Open Theism and the Origin of Sin


#1

Hello again, TomB:

This will have to be rather quick, but I do want to thank you for a couple excellent and challenging posts, as I would fully expect from you. Right now I am writing from Clear Lake in northern California, where I am enjoying a week long family gathering and vacation at a brother-in-law’s home with 41 members of the larger family from all over the country staying at various rooms and hotels on the lake. I do have my trusty laptop with me, however, and have paid for an internet connection, even though I may not have much time to make use of it before returning home on July 7th.

You and I definitely have a lot to discuss, Tom, perhaps enough to fill several volumes. Because we now have so much on our plate, I feel a need to slow down considerably and to take one tiny baby step at a time as we proceed from here. So let’s begin with a point of agreement. As you point out yourself, you and I are in perfect agreement about the important role of human freedom in the process whereby God reconciles the world to himself:

So we clearly agree on the overall picture, so to speak; and though it may surprise you, I also agree that God is “able to achieve the same end [of ultimate reconciliation] without having to depend upon any trump cards.” For having a trump card that could be played, in the event that it should be necessary to do so, is not the same thing as actually playing it. In fact, I seriously doubt that God ever plays a trump card of the kind I described. But having the trump card nonetheless provides a logical guarantee that his mercy will never be defeated in the end.

So where ** do** we disagree? Here is your first suggestion: “I think our ‘squabbles’ are related to metaphysical beliefs about freedom’s role in creaturely becoming with respect to loving relations.” And in your next post you add the following observation:

Accordingly, let’s start by exploring the relationship between belief, on the one hand, and obedience or loving responses, on the other. Could you perhaps say something more about the role of the will, as you see it, in the acquisition of beliefs and in the process whereby one learns to love and to trust another? Also, with respect to the demons who believe and tremble, which is a good example, just what is it that they believe? They believe, you say, that God actually exists. But what do they know or believe about the nature of God? Do they believe all of the truth about God? Or, is their conception of God a mere caricature in the end?

Thanks again for your most recent posts. I have decided to post this current response both here and under a separate topic entitled Open Theism and the Origin of Sin, where we can perhaps cover several points that you, Bob, Pat, and Jason, among others, have raised.

-Tom


#2

TomT-

Well, I’m quite excited to see that “open theism” has made the headlines here by being mentioned in the title of a thread started by none other than…the man himself! Yah!

You guys ALL rock.

Having said that, though, I don’t know that our issues here are “open theism” issues per se. So I hope the title doesn’t scare off all the non-openness folks.

TomT: Accordingly, let’s start by exploring the relationship between belief, on the one hand, and obedience or loving responses, on the other. Could you perhaps say something more about the role of the will, as you see it, in the acquisition of beliefs and in the process whereby one learns to love and to trust another? Also, with respect to the demons who believe and tremble, which is a good example, just what is it that they believe? They believe, you say, that God actually exists. But what do they know or believe about the nature of God? Do they believe all of the truth about God? Or, is their conception of God a mere caricature in the end?

TomB: Good questions. I see three Q’s there. I’ll try to respond to each one.

1. Re: The role of the will in the acquisition of beliefs. I’m not a philosopher, so I’m shootin’ from the hip here. I’d say the will may or may not have a role in the acquisition of beliefs. First the latter. There doesn’t seem to be any exercise of the will involved in bringing it about that rational creatures hold to a priori beliefs. One hardly “chooses” to believe that “something exists” (I’m stealing Hartshorne’s first a priori). Nor does it seem that the will has a role in bringing about that “certain” a posteriori beliefs are held. Your examples are good ones: Aliens land; thus the question of whether we are alone in the universe is answered. It hardly makes sense to say one “chooses” to believe whether or not aliens exist at that point. Similarly, Paul on the Damascus road doesn’t “choose” to believe that he had an experience in which a voice claiming to be Christ spoke to him, etc.

Perhaps the way I worded myself regarding Paul introduces how I think the ‘will’ may be involved in forming beliefs–depending on what the belief is. Some events are such that while we cannot “choose” to believe that an event having certain ostensible characteristics has occurred (the undeniable bare observable facts so to speak), we are nevertheless not issued an infallible interpretation of the event, and when it comes to building relationships of love, actions and events are interpreted; they’re assigned a ‘meaning’. And it makes sense to say in such cases that we “choose” or “trust” that the event in question “means” this or that. An example might be choosing to believe that in spite of a tragedy that strikes my home, “God is still loving,” or that this Jewish man hanging on the cross really is more than just a carpenter. Revelation reveals, yes, but it also conceals, or perhaps remains a bit veiled. God leaves us room to explain our way out of making the right choice if we’re unwilling to embrace a certain explanation (the right one) about God. This just seems to be the sort of “space” or “room” (“epistemic distance”) God grants us. As we choose to trust, or assume a position on some supposed meaning of an action or event that’s less than overwhelming, we determine ourselves responsibly. As John says, I write this “so that you might believe.” But does John really believe the evidence he presents in his gospel is overwhelming in so absolute a sense that no rational person could conceive of reasons not to believe? I don’t think so. John knows we must “choose” to believe. Thus, the ‘will’ may be involved in forming beliefs.

