Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why "torture" doesn't work...except when it does (part 2)

Once again, my immediate purpose is not to debate the morality of “torture,” but just to scrutinize the constant refrain that we shouldn’t use “torture” because torture doesn’t work. To follow up on my last post on the same subject, isn’t there evidence to the contrary?

Kyle Reese v. Arminian Jesus

In the movie The Terminator, John Connor - leader of the human resistance - sent sergeant Kyle Reese "into the word" of 1984. He was sent to save Sarah Connor. That was his mission. He didn't fail. Indeed, he gave his life for her, his friend.

In the story told in John's gospel, Jehovah - the LORD of all - sent his son Jesus "into the world" of the 1st century.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Jesus' mission - the save the world. Yeah, sure, sergeant Reese only had to save one person, but then again, sergeant Reese isn't the Theanthropos. Reese isn't God. (Although, a case can be made that Reese did save mankind, the whole world, by saving Connor. This makes the situation worse!) So, the number needing salvation balances out by the weight of the one doing the saving. Jesus failed, and he even died for all of them.

So, Reese was "sent into the world" to save and he succeeded. Jesus was "sent into the world" to save, and he failed.

Well, he failed if we assume Arminian soteriology anyway...

Gomer Pyle v. Camelot

Much has been written about the political liability of Romney’s Mormon faith. But I’ve not seen much of anything written about the political liability of Huckabee’s Baptist faith.

To some extent, one’s religious affiliation is a stereotypical emblem of one’s social class. This has some factual or historical basis, although it’s easy to overgeneralize.

For the moment, though, I’m only concened with popular perception, and not with how accurate that perception may be. Why is it that so many Evangelical leaders are endorsing the Mormon candidate rather than the Baptist candidate?

Of course, we know their stated reasons, but there may also be an unspoken reason. To be tactless, Romney is Camelot to Huckabee’s Gomer Pyle. I’m not saying that this comparison is the least bit fair. I’m just suggesting that it may be the elephant in the room.

Romney’s the manor-born Brahman, with the Ivy League degrees, and the movie star looks to Huckabee’s hillbilly Babdist. Romney’s old money to Huckabee’s po’ white trailer trash; Romney’s blueblood to Huckabee’s redneck; Romney’s Mozart to Huckabee’s bluegrass; Romney’s Polo to Huckabee’s rodeo; Romney’s a Lexis to Huckabee’s Ford tuff pickup truck.

Of course, Evangelical leaders aren’t going to express their preference in this fashion since that would expose a deep streak of snobbery, but you have to wonder if Huckabee’s Baptist faith isn’t being held against him.

He’s not just a Baptist. He’s a Southern Baptist. And not merely in the technical sense of belonging to the SBC. You could be a Connecticut Yankee and belong to the SBC. No, I mean that, culturally (as well as religiously), Huckabee is a Southern Baptist. And he just doesn’t project the image that some Evangelical leaders want the GOP to project.

Some might object that this can’t be so since some of the folks endorsing Romney share the same religious affiliation as Huckabee. But that doesn’t follow. It’s quite possible to be ashamed of your roots.

It’s like the talented, ambitious kid who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. He makes it to the Ivy Leagues. Becomes a Wall Street arbitrager.

But he’s embarrassed to introduce his friends to his kinfolk. He can’t invite them to social gatherings cuz they speak the upcountry dialect and their table manners aren’t up to snuff. It’s like that old question, “Sure, he’s a nice kid, but would you want your daughter to date him?”

Friday, November 09, 2007

Why "torture" doesn't work...except when it does

At the moment, I’m not discussing the morality of “torture.” Rather, I’m examining the oft-stated claim that torture doesn’t work.


John McCain: Torture Worked on Me

Sen. John McCain is leading the charge against so-called "torture" techniques allegedly used by U.S. interrogators, insisting that practices like sleep deprivation and withholding medical attention are not only brutal - they simply don't work to persuade terrorist suspects to give accurate information.

Nearly forty years ago, however - when McCain was held captive in a North Vietnamese prison camp - some of the same techniques were used on him. And - as McCain has publicly admitted at least twice - the torture worked!

In his 1999 autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers," McCain describes how he was severely injured when his plane was shot down over Hanoi - and how his North Vietnamese interrogators used his injuries to extract information.

"Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate," he wrote.

"I thought they were bluffing and refused to provide any information beyond my name, rank and serial number, and date of birth. They knocked me around a little to force my cooperation."

The punishment finally worked, McCain said. "Eventually, I gave them my ship's name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant."

Is U.S. Surrendering Technique That Extracted Vital Intel From 9/11 Mastermind?

Is the U.S. government giving up the interrogation technique that extracted vital intelligence from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

On Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor" on September 20, Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News, reported that a tough interrogation technique called "waterboarding" had been used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break Mohammed, inducing him to surrender "very valuable" information.

Speaking of 14 "high-value" al Qaeda targets subjected to harsh interrogation practices by the CIA, Fox News's Bill O'Reilly asked Ross, "Now, the waterboarding broke all these guys?"

"Not in every case," said Ross. "Some broke before [it] even got to that point."

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed held out the longest, according to Ross. "About two and a half minutes [of waterboarding], according to our sources," he told O'Reilly.

In some cases, said Ross, "the material that has been given [by the terrorists subjected to harsh tactics] has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture."

But Mohammed did provide accurate information. "In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," said Ross, "the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe. And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Liberty Tower."

Arminian Counterterrorism

One argument often used to support torture is that killing a combatant is worse than torturing them, so why not torture them?

It does seem straightforwardly true that being dead is as bad as it gets.

However, the argument (or intuition) fails on four counts.

Argument from Soul Liberty

First, killing a combatant actually honors his free will. He has chosen to take up arms and the minister of justice is honoring that choice by meeting him as he has chosen to be met.

Torture removes the internal free will of the combatant by forcing him to a mental submission that should not be in the power of humankind. We should allow his mental defiance, even if we cannot allow his physical defiance. In this way, we honor his reason (one aspect of the divine image), while also protecting the innocent.

Yes, if we ever got bin Laden into custody, the very last thing we should do is to subject to him to any interrogatory techniques, whether physical or psychological, which would in any way infringe on his freewill and thereby rob him of his “soul liberty.”

Given a choice, we must always protect the freewill of the terrorist rather than protect the lives of his innocent victims. In this way we “honor his reason.”

Flew Confessions

I'm disappointed that Carrier hasn't written a parallel exposé about Bertie. Bertrand Russell wasn't a real atheist in his old age. He was clearly over the hill by then—probably senile. He was being manipulated by a young Turk by the name of Antony Flew.

Don't be bamboozled into thinking that Russell wrote those tired old rants against Christianity. They were ghostwritten by Flew—maybe with a helping hand from Ayer.

Universalism v. Calvinism

I recently got draw into an impromptu debate over universalism with Tom Talbott and Jason Pratt (not to be confused with Jason Engwer):

Since that debate has apparently run its course, I’ll reproduce a slightly edited version of my side of the exchange.

