Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Eternal Decree of God

I am continuing my response to Persiflage on the 5 points of Calvinism. However, most Calvinists (including myself) would agree that there is another point of Calvinism that is more fundamental than the TULIP: the belief that God has decreed all that comes to pass.

Persiflage has taken issue with this over at Triablogue, and Peter Pike has been interacting with him for some time now and has made this the subject of a post.

Pike has already made most of the points that I am about to make, but I intend to use a few more examples that I believe will make those points a bit less controversial. First, let’s start with the basic statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“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.” WCF 3.1

I. Ordain/Decree-
First, let us take the term “ordain” (alt. ‘decree’, WLC 12, WSC 7). Ordain, here, simply refers to God’s plan of what shall occur in history. It is not causal in itself. It is not as if God simply wound-up creation like a toy and all history simply unfolds on its own power. Indeed, the WCF specifically denies such a form of determinism:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” WCF 9.1

John Frame notes that the Confession, here, supports the notion of “the independence of human choices from sequences of cause and effect within nature, a freedom from natural causation.” (The Doctrine of God, p.145) Instead, God fulfills his decree in history by interacting with His creatures, placing the boundaries to their movements (Job 14:5, Acts 17: 26), permitting certain acts by spiritual forces (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12), etc. This brings us to certain other points that need definition.

II. Human Freedom-
Human freedom is defined, here, in a compatibilist sense. In other words, compatibilist free-will (CFW) is a view of metaphysics that states that human freedom can be both free (and thus responsible for its actions) and determined at the same time. In the case of Calvinism, the determinism comes not from a material determinism (as it is in Stoicism or modern secular thought) but from a Divine determinism.

CFW is opposed to Libertarian Free-Will (LFW) which states that human freedom is incompatible with determinism of any form. If an action is determined, then it is not considered to be free (and thus the person is not responsible). This is called the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) which states that given any situation, a free creature must be able to instantiate different possible worlds. This is not to say that there cannot be any influences but that given all those influences, the will must be able to instantiate alternative choices. [Note: this is not just the existence of a choice, the condition of responsibility in CFW, but is the actual ability to instantiate a different possible world.] LFW usually takes one of two forms: 1) causal-inderminate which says that the choice of someone is uncaused or 2) self-causal which says that someone creates their own choices ex-nihilo.

I will be citing several portions of Scripture on this point later. For now, I will note that Causal-Indeterminism completely destroys human freedom and responsibility as it makes the origin of choices random and uncaused. This was the original form of LFW that the WCF speaks against when it says that CFW (in opposition to causal-indeterminism) actually establishes human freedom since the proximate cause of someone's choice originated with that person rather than it being random and uncaused. Self-causation, on the other hand, is completely absurd in a theistic system (being defined in the classical/Biblical sense) since it grants creatures (whose continual existence in dependent upon God) the ability to create ex nihilo as if they posessed aseity and omnipotence.

The next three distinctions are closely related to each other, and an example will be cited after all of them have been defined:

III. Ultimate and Proximate Causes-
Calvinism also makes the distinction between ultimate and proximate causes. As noted above, Calvinism declares that God is the ultimate cause of all things and has decreed all that comes to pass including the sinful actions of mankind. However, Scripture also states that God in no way forces man to sin, tempts him (James 1:13), or prescribes sinful actions for him (Jeremiah 32:35; again, see below).

Thus, while God may be the *ultimate* cause of everything, He is not the *proximate* cause of everything.

IV. Ends and Means-
In Calvinism, God ordains all that comes to pass, but Calvinism is not fatalism. In fatalism, someone’s fate has been determined no matter what choices they make. In Calvinism, someone’s ‘fate’ has been determined through the means of the choices that they make. Thus, King Hezekiah must pray a prayer of repentance for the nation of Judah during the seige of Jerusalem in order to obtain deliverance (Isaiah 37:14-35) even though God had already promised deliverance for Judah through the prophet Hosea several decades before (Hosea 1:7). God’s decreed end happened through the means of the human free action (remember: defined in a compatibilist sense) of the king. Fatalism would say that God would have saved Judah no matter what choice the king made.

