Wednesday, April 29, 2009


This post has been long in coming.  How can a theological blog named "The Predestined Blog" not have an entry on predestination you ask?  Well the wait is finally over! Okay, I am fully aware that I am might be the only one that is excited.  Anyways, on with the important information!

There are just so so many blogs, articles, and books on this topic that I wanted to avoid simply repeating many of the arguments you can find easily via a google search.  What I think would be helpful and the the goal of this entry would be to talk about the ways to approach the topic of predestination.  In this post we will be discussing theological determinism and not physical/scientific determination.  The question of free will in the physical sciences would be if the unchangeable laws of physics determine what molecules will do, how can humans genuinely have free will?  This is also known as LaPlaceian or Russellian determinism, but we won't cover that here. 

1) What does the Bible say?

For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority and whatever it says is truth.  So it is of paramount importance to find out what the Bible says.  We know very well that Calvinists and Arminians have been discussing this for centuries and both sides use different verses to support their views.  In short, after reading numerous books, articles, and debates what both sides boil down to is this:

Calvinists want to glorify God by proclaiming He is the ruler and sovereign of all things

Arminians want to glorify God by proclaiming that He has nothing to do with free agents going to Hell

So what verses should we look at?  This is where having a good approach is critical.

a) We need to examine verses that directly address the issue of predestination and not verses we can only make inferences from.

This does not mean we do not take into consideration the other verses, only that the verses that directly tackle the topic should take priority over the others in this discussion.

b) It is not our responsibility to reconcile predestination and free will.

This is a very difficult topic.  If they Bible teaches predestination and free will so be it!  If you are not smart enough to reconcile the two it is not God's fault, especially when there are millions of books that beautifully do reconcile the two.  All sarcasm aside, if we can determine that the Bible does support predestination then it is true, regardless of our intellectually ability to do so.  Astrophysics or organic chemistry are still true whether we can do them or not.

Pertinent Bible Verses:

Proverbs 20:24
Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?

Psalm 139: 16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them

Acts 4:27"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

Revelation 17:8"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come

Ephesians 1: 4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

Romans 8:29For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

It is pretty evident that the Bible supports predestination especially when the word "predestined" is in there.  Okay, yes I know English is not the original language, however both the OT and NT supports the idea that God made concrete plans before the world began and that those plans come to fruition in the world.

Now a favorite trick critics tend to play is at this point to quote a millions verses describing man having free will and that they are culpable for their own sins.  DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRICK.  Remember, the questions is about predestination, not man's free will.  If the Bible supports both so be it. It is not our responsibility right now to reconcile the two (but we'll do that later).

2) Theory of Relativity

As a scientist (okay yes in biology, but I digress) this has influenced my thinking on the subject of predestination.  How so?  Well thanks to Einstein we know that time and space are relative.  Simply put, depending on your frame of reference, what you perceive as 1 sec or 1 centimeter is not the same to someone in a different frame of reference (ie the same event can be 1 hour and 1 meter to you!)  And you guys thought God's decree and man's choice was weird!  To further complicate the issue the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are not reconcilable though both have been rigorously tested and are accurate in their respective spheres.  Relativity works incredibly well at a grand scale (think outer space) and quantum mechanics works well at a small scale (think subatomic), however scientists are unable to unify/reconcile them. 

What's the point of all this?  It is that we simply do not have the metaphysical laws and principles to determine the impossibility of foreordination, man's choice, and culpability (FMCC) (more on this later).  Who would've imagined 150 years ago that time and space were relative and not absolute?  God is telling us that it is in fact possible for Him to decree things, yet man be free and culpable.  Just as the theory of relativity has its scientific laws to explain it, FMCC has its metaphysical laws via the Bible, that explains it. 
Just ponder this:
a) God is a being that no laws of science can bind b/c He is a spiritual being ie scientific laws govern only the physical universe.
b) We have no idea if God exists in time (let alone what his frame of reference is) and how it affects Him.

