Posts tagged Thomas Belt

Who has affirmed dynamic omniscience and the open future in history?

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John Sanders

Updated April 2013

Briefly, the position is that God has exhaustive knowledge of the past and the present and knows as possibilities and probabilities those events which might happen in the future. God could have created a world in which he knew exactly what we would do in the future if God had decided to create a deterministic world. Consequently, God cannot know as definite what we will do unless he destroys the very freedom he granted us. Vincent Brümmer writes: “God knows everything which it is logically possible to know. But God knows all things as they are, and not as they are not. Thus he knows the future as future (and not as present, which it is not). He knows the possible as possible (and not as actual, which it is not).”1 God does not possess exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) of future contingent events.

Aristotle put forth the problem of the truth value of future contingent propositions (De Interprtatione 9), claiming that they could be neither true nor false. There were questions about how to interpret Aristotle’s remarks which led to lively debate among those who discussed this question. The issues involved in divine foreknowledge were much discussed by philosophers after Aristotle.

The dynamic omniscience view was affirmed by several non-Christian writers such as Cicero (first century B.C.E.) Alexander of Aphrodisias (second century C.E.) and Porphyry (third century).2  Cicero  argued that if God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) then humans cannot have libertarian freedom so Cicero denied EDF.3

For the reasons used to support belief in an exhaustively definite future in both secular Greco-Roman thought and in Christianity see “Motivations for Ascribing Foreknowledge to God” by Gregory Boyd on this website.

Commenting on the work of Aristotle, Boethius and several medieval theologians held that statements about the future lack truth value yet they also held that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF).4 Also, Boethius (see Consolations, 5.4), Augustine (City of God, 5.9.37-9), Bonaventure and Aquinas are familiar with the dynamic omniscience position of Cicero (see W. Craig, Problem of Divine Forekowledge, 59). Boethius also knows about Alexander of Aphrodisias who produced an argument similar to Cicero’s. Boethius and other Christians were more concerned to deflect the charge that Christianity implied fatalism rather than about Aristotle’s question regarding the truth value of future propositions. It was charged that if the God of the Bible predicts some future events, then the future must be determined.

These authors produce an array of solutions to the problem and those after them critique these answers and either modify them or offer new proposals. Most seem aware of the dynamic omniscience view but think that it either (1) fails to explain biblical predictions or (2) would imply that God has changing knowledge which would undermine their understanding of divine immutability. The great Aquinas (thirteen century) argues that if God is temporal (experiences changes of any kind) then the only options are determinism or dynamic omniscience. He says that a temporal God can only have EDF (exhaustive definite foreknowledge) if all is determined from prior causes. This is why he rejects the simple foreknowledge view because he thinks it removes human freedom. Another factor, for Aquinas, is that “the future does not exist and is therefore not knowable in itself” because it lacks being (Summa Theologica For Aquinas, the simple foreknowledge view of the church fathers (the same view what will become dominant in Arminian and Wesleyan circles) is deterministic. He believes that if God is temporal and humans have freedom then one should affirm the dynamic omniscience view. However, Thomas argues that since God is timelessness God can know an exhaustive definite future without it being determined. The important point here is that Aquinas thought the dynamic omniscience view was a legitimate option and he thought it should be affirmed if God is temporal and humans are free.

After Boethius, the mighty river of EDF followed the channel of divine timelessness though there were a few other channels such as divine determinism. However, in recent Christian philosophy the flow in the channel of timelessness has been seriously reduced in favor of dynamic omniscience and middle knowledge

The earliest Christian proponent thus far found is Calcidius (late fourth century).5 He wrote several books one of which is against fatalism and determinism (this work did not become well known until the middle ages). In it he says that since God knows reality as it is he knows necessary truths necessarily and future contingent truths contingently.6  Some Medieval Christian writers anticipate and seem to affirm an open future: Peter Auriol (thirteenth century) and Peter de Rivo (fifteenth century).

Some Islamic scholars affirmed dynamic omniscience: some in the Qadarite school (eighth century) and Abd al-Jabbar, an important figure of the Mu’tazilite school (tenth century).7 In Judaism the view has been widely held. God’s statement to Abraham “Now I know that you fear me” (Gen 22:12) was much discussed by Medieval Jewish theologians, a number of whom affirmed dynamic omniscience and the open future including the renowned Ibn Ezra in the twelfth century and Gersonides (Levi ben Gerson) in the fourteenth.8

John Miley claims that some of the Remonstrants (Dutch followers of Arminius) advocated it in the sixteenth century.9 The Anabaptist Fausto Socinus affirmed it though he, unfortunately, also denied many traditional Christian beliefs such as the deity of Christ and the trinity.10  If one tries to discredit open theism because a heretic affirmed the same view of omniscience then should the Reformation be discredited because this same heretic affirmed several of the key tenets of Calvin?

In the early eighteenth century, Samuel Fancourt published several works defending the dynamic omniscience view including Liberty, Grace and Prescience and latter, in 1730, What Will Be Must Be. He argues that the issue is not about the scope of God’s knowledge but about the nature of reality: are contingencies real or not? Andrew Ramsay (1748) put forth a variant of this position, claiming that though the future is knowable and so God could know it, God has chosen not to exercise this ability in order to preserve human freedom. John Wesley (1785) reprinted Ramsay’s material on this in Wesley’s Arminian Magazine.11

The position became much discussed in Methodism from the latter eighteenth into the twentieth century.12 In the early nineteenth century the well known Methodist biblical commentator, Adam Clarke (1831), defended it as did the well-known circuit preacher Billy Hibbard (1843).13

Hibbard says that he learned of the view from an article in a Methodist magazine but he develops the position much more than the Methodists before him. In the latter nineteenth century Lorenzo D. McCabe, a Methodist theologian, wrote two large, detailed works covering every biblical text relevant to foreknowledge (for example, Peter’s denial) as well as numerous theological arguments.14 According to McCabe, dynamic omniscience was widely affirmed by British and German theologians of his day and he cites other Methodists who held the view. In America, McCabe’s publications sparked a significant discussion in Methodist circles that lasted several decades.15 John Miley, an influential Methodist and contemporary of McCabe, speaks highly of McCabe’s work in his Systematic Theology (which was widely used well past the middle of the twentieth century). Though Miley affirmed prescience (foreknowledge) he recognizes a key problem that he does not know how to answer: How can God interact with us in reciprocal relationships if God has prescience? He says that if belief in an interactive God is contradictory to prescience then he will give up prescience. He goes on to say that belief in dynamic omniscience would not undermine any vital Methodist doctrines and would, in fact, free Methodism from the perplexity of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.16

