Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Files: Hamilton’s commentary on Romans 9

Robert Hamilton’s commentary on Romans 9 generally fits under the category of “election of Nations”, but it contains several unique features worth mentioning. Hamilton considers God’s election of Israel as a form or particular prevenient grace, unconditionally dispensed solely at His discretion. This grace provides increased opportunities for salvation, but doesn’t actually save. God provides a general prevenient grace to all mankind, which is sufficient to enable faith, but He gives this particular prevenient grace only to some.

Hamilton starts out with the introductory context of Romans 9, by explaining that the question in Romans 3:3 is essentially the same one in Romans 9:6. He also explains Romans 8:29-30 as corporate rather than individual election; an election that establishes the grounds on which the Body will be comprised in relation to the Head and the individual is considered as elect only insofar as they are considered united to Christ.

In considering Romans 9:6 and 9:7, Hamilton makes three key distinctions: 1) the spiritual descendents of Abraham (i.e. believers), 2) the physical descendents of Abraham in accordance with God’s promise (i.e. the Nation of Israel, excluding Ishmael, Esau and their descendents) and 3) all the physical decedents of Abraham. He considers “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” to be a reference to #1 and “neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” to be a reference to #2. Thus Romans 9:6 is a brief (but to be revisited) response to the objection that God’s word failed if the Jews are rejected, and Romans 9:7-21 discuss God’s favoring the Nation of Israel with particular prevenient grace. Hamilton strengthens his position based on the many OT quotes that were about Nations, not individual salvation (i.e. the choice of Jacob in the womb, Jacob have I loved, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy).

Hamilton sees hardening as a withdrawing of general previnient grace as a punishment for sins. From sinners, God is free to either harden or bestow particular prevenient grace. The objection is why does God still blame the hardened and the answer is God is sovereign. Verse 22 starts a transition from discussion national election to discussion corporate election to salvation. Hamilton explains that Paul uses the parallels between physical and spiritual Israel to explain the Jew’s current rejection. Hamilton leverages Romans 11 to explain that hardening isn’t irreversible and election is corporate and conditional.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More on Choice and Determinism

Steve provided another post in our exchange on choice and determinism.

Steve: a) A Calvinist doesn’t define the meaning of the word “choice” in terms “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire.”b) For that matter, a Calvinist doesn’t even have to define the concept of choice in terms of “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire.”The basic idea of choosing is simply to make a decision.

I didn’t say Calvinists define choose as “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire”, I said they avoid the common sense definitions and use exotic, philosophical counter-definitions; like the ones Paul provided. But Calvinists seem to have at least three options: 1) inconsistently hold to common sense definitions, 2) exotic, philosophical counter-definitions, or 3) use boiled down definitions that are missing some (or all) of the essential ingredients in the common sense definitions. If one removes enough essential elements of a definition, they end up with a tautology (choose = choose). Take for example the Wiktionary. Choose means decide and decide means choose. Hence choose means choose. Unhelpful. Paths two and three end up with the same problem; they deliver a deathblow to the clarity of scripture.

Steve, could you please A) define "choose" and B) explain it.

Me: “Steve correctly points out that the dictionary doesn’t engage in metaphysical analysis, but it does provide what would be the conclusion of such analysis by reporting common usage.”

Steve: It does nothing of the kind. In the nature of the case, “common usage” ordinarily is preanalytic. Most language users aren’t metaphysicians. They don’t use a word like “choice” with a lot of conscious, metaphysical baggage. Most folks aren’t conversant with modal metaphysics or Frankfurt examples.

Sure it does. The dictionary provides what common usage is; it doesn’t get into why it’s that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the result of metaphysical analysis, it’s preanalytic or it comes out of a fortune cookie. If that’s common usage, the dictionary reports it. And rather than reporting exotic philosophical determinist definitions of choose, it reports a definition that leaves the determinist saying we never actually choose.

Me: based on the dictionary’s definition (selecting between possible alternatives), we can rightly say that man never actually chooses; because the alternatives are never actually possible.

