Saturday, January 11, 2014

An atheist on the state of the humanities

Jerry Walls and the Unequable Distribution of Grace

Seraphim Falls

I recently saw Seraphim Falls. In terms of genre, the film combines elements of the Western, revenge drama, and a chase film. Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson play the two leads. Both actors are terrific in their respective roles, although they struggle with American accents. Both actors play Civil War veterans. Gideon was a Union officer while Carver was a Confederate officer. After the war, Gideon comes to arrest Carver. In the course of the arrest, he inadvertently kills Carver's wife and sons. As a result, Carver is bent on revenge.

Even though Gideon follows orders, he does have a conscience, and there are moral limits to what he's prepared to do. Ironically, although Carver has a legitimate grievance, he's more ruthless than Gideon. Gideon only kills in self-defense, and he preserves a streak of kindness. By contrast, Carver has lost his humanity in his single-minded quest for vengeance. 

In the outset of the film, Gideon is being pursued by a posse, led by Carver. At this stage, Carver seems to be bounty hunter. But as the narrative progresses, we learn from flashbacks his true motives. At first, Gideon doesn't know why or by whom he's being hunted. Only later does he come to realize that his haunted past has caught up with him. As one character says, quoting Scripture, "your sins will find you out" (Num 32:23).

Out of curiosity, I skimmed some movie reviews. Most critics panned the film, and even those who gave it passing grade don't really understand it. The problem is that most contemporary movie critics lack the Classical and Biblical literacy to catch the allusions. And to the extent that they sense a Christian allegory, they are reflexively hostile. In addition, too many movie critics have no patience for subtextual subtleties.  

The title of the film is a double entendre. There is a waterfall where Carver is living, but in the symbolism of the film, it also evokes the angelic fall–not because the film is about fallen angels, but because it is about a fallen world. Sin and redemption. 

At one point, Carver says "Ain't no God out here!" That turns out to be a half-truth. God is outwardly absent, but providentially present in the unfolding narrative. 

On the face of it, the plot has some cliches. You have a fugitive who's outnumbered, yet one by one he beats the odds because the posse underestimates him. By process of elimination, it comes down to a head-to-head conflict with the two principals.

We've seen this before. But in the symbolism of the film, this isn't just a cliche. Rather, it's divinely providential that Gideon is a survivor.  

Critics were confused by the ending. Most of the film is fairly prosaic, but towards the end it veers into religious allegory. 

There's a scene that seems to depict an American Indian shaman guarding a watering hole. He spouts some fortune cookie mumbo jumbo:

Go as you wish.
That which is yours will always return to you.
That which you take will always be taken from you.

That seems like another cliche about the folk wisdom of the shaman. But the symbolism runs deeper. In the credits, the character's name is Charon. That's a clue. In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman who conducts the dead to the netherworld. And he's Christianized in Dante's Inferno. That also explains the watering hole–analogous to the rivers of the netherworld. 

I take this to mean that when Gideon and Carver drink from the watering hole and pass beyond that juncture, they are crossing the threshold from life into death and the afterlife. A borderland between two worlds. 

And in the overall context of the film, the Indian's trite-sounding platitude is actually a redemptive promise. Both Carver and Gideon have lost everything that made their life worthwhile. Now they have an opportunity to be restored. 

When Gideon approaches a vast dry lakebed, he prayers Ps 144:1:

Blessed be the Lord my strength,

Who teaches my fingers to fight,
And my hands to war.

And he is followed by Carver.

In the desert, they both meet meet a woman peddling her cure-all–expertly played by Anjelica Huston. She's named Madame Louise C. Fair. A pun on Lucifer. The devil's a snake-oil salesman. This scene trades on literary associations with the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.   

She offers to sell each man a bullet in exchange for something else they need to cross the desert. By trading his horse for a bullet, Gideon has given up trying to elude his avenger. By trading his water for a bullet, Carver forfeits his chance at life for a chance to exact revenge on Gideon. 

When Carver catches up with Gideon, Gideon shoots him, but refuses to finish him off. He hands Carver his gun, giving Carver the chance to execute him. Gideon's action causes Carver to relent. 

