Erasing stupidology and overcoming the cognitive malfunction which sweeps the human mind.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Turning Skepticism on the Skeptics

In his monumental work Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga notes, "By now, logical positivism has retreated into the obscurity it so richly deserves." But has it? In academia the answer is a resounding yes; in the lives of most mainstream and blog-type people, the answer is no. I continually encounter logical positivism in conversations with skeptics in person and online, who seem to believe it delivers the fatal blow to theism. Unfortunately, the lay-skeptic hasn't done their homework.

"The positivists appealed to the dreaded 'Verifiability Criterion of Meaning,' according to which a sentence makes sense, is literally significant, or is cognitively meaningful only if it is 'empirically verifiable' (or falsifiable)--only if, that is, its truth (or falsehood) can be established by something like the methods of natural and empirical science." (Warranted Christian Belief, pg. 8)

The basic idea is that a sentence only has meaning if it is either self-evident, or empirically verifiable. Obviously this leaves out statements about God, which is why skeptics employ it so frequently. They do so unsuccessfully however. There are several problems with this notion. First, there is an incredible amount of ambiguity surrounding just what is self-evident. Second, based on this definition of meaning, vast tracts of literature such as math, logic, history, and the like would be deemed utterly meaningless. Finally, the sentence expressing the definition itself appears to be neither self-evident nor empirically verifiable, so it is self-defeating.

One commonly runs into forms of positivism in discussions about the question of God's existence. Skeptics offer statements like "despite all our advancements, science has not discovered God," or "you cant scientifically prove God exists," or "there isnt any scientific evidence for God," and their ilk. First, it is simply not true that we have no scientific evidence for God. One widely used argument is the cosmological argument, which makes inferences from big bang cosmology. But beyond the evidence we in fact do have, is it at all necessary for Christians to be able to empirically prove God exists? Well, I dont think so. For one thing, science involves observation, measurement, experimentation, and the like. If God is a spirit (as the Bible maintains) then what reason do we have to expect physical observations and measurements to detect him? Moreover, if the Biblical account is true, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to empirically prove that God exists, for the Bible describes mankind as spiritually dead and separated from God. As Plantinga sees it, our faculties which are designed to form true beliefs about God are damaged and not functioning properly. This is why revelation and the instigation of the Holy Spirit are needed if we are to believe God exists.

As if this werent enough for the poor positivist, we can also turn similar skepticism against the skeptic. Numerous Gettier examples can be given to show how beliefs formed by empirical verification may lack warrant and fail to count as knowledge. Suppose a Cartesian Demon has maliciously altered our faculties so that whenever we observe a tree in our back yard, we form the belief that we hear a dog barking. On a given occasion we observe the tree and there just so happens to be a dog down the street barking at the same moment. We would be completely justified in believing we hear a dog barking. That justified belief also happens to be true in this instance. But does it count as knowledge? Certainly not. It is easy to see how the same kind of problem can apply to our scientific observations or measuring apparatuses. Our scientific beliefs could all be wildly mistaken. Now, of course I dont believe they are, but the point is that ultimately, the skeptic cannot survive his own skepticism, and epistemology naturalized (in W. V. O. Quinne's fashion) is simply too restrictive. In fact epistemology would seem to precede science in a certain sense.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Simon

Hey Simon,

If you're still out there reading blogs, feel free to email me if you want discussion on anything. Your email was bounced back too so I guess everything is down. Anyway keep up the good work and don't let ignorant people affect you too much. Here's to better health...

Dave

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Theological Fatalism

I am indebted to William Lane Craig for his work on the subject.

In recent generations, the coherence of theism (or the analysis of the attributes of God) has come under attack. You may have heard claims to the effect that the very notion of God is incoherent. One attribute that has suffered immense attacks is divine omniscience.

Omniscience is traditionally defined: person S is omniscient if and only if S knows every true proposition and believes no false proposition. This definition entails that if there are true propositions expressed by future tensed sentences, then God must know them. For example, if it is true that “Jon will eat a Chipotle burrito next Friday,” then God must have always known the proposition expressed by this sentence. But, if God has always known the truth of this proposition, then isn’t Jon fated to eat a Chipotle burrito on Friday? And if Jon’s action is truly free, how can God foreknow it? The first question describes what is known as fatalism. For the ancient Greek philosophers, fatalism was merely logical – it was the idea that whatever will happen, will necessarily happen. For the church, the fatalism has theological implications: it says that if God foreknows that some even will happen, then it will necessarily happen.

