We don’t intend to visit this again if we can avoid it, now that the dust seems to have settled on the battle front and triage units are packing up their gear and moving on after the latest rounds of impassioned debate among Facebook friends over what beliefs and convictions constitute ‘open theism’. Our past three posts reviewed the positions and the frustrations behind open theists at the popular level. Dwayne and I felt that a final resolution would require the authors of The Openness of God (1994) and other pioneer figures (like Greg Boyd) to chime in. A bit of that came a few days ago with Greg Boyd’s ReKnew Post on the differences between process and open theisms. No uncertainty there about the distinction. And John Sanders also weighed in toward the end of our Facebook debate to clarify his understanding. So in this and the next post Dwayne and I would like to summarize where we stand, for what it’s worth.
Some of the debate centered on a Faith & Philosophy piece (2006) by Christian philosopher Alan Rhoda (co-authored by Boyd and yours truly). In that piece we boiled open theism down to a three-fold proposition:
P1 Monotheism (hard to have an ‘open theism’ without a ‘theism’)
P2 Causal openness (viz., a causally open future).
P3 Divine epistemic openness (DEO) regarding that future.
Given P1-3 one might argue that process theists are open theists. But as Alan has qualified it, the P1-monotheism he has in mind precludes process theism because open theists have always agreed with classical theism’s belief in God’s essential freedom from creation. God creates freely and unnecessarily. His being and perfections do not require a non-divine created order. Sanders is clear on this as well, as is Greg Boyd (and Richard Rice, Bill Hasker, and David Basinger).
With the reader’s permission I’d like to make creation ex nihilo (CEN) explicit for the sake of clarity, though Alan includes it in his P1.
P4 CEN (or ‘creation ex nihilo’).
Done? Not yet. It may surprise some that P1-4 are perfectly consistent with God’s exhaustive and unconditional determination of all things. How so? Don’t determinists (like Calvinists) argue that God decrees/determines the entire timeline of the created order in every particular prior to his creative activity? Yes. That would rule out DEO since the world would be ‘causally closed’ from the get-go and God would know what he eternally decreed should happen. But it’s at least conceivable that determinism as such could proceed in ‘open’ fashion. All one would need to suppose is that God did not eternally determine the entire timeline prior to his first creative act. God would simply make up his mind as he moved along, deciding on a moment by moment (or day by day or what have you) basis precisely how he wanted to determine things. We would have a genuinely open future so far as God had not yet made up his mind on which possibilities he would unconditionally settled upon. So P1-4 are compatible with the divine determination of all things. Not exactly ‘open theism’ is it? No.
One could seek to rule out determinism (of this ‘open’ sort I’m imagining) by arguing that since DEO is dependent upon ‘causal openness’, you only have DEO if you have ‘future contingents’ and such contingency or ‘causal openness’ regarding future creaturely actions can only be grounded in creaturely freedom. Thus determinism is ruled out by causal openness per se.
Not so fast. Future creaturely actions are no less ‘causally open’ if it be the case that God has not yet decided how he wishes to determine them than if God had endowed creatures with freedom to determine themselves. Determinism per se doesn’t itself preclude genuine ‘causal openness’ if God has not yet freely chosen how to determine things (because he’s determining them incrementally). God’s will would be the determining cause of all things (and thus ‘determinism’), but if his will for some future was at any given moment undecided, we’d have genuine ‘causal openness’ and thus ‘future contingents’. The causal openness would not be distributed among a multiplicity of agents, true, but that would not render the openness other than causal. It would just limit the causes to one — God’s will. Thus, nothing about P1-4 explicitly requires the ‘causal openness’ in question be distributed over a multiplicity of non-divine, self-determining agents (or causes). We’ll have to make this explicit, and the best way to do that is to qualify P2 to ground causal opening is a multiplicity of non-divine, self-determining causal agents.
P2 Causal openness (grounded in a multiplicity of self-determining causal agents).
To be continued…