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.

Douglas Groothuis Mp3 (Lectures on Apologetics)

Lectures on Apologetics

Introductory Lecture (Dr. Douglas Groothuis) Click Here

1. The Nature and Purpose of Apologetics part 1 Click Here

2. The Nature and Purpose of Apologetics part 2 Click Here

3. Developing an Apologetic Mind for the Postmodern World part 1 Click Here

4. Developing an Apologetic Mind for the Postmodern World part 2 Click Here

5. Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge part 1 Click Here

6. Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge part 2 (57 minutes; 13 megs) Click Here

7. Truth and Knowledge Click Here

8. Conventionalism Click Here

9. Testing Worldviews Click Here

10. The Project of Natural Theology Click Here

11. Atheism Click Here

12. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 1 Click Here

13. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 2 Click Here

14. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 3 Click Here

15. Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 1 Click Here

16. Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 2 Click Here

17. Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 3 Click Here

18. Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 4 Click Here

19. God and Moral Meaning part 1 Click Here
20. God and Moral Meaning part 2 Click Here

21. God and Moral Meaning part 3 Click Here

22. Argument from Religious Experience Click Here
23. Questions and Answers Click Here


(HT: A-Team)

Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Moral Responsiblity: A Philosophical Introduction to Available Models. Part 3

Part 3 Alternative Possibilities, Moral Responsibility and Frankfurt Counterexamples:

 (Introducing the Philosophical Motivation for Compatibilism)

1. Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility

In each of the libertarian accounts considered above the agent is pictured as the source of his own action. Not only that, great care is taken in these accounts to ensure that the way in which action issues from the agent is internally nondeterministic. Specifically, the agent’s internal psychological states, reasons, desires, etc. are not sufficient conditions for the bringing about of a agent-action. Instead, the springs of action must conceived of as both internally (psychologically) and externally (circumstantially) indeterministic. And these finely tuned, intricate philosophical systems are not merely the sportful exercise of analytical powers; they are rooted in deep seated intuitions regarding the conferral moral responsibility. In particular, the intuition that seems to be driving (at least most) incompatibilist accounts is the notion that for a person to be morally responsible for their action there must be real, sufficiently robust alternative possibilities. This principle has been called the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP).

PAP: A person is morally responsible for what she has done only if she could have done otherwise.

Carl Ginet formulates this driving intuition in the following way:

It is very natural to think that a person deserves blame or credit for a certain thing’s being the case, is morally responsible for it, only if she could have made it otherwise. I deserve blame for the fact that the car is not yet repaired only if I could have made it the case that the car was repaired now. Smith deserves credit for knocking down the opposing quarterback only if he could have avoided knocking down the quarterback.

It is from these intuitions regarding responsibility that PAP is drawn up. The upshot of PAP is that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism. This notion, in particular, seems to be the central motivation for libertarian construals of human freedom. The argument from alternative possibilities for incompatibilism (and thus libertarianism) may be framed accordingly:

(1) If PAP is valid, determinism (D) and moral responsibility (R) are incompatible

(2) PAP is valid.

(3) Therefore, D and R are in fact incompatible (compatibilism is false).

(4) Therefore, incompatibilism is true.

Lines (1), and (3)-(4) are uncontestable. If PAP is true, moral responsibility and determinism do seem incompatible. (3)-(4) follow logically from the truth of PAP. Clearly (2) is the contentious premise. The compatibilist who desires to block this argument, therefore, will have to offer counterexamples to PAP which show (2) to be incorrect. PAP makes a universal claim about the nature of alternative possibilities and moral responsibility. Hence, a single counterexample to this principle will show its falsity. Harry Frankfurt has focused his work on precisely this point. By employing Frankfurt’s work I hope to criticize the centeral premise governing most libertarian accounts of freedom (PAP) and in so doing, undermine all three varieties of libertarianism mentioned above. This will then pave the way for an alternative, compatibilist account of freedom.

