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G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: The Maniac

After much time, I have finally started reading Chesterton’s work Orthodoxy. I kept hearing amazing things about this book from many Christians and boy were they right. This post is the first in a series of posts that will focus on summarizing Chesterton’s thoughts in his book.

The Maniac is the second chapter after the Introduction of Orthodoxy. This chapter delves into the modern rationalism that was popular back in Chesterton’s day and is still popular today. This rationalism has made men insane.

This madness of human thought begins with the denial of sin. Some theologians and modern thinkers deny original sin even though Chesterton says that it’s the only part of Christianity that can be empirically proved. Evil can be seen in the street; it’s impossible to deny this fact. He then begins to state his main thesis of this chapter: Mystery is essential for normality and sanity.

“The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world” (p.g. 30)

Chesterton says the modern mind wants to negate imagination and poetry. It wants to overcome the dichotomy of faith and reason by just getting rid of faith altogether. But Chesterton demonstrates this way of thinking to be wrong by showing that it is the poet who is sane, and the pure rationalist who is insane.

“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and make it finite” (p.g. 31)

He beautifully shows that the worship of human reason and intellect will ultimately cause utter chaos in all parts of the modern mind. Consider this next quote:

“The poet only asks to get his head in the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits” (p.g. 31-32)

The modern mind wants to reduce all these spiritual thoughts into something that can be comprehended easily and rationally, yet it is impossible to do such. Chesterton gives a brilliant real life example. R.B. Suthers, a determinist, believes that free-will is impossible because it involves causeless actions. Suthers denies this because free-will cannot exist with the materialist worldview. Chesterton shows that actions of the human will can be causeless and that the lunatic needs freedom in order to state his determinist view. Chesterton says that the determinist sees too much cause in everything. The madman is purely reasonable but that’s all the madman has. The madman is wrong about everything else.

He also shows the flaws in materialism. Materialism as a theory is too simple and too limiting when compared to any form of spiritualism. The Christian can accept science and methodological naturalism. He can accept things that are not forbidden in the Bible (for example, certain mathematical theorems). The materialist on the other hand can have nothing mystical or spiritual in his theory. He cannot even think about immortality whereas the Christian is free to think about it or not. This supports the point he just made regarding Suther’s argument.

G.K. shows the ethical folly of determinism:

“Determinism is quite as likely to lead to cruelty as it is certain to lead to cowardice. Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for the boiling oil is an environment” (p.g. 43)

This critique ties in nicely with Kant’s principle of humanity. It is impossible to have moral responsibility if the criminal has no will. The determinist has to change the environment to change the person for it is the environment that determines how a person will act. Chesterton continues then to show the problems of solipsism and any type of empirical skepticism.

This brings us to the last part of the chapter where G.K. gives us a look at what the rest of the book will be based upon. So far in summary he has shown that insanity “is reason without root, reason in the void” (p.g 46). What keeps men sane? Chesterton proposes it is mysticism that keeps men sane. Since the quote is too large to put here, I’ll give an excerpt of what he means.

“The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid” (p.g. 47)

The Christian accepts God as his first axiom. While God has been revealed to us, He is spirit and is in some sense mysterious yet at the same time knowable. Once a person believes in God and heaven and hell, then everything else makes sense to him. The world is opened up. The person who just believes that reality is only natural (or made of matter) has to explain away everything seemingly spiritual or metaphysical and ironically he then makes everything mysterious and not natural at all.

Leibniz and the Problem of Evil

For many centuries philosophers have been discussing evil, how it exists in the world, and how this relates to God. The discussion on evil and its relations to us is not an easy one though. It is commonly called the problem of evil. The problem is generally used to disprove God’s existence by showing an inconsistency between an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God and evil. Christian philosophers over the centuries have tried to show that there is no inconsistency with God and evil. Gottfried Leibniz was born in Leipzig Germany in 1646. Leibniz was a Christian idealist philosopher who was heavily influenced by Benedict Spinoza. Leibniz tried to solve the problem of evil. He said that we live in the best of all possible worlds because God chose to create this world. Philosophers have objected to this claim and maybe rightly so. This paper will focus on the modalities of logic, namely, possibility, necessity, and contingency, the problem of evil and how Leibniz solves it, free-will, and objections to Leibniz’s claims.

