The Transfer of Nonsense Principle (Concise Version)

I wrote an article some years back on the Transfer of Necessity Principle (TNP), an idea which some have used as an argument against free will. Looking back, my only real regret writing it was that it was too long, and probably inaccessible to someone who hasn’t studied the issue. With that in mind, I purposed to write a more concise refutation of the idea. For reference, I’ll be interacting with Linda Zagzebski’s Stanford article on Foreknowledge and Free Will (also revised since my original article).

Before I get into TNP itself, I’ll let Zagzebski outline the position that many Christians have historically taken in response to objections to God’s foreknowledge of free will choices (typically called The Boethian Solution):

This solution probably originated with the 6th century philosopher Boethius, who maintained that God is not in time and has no temporal properties, so God does not have beliefs at a time. It is therefore a mistake to say God had beliefs yesterday, or has beliefs today, or will have beliefs tomorrow. It is also a mistake to say God had a belief on a certain date, such as June 1, 2004. The way Boethius describes God’s cognitive grasp of temporal reality, all temporal events are before the mind of God at once. To say “at once” or “simultaneously” is to use a temporal metaphor, but Boethius is clear that it does not make sense to think of the whole of temporal reality as being before God’s mind in a single temporal present. It is an atemporal present in which God has a single complete grasp of all events in the entire span of time.

Notice, the main point of the solution: because God is transcendent, He perceives time from the outside, and from there knows all that is within it. Keep this in mind as we look at TNP.

Transfer of Necessity Principle (TNP) Defined

The arguments for TNP (innovated by Diodorus Cronus, but used and adapted by others in recent times) tend to be overly long and ponderous. I’ve trimmed the theological fatalist version down here for easier consumption:

P1 Events in the future can’t affect events the past
P2 In the past, God infallibly knew what you will do in the future
C Therefore, anything you may do in the future can have no effect on what God infallibly knew you would do in the past

Taking the example of drinking punch on Christmas (though we could extrapolate it to pretty much anything we do), TNP would say:

Given that you drank punch on Christmas
P1 Things that happen after Christmas can’t affect things that happen before it
P2 God infallibly knew before Christmas that you would drink punch
C Therefore, there was nothing you could have done on Christmas to change what God knew
Further, since what God knows is always accurate, you had no real option but to drink punch on Christmas (i.e. no free will)

Are you sensing a problem? You should be. Premise 2 in both cases is misleading in that it frames God’s timeless knowledge much as one would an event in time. God timelessly knowing a thing, by definition, isn’t really an event in time, and it’s fallacious to treat it as such (Cronus original argument is similar, except he uses past truth propositions rather than God’s knowledge, which is equally fallacious). Temporal events can’t affect past temporal events, but there’s no reason to think that what applies to such events would identically apply to timeless properties. In fact, there’s good reason to reject this notion entirely due to the counter-example of truth.

Counter-Example: I will now affect a proposition ‘in the past’

Elvis Presley has died (shortly before I was even born, in fact). That is an event in time. There’s nothing I can do to go back and undo this event. In fact, nothing about the occurrence of the event itself could ever be influenced or affected by anything that I do. That he’s dead is “now-necessary” (and always has been for me).

What about *truth* in the past? Was it true yesterday that I would write today? Absolutely. You’re reading the evidence of it right now. Does my writing affect anything about that proposition? It does actually, because my writing today is what makes that proposition true -even in the past (ditto for the proposition of you reading this article today, you’re also making that true right now)! If it weren’t for my writing this today, such a proposition yesterday would have been groundless and false.

So I cannot affect or influence a past event, but I am, as I write, making a past proposition true! Is this retro-causation? Am I traveling backwards in time? Not at all. What is true isn’t an ‘event,’ but a timeless property. A timeless property can be grounded or fulfilled by what is temporal.

