Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arminian Mormonism

I’ve been working on another project, so now I’ll go back and deal with some unfinished business. Billy Birch posted a reply to something I wrote. Here goes:

“Arminians only ‘lose the argument’ in Hays' subjective opinion. No Arminian recognizes that the argument was actually ‘lost’ to a Calvinistic defense of the novel truthmaker theory (an attempt to defend exhaustive determinism).”

i) Needless to say, Billy’s objection is reversible: in his subjective opinion, Arminians didn’t lose the argument. So he’s responded to my statement by raising a self-refuting objection. Way ta go, Billy.

ii) Is truthmaker theory “novel.” Would an Arminian philosopher like Jerry Walls share Billy’s view of truthmaker theory?

“You all will have to forgive the Arminian for grounding his or her philosophical assumptions in Scripture. We do not care to presuppose a philosophical argument divorced from what God's word has already revealed to us.”

i) Actually, I won’t forgive Arminians on that account because it’s just a pose. Arminian epologists don’t ground their philosophical assumptions in Scripture. Rather, they use their philosophical assumptions as a hermeneutical grid. Just look at their presuppositional use of libertarian action theory to “explain” various statements in Scripture. For them, it’s counterintuitive that God would hold us responsible if he decreed our actions. And they use the same philosophical appeal to attack Calvinism.

ii) I’m also unimpressed by their token appeals to Scripture, sans exegesis. When Steven Nemes was debating them over at Arminian Perspectives, I had a running commentary over at Tblog in which I noted the fallacious nature of their perfunctory prooftexting.

Anyone can wrap himself in the mantle of Scripture. Just look at how Catholic epologists try to prooftext the Immaculate Conception or some other Romish dogma.

In fact, nothing is more impious than the type of mock piety which quotes chapter and verse without making a good faith effort to ascertain the original intent.

iii) Quoting Scripture does nothing to resolve contradictions in Arminian theology.

iv) If you think Arminians put Scripture first, just look at how they malign the character of a God who does the things which Calvinism attributes to God, then ask yourself whether they have left themselves any room to back down in case a Calvinist had the better of the exegetical argument.

“(Take note that Hays insists that I am being deliberately deceptive -- duplicitous.) Throughout Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy, he uses Scripture to substantiate his belief.”

This is what Billy actually quoted from Boethius:

It is not necessary, they say, that what is foreseen must happen, but it is necessary that what is destined to happen must be foreseen, as though the point at issue was which is the cause; does foreknowledge of the future cause the necessity of events, or necessity cause the foreknowledge? But what I am trying to show is that, whatever the order of the causes, the coming to pass of things foreknown is necessary even if the foreknowledge of future events does not seem to impose the necessity on them (120).

The question is, therefore, how can God foreknow that these things will happen, if they are uncertain? If He thinks that they will inevitably happen while the possibility of their non-occurrence exists, He is deceived, and this is something wicked both to think and to say. But if His knowledge that they will happen as they do is of such a kind that He knows they may as equally not happen as happen, what sort of knowledge is this, which comprehends nothing sure or stable? (121).

There seems to be a contradiction here, and you think that the necessity of events is consequent upon their being foreseen, while if there is no necessity, they cannot be foreknown, because you believe that nothing can be comprehended by knowledge unless it is certain. If events of uncertain occurrence are foreseen as if they were certain, it is only clouded opinion, not the truth of knowledge; for you believe that to have opinions about something which differ from the actual facts is not the same as the fulness of knowledge.

The cause of this mistake is that people think that the totality of their knowledge depends on the nature and capacity to be known of the objects of knowledge. But this is all wrong. Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing (125-26).

God, being the "I Am" (Exodus 3:14), exists in an eternal presence: "His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence." God's present-knowledge "embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they are happening in the present" (134). Boethius answers Steven's question, stating, "And so it comes about that when God knows that something is going to occur and knows that no necessity to be is imposed upon it, it is not opinion, but rather knowledge founded upon truth" (135). He continues, at length:

If you say at this point that what God sees as a future event cannot but happen, and what cannot but happen, happens of necessity, and if you bind me to this word necessity, I shall have to admit that it is a matter of the firmest truth, but one which scarcely anyone except a student of divinity has been able to fathom. I shall answer that the same future event is necessary when considered with reference to divine foreknowledge, and yet seems to be completely free and unrestricted when considered in itself. For there are two kinds of necessity; one simple, as for example the fact that it is necessary that all men are mortal; and one conditional, as for example, if you know someone is walking, it is necessary that he is walking. For that which a man knows cannot be other than as it is known; but this conditional necessity does not imply simple necessity, because it does not exist in virtue of its own nature, but in virtue of a condition which is added. No necessity forces the man to walk who is making his way of his own free will, although it is necessary that he walks when he takes a step.

