Open Theism and Divine Freedom
August 26, 2008 — 21:35

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Free Will Open Theism  Comments: 15

[Cross-posted at Parableman] Open theists distinguish between two different varieties of their view. There are actually a number of ways to divide up open theism into varieties, but one particular division that open theists make among themselves is between the following two positions:
1. There is no such thing as a future to be known, and that’s why God doesn’t know the future exhaustively. It’s not a limitation on God that he doesn’t know everything that will happen. There’s nothing to be known, so God can’t know it. So God is omniscient in knowing all the facts about the future. There just aren’t very much such facts yet.
2. God could know the future, but it would prevent our freedom, so God chooses to limit his knowledge, knowing that knowledge about what we would choose to do would make us unfree. God doesn’t know all he could know metaphysically, but he does know all he could know given his choice not to know future free choices.
I’m not really sure these are distinct views.

It sounds as if one view has God unable to know the future, and the other has him able to know it but choosing not to. But think about what would make him unable to know the future in the first case and unwilling to know it in the second. If he’s unable to know the future because there’s no future to be known, we’re working with a picture of a world that’s not deterministic. When people make free choices, they can do otherwise, and the idea is that open choices like that require an open future, which requires there being no fact about what you will do until you do it. But on view 1, it seems God could arrange for me to choose a certain thing. I just wouldn’t be free if God did that. So God chooses not to know what I’ll do in order to ensure that I have the chance to make free choices. But isn’t that view 2?
Now think about the second view. What would happen if God chose to know what I’d do ahead of time? On view 2, I wouldn’t be free if God chose such a thing. So God voluntarily chooses not to make me unfree, and he chooses to let the future be open with respect to my choice, which means he can’t know my future choice, and we’re really dealing with view 1.
So I’m not really sure these views are different views after all. In both views, God could know what I will do, and it would require me not being free. View 1 expresses this by assuming God won’t ensure that I do any particular thing and then says God can’t know my future choice. View 2 expresses it by making it explicit that God has chosen not to know and acknowledging that God could have known but it would mean I’m not free. But I’m not sure we’re dealing with a different picture of what’s going on, just a different way of describing it.
An interesting result of this is that there isn’t an immediate answer to the question of whether God is free to know my future choices. He’s free with respect to his general power, but he’s not free with respect to his moral commitment to preserve our freedom. It’s possible for God to know the future when you only take into account God’s bare powers and not his desires or character. It’s not possible once you factor in his desires or character. The funny thing about that is that open theists have set out to preserve a libertarian view of freedom, and they think free will is incompatible with any foreknowledge of our choices, so they abandon it.
Open theists usually insist that you’re simply free or not free. There’s no allowance for something being possible with respect to your current realm of choices but not possible with respect to what the future will turn out to be. Compatibilists about freedom and determinism will say things like this about our freedom. It’s possible that we do any of a number of options, provided that you ignore what causes us to do only the one thing we will do. It’s not possible given what we are caused to do. Compatibilists about freedom and foreknowledge also talk this way. It’s possible that we do something other than what we actually do if you only take into account what causes us to do it. But it’s not possible given what’s true about the future, which is that we won’t do it but will do something else.
I don’t think this necessarily leads to a contradiction, but I thought it was interesting to see open theism being forced into talking about freedom or possibility with respect to one factor but not with respect to another. I think it diminishes the effectiveness of one consideration sometimes presented in favor of open theism against these other views. It doesn’t avoid having to make this kind of distinction about possibility and freedom being relative to the concerns you’re focusing on, at least with God’s freedom.

