aseity” that is, God’s self-existence. According to the doctrine of divine aseity, God does not rely upon anything else for God’s existence. Now, molinism classically holds that God surveys the realm of possible worlds prior to the creative act and so sees all possibilities related to free creaturely choices. Then, God creates the world God desires. Campbell argued that this undermines God’s aseity because it makes God dependent upon creatures for omniscience–one of God’s essential attributes.

The argument, if sound, has great force. After all, if molinism means one must deny an essential attribute of God, there is a pretty serious difficulty with the doctrine. But does it? Campbell cited William Lane Craig, a leading proponent of molinism, as admitting that molinism entails that God’s knowledge, at least, is in some sense dependent upon creaturely choices. From what I have read of WLC,*  I have found it seems he frequently makes it appear as though molinism presents God as able to choose among any parts of possible worlds to construct whatever possible world God wants. Not correct… but possibly also not Craig’s actual view;* perhaps Craig is only making it seem thus when he discusses molinism in summary. What I’m getting at is that I’m not convinced Craig is as consistent a molinist as, well, Molina (or in modern times, Thomas P. Flint).

Now for the claim itself, I do not think it follows that God is actually dependent upon creaturely choices. And, if it follows from molinism that God is dependent in that way, then it must also be true of any view which holds to foreknowledge whatsoever. In fact, this is where I have a pretty serious bone to pick with any view which denies comprehensive foreknowledge. Unless I am much mistaken–which is quite possible–the realm of possible worlds is a set of necessary truths. That is, each possible world is a complete set of all true propositions for the entire history of that world.*** But if that is the case, then molinism is no different on God’s creative activity than any other view of creation, for God is simply selecting one from a set of possible worlds.

There is debate over how such a set of possible worlds might be populated–does the set of possible worlds come from God, or is it simply a set of necessary truths?** Whatever one’s answer for this, it remains clear to me that molinism is not defective in this area: the molinist simply holds that God selects a possible world from the set of possible worlds. The fact that the molinist emphasizes that these possible worlds include free choices is essentially a moot point so far as aseity is concerned. If there is such a set of possible worlds, then any view of God’s foreknowledge and creation has to acknowledge that God’s creative act is the bringing forth of one such possible world. If there is no such set, then it seems our universe is necessary, which would itself be problematic for the doctrine of creation.

So it seems to me that Campbell failed to make a compelling argument against molinism from aseity. In order for his argument to be successful, he would have to show that molinism’s view of possible worlds is somehow radically different from any other position and then also demonstrate that molinism’s view also necessarily makes God dependent upon creaturely freedom. But of course that would also involve him having to show that the set of possible worlds, on molinism, is itself independent of God. And it seems to me that although perhaps not all molinists hold that God does generate the set of possible worlds, it is entirely possible for a molinist to consistently hold that this is the case: the set of possible worlds is dependent upon God. And, if that is true, Campbell’s argument fails. I conclude that Campbell’s argument fails because it is both incomplete and unsound.

*I have his Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom but I am working through Molina’s work before I transition into it.

**Interestingly, Craig is working in this area for his next major academic work, according to his own discussion of related topics on his podcasts.

***One may hold that a possible world is merely the starting conditions of a world, but I do not see how that distinction could be made coherently. That is, I’m not convinced that a set of possible worlds would not include the entire history of the possible world. Moreover, any who would argue that God has comprehensive knowledge of the future would have to grant that God’s creative act would entail the history of the entire [possible] world.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Dilemma for Open Theists

John Sanders writes in his treatise arguing for open theism, The God Who Risks, “Following Plato, Calvin declares that any change in God would imply imperfection in the divine being” (74). He proceeds to argue merely that God does change His mind. The problem is that, in arguing thus, Sanders has perhaps unknowingly presented a powerful dilemma for open theism to solve.

If God literally changes His mind, as Sanders desires to demonstrate, then:

1) If God changes His mind, and this brings about a better state of affairs, then it reveals that God was previously operating under a flawed or imperfect plan. [By implication, there are parts of God’s plan which could use improvement, but which God either chooses not to improve or doesn’t know how to improve.]

or

2) If God’s changing His mind brings about a worse state of affairs, then God has made a mistake, which perfect beings cannot do.

