Saturday, May 17, 2008

Does God change his mind?

This seems to go even further than open theism. What do you make of these types of claims from Scripture?

25 comments:

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Vic,

Some open theists (e.g., John Sanders) believe that God can and sometimes does literally change his mind in response to creation. Others, such as Greg Boyd and myself, believe that God does exhaustive contingency planning from the beginning. (And given that He can, why wouldn't he?) We would say that what changes in these passages is not literally God's mind or will. Rather, what changes is which of God's original conditional resolutions is applicable to the current situation.

Robert said...

Hello Alan,

“Some open theists (e.g., John Sanders) believe that God can and sometimes does literally change his mind in response to creation. Others, such as Greg Boyd and myself, believe that God does exhaustive contingency planning from the beginning. (And given that He can, why wouldn't he?) We would say that what changes in these passages is not literally God's mind or will. Rather, what changes is which of God's original conditional resolutions is applicable to the current situation.”

I want to see if I can understand your view better. You believe that God has exhaustive knowledge of all possibilities? He then develops plans of how he would respond in each situation depending upon what people or angels do. This sounds similar to Molinism where God also knows how you would perform under any set of circumstances. The molinist then suggests that each possible world contains the set of all such circumstances for a particular world. God then selects one of these possible worlds and actualizes it. It seems in your case he has the same kind of middle knowledge, but that rather then actualizing a particular world, he simply creates and then the possibilities start happening as per the decisions of men and angels and God’s interaction with them. Is this your view? How is your view different than Molinism? And I also wonder if God has the exhaustive knowledge of every possibility then how does this differ from having foreknowledge of these future events? The actual future whatever it will be, will consist of actual outcomes. And if God knows how each of these outcomes could go, isn’t that what makes foreknowledge possible? It is then just a short step to the idea that he not only knows the future possible outcomes but also knows all of the future actual outcomes. Just trying to understand your view better. Thanks.

Robert

Paul Manata said...

Robert,

Alan didn't affirm Molinism. He affirmed that God has plans for various situations which might arise. So, it is *exhaustive* in that: if an agent does X, then I will do Y. If they do Z and A, then I will do B and C. etc. God doesn't know what a libertarianly free agent will do, but given his nature as God (wisdom, knowledge, power), he can plan and anticipate all sorts of possible actions or choices they might perform. He then has a contingency plan already in place for all (or the vast majority) of them.

You can see this by Alan's claim that: "what changes is which of God's original conditional *resolutions* is applicable to the *current* situation."

He doesn't know the *future* situations, but when he sees the *current* one, he will employ one of his pre-planned resolutions for the situation.

Kind of similar to a chess player: If he goes there, then I'll go there. If he does that, then I'll do this. The chess master doesn't *know* (for sure) what his opponent will do, but he has a contingency plan for any and all moves.

At least that's how I read Alan.

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your question. My view is not the middle knowledge view, though there is enough of a superficial resemblance that Greg Boyd at one point thought of it as "neo-Molinism". (He now rejects that label.)

Basically, the differences between Molinism and my view are threefold: (1) Molinists believe that for every possible libertarian free choice situation, God knows either a "would " counterfactual or a "would not" counterfactual. Greg and I reject that. We believe instead that what God knows regarding possible libertarian free choices situations is a "might and might not" counterfactual. (2) The Molinists counterfactuals of creaturely freedom have their truth values independently of either God's nature or God's will. In contrast, the truth values of our "might and might not" counterfactuals are grounded wholly in God's nature. (3) Molinists believe that God (weakly) actualizes a specific possible world, one which includes a complete history from creation to kingdom come. We believe instead that what God (weakly) actualizes is a possible world type. There is no specific possible world (with a complete history) that is the actual world. In fact, there is no such thing as the actual world (in the sense of a complete history) for God or anyone to know.

Hope that helps.

Alan

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Paul,

You've given a good statement of my position. Thanks. I would just make one qualification. I would say that God doesn't know "the" future. That way of putting it suggests, misleadly in my view, that there is such a thing as "the" future for God to be ignorant of.

If by "the future" one means a unique sequence of events subsequent to the present all of which "will" happen and none of which will not happen, then I deny that there is such a thing.

