Arminianism and the Paper Trail of Prophesied Prayers

This is a follow-up to my earlier post, in response to some comments.

To recap: on Justin Taylor’s blog, a commenter called ‘Arminian’ took issue with an article by John Piper by contending that Calvinism is incompatible with the claim that our prayers can be “genuine causes” of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers. As he put it, “the person’s request for God to do the thing cannot reasonably considered a cause of God doing the thing.” I responded (here and here) that (1) this is correct, but Piper wasn’t making that claim in the first place, and (2) it’s hard to see how our prayers could be “genuine causes” (in the sense intended by ‘Arminian’) on the classical Arminian view either. This post is an elaboration on (2).

1. Let GC be the claim that human prayers are “genuine causes” of divine decisions. I’ll assume that the modifier ‘genuine’ is designed to exclude any understanding of causation that is far removed from our normal understanding of the term, as found in claims like “The moon causes the tides” and “Frank caused the commotion in the dinner hall”.

2. Let CA be the conjunction of the two distinctive claims of classical Arminianism, viz., that humans have libertarian freedom and that God has exhaustive infallible knowledge of all human choices (past, present, and future). The question before us is whether CA and GC can both be true.

3. I take it that God is either timeless or temporal, that is, either (a) God transcends time altogether and therefore does not exist in a series of moments or (b) God inhabits time therefore and exists in an endless series of moments. In the latter case, God may or may not be time-bound prior to the moment of creation. Arminians take different views on this point, but both variants can be treated together for the purposes of this discussion.

4. Consider first the case in which God is temporal. On this view, God infallibly knows at the moment of creation not only every future human prayer but also every response He will make to each prayer. It follows that God’s decisions take place prior to the prayers. After all, it makes little sense to say that God only makes the decision at the time of the prayer, given that He already knows what He will decide! (Just try to imagine yourself in that situation: “I always knew infallibly what I would decide to do today, but now, at long last, the time has come. So, what shall I do?”)

But if God’s decision is an effect, the cause of which is a future human prayer, then the effect temporally precedes the cause. The Arminian who takes this position is thus committed to backward causation. Backward causation is counterintuitive at best and metaphysically impossible at worst; it certainly raises a number of paradoxes that are very difficult to resolve. If Arminianism commits one to backward causation, then so much the worse for Arminianism.

5. Some Arminians, following the lead of Boethius, have appealed to divine timelessness to resolve the tension between divine foreknowledge and human libertarian freedom. ‘Arminian’ seems to take this route in his first reply: “God can do this [i.e., foreknow free human acts] because he is not bound by time.”

Does this move help explain how CA and GC are compatible? I don’t think so. In the first place, our normal understanding of causation is that effects are events, that is, they are temporal occurrences. An effect is what happens because of its cause (or causes) — and happenings are events. Events, of course, take place in time. But if God is timeless, His decisions are also timeless; therefore His decisions cannot be effects (since they cannot be events). Alternatively put: if God’s decisions are effects then God isn’t timeless after all.

6. Here’s a slightly different route to the same conclusion. According to our normal understanding of causation, a cause either temporally precedes or temporally coincides with its effect. So we expect both cause and effect to be temporally related in a certain way, such that both take place in time.

This raises an immediate prima facie problem for Christians who hold that God is timeless. How then could a timeless God cause the world (including time) to come into existence? Now, I’m not raising this as an objection to classical Arminians who understand divine eternity as timelessness. After all, I agree with them on this issue! My point is that we must both concede that some causes can be timeless, even though their effects are temporal. I’d argue that our intuition that causes must be events is not nearly as strong as our intuition that effects must be events, although in this dialectical context I don’t need to. (Notably, many defenders of libertarian freedom make a point of denying that causes must always be events.)

So let’s grant that there can be timeless causes with temporal effects. The more relevant question is whether there can be temporal causes (human prayers) with timeless effects (divine decisions). If the former is coherent, why not think that the latter is equally coherent?

