Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Total Depravity - Implicitly Denied

With Augustine I think we must maintain that all the “good” unregenerate man does is merely the result of one lust restraining another. Man’s so-called good, not wrought in regeneration, suits him for depraved and sinful reasons. The miserly man does not spend his money on licentious living, but the reason for such respectable refrain is a sinful lust for money if not also an insatiable desire for self-respect and the respect of others. (Maybe splendid pagans aren’t so really splendid after all.)

God’s common goodness restrains fallen man through the providential employment of man’s sinful passions in conjunction with man being created in God’s likeness. Accordingly, I for one will not say that Hitler’s judgement won’t be less severe than splendid popes or sacrificial nuns. How could I possibly know? {This might serve as a fair reminder for Christians to consider the impetus for their own works of charity, without getting into a morbid introspection, of course. But prayerful introspection here and there, which although has fallen out of fashion along with the Puritans among the self-appointed keepers of the Reformed confessions, is always under good regulation.}

When we say that man “can always do worse” or that “Hitler didn’t kill his mother,” we must also maintain, over-and-above the sinful reasons for sinners not wanting to do worse, that man is unable to do other than what God has decreed. So, in another sense man actually is as bad as he can be - both in a metaphysical and decreetive sense. But, how often is that qualification made when discussing total depravity? How often is it taught that the unregenerate man is not worse than he might be only because he desires these sins more than those sins? Where's the accent, on "common grace" and how wonderful it is that the "unchurched" do such wonderful things? Or is it on the evil intentions of the ungodly neighbor who poses as good? The end result is that grace is not so amazing anymore. I think in some respect grace was more amazing 150 years ago among Arminians than it is in many Reformed churches today..

In sum, what I tend to read in the majority of discourses on total depravity is not what the doctrine actually means but what it does not mean. This is most unfortunate. I can't even say that an apology is being made for the truth of man's corruption through the fall - for an apology would first presuppose an acknowledgment of the true doctrine. This accommodation is no less than a semi-Pelagian understanding of the fall, if not worse, which would be much worse - Pelagian-humanism 

The profound truth of this doctrine is the very backdrop for the glory of God's saving grace in Christ; yet it is scarcely taught by those who profess the Reformed faith. What is too often missed is that this is no mild antithesis that exists between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is a deep seated enmity inflicted by no other than God Himself.

Because we're more concerned these days with the cash value of things than the principle of the matter, let me close by saying with the hope of enticing some that total depravity has far reaching implications in pastoral ministry and evangelism, but that's for another day I suppose.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sundry Matters - LFW, Omniscience, Temptation & Permissive Sin

More and more people who consider themselves consistently Reformed Christians defend the tenets of libertarian free will (LFW), while not claiming the label “libertarian” for themselves. Nonetheless, they argue for the power of contrary choice, even while claiming it is compatible with divine omniscience. What is even worse is that if one dare defend the necessity of the will (especially in the context of the prelapsarian state), which is the only option aside from pure contingency, it is often alleged that he has denied the Reformed confessions while making God out to be the “the author of sin”, a term that is rarely defined by those who employ it most.

I will not provide here a refutation of LFW, nor will I go into any great detail regarding how it is incompatible with God’s omniscience. I have done that most extensively elsewhere on this Blog. I will, however, provide several quotations from past and present theologians that clearly indicate that this is not a new thought, that LFW is incompatible with divine omniscience. That is to say, LFW logically leads to Open Theism, which is simply a resurrection of sixteenth century Socinianism with respect to God’s knowledge. What this means is that the most distinguishing factor of Arminian theology, if taken to its logical end, leads to a rank heresy, the denial of God’s exhaustive omniscience.

“Ironically, the openness critique at this point strongly resembles the long-standing kind of criticism that many Calvinists have given to the classical Arminian model…Open Theists and these Calvinists agree... that classical Arminianism is seriously flawed in at least two of its major tenets: namely, that… exhaustive divine foreknowledge is compatible with libertarian freedom....” Bruce A. Ware (p. 41 God’s Lesser Glory)

“Hence, the Arminian should be driven by consistency to the conclusion of the Socinian, limiting God’s knowledge.” R.L. Dabney (p. 220 Systematic Theology)

“If [liberty of indifference] be the true theory of the will, God could not execute his decree without violating the liberty of the agent, and certain foreknowledge would be impossible.” A.A. Hodge (p. 210 Outlines of Theology)

“Libertarianism is inconsistent, not only with God’s foreordination of all things, but also with his knowledge of future events.” John Frame (p. 143 The Doctrine of God)

“Moreover, not only are such contingencies not knowable to God, but also such ‘future, free contingencies’ do not and cannot even exist because they do not exist in God’s mind as an aspect of the universe whose every event he certainly decreed, creatively caused and completely and providentially governs.” Robert L. Reymond (p. 189 A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith)

“Actions that are in no way determined by God, directly or indirectly, but are wholly dependent on the arbitrary will of man, can hardly be the object of divine foreknowledge.” L. Berkhof (p. 68 Systematic Theology)

“But God’s omniscience is limited by what is knowable. If Jones is indeterministically free, then it is not knowable, either to God or to us or to any other observer, what Jones will do when, in a given set of circumstances, he is confronted with a choice.” Paul Helm (p. 61 The Providence of God)

