Sunday, October 18, 2009

Worshiping Dr. Manhattan

A little while back, Arminian1 posted a reply to James Anderson:

At the time, I ignored his reply because, when I read his preface, he had the following disclaimer:

“As this has been a discussion between James and me, I will not feel obliged to respond to any rejoinder offered by Steve Hays. As James mentioned in his post, time and energy are an issue in this discussion. This has been a discussion primarily between James and me, and I intend to keep my focus on responding to James and what he offers by way of response. I may or may not respond to commenters in the comboxes of the various posts in this discussion. But I think it would be a little unfair to ask me to debate both James and Steve at the same time. And I have no interest in switching my discussion partner from James to Steve.”

However, as I scroll down I now see that, his disclaimer notwithstanding, he responds to my comments at length. Like a double-minded man (James 1:8), he can’t seem to decide what he wants to do.

I do realize, that it would be quite a come down to switch from Dr. Anderson to yours truly. But life is unfair.

“This is a remarkable statement. I simply followed the logic of positions James holds and grants to their natural conclusion. If God is outside of time and not bound by it, then it is not hand-waving to point out that what would be impossible for time-bound creatures would be possible for God.”

i) That doesn’t even begin to follow. To say that for all we know, something may be possible is no reason to believe that something is actually the case or even probably the case.

ii) Moreover, to say something is “possible” is equivocal. That may just be an admission of our ignorance. It doesn’t concede that something is, in fact, possible. In some cases it’s just a way of saying that we don’t know enough to rule it out. It could, in fact, be impossible.

For example, a homicide detective might have several different theories of the crime. These are all “possible” in the sense that, based on the available evidence, the crime could have gone down in one or another of these ways. But in another respect, most of these theories are actually impossible in the sense that most of them are wrong. It’s not possible that if it happened one way, then it also happened a contrary way.

So to say something is possible is not necessarily to affirm that it’s a live possibility. Rather, it can just be a shorthand expression of ignorance.

Whether we’re talking about a live possibility or a confession of ignorance regarding the actual state of affairs can only be determined by context. Arminian1 constantly oscillates between these different senses of “possible.”

iii) Furthermore, when we start talking about logical paradoxes generated by backward or circular causation, this is not the same thing as saying the available evidence is neutral. Rather, to judge by the evidence we have, these things are impossible. Given the sophisticated arguments against backward causation or retrocausation, the burden of proof lies on whoever wants to defend their possibility.

iv) Apropos (iii), it’s not just a case of saying “we don’t know how that’s possible, but since we have evidence that it actually happens, we know it must be possible in some way or another.”

But that’s not our situation in reference to backward causation and circular causation. On the one hand, we have no evidence that this ever happens. On the other hand, we also have sophisticated arguments against their possible occurrence.

So, once again, the burden of proof lies on whoever wants to defend their possibility. That is not something which Dr. Anderson needs to disprove. Rather, that’s something that Arminian1 needs to prove if he wants to leave his options open on that score.

“I would argue, that God can know the future without irresistibly causing it as demanded by Scripture.”

And we’re waiting for him to present an actual argument.

“James agreed that God being outside of time does not prevent him from reaching into time and acting in time.”

i) Keep in mind that we’re using spatial metaphors here. Now, that’s fine in popular discourse. But in order to show that Piper’s or Anderson’s position is logically or metaphysically incoherent, what Arminian1 needs to do, as a preliminary step, is see if he can translate this picture-language into a literal proposition.

ii) Moreover, even at this figurative level, it’s not true that God has to literally reach into time or act in time to make things happen. (And I hardly think Dr. Anderson is speaking so woodenly. This is idiomatic parlance.) For example, a novelist doesn’t have to be a character in his own novel to make things happen. He makes things happen in the novel, not by acting in the novel, but by enacting the novel.

“I believe my response showed that a time-transcendent God who could interact in time with time-bound humans could surely allow himself to be affected by them. But if this is so, then what James refers to as backward causation follows as possible for God, though this is impossible for humans, unless of course God grants them this power or brings backward causation to pass because of his knowledge of human action.”

