Why I am not an open theist

Someone asked me why I am not an open theist.  I respect open theists for their dedication to biblical exegesis and for their determination to emphasize the personal nature of God.  I am also attracted to open theist as a solution to the problem of evil.  (Which I, personally, do not think Calvinism can solve.  Arminianism does a better job in that it does NOT say God foreordained or rendered sin and evil certain.  The distinction between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will is necessary for any good theodicy.)  Most of the leading open theists are my friends and I would love to be with them on this issue.  I have been their defender on many occasions.

However, I have the same problem with open theism as with Calvinism when it comes to theology’s normed norm–tradition.  The key Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election. limited atonement and irresistible grace were not even thought of until at least Augustine in the fifth century.  (And, I still believe, no Christian suggested limited atonement until the ninth century.)

If open theism were true, it seems to me early church fathers such as Irenaeus, who learned the faith under Polycarp who learned it under John the Apostle, would have known of it and taught it.  I realize this is not a knock-down, drag-out proof against open theism.  However, I’m cautious about embracing doctrinal ideas (or even theologoumena which is what open theism really is) that are so new in terms of church history.

I’m also stuck on Jesus’ prediction/prophecy to Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows.  Open theist explanations just don’t convince me yet. 

I don’t see any great need to make up my mind about this in some kind of hard and fast way.  In fact, I kind of like thinking about it.  As I said before, it really doesn’t make any difference to worship or piety.

"Thank you for your good wish because some days I feel so alone--in terms of ..."

What Has Happened to “Substitutionary Atonement” ..."
"I couldn't fill out my argument as fully as I wanted to. Time and space ..."

What Has Happened to “Substitutionary Atonement” ..."
"Thank you for asking. I just found it myself! By "Googling" my own name and ..."

What Has Happened to “Substitutionary Atonement” ..."
"Oh, yes. I agree. But even if I were a universalist I would believe in ..."

What Has Happened to “Substitutionary Atonement” ..."

Browse Our Archives



What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jeff Kimble

    I share your reservations about Open Theism for similar reasons. In addition, as a non-scholar, I’m not sure that I could adequately assess the relevant exegetical work with any precision. I understand the arguments (for the most part) and find them interesting and thought-provoking. But the church’s theological tradition plays a formative and influential role in the contours of my own theology, which prevents me from easily embracing Open Theism. As you suggested, this offers no particular counterpoint to the case for Open Theism itself; it merely acknowledges the way some of us weigh various developments in theology, and the place we give to the Christian tradition when we assess them. Of course, not everyone sees it this way. But in my view, allowing our theological tradition an influential role in these assessments, prevents us from making snap judgments about what to and what not to affirm. I have found this a helpful guide over the years. Curiously, Dr. Olson, in a prior post you mentioned your misgivings about Molinism. Are your reservations about Molinism based on similar grounds? Just wondering.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Thanks for sharing your reasons for not being an Open Theist. A couple of observations:

    I understand the initial appeal of Open Theism in regard to theodicy but, on further reflection, it does not seem to me to go much further toward “absolving” God for evil than classic Arminianism or even Calvinism does. The problem is that Open Theists (for good biblical reasons) grant that God can and does intervene miraculously, when he chooses, in order to advance his purposes. (This keeps them from Deism.) But, that being the case, the question still persists: “Why does God not intervene to prevent truly egregious evils when he is acknowledged to have intervened on numerous occasions, even in instances of relatively minor evil?” He delivered the Israelites from Egypt, why not from the holocaust? Giving Hitler a heart attack (or having him “eaten by worms” like Herod) would be trivial. So, God obviously CHOSE not to stop the holocaust, even from an Open Theist perspective. He heals some cancer victims but not others; delivers some missionaries from peril through the use of angels, but not others (cf. the apostle Peter but not James) etc.

    All synergist theologies that wish to defend God’s goodness must posit that God is always doing his utmost to prevent evil. That leaves Open Theists with the classic problems. If this is the best God can do, he seems rather powerless. But if he could do “better” than his reasons for not doing so come into consideration.

    Objectionable as I know monergism is to you and to most synergists, I am a monergist right now for two reasons. First, the biblical metanarrative reads to me like a very clear description of God as in meticulous control of all that occurs in created history. My second (and less important) reason, however, is experiential. It is patently obvious to me that God is not doing his utmost to save everyone. This follows particularly from my belief that God does not (and can not) know counterfactuals of libertarian freedom. So, God can not know in what circumstances a particular person would yield to God’s gracious urging and believe unto salvation. Consequently, when I listen to people’s testimonies about their conversion experience, which frequently include moments of crisis or of answered prayer (even in their “pre-Christian” state), I ask myself why, if this succeeded in that person’s case, God does not do similar things for everyone else.

    Take, for instance, the salvation of Muslims. Christian missionaries among them regularly speak of the great importance of dreams and visions of Jesus in the experience of Muslims who come to Christian faith. But, since this is so frequently key in the conversion of Muslims why does God not give these dreams or visions to every Muslim in the world? That he does not do so appears to me a clear indication that God is not trying equally hard to save them all. He does more for some than others. His grace is, in our experience of it, discriminatory, just as I hear Scripture describing it to be.

  • John abcdarian

    T. Tiessen writes, “All synergist theologies that wish to defend God’s goodness must posit that God is always doing his utmost to prevent evil.”

    It is not patently evident that this is true, viz. “must posit”. If, per Calvinism, God is not obligated to save anyone (i.e., any sinner), then he is not obligated to save them regardless of whether their moral culpability arises from some freely willed (in some libertarian sense) action or from a decreed action. Indeed, it would seem more reasonable and morally appropriate that he be more obligated in the latter case.

    Furthermore, it is not obvious how Tiessen’s premise relates to the core concerns of the Arminian or Open views, viz. to provide moral responsibility to humans and to absolve God of evil (via authorship of evil).

    So, just as in Calvinism God selects a few for reasons (or non-reasons) known only to himself, it may be that in Arminianism God “works harder” to save some rather than others. However, such a conclusion is neither inevitable nor inherent in the Arminian / Open view. It is both observable and true that not all that receive visions (or similar works of God) end up following him until death. It may be that for each person God’s prevenient grace is expressed differently so that that individual has sufficient grace to be able to receive God’s love. Or, it may be, that God decides to make some expressions of his prevenient grace more “spectacular” but for reasons that are connected to the life or health of the body of Christ–not all speak in tongues or prophesy, nor do all have visions prior to appropriation of God’s salvation. The fact that some do, however, is an example of the inbreaking of God’s already / not yet kingdom–a mere foretaste that some are blessed to receive and others are not.

    In any event, it is not clear at all that such visions, etc., are examples of God working harder to save those people, in contrast to his weaker work to save (or not save) others. They, as discussed above, could be examples of something else.

    regards,
    John abc

  • Thomas

    Your “traditionalist” reasons, Dr. Olson, for not jumping on the open theist band-wagon are understandable–I have the same reasons for my reservations about it. But, sooner or later, it seems to me, we have to reply to their positive arguments. They say that if God absolutely knows everything in the future it can come out only one way–no contingency–to libertarian free will. God can not end up being wrong about my free choices; if what I will choose to do at each and every moment in my future, is already known by God, I cannot have real alternatives from which to choose. Or, to put it another way, If God knows that I will choose A, there is no possibility that I will choose B, proving God wrong. Is it not an epistemic duty of old-fashioned Arminians to either counter this argument or surrender to open theism?

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Perhaps. But, of course, I don’t feel obligated to do that immediately. Such decisions can take a very long time. There are philosophers who are working on this problem and I await the outcome of their deliberations. In the meantime I take a watch and wait attitude. As I said, it really doesn’t affect worship or piety. If I become an open theist some day nothing about the way I worship, witness or pray will be affected. So what’s the rush?

      • Thomas

        You are more patient than I. I hope one of those philosophers solves the problem soon. Please post anything you get from them as soon as it is known.

  • John

    Terry (are you the one who wrote the book “Providence and Prayer”? If so, I really enjoyed it and it helped me understand how complex this issue is),

    I understand your argument and have heard it made before many times. However, your reasons for being a monergist are based on pure speculation. You think that because God sometimes intervenes to save people, sometimes gives Muslims visions, and sometimes miraculously draws people to himself, then his grace must be discriminatory. I would respond to that with counter-examples. What about when people don’t have inexplicable conversion experiences? What about when Muslims come to faith on account of the verbal testimony of a missionary? What about the instances when it is a long, gradual process before the person decides to start following God? Do these instances somehow not display God’s grace? I have the most boring testimony in the world but that doesn’t mean that God somehow doesn’t extend his grace to me. I’ve also heard people share “miraculous” testimonies, only to a year or two later completely depart from the faith. In other words, the anecdotes can go any way we want them to go. You have your anecdotes that lead you to believe in monergism, and I have others to refute yours.

    I would say that the primary means God has chosen to work for himself is human beings, his children in particular. Just because the means he chooses to save others are not the logical means you would choose does not mean that he is not doing all he can to save everyone. This is where the self-limitation comes in Dr. Olson so wonderfully explains. God shares his power and duty with his image-bearers. This will take place through all eternity, as we are said in Revelation to “reign” with him. Because we are in a process of being conformed to the image of Christ, reflecting God faithfully to the world is a slow, arduous process. However, God does not get impatient with this and just zap everything into how it’s supposed to be (as you think he should do if synergism is the correct answer). He is a God who is slow to anger and patient. What you call “powerlessness” I call patience and loyal love. Sometimes he does intervene where no human work is necessary, but this is not the norm. We don’t know the exact answer for why he doesn’t do this all the time, and we don’t pretend to. Just like we don’t pretend to know why God allowed the Holocaust to happen (and the answer, “For God’s glory” is cliche and meaningless in this instance). However, you do pretend to know why. You think it’s because his grace is discriminatory and he foreordained such things to happen. However, in my opinion you are making the exceptions the rule. I see the rule as normative, while allowing room for the exceptions. For the quandaries we have no answer, but God asks us to trust him (is this not the point of Job and the tower of Siloam?). Also, for those instances where God does miraculous things to others, is it not a logical conclusion that God does these things for a purpose? It’s not as if he says, “I’m going to give this Muslim a dream because I arbitrarily chose him before the foundation of the world to spend eternity with me.” Rather, it’s more like “I’m going to give this Muslim a dream because my election is for a purpose, and I choose this Muslim so he can reflect and represent me to others around him so that they all may come to know me.” The miraculous gives way to the mundane, but both are signs of God’s grace and love and desire for all peoples to know him.

    And finally, regarding the biblical metanarrative, I see it the exact opposite as you do. The reason I cannot accept meticulous sovereignty (among other reasons) is because of the meta-narrative, not in spite of it. The end has been ordained, I will grant you that, but every ethical command in Scripture assumes human freedom and synergism. The meta-narrative time and again shows us free agents being disobedient to God despite what he desires, God being upset at this, but his plan goes on nevertheless. The means therefore are not foreordained meticulously or words like relational and love have no meaning and are forced upon people.

    And the question always comes back to the problem of evil for me. Are you really willing to say God is meticulously in control of everything given the current state of the world? Do you really think this is “good news to the poor”? Is this how God demonstrates his love for the world? Would this really provide the sex slave any hope? It’s no coincidence to me that 99% of Calvinists I meet haven’t the slightest clue of what suffering is and are middle-class Anglo males. I would have to make God a schizophrenic if I accepted meticulous sovereignty. He’s certainly not omni-benevolent. He’s partially-benevolent, sometimes wishing good upon a very few and ordaining evil upon the vast majority. That is something I cannot accept and is completely inconsistent with his character as described in the meta-narrative.

    • Terry Tiessen

      John,

      Yes, it was I who wrote “Providence and Prayer” and I’m glad that you found the book helpful.

      Your comments about hearing a synergist rather than a monergist reality in the biblical metanarrative are significant. I am not an “evangelistic” monergist so I don’t relish trying to persuade you or other synergists of the incorrectness of your reading of Scripture. As a Calvinist, I have come to see this diversity within the church’s hearing of Scripture to be part of God’s plan. There are many truths concerning which the church worldwide has reached large scale consensus, through years of prayerful conversation. I rank those highly in the hierarchy of truths in my own theology. There are others about which no agreement has been reached and I see those in a different light than the truths of orthodoxy. Among these is the watershed issue of monergism/synergism.

      I have concluded that we will not see a consensus achieved in this regard, this side of glory. But I don’t see that as an evil. It seems to me that if God had wanted us all to be either monergists or synergists he could have inspired Scripture and illuminated the minds of his people in such a way that general consensus would be achieved. That God did not do this indicates to me that he has purposes which are being accomplished through the existence of both monergists and synergists in the church. We pray and we act in somewhat different ways as a result of our theological difference but through us both God gets his purposes achieved in the world.

      This does not mean that we should stop discussing. Both can not be correct and pursuing truth is a holy obligation. Periodically, some of us will move from one side to the other and some of those will move back again later. Clark Pinnock’s movement from a strongly apologetic Calvinism to enthusiastic Arminianism is an instance of the movement in one direction. I went the other way and I’m aware that as I keep reading the Word and listening to the Spirit, I could go back. That seems unlikely to me but I want to keep open as I read those who hear Scripture differently from me, just as I encourage them to remain open. None of us has yet arrived at the whole truth. The theology of each of us is defective in some ways, even very important ways such as the monergist/synergist divide which has such widespread influence on our theology and our lives.

      I understand your difficulty in regard to monergism relative to evil. It is an ongoing struggle for us all, I think. Personally, I find the work of Calvinists like John Feinberg and John Frame very helpful, in regard to this issue. At a very personal, experiential, level I can say that I take great comfort from knowing that however much I and others are suffering, the wise and loving God is in control. I have difficulty conceiving that I would feel better if I knew that much of this suffering was the result of God’s having lost battles with Satan, or of God’s having chosen to let moral creatures decide much of what goes on in the world even though it gives God pain.

