Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kane's Technical Definition vs. Paul Manata

Kane defines choice as “the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do” (Robert Kane, “Libertarian Perspectives on Free Agency and Free Will.” Oxford Handbook of Free Will, p.423). The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. Paul seems ready to grant that the dictionary definition rules out determinism, but holds that Kane’s definition is perfectly valid and does not rule out determinism. In our debate, I took the position that Kane’s definition was technical and philosophical and therefore inappropriate for understanding scriptural usage of the word “choose’. In Paul’s recent rejoinder, he support’s Kane’s definition by citing numerous libertarian “big guns” (Plantinga, Hasker, Timpe and arguably O’Conner) who agree with Kane. Paul didn’t provide another definition of ‘choose’, but he cited studies showing large percentages of the population hold deterministic notions to oppose my claim that ‘the common man’ uses the dictionary definition of choose and undermines determinism. From this, it seems Paul implicitly claims that Kane’s definition (or something like it) is used by a substantial percentage of the English speakers.

Kane’s definition of choice is technical and a restricted sense and distinct from to the common parlance notion of choice. It carves out some things at are obviously choices and embraces some things that are not choices. So Paul’s major mistake is to try to put it on equal footing with the dictionary definition of choice and insert it into the mouth of the common man.

Kane makes it very clear that his sense of choice is restricted and there are other valid common uses of choice. “First, when it is said that choice or decision is by definition the formation of intention or purpose, the terms “choice” and “decision” are being used in a specific sense. One is talking about choosing or deciding “to do” something or other. The terms “decide” or “choose” have other uses. For example, one can decide “that” something ought to be done (is the best thing to do, etc.). In the case of choose, one can speak of choosing or selecting an object from a set”. (Kane. Free Will and Values. p.17-18)

Kane gives many warning flags about how he is restricting his sense of ‘choice’. Kane states his sense of ‘choice’ excludes ‘choices’ regarding:
  • What is to be believed (as opposed to what is to be done) (p. 16)
  • What we ought to do (as opposed to what we will do) (p. 16)
  • Things (as opposed to acts to be done) (p. 18)
  • A pear vs. an apple on a tray of fruit (p. 18)

Yet it’s fundamental to Paul’s case that there be some other definition of ‘choice’ besides the dictionaries, which is common enough to be used by a substantial percentage of English speakers. Kane himself tells us that people talk about choosing pears over apples. So clearly Kane’s restricted sense of choice won’t do; even for the “deterministic common man”. You can’t live your life with Kane’s definition of choice; but you can have a technical philosophical discussion.

On the one hand Kane’s definition is too technical to compete with the dictionary, but on the other hand, even with Kane's technical definition, normal cases of choice do rule out determinism.

Kane’s understanding of choice is somewhat broader than my own spanning both self-forming actions (SFAs) and impulsive decisions. 1 For Kane, SFAs are the main event satisfying the “common parlance claim that the agents can choose either way ‘at will’”. (Oxford Handbook of Free Will. p. 420) SFAs cannot be causally determined; “the agents have a plurality of real alternatives from which to choose, she has the capacity to make either choice by making an effort to do so.” (Oxford Handbook of Free Will. p. 428) So regarding these basic attributes of SFAs, Kane and I are in agreement. Clearly, when Kane speaks of predetermined choices, he isn’t talking about SFAs because SFAs rule out determinism. However, Kane doesn’t limit choice to SFAs so let’s look at what Kane has to say about impulsive decisions.

