Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Determinism and Choosing Otherwise

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

I had said: “If determinism is true, a person can't choose otherwise.”

Steve responded: As usual, Dan is equivocating. A predestined agent can contemplate different hypothetical courses of action. And the hypothetical he chooses to act upon always turns out to be the hypothetical that God decreed to be. Indeed, God decreed the agent to choose that hypothetical option. A predestined agent doesn’t know in advance which hypothetical is a live possibility. But the apparent alternatives influence his choice of the viable alternative. So they serve a purpose. Although they are merely apparent, they are still functional in the deliberative process. Psychologically useful.

There’s nothing unusual about this. Take a card game. Given the cards that are on the table, face up, along with the cards remaining in the deck, a gambler will decide to bet or to fold based on the possible and probable combinations which remain outstanding. At a metaphysical level, only one of these ostensible possibilities is a live possibility. For the cards in the deck are (randomly) arranged in just one sequence at a time. But the gambler doesn’t know which combination is the actual combination. At an epistemic level, several combinations are still possible. Are still in play.

That calculation affects his choice. Even though the possible hands which he contemplates are mostly impossible hands (given the actual, albeit unknown, order of the deck), he is still making a choice based on the apparent alternatives which are available to him.

I don't believe I am equivocating; given determinism, a person can’t choose otherwise and if one is a determinist, they can’t consistently think they can choose otherwise. I don't think the epistemic sense of ‘possible’ reconciles determinism with 'the ability to choose otherwise'.

The card player example relates to the outcome of choices not choices (I said choose otherwise, not do otherwise). The epistemic sense of 'possible' relates to the execution of choices, not choices themselves. In fact, the card player example is twice removed from the choice itself. The card player chooses to take another card; his success or failure in that attempt is getting another card or not (i.e. does he have a heart attack while asking for one, or does a ceiling tile fall on the dealer's head...). Steve's example is about the outcome of the draw, not the draw itself. Further, the card player isn't thinking "is choosing to draw possible?" (i.e. can I make the internal mental resolution?), he's thinking about the outcome of drawing another card, so his use of possible relates to outcomes of choices, not choices themselves.

But even if I had said "do otherwise", a determinist card player still shouldn't think he is able to do otherwise. In an epistemic sense, the player might think 'blackjack is possible' and he might think 'bust is possible'. But he couldn’t reason 'since either blackjack or bust is “otherwise”, therefore "otherwise" is possible'. The sense in which blackjack is possible and bust is possible excludes any relationship with the category "otherwise"; so since "otherwise" isn't in the two major premises, it shouldn't be imported into the conclusion. The category ‘otherwise’ is impossible and the determinist poker player knows it’s impossible (even if he doesn’t know which instance falls within the category).1 Worse, the fallacy creates the direct contradiction of thinking that doing otherwise is both possible and impossible (even in the epistemic sense of possible - i.e. given what the player knows).

Beyond 'the ability to choose otherwise'; I don't think the epistemic sense of possible could reconcile the determinism with the dictionary definition of 'choose' (i.e. selection between possible alternatives). Someone could use the epistemic sense of possible and still be ruling out determinism. The epistemic sense of possible in conjunction with determinism works on one possibility at a time. Granted, a determinist could talk about one possibility in an epistemic sense, but when he starts talking about two or more possibilities, he undermines determinism. The blackjack player could say "blackjack (21) is possible" and he could say "20 is possible". But if he is a determinist, he can't combine them, because he doesn't believe in twofold possibilities.

This "one possibility at a time" limitation of determinism becomes a problem when it comes to choice, as choosing involves at least two options. A determinist can't say (or think or imply) 'I know 20 is possible', if 20 is possible or 21 is possible and he doesn't know which. That would be a division fallacy like saying "I know 'Dan drank coffee this morning' is true", because he knows 'Dan drank coffee this morning' or 'Dan did not drink coffee this morning' is true. He erects one pillar and the other falls, and if he tries erecting both at the same time, they both fall. While still in an epistemic sense, given determinism, he could also say "I know 20 or 21 is impossible", so 20 and 21 are possible and impossible. He can't say 20 and 21 are possible, because that would be like saying 41 is possible. He can't say "20 or 21 are possibilities" or "they are possible alternatives" or "they are alternative possibilities"; these expressions (even understanding 'possible' in an epistemic sense), undermine determinism.

Further, the epistemic sense of possible isn’t a valid candidate for defining choose. But before we get into the details, I need to take a brief detour into the difference between causal and logical impossibility.

Impossible is impossible; no matter why it’s impossible. But semantically, sometimes we speak of impossibility in relation to why things are impossible; thus we have the distinction between logical and causal impossibility. Logical impossibility arises due to contradiction, causal impossibility arises due to causal forces. 1+1=3 is logically impossible. In the expression X + Y = 3, where X & Y are whole numbers between 0 and 3, X can be 0, 1, 2 or 3 (thus they are logically possible). However, if we know Y is 2, X can only be 1 (all other numbers being logically impossible). Barring miracles, it's causally impossible for fire not to burn paper.

So the three senses for impossible are 1) absolute (given all relevant logical and causal factors), 2) logical impossibility (things which are impossible due to the rules of logic) and 3) causal impossibility (things which are impossible to the rules of causality). Causal and logical impossibility are subcategories of absolute impossibility (impossibility without qualification) and as we shall see, epistemic possibility is a subcategory of logical impossibility.

If I said “it’s possible a 50 lb weight would crush an unopened coke can”, it may sound as if I am talking about causal impossibility, but I am not. Granted the relationship between the coke can and weight is causal, not logical. But if causal laws are such that the coke can will withstand the pressure, the weight crushing the can is causally impossible. What we are dealing with here is my ignorance (have a rhetorical softball Steve). I don't know the causal relationship between the weight and the can, so given the data I have, I can’t deduct the truth about what would happen. So the “possible” here is logically possible, not causally possible.2

When we are dealing with “ignorance” and the mental projection of outcomes, “possibility” always relates logical possibility, and never causal possibility. We contemplate facts, truths and ideals and we reason through them logically. Thus the epistemic sense of possibility is a subcategory of logical possibility.

Back to Steve... Epistemic possibilities are things we think are possible (which may not in fact be possible). It this logical or causal possibility? It might look like Steve is saying we don't know if we can causally produce something or not (while leads us to think he's taking about causal possibility), but Steve's card player example is tell that he's speaking of logical possibility.

The card player's ignorance isn't related to what outcomes he can causally produce, it's related to what outcomes he can logically deduct. The epistemic sense of 'possible' relates to logical possibility; given this data, 20 is still logically open. Possible, in the sense the poker player uses, is a narrowing down of outcomes based on given facts, it doesn't relate to the poker players' causal power. Using logic, the player tries to project the outcome; but he can't, it's indeterminate from an epistemic standpoint. If he can't determine an outcome (i.e. he doesn't know it to be either necessary or impossible), he might say it's possible.

