Similar to what I did in the last post, I'm going to make an argument for openness theology without recourse to free will.
Actually, the position I'm going to argue for is not, technically, an openness theology formulation. It is, rather, a position that captures much of what is being sought for, theologically speaking, from openness theology.
This argument is going to be based on what is known as the Hard Problem of Consciousness.
Part 1: p-Facts and s-Facts
The Hard Problem of Consciousness, a term coined by David Chalmers, refers to one of the most notorious issues in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and the philosophy of mind. Specifically, the problem points out the explanatory disjoint between the methods of reductive science and the subjective experience of mental states.
Science, as a method of inquiry, relies on public, third-party adjudication. That is, Fact X or Outcome of Experiment Z should be repeatable and replicable under controlled and identical conditions. When we see Fact X or Outcome of Experiment Z repeated and replicated over and over the scientific community reaches a public consensus about the phenomenon under consideration. Let's call these p-facts (p for "public-facts").
Science only traffics in p-facts. Anything that can't fit into the box of p-facts (e.g., ghosts, God, historical events) cannot be scientifically evaluated. Science is just a one trick pony: Grinding out and adjudicating between purported p-facts.
Now it should come as no surprise that science would like to investigate the workings of the human mind. And to a large degree many of the p-facts of human brain functioning and cognition have been revealed. For instance, we know that Broca's area in the left hemisphere of the brain is involved in speech production. Damage in that area leads to aphasia. This correlation--brain location and function--is a p-fact. Neuroscientists have public access to the evidence supporting this p-fact.
But there are certain aspects of the brain that we would like to study which don't appear to be p-facts. I'm referring specifically to what psychologists calls "sensation" (other names are "qualia," "experience," or "phenomenological experience"). Sensations are our raw sensory experiences: Visual, auditory, olfactory, etc. Take the classic example from the literature: Red. "Red" is a sensory experience. We experience it when we see an apple or a rose. But what does red look like? What accounts for its particular "color"? How exactly is red different from blue?
The "sensation of red" is clearly a fact about the word. And it's a repeatable phenomenon, unlike a historical event, that should be amenable to scientific research. It should be a p-fact. But, notoriously, it's not a p-fact. It's an s-fact (s for "subjective-fact" or "sensation-fact").
All sensations are s-facts. That is, they are private. They are not public like p-facts. I can't get into your head to "see" what red looks like to you. Note, however, that there are a host of p-facts about color sensation. For example:
Some p-Facts about Color Perception:
(i) The neurological events in the eye can be correlated with certain wavelengths of radiation (i.e., we know about rods and cones--the photo-receptor cells--in the eye)
(ii) The correlation between brain events in the occipital lobe and exposure to certain wavelengths of radiation (i.e., when you look at color slides we can observe and correlate those exposures with events in the brain seen via brain imaging devices).
(iii) The correlation between verbal tags and exposure to certain wavelengths of radiation (e.g., You always say "red" when you are exposed to a certain wavelength of radiation).
All these are p-facts. These are events and experiments that are amenable to science. But notice, none of these p-facts can tell us just why red looks different from blue. That distinction is an s-fact.
The perversity of the situation is this: Since science only traffics in p-facts we will never, ever, gain a scientific account of sensation. This is perverse because it seems that sensation, being a regular feature of the mind, SHOULD be amenable to science. Yet it is hard (hence the name "Hard Problem of Consciousness") to imagine a way that science could explain s-facts. There is a disjoint between the public nature of scientific adjudication and the private nature of sensation. The tool--science--and the material--sensation--just don't match up.
Chalmers puts it this way. Even if science could perfectly explain all the p-facts of the human mind there would still be something LEFT OVER, something EXTRA, that is involved in human cognition: All those s-facts. Science might, one day, know with perfect precision the exact neural correlates of all s-facts. That is, from a third-party perspective I might track with perfect knowledge the molecule by molecule changes in your brain when you see a rose. But observing those molecular changes still does not reveal to me what red looks like to YOU. The s-fact of red cannot be cracked open with better and more powerful brain scans. Staring at a bunch of neurotransmitters isn't going to tell you why red looks different from blue.
Part 2: The Omniscient Neuroscientist Who Sees Only Black and White
Now what does all this have to do with openness theology? Well, I'm going to borrow a common thought experiment from the Hard Problem literature and adapt for a theological purpose.
Here is a two-part thought experiment:
Part A: Imagine a neuroscientist with perfect knowledge of the human brain. That is, this scientist has perfect brain imaging capability and had performed all the requisite experiments. Further, this scientist knows all the Laws of the Mind: For each and every stimuli the mind faces this scientist can predict with perfect accuracy the activity of the brain.
Part B: Now imagine that this scientist, from birth, has been wearing goggles that renders the world in black and white.
Okay, first verify for yourself that Part A and Part B involve no contradiction. That is, you don't have to know what red looks like, subjectively speaking, to have perfect scientific knowledge of color vision. The scientist can verify which "color" a subject is seeing by noting the p-facts. For example, "red" is simply the wavelength of radiation the person is being exposed to, something that can be assessed with a measuring instrument (i.e., "red" is defined as a public event--a reading on a scientific instrument--and not as a private, subjective experience).
This is the point of the thought experiment: You can have perfect, objective, scientific, p-fact knowledge of color vision and still not know what red looks like. (btw, this thought experiment is just another way of framing/illustrating the Hard Problem.)
Now imagine that we ask the neuroscientist to take off, for the first time in her life, the black and white googles. (For the sake of argument, let's put aside the neurological/developmental issues of depriving someone of color vision from birth.) Could the neuroscientist, who has PERFECT scientific knowledge of color vision, even predict what a world of color looks like? It would be like going from Kansas to Oz.
