Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Church Fathers on Foreknowledge and Freewill

Some Calvinists suggest that God's foreknowledge is based on His plan and/or knowledge of causal relations rather then based on the future. I thought I would look up what the church fathers had to say on the subject of God's foreknowledge and freewill. Here are the results.

Diodore of Tarsus (circa 390)
This text [Romans 8:29-30] does not take away our free will. It uses the word foreknew before predestined. Not it is clear that foreknowledge does not by itself impose any particular behavior. What is said here would be clearer if we started from the end and worked backwards. Whom did God glorify? Those whom he justified. Whom did he predestine? Those whom he foreknew, who were called according to his plan, i.e., who demonstrated that they were worthy to be called by his plan and made conformable to Christ. (Romans (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 235)

Ambrosiaster (late 4th century)
Those whom God foreknew would believe I him he chose to receive the promises. But those who appear to believe yet do not persevere in the faith are not chosen by God, because whosever God chooses will persevere. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 235)

Theodoret of Cyrus (circa 393 – 457)
Those whose intentions God foreknew he predestined from the beginning. Those who are predestined, he called, and those who were called, he justified by baptism. Those who were justified, he glorified, calling them children. To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God. Let no one say that God’s foreknowledge was the unilateral cause of these things. For it was not foreknowledge which justified people, but God knew what would happen to them, because he is God. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, volume 6. Edited by Thomas Oden. P 237)

Origen (circa 185–254)
It is not because God knows that something is going to b e that that thing is going to be, but rather it is because it is going to be that it is know by God before it comes to be. For even if we imagine for the sake of argument that God does not foreknow anything it was without a doubt going to happen that, say Judas became a traitor, and this is just the way the prophets foretold it would happen. Therefore, it was not because the prophets foretold it that Judas became a traitor, but rather it was because he was going to be a traitor that the prophets foretold the things that he was going to do by his wicked designs, even though Judas most certainly had it within his power to be like Peter and John if he had so willed; but he chose the desire for money over the glory of apostolic companionship, and the prophets, foreseeing that this choice of his, handed it down in their books. Moreover, in order that you might understand that the cause of each person’s salvation is to be found not I God’s foreknowledge but in that person’s intentions and actions, notice that Paul tormented his body and subjected it to servitude because he feared that, after having preached to others, he himself might perhaps become reprobate. (Book 7 of his commentary on the epistle to the Romans (Romans chapter 8)).

John Damascene (circa 676 – 749)
From this it is clear that foreknowledge was not in the least a cause of the devil’s becoming evil. For a physician, when he foresees a future illness, does not cause that illness. To the contrary, the real cause of the illness consist I a perverse and immoderate way of life. For it’s part, the physician’s foreknowledge is a sign of his erudition, whereas the cause of the foreknowledge is the fact that things were going to turn out that way. (Dialogs against Manichees)

Jerome (circa 347 – 420)
For Adam did not sin because God knew that he would do so; but God inasmuch as He is God, foreknew what Adam would do of his own free choice. (Against the Pelagians. Book 3 part 6)

For not because He knew that which is about to come, is it necessary for us to do that which He has foreknown: but He became cognizant of the future because we were about to do it by our own will. For He is God. (Dan’s translation of Jerome’s comments on Ezekiel 2:5)

Tertullian (circa 160 – 220)
You ought, however, to deduct from God's attributes both His supreme earnestness of purpose and most excellent truth in His whole creation, if you would cease to inquire whether anything could have happened against the will of God. For, while holding this earnestness and truth of the good God, which are indeed capable of proof from the rational creation, you will not wonder at the fact that God did not interfere to prevent the occurrence of what He wished not to happen, in order that He might keep from harm what He wished. …The necessary consequence, therefore, was, that God must separate from the liberty which He had once for all bestowed upon man (in other words, keep within Himself), both His foreknowledge and power, through which He might have prevented man's falling into danger when attempting wrongly to enjoy his liberty. Now, if He had interposed, He would have rescinded the liberty of man's will, which He had permitted with set purpose, and in goodness. ….If He had checked (man's freedom), would He not then seem to have been rather deceived, through want of foresight into the future? But in giving it full scope, who would not say that He did so in ignorance of the issue of things? God, however, did fore-know that man would make a bad use of his created constitution; and yet what can be so worthy of God as His earnestness of purpose, and the truth of His created works, be they what they may? (Against Marcion book 2 chapter 7)

