Assuming Determinism to Disprove Free Will

Phil Johnson of John MacArthur’s Grace to You has authored a post entitled “The Problem for Arminians”. Quoting Phil:

If God knows every detail of the future with infallible certainty, then (by definition) the outcome of all things is already determined. And if things are predetermined but God did not ordain whatsoever comes to pass, then you have two choices:

1. A higher sovereignty belongs to some being (or beings) other than God. That is idolatry.
2. Some impersonal force did the determining. That is fatalism.

One problem that’s immediately observable is that Johnson is employing the old “what is foreknown is [externally] predetermined” canard. In other words, his premise, “the outcome of all things is already determined,” carries with it the hidden assumption that what is foreknown must be exhaustively determined by someone/something other than the one making the choices. As I pointed out to Dan Phillips in their combox:

Phil’s commentary betrays his fundamental misunderstanding of what free will is. His argument consists of the fallacy of false dichotomy (someone higher than God or an impersonal, fatalistic force), when in fact libertarians explicitly deny both of these. A viable libertarian view is that our actions are, to some extent, self-determined, but we’re made by God such that the results of our self-determination are known to Him chronologically prior to their being manifest as temporal choices. Hence one who holds to Arminian theology can consistently believe in both libertarian agency and divine omniscience.

The underlying assumption Phil uses to construct his dichotomy is that something besides the agent himself completely determines his choices, which is a determinist paradigm that assigns external necessity to an agent’s choices. In doing so, he’s apparently confusing certainty with necessity, and is essentially assuming necessitarianism to disprove libertarianism (also known as begging the question).

Strangely, both “options” Johnson offers in his dichotomy assume that our choices must be completely determined by something other than us -which idea is completely contradictory to the definition of libertarian free will! It must also be noted that trying to redefine free will so that it fits option 1 doesn’t follow: the freedom God grants men to make choices obviously can’t be higher than His own, since it was God who gave us free will in the first place.

All in all, Johnson is really adding nothing to the discussion except for more confusion and fallacy among an already very confused Reformed crowd that regularly employs such fallacies. He’s simply offering two bad options, both of which flow from his assuming his conclusion: that free choices can’t really exist.

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25 Responses

  1. JC,

    “In other words, his premise, “the outcome of all things is already determined,” carries with it the hidden assumption that what is foreknown must be exhaustively determined by someone/something other than the one making the choices.”

    It’s not even that hidden. Might as well say the problem with Arminians is Arminianism!

    God be with you,
    Dan

  2. Good on ya, JC! I love reading your posts.

    Do you rekcon your rebuttal would also rebuttal this argument? See below:

    1) What is forknown is fixed.
    2) What is fixed is certain.
    3) What is certain is predestined.
    4) Therefore, what is foreknown is predestined.

    I’ve come across this and had a meagre attempt to address it.

    As a side note, I’d love to form some kind of SEA Facebook group and finally have some prescence there! The biggest Calvinism group as 1,623 active people and the biggest Arminian group has about 110 inactive folks…

  3. Brendan, I’ve seen that argument before. Point 3 is incorrect, what is certain can be contingent upon human will / self-determination, since certainty doesn’t conflict with contingency.

    The SEA does have a Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=81731686472

  4. Presumably, you would agree with this:

    Since God knows the future exhaustively, the future is as settled as the past. In fact, since God’s knowledge never changes, everything you would ever think, do, and experience was eternally settled. This means that information on all the details of your life is as eternal as God Himself.

    And what about the following?

    1) God cannot do other than what He knows He will do.
    2) This being true, God could not make a world other than this one, which includes the precise moment of your birth and everything you would ever think, do, and experience.
    3) Therefore, all your thoughts, actions, and experiences were predestined to occur…unless you’re capable of doing other than what God knows you will do.

    Finally, do you agree with the following statement?

    God is capable of creating a world with a partly open and partly settled future.

  5. Vance, of course God could do other than what He knows He’s going to do. He could choose to not do that and do something else. Nothing constrains God to act in a certain way. You’re just assuming what Phil assumes to make his silly argument.

  6. J.C., do you agree with bossmanham? If God *knows* He is going to do something, then what He knows He will do is certain to happen. If He does other than what He knew He would do, then what He “knew” He would do was in error. Now we have a problem. Wouldn’t you agree?

  7. Vance, I don’t believe all of God’s knowledge is intrinsic to Him, that would include the results of His free choices. Were that the case, then God would have need of man to keep His foreknowledge intact.