A Counter-Argument

Zagzebski contends that God’s knowledge being timeless doesn’t get around the issue of TNP. She presents the syllogism,

(1t) God timelessly knows T.
(2t) If E is in the timeless realm, then it is now-necessary that E.
(3t) It is now-necessary that T.

This second premise commits the same error as the one above, treating God’s timeless knowledge as a temporal event. Besides that, at least for purposes of making this argument, Zagzebski appears to discount the entire point of the Boethian solution she described above: God timelessly knows temporal contingencies because He perceives all of time. If we factor in what Boethius actually argued, premise 2t would force us to conclude that God perceiving some event happening within time is what makes it have to happen (the timeless [pun intended] “chicken or the egg?” problem). Zagzebski acknowledges the problem with treating timeless knowing like an event, but makes an equally puzzling assertion:

Perhaps it is inappropriate to say that timeless events such as God’s timeless knowing are now-necessary, yet we have no more reason to think we can do anything about God’s timeless knowing than about God’s past knowing. The timeless realm is as much out of our reach as the past.

The whole point of the Boethian solution was that God’s timeless knowledge is partially comprised of what happens within time, what is temporal in part constitutes what is timeless. Since we can plainly see from the above counter-example that current action can make something timelessly true, I would counter we have no reason to think that God couldn’t base His timeless knowledge on what occurs within time. This is not our reaching into a timeless realm to affect God, but rather He reaching into His creation with and for His understanding.

“…for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.” (1 Chronicles 28:9b)

A Fundamentally Backwards View of Reflections

TNP rests upon a flawed assumption, much like other bad philosophical pretensions throughout history. [See also: Zeno’s Paradox (physical motion is not a series of division operations), Truth Relativism (it’s absolutely true that nothing is absolutely true?), and the Bible date calculations of The Watchtower or Harold Camping (the numbers usually add up, but the Bible never supports the meaning they assign to the numbers)]

I explained TNP to my teenage daughter. Once she grasped what was being said she perked up immediately, retorting, “That’s backwards!” She caught the perhaps more fundamental problem immediately. The major fallacy with both the “true proposition” and “God’s knowledge of our choices” versions of TNP is that infallible knowledge and true propositions (as used here) are reflections of reality, not events or necessitating forces. Arguing that true propositions or God’s knowledge somehow make a thing necessary makes about as much sense as arguing that mirrors make you do things when you stand in front of them:

<SATIRE>Stand in front of the mirror, then while looking into it, take some action. You will never do differently than the mirror shows you doing, therefore we can conclude that the mirror makes your actions necessary!</SATIRE>

This is of course, blithering nonsense. The mirror doesn’t drive you to act, it gives off a reflection of what you do -just as (per Boethius) God timelessly knowing based upon what you do, or certain propositions being true because of what you do- are also reflections. Proponents of TNP and other such philosophical voodoo greatly err in putting the metaphysical cart before the figurative horse.

Conclusion

The arguments for the TNP fail because they operate under the premise that timeless properties (truth, God’s knowledge) function exactly like past events. While temporal events cannot change events of the past, they can in some ways contribute to timeless properties (such as whether a proposition about an event is true). Timeless properties such as propositions and God’s knowledge of choices are reflections of reality, not drivers.

With that Gordian Gobbledygook cut through, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ground the other hopefully timelessly true propositions of me mending my fence and enjoying my kids playing baseball.

 

Innate vs Self-Imposed Dependencies

Does God depend upon anything in creation? Everyone agrees that God has no need of things like food, water, shelter, rest, etc. We often refer to this as God’s aseity –His independence of His creation.

So God has no innate need of these things, and is utterly self-sufficient. But can God take on a need in some sense? God the Son certainly did in a way when He walked the earth, but let’s go a little deeper than even that. Reading in Genesis and beyond, we see God making promises to people.