We shall assume that choices or decisions (to do) as described in 2.2 always terminate some process of reasoning, however brief. But such a process need not always be called “deliberation” in the ordinary sense of that term. There are such things as impulsive, spur of the moment, or snap, decisions. … What is lacking in such impulsive or spur of the moment decisions is reflection upon and debate over alternatives to the option chosen. Since we ordinarily think of deliberation as involving such a debate over alternatives in foro interno, we should qualify our earlier statement and say that choices or decisions to do normally terminate deliberations in the ordinary sense involving consideration of, and reflection upon , more than one option. But in certain cases of impulsive or spur of the moment decisions, they may terminate minimal processes of practical reasoning in which only one option is considered and assessed. Though spur of the moment or snap decisions occur, we ordinarily think of ourselves as being more free in the normal cases in which choices or decision terminate deliberation, because in such cases we are more likely to feel that we ‘could have chosen otherwise’.“ (Kane. Free Will and Values. p.19)

So for Kane, normal choices (choices following deliberation) rule out determinism. Kane reasons “if one form or another of determinism were true, it seems that it would not be “up to us” what we chose from an array of alternative possibilities, since only one alternative would be possible and so we could not have done otherwise.” (Kane. Free Will. Introduction.)That’s my argument; a predetermined choice entails the contradiction of an “impossible possibility” or “one possibilities” or “a singular plural” or “1 =2”.

But on the other hand, Kane and I do have a minor disagreement in nomenclature (not in concept) about “impulsive decisions” or “decisions without deliberation”. Kane calls them choices, but I (following Aristotle) would call them volition but not a choice. Aristotle said: "Choice is manifestly a voluntary act. But the two terms are not synonymous, the latter being the wider. Children and the lower animals as well as men are capable of voluntary action, but not of choice. Also sudden acts may be termed voluntary, but they cannot be said to be done by choice." (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (ed. H. Rackham) II.3)

So while for Kane choice doesn’t rule out determinism, normal choice (choice plus deliberation) does. Thus passages of scripture saying things like “consider what you should do” (Judges 18:13-15) rule out determinism in even Kane’s sense.

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1In fairness to Paul, Kane may hold to a third category of choice besides SFAs and impulsive decisions - discovering purposes formed by prior SFAs. “Choices or decisions are will-setting when they do not result from the agents’ merely discovering during deliberation what they already favored, but when the agents make the reasons for preferring one option prevail at the moment of choice by choosing or deciding.” (Oxford Handbook. p. 412) Still, the same reasoning will apply and these can be treated like impulsive decisions.

Response to Paul

I have been writting responses to Paul's and Steve's recent posts. (link) (link) Paul's post was massive so my response was getting too long. God willing, I will break it down into chunks and post it over the next few days.

God be with you,
Dan

Monday, June 22, 2009

Arminian Internet Resources on Romans 9

Reviewed Commentaries Ranked One to Eleven
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<><><>
<><><>
<><><>
Commentator
ReviewLinguisticsLogicClarityTOTAL
4
3
4
10
8
5
1
14
3
2
10
15
7
4
5
16
6
1
11
18
2
11
6
19
1
10
8
19
11
7
2
20
5
6
9
20
10
8
4
22
9
9
7
25

These commentaries were subjectively ranked from one to eleven; one being the best, two the next best and so on. Linguistics was scored based on use of original languages and explaining things phrase by phrase. Logic was scored based on explaining the text, leaving the fewest unanswered questions and coherence of the big picture. Clarity was scored based on ease of reading and understanding the author.
Additional Resouces on Romans 9
My thoughts on Romans 9-11
Wesley’s Predestination Calmly Considered
Joseph Sutcliffe’s brief commentary
Wesley’s Commentary
William Klein’s article: “Paul’s use of Kalein: A Proposal”
Brian Abasciano’s article Corporate Election in Romans 9
Dennis McCallum’s youtube clips
Brennon Hatshorn’s Thoughts
Kevin Jackson part 1
Kevin Jackson part 2
Skinner’s Commentary
Pristine Faith Restoration Society

This list is not comprehensive, but I would like it to be. If you know of other commentaries on Romans 9 from an Arminian perspective, please comment with a link. Thanks!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chrysostom and accounting for differences

Calvinists sometimes argue that fact that some people are good and others bad is evidence that God predetermines all things. The Calvinist arguments run down two distinct tracts: 1) a forking maneuver and 2) an incoherence argument against libertarian free will. The forking maneuver looks something like this: either man or God is the difference maker – if it’s man, we have something to brag about, if it’s God, libertarian free will is undone. The incoherence argument runs something like this: the difference is due either to nature or circumstances, so something causes the difference or it’s random – in neither case does the agent have the type of control required for libertarian free will. The purpose of this post is to show that this argument is an inversion of Chrysostom’s argument supporting libertarian freedom.