  8. Vance I don’t believe that God is limited in choice and will simply becasue He foreknows His actions. I would say that God is a libertarian agent (something Calvinists seem to want to deny for whatever reason, although I don’t know how God can make the sovereign choices He makes from a Calvinist’s point of view if He is NOT libertarian) and that therefore He does what He pleases.
    To be fair, the will to me is mysterious: How does an omniscient being choose one thing over another when He knew what He would choose? Well if God is the libertarian agent He is (by asumption) than He determines what He does, as would libertarian human beings, who are made in the image of God, which must imply libertarianism as instrinsic to human nature. The difference between foreknowing something and predeterminig something is that the former is passive and the latter is active and causal. Now, if God foreknows sin, then God is passive to that sin, i.e. He cannot be blamed for that sin’s occurence. However, if God predetermined that sin, then God essentially becomes the prime active and causal agent in regards to that sin, which would make Him the author of sin.
    This is not to say that God cannot use sin for His purposes like in the cross, but to say that, for exmaple, God caused the men who crucified Jesus to have the evil thoughts and attitudes they had? Proposterous.

    Anyway back to the idea that God is libertarian in nature… It does not help the Calvinist to say God is free in the compatibilist sense, for if God only did the things God had determined God would do from “all eternity past,” then that leads to libertarianism, for God is only doing what God determined God would do, even though God foreknew what God would do and this did what God planned!

    I hope I didn’t go too offtrack or give you too much of a headache. hopefully this will add to the discussion…? =P

  9. J.C. and B.P., it seems to me that the idea that God is libertarian in nature (an idea I agree with) best fits open theism.

    Back to the question I asked earlier: Do you accept the idea that God is capable of creating a world with a partly open and partly settled future? If you don’t accept it, then aren’t you denying divine omnipotence? And if you do accept it, aren’t you open to the possibility that He *did* create such a world?

  10. Hello Vance,

    First of all are you the same “Vance” that has been posting at Roger Olson’s blog (the same Vance whom I have shared points about libertarian free will, foreknowledge, etc. with)???

    Second, you wrote

    “J.C. and B.P., it seems to me that the idea that God is libertarian in nature (an idea I agree with) best fits open theism.”

    No, from the beginning the Christian church has held to the compatibility of both exhaustive divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will (this was taught from the beginning and only theological determinists/Calvinists, Socinians and today open theists have sporadically denied this compatibility in church history).

    Third, Vance I have taken some time showing you how they can be compatible and you just seem to be ignoring what I have presented. You keep asking questions I answer them and yet you keep on asking suggesting not that you want to see how they can be compatible but rather that you want to hold to open theism (despite church history, despite what the bible properly interpreted presents, despite arguments and points showing their compatibility).

    Fourth you wrote:

    “Back to the question I asked earlier: Do you accept the idea that God is capable of creating a world with a partly open and partly settled future? If you don’t accept it, then aren’t you denying divine omnipotence? And if you do accept it, aren’t you open to the possibility that He *did* create such a world?”

    First of all Arminians and other conservative Christians do not deny omnipotence.

    Second while God is omnipotent, he cannot do certain things (for example he cannot create a world where we have the ability to actualize contradictions, like me both going to the big High School football game on Friday and not going to the football game on Friday). Now this is important because it means that the future like the past is going to include events that happen one way and are not going to happen another way (again I am either going to that football game or I am not, it cannot be both simultaneously).

    Second, when we speak of events that God foreknows we are speaking of events that will in fact occur. As they will in fact occur one way, the way they will occur is precisely what God foreknows. Call these “settled events”. God’s foreknowledge (and biblical prophecy is a good example) is not statements like: “God may or may not conduct a final judgment”. Instead when we speak of God’s foreknowledge we are speaking of events that will in fact occur (“God is going to conduct a final judgment”).

    Third when you ask about whether the “future” will consist of both “settled” and “unsettled” events, this question has to be further analyzed.

    What do you mean by “settled”?

    What do you mean by “unsettled”?

    Can there be events that at first are “unsettled” (say I am at a restaurant deciding whether or not to order Tuna salad or ribs or steak or whatever else is a possible choice at that restaurant) and then become “settled” (I have these alternative possibilities before I order, but then I make up my mind and place my order thus excluding the other possibilities and actualizing one, and the one which is actualized, my choice is then a “settled” event)?

    Now if you mean by your question will the future, like the past and the present sometimes involve events that begin “unsettled” and then become “settled”, then Yes the future consists of both “settled” and “unsettled” events. A simple way to present libertarian free will is that prior to making a choice a person has a choice and the time frame before he makes his choice is where he has alternative possibilities before him. Once he makes his choice from these alternative possibilities, some possibilities are not actualized (the options he does not choose, such as the tuna salad, the steak, etc. etc.) and one possibility is actualized (say he chooses ribs). Now God as he foreknows all events will know both that you had the choice of various orders at the restaurant before you made your choice as well as which choice you will end up making. Thus God’s foreknowledge is going to include both the settled events, and events that start out unsettled and then become settled.

    The key if libertarian free will **is present**, is who settles these initially unsettled events and makes them settled events?

    God foreknows all settled events but who actually settles them?

    I say that it is us when a libertarian free will choice is involved. So the past and the present and the future consist of some events that are unilaterally settled by God (e.g. when He does a miracle, he alone settles the event, he could choose or not choose to part the Red Sea and he chooses to part the Red Sea) and also some events that are settled by us (when we make a freely made choice from between various alternative possibilities available to us in a situation).

