Thursday, December 06, 2007

The admonitions of Scripture

Libertarians commonly charge that Calvinism renders the warnings of Scripture “meaningless.” There are a couple of initial problems with this charge. They don’t define their terms, and they don’t bother to mount an actual argument.

Instead, we’re treated to bare, blustery assertions. The critics don’t feel the need to convert this into an argument since their position is “obviously” true.

Of course, this is rather like a naive realist. Isn’t it obvious that objects are smaller at a distance? After all, they look smaller at a distance? So the most obvious explanation is that they seem smaller at a distance because they really are smaller at a distance.

1.What do they mean by “meaningless”? This is a word with more than one sense:

i)”Meaningless” could signify that something is unintelligible. Gibberish. The sentences make no sense.

Clearly, though, that is not what the critics have in mind. Rather, they think that Calvinism is clearly wrong. So they regard Reformed theology as presenting a set of intelligible propositions. Otherwise, the critics couldn’t even say that Calvinism is mistaken. You don’t say that gibberish is wrong. Gibberish has no truth-value. It doesn’t assert or deny anything. Only an intelligible proposition can be wrong.

2.”Meaningless” could also signify that something is pointless. It serves no purpose.

This seems to be what the critics have in mind. Notice, though, what this objection amounts to.

Many libertarians contend that Calvinism is unscriptural. The Bible “obviously” teaches libertarian freewill.

But if you’re going to say that, according to Calvinism, the warnings are pointless, then this is not, in fact, an exegetical objection, but a philosophical objection. So the libertarian is guilty of a bait-and-switch scam.

He begins by claiming that our position is unscriptural. We then defend our position on exegetical grounds. And, frankly, that should suffice for a Christian. There are only two necessary conditions for Calvinism to be true:

i) Scripture is true;

ii) Calvinism is Scriptural.

Calvinism is concerned with being faithful to the meaning of Scripture. When, by contrast, the libertarian says that Calvinism renders the warnings “meaningless” in the sense of “pointless,” that’s a backdoor admission that he’s lost the exegetical debate, and must downshift to a philosophical objection. He can’t take issue with our exegesis, so he can only take issue with the consequences of our exegesis.

3.For the sake of argument, let’s pursue the consequences. The argument goes something like this:

If it’s impossible for a Christian to commit apostasy, then the warnings serve no purpose. The libertarian regards this objection as intuitively compelling. But is it?

i) Suppose a bridge is washed out. The police place a barricade across the bridge, with a warning sign.

Suppose, as a result of the warning sign, no driver dares to cross the bridge. Wouldn’t it be quite counterintuitive to say the warning sign was pointless because it successfully deterred drivers from attempting to cross the bridge and drown in the river? To the contrary, wouldn’t that consequence show that the warning sign had, in fact, served its purpose?

ii) Suppose, though, the libertarian will object that while, as a matter of fact, no driver disregarded the sign, that unless a driver was free to disregard the sign, then the sign would be pointless.

But how does that follow in the least? Suppose the drivers have been brainwashed. Their psychological conditioning is so overpowering that every time they see a warning sign, they take the warning to heart. They are unable to resist their conditioning.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the warning sign has this coercively deterrent effect on the drivers, how would that render the stimulus pointless?

It is dangerous to drive across a washed out bridge. The police place a barricade across the bridge, along with a warning sign, knowing (let us say), that if a driver sees the warning, he will invariably heed the warning due to his psychological conditioning. He has been brainwashed to respond that way to that particular stimulus.

Even in that limiting case, the warning sign serves a purpose. Indeed, it serves the very purpose it was intended to serve. It successfully deters the driver from crossing the bridge. The fact that it cannot fail to succeed scarcely renders it pointless. To the contrary, what would be more purposeful than something that invariably performs its appointed function?

iii) And there’s nothing the least bit arbitrary about the sign. The sign effects a result which would not otherwise obtain apart from the sign. If there were no warning sign, some drivers would attempt to cross the bridge. Their cars would plunge into the river below, and they would drown.