Justin Martyr (circa 100 – 165)
But when the Spirit of prophecy speaks of things that are about to come to pass as if they had already taken place, ….The things which He absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place. …But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made. And the holy Spirit of prophecy taught us this, telling us by Moses that God spoke thus to the man first created: “Behold, before thy face are good and evil: choose the good.” …So that what we say about future events being foretold, we do not say it as if they came about by a fatal necessity; but God foreknowing all that shall be done by all men, and it being His decree that the future actions of men shall all be recompensed according to their several value, He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that He will bestow meet rewards according to the merit of the actions done, always urging the human race to effort and recollection, showing that He cares and provides for men. (First Apology Chapters 42-44)

And that God the Father of all would bring Christ to heaven after He had raised Him from the dead, and would keep Him there until He has subdued His enemies the devils, and until the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous is complete, on whose account He has still delayed the consummation—hear what was said by the prophet David. These are his words: “The Lord said unto My Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. (First Apology Chapter 45)

For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold. For the reason why God has delayed to do this, is His regard for the human race. For He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, some even that are perhaps not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative. And if any one disbelieves that God cares for these things, he will thereby either insinuate that God does not exist, or he will assert that though He exists He delights in vice, or exists like a stone, and that neither virtue nor vice are anything, but only in the opinion of men these things are reckoned good or evil. (First Apology Chapter 28)

Pseudo- Justin Martyr (date unknown)
Foreknowledge is not a cause of that which is going to be, but rather that which is going to be is a cause of foreknowledge. For that which is going to be does not ensue upon foreknowledge, but rather foreknowledge ensues upon that which is going to be. (link)

Irenaeus (2nd century – 202)
Man has received the knowledge of good and evil. It is good to obey God, and to believe in Him, and to keep His commandment, and this is the life of man; as not to obey God is evil, and this is his death. Since God, therefore, gave [to man] such mental power (magnanimitatem) man knew both the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience, that the eye of the mind, receiving experience of both, may with judgment make choice of the better things; and that he may never become indolent or neglectful of God’s command; and learning by experience that it is an evil thing which deprives him of life, that is, disobedience to God, may never attempt it at all, but that, knowing that what preserves his life, namely, obedience to God, is good, he may diligently keep it with all earnestness. Wherefore he has also had a twofold experience, possessing knowledge of both kinds, that with discipline he may make choice of the better things. …Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. … If, however, thou wilt not believe in Him, and wilt flee from His hands, the cause of imperfection shall be in thee who didst not obey, but not in Him who called [thee]. … Nor, [in like manner], does the light fail because of those who have blinded themselves; but while it remains the same as ever, those who are [thus] blinded are involved in darkness through their own fault. The light does never enslave any one by necessity; nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon any one unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill. Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves. But God, foreknowing all things, prepared fit habitations for both, kindly conferring that light which they desire on those who seek after the light of incorruption, and resort to it; but for the despisers and mockers who avoid and turn themselves away from this light, and who do, as it were, blind themselves, He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. (Against Heresies chapter 39)

John Chrysostom (circa 347–407)
But when He said, “It must needs be,” it is not as taking away the power of choosing for themselves, nor the freedom of the moral principle, nor as placing man’s life under any absolute constraint of circumstances, that He saith these things, but He foretells what would surely be; and this Luke hath set forth in another form of expression, “It is impossible but that offenses should come.” But what are the offenses? The hindrances on the right way. Thus also do those on the stage call them that are skilled in those matters, them that distort their bodies. It is not then His prediction that brings the offenses; far from it; neither because He foretold it, therefore doth it take place; but because it surely was to be, therefore He foretold it; since if those who bring in the offenses had not been minded to do wickedly, neither would the offenses have come; and if they had not been to come, neither would they have been foretold. But because those men did evil, and were incurably diseased, the offenses came, and He foretells that which is to be. (Homilies # 59 on Mathew 18:7)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Determinism and Determinists

Steve has responded in our ongoing discussion on choice and determinism.

Steve: I’ve been busy with more important business, such as my review of Ehrman’s silly new book.

Thanks for responding to Ehrman's blasphemies.

Steve: Moreover, I’ve already corrected him on his misstatement that determinism rules out possible alternatives. That’s demonstrably false. In supralapsarian Calvinism, for example, God chose a particular means to achieve a particular end. There were other possible ends, with corresponding means available to him, but he chooses the end that best furthers his purpose (i.e. the glorification of God in the glorification of the elect).

Determinism does rule out possible alternatives. Calvinism isn't equivalant to determinism. Granted some Calvinists hold to exhaustive determinism - the ones who deny God's LFW. But Calvinists who affirm God's LFW deny exhaustive determinism. Granted, for these Calvinists, God not man has LFW. But to the extent that God has LFW, determinism isn't exhaustive.

