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Planck Time and a Defense of Open Theism

09/04/2011

One of the strongest criticisms against the system of thought known as Open Theism (i.e. the future is partly determined and partly left “open” by God) is the charge that under this model, God does not possess Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge about the future. That is, if the future is partly open, and if it is genuinely up to free agents to actualize a possible future, then by definition God cannot know what those free agents will choose. If he did, since his knowledge is perfect, the agent would not be able to do otherwise and would not be genuinely free. Seemingly, this limits God’s knowledge. How can we trust a God who doesn’t even know whether I’m going to eat a burrito or a cheeseburger for lunch, let alone the other meaningful choices I may make in my life? Open theists have responded to this objection in various ways.

While no open theist denies that God is omniscient, some have slightly modified, or clarified, the definition of omniscience. Classically, we understand omniscience as “knowing everything.” God is omniscient; God knows everything; therefore, God knows what free choices we will make. But then are they free? If, however, we understand omniscience as “knowledge of the truth value of every proposition” this changes things. Now, for instance, God knows whether each proposition is true, false, or has no truth value, propositions such as “I will eat a burrito for lunch tomorrow,” or “I might or might not eat a burrito for lunch tomorrow.” Open theists who advocate this view of omniscience do not deny God’s omniscience, they just assert that if the statement “I might or might not eat a burrito for lunch tomorrow,” is true, then the proposition “I will eat a burrito for lunch tomorrow,” has no truth value and is thus unknowable. In other words, if it is true that there is a genuine choice, then it is not true that there is one certain outcome. Just as God does not know any married bachelors, he also does not know what free agents will choose in the future. This is not a reflection of his lack of knowledge, it is simply an understanding of definitions. Which proposition has truth value? “Will” propositions or conjoined “might” propositions?

"If God foreknows things, that thing necessarily happens. That is to say, there is no such things as free choice." Martin Luther, "Bondage of the Will"

The next line of objection then usually rears its ugly face in the following fashion. “If God doesn’t know what we will choose, how can he be assured that he will get what he wants?” The simple answer is that he cannot. It is true that the bitter pill open theists must swallow is an acknowledgement that God at least to some extent risks getting his will. After all, genuine love requires risk. But we do also like to qualify that. God only risks to the degree that he has given us free will. He has not given us complete autonomy; just enough free will for moral responsibility and for the capacity to genuinely love him. Therefore, open theists can say that while God risks some aspects of his will, he is still wise enough and powerful enough to distribute free will in a way that does not compromise his ultimate objectives. Take this for example. God wants everyone to go to heaven (II Peter 3:9). Since some people will not go to heaven, God does not get what he wants. But God wants people to be able to freely choose to love him (and to be morally responsible for choosing to not love him) more than he wants all of them to automatically love him. Therefore, by leaving the choice partly up to us, God is in fact ensuring that he achieves his ultimate goal, even at the risk of not achieving some of his other goals.

But with so many free agents and with so many variables and with so many choices, how can God ensure that he will win in the end, that the paradise of the new heaven and new earth will be worth the suffering? I would like to bring up the famous Chess Master Analogy. In this analogy, God is a chess master who is assured of victory not because he controls his opponents’ moves or even can foresee his opponents moves, but because he knows every possible move that every possible opponent will make in every possible game, and his infinite intelligence allows him to anticipate every possibility as if it were the only one, without having to divide his intelligence. In some possible games, he may lose some pawns, or a knight, or even the queen, but he has calculated every possibility so that no matter what, in every game, he will get the checkmate.

Gosh, I loved these books as a kid!

Another way to think about it is as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. In this mode of story telling, the author creates various possible story lines, but leaves the choices up to the reader. Similarly, God has authored, or at least can foresee, every possible future, but he leaves the choices up to us. We would not, therefore, say that the author of these stories does not know what will happen. In fact, the author knows what will happen no matter what happens. In the same way, God knows everything that will happen because he knows everything that might possibly happen.