2. Frankfurt Counterexamples

In his ground breaking article “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” Harry Frankfurt proposed a series of counterexamples to PAP which have become the center of much of the contemporary discussion revolving around free will and moral responsibility. A Frankfurt-type example may run as follows. Unbeknownst to Jones, Black, a neurological surgeon, has implanted a device in Jones brain for the purpose of detecting his volitional activity. It is Black’s intention that Jones murder Mayor Mathis. Black knows that Jones has already planed to murder the mayor and at this point he simply wants to ensure that Jones carry out his diabolical plan. If, for any reason, Jones brain activity indicates that he will deliberate against killing the mayor Black will interfere with Jones’ neuronal pathways in such a way as to prevent Jones from carrying out that deliberation. Furthermore, Frankfurt imagines, there is no way for Jones to know that his brain activity is being monitored or that his deliberations against killing Mayor Mathis will ultimately be unsuccessful. As it turns out, there is no need for Black to interfere with Jones’ neuronal activity since Jones (to Black’s satisfaction) carries out his deliberations just as he planned (i.e. he killed the mayor without the inference of Black’s device). Now it seems prima facie clear that Jones, although unable to do otherwise, should be held morally responsible for his actions. It also seems clear, therefore, that a cogent counterexample to PAP can be formulated along Frankfurtian lines. This conclusion, however, has not gone uncontested. Two strategies have generally been offered in defense of PAP: the flicker of freedom strategy and the incoherence charge.

2.1 The Flicker of Freedom Strategy

The first strategy in responding to these types of examples attempts to meet them head on arguing that while Frankfurt’s examples do not—at first glance—seem to contain alternative possibilities, upon closer scrutiny it is realized that there are at least some alternative possibilities open to the agent. For example, it may conceded that the alternative pathway to refraining from killing the mayor was shut down by Black (the counterfactual intervener i.e. an intervener which interferes only with the flow of action if the agent ‘would have done otherwise’). However, this is not to say that the alternative pathway to beginning to deliberate to kill Mayor Mathis was shut down—in fact, it is the very initiation of the deliberation process that signals Black to intervene. It is argued that these may be the factors in Frankfurt’s examples that allow us to hold Jones responsible for his actions. These glimmerings of alternative sequences in the Frankfurt scenarios are called flickers of freedom.

John Fischer identifies four versions of this strategy. Three of these strategies closely investigate the alternative sequence (those courses of action which Jones does not perform) and attempt to locate some alternative possibility which may have gone unnoticed. The fourth strategy focuses its scrutinies on the actual sequence (the course of action Jones actually performed) and asks what exactly the agent is held responsible for. Fischer contends that the argument can be weakened initially by moving the deliberation-sign (Jones’ neuronal activity) to an earlier place in the deliberative process. Now, for instance, the sign that Jones is going to refrain from murdering black is not the initiation of the deliberation process but a blush. If Jones blushes then Black will know, for whatever reason, that Jones will soon deliberate in such a way as to refrain from killing the mayor. Fischer argues that when the examples have been reformulated in this way, the alternative possibilities that remain are not sufficiently robust to confer responsibility. According to Fischer, it hard to see how blushing (an action not directly connected to the deliberative process) in the alternative sequence could confer moral responsibility for Jones murdering the mayor in the actual sequence.

2.2 Incoherence Charge

A second strategy for defending PAP against the Frankfurt attack charges the examples with begging the question. This strategy argues that the Frankfurt-type examples assume causal determinism, the very point which is under debate. Fischer acknowledges that, “Under this assumption, it is unfair and question-begging simply to assert that the relevant agent—say, Jones—is morally responsible for his behavior. But the proponent of Frankfurt-style compatibilism should not—and need not—make such an assertion at this point.” Instead, he suggests, “The argument is in two parts. The first step is to argue—based on Frankfurt-type examples—that intuitively it is plausible that alternative possibilities are irrelevant to ascriptions of moral responsibility. If one agrees with this point, the preliminary conclusion can be stated as follows: if the agent (say, Jones) is not morally responsible for his behavior, this is not in virtue of his lacking alternative possibilities.” For the Frankfurt-style compatibilist, the argument for the actual conferral of responsibility along compatibilistic lines does not come in until the second stage of the argument. It is to this second aspect of the compatibilist argument that we now turn.

To be continued in Part 4


cf. Harry Frankfurt, “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.” JP 66 (December 1969): 828-39. Reprinted in John Martin Fischer. Moral Responsibility. Ithaca: Cornell University press, 1986. Reprinted in ACE, 17-25. Reprinted in FW, 167-76. Reprinted in MRAP, 1-16, see pg. 1.

Carl Ginet, “In Defense of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities: Why I Don’t Find Frankfurt’s Argument Convincing,” in MRAP, 75.

