Monday, September 12, 2005

Evil genies

It’s hard to keep track, but I think this is a surrejoinder to Perry’s rejoinder to my reply to his response to something I wrote in answer to a question by a Triablogue lurker.

Let’s begin by putting this debate into perspective. Calvinism affirms sola Scriptura as its rule of faith. And it rests its claims on exegetical and systematic theology.

Both exegetical and philosophical criticisms are raised in objection to Calvinism. For example, it is said that Calvinism has a particular difficulty with the problem of evil.

These generally take the form of rationalistic objections. There are different ways of responding. There’s a voluntarist reply such as you find in Gordon Clark. There’s a fideist reply such as you find in Hoeksema and Berkouwer—not that Berkouwer was really a Calvinist by this time.

A more mainstream line of reply appeals to compatibilism. The classic exposition is found in Jonathan Edwards. Theologians like Paul Helm and John Frame make use of it as well.

There is also a younger generation of Reformed philosophers who operate within this framework, but their discussions are thus far confined to private chat rooms.

This is a philosophical reply to a philosophical objection. It is not a strictly ad hominem reply. It is believed to be true in its own right. But it’s in the nature of defensive apologetics or philosophical theology. We are simply answering the critic on his own grounds.

Our own deeper reasons for what we believe remain exegetical. Anything beyond that is gravy.

To disprove Calvinism, you either need to disprove its rule of faith or else its use of its rule of faith.

For the time being I’m going to confine my surrejoinder to the more theological aspects of his rejoinder, because that is what happens to be of more personal interest and pertinence to me. I may revisit the more philosophical speculations at a later date, where I was responding to a question posed by someone else. I have my own priorities.


The problem of God determining someone to believe that they are a true believer and elect is a distinctive problem for Calvinism for the simple reason that while self deception is a possibility in other theological systems as Hays notes, the deception is attributable to the freedom of the agent and inattentive use of their cognitive and moral faculties rather than to God planning and rendering their deception inevitable. While every theological system has a distinction between real and nominal believers, that is certainly not co-extensive with the idea that God’s determining activity is the explanation for why people end up in one group or another. The latter idea is fairly distinctive to Calvinism (Even contradicting the 2nd Council of Orange). So on distinctively Calvinist grounds Hays has the same kind of defeater for his views on assurance or just about any other belief as the libertarian has for his beliefs concerning freedom.

The fact that on a Calvinist reading the same God who predestines people to think that they are elect when they really aren’t also determines that some people have grounds for thinking that they are elect when they are is of no help. If the agent in question is determined to think that they are elect when they are not then no evidence can function as defeaters to that belief, making cases of people having grounds for assurance and being elect indistinguishable to the agent from cases where people have apparent grounds for assurance and think that they are elect when in fact they are not.

The question is not whether God is conferring the same experience on both groups, elect and reprobate. The question is how is one to discriminate between being only apparently elect and actually being so. If God determines you to think you are elect, then it is inevitable that you think so. If God determines you to take your experience as confirming that you are elect, when in fact you are not, then it is inevitable that you think so. How then, if your beliefs are determined by God can the evidence function to discriminate between the two cases? Simple. It can’t. This is why we have a parallel case to the one that Hays provided-an agent has a belief but is in fact determined to be deceived such that the evidence for their beliefs doesn’t imply the truth of those beliefs and hence fails to amount to knowledge. There doesn’t have to be the same experience, just a covert controller and the distinction between appearance and reality.

For example, when I was Reformed I knew many people who were sure that they were elect. They were quite dogmatic on the point. Most of them ended up falling away and/or dying in unbelief to my knowledge. They thought that had confirming evidence of their own election. They thought that they had the self attesting witness of the Spirit. Now can someone be wrong and think that they have the self attesting witness of the Spirit and not actually have it? I see no reason to think that this isn’t possible. If God determines them to have that belief then this is the same circumstance as the individual who thinks that they have free will when in fact they don’t. Under the influence of covert controllers the justification of any belief can be undermined. It would be a silly mistake to take this as an indication, as Hays seems to do, that the problem is with the belief or the evidence for it. The problem is with the epistemological theory which falls prey to skeptical arguments. Hays is confusing epistemology with metaphysics.


i) First off, Perry is acting as if this were an open question in theology. It is not. It we have a problem here, it’s not with Calvinism, per se, but with the witness of Scripture. The Bible says that God deceives the reprobate (e.g., 1 Kgs 22:23; Ezk 14:9; 2 Thes 2:11). The Bible says that God hardens the reprobate (e.g., Exod 4:21; 7:3; Isa 6; Jn 12:37-40; Rom 9-11).

