Concluding Argument for Divine Omniscience and Exhaustive Foreknowledge of God
The Open Theist argues that if God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive, then all human action will be necessarily actualized since God’s ‘beliefs’ about future events cannot be falsified. But this would make it impossible to hold humans responsible for their acts if they cannot but act necessarily. We must choose between God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian human freedom. However, the undeniable fact of life is contingent human action. The logical recourse is to reduce significantly, if not decisively, the scope of divine foreknowledge to preserve human freedom.
The purpose of this post is to clarify the conceptual categories and the finely balanced relationship between necessity and contingency underlying the Reformed doctrine of meticulous providence and human freedom.
I. Distinction between Natural and Free Causes
Reformed Scholaticism frames the relation between God as the Creator and the world as his creation by using ontological concepts like cause and effect. A further distinction is made between subjects with attributes of freedom (free causes) and subjects without that quality (natural causes).
A cause produces an act, and either the act or the state of affairs brought forward by the act is called the effect.
I. The purpose of this article is to show that the Open Theist’s argument against divine foreknowledge is flawed because it fails to distinguish between “the necessity of the consequent” and“the necessity of the consequence”.
We begin with some clarifications of the terms that are crucial to our discussion:
Things are contingent of which it is possible that they are or are not.
Things are necessary of which it is impossible that they are not.
A necessary proposition is a proposition that could not possibly have been false, whose negation is impossible as this would entail a contradiction in reality. For example, it is necessary that 2 + 2 = 4. Philosophers describe a necessary proposition as one that true in all possible worlds.
A contingent proposition is a proposition that is not necessarily true or necessarily false (i.e. whose negation does not entail a contradiction in reality). An example of a contingent proposition is the proposition that human beings must be born on earth. A contingent proposition is one that is true in some possible worlds and not in others.
Prologue: The next three posts are rather technical (technical rating = 6/10). For readers who may find the reading tough going, just enjoy the jokes on Calvinism vs Arminianism.
Q1: How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? A: None. God has predestined when the lights will be on. Stay seated and trust him.
Q2: How many Arminians does it take to change a light bulb? A1: Only one. But first the bulb must want to be changed. A2: All. They need everyone to make sure it stays on. One can never really be sure.
Q3: How many charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? A: Three, one to cast it out and two to catch it when it falls!
Q4: How many Open Theists does it take to change a light bulb? A: No one knows the answer. Not even God!
Calvinists have their TULIP! Arminians prefer the daisy. Why? “He loves me, but he loves me not. He loves me, but he loves me not…
Now to the serious stuff:
God’s omnipotence and omniscience and are inseparable correlates of his sovereignty and providence over creation. As Creator, God knows everything. This includes their essential nature and how they interact with other things as “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13) As the omnipotent Lord, God controls all happenings in the universe and directs them according to his eternal plan. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Eph. 1:11)
The scriptural teaching of God’s predestination contradicts the Arminian view that God’s foreknowledge is “simple”, that is, God knows the future, but not that he predetermines it. Furthermore, the Arminian maintains that God’s foreknowledge is contingent on our prior choices- that God’s knowing isn’t the source of our doing. Rather, our doing is the source of God’s knowing. However, Scripture teaches that God’s knowledge is active rather than passive since he foreordains and directs all things “according to the counsel of his will.” Continue reading “Does Foreknowledge of God Negate Human Freedom? – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 5/7”
Before proceeding further in our series of posts on divine sovereignty and human freedom, it would be good to clarify some of the contested concepts in the debate.