Much of Leibniz’s philosophy is focused on the concept of God and modalities. The modalities are possibility, necessity, and contingency. What it means for something to be possible is that it exists in some possible world. President McCain possibly could have been elected president of the United States in 2008 but he did not in respect to the actual world. The modal concept of possible deals with things that could be. It is possible that America could have had different founding fathers. It is possible that the pilgrims and Indians could have not fought and all got along together. Now what are possible worlds? Possible worlds are possible realities. They are not worlds in the respect to planets but in respect to everything in existence. The actual world is the world which actually exists. The possible worlds do not all exist but they are used to explain and understand possibilities in a logical sense. For something to be necessary means that it exists in all possible worlds. It is necessary that two and two make four. It is necessarily false that a married bachelor can exist. Leibniz says that God is a necessary Being. He is necessary because He exists in all possible worlds. There is even a possible world in which only God exists according to Leibniz. A contingent truth is something that is not necessarily false nor necessarily true. Leibniz calls these truths of fact. Things which are contingent are things true in one or more possible worlds and false in one or more possible worlds. Leibniz said that all propositions can be reduced down to a subject-predicate format. He says in his work Necessary and Contingent Truths that “an affirmative truth is one whose predicate is in the subject; and so in every true affirmative proposition, necessary or contingent, universal or particular, the notion of the predicate is in some way contained in the notion of the subject” (Kolak 153). All the predicates are literally contained within the subject. The statement “the bird is flying” means that flying is contained within the bird (which is the subject). This theory of proposition will help Leibniz as he defends God’s choosing of possible worlds.

God is a necessary Being and therefore God knows all the possible worlds to create. He knows this because the knowledge of possible worlds is innate in His mind because He is omniscient. He has foreknowledge of all future contingents. This view is known as conceptualism. Before creation, God had to know all possible worlds, that is, all worlds which are logically capable of creating. God had to know the blueprint of everything within each possible world. The predicates, or possible worlds, are contained within the subject, God. This knowledge allows God to choose the possible world He wanted to create. His choosing of anyone of these worlds is a completely free action on God’s part because He could exist by Himself. Leibniz says that we live in the best of all the possible worlds because since God is all-good and all-knowing, He would have to choose the best of all of these. This seems to be a misled thought though. Maybe a best possible world does not exist. And even if that it were true that the actual world is the best world, why is their so much pain, suffering, and moral evil in the world? The fact that evil exists in the world would contradict this best possible world theory. Would God need to even actualize the best possible world if it were to exist? This seems to be quite a problem indeed. Now, the actual world, while still having evil in it, is an extremely good world. It is good because of free-will. The fact that we have free-will is better than if humans were morally all-good. For if we were all-good we would have no freedom of the will to make choices and choose good or evil. These choices are better than not having choices. This is known as the free-will defense in response to the problem of evil. Leibniz seems to have trouble with the concept of free-will. His metaphysics with the theory of propositions and the possible world idea seems to contradict free-will. If God chose any world, the people in that world would have to do whatever God chose. Although their actions might be contingent, God still causally determined it to occur. Leibniz seems to think that free-will has to exist in the world because it would make all responsibility meaningless. He says in Primary Truths,

“it is manifest that God chooses, from an infinity of possible individuals, those which he thinks most consistent with the highest hidden ends of his wisdom. Nor is it exact to say that he decrees that Peter shall sin, or that Judas shall be damned; he decrees only that a Peter who will sin — certainly, indeed, though not necessarily but freely — and a Judas who will suffer damnation shall come into existence in preference to other possibilities. In other words, God decrees that a possible notion shall become actual. And although the future salvation of Peter is also contained in his eternal possible notion, yet that is without the concourse of grace; for in the that same perfect notion of this possible Peter, the assistance of divine grace which has been given to him is also contained under the aspect of possibility” (Kolak 151).