On the other hand, if by "the future" one means the whole branching array of causally possible futures stemming off from the present, then I would say that God knows the future, in that sense of "the future"

Paul Manata said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks.

I meant it in the first sense (and the sesne I think Robert would take it).

It would be correct to say that God doesn't know "the future", because it doesn't exist to be known (first sense).

So, it wasn't meant to a *limit* on God's knowledge, but just a statement of what he does not know. Not a pejorative, just stating that, for you, he doesn't know the future (first sense) because that's impossible. Just like I would say that God doesn't *know* how to make a square circle.

Paul Manata said...

P.S. I will make that distinction clearer the next time I discuss your view, though! :-)

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks. It's all cool.

I've found from past experience that if I don't get very precise in explaining my position, then people tend to draw the wrong inferences.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Alan,

I've had the experience where people draw the wrong inferences *even when* I've been very precise!

Take care!

Dave Armstrong said...

I happen to have written on this topic recently, in criticizing far-right Catholic apologist Bob Sungenis. I reasserted Catholic dogma that God is outside of time and cannot change His mind (being omniscient and immutable):

Robert Sungenis' Denial of the Catholic De Fide Dogma of God's Immutability and Profound Confusion About Time and Eternity

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/05/robert-sungenis-denial-of-catholic-de.html

Plus vigorous discussion:

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/davearmstrong/7064987010032322512/#163850

Robert said...

Hello Alan,

So in your view God is somewhat like a chess grandmaster who responds to different moves made by the other player.

In your comments you seem to believe that there is no one and only actual future. I must confess this does not make too much sense to me. Staying with the chess analogy. Say two players play fifty games against each other. Each of those games will consist of a series of actual moves made by both players, and those actual moves make up each actual game. Similarly our world history is like one of those actual games in which the actual events that occur will make up that one world history that will in fact occur. Now you may claim that God does not know the future moves that make up the one game being played (and I disagree with you on this), but how can you deny that there is in fact one game that will play itself out. And this one game will consist of all of the moves that make up our world history? How do you explain there not being one actual history, one actual game being played that will play itself out?

Robert

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Robert,

The set of truths about the past is unique, such that after the game is finished there will be a complete "history" of the game. But that does not imply that there is, right now, a unique way in which the game "will" go. You seem to be thinking of the future the way we typically think about the past, as a fait d'accompli.

Alan

Paul Manata said...

Alan,

Would you say that (if you believe God has libertarian free will) God does not know what he will do next since that is (a) future and (b) indetermined/free? And, since you said that you disagree with Molinism in saying that God knows what S *will* do, rather you say God knows what S *might* do, then is it fair to say that this is how to read you (using the chess analogy):

[1] Not - If Sam moves there then I *will* do this move.

[2] But - If Sam moves there then I *might* do this move.

Is [2] the appropriate way to phrase things?

Robert said...

Hello Alan,

You wrote:

“The set of truths about the past is unique, such that after the game is finished there will be a complete "history" of the game. But that does not imply that there is, right now, a unique way in which the game "will" go. You seem to be thinking of the future the way we typically think about the past, as a fait d'accompli.”

I think you are mistaken when you say: “that does not imply that there is, right now, a unique way in which the game ‘will go’.” Every game of chess that I have ever played went a certain way, it did not go multiple ways simultaneously. Now you and I may not know the way the game is going to go (and you would claim that even God does not know the way the game is going to go, though I would claim otherwise and believe you to be mistaken), but it will go in some specific direction and will include specific moves. Only if the game were completely interrupted and stopped would there be no one and only actual future.

Leave the past aside that is the easy part to think of, :-) it consists of actual outcomes that have already occurred (i.e., what you call “fait d’accompli”). In the present when the chess move is being considered before one or another move is actualized, the actual outcome which will make up the set of actual outcomes that constitutes the actual game has not yet occurred. So the present is indeterminate.