    Robert

  11. Hi Vance sorry I assumed you were a Calvinist.

    “Do you accept the idea that God is capable of creating a world with a partly open and partly settled future? If you don’t accept it, then aren’t you denying divine omnipotence? And if you do accept it, aren’t you open to the possibility that He *did* create such a world?”

    Short answer is that God could but He did not, for God makes known “the end from the beginning,” (Isaiah 46:10) and God would not be able to do this unless he knew all events that were to take place. Indeed, God IS “the beginning and the end” (Rev 1:8; 22:13) of all things, implying that he is before and ahead of everything in regard to His eternity and knowledge and power etc.
    It is not a question of what God “can” do but what God DOES and that as is revealed in the Scritures alone. I say this to Calvinists too, by the way, when they bring up the same issues, for exmaple, “If God’s grace is not effectual on those He has chosen [irresistable grace for the elect] then God is not omnipotent.” I say, No, it’s not a matter of what God CAN do, but what God WOULD do! It’s not even a matter from logical deduction, but it is a matter of the truth of the Word of God (for the truth of the Word of God is ultimately superior to any logical deducton of man anyway!).

  12. Yes, I’m the same “Vance” you’ve communicated with many times before.

    “…from the beginning the Christian church has held to the compatibility of both exhaustive divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will.”

    Yes, and it is for this reason I would like to be able to accept it without further question. But if I’m honest with myself, I cannot just up and say, “I’ve got it now!” when in fact I still don’t get it. I also sometimes get the impression that I’m not making myself sufficiently clear. That’s why I approached the subject from a slightly different angle this time. You will note that I asked about God’s knowledge of *His own* future actions. The answers I have received, though I certainly appreciate the effort and believe the people offering them are committed Christians, have not been satisfactory *to me.*

    “I have taken some time showing you how they can be compatible and you just seem to be ignoring what I have presented.”

    I might be too dense to understand, but I have not ignored anything you have said. You have offered food for thought in the past, and I have always appreciated your replies. But every time I take this subject off the shelf, I always have to admit that I can’t see how exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian free will can be *truly* compatible. Again, it is possible that I have a blind spot that prevents me from seeing what you’ve been trying to get me to see.

    “What do you mean by ‘settled’?”

    That some future events are certain to happen.

    “What do you mean by ‘unsettled’?”

    That some future events (especially those involving free-will choices) are not certain because they have not yet been decided by the free-will agents who will make those decisions.

    “Can there be events that at first are ‘unsettled’ (say I am at a restaurant deciding whether or not to order Tuna salad or ribs or steak or whatever else is a possible choice at that restaurant) and then become ‘settled’ (I have these alternative possibilities before I order, but then I make up my mind and place my order thus excluding the other possibilities and actualizing one, and the one which is actualized, my choice is then a ‘settled’ event)?”

    If God knows what choice you will make, though you haven’t made it yet, then the choice is settled (i.e., certain). Isn’t it impossible for you to do other than what God knows you will do. I would have to say yes, it is impossible. You WILL do what God knows you will do, though His knowledge is not the cause of your choice. However, if a slight change in the events leading up to the choice would result in a different choice, God knows that, too. Agreed? If yes, then your choice is in God’s hands. Correct? That is to say, God could “cause” you to make choice A by choosing *not* to cause a slight change of events. That’s God’s “permissive will.” But God could “cause” you to make choice B by choosing to cause a slight change of events. In either case, *you* made the choice, but God is also a causal agent in your choice. Now the question is, Could *all* free-will choices be changed by changing the events leading up to those choices. If yes, then it seems to me there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between what you believe and Calvinism.

    What I’ve said above can be supported with a scriptural example. God said He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Yet, we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is true? Both! God and Pharaoh were causal agents in the hardening of the king’s heart. Through bringing on and stopping the plagues, God “caused” Pharaoh to harden and choose not to release the Hebrew slaves.

    It may be that Saul of Tarsus would have never been saved had Christ not caused the Damascus Road incident. And it may be that others would have been saved, but never were, had Christ similarly intervened for them. Would you agree? Then isn’t God *a* causal agent, not only in regeneration but in reprobation as well? If He knows that a particular arrangement of events would lead a person to salvation, but He chooses not to intervene and cause that arrangement, then we might say that God “passed over” that person. We could also say that God, by “passing over” the person, predestined him or her to condemnation. Oh sure, the person did it to himself! But God is still *a* causal agent in the person’s condemnation.

    Is the above not consistent with the Arminian view of exhaustive foreknowledge?

  13. Hello,

    I would like to know if any Arminian could pray anything similar to this today. If not, why not?

    “Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

  14. Patrick, besides being off-topic, the immaturity and abject doctrinal ignorance of Spurgeon’s strawman prayer is quite apparent to anyone who’s studied these issues to any appreciable extent. I address a similar mock-prayer here.

  15. J.C., my aim is not to mock you. In essence, your own belief revealed in a prayer should not be an offense. If we are not able to pray what we believe we are in serious contradiction with ourselves. Aren’t we?