Now an immediate response could be that perhaps neither state of affairs is best. In that case, then, there would be no reason for God to change His mind in the first place and is therefore acting arbitrarily.

A response to this rebuttal may be that the change of mind is not arbitrary, but rather demonstrates God’s responsive, interpersonal nature. By changing His plan, God is responding to prayers and altering the course of history. If that is true, though, we have the first horn of the dilemma: God’s changing His mind is an improvement. And then that would mean God increased in perfection.

One may object with a tu quoque response: “Doesn’t anyone who hold that God becomes incarnate imply that God changes, and therefore wouldn’t they equally be skewered by this dilemma?”

A response to this could be simply that, assuming God has comprehensive foreknowledge, God has planned the incarnation from before the dawn of time, and so there is no changing of the divine plan.

It is interesting to see that Open Theists don’t necessarily hold that the crucifixion was God’s way of bringing about salvation in history. Sanders writes, “Though the incarnation and human suffering and death which would accompany it may have been in God’s plan all along, the cross as the specific means of death may not have been” (102). He concludes this because of his alignment with open theism, and the assertion that, given the free will of those involved, the crucifixion was not predestined (105). Not only that, but Sanders also holds that the suffering and death of Jesus were required by the atonement. Wholly apart from criticizing this theological point of interest, one can see that in this quotation, the open theist is entirely open to the dilemma. Suppose Jesus were to be assassinated, stabbed like Julius Caesar, instead of dying on a cross. Clearly, this wouldn’t suit to fill the prophecies in the Bible which were taken to reference the crucifixion (see Sanders’ discussion 102ff). Thus, it seems that this fulfillment of the divine purpose would have been less perfect than the crucifixion. Perhaps there are ways to improve on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It seems ludicrous to type such a sentence, but if the crucifixion was unnecessary, it seems at least logically possible that a better way to provide for atonement may have been accomplished.

Finally, one may object that the dilemma could work for any who hold that God created the world. One could adapt the dilemma for the creation of the universe and say that God could have brought about a better world and didn’t (and hence is imperfect). Now there are several ways in which this argument is disanalogous to the dilemma presented above, but one could simply answer it by saying that there are specific reasons for bringing about our world over others’ which are “better” or argue that there seems to be no such thing as a way to measure worlds against each other (for some discussion of this see here).

It seems to me that only versions of theism which imply that God does not know [comprehensively] the future will be susceptible to this dilemma. While some versions of theism hold both that God knows the future and that God changes, these versions will [almost all] fail to be susceptible to the dilemma because they’ll have an account for God’s plan which is unchanging.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The New Defenders of Molinism: Reconciling God’s Foreknowledge and Our Free Will

God has both complete foreknowledge concerning how… creatures will act and great control over their actions, in the sense that any act they perform is either intended or permitted by him. Yet because the knowledge which generates this foresight and sovereignty is not itself a product of free divine activity, our actions remain genuinely free, not the robotic effects of divine causal determinism. (Thomas Flint, 44, cited below)

Middle Knowledge–God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–is under attack from all sides. On one side, theological determinists argue that God’s foreknowledge necessitates all states of affairs. On the other side, open theists and process theists argue that foreknowledge limits the free will of creatures. That said, there are some extremely powerful philosophical defenses–and defenders–of the doctrine of middle knowledge.

Logical Priority and Creaturely Freedom

Essential to a correct understanding of molinism is an investigation of creation. Here, however, the discussion is not over the temporal nature of creation or the steps God took in creating. Rather, the focus is upon the logical priority within God’s creative act. By drawing out the logical priority involved, molinism solves the objections of both determinism and open theism.

The logical order of events is different from the chronological order in which they occur. Determinists focus only upon the chronological order: 1) Future contingents are true or false, God knows those which are true. 2) The events which are true occur (Craig, 128). From this, determinists (and open theists who deny God’s foreknowledge in order to preserve freedom of the will for this reason) conclude that everything is determined. The problem is they have ignored the contribution middle knowledge can make to reconciling free will and foreknowledge.