So it does make a difference whether or not the sign is there. This isn’t fatalism. Absent the sign, you would have a different outcome. So the sign is instrumental in determining a particular outcome. If you take the sign seriously, then it will deter you from attempting to cross the bridge. And that’s what the sign is for. Its fundamental value is a deterrent value.

iv) So what, if anything, would render the sign pointless? Well, suppose that you drove through the barricade and magically transported over the gap where the missing span used to be to the other side of the riverbank.

Levitation would render the sign pointless. If you can flout the sign with impunity, if you can disregard the sign without suffering the stated consequences, then—indeed—the sign serves no purpose. In that event, the sign is simply false. But, of course, Calvinism doesn’t say that you can flout the warnings with impunity—quite the contrary.

v) Or, to consider another scenario, suppose a driver tried to crash the barricade, and discovered that the barricade was impenetrable. If it’s physically impossible to crash the barricade, does that render the barricade pointless?

Hardly. Isn’t the purpose of the barricade to impede traffic? If the barricade presents an impenetrable barrier, then it serves it’s purpose—does it not? It successfully prevented any foolhardy driver from attempting to cross the bridge. If the barricade is so strong that it’s impossible for any vehicle to crash the barricade, then the barricade is doing its job. It was designed to hinder access, and it does what it was design to do.

vi) Does the barricade make the sign superfluous? Depends on what you mean. Every analogy has its limitations. In this case, I’m introducing both the sign and the barricade to illustrate different kinds of impossibility. The sign illustrates psychological impossibility while the barricade represents physical or metaphysical impossibility. If each is sufficient to prevent a given outcome, their combination is a form of overkill. You don’t need both. But it’s useful to have both so that we can examine the libertarian objection from every angle.

vii) Even in this case, the sign is still meaningful. Indeed, what the sign says is true. If you were in a position to disregard the sign, and you did so, you would suffer the stated consequences. Conditional statements can be true statements, even if they’re counterfactual statements.

The fact that a hypothetical may never be realized hardly renders it either unintelligible or pointless. Indeed, counterfactuals are a basic feature of moral deliberation. It’s because a hypothetical course of action has certain consequences that we avoid it.

I’d add that libertarian schemes (e.g. Arminianism, Molinism, open theism) are up to their nostrils in hypotheticals and counterfactuals (e.g. sufficient grace, future contingents, potential universalism—via unlimited atonement]).

viii) So what we have here is a distinction between psychological possibility or impossibility and metaphysical possibility or impossibility. The fact that it is psychologically impossible for the regenerate to disregard the warnings and thereby commit apostasy doesn’t make the warnings the least bit pointless, for the aforementioned reasons.

What would make them pointless is if it was physically or metaphysically possible to disregard the warnings without suffering the consequences—which Calvinism denies.

7 comments:

  1. First of all, I want to go on record again to say that I do not believe that a genuinely converted individual can lose his salvation. That having been said, Steve Hays’ post seems like it has missed the boat (er better for this thread: missed and not heeded the sign and so he has driven his argument right into the river where the bridge had fallen out). In Hays entire post he seems to have completely missed the concern, the point of those who argue from the warning passages that a believer can lose his salvation.

    Their logic is simple and straightforward: a warning presupposes an ACTUAL DANGER. If there is no danger there need not be a warning, however, if there is a real and present danger, then a warning is appropriate so that people can avoid the danger. The person arguing from the warning passages that you can lose your salvation is claiming that behind the warning is a real and present danger, something that is really there and needs to be avoided. With this in mind consider Hays statements and how wide he misses the mark of their actual argument.

    ”2.”Meaningless” could also signify that something is pointless. It serves no purpose.

    This seems to be what the critics have in mind. Notice, though, what this objection amounts to.”

    Right, they mean “pointless”. If there is no actual and present danger to be avoided, a given warning is then “pointless.”

    ”But if you’re going to say that, according to Calvinism, the warnings are pointless, then this is not, in fact, an exegetical objection, but a philosophical objection. So the libertarian is guilty of a bait-and-switch scam.”

    Actually Steve presents a false dilemma here. When interpreting scripture we are either being exegetical or we are being philosophical. According to Steve if we are being exegetical then no philosophical reasoning is involved; and vice versa, if we are being philosophical then no exegetical objection can be presented. The reality is that when we interpret anything, including scripture we engage in the use of logic. And logical reasoning is philosophical reasoning.