Steve: Once again, here is Kane’s definition:“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,”How is that an especially technical or philosophical definition–much less a definition distinctive to Kane’s action theory?

I had already explained this to Paul, but here goes...

Kane’s theorizes 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 two attempted choices push up against each other and create indeterminism. 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. (Kane, For Views on Free Will, ed. Sosa, Blackwell, 2008, p35)

How does this relate to Kane's definition of a choice? Kane needs a definition of choice that works with determinism, because at least to some degree, choices work deterministically in his system. He leaves off "alternatives" becauce they don't fit his system. For Kane, indeterminism isn't an intrisic part of the process of developing one choice, rather it's a side effect of the parallel development of two choices. In fact, Kane holds that some choices are predetermined (while others are not). You find Kane's definition agreeable, because for Kane, choice must fit within a deterministic system.

Steve: Let’s compare two definitions of choice:a) ”A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something” (Kane).b) ”A choice involves the power to instantiate alternate possibilities” (Dan).

My comment was not a definition.

Steve: But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Kane’s definition were a technical definition. So what?

Kane's definition is fine for discussions, after the definition is understood. It's just not a good idea to assume it's the definition of scriptural terms.


Steve: As I’ve also pointed out to Dan, dictionary definitions include technical definitions as well as popular definitions. It’s quite arbitrary for Dan to cite the dictionary as his frame of reference, then arbitrarily restrict what definitions are “suitable.”

This seems at odds with Steve's claims that "Dan is overinterpreting lexical usage and trying to abstract the end-result from the process" and "A dictionary is a vicious hermeneutical circle." How is it that my approach is "selectivly technical" and "hicksville" at the same time?

The dictionary reports a common usage of the term choose, which just happens to rule out determinism. I am not really being all that selective. I simply googled choose and dictionary and dictionary.com's "to select from a number of possibilities" was the first definition in the first link. Granted, at this point I have looked at bunches of dictionaries, but most either use "possiblities" or "alternatives" or both. If I am being techincal, it's because the common usage is technical.

Steve: For Dan to reject [Kane's] definition is special pleading in excelsis.

Kane is unique, even among libertarian phlosophers.

Steve: And even on its own terms, it’s problematic to include “execution of choice” in your concept of choice–considering the fact that a finite agent often fails to execute his choice.

Maybe, but that's what the dictionary seems to be doing. I believe "failed attempts" wouldn't qualify as choices under the dictionary method, since the belief that X was possible was false. Semantically, I can see a case for that. It's a bit awkward to say I choose something, when I wasn't able to execute the choice. If a linebacker stops him, we might say "Romo wanted to cross the goal line", but we wouldn't normally say "Romo chose to cross the goal".

Now perhaps this is a failing in the dictionary. Perhaps the dictionary should only talk about things we think are possible (which may or may not be possible), rather than taking about things that are possible. But that's not what it does.

Steve: ”Selection between possible alternatives” is a mental act involving deliberation. Resolving on one alternative is also a mental act. That’s irrelevant to the extramental structure of the world. That’s a psychological claim, not an ontological claim.

No. This is the switcharoo to square the dictionary with determinism. Steve exhanges possibilities for what we think are possilities. The exhange is quite subtle and easy to overlook, but it's there.

A determinist wouldn't even think they were possibilities; she would think they might be possibilities, only as a result of our her ignorance of what has been predetermined. So a possibility is being exhanged for "I don't know if this is a possibility or not".

Steve: Dan was forced to admit that there’s absolutely no empirical evidence for LFW. His fallback was to invoke intuitive evidence for LFW.

That's not my argument. I have always taken LFW on faith. Let me give some background here.... About a year ago Gene challanged Arminians for an exegetical argument for LFW. I offered to debate him on the topic. He declined. A few months ago he repeated the challenge, and again I offered to debate him. He again declined, but Paul and I did have a brief exhange. This lead to a more extensive exhange, which you have picked up on. So my core argument, from the begining is this:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose
P2: But choosing rules out determinism
C1: Therefore, the bible rules out determinism.

P1 is obvious. Some folkes have pointed out that the bible talks about God choosing more often than it talks about man choosing, but even a single instance of the bible saying man chooses substaniates P1.