There seems to  be a dilemma here for Leibniz. God’s choosing of a possible world is a completely free act and cannot err if God is all-powerful. Therefore everything we do in the actual world was known and chosen by God. Everything we do must occur but this does not mean it is necessary but rather foreordained by God. The Calvinist theologian would agree with this and say that free-will does not really exist. It is unknown whether or not Leibniz was influenced by Calvinist thinkers during this time. Whether Leibniz accepts this divine determinism or not, he still wants to have free-will intact. The free-will theodicy must work for Leibniz in order for the problem of evil to be solved.

Free-will is best understood if one accepts Molinism as a way to explain God’s choosing of the worlds and the problem of evil. Molinism was created by Luis Molina during the Counter-Reformation. Molina was a Jesuit priest who was responding to the Protestant Reformation and in particular, Calvinism. Molina believed that humans have libertarian free-will. Libertarian free-will is best explained as the ability to do otherwise. If a person is at a crossroads he has the ability to either select route A or route B. If that person selects route A they could have chosen B and they had that ability. Molina also believed God had middle knowledge. He broke down God’s knowledge into three types: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. God’s natural knowledge is knowledge of necessary truths and all possible worlds. This falls right in-line with Leibniz’s view of possible worlds. God looks over all the possible worlds which He can create. This natural knowledge is knowledge of what could be. God’s middle-knowledge (which is still prior to actualization of the world) is counterfactual knowledge. Counterfactuals are if-then statements in the subjunctive mood. Examples of these are: If Meg Whitman became Governor of California, she would create much prosperity and help the budget crisis. This could be true, it could be false, but God knows these counterfactuals perfectly. He also knows them for every set of circumstances. This knowledge reduces the possible worlds into feasible worlds. Since God cannot infringe on human freedom He is limited in His choice of worlds. God’s middle knowledge is knowledge of what would be. God is not stopped from accomplishing anything He wants in the actual world though. With middle knowledge, God can only decree circumstances or events for humans and knows what would happen in each and every circumstance perfectly. With these two types of knowledge (which are not temporally prior to one another, but logically prior) God can choose which world He wants to actualize. After creation God has free knowledge of the world. This free knowledge is knowledge of contingents and the actual world. Molina defended this middle knowledge view with Scripture. 1 Samuel 23:6-13 affirms God having counterfactual knowledge. In this text David asks God what would happen if Saul came down to the city of Keilah. David first asks if Saul will come to the city and find him and God tells him that Saul will. Then David asks if the men of Keilah will deliver him into the hand of Saul and God says that they will. David then flees the city because of God’s counterfactual knowledge (Beilby 119-143). This verse affirms God having counterfactual knowledge. If Molinism succeeds and libertarian free will is indeed real then it would seem that Leibniz could solve this problem with the free-will defense.

Many philosophers have criticized the best possible world theory and God’s perfection. Voltaire, who wrote a most damning book against Leibniz called Candide, thought the whole idea of the actual world being the best possible world or even a really good world was a complete joke. In his book, he parodies this notion of this world being really good. It is a fiction in which the main character goes through life meeting all these evils and challenges yet continually says that this is the best of all possible worlds. David Hume wrote a more intellectual critique of Leibniz’s philosophy by attacking the design argument for God’s existence. In his work entitled Natural Religion, he writes a dialogue between two men, Cleanthes and Philo. Cleanthes argues that this world is proof of God’s existence based on the design and wonder of the world. He says that “Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed” (Hume). Philo then refutes Cleanthes by saying that we cannot know that God is perfect. He argues that God is imperfect because of the mistakes in the world and thus turns the argument from design on its head in relation to God’s perfection at the very least. But if the free-will defense works, then moral evil’s existence is understandable. Hume seems to attack natural evil and the fact that there are natural imperfections in the universe. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, et cetera, are described as natural evils. The free-will theodicy does not really work in respect to Hume’s arguments. Whether these objections are good or not, Voltaire’s argument seems sophomoric at best, and Hume’s argument seems at least somewhat thoughtful.

