Nov 27, 2014

Does Compatibilism Entail Determinism? A Pragmatic Argument From Purpose in Evil

Here is the paper I presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in San Diego.

Does Compatibilism Entail Determinism?
A Pragmatic Argument From Purpose in Evil
by Guillaume Bignon

The debate on the nature of free will and divine providence, which has been showcased for centuries in the theological world between so-called ‘Arminians’ and ‘Calvinists’, is often (and appropriately) seen in the philosophical world to be between ‘libertarians’ and ‘compatibilists’.
On the one side, ‘Arminians’ (understood broadly enough to include open theists, simple-foreknowledge Arminians and Molinists), are libertarians. They uphold ‘libertarian free will’ affirming that human free choices are not determined by God’s providential decree. Rather, given the totality of God’s providential dealings at the moment of choice, the free agent remains able to choose either way; he is not determined to pick one option over another. Most libertarians are also ‘incompatibilists’, that is, they think that determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility. It means that as libertarians they believe that determinism is false, and as incompatibilists, they add that if it were true, there would be no moral responsibility: no praise or blame for human choices.
On the other side of the debate, as is required by at least some of the 5 points of Calvinism, and following the Westminster Confession of Faith, Calvinists affirm that God determines everything that comes to pass, including human free choices—the good and the bad. They are determinists, in that sense, but I should point out that the focus of Calvinists is really on human free choices, and not so much on whether quantum physics involves some kind of indeterminism. If a particle were to oscillate indeterministically in an isolated corner of the universe while absolutely all human choices were determined by God’s providence, we would still say that Calvinist determinism obtained. Finally, Calvinists are also called compatibilists to describe their belief that this sort of determinism is compatible with human moral responsibility.
And so it is, that Arminians and Calvinists are mostly accurately pitted to be ‘libertarians versus compatibilists’.
But while the thesis of libertarianism straightforwardly entails indeterminism as is affirmed by Arminians of all three flavours, compatibilism on the other hand does not commit its Calvinist proponents to the truth of Calvinist determinism, only to its compatibility with human moral responsibility. Given this, even if Calvinist philosophers were to successfully establish compatibilism, the question of determinism would theoretically remain. Supposing the compatibilist arguments are successful, God could determine human choices without doing violence to human moral responsibility, but has He? Typically, Calvinists find support for this stronger contention in biblical exegesis, or in the traditional philosophical arguments against indeterminism. The present paper aims to offer an alternative philosophical route, based upon the purposelessness of evil in an indeterministic world. I shall argue that God, as a maximally great being would only permit (or risk) evil with morally sufficient reasons in the form of compensating goods, and that if indeterminism is true, at least some evil results from the misuse of libertarian free will alone, serving no other good purpose. It follows that unless libertarian free will is itself a necessary safeguard of moral responsibility or something very much like it, God would not commit to it with its attached price tag of otherwise purposeless evil.

In practice, this produces a straightforward deductive argument for the Calvinist determinist view that goes as follows:
(1) God only ever permits (or risks) the existence of evil when He has sufficient reasons in the form of compensating goods.
(2) If God leaves human choices undetermined, the world contains (or has been risked to contain) at least some evil whose sole rationale is to avoid determinism.
(3) There is no compensating good that comes from avoiding determinism.
(4) If God leaves human choices undetermined, He permits (or risks) the existence of evil without any compensating good (follows from (2) and (3)).
(5) God does not leave human choices undetermined (follows from (1) and (4)).
(6) Calvinist determinism is true (follows from (5)).

Now, as it stands, I have little doubt as to which premise will be rejected by non-Calvinists: that would most likely be premise (3). Arminians overwhelmingly believe that there is a compensating good that comes from libertarian free will over against determinism, namely the great good of moral responsibility. Since they believe that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism (which I don’t) and they believe that moral responsibility is a great good (which I do), it follows on their view that a great good comes out of avoiding determinism—namely, moral responsibility—and it very well could compensate for a great deal of otherwise purposeless evil. Therefore, premise (3), if left unsupported, is somewhat of an assumption of compatibilism. Accordingly, one may ask, ‘why assume the most controversial premise? Is it not bordering on circular reasoning?’ Let me make two responses. First, I think very good arguments in fact can be marshalled for the compatibility of moral responsibility with Calvinist determinism. It is the main burden of my PhD dissertation. But secondly, and the reason I shall not discuss these arguments here, is that the purpose of the present argument is not so much to prove Calvinist determinism in one fell swoop, as it is to simply raise the stakes on the question of compatibilism. It is an argument that closes the gap between compatibilism and determinism, so that if an Arminian theologian were ever pushed to admit the more modest thesis that determinism would not hurt moral responsibility, then given my additional modest premises, it would automatically take him all the way to Calvinist determinism. If God could determine human choices thereby securing purpose in evil while preserving human moral responsibility, then He very probably has. It remains a rather bold and valuable conclusion; so with these stakes in mind, let us examine my allegedly ‘modest’ premises.

Premise (1) is hardly controversial even for libertarians. All parties in this debate hold that God, in His perfect goodness, would not permit any evil, which He could otherwise prevent, unless He had overriding reasons—compensating goods—to motivate His permission of it. All libertarians affirm this much, and posit that libertarian free will is one of those great goods in question; one that justifies whatever amount of otherwise purposeless evil will, would, or could, result from its misuse. Accordingly, there isn’t much further I need to add by way of argumentation, and instead the two interesting questions become on the one hand whether libertarian free will is indeed one such compensating good, and on the other hand, how much and what kind of evil results from indeterminism depending on one’s view of divine foreknowledge and providence. These are the questions raised by premises (2) and (3), to which we now turn.

Premise (2) is the grand claim that no matter which one of the three libertarian positions one adopts, it commits one to say that some purposeless evil results from it. The three flavours of libertarianism in view are open theism, simple-foreknowledge Arminianism, and Molinism. Of course, they differ in the sort of divine providence they affirm, but as I will now establish, each one ultimately restricts God’s control of human choices in such a way that some room is made for otherwise purposeless evil.
On open theism, God does not determine the outcome of free choices, nor does He even know ahead of time how those free choices will turn out. Evidently enough, this leaves plenty of room for things to happen outside of God’s control: He might very well try to influence things as best He can, but if free will is libertarian and God lacks even foreknowledge of what humans will do with it, it straightforwardly follows that the outcome of those choices falls outside of His control: He simply cannot guarantee righteous outcomes and good purposes behind all the evil that they shall contain.
On simple-foreknowledge Arminianism, God knows ahead of time what humans will freely do, but as I have argued elsewhere, this mere foreknowledge does not afford God any more control over those choices than He would have had on open theism. The knowledge of what will happen in the future cannot be used in order to control those same future events, because if God foreknows that choice X will be freely made in the future, He cannot use that knowledge to prevent X, or X wouldn’t be the future after all, which is absurd per hypothesis. Now I realise that some advocates of simple-foreknowledge have argued that it does provide some providential advantage over open theism. They argue God can engage in prophecy about the future, or can for example infallibly win a game of rock/paper/scissors against the devil. These claims may or may not hold, but I need not evaluate them here, because even if they are successful, they do nothing to secure God’s control of human free choices, and hence it remains that if God is equipped with simple foreknowledge, He cannot guarantee the outcome of libertarian free choices, and hence cannot secure good purposes behind all of them.
On Molinism—the final libertarian view before us—the picture is a bit brighter. God not only knows what will happen before it happens, but He also knows what would happen in any hypothetical circumstances, before He decides whether or not these circumstances shall come about. This knowledge gives Him a providential opportunity to bring about or refrain to bring about events involving human libertarian free choices, depending on which envisioned scenario He prefers. That is a serious providential advantage, but as Molinists themselves explain, it still involves inevitable limitations on divine control. On this view, free will is still libertarian, and so God still does not determine the outcome of human choices. He can control them to a certain extent by choosing which circumstances He actualizes, knowing what would result if He picked those circumstances, but He does not control the matter of what would follow from any given set of circumstances. He does not determine the truth of those counterfactuals of freedom, which state what humans equipped with libertarian free will would do in those circumstances. Given this, it follows that while God has much more control over the outcome of human free choices than on the previous views, He still cannot securely guarantee good and righteous outcomes behind all of them. At least some of those counterfactuals will fall on the wrong side, wholly outside of God’s control, and prevent Him from actualizing certain good states of affairs, thereby forcing Him to include lesser outcomes, partially spoiled by the presence of otherwise purposeless evil.
In conclusion, we see that no matter which view of foreknowledge and providence Arminians adopt, as soon as they maintain the libertarian view of free will, they must affirm that God cannot securely prevent the occurrence of purposeless evil, that is, states of affairs featuring moral evil, which God would definitely have prevented if only He could have done so without doing violence to the libertarian free will of His creatures, but in fact couldn’t.
Now let me acknowledge (and agree with) the following objection one might raise about premise (2): just because God cannot guarantee that purposeless evil doesn’t come about, it doesn’t follow that purposeless evil does come about. It could be that things turn out right even though they weren’t fully secured by God’s providential control. Let me make three responses.
First, even though it is theoretically possible, it is unbelievably improbable, bordering on virtual impossibility, that every single indeterminist free choice would by chance alone turn out to feature only evils for which God has a purpose, even though He didn’t determine it to be such. As I just explained, the sort of luck that God would need on the Molinist view differs from that which He would need on simple-foreknowledge Arminianism or open theism, but on each of these views, free will is such that at least some and probably many human free choices turn out differently than God would like if only He had His way.
Secondly, you need not take my word for it, as Arminians themselves provide abundant support for this premise every time they criticize Calvinism for allegedly failing to explain why God would determine certain sorts of evil if determinism were true. It concedes that they believe those instances of evil have no good purpose except to make room for libertarian free will. John Sanders writes:
When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences.[1]
This is rather explicit: it is employing libertarian free will not merely as part of a free will defence against the problem of evil, but very much as part of a theodicy. These evils actually occur, outside of God’s control, and hence for no good purpose. In light of their view of providence, this much is or should be affirmed for at least some evil, by all libertarians, which clearly concedes the truth of premise (2).
And thirdly, even if we now suppose that the all-improbable lucky draw still happened, forgetting that it is virtually impossible, if we suppose that by chance alone, the stars aligned to secure good purposes behind all the evil that happens even without God securing this outcome, it still remains that premise (2) is true, because purposeless evil has been risked by God, even though it didn’t obtain. The truth of premise (2) is secured if purposeless evil obtains, or has been risked to obtain. It’s all that is needed for the argument to go through, because if no compensating good can come out of libertarian free will, then even risking purposeless evil would be a useless piece of reckless gambling on the part of God, which of course is unacceptable: if nothing is to be gained, why gamble? So premise (2) stands, and we must affirm that indeterminism entails that some purposeless evil has occurred or has been risked to occur. And of course, as I acknowledged already, it is not truly evil without a purpose, but it is evil whose sole purpose is to avoid determinism—to make room for libertarian free will.
So we can now turn to premise (3), and ask the question, ‘was it all worth it?’