Quite a number of articles and books affirming open theism from people in various denominations appeared in the nineteenth century (see the “Open Theism Timeline” chart). These folks affirmed traditional Christian orthodoxy and were generally evangelical in orientation. Edward Pearson (1811). Verax (1818), James Bromley (1820), John Briggs (1825), James Jones (two books 1828, 1829), Onesimus (1828), John Bonsall (1830), Richard Dillon (1834), Robert Bartley (1839), Joseph Barken (1846), William Robinson (1866), James Morison (1867), William Taylor (1868), Hans Martinsen (1874), J. P. LaCroix (1876), J. J. Smith (1885), Thomas Crompton (1879), Isaiah Kephart (1883), B. F. White (1884), J. J. Miles (1885), Joseph Lee (1889), J. S. Brecinridge (1890), W. G. Williams (1891), H. C. Burr (1893), William Major (1894), S. Hubbard (1894), J. Wallace Webb (1896), D. W. Simon (1898), and H. J. Zelley (1900).

In the mid nineteenth century, the great German theologian, Isaak Dorner, argued that “the classical doctrine of immutability” is inconsistent with Scripture, sound reason, and spiritual living because it rules out reciprocal relations between God and creatures. He argues for dynamic omniscience saying that a consistent view of God working with us in history requires that God knows future free acts of creatures as possibilities, not actualities.17

In 1890 Joel S. Hayes published The Foreknowledge of God, a lengthy volume examining the scriptural evidence and theological arguments for foreknowledge and concluded that dynamic omniscience was a superior explanation.18  In the opening chapter, he writes The design of this treatise is to deny and disprove the commonly received doctrine that God, from all eternity, foreknew whatsoever has come to pass. This doctrine, it seems to me, is contrary to reason and Scripture, and is in the highest degree dishonoring to the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity.” T. W. Brents of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement dedicated a chapter of his “biblical” theology to the defense of dynamic omniscience. His book was influential in the Churches of Christ for many decades.19

In the latter nineteenth century many people defended the view including Rowland G. Hazard and the Catholic writer Jules Lequyer.20 Proponents also include less orthodox thinkers such as Gustave. T. Fechner, Otto Pfleiderer, William James, and Edgar S. Brightman.21

Theologians include Jürgen Moltmann, Paul Fides, and Michael Welker.22 Contemporary Dutch Reformed theologians such as Vincent Brümmer, Hendrikus Berkhof and Adrio König affirm it as do the American Reformed thinkers Nicholas Wolterstorff and Harry Boer.23 Other theologians include Thomas Finger (Mennonite), W. Norris Clarke (Roman Catholic), Brian Hebblethwaite, Robert Ellis, Kenneth Archer (Pentecostal) Barry Callen (Church of God), German theologian Heinzpeter Hempelmann and perhaps Albert Truesdale (Nazarene).24 Major Jones claims that the position is well known in the African-American tradition.25

The dynamic omniscience view is exceedingly popular among analytic philosophers who affirm orthodox Christianity. Quite a number of the luminaries among Christian philosophers assert it: Richard Swinburne (Oxford), William Hasker, David Basinger, Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame), J. R. Lucas, Peter Geach, Richard Purtill, A. N. Prior, and Keith Ward.26  It is also affirmed by Nicholas Wolterstorff (formerly of Calvin and Yale) and Vincent Brümmer (Dutch Reformed).27 Several philosophers contributed to a book on open theism and science: Dean Zimmerman, Robin Collins, Alan Rhoda, David Woodruff, and Jeffrey Koperski.28  Timothy O’Connor (Indiana University) also affirms the openness model.29 Though there remain defenders of both theological determinism and simple foreknowledge, it seems that the majority of Christian philosophers who publish on the subject today believe that the main options are middle knowledge and dynamic omniscience.

Acclaimed physicist and theologian, John Polkinghorne, holds it as does mathematician D. J. Barholomew and physicist Arthur Peacocke.30

For those interested in biblical support for the dynamic omniscience view, the most important work is by Hebrew Bible scholar, Terrence Fretheim, who has over a dozen publications that document in detail the biblical support for this view of omniscience.31

John Goldingay, professor of Old Testament at Fuller Seminary, has defended it in his Old Testament Theology.32 The work of Boyd and Sanders also contains biblical support.

A number of theologians, philosophers and writers have affirmed the position. Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd, Richard Rice, and John Sanders have produced several volumes on the topic.33

Other notable scholars include Dallas Willard, Gabriel Fackre, William Abraham, Paul Borgman, Henry Knight III, Alan Padgett, Tom Oord, and Peter Wagner.34 Researchers and popular writers include Michael Saia, William Pratney, H. Roy Elseth, Gordon C. Olson, Madelline L’Engle, and Brother Andrew.35

The position is affirmed by many YWAM leaders and leaders of the Ichthus church movement in England. Many Pentecostals are supporting it.36 Some leaders in a couple of denominations have spoken in favor of it: the Evangelical Covenant Church and Independent Christian Churches. The organization, Evangelical Educational Ministries, publishes copies of the works of L. D. McCabe and Gordon Olson:

In sum, the dynamic omniscience view was held by a smattering of people until the nineteenth century when serious scholarship begins to be published on it.37

In the latter twentieth century the number of proponents and the amount of quality works setting forth the position has grown exponentially. In part, the view is increasing in popularity in the freewill tradition due to its ability to better explain the biblical texts and give greater intellectual coherence as to how God relates to us.

