Saturday, June 18, 2011

Defending the Orthodoxy of Open Theism

This is an idea that occurred to me recently in the context of discussion about human freedom.  The idea might not be worth much of anything, but I think its at least worth floating here.  Open Theism is the theological claim that God does not know with certainty every even that will happen in the future because the future is “open” and might “change.”  Frequently this is lambasted by evangelical theologians as being an unorthodox view of God.  For instance, the polar opposite of Open Theism, the Reformed theological tradition, makes the claim that God knows with certainty every future event.  What is worth asking, however, is how God has this knowledge in Reformed theology, and the answer is that it is because Reformed theology is deterministic- in Reformed theology God knows every future event because God will personally bring about or orchestrate every future event.  With that in mind, I think we can construct two arguments for comparison:
Reformed Argument:
  1. God knows with certainty every event in the future that God will personally bring about or orchestrate.
  2. God will personally bring about or orchestrate all future events.
  3. Therefore, God knows with certainty all future events.
Open Theist Argument:
  1. God knows with certainty every event in the future that God will personally bring about or orchestrate.
  2. [Human freedom entails that] God will not personally bring about or orchestrate at least some future events.
  3. Therefore, at least some future events are not known by God with certainty.
The first thing we can notice is that both arguments have the same first premise.  The second thing we can notice is that the second premise forms the basis for the difference between the two arguments, with both conclusions following from the two premises.  So in evaluating these arguments, the real question is about the second premise of each.  Will God personally bring about or orchestrate all future events?  What I think this means is that the argument over Open Theism is not an argument about God’s omniscience but one about human freedom.  In other words, since both arguments have the same first premise, the question about the orthodoxy of Open Theism is actually a question about the orthodoxy of the second premise of the Open Theist argument- if “free-will” is considered an “orthodox” doctrine, then Open Theism is within the orthodox tradition, as “non-traditional” as its conclusion may seem.  Historically, it seems very apparent to me that free will is within the traditions of orthodoxy.  So it seems to me Open Theism can be considered an orthodox theological view.  What do others think?

NB:  This post is not a declaration that I am an open theist.  It is merely a thought experiment about whether or not open theism should be considered an orthodox "option" in theology.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday Roundup and Travel Announcement

Starting a new tradition, something I have learned from several very successful bloggers, which is to do a weekly round-up of posts that I find interesting from other sites, some summary comments on what’s happened on this blog, and look at what’s coming up.  Everyone who does this has a kinda catchy name for it, which I have not come up with yet.  So... Any and every suggestion is very welcome.
This weeks will be kinda light because I just decided to do it today and my memory is not that great...  But here are some things that I recommend checking out:
For a short blurb that tries to take a balanced approach to issues of Christian involvement with society, see Kevin DeYoung’s post Glory of God: Conspicuous Christlikeness.
Two interviews worth checking out.  First, an interview with Andy Byers about his new book Faith Without Illusions can be read at David Flower’s blog here: Q&A with Andrew Byers
Second, an interview by Andy Byers and Joel Busby of pastor and scholar Jason Byassee, which I found very interesting and helpful, can be read here: The tension in the hyphen of “Pastor-Theologian”: An Interview with Jason Byassee
An interesting post on the issue of negotiating boundaries in evangelical professional relationships can be read at the Christianity Today women’s blog here: “Guarding Your Marriage Without Dissing Women”
On this blog, our most popular post of the week has been Aristotle and Cosmological Arguments, which was partly a product of the lively discussion that came out of the most popular post on this blog for the month, Aristotle and Free Will.  Thanks to my friend Nick, author of the blog Alētheia for all of his thoughts in response to that post.
Also this week I recounted some Traveling Adventures from my trip to California and Nevada for my grandfather’s memorial.
On the restless young and reforming blog this week we began in earnest our discussion of John Piper’s book Desiring God.  The most popular post of the week continues to be Introducing Desiring God by John Piper.  Check out two other posts, The Foundation of Christian Hedonism in Desiring God by John Piper and Word Games and the Joy of Worship in Desiring God, for more on the discussion.
Tomorrow I leave to begin my summer job as worship coordinator at the Barbara C. Harris Camp in New Hampshire.  Excited for the opportunity to work with a lot of youth from Massachusetts this summer and staff from around the world.  Will continue to post here from there, though maybe at a reduced rate for the summer, and expect to have lots of fun stories to tell about the summer camp experience.
In the spirit of Episcopal worship (and since it is Sunday), here is the collect for this week:
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven.  Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Traveling Adventures

