Understanding Open Theism
My thesis is open theism fails in its philosophical objections to God’s knowledge of the future. Such objections are sufficiently addressed by a Molinist perspective of God’s omniscience. Prominent supporters of open theism include William Hasker, Dale Tuggy, and A.N. Prior who have argued convincingly that future free contingents cannot be known by anyone including God because knowledge of such contingents presents a logical incoherency. They contend it is logically impossible God should know the future. Therefore, God is still omniscient, but omniscience means God knows all truths which can be known. Since future free contingents are impossible for anyone to know, it is no hindrance to God’s omniscience that He does not know them.
For the purposes of this paper, I will define omniscience in the classical sense which is for a person S, S is omniscient if and only if S knows every true proposition and believes no false proposition. Further, I will define future contingents as contingent statements about the future such as future events, actions, states, etc. To say a future contingent is either true, false, or lacking truth value is in reference to its ontological status, so if there is a true future contingent, that future contingent is ontologically true. For example, if tomorrow Jones mows his lawn, then the statement “Jones will mow his lawn,” is a true future contingent, but if tomorrow Jones does not mow his lawn, then that same proposition is a false future contingent. Finally, I will make two assumptions: 1) God does exist within time from the moment of creation and onward. 2) The theory of truth understood will be truth as correspondence to reality, so if X occurs in reality, then X is true.
The underlying principle which ties together all facets of open theism is the contention that God does not possess knowledge of true future contingents; however, open theists provide different reasons for rejecting God’s knowledge of future contingents. Open theists like William Hasker and Richard Swinburne contend there are true future contingents, but it is logically impossible for God to know them. Open theists like Dale Tuggy and philosophers like Aristotle believe there is no truth value to future contingents at all because they are neither true nor false. Others like Alan Rhoda and A.N. Prior contend future contingents are all false in their truth value, so all statements about the future are false.
In their article Perils of the Open Road, William Lane Craig and David P. Hunt examine three questions which determine what strand of open theism (if any) to which a person belongs. The first question is whether or not God possesses knowledge of future contingents. If one answers in the negative, then she is not an open theist. If one answers affirmatively, then she is an open theist. The second question asks if there exist future contingent truths. If a person answers in the affirmative, then God is not omniscient because there are truths which He does not know. These open theists justify their position while affirming God’s omniscience by redefining what it means for God to be omniscient. In his book, God, Time, and Knowledge, William Hasker defends this position. He justifies his view by following the argument of Richard Swinburne in The Coherence of Theism who redefines what omniscience means. Using their redefinition, Swinburne and Hasker argue God can still be omniscient while not possessing knowledge of true future contingents. This road of open theism is called Limited Foreknowledge, which Tuggy calls the “narrow road” to open theism since few philosophers opt for this route.
The third question concerns whether these future contingents all have a false truth value. Here another fork in the road appears. If open theists believe no true future contingents exist, they must either embrace the position these contingents have no truth value at all or these contingents are all false. Tuggy defends the notion that the truth-value of all future contingents are neither true nor false. His position is called Non-Bivalentist Omniscience, and he refers to it as the “wide road” to open theism. Those philosophers who hold to this view reject the Principle of Bivalence: every proposition has the truth-value True or the truth-value False; however, if one affirms that future contingents are all false, she is then accepting the Principle of Bivalence. Therefore, this view is called Bivalentist Omniscience. This path is what Tuggy calls the “shortcut” for those in a hurry to get to open theism.
Another view of God’s omniscience which has seen a resurgence in the second half of the twentieth century is Molinism. This view was first developed primarily by counter-reformer and Jesuit priest Luis de Molina. He submitted that God’s knowledge can be distinguished into three distinct categories: natural, middle, and free. These different kinds of knowledge hold to distinct logical moments. These moments are not chronological as they co-exist eternally. The three types of knowledge must be co-eternal with God or else He would not be essentially omniscient; rather, they are logical moments in that one form of knowledge logically precedes the other. A helpful analogy is premises and a conclusion in a valid syllogism. Take the argument:
- Socrates is a man.
