On Open Theism, Part Five: Bivalentist Omniscience and Conclusion

Thank you to everyone who has stuck through this series with me. I do think a series like this one is important to combat many of the wrongheaded yet well-intended views about God prevalent in both scholarship and modern culture. My goal has been to a) put my senior thesis to good use, and b) combat philosophically unneeded and biblically unsound views of God’s omniscience. As should go without saying, a correct view of God’s omniscience is critical in maintaining a faithful understanding of God Himself, and it is my contention molinism upholds this understanding of God far better than does open theism.

The final type of open theism I shall address is Bivalentist Omniscience which is the view defended by Alan Rhoda and A.N. Prior. Tuggy refers to this view as the, “shortcut,” to open theism (1). Similar to Non-Bivalentist Omniscience, this view contends there exist no true statements about the future, but dissimilar to this position, it assigns a False truth value to all future contingents instead of prescribing no truth value. In other words, all statements about the future are false, so God cannot know future contingents because there are no true future contingents for Him to know.

Open theists justify this position by submitting a pair of statements like, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” and, “Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow,” are not contradictory but contrary statements (2). According to the standard logic of the relationship between propositions, if a pair of statements are contradictory, they can neither be both true or both false. One statement must be true and one must be false, but if the two statements are merely contrary, they can both be false. By contending these statements are contraries, one can affirm their falsehood simultaneously which would not require contesting the Principle of Bivalence (according to which all statements are either true or false). The chief challenge for this view is defending the notion, “will,” and, “will not,” propositions are not contradictories but contraries; such a view is a departure from how propositions of this kind are usually understood to relate to one another. “Will,” and, “will not,” propositions are typically acknowledged as possessing the full range of possible options for the actualization of an event, so the statements, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” and, “Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow,” embrace all of the possibilities of whether Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow. Jones either will or will not mow his lawn tomorrow, but for those open theists affirming Bivalentist Omniscience, this option is not acceptable.

In an attempt to demonstrate, “will,” and, “will not,” statements are contraries, open theists like A.N. Prior have simply held all future-tense statements are false (3), but it seems there is no good reason to think the statements, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” and, “Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow,” are genuine contraries rather than contradictories. Taking the statements at face value, it seems blatantly obvious that, “will,” and, “will not,” statements encompass the full range of possible options which could occur for a particular scenario. Jones either will or will not mow the lawn. He cannot mow the lawn while not mowing it, and he cannot not mow the lawn while mowing it. Either he must mow the lawn or not mow it.

Prior justifies his claim, “will,” and, “will not,” are contraries by stating an affirmation of a “will” statement is, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” but a negation of this statement is not, “Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow.” Rather, an appropriate negation is, “It is not the case Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow.” To rephrase the statement this way means the negation of a future proposition is always true since all future-tense statements are false; therefore, it is not now the case that Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow, and it is not now the case that Jones will not mow his lawn tomorrow. Neither of these statements is now the case because of a gap in the facts. Jones has not yet mowed his lawn. By grounding the truth of a future contingent in the present, Prior can state the falsehood of future contingents like, “Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” because nothing about these contingents is presently the case. It is not yet the case that Jones is going to mow his lawn or not mow his lawn.

As seen in the response to Non-Bivalentist Omniscience, grounding the truth conditions in the present rather than the future is a mistake for determining the truth of the future. The truth conditions for a proposition are dependent upon what will occur at the time the proposition occurs and not what currently is. To assert that because there is no future which is presently the case misrepresents what truth as correspondence to reality is in relation to the future. Grounding for future contingents ought to be in the future rather than the present even if there is no future currently in existence.

