Tuesday, July 26, 2016
It's often said that choosing between Hillary and Trump is a choice between the lesser of two evils. But in actuality, we could argue that choosing between Hillary and Trump is a choice between two greater evils.
I'll respond to a statement by a commenter on my blog:
A related objection that you (and others) might want to respond to is the claim that Christianity (and especially Calvinism) is evil because its God accepts the principle that "the ends justify the means" and that therefore the Christian God apparently practices a consequentialist morality. Finally, it seems to me that as Calvinists we can't evade the conclusion that God purposes to ultimately bless the elect at the expense of the non-elect/reprobate…How can we Calvinists respond to the charge made by atheists and Arminians (et al.) that that's immoral for God to do that?
i) Since many atheists subscribe to consequentialism, it's hard to see how an atheist is in any position to say Calvinism is evil because it (allegedly) operates with a consequentialist ethic. Consequentialism is compatible with atheism. Those are not opposing positions. Peter Singer is a secular consequentialist. Indeed, the most influential secular bioethicist of his generation. Even if an atheist rejects consequentialism, that's independent of atheism. So that goes to an intramural debate within atheism.
ii) Consider some standard definitions of consequentialism:
Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences [IEP].
Whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences (as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act) [SEP].
A critic has to show that according to Calvinism, God's actions are solely justified by the consequences. The fact that Calvinism has a teleological component doesn't make that the only consideration in Reformed theodicy.
iii) The onus is on the critic to defend Kantian deontologism. We can reject the proposition that the end always justifies the means without taking the polar opposite position that the end never justifies the means. That's a false dichotomy. Surely we can stake out a mediating position between those two extremes, viz. some ends justify some means.
For instance, suppose I'm morbidly obese. That's detrimental to my health, so I go on a diet. Doesn't the goal of lowering the risk to my health justify dieting as a means to that end?
iv) Perhaps, though, a critic will say he's not objecting to the principle in general, but to the specific case of using people as means rather than ends. But even on that restriction, is there something inherently wrong with using people as means? If I break my ankle skateboarding and go to the doctor for medical treatment, my aim is to repair the damage and receive painkillers, and I'm using the physician as a means to that end. But surely that's not immoral. So the critic will have to present a much narrower objection.
v) Perhaps his objection is that we should refrain from using people merely as means. Or we shouldn't use people without their consent.
If so, why should I accept that claim? For instance, even if (ex hypothesi) it's wrong to use innocent people as a means to an end, what about evil people? What if, by their evil, they have forfeited their prima facie immunity from harm? For instance, suppose a terror master uses couriers to send and receive messages. Suppose, unbeknownst to the courier, a counterterrorist organization plants a remote-control bomb on the courier so that when he visits the terror master, the bomb is detonated, killing the terrorist and thereby saving hundreds or thousands of innocent lives. That's using the courier as a means to an end, but so what? The courier is culpable for working with the notorious terrorist.
Likewise, what if a country is dominated by two drug cartels. The authorities lack the wherewithal to defeat the cartels directly. Instead, they stage a hit on one cartel to make it look like it was attacked by the other cartel. That foments a war between the two cartels. They destroy each other. Although that's a ruthless tactic, since both cartels are evil, what's wrong with using them against each other to destroy each other?
vi) Finally, freewill theists like Jerry Walls and William Lane Craig resort to an end-justifies-the-means theodicy, in which God creates a minority of hellbound humans as a means of producing a majority of heavenbound humans. The salvation of the many comes on the backs of the damned. So they're in no position to attack Calvinism for utilizing a principle which they themselves utilize:
Indeed, God did not have to create and in doing so he clearly thought it was “worth it.” So if my view entails that God did not do all he could have done to prevent the damnation of the lost simply because he did not refrain from creating at all, I plead guilty…Given that God does not control the counterfactuals of freedom, perhaps there are no actualizable worlds in which he can save all free persons. Indeed, if part of our freedom includes the freedom to choose whom to marry, and with whom to procreate, perhaps we play a significant role in determining which persons will be born, and thus which persons God can actualize. In that case, God actualizes the world in which he can save many people while minimizing the number of the damned. Perhaps God was faced with the choice between this sort of world and none at all, and he judged it “worth it” to create. I think this is not merely possible, but plausible.