      In the final analysis, of course, we can’t choose a theological position on the basis of how we feel. But, I respect the right of other believers to live out of the understanding of God and his work in the world just as I do.

      Shalom,
      Terry

      • Thomas

        I commend you for your willingness to allow diversity of unsettled views within the church as when you say, “As a Calvinist, I have come to see this diversity within the church’s hearing of Scripture to be part of God’s plan.” I have recently been told by the pastors of a church to resign because of my change from Calvinism to Arminianism. I tried, to no avail, to persuade them to adopt an enlightened view such as yours. I cannot help wondering, though, how you deal with the implications of predestination in regard to such statements as the above. If diversity is part of God’s plan, how can we know it, since everything that happens is the outworking of God’s plan? If such diversity is accepted in one church, that must be God’s plan; if, at the same time, it is rejected in another church, that is also God’s plan. Is God for or against such diversity?

  • John abcdarian

    Thomas’ concerns (e.g.: “If God knows that I will choose A, there is no possibility that I will choose B, proving God wrong. “) in relation to the viability of God’s knowledge of future free choices is based upon the grounding issue. Granted that knowledge alone is not causitive, what is it that grounds God’s knowledge of future “free” (self-caused) choices? It would seem that whatever grounds that knowledge also determines the choice, or else it could not be known. W.L. Craig believes that he has addressed the grounding issue with his version of Molinism, but I am not convinced.

    Furthermore, Calvinists try to “fix the fight” so to speak by creating a false dilemma, that is, by arguing that the only two forms of knowledge of the future are “will” and “will not”. There are, however, other possibilities, such as the “might/might not” option argued by Open Theists. I have not yet seen an adequate argument against that third possibility (though I have not read everything).

    regards,
    John abc

    • Robert

      Hello John,

      “Thomas’ concerns (e.g.: “If God knows that I will choose A, there is no possibility that I will choose B, proving God wrong. “) in relation to the viability of God’s knowledge of future free choices is based upon the grounding issue. Granted that knowledge alone is not causitive, what is it that grounds God’s knowledge of future “free” (self-caused) choices?”

      The so-called “grounding objection” does not bother me very much, because if we think about it for even a moment we realize we don’t know what “grounds” God’s knowledge of the past or present either. Take the present. God has no physical body or sense organs, so how does he know what is now happening? He doesn’t use his eyes because He does not have eyes, He does not feel around things to discover what is happening either. And yet all of us (assuming we are believers) have no trouble concluding that in fact God does know exactly what is happening now and what has happened in the past.

      “It would seem that whatever grounds that knowledge also determines the choice, or else it could not be known.”

      If I am acting freely and I agent-cause a voluntary and freely performed action, does that then make ME the grounds for what God knows?

      “ W.L. Craig believes that he has addressed the grounding issue with his version of Molinism, but I am not convinced.”

      Again, the “grounding objection” seems to claim: since we do not know what grounds God’s knowledge of future freely performed actions, therefore there must not be anything. But not knowing how God knows is not the same as God having no grounds for what he knows. And I believe that God knows things, it is just that we do not (and cannot) know HOW he knows what He knows (whether that is past, present or future events).

      “Furthermore, Calvinists try to “fix the fight” so to speak by creating a false dilemma, that is, by arguing that the only two forms of knowledge of the future are “will” and “will not”. There are, however, other possibilities, such as the “might/might not” option argued by Open Theists. I have not yet seen an adequate argument against that third possibility (though I have not read everything).”

      Perhaps you can help me here John. When I think about a future event (say a wedding of a friend that will occur, say on some future Saturday, in which they will choose to say their vows to their prospective spouse) I think of it (the event in question, the specific actual outcome) as either happening or not happening (i.e. “will” or “will not”). Perhaps it is just me, but that seems both simple and logical to me. Either it is going to happen or it is not.

      You bring up what you term another possibility, “might/might not”. But that does not seem to fit the future voicing of the vows, staying with my example. It seems to me that the “might/might not” possibility will be present ****before the actual outcome**** of the friend either choosing to say the vows or choosing not to say the vows. Say that they will in fact say these vows at that future wedding ceremony. Up until the moment they say the vows, it is true that they “might” or might not” say these vows if they are acting freely. But once they begin saying the vows, they have gone beyond “might” or “might not” and are then in the realm of “will” do that action. What this means then is that the “might” or “might” not possibilities are present before they actually carry out the action of saying the vows. But what we are talking about when referring to future outcomes is that we are wondering if they “will” or “will not” occur (not whether they “might” or “might not” occur) in reference to an outcome happening or not happening. That means that “will/will not” language applies to a future outcome we are considering, while “might/might not” language applies to just before that future outcome occurs or does not occur.

      Robert

  • John abcdarian

    Robert wrote, “But not knowing how God knows is not the same as God having no grounds for what he knows. And I believe that God knows things, it is just that we do not (and cannot) know HOW he knows what He knows (whether that is past, present or future events).”

    The above statement is an assertion only and does not therefore resolve the issue but instead removes it from discussion. The reliance on assertion assumes that one has interepreted scripture correctly, i.e. that God exhaustively knows all future actions as either “will” or “will not”. That interpretation is, however, what is being disputed and so cannot be relied upon as a basis for the assertion.

    Furthermore, God’s revelation to us, and his creation of us, reflects his character as being one that is logical and rational. Consequently, though it is impossible to prove a negative–that there is no way that God could exhaustively understand the future as either “will” or “will not”–it appears to be both extremely unlikely and unnecessary.

    regards,
    John abc

    • Robert

      John quoted my statements as follows:

      “Robert wrote, “But not knowing how God knows is not the same as God having no grounds for what he knows. And I believe that God knows things, it is just that we do not (and cannot) know HOW he knows what He knows (whether that is past, present or future events).”

      My claim was that not only do we not know HOW God knows future events, we also do not know HOW God knows present and past events as well. It seems a bit disengenous to be upset that we don’t know how God knows future events (or what grounds his knowledge of these events, no one knows, but not knowing the grounds for his knowledge of future events is not the same as showing that God does not know future events) when in fact we don’t even know HOW God knows present or past facts (we do not know the grounds for his knowledge of these either, but that does not bother anyone, we all just assume that since He says he knows what is happening that he does).

      John responded with:

      “The above statement is an assertion only and does not therefore resolve the issue but instead removes it from discussion.”

      What is wrong with removing it from discussion if it is something that we really do not (and cannot know)? We do not know HOW God brought the universe into existence (ex nihilo creation, everything out of nothing) and yet no one has a problem with that: we simply take it on faith because God says that he did so.

      “The reliance on assertion assumes that one has interepreted scripture correctly, i.e. that God exhaustively knows all future actions as either “will” or “will not”.”

      John is conflating subjects here. One subject is HOW does God know things (or what grounds his knowledge of past, present and future events): we do not know. The other subject is John’s distinction between “will/will not” and “might/might not”. I have made it clear that I do not believe that we know HOW God knows things. If John disagrees, then John tell us HOW God knows what is happening right now. Presumably John as an Open Theist believes that God knows all that can be known and that God fully knows the present. OK, John explain to us HOW God knows the present. What are the grounds for His knowing the present? God does not have a physical organ called the brain, so He can’t be using that. God has no sense organs like eyes and ears. So John HOW does God know what He knows is happening right now?

      Regarding John’s distinction between “will/will not” and “might/might not” I shared my view on how these terms relate: and John simply ignored everything that I said.

      “ That interpretation is, however, what is being disputed and so cannot be relied upon as a basis for the assertion.”

      I am well aware that Open theists and others interpret specific scripture differently, but that was not the subjects that I was discussing. John brought up his distinction of “will/will not” versus “might/might not” statements and I directly commented on that: but my comments were ignored.

      “Furthermore, God’s revelation to us, and his creation of us, reflects his character as being one that is logical and rational.”

      Agreed.

      “Consequently, though it is impossible to prove a negative–that there is no way that God could exhaustively understand the future as either “will” or “will not”–it appears to be both extremely unlikely and unnecessary.”

      I guess what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. John says I am just engaging in “The above statement is an assertion only”. But then his statement (“it appears to be both extremely unlikely and unnecessary”) is **itself** just an “assertion only”. :-)

      It seems to me that the bible properly interpreted yields the conclusion that God knows everything (including future events involving freely made choices). John of course would disagree and claim that the bible properly interpreted yields the conclusion that God does not know everything (specifically he cannot know future events involving freely made choices). Fine we are at a standoff on that.

      But we were not discussing our differing interpretations of specific biblical passages. We were discussing the so-called “grounding objection” and John’s distinction (since John brought up both of those two subjects). John ignored my comments regarding his distinction. And I ask again if John disagrees with me and claims that we do in fact know HOW God knows things (whether they be the past, present or future) go ahead and share with us John how God knows (what grounds his knowledge of past, or present or future events).

      Robert

      • John abcdarian

        The distinction is not an “either or” distinction between “will / will not” and “might / might not”. Rather, the distinction is tripartite: “will”, “will not”, and “might/ might not.” These terms refer not to how God acquires knowledge of future tensed events (or of any tensed events), but to the nature of God’s knowledge of future tensed events.

        The argument is that regardless of how God comes to know future tensed events, he knows them not merely as either “will” or “will not”, but knows them as “will”, “will not” and “might / might not”.

        regards,
        John I. (/abc)

  • Tim Martin

    Re. Rooster Crowing and Peter

    I must admit that was a stumbling block for me until recently, when I thought……’If I believe that God can create the entire Universe, then surely it is easy for him to make a Rooster crow on queue!’. Jesus knew Peters heart and that if he was pushed he would deny Him. The crow part was easy for God, He just waited until the third denial and then made the Rooster crow.

    Do you remember the passage where Jesus told Simon Peter that Satan desired to test Peter. And then you have recovered – strengthen your brothers….. So Jesus knew Peter was going to be tested and He knew His heart.

  • Thomas

    There have been several comments focusing on what is called the “grounding” of God’s knowledge of the future and its relevance to open theism. It seems to me that the open theist’s main argument has nothing to do with HOW God knows anything past, present or future, but is an argument based upon the logical inconsistency between the proposition THAT he knows the outcome of future choices and the proposition that humans have libertarian free will. No matter how he knows, the problem is that if he does know what I will choose at every moment in the future, then those choices must be in accordance with his knowledge; the future is closed, and I have only the illusion that there is ever more than one thing I can choose at each moment of my life. Another way to put it is that if God not only knows what possible decisions I will make, but knows the actual future decisions themselves, then my decisions cannot change what God knows. Libertarian freedom suggests that God does not know the precise content of human free decisions because that content does not yet exist to be known. God’s omniscience can, according to open theism, be defined as God’s ability to know all of reality and all possibilities, but does not include that which has no existence; it does not include actual, future, free human thoughts and actions that have real alternative possibilities.

    • Robert

      Hello Thomas,

      “There have been several comments focusing on what is called the “grounding” of God’s knowledge of the future and its relevance to open theism. It seems to me that the open theist’s main argument has nothing to do with HOW God knows anything past, present or future, but is an argument based upon the logical inconsistency between the proposition THAT he knows the outcome of future choices and the proposition that humans have libertarian free will.”

      Actually Thomas, I discussed the so-called “grounding objection” as that is a favorite Open theist and calvinist argument against God having middle knowledge (a view held by both Molinists and Arminians). Thomas you need to keep in mind that often when people are arguing for their view they will present arguments **for** their view (e.g. open theists argue from certain bible passages) and also arguments against the views of others, the competing views (e.g. open theists arguing from the grounding objection against Molinists and Arminians who believe in middle knowledge).

      “ No matter how he knows, the problem is that if he does know what I will choose at every moment in the future, then those choices must be in accordance with his knowledge; the future is closed, and I have only the illusion that there is ever more than one thing I can choose at each moment of my life.”

      Thomas I wrote a short paper on this very issue that you might enjoy and appreciate (see here:

      http://evangelicalarminians.org/outcomes-foreknowledge-freewill

      I see no problem with the idea that some future events will involve us freely choosing what we will do AND yet God also foreknowing what those freely made choices will be (which is actually standard Arminianism, and the standard default view of most Christians when it comes to exhaustive foreknowledge and free will).

      “Another way to put it is that if God not only knows what possible decisions I will make, but knows the actual future decisions themselves, then my decisions cannot change what God knows.”

      And why is THAT a problem?

      The fact is that, say you are going to make a freely made choice tomorrow of where you will have dinner (restaurant A or restaurant B), God knows that both A and B will be open possibilities for you and that you will in fact choose A. So you will freely choose A and God foreknows that you will choose A. If instead you freely will choose B, then God foreknows that you will choose B. Whatever you freely choose, you will freely make the choice and God will have foreknown it.

      Isn’t it true that God knows you will in fact freely choose restaurant A tomorrow because in fact you will freely choose restaurant A tomorrow? (and vice versa if you freely choose restaurant B tomorrow: either way God’s foreknowledge is true if it corresponds with what you will in fact choose to do tomorrow).

      “Libertarian freedom suggests that God does not know the precise content of human free decisions because that content does not yet exist to be known.”

      No, Thomas here you are confusing LFW with what open theists claim about the future.

      It is open theists who claim that God does not know what people will freely choose to do say tomorrow (or any other future you care to specify). LFW is simply the idea that you HAVE A CHOICE (that you can choose restaurant A or restaurant B tomorrow, that the choice is up to you, you will not be forced to make the choice that you make, you will make the choice that you want, and you are able to choose either restaurant [though not both simultaneously! :-)).

      “God’s omniscience can, according to open theism, be defined as God’s ability to know all of reality and all possibilities, but does not include that which has no existence; it does not include actual, future, free human thoughts and actions that have real alternative possibilities.”