    I can understand that Spurgeon’s words are offensive. He has a mocking attitude in this case and this is not good. I think it was a mistake to preach this way in a church. He should not have done this in my opinion. Deep theological issues can be defended in a pulpit but not with the goal of mocking other brothers in the faith.

    The aim of my post was to make you think about the level of alignment between Arminian prayer and Arminian belief. Leaving aside Spurgeon’s wrong mocking tone, this prayer objectively reveals theological truths defended by Arminian brothers. You would surely do your best efforts to defend the foundational truths revealed in the prayer. Give it a thought.

    Free will is part of this hypothetical prayer so it is not off-topic as the post is related to free will.

    I would like to address the issue of foreknowledge in the Bible. What would be the best post to comment on? I don’t want to interrupt your current conversation with Vance.

    Regards

  16. Patrick,

    @Free will is part of this hypothetical prayer so it is not off-topic as the post is related to free will.

    The post is about an argument against free will from a determinist, not what a determinist who doesn’t understand the issue thinks I would/should/could pray.

    @your own belief revealed in a prayer should not be an offense

    @You would surely do your best efforts to defend the foundational truths revealed in the prayer

    That’s the point, it’s not my own belief. Terms like “glorious free-will” make it quite clear that the speaker is making no effort to represent the other side fairly. “I can turn to thee of myself” is in fact completely against what we believe, besides contradicting the mock-prayer’s own premises.

    @The aim of my post was to make you think about the level of alignment between Arminian prayer and Arminian belief

    If you wish to provoke thought, you may consider employing some means other than drivel.

  17. Vance, to turn it around, do you believe God could create a world in which its agent’s actions were truly free, yet predictable to Him?

  18. Hello Vance,

    “I might be too dense to understand, but I have not ignored anything you have said. You have offered food for thought in the past, and I have always appreciated your replies. But every time I take this subject off the shelf, I always have to admit that I can’t see how exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian free will can be *truly* compatible. Again, it is possible that I have a blind spot that prevents me from seeing what you’ve been trying to get me to see.”

    Vance have you ever read the short article that I wrote on OUTCOMES? (It is available on the Society of Evangelical Arminians website in the foreknowledge section)

    You wrote:

    “That some future events (especially those involving free-will choices) are not certain because they have not yet been decided by the free-will agents who will make those decisions.”

    A future event involving a freely made choice is not settled in the sense of having been actualized yet (it cannot be has it has not happened yet). But God knows events that have not yet happened. We need to distinguish between God’s knowledge of events which is settled (as God already knows) from the events taking place (the causal factors that result in the event occurring may not even exist yet, e.g. someone hitting someone else at some future time has not yet happened as neither person exists in this world yet).

    “If God knows what choice you will make, though you haven’t made it yet, then the choice is settled (i.e., certain).”

    Vance certainty is not the same as necessity. An event in the future may occur with CERTAINTY (that means that it will in fact occur: if it will not in fact occur then it is not certain to occur now is it?). An event occurs with NECESSITY if it is the only possible way that it can and will occur. Take a chemical reaction where two substances when combined result in some specific substance (absent any intervention by God or any other interruption, combine those two elements and the resulting outcome is necessary). In the case of the chemical reaction, the outcome is necessary. In the case of me freely choosing what to order at the restaurant the outcome while it will be certain (I will in fact pick something) it is not necessary as it could have gone differently had I chosen differently.

    Vance do you understand this distinction between a certain outcome and a necessary one?

    “Isn’t it impossible for you to do other than what God knows you will do.”

    Here you are confusing my ability to do something or not do something, with the certainty of its occurrence. It is impossible for me to do otherwise than I will in fact do. The issue is whether or not before I did it, if I had to do it or if I could have done otherwise.

    “I would have to say yes, it is impossible. You WILL do what God knows you will do, though His knowledge is not the cause of your choice.”

    Correct.

    “However, if a slight change in the events leading up to the choice would result in a different choice, God knows that, too. Agreed?”

    But you are missing the fact that God’s foreknowledge of what I will in fact choose to do also includes the circumstances related to that actual choice. God foreknows I will go to the football game tonight (assuming the actual circumstances include me being physically capable of going to that game and also choosing to go to that game: but what if I have a car accident or get sick before the game and so decide not to go to the game, God foreknowing that outcome and those circumstances knows I will not go to the game tonight).

    “If yes, then your choice is in God’s hands. Correct? That is to say, God could “cause” you to make choice A by choosing *not* to cause a slight change of events.”

    Vance this is really confused and fails to take into account that we are the causes of our own freely made choices (have you ever noticed that different people may face the same circumstances and yet they have different responses? Why? Because they choose to respond differently to those same circumstances: one person sees lemons and gets depressed another sees the same lemons and makes lemonade! ). If we are choosing freely the choice is not in God’s hands. He is not controlling the choice or making the choice for us or instead of us. In fact when he designed humans he intentionally designed us so that we would be capable of having and making our own choices. So he designed the human nature that we have that includes our capacity to make choices.

