Thursday, March 06, 2008

Aladdin's Arminian lamp


“Incorrect, I have the power to instantiate alternative possibilities, God simply knows how I will employ it.”

Is that a fact? There’s a possible world in which I take Catherine Deneuve on a date. And back when I was a teenager, I used to dream about taking Catherine Deneuve on a date. But no matter how vividly I imagined that alternative scenario, I was never able to turn my fantasy into reality.

The simplest way for Arminians and other libertarians to make their case is not through arguments. Instead, if what they say is true, then why don’t they put on a public demonstration of their libertarian prowess?

For example, suppose I buy a big, vacant lot. It has a nice view. I’d like to build a house there. But it would save a lot of money if I could simply will a house into existence. However, I’ve never had much success with that strategy.

Now, there’s a possible world in which the Breakers is sitting on my plot of land. So why doesn’t J.C. employ his libertarian power to instantiate that alternate possibility? We can even invite a TV news crew to film the event.

And, while he’s at it, perhaps J.C. could do me the favor of making Catherine Deneuve materialized by my side. Maybe a younger version since she’s getting up in years.

Once you get the hang of it, the power to instantiate alternative possibilities should come in pretty handy. I really need to draw up a shopping list.

There’s a possible world in which I live in the Breakers. There’s a possible world in which Catherine Deneuve is my wife. And there’s a possible world in which I drive a Duisenberg.

Okay, let’s start with those three possibilities. That should be sufficient for a convincing promo.

Why doesn’t J.C. stipulate a time and place of his own choosing. If it’s at some exotic location, then I’d also ask him to instantiate a Lear jet so that we can get there more easily.

Then let’s see him twitch his nose or rub his lamp to instantiate these alternate possibilities.

I hope he’s not going to tell us that the actual world imposes severe limitations on what alternate possibilities he can instantiate. For, if libertarianism is true, then the actual world simply is the sum total of what alternate possibilities are instantiated by free agents like J.C.

And if he says that one libertarian agent can act as a check on what another agent can instantiate, thereby canceling out his freedom of choice, then can agent can’t do otherwise in many situations.

Perhaps, though, he’d say that not all possibilities are compossible. But if that’s a problem for him, then I’m flexible.

Instead of the package deal containing the Breakers, Catherine Deneuve, and the Duisenberg, I’ll settle for a different package: say, the Getty Villa, Sophia Loren, and a silver Aston Martin—or the Hearst Castle, Greta Garbo, and a Lamborghini—or the Getty Villa, Greta Garbo, and a Duisenberg, &c.

I’m not finicky. Any of these combinations would meet with my satisfaction.

Moving along:

“Because He is atemporal, and can know choices before they are instantiated.”

There are several problems with that move:

i) If God is atemporal, then he cannot know choices *before* they are made, for that would introduce a chronological sequence into God’s knowledge vis-à-vis the object of knowledge which J.C’s stipulation of divine timelessness disallows.

ii) If God timelessly knows an outcome, then the outcome cannot be otherwise since that would falsify his foreknowledge.

Put another way, if God is atemporal, then whatever he believes is immutable—and if his belief about the future is true, then the future cannot be otherwise.

iii) How can an agent know a temporal fact?

a) He can know it directly, by experiencing the temporal fact. But if God is timeless, then he doesn’t experience time.

b) And even if he did experience time, pace J.C’s postulate, we can only experience the present, not the future.

c) He can know about it indirectly, by reading a newspaper or watching cable news, &c. But this would also involve a temporal experience of a temporal fact—albeit it at one or more moves from the event.

d) He could also know about it indirectly if he planned the future, and the future occurs according to his plan. He would know the future by knowing his plan for the future.

That explanation is readily available to the Calvinist, but not to the Arminian.

iv) J.C’s marsupial sidekick has argued for Arminianism on the grounds that “Arminianism is rather simple and takes the Bible at face value.”

But if God is atemporal, then we would interpret certain passages of Scripture anthropomorphically rather than literally. So Thibodaux and Kangaroodort are presenting two mutually exclusive justifications for Arminianism.

Moving along:

“Rather like being chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (1 Peter 1:2).”

There are several problems with that facile appeal. As Greg Welty recently explained:


Well, not so fast. The proposed interpretation is neither necessary nor plausible. It’s certainly not necessary, because neither text says that God elects us on the basis of foreseen faith. In fact, neither text even mentions faith as something foreseen at all, much less that election is based upon it.12 Rather, in the “foreknew passages” (Ro 8:29; 1Pe 1:2), what is said to be foreknown are people, not faith or works. What Ro 8:29 says is: “those whom He foreknew, He also predestined...” It is persons who are said to be foreknown, not their acts of faith specifically. 1Pe 1:1-2 is even more ambiguous; it just mentions “foreknowledge” without clarifying whether the object of that foreknowledge is persons, or their faith, or their works, or anything else about them.

Not only is the ‘foreseen faith’ interpretation unnecessary (from a textual point of view), it’s also implausible, for it would cut against the grain of everything we’ve already seen in Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. Instead of responding to the imaginary objector, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Ro 9:20), Paul could have said, “What’s the matter, didn’t you read Ro 8:29? I already told you: all of this is based on foreseen faith. Human choices ultimately determine salvation, not God’s will.” But of course Paul does not say this, though that reply would be ready at hand in Romans 9 if in fact Ro 8:29 is speaking of foreseen acts of faith. In addition, there seems little reason for Paul to say in Ro 9:16, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy,” if in Ro 8:29 he had just taught that election does depend on the man who wills. I think a principle of hermeneutical charity is relevant here: it is not only implausible but uncharitable to interpret Paul in a way that introduces palpable contradiction into his thought – and that in the space of two chapters – especially if said interpretation is textually unnecessary in the first place.