Premise (3) claims that there is no compensating good that comes from avoiding determinism. That is what compatibilists normally claim: you can have all the benefits of free will, that is, meaningful, morally responsible choices, without sacrificing determinism and hence purpose in evil. As I mentioned above, my argument will assume compatibilism in premise (3), rather than establish it, but we still need to ask: is incompatibilism the only reason to affirm indeterminism? In other words, is it the sole benefit of libertarian free will that it allegedly rescues moral responsibility? Or could it be that even if compatibilism were true, other benefits of libertarian free will would remain and justify that God give it to us at the cost of all this otherwise purposeless evil?
There are two possible ways to maintain such a view: one would either have to say that libertarian free will is an intrinsic good, or that it is an extrinsic good. Either it’s good in itself, or it is good because of something else that it permits and maybe secures.
Let’s consider the latter first. Is libertarian free will the necessary ingredient of a great good outside of itself? Since we are assuming compatibilism, the great good of moral responsibility is no longer at stake, so what other greater good could hang on the question of indeterminism? I think the best candidate for such a thing would be the rescuing of God’s righteousness. Libertarians almost universally press this second argument against determinism: if God determines all that comes to pass, that includes evil, and that allegedly makes Him evil for being the so-called ‘author of sin’. Let me make two responses. First, let me just say—albeit too quickly—that this inference is unjustified. The traditional arguments that aim to show by analogy that God would be evil in that case, fail to establish the relevantly analogous features between God and whichever evil manipulator is taken as allegedly analogous. Refuting such arguments in detail happens to be the second burden of my PhD dissertation, but more simply, and for the purpose of the present modest argument, I will just say this: if compatibilism is true—as the present argument openly assumes—then it strongly undercuts this second alleged problem of determinism. That is because the two arguments are related in a way: incompatibilists typically argue that if determinism is true, humans are not morally responsible for their sins, and since they are not, God is. They press for a transfer of moral responsibility from the determined sinner back onto the determining God. But if compatibilism is true, and determined humans can be fully responsible for their evil, then it seems the buck could stop there—though I realize it may not have to (God could be found guilty even if the determined human takes on some of the guilt), but still, there would be less of a reason to seek another culprit in God. A fuller discussion of the relationship between determinism and divine involvement in evil takes us too far outside the scope of this paper and into my doctoral thesis, so for our present purposes, I will just modestly conclude that if libertarianism isn’t necessary for moral responsibility, it is probably not necessary for securing God’s righteousness either.
Another possible benefit of libertarian free will that could be proposed is its alleged necessity to permit ‘significant love relationships’. If I love God because God determined me to, the argument goes, then this love is not ‘genuine’, it is not ‘meaningful’. Libertarian free will could then be a means to the greater end of independent, undetermined love.
We can all agree that if libertarian free will is necessary for significant love relationships, this end could justify much evil on balance. Love is a highly desirable greater good. But the necessity of libertarian free will for such remains doubtful. Independent considerations could probably be brought in by determinists to reject the necessity of libertarian free will for significant love, but I contend that we can even find the tools to undermine the thesis with the mere assumption of compatibilism already made in the present argument. The assumption of compatibilism undermines both the claims that libertarian free will is necessary for moral responsibility and that it is necessary for significant love relationships, because both allegations are premised upon the same concept, namely the necessity of one’s choice being ‘free’, and issuing from their ‘true self’. In this, the love objection is really not very different from that of moral responsibility: love is significant only when it is freely chosen. And so we are back to the freedom condition, which on compatibilism is by definition compatible with determinism. If human free choices that are determined can be free enough that humans are morally responsible, then most convincingly they are free enough that a love that issues from them is significant. The same freedom of the will is required for moral responsibility and significant love. To maintain one without the other would seem arbitrary. From this, it doesn’t follow that libertarian free will is not necessary for significant love, but it does follow that it is no more necessary for significant love than it was for human responsibility and divine righteousness, which is all the present argument needs to assume.
So we must press the question: if determinism still permits full human moral responsibility (and significant love), and doesn’t compromise the righteousness of God—the two most difficult problems of determinism—then what else could be wrong with it? And accordingly, what could be so great about its avoidance by God at the cost of libertarian free will and its attached price tag of some otherwise purposeless evil?
I suppose one could say that yet other problems remain beyond those two on the laundry list of what is wrong with determinism, and have yet to be discovered, but what exactly would those further problems be? Libertarians are free to suggest additional problems in the future and these shall be put on the table for examination, but I will say this for now: given the long history of debates on the matter, and the voluminous literature on free will and determinism from the indeterminist and Arminian perspectives, how likely is it that a moral defect of determinism has yet to be discovered? It seems plausible instead to affirm with premise (3), that if compatibilism is true, there probably remains no moral problem with determinism. In other words, there is no compensating good that comes from avoiding determinism.
But now, what if indeterminism were great, not in virtue of anything else it permits, but in virtue of being an intrinsic good? Maybe God’s decision to give humans libertarian free will isn’t motivated by the goodness of something else, but by the sheer fact that being undetermined is just good, or good in itself.
Given the widespread disagreements that exist among philosophers of all centuries on the question of how one should define ‘intrinsic value’, let alone measure whether something in fact has it, I cannot reasonably hope to establish that indeterminism isn’t in fact intrinsically valuable on any of these controversial accounts. What I can do instead, is simply to leave it to you and your own understanding of intrinsic value, by asking this: is it plausible that indeterminism is good because it just is good? It doesn’t seem to me to be that way. Free will, certainly might be thought to be like that; moral responsibility, maybe as well, but there doesn’t seem to be anything good or bad in itself, about being determined or undetermined apart from considerations of freedom and responsibility. So it seems rather plausible that if an indeterminist will is not valuable in virtue of a greater good outside of itself, no motivation remains for God to give it to us, risking all the otherwise purposeless evil in the world.
What this all means, is that if someone does a sufficiently good job at defending determinism against its known objections, it commands the truth of premise (3).
And then, since (4), (5) and (6) follow from (1), (2) and (3), it now yields the conclusion that determinism is true: if God can determine human choices and preserve moral responsibility, then just as Calvinists have always affirmed, He has.

Of course, for all this paper has said, the entire battle for the truth of compatibilism has yet to be fought, but to assess the value of the present argument, let me suggest in conclusion that its dialectical force is very much like that of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
The ontological argument contends that if it is even possible that God exists, then it follows that God exists. Using a simple formulation of the argument in terms of possible worlds, it goes like this: if it is possible that God exists, then He exists in some possible world; and in virtue of being (by definition) a maximally great being, if God exists in some possible world, then He exists in every possible world—because necessary existence is better than contingent existence. And of course, if He exists in every possible world, then He exists in the actual world. So the ontological argument gives us the fascinating conclusion that if it’s possible that God exists, then God exists.
It is the same sort of interesting conditional that my present argument has aimed to establish: given moral responsibility, if Calvinist determinism is merely possible, then it is true.


[1] John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 272.

Nov 2, 2014

A word on Oliver Crisp's "Deviant Calvinism"

