Debate on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Fundamental Philosophical Concepts

Before proceeding further in our series of posts on divine sovereignty and human freedom, it would be good to clarify some of the contested concepts in the debate.

Let’s begin with two fundamental concepts:
1) Free will. The ability of an agent to make genuine choices that stem from the self. Libertarians argue that free will includes the power to determine the will itself, so that a person with free will can will more than one thing. Compatibilists typically view free will as the power to act in accordance with one’s own will rather than being constrained by some external cause, allowing that the will itself may ultimately be causally determined by something beyond the self. Hard determinists deny the existence of free will altogether. Most Christian theologians agree that humans possess free will in some sense but disagree about what kind of freedom is necessary. The possession of free will does not entail an ability not to sin, since human freedom is shaped and limited by human character. Thus a human person may be free to choose among possibilities in some situations but still be unable to avoid all sin. /1/ Continue reading “Debate on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Fundamental Philosophical Concepts”

Reading: G.C. Berkouwer on Freedom and Divine Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 4/7

Divine Providence and Determination Do not Negate Human Freedom

[Berkouwer warns against associating divine election with phrases like ‘incontestable freedom” and “absolute possibility” as these descriptions “open the door to a fatalism and determinism in which the events of our time and history were robbed of all genuine meaning.” (HCT 89) Human action is rendered insignificant and fate becomes inescapable as the future inexorably unfolds with relentless logic following an impersonal decree set by God at the beginning.

The fundamental error of identifying Providence with determinism is the de-personalization of the God-concept. Scripture rejects rigid determinism because the almighty power of the personal living God embraces freedom and responsibility of the creature] Continue reading “Reading: G.C. Berkouwer on Freedom and Divine Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 4/7”

Compatibilism: Divine Permission and Human Action– Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 3/7

Providence is God’s work of sustaining creation and his sovereign, benevolent control of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God.

It is widely held that humans are free to the extent that they are able to choose between alternative possibilities with equal ease. Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism) rejects this so-called “power of contrary choice” or the “liberty of indifference”, and contends that choice is not a matter of indifference; we always chose what we personally want. We also act in accordance to our nature, motives and desires. Our choices change under different circumstances, but ultimately they follow what appears to be the most compelling motive for the moment.

Since God by virtue of his omniscience knows exhaustively our motives, he is able to foreknow and foreordain (elicit) specific human choices under appropriate circumstances ordered through his meticulous providence. We act according to what God has foreknown; nevertheless our choices and actions which follow our strongest motives are voluntary since they are not coerced. That is to say, divine foreknowledge is compatible with voluntary human choice. Continue reading “Compatibilism: Divine Permission and Human Action– Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 3/7”

Models of Divine and Human Action in Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 2/7

The two main rivals of the doctrine of providence are deism and pantheism:
(1) Deism envisages God leaving creation alone, having endowed it with inherent powers to operate according to its inbuilt laws.
(2) Pantheism does not distinguish God from the world. Since God’s action or providence are identical with the course of nature, there is no independent or secondary causes in the outworking of creation.

[I am leaving out the philosophical theory of occasionalism, represented by Al-Ghazali (Muslim) and Malebranche (Christian) to keep the post simple, and so as not to burden some of my readers who may problems following complicated philosophical discussions. Occasionalism teaches that created beings are absolutely devoid of causal powers and all events are directly caused by God. God is directly, immediately and solely responsible for bringing about all phenomena.]

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) strikes a balance between these two rival positions in its article on the decrees of God.

God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3:1) Continue reading “Models of Divine and Human Action in Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 2/7”

The Providence of God – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 1/7

What is Providence?

Providence is God’s work of sustaining creation and his sovereign, benevolent control of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God.

Budding theologians who are eager to display their critical acumen by challenging traditional doctrines like the Trinity, the virgin birth, the deity of Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross, somehow give the doctrine of providence a pass. It seems that the doctrine of providence enjoys a privilege status and commands universal assent. For theists, it is intuitive and logical to conclude that God must be sovereign in sustaining, directing and ruling over the world in exhaustive detail if he is to be worthy of trust and worship. Continue reading “The Providence of God – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 1/7”

The Psychology of Atheism: From Gaze to Glory. Part 1/2

A tribute to R.C. Sproul who has just gone to glory.

