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William Lane Craig and James White debate Calvinism vs Molinism

In a recent episode of the Unbelievable show, Calvinist pastor / theologian James White discussed middle knowledge (a.k.a. Molinism) with philosopher / theologian William Lane Craig. In this post, you’ll find a link to the audio, the YouTube video, and my comments on the debate. My comments were quoted in an episode of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast.

Here is a link to the details from Unbelievable: (with MP3 download link)

Calvinism and Molinism are two very different ways of understanding God’s sovereignty. But which one best addresses the problem of evil?

James White argues that Calvinism – God foreordaining all human behaviour both good and evil – is the more Biblical and coherent view. William (Bill) Lane Craig argues that Molinism – a view which reconciles human freedom and divine sovereignty – is Biblically consistent without making God the author of evil.

And the video:

Summary:

JB: Why is there evil?

JW: Natural and moral evil are the results of God’s divine decree to create the world.

WLC: God has knowledge of what individual humans would do in different circumstances prior to his divine decree to create the world. God’s decree takes into account the free decisions of people in different situations. With regard to natural evil, Calvinists and Molinists do not differ much – they are permitted to achieve a greater good. But for moral evil, there is a difference. Moral evil is the result of free decisions by individual humans. They are not God’s will. God permits people to perform evil actions, because those free actions will lead to him achieving his ultimate purposes. God does not override human free will. He achieves his ultimate purposes through the actions of his free creatures. On the Calvinist view, God moves the will of creatures to do evil. God is the cause of their evil acts.

JB: God sees all of the possible worlds and instantiates a world where he is able to achieve his ultimate purposes while respecting the free decisions of his creatures.

WLC: God does not see what humans WILL do, and decree based on that. He sees what they WOULD do in different circumstances, and articulates a world where the free decisions they make in the circumstances he decrees lead to his ultimate purposes being fulfilled.

JB: And this view achieves God’s sovereignty (God gets the result he wants) with human freedom (God is not responsible for moral evil)

JB: James, isn’t it better for God to get what he wants while respecting free will, rather than micromanaging every thought and action of the people?

JW: There’s micromanaging on both sides. On Molinism, God micromanages the circumstances. On Calvinism, God micromanages everything. But how could God have that knowledge of what people would do, prior to actually creating those people? The Bible teaches Calvinism, and so we should go with that. Calvinists are concerned when Craig says that God does not determine the truth value of these subjunctive conditionals (i.e. – what free individuals would do in different circumstances) The individuals determine what they will do in different circumstances. And Calvinists would prefer that God determine (i.e. – exhaustive determinism) what individuals do in different circumstances. WLC, would you agree that the knowledge of these subjunctive conditionals are the essence of what middle knowledge is? (WK note: micromanaging circumstances doesn’t violate free will, micromanaging everything does violate free will)

WLC: No, but it is an essential aspect of it. According to Molinism, God does not determine what free individuals would do in different situations in which they find themselves. The Calvinist view is that in any situation, God actually moves the will of the creature, so God is the author of moral evil. On the Molinist view, creatures are responsible for moral evil, not God.

JW: So you’re saying that these subjunctive conditionals are not under God’s control. How can they be under the control of the creatures, since prior to God’s creative decree, the creatures do not exist yet? Where do these truth values come from.

WLC: This objection to Molinism is called the “grounding objection”. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true without having to be grounded by the created individuals. This objection presupposes a view of truth called “truth-maker” theory. This theory says that in addition to propositions that are true, there are things that make propositions true. There are many counterexamples to this view. For example, if you deny the existence of something that does not exist, then there is no truth maker that makes that claim true. (WK note: E.g. – a unicorn does not exist) Another example is “If WLC were rich, WLC would buy a Mercedes” but there is no truth-maker situation that makes that true, except maybe if he were rich. (WK note: I think that the created individual WLC would be the truth-maker in that case?)

JW: The decisions that I make are caused by God’s decree of what gifts I have or don’t have. He has freedom to decree those gifts, and then that has an effect of what I am free to do. E.g. – I am not 6’11” so I am not free to be a center in the NBA. So on the Molinist view, what is the basis for these subjunctive counterfactuals that limit what God can do?