Leibniz’s philosophy has helped solve the problem of evil but never fully solved it. His views on how God chooses to create the world create more problems for what Leibniz was trying to solve. And Hume’s objections seem to cast doubt on how natural evil can exist in the universe. The problem of evil might be a problem for Christian theists that will never fully be solved. Maybe the answer is so far beyond human understanding or reason. Maybe belief in God is justified regardless of this problem that is presented by atheists and skeptics alike. Christians have done a lot of work in solving this problem and hopefully have at least solved some objections.

Works Cited

Beilby, James K., Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.

Hume, David. “The Reading Selection from Natural Religion.” Philosophy Home Page. Web. 12 May 2010. <;.

Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.

“Voltaire.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 12 May 2010. <;.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant’s ethics focuses on libertarian free-will and intrinsic value in human persons. Kant is going to argue against consequentialism in favor of non-consequentialism or what he calls the categorical imperative.

Morality is broken down into three subsets. There is an agent (the person who does the willing), there is an action (the means), and there is the consequence (what Kant calls effects, or ends). In ethics, consequentialism says that all morality is based around the consequences of an action. People do not murder because they will go to jail. People do not smoke because it causes cancer. Consequentialism basically says that the ends justify the means. This means that whatever end is obtained completely justifies whatever means were used to get that end. An example of this could be applied to the issue of torture during wartime. Some have said that we should torture terrorists in order to achieve some end (which is the information regarding the terrorist’s plots and so forth). This end, if obtained, justifies torture because it served the greater good of humanity. This may be justified because the terrorist is making threats on other persons. Another example could be laws that prohibit alcohol. During the prohibition, the United States banned alcohol because it served a greater good and the consequences of drinking were bad. In short, consequentialism focuses on the ends (or consequences to an action) rather than the means to an end. Kant will show how consequentialism ultimately fails under his ethical framework.

Kant sees morality not as just doing the right thing but also doing it for the right motive. What he focuses on is the motives (or means) of an action rather than the end itself. Something justifies our actions other than ends. Kant sets up what he calls the categorical imperative. This is a universal command in which we have to obey. The categorical imperative is basically this: Always treat humanity as an end in itself, never as a mere means. Kant says that humans are rational beings and that this rationality is what makes them have worth. Humans are autonomous and can make up their own minds about actions and their will. Human persons should always be treated as persons and not as mere means to some end. There is a distinction between “means” and “mere means.” To use an example, suppose one were to go to a restaurant and order some food from the waiter. It would be right in saying that the person ordering the food would be using the waiter as a means to obtain food and to satisfy hunger. But the waiter can still be treated as an end in himself — with dignity and respect from the person ordering. The categorical imperative is violated when the person treats the waiter as an object. That person is viewing the waiter as a “mere means” rather than any type of end (namely a rational being).

This categorical imperative is set up to test our maxims or wills. It places great worth on the human and on the individual. Also, this imperative only works if libertarian free-will is true. Any type of determinism would call into question Kant’s ethical system.

What if for the theist that the categorical imperative is something greater than just one universal moral command? What if it is God Himself which is the imperative and standard for all humanity? The Christian can use Kant’s arguments and semantics to argue for a more absolute position which is in God.

The Mind-Body Problem

For centuries philosophers have been debating over how the mind relates to the body. The two dominant positions on the philosophy of the mind are dualism and materialism. Dualism can be categorized into two types — property dualism and substance dualism — but this essay will focus on substance dualism only. Substance dualism is the belief that persons are comprised of both material and immaterial substances. The opposite view is materialism which states that people are merely material substances or objects and there are no immaterial mental states. Substances are ontological foundations for reality. This essay will defend and explain substance dualism, and will explain some of the problems for materialism.