Now that they are reconciled, they start off into the distance, only to vanish. That's because, at this point, they are both ghosts. 

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

For the first, we chose Joshua 6, since current archaeological and historiographical evidence calls into question the details of the text’s account. Obviously, those who maintain a strictly factual account of inerrancy must defend the Bible’s factuality. But for those who have a broader or different understanding of truth, or for those whose under- standing of inspiration does not extend to factual accuracy, we wanted to see how Joshua 6 could still function as Scripture without being factually correct. For the second, we chose the discrepancy between Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. Both texts describe Saul’s conversion. The former says that his travel companions “heard the voice but saw no one,” while the latter says that they “saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking” (NRSV).21 For questions of theological coherence, we asked authors to consider Deuteronomy 20 in relation to Matthew 5. Deuteronomy is of course a portion of the Law of Israel, while many scholars believe that the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is Jesus acting as a new Moses bringing the new Law of God. Jesus himself claims that his instructions constitute the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 5:17–20). But this is where the question of theological coherence is pressing. How is it that Deuteronomy 20 instructs Israel that the complete extermination of Yahweh’s enemies is a matter of Israel’s purity before and obedience to Yahweh, while Jesus subsequently says that faithfulness to God requires nonretaliation and sacrificial love of enemies (Matt. 5:38–48)? If, as in some views of inerrancy, new revelation cannot be seen to correct or alter previous revelation, then how can these passages be understood? While all of our choices raise the issue of truth and inspiration, this one particularly raises the extent of inspiration. How could our knowledge of God be said to be accurate if the human relationship to God varies over time? J. Merrick, ed. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan 2013), 22-23. 

I'll briefly comment on this:

I. Jericho

We need to have realistic expectations regarding what physical evidence survives the passage of some 3500 years (give or take). There are two explanations consistent with the Biblical account:

i) Brant Wood thinks the surviving evidence corresponds in striking ways with the biblical description of the event:

ii) Conversely, Kenneth Kitchen thinks the lack of evidence is due to the predictable effects of erosion. Cf. On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 187f. 

Last time I checked, you can read Kitchen's analysis online in the Google book edition of his monograph.

Just input jericho and click on page 187.

II. Acts

i) The fact that there are verbal variations in Paul's account of the Christophany is realistic. If these are real speeches which he gave on three different occasions, then we'd expect him to vary the wording somewhat. That's what people do in real life when they repeatedly recount some incident from their past. They aren't reading from a script. If, by contrast, Luke gave three identical verbatim speeches, it would be natural to conclude that these were set speeches which he put into Paul's mouth, rather than transcriptions or summaries of what Paul actually said at different times and places. 

ii) The terminology is somewhat ambiguous. But there's a consistent distinction: on the one hand, this was an objective event, perceptible to all parties. On the other hand, the level of perception varied.

Paul's traveling companions saw and heard something, without seeing Jesus or hearing his words. By contrast, Paul's perception went deeper. He saw Jesus in the light, and he heard what Jesus said. God controlled the specificity of the perception. It was an eyewitnessed event, but Paul was enabled to perceive more given his superior mission.

III. The Sermon on the Mount

Liberals like Peter Enns and Roger Olson relieve the imagined tension by rejecting the inspiration of Deut 20. They pit Jesus against Deuteronomy.

i) But there's a fundamental problem with that tactic. Just a chapter before, during the Temptation, Jesus approvingly quotes the OT three times to reprove Satan. Each time he quotes from the same OT book: Deuteronomy (6:13,16; 8:3). He identifies Deuteronomy as God's word. And he clearly regards Deuteronomy as trustworthy. 

ii) At the Last Judgment, Jesus will be the eschatological Judge (Mt 25). The historical judgment which the Canaanites underwent is just a shadow of the eschatological judgment which unbelievers will experience. Matthew doesn't soften OT judgement. If anything, Matthew intensifies OT judgment. OT historical judgments pale compared to the Final Judgment. 

Divine mercy typically precedes divine judgment. Mercy is extended to save a remnant, after which God exacts judgment on unbelievers. The relationship between the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse is consistent with that divine modus operandi. Mercy before judgment.