This issue is similar to the discussion Steve and I had about God's foreknowledge and future contingents; we must distinguish between truth and the basis of truth. The basis of truth is causal. Causal forces outside the player and the player's causal power will determine the outcome. When we say someone can choose, we are making a positive assertion about an agent's causal abilities. We are saying what the agent can cause. Logical possibility relates to ideas, not persons. A truth can't reach out and grab you, constrain you or causally determine what you do, but a person might.

So in the expression "the ability to do X", which makes more sense:

A) the lack of data to logically demonstrate statement's about X are false, or
B) a person's causal ability to produce X?

Similarly, in the dictionary definition of choice: "selection between possible alternatives" which makes more sense:

A) selection between [two or more things we don't have enough information to logically rule out], or
B) selection between [two or more effects we can causally produce].

Defining 'choose' is the primary debate and most of Steve's arguments hinge on it. But he mentioned a few other things I wanted to briefly touch on. He cited a definition of choice determinist could accept. Paul did the same thing. The primary issue isn't the noun, choice, it's the verb, choose. Second, Steve said I was guilty of a illegitimate totality transfer, in that I seek a one size fits all definition for choice. Not so, I am comfy with other definitions in other contexts. It's the context of the mental process of selection that I am interested in. Finally, Steve looks for Greek and Hebrew word studies. I have already pointed out that modern scolorship is unanimously translates bâcha and eklegomai as choose. I don't think anything is being lost in translation because choosing is an experience everyone has regardless of language or era. It's kinda like the word "porcupine". What I mean by porcupine and what my one year old son means when he points and says "ug" are the same thing. Same with anyone from any era and language that had a word for that spiky little critter. Perhaps there are other contexts for 'choice' besides the mental process we all experience. Words that get imported in to an alien discussion can be harder to define; like "sarx" which sometimes requires skinning the context to flesh out the meaning. But when you are naming an everyday experience, you stand on fairly solid ground.

Me: a person can be both classic Arminian and Molinist

Steve: No, he can’t. Classic Arminianism operates with simple foreknowledge rather than middle knowledge.

Middle knowledge can be found in the writings of Arminius, Episcopius, Grotius, Grevencovius, Goodwin, and Bird, to name a few from the early generation.

Dan: God does not choose between possible worlds, He chooses between hypotheticals (sometimes called feasible worlds).

Steve: God is the agent who chooses which world will be the actual world, and God is also the agent who actualizes a possible world.

I have no problem with your specific wording or the quotes you provided, but I still doubt we are on the same page here. One key difference between Molinism and Calvinism on the point of possible worlds is that in Molinism God can't choose all the possible worlds; some of them are possible as a result of the possibilities He gives us. In Calvinism, God can choose any possible world, because all possible worlds are indexed only and directly to His power. But in Molinism, if we would choose chocolate; God can't choose the possible world in which we choose vanilla. That's why I raised the possible/feasible world distinction; a distinction that I hope clarifies one of the differences between Molinism and determinism. I suspect Calvinists will not accept the idea that God can't actualize some possible worlds.

Steve: The Dan in a merely possible world is not a real person. He’s just a divine idea. And since he’s not a real person, he’s not a real agent. He makes not actual choices. Rather, God thinks of Dan making a choice, which is hardly the same thing as Dan making a choice. A possible agent doesn’t do anything–except in terms of imaginary action. It’s akin to the relationship between a novelist and the fictitious characters he conceives in his own mind.

Probably a closer analogy would be us hypothesizing what someone we know well would do in a given circumstance, but even that's imperfect. Ultimately, it's a unique ability God has.

Just because it isn't actual me, doesn't mean it's not hypothetical me. While hypothetical Dan isn't a real agent, doesn't mean he's not a hypothetical one with an exact logical correspondence to me. This of course is dependent on God's unique power of hypothesis.

While only an actual agent can actually choose, a hypothetical agent can hypothetically choose, which is enough. Indeed hypothetical Dan is quite busy, running around doing this and that and just about everything. However, for the reasons you point out, I suspect God chooses to run the hypothesis (rather than it just being something He naturally knows). There is more than one mind (God's) involved; God's is the only actual one, but there is a hypothetical mind that is not God and is based either in possible us or actual us. So it seems, in some sense based in creation (or at least what would be a creation) as opposed to just God's mind. In the author example you give, there's just the author's mind involved. For this reason, some say a general decree to create the individuals He has and will create comes before He has MK about them. Others say He can know what a person would do, based just on the possibility of creating the person. So there is some question as to if God knows what Santa Claus (a possible, but not actual person) would choose in various circumstances; some Molinists saying He does, others that He doesn't.

Steve: Moreover, actual Dan doesn’t have access to possible worlds, for actual Dan only obtains in the actual world, and the actual world reflects the divine actualization of one possible world to the exclusion of other possible worlds. That’s a fundamental difference between a possible world and an actual world. Actual Dan can’t choose contrary to the actual world. Rather, the actual world exemplifies one particular choice. Actual Dan can’t undo the actual world by opting for another.

Actualization takes place over time, not from the beginning with God's choice. It's actualized for the reasons and causes (predetermined or free) God saw would be the reasons and causes. God's choice doesn't directly determine contingencies, nor does He start a deterministic sequence of events. Other worlds can, but will not ( and would not) be actualized.

We can choose worlds contrary to God's chosen world, but His foreknowledge and MK cannot be deceived. Hypothetically, if we did choose the other worlds, God would have known them. Thus actualizing other worlds is possible, but the combination of us choosing a different world and it resulting in us deceiving God is incompossible.

Steve: Furthermore, Dan seems to envision a situation where, in each possible ice cream parlor, possible Dan contemplates all three alternatives, but chooses a different option in each case. That’s the only sense I can make of his statement that possible Dan has access to the other two possibilities–which he rejects. Possible Dan is considering all three possibilities at once.

God's scenario of us in the ice cream parlor removes the us not in the ice cream parlor scenario. (We are down to 2 not 3). So long as we are choosing between chocolate & vanilla, I suppose that does imply us contemplating those alternatives. But the possible worlds relate to the different choices, not the contemplation of the alternatives. I think we agree on this aspect of possible worlds.

I will take a rain check on discussing God and time. Not that it's over my head. It is over my head, but that's not why I am taking a rain check. I am taking a rain check because Steve and I agree on the point that started the discussion:

Me: Further, so long as the decree logically precedes the act, alternative possibilities have still lapsed. Given God's decree, there are no possible alternatives.

Steve: Yes, given God’s decree.


1 A natural question at this point would be "otherwise than what"? Normally it's otherwise than what we will do (when it's future or what we did if it's past), or for a determinist, otherwise than what we have been predetermined to do. In an epistemic sense of possible, perhaps one could say "otherwise than what I think is possible". All of these run across the problem mentioned above.
2Beware two equivocations. We use logic to projecting outcomes and causality often factors into projection. So while it’s causally impossible for me to jump over the moon, I can logically deduct that given the causal forces at play, its logical impossible for me to succeed in jumping over the moon. Although the process at arriving at that conclusion was logical, the factors considered were causal. So there is a marked difference between deriving, given causality, it’s logically impossible to jump over the moon and say deriving that it’s logically impossible to succeed in drawing a square circle. The first is a logical impossibility based on the rules of causality, the second is a logical possibility based on the rules of logic. But both are derived based on logic, so both fall in the catigory of "logical impossibility". This is one of the reasons “possibility” is susceptible to equivocation.