I’d add that Paul Manata was one of the contributors to this debate as well, and I think his arguments and counterarguments are quite cogent. I didn’t reduplicate his arguments in my own reply to Talbott since I might be charged with shoplifting if I stole all the best arguments—so I’d advise you to read what he had to say as well.

At 12:50 PM , steve said...
Hi, Vic.

There are a lot of things I could say about Talbott’s parable, which is studded with straw man arguments about Calvinism, but for now I’ll confine myself to one observation:

Talbott is putatively attacking double predestination, but this is clearing the ground for his alternative—which is universalism. And universalism no doubt enjoys a certain superficial appeal. But it’s only appealing to pampered folks like Talbott who’ve led a charmed existence. I daresay that universalism is not the least bit appealing to the victims of horrendous violence and galling injustice.

It loses its superficial appeal the instant you swap in a very different illustration. For example, instead of a mother’s love for her “little albino child,” suppose we substitute a psychopath who rapes and tortures her little girl to death.

According to Talbott, the psychopath will eventually be saved, even though he may have to undergo a hellish process of purification. What would a normal mother have to say about his heavenly prospects?

"Look, Nivlac, I love Morg with all my heart, and I believe that the Book of Morg is indeed his holy Word. And I don't know what to say about your fancy arguments that seem to imply such awful things about Morg. But I do know this. No holy or just or loving Creator like Morg, no Creator of the kind that I worship, could possibly love and save the rapist and tormenter and killer of my little girl. Indeed, if he loves my little girl, as you say he does, then he cannot also love the rapist and tormenter and killer of my little girl. So if you are right about the meaning of these verses--mind you, I'm not saying you are right--but IF you are right, then these verses are just wrong; they are not a true revelation from Morg."

At 1:37 PM , steve said...
Let’s comment on one of Talbott’s strawman arguments:

“It therefore seems to them that albinos have reason to expostulate with Morg if they are hated solely by his decision, apart from their own merit.”

This parabolic statement is supposedly analogous to the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. However, there is, in Reformed theology, an asymmetry between election and reprobation. Election is unconditional. Merit doesn’t figure in election, in part because sinners have no merit to contribute.

By contrast, demerit does figure in reprobation. Demerit is a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition of reprobation. (Insufficient inasmuch as everyone would be reprobated if demerit were a sufficient condition.)

At 2:12 PM , steve said...
Here’s another problem with Talbott’s parable. He uses the example of a little child:

"Look, Nivlac, I love Morg with all my heart, and I believe that the Book of Morg is indeed his holy Word. And I don't know what to say about your fancy arguments that seem to imply such awful things about Morg. But I do know this. No holy or just or loving Creator like Morg, no Creator of the kind that I worship, could possibly hate this little albino child of mine that I love so much. Indeed, if he loves me, as you say he does, then he must also love my baby. So if you are right about the meaning of these verses--mind you, I'm not saying you are right--but IF you are right, then these verses are just wrong; they are not a true revelation from Morg."

Now normal men and women—unlike pedophiles, abortionists, and psychopaths—are naturally protective of young children. So this illustration plays upon the emotive connotations of a “little child” or “baby.”

But children ordinarily grow up to be adults. Suppose we compose a different parable.

Once upon a time there was a Jewish physician who had dreams. And, unlike most folks, his dreams came true.

One night he had a dream about a sick little German boy who visited his clinic. The little boy would grow up to commit genocide against the Jewish people.

The next day, a sick little boy by the name of Adolf Hitler was brought into the clinic to receive treatment for a life-threatening childhood illness. The doctor could cure him or he could let him die by administering a placebo. He knew that by healing this child, he would be condemning thousands of other innocent children to death—including his very own children.

Should he save this child, and thereby condemn thousands of other children to suffer an unjust and premature death, or should he let this child die, and thereby save the prospective victims? Who should he allow to live, and who should he allow to die? I’ll let you decide how you wish to finish the story.

Point being: our moral intuitions are context-dependent. It all depends on the illustration. Change the illustration, and you may suddenly find yourself contradicting your previous intuition. You were very sure of yourself until

Tearjerkers cut both ways. For it’s easy to compose tearjerkers that illustrate opposing positions.

At 6:11 AM , steve said...
Ron said...


"But it’s only appealing to pampered folks like Talbott who’ve led a charmed existence."

For one complaining about straw men fallacies this appears like it's ugly step-sister, ad hominem.


1. As Peter Geach has pointed out in Reason And Argument (pp26-27), ad hominem arguments are not inherently fallacious.

2. Talbott's parable is, itself, essentially ad hominem. He is pandering to the moral intuitions of the reader. But what we find morally compelling or repugnant is often conditioned by our personal experience. It's easy to be forgiving when you've never suffered a horrendous wrong.

And it's easy for a universalist to forgive everyone since, by definition, most of those to whom he extends his blanket forgiveness have never wronged him. So I'm answering Talbott on his own shaky grounds.

At 7:52 AM , steve said...

The problem with your argument is that you’re arguing on different grounds than Talbott. He was appealing to our native moral intuitions as a test of revelation.

You, by contrast, are reversing the argument. You are appealing to the revelation of the gospel, in which we are supposed to pray for the salvation of our enemies.

Broadly speaking, I don’t take issue with your argument, but it’s not an argument for Talbott’s parable. Just the opposite.

The idea that we should pray for our enemies is not an intuitive insight. To the contrary, it’s profoundly counterintuitive. Christians only due this out of a sense of religious duty, and it takes considerable effort on their part. This is not something that comes naturally to them. Rather, it’s an obligation imposed on them by the revelation of the gospel.

So, if we were to begin with the premise of Talbott’s parable, your appeal would actually undercut the revelatory claims of scripture in question.

To put this another way, you are using an argument from (religious) authority, whereas Talbott is using an argument from reason (i.e. moral intuition). These are different arguments.

What is more, Talbott is using the argument from reason to potentially undercut revelatory claims. So his argument is tugging in the opposing direction from yours.

At 1:06 PM , steve said...

Dr. Reppert issued a public challenge to Calvinists, using Talbott’s parable as the frame of reference. I have not attempted to debate all of the pros and cons of Calvinism as over against all of the pros and cons of universalism. Rather, I’ve attempted to honor the implicit framework of the discussion by confining myself to the terms of the parable. And Manata has done the same thing.

“Not really a problem, since I wasn’t arguing for Tom’s parable, was I?”

In which case your objection is irrelevant since I was responding to the implicit argument in Talbott’s parable. Even if your objection were valid in its own right, it does nothing to negate the force of my objection to Talbott’s parable at this juncture.

“Consequently, I’m not entirely sure why you thought I was supposed to be trying to defend his parable (per se) anyway.”

It goes to the relevance of your objection to what I said in reference to Talbott. Is what I said a valid objection to Talbott’s position? It’s important not to confound these issues.

“True--and so is Tom, when he gets down to doing actual exegetics and theology and stuff.”

Which, once again, is irrelevant to the parable. Why do you refuse to stick to the point?

