Sunday, November 21, 2004

Teach Your Children Well

The local newspaper runs a piece wherein a young mother, concerned about blurring the line between church and state, is quoted: "I do have a concern", she opines, "that one day a teacher will tell their [sic] students that something is absolutely right or absolutely wrong."

Perhaps the woman has a point. Imagine what our world would be like if teachers started lecturing kids that there is never any moral justification for, say, rape, or for damaging someone's property just for fun, or for committing genocide, or beating a child with one's fists, or sexually abusing a child. Who'd want to live in a world where teachers taught their charges that punishing people for crimes they are known to be innocent of, or driving while drunk just for fun or hurting someone for the thrill of it were categorically wrong?

In our community just last week, a young woman, five months pregnant and her husband serving with the Marines in Iraq, was visiting from out of state. Her hosts took her to get some groceries at a supermarket. As she was getting into the car in the parking lot a young man who later told police that he "just wanted to kill somebody" drove up beside her and shot her in the head with a shotgun. The victim and her child may yet survive this vicious attack, but one searches in vain for any imaginable circumstance which might justify someone doing such a heinous thing.

Maybe the mother who thinks it would be so awful for teachers to instruct their students that some things are absolutely wrong could help us come up with some real-world circumstance in which imbeciles who "just want to kill somebody" are morally justified in gunning down complete strangers.

Anyway, we don't think that the mother need be too concerned that teachers will one day lecture their students that such deeds are absolutely wrong. In order to posit an absolute one has to ground it in something objective, and the only sufficient ground for moral absolutes, as Viewpoint has argued on several prior occasions, is God, and we all know what would happen if teachers started invoking God as the foundation for moral judgments. The day that's permitted we know the country has gone completely to hell.

Open Theism

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has a profile of pastor and theologian Greg Boyd who has made a bit of a name for himself with his advocacy of a theory called "Open Theism". Essentially, this is the view that there are some things about the future that God simply does not know. As a perusal of the comment section following Carter's post will reveal, this is quite a controversial hypothesis among Evangelical Christians.

It is also an interesting hypothesis because it makes sense out of several puzzling issues. It provides a helpful understanding, for example, of petitionary prayer, the concept of which suggests that God can be persuaded to act otherwise than He would have. But, if He knows ahead of time what He will do, in what sense is He subject to persuasion? It also makes sense out of the numerous passages in the Bible which seem to suggest that God changes course, or changes His mind.

Most importantly, in our opinion, the Open Theism hypothesis offers an answer to the question why, if God knew how much evil and suffering there would be in this world, He chose to go ahead and create it anyway. God, after all, could have created any possible world, and a perfectly good God, we might assume, would have created the best world He possibly could have. A world in which people were free to choose and always chose to do right is surely a possible world. So the puzzle is why did God not create that world instead of one in which people so often use their freedom to do evil?

The Open Theism view says that when God made creatures with free will He purposefully divested Himself of a portion of Divine control over the cosmos. He granted to human beings the capacity to create the moral world in which they would live. He also accepted a measure of uncertainty in that since his creatures were free He would not always know what choice they would make. This does not preclude His acting in the world through an exercise of Divine sovereignty by overriding the freedom of some in order to bring about events that He wills to happen, but what it does mean, perhaps, is that prior to His creation of the world, He just didn't know for sure how man would handle his freedom.

Thus He created the best world He possibly could, given the type of world He wished to fashion, and inserted free beings into that world. Ever since then God has pretty much given us the right and the privilege to make as big a mess of it as we wanted.

The fact that Open Theism has a certain explanatory power does not, of course, mean that the theory is correct. There are other answers which have been given to these questions which preserve God's knowledge of the future and which may be closer to the truth.

One objection to Open Theism, however, that doesn't seem to hold much water is that if God does not know the future, then He cannot be omniscient. This objection fails both on Biblical grounds and philosophical grounds: Biblically, because the Bible doesn't insist that God knows every future contingency and indeed seems to imply prima facie just the opposite, and philosophically because omniscience simply means that God knows everything that it is possible to know. It may be logically impossible to know what free beings are going to choose to do in a future that hasn't happened yet. Just as God's omnipotence doesn't mean that He can create square circles, His omniscience may not entail that He can know what has not yet occurred in the mind of free agents.

Nevertheless, there is a certain comfort in the belief that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. It assures us that He is in control and cannot be surprised by events. Whether the apologetic advantages of Open Theism are enough to offset its unsettling aspects and whether it can ultimately be reconciled with Scripture, we cannot say. We can only invite the interested reader to visit Boyd's web site and follow the links there to various elements of his argument.