Substance dualism is properly defined as the belief “that the brain is a physical object that has physical properties and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties” (Moreland 232). Early philosophers have been for the most part dualists. The Greeks believed that the soul would leave the body after death. Christian theologians and philosophers such as Aquinas and Augustine also held this same view. Other early philosophers such as the Gnostics saw matter as inherently and completely evil and the spirit entirely good. Sixteenth century philosopher Rene Descartes was one of the first to actually defend and articulate what dualism is. Descartes used a method of doubt in order to arrive at epistemological conclusions. His first level of doubt involved doubting the senses because of their fallibility. The second level was the possibility of being in a dream world, and the third and final level was on the basis that there could possibly be an evil genius controlling his thoughts and making him have false beliefs. At the end of this method of doubt, Descartes realizes that he can prove that he exists by making the statement “I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive of it” (Kolak 46). He made a distinction between his thoughts and his brain. Descartes defined the mental thinking substance as “a thing which thinks” (Kolak 47). The Cartesian concept of dualism would be extremely significant in future definitions of dualism and how the two substances — mental and physical — are defined and explained.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga defines materialism as “the idea that human beings are material objects—brains, perhaps, or some part of the brain—without immaterial selves or souls.” This would mean that the human is comprised of one substance. This substance is only physical and material. The mind exists as the brain and is not a different substance. In their work Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, philosophers J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig make an observation about materialism. They say that “no material thing presupposes or requires reference to consciousness for it to exist or be characterized” ( Moreland 231). If materialism is true, does that mean consciousness does not really exist? It would appear as such. All mental activities exist in space and time and are based on this material substance.

There are several arguments supporting substance dualism and there are also several objections against it. The first of the arguments supporting dualism deals with awareness of the self. Persons have this awareness that they are not necessarily their body. They can introspectively realize that they have both physical and mental substances (Moreland 238). The second argument deals with first-person perspectives. People always have an awareness of themselves before anything else. All experiences a person feels come in the form of a first-person perspective. Materialism, on the other hand, says that all things can be described from a third-person point of view. However, this objection is almost impossible to defend since it is highly unlikely for one to describe the subjective moods and feelings completely of a person from a third-person statement (Moreland 239). The third argument to support dualism is that we have an unchanging personal identity. The body and the mind are constantly being changed but the person still realizes that he or she is the same person (Moreland 239). The final argument is regarding free-will. Dualism makes the best sense of free-will. We have an immaterial substance that is not subjugated under physical laws of nature. Thus our actions are not determined in any sort of way and we can make decisions freely. Free-will also helps in the area of ethics. If persons are determined to do whatever actions they do, then it is hard to make sense of any moral or ethical accountability.

Dualism has a few objections which will be discussed here. The first, and probably the strongest is called the problem of interaction. The problem with dualism is the fact that no one knows how the mind and body interact. Garrett Thomson, professor of philosophy at Wooster College, says “first, we can never have direct experience of this interaction. Second, the two types of substance, mind and matter, are utterly different in kind, and this makes interaction between them obscure, placing some doubt on the whole idea of dualism” (47). J.P. Moreland responds to this claim basically by saying that we do not need to know how the two substances interact. There are many things we know that interact with each other but we do not know exactly how they do. Moreland also says that it might be impossible to answer this question of how the substances interact. He states that by asking how the interaction is fulfilled, one is asking for some cause in-between the two substances. But the interaction between the two might just be a direct interaction and thus this problem of interaction is defeated (243-244). The second objection against dualism deals with Ockham’s razor. Ockham’s razor says that the simplest explanation is generally the best explanation. Dualism is positing two substances rather than one and thus is less likely to be true. The dualist is not multiplying entities beyond what is necessary because they are using it to explain things which materialism cannot. Ockham’s razor is merely just a general rule to find truth in causes and is meant to limit causes to only the amount necessary. But this seems irrelevant for the person who accepts dualism because dualism is not creating unnecessary causes (Moreland 244-245). The last objection is the problem of other minds. If dualism is true, then one cannot actually know if other minds exist because they are immaterial (Thomson 48-49). One could be taken to the conclusion that solipsism — the belief that there is only one mind in reality — is true.