Some evangelicals do not embrace the open view of omniscience but do arrive at views that have great similarity to it. Gilbert Bilezekian, professor of theology at Wheaton and theological pastor at Willow Creek (he has been Hybels mentor since college) puts forward a view similar to the open view. He claims that God can know what we will do in the future but decides not to know. See his Christianity 101 (Zondervan). Arminian theologian, John Tal Murphy (Taccoa Falls College), interacts with open theism and suggests that though God knows all that will occur in the future God has the ability to “block out of his consciousness” knowledge of what will happen. God can, in effect, “forget” what he knows is going to happen. God does this in order to enter into genuine dialog and interpersonal relations with us. See his, Divine Paradoxes: A Finite View of an Infinite God (Christian Publications, Camp Hill, PA 1998), pp. 49-56. Though I see problems with the views expressed by Bilezekian and Murphy, I am pleased that they understand the problems with simple foreknowledge and, as evangelical Arminians, attempt to find a plausible solution that arrives, for all practical purposes, at a position quite similar to the open view.

In addition, the evangelical Arminian theologian, Jack Cottrell has recently affirmed a temporal version of incremental simple foreknowledge. This view, in my opinion, arrives at precisely the same practical implications for divine providence as the open view. See John Sanders “Is Open Theism a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 38.2 (Fall 2003): 69-102.

Open Creation and the Redemption of the Environment

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by John Sanders
Wesleyan Theological Journal. Vol. 47 Number 1 Spring 2012

At a conference in Chicago in 2004, and after I had presented a paper on open theism, a Lutheran theologian asked, “What about rocks and trees in open theism?” My response was that the proponents of this model of God would love to apply open theism to such topics, but to date had been preoccupied with gaining a place at the theological table. That was then. Circumstances have changed. The time has come for the application.

The Open Theistic Perspective

Open theism as a theological movement now is sufficiently established that its proponents do not have to spend all their energies defending it. They can now explore the implications of the model for various topics. This is what this essay proposes to do. I will first summarize the open theistic perspective, then examine the nature of creation, the nature of redemption, and conclude with a discussion of the relationship between creation and redemption, with special attention to environmental concerns. Open theism is a model of God which affirms that God, in an act of self-Limitation, created beings ex nihilo with the intention that creatures would come to experience the love inherent in the Trinity.1 Though omnipotent, God exercises a type of sovereignty which grants considerable independence to creatures. God is “open” in two important senses. First, God is open to what creatures bring about-God is affected by creatures. Second, God is open to the future in that, even for God, there is more than one possible future. God has “dynamic omniscience,” meaning that God knows all the past and present as definite and God knows the future as possibilities. Also, God has chosen to rely upon creatures for many aspects of life and history. Consequently, God takes risks because not everything in creation goes the way God specifically wants it to go. God has often had to adjust divine plans and implement flexible strategies in light of what creatures have done with their freedom.

The Nature of Creation and God

With this basic understanding in mind, we can now proceed to a discussion of the nature of creation. Though open theism upholds creation ex nihilo, I want to point out that creation is more than simply the production of matter. In fact, creation should not be understood as a one-time event in the past which God preserves, but also as a beginning with a dynamic structure that enables the creation itself to produce new beings, events, and relations. In the Genesis accounts, the original creation contained some structure and was reliable, but it was not static or complete because God did not desire that it remain as it was.2 That creation is ongoing is seen in the divine can for plants and animals to multiply. With this shaping of the world in ways that are not predetermined, the earth will be different than it was at the beginning. God empowers creatures to bring about states of affairs that did not exist at the beginning. When humans, for instance, begin to occupy .. the land (Genesis 1 :28) that will take on characteristics it did not have on the seventh day. God chooses to bring about a world in which God is not the only one who makes things new and different. In this respect, creation is “open” because God instantiated a reliable but not fixed or static creation, which in some significant respects is open-ended. The empowerment of creatures implies that God is a “power-sharing” deity. God calls upon the waters and the land to produce that which did not exist. Next, God cans upon the plants and animals to procreate. That God does not do the procreating for the creatures suggests that the creatures have now become creators, resembling God in that they also bring forth new beings. Humans in particular are given a vocation to be God’s regents to tend the earth in God’s stead. In this respect, human vocation is necessary for the continuance of at least some aspects of creation.3 God entered upon a journey with creatures, one for which the outcome was neither predetermined nor foreknown. God works with creatures to bring about new realities.

An aspect of divine creation often overlooked is that God is not simply creator in the sense of producing matter. The story of God’s activity in the Bible depicts God working to produce new social, religious, political, and economic realities. That God is creator in these important areas of life will be useful later in this paper to connect the doctrines of creation and redemption. Having discussed the nature of creation we now move to an open theist understanding of redemption.

The Nature of Redemption

God took a risk in granting relative independence to creatures, and the risk has brought negative results. Creation has miscarried. Sin mars all the spheres of divine creativity just mentioned: our relationship to God, to the physical world as well as our relations with other humans.4 Each of the areas harmed by sin requires reconciliation and healing, which is why the New Testament contains a plethora of images regarding redemption and atonement5 Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the touchstones by which Christians align their life stories with that of Jesus. Jesus models loving ways of relating to others, overcomes hate with forgiveness, and is the ground of hope that destruction and death can be overcome. The incarnation and resurrection are creative acts of God by which new possibilities for the world arise. The resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit are indications of an inaugurated eschatology in which the “new creation” has already begun but is not yet completed. The eschatological future has broken in to the present. The renewal of the heavens and the earth and the various aspects of life contained therein are granted the possibility of redemption. Accordingly, I will briefly explore elements of this redemption.

1. Reconciliation of Sinful Creatures. First, redemption involves a reconciliation of sinful creatures to God (not God to creatures) as well as the reconciliation of creatures to one another. Second, redemption is addressed to whole persons and this includes bodies and minds rather than simply “souls.” The New Testament writers did not concentrate on getting immaterial substances to heaven after death. Rather, they were concerned with the welfare of embodied persons as seen by their discussions of such things as food, clothing, and employment Third, sin has infected all of the relationships in which we find ourselves, but God is working to heal the diseased relations by creating communities who work to overcome sinful racial, socio-economic, and gendered structures (Galatians 3:28). Fourth, the renewal which began in the resurrection of Jesus continues to spread and one day will culminate in a renewed heaven and earth in which there is no sin to fracture our relationships. The new creation has been inaugurated and God calls us to cooperate with the mission of God. One day the mission will be completed.