    “That’s God’s “permissive will.” But God could “cause” you to make choice B by choosing to cause a slight change of events.”

    No, he does not cause our choice. If he causes our choice THAT is determinism. And Vance you believe in libertarian free will, don’t you agree that when we choose freely that God is not causing our choice, WE ARE????

    “In either case, *you* made the choice, but God is also a causal agent in your choice.”

    He is not the “causal agent” in our choice WE ARE. That is why WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR CHOICES.

    “Now the question is, Could *all* free-will choices be changed by changing the events leading up to those choices. If yes, then it seems to me there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between what you believe and Calvinism.”

    You are expressing Molinism here, not Arminianism. The Molinist says that God knows you would do X if placed in circumstances Y. So God places you in circumstances Y so that you will do X. If God instead wanted you to do Z he would place you in circumstances B. So your talk here Vance is of Molinism.

    “What I’ve said above can be supported with a scriptural example. God said He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Yet, we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Which is true? Both! God and Pharaoh were causal agents in the hardening of the king’s heart.”

    True, but this is not happening all the time nor is it happening every time that we make a freely made choice.

    “Through bringing on and stopping the plagues, God “caused” Pharaoh to harden and choose not to release the Hebrew slaves.”

    The Pharaoh case is not the ordinary case that most of us are dealing with on a daily basis. So I would not extrapolate from this unusual event to our ordinary day to day experience of having and making choices.

    “It may be that Saul of Tarsus would have never been saved had Christ not caused the Damascus Road incident. And it may be that others would have been saved, but never were, had Christ similarly intervened for them. Would you agree?”

    This is confused as well and operates on a hidden assumption that I do not accept. The bible explicitly says that God loves all and desires for all to come to repentance and be saved. But the bible does not say that God is obligated nor does he do exactly the same with each person. God does not owe salvation to anyone nor does he owe exactly the same experiences to everyone.

    “Then isn’t God *a* causal agent, not only in regeneration but in reprobation as well?”

    No, a person who ends up being a nonbeliever in eternity is a person who REPEATEDLY AND FREELY CHOSE TO REJECT God and his grace to that person (which will vary from person to person as God does not nor is he obligated to treat everyone the same way). So the causal agent of an eternal destiny in hell is that individual who rebels against God for a LIFETIME.

    “If He knows that a particular arrangement of events would lead a person to salvation, but He chooses not to intervene and cause that arrangement, then we might say that God “passed over” that person.”

    No again this assumes the false premise that God ought to treat everybody exactly the same, that all receive exactly the same experiences from God. As this assumption is false your point based upon the assumption is also false.

    And again you are presenting Molinism not Arminianism here.

    “We could also say that God, by “passing over” the person, predestined him or her to condemnation.”

    God does not “pass over” people he actively reaches out to all people and they must then reject the light given them by God and do so for a lifetime in order to be damned.

    God does not decide beforehand that “Joe” will be damned and then ensure “Joe’s damnation by “passing over” him, that is calvinism. Vance why are you putting Calvinism in our mouth here??

    “Oh sure, the person did it to himself! But God is still *a* causal agent in the person’s condemnation.”

    God is not a causal agent in the damnation of that individual who repeatedly and for a lifetime rejects God and Christ. Like a parent who lovingly and repeatedly reaches out to their child only to have the child continuously and repeatedly reject the Parent (is the parent then the “causal agent” when the child engages in criminal activities? Is the parent to blame then? Reminds me of joke in prisons: upon arrest a criminal replied: “don’t arrest me, arrest my parents for these crimes, if they had not brought me into this world I never would have done these things!” Most of us see through this mistaken view of causality. Vance your comments about God being the causal factor in reprobation are much like this criminal blaming his parents for HIS ACTIONS).

    “Is the above not consistent with the Arminian view of exhaustive foreknowledge?”

    No, because in the “above” you have operated from Molinist premises and calvinist premises as well as the false premise that God does or is obligated to treat everyone in exactly the same way.

    Robert

  19. J.C., it depends on how one defines “truly free.” If we reject the Calvinists’ definition and stick with libertarian freedom, I would say no, God cannot make such a world–just as He can make a circle or a square but not a square circle. If He knows I’m going to have tuna salad for lunch tomorrow, then my “lunch destiny” is sealed, though at the present time I think I’m probably going to choose steak. By “freedom” I mean that there is a real *possibility* that I will choose, and have, steak. Exhaustive foreknowledge rules out any such possibility. The only logical conclusion seems to be, God cannot know for sure which I will have.

    B.P., you wrote, “Short answer is that God could but He did not, for God makes known ‘the end from the beginning,’ (Isaiah 46:10) and God would not be able to do this unless he knew all events that were to take place.”

