Archive for the ‘Godismyjudge’ Category

GodIsMyJudge on Sola Scriptura

April 27, 2011

I’m not sure he actually disagrees with me, but William Birch has posted an article by GodIsMyJudge on Sola Scriptura, in which GodIsMyJudge distinguishes his explanation from mine.




Arminius’ Supposed Impact on Calvinism

December 5, 2009

Dan (aka GodIsMyJudge) has provided a post alleging another impact of Arminius on Calvinism (link to his post). The first part of his post I’ll pass over, since I feel my previous post (link to my previous post) has adequately addressed that issue.

However, Dan states:

TF notes well the WCF is open to supra, but WCF is also open to unlimited atonement. It was written such that both 5 point Calvinists and 4 pointers would be satisfied. TF himself has noted Arminius’ influence on Amyraldianism. So that’s another way in which Arminius impacted Calvinism.

No, the WCF is not open to unlimited atonement. The WCF states:

To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

– Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8, Paragraph 8

Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism explains:

Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

– Westminster Larger Catechism, Question/Answer 59

So, no. While Arminius may have been an influence on Amyraut and the school of Saumur, the Amyraldian position is excluded by the Westminster Confession of Faith.


Dan on Pluperfects Again

November 5, 2009

I had previously pointed out how Dan was misunderstanding the pluperfect tense as applied to Acts 13:48 (link). Unfortunately, Dan does not listen to me and has chosen instead to prove by his actions how a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing (link).

Dan thinks I’m mistaken and provides the following evidence:

The Pluperfect of Completed Action. The Pluperfect is used of an action which was complete at a point of past time implied in the context. (Burton)

The Pluperfect represents an action as already finished at some specified past time (Goodwin)

The problem is not that Dan’s evidence is bad, but that Dan doesn’t understand the evidence.

The pluperfect is a verb tense that indicates that something happened before time X, where time X is itself a specified (at least usually) past event. That’s a bit like the future perfect: a tense that indicates that something will have happened before time X, where time X is itself a specified (at least usually) future event.

The ordaining in Acts 13:48 takes place prior to the specified hearing, being glad, rejoicing, and believing. That’s what the pluperfect indicates. It was complete by that time, it was not performed at that time. It does not indicate that we can state when precisely the ordaining itself occurred. I would suggest that Dan contact a Greek professor who he knows and trusts to clarify this grammatical point to him, as he obviously doesn’t trust me.

To provide a simple English example, the following sentence uses the pluperfect: “I had cleaned my room when my mother came home.” In this example, “when my mother came home” is the specified time. It is not the time when the cleaning took place, but rather time before which the cleaning took place. I could have cleaned my room long before that event, or just before that event, but anyway when my mother came home, the room was clean.

The same goes for Acts 13:48. The ordaining was done before the specified time, such that at the specified time, the action of ordaining had already been completed. That’s what Burton and Goodwin are trying to tell Dan, if only Dan would listen to them more carefully or to me. Hopefully, Dan will avail himself of someone whom he knows is familiar with Greek grammar: someone Dan trusts. That way, Dan can receive confirmation that what I am telling him is true, since it appears plain that Dan is not willing to take my word for it.


Arminius’ Impact on Calvinism

October 20, 2009

Dan (“GodIsMyJudge”) has an interesting post in honor of the 400th anniversary of Arminius’ death (link). One criticism I have, is that I think he overstates the significance of the infralapsarian wording of Dordt’s discussion of election. In fact, one could walk away from GodIsMyJudge’s post thinking that Arminius was an infralapsarian Calvinist who prevailed at Dordt against the supralapsarians, rather than having his errant views condemned by that synod. In context, the point of Dordt is to deny foreseen merit, something upon which both supralapsarians and infralapsarians agree.


