About a week ago, I wrote a quick blog post sharing my thoughts as I watched a video on Open Theism. The creator of that video, Warren McGrew, decided to reply to my criticism by inviting Dr. Alan Rhoda to take part in a two-hour live critique of my blog post. I wasn't planning to write anything more on Open Theism (except Part 2 of my analysis of The God Who Risks which is being edited now), but I had some free time this afternoon, so I figured I would respond to this video too.
My previous response was just the thoughts that occurred to me as I was watching the video, and both Rhoda and McGrew took some exception to the fact that I didn't do more research before posting. So I decided to do a little more homework for this one. Rhoda has several of his papers on his website, so I read a few of them before writing this time. I was disappointed that I did not find any examples of Rhoda's scriptural exegesis, but maybe I just didn't read the right papers. Anyway, here's another mostly unfiltered response to a video on Open Theism:
Article: "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."
Rhoda: "It's important whenever you're describing a position, especially a position that you intend to critique, that you make a concerted effort to state the position in a way that its proponents would recognize as fair before you jump into your criticisms."
Me: I agree with Rhoda on this, but I don't really know what his complaint is with my description of Open Theism. It is true that Open Theists believe that God does not know everything that will actually happen in the future. It is true that Open Theists believe that God knows every possible future. And it is true that Open Theists believe that God does not know which possible future will eventually be a reality.
Rhoda claims in his response that my statement is false because Open Theists do not believe that there is such a thing as an actual future. This is just a rhetorical sleight of hand that is intended to obfuscate the issue. Yesterday is the actual future of the day before yesterday. Open Theism is the belief that God knows more about yesterday today than He knew about it on the day before yesterday. This could be put in a syllogism as follows:
1) On the day before yesterday, God did not know as much about yesterday as He knows about yesterday today. (ie: On the day before yesterday, God did not know everything about yesterday.)
2) The events of yesterday actually happened in a time future to the day before yesterday.
3) Therefore: On the day before yesterday, God did not know everything that actually happened yesterday. (ie: God did not know everything that would actually happen in the future.)
Rhoda may want to object that the events which occurred yesterday had not occurred yet on the day before yesterday and therefore were not actual events at that time, but that is beside the point. The point is that Rhoda and other Open Theists believe that God knows things today about yesterday that He did not know about yesterday on the day before yesterday.
Rhoda might claim that God did not know these things about yesterday because it is not possible for Him to have knowledge about things which do not exist, but again, that is just an obfuscation. At this point in the debate, we are not discussing whether it is possible for God to have known as much about yesterday on the day before yesterday as He knows about yesterday today. We are debating whether God possessed such knowledge not whether such knowledge was possible for Him to possess. Rhoda is responding to the question "Did God know?" with the answer "God could not have known" while at the same time denying that he is answering “No” to the question.
If we were to condense Rhoda's lengthy response into a single, concise, easily-understood statement, it would look something like "Open theism is the belief that God does not know everything that will actually happen in the future."
Rhoda also claimed of my description of Open Theism that I could only "pin that on" some Open Theists but not on the majority of them. However, in his 2008 paper "Generic Open Theism and Some Varieties Thereof," Rhoda claimed to present "the bare minimum that one must believe in order to qualify as an 'Open Theist,' and he purported to present the "primary or core commitments of open theism." Rhoda identified one of those core components as "Divine Epistemic Openness" which is just a fancy way of saying that God does not know everything that will happen in the future.
The word "epistemic" means "having to do with knowledge," and Rhoda defines "epistemic openness" as the idea that a given subject does not know which of two conflicting possibilities will occur in the future. In divine epistemic openness, God is the subject of the epistemic openness. Therefore, divine epistemic openness is the belief that God does not know which of two conflicting possibilities will occur in the future. That sounds a whole lot like saying that God does not know everything that will actually happen in the future, and Rhoda presented this as a foundational tenet which "one must believe in order to qualify as an Open Theist."
Article: "Both systems [Calvinism and Open Theism] view God's knowledge of future events as causative."
