Richard Rice against Voluntary Nescience

Definition: Voluntary Nescience is the idea that “the future is alethically settled but nevertheless epistemically open for God because he has voluntarily chosen not to know truths about future contingents.” (alanrhoda).


Rebuttal: ‘Some people try to base a dynamic concept of God’s experience on the curious notion that God chooses to remain ignorant of certain future events. According to this view, He could know the future exhaustively if He wanted to. It is there to be known. But He deliberately blocks certain eventss from His mind. In this way He can experience them as they occur, rather than all at once. This concept may seem to be an improvement on the traditional view of God’s relation to the world. But it is unacceptable for a number of reasons.

First, although it denies absolute divine foreknowledge, it accepts the idea that the future is absolutely foreknowable. Everything that will ever happen is definite in all its detail. And a completely definite future is incompatible with genuine creaturely freedom, as we have seen. So t his idea of God’s r elation to the world offers no solution to one of the greatest difficultiees of the conventional view. It, too, is incompatible with genuine creaturely freedom.

Second, the concept of selective divine ignorance denies that God enjoys perfect knowledge. He does not know everything there is to know. In contrast, theists have always maintained that one of the defining attributes of God is His having perfect knowledge. For God to be God He must know everything He could know. He must know everything knowable. Consequently, a divine knowledge that is less than perfect is a contradiction in terms. (Chapter 5 will explain why the open view of God does not deny perfect knowledge to God.)

Third, it is hard to understand just what selective ignorance could possibly mean. Does it mean “forgetting,” eliminating from consciousness something previously known? Was God’s knowledge of the future exhaustive at one time and then less extensive as He deliberately forgot certain items? If so, how far can we carry this? Would God remember that He forgot? It is hard to see how He could, without also remembering what He forgot. And just how much would God have to forget to remain effectively ignorant of any one thing? At best the idea of deliberate forgetting is difficult to conceive. But it seems utterly impossible to apply to God.

Our critique of the conventional view of God’s relation to the world shows the impossibility of affirming a static divine experience and a dynamic creaturely world. In effect, this concept does just the opposite. It holds that God’s experience is dynamic while the creaturely world is static. But its results are no more satisfactory. It, too, presents us with confusion and contradiction.’

Source: Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will, p. 31-32 (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1985).

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