Steve: i) Of course, this fails to draw an elementary distinction between the mental act of deliberation, and the extramental configuration of the world.The fact that in deliberating over a course of action, I may mentally review some hypothetical alternatives doesn’t begin go prove the extramental existence of alternate possibilities—much less their availability, even if they did exist.Rather, all this bears witness to is a psychological process. Our imagination.ii) And, at the risk of stating the obvious, I can imagine many “possibilities” which are impossible for me to realize.

Steve seems to be trying to switch actual possibility for hypothetical possibility, but it doesn’t work because you can’t talk about an actual and a hypothetical at the same time. Also, Steve seems to be granting that, given determinism, we don’t actually choose (understanding choose as defined by the dictionary).

Steve: we often make choices on the basis of what we thought were possible outcomes which, in hindsight, turn out to be beyond our reach. I may decide to become a med student. At the time I think I can afford med school. But due to an economic crisis after I enroll, I’m forced to drop out of med school before I graduate.I though that alternative was a live possibility. I was wrong.

The med students restrictions are post-choice, and don’t interfere with volition.

Steve: it’s counterintuitive to claim the future is indeterminate if the future is foreknown. The Calvinist, Thomist, and open theist all appreciate the force of that intuition. They relieve the tension by dropping one or another of the two propositions generating the tension. If intuition were Dan’s criterion, then he’d either be a determinist (e.g. Calvinist, Thomist) or an open theist.

On the contrary, I think it's intuitive to think something is wrong with the argument that foreknowledge rules out freewill, even if people can't quite put their finger on why. While some questioning on the subject of foreknowledge and freewill is natural, most Christians don’t drop either foreknowledge or freewill. So I think saying common sense says they are irreconcilable is a bit of a stretch. Only a small minority of Christians (Calvinists, Thomast and Open Theists) think that, and in my experience those that do tend to favor philosophy.

Steve: For the common man, knowing the future is synonymous with knowing what will happen.

Same here.

Steve: So, Dan, access the strawberry scenario, then access the alternate (chocolate) scenario. Repeat the same timeframe, but alternate the outcome.

As for Steve’s time-traveling counterfactual ice cream challenge, it seems to amount to nothing more than pointing out we don’t have empirical proof of freewill. As Christians, of course we believe in many things we don’t have empirical proof for. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Since the will is part of our immaterial soul, and we don’t have empirical evidence of the soul, why should we be surprised that we don’t have empirical evidence of the will?

But Steve did make one attempt to leverage lack of empirical proof of LFW into showing LFW is counterintuitive by saying: Well, it would be very counterintuitive to have an ability you’re unable to exercise. To say you can do something you can’t do. I cannot today choose otherwise for choices I made yesterday, even though I could have yesterday. If this is the whole of Steve’s point, it fails to show the counter-intuitiveness of LFW, since it’s a strawman regarding “when”. But perhaps there is a bit more to Steve’s claim here.

Today is February 22nd. I can’t live to see tomorrow. God willing, I will live to see February 23rd, but by that point the 24th will be “tomorrow”. The restriction is definitional, not causal. So even though I can live till tomorrow, I can’t live to it and have it be tomorrow. This is the type of restriction we have on being able to choose otherwise.

I can choose the chocolate and I can choose the strawberry. But if I choose the chocolate, the strawberry is “otherwise” and if I choose the strawberry, the chocolate is “otherwise”. So while I can choose otherwise, I can never choose otherwise and have it be otherwise. This is not impossibility, it’s incompossibility. So Steve’s statement that it’s something I can’t do (impossibility not incompossibility) is false.

Steve: There is more to his position than “ought implies can.”Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this slogan is true. According to the formula, I’m not responsible unless I can do it. And let’s grant that contention, for the sake of argument.But there’s more to libertarian freedom then that. What’s the real principle?Not:i) I’m not responsible unless I can do it, But:ii) I’m not responsible unless I can either do it or refrain from doing it.

While it’s true there’s more to my position than ought implies can, that’s not immediately relevant because I am not currently defending my position. Steve asked why the switcheroo isn’t common sense and I am responding by pointing out that A) ought implies can is common sense and B) ought implies can rules out determinism (and indirectly the switcheroo).