This is not an inference from Calvin’s doctrine of reprobation. Rather, it’s the sort of primary datum from which a doctrine of reprobation is inferred. A Calvinist is simply playing the hand he was dealt.

ii) Now, you always have Christians who, at this point, censure the Bible. They rush in to muzzle its mouth and put their hand over the lips of Scripture. They exercise prior restraint. For them, this is not even a live option.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we adopt the worse case scenario. Well, if we can’t help ourselves, then there’s nothing to fret over. Things will either turn out well or badly. If I’m self-deluded, then I have nothing to lose since I’m damned anyway. The illusion is no worse than the reality.

iv) This partly goes to the burden of proof. How do I know I’m not a madman? After all, one mark of insanity is self-delusion. If I was sane, I’d think I was sane; and if I were insane, I’d think I was sane.

There are some folks who work themselves into a state of existential panic over the abstract possibility of doubt. The abstract possibility of doubt becomes a source of doubt, feeding on its own tail.

But this sort of doubt, the capacity for doubt, is merely a side effect of our imagination, of our ability to contemplate alternative scenarios. That is, I suppose, a precondition for moral deliberation. It’s also a source of artistic ability.

But when it’s misused to generate an artificial state of doubt, that’s an abuse of a God-given endowment. To doubt simply because I have the ability to pose hypothetical traps for myself.

Can I prove that I’m not a brain-in-a-vat? Who cares? No one lies awake at night over this conundrum. I doubt that even Hilary Putnam has lost much sleep over it.

The reason we pose these thought-experiments is precisely because they’re so far removed from reality. We like to explore limiting-cases, and where experience doesn’t supply us with limiting-cases, we invent them. But their value, if any, is several steps removed from the limiting-case.

We ask ourselves how much we can know in the most extreme case under the assumption that we have less reason for doubt since ordinary experience is not that far out. The limiting-case was never postulated as true, but as a convenient device for working our way back to the truth by something that isn’t true, but lies at the outer boundaries of what’s possible.

v) It isn’t clear to me if Robinson’s objection is to the potential for skepticism, or divine complicity in evil.

Regarding the latter, if we regard Scripture as divine revelation, then we have to take our point of departure with what God has said about himself. Only God knows what he is like, and only God can tell us what he is like.

This sometimes poses a challenge for apologetics, but apologetics cannot rewrite the story if it doesn’t like the ending.

A major reason for the appeal to compatibilism is to neutralize the issue of divine complicity. But removing compatibilism would not remove the witness of Scripture, which compatibilism was designed, in part, to defend.

vi) Regarding skepticism, it isn’t clear to me why Perry thinks the source of self-delusion is all-important. We all know, or know of, individuals who are so deeply immersed in self-denial that they are unreachable. Any outside effort to correct their self-deception is self-reinforcing.

vii) In addition, my defeater for LFW and Perry’s defeater for the contrary are not symmetrical. For both defeaters assume the truth of determinism. My defeater assumes that it’s possible for an agent’s actions to be predetermined even though he delusively believes in his possession of LFW.

Perry’s defeater assumes that it’s possible for an agent to delusively enjoy the assurance of salvation even if he’s hell-bound, because God has determined both his ultimate fate and his immediate state of mind.

But what Perry needs for a true parallel is not a defeater for the assurance of salvation, but a defeater for divine determinism.


Hays claims that the argument for predestination unlike the argument for libertarian freedom is not an argument from experience but from revelation. Certainly for some that is so, but for example it wasn’t so for Luther, who availed himself of arguments from Stoic determinism and other venues to prove his necessitarianism and Luther was not alone in making these kind of arguments from experience of the physical world and philosophy to establish his predestinarian views.