“I think everyone on all sides of the question, within Christianity, agrees in principle that we’re supposed to be appealing to the characteristics of God as the primary gauge for interpreting soteriology testimony in the scriptures (not forgetting local and wider-spread story context, etc.)”

No, everyone does not agree with this. I don’t begin with the attributes of God and then use that as an interpretive grid through which to filter the soteriological statements of Scripture. If I want to understand what God has to say about the nature and scope of salvation, the first place to go are Scriptural statements that speak directly to the nature and scope of salvation.

No doubt it’s useful to coordinate that with a Scriptural doctrine of God, but I don’t screen soteriology through theology (proper). So you and I apparently part company on theological method.

“True, and I would argue that this is due to our fallen nature.”

I disagree. Rather, it’s due to the general absence of immediate retribution in favor of a future, eschatological judgment.

“Some of that enjoyment, though, has nothing at all remotely to do with righteousness--because it has nothing at all to do with ‘fair-togetherness’.”

Once again, I disagree. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to see God exact retribution on the unrighteous. That is a regular theme in Scripture, up to and including the Book of Revelation. But that is eschatologically oriented.

“To be fair, even though I heavily criticised (and rejected) the design of the parable, the design does include an acceptance of revelatory claims in scripture, at all points.”

No, the bottom-line of the parable is that if a revelatory claimant conflicts with our moral intuitions, then that falsifies the revelatory claimant.

“The peasant woman at the end is trusting in God personally, over-above some things she is being told the revelation means.”

No, not just in terms of what it means, but whether it even counts as divine revelation.

“Actually, if I don’t have logic in whatever arguments I do from the grapheis, then by default I’m not very likely to be working in conjunction with the Logos Himself in what I am doing! And even moreso if I don’t have agape_ in my reasoning (whether or not the scriptures are my immediate data). Everyone uses arguments from reasoning, or they aren’t making arguments at all but only sheer assertions.”

Are you trying to becloud the issue? You’re perfectly aware of the distinction between an argument from reason and an argument from authority. These are terms of art.

plantinga fan said...

“Wow Tom, you really hit a nerve with the Calvinists with your ‘parable’. Your little parable got some immediate and emotional responses from the determinists at TRIABLOGUE.”__

Notice that he doesn’t quote any examples of our “emotional” response.

Talbott didn’t hit any nerves. Rather, Dr. Reppert issued a public challenge to Calvinists; Manata and I simply rose to the challenge.

“That is a key point: the God revealed in scripture is not the problem; Nivlac and his determinist theology are the problem.”

Universalism is just as deterministic as Calvinism.

“It never seems to occur to them that if their determinism is true and God actually does determine ‘whatsoever comes to pass’, then we are all simply acting out the prewritten script.”

As a matter of fact, we are acting out the prewritten script.

Plantinga fan isn’t attempting to seriously interact with Talbott’s parable. Instead, he’s using this thread as a pretext for a longwinded and invective-laden screed in which he recycles stock objections to Calvinism.

At 8:55 AM , steve said...

I’m tardy on my response because I’m facing down a deadline. But here is what I have to say for now.

“At this point I have to say that I have no clear idea which objection of mine you’re talking about here.”

Both in the parable, and in his general series, which the parable serves to illustrate, Talbott is using moral intuition as a criterion to judge the truth or falsity of revelatory claims.

In the parable, the reaction of the peasant woman to the prospect that one of her “albino” children might be reprobated as a case in point. I simply constructed a parallel argument.

Talbott is a universalist. (I guess you are as well.). And I pointed out that many victims of horrendous violence and galling injustice would also find universalism morally repugnant since this means that their assailant ultimately gets off the hook. The victim doesn’t want to spend eternity with his assailant. Rather, he wants to see retributive punishment exacted against his assailant.

Indeed, the victim generally wants to take revenge on his assailant. Good old-fashioned vengeance. Not even punitive justice, per se, but pure vindictiveness, hoping to make the assailant suffer as much as possible for what he did to the victim.

And I used that example to undercut Talbott’s appeal to moral intuition. To some degree, moral intuition is person-variable. What is repugnant to one individual may not be repugnant to another.

Talbott is acting as if universalism is intuitively compelling. And universalism does figure in his overall series. Can you trust a God who would damn you?

I’m merely noting that the universalist does not enjoy a monopoly on moral intuition. And I bring up his charmed existence because he himself, in his book on The Inescapable Love of God, talks about his experience, growing up in a close-knit family, and how that predisposed him to universalism.

You, however, countered my objection to Talbott by talking about how Christians are supposed to love their enemies, and so on. That, however, is irrelevant to the structure of Talbott’s argument. I was responding to Talbott’s argument. Your counterargument is unresponsive to my argument, for my argument was calibrated to the contours of Talbott’s argument.

“In the case of the peasant woman, she wasn’t rejecting the revelatory authority based on her moral intuitions; she was rejecting the interpretation of someone who was insisting she accept a particular resolution of the problem, and she was doing so in a manner of trusting God personally.”

No, she went further than that: “IF you are right, then these verses are just wrong; they are not a true revelation from Morg."

So if Nivlac’s interpretation is correct, then that would falsify the revelatory status of the Book of Morg.

Moreover, that’s the point of Talbott’s series as a whole: “To test the spirits,” including the canonical scriptures of the Bible, if need be.

“But the information thus gained cannot be divorced from other considerations. Salvation from what? Our sin. What does sin mean? Rebellion (at least). Rebellion from whom (can’t be from what)? From God. Who and what is this ‘God’ and why should I be saved from rebellion against Him?”

This is not a question of “divorcing” one theological locus from another. Rather, it’s a question of epistemic priorities. The primary place to learn about Biblical salvation is in passages of Scripture which directly address that topic.

You, however, apparently want to take the doctrine of God as your interpretive matrix, then filter soteriological statements through that particular grid. I don’t know how you yourself go about it, but to take Talbott as an example, he begins with the love of God, as he defines it, then all of the Biblical passages that deal with reprobation or damnation must be reinterpreted consistent with his definition of divine love. I disagree with that convoluted theological method, which involves a lot of creative exegesis to shoehorn everything into his foregone conclusion.

“None of us here in the conversation at the moment, I take it, are secular humanists, or some other kind of person who is a proponent of ethics apart from reference to God. If we’re not dealing with ethics apart from reference to God, then neither are we dealing with sin apart from reference to God; and unless I missed the whole point of the Jewish and Christian Testaments (not least in why the Son was given the name ‘Jesus’), neither are we dealing with salvation from sin apart from reference to God. Certainly Calvin didn’t!”

This is a false dichotomy. The soteriological statements of Scripture are theologically-laden statements from the get-go. God reveals a lot about his character in redemption and damnation.

“Let it be merely useful to you, then. I am not going to consider it less than necessary to coordinate an understanding of salvation with a true doctrine of God, such as can be put together by studying the scriptures. I don’t think I would be much of a theologian, or even much of a metaphysician, if I did and taught otherwise. I’m certainly not going to teach people that Biblical doctrines of God are useful but not necessary to properly understanding Biblical teaching on salvation. They can start topically here or there or wherever, but sooner or later (if the logical math is accurately followed out) it’s going to come back to the character and characteristics of God, in His own self-existent reality, the ground of all existence.”