The logical priority of events occurring is quite different from its chronological order: 1) Events occur; 2) Statements about the events are true or false; 3) God knows the true statements.

By drawing out the logical priority of events’ occurring, one can then apply this to creation. William Lane Craig points out “The Three Logical Moments of God’s Knowledge”: 1) Natural Knowledge- God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds; 2) Middle Knowledge- God’s knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals. Here is the pivotal point: the third “logical moment” (again, note the distinction between chronological priority and logical priority) occurs only subsequent to God’s decision to create a world. God uses His natural knowledge to peruse the possible worlds, and His middle knowledge to determine how to best bring about His divine plans. Then, He chooses which possible world to create, and this brings about the third “moment” of God’s knowledge: 3) Free Knowledge–God’s contingent knowledge of the actual world (Craig, 131).

Note that God’s free knowledge is contingent–it is based upon actualizing a world from the set of possible worlds. Combining this with the facts of logical versus chronological priority, the resolution of the alleged difficulties from both determinists and open theists is revealed. Determinists ignored the fact that God, upon creating, is selecting from the set of possible worlds–included in each possible world is the set of free creaturely choices which will occur. God, therefore, does not determine which events will occur, but selects a world full of free choices. Open theists, on the other hand fail to recognize that the choices are free. The point must be emphasized: the choices themselves are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. In other words, there is a set of possible worlds, each of which features various states of affairs. Middle knowledge reveals the free choices made by the individuals which can populate the possible worlds. God’s knowledge does not determine the choices–God simply chooses to actualize one of the worlds full of free choices. It is only the “free knowledge” of God which is determined by God (Flint, 42).

The Theological Superiority of Molinism

Reconciling God’s foreknowledge and creaturely free will is not the only reason to accept molinism. The doctrine has a number of theological advantages over both open theism and theological determinism. First, the doctrine undermines the extremely untoward idea within theological determinism that God causes evil. John Frame, for example, says quite simply “…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (Frame, 68). Molinists, on the other hand, acknowledge that God accounts for evil within His plan but they can rightly argue that evil is due to the free acts of creatures.

Molinism also provides a grounds for Biblical Inerrancy. Open theists have great difficulties providing any grounds for this doctrine (and often end up abandoning it). The reason for this is because open theists don’t believe God knows what free creatures will do. Thus, free creatures–the authors of the Bible–could be fallible. Middle knoweldge, on the other hand, shows that God knows what the creatures will do in whatever circumstances they are placed in. Thus, God would have known who, what, where, when, why, and how to bring about His infallible Word.

Most notably, prophecy perhaps only makes sense on a molinist account. While determinism allows for the truth of prophecy, it undermines the creature-creator relationship inherent in prophecy (and found in accounts like that of Jonah). God simply foreordains that His prophets come forward and prophecy, then He unilaterally brings about the truth of their prophetic utterances. Open theism, on the other hand, must force prophecy either into God’s luck or argue that it is one of the “unilateral” actions of God (which undermines the core of open theism–human freedom). Molinism, however, allows for human freedom and the truth of prophecy. Thomas Flint points out that prophecy on a molinist account could be brought about in two ways–either through God acting to bring about the truth of the prophetic utterance, or through God’s foreknowledge of the free actions of creatures (Flint 197ff).

Again, prayers and their answers may only make sense upon a molinist account. Determinists, in particular, have difficulty with prayer. God seems quite narcissistic–He foreordains that His creations worship Him, and then chooses to bring about their requests. Open theists, on the other hand, have left God hog-tied. I may pray for a friend to come to the faith, and God can only hope with me that that friend might change his/her mind. God doesn’t know what will happen, on open theism, so He, like me, can just try His best. Conversely, molinism allows for creaturely freedom to choose to pray, while also allowing God to bring about the states of affairs prayed for (Flint, 229ff–Flint specifically is discussing praying “for things to have happened”).

Conclusion

Molinism provides a wealth of theological insight. Not only that, but it also reconciles God’s foreknowledge with our free will. Molinism avoids the difficulties of both open theism and determinism, while making sense of theological and philosophical truths. The defenders of molinism have won their case.