2. Re: the process whereby one learns to love and to trust another. The process by which we learn to love and trust is a deep subject. But since I’m just thinking out loud, let me offer this. Rejecting a deterministic model of God-world relations means (among other things) rejecting the idea that our love and affection and trust of another person is determined for us by a ‘will’ other than our own. Not that our will has to be the only factor involved. That could hardly be true. But our will stands as the “final arbiter” as it were, a necessary cause (thought not sufficient in itself), in transitioning my part of the movement between me and you, or God, or whomever. I determine myself responsibly within that “space” God gives me when I determine which possible ‘meaning’ (among several possible meanings, because the evidence is NOT overwhelming in this case) will be the meaning which the other (or the event) will have for me. In so choosing I participate in responsibly determining the shape and meaning which my life shall have in this or that relation.

So trusting another (I’m offering) means choosing to embrace or assign that possible meaning to the other (and myself-in-relation to the other) which favors loving, relational growth and health (i.e., builds intimacy, opens communication, deepens dependencies, etc.). That might mean accepting responsibility for harm I’ve done and thus confessing, ‘trusting’ that I’ll find forgiveness, etc. Over time, I learn to trust and dispose myself lovingly for the sake of the relationship, even suffer on its behalf. It’s THIS particular dimension of loving (the “space” needed to determine “myself-in-relation to”) and personal becoming which I fear your trump card eradicates. You suppose God can by-passes this whole process. God zaps us and we become compliant and loving. I admit there’s a kind of ‘zapping’ (i.e., overwhelming) of our perspectives that happens in some respects (aliens landing, etc.) which forms beliefs apart from any involvement of our will. But coming to believe that these aliens are trustworthy and loving and that connecting to them on a deeper level really is in our own best self-interests…well, I don’t see how their just landing can guarantee that we assign this particular meaning to their arrival. And every attempt to construe an arrangement of overwhelming evidence that collapses that “space” and essentially leaves us no room to determine ourselves ‘relationally’ leaves me without any relation to contemplate really. God overwhelms our senses and perspectives and intellects with a revelation of himself that doesn’t need to be interpreted by us responsibly? We don’t need to choose to trust that God means this and not that? Indeed, on this view we cannot BUT believe (non-volitionally) that God exists, that he means this and not that, and in addition we discover ourselves (not determine ourselves) disposed favorably in relation to God. Wow. That’s some trump card!

Does that help? I’m probably the worst case scenario you’ve met…and I’m already with you on UR! Ha.

3. Re: Just what is it that demons believe about God?. Fallen angelic beings (or demons, since the James text is in mind) believe that “God exists,” if we take James at face value. It’s probably safe to assume that along with this they know God to be extremely powerful, knowledgeable, and at odds with everything they do. How much they do, or can (or did), reflect upon what it is they do and what sense it makes is impossible to say with certainty, though I suspect that they are as solidified into a warped worldview as they possibly can be without annihilating all rationality or spiritual capacity. I don’t at all think they suspect that God might love them or desire their reconciliation but have just chosen obstinately to reject that offer. I don’t think they perceive the offer.

TomB


#3

Would someone mind giving a quick description of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ theism for the confused (i.e. me :smiley: )


#4

There’s a bit of range in meaning of the terms, unfortunately.

Roughly speaking, the point to “closed” theism is that God certainly knows all historical facts as well as all potentialities and probabilities.

The point to “open” theism, very roughly speaking (where this is a response to perceived problems in closed theism), is that God doesn’t certainly know all historical facts.

O’theists are typically responding against a common type of clo’th where the clo’theist invokes hard determinism to explain how God can be sure that He certainly knows all historical facts: because He Himself brings them about. This denies human free will to a major degree, maybe altogether. (Which some clo’theists have been quite explicit about claiming, themselves.) O’theists are thus typically trying to protect the importance of human free will, and are likely to press that clo’th necessarily requires hard determinism when cl’otheists deny this.

Clo’theists, on the other hand, are typically trying to protect and affirm God’s omniscience and omnipotence. While they might be willing to allow that omnipotence doesn’t have to mean God certainly directs everything, they draw the line at wussing out doctrinally with notions that God only sees all potentialities and probabilities and then knows a few things certainly because He insists on bringing those about Himself. (Maybe. Some hardcore o’theists would even deny that.)

Both sides have a lot of scriptural data they can marshal for their case, although my own impression is that there’s a larger number of o’thish references in scripture than clo’thish ones. Clo’theists tend to acknowledge this, too, this but chalk it up to anthropomorphic metaphor and similarly poetic language, which would naturally be expected to be more common in ancient scripture. Both sides argue that their position can be considered inclusive of the other set of apparent testimony the other way.