That may be of some value as a supporting argument—especially in apologetics, but in terms of Reformed theology, Scriptural warrant is sufficient warrant.


Moreover, one can make a case for libertarian freedom from revelation and libertarians have historically done so. Very simply put God has libertarian freedom and we are made in God’s image and granted a measure of that freedom. The same language that is applied to God regarding choice and making judgments is equally applied to humans and other moral agents. There is no reason to think that the latter have some other *kind* of freedom than God even if God has it in greater measure.


I deny most of the assumptions. I affirm that God has counterfactual freedom, but deny that he has libertarian freedom.

Moreover, at what point does Perry’s appeal to revelation kick in? The fact that Scripture uses the same language to describe God and man as moral agents? Or the preliminary assumption that God is a libertarian agent?

Perry is arguing: given that God is a libertarian agent, if Scripture applies the same language to God and man alike, then man is also a libertarian agent. But even if the inference were valid, what supplies the premise?

Also, it will not suffice to say that Scripture describes divine and human agency in the same terms. That is true up to a point, but there are major discontinuities as well. God foreordains the future—man does not; God foreknows the future—man does not. God’s choices preselect for human choices. So there is a great deal of asymmetry which Perry’s comparison skates over.


I agree with Hays that the exegetical case for Calvinism has been made repeatedly. But not much follows from this fact. What Hays needs to show or at least refer to, are cases where it has been successfully made. Plenty of advocates of positions can refer to exegetical cases made for their positions. Just pick up a slew of commentaries on any particular book of the Bible and one will see exegetical cases made for a variety of positions.


True enough, but only Perry knows what Perry finds unsatisfactory in the traditional case for Calvinism. So he will have to be much more specific in his criticisms for me to be much more specific in my answers.


I gave a rough sketch of the argument one could make for libertarianism from the Bible. That is hardly a display of my theological method. It is quite true that I didn’t make any effort to exegete various texts to support the basic argument, because as I said I was giving a sketch. I was trying to motivate my readers thinking more than produce a full length treatment of the subject. The exegetical case has been made elsewhere.


“The exegetical case has been made elsewhere.” Now he’s doing what he accused me of doing only a paragraph before. So where’s the exegetical case to pencil in his sketch?


It shows rhetorical flare to say that I use a “Biblical category as a cipher to plug in a totally extraneous concept” but it does no argumentative work. Hays has yet to show that the concept of libertarian freedom pre se is not a Biblical concept and so he is begging the question. Certainly, plenty of Calvinists historically have thought it was attributing it to at least God. At best Steve’s rhetorical comments beg the question and certainly his own tradition has ended up on my side on that point.


Again, Perry needs to spell out what he thinks would count as evidence against LFW. Traditional Reformed objections would include predestination, providence, moral/spiritual inability; perseverance, and the final state.

To say that plenty of Calvinists historically have attributed LFW to God strikes me as anachronistic. Can we map contemporary models of action-theory back onto historical theology in one-to-one correspondence? Seems to me that Perry has overspecified the evidence.

In addition, is this attribution based on exegesis, or more philosophical trains of thought like Stoic determinism? There’s some slippage in the argument here.


The example Hays gives is of no help because it doesn’t exemplify the swath of cases of biblical usage but only one case, which is hardly adequate. Certainly the phrase “the image of God” is used in other contexts, specifically Christological ones. What is worse is that the example that Hays gives doesn’t actually give a lexigraphical basis for understanding the phrase in a specific way but rather falls back on a sociological analysis in place of exegesis. If meaning is use then appealing to how the Hebrews saw their kings, especially when many of the key texts were written long before Israel even had kings, let alone a priesthood, doesn’t tell us how the text uses the term. At best it tells us how they saw the text in light of their cultural views. Hays doesn’t give us what he promised, namely an example of the “right way” to “interpret the key term” because the example isn't doing exegesis.


What I did was to redirect the analysis to a standard reference work. Clines is arguably the world’s foremost Hebrew lexicographer.

Gen 1:26 is the paradigm-case. All other references to the imago Dei are secondary to, and parasitic upon, this programmatic statement.