Steve: But the plausibility of that slogan depends on the specific illustration. Take two examples:i) I’m not obligated to love my wife unless I can love my wife.ii) I’m not obligated to love my wife unless I can hate my wife.Now, even if you think that (i) is plausible, (ii) is not. Yet libertarian freedom doesn’t stop with (i). To be free in the libertarian sense, we must be free to do otherwise. iii) Moreover, the plausibility of (i) turns on the details. Suppose we elaborate (i) as follows:I’m not obligated to love my wife because I can’t love my wife. The reason I can’t love my wife is because I’ve fallen in love with a prostitute. As long as I’m smitten by this prostitute, I can’t feel the way I used to about my wife. And I can’t control my feelings. I just feel what I feel. Since I can’t feel the same way about my wife, I’m not obligated to love my wife.

This example is questionable, but even if it’s granted, I am not sure it matters because I don't think most folks first response to "ought implies can" is to think of this or similar examples. The scriptural obligation seems counter-intuitive; that we are to love them as Christ loved the church. The movie Fireproof shows how counter-intuitive it is.

Steve: Did he consult Greek and Hebrew lexicons?

All translators who had access to English dictionaries translated the words bâcha and eklegomai as choose.

Steve: Moreover, Calvinism doesn’t reject the existence of alternate possibilities. The real question is whether we index alternate possibilities to the will of God or the will of man.

Hm... I am not quite sure this is accurate. At least some of Calvinism's stronger theologians have called into question the coherence of LFW, which implies God does not have LFW. Turretin states God’s decrees do not differ from God Himself. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology. V1 p 193 para 10.) Edwards states God’s will is necessarily determined by the fitness of things. (Inquiry into the Will Part IV.VII)

But if a Calvinist holds God’s decrees were a choice (understood in and LFW sense), then God did truly have alternative possibilities. However, since the decree is done and immutable, it is fair to say all counterfactuals are no longer possible, given the decree. So Calvinism seems unable to maintain the existance of alternative possibilities.

Steve: If interpretation is determined, “not by what it says,” but by other Biblical truths as well as philosophical considerations, then, in principle, we could even grant, for the same of argument, that Biblical usage means exactly what the Arminian takes it to mean, but still interpret the passage Calvinistically in light of other Biblical truths as well as philosophical considerations.

Since interpretation is simply picking from the range of meanings left open by “what it says”, clearly the interpretation cannot contradict what it says.

Steve: Given the way in which Dan divorces the “what it says” level from the interpretive level, he leaves the interpretation of Scripture wide open.

Open to be interpreted via context (if what it says isn’t specific and is open to interpretation). Context gets bigger and bigger. We should start from the immediate context and move outward (a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, an author….) rather than starting on the fringes and moving inward.

Steve: Dan isn’t using the grammatico-historical method. That would involve Biblical word-studies. An analysis of biblical usage based on comparative Greek and Hebrew usage in Scripture, as well as secular Greek and Hebrew or cognate languages (e.g. Ugaritic).

Please see Paul Manata's quotes regarding the Jewish understanding of choice and freedom. Also, here’s evidence from and extra-biblical Jewish source:

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.

Also, please see my comment about lexicons above.

Steve: Scripture sometimes challenges the “common sense” assumptions of the ancient reader, e.g. Rom 9:19.

This is somewhat tangential because I agree sometimes scriptures challenges common sense. But since this passage is sometimes cited in support of determinism, I thought I would address it. I don’t find the objector’s argument common sense; I find it absurd to think we can challenge God’s authority.

The objection is why does God blame us since He set the rules and doesn’t have to listen to our input. The issue is God’s authority, not His power. To read “who resists His will” as predeterminism is incorrect. The term in Greek for “resisted” is anthistemi means talking back or opposing. Further, if we read “who resists His will” as predeterminism, the objection becomes self-contradictory. It would become Calminian. This is how it would look:

Why does He yet find fault – under Arminian assumptions of the incompatibility of prederminism and moral responsibility

For who has resisted His will –under Calvinist assumptions of the actuality of predeterminism.

