Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arminianism in Light of Future Tense Truth Propositions and God's Sole Eternality

Orthodox Christianity has always affirmed God’s sole eternality, exhaustive and eternal foreknowledge, and omnipotence. Accordingly, orthodox Christian doctrine is necessarily Calvinistic in what it implies, yet most Christian traditions do not affirm such implications. In fact, many if not most Christians that affirm orthodox doctrine vehemently deny the implication of such beliefs, that God has determined the future choices of men without any input of anything foreseen.

Something false cannot be known:

If something is known, it must then be true. Which is to say, something false cannot be known. What this means is that one cannot know that 1 + 1 = 3. One may believe it wrongly but it cannot be known. One can know, however, that Dover is the capital of Delaware since it is in fact true that this is the case. Although it is not necessary that one know whether Dover is the capital of Delaware, we can be certain that if one does know the capital of the First State, then he knows it as Dover and not Wilmington.

Obviously not all truths are known by men. Even those truths that are indeed knowable are not always known. A question we might ask is whether all truths are known by God. In particular, has God always known the future choices of men? Even more specifically, did God always know that I would begin to write this blog entry at the time that I did? All orthodox Christians will answer the same, that God has always known the future choices of men. If God has eternal, exhaustive foreknowledge, then God has always known that Ronald W. DiGiacomo would post these thoughts on his blog. Since one cannot know something false, then for God to have always known that I would make this entry must entail that it was always true that I would. The question we must now ask ourselves is: If it was always true that I would write this entry, then could I have chosen not to have written this entry? Which is to ask, was it possible that I would not write this entry given that I would? In order to do justice to this question, we must first turn our attention to the relationship that foreknowledge has to possibility.

Does foreknowledge presuppose necessity of choice?

Foreknowledge itself does not necessitate the occurrence of what is foreknown. Foreknowledge is receptive, not creative or causal. It presupposes but does not cause what will occur. This is easily recognized by the fact that Christians know that Christ will return to earth one day. The Christian’s knowledge of this fact does not ensure the fruition of what the fact contemplates. Although foreknowledge does not necessitate an event or ensure its occurrence, foreknowledge is only possible if the choices that are foreknown are determined and necessary.

Non-Calvinists and Calvinists agree that it is necessary that if God foreknows that Jones will choose X, then Jones will choose X. Only Calvinists believe that foreknown choices will occur by necessity as opposed to freely, which is to say purely contingently. Furthermore, non-Calvinists are quick to point out that it can be fallacious to argue from the premise of God’s foreknowledge of outcomes to the necessity of those outcomes. The fallacy in view is that of transferring the necessity of the inference to the conclusion. That Jones will necessarily choose X is not implied by the premise that necessarily if God foreknows that Jones will choose X, then Jones will choose X. Although it is fallacious to transfer the necessity of the inference to the conclusion, it would be equally fallacious to conclude that it can be established on a lack of deterministic argumentation that God can foreknow purely contingent choices or even that there are any. In other words, the fallacious argument no sooner establishes the validity of the Arminian notion of undetermined contingent choices than it affirms that all choices are necessary. The fallacy only suggests that a relationship of foreknowledge to necessity of choice has not been established by the argument in view. Indeed, when the form of an argument is invalid the conclusion is unreliable but it still may be true. Accordingly, the Calvinist must establish that purely contingent choices are not possible and that necessary choices do not destroy human accountability but are in fact the grounds for it. It is quite valid to argue: Necessarily, if God foreknows that Jones will choose X, then Jones will necessarily choose X; God foreknows that Jones will choose X; therefore, Jones will necessarily choose X. In other words, we may validly argue to the conclusion that Jones’ choices are necessary and not free, if the necessity of Jones’ choices is a necessary condition for God’s foreknowledge of them!