To us, this seems a little mind-boggling. When we consider the vast number of free agents who have existed in all of eternity, when we consider all the choices they have made, all the choices they possibly could have made, all the circumstances influencing those choices, the future, and indeed the world, seems infinitely complex. But is it really?

Fairly recent scientific study has led scientists to the conclusion that there is in fact a “smallest unit of time.” That is, time cannot be infinitely regressed. This smallest unit of time is called a Planck Time, named after the scientist Max Planck, and it is the time it takes a photon to travel one Planck distance. In other words, because nothing travels faster than light, there is no shorter unit of time. One Planck Time is roughly 10-43 seconds. This means, therefore, that since time itself has both a beginning and an end (it is not eternal since it was created by God) there is a finite number of Planck Times, and there are a finite number of decisions or choices that can be made in any given Planck Time. Therefore, even though the universe and the future seem incomprehensibly complex to us humans, to God, who is infinite, they pose no threat. (Check out this Wikipedia article for more about Planck Time.)

God's intelligence is infinite, but the number of possible futures is not.

Imagine for a second that every detail about the future were determined by God an eternity before he created the universe. We all agree that he would have no trouble ensuring that his will comes to pass since there is only one path for the universe to take. But imagine if he left one decision open, thereby creating two possible paths for the universe to take. God would then have to divide his intelligence to prepare for each possible future. But because God’s intelligence is infinite, he still risks nothing by leaving the choice open. In other words, infinity divided by two is still infinity. But how many times can God’s infinite intelligence be divided before he no longer can be sure of what will happen? How many different paths is too much for God to handle? A hundred? A thousand? A billion? More? I contend that the possibilities would have to be truly infinite in order to make God the “limited, passive, hand-wringing God” who can do little more than hope for the best that Bruce Ware mis-characterizes the God of open theism to be (in his book, “God’s Lesser Glory”). If in fact the possibilities were endlessly and infinitely complex, God would have met his match. But if Planck Theory can be trusted at all, we know that even though the number of possible futures is really big, infinity divided by “really big number x” is still infinity. Therefore, we can trust that even if the future were entirely open, God would still be able to prepare for each future as if it were the only possible future without diminishing his wisdom or intelligence.

But it doesn’t end there. One of the things that sets open theism apart from schools of thought such as process theology is that God does sometimes determine some aspects of the future. Therefore, to the extent that God has determined the future, the number of possible futures is also reduced. Furthermore, every time we make choices, we eliminate other choices and entirely possible futures, also limiting the number of possible futures. This means that with every passing moment, God has thousands, maybe even billions, fewer possible futures to divide his intelligence among.

To wrap this up, we can conclude that even if God does not possess Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge about every detail that will occur in the future, he is still able to anticipate and prepare for every possible future because the number of possible futures is finite. We open theists can still affirm that God’s knowledge of the future is perfect. It just consists of genuine possibilities, and God knows them as possibilities. Basically, the open view allows God to foresee and prepare for the future without violating human free will by determining every aspect of it.

Most of this material was inspired and informed by these essays.

From → Theology

14 Comments
  1. Parker permalink

    It might also be possible to, conversely, redefine “free will” instead of redefining omniscience.

    • If you read my obscenely long post entitled “It’s Actually Only Three Views on Divine Providence” you will find nestled within the odiously long paragraphs a refined, open theist definition of libertarian free will, at least according to me. However, since it may be treacherous to traverse the many words of that post (you could get lost for days!) I will provide my definition here:

