Sunday, March 17, 2013

Denying omniscience

I recently critiqued a post at SEA:

Billy Birch labors to salvage the original post:

Sometimes bloggers truly understand an argument being made and submit legitimate counter arguments. Other times bloggers miss the point entirely because they have preconceived notions of a perceived underlying motive that may not have been present in an authors' train of thought. This happened recently. In a blogpost entitled "Our Grandmother Who Art in Heaven," Steve Hays responded to a post entitled "Calvinism and the Evil of Kim Jong Il," written by a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Ironic allegation considering the fact that Birch proceeds to bungle both my own argument as well as the argument of the SEA contributor:

Steve thinks that the post is "in part a hackneyed objection to predestination."

Which I justified by quoting the SEA contributor.

The 84-word blurb of a post (after the first link) was written in the context of Calvinism's worldview, not that of Arminianism.

That’s misleading. The post implicitly contrasted Arminianism with Calvinism.

The main argument -- that of exhaustive divine meticulous sovereignty and God's decrees of all acts, even those of evil acts…

That wasn’t the “main argument.”

… was not denied by Steve in any form or fashion.


Steve then attempts to turn the argument on its head by implying that Arminians also have a problem with the manner in which God governs His world because He allows evil whilst completely foreknowing all the sin and evil that should ever come to fruition.

I challenge Birch to quote me on that. That wasn’t my argument.

Now, I think this comment misses entirely the main target of the argument. No orthodox Arminian denies that God is unaware of what will happen in the future from free-will agents. We are not Open Theists, after all.

i) Another one of Billy’s blunders. Billy commits a modal fallacy by failing to distinguish between God’s knowledge of what will happen and God’s knowledge of what would happen. According to the SEA post, the Arminian God lacks intrinsic knowledge of possible evils.

ii) In addition, Billy is changing the subject from the SEA post to what he thinks “orthodox Arminians” believe. But Billy’s personal opinion of what constitutes “orthodox Arminianism” is beside the point. I was responding to a post at SEA. That’s the frame of reference. The very fact that SEA approvingly posted it makes it a representative statement of current Arminian theology.

God may, indeed, "anticipate" an evil action because He knows all that can be known.

Not according to the SEA post. According to that post, God’s knowledge of human evil is dependent on external influences. So that’s not anticipatory, but reactionary.

To be clear, God, in Arminianism, does not "lack the mental ability to contemplate" such possibilities; He lacks the divine will to conjure up wickedness for the decreeing of people to carry out that wickedness due to His holy character. Ability is not synonymous with actuality; God could be able but not willing.

Billy is going off on his own little tangent. But he’s not saying what the SEA contributor said.

But we have to rightly evaluate what we are implying by suggesting that God knows "what evil is" by its very nature.

No, I don’t have to do that to respond to an SEA post. I’m responding to the post on its own terms.

Arminius suggests that…

Irrelevant. Arminius is not the frame of reference. The argument of the SEA contributor supplies the frame of reference.

Because Billy is infatuated with Arminius, he has a quaint, monolithic view of Arminianism. But that’s provincial. Not even SEA shares his outlook. Consider what Brian Abasciano, president of SEA, said a while back:

Brian Abasciano says:
November 16, 2012 at 7:11 am


I actually have no problem saying that open theism is generally a variety of Arminianism (with the qualification that emerged from your interaction with Martin above — OT in the sense of a theological research project and proposal among certain evangelicals; there can be open theists who are not Arminian). It is a non-traditional one just as current corporate election Arminianism is a non-traditional one. Open theism typically agrees with every one of the major points of Arminianism, unless one defines conditional election strictly as being according to foreseen faith, in which case, the corporate election model would also be ruled out of Arminianism.

Contemporary Arminianism is more diverse than Billy allows for. But he’s not the gatekeeper.

We deny that God is naïve, as Steve constructs the counter argument (link), because He does not imagine and thus strictly decree evil.

Notice how Billy bundles two ideas into one: “does not imagine and thus strictly decree evil.”

He even adds “thus,” as if one follows from the other. But these are separable propositions.

…though we must admit that Scripture explicitly attests to our doctrine, and not that of Calvinism…These three passages [Jer 7:31; Jer 19:4-5; Jer 32:35] are very telling, especially with regard to what is "in" the mind of God. One reality is certain: the sacrificing of the children of Israel to false gods did not enter the mind of God for them to do and yet they did it.

So is Billy saying it never actually crossed God’s mind that the Israelites were going to do this? Did this catch God off guard?

But how did they do it if God did not first imagine and hence decree for them to do it? This point was the main concern of the original post found at the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

No, the question is whether God was the first to imagine this eventuality, which the SEA contributor denies.

Billy then finishes with a paragraph that recycles a stock objection to Calvinism that I’ve often rebutted.

Billy’s post is also adorned with comments by his mindless groupies and cheerleaders:

DaveMarch 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

This is a fine response to Hays' latest rant. I find it amusing, or perhaps disturbing, that he characterizes the Arminian insistence that a holy God cannot be the efficient cause of evil as a "cloying" grandmother theology.

That wasn’t my argument. Try again.

anunfinishedladyMarch 16, 2013 at 4:40 PM

This is why I can't read anything of Hays'.

Her self-imposed ignorance shows.

Has he actually read anything by Arminius?

I don’t need to read Arminius to respond to a post at SEA.

Or are all of his opinions based on what another Calvinist has opined?

I’ve read a great many Arminians.

 I consider myself a classical Arminian & I dont believe that "if creatures never committed evil, God would have no idea of what evil is."

In which case she either didn’t read the SEA post, or lacks the comprehension to grasp the original argument.

Which leads me to ask - how is God NOT the author of sin if everything is so meticulously determined?

Which is the predictable result of her self-reinforcing ignorance. Since she doesn’t read anything of mine, she doesn’t know the answer.

In my opinion, God is much more powerful & worthy if He allows us to freely choose Him after the drawing of the Spirit, than saying "You WILL love me."

And according to open theists, God is much more powerful and worthy if he self-limits his knowledge as well as his power.


  1. Steve,

    I do not think the post is denying God knows "if I create free creatures, they could sin". I take the statement of "thought them up without any influence outside of himself" as talking about man without LFW rather than talking about what a man with LFW could do.

    God be with you,

    1. That's not the argument which the SEA contributor used. Rather, he indicated that God would be unable to mentally entertain evil possibilities on his own, apart from outside influences.

    2. Steve,

      I was addressing what they might have meant by those comments.

      God be with you,

    3. And I was addressing the actual argument which the SEA contributor put forward.

  2. "No orthodox Arminian denies that God is unaware of what will happen in the future from free-will agents."

    At first I thought this was a typo. But his interpretation of Jeremiah seems to suggest he really means that Arminians affirm that God is unaware of what will happen in the future from free-will agents.

    That kind of affirmation does seem to involve denying omniscience.