I’ve been reading the book by Christopher Hall and John Sanders, Does God have a Future? The Debate on Divine Providence. (http://www.amazon.com/Does-God-Have-Future-Providence/dp/0801026040). It’s a debate between an open theist (Sanders) and a classical theist (Hall). Open Theism is, in part, the view that God does not know about all the events that will happen in the future, as many of those events are the result of free human choices, and it is impossible for God to know what humans will freely choose. If he did know all the decisions that we would make in the future, so the open theist’s argument goes, then those decisions are not really free. My comments here have nothing to do with whether or not open theism is correct.
In this book John Sanders claims that in open theism, God has to allow horrendous evil to occur. God, he says, did not know that horrendous evils would ensue when God created the world. “However,” he adds:
Does this really help, since God could have prevented each and every instance of human moral evil? Again, here the answer of openness is not any different from that of traditional Arminians. God could not prevent us from doing harm to one another without constantly violating the very conditions in which he created us to live. That is, God would have to habitually remove our freedom, rendering our lives a world of illusion.
I think that this badly misconstrues what freedom of the will really is. In more general terms, if I handcuff a man to stop him from attacking me, I am “taking away his freedom.” But in philosophical terms, I am doing no such thing. I am preventing him from carrying out a certain course of action, but I am in no way preventing him from willing such a course of action. He is still able to freely chose to try something or wish to do it, and this is what freedom of the will is concerned with.
Would God have to actually take away our freedom in order to stop us from harming each other? Clearly not. He would merely have to stop us from succeeding. Examples of humans doing this are easy to imagine. What if, for example, someone had erected an impenetrable shelter over Dresden just prior to the Allied bombing? The bombers would have been prevented from harming the civilians below, and nobody’s free will would have been interfered with. If God restrained the hand of the violent husbands, stopped the bullets of the school shooters, or changed the course of the planes that smashed into the World Trade Centre, nobody’s free will would have been harmed, and yet it seems pretty obvious to me that people would have been prevented from harming other people. So it’s not true that “God could not prevent us from doing harm to one another” without habitually removing our freedom.
I am not for a moment suggesting that Sanders can think of no reason why the God of open theism does not intervene to protect people from the harmful free choices of others. He has not given such a reason, but I do not know that he has none. I’m curious as to what it is, though.