Eric Landstrom, The General Theory of Relativity and the Nature of God Pokes Openness in the Eye

, posted by Eric Landstrom

It is argued by proponents of Openness as well as Calvinists that claim Openness is the logical conclusion for Arminianism that in order for people to be free the future must be somehow open. Their argument claims that if God’s knowledge of future unactualized contingencies is perfectly known, then creaturely freedom is a farce and whether we like it or not, our Lord has effectively predestinated all of creation. Countering the argument Arminians point out that simply knowing for sure that a person will freely do something is not enough for God to control or predestinate the world. This is because foreknowledge of an event does not imply direct influence or omnicausality, or absolute determination, but merely knows what other wills are doing. In other words, foreknowledge doesn’t mean absolute determination. Yet a fine point should be sharpened at this time: God not only grasps and understands what actually will happen, but also what could happen under varied possible contingencies. If God’s knowing is infinite, God knows even the potential effects of hypothetical but unactualized possibilities, just as God knows what has or will become actualized (Oden, ST1).

Oden’s view stated as an argument looks like this:

    • 1) God knows all potential choices.
    • 2) God knows the exact choices.

Therefore, God knows not only what is, but what possibly could be. Thus it is said that God doesn’t merely have a will, but a knowing will. Therefore God’s knowing is said to be:

    • 1) Eternally actual, not merely possible.
    • 2) Eternally perfect, as distinguished from a knowledge that begins, increases, decreases, or ends.
    • 3) Complete instead of partial.
    • 4) Both direct and immediate, instead of indirectly reflected or mediated — God knows all things simultaneously.

Therefore God doesn’t “think,” He knows (Oden).

Dr. Yocum supports Oden’s position, that God’s knowledge encompasses all possibilities, writing:

    • It should be noted that God’s foreknowledge of the future is not a simple knowledge of what shall be, but a perfectly complete knowledge of all possible alternatives, if His free creatures had made other choices. One among many examples from the Bible is found in 1 Samuel, chapter 23. David and his men had gone to the walled city of Keilah and saved it from the Philistines. Saul heard of the event and determined to capture his enemy there. Upon inquiring of the Lord about this purpose of Saul, David was told that Saul would indeed come to Keilah and that the men of the city would deliver David into his hand. Here is the Bible record: “Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, They will deliver thee up. Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forebare to go forth (vv. 12-13).

God’s statement concerning what was going to happen was plainly conditioned upon the actions of David. If he stayed in Keilah, he would be delivered into the hand of King Saul. But he did not remain there; so he was not delivered into his hand. God’s statement of the future was based on His certain knowledge of alternative courses of action. What he knew did not actually come to pass, because it involved the voluntary response of a man, and that man chose not to remain in Keilah (Dale Yocum, Creeds in Contrast, 1986, p. 55).

If Oden is right and our Lord is fully actualized and doesn’t “think” because he knows and yet is said to have “made the ages” (Heb. 1:2), then according to Oden, classical Christian theology generally views that all moments of time’s succession unfold simultaneously and at once from God’s perspective. In other words, God is at the center of a “meta-now.” If true, then God’s relationship to time is that as the giver of time and God is completely independent of time and time itself is contingent upon the will of God.

Yet, as we can see, God creates a temporal spatial world(s) and then freely participates in time entering into relationships with creatures while ordering the temporal laws and process not out of any necessity of his being but as contingent upon his own self-giving (God creates not out of any lack but out of his fullness). Thinking of this second point, Oden notes that ancient Christians considered that the Father inhabits time as the Son inhabits flesh. Just as the Son doesn’t cease to be God while becoming human and being human neither does the Father cease to be God while entering time.

We know things in segments but God knows things fully and at once as a function of his nature. Physicists can appreciate this idea because they have little difficulty accepting that all space, all time, all dimensions can all be rolled into a single mathematical point (a quantum singularity). As I’m fond of asking open theists, Consider a universe where freedom is not only assumed to exist but really does exist. Now consider a camera that witnesses freedom. This camera is special for two reasons: the first reason is that it exists in a dimension that compresses all time to a mathematical point, and the second reason the camera is special is that the dimension it exists also compresses all space into a mathematical point. Now we have a camera that sees all throughout all time. Yet freedom can exist. Now consider that the camera is more than a camera and ask yourself why open and process theologians imagine the future must be open for freedom to exist?

