August 9, 2018

William Lane Craig Gets Arminianism A Bit Wrong

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I often listen to Dr. William Lane Craig’s podcasts, both his general podcast and his Defenders class. They are very informative and I highly recommend them. In his most recent Defenders class, as of the date of this response (8/9/2-18), he compares the providential views of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Molinism.1 Now I have no disagreement with his descriptions of Calvinism and Molinism but his description of Arminianism struck me as utterly foreign. I think he simply is confused on this matter.
So, first, let me make some general points, and then I’ll get to his comment.

Some General Points

First of all, I think that it is improper to speak of a strictly Arminian doctrine of providence. Arminianism is a soteriological position, not a providential one. This point will become very relevant as we get into the meat and potatoes.

Now it is true that Arminianism has providential implications. And there are doctrines of providence associated with the Remonstrant and Wesleyan traditions. However, Arminianism isn’t a tradition in that sense, but a theological position. And that position is soteriological.

This brings me to my second point. It is a point of debate within the Arminian camp whether or not Molinism is compatible with Arminianism. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism is a providential position. Therefore, the question isn’t which one is correct, but are they compatible. There are some who believe that Molinism is too deterministic to be compatible, and others who believe that any position which holds to Libertarian Free Will is, in fact, compatible. I am the latter, though I am not a Molinist.

Indeed, let us consider the words of one of the leading modern teachers of Wesleyan and Arminian thought, the late Thomas Oden:
A fine point must be sharpened in this connection: God not only grasps and understand what actually will happen, but also what could happen under varied possible contingencies. If God’s knowing is infinite, God knows even the potential effects of hypothetical but unactualized possibilities, just as well as god knows what has or will become actualized…
This has been called “God’s knowledge of the hypothetical” or Scientia media2
I think it is hard to consider Thomas Oden as not being Arminian in theology, yet the above quote, and others, clearly shows that he held to a Molinist view of providence. Or perhaps consider another prominent Arminian:
He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes (i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act. (ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted… (iii) Let the third class be of those things which God can do from the acts of the creatures, in accordance wither with himself or with his acts. 3
For those who don’t check the reference, that is Jacob Arminius. While he clearly taught middle knowledge, I’m not sure if whether or not he taught Molinism. But I’m also not sure whether or not he taught Molinism. It is disputable. Thus, it is hard for me to think that Molinism is outside the tent of Arminianism itself.

So, let us instead refer to the position Craig is describing as SFV (of the Simple Foreknowledge View).

What Craig Says

Now, as of the writing of this, Reasonable Faith does not have the transcript up, so I am transcribing this myself from the audio. So I apologize if I transcribe anything inaccurately.
So how does the Arminian then explain divine sovereignty? Well, the Arminian appeals to God’s simple foreknowledge of the future in order to explain God’s foreordination of everything that happens. That is to say that on the basis of His knowledge of what people will do, God then foreordains that it will happen. And His foreknowing it in no way determines it. He just knows that’s what people will do; He knows what their free choices will be and therefore declares and ordains that that is what is going to happen.
And that no more determines their choices as an infallible barometer determines the weather… The weather will determine the barometer. And similarly, God’s foreknowledge will give you absolute certainty what is going to happen, but it is not as though the foreknowledge determines what will happen. -timestamp 16:33, analogy details cut for space by me.
Now this view definitely does not belong to Jacob Arminius, as we saw. But I am uncertain whether it belongs to any Arminian at all. In accordance to the Joe Schmuck principle, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on whether one exists. However, here it suffices to say that I am unaware of any Arminian who would say that, or more specifically any SFV advocate who says that.

First of all, I think it confuses sovereignty and providence with foreordination. Sovereignty is the state of being king. God is sovereign because He is in charge. This comes with certain rights and privileges, as well as obligations on us as His subjects. But it communicates a kind of relationship with His creation. It doesn’t necessarily say something about causation.

Likewise, providence is simply the working out of God’s governance. While we can talk about God’s providence of the future, and we can talk about God’s relationship to His providence in the present from the past, providence is not a concept which is bound to the topic of time. Indeed, my understanding of sovereignty and providence have a lot more to do with the present than the future.

What Craig seems to be talking about is foreordination 4. Foreordination explicitly deals with how God establishes what is going to happen in the future from the perspective of the past. Foreordination is certainly a part of providence, but providence doesn’t reduce to it.

But, OK, does Craig’s description of how Arminians understand providence accurately describe how SFV describes foreordination?

Well, no

I would stipulate, if not insist that the SFV is necessarily grounded in the B-theory of time. Indeed, the only reason I’ve ever had to question SFV is the doubts I currently have on the B-theory. The problem comes when one sees that Craig’s description of SFV is assuming A-theory categories.

The fundamental mistake that the analysis makes is that it assumes that God’s providential activity is simply in declaring the future. This is false. Rather, God is already in the future, molding and shaping it, as He is also molding and shaping the present.

Imagine a potter whose potter wheel is spinning clockwise. Does it make sense to say that the work of the right hand is merely to declare what the left hand is doing? Or are both hands working simultaneously on the same pot?

Likewise, from the perspective of eternity, God has a hand in both the past and the future, and He is shaping both in reference to each other. God providence is simply the action of His hands, whatever action that may be. I see no reason why God acting eternally throughout history should be understood as merely Him declaring what will happen from the past. Rather, God's foreordination is grounded in Him actively being in the future.
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1: This is Defenders series 3, section 8, part 10.
2: Thomas Oden, The Living God, (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1992), pp. 72
3: Jacob Arminius, Disputation 4: On The Nature of God, www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.v.v.html, section XXXIV
4: Another word I could have used is predestination, but predestination is often more specifically linked to election and reprobation. But I didn’t want to confuse things by adding more and more words like regeneration, glorification, propitiation, expatiation, procrastination, consternation, and other words ending in nation and cation and ration, which are simply suffices to say that stuff happens in theology.