If you’re going to play along with that scenario, then retrocausation would also affect God’s knowledge of human action. For example, in consistent time-travel scenarios, (to the degree that such scenarios are ever consistent), the characters suffer from historical amnesia regarding their life in the alternate timeline. They don’t remember what happened to them in that timeline because they are no longer a part of that timeline. At this juncture, it didn’t happen to them. By erasing that alternate history, retrocausation also erases their memory of who they were and what they did in that alternate history.

So, if we were to play along with Arminian1’s model, God would suffer lapses of memory. Blackouts. On this model, human agents could, indeed, affect God. Specifically, they could affect his knowledge of the past and future. God would cease to be omniscient, for through their retrocausal actions, human agents could change God’s knowledge of the past and future–since the past and future he used to know would cease to have be the actual past and future.

“(Indeed, Scripture clearly shows God being affected by (time-bound) humans beings, not least by prayers that move him to answer those prayers [e.g., James 5:15-18; Ex 32:11-14].)”

i) Arminian1 is now operating on the hermeneutical terrain of the open theist. How can he offer a principled distinction between his exegetical appeals and the exegetical appeals of the open theist?

ii) God doesn’t need to be affected by the supplicant to answer the prayers of the supplicant. If God authors the narrative of human history, then he can script various characters who pray to him. And he can also write his answers to their prayers into the historical narrative which he himself authored.

Dropping the metaphor: God decrees our prayers, and he decrees his answers to our prayers. Arminian1 may not believe that, but it’s fully consistent with the Biblical phenomena.

“James begged the question by trying to restrict causation to temporal reality, which I pointed out leads to the absurd conclusion that God, if construed as timeless, never does anything.”

It involves a rudimentary distinction between a timeless cause and a temporal effect.

“How else are we to speak of God’s decision? Is it not an event? If not, then it never happens, which is to say God never decides, which renders talk of God’s decisions absurd.”

i) Arminian1 says God is timeless. But if God’s decision is something that happens, then there was a time when God was undecided. A time before it happened.

Remember, we’re not talking about the world at this point. What happens in the world. Or even the world happening.

Rather, we’re talking about God. What happens in reference to God.

But, in that case, God is not timeless. There was a time before he made up his mind, and a time after he made up his mind.

ii) A further consequence of Arminian1’s position is the implicit denial of God’s omniscience. If God always knew what he was going to do, then there was no point at which he made a decision. Conversely, if there was a point at which he made a decision, then he didn’t know in advance of his decision what his decision would be.

“So according to James, apparently we should not ever talk about God having done something in eternity (eternity past from our perpective) even though the Bible does. On this view, it seems we can’t even accurately speak of God doing something positively. We can only accurately speak of God—and this is going to be a mouthful—not having ever not done this or that particular thing. Calvinism sure makes it hard to speak reasonably. Perhaps that is why James also wants to leave behind normal definitions and ways of speaking for technical philosophical jargon that allows one to define things in such a way that are of no practical use for the ordinary person and that allows one to make one’s view work by definition even if it has no correspondence to reality (see below for a response to James’ opinion on this). I would urge that we stick with the Bible’s way of speaking about God’s actions in eternity, which actually allows for God to do things.”

i) Once again, Arminian1 is poaching on the hermeneutical territory of open theism. That’s a tacit admission that an Arminian can only oppose Calvinism by resorting to open theism.

ii) It is also disingenuous of Arminian1 to play the populist card when he also appeals to arcane features of modern physics to model God’s knowledge of the future. For such theories postulate highly counterintuitive views of time and space. They hardly represent common sense descriptions of human experience and human observation.

iii) Notice, too, that Arminian1 rejects my statement that there was never a time when God was undecided. So, according to Arminian1, there was a time when God was undecided. And as I’ve already pointed out, then commits Arminian1 to deny that God is omniscient and timeless.

iv) Keep in mind, too, that the primary question at issue is not how we should interpret Scripture, but whether Arminian1’s position is internally consistent.

v) As we shall see, Arminian1’s Bible is published by Marvel Entertainment, Inc.