      Thomas again you are presenting open theism’s mistaken views on what God can and cannot know.

      Biblical prophecy concerns the future and often concerns what people will freely choose to do in the future: so according to the bible properly interpreted God can (and does) know what people will freely choose to do in the future. Thomas you need to look at what the church has said throughout its history on this. The view that I am promoting (that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events including those involving freely made choices) is the view of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Independents, many Protestants (i.e. it is the majority view among Christians across all theological traditions and throughout church history). The key dissenters, those who disagree, those who argue that God cannot know future events involving freely made choices are Open Theists and calvinists (Open theists because they deny exhaustive foreknowledge of freely made choices is even possible for God; and calvinists because they deny free will, so none of our future choices is going to include free will as ordinarily understood and calvinists want to believe that God prescripted everything so God made all the choices first and then we just rubber stamp them by doing what God predetermined we would do).

      Robert

      • http://thestorypeddler.blogspot.com/ Robert Womack

        This has always been, to me, the most consistently logical, reasonable, and biblically sound explanation for this whole issue that seems to drive some Believers to distraction. The hangup always seems to hinge on how they perceive time and I believe that is why they cannot get over the theological hump on this. In our current state, we human beings exist only in progressive time. That is, we do not and cannot exist at any time in the past. Nor do we or can we exist at any time in the future—at least not yet. We exist as individual created beings who move through time on a one-way path. We no longer exist “back there” and we don’t yet exist “up there”. We exist in the now and only in the now. However, God exists outside of time, having no beginning and no ending. His view of human time is from One outside the whole time continuum. He is the only One who is capable of existing in the past, the present, and the future simultaneously. When theologians get tangles up in issues anout future choices and how they impact free will, it is almost always because they either do not or cannot grasp that distinction. God can absolutely know what I will choose to do tomorrow without having exercising any control at all over my choosing. To say that because He foreknows my choice I don;t have free will is to completely misunderstand the fundamental truth that we live in time and God exists in eternity and they are not the same thing. He is already in my future as well as in my past, so of course He already knows what I will choose—He is there watching me choose it. He isn’t making me choose it—He sees me choose it then and He knows it now because He is eternal and omnipresent and simlutaneously exists in humanity’s past, its present, and its future. The rub here doesn;t come from theological problems but from a lack, by some, of how physical and natural laws that apply to man do NOT apply to God. When we seek to interpret God’s options and behaviors based on our rules of existance, then of course we hit theological roadblocks. It amazes me that so many fine thinkers continue to stumble so badly over this seemingly obvious truth.

        • John abcdarian

          The view of time expressed by Robert is a presentist view, that is, only the present actually exists in time. It is one of several possible views. However, the solution he presents–that we are in time and God is outside–does not work. The simplistic explanation is that a timeless being cannot interact with tensed beings without becoming or being tensed itself. In addition, a timeless being could never know what time it is for tensed beings, as it would see all times equally / all times would be equally present to / before it.

          regards,
          John I.

        • Robert

          Hello Robert W.,

          “This has always been, to me, the most consistently logical, reasonable, and biblically sound explanation for this whole issue that seems to drive some Believers to distraction. The hangup always seems to hinge on how they perceive time and I believe that is why they cannot get over the theological hump on this.”

          I believe that you are correct; many forget that God’s relation to time is very different from ours (it has to be considering he is an eternal and necessary being and the creation and time are contingent realities).

          “In our current state, we human beings exist only in progressive time. That is, we do not and cannot exist at any time in the past. Nor do we or can we exist at any time in the future—at least not yet. We exist as individual created beings who move through time on a one-way path. We no longer exist “back there” and we don’t yet exist “up there”. We exist in the now and only in the now.”

          Right, that is why I say that we experience a succession of consecutive “presents”, we never experience the future directly (the “future” is merely a “present” that we have not yet experienced).

          “However, God exists outside of time, having no beginning and no ending. His view of human time is from One outside the whole time continuum. He is the only One who is capable of existing in the past, the present, and the future simultaneously.”

          Yes, that is why some have called this an “eternal now” (C. S. Lewis used this concept to try to explain God’s foreknowledge, like a parade where someone on the ground only sees the part of the parade directly in front of them, while someone else sufficiently high up would see the entire parade all at once, or like a person who is a point on the line versus a person who sees the entire line at once).

          “When theologians get tangles up in issues about future choices and how they impact free will, it is almost always because they either do not or cannot grasp that distinction.”

          You may be right.

          “God can absolutely know what I will choose to do tomorrow without having exercising any control at all over my choosing.”

          That is a very important point that many forget. God simply “seeing” or viewing what we will choose to do is not the same as God controlling us and forcing us to do something. We are no longer free only when we no longer have a choice. It seems the real issue of dispute is the nature and amount of direct control over us that God exercises (Is he like a puppet master who directly and continuously and completely controls us like puppets? Or is he like a King who is sovereign over his kingdom but not directly controlling everything?).

          “To say that because He foreknows my choice I don’t have free will is to completely misunderstand the fundamental truth that we live in time and God exists in eternity and they are not the same thing. He is already in my future as well as in my past, so of course He already knows what I will choose—He is there watching me choose it. He isn’t making me choose it—He sees me choose it then and He knows it now because He is eternal and omnipresent and simultaneously exists in humanity’s past, its present, and its future.”

          Again you bring up the “eternal now” concept and correctly point out that God knowing you will do something is not the same thing as God “making me choose it”. A lot of people miss that distinction: they think that if God knows you are doing something or will do something, that means he must be making your or forcing you to do that something. Not true at all!

          “The rub here doesn’t come from theological problems but from a lack, by some, of how physical and natural laws that apply to man do NOT apply to God. When we seek to interpret God’s options and behaviors based on our rules of existence, then of course we hit theological roadblocks. It amazes me that so many fine thinkers continue to stumble so badly over this seemingly obvious truth.”

          Here you make another important and interesting point. God created the world and decided what the features of the world would be (including the so-called “laws of nature” the regularities that provide order in the world). But God is above and beyond the creation, not having the same limits and restrictions as natural beings do. Edwin Abbott wrote a great book (FLATLAND: A ROMANCE IN MANY DIMENSIONS) about two dimensional figures being amazed by three dimensional figures who experienced more dimensions than the two dimensional figures (from the perspective of the two dimensional figures what the three dimensional figures did was miraculous and incomprehensible). If you have not read Abbot’s book, check it out as he makes this point about transcendence very well in his book (I once read a book by Hugh Ross the Christian astronomer who also spoke about the universe having certain dimensions and God transcending them all as well, don’t remember the title right now, perhaps someone else can cite it here). And Abbott is merely talking about three dimensional versus two dimensional figures: imagine the difference between the Creator of all reality, God, versus created beings!! Well if nature has a few dimensions, God would transcend all of them, probably exist in many more that we are not even aware of, which are incomprehensible to us, He would be beyond all that we can think or conceive. That makes a real difference in how he can relate to the world versus something that is itself part of the world relates to the world.

          Robert

      • Thomas

        Hello Robert,
        You surely have done a lot of hard thinking on the subject of God’s foreknowledge and human free will. I would like to think that you are right that there is no problem; but whether it is due to my lack of mental sharpness or the open theists acute arguments, I think they have us traditional Arminians on the ropes logically as well as biblically.
        You say that “God knows that both A and B will be open possibilities for you and that you will in fact choose A…. If instead you choose B, then God foreknows that you will choose B.” There seems to be a contradiction here. God cannot know and believe that “A or B”, and also that “A only”. In other words, if B is a real possibility, then it cannot be impossible, which it would be if God infallibly knows that it will not become a reality. Also, you seem to be implying that my future choices can change God’s past beliefs when you say that if I choose B, then God foreknows that I will choose B.

        • Robert

          Hello Thomas,

          “You surely have done a lot of hard thinking on the subject of God’s foreknowledge and human free will. I would like to think that you are right that there is no problem; but whether it is due to my lack of mental sharpness or the open theists acute arguments, I think they have us traditional Arminians on the ropes logically as well as biblically.”

          I disagree, they have brought no new arguments to the table. And their philosophical and exegetical arguments have been dealt with extensively by both calvinists and Arminians (e.g for Arminian material check out THE SOCIETY OF EVANGELICAL ARMINIANS WEBSITE here:

          http://evangelicalarminians.org/

          for lots of material dealing with these issues, and you may also want to check out a short article that I wrote on this foreknowledge issue here:

          http://evangelicalarminians.org/outcomes-foreknowledge-freewill

          “You say that “God knows that both A and B will be open possibilities for you and that you will in fact choose A…. If instead you choose B, then God foreknows that you will choose B.” There seems to be a contradiction here.”

          There is no contradiction. Say that tomorrow you are going to be thinking about whether or not to read a book (i.e. the bible, :-)) that completely refutes open theism. Assuming that you get hold of the book and at some point tomorrow have the time to read it, you will be facing a choice between (A) reading the book, or (B) not reading the book (doing something else, which could include other possibilities from which you could choose, but let’s just limit it to not reading the book). It is an open possibility for you if you really could choose either (A) or (B), if you are not necessitated into either (A) or (B). God’s foreknowledge concerns his having the correct belief concerning some (for us) future event. Assume that God is always correct about what he foreknows. So that means if he foreknows that you will choose to do (A), this is a true belief because you will in fact choose to do (A). On the other hand, if he foreknows that you will choose to do (B), this is a true belief because you will in fact choose to do (B). Since (A)/read the book, and (b)/not read the book, are mutually exclusive options, you cannot choose both tomorrow, you will in fact choose one or the other. And God knows which one you will choose.

          Now note when I said “if instead you choose B” I was simply referring to the fact that you will either do (A) or do (B). Prior to the MAKING the choice of (A) or (B) tomorrow, if you are acting freely, then you will have the ability to choose either option. If you have to choose one and do not have the ability to choose the other than you are not acting freely (at least not experiencing libertarian free will).

          God’s foreknowledge is based upon what you will in fact choose to do.

          “God cannot know and believe that “A or B”, and also that “A only”.”

          Why not? God knowing that you could choose “A or B” is God knowing the choice that you will have. God knowing “A only” is God knowing which choice you will in fact MAKE (assuming that you will in fact choose (A)).

          HAVING A CHOICE (when both options are accessible) precedes MAKING THE CHOICE OF ONE OF THE OPTIONS in time. God foreknows both the choice you will have as well as the choice that you will make.

          “In other words, if B is a real possibility, then it cannot be impossible, which it would be if God infallibly knows that it will not become a reality.”

          B is a real possibility if you could make that choice. And A is a real possibility if you could make that choice as well. What the believer in foreknowledge and free will maintains is that though you could choose either option (because you really have a choice, either option is accessible to you, either option is something that you could do), God knows in fact which option you will end up choosing (note foreknowledge concerns what choices you will in fact MAKE).

          “Also, you seem to be implying that my future choices can change God’s past beliefs when you say that if I choose B, then God foreknows that I will choose B.”

          No, you have it backwards. It is not that we make a choice which then changes God’s past belief about what we will do (that is a denial of God’s foreknowledge). Rather, it is God knowing beforehand how we will freely choose. If we freely choose (A) then God foreknows THAT. If we freely choose (B) then God foreknows THAT. It is not that God first foreknows that we will do (A) and we instead do (B) so that God’s belief needs to then be changed from (A) to (B). Rather God knew all along that you would choose (A) if that is in fact what you will freely choose. If you will in fact freely choose (B) then God knew that all along.

          And I need to throw in one more important point anticipating what some skeptics will claim. God’s knowledge of future events has a logical relation with those events not a CAUSAL RELATION. In a causal relation one thing causes another (so sometimes people will speak about how our future actions CAUSE God to have the knowledge that he has, and so God becomes dependent upon us). In a logical relation, the key is that the relation is not causal but logical. Here is an example. I know that 1 + 1 = 2. Does my knowing that, cause 1 + 1 = 2 to be true? No. Does the fact that 1 + 1 = 2 cause my knowledge that 1 + 1 = 2? No. It is a logical relation. My belief that 1 + 1 = 2 corresponds with the reality that 1 + 1 = 2. Likewise, God’s foreknowledge does not CAUSE my future action (that would be causal relation), rather, his belief corresponds with what will in fact take place (logical relation). I mention this so I don’t’ get someone responding that this view makes God “dependent” upon his creation.

          Robert

        • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

          Thomas, you sound very much like someone merely posing as a ‘traditional Arminian.’

          Robert’s argument does make sense because God’s knowledge of human will is dependent upon will, not the other way around as you imply. The silliness about “my future choices can change God’s past beliefs” utterly fails to deal with God’s time-transcendent nature, as I dealt with when I dismantled the ‘transfer of necessity’ principle here: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/the-transfer-of-nonsense-principle/

          • Thomas

            J.C., You have caught on to me, I confess, I am not really solidly in the camp of the traditional Arminians. I seem to be in transition from that camp to the camp of the sometimes despised open theists. You say that Robert’s argument makes sense because God’s knowledge is dependent upon human will and not the other way around. The problem is that it is alleged by those who espouse absolute, total foreknowledge, that God knows before I exist what I will choose at each and every moment. So, even if God does not cause me to choose what I do choose, his knowledge, since it is infallible and possessed before I choose, logically prevents real alternatives. Remember, in absolute foreknowledge God knows the actual future, not just possibilities.

          • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

            @”…his knowledge, since it is infallible and possessed before I choose, logically prevents real alternatives.”

            Besides the apparent absurdity of insisting that knowledge in one being can somehow constrain the freedom of another, to apply a ‘God knows before’ as some sort of constraint doesn’t make much sense, since it’s well-accepted in Christian theology that God Himself isn’t bound by time. If His knowledge based upon one’s self-determination from a time-transcendent perspective, as I alluded to above, then it logically can be dependent upon the creature’s will without constraining it and therefore doesn’t prevent alternative possibilities.