Sources

William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999).

Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1998).

John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

Image Credit: Bdpmax http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baitou_Mountain_Tianchi.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “No Other God: A Response to Open Theism” by John Frame

I recently finished No Other God by John Frame. Seldom have I read a book with which I find I disagree so strongly on some issues, while agreeing adamantly on others. Frame pulls no punches and is unafraid to make sweeping generalizations and assertions. Due to the fact I pretty much split the book in half as far as things with which I agree or disagree, I shall proceed by noting these areas and close with a few conclusions.

Areas of Agreement

One of the strengths of Frame’s book is how clear his thinking is. His style of argumentation is precise, and he clearly lays out what he considers evidence for his positions. He is unafraid to make statements with huge implications.

A particularly interesting aspect of Frame’s work was a brief historical look at the roots of Open Theism, leading it back to the Socinianism. Frame points out that advocates of Open Theism tend to portray their view as the “new theology on the block” despite the fact that it has been around (and rejected) for quite some time.

I believe Frame is correct when he argues against the centralization of any one attribute of God. Specifically, the centralization of love on Open Theism tends to ignore other important attributes of God (49ff). (Interestingly, Frame’s own account of God unnecessarily over-emphasizes Sovereignty, though he disguises this by calling it “Lordship.)

Frame levels strong critiques against Open Theism’s reading of Scripture. Open Theists tend to advocate the “straightforward” reading of texts which help their case. One of Open Theist’s favorite passages is God testing Abraham. Yet Frame rightly notes that if there is a straightforward reading of the text, then God did not know the present truth of Abraham’s heart, whereas Open Theists attempt to use this to support God not knowing the future (47). Further, if God was trying to figure out how Abraham would act in the future, then He was trying to do something He couldn’t (determine what the libertarian free choices of humans would be) according to Open Theism. So the story’s straightforward reading does not work to support Open Theism. Frame urges a similar examination of other passages, though he doesn’t expand on it.

Areas of Disagreement

Despite these areas of agreement, I vehemently oppose Frame’s position on several issues. Most notably, on theistic determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism.

First, libertarianism. Frame correctly notes that the core of Open Theism is the assumption of libertarianism. Yet his critique of libertarianism is wrongheaded. He caricatures libertarians as believing that choices are made in the absence of any motivation. He writes, commenting on the libertarian view, “if our decisions are caused by anything or anyone (including our own desires), they are not properly our decisions… to be responsible, we must be able to do otherwise” (121). Yet this is explicitly not libertarianism. Peter van Inwagen, for example, explicates libertarianism by saying “…that someone’s acts are undetermined does not entail that they are uncaused” (van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will, Oxford: 1983, p. 14).

But Frame explicitly centers his critique of libertarianism on a contra-causal account of freedom, saying, for example, “If guilt presupposed libertarian freedom, then in order to show that Hubert [a man accused of robbing a bank] is guilty, the prosecutor would have to show that his decision to rob a bank had no cause…” (126). But again, libertarians deny this very type of contra-causal freedom, so Frame is arguing against a straw man. Because Frame thinks libertarianism is so utterly central to Open Theism, this means that the core of his critique fails to hit home.

The problem with Frame’s counter against libertarianism is that it barely touches the surface of the philosophical arguments for the position. He correctly rails against the idea that our actions are just random occurrences, but incorrectly assumes that this is libertarianism.

Finally, the greatest area of disagreement I have with Frame is on his view of omnidetermination. Consider the following two quotes:

“The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God” (140).

“…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (68).

I’d be curious to see how Frame reconciles these assertions with the constant witness of Scripture that God is just; fair; good; opposed to evil; etc. Frame utilizes several verses to support his position, but he makes primary those which say God uses “all things” and verses which say calamities are from God. But regarding the former, this can easily refer simply to permissive will, and regarding the latter, the verses he uses are out of context (and even were one to grant the “straightforward reading,” one could counter by saying the calamities are not every evil action, but merely those things which God uses–i.e. storms, other nations, etc.–to instruct His people). Frame, like many theological determinists, is not building even on sand, but on a void. Literally saying that God causes evil is so utterly repugnant and contrary to Scripture that this view overshadows all the good things Frame has to say.