Common Man Argument for Libertarian Free Will (rebutted)

June 26, 2009

Paul Manata has an interesting, if somewhat philosophical, post that seems to sum up most of the major arguments responsive to the “Common Man” Libertarian Free Will (LFW) argument (link). It’s a good article, and I encourage folks who think that there is some merit to the “common man” argument for LFW to read it and be disabused of such an idea. I have a couple minor nitpicks.

1) Manata mentions, but I would more heavily emphasize, that the common man’s definition of “choose” is better represented by essentially the Least Common Denominator of dictionary definitions than by simply the first entry of the most popular dictionary. As such, the common man’s definition does not have as a core aspect the “possible” element that is so key to the Libertarian (in the philosophical sense) argument.

Thus, for example, if one goes to Princeton’s Wordnet and punches in “choose” one gets:

# S: (v) choose, take, select, pick out (pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives) “Take any one of these cards”; “Choose a good husband for your daughter”; “She selected a pair of shoes from among the dozen the salesgirl had shown her”
# S: (v) choose, prefer, opt (select as an alternative over another) “I always choose the fish over the meat courses in this restaurant”; “She opted for the job on the East coast”
# S: (v) choose (see fit or proper to act in a certain way; decide to act in a certain way) “She chose not to attend classes and now she failed the exam”

Notice that none of these definitions included the word “possible” or an equivalent concept.

Likewise, Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary provides:

transitive verb chose, chosen cho′·sen, choosing choos′·ing

1. to pick out by preference from what is available; take as a choice; select to choose a book at the library
2. to decide or prefer: with an infinitive object to choose to remain

Etymology: ME chesen, cheosen < OE ceosan L gustare, Goth kausjan

intransitive verb

1. to make one’s selection
2. to have the desire or wish; please do as you choose

Same thing. “possible” is not part of the definition, although in one case the word “available” is there, which might arguably be an equivalent concept.

One certainly can find dictionaries that include “possible” in the definition of choose (The first – and only the first – definition in the American Heritage dictionary, for example, has this feature: “To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out” – I’ve added the emphasis), but such a feature that is not found in most dictionary definitions of a word can hardly be viewed as the actual “common man” meaning of the term. A better way to assess the “common man” meaning is to look for the commonalities and overlap of the many dictionary definitions.

2) What’s up with the gratuitous reference to Michael Sudduth? :)


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.


Springboarding off of Hays Against Molinism

June 19, 2009


Steve Hays (Calvinist) wrote: God’s freedom is sui generis. It doesn’t fall into either model of human agent theory, whether libertarian or determinist.

GodIsMyJudge (Molinist) wrote: Determinate and indeterminate seem like mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories. Are you suggesting there is some third category we don’t know about or perhaps this is a logical paradox?


God’s Will not Like Man’s Will:

GodIsMyJudge’s question misses part of the reason for Steve’s comment. God’s will is not like man’s will. There is an analogy, but it is not a correspondence. God’s will (his secret will – his decree of Providence) is not something time-bound. It is not something that begins from existing circumstances and produces a choice that is responsive to the circumstances in which it finds itself. It itself determines all circumstances. The decrees of God are his eternal purposes according to the counsel of his will, whereby – for his own glory – he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

The will’s decision itself (that is to say, the decree of God) is not something that comes to pass. It is an eternal purpose of God. There was never a time when it was not.

Sometimes, for analytical purposes, we treat it as though we viewed it as active, but it is not. There is no time before God’s will chooses what it chose – it is an eternal decree.

Relation to Knowledge of God:

This issue has a bearing on the discussion of the knowledge of God. What GodIsMyJudge seems to have overlooked is that in both the Molinist and Calvinist understanding, God’s decrees are eternal – they do not come to be. The order that we discuss is simply a logical order – not a temporal order.

Thus, the Calvinist logical order is as follows:

1) Natural Knowledge
2) Decree
3) Free Knowledge

Whereas the Molinist logical order is as follows:

1) Natural Knowledge
2) Partial Decree
3) Middle Knowledge
4) Rest of Decree
5) Free Knowledge

Comparison to Human Will:

But both Molinists and Calvinists agree that this is simply a logical not a temporal order.

