The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacies #12 & #13: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Simplicity and Immutability

Related Fallacies:
Conflation
Hasty Generalization

Oversimplification

Tim Prussic attempts to salvage his hopeless case after I pointed out his fallacious reasoning concerning God’s aseity. Tim makes a tenuous appeal to divine simplicity; in his words,

Now, since, in God, the self-existent One, essence and attributes are identical, his knowledge is of necessity tied in with his essence – his being. God IS his knowledge. So, if God is dependent upon creation for knowledge, then we have a serious theological problem.

Problems with this logic

Mr. Prussic’s case relies heavily upon conflating God’s attribute of omniscience with what His knowledge references. This line of reasoning begins to collapse in on itself when applied, for instance, to God’s attribute of love. Now the Bible plainly tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8), and that it’s because of His love for us that Christ died (Romans 5:8). But since God loves people, then that love for people necessarily requires people, clearly making God’s love for man dependent upon man. According to Mr. Prussic’s comical views of divine simplicity, this love for man would be intrinsic to God’s essence, and would inevitably lead to the conclusion that God’s being is necessarily tied to the people He loves -making man essential to God’s nature. Ironically, Tim’s view, taken to its logical conclusions, ends up being the theory that attacks God’s aseity, since God’s very essence would depend upon man!

My counter is that we shouldn’t confuse God’s attributes like love and knowledge with who or what those attributes reference. Contrary to Mr. Prussic’s misaimed remark of this making God, “less than perfect in one attribute”: God would still be loving and omniscient even if there were no such thing as man, because that is who He is; He isn’t changing His attributes by creating man, weighing his heart (Proverbs 21:2) or setting His love upon him (Deuteronomy 7:7). He would always be loving and omniscient even if He’d never created anything.

Further ridiculousness of the view Mr. Prussic espouses can be seen from a simple reductio:

If God’s knowledge is innate to Him, then everything He knows is innate to Him. My existence is one of the things God knows about. If God innately knows that I was born some time in the latter part of the last century, then that fact has eternally been an innate part of God’s knowledge; God therefore had no choice but to create me, else He would falsify His knowledge. Thus God’s omniscience is now dependent upon my existence.

This could even be taken a step further: I’m a believer in Christ, part of the elect. God has innately and eternally known that I’ll be part of the elect -that fact is part of His divine essence (according to Mr. Prussic anyway). By that logic, God not only had to create me, but to make His knowledge true, had no choice but to elect me as well (and Calvinists accuse me of being “man-centered”), else falsify His knowledge. Even the Potter doesn’t have any real freedom by such backwards thinking! We could go on and on, but suffice it to say that divine simplicity interpreted in such a way as Mr. Prussic does breaks down into complete incoherence. He goes on to ask,

If that paradigm works with God’s attribute of knowledge, why not all his other attributes? Would we be opposed to the notion that, in certain areas, God’s not all-powerful, but actual gains power from his creation? What if God, in a certain area, were not completely truthful, but gained truth from his creation?

Given the ramifications I cited above to Mr. Prussic’s position, his “truthfulness” example ends up backfiring on him: If God innately knows about my existence, then the truth of that knowledge is dependent upon my existence. God in fact would depend upon me for His intrinsic knowledge to be true. Therefore the truth of God’s knowledge must depend upon me if Tim’s logic is to be consistently applied. Tim also again fails to address the previously cited example of God’s faithfulness to His promises being dependent upon those to whom the promises were made. This was not unexpected, as inconsistent logic such as he propounds can seldom coherently deal with realistic situations.

Immutably absurd theology

Prussic:

The semi-thoughtful reader will already know that, in J.C.’s thought, the classic doctrine of divine immutability was tossed out the window a long time ago. For, manifestly, if God doesn’t change, his knowledge cannot increase. His knowledge would (like all his other attributes) be infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Learning is growth. Growth is change. The Bible says that God doesn’t change.

Indeed, only a semi-thoughtful reader who’s failed to think the issue through could come to such a conclusion. Divine immutability implies that God always remains who He is, not that He never experiences any kind of change in any sense. Experience or action of any kind (without which an entity is utterly static) implies some sense of change, but not necessarily in one’s essential being.