June 28, 2017

The Patronage Theory Of Biblical Inspiration

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What Does "Theory of Biblical Inspiration" Mean?
The inspiration of the Bible is an interesting topic. The precise way God revealed Himself through Scripture isn't quite as clear as in Islam or Mormonism, which simply has an angel showing up, and telling Smith and Muhammad what to write. However, we have no such story when it comes to our Scripture. The closest we have is Moses on Mt Sinai, and even that doesn't translate over to a specific book of the Bible, let alone the entire canon. This makes it difficult to say exactly what is meant by inspiration.
Yet we insist that it is inspired, and rightly so. And we know basically what that means, and what it entails. To say that the Bible is inspired is to say that God has ordained the content of the Bible. The Bible says what it says because it is what God wanted it to say. And this entails certain properties: authority, infallibility, and holiness to name a few.
But that still leaves the question, by what process did God bring the Bible about, and how does the Bible come to possess those attributes. That is what we mean by the "theory of inspiration".
It is important to recognize that the theory of inspiration does not inform us of what attributes the Bible has. Rather, it seeks to explain the origin of the attributes we know to be there. The authority of Scripture is epistemically prior to the theory of inspiration, and if your theory does not justify a particular feature of Scripture, we reject the theory, not the attribute.
Now for those who are interested in what I mean by the "Patronage Theory", skip to the last to sections.
What Properties Does the Bible Have?
Ultimately, when we say that the Bible is inspired, what we really want to say is that the Bible is authoritative because it comes from God. But this also implies that the Bible has certain attributes. So, what a theory of inspiration has to do is fully and naturally account for all of those attributes.
So, what attributes does the Bible have? Well first of all, the Bible is holy. Holy means that something is set apart in an honorable sense. It is established to be for something important. Generally, what we mean by holy is that it is set apart for God. So, the Bible is different from other books. And we understand this difference to be connected to the idea that in some sense it comes from God. So, the holiness of the Scripture describes two attributes: that the Bible is unique, and that the Bible has a divine origin.
Second, we have the scope of the inspiration. We say that every single word of the Bible is part of that inspiration. This means that all of the Bible has these properties, not just some. It isn’t as if Matthew, Mark, and Luke are inspired but John is just a really interesting expansion of their ideas. All of the Bible is included. The word for this is plenary, or complete. But this also goes down to the very word choice.
1.       Holy/unique
2.       Holy/Divine origin
3.       Verbal
4.       Plenary/complete
5.       Confluent
Alternate Theories
Dictation
The dictation theory of inspiration is the view that God has told the authors of Scripture precisely what to write. Now dictation in the most literal sense is clearly inaccurate. The text of Scripture clearly isn’t not always written in the Lord’s voice.
Most who ascribe to a dictation theory usually hold to something called accommodationism. On this view, not only does God directly determine each word that goes into Scripture, He intentionally does so in such a way that we can better understand. So instead of giving us direct statements, like in the prophets, He communicates in a variety of different genres in the authors’ voice so that we could better understand and accept what it is that is being communicated.
Dictation hits most of the checkmarks of our list above. Indeed, it is the most natural theory to explain the properties of verbal and completeness. However, it doesn’t sufficiently account for confluence. While accommodationism does dull that problem a little bit, it is only a little bit. After all, we are not just dealing with the mere simplification of language or selection of genre, but the authors’ personal sentiments and passions being included within the text. You would have to limit your conception of confluence to such a point that it seems a mere charade than an actual property.
Providential
A providential view of inspiration is when one uses the features of one’s general view of providence to explain the properties of scripture. This is popular among determinists and Molinists. Again, this checks most of the boxes. Because providence views everything that happens as planned by God in some regard, it can than say that each word of God is planned by God in the same way. Therefore, God can simply make sure that the words are what they are supposed to be.
Additionally, it explains confluence. After all, if everything we say or do belongs to use, and yet falls under God’s providence, then it follows the text of Scripture can be properly ascribed to the Biblical authors while falling under God’s problem as well.
However, the think the principle problem is that it doesn’t account for the uniqueness of Scripture. At the end of the day, there is no difference, providentially, between the writing of Romans, Pride & Prejudice, and Percy Jackson. In this sense, providence can be a feature in an inspiration theory, and can be used to prop any theory up really, but it is insufficient.
Supervision
The supervision theory is the belief that the human authors are the ones who are writing the text, but God oversees the process. So, God is giving advice, and commanding the person to change something if they get it wrong, etc. Now, this nails both the uniqueness and confluence properties that the formal views failed in. However, there seems to be some difficulty in explaining how exactly inspiration is verbal. How is every word considered to come from God if it is the human that is actually coming up with the words?

Personally, I think this can be overcome just by having God’s supervision be more intimate. It isn’t as if God has to go into the other room, wait until the author is done, and then see how He did. If He is every present, then every word that the author puts into the text is approved of by Him. Also, God would be directly saying, “don’t forget to say this.” Indeed, we can simply combine this theory with a providential theory pretty easily and get the best of both worlds. In the end, I think this view has it pretty close. My view is similar, but it does add some additional components that I believe shore up the verbal component.
The Patronage Theory
So, I think the Patronage Theory is pretty simple, but at its core is the understanding that canonization is not separate from inspiration, but is part of it.
Canonization is the process by which a text is recognized as belonging to the biblical canon. Generally, this is considered separate from inspiration, where inspiration is understood as the God governing the writing of the text, and the canonization is how the Holy Spirit helps the church to recognize which texts are inspired.
But if one thinks about it, our assurance of the Bible is actually more dependent on the canonization process than it is the writing process. Now the writing process is important too, for otherwise we cannot say that it is of divine origin. But in terms of authority, canonization has to be given a great deal more attention. After all, if God inspires a text to be written, but it is not included in the canon, what good is that to us? Likewise, if a text in included in the canon but is not inspired, then our trust in it is misplaced, even if it is properly placed in God’s ability to inspire. So, both need to be included.
So, what is the theory? Let us start with an analogy. Back during the Renaissance, if an artist wanted to make money, they would usually be commissioned by a patron. The patron may come to the painter and say, “I would like a painting on The Last Supper”. The artist would accept the commission and begin to paint for what his patron wanted. Afterwards, if the patron liked the painting, he’d pay for it. A more modern example of the patronage relationship could be the relationship between the producer and the director of a movie. What is especially interesting is that both the producer and the director often get credit for the vision of a movie.
However, a second analogy is a bit closer. Imagine that you are in a class, and the teacher assigns a writing assignment. She tells you what she wants you to write, and sets the parameters within which you are expected to work. You then get to work writing the text. Now occasionally you’ll go to the teacher asking for assistance. Also, the teacher asks to see the rough draft of the paper to make sure that you are on the right track. After you hand in your paper, the teacher comes up to you and says that your paper made absolutely no mistakes, and she’ll like to keep it as an example to show her future students what it is that she is looking for. 
The idea is that there are three steps. First there is the commissioning of the text. God comes to the author of the book and tells them that He wants them to write a text, and what it is He wants them to write about and how. This is done through the internal witness of the Spirit of course, but for the sake of simplicity I won’t keep making this caveat.
The second step is the actual writing process. Here the author is writing what God told him to write. But God is still present, so assuming the author is writing in a state a prayer (a pretty safe assumption I’d say), then God would be consistently correcting any mistakes that He may see. While the author is still the one doing the writing, the Holy Spirit is speaking with him, ensuring that there are no mistakes.
The third step is the acceptance from the patron. This is when God is satisfied enough with the work that He wants to preserve it for generations that follow. Here the Holy Spirit is at work within His people, preserving the text, and inspiring them to recognize His fingerprints upon it.
Stacking It Up with Our Criteria
This theory, in my opinion, holds up to the above criteria better than the other theories we mentioned. Additionally, it is not ad hoc either, but rather a fairly simple understanding based off of seeing how things are done in other contexts. So, let’s look at our criteria and see how well it does
  1. Holy/Unique- Only the Biblical texts can be considered to be both originated from God on this theory, and to have been approved by the Spirit in canonization. Because only the Bible is commissioned in the way described above, and preserved in the way described above, it is distinct from all other forms of writing.
  2. Holy/Divine Origin- It is divine in origin because it is commissioned by God, and God is guiding the writers as they are writing the text.
  3. Verbal- While the exact language is chosen by the human authors, every word is approved of by God, or He would not have excepted it as canon. Therefore, we can be confident that every word choice communicates what God wants communicated.
  4. Plenary- This is applied to the canonization process. Because the canonization is part of the theory, all of the Bible is naturally implied by the theory.
  5. Confluence- And here is where I think the theory really shines. Unlike the dictation theory, confluence would be expected from this theory, since the writers really are writing the books.
So, I would argue that patronage theory of inspiration naturally leads to all the attributes of Scripture rather than just some of them. I would also add that the theory will work with any theory of providence: Determinism, Libertarianism, Molinism, or even open theism. It doesn’t presuppose how providence works, only that the Spirit is guiding those involved in the process. This is something that I also think is a strength of the theory.

