A Reverse Ontological Proof of Contingent Freedom?

I’ve been wrestling with this idea.

  1. God is the only absolute, necessary being (all confessional Christians agree to this).
  2. That which is not absolute is contingent.
  3. Human choices are not absolute, thus contingent (2).
  4. There is both necessity and contingency (1, 3).

Is that the same thing as “free will?”  It is probably not the same thing as libertarian free will, nor have I covered all of the finer points.  I think the propositions stand, though.  All of this is another way to affirm the necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent thing.

More on contingency and necessity

Turretin’s larger context is the moral law of God, but his comment reminds me of some earlier comments on freedom, predestination, and liberty.

For although all things out of God are in this sense contingent (i.e., such as he could have abstained from creating); still, from the hypothesis, he wills and acts necessarily in and about those things he wishes to exist

Eleventh Topic, Q.II.XIII

This is an important point for it is often criticized that the Reformers simply adopt an Origenist Problematic.

Charles Hodge, free choice, and divine certainty

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.  If they say certainty does destroy free agency, then they need to abandon the old argument that God elects people upon foreseen faith (ironically, this view is quite compatible with a limited atonement!).

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).  A natural choosing is not necessarily a libertarian one:  I can be said to naturally choose an option if I can show that I am using the faculties that God gave me:  intellect, will, etc.’  Yes, the outcome is certain but it doesn’t follow from that that we are robots.

Evaluation of Hodge’s proposal

Despite some confusing groundwork on Hodge’s part, I think he advanced the discussion.  He neatly interacted with free-will advocates like Thomas Reid, showing that Reid’s proposal is in no conflict with Reformed theology.  I think Hodge should have followed Turretin more closely:  posit  a distinction between consequence and consequent.

Scotist Contingency

One of the more exciting concepts I came across in the past few years was Duns Scotus’ view of freedom and necessity (cf. Willem van Asselt, Introducing Reformed Scholasticism).  Scotus delivers a model that allows both necessity in God’s fore ordination but an aspect of freedom in willing.  The following is taken from John Marenborn’s Medieval Philosophy: an historical and philosophical introduction

“Scotus will not allow that God’s foreknowledge is caused by the events themselves.  Rather, God’s knowledge of contingent truths is based on the knowledge of the free decisions of his own will, which determines which possibilities will be actual…

The libertarian, however, can respond that this doesn’t ultimately remove the problem, for God is still causing the situations.  Be it so, but Scotus is simply trying to do justice to the doctrine of God, and he does advance the argument beyond the previous causal paradigms.  Scotus’ response is something like this,

He considers that human actions are the joint result of the causality of the human agents and God.  But God is not seen as a direct cause of the human will’s acts.  As the first in an essentially-ordered series of causes, God is, rather, responsible for the agent’s causality itself: so the human will acts, and it is due to God’s will that it is able to act (289, 290).

This allows Scotus to say, given the divine decree, the human will has an element of contingency, yet the integrity of God’s decree is not compromised.  Scotus points out that the human will, regardless of the outcome of the divine decree, is logically able to will something differently.   This means that if I will x, it is not logically contradictory that I could have willed not-x. It is only a logical contradiction if I say I will x and not will x at the same time, but that is not what we are saying.   The divine decree does establish the paths events will take, but when we move to the temporal sphere, we are dealing with the modes and historical acting outs of these events.

Scotus’ model is not perfect, and even Marenborn is not entirely convinced.  I am not looking for a perfect model, though.  I am looking for one that allows me to formulate the doctrine of God and predestination with integrity.

Freedom and concurrence

Concourse and concurrence:  When God and man’s will overlap. The question is how may we best explain man having liberty while being under the control of God’s providence.

Aquinas: second causes are predetermined by God; When the free will moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from whom it receives the very power to move itself (ST, 1, Q. 83, Art. 1)

  1. God gives second causes the strength and faculty to act
  2. God keeps and sustains them in being and vigor.
  3. He excites and applies second causes to acting
  4. He determines them to acting
  5. he rules them to accomplish the ends.

The Protestant Orthodox is particularly the last of these (Turretin, I: 502).  God does not compel rational creatures to act by a physical necessity, he only effects this–that they act both consistently with themselves and with their own natures (508).  This necessity is one of consequence–it secures the action and result of a cause.   It is necessary according to the eternal premotion of God, but it is spontaneous according to the mode of acting (509).  The premotion does not take away the mode proper to the nature of things.  For example, the harp player is the cause of music, but not of the dissonance plucked from the strings.  Quoting Alvarez, “It does not follow that God is the cause of sin because he determines to the act; because the deformity follows the act, not as in the genus of nature, but as it is in the genus of morals and as it is caused by the free will (510).