“I will appeal to what I call simple middle knowledge (MK hereafter), a non-Molinist version of middle knowledge rooted in a simple foreknowledge perspective (hence, simple middle knowledge). Basically, this is the belief that God generally knows what people who exist/will exist would freely do in certain circumstances based on access to their will via his transcendence over time. So he only has such knowledge of people who do/will in fact exist. This avoids the grounding objection often raised against Molinism, for God’s knowledge of what a person would do is grounded in the person’s actual will.”

Of course, that doesn’t avoid the grounding objection. If an Arminian defines freewill as the freedom to do otherwise (i.e. choose between alternate possibilities), then what a person would do could go either way. More than one outcome is in play up until the time the agent settles on one outcome to the exclusion of others. If Arminian1 thinks that his “simple MK” theory avoids the grounding objection, then he needs to present a far more detailed argument.

“Such MK on God’s part can be seen in the Bible, such as when Jesus reveals what Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have done if circumstances had been different in Mt 11:20-24, and when the Lord tells David what Saul and the men of Keilah would do if David were to stay in Keilah (1 Sam 22:9-13; David did not stay and so they did not do what God knew they would have done). Clearly God knew what people would have done had circumstances been different.”

i) What Arminian1 idiosyncratically calls “simple middle knowledge” is merely counterfactual knowledge.

ii) He hasn’t begun to show that counterfactual knowledge is consistent with libertarian freewill. And, indeed, it’s commonly argued by libertarian philosophers that future contingents can’t be objects of knowledge.

“However, this type of knowledge does not fit comfortably into Calvinism/determinism. For it verges on preposterous to speak of what someone would have done differently in a deterministic scheme. It would amount to saying what God would have irresistibly caused them to do if he had irresistibly caused the situation to be different. So in Mt 11:20-24 Jesus would be castigating these people for not believing him and the wondrous miracles he did before them because he would have irresistibly caused the ancient people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom to have repented if he had performed those miracles before them. That's hard to swallow. Jesus’ statement of what they would have done in different circumstances only makes good sense in this context if they were really free to have acted in that way, which points toward the ultimate incoherence of determinism.”

i) Notice that Arminian1 is shifting gears. He begins with an ostensible appeal to Scripture. But then he falls back on libertarian action theory. Notice, though, that he doesn’t exegete libertarianism from Mt 11:20-24. Rather, he superimposes that onto the text–given the extratextual assumption that God can’t justly hold them responsible unless they enjoy libertarian freedom. Yet that is never stated or implied in his prooftext.

ii) What is more, Arminian1 is simply begging the question in favor of libertarian action theory. It’s “hard to swallow” if you happen to be a libertarian. It “only makes good sense” if you happen to be a libertarian. But that’s hardly convincing to a compatibilist. Arminian1 is assuming what he needs to prove.

“This is a rather blatant non sequitur. Just because two systems share a key contention does not make them equivalent nor suggest that they should be…It’s common sense observation of common understanding of interpersonal causality.”

i) And it’s up to Arminian1 to show how his model of “interpersonal causality” can avoid open theism.

ii) BTW, that’s a revealing phrase. Does Arminian1 think that God is God a contingent being? That his decisions are contingent on human decisions?

“I also challenge the idea that we need to recast the debate in stringent philosophical language. While I respect philosophy and view it as the handmaiden of theology, it carries no superiority over using common language. Indeed, it runs the risk of obscuring the issues by using language that does not match what people normally mean when communicating.”

i) Philosophical usage can certainly be superior to ordinary language. It depends on what language is being used to accomplish. Keep in mind that there’s a whole branch of philosophy devoted to the philosophy of language. Ordinary language is often vague or conceptually confused. That’s one reason we subject ordinary language to philosophical analysis.

ii) This is especially pertinent when people like Arminian1 treat ordinary language as a window to reality. As if ordinary language gives you direct access to the nature of reality. Would he derive a metaphysical scheme from idioms like “sunrise,” “time flies,” &c.?

“Moreover, I began my critique of Piper in normal language, and see no reason why I should have to change to exclusively technical, philosophical language. I remain interested in establishing that Piper’s argument is bogus.”

