Open Theism and Divine Freedom

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[Cross-posted at Prosblogion] Open theists distinguish between two different varieties of their view. There are actually a number of ways to divide up open theism into varieties, but one particular division that open theists make among themselves is between the following two positions:

1. There is no such thing as a future to be known, and that's why God doesn't know the future exhaustively. It's not a limitation on God that he doesn't know everything that will happen. There's nothing to be known, so God can't know it. So God is omniscient in knowing all the facts about the future. There just aren't very much such facts yet.

2. God could know the future, but it would prevent our freedom, so God chooses to limit his knowledge, knowing that knowledge about what we would choose to do would make us unfree. God doesn't know all he could know metaphysically, but he does know all he could know given his choice not to know future free choices.

I'm not really sure these are distinct views. It sounds as if one view has God unable to know the future, and the other has him able to know it but choosing not to. But think about what would make him unable to know the future in the first case and unwilling to know it in the second. If he's unable to know the future because there's no future to be known, we're working with a picture of a world that's not deterministic. When people make free choices, they can do otherwise, and the idea is that open choices like that require an open future, which requires there being no fact about what you will do until you do it. But on view 1, it seems God could arrange for me to choose a certain thing. I just wouldn't be free if God did that. So God chooses not to know what I'll do in order to ensure that I have the chance to make free choices. But isn't that view 2?

Now think about the second view. What would happen if God chose to know what I'd do ahead of time? On view 2, I wouldn't be free if God chose such a thing. So God voluntarily chooses not to make me unfree, and he chooses to let the future be open with respect to my choice, which means he can't know my future choice, and we're really dealing with view 1.

So I'm not really sure these views are different views after all. In both views, God could know what I will do, and it would require me not being free. View 1 expresses this by assuming God won't ensure that I do any particular thing and then says God can't know my future choice. View 2 expresses it by making it explicit that God has chosen not to know and acknowledging that God could have known but it would mean I'm not free. But I'm not sure we're dealing with a different picture of what's going on, just a different way of describing it.

An interesting result of this is that there isn't an immediate answer to the question of whether God is free to know my future choices. He's free with respect to his general power, but he's not free with respect to his moral commitment to preserve our freedom. It's possible for God to know the future when you only take into account God's bare powers and not his desires or character. It's not possible once you factor in his desires or character. The funny thing about that is that open theists have set out to preserve a libertarian view of freedom, and they think free will is incompatible with any foreknowledge of our choices, so they abandon it.

Open theists usually insist that you're simply free or not free. There's no allowance for something being possible with respect to your current realm of choices but not possible with respect to what the future will turn out to be. Compatibilists about freedom and determinism will say things like this about our freedom. It's possible that we do any of a number of options, provided that you ignore what causes us to do only the one thing we will do. It's not possible given what we are caused to do. Compatibilists about freedom and foreknowledge also talk this way. It's possible that we do something other than what we actually do if you only take into account what causes us to do it. But it's not possible given what's true about the future, which is that we won't do it but will do something else.

I don't think this necessarily leads to a contradiction, but I thought it was interesting to see open theism being forced into talking about freedom or possibility with respect to one factor but not with respect to another. I think it diminishes the effectiveness of one consideration sometimes presented in favor of open theism against these other views. It doesn't avoid having to make this kind of distinction about possibility and freedom being relative to the concerns you're focusing on, at least with God's freedom.

2 Comments

The one thing that gets me, or that I cant get by is causation. I cant see how knowing anything causes it. It doesnt matter which tense the knowledge occurs in, past, present or future, knowing does not cause.
Knowledge is "neutral" - it does not act, it has no will of its own, it can not manifest itself in any way. So, God's knowing of anything in the future does not bring those things into being.

Open Theisms argument that foreknowledge removes freedom is completely false. It can only remove a person/objects freedom if that knowledge is used wilfully. That is to say, if God says "I will do X at such and such a time to joe blogs", then God knows He will do X, and Joe Blogs has absolutely no choice. That is completely different to God knowing Joe Blogs will choose tomato soup for dinner.

I think that's right, but there's a deceptive element to the argument as it's usually presented. It still involved a logical fallacy, but it's one that's hard to spot. I think the basic diagnosis of where it goes wrong, though, is that it refuses to distinguish between something being true and something being necessary. Statements about the past are true without being necessary. Open theists typically say statements about the past are necessary, because they can no longer be changed. Well, they never could have been changed. It was always true that it would go the way it did. It just didn't have to be that way. Once you distinguish between possible ways it could have gone and the actual way it did go, you separate truth and necessity. The same is true of the future, but you use the future tense to describe it when it hasn't yet happened.

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