Open Theism or the Certainty of God’s foreknowledge?

I know I sound like a broken record, but a) Calvin didn’t say anything Aquinas didn’t say on the matter (not that we follow Calvin), b) Calvin–and Aquinas–taught that God is the ultimate cause, not the proximate cause, and c) your position can’t account for sin without either becoming predestinarian, Manichean, or open theist. This is where Wilson clinched the debate.

Predestinarian: Presumably God knew that Adam would sin. Why didn’t he stop it? Usually, it’s some answer that God’s greater plan or glory would result. To say free will, while true in some vague or abstract sense, only muddies the issue. If God knew that a pedophile would rape a little girl, but made the ultimate factor in not responding so that he could respect the pedophile’s free will, how is this any better than Calvin? As any Freshman atheist will point out, it’s worse.

Manichean: Evil/sin seems to have an independent origin of God.

Open theist: God either doesn’t know what will happen or he can’t stop it, or both. Probably the worst option.

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15 comments on “Open Theism or the Certainty of God’s foreknowledge?

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Jacob,

    Under the predestination option, it seems to me with the way you posit your questions and possible responses, there is a very basic flaw or limitation in how you understand the Bible’s and the classical Christian tradition’s teaching on the very nature of God Himself and of the implications of the “Uncreated/created” distinction within that same tradition. Let me see if I can help tease that out.

    Your first question is if God knew Adam would sin, why didn’t He stop it? Given the teachings of the Christian tradition about the nature of God and creation, this question strikes me as analogous to asking, “Since God is omnipotent, and can do anything He wants, why can’t He create a rock too heavy for Him to lift? It seems to me the error of the logic of posing the question this way inasmuch as it supposes something about the nature of God’s “freedom” in creation is an error in the opposite direction, but similar in kind to the error in supposition about the nature of the interaction between God’s knowledge and goodness made by the Open Theist. Your question seems to imply that given the very nature of God and the very definition of His act of creation “ex nihilo”, and His creation of human beings in His image, there actually were possible other options independent of the particular willing of free creatures (apart from God’s not creating anything at all). It seems to me you need to take some time to think about that a little more deeply.

    Then you get more specific, you ask, “If God knew that a pedophile would rape a little girl, but made the ultimate factor in not responding so that he could respect the pedophile’s free will, how is this any better than Calvin?”

    Well, it seems to me, this question begs a million others, but I will just ask a few. How is it logically possible for a true possibility of evil choices on the part of developing creatures apart from the consequences of those choices being realized on some level? In what sense can God be said to have made “the ultimate factor in not responding”? If God allows a limited space and time for evil to run its course (i.e., this temporal age, this fallen world), can He truly be said to have made “the ultimate factor in not responding?” Even within this fallen world, though God may not prevent an evil act from occurring in a given moment or period, must we conclude He is therefore, “not responding?” Or, do we find in many cases God was at work in ways that only became apparent later and out of which much good came, such that the suffering created by the evil is rendered null and void, whereas the wisdom and virtue gained by the sufferer seeking comfort from God remains? What if God also knows that in the fullness of time that He will heal that little girl completely from all of the ill effects of the abuse she has suffered and further that He will deliver the pedophile from his depraved urges and enable forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrator and victim? What if God has set a limit for evil to run its course after which He will heal all the ill effects of evil suffered (one of which might, in fact, be the urge to rape a child) and only those who refuse to surrender themselves to the embrace of the forgiveness and healing love of God will not experience the consummate blessedness of union with God in heaven?

    • ***Given the teachings of the Christian tradition about the nature of God and creation, this question strikes me as analogous to asking, “Since God is omnipotent, and can do anything He wants, why can’t He create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?***

      The latter question is logically contradictory and not on the same lines of what I am asking. My question is very simple and appears in every philosophy of religion textbook, both Christian and non-Christian. Even EO scholar David Bentley Hart directly addressed (as did another EO guy, Dostoevsky).