Calvinists maintain that election is unconditional – the elect are not chosen because of some quality they possess which others don’t possess. In this, they are not just rejecting works or merit as a basis of election, but also faith and any other good quality or disposition. We all come from the same lump of clay, so the differences between the people weren’t the reason one was chosen and another rejected. But this seems random or arbitrary.

If you ask a Calvinist why it glorifies God to choose this person rather than someone else, or why He doesn’t choose everyone, they typically admit they don’t know. They may say “God has a reason even if we don’t know it” and perhaps they might even accuse you of prying into God’s secret council.

But whatever God’s other reason was, it couldn’t be related to some good quality or disposition in us. Let’s say I am building a house and need one nail. Even though my end goal is to build the house, I would still pick longer nails over short ones if the job called for it. In that case longer nails are more suitable for my purpose, so this example can’t be representative of unconditional election. But if any nail will do and all the nails are the same, then I don’t care which one I pick out of a jar full of nails. So in this way, whatever the other reason is, it doesn’t explain why one was chosen and another rejected.

So there’s a natural tension in Calvinism between the randomness in election with respect to us and not knowing God’s other reasons for electing one and not another. Ultimately, they don’t have a satisfying explanation as to why one person’s salvation glorifies God and another’s does not.

So what is Chrysostom’s answer as to what makes the difference? Choice. Each agent chooses for themselves, thus we end up with differences.
When therefore thou blamest, thou showest that the fault is not of nature but of his choice. For if in those things, which we do not blame, we bear witness that the whole is of nature, it is evident that where we reprove, we declare that the offense is of the choice…. Did God make all men? It is surely plain to every man. How then are not all equal in respect of virtue and vice? whence are the good, and gentle, and meek? whence are the worthless and evil? For if these things do not require any purpose, but are of nature, how are the one this, the others that? For if by nature all were bad, it were not possible for any one to be good, but if good by nature, then no one bad. For if there were one nature of all men, they must needs in this respect be all one, whether they were to be this, or whether they were to be that. …“But wherefore did He at all make worthless men, when He might have made all men good? Whence then are the evil things?” saith he. Ask thyself; for it is my part to show they are not
of nature, nor from God…. … Didst thou once take by violence the things that belonged not to thee; and after this, subdued by pity, didst impart even of thine unto him that was in need? Whence then this change? Is it not quite plain it is from the mind, and the choice of will? (link)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Files: Morison’s commentary on Romans 9

In James Morison’s commentary on Romans 9, he makes the three helpful points about God’s promise that the greater shall serve the lesser. First, it was not said of Rebecca but to her, second it should be translated greater/lesser, not elder/younger, and third it’s a prediction. He also makes the point that Jacob and Esau should be considered as Nations, not individuals and that God’s hating Esau means He loved and blessed Esau less than Jacob. Morison understands the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to mean giving Pharaoh boldness to do what he already wanted to do by removing Pharaoh’s fear of the consequences.

Here’s Morison’s high level summary of the Romans 9-11:

“In chapter ix. the apostle opens his subject in a profoundly pathetic spirit. He shows, with great power of demonstration, that God has the sovereign right to confer His messianic favors upon whomsoever He pleases. God has liberty in relation to men. His hands were not tied by Judaism. As regards human organs of Divine communications, He was not restricted to the Hebrews. Far less was it the case that the Hebrews, when disloyal to the aim and ideal of their messianic relationship, and its peculiar institutions, could yet be entitled to special spiritual prerogatives, and a monopoly of the very highest messianic favors.

In chapter x. the apostle shows that the greatest messianic blessings are still, though not monopolisingly, available to his countrymen. They are as really available to them as to the most favored of the Gentiles.