Can a Calvinist believe in a libertarian view of free will? Even just a little bit?
I suppose it depends on what one means by Calvinism. It is usually thought that Calvinism excludes any and all “libertarian” (indeterminist) understanding of free will, and requires instead some sort of universal causal determinism, wherein God providentially determines the outcome of all human choices. At the moment of choice, and given God’s full providential activity, there is one and only one option that the human can possibly choose, that is the one which God has predetermined to occur, and hence it is the one which will occur. Nevertheless, Calvinists are also normally “compatibilists”, which is to say they affirm that this sort of theological determinism is compatible with the moral responsibility of human beings. God determines the outcome of all their choices, but humans remain praiseworthy and/or blameworthy for making them.
Oliver Crisp’s recent book “Deviant Calvinism”, in its third chapter, assumes the well-intended burden of broadening the meaning of the word “Calvinism”, stretching it widely enough to fit views that teach that at least some human free choices are libertarian—that is, indeterminist. On this “deviant” Calvinist view, some human choices would be performed with a libertarian free will, and some (other) choices would instead be determined by God, but the whole thing would be properly called Calvinist, or reformed, thereby “broadening” the scope of reformed theology.
It is doubtful whether Oliver Crisp himself believes this hybrid view, but it is somewhat irrelevant to his stated goal, which is not to show that such a view is true, but rather that it is compatible with Calvinism. That is a much more modest burden to carry.
The answer to that question, however, inevitably depends on which minimal commitments one requires for a view to qualify as “Calvinist”. To that effect, in his discussion, Crisp supposes that a view can be called Calvinist if (and presumably only if) it is compatible with the teachings of the classic confession of reformed theology, the Westminster Confession of Faith. That standard is fine by me (at least on the issue of divine providence, since I would think my being a credo-baptist contra the Westminster Confession doesn’t exclude me, a 5-pointer theological determinist, from being called “Calvinist” over against Arminian views). Oliver Crisp thus endeavors to show that the doctrinal commitments of the Westminster Confession of Faith do not require determinism.
Given that he frames the question in light of an objection by Wesleyan-libertarian philosopher Jerry Walls to the effect that the Westminster Confession at times would demand a libertarian view of free will, it is not clear once again whether Crisp concedes this much (does he or does he not think that some libertarianism is required by the Westminster Confession?) But that question need not detain us. Oliver Crisp’s former PhD supervisor Paul Helm (who incidentally is now my present PhD supervisor, though we haven’t spoken much about Crisp’s contentions) has already written to defend the coherence of the Westminster Confession without the need to affirm any libertarianism. (
And though I might have worded the case a bit differently than Helm, I agree with the thesis that nothing in the Westminster Confession calls for libertarianism as long as one is a coherent compatibilist. (Note: Crisp also might be with us on this point, since he himself begins his chapter with a quote from William Cunningham to the effect that the confession neither precludes nor requires “the doctrine of philosophical necessity”).
But what I want to show here is that far from demanding any amount of libertarianism, the Westminster Confession in fact excludes it altogether. Contrary to Crisp’s modest contentions, I insist that the confession is not doctrinally under-determinative on this matter, and that one cannot consistently affirm the confession together with any amount of libertarianism, even for choices that do not affect salvation, election, and/or predestination in the way Crisp carefully restricts things to preserve a fully Calvinist view of at least salvation. Let me then justify this friendly disagreement.
To that end, the first relevant section of the confession is its classic statement that:
“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.”
It is here said that God ordains not just some human choices thereby leaving others to be outside of His control, but very much all choices, “whatsoever comes to pass”. Crisp doesn’t dispute this, but says that though God “ordains” all things, it doesn’t follow that He “determines” all things. And so if there were a possible way for God to “ordain” without “determining”, then that would still leave room for this divine ordination to involve some degree of libertarian free will.
To assess whether that is in fact possible, one simply needs to survey the possible options available to a theologian on the issue of divine providence over human free will.
The most straightforward account of divine providential control of human free choices is the Calvinist view of the “not-deviant” kind, involving theological determinism and compatibilism: God determines the outcome of the human free choice, and so there is no question that He ordains it; its outcome is part of God's determinate decree, His ordination of all things.
If a human free choice is libertarian, on the other hand, there are 3 (and only 3) possible views as to which sort of providence God exercises over that free choice. I shall call them the open view, the simple-foreknowledge view, and the middle-knowledge view.
On the open view, God lacks foreknowledge of the outcome of the libertarian free choice. Free will is such that prior to the moment of choice, there is no truth as to what the human will freely choose, and hence God (even in His omniscience), does not (indeed cannot) know what will come to pass. On this view, it goes without saying that the outcome of such a choice is not “ordained” by God. At best God is trying to bring about some outcome; He might be said to influence the free choice one way or another, but there is no proper meaning of the word under which one can say that He “ordains” the outcome. So this view won’t do for a coherent albeit deviant Calvinist.
On the simple-foreknowledge view, God does possess the foreknowledge of what will  be chosen prior to the occurrence of the free choice, but nothing in His providential control is changed from the open view. As others and I have argued elsewhere, God may know in advance what will transpire, but He exercises no more control over free choices than on the open view. Once God foreknows what will be chosen, it is “too late”, logically speaking, for Him to do anything about it: He can no longer prevent the choice from being made, or that would not truly be part of His divine foreknowledge after all, which is absurd per hypothesis. Whether or not simple-foreknowledge has any providential usefulness (which is a somewhat contested question), at the very least when it comes to providence over human free choices, simple foreknowledge affords God no advantage over the open view, and therefore it cannot properly be said that God “ordains” the choice by merely possessing simple-foreknowledge of its outcome.
The final brand of libertarianism available is the middle-knowledge view, that of the so-called “Molinists”. On this view, God not only has foreknowledge of what humans will freely choose in the libertarian sense, He also has a so-called “middle-knowledge” of what they would freely choose in any hypothetical set of circumstances. This is undoubtedly the best hope for a libertarian to rescue a high degree of divine control over human libertarian free choices. Prior to creation, God knows how humans would choose, if He were to place them in certain circumstances. This gives Him the opportunity to decide which envisioned scenario He prefers, before He commits to one of them, and actualizes the proper circumstances, thereby bringing about the ensuing free choices while preserving their indeterminist, libertarian nature.
Leaving wholly aside the question of whether this middle-knowledge view is coherent, I think we can grant that if it is, it succeeds in rescuing at least some meaningful sense of ordination, according to which God would be “ordaining” the outcome, without “determining” it.
So our survey of the options yields the conclusion that if a choice is not determined by God (i.e., if it is a libertarian free choice), for it to be nevertheless ordained by God, it cannot be based on an open view or a simple-foreknowledge view, but rather would have to involve God’s middle-knowledge of the relevant counterfactuals, and in their light, His weakly actualizing the choice in question.
What then prevents the “deviant Calvinist” à la Crisp to affirm exactly that?
Response: -the Westminster Confession.
The Westminster divines did not leave open the question of how God ordains whatsoever comes to pass; they very carefully excluded the simple-foreknowledge and the middle-knowledge views when they added the following qualification, cited by Crisp himself:
“Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
This is impressively explicit: God’s foreordination is not made on the basis of simple-foreknowledge (His seeing things as future), nor middle-knowledge (His seeing that which would come to pass upon such conditions).
The two above excerpts of the confession taken together, we see, jointly entail determinism. The first one, teaching that God ordains all things requires libertarians to affirm at the very least middle-knowledge, and the second passage explicitly excludes it. A proponent of the Westminster Confession must therefore, if he is to remain coherent, affirm theological determinism to the exclusion of any libertarian free will.

Accordingly, if the Westminster Confession of faith is the standard by which we measure whether a view qualifies as reformed, we must conclude that the hybrid view contemplated (though likely not believed) by Oliver Crisp is still too deviant to be Calvinist. 

Sep 18, 2014

How God turns a French atheist into a Christian theologian - My conversion story

[I am re-posting this piece here, as the forum on which it was formerly posted is being decommissioned]

A number of people lately have been intrigued to meet a French theologian, and have asked me to tell them the story of how I, a French atheist, became a Christian scholar. Even the theologians and apologists I met recently at the ETS Conference in Baltimore (where by God’s grace I was delivering my first scholarly paper) seemed to care (understandably) more about my conversion from atheism than my immediate theology paper! Therefore, it seemed fitting to type it up properly, to have a clean telling of that story of God breaking into my life, ready to be shared with people who ask. So here it is (and please let me know if you spot spelling mistakes or awkward sentences, I’m still French after all!)

I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. I was the second of 3 children. We were nominally Roman Catholic, and would regularly attend mass, but this religious expression seemed to be more out of tradition and maybe superstition than a true life conviction. I certainly didn’t believe any of this was true myself, nor did I sense that people around me took it all that seriously either, though it was an important part of their lives. As soon as I was old enough (13 or so) to tell my parents that I didn’t care for any of it, I stopped going to mass on Sundays, and my life as an atheist was hardly different. My basically atheistic beliefs and values remained, and all that changed was that I was no longer required to fight boredom for an hour or so on Sunday morning while going through the motions of religious rituals and meaningless recitations. Meanwhile I grew up to be a pretty happy young adult. My dad was a mathematician and computer scientist, and my mom “religiously” devoted herself to the well-being and education of her children, from which I benefited greatly on all fronts. It allowed me to do very well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in all sorts of sports. I ended up studying math, physics and engineering in college, graduated from a rather respected private engineering school, which landed me a job as a computer scientist for a large investment bank.
My piano learning led me to play keyboard in an amateur rock band, and on
the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches tall and discovered I could jump 3 feet high, I ended up playing volleyball in national league, travelling the country every weekend for the games. An important part of young male French atheist ideals also consisted in female conquests, at which I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life, and in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing (let alone believe) the Gospel were incredibly slim.
Here is how it went down anyway.

I was in my mid-twenties when my brother and I traveled across the globe to go on vacation to the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean. Tropical weather, white sand beaches, turquoise water, and the occasional game of beach volleyball: what’s not to like? One day, after we had spent the afternoon on a more distant beach on the island, and for the very first time in my entire life, we decided to hitchhike our way home. In a matter of minutes, a car pulled over for us. Two young women, tourists from the US (one from Miami, the other one from New York) had stopped to ask us for directions to their hotel, as they were lost on their way from the airport (the beach was nowhere near the airport or their hotel!) Incidentally, their hotel was right next door to our house. We jumped in and started talking on the way back. They were attractive enough that the radar went up immediately, and we started the smooth-talk to make sure we would see them again during their stay on the island. We did. The one I was interested in lived in New York, and she happened to mention she believed in God (an intellectual suicide by my standards), but worst of all, she accordingly believed that sex belonged only in marriage (an even more problematic belief than theism, if it was at all possible). Nevertheless, we started dating. Spoiler alert: this is not the woman I eventually married.
Vacation ended, she flew back to New York, I flew back to Paris, and there we were, now involved in a problematic long-distance relationship.

