Just a few minutes ago I hung up the phone, having had a rousing theological discussion with my best friend and discipler. He called to ask me my thoughts on Open Theism, as he’s currently researching for a paper he has to write on the topic, and at one point I made the provocative statement that, although I find Open Theism absurd on multiple levels, I think it is more consistent than Arminianism. By the time the call was over, I had add a new an interesting time travel analogy on my hands, which further convinces me of Calvinism, and which I thought I’d share with you.
When my friend asked me why I felt Open Theism is more consistent than Arminianism, I explained that my understanding is that proponents of both systems have a desire to maintain man’s libertarian free will, whereas we Calvinists hold to compatibilistic free will (we can argue another time over whether or not compatibilistic free will is free at all; that’s not the point of this post). But only Open Theism denies what must be denied in order to truly hold to libertarian free will: God’s infallible foreknowledge of the future.
I told him that libertarianists insist that when one has chosen to do x, one could have chosen to do y. As this article puts it, “Responsibility, in this view, always means that one could have done otherwise.” Yet, if God infallibly knew from eternity past that one would choose x, then one most certainly could not have chosen y, for had that been possible, God would not have infallibly known what choice would be made.
My friend loves playing the proverbial devil’s advocate, and so he tried to play the role of the Arminian. He asked how God’s foreknowledge of the future challenges libertarian free will, and he offered the following analogy. Imagine you have a video recording of a person making a choice in the past. Having that recording doesn’t change the fact that at the time the choice was made, that person could have chosen differently. Now, imagine that the video recording was sent back in time, prior to the choice being made. Why, he asked, would the mere existence of the recording, at a time prior to the choice being made, mean it was (will be) impossible to choose contrarily? Especially if that recoring’s existence after the choice was made did not do so?
It immediately struck me that this is, in fact, a great analogy for demonstrating the inconsistency of Arminianism. The answer, of course, is quite simple, particularly for us science fiction fans (ridiculous theories of multiple universes and timelines notwithstanding): Were the person in the recording to choose differently, the video recording would already have recorded it. So the mere fact that it records a choice being made in the future renders it impossible to choose otherwise.
Now, when I’ve heard Arminians challenged with this dilemma, the dilemma of God infallibly knowing the future, they’ve typically said something like, God sees the end from the beginning, or looks down the corridors of time, or sees the whole book in front of him at once. Or whatever. And we Calvinists could object to these kinds of explanations on other grounds. In each of them, however, God’s infallible knowledge of future events is not unlike a video recording of a choice being made, but which exists in the past, prior to the choice being made. At any given point in time when a choice is made, the video recording of its being made–God’s infallible foreknowledge–already exists; existed, in fact, long beforehand. And were a different choice made, the video–God’s infallible foreknowledge–would have already recorded it. So the mere fact that it records a choice being made in the future renders it impossible to choose otherwise.
Thus, as absurd as I find Open Theism, at least its proponents can be consistent and hold to libertarian free will. It doesn’t seem to me that Arminians can do the same.