Archive for the ‘Free Will’ Category

Who Caused Job’s Suffering?

February 22, 2012

Was it Job’s own free will?  Check out this interesting analysis and then update your theodicy, if your theodicy depends on “free will.”

UPDATE: The link seems to be broken.  This is the chart that I thought was interesting:

Who Caused The Death And Suffering In Job

Ref. Who Inference Text
Job 1:11 God Implied “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
Job 1:12 Satan Implied And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”
Job 1:21 God Explicit The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away
Job 2:3 Satan Explicit “You incited me against him to destroy him”
Job 2:3 God Explicit “You incited me against him to destroy him”
Job 2:5 God Implied “But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
Job 2:6 Satan Implied And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”
Job 2:7 Satan Explicit So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
Job 2:10 God Implied “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job 42:11 God Explicit And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.

So, in summary . . .

Inference Satan God
Implied 2 3
Explicit 2 3

Simple Argument Against Libertarian Free Will from Foresight

July 20, 2011

1. Libertarian Free Will has, as a core element, the ability of a person to do otherwise. [def.]

2. The ability to do A means the power to bring A into existence. [def.]

3. The ability to do A given B means the power to bring A into joint existence with already-existent B. [def.]

4. If it is logically impossible for A to exist jointly with B, then it is impossible to bring A into joint existence with already-existent B. [def.]

5. Let A refer to a person doing otherwise than X, and let B refer to God foreseeing the person doing X (at the same time and in the same way, etc.). [def.]

6. It is logically impossible for A to exist jointly with B. [implied from 5 by consideration of God’s infallibility of foresight]

7. Therefore, it is impossible to bring A into joint existence with already-existent B. [from 4 and 6]

8. Therefore, it is impossible to do A, given B. [from 3 and 7]

9. Therefore, given God’s foresight that a person will do X, it is impossible for the person to do otherwise than X. [from 5 and 8]

10. Therefore, Libertarian Free Will is false. [from 1 and 9]


Benedict XVI, Parables, Perspicuity, and Freedom

July 18, 2011

The Vatican Information Service provided the following partial account of Joseph Ratzinger’s (aka Benedict XVI’s) remarks from 10 July 2011:

“Yet this Gospel narrative also highlights the ‘method’ of Jesus’ preaching; in other words, His use of parables”, the Holy Father added. “His disciples ask Him: ‘why do you speak to them in parables?’ Jesus replies by distinguishing between the disciples and the crowds: to the former, who have already chosen to follow Him, He can speak openly of the Kingdom of God, but to others He has to use parables in order to simulate [sic] a decision, a conversion of heart. This is because parables, by their nature, require an effort of interpretation, they appeal to our intelligence but also to our freedom. … In the final analysis the true ‘Parable’ of God is Jesus Himself … Who, in human form, both hides and reveals divinity. Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom”.

(ellipses in VIS’s report)

I. Parables

Ratzinger (B16) is wrong about the reason why Jesus spoke in parables, with respect to the crowd. Jesus himself explained his reason for speaking to them in parables:

Matthew 13:10-17
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Likewise, in the parallel account in Mark:

Mark 4:10-12
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

And in Luke:

Luke 8:9-10
And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

The point, therefore, of the parables was not either to “simulate” [sic] or stimulate a decision or to convert their hearts. The point was not provide the crowd with an intellectual challenge, but to leave them in ignorance. The point wasn’t to free the people, but to leave them bound up in their blindness.

II. Perspicuity

It is interesting, though, to reflect on B16’s apparent view of perspicuity, in which even Jesus’ parables are sufficiently clear that human reason/freedom is sufficient to divine their meaning. That goes beyond the Reformed view of perspicuity, in that we maintain that Jesus’ explanation of the parables was necessary for us to understand their meaning. Moreover, one expects that B16 is not consistent in this principle of perspicuity, since consistency would leave no room for an infallible magisterium as a necessity.

III. Love Respects Freedom

B16’s final comment sounds familiar to those who frequently deal with non-Calvinist presentations on God’s love: “Thus, God does not force us to believe in Him; rather, He draws us to Him with the truth and goodness of His incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom.”

The idea that “love always respects freedom” is not a Biblical tenet. Biblical love seeks what is best for others. Thus, for example, the good Samaritan is not praised because he respected the freedom of the robbed man, but because what he did was in the robbed man’s best interest – and specifically because he put the robbed man’s interest ahead of his own interest.