Her religious beliefs clearly remained the problem, and my new goal in life was essentially to explain to her why all this was untenable, so that she could put this nonsense behind her, and we could be together without her misconceptions standing in the way. So I started thinking about the whole thing. What good reason was there to think God exists, and what good reason was there to think atheism was true instead?
This step was important, because my own unbelief was comfortably resting on the fact that (smart) people around me didn’t believe in God either, but it was more a reasonable life assumption than the conclusion of a solid argument. So I started to take the question seriously, to objectively assess its credibility. But of course, if I was going to refute Christianity, I first needed to know what exactly it affirmed. So I picked up a Bible to figure it out. And at the same time, since I’m a scientist, I figured there was at least one experiment that could be carried out to dis-confirm the belief that God exists: I thought “if any of this is true, then there is a God who exists right now and presumably cares greatly about this project of mine”, so I started to pray in the air as an atheist “If there is a God, then here I am, I’m looking into this, why don’t you go ahead and reveal yourself to me. I’m open.” Well, I wasn’t, really, but I figured that shouldn’t stop God if He existed. So I read in the gospels about this Jesus of Nazareth.
And there, it didn’t exactly feel like what I expected. I was impressed by the authority of that man’s teaching. Sure enough, I didn’t have much room in my worldview for his talks of God and supernatural activity, but I was rather impressed by the way he maneuvered in conversation, and the wisdom of some of his retorts. I could say what I want, this man knew what he was doing, he spoke with authority, and it made me somewhat uncomfortable. Additionally, even as an atheist, I knew that the person of Jesus of Nazareth was not just a piece of mythology; it seemed clear he was at least a person of history who walked the roads of Palestine in the first century, and apparently his story was compelling enough that these ancient followers of his believed it and even suffered for preaching his death and resurrection. These considerations were making it harder to completely throw out the whole thing, and I knew that at some point I would need to give a coherent account of who I thought Jesus in fact was. But all of this was nowhere near changing my view or my life habits. I couldn’t even visit a church had I wanted to, since all my weekends were busy traveling the country to play volleyball.

That barrier didn’t last long. A week or two after I started my investigations into Christianity and prayed that unbelieving prayer, out of the blue, my spiking shoulder started to fail me. For no apparent reason, without any accident or any evident injury, my shoulder would start to burn out 10 minutes into every volleyball practice. With that inflamed shoulder, I just couldn’t spike. The doctor couldn’t see anything wrong, the physical therapist’s best efforts didn’t help, and I was basically told: “look, you probably just need to rest your shoulder. You need to stop volleyball for a couple of weeks.” So against my will, I was now off of volleyball courts for a couple of weeks.
Well, since I had been investigating this Christianity thing, I decided I would try and visit a church, to see what those Christians do when they get together. The girl I met in Saint Martin, as she visited me once afterwards, had been given the name and address of an evangelical church in Paris for her to visit. She eventually didn’t get to go herself while visiting me, but she had forgotten to delete the info on the desktop of my computer. So I picked it up, and drove there on that first Sunday morning. Frankly, I went to that church like I would go to the zoo: to see some weird exotic animals that I had read about in books, but had never seen in real life. Only at the zoo, there are bars to separate you from the animals. Not so with church. So the whole experience was very awkward. I remember thinking that if any of my friends or family could see me there in the building (a church!) I would die of shame. I also remember finding it troubling to see that these people seemed to actually believe what they practiced. They genuinely thought their prayers were being heard by God, and I thought it was awkward. I sat down by myself and listened to the preacher, still mostly thinking of the shame I would feel if anyone could see me there.

I don’t remember a word that the preacher said on that day. He finished his sermon, and I thought, “I have heard enough, I saw what I needed to see, now let me get out of here”. I jumped on my feet, and started quickly walking down the aisle toward the large exit door at the back of the church, very carefully avoiding making eye contact with anybody, so that I wouldn’t have to introduce myself to any of these people. I reached the back door, opened it, and I literally had one foot out the door, when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks, as a strong chilling blast in my chest went up from my stomach all the way to my throat. I stopped there, frozen on
the spot with goose bumps all over, and heard myself saying: “this is ridiculous, I have to figure this out”. So I put my foot back in, closed the door in front of me, turned around, and went straight to the head pastor. “So, you believe in God, ugh?” -yes, he responded with a smile. "So how does that work out?” I asked. “We can talk about it”, he said. And after people left, we went to his office. He briefly prayed for me, which I obviously felt a bit awkward about, but at least it was reassuringly consistent: he really believed in it. And we started to talk.

We spoke for hours, and didn’t come close to exhausting all my questions. So over the course of the next few weeks, I repeatedly met with him like that, and we discussed. I would ask a lot of questions, and he would provide biblical answers. Here was an obviously educated man, who believed these incredible things about God and Jesus, and I progressively started to consider that all of this could possibly be true. He didn’t necessarily present an apologetic case (France doesn’t have a William Lane Craig or an Alvin Plantinga to provide a devastating logical critique of atheism/naturalism), but at least his answers were internally coherent, and that was impressive in its own right. He gave me a study guide he had written, which essentially laid out the basics of the Christian faith, by asking a question and giving the reader a scripture reference to go and look-up the answer. I went through this thoroughly at home, and scribbled down pages and pages of handwritten notes and questions to ask that pastor during our next meeting. Many of the Christian beliefs were starting to make sense to me, but one of them just didn’t register. I had to repeat a question many times over on those pages: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I still have these pages of notes written in French at home, and the question can be read on every other page: “why did Jesus have to die?”

The answer would soon come, but not in the way I had hoped. At that point, I had come to more seriously think this all could be true, and if that was the case, then the ground was shifting below me, and God would need to catch me. My attempts at praying had turned into “God, if you are there, I’m now going to need you to make it plain for me”. And I started to hope He would just open the sky, send down the light, and say, “welcome son”. What He did instead was less theatrical, but much more brutal: He reactivated my conscience. That was not a pleasant experience. I suddenly realized a truth I knew but had worked very hard to suppress: at the same time I had started my investigations, I had also come to commit a particularly sinister misdeed, even by my own atheistic standards. I need not provide here the sordid details of what that thing was, but it was rather extreme in its wickedness, and I had had to cover it up, by piling up many lies on top of it. And though I knew exactly I had done it, I had just suppressed it and shoved it down inside as if it had never happened. Well, God shone the light and brought it back in full force right to my face, and I finally saw it for what it was. I was struck with an intense guilt, physically crippled with pain in my chest and disgusted at the thought of that thing I had done and the lies I had covered it with. There was no going back. I had done it, and there was nothing I could do to change that. I still remember lying there in pain in my apartment near Paris, when all of a sudden the quarter dropped; it made sense: “That” is why Jesus had to die:…me. He who knew no sin became sin on my behalf, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He took upon himself the penalty that I deserved, so that in God’s justice, my sins would be forgiven freely, by grace as a gift, rather than by my righteous deeds or religious rituals. He died so that I may live. So I accepted the whole thing: I placed my trust in Jesus, and asked Him to forgive me in the way the New Testament promised He would.

As I took those steps, the feelings of guilt just evaporated. I experienced a sort of spiritual renewal: the guilt was gone, and I received the freedom and forgiveness Jesus promised. I continued reading the Bible with growing passion, and this whole story of mine started to make sense and exhibit purpose: I had experienced the living God, who revealed Himself to me in the person of Jesus Christ, who according to the Gospel died to pay the price for my sin, so that I might be saved, by faith alone in Jesus alone and not by works of the law. I was all in.

After all this happened to me, I reasonably but mistakenly thought God meant for me to be with that girl I had met, so I looked for a job in New York. Here again, providence would have it that my training as a financial software developer was particularly fit for the task, and I landed a job on Wall Street. So I stepped out in faith, and left everything behind to move to New York: my family and friends, my job, my band, and my volleyball team. (As it turns out, I couldn’t have kept playing volleyball anyway, because the doctors eventually figured out what happened to my shoulder: the muscle in charge of the rotation movement had atrophied plain and simple. There is now a visible hole in the back of my shoulder blade, and I can’t play volleyball anymore). A few months after I arrived in New York, it became obvious that this girl was not the person for me; our relationship was horrendous, and by God’s grace we ended up breaking up rather than getting married. And so here I was, now alone in New York, with all this time on my hands, and no social commitments of any sort, clearly confused and wondering what God’s purpose in uprooting me like this could have been.

I quickly became eager to explain to my family and friends why I hadn’t lost my mind: why I thought Christianity was actually true and made sense. So I dove into books and started ordering every DVD I could find: lectures, formal debates, the arguments for the existence of God, atheistic arguments and their responses, the reliability of scripture, all the panoply of Christian apologetics: theology, history, analytic philosophy, and pretty much anything that was remotely relevant to my new-found faith. Over the course of the next several months I would spend all my free time out of the office (every night and week end, basically) just pouring over this material, absorbing all this information, and enjoying every second of it. It’s all the more ironic that before my conversion I hated books and had practically never read one of my own will that wasn’t required for school. Now I just couldn’t stop.
After a couple of months of this regimen, I thought “if I’m going to spend all of my time and money studying these things, I might as well get a degree out of it”. And so I signed up for seminary in New York City, for a Masters in New Testament studies.

I was initially unsure how well I would do given that I was just a very recently converted atheist, but as it turned out, my radical binge studying had equipped me in ways life-long Christians never are because apologetics is just not really on their radar. So I ended up doing very well, and started to see God’s exciting plan unfold once again.  Shortly after, in God’s wonderful providence I met the amazing American Christian woman that was actually meant for me this time, and we got married and started a family. After I graduated from seminary with the Masters degree, one thing led to another, and I started doing exciting doctoral work for a PhD in systematic and philosophical theology, studying under the supervision of a very respected theologian, developing my expertise in the field, and slowly becoming a Christian Scholar and apologist.