I supported P2 based on the dictionary, with hooks back into biblical usage based on modern scholarship and ancient Jewish opinion. What I have received back so far has been 1) counterdefinitions and 2) attempts to reconcile the dictionary with determinism. This has been the main battle ground. My reponse to #1 has been that while counterdefinitions exist they are either tautological or technical and neither are useful for understanding scripture. My response to #2 is that the attempts to reconcile determinism with the dictionary fail, and only look successful due to the switcharoo.

My use of "intuition" was only to respond to the question of why the "switcharoo" wasn't common sense.

Steve: That, however, would require a one-to-one correspondence between the hypothetical options we thought were within our power to realize, and what we could actually achieve. Failed attempts destroy the intuitive evidence for LFW since they demonstrate that Dan’s intuitive criterion is unreliable.

If choice requires a one-to-one correspondence, then only cases with a one-to-one correspondence are choices. "Failed attempts" wouldn't be choices. Of course, if determinism is true, there is never a one-to-one correspondence, so we never choose. But if LFW is true, sometimes there is a one-to-one correspondence, and so sometimes we choose. So even if we grant the argument regarding failed attemps (which I don't), it still doesn't eliminate LFW, it simply limits the cases in which we choose to a smaller subset.

Steve: Dan is not a classic Arminian. To the contrary, Dan is a Molinist.

I am not sure how Molinism is relivant to the current discussion, but in any case Steve's statement is a false dichotomy - a person can be both classic Arminian and Molinist.

Steve: But Molinism is at odds with Dan’s definition of choice. In Molinism, God is the only agent who can instantiate alternate possibilities. It’s God who determines which possible world to actualize, not the human agent.In Molinism, human choice is purely counterfactual. There’s a possible world in which Dan does A, another possible world in which Dan does B, yet another possible world in which Dan does C, and so on. But the Dan of each possible world lacks the power to instantiate these alternatives. The human agent is not the agent that instantiates a possible world. Only God can do that. So the human agent lacks access to alternate possibilities.In Molinism, God chooses which possibility to instantiate, not the human agent. God chooses in light of what the human agent would do, but the human agent, in a possible world, isn’t free to make that happen himself. For a human agent in a possible world has no objective existence. A possible agent is not a real agent. A possible agent can’t do a thing. b) What is more, once God chooses which possible world to instantiate, the agent has no freedom to do otherwise in the actual world to which he belongs. The freedom of choice representing possible worlds might be significant if, in addition, a Molinist agent had the freedom to choose which choice would be actualized. But since he lacks that complementary freedom, the freedom which the Molinist scheme imputes to him is quite illusory. c) Summing up, a Molinist agent lacks the freedom to choose between one possible world and another. That’s because each possible world (or world segment) represents a choice (or set of choices, involving other agents as well). Within each possible world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. They pair off: one alternate choice per world, where a possible world (or world-segment) corresponds to an alternate choice. And in the actual world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. That’s because the actual world selects for that particular choice to the exclusion of other possibilities. In a possible world, or in the actual world, all other possibilities are inaccessible to the world-bound agent. The real freedom belongs to God, who chooses which possible world to instantiate. A Molinist agent doesn’t get to choose the actual world in which he will find himself. He’s stuck with God’s choice. Hence, a Molinist agent has precious little freedom.

I am not quite sure if this was intended as a "reducto ad absurdem" argument against Molinism or a description of Molinism. If it's a description, it's an incorrect summary of Molinism.

God does not choose between possible worlds, He chooses between hypotheticals (sometimes called feasible worlds). Further, the agent is able to choose between possible worlds. God knows they will not (and would not), but they still can choose other possible worlds. God's choice (decree) does not elimitate the alternative possibilities. I think Steve is confusing "would" with "can".

Here's how it works. Let's say there are 3 possible worlds (one in which I choose chocolate, a second in which I choose vanilla, and a third in which the I don't even go to the ice cream parlor.)
God looks at the set of worlds and "runs a hypothetical scenario" in which I am in the ice cream parlor. The result is hypothetical Dan, who can choose either chocolate or vanilla, chooses chocolate. God says, "that's what I want", and He creates that world.

God created the world He saw in the scenario and it's just like the world in the scenario. In the scenario, hypothetical Dan was able to choose chocolate or vanilla (i.e. had access to 2 possible worlds), so actual Dan can choose chocolate or vanilla (i.e. has access to 2 possible worlds).

Steve: It [hypothetical options] can mean I imagine a number of ostensible alternatives. I contemplate different flavors. And it can also mean deciding to eat one flavor rather than another, or deciding to refrain from eating any flavor. These are mental acts. And there’s no equipollent relation between what I can conceive and what I can do.

