Saturday, January 31, 2009

Was God luckly?

This is part of an ongoing discussion on determinism... (Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul)

Even if I granted that 21st century common man understands choice in a libertarian way… that doesn't imply that X-century BC Jews thought that way.

Paul is welcome to address the reasons I have already provided, based on the common consent of modern scholarship and extra-biblical Jewish writings.

Dan must grant the possibility that in an increasingly secular society, given the state of public education, and given the direction science is heading; the "common man" will believe this: "All things are physically determined with generalizations and conditionals having 100% probabilities associated with them."

I am not sure the common man is in a position to evaluate that claim.

as I argued from Kane, the common man also has problems with indeterminate happenings.

He only said they would, if they held certain mistaken notions.

Dan writes that the problem with my Princeton definition is that "Alternatives can be chosen. This is why I argued that a predetermined choice entails an impossible possibility and inalternate alternative." But the dictionary doesn't mention the word "can" and Dan also ignores hypothetical compatibilists. Is he going to argue that the dictionary weighs in on classical compatibilism?! Furthermore, compatibilists would agree that a different past, or decree, renders those alternatives the possible ones chosen. Is Dan going to argue that the dictionary weighed in on this?! When Dan says, "impossible" what does he mean? Given the decree of God, the alternative is not something that can genuinely be accessed. But there could be other possible decrees. So, what does he mean? And, can he argue that the dictionary supports this? Dan even admits that he doesn't "recall using the term 'genuine access to'" possibilities. Right, and that defeats his dictionary argument.

Paul mistakenly overlooked the word “can” in my quote (both the explicit reference and implicitly through the word “possible”). So again, the common sense notion of choosing and alternatives rules out determinism.

As for hypotheticals (i.e. if I had wanted to I could have chosen X or if I had chosen X, I could have done X) in reality (given God’s decree and the history of the world) both the counterfactaul choice and act are impossible. And to substitute a hypothetical ability with an actual one is an equivocal way of substituting the common definition of choice for the determinist one.

Finally, there is a difference between understanding what the dictionary says and applying what it says. By Paul asking if the dictionary addresses certain questions, he seems to be conflating these two things.

Lastly, Dan makes a non-sequitur. He says, "Again, if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals." But, that doesn't mean you didn't choose to do what you did.

Sure it does, because given the common notion of choosing, the counterfactuals are possible, not impossible.

And, again, if libertarianism is true, given the luck, I cannot choose counterfactuals. Choosing requires a certain amount of control that libertarianism doesn't afford. Dan disagrees.

The bible disagrees, and I simply believe the bible. This “luck” line of reasoning is the one I warned about earlier as not open to the Christian. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This means God is the first cause, so His first cause wasn’t causally predetermined. This is agent causation and it undermines the luck argument. Was God lucky to have Jacob? No, He chose him. But Paul’s reasoning would lead us to believe God was lucky. Arguments against the coherence of LFW are impermissible to Christians.

The dictionary doesn't say Jesus is the God-man, ergo, he isn't.

In this case the dictionary is accurate, but not complete. But regarding “chose”, Paul would have us believe the dictionary is inaccurate and he has provided counter-definitions.

As for Muslims using the word “choose”, if I recall correctly they hold Allah transcends logic. So probably they hold to both and neither determinism and LFW. Why should we expect them to be consistent?

As for the Gospel not being common sense, I would say that dead faith actually is among the common responses to the Gospel, but it’s true that justifying faith requires the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Files: Wesley's Predestination Calmly Considered

