Open Theism and Omnipotence
October 31, 2007 — 17:15

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Foreknowledge  Tags:   Comments: 14

Suppose God is omnipotent.  Then, it seems, he can bring it about that

(*) a new crater now appears on the far side of the moon if and only if Jones tomorrow freely mows the lawn.

But if God did that, then his knowledge of the present state of the moon, plus his knowledge of his omnipotence, would yield him knowledge of whether Jones tomorrow mows the lawn.  Hence, if one restricts omniscience with respect to future free actions, one must similarly restrict omnipotence.

This may not be such a big deal.  After all, although (*) is logically possible, the open theist may claim that it is logically impossible that God bring about (*).  Still, it does show that there is a connection between omniscience and omnipotence.

One might think that an open theist who holds that propositions about future free actions cannot have truth value, or who holds that reports of future free actions are all automatically false, can escape the worry about the above restriction on omnipotence.  After all, if such propositions are all false, then God can bring (*) about simply by doing nothing, since the right hand side of (*) is automatically false.  And it seems too much to ask out of omnipotence to require that God bring about a proposition that cannot have a truth value.  But one can still modify the task to get around this response.  Let the task be to bring it about that:

(**) At t it be true that a day before t Jones mowed the lawn iff two days before t a new crater appeared on the far side of the moon,

where t is two days from now.  In other words, the restriction on omniscience still implies a new restriction on what histories God can bring about.  Again, it may not be such a big deal to the open theist.

  • Hi Alex,
    I’m an open theist who believes that all ‘will’ and ‘will not’ propositions about future contingents are false.
    Regarding your (*) and (**), it seems to me that neither of them describes something that God or any individual could properly be said to “bring about”. The reason is simply that “bringing about” applies only to unilateral actions whereas, since Jones is supposed to be free, both (*) and (**) can only be brought about bilaterally. Both God and Jones have to do their part.
    I would also set aside cases where (*) or (**) are understood as material biconditionals and are true because both the LH and RHS side are false. If both parts are false without anyone having to “do” anything, then it’s strange to speak of anyone “bringing about” their truth.
    In sum, I don’t see that there’s any problem here for open theists.

    October 31, 2007 — 22:25
  • John Alexander

    I do not see any problem for either God’s omnipotence or omniscience. God can decide at t that he at will create a crater on the far side of the moon at ttt iff Jones freely mows the lawns at tt. At t, God does not know if Jones will mow the lawn at tt only that Jones is free to do so if he so chooses and that if Jones does mow the lawn at tt then he (God) has decided that he will create a crater at ttt. I suppose he can even change is mind at anytime before ttt and not create a crater even if Jones mows the lawn at tt.

    November 1, 2007 — 0:17
  • John Alexander

    General question: If God’s omniscience is that he can know everything that is knowable does this rule out that there are things that are unknowable that he does not know?

    November 1, 2007 — 0:22
  • Dear Alan:
    You almost persuade me about these examples. But wouldn’t you say that it’s possible to bring it about that a balloon pops iff Jones mows the lawn a day earlier? (It’s pretty easy: you set up a camera, some image recognition software, and you hook it all up to a motorized needle near the balloon.)

    November 1, 2007 — 11:21
  • Dear Alex,
    Your example with the camera/balloon system is interesting. But here we don’t have a purely material biconditional. The LH and RH sides are linked causally in a deterministic way, and not just in virtue of having truth values.
    In this case one can “bring about” the truth of the biconditional by setting up the deterministic causal mechanism. Jones, obviously, need not have anything to do with that. If the mechanism is not deterministic, however, then it’s doubtful that we could still have a true, non-material biconditional, because then the LH side could fail independently of the RH side.

    November 1, 2007 — 12:56
  • John: If God’s omniscience is that he can know everything that is knowable does this rule out that there are things that are unknowable that he does not know?
    That depends on whether there can be a real distinction between what is knowable (by God) and what is true. Some open theists (e.g., Swinburne and Hasker) think so. Others, like myself, do not think there can be anything that is both true and unknowable (by God).

