I’ve been an Open Theist for a couple years now but I just got around to reading The Openness of God, the paradigm-shifting book that put Open Theism back on the Theological map. It’s a collection of essays by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. Each author addresses a different angle from which to consider the Open view: biblical support, historical considerations, systematic theology, philosophical perspective, and practical implications.
William Hasker takes on the philosophical perspective, in which he compares the alternative views (determinism, Molinism, simple foreknowledge, and process theology) with the Open view. Most people only consider the deterministic view (i.e. Calvinism) or simple foreknowledge (“simple knowledge” as opposed to “third knowledge” in Molinism).
Simple foreknowledge asserts, against determinism, that people have at least some ability to make their own decisions without interference from God. That is, God does not control what a person will decide with respect to salvation or morality. Also, contra determinism, simple foreknowledge suggests that it is possible for God’s will to be rejected. Evil, then, is not a result of God’s ordination, as in determinism. It is a result of God’s allowance for humans to make their own decisions against his will. In this view, God knew–before the he created the world–every decision every human would ever make.
Hasker, however, shows that this understanding of foreknowledge does not leave room for the possibility of libertarian free will. He explains by way of two examples:1
“If God knows a person is going to perform [an action], then it is impossible that the person fail to perform it—so one does not have a free choice whether or not to perform it. There are dozens of different versions of this argument; one of my favorites concerns a certain Clarence, known to be addicted to cheese omelets. Will Clarence have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow morning, or won’t he? The argument proceeds as follows:
1. It is now true that Clarence will have a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow. (Premise)
2. It is impossible that God should at any time believe what is false, or fail to believe anything that is true. (Premise: divine omniscience)
3. God has always believed that Clarence will have a cheese omelet tomorrow. (From 1, 2)
4. If God has always believed a certain thing, it is not in anyone’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that thing. (Premise: unalterability [sic] of the past)
5. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to bring it about that God has not always believed that he would have a cheese omelet for breakfast. (From 3, 4)
6. It is not possible for it to be true both that God has always believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet for breakfast, and that he does not have one. (From 2)
7. Therefore, it is not in Clarence’s power to refrain from having a cheese omelet for breakfast tomorrow. (From 5, 6) So Clarence’s eating the omelet tomorrow is not an act of free choice. (From the definition of free will)”
Then, borrowing an example from David Basinger, Hasker writes of a young woman named Susan. Susan is trapped in a love triangle and is trying to decide between two young men. She seeks God’s guidance as to which she should marry.
“What sort of guidance might God choose to give her? God knows, of course, everything there is to know concerning the personality, temperament, physical condition and so on of each of the three persons involved, as well as their potential for future happiness under various conditions. He knows far more, then, than even the wisest and most skillful human marriage counselor. But what more would be added if we assume that God somehow ‘sees’ the actual future? Suppose he looks into the future and sees Susan unhappily married to Tom. Could not God, on the basis of this, warn Susan that she had better accept Kenneth’s offer instead? A moment’s reflection will show this to be incoherent. What God knows is the actual future, the situation in which she actually is married to Tom. So it is nonsensical to suggest that God, knowing the actual future, could on the basis of this knowledge influence things so this would not be the actual future, which would mean that God would not know Susan as being married to Tom…”
Hasker concludes that God’s foreknowledge in this view is “religious uselessness.” That is, God’s foreknowledge gives him no advantage. He is completely incapable of accomplishing any real change based on that knowledge. Indeed, he has no free will of his own—he is bound to his own knowledge of the future. He cannot change what he has always known to be true. What will happen is what was always going to happen, and God cannot change it.
Presumably, God doesn’t want to change it; otherwise, he would not have created a world in which it does happen. Therefore, in the end, simple foreknowledge has the same problem as Calvinistic determinism. Humans have no ability to choose anything other than what God saw them choose when he decided to create the world as it is.
Since this understanding of foreknowledge cannot logically account for human free will, we must either remove free will (which makes God responsible for evil in the world) or remove simple foreknowledge, as the Open view suggests.
Contrary to caricatures derived from ignorance, this does not in any way diminish the sovereignty of God. Open Theists believe that God has the power and could have created a world in which he determined and foreknew all things. However, we suggest that, based on biblical, philosophical, and practical reasons that God did not want to create a world in which he determined and foreknew all things. Rather, he wanted genuine rather than coerced relationships with creatures on whom he bestowed the ability to make the decision as to whether or not to enter into that relationship.
What do you think? Does simple foreknowledge negate libertarian free will? Can God change what he has always known to be true? Could God create the future as unsettled possibilities? Did God predestine me to believe in Open Theism? Do you like cheese omelets?
Share your thoughts below!
(Since Open Theism is a source of contention for some, I will refer everyone to the comment policy. Keep it respectful.)
- William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective” in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, Pinnock, et al. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1994), 147-149. ↩