WLC: The grounding objection presupposes the truth-maker theory, and a particular strain of that theory called truth-maker maximalism, and counterfactuals of creaturely of creaturely freedom would be prime candidates to be exceptions to the truth-maker theory.

WLC: Regarding the point about how people don’t exist in a vacuum but have a whole history, background, characteristics, etc. to shape their decisions. That’s right. But the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom factor all that in. The key point that divides us is that God doesn’t determine what creatures decide, he decides the circumstances. And so the creature is responsible for moral evil, not God. And so God doesn’t cause people to commit moral evils, then punish them for it.

WLC: We should guide our views based on what is in the Bible. But even Calvinist theologians affirm things about God that are not taught explicitly in the Bible, such as God’s spacelessness and timelessness. And Molinism makes the best sense of divine sovereignty and human freedom. On the Calvinist view, God determines how anyone would act in any situation God might place him in, so God is responsible for the moral evil committed by his creatures.

JW: (repeats) If God is limited in what he can do by counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, then we have to know where these counterfactuals come from. (WK note: the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom come from… creaturely freedom.)

JW: Genesis 50:20 says that God used the moral evil committed by some creatures to achieve the good purposes he intended. (WK note: that’s exactly what the Molinist view is, God permits moral evil by his creatures, as long as it achieves his ultimate good purposes)

JW: Molinism is unknown in the church for 1500 years. (WK note: Molinism is in Acts 17:24-27, and also, Calvin and Luther were unknown in the church for 1500 years)

JB: Is Genesis 50:20 a good example of Calvinism?

WLC: (very excited) NO!!!!!! It’s a great example of Molinism!!!! The text says that God didn’t move the bad actors to perform sinful actions – that would make God the author of evil. But God knew that if they were in this situation, they would behave in these evil ways, but ultimately it would lead to good results that God wanted. There is a chain of people partially articulating the middle knowledge view prior to Molina.

JW: You shouldn’t believe Molinism, because it comes from Jesuits. (WK Note: this is the genetic fallacy)

JW: The Bible has examples where God “hardens hearts”, e.g. Pharaoh.

WLC: It’s not that the Bible authors had Molinism in mind. It’s that this theory is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

JW: Ephesians 1 teaches that God unilaterally determines who the elect are. Calvinism emerges from the text. But in Genesis 50:20, Molinism doesn’t emerge from it.

WLC: We’re both trying to make sense of the data of Scripture. Scripture doesn’t teach the universal divine determinism of every human act, especially evil acts. The Bible says thate God is not evil, and cannot even be tempted with evil, but on the Calvinist view, God is causing the evil actions of his creatures, and then he punishes them for it. If it’s evil to cause someone to do evil, it makes God himself evil.

JW: In Isaiah 10, God uses the Assyrians to punish Israel, then he punishes the Assyrians for the haughty attitude of their heart.

WLC: The Molinist view of Ephesians 1 is that part of God’s good pleasure is to respect human freedom, and not to unilaterally divinely determine them to sin. Regarding Isaiah 10, you’re asking how God can punish the Assyrians for something he causes them to do? No, God knows that the Assyrians are going to do this moral evil and he uses that for his purposes, and he is free to punish their immoral act, because they did it of their own free will.

JW: But if you need Molinism to understand these texts, then what did the authors intend for people to think before Molinism.

WLC: People understand from Genesis 50:20 that people do evil things, but God gets a good outcome out of it.

JW: As a Calvinist, I do not believe that God respects human freedom.

JW: I don’t think that individuals have control of the circumstances in which they are born or where they live that limits God’s sovereignty. (WK note: he doesn’t understand Molinism or Acts 17:24-27. Individuals control their own decisions. But God controls the circumstances – i.e. – everything else). There is no essence of James White that determines where I am born, my physical characteristics, my siblings, etc. God decrees everything about who I am.

WLC: “That’s because you’re a determinist, James, and I’m not”

JW: “Yes. Yes. OK.”