In chapter xi. the apostle shows that the time is on the wing when his recreant countrymen will reconsider their ways, and their duty to the Saviour and to God. They will be grafted in again, and, shooting aloft, will take the lead among their fellow men. So that if their fall and dispersion have been over-ruled to the enrichment of the world, and their loss has contributed to the gain of the Gentiles, how much more shall the fullness of both Jews and Gentiles be for the elevation and enduring weal of the human race at large ! There will indeed be no necessitation of will, and no dislocation of the broad foundation-stones of moral accountability and character. But the power of the most powerful of motives will be unceasingly and increasingly wielded on and for all men everywhere, and by God Himself, until the earth be a new- earth and a clean earth, fit palace and home for the now exalted Redeemer and all His loyal people.”

Morison’s strengths are knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, knowledge of the literature on Romans 9 and sufficient detail (the work is 281 pages). After explaining chapter nine, he discusses various methods of interpretation Romans 9 including allegorical, national and historical.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Impersonal vs. Personal Possibilities

This post is a response to Steve Hays in our ongoing discussion of choice and determinism.

All Dan is doing here, and all that Dan is ever doing here, is to fault determinism because it isn’t libertarianism. He keeps acting as if determinism is deficient since the determinist can’t view “choice” in the same way a libertarian can. ...Dan has no capacity for critical detachment. He can’t bring himself to evaluate the opposing position on its own terms. All he does is to apply a libertarian yardstick to determinism, and–voila!–determinism comes up short if you measure it by a libertarian yardstick.

The first statement (that I am faulting determinism because it isn’t libertarianism) is somewhat true, but it would be better to say I fault determinism because I suspect it is libertarianism. I suspect determinists are inconsistent and retain libertarian notions. They say 'choose' meaning what everyone else does (selection between possible alternatives); but also hold to determinism, which conflicts with 'choose'. It seems Calvinsits use the normal ‘dictionary’ definition of choose but don’t follow this definition through to its logical conclusions.

The second statement (that I can’t bring myself to evaluate Calvinism on its own terms) is also somewhat true. The Calvinist concept of choice does not make sense to me – I await a clear and precise explanation as to what it is. So I keep looking for Calvinism to make sense; to explain what choose means. But I fail to see how Steve's card player example explains things. Meanwhile (absent a way of understanding the Calvinist concept of ‘choose’), I am beginning to suspect Calvinists are simply inconsistent - confusing themselves and others.

Dan: “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'.

Steve: That condition is irrelevant to my example.

If the card player example wasn’t intended to support Steve's claim regarding the ability to choose otherwise, what’s its purpose?

Dan: “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.

Steve: Since Dan has insisted on a very expansive definition of choice, which includes the outcome, Dan’s objection is inconsistent with his own definition: “I generally think of choices at three levels: 1) contemplation, 2) choice and 3) execution of choice.”

My definition doesn’t make Steve’s example relevant to Steve’s definition.

The explanatory power of Steve’s card player example seems dependent on a dissanalogous aspect of the example. The ‘possibility’ Steve talks about is downstream and doesn’t make direct contact with the choice, yet Steve uses the example to explain choice. Steve isn’t talking about the player drawing or not drawing, but rather the outcome of the draw. As Steve notes, the player's choice doesn’t alter the order of the deck, so while he chooses to draw or not, he doesn't choose the outcome.

The point is that the ‘possibility’ in the card player example is impersonal, and nor something the card player can effect. That's why this type of possibility isn't suitable for explaining choice.

Does a gambler look up the definition of “choice” in Webster’s before he plays poker?

The card player has some notion of what choice means.

Steve: But the “one possibility of a time” limitation is an objective limitation which is imposed on human agents by the nature of time itself–in conjunction with logical (in-)compossibilities. We cannot simultaneously make contrary choices. In some cases we can make successive contrary choices, but because contrary choices are mutually exclusive, you can only make one such choice at a time. That limitation is due to the nature of time itself, as well as what is logically compossible.

While two actuals are impossible, alternative possibilities are not. Steve seems to be speaking about two actuals, but my statement was about alternative possibilities.


Dan: “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.”

