Bahnsen vs Stein, Tabash & Smith

Greg Bahnsen vs Gordon Stein. The great debate.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Transcripts of the debate are available here and here.

Greg Bahnsen vs Edward Tabash
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Greg Bahnsen vs George Smith
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6
Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12

Providence and Freedom: A Compatiblist Account. Part 2 – Semi-Compatiblism and Divine Sovereignty

2.1 Theological Terms

By meticulous providence it is meant that God’s control over creation is expansive and detailed. Commensurate with traditional Calvinistic thinking, every event, choice, and free action is predetermined by God. The divine decree is not an agent; it has no causal powers nor is it active in any way. The decree is God’s plan for the world which may be conceived of as a blueprint or script for the destiny of creation. God’s providence is his activity in creation directed toward bringing his decree to pass. For something to be predestined is for something to be decreed. Hence, God’s decree is meticulous. He not only decrees a world but also the human choices and actions that make up that world. It is not by virtue of decreeing the actual world that he decrees the network of human choices that make up that world. Instead, contra Molinism, God decrees particular events consisting of networks of free human choices and through his providential activity ensures that the events he has decreed come about without (in most cases) violating human freedom in the semi-compatibilist sense defined above.


2.2 Divine Knowledge and the Decree

Like the Molinist, I affirm that God has middle knowledge. However, unlike the Molinist, I locate this knowledge logically posterior to what I shall call a possible decree. (I do not view possible worlds as free standing concepts independent of God’s (at least possible) creative activity.) Traditionally, it has been held that God’s omniscience consists in only two types of knowledge: natural knowledge and free knowledge.[1] God’s natural knowledge is his knowledge of necessary truths. According to this knowledge God knows which worlds are possible. He has this knowledge, on my view, in virtue of which worlds he knows he could decree. God’s knowledge of these worlds, you might say, is based on a possible decree. This is because it doesn’t seem to me at all clear how God could know of a world without knowing of his creative activity of and in that world prior to his conception of it. God’s creative activity, it seems to me, must be the ontological and logical basis of all possible worlds. Hence, so also must be his decree to create. This flows not only directly from my view of God as meticulously provident but also from my view of Him as creator. So, logically prior to his instantiation of the actual world God has natural knowledge based on a myriad of possible worlds he could decree to be actual (i.e. instantiate) (this is his possible decree). God’s free knowledge, in contrast, is logically posterior to the actual decree and consists in God’s knowledge of the actual world. Divine middle knowledge,[2] then, stands logically between God’s natural and free knowledge. Specifically, God knows what every compatibilistically free agent would do if they were placed in a particular set of circumstances. To put it a bit more technically, God knows the truth-value of all counterfactual propositions: conditionals of the form ‘if it were the case that r, x would choose y; if it were the case that z, x would choose q’ where z and r stand for circumstantial conditionals. I am convinced that such counterfactuals exist and as a corollary of divine omniscience, it seems correct to say that God knows them. Furthermore, I contend that counterfactual knowledge would be immensely useful in God’s planning of the actual world. Terrance Tiessen comments on how exactly this might go:


God has middle knowledge, understood as his knowledge of all future counterfactuals. He is able to know this because his moral creatures are voluntary but not indeterministically free. Therefore, at the logical moment in eternity when God determined all that would come to be in created time, thereby establishing his eternal purpose or decree, he did so by a process in which he discerned what each of his creatures would do in a particular situation and then decided what influences he would bring to bear to change the situation so that the outcome, as decided freely by the creatures involved, would move things along in the direction of his purpose. I have pointed that in many instances God chose not to insert his influence in a forceful way and that he chose never to do so in a coercive way. He was still able to bring all of those creaturely decisions and their effects together in a history that culminates with his triumph over evil, and that demonstrates to all the greatness of his wisdom and grace. Every incident along the way has meaning in the light of the whole, and he is never out of control, even when he wills to allow creatures to be disobedient, sustaining their lives even as they reject his right to their worship and love and obedience.[3]

I essentially endorse this proposal by Tiessen.[4] Nevertheless, I will have substantially more to say about the role of divine middle knowledge in God’s providential activity later. Until then, this will work as a thumbnail sketch for how I perceive the relationship of divine knowledge—particularly, counterfactual knowledge—to the decree.