Now we can ask this question: By taking off the goggles did the neuroscientist LEARN something? Sure they did! They learned what red looks like! And they learned this in the only way possible: By stepping into the experience. The only way to "learn" an s-fact is to EXPERIENCE it.
Part 3: God and s-Facts
Can you see where I am going with this? The perfect neuroscientist is an omniscient scientist. Well, more precisely, an omniscient p-fact scientist. (Because the scientist, prior to the removal of the goggles, doesn't know the s-facts.) So here is my question: Is God in any way analogous to the omniscient p-fact scientist?
That is, by creating humans did God--in possession of all p-facts--create the possibility for ANOTHER set of facts--s-facts--that God did not have access to? What I'm suggesting, in contrast to free will arguments, is that the universe, humans in particular, is more inexplicable to God than unpredictable. The reason for this is that God created a set of facts--s-facts--that he did not have access to. God retains all objective, p-fact knowledge, but God is (initially at least) shut out of the "human experience." God does not know, first-hand, what it "feels like" to be a human being. And if God were shut out from s-facts then there would be a critical relational disjoint between God and humanity which might explain much of the biblical witness.
If this analysis is correct it produces fruit similar to (and in some cases better than) openness theology positions.
For example, the debate between classic theism and openness theology often pits God's omniscience against the biblical witness that God experiences emotions and changes his mind. For example, if God knows the future how can God be emotional in the face of human actions? God should be impassive, right? But the Bible clearly grants God emotions. Does God, then, not know the future? If he doesn't, then how can he be omniscient?
In short, the debate between openness theology and classic theism pits two biblical claims--God has emotions and is omniscient--against each other. And it is hard to reconcile the two.
But let's look at the issue from the s-fact perspective. First, God is p-fact omniscient. As such, he can probably predict the future perfectly. The trouble is, due to God's s-fact blindness, the future unfolds in a way that puzzles God. Without s-fact knowledge God can predict the next moves of creation but something critical is missing. That is, God might know--as a p-fact--that A will follow B in the chain of events. But what is left out is the critical feature of "Why?", from an s-fact perspective. For example, A follows B because B hurts!
Think back to the neuroscientist, but now imagine we could block out ALL s-facts, not just those about color vision. Although the neuroscientist could explain all the relevant p-facts of, let's say, pain sensation, can she really understand why we pull our hand away from a hot stove? Isn't something, from an explanatory perspective, being missed? I think so.
Now I don't think God is completely s-fact blind. But I do think God has SOME s-fact blindness. For example, can God know what it is like to be scared? To experience pain? Nostalgia? Pride? Temptation? Embarrassment? Shame? Guilt? Old age? Giving birth?
In short, I think in certain critical areas God starts off as s-fact blind and this blindness can explain much of the Old Testament witness regarding God's emotions and responsiveness to humanity.
Specifically, due to s-fact blindness God initially finds us alien and Other. Thus, the emotions of God in the bible and his changing plans are less about his being "surprised" than about a God's wrestling with something foreign and strange. God seems to be trying to "figure us out." And as the process unfolds God reacts with surprise, delight, anger and frustration.
In my opinion, this sense of "foreignness" better expresses, when compared to free will formulations, the relational dynamic between God and humanity. In openness theology relationality is believed to be preserved by the existence of free will. But God's s-fact blindness, in my view, is a better model. For example, when I first met my wife (or my children or a new friend) the issue, relationally speaking, is not if the two of us have "free will." The issue is, rather, "Who is this person?" Relationality is a process of intimacy and intimacy is a process of discovery. More specifically, it is a process of discovering the internal life of the beloved. We call this "understanding." To understand my wife is to take her perspective, to "get inside", as best I can, her unique take on the world. What starts out as foreign, a literal stranger, eventually becomes my beloved. In short, according to my s-fact model relationality with God doesn't emerge because we are free (although we may be), but because God and I start out as strangers. God is trying to know me and I'm trying to know God. And this is accomplished in a way analogous to human intimacy: Taking two distinct experiences and bringing them together. To be intimate is to learn, as best I can, your s-facts.
Part 4: Is God Growing More Kind?
Another interesting application of s-fact blindness is that it might explain some of the perceived disjoint between the Old and New Testaments.
Specifically, Christians claim that God is love. Yet, God's expressions of love seems radically different in the Old versus the New Testament. Crudely stated, God seems more kind in the New Testament. Why is this?
Many answers have been proposed to this question. S-fact blindness might be another. That is, God has always been loving. But God's ability to love humanity, early on, has been affected by s-fact blindness. God, literally, could have made some mistakes early on. Not because God is evil or incompetent, but simply due to the early missteps that occur in any new relationship where two people find each other as unpredictable strangers. Relationships are messy due to s-fact blindness. Perhaps the same goes for God and humanity.
Part 5: What Does the Bible Say?
This all seems so abstract and philosophical. Does this perspective have any biblical support?
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers...Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Did God learn something in the incarnation? If so, what did God learn? According to my model, God learned about the s-facts of the human experience.
Is this not what the book of Hebrews is speaking to? That Jesus is a more perfect High Priest because Jesus has experienced the s-facts? Hebrews seems to suggest that God learned something in the Incarnation that was vital to his ability to be a good God to us. And what God seemed to learn is what it "feels like" to be a human.
Because of the Incarnation God is less s-fact blind. And, via the intercession of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the human experience is able to be "translated." God now "understands" us.
Similar to what I did in the last post, I'm going to make an argument for openness theology without recourse to free will.