Friday, May 04, 2007

Free Will Theism + Presentism = Open Theism

Suppose that free will theism is true.

Free will theism entails theism, the thesis that God exists, where 'God' is understood to denote a necessary being essentially possessing the greatest possible set of compossible great-making properties, including maximal power, knowledge, and goodness.

Free will theism also entails that God has created a world of creatures some of which are free in the 'libertarian' sense. Libertarian freedom is incompatible with determinism and thus implies that the future is 'causally open' with respect to creaturely free choices. In other words, there are 'future contingents'.

Suppose further that presentism is true. Presentism is the thesis that whatever exists, exists now, in the present.

Grant both of those theses (free will theism and presentism), along with two additional widely accepted notions - the correspondence theory of truth and the causal dependency of later states on earlier states - and one gets a straightforward argument for open theism, a species of free will theism that holds that the future is epistemically open for God in precisely those respects in which it is causally open.

Here's the argument:
  1. God’s knowledge corresponds to what is true. (divine omniscience)
  2. What is true corresponds to what is real. (correspondence theory of truth)
  3. God’s knowledge corresponds to what is real. (from 1 and 2)
  4. What is real corresponds to what is present. (presentism)
  5. God’s knowledge corresponds to what is present. (from 3 and 4)
  6. What is future stands to what is present as an effect does to its cause. (time order of causal dependency)
  7. The future is epistemically settled for God iff the future is fully ‘present in its causes’. (from 5 and 6)
  8. The future is not fully present in its causes. (future contingency)
  9. The future is not epistemically settled for God. (from 7 and 8)


At 5/06/2007 9:25 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

Your conclusion seems reasonable to me. I've always thought that if God already knew what I was going to choose to do then I would not really be free. But I've not been able to pin that worry down, as you have. Actually, I've just this day drafted a post about a temporal God (synchronicity I guess). Basically, it seems to me that if God is to choose to create the Universe, then s/he must exist in a temporal sort of way, and know future possibilities only.

At 5/06/2007 6:51 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Thanks, enigman. I agree with you that God's choosing to create implies divine temporality. I blogged about that here.

At 5/08/2007 8:27 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

Just the sort of link I was hoping for, thanks (I aim to read more of your blog eventually) Have you posted on God's possible motivations for Creation?

At 5/08/2007 8:59 AM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

No, I don't believe I've gotten onto that topic yet. Hopefully in the near future.

At 5/09/2007 7:44 AM, Blogger Enigman said...

Thanks, I'll look forward to that. Incidentally I've posted my draft, here.

At 5/15/2007 6:08 PM, Blogger Ilíon said...

Have you considered the possibility that God knows *all* the potential histories that might have been, and not merely the one that (to this point in time) we humans have collectively chosen?

Adam was free to obey or disobey (as are we, continuously), can we not at least agree on that? Cain was free to murder or not murder Abel, can we not agree on that? That is, can we not agree that human beings are free moral agents?

Now, if either of those events had not happened, would not all of subsequent history have been different? Or, for that matter, had God put Cain to death, rather than showing him mercy, history would likely have been quite different.

Now, consider God's promise of redemption/restoration made to Adan and Eve; it's very non-specific, isn't it? It could fit a multitude of scenarios, could it not? Consider that the promises God makes to his people get more precise or specific as time passes -- you two are effectively speculating that this is because God is temporily limited (and how would that work, precisely, without turning God into Zeus?).

While you may not realise this, if you want to accept the speculation of God being limited as being true, you are essentially agreeing with the sort of village atheist who tries to denegrate God by calling him a "sky-daddy," that is, equating him to Zeus.

Now, the question I started this post with is also a speculation, I freely admit that. But I think it has far more going for it than trying to limit God.

At 5/16/2007 1:24 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...


Sure, God knows all possible histories. That's part of my position. Yet you write as though it's something open theists haven't thought of or can't accommodate. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You misunderstand open theism if you think it implies that God is 'limited' and therefore merely a Zeus-like 'sky-daddy'. On the contrary, as an open theist I am committed to a God who is the fully omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, necessarily existent creator and sustainer of everything that is not God or part of God. That's a far cry from anything Zeus-like, and the very sort of view that gives village atheists fits.

If you're going to make charges like the foregoing, please work out the logic in detail. As it stands, your charge is based on nothing more than loose and vague associations that don't withstand even minimal scrutiny.

At 5/16/2007 6:38 PM, Blogger Ilíon said...

It wasn't my intention to "make charges," but rather to get you to think about what you're saying ... and think about the context of what you're saying in relation to whom. You're not talking about some generic "God of the Philosophers," you're talking about the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;" you're taking about the God-Who-Reveals-Himself, you're talking about the God who names himself as: "I am that I am."

When one is theorizing about *this* God, one's theories must take into account -- and agree with -- what he has told us about himself. Otherwise, whatever else one may be doing, one is not really talking about I Am.

