Seidensticker Folly #3: Falsehoods About God & Free Will

Seidensticker Folly #3: Falsehoods About God & Free Will August 14, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

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In his post, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 5)” (7-6-18; update of a post originally from 10-13-14), Bob stated:

The Bible record many instances of God imposing on people’s free will. “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12), for example, and he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26). “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

Likewise, Bob waxes eloquently on 8-11-14: “Am I an atheist because God hardened my heart? If so, why do I deserve hell when it was God’s doing?”

Let’s take each claim in his first statement above in turn. I’ve already written elsewhere about most of this, so I trust that the reader can forgive me if I provide a link. But I’ll cite key portions of papers I cite, for readers’ convenience.

“God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

Romans 9 is perhaps the very favorite Bible passage of Calvinists, because they deny human free will; therefore, they welcome this passage that appears at first glance to support their position. Upon closer inspection, it does no such thing. I wrote about this in my paper: Romans 9: Plausible Non-Calvinist Interpretation. It involves somewhat subtle and complex argumentation, and analysis of the Hebrew way of thought, which was very different from our western, Greek-oriented classical logic thinking, and so will have to be read.

In it, I cite biblical scholar Marvin Wilson, author of Our Father Abraham, (which I have in my own library). He talks about the notion of Hebrew “block logic”:

[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension — and often illogical relation — to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic. . . .

Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God’s purposes.

He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12),

I’ve dealt with this objection at great length and in great depth; examining the biblical data, and in reply to a Calvinist. The easiest way to explain that this is not a contradiction of human free will is to note not only the passages where God is said to have “hardened” someone’s heart, but also the ones where they hardened themselves:

Exodus 8:15 (RSV) But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, . . . (cf. 8:19)

Exodus 8:32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.

Exodus 9:34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. (cf. 9:7, 35)

Deuteronomy 15:7 you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,

1 Samuel 6:6 Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? . . .

2 Chronicles 36:13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnez’zar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel.

Job 9:4 who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?

Psalm 95:8 Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Proverbs 28:14 . . . he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Hebrews 3:8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:15  while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

The two motifs have to be harmonized, and they easily can be, once Hebrew thought is better understood. It may be a biblical paradox (one of many), but that’s not the same as a logical contradiction. Here’s how I explain it in my “biblical” paper above:

God allows such people their freedom to rebel, which in turn entails the devil getting in there and making things worse (just as God allowed the devil to tempt Job: Job 1:12). So in a sense to say that “God did so-and-so” when He simply allowed it to take place, is an assertion of God’s overall Providence. God is asserting that He is in control. . . .

Strictly speaking, that isn’t how God thinks or acts, but it was an anthropomorphism to help practical, concrete, non-philosophical Hebrew man be able to relate to the mysterious, transcendent God.

The bottom line is that men harden themselves in rebellion and God allows it. . . . If people rebel, God will withdraw His grace and protection from them, and so in a sense He did it. But it was always essentially man’s rebellion.

he gave ungrateful humans over to “shameful lusts” (Rom. 1:26).

This is simply a variation of what we saw in the last two examples. Rebels against God hardened their hearts against him, and so it is said in a particular sense that God hardened them (meaning that He allowed it, incorporating their free will into the equation). He didn’t cause it or make it inevitably come about, as if they had no free will. The larger passage shows this clearly. Seidensticker, with his nefarious motivations of always mocking the Bible and God, only shows that par t that seems to support his contention. Here’s the context:

Romans 1:18-26 (RSV)  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; [21] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. [26] For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.

See how the causal chain works there? Humans with free will decided to not believe in God or follow His will. Then God “gave them up.” In other words, He let human free will take it’s course. It’s as if God were saying, “okay; you don’t want to follow Me and do what is best for you? You know better than do about that? Very well, then, I’ll let you become blind and deluded. See how well off you’ll be then.”

I’ve put the key actions of rebellious human beings in the passage in red, and God’s response in blue, to make it more clear. It’s all in the bolded text. They decided in their free will to sin and not believe in God. “Therefore” and “For this reason” God gave them up: “because” of their sins. It’s quite clear and undeniable that they have free will and that it;s their fault. God caused none of it. He simply decides to let them have their way and withdraw His grace at a certain point. It’s like someone who loves someone else with an unrequited love for twenty years. It’s never returned, so at length they finally decide to give it up and stop desiring the other person, or hoping they will act accordingly.

“The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

This is an instance of God’s judgment, which, I suppose, is an act contrary to man’s will (who wants to be judged?), but it is a perfectly just one, and not at all contrary to God’s will. It’s the same motif again, that we have seen in the above three examples: men reach a point of rebellion that is so determined and :hardened” that God gives up on them and judges them. Sometimes it is entire nations, as in this verse. Hence we have in Scripture, many “if . . . then” conditional prophecies:

Joshua 24:20  If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

1 Chronicles 28:9 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.

2 Chronicles 7:17-20 And as for you, if you walk before me, as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,[18] then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, `There shall not fail you a man to rule Israel.’ [19] “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, [20] then I will pluck you up from the land which I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

2 Chronicles 15:2 If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

If a person or nation rebels against God and is intransigent and won’t repent, then God will eventually judge. But it never had to be that way. It wasn’t predestined, or fate, and God didn’t cause it or overcome their free will. They freely chose to reject Him. And this rejection and this judgment can also include entire nations, because responsibility in the Hebrew / biblical worldview is not just individual, but also corporate. I’ve written a lot about the judgment of nations:

Judgment of Nations: A Collection of Biblical Passages

Judgment of Nations: Biblical Commentary and Reflections

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations)

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist

God’s “Punishing” of Descendants: Unjust?

Conclusion: As usual with anti-theists, Bob chooses to blame God for things that are clearly man’s fault. He butchers the Bible in order to supposedly use it as a hostile witness against God. I submit that that attempt of his abysmally fails, as just shown.

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Photo credit: God the Father, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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