- All men are mortal.
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
As long as the two premises are true, the conclusion must be true. The true premises exist as long as the conclusion, but the premises always logically precede the conclusion. In the same way, the three moments of knowledge God holds are co-eternal with Him, but they follow a logical procession.
The first moment of knowledge in logical procession is called natural knowledge. According to Molina, this kind of knowledge contains all necessary and contingent states of affairs, so natural knowledge holds all necessary truths such as the laws of logic (i.e. the law of noncontradiction) and all possible worlds including how free creatures can react in each of them. For example, God knows there could exist a possible world without horses or a possible world with unicorns, and God also knows that in situation A person C could do X, Y, or Z. The content of this kind of knowledge is essential to Him being God, but God does not make such statements true by willing them to be true. These propositions are true independent of any free choice on God’s part, and since God is essentially omniscient, it is part of His nature He knows these truths.
The second moment of knowledge in logical procession is called middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is an aspect of divine omniscience which contains God’s knowledge prior to any decision of His will. Through this type of knowledge God comprehends which decisions of free creatures would be made under any hypothetical set of circumstances even though it would be the case that person truly could have done otherwise. Simply put, under this view God knows what any person would have done in any given scenario. Whereby natural knowledge God knows that Peter could deny Christ three times being free under identical circumstances, by His middle knowledge God knows that Peter would freely deny Christ three times in those scenarios. In this way, middle knowledge shares attributes of natural and free knowledge (the third moment of knowledge) because it is prior to any free act of God’s will and the content of middle knowledge is so innate to God that He could not have known the opposite of what He knows through it. If a created free choice were going to do the opposite, as it can, then God would have known that very thing through middle knowledge. These scenarios are called counterfactual propositions which are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood. For example, “If Mark walks into the ice cream store, then he would freely choose vanilla over chocolate.” Mark does not actually have to walk into the ice cream store in order for the statement to be true. All that is required for this statement to be true is that if Mark walks into the ice cream shop, then he would freely choose vanilla over chocolate. These kind of counterfactual (counter to fact) statements are used incessantly in the English language. Other examples include, “If we attack the flank, then our army will gain the upper hand,” “If made to choose between the two options, then she will choose the latter,” and, “If I do not make it to work on time, then I will be fired.” Despite the contingency of the actualization of these statements (they could happen or they could not happen), God knows their truth value independent of His will similarly to how He possesses natural knowledge.
Between God’s middle knowledge and His free knowledge (explained below) is God’s creative command or decision to create the world. This decision of God to freely create the world leads to the third logical moment of knowledge.
The third moment of knowledge in logical procession is called free knowledge. This type of knowledge is how God knows what absolutely and infallibly will be the case in the actual world. For example, in the actual world horses exist, so God’s knowledge of the actual existence of horses is a part of His free knowledge. Further, the fact unicorns do not exist is known by His free knowledge as well. The content of this knowledge is not essential to God since it is determined by the kind of world God wishes to create, but this type of knowledge itself is essential to God. The kind of knowledge is necessary but the content of the knowledge is contingent to God. Here is a table illustrating the logical moments of God’s knowledge:
1) Natural Knowledge : Knowledge of necessary truths and possible worlds.
2) Middle Knowledge : Knowledge of what free creatures would do in any given scenario.
*God’s Creative Decree*
3) Free Knowledge : Knowledge of the actual world.
As explained before, these moments of procession are not chronological since God possesses all this knowledge eternally; rather, they are logically prior to one another in the same way that premises of an argument are prior to their conclusion while maintaining chronological simultaneity. Of course such a view is contrary to open theistic claims about God’s omniscience. Open theism denies divine comprehensive foreknowledge and middle knowledge while Molinism maintains that God possesses total knowledge of both, so, in light of Molinism, how can open theism be understood and addressed?
Now that I have introduced the topic and the counter-perspectives, I can engage their arguments with one another. I shall begin this endeavor next post.
“Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” (Psalm 139:4).