Archive for the ‘Time Travel’ Category

Responses to Response to Twilight/Molinism Post

December 15, 2008

Both Steve Hayes and TheoJunkie (TJ) have responded to my previous post (link) on the movie Twilight and Molinism.

TJ wrote:

But what would Joe the Plumber think?

You gave a basic premise statement regarding Molinism… can you provide a corresponding direct basic premise statement regarding Calvinism? Your post hints at it, but does not come out and say it.

You said that the basic premise of middle knowledge is that God knows what a particular person would do in a particular situation, prior to God’s decision as to what the future will be…

It seems clear that you would not state the Calvinistic premise in exact opposite terms from the Molinist premise, i.e.: that God knows what a particular person would do in a particular situation, AFTER God’s decision as to what the future will be. For this statement falls somewhere between nonsense and the fatalistic “floppy string” idea.

Your post suggests that the basic premise of Calvinism is that God knows what a particular person will do in a particular situation, because God decided that is what the person will do in that particular situation (which of course is informed by God’s decision as to what will occur in the future).

However, this statement– without elaboration– appears to affirm the accusations of “puppetry” that some levy against Calvinism.

We know the bible says God directs a man’s steps. Yet we observe that those steps are the steps we choose to take.

Do you consider that God directs the will in each decision, or is it possible that God directs circumstances (the particulars of a particular situation) in order to bring about the steps he has chosen for the man in advance? Or would you agree it is a little of both (or either/or depending on what needs to be done in the moment)?

Is it even possible to incorporate that into a basic premise statement?

I answer:

Calvinism teaches that God’s knowledge, which is truly simple, is viewed for analytical purposes under two aspects. First, there is natural knowledge. Second, there is free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all possible things – all things that are logically possible. Free knowledge is the knowledge of all things that arise from God’s exercise of his will.

One might argue (and probably a Molinist would argue) that hypothetical questions (for example: “If I stay in the city, will the men of the city deliver me into the hands of my enemy?”) raise a third category of knowledge. This apparent third category, however, disappears upon further examination.

A hypothetical question, properly framed, hypothecates something (the hypothecand) and asks for a consequence of that hpyothecand. There are a number of possible forms of hypothetical questions.

1) Questions as to abstract ideas.
Example 1: If the conclusion does not follow from the premises, is the syllogism valid?
Example 2: If three is divided by pi, is the quotient less than one?

These questions would be answered from natural knowledge. Both relate to matters of definition and/or logic. These are not the sorts of hypothetical questions that Molinists are interested in.

2) Questions as to Factual Things
Example 1: If Christ is raised, will we also be raised?
Example 2: If I am a man, do I have authority over all women?

In both of these example, the hypothecand is factual. Christ is raised, and I am a man. These questions would normally be answered from free knowledge. God has decreed that we will be raised with Christ – and God has not given me authority over all women.

3) Questions as to Logically Impossible Things
Example 1: If up is down, …
Example 2: If nothing truly exists, …

In these cases, the hypothecand is logically impossible. The rest of the question does not really matter, because the question is predicated on something incoherent. This category of hypothetical questions is also not interesting to the Molinist.

4) Questions as to Factually Untrue Things
Example 1: If Abraham Lincoln had not been shot, would Reconstruction of the South progressed differently?
Example 2: If I die tomorrow, will I go to heaven?

I don’t really know whether the hypothecand in Example 2 is factually untrue yet. Let’s just assume it is not true for the sake of the argument. These are the sorts of questions to which Molinists typically appeal, referring to them as “counterfactual” statements.

These questions raise some interesting epistemological issues. Is any answer to these questions totally speculative, are there “true” and “false” answers to these questions, or is there some other available category? I believe the best answer is to specify a third category.

The third category is that the question should not be interpreted as looking for a “true” or “false” answer with respect to history. After all, in the first example, one recognizes that historical hypothecand did not take place, in the latter example, one has no way of knowing whether the future hypothecand will take place.

Accordingly, the question is looking for an answer that has a speculative component, but not simply a speculative component. If we provide a third example, we can see how this might be:

Example 3: In a game of War, Mike played a Queen. If I had played a King, would I have beaten Mike? (Or, “Mike has played a Queen. If my next card is a King, will I beat Mike?”)

Those people who know the rules of the card game, War, can readily answer the question in the affirmative. After all, that’s what the question is really getting after: what are the rules? (You could also phrase the question such that you are saying, “Mike has played a King, will my next card beat Mike’s?” which is really asking about what card is next in your stack of cards.)

