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September 15, 2008


Derek Rishmawy

I read the post. It is interesting, I'll give him that. As a piece of history, describing the way that certain beliefs were arrived at, it makes a sense. That being said, he doesn't prove his point about the argument really being about the nature of the future.

The argument seems to be, the ancients had a certain view of how vision and knowledge work,(human vision), which got translated into to their theology alongside of their ideas about the changeless of God. That's how we're here today. But, now we know that vision works differently and that the nature of God is different so we can't accept that.

A couple of points: we now know that the nature of human vision and knowledge work a little differently than the ancients did. Are we then to suppose, just like the ancients did, that we ought to read this view of human vision and knowledge into God? Obviously not. It could be that even though human knowledge is a passive process, for God it is a more active process. Boyd would point out the way the ancient theologians were captive to the philosophical presuppositions of their day and then would ask us to exchange them for those of our own.

My point is that the issue still could be about the nature of the knower. Boyd seems to conceive knowledge as necessarily perceptual, as obviously analogous to human knowledge and sense perception. It doesn't have to be. It could be a conceptualist view of knowledge, with God's knowledge being self-contained, with God knowing all truths.

This brings up the point about truth. The thing is, is that the argument concerns the nature of truth as well. Are there true statements about an open future? It seems that there should be. If so, then God should know these truths about the future. (Read W.L. Craig for more on this)

Here's the thing Mike, I've read Boyd on Open Theism and he makes philosophical mistakes all over the place, confusing the nature of contingency and necessity, the nature of truth and some other stuff. Besides that, his Biblical exegesis ends up with some pretty funky results as well. I mean, he would have it that God can actually get things wrong. He can misjudge a situation and be surprised. Its one thing to say that God simply can't know something simply becuase its not logically possible for it to be known. Its quite another to say that God was mistaken in his beliefs. That leaves the possibility that there might be a situation where God believes something about the future, and I believe something else and I might end up being right when God was wrong. Theologically and Biblically that seems just wrong.

I seriously hope you're not buying into OTheism. Honestly, its unnecessary philosophically, theologically, and Biblically for the issue of Free will, and for the Problem of Evil. And all of its other supposed advantages, actually end up collapsing against the same critiques advanced against Classical Theism except that God seems weaker, except at those few situations where he decides to break his own rules to intervene in human history.

Beyond that, it has almost all the earmarks of a theological fad.


I haven't read enough to have a solid opinion, as it is a bit outside of my area of expertise [unless you want to talk about the Qumran community's ideas on free will and determinism...]

My take is that like with other theological ideas, it helps explain some things, but clouds and confuses others. I had a theology professor who liked to say, "There's a little bit of heresy in all theology." I agree.

Anyway, what I found interesting is that those who oppose open theism often do so from a position that it denies the omniscience of God. I think what Boyd is presenting is a call for a more nuanced discussion on the issue. At least as far as I could tell from what I've read form Boyd, he's not arguing that God has a complete lack of knowledge of what will happen in the future, but is arguing that the nature of the future contains possibilities - possibilities that lie in the free will of humanity. The issue is not that God does not know the future, but what kind of future are we talking about? Is the future driven by deterministic influence, or is there a role for free will? If there is such a thing as free will, it needs to be a free choice based upon real possibilities, not some cheapened and contrived sense of freedom.

As for dismissing open theism as "unbiblical"," I think we need to be careful and much more nuanced in our approach. The scriptures do in fact blur the lines in this area. The prophetic pronouncements were not deterministic in nature. In other words, they were not "forth-telling" of what would come. Prophetic voice was a call for people to return, often speaking of both what would happen if they did not, but also what would happen if they did. The reality is that prophetic pronouncements were never the last word; there always was hope. Through the words of the prophet God was holding forth the truth of the situation, along with a choice, a real choice, for humanity to make a decision and an action that would alter the trajectory of history. I think it is this kind of possibility that Boyd speaks of.

Open theism began not as a quest to limit God's knowledge of the future, but to address much more tangible issues, like prayer. Why do we pray? Do we believe that we can alter the trajectory of human history? This is what the ancients of the faith believed. Some will say that we pray so that we can be in line with predetermined, almost deterministic, course God has ordained. In this scenario, prayer is for our benefit. The puzzling thing is that scripture does not paint this kind of picture. Pray is about possibilities of change, not some pseudo-self help step.

Couple this with the troubling passages where God appears to change his mind - literally going in one direction and deciding to go in another. Often this is presented in conjunction with a human agent making a request or plea. One could say that God had planned all along to go the second route, only to test the people of God if they would do the right thing. Unfortunately this line of thinking gets quite convoluted. Psalm 106.23 states it well:

Therefore he said he would destroy them - had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

The scriptures appear to be supporting the reality that Moses did in fact turn God's wrath away adverting what God said he would do. It's a fascinating narrative. [And very Jewish in it's approach, as the Jewish mindset saw the future as possibility.]

Trust me, I haven't read up on all things open theism vs. classic theism. I'm also not saying that open theism is correct, nor am I saying that it answers all the questions. I was merely intrigued that Boyd was re-framed the discussion away from a debate on the omniscience of God and onto the question of the nature of reality. Seems like that would be a more fruitful discussion...

Derek Rishmawy

The Qumran stuff would be interesting to read about.

As for the nuanced discussion, yes, I appreciate that. Every time one of my friends asks me what OTheism is, I explain the point about, "Its not that he's not that he doesn't know stuff, the idea is that parts of the future are just not there to be known." I am all for fair descriptions and rejections of straw-men. Believe me.

Now, about Free-will: there are at least two other possible positions that hold that we have free will, real, actual free will, and that God still knows perfectly, exhaustively, what the future will hold. These are Molinism and the Simple-Foreknowledge positions. The interesting thing is that OTheists and Calvinists accept the same premises on a number of issues but take them to different conclusions. I think a couple of these premises are wrong.

Beyond that, the biblical stuff: Here's the thing, I have way more trouble explaining Romans 9 and Determinism passages in the Bible than I do, Divine Regret passages in the OT.

Prayer: Its still a problem. I mean, if God is not omniscient, but still all-wise, there remains the issue of why he should listen to prayers at all and not simple do as he sees fit anyways. The same issue is there, exhaustive foreknowledge or not. Exhaustive foreknowledge simply means that however it goes down, God knows ahead of time how he will respond to our prayers. Again, the nuances of necessity and determinism are often-times fudged or not payed close enough attention to and so the different kinds of necessity get mixed up, resulting in positions like "Either knowledge or freedom."

Also, there's the interesting point that, for all of the times that there are actual specific prophecies in Scripture that are fulfilled, or plans that are said to be foreordained, which most OTheists admit are there at least in small amounts, God has to intervene and violate free will in the way that OTheists say is unacceptable elsewhere.

Finally, while I appreciate that Boyd is trying to help the discussion move along, by reframing the debate, in light of the issue I brought up last time, the nature of truth, the bivalence of future-tense statements (can statements about the future be true or false) and the God as knower, his reframing of the debate begs the question. The move needs a lot of arguing for, which quite frankly, in my opinion, fails. He still has to deal with the nature of God's knowledge and the other stuff.


i read this last week. a little heady but really informative and great.

Eric Wakeling

Great discussion. Very interesting.

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