In contrast, human wills (in both systems) operate with temporal order:

1) Nature
2) Circumstance
3) Decree

That is an order that is both logical and temporal. First, there is our nature. This is something that is a given. Next, we and our nature encounter a specific circumstance. Sometimes that circumstance is largely of our making, other times we had nothing to do with the circumstance. Finally, in the circumstance, we make a choice.

Observation about Molinism:

Oddly enough, although Molinism advocates “Libertarian” free will (as opposed to simple, Calvinistic free will), Molinism essentially makes man’s decree a product of his nature and his circumstance, such that if the same nature is placed in the same circumstance man’s decree will be the same.

Functionally, that sounds quite deterministic. The Molinist insists that the choices are free in a “libertarian” and “indeterminate” sense, but it really isn’t apparent how that is possible or even credible. In the Molinist regime, it really looks like man’s choices are essentially the product of his circumstances.


I don’t want to get too sidetracked by pointing out the apparent inconsistency of Molinism. I understand (I think) the rationale behind GodIsMyJudge’s question: he’d like to have Steve say that God has libertarian free will, to open the door to the idea that man could also have libertarian free will. The problem, however, is that while God and man both have wills – they operate in very different ways. In fact, even saying “operate” is a word that is only analogous when speaking of God’s will.

No, God is the only uncaused cause. He is the only self-existent being, and his choices are eternal – they did not come into being indeterminately or determinately – they simply did not come into being, but always were. Therein lies the fallacy in, under, or behind the question posed by GodIsMyJudge.


More Response to Godismyjudge

October 29, 2008

Godismyjudge (GIMJ) has responded again (link). My reply, for the few still interested, follows.


I previously wrote: That we are not the reason God chooses us has nothing to do with determinism.

GIMJ responded: “I think most folks would disagree with this statement, but I will let them decide that and won’t argue this point further.”

I answer: Since GIMJ has not provided a link, they wouldn’t seem to have any reason to disagree with the statement, unless (as I suppose) they have a vague sense of what determinism is (the very objection I have to GIMJ slinging that term about).


I had written: As I already said, “actual sufficiency” has to do with intrinsic value. To build on the Scriptural analogy of redemption with a price, the price of Christ’s death was enough to save an infinite number of people.

GIMJ responded:

This explanation wouldn’t be an issue if Calvinists only said the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all. But they say Christ’s death was sufficient for all [meaning the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all], while in the background, other aspects of Christ’s death move against Christ’s death being sufficient for all. Granted, these other aspects don’t “block” the value of Christ’s death from saving, but perhaps they make use of the value of Christ’s death in such a way that the reprobate remain unsavable. If the reprobate are unsavable, clearly Christ’s death was insufficient for them. Something more than the value of Christ’s death is required. This article suggest that the “something more” is intention, and that intention is implied in the phrase sufficient for all. (link) But whatever the “something else” is, if something more is required from X for Y, X is insufficient for Y. This is why I suspect you are speaking in a divided sense.

To my overall point of checking philosophy against scripture, are there any cases in scripture where Christ’s death is spoken of, meaning that the intrinsic value of the redemption price was enough to save everyone? I ask, because I don’t see Calvinists explaining passages like 1 John2:2 as “the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all. Rather, I see them explain all texts about Christ’s death as pertaining to the elect alone.

