Philosophical Essays against Open Theism – ch. 8: Anderson

By | May 10, 2024

Philosophical Essays Against Open Theism (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion)This is part eight of eleven in a series responding to the essays in Ben Arbour’s edited volume, Philosophical Essays against Open Theism (Routledge, 2019).

In this post I tackle chapter 8 by James N. Anderson, “‘May It Have Happened, Lord!’: Open Theism and Past-Directed Prayers” (pp. 121–139). This is one of the more interesting essays in the volume because it tackles an issue that is rarely discussed—”past-directed prayers” and whether different models of divine providence can accommodate them.

In what follows, I first discuss Anderson’s conception of open theism and argue that it misses the mark. Second, I discuss the nature of past-directed prayers or what could be more accurately be termed “retrospectively answered prayers” (RAPs). Third, I discuss whether such prayers are coherent. Could they be meaningfully prayed? And could God affirmatively answer them? Fourth, I critically examine Anderson’s review of five different models of divine providence and whether they can accommodate such prayers. Fifth, I critique Anderson’s attempt to develop an argument from RAPs against open theism. Anderson argues that open theism is uniquely disadvantaged in relation to RAPs in comparison with the other models. I argue that, if anything, open theism fares better than all of the other models. Sixth and finally, I examine Anderson’s most impressive example of a putative RAP and argue that there are perfectly good ways of making sense of it without supposing it to be an actual RAP.

1. Anderson on Open Theism

In my recent Open Theism book (Cambridge, 2024), I inadvertently misquoted Anderson on p. 3, attributing to him the claim that, for open theism, “God lacks comprehensive foreknowledge.” This was a misquote of p. 121 of Anderson’s essay where he attributes to open theists the claim that “God lacks comprehensive foreknowledge of the future free decisions of His creatures.” My apologies to Anderson for the misattribution.

That said, however, Anderson’s actual claim about open theism is false. The word “comprehensive” is the main problem because this implies that open theists believe God has either merely partial foreknowledge of future free creaturely decisions or no foreknowledge of future free creaturely decisions whatsoever. Indeed, <S lacks comprehensive knowledge of X> seems to entail <S lacks comprehensive knowledge (period)>, in which case my misquote of Anderson remains “fake, but accurate.” But, regardless of whether that entailment holds, both alternatives—that open theists believe God’s foreknowledge of future free creaturely decisions is either merely partial or altogether nonexistent—are false. Most published open theists are open future open theists (OFOTs). They think God does have comprehensive foreknowledge of future free creaturely decisions. They differ from non-open theists (NOTs) by affirming that the content of that foreknowledge consists of propositions that represent the future as indeterminate with respect to those decisions. For example, instead of God knowing propositions like <S will do action A at future time T>, which OFOTs regard as not true, OFOTs believe God knows propositions like <S will-with-probability-k do action A at future time T> and <S might and might not do action A at future time T>.

A few pages later, Anderson describes open theism slightly differently. Here he says that, for open theists, “God does not foreknow the free choices of humans” but does possess “some foreknowledge, namely, foreknowledge of events that do not depend on (future) human free choices” (p. 129). This gloss drops the word “comprehensive” and is thus, in my view, more defensible. But it does assume something that OFOTs would not grant, namely, that all divine foreknowledge is knowledge of propositions that represent the future as determinate in some respect or other (e.g., will and will not propositions). This is a dialectically safe assumption only if Anderson takes his readership to consist almost entirely of NOTs. Otherwise, it’s question-begging.

Finally, at the very end of the essay, in the final endnote, Anderson, like many other NOTs, describes open theism as giving a “weak account of divine providence” (p. 139). I’m sorry, but no. Process theism arguably qualifies as a “weak” account of divine providence—because on that model God can’t unilaterally do anything in creation—but open theism does not. On open theism God really could have done exactly what theistic determinists believe God has done, namely, unilaterally ordain “whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession, 3.1), but God deliberately chose not to. This does not render God any less provident than on theistic determinism, for God specifically permits whatsoever comes to pass (without necessarily ordaining it). All it means is that God is free to exercise His providence differently than theistic determinists suppose.

2. What Are Past-Directed or “Retrospectively Answered” Prayers?

Anderson offers a 4-part definition of “past-directed” prayers (pp. 122–123). His account mostly follows a 2005 paper by Kevin Timpe titled “Prayers for the Past.” I here present my own simplified version of Anderson’s account. It incorporates both Anderson’s own minor criticisms of Timpe’s definition and his inclusion of prayers that, while not explicitly past-directed, nevertheless implicitly require for their fulfillment that God have specifically brought about something in the past. Because such prayers need not be explicitly past-directed, I replace Anderson’s and Timpe’s talk of “past-directed” prayers with the more precise “retrospectively answered prayers” (RAPs). Anderson himself proposes that phrase on p. 123.