It's a switcharoo to change from things we can do to things we think we can do, but bypassing that... alternatives are two or more things we can choose, not two or more things we can do, but bypassing that as well... If determinism is true, we don't have alternatives and if one is a determinist, he can't think he has alternatives.

How can they appear to be alternatives, if one believes in determinism? If determinism is true, a person can't choose otherwise. But if a person is a determinist, he can't think he can choose otherwise. He can't think he can choose either chocolate or vanilla. His ignorance of what he has been predetermined to do may lead him to think "I might be able to eat chocolate but if so, I can't eat vanilla and I might be able to eat vanilla, but if so I can't eat chocolate", but he couldn't consistently think of chocolate and vanilla as alternative possibilities.

If libertarianism is true, there sometimes is and sometimes isn't an equipollent; if determinism is true, there's never an equipollent. But if a person is a determinist, it makes no sense to even think they have alternatives. Since alternatives are a part of the definition of choosing, the definition of choose rule out determinism. But even the retreated (switcharoo) understanding of alternatives to "what we thought were alternatives" doesn't work. Since it makes no sense for a determinist to think he has alternatives, it makes no sense for a determinist to think he can choose.

Dan: Normally people think we are able to choose otherwise before the choice but not after the choice. This seems due to time and perhaps also cause and effect. But in any case, normally we think possibilities lapse. No crying over spilt milk. Steve seems to be calling this into question. One can only speculate as to why.Does he think God time-travels? Does he disregard time as we know it? Does he think maybe we will wake up tomorrow and God chose Esau all along?

Steve: Remember what I said in my previous post? “Of course, depending on whether the agent is human or divine, choice will involve different preconditions. Since God is timeless, his mind was never in a state of uncertainty or indecision. His intent or purpose is timeless. Due to his omnipotence, various alternatives were available to him. Many things were possible. But it took no time for him to ‘form’ an intention or purpose. It’s a timeless intention.”

I agree with this statement, but it doesn't answer my questions or explain your statement about time-travel or lingering possibilites.

Dan: we have the freedom to choose otherwise than we will choose and had the freedom to choose otherwise than we did. If God alone had LFW (the uniwiller theory) and has issued one simple, eternal decree, all possibilities should be spoken of in the past tense.

Steve: That’s an assertion without an argument. A timeless God would employ tensed language when addressing time-bound creatures.

My comment was a description, not argument. Steve attacked a position (the idea that LFW entails the ability to change the past), so I explained that LFW doesn't entail the ability to change the past.

While your previous statement about God and time was one I agreed with and I don't think it explained our differences here; this comment about God's timelessness might. God's decree and/or creation of the world starts time. Once time starts, God is in it. God has alternative possibilities before creation and does not after creation. For man, the change from one moment to the next is associated with the lapse of possibilites. For God, it's the change from being outside of time to being in time.

But let's say you're right and God remains timeless after the inception of time. This leads us to question if time itself is real, since apparently God doesn't see things that way. Further, so long as the decree logically precedes the act, alternative possibilities have still lapsed. Given God's decree, there are no possible alternatives. So it still does not make sense to use possible alternatives (indexed to God) as a core ingredient in defining man's choices (logically and/or temporally after the decree). Further still, one questions if God ever had alternative possibilities (temporally or logically), since they seem to entail change.

Dan: God knows the heart and will judge us based on our choices. We trust Him to take care of the consequences.

Steve: Irrelevant to what I said. This is what I said: “What’s the value of having libertarian freedom if you can never explore the consequences of each alternative in advance of committing yourself to just one course of action?

It's very relevant. The "value" and rewards are eternal, not temporal. Matthew 6:25-34

Steve: Even Dan admits that “remorse” is one of the available definitions.ii) He is also disregarding the implications of a word. There is more at issue than the meaning of a word. When a word attributes a certain attitude to an agent, that carries certain implications. It’s not just a question of what the word means, but what the attitude denoted by the word implies. The word denotes an attitude. What does the attitude imply? Why would God have a change of heart or feel remorse unless he regretted his prior course of action?When we read about people, and certain states of mind are attributed to them, we draw certain inferences. This isn’t just a question of looking up some words in a dictionary. Words don’t exist in isolation to the world they denote. They derive their meaning from the world they denote.

No question remorse is one of the definitions, but it's not the only one. Change of heart and remorse are alternative definitions. You cited some Engish translations that translate naham as sorry, but other versions translate it repent. Interestingly, the newer translations (and dynamic equivalants) tend to go with "sorry", and the older ones tend to favor "repent". The LXX, Vulgate, Tyndale, Webster, KJV, ASV, Youngs, and Darby all go with repent. Translations aside, the Hebrew itself allows for either change of heart or remorse. I disslike "sorry" as a translation, because it's too specific and misses the range of meaning in the Hebrew naham.