So this is the broad story of how God takes a French atheist who hates religion and makes a Christian theologian and apologist out of him. Now a number of things could be said about the whole thing, but if there is one thing to appreciate about this conversion story, it is this: I didn’t bring any of it upon myself. I was not looking for God; I did not seek Him, and I didn’t want Him. He reached out to me, loved me while I was still a sinner, broke my defenses, and decided to pour out His undeserved grace, that His Son might be glorified, and that, from my sin I may be saved by grace through faith, and not by works; it is the gift of God, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
That’s the Gospel, and it’s good news worth-believing.

Guillaume Bignon
December 2013

Aug 10, 2014

Can Calvinist determinists trust their cognitive faculties?

I take as a basic assumption of this article that Calvinists are committed to some form of theological determinism: on their view, God from eternity past determines everything that comes to pass, including human choices.
(If the reader is inclined to think Calvinists are not committed to this kind of determinism, then there is even less of a problem for them, and the following argument's response need not even be offered).

Does determinism undermine our ability to know anything?

Some advocates of libertarian free will have argued that if our abilities to form beliefs and make

decisions on matters of truth are determinist, then we have a reason not to trust them. We have a reason to think that they are not reliable, since they are simply the natural outworking of causes applied to our brains, and the beliefs which they form are only the results of electric impulses, fully determined by their input. This charge, if successful, is a serious problem, because it means that if determinism is true, we have a reason to doubt the very ability with which we form all our beliefs, including the belief in determinism itself, and therefore we have a reason to doubt it. That would render determinism literally self-refuting. This argument against determinism is proposed by William Lane Craig in the following words:
Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed. There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that our decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.[1]
So what should Calvinists make of this argument?
They should maintain that this argument is both entertaining and sound, but that it is shooting at the wrong target. This argument is not aiming at Calvinist determinism (as I will explain below); it is aiming at naturalism, or the view which says that the natural world is all that exists. It is not an argument against mere determinism; it is one against naturalistic determinism. In all essentials, it is the so-called 'evolutionary argument against naturalism' crafted by Alvin Plantinga and evidently offered against naturalism. It is a good argument against atheistic naturalism, arguing that if naturalism is true, then we have a reason to disbelieve it. Plantinga’s basic contentions are as follows:
From a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best naïve hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he’d have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and the world.
If this is so, the naturalist has a defeater for the naturalist assumption that his cognitive faculties are reliable – a reason for rejecting that belief, for no longer holding it. (Example of a defeater: suppose someone once told me that you were born in Michigan and I believed her; but now I ask you, and you tell me you were born in Brazil. That gives me a defeater for my belief that you were born in Michigan.) And if he has a defeater for that belief, he also has a defeater for any belief that is the product of his cognitive faculties. But of course, that would be all of his beliefs –including naturalism itself. So the naturalist has a defeater for naturalism; natural-ism, therefore, is self-defeating and cannot be rationally believed. 
Calvinists can and should affirm this fun argument, but why does it not apply to their Christian understanding of determinism? It is because contrary to what Craig affirms, the inability to be confident in the process of knowledge acquisition resides not in the determinism of the process, but in its destination; in its purpose, or lack thereof. Think about it. What matters for the reliability of the process of knowledge acquisition is where we are going, not how we get there. We want to land on true beliefs, regardless of how we travel toward them.  In an atheistic naturalistic worldview, the reason why cognitive faculties are not to be trusted is not that they are determinist, but it is that they were designed by evolution and natural selection for survival, and not for the purpose of forming true beliefs. However, the Calvinist who does hold to determinism can perfectly defend the reliability of his cognitive faculties on the basis that they do result from the design of God who intended us to form typically true beliefs about the world, albeit in a determinist way.
Whether Calvinist or Arminian, whether compatibilist or libertarian, in Christianity we have a mind designed by God to access truth (albeit in a fallible way); in atheism we have a brain designed by chance and natural selection to save our skin. That, is the relevant difference. So as long as God exists—which I think a lot of Calvinists believe—Calvinist determinism stands the charge.

For the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Tim. 2:7)

“None comprehend the mysteries of God save those to whom it is given.”  –John Calvin [3]

The above response satisfyingly does away with the “rational self-defeat” objection against Calvinist determinism, but I want to add the following theological commentary: –these conclusions about cognitive faculties and determinism actually provide Calvinists with excellent grounds for humility about their knowledge, including their theological knowledge. On Calvinism, as theological determinism is true, it is the all-decreeing God who providentially decrees not only just how good our choices shall be, but also just how true our beliefs end up being. Craig’s words above are exactly right; the difference between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist is “wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe.” And of course on Calvinism, the “causal factor” is put in place by the Lord Almighty. What follows from this, is that if Calvinism is true, then the Arminian is mistaken alright, but the Calvinist who decries the irrationality of Arminianism must understand that he can no more brag about his being right, than about his being saved. On Calvinism, the reason why anyone is saved is the same reason why he is a knowledgeable, sound Calvinist theologian: –God gave him the grace to be so. Let it be the ground for a good, solid, Calvinist, theological humility. It will do much good to the Calvinist case in this debate.

[1] William Lane Craig, “Response to Paul Kjoss Helseth” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 60.
[2] Alvin Plantinga, “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ‘ad absurdum,’” Christianity Today,
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First, Chapter 7, Section 5, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 34.

Jul 29, 2014

Why this Calvinist doesn't make much of divine "Sovereignty"

In the literature, the classic phrase that is used to describe the cause championed by Calvinists is 'the sovereignty of God'. Yet in my writings, I seldom use the word, and instead usually speak of 'providence' or 'divine control'. One may ask why I avoid the phrase, and in response, I will say that there is nothing wrong with the sovereignty of God, God is sovereign. But here are three reasons why I don't have much use for the word 'sovereignty' in my writings on the topic.

1-Providence is sovereignty exercised

First, the word sovereignty may be too modest in its claims, and it may not impress Arminians much. To say that God is sovereign could modestly mean only that He has ultimate power and authority over human affairs. But His having such sovereignty over humans tells us little about how much God in fact exercises sovereignty. All stripes of Arminians are perfectly comfortable affirming that God is 'sovereign', but they deny that God uses His sovereignty over human affairs by determining the outcome of human free choices. This is why by speaking instead of providence, we remove the ambiguity, and it now precisely speaks not about what God could do if He wanted, but rather about what God in fact does in this world to providentially bring about His purposes. If you will, providence is 'sovereignty exercised,' and the arguments Calvinists should press are based on the extent of God's providence, as we want to challenge Arminians on what the real question is: 'what does God do?' not 'what could He?'

2-Arminian sovereignty – My God is stronger than your God

Secondly, the malleability of the word sovereignty leads to large amounts of problematic speculations about what the best kind of sovereignty should look like in one's personal opinion. And with human feelings as a measuring tool for what God’s sovereignty should be like, it is no wonder that we end up ironically finding in the literature even Arminians using the concept of sovereignty against Calvinism. Arminians will at time argue that a 'really sovereign' God is one who has the 'courage' to create free creatures that may get out of His control, so that the controlling Calvinist God would then be quite the wimp after all! In that respect, Gregory Boyd finds the Calvinist God 'insecure' and 'weak;'[1] for Terry Miethe He is 'very limited in his power,'[2] and 'surely not sovereign,'[3] and even His omnipotence is compromised according to Samuel Thomson.[4]

On the other hand, the God of libertarianism who grants 'true freedom of will' is 'much greater,'[5] and it shows his 'superiority and his ultimate control over all things.'[6] And if we go as far as open theism, William Hasker rejoices that God becomes much more exciting for engaging in 'admirable risk taking and experimentalism.'[7] This God is 'so stable and secure as to be able to risk suffering and change,'[8] adds Clark Pinnock. This is allegedly sovereignty 'worth wanting'.

But I am afraid that this kind of speculation will not get us very far, because it is entirely subjective, and God’s sovereignty is not to be determined by human feelings. This is why, by debating the extent of God’s providence, we cut out all this word play. We are no longer subjectively arguing 'my God is stronger than your God', rather we are asking the objective question, 'what are the consequences of one's view of free will on the providence of God in this world?'

3-Sovereignty and the renegade molecule – An unfortunate straw man

Finally, the malleability of the word sovereignty has also led to unfortunate misunderstandings which tend to cripple the debate. The prime example of this is a famous quote by R.C. Sproul which is often criticized in debates on divine sovereignty. He asserted,

If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God. If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.[9]

Sproul’s intent as a Calvinist is fine because on the reformed view God does in fact exercise such providence, but his formulation is very unfortunate and has crafted a straw man that Arminians are very quick to knock down, because it seems to say that Calvinists are arguing the following:

Premise 1 – Unless God is decreeing absolutely everything that comes to pass down to a single molecule in the universe, we cannot say, 'God is sovereign'.

Premise 2 – The Bible says, 'God is sovereign'.

Conclusion 3 – Therefore God decrees absolutely everything, which is to say that Calvinism is true.

This is exactly how Arminian Jack Cottrell understands the Calvinist position. He shares:

It is my conviction that the Calvinistic view of sovereignty described above was formulated in a rather intuitive manner, with certain assumptions being made as to what must be the case if God is sovereign – i.e., omnicausality and unconditionality.[10]

And so Cottrell concludes, 'Calvinism says that if the decree is conditional in any way, God cannot be sovereign.'[11]

But nobody should argue that way and present the above argument in favor of Calvinism.[12]
Premise 1 is most definitely false. I am perfectly happy to grant that God could be called 'sovereign' by the Bible even if a renegade molecule were oscillating in an indeterminist fashion, within boundaries in a corner of the universe. The real Calvinist issue at hand however, is that libertarian free will is no mere renegade molecule, and it represents a serious impediment to God’s providence if not His sovereignty. This is the issue worth discussing.

For these reasons, I favor the word 'providence' over 'sovereignty' in these discussions. It removes the ambiguity between God’s theoretical powers and His actual actions, it cuts out any speculations about what kind of sovereign we humans prefer to have, and by preventing the erection of straw men it keeps Arminians on the actual debate topic: is libertarian free will compatible with God’s actual providence?

