Like two ships…

il_570xN.192186301TC Moore was recently in San Diego for the AAR’s annual meeting and at its Open and Relational Theologies Group shared some excellent thoughts on the importance and role of the web and its relationship to open theism’s development and dissemination. TC has a great feel for the web’s role in marketing ideas and networking people and offers good advice for open theists in this regard. All good stuff.

However, TC’s web design skills aren’t the only reason we’re writing. In a paragraph lamenting the “dark side” of open theism’s emergence into the world wide web, TC notes the fragmentation of open theism that’s accompanied an increasing number of online discussion forums and personal blogs promoting diverse views. One lamentable fragmentation among open theists he laments is Dwayne and I:

“And in recent months, two well-known Open theists have even mounted a campaign to merge their version of Open theism with Eastern Orthodoxy, in an attempt to construct a theological compromise that Classical theists will deem ‘legitimate.’ This quest for respectability in Classical theist circles has led these self-professed Open theists to re-embrace the doctrine of impassibility that Open theists were rejecting long before 1994! The Web has had a double-edge sword effect on Open theism. While it has been leveraged to build a vibrant community online, it has also contributed to Open theism’s dilution and disintegration.”

My biggest surprise in this was not that TC was still popularizing the mistaken notion that Dwayne and I are after whatever respectability Orthodoxy’s legitimization of our open theism would give us (a ridiculous thought when you think about it), but that anybody thought Dwayne and I were “well-known.” With our teeming hordes of 25 to 30 visitors a day here and our virtual disappearance from the Facebook scene, we’re hardly well-known. But it’s nice to know somebody thinks otherwise!

Let us assure open theists that they have nothing to fear from Dwayne and me. If anything, they may want rather to be concerned about a perspective that views an honest and intentional search for truth like ours (whatever it is and wherever it takes us) as dark and threatening. If Dwayne and I were Muslims or Arians, TC might celebrate our open theism as an example of its diversity and broad appeal. But unfortunately we’re neither or those.

So in the interest of clarifying for conscientious readers, let us (again) correct TC on these issues:

First, we have zero interest in or expectation of ever affecting anything like the sort of “merger” of open theism and Eastern Orthodoxy that TC attributes to us. There’s no question that such a merger is impossible, and Dwayne and I have never “campaigned” for such a thing. All we set out to do here is explore a conversation between the two in the hope of situating open theism’s core claims within the core claims of historic, Trinitarian, Nicene Christianity. And all we intend this conversation to do is to get open theists to listen (certainly more carefully than they have at the popular level) to the Tradition as well as ask those on the Orthodox side to listen in and contribute. But there’s no “merger” in the works and none (least of all Dwayne and I) believes such a thing to be possible. Truth be told, so far as our stated goal of inspiring a conversation between open theists and the Orthodox is concerned, our blog has pretty much been a colossal flop. But Dwayne and I are learning, growing and are more deeply in love with Christ and transformed by him than we were 18 months ago. As far as we can tell, our journey here has had something to do with that, so we’ll likely keep this one-horse blog going and hope it won’t cause TC (and God) too much suffering.

Secondly, TC still insists on believing that the reason for our project here is our desire for legitimacy and respectability. That is, we seek to be legitimized by classical theists for the sense of respectability such recognition will afford us. It seems we just can’t live without their approval. This is, of course, pure fabrication on TC’s part, and it’s not like we haven’t explicitly corrected him on it before. He just prefers to believe it. But to anyone who understands the Orthodox and has actually listened to what we’ve been saying here (our disagreements and criticisms of classical theism as well as agreements), the notion that the Orthodox would legitimize or otherwise approve of Dwayne and me or our open theism is beyond ridiculous. Dwayne and I have certainly never entertained such a hope. We were explicit on this from the start. “We are by no means admissibly Orthodox,” were the first words out of our mouth here, and we made it equally clear that we knew our Orthodox friends would doubtless dismiss our views as heterodox, and so they have. But none of this phases TC’s forward march to misrepresent.

What are we about here? What motivates us? TC has but to ask (or read). As stated in our first posts, we’re interested in…

“…exploring the relationship between open theism and Eastern Orthodox theology. We wonder what would come of a conversation between the two. So we aim to clarify open theism’s theological values, define its core claims and convictions, establish its diversities, and situate it relative to the values, experience and vision of the ancient Eastern Fathers. It’s our conviction that both can learn something from the other.”

TC thinks this threatens open theism’s purity and community.

Lastly then, what of our “impassibility”? Well, the specific doctrine of impassibility rejected by The Openness of God bears little resemblance to our own belief, contrary to TC. We equally reject impassibility as it’s envisioned there. But if I follow the presentations of Rice, Sanders and Basinger at last month’s AAR meeting correctly, The Openness of God was the beginning and not the end of a conversation. Even John Sanders (and we don’t pretend that he holds our view on this, but nevertheless he) later qualified his own original mishandling of what the Orthodox doctrine(s) of apatheia (he notes there was no ‘one’ classical view on it) actually was and accommodated a change in perspective he was comfortable making after reading Gavrilyuk.