It is not sociological rather than exegetical, for it tells us what sociological model the inspired text chose to codify as the preferred frame of reference.

Provision for the kingship was already made in the law of Moses (Deut 17:14-20), so this is part of the Pentateuchal outlook.

The Christological occurrences are only germane if you univeralize the Incarnation such that the Logos unites himself, not to a particular instance of human nature, but generic human nature, and thus to humanity in general. What is the exegetical justification for that extension?

In addition, must we not, therefore, extend the anhypostatic union, divorcing human personhood from human nature generally, such that no human being has a human consciousness since all that was subsumed in the person of the Logos?


  1. Hays,

    One thing you might want to clear up on is your idea of counter-factual freedom in reference to God. I'm a bit puzzled. What more do you think needs to be added to your notion of it for it to be Libertarian free-will as Perry and I advocate?


  2. God has counterfactual freedom. God has the freedom to choose between alternative possibilities. Indeed, God’s potentia absoluta is the source of alternative possibilities. This is a major difference between divine and human agency.

    God does not have LFW. At least, this is commonly defined in ways inapposite to God. On one definition, an agent enjoys LFW if he is free to do otherwise under the same circumstances. But God has no situation in which he finds himself. God doesn’t choose in relation to external circumstances. God places other agents in various situations.

    The definition of LFW often includes the freedom to choose either good or evil. But God is not at liberty to choose evil.

    In the older theological literature, LFW was expressed in terms of liberty of indifference, according to which the will was in a state of moral neutrality or equilibrium. But the will of God is not morally neutral.

  3. Steve,

    The type of LFW that Perry and I affirm is probably different then what you might be accustomed to in the literature this is because most libertarians see that we have LFW in this life but not in the next (in which Perry and I see this position still ending up in inevitability). I think Perry is working on a paper to be published to rebutt that thesis. We don't define libertarian free-will necessarily dialectically. AP doesn't require objects of differing moral value, just different objects that aren't identical (like God creating and not creating). Our view is in Maximus, and in turn is viewed Christologically and Eschatologically since the mode of willing for each will be the same. It is a non-dialectical view of freedom. Looking at my paper "Synergy in Christ" might be helpful for sketching out the conceptual framework.

    I think you might also see how this is tied with simplicity. If the good is defined as absolutely simple, then freedom is always going to be defined between the good--that is simple--and something else. That "something else," by definition, must be evil. This is Plotinus's problem, Origen's, Augustine's, and the Scholastics--which is why the problem is recapitulated over and over in Western Theology in my opinion.

    I'm not sure that anything needs to be added to your notion of freedom--with respect to God--to line up with our view of LFW.


  4. What happened to Berkouwer? Have any studies been written on this subject?

  5. I don't know the whole story on Berkouwer.

    1.Krabbendam has an article on his theological about-face in Inerrancy, N. Geisler, ed.

    2.In his autobiographical 50 Years of Theology, Berkouwer explains that his meeting with Hoeksema, the supralapsarian, made him see the alternatives with greater clarity.

    3.During WWII, when Holland was occupied by the Nazis, Berkouwer presided over the heresy trial of Schilder. In hindsight, he felt that reflected a poor sense of priorities.

    4.He may just have been one of those nominal Christians who grew up in a very insular, ingrown religious community and only lost his hereditary faith over time and broader exposure.

    5.He always wrote from the standpoint of historical theology, so his theological method and orientation was not fundamentally different from Catholicism.

    6.Barth was influential on Catholicism as well as on Berkouwer.

    7.Berkouwer was a European, and there's a kind of communal group-think you get among the European intelligentsia, where everyone knows everyone else. Everyone's up on avant-garde philosophy and theology.

    You get a lot of that in Kung's autobiography.

    8.Berkouwer was also an official observer at Vatican II.

    9.Dutch Bible scholarship was infected by German liberalism, which had a liberalizing impact on Berkouwer.

  6. Someone should do a study on these types of cases. How many evangelicals have become Barthians or Semi-Barthians, such as Bernard Ramm and Donald Bloesch.

  7. Cranfield is another Barthian. It remains to be seen how much enduring influence he'll have after his (Barth's) inner circle of star students die.