2.3 Providence and Human Freedom

It seems to me that the theologian who is concerned with maintaining both the moral responsibility of man and a meticulous view of divine providence will need to adopt some form of compatibilism. Tiessen touched briefly on the relationship of providence and freedom in his remarks so I will build off of his account. He says that God decreed the actual world “by a process in which he discerned what each of his creatures would do in a particular situation and then decided what influences he would bring to bear to change the situation so that the outcome, as decided freely by the creatures involved, would move things along in the direction of his purpose.” Tiessen seems to view situations as antecedent conditions which God uses to move compatibilistically free agents to act in accord with his predetermined purpose. Accordingly, these events are both free and predetermined. The agents are free and morally responsible because their actions are in accord with their own reasons and desires in response to the relevant situations. They are determined because they are an unfolding of God’s decree by means of God’s direct providential activity through the antecedent conditions that contribute to the bringing about of the action. I agree with this account. However, what Tiessen does not make clear is the relation of providential activity to the activity of the agent. The double agency relation, on Tiessen’s account, is fairly vague. One thing which I think should be carefully avoided is conceiving of God’s use of antecedent conditions as input-output mechanistic relations in which, say, external circumstances are brought to bear on an agent as an input devise for the output of agent-activity. This seems to me far too mechanical. It seems almost as if circumstances are exercising some kind of direct control over the agent.[5] The relationship of the activity of the agent to the determined antecedent conditions, therefore, should be thought of in terms of agent-circumstance interaction. The agent interacts and responds to situations which converge into new situations which re-exert their influence upon the agent so that agent interacts with antecedent conditions so as to shape the very conditions that bring about her action. Daniel Dennett explores a similar connection regarding antecedent conditions (like the past). He says:


Contrary to a familiar vision…determinism does not in itself ‘erode control’….Moreover, The past does not control us. It no more controls us than the people at NASA can control the space ships that have wandered out of reach in space. It is not that there are no causal links between the Earth and those craft [sic.]. There are; reflected sunlight from Earth still reaches them, for instance. But causal links are not enough for control. There must also be feedback to inform the controller. There are no feedback signals from the present to the past for the past to exploit.[6]

That antecedent conditions exert influence on our activity does not mean that they control us. Rather, it is the interaction of the activity which issues from an agent’s own reasons-responsive mechanism (to use Fischer’s terminology) with the antecedent conditions that God sets in place which brings about the God-intended effect. So in an extremely strong sense, our actions are our own. We act in complete accord with our desires in response to the circumstances that are presented to them. In short, we possess guidance control. God’s determination of the antecedent conditions, the way in which we interact with them, and our responsibility for the resultant actions are, therefore, not incompatible. The next chapter will take on the burden of establishing this claim.

[1] cf. Muller, PRRD, 3:411ff.; natural knowledge= scientia simplcisi or scientia necessaria, free knowledge= scientia voluntaria or scientia libera.

[2] scientia media.

[3] Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2000), 319.

[4] For a similar proposal see John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, 626-774; for a critique of these proposals see John D. Laing, “The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge,” JETS 47/3 (2004):455-68; for a critique of Lang’s critique, see my forth coming paper “Calvinism, Compatibilism, and Counterfactuals: A Response to John Lang.”

[5] I in no way think that Tiessen endorses this kind of view.

[6] Dennett, Elbow Room, 72.

I have found Paul Helm

My Photo

Paul Helm is blogging now at Helm’s Deep. I have often thought where he has gone since he is no longer a full time faculty member at Regent. Perhaps back to England? No, he will be in the U.S! He will be joining SBTS and RTS in January, 07 according to his blog.