If you’re trying to disprove an argument, then you have to go beyond the particular choice of words to the underlying concepts.

For example, T. S. Eliot has a philosophy of time in the Four Quartets. But it would be silly to evaluate competing philosophies of time based on merely poetic imagery.

“If James needs to resort to stringent philosophical language alone to defend his position and cannot do so in normal language, then perhaps that reveals the weakness of his position and its incapability to match the real world.”

i) This assumes that ordinary language mirrors the real world. Does “kick the bucket” match the real world? What about “all bark and no bite,” or “ants in one’s pants”? Or “wet behind the ears”? “Until the cows come home”? “Take it to the cleaners”? “Throw in the towel”? “Throw caution to the wind?” “Blow your own trumpet”? “Turn tables”? “Sitting ducks”? “Skeletons in the closet”? “Spill the beans”? “Straw that broke the camel’s back”? “Rain cats and dogs”? “Rock the boat”? “Pay through the nose”? “Put the car before the horse”? “Over the moon”? “On cloud nine”? “Make a mountain out of a molehill”? “Let the cat out of the bag.” “Jump the shark”? “Have a cow”? “Get one’s goat”? “Fly by the seat of one’s pants”? “Elephant in the room”? “Change of heart”? “Eat crow”? “Chew the cud”? “Open a can of worms”? “Beat a dead horse”? “Bring home the bacon”?

Arminian1 must be living in Alice in Wonderland if he thinks ordinary language maps onto reality.

ii) Perhaps it reflects the weakness of Arminian1’s position that he can’t translate his pretty metaphors into literal propositions.

“So my comment was an assertion and James’ was not? Why should I have to demonstrate the coherence of my claim and James does not need to?”

i) Well, I suppose that depends on what Arminian1 is trying to accomplish here. Is he trying to win the argument, or merely win the debate? If he’s a truth-seeker rather than a demogogue then he needs to make a case for his position. He owes that much to himself. If he has no good reasons for what he believes, then his beliefs are unfounded. In addition, he’s also accountable to God for what he believes about God. So he has epistemic duties quite apart from whatever epistemic duties Dr. Anderson may or may not have.

For his part, Dr. Anderson has to prioritize his time. He has duties to his students.

Since Arminian1 resorts to the last-ditch tactic of elephant-hurling, it’s quite understandable if Dr. Anderson doesn’t have the time to shoot down every flying pachyderm.

ii) Moreover, Dr. Anderson was simply examining the respective consequences of two logical alternatives: either God is timeless or God is temporal. Those are clearly distinct alternatives.

By contrast, what it means to claim that God is a little bit of both is far from clear. To claim that God is partly timeless and partly temporal. For one thing, that attributes contrary predicates to the same being with the same nature.

“Nevertheless, let me say here that James’ view lacks coherence in that he believes that God does not exist in a series of moments, yet he agrees that God can act in the series of moments humans inhabit. It is unclear how his view can account for this.”

Well, Dr. Anderson can speak for himself, but Arminian1 is assuming, without benefit of argument, that God can only bring about some event if the divine agent is, himself, operating within the stream of time. Why make that assumption–especially when Arminian1 wants to say that God is timeless?

Arminian1 seems to view divine causality like a game of chess where God makes a move, then the other player makes a move, then God makes a countermove, and so on and so forth_as if what God does must be intercalated within a series of events. Discrete, sequential fiats.

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that God might effect the entire outcome as a given totality. That God instantiates the whole history of the world by a single timeless fiat.

“Since God can operate inside and outside of time according to both me and James, it follows that he can be both inside and outside of time, which James seems to define as a series of moments.”

Arminian1 seems to think that if he can use certain words in certain combinations, then this solves the problem. But all he’s done is to supply a purely verbal harmonization. A linguistic artifact. He hasn’t begun to show that the concepts denoted by the words are logically harmonious.

“I think Ross believes there is at least one extra time dimension as well as extra space dimensions.”

What’s the extra time dimension? Define it? Where’s the argument for an extra time dimension? Where’s the argument that an extra time dimension harmonizes divine foreknowledge with indeterminism?

