The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #11: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Aseity

Related fallacies:
Non Sequitur
Equivocation
Special Pleading

One apparent ramification of holding to both libertarian free will and God’s omniscience is that God (apparently) derives His knowledge of our choices from us, since our choices ultimately come from us. A while back I had a run-in with a Mr. Tim Prussic, who employed an argument I’ve seen before: Calvinists who hold to exhaustive determinism will often argue that God having knowledge that is in some way based upon human will undermines His aseity.

Defining “Aseity”

Aseity is defined as, “existence originating from and having no source other than itself.” God, according to all branches of orthodox Christian theology, is the only Being who is self-existent. The issue at hand, briefly, is that if God has endowed His creations with a measure of free will, then the creatures’ own actions come from themselves (i.e. from their own self-determination) and hence the transcendent God’s knowledge of what they will do apparently is also rooted in that self-determination. Determinists such as Mr. Prussic contend that God’s knowledge being rooted in anything men will or do somehow attacks His aseity, since this would imply a dependency relationship, viz. God being dependent upon man for knowledge (of what that man will choose, specifically).

Problems with this logic

For starters, God clearly isn’t dependent upon man for His existence. God having freedom of His own will entails that He didn’t have to create mankind at all. Clearly, knowledge derived from what created men do is no threat to His self-existence. The only objection the determinist could offer here would be a knowledge dependency -God using men to be omniscient concerning men’s wills. Would that be tantamount to saying that one of God’s attributes (His omniscience) comes from man? Not at all: such a scenario would imply that God had to create man to become omniscient, but this clearly isn’t the case, since God would have been all-knowing even if He had never created man at all.

The only dependency upon man (i.e. God knowing what a man will choose due to the man himself) is itself rooted in God’s will to create man in the first place, so no such dependency can exist apart from God’s being willing that it exist. Asserting that God entering into such a dependency relationship somehow attacks His self-existence apparently doesn’t follow from any sound argumentation.

Counter Example

Unimpeded by minor obstacles such as their argument lacking coherence, determinists like Mr. Prussic continue to press the issue, claiming that God is made “less than God,” since He’s now created a dependency upon man, the implication being that any kind of dependency relationship destroys God’s aseity. Does this novel definition of “aseity” hold any water in light of scripture?

Let’s look at another one of God’s attributes: faithfulness. God is indeed called “faithful and true” (Revelation 19:11, see also Deuteronomy 7:9, Isaiah 49:7, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Knowing this, I ask, has God ever made a promise or oath to anyone? He certainly has. His covenant with Abraham and his descendants is a prominent example (Genesis 22:16-18). Second question: for God to remain faithful to what He has promised, does the one(s) to whom He made such promises have to exist? I would think so: Abraham and his descendents apparently must exist for God to remain faithful to His promises that He made to them.

So then God’s attribute of faithfulness actually does depend upon His creations (their existence in this case), provided that He has chosen to make a promise to them. This type of dependency wouldn’t attack God’s aseity, as making the promises in the first place (and thus establishing that dependence) was His decision alone. This clearly wouldn’t imply that He has some innate need of creation, but would definitely indicate that such a dependency exists according to His will.

If God’s faithfulness to His promises in relation to people is dependent upon the existence of the people He made promises to, then why is it suddenly an attack on His aseity if His knowledge in relation to people’s choices is similarly dependent upon them? If God needs to have people to be faithful to His promises made to those He created, then why is it any difficulty for Him to need people to know the choices of those He has created? The Calvinist charge amounts to a form of rather lame special pleading that simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Even bigger problems

Ironically, a much larger problem lies with the determinist view of God where the origins of sin are concerned. If all of God’s knowledge necessarily comes from Himself, then everything He has knowledge of must also arise from within Himself -that includes sin. Such a view inevitably ends up making God the author of sin and the source of every lie, evil motive and abominable thought. This stands in complete contrast with the apostle John, who declares,