Another example would be God’s promise to deliver Paul and the crewmen of the ship from the storm (Acts 27:23-24). However, Paul tells the crewmen that unless they remain in the ship they cannot be saved (v.31). Thus, the salvation from death is decreed by God through the means of staying on the ship. They would not have been saved no matter what they had done (as it would have been if fatalism was the case), but only through the means of Paul’s warning.

In Calvinism, God has decreed both the means as well as the ends so that the end result never comes about except through the means.

V. The Two Wills of God: Prescriptive and Decretive-
A distinction between God’s prescriptive will and His decretive will should also be made. God’s prescriptive will is that set of laws which God has prescribed for man to do or not to do, i.e. God’s Moral Law. The Ten Commandments are an example of God’s prescriptive will.

God’s decretive will is that which God wants to happen in history. Both the ends and the means (cited above) are God’s decretive will.

VI. Biblical Analysis
An analysis of a few Biblical texts will prove that these distinctions can be made and that Scripture clearly selects for the Calvinist view:

a.) Did God Will that Jesus Die at the Hands of Wicked Men?
Clearly God never prescribed that men should kill His Messiah, and in fact, it is just the opposite (Exodus 20:13). However, Scripture also says that “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). Again, Peter declares that Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) and that the Jews and the Romans did “whatever [God’s] hand and [His] purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28).

So, did God want Jesus to die at the hands of wicked men?
Prescriptively, no.
Decretively, yes.

b.) Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Commentary:
According to Genesis 37:18-27, Joseph’s brothers were the ones who plotted Joseph’s demise. However, according to Genesis 50:20, Joseph, who was a prophet, informs us that it was God’s plan the whole time. God’s prescriptive will said that what Joseph’s brothers did was evil, but God’s decretive will decreed that Jacob’s family be saved from the famine through the use of the brothers’ evil (i.e. the proximate cause). Thus, God was the ultimate cause of what happened to Joseph so that His plan might be fulfilled and Abraham’s descendents saved.

It was not as though Jacob’s brothers first acted and then God came in to clean up the mess they made. No, the “it” in “God meant it” refers back to the first clause, namely “you meant evil against me”. There is one action present with two separate motives referring to that one action, one originating with the brothers and one with God.

c.) Judges 9:23
“Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,”
Commentary:
From what we know about God’s use of evil spirits (i.e. demons) from other passages of Scripture (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Job 1:12, Luke 22:31, etc.; see these and other Scripture passages below), evil spirits ask God to allow them to do evil acts to men. God then allows (or disallows) them to do specific acts to accomplish His plan. Here, God sent an evil spirit to start a war between two evil groups so that, in the end, they might destroy one another (Judges 9:56-57).

Here, God is the ultimate cause of the suffering and death inflicted by the two parties so that God’s plan would be fulfilled. However, the demon and the two groups were the proximate causes of the sin that occurred.

d.) 1 Samuel 2:25
“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.
Commentary:
The sinful human free act of disobedience to their father (Exodus 20:12) ultimately came from God “for the LORD desired to put them to death.” They chose X because God wanted Y. This cannot be self-causal or causal-indeterminate LFW since the ultimate origin of their choice was not in themselves but in God.

e.) 2 Samuel 12:11
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.
Commentary:
Although it was Absalom who committed these evil acts of adultery (and was held accountable for such), God was the ultimate cause of these acts and used them for good (i.e. David’s punishment).

f.) 2 Samuel 17:14
“Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.”
Commentary:
To quote Robert Morey: “This passage is remarkable. It answers the questions, “Why did Absalom and all the men of Israel choose not to listen to Ahithophel when he was the clearly the wisest counselor in their midst? Why did they choose to take Hushai’s advice instead?” The text states that God caused them to choose Hushai because He had ordained to defeat Absalom. They chose what He ordained them to choose.” (emphasis his) –Dr. Robert A. Morey, The Nature and Extent of God’s Knowledge, 2nd Edition (Las Vegas, Nevada: Christian Scholars Press, 2002), pp.65-66. Again, they chose X because God wanted Y.