“It is false that a block view of the universe necessarily contradicts libertarian freewill. Many assume this, apparently because of the basic and false assumption that certainty = necessity, while James has admitted to the fundamental distinction between the two.”

i) The distinction between certainty and necessity does nothing to salvage libertarian freewill with certainty. If the outcome is certain, then it can’t go either way. If the outcome is an object of knowledge, then it can’t go either way.

ii) More to the point, my objection didn’t turn on the relation between certainty and necessity. Rather, it was based on the specific content of the block theory. Remember, Arminian1 chose to introduce that theory into the debate, not me. And to judge by what he’s said thus far, I doubt that Arminian1 has the slightest idea of what he’s talking about. Here’s what a science writer, in a standard monograph on time and space, has to say:

“Another common label for the static conception of time is the ‘block view,’ and for understandable reasons. Think of a long, solid crystalline block embedded within which are small plastic figures in various poses. If the substantivalist view is correct, this is essentially our condition, save that the block we are embedded in extends through time as well as space, and so is a four-dimensional rather than three-dimensional entity. All the people frozen in different poses at different places and times in this block are equally real; indeed some of these people are you, as you were yesterday and at sill earlier times, and tomorrow and at still later times. Although all the contents of the block are permanent fixtures it is a mistake to suppose that the block is a thing that endures. The block does not exist in time as we do; it would be more accurate to say that time is in the block, for time is simply one of the dimensions that the block possesses. Viewed as a whole, the block is an eternal (or sempiternal) entity,” B. Dainton, Time & Space (McGill-Queen’s 2001), 8.

“Most of us tend to assume that, even if the past is fixed, the future is open: what it will bring is as yet undetermined. If the block view is true this is wrong, for the future is jut as real, solid and immutable as the past. How our lives will unfold from now until the moment of our deaths is (in a manner of speaking) already laid down. How could it be otherwise if the future stages of our lives are just as real as the past stages?…If the block view is true, the choices we will make are inscribed in the fabric of reality imprecisely the same way as the choices we have already made. While those who find this ‘temporal determinism’ unsettling will be inclined to reject the conception of time from which it derives, it would be a mistake to suppose that the static view must be false simply because it has unpalatable consequences. The universe is under no obligation to conform to our preconceptions or preferences,” ibid. 9.

To judge by his performance thus far, this is Arminian1’s modus operandi: he thinks that just about anything is preferable to Calvinism. Therefore, he gloms onto to any half-baked, half-remembered, half-understood thing he’s read somewhere that might possibly deflect Calvinism.

“Moreover, Ross, who is a credentialed physicist, and whom William Lane Craig considers ‘evangelicalism's most important scientific apologist’, obviously does not see it the way Steve does, since he advocates free will and the idea that God could use extra dimensions to know the future without irresistibly causing it.”

Since he doesn’t have an argument to fall back on, he resorts to an appeal to authority. Well, to my knowledge, most “credentialed physicists” are atheists. Therefore, Arminian1 should be an atheist.

For that matter, some credentialed physicists (e.g. John Byl) are Calvinists. Therefore, Arminian1 ought to be a Calvinist.

“Such travel may well be impossible for human beings because of limited technology and the fragility of the human body to accelerate to the speed required to travel to the future. But God is limited by neither. Moreover, if one can go at the speed of light, he can travel to the future and not experience any passage of time. And God can certainly travel at the speed of light.”

God can certainly travel at the speed of light if God is certainly a physical being–like a beam of light.

“Moreover, under this same sort of accepted scientific paradigm, backward time travel is possible if one can travel faster than the speed of light (Hawking, 107). And God can obviously travel faster than the speed of light. Indeed, he can travel with unlimited speed. Is James limiting God's power?”

i) Is infinite speed a meaningful concept?

ii) What reason is there to think that God can “obviously travel faster than the speed of light?”

Is God a physical being? Can a physical being travel faster than light speed?

And if God is not a physical being, then what reason is there to think that he can move at all?

iii) If you identify God as a physical being, then you automatically limit his power.

