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Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Sketched Argument for God's Control

Introductory remarks

Here we offer, in accordance with our title, an argument for the doctrine that God controls the choices of all agents, which I regard as the key underlying principle of Calvinism. So, by the term "God" we have in mind the creator-deity Yahweh from Judeo-Christian tradition. The argument is deductive, with seven premises, each intended to cause comparatively less controversy than the conclusion. Defenses of the premises are not given in this document. However, we do present an initial set of six points, along with a rhetorical appeal for each, intended to elucidate the reasoning behind the argument. These points do not themselves make up any deductive argument; rather, each one, save the last, will serve as an aid to rhetorical defenses for subsequent points, and suggest strategies for defending the premises of the final argument.

Point (i): God is the creator of an entity iff He has complete control of its existence.

Here we assume that the definition of "create" is satisfied by complete control over existence. That God is in complete control over that which he creates seems fairly uncontroversial. However, the converse is not necessarily obvious; can God be in complete control over the existence of an entity without being its creator? I cannot make sense of such a suggestion, especially if we say that God is omnipotent and omniscient, such that he is in control of his actions and fully appreciates their consequences.

Point (ii): God and His creation comprise everything that is real.

The motivation for this point is fairly clear: Suppose that God and His creation are real, which seems necessary for theism, but that, additionally, (ii) is false. Then something, say, X, is real which is not part of God and His creation. Now, this seems to deny some of the majesty of God, and so is unattractive for that reason alone. However, we may further argue that X is out of God's complete control. For suppose God could completely control the existence of X; then by (i) God is the creator of X, which is false by hypothesis. However, if X is out of God's control, then this impedes upon His omnipotence, which we presumably wish to preserve.

It may also be helpful to observe that, given (ii), inaction on the part of God is quite different than inaction on the part of other agents, since there are no external forces to God and His creation to take over, so to speak, when God declines to act, whereas this is always the case with respect to other agents. Since objections to Calvinism often deal with the distinction between God's action versus inaction, noting this observation may assist in persuasion.

Point (iii): God is in complete control of Himself.

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then it seems natural to say that He is in complete control of His own responsiveness to whatever external forces He happens to encounter. If (ii) is true, then God is in control over the existence of such external forces, and so He is able to incorporate them into His plan for His own state of being. In this sense, he is in complete control of Himself.

Point (iv): God is in complete control of His creation.

If we accept points (i)-(iii), it seems hard to deny that (iv) is also true. For if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then He fully controls the existence of His creation, and appreciates all the consequences thereof. So, for any entity X, God controls the existence of X, and fully appreciates its role and consequences with respect to the remainder of reality. If God does not want X to behave a particular way, then he may create instead an entity Y which behaves as God wills, and which is the same as X in all other important respects. Since God is in complete control of Himself, then he is responsible for his own choices, including the choice to create X instead of Y. In this sense, God is in control of the behavior of X, which since X is arbitrary means God is in complete control of all entities within His creation. Indeed, we may view His entire creation as a single entity which is under His control in this respect.

In order to resist this conclusion, apologists may claim that God voluntarily withholds his control. If so, then we must point out that, according to (ii), God and His creation make up the whole of reality, such that there are no external forces to take the place of God when He stays His hand. Whereas in our human context we are accustomed to a sort of background of regularities which proceed whether or not we act, in the case of God this is not necessarily so. Indeed, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then God controls the existence of everything, which, as we suggested previously means that God is the creator of everything outside Himself. So, for God, He is equally responsible for inaction as well as action, if we can distinguish between those at all, since He fully orchestrates the respective consequences of each alternative. For, if (ii) is true, then whatever forces are at work in God's creation ultimately come from Himself.

Point (v): The choice of an agent is an event which occurs within the context of God and His creation.

It seems fairly natural to say that the choice of an agent is an event, but does it occur within the context of God and His creation? By this last question, we are asking if there are forces external to God and His creation which influence in any way, however small, a choice event. If (ii) is true, then we ought to conclude not, since nothing is real apart from God and His creation.

Point (vi): God is in complete control over the choices of every agent.

If points (i)-(v) are true, then it seems almost impossible to deny (vi). For if God is in complete control of Himself and His creation separately, then we tend towards the conclusion that God is in complete control of Himself and His creation as a whole. Since the choice of any agent is an event in this context, then it occurs under the umbrella of that control.