            @”J.C., You have caught on to me”

            So you’re admitting you’re a fake? Who are you really then? Do you have some web presence such as a site or blog that you run or contribute writing to?

          • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

            What does it mean that “it’s well-accepted in Christian theology that God Himself isn’t bound by time?” That most Christians have thought that? Or that it is an item or orthodoxy? Personally, I don’t find that view of God’s relationship with time taught anywhere in the Bible. It seems more like a philosophical view than a biblical one. The biblical narrative everywhere assumes God’s involvement in time with us.

          • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

            @The biblical narrative everywhere assumes God’s involvement in time with us.

            I agree.

            @What does it mean that “it’s well-accepted in Christian theology that God Himself isn’t bound by time?

            That as well as being immanent, God is also transcendent, and therefore time isn’t a limitation for Him. No, the concept isn’t a point of orthodoxy proper, but does seem to follow from what we know of time and also finds wide acceptance among Arminians and Calvinists alike (cf John Frame’s The Wonder of God Over Us and With Us).

          • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

            But you won’t impress me by referring to John Frame! :) (He represents a very different approach to theology than mine.) I don’t see why the philosophical idea of divine timelessness is necessary for God’s transcendence–anymore than divine simplicity or impassibility or a number of other philosophical ideas possibly imported into and distorting the biblical personalism of Scripture.

      • John abcdarian

        Robert wrote that middle knowledge is a view “held by both Molinists and Arminians”. Since R. Olson is being careful in his blog to distinguish traditional Arminianism from other views, and to correct views about Arminianism, I point out that middle knowledge is not a necessary component of Arminian theology or philosophy. Though it is likely that Arminius did know of Luis de Molina and his work, and that it informed his writings, it is not at all evident that Arminius relied on Molina’s work.

        Arminius was concerned to correct what he viewed as unbiblical Reformed doctrine, for Biblical reasons, not philosophical ones. Arminius took his position because of what he believed God’s word said, not because of any philosophical beliefs he had. Furthermore, the remonstrants and other followers were usually content to suscribe to “simple foreknowledge”, which is one of the main Arminian positions today.

        regards,
        John I. (/abc)

        • Robert

          John wrote:

          “Robert wrote that middle knowledge is a view “held by both Molinists and Arminians”. Since R. Olson is being careful in his blog to distinguish traditional Arminianism from other views, and to correct views about Arminianism, I point out that middle knowledge is not a necessary component of Arminian theology or philosophy.”

          It is true that middle knowledge is not a necessary component of Arminian theology, however my point was not that it is, but that some Arminians including Arminius himself held to the concept and employed it as part of their Arminian theology.

          A friend of mine named Dan over at Arminian Chronicles has written on this point extensively (see here:

          http://www.arminianchronicles.com/

          It can be shown easily that Arminius held the middle knowledge concept.

          “Though it is likely that Arminius did know of Luis de Molina and his work, and that it informed his writings, it is not at all evident that Arminius relied on Molina’s work.”

          Actually it is evident, again check out Dan’s site for further confirmation of this.

          “Arminius was concerned to correct what he viewed as unbiblical Reformed doctrine, for Biblical reasons, not philosophical ones.”

          True.

          “Arminius took his position because of what he believed God’s word said, not because of any philosophical beliefs he had.”

          True, yet Arminius was familiar with philosophical beliefs and did in fact hold to middle knowledge.

          “Furthermore, the remonstrants and other followers were usually content to suscribe to “simple foreknowledge”, which is one of the main Arminian positions today.
          regards,”

          While most Arminians in my opinion hold to “simple foreknowledge” it is not an either/or situation where one must hold to simple foreknowledge OR hold to middle knowledge. Taking myself as an example, most would probably label me as holding to “simple foreknowledge” and yet I also hold the middle knowledge concept. It seems that Arminius was like this as well.

          Robert

          • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

            I have read through Arminius’ works at least twice (and portions more than that) and found two or three possible references to God’s middle knowledge. But that doesn’t convince me that Arminius relied on middle knowledge to explain anything (e.g., God’s sovereignty). It’s not unusual for a scholar, working over many years, to occasionally incorporate an element into his or her thought that doesn’t really fit well with his or her overall system of thought. I am convinced that Arminius would not have approved of the use of middle knowledge to “reconcile” determinism with free will–as in some efforts by both Calvinists and so-called Arminians. Overall and in general, I tend to believe that IF an Arminian believes in middle knowledge it must not be used by him or her deterministically, otherwise the very point of Arminianism is sacrificed.

          • John abcdarian

            For clarification, is it your position Robert that while Arminius was a molinist, not all current Arminians are?

            regards,
            John I.

  • Xander

    I have never understood why it is hard for people to see that God can know the outcome of events as to whether you choose option A, B, or C and plan accordingly for all 3 possibilities. Hebrews 5 seems to even reference this and that it is up to us to know what the best course is, according to God’s standards.

    I enjoy your site. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • http://www.brennonsthoughts.blogspot.com bossmanham

    Dr. Olson, it seems to me that there is no way to use middle knowledge deterministically, since it intrinsically assumes that there are free choices which men can make in many different circumstances, and God knows them.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      The point is that some Calvinists argue that God uses his middle knowledge deterministically by manipulating circumstances and people, knowing what they will “freely” do in certain circumstances, thus rendering it certain that they will act in certain ways. Although the people are said to have free will, it can only be compatibilist free will once one applies middle knowledge deterministically to providence.

      • Robert

        John asked:

        “For clarification, is it your position Robert that while Arminius was a molinist, not all current Arminians are?”

        First, Molinists and Arminians are distinguishable.

        No it is not my position that Arminius was a Molinist.

        Arminius was not a Molinist per se (i.e. adopting the **entire** Molinist system).

        No, my point is that Arminius was familiar with the concept and believed it was a valid idea: that God sometimes makes use of middle knowledge and this is occasionally referenced in scripture itself (e.g. the Keilah story being the most obvious example, but there are a few others as well). Or put it another way, a person honest with scripture is going to see that God has middle knowledge. One can acknowledge the reality of middle knowledge without embracing the entire Molinist system. And that is where I think Arminius was at (he acknowledged the concept to be valid as it was in fact present in scripture, but did not embrace the entire system).

        Again check out Dan’s discussion of Arminius and middle knowledge here at his blog ARMINIAN CHRONICLES:

        http://www.arminianchronicles.com/search/label/B.1.e%20Middle%20Knowledge

        Go there and scroll down to “Arminius and middle knowledge” for Dan’s apt and helpful comments on this issue.

        Robert

        • John I.

          thanks for the clarification

  • Richard Coords

    In terms of Peter denying Christ three times….

    I think an Open Theist might have an ok explanation for Peter’s denials. Jesus said that Satan had demanded to sift Peter like Wheat. This echoes of the book of Job. Theorizing a bit…it perhaps Satan entered Heaven (as before, during the time of Job), and had laid down a similar challenge before God against Peter, boasting that he could get Peter to deny Christ three times before sun up. God could have permitted it, knowing that good would have ultimately come of it. Peter’s denial would be from his own free will, and Jesus could have known it, simply by knowing Peter’s heart and his short-comings. That would seem to reasonably explain the specific details of Jesus’ knowledge of the matter. But that’s just a theory.

  • Thomas

    I want to address both J.C.’s and Roger’s recent comments. The problem of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will has nothing to do with whether or not God’s knowledge is timeless. Even if God’s knowledge about my choices does not precede those choices, but is timelessly always possessed by him, it still means that my choices can only turn out one way. If God has always known, in timeless fashion, the results of all of my deliberations and choices, then I cannot choose contrary to what God knows; thus my choices only seem to have alternatives, but are not truly free. The result is the same if we think of God as having sequential knowledge of what I will choose before I make decisions. God’s knowledge, logically, not causally, closes the future for me. Open theism claims to avoid this implication of God’s absolute foreknowledge.
    J.C., Right now I am not sure whether I am a fake traditional Arminian or a fake open theist. I am, however, becoming less and less confident that Dr. Olson’s philosophers can solve the problem stated above.

  • John I.

    Re Thomas’ concernt and JCThib’s comment that “Besides the apparent absurdity of insisting that knowledge in one being can somehow constrain the freedom of another, ”

    It is not that the knowledge in and of itself determines the outcome of the choice, but that whatever makes the knowledge true only obtains because the choice is determined (on the assumption that it is possible to foreknow a future free choice).

    W.L. Craig, and others, have argued effectively that a time transcendent being cannot know when “now” is for those within time, nor can it interact in a timebound universe. Consequently if God exists and he interacts with us then he is within time from the start of creation, and does not have a view of time “from the outside’.

    regards,
    John I.

    • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

      That doesn’t seem to make much sense, since transcendence only implies lack of limitation, not inability to interact.

  • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

    Thomas,

    @The problem of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will has nothing to do with whether or not God’s knowledge is timeless.

    I said His knowledge transcends time, not that He’s purely timeless.

    @…it still means that my choices can only turn out one way.

    You’re confusing certainty with necessity, your choices will turn out one way which is foreknown by God, God knowing it doesn’t compel it to be a specific way.

    @If God has always known, in timeless fashion, the results of all of my deliberations and choices, then I cannot choose contrary to what God knows

    You’re erroneously assuming that one’s choices are dependent upon God’s knowledge, not vice-versa (begging the question of determinism and/or causal knowledge); given that God grants me a free choice, He cannot foreknow contrary to what I will choose.

    @The result is the same if we think of God as having sequential knowledge of what I will choose before I make decisions.

    Which again erroneously assumes that God is time-bound, and also conflates temporal sequence with logical.

    @J.C., Right now I am not sure whether I am a fake traditional Arminian or a fake open theist.

    You’re evading my question: Who are you really then? Do you have some web presence such as a site or blog that you run or contribute writing to?

    • John I.

      re JCT & Thomas, above, “@…it still means that my choices can only turn out one way.**You’re confusing certainty with necessity, your choices will turn out one way which is foreknown by God, God knowing it doesn’t compel it to be a specific way.**@If God has always known, in timeless fashion, the results of all of my deliberations and choices, then I cannot choose contrary to what God knows**You’re erroneously assuming that one’s choices are dependent upon God’s knowledge, not vice-versa (begging the question of determinism and/or causal knowledge);
      ***

      While it is technically true that knowledge simpliciter does not in and of itself render an event certain, whatever it is that makes that knowledge true is what renders the event certain. That is, the knowledge of the truth of an event cannot be had unless something renders that event certain.

      So, in the past, we can have true knowledge because the occurance of the event in time has rendered it certain. We can know in truth that Napoleon existed because he did exist in time and did actually affect the course of the world, traces of which are still with us.

      There is not, however, anything about a future event that makes it true in the present. There is nothting that God can have access to that makes it true and would give him true knowledge–unless the future is just as much a reality as the present and past (some argue that, but I deny it and think presentism is more correct).

      W.L. Craig doesn’t think that correct present knowledge of the future does not require any kind of truthmaker, but I would argue that his comeback (there are other things that we believe to be true that don’t have truthmakers) is relatively weak comeback and ignores the significant differences between past, present and future.

      If the solution is “magic” (i.e., God can do anything), then it certainly weakens the rationality of Christianity and its apologetic arguments both for itself and against other beliefs. If any belief can escape into a magical solution (or “mystical” if one wants to be all fancy about it), then there is no possibility of showing it to be incorrect vis a vis Christ. The other side merely has to respond, “Yeah, I know my beliefs don’t make a lick of sense, but its all mystical, ya know, and if you just believed as I do you’d find that its true”. To which the Christian replies, “yeah but my mystical experience is better than your mystical experience and besides, my dad can beat up your dad”.

      regards,
      John I.

      • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

        @There is nothting that God can have access to that makes it true and would give him true knowledge–unless the future is just as much a reality as the present and past (some argue that, but I deny it and think presentism is more correct).

        Which is more or less an axiomatic denial of God transcending time.

        • John I.

          Correct. God was timeless before the universe began, and within time after it began. I agree with W.L. Craig and others on this point.

          regards,
          John I.

    • Thomas

      J.C., Knowledge is belief that is true. If God knows that I will do A instead of B, then God also believes it. It is not possible that God believes what is false. If God believes I will do A and not B, then it is not possible that I will choose B, resulting in God’s falsely believing that I would choose A. Therefore, if God knows at each moment of my life what I will choose, at each moment I have only one possible thing I can choose. Having only one possible choice at each moment that I am making decisions, is the life of an automaton not a free human being. The problem is one of not being able, with our God-given logical minds, to believe that something can be both possible and impossible at the same time. This is very dry logic, but if you think about it you know that you often freely decide to do one thing out of several possible actions. You know that there are real contingencies in your life. You have real alternatives; that is what makes you a responsible person. You are responsible for some small part of the future whenever you make free choices.
      What I am “really” is a tentative, timorous, temporizing open theism sympathizer. This is the only blog I am participating in.

      • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

        Thomas,

        @If God believes I will do A and not B, then it is not possible that I will choose B

        You’re again placing the proverbial cart before the horse. The reason God knows what I will choose is due to the reality of my choice, not vice-versa. If I’ll freely choose to do A, God knows I’ll choose A; if I’ll freely choose to to do B, God knows I’ll choose B, so your dilemma is logically inconsequential due to its fundamentally flawed logic.

        You state that this is currently the only blog you’re participating in; have you written blog posts about libertarian free will and/or determinism before (and if so, which)? Also, do you actually believe that people have libertarian free will?

  • John I.

    I suggest that Thomas’ logic is not fundamentally flawed, but rather raises an issue that most people recognize intuitively.