Relating the concourse of God and the free will of man

  1. The concourse of providence and the human will is not of collateral and equal causes, but of unequal and subordinate (512).   This follows on anyone’s gloss since God is by definition the First Cause.
  2. God moves secondary causes according to their nature and mode.  Thus, it is necessary according to the source (as coming from the First Cause), but free as to the mode.
  3. Absolute liberty belongs to God; dependent liberty belongs to the creature.

The problem with simply reading Calvin…

Most do not realize that John Calvin’s Institutes, while a fine read, were originally meant for beginners in the ministry.  It is merely a guidebook for young pastors navigating through Scripture.  Yes, Calvin made important breakthroughs in epistemology and political theory, but even as incisive and advanced as they are, they are still elementary and surface-level.  This raises a problem with those who “convert” out of the Reformed faith to some other tradition.  Does simply reading Calvin make you an expert on the pros and cons of Reformed theology (this assumes that the interlocutor has even read through the Institutes; I know for a fact that this is rarely the case)?

One might reply, “Surely you can’t expect everyone to read everything before making a life-changing, heaven-and-hell decision?”   True, I don’t expect Aunt Lula May to read through all of Reformed scholasticism before evaluating whether the Reformed faith is true.   But admittedly, Aunt Lula May doesn’t consider herself an apologist and theologian. She doesn’t spend all day on the internet picking fights on blogs (and I rarely comment on other blogs myself).  She is held to a different standard.  For the convertskii who begins to attack Reformed theology, I do hold him to a different standard. It’s only fair.  If someone wants to “convert” out of Reformed theology because he finds inner peace or whatever in another system, I have no comment. That’s between him and God.  Every man stands or falls before his own master.  But if someone posits that the Reformed faith is categorically wrong and begins to offer what he thinks are systemic reasons, then I expect him to have read the best Reformed faith has to offer.  Let’s begin:

  1. If Protestantism is simply nominalism ala Gabriel Biel, then how come Biel’s system of salvation is virtually identical with the congruent merit schemes of Rome?
  2. If Protestantism is simply nominalism, then how do we account for the fact that Vermigli and Bucer were Thomistic realists?
  3. Are you familiar with Muller’s thesis? Which Muller works have you read? 1/3 of these articles can be found online; another five can be found on EBSCO. This is an important point, for once I started reading Muller, I realized my entire narrative about Reformation theology was wrong.
  4. Have you read Turretin?   Turretin’s genius is in precisely identifying the question at stake.  I wager few people have read Turretin (part of the blame lies with the seminary system).  You don’t even have to read all three volumes. Just read volume 1.
  5. Briefly discuss Aristotle’s causality scheme and how the Reformed modified and utilized it on the question of justification.  Explain why that is important.
  6. What do the Reformed mean by principium essendi and principium cognoscendi?
  7. What is the distinction between necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent thing?
  8. (Advanced) If the Scotist view of synchronic contingency was used by the Reformed, which essentially admits a free will (of sorts), then how can the charge of mono-energism stick?

Answering the Anchorites

This project has been a long time in coming.  Anchoretic apologists have been initially successful in picking off Reformed students by using a series of Trinitarian and Christological arguments.  In short, the Reformed students are (supposedly) faced with the implications of what they believe about necessity and how this is (supposedly) at odds with conciliar Christology.   The average Reformed student has no chance whatsoever of answering these challenges, if current seminary models are still valid.  There are two ways of dealing with these challenges:   1) simply pretend to be ignorant.  This really isn’t a bad method.  Most of these Anchorites (most but not all) aren’t that much more philosophically advanced than the Reformed student.  So all that the Reformed guy has to say is, “Hmm…show me.”    More often that not, that works.    Still the challenges must be faced.   The following challenges (and answers thereto) are based from numerous conversations with Anchorites.  They really aren’t based on any definitive literature because there isn’t any definitive literature that truly understands Calvinism.  Maybe that will change in the near future.

Anchorite challenge 1:  Isn’t the Reformed faith Nestorian?   Rushdoony and A.A. Hodge fell into Nestorianism.  The WCF 8.2 says that the person of Christ is divine and human.