Here’s another way in which “possibility” is susceptible to equivocation. In Steve’s card player example, let’s say a blackjack player has counted all cards and the dealer is down to his last card. The player knows he’s up to 20 and he knows the dealer will give him a 2. Logically, he will bust if he asks for the card. But is it illogical to ask for the card? Yes and no. It’s illogical for him to win by asking for the card, so that’s an illogical way to play (given his goal is winning), but if he does ask for the card, there’s no logical contradiction. Thus “illogical” is susceptible to equivocation regarding the outcome and the rational for the outcome.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Defining Arminian Soteriology

The purpose of this post is to define Arminian soteriology. Arminianism in general is the views of James Arminius. Of course, Arminius’ views span more then just salvation. They include the freewill of man, God’s providence, the entrance of sin into the world and foreknowledge. This post is specific to the topic of salvation.

Arminian soteriology has been variously defined ranging from any non-Calvinist viewpoint to all views that teach falling from grace (a view Arminius didn’t hold). So how shall we define Arminianism? I suggest we look to the past for clarity. In order to define Arminian soteriology we must look back to the historic Calvinist/Arminian debate. Arminianism was debated hotly during James Arminius’ life. After his death in 1609, his followers summarized his views into five points in 1610. These views were debated up until the Synod of Dort in 1619. The Synod issued the Cannons of Dort, which were organized into five points; the five points of Calvinism. Here is a table contrasting the historic Arminian and Calvinist views on soteriology quoted directly from the historic documents.

SubjectConfession of the RemonstrantsCannons of Dort
ElectionThat God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John iii. 36: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him," and according to other passages of Scripture also.Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation…. This election was not founded upon foreseen faith and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause, or condition of which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc.
AtonementThat, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness ef sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John iii. 16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life"; and in the First Epistle of John ii. 2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only. but also for the sins of the whole world."For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, thereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.
DepravityThat man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John xv. b: "Without me ye can do nothing."Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation
GraceThat this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, elm neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost, -Acts vii., and elsewhere in many places.But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains); but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who, as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son; that they may show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, and may glory not in themselves but in the Lord, according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.
PerseveranceThat those who an incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his lifegiving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict. and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the word of Christ, John x. 28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable. through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as t lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirt; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

Articles of the Remonstrants (link)
Canons of Dort (link)

In short, on election the Arminians teach that faith is a condition of election, Calvinists disagree, on the Atonement Arminians teach that Christ died for all men and Calvinists teach He died for the elect alone, conversely Calvinists teach that Christ’s death was effectual and Arminians teach it was partially provisional and partially effectual, on depravity Arminians and Calvinists agree that man cannot save himself or do anything good without grace, on Grace Arminians teach that grace can be resisted and Calvinists teach that it is effectual and cannot be resisted and on Perseverance Arminians did not say whether Christians may fall away or not, but Calvinists take the position that they cannot fall away.

Because there is substantial agreement in relation to depravity, total depravity is not a Calvinist nor an Arminian distinctive. However, man’s depravity is an essential defining element of Arminianism and it contrasts Arminianism from other views besides Calvinism (like semi-Pelagianism). Because the Arminians did not take a stance on perseverance, it is not an essential element to defining Arminianism.

So the essential and defining elements of Arminianism are:

1) faith is a condition for election
2) Christ died for all men
3) man cannot save himself, nor do anything good
4) grace is resistible

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Augustine on Falling from Grace

The fifth point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints. The Westminster Confession defines Perseverance of the Saints as:

They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (link)

The purpose is this paper is to show that Augustine did not hold this tenet. Clearly, the truth or falsehood of this tenet, must be establish from scripture, not Augustine. Nor does Augustine speak for the whole of pre-reformation church history. However, the reason this topic is of some importance is that Calvinists find historical support for their view in Augustine. They avoid the charge of “novelty” by appealing to his writings. Some extreme Calvinists go as far as to say that there was a “hidden church” holding opinions similar to their own through history. This hidden church maintained the opinions of Augustine, despite the fact that many visible church figures held contrary opinions.

On the specific tenet of Perseverance of the Saints, the importance is somewhat heightened. To my knowledge, no church father, nor any prereformation theologian, clearly taught this view. Many very clearly teach the opposite opinion, that man can fall from grace. The first theologian to clearly teach Perseverance of the Saints was John Calvin. How could the church, for 1500 years, miss a doctrine of such importance? Some say they did not miss it, and look to Augustine as an example of a church father who held this opinion. For example, Francis Turretin, an emanate reformed theologian, quotes Augustine in support of this opinion in his treatise on temporary disciples. (link)

Augustine’s quoted which seem to favor Perseverance of the Saints

Augustine held to unconditional election. Election isn’t based on faith foreseen or perseverance foreseen. Rather God, from the fallen masses, unconditionally chooses whom He will save.

He does not say, "What He foreknew, He is able to promise;" nor "What He foretold, He is able to manifest;" nor "What He promised, He is able to foreknow:" but "What He promised, He is able also to do." It is He, therefore, who makes them to persevere in good, who makes them good. – Chapter 36. 1

Those whom God chooses to save, He gives the gift of perseverance.

Will any one dare to say that this perseverance is not the gift of God, and that so great a possession as this is ours in such wise that if any one have it the apostle could not say to him, 'For what have you which you have not received?' 1 Corinthians 4:7 since he has this in such a manner as that he has not received it?" To this, indeed, we are not able to deny, that perseverance in good, progressing even to the end, is also a great gift of God; and that it exists not save it come from Him of whom it is written, "Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." James 1:17- Chapter 10

And those given the gift will most certainly persevere and have eternal life.

Those, then, are elected, as has often been said, who are called according to the purpose, who also are predestinated and foreknown. If any one of these perishes, God is mistaken; but none of them perishes, because God is not mistaken. If any one of these perish, God is overcome by human sin; but none of them perishes, because God is overcome by nothing. – Chapter 14

This is starting to sound a lot like the Calvinist view. But if the evidence in favor of Augustine holding to Perseverance of the Saints isn’t firm enough, he goes on to say that those who look like disciples are not actually disciples, nor God’s children. When explaining passages that seem to suggest some are falling from grace, Augustine seems to be saying that they never had grace to begin with.