      ***Your question seems to imply that given the very nature of God and the very definition of His act of creation “ex nihilo”, and His creation of human beings in His image, there actually were possible other options independent of the particular willing of free creatures (apart from God’s not creating anything at all).***

      That’s exactly what I am saying (with a few tweeks on “free will”). I believe God is free, especially prior to what and how he creates. The Orthodox, with their essence/energies distinction, has to say that God is bound by necessity in some way. This is the exact same Origenism and neo-Platonism that Orthodoxy accuses the Filioque of.

      Your last paragraph had quite a few questions and I couldn’t follow the line of thought.

      • Karen says:

        Given what Christianity teaches about the nature of God, I believe it is logically contradictory to ask why God (as Christians define Him) created free moral agents (i.e., angels and men, and in the case of men “in His own image”), even given that He foreknew some of those free moral agents and (virtually?) all human beings, not being God in themselves (obviously), could and would abuse that freedom to sin. More precisely, being, by definition, created good but not perfect in themselves, but rather only perfected in union with God, Adam and Eve had the potential, by rupturing their connection with God the Source of life through disobedience (which we note logically is the expressive side of the inward disposition of distrust), to fall away from the perfect freedom toward which they were called and for which they were created back toward the nothingness out of which they were created. This is what happened, and as a result they became no longer completely free, but rather (but for the continuing redemptive activity of God in Christ) bound by sin, death and corruption.

        Here is why I believe it is contradictory to ask why God would create a world in which such a thing could happen.

        God, indeed, cannot be constrained by anything outside of His nature. To be constrained by something outside of one’s own will or being, as I understand it, is the definition of “necessity”. God acts in perfect freedom as God, but this is not to say God can or would (“can” and “would” being a meaningless distinction within the Godhead) act in a way or create a world that was not the true expression of His nature (which the Apostle John describes in 1 John 4:8 as “love”–that is, Self-giving for the well-being of the other). If you think otherwise, I’d like to understand your reasoning. (This is why the Christian tradition also insists God does not create evil, and that evil is in no way necessary to God’s Self-expression, to His glorifying Himself, in creation.) So far, so good?

        As I mentioned, it seems your question assumes there were other options of how God could have created and that creation still give rise to a being that could express all of God’s attributes to the fullest extent in created form, God’s “fullness” in the terminology of Colossians 1:19. God is Truth. In the entirety of His Being, He is one way, and not any others (Divine simplicity?). He is Light and “in Him is no darkness at all” (another biblical expression of the same truth). If God is also, by definition, a Trinity of Persons forever going out, One towards the Others, in an ecstasy of Self-giving love, One who is Being, Life, Love and Goodness itself (not a Being among others who has</em love, life, goodness, etc., which are discreet "parts" separate from each other, in perfect measure by comparison with the others) by which all created relative expressions of which are defined, could such a God's purpose in creation be other than to unite that creation with Himself in love? If so, what might you imagine that to look like?

        If not, could He, being wholly Other (uncreated, holy, utterly transcendent) unite His creation to Himself apart from taking the initiative and becoming incarnate within it? (The Greek Fathers answer this question in the negative, and this is why they taught that God would have become incarnate in Christ in order to unite creation to Himself even if man had never actualized the possibilities inherent within his created freedom for self-determination and sinned.) Could He become incarnate within it and that Incarnation truly be the “exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3) unless there were a created being capable of bearing the image and likeness of God (i.e., that was not just a puppet mindlessly doing God’s will as with forces of nature and creatures of instinct, but a personal being who, as a gift of God’s grace/presence, as Creator, Sustainer and Empowerer of virtue, could purposefully and voluntarily cooperate with God’s will, or not)? I think the debate is over whether the “or not” part of that is properly, by definition, included as a real possibility (one that can be actualized) in the case of created free moral agents wherever a movement of the will can be truly said to be “voluntary” and “purposeful.”

        Does this help you understand my (and Hart’s) argument any better?

  2. Karen says:

    With regard to the part about “how is this not like Calvin,” my perception is that Calvin believed even the realization of the possibility of evil glorifies God and is even “necessary” to that full glorification. The proper understanding of the nature of God’s “predestination” does not. If Calvin, or Turretin or Hodge, did not teach that, I can’t say it’s different than Calvin.