While we would not insist that God forces people to believe against their wills, it is by God’s mercy and grace that our wills are changed, that we are converted, so that we love God and believe on His name. Thus, it is true that we are drawn with the truth and goodness of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are hard pressed to say that the love of God always respects freedom. After all, we must not forget that the gospel message has a coercive edge to it. If you will not repent and believe on the Son for salvation, you will perish. Thus, those to whom we preach are not threatened with merely physical death (like a bandit pointing a gun at someone’s head) but with the eternal torment.

Moreover, there is even a constraining aspect to God’s love for those of us who love God:

2 Corinthians 5:10-15
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

But remember, that the service of the Lord is true freedom, for it is written:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And again:

John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Therefore, we ought not to say that “Love always respects freedom,” but that that the Love of God produces freedom in men who were all their lives in the bondage of sin.


John Knox on Free Will (Old Spellings)

October 8, 2009

Before I answer to the absurdities which of our doctrine ye collect, I must, in few wordes, put you in minde, that very foolishely ye joyn the free will of Adame with the free will of Christe Jesus, and with the libertie of God. For Adam’s will was never so free but that it might (as that it did) come to thraldom; which weaknes you be never able to prove at any tyme to have bene in Christes will. Further, the will of Adam was alwaies under the impire and threatning of a law; to which subjection I think ye will not bring God. But now to your absurdities.

“If (say you) I shall grante that all thinges of mere Necessitio must come to passe, according to the prescience and foreknowledge of God, then had Adam afore his transgression no Free will.” Your illation or consequence is fals, for the foreknowledge and prescience of God did neither take away free will from Adam, neither yet did compell it by any violence, but did use it as an ordinarie mean, by the which His eternall counsell and purpose should take effect. But for the better understanding hereof, we must adverte and note that which before we have touched, and promised after more largely to entreat the same; to witt, That God’s prescience and foreknowledge is not to be seperated from his Will and decree. For none otherwise doeth God foresee things to come to passe, but according as He himself hath in his eternall counsell decreed the same. For as it apperteineth to His wisdom to foreknow and foresee all things that are to come, so doeth it appertein to his power to moderate and reule all things according to his own will. Neither yet therefor doeth it folow that His foreknowledge, prescience, will, or power, doeth take away the free will of his creatures. but in all wisdom and justice (however the contrarie appere to our corrupted judgements,) he useth them as best it pleaseth his wisdom to bring to passe in time that which before all tyme he had decreed. To the which purpose and end, they (I mean the creatures and their willes), whatsoever they purpose to the contrarie, or how ignorantly that ever they worke it, nevertheles do voluntarely, and as it were of a naturall motion, incline and bow to that end to the which they are created.

To make the mater more plain, let us take the creation and fall of Adam, with the creatures that served in the same, for example. For what cheif end did God create all things (of Salomon and Paule we have before declared), to witt, for his own glorie to be shewed; the glorie, I say, of the riches of his mercie towardes the vessels of mercie, and the glorie of his justice and most just judgements towards the vessels of wrath. And that this eternall counsell of God should take effect, as he had purposed, man was created righteous, wise, just, and good, having free will; neither subject to the thraldom of sinne nor of Sathan, at the first creation. But sodanly cometh Sathan, ennemie to God and to man his good creature, and first poured in vennom into the heart of the woman, which afterward she poured into the heart of Adam; to the which bothe the one and the other, without all violence used of God’s part, dothe willingly consent; and so conspiring with the serpent, do accuse God of a lie; do fully consent to vendicat or challenge to themselves the power of the Godhead, of minde and purpose (so far as in them lay) to thrust downe and depose Him from his eternall throne. Here we see how the creatures and their willes, without compulsion, do serve God’s purpose and counsell. For Sathan was neither sent nor commanded of God to tempt man, but of malice and hatred did most willingly and gredely runne to the same: The will of man being free before, was not by God violently compelled to obey Sathan; but man of free will did consent to Sathan, and conspire against God. And yet was the fall of man not only foresene and foreknowen of God, but also before decreed, for the manifestation of his glorie.