Arminians love to say "If God predestined things, man cannot have genuine free will," however from what we have seen, they do not have enough metaphysical data to support that view.   Besides, I believe that view does not encompass the current understanding of the relativity of time and is rooted in a poor and outdated point of view of the universe and philosophy.
Conclusion: The Bible clearly supports predestination and free will and with all this taken together, we can conclude that we cannot strictly say that FMC is impossible from our frame of reference/point of view.

3) Types of Will: People do not have the same definitions of free will

I think it is important for us to ask ourselves what is free will?  In this topic, one mistake I often find is that people assume they know what free will is, but when you ask them to articulate what it is, they are at a loss. That is because freedom is a very ambiguous term and as you might have guessed it is a very intellectually rigorous idea to study.  We must ask and clarify how does one define free will and provide a defense.  Let us examine some of the different views on what the will is.

a) Libertarian Free Will

This idea of the will states that all the events in the world that lead up to a point, combined with all the laws of science and metaphysics do not guarantee one possible choice.[1]  No matter how strong the influences, you could always change your mind.  Nothing can decisively incline the will.

Nozick and Kane believe two key requirements of this idea are agent control and alternative possibilities [1]

This is the enemy of predestination!  However, we shall see that it is neither the only viable option, but is chocked full of incoherencies. 

b) Compatibilistic Free Will

This idea of the will states that all the events in the world that lead up to a point and all the laws of science and metaphysics can guarantee one possible choice. [1] Sometimes circumstance and influences are so strong, you cannot just change your mind, yet that choice was something unconstrained, voluntary, and done according to ones desire.  The question that is asked is

If free will is something other than unconstrained and voluntary actions done according to one's desire - what is it?

We will delve more into this idea in the next section on foreordination and man's choice after we touch on a couple people who wrote great approaches to compatiblistic free will.

A type of compatiblistic free will is championed by John Calvin.[1]  Calvin identified 3 types of will:

i) God's Will:  Can only do good.

ii) Pre-fall Adam & Eve's Will: Can do both good and evil.

iii) Satan's Will: Can only do evil

By definition, God has ultimate freedom and thus His will is the standard of true free will.  Therefore of these 3 types of will, the ability to do only good, is true free will.  The ability to do evil is a corruption of true will and is not a power in of itself.  Hence, the ability to do only good is far greater freedom than the other two options.  Philosophically we think that being able to do evil gives more freedom to the will, but Calvin (and I believe Augustine) were against this idea that being able to choose evil gave the will more freedom.  Again, being able to do evil is a corruption of true free will.

Someone might say that it sounds like God is not omnipotent b/c He cannot do evil.  A helpful analogy by John Feinberg that helps us understand to understand what it means to do evil is to consider a cop shooting someone in cold blood and a cop shooting someone to save another life. [1] Although it was the exact same action, one was good and evil.  So what does it mean for God to be unable to do evil?  God certainly has the power to do everything, but He cannot do those actions with an evil intent.  Remember in Calvin and Augustine's scheme, evil is a corrpution/lower level of goodness or power and God's actions are always perfect (ie not corrupt) and operate at the highest level of goodness and power.  Obviously, Satan's will being able to do only evil is the worst.

Another theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards (my favorite), wrote a great book called "Freedom of the Will" that I highly recommend.  If you don't want to read the book, at least read this short article on it:

Jonathan Edward's on The Freedom of the Will

It attacks libertarian free will in regards to how the will makes completely unhindered choices, how libertarian free will destroys virtue and vice, the misuses of philosophical vocabulary (like "impossible") in regards to the will, and the necessity of God being able to do only good and Satan being able to do only evil like Calvin.[2]  He does a great job showing the incoherencies of libertarian free will.

4) Foreordination, Man's Choice, and Culpability (FMCC)

When it comes to the issue of predestination there is one issue that must be addressed. 

It is the issue of the genuineness of our choices.  If things are predetermined, do humans make choices that are their own?  If not can they be held morally responsible?  I call this the problem of God's foreordination, man's choice, and culpability (FMCC).

