Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why Pray?

Now that Justin Taylor has closed a lengthy thread over at Between Two Worlds, I'll repost my comments here:


steve hays March 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm

“Why would Jesus pray to have the cup removed? He was free yet His life was completely predetermined (see Calvinist’ statements). Wouldn’t that make his prayer meaningless?”

There’s a rudimentary difference between knowing that something has been predetermined and knowing what has been predetermined.

steve hays March 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

“It is because God knows what the outcomes will be, which allows him to present prophecies in scripture which present references to events that will occur with certainty before they occur.”

So, according to Robert, God is merely a souped-up psychic. Things simply happen of their own accord, which he can foresee. It’s not as if he’s responsible for the fall of Babylon or the advent of Christ. He just looks into his celestial crystal ball and tells us what will happen.

“Now the ordinary definition allows for God to foreknow events that involve LFW, while the theological determinist’s definition does not allow for this possibility.”

Definitions don’t prove anything. Defining a unicorn proves nothing. A definition is no substitute for an argument. While it’s useful to define our terms, that is no argument for the thing thus defined.

“The church has believed for its entire history that God foreknows events including events that involve LFW.”

There is no one thing that “the church” has believed on this issue.

“Because according to a very common caricature of LFW: if we have LFW then we could always do otherwise than what God predicts and falsify God’s foreknowledge. And if we can falsify God’s foreknowledge then this would completely undermine predictive prophecy.”

Robert merely asserts this to be a caricature. Where’s the supporting argument?

“But perhaps it has not occurred to ‘Calvinist’, maybe she has not studied church history in this area much.”

Church history doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. History is descriptive, not normative. It documents what various people believe, not what they ought to believe.

And church history points in no one direction, for all positions are represented in church history.

“Do you really believe that all of these Christians who hold the ordinary view of foreknowledge have never thought about this issue?”

So, according to Robert’s truth-by-numbers appeal, if most professing Christians pray to the dead, then every Christian should pray to the dead.

“My point is that a whole lot of people have no problem believing things because they believe the bible presents these things to unbiased minds who interpret properly and do not have some axe to grind against a particular belief.”

Of course, Robert has an ax to grind against Calvinism and Calvinists. But his bias blinds him to his bias.

steve hays March 2, 2010 at 8:40 am

“Where’d I liken His foreknowledge to a ‘souped-up psychic?”

Unless God knows the future because he brings it to pass, then God is like a psychic who can foresee events which happen apart from anything the psychic did.

“And in my statement where did I say that God isn’t responsible for certain events in history?”

And does Robert think there’s a linkage between the two? For example, is God’s foreknowledge of the crucifixion based on God’s plan?

“Since I readily acknowledge that I do not know how God knows what he knows, apparently Hays does know how He does it: ‘He just looks into his celestial crystal ball.’”

i) Was I stating my own position? No. I was stating the ramifications of Robert’s position.

ii) Speaking for myself, God knows the future because he planned the future, and everything happens according to plan. That is Isaiah’s argument against the idolaters (Isa 46:10-11). For exegesis, see volume 2 of Oswalt’s commentary (pp236-37).

Robert then admits that he made a false claim about the teaching of “the church.”

Moving along:

“I have seen theological determinists and open theists and atheists all make this same argument. Claiming that if we have libertarian free will then we can invalidate God’s foreknowledge.”

i) I see that Robert doesn’t get it. The question at issue is not whether Calvinists say that. Rather, the question at issue is whether or not that’s a caricature. Robert hasn’t shown how that’s a caricature.

ii) According to libertarian freedom, as folks like Robert define it, human agents have the freedom to do otherwise. In that event, the future is open-ended. The outcome could go either way.

If that’s the case, then a human agent can either do what God predicted he would do, or not do what God predicted that he would do.

Therefore, according to libertarianism, it is possible for a human agent to falsify God’s prediction by doing the contrary.

If Robert deems this to be a caricature of freewill theism, then he needs to explain why.

“It is true there are various positions in church history and yet theological determinists like Hays claim their view is the true view the view the church ought to hold.”

Robert continues to confuse a descriptive process with a normative process. Robert is the one who is selectively appealing to church history to disprove Calvinism.

To say that Calvinism is the true view which the church ought to hold is not an appeal to church history to prove Calvinism. Why is Robert unable to draw that elementary distinction?

“And yet if we look at church history we find that previous to Augustine (or for the first four hundred years of the early church’s history) no Christians are espousing theological determinism.”

Christians like St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, &c., would beg to differ.

“This is a deafening **silence** that does make not sense if theological determinism is true. If it were true then we would expect someone in those first four hundred years to be teaching it, espousing it, arguing for it.”

i) That’s a tacit admission on Robert’s part that he can’t defend his position on exegetical grounds. So he takes refuge in church history.

ii) This is also the tactic of Catholic and Orthodox apologists. But it’s clearly self-defeating for a Protestant like Robert to make that move–since Robert believes a number of theological “novelties” which he can’t document throughout church history.

