Unguided Determinism in Contrast to Biblical Predestination: A Few Thoughts
By Michael Robinson
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11).
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations (Psalm 33:11).
The Bible reveals that non-theistic determinism is not the case, but that God “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). William Halverson offers three possible positions on that which comes to pass vis-à-vis human beings: Hard determinism, soft determinism, and libertarianism. All three have selected features that appear to be similar to predestination. Nonetheless Halverson’s notions are wide of the mark.
The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass (answer to Question 7: Westminster Shorter Catechism).
Hard Determinism: The view that determinism is true, and that it is not compatible with moral freedom, and human beings are, therefore, not morally responsible.1
Soft Determinism: The view that determinism is true, but that the conditions of moral responsibility are such that human beings are, nonetheless, morally responsible whenever they have the opportunity to do what they want to do. 2
Libertarianism: The view that free will is a necessary condition of moral responsibility, that human beings have this freedom, and, consequently, determinism is not the case.3
The most important difference between Halverson’s views and biblical predestination: Predestination is guided by a personal being and not blind chance or brute mechanical natural laws. Behind predestination is a will and a plan—a perfect will guiding and sustaining “whatsoever comes to pass” in accordance with His glorious plan. Thus, men are morally responsible to a person: the Holy God. A person can require responsibility and bring accountability; a perfunctory force devoid of intentionality and reason cannot. It’s hard to see how one could be morally responsible to mechanical sets of laws or random chance, as Halverson’s positions appear to entail.
The Westminster Confession of Faith professes: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF 3.1).
So God foreordains everything, yet men are morally responsible since God has the ability to make it thus—through His infinite wisdom and power. Additionally, since God utilizes secondary causes He is not the author of sin.
Biblical predestination, in contrast to Halverson’s position on determinism, is guided by a personal, caring, sovereign, and wise God and not an impersonal mechanistic force or accidental chance. God plans, but matter in motion cannot. God wills, but mere mechanistic laws driving matter cannot. The Bible is perfectly clear that personal predestination is the case; however it does not seem to offer philosophical constructs on how causation actually plays out. Christian theologians and philosophers posit diverse notions regarding such, but to remain faithful they must not deny what scripture clearly teaches: God “foreordains whatsoever comes to pass.” If the personal and rational God is not determining that which comes to pass, then reality is ultimately irrational, absurd, and inexplicable. One is obligated to rest on biblical teaching even if one cannot discern how causation works within God’s foreordination of all things: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).
1. Halverson, William: A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, Random House, 1981 (4th Edition) p. 480.
2. Ibid., p. 486.
3. Ibid., pp. 481-482.
see my new Apologetic E-Book that discusses Reality and Truth: The Folly of Atheism HERE