“Another way that time travel is possible, whether backward or forward is to warp space-time. Scientists think this is theoretically possible but doubt whether humans could do it, or do it long enough to be of any value, or be able to endure traveling in that way. But none of this is a problem for God. He can warp space-time, create what are known as wormholes, keep a wormhole open as long as he wants, and endure anything any wormhole or other entity could dish out. He is the almighty God.”

Is he God almighty? Or is he a superhero from a Marvel comic book? Arminian1 worships a god by the name of Dr. Manhattan. I’ll stick with Yahweh.

“If so, then God can certainly travel back in time.”

Even if we stipulate to all this science fiction, it still suffers from two crippling liabilities:

i) A timeless God can’t travel through time.

ii) Time-travel doesn’t explain how God could know the future if the future is indeterminate. Even if time-travel were possible, that doesn’t mean the future is indeterminate. Indeed, time-travel, to the extent that it’s coherent at all, would be more coherent on a block view or B-theory of time.

Keep in mind that the individual who first attempted to offer a scientifically rigorous defense of time-travel was Kurt Gödel. And he was actually using that to argue for a static view of time.

“Something that makes much of this even unnecessary to say, and that I mentioned in passing in my last post, is that God is omnipresent. But according to standard, current scientific understanding, an omnipresent being would know the past present, and future.”

i) This assumes that omnipresence is a literal attribute rather than a spatial metaphor.

ii) Moreover, that does nothing to harmonize freewill with indeterminism. Even if a literally ubiquitous being could know the past, present, and future, this doesn’t mean that time is indeterminate. To the contrary, that might require a block view of time–which precludes indeterminism.

“It is well known that time stops at the speed of light.”

Is that a fact? What about cyclical cosmologies? If time stops at the speech of light, then is it meaningful to speak of an earlier or later universe?

“Then when discussing a certain experiment, Greene seems implicitly to agree that the halting of time at the speed of light would make for a perspective in which all moments are the same moment, and that this perspective would provide the ability to ‘know’ something that would be later in the time perspective and apply it to something that would be earlier in the time perspective (512 note 4)…The point is that well established scientific theory seems to provide for a being like God having the ability to know the future without irresistibly causing it and to act on this knowledge.”

Once again, even if we grant all the dubious assumptions for the sake of argument, it doesn’t follow that Greene is describing a wide-open future. It doesn’t follow that Greene’s scenario is consistent with a wide-open future. Arminian1 is illicitly jumping from the notion of time travel to the notion that the future is open-ended.

“Now, I want to stress that I am not saying that any of these ways is the way that God knows the future free actions of human beings. There could be any number of other ways that he could do this that we haven’t begun to understand or that are beyond any laws of science. The point is that even current scientific understanding can explain how a being like God could know the future without irresistibly causing it and even act based on that knowledge. And yet God is not limited by the laws of physics. He created them. So we have good reason to believe he can know the future without irresistibly causing it. And James’ objection to the Arminian view of foreknowledge as impossible is partly undermined by these facts.”

Time-travel paradoxes are logical or metaphysical paradoxes, not physical paradoxes. Expanding the laws of nature does nothing to resolve the grandfather paradox (to take one example). Arminian1 doesn’t even grasp the nature of the problem.

“But the Arminian view is actually based on Scripture and Scripture’s incompatibility with determinism and its attestation of free will among other things.”

Where does Scripture attest libertarian freewill?

“It is not really an appeal to mystery, at least not in the way Steve paints it nor in the way that Calvinists often use it, to shield logical contradictions in their system from rational scrutiny.”

In 5 years of nonstop blogging, much of it in defense of Calvinism, I can’t think of any occasion where I appealed to mystery to shield the “logical contradictions” of my system from rational scrutiny.

“Notice that I said 'when there are various models that can conceivably account for this'. What I meant was that since it is possible in light of various reasonable options, it is unwise to claim it is impossible because one's view of the one option one think best sees it that way.”

What’s he’s offered is a snow job. A blizzard of fanciful conjectures and just-so stories. And even if we granted some of their dubious assumptions, his conclusion has yet to follow.

“Traditionally, it has been held to make it possible for God to know the future without irresistibly causing it”

That’s hardly an argument.