If salvation involves bodies, then it involves the physical order. However, many Christians believe that, although the “new” creation involves resurrected human bodies, it means the destruction of the physical world as it presently exists. Such a view can lead to a lack of concern for the environment. Two points should be made in response to this view. First, redemption is not the annihilation of creation but rather its renewal. Just as human bodies are not annihilated when they experience salvation in Jesus. so the present heaven and earth will not be annihilated but renewed. It is common for biblical scholars to point out that, in the passages about the new creation, “new” means new in quality in contrast to the old. Evangelicals in North America typically believe that ”the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). That is, God is going to annihilate the present physical creation. However, this understanding is based on a mistranslation because the text should read: ”the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”6 The Greek word for what is translated “burned up” or “disclosed” is heureskein, which means to find out.7 God is going to reveal the truth about what has happened by refining creation, not destroying it.

2. Don’t Contribute to Creation’s Destruction. The second element of redemption is that, even if one remains convinced that the present world is going to be destroyed by God, there are reasons why Christians should not contribute to the destruction of the environment now. To begin, even if God is going to destroy it, there is no biblical warrant for anyone but God doing so. There is no biblical call to collaborate with God in destroying the planet, but there is biblical warrant for caring for the environment. Also, wanton contamination of the environment conflicts with the mission of Jesus. If Jesus is the model for the Christian life and Jesus healed the sick, then we ought to be involved in healing fractured relationships as well as broken bodies. Contamination of the environment fosters sickness rather than healing. If our discarded electronic devices end up in areas where poor people live and the heavy metals seep into the water supply poisoning the people who live there, then we are helping to make them sick. In the United States, cases of asthma are sharply increasing because of high levels of particles in the air. Coal-fired power plants in the northern United States produce acid rain which pollutes the lakes with high levels of mercury, and this eventually makes its way to humans via fish. Thus, we are slowly making our neighbors sick instead of helping to heal them. With this summary of an openness understanding of creation and redemption in hand, we can now address some specific issues. First, how should the relationship between creation and salvation be understood? Several items come into play here. To begin, creation is not a one time event but is an ongoing process. The history of evolution manifests the ongoing and unfinished nature of divine creation. As mentioned above, God’s original creation included a dynamic infrastructure with its own autonomy that allows for the creation of new beings, events, and types of relations. Next, the freedom of the creation entailed divine risk. The creation has taken some bad turns and now is deeply defaced by sin. Creation is the framework within which sin arises and it also is the framework in which redemption is carried out.

Furthermore, God is creator, not just of original matter, but also in the social, religious, and other areas of human existence. Sin has also distorted these aspects of divine creation. Consequently, redemption is understood as a particular dimension of God’s creative work in order to bring about a renewed creation transforming all of its dimensions, physical and social. Also, according to Paul, the Son of God, the redeemer, is also the one through whom God created the universe (Colossians 2: 16). The trinitarian God who worked to create us is the same God who works to redeem us. God has not given up on his creation but desires to renew it. The spoiled creation is the subject of God’s redemptive work, so creation and salvation cannot be isolated from one another. But neither can they be collapsed into each other because God did not create in order to redeem it. Sin was not part of God’s original design. God has had to adjust the divine plan to include redemption as a means to a new creation.

3. Refuse An Escapist Eschatology. Another issue is how to avoid an escapist eschatology which obliterates hope for this earth. Openness theology affirms the majority of traditional Christian teachings, including the resurrection of bodies to new life. Salvation is understood to include both the redemption of all spheres of life on earth as well as continued life with God after death in the new heavens and earth. Many proponents of open theism are evangelicals and many evangelicals believe that God is going to destroy the earth. Some interpret this to mean that, if God is going to destroy the earth, then it is not within our power to destroy it. Hence, they believe we can pollute and use up the natural resources because God will not allow the planet to be destroyed before the time set for its destruction.

It was mentioned above that this idea of God’s coming destruction of the creation is based on a mistranslation of a biblical text. An additional problem is that this false idea leads many evangelicals to conclude that God will take care of everything, so we need not do anything. God will miraculously overcome any problem we develop. One student voiced this sentiment when he said, “If we run out of oil, God will just make more.” The Calvinist theologian Calvin Beisner defends this notion by appeal to the Old Testament story of how God miraculously created more oil for a widow in order to pay off her debts (2 Kings 4: l-7).8 Because, says Beisner, nature is not a closed system for God, we can rest assured that God will not let us run out of natural resources. I reject such an idea as unbiblical.

4. Polarities To Be Avoided. Open theism seeks to avoid two polarities in this regard. They are the evangelical belief that God will take care of everything and the process theology belief that God will take care of nothing.9 Against the notion that God will resolve all of the problems unilaterally, openness affirms that God has granted a great deal of independence to creatures. Above, it was said that God decided to rely on humans by giving us a vocation that is necessary for the continuance of creation. God bas given us a task and we are failing God in some significant respects. We have seriously damaged God’s work and failed to achieve the mission entrusted to us by God. Yet, God has not thrown in the towel but has chosen to work to redeem creation.

Just as God elected to rely on creatures to continue the work of creation, God has decided to work through us rather than alone (e. g., to evangelize and feed the hungry). This means that God has chosen to be dependent upon our actions for a great many aspects of life. Does this mean that we could contaminate the environment to such an extent as to make life untenable? Since God has not prevented us from wreaking horrible wars, draughts, and the like, this seems a reasonable conclusion. It seems that God has chosen to solicit our cooperation in the divine work of redemption rather than simply doing it by God’s own self.10 Since God decided to make some important features of the continuance of creation dependent upon human vocation, the view that God is in total control and what humans do is irrelevant must be rejected.

The second polarity is process theology’s lack of eschatological hope that God will bring about the new heavens and new earth. The God of process theology cannot unilaterally cause an electron to move, so the preservation of the planet is decidedly on our shoulders, not God’s. The openness of God model affirms divine omnipotence and insists that God can work unilaterally within creation.11 The biblical record testifies that God has historically bought about that which did not exist on a number of occasions. Hence, we are not totally on our own. Proponents of open theism live in the tension between the two polarities of evangelical escapist theology and the lack of hope in process theology.