  • Hi Jeremy,
    I think the first open theist position you mention isn’t accurately represented. On that version of the view, God *does* know everything that will happen. Remember, on this view, something *will* happen iff it happens in all causally possible futures, i.e. it’s determined to happen. And, on this view, if something’s determined to happen, God knows it will happen (because, again, in that case, it’s true that it will happen, and God knows all truths).
    Moreover, the characterization (to me, at least) moves in a confusing way from holding that there’s simply “no such thing as a future to be known” and holding that “God knows all the facts about the future” though there aren’t very many such facts yet. I would have thought that there being no such thing as a future to be known would imply that there aren’t any facts about the future.
    In any case, the characterization doesn’t respect the central idea of this version of open theism, namely that there are no truths specifying how future *indeterminacies* will unfold, whereas there are such truths for future events that are determined.
    Lastly, I think it’s a mistake – though an understandable one – to characterize this version of open theism as holding that God doesn’t know the future exhaustively. The problem comes from how we use the term ‘the future’. For this sort of open theist could say, “Look, as I see it, ‘the future’ is ‘whatever will be’. Now, I think God knows everything that will be, and knows it exhaustively. Thus, God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future.” So I don’t think this version of open theism can be fairly *defined* as holding that God’s knowledge of the future isn’t exhaustive.

    August 27, 2008 — 0:41
  • Todd, the way you want to frame the first view seems to me to be entirely wrong, for several reasons. One is that most advocates of the view are very happy to talk about something that will happen. Proponents of the first position (e.g. .J.R. Lucas) will insist that God knows all truths about the future, because the things God doesn’t know about the future aren’t truths. But that isn’t the same thing as knowing everything that will happen. On this view, God almost certainly didn’t know in 2004 that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee in 2008, because that result depended on lots of free choices that weren’t yet settled in 2004. But that’s something about the future at that time that God didn’t know. Hence God was ignorant of something future to 2004 (albeit something not true nor false, something not settled). That means foreknowledge is not exhaustive, even if it’s exhaustive of all truths. I’m also using the standard open theistic language to describe the view when I say foreknowledge isn’t exhaustive.

    August 27, 2008 — 6:20
  • patrick todd

    Well, it’s been a while since I’ve read Lucas, so I won’t dispute with you about what he actually says. I have my doubts that you are accurately representing him, since the position that you have him holding is totally bizarre, and I’ve never heard of anyone defending it.
    You say, “On this view, God almost certainly didn’t know in 2004 that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee in 2008, because that result depended on lots of free choices that weren’t yet settled in 2004. But that’s something about the future at that time that God didn’t know. Hence God was ignorant of something future to 2004 (albeit something not true nor false, something not settled).” But this is decidedly *not* how advocates (besides, apparently, Lucas) of the first version of open theism view the matter – or at any rate, must view it. God didn’t know in 2004 that Barack would be the nominee because it wasn’t true in 2004 that he would be. Thus, Barack’s winning isn’t “something future to 2004” that God is ignorant of. Moreover, I find it totally bizarre (and without representation amongst any open theists) to think that God (1) is ignorant of aspects of the future yet (2) knows all truths regarding the future. What would it be to think that God is ignorant of something about the future, “albeit something not true nor false, something not settled”? Then what exactly is he ignorant of? Well, no truth, as we’ve established.
    Even if you can find *one* open theist who talks this way, surely it’s untoward to characterize this entire *version* of open theism in this way. Rhoda, for instance, is a contemporary defender of this version, and (unless I’m out of my mind) would certainly not allow that God is (somehow or another) ignorant of aspects of the future (yet knowing all truths about it!). Hartshorne and Prior, also defenders of this version, also don’t talk this way – not even close.
    The main version of open theism that *does* hold that God doesn’t know what will be is the Hasker/PvI version. On this view, there are truths specifying how future free actions unfold, but it’s logically impossible for God to know such truths. (Thus, Hasker and PvI argue that omniscience ought to be analyzed as someone’s knowing all that’s logically possible to know, whereas defenders of the first version can stick with the traditional view that, roughly, omniscience is knowledge of all truths while believing no falsehoods.) (btw, is this version of open theism the one you mean to characterize by your second version?)
    Also, you are using standard open theist talk in saying that God’s foreknowledge isn’t exhaustive; that’s what makes the mistake understandable. But such talk by these open theists is, to my mind, ill-advised.