Some people think the Sermon on the Mount represents the norm, whereas Deut 20 is a temporary concession. The truth is nearly the reverse: the Sermon on the Mount is a temporary concession whereas divine judgment is normative. And that's a good thing. Injustice should not be allowed to continue indefinitely. 

Roman Catholics who are Anti-Americans

The Medieval Inquisition
The Medieval Inquisition
From the University of St. Thomas:

Investigating heresy was the work of the medieval inquisition. But before going into the founding of the inquisition we need to ask what is meant by “heresy”? The word “heresy,” in its origins, means “choice.” Choice implies, therefore, different ways of thinking about a specific subject.

The following is written by a Roman Catholic writer, who concludes by saying:

In one of God’s little ironies, as Russell Kirk showed in The Roots of American Order, it was largely Protestants who championed the rights of Christians against the State, while Catholics endorsed old Roman, pagan conceptions of the State and its nearly limitless prerogatives. After the Reformation destroyed the Church’s political independence, popes saw little choice but to baptize, and try to morally inform, the absolutism of monarchs…

In the 20th century, the paternalist tumor metastasized. It grew into full-blown totalitarianism, as leaders like Hitler and Stalin (who scoffed at Enlightenment liberties) engineered genocides, ruthless wars of conquest, and the violent persecution of various believers. The clash of opposing paternalisms in World War II culminated in communist dictatorships controlling half the countries on earth…

Those same rumbles are being heard among Roman Catholics today, eager to throw off modern forms of human freedom because … why? “Catholicism minus the Enlightenment equals the Inquisition. Do I exaggerate?”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sending soldiers to die for a lost cause

Robert McNamara

Robert S. McNamara could give duplicity a bad name. In his new memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, he says that the Vietnam War was a mistake and that he knew it all along. We should have gotten out in 1963, when fewer than 100 Americans had been killed. When he and other US policymakers took us to war, they "had not truly investigated what was essentially at stake."

Barack Obama

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” 
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.

Does intelligent design provide a plausible account of life's origins?

According to ENV, Stephen Meyer offers a précis of his argument in Darwin's Doubt in the article "Does intelligent design provide a plausible account of life's origins?" (printable).

Why I rejected the Marian dogmas

Where Fiction is Truer than Fact
Where Fiction is Truer than Fact
For Protestants, what follows will be a no-brainer. But for Roman Catholics, it is an important issue.

I continue to take part in discussions with Roman Catholics over at Darryl Hart’s Old Life. The writer who goes by the handle “Cletus van Damme” seems to be very knowledgeable about Roman Catholicism, and interested in carrying on the discussions there.

* * *
Cletus van Damme
Posted January 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

In response to CVD’s claim that “Feast days of the Assumption were being celebrated by both east and west by 6th century”, I had said: “With absolutely no evidence at all for some of these beliefs in the first three centuries.”

CVD then said: First, a thing doesn’t become a universal feast day in west and east overnight (and without any recorded objections while we do have recorded affirmations and investigations of the practice).

I responded:

Your best scholar on the subject, Shoemaker, locates the earliest mentions of “the Assumption of Mary” with fifth-century Gnostic literature.

Tim Perry, one of the few Protestant scholars writing on the subject, while attempting to maintain “a theological method that most evangelical Protestant theologians would recognize as theirs”, confirms that “the two modern dogmas” about Mary “enshrine postbiblical legends about Mary’s beginning and end”. He suggests that this “[distracts] believers from the literary basis for beliefs in Mary’s sanctity”.

Regarding this topic specifically, I have several things to say.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

God's knowledge of the past

Debates about freedom and omniscience typically focus on whether God's knowledge of the future is compatible with libertarian freedom. However, even freewill theists who deny God's knowledge of the future usually grant God's knowledge of the past. But does that follow? How would God automatically be cognizant of what all free agents chose in the past? 

If God can't know future choices before they happen, how do they suddenly become known after they happen? On libertarian grounds, I can see how past free choices would be knowable in a way that future free choices are not, but how would their passing into the past make them known? Is there something that causes God to know a free choice the instant it becomes a past fact? What would that be?