RAP =def. A collection of petitionary prayers (P) that meet the following criteria:

    1. P is offered by a creaturely agent or agents and directed toward God.
    2. What P requests of God requires for its fulfillment that God have brought about a prior state-of-affairs, S.
    3. God brings about S in part because of P.
    4. God would not have brought about S were it not for P.

These four points parallel each of Anderson’s but are expressed more succinctly. RAP is defined in terms of a “collection” of prayers to allow for repeated and/or collective prayers. Points (a) and (b) pertain to P itself, independently of its fulfillment. Point (a) ensures that a RAP starts with creatures and is directed at the right target (God). Point (b) supplies the retrospective answer condition. By “prior” here is meant temporally prior to P. Points (c) and (d) pertain to God’s fulfillment of P. Point (c) ensures that God’s action in bringing about S is a response to P and not just, say, a logical precondition for P. For example, every creaturely prayer requires for its fulfillment that God have created and that the creatures in question have come into being. Those are logical preconditions for the prayers and not something God brought about because of the prayers. Finally, point (d) is there to rule out explanatory overdetermination, that is, cases where God had sufficient reason to bring about S anyway, regardless of P.

3. Are RAPs Coherent?

There are two questions here.

  • Are RAPs psychologically coherent? That is, could someone reasonably pray with the understanding that they are asking God to have done something in the past?
  • Are RAPs metaphysically coherent? That is, it is reasonable to think that God could affirmatively fulfill a RAP?

With respect to psychological coherence, we’re focusing only on RAP criteria (a) and (b). Both Anderson and I answer this question in the affirmative. As I see it, whether or not RAPs are metaphysically coherent, it is surely coherent for someone to pray for God to have done something in the past if either (i) they haven’t thought about the metaphysical implications of their requests, or (ii) they have thought about those implications and they regard them as within the realm of metaphysical possibility.

For example, it seems that the fulfillment conditions of a RAP—criteria (c) and (d)—require something like backward causation, backward time-travel, or hypertime. Now, imagine an eight-year old child distraught over his parents’ recent divorce praying earnestly, “God, please make it so that my parents never divorced.” The child is essentially asking God to manipulate hypertime by undoing the recent past and resetting the clock to an earlier point before the parents split. But, in all likelihood, the eight-year-old doesn’t even have a conception of hypertime. He’s expressing his emotional anguish to God in the best way he knows how and hasn’t even begun to think through the metaphysical implications of his request.

One issue that Anderson brings up is whether one could coherently pray for something one knows has already happened. He expresses some skepticism: “Such a prayer appears to be senseless because it appears to be superfluous” (p. 123). I share the skepticism, but Anderson goes on to argue that such prayers only appear to be senseless. He presents a Biblical case from Daniel 9:1–2 where Daniel references Jeremiah 25:8–14. The latter passage says that the Babylonian captivity will last 70 years. Daniel in his day does the math and figures, hey, this is the 70th year. And so he begins to pray at length for Israel to be restored to its land. Commenting on this, Anderson reasons that Daniel prayed for something that he already knew would happen (because God had promised it) and concludes that prayers for God to have done something make sense in an analogous way:

If it can make sense … to pray for future states of affairs that one already knows God will bring about, it can also make sense … to pray for past states of affairs that one already knows God has brought about, provided one believes that one’s prayers contribute to God’s bringing about those states of affairs. (p. 125, emphasis his)

I don’t think is a strong argument. Jeremiah 25:11–12 says that Israel will remain captive in Babylon for 70 years, but it doesn’t say that God will immediately release Israel upon completion of the 70 years. The prophecy would still have been fulfilled if the captivity had lasted 71 years, or 72, etc. We should therefore read the prophecy as implying at least 70 years, not exactly 70 years. Knowing this, Daniel prays to help make a shorter time-frame more likely. So understood, this doesn’t parallel with praying for the past, for there isn’t any clear sense in which one can make past events more likely to have occurred.

What, now, about the metaphysical coherence of RAPs? Anderson uses this question to springboard into a comparative discussion of five different models of divine providence: Augustinianism (aka theistic determinism), Molinism, Eternalism, Simple Foreknowledge, and Open Theism. So, let’s go look at those models. Can any of them tell a plausible metaphysical story about how RAPs are possible?

