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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

God’s Sovereignty, Man’s Liberty, Fatalism’s Despondency


The following is a lesson I taught some time back. Hopefully this will be beneficial for many who wonder about Calvinism, Human liberty and Fatalism.

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Introduction: The goal of this short set of lessons is to address the serious difference between God’s sovereignty over all things and evolution’s and scientism’s fatalism. In this material I will address the Calvinistic understanding of God’s sovereignty, human free will, the mischaracterization and mistaken view of these, and how Calvinism differs from scientism’s fatalism.

A Word of Caution from Westminster Confession of Faith 3.8 and Hodge: "The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care that men attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the Gospel."
This Section teaches that the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care. This necessity arises from the fact that it is often abused, and that its proper use is in the highest degree important. […] But the philosophy of the relation of his sovereign purpose to the free agency of the creature, and to the permission of moral evil, is not revealed in the Scriptures, and cannot be discovered by human reason, and therefore ought not to be rashly meddled with. This truth ought not, moreover, to be obtruded out of its due place in the system, which includes the equally certain truths of the freedom of man and the free offers of the gospel to all (Hodge et al. 110) .
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Fatalism: “1. the belief that all events are decided in advance by a supernatural power and that humans have no control over them. 2. An attitude characterized by the belief that nothing can be done to prevent something from happening” (Soanes and Hawker 362. Emphasis added-MWP) .
Belief that every event is bound to happen as it does not matter what we do about it. Fatalism is the most extreme form of causal determinism, since it denies that human actions have any causal efficacy. Any determinist holds that indigestion is the direct consequence of natural causes, but the fatalist believes that it is bound occur whether or not I eat spicy foods (Kemerling) .

 One aspect of fatalism is how it shackles human’s lives and economics:

 When fatalism is pervasive in society, then people end up living without hope. If life is seen as being so deterministic, it is virtually impossible to believe that one can ever do anything that could possibly make a difference. It’s all in the hands of fate. So why try?

The consequence of such thinking can be disastrous for the general welfare of society. People fail to appreciate the concept that “What I chose to do can make a difference!” Society becomes mired in general lethargy, not from a spirit of indolence but from the lack of personal hope. This creates the perfect storm for a political & economic dictatorship, offering a promise of progress, to rise. […] The values of freedom, high regard for the individual, and respect for individual choice are fuel for the improvement of our personal lives and for society as well (Howard 81-2) .
 It seems to me that this is the driving fallacy behind Herman Melville’s fatalistic depiction of ‘Ishmael’ who was supposed to be “a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church” (Melville 59). Early on in the story he talks about the “invisible police officer of the fates” that drove him to board the doomed whaling ship The Pequod, and how the Fates cajoled “me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill & discriminating judgment” (Melville 6) .
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Determinism: “Belief that, since each momentary state of the world entails all of its future states, it must be possible (in principle) to offer a causal explanation for everything that happens. When applied to human behavior, determinism is sometimes supposed to be incompatible with the freedom required for moral responsibility. The most extreme variety of determinism in this context is fatalism” (Kemerling) .
“Any theory that sees all events, including human behavior, as the necessary result of prior causes. Naturalistic determinism sees all events as part of an inflexible and unalterable chain of cause and effect in the physical universe. Theological determinism sees all events as being directly caused by God. Many theologians (although there are notable exceptions) reject both naturalistic and theological determinism because both theories seem to contradict the possibility of human freedom of choice, which in their view leaves humans morally not responsible for their actions” (Grenz, Guretzki and Nordling 38. Emphasis added MWP) .
 The “Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology” lists 10 versions of determinism:

1. Skeptic Determinism: which denies that human consciousness or awareness is a valid informational source of free will.

2. Cause-Effect Determinism: this is based on law and predictability. “It is contended that freedom is a conclusion based on ignorance of the causes actually present but unknown” (Benner 310) .

3. Mechanistic Determinism: “This grows out of the monistic view that man is merely a complex machine whose mental processes are neurological only, reducible to physiochemical forces subject to the determining laws of matter” (ibid).