Are not these even in the words of the gospel called disciples? And yet they were not truly disciples, because they did not continue in His word, according to what He says: "If you continue in my word, then are you indeed my disciples." John 8:31 Because, therefore, they possessed not perseverance, as not being truly disciples of Christ, so they were not truly children of God even when they appeared to be so, and were so called. We, then, call men elected, and Christ's disciples, and God's children, because they are to be so called whom, being regenerated, we see to live piously; but they are then truly what they are called if they shall abide in that on account of which they are so called. But if they have not perseverance,—that is, if they continue not in that which they have begun to be,—they are not truly called what they are called and are not; for they are not this in the sight of Him to whom it is known what they are going to be,—that is to say, from good men, bad men. - Chapter 22

Upon initial investigation, it would seem that Augustine did teach Perseverance of the Saints. At this point I will only point out that it is possible that Augustine did teach that some might not persevere. The above comments on election and the gift of perseverance might be explained in a consistent manor with the view that non-elect persons may be given the gift of conversion, but not the gift of perseverance. Further, the above quote could be explained as talking about God’s view of their future and not current status, which the final sentence seems to support.

Did Augustine Teach that Christians can Fall Away?
There are several places where Augustine seems to suggest that perhaps our first read was incorrect and that we should at least consider the matter a little further. Consider:

If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, "I have not received," because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God, that he had received. - Chapter 9

Now this person is regenerate and justified and still looses grace. But perhaps by loss of grace, Augustine only means fellowship. But Augustine goes on to say of the same person that what he lacks is the gift of perseverance, which aren’t all Christians supposed to have?

Is such an one as is unwilling to be rebuked still able to say, "What have I done,—I who have not received?" when it appears plainly that he has received, and by his own fault has lost that which he has received? "I am able," says he, "I am altogether able,—when you reprove me for having of my own will relapsed from a good life into a bad one,—still to say, What have I done,—I who have not received? For I have received faith, which works by love, but I have not received perseverance therein to the end. - Chapter 10

This does seem to indicate that perhaps Augustine taught believers could fall from grace. But what of God’s election guarantee of perseverance? How can these, the elect, not have the gift of perseverance. Augustine has a ready answer. They are not the elect.

But they who are not to persevere, and who shall so fall away from Christian faith and conduct that the end of this life shall find them in that case, beyond all doubt are not to be reckoned in the number of these [the elect], even in that season wherein they are living well and piously. For they are not made to differ from that mass of perdition by the foreknowledge and predestination of God, and therefore are not called according to God's purpose, and thus are not elected; but are called among those of whom it was said, "Many are called," not among those of whom it was said, "But few are elected." And yet who can deny that they are elect, since they believe and are baptized, and live according to God? Manifestly, they are called elect by those who are ignorant of what they shall be, but not by Him who knew that they would not have the perseverance which leads the elect forward into the blessed life, and knows that they so stand, as that He has foreknown that they will fall.- Chapter 16

Why doesn’t God give them perseverance? The answer is the same as why God unconditionally elects some and not others. No one knows, God keeps it secret and we mustn’t complain.

Here, if I am asked why God should not have given them perseverance to whom He gave that love by which they might live Christianly, I answer that I do not know. For I do not speak arrogantly, but with acknowledgment of my small measure, when I hear the apostle saying, "O man, who are you that repliest against God?" Romans 9:20 and, "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways untraceable!" Romans 11:33 So far, therefore, as He condescends to manifest His judgments to us, let us give thanks; but so far as He thinks fit to conceal them, let us not murmur against His counsel, but believe that this also is the most wholesome for us. - Chapter 17

Perhaps they were not truly Christians? Augustine says very plainly that they were regenerated, justified and adopted.

It is, indeed, to be wondered at, and greatly to be wondered at, that to some of His own children—whom He has regenerated in Christ—to whom He has given faith, hope, and love, God does not give perseverance also, when to children of another He forgives such wickedness, and, by the bestowal of His grace, makes them His own children. - Chapter 18

Are these gifts possibly mistakenly ascribed to these people by us, but not in fact by God? No. Augustine goes so far as to say that God could have saved them by taking their life before they fell away. Only a relationship with God, not a mistaken identity by man, grants eternal life.

Let the objectors answer, if they can, why, when these were living faithfully and piously, God did not then snatch them from the perils of this life, "lest wickedness should change their understanding, and lest deceit should beguile their souls"? Wisdom 4:11 Had He not this in His power, or was He ignorant of their future sinfulness? - Chapter 19

The timing of their death would not matter if their life was never in a state of salvation. But why doesn’t God take them out of this world while they are in faith and in as state of grace? So that no one will know if they are in the number predestined.

But, moreover, that such things as these are so spoken to saints who will persevere, as if it were reckoned uncertain whether they will persevere, is a reason that they ought not otherwise to hear these things, since it is well for them "not to be high-minded, but to fear." Romans 11:20 For who of the multitude of believers can presume, so long as he is living in this mortal state, that he is in the number of the predestinated? - Chapter 40

And so that no one will presume he has security.

For on account of the usefulness of this secrecy, lest, perchance, any one should be lifted up, but that all, even although they are running well, should fear, in that it is not known who may attain,—on account of the usefulness of this secrecy, it must be believed that some of the children of perdition, who have not received the gift of perseverance to the end, begin to live in the faith which works by love, and live for some time faithfully and righteously, and afterwards fall away, and are not taken away from this life before this happens to them. If this had happened to none of these, men would have that very wholesome fear, by which the sin of presumption is kept down, only so long as until they should attain to the grace of Christ by which to live piously, and afterwards would for time to come be secure that they would never fall away from Him. - Chapter 40

Yet ultimately it is God’s hidden purpose.

Or they receive the grace of God, but they are only for a season, and do not persevere; they forsake and are forsaken. For by their free will, as they have not received the gift of perseverance, they are sent away by the righteous and hidden judgment of God. - Chapter 42

So short, Augustine’s view was that those who have faith with works by love, those who are faithful and righteous, who are justified, who are regenerated in Christ, those in the grace of God, those that if they died they would have eternal life, those given faith, hope and love, and are God’s children, may not be among the number of the elect, and may not have been given the gift of perseverance, and may fall away and be lost. Therefore no one may be presumptuous and no one knows for sure if they have been given the gift of perseverance. How very different then the Calvinist view.

1All quotations taken from On Rebuke and Grace, St. Augustine of Hippo in A.D. 426 or 427 (link)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review of Francis Turretin on Middle Knowledge

Middle Knowledge
The purpose of this post is to define and defend God’s middle knowledge (otherwise known as Molinism after it's first articulator Luis de Molina). Middle knowledge has been underappreciated in theological circles. This is surprising, given that it makes the most progress out of any system at reconciling freewill and predestination. The reasons typically given for not adopting the middle knowledge solution are the grounds for such knowledge, the complexity of the system, and its relative newness to the scene. However, its value is immense, explaining God’s full control, while maintaining libertarian freewill.

Francis Turretin, reformer and Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the school Calvin founded at Geneva, is often cited as the authority on the reformed position. He wrote an important systematic theology, in which he assailed the Arminian and Jesuit position on middle knowledge. Being one of the best anti-middle knowledge writings available, I chose to defend middle knowledge from the arguments Turretin puts foreword.