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

Since God cannot lie (Heb 6:18), then it follows that He must fulfill the covenants He has made. In terms of His independence, something has changed: He is no longer completely independent of creation. God cannot fail (not that He would want to anyway, but bear with me) in His good promises towards His faithful. That produces something of a two-way dependency relationship between God and creation. We have need of God to sustain us, and God needs to sustain us to be faithful to His covenants.

The idea of God depending on us in any sense may seem awkward, so I’ll illustrate by example: If God did not sustain us, we would cease to be (for He holds all things together, Col 1:17). God made a covenant with Abraham (His creation), to show him mercy and make him co-heir of all things. Having made such a covenant, He cannot go back on it. God’s faithfulness depends upon Abraham existing and inheriting eternal life. Not that God needs Abraham to feed or clothe Him, but rather, He cannot unmake Abraham or consign him to Hell; He must bless Abraham as He promised for the sake of His faithfulness. God’s faithfulness requires that Abraham live eternally.

God having a requirement or need of some kind? Doesn’t that contradict God’s independence from creation? Not quite: Aseity is God’s innate independence from creation. God never had to create Abraham or make such promises in the first place. It says nothing against the idea of God taking on a sort of self-imposed, indirect dependency through the act of creation or making covenants. This is something that God Himself chose to do.

Objections on Omniscience

Some Calvinists have objected that such a view of aseity is deficient, especially as it pertains to God’s omniscience. That is, God creating people as free agents, and knowing what we will do based upon what we actually do (as opposed to scripting all our choices out for us); they frame this as God needing creation to be omniscient. One particularly bad objection comes from a certain cage-stage Calvinist we’ve interacted with, who insists that we must logically be denying God’s aseity because of His entering into a voluntary dependence with creation. It’s not that we haven’t alluded to the argument above before.

[Me]: That is true, God is faithful regardless of whether there is a world, just as He is omniscient. Catch is, God’s faithfulness now doesn’t just exist by itself, He is not only innately faithful, but He is now faithful to people like Abraham. God being faithful to Abraham requires that there be an Abraham. Our over-eager objector is confusing God’s immutable attributes with the relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes. (Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes)

Problem is, he still doesn’t seem to recognize the difference between optional aspects of an attribute versus the attribute itself.

So, my dilemma of irrelevance or absurdity stands. If these examples where relevant, then God’s acts cause him to change himself…

While God’s innate attributes themselves do not change (He is always Holy, faithful, etc.), some optional aspects of them do (such as who He is faithful to). God was not in a relationship with Abraham before Abraham existed, but He is now. If we buy our objector’s hyper-Hellenized objection to God having some sort of ‘change,’ then we must also logically reject God taking on the self-imposed dependencies of having to fulfill His covenants, thus jettisoning the biblical promises of God in the process.

Calvinism Makes God Innately Dependent

The point that I brought up that these things aren’t “optional aspects” at all.

If such things as who God is faithful to aren’t optional for Him, then they can only be necessary to Him, meaning that God had no choice in the matter. Hence, my deductive proof  holds:

P1 To be truly omniscient requires that one’s beliefs match reality.
P2 Per [high] Calvinism, God innately and immutably believes that creation comes into existence (becomes a reality).
C Therefore, per Calvinism, God innately and immutably requires that creation comes into existence to be truly omniscient.

Far from establishing God’s aseity, Calvinism (at least our objector’s version) changes God’s relational dependency upon creation from a thing that’s self-imposed, into an innate need.

Objector: Now, he doesn’t grant the distinction between natural and free knowledge in this argument.

Our objector’s view of aseity entails that everything God knows about the world is essential to His being and immutable, there could be no such thing as ‘free knowledge’ by such a view.

Innate Knowledge and the Authorship of Sin

The above absurdity isn’t the only reason why God’s knowledge of the world can’t be innate to Himself. The problem of God being the author of evil also makes such a view logically impossible if we accept the testimony of scripture. As I’ve repeatedly argued without substantial challenge, the Bible is very clear that sinful things (lust, pride, etc) do not come from God (1 John 2:16), and that in fact there is no such darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). Our objector does his thing:

This section is about the “Authorship of Evil” objection he dragging out because his doctrine of God is so bad. He is too inept to know that this is a red herring. It has nothing to do with the fact his position doesn’t allow for aseity to be the case.