The fatalist’s argument goes like this:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.

2. God foreknows X.

3. Therefore, X will necessarily happen.

I should take an aside here to explain logic a bit for those not familiar with the terms. Necessity in logic means that no other truth value is possible. If a proposition is necessarily true, then under no conditions is it ever false. Mathematical propositions are like this. For example, the proposition 2 + 1 = 3 is necessarily true if true at all. It can never be false. Alternatively, contingency means that the truth value of a proposition is conditional and may change under differing circumstances. An example: “if it is raining, the ground is wet.” The proposition “the ground is wet” is true when it is raining, but false when it is not (barring of course any other reasons why the ground might be wet). The proposition “the ground is wet” is contingently true.

Returning to the fatalist’s argument; the problem is that the argument as it stands is fallacious. To illustrate the fallacy, I will borrow an example from Craig:

1. Necessarily, if Tom is a bachelor, then Tom is unmarried.

2. Tom is a bachelor.

3. Therefore, Tom is necessarily unmarried.

The reader should be able to see from our discussion of necessity, that there is no reason to conclude from the argument that Tom is necessarily unmarried. He just is unmarried. Certainly he is free to marry at any time. The conclusion itself needs to be contingent and should be stated:

3’. Therefore, Tom is unmarried.


The valid form of the argument is as follows:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.

2. God foreknows X.

3. Therefore, X will happen.

There is no logical reason to carry the necessity of the first premise to the conclusion. X will not necessarily happen; it just will happen. Some fatalists have argued that if X fails to occur, then we have falsified God’s past beliefs, and of course the thought of God being wrong is incompatible with omniscience. This is a mistake. If Jon chooses not to eat a Chipotle burrito on Friday (refraining from X), then the conclusion “X will happen,” is false. Does this imply that God was mistaken? Clearly not. In a valid argument, if the premises are true, then the conclusion will also be true. Since we have a false conclusion, we can be sure that at least one of the premises is also false. Since the first premise is entailed by the definition of omniscience, the second premise appears suspect. In the case of ~X occurring (not X), then it must be false that “God foreknows X.” Instead, God would have always foreknown ~X.


Confronted with the fallacy in the argument, fatalists have attempted to revise the argument as follows:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, the X will happen.

2. Necessarily, God foreknows X.

3. Therefore, X will necessarily happen.

The revision corrects the fallacy; the argument is now valid. But the problem now is that premise 2 seems obviously false. Indeed it seems necessarily false. Christians have always maintained that creation was a free act of God’s will. It is not necessary for God to foreknow that “Jon will eat the Chipotle burrito next Friday” (X) because God could have refrained from created Jon in the first place. So the revision proves no more successful.

In the end, the fatalist argument is unsuccessful and easily rejected, preserving human freedom and maintaining divine omniscience.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Who Cares? Christians and Philosophy

Does philosophy matter? Should the church care? The average Christian is unaware of the intellectual struggle taking place in universities, scholarly journals, and professional societies. Theistic worldviews, and particularly Christianity, are under attack from naturalism and antirealism. The task of evangelism involves not only converting the heart, but the mind as well. The Christian church is dangerously behind with respect to the second (thought there are several great people undergoing that task specifically). The mind is not being cared for.

Perhaps this is the result of many Christians’ happy-go-lucky, “just believe by faith” type of attitude. This attitude is not only crippling, it is profoundly unbiblical. The Biblical notion of faith is not this sort of blind belief, but rather a whole-hearted trusting of one’s life to God. Paul frequently uses argumentation and reason when presenting the gospel (Acts, 2 Cor 10:5). Peter also asks that we be capable of providing reasons for the faith we have (1 Pet 3:15). Perhaps another reason is that many Christians have an undue fear of philosophy because they naturally assume it to be aligned against God or faith. Of course there are philosophical views and ideas which do just that, but it would be a mistake to accuse the discipline itself of such treachery. Philosophical reflection can be thought of simply as thinking hard. Anyone who attempts to present a view of morality or ethics is engaging in philosophical discussion.