These two propositions don’t fit together under one system. But this does:

Why does He yet find fault – Why blame us
For who has resisted His will – since we are stuck with your plan of salvation and can’t come up with our own

Steve: Let’s now apply Dan’s (allegedly) “intuitive,” “commonsensical,” “what it says” standard to a number of Bible verses:

Before I start, just a quick reminder that I am not opposed to all philosophy nor do I blindly accept common sense; I only opposed the practice of reading technical, philosophical definitions into scripture.

Steve: Genesis 6:6And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. - By Dan’s yardstick, God had second thoughts about what he made. If, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made mankind in the first place.

Given the wording, the question isn't if God repents or not. The passage makes it plain that He does. Rather the question is, is God’s repentance the same as man’s repentance. The passage doesn’t say it is, but other passages indicate that there are some similarities and some dissimilarities. While “if, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made mankind in the first place”, holds good of man’s repentance, I don’t think it does of God’s repentance. God did truly hate man’s sin; it was against His will, and His dealings with men did change course on account of their sins.

The repentance in this case seems to be that up until that time God wished His creation to exist and flourish, but based on their sinful state, He decided they should not exist but rather should be destroyed (Noah and family excepted). This does not entail that God would have redone things differently, only that from that moment on He willed things to be different.

Though God has an overall plan for all time, that does not mean He cannot will X from T1 to T3 and then nonX from T4 to T6. Rather, His will from T1 to T3 and T4 to T6 is included within His overall plan. So the overall plan does not change. Please note this is not an explination of Gen 6, rather it's reconcilation of Gen 6 with other truths.

The grief relates to man’s sins, not over His prior choice to create. The grief is not a physical emotion, since God is a Spirit, and does not have a body. Rather it tells us that God wills for us not to sin and hates our sins.

Steve: Genesis 22:12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." - By Dan’s yardstick, God was in the dark about Abraham’s future actions. God is on a learning curve. He learns through observation.

The passage does not deny God foreknew the event, but it does seem to indicate that the basis of God’s knowledge was the event. So likewise, the basis of His foreknowledge was the future event.

Steve: Exodus 32:10,14 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you."…14And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. - By Dan’s yardstick, God changed his mind. Moses talked him out of his original plan.

Similar to Gen 6, before Moses’ intercession, God willed to destroy Israel. After, He willed to spare them.

Steve: Numbers 14:12,20 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they."… 20Then the LORD said, "I have pardoned, according to your word.By Dan’s yardstick, God once again changed his mind. - Once again, Moses talked him out of his original plan.

Same as Exodus 32.

Steve: Deuteronomy 8:22And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. - By Dan’s yardstick, this is another instance in which God is ignorant of the future.

See comments on Gen 22.

Steve: 1 Samuel 15:10-35 The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments."… 35 …And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. By Dan’s yardstick, God had second thoughts about elevating Saul to the throne. If, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made him king.

See comments on Gen 6.

Steve: 2 Kings 20:1-7 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.'" 2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3"Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5"Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake." 7And Isaiah said, "Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover. - By Dan’s yardstick, this is another instance in which God changed his mind because someone talked him out of his original plan.

This one is different and admittedly more challenging. No conditions were given, but apparently there was an implicit condition. Implicit conditions (especially ones made explicit elsewhere- Jer 18 & Ez 18) are normal. By not stating the condition, we can see that Hezekiah’s motives were pure (i.e. he didn’t express remorse just to avoid death).

Also, sometimes we talk about the future, but we are really talking about causal relations. If I say to a smoker “that gas can will explode”, I might not be making a prediction so much as giving a warning. Perhaps God was only saying that the disease was deadly.

So the statement “you shall die” means the disease is such that it will kill you, with an implicit if you repent I may supra-naturally interrupt the disease’s normal cause and effect relationship and spare you.

Steve: 1 Chronicles 21:15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. - By Dan’s yardstick, God changed his mind at the last minute.

See comments on Gen 6.