WLC: There are number of possible worlds where James White could exist. Different country, different education, different language, different family. God decides the circumstances for James White. James White makes the decisions. God doesn’t cause James White’s moral evil. James White does. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom must exist prior to the divine decree in order for humans to be responsible for their evil actions.

JW: You’re using philosophy. But your view should come from the Bible. (WK note: look at Acts 17:24-27)

WLC: Universal divine determinism isn’t taught in the Bible.

JW: Yes, in Ephesians 1.

WLC: The Molinist affirms Ephesians 1.

JW: It doesn’t mention respecting free will there, it’s teaching universal divine determinism.

WLC: The Bible teaches that God does have knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, e.g. 2 Cor 2:8. So the question is whether God has this knowledge logically prior the decree (Molinism requires this), or is it logically after. If it is logically after, then it makes God the cause of human moral evil.

JW: The verses raised by Craig can be subsumed under God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge.

JW: Some Molinists believe that the only people who are lost in this world are people who cannot freely respond to God’s saving initiative in any circumstances (WK note: this is called trans-world damnation (TD), and I hold this view). Does anyone in the Bible know about this idea? That changes God’s expression from universal divine determinism to accepting human free will and human responsibility for sin (which Calvinism denies).

WLC: Yes, there are two different views. The one view takes human free will, and human responsibility for sin, seriously. The other view makes God the cause of human sin, and therefore makes God evil for being the author of evil.

JW: On Molinism, God knew that if he actualized this world, then he knew the evil that would result, but he didn’t do it for some purpose, like revealing his own character?

WLC: No, he didn’t bring the evil into the world. He actualized a set of circumstances, and a set of free creatures. And he knew that in those circumstances, he knew that the creatures would choose to do evil. His absolute will is for all his creatures to always do the right thing. But he knows that often they will do evil. He permits that to happen, but in the end he achieves the good purposes. E.g. – achieving the redemption of mankind through Jesus through the evil decisions of the rulers at that time.

WLC: I love the Westminster Confession. But without middle knowledge, that Confession is incoherent. Middle knowledge explains how things work, so that the Westminster Confession’s affirmations are logically coherent.

JW: What you’re saying is that God respects human free will and human responsibility.

WLC: Molinism is extremely fruitful theologically. I have applied to the problem of exclusivity of salvation, to the perseverance of the saints, to the inspiration of Scripture… but the focus of the discussion today is on moral evil. Who is the cause of human evil?

JW: Only universal divine determinism and the denial of human free will and human responsibility are consistent with Scripture.

WLC: Scripture alone is my authority, not church tradition. But Reformed theology is permeated with concepts that are not described in Scripture, but are consistent with Scripture, e.g. – timelessness, spacelessness, simplicity.

JW: I disagree, ALL the concepts in Calvinism emerge directly from the text. Isaiah 40-48 clearly teaches divine necessity, that God exists necessarily, in every possible world. (WK note: Calvinist thought emerges 1500 years after the Bible was written)

JW: Middle knowledge is a Catholic dogma, which is why even the Catholics rejected it.

WLC: (holds up 2 volumes of a 4 volume, 2144 page set of books on Reformed theology) Anyone who thinks that Reformed Dogmatics are simply read out of Scripture “doesn’t know the history of Reformed theology”. These volumes are permeated with theological constructs, philosophical models, philosophical principles. The necessity of God’s existence, timelessness, spacelessness, etc. are all affirmed by Reformed theologians, and were inherited from medieval scholastics (Catholics).

JW: The central claim of middle knowledge, that counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are known by God, are not in the Bible. (WK note: Craig gave an example of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in the Bible. There are lots of them.)

Reformed Dogmatics
Four volume 2144-page book set on Reformed dogmatics

My thoughts:

I think that it was a good debate. Well worth watching. I don’t promise that my summary is 100% accurate. Please leave room for a little snark, and watch the debate yourself. I like to take the spin off of people’s words, when I feel that they are trying to weasel out of the conclusions of their own views. It’s 2 AM on Monday morning now, and I don’t want to proof-read. Please point out errors in the comments.