    Thibodaux may find assigning God’s knowledge to the unexplained sufficient, but that does not make it convincing to others. Why should Thomas, or others, be convinced by “I don’t know how God knows it but he does”, especially when Scripture does not require that God have such knowledge (i.e., knowledge of future free choices as present facts)? Thibodaux may be correct, and he may not, but in any event his argument is not slam dunk and so I, at least, remain agnostic about its truth.

    If libertarian free choice is required for love and moral culpability, as Scripture appears to require, but God has true present knowledge of a future free choices, then one of three conclusions follows: (1) there is nothing that grounds God’s knowledge of the choice and thus God knows the choice by some mysterious process or capacity that cannot be explained, (2) God does not have true present binary (will / will not contradictories) knowledge of future free choices, or (3) the truth of a future free choice is grounded in a human’s creaturely essence–but of course this has the result of determining the creature’s actions and so depriving it of the sort of free choice that is apparently valued by God.

    regards,
    John I.

    • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

      @Why should Thomas, or others, be convinced by “I don’t know how God knows it but he does”

      I wasn’t appealing purely to mystery or refusing to offer possible explanation. In terms of how God knows the future, the popular determinist / open theist claim that God can’t precisely know the future if He doesn’t exhaustively determine it relies upon God having absolutely no logically possible way of doing so. Therefore some possible means by which God may know it reduces such claims to irrelevance. I’ve suggested before that God may have created man in such a way that man’s choices as well as God’s middle-knowledge of what his choices will be are derived from base factors of self-determination. So among your choices I would go with something akin to (3), which indeed would determine the creature’s actions, but because it is self-determination, would still constitute libertarian agency.

      • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

        Christian philosophers have worked on this problem and continue to do so. That is: How can God know future free (undetermined) decisions of creatures with power of contrary choice if God is temporal (not timeless or possessing an “eternal now” relationship to time) and does not possess middle knowledge? Philosopher Stephen Davis says in Logic and the Nature of God (1983) that God has something like a crystal ball–in other words, clairvoyance. At least that’s one possibility he suggests. He doesn’t think it’s illogical. That would put it in the realm of mystery. Alvin Plantinga, in God, Freedom and Evil (1977) offers a twenty-something step syllogism demonstrating (he says) that divine simple foreknowledge (present knowledge) is not incoherent. There, as I recall, he doesn’t appeal to middle knowledge. Correct me if I’m wrong. (My copy is stored away somewhere.)

      • John I.

        Yes, all three conclusions would be objections to Molinism as well, and no. 3 would seem to be most congruent with the Molinist project. However, from the perspective of those concerned that it is essential have libertarian freedom entail non-determinism, no. 3 would not satisfy their criteria–though no. 1 would.

        As a broader observation, at the 50,000 foot level, it seems to me that some of the discussion of agency is affected by the materialist and naturalistic assumptions of most philosophers and thus in the philosophical milieu in which all philosophers argue. By this I mean that Aristotles 4 causes are pared down and teleological causes do not, are not allowed to, form part of an explanation.

        It is, I think, correct to say of an act or choice that it was made for or to a certain goal while at the same time correct in saying that the goal was not determinative of the choice.

        regards,
        John I.

        • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

          @However, from the perspective of those concerned that it is essential have libertarian freedom entail non-determinism, no. 3 would not satisfy their criteria–though no. 1 would.

          That’s incorrect, the modified #3 as I phrased it would constitute non-exhaustive-determinism; you’re confusing certainty with necessity.

    • Robert

      I believe that I have interacted with this John before, because of what he is saying here. In the past, when John mocked the consensus view among Christians (held by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Independents: basically everyone throughout church history except for Socinians in the past and open theists today) that God has the ability to foreknow all future events including those involving free will.

      I pointed out and will do so again here, that in fact not only do we not know HOW THINGS WORK with respect to some key Christian doctrines, that does not really trouble us. Because while we may not know HOW SOME THINGS CAN BE TRUE, we do know THAT THEY ARE TRUE. Some examples to clearly prove this.

      Christians affirm the ex nihilo creation of the universe (God created the entire universe out of nothing). So we know THAT God did so, but we do not know HOW. Christians affirm the trinity (that God is three persons and yet one being). So we know THAT this is true, but we do not know HOW. Christians affirm the Incarnation (that God became flesh and dwelt among us). So we know THAT God did so, but we do not know HOW. Christians affirm all the miracles recorded in the Old Testament, recorded in the New Testament (including those done by Jesus, done by apostles). We know THAT these miracles occurred, but we do not know HOW. We could also bring up Jesus being both God and Man, the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead, etc. etc. etc. There are lots of examples of this and “John” never ridicules and I am guessing has no trouble affirming any of them. He would readily grant that we know THAT these events occurred and yet we do not (and cannot) know HOW they occurred.

      And yet John ****arbitrarily**** and ****inconsistently**** does so with God’s foreknowledge.

      I affirm the same thing is true in regards to God’s foreknowledge as is true with these other BIBLICAL TRUTHS (i.e. that we can affirm THAT it is true, and yet we do not [and probably] cannot know HOW it works).

      I have also pointed out to John in the past that not only do we not know HOW God knows the future: WE DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW HE KNOWS THE PAST AND THE PRESENT!!!

      Think about THAT for a moment. We would all (assuming we are believers) without hesitation affirm THAT God exhaustively knows the past and the present. But the question is HOW? HOW does God know what He knows? He has no brain cells, no nervous system, no physical eyes, nose, skin. He does not rely on the testimony of others. He does not do experiments to confirm theories. He does not have a book of revelation to look things up. So HOW DOES HE KNOW WHAT HE KNOWS??? Answer, we don’t know HOW HE KNOWS THE PRESENT AND THE PAST. Though again none of us would question that He does in fact know everything that is now happening or has happened (cf. Psalm 139). I don’t hear John ridiculing and questioning God’s knowledge of the present or the past. If John is going to ridicule those of us who affirm that we know THAT God knows the future but not HOW GOD KNOWS THE FUTURE: then why doesn’t he do so with regard to the present and the past as well? And why stop there? Why not ridicule us every time we affirm THAT SOMETHING IS TRUE THOUGH WE DO NOT KNOW HOW IT IS TRUE??????

      Watch John in action, he writes:

      “Thibodaux may find assigning God’s knowledge to the unexplained sufficient, but that does not make it convincing to others. Why should Thomas, or others, be convinced by “I don’t know how God knows it but he does”, especially when Scripture does not require that God have such knowledge (i.e., knowledge of future free choices as present facts)?”

      First, if Thibodaux is taking the position that we know THAT God knows the future, but not HOW. Thibodaux is rationally justified in doing so because the bible properly interpreted does in fact present God has knowing the future (hint – it is called biblical prophecy! :-)).

      Second, note John’s direct words: “Why should Thomas, or others, be convinced by “I don’t know how God knows it but he does”,”.

      There it is, John questioning the rationality of affirming truths when we do not know how they can be true.

      “Thibodaux may be correct, and he may not, but in any event his argument is not slam dunk and so I, at least, remain agnostic about its truth.”

      It does not appear to me to be “agnosticism” it is unbelief in divine foreknowledge. John (for whatever reason) does not want to believe that God can foreknow the future and keeps presenting these open theist arguments and views while claiming to be agnostic. I said this before and say it again: it is just like the village atheist who keeps presenting atheistic arguments and points but when directly questioned about his view declares he is just an “agnostic.”

      John ends with a false tri-lemma (he provides three possibilities while leaving out other possibilities including the possibility that the Christian church has affirmed for the last two thousand years: instead of the logical fallacy of dilemma we have a logical fallacy of tri-lemma being presented here). John writes:

      “If libertarian free choice is required for love and moral culpability, as Scripture appears to require, but God has true present knowledge of a future free choices, then one of three conclusions follows: (1) there is nothing that grounds God’s knowledge of the choice and thus God knows the choice by some mysterious process or capacity that cannot be explained, (2) God does not have true present binary (will / will not contradictories) knowledge of future free choices, or (3) the truth of a future free choice is grounded in a human’s creaturely essence–but of course this has the result of determining the creature’s actions and so depriving it of the sort of free choice that is apparently valued by God.”

      I reject all of these options, how about (4) or something like it: that God does know future events, we do not know how he knows or what grounds his knowledge of these events (i.e. we affirm both foreknowledge and free will: but do not know how he knows these future events involving free will, in other words WE AFFIRM THAT HE KNOWS THE FUTURE BUT WE DO NOT KNOW HOW HE KNOWS THE FUTURE).

      And if John finds this troubling, then let’s see if he is as consistent and vociferous in lodging this same complaint, and decides to ridicule the other aforementioned doctrines where believers affirm THAT something is the case while also admitting that we do not know HOW it is the case. I doubt we will see that from John, instead he will not be bothered by the rest of these doctrines only exhaustive divine foreknowledge will trouble him.

      Robert

      • John I.

        Relax a bit and read what I wrote. First, I don’t see that what I wrote is mocking nor ridiculing and I therefore request an apology. I try to write in a manner that is formal and focused on the arguments presented, not on the motivations or other personal attributes of the posters.

        Second, I never wrote that JCThibodaux was wrong for being convinced, rather, I wrote that what convinces him does not convince me because it provides no grounds for belief in its truth. It is a fideistic belief in a particular interpretation of some passages of Scripture. That is, Thibodaux believes that some passages of scripture require a belief that God knows as an eternal and present fact what will happen in the future. He has no explanation for how this can be so, so he just takes on faith that it is so (because of what he believes the Bible says). I am not convinced that that particular interpretation of scripture is the only viable one, nor that it is the only possible evangelical one.

        Third, I am legitimately agnostic because my main belief is that decretive Calvinism is wrong. After that, I can go with any of the alternate views (historical varieties of Arminianism, Open Theism, Ignatius’ view, Molinism, etc.). All of the views describe God as omniscient and omnipotent, though they differ in how they understand reality, e.g., “A” time or “B” time, block time, whether truths need grounding, what grounding of truths is, what is knowledge, etc. Since, like R. Olson, I believe that all those views are within the realm of orthodoxy and evangelicalism, it does not matter to me which ends up being true. In the interim (i.e., until we know), it is beneficial to explore the different views and to analyse what is accurate or what is problematic about each view.

        Fourth, I don’t see open theism as a terrible bugbear, but as a legitimate possibility. In this blog, R. Olson rejects open theism though he sees it as a possibility; like him I also see it as a possibility but I unlike him I don’t reject it. It is the most recent viewpoint, the least worked out, misrepresented like Arminianism, and the most controversial, hence I often find myself explaining it or making arguments in regard to it. I don’t think personal attacks are appropriate simply because I express disagreement and don’t believe that a correct interpretation of Scripture necessitates holding to the belief that Robert does. A more appropriate response would be an argument undercutting the premises of one of my arguments, or the logic used in the argument.

        If one is going to attack my arguments, I request that a closer and more fair reading be given to it. In this vein I note that Robert’s option no. 4 (as noted in Robert’s post above) is the same as my option no. 1, viz., God knows it but we don’t know how he knows it. I don’t think that this option is the most viable for various reasons, and one can of course present counterarguments.

        I am quite capable of arguing the Arminian viewpoints, but Dr. Olson and others are doing a fine job of it. Hence I’m interested in how open theism and molinism stack up against it (Arminianism). As for how God experiences things, I suggest that a spiritual being experiences present things directly, that is, without mediation by a sensory and physical body. Moreover, as God is involved with sustaining his creation, his experience would be qualitatively more direct or immediate than an angel. As for the past, it is in God’s memory as he has experienced directly every moment of the past across the entire universe. Indeed, philosophically it is difficult to ground the reality of past events outside of some trace of those events in the present or in some being or mind.

        Lastly, I request that you tone down the attacks. This blog is about Arminianism, not open theism per se, but R. Olson has indicated that it is OK to engage Arminianism fairly from various veiwpoints including Calvinism and open theism. It is at the least unfriendly and unfair to the presentation of Dr. Olson’s blog to the world to have posts that attack motivations and personal attributes of responding posters, and it does not make visitors or lurkers feel safe about posting.

        regards,
        John I.

  • Robert

    John wrote:

    “Relax a bit and read what I wrote. First, I don’t see that what I wrote is mocking nor ridiculing and I therefore request an apology. “

    If you are the same John that I discussed this very same topic with in the past you did ridicule the orthodox foreknowledge position in the past and are making the same points here. I brought out your inconsistency then and you simply disregarded it, so I brought it up again so that others can see the inconsistency (i.e. the concern that something is being believed and asserted when we know THAT it is true but not HOW it is true).

    “That is, Thibodaux believes that some passages of scripture require a belief that God knows as an eternal and present fact what will happen in the future. He has no explanation for how this can be so, so he just takes on faith that it is so (because of what he believes the Bible says).”

    And again isn’t that precisely what you do with the Trinity, the incarnation, etc. all truths that you affirm to be true because the bible properly interpreted presents these truths. You are not concerned or alarmed about not being able to explain HOW those things are true, but you inconsistently are concerned when the truth is divine foreknowledge.

    “I am not convinced that that particular interpretation of scripture is the only viable one, nor that it is the only possible evangelical one.”

    The question is not whether we can come up with some interpretation, but whether or not it is the proper interpretation.

    “Third, I am legitimately agnostic because my main belief is that decretive Calvinism is wrong. After that, I can go with any of the alternate views (historical varieties of Arminianism, Open Theism, Ignatius’ view, Molinism, etc.). All of the views describe God as omniscient and omnipotent, though they differ in how they understand reality, e.g., “A” time or “B” time, block time, whether truths need grounding, what grounding of truths is, what is knowledge, etc.”

    The statement that “All of the views describe God as omniscient” is misleading. If we compare what the church has always believed about divine foreknowledge (i.e. that it includes future freely performed actions) then Open theism denies that God has this knowledge concerning the future. Ask an open theist whether or not God knows before they occur in time, what a person will freely choose to do, and they will deny that God knows this (and then attempt to justify this lack of knowledge by arguing that it cannot be known by anyone including God). That is a far cry from what the vast majority of Christians have believed about God’s knowledge of the future.