Salvation and Environmental Threats

How we understand salvation in the context of environmental threats is critical. For open theism, salvation entails both vertical and horizontal aspects. Redemption involves both our incorporation into the divine life and as our relations with other creatures. Again, two polarities need to be avoided: that salvation is only about getting to heaven or it is only about healing the planet. The “Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation” says: “We resist both ideologies which would presume the Gospel has nothing to do with the care of non-human creation and also ideologies which would reduce the Gospel to nothing more than the care of that creation.”12 Open theists believe that redemption is about both this life and the next because the salvation already begun will not be complete until God resurrects us to a renewed bodily life in the new heavens and earth. Open theists go beyond the process ideas of ”objective immortality” (God has eternal memories of what we were) or “subjective immortality” (the survival of a disembodied soul). Jesus was raised bodily from the dead confirming both that death has not the final word and that God continues to value physical existence.

ln addition to this eschatological embodiment, open theists affirm that salvation requires the transformation of embodied existence, not just the salvation of “souls.” Salvation engages every sphere of life affected by sin: economic, political, and environmental. James says that true religion is caring for widows and orphans (1:27) as well as feeding and clothing the poor (2:15). Paraphrasing James, we might ask how one can claim to love one’s neighbor while at the same time acting in ways that necessarily pollute the air and water supplies of our neighbors. The redemption of creation includes both salvation of individuals and healing of the environment because God wants to redeem every sphere of life affected by sin. God works to redeem whole persons, and the way we treat the environment affects our embodied neighbors. The renewed heavens and earth means the continuation of God’s physical creation, but in a transformed state in which we, as embodied beings, live appropriately with all other embodied beings. If God cares for embodied existence on this planet and will not give up on it, then neither should we. If divine dominion is enacted not by exploiting the land but by caring for it, then human dominion, which should image God’s dominion, should also care for it.13


The Hexagon of Opposition: Thinking Outside the Aristotelian Box

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Gregory A. Boyd, Thomas Belt, Alan Rhoda
Original PDF may be downloaded here: The Hexagon of Opposition: Thinking Outside the Aristotelian Box

It has traditionally been believed that omniscience means God’s knowledge of the future may be expressed exclusively in terms of what either will or will not come to pass. One common line of reasoning supporting this traditional belief is the following:

P1:       All propositions are either true or false (bivalence).

P2:       God knows the truth value of all propositions (omniscience).

P3:       The future can be exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.

C:        Therefore, God knows the future exclusively as that which either will or will not come to pass.

The argument is formally valid. Accordingly, those who deny the conclusion (C), such as open theists, have to deny one or more of the premises.  Some deny the first premise (P1) and argue that propositions expressing future contingencies are neither true nor false.  Others deny the second premise (P2), arguing that the truth value of propositions about future contingencies is logically impossible to know and thus not within the domain of God’s omniscience. For reasons too involved to explore presently, we find both positions to be problematic.1 We also deem such moves unnecessary to the denial of the conclusion (C), for, we shall argue, the third premise (P3) can be plausibly denied. This premise, we maintain, is arbitrarily restrictive. There are three, not two, distinct modes in terms of which future events may be described. It may be that (1) a future event S will obtain and it may be (2) that S will not  obtain. Both of these possibilities are countenanced by P3.  What P3 overlooks, however, is that it may also be the case (3) that S might and  might not  obtain.

If we grant that there are three, not two, distinct modes in terms of which future events may be described, then it is not the case that the future can be truly described solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.  And if, in fact, the future cannot be truly described solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass, then it follows that an omniscient God will not know the future solely in terms of what either will or will not come to pass. Rather, an omniscient God must also know the future partly in terms of what might and might not come to pass.

To say that S might and might not  obtain is to say that S’s obtaining is indeterminate— neither inevitable nor impossible.  The logical possibility of S being indeterminate is implicit in the structure of a future-tense Square of Opposition modeled after the traditional Square of Opposition from Aristotelian categorical logic.  But this possibility has been largely overlooked in Western philosophy which has tended to assume that the future could be expressed solely in terms of what either will or will not  come to pass.  The structure of the Square is partly to blame, for it fails to make the logical possibility of genuine indeterminacy sufficiently explicit.  When we make this possibility explicit, we find that the Square of Opposition transforms into a Hexagon of Opposition, in light of which it becomes clear how one may affirm genuine indeterminacy and thus deny (C) while at the same time affirming bivalence (P1) as well as God’s knowledge of the truth value of all propositions (P3).

In this essay we first show how the future-tense Square of Opposition allows for the possibility of a partly indeterminate future (I).  We then point out two problems with the Square with respect to its ability to handle future indeterminacy (II).  Following this, we demonstrate how a consistent working out of the logic of the Square leads to a future-tense Hexagon of Opposition (III). After highlighting several advantages of the Hexagon over the Square (IV) we conclude by applying insights gained from the Hexagon to assess the assumption (P3) that the future can be exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass as well as the conclusion (C) that God knows the future exclusively as that which either will or will not come to pass.

I. Indeterminacy and the Square of Opposition

We begin by considering the Square of Opposition as it concerns  S’s obtaining.


Now, several observations about the Square’s treatment of S’s obtaining are worth noting.2 On the standard interpretation of the Square, the contraries “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain” cannot be conjointly true, but they may be conjointly false. Conversely, while the subcontraries “S might obtain” and “S might not obtain” cannot be conjointly false, they may be conjointly true.  Most significantly, we must note that when both subcontraries “might” and “might not” are true, contraries “will” and “will not” are both false, for “S will obtain” and “S might not obtain” are contradictories, as are “S will not obtain” and “S might obtain.”