Response ~1: Rushdoony doesn’t speak for the Reformed faith.   For over ten years he willingly cut himself off from any communion.    Hodge spoke too loosely and no one at the time really understood what Nestorius was saying, as McGuckin later demonstrates.   As to the Confession, if this is a claim to a Nestorian Christology, it is a very vague and weak claim.  I suppose  What does the Confession mean about the Person being “divine and human?”   It really doesn’t specify.   The most common interpretation is that the person has both divine and human elements to it.   This isn’t that much different from Maximus the Confessor confessing a synthetic Christ (cf. Von Balthasar, The Cosmic Liturgy).

Anchorite Challenge 2:  But doesn’t the Reformed faith deny a communication of attributes?  This means there is no communion between the two natures, and such a denial is a Nestorian separation.

Response ~2:   The Reformed do not deny a communication; we simply deny a 1:1 switch-over between the two natures.   Rather, we assert that the two natures are communicated to the Person.  If the Reformed (and generally Western) position is not held, and the two natures communicate their propria to each other, then they lose any real human or divine identity.   You can assert Nestorian all you want, but from our position all we see of you is Eutychianism.  Sure, this is a Western Christology.  We don’t hide it.  Unfortunately, we do not see anchorites trying to understand what legitimate concerns the Reformed have.  None has said it better than Richard Muller,

The Christological problem follows the [epistemological issue]:  if the human nature of Jesus, as finite, is in capable in itself of comprehending the infinite knowledge of the theologia archetypa[think of the simple divine mind, admitting no real distinctions], then any equation of the theologia unionis [for our present purpose, think the communication of attributes; BH] with archetypal theology must involve some alteration of the human nature of Jesus.  For Jesus to be possessed of an infinite divine wisdom according to his humanity, there would have to be either a communication of divinity to humanity or a transference of divine attributes to Jesus’ humanity within the hypostatic union (Muller, PRRD I: 250]

We must add one more thing:  if the Eutychian communicatio is true, then it’s hard to understand why Christ had to be anointed by the Holy Spirit and receive said gifts.

Anchorite Challenge 3:  You believe in necessity, do you not?  So, on your view is Christ’s human nature determined by his divine nature?

Response ~3:   This is one of those times where you just press them to define their terms.  When I hear the word necessity, I reach for my pistol.  Okay, maybe I don’t, but the point is that necessity has a loaded vocabulary.  Since I am representing Reformed theology, I get to define what necessity means (and doesn’t mean) according to Reformed sources.  Fair?  Reformed Orthodoxy makes a distinction between the necessity of consequence and the necessity of the consequent.   The former is how contingent events fall out in God’s providence.  They will happen, given what events came before them, but not absolutely.   As Muller says, it is a conditional necessity.  “The conditions that create [necessitate?  BH] that circumstance are themselves conditional” (Muller Dictionary, 200).  By contrast, the necessity of the consequent is an absolute necessity (like the opera ad intra).  Therefore, to answer the question, even though I think the question is badly misleading, the human nature follows the divine nature in terms of a necessity of consequence.

But even saying that, I simply have not read in any serious Reformed sources anything like the above charge.

Anchorite Challenge 3b:  How can you speak of natures determining?  Isn’t that Manicheanism?

Response ~3b:  All we mean by that is no nature against the terms that definite that nature, not even God.  This is standard theological fare (cf. Muller, ibid 200).  I remember listening to a Our Life in Christ podcast on the Essence and Energies (#4) and they came very close to positing a schizophrenic God.   They admitted that God’s nature doesn’t change, but then asserted that predestination isn’t true because God relates to us as a person, not a nature.   I suppose on one level God indeed does relate to us as a person, but I shudder to think of a disjunction between person and nature.

Anchorite challenge 3c:  Isn’t that monoenergism, since the human will of Christ doesn’t act freely?

Response ~3c:  No.  Given what we believe about the necessity of the consequence, we allow for freedom.  Let me explain.  Reformed scholasticism speaks of a liberum arbitrium, a freedom of choice.   We believe that the faculty of will (voluntas) is itself free and not prey to the bondage to which human nature fell (Muller 176).  We maintain that the human will is free from external constraint and imposed necessity.  The so-called lack of freedom is the limitation of choice.
How does this relate to Christ’s two wills?  I don’t know, but I think I have demonstrated that that the human nature isn’t “bad” on the Reformed gloss.