John Wesley had the rare gift of bringing the Calvinist/Arminian debate from the head to the heart. In Predestination Calmly Considered, Wesley first examines the idea of upholding unconditional election while rejecting reprobation and then explains why the two doctrines are inseparable. He then rejects reprobation as inconsistent with the whole scope and tenor both of the Old and New Testament and provides about four pages of scriptural quotations to demonstrate his point. He then shows that reprobation is inconsistent with God’s justice and explains Romans 9. Wesley then moves to the atonement and shows Christ died for all based on a few passages and based on the general offer of the gospel. He then explains that man is dependent on prevenient grace and that even though man has freewill, God gets all the glory. He then explains why a system that includes freewill glorifies God more than a system with reprobation, based on God’s wisdom, justice and love. Wesley then explains corporate election and God’s immutability. Wesley then argues that true believers can and do lose their faith and therefore ultimately perish, based on numerous passages. Wesley concludes his theological arguments with passages showing God’s grace is resistible and then concludes his essay with advice that all Christians (Calvinist and Arminian) must work together for the kingdom of God.
Calvinists, read this to understand the heart of the Arminian. Arminians, read this to understand your heritage. I will conclude with a quote from Wesley appealing to those are convinced by his arguments, but still don’t want to become Arminians:

“But you cannot do this; for then you should be called a Pelagian, an Arminian, and what not.” And are you afraid of hard names? Then you have not begun to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Was the bible written to the common man or the semi-compatiblist?

This is part of an ongoing discussion on determinism... (Paul, me, Paul, me, Paul)

Paul: Dan acts as if I said the common man think the term choice doesn't present genuine access to alternative possibilities. Thus he is arguing against a point I never made.

I did bypass this because despite Paul’s point here, he provided several counters to my argument that the dictionary rules out determinism. But if Paul admits the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, he should address the fact that the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatiblist) and it uses the terms choice and choose.

The problem with Paul’s Princeton dictionary entry is that it references alternatives. defines alternative as:

1. a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities, as of things, propositions, or courses of action, the selection of which precludes any other possibility: You have the alternative of riding or walking.

2. one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen: The alternative to riding is walking.

3. a possible or remaining course or choice: There was no alternative but to walk.(link)

Alternatives can be chosen. This is why I argued that a predetermined choice entails an impossible possibility and inalternate alternative.

In the dictionaries 'possibilities' are vague. Dan seems to eisogete "genuine access to" into all the definitions.

I don’t recall using the term “genuine access to”. defines possible as that which can happen or be done. (link) Again, if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals.

As for not advancing the discussion, it’s true I go no further than to show determinism is unbiblical.

Does the dictionary rule out determinism?

This is part of an ongoing discussion on determinism... (Paul, me, Paul)

Regarding defining choice, it seems defining the noun choice is highly dependent on the verb choose. But Paul’s sources define choose roughly the way mine did. So the dictionary definitions and common sense understanding of the terms do seem to rule out determinism.

My objections to Kane are as I stated. While Kane in some ways represents the common understanding of choice, in some ways he does not. Paul’s case seems based on the ways in which he does not represent the common man. As for LFW appearing to imply counter-intuitive aspects, the counter-intuitive aspects seem to be based on avoidable mistakes.

As for Paul’s assertion that the alternative is possible even if choosing the alternative is not, if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, neither choosing the alternative nor the alternative are possible.

As for the Hebrews not having American dictionaries, the problem is that all the commentators, translators and lexicon compilers that did have access to such dictionaries translate the terms bâcha, and eklegomai choose. Further, extra biblical sources clarify what the Hebrews thought:

Sirach 15:13-20 The Lord hateth all abomination; and they that fear God love it not. He himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel; If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him. For the wisdom of the Lord is great, and he is mighty in power, and beholdeth all things: And his eyes are upon them that fear him, and he knoweth every work of man. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither hath he given any man licence to sin.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Defining Choice - Response to Paul Manata

The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. (similar definitions available here and here) Determinism includes the idea that preceding causal forces render all our actions necessary such that they cannot be otherwise. So a “predetermined choice” implies an “impossible possibility” and an “inalternate alternative”. Since the bible states that we have wills and choose, determinism isn’t consistent with the bible.