Here’s one reason why not. For those who take God to be timeless, time-boundedness is typically considered a limitation. (This is, after all, one of the main reasons we take God to be timeless.) It makes considerable sense, I think, to hold that a unlimited, time-transcending being has the power to affect limited, time-bound beings. Does it make just as much sense to hold that limited, time-bound beings have the power to affect an unlimited, time-transcending being? The greater has control over the lesser, but does the lesser have control over the greater? God can “reach into” a time-bound universe with His causal powers. But can I “reach out” of a time-bound universe with my causal powers?

There clearly isn’t a parity between the two. So the burden of proof, I suggest, remains firmly on the one (such as ‘Arminian’) who claims that temporal causes can bring about timeless effects.

7. Here’s a final argument against the claim that CA and GC are compatible. I’ve already noted the difficulty in reconciling CA and GC on the assumption that God is in time. But the problem doesn’t go away merely by placing God outside time, since a timeless God still has the power to cause events within time, which once again raises the specter of backward causation.

Consider this scenario. Suppose I offer a prayer to God today that somehow causes His (timeless) decision to respond in a certain way. (Remember that this is what our commenter ‘Arminian’ claims actually happens in practice.) On this view, God not only knows (timelessly) about my prayer, but His response is caused by the prayer.

Since God transcends time, it is possible (given CA) for God to have revealed both my prayer and His response to some person, S, who lived 100 years ago. Thus it is possible for God to cause S to believe some proposition like the following:

(FP) Someone in 2009 will pray X, and God will do Y in answer to his prayer.

But in that case, my prayer would be a partial cause of S’s coming to believe FP. There would be a causal chain beginning in 2009, passing through eternity (via God’s knowledge and will), and ending in 1909. We’re faced with the possibility of backward causation again.

8. The scenario can be extended so as to make the problem even more acute. Suppose that God not only reveals FP to S, but also commands S to write it down. We now have a physical piece of paper in the year 1909 with the details of my prayer and God’s response written on it. Suppose further that this piece of paper is copied again, and again, and again.

The upshot is that if human prayers can be “genuine causes” of God’s timeless decisions, then my prayer today could be (or could have been) the partial cause of dozens of written records of that prayer existing 100 years ago. In fact, one of those papers — even the original written by S — could make its way through history into my hands today. Imagine the scene as I look down at the paper in my hand which tells me about the very prayer I will offer today and God’s answer to it. I wonder, would I feel at that moment that I had libertarian freedom to not offer that prayer?

In fact, it gets worse. For I might well decide to offer that prayer today because I know I will anyhow and because I know what God’s response will be (assuming it’s favorable). But then I’d be involved in a causal loop: my prayer would be the partial cause of itself! It seems that GC and CA together commit us to the possibility of circular causation as well as backward causation.

Furthermore (and this may be the crowning oddity) if I have libertarian freedom, as CA maintains, then at the point I freely offer my prayer I have the power not only to cause all those paper records to exist (or to have existed) but also to cause them not to exist (or not to have existed) — even though, due to the very pastness of the past, whether or not they existed has already been settled.

9. It won’t do to say, by way of objection, that in the scenario above I would only have the power to make false the propositions expressed in writing on the papers. The idea here, presumably, is that if I opted to pray otherwise (or to refrain from praying) the papers written in 1909 would be physically unaltered but would turn out to express falsehoods rather than truths. The problem with this claim is that it involves the falsification of divine revelation, something no classical Arminian would want to countenance. Remember that ex hypothesi these papers were written at God’s command, as a record of God’s revelation. If I have the power to falsify divine revelation, then Judas had the power to falsify Psalm 41:9 (cf. John 13:18). This way lies Open Theism, not classical Arminianism.

10. Neither will it do to say that while my hypothetical scenario is possible, it would never actually happen (perhaps because God just wouldn’t act that way) and therefore there would never actually be a causal chain from the present to the past. There are two reasons why this response is inadequate.

The first reason is that the mere possibility of the scenario is enough to show the problem in reconciling CA and GC. If the conjunction of CA and GC implies the possibility of backward/circular causation, then (by modus tollens) the impossibility of backward/circular causation implies that CA and GC cannot both be true.