Christ, for instance, has always been divine (and thus immutable) and One with God the Father. Yet Christ experienced and became things He was not before: He was incarnated, He was killed, He is risen from the grave, He was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10), He was tempted, and He is now the heavenly High Priest who can aid those who are likewise tempted (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15). Yet these experiences did not change who He is, for the scriptures declare that He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Further to the point, God’s attribute of faithfulness is absolute; He cannot be unfaithful. Nevertheless, who God can’t cease to show His covenant mercy to has changed since God made the world. God made His covenant with Abraham, and thus cannot now go back on His word, whereas He didn’t have this obligation before the covenant was made. Does this promise to the man Abraham becoming encompassed by God’s faithfulness constitute some change to God’s nature? Hardly. This is a good example of how an attribute of God remains immutably unchanged even if who/what that attribute references does change (in this case, a promise to Abraham being added to what God is faithful to). God didn’t depend upon Abraham to “make Him faithful,” He by nature has always been faithful.

God’s immutability doesn’t convey that He’s some sort of static entity, it implies that no matter what He chooses to do, He necessarily and eternally remains God.

Still more problems for the Necessitarian

Besides not dealing with the counter-example, Prussic’s attempt fails to deal with the problem of the origin of sin that I raised in my first reply. This particular problem along with the ramifications of innate knowledge shown above devastates his simplicity/immutability appeals while simultaneously tipping his “non-aseity” accusations back onto him.

If all of God’s knowledge is innate to His being, and sin is something encompassed in His knowledge, then sin itself is essential to God’s being. God has to have sin for His knowledge to be true, otherwise He isn’t omniscient. Therefore God’s being God depends upon sin (if this whole “innate knowledge” canard is to be believed anyway).

Conclusion

Beyond just determinism, Mr. Prussic’s unscriptural and man-made twisting of God’s divine attributes outright subjects God Himself to strict necessity, making His essence intrinsically dependent upon man and everything else He creates. So if His knowledge about my being redeemed and glorified is essential to His being, then God literally had to save me to make His knowledge true. Worse still, God goes from authoring sin (which error many Calvinists unwittingly promote by their teachings) to actually needing sin to be God. Against those who accept the biblical truth of free will, Necessitarians are quite eager to level the charge of attacking God’s aseity; but the pit they dig winds up being the one they themselves fall into: for if God needs mankind and its sinfulness for His innate knowledge to hold true, as their reasoning dictates, then the omniscient God has an intrinsic need of creation.

God willing, Mr. Prussic will learn from these glaring errors and cease relying upon Calvinism’s bizarre and self-contradicting set of assumptions about God’s nature, and instead turn to scriptures to draw his understanding of who God is.

Bottom Line:

* Given the crucial distinction between God’s attributes and the objects that they reference, that God knows everything about us as His creations is an essential aspect of His Being; what He knows about us is not, as we ourselves are not essential to His Being. Thus the simplicity of God and His divine attributes isn’t threatened by free will.

* At least some of the objects which pertain to God’s attributes (e.g. what He knows about some creature, who He is faithfully in covenant with) aren’t intrinsic to His nature, but hinge upon His own sovereign choices. His immutability is not in these objects being fixed within His nature (for where we are concerned, this would imply that we are fixed in His nature), but in that whatever choices He makes, He eternally and unchangeably remains the all-knowing, all-powerful and completely faithful God.

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16 Responses

  1. Fascinating. Thank you, J.C. You’ve masterfully cleaved a distinction between God knowing and what he knows.

  2. Tim,

    @If he wants, however, to exchange ideas with respect

    When you can understand why nonsense like “Arminianism SUBJECTS the will of God to man’s will” is way out of line, you may begin to understand why your views don’t command much respect from me. Also, if you’re going to use such provocative terminology as “theological perversions” to describe other people’s beliefs based upon such flimsy reasoning, you should be prepared for people who know better to laugh at the sheer absurdity.

    @J.C. demonstrates his lack of understanding of the distinction between the so-call absolute and relative attributes of God…That attribute would not be manifested, however, apart from some context wherein God could show is mercy.

    Which concept I plainly implied, c.f.,

    “He would always be loving and omniscient even if He’d never created anything.”
    “God didn’t depend upon Abraham to “make Him faithful,” He by nature has always been faithful.”

    So why are insinuating I demonstrated otherwise?

    @there’s no way to contort my position into saying that God *needs* creation to know or love… etc.

    Which I wasn’t arguing. I said your argument puts God into the position of needing creation to make His innate knowledge thereof true. That’s why your counter-argument does inevitably make God dependent upon creation.

    @As to immutability, J.C. paints another caricature of my position (which, again, is the classic Christian position). God is unchanging and unchangeable, but not static.

