Open theism is the view that God lacks foreknowledge of undetermined future events, such as knowledge of how humans will or would use their libertarian freedom. This has the corollary that God’s providence is risky rather than risk-free. William Hasker, one of the most prominent and philosophically sophisticated proponents of open theism, defines what it would mean for God to take risks: “God takes risks if he makes decisions that depend for their outcomes on the responses of free creatures in which the decisions themselves are not informed by knowledge of the outcomes.” God’s risk-taking just is God’s providential decision-making in the absence of such knowledge…
[In Open Theism, God’s deliberate non-intervention rather than human free will has the final say]
Although open theists reject the view that any particular evil is necessary in God’s providential scheme (as a greater-good enabler or as a worse-evil blocker), it seems they must accept a parallel view: with respect to any particular actual evil, God’s following his general policy of nonintervention in this case was necessary to maximize opportunities for great goods that could only be obtained by God’s following such a non-interventionist policy. That is, given the policy and the essential role it plays in maximizing opportunities for great goods, God’s hands are tied. He must permit the evil, or risk undermining the great goods the policy aims at. Given the policy, which is itself grounded in God’s goodness and is therefore necessarily the best policy God could take toward creation, God had to permit the evil. (Why else wouldn’t he intervene when he is fully able to do so, except for a judgment of this sort on God’s part?)
It follows that for any evil in God’s universe, God had to permit it upon pain of violating a policy grounded in his moral goodness. In this sense, no evil is gratuitous. Pick any evil you please. There is an answer as to why God permitted it, and that answer is not ultimately grounded in laws of nature or in human free will, but in God’s decision to pursue goals for creation according to values grounded in his goodness. How is this different, in principle, from the greater-good theodicy?…
On the theological determinist view, the universe would be worse off because one or more greater goods would not have been realized without the suffering. On the open theist view, the universe would be worse off because the great good of God’s following a policy toward creation aimed at securing various goods would have been undermined, and it is worse to undermine that policy than to eliminate the evil by divine intervention. It follows that open theist theodicy eliminates, rather than accommodates, the category of gratuitous evil [Note – it also generates a version of ‘passive providence’ that is just about as meticulous as any theological determinist version of ‘active providence,’ as this is a decision God makes with respect to every evil in his universe. It is God’s deliberate nonintervention that makes the difference here, in each and every case, rather than human free will having the final say]…
[Open Theism entails a providence that is similar to meticulous providence (“meticulish,” according to Greg Welty)]
…since on open theism God is temporal, he is continually making decisions as history unfolds and as his awareness of present human tendencies changes. And that implies that whether individual, morally evil decisions actually occur does not depend entirely on the decision freely made by the person at that time. Whether or not good decisions actually occur, or bad decisions actually occur, depends quite a bit on God’s ongoing decisions about what to actually permit. There seems to be no way around this…
This is not the metaphysical equivalent of theological determinism. But it gives the lie to the notion that what actually occurs in such a world type depends entirely on the human agents and not upon God. There is a kind of dependence here that is much more meticulous than general divine concurrence. God has a say as to which world unfolds, and it’s not just a say at the distant outset of history, when he decides to create a world, but a say at every moment of history and for every moment of history. One wonders, then, why natural order and free will are presented as buffers that insulate God from responsibility for the actual occurrence of evil. God’s decisions at each moment of history ‘make a difference’ for each moment of history…
By stressing massive divine ignorance at the moment of creation, such that God’s decision is restricted to planning a ‘world type,’ the impression is given that the rest are details exclusively filled in by humans. This grossly underestimates the meticulous nature of the ‘passive providence’ to which even open theists must be committed. This providence seems to be ‘meticulish’ even if not meticulous, that is, close enough for the purposes of responsibility for the evil that actually occurs. It is a literal micromanagement, since on open theism God is a temporal being who continually updates his knowledge of individual moments and permits or intervenes accordingly. Even on open theism God’s providential control operates at the ‘micro’ level (of individual creaturely choices) rather than at the ‘macro’ level that open theists tend to suggest in their talk of ‘world types.’
[Based on the morality of risk-taking, Open Theism is more blameworthy than Classical Theism]
Open theists often claim that we live in a universe in which both God and humans take risks, even as parents and children suffer in the midst of their relationship: “And there is the risk, indeed the near-certainty, that the child will inflict on you considerable pain and suffering, as you strive to help the child become all that he or she can be and ought to be.”