(I offer a few remarks on that question here)


[1] 'To simply control others so that you always get your way is the surest sign of insecurity and weakness'. Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 149.

[2] '[The Calvinist God] is very limited in his power because he cannot create truly free creatures. He is not powerful enough to create people really in his own image as the Bible says he did'. Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 81.

[3] 'The problem would be with a god who could not create free creatures, or a god who had to force people to do his will. Surely this "god" would not be sovereign'. Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 74.

[4] 'If God had to negate man’s freedom and force him to choose in the proper way, then his omnipotence truly would be compromised'. Samuel M. Thompson, A Modern Philosophy of Religion (Chicago, IL: Regnery, 1955), 503 quoted in Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 74.

[5] 'A God who can grant true freedom of will and still retain His sovereign control is a much greater God than a God who must limit His approach to sovereign control to determinism'. F. Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson ed., Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2011), 79.

[6] 'God’s ability to make free beings is a sign of his superiority and his ultimate control over all things'. C. Stephen Evans, 'Salvation, Sin, and Human Freedom in Kierkegaard' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 189.

[7] 'Those who admire risk taking and experimentalism in human life may feel that the richness of God’s life is diminished if we deny these attributes to him'. William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 199-200 quoted in Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 98.

[8] Clark Pinnock, 'Systematic Theology' in Clark Pinnock et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105.

[9] R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 26-27.

[10] Jack W. Cottrell, 'The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty', in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 106-07.

[11] Jack W. Cottrell, 'The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty', in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 107.

[12] For example, Calvinist Bruce Ware is a bit swift in his statement that, 'Because God is sovereign, God controls all that occurs'. Bruce A. Ware, 'Divine Election to Salvation: Unconditional, Individual, and Infralapsarian' in Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 23.

Jul 13, 2014

Inerrancy, Is It a Matter of Luck?

Here is the full text of the paper I presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, on the topic of biblical inerrancy.

Inerrancy, Is It a Matter of Luck?
An Assessment of Inspiration, Providence and Divine Luck
on Calvinism, Open Theism, Classical Arminianism, and Molinism.

Guillaume Bignon

ABSTRACT: The doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society requires from its members a strong, traditional, evangelical stand on inspiration and inerrancy. While this does not explicitly mention free will and providence, it does have consequences in terms of what one is able to believe with respect to the divine feat of inspiring the scriptures through the free agency of human authors. If God is to successfully bring about an inerrant, inspired text, what are His prospects on any theologian’s view of free will and foreknowledge? The consequences of human free will are surveyed on Calvinism, open theism, classical Arminianism, and Molinism, to assess in each case what is secured by God and what is left to chance. In this light, an assessment is offered of what is and is not ultimately reasonable to believe with respect to God, providence, and divine luck in the process of inscripturation. It is ultimately proposed that inspiration and inerrancy are so improbable on open theism and classical Arminianism as to be virtually impossible, and that even on Molinism both still require some amount of divine luck, albeit a luck of a different kind. It is concluded that only Calvinists and “Molinists who believe in a certain amount of divine luck” can reasonably hold and treasure the view of the Evangelical Theological Society that “the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Thus declares the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society. It is the historic, traditional Christian belief, that God has communicated to His creation a special revelation of Himself and His plan of redemption, in the form of written, plain, human language. To that effect, the doctrinal belief goes, God has chosen to employ the free agency of various and diverse human writers, who though they were writing of their own volition, under the prompting of the Spirit ended up inscripturating the very words that God desired to communicate.
Considering this project, God faced the prospect of bringing about that numerous human authors, at numerous times and in numerous places, would freely choose to write just the words He would have them write. Assessing His chances of pulling it off and the degree to which He eventually succeeded at doing so, is largely a matter of understanding just what sort of free will these authors possessed, and just what sort of things God knew, foreknew, and possibly determined with respect to their free choices in writing.
Let us review the various positions, which theologians can take and indeed have taken with respect to free will, providence and inspiration.

On the one hand are Calvinists who affirm universal theological determinism. They are those in the reformed tradition who affirm with the Westminster Confession, that
God, the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.[1]
 They believe that God providentially determines all things—and hence all human choices—to accomplish His good purposes; so naturally, they are determinists with respect to human free will. They are also called compatibilists to describe their belief that this kind of divinely determined free will is compatible with the moral responsibility of human beings. Humans are determined in the choices they make—ultimately by their creator God—but in the relevant sense, they still make ‘their’ voluntary choices, and are indeed morally responsible for them. Of course, non-Calvinists argue forcefully that these two beliefs are incompatible, but arbitrating that debate is not the purpose of this paper.
On the Calvinist view, inspiration is rather straightforwardly secured. The nature of human free will is believed to be compatible with its being fully determined by God’s providential activity. God is in full sovereign control of the circumstances and the desires of all humans, which a fortiori includes the individuals whom He picked as authors of the scriptures, and hence He can just providentially determine that they freely write just what words He would have them write. Et voilà, the Bible comes to be and is easily affirmed to be God’s authoritative word in every way.[2]

On the other side of the theological divide however, under a large tent we could call Arminianism, theologians believe that true, morally responsible free will is incompatible with determinism. Human beings are said to have a libertarian free will, a free will that is not determined by prior factors or causes inside or outside the free agent, including God’s promptings in their hearts. It is sometimes described as a categorical ability to do otherwise: all things being just as they are at the moment of choice, and God’s prompting being just the way it is, the agent is able to freely choose otherwise than what he chooses. As Peter van Inwagen puts it, “whatever else it may involve; to be able to have acted otherwise is to have free will.”[3]
But on the face of it, this may pose a problem for the doctrine of inspiration. If free will is libertarian in this way, God cannot just go ahead and determine the outcome of human free choices. If human free choices are libertarian, they are by definition undetermined, and even an omnipotent God can no more determine an undetermined choice than He can create a square circle or a married bachelor. Accordingly, short of determining the free choices of biblical authors, what is God to do on each of the non-Calvinist views?
 It depends on which sort of things an Arminian affirms that God foreknows and uses in His providence over human free choices. On this matter, Arminians can take and indeed have taken, one of three (and only three) views: 1-Open theism, 2-classical Arminianism (or simple foreknowledge), and 3-Molinism. Space does not permit me to argue the point, but I contend that these are the only three options, as they cover all the logical possibilities open to Arminians in terms of providence over libertarian free will. Let us review each of them in turn.

Open Theists believe that God has knowledge of what we have done in the past and are doing in the present, but inasmuch as a future choice is truly free in the libertarian sense, open theists affirm that there is presently no such state of affair as what humans will freely do, and hence God doesn’t know what we will do, only what we might or might not do. About such choices, God does not have knowledge of certainties; He knows only probabilities. So as God is endeavoring to guide the writing of Holy Scripture, this knowledge of probabilities gives Him a possibly decent guess as to what sorts of promptings He needs to operate on the hearts of these authors to maximize His chances to obtain the correct words, but it gives God no guarantee that they will in fact respond in the way He intends, and write these correct words. Because of libertarianism, given just the sort of promptings God chooses to operate, in just the right circumstances, it is still possible for the authors to freely choose otherwise than God hopes, and because of open theism, God does not know whether or not they will. That is wholly outside of His control by good and necessary consequences of what open theists affirm.
As should be evident already, this has rather deleterious consequences for one’s view of inspiration and accordingly inerrancy. Given that there is no course of action that God can take of His own to carry out the successful writing of His word, we must conclude one of two things: either He failed and scripture is at least uninspired in places if not in outright error, or, He succeeded in every way and inspiration amounts to an incredible stroke of luck. How much luck exactly? It is hard to put credible figures on the question, but the sheer number of words in the entire Bible—Old and New Testaments—should be enough to convince that this kind of divine luck is implausibly believed, bordering on virtual impossibility.

On the one hand, some libertarians are fine with this conclusion. This is the view held by open theists David and Randall Basinger, who contend that it is incoherent to affirm full inspiration and at the same time to use the free will defense against the problem of evil—another way of simply saying that human free will is libertarian.[4] They maintain that full inspiration conflicts with libertarianism, and since libertarianism is a solid fact, so much the worse for inspiration, inerrancy, and the doctrinal basis of the E.T.S.
On the other hand, open theist Greg Boyd does uphold his belief in inerrancy: “the Bible is always true—and I, for one, assume that it is.”[5] The credo is pleasantly orthodox, but open theism seems to remove the resources necessary to explain how it possibly came to be. So before we go on to assess inspiration on the classical Arminian and Molinist views, let us address a handful of alternative responses that libertarians have suggested or could suggest to avoid the problem.