Metaphysically, the main gun of the clo’theists is that o’th tends to deny doctrines of supernaturalistic theism and so o’theists aren’t even worshiping the same kind of deity anymore. (A criticism that looks borne out when some o’theists end up going the distance and becoming process theologians: promoting a type of naturalistic theology with a number of subcategories, where God is actually the system of Nature in a process of being/becoming deity.)

Metaphysically, the main gun of the o’theist is that determinism (insofar as it is deemed necessary for, or a necessary corollary to, God’s full omniscience) would end up undermining the rationality claims clo’theists are making in regard to their own theories, and also undermines any serious claim to love and ethics whether between God and man (or man and man either) or in regard to God as a ‘loving’ entity. (A criticism that looks borne out when some clo’theists cheerfully claim to throw ‘human rationality’ out the theological window as a prideful weakness, start engaging in ‘glorious circularity’ in their arguments, and claim that God’s idea of love and goodness is so utterly alien to sinful human notions of ‘goodness’ that it can only look like amoral or even evil tyranny–and so what if God is a tyrant!? Whatever God does is right! He’s God, you’re not, you rebel and damned sinner.)

As might be expected, clo’theists tend to be Calvinistic (though not always) and o’theists tend to be Arminianistic (though perhaps not always). I’ve seen universalists go each way, too. (John Scotus is a famous example of a universalistic closed theist who exemplified several of the things o’theists are worried about. The eventual devolution of 19th century universalists into the virtually doctrineless UU church, on the other hand, is an obvious example of Arminianistic universalist open theism exemplifying practically everything the clo’theists are worried about. I thought I would pick two onerous examples of universalists going either way, so as not to hype us as being intrinsically more awesome than Calvs or Arms on this topic. :wink: )

Boethian theists, meanwhile (such as the Arminianistic C. S. Lewis, the ancient father Boethist, and myself incidentally :mrgreen: ), agree that both sides have important points that should be kept in the account, and both sides have valid criticisms and warnings against the other sides which also ought to be kept in the account. Metaphysically Boe’theists go with top-down full omniscience, acting at right angles (metaphorically speaking) to natural history. This preserves the transcendence as well as the immanence of God, and doesn’t end up requiring (as we think hardcore clo’th and o’th tend to both implicitly end up at–and which they both end up complaining about, quite rightly, against each other) that God be constrained by Natural existence such that He has to determine outcomes Himself if He wants to be sure of knowledge about them. God, rather, in His position as Creator and Sustainer of Nature, at every point of space/time, is in a position to simply see what happens within Nature at every point of space/time, including what free agents (Himself or derivatively free creations) choose to do within those circumstances. God can thus act at any point of space/time in regard to what He sees occurring at any other point of space/time (including where those occurrences are shaped to various degrees by how He acts elsewhere in space/time.)

Exegetically, Boe’theists tend to go with clo’theists in regard to scriptural anthropomorphisms being poetic language that can be inclusive as such within full omniscience; but we also go with o’theists in regard to scriptural testimony regarding the free will and ethical responsibilities of human agents (as well as of God).

I should note that insofar as we robustly insist on the supernaturalistic theism doctrines of omnipotence and omniscience, we could easily be considered closed theists; and insofar as we robustly insist on free responsibility of moral agents, in ethics and in love, against hard determinism, we could easily be considered open theists. Or, put the other way around: it’s entirely possible for open theists to be just as robustly insistent on supernaturalistic theism doctrines as closed theists (indeed the weaknesses open theists complain about in closed-theism defenses of omniscience turn out to be deviations from supernaturalistic theism and trinitarian theism at bottom); and it’s entirely possible for closed theists to be just as robustly insistent on free love by God and man as open theists (so long as they do in fact keep supernaturalistic trinitarian theism robustly in mind and don’t start tacitly treating God as being merely monotheistic, thus not being intrinsically loving fair-togetherness of persons, and/or as being merely a natural creature with vast natural power which has to be exerted tyrannically in order to ascertain its ‘omniscience’.)

Trinitarian theism wins! Group hug, everybody! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

(Edited to add: TGB’s ref list is very good, by the way. :smiley: )


#5

Jeff-

There are a couple of decent sites that will help explain open theism. There’s John Sanders’ site at opentheism.info/. On the “Information” page of this site’s menu is a link to a paper I wrote for my own denomination about open theism: opentheism.info/pdf/belt/summary_aog.pdf. That might be the easiest way to scope things out. There’s also a discussion site at opentheismboard.org/ that’s been ongoing since the mid-90’s.

Depending on whom you ask (friend or foe) you’ll get different Cliffs Notes summaries of open theism. Non-open theists (nobody publishing on the debate uses the term “closed theist”; that’s Jim’s coined phrase) will tell you that open theists deny divine omniscience because they claim God doesn’t know the future. Open theists (the mindful, studious ones) say that begs the question and they’re a bit more careful.

