Tag Archives: causal determinism

The Calvinistic Adventures of Doug

Josh Lowery, A friend of mine from Facebook has created a series of videos exploring the idiosyncraties of Calvinism. This series is titled “The Damned”, and it provides a pretty good synopsis of some of the biggest problems in Calvinism.

Doug’s first taste of Calvinism

Doug’s Theological Trap

It’s the Glory, Stupid!

Force feeding

Theologizing le Babel

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How not to answer the question of evil

Here is Voddie Baucham Jr.‘s treatment of the question of evil:

A couple of things need to be observed here:

  1. Voddie completely dodges the question.
  2. Voddie turns the question around to be about the questioner.
  3. Voddie derides the questioner by assaulting their intelligence (his preamble regarding first year philosophy students is not only uncalled for but a clear appeal to authority, namely his own)

Man does not put God under a standard by asking the question. The problem with Voddie’s approach, which seems typical for most Calvinists, is that it attempts to avoid the real and serious question by attempting to turn it around to be all about the questioner. This attempt at trivializing a weighty subject is the paramount of both arrogance and ignorance in my estimation.

The issue is this: If God causally directs all events “for His glory” as men like John Piper have often claimed in the past, then

  1. How can we say that evil really exists (since all things are causally directed by God)
  2. How can we hold any other creature accountable for something they have no causal control over (beating a dead horse is the phrase that comes to mind here) and
  3. How are we to make sense of God claiming to be at war with something he secretly causes to bring about his ends.

You see, none of the above issues..

  1. ..depend on a standard of holiness that is independent of God (though I’m sure you’ll take the time honored tradition of redefining words in a desperate attempt to further weasel out of this problem) or
  2. ..have anything to do with the questioner, these issues would still exist even if all men (and angels) were wiped out in the next instant.

As one person pointed out in an earlier conversation regarding this issue. This does not have to be an issue that does great damage to Calvinism. Afterall, many Calvinists like Alvin Plantinga have long since accepted the fact that only by upholding the limited freedom of other causal agents such as men and angels, as the Bible clearly teaches, can we avoid the horrible implications raised in a causally closed universe. However this is a very damaging challenge against a particular brand of hyper-Calvinism which depends on a causally deterministic view of God in relation to His creation.

For any answer to the problem of evil to be considered even remotely good it needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. It needs to recognize the pain and suffering in the universe.
  2. It needs to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the question. Flippant appeals to sovereignty, mankind’s depravity, or anything else simply will not do here.
  3. It needs to actually show how it is logically possible for evil to exist in a world created and sustained by an thrice holy God. This means showing both
    1. How evil can even exist and
    2. How God is truly separated from that evil

For a good example of how to answer the question of evil I recommend this material from Dr Little, this debate between Michael Brown and Bart Ehrman, and this lecture by Dr William Lane Craig.

Now because I don’t want you to form the opinion that all of Voddie’s material is worthless. Here is an excellent clips of him dealing with the issue of marriage and how men ought to love their wives:

Does responsibility presuppose freedom?

A friend of mine on Facebook posted the following video with the following claim:

No responsibility doesn’t presuppose freedom, but responsibility does presuppose authority.

Here is my initial response, along with the ensuing conversation’s highlights.

It presupposes both actually. Responsibility requires both someone to be held accountable and someone to be held accountable to. Both subsiquiently require a certain amount of freedom to choose. Both to set the standard of responsibility as well as whether to even attempt to live up to the standard set. To negate the freedom of either is to render them an object and not an agent. And objects cannot be responsible or authoritative. Humans aren’t objects, and neither is God.

Why do both [causal agents] require freedom?

They require freedom in order to be considered causal agents. I explained this in my previous note when I talked about how responsibility presupposes that both the one being held accountable and the one to whom we are accountable need to be agents and not objects.

You changed the question entirely to whether you were predestined to do one thing or it was entirely undetermined by any but yourself.1

No, I think your theological presuppositions are getting in the way of your understanding my question and its significance as to the present topic.

You asserted earlier that I am mistaken. Well that implies that I am responsible for presenting accurate information. So my question is whether my mistakenness is my own fault due to my own limited but free choices in what information to pursue and what propositional truth claims to maintain as true or whether I have no free will at all (not absolute freedom mind you, that is a straw man on your part) and thus have no alternative than to be mistaken about my assertions. In the former case responsibility and the subsequent admonition are warranted whereas in the second case responsibility is negated simply because there is nothing I could have done otherwise.

If our responsibility is founded on our freedom, how is it that Jesus Christ is held responsible for our sins instead of us when he did not perpetrate them?