This is a bit disingenuous on your part because the reasoning is reversible. You act as if the Biblical doctrine of God should condition our understanding of the soteriological passages, but you don’t act as if the soteriological passages should condition our doctrine of God. So there’s a lack of parity in your own approach. In that respect, you and I are in the same boat, but sitting in different ends of the boat.

However, your methodology has the additional disadvantage that it tries, apparently, to infer from nature of salvation from the nature of God, rather than going to passages of Scripture specific to the subject-matter of salvation.

“This, on the other hand, is an interesting disagreement, and probably does reflect an actual difference between us in our theologies. Especially since I wouldn’t disagree with your observation here myself, as being a contributing factor: it’s true that God doesn’t always, or even often, immediately zorch us for refusing to pray for hope and salvation for our enemies, leaving that punishment of ours to a future, eschatological judgment (sometimes! I’ve seen some more immediatel punishments, too, for refusing to have hope for the salvation of our enemies. {self-critically wry g!}) Consequently, we can develop an expectation that we can get away with it. But this, I contend, simply plays into our corrupted natural tendency to only hate our enemies instead of hoping for their well-being and salvation.”

No, I wasn’t talking about immediate retribution and/or eschatological judgment with reference to the punishment of Christians who refuse to pray for their enemies or hope for their salvation. Rather, I was talking about the punishment of unbelievers.

We are to pray for unbelievers during the church age. But this is not because it’s inherently wrong to take satisfaction in divine justice. Indeed, the Book of Revelation is full of imprecations. That’s because the Apocalypse is assuming an eschatological viewpoint. It is inherently right and righteous to hope and prayer for the judgment of the wicked. And that will ultimately take place at the final judgment. But until the eschaton arrives, the accent lies on the salvation of the lost rather than the punishment of the lost.

I’d add that if a wicked man dies, then we should rejoice in his demise. He has passed into judgment. He is receiving his just deserts. At that point we have no obligation to love him or pray for him.

“If the defense of a position requires promoting the idea of a morality so alien to us that we not only can’t understand it but actually perceive it to be injustice, then you needn’t paint me as trying to ‘becloud’ the issue! Aim that brush over at Calvin! Once this idea is in place, then it becomes functionally impossible to correct any mistaken interpretation of scriptural teaching; the erring teacher can just toss up his idea about a text onto the invisible anti-rational skyhook and insist it be accepted thereby.”

This is a stock tactic by theological liberals, in which they confound what the Bible writers believed with what we are prepared to believe. They don’t allow the Bible to teach something that comes into conflict with their preconceptions. So they reinterpret the Bible whenever an apparent teaching of Scripture collides with the liberal orthodoxy of the day.

At 3:48 PM , steve said...
[Quoting Talbott] “May I presume that by ‘a revelatory claim’ you simply mean *the claim* that some proposition is true because it is part of a revelation from God?”

In the context of this discussion, I mean something that claims to divine revelation, whether or not the claim is true. It could either be a true claim or a false claim.

I’m also assuming that divine revelation is true. However, there are theological positions, like open theism, in which something could be genuinely revelatory and yet be mistaken, inasmuch as God could be mistaken. But that is not my own position.

“And may I also presume that by ‘moral intuition’ you simply mean *a moral conviction*?”

No, that’s too simple. Moral intuition isn’t synonymous with moral conviction, for moral conviction is a broader category. I’d define a moral intuition, like intuitions generally, as a pretheoretical conviction. And moral intuitions would be a subset of moral convictions. However, a moral conviction may be a refined intuition—refined by subsequent analysis.

“But here is my question: Given that your present moral convictions and mine are both fallible, to what should we appeal, or perhaps lift up, as a corrective for our fallible moral convictions? And why?”

God’s word (i.e. the Bible) would be the moral arbiter of our moral convictions. A full explanation would be complicated, but briefly, I regard saving faith as a mode of knowledge rather than opinion.

Therefore, while some of my religious beliefs may be mistaken, I don’t think a Christian can be systematically mistaken in his Christian faith—including his conviction that Scripture is the word of God.

If I were going to defend this philosophically, I might formulate this in terms of reliabilism. Scripture is divine testimony. It is possible for belief in testimony to count as knowledge if the belief-forming process is reliable. As a philosopher, you know how the argument goes.

Hence, while moral intuition can stand above a false revelatory claim, it will necessarily stand below a true revelatory claim.

At 7:03 PM , steve said...
At 10:33 AM , Tom Talbott said...

“Of course, as you know, Osama bin Laden might make a similar claim, provided that we replace ‘the Bible’ with ‘the Qur’an.’ So perhaps the bottom line is this: If you have saving faith and through it God produces in you a belief that the Bible is the Word of God, then this belief qualifies as knowledge rather than merely as an opinion; and similarly, if Osama (or perhaps some more reasonable Muslim cleric) has saving faith and through it God produces in him a belief that the Qur’an is the Word of God, then this belief also qualifies as knowledge rather than merely as an opinion.”

i) Your question is predicated on the hypothetical assumption that a Muslim can exercise saving faith. I deny that assumption. A Muslim can convert to the Christian faith, and thereby exercise saving faith, but a Muslim qua Muslim is not in a position to exercise saving faith. From a Biblical standpoint, Islam is just another form of idolatry.

ii) Moreover, belief in a false proposition or set of false propositions wouldn’t count as knowledge. For something to even be a possible object of knowledge, a necessary precondition is that it be true. And God wouldn’t produce saving faith in a false prophecy (prophecy in the broader sense in which Scripture distinguishes between true and false prophets.)

A reliable belief-forming process is not a sufficient condition to produce knowledge. There must also be a true object of knowledge.

“So far, so good. But now I am wondering whether your saving faith, assuming you have it, also enables you to believe infallibly (or to know) that Paul actually wrote I and II Timothy or that every decision of the great councils concerning which books truly belong in the canon were correct. Beyond that, I’m wondering how you would assess two kinds of revelatory claims: First, on its face the claim that the 66 books in the Protestant Bible are the very Word of God seems quite consistent with the claim that additional books in the Catholic Bible, or perhaps the Gospel of Thomas, or even the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are likewise genuine sources of revelation in the world. So as you see it, does your saving faith enable you to believe infallibly (or to know) that some of these writings are not, despite many claims that they are, genuine revelations from God? Does your saving faith enable you to know, in other words, that the Bible, and only the Bible, is the Word of God?”