One thing opponents of predestination always harp on is the idea of that free will must include alternative possibilities for true moral responsibility ie if there is only one choice to be had than the agent is not morally responsible b/c he was forced into an action involuntarily.

Frankfurt Situations

Frankfurt situations argue against the thought that "we must be able to do otherwise." [1]  In his influential paper appropriately titled "Alternative Possibilities and True Moral Responsibility" he discusses this topic at length.

1) While sleeping Peter is taken into Paul's room.  The person that took Peter there then locks the door so no one can get out, but nobody knows its locked.  Peter knows that if he stays in the room when Paul wakes up, Paul will be mad.  Peter decides to stay in the room. [1]

2) Jones wants to kill Smith.  Black wants to ensure that Jones kills Smith.  Reynolds implants a device in Jones' head just in case Jones decides not to kill Smith that will make him kill Smith anyway.  Jones desires to kill Smith and he does, thus Reynolds device was not used. [1]

These examples are not intended to be strong or weak, but simply two examples that show just b/c the outcome would've been the same and the agent could not have done otherwise, he is still morally responsible, not to mention the fact that they were simply following their own desires.

In Frankfurt's own words:

"The following may all be true: there were circumstances that made it impossible for a person to avoid doing something; these circumstances actually played a role in bringing it about that he did it, so that it is correct to say that he did it because he could not have done otherwise; the person really wanted to do what he did; he did it because it was what he really wanted to do, so that it is not correct to say that he did what he did only because he could not have done otherwise.  Under these conditions, the person may well be morally resonsible for what he has done." [3]

Another thing we have to look into are constraints on the will that we normally do not take into account.  No one would say antecedent events, natural laws, genetic makeup, and disposition are contrary to free will, yet they help determine and constrain our choices.[1]  To the degree that these things limit us we should say that we are free.  But therein lies the problem, these things that inherently limit our freedom, we don't count as limiting our freedom!  The example I most often use is to ask yourself if you have the freedom to think like a 15th century French woman?  Our will is so affected by our time, place, culture, and gender that our thoughts are constrained.  This again shows that alternative choices can be limited, yet we can make genuine choices, yet be culpable.

Philosophical Vocabulary

If you read the article I linked on Jonathan Edwards, he mentions that people misunderstand and misuse terms such as "impossible," "can," or "cause.  Also, when one word has multiple meanings, we often make the mistake of using the wrong meaning of the word.

I think it is appropriate to discuss God's decree here.  People often think that God's decree is a force that moves people along to do God's bidding.   This is decisively wrong.  God's decree is merely a blueprint, not a force pushing us to do things.  This decree is manifested via circumstances.  Can God be blamed for us being in circumstances?  It is hardly right to say that God should not place us in circumstances.

Here are list of terms we misuse with their nuances.  We will start off with "constraint" and "necessity."

Constraint 1: Involves a force that doesn't entirely remove willing as in a bank robbery, substance induced altered mental states, etc. [1]

Constraint 2: A force that removes willing altogether like being blindsided by a truck.  You did not will to move from point A to be in this example. [1]

Necessity 1: Things that are necessary in every possible world ie the existence of God (cannot be changed); perhaps things like the past which cannot be changed. [1]

Necessity 2: Acting according to your internal nature.
Let's look at several examples of this.  A teacher can physically remove you (1), threaten you and then you move (2), or give you an incentive such as an automatic "A" or a scholarship to leave a classroom (3).  The first two (1 & 2) examples are Constraints 2 and 1 respectively, but the third one (3) is an example of Necessity 2, b/c the student was told he'd get an automatic "A" or that there was a scholarship lunch and b/c of his internal nature he was compelled to leave.