    The libertarian sees the calvinist interpretation of the text and logically sees a problem. Common sense and logic dictate that a warning is present because an actual danger is present. But the libertarian sees the calvinist claiming that while the warning is present the danger is merely HYPOTHETICAL and says wait a minute that violates common sense, that violates logic. Logic says if the warning is given and it is given in good faith (it is not a trick, it is sincere, not meant to deceive) then a real and actual danger must be present. But your calvinist interpretation claims that warning is real but there is no present or real danger behind it. It is a hypothetical and unreal danger. Thus the libertarian is not eschewing exegesis but his exegesis includes being logical when interpreting texts. It is not a bait and switch because they are attempting to employ both exegesis (interpreting the text according to sound hermeneutical principles) and philosophical reasoning (logical principles are used when interpreting). It is not an either/or.

    ”When, by contrast, the libertarian says that Calvinism renders the warnings “meaningless” in the sense of “pointless,” that’s a backdoor admission that he’s lost the exegetical debate, and must downshift to a philosophical objection. He can’t take issue with our exegesis, so he can only take issue with the consequences of our exegesis.”

    Again, Hays misses the boat, guides his car into the river. The libertarian does not downsize from exegesis to philosophical. Rather, in properly interpreting the text he is attempting to use logic. And in using logic an interpretation that presents a sincere warning but without an actual and present danger is illogical and hence pointless!

    ”If it’s impossible for a Christian to commit apostasy, then the warnings serve no purpose. The libertarian regards this objection as intuitively compelling. But is it?”

    Yes it is intuitively, or logically compelling. The claim that it is impossible for the Christian to commit apostasy amounts to claiming that though the warnings are real and sincere, there is no danger behind the warnings.

    ”i) Suppose a bridge is washed out. The police place a barricade across the bridge, with a warning sign.”

    Note in this case there is an actual and present danger: a car that continues on the washed out bridge will go into the river endangering the driver. The warning sign is to prevent that happening. The warning stands before a real and present danger.

    ”Suppose, as a result of the warning sign, no driver dares to cross the bridge. Wouldn’t it be quite counterintuitive to say the warning sign was pointless because it successfully deterred drivers from attempting to cross the bridge and drown in the river? To the contrary, wouldn’t that consequence show that the warning sign had, in fact, served its purpose?”

    But that consequence does not change the fact there is in fact a present danger to be avoided.

    ”ii) Suppose, though, the libertarian will object that while, as a matter of fact, no driver disregarded the sign, that unless a driver was free to disregard the sign, then the sign would be pointless.”

    That is not their argument. They are not arguing about whether or not the person chooses to accept the warning of the sign or disregard it. No, their argument is that behind the sign, the warning, must be a present and actual danger (i.e., the bridge is really washed out and so presents an actual danger).

    ”But how does that follow in the least? Suppose the drivers have been brainwashed. Their psychological conditioning is so overpowering that every time they see a warning sign, they take the warning to heart. They are unable to resist their conditioning.”

    The response of the drivers to the sign is not the issue: the issue is whether or not there is an actual danger behind that sign.

    ”Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the warning sign has this coercively deterrent effect on the drivers, how would that render the stimulus pointless?”

    Steve continues to focus on the stimulus, missing the boat, er um, broken bridge which is the real issue. Is the bridge broken and washed out or not? If it is not, then the sign is pointless, if the danger is actually present then the sign is quite helpful.

    ”It is dangerous to drive across a washed out bridge.”

    THAT IS THE POINT! The libertarian says that the warning stands before an actual and present danger. To claim that there is no real danger is what makes the sign then seem pointless to them!

    “The police place a barricade across the bridge, along with a warning sign, knowing (let us say), that if a driver sees the warning, he will invariably heed the warning due to his psychological conditioning. He has been brainwashed to respond that way to that particular stimulus.”

    Hays keeps beating on the dead horse, the stimulus, what is going on in the minds of drivers, when it is not the issue.

    Even in that limiting case, the warning sign serves a purpose. Indeed, it serves the very purpose it was intended to serve. It successfully deters the driver from crossing the bridge.”