Jesus was held responsible for our sins? That is news to me. I was under the impression that He willingly paid a debt He did not owe. However it is funny that you should bring this up as it lends itself further to the notion that men have limited freedom since their sins are just that, theirs, and not someone else’s. The very notion of sin, like responsibility, necessitate at least enough freedom on the part of the agent charged with sin to have possibly opted to not sin. Otherwise, if you negate any and all freedom whatsoever, or if you redefine will to mean something other than will, you are left with a logical contradiction (not just mystery) in that men sin by necessity and due to a causal determination outside of their own volition.

In the end, I think you understand the correct and logically cohesive argument since you state it quite plainly:
“If I am responsible, then I am free. I am free therefore I am responsible.
Then you give the further proof: If I am causally determined (by some thing other than myself) then I am not responsible, I am responsible therefore I am not causally determined (by some thing other than myself).”

Simply put, yes. This is correct since men are not robots but causal agents capable of making limited but truly free choices.

If responsibility is required then freedom to respond is available. Responsibility is required therefore freedom to respond is available.

Responsibility: definition

Responsible: definition

1 a : liable to be called on to answer b (1) : liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent (2) : being the cause or explanation c : liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties
2 a : able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations : trustworthy b : able to choose for oneself between right and wrong

So you see. The language of causal agency is etched into the very definition of the words used. So unless you want to take the route of being a pure deconstructionalist, wishing (freely) to remake the English language in your own image (by redefining words as you see fit) then I would consider this topic to be rather simple and resolved purely on account of the necessity of linguistic structures.

Responsibility requires the ability to respond by a causal agent. Causal agency entails some degree of freedom to choose. Or, in this case, “choose between right and wrong”.

To sum it all up. Those who disagree with the notion that responsibility presupposes the freedom to make real, morally significant moral choices are, themselves, mistaken. It is not God or any other outside agent or force that has caused them to be mistaken, their error is wholly their own.

Note, that if a person wants to deny the above paragraph they cannot simply say that I am mistaken since such a claim would, itself, necessitate the limited freedom to be 1. wrong and 2. responsible for correcting that wrong belief. The best someone who wants to deny true causal agency (aka limited free will) and who implicitly wants to affirm causal determinism can say is that I have been predestined according to forces wholly beyond my control (which goes without saying, but I feel the need to be overly specific and verbose here) to believe the way I do. They cannot, however, say that I am wrong in my beliefs. Because no matter how hard they try, they cannot get around the fact that to deny causal agency, which is the core of limited freedom, is to unhinge the whole notion of responsibility by destroying. And no amount of redefining words is enough to save such a wholly illogical and philosophically untenable position.

  1. After a previous response I received the objection that I was mistaken. The quoted comment, then, is in response to my question as to whom was mistaken, me or God. The purpose of this inquiry was to implicate the intuitive nature of limited freedom being asserted here. []

Another primer on Molinism/Middle Knowledge 2 of 2

Here is a follow-up to the exchange I posted on earlier wherein I received and answered a question from someone interested in learning more about the Biblical doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.

“Now, I may be incorrectly understanding Craig’s explanation of how middle knowledge is supposed to have worked, but I believe he detailed a scenario in which God looked out before creation and saw an infinite host of “parallel universes” (my phrase) encompassing all possible individual choices of his creatures and “picked one.””

There aren’t an infinite number of parallel universes. Middle Knowledge is of possible universes, the vast majority of which are not actualized. For example, one possible universe would be a universe with nothing in it except for empty space. Another possible universe might be one in which I married someone other than the woman I am currently married to. However there is no possible universe where 1+1 does not equal 2.

As for the choices entailed in each logically possible world, you also have to keep in mind that God’s own actions (or possible actions) are also contained within the mind (through divine omniscience) of God. I am confident that once you dwell on that for a little while you’re mind will be as blown as mine was when I first began to plumb the depths of what it means to say that our God is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27).

The possible worlds God possesses foreknowledge of, and what primarily constitutes what we call the middle knowledge of God is the knowledge of counterfactuals. These are facts or truthful statements of “what might-have-been”. They are not a part of God’s free knowledge

“That in some sense (and this is where my understanding may be flawed) human free will is pre-existent to the Creative Decree”

This is actually a variant on what is formally known as “the grounding objection”. The short answer to this apparently problem is that God’s foreknowledge of future free events is not based on the agents themselves but on God’s knowledge of himself (specifically his omniscience or knowledge of all things). His foreknowledge couldn’t be predicated on the agents whose choices are foreknown since the agents that are foreknown did not exist at some point in time (which would mean that God’s knowledge would be limited and finite). Rather, such future free actions of causal agents (which includes angels along with humans at the least) are whats known as “brute facts” which are logically along the lines of facts such as mathematics like the concept of 1+1=2.