4. Models of Divine Providence and the Metaphysics of RAPs

4.1. Augustinianism (aka Theistic Determinism)

What Anderson means by “Augustinianism” is theistic determinism, the view that “God predetermines … all events within the creation according to an eternal decree which does not depend in any respect on the free choices of his creatures” (p. 125). Regarding God’s ability to fulfill RAPs, Anderson says that “On the face of it, Augustinianism can easily accommodate divine answers to [RAPs]” for, since God ordains all events, He can bring it about both that a prayer is prayed at T2 for something to have happened at T1 and that that something happens at T1 (p. 125). But this seems like a cheap response to me, and Anderson to his credit voices my chief concern:

If there is a serious question here, it concerns whether God’s bringing about S at t1 can really be understood as an answer to the prayer at t2 given that God himself foreordained the prayer. Can the Augustinian sensibly claim that S was brought about by God, at least in part, because of the prayer? (p. 125, emphasis his)

He goes on to observe, rightly, that “[i]f this is a problem for Augustinianism, it’s a problem for all petitionary prayers, not merely past-directed ones” (p. 126).

I agree with that criticism, and I don’t see any way out of it for the Augustinian. The problem is that, if God ordains all events in creation, then all explanatory arrows run either from God to creation or from creation to creation. There can be, in this system, no explanatory arrows running from creation to God. Hence, none of God’s actions can properly be understood as responses to creaturely events since, for the Augustinian, God does nothing because creatures pray. It follows that, not only can the Augustinian God not respond to RAPs, He can’t respond to any prayers whatsoever.

Anderson, however, thinks he’s got an easy way to resolve the problem: “If God ordains all things then he ordains both the ends and the means to those ends, and he can establish orderly means–end relationships between events in his creation” (p. 126). But that’s a bad response. Even if God sets things up such that Mary recovers from an illness because of Sam’s prayer (p. 126), all this shows is that God has arranged the world such that prayers can sometimes be intrinsically efficacious. There is still no sense in which Sam’s prayer moves God to heal Mary.

In sum, despite what Anderson claims, not only can Augustinianism not account for divine responses to RAPs, it can’t account for divine responses to creation of any sort. The most we get is God’s setting things up so that it sometimes appears to us as if God has responded to our prayers.

4.2. Molinism

I’ll be much briefer here. For an explanation of Molinism, see this post of mine. Anderson thinks that Molinism can accommodate divine responses to RAPs (p. 127). He’s wrong. The problem for Molinism with respect to RAPs and prayers generally is the same as for Augustinianism. Basically, even if we concede that Molinism is metaphysically coherent—a rather large concession—Molinism affirms, just like Augustinianism, that God ordains all events. He may not pre-determine all of them, but that’s irrelevant. The mere fact that God ordains all events means, again, that all explanatory arrows run either from God to creation or from creation to creation. Molinism, like Augustinianism, simply doesn’t allow for any explanatory arrows to run from creation to God. Hence, the Molinist God cannot respond to any creaturely events, including RAPs and prayers in general. The most He can do is, again, set things up so that it sometimes appears to us as if God has responded to our prayers.

4.3. Eternalism

Anderson characterizes Eternalism as “the view that God transcends time and possesses a comprehensive immediate knowledge of what takes place in his creation at every time” (p. 127). He notes that “[c]oncerns have been raised over whether a timeless God can truly respond to events” in creation (p. 127), but he casually dismisses these concerns, citing the work of Eleonore Stump and Kevin Timpe. But Stump’s “counterfactual dependence” response to this concern is very bad, as I show in this post. And Timpe’s reply, which falls back on Stump’s, is just to argue that if “God can answer prayers at all on the eternalist view, then there’s no reason to think he cannot answer past-directed prayers” (p. 127, cf. Timpe, p. 313). But that’s a question-begging reply because the driving “concern” noted by Anderson had to do with whether an Eternalist God could truly respond to creaturely events in general.