Let us yet take an other exemple, that the mater may be more evident. The death of Christ Jesus for man’s redemption, was decreed in the eternall counsell of God before the foundations of the world were laid, as we were elected in him, and as he was the Lamb killed from the beginning; which death also was decreed in the same counsell of God to be in a certein time appointed; and that so certenly, that neither could the malice of any creature prevent the houre appointed of God thereto, neither yet could any policie or chance impede or transferre the same to any other tyme. For how oft Christ was afore assaulted, the Evangclistes do witnes; but alwaies his answere was, “My houre is not yet come.” And what impedimentes did oucure immediatly before his death, is also evident. The feast of Easter was instant, the fame of Christ was great, the favor of the people with publick voices was declared, and the counsels of the Hie Priestes and Seniors had decreed, that, to avoid sedition, his death should be delayed till after that feast. But all these were shortly overthrowen, and Christ did suffer in the verey tyme appointed, as he before had forespoken.

But now to the instrumentes which serve in this mater, and whether they were compelled by God or not. Judas, we know, was not one of the least; and what moved him the Holie Ghost doeth witnes, to witt, his avariciousnes. The Scribes, Pharisies, Priestes anil Seniors, and people, led, some of malice and envie, some to gratifie their rulers, and altogether of set purpose to crucifie Christ, do consent with Judas. Pilate, albeit he long refused, and by divers nieancs studied to delyver Christ, yet in the end, for fear of displeasure, aswell of the priestes and people, as of the Emperor, he willingly, without all compulsion of God’s part, pronounced an unjust sentence of deathe against Christ Jesus; which his soldiours also most willingly did execute. Thus, I say, we see that the creatures and their willes, without all compulsion, do serve God’s counsell and purpose.

Here I know, that ye think that either I write against myself, or els that I conclude a great absurditic: For, if I say that God did nothing but foresee these thinges, and so permitted them (as after you speak) to folow their own train; that he worketh no more but as a simple beholder of a tragedie; then do I agree with you. And if I do say (as in verey dede I do understand and afiirme,) that the eternall counsell and purpose of God did so reule in all these thinges, that rather they did serve to God’s purpose and most just will, then fulfill their most wicked willes; then will you cry, Blasphemie, and say that I deliver the Devill, Adam, and all the wicked, frome sinne, of the which I make God to be author. To the first I have answered before, that as I seperate not God’s foreknowledge from his counsell, so do I affirme that He worketh all in all thinges, according to the purpose of the same his good will; and yet that he useth no violence, neither in compelling his creatures, neither constreining their willes by any externall force, neither yet taking their willes from them, but in all wisdom and justice using them as he knoweth most expedient for the manifestation of his glorie, without any violence, I say, done to their willes. For violence is done to the will of a creature, when it willoth one thing, and yet by force, by tyranny, or by a greater power, it is compelled to do the thinges which it wold not; as if a pudique and honest matron, or chaste virgine, should be deprehended alono by a wicked and filthie man, who with violence and force (thoghe the will of the woman did plainely repine) did deflowre and corrupte her. This is violence done to the will, and she of necessitie was compelled to suffer that ignominie and shame, which nevertheles she most abhorred.

Do we say that God did (or doeth) any such violence to his creatures? Did he compell Sathan to tempt the woman, when his will was contrarie thereto? Did the will of Adame resist the temptation of the woman, and did he so hate and abhorre to eate of that fruite, that it behoved God to compell his will repugning thereto to eat of it, and so to break his commandements? or, did he not rather willingly hear and obey the voice of his wyfe? Consider, I beseech you, how plainely we put a difference betwixt vidlence, which you call mere Necessitie, and God’s secrete counsell and eternall purpose. But yet ye crie, “Wherein then did man offend? Who can resist the will of God ? Why doth he complein, seing that his counsell and purpose, by such meanes, is broght to passe?” Do ye not understand that these were the furious cries of those to whom Saint Paul imposeth silence, with this sentence, ” 0 man, what art thou that darest reason against God ?” &c.

But lest that ye complein (as your common custom is) of our obscuritie and darke speaking, I will even in one or two wordes declare, Why the creatures offend even when they serve most effectually to God’s purpose; to witt, becaus that they neither have the glorie of God in their actions before their eies, neither yet mynd they to serve nor obey God’s purpose and will. Sathan, in tempting man, studied nothing to promote God’s glorie; man, in obeying the temptation, looked not to the counsell of God; Judas, Ananias, Pilate, the soldiours, and the rest, had nothing less in mind then mannes redemption to be performed by their counsells and wicked workes. And therefor, of God’s justice, were they everio one reputed sinners; yea, and some of them reprobated for ever. If these reasons do not satisfic you, yet shall they be a testimonie what is our doctrine; and, as I trust, shall also be a reasonable contentation to the godlie and simple reader. More would I have spoken in the same matter, and so to have put end unto it at once; but becaus that after, by the reason of your most unjust accusations, I wilbe compelled to have to do with you againe, I abyde opportunitie.