“To suppose the future volitions of moral agents not to be necessary events; or, which is the same thing, events which it is not impossible but that they may not come to pass; and yet to suppose that God certainly knows them, and knows all things, is to suppose God’s knowledge to be inconsistent with itself. For to say, that God certainly, and without all conjecture, knows that a thing will infallibly be, which at the same time he knows to be so contingent that it may possibly not be, is to suppose his knowledge inconsistent with itself; or that one thing that he knows, is utterly inconsistent with another that he knows. It is the same thing as to say, he now knows a proposition to be of certain infallible truth, which he knows to be of contingent uncertain truth." Jonathan Edwards (p. 137 Freedom of the Will)

The libertarian who wants to hold onto the orthodoxy of divine omniscience asserts that Corey will choose x, not necessarily but contingently. Of course a contingent x, by definition, truly might not occur. Accordingly, all Arminians are left with God knowing that x might not occur while knowing it will occur – but these are contradictory truths and, therefore, impossible for God to know; if x will occur, then it is philosophically false that it might occur. Consequently, God would have to know contradictory truths given LFW. He would have to know contingently true, conditional propositions about creaturely free actions couched in the subjunctive mood; such as, if Corey were in state of affairs y, he would freely choose x. Such an alleged truth cannot come from God’s necessary knowledge since the truth would be contingently true, making its truth-maker itself, nothing or some unknown entity residing outside of God and his control.

Why then would so many people who call themselves “Reformed” hold to a theory of the will that if consistently maintained would lead to a denial of God's omniscience? My guess is that they would like to protect God from being the “author of sin”, but in doing so they would have God not be God.

God is often pleased to lead his people into temptation:
The Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What does such a petition presuppose? It presupposes “that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations.” (Westminster Larger Catechism: answer 195)

God tempts no man:
Certainly the Catechism does not contradict Scripture where it states: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” James 1:13, 14

The biblical balance:
We must do justice to both truths. Although God is not a tempter, he nonetheless, according to the counsel of his own will, sovereignly upholds, directs and disposes all creatures, actions and things, to the end that even his people may be assaulted, foiled and even led captive by temptations, precisely as God has determined, for his own glory and our profit. Matthew 4:1 couldn't be more explicit: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." (I'm thankful for Lisa bringing this to my attention.)

Does God merely "permit" sin?

"[Permits] is the preferred term in Arminian theology, in which it amounts to a denial that God causes sin. For the Arminian, God does not cause sin; he only permits it. Reformed theologians have also used the term, but they have insisted that God permission of sin is no less efficacious than his ordination of good." John Frame (p. 177 The Doctrine of God)

"But it is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them." John Calvin (p. 176 Concerning the Eternal Predestination)

“By calling it permissive… we mean that they are such acts as He efficiently brings about by simply leaving the spontaneity of other free agents, as upheld by His providence, to work of itself under incitements, occasions, bounds and limitations, which His wisdom and power throw around.” R.L. Dabney (p. 214 Systematic Theology)

John Frame dissents from the Arminian view, which is that God does not cause sin and that he only permits it. Rather, Frame acknowledges that God’s ordination of sin is as equally efficacious as his ordination of good. As for Dabney, he is pleased to acknowledge that the incitements of sin (which are no less than the provocations or urgings) come from God’s providential wisdom and power, which he is pleased to “throw around.” Many today (those whom I call the “keepers of the Confession”) would hold Calvin in contempt of the Westminster standards, even if he merely meant by “author” the determiner or author of history, within which sin abounds. However, when people have not internalized their doctrine, any theological statement that does not use the precise language of the Confession is considered ipso facto unorthodox theology, regardless of content or intent, which is all too rarely lost on the "keepers of the Confession." Did not the Divines, after all, have to in some measure deviate from biblical language in order to exegete biblical meaning? To merely parrot the same words as what is contained in a passage or doctrinal statement conveys no understanding of the meaning of what is under consideration. If I want someone to explain to me the book of Job, the last thing I want is only to be read the book of Job.

“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.’” Job 2:6
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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scripturalism, Skepticism and Knowledge of Personal Salvation

Scripturalism does not allow one to know he is saved. It only allows one to know propositions contained in, or deducible from, Scripture. Scripturalists, also, contend that they cannot know that the Bible in their hands is not chocked full of errors due to a factory defect or, say, a cunningly devised scheme. This, of course, presents no problem for knowing propositions contained in Scripture because Scripture transcends a publisher’s printing of a "Bible." Scripture is, also, more reliable than a newspaper’s reporting of the outcome of a sporting event. Scripture is infallible; the daily rag is not. Now indeed, Scripture, as the Confession teaches, is not to be received on the authority of man or the Church (or Zondervan for that matter) but upon God, the author of Scripture. Given the self-attesting authority of God’s word, man can be fully persuaded and assured of its truth by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word, in our hearts. (WCF 1.5)

If there were false statements in a publication that is called “The Bible,” we can expect that God would not persuade men they were true, let alone that they were Scripture. Moreover, as Gordon Clark intimated (and Ronald Nash concurred), Scripture is not ink on a page, let alone sounds in the air, but God’s living revelation to man. As such, Bible translations may theoretically contain propositions that are false, even heretical, which would both imply and corroborate that the propositions contained therein must be considered on their own merit and received not because they are bound in a book that bears a particular title but only if they have the fingerprint of God upon them. In this sense, strictly speaking, we cannot know that verses such as 1 John 5:13 are true simply because they are recorded in a “Bible” translation: “These, things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” That verse, like all verses, is a proposition that awaits divine confirmation of its truth yet it does not gain its authority upon that confirmation.