4. Biogenetic Determinism: “Heredity, temperament, glands, and emotions are supposedly the architects of human personality and the dictators of action” (ibid). Sociobiology is a part of this brand of determinism.

5. Stimulus-Response Determinism: think of Pavlov’s dogs here.

6. Reinforcement Determinism: this is closely related to the above. But here it is whatever “reinforces behavior determines its repetition” (ibid).

7. Sociocultural Determinism: behavior is “shaped by forces such as home, school, church, and community” (ibid). But these are held as determiners, not influences.

8. Motivational determinism: this is where the stronger motivation (on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?) prevails.

9. Unconscious Determinism: psychoanalysis and S. Freud.

10. Theological determinism. Here the author puts three categories: Creationistic Determinism, Omniscient determinism, and Predestination.
Discussion Questions:

(1) What are some of the main features of Fatalism?
(2) What are some of the basic characteristics of the above mentioned Determinisms?
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God’s Decrees and Man’s Free Will

Now, keep these definitions and examples of fatalism and determinism in mind and think through the Westminster Confession of Faith:
3:1 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 (1) neither is God the author of sin, (2) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, (3) nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, (4) but rather established.
 What are the three caveats offered to the doctrine of God’s Decrees?

What is asserted as being guaranteed by affirming God’s Sovereign Decrees? [see number 4 above]

What is the difference between this kind of “Determinism” [if you want to call it that] and the majority of the determinisms listed Encyclopedia of Psychology?
If the impersonal is primary, then there is no consciousness, no wisdom, and no will in the ultimate origin of things. What we call reason and value are the unintended, accidental consequences of chance events. (So why should we trust reason if it is only the accidental result of irrational happenings?) Moral virtue will, in the end, be unrewarded. Friendship, love, and beauty are all of no ultimate consequence, for they are reducible to blind, uncaring process. […]

But if the personal is primary, then the world was made according to a rational plan that can be understood by rational minds […] (Frame 35-36) .
 Work through these statements by Berkhof and Boice:
[…] it may be said that the Bible certainly does not proceed on the assumption that the divine decree is inconsistent with the free agency of man. It clearly reveals that God has decreed the free acts of man, but also that the actors are none the less free & therefore responsible for their acts, Gen. 50:19, 20; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28. It was determined that the Jews should bring about the crucifixion of Jesus; yet they were perfectly free in their wicked course of action, & were held responsible for this crime. There is not a single indication in Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters. They never make an attempt to harmonize the two. This may well restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths (Berkhof 106-Emphasis Mine MWP) . 
Christians are not locked into such determinism [Boice is here rejecting Marxism’s and scientism’s determinist constructs]. According to the Bible, God does have a plan in history and history is following out that plan. But that does not mean that the outworking of this plan is mechanical. Here, of course, we get into one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith: the relationship between the eternal decree or will of God and contrary human wills. We cannot always say precisely how that relationship works, but we can say that each is real and that the flow of history is therefore wrapped up at least partially in human obedience to or rebellion against God. The most important consequences of that human factor in regard to God’s plan in history is that his plan therefore does not unfold with what we would regard as mathematical regularity (Boice 546-7-Emphasis Mine MWP) .
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 9 (<-click on this link and read it for yourself):

Paragraph 1 is addressing what issue? How does this paragraph reinforce what we have been discussing?

Paragraphs 2-5 are addressing the 4 conditions of human volition:
Para. 2 - Posse pecarre, posse non peccare (able to sin, able to not sin)

Para. 3 - Non posse non peccare (not able to not sin). Pay careful attention to what this paragraph IS saying and what it IS NOT saying.

Para. 4 - Posse non peccare (able to not sin)

Para. 5 - Non posse peccare (not able to sin)

The following is from a Catholic web site, which goes to show precisely what we're trying to tackle here:
Q: I have read that in heaven we will not have free will. I rather hope that this is true since I have gotten into a lot of trouble using, or rather misusing, it. What is the Catholic Church's position on this?