The denotation for divine repentance is not the same as it is for God's repentance, unless you think God, like man, sins, and physically reacts. God has a change of heart, not because of His own sins, but due to His hatred of ours. God previously saw mankind and said "it is good", now He sees mankind as only evil. So before He wished to have a creation, now He wishes their destruction. That's the change of heart from one intention to another, and it's not due to God's sins, but man's.

Steve: “God's knowledge is temporally prior but logically after the outcome, so God still foreknows in a temporal sense.”i) From a Molinist standpoint, in what sense is God’s knowledge temporally prior? If God is contemplating possible worlds, then that would be apart from time since time itself would be a result of instantiating a possible world.

At the beginning of time, God knows the whole of time.

Dan: “On the other hand, if God's knowledge isn't based on the outcome, then it's not knowledge of the outcome.”

Steve: This is one of the semantic games that Dan tries to play. And in so doing, he abandons is commitment to common sense and popular usage. In popular parlance, to know the outcome is to know what will happen. However, knowledge of the outcome needn’t be based on the outcome itself.

Not so. In popular usage knowing what will happen means your knowledge of what will happen corresponds to what will happen. Of course, there's usually some degree of uncertainty for us, but we judge the truth or falsehood of future tense propositions based on outcomes. If I said "it will rain tomorrow", one would not say my statement was true, if it does not rain tomorrow, even if at the time I (and everyone else on the planet) had every reason to believe it would rain tomorrow. Even if nature was about to deterministically cause rain and God miraculously intervened and stopped the rain, people would still say my statement was false.

What Steve is talking about doesn't seem to be a common topic of discussion, but it would be better described as knowledge of causal forces and relations rather than knowledge of the future.
Steve: That’s a possible mode of future knowledge. Knowledge of the future after the fact. Of course, that falls short of knowing the future as future. Rather, that’s knowing the future as past. After the fact.

Yes, but knowing it as past, before it happens.

Steve: If knowledge of the outcome is caused by (i.e. “based on”) the outcome, then such knowledge is inherently ex post facto.

Caused and "based on" are not equivalent. The future does not cause God's knowledge, since God's knowledge is immediate. The relation between God's knowledge and the event is logical, not causal. It's closer to that of a definition and a word rather than that of fire burning paper.

Steve: If, on the other hand, the agent is causing the future, then it’s not the outcome that causes his knowledge of the outcome; rather, causing the outcome is the source of his knowledge. God knows the outcome by knowing himself. God knows what is going to happen because God decreed the outcome and God also executes his decree through primary and secondary causation.

That's inductive and can never amout to knowledge of the future. Steve seems to be denying that the future is the basis of truth of statements about the future.

Dan: Finding fault’ is conduct. The passage doesn't say why would God still find fault or if no one resists His will. It says why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”

Steve: Dan is too flatfooted to appreciate Pauline rhetoric. Rom 9:19 is a counterfactual objection in which, for the sake of argument, a hypothetical opponent takes Paul’s position, as he (the opponent) understands it, to its logical extreme. To think this is a statement of what the opponent actually believes is to get the objection completely backwards. The objection is a reductio ad absurdum of what the opponent takes to be a Pauline premise.

It's interesting Steve thinks I am sticking to the text of Romans 9:19 too closely.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: Whedon's Freedom of the Will

John Wagner recently edited and republished Daniel Whedon’s Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan response to Jonathan Edwards. The book is an outstanding refutation of Edward’s Inquiry into the Will. Whedon seeks and engages top authors and arguments like Hobbs’ argument (latter adopted by Locke and Edwards) that free will is incoherent, because it either amounts to a causeless cause or infinite regression of causes. Whedon responds by pointing out 1) the will is the cause of choice (74), 2) defining indeterministic causes (38-39) and 3) explaining that indeterministic causes account for either choice (71-72). In other words, indeterministic causes explain the goal of our choices (or reason for our choices), but in the will is the cause we choose this goal, not that goal. This is essentially agent causation.

Whedon’s discussion of foreknowledge is fascinating. His refutation of Edwards' God's foreknowledge rules out freewill argument is solid. I like his pointing out that we don't know how God knows the future (229). I really like his moderate use of Molinism (245, 256). He enters an interesting discussion about the difference between certainty and necessity. Apparently Calvinists split in reaction to Hobbs. Some (like Edwards) argued the future is necessary. Others said it is not necessary, but it’s certain. Whedon argues that certainty is equal to necessity if in every possible world the thing never happens (190-191).

