Divine vs Material Determinism

No doubt everyone is familiar with two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects; certainly such figures are quite common in math, as one’s curriculum would quickly become unwieldy if the book required a large supplementary box containing three-dimensional cubes, cones, spheres, pyramids, etc. with which to calculate volume. But it’s easy to recognize a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object, because humans (normally) perceive the world in three dimensions. Four, I suppose one could argue, if you count length, height, depth, and persistence (time). In theoretical math, higher-order dimensions have been dimly imagined; but one doesn’t ever get to handle a tesseract, and in fact, if you look up “tesseract” on Wikipedia, you will be confronted with a two-dimensional representation of that imagined four-dimensional object. It’s kind of mind-bending to think about, yes?

The objections to Calvinism I’ve seen lately seem to suffer a similar paradigm misunderstanding. The anti-Calvinists are taking the tesseract to be a cube; or, to put it another way, criticizing a two-dimensional drawing of a cube for its failure to accurately represent a square. They take issue with determinism. The trouble is, at least in my relatively non-educated understanding, that the determinism of Calvinism is a divine-order determinism. This sets it apart from the physical-order determinism of materialism (free will is an illusion and your entire existence can be summed up by your physical state; you are a complex machine acting on programming, and your programming determines that you believe you have free will, unless of course it determines that you accept determinism and therefore believe free will is an illusion). No Calvinist that I know of agrees with material-order determinism, although to the non-initiated Calvinist descriptions of past and future will often sound as if we do, since the same words often apply to both. The whole point of Calvinist teaching is that although God is completely in control (and thus the Universe is in that sense “deterministic”), His decrees operate in such a way as to render your choices actually your choices, just as they appear to you at any given moment to be your own decisions. The divine-order determinism is no more apprehensible to human senses than a tesseract, though in the absence of conclusive proof of the existence of time machines we take past events to be those that were decreed. But “it didn’t go another way” is simply the most convenient human apprehension of “it couldn’t have gone another way” and whether or not I chose a purple shirt over a green shirt this morning was definitely my choice. Even if God did decree from before the foundations of the world that I ended up wearing the purple-and-green shirt this morning. (You see how the English language is kind of awkward when trying to describe this sort of thing?) If The Doctor suddenly showed up with the Tardis and started jumping about in time, we’d simply realize that the intersection we thought we perceived between the divine determinism and the past isn’t there, not that divine determinism doesn’t exist after all.

So those who argue against the divine determinism by citing their experience of choice would be frustrating, if I hadn’t chosen to be amused instead; I think of it as if I had shown them that two-dimensional picture of a tesseract… and then found them claiming that tesseracts are two-dimensional objects. This is why Calvinists don’t like talking about predestination to noobs; they’re forever missing the paradigm shift. But the internet means that the noobs find the in-house discussions and then start misinterpreting it, and inevitably they take the misinterpretation as absolute fact: tesseracts are two-dimensional! You said so! Uh, no. But it’s like talking to a brick wall; I haven’t figured out how to get the idea across successfully yet. Nobody’s actually listening, is part of the problem; and I think that there are Christians who use divine determinism in a more materialistic way, or as an excuse. They might even call themselves Calvinist; I don’t know, because I don’t think I’ve ever met any of them.

The usual Calvinistic response to those claiming divine predestination as a materially-deterministic excuse is generally to start warning people very sternly with verses like Matthew 7:21-23. The whole point of divine determinism is that it’s not visible to human perception, except (possibly) in hindsight, and only in hindsight because nobody’s invented a time machine. One might consider it in a similar class of things as a tesseract: existing in the realm of the mind only.

I would be far more intrigued by such arguments if they actually apprehended this distinction; however, I haven’t found any that accurately grasp the Calvinist perspective, so the arguments are inevitably flawed, since they fly wide of the mark. Essentially, Calvinists will agree with all the arguments against material determinism – because we believe in a different kind of “determinism” altogether!

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About pancakeloach

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