Category Archives: Open Theism

Three Conundrums for Open Theism

i) God’s free choice. It seems once God has freely chosen to create, he has also freely chosen how to respond to every situation that occurs in the world. (Or has he?) If so, this seems to rob God of his freedom. He is not “now” free to do either A or B. He’s locked in. Doesn’t that make him now (and forever?) determined? Was God’s initial choice to create the only libertarian choice he will ever have? Or has God only decided how he will respond this side of heaven, and after the end of the world – or the end of each of our lives here on earth – he will be free again? And if so, did God decide that very fact during the initial act of creating?

ii) Prior to God creating, God existed without the universe. This state of God was contingent. Otherwise it could not have changed and God necessarily would have remained alone. Now, if God’s state prior to creating was contingent, what caused it? If it is contingent it need not exist. It could therefore fail to exist. What then explains why it existed? The preceding moment, and so on, ad infinitum?

iii) Each moment of God’s existence – if he experiences a before and after – seem to entail a kind of finitude, insofar as it is defined as “this” moment. But what sets a limit on this finitude?

Is it possible Gods necessary existence is akin to our “subconscious” being? It necessarily presents stuff sequentially into God’s conscious mind at “fitting” and maybe even necessary times (given God’s nature) and then God freely acts on this information?


Divine Subconscious as Grounds for God’s Changing Conscious States

Question – how did the idea of create ever come into God’s mind in the first place? He couldn’t have eternally had it, or creation ex nihilo doesn’t seem possible. Yet if it just popped in there “one day” that seems rather arbitrary.

I have a potential solution and was wondering your thoughts.

God’s conscious experience, insofar as it is an expression of the fullness he eternally and necessarily has as Trinity, may well possibly be eternally becoming and changing. Hence the Father could be constantly experiencing new, lovely, creative emotions and thoughts towards the Son. Yet back behind God’s conscious experiences (his experiential becoming) lies his changeless nature or being. Could it not be that this being functions as it were as a kind of actus purus or unmoved mover insofar it throws up into God’s consciousness various existential experiences? This could help explain how the idea of creation “came into God’s mind.” For on an open view of God, it seems there must be something in God that is at least like our “subconsciousness” – some source of creativity, some reality or beingness that throws various thoughts into his mind which his mind THEN does something with. God cannot be at all times consciously willing in such a way where there is no element of experiencing new thoughts. His nature or unconscious being may be purely active, insofar as nothing is acting on IT or moving IT, but God’s conscious experience cannot be immovable in that sense, or it could not be going through a process of becoming, thinking, choosing, creating, relating to a changing world, moving from one moment to the next.

So, for example, do you think the following is possible. You have God existing alone, in Triune relation. And all of a sudden he gets the idea to create a world. This is something he’s never thought about before – literally it had never entered his conscious experience. How is this possible? Well, why can’t we say that God’s unchanging nature – which functions as a first mover – actualizes this particular potency in God’s mind? In anthropomorphic terms: the thought comes into God’s conscious mind by an instance of divine creativity, from his subconscious mind/being.

Thus all the seemingly arbitrary emotional states in God (in the sense that such states are not themselves consciously chosen – emotions are never consciously chosen) could be grounded in the changeless divine subconsciousness.

If Jesus really is God there is no such thing as being TOO anthropomorphic, is there?

Does God’s Contingent Action Imply He Has Accidents (and Conflict with Simplicity?)

“As in God “what is” and “whereby it is” are the same, so likewise in Him “what acts” and “whereby it acts” are the same, since everything acts, inasmuch as it is a being. Hence the Divine Nature is both that whereby God acts, and the very God Who acts.” Aquinas, ST III q. 3 a. 2

It seems to me the question of God’s knowledge of creation is similar to the question of the second person assuming a human nature. In each case, something is true of God that need not necessarily be true of him – i.e. he has this particular knowledge of creation or he assumes this particular created nature. Presumably God could have different knowledge or could have assumed a different nature.

Open theists say this means God cannot be simple, since such things appear accidental to God. And if a thing is accidental to something else, it can be added to it. But if something can be added to God, he is temporal and composed, and can at one time have “this” property and at another “that.”

But what if we think about it like this. God is the same across all possible worlds because in all possible worlds God knows his one act, which is his existing and his doing. But this means that we can only arrive at a sort of analogical predication of God, insofar as in every possible world we say that God has both a necessary existence (willing his own goodness) and a contingent existence (willing it in this way – say with a creation – rather than that way – say without one.)

Is God the same in a world that is different than this one? Yes, just like we would be the same person even if we did otherwise. For in any possible world God is still knowing his own existence and his own action. That action is different in terms of how it terminates (he actualizes this creature rather than that, or he even fails to actualize any creature at all.) But the action, in terms of the way it is performed, is the same (a necessary end attained through a contingent means.) In other words, God is the same in all possible worlds because God justin st is an instance of free act. In any world that could exist, God would be freely acting to bring it about. That is, he would always know the extent of his own free action. Therefore, God’s action would not be essentially different in any possible world even if the world was different, or if no world existed at all (God would know that he is freely actualizing his own goodness without bringing about a world, for instance.)

