Postmodernism, Open Theism, and Philosophy
Questioners ask Dr. Craig about current issues in theology and how to balance philosophy and the Scriptures. Dr. Craig also counsels a man in a relationship with a woman who does not share his faith!
Postmodernism, Open Theism, and Philosophy
Kevin Harris: Got some questions for you Dr. Craig, these come from ReasonableFaith.org. And this says,
Given your view that God is temporal since his creation of the universe, does it not logically follow that God does not have an absolute and infallible knowledge of the future, because the future is potential but not actual for any temporal being? And if this is so, is such a God compatible with the God of Scriptural revelation who seems to know infallibly what the future holds? And is such a view of God different from the view of God developed in open theism?
There are three questions right there.
Dr. Craig: Yes, let's take the second question first. Is such a God who fails to know the future infallibly compatible with the God of Scriptural revelation? No. I think not. It seems to me that the Scripture is very clear that God does foreknow everything that's going to happen. The Psalmist says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, oh Lord thou knowest it altogether.” So even the very words you speak are known by God before you even conceive them. And the New Testament introduces a whole vocabulary of words with this prefix “pro-”, like proginosko, to foreknow; proereó, to foretell; proorizo, foreordained. The Scripture clearly affirms in the New Testament that God has prognosis or foreknowledge. This is explicit in the New Testament. So it's very difficult to understand how open theists, who hold to the view that God does not have knowledge of future contingents, can claim to be Scriptural in their position.
So the question then is: given God's temporality, does that imply that open theism is true? Well some open theists have tried to argue that way. Recently Alan Roda, Greg Boyd, and another author have argued in the journal Faith and Philosophy that if the future is truly open in a potential way, it's not causally determined, then God can't know future contingents. David Hunt, who is a Christian philosopher, and I have written a reply to this article in which we show that it is just filled with misconceptions and fallacious inferences. I don't know of any good argument from the causal indeterminacy of the future to the fact that God cannot know the truth value of all future contingent propositions. And that's really what the whole debate is about. If there are true future-tensed propositions or sentences about contingent events does God know their truth value? And I have yet to hear any good argument to suggest that God does not or cannot know the truth value of future contingent truths. I've laid this out extensively. I studied this for seven years in books like The Only Wise God, which I would recommend for this reader, or there are numerous articles on the website, which he apparently hasn't seen yet, under the topic of divine omniscience. There he will find a thorough defense of divine foreknowledge of the future on a dynamic view of time, which I hold to myself, that the future is not causally determined and does not in any sense exist.
Kevin Harris: The booklet that you wrote with Ravi Zacharias is really good: What Does God Know?
Dr. Craig: Yes, that updates The Only Wise God. The little booklet What Does God Know? is only about sixty pages long, you can get it through our web-store at ReasonableFaith.org, and is a treatment of the philosophical arguments for divine foreknowledge, the objections against it raised by open theism, and I think would help to address the reader's question.
Kevin Harris: By the way, there is another Christian writer named Dave Hunt, not to be confused with who you mentioned, David Hunt; I want to make that distinction. I don't hear much about open theism anymore. Is it still out there?
Dr. Craig: It is, Kevin, and I must say, I was wrong in my anticipation that this would soon fade away. I thought it was so exegetically unjustified and so philosophically unjustified that it would soon fade away. But I have to say, quite honestly, that the number of Christian philosophers who have endorsed open theism is soberingly large; quite a significant number of Christian philosophers, for whom I have the most respect, have endorsed open theism and denied that God knows the truth of these future contingent propositions. Fortunately there is some push back coming. I mentioned Hunt and my article in response to Roda, et al. and Dale Tuggi as well. And I just met a young philosopher named Ben Arbor who is doing his doctoral thesis on this topic at the University of Bristol in England, and he has a contract for a book of essays which will bring together many of the very prominent Christian philosophers today, like Eleanor Stump and others, giving a response to open theism and explaining why they are unpersuaded by it, and reject it. So the debate definitely does continue.
Kevin Harris: Here's another question: “Dr. Craig, you mentioned natural evil in a response to a question. What is natural evil?”
Dr. Craig: Well, very simply natural evil would be the suffering in the world that results not from moral choices by human agents but simply from natural disasters, like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fire, famine, diseases, and so forth. These are typically called natural evils. They are the suffering that is the result of just living in a law-governed natural world. And the question would be: how could an all-loving and all-powerful God permit a world which is so suffused with natural evil? I've addressed this question in numerous places including my book Hard Questions, Real Answers as well as in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, and in the book On Guard more recently, at a beginners level. So he may want to take a look at those chapters.