    I didn’t caricature your argument, you clearly wrote, “if God doesn’t change, his knowledge cannot increase. His knowledge would (like all his other attributes) be infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Learning is growth. Growth is change. The Bible says that God doesn’t change.” Yet you afterwards state, “He decreed creation and history – it flows from his mind and is entirely derived from him.” Your latter statement contradicts the former argument, since God coming up with something that’s not innate to Himself entails new knowledge (as new ideas entail new knowledge) -which was the basis you used to claim I rejected God’s immutability. So which is it? Does divine immutability entail static knowledge in God or doesn’t it?

    @More deeply, what’s missing in J.C.’s analysis is the Creator/creature distinction.

    @First, the knowledge of a thing is not the thing.

    To the contrary, I assume this distinction, which is why I recognized the violence your argument does it. I wasn’t trying to say knowledge of a thing and the thing were the same; rather, if the thing is innately a part of God’s knowledge, then conceptually, that thing is innate to God. That’s why the innate knowledge fallacy you were arguing blurs the creature/Creator distinction.

    @God’s knowledge of history is a se and, therefore not dependent upon anything outside himself.

    And since history includes all sin, then all sin would necessarily originate within God by such a view (which would carry such horrid implications as God being the father of lies rather than the devil), contrary to what the scriptures tell us about the most Holy God (1 John 2:16). Your position has already been shown to be irreconcilable with scripture; further insistence is pointless.

  3. J.C. Thibodaux,

    Prussic’s view goes back to Plotinus. Saint Augustine tried to christianize his view but this is pretty much what you are seeing. The Eastern Christian view of simplicity is different. We believe in a type of complex unity when it comes to A.D.S.

  4. Tim,

    If J.C. wants some “freedom” for God, what he’s really wanting if “freedom” for God to do something other than what God wants to do.

    In some sense, yes. God obviously wanted to create me, else I wouldn’t be here. I hold that God didn’t have to choose to create me, -that the desire to create me was rooted in His freely choosing, not something necessary to His nature. Are you arguing otherwise, that God couldn’t help but to desire & choose to create me?

    God’s knowledge is perfect and eternally complete. Creation and history flow from God’s unchanging knowledge and decree. Where’s the contradiction? God’s eternally and unchangeably “coming up with” creation.

    If God truly conceived the idea of creation, that constitutes “new” knowledge (that is, knowledge which is derived and therefore isn’t innate to His being), which was your basis for attacking my view of immutability. Are you saying that God’s knowledge of creation is absolutely static/self-existent (i.e. not contingent upon His choices in any way)?

    He’s fighting against some of the most fundamental Christian concepts of God

    To the contrary, I plainly affirmed immutability etc in my post. There’s a marked difference between fighting fundamental Christian concepts and battling strange distortions of them that make man conceptually essential to God’s existence.

    please note that J.C. did not respond to the accusation that an increase in God’s knowledge is change

    Um, did you just not read the article you’re replying to Tim?

    JCT: …that God knows everything about us as His creations is an essential aspect of His Being; what He knows about us is not, as we ourselves are not essential to His Being. …

    At least some of the objects which pertain to God’s attributes (e.g. what He knows about some creature, who He is faithfully in covenant with) aren’t intrinsic to His nature, but hinge upon His own sovereign choices. His immutability is not in these objects being fixed within His nature (for where we are concerned, this would imply that we are fixed in His nature), but in that whatever choices He makes, He eternally and unchangeably remains the all-knowing, all-powerful and completely faithful God.

    I even put them in the summary so they wouldn’t be missed.

  5. jnorm, the view of simplicity that I’ve been driving at has been the backbone of Christian theological thought in the West from the time of Augustine. It oughn’t be waved off and dismissed as Neo-Platonic. That tactic of dismissing hundreds of years of theological thought is far less than savory.

    Here are an observation and a couple question for you, J.C. (or anyone else):

    http://prussic.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/does-god-know-cuz-of-us/#comment-789

  6. Mr. Prussic’s apparently still isn’t getting the picture. For starters, acting in accordance with one’s nature doesn’t amount to exhaustive determinism by one’s nature. To the rest of his arguments,

    I think that J.C. wants to separate his plans, purposes, decree, etc. from his nature.

    Obviously: if God’s plans are as self-existent as His nature, and His plans include me, then that would imply that I’m conceptually a part of God’s nature. And if God’s plans include saving me, then that indicates that saving me is essential to His nature -He therefore has no choice but to save me if Tim’s logic is followed through to its conclusion.