I am aware that in modern times, middle knowledge has been attacked by Open Theists. They agree with Calvinists that, if God knows the future, then man does not have freewill. But unlike Calvinists who deny libertarian freewill, they deny God’s foreknowledge. Seeing middle knowledge as an explanation reconciling God’s foreknowledge with freedom, they attack it, wishing to leave people with the two more drastic options.

The reason I have chosen not to address some of the recent attacks on middle knowledge, is because I find God’s knowledge of the hypothetical future clearly biblical. Passages saying God knows what would happen under different circumstances are throughout scripture. Calvinists agree that God knows the hypothetical future. Rather, they assert a different basis or grounding. They claim the grounding for middle knowledge is God’s decrees. The Open Theist argument is that there is not, nor can there be, any grounding. So in their view God does not know the hypothetical future, or at least not with certainty. But since the bible says God knows the hypothetical future, this isn’t an option. This is the reason I have chosen Turretin’s position to grapple with, rather then the Open Theist’s, but hopefully this will cover more or the less the same issues.

We will start out by defining middle knowledge as God’s knowledge of if this happens, this will happen, and also explaining its importance in reconciling predestination and freewill. Next, we will examine scripture passages teaching middle knowledge. Next we will briefly cover a logical argument for middle knowledge. Finally, we will cover Turretin’s four big objections: Simplicity, Grounding, Causal Determinism and Logical Determinism.

Definition of Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is important in being able to explain the co-existence of God’s decrees and providence, and man’s freewill. Simply put, middle knowledge is the view that God knows that if X happens, Y would happen.

Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because it is logically in-between two other types of knowledge. It comes after natural knowledge and before free knowledge. Natural knowledge is the knowledge of all things that are possible, or things that can happen. Free knowledge is knowledge of the future, or things that will happen. Middle knowledge is knowledge of what would happen, given a circumstance. Simply put, natural knowledge is what can happen, middle knowledge is what would happen, and free knowledge is what will happen.

Middle knowledge includes freewill acts. So God knows that if I am in situation X, I would freely choose Y. This is invaluable in explaining God’s providence and predestination. If God reveals the gospel in this manner, this man would freely respond. If God provides the circumstance in which the soldier knew Christ was already dead, the soldier wouldn’t break Christ’s legs.

Middle knowledge also helps explain how God knows and can reveal the future. In the logical order, God first knows what can happen, then what would happen, then He chooses which possibility to exercise, then He knows what will happen. So to know the future, God does not have to see events that have not already occurred in time, which can be tricky to explain. Rather, He has to know what He chose.

Turretin rightly distinguishes middle knowledge from three separate, but easy to confuse, issues:

1) “the question is not whether God knows future contingencies”
2) “the question does not concern necessary conditional future things”
3) “the question is not whether the knowledge of conditional future things is in God antecedently to every decree”

(Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Both Calvinists and those holding to middle knowledge affirm God knows the future. They are not talking about necessary things, like if I light this log on fire, it would burn. They both agree that God must be willing to grant concurrence before anything is brought into existence.

Turretin rightly defines the question as: “Therefore the question is whether besides the natural knowledge (which is only of things possible) and the knowledge of vision (which is only of things future), there may be granted in God a certain third or middle knowledge concerning conditional future things by which God knows what men or angels will freely do without a special decree preceding (if placed with these or those circumstances in such an order of things).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

The issue is the order. Does God first decree and then know what would happen, or does He know what would happen and use that knowledge in His decree.

The decree of what will actually happen is not itself, nor could it be, the basis of God’s knowledge of what would hypothetically happen, for any event that will not actually happen. Hence, Calvinists often claim God decreed what would hypothetically happen. Other Calvinists claim that God would hypothetically decree that hypothetically would happen. Either way, they claim God’s decree is the basis of what would happen. Now this seems like a slightly awkward decree, because of its uselessness. Nevertheless, the reformed maintain this position as an alternative to middle knowledge.

Biblical Texts Teaching Middle Knowledge

The bible in a number of places affirms that God knows what would happen under hypothetical circumstances. For our purposes, we are primarily interested in God’s knowledge of what His rational creatures would do under hypothetical circumstances. As noted above, we are not interested necessary relationship, such as, if I were to light this log on fire, it would burn. A special subset of necessary relationships are those based on an unchangeable promise of God such as:

2Sa 12:8 'I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

These passages have at times been mistaken as teaching middle knowledge, but they don’t. On this passage Turretin rightly notes: “the prophet enumerates the blessings of God towards ungrateful David, to which he would have added greater if David had continued in obedience (not from any conditional decree or middle knowledge, but according to the promise made to piety).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 217.)

Another type of verses that are sometimes quoted as supporting middle knowledge, but don’t are in fact related to our choices. Some verses teach that absent a circumance a choice would not have been made at all. Not that a choice would have been this rather than that, but that no choice would have been made. Consider John 15:22-24:

Joh 15:22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.
Joh 15:23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
Joh 15:24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

The Jews choice to reject Christ would not have been made had Christ not revealed Himself. This is not knowledge of how they would choose, but rather that they would choose.

Rather, the texts which teach middle knowledge relate to what rational creatures would choose under given circumstances.

Passages Which Compare Groups

The first set of texts we come to which teach middle knowledge are those that compare the actions of one group to another. They either say that two groups, which were actually under different circumstances, would have done the same thing under the same circumstance or they say that the groups would do different things under the same circumstances.

In these two cases, one group would have repented or listened, the other group would not.

Mat 11:21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Mat 11:22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
Mat 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Eze 3:6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.
Eze 3:7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.

In this case, both groups would have killed the prophets.

Mat 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Mat 23:28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Mat 23:29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
Mat 23:30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Mat 23:31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
Mat 23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

To these texts Turretin responds: The words of Christ (“If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” Mt 11:21) are not to be strained to the letter, as if they referred to something which on a certain condition would be determinately future. For it is a hyperbolical and proverbial kind of speech where Christ (by a comparison odious to the Jews) wishes to exaggerate the contumacy and rebellion of their cities (rendered illustrious by his miracles), which, as the searcher of hearts, he knew to be greater and more obstinate than the wickedness of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. So Christ does not speak of the foreknowledge of any future conditional things, but wishes by using a hyperbole to upbraid the Jews for ingratitude and impenitence greater than that of the Tyrians and Sidonians; as if a teacher (addressing a slow and dull scholar) should say, if I had taught an ass as long, he would have known it; or of an inexorable judge, if I had beaten rocks and stones as long, I could have broken them; we do not mean that rocks could be softened or an ass taught, but only that the slowness of the scholar and the hardness of the judge are extreme. In the same manner, Christ says, “If these should hold their peace, the stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40); not as if the stones could cry out, but to show that his person, doctrine and works were so clear and indubitable that they could no longer be concealed. There is a similar passage in Ezk. 3:6: “Had I sent thee to a people of a strange speech, they would have harkened unto thee.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

Turretin’s argument is that Christ’s statement regarding the second group was an exaggeration, and Christ’s only point was to rebuke the first group. It is true that Christ’s main point was to rebuke the first group. However, the question is how is Christ rebuking them, via an actual comparison or via an exaggerated one?

