Friday, August 28, 2009

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.


“Sen. Ted Kennedy died shortly before midnight Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77.”

With his passing, babies in the womb sleep a little easier.

Homicide, suicide, and Catholic morality

Question: why does the Catholic church come down harder on those who commit suicide that those who protect and promote homicide? What does that tell you about the moral priorities of the one true church?

“That suicide is unlawful is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church, which condemns the act as a most atrocious crime and, in hatred of the sin and to arouse the horror of its children, denies the suicide Christian burial.”

“Members of the Kennedy clan are gathering at their Cape Cod compound, preparing for a private Mass for family patriarch Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who passed away from brain cancer late Tuesday night…On Saturday, President Barack Obama will speak at a private funeral mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica - commonly known as the Mission Church - in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood.”

Rated 100% by NARAL.

Voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP.

Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion.

Voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.

Voted NO on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime.

Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life.

Voted NO on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions.

A Gospel-Centered Reader

Many thanks to Tim Brister for compiling "A Gospel-Centered Reader".

Heaping Another Coal on the Arminian Fire

Arminians have often claimed that if God did not allow people the freedom to sin, then we would be in a forced relationship with Him and would be little more than robots. Thus the Freewill Defense is used to get God "off the hook" for the evil that exists. Namely, God must allow evil to occur in order for Him to have the chance to have a real relationship with His creation. Let us assume this is true for the sake of argument.

Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Additionally, it can be argued that while 9 of the 10 commandments deal with external behavior, the 10th commandment ("You shall not covet…") internalizes all of the previous commandments as well, such that sin is not simply acts that are committed but also includes evil thoughts.

This means that sin need not be acted out in order to be sin.

This causes an immediate problem for the Arminian's Freewill Defense. Namely, evil occurs even without the actualization of that evil. Thus, when a murderer decides to kill someone, he has already sinned. If a rapist decides to attack a woman, he has already sinned.

But if sin already exists, then God has no need to allow the actual behavior to occur in order to keep people from being robots. Simply put, God could cause the knife the murder holds to dematerialize, or He could cause the rapist to become neutered. This would stop the behavior from occurring, but would not in any way violate the will of the one who would have engaged in such a behavior. The evildoer would have still wanted to do evil and sin would still have occurred, but there would be no other human victims involved. The sin would remain solely between the sinner and God.

Add to the fact that if we see someone trying to murder or rape another person, we are morally obligated to intervene to the best of our abilities to save the victim (and note, when we do intervene successfully, the guilt of the person who attacked the victim is not mitigated), then it becomes obvious that the Freewill Defense is sorely lacking. There must be some other reason for God to decree/permit/allow evil actions to occur.

[Note: A Helmet, we know you'll just say "it's not the greater good defense" without giving anything else, and since I could practically write your comments already, although with better grammar than you use, you don't need to respond here.]

The libertarian conundrum

Arminians typically define freewill as the freedom to do otherwise. More recently, this has been cashed out as the principle of alternate possibilities.

They sometimes try to give this metaphysical grounding in the nature of God. They claim that God has libertarian freedom, and since we’re made in God’s image, we share that attribute.

Some Arminians also believe in the perseverance of the saints. They appeal to the fact that the Remonstrants left this question open.

There are also some Arminianism who subscribe to postmortem evangelism.

By way of reply, Calvinists raise some stock objections to their position. We ask them if God can sin. Can God choose between good and evil? We also ask them in the saints in glory can sin. Can they lose their place in heaven?

In response, Arminians say the freedom to do otherwise doesn’t require both good and evil choices. As long as there is more than one good choice, you have alternate possibilities to choose from.

And that’s true. It’s also a good way to gloss God’s freedom.

However, while that’s a valid distinction in its own right, it creates fundamental problems for Arminianism. To begin with, it’s ad hoc to say that we have libertarian freedom because God has libertarian freedom, but then, when asked whether God can sin, introduce a major discontinuity between human freedom, which includes the freedom to sin, and divine freedom, which excludes the freedom to sin. Either God is the template for human freedom or he’s not.

And, if anything, there’s a deeper objection. The freewill defense is the Arminian theodicy of choice. This is how Arminians explain the possibility of sin. And this is how Arminians justify the divine permission of evil.

God couldn’t make men who only do right without infringing on their freedom of choice. “True” loved can’t be “forced.”

Although it’s possible for God to make men who only do right, they would be “robots” and “puppets.”

But if, in reply to our objections, Arminians concede that the freedom to do otherwise only requires alternate goods, then they abandon the key presupposition of the freewill defense. For the freewill defense is only compelling if there’s no possible world where human beings freely and invariably do good.

"Determinism and the authorship of sin in Calvinism and Arminianism"

Bnonn is back!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Arminian Muslims


“Steve, we have to assume that there is a difference between our interpersonal relationships with each other and God's relationship with us as creator. Since God has sovereign rights over His creation, He can create free agents, allow them to sin (while not causing them to sin), and hold them accountable for their actions. He can also intervene at times if He so pleases. He has rights over His creation that we do not have over each other (i.e. it is not wrong for God to take a life, since He gave life, while it is wrong for us to take a life, etc.). So I think the analogy breaks down at this point.”

The point of the analogy is whether Arminians are entitled to launch moralistic attacks on predestination or reprobation when, by their own admission, God has the right to act in certain ways which would be culpable for his creatures to emulate. Once you grant that discontinuity, you lose any prima facie basis to attack Calvinism on moralistic grounds.

“But there is also a marked difference between God allowing the sin of His creatures and causing the sin of His creatures.”

i) First of all, you need to define what you mean by “cause.”

ii) Moreover, you can’t simply stipulate that permission is licit while causation is illicit–seeing as you’ve had to concede that even divine permission involves a dramatic discontinuity between divine and human obligations.

“The Bible shows us that our actions as creatures can change our destinies. There are countless examples. God was going to destroy Israel, then Moses interceded and God relented. God would have destroyed Nineveh if they had not responded to Jonah's teaching.”

That does nothing to harmonize Scripture with Arminianism. If God created the world he foresaw, then we can’t change our destiny in the world he knowingly made. Rather, any foreseeable thing we do is already exemplified in the world he made. The die is cast. God instantiates the plot he foresaw. The script isn’t edited once the world is made. Different script, different world–not the world he foresaw or made. That’s the implication of your position.

“God, as creator, has the right to do with His creation as He pleases.”

So you subscribe to voluntarism. God is ex lex.

“In determinism, we have to blame God for making us want to abdicate social obligations when we do.”

If, according to you, God has the right to do as he pleases with his creation, then he’s blameless irrespective of what he does.

“If this scientist were all powerful and all knowing and had created everything else as well, then he has the right to do what He wills with His creation.”

If a Calvinist said that, Billy Birch would claim that his God was indistinguishable from Allah.

“You're acting like I'm a Molinist.”

What you are is confused. Deeply confused.

“But, to answer like a Molinist would, there may not have been a possible world where that would happen.”

Once again, you’re unable to follow the logic of your own position. You define freewill as the ability to do otherwise. So that commits you to alternate possibilities. To be free to do otherwise assumes a possible world in which you do A, as well as a possible world in which you do non-A.

When you say there may be no possible world where that happens, you deny the freedom to do otherwise–since this or that possible world is what captures the alterity of doing either one or the other.

You have serious problem thinking through the ramifications of your own position.

“Furthermore, you are again assuming determinism since you are suggesting that God could create this world where people could not sin, therefore this world was determined to be sinless.”

Given your stunted grasp of your own position, it may be futile to explain it to you–but for the benefit of others, I’m arguing on your own assumptions, not mine. On libertarian assumptions.

If you define libertarian freedom as the ability to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world in which Judas betrays Christ, and another possible world in which Judas is faithful to Christ. That’s the way to cash out the counterfactual freedom which you attribute to human beings.

And since you presumably attribute libertarian freedom to God as well as man, God is free to choose which possible world to instantiate. Given that Arminianism claims to be more loving than Calvinism, why doesn’t your loving God instantiate the possible world where everyone freely chooses good and goes to heaven rather than a possible world in which some folks choose evil and go to hell?

To deny that there is such a possibility is to deny the possibility that people are free to consistently do good.

“You're assuming that. There very well could have been no possible way for that to happen.”

In which case you deny alternate possibilities. In that event, there’s nothing that stands for the “otherwise” in the freedom you attribute to human agents.

Take a deep breath and try for once in your life to think through the consequences of your own position.

“Again, Steve, you assume your determinism every step of the way, and again I will say that God did not create Adam and Eve in a state of sin.”

Try not to be dense. Did I say he created Adam and Eve in a state of sin? No.

“I dunno, I've been listening to Craig a lot lately and don't hear much we disagree on.”

He says the freedom to do otherwise is not a precondition of libertarian freedom. That’s a pretty fundamental disagreement.

“You again assume your determinism. It doesn't happen because He foresees it, He foresees it because it will happen.”

i) For purposes of this discussion, it matters not what grounds divine foreknowledge. If you want to say the future grounds foreknowledge, that makes no different to the fact that if God knows the future, then the future is inevitable. If the future is an object of divine knowledge, then it can’t be open-ended. It can’t turn out either way if it’s foreknown to turn out one way rather than another. Try to be logical, even if it hurts you.

ii) There is, however, another problem with your claim: For you also say that “God wouldn't have foreseen it if He didn't create it.”
So your claim that God foresees it because it will happen is shorthand for: God foresees it will happen because God foresees what he will to create.”