Steve: 2 Chronicles 32:31And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. - By Dan’s yardstick, this is another case of divine ignorance. God doesn’t know what people will do until they do it.

See comments on Gen 22.

Steve: Jeremiah 3:6-7 The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: "Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to me,' but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. - By Dan’s yardstick, God was not merely ignorant of the outcome, but mistaken. God entertained a false expectation about the future. The outcome came as a surprise. Caught him offguard.

This statement seems stronger than divine repentance. Perhaps it could be taken as a command (i.e. I said “return unto me.” so the KJV and Vulgate). But if it is “thought” and “will return to me”, the we could look at this statement as a metaphor (part of the overall metaphor) representing God as a husband seeking to bring back his unfaithful wife.

Steve: Jeremiah 7:31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. - By Dan’s yardstick, not only did God utterly fail to anticipate the actual outcome, but he even failed to anticipate the possible outcome. God is not only ignorant of the future, but he’s ignorant of future possibilities.

“Nor did it come into my mind” refers to God’s command, not their sinful act. God did not think of Himself commanding them to burn their sons, but He did know that they could and would.

Steve: Jonah 3:10 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. - By Dan’s yardstick, God had a change of heart.

It seems that Jonah and the Ninevehites understood there to be an implicit condition in the prophecy (Jonah 3:9, 4:2). As for the repentance, see comments on Gen 6.

Steve: Arminian Philosophical Theology

Again, I opposed reading philosophical definitions into scripture, not all philosophy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Files: Arminius on Romans 9

In James Arminius’ commentary on the 9th Chapter of Romans, he argues that the topic at hand is justification by faith. He humbly admits that for some time the chapter was of the “greatest obscurity”, but he now sees it clearly. I can relate. Arminius finds Paul answering an implicit question by saying: though most of the Jews are rejected, yet the word of God does not therefore fail. Arminius spends some time grappling with the exact nature of the implicit question and concludes it was: “Does not the word God become of none effect, if those of the Jews, who seek righteousness, not of faith, but of the law, are rejected by God?" He basis this conclusion on Paul’s use of the “children of the promise” and “the children of the flesh”, which represent believers and those who attempt to attain righteousness through the law. He finds further support in the examples of Ishmael and Isaac, who represent the Law and the Gospel in Galatians 4. Similarly, with Esau and Jacob, we find God teaching that He hates those who seek righteousness through the works of the law, but loves those have faith in God’s call. So God’s plan all along was to justify through faith and His word isn’t overturned by the Jew’s rejection; it’s established by it.

Paul deals with the charge of injustice by pointing out that God’s choice was merciful (which presupposes sin), so it’s not a question of justice. When men will and run to obtain justification through the law, they are rejected, and do not obtain mercy through the Gospel. If God is free to declare His glory by punishing and hardening Pharaoh, He is free to punish those who seek salvation through the law. The hardening of Pharaoh (and the implication that the Jews were being hardened) gives rise to the object “why does He yet find fault, for who has resisted His will?” Arminius explains that hardening is a punishment for prior sins, and even though the person at that moment cannot avoid sinning, they are still responsible, because they deserved the hardening of freewill. Paul first reproves the objector for insolence and then explains that God forms sinners who reject His grace into vessels of wrath, and through grace forms people into believers and vessels of honor.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Scripture and Philosophy

Steve Hays added his thoughts to a discussion I had with Paul Manata on choice and determinism.

Steve says: Dan fails to distinguish between semantic equivocation and conceptual equivocation. Between the meaning of words and the meaning of ideas.The compatibilist/incompatibilist debate is fundamentally a debate over the concept of freedom, not the meaning of words in a dictionary.

This seems like a key issue, because it moves the debate away from exegesis to philosophy. The question is not if philosophy is permissible and useful in theology. I am not opposing all philosophy; only the practice of reading technical philosophical definitions into scripture.


