Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Theism implies Open theism

According to theism there is a God who has, for example, the most understanding that anyone could possibly have. Open theism is the thesis that God’s future is to some extent open. It is not that God exists within time, but that time—or rather, changeability—is another of God’s attributes. The temporal dimension is certainly implicit in much of our ordinary talk of ordinary things (changeable continuants), but it is only our imperfect, quasi-spatial reification of change. Changeability itself originates with God’s power to change (e.g. to choose to create contingent continuants like us) should he wish to. The following shows that changeability is indeed a power, rather than a liability.
......It is one of several arguments I produced in response to Mawson’s recent argument that, since a temporal God would not know all about the future, if we had free will, whereas a timeless God would, and since God is maximally knowledgeable, so God is timeless. It is based on the observation that if God could be timeless—if a timeless divinity could create a world of people like us, while being above and beyond our personal and physical temporalities (or ways of being changeable)—then surely an everlasting (or Open theistic) God could have created such a world in a single moment of his relatively transcendental time. He would just have been creating things whose temporalities differed that much from his own, just as a timeless divinity would have been doing.
......Now, there are lots of possible worlds, which God would know all about even if he did not actually create all of them. Not creating some of them would hardly be a failure of omnipotence, as being unable to create them would. So suppose that God is everlasting and that he has chosen not to instantaneously create such a world as ours would be were God timeless, but has instead made it as Open theists believe it is. If God was timeless he could not do that, because he would have to know all about the future of any world that he could possibly create. So an everlasting God knows about (and is able to create) all the possible worlds of a timeless God, and more besides.
......God being maximally knowledgeable (and maximally powerful), we should be Open theists, at least according to Mawson’s methodology (and given the validity of such possible-worlds-talk).
......It is perhaps more clear that we should not conclude that God is timeless just because he could then be completely knowledgeable (and powerful) in respect of ourselves. That is because 100% of a little could be much less than 1% of a lot. To see that even more clearly, let RoboGod be an infinite computer that can create arbitrarily complex virtual beings, about which it would know (insofar as computers can know) everything, and over which it would have complete control. One might think that one might be such a creature (e.g. because Functionalism is conceivable) but even so, RoboGod might not know as much as (and is clearly less powerful than) someone who could create such a computer in the first place.


Jeff said...

It seems to me that Mawson and his ilk are flirting with an almost eastern view of evil, because it's a fine line between stating God new exactly how things would turn out and holding God responsible for how things turned out. In terms of theodicy, I think it's the more brutal horn to emphasize of the bull, to suggest that God was fully responsible for all the evils that befall us.

I hold the position (and think that scripture is most consistent with the position, for whatever that's worth) that God did not know how things turn out. In his wisdom he uses all things to his advantage but does not originate many of the things we identify as evil.

On a thoroughly unrelated note, I'm curious about the connections between process theology and open theology. Any idea if the former developed from the latter?

Enigman said...

I don't know anything about the process link (I've seen it mentioned somewhere, but I've not been able to see it myself :)

Jeff said...

I'm not sure if you mean you don't know anything about process theology or if you mean you simply don't see a connection.
Whichever it is, here's a super brief summary:
Process theology is rooted in the philosophy of Albert North Whitehead. There's elements of the metaphysics that strike me as quite obtuse and counter intuitive.

The theology is quite interesting to me (though I'm not sure how much I agree with it.) I've heard them refer to God as the soul of the universe. The overall emphasis is that God is the most knowledgeable being in the universe but is limited in his omniscience; He is in the process of growing, learning, changing, and evolving.
The link I see is in this last point, the idea that there is room for God to grow, that He is changeable.

Enigman said...

That was very clear, thanks. I've found Whitehead very obscure, and what little I thought I got I disagreed with profoundly. To me he's interestingly different to Russell -- coming from philosophy of Maths as I am -- but his works (and works on him) are probably going to remain on my to-do list forever, along with Hegel's...