So, I want to end with something funny, or clever, but I can’t come up with anything: there. That’s the patronage theory of biblical inspiration and you should all believe it because it’s right. 

April 24, 2017

Understanding Necessity In Arminianism And Calvinism

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The concept of necessity is one that, on the one hand, seems really simple, and yet proves itself to be rather difficult to track. When talking about theology, we usually are referring to the concept of ontological necessity, or what must exist. Another way of thinking about it is that it is impossible for necessary things to not exist.

In Christianity, there exists only one necessary thing: God. Everything else is what we call contingent, that is reliant on something else. The belief that God is the only necessary thing is called aseity, that  God exists a se, or "by Himself". Now the question that I want to ask here is how does this affect Arminianism and Calvinism?

Now I wrote a post a while ago called The Teological Argument For The Existance Of Libertarian Free Will, and the point I'll be making here will cover some common ground. But rather than simply arguing for the existance of LFW, I am instead seeking to explore the effect of compatibilism and necessity.

What In God Is Necessary?

So the first question is, what is it that makes something necessary? The answer is that something is necessary if it must exist. In other words, it is impossible for it not to exist. This would be true of God. This would also need to be true of any of God's essential attributes. After all, it would be nonsense to say that God exists necessarily, but He could be someone and something completely different than He is. Rather, we need to also affirm those aspects of God that make God God. For instance, God is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, incorporeal, and eternal. He is necessarily tri-personal, which grounds His essential goodness. Without these properties, God would simply not be God.

But there are divine attributes that God need not have which He does. Those are any attributes that define God's relationship to something outside of Himself. For instance, God is not necessarily creator, for He could have chosen not to create. God is not necessarily the God of Israel, for Israel need not exist. God is not necessarily just, for God does not need to be in the company of sinners (though He is necessarily righteous/good).1 So even though God is necessary, it does not entail that everything we can say about God is also necessary.

What Will The Will Do?

This brings us to the most important question. Are God's choices necessary? Now the Arminian clearly says no. This is because the Arminian believes that God possesses LFW, and thus His choices are not necessary since that is basically what LFW means.

But what about compatibilism? This is a bit more difficult since I've heard half a dozen different definitions of compatibilism. One basic one is that compatibilism is the belief the free will and determinism are compatible, which isn't particularly helpful. One holding to this definition without any further development could simply say that God's choices are not necessary but couldn't have been anything else. Because they said so. This has always struck me as saying "I believe in A and not A".

However, most Calvinists that I have met generally argue that by compatilibilism they mean that one acts in accordance to one's nature. That is, you chose what you chose because it is in your nature to make that choice, and because it is YOUR nature, it rightly belongs to you. Thus your will is free. To be frank, this actually makes perfect sense to me. This is basically how I understand the operation of the wills of animals.2

So for God, these compatibilists will argue that the choices that God makes He makes because they are the natural result of His nature. So because God is perfect, and good, etc... He inevitably creates the universe. Therefore, if God did other than what He has done, He wouldn't truly be God!

Problems

However there are problems when applying this understanding to God. If God's decisions are the expression of God's nature, and God's nature is necessary, than logically all of God's choices are necessary. God could not have acted other than He has.

However, if all of God's choices are necessary, the effects or those choices are equally necessary. This would collapse the distinction I made in the above section. God would necessarily be Creator, so He would need to create. God would necessarily be the God of Israel, so He would need to commission Israel. God would necessarily just, so He would need to be in the company of sinners to judge them.

The fundamental result is that everything is necessary, and nothing is contingent. This makes God dependent on His creation, since He needs to create it. It is not dependent like I am dependent on my heart, but dependent like I am dependent on eating: I must do it or I cease to be. This strikes me as a challenge to divine aseity, and a diminishing of God's glory.

I find this to be ironic since most compatibilist think that they are bringing God glory through their theology. However, I believe it is quite the opposite. Compatibilism makes God smaller, mechanical, and dependent on His creatures. While the idea of making human actions necessary may sound appealing to the Calvinist, a flat our rejection of libertarian free will makes that extend to God as well, diminishing His glory and  honor.

So to my Calvinist friends, I suggest that you embrace the notion of LFW for God, just as I embrace the notion of CFW for animals. Then we can quibble and argue over the free will of humans.
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1 For more on this, see my post: http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2014/06/essential-attributes-verses-relational.html
2 Though, of course, animals are not moral agents.This is why I do not believe it would make sense with humans or angels who are moral agents.

February 14, 2017

What If Spiderman 3 Was Good?

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A couple of years ago I made a post about how I would have done the Green Lantern movie differently. I've thought about the same question when it comes to some other movies, especially comic book movies, and I thought I would share one that I feel was especially disappointing: Spiderman 3.

Spiderman 3 was disappointing for several reasons, but the principle reason was because it didn't have to be. Spiderman 2 left us with a great set-up for the third film, but when the movie came, it felt like they just didn't want to tell the story that the second movie set-up. All of the story around Harry Osburn felt like it was there because it had to be there.

Furthermore, the fundamental flaw of the film is obvious: too much story for too little movie. Your telling the story of Venom (which is already a necessarily complicated story), Harry getting amnisia, Peter and MJ having relationship problems, a reworking of the Uncle Ben story along with Sandman, and the background theme of Peter letting fame get to his head. That is way too much, leaving the movie horribly cluttered and unfocused. But what's worse is that we didn't get the story that we really wanted, a solid conclusion for the relationship arc between Peter and Harry. The most important part of the movie for us seemed to be the least important for the writers and director.

So two things should be at the heart of this correction: #1 the focus of the story should be the restoration of the relationship of Peter and Harry. #2 one villain besides 2nd Green Goblin. However, we want a villain that is going to influence Peter and Harry's relationship. I don't see how that'll be true of Sandman, so Venom makes significantly more sense. Also, with the Venom story, you can have the fascinating reversal of guilt within the relationship.

So what follows is the story I would have told, with 4 main fights:

Plot

Beginning

During the opening credits, we see the symbiote crash land on earth. We then can see it go on various adventures, maybe taking hold of various animals briefly, until it ends up in the sewers.

We can start the movie the same way the original movie starts: with Spiderman being celebrated by the community and Peter trying to talk to Harry but being ignored. It is a pretty good starting point, so why change. However, once all of that is basically established, I would have Peter proposing to MJ, and MJ saying yes. Right after the proposal, Peter hears of a fire somewhere in the city, and goes to investigate.