Whedon’s response to Edwards is devastating. He points out that Edwards view of freedom is post-volitional, not freedom of the will (17). Edward’s notion of freedom is accurate, but incomplete and irrelevant to the Calvinist/Arminian debate. Whedon explains that that the three types of necessity (causal, logical and temporal) are all necessity. (33) Edwards attempts to split necessity into various categories is one of the ways he goes way off course. Whedon argues that saying "I can do X" implies "I can choose to do X" (209). Whedon exposes Edwards error of attempts to split them and then usurp the common notion of freedom based only on "I can do X". Whedon explains that choice makes the strongest motive and the last judgment of reason strongest and last (57).

I am glad John brought Whedon back. It’s good to see such as strong Arminian response to Edwards, as I have often heard the claim that Edwards is unanswered.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What if chocolate is sold out?

Steve provided a response in our ongoing discussion of choice and determinism.

For the most part, I agree with Steve's explanation of how dictionaries/lexicons work and only resist his characterizing my position as falling outside the parameters he so skillfully lays down.

Paul and I reviewed 9 dictionary definitions of "choose". 8 of them use either "alternative" or "possible" or both within the definition. Wiktionary did not; it used synonyms (including "decide"). I cited this as a failing on the part of the Wiktionary and argued that the definitions provided in the other 8 dictionaries ruled out determinism.

So my contention is that the question of why dictionaries and lexicons are what they are is not relevant to the business at hand. The questions should be: “what does the dictionary say” and “does that conflict with determinism”? Since dictionaries speak of possible alternatives and determinism rules out possible alternatives, it seems like an open and shut case.

Steve: i) To choose=to make a decision.

ii) Or, if you prefer a definition from one of your own, how about this:

“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,” R. Kane, “Libertarianism,” J. Fischer, et al, Four Views On Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 33.


The first definition descends to a tautology and the second is handcrafted to fit Kane's unique philosophical theory. Neither is suitable for understanding scripture, though Kane's definition is useful for understanding Kane. I have already made my case against leaving out essential ingredients and technical, philosophical definitions.

Steve: However, if you insist, we could even include “alternatives” in our definition of choice. That doesn’t get you anywhere close to LFW, for there’s a difference between the hypothetical options I contemplate–on the one hand–and whether that process of deliberation matches accessible alternatives in the real world–on the other.

It’s child’s play to come up with many examples in which the conceivable alternatives I imagine to be possible are not, in fact, available to me.


I generally think of choices at three levels: 1) contemplation, 2) choice and 3) execution of choice. Let’s take chocolate/vanilla ice cream. Related to #3 there's a set of alternative possibilities: I can eat chocolate and I can eat vanilla. Likewise related to #2 there's a different set of alternative possibilities: I can choose chocolate and I can choose vanilla. #1 corresponds to #3. I think about eating chocolate and I think about eating vanilla.


The dictionary defines choose as selection between possible alternatives (or options). Steve trades options for "hypothetical options" (#3 for #1). Doing so misses the dictionary (common sense) definition. Thinking about eating chocolate should not be confused with eating chocolate.


Steve uses several examples of "failed attempts" to disprove LFW. These are situations like thinking you can eat chocolate but you can't (i.e. #1 without a corresponding #3). Let's say chocolate is sold out. I can't eat chocolate, but I can fail in the attempt. Given Steve's understanding of choice (which includes #1, but not #3), #3 is irrelevant to choice. It doesn't matter if we can eat chocolate or not, we are still choosing. On the other hand, if choice does involve #3, failed attempts don't disprove LFW. The level 3 possible alternatives moves from "I can eat chocolate/I can eat vanilla" to "I can eat vanilla/I can fail in the attempt to eat chocolate". Maybe not what we had in mind, but possible alternatives none the less.

Determinism cuts off alternative possibilities at the source (level 2 – I cannot choose chocolate). If determinism is true, there are no alternative possibilities at level 2 or level 3. If I am predetermined to eat vanilla, eating chocolate is impossible; I can neither eat chocolate nor fail in the attempt.