Regarding the proposition “R.A. knows he has savingly believed in Jesus,” that too is a proposition that exists in the mind of God, just like 1 John 5:13 does. (I couldn’t otherwise know that the proposition existed if it did not first exist in God’s mind.) It’s noteworthy that neither proposition in and of itself, whether written or not, is any more persuasive than the other. One proposition may come with more authority (depending on whether I am saved) and is certainly more universally able to be known; yet notwithstanding the persuasive power that must accompany the knowledge of either proposition rests solely on the Holy Spirit sovereignly working in conjunction with the truth of the proposition. Now of course God knows whether the personal proposition is true, just like he knows whether 1 John 5:13 is true. The only question is whether God ever bears witness to one’s personal salvation based upon promises contained in Scripture. I guess one’s answer to that question would at least in part depend upon what he thought of Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” At any rate, if God were to persuade a person that an affirming proposition as it pertains to personal salvation is in fact true, then the subject would have an illumination of the truth of a personal application of a revelatory promise of God - that whosoever believes… shall be saved. This assurance of salvation, as the Confession teaches, is not a “bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.” WCF 18.2  Accordingly, the justification for the true belief of personal salvation is no mere inductive inference but as the Confession states it is according to “the testimony of the Spirit.” {That the Spirit justifies to the spirit in men that they are saved does not logically imply that the Spirit testifies that necessarily water caused salt to dissolve in water yesterday (assuming no accidental necessity); nor does it deny it; and certainly it does not imply that salt will necessarily dissolve in water tomorrow, or always. Again, nor does it deny it. So, from a Confessional standpoint we must draw a sharp distinction between inductive inference and the Spirit’s testimony that one is saved. No more, no less. I digress.}

There is, I think, a common lapse in thinking that occurs in discussions such as these. For instance, Scripturalists wrongly think that (a) as long as there is the possibility of substituting an imposter person for the real one, there is no chance of knowing that the person in front of us is who we think. I’ve even heard it said that (b) since we can be (have been?) wrong about another person’s salvation one therefore cannot know whether he himself is saved. Regarding (a), the Scripturalist needs to demonstrate that the justification for believing that we see x when x is actually and truly before us cannot be equally robust as the justification for believing Scripture aright upon the testimony of God himself. Or was seeing the resurrected Christ, or the miracles he performed, any less revelational or useful in bringing about epistemic certainty than the scriptural propositional-interpretation of what those sightings implied? Doesn't God testify not only to his Word but to all his works, whether creation, providence or miracles that he has performed? (All of this, by the way, has nothing to do with induction and asserting the consequent, as too often some Scripturalists complain.)

Scripturalists must show,

p: it is false that one can be as justified in believing he knows any non-Scriptural true proposition than believing he can know the most difficult proposition from Scripture, that p*

This line of reasoning, of course, is not to assume a position by definition (that one can know he sees x) and then argue for it fallaciously from silence. Not at all, but rather it presupposes a burden of proof.

Was it impossible in the realm of ordinary providence that those who believed they saw Jesus after the resurrection actually knew it was Jesus? Were the "eyewitnesses" to the risen Christ not capable of knowing it was Christ? Surely they were culpable for what they witnessed. Should Thomas have kept on not believing that he knew he touched Jesus after he had touched Jesus? Or, did he not know at all that he touched Jesus and, therefore, should have remained skeptical? Or maybe he knew only way after the fact, when it became a proposition of Scripture that he had touched Jesus. In the like manner, do the heavens declare the glory of God only after learning they do from special revelation? If so, then it would not be the heavens that declare God's glory. Wouldn't it have been ill advisable for the saints under both economies to affirm miracles they couldn't have known happened? Isn't that what Rome requires of its subjects, to believe that which cannot be known?

Regarding (b), there is no basis to believe that one ever knows the state of another’s soul. Consequently, being wrong on that front, even if one thought he knew he was right, is not analogous to the matter at hand. Moreover, the "certainty" one can have of his own salvation when not saved is a matter of self-deception that can easily be fleshed out from above {under “Regarding (a)”}. Stated positively, one’s justification when knowledge obtains can entail a more robust justification for holding any false belief, especially for a Sripturalist-internalist-infallibilist! So, I must disagree with Clark when he writes “So long as substitution is possible, certainty is impossible.” I'm afraid what Clark has done is not limit man in his finitude but God in his power to communicate. What’s worse, when this sort of limitation is applied by Scripturalists to man's knowledge of his own salvation (I don't say Clark does this) it is in the face of Scripture, which teaches one can know he has eternal life.

Finally, it’s interesting that Clark, for whom I have respect, been amused by and even profited from, when engaging George Mavrodes on revelation and epistemology referenced Romans 8:16 as a proof-text to defend the Reformed and biblical position that we know the word of God by the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit. The thing I find strange is that Romans 8:16 discloses the means by which we can know we are sons of God in Christ, one of the very things Scripturalists deny we can know.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Theonomy & The Woman Caught in Adultery

Anti-theonomists are often quick to point to the woman caught in adultery (recorded for us in John 8) as “proof” that the civil case law for adultery (if not by extension all civil case law) is no longer applicable. Before inferring whether Jesus’ handling of the situation abrogated the civil penalty for adultery, it might be appropriate to take a look at: (a) the implications of the law in this regard, (b) the Bible’s teaching regarding our responsibility to submit to the divinely appointed laws of anti-God government and (c) Jesus’ modus operandi when dealing with what he believed to be the more critical issue that was before him, even at the expense of ignoring what was being asked of him while knowing full well that some would infer erroneous conclusions that cannot be deduced.