We can not only show it’s relevance, we can prove it via the rules of logical implication. If I have the implication,

P → Q (P implies Q),

then if I can show that Q is false, I also show that P is false, or,

~Q → ~P

This is called the Law of Contrapositive. It also works for multiple implications, e.g., for,

P → Q → R

then,

~R → ~Q → ~P.

So if I can deduce,

Legal American Voter → American Citizen → Human

If the subject is a Cocker Spaniel, that implies,

Not Human → Not American Citizen → Not Legal American Voter

The necessary implications of our objector’s position are,

If the High-Calvinist version of aseity is true → everything that happens finds its source in God’s mind → sinful actions find their source in God

Logically then, since the there is no such darkness in God,

Per 1 John, sinful actions do not find their source in God → not everything that happens finds its source in God’s mind → the High Calvinist view of God’s aseity is false

Bottom Line

  • Divine Aseity implies God having no innate needs, it does not preclude God taking on a self-imposed relationship with some kind of dependency in creation.
  • Knowledge of, and covenants with free agents that God freely chose to create would obviously be self-imposed relationships.
  • Actual knowledge of a thing’s existence requires that the thing exist; so God having innate knowledge of creation’s existence (as some Calvinists argue) means that He innately needs creation to exist.
  • The popular high Calvinist view of God’s aseity implies that all of man’s actions, including his wicked motives and deeds, come from God; 1 John 1 & 2 directly refute such a claim.

 

Tackling Calvinist Errors on Omniscience & Aseity (Plus a Deductive Proof)

In our last post on Calvinists who talk past the debate, we handily disposed of the fallacious arguments of a Calvinist objector insists on misrepresenting the issue. He tries to salvage his rapidly-crumbling narrative with yet more proof that he is simply talking past what is being discussed without understanding it.

Still Missing the Point

I’ve been pretty clear since the beginning of our dialogue that God doesn’t derive His attributes from creation. Quoting previous posts:
[Me]: No one is arguing that God’s nature has changed or acquired new attributes, but as I argued, the “relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes” do change. When God chose to create the world, He chose to involve people as objects of certain of His attributes, and said attributes come to involve people. 
God is both omniscient and faithful regardless of whether the world exists or not, but the specifics thereof – who He knows about and who He is faithful to, depends upon our existence.
I pointed out that the objector was drawing conclusions about my beliefs that were the polar opposite of what I wrote. He proves my analysis correct yet again in replying,
But very few people think we ground God’s characteristics via his actions. 
I think this is simply a denial of aseity because it is him admitting that characteristics of God are not innate to him but something he takes on.
If some of God’s characteristics are contingent upon the world, then wouldn’t that imply on his view the world is necessary for God to have certain qualities?   
His persistence in the exact same error indicates that he’s either being hasty and not reading, or just outright disingenuous.

Ignorance About Omniscience

He finally clears up his ‘explanation’ objection.
It is clear that J.C. doesn’t understand what explanations are. For example, the Leibnizian cosmological argument is an argument about explanations. It asks the question about the necessary foundations of reality.  … So, we are asking the same metaphysical question about God’s being(mainly his attribute of omniscience). … It isn’t grounded or explained by God. The reason for which God knows certain things are thus grounded not in himself but in the world.
To sum up the heretofore poorly-explained objection, the objector makes the error of conflating the attribute of omniscience with the specifics of God’s knowledge. As I’ve already pointed out to him,
[Me:] God is eternally faithful whether we exist or not. God has chosen to create man and made covenants with him. God’s faithfulness has not changed, who God is faithful to has changed. God knows all that is whether He creates the world or not. God has chosen to create a world with free agents. God’s omniscience has not changed, who God knows about has changed. That is an important distinction, and the point of confusion that our dear objector is stuck on and talking past in his objections to what no one is arguing.
Looks like he’s still just as confused and lost in noobie-land as ever.
While my question still stands, is God temporally not omniscience?  
He seems to be asking, “Is God temporally not omniscient?” If the same God is both transcendent and immanent (not just one or the other), then God in His immanence (within time) would know all that He does from His also-transcendent (from outside of time) perspective. Given that, our objector’s question seems to be a category mistake.

