This post will be a bit different from our standard posts. I’d like to bring part of our conversation with Richard Beck out of the comments section of Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. So I’m addressing this post to Richard personally. The continued clarification via comments really helps, but I think this is worth bringing to the front page. To keep the length down I can’t reproduce all Richard’s comments, so you’ll have to go to the comments section on Parts 1 and 2 for that. That said, thanks so much Richard for taking this up. I hope we keep the exchange open (no pun intended!). My thoughts—
First, the part of this conversation that has to do with nomenclature (whether what you’re describing really qualifies as “open theism” or not) is in the end less important than hearing and engaging each other. Though “open theism” can’t be uncommitted regarding objective indeterminacy and determinism about the future, I still love the conversation and the clarity it brings.
Second, I agree that increased knowledge of my wife makes it possible for me to creatively represent her within my own first-person perspective (i.e., to live “from her point of view” as you say) and thus act as her (and predict a good deal about her behavior based on her likes, dislikes, character, etc.). I think where we differ on this is the way you apply this to God and exclude God from the intimate knowledge of our innermost subjectivity and dispositions. But so far as the future is concerned, for open theists, the “relational dynamic” you want to affirm can’t be had if the God-world relationship is causally closed. It’s not enough, for example, to suppose that since God was “surprised” by what Israel did (as we have it in OT texts) that this alone is enough to secure the relational dynamic you’re looking for. For if we find out (or worse, if we begin by assuming) that God was surprised simply because he didn’t know the causally closed nature of some outcome, then the relational dynamic is (open theists would argue) lost. The relational dynamic can’t be just phenomenological.
Third, as Dwayne has said, there really is an asymmetrical feature to divine-human relations. And here we may just be too far apart in our core philosophical/theological worldview to agree. We don’t assume in any straightforward or simplistic manner that God’s got to be an immeasurably large version of what we are such that every aspect of human becoming and relationality *has* to have a univocal counterpart in God *or else* the whole relationship is a charade. There may be a lot transpiring in these deeper currents that’s carrying you toward traditional process (Whiteheadian) hermeneutics (i.e., God is not an exception to our metaphysical principles, but their chief exemplification).
Fourth, I agree with Dwayne regarding Loder. Dude, you’d love him!
Fifth, re: the weak vs strong volitionalism, Dwayne and I use ‘weak’ to describe the circumscribed and contextualized nature of embodied human choice. There’s no choosing that can occur outside the constraints of that context. We use ‘strong’ to describe versions of free will that tend to ignore or minimize the contextualized nature of our freedom. So it’s not that we’re using ‘weak’ to smuggle in a bit of freedom. We’re above board and up front in insisting upon freedom. ‘Weak’ vs ‘strong’ are just terms to express the nature of the contextual constraints and limits upon the ‘scope’ of its exercise and the objective nature of the ‘possibilities’ which our context offers for our ‘becoming’. By freedom we just mean to say (a) it is at least sometimes the case that the ‘scope of possibilities’ really describes what is objectively the case about the options we may choose, not just options we perceive because of our ignorance of how ‘closed’ things really are. Again, this objective future contingency isn’t incidental to the relational dynamic open theists advocate for. When you said on your blog that relationality (etc) is the “heart and soul” of open theism which you admire, this (the objective nature of future contingency) is what that heart and soul is. You can say the heart and soul of its relational dynamic doesn’t explicitly entail a commitment to future indeterminacy and freedom, but I don’t know any open theist who would agree.
Here’s the sticky point. You say:
“But from there—choices have been narrowed—you insert an account of ‘free will’. That is, maybe you don’t have ten choices but only two, but at least those two choices are “free.” Let me just say, this doesn’t solve the problem. That is not weak volitionalism as I posit it. I’m agnostic about if any of the choices—ten or two—are ‘free’.”
To this Dwayne and I (and others like Boyd and Alan Rhoda and other open theistic thinkers and authors) would say, to the extent you’re agnostic about the freedom at play when there are multiple options, then (a) you’re not doing ‘open theism’ any more, and (b) the heart and soul of the relational dynamic you’re after is gone. The dynamic can’t (for open theists, philosophically speaking) obtain in an ultimately deterministic world.
To illustrate your point, you comment:
“Say I have weak volition: I face only two choices, A or B. For the choice to be self-determined I need to feel that the choice I make flows out of my selfhood, that this choice has a coherent connection with my prior self. That’s where the sense of authorship and ownership come from. By contrast, if the choice is a radical break from my prior self we enter into psychopathology. Symptoms of disassociation and depersonalization, even hallucination. The self and the choice, in these instances, are not harmonious but strange and alien. This is why free will undermines self-determination. Self-determination has the current choosing self coherently connected to the prior self. These selves are not ‘free’ from each other. Now, does a ‘coherent connection’ between my choosing and prior self mean that the prior self causally ‘determines’ the choices of the choosing self? Again, I have no idea.”