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

Conclusion

The Calvinist case here is a rather strained attempt to save a very contrived redefinition of God’s aseity. Their accusation is in fact so impotent that when I confronted Mr. Prussic with the counter-example cited above, his only recourse was to pronounce that I was “guilty” without even offering the slightest interaction with the evidence presented. God being self-existent and having need of nothing doesn’t imply that He can’t establish some sort of dependency, it simply means that God innately has no need of anything external to Himself. God allowing some sort of dependency to exist because of His interactions with man doesn’t undermine His aseity, since no such dependency is innate to God, they can only exist according to His will. The exhaustive determinist position only saves its own self-serving and unworkable definition of aseity, while at the same time abominably making God into the origin of all sin.

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15 Responses

  1. You’re GUILTY!

    … just kidding. 🙂 I have no time to interact now, but I will get back with you tomorrow. Have a great Lord’s Day!

    -Tim

  2. This “Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics” series has got to be one of my absolute favourites.

  3. For whatever reason, in my post I referred to you as “Ben.” I wasn’t thinking of Michael Jackson or the mouse. I don’t know where I got that name! What is your first name. I’ll go back and fix it in the post.
    -Tim
    http://wp.me/pVf8p-jf

  4. I haven’t read this post through yet, but just wanted to make mention of this great interaction between Thomas McCall and John Piper where McCall demonstrates that Calvinism, especially as put forward by Piper, creates serious problems for God’s aseity:

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/811

    God Bless,
    Ben

  5. Tim,

    You probably got the name Ben from me. J.C. and I both post here but this post was written by J.C. When I post it is under the screen name “kangaroodort”.

    I would urge you to take a look at the interaction between McCall and Piper. I believe it is three parts with McCall getting the last word. Make sure to read through all of it.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  6. I gotta say I’m curious about that interchange. I remember J.C. mentioning something about that… I think just the stated conclusion… to me. It hit me sideways, as you can imagine. In any event, I hope to make some time for that interchange.

    I’ll go back into my article and change all the Bens to J.C.s – sorry for the mix up.

    -Tim

  7. “Thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.” and “If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s justice in hatred of sin or in punishing it, . . . or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. No matter how much happiness he might bestow, his goodness would not be nearly as highly prized and admired. . . . and the sense of his goodness heightened. So evil is necessary if the glory of God is to be perfectly and completely displayed. It is also necessary for the highest happiness of humanity, because our happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of God is imperfect (because of a disproportionate display of his attributes), the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.” – Jonathan Edwards

    It seems to me that it is Calvinism that is attacking God’s Aseity by saying that sin and evil were “necessary” for God. I also read that exchange between Mccall and Piper and it is good stuff.

  8. JPC, “Necessary” can be used in different ways. I’ve been discussing the same thing with J.C. – He seems to want to caricature my position to make the tail wag the dog.

    What God freely chooses do to, he freely chooses to do. That’s what he wants to do. He’s not free to do what he DOESN’T want to do. He wanted creation, the fall, and sin, so he ordained that (eternally and unchangeably). He doesn’t “need” it in any other sense than he’s chosen to use it for his own unchanging and eternal purposes. That is in no way an attack on aseity, for God’s doing what he’s eternally purposed to do and using what he’s eternally purposed to use.

  9. Tim – “What God freely chooses do to, he freely chooses to do. That’s what he wants to do.”

    I agree. But do you believe that God has the freedom to create beings with the ability to make choices that are not pre-determined or ordained by divine decree?

    “He’s not free to do what he DOESN’T want to do.”

    Not sure what you mean by this? Who tries to make that argument?