Kevin Harris: Next question:
Dr. Craig, I would like to ask you about postmodernism. I seem to think that postmodernism is the best philosophy. Is what we call postmodernism today the same point as the Socratic question? I can't seem to understand my own philosophy. Please comment.
Dr. Craig: It's difficult to know how to respond to this question because he doesn't define his terms. What in the world does he mean by postmodernism? I take postmodernism, if it is to be a significant, interesting claim, to be the claim that there are no objective standards of truth, rationality, and logic. These are basically linguistic conventions or power moves made by people to gain dominance over others. And I think as such that philosophy is self-referentially incoherent; it refutes itself, and therefore is both false and, I think, deeply unbiblical. I think he must understand by postmodernism something quite different. I hope he's not endorsing fideism here, that faith is a sort of criterionless leap in the dark. I see no reason to embrace such a view of faith. It seems to me that faith is right in line with reason, that reason demonstrates the truth of certain propositions, for example, that God exists, and then faith is the act of making a commitment of the will to that person which has been demonstrated by reason to exist. So faith is right in line with reason. It is something that is an expression of commitment or trust which is not incompatible with having good reasons to believe that what you trust in is really the case.
Kevin Harris: That seems to be what he prefers. He thinks that postmodernism would somehow support his fideism, or blind faith, as you put it.
Dr. Craig: I could see that, where if you think that there are no objective cannons of rationality and truth then you're just free to believe whatever you want, anybody can believe what he wants. But the difficulty there is that utterly undermines the Christian claim to deliver to us the objective truth about reality, that there really is a God who exists independently of our linguistic framework or our narrative, that these are objective truths. So that kind of fideism would be utterly incompatible with biblical Christianity.
Dear Dr. Craig, according to the spacetime interpretation of Einsteinian relativity all objects supposedly exist as four-dimensional world-tubes in spacetime. Presumably these world-tubes are static because I don't think Einsteinian relativity makes provision for their movement. The question, then, is: how do four-dimensional world-tubes, which are static in spacetime, give rise to what we observe as relative motion? Are there some mysterious dynamics supposedly in play here?
Dr. Craig: Well, the idea here that he's talking about is that there really is no difference in reality between past, present, and future events. All events are equally existent. They're strung out like beads on a necklace, so to speak, and one end of the necklace is the beginning of time, say, and the other end of the necklace is the end of time. But all of the beads on the necklace are equally real, all of the events in time are equally real. And we think of ourselves as located on one of the beads and sort of moving along from one bead to the next. And the view, here, on a four-dimensionalist view is that that's an illusion of human consciousness. This feeling of dynamic movement is simply an illusion of the human brain. In fact we are, as he says, just four-dimensional spacetime worms who are strung out for some finite distance along the necklace of events, and the idea that there is a privileged now, or present, or the idea that we're moving along the series of events, it simply an illusion.
Kevin Harris: I've never heard it referred to world-tubes.
Dr. Craig: No, I haven't either, frankly; it's usually world-lines or spacetime worms, but I think you get the idea of what he's saying, so long as you don't think they're hollow. It's not like we're soda straws that are stung out in time, and I don't think that's what he meant.
Kevin Harris: Well, I was just thinking of my daughter's hamster cage; that's what it sounded like, kind of a world of tubes there. Bill, I love to present these questions to you because I like to watch you squirm because it's relationship-oriented and dating. Occasionally people will present these to you and ask for your opinion on marriage and relationships and, well, why not? This reader says,
I've been dating a girl a while now who does not share my faith, to understate the situation. She seems to believe in extreme new age ideas. She recently sent me some information on what she has been interested in lately, and after reading it I feel, well, sort of helpless. To me it just seems like scientific nonsense, although I don't have the skill or knowledge to back up my intuition. I don't know any astronomers, physicists, or astrophysics personally. I would love for someone with proper knowledge to take a look at this.
Now, let me stop there because what he presents next is just a, yes, exactly, a bunch of new age stuff about magnetism, human beings co-joining with the magnetism of the earth, and things like this, and it's a combination of metaphysical things that try to conjoin with science. And I think there's a bigger picture here. Rather than showing him how to evaluate that, rather, perhaps, about being in this relationship and how to proceed.
Dr. Craig: I thought that's what you were driving at, Kevin. You want me to put on the pastoral-counselor’s hat rather than the philosopher's hat here.
Kevin Harris: Occasionally we make you do that.