The second reason this response won’t fly is because, as a matter of historical fact, a scenario very similar to the one I’ve described has in fact happened (minus the assumption that human prayers are “genuine causes” of divine decisions). Consider this prophecy from Jeremiah:

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer. 29:10-14)

Here we find:

  1. An infallible prediction of a future human prayer.
  2. An infallible prediction of the divine response to that human prayer.
  3. A physical written record of those predictions, with (most likely) multiple subsequent copies of that written record.
  4. The possession of that written record by some of the humans who would eventually offer the prayer (see Daniel 9).

The one thing we don’t find here is the suggestion that the human prayer is a “genuine cause” of a timeless divine decision. But it’s precisely that claim which introduces the philosophical problems I’ve spelled out above. So it seems that if the classical Arminian has to drop one claim to maintain coherence, it should be GC.

11. The last argument can be adapted, of course, to apply to the case in which God is time-bound. In other words, the problems arise whether or not one takes God to be “bound by time.” The difficulties arise not because of the relationship between God and time, but because of the implications of CA and GC taken together.

12. None of this raises any problems that I can discern for Piper’s original claim that our prayers can be the causes of the answers to those prayers, even if those prayers are foreordained. The same claim holds for classical Arminianism, with its weaker notion of foreordination.

But what doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, in light of the arguments I’ve offered above, is the claim that classical Arminianism has an advantage over Calvinism in that it can accommodate the idea that our prayers are “genuine causes” of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers.

20 Responses to Arminianism and the Paper Trail of Prophesied Prayers

  1. Hey James; good post. There are some other, similar problems which arise from Arminian’s views, relating to the grounds of God’s knowledge. Arminian has previously stated that “God’s foreknowledge of free human acts is contingent on what the free human actors will actually do.” I agree that this view is logically necessary given Arminianism’s other philosophical commitments—but if it’s actually true, then the following problems seem to present themselves:

    1. God’s aseity, simplicity, immutability, and necessity are undermined. Re aseity, if parts of God’s knowledge are causally contingent on human actions, such that this knowledge obtains only if the actions themselves obtain, then there is a sense in which God is causally dependent on his creation. Re simplicity, if parts of God’s knowledge are contingent on human actions, while other parts are not, then God is divisible. I’m not sure what the Arminian position is on God’s simplicity (or whether there is a standard view), but it seems to me to be a very important doctrine. Re immutability, if God gains knowledge when contingent events obtain, he is not immutable. And similarly for necessity. Perhaps it is possible to redefine these doctrines to fit into an Arminian scheme, but it doesn’t seem possible to do so without producing irreparable flaws into the core ontology of the Godhead.

    2. One wonders what knowledge is, and how it is produced, under Arminian’s view. It appears to be something independent of God, which he, like us, obtains in certain circumstances. But this seems to raise enormous problems of ontology (I’m sure Greg Welty would throw up a little in his mouth at the mere thought). Put mildly, it appears to contradict strikingly with the meaning of logos that John has in mind in the first verse of his gospel.

    3. Furthermore, if God’s foreknowledge of free human acts is causally contingent on what the free human actors actually do, then it follows necessarily that God has no knowledge of things which free human actors do not do. If God’s knowledge of free acts obtains only in the event that the free acts themselves obtain, then hypothetical free acts, which don’t obtain, will commensurately not cause any knowledge in God. So Arminian appears to be committed to a view in which God has no knowledge of counterfactual free acts. How, then, does Jesus know that Tyre and Sidon would have repented in sackcloth and ashes in Matthew 11:21?

    4. God’s inability, under Arminian’s view, to know counterfactual free acts also raises further problems. Since God’s knowledge of all free human acts only obtains causally consequent to the acts themselves obtaining (although temporarily prior, since God is timeless), it stands that he had no knowledge of any free acts causally prior to the creation of the universe. Since God’s action in creating the universe is a prior causal condition of human free acts, and human free acts are a prior causal condition of God’s knowledge of them, it follows that God did not know any human free acts prior to his creation of the universe. Therefore, he did not (and could not have) surveyed all the possible worlds with all the possible free human acts, and chosen to instantiate a particular one. Rather, he must have merely surveyed all the possible initial conditions for the world, up until the first free human act, and then instantiated the one that he wanted. Only once he had done this would he have gained any knowledge at all of free human acts—by which stage, it would be too late.

