Thursday, November 18, 2004

Open View Theism, part 2

In the previous post I outlined some of the reasons I consider the open view to be a worthwhile hypothesis, but I realise I left out the primary intellectual reason why I find the open view compelling on a logical level.

First line of thought
Consider the question of God's relation to the world from God's point of view. God is, we shall assume, in eternity, a no-place beyond space and time and “looks” out at the temporal world and “sees” it laid out from start to finish. He thusly knows the temporal universe from start to finish, He sees what is “past” and “future” to us, all as “present” to Him, for being outside of time, all moments of time are in the present to Him.

Now, this would be fine, and we could end our statements there... if we were deists and believed God did not interact with the world. But as Christians we assert that God does interact with the world. The question then arises of how God from eternity interacts with a temporal creation. Christian theism asserts that at certain temporal moments God is interacting with the world, for example we believe that in the person of Jesus during the temporal moments we call the first century AD, God was acting in the world. In fact, we hold that God is always acting in the world, guiding it by grace.

The questions facing us become more difficult when we consider prophecy, that God can interact and tell his prophets things about the future. We know that changes to the present change the future, because the future is affected by our actions in the present. Then we face the problem: God's actions in the world, like our actions, change what the future otherwise would have been. God by His very act of giving prophecy to a prophet changes the future.

But if God is in eternity and sees the world laid out before Him, how can He “change” the future? If God enjoys a sure and certain knowledge of the state of the world from beginning to end then He seems powerless to change it. God, knowing and seeing what will happen in 700AD and wishing that this does not cannot effect a change, because then His sure and certain knowledge would have been false. If God's knowledge is sure, certain and final then He can neither change the future, nor give predictions of it to His prophets, nor touch nor effect the world in any way.

It seems then, that God's knowledge is not sure, certain and final. But rather, perhaps He “sees” the world laid out before Him from beginning to end as it potentially is. God looks out upon the world, and decides to act at a certain point in time in a certain way. Correspondingly as God acts at that point in time, there are consequences for the future, the future changes and God sees the world once more laid out anew from beginning to end in a new way. And so, it might be said, God continues to act and the world changes until God is satisfied with the Creation, and considers the act of creation complete. God like a master carpenter works away at His work piece, altering parts now here, now there, until He is satisfied with the overall piece and considers it complete.

But in this case, every time God acts in the world, His state of knowledge is that of the potential future. God, like the carpenter can look out upon His work as it currently is, and see the work in progress as it is in its present state, not in its future states. God full well knows that His very acting in the world will change the future. Thus, were God to give a prophecy to one of His prophets, a prediction about something that God foresaw happening in the future, God would know that by the very act of Him interacting in the world at that point in time, the future would be changed and thus that which God told the prophet that He foresaw may in fact not come to pass in the new future.

Just like that we have reached a form of the Open View. Even when we start out by asserting God's eternity, we inevitably return to the conclusion that all of God's acts in time must be able to change time and hence the very act of prophecy can itself falsify the prophecy. Hence, God, whenever He acts in time knows only the potential future not the actual one... all of which is perfectly in agreement with the Biblical texts on the subject (eg Jonah, Abraham etc) which depict this type of action by God.

Second line of thought
This idea above says that God can look out from eternity upon the potential world and see it laid out before Him from start to finish as it currently is, and then God can make changes like a master craftsman and see the new, altered, world laid out before Him, and so continue until He is pleased with His creation. God can supposedly look at these potential worlds and see human beings making free will decisions... what human beings? The ones in the potential worlds do not actually exist.

Dare we respond that they do actually exist? Perhaps there are actually real people out there that live their entire lives in one of the million of these potential worlds that existed as God was trying to create the actual world? This world might then be one of them - in all probability it would be! So perhaps what we, as we live out our lives, and the afterlife too don't realise is that this world isn't actually how it's meant to be, and this is just one of a million worlds that represent various stages in God's crafting the world He wants. This is totally absurd.

No, rather, the worlds that are non-final -any and all states that the universe might go through as God is working on creating the actual world- do not have actually existing people in them. But if they do not have actually existing people in them, they do not have any history that could be laid out before the eternal God... He can't observe them from eternity because there is nothing to observe. The idea of God looking out from eternity upon space-time and seeing a hypothetical world is absurd, what He'd see is the real world!

Third line of thought
The indeterminism of free will is a concept about which philosophers are divided. Some think human choice must be deterministic (ie that if you were to know everything there is to know about the universe you could predict human choices with 100% accuracy, I think this implies Calvinism), others that it must be indeterministic (ie that such information is insufficient). I am firmly in the second category (I think the first view is fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons), and this position raises another problem.

I have before me a keyboard, I can choose to hit any key on my keyboard. I choose “7” at random. Now, we can speak, hypothetically, of a world in which I happened to choose to hit “2”. But all we speak of here is an idea. God cannot go ahead and create “the world where Andrew chooses to hit 2 on his keyboard”, because there is actually no such world. In any world God creates, God can give me a choice or not. If I have a choice, I have the choice to hit 2, 7 or B. If I do not have a choice, then God can force me to choose 2. But as long as human free will is indeterministic, then in any world that God creates where I have a choice, I have a real choice. I get put in a situation, I choose an action, and that is all there is to it. God cannot “foresee” the results of my choice, nor “pick the world” in which I make the decision He wants, because there are no results of my choice until I make them. If human choice was deterministic, God could know what I would do in any given situation, and so create a world such that I was in a situation where I would choose 2 rather than 7. But since it isn't, God can't because it is logically nonsensical.

Thus, my objection against the attempted defence of God's eternality that I explored above is that the results of human free will can only be known by putting real humans in real situations and observing the results. You cannot foreknow hypothetical worlds, you can only foreknow possibilities. (This is the main reason I oppose Molinism – it is incompatible with indeterministic free will in this way)

So it appears to be established that:
1) if God is beyond space and time and dwells in a non-temporal eternity then He cannot affect the world unless He perceives it not as fixed and definite, but as changeable by Him and His knowledge of it is knowledge of it “as it is currently/potentially” rather than knowledge of it “as it is actually”.
2) But no world can exist “potentially” and God could have no such knowledge.
3) If one holds to indeterministic free will, then the potential worlds cannot exist beyond our conception of them as possibilities.

It seems that for God to interact with the world, God must be in space and time in a way at least somewhat akin us. God is certainly before all else, and even should all else perish still God would be. But His eternality must be the fact that He endures through all time, was before all time, and will be after all time. And that is the Open View. The only logically consistent alternative seems to be a thorough-going hyper-Calvinism

Rewritten in response to Reuben's comment


Blogger incognito said...

You said some good stuff here, particularly in the first half. But then things became profoundly confusing. Your summising 3 points don't seem to make sense to me - I just can't quite get what you're saying there. But I agree with the bits where I understand what you're saying.

It'd still be good to hear a good treatment of OV prophesy.

Blogger Andrew said...

I've revised the post, hopefully it's clearer now.


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