Non-Calvinists wish to maintain two distinct premises: (1) Necessarily, if God knows that X will occur, then X will occur; and (2) it is possible that Jones will not choose X when it is known that he will. The disagreement between schools of thought is over the second premise, not the first. If it is possible that X will not occur when it is known that it will, then it cannot be necessary that X will occur and Calvinism is false. Arminians defend the second premise by way of axiom. They assume that the power of contrary choice (i.e. free will) is a necessary condition for moral accountability: If men are morally accountable, then it is possible for them to choose contrary to how they will.

All that needs to be established to refute the philosophy of free will and vindicate determinism, given that exhaustive foreknowledge is biblical, is that God cannot foreknow a choice that is purely contingent. If Jones will choose X, then Jones will choose X necessarily, must be proved. Which is to argue that if God is to foreknow Jones’ choice, the Jones’ choice must indeed be necessary. If this can be shown, then non-Calvinist Christians should either go all the way and forgo the doctrine of God’s omniscience and become Open Theists or else abandon the notion of free will and become Calvinists. Sadly, many have taken the former option and denied an essential attribute of God, his omniscience. In one respect they have moved toward more consistency but at an enormous price.

What does it mean that something "might not" occur?

In common parlance people often will say that something might or might not happen. Such a statement communicates a lack of certainty with respect the outcome of some future occurrence. Such uncertainty does not imply that the outcome is truly possible or probable; it only implies that from a particular vantage point the outcome is unknowable and, therefore, not yet known to be true. If something is deemed possible, then it is believed that it might or might not occur, which suggests that there is no perceivable constraint that would absolutely prohibit or cause such an action from occurring; what is also implied is that there is no conclusive evidence that the outcome will truly occur. An example might be helpful. If I were to somehow know with infallible assurance that I would not serve my children ice cream after dinner, then it would not just be misleading for me to say that I might, but rather it would be philosophically false.

Can anything be probably true?

If it is truly possible that I will choose X, which is to say that if I truly might or might not choose X, then there must be some probability less than 1 that choosing X will actually occur. However, probability only applies to human uncertainty and, therefore, cannot apply to what is known by God. God’s foreknowledge presupposes that he knows outcomes as not merely possibly true or probably true but as absolutely true. What will occur is without question for God. God is 100% certain of what is true. Accordingly, God cannot know with 100% certainty that X will occur while also “knowing” with 100% certainty that X might not occur; which is to say that God cannot know as true that which is false; which is to say, something true cannot be false; which is to say, that if something will occur, then it is not possible that it not occur; which is to say that which will occur must occur necessarily.

If it is true that Jesus will return to earth one day, then it is false that Jesus might freely choose not to return. It is necessary that he choose to return since God cannot know that he might while knowing full well that he will. The reason that God’s knowledge of future choices presupposes the necessity of those choices is because something that might occur is contradictory to something that will occur and contradictions are not knowable. For if God could know both that a choice might not be made while knowing it will be made, then things that might occur would require a probability equal to that of things that will occur, which would require that might mean will! If it is true that X might not occur then the current state of affairs that entails this truth cannot also entail either contradictory truth that X will or will not occur. What does it mean after all to say that something will happen that might not happen? As we noted, if something is properly deemed possible, then it is believed that it might or might not occur. Are there any possibilities from God’s perspective? Are there any true possibilities after all?

What about the past is necessary and how does that apply to the future?

It was true five hundred years before the crucifixion of our Lord that God knew 700 years before the crucifixion of the Lord that Jesus would be crucified at the hands of morally responsible persons. Consequently, it is not hard to understand that there exist future tense, truth propositions that are past yet refer to something still future. The propositions themselves being true in the past must be necessary since all that is past is now necessary. Accordingly, that which the proposition contemplates must too be necessary. Another example of this might be helpful. Assume that it was true in eternity that on April 25, 2023 I will go to Italy with my wife. Accordingly, the truth that I would go to Italy on that date would be true prior to that date. Being true yesterday that I would go to Italy at a still future date, yesterday’s truth about the future would have to be necessary. If the truth proposition is necessary, then that which the proposition contemplates, namely my choice, is also necessary. It cannot be simultaneously true that I might go to Italy if it is necessary that I will since the truth that I will is past and, therefore, necessary.