Now to your reasons: Mannes will, I say, in the self remained free, notwithstanding that God in his eternall counsell had decreed his fall; and that becaus no violence, as before is declared, was done unto it. The will of our Master and Saviour Christ Jesus, notwithstanding the immutable decree of his death, appointed to be at a certein time, was so free, that albeit the power of nature might have given unto him mo yeares of life; and also that the humaine nature did abhorre the crueil and ignominious death; yet did he subject bothe his will and the power of nature unto the will of his heavenlie Father; as he doeth witnes, saying, “Not that I will, Father, but let that be done which thou willest.”

Wonder it is, that ye can not see how God’s will can remaine in hbertie, except that he abyde m suspence or dowte, and so daily and hourely change his purpose and counsell, as occasion is offered unto him by men and by their actions. If this be to make God bounde, and to take frome him libertie, to affirme that lie is infinite in wisdom, infinite in goodnes, infinite in justice, and infinite in power, so doeth he most constantly, most freely, most justlie, and most wisely, bring that to passe which in his eternall counsell he hath determined; if this, I say, be to take from God freedom, wisdome, and libortie, as ye do rayle, I must confess myself a transgressor. But if your cogitations and foolishe conclusions of his eternal Godhead, be, as, alas! too manifestly ye declare yourselves, so prophane, so carnal, and so wicked, that long, you abiding in the same, can not escaip God’s just vengeance; repent, before that in his anger he arrest, and declare that your justice, wherof so much ye bragge, is manifest blasphemie against his dear Sonne Christ Jesus! God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve his small flock from your vennom and most dangerous heresies, and stoppe your blasphemous mouthes, that thus dare jeast upon God, as if he were one of your companions, saying, ” Then is he a goodly wvse God; Then is God bounde himself,” &c.

(John Knox, “On Predestination,” 19th Section, as presented in the Works of John Knox, Volume 5 (1856), pp. 140-46) (I’ve presented here the old spellings which ought to be readable to the average reader. God willing, I will provide a modernized version at a later date.)(The work is a response, written in 1560, to an response to an Anabaptist.)

The Potter or the Carpenter

June 21, 2009

God is the potter and we are the clay. He sovereignly determines who to form as vessels of wrath and whom to form as vessels of mercy. Both in some sense show forth the love of God: while the former show his patience and longsuffering, the latter show the forth the full richness of his love.

Some folks are not happy about this. They would deny to God the right to do with his creation as he sees fit. They do not think it is fair that God would create some vessels for wrath (usually there is no complaint about people being created as vessels for mercy).

Others are not quite so bold as to complain about that. They tack a slightly different tack. They suggest that God is unfair in picking some rather than others without reference to something about the person himself. They argue that this is arbitrary which, they think, makes no sense or is unjust.

One comment that seems to come from this perspective of complaint against the Biblical model of sovereignty is a comment I recently read from GodIsMyJudge. Criticizing the Calvinist view of election, he stated:

But whatever God’s other reason was, it couldn’t be related to some good quality or disposition in us. Let’s say I am building a house and need one nail. Even though my end goal is to build the house, I would still pick longer nails over short ones if the job called for it. In that case longer nails are more suitable for my purpose, so this example can’t be representative of unconditional election. But if any nail will do and all the nails are the same, then I don’t care which one I pick out of a jar full of nails. So in this way, whatever the other reason is, it doesn’t explain why one was chosen and another rejected.


This kind of criticism has a patina of validity: wouldn’t a good carpenter pick the best nails for the job? Of course he would! He wouldn’t pick short nails where long nails would be better, or vice versa.

The problem with the example is that it treats God as finding men as pre-existing objects. It is the problem that lies beneath the error of Molinism and middle knowledge.

Both Molinism and this analogy treat God as essentially “finding” men “as is” and then basing his decrees on that which did not come from Him. This is contrary both to the Scriptural analogy and to sound reason.