A word or two about the law:

Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 require that both guilty parties are to receive the same civil sanction for adultery. That is the requirement of the law. Yet for some reason the mob was uninterested in following the law of God even to that small degree, but rather they replaced God’s law with a manipulation of it (one that suited their own personal gain), not having brought to Jesus the man who sinned. Coupled with this concealment of the whole truth, John 8 explicitly states that the mob’s intention was to test Jesus in order to accuse him. Accordingly, not only was the report false by Christian standards (because of the concealment of truth), it was also malicious toward Jesus and not accompanied by a godly desire for justice because it aimed to get Jesus to follow the masses in a perversion of justice. Accordingly, had Jesus the Savior acquiesced to the masses and partaken of their misuse of the law, he himself would have been in violation of God’s law! Exodus 23:1-4 teaches: “you shall not bear a false report”, nor “join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness”, nor “follow the masses in doing evil” nor “pervert justice.” (Note: I do not say that it is necessary that both parties be brought forward for either one to receive their just penalty. What if one escaped, or even died? Such an interpretation that would require both parties to be brought forward is not needed to vindicate the perpetual validity of the law and Jesus' suspension of it in this case on other grounds as mentioned above and below. In this particular case, that only the woman was brought forward can only at best corroborate the ill-intention of the mob, which was explicitly noted in the text and is no mere inference.)

In passing we might also observe that since the woman was caught in the act, it is very probable that her habits were well known, making her an easy prey for entrapment. Such would only lend credence to the malicious quality of the scheme while also implicating the mob for not being concerned with the woman’s licentious behavior until such time that it could be used for evil rather than good. Yes, penalties can and are to be used for good but the design of good too often loses its effect when the law is not carried out by those lawfully called who possess a lowly servant’s heart. (These servants are not individual mavericks of society but civil servants appointed to such service who in the end serve God and men.)

Submission to God’s providential infliction of unruly government:

Romans 13 teaches that we are not to take the law into our own hands but rather submit to God’s providentially ordained government, even when that government is pluralistic. This principle was to be followed during Jesus’ earthly ministry and the Jews knew it all too well: “So Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death’” John 18:31 Yet the Jews conveniently were not interested in obeying that precept of submitting to God ordained Roman rule when it did not suit them: “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay or shall we not pay?’ But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, ‘Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.’ They brought one. And He said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ And they said to Him, ‘Caesar's.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.’ And they were amazed at Him.” Mark 12: 15-17 With respect to the John 8, it must be deemed that it was unlawful under those circumstances for the law of Moses to be implemented; yet that would not seem to be the main impetus behind Jesus' behavior.

Jesus’ modus operandi for dealing with the point that he wanted to deal with, even at the expense of ignoring what was being asked of him and even sometimes at the expense of having that which was false assumed true by his hearers:

John 3:1-3: When Nicodemus stated his inference to Jesus that he was a teacher sent from God, Jesus neither affirmed nor denied the assumption. Rather, he turned the tables by telling Nicodemus he must be born again. Depending upon one’s pre-commitment it might be inferred that Jesus was or was not who Nicodemus thought, a teacher sent from God. Yet we cannot deduce anything in that regard from the text.

Mark 10:17-18: When a rich young ruler called Jesus good, he neither affirmed nor denied that he possessed that quality of person but instead said nobody is good but God. Depending upon one’s pre-commitment it might be inferred that Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; yet the text neither affirms nor denies either conclusion.

Acts 1:6, 7: When the apostles asked Jesus whether he was at that time going to restore the kingdom to Israel, he neither affirmed nor denied such an intention but instead said that it was not for them to know the times or epochs that the Father has fixed by his own authority. Dispensationalists, given their pre-commitment to a restored national Israel, infer from the answer a confirmation of their theology, that the kingdom will be restored. Notwithstanding, no logical conclusion can be deduced from the text with respect to the restoration Israel’s kingdom.

John 21:20-22: When Peter asked Jesus whether John would be alive at the time of Jesus’ return Jesus told him that if he wanted John to remain until such time it was no business of Peter’s. Jesus then put to Peter his task, which was to follow Jesus. Jesus’ answer did not logically imply that John would remain or not, let alone whether Jesus would even return one day! The answer even caused a rumor among the brethren that John would not die (John 21:23). John in this very epistle (same verse: 23) remarked on the unjustified inference that caused the rumor: “Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”

There are many more examples but the point should be obvious. We cannot logically deduce that which is not deducible! And when it comes to Jesus, the master of making the point he wants to make regardless of what precedes it, we must be doubly careful when assuming what is not said. In the final analyses, if we could deduce that John 8 demands the repudiation of theonomy, then I would think that a syllogism to that end, comprised of premises that don't beg crucial questions, could be constructed rather readily from the text.

At the end of the day, the use of the text to refute theonomy is on par with concluding that (a) Jesus was not a teacher sent from God; (b) Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; (c) Jesus intended to establish Israel as a political power but failed with the passing of John.

That Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery does not logically imply that she did not deserve death at the hands of godly men, let alone that any laws, rightly interpreted, have been abrogated.

