Calvinist Debate: Talking Past the Argument

In reply to my post on Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes, our dear objector has given us another demonstration of missing the point entirely. As is all too common when discussing theological issues, most ‘cage-stage’ Calvinists have a dreadful habit of trying to define what you believe for you rather than actually listening to or reading what’s being expressed. As a result, they usually end up talking past whatever point is being made to attack some imagined or extreme position, as our esteemed objector appears determined to demonstrate.

Before we get to that, his big objection in his initial post was that the Arminian view of free will would somehow ‘explain’ God’s attributes. Though I expressed that his objection about people ‘explaining’ God’s attributes wasn’t clear, instead of any clarification we get this:

The problem with the second point is that it is clearly incorrect. It is relevant because it still shows that Arminians have tensions in their worldview.

He’s still not clear what he means by this, but suffice to say that complaining about creation ‘explaining’ God’s attributes without even defining his objection proves neither tension nor relevance.

 

A Matter of Time

We also went a little bit into the nature of God and time. I mentioned John Frame….

I should also point out the fact that John Frame is a Calvinist.

Hmmm…so he is… Hey, wait! Maybe that’s why I cited him when I mentioned, “Calvinists are no strangers to the idea of God’s transcendence over time…!”

Since God on Frame’s view exists both timelessly and at every point in time, then we can still ask at any moment, how he knows future choices from that specific moment….

He seems to think God in his temporal existence is located everywhere throughout time. So, God simply observes each moment and therefore knows what we are going to do. The problem with that answer is how at any moment in the past can he know what a human will choose?

And he’ll get the same answer that I gave before: “God also exists outside of time, and is therefore not limited by time or the ‘present’ as we see it….” 

It makes one wonder how our objector can read that God knows because He exists outside of time (transcendence) and conclude that we’re arguing He knows because He exists within time (immanence)?

The other problem is that of time. Does Thibodaux hold to an A series or a B series of events? If A theory is true, then the future is unreal. So, God would only be located in the present or only in the past and the present.

The answer to that should already be obvious. Between the two, only the B theory of time allows for God to exist in a state ‘above time,’ as it were.

He calls my argument “noob arguments” in his moment of class and maturity but as I’ve pointed out on other occasions many philosophers throughout time have discussed these issues. They know the difficulty of dealing with future contingents.

Of course there’s some difficulty in describing things that don’t fit in with the normal human experience and perception of time (even some things observable by science such as gravitational time dilation). However, the idea of God’s transcendence in relation to time is already quite well-known as a defeater argument against determinist objections to the Almighty’s abilities, rendering his protests mere cringeworthy noobie mistakes.

 
Not Paying Attention to the Argument

The objector’s main argument was that the Arminian view makes God’s attributes ‘dependent’ on man. I answered by way of comparison, which I’ll reproduce here:

  • God is faithful (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness
  • God did create the world and is faithful to His covenants with His creation
  • Said faithfulness to His creation is an optional aspect of God’s faithfulness contingent upon Him creating

I think those points are beyond dispute here, so why is it so hard to grasp:

  • 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

We get this as in reply….

This leaves Thibodaux in a dilemma, if God is truly independent of the world, then his attributes aren’t dependent upon the world, but under his scheme, God’s being is dependent upon the world. God’s attributes are explained by certain things of the world. I’d look at those passages at as extrinsic relations God has given his act of creation. Nothing in creation has given him a certain attribute. So, it seems he’s forcing these passages to mean something more than they actually state….

It is like arguing because God is good to various people throughout time, that divine goodness is dependent on us.

How in the world can anyone read, If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness.“, and conclude that it means ‘divine goodness is dependent on us’?

So, he is presenting a position that is unnecessary because God is just as faithful in his atemporal existence as in his temporal existence but what he saying couldn’t be true of God’s atemporal existence.

Again, I argued that God is faithful whether people exist or not, so he’s eisegeting in the exact opposite of what I wrote.

But isn’t God’s goodness not dependent on his creation? God acts in ways revealing to us what he is like. But his being is in no way dependent upon the world. That is just to deny aseity. Hence you’re conceding to my argument without realizing it.

I said that God is faithful even if there is no creation to be faithful to. How does he interpret that as denying God’s aseity?

