A friend of mine requested that I watch and respond to the above video about open theism. Open theism is the belief that God does not know everything that will actually happen in the future. On this view, God knows every possible future, but He does not know which of those possibilities will eventually be a reality. This view is fraught with errors, but for this post, I am going to limit myself to offering my rough and unfiltered commentary in response to the claims made in the video.
Fair warning: The video is difficult to watch. It is an amateurish conglomeration of clips, texts, and sounds with very little consistency. I am in the process of writing a response to the book The God Who Risks by John Sanders, so if you'd prefer not to endure either the video or my unfiltered commentary, you can hold out for a more refined article that I should be posting soon.
And now, without any further ado, here is my response to the video on open theism:
1:30 Open theism is not the only theological view which claims that possibilities are real. Therefore, defining open theism as merely the recognition that possibilities are real is a false claim. Many people accept the reality of possibilities while simultaneously rejecting other core tenets of open theism.
2:00 The claim that classical theism is derived from the Greek philosophers is both fallacious and false. It is fallacious because it is an example of the genetic fallacy. It is false because the Greek philosophers were so widespread in their teachings that it is practically impossible to find a philosophical position that they did not discuss. Open theism itself could be accurately described as a modern attempt to bring back the Aristotelian dichotomy of potentiality and actuality.
2:15 What Greg Boyd presented as the "classical view" was actually just the Calvinism/Arminianism version of determinism which would be more properly called A classical view instead of THE classical view. Boyd's contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism betrays an extremely limited knowledge of theological history. Calvinism and Arminianism are both derived from a common deterministic ancestor. The divide between Calvinism and Arminianism occurred relatively recently in the late 16th century. Boyd is ignoring more than 1500 years of theological writings by framing these two branches of determinism as THE classical view of theism.
The unresolved possibilities that Boyd speaks of are nothing more than the Aristotelian concept of potentiality. Aristotle's dualistic balance between potentiality and actuality was incorporated into Christian theology by Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. Open theism is just a modern rebranding of this Greek concept.
5:40 It was interesting to hear Rhoda add the qualifier "causally" to the claim that the future is open. This is an important clarification because it reveals the common foundation that supports both Calvinism and open theism. Both systems view God's knowledge of future events as causative. The similarity and difference between the two views can be seen when they are put into two syllogisms:
The Calvinist believes that:
1) God can only know future events if He also causes them.
2) God knows all future events.
3) Therefore, God causes all future events.
The open theist believes that:
1) God can only know future events if He also causes them.
2) God does not cause all future events.
3) Therefore, God does not know all future events.
Both views share an identical first premise, and the defenders of both of these views often see that first premise as an infallible truth. What neither view does very well at all, however, is provide evidence for accepting the first premise as true. Can God know a future event without His knowledge causing that event to be settled into actuality instead of potentiality? Both camps would answer that question in the negative, but they seldom even attempt to justify that answer.
8:15 Rhoda's claim that "An epistemically settled future cannot also be causally open" seems to be just a tautology. When open theists use the term "settled" they seem to be referring to Calvinistic determinism in which God knows the future because He has personally determined exactly which future events will happen. If that is what Rhoda means by "settled," then his claim can be restated as "a deterministic future cannot also be a causally open future" which is just a tautology. It sounds deep and philosophical, but it's really no more significant than saying that if the light is on then it is not off.
8:20 Rhoda used that tautology to justify a completely different claim when he said "In other words, future contingency & foreknowledge are incompatible." But he has not proven this claim. Anyone can prove that future contingency and Calvinistic determinism are incompatible for they are completely opposite concepts. Future contingency is the idea that the future is not predetermined by God or anything else whereas Calvinistic determinism is the idea that the future is predetermined by God. If Rhoda really intended to rephrase his tautology, he should have said that future contingency and Calvinistic determinism are incompatible. But when he substitutes foreknowledge in the place of determinism, he is making a huge leap in logic that lacks any support.
By the way, future contingency is another concept that is drawn from Aristotelian philosophy. That fact doesn't really bother me at all, but I find it ironic that open theists are so quick to criticize their opponents for using concepts derived from Greek philosophers when they do the exact same thing themselves. I suspect that most open theists are simply not knowledgeable enough of the history of their own philosophy to realize that their accusations are hypocritical.
9:20 Rhoda's discussion is followed by a statement that is put on the screen: "If the future has been eternally settled, both God and man are fated neither are free." This is an attempt to discredit Calvinism, and since I'm not a Calvinist, I'm tempted to just roll my eyes and move on. However, I think that it is important to point out that the open theists are merely building up a straw man when they claim that God is not free in the Calvinistic view. What Calvinists actually claim is that God freely determined in the past which events would occur in the future. There is nothing inherent to Calvinism which denies God any sort of freedom. They simply believe that God has already exercised His free choice about future events whereas open theists believe that God has not already exercised His free choice about future events. The claim that the Calvinist God is not free is just a straw man and a pretty pathetic one at that.
9:30 The claim that an eternal decree is the same as having no decree at all and resolves to mere fate is ridiculous. It completely ignores the Calvinist view that God is atemporal. I'm not a proponent of this view. I think that it suffers from several flaws, but the open theist who created this video doesn't seem to have any grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of the Calvinist position.
10:05 Similarly, the claim that Calvinists believe that there was a moment prior to the divine decree where the future was open for God also betrays an ignorance of the Calvinist view. Calvinists do not claim that God's decree was made in the past. They claim that His decree was made atemporally or outside of time. There are many problems with this atemporal view, but the open theist is only revealing his own ignorance when he fails to present this view accurately.
15:20 The movie analogy that Hasker rejected is actually a really good analogy of the known but not determined view of the future. This view is rejected out of hand by most open theists because they are focused almost exclusively on a denial of Calvinistic determinism. Hasker is a good example of this tendency. He did not offer any argument to prove that the movie analogy is flawed. He simply said that it was and moved on.
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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