In that case, God foreknows the outcome because God makes it happen. So your position leads to determinism.

“That's philosophical gobbledy goop. This world isn't based on hypotheticals, it's based on reality. People have real choices that lead to real actions. These ‘hypothetical worlds’ you speak of don't exist.”

It’s a pity you have no comprehension of your own position. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. But let’s try again and see if this time the little light bulb goes of in your head:

You define freewill as the freedom to do otherwise. By definition, that commits you to the notion of counterfactuals. “Otherwise” in relation to what? If you limit choices to “reality” (to the exclusion of hypotheticals), then there is only one reality. For the freedom to do otherwise involves the notion of contrasting outcomes. A contrast between two alternate timelines. An open-ended future. To do “otherwise” is to posit a hypothetical scenario which you regard as a live possibility.

“And again, even if there were, there may be no possible world where volition exists and there is no sin.”

Which means you deny the freedom to choose between good and evil.

“In selecting one world or another, God has in effect determined the choice you have made, making this just another form of your determinism.”

Unless you think human beings create the world rather than God, then that form of “determinism” is an inescapable consequence of your own position.

“You aren't representing my view in any of these examples, so your logic doesn't begin to follow mine…”

That’s because you’re befuddled.

“There quite possibly is no ‘possible world’ that could happen in. But again we're not dealing with the ‘possible worlds.’ We're dealing with the real one.”

If the real world is the only possible world, then no one can have the freedom to do otherwise–whether God, man, Lucifer, or Gabriel.

Funny how your libertarian freedom is indistinguishable from Spinozistic necessity.

“No I actually didn't. You're now just putting words in my mouth, which in essence makes this debate useless, since you're now just debating yourself.”

Let’s see. You said that God “necessarily does good because He is good.”

So, if you think God enjoys libertarian freedom, you also think it’s possible for a free agent to necessarily do good.

You can only escape this conclusion if you deny that God enjoys libertarian freedom. Is that your position?

“Free-will isn't the ability to do whatever you want.”

Non-issue. You define freewill as the freedom to do otherwise. So, unless we are free to do either good or evil, then we lack the freedom to do other good or other than evil. Do you now retract your definition of freewill?

“Not every choice is between good and evil.”

I never said it was. But if your only choices are good choices, then you lack the freedom to do other than good.

But you have now backed yourself into the incongruous position of saying, on the one hand, that God lacks the freedom to do other than what is good while, on the other hand, you also question of the freedom of man to do other than evil. For you question the possibility of a world in which man only does good.

“That conclusion doesn't become necessary.”

But you said, “just because God allows something doesn't mean He wants it to happen.”

If God doesn’t want it to happen, then why does it happen? Was God unable to stop it from happening? Was God forced to either make this world or no world at all? A forced option? Sounds pretty coercive to me.

The Arminian lifeboat


“Gee Steve, that seems awful obtuse. Is the scientist responsible for what the monster does with its own free will? Just because the scientist knew what would happen doesn't mean he is responsible for decisions the monster made.”

If the consequences are foreseeable, then he shares responsibility with the monster.

Once again, you keep acting as though, if one party to a transaction is responsible, then that automatically absolves the other party.

Is it your position that if a mobster hires a hitman, only the hitman is responsible, and not the mobster?

“Perhaps the scientist knows the only way to have a real relationship with said monster is to grant it free will so that it can choose or choose otherwise.”

Yeah, I can just hear the defendant use that at trial: “Yes, I knew that if I made Frankenstein, he would go on a rampage, killing 50 innocent men, women, and children. But I wanted to have a relationship with Frankenstein, and that’s the unfortunate consequence which others had to pay for my relationship.”

“Upon doing this, the creator scientist abdicates any reponsibility of that monster's will when he gives it over to its own will.”

So you think people can knowingly set a chain-reaction in motion, then wash their hands of the consequences. Is that what Arminian morality amounts to? Do you think our social obligations are something we can abdicate whenever we please?

If our cruise ship ever hits an iceberg, remind me not to hop into the same lifeboat you occupy. You might slit my throat while I’m sleep and toss me overboard to make the rations go further.

“It seems like you're also stuck in the thinking that God had to have a temporal thought process before creation.”

Show where my argument depends on that assumption.

“Yet not responsible for the action, because the monster is the one who formulated and performed the action.”

False dichotomy. The mad scientist was a collaborator. He aided and abetted the crime when he knowingly created the monster.

“I never said there was, however, in the creation of volitional wills He created beings that could perform evil.”

To say they “could” perform evil doesn’t mean they “will” perform evil. If they truly have the freedom to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world in which they choose good over evil. So explain, on libertarian grounds, why God didn’t instantiate that world instead. God could have prevented evil without “violating” their libertarian freewill.

By the same token, if agents enjoy libertarian freedom, then having a genuine “relationship” with his creatures doesn’t require God to create sinners.

“Your two points don't change the fact that he uses the same argument as I do.”

Your selective appeal to Craig backfires since he takes other positions which undermine yours. You’d have to argue him down on those other points.

“That's not an accurate description of Molinism. It is the free wills of the agents that determine the way each possible world acts. God does choose which world to initiate, but that doesn't change the fact that it is still the human agent that has free will. To say their free will is taken away because God chooses only one possible world is ridiculous.”

They lack the freedom to do otherwise in the actual world. For an actual world actualizes one possibility to the exclusion of other possibilities. To say that’s “ridiculous” merely betrays your deficient powers of analysis.

“Like in Arminianism, God knows the actions of free agents because he foresees the action, not because Him foreseeing determines the action.”

If he foresees the outcome, then the outcome is inevitable.

“WLC certainly affirms free-will, although he may not be a full fledged LWF-er.”

But he doesn’t define freewill as the freedom to do otherwise, which is the definition that Arminians typically deploy against Calvinism. Indeed, that’s the definition you yourself continue to use.

“I never said God created sinners. In fact I specifically spoke against that notion.”

Once again, you’re being obtuse. If God creates a world containing sinners, he creates sinners in the process of making that world. Absent his creative fiat, sinners wouldn’t exist. They are the end-result of his creative fiat.

“That is determinism, Steve! If He creates agents who choose good over evil then those choices have been determined. He has created agents who only choose good. That isn't volition.”

I see that you have problems following the logic of your own position. So let’s walk you through it.

If you believe in libertarian freedom, and you define that freedom as the power to do otherwise (alternate possibilities), then there’s a possible world corresponding to each hypothetical outcome. There’s a possible world in which Brennon makes the right choice, and a possible world in which Brennon makes the wrong choice.

God can select which possible world to instantiate without “violating” your freewill. If you think the mere act of creating a world determines the outcome, and you reject that outcome, then you must deny that God was the Creator of the world.

Try to be logical, even if it hurts.

“God is good. His nature is what defines good. He is the objective good. He necessarily does good because He is good.”

If you think freewill is consistent with doing the right thing every time, then there’s a possible world in which human agents freely and invariably do the right thing. So God could prevent evil by instantiating that possible world without “violating” their freewill.

In fact, you’ve staked out an even stronger position. You’ve now said freewill is consistent with necessarily doing the right thing. In that case, freedom is consistent with determinism.

“This question is also loaded, since doing good or evil is not what makes us free, but the ability to do or do otherwise.”

Which would involve the ability to either do good or evil. If you can only do good, then you lack the freedom to do other than good, right?

“And I said knowing something will happen and allowing it to take place do not make you the cause of the actions of free creatures.”

God didn’t merely allow the outcome to happen, as if the world is self-existent.

“God is not the cause because He foresaw and created anyway. He is only the cause of the free agent.”

Which makes him a cofactor.

“So this makes God culpable for the acts of free agents how? God is the first cause of everything. Therefore He did create the potentiality for evil, in that without anything there would be no evil.”

In Arminian theology, God does more that merely create the potentiality for evil. He creates a world in which evil occurs. By creating a world with that foreseeable outcome, he makes the outcome inevitable.

“But God is not culpable for that evil because it originates outside of Him. It was not present at creation, it entered through the volitional wills of His creatures.”

Which he foresaw. But rather than prevent it, although he was free to do so, he brought it to pass.

“I never argued sin was inevitable. That's part of volitional will. Nothing made the Devil's sin inevitable. Nothing made Adam's sin inevitable. I haven't decided whether Adam's sin makes ours inevitable.”

If God sees a possible world containing evil, and he creates a possible world containing evil, then it’s inevitable that everything will happen in that world exactly as God saw (or foresaw) it happening. By actualizing that timeline, it’s certain to occur.

“In the very sentence you are responding to I specifically say God created things good. That means He created a world without a curse and cursed it because of the actions of Adam and Eve.”

God didn’t have to create an accursed world. Appealing to the curse fails to explain why God ever made such a world in the first place. Given the fall, God curses the fallen world. But the fall is not a given unless God chooses to create a world in which that takes place. The curse is contingent on the fall. The fall is a contingent event. Arminian theology doesn’t require God to make a world in which the fall occurs. So your explanation has no explanatory power. Try again.