When he arrives, he discovers that it was an abandoned building, and Harry is there waiting for him. They fight, in a similar way in the movie (that scene was actually pretty good), but the fight ends with Harry being victorious, and Peter having to escape through the sewers. It is in the sewers that the symbiote attaches to him.

Black Spiderman

He returns home, tired, with the symbiote covering him as he sleeps. When he awakes, he has the black suit (which should be smoother IMO). He eventually shows it to MJ, but instead of being impressed by it, she is concerned. So Peter promises to take it to Dr. Connors, and he does so. Connors promises to look into it, and tells Peter stay away from it until he gets a chance. Peter agrees...

And then immediately after we get a montage of him using it to fight crime; and having a lot of fun doing it too. This then leads to Peter bringing in pictures of the new suit to JJ. He has a conniption over it. This leads to the introduction of Eddy Brock, and the reward that JJ offers for evidence of Spiderman breaking the law.

Peter comes home to MJ, and they have a talk about the black suit, and MJ's career, and simply enjoy each others' company. Eventually Harry comes up, and MJ suggests that maybe she'll be able to talk to him. Peter thinks this is a bad idea, and they go to bed. In the morning, MJ gets up, and leaves a note telling Peter that she is off to talk Harry. Harry sees this through a camera that he has apparently been using to spy on them.

Harry then leaves his own note, or gives Pete a message in some manner, that he has taken MJ to some location. Peter goes there to save her, yelling at Harry for involving MJ in their disagreement. They have a second fight. This time, Peter is much more aggressive, due to the suit beginning to have an effect on him. During the fight, Brock shows up to try and take a picture and Spiderman destroys his camera infuriating him.

Eventually Peter wins the fight, and Harry reveals that MJ isn't actually there, and that he never took her to begin with. Peter tells Harry that he's crossed a line. So far he has not wanted to fight Harry because they are friends, but next time Harry attacks him, he will not hold back.

Reversing roles

Harry, downcast, returns home to find MJ waiting for him. He doesn't want to talk to her, but she doesn't take no for an answer. (maybe some explanation of how she got in will be necessary, but that'll be for the director to decide). Harry and MJ have an argument, where MJ challenges Harry to reconsider his devotion for his father. Point out that while it was reasonable to be mad before he knew who his father was, at this point he's just being ridiculous. Harry than yells, "he killed my father", to which MJ replies, "Yeah, 10 minutes after your father threw me from a bridge!" She mentions that he died by his own glider at some point. Then Harry tells her to get out, and she does.

We then cut to Harry looking off his balcony a bit later, when he calls to his butler to get his father's autopsy report. He looks it over, and then looks tired, and we cut away.

We then see MJ returning home to Peter, and they argue about her not listening to him. He doesn't talk to her the way he normally does, and she questions this. Pete backs down and apologizes, saying that he was just really worried. She says she understands, and they move on.

The next day, he goes to the Daily Bugle to find that Brock has won the award with his fake photo. Enraged, Peter goes after Brock, but JJ and Robby pull them apart. Peter storms out, and returns later with evidence that Eddy faked his photo. Eddy is fired.

We then turn to a montage of Peter turning evil. Not emo, but actually wicked. The idea of an emo Peter actually kind of works for me since it would make sense that Peter doesn't really know how to be bad. But still, what we have in the film was executed poorly (especially that very uncomfortable dance scene), but I don't have any better ideas here. Perhaps it simply could have been done better. But the basic idea, with Connors commenting on the symbiote in the background, makes logical sense to me, and I think it could be done well. Be we should see him fighting more violently, flirting with other women, and acting like a jerk.

MJ complains to Peter about his recent behavior, eventually blaming the suit which gets Peter really upset about. Afterwards she runs out. We find that she ends up going to Harry to tell him that Peter is changing and she needs his help. Harry asks how he could help, and she replies that she doesn't know, but she can't reach him anymore. Harry says that he'll try.

Just then Peter shows up, asking what MJ is doing there. Harry attempts to explain, and talk to him, but Peter instead is simply enraged that they are plotting against him. Peter then attacks Harry, and now it is Harry who is trying to stop the fight. However he does defend himself, using some more advanced weapons than he had before. However, Peter decimates him in the end.

He is about to kill him when MJ stops him. Peter than raises a hand to strike her, but then realizes what he is about to do. He takes a few steps back in shock. He then looks down at Harry, and then at his hands, and then back at MJ. He says, "take care of him" and webs away. MJ then begins to take care of Harry.

Return to the Red and Blue

Peter then goes to the church, where we get the famous church scene, complete with Brock getting the symbiote. However, he doesn't smile, ever.

Peter returns home, naked. MJ is packing. MJ looks at him and questions where his suit is. He says he got rid of it, and he is sorry about what happened earlier. She says that a simple apology doesn't make everything better, and Peter agrees. He says, "hopefully time will. I still love you, but there is something in me I have to fix." MJ says she is staying with Harry which Peter clearly doesn't like. But he asks her to apologize for him to Harry as well, and she says that she will.

At this point, Peter takes a sabbatical from being Spiderman, focusing on being Peter Parker and getting his head right. He also stops watching the news and ignores various calls from the Daily Bugle. Meanwhile, Venom has taken over Peter's role as Spiderman and is framing him for various crimes. He is destroying Spiderman's reputation and Peter is completely unaware because of his seclusion.

At some point, Venom attacks Harry , or perhaps just commits a crime near him. When this happens, Harry realizes that Venom is not Peter and something is going on. He quickly calls MJ, but while he is on the phone with her, Venom captures him.

Denouement

Peter tracks down Venom (how doesn't really matter) and brings Harry's gear with him. He rescues Harry and gets Harry his gear. They have a brief period of forgiveness, and then the two of them fight Venom together (which, let's face it, was the only good part of the actual movie). The fight goes public and people see the red and blue Spiderman fighting the black Spiderman, and begins to cheer for Spiderman again.

Harry eventually does some "death-defying" move to get a sonic bomb close to Venom, allowing Peter to defeat him. In the process, Harry is impaled by his own glider. The two of them talk about their past, and what could have been, and laugh. Harry says that he loves Pete, and then dies.

Peter than returns to MJ. She forgives him, as he cries in her arms. The movie ends with MJ giving the final speach, interpreting the events, who Spiderman is, etc...

Role credits

February 11, 2017

Naming A Few Fallacies

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I've been thinking about the kind of conversion I typically see on-line, and in light of that, I've spotted a couple of fallacies that are commonly made that do not seem to have names. And so, I have named them. I offer them to the internet in the hope that people can recognize these as fallacious and, hopefully but not likely, improve the quality of internet conversation. They are
  1. Same Mind Bias
  2. Opposite Fallacy
  3. Misplaced Proposition Fallacy
  4. Counter-argument Fallacy
  5. Leading Counter-argument Fallacy
  6. Transubstantiation Fallacy
  7. Analogy/Allegory Confusion
Same Mind Bias

This is similar to the bias known as the False-Consensus Effect, where someone believes that more people agree with them than they actually do. However, this isn't connected to knowledge, but to thought process.

The assumption here is that people usually think the same way that you do, and when they come to different conclusions than you, you make assumptions about how they got there. In reality, of course, people have radically different ways of thinking, and even sometimes come to the same conclusion for entirely different reasons. However, this generally doesn't stop people from generally assuming that people think in the same manner.