Steve: A determinist doesn’t have to think both A and B are live possibilities. Rather, he doesn’t know in advance which abstract possibility is concretely impossible.

It’s difficult to see how Steve’s comment is responsive or undermines my argument that one cannot positively assert twofold possibilities (even in the epistemic sense of possibility) without undermining determinism. The only way I could see Steve’s comment as being at all relevant would be if he is stressing the negative aspect – not knowing which is impossible (as opposed to thinking that given what I know this is logically possible). The problem is that Steve himself has used ‘possibilities’ in positive assertions, not just negative assertions. Using possibilities in positive assertions undermines determinism; as we have seen.

The card player can't form a positive assertion like: "given what I know these two things are possible" or "my information about these two things logically reconcile without contradiction". As soon as he does, he undermines libertarianism.

Dan: 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.

Steve: Like shuffling a deck of cards.

What does that have to do with the card player’s abilities? This really highlights the problem noted above. The ‘possibility’ in the card player example is impersonal, and nor something the card player can effect. Choice is a power of the agent, we choose what is within one's power.

We can’t transplant the epistemic sense of ‘possible’ in the card player example into the definition of choice. Steve can’t shift from third person to first. You can’t move from ‘chocolate is possible’ to ‘I can choose chocolate’. While you can move from 1st to 3rd, you can’t move from 3rd to 1st person. In other words; “I can choose chocolate’ entails that in light of my abilities ‘chocolate is possible’. But ‘chocolate is possible’ in an epistemic sense does not entail ‘I can choose chocolate’ and has nothing to do with the agent’s abilities.

Dan :“Finally, Steve looks for Greek and Hebrew word studies. I have already pointed out that modern scolorship is unanimously translates b√Ęcha and eklegomai as choose.

Steve: This goes back to Dan’s incorrible dishonesty. Yes, he pointed that out. And I responded to his rejoinder.When I respond to his rejoinder, what does he do? Does he acknowledge my response? No. He acts as if nothing was every said in response to his rejoinder.Dan can’t bring himself to argue in good faith. He keeps repeating the same stale arguments as if no one ever interacted with his argument.

This argument stalemated on the definition of choose; which is why I have been focusing on that.

Steve: A possible agent’s object of choice is not the same object as God’s object of choice. When we say that God chooses a possible world, what we mean is which possible world God choose to instantiate. Which possible world will become the real world.When we say what a possible agent chooses, that has reference to what a possible agent does in a possible world. It doesn’t mean a possible agent is choosing which possible world will become the real world. Due to Dan’s equivocation, Molinism continues to fall afoul of my objection: in the actual world, an actual agent isn’t free to choose between either A or B. Rather, the actual world actualizes either A or B. If it actualizes A, then B is no longer in play. If it actualizes B, then A is no longer in play. In Molinism, libertarian freedom only applies at the level of possible worlds, and not the actual world. An actual world actualizes one possibility to the exclusion of the others. That’s the point. That’s what distinguishes actuality from possibility. These alternatives are only live possibilities in possible worlds. In the real world, they cease to be live possibilities.

Again, I am not sure if Steve is attempting to describe Molinism or present a reductio ad absurdum argument. If he’s describing it, the description is inaccurate. Here’s a quote from Molina:


For the things that issue forth from our choice or depend on it are not going to happen because they are foreknown by God as going to happen, to the contrary, they are foreknown by God as going to happen in this or that way because they are so going to happen by virtue of our freedom of choice – through if they were going to happen in a contrary way, as they are able to, then from eternity they would be foreknown as going to happen in that contrary way instead of in the way the are in fact foreknown as going to happen – and, indeed the knowledge by which God knew absolutely that such and such things would come to be is not a cause of the things, but rather, once the order of things that we see has been posited by the free determination of the divine will, then (as Origen and the other Fathers observe) the effects will issue forth from their causes – naturally from natural causes, freely and contingently with respect to both parts from free causes – just as if God had no foreknowledge of future events. From this it clearly follows that no prejudice at all is done to freedom of choice or to the contingency of things by God’s foreknowledge, a
foreknowledge through which, because of the infinity and wholly unlimited perfection and acumen of His intellect, He sees with certainty what the free causes placed in any order of things will do, even though they could really, if they so willed do the contrary; rather, even though that knowledge exists, freedom of choice and the contingency of things with respect to both parts remains intact, just as if there were no foreknowledge. (Molina Translation by Freddoso. Concordia Disp 52 para 29.)
For more contemporary accounts, please see Flint and Craig’s response to Hasker and Adams anit-Molinist arguments.