“No I just think there are objectively good and bad things and how you feel about it when you do it doesn't matter.”

Motives are not synonymous with feelings. I take it that you’ve never studied ethics.

“But I stated two different actions. The similarity of a knife makes no difference. One action is healing, one is killing. One brings restored life, the other death. Healing is an action, killing is another action. I'm surprised at you, Steve, really. I never took you for a moral relativist before.”

You yourself distinguish the morality of the actions based on the motives of the agents. One intends to do good while the other intends to do harm. Try to be logical, even if it hurts.

“Nice attempt to put words in my mouth. I cited the reasoning Hitler used. Getting imperfections out of the gene pool is a good motive. The action of killing Jews is bad.”

So you think Jews are genetically defective?

“Your interpretation was maladroit. Just because you post on something doesn't mean the final infallible interpretation has been reached.”

Since you haven’t even dealt with the exegesis I posted, you’re blowing hot air.

“They weren't determined beforehand to be damned. God allowed them the choice.”

How is it more loving to allow them to damn themselves? According to the Bible, it’s better to never be born than to wind up in hell. And since, according to Arminianism, God didn’t need to create any hellbound sinners, why would a loving God produce that avoidable outcome?

“Just because God allows something doesn't mean He wants it to happen.”

How far are you prepared to take that principle? Are you saying that God didn’t want to make the world, but his hands were tied? He had no choice?

“Puppets give the appearance of animate objects when a puppeteer sticks their hand in it. Similar to what Calvinism has God doing with us. My point is this world is a farce if determinism is true.”

So, if determinism is true, then human beings are inanimate objects? That’s a very idiosyncratic definition of “inanimate.”

“You can't seem to get it into your head that God foreknows things because they will happen.”

Show where my argument depends on that assumption.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Perry Robinson and Bryan Cross have been posting long comments on a long thread over at Green Baggins. By now I expect they’ve both had enough time to present their major arguments and counterarguments, so I’ll take the occasion to comment on their comments. In this post I’ll comment on Bryan’s arguments.

One preliminary observation: Keith Mathison draws a distinction between sola Scriptura and solo Scriptura. I think their objections have immediate reference to something like his distinction. Since I’m more of a Biblicist than Mathison, even if their objections had some purchase on his position, that doesn’t mean they have the same traction on mine.

I’d add that in the course of a lengthy thread, the dialogue over spills over into other issues. So the original framework is not the only bone of contention.

I don’t know for sure what it means for a statement to be “in response” to Scripture. I’m assuming you mean that you have derived this conclusion from Scripture. If so, then is your derivation falsifible or not? If it is falsifiable, then what would it take [empirically] to show that this conclusion was wrongly derived from Scripture? In other words, at what level of interpretive confusion, disagreement and division would you conclude that your derivation was false?

i) Suppose the average Christian doesn’t have an answer to that question? So what? Does God require the average Christian to be able to answer a question like that? This is the sort of thing that philosophers could bat back and forth for years on end with no definitive resolution.

ii) Likewise, where has God ever made infallible understanding a prerequisite for believing and obeying his word?

ii) I’d add that one can easily pose a parallel question to a Catholic: “I’m assuming you mean that you have derived this conclusion from Tradition. If so, then is your derivation falsifiable or not? If it is falsifiable, then what would it take [empirically] to show that this conclusion was wrongly derived from Tradition? In other words, at what level of interpretive confusion, disagreement and division would you conclude that your derivation was false?”

I agree with you that there are things that logically follow from Scripture. But, the claim in question, that human reason [apart from the guidance of the Church] has the ability to overcome any faulty presuppositions we bring to the text, does not logically follow from Scripture. If you disagree, then you would need to provide the syllogism showing how this claim logically follows from Scripture.

Sola Scriptura doesn’t turn on the claim that human reason has the ability to overcome any faulty presupposition we bring to the text. For example, if the reprobate bring faulty presuppositions to Scripture, then that serves to aggravate their guilt.

A distinct claim (from the one directly above) is that it is God’s purpose to preserve the unity and orthodox of His Church by giving the Holy Spirit to individuals so that by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, apart from the teaching authority of the Church, each individual comes to the true understanding of Scripture. Having been raised Pentecostal, I’m quite familiar with this claim.

It would be more logical to turn this around. Given the degree of disunity and heterodoxy in Christendom throughout the ages, God has a purpose is allowing that state of affairs. Put another way, it was never God’s purpose to insure unity and orthodoxy in Christendom.

But this claim too raises important questions. How do we know who has the Spirit? In practice, the answer is simple: find those who agree with you, because (1) you know you have the Spirit, and (2) you know the Spirit doesn’t contradict Himself. Hence, all those who claim to have the Spirit, but who disagree with you, are being deceived by lying spirits. This is where a non-incarnational, and hence non-sacramental, understanding of the operation of the Spirit leads.

Well, that presents a problem for Bryan’s alternative. Bryan thinks the Church of Rome is guided by the Holy Spirit. If, however, we’re unable to recognize Spirit-led leaders, then we can’t verify the claims of Rome. We can’t distinguish the claims of Rome from rival claimants.

Jesus expected that many who were within earshot while He spoke not to hear and understand His words. In fact, not only did He expect it, He intended it. When the disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables, He responded by saying that to the Apostles had been granted the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom, but not to the others. This understanding had been granted to the Apostles, in that He explained to them in private the meaning of the things He taught in public. That’s why He says, “while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13:13), “and hearing they may not understand” (Lk 8:10). I think Jesus says seven times in the gospels “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” That wouldn’t make sense if everyone who heard Jesus had ears to hear.

I agree. And this means the Bible has more than one purpose. More than one audience. God never intended that everyone who reads the Bible would understand it, or understand it to the same degree. So misunderstanding the Bible is consonant with God’s appointed purpose for the Bible. Misunderstanding is not an argument against sola Scriptura.

My statement, by contrast, is that it does not logically follow from Scripture that human reason has the ability to overcome any faulty presuppositions we bring to the text. We might be able to overcome some faulty presuppositions without the help of the Church, but no passage of Scripture entails that we (simply by the power of human reason, and apart from the help of the Church) can overcome any faulty presupposition we might have, or overcome all the faulty presuppositions we might have, when interpreting Scripture.

Andrew P is saying that we as individuals can certainly get some things right when we come to Scripture. I am saying that Scripture does not entail that we as individuals can overcome any (or all) faulty presuppositions we might have when we come to Scripture. My claim implies that we need the Church to help us understand Scripture in a way that allows us all to attain and maintain the “one faith” of which St. Paul speaks. But our two claims are fully compatible.

i) Of course, an elementary and elemental problem with this claim is that it applies with equal force to Bryan’s alternative. If faulty presuppositions can impede our understanding of Scripture, then faulty presuppositions can also impede our understanding of tradition. The Magisterium can’t help us overcome our faulty presuppositions since our faulty presuppositions could just as well block our understanding of Magisterial teaching.

ii) While we’re on the subject, when Jesus taught the crowds, who did his audience have to help it understand the words of Jesus? Was it the religious establishment? No, for the religious establishment was opposed to the teaching of Jesus. His audience had to understand him apart from the religious establishment. Indeed, in spite of the religious establishment.

I agree that the Pharisees were culpable for their disbelief. But there is a non-culpable form of hearing without understanding, and it seems that this applies to the many ordinary people who heard His parables without understanding them. Here’s why. If Jesus expected everyone to understand His parables, then there would be no reason for Him to explain the meaning of the parables to His Apostles in private, unless He thought His Apostles were more thick-headed than everyone else who heard Him speak (and I see no good reason to believe that He thought this about His Apostles). So the fact that He explained the meaning of His parables in private shows that He did not expect everyone to understand everything He said. And it would be ad hoc to assume that everyone else who did not understand the parables was purposefully or willfully disbelieving them, but that the Apostles (and only the Apostles) didn’t understand the parables (when they were spoken in public) not because of purposeful ignorance or disbelief, but simply because of stupidity.

Of course, as Jesus explains in Mt 13:10ff., the parables were designed to harden as well as illuminate. They were a winnowing fan. So that reinforces the point that a lack of understanding does not represent a failure of Scripture to communicate. Rather, it represents a successful function of Scripture. For Scripture was intended, in part, to harden unbelievers.

Your point seems to be that the Church needs to be accountability to the scholars, as though academia has higher interpretive authority than the successors of the apostles, those uneducated fisherman. And when the Church hierarchy does not accept the verdict of academia, rebellion against Church hierarchy is justified, because academia is a higher interpretive authority (so it is really not rebellion, but submission).

That’s a very tendentious characterization at several levels:

i) Notice how Bryan uses the word “Church.” Now you might think the “Church” is synonymous with the people of God. But he uses the “Church” as code language for the “church hierarchy.” So, when he talks about the “Church,” he really means a tiny subset of the church. A little elite.

ii) This also exposes the equivocation in his usage. What about Christian scholars? Aren’t they part of the church? Don’t they belong to the church? It’s a false dichotomy to talk about Christian Bible scholars (to take one example) in contrast to “the Church,” as if Christian Bible scholars were a bunch of outsiders. Notice how small “the Church” becomes in Bryan’s usage. His usage excludes the laity from his definition of “the Church.” For Bryan, the true church consists of the bishops. The rest of us are outsiders.

iii) He begs the question of whether the pope and Roman bishops are successors to the apostles.

iv) Even on his own terms, Bryan doesn’t care about the successors to the apostles. He only cares about the successors to just one apostle.

v) The contrast between “uneducated fishermen” and “academia” is also invidious. If you were living in 1C Palestine, you didn’t need a college degree to know what life was like in 1C Palestine. You were there.