    5. This in turn produces obvious absurdities. For instance, God is limited to a purely reactive attitude toward history. Exodus and Romans tell us that God raised Pharaoh up for the express purpose of revealing his power in him. Yet how could this be possible under the Arminian view? What counter-factual reality did God foresee where Pharaoh was obstinate? Evidently it was not the reality in which he was king, since Scripture says that God raises up Pharaoh to be king as a response to his foreknowledge of Pharaoh’s obstinacy. But then, Pharaoh must have been obstinate in some other reality. What reality is that?

    6. Moreover, given that this counter-factual reality was not the reality in which Pharaoh was king, how did God know that Pharaoh would act in the same way in the actual reality? Since, by definition, free will entails the real ability to do otherwise, is it not the case that Pharaoh was just as likely to not be obstinate (or, at least, that it was not impossible?) In fact, isn’t it the case that God would have to foreknow the actual reality, in which Pharaoh is king, in order to raise him up as king at all?

    7. This unfortunately leads on to entail that God is “stuck” with regard to time. Even though he is mutable, and can learn, under the view Arminian has espoused, he is unable to respond to events which involve free acts which have not yet occurred in time. Once he knows of a free will event, it has already happened. Although his knowledge may flow back in time from our point of view, such that he can know what will happen before it does because he exists at all times (including a time prior to the free will choice), he cannot actually act to change that event—even in a passive sense, by altering natural events. By the time a free act is known by God, it is already fixed in history. God is merely an observer. He cannot actually influence history at all—unless, that is, he acts like a time-traveler and goes “back in time” and changes things to see what will happen later on! Ultimately, all manner of time paradoxes would seem to be entailed in such a view, along with any number of realities that actually happened (they were not merely counter-factual) but then were “undone” by God in the past. But this view seems to have more in common with my last NaNoWriMo project than with the God of the Bible. What Arminian would agree that God spends his time changing things in the past to try to find the best possible outcome for the universe?

    8. Lastly, I wonder if any of this even saves free will in the end anyway. Even if God foreknows events causally consequent to their occurring, it remains that he does foreknow them—his knowledge is chronologically prior. This seems to commit Arminianism to some variant on the B theory of time. But the B theory of time is patently incompatible with libertarian free will. If there is no logical distinction between past and future for God, and both are set and cannot be changed, then it seems that libertarianism fails to obtain pretty much automatically. A choice I make in two minutes must happen one way, and not the other. But if it must happen one way, and not the other, then I have no actual ability to choose the opposite of what I will. Unless one is willing to give up the principle of alternate possibility (and most libertarians aren’t), it would appear that despite putting their philosophy, and their theology proper, through the mangler and reducing God to a time-traveler, Arminians still cannot salvage free will.

  2. James,

    Thank you for your post. I just read and find it unpersuasive however. I hope to provide a response sometime soon, though I do not know when. It could be a little bit before I get time to put it together, though various problems with your argument leapt out to me on the first reading.

    May God bless you brother.

    • You’re not persuaded?! I’m shocked! I was expecting the Society of Evangelical Arminians to be immediately disbanded as a result of my devastating arguments. ;)

      Take your time to respond; I’m in no hurry.

      If your response is lengthy (as I guess it will be) it might be better to post it on your on site and link to it from the comments here.

      Blessings to you also…

    • By the way, I should emphasize that my post doesn’t argue against Arminianism as such, but against the claim that Arminianism is compatible with GC. As far as I know, Arminianism as such doesn’t involve any specific claims about the mechanics of petitionary prayer.

  3. That wasn’t a subtle hint in my direction, now, was it James?

    • No, it wasn’t intended that way, although I do think the blog format works best when comments are kept relatively short and to the point.

