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The Table Video

William Hasker

God, Nail Biting, and Open Theism

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
February 7, 2013

William Hasker (Huntington College) defends Open Theism against the objection that it characterizes God as biting His nails in anticipation of the future.


I wonder if some of those same people might find a third view comforting, one according to which God saw this coming. He didn’t do this to you. This is a world with free creatures. He saw it coming. He knew that it was going to happen to you, and He’s arranged things in such a way that this will come out for your good. So this is a view that allows God to have perfect knowledge of the future, but doesn’t require that God did these things to you. So I’m thinking of the, there’s a—People who worry about open theism sometimes get this picture of a nail biting God. He’s up there—You know you pray to God, would you please do this? And on one picture, God either says yes or no, depending on what’s best for you. On another picture, He’s got to say something like, well I’ll do my best. [laughing] But what you’ve asked for depends on the free choices of creatures, and so we’ll see how it goes.

Well I mean, in fact some of the things that we ask for do depend on the free choices of creatures. And because of that, they may not come out the way we want them to, and may not come out the way God wants them to. And it seems to me that’s a core fact about the world, about the way the world works. And if you have a theory that says that can’t be the case, well I think you’re going get into a lot of other problems okay. And of course there’s the basic argument, which as you know can be much elaborated, and we don’t want to go into all that. But if in fact, it’s at this point indefinite, undetermined, how the future will be in certain respects, then it would be contradictory to say that God definitely knows that it will be in one way rather than the other. I mean that’s a core issue. But on the other hand if we were to say God can foresee a lot of things that are coming, or let’s say in some cases He can foresee things as very very likely to happen, long before they might even occur to us. But we’re not—God isn’t biting his nails, okay? [laughing] But things can happen differently than God wants them to happen. And I think one of the really difficult things about the view that God controls everything, well if you say God is totally in control of everything, then God always gets exactly what He wants, because what He gets, is the way He has decided to make things happen. And if that’s the case then one would think, I mean it really follows that God must be totally delighted with everything that happens exactly the way it happens. Well, I don’t want to believe in a God who is totally delighted with everything that happens and I think that a view like that is, hugely contrary to the bible, which presents God as being very unhappy with a lot of things that happen so you know, if you want a view where God is totally in control of everything, watch out for what you’re asking. If you have a view like that, it has some pretty dire consequences in my opinion.