A couple of examples are in order. First would be the well established Historian's Fallacy, where you judge a decision that someone made in the past based off of modern sensitivities. Another is the tendency for an empathetic person to think that someone doesn't care about others, because that person isn't being as sensitive, when in reality that person may care a lot, but is focusing on helping the person's practical needs. A third example is the expectation that someone would come to believe the same as you do, if they are presented with the same evidence and arguments which convinced you, and then become incredulous when they do not. Often, in the last scenario, one assumes the other person is ignoring you, or is uninterested in truth, but the possibility that the person may simply be ingratiated by a different kind of evidence rarely comes up.

All of this is a lead up to the first fallacy I named here:

The Opposite Fallacy1

This is a fallacy that is based off of the Same Mind Bias and a specific example of an Appeal to Motivation. This is when someone has an opposite opinion of you, so you assume that they have opposite premises or motivations. Therefore, you are assuming that they are thinking the same way that you do, even though their conclusion is different.

My favorite example of this is the abortion debate. Many times, people who are pro-choice assume that those who are pro-life are somehow "against women", which is strikingly odd. Pro-life people are quite open about the fact that we are motivated by belief that fetuses are children, and thus shouldn't be unceremoniously killed. But because pro-choice people are motivated by women's issues, they are assuming that those who disagree with them have opposite motivations. In reality both the pro-life and the pro-choice movements have a greater variety of beliefs thaN either side typically acknowledges.

Definition The Opposite Fallacy: The assumption that if one has an opposite opinion, they also have opposite motivations.

Misplaced Proposition Fallacy

I honestly don't know why this isn't already a named fallacy, and perhaps it is but simply listed in places of which I am unaware. The concept is fairly simple. In the midst of a debate, a person misunderstands a particular claim's role in the other person's argument, or misunderstands the role of their own claim. When an argument is laid out mathematically like this:
  1. p -> q
  2. p
  3. therefore, q
the role of each proposition is quite clear. But in more complex arguments, and especially ones couched in colloquial speech, it is often easy to lose track what exactly an argument is doing. Therefore, it is quite common for people to just simply misunderstand what it is that is going on.

The most famous example of this is the fallacy fallacy. This is the mistake that your counterargument works as an argument against the person's position. I can make a bad argument for something that is actually true. For instance, I could claim that everything that is made of water is blue, the sky is made of water, therefore the sky is blue. Neither of those premises is true, yet the conclusion is. Proving the argument wrong does not mean that the conclusion is wrong. It would simply mean that I will have to justify the conclusion for different reasons. But fundamental to this mistake is a misunderstanding of the role of counter-argumentation. What follows are some other examples of this kind of mistake.

Counterargument Fallacy

This fallacy is actually intimately connected with the Fallacy Fallacy. Indeed, it is essentially its opposite. The counterargument fallacy is when someone discounts a counterargument due to it being insufficient to counter to person's position.

I often hear these kinds of arguments when dealing with the arguments from God's existence. For instance, if an atheist argues that God doesn't exist because of the existence of evil, I could counter with the simple point that God could have justifications for the allowance of evil. It is unfortunately not uncommon for an atheist to then say, "That doesn't mean that God exists!" Well, yes. It doesn't mean that. My point wasn't that therefore God exists, but that your argument is merely insufficient to prove His non-existence.

I actually run into this a lot and, again, I am amazed that no one has named this fallacy already.
Definition The Counterargument Fallacy: The rejection of a counterargument because it is insufficient to defeat the whole position.

Leading Counterargument Fallacy

This basically is an example of the Fallacy Fallacy, but usually when we think of the Fallacy Fallacy, we think of it in terms of the middle of a debate, where someone names a fallacy, and thinks that that is sufficient to win the argument. However, a bit more confusing is when someone starts the conversation with a counterargument.

The most famous example of this is when an atheist argues, "If God created the universe, then who created God." Many use this as a stand alone argument against God's existence, which is simply confusing. The argument, as presented by Dawkins, was a counterargument against the teleological argument. But I could simply reject the teleological argument, or believe in God for other reasons, and the point because irrelevant. Now I don't think that it is a good argument even in that respect, but when an atheist leads with this, it is merely confused.
Definition Leading Counterargument Fallacy: When a person leads a discussion with a counterargument.

Transubstantiation Fallacy

Now the name here is actually a pun, and has nothing to do with the Catholic view of the Eucharist. Rather the Transubstantiation Fallacy is where a person thinks of a substantiating argument as a major argument. So for instance, one could present the Kalaam Cosmological Argument as follows:
  1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
    1. An infinite amount of anything cannot exist in the real world
    2. If the universe were eternal, then it there would have been an infinate amount of seconds
  3. Therefore the universe must have a cause
Now above are basically two arguments. One is the main argument which are propositions 1, 2, 3. But under premise 2 is a separate argument which argues for premise 2. This is a substantiating argument since it is arguing for the soundness of the premise rather than for the final conclusion. Whenever you present an argument, it must be both valid and sound. A valid argument is one where the conclusion logically follows from the premises while a sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are true. The process of showing that the premises are true is called substantiating your premises. Hence the name "substantiating argument".

 OK, so what do I mean by Transubstantiating Fallacy? It is where someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument. So, using the above example, if I were to argue that the universe cannot be infinitely old, because an actual infinite cannot exist, they may reply, "OK, but that doesn't prove anything! That doesn't mean that God created the universe!" Correct. It doesn't prove that. All it proves is that the universe must have begun to exist. That is why there is more to the argument.
Definition The Transubstantiation Fallacy: When someone takes a substantiating argument to be part of the main argument.

Analogy/Allegory Confusion 

 I am someone that uses a good deal of analogical thinking as I reason through things. As such, I have found it extremely frustrating when using analogies in debates. This is because people often over-extend the analogy, claiming that it fails because it doesn't do what it isn't designed to do. Part of the problem is that analogies require effort on the opponents part to understand. They are fantastic at explaining concepts, but only if the other person actually wants to understand. If a person is simply trying to defeat you, they can easily pick apart even the best analogies.

 There's an old saying about the Trinity: all analogies fall short. I find this saying to be a tad obtuse though. Of course all analogies fall short of explaining the Trinity. This is because all analogies fall short of explaining anything. After all, if an analogy worked perfectly, it wouldn't be an analogy, but an example. At its core, an analogy is a kind of metaphor, and metaphors work by talking about something different, but has a tiny sliver of overlap, as a way of isolating that sliver. Analogies, by their very nature, are trying to merely explain part of an idea, rather than the whole thing. To say that an analogy doesn't work because it fails to take into account the rest of the discussion is a mistake. The entire point is to isolate the concept away from the rest discussion in the first place.

 Now part of this is because people also have a tendency to use analogies poorly. This is because people often mistake what the role of an analogy in a discussion is. Many think of an analogy as a kind of argument: a way of demonstrating the truth of what it is that you are saying. But by their very nature, an analogy can never be used to show an argument's soundness, only its validity. The purpose of an analogy is to be understood, but being understood is not the same thing as being convincing. Something can make sense and still be false, like fantasy stories.