      That said, I’m glad you were able to recover your mini-essay and post it here. :)

  4. James said: “To recap: on Justin Taylor’s blog, a commenter called ‘Arminian’ took issue with an article by John Piper by contending that Calvinism is incompatible with the claim that our prayers can be “genuine causes” of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers. As he put it, “the person’s request for God to do the thing cannot reasonably considered a cause of God doing the thing.” I responded (here and here) that (1) this is correct, but Piper wasn’t making that claim in the first place, and (2) it’s hard to see how our prayers could be “genuine causes” (in the sense intended by ‘Arminian’) on the classical Arminian view either. This post is an elaboration on (2).”

    ****Right off the bat James’ essay contains a problem. It is almost as if he did not read my reply to his last post. This first problem is somewhat unrelated to the heart of his post, so God willing I will address it here and respond to the bulk of his post elsewhere as he suggested.

    It is true that James responded that Piper was not making the claim “that Calvinism is incompatible with the claim that our prayers can be ‘genuine causes’ of God’s decisions about how to answer those prayers”. However, my response to this pointed out that while I did speak of the issue in terms of God’s decision, I also spoke of the issue in terms of God’s doing the thing requested by the prayer (i.e., answering the prayer). In fact, I went so far as to say that “it is illegitimate to claim that in a Calvinistic/deterministic system that prayer is a cause of anything”. So my response already pointed out that this distinction is meaningless in the context of our conversation. James has chosen to focus on the decision aspect and missed my direct challenge to what he says Piper was talking about—answer to prayer. Ironically here, where he characterizes my argument, he quotes me as directly framing the issue with the idea of God answering prayer! (He quotes me: “the person’s request for God to do the thing cannot reasonably considered a cause of God doing the thing”; how else would one descrbe God answering the prayer?) So having made what seems to him to be a critical distinction between God’s decision for how he will answer prayer and God’s answering of prayer, and charging me with mischaracterizing Piper’s point as being about God’s decision, James now characterizes my argument with a quote of me addressing the issue in the sphere of God answering prayer. It seems that James practically refutes himself on what he represents as one of his two main points of response to me.

    Now I suppose James could say that he was only addressing point 2. But when his point 1 seems to have been clearly refuted, one would think he would simply acknowledge that instead of presenting a summary of the exchange as if I had not corrected him on this point. Moreover, in light of the distinction he makes, even his summary of the exchange is erroneous, since he supports his characterization of me challenging the notion that prayer can be a cause of God’s decision in Calvinism with a statement by me challenging the notion that prayer can reasonably be considered a cause of God’s answers to prayer in Calvinism.

  5. Well, for starters, I hold that God is both transcendent (not bound by time, including His knowledge) and immanent (thus interacting within time). That said….

    It follows that God’s decisions take place prior to the prayers.

    From our temporal perspective, yes.

    But if God’s decision is an effect, the cause of which is a future human prayer, then the effect temporally precedes the cause.

    Which given a transcendent God, is not a difficulty, since His knowledge of what is temporally after is just as clear at that of which is temporally before, thus such ‘pre-planning’ poses no logical difficulty.

    “God can do this [i.e., foreknow free human acts] because he is not bound by time.”

    Does this move help explain how CA and GC are compatible? I don’t think so. In the first place, our normal understanding of causation is that effects are events, that is, they are temporal occurrences.

    So we expect both cause and effect to be temporally related in a certain way, such that both take place in time.

    If the ‘effect’ in question is the decision of a transcendent God contingent upon something within time, then it obviously wouldn’t be within the realm of “normal understanding of causation” since that which transcends time naturally wouldn’t comport with what we find intuitive or normally observe within time, nor would it be strictly temporal causation.

    This raises an immediate prima facie problem for Christians who hold that God is timeless. How then could a timeless God cause the world (including time) to come into existence?

    (?) The same way that a Spirit can cause a material universe to come into existence out of nothing? I’m not sure how this would presents a problem exactly.

    Does it make just as much sense to hold that limited, time-bound beings have the power to affect an unlimited, time-transcending being?

    The greater has control over the lesser, but does the lesser have control over the greater? God can “reach into” a time-bound universe with His causal powers. But can I “reach out” of a time-bound universe with my causal powers?