    • I would have to see quotes where Calvin actually said that.

      • Karen says:

        I can’t help you with quotes from Calvin. I purposely wrote my perception because I have surmised from things I have read or heard about Calvin’s teaching that he has at least been interpreted this way, and this is what has been communicated as coming from Calvin by many of his followers. At the very least, it is a popular misunderstanding that Calvin’s apologists perhaps need to do a better job of taking into account when they try to communicate what it is that Calvin actually meant by what he said (or when they themselves are reading Calvin perhaps). As I said, if my perception is not accurate (a distinct possibility), and what Calvin said is essentially the same view as what I have tried to present, I can’t say it is different, but I still think then that it doesn’t make logical sense, if one believes this, to ask the questions you ask (though it may make sense from the perspective of the “moral pathos” Hart writes about in Doors of the Sea).

  3. You stil haven’t demonstrated how my question entails a logical contradiction. You might not like the answer to the question. That’s fine, but my question is still logically coherent.

    • Karen says:

      Obviously, my abilities to communicate in a way you can understand are limited and I accept all the fault for that. Perhaps it would be helpful for me to ask, can you demonstrate why it is possible (in your mind) that God, as Christians define Him, could create a world that is other, in its essential features, than the one He did (and, thus, why it is logical to ask the question about why He allowed the possibility of evil/evil’s realization with that creation)? Is this a case where the laws of human mathematical logic don’t effectively address the spiritual reality/unreality of the question being proposed?

      As to the logic of my point, I guess Hart may be right, either you can see it or you can’t.

      As to your point about not being one of Calvin’s apologists, I hear you. But in your post I take you to be tacitly affirming (by saying Wilson won the day with his arguments) that, assuming some sort of “God” as “Creator”, there are only three possible accounts for the problem of evil in creation (which present three different views of the “creator,”) and one of them, that you seem to want to affirm(?), on some level, as genuinely compatible with the biblical teaching is apparently a view of the doctrine of predestination that is compatible with Calvin’s (insofar as his goes), which is why I make reference to him (that, and the fact that you were also asking about this very thing). It is very possible I have missed something here and in your comments over at Orthodox-Reformed Bridge, but that is the impression I’m getting so far.

      In any event, I wasn’t trying to demonstrate at all why *Calvin* was “unclear”, only that *my perception* of what he teaches, if it doesn’t actually correspond to what he said, is possibly the result of his being misrepresented by some of his apologists. At the very least it is a popular misunderstanding of what he taught that ought, perhaps, to be addressed more effectively by his apologists.

      • I might have missed something, but I didn’t think we were discussing possible worlds. I was discussing the fact that God created this world. The problem remains in explaining the fact of evil. On both sides’ glosses God knew there would be evil. God did not prevent the evil from happening. I am asking the question why? Responsible Christian theology has to at least approach this question and give coherent answers (if not fully adequate answers). Calvinism, such as it is called, says because God has a plan. Denying that proposition is more than problematic.

        What is the difference between the Calvinist who says that God foreordains evils that He does not approve of in themselves in order to achieve a higher purpose, and the Hartian who says that God permits evils He could have prevented and that in themselves they are contrary to what he wills, and that He willed to permit this to achieve a higher purpose? There is certainly no moral difference.

        If God permitted it, He, being who He is, did so intelligently, knowing the consequences of that permission. If He grants that permission anyway, the entirety of Calvinism follows. The only way to get Him off the hook is by denying that He gave permission, in which case the cosmos is officially off the rails. But even there . . . for those who believe that God created ex nihilo, we have to affirm that He knowingly created a cosmos that was capable of going off the rails. Did He will to do this, or did He just do it

      • Karen says:

        In the end, I would completely agree with you that God created the world He has “intelligently” and to bring about His good purpose (which in my earlier language is the same as saying as the expression of His nature as Being, Love, Life, Goodness, etc., in their uncreated and non-relative sense). What I would agree with Hart in, and not Calvin (caveat: as I understand his teaching and I looked at several quotes from him on this subject in the last couple of days, and to me he looks like a muddled mess on this issue, and many others far more intelligent and learned than me have apparently drawn the same conclusion) is that evil in its actualization, in and of itself, is completely unnecessary to that good purpose. That is, God’s purpose could (theoretically, at this point) have been fully realized in creation had the logically necessary creaturely possibility of rebellion in a universe of morally intelligent creatures never been actualized. And, this is why Hart refers to evil in its actualization as a “remainder” of the Divine “perfect sum equation” many theodicies try to make of the coexistence of the fact of evil along with the truth of Divine sovereignty, or using the metaphor of language as expressing meaning, as a kind of “voiceless surd.” I relate this also to the Church Fathers’ teaching that evil represents, not ontological reality flowing from God, but a movement toward nonexistence and a corruption of being (a “non-thing” as, I believe, C.S. Lewis puts it). To the extent that Calvin gives the impression otherwise (and it does appear to me both his mind and language were frequently muddled about this in his eagerness to magnify the Divine sovereignty), Calvin is misleading (or confusing) about the nature of spiritual reality. All that is to say, we disagree on the quality of Calvin’s reasoning and expression on this issue, and, as the debate has apparently continued for centuries with minds more brilliant than ours, I expect the debate will go on. 🙂

  4. I plan to give a longer interaction later. As to your s tatement:

    ***At the very least, it is a popular misunderstanding that Calvin’s apologists perhaps need to do a better job of taking into account when they try to communicate what it is that Calvin actually meant by what he said (or when they themselves are reading Calvin perhaps).***

    I tell the guys at OrthoBridge this every time, but no one listens: I am not a Calvin apologist. Up until the mid 19th century, Reformed people would have been amused to think they were presenting and representing Calvin.

    In any case, you haven’t demonstrated that Calvin is unclear. I asked for quotes, which you said you couldn’t give. That’s fine, but at no point was Calvin demonstrated as being “unclear.” Calvin is actually a very clear writer (which is why he is so popular with both Arakaki and admirers).

  5. Karen says:

    I have given more thought to trying to communicate why, given the assumption of the true Christian definition of God, I believe the question “Why didn’t God stop evil?” is illogical, not perhaps in the sense of mathematically logical syllogisms, but in the sense of genuinely spiritually meaningful (assuming those things can sometimes be different).

    Here’s my attempt to explain:

    1. Creation, by Christian definition, being God’s Self-expression in going out from Himself (God in His “energies”?) must give rise to morally intelligent and free creatures (i.e., the fullness of His image in created form).

    2. Free creatures, by definition being brought and sustained in existence by God, but not being God in themselves (that is, God in His “essence”), may (not must) will or act in a limited independence from God and contrary to His wisdom and goodness, thus the inherent logical possibility of sin in that which is not, in itself, God.

    3. To ask why God didn’t stop evil, therefore, is equivalent in spiritual meaning to asking, “Why did God not rather choose not to create?,” since the possibility of evil is logically inherent (though not ontologically necessary) in God’s act of creation as Self-expression.

    4. Asking “Why did not God rather choose not to create?” is logically and grammatically equivalent to asking “Why did God create?”, which is also logically and spiritually equivalent to asking, “Why does God express Himself?”

    Does this make sense?

    • Karen says:

      Correction: No. 1 should read, “Creation, by Christian definition, being the result of God’s Self-expression . . . “

      • I guess we will agree to disagree. Hart himself would not have agreed with you that such a question is contradictory, otherwise he wouldn’t have written his book.

        As to Calvin saying evil is necessary, I don’t think he said that. I know for a fact that the Reformed scholastics, those who have far more weight than Calvin, explicitly rejected that point.

      • Karen says:

        Thanks, Jacob, for the interaction. It has been helpful to me, nonetheless, to struggle to articulate my thoughts/questions about this.

        I believe now what I meant by “illogical” was simply that it does not make sense (in a certain way) to ask questions to which something inherent to the question is itself the answer. In this case, that is the orthodox Christian definition of “God” (and “evil”) in the question.

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