Where can eternal, future tense truth propositions be grounded?

At this juncture it has been established that if God has exhaustive foreknowledge, then choices must be necessary. God cannot know a choice that might or might not occur. The question that is now before us is what makes Jones’ future actions factual in eternity. For God to know that Jones will choose X three things must be true. God must believe that Jones will choose X; it must be true that Jones will choose X; and God must have warrant for believing that Jones will choose X. The reason that God believes Jones will choose X is because it is true that Jones will choose X. The reason it is true that Jones will choose X is because God has decided that Jones will choose X. To say that it is true that Jones will choose X because Jones will choose X is to say that something will happen because it will happen. Is this why Jesus will return, because he will return? No, it is now true that he will return later because his return has been predetermined not by fate but by God. What else can be the source of the truth of the proposition that Jones will choose X? Certainly not Jones, since it was true that Jones would choose X prior to Jones’s existence. We can't ground the eternal truth of what Jones will do in the non-eternal person of Jones. In other words, Jones not being around to establish the truth of what he would do cannot, therefore, be the source of such a truth proposition. If such truth exists outside of God and his determination, then something other than God and his decree is eternal and informs God, which is heretical. God would be constrained by something(s) true that proceed from other than his being and his desires. In a word, if such future tense truth propositions such as Jones will choose X are not according to God’s determination, then God must be informed, if he is to foreknow, by some entity other than his own determination. For the Arminian such truths are not determined, so they must exist in and of themselves. They must be ontologically necessary and, therefore, exist externally apart from God's attributes and eternal determination, which undermines the sole eternality of God and, therefore, the uniqueness of the ontological Trinity.

To sum this up, if Jones’ choice of X is free, then it is possible that Jones choose X or not choose X. If it is true that Jones will choose X, then it is not possible that Jones will not choose X. Consequently, if it is true that Jones will choose X, then Jones’ choice of X will not be free. If Jones chooses not X (or X) freely, then it was not true that Jones would choose X, in which case God would not have known Jones’ choice. To refute the Arminian notion of free will all that needs to be established is that if it is true that Jones would choose X, then it must be false that he might not choose X. That’s a piece of cake due to the antithetical semantic relationship between would and might and the necessity of future tense truth propositions that are past yet contemplate choices still future.


Future blog entries related to this subject:

  • A word or two about "free will"
  • The notion of free will and how it would destroy moral accountability, not save it...
  • Liberty -- the ability to choose as one wants, the very seat of moral accountability...
  • The necessity of the divine will...
  • The first sin -- not a choice but a divinely appointed fallen nature...

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Anonymous said...

Ron, I see you finally started your own blog. Good job! Now I don't have to jump around to all those discussion boards to keep up with you.

I think you're right on in your evaluation of Arminianism. I remember reading Van Til on God's knowledge of Himself where he basically says if knowledge and being are not identical in God then he is made dependent on something that exists beside Himself. In other words Arminianism taken to it's logical end cannot avoid pantheism.


Mike Stipech said...

I believe that in His perfect foreknowledge, God knew for all time and eternity that I would find this particular post quite laborsome and lose interest, even though freely chose to keep reading it. I believe that omniscient God knew this because He Himself read it in eternity past and found it a bit tedious as well.

Reformed Apologist said...

Hi Pastor Stipech,

If God knew that you would find my entry laborious, then it must have been true that you would find it laborious. What made the proposition that conveys this truth *true* in eternity? Certainly not you, since you aren’t eternal. Is it an eternal truth that God was subject to that did not proceed from his will?


Mike Stipech said...