a) GIMJ’s argument glosses over the difference between sufficiency and savability. The price is sufficient to save, but is not used to that end. To go back to the ransom analogy, if the cost to ransom any and all captives is $1 Million, then a payment of $1 Million is sufficient for all, even if it is not intended or used to free all the captives.
b) GIMJ’s criticism belies one of the problems we have with Arminian soteriology. GIMJ writes, “If the reprobate are unsavable, clearly Christ’s death was insufficient for them. Something more than the value of Christ’s death is required.” Arminianism seems to be focused on making man merely “savable.” But even this is only from man’s perspective. In Arminianism, the death of Christ makes man “savable” from man’s perspective, but not from God’s perspective. From God’s perspective, to borrow GIMJ’s phrase, “Something more than the value of Christ’s death is required.” In point of fact, however, Christ’s death makes men savable from Christ’s perspective. If he offers his sacrifice to God on their behalf, they will be saved. Thus, his death (without more) makes men savable.
c) Intention is not something “added” to Christ’s death to make it sufficient – it is not even, itself, the thing that makes the death of Christ efficient. It is the “joy that was set before him,” as Scripture teaches. The act of offering is what makes the sacrifice efficient, and the Holy Spirit actually executes the effect in the life of the elect.


I had written: One of the objections in my post is that the term “determinism” was used in GIMJ’s post in such a broad umbrella way that basically only the open theists are outside it (n.b. this is true only when considered as to effects, as proposed in GIMJ’s post) and yet the term is popularly misunderstood to refer quite narrowly to mechanical/physical determinism and/or fatalism (neither of which corresponds to Calvinism). In other words, the word “determinism” can both be too encompassing (if we measure determinism by the places where Calvinism and Molinism overlap) and too limiting (since Calvinism explicitly rejects physicalism and fatalism).

GIMJ responded:

By saying only open theists fall outside of determinism, you are dismissing the entire Foreknowledge/LFW issue without engaging it. Are you looking for me to argue why foreknowledge doesn’t entail determinism? Isn’t that asking me to prove a negative? I stand ready to defend the citadel. I will not be drawn out into the field for a fight. If you want what’s in the keep, come and get it. I will be happy to kick down your ladders and pour boiling oil on you. But don’t stand in the valley and declare victory.

a) GIMJ’s post was the ladder attempting to storm the citadel of Calvinism. If GIMJ had presented a meaningful definition of “determinism” in his original post, to avoid confusion, this particular dishwater wouldn’t have been dumped on him from above. But the problem with trying to smear Calvinism using broad characterizations is that you leave yourself open for a nice shower of this sort.
b) I’m not particularly looking for GIMJ to argue why knowledge of the future doesn’t involve “determinism.” I’m indicating that his characterizations of what constitutes “determinism” are so broad as to rope in even views that purport to include LFW but also embrace divine omniscience with respect to the future.
c) GIMJ could try to duck this dishwater by characterizing “determinism” differently than he did in his opening post. He seemed to be trying to do that in the last post, but when he does that, most of the objections go away.
d) And that is the point, after all. If a fair portrayal of Calvinism had been provided in the original post, the present series of objections wouldn’t be here. There would be no need for a shower of dishwater, if clods of dirt hadn’t been lobbed at the castle wall.


I had written: Molinism is normally represented as God deciding to instantiate a particular future from among possible futures. This is one form of predetermination of the future.

GIMJ wrote: “Again, by saying the Molinist explanation of the decrees is a form of predeterminism, you are dismissing Molinism without engaging it.”

It’s easy simply to answer that this argument itself (like the previous one and the first one) simply dismiss the objections without responding to them. GIMJ hasn’t bothered either to retract the original, objectionable post or to set forth distinctions related to Molinism that prevent it from being tarred by the same label GIMJ applies to Calvinism. On the contrary, using the same sweeping strokes, I’ve pointed out how GIMJ’s own position, using GIMJ’s lodestone, is determinism.


I had written: Actual ability unless/until used is hypothecated on something. Consequently, there is no meaningful line between “actual” and “hypothetical” ability as to unused ability.

GIMJ responded: “I disagree. Ability (whether it will be used or not) does not require a hypothesis. Projecting the results might. If he chooses A, B will follow. But the actual ability does not.”

Despite GIMJ’s disagreement, he’s mistaken. One can see that he’s mistaken from the fact that he conflates “unless/until used” with “whether it will be used or not.” The two concepts are not convertable, though they are related. Ability unless/until used exists in hypothecation. Instantiation or prohibition removes that hypothecation.