      “My main disagreement with Craig is on his definition of libertarian free will. While he acknowledges the existence and scriptural defense of libertarian free will, his definition is troubling to me. He says that “freedom is a matter of the absence of external causal constraints determining one’s action.” (p. 226) That is, Agent S is considered to be “free” if he or she performs Action T without being determined or controlled. This is a close definition, but my view says that in order for freedom to be genuine, the agent must not only be undetermined but must also have a legitimate choice to perform Action not-T. To illustrate, imagine a scientist who creates a micro-chip that allows him to control the choices of a person, and he implants this into someone’s brain. Imagine further that this scientist is an Obama supporter, and he is going to use this micro-chip to ensure that his victim will vote for Obama. However, as the person enters the polling booth, and as the scientist is about to push the button to activate the micro-chip, he sees, to his delight, that the person votes for Obama anyways, and he didn’t have to activate the micro-chip. According to Craig, this is a perfectly acceptable view of freedom. (p. 225) I contend, however, that the agent was not genuinely free, because even though he was undetermined in his choice, it was impossible for him to do anything except vote for Obama. I, and other open theists, hold that true, genuine, libertarian free will must include both elements: a legitimate choice between at least two possibilities as well as an undetermined moment of choice where the agent chooses, of his own volition, one of the aforementioned possibilities. In Craig’s view, the agent is still a prisoner. They just don’t know it.”

  2. Zack G. permalink

    Mike,

    I think a major issue that I would take with this defense of Open Theism is that is it not taking its basis on biblical grounds. I don’t think people criticize Open Theism, among vast other beliefs, on the grounds that they do not make logical sense, but that they do not correspond with the whole of Scripture.

    • I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit is what has propelled me down this philosophical path, trying to, as Milton would say, “Justify the ways of God to men.” In fact, I would contend that my view does exactly what you say it doesn’t do. If you look at the WHOLE of scripture, you will find that it teaches that 1) God is the sovereign governor of the universe, omnipotent, omniscience, and omni-benevolent and 2) that man is morally culpable for his choices and in fact has the ability to genuinely submit to or resist the will of God. I say that my view legitimately tries to reconcile these two Biblical ideas in a philosophical way without having to just shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, it’s just a mystery.”

      Conversely, I believe that the Reformed view conveniently ignores many passages of scripture that talk about God not getting what he wants, dismissing them as “phenomenological anthropomorphisms”. Similarly, I find no explicit scriptural support for the Reformed understanding of compatibilistic freedom. And furthermore, I have found that Reformed believers have a tendency to throw this accusation of “lack of Biblical support” around when their views are challenged.

      Finally, I will admit that while there are no scripture references in this post, I see no problem with designing a theological argument or defense on philosophical or scientific grounds, as long as it does not directly contradict what scripture explicitly teaches. After all, both philosophy and science are part of God’s general revelation, and as long as it is true, it is from God (as Augustine would say, “All truth is God’s truth.). Truth is truth is truth. Yes, scripture is the highest authority of truth, and if there is any conflict we must side with scripture, but as long as other truths do not conflict with scripture, they are just as true.

      I would have you know that I have tried to base this view and my defenses for it on the truth revealed not only in the whole of scripture, but also in the truth of God as revealed through philosophy and science. I guess I fail to see what’s so wrong with that.

  3. Zack G. permalink

    Mike, my prayer as we both continue the paths that God has for us is that we would continually say, believe, and live: “He must increase and i must decrease”.

    • Zack G. permalink

      In that we see God’s sovereignty in the Bible and all of creation, and not man’s independence, since our independence and pride (choosing our will over God’s) is ultimately what led to the Fall and is the defining sin of human nature that blinds humanity from God.

      To my knowledge, your Luther quote is taken out of context. On page 164 [the quote in mention is in the last paragraph] (http://www.theresolved.com/downloads/Bondage.pdf), the context is that Luther is showing the futility of holding to a concept of “free will” as he continues to rail against through over 100 pages. Luther abhorred Erasmus’ concept of free will. I’m not exactly what your purpose was with the quote, but just so you knew the context.

      • The purpose of the quote was to show that even Reformed theologians like Luther recognize and admit that free will is incompatible with Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge. Luther (not necessarily I, although I agree with it) argued that if God foreknows that an event will surely happen, then there is no choice that can be made to the contrary. Open theism simply asks the next logical question: If God foreknows that a particular evil event will certainly occur, and if there is no ability to choose anything to the contrary, then who is morally culpable and responsible for that evil? The person who commits it cannot be, I argue, because they had no choice to the contrary. They were simply doing what God had programmed them to do from the beginning of time. And compatibilism does not avoid this unfortunate conclusion. In my view, people are still responsible for the evil they perpetrate of their own free will, and God is still able to foresee and anticipate it as a genuine possibility, so he is neither surprised by it nor morally culpable for causing it.