“It does make use of mystery in the sense that, although we know it is possible, we cannot know the exact way God knows the future free actions of human beings since Scripture does not tell us how he does.

He hasn’t even established that it’s possible, much less probable, much less true.

“But it does not matter for the reasonability of the view how God can do it, just that he can do it.”

Whether or not an agent can do something is frequently and intimately bound up with how he’d do it. If someone assures me that he can do whatever Spiderman can do, I’m afraid that I’d insist on knowing how he does it before I’d credit his claim.

Of course, if it were a revealed truth that God knows what libertarian agents will do, then we could take that on faith.

“Similarly, it is a caution to tread lightly in an area in which our knowledge is so limited…”

His modesty is insincere inasmuch as Arminian1 repeatedly states this as a live possibility.

“Suffice it to say here that I do think that retrocausation can be evaluated, and that I think that more than one working theory of time allows for God to know the future without irresistibly causing it and to be able to act on that knowledge.”

His “working” theories of time are more like siesta theories of time.

“He was addressing the common Calvinist argument that if God knows something will certainly happen, then that must mean it is necessary and that the future actions of human beings cannot be free, but must be necessitated by God.”

i) That’s a straw man argument. Certainty, quite apart from necessity, is sufficient to disprove an open-ended future.

ii) Moreover, the fact that “necessity” and certainty are conceptually distinct doesn’t mean they’re separable in practice. It doesn’t mean you can have one without the other.

“God's foreknowledge tracks whatever the person will actually do and is based on it.”

And since a person will only do one thing at a time, the outcome is certain. And if God knows it, then it cannot be other than what God knows it to be.

Conversely, if it can be otherwise, then either God was mistaken or else the timeline he foresaw is supplanted by different timeline with an alternate past and future.

“In either view, what would be considered God’s foreknowledge from the human time-bound perspective would be contingent on the prayer.”

Would it? Or would it be contingent on God’s will to decree that prayer, decree the answer to prayer, and providentially effect both the prayer and the answer to prayer.

“It is not merely that God made the decision first, but that he made the decision unconditionally; he alone thought up the thing he wanted to happen, decides to make it happen, then irresistibly causes someone to ask him to do it, then does it. In such a scheme, the request for him to do it does not really influence him to do it nor cause him to do it in any meaningfully causative way.”

i) And how is that a problem, exactly? Why should God be influenced (much less have his answer “caused”) by the supplicant? Doesn’t God already know what the supplicant needs? Didn’t God put the supplicant in that needy situation in the first place?

ii) And why does Arminian1 object to God causing human beings to do things, but has no problem with human beings causing God to do things?

“Piper's main argument is nonsensical IMO…IMO, Calvinism/determinism undermines a biblical concept of prayer.”

In my experience, those who use that abbreviation rarely live up to the abbreviation.

“God decided that on his own and then irresistibly caused the prayer and that which was requested.”

So Arminian1 doesn’t think that God decides things on his own. Do we help in make decisions? Did we help him decide to make us before he made us?

Finally, Arminian one seems to think Anderson’s position is inconsistent because our prayers can’t be causes unless our prayers can “affect” or “influence” God.

However, Dr. Anderson never said our prayers affect God. Rather, he said they (sometimes) affect the outcome. So he carefully delineated the causal scope of prayer.

As he put it: “Piper isn’t suggesting that our prayers are the causes of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers; that would indeed be inconsistent with Calvinism (and with your Arminianism, as I’ve argued). Rather, our prayers are the causes of the answers to those prayers. For example, my prayer that Betty recovers from her illness is a cause of Betty’s recovery (but not of God’s eternal decision to foreordain that Betty recover as a result of my prayer).”

Arminian1 may not agree with that explanation. He may not think it satisfies his arbitrary requirement for “interpersonal causality.” But he hasn’t shown it to be incoherent. Prayer can be a contributing factor to an event without causing God to cause the event.

