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Does God knowing the future mean I’m not free?

The following is an updated post from 8 November 2010 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz called “Open Theism Part 2” in which I advance an analysis to why Generic Open Theism is philosophically flawed.

WARNING: Although this post is easier than the previous What is Open Theism? it is still not as easy as what I try to do in general. It is a difficult and nuanced subject.

I once saw a play where the actors were given a character to preform with no script. The director sat back with the audience and sent those on stage text messages which they were to follow at their own discretion. Is God like this director? Or does he provide a script that is to be preformed according to every word? This is akin to the difference between Open Theism and the traditional view of God and creatures without free will.

A thorough refutation of Openness Theology should engage on least three different levels. These will be, (1) good principles of interpretation applied to the scriptural data, (2) evaluation of unacceptable theological consequences, and (3) philosophical objections. In this short essay I advance my own brief analysis as to why Generic Open Theism is philosophically flawed, while not necessarily implying our will is determined.

Open Theism is in many respects a reaction to hard-line Calvinism and the theological determinism that it implies. Open Theism takes libertarian freedom as axiomatic, which is to say that Open Theism takes the idea that a person’s will is undetermined for granted, or as something that is self-evidently true and unquestionable. Accordingly, because of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and atemporality, EC incompatibility is thought to follow. Pinnock states:“I found that I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been already spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.”[1]

It is clear that by “truly significant” Pinnock means undetermined.[2] But why should exhaustive foreknowledge rule out libertarian freedom as Pinnock intuits? There is a distinct lack in the literature explicating this presupposition. Indeed, no argument for theological determinism can be advanced that is not logically fallacious. Consider the following syllogism:

  1. Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen.
  2. God knows everything (this includes x).
  3. Therefore, Necessarily, x will happen. (modus ponems, 1&2)

In other words, if God knows a person’s future choice, that person must make that choice. This argument is same as the argument for old-line Greek fatalism. We can immediately see that this argument must be false – even if we don’t know how. For just by merit of knowing something will occur, doesn’t mean that it must occur. I know that I am going to have Subway™ for lunch. That doesn’t mean I have to have Subway™ for lunch. I could have PitaPit™. Or skip lunch entirely.

To see what is wrong with the argument we’ll have to look at the premises. Premise (1) is necessary because it is no more than a truism. It is not because it is God doing the knowing, but because x is simply “known,” for to know x requires x to be true: you cannot know x if x is false. We could replace “God” as the knower with anyone we wanted, such as “the gods,” or “the whether man,” or “Big Bird.” It could be anyone doing the knowing and (1) would still be a necessary truth.

Premise (2) is true by merit of God’s omniscience, and classical theism is committed to this proposition. It is on this ground that the Open Theist believes (3) to flow logically from the premises, that leads him or her to deny (2). Since according to the classical theist both the premises are true, if he is to deny the conclusion the only option left for him is to show that (3) does not flow logically from the premises.

And indeed, what follows from the premises is not (3) but,

3`. Therefore, x will happen.

Which is to say, x won’t fail to occur, but it could fail to occur. If x fails to happen, we can be assured that God did not know x. This is not to deny (O). It is to say that x was false. That is why the great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge can say:“…as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. […] This whole difficulty arises out the assumption that contingency is essential to free agency. [But] If an act may be certain as to its occurrence, and yet free as to the mode of its occurrence, the difficulty vanishes.”[3] [brackets and italics mine]

In essence, knowledge of the future does not cause the future to happen. Thus, an essential presupposition of Open Theism is found to be a modally fallacious inference. A modal fallacy is an error in modal logic: the logic of necessity and possibility. Because EC incompatibility is an essential premise for Generic Open Theism, the failure to provide any reason beyond the fallacious intuition of Pinnock shows it is not a rational position. Moreover, it follows from a philosophical point of view that Generic Open Theism is not to be preferred, especially with no solid disproof of concurrence formulations of Divine sovereignty and libertarian freedom such as Luis De Molina’s formulation of the doctrine of Middle Knowledge, or the mystery view such as when James Arminius’ confessed ignorance on the matter.