Back to the point: why does philosophy matter? Or more specifically why does philosophy matter to the Christian church? In western culture the most significant vehicle shaping the worldviews of our leaders are universities. Political leaders, business people, lawyers, journalists, artists, etc. are trained in universities and will form most of their views there. Whatever worldview obtains most prominence will permeate throughout our culture. “One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tide in such a way as to foster a sociocultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women.” (Craig, Moreland: Philophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2). Moreover, since philosophy underlies every major discipline: math, science, history, religion, etc. it is a significant stronghold for Christian influence.

If our culture is to be reformed, lay people also need to engage in intellectual dialogue. Sadly, our churches are filled with people whose minds have not been converted; they are passive, busy, infantile, and empty. Craig and Moreland correctly note:

“What will be the theological understanding, the evangelistic courage, the cultural penetration of such a church? If the interior life does not really matter all that much, why should one spend the time trying to develop an intellectual, spiritually mature life? If someone is basically passive, he will just not make the effort to read, preferring instead to be entertained. If a person is sensate in orientation, then music, magazines filled with pictures, and visual media in general will be more important than mere words on a page or abstract thoughts. If someone is overly individualistic, infantile and narcissistic, what will that person read if he reads at all? Books about Christian celebrities, Christian romance novels imitating the worst that society has to offer, Christian self-help books filled with slogans, simplistic moralizing, lots of stories and pictures, and inadequate diagnoses of the problems facing the reader. What will not be read are books that equip people to develop a well-reasoned, theological understanding of the Christian faith and to assume their role in the broader work of the kingdom of God…What makes this envisioned scenario so distressing is that we do not have to imagine such a church; rather, this is an apt description of far too many American evangelical churches today.” (ibid. 5)

My intent with this post is not to rant, but to encourage Christian lay people to engage in serious dialogue and research because the outcome of this intellectual struggle is so important. Thankfully there are several scholars in the field producing a prodigious work including William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Douglas Geivett, Paul Copan, Norman Geisler, Francis Beckwith, and many more. However, their effectiveness will be limited until lay people take up their where they leave off and engage the general public.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Clearing Up Contemporary Calvinistic Confusion

John 6

Jesus is in a debate with the religious leaders who claim to have special knowledge and standing with God. Their charge seeks to disassociate Jesus with God, denying the former while affirming the latter. They are attempting to show that they know God but Jesus is foreign to them - that they are in a right relationship with God and they reject Jesus.

Jesus counters them by asserting that they never knew God in the first place. "You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you." (John 5:37-38). They had already rejected testimony of John the Baptist as well as Moses: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 5:46).

The point of the passage is this: Jesus' opponents could not come to him because of their track record of rejecting his previous offerings of light. They had denied God and spurned correction. Had they fully accepted Moses, they would have belonged to God and he would have lead them to Christ. Since they did not belong to God, they would not be part of the transfer from God to Jesus (6:37, 39). If they dropped their presuppositions and surrendered to God's teaching, they would have been taught by God and lead to Jesus. (6:45)

There is no reason to think that this passage teaches that people need some special permission from God in order to come to Christ. The point is that one cannot affirm God while denying Christ. All that God has he gave to Jesus, thus all who were in his care, he handed over to Jesus to shepherd.

The answer to the question to whom does "no one" refer is quite simple: it means no one who has a relationship with the one true God and creator of the universe refrains from coming to Christ. Part of the confusion may lay in our point of view. One might assert that we come to God through Christ. We meet with Christ and are then able to get to the father. That is quite correct, but it is not the situation Jesus was addressing. Jesus had just come to earth. The Jews supposed they already had a relationship with God.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pharaoh's Hard Heart

A Middle Knowledge Perspective

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Rom 9:17-18 (NAS)

Probably no passage in the Bible has created more controversy among orthodox Christianity than Romans 9. However, I want to posit with J Magnum, that this controversy is the result of a simple misunderstanding rather than Biblical paradox or mystery as some like to call it. Did Pharaoh harden his heart? Did God harden it? Did both? How should we understand this? History and Bible scholarship alone cannot explain the answer to these questions because it is in no way explicit or even implicit in the Bible. Hence, it is the job of the Christian philosopher to construct an adequate hypothesis.

