September 12, 2007

Determinism (Part 1)


I start with philosophy not because it contains the most inherent truth but that it puts forth the groundwork in which I can start to expand into other more detailed areas. Philosophy from the beginning was plagued with a number of hard questions concerning how man was to relate to God, time, and his motivations as an individual. Even before western philosophy proper materialized, man was considering his place in this world. Fate was one of the earliest concepts of Determinism, in which the world was a chaotic place and the universe was dependent on the moods of fallible gods.

Philosophy would change that (and then change its mind); at least it would come in and give alternatives to a chaotic existence. Starting with Parmenides and Heraclitus, two of the earliest western thinkers to argue this subject, man began to ponder the essential nature of reality. Parmenides argued that change is an illusion, there is really no such thing as motion; while Heraclitus argued that change is the essential state of reality. Heraclitus took his view from the ever moving fire and water, that by observation life needed constant change. Parmenides argument would stem from logic, an internal observation, that rejected change as an illusion; a thought that would pop up as late as Einstein. The world’s ability to change will prove to be a reoccurring theme.

Plato introduced the universal and the particular, stating that the universal (the form) will determine the infinite individuals. He bridged the gap between the earlier philosophers by asserting that the universal doesn’t change while the particular does. This is a fantastic leap, for the gap between the two is a canyon that haunts philosophy (in all its forms) and it is this gap in which we find occurring between God and man. The universal/particular distinction is the backbone for understanding determinism in the contextual light of the changing world.


Joshua said...

The best discussion of philosophical determinism that I have come across is by Gordon Clark. He makes a acute distinction between material or mechanistic determinism (like that of the Greeks), historical/economic determinism (like Marx), and Christian determinism (Calvinism).

The Greek version in its varying forms usually ends up with a "God" that determines all, but knows nothing whatsoever about what He determines (this is Aristotle--the universal does not know the particular).

The historical/economic version cannot prove causality.

The Christian version is often lambasted for removing moral responsibility from human beings, but that inference is invalid. Determinism of all things by an Eternal, Personal Spirit does not preclude that creatures are created with the capability of acting according to their own reasoning and desire apart from some sort of mind control. The use of secondary causes by the Divine Mind is the explanation for a unified Sovereignty without the destruction of moral decision. In everyday common sense we acknowledge secondary causes that impinge upon our choices--economic status (I'm poor and need to feed my family), physiological conditions (I'm tired and lost control), historical events (I was abused as a child), etc.

These are secondary causes that we did not properly "choose" by our own determination, but which God controls by His Sovereign direction (considered Joseph and his brothers for an overt example). The impact of these secondary causes does not remove our ability to choose according to our strongest desire (indeed, many people who faced similar causes make vastly different decisions), nor does it follow that our ability is therefore outside of the Sovereign control of God.

Some find Christian determinism to be crude and harsh, but when pressed for the reasons why this negative evaluation of it should stand, I have not yet heard a satisfactory reply. But in its defense I have come to recognize that all of our hope and security in God's love for us in Christ depends upon His determination of every detail. How else could an all-powerful God maximize His own glory than by all-knowingly determining everything toward that singular end?

Jacob Haynes said...


You are spoiling some of my surprises. I’ll further discuss your points when I get finished but I can’t do it just yet.

Joshua said...


There I go spouting off at the mouth prematurely as usual :-D

Jacob Haynes said...

Not a problem. Not like anyone else is going to read this. :)

Joshua said...

Hannah and I will be in town and are planning on eating dinner with everyone on Saturday. It will be a joyous occasion to be sure!

As for secondary causes, perhaps an example will suffice.

Consider a person who is superiorly gifted at playing the drums. This talent for drum playing is one cause, the primary cause of the telos, "beautiful drumming."

A drum set would be a secondary cause for the telos "beautiful drumming," for no matter how talented the drummer, there is no drumming without the instrument, and the quality of the drumming is diminished insofar as the drums are inferiorly made, tuned, etc.

If the drummer plays on defective drums it does not make his ability poor, though the end result is poor quality music. Yet the drummer might also be skilled at repair and could alter the secondary cause as to facilitate his masterful ability. If he were to use tools in his repair these would also be secondary causes toward the end of "beautiful drumming."

To use a Biblical example, one could argue that Paul's radical conviction to Pharisaism was a secondary cause toward God's end of using Paul to preach His Word to the Gentiles in the midst of great persecution. That Paul had persecuted so many in ignorance and unbelief was surely contributive to his willingness and rejoicing in the sufferings which he would bear for Christ in knowing belief.

Similarly, Moses's education as an adopted member of noble Egyptians provided him the knowledge of writing, geography, the Egyptian pantheon, etc., which God would later use toward the end of the writing down of the Pentateuch and the leading of Israel through the wilderness. The education constitutes a secondary cause to the immediate primary cause of Abraham's own willing thought and action.

God is the ultimate cause of everything insomuch as His decisions govern all subsequent events, but that secondary causes include the sinful actions of Satan, angels, and human beings does not mean that God is therefore morally culpable for these decisions. For one reason, God is not directly mediating the will of the individuals whose desire it is to sin. For another reason, God has so ordered that all evil is recompensed in either the substitutionary atonement of Christ or by the wrath of God poured out upon the unrepentant. Thus, the moral choice is preserved for each and every individual and Justice is made good in each temporal instance because of the end that, for God, has been determined from the beginning.

It is very heady stuff, but unless we are to assume an existence that is in constant flux (that is, a temporally determined God), which leads to chaos and complete irrationality then we must accept Biblical Divine determinism or live in self-contradiction.

I don't think many people pursue the logical conclusions of ideas, and those that do often find them reprehensible to their sensibilities. For the rest it is enough to believe in the necessities and let the last conclusions be passed over in willful ignorance.

However, many who are not driven to pursue the ends of logical consequences of thought are driven to pursue the ends of obedience to God's grace in Christ. Unfortunately I think too many who have delved the depths of these intellectual difficulties have shied away from pursuing the implications of God's grace in their own lives and subsequent behavior.

I have been guilty of choosing to intellectualize God's Word rather than apply it to my own life, which is as much Pharisaism as legalism, since Jesus himself often commended the theology of the Pharisees while denying that they had any viable faith or faithfulness to their conclusions upon the Law.

But I'm rambling again.

Raghu said...

How do y'all like porter davis?

Raghu said...

Oh yeah... determinism is an interesting discussion! I think there are limits in terms of how scientific/precise we can become with understanding God's interaction with his creation tho. But keep w/ your series on it - very thought provoking stuff!

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."
Deut 29:29