Both science and theology are limited by our ability to imagine, perceive, and comprehend. In this vein I believe that Openness is a failure to imagine, to perceive, and to comprehend. Allow me to try and explain.

Are you familiar with Einstein? Everybody knows his famous Special Theory of Relativity E=MC2 (energy = mass x the constant speed of light, squared) but not as many people understand the implications of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Einstein used to do what he called “thought experiments.” When he was sixteen he imagined what it would look like if he could out-race a beam of light and from this idea he developed the idea that time dilates. In other words, Einstein reasoned against Newtonian thinking of his day, that said everywhere in the universe the present is the present for everybody, by reasoning that time is flexible and that your now and my now are not exactly the same because of gravitational forces and motion. Einstein spent the next ten years learning the math to begin expressing this idea and the implications of his theory. In 1905 Einstein formally published his special theory of relativity. By 1908 Einstein had conjectured that gravity slows time and he developed his conjecture into his general theory of relativity (GTR) in 1915.

According to GTR the exact duration of time between two specific events will depend upon how the observer is moving. The interval between the ticks on my second hand will be the same if I’m sitting and watching the Super Bowl but the interval of those ticks will be less if I’m moving (say to the fridge to get another ice tea). If I was able to travel to the fridge at the speed of light then the coming tick of the second hand would never happen because, for me, time would have stopped and I’d have my ice tea in “no time.”

Physicists call the slowing of time by motion the time dilation effect. Speed is only one way of warping time. Another is gravity. Einstein’s GTR shows that gravity slows time through the warping of space itself. He hypothesized that the greater the gravity the slower time would run. In other words, time runs faster in space than here on earth and there is even a tiny dilation of time between the top and bottom of a building. If we could squish the surface of the earth down to .9 cm we would have sufficient gravity to cause time to stop relative to an observer somewhere in space.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is to show you that elsewhere in our universe the future has already happened and for an observer on the other side of the universe, we are in their future. This is an observational fact. For orthodox Christian theologians the dilation of time underscores and supports the traditional and orthodox view of our Lord that He is a maximum performance, fully-actualized Being who knows all things at once. But for the Openness theologians the dilation of time poses a problem, because to limit our Lord’s knowledge of the future, they must also localize our Lord’s viewing perspective so that he cannot see all things at once.

As I see it, the solution to the problem betrays the Openness Theologians back into orthodoxy. However, against the blunt argument of time dilation from physics, proponents of openness have sought to define it away by claiming everybody’s time is different depending upon their perspective to the object under observation. Against those criticisms Boyd rightly claims that his protagonists say nothing that address the ontological status of the future. In other words, Boyd is able to side-step a bullet because the gunners don’t know how to aim.

The underlying assumption in the open theist’s defense is that information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. If information cannot travel faster than light then we may imagine God being spread throughout the universe and on an end of the universe opposite our own, God cannot see our future because information is limited to the speed of light and there cannot be a meta now or a universal now. In other words he hinges his rebuttal by defining a universal now out of existence.

This defense is suitable enough for spatial beings but God is a spirit. While creatures are limited to perspectivism, and open theists are correct in the way they apply the limitations of Einstein’s GTR to spatial objects (although the existence of quantum pairs shows that information can and does travel faster than light and does so with unimaginable frequency), classical theists don’t apply the phenomenon of time dilation to mere objects or creatures, they apply it to the full-on, maximum performance, fully-actualized orthodox, absolute, ontological Godhead who created the universe and spread it out like a curtain (Isaiah 40:22; 42:5)!

In point of fact Einstein’s GTR theory doesn’t square up with anything less than the traditional, orthodox understanding of the Godhead, where God himself is the absolute because all time must be measured by him, wherein he is the absolute time-keeper or we would have the comedy of an infinite regress (as David Misialowski notes, “For flowing time to make sense, it seems that its rate of passage would have to be measured against some meta-time, and then that time would have to be measured against yet another meta-time, leading to infinite regress”).

Unlike those with poor aim and those who are able to be dismissed by definition, Einstein’s GTR makes it possible for us to understand how God can be at the nexus of all time and space and not be the cause of events in time. Once again it is as astrophysicist Robert Jastrow quipped, “For the scientist who has lived by faith in the power of his reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a small band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

“From age to age everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:2),

Eric Landstrom