A 21C Roman bishop is hardly in the same position. The point of modern scholarship is to recover what was common knowledge to uneducated fishermen.

But academia is incapable of being the highest interpretive authority, because it is not a unified entity. What do you do when scholars disagree? Do you start weighing graduate degrees from more prestigious institutions? Majority vote among scholars? Anglican, Pentecostal, Mormon, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and Seventh Day Adventist, etc. they all have their own scholars, and they all think their own interpretation is better. Is the authoritative interpretation of Scripture ultimately a matter of scholarly authority?

Notice that Bryan is constitutionally unable to think about this issue outside his authoritarian categories. But, as a rule, the appeal to a scholarly interpretation is not an appeal to “authority.” Rather, a scholar defends his interpretation. Presents his evidence. Argues for his position.

And how do we determine the quality of scholarship in a non-question-begging way?

Does Bryan never sift the quality of Catholic literature? Are Alfred Freddoso and Mother Angelica on a scholarly par?

This option seems to leave us in the morass of postmodern relativism. That seems to be the ultimate outcome of Renaissance humanism’s influence on the Reformation, placing scholarly authority over sacramental ecclesial authority.

You mean, like the way Lorenzo Valla exposed the False Decretals?

And what if the majority of contemporary biblical scholars rejects something like imputation? (See here, where Gundry claims that that is already the case.) Will you then accept that conclusion, or will you claim that the scholars have all gone liberal?

We’d have to examine their arguments. And it has nothing to do with majorities versus minorities.

If you reject their conclusion, then how is it not the case that *you* are functioning as the final interpretive authority?

It’s not the case inasmuch as interpreting the written or spoken word is not an exercise of authority. A mother tells her 10-year-old to clean up his room. He has to interpret her words. Is that an exercise of authority? When a 10-year-old interprets a parental command, is he exercising authority over his parents? Hardly!

And if he tries to misinterpret the command, he may learn very quickly, not to mention very painfully, where the real locus of authority resides!

In that case the appeal to academia to justify 16th century Protestantism turns out to be a cover for “they are authoritative when I agree with them, but not when I disagree with them,” which in actuality is indistinguishable from “I am my own pope.” Or more likely, you will just accept as authoritative only those scholars who agree with you. But that’s just the academic version of sola scriptura (see comment #5), i.e. selecting as the Church only those persons who satisfy your determination of the marks of the Church, according to your own interpretation.

Notice Bryan’s own behavior. He converted to Rome. He selected as “the Church” only those persons who satisfy his determination of what the true church is like.

Where in Scripture is there a promise that the Holy Spirit will guide academia into all truth, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against academia?

Where in Scripture is there a promise that the Holy Spirit will guide a guy named Joseph Alois Ratzinger into all truth?

In order to determine whether it was right for the early Protestants to go against the Church authorities, we need to know the principled difference between those situations in which one is justified in acting against Church authorities, and those situations in which one is not justified in acting against them.

When church authorities act against the Bible, we’re justified in acting against church authorities.

The Protestant position, by implication from the very history of its separation, is that unless the individual is convinced from his own interpretation of Scripture that what the Church is saying is correct, he is not obligated to accept it.

“His own interpretation” is a straw man. It’s not as if we lock ourselves in a closet with our Bibles. Evangelical commentators arrive at their interpretation by reviewing and interacting with other interpretations.

The Catholic position, by contrast, is that holding a different interpretation from the Church is not a justification for not conforming to the Church, because the Church has an interpretive authority that we do not have. By discovering what the Church has determined about a doctrine, we discover what the Holy Spirit teaches about this doctrine. Moreover, by recognizing the Church’s interpretive and teaching authority, we can know what has been definitively determined, and thus in those matters we can distinguish between what is orthodox and what is heterodox.

The Mormon position, by contrast, is that holding a different interpretation from the LDS Church is not a justification for not conforming to the LDS Church, because the LDS Church has an interpretive authority that we do not have. By discovering what the LDS Church has determined about a doctrine, we discover what the Holy Spirit teaches about this doctrine. Moreover, by recognizing the LDS Church’s interpretive and teaching authority, we can know what has been definitively determined, and thus in those matters we can distinguish between what is orthodox and what is heterodox.

If some bishop is going against what has already been definitively determined by the Church, or what has been universally believed and taught by the bishops, then we must not accept what he says.

The average Catholic is in no position to know what has been universally believed and taught by the bishops. At best, only a church historian could know that.

BTW, how many bishops have there been in Catholic church history? Is there polling data on what they all taught and believed?

But if the bishops in ecumenical council come to a conclusion about a hitherto unresolved question in the Church, and their conclusion is contrary to our interpretation of Scripture, then we must submit to the interpretive authority of the Church.

But if the Quorum of the Twelve in consultation with the First Presidency comes to a conclusion about a hitherto unresolved question in the LDS Church, and their conclusion is contrary to our interpretation of Scripture, then we must submit to the interpretive authority of the LDS Church.

One important difference between Catholics and Protestants on this point is that Protestants accept, but Catholics reject ecclesial deism. We believe that by the imparted gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and their successors, the teaching office of the Church will never depart from the faith, but will ever be guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. But Protestantism cannot believe that (without undermining itself). As a result, in Protestantism the individual necessarily has final interpretive authority, because for any Church decision or council, he has to judge for himself whether or not that decision or council came to the ‘right’ conclusion, based on his own interpretation of Scripture. Hence ecclesial deism serves as the basis for the solo scriptura that is intrinsic to Protestantism.

This is the Catholic version of hell house. Bryan tries to scare us into becoming Catholic by using spooky words like “ecclesial deism” (doesn’t that send a shill up your spine?) to brand our position. I guess I’ve seen far too many horror films to be frightened by Bryan’s Halloween costume.

That’s why the ecclesial deism issue is so important. Ecclesial deism undermines the possibility of reconciliation and reunion, because it leaves each individual to do what it is right in his own eyes, according to his own interpretation.

Like the pope, you mean.

The question is: Who has teaching and interpretive authority in the Church?

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…

Your point might be that there was no need for Christ to establish a teaching and interpretive authority in the Church, because Scripture “contains its own explanations,” so that it’s meaning is plain.

This is another one of Bryan’s false dichotomies. There’s a difference between teachers and a magisterial teaching office. Some people have the aptitude and training to teach the Bible while others do not.

(If you hold to the premise that Scripture *is* sufficiently plain and clear to unify all Christians, then you must hold to the following disjunct: either all Christians holding interpretations contrary to yours are wicked or stupid, or you are wicked or stupid. Are you prepared to bite that bullet?)

(If you hold to the premise that Tradition *is* sufficiently plain and clear to unify all Christians, then you must hold to the following disjunct: either all Christians holding interpretations contrary to yours are wicked or stupid, or you are wicked or stupid. Are you prepared to bite that bullet?)

Not only that, but the fact that we’re dealing with different canons shows that some ecclesial authority is needed so that Christ’s sheep may know which books belong to sacred Scripture.

So, until the Council of Trent defined the canon in the 16C, Christ’s sheep were at a loss to know which books belong to sacred Scripture.

Likewise, all the Jews were also in the dark regarding the content of their own canon, right? If you asked John the Baptist where to find the word of God, he’d slap his brow and exclaim, “Beats me! I’m waiting for the Council of Trent to convene in 1545.”

If your position is that the identity of the canon is self-evident, then again, you must conclude that anyone who disagrees with your judgment about the content of the canon is wicked or stupid, or that you yourself are wicked or stupid.

This is another straw man argument. The identity of the canon doesn’t have to be “self-evident” to be reasonably certain.

No. Unity is one of the four essential marks of Christ’s Mystical Body: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

If you accept Catholic criteria–which begs the question.

That is a unity greater than any the world can produce, because the Church’s unity is Christ’s unity. Those Catholics who depart from the Catholic faith (e.g. so-called “cafeteria Catholics” on the one hand, and sedevacantists on the other), have separated themselves from the Church’s unity, either by material heresy, or by formal heresy, and/or by material or formal schism.

Except that sedevacantists are arguing from Catholic presuppositions. It’s the reductio ad absurdum of Catholicism.

Question: How can we be sure that it is our own interpretation of Scripture that is wrong and not our interpretation of the ruling of the ecumenical council?

By asking our priest or bishop to confirm that our interpretation of the council is correct.

I see. Well, then. Hans Küng is still a priest. He’s never been defrocked. Moreover, he was a participant at Vatican II. So if he were my priest, I should ask him to confirm my interpretation of the Council. That way, I’d be sure I got it right.

Likewise, Marcel-François Lefebvre was a bishop. Indeed, an Archbishop. So he’s someone I should turn to to confirm my interpretation of the Council.