Conclusions

Ultimately, No Other God is on target in a few ways, but it is wildly gunning the wrong direction on too many issues. Frame’s philosophical case against libertarianism is off the mark, he fails to deal with the strong philosophical arguments for libertarianism, and his view that God literally causes evil is baseless. Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.

SDG.

Check out other posts about Open Theism here.

John Frame,No Other God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Open Theism: Scrooge and God’s knowledge of the Future

I was listening to William Lane Craig’s Defenders podcast (Doctrine of God: Part 13) and he brought up an interesting analogy about omniscience. He discussed Scrooge in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” The last spirit to appear to Scrooge is the ghost of Christmas to come. He takes Scrooge around and shows him all sorts of disturbing imagery that will happen. Scrooge asks the ghost whether these are things that must happen, or whether he can stop them. The spirit remains silent.

Craig pointed out the spirit would have to remain silent to have any sort of effect. For suppose the spirit knows what will happen: that Scrooge will repent and so these awful things won’t happen. But then if he tells Scrooge what he knows, Scrooge will feel little remorse about not acting to prevent them. Yet if the spirit told Scrooge these things would happen, then Scrooge has no reason to modify his behavior, for he cannot prevent the events from happening.

Craig suggests, then, that we should look at omniscience and instances of God “changing his mind” in the same fashion. This has some interesting applications in the case of Open Theism, because it undermines one of the core exegetical arguments for the position: cases of God “repenting” or “changing his mind.”

God, on classical theism, knows what will happen in every circumstance. He comprehensively knows the future (contra Open Theism). If this is so, then God would have to withhold some of his knowledge in order to bring things about, despite his knowledge that it would occur. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, God would know the answer to Scrooge’s question, but would not answer him, so that he could bring it about that Scrooge would repent.

Consider Jonah. Open Theists often point to the story of Nineveh as an example of God not comprehensively knowing the future. Because God sends Jonah with the message that Nineveh will be destroyed, but then, when Nineveh repents, he shows mercy, many people say that God did not know the Ninevites would have such a reaction. Yet why should this be the case? Isn’t it plausible that God did know they would repent and that God sent the message that they would be destroyed because that is the only way Nineveh would be led to repentance? This is, in fact, hinted at later in the book, when Jonah says to God, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2).

But if God had told the Ninevites “I will not destroy you” because he knew that he would not, would not the impetus of Jonah’s message lose its strength. With the threat of destruction, the Ninevites repented. Without, would they have done so? Imagine Jonah’s message going through the streets “Forty more days and Nineveh will not be destroyed!” I think it obvious that this would probably not have the same effect that the initial message was.

So it seems quite plausible that God, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (in our analogous case), may refrain from telling all he knows at many points throughout Scripture. For if he told people everything he knew, he would know that they would not repent, turn aside from their evil ways, or bring about the actions he desired. The instances wherein God ‘changes his mind’ or ‘repents’ are instances of this: rather than revealing his knowledge, God withholds it, in order to bring about the ends that he desires to (and knows will) happen. We, like Scrooge, would not respond to calls for repentance if we felt it didn’t make a difference in the end.

Final note: the above account implicitly assumes molinism to be the case. So much the better for it, I say!

SDG.

This is part of a series I’ve written against the doctrine of Open Theism. If you’d like to read more, check out the original post for discussion and links.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Open Theism: The Infinite Knowledge of God

Psalm 147:5

“Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite” (KJV).

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (ESV)

” גדול אדונינו ורב־כח לתבונתו אין מספר׃” (Hebrew Old Testament)

Infinite Knowledge

Within Scripture we find that God knows all things. But here, in the Psalms, we read that God’s knowledge is “infinite.” Of course, this is a translation of the Hebrew, which says “…his understanding is without number/measure.” But this can also be correctly translated simply as the KJV does, “His understanding is infinite.” Thus, within Scripture, we have a picture of God’s knowledge as infinite or without number.

The Argument

1) If God’s knowledge is infinite/without number/unable to be counted, then God’s knowledge cannot be increased (it’s infinite).

