RE: Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Mon Nov 21 2005 - 10:22:35 EST

At 09:09 AM 11/21/2005, Ted Davis wrote:
>Ted comments:
>Fr Coyne is as far as I know an advocate of process theism, which
>does indeed deny both omniscience (in the sense that God knows the
>whole future before it happens) and omnipotence (in the sense that
>God can do anything short of a logical contradiction, ie, it is not
>meaningful to ask whether God can make a rock that God cannot move).

### Coyne's beliefs are dealt with here:

Wide Open Theism

A Broadside Critique of Open Theism/Neotheism

James Patrick Holding [excerpts]:

For a few weeks now we've gotten a few more inquiries about the
system of thought called open theism, or sometimes neotheism, or the
open view of God -- hereafter designated OVT for short. I did not
engage this issue as quickly as others for several reasons. One is
that neotheism, perhaps because it posits a God that does not know
the future accurately, doesn't seem to have caught on very well with
most people (and certainly not to the level of Mormonism!). A second
reason is that OVT actually uses some of the same arguments used by
atheists and Skeptics who claim that the Bible does not depict God as
omniscient. Hence we considered that many of OVT's arguments were
already answered on this site.

That said, the time has now come to address OVT in more detail, and
we will follow the pattern of our response to
<>Unitarianism, clustering
the various arguments under one or two large items. Our initial
subject is John Sanders, author of The God Who Risks (hereafter GWR)
and one whom I recognize as the premier "stumper" for OVT and perhaps
its most intelligent advocate. As an irony, Sanders recently debated
James White on this subject, in my area; I was not able to attend,
but am told that White rather mopped the floor with Sanders, who did
not seem prepared for the debate. We now also add consideration of
the views expressed by Gergory Boyd in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views [13ff].

OVT advances a number of philosophical arguments (related to such
things as the argument from evil, as Miller addresses
<>here, but because
our speciality here is Biblical interpretation, we will focus only on
the question, Can the Bible support and OVT point of view? ......

"...We note this as a caution against reading too much into passages
where God is said to feel or express emotion. To put it in modern
terms, some of this may have been "performance art" -- not "real"
repentance or grief. ....

"...As we have noted
<>here, however, the word
used for "know" is yada, which has broad connotations meaning
knowledge (when something was not known before) or familiarity, or
observation. In the latter sense, it would suggest that God could not
logically act in time upon human responses until the response was
made. In this context indeed it strongly suggests -- because of the
covenant relationship between God and Abraham -- a case of God
bearing witness to Abraham's fidelity and providing certification.
Let us moreover consider elsewhere where this word combination, "now
I know," is found: [snip] ...

"...Indeed, we have pointed out that it would be an incompetent God
indeed that could not get His will done without constantly creating
new agents! (Much of Boyd's initial argumentation is along this line
as well, answering the traditional use of Is. 46:9-11, speaking of
God "declaring end from beginning," by noting that this need not
imply that God declares every little detail that happens. This is so,
but this does not yet leave a door open for a full-blown OVT view,
for it bypasses the median view we offer in the Unconditional
Election article linked above. Boyd does not differentiate between
the idea that the future may be exhaustively declared and that it may
simply be exhaustively foreknown with much being managed in only a
passive sense of sovereignty. As Hunt replies to Boyd, exhaustive
foreknowledge only implies that the future is epistemically settled,
not causally settled in a way that conflicts with human freedom [53]
-- a distinction that Skeptics I have dealt with in the past have
also failed to recognize.) ...

"...Sanders uses Jonah 3:10 (as well as 2 Kings 20) in a way that is
little different than Paine or modern Skeptics -- and his use is just
as illicit! Sanders has certain philosophical problems with the
idea that God could always foreknow an event, and yet also react
emotionally to it. As noted above, his understanding lacks certain
social science graces; and in terms of the alleged problem of God
being provoked to an emotion at a particular time, one might compare
this objection to that of Skeptics who complain that the Bible errs
in speaking of "sunrise" and "sunset"! As the latter terms are used,
even today, from a "geocentric" perspective, so it makes sense that
notes of God's acts are related from an "ethnocentric" experiential
perspective. We are creatures locked to a certain space and time, so
detailing the matter from our own perspective is only to be expected!

Sanders offers a focus on passages like these [74]:
Ezekiel 12:3 Therefore, thou son of man, prepare thee stuff for
removing, and remove by day in their sight; and thou shalt remove
from thy place to another place in their sight: it may be they will
consider, though they be a rebellious house.