If I could boil down the mistake that James White makes to one sentence, it would be to say that he comes to the text with a philosophical presupposition (determinism), and this causes him to misinterpret the plain meaning of the text as a whole. And this misinterpretation isn’t about peripheral teachings of the Bible. His embrace of God as the cause of moral evil means that he denies the goodness of God – a basic Christian doctrine. (This is compounded by his embrace of double-predestination, although that was not the topic of the debate). Christians shouldn’t let a philosophy – determinism – override the plain meaning of Scripture. Determinism is man’s philosophy – it’s a Greek philosophy that existed centuries before Christ.

White also was clearly unfamiliar with the philosophy of religion of his own Reformed tradition, and especially with the history of the development of Reformed theology. Craig was able to correct him, by showing him the books on Reformed Dogmatics and explain the historical antecedents of Reformed thought.

James White is not a “hyper-Calvinist”. He is a normal Calvinist. Calvinism teaches universal divine determinism. Calvinism teaches that where each individual goes after the judgment is decided unilaterally by God. Calvinism teaches that human moral evil is caused by God. Calvinism teaches that God punishes people for this moral evil. Calvinism teaches intentional double-predestination.

I wrote about the problems with Calvinism, citing Calvinist D.A. Carson and William Lane Craig, in a previous post. Determinism denies free will, and therefore undermines all meaning in life. That’s not consistent with the Bible’s clear teaching that God issues commands to his creatures, because he expects (free will) obedience. That is how we develop our relationship with God after becoming Christians (sanctification), and those relationships have ultimate significance.

Note: I link to James White’s work on this blog. He does a great job of fighting cultural and political enemies. I really appreciate his conservative perspective on issues like abortion, and his sensitivity to the totalitarian impulses of the secular left. His work on KJV-only and and debating Catholics is excellent. I don’t always agree with Craig. I recently posted disagreement with Craig on his latest work on the historical Adam and evolution. I have other minor disagreements with him as well, in substance and method. The only theology books in my house are by R. C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, Millard Erickson, John MacArthur, etc. – all Calvinists.

If you missed Craig’s debate with Paul Helm, which is mentioned in the debate, I blogged about that previously, as well.

24 thoughts on “William Lane Craig and James White debate Calvinism vs Molinism”

  1. Thanks for writing out this conversation, WK – for those of us who are hard of hearing. I really love this!

    It’s rather frightening to consider that, on Calvinism, God had to create Hitler and make him do what he did in order to achieve God’s sovereign plan. I mean, if God is going to essentially make us robots, then why not make us GOOD robots who love Him and obey Him all of the time? Why make us at all if He is going to makes some of us evil with the inability to resist evil?

    They talked about the problem of evil, but how about the problem of Good on Calvinism? If all of our heroes and heroines of the Faith are essentially robots, then they aren’t really heroes and heroines, are they? Yes, God gets the Glory for their heroics, but we don’t hold them up as good examples for nothing. They still actuated, usually against overwhelming odds, a good that the majority of people did not. Which is why we call them “heroes” and “heroines.”

    Why would God reward or punish anyone on the Calvinist view? Yet, there are many verses about this, including Galatians 6:7. Luke 17:2 indicates that Jesus considers some sins to be worse than others, in terms of punishment, but why would that be if we are predetermined to perform those types of sins?

    I didn’t understand JW’s comment:

    “JW: Middle knowledge is a Catholic dogma, which is why even the Catholics rejected it.”

    What does that mean? I know that Molinism is named after a Jesuit priest, Luis de Molina, but why would Catholics reject Catholic dogma?

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    1. Catholic here. Trying to repeat my message because the first one was lost. Typing on a cell phone.

      There is no Catholic dogma about this. Any Catholic is free to think any opinion, saying “I don’t know” or simply not giving a damn.

      There have been two traditional Catholic positions about this topic, which belong to philosophy, not to Catholic doctrine.

      One position is Molinism. The other one is Thomism (please don’t confuse with Aquinas philosophy, with the same name)

      Thomism is similar to Calvinism but without some medieval Catholic assumptions which were inherited by Protestants through Luter.