So it’s wrong to say "in libertarian Molinism, freedom only applies at the level of possible worlds, and not the actual world".


While it’s true God is choosing the whole world, that world includes us choosing some small part of it. Further, God’s actualization of that possible world unfolds over time and in different modes – either directly (as in cases like creation and miracles…) or indirectly by permitting us to actualize parts of it in accordance to what He knew we would do.

So if Steve was explaining Molinism, the description was inaccurate, leaving ample room for developing faulty conclusions.

On the other hand, if Steve was providing a reducto ad absurdum argument against Molinism, it’s hard to tell just what it might be. When Steve says “the actual world actualizes either A or B” he substitutes ‘the actual world’ for people’s choices. It's like he's personifying the actual world. What are we to make of such an argument? The world doesn’t possess us, nor force our wills.

Steve: The other problem goes to basic contradiction within Molinism. On the one hand, Molinism tries to reconcile predestination with libertarian freedom. Possible agents are free to do otherwise, but God determines which possibility to instantiate.

Steve's statement "God determines which possibility to instantiate" could be taken in two ways. Determined may either be a mental resolution or deciding on a plan in our minds (in which cases Molinists agree with Steve's statement). What is determinate is God’s mind. But if Steve means God determines the possibility (what is determined is the world, not God’s mind), Molinists disagree.

Steve: On the other hand, Molinism says that God can choose from this array of possibilities because he knows what a human agent would do in any given situation. However, the conventional definition of libertarian freedom is the freedom to do otherwise in the very same situation.

Freedom to do otherwise in the very same situation isn’t a conventional definition of LFW, the normal definition is the ability to choose otherwise. Open theists use the ‘same situation’ definition since they have a tough time with the question ‘otherwise than what?’ Since they don’t hold to ‘a future’ they have a hard time saying we are free to choose otherwise than we will choose. So they go with freedom to do otherwise in the same situation.

Steve: So it turns on which side of the Molinist contradiction you want to accentuate. If you accentuate the libertarian side of the Molinist contradiction, then Dan has introduced a false dichotomy: “But in Molinism, if we would choose chocolate; God can't choose the possible world in which we choose vanilla.

My statement isn’t a false dichotomy. It isn’t even a dichotomy.

Steve: Up to a point, that’s true, but quite deceptive. For if libertarianism is true, then there’s a possible world in which we choose chocolate, and another possible world in which we choose vanilla. If freedom means the freedom to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world which matches each alternative Therefore, even if we accept libertarianism, God is never confronted with a situation in which our choice restricts his choice.

I agree with Steve’s premise (two possible worlds), but the conclusion does not follow. God enables us to choose, so while we ultimately depend on His power, He can’t force us to choose something.

Steve: If you stipulate that freedom means the freedom to do otherwise, then you deny God unique ability to know what we’d do in any given circumstance. If what we will do could go either way, then our choice cannot be a determinate object of knowledge.

God knows the future, not by it being predetermined, but rather directly. We should not denigrate God's epistemology to our level.

Steve: Possible agents comprise different sets of serial choices. Different hypothetical timelines. Even if you say that successive choices are successively realized, that’s irrelevant to the fact that God is instantiating one series of possibilities to the exclusion of other series. God makes that call, not the possible agent. Even in Molinist terms, the real world has a closed future.

God is instantiating one of the possibilities indirectly, by permitting us to instantiate it in accordance with what He knew we would do.

Steve: A possible person is simply a divine concept. A mental construct. It’s not something over and above God’s conception, in relation to which God is dependent. To the contrary, a possible person is entirely dependent on divine cogitation.