GIMJ continued: “I had asked Turretinfan a question (well 2 questions) that he didn’t answer, so I will ask again: do you consider yourself a determinist and if so, what type of determinist are you?”

I answer: I think GIMJ needs to read my response more carefully. I indicated that under GIMJ’s proffered definition of “determinism” (from the Stanford philosophy web site) Calvinism was obviously not determinism. Since GIMJ knows I am a Calvinist, one might expect him to make the mental connection that was there implicitly.

Furthermore, I have repeatedly noted that I find the label “determinism” misleading, because of the fact that people construe it approximately in the way that the Stanford philosophy web site roughly defines it. It’s not a helpful or useful title, except for smearing.


GIMJ continued: “I’ll add a third. BB Warfield explains that the difference between fate and Calvinism is primarily that fate is mechanical and Calvinism is personal (link). Are you are with Warfield?”

I answer that from the same short and popular piece, Warfield stated in conclusion, “all the language of men cannot tell the immensity of the difference [between Fate and Predestination].” I would certainly agree that all the language of Warfield in that article did not tell the immensity of the difference, and that those who like to smear Calvinism tend to like to act as though the difference were minor rather than immense. I’m not with Warfield on everything, everywhere, but his piece to which GIMJ linked does help to clear up some of the misconceptions, even if providing hooks for folks to try to create new misconceptions.


More on Calvinism and Determinism – Disambiguated

October 25, 2008

Godismyjudge (GIMJ) has provided a new entry in our on-going discussion on Calvinism, Molinism, and “determinism.” (link) For those interested in that discussion (perhaps only GIMJ), I’ve responded below.

GIMJ wrote:

Turretinfan responded to my post on Calvinism and Determinism. (link) The purpose of my post was to point out that Calvinists are determinists and exhort people to check not only their soteriology but also their philosophy against scripture. Turretinfan’s response is odd, because at first he at first tries to put some space between himself and determinism, but then he argues forcefully for determinism and against libertarianism (the opposite of determinism). I didn’t intend the term “determinist” to be a pejorative, and if one is a determinist, I have no idea why they should be ashamed of it. As for Turretinfan’s concern that people don’t understand determinism or the subcategories that fit under the umbrella of determinism, I suggest the solution is not hiding facts, but rather examining them.

I answer:

a) It still looks like the purpose of GIMJ’s post was to label Calvinists “determinsts,” which is confusing at best.

b) The reason not to like the term “determinist,” is because it is linked in the popular conception with mechanical/physical determinism.

c) The idea that Calvinistic “philosophy” should be compared to Scripture is fine, of course. One of the points I’ve brought up time and time again is that Calvinistic philosophical is directly drawn from Scripture, in contrast to the specially pled philosophy of its main opponents: Molinism/Arminianism/Semi-Pelagianism/Pelagianism.

GIMJ wrote:

I wasn’t denying that under Calvinism, God appoints the means. If anything, this idea makes Calvinism even more deterministic, not less so. This is exhaustive determinism. But I didn’t consider the means relevant because Calvinism teaches that God decrees the end logically prior to the means. All I was saying was that under Calvinism, we are not the reason God chooses us.

(a) That we are not the reason God chooses us has nothing to do with determinism.
(b) The idea that “God decrees the end logically prior to the means” is true of any system of thought in which God degrees the end, since means are not means without an end.
(c) Again, whether this makes Calvinism “more deterministic” (as though determinism has degrees, which is an interesting idea in itself) is not really the issue. One has to deny Scripture to deny that God decrees both means to an end and the end itself.

GIMJ wrote:

Yes, but I suspect that your very concept of “actual sufficiency” with respect to a counterfactual future (i.e. the salvation of the non-elect) entails a counterfactual past. When determinists claim we are able to do otherwise, if we had chosen to, or we are able to choose otherwise, if we had wanted to; they are defining “ability” in terms of a counterfactual past. For more please see here.