Moreover, it is far from obvious that God's being all-loving compels Him to prefer a world in which no one goes to hell over a world in which some people do. Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them! Does God's being all-loving compel Him to prefer one of these underpopulated worlds over a world in which multitudes are saved, even though some people freely go to hell? I don't think so. God's being all-loving implies that in any world He creates He desires and strives for the salvation of every person in that world. But people who would freely reject God's every effort to save them shouldn't be allowed to have some sort of veto power over what worlds God is free to create. Why should the joy and the blessedness of those who would freely accept God's salvation be precluded because of those who would stubbornly and freely reject it? It seems to me that God's being all-loving would at the very most require Him to create a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, a world where as many as possible freely accept salvation and as few as possible freely reject it.
Monday, July 25, 2016
I'll respond to a statement that a commenter left on my blog:
I'm not sure how to answer the atheist objection that it's special pleading and ad hoc to appeal to God's special prerogatives (as God) to get out of the dilemma that the types of evils God allows/permits (and ordains in the case of Calvinism) would be evil on our part if we allowed or planned them but somehow not evil for God if He allows or plans/ordains them.
I believe that by faith, but I'm not sure how to rationally defend that to an atheist (though, it's much easier against an Arminian who accepts Biblical authority). Especially if I include in the problem of evil the uniquely Calvinistic view of reprobation (and pre-damnation as some Calvinists make a distinction).
The atheist question is "How does appealing to God's superior ontology and status as Creator, the most perfect and supreme being and who is allegedly the standard of goodness exempt Him from being guilty of evil for allowing and ordaining such things when of all beings in existence He's the most capable of preventing them?" It's not merely that God is supposed to be guilty, but especially guilty because God, in His omnipotence, can prevent them from occurring.
And in the case of Calvinism, God doesn't passively permit, but actively ordains evils and reprobation. As I've been asked, "How can Calvinists claim God is good with a straight face?" Allegedly, there's cognitive dissonance involved.
Ryan Hedrich already gave a good response. Now for me:
i) It's true that some Calvinists are too quick to invoke divine authority as a solution. Although that response is true at a certain level, it's not an explanation, and it's only persuasive for someone who already agrees with the theological framework–yet that's the very issue in dispute.
In fairness, I've seen Arminians stipulate that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting inscrutable evils. But, of course, that appeal has no explanatory value, and begs the question. Likewise, Marilyn McCord Adams contends that divine and human goods are ontologically incommensurate. So these maneuvers are hardly confined to Calvinists.
ii) Suppose you have a fictional character in a story who enjoys foresight regarding the future. To be precise, he foresees two possible futures: what will transpire if he intervenes and what will transpire if he doesn't intervene. He often finds himself in situations where he could prevent some tragedy, yet he refrains from doing so. For instance, he sees a house fire. He's in a position to rescue one of the children who's trapped inside. Yet he does nothing. To outside observers, his inaction appears to be reprehensible.
But here's the dilemma: what if by preventing a short-term evil he causes a long-term evil or preempts a second-order good? Whenever he intervenes, there are tradeoffs. By preventing harm to some people, his action has the side-effect of harming others, or eliminating some resultant good.
What if he knows that the child, had he survived, would have a tenth-generation descendent who's a serial killer? Or what if he knows that if the child dies, the parents will procreate another child to take the place of the child they lost in the house fire. If he intervenes, he deprives the replacement child of existence. So which life takes precedence? On either scenario, someone loses out. Someone will benefit from his action or be harmed by his action. There's no timeline that secures all the same goods while eliminating every evil. In each alternate timeline, some evils are offset by some goods while some goods come at the cost of some evils.
