Saturday, March 27, 2010

Responding to a Few More Issues for Marcus

This is a response to this post from Marcus.

I think Swan's argument was that the Arminian position does not really answer why God is not responsible for evil.

Marcus, if you read the quote I cited from Mr. Swan you'll see that He says God simply by knowing beforehand and having the power to stop it means God "shares the responsibility" for that sin. I assert that that would not make God responsible for that specific sin, but at most would be a different sin if it were a sin at all. Clearly as I point out, however, God has morally sufficient reasons to allow sin.

Decreeing events and decreeing sins are no the same thing.

If God decrees an event that happens to be a sin, how could it not be the same thing? If God determines all events and we cannot do otherwise that what God decrees, how are the sins our own?

We see that God can and has stopped people from sinning. This means that he could stop all people from sinning. Why doesn't he?

God warned Abimelech not to sin. He didn't infallibly cause him not to sin. Abimelech still could have sinned if he had chosen to disobey God and face death. If God's purpose is to allow people to have volitional wills, then if He were to stop all sin, He would be working against His purpose. Given free will, God has to also accept the possibility of rebellion. On the other hand, if the determinist is correct and there is no free will, then God could have determined that there would be no sin at all.

God tells Abimelech that he did not touch Sarah not because he didn't want to but God stopped him from doing it.

God stopped Him not by irresistibly causing Him to stop, but by appearing to Abimelech and telling Him if he didn't stop he would be killed, implying that Abimelech could have still gone on with it. This makes much more sense on the LFW view because God intervenes and speaks with Abimeleh to get him to stop. Otherwise, why not just determine the events that would take place and cause Abimelech to not bed with Sarah?

It's like if I said I caused you to reply to my last post. I didn't determine that you do that, but my actions prompted your volitional will to respond, though you could have chosen not to.

I distinctly said that God did not force His brothers to do evil.

Well I don't want to get hung up on the nuances of the word "force" but I didn't say that either. Determinism holds that God has necessitated all events that happen. That means events aren't contingent, they are necessary. God has made it so they can't not happen. If you think the brothers could have acted otherwise, then you're not a determinist, at least not a consistent one.

How do you reconcile that God could have stopped Joseph's brothers from selling Joseph into slavery

I did that in my post. God knew by allowing this sin there would be a far greater good that would occur. That is why God allows any sins.

What God did was use them to save the whole world from famine - the greater good.

Marcus, this was my exact argument that you took issue with. I essentially used the greater good argument, but you said, "This is the argument that I keep hearing from JP Moreland and William Lane Craig. The problem is that it does not answer the issues raised in Scripture that we see that God does not just ordain events but also decrees them."

God could have done all of this a different way, but He did it this way. Why? I don't know.

I think that should tell you something. It's a big gratuitous puppet show, in my opinion, for God to be determining all things and appearing to His creatures and seemingly giving them choices, but not really. Plus, as JC said, it impacts the character of God. Is God good if He acts in this way?

Brennon, is that really what the passage say?

It doesn't say it explicitly but we can surely deduce it from how we know God works in other places. God can use sinful nations as His tools. He certainly doesn't cause them to be a sinful nation, does He? No, in knowing that God allows freedom (as seen in passages like 2 Samuel 24:11-13, Jonah, Ezek. 24:13, anywhere a choice is involved) we can determine that God uses for His purposes whatever He chooses to use to accomplish His ends. God foreknew that the Assyrians would sin in this manner, and He also purposed to judge other nations by using the sin of the Assyrians, then He judged them for their sins.

If God had not put Pilate and the Jewish leaders in those situation, could they have chosen to crucify Jesus? No. Sounds like God was in control.

Marcus, when have I ever argued that God isn't in control? He's in so much control that His purposes are accomplished in spite of our sinful free choices. That doesn't diminish God, it exalts Him!