The actual point in question is: Who has greater interpretive authority: the individual, or the Church?

Why not ask: Who has the most plausible interpretation?

BTW, isn’t the pope an individual?

We never assume that must choose between the Holy Spirit and the Church. We believe that the Holy Spirit ordinarily speaks and acts *through* the Church, because the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit never intended the Scripture to govern us in a solo scriptura way. Rather the Holy Spirit intended the Scripture to be known and used in an ecclesial/liturgical context.

Notice that Bryan is simply giving us an exposition of Catholic dogma without giving us a single reason to believe it. He seems to think that if you just quote from the relevant section of the Catechism, we should instantly acquiesce.

Part of the content of the faith is believing in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”, because that is part of the Church’s Creed, which term comes from ‘Credo’ = I believe. Protestantism has no visible catholic Church. It has only denominations (none of which is the visible catholic Church), and individual congregations, and individual believers. There is in Protestantism not some one additional entity to which the term “visible catholic Church” refers, and to which those denominations, congregations, and individual believers, belong. NAPARC, for example, is not the catholic visible Church. (Anything with the name “North American” in its name is not catholic.)

Why should we accept the need for “one additional entity”–over and above the fellowship of the faithful?

So when a Protestant speaks that line of the Creed, he has to redefine the term ‘Church’ to refer to the set of all the elect. But of course that wasn’t at all the meaning of the term as used by those bishops who wrote the Creed at the second Ecumenical Council, or by the entire Church at that time, or anywhere until the 16th century.

I’m less concerned with how the Nicene Fathers define the term than how the Apostles define the term.

The Protestant’s faith is deficient precisely in that line of the Creed; he does not believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Notice that Bryan keeps reciting the Nicene marks of the church. But the NT church is my standard of comparison, not the Nicene church.

When I said that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, I wasn’t intending to specify the referent of the term ‘Church’, because I assumed that we would agree that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, even while we recognize that we each believe that the term ‘Church’ picks out a different referent.

No. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible, not the Church.

Protestants pick out the Church in a different way than do Catholics. For Protestants, the gospel (as determined by their own interpretation of Scripture) picks out what is the Church. But for Catholics, the Church (as determined by apostolic succession) gives us the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, and hence teaches us what is Christ’s gospel. Those are two different paradigms, and it is difficult to evaluate them against each other, in a non-question-begging manner.

If its difficult to evaluate the rival claimants in a non-question-begging manner, then Bryan has unilaterally disarmed his own position.

If the local church must be hierarchical in order to be visible…

Where does the Bible make hierarchicality precondition of visibility?

The Bible uses various metaphors to model the church. For example, it uses a flock of sheep to model the church. Must a flock of sheep be hierarchical to be a visible flock?

In a flock of sheep, which sheep correspond to the sheepish deacon, priest, altar boy, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, &c.?

Your question, in #470, is essentially this: Since some priests and even some bishops are rebellious, how can we determine whether a priest or bishop is rebellious? And the answer is to see whether his teaching agrees with that of the other bishops in communion with the successor of the Apostle Peter.

I see. To find out whether one bishop is rebellious, ask another bishop. Hmm. Isn’t that circular? To find out if Bishop A is rebellious, I should ask Bishop B.

And how does that work out in practice? I mean, if Bishop A were not rebellious, but Bishop B were rebellious, then Bishop B would rebelliously claim that Bishop A was rebellious to make himself look good.

We’re part of a community that extends around the world. So our access to the Church’s magisterium is not limited to our local priest or bishop.

Does Bryan have the pope’s cellphone number on speed dial?

The context of there being other bishops in the Church cannot be abstracted away, without creating an artificial hypothetical. The bishop, since he is a successor of the Apostles, has greater interpretive authority than does the individual lay person. So, all other things being equal, I must submit to my bishop regarding the teaching of the Church. But, as I pointed out above (#485) if I come to discover that my bishop is rebelling against the Church, then I must submit to the Church’s Magisterium, and not follow this rebellious bishop.

That’s a fascinating claim. Take careful note of what this means:

If a layman has the right interpretation, and a bishop has the wrong interpretation, the bishop still enjoys greater interpretive authority even though the bishops interpretation is dead wrong while the layman’s interpretation is dead to rights.

See how Bryan’s ecclesiology detaches truth from authority. For Bryan, an authoritative falsehood trumps an unauthoritative truth.

If Bryan tries to deny that implication, then truth is the broker–in which case a bishop has no intrinsically superior interpretive authority.

How does that differ from the Protestant view of the Scriptures? The Protestant makes himself the final interpretive authority of Scripture. The orthodox Catholic never takes that authority to himself. He submits to the teaching/interpretive authority of the Magisterium.

And the devout Mormon submits to the teaching of the First Presidency.

Scripture can play a role, as I pointed out here, and so can the Church herself. But the external basis for believing the Magisterium of the Church to bear Christ’s authority, and for believing that His authority is handed down by apostolic succession, is Tradition. Wherever the Apostles went, throughout the world, there we see in the Tradition the practice of apostolic succession. (I explained the problem (for those who deny apostolic succession) in comments #24 and #27 of this thread.) In this way, the Tradition of the Church testifies that this was the Apostles practice and teaching. To reject this universal practice of the early Church, we must fall into ecclesial deism, which is a lack of faith in Jesus Christ.

i) What’s the “external” basis for believing in the Magisterium? Bryan says the “Tradition of the Church.” And how does the “Tradition of the Church” constitute an external basis for belief? Wouldn’t the “Tradition of the Church” be, by definition, internal to the church? Likewise, isn’t apostolic traditional internal to the church?

ii) Moreover, doesn’t Tradition depend apostolic succession? So how does Bryan verify apostolic succession? By appeal to Tradition? And how does he verify Tradition? By appeal to apostolic succession? Where is his external basis for either one?

Because Christ has given to divinely appointed men both the authority and the gift of explaining the Sacred Scripture to His people. There would be no point to the gift of teaching, if the teacher’s words did not clarify that which he taught. Just as God ordained the Levites to teach the Scripture to the people of the Old Covenant, so we believe He ordained a perpetual succession of bishops to teach the Scripture to the people of the New Covenant.

What evidence is there that God “gifted” the Levites to teach the Bible? The Levitical priesthood was dynastic, not charismatic. It didn’t consist of “gifted” individuals with a special aptitude to teach. It was a matter of pedigree. Bloodlines.

As I said in #503, we believe that the Magisterium is indefectible. It will never be the case that the Magisterium will depart from the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. The Holy Spirit will guide the successors of the Apostles into all truth. The Church will remain the pillar and ground of truth, until Christ returns. The gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. If the Magisterium fell away from the faith, the gates of hell would have prevailed against the Church. So, your scenario is for us an impossible hypothetical (e.g. what would have happened if Jesus had sinned?).

Of course, a Protestant can also say that worse-case scenarios which a Catholic apologist raises in objection to sola Scriptura are also impossible hypotheticals.

I didn’t claim that “the authority for Tradition is apostolic succession”. There is both internal evidence and external evidence. Internal evidence is evidence that is uniquely available to us once we have accepted the Church’s authority and teachings. Those outside cannot perceive this evidence as evidence.

i) Sounds like a blood pact to join a coven. You must become a witch to discover the internal evidence. Of course, by then it’s too late to renege on the bargain.

ii) Moreover, what about lapsed Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, and converts from Catholicism to Evangelicalism. They were privy to the internal evidence. I guess they didn’t find the internal evidence that compelling.

But, there is also external evidence, i.e. evidence available to the outsider, and thus not seemingly circular to the one outside the Church. If we want to find where Christ’s Church is today, we need to start with the Apostles and then trace it forward through time until we come to the present day.

I see. Well, to take one example, who was the true successor to Gregory XI?

The person who, living in 2009, says, “I’ll find Christ’s Church by reading the Bible, and then finding that group of persons who agrees with my interpretation of Scripture”, fails to recognize that the Body of Christ is a living organic being, that was born on Pentecost and has been growing continuously through space and time over the last two thousand years. That historical evidence of the geographical expansion and theological and liturgical development of Christ’s Church over these past two millennia is available to anyone, inside or outside the Church.

Historical evidence of historical expansion and development is merely evidence of a historical process. Like the expansion and development of Islam.

For that matter, the Protestant movement can also be traced back through the past 2000 years of church history.

Evidence for a historical process doesn’t count as evidence for truth.

If we want to understand Scripture, we need to try to understand it as those who first received it understood it. And how do we do that? By reading the Fathers.

Really? Was John Damascene among the first to receive the Scriptures? Muhammad was born a century before John Damascene. Perhaps, if we want to understand Scripture, we should read the Koran instead of the church fathers. At least, if we adhere to Bryan’s criteria.

In the Fathers we find the mind of the early Church, and thus the mind of the Apostles…

Begging the question is such a handy shortcut, don’t you think?

For a Protestant, the Church and tradition and creeds all have only derived authority. Derived authority means that they only have authority insofar as they conform to his interpretation of Scripture. He is not obligated to conform his interpretation to that of the Church; rather, the Church is picked out precisely by his own determination from Scripture of the marks of the Church.

In a parallel universe, Bryan is a Mormon. Imagine a debate between Catholic Bryan and Mormon Bryan. Plug different titles into the same arguments.