In Summary (and this is the best part...):

The sole intent of the mob was the entrapment of Jesus and whether a life was callously taken in the process, without regard for godly motive, was of no consequence to these wicked men. Accordingly, had Jesus acquiesced to their plea by condoning the woman’s death on their terms, he would have partaken in their scheming and wickedness according to Exodus 23:1-4. Moreover, had Jesus allowed for the penalty under Moses to be enacted in this particular case, he would have implied that men need not submit to God’s ordained government, a clear violation of the general equity of God’s lawful principle of rendering unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s (which equity is also affirmed later in Romans 13).

Jesus was in a predicament. He did not want to condone the woman’s execution given the motivation of the witnesses and accusers, lest he himself could be guilty of paving the way for their sin and become an accomplice with them according to Exodus 23:1-4. Nor did Jesus want to suggest that the woman did not deserve immediate punishment for her sin as prescribed by Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.

Her action was indeed worthy of death, (lest the law which he authored had been abolished; yet he had already stated most unambiguously that he had not come to abolish the law. Matthew 5:17) Let there be no mistake about it, Jesus was for the death penalty when his law required the death penalty. He also required that such penalties be carried out not by perfect men but rather by those who had removed the plank from their own eye. Execution was to be carried out in a spirit of godly humility. Anything less than that was to do God’s bidding with a murderous heart, which would reduce to self-serving vengeance as opposed to righteous justice. We are God’s servants, and we not our own. Indeed, Jesus was concerned not only with the letter of the law but also the spirit in which it was to be followed. This must be appreciated by all Christians, especially theonomists.

Let there be no mistake - the people of God should at all times desire that the civil Law of Moses be upheld. What Jesus opposed was not his law (how ridiculous is that?!) but rather the Pharisees’ desire to substitute for it their traditions: “Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, Honor your father and mother and Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’” Now did Jesus contradict himself? Did Jesus want laws carried out that were not in accordance with the Roman law that was placed into authority by divine providence? Clearly Jesus did not contradict himself by requiring that the Pharisees uphold civil laws that would have conflicted with God-ordained Roman law. Consequently, Jesus’ question of “why” cannot logically imply that they ought to have carried out the penalties prescribed by Moses at that time. Rather, the question is looking for the reason behind their motivation not to carry out the Law of Moses, which in the case of the Pharisees was that they preferred the traditions of men - hence Jesus’ leading question and rebuke. In other words, although the law was not to be carried out at that time (lest God contradicted himself), there should have been a desire to do so that was in submission to the greater principle of obeying Roman law per God’s precept. Accordingly, no answer would have been solicited by Jesus and no rebuke required had they desired in godly submission to carry out lawful executions yet were constrained only by another principle of Scripture - that of obeying God ordained government. Such was not the case, not by a long shot. The same hardness of heart and misguided motivations apply to the mob in John 8.
The dilemma solved:

Given the circumstances of no witness-accuser who possessed a heart for righteous judgment - the only one who could have put the woman to death and satisfied the full intention of the law both in letter and spirit would have been God himself. Accordingly, Jesus, unwilling to exercise his divine prerogative, invited anyone without sin to throw the first stone. By handling the difficult providence as he did, Jesus upheld Moses’ intention pertaining to a godly accuser's spirit, yet without compromising the deserved, temporal penalty for the woman. We might say that the case was thrown out of court due to the greater sin of the witness-accusers (and the priority of Roman rule, which I believe was secondary). Yet by couching the invitation as Jesus did, the Lord acknowledged both the rightful penalty and the unworthiness of anyone within that mob that day to carry out God’s law as in the manner God would have it - as God’s servant.

God is concerned with the spirit of the law but not at the cost of abrogation. Now if anyone wants to make more of the passage as it pertains to theonomy and suggest that Moses has been abrogated because nobody is without sin, then in turn they prove too much by relegating all temporal justice to the Final Day, a most absurd and unworkable principle. The only question I have at this juncture is whether the anti-theonomists will go out one by one in shame for butchering the logical implications of the text. Or will the angry mob of Jesus' day prove themselves more worthy than these?

As Calvin keenly observes:
"Christ appears to take out of the world all judicial decisions, so that no man shall dare to say that he has a right to punish crimes. For shall a single judge be found, who is not conscious of having something that is wrong? Shall a single witness be produced who is not chargeable with some fault? He appears, therefore, to forbid all witnesses to give public testimony, and all judges to occupy the judgment-seat. I reply: this is not an absolute and unlimited prohibition, by which Christ forbids sinners to do their duty in correcting the sins of others; but by this word he only reproves hypocrites, who mildly flatter themselves and their vices, but are excessively severe, and even act the part of felons, in censuring others. No man, therefore, shall be prevented by his own sins from correcting the sins of others, and even from punishing them, when it may be found necessary, provided that both in himself and in others he hate what ought to be condemned; and in addition to all this, every man ought to begin by interrogating his own conscience, and by acting both as witness and judge against himself, before he come to others. In this manner shall we, without hating men, make war with sins…

Neither do I condemn thee:
We are not told that Christ absolutely acquitted the woman, but that he allowed her to go at liberty. Nor is this wonderful, for he did not wish to undertake any thing that did not belong to his office. He had been sent by the Father to gather the lost sheep, (Matthew10:6;) and, therefore, mindful of his calling, he exhorts the woman to repentance, and comforts her by a promise of grace. They who infer from this that adultery ought not to be punished with death, must, for the same reason, admit that inheritances ought not to be divided, because Christ refused to arbitrate in that matter between two brothers, (Luke12:13.) Indeed, there will be no crime whatever that shall not be exempted from the penalties of the law, if adultery be not punished; for then the door will be thrown open for any kind of treachery, and for poisoning, and murder, and robbery. Besides, the adulteress, when she bears an unlawful child, not only robs the name of the family, but violently takes away the right of inheritance from the lawful offspring, and conveys it to strangers. But what is worst of all, the wife not only dishonors the husband to whom she had been united, but prostitutes herself to shameful wickedness, and likewise violates the sacred covenant of God, without which no holiness can continue to exist in the world."


