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The Table Video

William Hasker

Open Theism

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
February 7, 2013

William Hasker (Huntington College) presents an Open Theism view as a way to deal with God’s foreknowledge, human freedom, and evil.


I wonder if we can go back to the part of your account that makes appeal to a god that takes risks So, there are defenders of a free will response to evil, who are ready to say God created free creatures in just the way you’ve suggested, and there is a kind of qualification of control there, but God nevertheless knows with perfect certainty, exactly how things are going to play out. One of your interesting contributions to the discussion has been to suggest otherwise, that this is a risk that not only that has bearing on God’s control, but on his knowledge of the future. So you’ve got this view, Open Theism, what is Open Theism and how does it help here with these issues?

Well, okay, you ask such simple questions! [Gregg laughing] Okay, well, back up, back up just a little bit, into the idea of God as endowing us with free will… To say that we have free will, as I understand the concept, and I think this is the core concept that is really, in my opinion, hardwired into us, so we can talk ourselves out of it if we work hard enough, but it’s the natural way that humans view their own action is that in many situations, there really are alternative possibilities, that is there are different things that are really in our power to do. I mean, we really could do them. We really could do different things. I really can choose between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, well that’s pretty trivial, but there are major choices that we make that are really important and it’s really up to us, at the time that we choose, which way we go. Now, if that’s really the case, then, it has implications concerning the nature of the future. It says that what the future will be, at a given point in time, is to a certain extent, undecided.

Now, not in every respect undecided. The way the Earth revolves around the sun, and the moon around the Earth and so on and so forth, these things are governed by laws of nature, that certainly no human being has the power to annul, or to do much about. We just have no control over these things, the same for a lot of things that happen on the earth. So, in those respects the future is firmly fixed, but in respects that depend on the free choices of human beings, the future isn’t fixed at a given point in time. And if this is true, then when God looks to the future, I mean, it’s not like the future is a scenario. It’s not like, you know, there’s a movie of the future, and God is running the projector and he’s showing it up until the point where, let’s say, Frodo and Sam go off to Mordor, and the rest of the film is still right there in the camera ready to be shown. No, the future is a realm of possibility in large extent. And what God knows concerning the future, is what the possibilities are, now he knows incredibly more about that than any of us is able to know, he knows not only what the possibilities are, but what the likelihood is of things going, in various different ways. Also, God knows that there is some things that God has himself decided are going to happen in a certain way. And, if God decides that he is going to have things happen in a certain way, he is capable of making sure they happen in that way, now, of course if God decided that about everything, then he could, then he could be certain about everything is going to happen, but if he is indeed endowed us with free will, then that isn’t the case. Well, why would God take such a chance? Well, that’s a long story, we can go in that if we want to, but we believe that he has, he has endowed us with free will, and so again, in many respects, the future simply is undecided. Now, God is perfect in knowledge, but that doesn’t mean God knows as definite something which in reality is indefinite. I mean that would be contradictory. So if there really are alternative possibilities for the future, different ways that the future really can turn out, then, God, who is perfect in knowledge, knows that, he knows the different ways that he could turn out, and furthermore, God has the wisdom and the power and the resourcefulness to deal appropriately, with any of the things that might happen, and that’s another side of it that I haven’t been talking about so far.

But, while there is a great amount of evil in the world, and no one should minimize that, God also has an incredible ability to bring good out of evil, and so even the worst situation is not hopeless because there is this loving and wise and powerful god, who will work in that situation to bring the best thing possible out of it, and I think, at least, many people find this to be the case from the standpoint of what I term the, “Pastoral Problem,” or problem of dealing with evil in your life. Well, one approach to that is to say when something really bad happens, is to say, “Well, God is making this happen to me to benefit me in some way.” People find comfort in that, but also, sometimes, people find it wears thin. You know, where is the benefit coming from? Sometimes it’s very hard to see how that could even be true, and it’s hard to stop from, keep from being resentful or blaming God, which God can take it if we blame him, but it’s not a place we want to get stuck. Many people find it more helpful and encouraging not to say, okay, not to say, “God did this to me to benefit me, but okay, bad things happen, bad things happen to good people sometimes.” God does not constantly intervene in the world to stop that, but God wants to work in my life, in a way that will bring some good out of this evil, and many people find this liberating. So even from the practical and pastoral standpoint, it can be helpful.