Further, Generic Open Theism appear to be prima facie (on first appearance) dubious for at least two reasons: the first philosophical and the second theological.

First, there is a strong case to be made that all future contingent propositions are either true or false. This would make Bivalent and Non-Bivalent variants of Open Theism unfounded. If I know “that I am going to have Subway for lunch,” then surely God also knows this. Strong reasons must be given to abandon the popular and commonsense semantics (the branch of logic concerned with meaning) that make such future tensed propositions either true or false.[4]

Second, Steven C. Roy, in his comprehensive biblical study of divine foreknowledge identifies 2,323 predictive prophecies concerning what his creatures will do, creating a powerful quantitative argument against any limitation of divine foreknowledge.[5] The Open Theist may insist by qualifying God’s foreknowledge is existentially quantitative, which is to say, limited by the content of creation of what exists up to the present moment. However, in the light of the number, variety and precision of the 300 representative predictive prophesies from scripture involving future free decisions detailed by Roy, the burden of proof is firmly placed on the Open Theist’s shoulders to show that God’s knowledge of what his creatures will do is not universally quantified, which is to say, he knows all truths, even future ones.

Craig explains:“The problem with Boyd’s procedure . . . is that the defender of divine foreknowledge need only show that God knows just one future contingent proposition or CCF, for in that case (1) there is no logical incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and future continents, (2) the Principle of Bivalence does not fail for such propositions, and (3) it becomes ad hoc [or contrived] to claim that other such propositions are not also true and known to God.” [brackets mine] [6]

The contemporary debate surrounding the perfection of God’s knowledge, specifically his foreknowledge of contingent events, or the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) is set to continue for years to come. There are many other aspects of the debate I have not covered, preferring here to explore the philosophical underpinnings of Open Theism. I have found the arguments for Open Theism to be flawed and at best dubious. This is why most proponents of Open Theism prefer to argue on biblical grounds rather than philosophical grounds. There is enough reason on these grounds alone to think that OT is in its core commitments is false.

Footnotes:

  1. […] I feared if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong. See Clark H. Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 9.
  2. Undetermined choices are important for Pinnock, for the following three reasons. “It astonishes me that people can defend the “glory of God” [exhaustive foreknowledge] so vehemently when that glory includes God’s sovereign authorship of every rape and murder, his closing down the future to any meaningful creaturely contribution, and his holding people accountable for deeds he predestined them to do and they could not but do.” See Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Baker Academic, 2001), 16.
  3. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. Vol. 1., (Oak Harbor, WA: James Clark & Co., 1997), 401.
  4. For further information on preferring Peircean semantics over the usual Ockhamist semantics see “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 233.
  5. Steven C. Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).  See also “How Much Does God Foreknow? Online Supplement” at http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2759-lists.pdf accessed 8 November 2010.
  6. William Lane Craig, “A middle-knowledge Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 57.

Bibliography

  • Battle, John A. “Some Biblical Arguments used by Openness Theology” WRS Journal 12/1 (February 2005): 15-20.
  • Beilby, James K. and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  • Craig, William Lane, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of theism: Omniscience, vol. 19. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991.
  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan, 1960.
  • Erickson, Millard J., What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.
  • Hasker, William. God, TIme and Knowledge, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.
  • Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. London: James Clark & Co, 1960.
  • Geisler, Norman L. and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001.
  • Pinnock, Clark. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001.
  • ____________. “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man,Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.
  • Rhoda, Alan R. “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 263
  • Roy, Steven C. How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.
  • Sanders, John. “Open Theism Explained.” No pages. Cited 3 October 2010. Online: http://www.opentheism.info/
  • Thomas, Robert L. “The Hermeneutics of ‘Open Theism’” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (Fall 2001): 179-202.
  • Wright , R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty: Whats Wrong with Freewill Theism, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
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