Example 2, above, has a similar object. It is asking less about the existence of a situation in which the hypothecand is true, and more about the rules of salvation, as it were. When a preacher asks you, “If you died right this minute, would you go to heaven?” he is asking about whether you are justified – right with God. If you are right with God, then the answer would be in the affirmative. If you are not justified, then the answer would be in the negative.

Example 1, above, is a bit more complex. Ultimately, though, what it looks like is that the questioner is asking about is a cause/effect relation. Obviously, there is some speculation, but the answer will typically revolve around the differing attitudes of Lincoln vs. Johnson towards the South, as well as the psychological impact of the assassination.

The underlying presupposition to such a question is that humans behave an orderly, generally predictable way. If we say that Reconstruction would have been kinder and gentler, then we are really saying something about the softer character of Lincoln. Alternatively, if we say that it would have been more severe, we may be saying something about the terror that the assassination had on Johnson.

To take a Biblical example:

1 Samuel 23:12 Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.

The LORD here is saying something about the character of the men of Keilah: their fear of Saul was greater than their loyalty to David. Had David stayed, this aspect of their nature would have resulted in their handing David over to Saul. God doesn’t answer David either, “They might or might not – depends what I decree,” or “They might or might not – depends what they choose.” Instead, God reveals something to David about the hearts of men of Keilah, something that God could see, though David could not see.

So, to answer, your question: no, there’s not a corresponding statement in Calvinism, because Calvinism rejects a third category of knowledge called “middle knowledge.” Instead, Calvinism addresses hypothetical questions asked now, in time, as relating either to natural or free knowledge, depending on the situation, as illustrated above.

You also asked: “Do you consider that God directs the will in each decision, or is it possible that God directs circumstances (the particulars of a particular situation) in order to bring about the steps he has chosen for the man in advance? Or would you agree it is a little of both (or either/or depending on what needs to be done in the moment)?” God works all things together – so that the operate according to his infinitely perfect plan. How God does this is not always clear. God seems to have set in place “laws of nature” (for example) that dictate how matter moves and acts, and God also seems to have set in place certain sociological or psychological laws that dictate how human beings move and act. The study of economics, for example, is possible because of the general predictability of humans, which suggests underlying laws of behavior. Nevertheless, it is not always clear in any given case how God directs such-and-such a person to decide on such-and-such a course of action. One thing we deny: that God does violence to man’s will in the ordinary course of life.

Steve Hays of Triablogue also has provided some comments (here). His thoughts are mostly not directly directed as critique on what I wrote but as relating to science fiction stories regarding time travel. I have enjoyed at least one of Steve’s short stories on time travel (I have this one in mind), and obviously my post shouldn’t be interpreted as any sort of condemnation of those stories.

Steve mentions, “5. Finally, I’m not entirely sure if I agree with Turretin Fan on the coherence of prophecy. The potential problem is this: if a prophecy is too detailed, it generates a dilemma. For it thereby invites its own failure.” Steve mentions that a very detailed prophecy could still be fulfilled even if it were communicated in great detail to a person, but he states that “However, Calvinism traditionally rejects such a coercive model of fulfillment.” I think it is fair to say that Calvinism generally does reject the idea that God normally operates coercively with respect to man’s will. Of course, though, God is not limited to using coercive means to bring about his end. On the other hand, the story of Jonah provides something of a counter-example. Ultimately, though, I agree that God does not bring about the fulfillment of prophecy in a fatalistic way. Thus, if the prophecy about Cyrus’ name was communicated to Cyrus’ mother, God also arranged that this woman would enjoy fulfilling the prophecy.

Ultimately, any thought there is need for fatalistic measures lies in a limited view of the extent of God’s arrangement of things. In other words, God could arrange it so that He would not be revealing the future to uncooperative people (I think this corresponds – at least roughly – to the restrictions that Steve places on prophecy in his article). If God communicates the future, he does so for a reason – perhaps even the reason of bringing about the future. I found it interesting to observe in the recent Disney film, “Kung Fu Panda,” that the Kung Fu master is depicted as a type 2 seer, seeing the unavoidable future. In an interesting plot device (*spoiler alert*), the fact that the prophecy cannot be avoided is foreshadowed by a cryptic comment by the senior master. The prophecy relates to the escape of a particular prisoner. The junior master, not realizing that the escape is inevitable, sends his messenger to warn the prison. While at the prison, the messenger drops an item (a feather) that enables the prisoner to escape, thereby leading to the fulfillment of the prophecy.



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