Interestingly in the question in the ST that asks whether God’s will is the cause of things Aquinas says “the divine being is undetermined.” And he also says in the previous question that the divine will “determines itself” to things which it has no necessary connection to. These thoughts lead me to believe that we can attribute both necessary and contingent existence, analogously, to God’s single act of being. We can consider these attributes under certain respects: God’s necessity in terms of him wiling his own goodness and his contingency in terms of the way in which he wills that goodness. This saves us from having to say that God’s knowledge (and will) are things “outside” or “extrinsic” to God himself, but still allows us to speak truly about God’s necessary existence.

Open Theism and Selective Foreordination

If God is a free being then he can freely selectively ordain whatever he chooses. All that means is that there are a particular number of events in the created world which are NOT up to the free willed choices of creatures, and therefore a particular number of events that ARE up to free willed creatures. Why can’t this whole matrix itself – this whole set of possibilities+certainties – be what it is by the free and sovereign choice of God? I don’t see how his character is impugned here. All you are really saying by holding this view is that God gives free will to creatures with respect to certain things that come to pass. It’s just that those “certain things” are not “everything” (which would actually make free will impossible since choice presupposes some degree of fixity.) Where, exactly, is the problem? I suspect the frustration arises from not knowing the mind of God and being thus unable to know to what degree our free will actually extends. But again, that doesn’t show any logical difficulty with the Open Theist’s theodicy.

Thomas Oord vs. John Sander’s Conception of Providence and the Problem of Miracles

My note to Thomas Oord about his book The Uncontrolling Love of God:

I’ve been thinking about the main difference in yours and Sander’s approach to miracles – the God can’t vs. God won’t problem. You (I think rightly) maintain God can’t (otherwise he could, and simply chooses not to intervene, effectively making every bad thing that he could have miraculously prevented a good thing.) As I said I think this is the right way to go, but your model it seems could better explain the times God can and does intervene to do miracles than it currently does, with one small change. Why not simply say, given the world God has decided to create, he cannot unilaterally intervene (i.e. he cannot do any more than he does), and also that, the world he has decided to create, is one in which miracles have been predestined to occur, selectively, based on various free responses?

That is, why not make the miraculous functionally equivalent to the non-miraculous in terms of God’s initial creative parameters in making the world? You don’t have to have miracles things which God is “now” deciding to do or not do. Why can’t they be powerful, creative divergences from the “regular” pattern of perceived occurrences, which are themselves *built into the creation from the get go?* This would seem to alleviate some of the pressure regarding your explanation of miracles – they occur because God has created a world in which, given that things unfold in just such and such a way, X will miraculously occur. Yet, depending on just what the initial creative act is like, and how God has decided to sprinkle in miracles, and what goods/evils he leaves up to the free will of agents, it may still be the case that only given the actualization of various factors — only then will certain miracles occur.

What do you think? It is a sort of Deism with various miracles built into the system from the beginning, but God is not “distant” because he is still exerting the maximal amount of positive influence on every free agent at every moment, given their particular condition.

The Timeless Now and Causal Loops

Eternalists – or those who believe God exists timelessly and unchanging – often believe this picture of God because they think it allows us to explain how God has foreknowledge of future events, in particular prophecy. God knows who will win the presidential election because God is “already” in the future. Thus he can, the argument goes, reveal to someone right now what will happen in the future because he sees it already going on.

I think this explanation of prophecy, God’s knowledge and his causal interaction with the world is flawed. And I will start my argument for this opinion with a question, which is this: granting that God is timeless, and granting that he interacts “at once” with all moments of time and the free choices we make at these moments, how does this mesh with prophecy?

What I mean is this. “Timeless-now-ists” (i.e. those who think God exists in a timeless now) would say that God knows all truths in a single logical moment. They will say that this includes God knowing his giving of free will, the free movements of the creatures themselves, and his response to their movements. Thus God knows in a single Now what happens at t1, t2, t3, etc. From this it follows that it also true that God knows that what happens, say, at t3 happens in part due to times that come before t3. That is, God knows that each moment in time is what it is in part because of times that come before it. I am married in part because at some time in the past I proposed to my wife, I was raised in a certain part of the world, and I was born from my two parents, etc. Now from this comes an important point: it seems undeniable that this temporal, causal relationship is also temporally sequential. That is to say, I was not raised in a certain part of the world because I later married my wife; nor was I born because one day I would propose to her.