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Epistemology and Quasi-Gettier Considerations

"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing."
1 Corinthians 13:2

In discussions over what constitutes knowledge there are some obvious axioms that have occurred to my mind. For instance, a person can know only that which is true. Furthermore, for something to be known it must be believed.  Although true belief is necessary for knowledge, with little effort it can been seen that it is not sufficient for knowledge to entail.  An example might prove useful. Say someone held the true belief that the President of the United States for most of the 1980’s had the initials R.R. yet thought him to have been Roy Rogers (and not Ronald Reagan). The belief would correspond to the truth merely by coincidence thereby not qualifying as knowledge.  But can such a belief be justified? Imagine, for instance, that the true belief was held by the child of a truthful parent who had in undetected jest told the child that Roy Rogers was the 40th president. In such an instance the child having not detected, say, a rare moment of dry wit in his parent could have been justified in believing that the 40th president was Roy Rogers and, therefore, had the initials R.R. After all, it’s not so strange that an American cowboy actor born in the Midwest in 1911 and dying in California (which is true of both R.R.s) could become President of the United States.
Maybe we should consider a scenario that includes a true belief that is less controversial with respect to its justification – a belief that would be warranted for an intelligent adult. By looking at a clock on the wall one can believe it is noon when actually it is noon, but what if the clock had stopped running at exactly midnight the night before? The true belief that it was noon would be justified, but would such a belief constitute knowledge? It seems rather intuitive that such a true belief would not constitute knowledge given the faulty clock. Accordingly, we must distinguish (a) a person being justified in believing a proposition from (b) the justification of the proposition itself. In other words, it can be most rational and even incumbent upon a person to believe a proposition (entailing justified belief) even though that which should be believed is not verified let alone true (entailing lack of justification for the proposition itself).

Certainly in the pursuit of defining the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge we may properly include in the mix a condition that would prohibit a justification that entails false beliefs, like believing the clock is working when it is not. Not only must the person be justified in his true belief, there can be no existing true proposition (e.g. the clock is broken) that if known would undermine the person’s reliance upon reasons for the belief. After all, if such were not the case – if one actually can know the time based upon a broken clock, then upon learning the clock is broken one would lose his justification for his belief and thereby any knowledge he was thought to have had. Therefore, we must maintain that a robust theory of knowledge cannot make room for a loss of knowledge due to at least some type or classification of acquired truth. Succinctly, one cannot know p if there exists at least some class of undermining evidence that if acquired would result in a loss of justification for the belief.  In such cases, that which defeats the justification for knowledge is not a believed proposition (that is internal to the subject) but rather an existing one that is external to the mind. What sort of existing propositions that would qualify as a type or class that would undermine knowledge needs further examination.

Feasibility of an undermining proposition
Now what if the clock was not broken? If the clock was not broken, then the conditions for knowledge that would be met are justified true belief (JTB) plus no existing propositional defeater of the justification. The question that immediately comes to my mind is whether the possibility of a broken clock should come into play. In order to have knowledge that it is twelve noon must the believer have positive verification of the accurate workings of the clock in question (as opposed to clocks in general), or is the mere absence of an existing defeater proposition (as opposed to the potential of one existing) enough for knowledge to obtain?  Should the possibility of the clock being broken, even when it’s not broken, be enough to relegate such  JTB to something less thank knowledge? In other words, must the defeater actually exist or can it feasibly exist in order to undermine one’s knowledge of the time?

For argument sake, let’s call such true belief “knowledge” when the clock is functioning properly. Without having verified the clock the person’s justification for his true belief of the time would be the same whether the clock was broken or not. Accordingly, when the clock is functioning properly the certainty of the time is no greater than when the time is not known (due to a faulty clock) yet possibly thought to be known. Accordingly, to tag such a non-defeated JTB as “knowledge” is not to be less skeptical than one who wouldn’t do so, but rather it is to define knowledge more inclusively. (It is often charged that not to call such inferences knowledge is to consign oneself to skepticism.)

Under such terms one can know the time while rationally believing that the time might not be known let alone true. In other words, the person could know the time while also believing with the utmost consistency within such an epistemic framework that the time could be other than what is believed. Such need not be the case with other sorts of knowledge, like knowledge of Scripture propositions for instance. It is not incumbent upon the subject to rationally question whether what is known from Scripture is actually true for the Holy Spirit provides the warrant for such true beliefs. But where "knowledge" is attainable without having positive verification of the source, then it is most rational to believe that something might be false yet while knowing it is true.