A fallen world is a network of good and evil. Some evils cause some goods. Some goods cause some evils. Some goods preempt other goods.
iii) Or suppose you had a video game with artificially intelligent characters. Should the gamer forestall harm to his characters? Well, that depends. The game has a plot. One thing leads to another. Some characters come into existence as a result of what other characters do, including the actions of villainous characters. You might even have the heroic son of a villainous father. By preventing certain harms to certain characters, the gamer is robbing some potential characters of existence. Likewise, by eliminating all the villains, he eliminates some of the heroes, whose existence is contingent on the prior actions of the bad guys. Some good guys wouldn't exist if some bad guys didn't exist. Suppose a bad guy kills the boyfriend of a female character. As a result, she marries someone else, and has a son by him, who turns out to be a hero. (Or has a daughter who turns out to be a heroine.) In this case, preventing one murder takes another life. So eliminating some evils must be balanced off the resultant goods that you thereby eliminate, or alternative evils that take their place.
iv) The fact that humans are related to other humans, whereas God is inhuman, can in some measure justify differential treatment. To take a few examples, suppose a grown son commits a heinous murder. He is sentenced to death. It would be cruel to require his family to carry out the sentence. It's better to delegate execution to a disinterested third-party.
Likewise, suppose you're given a choice between saving your mother's life and saving the lives of fifty innocent people. Objectively speaking, it could be argued that saving fifty innocent lives is better, or more obligatory, than saving one life. But it would be unbearable for a son to sacrifice his own mother to save fifty strangers. Moreover, it's not even clear that his duty to the common good overrides his filial duty.
There are situations in which in would be right for an angel or an alien from Alpha Centuri to do something which would be wrong for a human to do, precisely because the alien or angel isn't human. He doesn't have the same social obligations or emotional investments where humans are concerned. He can act with greater moral detachment.
v) Finally, everyone who suffers evil is evil in some degree. Take a mob family. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, siblings, cousins. Some members of the mob family may be much more evil than others. Still, there's a sense in which none of them deserves to be immune from harm. And some of them richly deserved to be harmed.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Now available for preorder:
"This book contains a vigorous challenge to the widespread belief that Calvinist views on human freedom and divine sovereignty make the problem of evil insoluble. Written by a diverse group of first-rate thinkers, the book also shows that 'Calvinism' itself is not monolithic, but a diverse movement with the resources for creative rethinking of old questions. Highly recommended."
--C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University; Professorial Fellow, Australian Catholic University
"In recent years, advocates of libertarian freedom, or Molinism, have dominated the discussion of the problem of evil in Christianity, creating a consensus that traditional Calvinism is unacceptable. The present volume counteracts that consensus by sophisticated and detailed philosophical argument of a high order. I strongly recommend it."
--John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology & Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary
Introduction, by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson
1: Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory -- Daniel M. Johnson
2: Molinist Gunslingers: God and the Authorship of Sin -- Greg Welty
3: Theological Determinism and the "Authoring Sin" Objection -- Heath White
4: Not the Author of Evil: A Question of Providence, Not a Problem for Calvinism -- James E. Bruce
5: Orthodoxy, Theological Determinism, and the Problem of Evil -- David E. Alexander
6: Discrimination: Aspects of God's Causal Activity -- Paul Helm
7: On Grace and Free Will -- Hugh J. McCann
8: The First Sin: A Dilemma for Christian Determinists -- Alexander R. Pruss
9: Calvinism and the First Sin -- James N. Anderson
10: A Compatibicalvinist Demonstrative-Goods Defense -- Christopher R. Green
11: Calvinism and the Problem of Hell -- Matthew J. Hart
12: Calvinism, Self-Attestation, and Apathy Toward Arguments From Evil -- Anthony Bryson
This is a sequel to my previous post:
1. It's common to read Christians who describe the Trinity by saying the Godhead has three centers of consciousness. For instance:
The problem with these analogies, of course, is that they do not account for the New Testament data, in which the persons of the Trinity are actual centers of consciousness, entering into various transactions with one another: the Father sends the Son, the Son prays to the Father, the Father answers the prayers of the Son, the Father and Son together send the Spirit. Indeed, the Augustinian/Aquinas type of model veers toward Sabellianism, a heresy which began in the western, Latin-speaking church, and which has historically posed a particular danger to the Latin tradition of theology.