Nor is the question if setting up technical definitions is normal philosophical behavior. But philosophy can be discussed in ordinary language by “tight wording” and specificity. Indeed scripture discusses philosophy in common language. To show that I have no hard feelings towards setting up special definitions in philosophical discussions, I will call the practice of exchanging “You can choose X” for “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire” “the switcheroo” (since Steve doesn’t like the term “equivocation”).

Nor is the question if the dictionary decides theology. Steve correctly points out that the dictionary doesn’t engage in metaphysical analysis, but it does provide what would be the conclusion of such analysis by reporting common usage. The only weight I am asking the dictionary to carry is to provide the common sense meaning of the term “choose”. Steve granted that determinists make use of the switcheroo. But the dictionary doesn’t state “if it’s my strongest desire”, nor does it give Paul’s technical counter-definition. In fact, based on the dictionary’s definition (selecting between possible alternatives), we can rightly say that man never actually chooses; because the alternatives are never actually possible.

Nor is the question if common senses decides theology. Common sense tends to underestimate the devastating impact of sin, thus original sin and total depravity are ignored far more often then they should be. Steve asks why isn’t the switcheroo common sense, especially in light of the lack of empirical evidence of counterfactual choices. I reject the switcheroo as common sense, since it seems to be motivated by deterministic assumptions and it rules out some intuitive underpinnings of LFW. It may well be true that we don’t have imperial proof of libertarian freewill, but that doesn’t mean LFW isn’t intuitive. Normally we think we can choose the options we contemplate. Perhaps we are deceived and it’s an illusion, but believing so seems counter-intuitive. Further, it’s intuitive to think that ought implies can (i.e. we shouldn’t be held morally responsible for things predetermined before we were born). Since these are common sense notions, and the switcheroo rules them out, the switcheroo contradicts common sense. I didn’t provide the common sense arguments to prove LFW, only that to demonstrate that the common sense notion of choice rules out determinism. I believe we have LFW based on scripture; I take it on faith. But that’s not “common sense”, not everyone goes down that road.


Nor is the question if there is a relationship between desire and choice. I don’t reject the phrase "choosing according to our strongest desire", though I don’t use it because it’s gained a deterministic meaning. As we contemplate our options our strongest desire seems to shift. If we think about strawberry ice cream, it may become our strongest desire at that time, but the same happens when our thoughts shift to chocolate. Choice resolves indecision. So as oppose to a determinative causal relationship between desire and choice, I see a definitional one, the choice defines the strongest desire just before the choice as “just before the choice”.


Nor is the question if scripture talks about philosophy. When our Lord, using common language, taught the philosophy that “no man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”, he received the common sense response: “this is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6) But while total depravity provides some practical exceptions to the common sense “ought implies can”; I don’t think we should throw it out all together. After all, inability seems to be the results of sins by the able (either Adam or our own in the case of hardening).


Nor is the question if scripture uses anthropomorphisms or accommodated language. Steve brought up the fact that Mormons and Open Theists would find my approach to scripture too philosophical, since they take some statements literally, that I take as either anthropomorphic or “accommodated language” (i.e. “the hand of God” or divine repentance). But this is not an example of using philosophy to define scriptural terms; it’s an example of using philosophy to interpret scripture. The scripture is using ordinary language to describe something extraordinary: God. Literal interpretations are closed off by other truths found in other passages.


Rather the question is “is it OK to read technical philosophical definitions into the words of scripture, or should we stick to the common sense meaning of terms?” To even ask the question is to answer it.


When I approach scripture, I typically think in terms of at least two levels: “what it says” and “interpretation”. Once I figure out what a text says, it still may be open to multiple interpretations; depending on the tightness of the wording and the specificity. Interpretation is selecting one of those meanings based on the context and truths discovered in other passages. Interpretation may make use of philosophy; especially to make distinctions and reconcile apparent discrepancies. For example, I typically use Occham’s razor to reconcile apparent discrepancies.


But while I may use philosophy at the interpretation level, I don’t use it at the “what it says” level; more to the point, I don’t use philosophy to define biblical terms. Doing so seems to leave the scripture open to almost an unlimited amount of interpretations (as opposed to just a few). This seems to deliver a deathblow to the clarity of scripture. Further, it seems like a departure from the grammatical/historical analysis of scripture and philosophy informs scripture rather than the other way around.