The Scriptural analogy is that of a potter. The potter begins with clay, not nails of a previously (and externally) determined length. He builds the pots according to the purposes he has for them, not the other way ’round. He does not build a pot and then think, “Hmm … this would make a nice vase” or “Hmm … looks like this is going to have to be an ash-tray.” God does not create at random and then make do with what luck or fate gives him. He does not simply roll cosmic dice. No, God makes pots the way he wants them to be.

This contrasts with the analogy of a carpenter building a house who simply finds himself with some short nails and some long nails and makes the best of what he finds. Of course, that analogy itself conflicts with sound reason.

If a carpenter were going to build a house he would not (unless forced to) simply resort to a bag full of a random assortment of nails. Instead, a reasonable carpenter would plan ahead and count the costs and so forth before he begins. He doesn’t want to build half the house only to find out that he doesn’t have enough long nails to continue.

No, instead a wise (and sufficiently well-funded) carpenter would purchase suitable materials for the purpose in advance. He would figure out how many long nails he wanted and purchase that number – same for the short nails.

But Molinism and the analogy GodIsMyJudge provided make God out to be an underfunded carpenter, making the best of the hand that’s been dealt him, as it were. Recall that in Molinism God does not decide how a man will react to particular circumstances, he simply discovers this fact via middle knowledge. He then makes the best of men’s choices – they dictate the size – and perhaps shape – of the house.

In this scenario, God considers himself lucky that there are so many people who choose to believe, which gives him that many more longer nails. The longer nails, you see, are differentiable from the shorter nails not by the choice of the carpenter but by their own choice: it is something they did, not something they received.

But that’s not the way of Scripture. Scripture declares:

1 Corinthians 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

Not even faith fits that bill, for it is the fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Thus salvation, including faith, is called the gift of God:

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

So, even our faith is something we receive – it’s not something of our own that differentiates us from another. We are what we are by God’s grace. He is the potter and we are the clay.


Determined Choices

March 22, 2009

Paul Manata at Triablogue has a fascinating post on Determined Choices (link). He provides a reasonably concise explanation of how God’s declaration that he decides when we die (John 14:5) and the fact that people sometimes choose to kill themselves are compatible, not contradictory. Thus, he reasonably concludes that the nature of free will is at it is described in Calvinism.


Response to Beowulf2k8 on Calvinism

October 11, 2008

I noticed that Beowulk2k8 had commented over at Triablogue on the topic of Calvinism (link to comment).

B2k8 writes:

You guys are so ridiculous. When Calvinism is ridiculed, it is funny because the Calvinist system is truly stupidity and Satan worship. When Arminianism is ridiculed it is just asinine lame Calvinists trying to look cool after being burned by the truth.

What the Calvinist dictionary says about what you believe is true.

Augustine: The first church father.

Free Will: Something that can’t exist because it would make God helpless if true.

Infant damnation: Something that brings God glory.

Glory: Praise we give to God for anything wicked that has ever happened (except for the birth of Charles Finney).

God’s secret will: To save a few and reprobate the rest (secret to Arminians but not to us)

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know: Misleading children’s song.

Jesus Loves the Little Children: Another terrible song, obviously written by someone who didn’t take the time to do a proper exegesis of scripture.

You love talking about exclusive Psalmody because you want to sing about killing your enemies rather than Christ’s love. You love ignoring every ecclesiastical writer prior to Augustine because they all taught free will and election based on foreknowledge of faith (including Augustine before he became an Imperial bishop). You relish in the doctrine of infant damnation as if damning innocent infants for another man’s sin was some great honor and glory to your manmade god.

Let’s hit a few points: “When Calvinism is ridiculed, it is funny because the Calvinist system is truly stupidity and Satan worship.” This is the sort of comment that cannot be backed up. One has to chuckle a bit, because one of the more frequent criticisms of Calvinism is that it is excessively intellectual. The “Satan worship” comment just demonstrates that B2k8 doesn’t know what the Gospels is and who God is. A person who says that Calvinism is “Satan worship” is either (a) not a Christian, or (b) someone who doesn’t know what Calvinism is.

B2k8 claims that “Augustine: The first church father” is actually a Calvinistic belief and B2k8 thinks that “You love ignoring every ecclesiastical writer prior to Augustine because they all taught free will and election based on foreknowledge of faith (including Augustine before he became an Imperial bishop).” This is absurd of course. While Augustine’s writings are certainly notable, and undoubtedly contrary to B2k8’s views, we find the same Calvinistic themes not only in the Old and New Testaments, but also in the Apostolic fathers – those ECFs that are the earliest to leave any writings behind. For one example, see this earlier post of mine (link). Incidentally I’d be highly interested in the supposed ECF that taught “election based on foreknowledge of faith” … if anyone knows, please inform me.