The debate is basically over (a) the nature or ontology of the future; is it ‘open’ or ‘closed’? That is, is there real indeterminacy to the way the world unfolds or does everything that happen follow deterministically from previous states? And if there is real future indeterminacy then (b) how would an omniscient God foreknow future free choices and contingencies? Arminianists and Molinists and open theists all agree on (a), that is, we agree that we are at least sometimes free in the libertarian sense and that other aspects of the world unfold freely and indeterministically. However, when it comes to describing God’s knowledge of that indeterministic future, traditional Arminianists and Molinists both say God eternally knows exactly how every contingency does in fact unfold (he’s eternally known every choice you actually make). Open theists however deny that God eternally foreknows future contingencies. Instead, God knows them AS contingencies, i.e., he foreknows “possibly this” might happen and “possibly that” might happen. So open theists believe (a) the future is ‘closed’ in some respects and ‘open’ in other respects, and (b) God knows it as such. It’s the second part, (b), that open theists uniquely hold to and what’s gotten them into trouble.

That’s what all the brouhaha is over. It’s horribly brief, but that’s a snapshot of it.

Some good pro-books on it (best ones in bold; Boyd’s God of the Possible is the best ‘quick’ intro and Sanders’ God Who Risks is the best full-length treatment):

Balentine, Samuel. Prayer in the Hebrew Bible: The Drama of Divine-Human Dialogue. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
Basinger, David. “Simple Foreknowledge and Providential Control.” Faith and Philosophy 10:3 (July 1993): 421-427.
Boyd, Gregory A. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.
________, Gregory A. Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
________, Gregory A. “Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations For Ascribing Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge to God: A Historic Overview and Critical Assessment.” American Academy of Religion, Washington D.C., presented November 27, 2006.
Brummer, Vincent. Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
________, Vincent. The Model of Love: A Study in Philosophical Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
, Vincent. What Are We Doing When We Pray? A Philosophical Inquiry. London: SCM Press, 1984.
Ellis, Robert. Answering God: Towards a Theology of Intercession. Waybnesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005.
Hasker, William. Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God. London: Routledge, 2004.
Pinnock, Clark H. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
**
, Clark, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994.**
Rice, Richard. God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985.
Rhoda, Alan R., Gregory A. Boyd, and Thomas G. Belt. “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future,” Faith and Philosophy 23:4 (October 2006): 432-459.
Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
________, John, and Chris Hall. Does God Have a Future? A Debate on Divine Providence. Baker Academic Books, 2003.
Tiessen, Terrance. Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2000. (Tiessen is not an open theist, but boy what a great book; he really lays competing views our accurately and dispassionately.)


#6

Jason: Roughly speaking, the point to “closed” theism is that God certainly knows all historical facts as well as all potentialities and probabilities. The point to “open” theism, very roughly speaking, is that God doesn’t certainly know all historical facts.

Tom: As Arabs say when they get excited out here in Iraq, “Habibi, La! La!” (Darling, no! No!).

No published open theist I know (and I think I know them all) denies God’s knowledge of historical facts. It’s future facts—if what’s meant by this is what will or will not occur in the future—that’s the issue. And it’s a matter of debate whether traditional theists (or non-open theists in this case) grant that God ever ‘knows’ probabilities of future contingencies. Since he knows the future exclusively in terms of “this shall” and “that shall not” occur, probabilities all reduce to 1 (“will occur”) or 0 (“will not occur”). Open theists are almost always the only one’s talking about “objective probabilities” (of greater than 0 and less than 1) regarding future events.

Jason: (A criticism that looks borne out when some o’theists end up going the distance and becoming process theologians: promoting a type of naturalistic theology with a number of subcategories, where God is actually the system of Nature in a process of being/becoming deity.)

Tom: Process theism. Bad. Bad process theism. ;o)

Tom


#7

While I agree that the terms of the debate tend to focus on this, I think at bottom the issue is on of the ontology of God: is God such that He has to force effects in order to be certain of His knowledge of them?

While neither open theists or closed theists (or non-open, which is like closed except different except not :wink: --which is why I just say ‘closed’) have to go with that idea of God, weirdly both sides often do.

I say ‘weirdly’ because both sides are usually also trying to affirm supernaturalistic theism (though open theists are more likely to openly chunk that); and the notion that God would have to force effects Himself in order to certainly know what those events are, is quite antithetical to supernaturalistic theism (including trinitarian theism–which both sides are also usually trying to affirm, when they’re Christian. Jewish, Muslim, deist and unitarian Christian debators on the topic obviously wouldn’t care about that.)

I never said any open theist did deny God’s knowledge of ‘historical facts’ simpliciter, including in the quote you quoted. Read again. :wink: In that quote I said “ALL” historical facts. And went on to detail that the debate is about whether God knows future facts (not just present actualities).