    “Fourth, I don’t see open theism as a terrible bugbear, but as a legitimate possibility. In this blog, R. Olson rejects open theism though he sees it as a possibility; like him I also see it as a possibility but I unlike him I don’t reject it.”

    I don’t see open theism “as a terrible bugbear” either, but if the bible properly interpreted denies and refutes it, then it is not a “legitimate possibility”. And unlike you and Olson, I both reject open theism and do not see it as a possibility.

    “It is the most recent viewpoint, the least worked out, misrepresented like Arminianism, and the most controversial, hence I often find myself explaining it or making arguments in regard to it.”

    It is sometimes misrepresented and yet it does in fact differ from the orthodox and majority understanding held by the church concerning exhaustive divine foreknowledge.

    “ I don’t think personal attacks are appropriate simply because I express disagreement”

    True and I haven’t attacked you personally. I have brought out into the light your INCONSISTENCY. That you are concerned and alarmed about divine foreknowledge being something that is affirmed as true THOUGH WE DO NOT KNOW HOW IT WORKS (and yet you are not concerned nor do you express the same reservations about other doctrines where we clearly affirm them as true WITHOUT KNOWING HOW THEY CAN BE TRUE). That is your INCONSISTENCEY. Bringing that out is not a personal attack.

    “ and don’t believe that a correct interpretation of Scripture necessitates holding to the belief that Robert does.”

    Well we obviously differ there. The correct and proper interpretation of Scripture does not yield the open theism position.

    “A more appropriate response would be an argument undercutting the premises of one of my arguments, or the logic used in the argument.”

    Again, in my previous post I was bringing out YOUR INCONSISTENCY.

    “If one is going to attack my arguments, I request that a closer and more fair reading be given to it. In this vein I note that Robert’s option no. 4 (as noted in Robert’s post above) is the same as my option no. 1, viz., God knows it but we don’t know how he knows it.”

    They are not the same. In your option no. 1 there is no grounding for God’s knowledge of the future. Look at what you said again:

    “(1) there is nothing that grounds God’s knowledge [[NOTHING THAT GROUNDS GOD’S KNOWLEDGE]] of the choice and thus God knows the choice by some mysterious process or capacity that cannot be explained”

    In contrast my suggested option no. 4 is not the same. Look at what I said again:

    “(4) or something like it: that God does know future events, we do not know how he knows or what grounds his knowledge [[WHAT GROUNDS HIS KNOWLEDGE, i.e. that there are grounds for what God foreknows, we just do not know what they are]] of these events (i.e. we affirm both foreknowledge and free will: but do not know how he knows these future events involving free will, in other words WE AFFIRM THAT HE KNOWS THE FUTURE BUT WE DO NOT KNOW HOW HE KNOWS THE FUTURE).”

    In your option no. 1 then, there is no grounds for divine foreknowledge, in my no. 4 there ARE grounds for divine foreknowledge we just do not know how God knows what he knows. So they are not the same option.

    “I don’t think that this option is the most viable for various reasons, and one can of course present counterarguments.”

    Well we disagree, no surprise.

    By the way what are your counterarguments against the Trinity, the incarnation, and other beliefs that we hold where we affirm them based on proper interpretation of the bible without knowing how they are true???

    “As for how God experiences things, I suggest that a spiritual being experiences present things directly, that is, without mediation by a sensory and physical body. Moreover, as God is involved with sustaining his creation, his experience would be qualitatively more direct or immediate than an angel. As for the past, it is in God’s memory as he has experienced directly every moment of the past across the entire universe. Indeed, philosophically it is difficult to ground the reality of past events outside of some trace of those events in the present or in some being or mind.”

    You still have not explained HOW God knows the past and the present. For example you speak of how a spiritual being experiences things directly. OK, now explain how that works. You have not even attempted any kind of explanation of HOW he knows what He knows about the past and the present. And the fact is that you cannot (nor can anyone else for that matter): we just do not know HOW He knows what he knows.

    “Lastly, I request that you tone down the attacks. “

    Again, I did not attack you, I brought out ****your total inconsistency**** in regards to beliefs that Christians hold without knowing HOW they are true. Again, you are not bothered or troubled when it concerns the trinity or the incarnation, etc. etc. etc. But then you are troubled that this is true with divine exhaustive foreknowledge.

    Robert

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Insofar as I understand my open theist friends’ arguments, I believe they would say that there is no logical incoherence in the doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation but that there is logical incoherence in believing in both non-compatibilist free will and any absolute knowledge of what a being with such free will will do in the future (insofar as it is not yet determined by anyone or anything).

    • John I.

      When I refer to grounding, I mean that we humans do not know what grounds God’s knowledge of the outcome of future freely made choices. Both my no. 1 and Robert’s no. 4 are thus the same because I have referred to the implication that “God knows the choice by some mysterious process or capacity that cannot be explained” and Robert has said that God’s knowledge is grounded by something that we know nothing of. Hence, equivalent.

      It is not misleading to argue that the open theist view can properly said to be within the orthodox understanding of “omniscience” because the open theist agrees that God knows everything there is to know, and knows each thing in the manner appropriate to its being known (i.e., there are different kinds of knowledge). The difference is, however, that open theists make different claims about knowledge of the future. Some open theists argue that the factual future cannot be known per se, and that therefore there is no such thing as definitely “knowing” the future as we definitely know the present or past (i.e., knowledge of the exact factual future does not exist). Other open theists argue that God does know the future, but that he knows some events as “will happen”, some as “will not happen”, and some as “may or may not happen”. Of course, those views are different from the conventional view that God knows the future in the same way as the past (as definite, exact, facts).

      I’ve been clear about this difference in prior posts, so I don’t think it is misleading and moreover, Dr. Olson has stated that open theism is not necessarily unorthodox or unevangelical. I take from that that Dr. Olson believes that, at least prima facie, open theists’ descriptions of God fall within Biblical ones. While Robert is clearly unfriendly towards open theism, Dr. Olson is not.

      regards,
      John I.

    • John I.

      Robert, you do not know whether or not I am troubled by either the incarnation or the trinity, so you are making an unwarranted assumption about me and what I believe. You also do not know if I am intentionally being misleading. That sort of assumption and accusation making is what I am referring to, and I request that you stop.

      *****

      I note that no one knows how a physical sensation becomes a conscious perception. There are speculations, and many strong disagreements. If we cannot even know how we experience things consciously, it is no surprise that our understanding of how God experiences things is also not completely explainable.

      regards,
      John I.

  • Thomas

    J.C., I almost wish I could believe you that I amputting the cart before the horse, but I really don’t see it that way. You seem to want to make God’s knowledge dependent upon our free choices–he does not determine those choices, you say, but only knows what they will be. But wouldn’t this mean that our choices can actually change what God already knows? If God knows that I will choose A, and I don’t choose it, God has to retroactively change what he knows, proving that he did not really know it but only made his best quess!
    Robert, and I guess you would agree with him, says that we can believe that a proposition is true without knowing how it can be true. I think this may be the case in regard to some of the mysteries of the faith such as the Trinity, but in the case of flatly contradictory statements, we simply cannot believe them even if we want to. And so, we cannot believe that God causes our every thought word and deed, and also believe that we are free and responsible. One who says he believes this, in my opinion, does not really believe what the words he uses really mean; he has been influenced by illogical doctrinaire thinking. Now, I am not as sure that open theism has as good a case as this–it is about God’s knowledge rather than his causal power; but, until someone shows me how God’s knowledge of what I will choose to think or do next, is consistent with my having a truly free choice, I will have to doubt it.
    I have not posted anything in a blog concerning my views on free will, but, yes, I do believe in what is called the libertarian view. I am a former Calvinist.

    • Robert

      Thomas wrote:

      “J.C., I almost wish I could believe you that I am putting the cart before the horse, but I really don’t see it that way. You seem to want to make God’s knowledge dependent upon our free choices–he does not determine those choices, you say, but only knows what they will be. But wouldn’t this mean that our choices can actually change what God already knows? If God knows that I will choose A, and I don’t choose it, God has to retroactively change what he knows, proving that he did not really know it but only made his best guess!”

      Your reasoning here is not quite accurate. And let me explain how this is so. When we speak of God’s foreknowledge we are speaking about God knowing some event, how it will in fact occur, before that event does in fact occur. Christians also when speaking of God’s foreknowledge operate from the belief that God is never mistaken about what he foreknows (knows beforehand).

      First grant me these simple and ordinary meanings connected with foreknowledge. God knows how you will in fact act before you do that particular action. And God is never wrong about what he foreknows. This means that his beliefs about the future always correspond with what will in fact occur. Nothing controversial so far, things asserted and believed by Christians throughout church history. Virtually every Christian has believed these points about God’s foreknowledge. So far no problem.

      In addition to the belief in God having foreknowledge is the belief that we have free will as ordinarily understood (i.e. that before we MAKE a choice, we HAVE a choice, we have a choice when before making our choice we can select either option, we can raise our hand to ask a question in class or not raise our hand to ask a question in class, and this choice that we end up making is up to us, we are not forced into making the choice that we make, we are acting freely). Again there is no problem here for most Christians, as the vast majority have believed that we at least sometimes experience free will (having a choice and then making a choice).

      Now the problem sometimes arises when someone then considers whether or not these two beliefs (foreknowledge and free will) can both be true simultaneously. Now consider what would have to be true for them both to be true simultaneously: God would foreknow what a person will in fact do, and the person when doing that would have had a choice and then made a choice. I call the actual choices, the actual actions that we end up doing, “actual outcomes.” And seems obvious to me that God’s foreknowledge refers to actual outcomes (i.e. He knows beforehand how we will in fact act, He knows what we will in fact end up doing).

      Now think about what most people mean by the “future”. Don’t they mean ****what we will in fact do****? So this means that when thinking of the future we are considering actual outcomes that will be actualized but have not yet been actualized. Actual outcomes that have already been actualized we call the “past”.

      Now consider yourself as the example, Thomas, assume that tomorrow you will exist and you will do some actions. Put simply you will do something tomorrow. Now these actions that you will in fact do are actual outcomes. They are not merely possible actions that you could do, they are actual actions that you will in fact do. And God’s foreknowledge is his knowledge of actual outcomes, of the something that you will in fact do tomorrow. When speaking of foreknowledge we don’t say things like “God foreknows that you may or may not do X tomorrow.” No, we speak of foreknowledge as “God foreknows that you will in fact do X tomorrow (or if it is Y, “God foreknows that you will in fact do Y tomorrow.”)

      Now again if you exist tomorrow and do some actions then you will do something. You will in fact do something. Now it is impossible that you do nothing. It is also impossible for you to do two mutually exclusive actions tomorrow (i.e. you cannot both go to the beach and not go to the beach tomorrow at say 8:00 A.M., you will either go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M. or you will not go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.). So it is impossible for you to do nothing tomorrow (again assuming you exist tomorrow and that you do actions tomorrow) and impossible for you to actualize contradictions tomorrow (like both going and not going to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.). You are going to do something tomorrow and if God foreknows that something then He knows what you will in fact do tomorrow.

      Now a major confusion, foisted on many people by the efforts of determinists (like calvinists) is to make the major mistake of viewing libertarian free will as:

      the ABILITY TO DO OTHERWISE THAN YOU WILL IN FACT DO TOMORROW!!

      Consider for a moment what it would mean if you could in fact do otherwise than you will in fact do tomorrow. Say that you will in fact go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M. By this false understanding of libertarian free will, if you could do otherwise than you will in fact do tomorrow, that would mean that you COULD DO OTHERWISE THAN YOU WILL IN FACT DO. But that is impossible, if you are going to do something tomorrow and that something includes you actually going to the beach tomorrow at 8:00. Then for you to be able to do otherwise than that, to do otherwise than you will in fact do, would mean you have the ability to actualize contradictions, to do two contrary actions (you could both go to the beach or not go to the beach at the same time).

      And guess what Thomas, you unwittingly or intentionally are making this mistake when you wrote what you wrote. God’s foreknowledge concerns his knowledge of actual outcomes, what you will in fact do in the future, that something that you will actually do tomorrow.

      You first said “You seem to want to make God’s knowledge dependent upon our free choices–he does not determine those choices, you say, but only knows what they will be.”

      Note your last line here, speaking of God you state “he does not determine those choices, you say, but only knows what they will be.” But if we act freely and God foreknows what we will in fact do tomorrow, then doesn’t that mean he will not determine those choices and yet he knows what they will be?

      Next you wrote: “But wouldn’t this mean that our choices can actually change what God already knows?”

      If God foreknows how we will in fact choose (i.e. he foreknows actual outcomes, what will in fact occur) then how can our choices “actually change what God already knows?” Say God foreknows that you will choose to go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M. If that is the choice that you will in fact make tomorrow, then how is your choice going to change his belief about what you were going to choose to do? Conversely, if the choice that you will in fact make tomorrow is not to go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00. Then isn’t that the choice that God foreknows that you will make tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.? If God does in fact foreknow what you will in fact do tomorrow then how are any of your choices made tomorrow going to change God’s beliefs?

      You could only change God’s beliefs about what you will do tomorrow: if you do differently than you will in fact do tomorrow. But you can’t do differently than you will in fact do tomorrow (if you could do otherwise than you will in fact do tomorrow then you would be actualizing a contradiction, like both going and not going to the beach at 8:00 A.M. tomorrow!!)

      So you see Thomas your thinking whether unwittingly or intentionally, is making the error of claiming that we can do otherwise than we will in fact do tomorrow (and we can’t, if we could, then that would mean that we have the ability to actualize contradictions, like both going and not going to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.).