(HT: Ref21)

Providence and Freedom: A Compatiblist Account. Part 1- Self-Limitation and Molinism

Having considered some of the more significant models for interpreting human freedom and moral responsibility, it is now appropriate to ask how human freedom might work within a world which is providentially governed by God. Specifically, we are now ready to inquire into dynamics of double-agency. We will examine the three most common models of providence and freedom in contemporary philosophical theology and briefly discusses their explanatory implications. In particular, I will explore two libertarian models and one—my own—compatibilist model. My model is unique in that it utilizes a middle knowledge, semi-compatibilist approach.


1 Two General Providence Libertarian Models

As might be imagined, a commitment to libertarian freedom raises some very interesting problems concerning divine providence. If, for example, freedom is conceived of as ‘the ability to do otherwise,’ then it seems hard to imagine how one could affirm that God ordains the action which libertarian agents actually perform. The problem can be framed as follows:


(1) Man is morally responsible.

(2) PAP is the correct principle for understanding the conferral of moral responsibility.

(3) Therefore, some form of libertarianism is the best way to explicate human freedom.

(4) Therefore, some agent x is free only if he could have done otherwise than act q in circumstances c.

(5) If God determines all things then God determined q.

(6) God determines all things.

(7) Therefore, God determined q.

(8) If God determined q, then x could not have done otherwise than q.

(9) Therefore, either God doe not determine all things or x could not have done other than q.

The strategy in both cases which we will consider will is to modify the most natural interpretation of (6) so that the idea of ‘determination’ does not entail determinism. This is the only way to avoid the problem contained in (9). Divine sovereignty must be thought of only in a general sense so that it does not shut down alternative pathways. Both strategies I will consider explicate this general sovereignty model in a different way. The first strategy qualifies the last two words of (6) (‘all things’) while the second focuses its energies on the second two words (the nature of the ‘determining’).


1.1 The Divine Self-Limitation Model

The divine self-limitation model has been employed by many philosophers and theologians—predominately those associated with Arminianism and what is now called ‘open theism.’ This position usually takes two forms. The first form argues that God has actually depleted himself of certain kinds of powers by virtue of creating a certain kind world—a world with libertarian agents, for one. The second form seems to interpret ‘self-limitation’ as ‘self-restraint.’[1] It is not that God no longer has the power to exert control over free creatures—he still has that power. Instead, God’s love for his creation is such that he has chosen to limit his control so as not to violate their freedom. Richard Swinburne identifies the libertarian motivation of this position when he suggests that:


An agent could be in a state of belief and desire such that it was inevitable that he would do what he did, or an action as good as the action he did do, and then neither praise nor blame would be deserved. It is a continuation of that thought to suggest that an agent would not be morally responsible at all (he would never be praiseworthy or blameworthy) if he was caused necessarily, predetermined, to try to do what he did, by his brain state, and that in turn by some prior state, until we come to causes outside the agent’s body and ultimately to causes long before his birth.[2]

How is it, then, that God is sovereign and yet man is free in the relevant (libertarian) sense? Bruce Reichenbach offers the following answer:


Sovereignty invokes the political relationship of governance….The governor or sovereign has both authority and power…The relation of the sovereign to the fundamental laws [which he set forth] and the source of the sovereign’s authority help determine the kind of power the sovereign has, what their limits are, and to what extent they may be employed. If there are certain necessary laws, the sovereign’s power is determined and limited by these laws. If the power of the sovereign is derived from the consent of the governed, then his power will be limited by the governed whose consent may be withdrawn under certain circumstances….To be sovereign does not mean that everything that occurs in accord with the will of the sovereign or that the sovereign can bring about anything he or she wants. The ability of the sovereign to determine the outcome depends on the freedom granted to the governed. If those subject to the sovereign have freedom, then there are certain things that the sovereign cannot bring about…Orthodox Christians hold that God is sovereign; he has both authority and power over his creation….Yet at the same time he has willingly limited his power and created us with a freedom to choose between good and evil.[3]

