An old but informative discussion with His Clay on Necessity & Inability

Ken Hamrick

Active member
@His clay,
Here's a trip down Memory Lane. One of my favorite threads, and one of the
few that I saved--at least a part. We're sort of jumping in the middle, after the discussion
was resumed...
Ken Hamrick said:
Ken Hamrick said:
I'd say that alternative possibilities are precisely the issue.
Necessity precludes alternative possibilities; but it is a principle that comes from
the academy and not from Scripture (although it may be read into the text).
Biblically, it is utterly certain that a man will only take that course that he is
inclined to take; […]
His clay said:
I agree that necessity precludes alternate possibilities. I disagree that only the academy
can be blamed for "the idea" inherent within the term "necessity". However, you may
have a point [ab]out the mere linguistic symbol, "necessity". I also agree to your
statement concerning certainty. I would simply add that "certainty" also precludes
alternate possibilities. For example, since the actions of the people (note the infinitive
"to do") in the crucifying of Jesus were predestined to take place, then it was certain
that they would take place; hence, their actions could not have been otherwise (Acts
4:28).
Ken Hamrick said:
Why do you think that if something is predestinated, then it could not be otherwise? If you had
been there the night before the crucifixion and Jesus had asked you, "Do you think that I cannot
now call upon my Father and He will send twelve legions of angels?" you would have to answer,
"No, I don't think you can." But His question implies the answer that He could indeed have taken
that alternative path. "But how then would the Scripture be fulfilled?" It's clearly not fulfilled by
necessity.
His clay said:
[…] Your question is akin to asking, "Why do you think that if something is a square that it can't have 30
degree angles?" It is pure nonsense, unless you have adopted the incoherent idea of libertarian
freedom.
You’re begging the question. Labeling something as nonsense does not establish it as such. I’m
challenging your definitions; so it’s not valid to argue that my question is nonsense because it doesn’t
agree with your definitions. Not only is it plausible that God predestines one possibility without
precluding all alternative possibilities, it is scripturally sound. You may not like my reference to Jesus’
question, “Do you think that I cannot now call upon my Father and He will send twelve legions of
angels?" but it stands firmly against you.
His clay said:
To answer your own question you ignore the verse in question and go to an
"imminent" hypothetical to counter the verse in question, while never actually dealing with the verse in question, namely Acts 4:28. You need to deal with the meaning of the word "predestine," and you need
to deal with the meaning of the infinitive "to do," and then you need to deal with their connection in
that verse. You did none of this, but rather you simple ignored the verse, asked an inherently
contradictory question, and presented an imminent hypothetical as if it were more informative than the
Acts verse which dealt with reality. Again, this is exactly what I mean about when people argue from an
imminent metaphysic as if it were more determinative than God's transcendent determinations
concerning what is to be.
Well, let’s deal with Acts 4:28, then: “27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your
holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the
peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
I did not ignore this verse, as you accuse. There simply is nothing here to help your argument. Neither
the infinitive, “to do,” nor the word, “predestine,” say anything to contradict my contentions that
certainty and necessity are distinct, that certainty does not eliminate alternative possibilities, and that
God works through certainty and not through necessity. Where in this text does it indicate that the
people involved had no possible alternatives available to them? Where does it say that they could not
possibly do otherwise? Yes, it affirms that God determined their actions, but that is a far cry from saying
that they did not freely choose the predetermined course from out of a myriad of alternatives, each one
validly possible and available to them. You assume that nothing is possible unless it will actually occur,
but can you prove it? You cannot!
His clay said:
With regard to the verse that you brought up, it seems that you took
absolutely no notice of the different kinds of "can" and "possibility" that were mentioned previously.
Certainly, Jesus was physically capable of performing that action, and the Father was certainly capable
of answer such a request. However, hypothetical situations do not trump reality. Reality was what the
Father and Son had planned before Jesus ever came. Jesus was aiming for the cross, and the cross was
the reality. He predicted His death at least three times. And to be saved from such a death upon the
cross was certainly within the realm of what Jesus and the Father were capable of doing; but it was not
possible in that they had already decided in advance what would take place. Hence, it is imperative that
we interpret the hypothetical in light of the real, and not vice versa.
Again, in movies we often see situations that seem like they could go either way, but that is on the
imminent level of the movie. On the level that transcends the movie, we realize that the movie is only
going to be one way.
Life in this temporal world is not a movie. You’re assuming definitions of reality, of predestination, and
of possibility that are definitions in dispute. As such, you’re begging the question. When pressed, you
offer labels like “nonsense” and “inherently contradictory.” I challenge you to examine your definitions
and provide an argument for why they are correct.
Natural ability is MORE than merely being “physically capable.” Who’s ignoring Scripture instead of
dealing with it now? If you think it to be a valid exegesis to say that Jesus only meant that He was
physically capable of calling on the Father, and that the Father was only capable of sending twelve legions of angels, then your own metaphysic has blinded you. You say,
His clay said:
…hypothetical
situations do not trump reality. Reality was what the Father and Son had planned before Jesus ever
came. Jesus was aiming for the cross, and the cross was the reality.
What is future is NOT YET
reality, despite your claim. What’s past was once reality, and what’s present IS reality. So I reject your
claim that to compare a hypothetical future event that will not occur to a future event that will occur is
to compare reality to nonreality. Not even what will occur is reality until it occurs. Not even God’s plan is
reality until it becomes a present reality. Merely planning something does not make it reality before it
occurs.
You said,
His clay said:
And to be saved from such a death upon the cross was certainly within the
realm of what Jesus and the Father were capable of doing; but it was not possible in that they had
already decided in advance what would take place.
Continued...
 