(a) No. As I already said, “actual sufficiency” has to do with intrinsic value. To build on the Scriptural analogy of redemption with a price, the price of Christ’s death was enough to save an infinite number of people.
(b) The question of people’s choice is really irrelevant to the issue of Christ’s sufficiency. If only Paul had been elected, Christ’s death would have been exactly as sufficient as it is in reality.

Can Christ save the reprobate? Under Calvinism, in one sense He can and in another sense He cannot. The sense He cannot is obvious. Given the Father didn’t elect them, Christ would almost have to “freak out” and run contrary to the Father to do so. Obviously that can’t happen. But the sense in which He can relies on a counterfactual past in which they were not reprobate.

(a) This is also true of Molinism. In one sense He can and in another sense He cannot.
(b) The sense in which He can also relies on a counterfactual past in Molinism: a counter-factual past in which he did not forsee what he has foreseen, and in which the real future to be was not selected from among all “possible” futures.

Molinism is a side issue, and has nothing to do with Calvinists being determinists or not.

Logically, that is true. Polemically, it is not. On the one hand, if you are going to apply a confusing label to the other side, you should be prepared for them to point out that the same label, in the same sense, applies to you. On the other hand, since Molinism generally presents itself as an alternative to determinism, it is fair to point out that commonalities between Calvinism and Molinism cannot (if Molinism’s claim about itself is true) be evidence of determinism.

That said, I don’t mind a good rabbit trail. A few preliminaries on Molinism…

As I’m preparing some more detailed posts on the subject of Molinism, I’m going to severely curtail my own journeys down those rabbit-trails. Instead, I’ll limit myself to a few observations.

The first thing to note about Turretinfan’s points on Molinism is that the current reaction to Molinism has done a 180 from the historic reactions. Today, people claim that the distinctions between Molinism and determinism are so subtle (if they are distinctions at all) that Molinism is a “veiled determinism”. Arminius and Molina were not charged with “veiled determinism”, they were charged with heresy.

(a) If heresy and determinism are 180 from each other (as GIMJ appears to claim), then I guess I’m glad to be charged by GIMJ with determinism (rather than heresy).
(b) GIMJ seems to have overlooked the distinction, mentioned in passing in my post, between determinism properly defined and determinism broadly defined. One of the objections in my post is that the term “determinism” was used in GIMJ’s post in such a broad umbrella way that basically only the open theists are outside it (n.b. this is true only when considered as to effects, as proposed in GIMJ’s post) and yet the term is popularly misunderstood to refer quite narrowly to mechanical/physical determinism and/or fatalism (neither of which corresponds to Calvinism). In other words, the word “determinism” can both be too encompassing (if we measure determinism by the places where Calvinism and Molinism overlap) and too limiting (since Calvinism explicitly rejects physicalism and fatalism).

Getting back to the rejoinders:
GIMJ wrote:

That would be true, but Molinists deny predeterminism. Rather we teach predestination. In general, predestination is about “the plan” or “the goal” and predeterminism is how that goal is obtained. Perhaps you didn’t mean that Molinists teach predeterminism, but rather you meant that Molinism leads to predeterminism. But in that case you would need to form a reductio ad absurdum argument (link).

(a) Molinism is normally represented as God deciding to instantiate a particular future from among possible futures. This is one form of predetermination of the future. That is the one future that will occur, and in order to speak about the “possibility” of other futures after the divine decree it is necessary to divide out the divine decree from consideration.
(b) It’s not clear to me whether GIMJ doesn’t appreciate this aspect of Molinism, doesn’t agree that this is an aspect of Molinism, or just doesn’t like the idea of using predetermination to refer to God deciding ahead of time what is going to happen. Only if the middle of those three options is the case is there really any substantive dispute. With respect to the last of the three options there is an interesting semantic dispute.