“This note from the NET Bible on Jer 29:12 explains why:
‘The verbs are vav consecutive perfects and can be taken either as unconditional futures or as contingent futures. See GKC §112.kk and §159.g and compare the usage in Gen 44:22 for the use of the vav consecutive perfects in contingent futures. The conditional clause in the middle of 29:13 and the deuteronomic theology reflected in both Deut 30:1-5 and 1 Kgs 8:46-48 suggest that the verbs are continent futures here. For the same demand for wholehearted seeking in these contexts which presuppose exile see especially Deut 30:2, 1 Kgs 8:48.’”

There are three problems with this alternative:

i) Jeremiah specifies a terminus ad quem for the exile (after 70 years). If, however, the term of the exile is actually indefinite, then God can’t make good on the terms of his promise. So the Arminian escape clause impugns the veracity of God.

ii) This alternative also fails to take into account the corporate nature of the promise. Yes, there’s a sense in which it’s contingent on human obedience, but that doesn’t mean it’s contingent on the obedience of every single exile. Law-keepers and covenant-breakers don’t necessarily share the same fate. Indeed, that’s often distinct–even in this life.

iii) Calvinism can harmonize the certainty of the promise with the contingency of the conditions since God is ultimately responsible for their compliance. Therefore, Calvinism can do full justice to the passage. By contrast, Arminianism sacrifices certainty in the interests of contingency. Calvinism repudiates that unscriptural dichotomy.


  1. Regarding the "block view", doesn't this correspond to Van Til's critique of (the various forms of) monism? Where, ultimately, there is one block of unchanging static Being that includes both the physical world and God/god/gods?

    How would we Calvinists respond to the allegation (by some) that Calvinism leads to that kind of monism since if God is timeless, wouldn't that mean/entail that his "acts" are also timeless? If so, then wouldn't the world be corellative with/to God (i.e. just as eternal, just as necessary as God; with God being just as much dependant on creation, as creation on God)?

    In fact, (they will continue to argue) if God eternally knew what He would do (i.e. which world He would create), how is God in any way free to create or not create? How is God not a prisoner of His nature, just as (they would continue to argue) human beings are prisoners to their nature if compatibilism were true? Does it even make sense to refer to a timeless act as "creation" since creation normally connotes action in time?

    Asserting God's will and nature are sui generis can be claimed by them to be a cop out. That the "fudge factor" begins there.

    That's why I can understand why Van Til and Frame appeal to mystery. And why I can't accept Gordon Clark's views, since they would seem to lead to a form of pantheism.

    Compare my more thorough comments at this previous Triablogue post

    Fellow Calvinists, how should I answer someone who would challenge me in these ways. I guess I've been fortunate enough not to encounter someone who's familiar enough with Calvinistic theology to make such critiques. But these questions seem so obvious to ask if one has (just!) a basic grasp of Calvinism.

    I confess, I don't know the answers. I just trust God's Word. Trying to avoiding pantheism, I don't want to retreat to a Process view of a bi-polar God who at one end is actual and at the other end potential (which boils down to a form of panENtheism); or to a form of Open Theism (finite godism). Even now, I'm wondering what's so bad with a view of God's eternality as being temporal (Ron Nash near the end of his life didn't rule it out). I'd be willing to return to Arminianism, if Scipture taught it, but there are just too many problems with with it (Biblical, theological, and logical, etc).

    If you're a Calvinist and have wondered about these things too, please read my posts at the link I gave above and dialogue with me :-))

    Here's the link again:

  2. You're confounding physics with metaphysics.

    Moreover, I didn't say the block view was objectionable, per se. Rather, I said it was objectionable on the very grounds that Arminian1 cited it in ignorant defense of his own position. It's the polar opposite of what he needs and wants.

    The fact that the block view has problematic consequences for an Arminian doesn't mean it has equally problematic consequences for the Calvinist.

  3. I didn't mean to confuse physics with metaphysics. I understand the difference, but from various non-Calvinistic points of view (e.g. atheists, deists, pantheists et al.) physics virtually is metaphysics (and vice versa). Especially for persons who are more self-consciously monistic.

    I understand that not all forms of atheism (e.g. platonic atheism) are monistic, but materialistic and naturalistic atheism is. Forms of deism are monistic, and obviously pantheism is monistic. So, I would still need to have an answer for those type of questions.