One has to sort out a number of issues here.

i) Islam and Mormonism are Christian heresies. They take the Bible as a standard of comparison. If, therefore, their “scriptures” contradict the Bible, then they have falsified their own revelatory claims. Therefore, we can discount Christian heresies on their own grounds, since they are at loggerheads with their own frame of reference.

ii) The Gospel of Thomas disqualifies itself in a different way. We’ talking about a 5C Coptic MS, which we can trace back, in some form, to a mid-2C Greek exemplar. Since the date of the original would postdate the life of the Apostle Thomas by many decades, we’re dealing with a pious fraud or forgery. It can’t be written by Thomas since it was written long after he died. Therefore, it’s not what it claims to be.

iii) As to the Catholic canon, I assume you’re alluding to differences between the Catholic OT canon and the Protestant OT canon. This, in turn, involves debates over the status of an Alexandrian/LXX canon in relation to a Palestinian/Hebrew canon. I think that scholars like Roger Beckwith, Robert Hanhart, and David DeSilva have convincingly demonstrated the originality of the Palestinian canon, whereas the Alexandrian canon is something of a scholarly legend.

iv) I could also discuss the authorship of 1-2 Timothy, but you are using all these examples to illustrate a larger issue, so I think it’s more efficient if I graduate to your larger issue. I think the question you’re angling at is whether knowledge is compatible with probabilistic evidentiary arguments. We associate evidentiary arguments with probability, we associate probabilities with degrees of uncertainty, and we associate uncertainty with a belief that falls short of knowledge. Is that the point you’re making?

v) One thing I’d say is that even flimsy evidence can sometimes point us in the right direction. Suppose I believe that one of my correspondents lives in Cincinnati. I believe that because the letter I received from her is postmarked from Cincinnati.

Of course, that isn’t compelling evidence. Maybe she lives in Boca Raton, but was visiting Cincinnati at the time she mailed the letter.

On the hand, suppose she does, in fact, reside in Cincinnati. In that event, I formed a true belief about her whereabouts, even though I did so on the basis of a very flimsy piece of evidence.

Now, I’m aware of the fact that true belief is not equivalent to knowledge. I simply use this example to illustrate the fact that while I might have been mistaken, I wasn’t mistaken.

At the very least, it is possible for a probabilistic argument to yield a true belief. So the appeal to evidence does not, of itself, undermine the possibility of knowledge. If, in light of the evidence, I truly believe something, then it’s possible that I can also know it—even if an additional condition must be met to raise true belief to the status of knowledge.

vi) Put another way, we could say that, counterfactually speaking, my belief (in the whereabouts of my correspondent) could have been erroneous, but—as a matter of fact—my belief was not erroneous. So unless someone can either demonstrate the counterfactual or shift the onus, I think it’s illicit to cast doubt on every noetic claim merely on the grounds that it’s hypothetically possible that the evidence is less than compelling.

vii) Moreover, the status of certain religious beliefs doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is God’s will that his people come to saving knowledge of truth.

And before you accuse me of vicious circularity in my implicit appeal to Scripture at this point, I would note that this proposition (regarding God’s will) is redundantly attested in Scripture, so it doesn’t depend on any particular verse or book of the Bible.

viii) Furthermore, I, as a Calvinist, have a robust doctrine of providence—which is also redundantly attested in Scripture.

I also think one could mount a transcendental argument for divine providence as a precondition of knowledge. As Plantinga and others have argued, (naturalistic) evolutionary psychology undermines rationality. The logical alternative would be a doctrine of creation and providence.

ix) Apropos (vii)-(viii), it is God’s will that his people come to a saving knowledge of the truth. We form our beliefs, in part, on the basis of the available evidence. And the evidence available to us is not a historical accident, but the evidence that God has preserved for us.

When I form critical judgments on canonicity or authorship, I’m using the best evidence I have at my disposal, and that is also the evidence that God has left at my disposal. It’s like one of those spy novels in which a covert insider wants to expose government corruption, but he doesn’t want to expose himself in the process, so he feeds a number of anonymous tips and clues to an investigative reporter. He is guiding the reporter every step of the wait, until the reporter discovers the “shocking” truth.

Taken by itself, each piece of evidence is less than compelling, but the reporter is also aware of the fact that someone in the know is feeding him one lead after another. So beyond the evidence itself is the directed process by which the evidence is being leaked—like a treasure hunt.

Or perhaps the reporter knows his source. He knows that his source is a reliable, well-placed informant. So the reporter’s confidence goes beyond the immediate evidence to include the source of the evidence.

“Second, and perhaps more important for our present purposes, many Christians have held that the moral law written in our hearts (Rom. 2:15) and even the creation itself (Rom. 1:20) are genuine sources of revelation. Would you reject this idea?”

I’m inclined to agree with Cranfield and Wright that Rom 2:15 is probably referring to Gentiles Christians. However, I’ll concede your general point.

“Or, if you would accept it, would you nonetheless deny that these additional sources of revelation can sometimes refine our theological convictions and even correct our understanding of the biblical message?”

Several issues:

i) Moral conviction as a result of natural revelation would be raw intuition, not refined intuition.

ii) Paul goes on to say that unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So natural law doesn’t retain its prelapsarian purity.

iii) Exegesis isn’t based on moral intuition—although it makes use of logical intuition. The proper way to understand the Bible is to employ the grammatico-historical method.

To take a concrete example, if I find the divine command to execute the Canaanites morally offensive, does that entitle me to reinterpret the account such that God did not order their execution—even if the text explicitly and repeatedly attributes the command to God himself? How do my scruples in any way affect the objective assertions of the text?

At 8:30 AM , steve said...
tom talbott said...

“Wow, Steve, you really do try to cover a lot of ground with breathtaking speed! But believe me, I don’t need to be informed that a ‘reliable belief-forming process is not a sufficient condition to produce knowledge.’ Nor do I need to be informed that ‘belief in a false proposition or set of false propositions wouldn’t count as knowledge.’ I think we can both agree that no one can know a false proposition! What I do need explained to me, however, is how these comments are even relevant to the context in which they appear.”

This is not a case of explaining things to you as if I’m teaching you something you don’t already know. Rather, I do it for a number of other reasons. This is for the benefit of lurkers who may be following this thread. This is so that you know what underlies my position. And to head off certain potential objections.

“But unfortunately, that response exhibits a two-fold confusion. First, although it may seem like a rather picky point, the quoted passage includes no question at all.”

I see any no confusion on my part. You are asking me questions, and the business about the Muslim *functions* as a question (directed at me), whether or not it takes the literary form of a question.

“Second, although the quoted passage does include a couple of conditionals, the same is true for them; neither of these conditionals is “predicated on the hypothetical assumption that a Muslim can exercise saving faith.” The truth of a conditional, remember, in no way entails the truth of its antecedent.”

Once again, I see no confusion on my part. I say “hypothetical” and you say “conditional.” Do you think there’s a material difference between a hypothetical and a conditional? Can we move past the semantic quibbles to the substantive issues?

“So where does this leave us? We can all agree, I presume, that, if through ‘a reliable belief-forming process’ God produces true beliefs in us, then those beliefs qualify as knowledge. But once we have acknowledged that obvious point, all the interesting theological and philosophical disputes remain right where they were, whether they be disputes between Christians, between Christians and Muslims, or between Christians and atheists.”