Below is a list of several key verses from the Exodus story, detailing Pharaoh’s dealings with God:

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” Ex. 5:2

But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. Ex. 7:3-4

Yet Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Ex. 7:13

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh's heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go.” Ex. 7:14

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Ex. 8:15

Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Ex. 8:19

But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go. Ex. 8:32

And the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. Ex. 9:12

The question that springs to most readers’ minds here is this: how can the Bible affirm both that Pharaoh hardened his heart and that God did? Did Pharaoh just do what God causally determined him to do? Well, I don’t think so. Such an inference is problematic because it would seem to imply that God is divided against himself. Why would God want disobedience from his creatures? Even more critically, could God determine that his creatures sin? Clearly not!

Now before I begin to explain this conundrum, I want to say that I am only trying to provide a possible model. I am not dogmatizing. That being said, the answer to this question, I think, lies in the doctrine of middle knowledge. Now the reader will need to be familiar with the middle knowledge scheme of God’s omniscience to understand the argument this article posits. For reading on the subject I would recommend William Lane Craig’s, The Only Wise God. In short, middle knowledge essentially accounts for God’s knowledge of true counterfactual propositions. These can be thought of like conditional statements such as when driving your car, you might think, “If I pull out now, I will make it.”

Given God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in any given set of circumstances, he can accomplish his divine purpose for the world by actualizing just those circumstances. The Bible affirms several times in the passages above that Pharaoh hardened his heart. Now according to divine middle knowledge, God would have known prior to Pharaoh’s even being born how he would react to God’s commands. Wanting to demonstrate his power to the world, God could have utilized that knowledge, bringing Pharaoh to power, knowing he would resist God and harden himself. Hence, it could be said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

I think further evidence of this can be gained by looking at a similar example. For example, in 2 Samuel, as the Philistines are closing in on Saul. Rather than let them capture him, he decides to fall on his sword committing suicide. The exact same story is told in 1 Chronicles 10:14 but the chronicler adds this commentary: “thus the Lord slew Saul.” How are we to make sense of this apart from middle knowledge? God cannot be held responsible for Saul’s sin. Rather, by God’s actualizing the exact circumstances in which he knew Saul would commit suicide, the chronicler can rightly assert that the Lord slew Saul. Saul remains responsible for his sin, and likewise Pharaoh remained free to harden his own heart.

Middle knowledge seems to provide an enlightening account of the story of Pharaoh. We have both preserved Pharaoh’s freedom, as well as given a strong account of God’s sovereignty and providence. Most importantly, we have left God unaccountable for Pharaoh’s sin.

Middle Knowledge for Everyone

According to Jesuit theologian Luis Molina, God knows different truths in logically different ways. This is not to say that God ever exists in a state of ignorance. It only serves to classify his knowledge in terms of logical priority. In God’s natural knowledge, he possesses knowledge of all possibilities like which creatures he might create. This knowledge is essential to God. In God’s middle knowledge, he knows not only how creatures could use their freedom, but also how each individual creature would behave in any given set of circumstances. The content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to him; it is contingent upon our actions. That is not to say God could lack such knowledge, but only that the content could have been different.

Middle knowledge draws support from Scripture. In 1 Sam 23:10-14 David is in the city of Keilah, with Saul in hot pursuit. David asks the Lord if the people of Keilah will hand David over to Saul, and if Saul will attack the city on his account. The Lord confirms both. So David and his men leave the city of Keilah. This story reveals that God does not only possess knowledge of the actual world and events which will obtain, but also counterfactual knowledge of what the people and Saul would do under alternative circumstances. It is based on God’s middle knowledge that David flees the city. There are also several prophecies given in Scripture which do not actually obtain. Does this mean God was mistaken? Not on the middle knowledge account. They are simply his revealing what would happen in circumstances C. Needless to say, such counterfactual knowledge serves to delimit the range of possible worlds God could create. For example, according to Craig, there might be a possible world with identical circumstances to ours, in which Peter freely refrains from denying Christ. However, such a world is not feasible for God, because were he to create it and place Peter in it, Peter would freely deny Christ. So God selects from the range of feasible worlds one world to create. The final logical moment in God’s knowledge is his free knowledge, which is just knowledge of what will certainly obtain in the actual world.