The argument

We presently introduce the following notation: Let N symbolize the statement "Everything that is real is among God and His creation." Let S symbolize the statement "God completely controls the existence of every entity, real or hypothetical, in His creation." Let Cx symbolize the statement "x is an event in the context of God and His creation." Let Tx symbolize the statement "God completely controls x." Let Hx symbolize the statement "x is a choice of an agent." Let Ix symbolize the statement "x is an entity in God's creation." Finally, let g and c symbolize the individual constants "God" and "God's creation," respectively. The argument thusly proceeds:

(1) premise: N

Everything that is real is among God and His creation.

(2) premise: N → (x)(HxCx)

If everything that is real is among God and His creation, then every choice of an agent is an event in the context of God and His creation.

(3) premise: (TgTc) → (x)(CxTx)

If God completely controls Himself and His creation, then God completely controls every event in the context of Himself and His creation.

(4) premise: Tg

God completely controls Himself.

(5) premise: S

God completely controls the existence of every entity, real or hypothetical, in His creation.

(6) premise: Ic

God's creation (in its entirety) is itself an entity in that creation.

(7) premise: (N ∧ S) → (x)(IxTx)

If everything that is real is among God and His creation, and God completely controls the existence of every entity, real or hypothetical, in that creation, then He completely controls every such real entity.

(8) conclusion: (x)(IxTx) (from 1,5,7)

Therefore, God completely controls every entity in His creation.

(9) conclusion: Tc (from 6,8)

Therefore, God completely controls His creation.

(10) conclusion: (x)(HxCx) (from 1,2)

Therefore, every choice of an agent is an event in the context of God and His creation.

(11) conclusion: (x)(CxTx) (from 3,4,9)

Therefore, God completely controls every event in the context of Himself and His creation.

(12) conclusion: (x)(HxTx) (from 10,11)

Therefore, God completely controls every choice of an agent.

Final words

As anticipated, the desired conclusion, (12), follows from seven premises. Of those, premises (1)-(4) seem relatively uncontroversial, and in need of little defense from a Trinitarian Christian who accepts divine omnipotence and omniscience. We may expect that (5) and (6) are likewise easy for many to accept, but unlike (1)-(4), they are sufficiently unintuitive that some who wish to avoid the conclusions may feel inclined to attack them. Premise (7), on the other hand, will require a significant rhetorical defense. We have outlined one such possible defense in the previous rhetorical appeal for point (iv).

On the other hand, even premises (1)-(4) may fall victim to doubt if the apologist demands and in turn attacks specific definitions. In particular, what does it mean to say that "God completely controls x"? Can we use the same such definition when x is an object versus an event? Answers to these questions may not be immediately obvious, and so we tentatively plan further clarification and rhetorical defense. However, such an expansion we leave to compose for a later time.

1 comment:

Jarrett said...

Hey,

I’m not trying to get into a knock out debate, but just want to throw some things out.

For a non-Calvinist, one can make several objections, obviously. However, you rightly note in your last paragraph where one will attack your argument.

I think one would first argue that you should not say God completely controls himself and/or his creation (and ‘everything’ in it), but rather say God sustains himself and/or his creation (and everything in it). Now, the question is there really a distinction between controls and sustains. I think there is. When I think of control, I think of one directly causing one to do something. When I think of sustain, I think of one upholding such and such an entity and/or event, and not necessarily determining, by directly causing, the entity to do such and such. God sustaining himself and/or his creation and everything in it would be better to assert, instead of God being in complete control over everything in creation (down to our very thoughts, actions, etc).

In your third premise you say, “God is in complete control of himself.” The problem with this is there obviously needs to be some modifiers to what complete control means. Surely, God can’t cause his own existence to end. Rather the better thing to say is that God is his own sustenance, by his very nature. What’s remarkable about God’s nature and essence, is not even God can change it (God can’t make himself irrational, evil, etc.) So, yes, there’s things that God can’t even change about himself! So, explicitly saying God is in ‘complete control’ of himself is troublesome for your argument.

In your fourth premise, you again say, “God is in complete control,” but this time of his creation. Now, there are differences in God being in complete control of himself and God being in complete control of his creation. But you don’t make any distinctions between the two. Also, again, I think sustaining his creation would be better, but using sustaining would hurt your argument b/c sustaining is not the same as controlling.