The point of third passage (Mathew 23 which, unfortunately Turretin does not here address) is to rebuke the Pharisees, in part, for their hypocrisy in saying they wouldn’t have killed the prophets. The rebuke would lose its force if they wouldn’t have killed the prophets or even if the implication that they would have was an exaggeration.

Even though Mathew 23 is sufficient to remove Turretin’s objection, it seems unfair, because Turretin didn’t address it. So we will proceed through the details of what he did say.

Turretin’s examples of hyperbolic hypothetical don’t quite line up with these texts. His illustration of the teacher saying they could teach a donkey quicker or break stones quicker is incongruent to a comparison between the two groups. On the one hand, donkeys are incapable of being taught and on the other the group is capable of responding. It’s the incapability of the donkeys that indicates the statement is a hyperbole.

Now, if the teacher said, I could teach this group of students faster then you, the example would line up to the text. And it would still be a rebuke. But it would no longer be an exaggeration. It’s a comparison of the relative abilities of the students. In some sense, because it’s more realistic, it’s a stronger rebuke.

The second example that Turretin gives is Luke 19:40: “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Perhaps this statement need not be read as a hyperbole, although it would take a miracle for the stones to cry out. But even if it is an exaggeration, it is so because stones are unable sing. Again, the inability is critical to the hyperbole. Again, the example does not match Mathew 11, where the residents of Tyre were able to respond.

To say Christ is exaggerating is in some sense to dismiss what He says. Every other option should be explored before a passage should be interpreted as a hyperbole. It appears Turretin first turns to hyperbole, because he needs a way out. But the texts are plain. God knows what His rational creatures would do under other circumstances.

Passages with Alternate Futures

Another type of passage which teaches middle knowledge are those in which God tells what hypothetically will be chosen, and because the circumstance underlying the hypothesis does not happen, the choice does not happen. Consider 1 Samuel 23:7-13 in which David is told that he will be betrayed by the men of Keilah and he leaves before they get a chance.

1Sa 23:7 And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
1Sa 23:8 And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
1Sa 23:9 And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
1Sa 23:10 Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.
1Sa 23:11 "Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant." And the LORD said, "He will come down."
1Sa 23:12 Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will surrender you."
1Sa 23:13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit.

Turretin responds that the issue is their intentions. “1 Samuel 23:11-12 cannot favor this middle knowledge because it is not so much a prediction of future things which were still in futurition (as a revelation of things which then existed although secret, viz., of the plans discussed among the men of Keilah about the delivery of David if he stayed there.) For when David was doubtful concerning the design of Saul and the intention of the men of Keilah towards himself, and therefore inquired of the Lord whether Saul was about to descend against the men of Keilah, and they would deliver him up into the hands of Saul (if he stayed among them), God answered that David should withdraw himself and fly from their fury, and that Saul would descend and the men of Keilah would deliver him up (if he remained there), because in truth both Saul girded himself for the journey, and the men of Keilah were even then secretly plotting to deliver David up to him. “For they will deliver thee up,” i.e., they have the will to do so, as the interlinear gloss has it. So the words “to descend and “to deliver up” do not refer to the act itself as hypothetically future, but (as often elsewhere) they are put for the purpose and intention, i.e., to have in the mind to do this (as Acts 12:6 an 16:27).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

Here it seems Turretin makes uncharacteristic error. He switches arguments midstream. His first argument is that God told David the hypothetical future, based on their current intentions. The second argument is that God told David their current intentions, not a hypothetical future. These are mutually exclusive arguments.

The second argument, that God told David their current intentions, not a hypothetical future, contains an equivocation error. The passage says the word “will”. Will can be defined as the future or it can be defined as our desires and choices. Turretin also introduces the word “would” which also has two meanings. The first, a hypothetical future, the second desires. In the passage, plainly the text is speaking of the future. This is plain from the Hebrew text itself, every translation and every commentary I have ever read.

Now perhaps Turretin simply means God makes a statement about the hypothetical future, but its basis is their current intentions. But, assuming God’s statement is true, God knows that if this happens, that will happen. Middle knowledge is this far granted.

Now the basis of middle knowledge is slightly different then the classic explanation. Rather then God knowing the counterfactuals themselves, He knows them indirectly through knowing people’s intentions. But the basis isn’t God’s decree, but rather the individual. So although the basis for middle knowledge is slightly off, this explanation essential grants middle knowledge.

There are several problems with intention being the basis of God’s knowledge of the hypothetical future.

First, the passage indicates that David already knew Saul’s intentions. What he was asking was if Saul would be successful or not. Verses 9 and 10 plainly say David already knew Saul’s intent. So if knowing one’s intentions was enough to know what they will do, then David would not have needed to ask.

Second, the passage says nothing about the intentions of the people of Keilah. It doesn’t seem that they were yet in a position in which they would need to choose what to do. Yet God gives their hypothetical future.

Third, this explanation doesn’t leave room for people to change their mind. We often experience ourselves deciding what we will do ahead of time, and later changing our minds. So our intentions don’t absolutely predetermine our actions.

Rather than God knowing that the intentions of Saul and the men of Keliah predetermined their actions, God knew what they would choose, given the hypothetical circumstances.

Middle Knowledge Based On Altered State

There are several passages which teach either, if you had converted, you would persevere, or if you receive initial revelation, you would respond to this greater revelation. For example:

Joh 5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
Joh 5:47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Joh 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Joh 8:39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.

Joh 8:42 Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.

1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Certainly this has more to do with God’s promises to preserve us than middle knowledge. Nevertheless with middle knowledge we have the advantage of explaining how God preserves us without removing freedom.

Middle Knowledge Based on Altered Information

Several passages teach that with additional information, we would have chosen differently or that even with additional information, we would have chosen the same.

With Additional Information

1Co 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Mat 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Mat 24:43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.

Joh 4:10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

Regardless of Additional Information

Luk 22:67 Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe:
Luk 22:68 And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go.

Luk 16:30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
Luk 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Hence, additional information is not itself the determining factor, yet under the hypothesis of additional information, God knows what we would choose.

Logical Defense of Middle Knowledge

A logical arguments put foreword in favor of middle knowledge is the law of excluded middle. John would accept the job, if it’s offered. This statement is either true or false. The law of excluded middle states that it cannot be both or neither. God, being omniscient, knows all truths. Hence, He knows what would happen in all circumstances.

This logical defense only works against the Open Theist viewpoint that denies middle knowledge. This argument does not disprove the Calvinist position that affirms knowledge of hypotheticals on a different basis.