For further reading on the doctrine of Middle Knowledge, see William Lane Craig's, The Only Wise God. For more on possible worlds see Alvin Plantinga's, God, Freedom, and Evil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Molinism vs. Calvinism: A Debate With James White

Here is an old debate I had with James White that you may find of interest. By way of introduction, I must humbly admit that my original email sent through his website was really just a compilation of pot-shots written for the sole purpose of entertaining a friend. Assuming Dr. White receives a fair volume of mail, I did not expect a reply. Much to my surprise, I got one! Here is the resulting debate. I apologize for the length, but it is about 5 or 6 emails. The blue text indicates that James is quoting me in the body of his email. I hope it all makes sense.

Philosapologist wrote:

Regarding your article "Predestined: Personal or Generic"... It's filled with rather amusing half truths. I've yet to hear anyone from the Reformed/Calvinist school of thought explain human responsibility in a satisfying way. They seem content to just assert that it is true, even though it seems to be in explicit contradiction with their concept of regeneration. I'm a bit uncertain why you even have an apologetics section on your web site. Unbelievers cannot understand it anyway right? It seems incredible to dogmatize doctrines that are rather obscure in scripture and seem to be based solely on particular words rather than context. It's clear you lack the philosophical training to understand the "how" and "why" questions. Plantinga, Craig, Moreland, and others have no trouble preserving human freedom while accomplishing a very strong view of divine sovereignty.

Bless God, Dave

--------------------------------------------------

James White wrote:

At 04:09 PM 9/9/2005, you wrote:

Regarding your article "Predestined: Personal or Generic"... It's filled with rather amusing half truths. I've yet to hear anyone from the Reformed/Calvinist school of thought explain human
responsibility in a satisfying way.


Satisfying to whom? *I* certainly have, and since you did not deign it necessary to provide any substance to your accusation of "amusing half truths," neither myself, nor Mr. Kurschner, the author, could possibly provide any kind of meaningful response (a common failing of such notes, in my experience). I find Reymond's discussion of the issue, for example, quite compelling.

They seem content to just assert that it is true, even though it seems to be in explicit contradiction with their concept of regeneration.

May I suggest that the confusion may well lie...in your lack of understanding of the issues involved?

I'm a bit uncertain why you even have an apologetics section on your web site. Unbelievers cannot understand it anyway right?

Again, words that indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of very basic issues, I assure you. We do not simply have an apologetics section on our website...this is an apologetics ministry. And there is surely no contradiction between believing in the Scriptures' teaching of the sovereignty of God and recognizing the use of means in His purposes.

It seems incredible to dogmatize doctrines that are rather obscure in scripture and seem to be based solely on particular words rather than context.

Wonderful obscure, shallow assertions that clearly indicate a complete lack of understanding of the biblical basis of Reformed theology and epistemology. :-)

It's clear you lack the philosophical training to understand the "how" and "why" questions. Plantinga, Craig, Moreland, and others have no trouble preserving human freedom while accomplishing a very strong view of divine sovereignty.

Quite a group there, and since they arrive at their conclusions by following very different routes, I truly wonder who it is who is lacking in philosophical training?

James

------------------------------------------------

Philosapologist wrote:

Dr. White,

I must admit I was having some fun with the initial email because I didn’t really expect a reply. Seems you had some fun with it too.

;-)

We do a disservice to Paul’s writing when we classify the pieces as doctrinal handbooks rather than letters to different churches. Let’s examine the classical reformed theology favorite, Romans. Rather than creating a doctrine around a single word like predestination, it is important to understand the full context in order to make sense of Paul’s argument. Paul is addressing unbelieving Jews, explaining to them how they should not think to have earned God’s favor by virtue of their ethnicity. It’s interesting that reformers like to cite the plea that it is “not fair” as their basis for exclaiming loudly the truth that “who can question God?” This may be appealing on an emotional level, perhaps, but it is a far cry from Paul’s own sentiments (Rom 9:4-5). Instead of narrowing the scope of election to individuals, Paul was actually broadening it to include all people. In fact, no where in Scripture do we see predestination or election referring to individuals (see Witherington).