#8

Thank you both for your explanations - it all makes a bit more sense to me now except for…

I have not the first notion of what that means :mrgreen: but I may use it in a sig somewhere…


#9

Hi Jason-

I have some off time today so I’m gorging out with online friends!

Jason: Both sides are usually also trying to affirm supernaturalistic theism (though open theists are more likely to openly chunk that)…

Tom: You may be lumping open theists in together with panentheists and process theists. Just running through the open theists I know, they all believe God can and does intervene miraculously (to reveal, call, heal, judge, and otherwise kick the furniture over). Unless you have something in mind by “supernatural” other than the belief that God can perform miracles, I can’t think of a single open theist I know who doesn’t believe God can so intervene. So if the truth be told, open theists are far more likely to reject this aspect of process theism.

Jason: I never said any open theist did deny God’s knowledge of ‘historical facts’ simpliciter, including in the quote you quoted. Read again. In that quote I said “ALL” historical facts. And went on to detail that the debate is about whether God knows future facts (not just present actualities).

Tom: But “future facts” are not “historical facts.” Historical facts are truths (or facts) about the past, at least that’s how the term is employed in the debates. So looking at your comment…

The point to “open” theism…is that God doesn’t certainly know all historical facts

…I’d still disagree. Open theists do believe God knows all historical facts. That is, there are no historical facts open theists would claim that God does not know. If you’re using “historical facts” to cover facts about the past, present, and future of all history, then you’re using it differently than I’m used to running into it in the published debates about all this. But nobody’s got a corner on how terms have to be used! ;o) Anyhow, I think I’m following you know.

Tom


#10

TGB - If the open theist believes that God can act miraculously within nature - how does that God know that any action he performs mightn’t result in evil (e.g. cures a terminally ill person who goes on to murder)?


#11

Jeff: TGB - If the open theist believes that God can act miraculously within nature - how does that God know that any action he performs mightn’t result in evil (e.g. cures a terminally ill person who goes on to murder)?

Tom: He knows that it might and that it might not result in evil. Both futures are possible. Healed people can and do go on to bring great blessing/beauty and/or evil into the world all the time. But that’s not to lay the blame for any subsequent murder healed people commit at God’s feet. I mean, we could say the same thing about God’s choice to create at all. That’s a free choice God didn’t have to make. But he chose to create. Let’s ask your question of this scenario too. How’s God know that this action (creation) he performs might not result in evil? Well, God very well might have known (I think he had to know) that evil would certainly arise eventually. So God acts (creates) in this case knowing evil will indirectly arise from his action.

We freely have kids we don’t have to have all the while knowing they’ll commit sin and harm others to some extent. Yet we perform this action (having kids) knowing evil will surely arise! Are we justified in having kids? I think so. Why? We do so because we believe love is worth the risk.

I sense there’s something more behind your question, Jeff, and that I’m not getting it. If I need to explain myself better I’ll try.

Tom


Sodom
#12

No - I think it’s my inability to clearly express my thoughts here.

Perhaps a better way of putting it would be - If God doesn’t know the future then he can’t know that his own interventions in nature will always be good (or have beneficial results if you will). As a doubter of course I have a lot of sympathy with your comment that doubt could be cast on the wisdom of creating at all if it leads to any kind of evil whatsoever.


#13

Jeff: Perhaps a better way of putting it would be - If God doesn’t know the future then he can’t know that his own interventions in nature will always be good (or have beneficial results if you will).

Tom: Yeah, that’s kinda what I thought was going on. And the answer is the same—God doesn’t always know that his interventions will yield exactly the goods he desires. God doesn’t always get what God wants. Sometimes God can act in the world with a view to bringing about certain goods and flat out fail to achieve those goods if…IF…God has determined that those goods also depend upon wills other than God’s will.

Open theists often speak of God’s knowlegde of the future in terms of a branching future, like a tree with a single truck that spreads out into multiple branches. From any present moment, the future will branch out accordingly. It might go this way, might go that way; if that way, it might THEN go this or that way, etc. The future possibilities might be near infinite. God knows them all, contemplates them all, and is resourceful enough to be prefectly prepared for any one. We laughingly say that open theists don’t believe God ‘underknows’ the future, we believe he ‘overknows’ it.

Of course, God can SOMETIMES guarantee outcomes even when having to face contingencies over which he has no determining control. Like playing Kasparov in a game of chess. Kasparov doesn’t know or determine your moves, but is there really any doubt in our minds who will win if Kasparov is playing somebody average like me? None at all. There are a million different ways God may win. And he doesn’t have to have a printout of the whole game upon which to base his moves (that would be impossible anyway, though some imagine it to be so). Sometimes Kasparov can predict which move you’ll make if you’re cornered with just one option. Sometimes he’ll know all the contingencies so well he can predict, “Hey, no matter what moves you make, it’s check-mate in 12 moves. Period.” But sometimes the board really IS open, and Kasparov won’t ALWAYS get what he wants. He may lose a few pieces. He may have to sacrifice a few pieces…all because he’s playing a REAL opponent who has REAL “say-so” about how the play is determined.