What are we to understand by "hypothetical options"? Could it mean me imagining I am eating chocolate? Could it mean the thought "if I choose chocolate, I will eat chocolate"? Could it mean "if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate"? It's unclear what Steve means. Let's say it's the first. Why call it "options" unless we also imagine ourselves choosing chocolate. In that case we are to the second. But what if chocolate is sold out? I might think it's a hypothetical option, but I would be wrong. Given the hypothesis (if I choose chocolate), I still don't get to eat chocolate. What about the third ("if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate"). Even if chocolate is sold out, this one entails a counter-factual past in which chocolate is not sold out. That works, but does anyone think this is the key ingredient in the normal definition of choice? In short, not only does Steve trade options for "hypothetical options", he really shouldn't be calling what he has in mind "hypothetical options".

Why wouldn’t libertarianism, if true, entail the possibility of time travel? To do otherwise is only incompossible if you can’t repeat the past–up to a certain point, then do something different. But if you have the ability to do otherwise, then you should be able to repeat the past–up to the point where you do otherwise.

Here’s a surprising statement. And perhaps not unrelated to this interchange:

Me: However, since the [God’s] 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: …Alternate possibilities exist because alternate possibilities inhere in God’s omnipotence. The finite world does not exhaust the unlimited resources of divine omnipotence. There are many unexemplified possibilities: things which it was within God’s power to do, but he refrained from doing.


Normally people think we are able to choose otherwise before the choice but not after the choice. This seems due to time and perhaps also cause and effect. But in any case, normally we think possibilities lapse. No crying over spilt milk. Steve seems to be calling this into question. One can only speculate as to why. Does he think God time-travels? Does he disregard time as we know it? Does he think maybe we will wake up tomorrow and God chose Esau all along? In a world with turducken, I am not one to look down on innovation. Perhaps Steve can explain what's going on here.

In the meantime...we have the freedom to choose otherwise than we will choose and had the freedom to choose otherwise than we did. If God alone had LFW (the uniwiller theory) and has issued one simple, eternal decree, all possibilities should be spoken of in the past tense.

Steve: What’s the value of having libertarian freedom if you can never explore the consequences of each alternative in advance of committing yourself to just one course of action?

God knows the heart and will judge us based on our choices. We trust Him to take care of the consequences.

Regarding divine repentance and Gen 6:6.... In reviewing my analysis of texts regarding "divine repentance", Steve seems to conflate the definitions of the words and the range of interpretations left open by the definitions of the words. I am not saying you can look up interpretations in a dictionary; I am saying definitions can bar things from inclusion within the interpretation.


In analysing Gen 6:6 we should not confuse repentance with remorse. Lexicons provide "a change of heart" or "relenting of a past course" as a possible definition for naham; although another definition is remorse. In particular, the LXX's enthumeomai excludes remorse and only includes a change of course. So in this case "antropromorphism" is overly complex and per Occham's razor should be avoided.

If God’s knowledge of the outcome derives from the outcome, then God is ignorant of the future. He only knows the future when the future is past. He only knows the future after the fact.

God's knowledge is temporally prior but logically after the outcome, so God still foreknows in a temporal sense. On the other hand, if God's knowledge isn't based on the outcome, then it's not knowledge of the outcome.

The critic is not objecting to God’s conduct. Rather, the critic is objecting to Paul’s doctrine of God.

Steve: "Finding fault" is conduct. The passage doesn't say why would God still find fault or if no one resists His will. It says why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

Steve: It would also behoove him to read Cunningham’s article on “Calvinism, and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity.”

Thanks for the suggestion.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Files: Keith Schooley on Romans 9

In Keith Schooley's Article: Romans 9: An Arminian/New Perspective Reading, he skillfully uses the OT to explain Romans 9. Paul refutes "those Jews who would say that, if Paul’s gospel were correct, then “God’s word had failed” (9:6). His response to them is that God had never made the unconditional promises, based either on “works” or ethnicity, that they were claiming. God sovereignly chose Isaac over Ishmael; He sovereignly chose Jacob over Esau; and by implication, He can sovereignly choose on the basis of faith in Christ, as opposed to works of the law or ethnicity."
Keith has an interesting take on hardening. Since both Pharaoh and God are said to harden Pharaoh's heart, Keith sees various roles in the hardening process. God provides the impetus for harding and Pharaoh responds by hardening his heart. Regerading the objector in Romans 9:19, Keith explains the objection as "the questioner is asking why faith in Christ should be necessary. That is, how can God blame the Jew for expecting to be among the chosen people because he’s a Jew—in other words, because he’s descended from Abraham and because he’s kept (in a relative sense) the Law? How can God blame the Jews for failing to come to faith in Christ, since faith was not what the Jews were led to expect to be the criterion of election?" Keith then explains that vessals of mercy and wrath are dynamic, not static, groups.