But such a notion of predestination has fundamental philosophical problems as well. Nowhere in Scripture does Paul equivocate predestination or election with causal determination. This is a meaning poured into the Scripture by reformed theologians. A whole host of philosophical difficulties arises if we are to take predestination to mean causal determinism. First, it is not clear how man can rationally be held responsible for his failure to believe in Jesus if he is in fact caused to believe or disbelieve by the Creator. John confidently asserts in his gospel that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NAS). But if it is God who refrains from regenerating the unbeliever, then it is hard to see why in fact it would not be God who is responsible for the unbeliever’s lack of faith, rather than the man himself. So, the reformed conception of God’s gifting faith to certain people seems to fall short of true justice, an attribute of God which reformed theologians most want to affirm.

Now, many reformers will cite some form of epistemological problem in man, whereas he is actually unable to perceive God. This may well be true, and if it were the end of the story their concept of regeneration would indeed be correct. Fortunately, it is not the end of the story, for God has revealed himself in creation, in the Bible, and most obviously in the man Jesus Christ. God has indeed taken the first step in reestablishing the connection with man. He has made salvation possible in Jesus, his only begotten son. All he asks is that we respond in belief – belief that is not mere acknowledgement of his existence, but full trust in him for our very lives. In fact, if God did gift us with this sort of belief, it would seem to completely undermine his desire for an intimate relationship with his creation.

Now that we’ve taken the long road, we might return to the idea of predestination and begin to form a hypothesis to explain what exactly it means. To do this, I suggest we begin with the broader issue of divine providence. How is it that God can design history to suit his purposes while utilizing creaturely freedom in the process? I think the answer lay in omniscience. Let us define omniscience as “God knows all truths and believes no falsehoods.” I would concur with Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, that the doctrine of middle knowledge accomplishes both a strong view of divine sovereignty as well as preserving man’s freedom. According to Jesuit theologian Luis Molina, God knows different truths in logically different ways. This is not to say that God ever exists in a state of ignorance. It only serves to classify his knowledge in terms of logical priority. In God’s natural knowledge, he possesses knowledge of all possibilities, all necessary truths like 2 + 2 = 4. This knowledge flows from his nature. In God’s middle knowledge, he knows not only how creatures could use their freedom, but also how each individual creature would behave in any given set of circumstances. The content of God’s middle knowledge is not essential to him; it is contingent upon our actions. That is not to say God could lack such knowledge, but only that the content could have been different.

Middle knowledge draws support from Scripture. In 1 Sam 23:10-14 David is in the city of Keilah, with Saul in hot pursuit. David asks the Lord if the people of Keilah will hand David over to Saul, and if Saul will attack the city on his account. The Lord confirms both. So David and his men leave the city of Keilah. This story reveals that God does not only possess knowledge of the actual world and events which will obtain, but also counterfactual knowledge of what the people and Saul would do under alternative circumstances. It is based on God’s middle knowledge that David flees the city. There are also several prophecies given in Scripture which do not actually obtain. Does this mean God was mistaken? Not on the middle knowledge account. They are simply his revealing what would happen in circumstances C. Needless to say, such counterfactual knowledge serves to delimit the range of possible worlds God could create. For example, according to Craig, there might be a possible world with identical circumstances to ours, in which Peter freely refrains from denying Christ. However, such a world is not feasible for God, because were he to create it and place Peter in it, Peter would freely deny Christ. So God selects from the range of feasible worlds one world to create. The final logical moment in God’s knowledge is his free knowledge, which is just knowledge of what will obtain in the actual world.

Now much theological fruit is gained from such an enlightening account of divine omniscience. In virtue of God’s selecting which feasible world to create, he has in a sense predestined which people will come to saving faith in him. However, they are still free in their decision. As one French Molinist has put it “It is up to God whether I find myself in a world in which I am predestined, but it is up to me whether or not I am predestined in the world in which I find myself.” This also sheds light on stories in Scripture which seem to attribute evil to God. For example, in 2 Samuel, as the Philistines are closing in on Saul. Rather than let them capture him, he decides to fall on his sword committing suicide. The exact same story is told in 1 Chronicles 10:14 but the chronicler adds this commentary: “thus the Lord slew Saul.” How are we to make sense of this apart from middle knowledge? God cannot be held responsible for Saul’s sin. Rather, by God’s actualizing the exact circumstances in which he knew Saul would commit suicide, the chronicler can rightly assert that the Lord slew Saul. Saul remains responsible for his sin. The same can be said of the situation in Acts 4:27-28. God can bring about circumstances in which he knew the key players would freely crucify the Lord, accomplishing both his divine purpose while assuming no responsibility for sin. (Feel free to apply it to Joseph and his brothers as well).