The idea of a universal soul seems like a sort of property-dualistic materialism, to me. Not as bad as some anti-realistic theologies perhaps, but still, I wouldn't call it theistic. That the Open theistic God predates (indeed, transcends) the universe is, I guess, the main difference. The Process theistic God might as well be called the Devil, it seems to me. It would be no more perfect than an ants nest...

I think that there are basically two Realistic and plausible metaphysical positions. The first is materialistic, with mind emerging from the energy of the Big Bang. The second is (mono)theistic, with the Big Bang being deliberately caused by a perfect person. I think that any other position ends up being inconsistent. So, as a Realist I would say that Process theology (as you describe it, which fits with what little I recall) is the very opposite of Theism.


Anyway, to answer your question, I think that God has the most understanding that anyone could possibly have. I think that he cannot know that he is, but only because (i) he is epistemically perfect, and so (unlike us) requires his knowledge to be completely justified, and (ii) to know that he is omniscient he would have to know that he was one (or three) of a kind, and that is empirical knowledge, requiring the sort of external justification that he would be logically unable to have were there no such external beings beyond him -- as there presumably are not...

I also think that it is in the very nature of numbers that they have an indefinitely extensible arithmetic -- transfinite arithmetic on the standard view (which I think is provably false) -- so that only an everlasting (as opposed to timeless) God could have the most understanding of arithmetic that it is possible to have. Similarly, he can know more about us as we grow up, as there becomes more about us to know. But that is very different from the way in which our epistemic abilities grow as we grow up, or developed as our species evolved...

On both views God is changeable, but I find that to be a rather superficial similarity. Those who see God as unable to change may see that as all-important, of course. That is just how people think, I find. Similarly I see the timeless view of God as so akin to Humean supervenience that I tend to dismiss it out of hand. There are better things to think about, I think. But having said that, there may well be profounder connections between the two, if only because they have both developed in the shadow of the standard Eternalism of academic theology.

JCHFleetguy said...

I do not know that you will find me disagreeing that much here - but you are right that I would have to work my way through the dense philosophical jargon to know.

Essentially, what I see is that you are arguing that it an all-powerful and all-knowing God does not necessarily have to know all possible futures. I agree.

He would know that free will decisions would be made - but if they are truly free will He cannot necessarily know the outcome; and hence while He may clearly know the outcome of the current historical thread - it could change.

I always liked the Seldon historians in Asimov's foundation series. They had reduced mankind mass decisions to mathmatical formula - so that they could produce predictions of the future based on the science. A small tweek here and there would all that would be necessary to move the historical outcome to the way the wanted - because our mass actions were predictable.

Then, came The Mule . . .

If you do not know what that means, you of all people should read the stories.

Anyway, I have often thought God's understanding the timeline was similar. He is at all points in the current stream at all times; and we are not likely to really alter that mass stream in any appreciable way by any of our actions. Only a small tweek here and there is necessary for Him to continue to have mankind's journey stay within His plan.

Enigman said...

Thanks JCHFleetguy, I have indeed read the Foundation series, avidly (as I now read Hamilton's Commonwealth series). Re God's small tweaks, I suppose it's not that God would expend more effort on larger tweaks, as finite beings would, but rather that the way things are is (and will therefore remain) pretty close to how things should be.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I want to make sure you're accurately presenting the atemporal view as classically held. On such a view, God does know what happens in every possible future, and the same is true on the open view. So in terms of knowing what happens in possible futures, the two views are the same. The difference is that the classical view (whether God is atemporal or temporal) insists that God additionally knows which of those possible futures is the actual one, and the open theist doesn't think God does.

So I'm not sure how it's supposed to be that God doesn't know what happens in all the other possible futures on the classical view. It seems to me that he does, and therefore it's 100% of a little + 100% of a lot on the classical view.

Did I get your argument wrong? Because it seems to me to be assuming that the non-open view has God not knowing which possible futures there are, and that just seems false.

Enigman said...