So to restate my argument, the common notion of choose is specific enough to rule out deterministic interpretations and the bible uses the common notion of choose.

Friday Files: Moore's Commentary on Romans 9

In Bob Moore’s Calvinism, Ten Little Caveats, he provides a step-by-step analysis of Romans 9, and he contrasts his view with John Piper’s. He first admits that Romans 9 is difficult to interpret and we need to lay down our presuppositions and try to put ourselves in Paul’s shoes. He points out that the key issue of the chapter is God’s way vs. man’s way. Paul address the Jewish challenged that God must require works for salvation, by showing that God chose to save through faith.

Moore sees the blessings in Romans 9:4 as conditional, Piper sees them as unconditional, but non-salving. Moore sees the choice of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as providing blessings but not salvation, but they illustrate that God saves through faith not works; Piper sees the election of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as unconditional individual election. Both Moore and Piper see “it” in Romans 9:16 as God’s bestowal of mercy, but Piper sees faith as part of “willing” and “running” because he thinks of faith as a kind of work, but Moore contrasts faith and works based on passages like Eph 2:8-9. Moore sees the case of Pharaoh as demonstrating God will be honored even if man refuses to submit to God's design, but Piper sees it as a case of reprobation. Moore sees the objection in Romans 9:19-20 as “I might as well be excused, because God is being glorified by my sins”; Piper sees it as a denial of man's having a part with regard to who becomes a believer. Moore sees hardening as a punishment for sin; Piper sees it as unconditional. Piper sees the potter/clay analogy as unconditional election/reprobation, but Moore sees it as God using unbelief to bring about a belief in others that will compound His honor.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Capstone on "Choice" debate with Paul Manata

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

Determinists require equivocation to survive. Since they don’t hold to common-sense meanings to terms like "choose", "alternative" and "possible", they develop slightly varied definitions to the terms, as opposed to getting rid of the words altogether.

Here’s a few examples of how this works. They might say “you can choose to eat the ice cream”, but what they mean is only “you can choose to eat the ice cream, if it’s your strongest desire.” More interestingly, they say “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream”, meaning “you could have chosen to eat the ice cream, if it had been your strongest desire”, when in fact it wasn’t your strongest desire. This example is inbound to the choice (i.e. the normal model is desire leads to choice, which leads to action and this example deals with desire leading to choice rather than choice leading to action). But they do the same thing on the outbound side of the choice. For example, they will say “you can eat the ice cream”, meaning “you can eat the ice cream if you choose to”, even though you can’t in fact choose to.

Paul Manata has provided some additional examples of how this equivocation works. For example: Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro in their book Naturalism say choice is an undetermined mental action, yet Paul seems comfortable understanding it as determined. 1

So what’s really going on with this equivocation? For a determinist to speak of the possibility of events that are not determined, they must get rid of the determining factors. Here’s an example: I argued that if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals, and Paul argues that “compatibilists would agree that a different past, or decree, renders those alternatives the possible ones chosen”. The past and decree are the causal forces at play. I stated “given the causal forces at play, but Paul must remove them and input different ones to talk about the possibility of counterfactuals.

Why is hypothetically getting rid of determinism a problem for determinists? Consider the compatibility thesis that the ideas of determinism and freewill are compatible. Clearly they are not, if you must get rid of the determining factors to speak of freedom to choose the undetermined event. Again, given the determining factors, choosing the undetermined event is impossible. The two concepts of being determined to do X and the ability to choose non-X are incompatible. Thus the determinist must develop his notion of freewill without the ability to choose non-X.