      So if free will does not mean the ability to do otherwise than you will in fact do, what does it mean then? If believing that we can do otherwise than we will in fact do IS NOT THE PROPER CONCEPTION OF FREE WILL. Then how do we correct this error? What is the proper way to see it? The way to avoid this error is to understand that before we MAKE A CHOICE we HAVE A CHOICE if we are acting freely, if we have libertarian free will. HAVING A CHOICE precedes THE MAKING OF A CHOICE in real time. Tomorrow if you are acting freely and considering and thinking about going to the beach: you have a choice if you can select either option, both options are accessible to you, available to you. If you are hooked up to a respirator in a hospital tomorrow then you will not have that choice! If on the other hand, BEFORE 8:00 A.M. tomorrow you have the choice of whether or not to go to the beach, then you really could choose either option. But recall that you cannot do both (you cannot both go to the beach or not go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.). And yet if you are considering the two options, and both are accessible and available options for you, then you could make either choice BEFORE YOU IN FACT MAKE THE CHOICE THAT YOU WILL IN FACT MAKE. So free will is present BEFORE the actual outcome occurs. Free will does not mean doing otherwise than you will in fact do. No, it means that before you end up MAKING YOUR CHOICE, you HAD THE CHOICE of either option. If you are acting freely tomorrow then you could choose to go to the beach at 8:00 A. M. tomorrow: but you could also choose not to go to the beach at 8:00 A. M. tomorrow BEFORE YOU MAKE YOUR ACTUAL CHOICE.

      Because free will is about HAVING A CHOICE before you make the choice that you will in fact make (having a choice precedes the actual outcome of making a choice).

      God foreknows the choice that you will in fact make. If He does not interfere with your choice making before you make the choice, then you will freely make that choice. And whatever choice you end up making is the actual outcome that God foreknew that you would make (and you will not change God’s beliefs about what you will in fact do because God’s foreknowledge concerns what you will in fact do). And if you really could go either way, before the actual outcome occurs, before you make your choice, then you have free will and God foreknows what you will in fact choose to do.

      And thus free will and God’s foreknowing what you will in fact do are perfectly compatible. Both are true and can be true at the same time and there is not contradiction between having a choice, having free will and God foreknowing what you will in fact choose to do.

      Robert

      PS – Thomas you wrote:

      “until someone shows me how God’s knowledge of what I will choose to think or do next, is consistent with my having a truly free choice, I will have to doubt it.”

      I just did it. :-)

      What you “will choose to think or do next” if it involves making a choice after having had a choice, **is** an actual outcome and God foreknows all actual outcomes (that is what foreknowledge is). If you had a choice before you make a choice that God foreknows, then you have “a truly free choice.”

      • Thomas

        Robert, The problem I have with your view is that it seems to present the future as though it were already the past. When you say “you cannot do otherwise than you will do” you assume that that statement is identical to “you cannot do otherwise than you have done.” The first statement assumes that there is already existing something called “what I will do.” But, insofar as the future is open (that is, not yet determined), it has no actuality, and the statement that “I will do what I will do” is a mere tautology. It says no more than “I will do something, and whatever I do I will not also not do.” Living as free beings means looking at the future as providing possibilities, not already known actualities as make up the past. Seeing the future as the same as the past is missing the truth that, having significant freedom, we humans determine some small part of the future at the time we make our choices. The acts that are the result of our free choices are not yet in existence and cannot be known. Knowledge, by definition is of that which exists. And, because God has given us true freedom, he has chosen to give us a partially undetermined future that, it seems, not even he knows in minute, exhaustive detail. What makes us responsible beings is that some part of the future is really up to us.

        • Robert

          “Robert, The problem I have with your view is that it seems to present the future as though it were already the past.”

          The “future” is a **present** that we have not yet experienced. And yet the future like the past, will involve a set of fixed actual outcomes. It WILL like the past, involve definite events that will go one way and not another (you will go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M. or you will not; you will go to X college in the spring or you will not, etc. etc.). The past consists of a set of actual outcomes that have all in fact occurred (the future consists of a set of actual outcomes that WILL in fact occur).

          “When you say “you cannot do otherwise than you will do” you assume that that statement is identical to “you cannot do otherwise than you have done.””

          I have been talking about “actual outcomes” and the fact that the past involved actual outcomes as will the future. The two statements to which you refer here are talking about actual outcomes in the future and past respectively.

          As a point of logic, when it comes to events that involve a choice (you will either make that choice or you will not: and regarding the choice that you ACTUALLY END UP MAKING you cannot do otherwise than make that choice, unless you believe that we can actualize contradictions [like going to the beach at 8:00 A.M. and NOT going to the beach at 8:00 A.M. tomorrow]).

          The first statement to which you refer, is in reference to a future actual outcome: the second statement you make here is in reference to a past actual outcome. The two statements are not identical, however the concept of actual outcome is identical whether it occurs in the past or in the future. It is the nature of an actual outcome, that it will in fact occur or it did in fact occur. If you disagree with the nature of actual outcomes then you will be incoherent and irrational (e.g. claiming that we can do and not do something at the same time, that we can in fact actualize contradictions). In discussing actual outcomes we are discussing events that actually occur. And this is important, because again, foreknowledge concerns God’s knowledge of future actual outcomes.

          “The first statement assumes that there is already existing something called “what I will do.””

          No, the first statement assumes that actual outcomes that occur in the future, like actual outcomes in the past, will involve events that are settled or fixed. When you say the statement “assumed that there is already existing something called “what I will do”, that is a mistake.

          Say a prophet prophesied that you would post your post to which I am responding and this prophet spoke of your actions, say two thousand years ago. If the prophet spoke correctly then he is correct that you would in fact post your comments. However, though his prophetic statement accurately referred to the future event/actual outcome of you posting your comments here: neither you nor your action of posting here were in existence when the prophet uttered his prophecy. That is the nature of foreknowledge as ordinarily understood (i.e. a statement is made about something happening in the future, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of years in the future, and the casual factors and the person(s) doing some action do not even exist yet, when the statement is made).

          “But, insofar as the future is open (that is, not yet determined), it has no actuality, and the statement that “I will do what I will do” is a mere tautology. It says no more than “I will do something, and whatever I do I will not also not do.””

          Are you experiencing the past, say what occurred in your life twenty years NOW?

          Are you experiencing (assuming you exist and do some actions) the future, say what will occur in your life twenty years from now, NOW?

          I would guess that you are neither experiencing the past nor the future NOW. You are instead experiencing the **present**. And it is in the present that you have and are making choices. It is in the present that you are actualizing some possibilities and excluding others by making choices. It is in the present that we have open possibilities before we make our choices.

          I view the “future” as a present that we have not yet experienced (again assuming that we are present and doing actions in that future **present**). We represent the future by means of our thoughts about it, be we never directly experience the future. We only experience a succession of NOWS, of presents. It is in the present that we have possibilities and we have choices.

          Say you are thinking about where you are going to have lunch today (and say you have the money and the time and the opportunity to go to say three different restaurants for lunch today, X, Y, and Z). Presently, if you are acting freely, and free will is involved in your choice. X, Y and Z are all open possibilities. You will make a choice of one of them, which will result in an actual outcome of you going to say X restaurant (which will settle the event and exclude Y and Z as possibilities). What this means is that it is in the present that we have choices, and have open possibilities.

          If we are talking about a choice of restaurant that occurred in the past, say a week ago. You were considering X, Y, and Z, and say you ended up choosing Z. The past is settled, you did in fact choose Z. The bell cannot be unrung and you cannot go back and change your choice from Z to something else. It is a done deal, it is fixed, it is settled. You cannot change the past and redo your choices that you have already made.

          Now when it comes to the “future” what we all appear to be doing is that we imagine that in a future **present** we will face some choice, we will have a choice about something. So people speak of the future as having open possibilities. But we never directly experience the future. What we are doing is extrapolating what our experiences of presents are (situations where we have a choice and then make a choice) and imagining some future present where we will have the similar experience of choosing from between differing options.

          Technically speaking, the present is where we have open possibilities, where we decide which possibility to actualize and which possibility to exclude when making choices. We extrapolate this common experience that we have (of what occurs when we are in the present having and making choices)onto some imagined future date (“next week at that council meeting I’m gonna give um a piece of my mind . . .”). But the reality is that we are now in the present imagining what the future will be like (again I don’t think we ever experience the future directly).

          “Living as free beings means looking at the future as providing possibilities, not already known actualities as make up the past.”

          Now this is where you are making mistakes. Living as free beings means having and making choices IN THE PRESENT. We will have free will in the future, if when we come to that future present, we have and then make a choice. The past consists of actual outcomes that HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED, the future will also involve actual outcomes THAT WILL IN FACT OCCUR. This is so because if you do SOMETHING in the “future”, that something that you do will be an actual outcome (i.e. an actual event that occurs, something you will in fact do). The future then is a set of actual outcomes that have not yet occurred (but they will). If no actual outcomes will occur then there is no future to speak of. Whatever those events are, whatever those happenings are, they will occur. You will or will not go to the beach tomorrow at 8:00 A.M. You will or will not attend college X in the spring.

          Now if you will not exist on this earth say next year (say you experience physical death before next year), then it is true, that you won’t be doing actions next year that we can speak of as future choices that you will make (on this earth).

          But we are assuming, in this discussion of God’s foreknowledge of future events THAT WILL IN FACT OCCUR ON THE EARTH, that you will exist, you will be alive and you will do some actions. If that is the case, then you will bring about some actual outcomes.

          Taking you as the example, if you are alive and do some actions next year, then you will actualize some actual outcomes. And your “future” will consist of some actual outcomes that you actualize. God foreknows what every one of those actual outcomes involving you will be. As you cannot actualize contradictions, you will in fact do “certain things”. The “certain things” that you in fact will do are actual outcomes that God foreknows that you will do.

          Note that you said “not already known actualities as make up the past.”

          Do you realize what you are denying here? The future, as is true of the past, will consist of a set of actual outcomes, actual events that will in fact occur. When you deny that God knows “already known actualities” in reference to the future (as you contrasted it with those “actualities” that “make up the past”) you are denying that God has foreknowledge.

          Now your original claim was that you doubted that divine foreknowledge and free will could be compatible, that you had not seen how it could be true. I took the time to demonstrate how it is true and now you are denying that God can foreknow future “actualities”.

          Now either you are confused and contradicting yourself or you are disingenuous and not seriously wanting to know how the two can be and are compatible.

          My approach is based upon the assumption that God can foreknow future “actualities” (that is the ordinary understanding of foreknowledge). If you deny that possibility then it is foolish to speak of whether or not God’s foreknowledge of future “actualities” and free will is compatible.

          If God foreknows the future then he must be able to foreknow future “actualities” (i.e. what will in fact occur). If you deny that the future consists of “actualities” then of course God cannot foreknow it because there is no future to know about.

          But defining the future in such a way that it will not involve actual events is a bit disingenuous. It is like the guy who when asked about his claim that there are giant Chihuahuas that are hundreds of miles tall living in space who says they are beyond the reach of any of our telescopes or ways of detecting things. If you define things so no future exists and no future actualities will occur, then foreknowledge is not possible because there are no future actual events to foreknow.

          I make a distinction between God’s knowledge and the causal factors that bring about an event. So in my thinking God’s foreknowledge does not cause future events to occur: nor do future events cause God’s foreknowledge. Rather, God always has correct beliefs, beliefs that correspond with reality. So God knows the future as his beliefs correspond with (but do not cause) what will in fact occur. So God knows what “actualities” will make up the future. God also knows what “actualities” made up the past that has already occurred. God also knows what possibilities we have now (our open possibilities) as well as how we will choose(the actual outcomes). And this is very important; the causal factors that bring about events may or may not involve God bringing about the event.

          Example to make this distinction clear. Say a few years ago when Al Cowling and OJ Simpson decided to drive down the LA freeways with a massive police pursuit in tow, say I (like many others) was watching this event on Television live. I was seeing the whole sordid spectacle live. If my beliefs were true, then my belief was that I was watching Al Cowlings and OJ in the infamous Bronco go down the freeway with lots of LA’s finest behind them. So my beliefs about these events were true as they corresponded with these events. But was I driving the Bronco and determining what direction and speed it was going? NO, Al Cowlings was causing these things. Was I driving the multitude of cop cars behind the Bronco? NO, the police who were driving were the causal factors in these events. Now I was seeing it live, but God knew it was going to happen before it happened. Did God’s knowledge bring about these events or did the human drivers bring about these events? Was Al Cowlings and OJ acting freely when they created the spectacle? Yes. Did God cause these events? I would say no, these events resulted from human choices, a whole host of them.

          “Seeing the future as the same as the past is missing the truth that, having significant freedom, we humans determine some small part of the future at the time we make our choices.”

          I see the nature of ACTUAL OUTCOMES that have occurred (i.e. past actual outcomes) and will occur (i.e. future actual outcomes) as having the same nature. Actual outcomes are settled events. Events that do in fact occur.

          You wrote of “we humans determine some small part of the future at the time we make our choices.”

          I would alter that slightly (as I do not believe we directly experience the future in the present time frame, instead we experience a succession of consecutive “presents”) to: “we humans determine some small part of the present at the time we make our choices.” The past consists of actual outcomes that have already occurred. The future consists of a combination of both settled and open realities (because the “future” is a “present” that we have not encountered).

          In our present, now, we face a world consisting of a combination of already settled events (you decided to come to work today so here you sit at your desk, that is settled and part of your present reality). And events that are not yet settled that are open if you will (as you sit at your work desk you are deciding to call Joe or John on the phone, you have the choice of calling either Joe or John, you have not settled it by making the choice of one and not the other, so that is a choice that you have now, it is an open possibility). Now once you, say choose to call Joe, that settles it, open possibilities of calling Joe or John (or even calling someone else or choosing to do something else)are closed to one actuality, you in fact call Joe. That action of in fact calling Joe is an actual outcome. Foreknowledge concerns God knowing actual outcomes that will in fact occur (events that will in fact occur). So in the present you face a reality that is mixed consisting of things that are settled and things that will be settled by the particular choices that you make. The “future” is similar, it will be a “present” in which you face a world that is both settled and open.

