Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why Divine Foreknowledge Doesn't Determine the Future

I'm re-reading Robert E. Picirilli's excellent work Grace, Faith, and Free Will. He broaches the subject of Divine Foreknowledge of future events.

He's very clear on the subject, and convincing. He draws from Arminius himself and from Richard Watson, although he admits that the 19th century theologian's style is belabored. I'm not sure what is original either to Dr. Picirilli or to his sources.

In particular, Dr. Picirilli cites the simple illustration that we ourselves know with certainty specific events which occurred yesterday, but that none of us would claim that our present knowledge of yesterday's events caused those things to happen or that such knowledge limited our choices when we were faced with them. In the same way, God's knowledge of the future doesn't cause events to happen or limit the human's freedom to choose to do one thing or another.

Dr. Picirilli explains further that God's knowledge of the future does not make those events necessary, only certain. He writes, "An event can be certain without being necessary: 'shall be' (certain) is not the same as 'must be' (necessary). Some events are 'necessary'; that is, they are inevitably caused by a prior influence. Others are 'contingent'; that is, they are free, capable of more than one possibility depending on an unforced choice. Both kinds are equally certain, as known to God" (p. 37).

A Calvinist acquaintance attempted to dismiss this argument by suggesting that God wouldn't send his Son to die for people whom he knew would certainly reject him. But this probably proves too much, for God likewise would know that you will commit adultery with someone the third Tuesday of next month; does this mean that he would not bother administering grace and sending his Spirit to enable you not to fall to temptation? In some respects, there is a speculative aspect to these sorts of questions. At any rate, Jesus' death is not something which can be reduced to a mathematical equation, as if God extracted some specific amount of suffering to atone the sins of a specifc number of the elect.

Ultimately, the issue is whether or not God foreordained the future. This is an issue which the Arminian and the Calvinist need to hash out. But the discussion cannot be short-cutted by the Calvinist's appeal to God's foreknowledge. As others have argued, future events would still be certain even if the Open Theists are right and God doesn't know the future.

2 comments:

Robert said...

Hello Leonard,
I like the Picirilli book as well, a very good presentation of the Arminian view.

”In particular, Dr. Picirilli cites the simple illustration that we ourselves know with certainty specific events which occurred yesterday, but that none of us would claim that our present knowledge of yesterday's events caused those things to happen or that such knowledge limited our choices when we were faced with them. In the same way, God's knowledge of the future doesn't cause events to happen or limit the human's freedom to choose to do one thing or another.”

This is a crucial distinction: between God foreknowing or knowing about an event, and Him causing that event, or bringing that event to pass. The noncalvinist believes that while God does in fact have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, this is not the same as God having exhaustively predetermined the future.

”Dr. Picirilli explains further that God's knowledge of the future does not make those events necessary, only certain. He writes, "An event can be certain without being necessary: 'shall be' (certain) is not the same as 'must be' (necessary). Some events are 'necessary'; that is, they are inevitably caused by a prior influence. Others are 'contingent'; that is, they are free, capable of more than one possibility depending on an unforced choice. Both kinds are equally certain, as known to God" (p. 37).”

Before reading Picirilli, actually in reading Plantinga’s little book on God, Freedom, and Evil I came across this important distinction between an event that is certain (which all events that make up the actual future are) and events that are necessary (which is true of only some events). The theological determinist needs to prove **necessity** of **all** events to make his case, the fact that events will occur with certainty is not sufficient to prove their case. Picirilli brings out this distinction very clearly.

”A Calvinist acquaintance attempted to dismiss this argument by suggesting that God wouldn't send his Son to die for people whom he knew would certainly reject him. But this probably proves too much, for God likewise would know that you will commit adultery with someone the third Tuesday of next month; does this mean that he would not bother administering grace and sending his Spirit to enable you not to fall to temptation?”

Regarding the claim that God would not do certain things because he foreknows that other negative things would occur. First, as creator God has the right to create whatever world that he wants to create. Second, as Plantinga has clearly shown, in order for people to experience real and substantial freedom, that entails that with this freedom they can both choose to do good actions and do evil actions as well. If God wants to create such a world (and it seems that is precisely the kind of world we find ourselves in) where both good and evil occur that is his prerogative. Third, if God’s nature is what scripture reveals him to be, then a person with this nature will send his Son out of love, even if some do freely choose to reject him.

”Ultimately, the issue is whether or not God foreordained the future. This is an issue which the Arminian and the Calvinist need to hash out. But the discussion cannot be short-cutted by the Calvinist's appeal to God's foreknowledge. As others have argued, future events would still be certain even if the Open Theists are right and God doesn't know the future.”

You are correct with your observation that: “future events would still be certain even if the Open theists are right and God doesn’t know the future”. This is true because the actual future will consists of the set of events that will occur (or will certainly occur). Some events will occur, or there would not be an actual future. And these events that will occur will occur with certainty.

The bible contrary to the claims of Open Theists, seems to suggest that God does in fact have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future.

The key disagreement is that calvinists believe that free will as ordinarily understood does not exist (so God has foreknowledge of the future because he predetermined every event that will comprise the future; he foreknows only because he predetermined for the events to occur). The Arminian on the other hand believes that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future AND people have free will as ordinarily understood. Calvinists argue this is impossible: that if people have free will as ordinarily understood, then God could not have foreknowledge of these events (note – it is significant that open theists hold the same belief; so the calvinist rejects free will and keeps foreknowledge while the open theist rejects foreknowledge and keeps free will; the Arminian I believe keeps the biblical and true position is that both are true, God has exhaustive foreknowledge and we have free will).

It should be noted that if the reality of choices can be shown, then exhaustive determinism/theological determinism/calvinism (I prefer to call it ED) is necessarily false. And if ED is true, then we never have any choices or free will as ordinarily understood. I believe the available evidence and arguments strongly supports the reality of choices and free will as ordinarily understood.

Robert

Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Thanks Robert for such a careful analysis. I appreciate the time and effort you put into it.

I'm sorry to have overlooked your post this past month.

I'm appreciative of people like Plantinga and those who read him to help us understand some of the philosophical undercurrents of biblical interpretation. I feel pretty comfortable doing biblical exegesis, but I'm dependent on others in regard to philosophy.