Craig v. Helm

I'm going to comment on some of Craig's answers in a recent debate with Paul Helm. This summary is my point of reference:
I will grant at the outset that Helm didn't have an answer for how to reconcile predestination with human culpability. I don't think his failure on that score is a big deal. For one thing, I do think better answers are available–this is an issue I've often discussed. And I think the Bible teaches predestination, so whether or not we have a good answer to that objection, it is nevertheless true that predestination is consistent with human culpability. That's a revealed truth. 
Since I'm a Calvinist, I'm going to pick on Craig. 
Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances 
Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen
Calvinism also affirms God's foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. In principle, this has two grounds:
i) Possible worlds refer to God's ability to imagine alternate possibilities. It's not in the first instance about what we could do differently, but about what God can conceive. 
ii) Alternate possibilities involve alternate possible decrees. God could predestine a different outcome. But he chose not to.
Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility 
Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it
I'm not clear on what Craig envisions. He makes it sound as if humans are discrete, self-contained units who can be moved around in time and place. That God could move the same individual further into the future, or the past, or relocate him to a different birthplace.  
If that's what Craig has in mind, then his claim is incoherent. Every individual is a link in a causal chain of events leading up to his existence. For him to exist at a particular time and place in the present requires a specific series of past events. To take an obvious example, he wouldn't exist without his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents,  &c. Likewise, he can't preexist his parents. 
So every human being belongs to a set of human beings. You can just move individuals forward, backward, or elsewhere. You'd have to move the entire set around, which requires additional adjustments to the past. 
Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do
At least in the summary, Craig doesn't cite any prooftexts. I'd simply point out that quoting passages which refer to divergent courses of action falls well short of Craig's claim, for Calvinism doesn't deny alternate timelines. But in Calvinism, God is the source and agent of alternate timelines. 
Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved 
Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved 
Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God
Craig fails to exegete his prooftext. But as Richard Bauckham documented 30 years ago, in his classic commentary, that doesn't have reference to all people. Rather, that's confined to the Chosen People: 
God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance…for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. Jude, 2 Peter (Word 1983), 312-13.
The NT counterpart would be the church, or new covenant community. 
Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading
Except that Craig is making a far more specific claim. That doesn't prove that humans have libertarian freedom, or that God had relocate the same individual from one place to another, from one century to another, while leaving everything else intact. 
Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists 
Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him 
Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances
Craig is assuming that proginosko means "foreknowledge." But many scholars regard proginosko as an idiom for prior choice, not prior knowledge. It's a carryover from OT covenantal usage to NT Greek (like a Septuagintal loanword). Rom 8:29 ought to be rendered: 
For those God chose beforehand he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
Craig is free to disagree, but if so, he needs to present an argument to the contrary. 
Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people
That begs the question of what constitutes a "genuine offer."
Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will
That's a tiresome caricature of monergistic grace. 
Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee 
Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose 
Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free 
Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements 
Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8) 
Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do 
Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will
Craig never addressed the challenge. Yet many distinguished philosophers think libertarian freedom is either incompatible with divine foreknowledge or at least admit they don't have a solution to the logical and metaphysical tension, viz. David Bartholomew, David Basinger, John Martin Fischer, William Hasker, Nelson Pike, Alan Rhoda, Richard Swinburne, Patrick Todd, Peter van Inwagen, Keith Ward, Dallas Willard, Nicholas Wolterstoff, Linda Zagzebski, Dean Zimmerman,  So that's not something Craig is entitled to posit or gloss over. 

The real problem of evil

The stereotypical problem of evil is framed in terms of why, if there is a God, he permits certain kinds of evil. The quality or quantity of evil is deemed to be excessive or gratuitous. Thus stated, the problem of evil brackets the existence of God, and asks whether God's existence is consistent with the range of evil we find in the world.
But from a Christian standpoint, that's off-kilter. There's abundant evidence, both in Scripture and Christian experience, that God often prevents evil. So the real question isn't why God permits evil, but why God permits some evils while preventing other evils. Why does God allow so much evil given the fact that he prevents so much evil? That's rather mysterious from our vantage-point.  The seemingly fortuitous occurrence or nonoccurrence of evil is puzzling. 

