A reader who goes by the name of Petronius Jablonski—I suppose I should call him St. Petronius—has been vigorously arguing against Free Will in the comments to my recent post about Special Relativity, beginning with this comment:
Thanks for the lucid sketch of A Theory & B Theory. You have a knack for writing about philosophical head-scratchers in plain English. I envy your students. (Consider something book-length. A Christian physicist should have no trouble finding an agent.)
We should add free will to the list of controversies in Theology where there is decisive evidence coming from Physics. Isn't the B Theory a stunning depiction of Divine Determinism? God creates this massive, amber-like slab of past, present, & future, all parts of which are equally “real.” How could any single detail have been otherwise unless God made it differently?
Far from being incompatible with Christian theology, this takes St. Paul at his word: Why does God hold us accountable and punish us if we have no free will? This is what Romans 9:19 is asking. St. Paul puts the question into the mouth of an imaginary disputant after stating that God has mercy on some (Moses and Jacob) and hardens others (Esau and Pharoah). His answer does not mention free will, middle knowledge, or allowing evil in the best possible world. The answer is the single most terrifying thing in any of the world's religions: Who are you to ask? God creates some men to be vessels of wrath, others to be vessels of mercy. The purpose is to demonstrate His power. Reality is not about us or our standards. We have no inalienable right to free will (only the Prime Mover has that). God, like a potter making different vessels for different reasons, has the absolute right to make whatever He wants for whatever reason He wants. (Ouch! This is so harsh, but there you have it.) https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Romans%209:19
Note the explicit denial that moral responsibility requires the capacity to do otherwise. "Why does He still find fault? Who can resist His will?" = It's not fair that God judges us because we couldn't do otherwise! St. Paul's answer chills the blood. Damnation isn't about people abusing their free will; it's how God shows His power and mercy to the Elect (in the same way He demonstrated His power by hardening Pharoah's heart and then destroying him). Again, ouch, but that's what it says. For some, the appeal of Christianity is that it takes determinism seriously.
I await your book on physics & the B theory of time supporting the plain teaching of Romans 9. This would be a bestseller. ;o)
Thanks for your pre-order of a book I haven't agreed to write, but I don't think it will say what you hope it will say...
You're mistaken that the B-theory implies Determinism. From the statement:
(1) The past, present, and future are all equally real,
it is simply not possible to derive the statement
(2) Nothing could have been otherwise,
by any logical argument, not without smuggling in premises that are far more substantive than (1) is.
Most of these premises, ironically, involve smuggling in A-theoretic presuppositions about the nature of the past. An A-theorist might believe that "The past is unchangeable, but the future is still open", but B-theorist can hardly uncritically accept either statement as it stands. Why should we adopt the first statement and not the second? Instead let us say that all time is as contingent as the future, as real as the present, and as definite as the past.
Your "massive, amber-like slab" is more poetic metaphor than physics. If we want to go by what Physics says, we have to take into account Quantum Mechanics as well as Relativity, and this seems to indicate that if we turned the clock back and re-did the experiment, so to speak, we would not get the same outcome a second time. Physics can only make probabilistic predictions. I claim that, having the exact same motivations and neural structures at 12:00 pm, and fixing my perceptual experiences after that, there are still multiple possible things I might decide to do at 12:01 pm. There is no infinite regress, unless we assume that what I choose to do at an instant must be determined by who I am at that instant.
Also, if it were true that the B-theory conflicts with Free Will, then this would imply that God also has no Free Will, since he himself exists eternally. Thus your claim that the B-theory supports Calvinism is self-contradictory. Similarly for arguments based on a supposed infinite regress. These arguments against Free Will could also be applied to God, if they were really valid.
Now onto your theological claims. I notice that in your various comments you only cite the Scriptures that support your claims, while ignoring those scriptures that might tell against you (e.g. Romans 11 a couple of chapters later). Romans 9 is indeed in the Bible (as are the other verses you cite in a later comment I didn't quote) but you have misunderstood it entirely. It's funny how Calvinists take St. Paul's series of rhetorical questions as if they were straight-up assertions, but ignore his quite explicit statement that God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). But if we are going to get our theology out of rhetorical questions, how about these ones:
"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?....Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord" (Ezekiel 18:23,30-32).
or the question asked by Abraham:
"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).
You see that St. Abraham had full confidence that God would act in a way that he, a mere human being, could understand as being just and righteous. Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness, and God accepted his request.
Or if you prefer the metaphor of the Potter and the Clay, perhaps you can read the passage which St. Paul got it from, about how human choices can avert God's intentions and plans:
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ " (Jeremiah 18:5-11).
If you look at the context of Romans 9, you will see that St. Paul is imagining an Jewish interlocutor who can't accept God's choice to temporarily set aside Israel in the propagation of the Gospel, and to choose the Gentiles instead. (Notice that Scripture never actually says that Esau and Pharaoh were damned, that's not the point of the passage.) His rebuke of the insolent question makes sense in this context. But the actual reason for God's decision does indeed have something to do with Israel's choices, since Paul gives a reason for their failure to be saved: "Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works" (9:32). Furthermore God's ultimate purpose in all this is to save the world: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (11:32). As the Gospel of St. John states:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17)
Is the God you believe in the same God who left the 99 sheep in the sheep fold to seek the one sheep who was lost? "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14). The God who searched through the house for the one lost coin; the loving father who rescued the prodigal son? Who commanded us to love our enemies, because that's what he himself does (Matt. 5:44-45)? Who loved his enemies so much that he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world? If not, then apparently you are worshipping a different God and a different Jesus.
One more proof-text. It is this one:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16).
This warning label is also in the Bible! St. Peter identifies the true meaning of Paul's message ("our Lord's patience means salvation"), and then advises people to watch out lest tricky theological topics such as predestination paint a false picture of God, a false picture which he says is capable of destroying you spiritually! (Some would argue that if God hates certain people, why shouldn't we hate them too? In this way it is possible to damn yourself using ideas that were falsely wrested from Scripture.) So apparently we ought to be careful when deciding what the "plain teaching" of Paul's letters is. At least, that's the plain teaching of this passage.
I don't claim to be "neutral" or "unbiased" in my interpretation of these particular Scriptures, any more than anyone else is. How could I possibly be unbiased, when you are saying such terrible things about our Father in heaven? The doctrine that God is good is more fundamental even than the doctrine that the Scriptures are inspired. So that if it were necessary to choose between them (which it is not!) one should certainly pick the former over the latter. This is the faith of Abraham, who lived before any part of our current Bible was written.
The Bible may appear to support both sides of this issue, but I have an interpretive key, namely God is love and in him there is no darkness at all and that it is not presumptuous to teach children to sing Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. These are a foundation for sound, correct doctrine, unlike "plain reading" which immediately runs into difficulties here since many of the plain readings appear to conflict. There is indeed an important spiritual truth to be found in Romans 9 and every other verse you have quoted, but it is not found in any opinion that makes God out to be morally monstrous.
As you say, this fatalistic doctrine "chills the blood", and "it also repels" you. There is a good reason for that—the reason is that it is wrong! "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6)" If you have any guidance from the Holy Spirit at all, trust your instinct that God is good, not just powerful:
One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord are loving (Psalm 62:11-12).
God is more loving than you can imagine—and also more powerful, since he is capable of making creatures with real freedom and responsibility.