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Chapter XXI:


The Foreknowledge of God - L. D. McCabe

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THE important distinction between the action of a free will and the movement of a material force is that every event in the domain of the latter has a necessary antecedent, whereas a volition has really no antecedent. It has precedents, but those precedents involve nothing coercive or necessary or uniform. There is in them nothing that can indicate with certainty a particular choice, nothing that can afford omniscience any certainty as to the future production of that volition, of which they are and can be nothing more than the occasions.

The moment we admit that the precedent of a volition is of such a nature as to afford omniscience ground for absolute certainty as to that volition, that moment we annihilate, to all human discrimination, the distinction between freedom and the great law of cause and effect, and we introduce confusion into our thinkings. That instant we logically destroy human freedom, accountability, and the possibility of a divine moral government. True, the human will requires reasons, motives, considerations, and even temptations, as the occasions of its rewardable exercise. But these are always numerous, various, and uncoercive. There can be nothing coercive in the character of the precedents of those choices which entail endless destiny if a man is a free agent. And never being coercive in their character, they can not logically be called antecedents. And the same be said of any other ground of certainty as to future free choices which can be conceived by the human mind. Between the antecedent of an effect and an occasion of a volition there is, and there can be, therefore, no element of resemblance or oneness.

Could there be found in the occasion of a volition any thing that is regular or uniform or universal or coercive, then that occasion might have the nature of an antecedent, and the resulting volition might be foreknown. But if we invest the occasion, the reason, the motive, or the sensibility, in view of which the will finally decides and acts, with regularity, uniformity, universality, coercity, we at once rob the agent of all his accountability and power of taking the incipient initiative. But, you may reply, God sees the act as free, but he sees it in and by and through that particular influence that is finally the occasion of the choice and of the volition. But if a foreknowledge of a volition is obtained through perceiving the final sensibility which will in fact prove to be the occasion of that volition, this does not in the least relieve the great difficulty. We do not, and we can not, remove volition from the category, of the action of the law of cause and effect. This is manifestly. so, because in so doing we remove the cause of the determination of the will from the subjective into the objective, and then from the objective we estimate the movement of the subjective. From looking at the domain of cause and effect we judge and reason as to the action of a free spirit. If a human being has the power of causation and the power of taking the initiative, that power must reside in the will, and not in the sensational or rational occasion of the action of the will. The sensibilities act on the will according to the law of cause and effect, but the will acts freely, and sovereignly sends out its volition. If God foresees our choices, then, it is only by looking at the will. If he seeks for a present knowledge of our future choices in the sensational precedents of those choices, he seeks the living among the dead. He seeks for a responsible cause of action where a responsible cause can never be found, and ought never to be found.

If God foresees our choice, it can, we again say, only be by looking directly at the will itself, and nowhere else. But what is there, or can there be, in the mere faculty of the will of a free agent to indicate what its free choices will be? To this question no one has ever yet given or even conceived of a semblance of an answer, But it is only when the foreknowledge of a volition is gained, not through some of the many occasions of volition, but through the cause of that volitionwhich cause is the will itselfthat omniscience can distinguish between volition and the action of the great law of cause and effect. For every complete cause produces its effects uncausedly. But if the actions of an uncaused will can be foreknown by the foreknowing its surroundings, its temptations, and the sensibilities in view of which it finally elects and decides, nothing can save that action from the category of the law of cause and effect.

If prescience is able, as Richard Watson says it is, "to dart through all the workings of the human mind, all its comparisons of things in the judgment, all the influences of motives on the affections, all the hesitancies and haltings of the will to its final choice," and in this way only perceives that choice, then in the will there is, and there can be, nothing creative, nothing causative, nothing original, nothing independent, and therefore nothing rewardable or punishable. The law of its action, call it what you will, is simply the action of the great law of cause and effect. Bumgartner, following Leibnitz, explains the possibility of God's unerring prescience by his perfect insight into the causes which will be adequate to secure those choices. But Dr. L. P. Hickok says that a capacity for an alternative action (which is purely supernatural), or a cause which has an alternative is itself no ground for determining which alternative will come to pass. The efficiency in such a case is no ground whatever of certainty as to which of the alternatives will result. He saw too clearly to locate the absolute prescience of future free choices in the conditions of the free being and according to the law of cause and effect. In order to safeguard absolute prescience he, therefore, betakes himself to the clouds, and affirms that "we know that God must possess some form of foreknowing altogether inexplicable to us. The future and the past must be to God's mode of knowledge wholly irrelevant."