But the risks here seem entirely unequal. God’s risk-taking exposes humans to risks that are much severer than the risks that God undertakes for himself, and this itself generates a problem of evil distinctive to open theism. For God’s part, by actualizing a world type in the absence of knowledge of how humans would respond, he risks feeling sad that humans do not do the right thing with respect to one another, and being disappointed that humans do not choose to enter into a relationship with him. In governing the world, he acts “in ways that expose him to the possibility of disappointment and failure.” Creatures are capable of “bringing grief and suffering into God’s own life.”
By way of contrast, humans are exposed to a risk that is extraordinarily greater than mere feelings of sadness and disappointment; by living within a risky world every day, their very welfare and well-being is crucially at stake in a multitude of ways. Is God really taking a similar risk as to his own welfare and well-being? How? Is he subject to involuntary, tortuous pain for years on end, like so many of his creatures? No. Will he perish due to lack of food, water, shelter, and good health? No. Is it even possible that God makes a series of bad decisions in life and thereby consigns himself to an eternity of suffering? No. Even if humans reject God for eternity, the eternal loving fellowship within the Trinity is never at risk within the open theist’s scheme, while every possible friendship humans can have is at risk. So what, actually, is the ‘risk’ that God is taking by embarking on the human project? He’s surely causing all of his creatures to live in a risky environment, one fraught with danger and suffering for them. But God is subject to none of it. Indeed, if things go really badly God can just destroy the world and that is that, but humans don’t have that option.
Of course, our best intuitions about the ethics of risk-taking do not support the view that we can never subject other persons to risk. But the risky environment needs to be equitable. If A subjects B to risk R, then B can rightly subject A to R. For instance, by simply driving my car in a city, I expose the residents to the risk of a car accident. But this is not objectionable, because these residents can rightly subject me to the same risk. It seems pretty clear that the risks involved in the divine/human relationship on open theism are profoundly unequal, and therefore constitute a violation of this moral intuition. And this is a problem, for open theists are pretty concerned that the moral intuitions that apply to the divine/human relationship not depart too much from the moral intuitions that apply to human/human relationships, lest we lose our grip on what ‘good’ means in the divine context. Thus they refuse to go along with the idea that God’s goodness is of a radically different kind than human goodness, in such a way that we can draw no conclusions about what a good God would do on the basis of what we would expect of good and morally admirable human beings.
It might be thought that the problem is alleviated when we consider apparently acceptable cases in which the risks clearly are unequal. For instance, a military officer may command a soldier to take the next hill under heavy gunfire, while the officer stays behind in (relative) safety. Or a doctor may perform surgery on a patient who may clearly die from the procedure, but the doctor himself bears little risk. It is right to think that these cases are both common and morally acceptable. But they involve voluntary risk-taking on the part of the one subjected to the risk. The soldier volunteered to serve in the army. The patient asked for the surgery and signed a waiver of liability. There is no analogy here to the divine/human case. Rather, God thrusts humans into the risky world type he has created, and he does not ask them whether they would like to be subject their entire lives to an environment fraught with the potential for great suffering and loss.
One might think that open theists are free to flout these moral intuitions when developing their theory of providence, since after all God is our creator and providential sustainer, and in virtue of that acquires certain rights over us that are not and cannot be modeled in the realm of human/human relationships. The Creator/creature distinction underwrites the thesis of divine transcendence, and so moral obligations that we intuitively might think apply to humans simply do not apply to God. It seems to me that this move robs open theism of its characteristic appeal, which is that the problem of evil can be handled by stressing the moral continuity between God and creatures. If we abandon this moral continuity, the problem of evil suddenly becomes far more tractable on alternative theories of providence.
By way of contrast to these twin problems of unequal risk and involuntary risk, compare the thesis that all apparently gratuitous evils are in fact necessary for a greater good. While this claim may look implausible, it at least has the advantage of preserving certain moral claims we wish to make about God, since on this view God isn’t taking risks at all. If someone knew
that he’d make it across a ditch with a baby in his arms, and then jumped, but then someone else who didn’t know if he’d make it across but hoped it’d turn out alright, jumped with the baby in his arms, surely the second action would be more subject to blame than the first.
Source: Benjamin Arbour, Philosophical Essays Against Open Theism (Routledge 2019), pp. 140-158.