GIMJ wrote:

Fair warning, this argument has some hair on it…

Counterfactual pasts are not a distinctive of Molinism. Many libertarians that affirm God’s foreknowledge hold to some sort of “counterfactual past”. But there’s a difference between this and the determinist counterfactual past. As noted above, the determinist definition of the ability to do otherwise entails a counterfactual past. In libertarianism it does not. Rather, the hypothetical that man uses their ability entails a hypothetical counterfactual past. Again, in determinism, there is a definitional relationship between the actual ability and a hypothetical past. In libertarianism, the relationship is between the hypothetical future and the hypothetical past. This distinction makes libertarians suspect that the determinist’s ability is not actual, but rather hypothetical.

Further, in determinism the counterfactuals in the counterfactual past are causal forces influencing the person. In libertarianism the counterfactuals are not causal forces influencing the person, but rather things that are logically (but not causally) dependent on the persons’ future choice.

(a) What this is, from my perspective, is a lengthy admission that the cursory remarks in GIMJ’s initial, objectionable post glossed over the issues.
(b) Whether the line of “determinism” should be drawn where GIMJ draws it is a semantic debate. It is an interesting one, perhaps, but it is not really germane to the objections I was raising. If the claim regarding Calvinism were that in Calvinism’s man’s ability is related to a counter-factual past in a different way than in Molinism – that’s not particularly a problem – but that wouldn’t lead to sweeping statements to the effect that “Calvinism is determinism applied to soteriology,” it would lead to more precise statements.
(c) Actual ability unless/until used is hypothecated on something. Consequently, there is no meaningful line between “actual” and “hypothetical” ability as to unused ability.
(d) The use of terms like “causal forces” may be present to make distinctions, but it is not clear that the distinctions themselves make a difference in any way that helps Molinism.

God has contrary choice between good options. Same goes for us when we get to heaven. The unregenerate, without grace, can only choose between bad options. For more, please see here.

(a) As noted in my previous post, if that counts as not smacking of determinism, then perseverance of the saints doesn’t smack of determinism and neither does total depravity.
(b) Furthermore, admission that “free will” is consistent with having only choice among (for example) good options, undermines the bulk of the “intuitive” arguments for the existence of libertarian free will. It may also undermine the more scholarly arguments – and it certainly undermines the “virtue morality” arguments.
(c) Moreover, once “free will” no longer requires that a person be able to choose between good and evil, there is no non-arbitrary reason to set ones stakes down at “among good options” or “among bad options.”
(d) Ironically, Calvinism ascribes to God a real will that chooses good over evil, something that GIMJ’s conception of God denies. Likewise, Calvinism ascribes to fallen (totally depraved) man a real will that chooses evil over good, something that GIMJ’s conception of the totally depraved man denies. In fact, to avoid Calvinism, GIMJ has to innovate universal prevenient grace, so that man can have a will that (unlike God’s will in GIMJ’s conception) can choose between good and evil.

GIMJ wrote:

I am generally unimpressive. You on the other hand, are not a novice on Calvinism. Do you consider yourself a determinist and if so, what type of determinist are you? For a technical explanation of determinism see here and for general info on how a wide variety of info on how people use the term, please see here. =-)

(a) For those who haven’t clicked through, the first link GIMJ provides is a link to a discussion of “causal determinism”. That page begins, “Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.” Obviously, this is not what Calvinism teaches. GIMJ should know that. If GIMJ is trying to assert that Calvinism = causal determinism as defined by that web page, he’s simply dead wrong.
(b) The second link is to a search, using the Google engine, of all the instances on the World Wide Web of the term “determinism.” I suppose he simply meant the link to the search (which yields about 2 million hits) to be humorous.