But I didn’t leave it where I found it. You attempted to construct a symmetrical claim. I then gave concrete reasons for why your parallel was disanalogous. So I didn’t discuss the comparison between Christian and Islamic revelatory claims at a purely abstract level. Rather, I proceeded to show why the hypothetical equivalence was equivocal once we delve into the details.

“At the risk of violating one of my own principles and making this post way too long, I also want to clarify the point behind the first set of questions in my previous post. For you seem to have missed that point entirely, no doubt because I failed to make it clear enough…No, that is not the point I was making. Indeed, I was not making any point at all; I was merely asking some questions in an effort to get clearer about your own view.

I’m beginning to observe a discrepancy between your self-perception and the way others perceive you. For example, you denied that your parable was an argument against Calvinism. But when Jason, Victor, Manata and I all take it otherwise, then maybe you need to reexamine your self-perception.

You seem to have a very atomistic or compartmentalized notion of what you’re trying to accomplish at any particular moment. You’re not merely asking me questions to be clear on my own view. Rather, you have your own position to promote to promote, and as a preliminary exercise you want to be clear on my own view so that you can critique it in order to promote your own position. I don’t have a problem with that. But I’m puzzled by the consistently defensive tone of your replies.

You have a theological agenda, and I have a theological agenda. Let’s be upfront about our ultimate objectives.

“But again, we can surely agree about this: If my belief that Neil Armstrong once walked upon the moon rests upon evidence of a probabilistic kind, that in no way excludes it from the category of knowledge. So your long excursus into epistemology, even to the point of mentioning Plantinga’s argument for the irrationality of naturalism(!), seemed to me quite unnecessary.”

It’s unnecessary if you concede the point. I don’t know in advance what you’re prepared to concede until I lay it on the table.

“As did your spelling out what you take to be compelling reasons for denying that the Gospel of Thomas, for example, belongs in the canon.”

I don’t know why you think that’s unnecessary. It was your example, not mine. If my response was unnecessary, then your example was unnecessary. __You said, “on its face the claim that the 66 books in the Protestant Bible are the very Word of God seems quite consistent with the claim that additional books in the Catholic Bible, or perhaps the Gospel of Thomas, or even the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are likewise genuine sources of revelation in the world.”

I’m simply answering you on your own grounds. That’s how you chose to frame the discussion. Why do you react this way?

“I was instead trying to clarify in my own mind how exclusively you want to identify the Word of God with the Bible. I therefore posed a series of questions that led up to the crucial one, which, despite the length of your reply, you never addressed. The question was this: Does your saving faith enable you to know … that the Bible, and only the Bible, is the Word of God?” I was wondering, in other words, whether you would claim to know that every book in the Bible truly belongs there and also claim to know that nothing outside the accepted canon could qualify as the Word of God. And after reading your latest post, I still have no idea how you would answer that question.”

That’s partly a chronological question, and partly a terminological question:

i) Not everything that God ever spoke to a prophet or apostle, or inspired him to say, was committed to writing and preserved for posterity. So, historical speaking, the word of God is not conterminous with the Bible. Not every one of his words was canonized.

However, from our contemporary position, in contrast to the situation of an OT Jew or 1C Christian, the word of God is conterminous with the Bible. The history of revelation and the history of redemption run on parallel tracks which converge in the Christ-Event (Heb 1:1-2).

ii) Jews also drew a categorical distinction between canonical revelation and subcanonical forms of revelation like divination. See David Aune’s analysis in Prophecy In Early Christianity.

Hence, a prophecy could be a word of the Lord without being God’s word in the canonical or scriptural sense. So, in terms of this classification scheme, you could have an instance of divine speech that is not Scriptural speech. It falls outside the boundaries of Scripture. Whether the Bible is identical with God’s word therefore depends on your relative timeframe as well as your prophetic taxonomy.

You also seem to be bundling two distinct questions in one:

i) *Is* the Bible the only word of God?

iii) Can the Bible be *known* to be the only word of God?

The former is an ontological question, the later an epistemic question. Were you intending to ask two distinct questions? Obviously the answers will differ.

I think I just addressed the former question. In answer to the second, yes I think person can *know* the word of God is *now* conterminous with the Bible (i.e. the Protestant canon of Scripture).

“I was also wondering how far you would take your claim of infallibility with respect to beliefs that unquestionably do rest upon probabilistic evidence, that is, beliefs that may indeed qualify as knowledge, provided that they are true…I took this to imply something more than that certain Christian beliefs are properly basic in Plantinga’s sense; I took it to imply that many distinctively Christian doctrines—the doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps—are such that Christians cannot be mistaken about them.”

i) It’s true that I’m staking out a stronger position than Plantinga insofar as properly basic beliefs only enjoy prima facie warrant, and can be overturned in the light of contrary evidence. I reject that with reference to saving faith.

ii) At the same time, the content of saving faith is, to some extent, person-variable. To whom much is given, much is required. So saving faith varies in some degree with one’s natural aptitude, exposure, and the scope of revelation at that point in redemptive history.

Conversely, the Bible also says, on the one hand, that certain beliefs are a necessary precondition of salvation while, on the other hand, certain contrary beliefs are damnatory. So sheer ignorance is not exculpatory.

“So I guess one question I would put to you is this: However strong you may think the probabilistic historical evidence for excluding the Gospel of Thomas from the canon, do you claim infallibility in this matter? I wouldn’t.”

Since the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic gospel, the theology of which is incompatible with Biblical theology, it couldn’t be canonical scripture.

“But then, I doubt that saving faith requires many distinctively Christian beliefs at all, not even the belief that Christ was raised from the dead; much less does it require the belief that the Bible is the Word of God.”

As a universalist you naturally have a very elastic definition of saving faith.

“According to the author of Hebrews, after all, Abraham had saving faith, and Abraham held neither of these beliefs, at least not during his earthly life.”

i) As I’ve said before, we make allowance for one’s historical position in the course of progressive revelation.

ii) At the same time, the author of Hebrews is warning his readers that the history of revelation is irreversible. They can’t turn back the clock. What was saving faith for Abraham ceases to be saving faith for 1C Jews living on the other side of the cross.

At 12:28 PM , steve said...
"If you believe that I have somehow misrepresented Calvin in the section where I actually discuss him, I invite you to point out where I have done so; and if you would like to challenge some specific point in my critique of Calvin, I invite you to do that as well."

Case in point. You said:

"The only problem is that his assumptions also undermine the Christian faith entirely, because they undermine the very possibility of trust in God. If God can ‘justly’ do anything whatsoever, including predestine some to eternal perdition, then he can also ‘justly’ engage in cruelty for its own sake, "justly" command that we torture babies or that we produce as much misery in the world as we can, and ‘justly’ punish acts of love and kindness. So why should we even care whether God is just or righteous if his righteousness excludes nothing at all? And on what grounds can we trust him? If, as Calvin claims, there is no answer to the question, ‘Why does God act from one set of motives (e.g. love) rather than from another (e.g., hatred or deceitfulness),’ then nothing in God's nature precludes him from lying or breaking promises or deceiving all Christians regarding the conditions of salvation. For all we know, therefore, perhaps God has deceived all Christians regarding the conditions of salvation in order that he might display the true nature of his righteousness."