Part of the root cause of all of this that most people seem to want win a debate as quickly as possible. The dream is to have that one comment that shuts the other person down. However, in real conversation, dialogue takes time. For analogical reasoning this poses a problem, for understanding an analogy requires a sympathetic ear. The listener has to try to make the analogy make sense, for it naturally will not on its own. But if a environment of mutual respect isn't garnered, then such sympathy from an opponent is impossible. Instead they are going to see all of the ways in which the analogy falls short of the discussion.

 But we shouldn't do this, even if our opponent is using the analogy as an argument, for it is still good for us to understand his point. Just because the presenter doesn't understand the purpose of analogies doesn't mean we don't have to either. We can still seek to understand what is being said, and as such we have to avoid the tendency to allegorize. Unlike an analogy, an allegory is a way of re-framing an entire topic using different images, to get us to look at the issue a new way. In an allegory, there does exist perfect correspondence, or at least some facsimile to it. But analogies are not allegories. Allegories get us to emotionally connect. Analogies explain. Allegories paint in broad strokes. Analogies surgically isolate particular components.

And this one is probably the one that I am the most passionate about, because the frequency of this mistake is what I truly lament the most when it comes to most conversations: people are in too much of a hurry. Arguments have pieces to them, and it is usually good to talk about each piece individually and carefully before moving on. If you are constantly trying to talk about the whole issue, it is very unlikely you'll accomplish anything. To convince, you usually need to go deep. And to go deep, you have to tease out the particular assumptions that the two of you have. Often our debates are merely symptoms of much deeper differences.  ______________________________________________________________
1I originally called this the "Same Difference Fallacy", but I didn't really like this name I don't particularly like this name either. Suggestions are welcome.

January 21, 2017

What The Atonement Debate Is Really About

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In the Arminian/Calvinism debate, the most aggravating topic for me has been the Atonement debate. Calvinists will argue that Christ died only for the elect while Arminians argue that Christ died for everyone. Now the reason why I find it aggravating is not because it is difficult for me to defend my view, or that Calvinists are annoying about it. The reason for the aggravation is that the entire debate is kind of a misnomer. The argument has nothing to do with the nature of the atonement.

Now some of you may find that shocking, but I assure you that the nature of the atonement is not what is actually being talked about. Rather the debate is about the intention for the atonement. Now when I first got into this debate, I somewhat laid the issue of the atonement aside, because more so than any other facet of the debate I could tell that we were just talking past each other here. Then I compared what we were arguing in terms of the nature of the atonement and concluded that we were saying the same thing, but simply using different words. This convinced me that the debate was an irrelevance. However, I've come to realize that the debate has to do with an undercurrent issue that we end up ignoring because of the way that we've named the issue.

Now to demonstrate that we aren't really talking about the nature of the atonement, consider the following list:

  1. Both agree that a person is not born justified
  2. Both sides agree that a person becomes justified when they have faith
    • So we agree on the atonement's provisional nature
  3. Both sides agree that a person is completely justified once the atonement is applied to them
    • So we agree on efficacy
  4. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement was substitutionary
  5. Both sides agree that Christ's atonement is infinite in power
    • So no difference in "spilt blood"
  6. Both sides agree that it is particular in application
So this leaves the basic question, what is the debate about?

Some Logic

This issue is based off of a question regarding how God manifests His sovereignty. Consider the following propositions.

A= God desires to save all people
D= Some people are damned
E= God gets everything He desires

Now these three ideas as a group are mutually exclusive. You can accept any set of two of them, but not all three. This is because if God desires to save all people, and some people are damned, then clearly God does not get everything He desires. [(A  and  D)-> ~E] From this one basic premise, we can see what the fundamental logic is for Arminianism and Calvinism:

Arminianism:
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. A1
3. D2
4. Therefore, ~E
Calvinism
1. (A  and  D)-> ~E
2. E3
3. Therefore, ~A  or  ~D4
4. D2
5. Therefore, ~A
So the question before us is how do we settle this while maintaining God's sovereignty and upholding the witness of Scripture?

The Calvinist Solution

For the Calvinist, there is simply no way to logically reconcile their view of God's sovereignty with the notion that God would want something and then not obtain it. Therefore, they conclude that God cannot desire everyone to be saved, or at least He does not desire everyone to be saved as much as He wants to condemn them. This seems to contradict several passages of Scripture1. So how do they avoid this?

There have been a couple of different ways they have attempted to do so. One possibility is accommodation, where God's inscrutable will is simplified in the Bible so that we can understand at least an element of it. Another possible route is to understand these passages as describing all kinds of people rather than every individual person. Yet another method is the two will theory, which I half-halfheartedly expressed above. Here, God is understood to ambivalently want to save and condemn, and for some the desire to save is stronger, and for some the desire to condemn is stronger.

Now I've criticized each of these positions elsewhere, and I won't do so here. For now, it is sufficient to point out that this is what the Calvinist view of the atonement comes down to: not efficacy, but a defense of God obtaining anything which He desires.

The Arminian Solution 

For the Arminian, there is simply no getting around these Biblical texts. From our perspective, we are biblically obligated to accept the assertion that God desires to save everyone, even those that ultimately are not saved. As such, we must answer the theological question, "How is God sovereign if His will can be thwarted?"

The answer is, that it isn't thwarted. There are two important challenges that need to be discussed. First of all, is it true that not obtaining a desire is the same thing as being thwarted? If it is true, then the Calvinist would be correct in affirming E (That God gets everything He desires). The second is how do we understand God desiring to save certain people, yet not obtaining that desire.

The first point seems simple. To be thwarted simply isn't to not obtain something you want, but it is to be defeated or overcome in attempt to obtain it. Thwarting is a response to action, not desire. If I desire my son to go to bed so I can watch a movie, but then say nothing to him, I am not thwarted when he decides to stay up a little later. I did not act on the desire, and so I was not thwarted.

"Hold on", one may say. "The problem isn't that God merely desired salvation and didn't obtain it. Even many compatibilists will say that. The problem is that God actively pursues their salvation, and He does not obtain it. Because God does act with the purpose of obtaining their salvation, and yet does not obtain it, He is therefore thwarted."

Well, no. While action is necessary for thwarting, it is not sufficient. If God acts in such a way as to promote what it is that He desires, and yet intentionally does not act sufficiently to guarantee it, then as long as the actions that He does undertake are not overcome or prevented, then not obtaining His desire would not be the same as being thwarted. That's a bit of a dense sentence, so let's rephrase. It depends on how He acts. If He doesn't try to force His desire, than even acting to bring about His desire would not be sufficient to have been thwarted if denied.  Let's consider again the example of my son. Consider if I turn to him and say, "Hey, would like you to get ready for bed?" Assuming this is a real offer and not a rhetorical question, if my son says no, that would hardly be considered being thwarted. This is especially true since it is in my power to force him to go to bed if I chose to exercise that power. So him staying up, in either scenario, is no challenge to my sovereignty over him. Therefore, the first challenge to the Arminian position is met.