      C. S. Lewis has a famous example about Ophelia’s branch breaking and Ophelia’s drowning and dying in Hamlet. (Please google it up). What is the cause of Ophelia’s death? The branch’s breaking or Shakespeare wanting Ophelia to die? The answer is both. It depends if the explanation is inside the book or outside the book, respectively.

      The same way, is Ophelia free? It depends. Inside the book, she is free: she does what she wants. Outside the book, Shakespeare dictates what Ophelia does. Shakespeare is the god of Hamlet and has complete sovereignity in this play.

      The same way God writes a play called Universe. Are human free? It depends on the level of explanation. On the Universe level, we are free, when seen inside the Universe. On the God level, outside the Universe, God has complete sovereignity: He writes the play.

      This is Thomism. You already know Molinism. I am a Molinist but I wanted to set the record straight

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      1. Thanks so much! That’s very interesting.

        I had no idea. The Catholics that I know have never even heard of Molinism, LOL.

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        1. You are right, LOL. The vast majority of Catholics do not know the problem exists. The majority of Catholics who do know would answer you “it’s a mistery”, if you asked them for a solution. Those interested in these topics are a tiny minority

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          1. Lol. Yeah, I’m not a fan of how some Catholics cover up what I believe to be logical contradictions with “It’s a mystery.”

            On the other hand, I do agree that mysteries exist of course.

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  2. James White interpretation is really dangerous. Non believers always demolish Calvinism with simply questions. And for what I’ve seen with the supporters of the Calvinist interpretation will takes bits and pieces out of verses and add their own words to get their interpretation to support their position.

    A Christian YouTuber had this perfect counter: The people was complaining to Moses about not having water to drink in the wilderness in Numbers 20 Verses 2-6. God instructed Moses and Aron to gather everyone and take the staff and speak to a rock, well Moses did everything but talk to the rock, instead he struck the rock which God punished Moses for being disobedient.

    Basically God told Moses to do one thing, but predestined Moses to strike the rock which causes Moses to be punished which was also predestined. Which doesn’t make sense.

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  3. Meh. Didn’t watch the video, so I don’t know if White’s characterization of the Bible and Reformed theology is accurate. Reformed people concede the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. But Arminians and Molinists end up with the same slanders against God that they accuse the Reformed of. They just haven’t taken their views to their logical conclusions.

    If God knew before creating the world who would choose to repent & believe, one of these must be true:

    1. God elected to save some: Everyone operated within their “free will,” but the spiritually dead non-elect will never choose to repent & believe, whereas those God made born again will. (Reformed view)

    2. God couldn’t change some: He knew who wouldn’t choose him, but their natures were such that there was nothing He could have done to have them use their “free will” to choose him. (One take of Arminianism and Molinism, but indistinguishable from Reformed)

    3. God wouldn’t change some: God knew who wouldn’t choose him and could have sent better evangelists, nicer Christians, etc. to overcome their objections so they would use their “free will” to choose him – but He elected not to. (Another take on Arminianism and Molinism)

    So the question for Arminians and Molinists is this: Is your version of God unwilling or incapable of changing those who refuse to believe? What other option do you have?

    The Reformed view is that people who don’t repent and believe in the real Jesus spend eternity in Hell as a just punishment for their sins. It is the default destination of fallen humanity, and it is only by God’s mercy and grace that any avoid it. Without Jesus’ work, all would end up in Hell. God saves some, but for his good reasons does not save all.

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    1. P.S. I never divide over this issue. I shared the gospel many times as an Arminian and many times once I switched to Reformed, but that didn’t change the messaging. People are sinners in need of a savior. I want to make that clear to them, and use apologetics as necessary to remove barriers and encourage them to read the Bible for themselves. I love to share the gospel as much as I did as an Arminian, but I do it with the confidence that God is going to make them spiritually alive (a la John 3:8) or He’s not. My role is to proclaim the greatness of what Jesus did, but salvation is up to God. Not sure how people sleep if they think their lack of evangelism or persuasiveness could mean the difference between someone spending eternity in Heaven or Hell.