    For the record, our prayers don’t ‘control’ God. They’re not logically sufficient conditions in and of themselves to compel a response from God; answers to prayer are rather the results of God willingly perceiving our prayers within time and freely deciding to honor them (He doesn’t have to give us what we ask).

    There would be a causal chain beginning in 2009, passing through eternity (via God’s knowledge and will), and ending in 1909. We’re faced with the possibility of backward causation again.

    But then I’d be involved in a causal loop: my prayer would be the partial cause of itself! It seems that GC and CA together commit us to the possibility of circular causation as well as backward causation.

    I’m not sure how God being capable of making something resembling a causality loop constitutes an argument against His transcendence. The (physically) absurd possibilities given God’s power don’t constitute valid arguments against Him having such power. A causality loop is something of an absurdity in the physical continuum, but stating that God’s direct, supernatural intervention can cause what would be an apparent contradiction of known physical laws isn’t news.

    If I have the power to falsify divine revelation, then Judas had the power to falsify Psalm 41:9 (cf. John 13:18). This way lies Open Theism, not classical Arminianism.

    No, we don’t. Since the future (including free will choices and the factors of God’s own interaction within time) is a certainty from God’s perspective, such a scenario as you describe would logically require Him giving a revelation that He knew would be falsified (which He cannot do).

    If the conjunction of CA and GC implies the possibility of backward/circular causation, then (by modus tollens) the impossibility of backward/circular causation implies that CA and GC cannot both be true.

    Actually, it would be timeless causation based upon a contingency perceived within time. The backward/circular causation which constitutes absurdity does so because it violates principles of temporal phenomena, and therefore the causation must be strictly temporal to be absurd.

    The one thing we don’t find here is the suggestion that the human prayer is a “genuine cause” of a timeless divine decision.

    Which would be an appeal to ignorance if used as argument, since lack of evidence doesn’t constitute evidence.

  6. If the ‘effect’ in question is the decision of a transcendent God contingent upon something within time, then it obviously wouldn’t be within the realm of “normal understanding of causation” since that which transcends time naturally wouldn’t comport with what we find intuitive or normally observe within time, nor would it be strictly temporal causation.

    If some of God’s decisions are causally contingent on events in time, then he had no knowledge of these decisions until causally after he created the universe. Thus, God gains knowledge not merely about the world, but about himself. Hence the doctrines of immutability, aseity, simplicity, and omniscience as traditionally conceived are all false. I thought this was the view of open theism—not classical Arminianism. Are you admitting that you’re an open theist, or are you admitting that you have erred in your understanding of the relationship between God’s knowledge and human actions?

    Since the future (including free will choices and the factors of God’s own interaction within time) is a certainty from God’s perspective…

    If the future is a certainty from God’s perspective, then you seem to be committing yourself to a B theory of time. But a B theory of time logically precludes libertarian freedom. Morever, a B theory of time where God’s knowledge of free acts is contingent upon the acts themselves is a theory in which, as per my previous comment in this thread, God is unable to proactively affect human history. In fact, such a view makes the notion of biblical providence and prophecy incoherent, since God only knows what will happen causally after it has happened—by which time it’s too late for him to take advantage of the events. For instance, God couldn’t know that Pilate would have Jesus crucified. At best it was an educated guess. Yet it seemed like Pilate could have gone the other way for a while. Was God biting his nails hoping for the best while Pilate hummed and harred? That doesn’t sound like a “definite plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23).

  7. stephennhays

    I’d like to make a point about theological method. This got started when an Arminian commenter over at JT’s blog raised some intellectual objections to Piper’s theology of prayer.

    If an Arminian is going to raise intellectual objections to the Reformed theology of prayer, then it won’t to for the Arminian to deflect intellectual objections to his own alternative by appealing to God’s immanence, transcendence, or whatever. Intellectual objections cut both ways.

    Put another way, if this were a purely exegetical question, then it would be sufficient to do our exegesis and bracket the how-to questions.

    However, this debate is not limited to exegetical theology. It spills over into philosophical theology. It involves initial assumptions regarding the nature of time, eternity, agency, causality, possibility, actuality, counterfactuality, retrocausation, truthmakers, &c. These are largely philosophical issues.