It can't be resolved by forfeiting one of two beliefs we affirm, for both beliefs are well-grounded (i.e. God exists, yet there is evil which God is able, but unwilling to prevent). 
Of course, atheists don't find that reformulation useful, for it takes God's existence for granted. But from a theological standpoint, that's the real quandary. 
Freewill theism tries to explain the prevalence of moral evil as a necessary evil given libertarian freedom. Yet there are certainly cases in which God prevents moral evils. So how does freewill theism account for the lack of uniformity? 
Likewise, appealing to libertarian freedom doesn't relieve the prevalence of natural evil. Here, libertarians appeal to the need for a stable, predictable environment. Yet there are certainly cases in which God prevents natural evils. So, once again, how does freewill theism account for the lack of uniformity? Their principle fails to solve the problem it posed for itself.

The mystery of providence

Our forebears used to talk about the mystery of providence. This was mysterious to them in part because our forebears in the faith often suffered grievously. 
One of the enigmatic features of divine providence is the apparent randomness of divine providence. There are two popular explanations for this phenomenon. One is atheism. The argument from divine hiddenness. According to the atheist, this is precisely what we'd expect in a godless world. There is no God to rescue us. We're on our own. Better get used to it.
There are, however, some fundamental problems with that explanation. To begin with, that's not the actual pattern of providence. Providence isn't apparently random in the sense that God never intercedes. Rather, providence is apparently random in the sense that God intercedes sometimes, but not other times. There's ample evidence for Biblical and extrabiblical miracles. There's ample evidence for answered prayer. What's puzzling is their often inscrutable distribution in time and place. 
Another problem with the atheist explanation is that it reacts to the horrors of life by taking the horror out of the horrific. In a godless universe, there is no good and evil. In a godless universe, nothing happens contrary to the way things ought to be. For nothing is supposed to be one way rather than another. Atheism predicates the existence of evil in the premise, then denies the existence of evil in the conclusion. 
Another explanation is the spiritual warfare model of open theism (a la Gregory Boyd). God is struggling. 
However, Boyd has it backwards. What makes providence enigmatic is not that God is willing, but unable to prevent evil–but that God is able, but unwilling to prevent evil. God prevents some evils, but not other evils. The same kinds of evils. As John Piper once said, in response to Rabbi Kushner:
God does not need to be all-powerful to keep people from being hurt in the collapse of a bridge. He doesn't even need to be as powerful as a man. He only needs to show up and use a little bit of his power (say, on the level of Spiderman, or Jason Bourne) "he did create the universe, the Rabbi concedes" and (for example) cause some tremor a half-hour early to cause the workers to leave the bridge, and the traffic to be halted. This intervention would be something less spectacular than a world-wide flood, or a burning bush, or plague of frogs, or a divided Red Sea, or manna in the wilderness, or the walls of a city falling down "just a little tremor to get everybody off the bridge before it fell."
There are critics like Roger Olson who resent Piper's statement, but he's just stating the obvious. 
We see this in Scripture. In the Book of Acts, Peter is miraculously delivered in answer to prayer while James is executed. Why did God protect Peter, but not James? 
Job 1-2 and Dan 11 furnish a partial explanation. God delegates certain prerogatives to secondary agents. He puts Job at the mercy of Satan. Satan isn't given a completely free hand, but there's a lot he's free to do to Job.
In Dan 11, God delegates the success or failure of Daniel's prayer to angels. There's a fallen angel who's an impediment to Daniel's prayer. The fallen angel must be overpowered by a mightier, heavenly angel. 
On the face of it, you might expect Daniel to have immediate access to God in prayer. That answering prayer would be directly in God's hands. But, for whatever reason, God makes that contingent on secondary agents. 
That doesn't mean God has abdicated the outcome to secondary agents. They still do his bidding. Nevertheless, there are certain things that won't happen unless we do it. 
Prayer is both a first resort and a last resort. In prayer we invite God to make the first move. But prayer isn't necessarily or normally a substitute for our own action. Rather, it's deferring to God in case God chooses to act on our behalf. But in many cases he won't, so it's up to us. 
Many tragedies occur because a human failed to do something. Parents leave their older son in charge of their younger son. But the kid brother drowns in the swimming pool because the big brother was preoccupied. Or a child is disfigured by scalding water in the kitchen because her mother was momentarily distracted. 
Sometimes these tragedies are due to human negligence, but in other cases, these were conscientious adults. It was simply an accident. No one was a fault. 
It's a hard truth that we can't count on God to do certain things for us, not because God is unreliable, but because, for whatever reason, he won't intercede in that situation. 
Currently, many scholars are laboring to domesticate the OT. Deny that God really said or did the harsh things attributed to him. But even if that was plausible, it does nothing to account for equally harsh things that happen outside the Bible.
The best explanation I can think of for the mystery of providence is that God's intermittent absence is teaching us the hard way what it would be like if God were consistently absent. It's a terrible reminder of what life would be like if God never intervened. What a truly godless world would be like. The horrors of life without God. How utterly lost we'd be if he didn't exist. If he was never there. 