B2k8 claims that “Free Will: Something that can’t exist because it would make God helpless if true” is actually a Calvinistic belief. This is wrong as well. Calvinism teaches that men have a compatible free will, as opposed to the Arminian conception of an autonomous free will. The former kind of free will is compatible with predestination, that latter is not. The former kind can exist, and the latter – if true – would make God helpless to save those he wants to save. For more discussion, see my earlier post on deflating assumptions regarding man’s free will (link).

B2k8 claims that “Infant damnation: Something that brings God glory” is actually a Calvinistic belief. This is a confused objection. First of all, if God chooses to damn any infants, it certainly will bring God glory. “All have sinned” applies not only to adults but to infants as well. Adam’s sin is placed on the account of each of his natural descendants. Consequently, God would be just to condemn infants as well as adults. Nevertheless, God is also able to save infants, if he chooses. The standard Reformed position is that “elect infants, dying in infancy, will be saved.” Some Calvinists believe that the category of “elect infants” includes all those infants who die in infancy, and others believe that the number is a subset of the group of those who die in infancy (there may even be some who believe that no infants who die in infancy are among the elect, but I’ve never much such a person). For more discussion, consider my earlier article on the “innocence” of children (link).

Bk28 claims that “Glory: Praise we give to God for anything wicked that has ever happened (except for the birth of Charles Finney)” is the Calvinist position. Leaving out the parenthetical, the statement is true but incomplete. We give glory to God in all things, or at least we try. It can be difficult to be like Job and say, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21. Charles Finney’s theology is error-riddled, but God had a purpose in his life as well. The comment is incomplete, because we give God praise as well for the good things that he does. In all things, God is to be praised. (1 Peter 4:11 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.) Previously, I discussed the dangers associated with discerning God’s providence, which is connected with this fact that everything that happens is for the best (link).

B2k8 thinks that “God’s secret will: To save a few and reprobate the rest (secret to Arminians but not to us)” is an accurate picture of Calvinism. It seems clear that B2k8 doesn’t understand Calvinism, at least on this point. God’s secret will is his decree of Providence: his decision about what will happen. This is a “secret” will because God has given us very few details about what will happen. We know that there is a judgment day coming and that Christ will return, but we are not told whether the stock market will recover from last week’s down-turn, or whether Georgia will remain an independent European nation. We know that in general all of the elect will be saved, and that all of the reprobate will not, but Calvinists do not claim to know who the elect are. I have discussed this issue of God’s will many times, but one example would be in debating the issue with Seth McBee, as can be seen from this open question to him (link).

B2k8 thinks that “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know: Misleading children’s song” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children: Another terrible song, obviously written by someone who didn’t take the time to do a proper exegesis of scripture” are the Calvinist position. He’s mostly right. The first song tends to suggest that all children are in God’s present favor, the latter song explicitly says so. In point of fact, many (if not most) children are sinners in God’s disfavor and in need of salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is interesting to note that at least some Calvinists seem to like the first song (Pastor Bill Shishko, for example, seems to fall in this category). Nevertheless, generally both songs are theologically weak. I’ve previously addressed “Jesus loves Me” (link).

B2k8 thinks that “You love talking about exclusive Psalmody because you want to sing about killing your enemies rather than Christ’s love.” This sort of dualism is practically Gnostic in its radical dispensational bent. And it is just wrong. We don’t sing the Psalms because we want to sing about killing our enemies. I cannot think of any Psalms that are written with that focus (though there certainly some in which we ask for God’s judgment on his and our enemies). Moreover, the Psalms are full of Christ’s love. Psalm 1, for example, mentions that “the LORD knoweth (loves) the way of the righteous,” and Psalm 2 speaks particularly of Christ saying, “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” We could go on and on. My readers my recall my previous post contrasting certain modern worshipper-centered worship vs. God-centered worship (link).

Finally, B2k8 thinks that “You relish in the doctrine of infant damnation as if damning innocent infants for another man’s sin was some great honor and glory to your manmade god.” Mostly this is already addressed above. It is addressed at further link in this previous post (link).


