Friday, January 27, 2012

Crystal ball foreknowledge

On the one hand, an Arminian commenter over at Scot McKnight’s blog assures us that there’s a profound moral difference between predestination and permission:

I know that some internet Calvinists think there is no real difference between allowing something and unconditionally decreeing it or irresistibly causing it, but I think most people do, and that it is quite obvious and undeniable. But we may have to just agree to disagree about that. The concept of “allowance” is not logically compatible with Calvinism (precisely because of its determinism), whereas it is with Arminianism, leaving Calvinism with no ground to say God allows evil for a greater purpose, while such grounding is part and parcel of Arminianism (God allows evil because free will is necessary for genuine relationship, love, and for glorifying God {who is love} most {more than lack of free will does, in which all that happens is actually God’s will in a fairly robust sense, and there effectively ends up being only one will in the universe}.)

Comment by Arminian — December 26, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

On the other hand, the very same Arminian, just one comment later, adds the following:

Perhaps I should add that the argument that God knowing what would happen and creating anyway means he is responsible for what happens does not work against the simple foreknowledge Arminian position. For God’s foreknowledge cannot be wrong. It simply mirrors what will happen. That in no way conflicts with the freedom of the agents. Yet it also means that he cannot decide not to create someone based on knowing what they will do, since his foreknowledge is based on the fact that they will do that and not creating them would make his foreknowledge wrong, and additionally, not creating them would take away the basis of the decision not to create them in the first place.

Comment by Arminian — December 26, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

So God can’t stop anything from happening. All he can do is gaze into his crystal ball and watch the inevitable before it comes to pass.

But how can God permit what he cannot prevent? If the future is unavoidable, if what will be will be, then God isn’t allowing it to happen. You can only let something happen if you’re in a position to block it. At best, the Arminian God can only assume an attitude to Stoic resignation in the face of the inexorable denouement.

Arminians substitute irresistible fate for irresistible grace.


  1. I've always been puzzled by the crystal ball analogy to God's foreknowledge ever since I heard it made by Paul Copan.

    If God is the fortune-teller, what is the crystal ball?

    If God existed from eternity past, and nothing else existed besides Him, then the crystal ball in the analogy could only be God Himself. God's foreknowledge originated from within His own essence.

    But if God is ontologically simple, then He couldn't have learned the future. Instead, the foreknowledge must have been generated by Himself. [Of course, the analogy breaks down at this point since a fortune-teller is taking in knowledge whereas God is not.]

    In that case, God makes up the future in eternity past and brings it to pass in the present.

    So if one believes in standard Christian orthodoxy and not some form of dualism, polytheism, or open theism, then you still end up with Augustinianism/Calvinism.

    I gave up studying philosophical theology a while back. Am I wrong?

  2. That's what finally clicked for me when I became a Calvinist.

    I had resisted rather strongly to the idea of predestination. But then I cam to realise that if God's foreknowledge is complete, and if God is all powerful then it is fully within this power to prevent an event from occurring.

    I came to realise that if God chooses to allow or disallow an event to happen, then He is predestining that event to happen/not happen.