I just returned from a trip to the West Coast were my family and I gathered for my grandfather’s memorial.  After a few days at Lake Tahoe, where we held the memorial, we traveled down to Las Vegas where my grandparents had lived since retiring to take care of the estate and get the house ready to go on the market.  A few stories from these travels:
First couple of stories have to do with the estate sale.  During the first few days that we were prepping the house we would sporadically have people drop by who wanted a VIP sneak peak or to go ahead and start shopping.  We tried to politely tell them to come back Saturday, when we had advertised the estate sale in the local paper, but some were quite insistent and had to be sternly told to leave.  Which we found rather amusing.  Saturday morning we had advertised that the doors would open at 8:30.  At 7:35 we saw a couple guys walking into the back yard.  We quickly ushered them out and closed the fence.  My grandfather had a golf cart, and my uncle had put it up for sale on Craig’s List.  At 7:50 he decided to go outside and take a picture of it for his listing.  There was a line of people to the street silently waiting to come in.  So we scrambled to get ready and opened up the doors.  But there were so many people we had to do traffic control and only let a few in at a time (to the chagrin of those still outside).  It was quite honestly insane for about the first two hours or so before things slowed down to a more reasonable pace.
Another set of stories has to do with a certain change to my relationship status on Facebook.  Here are three possible scenarios:  First one is that one of my siblings, who were using my computer rather frequently, changed it as a joke and then set their own status to something which made reference to my “having one of those things from Vegas that doesn’t legally stay in Vegas” (whatever he thought that meant).  Second one is that I spent too much time on the strip and had a bit (/a lot) too much to drink and met someone in a similar condition, leading to a few spontaneous decisions that culminated in my being married to a girl from Minnesota for a span of about three days.  Third scenario is that I, induced by a couple of drinks, decided this would be a fun exercise in freaking out my friends and changed it myself.  Which scenario is true?  For the time being, I plead the fifth.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Final story is from my attempt to get home on Wednesday.  I had already flown from Vegas to Nashville the day before.  Was supposed to go Nashville- Philly- New Haven, getting in at 2:30.  After a cancelled flight was shifted to Nashville- DC- Philly- New Haven, getting in at 6.  When my first flight was an hour and half late, ended up getting moved to a later connection getting in at 8:45.  Then the flight from Philly to New Haven almost didn’t take off because of weather.  Finally got there and couldn’t find my bag, so thought it hadn’t made it through the shuffle.  Eventually found it and finally made it home about 9:30.  I am sick of all things related to flying.
Now safely back in New Haven for the weekend.  Leaving early Monday morning to begin my summer job as Worship Coordinator for the Barbara C Harris Camp in New Hampshire, operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Aristotle and Cosmological Arguments