A: Don't worry. In heaven we will have the best of both worlds on the free will question. We will both have free will and not be able to misuse it. We will be free to choose to do any good thing; we simply won't be able to choose to do evil things.

Augustine speaks of four conditions of the human will: posse peccare (able to sin), posse non peccare (able not to sin), non posse peccare (not able to sin), and non posse non peccare (not able not to sin).
In our redeemed but not yet glorified state we are still posse peccare (able to sin), but in our glorified state we will become non posse peccare (not able to sin). We will still, however, be able to choose freely to do all kinds of good things. 
Consider an analogy: As creatures with legs, we can choose to walk many different places, but we cannot choose to fly. We do not have wings.
Suppose we were modified so that we also had wings. We could then choose either to walk or fly where we wanted. Now suppose we were modified again so that we no longer had legs. We could then choose to fly where we wanted, but we could no longer choose to walk there.
Something analogous happens with the functioning of our wills. When we were born and before God's grace came into our souls at baptism, in theory we could choose to do all kinds of things. We could do them with one of three kinds of motives: naturally good motives, naturally evil motives, and supernaturally evil motives. We could not do things from a supernaturally good motive (e.g., out of unselfish love for God). 
After God's grace came into our souls, we became able to do things from a supernaturally good motive; yet we can still do things for the other three reasons as well.
At the end of this life, those saved will change again: We will possess free will to do what we want, but we will no more be able to choose to do evil than a legless creature could choose to walk or a wingless creature could choose to fly (Answers) .
You see, it’s not just a Presbyterian thing! It’s truly catholic [not just Roman Catholic]! 

 Westminster Confession of Faith 10.1-2:
1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.
2. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man; who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. 
Look closely at the end of paragraph 1 coupled with paragraph 2. What is it saying? What is it not saying?

 One way that understanding this subject helps us is laid out by Theologian R.J. Rushdoony, who pointed out:
Order is not the work of autonomous and developing gods and men but rather the sovereign decree of the omnipotent God. This faith freed man from the sterile autonomy which made him the helpless prisoner of Fate, of the relentless workings of blind order. Even so weak a Christian thinker as Tatian the Assyrian saw this, declaring, “But we are superior to Fate, and instead of wandering demons, we have learned to know one Lord who wanders not; and, as we do not follow the guidance of Fate, we reject its lawgivers.” The result was a radically new philosophy of history, one in which all creation, physical and human, is governed by the personal laws of the personal God (Rushdoony 143-4).
Final Discussion Questions:

Do we, as Calvinists and Presbyterians, believe in fatalism? Give the “Why” for your answer?

Do we believe in determinism? If yes, which kind & how does that differ from all the other forms of determinism?

Do we believe that humans were created with free will? (Look over Westminster Shorter Catechism 13).

Do humans still have self-determination in their choices?

What can you Biblically and Confessionally say about human self-determination and God’s sovereignty in the face of scientism’s fatalistic assertions (or Marxism’s)?

Works Cited 

Answers, Catholic. "Quick Questions:This Rock". 1996. 13 November 2008. http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1996/9611qq.asp.

Benner, David G. Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology. [Baker Reference Library ; 2]. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. 4th rev. and enl. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1941.

Boice, James Montgomery. Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Frame, John M. Apologetics to the Glory of God : An Introduction. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 1994.

Grenz, Stanley J., David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Hodge, Archibald Alexander, et al. A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes. London ; Edinburgh ; New York: T. Nelson, 1870.

Howard, Bruce. Charting the Course: Values for Navigating Life in the Marketplace. Colorado Springs, CO: Authentic Pub., 2008.

Kemerling, Garth. "A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names". 2006. (10 October 2008). http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/f.htm#fatm.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick: Or, the White Whale. Ed. Maxwell Geismar. New York: Washington Square Press, 1949.

Rushdoony, Rousas John. The One and the Many; Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. [Nutley, N.J.]: Craig Press, 1971.

Soanes, Catherine, and Sara Hawker. Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English. 3rd ed. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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