So when God laments in Genesis 6:6 he is not lamenting the actualizing of a world wherein free creatures would rebel in stunning (though not surprising) ways. But God’s lament is expressed within space and time (which is another rich topic) over the actualization of sin and rebellion. In short, just like Lazarus’s death was foreknown and even foreordained, Jesus still weeps in John 11:35 not because of a lack of knowledge in the formal sense (that is, being aware of facts) but because of a lack of experience (that is, the actualized event that was previously foreknown).

Another primer on Molinism/Middle Knowledge 1 of 2

I recently received the following via a Facebook message (reposed with permission):

Wes

Pardon the unsolicited message–and I see that with your 3K+ friends, your ability to reply may be limited–but I’m a long-suffering “anti-Calvinist” who’s only now beginning to study Molinism.

I noticed through Facebook’s VERY unprivate data search mechanisms that you are a fairly outspoken Molinist of sorts and some random comments I’ve read of yours lead me to believe you might be prepared to shed some light on a couple of things for me.

Previously, I’d developed a general aversion to any system of theology simply because I saw all “sides” of this or that debate simply bypassing a reconciliation effort in favor of a “these verses mean what they say, those don’t” approach. Now that I’ve dipped my toes in Molinism (via WLC’s defense of it in the book I’ve linked to), I’m at least hopeful. Now, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around some of the hermeneutic’s particulars, but there are two verses, one a proof text for the reformed crowd and one for the openness crowd, that I’m wondering how Molinism addresses.

Reformed: Eph. 1:11

Openness: Gen. 6:6

Whenever you could get back to me, that would be super. Thanks in advance for whatever time you can dedicate to it.

Sincerely
Josh Lowery

Since I love the doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge I decided to try and give Josh as much information on the subject as I could in a single Facebook message. What follows, then, is sort-of the fire-hose method of discussing an otherwise deep and rich subject in a relatively short amount of time.

Hey Josh,

Thanks for the message, unsolicited or not 😉

I am indeed a huge fan of Molinism. As Thomas P. Flint mentions in his excellent work “Divine Providence: The Molinist Account”, Molinism’s twin pillars are God’s sovereignty and mankind’s limited free agency.

As to the specific verses you mentioned. I would argue that Eph 1:11 is primarily referring to Christ and how our redemption is worked out ahead of time in him. Thus the “all things” are directly referring to the salvation brought about in Christ. Calvinists often point to this verse by way of saying that God causes all things. However the idea of causal determinism has some very serious flaws.

The most significant of which is that it ends up making God culpable for all sin, evil, and suffering in the world. You can study more on this vein of thought through Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy, (my favorite) Bruce Little’s Creation Order Theodicy, and (ok, another favorite) Udo Middleman’s Innocence of God.

I must admit I haven’t encountered Genesis 6:6 used in the open theistic sense but having read a lot of Boyd I can certainly see how it could be portrayed that way.

Basically open theism is, in my estimation, the perfect opposite of the Calvinistic view. However the reason for this is that they both have a wrong understanding of what free will is. Both systems have a view that if God contains foreknowledge of future-free events then that somehow means that men are not free. WLC has an excellent book on this very subject entitled “Only Wise God” wherein he refutes this flawed understanding of free agency in connection with supreme sovereignty and by destroying the linkage of premises in the argument (that is, that 1. God’s foreknowledge inevitably means that 2. men cannot have free causal agency) he, in my estimation anyway, manages to utterly demolish both erroneous views while upholding what a plain reading of the text seems to indicate (that is, that God is sovereign and men’s choices are their own).

So yes, God can lament over the choices of men in Genesis 6:6 and Exodus 32:1-14, as well as change the course of events in 2 Kings 20 in response to prayer all without sacrificing God’s foreknowledge, omnipotence, or without damaging God’s predestined plan for the universe.

How can this be? I believe you’ve rightly discerned what many people have believed intrinsically, even without knowing the formal theological system cobbled together initially by a Jesuit priest. That is the doctrine of Molinism or Middle Knowledge (as many prefer to call it now).