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      1. Two times I started to reply to your comments, and both times as I was typing out my response, I realized that I was directly contradicting Scripture. Foiled again by a Calvinist – zoikes! So I commend you on your disgustingly well-thought out comments, EM, LOLOL!

        One separate thing that I was thinking about is how I’m glad that William Wilberforce could not sleep at night over the slave trade. And millions of slaves are glad too. But I realize your comment doesn’t have anything to do with proper grieving, only about possible overestimating of our roles in achieving godly goals.

        As an example, I was really beating myself up over not “converting” my parents to Christ before they passed, and my best friend, a classical Wesleyan, came to the rescue with “Oh, so you think you’re so good that your parents would listen to you after 8 decades of not listening to God???” That put me in my place, and rapidly!

        That’s not really a distinction between Calvinism and Molinism, since both are “freeing” in that regard, but it really does go to your second comment that maybe there are proper limitations to our causes of sleeplessness?

        Anyway, thanks a lot for knocking down my other two replies without even knowing it!

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        1. LOL and thanks for the gracious reply. If it turns out that I’m wrong, then when we’re in Heaven (one) lunch is on me.

          Sorry to hear about your parents. I leave it to God to reach people even in their last moments, but that’s tough when people gave no indication of belief.

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          1. Right.

            But you have to understand that taking a more serious view of the Sovereignty of God, which both Calvinists and Molinists do, and which hard-core original Methodists did also, has actually been a source of great comfort for me.

            And I know we aren’t supposed to be engaged in senseless and endless genealogy studies, but actually finding out where my great grandparents and their parents took the command to “be fruitful and multiply” has helped too, as has the discovery that some in those generations of my family may actually have been born again in Christ.

            So, there are many riches in these philosophical musings, IMHO.

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  4. I have a question for Wintery Knight:

    You said that Calvinists like White “…misinterpret the plain meaning of the text as a whole.”

    1 Timothy 2:3,4 reads: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    The “plain meaning” of this text is that God wishes us to choose correctly, but leaves it up to us. And there are other texts whose plain meaning seems to say that God waits to see what we will do rather than predestining some of us to do the right thing.

    Ephesians 1:3—5 reads “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,…”

    The “plain meaning” of this text is that God decided ahead of time who would be saved. And there are other texts whose plain meaning seems to be predestination, that is, God acts to save people rather than waiting to see what they will do.

    So there is a problem when one constructs doctrine by plain meanings alone: they contradict one another.

    Assuming that the Bible does not contradict itself, how do you decide which text is correct in its plain meaning and which text is something like a figure of speech?

    You say “[White’s] embrace of God as the cause of moral evil means that he denies the goodness of God – a basic Christian doctrine.” But this is to believe that a predestining God is not a good God. This belief does not come from Scripture.

    And a Calvinist could reply by saying that a God who is able to intervene so as to save everyone but does not is morally culpable, like a man who could rescue a drowning child but chooses not to. Depending on how you look at it, either system could make God not morally good. Or do you believe that God has made a world in which even He could not guarantee that all will be saved?

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  5. The key factor here is libertarian free will. Libertarian free will is necessary for any person to have ownership of that person’s decisions. If the deciding factor between someone going to heaven or hell for eternity is not that person’s libertarian free choice, then such a judgment is unjust. There is not a single non-question-begging counterexample that a Calvinist can offer.

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    1. That’s a good point. It’s unjust in either direction. “Forced love” is an oxymoron. I think that even pardons can be rejected by the individual being pardoned?

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    2. Does Scripture teach the principle that “If the deciding factor between someone going to heaven or hell for eternity is not that person’s libertarian free choice, then such a judgment is unjust,” or is that the result of a human philosophical principle?

      And God allowing some people to go to Hell when He is capable of intervening to guarantee that they go to Heaven also sounds unjust from a human point of view.

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      1. The Scriptures don’t teach a lot of things which are still true. The existence of the Milky Way galaxy is a fact, but there’s no explicit mention of it in God’s word. There are also plenty of verses such as 1 Kings 7:23 (Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference.) which require outside knowledge in order to interpret correctly. In fact, the entire Bible requires outside historical knowledge in order for it to be interpreted correctly. The outside historical knowledge logically precedes any interpretation of scripture.