At this point Anderson raises another concern about an “oddity” in the Eternalist position: “If God knows in ‘one eternal moment,’ what takes place at every time, … [h]ow then could the prayer at t2 serve as part of the explanation for what God brings about at t2?” (p. 127). Anderson doesn’t seem to notice that this concern is actually the same concern as in the previous paragraph. He proposes that the Eternalist can answer this concern only if “God’s eternal knowledge is ‘partitioned’ in some fashion” (p. 128). He’s right about that. I argue for a similar claim in this paper (cf. esp. pp. 266–267). But I press the argument further by showing that, if God’s knowledge is explanatorily dependent on the outcomes of indeterministic creaturely events, then this “partitioning” in God’s knowledge that Anderson speaks of must be a temporal partitioning. The partitioning can’t be merely logical because the “before” and “after” states in God’s knowledge are mutually incompatible. “Before” the prayer it is an open or unanswered question for God whether Sam prays and for what he prays. “After” the prayer it is a settled matter, a settled or answered question. Consequently, if God is truly responsive to indeterministic creaturely events, then this introduces future contingency into God’s own knowledge. Such contingency is incompatible with Eternalism.

In sum, Eternalism plus creaturely indeterminism plus divine omniscience is an inconsistent package. To respond to a prayer, God must of course know that it occurs. If prayers are indeterministic creaturely events, however, then God’s knowledge that the prayer has occurred must be explanatorily—and temporally—after the prayer, which conflicts with Eternalism. And if prayers are not indeterministic creaturely events but determined ones, then the Eternalist account of divine responsiveness to prayer collapses into Augustinianism which, as we’ve seen, cannot account for divine responsiveness period.

4.4. Simple Foreknowledge

The Simple Foreknowledge view introduces dynamic temporality into God’s life and being, but, like Eternalism, it retains a static view of the tenseless information that God knows. This feature of the Simple Foreknowledge view creates the exact same problem that I just posed against Eternalism. Anderson, again to his credit, recognizes that there’s a problem here: “God’s foreknowledge cannot be simple in the sense that it lacks any internal explanatory order. … Instead, like the eternalist, the simple foreknowledge advocate must posit some kind of ‘partitioning’ within God’s foreknowledge. To use a crude metaphor: God must ‘cover one eye’ when looking into the future” (p. 129).

Right, but the problem is deeper than that. It’s not just God’s knowledge that must be partitioned. The very existence of the tenseless information that God either knows or “covers one eye” to avoid cannot be static like the Simple Foreknowledge view supposes. It must come dynamically into being as future contingencies are progressively resolved. I develop a detailed argument for this conclusion on pp. 34–38 of my Open Theism book. I present a shorter version of the argument in this post.

It turns out, then, that the Simple Foreknowledge view cannot coherently make sense of divine responsiveness to indeterministic creaturely events, including prayers generally and RAPs in particular. And, as with Eternalism, denying the indeterministic nature of these events doesn’t help. It just collapses the Simple Foreknowledge account into Augustinianism.

4.5. Open Theism

I’ve already discussed (§1 above) Anderson’s problematic understanding of Open Theism, but let’s now set that aside. He argues that “[i]t seems obvious that the open theist will struggle to explain how God could answer past-directed prayers” (p. 130) for, if Sam prays freely for God to have done something earlier, then God (according to Open Theism) can’t have known earlier that Sam was going to pray that prayer. I concur.

Anderson supposes that an Open Theist might reply that, while God can’t know in advance that Sam will pray, “God can reasonably believe that Sam will pray … based on his knowledge of the probability that Sam will pray” (p. 130). But Anderson rejects this line of reasoning: “The flaw in this response is that God’s bringing about S at t1 wouldn’t be a response to the future fact of Sam’s prayer but merely a response to the present probability of Sam’s prayer, which is a very different thing” (p. 130). Again, I concur.

So, I agree with Anderson that Open Theism cannot account for divine responsiveness to freely (i.e., indeterministically) offered RAPs. This is because of the objective epistemic (and causal, ontic, alethic, and providential) asymmetry entailed by Open Theism. Nor, of course, can Open Theism account for divine responsiveness to deterministically offered RAPs because, as we saw with Augustinianism, the arrow of explanation runs the wrong way for this to be a response.

5. Do RAPs Pose a “Special Problem” for Open Theism?

As I’ve just conceded to Anderson, Open Theism cannot account for divine responsiveness to RAPs. Is this a problem for Open Theism? Not necessarily: “If none of the major views could account for answers to [RAPs], there would be no special problem for open theism” (p. 130). But, says Anderson, “the other views can offer plausible accounts” of RAPs, and so, “if we have reason to believe that [RAPs] could be answered—perhaps because we have reason to believe that [RAPs] have been answered—that presents a unique challenge to open theism” (p. 130).

Anderson articulates this challenge in both a deductive and an evidential (i.e., abductive) form.