Ken Hamrick

Active member
Ken Hamrick said:
Again, you assume a definition of possibility
that includes in its scope the possibility of God’s foreknowledge/predestination failing. You assume that
possibility cannot be defined with the narrower scope inclusive only of what is possible within this
temporal world.
His clay said:
This entirely depends upon what you mean by the word "possible". If you mean that
people are physically capable (as pertaining to the physical strength of a person)
of performing a different action, then I'm fine with that. If your statement concerns the
mental strength of a person (the ability to hear and understand something), then
I'm find with that as well. However, if you speak concerning the moral aspect of a
person
and how that interacts with a person's mind, then I will have to flatly deny
that such a possibility exists. And it is here in this last instance that Fuller's point stands,
where a person absolutely cannot (no possibility) choose to do what seems utterly
detestable to that person, though that person may be able to hear and understand the
words of the gospel and be physically able to mouth the words or repentance, it is still
absolutely certain that such a person cannot do otherwise because of the inner moral
bent that takes what is heard and known and perverts it. Hence, IF you are trying to give
some credence to pap by your statement above, then I do not see that supported in
Scripture, Edwards, or Fuller. Hence, I do not see pap as a prerequisite for moral
responsibility.
Ken Hamrick said:
How can you have read Fuller and come to that conclusion? Fuller never says that moral inability
is "absolute." You are so emphasizing moral inability that it becomes a natural inability. Only a
natural inability is absolute. A moral inability presupposes a remaining natural ability. That is the
only reason why moral inability provides no excuse. Fuller agrees with the idea that it would be
unjust for God to hold men accountable for doing what they have no ability to do. Fuller points
out that no man is required to love God with more than the strength he has, but rather, with all
the strength he does have. He would agree that the sinner cannot want to "cordially embrace all
that God has revealed;" but he would not agree that not being able to want to do something is the same as not being able to do something.
His clay said:
Because I have read both Jonathan Edwards and Fuller, and I understand the historical primacy of
Edward's writings as they have influenced Fuller's meanings. You seem to regularly contradict yourself
as you seek to try to read Fuller with an incoherent lens. For instance, we can see your question here
about "absolute". Who or what are you addressing? I never made some sort of claim or argument using
the term. So you can argue against this idea in your mind about me making some sort of argument
about Fuller and my making him say moral inability is absolute, or you can seek to understand my
terminology as I use it and intend it to mean. Please do not waste our time erecting straw man
arguments that I am not making. Now, perhaps I am only quibbling with your wording and not the
meaning you intend, so I will go on to further examine your argument here.
Your tone would be easier to take if you were at least partially justified. But you’re not. You most
certainly did argue for the term absolute to be applied to moral inability:
His clay said:
…And it is here in this last instance that Fuller's point stands, where a
person absolutely cannot (no possibility) choose to do what seems utterly detestable to
that person, though that person may be able to hear and understand the words of the gospel and be
physically able to mouth the words or repentance, it is still absolutely certain that such a
person cannot do otherwise because of the inner moral bent
that takes what is heard and known
and perverts it.
That, sir, is in black-and-white, and not merely in my mind. If you intended it
other than how you used such terminology, then how am I to know?
His clay said:
You state, "You are so emphasizing moral inability that
it becomes a natural inability.
" With all due respect, I have made it quite clear the difference
between natural ability and moral ability. I did so already by addressing the different forms of "can,"
which you currently glossing over. Did you not read my comments on "mental" ability, "physical" ability,
(i.e. two forms of "natural ability")? You do not appear to be following my words. Again, I have also, by
means of Edwards' paraphrased illustration made a distinction between moral and natural inability. Are