Calvinist Paul Manata expresses his concern that reasoning in this way is “stacking the deck” and acting as a “duplicitous atheist or cult member”. In answering the objections that:

we frequently hear that "choice" just means some kind of libertarianism about the will. The second is like unto it: "You Calvinists must necessarily go against laymen, common sensical understandings of certain terms. Your position is counter-intuitive. Ordinary folk laugh at you." (link)

Paul cites two books written by libertarian philosophers to demonstrate that choice doesn’t demand a libertarian understanding of the term.

In response, first off quoting philosophers is helpful, but the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common sensical understanding of terms. So the response doesn’t make contact with the objection. Second, it doesn’t seem that the quotes Mantra provides support his position.

Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro in their book Naturalism say choice is an undetermined mental action and when we make choices we typically explain our making them in terms of reasons, where a reason is a purpose, end, or goal for choosing. Paul’s quote omits the word “undetermined”1, so contrary to Paul’s conclusion, Goetz and Taliaferro were teaching a libertarian understanding of the term “choice”. Then Paul confounds an explanation for a choice with a definition and entire understanding of choice (i.e. what a choice is vs. why it is).

Next Paul quotes Kane’s essay in Four Views on Free Will: A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do. (Kane, For Views on Free Will, ed. Sosa, Blackwell, 2008, p33)

While Kane certainly adds a lot of insight into the discussion about determinism and freewill, his theory is somewhat exotic, so I have to come back to the point that perhaps this is not the best way to establish the common sense understanding of choice. In short, Kane’s theory is that while we are simultaneously making efforts to choose two different things, indeterministic chaos in the neural networks of the brain hinders both efforts. The “winner” is the choice. For Kane, the indeterminism isn’t in the source of the choice, but rather it’s an obstacle to making choices. (35)

While I don’t intend to give a full examination of Kane’s essay, here are a few quick points.

  1. Kane’s theory seems to be motivated by his fear of the “intelligibility problem”. (22-23) But no Christian who believes God is the First Cause should fear that libertarian free will is unintelligible.
  2. Kane’s explanation is overly physical as opposed to relying on an immaterial soul. (25) But Christians hold that man’s will is part of his immaterial soul.
  3. Based on 2 & 3, Kane locates indeterminism as an obstacle to choice, as opposed to the source. (35)
  4. Kane admits his theory diminishes our control over which choice we make (38) and that are choices are somewhat arbitrary. (41)
  5. Kane maintains that despite our lack of control, we are still responsible, but supports it with an example of post-volitional indeterminism in the execution of our choices, rather than in the formation of our choices. (37-38)

So Kane’s definition of choice seems motivated by his exotic theory. In fact, while I wouldn’t be dogmatic about this, it seems that for Kane, the choices themselves are somewhat deterministic and something outside the choices are the reason for the indeterminism. So again, Paul’s response doesn’t make contact with the argument and also the sources he cites don’t support his case.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Files: McKnight on the Hebrew warning passages

Scot McKnight’s article "The warning passages of Hebrews: A formal analysis and Theological Conclusions" reviews the warnings of apostasy in Hebrews 2:1-4, 3:7-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39 and 12:1-29. McKnight identifies four alternative interpretations of the warning passages: hypothetical warnings, false believers, the covenant community and his view, true believers. McKnight identifies four aspects of the passages: “in each warning passage we find: 1) the subjects or audience who are either committing or in danger of committing 2) the sin that leads to 3) the exhortation which, if not followed, leads to 4) the consequences of that sin.” McKnight argues that studying the four warnings in unison helps define each of these four aspects. He sees the audience as true believers, the sin as apostasy from the faith, the exhortations as “persevere in faith and heed the word of God in obedience” and the consequence as eternal damnation. McKnight then engages Nicole’s explanation of Hebrews 6:4-6 (who claims those warned were not truly regenerate) and shows Nicole’s approach is eisegesis, not exegesis. McKnight also engages Verbrugge’s view (that the passage relates to a group) and notes the individual language of the passage. Finally, McKnight draws two theological conclusions from his study: 1) the warnings teach that faith can be lost, but not that salvation can be lost (since the author of Hebrews views salvation as future) and2) only those who have apostatized need to fear having lost their salvation.