A middle ground between forgetting God and taking God for granted. Between presumption and infidelity. 
It deters us from becoming too attached to a fallen world. Makes us hate our continued existence in a fallen world, and long for the world to come.  

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Faith and football

Time to reinstate witch-hunts

Perhaps witch-hunting wasn't such a bad idea after all:

Is aftknowledge equivalent to foreknowledge?

The latest Unbelievable? podcast featured a prominent Calvinist debating William Lane Craig on middle knowledge. I have posted my summary along with a link to the MP3 file here:

Of course, Josh is far too partisan to ever consider weaknesses in his own position, but he overlooks a fundamental asymmetry between knowledge of past choices and knowledge of future choices. Given libertarian freedom, when facing forward, there's a forking path of two or more possible choices ahead of us, any one of which may become actual. There's no one choice to foresee. Rather, we see various alternate routes fanning into different timelines. 

But looking back, there is only one actual choice. Only one path was taken. There is only one choice to be known. 

So, of course it's possible to know which choice was made once that's past, once that's over and done with. Time's passage is, itself, is a process of elimination. It hardly follows that it's equally possible to know which choice will be made in advance of the fact. 

For that matter, it's far from obvious, given freewill theism, that God is automatically be privy to past human choices. 

Walls v. McCall

Two Arminian philosophers debating each other. I think Walls has the better of the argument–given their shared libertarian assumptions.
So, yes, I think McCall is missing something obvious. It's not just a bare question of how God knows something. Rather, it's a question of how God can know something given implicit constraints on his knowledge vis-a-vis libertarian freedom.

That imposes a condition on divine knowledge. Or, put another way, that seems to remove a necessary condition under which God could know something. 

Can you give me your concise thoughts on middle knowledge?
  • Jerry Walls I dubious of it. It is sheer mystery how God could know the actual free choices of possible creatures who will never exist. It also has troubling theological implications, in particular, that there might be some people God could save but does not. I have discussed these in both "Why I am not a Calvinist" and 'Hell: The Logic of Damnation."
  • Aaron Duvall I've been reading a ton if William Craig recently and I have similar concerns. I'll have to reread both of those. It's been a while.
  • Tom McCall What, exactly, is the problem with *how* God knows something? It seems to me that if there is *anywhere* that appeals to mystery are appropriate, it would be here. How much do we know about divine epistemology anyway, and how much should we expect to be able to know? I don't know just how God knows any of the things that he knows, but I don't take my ignorance as grounds for disbelief in God's knowledge of those propositions. I've never seen an argument from "I don't know how God knows X" to "Therefore, God cannot (or even does not) know X" that isn't an abject failure. And yet I hear this often enough to think that maybe I'm missing something obvious. 

