An Open Theist’s Reply to An Objection Based on Necessities of Consequent and Consequence
Last week was kinda rough for me. So for the purposes of a) self-therapy and b) making the world a better place, I’ve decided to respond to an essay about how mistaken Open Theism is. I’m referring to part 6 of Ng Kam Weng’s Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom series, Distinction Between Necessity of Consequent and Necessity of Consequence.
For those who don’t know what Open Theism is, it’s essentially the theology that God out of risky love (is there any other kind?) created an ‘open’ world, one filled with real possibilities even for Himself, one in which the future is co-created and co-determined by agents other than God and, therefore, one in which not even God knows everything. Feel free to Google it, but a good introduction can be found at Greg Boyd’s website here.
Unsurprisingly, the thought that God doesn’t have 120% foreknowledge of the future scares a lot of people and goes against the grain of much traditional thought. Ng’s seven-part series is both a pushback against open theism plus yet another attempt to reassert the doctrine of God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge (i.e. God knows everything which will ever happen in the future) with the idea of genuine human freedom. In my opinion, it’s logically flawed from the start and this sixth part is a symptom of how.
So let’s jump straight into it.
Ng discusses two kinds of necessities at play. One is a logical-’definitional’ necessity (A=B and B=C, so A=C) or what Ng calls the necessity of consequent; another is a necessity of cause and effect, or the necessity of consequence. In the context of the open theism debate, basically Ng is saying that just because God knows that I am going to eat a Big Mac, it doesn’t mean that I am not free to eat the Big Mac.
If I ate a Big Mac for dinner then, logically, it means that I had beef and burger buns in the evening. That’s the logic of consequent i.e. it’s just an equation of words and meaning. But, obviously, if on the way to the restaurant a big-ass Kaiju stomps on my car and flattens me then I won’t be able to eat my revered Big Mac, would I? In other words, there is no absolute necessity that I actually eat the God-forsaken double-patty Value Meal. This illustrates the logic of consequence i.e. it was still me who chose to eat the burger, not God ‘violating’ my freewill simply by virtue of knowing I will eat it.
This is the crux of Ng’s objection to open theism in this essay. At the end of the day, Ng claims that open theists have conflated the two kinds of necessities.
So what’s my, uh, beef with Ng’s argument? As an open theist, why do I claim that if God knows with 120% certainty that I am going to eat the Big Mac that therefore I have no genuine freedom? Here are two responses:
1. What is the meaning of freedom, freewill and self-determination anyway?
To me (and many others) freewill means the ability to transform the possible into the actual. Self-determination means the ability of the self (duh) to change what was indefinite into the definite. If, however, God knows with 120% certainty ALL of my choices, then this logically means that each and every one of my decisions have been rendered actual and definite before I exercised any choice upon them. In what sense then am I the one transforming what is possible for me into what is actual?
Put another way, if God already knows all my choices before I — the supposed ‘Maker’ of my choices — then WHO WAS IT that made all of Alwyn’s choices which God can foresee ahead of time? It couldn’t have been me, could it?!
Hence, the error with Ng’s characterization of open theist arguments is that he fails to justify how foreknowledge does NOT equate to a necessity of consequent and consequence. Clearly, if God can know everything I did (see note 1) before I did it, and know it with absolutely certainty, either a) it is not me who is the genuinely free ‘doer’ here or b) I am not really free or c) Ng is operating with a different definition of freedom.
2. By Ng’s own account, he believes that God’s foreknowledge is NOT contingent on our prior choices, that our doing is NOT the source of God’s fore-knowing. In other words, it is curious to me why Ng has to write such a long piece about necessity of consequent and consequence since he teaches that God determines our every choice and move anyway.
If I choose a Big Mac on Thursday, it’s because God has determined it and has done so from eternity and it is not at all possible that I do otherwise. Ng’s God is One who has sovereignly and unconditionally determined everything that has happened, is happening and will happen, so why get upset if Arminians and open theists claim this kind of theology equates to zero human freedom? The key word in the previous sentence is unconditional i.e. God’s determination that I eat the Big Mac is INDEPENDENT of anything other than God.
And if God has independently pre-determined all the choices I will make, how is it not disingenuous to then claim that I have freely made those choices?
Note 1: Of course, every parent know that should they give their kids the choice of ice-cream or no ice-cream, there is more than 80% chance the kid will take the ice-cream. And, of course, in no sense is the kid’s freedom to choose affected. However, it must be stated this kind of ‘parental foreknowledge’ is exactly the kind of foreknowledge which Ng rejects as erroneous in describing God’s way of fore-knowing. In his theology, God’s foreknowledge does not depend an iota on chance, or on being well-attuned to a person’s character or age-group’s tendencies, or on general laws of human nature. God determines ahead of time what will happen, and simply (and obviously) foreknows it.