First, some libertarians have attempted to qualify what biblical inspiration and inerrancy require, in more modest terms that are compatible with a less than comprehensive divine oversight of the free human authors. Bruce Reichenbach suggests:
The doctrine of inspiration can be understood in terms of God’s revelation to writers whom he moved to write. As such, in many cases God’s revealing activity and controlling of the outcome is in terms of necessary and not sufficient conditions. It need not be thought to extend to the words used or style employed, but rather to the truths presented.[6]
The problem with this view is that human free will makes no distinction between the style of a written text and the truth-status of its contained meaning. As long as free will permits humans to choose their words, no distinction can coherently be made between God’s control of their style and His control of their truth-content. The same words that exhibit a writing style also carry a communicated message, and if God cannot control “the words used or style employed,” He can no more control the “truths presented” by those very words. Therefore the traditional doctrine of inspiration as affirmed by our credo, which requires the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety to be God’s word, rules out such a response.
Another suggestion would be that God ‘normally’ equips human beings with a libertarian free will, but that in cases where He wants or needs to guarantee the outcome of a free choice, He simply removes that freedom from His human agents, to secure deterministically that they do what He would have them do. This can be seen in Roger Olson: “Occasionally God suspends free will with a dramatic intervention that virtually forces a person to decide or act in some way”[7] or Jack Cottrell who grants that God does not intervene in human free decisions “unless his special purposes require it”[8] and Jason Nicholls who writes that “Scripture also records select incidents of divine determinism whereby God guarantees the fulfillment of specific, indispensable pieces of his ultimate plan.”[9]
Inspiration could then be such a case, and God could have inspired the scriptures by way of securely determinist, compatibilist human choices, in the way that Calvinists assert He did. This might even be Greg Boyd’s position, since He has gone on record to say that the impeccable saints in Heaven, and even Jesus on earth possessed a compatibilist free will to guarantee that they cannot sin.[10]
The problem with this response is twofold. First, it makes an unjustified distinction between the free choices made by biblical authors—now said to be determinist—and any other human free choice alleged to be libertarian. But nothing in the metaphysical fabric of a biblical author’s free choice has justifiably been altered; nothing in the mechanism of his will leading to his free choice of words has presumably been changed from say the free choice to believe Christ or to get out of bed in the morning. The choice of writing the scripture is just as free as any other free choice. On the orthodox view of inspiration presently discussed, God does not dictate the words; He does not coerce the authors; He does not hypnotize them; He simply prepares writers-to-be by His providence, and prompts their hearts by His Spirit in such a way that they freely write the right words. So if free will is libertarian as open theists say it is, and if human authors wrote the scripture of their own free will the way our credo says they did, then it follows that inscripturation involved libertarian free will; not compatibilist. So this response will not do.[11]
The second reason why a determinist compatibilist inspiration of scripture is problematic on any Arminian view is that it leaves us wondering what happened to all the anti-Calvinist arguments proposed abundantly in the literature against compatibilist free will. We are normally told that it turns human beings into robots,[12] “smoothly operated puppet[s],”[13] “a marionette show,”[14] of “contracted performers,”[15] “falling dominos,”[16] “dancing mannequins,”[17] ventriloquist dummies,[18] “men are God’s toys,”[19] “pawns in God’s hands,”[20] or that they cannot be morally responsible,[21] that it turns history into a “farce,”[22] a “vain and empty spectacle,”[23] a “charade,”[24] and so on.
If libertarians maintain any of those problematic arguments, they cannot turn around and affirm just this kind of determined will for the beautifully inspired free act of writing the word of God. None of the colorful names above applies to the biblical authors, whose writing cannot be thus controlled if any brand of Arminianism is true.
A final libertarian retort finds itself refuted by the same consideration. It is the suggestion that God might be able to control and secure the outcome of the wills of His saints, just not those of unbelieving sinners. God would have a special access to determine the more malleable wills of His redeemed servants (among whom biblical authors presumably are); an access that He otherwise lacks for unbelievers who freely reject Him. Leaving aside the question of whether Solomon was apostate when He penned some of his proverbs or whether the author of Ecclesiastes was a believer, the same response as above must be given here: for all the willingness and submissiveness that a believer undoubtedly brings to the table, the metaphysics of his free will with respect to determinism have no reason to be different from that of an unbeliever. Sinners who repent become servants, but they do not become puppets or robots, nor any of the injurious labels listed above. Therefore, if true, morally significant free will is libertarian, it remains so after conversion, and a determinist compatibilist inspiration of scripture is excluded.

Since none of these responses can get libertarians—or at least so far open theists—off the hook of the present problem, let us now turn to the remaining two Arminian understandings of providence, starting with classical Arminianism, or simple-foreknowledge Arminianism.
The classical Arminian view distinguishes itself from open theism by adding that God possesses simple foreknowledge of the future. He knows in advance all of the free choices that creatures will make in the future. Free will is still undetermined, it is still libertarian, but contrary to open theism, God is not left in the dark as to how those free will choices will turn out; He knows perfectly well what we will freely choose; He foreknows everything that the future holds. The question is then raised: what sort of providential advantage does it add to the picture? What sort of additional help does this provide God as He endeavors to inspire the Bible?
Like all interesting questions of metaphysics, this matter is not entirely uncontroversial, but let me argue here that at least minimally with respect to inspiration, simple foreknowledge is providentially useless, leaving the God of classical Arminianism in the same quandary as that of the God of open theism. Classical Arminian Jack Cottrell thinks that foreknowledge helps, because divine foreknowledge of free will choices “gives God the genuine option of either permitting or preventing men’s planned choices, and prevention is the ultimate control.”[25] He writes,
God permits men and women to carry out their plans . . . or else he intervenes and prevents them. . . . What enables God to monitor people’s plans and include such permission in his eternal decree? The answer is his foreknowledge. . . . This is how God maintains sovereign control over the whole of his creation, despite the freedom he has given his creatures.[26]
But this will not work. Since what God foreknows in His simple foreknowledge is actually the truth about the future—it truly is what will happen—, at the point when He knows these things, He can no longer prevent any of it from happening, or it would not be true foreknowledge of the future after all, which is absurd per hypothesis. John Sanders explains this problem with clarity,
Once God has foreknowledge, he cannot change what will happen, for that would make his foreknowledge incorrect; and foreknowledge, by definition, is always correct about what is going to occur. God cannot make future actual events “deoccur.” It is a logical contradiction to affirm that God both knows something will happen and that God knows he will bring it about that it not happen. Once God knows something as actual, he cannot make it the case that it not be actual.[27]
Classical Arminians however, do not surrender that debate just yet. David Hunt has argued that even though it is indeed impossible for God to use His foreknowledge of a free choice in order to change that same choice, it may be possible for God to use His foreknowledge of a free choice in order to act providentially over some other events.[28] For example, Hunt envisions a fictional game of rock, paper, scissors between God and Satan. Once God foreknows the free choice of Satan, He no longer can work to change Satan’s choice, but He may choose His own option providentially in order to infallibly defeat Satan. Or again, in a less fictional situation, once God foreknows that Peter will in fact freely deny Christ three times, He no longer can prevent this denial from happening, but He can announce it in biblical prophecy (which He could not infallibly do on open theism).
William Hasker has offered a strong case for why even those more modest claims probably do not work with simple foreknowledge,[29] but we do not even need to arbitrate the rather technical debate that ensued, because it is irrelevant to the present argument. Indeed, even if we granted that simple foreknowledge does confer to God this slight providential superiority over the God of open theism, it still would remain worthless with respect to securing the outcome of human free choices, which is the kind of providence that is needed for biblical inspiration. Even if a God with simple foreknowledge were able to prophetically announce the future or infallibly win a game of rock, paper, scissor, He could not do anything to secure the outcome of human free choices themselves. If He foreknows the choice then He can no longer change it, and if He foreknows anything but the choice, then it is worthless to secure a libertarian free choice which by definition could still go either direction regardless of God’s best efforts, no matter how knowledgeable God may be.
The conclusion follows that the God of classical Arminianism, empowered with simple foreknowledge, is just as helpless and dependent on luck as the God of open theism when it comes to bringing about that the Bible contain the exact words that He would like it to communicate.

The final Arminian view to assess with respect to inspiration is Molinism.
Molinists believe that God’s providential control of human free choices rests most importantly upon His so-called middle knowledge, that is, the knowledge of so-called counterfactuals of freedom. Those foreknown counterfactual propositions declare what any possible creature would freely do in any possible set of circumstances.
On this view, God still does not determine the outcome of free choices; they remain libertarian, but before He decides what He is going to do to influence human beings, God knows what humans would freely do in response to His promptings in any circumstances, in any envisaged scenario. He therefore has the luxury of using this knowledge to decide which circumstances in fact to bring about, and hence which free will choices will accordingly be made. This is how Molinism is said to rescue divine providence in the face of libertarian free will.
The providential advantage that this view—if coherent and true[30]—would afford God is I think substantial; it reduces the amount of luck that would be necessary for God to obtain just the scriptures He wanted or something close to it. Why is that so? It is because the limitation placed on God in virtue of human free will being libertarian is no longer such that God cannot do anything about it. Prior to creation, He is presented in His middle knowledge with all the counterfactuals of freedom, which restrict His options of which free choices He could bring about, but they do so at a point where He still has the choice of rejecting envisaged scenarios that prohibitively displease Him. Out of all the possible worlds there are, the rebellious libertarian free wills of human beings ‘filter out’ a good many worlds that are said to be not ‘feasible’ for God because the wrong counterfactuals of freedom happen to be true, and so if God were to place humans in just those circumstances, they simply wouldn’t do what He wants them to do. So not all possible worlds are feasible for God, but He still gets to pick which one among the feasible worlds He does bring about and make actual. Thus, with respect to inspiration, what it means is that God has absolutely no guarantee that the counterfactuals of freedom, which stand wholly outside of His control, will permit Him to inspire exactly the Bible that He wanted as His first choice. But once in possession of middle-knowledge, He can look at all the ‘feasible’ worlds, and pick the best world among those, a world in which the writers of holy scripture may not have produced the absolute best Bible God would have wanted, but rather maybe a pretty decent one nonetheless. It may possibly not be God’s favorite Bible, but even in that case, there is a chance that God’s second best, the best one feasible to Him would still at least be inerrant, and hopefully not too far off from the way God would ideally have worded these truths.