Dr. Craig: Well, I'll willingly do so. I don't know what is wrong with young Christians who think that it's perfectly alright to be in serious dating relationships with non-Christians. When you read the Scriptures, Paul in his letters talks about not being unequally yoked. He says don't be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. And he speaks in the strongest terms about this. He says what fellowship does darkness have with light? What relationship is there between the Devil and righteousness? I mean, he thinks of this in black and white terms. And the idea that as a Christian you might be in a serious dating relationship with someone who doesn't know Christ is just utterly misconceived because Christ isn't at the center of that relationship; and therefore, it's leading nowhere, or where it's leading, and this sadly all too often happens, is it almost inevitably leads to decline spiritually in the life of the Christian partner in the relationship. In order to win this other person’s affections and to be with him or her usually spiritual compromise begins to take place, and when a person is prepared to disobey Scripture and to marry a nonbeliever despite knowing that that person is a nonbeliever, well then that person is beginning to walk outside of the umbrella of God's will and protection and to not follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. That just inevitably is going to lead to disaster. And so often Christians will kid themselves saying, “Well, I'm praying for this other person, she'll perhaps come to know Christ and come around,” and that is sort of a pie in the sky rationalization.
Kevin Harris: It just doesn't work so often.
Dr. Craig: Not usually, and Paul even talks about that. He says, how do you know you're going to win your husband, how do you know you're going to win your wife over? So I would encourage him to break off this romantic relationship. Certainly you can be friends with this other person, but don't be involved in a romantic dating-type relationship which could lead to physical intimacy and then to compromise and just disaster in his life. He really needs to show great strength and despite his care and affection for her he needs to pull back. And that's hard to do, that's really hard to do because our emotions, our passions, can be so strong. But here he needs to take control of those emotions and passions and to step back from this relationship for the sake of Christ in obedience to his will.
Kevin Harris: And she needs to know Christ. I mean, she is caught up in something that is just four-square against who Christ is and what he taught, and biblical theology and so on, and that needs to be the priority here. Well, good advice. Bill, you can take off the counselor hat; let's get back to the philosophy. A couple of podcasts back we touched on this next question – it's worth repeating – when we did a podcast responding to Dr. James White on the correct balance between philosophy and Scripture. But we did get a question here:
Dr. Craig, what is the correct way to balance philosophy and Scripture? Given that Scripture is the inherent word of God it seems as though human philosophizing should always bend the knee to what Scripture teaches, but of course, rarely is anything that simple. First, we humans can be mistaken in our interpretation of Scripture just as we can be mistaken in other fields of study. Second, I've often wondered about certain philosophical considerations that seem to require a less plausible interpretation of a certain verse here or there. Let me provide an example of what I mean. From various passages and a variety of contexts we know with God all things are possible, and nothing is impossible with God; that's from Matthew, Mark, Luke and Job. Many people, usually those who have not reflected philosophically on omnipotence, take this verse in a very seemingly straightforward way and conclude something similar to Descartes where God can do anything, even the logically impossible. But you and most Christian philosophers resist this interpretation.
Now I'll stop there, he goes on, but that's a good enough example of where philosophy and Scripture need to work together.
Dr. Craig: That really is a nice example. And I agree with the medieval theologian Peter Damion that philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Philosophy is a tool that God gives us to help us better understand and defend our faith. But the rule of faith – the so-called regula fidei – the rule of faith is Holy Scripture, and human reason and philosophizing will be a tool to help us understand and defend what Scripture teaches. Now as this listener points out so well, it's not just that you take what Scripture teaches and then you philosophize about it; rather, as he points out, in order to understand what Scripture teaches you will often have to use philosophical concepts. You will be using reason while you interpret Scripture, and in many cases where it's controversial you will have to use philosophical considerations to think what is the best understanding of Scripture. So even in determining what Scripture teaches, reason and philosophical consideration – conceptual distinctions, for example – are already at work.
In addition to that, however, Scripture is often under-determinative with respect to certain doctrines. For example the Bible affirms both divine sovereignty and human freedom, but it doesn't explain how you put these together. Certain Reformed thinkers will put these together by affirming universal divine causal determinism and compatibilism. They'll say that God is sovereign because he universally causally determines all that happens, and that human beings are free because being causally determined is compatible with being free in the sense of one's actions being voluntary. So that would be an example of trying to use philosophy to provide a theory of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom in Scripture. But there are other models available. For example there's the Molinist model which affirms divine sovereignty and human freedom, but it will reconcile these in a quite different way by affirming libertarian freedom – we are not causally determined by God in everything we do – but what it affirms is a distinction between God's strongly actualizing states of affairs and God's weakly actualizing states of affairs. God strongly actualizes a state of affairs when he directly brings it about. But he can weakly actualize a state of affairs by putting people in certain circumstances with the knowledge of how they would freely act in those circumstances. So, for example, to use a Scriptural illustration, God can bring it about that Saul will commit suicide and the Kingdom will be delivered over to David by knowing that King Saul, if he were in certain circumstances surrounded by the Philistines, would freely fall on his own sword and kill himself, thereby the Kingdom is given to David. Now God doesn't kill Saul, but he allows Saul to be in these circumstances and knows how Saul would freely act under those circumstances so that he can bring it about that Saul's Kingdom comes to an end and David comes to the throne. Now these are two different philosophical models for reconciling these Scriptural data which are available to us and you then need to use arguments to determine which of these is the most plausible, which one best accords with Scripture and which one makes the most philosophical sense.