These observations already expose the arbitrary restrictiveness of P3, for P3 simply denies that propositions expressing conjointly true subcontraries “might” and “might not” are ever true.3  To say the same thing a different way, P3 denies that propositions expressing the logically possible negation of both contraries “will” and “will not” are ever true. P3 mistakenly treats the contraries “will” and “will not” as though they were contradictories, subject to the law of excluded middle, and thus assumes that they together exhaust the logical possibilities. P3 reflects the traditional tendency to insist that either it is true that “S will obtain” or it is true “S will not obtain,” as though these two possibilities were mutually exhaustive, which is why it supports the traditional conclusion that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, necessarily knows whether S will or will not obtain.  According to the Square, however, it may be false that “S will obtain” and false that “S will not obtain,” just in case it is true that “S might and might not obtain.” Again, “will” and “will not” are contraries, not contradictories, so while both cannot be true, both may be false. And “might” and “might not” are subcontraries, not contraries, so both cannot be false, but both may be true.

Of course, S will end up either obtaining or not. But, as the Square reveals, this does not imply that it is now true that either “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain.” The logical possibility of a true proposition expressing conjoined subcontraries reveals that the truth condition of future tense propositions is not found in what eventually comes to pass but in the state of things at the time the truth claim is made.

To illustrate, the truth condition of the statement, “Hillary will be president in 2008,” uttered in 2004, is not found in the as yet non-existent state of reality in 2008, but in the state of reality in 2004. Is it in fact determinately the case in 2004 that Hillary will be president in 2008? The statement is false just in case it is either determinately the case in 2004 that Hillary will not be president in 2008 or indeterminately the case in 2004 that Hillary will be president in 2008. The second possibility reflects the state of affairs expressed by conjointly true subcontraries “might and might not” on the traditional Square: “Hillary might and might not be president in 2008.” If in 2004 it is true that Hillary “might and might not” be president in 2008, then it is false in 2004 that Hillary “will” be president in 2008 and false also that she “will not” be President in 2008—even though Hillary will eventually turn out either to be president in 2008 or not.4

This entails, of course, that it is logically possible that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, knows in 2004 that it is false that Hillary will be president in 2008 and knows it is false in 2004 that Hillary will not be president in 2008 just in case God knows in 2004 that Hillary might and might not be president in 2008.

II. Two Shortcomings in the Traditional Square

Why has the western tradition mostly assumed that the future can be exhaustively expressed in terms of what “will” and “will not” come to pass? Why has the logical possibility of future indeterminacy expressed by conjointly true subcontraries “might and might not” been mostly neglected in the western tradition? Why have the contraries “will” and “will not” been treated as though they were contradictories? Part of the explanation, we believe, lies in two curious features of the Square that tend to obscure the logical possibility of future indeterminacy.

First, we should note that while a determinate future can be expressed on the Square by the single propositions “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain,” there is no single proposition expressing future indeterminacy. To express this third possibility, we must conjoin the two subcontraries “might” and “might not.” In other words, determinacy (“will” and “will not”) is given primitive status on the Square, while indeterminacy must be inferred.

This asymmetry between determinacy and indeterminacy perhaps explains why “might” and “might not” have tended to be understood exclusively in terms of their individual subaltern relations to “will” and “will not.” That is, while “will” and “will not” have been allowed to express states of affairs, “might” and “might not” have tended to be limited to expressing merely the epistemological preconditions of those two determinate states. If it is true that “S will obtain,” it must also be true that “S might obtain,” viz. it must be possible for S to obtain. So too, for it to be true that “S will not obtain,” it must also be true that “S might not obtain,” viz. it must be possible for S not to obtain.

But what has not been adequately appreciated in the western tradition is that the subcontraries “might” and “might not” may be conjointly true and the contraries “will” and “will not” conjointly false. In this case, “might” and “might not” are no longer related as subalterns to “will” and “will not.” Rather, when they are conjointly true, they have the same relation to “will” and “will not” that “will” and “will not” have to each other.  In other words, they express a third distinct possibility –future indeterminacy – that stands in a contrary relationship to both the positive future determinacy expressed by “will” and the negative future determinacy expressed by “will not.”  For any possible future state of affairs, one of the three – “will,” “will not” and “might and might not” – must be true and the other two false.

But, because “might” and “might not” must be conjoined to play this third, indeterminate, contrary role, the possibility of their playing this role has been largely overlooked. Consequently, the possibility that the future is in some respects indeterminate and known by God as such has been largely overlooked.

There is a second, closely related observation we need to make about the Square. If we begin with the truth of one of the two determinate contrary poles, we can know the truth value of the other three poles. If, for example, “S will obtain” is true, then the subaltern “S might obtain” must also be true while both “S will not obtain” and “S might not obtain” must be false, the former because it is the contrary of “S will obtain” and the latter because it is its contradictory. By contrast, if we begin with a true “might,” we can only know that its contradictory “will not” is false. We can know nothing regarding the truth values of “will” and “might not.” It could be that “will” is true and “might not” false, or it could be that “might not” is true and “will” is false. The same applies if we begin with a true “might not,” in which case the contradictory “will” is false and either “might” is true and “will not” false or “will not” is true and “might” is false.

In other words, the Square allows us to falsify “will” with a single proposition—a “might not”—while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “might” and “will not.” The Square also allows us to falsify “will not” with a single proposition — “might” — while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “might not” and “will.” But, though the Square allows us to express “might and might not” through conjoined subcontraries, it gives us no way of falsifying this state of affairs while leaving open the question as to the truth values of “will” and “will not.” “In other words, to know that it is false that “S might and might not obtain,” we must know that either “S will obtain” is true and “S will not obtain” is false or that “S will obtain” is false and “S will not obtain” true.

To achieve parity with the three truth claims the Square allows for, we must be able to falsify “might and might not” while leaving open the question of the truth values of the other two truth claims (will” and “will not”).  Yet, to achieve this requires a fundamental revisioning of the Square, for we must posit a single proposition expressing “might and  might not” just as we have for “will” and “will not,” and it must have the same relation to “will” and “will not” that they have with each other. What is more, we must posit a single contradictory proposition to “might and might not” which, by virtue of being true, can falsify “ might and might not,” just as “will” and “will not” can each be  falsified by a single contradictory proposition  (“might not” and  “might). This, we shall soon see, transforms the Square of Opposition into a Hexagon of opposition.

As with our first observation, the lack of parity between “will” and “will not,” on the one hand, and “might and might not,” on the other, reveals a prejudice toward determinacy within the traditional Square. The Square logically allows for indeterminacy but does not treat it on a par with determinacy. And given how influential the Square has been to the development of Western thought, we suspect that this inadequacy may help explain why the tradition has tended to assume that the future is exhaustively expressible in terms of what will and will not come to pass and thus that God knows the future exhaustively in terms of what will and will not come to pass.


