I’m still trying to get to grips with the Open Theism that is the ruling theological paradigm at BioLogos in particular, and apparently amongst theistic evolutionists in genereral.
At the core of Open Theism is the idea that God is restricted to time just as we are, so cannot know the future because it does not yet exist. Time being a physical part of creation, one would be able to ascertain exactly in which time-frame God is working only by learning his velocity. In theory, he would have a completely different sense of elapsed time were he to be managing the affairs of a light-speed photon rather than those of a believer on earth or, yet again, another sentient being on a world moving away from us at sub-light velocity. Open theists don’t seem to grapple with the physics of God, but maybe that’s for another post, or another writer.
Along with God’s space-time limitations in OT comes the idea that, because of his love, he gives sentient beings more or less sacrosanct libertarian free-will (borrowing from straight Arminianism here) and even changes his mind in response to them. Thus prayer becomes literally a powerful weapon, the stronghold it brings tumbling down being, predominantly, the will of God. In some cases prayer is seen as so powerful as to be dangerous – pray hard enough and God is obligated to answer, even if that causes unforeseen harm.
What seems a problem here is that nearly any answer to prayer is likely to involve interference with someone or other’s will. If I pray hard to get a job, omitting (as per the teaching of some OTs) the faithless concept of “if it be thy will”, then presumably to answer such a prayer God would have to move the minds of the interview board, who otherwise may have chosen the atheist next in line. If I pray for the life of a suicidal relative, God has to cut across their desire to die. You may say that the relative is not of sound mind, but OTs accept that all people are sinners, and therefore not of sound mind – and yet they say that God cannot, and will not, compromise our autonomy.
It seems to me such problems of God’s “room to manoeuvre” are far more acute in the evolution field, where Open Theism is de rigeur. TEs are extremely strong on the role of natural processes, in the form (usually) of text-book Neodarwinism, to account for all of life. Over the months I’ve come to see that this is not on the grounds that I would agree with – a strong doctrine of Providence, by which God is so intimately involved in the creation and sustaining of the Universe that nothing occurs apart from his will. Instead, it is predicated on the concept of God’s granting of creative freedom to the inanimate realm of nature. I’ve said elsewhere that in my view this is completely meaningless tosh, but let’s run with it for the moment.
This natural freedom is, if anything, more of an absolute than libertarian free-will is claimed to be. For example, TEs are highly antagonistic to Creationists not just because of their denial of scientific evidence, but because the idea of God’s miraculous intervention in creation is seen as a denial of his liberal nature. But even the more limited claims of ID are anathema, because the whole idea of design in nature is to make God a rigid dead hand on the tiller of life, as opposed to the vibrancy and creativity with which it is actually endowed. So it’s blasphemous (quote) even to suggest that God would be directly involved in the origin of life, highly complex structures, front-loading with design information (even sometimes) or the emergence of mankind itself. The Open Theology God may be keen to change his mind and answer prayer, but discerning his hand in any biological process is an absolute no-no. Blasphemy, in fact.
Note to what detail this extends. The Demiurge Evolution, not God, is accountable for the “egregious design faults” found in organisms, and even in the whole competitive and bloody pattern of life. God would not interfere even if he could. Otherwise, being the all-loving God, he would have changed things, right? Since he hasn’t, it is because he can’t (being little better than us at planning for the future) and because he won’t, the freedom of his insentient creation being more important to him than his own.
There are frequent claims that humanity was not specifically planned by God, and that he would as willingly have stepped in to save an intelligent race of octopi or dinosaurs. He patiently waited for evolution to turn up the rational goods by
its own free-will by its creative combination of chance and necessity. For him to predetermine, still less actively create, humans would would be unacceptable interference in the natural order which, for reasons rather vague to me, are as inviolable to him as the glass case containing the British crown jewels.
Equally vaguely, as it seems to me, behind this scenario is the idea that God is so wise and loving that he “uses” these processes to bring about his will – that indeed is pretty well the only sense in which he can be said to be Creator, for most of the heavy lifting is done by chance and natural selection. What nobody ever says is how he uses them, when the theology forbids him to do anything but watch his errant universe unfold. Somewhere in the mix, maybe, is Christus Victor theology, which has Christ’s incarnation eventually put everything right by charming people away from their biological heritage towards a liberal democratic version of Christian virtue.
But hold on a minute. We are not dealing with the Augustinian model of a God outside of space-time, for whom every moment is “now”, and for whom the sending of his Son in the last days is an act in eternity. The Open Theist God, remember, is consigned to moving through time as we are. He’s at least 14.5 billion years old (it’s not clear how he can have existed before time came into existence at the Big Bang). And he’s been watching the affairs of earth unfold for 4.5 billion years, and observing evolution do wonderfully creative, if somewhat deviant, things for 3 billion of those. Perhaps it was very interesting for him.
But before humans arrived, and gave him increasing opportunities to change his mind and answer prayer without stepping on the toes of anyone’s will, what was he actually doing? If you were God (and OT is heavily dependent on the essential similarity between ourselves and God), would you have been content to watch the interminably slow process of evolution introducing all kinds of predation and disease antagonistic to your nature, and yet do absolutely nothing detectable to steer it? Wouldn’t any sentient being get rather – well – bored with nothing to do except wait for an intelligent race to arise to enable ones victorious incarnation?
Maybe I could develop Open Theism a little further along the logical lines of such a scenario by suggesting that God was not only bored, but somewhat peeved, after such a frustrating period of unemployment. Such a God, so like ourselves after all, might well do all the nasty things in the Old Testament, currently dismissed as mythical by the cognoscenti, out of sheer spite. Open Theism is literalistic when it comes to narratives about God’s repentance – perhaps it leads logically to literalism about Old Testament vindictiveness, simply by being more hard-headedly realistic about God’s damaged psychology.
Some may say that such a train of thought would make the whole of Christian theology both incoherent and alien to the Bible’s actual teachings. I can only agree, but say that the rest of Open Theism did the same thing years ago.