I think God is unchanging and timeless. … If God is timeless, then his nature can’t be changed at any time. Because he is timeless. So, Thibodaux is only speaking about God qua his temporality. Now, I don’t hold Frame’s view as I have said already, but I’m pointing out that in his own position that these are just events where God’s faithfulness is demonstrated and not that God because of these covenants are acquiring a new attribute.

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 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.

 

Still no Answers to Calvinism’s Undermining God’s Aseity

I further pointed out that the Calvinist objection trips over its own feet:

[Me]: 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. (The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Simplicity and Immutability)

To which we only get,

This is more silliness from the author. the point is that humans future actions can’t be the grounds for which God knows what they will choose to do.

It’s pretty telling that his only reply to the argument is a non-answer via mere assertion of a point unproven.

[Objector]: God decrees events to occur at specific times. [emphasis mine]

At least he’s figuring out Calvinism now.

 

Conclusion

It’s kind of sad and disappointing that the objector hasn’t really read the material carefully enough to understand the argument to which he erroneously objects; nor does he yet possess the self-awareness of his own position to realize that his own views ultimately undermine God’s innate independence from creation even more than his arguments against free will & foreknowledge purport to.

 

Calvinism’s Inconsistencies on God’s Attributes

Some years after writing this article on God’s aseity, I was pointed to a reply by ‘TheSire’ (hereafter, ‘the objector’) that more or less misses the point of my original post. It’s not very long or well-conceived, but I’ll address his main points.

 

Lack of Explaining Power

The first of his objections involves people ‘explaining’ God.

Van Til thinks of aseity as God being self-contained. Nothing can further explain God other than himself but on Thibodaux scheme, God being is explained by creatures. But how can a being that is a se or self-explained be further explained by created things(people and their choice)?

It isn’t really clear what he’s asking. If he’s talking about how we define God, He most certainly is, in some ways, defined by His creation.

“God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:15a)

“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob…” (Isa. 43:1a)

God identifies Himself by both His relationship to His people and status as Creator (which of course requires a creation).

Nobody is making the argument that free will requires us to create God’s being.

Yes they were in fact: the post was addressing a particular fallacy by a Mr. Prussic that amounted to just that. That said, if that’s not what our dear objector is arguing for, then the objection against us ‘explaining’ God is apparently as irrelevant as it is ill-defined and poorly explained.
Situational Lack-of-Understanding

Our objector’s piece here is a bit of a facepalm. Calvinists are no strangers to the idea of God’s transcendence over time (that is, in addition to being within time [immanent], God also exists outside of time, and is therefore not limited by time or the ‘present’ as we see it, see John Frame’s The Doctrine of God, pp. 570-71), but when it comes to arguing against free will, they temporarily fall into a state of obfuscating ignorance (à la Hays and his ilk), which makes for some hilarious noob arguments.

If their choices ground these future contingents, then how can God know prior to what they are going to do before they choose to do it?

From a perspective of prior to creation, it is hard to see how it is coherent to suppose God knows something that is either false or has no truth value.

How could non-existent things ground God’s knowledge?

Maybe because being in the stretch of all time that is clear to God is not non-existent from God’s perspective.

It is easy to see on a Calvinist scheme that God simply thinks of agents making particular choices and that is what makes it’s true.

Per Calvinism, that would be ‘decreeing,’ not ‘thinking,’ though neither road will avoid slamming headlong into the author of sin problem.

It’s a short walk to Open Theism at this point.

Indeed, if we were to adopt the “How kin God know yer tomorree choice-makins’ if dey ain’t done happund yet?” stance that he’s posited for the moment, then I suppose Open Theism would follow.

 

Freedom!

He does try to address the main argument in the post, but sadly falls flat.

That clearly makes some aspect of God dependant on my choices.

The dilemma either an essential attribute of God is dependant on human choices or God simply doesn’t know the future.

I address this point in the post linked to above, comparing God’s knowledge to His faithfulness: 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.

[Me]: 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 descendants 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.

To which we get the reply,

[Objector]: God’s faithfulness comes from His Holy nature. For example, God is faithful between the persons. Aseity is connected to the fact God is a trinitarian being. God isn’t dependant on the world to be faithful. Its seems rather obvious that God’s moral character isn’t dependant upon the world.