This is the condensed and slightly modified version of a paper I wrote last semester.  Longstanding in the great monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam has been a popular argument for the existence of God known today as the "cosmological argument."  Its current expounder-in-chief among Christians, William Lane Craig, has adapted a version of the argument derived from the Kalam tradition of Muslim scholarship.  Similar arguments were advanced by Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages and can even be seen in some Hellenistic Jewish literature among a variety of other sources from ancient times to present day.  The arguments for the most part take their starting point in the writings of Aristotle and in particular the argument laid out in Metaphysics XII concerning an "unmoved mover."  Yet there are some significant differences between Aristotle’s original argument and contemporary manifestations of the cosmological argument.
Aristotle’s cosmological argument occurs amidst discussions of substance and causation, and that context is extremely important to understanding the argument.  Substance for Aristotle is what “certain thinkers assert to be capable of existing apart” (1069ab).  Aristotle's argument can be understood as a critique of the Platonic notion of the Forms.  Essentially, Aristotle's argument is that the principles which cause change in individual substances- by which he seems to mean “formal change,” i.e., the things which demarcate individual substances as being a particular thing, whether they be shape or color or size or texture or movement or any other such factor- only exist as they are actualized in the particular things.  Thus, Aristotle seems to say, we can note ways in which these causes are analogous between one another, but we cannot make the conclusion, as Plato attempts to do, that such causes exist as universal Forms that stand apart.
Aristotle begins his argument by asserting that movement must have always existed, and if this is the case then time must have always existed and likewise space (1071b).  From this starting point he argues that substances must have always existed because without them this movement could not have existed (1071b).  Further, he argues as another critique of the Platonic notion of the eternal Forms, these eternal substances cannot exist in a state of potentiality but must be actualized for motion to exist.  The most significant point of this argument is that substances must be eternal.
In an interesting turn, then, Aristotle next adopts one of the key components of his teacher Plato's ideology, namely that the moving, changing, actualized world is somehow less real than the stable, unmoving, eternal world.  Based on this idea he will conclude that while moving objects exist eternally, they exist only in an intermediate state.  What is really needed is an unmoving object to ground everything, and what this object must be is eternal, actual, and most importantly a substance (1072a).  This Platonic idea that the ultimate cause needs to be free from the vagaries of motion or change is important for understanding the conclusion of this argument, a conclusion which has had profound implications on much of later theology.  This leads to the final conclusion of Aristotle:
It is clear then from what has been said that there is a substance which is eternal and unmovable and separate from sensible things.  It has been shown also that this substance cannot have any magnitude, but is without parts and indivisible.  But it has also been shown that it is impassive and unalterable; for all the other changes are posterior to change of place.  1073a
This substance is the famous "unmoved mover" who is eternal and separate.  From this will be derived many of the classical ideas about God in the monotheistic traditions: that God is eternal, transcendent and distinct from the world, indivisible, unchanging, etc.  This cosmological argument, we might claim, is not simply significant for its apologetic value but also because of the way it shapes the theological tradition.
In stark contrast to some more contemporary cosmological arguments, such as that advanced by William Lane Craig, which hold that the universe has a definite temporal starting point of which the "unmoved mover" is the first cause, Aristotle maintains that motion has eternally existed as we have discussed above.  How, then, is the "unmoved mover" a "first cause"?  The answer, I believe, lies in this discussion of substance.  For Aristotle substance is what underlies matter to allow it to take its form.  What I believe this argument establishes is essentially a hierarchy of substances.  This is Aristotle's twist on Plato's notion of the Forms existing as a hierarchy.  Since Aristotle denies that merely potential Forms can exist, he insists on the actuality of all substances.  The substances underlie matter and allow motion to exist.  What underlies the individual substances, however, and allows them to exist?  Other substances, in a kind of genetic tree or in a kind of motion of their own.  Aristotle thus thinks he has solved the problem of the universe's existence (NB: not its origin, because it has always existed) by the idea of underlying substances tracing back to a “first,” or perhaps better put “primary” or “foundational” substance, the first cause or “unmoved mover,” which exists eternally and apart from other substances but whose existence gives rise to the existence of the other substances.
Whether or not Aristotle’s argument ultimately works or convinces us that there is such an “unmoved mover,” what I think Aristotle does establish is an alternative type of causation to what we typically think of today.  We can call this more familiar type of causation, which underlies the Kalam argument, “temporal causation.”  It has to do with the sequence of cause-and-effect stretching back through time.  The Kalam argument maintains that there must be a definitive starting point to this sequence of “temporal causation.”  The alternative type of causation that Aristotle has presented we can call “ontological causation,” having to do with a hierarchy of substances from which others are derived ontologically but not necessarily temporally.  Interestingly, while I think Aquinas followed Aristotle’s notions of causation here fairly closely, for the most part the Christian tradition of philosophical theology has not employed this notion to particularly great affect (at least not the Protestant tradition).  I think the potential implications of this distinction, though, are fairly significant, especially as regards discussions about human agency/free-will and divine causation.

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