2) God’s knowledge is without number.

3) God’s knowledge cannot be increased.

4) Open Theism asserts that God’s knowledge can be increased.

5) Therefore, Open Theism is false.

Defense of Premises

Premise 1 can be defended in a similar fashion as one would argue against actual infinites in the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Basically, we cannot add up to infinite. Nor, if something is actually infinite, can we increase  or decrease its “number” in any way. We cannot add to infinity and increase it, nor can we take away one item from an infinite set and decrease it to some finite number. Therefore, if God’s knowledge is infinite, it is complete–it cannot be increased.

Premise 2 simply asserts what the Bible passage says.

Premise 3 follows from 1 and 2 deductively.

Premise 4 follows from the core of Open Theism. On Open Theism, God knows all things which have happened and are happening, but he does not necessarily know what will happen until it does happen. Therefore, God’s propositional knowledge would continually be increasing. Each day, he would learn an astounding number of truths which he did not previously know.

Premise 5 follows from 3 and 4; if 3 is true, 4 cannot be true. Yet 3 is true, so 4 cannot be true.

Therefore, Open Theism is false.

A Potential Rebuttal

Can the Open Theist get out of this argument? One way would be to challenge that the Psalm is not claiming God knows an actually infinite number of propositions, but simply that conceptually, God’s knowledge is so far beyond our own it appears to be infinite.

I would respond to this counter-argument by challenging the Open Theist to successfully read that off the Hebrew, which literally says “without number”/”infinite.” Open Theism, by definition, would have to entail God knowing only a finite number of propositions. If God did not know only a finite number of propositions, then His knowledge could not increase (it would be infinite).  Thus, on Open Theism, the number of propositions God knows would increase by the second/minute/day. So the Open Theistic reading of Psalm 147:5 would have to read it like “[God’s] knowledge is unlimited; it increases forever.” But that reading is not justified by the text.

[Edit: Note the comment section for some great discussion of this post, wherein two commentators provided a “way out” for the Open Theist regarding my argument and a denial of premise 4.]

This is part of a series I’ve written against the doctrine of Open Theism. If you’d like to read more, check out the original post for discussion and links.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

Against Open Theism: Definitions

I’ve encountered Open Theism a number of times in my readings and online. Many people I respect greatly fall under the category of “Open Theists.” Greg Boyd, for example, wrote one of the first apologetic books I ever read, yet he is an ardent Open Theist. Yet the doctrine of Open Theism is one with which I disagree vehemently. Therefore, I’m going to write several posts outlining a series of arguments against the doctrine.

Definitions

Open Theism: The doctrine that God, through his own freedom and sovereignty, chose to create free creatures (humans) which could make truly free decisions. Because God made these free creatures, he freely chose to limit his knowledge of the future, such that he would not pre-ordain their actions. Therefore, God knows only those things which God unilaterally  brings about.

Another Definition

From http://www.opentheism.info/, a site collecting information and advocating Open Theism (endorsed by John Sanders, a well known proponent of the view) we can examine a 5-part definition:

1) “In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love.” (emphasis theirs)

2) “God has, in sovereign freedom, decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions. God elicits our free collaboration in his plans. Hence, God can be influenced by what we do and God truly responds to what we do.” (emphasis theirs)

3) “God has chosen to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. It was solely God’s decision not to control every detail that happens in our lives.”

4) “God has granted us the type of freedom (libertarian) necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. ”

5) “God knows all that can be known given the sort of world he created… in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the ‘future’ is not a present reality-it does not exist-and God knows reality as it is.”

(Again, please note these are quoted verbatim from sections  on http://www.opentheism.info/; I do not claim credit for these 5 steps of the definition.)

Areas of Disagreement/Agreement

There are many areas of agreement I can share with the Open Theist. For example, I agree that God created free creatures, who have libertarian free will (1 and 4). I agree that God has not predetermined all future events (3). I agree at least in some sense that God’s actions are contingent upon our own (2)–but that’s where the differences begin.

I disagree with Open Theists on an unqualified 2 and 5. It is my belief that:

A) Future Events are knowable

B) God knows the outcome of all future events before they happen.