A possible person is more than God’s conception in the same way an actual person is more than God’s actual power. So unless we embrace pantheism, we are in some way distinct from God.

Steve: Moreover, libertarian freewill assumes control over the outcome. That’s the point. Unless the decisions of the free agent effect the chosen outcome–he’s hardly free in a libertarian sense. It would be like pushing buttons on a vending machine in which you’re free to push any combination you like, but what you get doesn’t correspond to what you select. You select the Butterfinger Crisp, but you get the 3 Musketeers instead. Is that how Dan now defines “choice”?

The means were chosen (i.e. hitting the button) but the outcome was not. Sometimes multiple choices are spoken of as one, when they are working together to accomplish one purpose. When the chain breaks, one must distinguish between the various elements. Whether choice relates to multiple mental resolutions or multiple outcomes or both; in any case determinism is undermined. However, since God looks at the heart, moral responsibility attaches first and foremost to internal actions.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Files: Joseph Benson's Commentary on Romans 9

In Joseph Benson's commentary on Romans 9, he explains that Paul's refutation of the Jews argument that God's word failed is twofold. Paul deals with national election and also with justification by faith. Benson explains the allegorical sense and justification by faith: "In quoting these words, in Isaac shall thy seed be called, and inferring therefrom that the children of the promise shall be counted for the seed, the apostle does not intend to give the literal sense of the words, but the typical only; and by his interpretation signifies that they were spoken by God in a typical and allegorical, as well as in a literal sense, and that God there declared his counsel concerning those persons whom he purposed to own as his children, and make partakers of the blessings of righteousness and salvation. As if he had said, This is a clear type of things to come; showing us, that in all succeeding generations, not the lineal descendants of Abraham, but they to whom the promise is made, that is, believers, are the true children of God.

Benson also explains the literal sense and national election. He does a good job at explain how national election squares with the question of did God's word fail. It may seem like national election would result in the Jews being saved, which would undermine Paul's point. So why reference the election of Jacob? Benson explains: "And his intent herein, as appears from verses 30-33, (which passage is a key to the whole chapter,) is evidently to show, that as God before chose Jacob, who represented the Jews, and admitted him and his posterity to peculiar privileges, above the Gentiles, without any merit in him or them to deserve it; so now, (the Jews through their unbelief having rejected the Messiah, and being justly therefore themselves rejected of God,) he had chosen the Gentiles, represented by Esau, to be his peculiar people; according to the prediction of Hosea, I fill call them my people, &c., cited verse 25, where see the note; and that without any thing on their part to deserve this favour. It was entirely free with respect both to them and Jacob, Cod's mercy and goodness preventing, not the endeavour only, but even the will of both. As, before Jacob either willed or strove for it, the blessing was designed of God for him; so, before ever the Gentiles sought after God, the blessings of Christ's kingdom were designed for them. Yet it does not follow that all who are called Christians, and enjoy outward church privileges, shall be finally saved, any more than it is to be concluded that all the Jews were saved before Christ came in the flesh, on account of their privileges." In other words, explaining that national election doesn't guarantee salvation is responsive to the Jews argument that the word of God failed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Conversion and Continuation (Response to Steve)

Steve Hays recently called Arminians (and Josh in particular) hypocrites for not opposing my teaching eternal security. (link) It’s unclear if he means they should oppose eternal security (since he cites case where Josh does) or if Steve means they should oppose me personally. I normal don’t respond to things like this, but since Steve is accusations others (not me, thought Steve is involving me) I thought I should say something. Steve, please consider assuming a more charitable reason other than hypocrisy for the lack of personal opposition.

You’re free to enter, but not to leave. …Both getting saved and staying saved involve the exercise of faith. Believing the Gospel from day to day. Conversion doesn’t require a different sort of faith than the daily walk of faith. Conversion doesn’t require a different source of faith than the daily walk of faith.

Faith isn’t a choice; it’s a result of one. Repentance is a choice, but faith is not. So I disagree the inception and continuation of faith are the same.