According to Sanders, passages like these where God is "explicitly
depicted as not knowing the specific future" are evidence for an OVT
paradigm. Other than that telling Zeke "no, they will not repent"
would lead to despair and no reason for Zeke to act (as noted above),
this is again a case of OVT making God stupider than a human
psychologist! It is far more likely that God's words in passages like
these are sarcasm of the sort one might say thusly: "No, he would not
want that job, because then he'd have to take more responsibility!"
Taking more responsibility is ordinarily regarded as a good thing to
do, but if we speak here of a person who is lazy and shiftless, the
comment takes on a sarcastic tone. Relatedly Boyd points to passage
like Is. 5:4:
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done
in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes,
brought it forth wild grapes?

Boyd argues that the declared "unexpected" occurrence of wild grapes
points to an OVT position; he approaches the text, however, from a
Western conception that no one would ask such a question unless they
needed an answer! The use of a rhetorical question as a means of
shaming one's subject is a far better contextual understanding of
this comment and others like it (Jer. 3:19-20) -- whether God is the
one delivering the question or not! To speak as Boyd does of a
"straightforward reading" of the text is to be anachronistic.

The chapter next engages an extended discussion on God's anger and
wrath. As noted above, such passages should be viewed with caution;
one obviously may agree that God is involved with His people, but it
is too "black and white" to assume that God's anger is like human
anger. Sanders does not discuss how God's anger is different from
human anger (other than noting that the former is righteous) and this
is a topic I feel he should have covered. A section is then offered
which is little different from what we have reported about primary
causality in the link above [81ff]. We agree with Sanders' statement:
"...God has sovereignly decided to providentially operate in a
dynamic give-and-take relationship with his creatures." [87] This
closes Sanders' look at the OT.

We now move to the NT, and here we must offer a substantive caveat
that way well affect cites in the OT used by Sanders. We have
previously answered <>here the
alleged problem of places where Jesus somehow seems to be ignorant of
things -- leading to the question, "How can Jesus be God, yet not
know things (i.e., not be omniscient)?" We noted that the typical
answer -- that Jesus emptied himself of his power -- makes a good
point, but does not go far enough, for it doesn't explain the Holy
Spirit's implicit "ignorance" in Mark 13:32. Our further reply was
that we had come crossover temporality of the two functionally
subordinate members of the Trinity which required them to divest
themselves (or be divested) of certain abilities.

Under this consideration we may well understand that the places in
the Old Testament, in fact, where Sanders sees God showing
"ignorance" may in fact be a case of the pre-incarnate Word, or the
Spirit -- the temporal extensions of the Father -- being already
"kenotically" emptied and therefore indeed to some degree, as Jesus
on earth, lacking in knowledge of the future. If Abraham was relating
to the pre-incarnate Word (or perhaps the Spirit) then the lack of
knowledge shown is no more problematic than Jesus', and does not
support an OVT view with respect to the Father. Indeed certain
advocates of an OVT position claim something close to this -- namely,
that God chooses to selectively blot things out of His own knowledge.
Such advocates may consider that they are applying their findings to
the wrong member of the Trinity.

It is with this groundwork that we now turn to Sanders' treatment of
the NT. Here we see some of the same arguments as before, merely with
different subjects: Mary as a chosen person rather than Abraham [92],
for example, and the Canaanite woman playing the same "interactive"
role as Abraham; and again, an OVT God so ignorant of human
psychology that He was not even aware that Herod would go out and
kill innocent children! At the expense of emotional dissonance,
Sanders proposes a deity that could not have even looked back on the
40 years of Herod's reign and foreseen someone so cruel and vicious
as to do what he did, or could not have known from even Judas
Iscariot's personal tastes in the present that he would betray Jesus
in the future [96-7]. Sanders' God is not an awesome God!

For the sake of his dissonance, Sanders wrestles into line texts that
predict the crucifixion and declare that it was ordained from
eternity. Ps. 22:16 is waved off with the same arguments used by
Skeptics addressed
<>here (the issue is
much more clear than Sanders allows). 1 Peter 1:20 is explained away
as God foreknowing Christ but not necessarily the specifics of his
life, as are other passages: I.e., God planned Christ from the
foundation of the world, but "did not know which of the rationales
for the incarnation would be actualized until after sin came on the
scene." [102] When it comes to definitive evidence of the Father's
ignorance of the future, however, Sanders has no cards to turn that
serve him uniquely and distinctively.