    It only serves its purpose IF THERE REALLY IS A DANGER BEHIND THAT SIGN! Its intended purpose was to help drivers to avoid the washed out bridge by not attempting to cross it.

    ”iii) And there’s nothing the least bit arbitrary about the sign. The sign effects a result which would not otherwise obtain apart from the sign. If there were no warning sign, some drivers would attempt to cross the bridge. Their cars would plunge into the river below, and they would drown.”

    Note these last lines where Steve himself clearly recognizes a real and present danger behind the sign (“their cars would plunge into the river . . . and they would drown”).

    If Steve can understand the real and present danger behind the sign in front of the bridge, why can’t he see the libertarian argument that the sign/the warning passage, must point to some actual not potential danger? If the danger is merely hypothetical and not real, then where is the danger behind the sign?

    ”If you take the sign seriously, then it will deter you from attempting to cross the bridge. And that’s what the sign is for. Its fundamental value is a deterrent value.”

    Deter you from what? A real and present danger! If there is nothing to deter you from, then the sign is pointless.

    ”iv) So what, if anything, would render the sign pointless?”

    If there were no real and present danger behind the sign, no actual safety hazard.

    “Well, suppose that you drove through the barricade and magically transported over the gap where the missing span used to be to the other side of the riverbank.

    Levitation would render the sign pointless.”

    If cars actually levitated as they crossed over, then again no actual and present danger would be there! But we can answer Steve’s question even more simply: what would render the sign pointless is if there were no actual danger present behind the sign (e.g. the bridge was in fine and working order, the bridge had not been washed out).

    “If you can flout the sign with impunity, if you can disregard the sign without suffering the stated consequences, then—indeed—the sign serves no purpose. In that event, the sign is simply false.”

    The sign is false if there is no actual and present danger behind the warning sign.

    ”v) Or, to consider another scenario, suppose a driver tried to crash the barricade, and discovered that the barricade was impenetrable. If it’s physically impossible to crash the barricade, does that render the barricade pointless?”

    Hays continues to focus on the responses of the driver. But in fact if it is physically impossible for the driver to get past the barricade and go into the river, then the sign is not pointless (it has meaning) but is irrelevant (the cars will be stopped by the barricade so the sign’s presence is not necessary.

    ”Hardly. Isn’t the purpose of the barricade to impede traffic? If the barricade presents an impenetrable barrier, then it serves it’s purpose—does it not? It successfully prevented any foolhardy driver from attempting to cross the bridge.”

    But the driver is only foolhardy if there is an actual and present danger behind the warning sign. If you are warned and go ahead and then experience the very real danger which you were warned about, that would be foolhardy. But if you ignored the warning sign and in fact there is no danger behind the sign we would conclude not that you were foolhardy but that the sign was false.

    “If the barricade is so strong that it’s impossible for any vehicle to crash the barricade, then the barricade is doing its job. It was designed to hinder access, and it does what it was design to do.”

    And a warning sign is doing its job only if the danger it warns about is actual and present.

    ”vi) Does the barricade make the sign superfluous?”

    Yes.

    “Depends on what you mean. Every analogy has its limitations. In this case, I’m introducing both the sign and the barricade to illustrate different kinds of impossibility. The sign illustrations psychological impossibility while the barricade represents physical or metaphysical impossibility. If each is sufficient to prevent a given outcome, their combination is a form of overkill. You don’t need both. But it’s useful to have both so that we can examine the libertarian objection from every angle.”

    First, the point about psychological and metaphysical impossibilities applies again to the drivers. But the issue for the libertarian is not the drivers but whether or not there is an actual and present danger behind the warning sign. The fact that Steve Hays seems oblivious to this point shows that in fact he is not examining “the libertarian objection from every angle.” Steve isn’t even getting the most obvious point: the libertarian contends that a warning is real only if there is a real danger behind it, a real danger to be avoided. All this talk about stimulus on the driver, barricades that stop the cars, etc. etc. misses the point.

    ”vii) Even in this case, the sign is still meaningful. Indeed, what the sign says is true.”

    The sign is only true if the danger which it refers to is actually present behind the sign.