“But there is no evidence whatsoever for this. And if we look at church history as a whole we find that the vast majority of Christians have denied theological determinism and argued against it.”

To my knowledge, the vast majority of professing Christians pray to the dead. Just consider the cult of the saints in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism.

Therefore, according to Robert’s truth-by-numbers argument, all Christians should pray to the dead.

“I did not make any claim that truth is determined by a numerical vote.”

That’s exactly the argument which Robert is using. According to him, if a “vast” majority of Christians believe something, then that creates a strong presumption in its favor. If, however, Robert now retracts that argument, then his majoritarian appeal is worthless.

“And these words apply doubly to Steve Hays. Steve Hays has an ax to grind against Non-Calvinism and Non-Calvinists. But his bias blinds him to his bias. Steve Hays’ words here are simply the pot calling the kettle black.”

Robert has a problem living by his own standards. I didn’t say if bias was good or bad, now did I? I merely pointed out that Robert was imputing bias to Calvinists, as if that were a bad thing, while he was blind to his own bias.

“His bias is much worse against the non-Calvinist then mine is against the calvinist. He thinks we are heretics, I only believe that calvinists are mistaken.”

Actually, Robert is on record comparing Calvinists to Nazis, Satanists, cult-members, and Klansmen.

steve hays March 2, 2010 at 9:13 am
I notice that Robert often makes sweeping claims about what the “vast majority” of Christians have believed throughout church history regarding the compatibilist/incompatibilist issue. Perhaps he’d like to share with us his source of information. Where’s the polling data?

For example, did papal pollsters go door-to-door in 12C Lorraine to find out where average farmer, butcher, baker, blacksmith, milkmaid, barmaid, &c, came down on the compatibilist/incompatibilist spectrum? Did they fill out a questionnaire that went something like this?

How would you classify your position, choosing from one of the following options?

i) Augustinian
ii) Thomist
iii) Scotist
iv) Molinist
v) Calvinist
vi) Hard incompatibilist
vii) Agent-causal libertarian
viii) Event-casual libertarian
ix) Noncausal libertarian
xii) Freewill subjectivist

I'm sure that Robert would be more than happy to supply the rest of us with his statistical breakdown.

steve hays March 3, 2010 at 9:09 am

“Planning does not typically include irresitible guarantee of people’s actions. You do not seem to be being realistic in your assessment. It is hard to believe you would say this if you ever planned anything.”

That’s a good example of how Arminians reduce God to the level of a weak, shortsighted man. Indeed, where human planners are concerned, there’s no guarantee that our plans will succeed. That’s because we don’t control all of the relevant variables.

And this is why consistent Arminians become open theists.

“But also, the Arminian view would be that he formulated his plan in dynamic interaction with what he knew of how people would freely act.”

If they could “freely” act, in the libertarian sense, then the outcome is indeterminate. Knowing how they would act denies the open-endedness of transaction.


  1. Perhaps Libertarians should take a closer look at their own system, or at least how it's expounded by one of their "favored" proponents:

    The question was 'Does the Molinist think that God's responses to or answer to our prayers are also things that are preordained or ... are they genuine responses to our prayers?' And I think the Molinist would say that that's a false distinction--that that's a false dichotomy. I think the Molinist would say they are genuine respnse to your prayers, but it is not as though God was unaware of your prayer until the moment you prayed it. He didn't have to wait around and say 'Oh! It's Gabriel calling. I better respond.' Rather, God knew that if you were in this set of circumstances, confronted with this trial or difficulty, you would turn to him in prayer and, therefore, he would answer in just this way. So yes it is all preordained. It's all set. But it is a genuine response because *if you had not prayed* in those circumstances then maybe God would not have answered or done what he did in response. So, to be a genuine response, the Molinist will insist it doesn't have to be a temporal action that takes place, you know, right upon the spot when you pray. The response can actually be preprogrammed, but it is a response because it wouldn't have happened had not the trigger, so to speak, occurred.

    Craig, William Lane. "The Doctrine of Creation: Part 14." Defenders Podcast. 13:27-15:03

  2. In other words, Libertarian Craig seems to be relying upon the classical Compatibilist hypothetical analysis in order to answer the dilemma.

  3. Jonathan,

    Thanks for posting that.

  4. Of course the same point has been made by Mark Linville in his paper *Ockhamists and Molinists in Search of a Way Out*.

    Mark D. Linville
    Religious Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 501-515
    (article consists of 15 pages)
    Published by: Cambridge University Press
    Stable URL:

  5. I mean the point about some libertarians needing to use a hypothetical analysis of "could do otherwise."

  6. Woo-hoo!!! I get top billing in one of the Triablogue's! Thanks Steve, I'm gonna have to raise the price on my autographs :-)