Friday, October 5, 2012

Chaos, Open Theism, Calvinism and a Big Piece of Humble Pie

There aren't many times when I recant what I previously wrote. I normally stick by stuff I have said and continue to do so. However, I wrote a piece a few months ago on why I wasn't a Calvinist. Though I denied open theism, I told you that I found the idea attractive but instead clung to a largely Arminian perspective on soteriology. In fact, I signed what was called the "Traditional Baptist" document, affirming man's freedom in salvation.

For those of you who are Calvinist who I dialogued with (more harshly and brashly than you deserved I might add), allow me to offer a humble recantation of my stance and explain why.

I had a dialogue with a friend about a month ago in Chili's about open theism. I told him that I essentially didn't want to think about the issue because it seemed attractive but I knew it was really, really wrong. However, I after the conversation I realized that this wasn't intellectually honest. So, I went back and started reading through virtually every single article I could find on open theism. What had (at one time) particularly impressed concept of open theism with a theory called "chaos theory."

Greg Boyd has long championed this idea that the chaos theory shows that we live in an indeterminate universe. In the past, I rested on Boyd's opinion and interpretation of this and thought, "Even science backs up open theism!"


So false.

So so so false.

I decided to investigate the chaos theory for myself this time (in order to effectively brush off any Calvinists). So I started reading the book Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by leading neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga. In the book he argues that our lives are essentially determined by our brains. However, he argues that things are indeterminate (as far as being able to be measured) because of the chaos theory.

Chaos Theory

Newton assumed that if we had completely accurate measurements of everything we could determine the course of the world. That is largely true according to most scientists today. However, the problem comes in with chaos theory. Chaos theory says that when three more bodies (that could be planets, people, cities etc.) come into contact, we can not completely compute (or measure) accurately enough anything (on the biological and molecular level) to know what will happen. Small variables, over time and space, can create what seems to be random occurrences in our lives.

But here is the catch: what chaos theory says is that things are indeterminate because we currently don't have the ability to measure those things and likely never will accurately enough. This statement essentially undermines what open theists have been saying and let me explain why.

1) Open theists say that God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things.

2) However, if God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things, that means he is not hindered by scientists' current inability to measure accurately down to extremely small decimal places.

3) What this means is that God could, by nature of just pure mathematical ability not just "predict" the future but literally know every single action based upon his ability to a) compute and b) apply that knowledge to the future.

What I am saying is that for God, if he even possesses just exhaustive knowledge of the present, can know the future. But then that means God would possess foreknowledge. Back to that in a bit...

Why Our Brains Betray Us (and it is a good thing)

Most scientists now assume we live in a deterministic world. While the theory of evolution plays a large part in this, current research on the brain also leads them to conclude this as well. I will simply cite one example.

Recent experiments have shown that our brain begins to cue up energy for us to move our hand a few milliseconds before we are even conscious of the thought, "I am going to move my hand." Some experiments have shown that this process happens as early as ten seconds before we become conscious of our desire to perform an action. That is staggeringly cool!
But it also, in my mind, deals a death blow to open theism. If God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the present, that means that even on the smallest molecular levels, God could accurately know what we could and would do as early as ten seconds before we actually do it. That might not seem like much to us but to a God who is infinitely resourceful that is a game changer. Further, it also means that regardless of what we want to say, God possesses divine foreknowledge to some extent. I find this to be absolutely awesome! Our brains literally betray us and simply opens up the possibility that God does possess foreknowledge.

Speech Acts and Kevin J. Vanhoozer

I was incredibly blessed to have some personal dialogue with Kevin J. Vanhoozer through email. While what he said to me was personal (and encouraging), he dialogued with me about open theism and why he rejects it. I bought his book Remythologizing Theology and so far, it is beginning to shape the way I view some of those tough passages that we typically have called anthropomorphisms. The philosophy behind speech acts argues that words do more than simply convey information--they can actually illicit a change within someone. If I hold that God's Word is inerrant (which I do) and that God wanted was written said for a reason, then this leads to some interesting possibilities about those notoriously t
ricky passages about God changing his mind.

I can either take them hyper-literally or I can under them to be speech acts that were designed to illicit a response within me. If I take them to be speech acts that Moses wrote (by God's divine power) then that means they are meant to convey to me that God is truly relational, though he possesses exhaustive definite knowledge. While my literalness in hermeneutics wants to come up here, I think that speech acts have made these verses more understandable actually.

But Why Calvinism?

At this point, I haven't said anything that particularly lends itself to Calvinism. I have simply been arguing for classical theism. However, let's put together the entire scope of what I have been saying...

1) God, as creator, made the rules of what is now largely considered a determined universe by scientists. Even areas where we say something is indetermined simply means that we don't possess the tools to accurately measure variables. However, God does. Nothing then is indeterminate to God. Since God, before creation, made the rules of physics that our world would operate by, that means that God, by virtue of being God, not only knows the future but meticulously designed how it would come about through physics.

2) God knows what our brains are going to do before we even are conscious of it. If anything, this simply nullifies the idea of free will.

3) God's on its most basic reading backs up everything that science is already discovering.

4) Passages that seem to offer contingencies (or choices) can simply be understood as speech acts to illicit response from us.

Anyway, I realize that half of my readers are going to see this and think, "I am disappointed in Daniel from turning away from his previous belief," while the other half is going to think, "Good for you, Daniel."

While, I recognize this was not the most usual path to take to come to this point in my theology, it is a path that nevertheless has astounded me and has left me in total awe of God. Never before have I felt so excited in my walk with God (even the first time I thought Calvinism was true!). Being older and wiser I realize I was wrong about what I said earlier. I think even the 3 point Calvinism I had leaned toward before wasn't even that strong.

So...there is a big piece of humble pie for me to eat!


  1. Free will is obvious. Its also obvious that Atheists (who love doing evil) will attack it with as much vigor as Calvinists (who also love doing evil). The only difference between Atheists and Calvinists is their excuse for doing evil. Atheists use the excuse of claiming that God doesn't exist; Calvinists use the excuse "God made me do it." And Pentecostals use the excuse "the devil made me do it." But its all the same in the end. People denying free will just because they want to do evil and not take responsibility for it.

  2. One more comment: Atheists used to object to the Bible by saying "You can use the Bible to justify anything." Well, they still say that of course. But today, I object to science in the same way: "You can use science to justify anything." So if you tell me that science backs up determinism, that's meaningless to me: You can use science to back up anything. Science isn't inerrant nor infallible. Atheists are trying to turn science into what the Bible used to be. They're trying to make it out into some infallible 'word of God' type of thing where we must all bow down before it and say "Science says it, so that settles it" just like people used to say "The Bible says it, that settles it." Well, I'm sorry, but I aint buying into this new fangled 'word of God' called science. The whole point of real science, after all, is skepticism. When people start talking about consensuses (as with global warming) or saying that science proves this or that, that science proves we have no free will, or science proves there is no God, etc. they're just making stuff up, slapping some pseudo-scientific phrases together, and hoping we're stupid enough to buy into it. And sadly most people are! Even as 'science' falsely-so-called bashes God and claims to have proven He doesn't exist, we find so-called 'Christians' using science to disprove free-will (whereas they wouldn't use it to disprove God obviously). So you accept the devil's 'scientific' disproof of free-will but not his 'scientific' disproof of God? Kinda hypocritical. End of rant.