    As I mentioned before, God is simple, so piecing God a part is impossible. He is identical with his attributes.

    But not everything His attributes reference, as I brought out in my post:

    JCT: Does this promise to the man Abraham becoming encompassed by God’s faithfulness constitute some change to God’s nature? Hardly. This is a good example of how an attribute of God remains immutably unchanged even if who/what that attribute references does change (in this case, a promise to Abraham being added to what God is faithful to).

    Tim either really isn’t getting it, or simply refuses to recognize the distinction.

    First of all, what does God know that’s essential to his being? Everything. J.C. said so. The content of divine omniscience is, well… everything, which includes “what he knows about us.” But then he goes on to say there are things he doesn’t need to know. Which is it? Is OMNIscience “essential to his being” or is it not, J.C.?

    Besides again missing the attribute/object distinction, Tim fails to follow even the argument put forth in the post he’s responding to: I’m arguing for the concept of God knowing everything about all that He creates (omniscience), I’m arguing against the idea that His creations, and therefore specific knowledge about those creations, are essential to His knowledge (see second point of the “Bottom Line,” section in the post above). So omniscience is essential to His being, but not every truth within God’s power to actuate is essential to His omniscience.

    On your premises, God should be ignorant off all knowledge of creation.

    I am arguing that none of creation is essential to God’s being, thus it was not in His mind as factual prior to Him deciding to create it. Otherwise, for any part of creation that is essential to God’s knowledge, God would be dependent upon that part of creation. This was in fact the basis of the reductio ad absurdum from my last post, in which I demonstrated that innate knowledge of sin would make God dependent upon sin.

    We oughtn’t twist this around (as J.C. sees continually to want to do) and make creation necessary to God.

    But I’m arguing that creation is not necessary to God, which is why I oppose Mr. Prussic’s view that makes it so. If God by nature knows that He’s going to create something, then He cannot refrain from creating it, otherwise His knowledge would be false. Thus, if Tim’s logic is accepted, the inevitable conclusion is that God is dependent upon creation to make His supposedly innate knowledge true. Squirm and evade my questions as he might, Tim can’t get around the inescapable ramification of what he’s saying.

  7. J.C., you continually have the tail wag the dog. First, there is no “prior to God deciding to create” – you’re consistently predicating all sorts of creational aspects to God. ALL OF WHICH, classical Christianity denies. It’s just further proof that you’re at odds with mainstream Christian thought. What you think is an “inevitable conclusion” is not at all necessary and has been avoided by all Christendom. Thus, your arguments fall flat. I have already owned that, insofar as God’s purposed in himself to do WHAT HE WANTS, he’s bound himself to a course of action. That course of action includes creation and redemption. Thus, God’s freely bound himself to his own purpose and plan. That YOU want him to have more freedom is quite silly.

    Also, you still have not *actually* answered how God’s omniscience is not OMNIscience. He either possess ALL knowledge or he doesn’t. I get tired of running into ignorant omniscience, changeable immutability, etc. Maybe you should just make up a whole new lexicon to talk about God, so as to get away from all this pesky historical talk that Christians have used for centuries and centuries. You can say I’m not getting it, but i get this: God either knows all things or he doesn’t. You can’t seem to make up your mind, as you’re still speaking out both sides of your mouth.

  8. Tim Prussic,

    The Eastern Christian view of A.D.S. isn’t deterministic, and so the Plotinistic/Augustinian modal isn’t the only show in town.

    Perry over at Energetic Procession has alot to say about this very issue.

  9. Tim,

    @ First, there is no “prior to God deciding to create”

    I would agree with that in a temporal sense; but logically, yes there is. God had to exist logically prior to deciding to create. If the “decision” to create however is innate to God, then God didn’t freely choose to create at all, but was compelled by His nature to desire & do so.

    @insofar as God’s purposed in himself to do WHAT HE WANTS, he’s bound himself to a course of action.

    @Thus, God’s freely bound himself to his own purpose and plan.

    Which is why a non-innate dependency wouldn’t contradict His aseity -my first point. The language you employ (e.g. the verbs “purposed” and “freely bound”) implies this is rooted in an action by God, which I agree with. But if it’s rooted in some action rather than by God’s nature, then the accompanying knowledge would also have resulted from God’s action, not His nature.

    @That YOU want him to have more freedom is quite silly.

    But I don’t: I’m saying that God was free to not purpose this to begin with.

    @you’re still speaking out both sides of your mouth.

    I’m not the one talking about God being “freely bound” to something supposedly essential to His nature.