Turretin’s Objectionable Objections
Simplicity Objection

Turretin objects to a middle state between potential and future. “Natural and free knowledge embrace all knowable things and entities are not to be multiplied unnecessarily.1 There is nothing in the nature of things which is not possible or future; nor can future conditional things constitute a third order. For they are such either from a condition only possible or powerful, yet never to take place, or from a condition certainly future and decreed. In the former manner, they do not recede from the nature of possible things and belong to natural knowledge; in the latter, they are future and decreed by God and come under the free knowledge.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Before the decree, and in the sense Turretin is using, events known through middle knowledge are only possible. In the contrast between possible and future, they are only possible. The X or Y in the expression, if X happens, Y will happen, are possible not future. They might be said to be future in divided sense of future: that is, if X is future, Y is future, but not in a compound sense, X and Y are future. Thus, no unnecessary middle state between possible and future is established.

However, in a different sense, the contrast between possible and actual (as opposed to the contrast between possible and future), one aspect of middle knowledge is actual. There actually is a relationship between the two things. If X happens, Y will happen. The expression is actual, but not future. Does this sense of actual constitute an unnecessary third order? No. The actuality is no different then the actuality of possibility. What is possible actually is possible, it may not be future. In the same way what would happen, actually would happen, it may not be future.

Grounding Objection

Turretin objects that there is no grounding for middle knowledge, because conditional things are unknowable. “Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will… But no cause of this thing [a hypothetically future event] can be imagined except the will of God. There was nothing from eternity which could be the cause of the determination of a thing indifferent to either part except the will of God; not his essence or knowledge, for neither can operate ad extra separated from the will. Therefore, as no effect can be understood as future (whether absolutely or hypothetically) without the divine decree (because no creature can be in the world without the divine causality), so no future conditional thing can be knowable before the divine decree.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 214.)

Notice this grounding objection is different then the grounding objection presented by Open Theists. It is not an objection that there are no grounds for middle knowledge. Rather, it is an objection that there could be no other grounds except God’s will.

In this grounding objection, there is a hint of causal determinism. This will be addressed later, however, for our purposes we will assume causal indeterminism is true and address the core objection: why, other then God’s decree, are counterfactuals of freedom true?

Turretin’s denial that God’s knowledge and essences are not the cause may appear enigmatic without a context. Molina taught that God knows men’s natures in an infinite way, in a way that transcends the nature itself. Hence man’s nature is in some sense the basis of our counterfactuals of freedom (nothing else need be considered by God to know what we would do), but in some sense God’s infinite knowledge is the reason He knows what we would do. So per Molina, to know what Tim would do, God considers Tim, and although what Tim would do isn’t a property of being Tim, yet God’s transcendent knowledge of Tim knows what Tim would do. Turretin denied this, saying God’s knowledge itself is non-causative. I agree.

The grounding objection is not so much about how God knows counterfactuals, but rather are counterfactuals true and knowable. Since God’s knowledge is infinite (Psalms 147:5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite) we cannot fully comprehend how He knows what He does. But we can logically distinguish His manner of knowing based on differences in what He knows. Hence the differences must be in what God knows, not how He knows it. This is why I reject Molina’s explanation. Molina puts the cart before the horse. Instead of using a distinct object to be known to understand a distinct mode of knowing, he starts with a distinct mode of knowing and arrives at a distinct object.

Are there other grounds for middle knowledge besides God’s knowledge or God’s will? Simply put, God knows that we would do X in circumstance Y, because we would do X in Y. Perhaps this just pushes the question back a step to why would we do X in Y? Now if we are searching for a sufficient cause, we will not find one. Freewill requires causal indeterminism. It should be clear that true statements do not require a cause. God exists. Nothing causes God to exist, yet the statement is true. Thus causes are not required to ground truth.

On the other hand, perhaps we may be looking for something actual, as opposed to something hypothetical, to ground truth. Past and future events are not now actual, yet statements about them are true or false. Negatives statements (like the Boogie Man does not exist) are true without something actual grounding them. It is true that statements about the past had something actual grounding it, and statements about the future will have something actual grounding them. And negative statements have something actual about their inverse grounding them. In the same way, hypothetical statements would have something actual grounding them. So to demand something that is right now, actual as grounds of truth requires a very odd theory about the grounds of truth.

We didn’t actually exist from eternity. However, we hypothetically did. And our “hypothetical selves” determined what we would do.2 Our "hypothetical selves" were grounded in God's power and will to hypothesize and give "hypothetical us" the hypothetical ability to choose.

Causal Determinism

Turretin objects that middle knowledge is impossible, because it implies God is not the first cause of the things known. “If all the acts of the created will fall under the divine providence so that none are independent and indeterminate, no middle knowledge can be granted (which is supposed to have for its object the free determination of the will, depending upon no superior cause). Now that there is such a subjection of the created will is evident from the dependence between the first cause and second cause, between Creator and creatures. Nor can it suffice to save that dependence that the will may be said to be created and its liberty given by God for it would not cease to be the principle of its own determination, if its acts did not depend upon some decree. It would not be indeed the first being, but yet it would be the first operator (nor anymore the second, but the first cause because if it depended in being upon God, it would not depend upon Him in operation).” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215.)

The will depends upon God, both for its existence and its operation. The will is not the first cause of the existence of a choice. God and the will produce the same effect, a choice, in different ways. God’s concurrence provides existence, the will provides specification. Hence, the will does not create out of nothing.

God’s concurrence sustains the existence of all things. It works alongside secondary causes. Secondary causes specify effects, God as the first cause grants existence to the effect. For example, when a flame burns wood, the flame causes the wood to burn and not get soggy, and God causes the flame to exist, and not be reduced to nothing. Freewill does specify between alternatives, but does not grant existence. Hence, it is not the first cause in any creative sense.

Is freewill the first cause with respect to specification? Fire and wood operate under natural properties, which they receive via creation. They act differently then freewill in that they cannot do otherwise then what they do. Freewill on the other hand, is the ability to select this or that alternative. Even in specification, freewill is not a first cause. But it is a first sufficient cause. Freewill operates via indeterminate causation.

Choices require objects to be chosen. These objects have to be apprehended by our senses and represented by our minds to our will. Without the object and our senses and minds, we would not be able to choose that object. Hence, the object may be said to be a necessary cause of our choices. That is, without which, we could not choose. However, this is not a sufficient cause (given the presence of a sufficient cause, the effect must be produced).

Hence, in no sense is freewill a first cause with respect to existence, which is the primary sense in which God is said to be the first cause. Nor is the will a first cause with respect to specification, unless we assume determinism and deny indeterminate causation.

Logical Determinism

Turretin objects that if middle knowledge is certain, the will is not free. “No uncertain knowledge should be ascribed to God. The middle knowledge can have no certainty because it is occupied about an uncertain and contingent object (viz., the indifference of the will). I ask, therefore, whence can God certainly know what will or will not take place?... Again knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain. If it makes it so, how can it foreknow it as such; where then is the indifference of the will? If it foresees it as certain, how could the foresight of an uncertain and indifferent thing be itself certain? Or from the eternal existence of things by which they are said to be present to God (as other prefer); but since they could have no real being from eternity (but only intentional, they cannot be said to have existed from eternity otherwise than by reason of the decree in which they obtain their futurition. Since therefore the certain necessity of the event cannot be founded on the contingent connection of the ends or on the knowledge which recognizes but does not make certain the thing, it follows that it is only from the efficacious decree of the connector.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215.)