Now in the case of omnipotence, this is another great example. The Bible affirms that God is all-mighty, that God can do all things. But it doesn't really give you a philosophical definition of what it means to be omnipotent. And as he points out the vast, vast majority of Christian philosophers and theologians down through history do not construe divine omnipotence to mean that God can do the logically impossible.
Kevin Harris: Did Descartes really think that?
Dr. Craig: Yes.
Kevin Harris: He thought God could even do logical impossibilities?
Dr. Craig: Yes, and he's about the only one who thought that. He affirms what Alvin Plantinga calls universal possibilism, that anything is possible for God, that there are no necessary truths. Unfortunately I think universal possibilism turns out to be logically incoherent because it turns out that on this view there are certain necessary truths. But that aside most theologians have said that there's no reason to think that God, for example, could sin, or that God could create another god and fall down and worship him, or that God could cease to exist, or that God could create a round circle.
Kevin Harris: A round square.
Dr. Craig: These aren't really things at all; they're just contradictory combinations of words that are metaphysically impossible. So this is, again, an example of how philosophical analysis can take the data of Scripture and reflect upon it to bring about logically coherent understandings of God in line with Scripture but which go beyond Scripture because Scripture is undeterminative in this regard. So I would say that the two constraints for doing systematic theology are: number one, Scripture, and then number two, perfect being theology, that is to say, the concept of God as the greatest conceivable being. And when we have these two constraints on doing systematic theology I think that we will develop a theology that will be, first, compatible with the biblical teaching, it will be inline with what the Bible teaches, but then in addition to that it will also be logically coherent and reasonable.
Kevin Harris: Bill, as we conclude today, let me ask you to speculate on two more issues. I've often been just astounded at how rich God's word is, how the Scriptures are so rich, that you can mine these things to great depths that aren't specifically spelled out but are there to be mined (in keeping with itself, of course, and in consistency). And it brings up a question: well, why didn't God give us more data? Why is it underdeterminative on some of these questions? And people want to impose the Bible to be a philosophical textbook work, or a scientific textbook, you know, that explains even nuclear synthesis and mitosis.
Dr. Craig: Exactly, why doesn't the Bible teach Big Bang cosmology, or something?
Kevin Harris: Yeah, and cellular mitosis or whatever. Well, I guess you would agree that given the scope of the Bible, the time scope, and the variety of peoples all over the world, God has communicated through the Scriptures in such a way as to reach that scope, from the simplest people to the most intelligent. Does that make sense?
Dr. Craig: I think that's exactly right, Kevin. When you consider the purpose of Scripture and the varying audiences to which it is directed, God knew what sort of information to include in it. And the Bible itself says that Scripture is inspired of God and it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God might be complete. And so that's the purpose for which Scripture is given; not to tell us the scientific truths about the universe we live in, not to disclose all philosophical, metaphysical issues to us, not even to teach all historical details about the ancient past. It's primarily given for communicating the way of salvation and for conformity to the image of Christ for sanctification.
Kevin Harris: When Paul quoted the pagan poets – Erratas of Silica, Epimenides of Crete – he seemed to be saying, he may not agree with everything that they said, and in fact he didn't, but he said, “by the way, this philosophical insight from this philosopher happens to jive with God and with Scripture and with what I'm trying to teach you.” So he could actually bring insight from a philosopher and quote it to that people who were also familiar with it, like in Acts 17.
Dr. Craig: I'm glad you brought that up, Kevin, because I think that these folks who are suspicious and fearful of philosophy are in danger of lapsing into a kind of double truth theory, where they would say that something that is shown to be true philosophically may not be true biblically or theologically. And you have this kind of double truth theory that I think is deeply incoherent. This was proposed by certain medieval thinkers who thought that what is theologically true may not be philosophically true, and that is just deeply incoherent. There cannot be two truths, all truth is God's truth and there is an ultimate objective truth about the way the world is. So if you have good philosophical arguments that are sound for certain conclusions, and those conclusions are true, it doesn't matter whether those are taught in Scripture or not. If they're true they are God's truth. And to say that something can be philosophically true but biblically false is just incoherent. That kind of double truth theory is something we should never succumb to.
Kevin Harris: Alright, thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time on Reasonable Faith.
 Total Running Time: 30:20 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)