Unfortunately there has not been very much work done on the doctrine on Molinism/Middle Knowledge until recently. Now, however, there has been quite a flurry of work done from a very diverse theological crowd including some staunch Calvinists (like Alvin Plantinga!). In fact, one of the reasons I hold to the system of Molinism is because it has been such a unifying force along such a diverse group of orthodox Christians. I am forced to conclude that, like the extra-Biblical doctrine of the trinity, Molinism is a solid Biblical framework for understanding the interplay of God’s sovereignty and Mankind (and Angelic kind)’s limited free agency.

At any rate, here is a link to the best resources I’ve found on the subject of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.

Also, here is a brief outline I wrote on the doctrine of Molinism a while back. And here is a post I wrote on the biggest objection to Molinism (the grounding objection).

I hope that at least helps point you in the right direction. Let me know if you have any additional questions/thoughts/concerns. Even with 3k friends on Facebook I can always find time to talk about this topic (and many more).

Blessings,
Wes

For Esau I have hated.

One of the most common proof-texts used to show that God arbitrarily elects some to salvation while damning others without merit or cause is Romans 9:13

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Many people have a hard time with this passage as it is often posited as evidence of God’s sovereign choice unto election of Jacob and express damnation of Esau “before he had done good or evil”.

The first thing to note about this section is that the phrase “for Esau I have hated” is derived from the words of the prophet Malachi who, in Malachi 1:2-3, was talking about the nations of Edom and Israel. In the same manner Paul, writing in Romans 9 after a lengthy discussion regarding the need for his fellow Israelites to repent, was discussing the lineage of the chosen Messiah. It is a very large exegetical stretch to come to the conclusion that Romans 9 is talking about individual salvation since the context is the messiah’s lineage. consequently, the pots mentioned in Romans 9:19-26 are not people but nations.

At this point, many (primarily from the reformed camp) will argue along the lines that “nations are made up of people”. While this is true, we are still a long ways away from a particular view of election.

Hebrews 12:16 seems to indicate that Esau was a profane man but you don’t seem to think that God foreknew that or that such a knowledge could have played a part in God’s choosing. It seems plausible that the foreknown, freely made choice to sin was the basis for God’s hatred and condemnation of both the person of Esau as well as the nation that sprung from Esau’s loins; why then would we think that the same sort of freely chosen and foreknown transgressions wouldn’t be the basis of God’s choice to bring the promised seed through one and not the other?

For a more in-depth treatment of this subject I encourage you to listen to:

Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth?

I recently debated the relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s sovereignty with a dean of a reformed seminary in Colorado Springs. During our discussion He told me that libertarian freedom is a myth. Here’s my response:

To claim that libertarian free will is a myth is to introduce a logical paradox in that we disagree, where do our disagreements and confusion come from if not from our own free wills/minds? Either we (and everything) is causally controlled (not just determined from eternity past) or we aren’t. If we are, and if you maintain that God is the puppeteer1, then God becomes the one who essentially disagrees with himself.

You also seem to be confused (as evidenced by the host of straw men you’ve managed to manufacture) as to the motives behind the desire of people like myself to uphold the doctrine of libertarian freedom2. You seem to think, along lines common to many Calvinists I’ve noticed, that my motives are to lower God or exalt man. Nothing could be farther from the truth which is quite the opposite. If we slaughter libertarian freedom (which includes the power to act against God’s wishes/will) then you end up pinning all sin, destruction, evil, etc. on God which, as Job’s friends quickly found out, brings God no glory.

The bottom line is that while not verse in Scripture trumps another3, it is our sacred duty to uphold all of the tenets of Scripture (including libertarian freedom and God’s predestining) with equal tenacity. If we uphold one aspect of God’s character above others we bring God no glory and do not do justice to a faithful and honest search for truth. God’s love or creative choice to allow conscious beings other than himself to exist is in no conflict with his sovereignty, omnipotence, or omniscience.

  1. Calvinists whine about this comparison all the time claiming it is an unfair characterization. Unfortunately, the shoe fits and I haven’t heard a reformed person (who doesn’t hold to Molinism, which excludes them from being classically reformed) offer any reason why such a characterization is not warranted yet. I’m always open to rebuttals, though, so if you can offer a reason as to why this characterization doesn’t fit, feel free to comment below! []
  2. Unfortunately many people who hold to reformed doctrine assume that opponents to the notion of causal determinism (like me) hold their positions out of willful defiance or stubborn pride. Sadly, this shows how poorly educated even many proponents of reformed theology are. Sadder still is the fact that the existence of credentials (like a Phd.) makes little difference when it comes to willful ignorance of the honest philosophical difficulties detractors may have to their position. []
  3. For the life of me I don’t understand why reformed proponents can’t accept that our differences lie not in the text, but in our interpretation of the text which includes our philosophical presuppositions. For this reason I loathe the challenge of “Oh yeah? Show me that in scripture!” []

Wordy Wednesday: Counterfactual

Counterfactuals are statements about “what might have been” regarding an event in time had circumstances been different.1

Counterfactual statements are characterized by the conditional keywords “if-then”, as in “if Obama had not raised the national debt to record levels, unemployment would have been much higher.”

