Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 6

In our previous discussion, we talked about the profoundly philosophical nature of Calvinistic determinism as a way of understanding divine sovereignty and control. We also talked about how libertarian free will is similarly philosophical. See here for that discussion. Now, we will talk about a sixth objection to the original argument.

A. Complaint. Here’s Blake’s sixth issue:


6. God is so Powerful and Humble that He Makes Himself Powerless

“Why not rather think that divine sovereignty does not require metaphysical predeterminism, and simply say that God has the freedom, the power, the right, the wisdom and (dare I say) the humility to create free creatures to reflect his own image and likeness? That is my inclination.”

Calvinist theology holds that God’s sovereignty is based upon divine determinism because Calvinists believe the Bible teaches it. Once again, if Brendan wants his argument to be compelling he ought to provide a positive case for his Arminian position from scripture while also refuting common texts that are quoted in support of Calvinism.

As for God possessing “freedom” and “humility” to create creatures that thwart his will, these are weasel words designed to conceal a contradiction. The Arminians [sic] position is that God has eternally purposed that his purposes will be thwarted by the free decisions of his creatures, or, rather, his supposed antecedent will is thwarted. Such a position is a glaring contradiction. Unfortunately, saying that God possessed “humility” in creation is another way of saying that God has eternally submitted to the purposes of his creation and not the other way around. It is my opinion that this borders on blasphemy. As Gisbertus Voetius once stated, “We do not go for such a concord which subjects God to man, creator to creation.”


B. Response. For starters, I’d just like to point out (from Blake subtitle in bold) that I never said God “makes himself powerless” to allow for libertarian free will. So let’s ignore that (mis)characterisation of my suggestion. What I am suggesting (quoted accurately in italics) is that it is at least possible for God to create libertarian free agents. Whether that be according to God’s own sovereign “freedom” to create as he likes, his “power” as omnipotent creator, his “right” as creating authority, his intelligent “wisdom” in being able to design a being who is free, or in his simple “humility” in choosing to limit himself for some other purpose (such as love and real relationship) it doesn’t matter. I just mean to say that it is possible for God if he wants to to create free beings.

Now since any two propositions (A) and (B) are logically incompatible or contradictory if and only if there is not even one scenario in which both are be true at the same time, it follows that if there is even one possible scenario in which both (A) and (B) are true, then it follows that (A) and (B) are not, in fact, logically contradictory. And what I am suggesting is that there is a possible world where it is true that both “God is sovereign” and “man is free” is true, and this proves that divine sovereignty and libertarian human freedom are mutually compatible, and are not contradictory.

Now this is philosophically undermines Calvinism in that it shows how an assumption that many Calvinists hold is false; namely, that divine sovereignty and libertarian human freedom are logically incompatible. For Calvinism holds that sovereignty implies predeterminism, and predeterminism implies humans are not possibly free in a libertarian sense. But if it is possible that human beings are free in a libertarian sense, then that implies that divine sovereignty does not necessarily imply predeterminism. Why, then, think that predeterminism is true after all?

Now, Blake seems tacitly to admit this in his first paragraph. He seems to have the intuition that libertarian free will and divine sovereignty are at least logically compatible. All he asserts is that determinism is scriptural and free will is not. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that free will is logically possible. In that case, my argument will still follow that it is perfectly logical that a sovereign God creates and coexists with beings who are free in a libertarian sense. In that case, I feel perfectly rational and responsible in believing in libertarian free will and divine sovereignty. Now of course I know there are scriptural issues. But I was not dealing with that so we shall leave them aside for now. All we want is logical compatibility. Once we have that, we can move away from distractions such as assertions of logical incompatibility and on to more pressing matters of interest, such as analysis of scripture, church history and philosophical theology.

So we already have what we want. Good! But Blake also decides (freely) to blindside us with a weighty accusations of near-blasphemy in his second paragraph!

What is this accusation? Well, it’s not quite clear. Blake seems to think that God’s own decision to allowing for free will on part of his creatures implies some sort of “glaring contradiction” about God’s will. Just what is this “glaring contradiction”? Well, he never explains it. I think what he means to talk about universal salvation; the idea that God could will something, but then will this his will is not fulfilled. For although God, according to his antecedent will, wills universal salvation, his consequent will implies not everyone is saved, since not everyone believes, and only he who believes is saved. Bake seems to think this means God has eternally willed that God’s own will be “thwarted.”

But that clearly doesn’t follow. All that follows in the decree of creation (with creaturely freedom) is that it is possible for God’s antecedent will to be “thwarted.” But it does not follow from this that the divine will simpliciter be possibly thwarted. Blake clearly equivocates on at least three terms: “will”, “antecedent will” and “purposes”. Just because creation with freedom makes it possible that the antecedent will is not fulfilled does not make it possible that the will of God itself not come to fruition. For the will of God includes as differentiated parts the antecedent and the consequent aspects such that the divine will itself counts as having been fulfilled only if either one or the other is fulfilled, and there is always at least one part of the will, antecedent or consequent, such that is is fulfilled. (Jeremiah 18:7-10 serves as one illustration of this distinction: one will in two antecedent an consequent conditional parts.) What follows is that God’s will is always perfectly done even when creatures disobey what is really his fundamental antecedent will and intention for their lives. In fact, under a classical understanding of the conditional nature of God’s purposes and will on the whole as it is related individually to every creature, it always turns out that God’s will is perfectly fulfilled, even given human freedom to resist and reject God’s purpose for themselves in individual instances. For if it is the will of God that creatures (such as the Pharisees — Luke 7:30) can do some things contrary to God’s purpose for their lives and then suffer the consequences (or reap the rewards). And certainly it is God who makes it possible that creatures behave in ways that displease him. And yet this accords with his own sovereign freedom to create the possibility that this occur, and, when it actually occurs t allow it for his own purposes and ends — even to work through it for an ultimately good outcome in every case.

So I am not impressed by this accusation. It equivocates terms and confuses issues. It’s not that “God has eternally submitted to the purposes of his creation” but that God submits to his own purposes and plan for human freedom in his creation which he will work (and is working!) for the ultimate good. And, as we saw, this is not illogical.

Next time, we will talk about Blake’s seventh objection to the original.

* * *

Original article.

Original response. 

Beginning of response series.

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