The deductive version basically says (1) If Open Theism is true then RAPs do not occur. (2) RAPs do occur. Therefore, (3) Open Theism is false. Anderson doesn’t think this argument works, and he explores ways in which Open Theists might deny either (1), (2), or both.

With respect to (2), the Open Theist can deny that RAPs actually occur and maintain that they merely appear to occur (p. 131). After all, even on Open Theism God could bring about earlier states of affairs based on His own probabilistic predictions as to what people will pray for. God’s having brought about those states of affairs would not be in response to those prayers, should they occur, but it would appear to us as if God had pre-responded to the prayers.

Anderson concedes that this response has some plausibility, but he finds it “less than fully satisfying” (p. 131). “Surely,” he says, “the most natural response to such events would be to conclude that God had in fact foreseen and answered the prayers” (p. 131). But, really?? I don’t find this idea “natural” at all, as it seems to presuppose highly speculative and suspicious metaphysical ideas like backward causation, hypertime, and/or backward time travel. Anderson, however, finds the Open Theist’s proposal that all apparent RAPs are merely apparent to be “ad hoc” and therefore less plausible. He also thinks it raises a worry about divine deception: “if God were to act as the open theist here suggests, he would be guilty of misleading people (or of allowing them to be misled) into believing that he has foreknowledge of their free choices” (p. 131). I don’t think these are serious worries. The Open Theist’s proposal could only be objectionably ad hoc if there were a metaphysically plausible story to tell about how RAPs could occur. As I argued in §4 above, however, nobody has a plausible story to tell. Furthermore, the worry about divine deception is rather petty. Consider this, God designed the solar system so that, before the invention of the telescope, it appeared to us that the Sun goes around the Earth. He thereby “allowed” us to be misled, but so what? What’s the big deal if people sometimes draw false inferences because God doesn’t give them the full picture from the get-go? Does God owe us complete information? I don’t think so. Finally, the divine deception charge backfires on Anderson because, as I’ve argued, Anderson’s own Augustinian position can’t make sense of RAPs either. The best the Augustinian can do is tell a story in which God sets things up so that it appears that He has responded to a prayer when He hasn’t.

With respect to (1), Anderson suggests that an Open Theist might appeal to “will-setting” (p. 132). The idea here is that prior free choices may “set” a person’s will or shape their character in such a way that some subsequent choices flow inevitably from that now-set will. For example, a soldier who has trained for certain combat situations may, when placed in an actual combat situation, react instinctively, by second nature, and do the properly courageous thing. So, if God knows that someone’s will has been set in an appropriate way, He may be able to predict with certainty whether and how they would pray under certain circumstances. Knowing this, God can pre-“respond” to those prayers.

Anderson seems to think that this notion of “will setting” is an effective response to (1), but I disagree. Whether God’s ability to predict future prayers is probabilistic or, because of will-setting, absolutely certain, God would not be responding to the actual prayer but rather to His own anticipation of the prayer. “Pre-responding” is not responding.

In any case, Anderson concludes that the deductive RAP challenge for Open Theism is too strong and so proposes an abductive version instead:

  1. There appear to be answers to [RAPs].
  2. The best explanation for (1) is that God has [exhaustively definite] foreknowledge of future free choices and sometimes answers [RAPs] on that basis.
  3. Therefore, God has [exhaustively definite] foreknowledge of future free choices and sometimes answers [RAPs] on that basis.
  4. Therefore, Open Theism is false. (p. 133)

The key premise here is obviously (2). One can also challenge (1), but Anderson provides some examples of apparent RAPs that, I think, suffice to establish that premise. In the next section (§6) I discuss his most impressive example. With respect to (2), the question is whether Open Theists can provide plausible explanations for the existence of apparent RAPs. In the next section (§6) I argue that they can.

6. Making Sense of Apparent RAPs

Anderson offers three examples of apparent RAPs. His most impressive example is one that comes for Helen Roseveare, a medical missionary in Central Africa. In her hospital’s labor ward, a woman died in childbirth leaving behind an infant and her two-year-old sister. A hot water bottle was necessary to keep the baby alive through the chilly nights, but the hospital was all out of hot water bottles. After relaying the situation to the children at a nearby orphanage, Ruth, a ten-year-old girl, prayed a remarkably bold and specific prayer:

“Please God,” she prayed, “send us a hot water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby’ll be dead; so please send it this afternoon. … And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl, so she’ll know You really love her?” (p. 135)

Roseveare then reflects on this prayer.