The Calvinist Argument Backfires!

I also made a counter-argument showing that God’s innate attributes, such as His faithfulness, are not created by people, but that some optional aspects of those attributes (such as who He is faithful to) do involve creation. The objector replies with a counter-example of his own:
The point is the same argument that he produced about Faithfulness and Omniscience can equally be made about God’s goodness.  … So, either he has missed the argument I provided, or his argument about God’s attributes has zero relevance.
Yes, I absolutely agree that the same point I made about faithfulness and omniscience can also be made for God’s goodness. In fact, I’ll make it right here:
  • God is good (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be good to, but that would not detract from His being good
  • God did create the world and has chosen to show His goodness to members of creation
  • Said showing of goodness is an optional aspect of God’s goodness contingent upon Him creating
Just like,
  • God is omniscient (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to know about, but that would not detract from His omniscience
  • God did create the world and knows everything about His creation
  • Said knowledge of His creation is an optional aspect of God’s omniscience contingent upon Him creating
Talk about an epic backfire. That the argument could easily fit God’s goodness is fairly obvious, which shows again that our beloved cage-stage objector is simply talking past the point he fails to grasp.

Shooting Down Miscellaneous Errors

Freewill theists wish to agree with that sentiment but are inconsistent when it comes to grounding God’s knowledge of future contingents in the random and arbitrary choice of human agents.
That’s right folks, your choices are just metaphysical dice-rolls. Fallacy sighting confirmed: The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #3: We Choose by ‘Chance?’
I’ve presented a model where God is ‘Self-Contained’ no explanation extends beyond God himself.
When combined with the idea of God predetermining everything, the idea that all of God’s knowledge comes only from Himself makes for an unworkable mess for several reasons:
  1. That there is spiritual darkness in the world is evident. Yet as I’ve pointed out when addressing the authorship of sin, John writes, “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) Likewise, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16) So if spiritual darkness, sin, etc. exist, but there is no such darkness in God or that comes from God, then from whence does it originate? The determinist ultimately has to concede that all such evil originates within God, contrary to the teaching of the apostles.
  2. It contradicts the contingent statements God Himself makes, [e.g. “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:18), and numerous other places].
  3. It paradoxically contradicts God’s aseity (independence from creation), and likely His power to freely choose altogether (see the argument below).

Deductive Proof

The question of necessitarianism becomes relevant. What kind of freedom does God possess?   
If every proposition that God knows is innate to Him and an immutable part of His being, then choices such as whether to create the world wouldn’t be choices at all. God would literally have no choice other than to carry them out. I can simplify the problem with a brief syllogism:

P1 To be truly omniscient requires that one’s beliefs match reality.

P2 Per Calvinism*, God innately and immutably believes that creation comes into existence (becomes a reality).

C Therefore, per Calvinism, God innately and immutably requires that creation comes into existence to be truly omniscient.

* That is to say, High Calvinism that holds that the specifics of God’s knowledge are an innate part of His being (many of which debate us from that standpoint). This argument would not apply to Calvinists who don’t hold that premise.

If our sovereign God is intrinsically independent of creation, then He certainly has no innate need to create us to be truly omniscient.