My primary argument to Paul was that the common sense notion of “choose” includes the ability to choose non-X, so determinists can’t consistently use the common sense notion of choose. I supported this based on several dictionaries. So the notion that the determinists must develop in response to the problems above isn’t the common notion of choice. Paul responded in two ways, first by arguing that the compatiblist could accept dictionary definitions of “choose” and second by providing exotic, philosophical, counter-definitions of choice. I responded that the compatibilist can’t really accept the dictionary definition of choice; they must hold the exotic counter-definition and simply equivocate. I also pointed out that the bible was written in common language, so using the exotic counter-definition was unbiblical. 2

Of the nine dictionaries we examined, all but one used the words “possibilities” or “alternatives” to define choose.3 Alternatives are things that can be chosen (something a determinist can’t accept) and given the determining factors nothing but the predetermined events are possible. Only by removing the determining factors via hypothesis may the determinist speak of alternatives or possibilities.

Paul argues that Jews, Muslims and modern biblical scholars all hold to determinism and use the word choose, even though he doesn’t give an explanation of how that works. That’s true, but not relevant. How does their using the term prove they are not either unaware of their inconsistency or equivocating the exotic definition for the common one. Worse, Paul’s own quotes state the Jews held the common notion of choice – the very point I made and Paul questioned.

Paul argued that libertarian free will (LFW) is incoherent and choices amount to luck, which undermines responsibility. I responded that the bible teaches God has LFW, based on Genesis 1:1. God is the first cause, so the first cause wasn’t predetermined by preceding causes. This brings us to Paul’s latest response. All one simply needs to say is that God's choice wasn't indeterminite either. I'd even agree with Kane here. God doesn't have libertarian freedom. I don't think he has compatibilistic either. I believe his freedom is sui generous. Determinate and indeterminate are mutually exclusive and exhaustive catigories. Even if God’s freedom is absolutely unique (and no question in some ways it is), it’s either determinate or indeterminate. So saying God’s freedom is sui generous is no evasion of the force of my argument. The bible teaches God has LFW, therefore Christians cannot argue LFW is illogical.

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1 Here’s Paul’s actual comment the only argument given against determinism was against physicalist determination. So, I could have left "undetermined" in the quote and added "physically" and not undermined divine-determination in the least. The result is simple, they say undetermined, Paul thinks determined. But Paul’s analysis is somewhat complex. They say undetermined, but argue against physical determinism. Why not read them as saying physically undetermined? Then distinguish between physical and divine determinism and assume they are OK with divine determinism. If they argue against that too, we can always fall back to determinism via fate or the stars. Of course the problem with Paul’s analysis is that “undetermined” is a statement about “what”, not “why”. It’s simply undetermined; no need to go into what’s not determining it.

2 Paul, being reformed, likely holds to the perspicuity (clarity) of scriptures, which entails scripture being written to the common man. Further, scripture is consistently addressed to the people of Israel and the Church.

3The one dictionary that didn’t use alternative or possibility was the Wiktionary that defines choose as simply elect, pick or decide; which are really synonyms rather than a definition. Paul call this situation a Mexican standoff, but if it’s that or the Alamo, I will let the reader judge.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Files: Clarke's commentary on Romans 9

In Adam Clarke’s commentary on Romans 9, he argues for that God choice of Jacob and Esau were primarily national1, rather than the unconditional individual election and reprobation. The idea is that God chose to bless the Jews and reveal Himself and His plan of salvation to them, but now God is choosing to bless the Gentiles and call them to salvation as well. But just as the Gentiles could be saved and Jews lost in Old Testament times, so also Jews and Gentiles can be saved now; so national election doesn’t guarantee individual salvation.

Clarke argues that we must understand the whole Old Testament context of the quotes Paul makes, based on Paul’s making use of Esau’s running and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, even though Paul’s OT quotations regarding Esau and Pharaoh don’t include running or hardening. Then Clarke argues that Israel’s blessings in verses 4-5 are national, not individual, the election of Jacob over Esau in Genesis 25:22 was national, not individual, the loving of Jacob over Esau in Malachi 1:2-3 was national, not individual, the work of the Potter in Jeremiah 18 is national, not individual and the election discussed in Romans 11 is national, not individual. Thus he concludes the election discussed in Romans 9 is national, not individual.

1 Other non-Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 include 1) election based on foreknowledge which some of the church fathers held, 2) corporate election and its close cousin and my own view 3) God’s choice of faith as the instrument of justification.