Fixed goals (Kasparov wins; all are saved), open routes (could happen this way, that way, any ole way…dudn’t matter; God’s foreknows all the possibilities and is prepared for whatever; bring it on).

Tom


#14

OK - I shall have to digest that :smiley:

One thing that always puzzles me is that if God is eternal and not bound by time, why, from his perspective, is there a future for him to not know about? Doesn’t he ‘see’ all the states of the universe superimposed on one another simultaneously (effectively knowing the ‘future that did/will happen’).

If God has incomplete knowledge of future events which he subsequently gets to know because the future events eventually happen then God has changed - by now having knowledge that he did not previously have. But God is static and eternal and cannot change state or else he becomes different (by the addition of knowledge) than he was (but there is no was in eternity)

Excuse the muddled thinking but this always messes with my head :smiley: .


#15

Jeff-

It’s a whole set of complex issues. Take your time! But in the end the open theist says good-bye to divine timelessness and the ‘static’ sort of immutability that locks God into being unable to experience changing states of mind and/or emotion. We (open viewers) unanimously reject the proposition that God is timeless or exists “outside of time” or “above” our temporal world so that he has simultaneous access to every temporal location along our timeline which informs him of all our free choices.

We’ll never have enough time to discuss (and probably shouldn’t, I don’t want to advertise open theism or press it on a site that’s not dedicated to it) all the reasons why divine timelessness ought to be left behind.


But I will say this…to get back to universalism and freedom. The reason open theism is thought so often to be incompatible with universalism is because (a) open theists insist that ‘love requires freedom’, that is, agents must exercise libertarian free will in embracing the life of the age to come, and (b) free choices cannot be foreknown in their resolved state (i.e., God cannot foreknow which options will actualize). So if God can’t ‘know’ the future free choices of agents and agents have to exercise libertarian freedom to pass into the life of the age to come, then (so the argument goes) God cannot ‘know’ that all ‘will’ freely choose God and be saved. So open theists can’t be universalists. Keith DeRose offered this very argument over at Prosblogion some time ago (prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2006/06/keith_derose_un.html).

I think the bite of this argument is only apparent. I agree with DeRose, if eternal life can only be had through libertarian choice (on some level, let’s say), then it’s true—we can’t get a strict, mathematically defined probability of 1 for the eventual salvation of all. An open theist would have to admit, “Well, yeah, I can’t say with absolute certainty that God knows all will make the right libertarian choice eventually.” But is this really that big a deal? If Reitan’s shoe-box analogy is appropriate, then you can get an incalculably high percentage for eventual libertarian outcomes; so high that talk of qualifying “all WILL be saved” with “all MIGHT NOT be saved” borders on insanity (on the far side of the border!). If I can’t say “with probability of 1” all will be saved, what’s the real probability (given unfailing love, unending time, and the impossibility of irrevocably choosing hell)? Let’s say it’s a decimal point followed by enough zeros to run to the edge of the universe and back followed by a 9. So if somebody wanted to get ‘technical’ they could challenge the open theist’s claim to believe that all will eventually be saved. OK. I give. I believe all will eventually freely choose with a probability of .999999 (…to the edge of the universe and back). I can live with that. I have more reason to believe that a box of Scrabble letters tossed from the Eifel Tower will fall to the ground and form Psalm 23 (100 times in a row) than I do to believe that even one soul will continue throughout unending time to reject God’s offer.

That’s the best I can do without TomT’s trump card. TomT can be more confident that I can be (within that tiny space between his 1 and my .9999999999999-to the edge of the universe and back) because in his view God can play that trump card and get exactly the response he wants from us WHEN he wants it. In my view God HAS to wait for it.

Tom


#16

Assuming TomB is correctly interpreting TomT, then I [mostly] agree with TomB while I’m a Closed Theist and an Arminian. [For example, I strongly doubt that anybody would continuously reject the love of the Lord literally forever.]


#17

Thanks for that Tom - That has made a whole heap of sense of the paradoxical position I was describing :smiley: .


#18

:laughing:

I’m using a spatial metaphor to try to get across a difficult conceptual notion. Do you know how electrical fields and magnetic fields generate each other at right angles to one another? A similar metaphor.

Consider the following sentence:

“At the moment of choice between aspiration and mere ambition—she chose ambition.”

(That’s from CoJ, by the way. Plug, plug, etc. :mrgreen: )

This is a fictional character who doesn’t personally exist and so ‘who’ isn’t really ‘choosing’ anything. But it could be a description of an actually existent person, too. It succinctly describes an action she chooses to take and the circumstances in which she chooses to take one action instead of another. Also, despite some thematic complexity, it’s a relatively short sentence. Many readers (hopefully you, too, or this principle illustration won’t work very well…! :laughing: ) should be able to keep the whole sentence ‘in view’ at once.