Those familiar with the Calvinist debate at this point are probably well aware of how Calvinists take these two texts. ‘Knowledge’ in Scripture often denotes a personal relationship entered into by choice, rather than bare cognition or awareness. For instance, God says through the prophet Amos, “1 Hear this word which the LORD has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt: 2 ‘You only have I chosen [known; yada’] among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities’” (Amos 3:1-2). Clearly when God says that Israel is the only family on earth he has known, he doesn’t mean he’s unaware of all the other nations. What he means is that Israel is the only nation with whom he has entered into a specific covenant relationship (which is why the New American Standard Bible translates yada’ in this text as “chosen”).

Likewise when Jesus warns religious hypocrites that on the last day, “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mt 7:23). In saying he never ‘knew’ them Jesus is not saying he was cognitively unaware of them (as though afflicted with a case of divine amnesia). What is he saying is that he never had a saving relationship with them, despite their many words and outward deeds. It is this kind of intimate, personal, committed relationship that Calvinists suggest is being spoken of in these and other biblical texts (cf. Ge 4:1, Ex 2:25, Hos 13:4-5), and in Ro 8:29 and 1Pe 1:2 as well. God foreknows individuals, which is to say he foreloves them, and in virtue of that special, distinguishing love he marks them out for a peculiar destiny: conformity to the image of his Son (Ro 8:29), and obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood (1Pe 1:2).13 14

In the end, the Calvinistic interpretation of the ‘foreknowledge’ texts is much more plausible because the background to the New Testament doctrine of election is surely God’s election of Israel in the Old Testament, and there it is clear that God’s election is according to foreloving. That is, the Lord chose them because “the LORD loved you” (Dt 7:6-8, 10:15-16). Ask an Old Testament Jew or a New Testament Christian why he was elected by God, and the answer is going to be the same: ‘Not because of anything in ourselves, but because God chose to set his love upon us.’15


Moving along:

“Jeremiah 32:35 and Luke 13:34 for starters.”

Well, let’s look at Jer 32:35 for starters:

“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

i) That man can defy God’s preceptive will is not at odds with Calvinism.

ii) When the text says this outcome “never entered God’s mind,” how does J. C. or Ben construe that claim?

a) Ben says that Arminians take the Bible at face value. Well, if we take this verse literally, then God is ignorant of the future, or at least this particular outcome.

Yet Ben denies that he’s an open theist. So, to be true to his Arminian belief in God’s foreknowledge, Ben must treat the description as anthropomorphic. But, in that case, Ben must revert the same hermeneutical approach as the Calvinist.

b) J.C. presumably denies that God is ignorant. So he would also revert to the Reformed interpretation.

c) In addition, J. C. is committed to the proposition that God is atemporal. In that case, it’s literally nonsensical to say that something never entered God’s mind.

As to Lk 13:34:

i) If J.C. and Ben are forced to interpret the sentiments in Jer 32:35 as anthropopathetic, then shouldn’t they be consistent and construe the sentiment expressed in Lk 13:34 the same way?

ii) Since J.C. believes that God is atemporal, then he can’t believe that God “often” desired the repentance of apostate Israel, for frequency is a temporal category.

iii) As commentators point out, v35 alludes to God’s covenant with Israel. Calvinism doesn’t deny that human beings can defy God’s preceptive will. Human begins can be covenant-breakers. Indeed, God decreed their disobedience.

Moving along:

“Drawing is not mutually exclusive to wooing, take Hosea 11:4 for instance.”

i) Hos 11:4 doesn’t say that God “wooed” his people.

ii) And even if it did, that’s a metaphor. Hosea is full of marital metaphors about the love of God. But Arminians don’t take that literally, although Mormons might!

Moving along

“Here are some passages that you might need to reflect on some (Ex. 32:10-14; 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chron. 33:10-13; Jonah 3:6-10).”

Two problems:

i) Ben has yet to explain how our prayers can have an affect on God consistent with his commitment to divine foreknowledge. So there’s a tension between his prooftexting and his theology.

ii) In Scripture, most divine threats are implicitly conditional. So God didn’t change his mind. Richard Pratt has explained this at length:

iii) And conditionality is not at odds with Calvinism, for conditions are means by which God realizes his will. Calvinism affirms the use of various means to facilitate his appointed ends.


  1. J.C said: “Because He is atemporal, and can know choices before they are instantiated.”

    Steve replied: i) If God is atemporal, then he cannot know choices *before* they are made, for that would introduce a chronological sequence into God’s knowledge vis-à-vis the object of knowledge which J.C’s stipulation of divine timelessness disallows.

    Boba emotes: Heh.

  2. If libertarian free will were reality, God would be dead already.

    For there are enough atheists out there willing that God were dead and gone, that if He honored their wills and did not restrain them, He would be forced to cease to exist.

    Or maybe we aren't constrained by God, but by the conflicting popular "will-vote" of our fellow humans.

    ... but then, God should still be dead by now because the world is less than 50% Christian.

    Such a quandry.

  3. "Duh" is such an underwhelming response.