        The law of non-contradiction, law of identity, law of the excluded middle, and other laws of logic and reasoning are not explicitly stated in the Scriptures themselves, but are nevertheless true. Any interpretation that would deny one of these principles is a false interpretation.

        Similarly, you have to establish that you have an accurate copy of the text, that you understand the language, and all of that precedes any exegesis of the Scriptures.

        And if there is anything that logically precedes exegesis of the Scriptures, then they’re epistemic bedrock. They can’t be a logical starting point because they’re dependent on their interpretations, which are dependent on all sorts of different factors outside the Bible.

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        1. I agree with your latest comments, but they fail to engage my point. You are deciding between Calvinism and Arminianism based in part on the principle “If the deciding factor between someone going to heaven or hell for eternity is not that person’s libertarian free choice, then such a judgment is unjust.”

          But this principle is neither taught nor implied in Scripture. God is not subject to human standards. Therefore you cannot accuse a “Calvinistic” God of being unjust.

          If “free will” means not even God knows what I will do, then I do not have “free will.” If “free will” means that I can do whatever I want, subject to the constraints that exist, then the Bible says that I have free will. This is not inconsistent with predestination, because God operates outside of human perception.

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          1. The bottom line is that our vocabulary exists and gains its meaning from convention *prior to* any Scriptural exegesis. If words did not already have meanings and definitions prior to our reading of Scripture, we could not do any meaningful exegesis of Scripture. This also means that any possible exegesis of scripture is dependent upon those definitions. Any exegesis that contradicts such definitions is false.

            Compatibilism is self-contradictory. Any possible conditions that a compatibilist can describe for “what constitutes a free choice” can be matched by a mad scientist with a control chip. And a mad scientist causing me to do an action is simply not free. No court would convict someone for such a crime. They would convict the mad scientist, and rightly so. You cannot be responsible for doing something if you are causally determined to do it.

            Regarding God, he cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18). If we then say that God *can* make an untrue statement with intent to deceive, but it doesn’t count as a lie, we strip the verse of any of its meaning. Our definition of a lie comes prior to our interpretation of scripture.

            Similarly, our definition of justice depends on the decision not being deterministic, or else it’s not us, but whatever determines us that is responsible for that decision. That definition holds *prior* to any exegesis of the Bible. We interpret the Bible in light of that fact.

            Whether God operates outside of human perception, vocabulary operates within our perception. The meaning of Scripture depends on the conventional definition of words, not the other way around. That would be incoherent.

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  6. You said “…our definition of justice depends on the decision not being deterministic, or else it’s not us, but whatever determines us that is responsible for that decision. That definition holds *prior* to any exegesis of the Bible. We interpret the Bible in light of that fact.”

    You cannot determine what God does by conventional definitions. By conventional definition, one who determines the outcome is morally culpable, but I say again, God is not limited by human concepts. God is capable of predestining and if He does, no man has the right to call Him guilty of injustice. The fact is, we do choose freely whatever we want to choose.Therefore we are guilty. God is only “guilty” of injustice in the sense that the author of a novel is “guilty” of causing the wicked deeds of his characters.

    You are saying that predestination as understood by Calvinists (and Lutherans) makes God sinful, therefore God did not predestine, at least not in that sense.

    But what do you think the Bible means in, for example, Romans 8:29? The plain meaning is that God decided beforehand that some people would be saved, and therefore by necessarily implication He decided that some would not be saved. According to your doctrine that could not possibly be the meaning; what do you think the meaning is?

    Are you saying that God never intervenes to save anyone; that He simply waits to see what they will do? That is not the Bible’s description of how God saves people. The Bible is full of descriptions of a God who makes spiritually dead people who hate Him come alive, who seeks lost sinners, who “draws” (the actual Greek word is more like “forces”) people to himself, who is mighty to save, etc.

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  7. I am not determining what God does by conventional definitions, I am saying that words like “justice” and “freedom” are defined by convention, regardless of who they apply to. Words don’t cease to follow their definitions just because you apply them to God. “Free will” is not defined merely in terms of what you want to do. A mad scientist with a control chip could make you want to murder someone, but any court would find the scientist and not the person controlled to be guilty precisely because determined behavior is by definition not free behavior.