If two free beings were created precisely alike in every particular, and then placed in the same circumstances and assailed by identical temptations, the question arises, Could there be any data by which we should be authorized to say with absolute certainty that the free choices of both would be the same in all instances? If we reply, yes; then we are necessitarians, and virtually annihilate the distinctions between liberty and the law of cause and effect. But if we reply to the above inquiry in the negative, we are libertarians. And if, while affirming that the choices of these two free beings would or might be variant, we still adhere to the dogma of absolute divine foreknowledge, we become inconsistent and illogical Arminians. Consistency requires, and will be logically satisfied with nothing less than, a denial of the divine previsions of the future choices of free beings. For that prevision necessarily annihilates the grand distinction between human liberty and the law of cause and effect.

Dr. M'Cosh says: "None of the Calvinists, even those of the highest order, have ever fully developed the phenomena of human freedom. They have not taken into account the active, and the abiding faculties of the soul, which are the main causes of mental states, we say the main causes, or rather the main element in any given cause. We hold it to be an incontrovertible fact, that the true determining cause of every given volition is not a mere anterior incitement, but the very soul itself by its inherent power of will. Incitement can only become motive when it is sanctioned by the will itself, so that it is not so much the incentive that determines the will, as it is the will that determines the incentive. He has not scanned the full phenomena which consciousness discloses who denies the real potency of willa potency above all special volitions, and the true power exercised in producing volitions. The pseudo-Calvinists, perverting the proper doctrine of philosophical necessity, have represented man as having all his thoughts and feelings determined by an external cause, and hence as being a mere creature of circumstances."

This is a most remarkable statement, considering its source. The psychological perceptions of this eminent writer were too clear and too correct not to discover the fallacy in the statement that "man is swayed by the strongest motive," and the distinction between the law of liberty and the law of constraint. The psychology of his times has required of him these concessions. And yet from this clear psychological light he falls, staggers back into darkness, under the misleading influence of his theology, and most inconsistently affirms: "We hold, and we can not but hold, that the principle of cause and effect reigns in mind as well as in matter. Yet necessitarians found their doctrine on the circumstance that the principle of cause and effect reigns in the domain of mind as well as in the territories of matter. And it is on the account of such a connection that we anticipate mental states and the future actions of men. How can general predictions be uttered as to voluntary acts, if there be no causes operating upon the will. If any one assert that consciousness intimates that man can not be responsible when his volitions have a cause, can not be responsible unless the acts of the will are uncaused, we simply meet his assertion with a direct contradiction."

The psychology of Dr. M'Cosh demanded the law of liberty in responsible agents; but his theology required the law of cause and effect in the same responsible agents. And, therefore, he writes one way in psychology and quite another in theology. If he could have made clear to men's understandings the distinction between the action of the law of cause and effect which is regnant in material forces, and the operations of that law as applicable to the responsible actions of accountable beings, most gladly would he have done so. And that would have been a philosophical achievement which would have ranked him forever with him who discovered the law of universal gravitation. Kant and Coleridge, and the most prominent of modern systems of philosophy, exclude cause and effect from the sphere of spirit and of freedom. But Dr. M'Cosh knew that it was impossible for him to formulate this distinction, and therefore he says, "Should it be demanded of us that we reconcile the two separate truths advocated by us, we answer that we are not bound to offer a positive reconciliation, is it not surprising that all able thinkers do not see the very wide distinction between the action of the law of cause and effect and the action of the law of freedom? The law of cause and effect, on the one hand, inexorably limits to a single result, and the cause is invariably the precise measure of the effect, and the effect is the precise measure of its cause. The law of cause and effect can never, in any degree, produce moral character or moral deserts. Intelligence, sensibility, choice, will, are all absolutely wanting in that law. The baldest of all absurdities is that constraint can evolve rewardability or meritoriousness. But, on the other hand, the law of freedom allows one of many results, and necessarily implies alternatives. These results of the action of the law of freedom seldom, if ever, vary with or are in proportion to the motives addressed to the will. And the action of this law is capable of producing moral character and deserts, and nothing else is thus capable. No distinction in metaphysics is clearer or more fundamental than the one between the action of these two laws. If any thing in the universe is unconditioned as to what it does, it is the human will. And yet it is affirmed that "the principle of the law of cause and effect reigns in the domain of mind as well as in the territories of matter." But Dr. L. P. Hickok says, "A self active being, which has its law within it, and not imposed upon it, must go out in its activity as no other agency can; its acts are its own originations, and not productions from it by an outer causality working upon it. That activity which can go out to its object, with still an open alternative, must possess a constituent being different from an activity, that goes out to its object with no alternative."