you going to ignore this too? Finally, your question is pure nonsense. An emphasis upon moral inability
cannot become natural inability by definition. Your question presupposes an impossible gloss over of the
very distinction that I have mentioned at least twice now. You are making an impossible conflation
between two clearly defined and distinct inabilities.
You do not comprehend the distinction between natural and moral inability. The main difference is this:
a natural inability presupposes that no
ability whatsoever remains, and therefore a man is said to be unable no matter how willing he may be;
whereas a moral inability presupposes a remaining natural ability, so that if he were willing, nothing
would stand in his way. If you thoroughly study Edwards and Fuller, you will find this to be taught by
both. Thus, my question is NOT “pure nonsense” (again with the “nonsense” label?), since this is exactly
how Fuller distinguished between the two. It is possible (and I’d say, common) to so emphasize the
inability of sinners as to make out their remaining natural ability to be powerless; but if the natural
ability is assumed to be powerless, then the moral inability becomes—by definition—natural
inability, because no ability whatsoever remains. Merely labeling an inability as “moral” does not make
you immune to criticism that you’ve made moral inability into natural inability. So don’t be so quick to
lean on the “nonsense” crutch.
His clay said:
[...] Jonathan Edwards gave a rather wonderful illustration in his book,
"Freedom of the Will". I will summarize it briefly. It is an illustration of a king and his dealing with two subjects. The first is
in a prison cell, and the king tells him that he can leave as he pleases.
However, the cell is not unlocked; and the man has no means of getting
past the bars of iron. The second is in a prison cell, and the king tells him
that he can leave as he pleases. The cell door is unlocked. However, the
king informs him that he must first submit to the king that the man
utterly despises. The prisoner must humbly repent to the king of his
wrongs. However, the prisoner's own implacable animosity and hubris
toward the king leaves him in a state where it is just as "impossible" for
him to leave as the first man, though he is not prevented by bars of
iron.
Ken Hamrick said:
I'm confused by your response. In the first section, you seem to be against the
idea of alternative possibilities, but in the last section (Edwards' illustration),
you have the departure of the prisoner to be only figuratively impossible, and
not literally impossible. You say that he cannot leave due to not being able to
give up his hubris and aversion for repentance. But everyone reading this
understands this to be figurative language, since all understand the culpability
involved for refusing to repent in such a case. We've all been there, in one sense
or another. We all have a conscience. We all have acted in ways that, upon later
reflection, we realized were not only not necessary but wrong---and we knew
that we were without excuse, since not only should we have acted differently,
but we COULD have acted differently (in the literal sense of "could").
His clay said:
Then you have taken my words wrongly. It is just as literally impossible for both men to
depart from prison. Please read it again. The difference between the two is that the first
is withheld by bars of iron (physical inability), though he is willing to leave. The second is
withheld by the bondage of an averse heart (moral inability), though he is fully
physically able to leave.
I'm not using figurative language, or at least I'm not trying to do so.
Ken Hamrick said:
I understand that you're struggling here, and I'm sympathetic; but you are using figurative
language here--by any valid definition--and there is no way around it. Whether English, Greek or
any other language, terms of inability cannot be applied to the will except figuratively.
His clay said:
Let me repeat. My words are not figurative. It is you that is struggling and not reading me properly, and
it seems that you do not appear to want to be corrected on the matter. Now, if you wish to actually
make an argument, rather than merely asserting that I'm using figurative language, then I'm open to
reading your correction. But as it currently stands, you are simply arbitrarily stating the contrary, when
I'm actually the author of my own words, and so I have a better understanding of my own writing than
you. There is a thing called "authorial intent" that you seem to be missing here. I'm using Edwards' and
Fuller's terminology, which is really not figurative. I'm not sure why you are struggling with this?
Continued...
 