 

Great Quotes: Thomas Ralston on the Compatibility of Freedom and Foreknowledge With Regards to Judas Betraying Jesus

It has been said that “knowledge is power;” but it is not implied by that expression that it is a power capable of exerting itself. All that is implied is, that it directs an active agent in the manner of exerting his power. What effect, I would ask, can my knowledge of a past event have upon that event? Surely none at all. What effect can my knowledge of a future event have upon it? Considered in itself, it can have no influence at all. Is there any event, whether past, present, or future, on which the mere knowledge of man can have any influence? Certainly there is none. Knowledge is something existing in the mind. It has its seat there, and of itself it is incapable of walking abroad to act upon extraneous objects. I would therefore ask, What effect can the divine knowledge have on a past or present event? Is it not obvious that it can have none? The knowledge of God does not affect the faithfulness of Abraham, or the treachery of Judas, in the least. Those events would still continue to have occurred precisely as they did, if we could suppose all trace of them to be erased from the divine mind. And if we could suppose that God was not now looking down upon me, could any one believe that I would write with any more or less freedom on that account? Surely not. If, then, knowledge, considered in all these different aspects, is passive in its nature, how can we rationally infer that its passivity is converted into activity so soon as we view it in the aspect of the divine prescience?

But it will doubtless be argued that although the foreknowledge of God may not render future events necessary, yet it proves that they are so. To this we reply, that it proves that they are certain, but cannot prove that they are necessary. But still, it will be asked, where is the difference? If they are certain, must they not therefore be necessary?

That we may illustrate the distinction between certainty and necessity, we will refer to the crime of Judas in betraying the Saviour. Here we would say it was a matter certain in the divine mind, from all eternity, that Judas would commit this crime. God foreknew it. Although it was also foretold, yet it was not rendered any the more certain by that circumstance; for prediction is only knowledge recorded or made manifest; but knowledge is equally certain, whether secret or revealed. The pointed question now is, Could Judas possibly have avoided that crime? Was he still a free agent? and might he have acted differently? or was he impelled by absolute necessity? We answer, he could have avoided the crime. He was still a free agent, and might have acted differently.

Here it will no doubt be argued that if he had avoided the crime, the foreknowledge of God would have been defeated, and the Scriptures broken. To fairly solve this difficulty, and draw the line between certainty and necessity, we answer, that if Judas, in the exercise of the power of free agency with which he was endued, had proved faithful, and avoided the crime in question, neither would the foreknowledge of God have been frustrated, nor the Scriptures broken. In that case, the foreknowledge of God would have been different, accordingly as the subject varied upon which it was exercised. God could not then have foreknown his treachery; and had it not been foreknown, it never could have been predicted. A free agent may falsify a proposition supposed to announce foreknowledge, but cannot falsify foreknowledge; for if the agent should falsify the proposition, that proposition never could have been the announcement of foreknowledge.

The truth is, the prediction depends on the foreknowledge, and the foreknowledge on the event itself. The error of the necessitarians on this subject is, they put the effect for the cause, and the cause for the effect. They make the foreknowledge the cause of the event, whereas the event is the cause of the foreknowledge. No event ever took place merely because God foreknew it; on the contrary, the taking place of the event is the cause of his having foreknown it. Let this distinction be kept in mind, that, in the order of nature, the event does not depend on the knowledge of it, but the knowledge on the event, and we may readily see a distinction between certainty and necessity. It is certain with God who will be saved, and who will not; yet it is likewise certain that salvation is made possible to many who, according to the certain prescience of God, never will embrace it. God has made some things necessary, and some things contingent. Necessary events he foreknew as necessary – that is, he foreknew that they could not possibly take place otherwise. Contingent events he foreknew as contingent – that is, he foreknew that they might take place otherwise. And thus, we think, foreknowledge and free agency may be harmonized, human responsibility maintained, and the divine government successfully vindicated. (Elements of Divinity, pp. 199-203, Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD)

You can read the full section here: Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Related:

Calvinist Sleight of Hand: A Brief Interaction With Wayne Grudem’s Arguments Against the Compatibility of Foreknowledge and Conditional Election

Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom, And The Future

Daniel Whedon: The Freedom of the Will as a Basis of Human Responsibility and Divine Government (esp. pages 267-293)

Great Quotes: J.C. Thibodaux on Faith and Boasting

Whether you freely believe in Christ or not makes a difference only in what you obtain, not what you deserve. But since what you obtain is only what you’ve freely received from God, the One who makes you differ from those with no hope is God, for without His grace and mercy, you’d be no better off than demons who believe. Therefore no flesh can legitimately boast in His sight. (emphasis mine)

Be sure to check out the full post here

Related:

Brian Abasciano: Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe and Your Neighbor Did Not?’

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #1: If We Have Libertarian Freedom, What Makes Us Choose One Way Or The Other?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #2: Arminianism Entails Salvation by “Inherent Ability”

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #10: Wait, Now Faith is a “Work”?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

 

Calvinist Sleight of Hand: A Brief Arminian Interaction With Wayne Grudem’s Arguments Against the Compatibility of Foreknowledge And Conditional Election

A while back someone on the SEA discussion board referenced the following comments by Calvinist Theologian Wayne Grudem arguing against the compatibility of foreknowledge and conditional election.  Below is my brief interaction with this quoted material.

The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined. If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not. There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this. Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise. But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them? Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do. But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation. (Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine  p.589)

Grudem’s argument employs the usual Calvinist sleight of hand in an attempt to make foreknowledge causative in nature. He makes a subtle and unjustified shift from will be to cannot be otherwise. That is false. What will happen is not the same as what must happen, or what cannot be otherwise. It is just the same old conflation of certainty (what will be) with necessity (what must be) that has been refuted for ages. Here is how I would specifically respond to Grudem’s argument:

Grudem: “The idea that God’s predestination of some to believe is based on foreknowledge of their faith encounters still another problem: upon reflection, this system turns out to give no real freedom to man either. For if God can look into the future and see that person A will come to faith in Christ, and that person B will not come to faith in Christ, then those facts are already fixed they are already determined.”

Response: Actually, they are not already fixed, but they will be fixed and God foreknows how they will be fixed. The crucial question is who will fix them? The proper answer is that the agent will fix his choice when he makes it, and freely so. Foreknowledge doesn’t change that at all. 

Just think about it. Suppose there was no foreknowledge. There would still be one future choice (in this case) and not another. So how does adding foreknowledge change anything? It doesn’t. The future will follow one particular course of events regardless of whether anyone has foreknowledge of those events or not. That tells us nothing of the nature of future choices, whether they will be free or not.

And adding God’s foreknowledge, which simply mirrors that single course of future events, doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of those choices either. They can still be made by the agent with full power to do otherwise, even if God foreknows how the choice will go.

Grudem: “If we assume that God’s knowledge of the future is true (which it must be), then it is absolutely certain that person A will believe and person B will not.”

Response: Yes, absolutely certain (will be), but not necessary (must be).  This is where that distinction between certainty and necessity is crucial. Notice how he makes the subtle shift from certainty to necessity below, with no logical warrant for the shift, and no argument. He essentially just asserts that if something will be a certain way, then it must be a certain way. But that is just an assertion, nothing more; and this assertion assumes the very point in contention (and so is question begging)

Grudem: “There is no way that their lives could turn out any differently than this.”

Response: There it is, the unwarranted and subtle shift from certainly to necessity. What he should have said was “there is no way that their lives will turn out any differently…” And why is that? Because of the choices that they will certainly make. But they can certainly make free choices just as well as predetermined choices. Whether a choice is free or predetermined, it will still eventually happen. If they were to make different free will choices in the future then God’s foreknowledge would simply mirror that course of events instead.

Again, just adding foreknowledge to the way things will be doesn’t change anything. It tells us nothing with regards to whether or not there is any real freedom in the choices that will be made. It does not magically change will be to must be. Calvinists like Grudem just assume and assert that it does change it, but they have no real proof or argument, just an assertion.