If we can't initiate it, why should we think we can reject it? Apostasy is explained in 1st John 2:19

Well apostasy wasn't at issue here, but I'll address it anyway. The case in 1 John 2 is a specific case and I see no reason to universalize it. Jesus, in the parable of the sower, says that apostasy is possible.

Luke 8:
11"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved ((!!!notice that the result of belief is salvation!!!)). 13Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away"

Notice that belief means you are saved. There are some who believe for a while and then fall away.

Then there's also the Romans 11 passage and the numerous Hebrews warnings.

Anyway, free will is definitely assumed by Jesus here.

I'm sorry I don't understand. Can you recognize that God can choose who to have a relationship with and who not to have a relationship with and then argue that God must extend at least enough grace to everyone to give them the option to chose to come to Him or reject Him at the same time?

You need to read everything I am writing, Marcus. I never said God must do anything. I said that God has the right to choose whoever He wants to extend His grace to. I think He purposed to show it to ALL PEOPLE. If that is His purpose then it is an eternal purpose, and God doesn't break His promises.

Let me give an example. I agree that everything God does is good, but it depends on your point of view about what is good.

If this is true, Marcus, and God does everything, in that He makes everything happen that happens, then you'd have to conclude that everything is actually good. There is no real bad, because since God does everything then everything is good. That is not a Biblical teaching.

I am saying that we have no other choice but to sin unless God chooses to save us

While I disagree based on Matthew 7:11, that really isn't at issue here.

but I don't think we are qualified to define what irrational or illogical really is because until God reveal his will and the plan to us we have no idea - our view point is tainted alway

There have to be some things that we are qualified to figure out. If you are going to rely on this excuse to get out of the logical inconsistencies your view creates, then you could explain away anything. Just because sin does cloud our thinking in spiritual matters (and others) doesn't mean that the human intellect is so totally destroyed by it that we can't reason logically. If that were the case then we couldn't function because we wouldn't be able to distinguish truth from fiction! God hasn't left us in such a sorry state. We still retain the vestiges of the imago dei in our humanity and still have the God given ability to reason. If we don't then we are no different from animals.

Marcus, I suspect your commitment to Calvinistic theology is keeping you from acknowledging these problems with your theology. It's easy to pass it off as mystery or antinomy, but I don't think we should appeal to antinomy unless we have no other recourse. The Christian religion is 100% rationally unobjectionable, and that is one reason I reject Calvinistic determinism.

Why would God doing whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants invalidate God's goodness?

If God causes people to sin, that goes against His own Law; His on standard of goodness. God will not hold others responsible for what He Himself won't do.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Response to Marcus: More on Trauma in Sovereignty à la James Swan

I have been trying to comment on a response to my response to James Swan of Alpha and Omega Ministries (found here) from Marcus. The post I am responding to is found here. His contentions are in italics.

I think you're missing one of the main premises in my argument, and that is that God creating free agents whom He knows would sin does not somehow cause Him to share in their responsibility for those sins. That seemed to be one of Swan's main points, but I see no reason to impute responsibility of the acts of individual agents to God. The only thing we could say if we were to complain is that God was negligent somehow in creating free creatures even though He knew they would sin. But that, as I say, is just the problem of evil.

Now, to defend my arguments:

The problem is that it does not answer the issues raised in Scripture that we see that God does not just ordain events but also decrees them.

Here is the problem with this argument. You are assuming determinism in this premise itself. What we are trying to determine is whether God is the one decreeing all human actions in the argument between theistic determinism and libertarianism. So to say that the reason I am wrong is because God decrees these sins is begging the question.

In Genesis 50 we find Joseph, whose brothers sold him into the evil of slavery, who lied to their father breaking his heart, claiming Joseph was dead. In front of his brothers, years later Joseph states, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." The two statements in Hebrew are in direct parallel. Joseph's brothers meant evil by their actions, but God intended the same actions for good.

According to the Genesis 50 passage, there is no reason to think that God actively caused Joseph's brothers to sin. That seems to implicate God in that He took part in their sin. No, He simply used their sin to accomplish a far greater good, which actually supports my first argument against the POE.