So this leads us to our second challenge. How could God desire the salvation of people who are ultimately damned? While we have shown it is logically possible, that doesn't mean that it makes sense in the case of salvation. After all, if He really wants to save them, then why wouldn't He act in such a way as to guarantee it?

So here I appeal to the concept of a contextualized desire. Some can express a desire to have something when in reality they would only want that thing if obtained in a certain way. For instance, Lebron James may say that he wants to put the basketball through the hoop. However, he won't exercise his full power to do so. He won't push other players out of his way, or hold onto the ball as he gets closer to the hoop, or go and get a ladder or something. This is because, while he may merely say that he is trying to get the ball through the hoop, we understand that he doesn't merely want  to get the ball through the hoop. He only desires to do so within the context of a basketball game.

The classic Arminian analogy for this notion is romance. If you are wooing a woman, you want her to love you in return. If you had access to love potion #9, and used it to make her love you, it would feel hollow. Rather, you want her to love you back. This is rather analogous to the way we view God's desire in the context of salvation. Salvation isn't simply God saving us from Hell, but saving us to an eternal life with God. It makes sense that God would only want those who want to be there.

Now there is significantly more to salvation than just  this, of course. We have to deal with the need of redemption, and sanctification, and justification, and all the rest. The point here is rather an isolated question of why God would only want to save people in a way that they could reject. In answer to this question, the idea that God wants us to want to be with Him makes sense as an explanation for this feature.

Some Objections

Now what might the Calvinist say to all of this? The first response may be to say that this would make salvation meritorious on wanting God. This is a very misguided objection. Again, if we return to the analogy of romance, if a woman does not want to be with you, does that mean that she is less worthy of you? In my wife's case, wanting to be married to me may be her only flaw! Ah, but wanting God is different because God is the greatest good, while I am most certainly not. Even then, it doesn't seem that wanting to be with God has earned you anything, because even if you wanted to be with God, that doesn't take away your sin. Only Christ's atonement actually does that. Thus wanting to be with God simply is not meritorious. Rather it simply represents the reasons for God's sovereign choice. As long as God could have chosen otherwise, we are not dealing with merit.

A second objection may be that this would make the atonement of Christ merely provisional. It is the faith that causes the atonement to work, not the power of the atonement itself! This is a gross error. It is not as if you have faith and the atonement automatically kicks in or something. Rather God applies Christ's atoning work to the faithful. But again, He need not. I can have faith, and God could refrain from applying Christ's atonement, and I would still be dead in my sins. It is God's act that causes the atonement to be active in my life, not my act. Thus the atonement being provisional does not entail that it is merely provisional. It is still the atonement that does the actual justifying. Also, as stated in the introduction, this is just as true on the Calvinist system. Therefore the provisional nature of the atonement in Arminianism, as inconsequential as it is, could not ingratiate us toward Calvinism.

A final objection that we'll consider here is that this leads to the fact that all which distinguishes the reprobate from the elect is faith, and that this makes faith meritorious, regardless of my earlier point. Well, first of all this is a criticism on conditional election, not universal atonement. There are other critiques of conditional election one may import into this conversation as well, but I'll just consider this one as a way of addressing that category. But look else where for answers to those concerns. To the specific objection, this is simply confusing merit with condition. If one starts out with the assumption that conditionality is sufficient to demonstrate merit, then this might go through, but I reject that premise. God having a reason for choosing something in no which way, shape, or form implies that He was obligated to make that choice. I have said significantly more about this else where, but I'll leave the objection here for the purposes of this post.

So in the end, I think the Arminian is quite justified is criticizing the Calvinist for reinterpreting the plain sense of the atonement passages. While the Calvinists' theological concerns are duly noted, they are not enough for us to alter what God's word has revealed to us.


______________________________________________________________________
1 John 1:29, John 3:16-17, John 4:42, John 6:33, 51, John 12:32, 47, I Timothy 4:10, II Peter 3:9, I John 4:14, Revelation 22:17 and others. See here.
2 Matthew 25, Acts 4:12, John 3, and many others. Since this is a point we agree on, I won't belabor it.
3 Based off of their definition of sovereignty.
4 Normally I wouldn't bother showing a rather obvious step like this. However, I want to point out that Calvinists seem to make this step very consciously. This is basically saying that either Calvinism or universalism must be true. This seems to be where they get the idea that Arminianism leads to universalism. But I think this is based off of their inability to recognize that their definition of sovereignty is neither obvious nor necessary. Indeed, I think they believe E to be more obvious than D, and many are simply unwilling to imagine sovereignty without affirming E. Therefore any attempt to object to universal atonement by way of universalism is merely a symptom of not listening.

December 7, 2016

Who Speaks For Arminianism?

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What is Arminianism? This sounds like it should be a simple matter. Simply look it up a dictionary and read what's there. But there is a problem. Different people seem to define Arminianism differently. You will certainly get a different definition at SEA than you will at Monergism.com. Then there is the question of whether Molinists or Open Theists are Arminians. And who gets to determine this?  I'm going to dive into these questions here.

Language, Calvinists, and History

First of all, there is the question of what determines the definition of any word. You can't say the dictionary since A) words existed before there were dictionaries and B) dictionaries are always changing. So what gives a word its definition.

Well, the simple answer is use. A word develops its meaning over time through how it is used by others. Dictionaries are simply places for us to look up how a word is being used. This isn't to say though that language is simply a subjective matter. A meaning of a term is agreed upon by us for the purposes of communication. I can't simply use a word any way I want and say, "well that's what it means because that's how I use it." Rather it means what it means because that is how we, as a people, use the word in general conversation. The goal is communication, not merely self-expression.

But this is a bit different when we are talking about the labels of ideas. Labels that we use for ideas, like any label/word, is simply a shorthand that we use to talk about something complex. It is easier for me to say, "capitalism" then for me to say "the belief that markets by nature are influenced by the routine decisions of people driven by their own self-interest". Imagine using that long definition every time you wanted to refer to the concept! So instead, we assign the idea a label. This can make the idea more ambiguous if people misunderstand what the concept is (indeed, it is difficult to detach misconceptions from labels often due to emotional attachment to the label), but it is also necessary or else conversation would be way to cumbersome.

But unlike words such as 'phone' or 'car' or 'fridge', ideas are usually named very intentionally. And because they are controversial, they are constantly being managed by both those that ascribe to those ideas, and to the opponents of those ideas. Nobody generally gets into a fight about what the word 'car' means. Therefore, unlike 'car', names for ideas need to have some kind of objective referent to protect it from the white-washing of its allies and the mud-slinging of its opponents. This is why founders are so important to these conversations, and why so many beliefs are named after particular people. Calvinism isn't defined by what John Piper said or what John Wesley said, but by what John Calvin said. Likewise, Armininism is defined by James Arminius.

Indeed, the biggest problem that Arminianism has is that for the past 100 years or so, the terms have been primarily maintained by Calvinists, and they've done a lousy job. If you go to the average Calvinist website which defines the word 'Arminianism', you would be hard-pressed to find a self-ascribed Arminian who actually agrees with what they describe. Indeed, the small handful of times I've met such people, its often taken about a 15 minute conversation to get them to either change their beliefs to match Arminius, or for them to stop calling themselves Arminian.1 This is because, in general, Arminians care more about the work of the church then they do about theological dispute than Calvinists typically do.