Commenting on God’s providential interactions with libertarian agents, Thomas Tracy argues along similar lines that:

In establishing this relation to creatures, God commits himself to a pattern of interaction that qualifies the scope and direction of his activity. He creates a field of other agents whose integrity he respects and so whose independent actions condition his choices. This amounts to a purposeful limitation of the scope of his own activity, but it dos not nullify his omnipotence: he remains an all-powerful and radically self-creative agent capable of freely regulating his own pattern of life at every movement of his existence. Intentional self-restraint does not represent a enunciation of omnipotence, but rather a renunciation of certain uses of power, and this is entirely in keeping with God’s unlimited self-creativity.[4]

Starting, then, with the assumption of libertarian freedom, this view of providence conceives of divine predetermination in a very general sense. God exerts his influence and exercises his control over creation only to extent that it does not violate libertarian freedom. So God does not causally determine all things; he only determines the general structure of reality (like say, setting up it laws, granting man freedom, etc.)—not its particular actualizations.[5] These particularities are left up to the self-creativity of his creatures. Libertarian freedom is proof of this.[6]


1.2 The Molinist Model

Molinism (from the medieval Jesuit philosopher Louis de Molina) starts out with the assumption that God has knowledge of what every libertarian agent would do in every possible world (i.e. God has middle knowledge). In the moment logically prior to creation God eternally contemplates every possible world and then chooses the world which is most suited for his plans and purposes. According to Molinists, the agents in the actual world have libertarian freedom since they could have (and presumably would have) done otherwise in other possible worlds. As Richard Gaskin claims, “Middle knowledge enables God to plan for every eventuality, never to be taken by surprise; but it achieves this without derogating from human autonomy: God does not have to know what is going to happen by making it happen.”[7] As it relates to divine election and predestination, the Molinist claims that God elects by virtue of instantiating the present world from among all of the other possible worlds. In other words, by God choosing to actualize the present world, he chose the libertarian agents who would freely choose him in that world. Thus, Craig seems to view predestination as a subset of divine sovereignty: “We might say that it is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are actually predestined but it is up to us whether we are predestined in the world in which we find ourselves.”[8] So God’s determination, once again, is very general. God determines a world of consisting of a network of libertarian choices rather than a network of events in a world. He only determines the particular events of the actual world in so far as they are part of the world he chooses to instantiate. It is important to emphasize that for the Molinist, God’s knowledge of the events in each possible world are logically prior to and independent of his decree. Consequently, God has control over the events he knows only in so far as he chooses whether to instantiate a world with those exact events. And it is not the case that God can determine any set of events (i.e. any world) he wants, he can only determine events in so far as they are feasible within a network of events in a possible world i.e. while there may be a presumably infinite range of possible worlds, there is only a logically limited range of feasible worlds. As Thomas Flint summarizes:


Though God has no control over which truths he knows via middle knowledge, and thus no control over which worlds are feasible worlds, he has complete control over which feasible world will become actual, and he fully exercises this complete control by performing a particular complete creative act. Hence, the Molinist can consistently say that each and every contingent event that occurs is subject to divine sovereignty….Hence, the whole world truly is in God’s hands: everything that happens was not only foreseen, but either intended or at least permitted by a deity who had full power to prevent it.[9]


Thus, God’s sovereignty means control only in a general sense. On this view, God does not directly determine individual choices, only worlds in which individual choices are made.

To be continiued…

[1] See for example Marcel Sarot, “Omnipotence and Self Limitation,” in CFPT, 172-85.

[2] Swinburne, Responsibility and Atonement, 51.

[3] Bruce Reichenbach, “God Limits his Power,” in Predestination and Free Will: Four Views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, edited by David and Randall Basinger (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 104-19.

[4] Thomas Tracy, God, Embodiment, and Action (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 1984), 143-44.

[5] cf. D.J. Bartholomew, God of Chance (London: CMC Press, 1984).