Correct. But notice how they define ‘church’. (I began to explain in this comment #5.) They define ‘church’ by using their own interpretation of Scripture (as influenced by whatever particular traditions have played a role in their formation), to find that denomination or broader tradition that seems to match most closely their interpretation of Scripture. If what they refer to as ‘church’ deviates too far from what they think church should be (according to their own interpretation), they leave, and find another congregation/denomination that is a better fit.

Like Bryan leaving his Protestant church for the Catholic church.

We’re so used to this, that we don’t even see it for what it is. We *expect* to see different denominational church signs on every other street corner. We don’t see this as a myriad of schisms, each satisfying a demand niche in the ecclesial consumerism market, in fulfillment of what St. Paul predicts in 2 Tim 4:3.

We see this in large part because America is a nation of immigrants, so different national churches are all represented here. And, of course, if you’d toured the Roman Empire in the 1C, you’d also see a wide variety of Judaisms.

Arminian marionettes


“Wrong, Hays, you said ‘that scarcely relieves the mad scientist of responsibility for creating a homicidal monster’.

Try not to be obtuse. It’s clear from what I said that the mad scientist endowed the creature with libertarian freewill, knowing that the creature would exercise that freedom in homicidal ways. The mad scientist is responsible for the final outcome.

“So, to stay within the bounds of your analogy, Frankenstein created a good monster. The monster used it's will to sin.”

Beside the point. The mad scientist would be culpable for creating him in full knowledge of the evil outcome.

You continue to obtusely act as if, in a transaction involving to parties, only one can be culpable. Since I assume you’re not quite that dense, you’re being evasive because you can’t defend your position.

“God allows this for the reason I stated, relational. A true relationship requires two agents, not one agent and his marionette.”

Aside from begging the question in favor of libertarianism, your conclusion doesn’t even follow from libertarianism. There’s no requirement that God made free agents who choose evil. If they were truly free (as you define it), they are also free to choose good. You constantly fail to explain how libertarian freedom forces God to create sinful agents.

“William Lane Craig makes pretty much the same argument. ”

i) Craig rejects the freedom to do otherwise as a necessary condition of libertarian freedom.

ii) Craig is also a Molinist. But in that event, God chooses which possible world to instantiate, not the human agent. And the human agent has no freedom to do otherwise within the actual world, since the actual world represents one possible choice to the exclusion of others.

“As Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell put it: ‘The same freedom that makes it possible to enter a genuinely trusting and obedient relationship with God also makes it possible for us to go our own way and disobey him. God allows the latter in order to enable the former’.”

i) That doesn’t require God to create sinners. He’s at liberty to create the subset of free agents to freely choose good over evil.

ii) Is God also free to do either good or evil? If not, then, by your definition, God can’t enter into a “genuine relationship” with us.

If, however, God is free to do either good or evil, then he’s untrustworthy–in which case you can’t entering into a genuinely trusting relationship with him.

“No, he did not bring it to pass because He knew it would happen, He knew it would happen because it actually was going to happen.”

That’s a red herring. I didn’t say he brought it to pass because he knew it would happen. Try to pay attention. I said he foresaw the evil outcome. He was in a position to prevent the evil outcome. But he went right ahead and made it happen by creating the world where he foresaw that outcome.

At a minimum, that makes him responsible for the outcome. It didn’t happen all by itself.

“God not stopping the consequences of sin is, again, because of the genuine relationship He desires and the just judgement for sin.”

You keep falling back on this false dichotomy. Is there some reason you’re so obtuse?

Even if we stipulate to libertarian freedom, that doesn’t mean sin is inevitable. It could go either way, remember? You act as though the dice are loaded to result in a sinful combination every time they’re rolled. That’s hardly consistent libertarianism. If libertarianism were true, then rolling the dice would sometimes result in a sinful combination, and sometimes not. So God is free to instantiate the sinless outcomes rather than the sinful outcomes. And selecting that subset of possible outcomes does nothing to infringe on the libertarian freedom which you ascribe to human beings. If libertarianism were true, then the odds are that some outcomes would be sinless. If every outcome results in evil, then the dice were loaded.

Try to think through the implications of your position.

“No the question is: How is God not culpable for evil He knows will happen? The answer is, it is part of the curse humanity brought on itself. God created us good.”

Appealing to the curse is hardly sufficient to explain why the Arminian God created a world with a curse in the first place. You have yet to explain the necessity of the given. The curse was not a given. Why did God create a world which he would then have to curse? Appealing to the curse takes his decision to create the world for granted. As such, it fails to explain the decision to create such a world.

Try to be logical, even if it hurts.

“Sounds like moral relativism to me.”

It’s a mark of your superficiality that you think motives are irrelevant to morality.

“No, because the surgeon and mugger will do two completely different things with the scalpel. The surgeon will heal with it, the mugger will kill with it. Two different actions.”

Which confirms my point. Both use knives to cut someone open, but for different reasons. One has a good reason, the other has a bad reason.

“Just like killing 6 million innocent Jews is always wrong even if your motives are good.”

Which assumes there are good motives for killing the Jews. Are you a skinhead?

“Uh, yes it is. James 1:13-17. So, in your reply, you’re propping up one tendentious assertion with another tendentious assertion.”

Since I recently did a post on the correct interpretation of that verse, your reply is maladroit. Try again.

“Funny, me being an Arminian and all. The difference is I don't think God determined anyone to sin or be damned in any logical order.”

According to Arminianism, God knowingly creates hellbound sinners although he was free to spare them that fate by never making them in the first place. So how does that make Arminianism more loving than Calvinism?

“God determining what we do is like a puppeteer determining what a puppet does. That argument seems pretty straighforward to me, Steve. I guess I thought someone with your amazing skillz would be able to deduce that.”

i) Since puppets are inanimate objects, I “deduce” some fatal equivocations in your comparison. Try again.

ii) Moreover, if Arminianism is true, then you’re must a puppet (as you define it) since God determined what you would do by creating the world he foresaw. In the world he made, everything has to unfold as he foresaw it. Nothing can be otherwise.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Our two jobs

From Dr. Pauline Chen:
Over the course of the book tour, I have been asked quite a few times how doctors have reacted to Final Exam.

For the most part, my book has been well received by doctors, and that has been immensely gratifying. After all, I feel connected with other doctors. They are my family, the shared DNA being our education and training.

But I was asked more recently if I noticed a difference in how older doctors and younger doctors were responding to my book.

I answered no. My sense was that doctors young and old were responding in the same way.

I've thought a lot about that question in the last couple of weeks. I've gone so far as to ask other doctors I meet the same question.

Today if I were asked that same question, I think I might answer it a little differently.

There is a difference in the way older doctors – and I mean doctors who are at least a couple of generations ahead of me – have received my book. Like younger doctors, they have talked about how certain narratives resonated with their own experiences. And like younger doctors, they have talked about the need for improving how we educate and train doctors to care for the dying.

But what is different is the stories they tell me. In their reflections, there is a kind of quiet respect of mortality, an acceptance of our profession's limits.

I heard a story yesterday that really brought this home. I met a woman whose father had practiced surgery from the 1950's until his death from pancreatic cancer in the 1980's. He had a very busy practice and on top of his clinical duties was chairman of surgery at two of the local hospitals.

One day, this woman went to visit her father at the hospital. She found him in a patient's room, sitting at the bedside and reading the Bible aloud to his patient. When he later left the patient's room, his daughter asked him, "Why were you reading to that patient?"

"She asked me to read from the Bible to her," her father replied. "And because I could no longer do anything for her medically, I did what I could."

I grew up, professionally speaking, at a time when therapeutic failures were the exception, rather than the rule. It was hard not to ask oneself, "Isn't there some other procedure or medication we can use here to help this person?" when you wanted nothing more than to help your patients and in your mind helping meant curing. Liver transplantation, for example, was a "gold standard" of therapy for end-stage liver disease when I was training; easily 80% of liver transplant recipients could expect to live at least another five years.

But back in the 1970's, for example, only about a quarter of patients who underwent a liver transplant survived even one year. How could the physicians who grew up and practiced in that era not feel a little differently about mortality than my generation of doctors?

In an age when the number of our successful therapeutic options has exploded, it's difficult to see that sometimes the most therapeutic thing you can do has nothing to do with another drug or operation. Sometimes all we can – and should – do is simply be with our patients, make them comfortable. Sometimes the very best thing we can do as someone's doctor is to sit at their bedside, take their favorite book, and read aloud.

I think it's like Dr. Courtney M. Townsend, a legend in surgery and a personal hero, recently told me. "We have two jobs as doctors: to heal and to ease suffering. And if we can't do the former, my God we better be doing the latter."

The Mismeasure of Man


RIKER: Admiral on the Bridge.
PICARD: I was a little surprised at the decision to put a base in force so close to the Neutral Zone.
NAKAMURA: As you know, we've had disturbing news from both sides of the zone. We're here to respond when needed. And it won't hurt to have the Romulans know that we're nearby. Well, Captain, I want to thank you for this opportunity. For five hundred years every ship that has borne the name of the Enterprise has been a legend. This one is no different.
OLSON: Admiral.
NAKAMURA: Oh yes, Captain. Roger Olson is here to do some work on your humanoid. Please take care of him.
(Nakamura leaves)
OLSON: How have you been, Adam?
ADAM: Functioning within normal working parameters.
PICARD: The two of you are acquainted?
OLSON: Yes, I evaluated Adam when it first appeared in the Garden of Eden.
ADAM: And was the sole member of the committee to oppose my standing on the grounds that I was not a sentient being.
PICARD: What exactly will this work entail?
OLSON: I am going to disassemble Adam.