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. To show what I mean by comparison:

  • God is faithful (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be faithful to, but that would not detract from His faithfulness
  • God did create the world and is faithful to His covenants with His creation
  • Said faithfulness to His creation is an optional aspect of God’s faithfulness contingent upon Him creating

I think those points are beyond dispute here, so why is it so hard to grasp:

  • 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

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Our objector failing to understand the comparison shows that he’s not yet grasped the issue: if God knowing our free choices would make God’s attribute of omniscience “dependent on man,” then by his logic, God being faithful to people would likewise make God’s attribute of faithfulness “dependent on man!”

 

The Final Nail – God Needs us to Create us to Remain Omniscient?

When I studied the subject some years ago, it dawned on me just how nonsensical was the idea that all of God’s knowledge is innate to Him rather than some aspects of it being dependent upon things like His choice to create. It actually raises a rather awful implication:

[Me]: 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.

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics: The Arminian View of Divine Foreknowledge Attacks God’s Simplicity and Immutability

In an ironic twist, the [high] Calvinist view actually militates against God’s aseity: If the specifics of God’s omniscience, such as His knowledge of us, are essential parts of God’s being, then God must create us for His knowledge to hold true! The idea of God having some innate compulsion and having no choice as to whether He creates or redeems people also runs afoul of another one of His attributes: maybe after a refresher on transcendence, our objector can study up on a certain attribute known as Sovereignty. I’ve heard some Calvinists believe in that too.

 

Sin, Reprobation and Foreknowledge: The Calvinists’ Attempt to Have Their Cake and Eat it Too

The doctrine of the unconditional election of a part, necessarily implies the unconditional reprobation of the rest. I know some who hold to the former, seem to deny the latter; for they represent God as reprobating sinners, in view of their sins. When all were sinners, they say God passed by some, and elected others. Hence, they say the decree of damnation against the reprobates is just, because it is against sinners. But this explanation is virtually giving up the system, inasmuch as it gives up all the principal arguments by which it is supported. In the first place, it makes predestination dependent on foreknowledge; for God first foresees that they will be sinners, and then predestinates them to punishment. Here is one case then, in which the argument for Calvinian predestination is destroyed by its own supporters. But again if God must fix by his decree all parts of his plan, in order to prevent disappointment, then he must fix the destiny of the reprobates, and the means that lead to it. But if he did not do this, then the Calvinistic argument in favour of predestination, drawn from the Divine plan, falls to the ground. Once more: this explanation of the decree of reprobation destroys all the strongest Scripture arguments which the Calvinists urge in favour of unconditional election.” (Calvinistic Controversy: Embracing A Sermon On Predestination And Election, And Several Numbers, Formally Published In The Christian Advocate And Journal, By Rev. Wilbur Fisk, D. D.)

The Calvinist who wants to claim that the condemnation of the reprobate is conditioned on their sinfulness while the salvation of the elect is conditioned on nothing at all run into serious problems regarding the typical Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge and the exhaustive pre-determinations of a divine secret eternal decree.  If the decree is the basis for foreknowledge (as traditional Calvinism asserts), and therefore the means by which God foreknows anything, then it must be admitted that God irresistibly decreed the sinfulness of the reprobate from eternity, just as He decreed all else, and it is only because of God’s eternal decree that He is able to foreknow the state of the reprobate as sinful (because He previously decreed that it must be that way).

So the reprobate finds himself in a sinful state for no other reason than because God irresistibly decreed it from eternity.  If that is the case it is nonsense to say that God’s decree for the reprobate is based on them being considered as rebellious and deserving of condemnation already.  And as Fisk points out, it cuts against the typical Calvinist argument concerning the nature of foreknowledge, that it is based on the eternal decree.  And in doing so, it affirms the Arminian view that God has foreknowledge of true contingencies that are not based on the necessity of an irresistible eternal decree.

This is the same problem that Calvinists encounter who want to claim that Adam had libertarian free will (LFW) when he fell in the garden after the pattern of what Augustine taught (which is often quoted or paraphrased by Calvinists),

God holds us accountable because we were included in Adam so far as God is concerned.  Adam was our source, our representative, our “head.”  When he rebelled and fell into death and condemnation, we all fell with him.  Before he fell, Adam had the power not to sin; after he fell, he lost that power.  We are born in the condition of Adam after the fall: unable not to sin. (God in Dispute: “Conversations” Among Great Christian Thinkers, by Roger E. Olson, pg. 93)

Or as R.C. Sproul puts it in Chosen by God,

The Reformed view follows the thinking of Augustine.  Augustine spells out the state of Adam before the fall and the state of mankind after the fall.  Before the fall Adam was endowed with two possibilities: He had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin…stated another way, it means that after the fall man was morally incapable of living without sin.  The ability to live without sin was lost in the fall.  This moral inability is the essence of what we call original sin. (pg. 65)

Clearly, the claim is that Adam had the “ability” and “power” to avoid temptation in the garden and “not sin.”  That is an apt description of libertarian free will: the power of contrary choice.  But if Adam did not have to sin in the garden, then how did God foreknow that He would indeed sin?