    It seems to me that you’re reading too much into the passage. God knows “the end from the beginning” because, as He says in the same text, “My purpose shall stand and I will fulfill my intentions, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and **I will bring it to pass**; I have planned, and **I will do it**” (Isa 46:10-11). Nothing in this text demands exhaustive divine knowledge of every free-will choice made between the “beginning” and the “end.” It *does* tell us in very clear terms that God *determines* the end from the beginning. Because He has established His purpose and will bring it to completion, the future is at least partly settled. And if my definition of “freedom” (see response to J.C. above) is correct, then the future must also be partly open.

  20. Vance,

    I meant free in the libertarian sense; that is to say, [at least some] of the agent’s choices aren’t necessitated by nature or environment, but come from the agent. That’s where we’d diverge then: I believe God is capable of creating a world with agents whose choices He didn’t necessitate, yet are predictable from His perspective.

  21. Robert: Again, I can’t see this “certainty” versus “necessity” argument you once again make. If God knows something will happen, it will *necessarily* happen because God would be mistaken otherwise. You seem to be arguing from the perspective of humans living and making choices here below. I’m arguing from the perspective of what’s in God’s mind. What He KNOWS as certain is NECESSARILY true. Do you not agree?

    On God as a causal agent, please understand that I’m not presenting *my* position; I’m arguing that if exhaustive foreknowledge is true, then there is a sense in which God is a causal agent in both regeneration and reprobation. Since I don’t believe He causes unbelief in any sense, I have a hard time with exhaustive foreknowledge. That’s my point.

    In past discussions, you have said you believed in middle knowledge (but not deterministic Molinism). Doesn’t that mean you believe God knows what our actions would be should conditions be different? I can’t see how what I’ve said is inconsistent with that.

    It also seems to me that your “loving parents” analogy seriously breaks down when we try to compare human parents to an Eternal Being who has exhaustive knowledge of all future thoughts, actions, events, etc. If the parents had foreknowledge of what events would lead to their child’s rebellion (i.e., attendance at a certain school, which would put him in contact with corrupting influences), and had the power to arrange events so as to prevent it (send him to this school, not that one), then what do you think loving parents would do? Now if those loving parents *do* know the bad outcome of their child attending a certain school, but they let him go there anyway, just how loving are they?

  22. Vance wrote:

    “J.C., it depends on how one defines “truly free.””

    Yes the definition is very important. Do you agree Vance that when we make a choice we could describe it as follows: first you have a choice (that is when you are considering various options, each option being an option which you could choose and which is available to you). Then you end up making a choice from these different possibilities. And would you agree that UP UNTIL THE POINT WHERE YOU ACTUALLY MAKE THE CHOICE, you could choose any of these alternatives? And would you agree that once you make the choice of one alternative rather than the others that at that point you no longer have a choice with respect to those different possibilities? This all seems like common sense to me, but do you disagree WITH ANY OF THIS??

    If you are going to arbitrarily define “truly free” as I will do an action freely **only if God cannot foreknow what I will in fact do**: then of course foreknowledge precludes acting freely.

    “If we reject the Calvinists’ definition and stick with libertarian freedom, I would say no, God cannot make such a world–just as He can make a circle or a square but not a square circle.”

    False analogy Vance, God making a circle a square is the actualizing of a contradiction. But God’s foreknowledge does not contradict our acting freely. And you have never ever shown this to be the case.

    “If He knows I’m going to have tuna salad for lunch tomorrow, then my “lunch destiny” is sealed,”

    This language is a bit misleading as many persons seeing the statement that the “lunch destiny is sealed” will interpret that to mean predestined or necessitated.

    Say you are in fact going to have tuna salad tomorrow, if you define the fact that you will with certainty have tuna salad tomorrow AS “destiny being sealed”. Then saying either “my lunch destiny is sealed” or “I will in fact choose tuna salad tomorrow” or “I will with certainty choose tuna salad tomorrow” are just different ways of saying the same thing. And all of them speak of CERTAINTY not NECESSITY. I would also say that the statement my “lunch destiny is sealed” has the connotation that it is something you have no control over, something necessitated and something predestined to occur.

    Are you a lawyer Vance this is the kind of thing that lawyers do with words (words intended to convey things)??

    “though at the present time I think I’m probably going to choose steak.”

    When it comes to the actual outcome, the actual outcome is what you in fact will end up doing. And it is precisely that actual outcome which is what people are talking about when they speak of God foreknowing what you will do in the future. They do not mean statements like: “Well Vance may or may not choose to have tuna salad tomorrow.” No, they mean a statement such as: “God foreknows that Lance will in fact choose tuna salad tomorrow.” There are no ifs, or buts when it comes to God foreknowing what you are going to do (instead he foreknows an actual outcome, what you will in fact do).