    “If you were in a position to disregard the sign, and you did so, you would suffer the stated consequences.”

    Only if there was a real danger present behind the sign.

    ”The fact that a hypothetical may never be realized hardly renders it either unintelligible or pointless. Indeed, counterfactuals are a basic feature of moral deliberation. It’s because a hypothetical course of action has certain consequences that we avoid it.”

    Steve Hays misses the point yet again. The libertarian is claiming the simple and intuitive and logically compelling point that a warning sign that is a genuine warning sign must be pointing to a genuine danger. Put another way: a genuine warning sign presupposes a real danger.

    ”viii) So what we have here is a distinction between psychological possibility or impossibility and metaphysical possibility or impossibility. The fact that it is psychologically impossible for the regenerate to disregard the warnings and thereby commit apostasy doesn’t make the warnings the least bit pointless, for the aforementioned reasons.”

    The issue of psychological and metaphysical impossibility/possibility misses the point yet again. The point is: is there an actual danger behind that sign or not? Unless you understand this notion you are not getting the libertarian argument at all.

    ”What would make them pointless is if it was physically or metaphysically possible to disregard the warnings without suffering the consequences—which Calvinism denies.”

    What makes the sign pointless, for the millionth time, is if there is no danger behind it.

    Hays is an intelligent person so it is remarkable that he posts this post in which he so often completely misses the boat. Perhaps we ought to send a search and rescue team to scour the river to look for Steve’s car, he obviously did not understand the nature of the warning sign or the danger behind it and so he plunged right into the river.

    Robert

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  2. Robert,

    Thank you for that well thought out response, if you would be so kind I would like to ask how you take the warning signs? After all you started with a very candid admisson that you do not believe a truly converted individual can lose his salvation and yet is that not what the libertarian says can happen by using their logic?

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  3. Robert once again demonstrates his illiteracy when he says:
    ---
    Their logic is simple and straightforward: a warning presupposes an ACTUAL DANGER
    ---

    As if Steve hadn't said:
    ---
    It is dangerous to drive across a washed out bridge. The police place a barricade across the bridge, along with a warning sign, knowing (let us say), that if a driver sees the warning, he will invariably heed the warning due to his psychological conditioning.
    ---

    Here's a hint Robbie: Hooked on Phonics.

    Give it a try.

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  4. The libertarian is claiming the simple and intuitive and logically compelling point

    Yes, we know that you also think that libertarianism is "simple,logical, and compelling," but none of these constitute an exegetical argument for libertarianism. In fact, when pressed all you ever offer is an intuitive "common sense" argument. Never do you bother with an exegetical argument. This is the gigantic hole in your argument. Your logic and intuition only lets you be wrong with the air of rationality and intuition. However,the Bible, not your intuition determines what is truly logical and rational. So, we're left with your bare assertions yet again.

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  5. ROBERT SAID:

    “Their logic is simple and straightforward.”

    No, their logic is simplistic and froward—just like yours.

    “A warning presupposes an ACTUAL DANGER.”

    i) You’re prone to the same fallacy as Henry. Anexing adjectives to nouns does not an argument make.

    ii) You’re also mistaken. A warning doesn’t presuppose an actual danger. Rather, it presupposes a potential danger.

    “If there is no danger there need not be a warning, however, if there is a real and present danger, then a warning is appropriate so that people can avoid the danger. The person arguing from the warning passages that you can lose your salvation is claiming that behind the warning is a real and present danger, something that is really there and needs to be avoided. With this in mind consider Hays statements and how wide he misses the mark of their actual argument.”

    Same error as before. Danger is a relative concept. Is an atomic bomb dangerous? It’s potentially dangerous. But dangerous to whom? And under what circumstances?

    The A-bomb is a “real” and “actual” danger if you were living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. It wasn’t a “real” or “actual” danger if you were living in Seattle on August 6, 1945. And it wasn’t a “real” or “actual” danger if you were living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1955.

    With this in mind, consider Robert’s statements and how wide he misses the mark of my actual argument.

    “Actually Steve presents a false dilemma here. When interpreting scripture we are either being exegetical or we are being philosophical. According to Steve if we are being exegetical then no philosophical reasoning is involved; and vice versa, if we are being philosophical then no exegetical objection can be presented. The reality is that when we interpret anything, including scripture we engage in the use of logic. And logical reasoning is philosophical reasoning.”