In the same way, if Providence sees something as present, it is necessary for it to happen, even though it has no necessity in its own nature (135).

That’s not an exegetical argument. Rather, that’s a philosophical argument. And Billy deployed that philosophical argument to disprove Nemes’ contention.

But even if the argument were sound (which it’s not), this is not disproving Nemes from Scripture.

“Evidently, in my critique of Nemes, I am not permitted to appeal to what saith holy writ without being charged as ‘cheating.’"

i) Appealing to Scripture does nothing to show that Arminian theology is consistent with Scripture–or even coherent. Arminian theology involves a set of propositions. The question at issue is whether Arminian theology as a whole is consistent with Scripture.

The question at issue is not whether Arminian theology claims to believe in God’s foreknowledge and or his counterfactual knowledge. The issue, rather, is whether that’s consistent with Arminian action theory.

If Billy can’t grasp that distinction, then he lacks the equipment to enter into these discussions.

ii) And Billy is not permitted to invoke philosophy whenever he thinks it suits his immediate purpose, only to ditch philosophy the moment it becomes counterproductive.

“None of us Arminians are suggesting that we should ‘eschew philosophical objections,’ but rather that Scripture should guide our philosophy -- something which Nemes regarded as ‘irrelevant,’ or in Steve Hays' case, a red herring.”

That’s a malicious and dishonest distortion of what Nemes said. Did he say Scripture is irrelevant, per se? Irrelevant, simpliciter? No.

But Billy doesn’t feel any moral compunction to be truthful when he’s pandering to a sympathetic audience. Since his Arminian readers are no more honest than he, they will never challenge him. yet all of them are answerable to a higher authority on Judgment Day.

But for those of us who, unlike Billy, regard honesty as a theological as well as ethical virtue, I’d point out that Nemes and I were very specific about the context of our comments–which Billy conveniently suppresses.

Quoting Scripture is irrelevant when the question in dispute is not the teaching of Scripture, but the teaching of Arminianism. The issue is not whether God has foreknowledge/counterfactual knowledge on Scriptural grounds, but Arminian grounds.

“Counterfactual knowledge was not a red herring: it was the crux of our disagreement.”

Actually, foreknowledge is the crux of the argument. Does God know the future given the type of freedom which Arminian theology imputes to human agents.

“Nemes thinks that the ground for truth and knowledge of truth can be in nothing else but the exhaustively-determinative will or decree of God.”

I don’t recall that Nemes ever said that. Billy doesn’t seem to know the difference between truths of reason and truths of fact. I doubt Nemes would say that truths of reason are grounded in the will of God.

Truths of fact are grounded in the will of God, but truths of reason are grounded in the nature of God. For instance, mathematical truths are not grounded in the will of God. They are, however, grounded in the nature of God.

“When shown from Scripture that God possess the ability to know (foreknow) a counterfactual, something which God had not decreed to happen, but the potential result of a choice made (1 Sam. 23:12), we questioned Nemes on the ground of God's knowledge of said truth. This question was also regarded as irrelevant.”

It’s irrelevant to divine foreknowledge inasmuch as foreknowledge concerns the knowledge of what will be, not what might be. Billy keeps making this elementary modal mistake.

“Since, however, we are exchanging ideas concerning how truth is grounded, then it is right to ask how the truth of counterfactuals are grounded, unless of course God was only making up what He thought could happen (cf. 1 Sam. 23:12). “

i) In a sense, yes–God was “making up” what could happen. The possible is the realm of divine ideas.

How does a novelist know what his characters could do? He knows because he is the one who conceives of these hypotheticals in the first place. They can do whatever he can think.

ii) Likewise, God knows what would transpire in an alternate future because God knows what would transpire if he decreed an alternate future. From a Reformed standpoint, counterfactual knowledge involves God’s knowledge of counterfactual decrees.

“Since the Libertarian view and Scripture incorporates God's exhaustive knowledge of counterfactuals, this is a very appropritate question, not just on Arminian/Libertarian grounds but on scriptural grounds as well. To separate these two grounds, one upon Scripture and another upon Libertarianism, is not entirely accurate in our opinion. We derive Libertarianism from what we note is taught in God's word.”

They derive libertarianism from Scripture the way somebody looking through a tinted window sees a colorful landscape.