And there is the future outworking of this actual game. Like the past, the future consists of the actual outcomes that will have occurred. The past is as you say “fait d’accompli”, but so is the future, as paradoxical as that may seem. Only in the present before the outcome is actualized are things open and indeterminate. Some people make the mistake of seeing the future as consisting of a “garden of forking paths”, each an alternative way things can go. But that is not accurate. Previous to the present, the past consists of actual outcomes that are irreversible and cannot go any other way than they in fact went. The future also consists of actual outcomes that are irreversible, as there are not multiple and contrary futures that will all be present simultaneously, but only one future, only one way the game will in fact go. It is only in the present that the “garden of forking paths” exists previous to the actualizing of actual outcomes. Once an outcome is actualized it becomes part of the set past.

Again, staying in the chess game analogy, we have made our moves (the past) and that is set, we are now making our present moves that is not yet set (the present), and the game will go a definite direction in the future (the future). It cannot go multiple ways in the future (the various alternatives that are available to choose and actualize are present now). I cannot both lose my queen and retain my queen simultaneously in the future. I will either lose my queen at some point in the game or keep it throughout the game, but not both. And retaining it or losing it will be part of the one actual future that is coming as this particular game plays itself out.

Put another way, people sometimes speak using the metaphor of history being like a “timeline” and each event that makes up history is part of that line. The past is the part of the line we know did in fact occur. The present is like a point in the timeline where the space surrounding the line consists of possible outcomes, and some possibilities will not be actualized as actual outcomes and some will be actualized. Those that are actualized become part of the timeline. And the process of actualizing possibilities into actual outcomes occurs **only in the present**. The future is also part of this one timeline, and it is a set line going a set direction. If you could see all of history you would see only the single time line. If you could see all of history as well as what could have occurred, you would see both the single line as well as all the circles of possibility surrounding the one single line (sort of a tube enveloping the single line). Of course I believe that God sees it all so he knows not only what will actually happen (the single line) but also what could have happened, had different outcomes obtained (the circles surrounding the single line).

Robert

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Paul,

I do believe that God has libertarian freedom, and I don't think this creates a difficulty concerning God's ability to know what he's going to do. Think of the chessmaster analogy and suppose God does exhaustive contingency planning in the beginning. In that case, for every conceivable development in the game, God has always already had a prepared response. In short, he's already made all the decisions he's ever going to make. His knowing what he will do (or, in many cases, what he will do IF) is simply a consequence of divine self-knowledge - he knows what decisions he's already made, and no new information will require him to recalculate since he's already taken all possibilities into account.

As for your [1] and [2], I would go with [1], not [2]. The contingency introduced by Sam's choice affects the antecedent of the conditional, not the consequence relation between antecedent and consequent. Sam "might" move there and Sam "might not". If Sam should move there, God has a planned countermove that he "will" play. Parallel considerations apply if Sam should not move there.

Hope that clarifies.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Alan,

I guess I'm not clear on your position.

If God cannot know what a libertarian free agent, S, will to at T, since T doesn't even exist, then does it matter if S is God?

It may well be acceptible to say, "If S does A at T, then I will do B at T," but since T hasn't happened yet, and so God hasn't actually done B, how can he *knows* that he will do B if S A's at T?

In other words, there's a difference in *saying* that you would do X, and *actually doing* X.

Specifically, I don't understand how what you said to me squares with what you said to Robert:

"Greg and I reject that. We believe instead that what God knows regarding possible libertarian free choices situations is a "might and might not" counterfactual."

And since God's choice in how he will respond to a given situation is a *libertarian free choice*, then isn't it a "'might and might not' counterfactual?"

Simply put: Just because someone plans or says that they will respond in such and such a way, doesn't mean they *will*. I'm sure some soldiers have *said* and *planned* to never, ever, not in any circumsatnce or situation whatever, give up information to the enemy if they are caught. But we know that what they *decided* to do wasn't how things played out, and *in fact* what they did was give up key information.

That's where I'm having trouble.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Alan,

More briefly, in the abstract to your paper "The Philosophical Case for Open Theism," you state: "...I argue against non-open free-will theists that future contingency is incompatible with the future’s being epistemically settled for God" (emphasis mine).

But above you state, "In short, he's already made all the decisions he's ever going to make."

Thus seems like God's libertarain future is "epistemically settled for God."