III. The Hexagon of Opposition

We wish to explore a model that grants indeterminacy the same propositionally singular status as determinacy. Toward this end, we will use Q as a primitive operator meaning “It is indeterminately the case that…” alongside primitive operator Z meaning, “It is determinately the case that…”. We will also revise the Square in such a way that Q will be granted the same logical status as Z.

As we have stated, there are three, not two, distinct modes of being that may characterize the future. Using Q and Z as defined, we arrive at:


Z(S) = It is determinately the case that state of affairs S occur (“S will obtain”)

Z(~S) = It is determinately the case that state of affairs not-S occur (“S will not obtain”)

Q(S) = It is indeterminately the case that state of affairs S occur (“S might and might not obtain”)


Each of these propositions affirms a distinct metaphysical possibility concerning any possible future state of affairs. These possibilities are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive. As jointly exhaustive, at least one must be true for any meaningful future tensed proposition.  meaningful future tense proposition. Thus we arrive at our first theorem:


  1. (S) [(Z(S) Ú Z (~S) Ú Q(S)].


As mutually exclusive, if any one is true, then the other two must be false, giving us three additional theorems:


  1. Z(S) « ~Z(~S) Ù ~Q(S)
  2. Z(~S) « ~Z(S) Ù ~Q(S)
  3. Q(S) « ~Z(S) Ù ~Z(~S)


Because no two can be true at the same time, while any two can be false at the same time, these three possibilities are related as contraries, which we can represent by the following Triangle of Contrary Relations.


This Triangle of Contrary Relations generates a Triangle of Subcontrary Relations when we associate each possibility with its contradictory.  Consider first Z(S) (“It is determinately the case that state of affairs S obtain”). The contradictory of Z(S) is, of course, ~Z(S) (“It is not determinately the case that state of affairs S obtain”) and can be illustrated as follows:



The contradictory of Z(~S) (“It is determinately the case that state of affairs not-S obtain”) is ~Z (~S) (“It is not determinately the case that state of affairs not-S obtain”) which we locate opposite its contradictory:



Lastly, the contradictory of Q(S) (“It is indeterminately the case that state of affairs S obtain”) is ~Q(S) (“It is not indeterminately the case that state of affairs S obtain”), illustrated as follows:


Note that the first two propositions above, Z(S) and Z(~S) (“will” and “will not”) and their contradictories are explicit on the traditional Square. But the third proposition, Q(S) (“might and might not”) and its contradictory ~Q(S) have now been made explicit.

Now let’s consider how the contradictories (~Z(S), ~Z (~S) and ~Q(S) are related to each other. Consider the pair ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S). Since Q(S) entails both ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S) (by Theorem IV), it is clear that they are conjointly true when Q(S) is true. It is equally clear that ~Z(S)and ~Z(~S) cannot be conjointly false. For if ~Z(S) is false, then Z(S) is true, and if ~Z(~S) is false, then Z(~S) is true. But Z(S) and Z(~S) cannot be conjointly true (by Theorems II and III), so ~Z(S) and ~Z(~S) cannot be conjointly false. The same results obtain mutatis mutandis for the other pairs, (~Z(S) and ~Q(S); ~Z(~S) and ~Q(S). So, for each pair, it is possible that both be true and not possible that both be false, which means that they are subcontraries. We thus arrive at a Triangle of Subcontraries overlapping with the Triangle of Contrary Relations.



Thus far we have considered contrary, contradictory, and subcontrary relations. There remains one more logical relation to consider, namely, subaltern relations, which run outward from Z(S), Z(~S), and Q(S). We already know from the Square that ~Z(~S) is the subaltern of Z(S). Thus, if Z(S) (“will”) is true, the subaltern ~Z(~S) (“might”) is necessarily true. The same now applies to the relationship between Z(S) and the adjacent ~Q(S) (“not ‘might and might not’”). If Z(S) is true, ~Q(S) must be true. Likewise, if Z(~S) (“will not”) is true, the subaltern ~Z(S) (“might not”) is also true. The same subaltern relationship exists between Z(~S) and ~Q(S). If Z(~S) is true, ~Q(S) must be true. Lastly, Q(S) (“might and might not”) also has subaltern relations with the adjacent propositions. If Q(S) (“might and might not”) is true, both subalterns ~Z(~S) (“might”) and ~Z(S) (“might not”) are true.

As figure 7 below illustrates, the subaltern relations run from each of the three propositions forming our Triangle of Contrary Relations to each of the propositions forming the Triangle of Subcontrary Relations, completing a Hexagon of Subaltern Relations:



Note that the traditional Square of Opposition is still present in the Hexagon. We have simply enlarged and completed it. Indeed, one should notice that in completing the traditional Square we have uncovered two other intersecting Squares of Opposition, each exhibiting different truth functions but preserving the same logical relations. The traditional Square of Opposition is composed of contraries Z(S) and Z(~S) and subcontraries ~Z(~S) and ~Z(S). A second Square is composed of contraries Z(S) and Q(S) and subcontraries ~Z(S) and ~Q(S). A third Square is composed of Z(~S) and Q(S) and subcontraries ~Q(S) and ~Z(~S). The three squares may be highlighted as follows:



What we have in effect done is complete and correct the future tensed Square by replicating it three times from the vantage point of the three logically possible modes of being that the traditional Square allows for but does not adequately express. As with the traditional Square, the logical possibility of all three modes is implicit in each of the three Squares, but made explicit only when all three Squares are joined together, forming what we call the Hexagon of Opposition. It exhibits all the contrary, subcontrary, contradictory, and subaltern relations associated to the three logically possible modes of being.

IV. The Superiority of the Hexagon of Opposition

We may now more completely and elegantly account for the three logically possible modes of being and thus the truth values of all possible future tense propositions. The Hexagon’s advantages over the traditional Square in expressing future tense propositions include:

1. The Hexagon recognizes indeterminacy as a distinct mode of being about which we may offer true or false propositions (as opposed to the Square which only indirectly recognizes indeterminacy through conjointly true subcontraries). On the Hexagon of Opposition, indeterminacy is expressed by the operator Q, alongside the determinacy operator Z. The Hexagon thus recognizes indeterminacy in the same “propositionally singular” fashion as it recognizes determinacy.