[Observation lounge]

PICARD: All right, explain this procedure.
OLSON: Ever since I first saw Adam in the Garden, I've wanted to understand it. I became a student of the works of Dr. El Shaddai, Adam's creator, and I've tried to continue his work. I believe I am very close to the breakthrough that will enable me to duplicate Dr. Shaddai's work and replicate this. But as a first step I must disassemble and study it. Adam is going to be my guide.
ADAM: It sounds intriguing.
RIKER: How will you proceed?
OLSON: I will run a full diagnostic on Adam, evaluating the condition of its current programming.
PICARD: What are the risks to Adam?
OLSON: Negligible.
ADAM: Captain, I believe his basic research lacks the specifics necessary to support an experiment of this magnitude.
PICARD: Adam is a valued member of my Bridge crew. Based on what I've heard, I cannot allow Adam to submit himself to this experiment.
OLSON: I was afraid this might be your attitude, Captain. Here are Starfleet's transfer orders separating Adam from the Enterprise, and reassigning it to Starbase one seventy three under my command. Adam, I will see you in my office tomorrow at zero nine hundred hours.

[JAG office]

PICARD: I need your help.
PHILLIPA: An historic moment.
PICARD: I have been trying to make sense of this gobbledygook, but it's beyond me. The fact is, Adam is being transferred compulsorily to be made part of a highly dangerous, ill-conceived experiment, and I want it stopped.
PHILLIPA: He can refuse to undergo the procedure, but we can't stop the transfer.
PICARD: Once this Olson has got control of Adam, anything could happen. I don't trust that man.
PHILLIPA: We agree to certain risks when we join Starfleet.
PICARD: Yes. Acceptable risks, justified risks, but I can't accept this. It's unjustified. It's unfair. He has rights.
PHILLIPA: All this passion over a machine?

[Adam's quarters]

OLSON: I had rather we had done this together, but one way or the other, we are doing it. You are under my command.
ADAM: No, sir, I am not under your nor anyone else's command. I have resigned from Starfleet.
OLSON: Resigned? You can't resign.
ADAM: I regret the decision, but I must. I am the culmination of God's vision. This is not ego or vanity, but when Dr. Shaddai created me he added to the substance of the universe. You may, by your experiments, destroy something made in his own image.

Captain's log, supplemental. Roger Olson, having been thwarted by Adam's abrupt resignation, is now seeking a legal remedy for his woes. Captain Louvois has requested my presence at those discussions.

[JAG office]

OLSON: Your response is emotional and irrational.
PICARD: Irrational?
OLSON: You are endowing Adam with human characteristics because it looks human. But it is not. It's been foreordained. No better than a robot!
PHILLIPA: Overt sentimentality is not one of Captain Picard's failings. Trust me, I know.
PICARD: I will tell you again. Adam is a valued member of my crew. He is an outstanding Bridge officer.
OLSON: Adam must not be permitted to resign.
PICARD: Adam is a divine image-bearer. He has certain rights.
OLSON: Rights! Rights! I'm sick to death of hearing about rights! What about my right not to have my life work subverted by blind ignorance?
PHILLIPA: We have rule of law in this Federation. You cannot simply seize people and experiment with them to prove your pet theories.
PICARD: Thank you.
OLSON: Now you're doing it. Adam is an extraordinary piece of engineering, but it is a machine. If you permit it to resign it will destroy years of work in libertarianism. Starfleet does not have to allow the resignation.
PICARD: Commander, who do you think you're working for? Starfleet is not an organisation that ignores its own regulations when they become inconvenient. Whether you like it or not, Adam does have rights.

[JAG office]

(Picard and Riker are present to hear the outcome of the research into Adam's status)
PHILLIPA: I have completed my research, based on the Acts of Arminius passed in the early Seventeen Century. Adam is the property of Starfleet. He cannot resign and he cannot refuse to cooperate with Roger Olson.
PICARD: What if I challenge this ruling?
PHILLIPA: Then I shall be required to hold a hearing.
PICARD: Then I so challenge. Convene your hearing.
PHILLIPA: Captain, that would be exceedingly difficult. This is a new base. I have no staff.
PICARD: But surely, Captain, you have regulations to take care of such an eventuality.
PHILLIPA: There are. I can use serving officers as legal counsel. You as the senior officer would defend.
PICARD: Very good.
PHILLIPA: And the unenviable task of prosecuting this case would fall on you, Commander, as the next most senior officer of the defendant's ship.
RIKER: I can't. I won't. Adam's my comrade. We have served together. I not only respect him, I consider him my friend.
PHILLIPA: When people of good conscience have an honest dispute, we must still sometimes resort to this kind of adversarial system.
RIKER: You just want me to prove that Adam is a mere machine. I can't do that because I don't believe it. I happen to know better. So I'm neither qualified nor willing. You're going to have to find someone else.
PHILLIPA: Then I will rule summarily based upon my findings. Adam is a toaster. Have him report to Roger Olson immediately for experimental refit.
RIKER: I see. I have no choice but to agree.


PHILLIPA: This hearing, convened on stardate 42527.4, is to determine the legal status of the humanoid known as Adam. The office of the Judge Advocate General has rendered a finding of property, the defence has challenged. Commander Riker?
RIKER: Your honour, there is only one issue, and one relevant piece of evidence. I call Adam.
(Adam goes to the witness chair and puts his hand on a scanner on the table)
COMPUTER: Verify. Adam. Current assignment, USS Enterprise.
RIKER: Adam, what are you?
ADAM: A humanoid.
RIKER: Which is?
ADAM: Webster's Twenty Fourth Century Dictionary, Fifth Edition, defines a humanoid as a creature made in the image of God.
RIKER: Humanoid. Made. By whom?
ADAM: Sir?
RIKER: Who built you?
ADAM: Dr. El Shaddai.
RIKER: And he is?
ADAM: The foremost authority in anthropology.
RIKER: More basic than that. What is he?
ADAM: Divine?
RIKER: Thank you. Adam is a psychosomatic representation of an idea, an idea conceived of by the mind of God. Its responses are decreed by an elaborate programme written by God. Its body built by God. And now I'll put it to sleep.
(After Riker sedates him, Adam slumps across the table)
RIKER: Pinocchio is broken. Its strings have been cut.
PICARD: Commander Riker has dramatically demonstrated to this court that Adam has a body. Do we deny that? No. Because it is not relevant. We too have bodies. Commander Riker has also reminded us that Adam is a creature. Same here. I call to the stand Roger Olson as a hostile witness.
COMPUTER: Verify, Olson, Roger. Current assignment, Associate Chair of Libertarianism, Truett Theological Institute.
PICARD: Mr. Olson, is your contention that Adam is not a sentient being and therefore not entitled to all the rights reserved for all conscious entities within this Federation?
OLSON: Adam is not sentient, no.
PICARD: Would you enlighten us? What is required for sentience?
OLSON: Beliefs, hopes, fears, feelings, desires, and intentions.
PICARD: Do you deny that Adam has hopes, beliefs, feelings, intentions, and so forth?
OLSON: Can't say that I do.
PICARD: Now, tell me, Roger, what is Adam?
OLSON: A robot! A puppet! A machine!
PICARD: Is he? Are you sure?
PICARD: You see, he's met your criteria for sentience. What is he then? Your Honour, are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him to the subhuman status of androids?

Why Good Greek Grammar Matters: An Exegetical Response to Tim Warner's Preterit Interpretation of the Golden Chain - Part 1

“(28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
– Rom 8:28–30.

You can find Tim Warner’s article here.

He immediately begins with a caricature of Calvinism. He asserts:
According to Calvinists, from “predestination” to “glorification,” everything related to our salvation is determined and performed by God. Nothing man does can in any way affect his eternal destiny.
I ask: how does an individual become justified? It is by faith. Who "performs" the faith? The individual or God? Answer: faith is expressed by the will of the individual, which is enabled by our gracious God. And can someone who does not love God be glorified? No.

He writes:
The verb [οἶδα, oida in v. 28], rendered “we know” in the NKJV and “we have observed” in our translation, is a perfect active indicative form of the verb meaning “to observe and therefore perceive [he cites Thayer’s Lexicon].
He inaccurately cites Thayer’s lexicon. This is not the definition that Thayer provides. What is omitted in Warner’s discussion of this term is Thayer’s important note: “The tenses coming from eido; and retained by usage form two families, of which one signifies to see, the other to know.” Thayer continues to show that when the term is in the aorist tense it means “to see, observe, perceive." But when it is in the perfect tense, which it is in this case, it means “to know, understand." Warner acknowledges that the term is in the perfect tense. So why does he blunder and choose the aorist meaning of this term?