    “He wanted creation, the fall, and sin, so he ordained that (eternally and unchangeably)”

    This is where I believe there is a serious problem with Calvinism. Where can you prove Scripturally, and not by a presupposed theological system that God ordained the fall and sin? You don’t believe that Adam had a free will and lost it when he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? I thought that is what most Calvinists believe.
    Here is a quote from the 5 Points of Calvinism by Steele/Thomas, page 19:

    “God made Adam upright; there was no evil whatsoever in his nature. Originally, Adam’s will was free from the dominion of sin; he was under no natural compulsion to choose evil, but through the fall he brought spiritual death upon himself and all his posterity….Consequently, man’s will is no longer free (i.e., free from the dominion of sin) as Adam’s will was free before the Fall”

    Also from the Westminster confession of Faith “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good”

    Did Adam have a choice or not? When I read the Genesis account I don’t see God pre-ordaining the fall and forcing Adam to sin but God creating man “good”, giving him freedom to name the animals (did God secretly give Adam a list of the names he wanted?), to subdue the earth, multiply, to eat from any tree they wish and warning them that “if” they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. I then see Eve being deceived by the serpent (not God) and causing Adam to fall, bringing sin and death upon the whole human race (Its important to note that this happened before the “T” in TULIP so it had nothing to do with a sin nature. What you think of Adam pre-fall I believe will determine if you are a Calvinist or not). Then God pronounces the curse on man and also speaks of a savior that will “bruise the serpents head”. Also, in Romans when Paul speaks of Adams sin, he never mentions that God decreed the fall but places the blame squarely on Adam.

    So God did not “need” the fall and sin or even want it, but instead he wanted to create man “in his image” and have a relationship where man chose to love God rather than commit evil. Adam failed, but God is Sovereign and will accomplish his will which is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and to have a people that choose to believe (through the preaching of the Gospel and conviction of the Holy Spirit), love and serve him to the praise of his glory! Do you deny that God has the right and freedom to do that? Who are you, O man to speak back to God!

  10. First and second causes of free choices and an example

    * A concept that is impossible to understand comprehensively. Suffice it to say the Reformed and Arminian positions both affirm the first and second causal relationship.

    * Note we are talking about creatures. There is no first cause establishing God’s choices and actions because he is God; His choices are free and ultimate.

    * Now, the Arminian believes that God looks down the corridor of time and sees;

    1. Man choosing God

    And therefore

    2. God Confirms that choice.

    * Notice which is the first cause and which is the second. God’s choices are established by men and not the other way around in this view.

    The Reformed view holds that

    1. God freely chooses

    Therefore

    2. Man freely chooses

    There is mystery here, but the converse is that God is dependent on Man in His ability to decree. Impossible.

    Here is an example to clarify all of this:

    * When Judas went to betray the lord, and when Pilate capitulated to the crowds, the Father was not wringing His hands in hopeless dismay. Angels were not running around heaven yelling, “plan B.”

    * Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

    * It was the will of God that Jesus die the way he did – for salvation of sinners. But it was also the will of Pilate, and the will of the Jews, who were all fully blameworthy for what they did. Nevertheless, it was the hand and purpose of God that determined beforehand what was to be done.

    * These difficult doctrines are best understood in their overlapping reality in the story of the Gospels.

    * It was the Lord’s desire. We can read the story knowing it was all decreed and yet see what Pilate’s, the Jews, the Gentiles, as well as Judas’ motivations and decisions were and that they were freely made. You see the story unfold and they are all motivated people, expressing and acting upon the desires of their hearts, to the purpose of God’s Decree.

    * God providentially controls everything. And He does so without violating the responsibility of His creatures; that is what it means when the divines stated that He does no violence to the will of men.

  11. JPC, good comeback. I’ve also often cited God’s sovereignty and creative power as the basis for Him granting men free will.

    Michael,

    @Now, the Arminian believes that God looks down the corridor of time and sees…Man choosing God

    @the Father was not wringing His hands in hopeless dismay. Angels were not running around heaven yelling, “plan B.”

    I subscribe to middle-knowledge, so none of the strawmen you list are of any relevance where my beliefs are concerned. I actually do hold to the idea that men can freely choose because God has allowed us to freely choose. It is, however, equivocation and contradiction to say that man “freely” chooses what God has absolutely predetermined he choose.