2. Similarly, the Hexagon clarifies all the logical relations between all possible future tense propositions, whereas the traditional Square leaves some of these relations unexpressed. For example, the Hexagon clarifies the important difference between “might” (~Z(~S)) functioning as the subaltern of Z(S) and thus expressing the epistemological condition for  Z (S) and falsifying “ (Z(~S)), on the one hand, and “might” (Q(S)) expressing an indeterminate mode of being, on the other. In other words, the Hexagon illustrates the truth that “might” and “might not” may independently be true or false as the subalterns of Z(S) or Z(~S) respectively, but when conjointly true (Q(S)) their relation to Z(S) and Z(~S) is contrary, not subaltern. As we noted earlier, this distinction is not made by the traditional Square, a fact that we suspect has contributed to the relative neglect of indeterminacy in the western tradition.

3. The Hexagon allows us to falsify Q(S) (indirectly present on the Square through conjointly true “might and might not”) while leaving open the truth values of Z(S) (“will”) and Z(~S) (“will not”). The Square, we have seen, allows this for Z(S) and Z(~S), but not for Q(S). Because the Hexagon places Q(S) on equal, contrary footing with Z(S) and Z(-S), in knowing any one of the three contrary proposition is true, we know the truth value of its contrary, subcontrary, contradictory and subaltern relations. But in knowing any one of the three contrary propositions as false, we leave open the truth value of the other two contraries.

4. By clarifying the difference between the subaltern relations of “might” and “might not” to “will” and “will not” when considered alone, on the one hand, and the contrary relation of “might and might not” to “will” and “will not” when considered conjoined, on the other, the Hexagon makes explicit the present tense truth condition of future tense propositions. The truth value of “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain” or “S might and might not obtain” is located not in what eventually happens, but in what is now the case. Stated otherwise, the Hexagon reveals that the truth of a future tense propositions about future contingents depends on when the truth claim is made.  The Hexagon thereby reveals that the common philosophical assumption that the truth of all future tense propositions is timeless is misguided, for it arbitrarily assumes that all propositions expressing what “might and might not” obtain are false.

What then are we to make of the tenseless proposition, “S obtains at T”? In our view, it is an incomplete proposition in cases where S asserts a contingent state of affairs, for only necessary truths are timeless (viz. necessarily true at every moment). If a statement expressing the proposition “S obtains at T” is uttered prior to T, the statement is actually asserting the proposition “S will obtain at T” and is true just in case S will obtain at T, false that “S will not obtain at T” and false that “S might and might not obtain at T.” If uttered subsequent to T, the statement actually asserts the proposition “S did obtain at T” and is true just in case S did obtain at T and false that “S did not obtain at T.” And if uttered at T, the proposition “S obtains at T” actually asserts “S now obtains” and is true just in case S does in fact now obtain and false that “S does not now obtain.” In other words, the meaning and truth value of a proposition expressing a contingent state of affairs depends on when the claim is made with respect to the time of the event in question.

If the temporal relationship between when a statement is uttered and the contingent state of affairs asserted is not known, there is, strictly speaking, no propositional meaning or truth value to speak of. A tenseless proposition asserting a temporally indexed contingent state of affairs is like the proposition X + 2 = 4 where X is unspecified. If X =2, it is true. If X= 3, if is false. And if X = banana, it is meaningless.  But if X is unspecified, we must simply regard the proposition as incomplete and having no truth value.  So too, “S obtains at T” is incomplete unless we know the temporal relationship between when the proposition is asserted and when the event in question is supposed to obtain (or not) — that is, unless we know whether the proposition is actually asserting “S will obtain at T” or “S did obtain at T” or “S now obtains at T.”

V. Conclusion

We believe that the Hexagon of Opposition has a wide range of applications. One of these, we are convinced, is clarifying the argument we presented at the beginning of this essay. What are we to make of P3? To recall, P3 stated:

The future is exhaustively described in terms of what either will or will not come to pass.

As we have seen, the traditional Square itself demonstrates that this premise is arbitrarily restrictive, for it allows for subcontraries “might” and “might not” to be conjointly true thus rendering their contradictories “will” and “will not” false. But the Square also helps explain why the tradition has tended to assume P3, for it is prejudiced toward determinacy by virtue of not giving indeterminacy equally primitive status with determinacy, as we’ve shown. The Hexagon makes the arbitrariness of P3—and the limitations of the traditional Square that contribute to P3—explicit.

The Hexagon makes it clear that there are no logical grounds for assuming the future can be expressed solely in terms of what “will come to pass” and what “will not come to pass.” From a strictly logical perspective, the future can only be exhaustively expressed in terms of what “will come to pass,” what “will not come to pass” and what “might and might not come to pass.” Hence, the Hexagon makes it explicit that it is at least logically possible that God, by virtue of knowing the truth value of all propositions, knows some of the future as what might and might not come to pass. Just in case “S will obtain” or “S will not obtain” is true, God knows that “S might and might not obtain” is false. And just in case “S might and might not obtain” is true, God knows that both “S will obtain” and “S will not obtain” are false.

Of course, one could hold that while propositions expressing what “might and might not” come to pass (Q(S)) are logically possible, as a matter of fact God has rendered them all false by creating a world in which the future is exhaustively settled and thus known by God as such. True enough. God could have done this. But the Hexagon makes it clear that God could conceivably have done otherwise. And this is enough to demonstrate that P3 is not true a priori and thus that omniscience does not logically entail that God knows the future exhaustively in terms of what will or will not come to pass.

In the final analysis, the extent to which the future is in fact open and/or settled is a contingent matter that must be ascertained on grounds other than pure logic. However, the Hexagon of Opposition clarifies that nothing in logic itself, and thus nothing in the definition of omniscience, constitutes grounds for concluding there are no true “might and might not” propositions. It thus makes explicit that the future is not by definition exhaustively settled and thus that God does not by definition know it as exhaustively settled.

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