And what of Boyd’s advocacy of God’s essential “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” in Trinity & Process? Was he not an open theist when he wrote his dissertation? He was. So why the utter silence from TC (and others) on something as substantial as a PhD dissertation written on this very issue from an open theist perspective? Is anybody ever going to actually engage Greg’s arguments point for point or are we going to continue to complain about Dwayne and me (two nobody’s) from the sidelines?

Dwayne and I don’t espouse “the” (or even “a”) classical doctrine of impassibility because we don’t espouse a timeless actus purus view of God void of all potentiality or a classical view on divine simplicity, and as anyone who understands these classical doctrines knows, there’s no merger to be had between those who disagree on impassibility as classically understood and what it is Dwayne and I advocate. And we never pretended otherwise. But TC doesn’t seem interested in understanding with any real appreciation what it is we believe or even are trying to express (as poorly as we do). He only sees us as an example of the “dark side” of open theism’s emergence into to world wide web. But in the end, TC knows that it was Boyd, not any Orthodox believer, who first convinced us of God’s essentially happy disposition. Our views are essentially those of Greg’s in Trinity & Process, not Plotinus’ Enneads.

(Picture here.)

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5 comments on “Like two ships…

  1. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom, you challenge others to address Greg’s arguments. But I don’t see how Greg even made an argument in the sense that he never defined “G-O-D” as being capable of actions which are in any way predictable, even in a mere probabilistic sense. Not only did his definition of “G-O-D” not account for a divine motive to create anything (but only the impossibility of proving otherwise), but it also didn’t account for any post-creation actions of “G-O-D.” Basically, Greg’s thesis ended up amounting to a denial that he could be disproved since he was not demonstrably inconsistent. But an infinite set of mere histories are not demonstrably inconsistent.

    To be valid as a conceivably convincing argument, you need something more than a 1 out of an infinite set chance of being correct. You need to posit propositions that satisfy plausibility criteria that humans qua humans both can conceive of and actually use in other arguments.

    Greg’s contention was that his view could hold a legitimate place in academe precisely because it supposedly satisfied some such criteria. But I don’t see how he succeeded. Because there is no logical criteria I can think of by which humans can distinguish between the putatively-possible absolutely-unpredictable divine spontaneity Greg posited and the putatively-possible uncaused event(s), say, a Big-Bang-atheist posits.

    So unless we can show how a putatively-possible absolutely unpredictable divine spontaneity is more probable than putatively-possible uncaused events, I don’t see how Greg even gets of the ground in terms of plausibility. Indeed, if even one uncaused event is possible, it seems that any event can be uncaused. Because what criteria do humans qua humans ever use to adjudicate which events are caused? None that I can think of. So a putative possibility of uncaused events allows, so far as humans can tell conceptually, for a ming-bogglingly huge number of conceivable atheistic histories right there, leaving Greg’s view as far less than a drop in the bucket, probabilistically speaking.

    Granted, I’ve heard a small number of atheists contend that events that at least seem to be truly non-regular are uncaused. But that criteria is problematic. In the first place, some of them claim to believe human free-will doesn’t exist. And as such, their epistemology is dead in the water. Second, much of what we now think we can predict well was once not near so predictable to humans. Inductive science is tentative. It never proves that seeming unpredictability to humans is the logical equivalent of bona-fide non-regularity. Because it simply isn’t the logical equivalent thereof. If it was, it would have been in the past as well. And no one believes that since it implies the impossibility of scientific advancement in predictability.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Thanks Jeff. We’re both Johnny One-Notes!

      I appreciate your concerns, Bro, and I think we’ll need to agree that my view (and Greg’s, so far as I espouse his view) will just have to remain incoherent and unacceptable to you. I can live with that. I don’t know what else to say that I haven’t said already and which we haven’t gone over, though I acknowledge you haven’t received an explanation from me which you feel is satisfactory.

      Tom

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      • formerlyjeff says:

        To be clear, I don’t think Greg is incoherent in positing an absolutely spontaneous, unpredictable cause. But does Greg ever address directly in the book how one can coherently conceive of a human (like Jesus) “being” fully divine while truly suffering (rather than just having an appearance of suffering) such that “GOD” divine never suffers? I know he addresses disinterestedness, etc. But I don’t see anywhere in the book where he addresses that specific paradox by argument or analogy. Is he saying that the Father, Son or Spirit can suffer, but God qua single divine “substance” doesn’t? IOW, does he somewhere in the book distinguish between God suffering and a divine hypostasis suffering?

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      • tgbelt says:

        Nah, T&P doesn’t expound a Christology. At the end he sketches an outline of what a few implications of his thesis re: God would be for the claim that Jesus is divine, but nothing that’s worked out in detail.

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  2. Thx for the clarification from your viewpoint. If you are a relative ‘nobody’, what am I!?

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