So contrary to what some enthusiastic Molinists may have claimed,[31] we can see that this view still requires some degree of divine luck, insofar as if God is to inspire exactly the words that He wants, the counterfactuals of freedom of biblical authors would need to fall by chance alone in such a way that they still permit access to a decent feasible world. And if free will is libertarian, this part is entirely dependent on luck, since God does not control (as He doesn’t determine) what humans would freely do in any circumstances. The truth-value of those so-called counterfactuals of freedom is wholly outside of His control; as William Lane Craig puts it, these are just cards He is given, and God must “play with the hand He has been dealt.”[32]
God does not get to pick which cards He is dealt, and hence whether this hand is playable at all rests purely on luck. But if we do suppose that the hand of counterfactuals God has been dealt by chance is not too bad; that it is still ‘playable’ if you will, then He can still play it perfectly. He can knowingly ensure that the biblical authors do what He knew they would do under just the right influences, and hence He can ensure that the best feasible Bible will come to be. This is the Molinist view of providence, and its account of inspiration.

Having reviewed the consequences of each view of free will and foreknowledge on one’s doctrine of inspiration, it is time to conclude on what is or is not reasonable to believe. Allow me to do so with a fitting parable.
There once was a good man who went out to submit a novel to three wicked editors. He had worked so hard that his manuscript was absolutely perfect in every way, and he submitted it for review by the three evil editors. All three editors looked at the manuscript, and as editors do, made all sorts of changes everywhere; changes which were all for the worse, since the manuscript was perfect, after all. The first evil editor came back to the writer and presented him dozens and dozens of revised versions, dozens of modified manuscripts, and asked him to pick his favorite among those; the author was disappointed, but picked the one that was least damaged, and it went to the press.
The second evil editor came back to the author with only one modified manuscript, and told him “you can read it before it lands on the shelves, but it is already sent to the press, this is the one we are going with.”
And the third evil editor just went ahead and picked a modified manuscript, and sent it to the press without even telling the author what version it would be.
“Now he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The correspondence with my previous analysis should be clear enough: the writer is God, the perfect manuscript is the perfect, best possible Bible that He would like to inspire, and the three evil editors represent the kind of hurdles that God faces on the three libertarian views. The first one is the Molinist view, wherein the best possible Bible may no longer be feasible, but God still gets to pick among a set of lesser feasible ones before it “goes to the press.” The second editor represents the classical Arminian view, wherein God has no providential control over which manuscript gets picked, but He is informed in advance of what it will be before it comes to be. And the third editor represents open theism wherein God does not even know what will come about before the ‘book is on the shelves.’
This story illustrates well the sort of luck needed on each view: in the Molinist case, our author needs to hope that one of the feasible manuscripts handed back to him will be decent enough that he can give his a-posteriori consent even though it may not be the very best possible manuscript he wanted. And in the case of classical Arminianism and open theism, we see that the decision of which text is printed stands wholly outside of his control, and additionally, we see explicitly how having simple foreknowledge provides God no providential advantage, since in both cases the manuscript is chosen for Him, whether or not He gets to read it before it lands on the shelf. Which one goes to the press rests on divine luck.

In conclusion, what does all of this entail with respect to inspiration, inerrancy and the credo of the Evangelical Theological Society? Which views can coherently affirm inspiration in the way E.T.S. requires? It depends on which amount of sheer divine luck one is prepared to believe in. How lucky do you believe God ended up being? It is of course very hard to put any credibly precise figures on the probability judgments involved, but the above story together with the truly massive scope of scripture, should convince that a solid view of inspiration is so improbable on open theism and classical Arminianism as to be virtually impossible. That God would get the right words hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times by chance alone just stretches one’s credulity. At some point a gambler must run out of luck, and pure chance has to fail; it always does. Open theists and classical Arminians have no resources to justify such insolent divine luck.
As to Molinism, the question remains: just how many possible worlds—and accordingly how many possible Bibles—turned out by chance (or lack thereof) to be unfeasible? How inflexible did the counterfactuals of freedom of the biblical authors turn out to be? How likely is it that God’s options were not too limited for a properly inspired Bible? I cannot say. I find it hard to reconcile the God revealed in scripture with the idea that He would need any amount of blind dumb luck in His dealings with the world,[33] but without a strong argument for why that lucky draw was too improbable, I must moderate my philosophical critique and simply conclude that while open theism and classical Arminianism make it virtually impossible to believe in inspiration, Molinism only makes it “dependent on a certain amount of luck that we can only measure with great difficulty.” I thus conclude that a proponent of inspiration as defined by the E.T.S., if he is to remain coherent[34], should either be a Calvinist, or a Molinist who believes in some divine luck.[35]

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 5, “On Divine Providence” quoted in Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 97-98.
[2] Considering that on Calvinism, all writings of all humans are thus determined, one could wonder “are then not all writings inspired by God?” But this question confuses necessity and sufficiency. The full providential control of the author’s writing is necessary for a text to be the word of God, but certainly it is not sufficient. Something else beyond divine control is needed, namely God’s willing endorsement of the text as His own word, a criterion that is clearly absent from any non-inspired text, and all the more from any errant one, be they determined by God for the role they have to play in His providence.
[3] Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 162.
[4] “One cannot consistently affirm the total inerrancy of Scripture and yet also utilize the Free Will Defence as a response to the problem of evil.” David Basinger and Randall Basinger, “Inerrancy and Free Will: Some Further Thoughts,” Evangelical Quarterly 58 (1986), 351 quoted in Stephen J. Wellum, “The Inerrancy of Scripture” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor & Paul Kjoss Helseth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 259.
[5] Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 11.
[6] Bruce Reichenbach, “Bruce Reichenbach’s response (to John Feinberg)” in Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 54.
[7] Roger E. Olson, “The Classical Free Will Theist Model of God” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 151.
[8] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 108.
[9] Jason A. Nicholls, “Openness and Inerrancy: Can They be Compatible?” JETS 45/4 (December 2002), 631.
[10] “the purpose of libertarian freedom is provisional, intended eventually to lead us to a much greater, eternally solidified form of compatibilistic freedom.” Gregory A. Boyd, “God Limits His Control” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 194.
[11] Let me of course note that this is not at all a claim that compatibilist free will cannot in fact be the medium of inspiration. For Calvinists, it is perfectly fine to affirm just that, because they also maintain that a determinist compatibilist will is precisely what free will happens to be. So on Calvinism, a determinist compatibilist writing of the scriptures is a free writing of the scriptures, and this is just what our doctrine of inspiration demands.
[12] John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 227.
[13] F. Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson ed., Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2011), 48.
[14] Clark H. Pinnock, “There is Room For Us: A Reply to Bruce Ware” JETS 45/2 (June 2002), 215.
[15] Sanders, God Who Risks, 223.
[16] J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 273.
[17] Sanders, God Who Risks, 223.
[18] Ibid., 227.
[19] William G. MacDonald, “. . . The Spirit of Grace” in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 81.
[20] Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 65.
[21] Alvin Plantinga asks: “How can I be responsible for my actions, if it was never within my power to perform any actions I didn’t in fact perform, and never within my power to refrain from performing any I did perform?” Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol.1:3, (253-271).
David Widerker: “An agent is morally blameworthy for performing a given act A only if he could have avoided performing it.” David Widerker, ‘Blameworthiness and Frankfurt’s Argument Against the Principle of Alternative Possibilities’ in Moral Responsibility, ed. Widerker & McKenna, 54.
Roger Olson: “If people’s decisions and actions are determined by anything such that they could not do otherwise than they do, wherein lies their moral accountability or guilt?” Roger E. Olson, “Responses to Bruce A. Ware” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 134.
Robert Picirilli: “If, in fact, those who crucified Jesus had to do so, if God’s foreordination by its own efficacy made their actions unavoidable, then they were not free to do otherwise—could not do otherwise—and were therefore not responsible.” Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2002), 80.
[22] William Lane Craig, “Response to Paul Kjoss Helseth” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 62.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Classical Arminian View of Election” in Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 103.
[26] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 110-11.
[27] John Sanders, “Responses to Roger E. Olson” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 186-87.
[28] David P. Hunt, “The Providential Advantage of Divine Foreknowledge,” in Kevin Timpe, ed., Arguing About Religion (London and New York; Routledge, 2009), 374-85.
[29] William Hasker, “Why Simple Foreknowledge is Still Useless (In Spite of David Hunt and Alex Pruss)” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2009.
[30] Some have argued that if free will is libertarian, then there logically cannot be such a thing as what a person would freely do in a given situation in abstraction. As William Hasker puts it, “insofar as an agent is genuinely free, there are no true counterfactuals stating what the agent would definitely do under various possible circumstances.”[30] This may or may not be true, but this controversial contention is not the purpose of the present paper, so let us instead suppose that Molinism is in fact coherent, and only consider what follows for inspiration assuming that this view holds together.
[31] Cf. Steven B. Cowan, “Molinism, Meticulous Providence, and Luck” in Philosophia Christi, vol.11, Number 1, 2009, 156.
[32] William Lane Craig, “Molinism and the soteriological Problem of Evil Once More,”
[33] The God of scripture “works all things according to his will” (Eph. 1:11), and makes every decision for how the lot is cast into the lap (Prv. 16:33) or where sparrows fall to the ground (Mat. 10:29-30). He can do all things and no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2).
“Putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control” (Heb.2:8).
[34] This qualification is important, as this paper is not intended to dictate to the E.T.S. who should or should not be banned from membership. This is surely not for me to say. On some level, furthermore, we all want to make room for inconsistent beliefs, or else no one would be allowed in. Rather, my more modest aim was simply to show that classical Arminians and open theists would be inconsistent in holding the E.T.S. doctrinal basis. That is the only conclusion my present arguments have here established.
[35] This conclusion is interesting in the light of the debate once sparked over whether open theists belong in the E.T.S. Bruce Ware had forcefully argued that they did not, and presented their diminished view of providence as a strong reason why. To this, John Sanders responded that if Ware’s critique were true, then it would exclude all non-Calvinists from the E.T.S, not just open theists. The present paper establishes that this is not so. The doctrinal basis of the E.T.S. may possibly reasonably be affirmed by a non-Calvinist, but to do so, it seems to me that he must be a Molinist.