The “counter” part of a “counterfactual” statement is that such a statement may be true even through the event described never happened (or “obtained”). The value of such statements is only apparent if one assumes a non-causally deterministic view of the universe where different circumstances (or decisions by causal agents) could have caused events to turn out differently.

Counterfactuals are intergal to the Molinistic view of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the limited causal agency of man (in other words, limited free will). Specifically, counterfactuals are what give us reason to believe in the existence of logically possible worlds and the notion that while God certainly does predestine all that happens2 there exist truly free, albeit limited, causal agents such as humans and angels.

Verses that point to the existence of counterfactual (statements that can only be valid if there were a logically possible world where the events described would have obtained if circumstances were different) are Jeremiah 38:17-181 Samuel 23:6-10, Matthew 11:23, 1 Corinthians 2:8, John 15:22-24, John 18:36, Luke 4:24-46 and Matthew 26:24

Note that each of the above statements would be rendered incoherent if they were not true in their counter (not obtained) factual (proposition of truth).

  1. For more information, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry. []
  2. Since, out of all logically possible worlds, or potential worlds, He chose to actualize the one we are currently in. []

How does a belief in causal determinism influence how one lives?

A friend of mine recently asked what, if any, impact the belief in causal determinism (or lack thereof) has in practical day-to-day living. Here’s my answer:

Well, one example to the contrary1 is this:

I never locked my doors.

This was because I believed that men had no free will and that not only were all things determined, but that they were causally and directly brought about by God. So that, if someone were to break into my house or steal my car, or even if I or someone I loved were to become ill, such an event or circumstance would be directly caused by God himself so that any interference2 would be bad and wrong3.

As you know, this view didn’t serve me very well practically4 and the realization that we are commanded to take reasonable measures to secure what we are in charge of or responsible for (which includes people as well as possessions) led me to change my beliefs which, in turn, made me change my behavior.

I now lock my doors5 as religiously as I kept them unlocked because my belief in causal determinism vs. limited freedom changed.

  1. When I did hold to a view of causal determinism as a result of my commitment to Calvinism. []
  2. I never did reconcile how all things could be causally determined and yet we still influence their outcomes. This lingering paradox also helped lead me to the abandonment of the belief in causal determinism. []
  3. I used to hear all the time how we ought to never “get ahead of God” or interfere with “God’s plan”. such notions sound nice, but upon further examination they are neither logical nor Biblically mandated. []
  4. My car was stolen, keys still in the ignition. This happened in the driveway next to our house, which also was not locked, which contained an infant and a 2 year old inside. Needless to say, this incident was a very clear catalyst to cause me to re-evaluate my beliefs on the matter. []
  5. I still maintain that all events are predetermined, just not causally so such that my actions do not matter. For more information on how these seemingly opposing views can be safely reconciled to the detriment of neither, see my previous post on Molinism. []

Wordy Wednesday: Causal determinism

I’ve used the phrase “causal determinism” quite a lot recently when talking about the doctrine of Middle Knowledge/Molinism and one of it’s chief competitors, the Calvinistic notion of soverigenty which posits God as being the one who “decrees all that comes to pass”.

Since this isn’t a phrase that isn’t often used outside of philosophical circles, I figured it would be helpful to take a minute and define this term and how it has a significant bearing on the philosophical presuppositions we filter everything, including our interpretation of Scripture, through.

Simply put, causal determinism is the notion that every event is directly caused or decreed either by an impersonal force like the Fates or destiny, a natural series of causes and effects1 constrained within a causally closed system2, or a personal deity like Allah or, as some suppose, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.

A more in-depth study regarding the validity of the notion of causal determinism3 is beyond the scope of this post. My intention here is to merely present the term for edification and clarification in the future as we explore what I believe to be one of the most significant divisions within all of Christendom. Indeed, I would argue (elsewhere of course) that the abandonment of causal determinism is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity.

  1. Think about the famous, but hopelessly simplistic, debate regarding nature vs. nurture []
  2. That is, the notion that there are no non-material influences or causes. No souls or wills. Your mind is merely a biological information processing unit. []
  3. Or, as Turretinfan asserts, oozes from Scripture []