I said: "While you may not realise this, if you want to accept the speculation of God being limited as being true, you are essentially agreeing with the sort of village atheist who tries to denegrate God by calling him a "sky-daddy," that is, equating him to Zeus."

To which you replied: "You misunderstand open theism if you think it implies that God is 'limited' and therefore merely a Zeus-like 'sky-daddy'. On the contrary, as an open theist I am committed to a God who is the fully omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, necessarily existent creator and sustainer of everything that is not God or part of God."

But, consider your prior statement to Enigman, to which I was responding: "I agree with you that God's choosing to create implies divine temporality." [and your blog entry: "Can a Timeless God Freely Create?" (Which, by the way, I read some months ago; it was interesting to read and think about, but I think its argument/conclusion essentially wrong.)]

Time, 'temporality,' whatever-one-calls-it, is not God, nor is it "part" (acare quotes intentional) of God, it is rather part of his creation. Since 'time' is a part of the creation, if the god you're theorizing about is 'time-bound,' then your theorizing isn't about the God-Who-Creates-Time. If the god you're theorizing about is 'time-bound,' he may be Zeus, but he is not God.

As for the phrase "shy-daddy" (by which it appears I've inadvertently offended you), I'd assumed (apparently incorrectly) that you'd be familiar with it. It's quite popular amongst the more shallow-thinking sort of 'atheist' one encounters; the sort who sub-let their thinking out to, say, Professor Dawkins. When this sort is "arguing" (I use the term very loosely) for 'atheism,' he will not infrequently call God a "sky-daddy" -- apparenly trying to rile the "theist" by use of the phrase.

As for your use of the term 'omnibenevolent' in your recent post, is this *really* an attribute of God? While I have always been taught that God is good, I don't recall having ever been told that God is 'omnibenevolent.' And, what would it mean if he is? I can tell you what many 'atheists' take the term to mean.

I can tell you that I've seem many 'atheists' argue that their understanding of the word proves that God does not exist. This argument goes something like this: an 'omnimax' (by which is meant at a minimum 'omnipotent,' 'omniscient,' and 'omnibenevolent') Deity -- and which is asserted as part of the argument to be the Christian claim about God -- not only would not do non-benevolent acts, but would not allow non-benevolent acts to be done nor non-benevolent events to occur. But, non-benevolent acts and non-benevolent events occur with frequency. Therefore, *if* there is a God, he most certainly is not 'omnibenevolent,' which means he is not 'omnimax,' which means that the Christian conception of God -- even if there is a God -- is false.

But, I have never been taught that it is part of our doctrine that God is 'omnibenevolent.' And, surprising to me, at least one of the 'atheists' at Internet Infidels even recently took his fellows to task for making that argument ... and part of his taking them to task involved telling them that we do not claim that God is 'omnibenevolent.'

Now, if God is indeed 'omnibenevolent,' as you've indicated you believe, then that would seem to me to indicate that he logically cannot punish anyone for any sin, for that would not be 'benevolent' toward the person being punished.

But, perhaps you don't mean 'omnibenevolent' in such a simplistic way, any more than 'omnipotent' means the simplistic "can do anything."

Lastly, returning to the subject of theorizing about "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and of his name:

As I said, if we say we are theorizing about *this* God, then any theories we come up with must agree with what he has told us of himself. I trust we agree on this. I also trust that we agree that we (this 'we' meaning humanity, not merely you and I) may certainly misunderstand what he has told us about himself.

So, keeping in mind that I cannot rule out that I may be misunderstanding, it certainly seems to be that case that he has told us numerous times (in both Testaments) that, in fact, he does not change.

And, even his name is the claim that he does not change -- or, at any rate, does not change 'temporily:' the Divine Name is generally translated into English as "I am that I am." But (as I presume you, though not necessarily all readers of your blog, are aware), it means so much more than that. The verb ("I am"), isn't merely the equivalent of the English 'to be,' to means 'to be,' 'to exist,' to live;' moreover, it is tenseless. And the word translated as "that" means 'that' and 'what' and 'because,' etc. So, the Name simultaneously means: "I am/exist because I am/exist" and I will be/will exist because I do exist and I will be what I am and I am that I will be and probably more besides.

At 5/18/2007 3:50 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Ilion,

I'm not going to get into a discussion of the meaning of the 'omni'-attributes with you. Your main point concerns the relation of God to time and the claim that the Bible clearly teaches the absolute immutability of God.

I beg to differ with your reading of Scripture. The passages that speak of God as unchanging claim imply no more than that God is unchanging in his essential nature and character - being holy, just, faithful to his promises, etc. To read those verses as implying absolute metaphysical immutability is reading into the text more than the context supports. Theologian James Barr has argued this point at length in one of his books.

Regarding the tetragrammaton, it is not 'tenseless' but rather a fusion of three tensed claims. It means, essentially, that God is "he who was, and is, and is to come".