    August 27, 2008 — 8:38
  • Actually, Alan Rhoda’s version is completely different. He thinks all future contingent statements are false, and God knows they’re false, so he can easily get exhaustive foreknowledge of the truth value of all propositions. The more standard open theist view, however, does not think future contingents have truth value, so there are all those future contingent statements of which God knows no truth value. Not that there’s a truth value to have, but it’s still true that God doesn’t have knowledge of any truth value for them. So exhaustive foreknowledge is impossible, but that doesn’t mean it’s false to say God doesn’t have it. (The PvI version is a fourth view also. I’m talking about the standard Prior/Lucas kind of A-theory. On the PvI view, there is truth about future contingents. I’m talking about the view that there isn’t.)
    I would take issue with how you describe Prior also. He uses tense logic, so he does talk the way I describe. He won’t say that it’s true in 2004 that Obama will win, but he will say that in 2004 it will be the case that Obama will win. As long as the tense operator is outside any locution involving truth, he’s happy to talk about about future contingents with a futurity operator. I think the view is crazy myself, because he’s distinguishing between two equivalent statements, but he does talk this way.

    August 27, 2008 — 9:00
  • Heather Rhoda

    Jeremy –
    Re: #1- “There is no such thing as a future to be known”.
    On my view, there are truths about the future (and all are known by God), but that set of truths is composed of (1) wills, (2) will nots, and (3) mights (which automatically entails “might nots”).
    By any chance, are you thinking “if it’s neither a ‘will’ nor ‘will not’, it’s not a fact”? If so, why believe that facts must be limited this way? IOW, why can’t contingencies be facts?

    August 27, 2008 — 9:33
  • Alan, I’m (properly) ignoring facts that aren’t contingent, since that’s not under debate here. All views accept those. I’m talking about the contingents. So there are (1) and (2), but those aren’t about contingents. It’s perfectly proper to ignore those in a context where we’re discussing only the status of future contingents. It would needlessly complicate the discussion to add disclaimers about those when the only issue under debate is what the views say about future contingents. I suppose this is one of Todd’s complaints (and one he’s made before about my discussions), but I just don’t agree that you need to make this point explicit every time you discuss open theism. All parties agree that there are those truths. In a formal paper, it’s worth mentioning it at the outset to avoid confusion, and in an introductory textbook, it’s especially important to make the point clear so people don’t think open theists deny all future truth. But I don’t see how a philosophy of religion blog where most readers are generally familiar with the issue needs to have every qualification in every post.
    On your view, as I read this post, any statement that a future contingent will be true is false, as opposed to being neither true nor false. That’s the Peircean tense logic. But the Ockhamist way takes a statement that a future contingent will be true not to imply that it’s necessitated by anything true about the present or past. My understanding is that Lucas does this as well as Prior, and it’s the standard view, with the Peircean view a minority position. Is that not the case?
    In any case, I don’t think these issues affect my argument, right? The argument doesn’t apply to the Peircean model, just the two versions I was discussing.

    August 27, 2008 — 10:02
  • patrick todd

    If you don’t mean Alan Rhoda’s view to count as a version of version one, then I guess I don’t know what to say. For various reasons, I was thinking you meant his view to be included under version one. For what it’s worth, though, I don’t see how the difference between the ‘future contingents are uniformly false’ (of A. Rhoda, Hartshorne, and Prior) view and the ‘future contingents are neither true nor false’ view (of Lucas) generates the distinctions you seem to have in mind. You seem to suggest (at your 9 AM) that the first option can get ‘exhaustive foreknowledge’ but the latter not – this seems odd to me. I guess what’s unclear to me is what you take ‘exhaustive foreknowledge’ to amount to. It would help me out if you could say a bit about this.
    Btw, it would appear that you are addressing Heather Rhoda, not Alan Rhoda. And they may not share the same views!

    August 27, 2008 — 11:47
  • Enigman

    Surely on (1) God is not free to know your future choices, since you have already been made to be such that you have such freedom, such that your choices are free, and were your actions not so free then that would not count as your choice?