    Now consider this, Vance, you will in fact do something tomorrow. And what you will in fact do is what God foreknows you will do. And say that it is a fact that tomorrow, one of those “somethings” that you will in fact do is that you will choose tuna salad for lunch. But imagine that there was another person who like God also foreknows what you will do tomorrow. If this person, say his name is Paul, lives in another part of the world and you have no contact with him, were to be killed before tomorrow, would that change the fact that you will choose tuna salad tomorrow? Or can you only make that choice tomorrow of tuna salad if Paul exists? Or take this further, say God does not even exist and yet it is a fact that you will choose tuna salad tomorrow. Does God’s nonexistence change the fact that you will choose tuna salad tomorrow? No it does not. And the reason is that whether the foreknower is Paul or God, their foreknowledge of what you will in fact do tomorrow is not what causes the event (it is your choice that causes or brings about the event tomorrow if the actual outcome is a choice made by you tomorrow, a choice that you will in fact make regardless of who knows it tomorrow or who knows it now).

    “By “freedom” I mean that there is a real *possibility* that I will choose, and have, steak.”

    And as I have pointed out to you before the key question is WHEN IS THIS ABILITY TO DO OTHERWISE, TO MAKE DIFFERENT CHOICES PRESENT?

    Before the actual outcome?

    After the actual outcome?

    When?

    I say Libertarian free will is present if this ability is present BEFORE THE ACTUAL OUTCOME. Before you end up making the choice to have tuna salad. Before you end up making this choice, could you have chosen steak instead? If Yes, then you had LFW, if No, then your action is necessitated through causal factors.

    In time, the actual choice that you will in fact make (call it point B in time) follows after the time frame (call it point A in time)in which you could still have chosen steak, or ribs or whatever else besides tuna salad.

    (point A = you could choose steak, ribs, tuna salad, etc. etc. UP UNTIL YOU MAKE YOUR CHOICE)

    (point B = the point in time at which you make your actual choice, you actually choose the tuna salad or ribs or whatever).

    Point A precedes point B in time, and up until point B, you have a choice. But once you make the choice at point B, you no longer have this choice. And God’s foreknowledge concerns point B: what choice will you in fact make?

    “Exhaustive foreknowledge rules out any such possibility.”

    No it doesn’t. You are simply making an assertion here with no proof.

    If God foreknows all choices that will be made, that does not rule out the fact that before the choice was made at point A, we had choices, we could have done otherwise than we end up choosing to do.

    “The only logical conclusion seems to be, God cannot know for sure which I will have.”

    That faulty conclusion follows only if you assume false premises.

    Robert

  23. Vance wrote:

    Robert: Again, I can’t see this “certainty” versus “necessity” argument you once again make. If God knows something will happen, it will *necessarily* happen because God would be mistaken otherwise. You seem to be arguing from the perspective of humans living and making choices here below. I’m arguing from the perspective of what’s in God’s mind. What He KNOWS as certain is NECESSARILY true. Do you not agree?”

    I have brought this up to you before and you seemed to have ignored it but for the sake of others I bring it up again. When it comes to God’s knowledge and the causal factors that bring about an event you need to distinguish the two. God’s knowledge does not cause us to do or not do things. The relation of God’s knowledge, specifically his foreknowledge, is not a causal one with what he knows. It is a logical relation not a causal one. Say that you are going to choose to eat tuna salad for lunch tomorrow. You are the causal factor that brings about the choice of tuna salad tomorrow. God’s knowledge does not cause that event, though God’s knowledge as it is true corresponds with the event. God knows you will do X, but his knowledge does not cause you to do X.

    1 + 1 = 2 And I know that 1 + 1 = 2. But my knowing that 1 + 1 = 2 DOES NOT CAUSE 1 + 1 = 2 to be true. And neither does the fact that 1 + 1 = 2 CAUSE me to know that it is true that 1 + 1 = 2. Rather it is a logical relation, my knowledge logically corresponds to the reality that 1 + 1 = 2. My knowing something to be true does not cause that something to be true. Likewise God’s foreknowledge has a logical relation with the foreknown event (his knowledge corresponds to what in fact will occur) but not necessarily a causal relation with the foreknown event. You stated that you do not believe that God causes or brings about unbelief. Ok stay with that example. I say that God may foreknow that you may have a moment of unbelief tomorrow, but God knowing that this will in fact occur, does not cause it to occur. Just as my knowing that 1 + 1 = 2 is true, does not CAUSE it to be true. When you speak of what God Knows he “necessarily” knows truly, you are again talking about a logical relation not a causal one. God knows everything and his beliefs are necessarily true, but his beliefs do not cause everything that occurs (that again is calvinism or determinism).

    “On God as a causal agent, please understand that I’m not presenting *my* position; I’m arguing that if exhaustive foreknowledge is true, then there is a sense in which God is a causal agent in both regeneration and reprobation. Since I don’t believe He causes unbelief in any sense, I have a hard time with exhaustive foreknowledge. That’s my point.”

    Regeneration is a unilateral action by God alone, it has nothing to do with our actions, we do not bring that about at all. Damnation on the other hand is a culmination of a lot of choices, it is something a person may bring about if they repeatedly and continuously choose to reject God for their entire lifetime. I don’t believe that God causes a LIFETIME OF UNBELIEF(he would be contradicting himself as he explicitly declares that he desires for all to be saved). And God knowing that someone will in fact repeatedly and continuously choose to reject God for their entire lifetime, is not the same as God causing those unbelieving choices.