How the point ties in to prophecy is this. It seems to me that in an timeless now, God’s causal interaction with moments of time would likewise have to follow a temporally sequential causal relation. That is, how he interacts with t3 would be “because” of what occurs at t3 and also because of what occurs before t3. But it doesn’t seem possible that how he interacts with t3 would be “because” of what occurs after t3. This is because if God uses what is after t3 to interact with t3 – say for instance that what occurs at t9 is his “because” for interacting with t3 in a particular way – then that would involve a causal loop insofar as the t9 that God is interacting with already has the preceding t’s as part of its causal history. So, I say that to say, it seems to me that God could not “see what happens” at t9 and use that to give a prophecy at t3. (I.e. God could not use knowledge gained at t9 to effect t3, because t9 already contains t1-8.)  Unfortunately this is the most common response from timeless-now-ists that I have read regarding how God makes prophecies in time.

It seems to me 2 things follow from this idea combined with the doctrine of God’s mode of existence: a) that God’s causal interactions with us, which involve true responsiveness and God doing things “because” of what we do in time, would uphold this temporally sequential relation among themselves. That is, God’s interaction at each stage would be “decided” by previous t stages, but not vice versa. His interaction at t3 would involve his interaction at t1 and t2, but not t4, t5, etc. This is because later t stages represent open possibilities with respect to God’s causal relation to us. And b) it seems no prophecy which temporally precedes the event of which it prophesies about could come about with absolute certainty without God taking away free will. That is, if a prophecy occurs at t3 about t9, then God’s interaction at t3 has not yet (logically speaking) “taken into account” what freely happens at t9 (again, because t9 itself already contains t’s 1-8). God could of course impose his will so that the prophesied event came about certainly; or he could give a conditional prophecy. But it seems to that if God were timelessness this would preclude the idea of him using what occurs at later temporally sequential points to affect earlier temporally sequential points, for that would involve a causal loop/regress.

So even if the eternal block theory of the universe is true, there is still a logical sequencing of temporal events within it. And this logical sequencing would have to be present in God’s being himself if he were to be really related to us. That is, if he relates to us in such a way because of what we do – say as forgiving us because we repent rather than holding us guilty because we do not – then God’s very being itself must “wait” on what we do in order to take our free movement into account with regard to his own relation to us.

Therefore I think no timeless-now-ist can consistently believe in free will and God’s real relation to the world. For there is a temporal sequencing in God’s relations themselves if we are free, as shown above. And, obviously, temporal sequencing is excluded by a simultaneous now that itself excludes sequence.

On God’s Foreknowledge of Possibilities

“God willed the free will of men and angels in spite of His knowledge that it could lead in some cases to sin and then to suffering…” CSL, Letters 6/7/49

To the degree that we are free to do x, it is genuinely possible that we do x. Therefore the fact that we do x cannot be settled before we do it, or that would remove the genuine possibility from our doing x in the first place, and we would not be free to do x. In other words, if our doing x is true before our doing it, then the possibility of x happening would not really be something that we had control over, and performing or not performing it would not be something really possible for us. The genuine possibility of x occurring or not would rest somewhere further back – perhaps in Nature or God’s will – but it would not be found in our free choice.

Many people grant this. In fact all who believe in free will will say that the coming to pass of certain possibilities is genuinely up to us. But at the same time many of these people still hold that God can know, before a possibility is settled, how that possibility will in fact be settled. But I don’t see how this can be.

It seems to me a contradiction to say that God can know a fact as both possible and settled, for to be both possible and settled at the same time is contradictory. What sense would it make to say that I am both “potentially” married and “certainly” married? In fact, to the degree that a thing is possible means that that thing is just so much not settled. And vice versa: for a thing to be settled means that that thing is just so much not possibly different. I am only potentially married if I am not, in fact, actually married. And I am only possibly a father to the extent that I do not actually in the present have any children. In other words, insofar as something is possible, it is not settled; and insofar as a thing is settled, it is not possible.

Here is what follows. If God is in time – and it may be possible for him to be in time in a way that does not exclude his timelessness – then God’s foreknowledge about possible future free choices would itself be knowledge of things possible. This is because what he knows are possibilities, not certainties.

If we have free will, that means we can go either this way or that way. Hence both ways are possible to us. Therefore neither way is settled ahead of time. And if this is so then God’s knowledge of our free will and the matrix of possibilities connected to it would not be of realities that are already settled. This does not mean his knowledge is imperfect or uncertain, anymore than his decision to create free beings makes his omnipotence imperfect or weak. It is just that to the extent that we free (however small or great that is), the what God knows is different than it is regarding things to which we are not free. For what God knows just are free possibilities themselves. Therefore they cannot be settled realities, for that would exclude him knowing them as possibilities. 

This point really comes down to whether or not you think God is able to know possibilities qua possibilities. If he is, then he must know them as open ended realities, as true forks in the road which can either one be taken. He cannot know the same thing as both possibly true and certainly true, for those two metaphysical modalities exclude one another just as right excludes left and good excludes evil. This – along with the grounding objection – is one reason Molinism is an unsatisfactory theory. For if God knows all possibilities ahead of time, even before free creatures exist to actualize them, I can’t see in what sense the possibility is known as a genuine possibility. The facticity of the event is settled from before the foundation of the world, and so never existed as a possibility in the first place.