    August 28, 2008 — 4:31
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Patrick (I’m not sure why in my previous comment I was thinking Todd was your first name; sorry about that):
    In my 9:00 comment I said that you can think of Alan’s view as involving exhaustive foreknowledge of which propositions have which truth values. I do not think you can have exhaustive foreknowledge in the same sense on the first view I describe in the original post, since that view has indeterminate truth values rather than false ones for future contingents.
    There is still a sense in which Alan’s view doesn’t involve exhaustive foreknowledge of what will actually happen. No one could know what will actually happen if there’s no fact about what will actually happen. In fact, of anything that’s possibly going to happen, it’s not true that it will happen. No future contingent will occur (which is very surprising once it does occur, let me tell you; that’s one element of Alan’s view that’s extremely counterintuitive). But that means no divine being knows what will occur. That means there are propositions whose later truth values are not know by God, even if they don’t have those truth values yet, and you can’t speak of them as going to have them in the future. When the future arrives, they do end up having them, and that truth value is something God doesn’t know ahead of time. Thus it’s not exhaustive foreknowledge, because there’s something God can’t know about future contingents. It’s hard to express what that is on Alan’s view, but I think I just did.
    Enigman: God is the one who made me, and God didn’t have to choose to make me this way. Once God has made me this way, he didn’t have to keep me this way. At any point, it’s logically possible for God to remove my freedom. My claim isn’t that there’s no sense in which God isn’t free to do this. It’s that there’s some sense in which he is and some sense in which he isn’t. My contention, then, is that in the same senses he is and isn’t on the second view.
    Thus it doesn’t seem as if the two views involve different metaphysical pictures. Rather, each focuses on different salient aspects of the relevant philosophical claims, and thus they use the terms differently enough to sound like different views, but in fact the different expressions overlay a common metaphysical picture.

    August 28, 2008 — 23:16
  • Enigman

    Jeremy, I think you’re basically right, about the two ways of looking at the same thing…
    Still, I’d’ve thought that those preferring (1) would be inclined to think that you would have to retain some essential properties, that if those changed then you would’ve been killed. They may think that while God could remove your freedom, as even a hypnotist might be able to, you would then just not be making free choices – where that is not just a definitional issue but a substantial one, an essential property.
    The expression of (2) seems more abstract, but also I wonder if they would be the same facts, that God was choosing to know or not. If I choose freely to make a cup of tea, is that the same as me making a cup of tea because I was hypnotised into doing it? In many ways it is, especially if we add the hypnotist being transcendent to that metaphor, but even so, if it matters (at least transcendentally) what I am personally responsible for, then there is a big difference (although I’ve as yet read too little on this, so I may well be way off:-)

    August 30, 2008 — 4:19
  • Jeremy Pierce

    I have a hard time imagining someone thinking hypnotism kills people and replaces them with an exact duplicate who is no longer free. Nullifying someone’s freedom for one choice doesn’t remove an essential property. Preventing someone from freely choosing might be immoral, but it doesn’t make you no longer you. It means your choices aren’t coming from you. It doesn’t mean you’re gone.
    But I’m not sure how this is supposed to pull apart the two views, because whatever you say on one view will also be true on the other. If God removes my freedom and thus kills me, wouldn’t the same be true on the other view?
    Again, for your second point, the facts about choosing freely and the facts about you being hypnotized to do it are not the same facts. But that’s because they’re different cases. My claim isn’t that the facts of you making a cup of tea will be the same no matter what causes you to do it. My claim is that view 1 and view 2 aren’t any different for any given case. If you choose freely, view 1 says God can’t know what you’ll choose, and view 2 says God can know but chooses not to know. But when you look into what God chooses not to know, you discover that God can’t know in the same sense view 1 says you can’t know, and when you look into why God can’t know on view 1 it’s because God won’t violate your free will, and it’s the same sense view 2 says for why God can’t know. Both views have to say that God won’t know and God can’t know for each case when you’re free. For cases where you’re not free and God does know, both views accept that you’re not free and God can and does know. So how does the difference between being free in one case and not free in another make these views come apart? It seems to me that both views say the same thing about each case once you look into the full details.