Materialism has some arguments supporting it and many arguments against it. The main one is based off of scientific naturalism. If scientific naturalism is true then there is nothing immaterial and only matter exists. This would support the view that materialism is true. But this is just a presupposition that scientific naturalism is true. John Searle recognizes this by saying that the “acceptance of the current [physicalist] views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives.” Searle goes on by saying dualism is regarded as “unscientific” (Moreland 249). The second argument for materialism is based off Ockham’s razor, but that has already been addressed in this essay. The third argument has to do with the concept of split brains. The brain is divided into two hemispheres. These two parts to the brain are so different from one another yet they interact with each other. “The split-brain patient seems to have two minds. What the left brain learns and thinks is unknown to the right brain, and vice versa” (Split-Brain). This seems to support the belief that all humans are mere brains. When the brain is split the two hemispheres can work completely independent of each other. In some patients the left hand does things completely contrary to what the right hand is doing (Split-Brain).  This would possibly entail that our brains are who we actually are. We cannot use our mental substance to control each side of the brain. Maybe the mental substance is oddly dependent on the physical substance and vice versa.

There are several objections to materialism. The first of these is the problem of the inverted qualia. This problem deals with how we see color. It is impossible to actually know how one sees red or blue. For a person might see a blue truck as a blue truck yet another person might see it as a red truck (Inverted). If this is possible wouldn’t that defeat materialism? The second objection comes from John Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment. The thought experiment involves a person who is locked in a room and does not know Chinese. He is given a rule book on how to formulate these symbols (the book is in English). The formulation of these symbols is based on their syntax and not on their semantics. Let’s say people outside the room are giving this person more symbols in the form of questions and also another rule book on how to pass these questions back to the people. Eventually, all the responses would come back as if the person knew Chinese when in reality he didn’t. This is an example of how computer programs act. They make completely rational responses yet they have no idea why or how they did it. This shows that there’s something more than just a material substance for the person (Moreland 257-258).

The last objection involves determinism. If materialism states that all humans are physical brains then determinism has to be true. Cause and effect is the fundamental law of nature as far as matter is concerned. But determinism is self-refuting. H.P. Owen states that “determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false” (Moreland 241). Determinism seems to be a big hurdle for the person who accepts materialism.

Substance dualism is in every way superior to materialism for a few reasons. It makes the best sense of the subjectivity of things such as color, taste, and first-person experience (which cannot be explained in third-person statements). It also helps with maintaining ethics and free-will. Without free-will it would be hard how anyone would make sense of the world or even their own beliefs. And all moral responsibility would seem to completely dissipate if free-will does not exist. Materialism on the other hand is defeated by its determinism and the Chinese room argument. The arguments against dualism seem to not carry as much weight as the arguments against materialism. Materialism only seems to be the more current popular view because of the presupposition it holds — namely, scientific naturalism. The mind-body problem might not be resolved until scientists and philosophers alike are willing to accept the possibility that scientific naturalism might be false.

Works Cited

“Inverted Qualia.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 28 Mar. 2010 <>.

Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman standard history of philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006.

Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P, 2004.

Plantinga, Alvin. Against Materialism. Ms. University of Notre Dame. Http:// 27 Mar. 2010 <>.

“Split- Brain Behavior.” Serendip’s Exchange. 28 Mar. 2010 <>.

Thomson, Garrett. Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to Modern Philosophy. 2nd ed. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland P, Inc., 2002.

The Heresy of Open-Theism

A few months ago I finished reading the book Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. This book is a discussion of the views on how God’s foreknowledge works and how that fits in with human freedom and the problem of evil. The book is pretty complicated in terms of its material but I recommend it to any Christian that has questions in this area of theology.