You're claiming that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. And this is central to your critique of Calvinism. I believe that this identification is incorrect. For starters, read “The Power Dialectic” in Paul Helm’s book on Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004), chapter 11.

At 7:56 AM , steve said...
tom talbott said...

“But the more general line of criticism, not necessarily reflected in the paper, would be this: Either Calvin is a theological voluntarist in the relevant sense, or he is unable to block moral objections to his understanding of predestination and reprobation.”

i) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Calvin cannot block the moral objections to his position. What would follow from that admission?

Calvin was not a philosophical theologian in the sense that Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and Scotus were. He’s not making a philosophical case for reprobation.

So there’s a certain asymmetry in this debate. Calvin subscribes to reprobation on exegetical grounds, but he’s fielding philosophical objections to reprobation. Now it may be that Calvin lacks the philosophical aptitude or sophistication or conceptual resources to offer a philosophically satisfying counterargument. That isn’t his métier.

ii) This is an issue that shades into the Euthyphro dilemma and the problem of evil. As you know, many theologians representing varying theological traditions wrestle with these issues.

Reformed theology is a species of Protestant theology. It subscribes to the Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura).

To successfully attack Calvinism, you would have to attack in on its own (exegetical) grounds. In principle, there are two ways you could do this:

a) Challenge Reformed exegesis;

b) Challenge the Reformed rule of faith.

In the present thread you seem to be doing the latter. That is to say, you appear to be mounting a sort of transcendental argument against Calvinism by claiming that if, ex hypothesi, Calvinism were true, then divine revelation would be untrustworthy.

Of course, that’s a very different objection than Calvin was dealing with, so it would be anachronistic to look for answers in Calvin to questions which he never had to confront.

One more point (maybe more than one) before we move to your next point:

i) There’s no doubt that Gordon Clark was a theological voluntarist. And that position is sometimes attributed to William Twisse—although I think that attribution is suspect. In general, though, theological voluntarism is not a defining tenet of Calvinism.

ii) Now, the will of God came up in the conflict with Rome. Why does God elect A, but reprobate B?

In the traditional context, Calvinism is opposing Catholic synergism. The ultimate answer is not to be found in the sinner, but in the will of God.

That may *sound* like theological voluntarism, but that interpretation is misleading because it overlooks the concrete framework of the debate, in which certain assumptions were a given.

Since all sinners are worthy of damnation, sin or demerit is not, in and of itself, the reason that God reprobates A rather than B. For if that were a sufficient condition, then God would reprobate A and B alike.

So, in that particular respect, Calvinism appeals to the will of God as the ultimate explanation since there is no morally distinguishing property in the sinner to differentiate one sinner from another for purposes of reprobation.

iii) However, reprobation does take demerit into account. Just not in that particular respect. But it’s still the case that sinners are damned.

(I’d add that in Reformed theology, you don’t have to be guilty of actual sin to be guilty. You can be guilty of original sin.)

iv) In theological voluntarism, by contrast, God is free to damn the innocent. That is not the position of Calvinism.

v) I’d also add that even when we appeal to the will of God as the final explanation, this doesn’t mean that God no reason whatsoever for discriminating between one sinner and another. Election and reprobation aren’t brute facts.

Rather, God elects some and reprobates others to underscore the gratuity of grace; to wit, that God owes no one his saving grace.

vi) Finally, to indulge in a bit of speculation, there may be other reasons, irrespective of merit, why God elects A and reprobates B. (“Irrespective” in the sense of being over and above that consideration.)

A world in which God elects A rather than B will be a different possible world than one in which God elects B rather than A, or a world in which God elects A and B, or a world in which God reprobates A and B. So who is elect or reprobate does make a difference in the history of the world. These are not identical scenarios. Rather, they’re distinct alternatives.

Hence, God’s will in this matter is not arbitrary or inexplicable in the sense of violating Leibniz’ law. So while the distinction between elect and reprobate is morally indiscernible, it isn’t metaphysically indiscernible.

In that respect, God may have a reason for choosing person A over person B because he has a reason for choosing world A over world B.

“Anyway, setting aside for a moment the label ‘theological voluntarism,’ here is the question I would like someone to answer, whether it be Calvin, or you, or Helm, or someone else. If God can justly predestine Esau to eternal damnation, why can’t he also justly break his promises or justly send all Christians to hell as well? And if he cannot justly do the latter, how is it that he can justly do the former? What is it about the nature of divine justice, in other words, that permits predestination to damnation but precludes breaking promises and sending Christians to hell?”

i) I may already have answered your question. Demerit is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of reprobation. Demerit is a morally sufficient condition for reprobation. The reprobate merit their damnation on account of sin.

It is not unjust for God to discriminate between the elect and the reprobate since neither group has a prior claim on the mercy of God. Since no sinner is entitled to salvation, God wrongs no sinner by damning a sinner—for God has not denied him his rights when he gives the sinner exactly what he deserves.

ii) In a supralapsarian theodicy, moreover, there is reason for electing some sinners and reprobating others. God is good, and knowing God is good. God’s justice and mercy are goods. But an existential knowledge of his justice and mercy presupposes the fall, and subsequent redemption. The experience of God’s mercy towards the elect, and justice towards the reprobate, enriches our knowledge of God.

iii) As to why, on a Calvinistic scheme, God can’t break a promise, I’m not sure that justice is the most relevant attribute. Wouldn’t truth be a more pertinent attribute? Or perhaps the wisdom of God. God is not a rationally capricious being.

iv) In Reformed theology, it would be unjust of God to send all (or any) Christians to hell since the Jesus died to redeem the elect from their sins.

At 12:56 PM , steve said...
At 11:41 AM , Jason Pratt said...

“And notably, the defense has turned to the more important issue of whether Calvin is rightly representing St. Paul (essentially conceding that the parable was close-enough-to-never-mind about Calvin after all)”

This is hardly a “concession” on our part. Talbott is the one who chose to frame this discussion in terms of Calvin, so we’re merely answering him on his own grounds.

“More to the point, the dispute between theologians in regard to Romans isn’t only about two or three or five or six verses in chapter 9.”

Who said otherwise?

“We think Esau doesn’t justly deserve to be pre-set to eternal damnation for exactly the same reason we think a Christian doesn’t justly deserve to be betrayed by God in convenant theology.”

Jason seizes on “preset” damnation, but since he’s a universalist, he seems to be equally opposed to damnation, per se—whether of the Reformed or libertarian variety. So does he think there’s a moral distinction to be drawn?

“Or (perhaps not counting Tom) I think so anyway: because either one of those involves God fulfulling non-righteousness, i.e. non-fair-togetherness, thus working at finally contradictive principles to God’s own actively coherent interPersonal self-existence.”

And why is Manata “kinda begging the question” but Jason is not? You might as well stop with ‘because God says it’s unjust’.”

