What to do when skeptics attack libertarian free will—become a Calvinist

By way of backstory…

This is a continuation of the discussion started with Stuart in his article ‘Openness Theology (Part 2)’. I realize it’ll go over the heads of some, and I apologize for that—but I think these issues are interesting and important enough to warrant bringing them to the front page. Interesting because, for more philosophically-inclined Christians, they raise questions about our own natures and our relationship to God; important because the answers to these questions have a lot of ramifications for not just our theology, but also our apologetics.

For example, a fairly standard line of attack for skeptics is to draw out the inconsistencies between holding to both God’s definite foreknowledge (DFK) and libertarian free will—which many Christians do. As a skeptic of LFW, though a believer in DFK, I took this line of attack in the comments thread of Stuart’s article:

P = “God knows that an agent S will choose A rather than ¬A”
Q = “S will choose A rather than ¬A”
[A] = the principle of accidental necessity (PAN)
[L] = the principle of logical necessity

  1. [A]P
  2. [L](P → Q)
  3. [A]Q

This precludes the possibility of S’s choosing ¬A. Since LFW typically relies on the principle of alternative possibility (PAP), this argument suffices to disprove the standard libertarian view.

Stuart, however, resolves the difficulty by rejecting the principle of alternate possibility while still holding to libertarian freedom: namely, that our choices are causally unrestrained. To justify rejecting PAP, he cites a hypothetical scenario where it seems that PAP is false, but agent S still has free will. This kind of scenario was first proposed by a philosopher named Harry Frankfurt, and is so called a Frankfurt Counterexample.

At this point, I’m gonna start talking to Stuart directly:

Continuing the discussion…

Stu: I think it’s interesting that you object to PAP using a Frankfurt Counterexample. Frankfurt being a compatibilist and all (: But I take it you’re adopting the Molinist position, ala William Lane Craig.

I think that’s problematic, because ultimately it collapses into a pure Reformed theology. PAP is necessary to liberterian free will (LFW), because without it there’s no obvious distinction between incompatibilism and compatibilism; and without that, there’s no reason to believe in LFW and be a Molinist!

For example, imagine a choice between A and ¬A, where God foreknows the outcome A. Compatibilists, who hold to theological determinism, believe something like the following:

  1. Principle of Volition (PV): Agent S can consciously contemplate A or ¬A and choose one
  2. Principle of Accidental Necessity (PAN): S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary
  3. Principle of Compatibilistic Free Will (CFW): S freely chooses A

But what’s the difference between these beliefs, taken together, and what a libertarian would believe sans PAP? Perhaps you’d say (2) is incomplete, and that completing it creates the relevant distinction:

2C: S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary AND causally restrained
2L: S cannot choose ¬A because his choice of A is accidentally necessary though NOT causally restrained

But the difference being suggested here only gains its force by trading on an equivocation in the concept of causality. (2L) cannot be true as a blanket statement under traditional Christianity. And (2C) need not be true, depending on what kind of causation you have in view.

If any kind of causation is in view, then presumably the libertarian and the compatibilist would both agree that (2C) must be true, and together reject (2L)—because the mechanics of God’s creative act necessitate at least three causal restraints on contingent choices:

CR1. Prior to creation, God surveyed all possible worlds and chose to create this one (call it W1)
CR2. God initially instantiated W1 in reality by speaking it into being
CR3. God continually upholds the instantiation of W1 in reality moment to moment

Any Christian must believe all three of these propositions, and all three of them constitute causal restraints on our choices.

A bit of explanation re these three causal restraints Christianity implies

Statement (CR1) entails a causal restraint on our choices, because God’s ability to know true facts about choices in worlds which have not been instantiated logically entails that his knowledge is not grounded on any choices’ actually obtaining. But if his knowledge is not grounded on the choices’ obtaining, yet he still has definite foreknowledge of their outcomes, it follows they must be causally determined. Were they not—were they indeterminate—then by definition he could not know their outcomes.

Statement (CR2) entails a causal restraint on human choices, since S’s choice of A is conditioned on God’s instantiation of W1. Indeed, every choice made in W1 occurs inevitably as God determined when he chose to instantiate W1.