Let’s begin with two fundamental concepts: 1) Free will. The ability of an agent to make genuine choices that stem from the self. Libertarians argue that free will includes the power to determine the will itself, so that a person with free will can will more than one thing. Compatibilists typically view free will as the power to act in accordance with one’s own will rather than being constrained by some external cause, allowing that the will itself may ultimately be causally determined by something beyond the self. Hard determinists deny the existence of free will altogether. Most Christian theologians agree that humans possess free will in some sense but disagree about what kind of freedom is necessary. The possession of free will does not entail an ability not to sin, since human freedom is shaped and limited by human character. Thus a human person may be free to choose among possibilities in some situations but still be unable to avoid all sin. /1/ Continue reading “Debate on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Fundamental Philosophical Concepts”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s philosophical acumen is evident in his academic dissertations, Act and Being and Sanctorium Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church* where he gives a masterly analysis of the relationship between Kantian transcendental idealism, Heideggerian phenomenology and the social ontology of the church. But Bonhoeffer’s theological analysis necessarily took a concrete turn when the Germany was confronted by an existential threat as Hitler began to impose an idolatrous ideology (National Socialism) aimed at building a homogeneous collectivity of single-minded obedient citizens. The Nazi regime proceeded to arrogate power to appoint leaders for the German Evangelical Church, control of its finance and governance structures. Any church which resisted would have its pastors arrested and its property confiscated.
[* Karl Barth described Bonhoeffer’s book Sanctorium Communio as a miracle and gave it the highest praise. “I openly confess that I have misgivings whether I can even maintain the high level reached by Bonhoeffer, saying no less in my own words and context, and saying it no less forcefully, than did this young man so many years ago”]
Never is freedom valued more than when it is forcibly taken away. Bonhoeffer himself experienced the blunt instrument of political tyranny when his radio address warning Germany not to be seduced by the idolatrous cult of the Fuhrer was abruptly cut off the air. The proclamation of German transcendental idealism about the sovereign ego and the supreme freedom of man sounded hollow when the social institutions of freedom and justice were being hijacked by totalitarianism. Bonhoeffer therefore asserted that the ontological foundation of freedom rests on authentic human relationships based on mutual recognition. Continue reading “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Freedom under Tyranny”
Divine Providence and Determination Do not Negate Human Freedom
[Berkouwer warns against associating divine election with phrases like ‘incontestable freedom” and “absolute possibility” as these descriptions “open the door to a fatalism and determinism in which the events of our time and history were robbed of all genuine meaning.” (HCT 89) Human action is rendered insignificant and fate becomes inescapable as the future inexorably unfolds with relentless logic following an impersonal decree set by God at the beginning.
Robert Kane clears away several confusions that have led critics like libertarians and Arminians wrongly to reject compatibilism and Calvinistic on grounds that determinism negates freedom.
1. “Don’t confuse determinism with constraint, coercion, or compulsion.” Freedom is the opposite of constraint, coercion, and compulsion compatibilists insist; but it is not the opposite of determinism. Constraint, coercion, and compulsion act against our wills, preventing us from doing or choosing what we want. By contrast, determinism does not necessarily act against our wills; nor does it always prevent us from doing what we want. Causal determinism, to be sure, does mean that all events follow from earlier events in accordance with invariable laws of nature. But, say compatibilists, it is a mistake to think that laws of nature constrain us…But, in fact, the existence of laws of nature indicates only that certain events follow others according to regular patterns. To be governed by laws of nature is not to be in chains.
Providence is God’s work of sustaining creation and his sovereign, benevolent control of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God.
It is widely held that humans are free to the extent that they are able to choose between alternative possibilities with equal ease. Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism) rejects this so-called “power of contrary choice” or the “liberty of indifference”, and contends that choice is not a matter of indifference; we always chose what we personally want. We also act in accordance to our nature, motives and desires. Our choices change under different circumstances, but ultimately they follow what appears to be the most compelling motive for the moment.
The two main rivals of the doctrine of providence are deism and pantheism: (1) Deism envisages God leaving creation alone, having endowed it with inherent powers to operate according to its inbuilt laws. (2) Pantheism does not distinguish God from the world. Since God’s action or providence are identical with the course of nature, there is no independent or secondary causes in the outworking of creation.
[I am leaving out the philosophical theory of occasionalism, represented by Al-Ghazali (Muslim) and Malebranche (Christian) to keep the post simple, and so as not to burden some of my readers who may problems following complicated philosophical discussions. Occasionalism teaches that created beings are absolutely devoid of causal powers and all events are directly caused by God. God is directly, immediately and solely responsible for bringing about all phenomena.]
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) strikes a balance between these two rival positions in its article on the decrees of God.