Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Is the future open?

Freewill theists believe the future is “open.” In debates between Calvinists and freewill theists, it’s useful to be clear on what it means for the future to be open, how these facets are interrelated, what they entail, and what positions they eliminate.

Here’s a summary:

Alan Rhoda's "The Fivefold Openness of the Future" lays out five senses in which the future is open. The future is causally open in that there are several possible futures. It is ontically open in that the future does not yet exist. It is alethically open in that propositions about the future are neither true nor false. The future is epistemically open in that no one can know which future states of affairs will obtain. Finally, the future is providentially open in that the future states of affairs are not exhaustively ordained. Rhoda attempts to argue that if one accepts certain assumptions, these five senses of the open future stand or fall together. If he is successful, he has narrowed the options for theists to take: one either holds to open theism or theological determinism. Molinism and other forms of free will theism are out if the argument goes through.

And here’s a technical exposition of the summary:


  1. Excellent summary. Do you lean towards an A or B theory view of time? It seems open theism would require the former.

  2. Freewill theists usually think freewill theism requires the A theory of time. That doesn't mean the converse position (predestination) requires the B theory of time.

    There are good philosophical arguments for the B theory, but I have theological doubts about the B theory.

  3. If freewill theism logically implies open theism, I can understand why they would lean towards A theory. The principle difficulty I have with the A theory is the idea that it implies a weaker sense of immutable omniscience.

    If you don't mind my asking, what leads you to doubt B theory's theological compatibility? Something like Mellor's hypothetical objection that those who say God is timeless (i.e. B theorists) could not also believe God makes tensed judgments nor act in such a way that can be expressed tenselessly?

  4. I still affirm God's timeless eternality. I think that's a separate issue from the B-theory of time.

    My theological problem with the B-theory is that, on that view, I don't think we ever put the past behind us. For, according to the B-theory, past, present, and future are equally real. The present doesn't enjoy an ontologically privileged status.

    In heaven, or the new Eden arrives, we can't say our life in a fallen world is over and done with, for my present self isn't my only existing self. I equally exist in each timeframe. My past self in the fallen world is just as real as my future self in heaven or the new Eden. My present experience isn't more actual than my past experience. In each timeframe I'm conscious of that timeframe.

    My past doesn't cease to exist with the "passage" of time. There's being without becoming. A continuum of being.

    One day is just as real as another. That doesn't change over time. So nothing gets better. The afterlife is better than this life, but it doesn't *get* better. It's not a turning-point, but just another point along the continuum–like a ruler with inches.

    Likewise, there's no reversal of fortunes for evildoers who prospered in this life. There's a contrast between this life and the afterlife. The afterlife is worse for them. But there's no *transition* from an earlier stage to a later stage. Their happy life doesn't pass away. It's just a different, but equally real, stage, in their overall existence.

  5. "I still affirm God's timeless eternality. I think that's a separate issue from the B-theory of time."

    You don't think God's knowledge of tensed facts would imply that God is in time?

  6. I don't think that issue is unique to a timeless knower. Can I know tensed-facts about Ryan? Yes. Yet I can't strictly identify with Ryan's indexical standpoint–for the simple reason that I'm not Ryan. You and I have different indexicals. Yet we can know tensed facts about each other.

    Your "I" isn't my "I". Your "here" (taking yourself as the frame of reference) isn't my "here". Your "mine" isn't my "mine." But I don't think it requires a particular theory of time to underwrite your knowledge of text facts about someone other than yourself.

    Of course, you have specific reference to temporal indexicals, but is that fundamentally different from the other examples I cited?

  7. It doesn't seem to me that knowing about another's tensed beliefs - even if these beliefs are true - is a tensed fact. God's knowledge that "Ryan believes at time t that 't is the present' or 't is now'" is not tensed knowledge, it is knowledge about tensed knowledge. Similarly, God's knowledge about my beliefs as to where I am does not mean God is in space.

    But maybe this was your point? That God's knowledge can be tenseless and [hence] He can be timeless even if our beliefs (which could be true) aren't? If so, could you speak to why God relation to we who are in time (apparently according to an A-theory view) would not imply God is also in time?

    I appreciate the feedback.

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  9. Steve do you have any special comments on William Lane Craig's novel views of God's relationship to time?

    For others who don't know Craig's views, here's a link:
    God, Time and Eternity

    In the article above, there's a quote at the beginning which I assume is an excerpt from one of WLC's other papers.

    Is God's eternity to be construed as timeless or temporal? Given that the universe began to exist, a relational view of time suggests that time also began to exist. God's existence "prior to" or sans creation would not entail the existence of time if God in such a state is changeless. But if God sustains real relations with the world, the co-existence of God and the world imply that God is temporal subsequent to the moment of creation. Given the superiority of a relational over a non-relational (Newtonian) view of time, God ought to be considered as timeless sans creation and temporal subsequent to creation.

    Source: "God, Time, and Eternity." Religious Studies 14 (1979): 497-503.

  10. What a Non-Christian Can Teach Us About Time [management] http://gospelcrumbs.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-non-christian-can-teach-us-about.html

    If you haven't watched this video when it first came out, I recommend you do now. Randy Pausch speaks on time management while dying from incurable cancer. Died July 25, 2008 (aged 47)

  11. Ryan,

    If God can timelessly know tensed facts, then wherein lies the problem?

  12. There wouldn't be one. But that's what's in dispute.

    If God knows that 4/4/12 is "the present" or "now," and will know on 4/5/12 that 4/4/12 is "the past" or "yesterday," such a change [in God's knowledge regarding 4/4/12] must speak against the idea God is timeless, right? For the flow of time affects His knowledge.

    On the other hand, if what God knows about 4/4/12 is merely that it is thought to be "the present" or "now" for me, you, or someone other than Himself, then His knowledge of such can be expressed tenselessly as I mentioned before: "Ryan believes at time t that 't is the present' or 't is now.'" It's not that t is objectively "now," but that Ryan believes it to be.

  13. There is no objective, universal "now" to be known, either on the A-theory or the B-theory. Past, present, and future are observer-relative. Abraham's future is my past. Abraham's "now" is my "then."

  14. Here's an article you may find useful:


  15. Thanks. That was very interesting. I'll definitely think about all of this.

  16. typo correction:

    I said,
    If you haven't watched this video when it first came out, I recommend you do now.

    That was a general "you". I should have typed, "If anyone hasn't watched this video..."