Likewise, Thomas Morris and Trenton Merricks describe the Trinity in terms of three distinct centers of consciousness. There are, however, theologians like Rahner and Barth who consider that tritheistic.
2. It's a seminal mistake to begin with a preconception of tritheism, then use that as a filter to preemptively screen out certain models of the Trinity. Rather, we need to begin with God's self-revelation. Our description should model his self-revelation. It's improper to trim God down to fit into our preconceived notion of what God ought to be like.
3. In addition, "tritheism" is ambiguous. That doesn't have a uniform meaning. It would vary according to what is meant by theism. The gods of pagan polytheism are very different than the god of unitarian thinkers like Maimonides and Al-Ghazâlî. If you had just three pagan gods. that would be tritheistic. If you were to triplicate the Deity of Maimonides or Al-Ghazâlî, that would be tritheistic. But they'd have very different attributes.
It's been said that Richard Swinburne's model of the Trinity is tritheistic. If so, it's tritheistic in a very different way than a hypothetical heathen tritheism or hypothetical triplication of the Deity which Maimonides or Al-Ghazâlî espouse.
Point being: we don't have an a prior conception of tritheism. The label tends to be circular and question-begging because it presumes a standard of comparison: what God is really like, in contrast to tritheism. Yet what God is really like is the very question at issue when we consider how to properly formulate the Trinity.
4. Aquinas famously said the members of the Trinity are subsistent relations, viz. substances in their own right rather than accidents contingent on the substances in which they inhere. But that's a very problematic definition.
i) To begin with, there's nothing inherently personal about a substance or relation.
ii) Moreover, it's hard to see how the members of the Trinity can just be relations. Be reducible to relations. For a relation presupposes things that are interrelated. What obtains between two (or more) things. You can't have relations apart from relata.
5. I said Alastair's formulation is modalistic because he views the members of the Godhead as modes of the divine nature. The nature is the source of the personal properties. The nature underlies the exempla. So the nature enjoys ultimacy, like an abstract universal is prior to concrete particulars.
6. On a Trinitarian interpretation of the Bible, it's hard to avoid saying the Godhead has three centers of consciousness or self-consciousness. The Son is conscious of his status as the Son, in contrast to the Father, who is conscious of his status as the Father, in contrast to the Son (ditto: the Spirit). Each member is conscious of what he is and what he is not.
Perhaps, though, it might be objected that that's equivocal. There's more to consciousness than self-awareness. Consciousness is defined by additional properties like intentionality.
But even though that's a valid distinction, the Bible depicts the members of the Godhead as having consciousness in that fuller sense as well. So I don't think we can eliminate distinct centers of consciousness, or three first-person viewpoints, without lapsing into modalism.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
This is a significant departure from the Church's historic doctrine of the Trinity, within which the language of 'person' functions rather differently and does not carry the meaning that it does in popular parlance. The 'persons' of the Trinity are not three distinct centres of consciousness or agencies--which would suggest something resembling tritheism and undermine the oneness (and the simplicity) of God. The persons, or hypostases, are three instantiations of the one divine nature. However, most of the things that we would associate with personhood--knowledge, will, love, wisdom, mind, etc.--are grounded, not in the three hypostases, but in the one divine nature. In this respect, if we were working in terms of our modern usage of the term 'person', in some respects God might be more aptly spoken of as one 'person' with three self-relations, rather than as one being in three persons. This language still falls far short, though. - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2016/07/the-eternal-subordination-of-t-2.php#sthash.clr3cPau.dpuf
That's a very flawed formulation:
i) I'm struck by how so many theologians think it's more important to guard agains the appearance of tritheism than unitarianism. Do they think unitarianism is less heretical then tritheism?
ii) Alastair's formulation works within a Platonic paradigm in which the divine nature is like an abstract universal which members of the godhead exemplify, as property instances of the divine nature. They participate in the psychological properties of the divine nature. Knowledge, love, will, wisdom, mind, &c. primarily inhere in the nature, and only derivatively in the Father, Son, and Spirit.
iii) Does his formulation do justice to Biblical revelation? For instance, in the Fourth Gospel, doesn't the Son have a first-person viewpoint distinct from the Father's first-person viewpoint? Doesn't that dovetail with the modern connotation of a "person"?
