Triablogue: Chess or Dominos?

Chess or Dominos? According to a common Arminian analogy, God is like a Grand Master chess player while we are mere novices. We can make our moves, but God is going to win the game no matter what we choose to move.
There are two problems with this analogy. The first has been discussed here before, in that such an analogy simply is the definition of fatalism. Fatalism is when the end is assured no matter what choices are made by the actors involved. In Greek mythology, where this concept first emerged, this is seen in the fact that someone is told their future doom, and in seeking to avoid that future doom the actor brings about the very doom that he was seeking to avoid. To give an example, suppose someone is fated to die by drowning. To avoid this, he moves to the middle of the desert, makes sure that there are no bodies of water nearby—not even sinks or bathtubs. On the day he is fated to drown, he is thirsty and gets a cup of water. While drinking, he hiccups, inhales the water into his lungs, and drowns. Thus, his fate is confirmed despite how hard he tried to get around it.
This is precisely what the chess analogy does, however. No matter what moves the player opposite God makes, he is fated to lose the game. It is impossible for him to make a move that would checkmate God, in such an analogy.
It is important to make a distinction between this and the Calvinist view of determinism. Under Calvinism, were it not for the exact choices that we make, the end result would not attain. In other words, contra the Arminian position that no matter what choice we make God will win in the end, the Calvinist position is that God will win in the end precisely because he has ensured what choices we will make.
In this sense, Calvinism is more akin to someone who has set up an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. Or for a simpler concept, think of a set of dominos. He pushes the first domino over, and the last domino is destined to fall because every single needed domino is in the exact position it needs to be in so that when it falls it will push over the next domino. If the domino were to be in a different position, the cascade would stop and the final domino would not fall.
With this in mind, we can now look at the second problem the chess analogy exposes in Arminianism. Under the chess analogy, none of our choices actually matter. Whether we move a pawn or a knight for our first move will not impact the fact that we are going to lose the game. As such, if the chess analogy is an accurate representation of Arminianism, then what it teaches us is that our free will is irrelevant to the end goal God has in mind. Our choices simply do not matter one bit. We can choose anything and it won’t affect the outcome.
In other words, the chess analogy offers us freedom in exchange for irrelevance. Just as it does not matter that the man fated to drown moved to the middle of the desert, so too it does not matter what we choose to do with our lives. The end is has been fated. This trivializes our choices and renders them nonsensical.
On the contrary, however, the Calvinist view demonstrates that our choices are meaningful and, indeed, necessary for the end God has in mind. Without our exact choices being exactly what they are, the end result would not attain at all. The end, therefore, is dependent upon what we choose. Our choices simply are the plan that God has put in place.
So what are we to make of these choices under Calvinism? They are, as the Westminster Confession calls it, the secondary causes by which God enacts His will. Our choices are what God uses to enact His will. He has created each and every one of us, knows us intimately and knows what influences must be in place in order for us to make the exact choice needed to render His will enacted. Unlike the chess master who must wait for us to act in order to know what to do next, God is an artist who has put the pieces of his carefully constructed scenario into place so that each bit will function precisely as intended along the entire path.
Thus, if you believe that the chess analogy is an accurate representation of Arminian theology, and you also believe that your choices are relevant and matter, then you cannot consistently hold to Arminian theology. But there is still plenty of room for you in the Calvinist camp. from Triablogue See it at:


About alialonso

I am Youth Pastor and mDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Central Florida. Together with my lovely wife, Claudia, and our Yorkie, Toshii, we are desire to glorify God and serve the local church by creating heart-felt and Biblically informed worshippers of love for God.

Posted on April 15, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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