On the other hand, we are warned about neglecting not just repudiating salvation (Heb 2:1-3). We can slip away, like a ring slipping off a finger. So while I am not suggesting we should be passive about perseverance or maintaining faith, I am suggesting conversion and continuation are asymmetrical. I think the way it works is that as we work, we see God working in our lives and it strengthens our faith.

What are the Scriptural prooftexts for libertarian freewill? Well, the warning passages of Scripture constitute a locus classicus. …If the warning passages don’t imply that a Christian is free to either persevere in the faith or lose his faith, then there’s no obstacle to saying the exact same thing about other libertarian prooftexts.

I don’t disagree with non-OSAS Arminians on warning passages. I disagree with them on security passages and also in systematization. But I do hold we can fall away, I just don’t think we will.

2 Audio Files Addressed to Moderate Calvinism

Here's a lecture by Ken Keathley (a Molinist) and one by Angus Stewart (a Classic Calvinist) addressed at moderate Calvinism. They cover topics such as supra vs. infra-lapsarianism, single vs. double predestination, a 'well meant offer', and defining hyper-Calvinism. Both find moderate Calvinism inconsistent and invite moderate Calvinists to consider their own positions. Both give excellent historical backgrounds for their views.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Predestination and Eternal Security

Calvinsts charge Arminians with making predestination irrelevant - something that doesn't impact life. If God already foreknew Bobby will believe in the future, predestination becomes a rubber stamp of what Bobby will do. It's already the future without predestination. Is this charge valid? Arminian views on predestination vary, but for some views (in my opinion those that most clearly and successfully avoid the charge) predestination seems to favor eternal security.


The first view that clearly shows how predestination impacts the world is the foreknowledge is or includes middle knowledge. In this view God chooses what circumstances to put someone in, knowing how they would freely respond. This clearly impacts the world, and equally clearly explains how God could prevent apostasy.


The second view the clearly shows how predestination impacts life is that predestination impacts the time after the foreknown event. Let's say predestination impacts Bobby's life from the moment of conversion on. God foresees Bobby will convert on June 2nd, and predestination effects the rest of his life. In this way, predestination is far from a rubber stamp. Now Bobby has a real world benefit he didn't have before - predestination. But predestination to what and what is this benefit? We are predestined to adoption as sons and to conformity to Christ's image and the benefit is that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them. Starting to sound like eternal security?


Let's look at some of the scriptural texts:


Romans 8: 28-30 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.


There doesn't seem to be any way around this. That all things work together for good to those who love God is often quoted to comfort those in pain. But either God is able to succeed in getting all things to work together for good, or He is not. If not, all comfort is lost. Those experiencing through troubles do not know God will work things out for their good - He might not succeed in His attempt to do so. If on the other hand, God will work things out for their good, the comfort is back but it brings eternal security along with it. It's not true that God is working all things for our good if we end up lost.


Further, those that are foreknown are predestined to conformity to Christ's image. Predestination has to do with the destination. If our destination is final glory, that's where we will end up. Apostates (if there are any) are outside this process - not addressed by Romans 8:28-30. With an exception that big, we have good reason to question if they were ever really saved.


Finally, those who are foreknown and predestined end up glorified. Some argue that since 'glorified' is in the past tense, it references regeneration which happens in this life. Without opposing this view, I would add to it that it must be regeneration in view of it's being the start to bringing completion of the process - final glory in heaven, because conformity to Christ's image starts in this life and completes in the next.



The passage continues:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “ For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isn't God, who willingly gave us His Son, willing to keep us? The temptation Paul enumerates (tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword) are those most likely to lead us to apostatize from Christ. Yet Paul has no fear and speaks boldly that no created thing (that includes us) shall separate us from God's love. What's left? God Himself? Sin? OK, but the normal process (and our primary threat) is for temptations to lead us to sin and away from God. Why boast of victory, if the only threat isn't being addressed?

Let's look at what predestination does:

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Predestination is from foreknowledge and unto good works. God changes us and prepares the way before us. That's why we will preserver.