Since much of Sanders' NT chapter is a reworking of what he wrote for
the OT one -- or else again, not offering substantiation for OVT
distinctives -- we will only have a few more points to add. Like many
Skeptics, Sanders fails to recognize Jesus' allusion to Ps. 22 on the
cross in light of the Psalm's closing note of triumph, and this adds
it to his case for an OVT-safe Messiah [105]. We readily allow for
Sanders' point that God need not have foreordained deaths [114] but
this does not affect the idea that God would have foreknown such
events. We would contrast Sanders' ideas on election (and Romans 9
specifically) with that which we have offered in the link above.
Sanders' treatment of predictions [126, 133ff] is rather lacking in
the methods of Jewish exegesis Miller outlines

We will close this edition of this article with a look at Sanders'
analysis of texts appealed to as proof of divine foreknowledge, in
which he interacts with not only texts but also William Lane Craig's
The Only Wise God -- which, it so happens, I thankfully have a copy
of, as this book has been out of print for a while! Craig runs
through the following cites which assert God's omniscience and
foreknowledge; we will note Sanders' comments on each and reply as needed:
Ps. 139:17-18 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how
great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in
number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

Craig [21] notes that this asserts that "it is impossible to come to
the end of God's knowledge." The only way that this would be
possible, of course, is if God has knowledge of the future over an
infinite stretch. Similar passages are Is. 40:28 and Ps. 147:5.
However, Sanders mentions none of these.

Craig provides cites showing God's knowledge of present and past,
which OVT would not argue with (and Sanders does not; cf. 131). We
move to cites showing God's knowledge of the future [26ff].
Is. 44:6-8 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer
the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me
there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and
set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the
things that are coming, and shall come, let them show unto them. Fear
ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and
have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me?
yea, there is no God; I know not any.

Craig links this with verses that speak of Christ as the "first and
the last" or the "Alpha and the Omega" as well as passages that speak
of God's plan "hidden for ages" and of Christ being "destined before
the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20). We have already seen hw
Sanders dismisses passages like the latter above, by way of
selectivity: Christ was destined, sure, but the crucifixion of Christ
wasn't! Craig also appeals to the pattern of prophetic activity, and
the surety guarantee of Deut. 18:22, which would of course be absurd
as it would suggest that God could be responsible for a bungle that
would cost a prophet his life! Craig also notes the appeal by NT
writers to fulfilled OT prophecy (which Sanders has only marginally
dealt with) and to this passage:
Is. 41:21-24 Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your
strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth,
and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things, what
they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them;
or declare us things for to come. Show the things that are to come
hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do
evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are
of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.

The implicit challenge would be useless unless God could do all of
the things mentioned. Sanders, however, spectacularly ignores Is.
41:21-24 and only references Is. 44:6-7 with no discussion!

Sanders does offer a discussion of the word foreknowledge, noting
that it is used a couple of times of human knowledge and therefore
does not imply exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. One may
readily "play that game" of course and insist that God's
foreknowledge is limited to that which the text specifically says He
foreknew -- which is essentially what Sanders does with reference to
the crucifixion. It is clear that these are the sort of knots Sanders
must tie himself in to maintain an OVT position. Thus for example,
when Ps. 139:4 says, "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo,
O LORD, thou knowest it altogether," sanders admits [130] that this
can be explained by divine foreknowledge, but also by "God's knowing
the psalmist so well that he can 'predict' what he will say and do."
Later Sanders adds that God's seeming foreknowledge may be based on
"exhaustive knowledge of past and present." [131] Is that so? Sanders
has now posited a God that conveniently here knows the psalmist well
enough for this, but was too dumb stupid -- there is no light way to
put this -- to predict what Abraham would do, and this being a God
less intelligent than a competent human psychologist! Sanders is
apparently blind to the inconsistency of calling God the "consummate
social scientist" while claiming He would not be sure what Abraham would do!

After more comments on Jer. 18:7-10 and similar verses (see above),
and on prophetic fulfillment (see above), and defending the idea that
God could be "mistaken" by suggesting that God never is mistaken
because he hedges His bets (!), Sanders replies to those who find his
explanations "strained and unconvincing" [136] by essentially saying,
"Well, yeah, that's what we think of your explanations, too!" We
remain with the conclusion we reached previously: while Sanders makes
some excellent points against fatalism and hyper-Calvinist
sentiments, his work on divine foreknowledge is incomplete and out of
touch with exegetical realities.

~ Janice
Received on Mon Nov 21 10:24:16 2005

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