Statement (CR3) entails a causal restraint on human choices, because we know that God alone instantiates things in reality. This instantiative power is a kind of causation, though not a natural causation (aka secondary causation). It’s an existential or primary causation. By definition, only God has this power; it’s sui generis, and a non-communicable attribute. Were God not exercising this power continually, the universe would simply fail to exist. Thus we know that whenever something is real, God alone instantiates it in reality; and since S’s choice to A is real, God alone therefore instantiates it in reality. It’s arguable whether this is merely a restatement of (CR2) or not; I don’t have a considered opinion on that.

The upshot (which is threefold):

Firstly, we must be careful when, in (2C) and (2L) above, we talk about S’s choice being “causally restrained”. Do we mean that it’s restrained in a natural sense, in an existential sense, or both? Any Christian must, of necessity, acknowledge that our choices are existentially causally restrained. But then there is no disagreement between the libertarian and the compatibilist, and their views appear to be the same. On the other hand, if we’re only talking about natural causal restraint, the compatibilist need not (to my knowledge) affirm that our choices are restrained at all; ie, he may agree with the libertarian that the only causally relevant factor in S’s choice is the action of S’s own will.

Secondly, because libertarianism without PAP implies a closed future, and acknowledges God’s definite foreknowledge even of non-instantiated worlds, it therefore necessarily entails theistic determinism:

TD. Theistic determinism is true if, and only if, for an agent (S) choosing whether A, the outcome A or ¬A is actualized inevitably because of a prior action on the part of God.

Thirdly, libertarianism with PAP necessarily entails the opposite: ie, it implies an open future, which in turn requires a denial of God’s definite foreknowledge, since there is literally nothing for him to know about human choices logically prior to their obtaining.

Make a choice: Calvinism or Open Theism

This is why an Arminian theology will either collapse into a Reformed theology or an Open theology when you push its premises to be consistent with one another. Once you’ve discarded PAP you’re most of the way there, since you’re essentially adopting a compatibilist view already—making theological determinism a lot easier to swallow.

On the other hand, if your intuitions were to refuse to let you discard PAP—as I’ve seen be the case for many Arminians, despite the PAP counterexample God conveniently provided for us right in the Bible itself (Exodus 7ff)—then if you want to align all your beliefs to be consistent you have to let go of God’s definite foreknowledge.

I look forward to your thoughts (:

Openness Theology (Part Two)

A thorough refutation of OT will have to engage at least three different areas. These will be, (1) Hermeneutics and the scriptural data, (2) Theological consequences,[1] and (3) Philosophical objections. In this short essay I advance my own brief analysis as to why GOT is philosophically flawed.

Open Theism is in many respects a reaction to hard-line Calvinism and the theological determinism that it implies. OT takes libertarian freedom as axiomatic. Accordingly, because of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and atemporality, EC incompatibility is thought to follow. Pinnock states:

“I found that I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been already spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.”[2]

It is clear that by “truly significant” Pinnock means undetermined.[3] But why should exhaustive foreknowledge preclude libertarian freedom as Pinnock intuits? There is a distinct lack in the literature explicating this presupposition. Indeed, no argument for theological determinism can be advanced that is not logically fallacious. Consider the following syllogism:

1)     Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen.

2)     God knows everything (this includes x).

Therefore, (modus ponems, 1&2)

3) Necessarily, x will happen.

In other words, if God knows a person’s future choice, that person must make that choice. We can immediately see that this argument must be false – even if we don’t know how. For just by merit of knowing something will occur, doesn’t mean that it must occur. I know that I am going to have Subway™ for lunch. That doesn’t mean I have to have Subway™ for lunch. I could have Noodles. Or skip lunch entirely.

Let us turn to an examination of the premises. Premise (1) is necessary because it is no more than a truism. It is not because it is God doing the knowing, but because x is simply “known,” for to know x requires x to be true: you cannot know x if x is false. We could replace “God” as the knower with anyone we wanted, such as “the gods,”[4] or “the whether man,” or “Big Bird.” It could be anyone doing the knowing and (1) would still be a necessary truth.