This same principle can be found in Isaiah 10: 5-12, where God uses Assyria as an instrument of judgment on the rebellious people of Israel, and then holds Assyria responsible for her sinful attitude and desires against Israel.

Same for Isaiah 10. God uses the sins that these individual agents contrived through their own powers of deliberation, through their own wills, for His purposes. He did not purpose or decree or make necessary the sins or actions of individuals, but in foreknowing the sin worked them out for His eternal purposes.

The most important example of compatibilism though is Acts 4:27-28. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews all sinfully join forces to crucify Jesus. Yet God's predestined the entire event for his holy purpose.

Same with the Acts 4 passage. God knew that when placed in the situation they were that Pilate and the Pharisees would choose to crucify Jesus. He allowed them to freely act knowing how they would act. He did not cause them to act.

I would argue that its impossible for an unregenerate human being to relate with God. Unregenerate sinner are spiritually dead, remember? Completely unable to obey or even respond to God. All we can do on our own is rebel

The issue isn't whether man in his natural state can do anything to relate to God. Both you and I recognize the need for God's grace because man is totally unable and unwilling to come to Him without His drawing. The issue is whether we can choose to reject this drawing. If we can't, then the entire relationship aspect is called into question. Is a relationship where one side causes the other side to not be able to choose not to be in the relationship a genuine one?

It's interesting to me how people are quick to give us the freedom to reject a relationship with God, yet no thought seems to be given that God could choose who to be in relationship with of God's own free will.

I certainly recognize that it is entirely God's prerogative whom He chooses to show mercy to; whom He chooses to be in a relationship with. I simply believe the scriptures teach that God has purposed to extend His love to all human beings and to allow them to freely come to Him or reject Him.

I think reality may be explained by the the point that God can arbitrarily do whatever God wants at any time.

This contention baffles me, Marcus. If you are correct, then God is the author of sin and He irrationally blames us for the sin He has made necessary. It would contradict the scriptures which indicate that God only does what is good! If this is the case, then how do we differentiate between the works of the devil and the works of God? Indeed, the works of the devil actually are the works of God, since God is the one who decrees and makes necessary the works of the devil, if theistic determinism is true.

My assertion was "He has the right to create free agents, allow them to sin, and hold them responsible for those sins." I don't think He has the right to create people and cause them to sin and then hold them responsible for that sin. That would be totally irrational; a logical contradiction. But God is not irrational and cannot do logically contradictory things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Change Looks Like Crap

Upon the passage of his Health Care bill in the House of Representatives, President Barack Hussein Obamuhh stated proudly, "This is what change looks like"1.

Well, if "change" looks like:

  • Purely partisan votes that clearly go against mass public sentiment
  • Back-room deals and arm twisting
  • No transparency
  • Passing 2000 + page bills which no one knows what is in them
  • Making changes that dramatically affect each and every American, stripping at least 20 of their personal liberties2
  • Blatantly ignoring your constituents
  • Etc.
Then I'm not gonna lie. Change is pretty crappy.

1 Kevin Gosztola, Passed Health Reform Really Is "What Change Looks Like", (2010).

2 David Hogberg, 20 Ways ObamaCare Will Take Away Our Freedoms, (2010).

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Stop this madness!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is There Trauma in Sovereignty? A Response to James Swan

Arminians and other Libertarians are concerned with determinism, the proposition that all of our actions are made necessary by God in some way. We are concerned because determinism seems to make God the author of sin.

The compatibilist wants to show that we can still be free and responsible for our own actions and they can be determined. David Hume, a skeptic philosopher, tried to show this is the case on a naturalistic framework. Theist determinists adopt some of Hume's arguments and augment them in order to argue that it is possible that all our actions have been pre-determined, but we freely do those actions and are therefore responsible for them. There have also been other attempts at trying to show that this is possible.

