Thursday 12 September 2013

The error of Calvinistic predestination, and its origin


The idea that some souls are created and predestined by God to be damned is - or ought to be - an obvious error to a Christian, in that it is refuted by just about every part of the Bible; which is mostly a series of stories about people making choices with every indication that these are real choices with real salvific consequences.

Against this, the evidence of a few decontextualized and ambiguous Scriptural sentences cannot possibly stand.


But from where did this error arise, late in the history of Christianity?

My assumption is that it arose from the attempt to hold-onto God's complete and utterly specific foresight (omniscience - call this version 'strong-omniscience'); while rejecting the Classical philosophy - especially the varieties of Platonism - which allow this to be compatible with Christianity.


The Classical philosophical solution is to have God outside of Time, surveying everything that has happened, is happening and ever will happen - simultaneously.

But inside of Time, where we dwell, Time is linear and choices are real and not pre-determined.


(Ref: This is explained by Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy )


Now, this philosophical solution is problematic - and indeed it is not really matter-of-factly coherent - but it does-a-job of making omniscience compatible with Christianity.

If, as with Mormons, the Classical philosophical perspective is rejected; and all Time is regarded as linear - then choices are real but there can be no no strong-omniscience; because the reality of human choice stands between the present and the future, and determines salvation.

However the Calvinistic half-way house of linear-time + strong-omniscience = damnation by pre-destination is not-Christian.

Obviously, I'd have thought?


OK - that was c 280 words for me to explain why I believe that Calvinistic predestination is an error - because conflicting with the fundamental basis of Christianity in personal choice; and also how I believe the error arose - by holding onto strong-omniscience while rejecting the Classical Philosophical concept of eternity.

It should not be necessary, but probably is, to emphasize that am not saying that Calvinists are not Christians! - but that the specific philosophical idea of predestination is not Christian. And I greatly respect quite a few Calvinist Christians - Martyn Lloyd Jones, in particular - also Jerram Barrs and my friend the blogger Alistair Roberts.

I would welcome - really I would! - a coherent account of  Calvinistic predetermination that explains how it is 1. coherent and also 2. compatible with Christianity.

I will allow 280 words...



Bruce B. said...

I think the Catholic Catechism imagines God as existing in the eternal present or that all moments in time are immediate to God. I don’t know if there’s any difference between this and the idea that God is outside of time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - It's the same idea.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I perused the articles on predestination and grace in the Catholic Encyclopedia to find out if philosophy may stand accused in the controversies on grace and free will. The controversies go back to Pelagius in the fifth century; Calvinism (denial of free will) is the opposite error to Pelagianism (denial of grace). Grace is an exclusively theological concept, and free will is a theological concept with regard to supernatural life and salvation. Philosophy has not much to say about both, and seems to be a negligible factor.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Actually, strong omnipresence is even more difficult. It implies that God is present without bound, (which means that there is no separation in fact between God and existence.) To weaken omnipresence is to say that there is God and other in themselves, but to do that is to limit God by excluding otherness as existent in itself. That is a problem.

The problem with strong omnipresence again comes back to a lack of choice, as only God is in itself, and all else is merely an aspect of God as viewed through the mirror of an instantiated universe, (or multi-verse if that is the case.)

Strong omnipresence has another problem, as God is not bound to time but is a timeless, eternal, and unchanging in itself. This is remarkably like an uninstantiated fractal equation which contains a universe as defined by the equation, (whether or not the equation is ever instantiated or not.) While that makes God the ground of being for a universe, it precludes a quality that we humans tend to like, and that is thinking, which requires change. To think is to change state, and God does not change state. God is.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - It was arguments of that sort (if not those specific ones) which (amongst other things) led me accept Mormon theology as a better explanation than the theology/ theologies based on Classical Philosophy.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a brief time as a phone psychic. It's actually not hard at all, because the typical person's future is bleedingly obvious to anyone but themselves. I could confidently predict that the guy's attempt to reconcile and get engaged to his stripper girlfriend would fail and advise him not to buy an expensive ring for that purpose. So the combination of omniscience and free will does not seem difficult at all to me.

Donald said...

I asked this already but will ask again: are you familiar with molinism?

Unknown said...

Its completely obvious from Romans 9 and from John's gospel where the moronic doctrine of predestination arose.

The Jews didn't believe the gospel, and according to standard presentations of "the gospel" they're the ones who ought to accept it, since its supposedly (its not really, but this is the claim) based on the Old Testament and predicted in the OT. But the Jews rejected it and only outright Pagans had any interest in it.

Therefore, it was obvious that it was not really as based on the Old Testament as it claims, and that it was all based on horrid misuse of and misinterpretation of the Old Testament. But rather than admit this, guys like Paul and John appeal to predestination to cover the problem. The reason Pagans accept "the gospel" and Jews do not is NOT that the gospel is a lie build on a false interpretation of the Old Testament (which after 27 years of Christianity, I say it is) but rather its because God predestined the Pagans to believe and the Jews not to believe. This is precisely what is being argued in Romans 9, and this is what we must understand the statements of the fictional Christ of John as meaning when he says to the Pharisees "My sheep hear my voice but you cannot hear my voice because you are not my sheep."