The reader, being non-omniscient, still has to ‘read’ it in a linear fashion at least once of course. But once you’ve read it and gotten a basic grasp of what the sentence is describing, you should be able to go away for a minute and then, coming back, see the sentence itself as a unity: this ‘shape’ represents ‘these meanings’. You shouldn’t have to read it again linearly; you could in fact spot-read pieces of it in any order, maybe focusing on particular portions for consideration of ideas.

If you’ve gotten to that point, you’re approaching (in our limited derivative fashion) how the ultimate Independent Fact if it is actively sentient (i.e. if the IF is God), transcendent of natural history, can view all history. You’re acting (in a spatial metaphor) perpendicular to the bit of ‘history’ that you’re contemplating.

I can actually borrow a similar illustration from earlier in CoJ, in regard to the perceptions of that same character. Portunista is using a special type of sight to try to understand a highly complex piece of circuity which constitutes a whole large map of a valley inscribed into a ceiling.

"]Where to begin?

She didn’t have the faintest clue.

So, she tried to get a simple feel, for its shape in total.

She tilted her head, deep in thought. How peculiar—now she seemed to be looking down on the valley from high above. The trees and streams and contours all were there; there were the ridges and mountains, too; there was the Tower. But, it wasn’t like looking at any map, or even seeing it like a bird.

It was…like feeling every tree and shape, in detail, all at once. She didn’t have to move her focus here or there. All the map, all the sigil, twenty-four paces across or more, seemed to be one point—a point with the strength of a unity.

Was this…how the Eye beheld the whole world…?

One difference is that God would not have to read it linearly to start with. He would always be acting perpendicularly to it in His understanding of it. Similarly, the whole system would exist (as my sentence there does not, by the way) in continual dependence upon His creation of the system, not even as a mere temporal fact (in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth), but constantly at every point of its existence.

“Point” is a good word because there’s an interesting confluence there between geometry and quantum physics. A “point” in geometry is a limited non-spatial existence. It has zero physical dimensions, yet nevertheless exists. But it only exists due to the intention of something positing it into existence.

A ‘point’ that Portunista perceives, by the way, to her own annoyance… :wink:

"]I preferred to be a fortress to myself. To be, instead, invested in another’s value, left me open to attack!

And yet, I still could taste the fear I’d felt: when I had seen that a point, itself, has no true strength. A single point can’t even claim existence!—except by postulation, by the grace, of something other than that point.

Which, not incidentally, is a main reason why she chooses ambition instead of aspiration in that key sentence above.

Anyway, if you can see that shorter sentence up there all at once and hold an understanding of its meaning all at once (or as close to ‘all at once’ as a non-omniscient creature like ourselves can do), then you are actively perceiving at ‘right angles’ (so to speak) to the ‘reality’ of the sentence.

And if you have authorship authority, you can add things to the sentence, making your own contribution to the shape of it. As merely human authors we can only do this within our own linear history, but the ‘history’ of the written work both does and does not necessarily correspond to our linear history: it does in the sense of being part of our linear history, but I can hop back and forth in the story introducing effects as I choose and so creating and altering the shape of the whole–which, depending on how competent I am as an author, I am hopefully able to keep sufficiently in mind at any given time! (When I do not, I generate compositional and thematic problems.)

But my fictional history isn’t real; and the persons are not real persons. Yet in principle I could interact with a real (though subordinate) history with real persons in much the same way. (Certain Christological theories involve the Incarnate 2nd Person interacting with ‘past history’ relative to the Incarnation in such a way: it is in fact the Incarnate Son acting as the Visible YHWH eating dinner with Abraham, for example, or sitting under a tree talking to Gideon, or speaking with Moses “as a man speaketh to a friend”–even though in terms of this natural history, the Incarnation itself “hasn’t happened yet”.)


#19

Not lumping them together, exactly; I know open theists (per se) are not process theists (per se). Just noting that open theists are more likely to move into some kind of naturalistic theism than closed theists are, at least here in the West. In Eastern religions, pantheism tends to be very deterministic by contrast. Even so, closed theists in the West don’t seem to move very often into deterministic pantheism. I’m not entirely sure why. Possibly their tendency to chunk ‘human reasoning’ in order to protect divine revelation–and notice how this is consonant with their tendency to minimize or chunk human free will to protect divine omnipotence and especially omniscience–in favor of systemic presuppositionalism, guards them from following out the logical corollaries of trying to claim that God can only ensure His certain knowledge of all events by dictating them Himself deterministically.

I am doubtful that open theists are “far more likely to reject” the aspect of process theism where God doesn’t intervene, compared to closed theists. Or are you aware of that many more closed theists than open theists who minimize the amount of action being taken by God in history?

I would think it is obvious that a side of theology which tends, if anything, toward divine determinism would be less likely to minimize the actions of God in history than a side of theology trying to protect human free will against divine determinism. I certainly have never run into any evidence myself that closed theists are more likely to trend into process theism than open theists.