The reason why Warner translates it himself as “we have observed” rather than “we know” is because it supports his thesis that all of the events in the golden chain, including glorification, are a past event. In other words, for him, the salvific acts in the golden chain do not represent timeless truths, but rather what has happened to individuals in the past. To put it in his own words, which he states later: "Paul was describing what has always occurred in the past based on his observation. Therefore, even the 'glorification' must be something that has been observed previously."

He writes:
The perfect tense indicates past completed action with continuous results. Literally, “we have observed” (and therefore we know). The knowledge claimed is based solely on past observation. This is a requirement of this term.
He continues to predicate his thesis on his flawed lexical assertion that oida, "we know," means "we observe as a past action." As demonstrated above, he misread Thayer's lexicon.

In addition, Warner is not familiar with current Greek linguistics or he would be qualifying this absolute statement about verb tense. Traditional Greek has taught that this is what the perfect tense means, but recent scholarship has qualified this substantially, or jettisoned it all together. The perfect tense-form can be found in various temporal contexts, not just past time. Moreover, οἶδα, oida in verse 28 would be a "Perfect with a Present Force." In fact, oida is the most common verb for this Greek category given its stative lexical meaning. In other words, the present temporal reference of this word is due to the stative lexeme and context, not the tense-form.

Greek verbal aspect theory emphasizes the distinction of form and function; semantics and pragmatics; spatial quality and temporal reference; aspect (i.e., author’s subjective portrayal of the action) and Aktionsart (i.e., objective “kind of action”).

Traditionally, grammarians confused the latter elements with the former. For example, it was (and still is among many New Testament interpreters) thought that the verb tense grammaticalized (or encoded) time. But verbal aspect has argued often persuasively that temporal reference is not an inherent (semantic) value of the verb-tense (the future “tense” is an exception, but even then there are qualifications). It is the context that provides us clues to the temporal reference. Further, the perfect tense-form serves to highlight the action of the verb (contrasted with the aorist tense-form, which is the least significant tense-form and only serves to move the storyline or argument along without depicting how the action exactly unfolds).

Continuing, Warner writes:
Remember, Paul was encouraging them in persecution to place their hope in the future resurrection and inheritance, and that God was at work in them even in their present situation. So, it is natural that he would offer some demonstration from history to support the observation of this fact.
Warner is setting up the reader for his thesis, which again he thinks that Paul is only describing what has happened in the past; i.e., the golden chain is not providing timeless truths of God's acts of salvation.

He writes:
Verses 29-30 do not offer a theological argument, or insight into God’s secret purposes. Rather, they offer historical demonstration of what Paul and his readers had indeed observed, that God works for the good of those who love Him.
Again, he utilizes the erroneous "observed" definition. And one truly has to wonder how Warner can miss the explicit revealing of God’s purpose! Paul uses the infinitive of purpose: εἰς τὸ εἶναι (eis to einai)…"so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." That is, we are predestined to be conformed to Christ so that Christ may be preeminent over a new humanity.

We will continue in part two…

The Arminian nursery

One of the impediments to having a rational debate with Arminians is their intellectual reliance on metaphors. They can’t think outside their metaphors. They keep resorting to the same figurative objections to Calvinism:

Calvinism makes God the “author” of sin.

Calvinism turns men into “robots.”

Calvinism turns men into “puppets.”

It’s as if they equate Christianity with Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm.

It should be unnecessary to point out that a merely figurative objection to Calvinism carries no argumentative force.

It makes no more sense to frame the debate over Calvinism in terms of “authors,” “robots,” and “puppets,” than it does to frame a Christological debate in terms of The Little Mermaid or Little Snow White.

Why do so many Arminians operate at the intellectual level of a small child who sees the world through a bedtime story?

Indeed, that raises an intriguing question: Are they so childish because they’re Arminian? Or are they Arminian because they’re so childish?

Divine permission

Arminians often regard the notion of divine permission in Calvinism as incoherent, given the Reformed doctrine of predestination. Here's a careful delineation of what the concept means:


As a preliminary to considering the first argument it is necessary to get clearer on the meaning of willing permission. God positively governs some acts by permitting them. Yet for such permission to be consistent with meticulous positive government, it has to be a particular kind of permission; it has to be willingly given, and it has to be permission of particular actions and not merely the permission of certain types of action. But doesn't introducing the idea of permission unacceptably modify the idea of divine positive government by introducing an element of conditionality? It does introduce an element of conditionality, but perhaps necessarily so. So far as God may ordain but not cause evil there is an element of conditionality about what happens, since what happens is conditioned upon what agents other than God do. Such conditionality is present in God's relations to all human actions, presumably. Nevertheless such conditionality is risk-free for God.

Divine permission is compatible with the absence of risk for God as long as there are types of actions which God can prevent but which he nevertheless cannot cause, even though he may be willing for them to occur. Then God controls an evil action by permitting it - by deciding not to prevent it - and the evil action occurs because it is caused by the natures and circumstances of those who perpetrate it. The evil action is then not caused by God although he willingly permits it as a necessary component part of some broader overall will. This leaves us with questions of why God has willingly permitted evil, and of exactly how evil comes about in a world created by an all-good God. Thankfully, attempting to answer these questions falls outside the scope of this paper.

So God may willingly permit an evil act; indeed since God cannot perform an evil act, if an evil act occurs, he must have permitted it and if his government of that action is positive, necessarily only permitted it, but willingly so.

So for S willingly to permit an action A is: for A to be the action of someone other than S; for S to ordain the occurrence of A and to have been able to prevent A; and for A not to be contrary to what S intends. On this conception God foreknows everything, and unconditionally governs everything, but does not causally determine everything in the sense that he is the efficient cause of everything. Nevertheless, nothing happens that God is unwilling should happen.

But it may still be insisted that if God willingly permits X, then God is the cause of X. It is tempting, but I believe crude and misleading, to assimilate the working of such permission to intramundane models of causation, and particularly to theories of physical determinism. Such permission has this in common with physical determinism, that what is physically determined and what is willingly permitted will each come to pass. But willingly to permit an action is not to cause that action in any straightforward sense of 'cause'. As part of his critique of the no-risk view John Saunders describes the Lord, in willingly permitting a rape, as himself a 'rapist'. Such ill-judged language is based on a thorough misunderstanding.

We can express some of the difference between willing permission and causation like this. While it seems clear that intramundane causation is transitive, that if (where A, B and C are mundane events) A causes B, and B causes C, then A causes C, there is no necessary transitivity in the case of the causal aspects or features of the divine willing permission. It is thus not necessarily the case that if God positively governs by willingly permitting some event B, and B causes C, then God causes C; rather God may will C by willingly permitting that B causes C.

Allowing evil

Arminians typically claim that if God merely allowed evil, then that exonerates God–but if God predestined the fall, then that makes God the “author of sin.”

They also say that Calvinists engage in special pleading to justify the moral ramifications of predestination.

But one of the oddities about the way Arminians debate this issue is how oblivious they are to the elephant in the room. In scripture, it’s not as if God merely allows men to do various things. God also commands men to do things. What is more, God sometimes takes matters into his own hands.

And these include cases in which, if a human being were acting on his own initiative, it would be sinful or evil for him to do that.

For example, God commands the Israelites to execute the Canaanites. If a human being took it upon himself to do that, he would be guilty of mass murder. The reason it’s not mass murder in this case is divine authorization.

So one question we might ask is this:

Is the same action moral to command, but immoral to decree?

To answer my own question, anything which is moral to command is moral to decree.

(Using “decree” as a synonym for “predestine” or “foreordain”).

Perhaps the Arminian would say that God had a right to command the execution of the Canaanites, even though it would be immoral for you or me to kill them without divine authorization.

That, however, concedes a key principle: God can rightfully do something which would be wrongful for you and me to do.

And the only reason that human beings could rightfully do it is in cases where God has delegated his judicial prerogative to human agents. We’re acting as his commissioned representatives.

But why, then, is it special pleading for a Calvinist to use the same argument to justify predestination? The Arminian has admitted that divine standards are not identical with human standards. This doesn’t mean they have nothing in common. But they’re not conterminous.

Not only does God command men to do thing certain things which would be immoral, absent the command, but God himself does things which would be immoral if a human being were to do the same thing–absent divine authorization.

God uses natural disasters like plagues and fire and floods and earthquakes and venomous snakes to indiscriminately wipe out thousands of human lives.

If a human being deliberately set a wildfire which killed thousands of people, if a human being dynamited a dam which thereby drown thousands of people downstream, if a human being intentionally released venomous snakes to kill thousands of people in the vicinity, we would try him and convict him for a heinous crime.

So one question we might ask is this:

Is the same action moral to do, but immoral to decree?

To answer my own question, anything which is moral to do is moral to decree.

The Arminian takes refuge in the notion of divine permittance. But what about the argument from the greater to the lesser? If God commands men to do certain things, then he can rightfully decree whatever he commands.

Likewise, if God himself can rightfully do certain things, then he can rightfully decree the same outcome by intermediate means.

Why center the debate on a distinction between what God allows and what he decrees when we must also consider what God commands or actually does? These are “proactive” measures.

It’s hardly adequate to retreat into the weaker notion of divine permittance while disregarding the stronger situations in which God either prescribes a course of action for others to carry out or perpetrates the action himself.