This is why I always go back to the Articles of Remonstrance. I am aware that Arminianism has had a history beyond simply the Remonstrance. But the Articles are where I start because ideas need an objective standard that defines it, or else the terms becomes useless.

Borders, Centers, Open Theism and Molinism

Now this leads to a second question. If we should define Arminianism off of Arminius and his comrades, does that mean any deviation from their precise beliefs fall out of bounds. Well here the answer seems to be no. It would seem ridiculous to suggest, for instance, that John Wesley was not an Arminian, though he disagreed with Arminius on quite a bit. So, I think the first clarification here is that we should focus in on how they summarized their position, rather than looking at Arminius as a whole. Again this brings us back again to the Articles, rather than all of Arminius's works.2

Second though, I  don't think we should restrict ourselves to the letter of the articles, but to the heart of the articles. Roger Olson makes an interesting point in terms of naming things. We can think of two different kinds of sets: bordered sets and centered sets.

A bordered set is one where the set is defined by what falls into a particular number of boundaries. If we think about this in terms of sheep, it would be if one defined the flock by a fence. Those sheep in the fence are part of the flock, those outside the fence are not. This is the way that Statements of Faith work. If you affirm the precise wording of the Statement of faith, then you are within the boundries, and are therefore part of the group. Bordered sets work pretty well for organizations.

A centered set is defined by a particular reference point. And the idea here is whether or not you feel as if you are in agreement with that reference point. If we think about this in terms of sheep, it would be defined by the shepherd. Those sheep that follow a particular shepherd are part of that flock. Those that do not know that shepherd are not. This is the way most movements actually work. There is usually some kind of person or event which defines a movement, and someone uses a label if they support that person or event. For instance, Pentecostalism is defined by the Azuza Street Revival. There is a lot of variety in terms of exactly what Pentecostals believe, but all of them look to that event as inspiration.

Now the argument here is that Arminianism should be treated as a centered set, one where the Articles are used as a rallying point. It isn't as if you have to agree with the Articles perfectly to be an Arminian, but the closer you are to the Articles the "stronger" your Arminianism is.

So with this in mind, let's consider two cases that people often ask if they are Arminian, and I'll give you my thoughts. It is worth pointing out that what follows is simply my opinion on the matter, since neither of these two position represent Arminius or the Articles. Rather, people have noted that there are some similarities there, and the question is, are they close enough to the Articles to be a kind of Arminianism?

Open Theism

Open Theism is the belief that the future doesn't exist. Therefore any statement about the future has no truth content. So if someone says, "I will go to the store tomorrow", that statement is neither true or false. It is undetermined, like Schrodinger's cat. So if God is omniscient, that means He holds no false beliefs. So if God thinks that "I will not go to the store tomorrow", He would be wrong, even if I don't go to the store, He would still be wrong if He believed it today, but today the statement isn't true, but undetermined. He would know what will probably happen, and much more accurately than we would, but we couldn't actually know, because that would be Him knowing something false.

Now if you find this hard to swallow, don't worry, you are not alone. I'm not an Open Theist either. In fact my biggest issue with it is that it rejects foreknowledge, while the Bible teaches foreknowledge. However, the question here is whether or not it's true. Rather, we are considering that there are many who argue that Open Theism is a kind of Arminianism (such as Roger Olson, who I mentioned earlier, though he isn't an Open Theist either). So is it?

Well, the first  thing we should notice is that there is something wrong with the question. Open Theism is not a soteriological position, but a theory of omniscience. So the question isn't whether or not Open Theism is a kind of Arminianism, but if Open Theism is compatible with Arminianism.

The compatibility question has to do with the strong implications both beliefs have on providence, and also the doctrine of election. In terms of providence, both beliefs strongly hold to libertarian free will. In classic Arminianism though, God knows what our free will decisions are going to be, even though He doesn't cause them. While that is a difference, it doesn't seem to be a sufficient difference since free will itself is intact (though perhaps understood differently).

However, when we come to the doctrine of election, there comes a bigger problem. Classically, we understand certain passages referring to God elect people has Him knowing who they are. Where there is a difference between individual election Arminians and corporate election Arminians, we both agree that God does know who the elect are going to be. There are numerous Biblical verses that describe God relationship with the elect that seem to make little sense if He doesn't know who they are. In my opinion, that creates a fundamental difference of what it means to be part of the people of God, and therefore an Open Theist is too far away from Arminius to really be thought of as an Arminian.

Molinism

Molinism is the belief that there is a kind of truth statement called a counter-factual, which is a statement of what would have happened if things were different. For instance, "If I went to the store, I would have bought milk." What the Molinist claims is that such statements have truth values, and therefore God knows what theses truth values are. This would include the decisions made by libertarian free will creatures. Therefore when God created the world, He would therefore use this knowledge create the world in such a way to get precisely what He wanted out of it.

Now again, this is not a soteriological doctrine, but rather a doctrine of omniscience, but also of providence. So again, the question isn't really whether or not it is a form of Arminianism, but whether or not it is compatible with it. Here, I see absolutely nothing in terms of the question of the process of salvation. The only real question is if it is compatible with libertarian free will.

Now his depends a little bit on your definition of LFW. I use two different definitions for it, yet one makes Molinism seem inconsistent while the other one makes it seem consistent. Yet in my mind there isn't really a difference between the two definitions. If you are confused, that's OK, it'll make sense as we go on.

The first definition of LFW I use is the standard one: it is possible that one could have done other than what one actually does. Here there does seem to be a discrepancy. After all, one could say that I do what I do because of the way that God created the world. He predicted how I would act, and created the world where i would be guaranteed to do what I do.

However, things change when you consider my second definition: that (certain) events and ends are contingent on human decisions. So for instance, whether or not I end up going to the store is determined by whether or not I choose to go. And this understanding seems perfectly compatibile with Molinism. This is because on Molinism certain worlds are not feasible for creation because there doesn't exist a scenario where someone will make a certain choice, even though they are logically possible. So for instance, there is no world in which I would go to the store and buy hummus. It ain't happening. So if God wanted to create the world so that I would purchase hummus He wouldn't be able to do so while leaving it contingent on my will. Therefore it seems that LFW is intact.

Now I personally take the first definition to be the subjective description of the objective second definition, so for me Molinism is compatible with Arminianism. However, not everyone sees it that way. However whether you agree with me that Molinism is a form of Arminianism or not, it is still relatively clear that it is both similar but not the standard model. (For the record, I am not a Molinist)

Conclusion

So who speaks for Arminianism? Well, no one really. Human life is messy, and we need to deal with that. However, there is a standard for Arminianism to which any contenders should be judged, and that is the Articles of Remonstrance. To say that something is Arminianism, it must be at least similar to what is taught in that document and the beliefs of its authors (and Arminius). Likewise, any definition of Arminianism which would exclude them is clearly defunct. So even though it isn't clear where the line is, it is clear what the center is.


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1 And every single one of them got their definition from being a former Calvinist.
2 Though his works are well worth a read. He was a brilliant theologian, and more importantly an ardent believer in Christ.