Monday, December 05, 2011

"My predestination is all freewill"

Propositions are eternal truths or falsities, eternal objects of the mind of God. Either they are necessities of the divine intellect in the strictest and most proper sense of the term, the eternal verities, or else they exist in God’s mind as the decrees of the divine will known to the divine intellect. The latter is the account I give of contingent propositions
Reformed Thought: Selected Writings of William Young (Reformation Heritage Books 2011), 316.
Platonic metaphysics is justified in asserting eternal truth, truth which is not produced by human activity, and which is not dependent upon human minds. On the other hand, if platonic metaphysics means that these eternal truths are hypostatized, if it means that they are regarded as having an existence in and of themselves, a kind of substantial reality independent of all minds, even independent of the mind of God, then I deny Platonism in that sense of the term (316).
Propositions are eternal objects or contents of the mind of God. This is not implying that God thinks or speaks as we do. Once a proposition is distinguished from linguistic and psychological entities, then danger of identifying our finite mind with the infinite mind disappears. I have a view here which is like Leibniz’s doctrine of possible worlds. Before the infinite, eternal mind of God, all possibilities that could conceivably exist are present. Some of these possibilities are compatible with others; some of these possibilities are not compatible with others. A square circle would not be possible.  A square is possible, a circle is possible, but the combination of the two as constituting the essence of one and the same object would not be a possibility. Why not? Because it would involve an inherent logical contradiction. And we cannot ascribe to God that so-called possibility, which is no possibility at all, of producing something which is logically self-contradictory (317-318).
Now consider that God has all these possible combinations, and combinations of combinations, and if you will, combinations of combinations of combinations ad infinitum, an infinite number of possible worlds before His eternal mind. Speaking a bit anthropomorphically here (it is hardly possible to avoid it completely), God determined, by the free decree of His sovereign will, which of the possible worlds should be actualized. I am not saying that I am expounding Leibniz, and I am not saying that this world is the best possible of all worlds, or that God had to choose this world because He saw that this was the best, and He could not possibly choose second best. I am not endorsing Leibniz’s view. I rather ascribe more free will to God, in the ordinary sense of free will. I grant that there may be confusions in the term “free will,” but I am saying that in the sense of freedom of choice which cannot fit into a deterministic pattern, God freely chose to bring about this world rather than any of the other infinite possibilities. That free choice of God, that determination to bring about this world (and I include not only the creation of nature, but also the whole course of history, and of course, the plan of man’s redemption) is what I call the decree of God. All the truth that there is with respect to this world is to be identified with that eternal decree of God (318).
God might be thought of as having possibly decreed something else. As a matter of fact, He did not; from eternity He decreed this and not something else. That is what makes eternal truth with respect to the contingent facts of nature and history. Though, if one wishes to speak of these truths as contingent truths, I am quite willing to adopt that terminology. Only I say that contingent truths have this element of necessity, and this applies, of course, to the celebrated scholastic question of future contingents. The question goes back to Aristotle’s work On Interpretation, chapter 9, with the great discussion of the sea battle tomorrow. The answer to that question in terms of this theological perspective is that, of course, for God there are no surprises. The future is known to God, and the future is known to God because it has been determined by the decree of His free will. “My predestination is all free will,” the Scottish theologians “Rabbi” John Duncan once said. That is God’s free will (318-19).
But here there is contingency in one sense, if you consider the event as something which God did not have to decree, but which He decreed freely. It is necessary in the sense that the divine counsel and decree cannot be frustrated. But it is not proper to say that the event in itself is necessary. There is the necessity of the consequence which does not entail the necessity of the consequent. The proposition that what God has decreed will come to pass is a necessarily true proposition. But the proposition that this event which God has decreed comes to pass of necessity is not a true proposition (319).
I want to make few more remarks as to the contingency of decreed events. In modal logic, from “necessarily, if p then q,” “necessarily q” does not follow in the event that p is the case. But if p is not contingently but necessarily the case, then the necessity of q does follow. This is the logical law underlying Jonathan Edwards’s argument from divine foreknowledge. This position may be reconciled with the thesis that what comes to pass is contingent, if two distinct senses of necessary, and thus of contingency, are kept in view. There is necessity in the purely logical sense, as that of which the negation involves a contradiction, and necessity in a factual sense, as the necessity of the past after the event or physical necessity in general. What comes to pass is necessary in the latter sense, since God’s knowledge and will are eternal and immutable, and their objects follow necessarily, although contingent in the purely logical sense (319n9).
I think it is more proper to say that God, in His eternal plan, determined according to His infinite wisdom, and with a view to the great end and purpose of manifesting His own glory, and yet freely, decided that certain things would be connected. He might very well have connected other things instead. So I draw some lines there, as to how far one can carry the notion of coherence. Certainly, truth in God’s mind is a coherent system, but it is not a coherent system in such as way as to infringe on the divine freedom (320).
Theistic coherence establishes not only the principle of consistency, but also a principle of determinacy as a criterion of truth. God’s plan is consistent, and it is also complete. In the eternal decree, all that comes to pass has been foreordained. There is no place for chance or indeterminacy in the system of reality… (321).

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