This is no problem for the Arminian who claims that God has the ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices.  But this is precisely what traditional Calvinists deny.  Instead, they say that God can only foreknow what He first decrees.  If that is the case, then Adam had no power to not sin since God irresistibly decreed from eternity that he would sin.  Clearly, Adam could not have the power to act contrary to the irresistible eternal decree of God (by definition you cannot resist the irresistible).  This leads to major theological problems for the Calvinist who claims that Adam had libertarian free will prior to the fall, but this power was lost by all after the fall (following Augustine).  He would need to affirm that:

1) God could not foreknow Adam’s sin (if it were truly free), or

2) Admit that God can indeed have foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices and that not all of what God foreknows is based on a prior decree

#1 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Open Theism

#2 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Arminianism

On this score, the Calvinist simply cannot have his cake and eat it too

So if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be denied, the oft repeated argument that God’s decision to reprobate was justly in view of mankind’s sin and rebellion must fall (as Fisk notes above).

And if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be affirmed (as it must be to claim that Adam did not have to sin in the garden), then the arguments against Arminianism based on the incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge must fall (as well as arguments that try to paint LFW as logically absurd).

The only way to avoid the horns here is to accept the view that Adam’s fall was irresistibly predetermined by God and Adam’s posterity are therefore sinful and rebellious by divine necessity so that God’s decision of reprobation cannot be based on a sinful state that God simply found them in (of their own accord), and justly left them in as a result.  Instead, it is a state that God Himself necessitated by way of an irresistible eternal decree.  The reprobate has no power over his depraved state or over his actions, and never did.  So reprobation can only be based on raw decree, which includes the fall of Adam and the sinful state and actions of all his posterity.

Related: Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism And Why You Should be an Arminian

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

“We Need Honesty From Leaders”

See this great post from  “The Seeking Disciple”, If I Pastored a Calvinist Church, I Would Resign

Related:

Churches Beware: Calvinism on the Sly

Sneaky Calvinism (Calvinism on the Sly in Action)

Paying the Price of Pursuing Truth and Leaving Calvinism

Reproof: Recent Book Looking to Re-Package Calvinism With a Fresh New Acronym (PROOF) is Reviewed by a Former Calvinist

Former Calvinist, Doug Sayers, gives a concise and irenic review of the recently released Calvinist book, PROOF.

Excerpt:

It is a fair criticism to say that PROOF is a one-sided cherry picking of the biblical texts that would seem to support their teaching with very little time devoted to the texts that present Calvinism with its biggest problems. This may work among those who don’t read the Bible very much but thoughtful Bible students will come upon many texts which will not jibe with PROOF’s inferences. For example, a careful study of scripture will reveal that there are no texts which teach clearly (or by necessary inference) that Jesus did not die for some people. If there was such a text in the Bible you can be sure that all Calvinists would be rallying around it like desperate bees on a lone flower.

Help With Fixing Links

My next big project will be fixing broken links on the side bar. Many of the links go to sites that are no longer there, and many others go to SEA articles but the links don’t work since SEA moved. Those ones just need to be re-done. If you notice any links that do not work, either on the side bar or in posts you have read, please let me know in the comments section below. Hopefully, I can devote some time to this sometime soon.

Thanks

Black Sabbath on Getting Right With God

Even Black Sabbath can get it right, at least in one song anyway:

Lyrics: Have you ever thought about your soul — can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead you just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head or is he a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book when you were in school?

When you think about death do you lose your breath or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope — do you think he’s a fool?
Well I have seen the truth, yes I’ve seen the light and I’ve changed my ways
And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely and scared at the end of our days

Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believe in God above?
They should realize before they criticize
that God is the only way to love.

Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun.

I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
Will you be so sure when your day is near say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down now you can’t retrieve.

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just realize that he’s the one
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate.
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes — I think it’s too late

Here is a slightly tweaked rendition by Christian Metal band “Deliverance” (one of my all time favorites)