And that's what seems inconsistent to me. Seems like you're letting a "foot in the door" of something you don't want to allow. If one can know what *one* libertarian agent *will* do, if one can have libertarian free actions "epistemically settled" for *one* libertarianly free agent, why not two, or three?

Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for pressing me on this. I see where the difficulty lies, and it's in my blurring over the distinction between (a) God's knowledge of what he unconditionally "will do" and (b) God's knowledge of what he "would do" if a certain contingency obtains.

God can know (a)-type propositions insofar as they do not concern future contingents. So if God has unilaterally decided to bring about a certain state of affairs come what may, then he can know it will happen because that was settled by his past decision. What's relevant here is not whether God decision was free in a libertarian sense, but simply the fact that the decision has already been made and so is no longer a future contingent.

In all other cases, God knows a (b)-type proposition. He knows that he "would do" X if a certain condition obtains. And, given that whether those conditions obtain in the future is a causally contingent matter, he knows both that he "might" do X and that he "might not" do X.

Anonymous said...

Robert,

If you have any number of possible alternatives *ahead* of you (i.e., that you have not *yet* made), then it is simply incoherent to claim that the *future* is not a garden of forking paths on a libertarian scheme.

Also, your argument is unclear. Are you saying that there is only *one* future for any of the alternatives you might choose? So whatever is chosen still leads to the same one future? (So (some kind of) determinism would be true. No matter what you choose, the outcome is the same!)

As if possible alternatives at present were: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, ... and the "way the game goes" is "x." Are you saying that x would occur regardless of whether you chose (say) a or d or f?

If not, the the future is a garden of forking paths since a might get you x and b gets you y and c gets you z, etc.

I don't see how libertarians can answer open theists.

Robert said...

“Anonymous”,

Due to the sock puppet activity that has occurred in the very recent past on this blog I am very leery of responding to anyone who posts anonymously at this point. If you post as yourself, I will be glad to dialogue with you on some of the issues that you raise in your post. I just don’t trust anonymous posters at this point. I hope you understand.

I did want to ask you one thing though. You closed with:

“I don't see how libertarians can answer open theists.”

How so? First of all open theists **are* libertarians. Second, be more specific, what is it that open theists present that cannot be answered. Your statement here is not clear, but I am fascinated by your claim here. Identify yourself and more fully explain what you mean here and perhaps we can talk about it further.

Robert

Peter said...

"I did want to ask you one thing though. You closed with:

“I don't see how libertarians can answer open theists.”

How so? First of all open theists **are* libertarians. Second, be more specific, what is it that open theists present that cannot be answered. Your statement here is not clear, but I am fascinated by your claim here. Identify yourself and more fully explain what you mean here and perhaps we can talk about it further."

Ooops! :-) I meant traditional Arminians. I meant Arminians who hold to exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarianism. I think open theists take libertarianism to its logical theological conclusion. Open theists have said this. So have determinists.

I'll re-post. I won't respond either since I can't get involved in a discussion right now. I just wanted to read your answer.




Robert,

If you have any number of possible alternatives *ahead* of you (i.e., that you have not *yet* made), then it is simply incoherent to claim that the *future* is not a garden of forking paths on a libertarian scheme.

Also, your argument is unclear. Are you saying that there is only *one* future for any of the alternatives you might choose? So whatever is chosen still leads to the same one future? (So (some kind of) determinism would be true. No matter what you choose, the outcome is the same!)

As if possible alternatives at present were: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, ... and the "way the game goes" is "x." Are you saying that x would occur regardless of whether you chose (say) a or d or f?

If not, the the future is a garden of forking paths since a might get you x and b gets you y and c gets you z, etc.

I don't see how libertarians can answer open theists.

Robert said...

