10.3 Hobbes and Determinism
The news strip Calvin and Hobbes was not randomly named. John Calvin (1509-64) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) lived at about the same time, a period when the scientific revolution was just beginning. And it is probably no coincidence that both were determinists who believed that certain aspects of the future were already decided by forces beyond our control. Despite the significant differences between these two thinkers, they both are good examples of the Zeitgeist of their time--the "spirit of the age."
Thomas Hobbes lived at the beginning of the Baroque period of history, for many a pessimistic time in Europe's history. It was the time of the Thirty Years War (1608-48) that decimated Germany and Austria. It was the time of the English Civil War, involving the unprecedented execution of the English king (1649) and the harsh rule of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell for a time.
It was also the time of Shakespeare, whose lines sometimes capture the spirit of the age. In As You Like It, Jaques says,
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts."
The lines have a clear sense of fatalism to them. We do not write our "script" in life. We merely read the lines and play the role that the world has already assigned to us.
MacBeth has the same feel:
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour across the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
With the rise of scientific explanation, people had a greater and greater sense that the world was a big machine. God may have created the machine, but people more and more thought of things happening because of natural laws rather than because of divine intervention. The world is like a pool table. God "broke" with His divine cue stick and now the balls are in motion. If you knew the math and physics, you could predict exactly where all the balls would end up.
Thomas Hobbes is a good example of this type of thinker from this time period. He was a materialist who rejected Descartes dualism of soul and body (see chap. *). Since the world is only matter, what happens in the world is strictly a matter of the laws of cause and effect. If we knew everything about that matter and all the laws that govern it, we could predict everything that would happen from now until the universe goes cold.
For Hobbes, freedom is not the ability to want what you want to want. For Hobbes our wants are strictly a product of the math. Freedom is the ability to do what we desire, freedom to act according to our desires rather than the freedom to determine our desires.
10.4 Calvin and Arminius
The fatalistic Zeitgeist of the 1500's and 1600's also expressed itself in the theology of John Calvin. Calvinists are various Christian groups today that are the heirs of his theology in one respect or another, including Reformed and Presbyterian traditions. To a lesser degree, Calvin's thought has had a significant influence on other traditions like the Baptist, Anglican, and Methodist traditions.
John Calvin largely took up and developed the thinking of Augustine (400's). According to Calvin, humanity was completely "depraved" as a result of Adam's sin in the Garden of Evil. No human is capable of doing any good at all in his or her own power. As a result, if anyone is to be saved, Calvin suggested, God must choose them. Going to heaven was thus entirely a matter of God's "election."
Calvin thus believed that the only people who will be saved are those that God has determined to be saved. God in his complete control of the universe has arbitrarily (at least from our perspective) chosen to elect some to be saved. The others are of course already damned, so God does not determine their fate--it is already determined by Adam's choice.
Calvin's thinking was later summarized by his opponents with the letters TULIP:
Total depravity--No human can do any good in his or her own power.
Unconditional election--God has chosen who will be saved with us playing no part in it at all.
Limited atonement--Christ only died for those God has chosen, not for everyone.
Irresistable grace--If God has chosen you, you are chosen; there's nothing you can do about it.
Perseverence of the saints--If you are chosen, you will make it.
By the time of Hobbes, Calvin's "single" predestination had become "double predestination," where God not only actively determined who would be saved but who would be damned as well. Today some "hyper-Calvinists" even believe God dictated that Satan and Adam would sin as well.
Not everyone within Calvin's Reformed tradition agreed fully with the way he worked out his theology. Jakobus Arminius in particular (1560-1609), in Holland, objected to the idea that God's "election" of those who would be saved did not involve any human element at all. He suggested that God predestined those who would be saved because He foreknew, knew ahead of time, what their free will choices would be.
Arminius' view raises a philosophical issue we have already mentioned--the question of whether God's foreknowledge of what will happen implies determinism. The argument usually advanced by Calvinists is that if God knows what I will do, then I can't possibly do anything other than what God knows. But if I must do what God knows, then I am not free to do anything else. Many Calvinists thus argue that God's omniscience and free will are incompatible. We cannot have free will if God is all knowing. <1>
However, this argument seems seriously flawed. For example, let us say that you are present at a football game that you video to watch with your friends later. When you watch the game later with your friends, you might be able to predict everything that happens in the game. But certainly your foreknowledge of what will happen does not determine what will happen on the video.
If God in someway is outside time, as Christian philosophers like Boethius (400's) and Aquinas (1200's) have suggested, then it is possible that He knows the future because He has already seen it. What seems to be foreknowledge from our perspective amounts to past knowledge on God's part. In any case, it does not follow that knowledge equals determinism. We are not in a position to say how God knows what God knows.
At the same time, the argument that God is outside time does not eliminate the idea that God might gain knowledge at some point, namely, at the point that He created the universe. Luis de Molina (1526-1600) was a Spanish Jesuit who wrestled with the issue of God's foreknowledge and human free will at the same time that these others were. He introduced some important distinctions into the discussion that contemporary philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have adopted.
Molinism, the approach to God's knowledge started by Molina, is best known for its belief in what it calls middle knowledge. According to Molina, God has three kinds of knowledge. His first type of knowledge is His knowledge of what must be true. His third kind of knowledge is His knowledge of what will happen depending on how He acts in the world. Middle knowledge is his knowledge of what will happen depending on human will.
Middle knowledge thus amounts to God knowing every possible thing that might happen. If God is outside of time, however, His knowledge of what could happen is also knowledge of what will actually happen in this universe. <2> When God creates time and the universe, He comes to know everything that will happen without determining it.
Of course, after we have had this entire discussion, we must admit that we have no real way of knowing how knowledge works for God. God may have ways of knowing that do not imply determinism, ways that we could not possibly comprehend.
John Wesley (1703-91) built further on Arminius' objections to Calvinism. His theology is sometimes called Wesleyan-Arminian theology. Like Calvin, Arminius, and Augustine, Wesley agreed that humans were totally depraved and could do no good in their own power. However, like Arminius, he denied that God elected humans unconditionally, with no element of human will involved.
The difference was that Calvin viewed God's election somewhat like an "on-off" switch. Either God turned the light on or He left it off. If God turned His grace on, you would be saved. If God did not, you would remain damned.
For Wesley, on the other hand, God at some point turned the lights up for everyone so that they could choose or reject His grace. In other words, Wesley believed that God offered everyone the opportunity to be saved. It was entirely God's power that made this choice possible, but God offered it to everyone, not just to a few He has arbitrarily chosen.
The issue of predestination is alive and well today. It largely follows the lines laid down in the debates of the 1500's and 1600's. "Five point" Calvinism is currently experiencing somewhat of a revival, including even some hyper-Calvinist forms we have mentioned. At the same time, Arminianism has enjoyed a prominence among some of the most significant Christian philosophers of recent times. Certainly this book leans far more in its direction than in the other.
<1> Which is of course the basis for Open Theism. As we mentioned earlier in the chapter, Open Theism limits God's foreknowledge so that humans can have free will.
<2> It is of course possible, if Leibniz is wrong about God only being able to create the best possible world, that God also knows what will happen in other possible universes as well, where human will makes other possible choices.