Other examples of Necessity 2 is the story of the fox and the scorpion.  A scorpion was swept away by the wind and had to cross a river to go back home.  He saw a fox who was going to cross the river and asked for a ride.  The fox was hesitant, but the scorpion told him why would he sting him if the fox is the only way across the river?  The river was a little shaky, the scorpion got scared and stung the fox.  The fox asked, "Why did you sting me?"  And the scorpion said "I'm sorry. I got scared and I instinctively stung you.  Its just my nature."  Also, think about Batman and the Joker.  No matter what, Batman will not kill anyone and no matter what the Joker will never be reformed no matter how many times he goes to jail or Arkham Asylum. Its necessary b/c of their internal nature.
Now, how can we say that w/ Necessity 2 the student, the scorpion, the Joker not held culpable?  If we do things according to Necessity 2 how is God culpable?  God who gives us physical, intellectual, and material blessings all over, with common grace, and yet we still sin in a Necessity 2 kind of manner.  I think He is safe from blame. [1]

Various factors, including one's character, disposition, experience, genes, surrounding, natural laws, etc. are antecedent to any choice, but as long as that choice is not constrained in sense 1 or 2 and is done according to the agents wishes, it is of one's own free will.

Therefore an act can be (causally) determined, yet not constraining, and they are free b/c they are done voluntarily/according to the agents wishes

What if God's ordination are like causal conditions and are not constraining in sense 1 or 2?  Then we can see that man is culpable for his sins.

Now let us look at the words "cause" and "can"

The 6 Senses of Cause by Lionel Kenner [1]

1) Someone's comment caused me to doubt his sanity

2) A police officer sent his subordinates to cause an arrest

3) The causes of the fall of the Roman Empire or rise of communism.
(These are instances of where giving the cause, gives the course of what is to be explained.)

4) The cause of teenage pregnancy or drug addiction.
(Social science sense of cause, not merely states of affairs, but motives and reasonings)

5) The chance to see the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel caused me to go to Europe.

6) Natural causes: lightning causing a forest fire or kick to the face causing pain.

Natural causes are the ones people attribute to FMCC, but we can see now that God's ordination is not analogous to a natural cause.

Causes do not compel and the first five definitions of "causes" fit with FMCC model.

Different senses of can from John Canfield, Winston Nesbitt, and Stewart Candlish [1]

1) I can dunk - ability
2) I can go outside if I'm not in jail - opportunity
3) I can drive 55 mph in a 70 mph zone - rule consistent
4) I can jump off that bridge without getting hurt - ill-consequence free
5) I can tell my subordinates to storm the pacific - authority
6) I can spend this money b/c I have enough savings; you can't gamble with this money b/c it's all we have - reasonability
7) I can go to the movies tonight - conditional
8) I could've made a different choice no matter the antecedent conditions - libertarian/contra-causal "can"

FMCC is compatible with 1-7, and 8 is incoherent (see the article on Jonathan Edwards').


I hope this helps brings some light onto this very difficult topic.  Please read John Feinberg's brilliant "No One Like Him" to have a more complete understanding of the issue.  Yes, I know I started out by saying that the goal of this entry was to give you a way of approaching this issue, but I felt we needed to have the necessary background and then go from there.  So, now that you know all this, here is the outline of how to present it.

1) Our priority is to determine what the Bible says not what we think.

2) Explain that we need to examine verses that directly address the issue of predestination and not verses we can only make inferences from.  Then pick the verses you want to present.

3) Make sure to that they understand it is not our responsibility to reconcile predestination and free will, but merely find out if both are supported by Scripture.

4) Talk about the theory of relativity and though intuitively time and length may seem absolute they are not and we have Einstein's theory's to show us.  Likewise, predestination and freewill on the surface may seem to be incompatible, but we have the Bible that tells us otherwise.

5) Mention that there are different types of wills and go over them.

6) Talk about the main problem (FMCC) and then break it down.  Explain that alternative choices are not necessary for free will (a la Frankfurt situations) and show how philosophical vocabulary (necessity, can, or cause) is often misused.

This is not trying to be the end all for the discussion of predestination, but I hope it provided a unique approach and somethings that you were not thinking about.  Hopefully, this entry will play a part in synthesizing your argument for predestination.



[1] Feinberg, John. No One Like Him. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 2001

[2] Edwards, Jonathan. The Freedom of the Will. 1754

[3] Frakfurt, Harry. Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 66, No. 23. (Dec. 4, 1969), pp. 829-839