The incompatibilist thinks this is counterintuitive. It seems to be a logical contradiction to say we are determined yet free. The libertarian argues that it is obvious that God is not the author of sin because human beings have libertarian free will, in which case they can choose between available options and none of those options is unable to be chosen. No former states of the universe or outside agents necessitate what we choose. We may be influenced by different things, but those influences do not determine what we do. The libertarian argues that this is the only way to be able hold individuals responsible for what they do. Only if it is possible to choose a counterfactual possibility is the agent responsible for what they actually choose. This is called the principle of alternate possibilities.

The libertarian argues that God is not the author of evil because He is not the one performing the evil acts that are committed. It is the creatures He created who freely chose to sin against God. They had the choice to obey or to sin and they chose to sin. If this sin originates from the creature, then the creator is not responsible for that sin.

Some determinists have tried to construct a dilemma in which the libertarian becomes trapped by their own logic. James Swan of Alpha and Omega Ministries constructs it as follows (full post found here):

When non-Reformed people argue against the Reformed understanding of sovereignty, I have to immediately ask them how they also avoid their own argument. If we apply their argument against their own position what happens? They similarly believe God created all that is, and knew the beginning from the end before He created. If I knew in advance that a person was going to get in their car by their own choice, and while driving down the road strike and kill someone, and I let them do it, I share responsibility. It's actually a severely culpable responsibility because I knew and they didn't. When God chooses to create knowing full well what evil will happen, and creates anyway, I don't see how a non-Reformed person can avoid the same charge they place on us (emphasis his).

At first glance this looks hard to get out of, at least it did to me, but the answer to this is surprisingly simple. Mr. Swan tries to show that the foreknowledge of what will happen in allowing this person (let's call him Steve) to take the car makes us responsible for what he does with the car. This seems to be a problem for Mr. Swan. He needs to show that there is a logical reason to impute the responsibility of the actual car accident to the person allowing Steve to take his car. The simple fact that the car owner knew that Steve would cause this accident doesn't seem to be a reason to impute responsibility of that particular incident to the car owner. All we could say is that the clairvoyant car owner is responsible for allowing Steve to exercise his free will and ultimately end in the killing of a pedestrian, maybe making the owner thoughtless or uncaring; aka negligent.

Is this necessary? Let's explore the notion. God created a universe of free creatures who He knew would sin. Does this make God responsible for the sins of His independent creatures? No! There are no philosophical or logical reasons to say that God is responsible for those sins. Mr. Swan's assertion that "If I knew in advance that a person was going to get in their car by their own choice, and while driving down the road strike and kill someone, and I let them do it, I share responsibility" falls short of holding merit. So in that the main point of the analogy is to show that Steve is responsible for the car accident, it fails.

Also, Steve's being negligent is of course not analogous to God's dealings with sin; God warned Adam and He warns us and we know He hates sin and does not desire the death of the wicked. Still, there lingers a sense in which it is not God's highest priority to prevent sin. And this is because He seeks a greater good which involves both granting man a certain amount of freedom and marvelously bringing good out of our sinful actions (see #1 below). Also, as we shall see, God is not a man, subject to the same obligations and duties that human beings are; he is the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe (see #3 below).

Now if you are familiar with apologetics, Mr. Swan's scenario here looks very much like the skeptic's argument of the problem of evil. He even points this out in his post, "Many of you probably realize the above arguments are those typically launched by atheists against theists that use free will to absolve God of evil and determinism." That's correct, and should have tipped Mr. Swan off that this example doesn't show that God becomes responsible for all sins. All it could possibly show is that God would somehow be a bad guy for creating people who He knew would sin; that that act itself would be a sin. Of course we know this is silly, since God will not act contrary to His own law and thus will never sin.