So, the Molinist scheme seems to provide an enlightening account of providence and predestination, maintaining both a strong view of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility and freedom, with support from both Scripture and philosophy. The concept of predestination as causal determinism lacks Biblical support as well as philosophical support, and so Christians should feel free to reject it.

Dave

------------------------------------------------

James White wrote:

At 04:01 PM 9/10/2005, you wrote:

We do a disservice to Paul’s writing when we classify the pieces as doctrinal handbooks rather than letters to different churches.

Of course. No argument from anyone at that point. We do a far greater disservice, however, to God, and to the Scriptures, when we import Jesuit philosophies into His work which were developed specifically to avoid God's sovereign power 1500 years after the New Testament was written.

Let’s examine the classical reformed theology favorite, Romans.

Reformed theology favorite? A very odd way of putting it.

Rather than creating a doctrine around a single word like predestination, it is important to understand the full context in order to make sense of Paul’s argument.

Of course, no one does anything even remotely like what you are suggesting, so once again I find myself seeing mountains of evidence that your knowledge of Reformed theology is, at best, minimal and skewed.

Paul is addressing unbelieving Jews, explaining to them how they should not think to have earned God’s favor by virtue of their ethnicity.

Excuse me? Unbelieving Jews? In Romans? This is his sole audience? Surely you jest! He addresses the *objections* of the Jews to the gospel many times, of course, but you are surely pulling my leg to suggest this is his primary audience. His audience is the church at Rome, of course, which was not made up of unbelieving Jews.

It’s interesting that reformers like to cite the plea that it is “not fair” as their basis for exclaiming loudly the truth that “who can question God?” This may be appealing on an emotional level, perhaps, but it is a far cry from Paul’s own sentiments (Rom 9:4-5).

I'm sorry, but again, you must be joking with me, for surely no one can seriously suggest that the Reformed position does anything even remotely like what you are suggesting. Again, either you are joking, or you are massively ignorant of the topic you are pretending to address, and since I do not know you, I cannot tell which it is. Have you ever read anything like Piper's The Justification of God on this topic? It is the serious exegetical recognition of the connection of Romans 9:6, esp., to what follows, that provides the solid ground of understanding 9:19-20 to begin with.

Instead of narrowing the scope of election to individuals, Paul was actually broadening it to include all people. In fact, no where in Scripture do we see predestination or election referring to individuals (see Witherington).

I see. Well, I'm sorry, but that is just so fallacious it is hard to know where to begin. Like Dave Hunt, is your Bible missing such passages as 2 Thessalonians 2:13? Or is the election of Ephesians 1 to holiness somehow disconnected from individuals (how can a group be holy without the individuals therein being holy?). And adoption...this is not personal? So very odd that Paul would address individual believers as "called" or "chosen." I'm sorry, but such a statement could only be made by one whose theology is more a philosophy that is only mildly connected to the text itself than it is based upon exegesis, as your next statement betrays:

But such a notion of predestination has fundamental philosophical problems as well.

Every Molinist I have ever encountered derived his/her position not from the inspired text, but from their own personal "philosophical concerns." It has been a consistent aspect of Molinistic rhetoric.

Nowhere in Scripture does Paul equivocate predestination or election with causal determination. This is a meaning poured into the Scripture by reformed theologians.

Or, the terms themselves are clear, their contexts clear, but Molina, in obedience to Loyola's command, worked very hard to find a way around biblical truth. Given the utter lack of meaningful Scriptural argumentation in what you have written so far, forgive me for not investing a lot of weight into charges of a-contextual eisegesis. What is being read *out* of the text is God's sovereign decree, and read *into* the faith the even more amazing idea of "middle knowledge" and micro-management that is meant to protect libertarian freedom at all costs.

A whole host of philosophical difficulties arises if we are to take predestination to mean causal determinism. First, it is not clear how man can rationally be held responsible for his failure to believe in Jesus if he is in fact caused to believe or disbelieve by the Creator. John confidently
asserts in his gospel that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NAS). But if it is God who refrains from regenerating the unbeliever, then it is hard to see why in fact it would not be God who is responsible for the unbeliever’s lack of faith, rather than
the man himself. So, the reformed conception of God’s gifting faith to certain people seems to fall short of true justice, an attribute of God which reformed theologians most want to affirm.

