On Open Theism, Part Four: Non-Bivalentist Omniscience

The second kind of open theism I will address is Non-Bivalentist Omniscience. This view is defended by Dale Tuggy; Tuggy refers to this view as the, “older and wider road,” to open theism (1). For Tuggy, the future is unknowable by God because statements about the future are neither true nor false. In this way, he rejects the Principle of Bivalence which states every proposition possesses the truth value True or the truth value False, and because future contingents have no truth value, they are unknowable by anyone including God. Therefore, God can still be called omniscient in the classical sense that He possesses knowledge of all truths since the future has no truths for Him to know.

This view is one of the older perspectives concerning the truth value of the future. Traditionally, scholars have believed one of its earliest endorsers was the philosopher Aristotle in his work On Interpretation (2). Although there have been a variety of exegetical understandings of his use of certain key terms in Greek, the view of denying any truth value of future contingents has typically been ascribed to him (3); therefore, I will assume this was Aristotle’s view since there exists a plausible case that it was and open theists and logicians have attributed it to him by name (4).

Aristotle’s view arises from examining the merits of logical fatalism, the philosophical father of theological fatalism. Logical fatalism submits that between two contradictory propositions it is necessary that one should be true and the other false because if a true future contingent was true yesterday, then, given the necessity of the past, the true future contingent is inevitable even if it is a human action. Therefore, it follows everything is a necessary event and no human freedom exists (5). Aristotle examines this problem using two propositions: 1) there will be a sea battle tomorrow, and 2) there will not be a sea battle tomorrow. He argues neither one of these propositions is necessary by itself, but it is necessary that there either will or will not be a sea battle tomorrow. Although a person may not know which of these statements will be actualized, it must be one or the other. The logical fatalist would begin her argument from this proposition, and she would maintain that the “one true, one false” thesis holds universally for all contradictory statements (6). From this thesis, the fatalist argues the truth of one of those contradictory statements entails its necessity. To avoid this conclusion, Aristotle contends future contingents are neither true nor false. Therefore, even though one of the propositions must be actualized, neither one of the future contingents is in the present true and therefore inevitable (7). If future contingents are not true, then they could not have been true in the past, so logical fatalism does not follow.

Although not explored by Aristotle, if future contingents are not true, God cannot know the future since it is unknowable if it lacks a truth value. Similar to how Aristotle rejected the Principle of Bivalence to avoid logical fatalism, open theists have opted for Aristotle’s solution in order to avoid theological fatalism. Then the question becomes whether there exists any reason to believe future contingents have no truth value.

The largest challenge to this view of the future is these open theists have to deny the Principle of Bivalence according to which all statements possess the truth value True or False, but there are no good reasons to believe future contingents are neither true nor false. Assuming truth is correspondence to reality, to call a future contingent true or false is merely to state how facts of the matter will happen at the time. As Nicholas Rescher and Alasdair Urquhart write, “[T]he issue of the truth or falsity of a chronological perspective hinge entirely upon how matters turn out at the time at issue, so that the allocation of a truth-status to future-contingents is perfectly innocuous, because it prejudges nothing” (8). In other words, to designate a future contingent as either true or false is merely a descriptive claim, not a prescriptive one, so if Jones does mow his lawn on Saturday, then prior to Saturday on Thursday the statement, “Jones will mow his lawn,” is a true future contingent. It is solely dependent upon how matters turn out.

There is no reason to believe that a proposition possessing a truth value prior to its actualization determines that same truth value to the future contingent. Truth in this instance is determined by whether or not Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow, not vice versa. In light of this point, Aristotle’s view errs in assigning no truth value whatsoever to a future contingent. If Jones does mow his lawn on Saturday, it seems odd to deny this statement had any truth value on Thursday especially if truth is correspondence to reality. Recall that truth as correspondence to reality simply means that if X occurs in reality, then X is true. This holds whether X occurs in the past, present, or future, so the idea that truth as correspondence requires that the events described by the statement must exist presently at the time the statement declared in order to be true misrepresents what is truth as correspondence to reality (9). A statement does not need to be presently true in order to be true which is the crux of the open theist’s argument.

Further, if truth as correspondence to reality only applies for statements actualized in the present and not the future, then statements about the past have no truth value as well. The assumption a view of truth as correspondence excludes the bivalence (truth or falsehood) of future contingents excludes past contingents as well (10). If future tense statements are not true because the realities they describe do not yet exist, then past tense statements are not true because the realities they describe no longer exist, but such a conclusion is absurd. Such a conclusion means one must reject the truth value of past contingents like, “Jones mowed his lawn yesterday,” even if such contingents were at least true when they were being actualized. If present correspondence alone determines truth, then past contingents have no truth value. Since the two cases are parallel and they stand or fall together, a person must affirm both past and future contingents do have a truth value or deny the truth or falsity of both sets of contingents (11).

Another difficulty in rejecting the Principle of Bivalence is that the tenseless versions of future contingents are always true or false (12). The statement, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” can easily be made tenseless by stating the date of the action and changing the verb tense, so the statement becomes, “On July 17, Jones mows his lawn,” (spoken on July 16). By changing the verb tense from, “will mow,” to, “mows,” the statement shifts from a tensed to a tenseless version, but even though changing a statement from a tensed to a tenseless form results in some loss of meaning, the tenseless version of a proposition must either be true or false. One cannot merely rely upon the fact the proposition is not actualized yet in order to negate its bivalence. The critical issue is whether or not this proposition is true or false timelessly since one cannot simply appeal to the fact the contingent has not yet been actualized from the perspective of the speaker, so while denying bivalence might have merit for tensed propositions, the same does not hold for tenseless propositions. If the tenseless proposition, “On July 17, Jones mows his lawn,” is true, it is always true (13). Therefore, the contingent is true prior and posterior to July 17.

In light of these absurd consequences, it is unavailing for a person to reject that future contingents possess any truth value thereby rejecting the Principle of Bivalence. Many open theists realize and accept these consequences which has led them to embrace the third type of open theism which I will address in my next post.

“Who, like Me, can announce the future? Let him say so and make a case before Me, since I have established an ancient people. Let these gods declare the coming things, and what will take place” (Isaiah 44:7).

1: Dale Tuggy, “Three Roads to Open Theism.” Faith and Philosophy 24, no. 1 (January 2007): 28-51, accessed September 25, 2017, http://trinities.org/dale/threeroads.pdf, 6.

2: Aristotle, Aristotle in Twenty-Three Volumes: The Categories On Interpretation Prior Analytics, ed. G.P. Goold trans Harold P. Cooke (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938).

3: William Lane Craig, The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents From Aristotle to Suarez (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 2.

4: Dale Tuggy, 7.

5: Hugh Rice, “Fatalism,” (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), accessed October 17, 2017, URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/fatalism/&gt;.

6: Colin Strang, “Aristotle and the Sea Battle,” Mind 69, no. 276 (October 1960): 449.

7: Aristotle, 11-12.

8: Nicholas Rescher and Alasdair Urquhart, Temporal Logic (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1971), 211.

9: William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 57.

10: William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1991), 59.

11: William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God, 58-9.

12: William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, 59.

13: William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God, 59.

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