Ken Hamrick

Active member
Ken Hamrick said:
Rarely is a person’s blind spot so vividly on display as yours is here. You being the author of your own
words does not give you the right to redefine what are universal conventions in speech. Neither does it
give you license to codify your own hidden assumptions and contradictions as valid. You are,
unintentionally perhaps, trying to make up your own rules of language in order to patch the holes in
your argument. You are indeed using figurative expression—you’ve lost on that point, you just don’t
know it yet.
Since you like Edwards, are you unaware that even he calls terms of inability “improper” and “figurative”
when they are used in moral inability? But let’s look again at your illustration:
His clay said:
…The cell door is unlocked. However, the king informs him that he must first submit to the king that the
man utterly despises. The prisoner must humbly repent to the king of his wrongs. However, the
prisoner's own implacable animosity and hubris toward the king leaves him in a state where it is just as
"impossible" for him to leave as the first man, though he is not prevented by bars of iron.
So then, what are the bars made of that keep the second man from leaving? Not iron? See, iron is literal.
Iron bars are literal. So what literal bars made of literal substance keep the man from leaving? No, these
“bars” are made of “animosity and hubris,” and so they ARE NOT LITERAL BARS AT ALL, AUTHORIAL
INTENT NOTWITHSTANDING! You said,
His clay said:
The difference between the two is that the first
is withheld by bars of iron (physical inability), though he is willing to leave. The second is withheld by the
bondage of an averse heart (moral inability), though he is fully physically able to leave. I'm not using
figurative language, or at least I'm not trying to do so.
He is able to leave if he wants to. He
simply is unwilling to leave. That is why his inability is figurative: he is called unable when really he is
simply unwilling. As badly as you might want there to be more to it than simply an unwillingness keeping
him from leaving, that’s all it is; and no demands that it be called literal will make it so.
His clay said:
There is a difference between the reality that we should
have done differently and whether or not we could have done differently. The first
concerns what "ought" to have been done; the second concerns what "ability" the
person has. As Edwards and Fuller will agree, certain instances of ability will negate
responsibility; but Edwards and I are not speaking concerning those things. Rather, we
are addressing "moral inability" which does not excuse, though the person be not able
to do otherwise. It is precisely because this inability is brought about through a
corruption of desires/heart that it does not excuse. Rather, it serves to condemn
further. Can you picture a person standing before a judge saying that because he was a
really wicked person that he could not have done otherwise, and that therefore the
judge should excuse him? Or can you picture the man standing before the judge saying that because he had a profoundly strong motive, opportunity, and means to accomplish
the murder of the one that murdered his loved one, and that therefore he could not do
otherwise, that therefore this person is excused? No, in both cases the person's excuse
actually serves to condemn him further. Pap need not be endorsed to have people who
are responsible. So whatever you mean by the literal sense of "could," I still have to take
you to task on what you mean. "Could" in what sense? If you mean "could" in the sense
of pap, then I fully disagree. If you mean "could" in the sense of "natural ability," then I
can go with that.
Ken Hamrick said:
No judge with common sense would ever accept such excuses because it is not true that the
criminal could not do otherwise. [That is why his blame remains.]
His clay said:
With all due respect, you just completely ignored my argument, and you are merely ASSERTING the
contrary. The argument was such that the issue of the "ability to do otherwise" was not needed; indeed,
it was even absurd to assert. Please, read the argument again, for the judge would know that the
person's inability to do otherwise would absolutely not excuse. Again, this is because we are dealing
with "moral inability" and not "natural inability". Do you still not know the difference? Or are you still
going to ignore the distinction even though you have read it in Fuller many times? I mean, at least try to
acknowledge that there is a distinction being made, even if you don't agree with it.
I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve read Fuller at all. You state:
His clay said:
Rather, we are addressing
"moral inability" which does not excuse, though the person be not able to do otherwise. It is precisely