Failing to distinguish between the law of liberty and the law of cause and effect in responsible agents, Dr. M'Cosh turns upon the advocates of divine foreknowledge and declares that "all libertarians who admit that the prescience of God reaches to the voluntary acts of his creatures are landed in the same difficulties" with himself. They, too, "hold truths which they can not reconcile. For, if voluntary acts have been foreseen, then they must, or at least they certainly shall, happen, and there is no effectual way of showing how man's deeds are certain beforehand while yet he may do as he pleases. But in order to obviate this difficulty it has been alleged that God may be regarded as freed from the contemplation of events under the relations of time, and that the future may be seen by him as present. But this would again requirethat we set aside the fundamental laws of belief. The fundamental laws of belief require us to believe in the succession of time as an objective reality, and that the future is not now present. The rejection or invasion of those intuitive beliefs implies that God has given to us intuitions which mislead and deceive us, and this would land us in the subjectivity of Kant and in the idealism. of Fichte, with all their terrible consequences." Thus we are forced to see that only he who denies absolute prescience can redeem the volitions of the human will from the necessitating action of the law of cause and effect. With increasing confidence therefore, in our argument, we affirm that foreknowledge annihilates the distinction between human freedom and material causation.

The human will causes the free volition, not by the way of necessity, but so that it might not have produced it or might have produced something else. The will is and must be, if man be accountable, the spontaneous source of its actions. [It is marvelous that there have been, and continue to be, such great difficulties in tracing and comprehending the true phenomena of liberty. All who look among the motives for the cause of the will's action must place, however much they may strive to escape it, the will under the law of constraint. For they seek among the motives for that mysterious influence by which choice is effected. But the true libertarian view locates the incipiency of the will's action in the will itself. It is the will that assigns to motive its degree of influence.] The attributes which constitute God a spontaneous source of action, were implanted in man. The normal order of the will's action, is to choose or to decide in view of, and in accordance with, reasonable reasons and justifiable considerations, and in response to proper and holy appeals and solicitations made to our sensibilities. And if man be a free being and not mere organized matter, if he be a person, then, from the very spontaneity of his nature, he must be able to choose or to decide in view of, and in accordance with, unreasonable reasons and unjustifiable considerations, and, in response to unholy appeals and solicitations made to his susceptibilities of feeling. Now, because the will requires, in order to make resolves, decisions, or choices, that some sort of reasons, considerations, or solicitations be addressed to the understanding and the emotional susceptibilities, multitudes affirm that these reasons, considerations, and solicitations do actually determine the action of the will, and hence they place its action under the law of constraint. But these facts do not prove that the will is determined by the conditions or occasions of its acting. Whatever be the power of a motive over our reason or our sensibility, we are conscious of a higher power behind its influence upon us, by which the motive may be arrested, and the spell of its fascination broken. If a man presents to my understanding strong reasons why the welfare of the nation requires the death of a certain man, and other reasons why I ought to be the agent of his execution, however plausible those reasons may be, my consciousness tells me that they can not control me. My consciousness informs me that I can yield to those considerations or I can reject them. If unholy appeals be made to my sensibilities under circumstances favorable for gratification, my consciousness testifies that those solicitations can not control me, that I am not under the control of any motive, that I am master, that I can resist them all and maintain my integrity. This is the testimony of universal consciousness.

And so, amid all the influences of external agents or evil spirits upon us, we are conscious that we can originate action from within, and that we can modify outward circumstances by voluntary determination. "We have within us," said Sir John Herschel, "a distinct consciousness of causation." Freedom, indeed, requires that there be a diversity of reasons, considerations, and solicitations addressed to man. These are the conditions of volition. A condition is an attendant on a cause without which the cause is not conserved as resultant, but with which the cause is still conceivably non-resultant. A condition enables but does not insure nor decide action. Without these conditions the will would not act at all. Without them there could be neither volition, choice, nor liberty. Without them liberty would be a term lacking signification; without them there could be no possible arena for the testing of one's loyalty to truth and authority, or for the formation and development of moral character. For neither a forced action nor an action without motive can have any moral character attached to it. A free agent can win approbation and reward only when he rejects a bad motive, and acts in view of a good one. He can only merit condemnation and punishment when he rejects a good motive and acts in view of a bad one. Motive is indispensable to the moral quality of an action. But motive, can never impart that mysterious power by which the will itself acts. Every man is conscious that he is the source of original, free action, entirely undetermined by motives. Choice implies an effort of will, to which the law of cause and effect or the principle of constraint can not be applied without ambiguity in the use of terms, and a violation of the necessary laws of thought. But absolute prescience subjects the mind to the law of cause and effect, and therefore annihilates the distinction between freedom and necessity.

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