The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, never received a parcel from home; anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator. (p. 135, emphasis in original)

Amazingly, a parcel arrived that very afternoon and, among the items it contained, were “a brand-new, rubber, hot water bottle” and “a small, beautifully dressed dolly.” Moreover, the parcel “had been mailed five months earlier” (p. 135).

This, I happily concede, is an impressive example, and one that on its face suggests that a RAP has occurred. But against this interpretation we have three considerations: (1) contra Anderson, none of the models of providence canvassed in §4 can make sense of RAPs; (2) making metaphysical sense of RAPs seems to require highly speculative and controversial—and therefore prima facie implausible—ideas like backward causation, backwards time-travel, and/or hypertime; and (3) there are other ways of accounting for apparent RAPs, some of which are arguably much more plausible than concluding that these are actual RAPs.

Notice Roseveare’s claim that “the only way” God could have answered this prayer is by sending a parcel from the homeland some months earlier. It only takes a moment’s reflection, and a little imagination, to see that this claim is quite overstated, for there are certainly other explanatory options. Here are some of them:

  1. Mere coincidence
    Not a good explanation for this particular case, but sometimes coincidences do happen and we might mistakenly take them to conclude that God has affirmatively answered a prayer when He actually hasn’t.
  2. Special creation: God creates a fulfillment that has the appearance of age.
    God hears Ruth’s prayer and decides that the best and most faith-building way to answer it is to create a package that looks like it was sent 5 months earlier and have it dropped off (by angelic messenger in disguise, if necessary). Or perhaps God miraculously inserts a hot water bottle and doll into a package that was already on its way.
  3. Post-fulfillment inducement of prayer: God prompts someone to pray for an unexpected outcome that God knows is already on the way.
    For whatever reason, someone decided to mail a package containing both a hot water bottle and a doll to an African orphanage. Knowing this package was on the way, and wanting to strengthen the faith of those at the orphanage, God guides a series of events culminating in Ruth’s prayer for those specific items.
  4. Inducement of a fulfillment in anticipation of future prayer.
    God knew 5 months in advance that a certain pregnant mother with another young child would very likely die in childbirth at a certain hospital in Africa. He also knew that the hospital was not adequately supplied and that the people there would instinctively pray for dire needs. So, He prompted someone to send a variety of supplies, including a hot water bottle and doll and then managed the transit of the package and the mother’s death so the package arrived at the right time.
  5. Both (3) and (4). God induces a fulfillment and later induces a prayer for that fulfillment.
    God prompted someone 5 months earlier to send specific items to Africa with a view toward the mother’s coming death. 5 months later He directs her to the mission hospital/orphanage and prompts little Ruth to pray for the items that He knows are already on the way.

Of course, God could also have fulfilled the prayer independently of any package. For example, God could have simply materialized the items on the orphanage door-step. Or, to use a somewhat silly example, He could have directed a pair of African swallows to drop their coconuts, swipe a hot water bottle and doll from a nearby open-air market, and drop them off at the orphanage. The point is that God could surely have gotten the petitioned items to where they needed to be at the right time in a variety of ways.

Of the five explanatory options listed above, my sense is that (2) and (5) are the most plausible. We could even combine aspects of (2) and (5). (2) has two downsides, however: (a) it’s potentially empirically falsifiable, provided the package has a legible return address that can be tracked down, and (b) it seemingly implicates God in deception. But, to the extent that there is deception here, I don’t see it as morally objectionable because whatever false beliefs people may form on the basis of this (e.g., that a package was send 5 months earlier containing both items) are innocuous and more than outweighed by the good of saving a baby’s life, comforting a little girl, and encouraging the faith of those at the orphanage. (5) doesn’t have those downsides. It does require fairly extensive involvement by God along the way, but much less involvement than on the all-determining Augustinian model.

7. Summary

Anderson’s paper raises interesting questions about divine responsiveness to prayer in general and to past-directed or retrospectively answered prayers (RAPs) in particular. His effort to show that RAPs pose a special problem for Open Theism fails miserably, however. He astutely notices that the all of the other models raise “concerns” about internal coherence and whether God can respond to creaturely events at all, but he brushes past those concerns in arguing that Open Theism is uniquely disadvantaged with respect to RAPs. As I have argued, however, none of the models succeeds in making sense of divine responsiveness to RAPs and only Open Theism makes coherent sense of divine responsiveness to creaturely events generally. So, ironically, what was presented as a problem for Open Theism turns out to be an argument in its favor. If you think God sometimes actually responds to creaturely prayers, as opposed to merely setting things up so that it appears that He has responded, then you should be an Open Theist.

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