g.) The Comparison of 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1
“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.””
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
Commentary:
There is no contradiction here. Just as in passages like Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14, Job 1:12, and 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, God uses fallen angels to accomplish His will. God was the ultimate cause of David’s sin (by willingly permitting Satan to tempt David), but Satan was the proximate cause (as well as David himself) and thus responsible. As the Puritans said, “The devil is God’s lackey.”

h.) 2 Chronicles 18:18-22
“Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘How?’ He said, ‘I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”
Commentary:
In this amazing passage, God uses an evil sprit to commit an evil act (i.e. lying) to false prophets so that they would give false prophecies of victory to the evil King Ahab which would result in his death (i.e. good). Prescriptively, God hates lying (Exodus 20:16), but here, God providentially ordains that the lying spirit “prevail” in its deceitful actions in order to bring about good in the end. Again, this is not a bare permission but a willing permission since God ordained the ends and the means whereby His purpose should be accomplished.

i.) Job 1:21
He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Commentary:
Job recognizes that the evil acts of the Sabeans and Chaldeans which God hates and will judge them for (Exodus 20:13, 15, 17) have their ultimate cause (through secondary means, of course) in God.

j.) Psalm 105:25
He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”
Commentary:
Psalm 105 summarizes Biblical history from the time of Abraham through Deuteronomy. Here, the inspired psalmist informs us that the evil intentions of the new Pharaoh, recorded in Exodus 1:8-10, had their ultimate cause in God. God purposefully sent Israel down into Egypt and caused them to multiply so that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would become jealous of the Israelites. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but at the same time, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

k.) Proverbs 16:9-10
“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment.”
Commentary:
A man’s actions may have been willed freely, but they were ultimately foreordained to come to pass by God. This is the essence of compatibilist free-will (as opposed to the non-Calvinist’s version, libertarian free-will).

l.) Proverbs 20:24
Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way?”
Commentary:
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

m.) Proverbs 21:1
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Commentary:
This passage could not be clearer. (See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

n.) Ecclesiastes 7:14
In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.”
Commentary:
(See Job 1:21 and Proverbs 16:4 above.)

o.) Ecclesiastes 9:1
“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”
Commentary:
(See Proverbs 16:9-10 above.)

p.) Isaiah 10:5-7
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Yet it does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy and to cut off many nationsIs the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame.”
Commentary:
Here, God says that He is sending Assyria to punish Israel. In verses 12-14, the Assyrian king thinks that he has and will conquer the lands of his empire by his own might and for his own reasons. In reality, God is the ultimate cause of the king’s desire for conquest. God wields the king and his army like one wields a wood axe and a war club. God will send Assyria to punish Israel and then turn around and punish Assyria for their evil intentions and pride. This is similar to Genesis 50:20 in that there is one action with two different motives for that one action, one with the Assyrian king and one with God.

q.) Isaiah 45:7
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
Commentary:
Clearly, God is the ultimate cause of evil as well as good.

r.) Isaiah 46:9-10
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Commentary:
God has actively foreordained everything in history to come to pass for His purpose and His good pleasure. Notice that what is purposed is comprehensive: the end from the beginning.

s.) Isaiah 63:17
Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”
Commentary:
(See the Exodus passages above as well as Ezekiel 14:9 and John 12:39-40 below.)

t.) Jeremiah 4:6
“Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, for I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction.
Commentary:
God was the ultimate cause (though not the proximate cause) of the evil that happened to Judah.

u.) Lamentations 3:37-39
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?”
Commentary:
The author of Lamentations (thought to be Jeremiah) informs us that evil’s (in this case the Chaldean invasion’s) ultimate cause is God’s decree.

v.) Ezekiel 14:9
But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the LORD, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.
Commentary:
This is an example of God’s use of false prophets in hardening the hearts of idolaters. These idolaters are seeking a prophet who will give them what they want to hear, something that affirms their lifestyle. God informs us that He Himself will cause (probably through the secondary means of an evil spirit) the false prophet to give a false prophecy (see especially 2 Chronicles 18:18-22 above). This will harden the hearts of the idolaters and strengthen them in their apostasy, resulting in greater judgment (see especially the Exodus passages above).

w.) Amos 3:6
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
Commentary:
Amos reveals that the destruction of a city and its inhabitants by invading armies is ultimately caused by God’s decree.