    Robert is equivocating. This isn’t an issue of logic. Logic is abstract. The problem is that libertarians bring certain preconceptions to Scripture which dictate what Scripture is allowed to say.

    “Common sense and logic dictate that a warning is present because an actual danger is present.”

    “Logic” dictates nothing of the kind. Logic doesn’t operate at that level of specificity.

    “Logic says if the warning is given and it is given in good faith (it is not a trick, it is sincere, not meant to deceive).”

    “Good faith” is not a category of logic. “Sincerity” is not a category of logic.

    “But your calvinist interpretation claims that warning is real but there is no present or real danger behind it.”

    Exegesis doesn’t prejudge whether the warning is “real” or not. That would be a result of exegesis. After we determine what the text is proposing, then we can examine the implications of its proposition. Exegesis doesn’t begin by classifying the metaphysical character of the warning. That’s subsequent to the act of exegesis.

    A Calvinist will defend the warning as relevantly “real,” but he does so after he has arrived at the correct exegesis of the passage. And he doesn’t need to defend the nature of the warning. It stands or falls on the authority of Scripture.

    “Thus the libertarian is not eschewing exegesis but his exegesis includes being logical when interpreting texts.”

    He is eschewing exegesis because he won’t allow the text to speak for itself. He comes to the text with a preconception of what a “real” warning would amount to, and that superimposes an extrascriptural grid on what the text of Scripture is permitted to affirm or deny.

    “Note in this case there is an actual and present danger: a car that continues on the washed out bridge will go into the river endangering the driver. The warning sign is to prevent that happening. The warning stands before a real and present danger.”

    Once again, this is simpleminded. Dangerous to whom? The danger is contingent on the satisfaction other conditions as well. If you attempt to cross the bridge, then that is a dangerous to you. It is not dangerous to a driver who avoids the bridge.

    It only presents an “actual” or “real” danger if certain other conditions are met. Otherwise, it’s a potential danger. You “realize” or “actualize “the potential danger if and only if you attempt to cross the bridge.

    Although Robert makes a big deal about the necessity of philosophical reasoning, he brings no philosophical sophistication to the table.

    “That is not their argument. They are not arguing about whether or not the person chooses to accept the warning of the sign or disregard it.”

    To the contrary, libertarians are profoundly concerned with whether the agent had the freedom to do otherwise. That figures mightily in their definition of “sincere” or “real.”

    “Note these last lines where Steve himself clearly recognizes a real and present danger behind the sign (‘their cars would plunge into the river . . . and they would drown’).”

    Notice these last lines where Robert fails to recognize my use of subjunctive conditionals: “if…would.”

    Hypotheticals aren’t “real” unless and until they’re realized. Yet they have genuine truth-value.

    Robert spends the rest of his time repeating the same adjectives ad nauseum because he lacks the philosophical competence to drawn some elementary distinctions. He can only keep one idea in his head at a time.

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  6. Dwight Schroot12/07/2007 12:23 PM

    Do you think that the human authors who were used to pen the inspired warnings believed that people they considered born-again believers could fail to heed the warnings? Does that matter?

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  7. I have not seen this addressed yet so I want to see what you all think. If Thibodaux is right then we are all in grave danger, after all look at the Matthew passage that he cites. If we are but to think of something impure than we in danger of apostasy; the Arminian side always talks against POS and yet when pushed to give how much sin can/cannot be before one is cut off then they begin to equivocate. Well it is only willfully renouncing your faith in Christ, but is that what the verses say that they point too? They seem to be fond of John 15 yet notice it does not say willfully renouncing Christ, all it says is not bearing fruit.

    I fear that Thibodaux is a worst kind of heretic in that he seems to be genuine in his belief. It seems that he does not have ears to hear what has been pointed out to him in Scripture so we must pray that the Lord in His grace opens Thibodaux eyes. I have read his latest response to you guys and it makes me sick to see so much man centered trash being spoken. Of course he will tell the world it’s not just him, after all God does some of the work as well. SICKENING!!!

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