Saturday, May 11, 2019

Open theism's blind watchmaker

A friend drew my attention to this post, from two years ago, by an anonymous open theist:

Triablogue does not offer commentary on how the quotes that he does use can be considered supportive or consistent with Reformed theology, so each verse quote is a lesson in guesswork into Triablogue’s thoughts. 

The post isn't just a list of bare prooftexts, but prooftexts with exegesis by scholars. It's true that apart from my initial introduction, I didn't offer any editorial comments on the prooftexts. That was be design. The purpose of the post is twofold: (i) to sample the breadth of exegetical evidence for Calvinism (ii) and also provide exegetical arguments for their legitimacy as Reformed prooftexts, from a variety of scholars. 

A few things of note, just the text of Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20 negates Reformed theology on its own, much less the wording of the associated quote. The main issue is that Calvinists, Reformed, and often Arminians do not tend to talk about God as they actually believe God is. In Reformed theology, God is simple, outside of time, pure actuality. God cannot “do” things, but forever remains immutable. God cannot speak or interact with creation. God cannot be related to creation in any sense, for that would defy is transcendence and simplicity.

1. Here the critic is confounding Calvinism with Reformed Thomism. But Reformed Thomism isn't synonymous with Calvinism. Reformed Thomism is just one school of Calvinism, albeit an influential and well-represented school of thought. But there are Augustinian Calvinists, Cartesian Calvinists, Scottish Common Sense Calvinists, &c. Jonathan Edwards wasn't a Reformed Thomist. Cornelius Van Til wasn't a Reformed Thomist. Vern Poythress isn't a Reformed Thomist. Greg Welty isn't a Reformed Thomist. A Reformed philosopher can be eclectic in his philosophical appropriation. 

2. It's no secret that I'm critical of Thomistic simplicity. As for pure actuality, depending on what that means, I agree that God himself is fully realized. God is not a contingent being.

That said, there's divine potential in the sense that creation doesn't exhaust or coincide with divine omnipotence. Take the classic distinction between God's absolute power and his ordinate power. 

In addition, God assumes contingent relations. God's economic roles are optional rather than necessary. 

Does Genesis talk with this Reformed theology in mind, or does it talk like this Reformed theology is not even a consideration in the minds of the writers. Is God pure actuality or active and dynamic? Is God incomprehensibly transcendent, or does God interact with people? Let the verses speak for themselves.

1. To begin with, there's such a thing as progressive revelation.

2. In addition, inspiration doesn't make Bible writers omniscient. There are lots of things they don't know. But ignorance doesn't contradict truth. 

3. This also goes to the difference between open theist hermeneutics and classical theist hermeneutics. If you take everything Scripture says about God at face-value, you end up with contradictory representations of God. So that leaves certain options:

i) Assume that Scripture really is contradictory. But in that event it would be arbitrary for open theists to privilege their prooftexts–since there'd no reason to think the Bible accurately represents God, assuming there is a God. Likewise, the prooftexts for each side would cancel out the other side's prooftexts.

ii) Leave the tensions as they stand. Make no effort to harmonize them. Again, though, that would be self-defeating for an open theist.

iii) Interpret one set of passages relative to the other.

iv) Apropos (iii), which passages should we take literally? It's much easier understand how the God of classical theism adapts to human understanding than to understand why Scripture would often depict the God of open theism as if he was the God of classical theism. So there's an asymmetry between these two approaches. 

The text of both Genesis and the quote depict God in a vastly different manner than Reformed theology. God “sends” (v 5). God takes precautions (v 7). God actively positions people into preferred places, as opposed to eternal decrees in which free actors are not a concern (v 8). God repurposes other people’s plans (v 20). None of these are actions of an immutable, simple, pure actuality God, not affected by creation and wholly transcendent.

That reflects a very simplistic or uninformed grasp of Reformed theology. Take someone who designs a video game. He exists outside the game. Yet he's responsible for every detail: characters, plot, setting, dialogue. Indirectly, he's totally involved in everything that happens.

At the same time, there's a distinction between the action of the gamer and action within the world of the game. The characters act on each other as well as their environment. 

The mere fact that the authors of Genesis have to point out this specific working of God suggests all listeners in the story do not automatically assume all things are the work of God. If they did, there would be no reason to attribute this specific action to God. Joseph and his audience are not Calvinists, but believe that God works within creation in specific instances to ensure success in His goals.

This isn't an isolated example. There are many examples in Scripture where the writer pulls back the veil to show the audience how God is directing events behind-the-scenes. 

Likewise, the associated quote by Mathews is not a Calvinistic concept. God specifically acting in one instance to assure success is antithetical to Calvinism, which believes all things (no matter how minute) are the eternal decree of God.

That's a fallacy. Showing God acting in one particular instance doesn't imply that God only acted in that one instance. 

Triablogue might not understand the logical fallacy of Composition, assuming something true of a part can be extrapolated to the whole. Yes, a car window is made out of glass, but this doesn’t suggest the entire car is made out of glass. Pointing out a car window is made of glass even suggests the entire car is NOT made out of glass or else it would be easier to just explain that the entire car is glass.

i) Sorry, but that's just obtuse. The post presents a cumulative case for Calvinism, citing a battery of prooftexts and exegesis. 

ii) Moreover, the Bible also has passages about God's universal predestination and meticulous providence. Individual examples serve to illustrate that general principle. 

Yes, God might work a specific purpose in one instance, but that doesn’t mean God works every instance no matter how remote for some secretive purpose. God working to save Joseph from his brothers to make him powerful does not mean God gives children cancer for some sort of goal in mind. That is a terrible stretch of logic. The context does not even assume God controlled the intentions of Joseph’s brothers, much less most the actions in the story that worked counter to God’s plans. The point is that God overcame obstacles and used them to His advantage, and interesting action for a supposedly “immutable, impassible” God.

i) The Joseph cycle begins with the protagonist receiving two prophetic dreams. This implies that the future was already set. The reader knows in advance how the story will end. In a sense, everything that happens in-between is working back from that fait accompli, like running a motion picture in reverse. 

ii) God had no obstacles to overcome. Joseph had obstacles to overome. 

iii) The actions of his brothers don't work counter to God's plan–any more than the actions of a storybook villain work counter to the intentions of the storyteller. 

iv) What's the open theist justification for children with cancer? Even if you subscribe to libertarian freewill, cancer is not a rational agent. So why doesn't the God of open theism cure cancer in children? It wouldn't violate the (nonexistent) freewill of cancer, and it wouldn't violate the freewill of the young cancer patient, who'd rather not die of cancer. 

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