Frankfurt, “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.”

John Martin Fischer, The Metaphysics of Free: An Essay on Control, ASS Volume 14 (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), 136-40.

Ibid., 136.

Fischer, “Frankfurt-style Compatibilism,” 197.

Ibid., 198.

Books and Articles on the Philosophical Analysis of the Incarnation and the Trinity



Baker, Ruddy L. “Unity Without Identity: A New Look at Material Constitution,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23 (1999): 144-165.

Brown, D., 1989, “Trinitarian Personhood and Individuality.” in Feenstra and Plantinga 1989, pp. 48-78.

Coakley, Sarah. “What Chalcedon Does Solve and What Does it Not? Some Reflections on the Status and Meaning of the Chalcedonian ‘Definition.’” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 143-63.

Cross, R. “Aquinas on Nature, Hypostasis, and the Metaphysics of the Incarnation,” Thomist 60 (1996): 171-202.

Davis, Stephen T. “Was Jesus Mad, Bad, or God?” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 221-45.

______. Encountering Jesus: A Debate on Christology. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988.

______. Logic and the Nature of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983.

Daley, Brian E. “Nature and ‘Mode of Union’: Late Patristic Models for the Personal Unity of Christ. ” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002,164-96.

Evans, C. Stephen. “The Self-Emptying of Love: Some Thoughts on Kenotic Christology.” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 246-72.

______. The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: the Incarnational Narrative as History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Geach, Peter. “Identity.” In Logic Matters. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972.

Feenstra, R., 1989, “Reconsidering Kenotic Christology.” in Feenstra and Plantinga 1989, pp. 128-152.

______. “Pre-existence and Personal Identity.” In Logos: Philosophical Issues in Christian Perspective, 9 (

Flint, Thomas. “The Possibilities of Incarnation: Some Radical Molinist Suggestions.” In Religious Studies (2001).

______. “A Death He Freely Accepted: Molinist Reflections on the Incarnation.” In Faith and Philosophy, (2001).

Janzen, Grace. “Incarnation and Epistemology.” Theology 83 (May 1983): 171.

Leftow, Brian. “A Timeless God Incarnate.” ” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 273-392.

Martinich, A.P. “Identity and Trinity.” Journal of Religion 58 (1978): 169-81.

______. “God, Emperor, and Relative Identity.” Franciscan Studies 39 (1979): 180-91.

Morris, T. V., 1986, The Logic of God Incarnate. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Plantinga, Alvin. “On Heresy, Mind, and Truth.” Faith and Philosophy (1999): 184.

Plantinga Jr., C. “Social Trinity and Tritheism.” In Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological Essays. Ed. by Feenstra, R., and Plantinga, Jr., C. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, 21-47.

Relton, H. M., 1929. A Study in Christology. London: MacMillan.

Senor, T. “God, Supernatural Kinds, and the Incarnation.” Religious Studies (1991): 353-370.

______. “Incarnation and Timelessness.” Faith and Philosophy 7 (1990):

Stump, Eleonore. “Aquinas’ Metaphysics of the Incarnation.” ” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 197-220.

______.“Review of Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Morris.” Faith and Philosophy, VI 2 (April 1989): 218-23.

Swinburne, Richard. The Evolution of the Soul. Rev. ed. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1997.

_______. The Christian God. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1994.

_______. The Coherence of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

_______. “Could God Become Man?” In The Philosophy in Christianity. Ed. by G. Vesey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Swinburne, R. and S. Shoemaker. Personal Identity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984.

van Inwagen, Peter. “Incarnation and Christology.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 1999, 4:725-32.

______. “And yet they are not three Gods but one God.” In Philosophy and the Christian Faith. Ed. by Thomas V. Morris. UNDSPR 5. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988. 241-78. Reprinted in Peter van Inwagen. God, Knowledge, and Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995. 222-59.

______. “Not by Confusion of Substance, but by Unity of Person.” In Reason and the Christian Religion: Essays in Honour of Richard Swinburne. Edited by A.G. Padgett Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Wright, N.T. “Jesus’ Self-Understanding.” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 47-61.

Zagzebski, Linda. “The Incarnation and Virtue Ethics.” ” In Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God. Ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 313-31.

Zemach, Eddy M. “In Defense of Relative Identity.” Philosophical Studies 26 (1974).

William Lane Craig on Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances

William Lane Craig on Christian Origins