Further, the statement, “It is not the case Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” can be altered to avoid a gap in the facts: “It will not be the case Jones mows his lawn tomorrow” (4). Shifting the verb tense from, “It is the case,” to, “It will be the case,” corrects this gap in the facts by allowing the proposition to be true if it will be the case that Jones mows his lawn tomorrow, but Prior would still say this response is in an incorrect form. He would argue the negation should be, “It is not the case that it will be the case that Jones mows his lawn tomorrow,” because such a statement must still be grounded somehow in the existent present; however, this rejoinder seems rather contrived and ad hoc. Prior’s reinterpretation above does not make a significant difference especially if the concern lies in determining the right contradictory to, “It will be the case that Jones mows his lawn tomorrow.” To say that, “It is not the case that it will be the case Jones mows his lawn tomorrow,” is the same as saying that, “Jones mowing his lawn tomorrow will not be the case” (5). Further, there exists no sufficient reason to accept this reinterpretation of a contradictory especially in light of the normal and standard understanding of negation as a simple, “will not” (6).

Prior’s reason for grounding future contingents in the present is that statements about individuals who do not exist cannot be true; therefore, the statement, “It will be the case that Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow,” cannot be true because it describes a not yet existent individual and it is impossible at the present time to identify such an individual (7). This line of reasoning stems from the conception that no thing possesses the power of being made since it is non-existent. Thus, God has the power to create a world, but Jones in particular cannot be brought into being from nothingness. Jones is only Jones after he has begun to exist. There are no logical possibilities concerning persons prior to their conception. Logical possibilities increase as persons increase. Hence, it was not logically possible that Jones should come to have other parents, but it is logically possible that he should have had other parents.

In this way, there can be no truths concerning individuals until there are the individuals to be subjects of those truths (8), but acceptance of Prior’s view leads to an absurd consequence. In the same way there is no logical possibility for persons prior to their creation, objects (like possible worlds or universes) are subject to this same limitation. Prior’s view entails that before God’s creative act, no universe was a logical possibility, not even the actual one which of course is blatantly false (9).

Further, an appropriate response to this view is to submit that on molinism, God possesses knowledge of all logically possible worlds prior to His creation of the actual world via His natural knowledge; therefore, He knew every possible world in which Jones exists, he mows his lawn and when he does it. In this way, God knows whether the possible world in which Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow is the actual world, so individuals can be identified by tracking them through particular possible worlds on the basis of God’s knowledge of all logically possible world, all logically possible persons, and the world and persons He chooses to actualize (10).

Speaking of possible worlds in this way does not commit one to the ontological reality of possible worlds; rather, possible world semantics serve as a heuristic tool for exploring questions epistemologically like in this current scenario. Therefore, since there is a plausible way for non-existent individuals to be identified truthfully, there exists no sufficient reason to accept Prior’s reinterpretation of traditional contradictories as mere contraries. A person is free to maintain the standard notion, “will,” and, “will not,” statements are genuine contradictories, not contraries, since they embrace the full range of possible options for whether Jones will mow his lawn tomorrow. If they are not mere contraries but contradictories, then one must be true and the other false, and if one of these future contingents is true, then by the standard definition of omniscience, God must know it.

Conclusion

Open theism is a view which aspires to secure libertarian freedom for human agents, but it fails by abandoning God’s comprehensive foreknowledge. In light of a molinist view of God’s foreknowledge, the fears of open theists that God’s foreknowledge negates human freedom is simply misguided. The logical priority of human free choices over God’s free knowledge does not pose a significant threat to genuinely free decisions, and denying the truth of future contingents is an ad hoc departure from standard logic whether one does so by denying any truth value at all or maintaining all future contingents are false. Therefore, there are no significant reasons to accept the claims of open theism especially when one considers the resolutions offered by molinism.

As the psalmist writes, “Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began” (Psalm 139:16).


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, 10.

2: Alan R. Rhoda, “Generic Open Theism and Some Varieties Thereof.” Religious Studies 44, no. 2 (May 2008): 225-234. Accessed October 7, 2017. http://www.alanrhoda.net/papers/Generic%20Open%20Theism.pdf, 7.

3: A.N. Prior, “The Formalities of Omniscience,” Philosophy 32, no. 140 (1962): 114-29.

4: William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1991), 64.

5: William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 62.

6: Ibid.

7: A.N. Prior, “Identifiable Individuals,” in Papers on Time and Tense, authored by A.N. Prior (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968): 66-77.

8: William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, 65.

9: Ibid, 66.

10: William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God, 62.

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