I appreciate this a lot. What we’d say is that open theism does have an idea about the ‘determinism’ part, and that this idea is its heart and soul to the extent that we’re committed to the thesis that for human beings, mutually loving relationality evaporates in the event “the freedom I feel” (when I deliberate between perceived options) is merely phenomenological.
We’d totally agree that what you’re describing as ‘self-determining’ (i.e. resolving the will with respect to perceived options) involves coherently integrating prior self with present self. Absolutely. That is, present choice is circumscribed by a diverse mix of data (past self, present embodied constraints, present brain states, etc.) which have to be coherently integrated. We’ve already agreed that there’s no choosing outside this context that could be the ground for truly loving relations. What we’re saying is that (to borrow process lingo) “divine subjective aims” are by definition always a part of the mix that defines the scope of the possibilities we resolve and which we also integrate in the present moment. The “I” that deliberates among the options is self-transcendent because as the human ‘spirit’, this “I” is the God-given capacity to rest my ‘self’ in God’s transcendent “I” which is present within me extending to me my truest self as an option among options). This transcendent divine “I” mediates God’s subjective aims as the ground of our being and freedom.
Paul describes it (2Cor 10.4-5), “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In dynamic relationship to Christ, I’m empowered to perceive, identify and choose to dissociate with lies (strongholds, arguments, etc.) that present themselves to me for consideration. But for this to be true, the “I” doing the ‘fighting’, ‘demolishing’, and ‘taking captive’ has to be more than just the sum total of the false narratives being adjudicated. And this is where Dwayne and I would suggest our freedom to transcend our own past narratives comes in. The “I” is the self-transcendent spirit of human being, and though it can never resolve the possibilities it’s faced with outside coherently integrating the past into its present, we can say that God (as the human being’s divine subjective aim) is an irreducible part of the context which defines the scope of our future possibilities. We’re not suggesting the embodied context and history be radically denied to smuggle in freedom; we’re suggesting that this context be understood to include God and what he transcendently is and provides us.
Sixth, in other words, we really are more than our past, not in the sense that we can ‘radically break’ from our past in some dissociative way—but in the sense that in perceiving the transcendent love and presence of God as the abiding definitive context of even our past, we’re empowered to coherently integrate our past selves with our present self in Christ (Rom 815!). We don’t have to radically break from the truth of our past to be free. Rather, we come to see the radical truth of God as the truest thing about our past (and present, and future). That, we suggest, is how divine transcendence heals us—not by trapping or limiting God to the constraints the define us, but by increasingly conforming the truth of who we are to the truth of who God is (again, Rom 8.15, et. al.).
Seventh, even when our futures are locked into a single path, we can (as I think you say) choose that path and not let it just happen to us. This is a form of self-transcendence, and it’s possible because we know our truest self is integrated with our past self not *merely* in terms of the finite, embodied limitations and pain of the past, but with something transcendently present (transcendent in the sense that it is God ‘asymmetrically’ present—defining not defined by), i.e., the space in which we integrate past and present coherently. For example, Viktor Frankl tells of observing Jews in concentration camps. As they stood in line and observed the arbitrary division ahead of them and realized that some of them were chosen to die and others chosen to live, Frankl said he could observe overwhelming horror reducing some to the conditions ‘given them’ by the Nazis. They were defined by the Nazis. But he observed also that others were not so overcome. They chose not to be defined by what the Nazis were attempting to reduce them to. That they would die was determined for them, yes. But how they died would be their choice. They transformed Nazi determination through their own transcendent determination. And so Frankl remembers the affirmation and tenderness with which the latter individuals chose to face their deaths, comforting one another, being tender and unafraid and not reduced to the circumstances of their deaths by the Nazis.
Lastly, you comment:
“Libertarian accounts of free will—even if limited to only two choices—undermine this entire account. To be very, very clear, I’m not saying this means we are determined or that the system is closed. Again, I’m agnostic about all that. What I’m saying—please here this—is that libertarian free will is incoherent.”
If we define libertarian freedom as a kind of radical break or dissociation with our past selves, an incoherent failure to integrate past and present, then yes, we agree—LFW would be incoherent. But free will need not be understood in this sense. As Dwayne has pointed out in the comments section, the view of freedom we hold to is what you describe as weak volitionalism. So free will isn’t standing in your way here. All that’s left is to get clear on indeterminism vs determinism re: the exercise of that freedom.
I hope this helps.