    August 30, 2008 — 7:11
  • John Alexander

    I guess I am missing the point of Jeremy’s question. I understood it to be that there may be no epistemic difference in what God knows regarding my actions between 1) there being no future that God can know regarding my future actions because indeterminism is true and 2) there being a future that God can know regarding my future actions because compatibalism is true but choosing not to know. Simplistically I take this to mean that if on August 31 2010 at 10:00am I steal $100.00, then either 1) God does not have the ability to have foreknowledge of this action prior to that time and date because indeterminism is true or 2) God has the ability to have foreknowledge of my action because compatibalism is true but chooses not to exercise this ability and will not know what I will do until it happens. The question is not what I know or can hypothesize about knowing the future, but what God knows (under Jeremy’s distinction) and in both cases he does not know that I will steal $100.00 at 10:00 on August 31, 2010 until I perform that action. Interestingly, I think, this distinction make any discussions of whether or not God has foreknowledge or not moot because if he can choose not to utilize it (which he certainly can given his abilities) then there is no practical difference between having it and not using it and not having it to start with.

    August 31, 2008 — 8:57
  • Jeremy Pierce

    No, my point is that there doesn’t seem to be any metaphysical difference between these open theist views. One says that, because there’s no future to know when it comes to future contingents, God can’t know them. The other says that, because God chooses to allow us to be free, God won’t know the future but could have if he had allowed us not to be free.
    Neither view is compatibilist about foreknowledge and freedom. One prefers to speak primarily of possibility in terms of what God can do given that God has created us free and seeks us to remain so, and the other prefers to speak of possibility more broadly. But the metaphysical picture seems to me to be exactly the same. So the disagreement is really only about which sense of possibility to use when explaining the view. There’s no disagreement about what God knows (God knows no future contingents), and there’s no disagreement about whether freedom is compatible with foreknowledge (it’s not).

    August 31, 2008 — 12:53
  • John Alexander

    Good morning Jeremy;
    Thanks for your response.
    “It sounds as if one view has God unable to know the future, and the other has him able to know it but choosing not to.”
    This is what made me think you were discussing this issue in an epistemological context. It would seem to me that if one thinks that God can know my future actions but chooses not too that one must be committed to some sort of compatibalism. In this way open theism could be consistent with compatibalism. I take it that in both scenarios God knows what I am doing as I do it, so the issue boils down to what he knows about what I will do. And epistemically they seem to amount to the same thing; God does not know.
    So I disagree with you when you write, “The funny thing about that is that open theists have set out to preserve a libertarian view of freedom, and they think free will is incompatible with any foreknowledge of our choices, so they abandon it. Some, maybe most, have not endorsed compatibalism (I do not know) but if your #2 is true then compatibalism can be true but God will not know what I will do in the future because he knowingly and freely limits his knowledge of what he knows (for reasons you suggest). The metaphysics would be different, I think, in the scenarios but the practical epistemological results would be the same. Would they not?

    September 1, 2008 — 7:38
  • It would seem to me that if one thinks that God can know my future actions but chooses not too that one must be committed to some sort of compatibalism.
    No, not at all. One view has God able to know but choosing not to, precisely because compatibilism is false and God can’t know while someone is free. The other view has God unable to know, precisely because compatibilism is false and no one can know what free beings will do. Neither view is compatibilist. The compatibilist insists that God can know what free beings will do, and both views 1 and 2 deny that.
    Open theism is consistent with compatibilism. It’s certainly possible to hold that God could know what future free beings will do but chooses not to for reasons other than the ones open theists typically give (maybe he doesn’t care) or is incapable for reasons other than its being impossible to know or choosing not to know (maybe God is just imperfect). I’ve never heard anyone offer such a view. But that’s not the kind of view I have in mind. That sort of view would indeed involve a different metaphysical view from view 1. It just would also be a different view from #2.
    So you haven’t shown 1 and 2 to involve different metaphysical pictures. You’ve taken a view with a different metaphysical picture and said that it’s #2 when it’s not. On #2, compatibilism is false because it stipulates that the reason God limits his knowledge is to avoid the incompatibilist result that we wouldn’t be free if he knew. If compatibilism were true, God wouldn’t have such a reason to limit his knowledge.

    September 1, 2008 — 8:41