Arminianism and Natural Birth

August 20, 2008

Joshua Lim at Reformed Blogging has an interesting post on Arminianism and Natural Birth (link) (Mitch has pointed out that there is something wrong with the link. The post can be found via the following link, about 3/4 of the way down the page – backup link). He states fairly succinctly this particular problem that is posed for Arminianism. More could be said, of course, but the main point is articulated, and worth reading.

Science Rejects Free Will

August 15, 2008
This article (link) is not going to convince anyone, and perhaps it shouldn’t. The article basically says that a team of scientists have discovered that they can determine people’s decisions (at least some simple ones) before the people themselves can determine their decisions. That suggests something to the effect of determinism. While I enjoy the article, and it is helpful to sort of tweak the noses of my Libertarian Free Will (LFW) advocating friends, there are some problems with it, and I’ll be up front about them:

1) Science is notoriously erroneous. It is typically based on induction, and consequently it is frequently revised as new evidence arrives and the old inductions cannot accommodate them.

2) Even within science, the study of the human mind is usually viewed as a “soft” science. It’s very difficult to ensure proper controls for studies, and there are some studies that have purported to verify very questionable hypotheses, such as telepathy/clairvoyance.

3) Science can only deal directly with the physical. We have reason to believe that at least some aspect of decisions are conducted in the spiritual realm. Thus, we would not expect that science could fully address the issue of decision-making.

Despite all those caveats, the article is interesting and is something that LFW advocates should be prepared to address.


Divine Determination – More in Discussion with Godismyjudge

July 14, 2008
Some Clarification and Discussion of the Topic at Hand

God, in decreeing all that would come to pass, was acting freely: he was not necessitated and he was uncaused. That is to say, there is no preceding cause for the effect of God’s decree of Providence, including the special instance of Creation. One can view the eternal decrees of God as God’s nature acting on itself (wisdom meeting power, for example), but nevertheless we do not properly say that the nature caused the decree, although we say that the decree flows from the nature of God.

There is no time prior to the decree, because the decree is eternal. The decree, being eternal, is necessarily uncaused: that is to say, it is not something that came to be. Consequently, the label “cause” is not properly applied to the divine decree.

The Divine decree is not compatible with divine foreordination if “fore-” is taken with reference to the decree itself. Instead, the Divine decree is compatible with the divine knowledge by way of logical precedence. God knows what he has decreed will occur, but divine foreknowledge is logically subsequent to the decree. Thus, we might say that God knows what he will do, because He decided to do that. Thus, though God’s knowledge is simple and eternal, we divide it according to its object: as to himself God’s knowledge is natural and necessary. As to other things, God’s knowledge is free, since God was under no necessity (properly speaking) to create. If it had not pleased God to create, God would be in no way less – nor does Creation fill any deficiency in God.

Nevertheless, the will of God (which is free and sovereign) is not arbitrary, but is exercised consistently with the attributes of God.

Thus, as Edwards puts it:

And it may be noted particularly, that though we are obliged to conceive of some things in God as consequent and dependent on others, and of some things pertaining to the Divine nature and will as the foundation of others, and so before others in the order of nature; as, we must conceive of the knowledge and holiness of God as prior, in the order of nature, to his happiness; the perfection of his understanding, as the foundation of his wise purposes and decrees; the holiness of his nature, as the cause and reason of his holy determinations. And yet, when we speak of cause and effect, antecedent and consequent, fundamental and dependent, determining aud determined, in the first Being, who is self-existent, independent, of perfect and absolute simplicity and immutability, and the first cause of all things; doubtless there must be less propriety in such representations, than when we speak of derived dependent beings, who are compounded, and liable to perpetual mutation and succession.

Relation to Discussion with Godismyjudge (Dan)

Dan has provided a new “Gabcast” (link) in which he continues to the discuss the issues we are considering. I find it interesting in a way that Dan chooses to push the idea that by asking for clarification I’m changing or shifting his question, while simultaneously changing my own questions to him. I see no problem with either of us answering only questions that make sense with respect to our respective positions.

Dan’s latest clarification suggests that he wants to label as act only those things that are part of a “cause and effect” pair. Dan suggests that God’s love of himself is not an act within the sense of his definition. I would respond that if the Father’s love of Christ is not an act within Dan’s sense, then there can arguably be no first act that is uncaused, by Dan’s definition.

How’s that? Well, God’s love of Christ is itself uncaused, but is a cause for his acceptance of us in Christ. Thus, God’s love of Christ is a cause, even though it is not an effect. If failure to be an effect disqualifies something from being an “act” within Dan’s definition, then the first act must be an effect that produces another effect … i.e. a caused cause.