Rhoda: "Neither system says that God's knowledge is causative. I don't know anybody who thinks that ... I'd be interested if Bill could cite anyone who clearly says God's foreknowledge is causal."
Me: Here are three Calvinists claiming that God's foreknowledge is causative:
"God’s foreknowledge is a causative concept closely related to the doctrine of predestination." - Fred Zaspel
"Simple knowledge of the elect does not cause anything to happen. More than *knowing about* is in view. *Prognosis* is also a causal force." - Robert Lescelius
"Calvinists see God’s foreknowledge as causative. God’s foreknowledge does not passively observe the future, but rather shapes it. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen." - Kevin Bauder
There are Calvinists who deny that God's foreknowledge is causative, but they do that by separating God's foreknowledge from His foreordination, and that's really a distinction without a difference as far as my argument is concerned.
My point about the similarities between the Calvinist view and the Open Theist view of knowledge and causation was clarified in the two syllogisms provided in the article. I found it rather humorous that Rhoda spent almost fifteen minutes attempting to correct my understanding of Calvinism, and then, when he came to my syllogisms, he said "Yeah, I think the Calvinist syllogism is broadly correct." After all that time telling me that I was wrong, he then turned around and said that I was basically right.
Article: “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.”
Rhoda: "As far as the Open Theist syllogism here, I would just simply reject the first premise ... So how else can God know future events if he doesn't cause them ... Well, here's how: God can wait and see."
Me: I had to pause the video at this point because I was laughing so hard. Rhoda complained several times throughout the video that I was being uncharitable in my comments about him, but after hearing this whopper of a philosophical statement, I think that my previous article may have been a little too charitable.
Keep in mind that, earlier in the video, Rhoda rejected my description of Open Theism as "the belief that God does not know everything that will actually happen in the future," but now he says that Open Theists believe God CAN know the future if He just waits around long enough to see it. What kind of nonsense is this? If I were to say that I know the future because I can wait around and see what happens, I would hope that anyone over the age of five would assume that I'm trying to make some kind of joke. That's not a serious answer to the question of how God can know the future.
I suppose I could be more charitable toward Dr. Rhoda and change the first point of my syllogism to say: "God can only know future events if He either causes them or waits until they are no longer in the future so He can see them." But I'm not going to do that. What I'll do instead is provide this quote from Rhoda's paper on generic Open Theism:
"The future is epistemically open for God only because and only to the extent that it is causally open."
This says essentially the same thing as my first premise. We could rephrase this statement in layman's terms as "The things that God does not know about the future are only unknown to Him because they have not been caused yet." In other words, "God can only know future events if He also causes them." Let me clarify that I do not accept this premise as true; I'm just presenting it as something that both Calvinists and Open Theists believe to be true.
Article: "The movie analogy that Hasker rejected is actually a really good analogy of the known but not determined view of the future."
Rhoda: "The analogy only works on an eternalistic ontology. Eternalism is the idea that past, present, and future events are all equally real ... and all of it is just kind of all eternally just there all at once."
Me: Actually, the analogy works well for both eternalism and presentism. There have been thousands of papers published on the question of time travel under both the eternalist view and the presentist view, and all that is necessary for the film strip analogy to work is the possibility that God could transmit information back in time. If God could send information backwards through time to Himself, then He would have the ability to know today everything that He will know ten years from now without causing those things to come about. He could view the information received from Himself in future in the same way that we view a video recording.
Of course, Rhoda could argue that it is not possible to transmit information back in time, but Rhoda claims in another video that quantum theory provides strong evidence for Open Theism which means that he should at least be open to the possibility of quantum level time travel. And if time travel is theoretically possible on the quantum level, then the backwards transmission of future information on the quantum level should be theoretically possible as well. Maybe this isn't exactly how God obtains knowledge of the future, but I was surprised to hear Rhoda embrace quantum theory while also denying the possibility of the backwards transmission of information. Maybe he just hasn't thought it through yet.
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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