Ron, touché! What fun! You have a love for God and a love for truth which is evident in your writings. I enjoy your blog and especially now that you have posted my comment poking fun at it! By the way, I believe that omnipotent God determined that He would delegate to me the ability to choose to read or not to read your blog, and then, not being bound in linear time as we are, past- present- and fore-knew which choice I would make.

Reformed Apologist said...


I’m not sure how I poked fun at your post, unless asking pertinent questions is “poking fun.” Again though, you’ve begged the original question and now implied a heresy. The first question, once again, is who or what is the source or determiner of the eternal truth that you would read my blog? If it’s not God, then you must affirm that eternal truth exists outside of God’s attributes or sole determination. Secondly, your most recent response suggests that God foreknew your choice by observing it from a vantage point of the future, which of course would mean that God is informed (and therefore learning) by the means of some other eternal entity, which of course denies that he alone is eternal. Strange theology indeed!


Mike Stipech said...

Dear Ron,

Please read carefully what I wrote in my second comment. I did not imply that you were poking fun at me, but that you posted my comment which itself was an attempt at poking fun at your blog. (It is debatable, however, if you realized such an attempt was being waged, as your subsequent responses have not hinted at humor.)

The apostle Paul wrote that "The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." Your approach reminds me of this verse. You present a logic which works very well within the constraints of your definitions and reinterpretation. Since you determine the rules, you win the debate. Congrats! And I notice on your blog that you seem to be quite a bit smarter than just about everybody else. I will yield to you on dedicated studiousness. But I believe that the Bible itself tells us that though we should study the scriptures, our best understanding is limited on this side of eternity. Such truths as, "how marvelous are Your ways, o Lord. They are past finding out..." and "now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror, but then, face to face. now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are fully known," tell me that I must have a large measure of ideological humility. It is not enough to have personal humility ("I am crucified with Christ") but we also must have ideological humility ("perhaps I could be wrong") especially concerning doctrines that have significant proponents on divergent sides. I will tell you that I could be wrong about many things, and so could you. The one thing we cannot be wrong about is that Jesus died to save sinners, and that by believing on Him, we have life through His name. God bless you.


Reformed Apologist said...

Pastor stated: “You present a logic which works very well within the constraints of your definitions and reinterpretation. Since you determine the rules, you win the debate.”


I’m not presenting a case for my position in my dialogue with you. I’m simply interacting with your position. Your position is that God did not determine the eternal truth that you would choose to read my blog. My question of you is who or what determined that truth. In an avoidance of this question, you stated that God knew this truth because he transcends time. Your answer not only ignored the initial inquiry but it introduced a heresy in what it necessarily implied. Again, if God knew your choice by observation, then some other eternal entity would have needed to have existed in order to *inform God* of your future choice. You really ought to wrestle hard with this matter for your own sake. The necessary implication of your position is that God's knowledge evolved and that some form of yourself informed God in eternity of what you would choose.

You stated: “Congrats! And I notice on your blog that you seem to be quite a bit smarter than just about everybody else. I will yield to you on dedicated studiousness.”

I would suggest that your problem is more moral than intellectual. It is doubtful that any want of intellect is causing you to embrace premises that necessarily reduce to heretical conclusions.

You stated: “I must have a large measure of ideological humility.”

So you are being humble by rejecting that God alone is eternal and omniscient?

Pastor, with all due respect, it would suit you better if you embraced your heretical doctrines boldly rather than trying to parade them under the banner of humility. Inconsistencies and heretical leanings are not virtues.

In His grace,


Puritan Lad said...

Pastor Mike,

Did God have to learn about your likes and dislikes before He predestined your boredom? Does He get wiser with time?

While it is true that "God would delegate to me the ability to choose to read or not to read [this] blog", it is also true that He inclined your heart to do so, thus predestining your "choice".

Anonymous said...

How would " The notion of free will and how it would destroy moral accountability, not save it..." ?

Reformed Apologist said...

I believe I understand what you're driving at but please try again.