Finally, your idea that God "created time" presupposes a reification of 'time' that I reject. You seem to think of time as a sort of container that God creates along with its contents (the universe). And you seem to understand me as claiming that God is "in" time, "bound" inside the container, which would make God finite. This is not my view at all. Time is not in any sense a "container" that things exist or take place "in". Such language involves an application of spatial metaphors to time, metaphors that, because they are spatial, are literally false when applied to time. Time, as I conceive it, is neither a thing nor a part of creation, but simply a name for the fact of change. If God changes ever, in any respect, then to that extent he undergoes temporal succession, but that does not mean that God is essentially temporal or that he exists "in" time.

At 5/26/2007 3:06 PM, Blogger derek said...

Hi Alan,

I have some thoughts for you regarding God's relationship to time. I'm starting to believe that the reason we have so much trouble with this concept is that we hold a "unitarian" view of God in practice, rather than a Trinitarian view.

If the God we worship is really triune, then God was in a sense in a relationship with Himself before the universe was created. However, as you so wisely point out, relationality requires temporal succession.

This leads me to conclude that God is neither "inside" nor "outside" of time, but rather time is merely a byproduct of the inherent relationality within the Godhead. Am i making sense? Although i can't write syllogisms very well, let me crunch my argument in a few lines:

1: God is Triune in Nature

2: God as Triune was relating with/in Himself before the creation of our universe.

3: Therefore, time is a necessary "outgrowth" or "byproduct" of God's nature.

4: Therefore, He isn't necessarily "in" or "out" of time, rather time is a natural consequence of relational nature of God Himself.

Obviously i think that such an understanding of time gels much better with OT than the classical models of foreknowledge. I agree with you that we get into trouble when we use "spatial" metaphors to understanding God and time, becuase in doing we separate time from God's own inherent relationality, which requires temporal succession. The only way out of this that i can see is to "punt to mystery," as you put it.

What do you think Alan? Is this a viable way to defend OT? I think that it holds great promise, because in this way OT is faithful to the most ancient view of God in Christianity, that of God as Trinity. In fact, and in an interesting irony, OT may be the MOST faithful to the most ancient and sacred view of God in the history of the church.

I'm hoping to write a paper on the implications of Trinitarian theology on viewing foreknowledge, but i was curious to hear your thoughts.

At 5/27/2007 12:59 AM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Derek,

Good to hear from you. I like your proposal that time is an 'outgrowth' or 'byproduct', not a container-like thing that other things can be 'in' or 'out' of.

You might be right about time being a byproduct of God's nature, but I'm more inclined to say that it is a byproduct of God's activity because (for reasons having to do with kalam-type arguments) I am not sure that I want to affirm that God experiences temporality essentially.


At 5/31/2007 9:54 PM, Blogger derek said...


I'm a bit confused here. What do you mean by "Kalam type arguments?" Are you referring to the cosmological argument for God's existence?

Also, wouldn't you say that if in fact time is a byproduct of God's inherent relationality, then we have to say that this is essential? To me, relating is an activity, but if God has always done this, then i don't see how activity removes you from the logical implication of "essential consequence" fo God's inherent relational nature.

At 6/01/2007 2:15 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Derek,

By "kalam type arguments" I mean a priori arguments for the beginning of time. If it is necessary that time have a beginning, then it cannot be necessary that God experience temporality, unless it is also necessary that God have a beginning. The latter being false, it must be possible that God not experience temporality if any a priori argument for the beginning of time succeeds.

Since I am inclined to thing that some a priori arguments for the beginning of time do succeed, I'm under pressure to deny that time is a byproduct of God's inherent relationality. Instead, I would say that time is a contingent byproduct of God's free activity in creating.

At 6/05/2007 2:43 PM, Blogger derek said...

Hi Alan,

I must admit that i haven't wrestled through these thoughts as much as you have, but here ae some of the problems i'm having with your view at this point.

1.) I think there is an inconsistency in your views in general if you hold that relating logically requires experiencing temporality. If in fact God is triune, and has always been relating, and relating requires temporal succession, then i don't see how you avoid the conclusion that God has in fact always been experiencing time. Hence, time has always "been around," so to speak.

2) Related to my above question, i'm curious to see what you believe God was like before His free creative act. While not wanting to be uncharitable, i do find the idea that God wasn't experiencing some form of temporal succession when relating very close to the Aristotelian concept of the "unmoved mover." The idea that God can't experience time before creation seems to be an interesting limit to place on a central component of His being.

3) Lastly, to me it seems that if the Trinity is true, then it calls into question the soundness of a priori arguments for the beginning of time. I guess it seems to me that maybe this is an area where Doctrine is allowed to critique philosophy.

Alan, let me close by saying that i respect you deeply for your intellect and i don't want to come across as a jerk. That being said, it seems to me that if i'm not upfront about my thoughts, i won't get to hear your thoughts on what i really want to know.




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