Jeremy, I think you are mistaking possible worlds (PW) for possible futures; which is fair enough, I think, because I'm not a big fan of PW talk. Still, they serve OK here, I think. The key sentences in my argument were:

So suppose that God is everlasting and that he has chosen not to instantaneously create such a world as ours would be were God timeless, but has instead made it as Open theists believe it is. If God was timeless he could not do that, because he would have to know all about the future of any world that he could possibly create.

A timeless God would know, as you say, all about the actual future of any possible world. But an everlasting God would only know, at any time (so to speak), the possible futures of any possible world. He could, of course, determine in advance which of those will be actual, if he wanted to (he could not also give the things of his world any freedom to do otherwise, of course).

He could, in other words, make a world such that there was only one possible future. A complete description of the physical facts of such a world would be much as such a description of a world that a timeless God could create (a metaphysical difference would be that time is B-theoretic in the former case and A-theoretic in the latter case (the difference may not be precisely that, but that's the basic idea))...

Anyway, this everlasting God could also make (or actualise) a world (a possible world) in which the created things were not all so deterministic but were, some of them, inherently indeterministic to some extent, e.g. particles with collapse-theoretic quantum-mechanical indeterminism, and creatures with genuinely Libertarian free will (which again may not be quite the correct term, but that's the general idea).

Jeremy Pierce said...

Ah, I get it now. God has more options if God can choose to create a world with a fixed timeline or a world without one, whereas an atemporal God only has the fixed timeline option.

Keep in mind that atemporalists think God is necessarily atemporal, and atemporalists who hold to a B-theory of time generally take the B-theory to be necessarily true. That means what you're proposing is analogous (from a B-theory/timeless God view) to saying that God is more limited for not being able to create square circles. Descartes' view of God allows more options for God, because God could have chosen to limit himself to making non-contradictory things but has allowed himself the option of making contradictory things too. To someone (i.e. almost everyone) who thinks such things are just impossible, then it's not a real limitation to say that God can't make a rock too big for God to move. The atemporalist B-theorist is going to say exactly the same thing about the possibility of God creating an open future, since that isn't a possibility, being necessarily false.

Enigman said...

I think you're right that the argument begs the question about the nature of time; but if that's its only flaw then it's still a pretty good response to Tim Mawson's argument that theism implies not-Open theism, because his argument did the same thing (with the other epistemic possibility for time, and going via knowledge of the future of this world). He explicitly justified doing so on the grounds that a theist ought to begin metaphysics with the perfect properties of God, and then deduce the nature of time from those, by maximising God's greatness.

If I use the same justification here, I argue that whereas we don't know for sure about the nature of time (there being those two possbilities), we know (or ought to, as theists?) that God is the greatest, is maximally knowledgeable and maximally powerful, from which we can deduce that the A-theory of time is true via this post's argument, on the grounds that then God can make more possible worlds, so he is maximally powerful and knowledgeable (since there is more for him to know).

Personally, I don't think that such an approach to metaphysics is very good, philosophically. My response to Tim's argument was much the same as your response to this one, that it begs the question about the nature of time, and I think that is all that needs saying. But it seemed a bit defensive to just say that, whereas my being able to make a similar move to Tim's (if Tim can) shows that it is not just that I don't like his conclusion. After all, there is one prestigious atemporalist who is going to be reluctant to say what you (and I would) say - the Dean of St. Peter's College, Oxford: Dr. Tim Mawson.

Furthermore, while the A-theory of time is clearly necessarily true if time (or rather, changeability) is an aspect of the divine essence, is time necessarily B-theoretic if time is one of God's creations? God, being maximally powerful, can create all sorts of things, so I'm not sure.

But in any case, my argument goes via PWs that are being distinguished by what is true of their inhabitants. We might regard them all B-theoretically, with an Open-theistic God being able to limit his omniscience in some PWs, and an atemporal God being unable to do that. Again there are more PWs for the Open-theistic God (at least if such a limitation affects God's interactions with the PW), although it is easier to regard that as a power rather than as a liability given A-theoretic time. Still, it remains to be shown that it is necessarily a liability (in all such PWs) given B-theoretic time.