Given a functioning clock, what if there existed a publication of accurate statistical evidence unrealized by the subject that clocks made by that particular manufacturer were faulty most of the time? Would such existing evidence be a defeater? The question presents no problem to one who would consider the mere possibility of a faulty clock as undermining the possibility of knowledge. It does, however, pertain to one with a more inclusive understanding of knowledge. Can one know the time because of a lack of relevant evidence that most clocks from the manufacturer are not reliable?

It would seem somewhat intuitive that one would not be justified in believing the time if he also believed the true proposition that most of the clocks from the manufacturer were faulty. It is widely held by those with a more inclusive view of knowledge that such known statistics, even when not known by all, would undermine knowledge in such instances for all people, even for those who were ignorant of the statistic.  (see: Alvin Goldman, fake barns)

A problem with such probability?

Now of course probability is useful because mere humans cannot capture all the causal factors that go into any event. Notwithstanding, whether a clock will function or not is a binary consideration – it either will or it won’t. Whether it functions or not is causally determined and if we could know all the determining factors then we could know with a probability of 100% the outcome with nothing left to chance. Given that it is impossible that a functioning clock would not have functioned (due to causal necessity), the obvious (or not so obvious) question is whether an unknown, unpublished statistical probability of a particular functioning clock (which proves to be 100% by the nature of the case) should override  statistically rational inference about any given particular clock that is drawn from a lot of many clocks that yields less than a 50% success rate. Indeed, Jones would not be justified in believing it is twelve noon if he were also to believe most clocks from this manufacturer are defective. That Jones happened to look at a functioning clock would be a matter of chance. Yet if the clock was working properly then there exists some statistical affirmation that the particular clock would necessarily have worked properly. Would the existence of such a true statistic about a particular clock override another true statistic that reported most clocks from the manufacturer were faulty?

It seems to me that most that hold to an inclusive view of knowledge would negate the possibility of knowledge obtaining through the means of a functioning clock manufactured by a disfunctional manufacturer. The reason being that had the subject known about the manufacturer he would not be rationally justified in believing the time based upon such a clock. But if we're talking about statistics not known by the subject-knower, then why is the manufacturer's track record for clocks more relevant than the statistics pertaining to the particular, functioning clock in question? Maybe that clock was made during a shift where the clocks never have failed. Again, if the clock works properly then there exists, whether known or not, some statistical reflection of that reality. Again, this presents no problem for those who have a less inclusive view of knowledge.
This leads to many other questions, not the least of which are: What is the scope of relevant defeaters? Are they statistical in nature? Must they be true, or does a well promulgaged lie yet not heard by the subject-knower come into play? Might they only be feasible, even if not spoken actually, let alone true? Must they be humanly knowable or merely true? Again, these do not come into play for those with a less inclusive view of knowledge, which of course does not undermine subjective certainty of what is rational to believe.

Other actual existing propositions
Other sorts of information, defeaters of a different variety than external propositions, can impinge upon warrant for beliefs. Beliefs that are actually acquired, as opposed to propositions not known yet true, are now in view. An acquired strong belief can prevent someone from believing something newly introduced and contrary to an earlier belief, but new evidence can also cast doubt on older beliefs. Indeed, new evidence can reduce even override previously held beliefs depending upon the epistemic or psychological commitment to them. Such defeaters are internal to the mind, already acquired and not only external.

Now then, say a mother is informed that her son has stolen money from one of his teacher’s desk. Until then she has been thoroughly justified in believing her son is truthful – and count it is true that he never has stolen property.  Yet she has recently noticed that her son has been wearing a lot of new clothes and that some of her loose change has been disappearing. In realty the son has not stolen; he has been working after school and buying clothes with money he has earned. Moreover, it is false that he stole from his teacher’s desk. At this juncture we can at least appreciate that even strong justification for beliefs can be diminished by contrary evidence. It is possible that the mother would not be as justified as before in believing in the integrity of her son. To some degree, even if minimally, the integrity of the son might become to some degree suspect in the mother’s mind; so it’s not hard to see that experiences can serve not only to bolster but also downgrade one’s justification for a given or set of beliefs, if not also render beliefs that were once justifiable no longer such.

Continued later, Deo volente
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Paul Manata: Free Will for Reformed Dummies

“I don't know how many times I have asked candidates for licensure and ordination whether we are free from God's decree, and they have replied ‘No, because we are fallen.’ That is to confuse libertarianism (freedom from God's decree, ability to act without cause) with freedom from sin. In the former case, the fall is entirely irrelevant. Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense. But freedom from sin is something different. Adam had that before the fall, but lost it as a result of the fall.” John Frame

Plain and simple, Reformed folk, especially pastors and professors, need to wrap their minds around a Reformed understanding of the workings of the human will and how it relates to God’s decree and moral responsibility. Confusion abounds, or as Paul Manata puts it, there is no “unified message” among Reformed thinkers and many prominent ones are “apparently at odds with each other.” I agree, which is why I am exceedingly well pleased to see that Paul has put his mind and skill to this important matter and provide the Reformed community with a timely primer on free will and moral responsibility.

If one is looking for a polemical defense of Reformed Theology (RT) as it relates to determinism, freedom and moral culpability, Paul’s paper is probably not for you. Paul aims at a different target and hits it in the bullseye. He aims to lay the groundwork for fruitful reflection and discussion while showing that RT is inherently a kind of determinism, and that RT entails harmonious compatibility between determinism, man’s freedom and moral accountability. Paul defends his general thesis by concise appeals to the Westminster Confession of Faith, with reference to its teachings on God’s eternal decree, divine providence and exhaustive omniscience, which includes foreknowledge. Again, Paul is not setting out to defend RT per se as it relates to these matters, but rather define RT as it relates to them, as well as establish some suitable boundaries or fence posts from within intramural discussions can take place. That is not to say that his paper is void of any defense of RT in this regard, but that is not his primary focus. In fact, Paul spends considerable time walking his readers through the thought process of non-Reformed positions.