The basis of the knowledge has been handled in the section on the grounding objection. Even though these arguments are connected, I will not repeat what was said there, here. However, a different facet of the ground objection arises here. How can God know counterfactuals of freedom before we exist? And a second question, if an act is foreknown, how can it remain free?

Turretin asks: how something that does not yet have “real being” or existence can be known? Under middle knowledge hypotheticals do not have real being, yet they are known.

All past events are certain. But they are certain in different ways. Choices could have been different, but natural events couldn’t have been different. But they are both certain. This distinction is sometimes called accidental necessity verses natural necessity. It’s also sometimes called soft and hard facts.

Counterfactuals of freedom are necessary in the first sense. They could have been, but were not otherwise. The reason past choices are certain is because the actual events have occurred. The reason hypothetical choices are certain is because the hypothetical events have hypothetically occurred. Thus, the answer to the question: how can God know counterfactuals before we existed is that counterfactuals had hypothetically occurred, and were therefore accidentally necessary.

Turretin asks “where then is the indifference of the will?” The will is indifferent with respect to preceding causation. That is, given all preceding causes, the will may do this or that. However, given that the will did this, now it cannot have done that. In this sense its acts are (but were not) necessary. This sense is no more then a tautology. The past cannot not be the past and the future cannot not be the future. However, in a different sense, choices are not necessary. In the sense that choices could have been otherwise (that is prior to the choice) the will’s actions are not necessary.

In the middle knowledge scheme, middle knowledge precedes God’s decrees. Thus, God’s middle knowledge was certain, before He chose what will happen. Thus middle knowledge has the same necessity past events have. But considering the preceding causes of the hypothetical events, they could have been different. So because they are past, they are certain, but before they happened, they were uncertain. This is the indifference of the will.

Perhaps one might further object that although the hypothetical events may have been free, the actual events will not be. The reason God knows the future is twofold. First, the events were hypothetically future and second, God’s decree. Hence, the basis of God’s certainty regarding the future is not the determined nature of the future, but God’s middle knowledge and His decree.

Nor does middle knowledge or the decree determine the future. What hypothetically would happen corresponds to what will actually happen without casually determining it. Since what hypothetically would happen, could have been different, so also what will happen could have been different. The decree does not alter what would happen, so if it would happen freely it will happen freely.

Turretin’s Agreeable Objections

The Dominion of God

Turretin argues that under middle knowledge, free choices don’t depend upon God, but God causes them. “This middle knowledge takes away the dominion of God over free acts because according to it the acts of the will are supposed to be antecedent to the decree and therefore have their futurition not from God, but from itself. Indeed God would seem rather to depend upon the creature while he could decree or dispose nothing, unless a determination of the human will were posited which God would see in such a connection of things. Nor ought the reply to be made that the dominion of God is not therefore taken away because he can remove that connection or some circumstance of it; for example, in the foreknowledge by which God knew that Peter would deny Christ if placed in a certain condition, God could hinder him from denying Christ by taking away some foreseen circumstance (for instance, the fear of death) or by adding greater light in the intellect and a greater inclination in the will to confession and the like. For it is not sufficient for the support of the dominion of God that he could hinder Peter from denying Christ, for he might have deprived Peter of life before the apprehension of Christ (but this would be to have dominion over the life of Peter, not over his free will); but it is requisite that the free acts of Peter, of denying or not denying Christ, should depend upon him (which is denied on the supposition of this knowledge). In fine, if God can take away one foreseen circumstance, he can therefore change the event of the thing: if he can by a decree change the event of a thing, therefore it also pertains to the decree to procure it; for he who hinders the event by a removal of some circumstance ought to cause it by supplying the circumstances.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 215-16.)

Turretin’s argument seems at bit at odds with his conclusion. His conclusion seems to indicate God, through middle knowledge, has dominion over free acts, because He is causing the events by supplying circumstances. The body of his argument however, denies that middle knowledge grants God dominion over the free acts of men, because they are known antecedent to His decree.

His conclusion is in a sense correct. Not that the circumstance causally determines the event, but since God is certain of the circumstance/event relationship, by supplying the circumstance, He is certain the event will occur.

This is of great importance in understanding the dominion of God. He runs everything. He does not causally determine everything, nevertheless, through middle knowledge He controls every outcome. So I agree with Turretin’s conclusion.

I also agree with his argument that God doesn’t determine free acts, because the free acts are known antecedent to the decree. Without this, I wouldn’t know how to affirm freewill. Nor would I be able to explain how God isn’t the author of sin or how to maintain human responsibility.

For the most part, I agree with what Turretin is saying here. I see them as advantages, not disadvantages. Under middle knowledge, God has full providential control without being the author of sin or undermining human responsibility.


Turretin argues that under middle knowledge, predestination is conditional. “On the supposition of such a knowledge, a reason for predestination can be assigned out of God besides his purpose and good pleasure because the foreseen consent of the will of Jacob placed in such circumstances would be at least the condition without which God could not predestine to salvation Jacob rather than Esau.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Thirteenth Question: Middle Knowledge. P 216.)

While I disagree with Turretin on the explanation of Romans 9, I agree with these implications regarding predestination. Through middle knowledge, in one sense God predestines unconditionally, in another conditionally. In the sense that God chooses which circumstances to actualize, He unconditionally chooses who will be saved. For example, if he preaches to the citizens of Tyre, they would be saved. But He sovereignly decides not to. (Mt 11:21) On the other hand, under middle knowledge, no one is chosen who would not have the condition of faith, nor rejected without the condition of obstinacy. I see this as a great advantage over Calvinism, balancing God’s love with His sovereignty.


Middle knowledge gives a comprehendible explanation of the harmony between freewill and predestination. It is taught in the scriptures, is reasonable, explainable and stands up against all objections. In many conversations it is so intuitively obvious that it is never questioned. For example, the common question: “since God knew what would happen, why did He allow the fall?” presupposed middle knowledge. More Christians should explore middle knowledge as a solution to some of the toughest questions about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

1 This principle is commonly called Occham’s razor. Interestingly, William Occham developed the theories around counterfactuals of freedom and accidental necessity that are fundamental to middle knowledge.
2 We determine what we do. Our hypothetical selves determine what we would do. The two correspond without causing each other.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

2 Quick Blogging Updates

If you have wondered why the Friday Files have slowed, it's because I have been reading John Goodwin's commentary on Romans 9. It's enormous and has been taking more time than normal.

I plan on shutting my geocities site down. I never liked it and Arminian Chronicles has become my home on the web. So I plan on moving some of the stuff over to here. Sorry if you have read the stuff before (though I suspect most people haven't).