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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gnucomb's Paradox Revisited

Newcomb's Paradox as a model of the rationality of believing in a limited atonement.

Cut from post I wrote on another forum.

A perfect atonement points to a limited atonement, but concerning this I said that, though limited, faith in the atonement for your own salvation was rational even if you could not know for whom exactly Christ died. I had said this as if it were a decision based on uncertainty, such that even if you didn't know if Jesus died for you it was better to gamble that he did than that he didn't (like Pascal's Wager). But it's more complex than that and I was reluctant to go into detail about it, but here it is if you are interested.

The problem is: If Jesus died for you, then you will believe in him in a saving way, but if not then not. So there is no way to isolate the effect of Christ's death for the belier from the believer's belief, as my first pass on this assumes. To illustrate why faith in the atonement is rational, consider the following fanciful story.

The Fairy Godmother appears to Cinderella and gives her a chance to go to the Ball. She presents Cinderella with two boxes, a really big box and a small box. "Listen carefully", says the Fairy, "You must make a choice. You can choose to just open the big box or you can open both boxes. In the small box there is a lovely new mop that will help with your chores, but if you just pick the big box, you don't get what's in the small box. Now you are very dear to me and I know you even better than you know yourself (and I'm magical and can see the future). If you take the big box alone, you will find that I foresaw that and placed a beautiful gown, glass slippers, a carriage and nine, and an invitation to the Ball. But if you take both boxes, I will foresee that and the big box will be empty. (I thought about giving you the trip to the Ball but making you come home at midnight, but what fun is that?)"

"Now, my dear, I have already foreseen your decision and have loaded up the boxes as I said I would. So I will leave you to your choice. Ta-ta." And thus, Cinderella was left to choose the boxes. Now, since it was already a settled fact whether or not something was in the big box, it seems that the most rational thing for Cinderella to do is to open both boxes and take everything, after all, a new mop would come in handy whether or not one goes to the Ball. But given that the state of affairs of the boxes was conditioned on what Cinderella would do, it seems that the most rational thing for her to do is to just open the big box. After all, no new mop is worth giving up a dance with the Prince. So what should Cinderella do? It seems clear that just choosing the big box is rational for Cinderella to given the story, even in spite of the apparent rationality of choosing both.

In a way the sinner who is convinced that the atonement is limited is in a similar situation. He knows that it is already settled who is saved and who isn't by the fact of Christ's death. Those who are saved will be saved and those who are not saved will never be saved. But one only receives the benefits of salvation through faith, so that only those who believe in Christ are saved. So Christ died for all those and only those who believe in him for salvation, and Christ's death foresees faith in those for whom he dies precisely because it is due to Christs death that they come to believe (as we will discuss later). So when a person is confronted with the claims of the gospel and they believe them to be true, they can decide to either believe in Christ or not. To not believe is like choosing both boxes by enjoying a pre-Christian life as much as possible -- after all if Christ died for you then you be saved anyway but if not what difference does it make? But it is clear that no one is atoned for that does not believe. So believing is like choosing just the big box.

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