Doesn't the Fourth Gospel project that back into the preexistent relationship between Father and Son? In other words, when the Son comes into the world, that's a carryover from his antemundane existence and status.
Likewise, take Paul's analogy in 1 Cor 2:10-11. Doesn't that define the personality (as well as divinity) of the Spirit in "modern" psychological terms? By contrast, I find Alastair's formulation strikingly modalistic.
I'll comment on this post:
A basic problem with Andrew's exposition of divine simplicity is that he doesn't address the most controversial refinement. Proponents of divine simplicity often deny that God has any distinct properties or contingent relations. This leads to serious theological confusion. Let's take two examples:
i) A sine qua non of Calvinism is the distinction between God's justice and God's mercy. God is never unjust, but God is sometimes unmerciful. These aren't merely distinct, but sometimes divergent. If, however, justice and mercy are identical, then that erases the distinction between salvation and judgment, election and reprobation.
ii) Calvinists typically grant the traditional distinction between God's absolute power and his ordinate power. Likewise, the Westminster Confession affirms God's counterfactual knowledge (WCF 3.2).
In modern jargon, this is cashed out in terms of possible worlds. The actual world is not the only possible world. Rather, God was at liberty to decree a different world.
If, however, there is no contingency in God's knowledge, volition, or actions, then you have a necessitarian scheme in which everything that happens is absolutely inexorable. It could not be otherwise, even for God. By contrast, Calvinism typically affirms conditional necessity rather than absolute necessity. Put another way, if God does different things in different possible worlds, then God can't be simple–in this radical sense.
Other readers might immediately wonder how this fits with the Trinity, and they are right to raise the question. However, when the Christian tradition spoke of the Trinity, it must be understood that their entire way of explaining it agreed with simplicity. They explained it in such a way that it could be consistent with this idea. If it seems hard to understand how they could do so, they would agree: They taught that the Trinity was a mystery that was beyond complete human comprehension.
I think that's an illicit appeal to paradox. I have not antecedent objections to mystery or paradox in Christian theology. However, that applies to revealed truths, viz. the Trinity. By contrast, divine simplicity is basically an artifact of philosophical theology. Insofar as philosophical theology relies on natural reason rather than divine revelation, it ought to be accessible and accountable to rational scrutiny.
They did, however, come up with a way of explaining all the scriptural data that pressed the church to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity, and it should be said, among those data was the explicit scriptural witness to monotheism. Explanations of the threeness of God that amount to teaching there are three divine beings runs up against not simply squaring themselves with simplicity, but also with monotheism. And indeed, the larger argument of the classical tradition would be that those two ideas, divine simplicity and monotheism, are not accidentally linked, but rather are two sides of the same coin.
i) That's equivocal because it confounds simplicity with singularity or unicity. To affirm that there is only one God hardly entails that God has no distinct properties or contingent relations.
ii) In addition, I'm struck by how many Christians think it's more important to protect the Trinity against the appearance of tritheism than unitarianism. Yet unitarianism is at least as heretical as tritheism.
Finally, Andrew expounds Dyotheletism, but he doesn't explain the relevance of that issue to EFS.
Trump supporters like to say not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary. There is, however, another way of putting it: a vote for Trump is a Democrat vote. This November, you can either vote for a Democrat (Hillary), or you can vote for a Democrat (Trump).
Friday, July 22, 2016
I made some comments on Facebook regarding Cruz's convention speech. Here's what I said:
i) I don't condemn people who voted for a non-Trump candidate in the primaries, but will grudgingly vote for Trump in the general. I condemn people who voted for Trump in the primaries. That created a moral dilemma for conservatives.