[6] For further discussion of some of these points, esp. interaction with Jewish exegetes and philosophers, see Sarot, “Omnipotence and Self Limitation,” 172-85.

[7] Richard Gaskin, “Conditionals of Freedom and Middle Knowledge,” in Middle Knowledge: Theory and Application, ed. by William Hasker, David Basinger, and Eef Dekker, CPT, ed. by Gijsbert van den Brink, Vincent Brummer, and Marcel Sarot (Oxford, Eng.: Peter Lang, 2000), 138.

[8] William Lane Craig, “Middle Knowledge, A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, ed. by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academic Books; Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), 157.

[9] Thomas P. Flint, “Two Accounts of Providence,” in Divine and Human Action: Essays on the Metaphysics of Theism, edited by Thomas V. Morris (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988)158-59.

Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Moral Responsiblity: A Philosophical Introduction to Available Models. Part 5

Summary and Conclusions


Two basic models of freedom have been surveyed in this series of posts. First, I considered a variety of libertarian models. PAP, the principle of alternative possibilities, is the most significant motivation for libertarian freedom. Frankfurt’s counter-examples to the ability of these alternative scenarios to function as robust grounds for moral responsibility seem to me to be fairly convincing. I have considered a series of responses to these objections, but Fischer seems to have demonstrated that each of these do not hold up for one reason or another. Compatibilism offers a differing model of freedom that does not depend upon events in the alternative sequence, but grounds responsibility in the actual sequence, which seems intuitively to be the environment for the locust of freedom in any case. I develop this point further in a forthcoming set of posts on divine providence. Of the available compatibilist accounts of freedom, semi-compatibilism provides the most rigorous and intuitive appeal from my perspective since its analysis is grounded in a plausible notion of control and reasons responsiveness in the actual sequence mechanism. This paves the way for a nuanced account of divine providence and human freedom that I will pursue in my next set of posts.

Stephen Meyer Mp3 & Video

A lecture on Intelligent Design
A lecture on The New Cosmology: Theistic Implications
A lecture on Quantum Cosmology


Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle.


Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.


Dr. Meyer has recently co-written or edited two books: Darwinism, Design, and Public Education with Michigan State University Press and Science and Evidence of Design in the Universe (Ignatius 2000).


He has also authored numerous technical articles as well as editorials in magazines and newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, First Things and National Review.

Pray for the Uygur, Lop Nur of China

Pray for this un-reached people group.

Although the Lop Nur people have been officially included as part of the Uygur nationality, “they differ from the Uygur people in both language and appearance – looking more like Mongolians.”

The Lop Nur Uygurs are “believed to be descended from the ancient Loulan people. Their ancestors all lived at Lop Nur and were engaged in fishing and hunting. When Lop Nur dried up several decades ago, they were forced to move and settle down in Miran.” When Marco Polo visited the ancient city of Lop, now buried deep beneath the sand, he noted, “There are many springs of bad and bitter water, though in some places the water is good and sweet. When it happens that an army passes through the country, if it is a hostile one, the people take flight with their wives and children and their beasts two or three days’ journey into the sandy wastes to places where they know there is water and they can live with their beasts.”

Seven centuries ago, Marco Polo described the effect the Taklimakan Desert had on stray travelers. “When a man is riding by night through the desert and something happens to make him loiter and lose touch with his companions he hears spirits talking in such a way that they seem to be his companions. Sometimes, indeed, they even hail him by name. Often these voices make him stray from the path, so that he never finds it again. And in this way many travelers have been lost and have perished.”

The Lop Nur Uygurs converted to Islam several centuries ago. They retain many features of their pre-Islamic spirit-appeasement rituals, including the worship of the sun, moon, stars, and wind.

There is no apparent Christian presence among the people living in the desolate wastes of the Lop Nur region. Nestorian missionaries from the eighth to thirteenth centuries established churches along the Silk Road townships, but all memory of them and their message has long since been obliterated by the all encompassing sands of the Taklimakan Desert.

More of the Uygur.