Calvinism and Determinism: a Response

October 23, 2008

Godismyjudge (GIMJ) has provided a post with the title “Calvinism and Determinism,” in which his thesis is: “It seems Calvinism is simply determinism in the context of soteriology.” (source)

I have a number of reactions to this sort of comment:

1) Let’s suppose the thesis is correct. Then what? Applying the label “determinism” to Calvinism seems to be more an attempt to malign the doctrines of grace than to identify some weakness or error in them. It’s a technique used by William Lane Craig as well – and equally as hollowly here as there. If Scripture teaches the five points of Calvinism they should be believed, whether or nor the label “determinism” applies.

2) What is worse, the label is not something with a well understood meaning. Typical readers are likely to confuse the broad philosophical category of determinism with the special case of mechanical or physical determinism. Godismyjudge doesn’t mean mechanical or physical determinism, but he doesn’t mention that in his post.

3) Still worse, the characterizations of Calvinism used to support the “determinism” thesis are inaccurate:

a) GIMJ claims that Calvinism teaches, “Our destiny is determined before we were born without having anything to do with us.” This is not true, because “without having anything to do with us,” is not an accurate representation. God appointed not only the ends but also the means. We are not chosen to glory because of something good in us, but we are chosen to be saved through faith in the Messiah.

b) GIMJ claims that Calvinism teaches, “The “possibility” of salvation [based on the sufficiency of Christ’s death] is based on a different past then the actual past … .” This is not true, either, because the sufficiency of Christ’s death is a matter of intrinsic value. Christ’s death is in actuality sufficient for all the sins of each and every person.

4) But the final nail in the coffin is that GIMJ’s loose criticisms of Calvinism apply to classical Arminianism/Molinism as well:

a) GIMJ complains that “Our destiny is determined before we were born without having anything to do with us” is “clearly deterministic” but “our destiny is determined before we were born WITH having something to do with us,” is no less deterministic. Either way, predetermination has been made. One way is divine determination, the other a synergistic determination – but both ways are deterministic in the broad, loose sense of the word employed in GIMJ’s post.

b) GIMJ complains that “The “possibility” of salvation is based on a different past then the actual past” is “a hallmark of determinism” but since Arminianism/Molinism affirms God’s prior knowledge of all history to come, any “possibility” of salvation for any person who will not be saved must be based on a past in which God knew something different than what he knows – i.e. a different past than the actual past.

c) GIMJ complains that “Denying contrary choice is another sign of determinism” but classical Arminianism/Molinism admits that God himself is unable to choose evil. If that is a sign of determinism, classical Arminianism/Molinism has it at the highest level.

d) GIMJ complains that the concept that “Believers can’t fall away” is “Basically the same thing” as in (c) above. I cannot recall a quotation offhand, but I think it is fair to say that not only does popular Arminianism today teach “Once Saved Always Saved” but that classical Arminianism accepts the idea that those in heaven will be there eternally. Apparently, in the mentality behind this criticism of Calvinism, it’s just unexplainably bad to suggest that the Shepherd is going to ensure that his sheep persevere in this life.

e) Finally, GIMJ tries to skate past Total Depravity but Total Depravity is analogous to Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. If man is unable to come to Christ without grace, it should not be any more or less deterministic to say that man is unable to fall away from Christ with grace. Of course, the problem is that it is only in theory that classical Arminians accept Total Depravity: they negate its effects via the unbiblical gap-filler of Universal Prevenient Grace.

In conclusion, I wasn’t impressed by the post. Was that due to something in the post (determination) or something in me (self-determination)? I think the former – perhaps GIMJ thinks the latter. Either way there is a reason for my failure to appreciate GIMJ’s mislabeling of Calvinism, and that reason demonstrates that the laws of cause and effect apply not only to the physical world but also to the spiritual world. What do you give up if you embrace what GIMJ calls “determinism”? You give up something you (and everyone else) never ever uses – the power to choose otherwise than you actually choose. By embracing God’s sovereignty over man, all you give up is a history (past and future) that doesn’t exist. Whether you accept Molinism or Calvinism – the future is so certain that it might as well be written in stone (as noted here).


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