Obviously, insofar as open theists still insist on supernaturalistic theism, they will thereby be guarding against moving into process theism. (Boyd comes first to mind as an example of warning against this.) But (here in the West at least) it isn’t the closed theists who have a tendency among their ranks to abandon supernaturalistic theism for process theism (non-deterministic pantheism) per se. I think there’s a pretty obvious reason for that, too: the doctrines that closed theists are specially hyper to protect, run directly against process theism per se. Open theists avoid becoming process theists by not going too far in their protection of human will (and/or natural behavior) in relation to divine action.

‘Future facts’ are not yet ‘historical facts’ to us natural creatures existing dependently on an overarching spatio-temporal system. Facts which occur in a natural history, however, are still historical facts ontologically speaking, whether they happen to be ‘future’ facts from our current perspective or not.

I certainly grant, very heartily, that you’re right about how the term is being employed in debates between closed and open theists. It illustrates my previously claimed point that both sides, despite being nominally committed to supernaturalistic theism, have a common tendency to present historical time as a framework within which God is constrained to operate–like us creatures ontologically dependent upon Nature for our existence.

If we were talking about Zeus or Odin, I wouldn’t have any criticism of either side on this topic. But we’re supposed to be talking about Nature ontologically depending upon God for its existence and operations, not the other way around.


#20

Hi Jason-

Thanks for the clarification. I’m sorry to say I’m not sure that I’m following you.

Jason: Obviously, insofar as open theists still insist on supernaturalistic theism, they will thereby be guarding against moving into process theism. (Boyd comes first to mind as an example of warning against this.) But (here in the West at least) it isn’t the closed theists who have a tendency among their ranks to abandon supernaturalistic theism for process theism (non-deterministic pantheism) per se.

Tom: The “tendency to abandon.” Yes. The ole’ slippery slope. Gets ya every time!

This would be difficult to show, Jason. You could be right. I’m not disagreeing. Who knows? It might seem like this is the case because open theists and process folks have some things in common (things which opponents of both views hammer on as evidence of…well, of something I suppose). But they disagree in no uncertain terms over other core convictions (convictions open theists share with historical Christianity). I haven’t counted all the process folk out there to see how many were formerly open theists (probably very few) and how many were formerly traditional ‘closed’ theists. I believe if we counted heads we’d find that of those process theists who have any background in the Church (nominal or otherwise), most come from nominal churches and formerly bought into the whole classical package of divine attributes. But that’s just going on the few process folks I know. None were formerly open theists. They all reacted to the classical God and ran as far in the opposite direction as possible, which is why they can’t stand open theism. We are, they say, “too classical.” We can’t win for losing. Ha!

I suppose my question about all this is (sincerely now), So what? I mean, any worldview has more or less in common with every other worldview (all considered). So the nearest contrary worldview to open theism is process theism (let’s say). Fine. But you surely have a nearest contrary worldview. So do we all. So what’s the point?


Tom: But “future facts” are not “historical facts.” Historical facts are truths (or facts) about the past, at least that’s how the term is employed in the debates.

Jason: “Future facts” are not yet “historical facts” to us natural creatures existing dependently on an overarching spatio-temporal system.

Tom: Yes, so say you and others who hold to some version of divine timelessness. I grant that. But open theists reject divine timelessness and other views of divine supra-temporality that essentially give God atemporal or eternal access to the truth about the whole of creation’s history in a single snap-shot so to speak. So to the extent that your claim that “the point to open theism is that God doesn’t certainly know all historical facts” assumes divine timelessness (as you here admit), it just begs the question against open theists (who don’t share the belief in divine timelessness–by whatever name it’s called). So it’s not really accurate to claim that open theists believe that God doesn’t know all historical facts.

Jason: …both sides [closed and open theists], despite being nominally committed to supernaturalistic theism, have a common tendency to present historical time as a framework within which God is constrained to operate.

Tom: Open theists have more than a tendency to say God operates temporally (exclusively so since creation at least), we absolutely insist upon it. As for traditional non-open theists, I only wish it was true that most believed God operates with our temporal framework. But I’ve met with the “But God is outside time” objection from Arminians (and some Calvinists) too often to think it’s true.

Jason: We’re supposed to be talking about Nature ontologically depending upon God for its existence and operations, not the other way around.

Tom: There’s more here than would be fair to this thread to try to address. I’ll just say that in positing divine temporality, open theists aren’t at all suggesting that Creation is anything but ontologically dependent upon God (who is ontologically dependent only upon himself). The God-world relation is absolutely asymmetrical in this respect. But so far as we can see this has nothing to do with precluding the temporal status of God’s existence and life.

Too much too digest.

Not sure where to go from here. The info is out there for anyone who wants to inform themselves about open theism. I’m sure open theism isn’t a perfect, air-tight theology. No model is. It’s the least problematic I’ve found thus far. But we’re all bailing some water.

Pax,
Tom