Paul, playing off John Feinberg’s classifications of necessity, draws a distinction between what he calls “nature determinism” and “act determinism." That man acts according to his nature is not an argument against libertarian freedom, nor is it an adequate defense of a Reformed stripe of determinism. Although Reformed thinkers confuse the two and often strictly argue in accordance with nature determinism, in doing so they beg most crucial questions and in the process look foolish in front of skilled Molinists.This distinction also plays into the erroneous idea that by establishing irresistible grace, libertarian freedom is refuted.
After setting the stage by showing that Reformed theology is clearly a type of determinism, Paul takes up the task of showing that if RT is consistent, then determinism must be compatible with man’s moral accountability and freedom, because RT, following Scripture, affirms both. Paul then waltzes his readers through classical compatiblism and the main objection against it (the "consequence argument", which is that there is no possibility of freedom given determinism). It is alleged that if we are not in control of all determining factors, then we cannot be free – a premise that has been affirmed (and denied) from within opposing camps. The lack of agreement is mostly due to ambiguity within the complaint.

Paul then moves to a discussion on semi-compatiblism, which strongly denies the freedom to do otherwise; it doesn’t posit hypothetical freedom, as do classical compatiblists. The position focuses on necessary conditions for moral accountability, which do not include an ability to choose between alternative possibilities, but do require “control,” which Paul later refines in light of man’s ability to be responsive to reason and innate understanding of moral responsibility.
Paul then takes on libertarian free will and its associated axiom that “ought” implies “can.” Within a deterministic framework we cannot do otherwise, but if “ought” implies “can," then determinism must undermine moral responsibility. He then addresses those libertarians who posit that what is required for moral responsibility is not libertarian freedom but rather that man himself is the ultimate source of his actions. A supporting argument would be that if an agent could be physically prevented from acting in any other way but one (such as with a Frankfurt counter example, or FCE) so as to ensure that no other choice is made, then no other choice could be made. If one can be kept from a contrary choice, then he could not act except but one way - yet he’d be responsible for acting when left to his own deliberation, which suggests that one need not have alternate possibilities in order to be morally responsible. FCEs help show that moral responsibility is not conditioned upon alternate possibilities. This illustrative theory is often used to support the premise that when man is the ultimate source of his action he has met the sufficient condition for moral accountability. Accordingly, it is maintained by "narrow source" incompatibilists that one can be responsible apart from alternate possibilities, if he is the ultimate source of his actions. (FCEs are useful for the determinist too.)Then Paul segues into agent-causality, a position which reduces to man being sovereign not just over his actions but his will too. 

(Digression: I can see how a Calvinist can make fair use of Frankfurt counterexamples but not libertarians. For within Molinism, for instance, "will choose x" does not imply "must choose x", a non-issue for determinists (for will implies must for a determinist). Naturally, a Calvinist would not be establishing ultimate sourcehood by the employment of FCEs, but he could defeat an objection against the ability to choose otherwise as being necessary for moral accountability, but such a defeater presupposes a deterministic metaphysic, which of course would not be persuasive to a Molinist; yet the argument would be valid (even sound) just the same. In other words, given a Molinist's metaphysic, a physical constraint to choose otherwise does not imply a metaphysical constraint to choose otherwise. So, for the Molinist, although the agent would be prevented from choosing other than x, he would still be metaphysically free to choose other than x. FCE's are a powerful tool in the right hands but not in the hands of libertarians, and I've digressed enough.)  

Eventually Paul's paper gets into synchronic tendencies in the Reformed tradition, where Paul is constrained to underscore that although there is liberty within the Reformed tradition to work out models of determinism (as long as they don’t get outside certain Reformed fence posts) there is no place to eradicate determinism from RT, as some seem to want to do. Paul interacts with quotes by contemporary Reformed professors, which demonstrate that confusion does abound over the matter of pure contingency and necessity. Paul interacts with Duns Scotus' view that is apparently being appropriated by some Reformed thinkers. Paul then gets a bit more polemical and employs a foreknowledge argument that incorporates an accidental necessity argument, which simply states that in the past are future tense truth propositions regarding creaturely choices. If it was true yesterday that Alice would choose x, then Alice's future choice of x is as necessary as the past.

Finally, Paul distinguishes between overcoming libertarian objections in the realm of conversion and overcoming them in the realm of most choices, "mundane" ones. That is a distinction that must be maintained, for there has been an argument floated out there at a renowned Reformed seminary that libertarian freedom is refuted by the doctrine of irresistible grace.

Paul’s desire in producing this work is to provoke thoughtful reflection and discussion within the Reformed community. I don't know of a better topic for him to have selected for the main objection to RT is its inherently deterministic doctrine. The confusion that abounds must first be cleared up within the camp if we’re to attract outsiders to RT. If more professors dumb down determinism, or exchange it for something else, then those attracted to the name RT will not be attracted to actual RT.

May God be pleased to grant increase to Paul Manata's most excellent work. 

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