        Far be it from me to advocate an idea of free will that asserts itself against God’s will. That is not my intention. My idea of free will is not so that we can realize our independence and autonomy from God, but so that we can realize that our free will and our independence from God is the only reason why our lives are so screwed up. That’s my point. Every time we use our free will to rebel against God, it ends badly. Every time we freely submit our will to God’s will in genuine love, God’s perfectly good and loving kingdom advances. I’m not advocating autonomy from God, I’m advocating our need to use our free will to submit to God, not to resist him. But I cannot accept that we are God’s puppets or robots, that every event in the universe is caused by God, because that negates genuine love and logically makes God ultimately responsible for the evil that occurs.

        Explain to me how the Reformed view (or your personal view) reconciles the two ideas of man’s moral responsibility for evil with God’s perfect governance of the universe?

  4. Zack G. permalink

    How does that play out in election? What relationship do God and the human have in redemption and regeneration.

    Mike, that’s not something I’ve figured out either. I’m not proposing that I have a better view, just that Open Theism clearly, at least to my eyes, takes away sovereignty from God and places it on humanity.

    The Bible establishes that God creates humans – He forms them in their mother’s womb (Jeremiah). Before that, even, He had called us “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12). God has set the world in motion with His very thoughts, He upholds it by His hand (and through Christ – Colossians 1), and no one can break His control over creation. Romans 1:18-32 sets up that God’s creation reveals Him, yet humanity has turned their hearts from Him and exchanged the truth of God for lies. In continuing along, though, God seems to reward or punish each for his deeds (2:6-10). Especially important is verse 11 which says that there is no partiality with God; All of Romans 3 (especially vs. 23), Ephesians 2:1-6, etc. illustrate that humanity was/is dead in its sins. Dead things cannot do anything; Psalms 115:17, Ecclesiastes 9:5,6, and Isaiah 38:18-19 show that the dead are dead. Even Lazarus could not raise himself, he had to be raised; only Jesus has the authority to raise Himself up.

    What this means is that all the world is guilty and deserves death (Romans 6:23). No one is deserving of grace or love because of our sin. We have turned from God and gotten what we deserved. We suppress His truth in unrighteousness. Even that, God predestined (1 Peter 2:8 is one of the toughest passages of Scripture I’ve ever read). All of Romans 9 is an obvious chapter dealing with this topic. However, Jeremiah 18:5-10 shows God as a potter, Who will do with His pots as He sees fit. Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:20-21, God creates some vessels for holy purposes and some vessels for dishonorable purposes. Yet in both Isaiah (chapter 40, at least) and Job, humanity is chastised for judging God. God did not consult with any human before He created everything with the breath of His mouth, no one has directed His Spirit, and no one has ever counseled or informed Him of anything. Humans are like grass in the scorching heat – likewise, our human knowledge is nothing before Him.

    In Acts 17:22-31 (the sermon on Mars Hill), Paul seems to indicate that coming to know God is a both-and; God has determined things, but we need to search for Him. John 6:31-44 says that we can’t come to the Father unless He sends us; many people will see, but not many will believe (vs. 40), for Jesus even says in verse 37 that His Father will give them to Him (Jesus) and all those who then come/are given, He will not turn away. The pattern of Scripture shows that God calls people (frequently in the OT, God calls people who wouldn’t normally have been called – Jacob as the youngest, Joseph, the Judges, Moses, etc. Just look at Hebrews 11 to see that the people God used in the OT were not good or perfect, but had many flaws) and those people obey God, even to the point that it ruins (or would ruin) their lives. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Job, the prophets and the hatred they received (especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who had his wife taken from him by God as a representation of Israel’s sin), Paul, the apostles being stoned, and ultimately, Christ being crucified. etc.