The article is a bit out of order, but it’s all there. Pages 13 to 15 come after pages 11-12. Here’s the correct order to read it in, with the article page numbers in parenthesis: 1-10 (21-39) -> 13 to 15 (40–45) -> 11-12 (46-49) -> 16-20 (50-59).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Please don’t light a candle to me!

Here’s an enjoyable debate between GNRHead and Turretinfan on the veneration (or worship?) of saints.

For reference, here are the two main passages in question.

Galatians 5:13-15 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

1 Chronicles 29:20 Then David said to the whole assembly, "Praise the LORD your God." So they all praised the LORD, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and fell prostrate before the LORD and the king.

I found Turretinfan convincing, in that if we look at “religious context” as so broad as to encompass all aspects of life, it becomes meaningless. Pushing the Galatians passage too far, seem so indicate veneration is due to all believers at all points in life. Catholics express their veneration for the saints by lighting candles and bowing and things like that. But why only the saints and not everyone else? It seems the passage is just talking about love and service, not veneration.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Files: Wesley's What is an Arminian?

John Wesley’s article “The Question, "What Is an Arminian?" Answered by a Lover of Free Grace” is an Arminian classic. True to form, Wesley’s humor is delightful, his theology is educational and his preaching stings the conscience and chides us to improve. Wesley explains what Arminianism is not, gives a brief history of Arminius, explains a bit about Arminian theology and then calls both his Calvinist and Arminian readers to cease and desist with the name calling.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Do the scriptures explicitly teach what is necessary for salvation?

This question is a bit of a problem for Catholic s, because their councils come along over a thousand years after the writing of scripture and require you to believe some things not explicitly taught in scripture and anesthetize dissenters. But does scripture explicitly teach what is necessary for salvation? Arminius said yes. Let’s look at his reasons why.

Broadly, is argument is in three steps 1) God perfectly inspired all things we need to know for salvation to the prophets and apostles, 2) they faithfully communicated them, and 3) they wrote them down in scripture. (link)

God perfectly inspired all things we need to know for salvation to the prophets and apostles
Arminius argues that John 14:26, John 15:15, John 16:13, and John 17:8 teach Christ knew and revealed all things necessary for salvation to His Apostles and he fortifies his argument based on John 17:17-20 that this revelation was intended for the sanctification of the whole church. Based on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Arminius argues that since gospel was predestined (v 7) it is therefore eternal and immutable (as opposed to changing over time).

Based on John 7:38-39, John 16:7-8, 13-15 and Acts 2:16-17, 28, 33, Arminius argues that the Holy Spirit will faithfully reveal the things of Christ, rather than new revelations necessary for salvation after the time of the apostles. Based on 2 Cor 3:6, Gal 3:15, Heb 8:13, Acts 2:17, John 4:25, Heb 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20 Mt 24:14, Mt 28:20, Arminius argued that since the Apostles were ministers of a new covenant revealed during the last days, which could not change or be added to, so the revelation given to them contained all things necessary for salvation.

They faithfully communicated them
Based on John 1:18, 3:32, 1 John 1:3, 1 Cor. 2:6-16 Arminius argues that Christ and the Apostles declared what they had seen and heard. Based on Romans 10:8-10, 1 Cor 1:21, 2 Cor 3:9, Acts 13:26, Romans 1:16, and 1 Peter 1:23-25, Arminius argues that the Gospel contains the whole message needed for salvation, and based on 2 Cor 3:6, Col 1:24-28 he argues that the Apostles were faithful ministers of the Gospel.

Based on Luke 7:30, Acts 20:27 and 1 Cor 15:1-2, Arminius argues that all the counsel of God contains the teachings necessary for salvation and that all the council of God was declared by the Apostles. Then Arminius answers the objection that the Apostles taught what was necessary at the time, but not what was necessary to the end of the world, by citing Gal 1:7-9 as prohibiting adding to the Gospel and based on Eph 2:20-21 which states the whole church (not just part of it) was built on the foundation of the Apostles.