    For that matter, even terms like divine “transcendence” and “immanence” are linguistic placeholders. When it comes to actually defining divine transcendence, immanence, and their interrelation (e.g. God’s relation to time), we have to compare and contrast specific philosophical models.

    Therefore, an appeal to divine omnipotence or whatever to deflect the how-to question won’t do at this juncture. To the extent that this is a philosophical debate, with competing philosophical models, then these models have to stand on their own two feet. They must be plausible and coherent in their own right.

    And argument from authority is out of place here, for we’re not dealing with a datum of pure revelation. Rather, many of the key details are underdetermined by revelation.

  8. stephennhays

    J.C. Thibodaux

    “Answers to prayer are rather the results of God willingly perceiving our prayers within time”

    i)In what sense does God “perceive” our prayers? Is “perception” being used in a metaphorical sense? What does this claim literally mean?

    ii)In what sense does God “willingly” perceive our prayers? Does this mean that God, through an act of self-limitation, could make himself ignorant of our prayers–but chooses not to?

    iii)If answers to prayer are the “result” of “God perceiving” them “within time,” then the divine perception of our prayers is temporally subsequent to our prayers. Likewise, the decision to answer our prayers is subsequent to our prayers–since the decision is contingent on his perception–according to this temporal/perceptual framework.

  9. stephennhays

    I’ll venture some comments on Arminian1’s response.

    “This is fine, except that James’s examples do not serve as good examples of the sphere of relations we are talking about most specifically, i.e., interpersonal relations. In the case of one person making a request of another, the request can only be a geniune cause if it actually influences the granter of the request to grant the request.”

    Of course, that’s a key contention of open theism. Is Arminian1 an open theist? If not, then he needs to explain how he can make a key concession to open theism without capitulating to open theism in toto.

    “Or we could use Piper’s definitions.”

    Actually, we shouldn’t. That was the starting point for Justin Taylor. But the debate has moved beyond that.

    Piper is a preacher and Bible scholar. His definition is a popular definition, not a technical definition. If Arminian1 is going to critique the logical and/or metaphysical coherence of the Reformed doctrine of prayer, then we need to recast the issue in more philosophically stringent terms.

    “If God transcends time, that is not to say that he “therefore does not exist in a series of moments”, but that he is not bound by any series of moments. That is, he can exist partially in a series of moments, yet he goes beyond them, is not limited by them, and can also be outside of them. He . . . transcends them.”

    That’s an assertion. Arminian1 needs to show how it’s coherent to claim that God can “exist partially in a series of moments, yet also be outside of them.”

    “While not necessarily committed to divine temporality, physicist Hugh Ross has shown how God could use extra dimensions (there are at least 11 dimensions that we know of scientifically, and there could be many more) in such a way (see his book Beyond the Cosmos).”

    No, science has not shown that there are 11 dimensions to space. That’s merely a postulate of string theory. And string theory is quite controversial. It’s not a well-established theory, like Relativity or quantum mechanics.

    “How else are we to speak of God’s decision? Is it not an event? If not, then it never happens, which is to say God never decides, which renders talk of God’s decisions absurd.”

    It’s east to say how else we’re to speak of it. There was never a time when God was undecided.

    “It is unwise to base an objection to God’s ability to base his decisions to some extent on the actions of human beings performed in time on one’s view of God’s relationship to time when our understanding is so limited, God is so immense, and there are various models that can conceivably account for this.”

    One problem with this statement is that it’s an appeal to mystery. But that cuts both ways. On the one hand, Arminian1 is raising an intellectual objection to the coherence of Reformed theology vis-à-vis prayer. On the other hand, he retreats into mystery to shield the Arminian alternative from rational scrutiny. That’s special pleading. Either both sides can appeal to mystery or else both sides are subject to rational scrutiny.

    “I don’t see the problem [i.e. retrocausation]. This is grounded in God’s omnipotence and eternity. God is so great that he can encompass time and eternity and make something like this happen if he so chooses.

    Yet he just told us that “it’s unwise to base an objection to God’s ability to base his decisions to some extent on the actions of human beings performed in time on one’s view of God’s relationship to time.”

