Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Does Norm Geisler Mean by Predetermination?

One major objection to Norman Geisler's "Chosen But Free" was Geisler's odd treatment of the relationship between God's eternal decree of providence and God's knowledge of the future. Calvinists (and even Molinists) handle this kind of issue in a relatively straightforward way.

By contrast, Geisler skirts around the issue in his book. He mentions the term "providence" a few times, but does not explain his own position using that term. Instead, he summarizes his own position in terms of the relationship between "predetermination" and "foreknowledge."

For example, Geisler claims that it is right to speak of God "knowingly determining and determinately knowing" (CBF, 3rd ed. p. 145). Dr. James White's discussion can be found here (link).

Geisler refuses to provide any logical order to knowledge and determination. One feasible explanation for this is that Geisler views them as one and the same thing.

Geisler even states:

"But if God is simply (absolutely one), then both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in Him. That is, whatever God knows, He determines. And whatever He determines, He knows. ... whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what He foreknows. Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He fore-chose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God." (pp. 145-46) (my emphasis)

Moreover, Geisler makes a similar equation in several other places:

  • "The future (including free choices) is determined from the standpoint of God's foreknowledge but free from the vantage of our free will." (p. 20)
  • "The story is predetermined from the standpoint of God's omniscience ..." (p. 151)
  • "God knows for certain (=predetermined) precisely how we will use our freedom (= freely determined)." (p. 154)
  • "there is no contradiction in claiming that God knew for sure (i.e., predetermined) ..." (p. 155)
  • "Whatever God foreknows must come to pass (i.e., is predetermined)." (p. 156)
  • "God's foreknowledge and foredetermination cannot be separated." (p. 159)
  • "from the vantage point of His omniscience, the act is totally determined." (p. 225)

Moreover, Geisler's equation seems to be apparent in Geisler's use of distinctions from alternative views. For example, Geisler refers to "strong determinism" in this way:

"Fourth, this view is a form of strong determinism, which alleges that our moral actions are determined (caused) by another rather than self-determined (caused by ourselves)." (p. 41)

But Geisler refers to his own position this way:

"By determined here we do not mean that the act is directly caused by God. It was caused by human free choice (a self-determined act). By determined is meant that the event's inevitability was fixed in advance since God knew infallibly it would come to pass. Of course, God predetermined that it would be a self-determined action; He was the remote and primary cause. Human freedom was the immediate and secondary cause." (p. 156, n. 34)

In other words, Geisler resolves what he sees as an apparent contradiction between predetermination and freedom by effectively converting predetermination into certain foreknowledge.

For example, at pp. 156-57, Geisler uses the example of a taped football game to illustrate an example of something being both free and predetermined. In response to the objection that this is only both free and predetermined because the game happened in the past, Geisler responds (p. 157):
In response, we need only point out that if God is all-knowing (omniscient), from the standpoint of his foreknowledge the game was predetermined. He knew exactly how it was going to turn out in time, though we did not. Therefore, if God has infallible foreknowledge of the future, including our free acts, then everything that will happen in the future is predetermined, even our free acts. This does not mean these actions are not free; it simply means God knows for sure how we are going to use our freedom.
Then, only one page later (p. 158), Geisler writes: "It is determined in the one sense that God foresaw it."

A similar analysis can be made of Geisler's marriage proposal scenario at pages 146-47.

Possibly there is another explanation, but for all the world it looks like Geisler is equating (he even uses the equals sign) predetermination and certain advance knowledge. While such an approach may resolve any conflict between "predetermination" and human freedom, it doesn't resolve the apparent difficulty that Geisler himself raises against what he calls "Extreme Arminianism," at page 143.

On that page, in criticizing "Extreme" Arminianism, Geisler appears to endorse the idea that God does not simply foreknow what happens, but that God is actually in control of all that happens. But when it comes to Geisler's description of "the balanced view," the idea of "control" seems to disappear. Geisler seems to rely instead on knowledge rather than control.

If any of Geisler's fans would care to clarify things for me from Geisler's book, I'd appreciate it. But until I see a better explanation, it appears that Geisler simply is unable to escape the problem he poses for so-called "Extreme Arminians."  He's stuck basically reducing God to the position of a person who knows the future but does not control it any more than the guy watching a taped football game.  Indeed, as noted above, Geisler specifically states: "By determined is meant that the event's inevitability was fixed in advance since God knew infallibly it would come to pass."  But that does make determination logically subsequent to knowledge, despite Geisler's protests to the contrary.


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