because this inability is brought about through a corruption of desires/heart that it does not excuse.
Rather, it serves to condemn further.
Wrong. The reason that moral inability does not excuse is not because it is brought about through a
corruption of heart, but rather, it does not excuse because it CONSISTS ONLY IN CORRUPTION OF
HEART. In other words, it does not excuse because it only consists in a sinful unwillingness to do what is
right. And as Fuller says, “…And if I be not willing, therein lies my fault.” Why?—Because I ought to be
willing! The only inability involved is the inability of the sinner to find it in his heart to want to do right. It
is to say that he can’t do it because he doesn’t want to. That’s why it does not excuse. And even
Edwards says that if he wanted to do it, “it is in the power of his hand” and “nothing would stand in his
way.” (Let me know if you need the page numbers on that.)
Ken Hamrick said:
That is why his blame remains. Every man's conscience testifies to that fact. God Himself
promises to provide a way of escape with every temptation. And even unbelievers resist
temptation at times, proving that they can.
His clay said:
My conscience has never testified to the fact that I had to be my own
ultimate creator in order to be responsible; that is the result of the fall; and it is just the way fallen
people think due to the noetic effects of sin.
Have you ever lied? I’ll assume you have. And did your conscience not convict you that you should have
told the truth? I’ll assume it has. And did you argue with your conscience, saying, “But I couldn’t tell the
truth, since that was impossible, given God’s predetermination of events and my own prevailing
inclinations?” I’ll assume you did not. You, like me and everyone else, were convicted not only of the
immorality of our lies but also of the fact that we could have and should have told the truth. If you deny
this, your own conscience ought to convict you of this lie as well.
His clay said:
Further, you are making a superficial observation concerning unbelievers. I
see this regularly among those who have bought into the whole "ought implies moral ability" lie. Again,
your observation is superficial, for you are glossing over issues of the heart and contrary motivations,
and so you have cheapened the essential point of the law, and in so doing you have reduced the
demands of the law. The point or summary of the law is given by Jesus himself: namely, that one is to
love God with all that that person is, and to love neighbor as one's self. Now, an unbeliever may refrain
from murder on a particular occasion, but this is not born from a love of God. In so doing, then, the
unbeliever has "superficially" done the right thing but with corrupt motivations. Again, we can see this in
how unbelievers give to charity to avoid heavy taxes. We can see unbelievers living a "moral" life,
sometimes superficially better than Christians, but again this is not because of a love for God; for it is
often the means that they are using to be "seen" as a good person, or to make them feel better about
themselves, or to put Christians down. Again, it is not born from a love for God or a reliance upon Him.
Again, unsaved parents can sacrifice a lot out of love for their kids, but when you speak of their love for
God and His lordship over them, then it becomes clear that their motivation is not holy, and as such it is
tainted with sin.
As Fuller taught, even unbelievers are, according to Scripture, to love God with all the strength they
have, and not to love Him with strength they do not have. Yes, I agree that everything the unbeliever
does has “a pound of flesh” in it, so to speak, the fact remains that they could not claim in any single
instance that they could not have done the right thing. And as Fuller also said, it takes the same powers
to believe as to disbelieve, so if they are incapable of the former then they are incapable of the latter.
That’s enough for now. As SLP2 said, this is a discussion worth having. It’s a lot of work, and I appreciate
your engagement thus far.
 

His clay

Active member
@His clay,
Here's a trip down Memory Lane. One of my favorite threads, and one of the
few that I saved--at least a part. We're sort of jumping in the middle, after the discussion
was resumed...

Continued...
I have have read the words contained in the quote box above. I definitely remember the discussion. However, I have not looked at what you have quoted. I'm right in the middle of finishing up revisions on a 59 page chapter dealing with a critique of problematic scientific assumptions where I'm critiquing Logical Positivism, Scientism, Naturalism, and Autonomy. I'm avoiding any substantive interaction on this forum until I get the chapter completed. However, I just wanted you to know that I see your comment. Maybe in the future . . . . . .
 
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