Grudem: “Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined for they could not be otherwise.”

Response: Again, notice the wholesale shift now from certainty to necessity. All he is saying is that because it will be a certain way it must be a certain way (could not be otherwise). That’s it. And again, that is nothing more than an assertion. Grudem just switched cards when nobody was looking and hoped nobody would notice.  I will just counter assert that the certainty of a future act does not make it a necessity. That was easy.  And notice how just tweaking his sentence changes everything:

“Therefore it is fair to say that their destinies are still determined [yes, but by who?] for they [will not] be otherwise.”

Just change “could not” to “will not” and there is no problem. Why? Because “will not” does not necessarily imply “could not”. And I can agree that their destinies are determined, but they are determined based on the free choices that they will certainly make, with full power to do otherwise (and God’s free response to those choices).

Grudem: “But by what are these destinies determined? If they are determined by God himself, then we no longer have election based ultimately on foreknowledge of faith, but rather on God’s sovereign will. But if these destinies are not determined by God, then who or what determines them?”

Response: This is all based on a false dilemma that Grudem has created by deliberately conflating certainty with necessity. There is no such problem with those who understand that crucial distinction between what will be (certainty) and what must be (necessity). And, as I said before, the future is determined by both God and people. People will make free will choices (many of which are direct interactions with God), and foreknowledge does not change that.

So we determine our destinies, though God foreknows those choices (and the end results of those choices). But God also foreknows his very real interactions with us that are yet future as well. He foreknows His own actions and responses, just as He does ours. But His foreknowledge of His future free actions does not mean He has no power to choose otherwise or no freedom to do so. It is just the same with us.

Grudem: “Certainly no Christian would say that there is some powerful being other than God controlling people’s destinies. Therefore it seems that the only other possible solution is to say they are determined by some impersonal force, some kind of fate, operative in the universe, making things turn out as they do.”

Response: Of course, this does not follow at all if one does not conflate certainty with necessity. We control our destinies based on the choices we make and the way we respond to God and His actions and interventions in our lives. God’s prior knowledge of that doesn’t change that truth at all.

Grudem: “But what kind of benefit is this? We have then sacrificed election in love by a personal God for a kind of determinism by an impersonal force and God is no longer to be given the ultimate credit for our salvation.” (p.589)

Response: Another huge leap in logic. There is no “impersonal force” necessary, only choices made by real persons. And if God has determined to make salvation conditional, then He is still the one who determines who gets saved and who doesn’t. Those who believe will be saved and those who do not will not be saved. That condition and His response to that condition was His choice, not ours.

The only choice we make is if we will meet the God ordained condition for receiving His salvation, but it is still God alone who saves, and for that reason God still gets all the credit for salvation. It is exactly because we cannot save ourselves that we need to trust in Christ to save us. If we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to trust in Christ to save us, now would we?

So the condition of faith (the fact that we need to trust in Christ to be saved) is what makes salvation all of God and all of grace, and it is why faith is the perfect condition for receiving salvation which by its very nature excludes boasting:

“What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  (Romans 4:3-5, emphasis mine)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.” (Romans 4:16, emphasis mine)

So conditional salvation/election and God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved are fully compatible.  Despite Grudem’s assertions, it does not follow that such a view (when properly understood) leads to a fate like controlling impersonal force behind God, and it doesn’t lead to the idea that we or any such non-existent force gets the credit for salvation rather than God.  Grudem’s argument is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, nonsequiturs and question begging, and for that reason is hardly persuasive.

_________________________

Related:

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism and Why You Should Be An Arminian

 

Dr. Brian Abasciano Answers, “Why Did You Believe And Your Neighbor Did Not?”

Brian Abasciano addresses this oft repeated Calvinist argument against conditional salvation here:

Brian Abasciano, “Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe And Your Neighbor Did Not?'”