    It is a mystery, and I do not know, nor want to seek to fully understand God for that is an impossible task. From my understanding, though, God has elected people from before creation (not on any basis of our own – Ephesians 2:8-9), but there are others who God predestined for not glorious things in order to glorify Him (Exodus 4:11 and the man who was made mute in the Gospels so that “God might be glorified through him”. That translates to missiology in that I fully believe God has called people, but I have no idea who He has called or where there are in their knowing of Him, so it is mine, and our, responsibilities to proclaim the Gospel everywhere, so that those who hear AND believe may come to Christ and be saved. We view it as Ezekiel did in preaching to a valley of dry bones, but God, as He says, will attach the sinews, muscles, and flesh Himself. We preach, and God restores! Humans are dead in their sins, but by preaching God’s Word, they may hear His truth and come to know Him.

    Like I said, I haven’t fully thought it out, I am probably missing some obvious Scriptural evidence (Proverbs and ESPECIALLY Psalms like 139/etc.), and this isn’t organized well, so while I see the mystery between the Calvinist and Armenian side, I don’t see why so many people have trouble with it. I honestly don’t understand where people get caught up, so if you could help me out with that, that would be wonderful!

  5. Ephesians 2:1-2 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

    How can a person be both “dead” in their transgressions and still “live” at the same time? Obviously, Paul is speaking metaphorically. We were not literally, actually dead in our transgressions. I believe he is simply claiming that the original sin and our natural inclinations all around us make it essentially impossible for us to choose God unless he comes and counter-acts that force of evil, which I believe he has done for every person, making it possible for anyone to be saved but not necessarily ensuring the salvation of everyone.

    As far as election goes, I would argue that when the Bible talks about God’s election, it does not do so in an individual sense but in a corporate sense. God does not pick and choose arbitrarily who is in and who is out. Rather, he ordains that whoever comes into his body will be set aside for holiness, for good works, for eternal life, etc, and whoever rejects him will be handed over for punishment, just as he has ordained, and he is fully justified in doing so. Furthermore, an argument can be made that Romans 9 and other passages can be explained and interpreted not as EXCLUDING certain groups of people from God’s covenant just because he arbitrarily decided, but they actually INCLUDE and accept people who were originally not part of the deal, and if that is God wants to do, he is completely justified. In other words, I believe that as far as election is concerned, God has designed his salvation to work is such a way so that if we end up in heaven, we have no one to thank but God for providing the way there, and if we end up in hell we have no one to blame but ourselves for rejecting his free offer of eternal life. He does this by partially determining certain aspects of the future (i.e. that Christ will pay the penalty for man’s rebellion thereby making salvation possible) while at the same time leaving certain aspects of the future open for us to decide (i.e. whether or not we will submit to his will). If, on the other hand, God is the ultimate cause for a person choosing to reject him and thus spend eternity in hell, then that person is not the only one to blame for that unfortunate end. After all, God is the one who ordained it. They can only be morally culpable if there was a genuine choice to be made, and a genuine choice means genuine possibilities, and genuine possibilities means an open future.

    For a more thorough discussion of corporate election, go here: http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-predestination-free-will/how-do-you-respond-to-romans-9/

  6. Zachary Gagnon permalink

    With both of those interpretations, I can see how your method gets you there and I don’t have any qualms about the final interpretations. I may not necessarily agree with your presuppositions or method, but that’s the joy of the diversity within God’s Kingdom!

  7. Tom permalink

    Mike: “It is true that the bitter pill open theists must swallow is an acknowledgement that God at least to some extent risks getting his will.”

    Tom: Small comment — I think you mean “…risks not getting his will,” for what is risked is not (as you say), but .

  8. Tom permalink

    Mike: “It is true that the bitter pill open theists must swallow is an acknowledgement that God at least to some extent risks getting his will.”

    Tom: I left out text! Let’s try again: I think you mean “…risks not getting his will,” for what is risked is not *getting what one wants*, but *not getting what one wants*.

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