C) God’s knowledge of the future allows him to take into account our free choices and respond to them from eternity.

One final area of disagreement would be with the implicit idea within Open Theism of divine temporality. I believe:

D) God is essentially timeless.

What’s at Stake

“Okay, all this is well and good,” you may say, “but what’s the payoff? What’s really at stake in this debate?”

Fair questions! There are some who argue that Open Theism is a heresy, period. A simple Google search turns up dozens of articles and comments calling the doctrine a heresy. Several have attempted to ban Open Theists from evangelical circles (the ETS voted to keep two prominent Open Theists within their ranks; others have lobbied to call it heretical).

I do not think that Open Theists are heretics. While I disagree with their views, I think that they have some very good arguments for their position. I do think, however, that the Scriptural evidence excludes Open Theism from possibility. While there are many passages which could be utilized to argue for the position of Open Theism, I believe those passages which exclude the position take priority, and therefore the passages appearing to advocate the position are to be interpreted as use of metaphors or anthropomorphism.

Other Posts in the Series

This post will also serve as a host for links to other posts in the series. View them below, with brief descriptions of their content:

God’s Infinite Knowledge– Argues that Scripture clearly states God’s knowledge is infinte/without number/unlimited. Yet, on Open Theism, God’s knowledge increases, and would therefore have to be finite. Concludes Open Theism is false.

Scrooge and God’s knowledge of the future– Addresses one of the main arguments for Open Theism–that God changes his mind or repents of certain actions.

Book Review: “No Other God: A Response to Open Theism” by John Frame– I review John Frame’s work on open theism. Interestingly, Frame combats open theism with the opposite extreme: theological determinism, a view which I disagree with as adamantly (or more) than I do open theism.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

Omniscience, Substance Dualism, and Private Access

I recently attended a seminar on God and Time with William Lane Craig (view my post on it here). One topic (among many) that caught my interest was Craig’s denial of one of the arguments for substance dualism, namely, the “private access” of some truths.

J.P. Moreland argues for private access in his work The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. He argues that mental states have an “ofness or aboutness–directed towards an object” which is “inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them” (20, emphasis his). Basically, the claim is that even were someone else to know everything about J.W. Wartick, they could not say that they know what it is to say “I am J.W. Wartick”, because they are not J.W. Wartick. Certain truths and facts are such that only the knower can know them. I cannot say I am Abraham Lincoln, because I am not him. Nor could I say that I was Abe Lincoln even were I to comprehensively know everything about Abe Lincoln from the events that occurred in his life to the exact synapses in his brain. There is something about a phrase like “I am Abe Lincoln” which only Abe Lincoln can know.

Interestingly, Craig denied that there was such a thing as “private access.” He argued that, were this the case, it would mean God is not omniscient.

Why should it follow that God is not omniscient? Well, Craig defines omniscience as “Knowledge of any and all true statements” (definition from my lecture notes). Due to the fact that God would not know true facts which have private access, argued Craig, there is no such thing as private access. This seemed like an odd way to go about denying private access in regards to substance dualism. The argument seemed to be:

1) Omniscience =def.: God knows any and all true statements.

2) God is omniscient.

3) Truths available only through private access would entail truths God does not know

4) Either God is not omniscient or there are not truths available only through private access (1, 2, 3)

5) God is omniscient (2)

6) Therefore, there are no truths available only through private access (4, 5)

The argument would work, if one agrees with the definition of omniscience in (1). But I find it more likely that omniscience is analogous to omnipotence, which is defined as God’s ability to do anything logically possible. Why should it not be the case that God can only know things which are logically possible to know? On such a view, then, private access would not challenge omniscience whatsoever, because it would be logically impossible for God to know truths only knowable to their subjects.

I brought this up to Craig, and he responded by saying that my definition of omniscience made it into a modal property, and omniscience is not a modal property. I don’t see why omniscience could not be a modal property. In fact, it seems to me as though it is necessarily modal. Omniscience entails that any being which is omniscient would have to know all possible truths about all possible worlds (for any being who did not know truths for all possible worlds could be outdone by a being which knew about more possible worlds), which is clearly a modal claim. So it seems to me omniscience is clearly a modal property, and there is no problem revising Craig’s definition to:

(7) Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything it is logically possible to know.