Premise (2) is true by merit of God’s omniscience, and classical theism is committed to this proposition. It is on this ground that the OT believes (3) to flow logically from the premises, that leads her to deny (2). Since according to the classical theist both the premises are true, if he is to deny the conclusion the only option left for him is to show that (3) does not flow logically from the premises.

And indeed, what follows from the premises is not (3) but,

3`) x will happen.

Which is to say, x won’t fail to occur, but it could fail to occur. If x fails to happen, we can be assured that God did not know x. This is not to deny (O). It is to say that x was false. That is why Hodge can say:

“…as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. […] This whole difficulty arises out the assumption that contingency is essential to free agency. [But] If an act may be certain as to its occurrence, and yet free as to the mode of its occurrence, the difficulty vanishes.”[5] [brackets and italics mine]

Thus, an essential presupposition of OT is founded upon a modally fallacious inference. Deprived of a successful proof of EC incompatibility, and with no disproof of concurrence formulations of Divine sovereignty and libertarian freedom,[6] it follows – from a purely philosophical point of view – that GOT is not to be preferred.

Further, GOT appear to be prima facie dubious. Given the strong case for all future contingent propositions being either true or false, Bivalent and Non-Bivalent variants of OT appear unfounded.[7] Moreover, Steven C. Roy, in his comprehensive biblical study of divine foreknowledge identifies 2,323 predictive prophecies concerning CCFs creating a powerful quantitative argument against any limitation of divine foreknowledge.[8] The OT may still object by qualifying God’s foreknowledge is existentially quantitative. However, in the light of the number, variety and precision of the 300 representative predictive prophesies from scripture involving future free decisions detailed by Roy, the burden of proof is firmly placed on the OTs shoulders to show that God’s knowledge of CCFs is not universally quantified.

Craig explains:

“The problem with Boyd’s procedure . . . is that the defender of divine foreknowledge need only show that God knows just one future contingent proposition or CCF, for in that case (1) there is no logical incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and future continents, (2) the Principle of Bivalence does not fail for such propositions, and (3) it becomes ad hoc to claim that other such propositions are not also true and known to God.”[9]

The contemporary debate surrounding the perfection of God’s knowledge, specifically his prescience of contingent events, or the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) continues today. There are many aspect of the debate I have not covered, including the theological consequences; such as what OT offers and undermines in theodicy, and hermeneutical considerations; such as anthropopathy in narrative genres and the role of systematic theology in interpretation. I have not been concerned in this essay with the religious backlash OT has engendered. I have been concerned with the truth of OT, by exploring the arguments for and against. Though most proponents of OT prefer to argue on biblical grounds rather than philosophical grounds,[10] there is enough reason here to think that OT is, at the level of its core commitments, false. God, it seems, still does not play dice.


[1] And what does and does not constitute unacceptable theological consequences.

[2] […] I feared if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong. See Clark H. Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 9.

[3] Undetermined choices are important for Pinnock, for the following three reasons. “It astonishes me that people can defend the “glory of God” [exhaustive foreknowledge] so vehemently when that glory includes God’s sovereign authorship of every rape and murder, his closing down the future to any meaningful creaturely contribution, and his holding people accountable for deeds he predestined them to do and they could not but do.” See Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Baker Academic, 2001), 16.

[4] Indeed, this argument is nothing more than the argument for old-line Greek fatalism.

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. Vol. 1., (Oak Harbor, WA: James Clark & Co., 1997), 401,

[6] Possible options here include Luis De Molina’s formulation of the doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Or James Arminius’ confessed ignorance.

[7] Strong reasons must be given before preferring Peircean semantics over the popular and common sense Ockhamist semantics that allows propositions like “I am going to have Subway for lunch,” to be either true or false. For further information see, See “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 233.

[8] Steven C. Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).  See also “How Much Does God Foreknow? Online Supplement” at

[9] William Lane Craig, “A middle-knowledge Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 57.

[10] See Appendix A for a brief defence against the Openness criticism of the influence of Greek thought on the conception of God.


Battle, John A. “Some Biblical Arguments used by Openness Theology” WRS Journal 12/1 (February 2005): 15-20.