They wrote them down in scripture
Based on Deut 4:2,12:28, 30:10-14, 28:58, Josh 1:7-8, 1 Cor 4:6, Acts 20:27, 26:22, Arminius argues the scriptures claim their completeness and prohibit additions.

Based on Tit 1:1, 1 Chron 28:9, John 5:23, 17:3, Arminius argues that saving doctrine consists of knowing God and Christ. Based on 1 John 5:13; Timothy 3:16; Rom. 15:4; 1 Thess. 1:3 and Tit. 2:12-13, Arminius argues that scripture perfectly delivers that doctrine. Based on 2 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 3:15; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:38-40; Gal. 4:1-2, Arminius argues that the Old and New Testament are a Testament or Covenant and therefore complete and not to be added to. Based on Luke 16:16; Josh 1:8; Luke 1:1-4; Rom. 1:2-6; Acts 26:22-23, Arminius argues that the Law and Gospel are contained in scripture and contain the whole of what we need to know for salvation.

Based on Romans 10:4-10, 1 John 3:23, John 20:31, 1 John 5:9-13, Mt 22:37-40, John 5:39, Luke 16:27-30, and 2 Tim 3:15-17, Arminius argues that scripture states its goal as providing saving doctrine. This is confirmed because the scriptures use the terms “prophets” interchangeably with “prophetic scriptures” and likewise with God and scripture. (Acts 26:27, Luke 16:29, 2 Peter 1:19-20, Luke 24:27, Romans 9:17, Exod 9:16, Gal 3:22, Romans 11:32, Gal 3:8, with Gen 12:2-3)Based on John 5:39; Rom. 1:3; Luke 24:27, Arminius argues that the scriptures contain all things necessary to be known for the salvation of the Church.

Arminius concludes that based on 2 Tim. 3:16; Matt. 4:3-4; 22:29 Acts 18:28, the scriptures teach all things that have been or will be necessary for salvation. Thus, all errors regarding salvation are refutable by scripture. If something isn’t in scripture, it’s not necessary for salvation. If something can’t be refuted by scripture, it’s not heretical. When Catholics, without scriptural proof, either add doctrines as necessary or anathematize doctrines, we can’t join them.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Files: Klein's article about Paul's use of Kalein

William Klein’s article: “Paul’s use of Kalein: A Proposal” challenges us to reconsider the traditional understandings of Paul’s use of kalein, based on linguistic evidence. Kalein typically either means summoning or naming. For Paul, when God is the agent, kalein is a technical term referring to election and salvation. Klein sees Paul’s use of the “naming” sense in Romans 9:25, but it’s more than just designation; kalein is distinctly causative and it transforms a people from the condition “not his people” to the condition “his people”. In other words, the traditional view of kalein implies a Divine call/human faith response, but here Paul seems to be talking about a unilateral “naming” by God of people who are already believers, which makes those named, God’s children. Klein then reviews Paul’s other 26 relevant uses of kalein from the angles of origin, instrumentation, circumstance and goal and notes that this “naming” sense seems to work in all cases except perhaps 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (where it could still work, although it’s less clear).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Files: Olson's Don't Hate Me Because I'm Arminian

Roger Olson’s article: Don't Hate Me Because I'm Arminian explains the importance of Arminians and Calvinists accepting each other and working together despite their theological differences. Olson shares several personal anecdotes while explaining why classic Arminians are evangelical and neither humanist or liberal. Olson also shares that even though he remained Arminian, learning about Calvinism provide him some balance on the issues of God’s sovereignty and man’s need for grace. He sees the cooperation of Wesley and Whitfield as a good example of how Calvinists and Arminians need each other and despite important irreconcilable differences, can work together harmoniously for the cause of Christ.