Anchorite Challenge 4:  But surely you Reformed speak of a sinful nature, right?

Response ~4: This might be somewhat our fault.  Our humanity has a sin nature accidentally, not substantially.  It’s been easier in discourse to simply say “fallen nature,” or something like that.    Casualty of war, I suppose.


God’s Knowledge of Future Contingencies

Taken from Turretin in rough outline form:

A thing may be contingent in two ways:

  • by depending on God as first cause (as all of creation is thus contingent, since God didn’t have to create)
  • by depending on prior second causes (which produce or not produce their effects).  Turretin is speaking these contingents.

A future contingent implies both certainty of event and mode of production.  As future it is certain, but as contingent in its mode of production.   It has the former from the decree of the First Cause, the latter from the constitution of the second cause.

The mode of production is clarified by the Westminster Confession of Faith V.2:  It identifies God as the First Cause, corresponding with the first point made by Turretin, but notes that the First Cause orders the events to happen in three modes:  freely, necessarily, or contingently.

See also:  necessity of the consequence (contingent) and necessity of the consequent thing (absolute)

An event can be both infallibly certain yet contingent.  Thus, all things take place by the necessity of consequence, not the necessity of the consequent.  Turretin notes that man’s actions can be free because they are spontaneous and follow rational judgment, but necessary because of God’s decree (I: 211).

Various Types of Theological Necessity

Turretin on different types of freedom

necessitas consequentiae (necessity of the consequences):  this is a hypothetical or non-absolute necessity.  It is brought about by a previous contingent act.  It refers to the necessity of the finite order.  There is no absolute necessity that God decree what he decrees, but since he has decreed so, he is bound to fulfill it.

necessitas consequentis (necessity of the consequent):  this is absolute necessity that refers to the opera ad intra.

Practical value of these distinctions:  it allows the theologian to intelligently and without confusion speak of both necessary and free acts.   Our acts are necessary in the sense that Providence is not subject to change.  But our acts are not absolutely necessary, since God was not bound to decree such.

The more I read of Richard Muller and other exponents of Reformed Scholasticism, the more I realize that the Reformation tradition had a rich and full understanding of freedom of choice.  The following is taken from Willem J. van Asselt’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.Contrary to Arminian and Catholic charges, the Reformed view of a “necessary” will is not incompatible with “freedom,” provided both terms are understood correctly. Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom: 1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God; 2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did], 3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree. 3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.” 4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one? 5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation. 6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.  This is an example of a necessity of the consequence.   It is not an absolute necessity.

In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).

Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence

The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:

(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).

In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.

Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.

Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).

Jonathan Edwards on “Necessity”

Robin Phillips had posted some problems on Edwards’ view of necessity and evil.  It made a lot of people at Orthodox Bridge excited.  Phillips, contra what some may think, wasn’t actually attacking Edwards.  He was showing, on his gloss, that Edwards’ reasoning was headed in a dangerous place.  Fair enough, but I don’t think it was.  I think the questions Edwards raised were already there.

I understand Phillips (and the more knowledgeable Anchorite apologists) want to avoid placing God under “necessity,” since that seems to move closer to Origenism.  But what if necessity is being used in a slightly different sense?  What if the urge to avoid necessity leads one to accidentally posit an agnosticism in the knowledge and being of God (this is precisely what “Prometheus” challenged these guys with.  I don’t think anybody caught on to it.  Everyone replied to him along the lines of cut-and-paste quotations from Palamas that answered nothing).  I will try to expand upon these two points:

1. Necessity:  The pleasant pagan P. Miller explains, “Edwards, we must remember, did not take cause in the positivistic sense of that which determines the effect, but rather as that which is necessarily and aesthetically antecedent” (Miller 257).  More could be said, but I think I have demonstrated that Edwards cannot be pinned as a necessitarian in either the Origenist or mechanistic sense

2.  Necessity anyway:  regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us, any Christian who refuses to embrace open theism has to face the problem: sin has happened.  Did God know that?  Is God’s knowledge of future contingencies real?  If not, you need to abandon omniscience (and probably omnipotence).  If yes, then we have another question:  if God knew it was going to happen, then that means it was going to happen.

Sidenote:  most of the NT talk of the second person of the Trinity rarely deals with the high Christology like Logos asarkos.  Rather, it speaks of the Son who was always-destined-for-Incarnation.