I suppose Dan could seek to evade the force of this argument by simply stating that the only kind of act he’s interested in is one that has a direct impact in time/space in the material world. With such a clarification, the first “act” is the act of actually creating the world from nothing.

God said (cause), “Let there be light,” and (effect) there was light.

Considering God logically just prior to his actualization of the creation, God had decreed to do what he did. The decree to create, thus, is logically prior to the actual act of creating. Thus, the act of creating was necessary in view of the divine decree, though the divine decree was itself free.

The act of Creation was a temporal act: an act that instantiated time. Thus, as I previously noted, it can be viewed as the first act from that perspective. The heavens and earth were the first created things – the first things that were caused. God brought them forth out of nothing, as he had from all eternity decreed to do.

But this discussion is evidently not what Dan wants. Dan appears to be interested in the question of whether God could have decreed (prior to the decree) to have created a world in which on May 31, 2008, it did not rain.

God could have, if he had desired, so decreed. God is omnipotent. God freely decreed according to his good pleasure. No one constrained him. He did what he wanted to do. There is no “cause” assignable to his act of decreeing, instead we view the sovereign decree of God as itself uncaused but the cause of all things that come to be. On the other hand, if such a decree would not be the wisest and best, God – by his nature – would be constrained from doing so.

One may here object by claiming that such a limitation is some form of necessity, but the objection is fruitless. As Edwards explained:

That all the seeming force of such objections and exclamations must arise from an imagination that there is some sort of privilege or dignity in being without such a moral necessity as will make it impossible to do any other than always choose what is wisest and best; as though there were some disadvantage, meanness, and subjection, in such a necessity; a thing by which the will was confined, kept under, and held in servitude by something, which, as it were, maintained a strong and invincible power and dominion over it, by bonds that held him fast, and that he could, by no means, deliver himself from. Whereas, this must be all mere imagination and delusion. It is no disadvantage or dishonour to a being, necessarily to act in the most excellent and happy manner, from the necessary perfection of his own nature. This argues no imperfection, inferiority, or dependence, nor any avant of dignity, privilege, or ascendancy. It is not inconsistent with the absolute and most perfect sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is his ability and authority to do whatever pleases him; whereby “he doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou?”

Thus, the answer to Dan’s question, as best understood, is simply that we don’t know whether it was possible or impossible (in the sense Dan wants to use the term) for God to do what Dan has hypothesized, because to answer that question, we would need to plumb the depths of God to determine whether such a decree would be consistent with the attributes of God.

Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know the reason God ordained rain on May 31, 2008, but I know that the rain had a purpose as part of his most wise and excellent plan. To use Edwards distinctions, God had the natural ability to do whatever he wanted, and God exercised that natural ability consistent with his moral perfections.

At the end of the day, let’s return to Dan’s original question, which was:

Given whatever existed before the first act, was it absolutely impossible for God to create a world which didn’t include rain on May 31, 2008[,] in the afternoon?

What we have seen is as follows:

1) By first act, Dan means God’s decree to create.
2) By “absolutely impossible” Dan apparently does not want to include possibility based on God’s power, but only the compossibility of God’s power in connection with everything else that God is (for example, the compossibility that God would be wise and that God would decree according to Dan’s counterproposal for May 31).
3) By “before” Dan is only interested in logical (not temporal) priority.

With all those clarifications, we have discovered that the answer would require us to know whether Dan’s alternative is consistent with the rest of what God is. While we can freely acknowledge with Dan that God is all powerful, God freely acts only in a way that is most wise and holy. While we cannot see anything unwise in Dan’s counterproposal, we simply cannot find any clear evidence that makes us definitively say that God could have adopted Dan’s counter-proposal for the day.

On the other hand, we know that God’s plan for the day was wise, which makes us suspect that Dan’s alternative may have been less wise. Since it would be inconsistent with the moral perfection of God to freely do that which is less wise, we would not say (using Dan’s definitions) that it was “possible” for him to do that, though of course it was within God’s natural power to do so, and consequently was possible.

Hopefully this definitively answers Dan’s question.

I don’t think this answer will be particularly helpful, though, to the average reader because of the unnatural sense in which Dan is using the terms “before,” “act,” and “impossible.” Nevertheless, I await Dan’s response, if any.


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