    November 1, 2007 — 13:03
  • Alan:
    I do want the conditionals to be merely material. If you’re worried about the non-action issue, you can modify (*) to
    (*’): A red balloon pops on Jones’ lawn today iff Jones mows the lawn tomorrow and a blue balloon pops on Jones’ lawn today iff Jones doesn’t mow the lawn tomorrow.
    It is possible for God to bring (*’) about if we replace “tomorrow” with “yesterday”.

    November 1, 2007 — 15:06
  • Hi Alex,
    I’ll agree with you that it’s possible for God to bring about (*’) if (and only if) we replace “tomorrow” with “yesterday”.

    November 1, 2007 — 20:30
  • Now here’s a funny thing. We can sometimes bring about (*’), though not reliably, by using inductive evidence about past behavior of Jones. Since surely we can’t do things that God can’t (apart from evil actions and some reflexive or self-referential actions), it should be the case that at least sometimes God can bring about (*’).

    November 1, 2007 — 20:59
  • Alex: We can sometimes bring about (*’), though not reliably, by using inductive evidence about past behavior of Jones.
    I don’t think so, at least not in a strict sense of “bring about”. As long as whether Jones mows is merely an inductive (or probabilistic) matter, it’s not something that we can unilaterally “bring about”.

    November 2, 2007 — 14:49
  • A minor point:
    I use the words “strict sense” as much as others, maybe more so, but I think it is true that these words are a sign of danger, a sign that we may well be using words very differently from how they are usually used. If one hires a hitman to kill someone, and the victim is killed, one is a murderer in the law–one has brought about the victim’s death. Yes, someone else’s cooperation was needed for that, but it was still a case of bringing about.
    If one uses “bring about” in a sense that requires that one be doing all the work, then many, many standard uses of “bring about” will be ruled out.

    November 2, 2007 — 15:47
  • Point taken, Alex, though I think philosophy should be more interested in “strict senses” than in common usage. Rigorous argument requires that the meanings of our terms be pinned down as much as is practical to do so.

    November 2, 2007 — 21:39
  • J. D. Antesberger III

    John: “If God’s omniscience is that he can know everything that is knowable does this rule out that there are things that are unknowable that he does not know?”
    I feel that I must comment on this question because I find that it is not only a question, but also a statement.
    God is described as the Alpha and Omega. “The one who was, and who is, and who is to come.” This means he knows what happened in the past, what is happening at the present, and what is to come in the future. He is omniscient which means he is ALL KNOWING, it doesn’t mean that he knows just what is knowable. If that were true he would have the normal intelegence of a human being. Aren’t gods supposed to be more than just human? Is that not the point of them being gods, to be more than humans? The answer is definatle yes because we humans are supposed to try to live up to the gods (I’m trying to keep this within the context of Theism). To become near equals to them is our quest. Not to become them, but to be nearly – not completely – equal to them.
    Everything that happens by what we precieve as chance is caused by a higher cause, as Thomas Aquinas said in Summa Theologica. He states that the higher cause is God and that there is no higher cause than Him. He is the first cause, the first mover. NOthing can be in motion unless He moves it and nothing can happen unless he causes it. Therefore even though we have free will He knows what we are going to do at any point in the future because of his omniscience.

    November 6, 2007 — 17:38
  • Van

    I am not an Open Theist, but I share some biblical views with Open Theism.
    God is all powerful. That means He can choose to do whatever He pleases. He can create a crater directly, or He can choose to crate a crater contingent on the independent action of one or more of His created beings. He is powerful enough to be able to create a being that can take independent actions, not controlled by God’s exhaustive determinism, because God has chosen not to exercise exhaustive determinism.
    Similarly, defining Omniscience as God knowing all that is knowable is silly, like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Rather, Omniscience should be defined as God knowing all that He chooses to know. This would allow Him to know the future to the extent He chooses to exhaustively determine the future, and to not know what He has chosen not to know, such as sins He has forgiven. To the extent He has declared the end from the begining, He knows the end thus predetermined.

    November 29, 2007 — 19:24