One view in particular is called open-theism. Gregory Boyd, a contributor to the book and proponent of open-theism, says that “the debate over God’s foreknowledge is rather a debate over the content of reality that God perfectly knows. It has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it does with the doctrine of God” (13). Open-theism basically states that God has foreknowledge of only the past and present world. He only knows what actually exists in reality. Since the future does not exist in reality God does not know the future. He knows the future as a set of maybes or possibilities but He does not know the future exhaustively. Also, under this view, God can change His mind, express frustration, experience regret, and confronts the unexpected (24-34). The future is open and not “set” and this view is thus called open-theism.

Theologians have generally defined God’s foreknowledge as being exhaustive. This means that God knows the future completely and wholly. God knows all truths and cannot hold any false beliefs.

Open-theism is based on the presupposition of process theology. Process theology derives from the thought of the English philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and the American philosopher-ornithologist Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) (Process). Process theology believes that humans are in a sense “growing” with God in knowledge and power as time progresses. This theology has been rejected by the vast majority of theologians and has been declared a heresy.

The first big problem with open-theism is that it is based of a literal interpretation of anthropomorphic verses. There are verses in Scripture that says God changed His mind or that God experiences regret (such as the flood in Gen. 8:21). Boyd makes the case that these verses are literal and that God actually did something wrong or that He did change His mind. William Lane Craig, defender of the middle-knowledge view, lands some heavy blows on this literal view on Scripture.

“First, a consistent application of Boyd’s hermeneutic leads to a defective concept of God. It is striking how similar Boyd’s literalistic hermeneutic is to that of Mormon theologians, who employ it to justify their belief in a God who is not only ignorant of future contingents but is a physical being with a human form. Like Boyd, the Mormon theologian insists on taking the biblical descriptions of God at face value. “Look here” he says, ‘the Scripture says that God was walking in the cool of the garden. Walking necessitates having legs. God says He has eyes and ears and arms and hands. If God can’t convince us by explicitly saying that He can and does have bodily parts, how could He convince us if He wanted to?’ It is difficult to see how one can adopt Boyd’s naïve literalism with respect to divine knowledge and yet reject it with respect to divine corporeality” (58).

Craig goes on and says that the “flaw of this hermeneutic is its failure to appreciate that the Bible is not a textbook in systematic theology or philosophy of religion but that it is largely a collection of stories about God’s dealings with men. These stories are told from the human perspective and evince all the liveliness of the storyteller’s art” (59). Boyd’s hermeneutic applied to the verses that he wants it applied to is a horrible literalistic approach to the text. Boyd applies it to only the verses that support his view and not to the ones that say God has arms or legs.

Another problem with the open-theism view is that it tries to answer the problem of evil and human freedom in a wrong way. Boyd supposes that if God knows everything fully then God would be responsible for all the moral evils and natural evils in the world. The problem of the omniscient bystander would come into play here. If God knows everything then He is a bystander to all the evils. But this is not necessary to solve this problem as others who hold to the classical view of foreknowledge have solved the problem of evil. (See Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense)

The ontological argument can act as an argument against the open-view. The ontological argument states that God is the greatest Being. That being said, is the God of the open-view that great? It seems like His power and knowledge is limited and undermined. But God can be conceived as being even greater than that and thus would destroy the open-view’s interpretation of God.

Lastly, the open-theism view tries to shift the debate over the doctrine of creation rather than foreknowledge. This is an utter red herring. The book which Boyd is writing for is about foreknowledge and God not about creation and God. Although this objection is terrible it still has a defeater. It is true that past, present, and future are separate parts of time. This means that the past does not exist anymore and the future does not exist only the present exists (See A-Theory of Time). But if before creation God is atemporal is it not possible that God can know all aspects and truths about time whether they exist or not? Boyd does not answer this question it seems.

Open-theism does more harm to Scripture and the doctrine of God. It seems to create more problems for the theist than to answer the objections directed towards God. Christians should reject this view entirely and not fall for its supposed rescue from the problem of evil.

Works Cited

Beilby, James K., and Paul R. Eddy. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.
“Process Theism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 13 Mar. 2010. <;.