Beilby, James K. and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Craig, William Lane, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of theism: Omniscience, vol. 19. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan, 1960.

Erickson, Millard J., What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Hasker, William. God, TIme and Knowledge, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. London: James Clark & Co, 1960.

Geisler, Norman L. and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001.

Pinnock, Clark. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001.

____________. “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

Rhoda, Alan R. “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 263

Roy, Steven C. How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

Sanders, John. “Open Theism Explained.” No pages. Cited 3 October 2010. Online:

Thomas, Robert L. “The Hermeneutics of ‘Open Theism’” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (Fall 2001): 179-202.

Wright , R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty: Whats Wrong with Freewill Theism, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Openness Theology (Part One)

On 4 December 1926, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Max Born describing his difficulties coming to terms with Quantum mechanics. In it he said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”[1] The quip that often follows is, “If he did, he’d win.”

That is the basic idea people have of God. C. S. Lewis says, “Everyone who believes in God at all, believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow.”[2] Traditional Christian theism has always affirmed the scope or perfection of God’s knowledge includes the future.

In the last thirty years there have been a growing number of theologians calling themselves mainstream evangelicals, who are challenging this conception. Their claim is that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future contingent propositions: God’s mind is, as it were, not settled on some questions regarding what will happen, but open. Thus the name they have chosen for themselves is Open Theism or Openness Theology (OT). The specific type of future contingent propositions they have in mind are the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs).[3] Moreover, they think this idea is more faithful to the revelation given in scripture than the traditional view.

Outspoken scholarly proponents of Open Theism include Gregory Boyd, John Sanders, David Basinger, William Hasker and, most famously, Clark Pinnock. Historically what is new is that this view is no longer isolated to a small area of Christendom or on the periphery of Christian thought and discussion.

Before turning to a refutation, it will be worthwhile taking the advice of Alan R. Rhoda, of the University of Navada, Las Vagas. In his paper, Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof, he warns of conflating commitments of specific variants of Open Theism with what he calls Generic Open Theism (GOT). For this he distinguishes five minimal commitments for Openness Theology. The first four are: (1) Theism, [4] (2) Future Contingency, (3) Divine Epistemic Openness, and (4) EC incompatibility.

The third is implicitly affirmed by the defining characteristics of (1), (2) and (4), yet needs to be made explicit because it has been made “the central dialectic” of the debate.[5] For clarity we can construct a syllogism.

1)     God exists.
2)     There are future contingents. (i.e. The future is causally open).[6]
4)     It is impossible that the future be epistemically settled for God in any respect in which it is causally open. (i.e. If the future is causally open, it is impossible for God to know the future).

Therefore, (modus ponems, 2&4)

3)     The future is epistemically open for God.

Thus the proponent of OT will accept both (2) and (4) and therefore (3), and the objector to OT will reject (3) and therefore must deny either (2) or (4). By denying (2) one sides with the determinist school of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. By denying (4) one sides with the EC incompatabilist school of Ockham, Molina, or Arminius. Under Rhoda’s schema, GOT is placed between both schools by affirming what each school denies, namely (2) and (4).

Millard J. Erickson, could well agree with Rhoda’s warning and clarification. He would however protest positioning OT in the middle ground between Calvin and Ariminius, for GOT steps beyond the bounds of orthodoxy by denying that which unites both schools: that God’s knowledge of future contingents is exhaustive.[7]

At least two important corollaries follow from Rhoda’s clarification. Firstly, GOT is committed to divine temporality with creation. This is because God undergoes intrinsic change as his knowledge changes. This happens either when any state of affair X at future time t* comes to pass, or becomes causally closed. Second, GOT is committed to divine passability in as far as God must undergo intrinsic change as his epistemic states change.[8]

Thus if you have reason to think that God is either atemporal with creation or impassable in his epistemic states, you have reason to believe that Open Theism is false. Norman Geisler argues against OT with this method on Scriptural grounds with Thomistic arguments.[9]

A fifth and important distinctive of Generic Open Theism remains, namely;

5)     AC incompatibility.