“If God determines every action, thought, word spoken or choice made (as Hays insists -- God has pre-written the script of the life of everyone), then at God's own admission, that the Israelites' burning of their sons and daughters in the fire was not ‘commanded’ by Him, nor did it enter His mind that they should do such a thing, is entirely contrary to Hays' theory of divine exhaustive determinism.That such a simple reading of the text, from Hays' perspective, requires a prolix exegesis is, I think, very telling.”

i) A “simple” reading of Jer 7:31 leads one to a position even more liberal than open theism. Not only does a “simple” reading deny God’s knowledge of the actual outcome, but it also denies his knowledge of the possible outcome. God didn’t know the future, and, what is more, that contingency didn’t even occur to him. It took him completely by surprise.

ii) I was under the impression that Billy fancies himself an exponent of classical Arminianism. If, however, he takes Jer 7:31 to literally mean that this eventually never crossed God’s mind, then that’s at two removes to the left of classical Arminianism. It imputes to God, not only ignorance of the actual, but the possible.

Has Billy’s irrational animus towards Calvinism degenerated to the point where he is now repudiating fundamental planks of Christian theism?

iii) As to a “simple” reading of the verse, I take it to be a simple case of hyperbole.

iv) In addition, there's a synonymous parallel between “I did not command them” and “nor did it enter into my mind,” where the latter phrase functions a graphic, anthropomorphic equivalent to the more prosaic statement that God forbad child sacrifice.

v) Finally, God prohibited child sacrifice in the Mosaic law (e.g. Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31; 18:10). Therefore, this prospect clearly entered God's mind prior to the commission of the crime. Unless, that is, Billy subscribes to the Documentary Hypothesis.

But if Billy finds that too “prolix,” he can continue to promote his crypto-Mormon hermeneutics.

“Counterfactual knowledge is anything but ‘beside the point’ in this discussion. As a matter of fact, where the exchange between Nemes and myself is concerned, it is imperative that we discuss God's knowledge of counterfactuals, since Libertarians insist that a person could have chosen otherwise. Moreover, 1 Samuel 23:12 addresses this directly; and other passages like it demonstrates that God has knowledge of what could have happened if a person would have chosen to do something other than what he or she actually has chosen to do.”

i) To begin with, Calvinism doesn’t’ deny that a man could do otherwise if God decreed him to do otherwise. And, by the same token, God knows what would happen had he decreed an alternate scenario. Therefore, 1 Sam 23:12 is, in that respect, neutral on the Calvinist/Arminian debate.

ii) On the other hand, it’s inconsistent with Arminianism in another respect. For if a man could have chosen otherwise, then a man who rejected Christ in this world accepted Christ in another (possible) world. Therefore, if God really wanted to save him, God could do so without infringing on his autonomy by instantiating the possible world in which that same individual freely accepted Christ.

“If God is the truthmaker, and He can only know those things which are true, i.e. those things which will be because they are strictly decreed by Him, then counterfactual knowledge is impossible, and Libertarianism is found to be false. (Peter Milne of Edinburgh holds that not every truth has a truthmaker.)”

i) Truths aren’t limited to true future propositions.

ii) Billy hasn’t show that counterfactual knowledge is impossible under Calvinism. To say that man can’t do otherwise than what God decreed that he do is not to say that God couldn’t decree otherwise. As usual, Billy can’t draw elementary distinctions.

“And yet we have Hays and Nemes admitting that Calvinism does not deny counterfactual knowledge. I propose that the same grounding for God's knowledge of counterfactuals is the same grounding for Libertarianism -- in the essence of God. They will not account for this, mind you, because from their view God has decreed, strictly taken, all things which He pre-scripted to come about.”

i) If you ground all truths in God’s essence, then all truths are necessary truths. There are no contingent truths. That’s a self-defeating way of defending libertarianism!

ii) To say that God “decreed” everything he “prescripted” is redundant. Does Billy bother to think before he writes? Or does he simply like the sound of certain words in combination with other words?

iii) Libertarianism, per se, doesn’t ground anything in God’s essence. Libertarianism is not a theistic theory. One can be a secular libertarian.

“But that does not necessarily mean that they are correct. One needs much more than a mere assertion to substantiate his or her view. This is why I appealed to Scripture; and for that I was rendered irrelevant.”

He hasn’t show that Arminianism is correct according to Scripture. To say that Scripture is correct hardly renders Arminianism correct.

Granted, I am home for the summer and my major commentaries are back at college in North Carolina…”

This is Billy’s original claim:

God, being the "I Am" (Exodus 3:14), exists in an eternal presence: "His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence." God's present-knowledge "embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they are happening in the present"

Billy needs to show, using the grammatical-historical method, how he can extract all that philosophical payload from his little prooftext (which he quoted in connection with Boethius).


  1. I have one, tiny question; I've looked up "epologist" and I haven't found a definition. You've used it a number of times, and I'm wondering if "apologist" is the same?

  2. An "epologist" is an internet apologist. Like email. He uses the electronic medium.

  3. Ahhhh... very good! I'm not used to seeing "e" as a prefix anymore; now I want to see "i" (such as an iTem!)