A reader writes:
I’m a Protestant who is seriously considering the Catholic faith. I’ve enjoyed, very much, listening to you on the Catholic Answers Live podcast.
Are you familiar with the controversy over open theism within evangelicalism? How does Roman Catholic theology square with the view of God as envisioned by open theists?
I am familiar with the controversy, and Catholic theology would have significant problems with the overall picture of God painted by open theists. Historically, Catholicism has been very firm on the classical theism model.
For those who aren’t familiar with this distinction,
That being said, not all aspects of open theism are equally problematic. The open theist’s assertion that humans have libertarian free will is something that Catholics would have not a problem with. What would be problematic is the inference that because humans have this kind of free will the future must contain things that God doesn’t know.
It is not true that knowing what someone will choose to do next year means that their choice is not the product of libertarian free will. From his perspective outside of time, God sees your future free will choices next year the same way he sees your current choices right now. Both "now" and "next year" are equally present to God, so if his seeing what your current choices are does not deprive you of free will now then his simultaneously seeing what you are choosing next year does not deprive free will then either.
While open theists have made some interesting arguments regarding God’s omniscience (e.g., omniscience doesn’t require God to know things that are logically impossible to know the way omnipotence doesn’t require God to be able to do things that are logically impossible to do, like make square circles or stones too heavy for him to lift), these arguments are only relevant if God is inside of time and if certain theories about time are true. From an atemporalist perspective, the concerns they are meant to address simply don’t arise because God’s knowledge of the future is equally possible as his knowledge of the present and the past.
Once one recognizes God’s atemporality his immutability immediately falls out of this as a logical consequence.
Open theists’ language about God voluntarily limiting his exercise of power in order to allow free will in the universe can be taken in an orthodox sense (though only if it is understood that his exercise of the power–not the power itself–is what is limited). Something like that might seem to be necessary for free will to exist, and there is nothing unorthodox about saying that God can choose how far he’s going to do something. If he chooses to make beings with libertarian free will so that he doesn’t determine all their choices for them then that’s God’s choice.
The best argument that open theists have is why God allows evil if he has the power to stop it, and here we run into a matter that is significantly mysterious, though classical theists have a framework for answering it even if it does not exhaust the mystery.
An orthodox Catholic theologian would thus tend to view open theism as, to a significant extent, an attempt to alleviate the cognitive tension caused when man is confronted by the divine mystery by positing a God small enough that the mystery doesn’t arise (i.e., God doesn’t stop all evil instantly because he doesn’t have the power to do so).
There are thus a few individual aspects of open theism that could be harmonized with Catholic thought but the system as a whole posits a view of God that would not at all be favorably received.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ articulation of classical theism has been the standard Catholic account for centuries, and the First Vatican Council taught:
The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God, creator and lord of heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible, infinite in will, understanding and every perfection.
Since he is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, he must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in himself and from himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides himself which either exists or can be imagined [Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, ch. 1].
Hope this helps!