The popular idea of God as an invention of weak-minded people desperately looking for an emotional crutch to help them cope with wretched reality was developed with erudition and sophistication by the three patron-gods of modern atheism, Friedrich Nietzsche Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. For example, Freud regarded religious ideas as “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. . . .As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection — for protection through love — which was provided by the father…. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the danger of life. [Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (Norton, 1927, 1961), p. 30]

Freud theorized that religion must have evolved from animism to monotheism. The impersonal forces of nature are remote and unpredictable. Hence, nature must be conceived as animated by divine powers who resemble human beings. These powers may be malevolent, but since they behave like humans, we at least know how to deal with them. Religion then progressed from simple animism to complex monotheism which culminates with God as a benevolent Father figure.

R.C. Sproul sets out to refute this popular critique of Christianity. First, Freud is mistaken when he argues that the personal is more comforting than the impersonal, which is the reason why humans ‘populate’ nature with many deities. Continue reading “The Psychology of Atheism: From Gaze to Glory. Part 1/2”

If Evolution – No Adam, No Fall, No Salvation, No Savior

Why do atheistic evolutionists  conclude that Christianity is false? Basically, there rely on the following argument.

The Atheistic Evolutionist Argument
1) If evolution is true, there was no first, historical Adam.

2) If there was no first, historical Adam, there was no Fall.

3) If there was no Fall, the sinful condition of humanity is not an inescapable condition.

4) If the sinful condition is not an inescapable condition, moral and religious categories like ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’ are irrelevant or unnecessary, as evolution will take whatever course it takes by chance].

5) If salvation is irrelevant or unnecessary, there is no need for a Savior.

6) The heart or fundamental claim of Christianity is that it is necessary for Jesus to come as the Savior of the human race

Conclusion: If evolution is true [i.e. there was no historical Adam], then based on (5) and (6), Christianity is false.

Continue reading “If Evolution – No Adam, No Fall, No Salvation, No Savior”

Toward a More Precise Definition of Evolution

Much confusion arises in the debate on Evolution and Creation because the opposing sides are working with different meanings of evolution. It would be helpful to refer to the taxonomy of evolution given by Stephen Myer & Mike Keas.

Principal Meanings of Evolution in Biology Textbooks:

1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.
3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms
have descended from a common ancestor.
4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited
descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random
variations or mutations.
5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended
from a single common ancestor.
6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended
from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent,
purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on ran-
dom variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection,
random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic
mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of
design in living organisms.

In my view, there seems to be evidence to support Evolution (1-4). However, the evidence for general evolution/Evolution (5) remains inconclusive, if not debatable.

Myer and Keas suggest that Evolution (6) in reality is a metaphysical theory. Continue reading “Toward a More Precise Definition of Evolution”

The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 2) – From Reliable Historical Document to Trustworthy Word of God

Link to: The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1)

The Classical Argument in Proving the Bible as the Trustworthy Word of God.

1.    The Bible is basically a reliable and trustworthy historical document.
2.    On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
3.    Jesus as the Son of God is an infallible authority.
4.    Jesus Christ teaches the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
5.    Conclusion – on the basis of the infallible authority of Jesus Christ, Christians believe the Bible is utterly trustworthy, i.e. infallible Word of God. Continue reading “The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 2) – From Reliable Historical Document to Trustworthy Word of God”

The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1) – The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document and Trustworthy Word of God.

Link to Part 2 – The Classical Argument in Proving the Bible as the Trustworthy Word of God

The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document

Critics of Christianity often assert that we cannot trust present copies of the Bible as they do not accurately reflect the original text (autograph). This criticism is echoed by Dan Brown in his popular fiction, The Da Vinci Code:

The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is the product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book. [Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday 2003), 231].

Dan Brown’s criticism is a deliberate distortion of history. In truth, there is an abundance of early Bible manuscripts. Continue reading “The Logic of Christ and the Bible (Part 1) – The Bible as a Reliable Historical Document and Trustworthy Word of God.”