  12. Michael, first off I reject your description of Arinianinsm/Calvinism for 2 main reasons:

    1. When describing the Arminian position you place the word Man first and say that “Notice which is the first cause and which is the second. God’s choices are established by men” as if to infer the fallacy that Arminians make Man’s will sovereign over God. This is a common strawman attack that makes the Calvinist position seem more attractive.

    2. When describing the Calvinist position you seem to have stated a flat out contradiction (God freely chooses, then Man freely chooses??) then bailed yourself out by saying “There is mystery here, but the converse is that God is dependent on Man in His ability to decree. Impossible.” Why did you not give the Arminian position the same benefit of the doubt and state that there was mystery there? We know that God is transcendent and that there will only be so much we can know as finite beings, but that cannot allow us to state contradictions as mystery. If I say that God is a liar and you show me in the Word that it says that God cannot lie, then I respond by chalking it up to mystery and don’t change my views,would you accept that?

    I would see as a starting point this:

    Arminian (or Non-Calvinist) position

    1. God (who is Sovereign and All-powerful) choosing to create man in his image and give that man the ability to choose.

    2. Man choosing according to the will (and with the life and breath) that God gave them.

    Calvinist position

    1. God decrees all things, including sin as well as the first sin of man (which makes God the author of sin).

    2. Man acting (not choosing) according to the pre-determined decree of God and being nothing more than robots.

    Now having changed the terms to what I believe is more accurate which would you chose?

    As far as the crucifixion of Jesus is concerned, that presents no problems whatsoever for the Non-Calvinist. In the Scripture we see that they tried to murder Jesus on numerous occasions due to Satan being there father and the murderous, hateful intents of there hearts. Did God decree all those intents and pre-determine that they would attempt to kill Jesus multiple times only to fail? Jesus gave his life over to those murderers who wanted him dead for a long time. They would have never touched him if it was not according to God’s will to give his Only Begotten Son for the sins of the “whole world” and to draw “all men” to himself.

  13. Right, Calvinism always ends up making God the author of sin even if they refer to some indirectness, secret will concept or something like that. That doesn’t change the fact that their god is the ultimate source of all sin. And that’s not the God portrayed in the bible.

  14. If creation, the fall and reprobation are in fact by divine decree, then there is no way out of a self constructed labyrinth that leads to God being culpable for all of mankind’s evil. In fact, it sets God up to be contradictive if Genesis 6 says that He regretted ever having created man because of evil, and the decrees of creation, the fall and reprobation fall like dominoes in a row.

    It is also interesting that only 8 people were elected in the first destruction of the world by flood and all the rest were reprobates. This makes the God of non-confusion look confused about His own decrees, but those who cannot (or will not) see this, focus on exalting His aseity and sovereignty instead of fixing other major problems that exist with their view of God.

  15. The Calvinist position is rooted in philosophy.
    They have such a timeless static clinical God that he seems to be a machine to them.
    If you start from this concept you can see why they think that God cannot even respond to prayer. How can he respond if he is locked up in this timeless block universe. Because they cannot comprehend how God can allow freewill within their system..the universe is just a static fixed play. Its a mystery how God interacts with man–its not to be known by us. You cant build a system based on Mans understanding of time and causality and demand God fit into your rules. Its the height of arrogance and the domain of the stupid to proclaim you have the secret.

    God is fully revealed through Jesus Christ. Just the fact that God condescended into such a lowly position to show He is something other than what man constructs should show these clinical thinkers they may have put God in a box he cant climb out of.

    But I always say. Can Calvin survive if you remove a few sentences from Romans 9 from the bible? Think about it. there isnt one single doctrine that cant survive with even an entire book being ripped out of the bible. You certainly cannot piece together Calvinism with the remaining verses and have a doctrine forcefully backed up by scripture.

    So why do they hold as the linchpin a few sentence no one agrees on. Now, I say this to them..because its quite clear as you read on after those verses in rom 9 that it unbelief is the ultimate cause of the lost..not predestination.

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