    I think that what should really concern us is this: just what *does* God know? And it surely seems as if God has knowledge of -- among other things -- counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (insert standard arguments based on 1 Sam 23 etc here). Now maybe Molinism isn't the only or best way to account for those; fair enough. But it seems to me that there are more fruitful ways to evaluate Molinism.
  • Jerry Walls Well, I think you can make sense of THOSE counterfactuals (the biblical examples) by God's knowing the psychology, history, tendencies etc of those actual people (maybe he knows them as high probabilities or something like that). What mystifies me is the claim God knows what all possible people who will never exist in the actual world would do in all possible states of affairs.
  • Luke Carpenter Jerry, do you know if Craig has any published answers to those questions of this theory? I know it's not "his" per se, but he's kind of taken the reigns on it of late
  • Aaron Duvall Is it fair to say that God chooses a "world" that someone is not saved in when he could have "chosen" a world where that person would have responded positively? In a molinists view?
  • Jerry Walls Not sure Luke, but I'd guess you just have to embrace the mystery. Aaron, so far as I know yes. And in his view I suppose God may have to choose a world where one person responds positively and another does not, who would have in a different world. But I am not sure Molina addresses this issue.
  • Aaron Duvall doesn't he also say that for God to be a cause agent he has to be restricted to time after creation? Thoughts?
  • Jerry Walls Well, his knowledge of the actual world is contingent on his own free choices about which states of affairs and persons to create (from among all the possible ones).
  • Tom McCall OK, Jerry, it mystifies you. It mystifies me too, at least in the sense that I don't have good explanations of divine epistemology. But I can't see how "(P) I don't know how S knows X" entails "(Q) Therefore, S cannot/does not know X." 

    Aaron, WLC appeals to "transworld damnation" (as an extension of Plantinga's "transworld depravity"). So those who, say, are never evangelized and thus never converted would be among those who would have rejected even had they heard. 

    I think that it is important to understand that there is Molinism, and then there are various and sundry theological applications/uses of Molinism (e.g., Christology, papal infallibility, original sin, freedom in heaven, and many more). Whatever one makes of WLC's applications of MK, I don't think that it should be confused with Molinism per se.
  • Aaron Duvall I understand the idea of those who would never respond in any world being placed in eras areas where they are never reached. My real concern is the possibility that God "picks" a world where I may be damned when we could have picked one where I would have freely chosen Him. Unless there is a trans-world salvation as well. If I would have picked Him in any world he makes sure I'm in.
  • Jerry Walls Indeed, mystification does not entail that something is false. But I do think our sense of what is possible gives us some traction on modal reality, and I think there may be similar intuitions about what it is possible to know. Obviously God can know lots things we cannot know just because his grasp of logical truth is so much greater than ours, as well as his sheer capacity to know all things that are knowable. But the sort of things Molina thinks God can know may not be possible to know. At any rate, there is nothing even analogous to our powers to reason and understanding that makes ANY sense of it so far as I can see.
  • Jerry Walls As for your question Aaron, it is my view that if there is a feasible world in which you are saved, you will be saved in the actual world because of optimal grace, even if that grace must be given in the next life. That is my view, not Molina's.
  • Aaron Duvall I knew you'd sneak that in someplace!!
  • Tom McCall I'm pretty sure that WLC would deny that anyone is damned for the reason you mention. By the way, I see no reason why what Jerry just said couldn't be consistent with Molinism too.
  • Tom McCall Jerry, your sentence "But the sorts of things..." seems to be missing a word or something.
  • Jerry Walls Well, on Molina's view I suppose it could be possible that person A is saved in W but person B is not. But in W' B is saved but A is not. God may have to choose which world to create if there is no postmortem grace.
  • Tom McCall Being the creator, God has to choose which world to actualize anyway. True on open theism too, right?
  • Jerry Walls Yes, but he is not choosing a world where A is damned, as opposed to B.
  • Tom McCall Are we assuming something close to Plantingian actualism (rather than Lewisian views etc) wrt possible worlds?
  • Tom McCall Good. Well, if a possible world is a maximally compossible state of affairs, then whichever world is actualized by God includes some being damned and others being saved. So on just any view of omniscience, God is choosing to actualize a world in which some are damned and others are saved. Whether or not -- and exactly *how* -- God *knows* what he has done is rather beside *this* point, so far as I can see. 

    Of course the Molinist will say that while God chooses which possible world to actualize, the contents of those possible worlds is (partly but significantly) up to us. Thus God doesn't elect or reprobate someone "unconditionally" -- and he surely doesn't *determine* their actions. 

    By the way, I don't mean to suggest that Molinism isn't insulated from some important critiques. But the "how does God know" complaint just seems like a non-starter to me.