    @He either possess ALL knowledge or he doesn’t.

    And in relation to His decisions, creations, etc., God’s level of knowledge is always the same: all. Therefore He knows all things (omniscience). In other words, “omniscience” doens’t refer to knowing of a large set of specific facts per se, but to to the exhaustive knowledge of whatever flows from God’s decisions/creative acts.

    The reason I reject all of God’s knowledge being innate to Him flows from an understanding of the logical dependency of one who knows upon what is known. Divine aseity and innate knowledge of creation are incompatible: true knowledge of a thing entails a correlative dependency of the knower upon the thing, for his knowledge can’t be true apart from the thing known (otherwise it isn’t true knowledge). Innate knowlege therefore creates an innate dependency of the knower upon what is known, for without the thing that’s known, his knowledge would be false. So between the two choices, God’s specific knowledge about creation arising from His choosing to create, and God innately needing to create to make His specific knowledge thereof true, I choose the former because God innately has need of nothing.

    To demonstrate the absurdity of innate knowledge of creation, I’ll put it into question format:

    Assuming that you exist,

    (1) Did God know you would exist?
    (2) Was His knowledge of your existence not contingent upon a choice of His, but within Him by His very nature?
    (3) Would God be God if His knowledge were falsified?
    (4) Would His knowledge then be falsified if He didn’t create you (and you therefore didn’t exist)?
    (5) Per (3), doesn’t God’s innate knowledge being true depend upon your existence?
    (6) Per (4), wouldn’t God then innately depend upon your existence to be God?

  10. “My counter is that we shouldn’t confuse God’s attributes like love and knowledge with who or what those attributes reference. Contrary to Mr. Prussic’s misaimed remark of this making God, “less than perfect in one attribute”: God would still be loving and omniscient even if there were no such thing as man, because that is who He is; He isn’t changing His attributes by creating man, weighing his heart (Proverbs 21:2) or setting His love upon him (Deuteronomy 7:7). He would always be loving and omniscient even if He’d never created anything.”

    One thing you might want to consider J.C. is that you are missing the inner workings of the Trinity. You talk like God is a monad. God is one, but God is a community and emphasizing the Trinity could clear up the confusion of what you are saying.

    God is not dependent on anything. Nothing. His relationship for people is an extension of the eternal loving, exhorting and glorifying of one another; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s Love is exhibited and He is His attributes as long as there is a Trinity. Because he is a community and that community’s relationships is Love; He is eternally exhibiting His attributes. Making man and allowing him to join in was merely gracious and unbelievably kind and in no way makes him dependent on His creation.

  11. I should say that the only thing God is dependent on is God. He decrees and it is so.

  12. Michael,

    @you are missing the inner workings of the Trinity.

    I don’t really see how I’m missing that here. I actually don’t see how anything I wrote references God as a monad.

    @Making man and allowing him to join in was merely gracious and unbelievably kind and in no way makes him dependent on His creation.

    That point I’d agree upon. And because it was gracious, it wasn’t something that was necessary for God to do.

  13. While I’m still rereading this series of posts, and would like to comment further, I do observe that part of the issue is that Prussic holds to a non-constituent ontology, which is no longer found persuasive by current thinkers and philosophers. One has to hold to such an ontology in order to also hold to the traditional view of divine simplicity.

    However, if one believes that a constituent ontology is correct, then one is not bound to agree with the traditional view of divine simplicity. I am not the only one who believes that a more adequate account of God’s revelation of who he is is accounted for best by a constituent ontology.

    My point being that Prussic’s view depends on an ontology to which I don’t hold and which is not, on the whole more persuasive than other ontologies. If Prussic cannot convince me that his ontology is correct, then he won’t be able to convince me that his view of God’s omniscience is correct, and further, that his view of God’s relation to the world, to people, to the will, to love, and to moral culpability is correct.

    John I.

  14. Interestingly, William Lane Craig, while generally supportive of the concept of divine simplicity, also rejects some of the more radical traditional claims concerning it, employing an argument similar to the one I made:

    Finally, claim (iv) [“God has no properties distinct from His nature.”] runs into the severe problem that God does seem to have accidental properties in addition to His essential ones. For example, in the actual world, He knows, loves, and wills certain things which He would not know, will, or love had He decided to create a different universe or no universe at all. On the doctrine of divine simplicity God is absolutely similar in all possible worlds; but then it becomes inexplicable why those worlds vary if in every one God knows, loves, and wills the same things. (Source)

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