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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

True-Counterfactuals?

“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

The verse above is often used as a proof-text to defend the philosophical notion of true-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Calvinists, however, should never make such appeals.

First it should be noted that Calvinists do not draw a distinction between possible and feasible worlds. They are the same in number for the Calvinist because creaturely choices, which are always necessary and never free in the libertarian free will sense of the word, do not violate human responsibility. Accordingly, any possible world would have been feasible for God to actualize had he wanted; whereas within Molinism feasible worlds are considered a subset of possible worlds – the former being distinguished from the latter in that within the system of Molinism God could have actualized any feasible world without violating human responsibility yet he could not have actualized any non-feasible possible world (where men are responsible for all their choices) due to the non-cooperative intentions of the alleged free moral agent.

The Calvinist appreciates that repentance is an evangelical grace and not something that can be self-generated through agent-causation even in the presence of miracles. After all, if the reprobate will not believe Moses, then neither will he believe one who is raised from the dead! So – if Jesus was speaking in terms of true-counterfactuals, then at most all that he could have meant was that had he performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon, then God would have accompanied those miracles with the grace of repentance. What would then become of the Lord’s rebuke?!

If we are to take Jesus literally by allowing his words to support the existence of true-counterfactuals, then it would be arbitrary not to be equally rigorous in our literal interpretation by allowing the verse to be considered in light of man’s moral inability. Accordingly, we would be constrained to interpret the verse as teaching that had God actualized a world wherein similar miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, then God would have also chosen to effect by his sovereign grace repentance in Tyre and Sidon in that world. But such a literal interpretation would negate the prima facie rebuke Jesus obviously intended. After all, what sort of rebuke is it to say that God would have granted unmerited favor to a group of unworthy sinners had he performed miracles before them that were performed before another group that did not respond to such miracles in repentance and faith?

Jesus’ simple point was that the people of his day were even more hardened than those in Tyre and Sidon. To make this point he must suspend the doctrines of total depravity and effectual calling, but never does he establish a philosophy of true-counterfactuals and human autonomy. To suggest a philosophy of true-counterfactuals can be erected upon such a verse is to open the verse up to many problems, including a denial of sovereign grace, which happens to be consistent with the Molinist’s manipulation of the verse in view.

If there are true-counterfactuals of this sort, this verse certainly does not support such a claim.

Ron

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