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Five Brief Philosophical Arguments for the Open View

I believe that sound philosophical arguments support the open view in which God doesn’t foreknow the future free decisions of humans. My main reasons for holding this view are biblical and theological, but since truth is one we should expect that the truths of Scripture and the truths of reason will arrive at the same conclusion—if we interpret Scripture accurately and reason correctly.

EDF and Actual Occurrences

P1) If God possesses EDF, the definiteness of all events eternally precedes their actual occurrence.

P2) Actuality is distinct from possibility in that actuality is characterized by definiteness, while possibility is characterized by indefiniteness.

P3) Thus, all events are actual before they are actual.

Conclusion: It is absurd to say that an event is actual before it is actual, thus (reductio ad absurdem) God does not possess EDF.

Comment: This argument raises the question, What does the actual occurrence of x add to God’s foreknowledge of x so as to distinguish the actual occurrence of x from the mere foreknowledge of x? If God’s experience of the actual occurrence adds anything to God’s foreknowledge, then God’s foreknowledge cannot be exhaustively definite. God learned what it was to experience x even if we concede that prior to this God had perfect propositional knowledge about x. If God’s experience of the actual occurrence of x adds nothing to God’s knowledge, however, then it becomes utterly impossible to render intelligible the distinction between a thing’s actual “occurrence” and its being “merely” foreknown.

In other words, if experience is the highest form of knowledge (and it most certainly is), then an exhaustively definite knowledge of x entails an unsurpassably perfect experience of x. Hence too, an exhaustively definite foreknowledge of x must entail an unsurpassably definite experience of x an eternity before x occurs.

To salvage EDF, then, we must either grant retroactive causation or grant divine timelessness. Whether these concepts are either philosophically or biblically defensible is questionable.

The cause of eternal definiteness

P1) Nothing contingent is uncaused.

P2) The definiteness of the actual world is contingent.

P3) The definiteness of the world is caused (from P1).

P4) If God possesses EDF, the world was perfectly definite (in God’s mind) an eternity before the world existed.

P5) The world can’t be the cause of its own definiteness, for it did not exist from eternity.

P6) God must be the sole cause for the world’s definiteness, or the world is not contingent.

Conclusion: I cannot be the cause of the definiteness of my own actions: I cannot be self-determining.

Comment: Two consistent views regarding the future and EDF are the Calvinist view of absolute predestination, and Spinoza’s view of a wholly necessary world. The future is eternally definite either because an eternal being willed it from eternity to be what it is, or because it is logically impossible, and thus eternally impossible, for it to be other than it is.

As theological determinists argue, the classical Arminian view, which affirms EDF while also affirming self-determination, is inconsistent. As Luther argued, “If God foreknows things, that thing necessarily happens. That is to say, there is no such things as free choice” (Bondage of the Will). Conversely, if one grants free choice, one must deny EDF.

The logic here is straightforward. On one hand, free agents determine their own actions. On the other hand, the definiteness of their actions is held to be eternal (in God’s EDF) though the free agent is not eternal. But how can a temporal cause produce an eternal effect?

Aquinas (following Aristotle) was more consistent in arguing that what is eternal cannot be contingent, for what is eternal could not have been other than it is. Hence Aquinas construes God as being the eternal cause of the temporal contingent world (though both he and Aristotle were less than consistent in working out the omni-deterministic implications of this view). It seems, then, that the cause of the eternal definiteness of God’s EDF regarding the totality of contingent world history cannot be the temporal, contingent world history itself.

One could perhaps argue that there is no cause to the eternally definite content of God’s foreknowledge. The knowledge is “just there” as an attribute of God’s omniscient nature. It’s not clear how this view improves matters, however.

If world history is exhaustively definite from all eternity, why is supposedly contingent reality eternally this way as opposed to eternally that way? The Calvinist view in which God is the explanation undermines creaturely self-determination, as Arminians argue. The Arminian view in which the future world itself is the explanation assumes either retroactive causation or divine timelessness, and both of these assumptions are highly problematic. But concluding that there is no cause doesn’t salvage the intelligibility of the position.

For one thing, postulating an uncaused fact denies the principle of sufficient reason. For another, construing the definiteness of my future as eternally uncaused is no more compatible with me possessing self-determining freedom than is construing it as eternally God caused. The problem with compatibilistic freedom is the supposition that the future is definite before I make it so: how it became definite is in this respect inconsequential.

Thus, I argue that there is no way to render intelligible the EDF view that every aspect of my life is definite prior to my choosing it so, though I am free and morally responsible for the way I choose my life. Consequently, if one wishes to affirm libertarian freedom, they must deny that God possesses EDF in order to be logically consistent.

I shall now offer several arguments that it is logically impossible to affirm that God possesses EDF while also affirming that humans or angels are free in the sense that they can determine what they are going to do within parameters.

(This is called “libertarian” or “self-determining” freedom. Some argue that creatures are free if they are simply able to choose what they want, though God determines their wants. But this much would be true if we were hypnotized to want something and were simply not prevented from choosing it. We are only free in a significant sense—in the “libertarian” or “self-determining” sense—to the extent that we determine our being, our desires, and our choices.)