An objection responded to so fully, so compelling, in each and every generation since the Reformation, that I can only shake my head, honestly, sir. Such objections, based upon straw men, insufficient views of sin, etc., are tremendously common, but only demonstrate that the one using them is either ignorant of the field, or chooses to remain so for other, outside reasons.

Now, many reformers will cite some form of epistemological problem in man, whereas he is actually unable to perceive God.

No sir, they will not. They will refer to man's enmity against God, his suppression of the knowledge of God, but they have never, and would never, say man is "unable to perceive God." Again, sir, you tilt at windmills.

This may well be true, and if it were the end of the story their concept of regeneration would indeed be correct. Fortunately, it is not the end of the story, for God has revealed himself in creation, in the Bible, and most obviously in the man Jesus Christ. God has indeed taken the first step in reestablishing the connection with man. He has made salvation possible in Jesus, his only begotten son.

No sir, He has not. He has *saved* in Jesus, and entrusted Christ with His elect people:John 6:37-39: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

All he asks is that we respond in belief – belief that is not mere acknowledgement of his existence, but full trust in him for our very lives. In fact, if God did gift us with this sort of belief, it would seem to completely undermine his desire for an intimate relationship with his creation.

I suppose the biblical analogy of taking out a heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh is likewise offensive to your Molinistic presuppositions?

Now that we’ve taken the long road, we might return to the idea of predestination and begin to form a hypothesis to explain what exactly it means.

The long road of straw-men, false argumentation, misinformation and no serious biblical foundation? That is indeed the most regular starting point for Molinism. Forgive me if I find it unsatisfying to the soul that longs for biblical truth rather than human sophistry. Turretin's critique was valid then, it remains valid today.

James

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Philosapologist wrote:

Dr. White,

Perhaps I misspoke – I didn’t mean to say that Jews were the sole audience of Romans. The audience was the church in Rome (whatever that may have been). However, the audience does not change the argument Paul is making in Romans 9-11. Paul is broadening the scope of election here to include all kinds of people. Simply paraphrased, his argument is “Don’t think you’re special because of your ancestry; you were predestined anyway.”

The problem with parading the reformed conception of predestination (including its underlying Calvinistic philosophical assumptions) around as though it were Christian dogma is that it is nowhere near as explicit as you want/need it to be. Paul mentions it in passing several times for different reasons. In Romans it is because he is arguing against the belief that Jews have favor with God because of their ethnicity. In Thessalonians he is reassuring a young church of their place in God. Because of it’s relative obscurity, Christian Philosophers bear the burden of constructing a coherent hypothesis regarding predestination. The Calvinistic thesis fails to accomplish a coherent view because it cannot give a rational account of human responsibility, the problem of evil, sin, God’s all-lovingness and omnipotence, divine eternity, etc.

Speaking of straw men and false argumentation – Turretin does an amazing job of misconstruing scientia media. First, it’s not at all clear what he means by “conditional decrees.” If anything displays a lack of understanding, this is it. Second, Christian Theism has always maintained that God’s decree to create the world was a free act of His will. If His decrees are eternal as Turretin claims, then they flow from His nature and He in fact lacks the freedom to refrain from creating. Moreover, Turretin offers no reason (from Scripture or philosophy) why we should believe God’s decrees are eternal. The argument hardly looks valid since it is not clear that the conclusion is necessary, and since Turretin’s crucial premise is false, the argument cannot be considered sound even if it were valid.

The argument offered against middle knowledge based on its Jesuit roots is incredibly fallacious. The source of the argument is irrelevant if it is sound. You would not deny a Catholic claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God would you? I find the accusation of importing Jesuit philosophies into the Bible curious given the support from Scripture.

Peace and love,
Dave

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James White wrote:

The argument offered against middle knowledge based on its Jesuit roots is incredibly fallacious. The source of the argument is irrelevant if it is sound. You would not deny a Catholic claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God would you? I find the accusation of importing Jesuit philosophies into the Bible curious given the support from Scripture.

Sir: I'm truly not interested in wasting time with idle speculations. One of us offers exegesis, one offers unfounded philosophical speculations.

James