Peter,

You wrote:

“Ooops! :-) I meant traditional Arminians. I meant Arminians who hold to exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarianism. I think open theists take libertarianism to its logical theological conclusion. Open theists have said this. So have determinists.”
I disagree with this claim that open theists take Arminianism to its logical conclusion. The Arminians that I know personally who are good exegetes (such as I.H. Marshall and Ben Witherington) start with the text of scripture and find two things being taught by the biblical texts: (1) that occasionally human persons have what is called in philosophy, libertarian free will; and (2) that God knows everything including future events [which will sometimes include freely made choices]. (1) is libertarian free will and (2) is divine exhaustive foreknowledge. So **based on their exegesis of biblical texts** they conclude that the bible teaches both. The open theist comes along and primarily for philosophical reasons argues that God cannot foreknow future events that involve libertarian free will (call this (3)). (1) and (2) are exegetical conclusions that derive from the biblical texts, (3) is a philosophical argument that does not derive from exegesis of biblical texts. So the Arminians that I know, hold (1) and (2) but reject (3). And they are being consistent with their method which is to limit their conclusions to what the biblical texts actually teach. The biblical texts never teach that God cannot know, or does not know, future events that involve free will (in the libertarian sense). If you limit yourself to what the bible teaches you will not conclude that God does not know future freely made choices.

Thus, the Arminians that I know all reject Open theism’s error of denying exhaustive divine foreknowledge. I have heard James White make this same claim: that open theists are the most logically consistent Arminians. But when I look at Arminian writings (especially exegetical writings) and talk to Arminians, none of them accepts this claim. In fact they see this as both a false claim and an intentional caricature or straw man of the Arminian position. Arminianism since it holds to God exhaustively foreknowing all events can never lead to open theism which explicitly denies foreknowledge of all events.

If God cannot know the freely made choices of human persons in the future, if that is an impossibility, then open theism logically follows. But **who** has ever shown that God’s knowledge is limited in this way? And what biblical text shows that God cannot know future events that involve LFW? Since that has never been shown and since Arminians believe that the bible teaches both that God has exhaustive knowledge of all things and that people have libertarian free will, they conclude that both open theism (for rejecting foreknowledge of all events) and calvinism (for rejecting libertarian free will) are false. I know passages in the bible that teach foreknowledge and libertarian free will, but I know of no passage that says God cannot foreknow choices that arise out of libertarian free will. That is a philosophical assumption that some may impose upon the text, but it is not an exegetical conclusion.

For a good example of “Arminian” thinking on this issue: take the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga (while Plantinga is best classified as a Molinist in my opinion, his thinking is thoroughly Arminian on this issue). He affirms both that God has exhaustive foreknowledge AND that we and God have libertarian free will. So according to your definition by your own words here, he is taking the “Traditional Arminian” position. Plantinga is no open theist, not even close, and he takes things to their logical conclusion quite well. If James White’s claim were true then Plantinga would have argued that these two propositions logically lead to open theism (but you will not find Plantinga claiming that conclusion anywhere, so White is wrong on this and ought to know better). And in his little book of God and foreknowledge Plantinga actually calls this argument that foreknowledge and libertarian free will are not compatible, an argument from “atheology”. He also deals with the argument in both that little book as well as his essay “On Occam’s way out”. If you have not already read these things I encourage you to do so. If you examine church history especially prior to Augustine, and even after him, throughout church history, the majority position of Christians has been that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and that both God and man have libertarian free will. Those who have denied the foreknowledge of God were Socinians in the past and open theists today. It is atheists, open theists and calvinists who have denied that foreknowledge can be compatible with libertarian free will. Arminians do not (and have not) denied the compatibility of the two.

“I'll re-post. I won't respond either since I can't get involved in a discussion right now. I just wanted to read your answer.”

I had some questions for you, questions to clarify things, but you appear not to have the time. You don’t seem to understand my view nor do you have the time to pursue it, so I will leave it at that.

Robert

Peter said...

Thanks Robert.

Paul Manata said...

Alan,

Thanks for your answer. I'm still unsure about the cogency of the distinctions you're drawing. I'll chew on it for a while and perhaps we'll be able to chat about it again. I'm writing a response to your "Theologians Fallacy" post write now, I link over at your blog when I'm finshed.

Best,

PM

Arpo said...

Very interesting reading some of the comments on this question. I wonder if anyone can answer me this question? Did God know his future mind when he caused (or just let) the 2004 sunami happen. Did he already know the suffering, especially to children, that this would cause? I would invite anyone to comment on the state of his mind around this time, hopefully avoiding phrases like, 'he was just moving in a mysterious way'.