    “In past discussions, you have said you believed in middle knowledge (but not deterministic Molinism). Doesn’t that mean you believe God knows what our actions would be should conditions be different? I can’t see how what I’ve said is inconsistent with that.”

    God knows everything, so Yes he “knows what our actions would be should conditions be different”. The bible has clear examples of this. Jesus said if certain miracles were done in certain places they would have repented (but Jesus never did these miracles in those places so it was counterfactual knowledge on the part of God). But I don’t believe that God arranges all circumstances (i.e. meticulous providence) and places you in exactly the circumstances that he wants you to be in at all times and in all places (which seems to be what the full Molinist believes).

    It also seems to me that your “loving parents” analogy seriously breaks down when we try to compare human parents to an Eternal Being who has exhaustive knowledge of all future thoughts, actions, events, etc.

    Vance you completely missed the point of my analogy.

    My point was that the actions of the child if they are acting independently and freely are separate from the actions of the child.

    The parents could do all sorts of good actions and loving actions towards he child. But the child, since the child is an independent being could also make its own choices, choices that are in fact are evil and not what the parents want for the child (lots of parents, and good ones at that, have seen even the nicest kids go through bouts of outright rebellion where the kids CHOOSE to do stuff that is wrong no matter how good and loving and reasonable the parents have been towards that child. Similarly God can and does do all sorts of good things to human persons and yet they can choose to reject God and choose to rebel against him though he is perfectly good.

    I brought up the criminals comment to further bolster my point which you are ignoring. The criminal wants to shift the blame to his parents (if you had not brought me into the world then I never would have done these crimes, you did bring me into the world so you not me are to blame for the crimes I chose to do; most of us see through this false reasoning). Adam tried to shift the blame to God (if you had not given me this woman then I would not have . . .: again we see that Adam chose wrongly and cannot assign blame to God for his choice, just as the criminal who is caught cannot assign blame to his parents for bringing him into the world).

    “If the parents had foreknowledge of what events would lead to their child’s rebellion (i.e., attendance at a certain school, which would put him in contact with corrupting influences), and had the power to arrange events so as to prevent it (send him to this school, not that one), then what do you think loving parents would do? Now if those loving parents *do* know the bad outcome of their child attending a certain school, but they let him go there anyway, just how loving are they?”

    Clearly here you are talking about the parent should set things up differently so that the child will do differently. I was not talking about this at all, but about the fact that the child is independent of their parents when it comes to the choices that they freely make. And the child cannot make these choices freely and then turn around and blame the parents as if it is their fault (again “don’t arrest me, arrest my parents who brought me into this world, if they had not done so I never would have committed these crimes that you are arresting me for, so arrest them instead of me!”).

    Robert

  24. Robert, you wrote:

    “Clearly here you are talking about the parent should set things up differently so that the child will do differently. I was not talking about this at all, but about the fact that the child is independent of their parents when it comes to the choices that they freely make. And the child cannot make these choices freely and then turn around and blame the parents as if it is their fault (again ‘don’t arrest me, arrest my parents who brought me into this world, if they had not done so I never would have committed these crimes that you are arresting me for, so arrest them instead of me!’).”

    OK, got it. I realized after I posted my reply that I did not fully address your point. But I think you’re not entirely getting mine. Going back to the example I gave (and you cited), am I to conclude that you believe that the parents, who have exhaustive foreknowledge of their child’s behavior, are in no sense causal agents (or at least accountable) in their child’s rebellion, though they infallibly knew he would go bad under those conditions, and though they could have changed the conditions and prevented him from going bad?

    Two related questions:

    Does God ever arrange events so as to create a condition under which a person (who would otherwise die in his sins) would be saved?

    Does God ever allow a person to remain under a condition in which salvation is certain not to occur, though arranging events so as to create a different condition would result in the person’s salvation?

    “Regeneration is a unilateral action by God alone, it has nothing to do with our actions, we do not bring that about at all.”

    We can prevent it, can’t we? And we can choose not to prevent it, can’t we. If we choose not to prevent–i.e., if we say yes to what God freely offers–are we not IN SOME SENSE causal agents in our own salvation?

  25. At Patrick,

    I don’t want to go off topic further, but here is my version of Spurgeon’s prayer in the way I think an Arminian would actually pray (keeping in mind that Spurgeon whilst being a godly man was unfortunately abjectly ignorant of real Arminian doctrine):

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    “LORD, I thank you that you created us in your own image, and that you sent Christ to die and rise again for all our sakes. Thankyou also that you have by your sent forth your Spirit, and convicted my heart, enabling me to turn to you. Thankyou for showing such undeserved kindness and mercy to me, and for your great love. Now I pray for others, LORD, that you would work on their hearts to lovingly call them to relationship with your son Jesus. Show them LORD your perfect justice and love for all humanity expressed perfectly on the Cross of Jesus Christ, that they might also turn to you in faith and, believing, that they might have life in your name. Amen.”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    That, by the way, is how I pray 🙂

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