          “The acts that are the result of our free choices are not yet in existence and cannot be known.”

          This statement is blatantly false. The choices that we have made in the past “are the result of our free choices” and they are no longer in existence and yet THEY CAN BE AND ARE KNOWN. Your statement is patently false in regard to the past, so why can’t it also be false in regard to the future when it comes to God’s foreknowledge???

          Instead of a past choice that you did in fact make, that is no longer in existence and can be known: we have a future choice that you will in fact make (i.e. and actual outcome), that is not yet in existence and can be known by God via his foreknowledge.

          It is true that the actual choice does not now exist, however you will in fact make a choice and THAT is what God foreknows you will do. God can have Knowledge now of an event that will be brought about or caused in the future (though the precise causal factors that will bring about that future event do not even exist yet).

          “Knowledge, by definition is of that which exists.”

          Another blatantly false statement. Again our own knowledge of past events and persons disproves your statement here. I know that Abraham Lincoln was a past President of the United States and did certain things and was assassinated on such a day and year. But Lincoln and his actions no longer exist. Thomas you display a massive inconsistency here in that you would grant that we have knowledge of past events and persons that NO LONGER EXIST, but you will not allow for God to know about future events and persons that will in fact exist. This is completely arbitrary.

          “And, because God has given us true freedom, he has chosen to give us a partially undetermined future that, it seems, not even he knows in minute, exhaustive detail.”

          Let’s start with you last statement: “not even he knows in minute, exhaustive detail” THAT is simply a declaration of non-belief in God’s ability to foreknow all future events. I took the time to demonstrate the compatibility of foreknowledge and free will and you simply assert your unbelief in foreknowledge dogmatically claiming it is not possible. There are plenty of bible verses that contradict your claim. And logically it can be shown how foreknowledge and free will are compatible. So both the bible and logic are against your claim here.

          And let’s take the initial statement “And, because God has given us true freedom, he has chosen to give us a partially undetermined future” and tweak it just a bit to correspond with reality:

          “And, because God has given us true freedom, he has chosen to give us a partially undetermined PRESENT”.

          It is in the present that we face open and unsettled possibilities. The past is settled, the future will consist of yet to be settled actual outcomes. It is NOW when we have free will and face choices involving differing possibilities.

          “What makes us responsible beings is that some part of the future is really up to us.”

          And again if we tweak this statement a bit we arrive again at the truth: “What makes us responsible beings is that some part of the PRESENT is really up to us.” Recall that free will precedes actual outcomes in time. We have free will when we have choices. And when do we have choices? In the present when we face a choice in which we can actualize different possibilities but will only actualize the possibility that we choose to actualize.

          Robert

    • John I.

      While the Calvinist decretal theology is clearly contradictory if one assumes the libertarian definition of free will, the Arminian view (and arguably the Molinist view) is not necessarily so. Humans can only have exact knowledge of the future if that future has been determined in some way. Whatever determines the future also grounds our knowledge of that future.

      However, the Arminian argues that God’s ability to know includes the ability to definitely know things that cannot be, or haven’t been, determined. How does he do this? Unknown. Maybe he’s outside of time; who knows? Maybe it results from his intimate knowledge of us. The Molinist tries to add some perspecuity by postulating that a future free choice does exist in a knowable way, and that no truth-grounding is required for knowledge of such choices.

      The key difference between Arminians/Molinists/open theists and Calvinists, vis a vis knowledge of future free choices, is that the Calvinist model is decretal and in it God decrees all that will be. In the Arminian / Molinist / open theist models, the theology is not completely decretal but allows for humans to be prime movers or orginators of their own choices. Allowing humans to be prime movers of their own choices is (a) consistent with many passages of scripture where God presents choices or tests people (e.g. Abraham, Israel at Mt. Sinai, etc.), (b) provides a basis for personal relationships, (c) provides a basis for real love, (d) provides for moral culpability, (e) provides the basis for a strong theodicy, and (f) insulates God from culpability for evil.

      regards,
      John I.

    • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

      Thomas,

      @But wouldn’t this mean that our choices can actually change what God already knows?

      How exactly would you change what one ‘already knows’ from a time-transcendent perspective? We’ve already been over this. Recall, I wrote, The silliness about “my future choices can change God’s past beliefs” utterly fails to deal with God’s time-transcendent nature, as I dealt with when I dismantled the ‘transfer of necessity’ principle….

      Your answers are somewhat ambiguously worded, so I ask for clarification:

      @I have not posted anything in a blog concerning my views on free will….

      So you’ve never written a blog post about the issues of libertarian free will and/or determinism?

      @I do believe in what is called the libertarian view.

      But do you believe people have libertarian free will?

      • John I.

        It’s not entirely clear to me what is meant by the “God’s time-transcendent nature”. In the context of these posts about open theism, it seems to mean that God is outside time, and hence timeless, and can thus see the future. If so, then I think there are several strong arguments agains this view.

        God cannot be simultaneously both in time and not in time. That would be like saying something is both black and white at the same time (more formally, one would say that is arguing
        A = not-A, which is contrary to the logical law of non-contradiction).

        It appears to me that the stronger argument is that God is in time. First, at and since the moment of creation God puts himself in relation to his creation. He creates and sustains creation in time and so bears a time-relation to creation. He brings himself into time at the moment of creation. God now bears, among other relations, a causal relation to a temporal creation, and in virtue of that relation God is now temporal (but still eternal: he existed before time and will continue to exist).

        Second, if God is timeless, he cannot know “now”. There would be no “now” for him because all of time, all tensed facts, would be before him equally and simultaneously. But if God is omniscient, how can he not know tensed facts? If God cannot know what is past, present and future, how can he interact in time? How can he be incarnated in a time bound way such that he, as Christ, experiences past, present and future if there is literally no such thing for him?

        Of course this assumes a dynamic view of time, but if one does not have such a view then time is merely an illusion. All points in time would be equally real/non-real and there would not be any real now, nor would there be a future or past.

        That God, who existed in a timeless triune relationship, would create and enter into time in order to give us a relationship with him says a great deal about God.

        Now, as to the “transfer of necessity principle”, While I agree with JCThibodaux that that supposed principle can be defeated, or at least undermined, I don’t agree that transcendence of time is either the correct or necessary argument for doing so.

        regards,
        John I.

        • http://indeathorlife.org/ J.C. Thibodaux

          @one would say that is arguing
          A = not-A, which is contrary to the logical law of non-contradiction

          That argument relies upon incorrectly assuming ‘transcendence’ = ‘complete atemporality,’ which I don’t buy into.

      • John I.

        It would be more correct to say that I am not entirely convinced that the transfer of necessity principle must be true (i.e., I’m suspicious of it), than it would be to say that I think it is wrong.

        Also, Thomas’ views do not necessarily entail that what we choose would change the past or change God’s knowledge of the past. The Ockhamist defence of freewill argues that God’s knowledge of the past is not necessary in the manner that other aspects of the past are. An Ockhamist defence would distinguish between the past and God’s knowledge of the past, or between hard facts about the past and soft facts about the past (viz. God’s knowledge is a soft fact). Ockhamist views have been defended in the 20th century by Marilyn Adams, Alvin Plantinga, Alfred Freddoso, etc.

        regards,
        John I.

  • Jeff Martin

    Thomas said – “They say that if God absolutely knows everything in the future it can come out only one way–no contingency–to libertarian free will. God can not end up being wrong about my free choices;”

    I believe it is Lawrence Sklar that bases his thoughts of time on space time. We know it is theoretically possible to time travel. To go to the past one would put two wormholes together opposite of each other and go through it.

    To go to the future (which there technically is really is no such thing) since the way to get there is by going really fast in the present where you age very slowly but everything around you ages quickly relatively of course. So why could not God go 1000 years into the future and then go through a wormhole to go back to where he started and then tell Abraham that Israel will be enslaved for 400 years (Genesis 15:13)? I use the terms we use for humans to time travel all the time realizing that there could be a different way for God to travel.

    Also Open Theism has an answer for this verse from Genesis and the denying of Peter 3 times. The would simply say that God would have planned some aspect of it and knowing people’s personalities that is all that would need to be done. So in the case of Peter, God made sure that 3 people approached him.

  • Nick Mackison

    Roger, I was wondering if you could help me with a couple of texts in relation to Open Theism. I’m a compatibilist who’s doing his best to understand Arminians and Open Theists on their own terms and I’ve been reading your book on Arminian Theology, and the Perspectives book you contributed to with Ware, Sanders and Helm.

    Anyhow, I was wondering if you had any idea how Open Theists handle texts like 1 Peter 1:20 where Christ was “foreknown” before the foundation of the world? I’m also thinking of Revelation 13:8 where either Christ was slain, or the names were recorded in the book of life “before the foundation of the world”? These texts seem to hint at God, at least, foreknowing the fall and the need for redemption.

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Yes, Greg Boyd has responded to these texts from an open theism perspective. I think his response can be found in The God of the Possible, but I’m sure he has responded to questions about them at his web site. These are verses that hold me back from adopting open theism. But, of course, the open theists have verses that keep them from holding to divine simple foreknowledge.

  • Humblethinker

    Roger, would you attempt an answer to a question that I can’t seem to get past regarding the result of God’s exhaustive, certain foreknowledge as I understand you and classical arminians to believe:

    Assuming a being who has certain foreknowledge of the free choices of its creatures, how is it the case that this being’s appeal to his creatures to do otherwise is to be considered genuine?

    Open theism seems to resolve the cognitive dissonance that, to me, is unavoidable in believing that God knows what I will do and he also knows that it cannot ever be the case that I do otherwise, yet he still engages in a genuine appeal for me to do otherwise. I’ve read almost all of the comments above but no one posed or addressed the problem.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    • rogereolson

      It’s a paradox? :)

  • http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/ Peter

    William Lane Craig says “Philosophically, I’m persuaded by arguments such as have been offered by Harry Frankfurt that free choice does not entail the ability to do otherwise. Imagine that a mad scientist has secretly wired your brain with electrodes so that he can control your choices. Suppose that in the last Presidential election, he wanted you to vote for Obama and had determined that if you were going to vote for McCain he would activate the electrodes and make you cast your vote for Obama. Now as it turns out, you also wanted to vote for Obama, and so when you went into the polling booth you marked your ballot for Obama, and therefore the scientist never activated the electrodes. I think it’s clear that you freely voted for Obama, even though it was not possible for you to do otherwise. What this thought experiment suggests is that the essence of free choice is the absence of causal constraint with respect to your choices; it is up to you alone how you choose.

    Now in the case of God, if God is essentially good, then there is no possible world in which He does evil. But does that imply that God does not freely do the good? Not if Frankfurt’s analysis is right. For God acts in the complete absence of any causal constraint whatsoever upon Him. It is up to Him and Him alone how He acts. He therefore acts freely in doing the good. That God is acting freely is evident in the fact that His will is not inclined necessarily toward any particular finite good; He chooses to do whatever He wants.”
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-god-morally-praiseworthy

    If the essence of free choice is the absence of causal constraint with respect to our choices, and does not entail the ability to do otherwise, it makes perfect sense to say that I choose freely even though God knows exactly what I will freely choose beforehand.

    • rogereolson

      This opens a huge can of worms, of course. Craig is not the final word on the subject. Nor is Frankfurt. Many philosophers argue otherwise about free will. Let me just say that nobody I know is arguing that free will entails freedom to do anything. For example, God is not free to do evil. But God still has free will because he can and does choose between goods. Otherwise, Craig and others will have to say that God’s decision to create the world was necessary because God could not have done otherwise. I doubt they want to say that.

  • http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/ Peter

    When God freely chooses to do something, his choice is limited by his nature–there are some things he cannot choose because of who he is. Realizing that God’s choices are made freely while at the same time being restricted has helped me accept that my choices though made freely are also restricted as a result of God’s perfect foreknowledge. While some might view this as a step toward Calvinism, I view it as a step toward a more biblical understanding.

    I think the reason so many are moving from the traditional Arminian view to Molinism and Open Theism is that they are tired of trying to support their view of LFW. Saying “it’s a paradox,” or “it’s a mystery” is not very satisfying.

    Roger, like you, I’ve taken the time to examine Open Theism and like you I’ve found it wanting. But it bothers me when Christians I know write off Open Theism and Molinism before they’ve even examined them. They just repeat the lines they heard from their pastor: “Open Theism denies God’s omniscience” and “Molinism is just a philosophical view created by a Catholic.” Sad…

    • rogereolson

      Well, yes, of course those are inadequate, even lame, responses to them. I would just point out that no theological attempt to solve the problem of God’s foreknowledge and our free will is without flaws. This is one issue I’m willing to set aside and wait to find out when we see face-to-face.

  • http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/ Peter

    Roger, you said, “But God still has free will because he can and does choose between goods.”

    This got me thinking: Can God choose between goods or does his nature require him to always choose the best? Can/does God ever choose second best? Hmmm…I don’t know…

    • rogereolson

      Surely there are situations where no single action stands out as “the best.”

      • http://www.simmondsfam.com/blog/faith/ Peter

        You’re probably right. I was just thinking about Chaos Theory and how things which appear insignificant may in fact be very significant. While we often see two options as equally good, perhaps an omniscient being would always see one as best.

        And then the next question would be, does God’s nature compel him to always do that which is best?

        I’m sure philosophers have dealt with these questions in depth, but this is the first I’ve considered them : )

        • rogereolson

          Surely when there is a “best” God does it. But also, just as surely, there are instances when two or more courses of action are equally good.