The impossibility of changing the past
I believe the impossibility of changing the past is one of the strongest philosophical arguments showing the incompatibility of libertarian free will and EDF. Let three things be granted:

a) the past by logical necessity cannot be changed;

b) we are not free in relation to what we cannot change; and

c) we cannot change God’s knowledge (which, by definition, is perfectly accurate).

According to the classical view, from these three premises it follows that humans can be no more free regarding any future event (including their own chosen actions) than they are regarding any past event. For, if God possesses EDF, among the totality of things at any given moment in the past which we cannot change are the facts of all our future actions.

So, for example, I obviously can’t alter the fact that (say) a young Jewish girl named Zosia was tortured by Nazi soldiers on August 15, 1943, and hence I am not free to save her from this tragedy. Equally obvious is the fact that all determinate facts that constitute reality on August 15, 1943, are beyond the scope of my freedom. Since the past can no longer be other than it is, I am not free to alter it and thus cannot be held responsible to alter it.

But, assuming God possesses EDF, among all the unalterable determinate facts that comprised reality on August 15, 1943, is the determinate fact that (say) I shall marry my wife on August 18, 1979. The unimprovable definiteness of this truth was “there”—in God’s ever-contemporary EDF—among all the other determinate facts that constituted reality on August 15, 1943. In other words, if God were to catalog the contents of his omniscient mind in a volume entitled All the Unalterable Facts Known by the Omniscient Mind on August 15, 1943, my marriage on August 18, 1979 would be among them.

Thus it follows that I could be no more free to determine who I’d marry or when I’d marry her, than I was to determine the fate of Zosia. Both were part of the totality of reality of August 15, 1943, a reality I had nothing to do with even though it seemed like I did in 1979. Indeed, since I can change nothing about the past, and the “book” of “All the Unalterable Facts Known by the Omniscient Mind” is in the unalterable past, and on the EDF view this book contains my entire future, it seems that I can be no more free with regard to any of my future than I am with regard to anything in the past because if EDF is true then my whole future is actually in the past!

Conversely, if I assume that I do self-determine aspects of my future, it follows that what I shall end up doing could not be contained in God’s hypothetical book of unalterable facts in 1943. If I genuinely self-determined who I married and when I married her, then it could not have been a determinate fact 36 years before I chose it (and 14 years before I was even born) that I would marry my wife August 18, 1979.

In other words, for my future to be free it must partly consist of a genuine “possibly this or possibly that,” rather than exhaustively consisting of “certainly this and certainly not that.” I am only genuinely free to do x or y if it genuinely lies within my power to do x or y. But if God possesses EDF, then the entire history of the world—past, present, and future—is cataloged as “certainly this and certainly not that” in God’s omniscient mind. And in this case it cannot lie within my power to do other than God’s book said I would do before I was born. Hence, it seems that if God possess EDF, I cannot be genuinely free.

The meaning of self-determination

P1) Self-determination means that the self determines its actions, or it has no clear meaning. Regarding any genuinely free act, in other words, by definition the free agent ultimately determined that an action within the category of possibilities (“possibly this or possibly that”) would become something within the category of actualities (“certainly this and certainly not that”).

P2) Retroactive causality does not occur.

P3) Hence, the determinateness given to an action by a self-determining agent cannot precede that agent’s self-determination (let alone eternally precede it!).

Conclusion: The determinateness of the acts which an agent self-determines cannot exist before the agent gives these acts determinateness. Hence the determinateness of such acts are not there to be known by God or anyone else as anything other than possibilities prior to the agent’s act of self-determination (let alone an eternity prior!).

Comment: Unless premise 2 is rejected and retroactive causation is granted—something few western philosophers have historically been willing to grant—then this conclusion is unavoidable. Either the determinateness of my actions comes from me, in which case I am self-determining, or it does not, in which case I am not self-determining. This much is tautology. If the determinateness eternally precedes me, it does not come from me. If, in other words, a given action of mine was in the category of determinate things (“certainly this and certainly not that”) an eternity prior to my making it so, then I did not make it so. For I am not an eternity old. Yet on the view that God possesses EDF, all future actions are eternally within this category. Hence no created being can be the originator of the determinateness of their actions—viz. no created being is self-determining. Conversely, if we grant that created beings are in fact self-determining, then God cannot possess EDF.

The distinction between possibility and actuality

P1) The fundamental distinction between possibility and actuality is that of indefiniteness and definiteness.

P2) Self-determination is the power to change possibility into actuality, thus indefiniteness into definiteness.

P3) If EDF is the case, then every event is definite before it occurs.

P4) There is no indefiniteness to the future.

Conclusion: The self has no power to change possibilities into actualities, indefiniteness into definiteness. That is, the self has no self-determination.

Comment: If the distinction between actuality and possibility is not that of definiteness and indefiniteness, then what is it? And if self-determination is not the ability to render possibilities actual, then what is it? If both P1 and P2 are granted, however, the possibility of affirming that the content of God’s foreknowledge is exhaustively definite while affirming self-determination is undermined. Unless the future is to some degree ontologically (not just epistemologically) open (viz. partly constituted by indefinite possibilities) then agents can’t turn possibilities into actualities and thus posess self-determination. Despite protests to the contrary, I do not see that classical-philosophical theism allows for real possibilities.

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