    But if he doesn’t think we know enough about the nature of time, or God’s relationship to time, then, by his own admission, he’s in no position to say that retrocausation is not a problem for his position. He can’t evaluate retrocausation unless he has a working theory on the nature of time.

  10. stephennhays

    Arminian1 said “While not necessarily committed to divine temporality, physicist Hugh Ross has shown how God could use extra dimensions (there are at least 11 dimensions that we know of scientifically, and there could be many more) in such a way (see his book Beyond the Cosmos).”

    I’ve already commented on one problem with this statement. Now I’ll note two others:

    i) Adding extra dimensions to space is irrelevant to the point at issue since the issue concerns the temporal coordinate (God’s relation to time, our relation to time), not the spatial coordinate(s).

    ii) To the extent that you spatialize time, you wind up with a block view of time–which results in a closed future rather than an open future. And that, in turn, is antithetical to libertarian freewill.

  11. Please disregard the link to my response above. The intended permanent home for my response is now to be found at this link:

    “Exposing Calvinist ‘Forgery’ in the Alleged Paper Trail of Prophesied Prayers”

  12. stephennhays

    According to Arminian1, “But all things (that are logically possible) are possible with God, and such [retro]causation appears to be logically possible with him given his ability to transcend time.”

    Does Arminian1 think omnipotence can magically resolve the grandfather paradox?

  13. stephennhays

    According to Arminian1, “We come yet again to the critical difference between certainty and necessity, a distinction which James acknowledged as valid but thought irrelevant. But just as before, it again turns out to be quite relevant. On this, see see e.g., Robert E. Picirilli, ‘Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future’. The logic on this distinction is definitive, which is probably why James accepts it as valid.”

    But from my reading, Picirilli’s “definitive” explanation is subject to the same intractable problem as the grounding objection to Molinism.

  14. Pingback: The Arminian Cause « Analogical Thoughts

  15. BNT,

    “…then he had no knowledge of these decisions until causally after he created the universe. Thus, God gains knowledge not merely about the world, but about himself.”

    How would God be gaining knowledge about Himself from the world?

    “Hence the doctrines of immutability, aseity, simplicity, and omniscience as traditionally conceived are all false.”

    No, only the doctrines as construed by Calvinists and Determinists would be false. The idea of such knowledge being completely essential to God’s nature rather than Him willingly deriving it from the creation itself leads to all sorts of absurdities. For instance, if it were essential to God’s knowledge that I be saved, then He would have had no choice in election, that is no power to do other than to save me (since He could not falsify His own essential knowledge). That’s to say nothing of sin….

    “I thought this was the view of open theism—not classical Arminianism.”

    Not really. Since God transcends time and has limitless perception within such a scope, there is hence nothing about what occurs within time that He doesn’t know. That fact in and of itself contradicts Open Theism altogether.

    “Are you admitting that you’re an open theist, or are you admitting that you have erred in your understanding of the relationship between God’s knowledge and human actions?”

    Sorry, I don’t do false dichotomies.

    “Morever, a B theory of time where God’s knowledge of free acts is contingent upon the acts themselves is a theory in which, as per my previous comment in this thread, God is unable to proactively affect human history.”

    Nor do I subscribe to any theory in which God doesn’t proactively affect human history.

    “In fact, such a view makes the notion of biblical providence and prophecy incoherent, since God only knows what will happen causally after it has happened—by which time it’s too late for him to take advantage of the events.”

    Did you not read what I stated?

    “…Since the future (including free will choices and the factors of God’s own interaction within time) is a certainty from God’s perspective.”

    Additionally, given that God is transcendent, it’s a fallacy to employ terms such as ‘too late’ when speaking of His capabilities.

    For instance, God couldn’t know that Pilate would have Jesus crucified. At best it was an educated guess.

    Since God transcends time, what to us is future, He knows as certainty; it isn’t guesswork. The future is as clear (or rather clearer) to Him as the past is to us.

    stephennhays,

    Are you the same Steve Hays that I interacted with at Arminian Chronicles last month?