Let us say again how much we appreciate Alan’s recently proposed settlement for open theists on the (im)passibilist question. Alan is a wonderfully astute thinker and we’re grateful to be challenged by him to rethink through things. You can read his post and the conversation that followed at Alan’s blog.
Alan stretches the options out along a continuum with impassibilism on one end (which he defines as the thesis that we make “no difference” to God). On the other end of the continuum is a “strong passibilism” so thoroughly definitive of God’s experience that God is “functionally impaired,” essentially overwhelmed by debilitating emotions. Alan’s solution is the space occupied between these two extreme positions. We “make a difference” to God such that preferred outcomes constitute some improvement upon the felt quality of God’s experience while dispreferred outcomes constitute some depreciation (as “disappointment”) of the felt quality of God’s experience without God being functionally impaired. That is, God “feels differently depending on what happens” but this makes no functional difference to God. God’s triune bliss sans creation is perfectly “unalloyed” but contingent since God is free, should he wish, to make himself vulnerable to aesthetic depreciation and improvement in response to the world. This depreciation and improvement in the aesthetic (felt) quality of God’s experience is the ‘difference’ we make to God.
Finally, Alan grants that this ‘difference’ may be “infinitesimal” (“a drop of disappointment in an infinite ocean of joy”). Now, for the record, TC rejected this outright, arguing that it is not enough that we make only an infinitesimal difference to God. And to further express his confusion of the conversation, TC goes on to criticize Dwayne and me for “arguing with Rhoda” over our making even an infinitesimal difference to God, as if TC agrees with Alan (which he doesn’t). But Dwayne and I are in a far better position than TC to accommodate Alan on this point. In fact, for the sake of establishing a position open theists could agree upon, we’re fine with it being the case that God’s passibilism is compatible with the world’s being relativized “like a drop of disappointment in an ocean of joy,” i.e., that we make an infinitesimal difference to God’s aesthetic experience. If that would satisfy TC, let’s just go with that. But TC (not us) won’t have it.
Lastly, though we’d be willing to agree to Alan’s conclusion in this respect, we have problems with how he gets there. We’d disagree over the nature of God’s aesthetic experience and with what it is about God that relativizes worldly sufferings infinitesimally. Exactly what is God’s “infinite ocean of joy”? What constitutes its infinitude? How does Alan imagine this aesthetic infinitude to be contingent so that it is vulnerable to negation by us? There are important questions we’d love to hear Alan engage. In an upcoming post we’ll try to specify what we think is problematic about Alan’s position.