Given that predicament, I understand that some conservatives are supporting Trump in the general, not so much as a vote for Trump, but a vote against Hillary.
ii) But by the same token, when the Trumpkins created this double bind, they can't turn around and order me to impale myself on their preferred horn of the dilemma. The problem for me is that November is a lost cause regardless of who wins. It's now a choice between two worst-case scenarios. Once the Trumpkins invaded the primaries and succeeded in getting their candidate nominated, our fate was sealed. It's like pulling the pin on a live grenade. You don't have the same options after you doing it that you did before. And there's no going back. Someone's going to get hurt. Just a question of who. Time to dive for cover.
iii) Yes, there's a sense in which Cruz used code language. But in so doing he created a dilemma for Trumpkins. Cruz said: "We deserve leaders who stand for principle. Unite us all behind shared values. Cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect, from everybody. And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution."
Trumpkins can only take umbrage at that statement by walking right into an ambush of their own making. They sensed that Cruz was taking a backhanded swipe at Trump. I'm sure he was. But you can't be offended by that statement without sharing Cruz's interpretation. Unless Cruz's insinuation is plausible, why would you assume the statement excludes Trump? To jeer Cruz for what he said is an unwitting admission that Trump's not a leader who stands for principle, with shared values, whom we can trust to defend our freedom and be faithful to the Constitution.
I think Cruz just wanted to distance himself from Trump. I doubt he intended to lay a trap. For one thing, I doubt he's that good at reading an audience.
The Trumpkins made it trap when they took the bait. They sensed that he was snubbing Trump. Problem is, he phrased it in such a way that they couldn't be affronted without stepping into a trap, which is just what they did.
The smart thing to do in that situation is not to take the bait. But they're not that smart. They don't really listen to content. They are easily manipulated.
iv) There's no reason to demand that every speech at a GOP convention must endorse the candidate. Speakers can perform other useful functions. For instance, a speaker can make the case against the Democrat nominee. Or a speaker can make the case for conservative values. Define and defend conservative ideology and policy. By the same token, a speaker can made a case against liberal ideology and policies.
It's a good thing to have speakers who are independent of the GOP nominee. Who don't have to cut-and-tailor their message to suit the nominee. We shouldn't measure conservatism by the nominee, but measure the nominee by conservatism.
v) If the objective was to defeat Hillary, primary voters should have picked a candidate who was more acceptable to conservatives, and without Trump's stratospheric negatives. It's too late to salvage the disaster that Trumpkins wrought in the primaries.
vi) The question is whether Cruz's self-interest coincides with the public interest. By definition, politicians are ambitious. The issue is whether what they want what lines up with what the country needs.
I think Cruz is calculating. But from what I can tell, he is a genuine conservative ideologue. Some of his positions are arguably opportunistic, but as politicians go, he seems to have more core convictions than most.
vii) I don't know that Cruz's speech backfired. Sure, he proved once again that he's not a team player. The party apparatchiks will shun him. But I don't think that hurts him with the base. Just the opposite.
viii) In Num 30:3-5, a father has authority to void the vow of a minor. That exception is sufficient to establish the fact that vows are not irrevocable in principle. An illustration of that fact.
I'd add that OT case law was never meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it gives OT judges hypothetical situations. They are to apply the law to analogous situations.
That doesn't rule out other potential exceptions. There are priorities within OT law. This crops up in the Sabbath controversies between Jesus and the religious establishment.
Lev 5 describes what to do in the case of a rash vow. You perform a ritual to atone for nonperformance. That illustrates the fact that vows are not ipso facto inviolable. However, it's culpable to make a rash vow, which is why noncompliance must be redeemed. That's the alternative to keeping the vow.
By your logic, if a hitman vows to assassinate the wife of a judge, then becomes a Christian, he must still carry out his vow rather than repent of his vow.
Incidentally, there's nothing necessary wrong with taking circumstances into account. Although some actions are intrinsically right or wrong, the morality or immorality of other actions is contingent on the situation. For instance, taking life is generally wrong or prima facie wrong, but there are situations in which taking life is morally permissible or even morally obligatory.