x.) Habakkuk 2:12-13
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?
Commentary:
This passage tells us that the ultimate cause of the destruction of evil empires (usually by other evil empires with evil motives) is God. Of course, God probably does this through the secondary means of willingly permitting a demon to influence kings and their armies to do such. Nevertheless, God is still considered to be the ultimate cause.

y.) John 9:1-3
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Commentary:
Jesus reveals the reason for this man’s blindness. It was not for the reason of his sins or his parents’ sins (such as Pharisees had taught), but rather, God decreed from the beginning of time that he be born blind (probably through the secondary means of a genetic defect) and be put in that place for the purpose that Jesus would work a miracle on him. See also Exodus 4:11.

z.) John 12:39-40
For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.”
Commentary:
God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.

aa.) Romans 9
I’ll deal with this one when Persiflage gets around to unconditional election.

bb.) Romans 11:7-10
“What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY.” And David says, “LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER.”
Commentary:
(See the comments on John 12:39-40.)

cc.) 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Commentary:
Once a man has rejected God’s truth, God hands them over to the dominion of Satan so that his thoughts will be highly influenced by “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). See also 2 Corinthians 4:4. Prescriptively, God wants men to obey His gospel, but decretively, God ordains that those who reject His gospel be given over to further unbelief (Romans 1:21-28).

dd.) Revelation 17:17
For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”
Commentary:
Is it God’s will for the nations to worship the beast? Prescriptively, no (Exodus 20:3-7), but decretively, yes so that “His purpose” should “be fulfilled.” Of course, this probably involved willingly permitting Satan to influence their minds, but this was not a “bare permission” since the verse identifies God as the ultimate cause of their actions.

VII. Conclusion
If God has ordained the end from the beginning to accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10), makes men blind, mute, or dumb in order to accomplish His purpose (Exodus 4:11, John 9:1-3), is the ultimate cause of the death of every man (1 Samuel 2:6, Job 1:21), is the ultimate cause of sins such as disobedience or not accepting wise counsel so that He can destroy someone through their own actions (1 Samuel 2:25, 2 Samuel 17:14), is the ultimate cause of evil spirits causing men to sin so that God can accomplish His purpose in destroying those men (1 Samuel 16:14, 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, 2 Chronicles 18:18-22, etc.), uses wicked men for the purpose of the evil that they would do so that it would result later in good (Genesis 50:20), directs the steps of men, the decisions of kings, and ultimately controls the deeds of wise and righteous men (Proverbs 16:9-10, 20:24, 21:1, Ecclesiastes 9:1), creates both prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14, Isaiah 45:7) and good and evil (Jeremiah 4:6, Lamentations 3:37-38), is the ultimate cause of the rise and destruction of empires and their cities (Isaiah 10:5-7, 37:26-27, Amos 3:6, Habakkuk 2:12-13, Acts 17:26), is the ultimate cause of false prophecy so that He can judge wicked men (2 Chronicles 18:18-22, Ezekiel 14:9), is the ultimate cause of heart-hardening and thus unbelief and/or disobedience (Joshua 11:20, Psalm 105:25, Isaiah 63:17, John 12:39-40, Romans 11:7-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Revelation 17:17), is the ultimate cause of the Messiah’s death at the hands of wicked men (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23, 4:28), and works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11), then it follows that that covers just about everything under the sun. God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

5 comments:

Persiflage said...

(1 - God’s Plan = God’s Decrees?)

So you do have a very simple definition of “ordain” - “Ordain, here, simply refers to God’s plan of what shall occur in history. It is not causal in itself.”

But I have to tell you man, if that is all Calvinism means by the word “ordain” then I don’t have a problem with the Westminster Confession when it says that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” There’d only be a small annoyance that the men who wrote this worded it poorly and could have eliminated a lot of confusion if they just wrote “whatsoever comes to pass is in God’s plan.”

Now, for the sake of discussion, I’d be initially willing to equate God’s decrees as only meaning God’s plan. But then I’d worry that most everyone else wouldn’t understand what I meant because the English language uses these terms differently. I looked up ordain in the Webster Dictionary, and it defined it as “to establish or order by decree or law.” It also referenced foreordain - “to dispose or appoint in advance.” Predestine - “to destine, decree, determine, appoint, or settle beforehand.” Predestinate - “destined, fated, or determined beforehand.” Predetermine - “foreordain, predestine; to determine beforehand. And destine - “to decree beforehand.”