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - I'm not sure what you mean. Whether or not it is in an encylopedia, 'philosophy' is what is used to try and make sense of apparently conflicting beliefs, both of which apparently need to be retained. What Boethius is doing is philosophy, indeed the most profound type of philosophy - which is metaphysics (discussion of the basic nature of reality).


@DD - No. Is it true? Can you explain it in 280 words (or link to a valid short explanation)?


@JJ - You seem to be saying that Christianity is not true - that Christ's claims were not true?

And that predestination IS true?

That is not quite the kind of solution I was seeking... The problem has to arise from a presumption of the truth of Christianity, and be solved within Christianity.

@dl. Ha!

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Sorry, I was not clear. What I meant is that philosophy is not to be accused of undue influence in theology, as you seem to mean. In fact, it is the other way around: theologians always used philosophy as a rational language to better expound doctrine and settle controversies, and operated important transformations and developments in philosophy along the way. But when they talk theology, they talk as theologians, even if they are at the same time able philosophers – and they must be: as the saying goes, a bad philosopher cannot be a good theologian.

I suppose a work of metaphysics by a Christian philosopher may sound at times like theology to the non-specialist. I do not know Boethius, but I observed in Maritain that theological points are used as necessary information to a properly philosophical discussion. In The Degrees of Knowledge, for example, half of the book is on theology and spirituality, but the point is epistemology, distinguishing the different types of knowledge, from empirical science to mathematics, to philosophy, to supernatural knowledge gained from Revelation, to contemplation (theosis).

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - Have you ever read A Guide for the Perplexed by EF Schumacher (of 'Small is Beautiful' fame) it is full of Thomism, and the hope/ belief that it might save the West.

EFS was a late convert, but had been reading in and around Thomism for many years, and owned the complete Summa (in German).

You can find free PDF versions of the complete Guide ft Perplexed online.

Donald said...


Molinism is essentially the view that in addition to G-d knowing all necessary truths he also knows all counterfactual truths. So G-d knows what any person will freely do in any given situation. G-d's knowledge is this like an infallible barometer --> if someone chose differently he would know differently (that is his knowledge is temporally antecedent but not causally antecedent).

It views time as linear.

As a point I have said elsewhere the analytic Protestants (typically evangelical) of the last half century are sort of midway between classical theism (Platonic or thomisitic) and the fully anthropomorphic Mormonism.

So for example William lane craig believes G-d is outside time sans creation and inside time once the universe began - and thus time is strictly linear. He would also argue G-d has emotions (even apart for Christs human nature) unlike classical theism.

Richard Swineburn essentially argues a sort of tritheism.

Alvin plantiga is another big name.

Anyways, I think it is fair to say there is in fact a whole other middle area which you haven't explored yet which I worth taking a look at at some point.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D -


I did read a little in Cornelius Plantinga a few months ago, follow some references about social trinitarianism from (I think) Blake Ostler.

But I do not read theology for its own sake, only to sort out what seem to me to be problems - and I am quite happy with Mormon theology - at present.

I suppose it would be interesting if there were Protestant groups who had (in effect) aspects of Mormon theology - but I don't suppose it would all fit together as well as it does in Mormon theology.

Derek Shaw said...

Nobody took the 280 word challenge…

The definitive text on the subject is Martin Luther “On the Bondage of Will”. To summarize it in 280 words:

1. “God foresees what he wills, and he wills what he foresees.”

God does not know the future because he “travels down the corridors of time” and takes a peek. He knows the future because he wills it into existence, according to his immutable plan. God’s foreknowledge and his power are two sides of the same faculty. God knows every little detail of the future because he is the one putting that every detail in place.

How does the free will of men fit into this picture?

2. Humans are free to make choices according to their desires, but they have no control over what they desire.

God implements his plan for the future not despite the will of men, but through it. God does not coerce or constrain men to act against their will. Instead, he makes sure that their desires are in line with his plan. This applies to every small and inconsequential human act as well as to the big and crucial. The fact that humans cannot control their desires is clear. If they could, every living Christian today would be sinless.

Here is the same idea as expressed in Westminster Confession of Faith, a onetime official creed of the Anglican Church:

“God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

Bruce Charlton said...

@DS - Better late than never!

Yet for me this is very obviously incoherent, because by it Men are not free. I have often noticed that there is a tendency in historical Christianity towards (in practice) pure monotheism, where Men are understood to be required simply to obey an incomprehensible God. There is this tendency in Catholic Christianity, and with Calvinism in Protestant Christianity also.

I think the problem can only be solved by clarifying what it would be for Men to be free - what that would entail. Using the usual categories of modern (science influenced, logic influenced) thinking, Men cannot even be imagined to be free - because we explain everything as a consequence of something that caused it. Or else we say that something is random - which is not free either.

So far as I can see, the whole Bible is built on the assumption that Men can be free - so that is a given. What is needed is an explanation.

The way I have come to understand freedom is as an uncaused cause. That the essential self of a Man is capable of uncaused action - primarily uncaused thinking, where thinking is understood to be a real thing. So that a Man *can* affect reality from himself - as an expression of himself and not a consequence of anything else.

In other words, Man is divine to this extent and in this respect. And of course the Bible says that we are sons of God - and this can be taken in some literal sense - that we have that quality of the divine that allows us to be truly free, uncaused causes.