There are numerous responses to the problem of evil, but first I want to point out an obvious logical problem that anyone who would question the libertarian runs into, and that is the Grandfather paradox. Since the libertarian believes that God foreknows actual future acts, then if God foreknows what a free creature will do in the future, he cannot not create that person, otherwise His foreknowledge of what the person will do would be wrong (since the person would not in fact do what God knew he would do; indeed, God's foreknowledge of the person's existence would be wrong as well!), and God cannot be wrong.. If you want to introduce middle knowledge (or whatever you may call God's hypothetical knowledge) then I would just point out, as a friend has done, that "God can only have middle knowledge...of people who will certainly exist at some point. He cannot know what someone who never exists would do; there is no person there to ever know anything about."


This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is enough to show that Mr. Swan (and by extension anyone who would cite the problem of evil) is incorrect in his assessment and that libertarianism (Arminianism in particular) is the Biblical view of God's foreknowledge and human freedom. I do not necessarily hold to all of these arguments I am going to cite, but will present them to show that Mr. Swan's line of reasoning is not necessary and that a libertarian has several options to choose from in refuting this argument.

1. Even if you reject the problems the grandfather paradox brings up, God still may have morally sufficient reasons to allow free will and have known the sin and have still created humanity. Let's apply this to the Mr. Smith car accident analogy. Say that I do know that Mr. Swan will have an accident and kill someone if I allow him to freely take my car. But perhaps I also foreknow that beyond the car accident there is an unspeakable good that will come about as a result of the car accident. Imagine that I knew the person he killed was going to try to kill the president. Would it still be wrong that I allowed him to take the car? It doesn't seem so. It seems that the reasoning behind my decision is morally sufficient to justify allowing Smith to take the car, resulting in the accident.

This is what libertarians could argue about God's decision to create free people He knew would sin. We could argue that God, in eternity past, decided to create creatures with libertarian free wills knowing they would sin in order to manifest a far greater good, namely the glorification of God! He knew He would save those who freely choose Him showing us His grace, mercy, righteousness, and love by redeeming us from those sins. I would argue He created the world in which the optimum amount of free creatures would freely choose Him.

2. One of God's main purposes in creating humanity was to cultivate a personal relationship with them. If He has determined all that we do, then the relationship is one sided, and therefore a sham much like a puppet show. It appears that for there to be genuine relations between people, it requires both parties to be able to choose not to be in the relationship. That could be the rationale behind God allowing freedom, and therefore the possibility of rebellion.

3. God is sovereign, and there is a demonstrable difference between our relationships with other created beings and God's relationship to us as Creator. Since He has sovereign rights over His creation, He has the right to create free agents, allow them to sin, and hold them responsible for those sins. So while it may be wrong for us to allow a helpless person to be murdered, it is not wrong for a maximally good and righteous God to allow His sinful creation to be killed, especially since He is their judge before and after they die (and since He has morally sufficient reasons to allow this sin as shown in #1).

I think this sufficiently shows that Mr. Swan is mistaken in his assessment. It shows that his analogy doesn't actually show what he wanted it to show, and the problem that seemed to arise in the form of the problem of evil isn't actually a problem at all for libertarian Arminians. But the determinist is still stuck with the problem in spades. If God has made necessary all events that happen, then sin is included and God actively causes sin. He becomes the active agent behind sins. The problem is still there and I don't think it can be resolved without holding to libertarianism.

Hopefully this "dilemma" will be put to rest among determinists.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Eating the Flying Spaghetti Monster with Rhology

My buddy Rhology (whose blog is appropriately called Rhoblogy) has given all our Pastafarian friends something to think about on his post about the utter silliness of the flying spaghetti monster. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Alvin Plantinga on Determinism


The Christian has an initially strong reason to reject the claim that all of our actions are causally determined-a reason much stronger than the meager and anemic arguments the determinist can muster on the other side. Of course if there were powerful arguments on the other side, then there might be a problem here. But there aren't; so there isn't.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He's Baaaack!

One of my favorite Arminian bloggers, the agile and astute JC Thibodaux, has found some time in his busy schedule to construct a great piece on the fatal flaw in divine determinism that is prevalent in Calvinism. All of my good siblings in Christ, whatever your ordo saludic persuasion, would benefit from this great read (click here).