Aren’t the meanings of these particular words more specific and limited than the idea of a plan - “a method for achieving an end” or “an orderly arrangement of parts of an overall design or objective”? Doesn’t the verb “to plan” have a broader meaning than the verb “to decree”? And if so, why not use the broader meaning if that is actually what they mean? So do you really mean that “God’s decrees” equal everything in “God’s plan”? Or are “God’s decrees” just part of “God’s plan”?

(3 - Ultimate and Proximate Causes) & (6 - Biblical Analysis)

You said - “Calvinism declares that God is the ultimate cause of all things and has decreed all that comes to pass including the sinful actions of mankind.”

So here is where we’re at a major crossroads in our discussion. Because if you mean by ultimate and proximate cause one thing, then I agree with 99% of your article with only some minor semantic complaints. If you mean the other, then we fundamentally disagree in our interpretation of Scripture. When I first read you saying that God was the “ultimate cause” for something, I realized that I should be willing to acknowledge this. No matter what you are looking at in the universe, even sin, death or evil, of course God is the “ultimate” cause for everything in the sense of a “first cause.” If we’re thinking in terms of chronological causes, then you could say God was the ultimate cause for evil in the sense that (a) God created the universe, (b) God put creatures with free will in the universe, (c) these creatures used their free will to choose to do evil, and (d) but for God’s creation, evil would not exist. So even though God isn’t the “proximate” (real) cause of evil, you could still say that He is the “ultimate” cause for everything. Proximate cause, in law anyhow, is considered the “real” cause for which can be used to hold someone accountable.

However, I’m afraid you mean more than this. And when I looked up the philosophical definitions of “ultimate” and “proximate” cause, it sounds like it’s the opposite of my (and the legal) idea. Wikipedia explains it simply “In philosophy a proximate cause is an event which is closest, or immediately responsible, for causing some observed result. This exists in contrast to a higher-level ultimate cause (or distal cause) which is usually thought of as the ‘real’ reason something occurred.”

So I was thinking proximate cause equals the real reason/cause for something (you hold the proximate cause responsible), while the ultimate cause is simply the first in a chronological chain of causes.

But it sounds like philosophically, proximate cause is simply the last (closest) in a chronological chain of causes, while the ultimate cause equals the real reason/cause for something (that is ultimately responsible).

Do you see the difference here?

This is important because you constantly interpret your list of Scripture verses ending with something like “so the ultimate cause is God, but He is not the proximate cause …”

In one sense I absolutely agree with you, in the other sense I start to worry about other Scripture that says how things happen against God’s will (even if he’s philosophically the “first cause” of everything. So I won’t argue or agree with your interpretation of these Scriptures until I understand this better.

Persiflage said...

(Section 2 - Free Will)

So tell me if I understand this right. CFW means human will can be both free and determined (by God) at the same time. LFW means that human will is only free if it isn’t already determined by something else. And I’m sorry but I didn’t follow what “causal-indeterminism” is exactly, except that it “makes the origin of choices random and uncaused.”

So I guess I understand that the Westminster Confession & Reformed Theology teaches that the human will can be free and predetermined at the same time. But I’m still unsure as to what you mean by free - because really free to choose between more than one option means one thing while only free to choose to do whatever you desire (Jonathan Edwards’ definition) means another.

You argue - “Self-causation, on the other hand, is completely absurd in a theistic system (being defined in the classical/Biblical sense) since it grants creatures (whose continual existence in dependent upon God) the ability to create ex nihilo as if they possessed aseity and omnipotence.”

Self-causation is the ability to create ex nihilo? Doesn’t that all depend on what exactly is self-caused? Self-caused existence is one thing - and that requires omnipotence. There is only one self-caused being in terms of being eternally self-existent - God. But why would self-caused actions require omnipotence? In fact, self-caused actions wouldn’t require omnipotence, they would simply require a free will (or free moral agent).

