Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 5

Let’s talk about Blake’s fifth objection to my original post. If you didn’t see my previous discussion about the principle of alternative possibilities, or PAP, then see here.

A. Objection. Here’s Blake’s fifth issue:

5. The Charge that Calvinist Determinism is Primarily Philosophical

It is the ultimate irony that an Arminians would accuse the Calvinist of philosophical sophistry regarding the issue of divine determinism and the sovereignty of God. Brendan calls the Calvinist doctrine of predestination i.e. determinism, a “biblically unwarranted,” “extra-biblical, philosophical-theological construct,” that resembles “secular philosophical presuppositions.” It is ironic that Calvinistic biblical predestination is accused of being anti-biblical philosophy, when some Arminians, perhaps even Brendan, regard Molinism as a system that may be able to resolve the issue of divine foreknowledge and human free will (the difficulty of which does not exist within Calvinism). If one asserts that Molinism is more agreeable to biblical revelation than Calvinist predestination (which is really just biblical predestination), then such an individual is thoroughly confused. Arminian doctrine of libertarian free will and the undeterministic sovereignty of God is the one that is guilty of an “extra-biblical, philosophical-theological construct;” a Greek philosophical construct in particular.

B. Response. I think it would help if I were to explain what I meant by calling metaphysical causal predeterminism primarily “philosophical.” Since I’m a student of Philosophy at the University, I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way. All I mean is that I can detect in the Calvinist’s understanding of the biblical concept of “divine sovereignty” a metaphysical doctrine of determinism underlying their understanding of how this biblical concept make sense. The criticism would then be when the Calvinist makes this metaphysical doctrine a necessary condition for divine sovereignty, when it is not at all obvious that this doctrine can be strictly derived from the text of Scripture. In other words, I don’t think you can do strict, inter-textual exegesis and prove that Moses, Paul, John or James or whoever had something like this in mind. What determinism becomes then is not an exegetical derivation, but rather a philosophical mechanism (such as middle knowledge) to explain biblical data such as divine control, divine foreknowledge, divine power, divine prophecy, divine purposes and so on and so forth.

Determinism. In the broadest possible sense, x determines y to do R if and only if x somehow causes y to do R in such a manner that y cannot but do R. This can be spelled out and nuanced in various ways. But the general idea of determining is that makes do the thing that does, and cannot but do the thing is causing to do. Determinists tell different stories about this. Some determinists even think this is compatible with having a form of free will.

Just take a look at that broad definition of determinism. Clearly, just by looking at it, you can see that it doesn’t come from the Bible. Does that mean that it is false? Not necessarily. Determinism is a philosophical explanatory framework for other sets of data found in the Bible {A, B, C}. Anyone who thinks this kind of a philosophical story makes sense given the scriptural data {A, B, C} could endorse it. The mistake is thinking that determinism is derived from {A, B, C}, rather than being consistent with and perhaps explanatory of {A, B, C}.

Now the obvious question is: Is determinism in fact consistent with all the data {A, B, C}? Well, imagine:
A = people are given choices by God to do P or Q;
B = people are morally responsible for what they do;
C = God is not the author of sin.
Could a deterministic explanatory framework make sense of this? Some people (like Blake) say Yes. Others (like me) say No. We think some kind of Libertarian Free Will framework makes most sense.

And that’s the thing. I wholly admit that Libertarian Free Will is a philosophical explanatory framework of the biblical data. By calling determinism such a framework I did not mean to say that Free Will is not such a framework. The question is which framework makes most sense of the biblical data. So, imagine these data {D, E, F} where
D = God accomplishes all his purposes;
E = God is in control of world history, persons, events, times, places and locations, etc.
F= God predestines some but not others to eternal life.
Can Libertarian Free Will makes sense of this data? Some people (like me) say Yes. Others (like Blake) say No.

Any sound philosophical theology or explanatory framework will have to deal with all the biblical data {A, B, C, D, E, F} and not just selections such as {A, C} or {B, D, F} or some other subset of all the data. I, too, and keen on James White’s insistence that we have not only sola scriptura (scripture alone) but also tota scriptura (all of scripture) in our theological formation.

Next time, we will talk through Blake’s sixth objection to my original blog.


Meagre Thoughts on Providence: Arminianism, Calvinism, Open Theism

On a classic Christian understanding of divine providence God is most assuredly working everything for the good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). Accordingly, God works all things according to his plan in conformity to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).

Whatever view you take of it, you need to make most sense of human agency, sin and evil, and God’s holy and good character and nature.

On the Arminian view, we should not say that God is strictly the cause of everything that happens. But we also do not want to say God is surprised or could be thwarted by evil. In stark contrast both to Calvinism and to Open Theism, God on Arminianism is neither the cause of nor is He surprised by the evil that happens (or will happen) in the world. Rather, he simply concurs with and permits evil in the world.

In my opinion, Calvinist providence in terms of causal foreordination or metaphysical pre-determinism (a philosophical-explanatory construct not to be confused with the biblical teaching on the divine fore-ordination and predestination of events) makes God the author of sin, by which I mean source of sin, and a contributory factor to human evil. That is inconsistent with the goodness and the love of God.

The Open Theist view, however, I just don’t think to be grounded in scripture. I take it to be a form of Theological Revisionism which caves to the problem of freedom and foreknowledge as pressed by the Calvinists through their secular philosophy.

Only an Arminian view, then, which talks of God as permitting the free acts of the creatures that are foreknown by him is able to hold in tension the biblical teaching about God’s goodness and his love, and his sovereign government over all affairs without strictly causing them to happen. In my view, God doesn’t need to predetermine everything in order to be sovereign. Maybe creatures are free and are interacted with by God as free precisely because God is sovereign, and that is what he has sovereignly chosen to do.

I see no inconsistency in that.