Further, a denial of (7) would seem obviously contradictory because one who denies (7) would have to assert:

(7`): Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything, including things it is logically impossible to know.

And this would lead to contradictions about omniscience. So I don’t see any reason not to revise Craig’s definition of omniscience to note that God can only know that which it is logically possible to know (for a denial of this would imply God’s knowledge could be contradictory). But then private access provides no challenge to omniscience, and Craig’s denial falls apart.

Finally, “private access” seems like an intuitively obvious feature of knowledge. How could one deny that there are truths such as “I am J.W. Wartick”? It seems clear that only I can experience what it is to be J.W. Wartick. So I think it is necessary to modify Craig’s definition and simply deny his argument, both because God cannot know or do the logically impossible, and because “private access” is such a well-established phenomenon.

Edit: See the interesting discussion in the comments below. I am forced to modify the definition I presented in this post in the comments below due to an insightful comment by Midas. Those interested can read below or just read my modification here: “A being is omniscient iff it knows all truths which are not delineated by private access [of others] or experiential knowledge [of others].”

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

God and Moral Obligation, or Euthyphro, rethought

Euthyphro’s dilemma is so frequently discussed in philosophy that I don’t see a need to thoroughly present it. The horns, however, are going to be the topic of this post, so I’ll outline them below:

It seems that if God makes commands which create moral duties for humans (and others), then there may only be two options for the theist:

1) We ought to do what God commands because God commands it (and thus he could have commanded any random thing to be dutiful–i.e. torturing cute rabbits)

or

2) God commands us to do things because they are what we ought to do (and therefore there is some standard to which even God answers–see Richard Swinburne’s Revelation for an interesting description of a potential way around this problem)

If these are the only two options, it seems as though theists are in an uncomfortable position indeed! Normally, most theists would attack one of the horns of the dilemma or hit between the horns and find a way out. The late William Alston, however, ingeniously argues in Divine Nature and Human Language that the theist can accept both horns of the dilemma, albeit with some interpretation (DNHL 255).

The most important part of Alston’s solution is to assume that God is perfectly good essentially, that is, necessarily, God is perfectly good (257). In other words, God cannot perform a morally imperfect action. Alston makes no argument for this position, though I think that Stephen Parrish argues this rather well in God and Necessity. Regardless, I’m going to follow Alston’s assumption for the presentation of his argument, for now ignoring the potential problems with removing libertarian free will from God.

If it is the case that God is essentially perfectly good, then moral “oughtness” words such as “required”, “forbidden”, “duty”, etc. do not apply to God. This is because these terms “apply to a being only if that being has a choice between doing or failing to do what it ought to do” (257). But if God cannot fail to do good, then  His own nature “prevents him from acting freely in a way that is required for moral obligation… it is metaphysically impossible that God should do anything that is less than supremely good” (257). But then this means that horn 1 of the dilemma serves as no problem–God can not order things which would be arbitrarily evil, but it also means horn 2 is no problem either–God is not restricted by any “ought” statements.

Further, implicit in the dilemma is the idea that some form of Platonism is correct, that is, there are some objective morals as ideas somewhere. But again the theist can adapt this to theism and say that instead of some morals that just exist of necessity on their own (though again see Swinburne, Revelation for a defense of this very idea of theistic morality), God Himself is the “supreme standard of goodness. God plays the role in evaluation that is… assigned… to Platonic Ideas or principles” (268). Moral obligations are what we ought to do (horn 2 of the dilemma) because they are features of God (269).

Therefore, by accepting that God is essentially perfectly good, and further supposing that God Himself is the standard for goodness, the theist can accept the horns of the dilemma while arguing that they don’t really serve as objections to theism as classically supposed. God, having no “ought” statements apply to him, cannot be the subject of 2), while his very existence as essentially perfectly good means that 1) cannot apply to him either.

Sources:

Alston, William P. Divine Nature and Human Language. Cornell University Press. 1989.

Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 2001.

Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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