I think this is all based on a confusion of what “free will” actually means. In it’s simplest form, it means the ability to choose between more than one option. This is a free choice. But if you are always thinking in terms of causation for everything, you might be inclined to ask “what is the cause of that act of free choice?”

Do you see the problem here? If the “free choice” is caused by something, then it wouldn’t be a “free choice” in the first place. A moral agent’s free will doesn’t cause choices, instead free will is the power through which the moral agent makes his choices. The fact that God gave him this “power” does not mean (a) that he is suddenly omnipotent, or (b) that God caused the free choice.

The best description I can think of on this, while not introducing further philosophical off-topic concepts at the same time (like some Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke), is Norman Geisler’s -

“Free choice is simply the power by which the free agent acts … So it is not the power of free choice that causes a free act, but the person who has this power. Now, if the real cause of a free act is not an act but an actor, then it makes no sense to ask for the cause of the actor as though it were another act. The cause of a performance is the performer. Likewise, the cause of a free act is not another free act, and so on. Rather, it is a free agent. And once we have arrived at the free agent, it is meaningless to ask what caused his free acts …”

So while I can agree (in one sense) that God is the ultimate cause for everything. It is pure nonsense to say that God is the cause at all for free action. There is no reason for us or for the Westminster Confession to call human will free if the “free choices” we are talking about are divinely determined, preordained, or whatnot. Free choices cannot be caused by definition. Geisler continues -

“Tracing the cause of human actions back to God does not solve the problem of finding a cause for every action. It simply pushes the problem back further. Sooner or later those proposing this argument will have to admit that a free act is a self-determined act that is not caused by another. Eventually it must be acknowledged that all acts come from an actor, but that the actor (I.e., free agent) is the first cause of his action, and who, therefore, has no prior cause of his actions.”

So the ultimate question here is not whether there are free moral agents who cause their own actions through their power of free will, but whether God is the only free moral agent in the universe. Isn’t being a free agent the very definition of being a person in the first place?

But you are advocating for “compatabilist free-will” where “… human freedom can be both free (and thus responsible for its actions) and determined at the same time. In the case of Calvinism, the determinism comes not from a material determinism … but from a Divine determinism.”

So a moral agent‘s “free act” can be caused by an outside source (God) after all? How? It seems like the only basis for saying this are the passages of Scripture that declare that God uses evil to accomplish good. Indeed, since He is all-knowing (including foreknowledge of the future), God already has fit every free morally evil act into his plan, using them all to accomplish what He wants to accomplish. Allowing and using actions are different from causing actions.

I agree with your listed passages, and I’ll go into them a little more like I did with Pike, after you explain the ideas of ultimate versus proximate causes a little more -

1 - Yes, God predetermined the time, place and method of Christ’s death on the cross without causing evil.

2 - Genesis 50:20 - Yes, God means to use evil to accomplish good - this is always part of his plan.

3 - Judges 9:23 - Yes, God allows and uses the actions of evil spirits to eventually accomplish his will.

4 - 1 Samuel 2:25 - Then these are the types of verses where it might sound like you mean more than you intend to mean. God intervenes, hardens hearts, even strengthens the resolve of evil men to disobey him - in order to accomplish good. But this still doesn’t lead to the conclusion that God caused their “free acts” of disobedience to him the first place. Why did God desire to put them to death? Because they were already wicked in the first place - wicked enough for God to want to put them to death sooner than later (as opposed to the entire human population). And there is no reason for us to conclude that God preordained for them to reject him in the first place.

So there’s an example of the kind of distinctions you get when trying to just take these verses at their word. To say that God is the “ultimate cause” for evil because of Scriptures like these is either (a) stating a redundant general premise, God is the “first-cause” for all of Creation - that even Arminians will agree with, or (b) insisting on there being an outside cause for free moral acts.

More on the rest of the Bible passages soon, but I think I’ll be able to explain this a little better after I understand more from your next response.

Saint and Sinner said...

To anyone who is reading the comments, I have deleted Proverbs 16:4 and Job 14:5 from my list of verses on January 1, 2009.

ninni said...

we must be as free as possible to give everybody freedom of expression etc

ninni said...

RT @NietzscheSays: because we have acknowledged a book of laws, we also think we now have to act like judges.