    Because this definition holds prior to any Scriptural exegesis, it means that whatever the Scriptures mean, then any such interpretations as “God causes us to do things and then holds us responsible” are taken off the table a priori, just as p = 3 must be taken off the table a priori as a possible interpretation of 1 Kings 7:23. Whatever the verse means, it cannot mean that.

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    1. There’s also an issue of counterfactuals. “If I did not type this post, someone else did” is obviously true. “If I had not typed this post, someone else would have” is a completely different claim. It’s a counterfactual, and counterfactuals do have definite truth values.

      I believe it was impossible for Jesus to sin, and therefore it was not possible for him to give in to temptation and worship the Devil. However, if Jesus had given in to temptation and worshipped the devil, he would have sinned. Worshipping the Devil fits the definition of sinning.

      Similarly, if God had commanded us to eat our neighbors (rather than love our neighbors), he would have issued an unjust command. This is true, even though the antecedent is impossible. Ordering people to eat their neighbors fits the definition of an unjust command.

      If God had made something other than our libertarian free choice to be the deciding factor between us going to heaven or hell, it would have been unjust. Decisions where the deciding factor isn’t our libertarian free will are not really up to us, and inflicting reward and punishment for decisions not up to us is unjust.

      Since God cannot be unjust, it follows that he could not have made anything other than libertarian free will the deciding factor between us going to heaven or hell, and any interpretation of Scripture must be harmonized with this fact.

      To point out “but Romans says otherwise” is akin to arguing that in Mark 6:8 Jesus told his disciples to take a staff but in Luke 9:3 Jesus told his disciples to take no staff. The simplest interpretation is that the two verses contradict each other, but if you hold to inerrancy, you will be flexible enough with your interpretation as to allow harmonization (e.g. they both mean “don’t take an extra staff”). Why should the harmonization be preferred over the simpler and more straightforward interpretation? Our a priori commitment to the accuracy of the Bible.

      Likewise, our a priori knowledge that ownership of our decisions requires libertarian free will gives us an a priori commitment to it, and we have to be flexible enough in our interpretation of Scripture to allow harmonization with it.

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      1. Regarding free will, the Bible teaches that man has it in the sense that he can choose whatever he wants to choose and then he receives the consequences of his choice.

        The Bible also teaches that God predestines these choices. There are many verses which teach this, e.g., Eph. 1:4,5, Rom. 8:28-30, John 6:44, Acts 13:48, and Jer 1:5, to cite just a few.

        Therefore, the Bible teaches that man’s will is not free in the sense that even God does not know what he will do. God knows, because he determined it.

        Scripture teaches that God predestines, and that God is not unjust.

        Your response is that God cannot predestine because that would make Him unjust, and He is not unjust. It is as simple as that.

        But your reason for believing that God cannot predestine is a principle that is not taught in Scripture, namely that any being, God included, that predestines in this sense is unjust. This is a dangerous precedent for a Christian, because the words of the Bible ought to have the highest authority.

        I prefer to take the Bible at face value: God predestines, and He is just. This makes things a lot simpler.

        There is another problem. If God does not predestine then either He constantly intervenes as time unfolds in order to achieve the outcomes He wants, or else He just waits to see what will happen. Since we are not Deists, we reject the second option. Therefore in your system, God is constantly intervening to keep things on track.

        But this intervention makes Him arguably just as responsible for sin as if He flat-out predestined. If He could have prevented sin by intervening, but failed to intervene, He is arguably just as “culpable” as if He had gone all the way and predestined everything from the beginning.

        If God is responsible for Everything (and He is), and if sin occurs, then there is a sense in which God is responsible for the occurrence of sin. Absent His creation, it would not have happened. But this judgment is so broad as to be useless. God incurs no guilt from the occurrence of sin because guilt is defined precisely: It does not come from a general responsibility for all things, but from possessing a specific nature, from receiving specific commands from a higher Authority, and from acting in time in specific ways.

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