This condition states that future contingent propositions cannot be alethically settled and causally open. In other words, if X is at t* causally open, then X is neither true nor false. Insofar as there are future contingents, to affirm (5) one either needs to deny the Principle of Bivalence applies to X at t*, or else affirm that X at t* is not contradictory at all, but only contrary. Alternatively, some Open Theists have rejected (5) by affirming that future contingent propositions are alethically settled and epistemically open for they cannot be known in principle.

This last alternative is labeled limited foreknowledge, and entails a redefining of omniscience. Instead of God knowing all and only true propositions (O), God only knows all propositions that it is logically possible to know (O“). William Hasker has defended this variant of OT.[10] William Lane Craig explains how this is an unacceptable “cooking of the books.” First, he states that any adequate definition must accord with the intuitive understanding of the concept. Second, he points out that omniscience is a categorical and not a modal notion. It is not merely the capability of knowing all truths, but actually knowing all truths. Third, he states that the only sufficient condition for a proposition to be known is that it is true, thus (O“) collapses back into (O).[11] One therefore should be honest and simply deny that God has maximal knowledge, thus entailing a denial of (1).

In addition, a principled limitation of God’s foreknowledge (without a denial that future contingent propositions have a truth-value or are uniformly false) requires a denial that “Truth supervenes of Being.” Since this entails a denial of the correspondence theory of truth, most OTs reject limited foreknowledge, for the consequence is far too heavy to bear.[12]

The second and third variety of OT are labeled Non-bivalentist and Bivalentist. Each view accepts that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive. It can do this by denying “X at t*” and “¬X at t*” is either true or false. The Non-bivalentist OT accomplishes this by denying Bivalence and contending that the ‘future’ is a set of multitudes of unsettled branches of possibilities rather than a specific sequence of events. For further support different appeals have been made to the A-theory of time, Presentism and Quantum Indeterminacy.[13] The Bivalentist OT accepts the standard logic but maintains “X at t*” and “¬X at t*” are both false. Instead, “either X or ¬X might obtain at t*” is true. Consequently, Gregory A. Boyd argues that the contemporary debate has more to do with the doctrine of creation than it does the doctrine of God. Specifically, about what constitutes the content of creation rather than the content of God’s foreknowledge.[14]

A thorough refutation of OT will have to engage at least three different areas. These will be, (1) Hermeneutics and the scriptural data, (2) Theological consequences,[15] and (3) Philosophical objections. In the next installment I will advance my own brief analysis as to why GOT is philosophically flawed.


[1] This quotation is actually a paraphrased version of the following excerpt. “Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the ‘old one’. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” The Born-Einstein Letters (translated by Irene Born) (Walker and Company, New York, 1971).

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960), 148.

[3] CCF = def. What any creature Y would freely do if placed in any circumstance S.

[4] By which he means classical monotheism, “God exists necessarily and possesses a maximal set of compossible great-making properties, including maximal power, knowledge, and goodness. He created the world ex nihilo and can unilaterally intervene in it as he pleases.” Alan R. Rhoda, “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 227

[5] Ibid., 229

[6] Rhoda explains, “the future is causally open at time t with respect to state of affairs X and future time t* if and only if, given all that exists as of time t, it is really possible both that X obtains at t* and that X does not obtain at t*. (In other words, whether X obtains at t* or not is, as of t, a future contingent.)” See “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 228.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 13.

[8] Whether God can change with respect to his will, his feelings, or his nature is optional, it not being a distinctive of GOT. Rhoda notes that GOT is not committed to impassibility in God’s nature, for it is committed to Theism. This however, this doesn’t seem to me to follow. He must therefore mean by “Theism,” a monotheism conjoined with a specific element of the doctrine of impassibility.

[9] See Norman Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man? (Rockville, MD: Bethany House, 1997). See also, Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001).

[10] William Hasker God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 187; idem ‘The foreknowledge conundrum’, International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 50 (2001), 97-114, esp. 110-111.

[11] James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 138.

[12] Alan R. Rhoda, “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 263

[13] Gregory A. Boyd, “An Open-Theism Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 111.

[14] Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 13-14.

[15] And what does and does not constitute unacceptable theological consequences.