“In effect that means we can expect Him not to pre-damn Esau to hopeless torture and/or annihilation which is the sort of thing we would normally expect Satan or some other sinful tyrant to do, not God, the One Who is Good.)”

Three problems:

i) I don’t base my theology on what I’d “expect” God to do. An atheist doesn’t believe in God because he doesn’t expect God to allow evil, period.

ii) Is hell equivalent to “torture”?

iii) Jason is now resorting to the boilerplate blasphemies against God’s character that we encounter in Ingersoll.

“What’s obviously missing in all this discussion (including on Tom’s side) is the trinitarian factor. If it wasn’t for the occasional reference to the Incarnation, I might as well be watching Muslims debating soteriology. (But then Steve has made it clear that he will not be accepting trinitarian theism as a ground for interpreting scriptural teaching on God’s relationship to creation, sin, condemnation, salvation, etc.)”

Jason is simply hiding behind the mock piety of his Trinitarian buzzwords as a face-saving device to disbelieve whatever he finds offensive in the witness of Scripture while keeping up pious appearances. It’s no different that the homosexual activist who reinterprets the Bible to agree with his twisted idea of divine love.

“If I think orthodox trinitarian theism is true, then I am not going to accept a doctrine or interpretation somewhere else that involves my denial or abrogation of orthodox trinitarian theism--not if I intend to have (and teach) a coherent theology. I’m either going to keep the orthodoxy and adjust the other; or I’m going to keep the other and affirm a non-orthodox theology instead.”

Again, this is a sophistical and quite transparent effort to extort the acquiescence of his opponents by pretending that it comes down to a choice between the Trinity and hell.

“Um, everyone who knows what a category error is would say that? {g} In one case an innocent is allowed to suffer temporarily for (in effect) God’s love for the guilty. In the other case, an innocent is permanently corrupted by God’s own direct decision--and the innocent who had no original say in the matter is then hopelessly tortured forever by God for what God did--and at best one might say that God did this for love of the innocent. (Or at least for the other people He predamned but also chose to eventually save.)”

If its unjust for some to suffer as a consequence of something in which he had no say, then it’s unjust whether the suffering is temporary or interminable.

“Put another way, by asking the question in parallel with a blatantly obvious lack of love for those predestined to hell forever.”

I agree that God doesn’t love the reprobate.

“In effect you call into inextricable doubt whether God truly “loves” anyone at all.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument. And it’s far from self-evident. Must I doubt that my wife loves me unless she loves every other man?

“That, or His ‘love’ is so alien to us that we might as well not even be talking about it.”

Jason has now inverted and subverted the Biblical notion of God’s mercy. From a Biblical perspective, what is counterintuitive is the idea that a just God would love the unjust, that a holy God would love the unholy. __The idea of good loving evil is alien to us, whereas the idea of good hating evil is natural to us. So Jason has everything turned around and upside down.

At 9:03 AM , steve said...
jason pratt said...

“Ah! Sorry, somehow way back up there I had gotten the impression that you (and PaulM) thought his parable wasn’t very accurate at relating Calvin’s theology. I even spent time agreeing (though on some different grounds) that it misrepresented Calvin’s theology, and Tom defended against your straw-man claim by trying to tell us the parable wasn’t an argument and so couldn’t fall prey to the straw-man fallacy (which defense, incidentally, I didn’t buy any more than I recall any of you buying it), and PaulM wrote a counter-parable largely predicated on (from what he said) coming up with an equally illegitimate representation to show that anyone could do that. Or something. Anyone else here besides me remember all this?? I know I’ve been gone for half a week, but this was a big deal last time I was here... Maybe you meant you haven’t conceded that his parable was close-enough-to-never-mind about Calvin after all? Or that turning to the more important issue of whether Calvin is rightly representing St. Paul, in relation to critiquing the parable, doesn’t count as a concession that the parable was close-enough-to-never-mind about Calvin after all? (I might buy that one, maybe... Some help here among the options?)”

No, you are insinuating that Manata and I lost the argument with Talbott over the accuracy of his parabolic analogy, thereby conceding that argument to him, and then, as a fallback position, shifted gears to a discuss St. Paul’s teaching instead of Calvin’s teaching. Manata and I have never “conceded” that point. When Talbott wants to talk about Calvin, we talk about Calvin. If Talbott would rather talk about St. Paul, we’ll talk about St. Paul.

Of course, we also reserve the right to challenge the way in which he framed the debate, but that implies no concession on our part.

“Not at all, as I think I made clear enough somewhere back in that huge mass of commentary. {g} But rather than having to look through it again, and on the off-chance I didn’t bother to say so (though usually I do because I know it’s an issue in these discussions): I have a very strong belief not only in condemnation but in hell (hades and Gehenna both, if you care for the distinction.)…What I am opposed to, is God refusing or being unable to act in hope toward the salvation of the persons in hell. On the contrary, I believe the Holy Spirit (in conjunction with the 1st and 2nd Persons) is doing exactly that in Gehenna (and in hades, too, insofar as the puria of Gehenna applies to that state, which by scriptural testimony it apparently does in some way.”

Now you’re indulging in evasive equivocation. As a universalist, you are opposed to everlasting punishment, whether it’s “preset” by God or set by the human agent.

The fact that you subscribe a purgatorial redefinition of hell as remedial punishment is irrelevant to the question of whether you have a special objection to a “preset” version of everlasting punishment, or would be opposed, perhaps equally so, to any version of everlasting punishment, such as a libertarian version rather than a Reformed version.

Are you capable of giving a straightforward answer to this question, or will you engage in further evasive maneuvers the next time around?

“What part of “working at finally contradictive principles to God’s own actively coherent interPersonal self-existence” had anything to do with merely saying ‘because God says it’s unjust’? If God acts against fulfilling righteousness, He goes ‘poof’ (and everything else with Him, too): all reality including God’s own existence is absolutely dependent on the Father and the Son acting to fulfill fair-togetherness.”

All you’ve given us is a circumlocution for your belief that God is a universalist, sans the supporting argument. You accused Manata of begging the question when he said “God has said that if he broke his covenant promises then he'd kill himself. Since a necessary being cannot kill himself, then he's saying he can't break his promises to his covenant people.”

You also said: “You might as well stop with ‘because God says it’s just’; and then we’re back to Tom’s (still) unanswered question about why one thing is supposed to be commensurate with God’s justice but not another.”

However, you own opposition to Calvinism and everlasting punishment boils down to the same thing in reverse: “‘because God says it’s unjust.” You simply posit certain claims about “God fulfulling non-righteousness, i.e. non-fair-togetherness, thus working at finally contradictive principles to God’s own actively coherent interPersonal self-existence.”

So this is just a cumbersome way of saying that you think Calvinism and everlasting punishment are contrary to God’s character. A way of stopping with “because God says it’s unjust.”

Absent from your side of the discussion is anything resembling an actual, exegetical argument for your so-called Trinitarian “fair-togetherness” shtick. You’re invoking that (“fair-togetherness”) as if it were a brute fact to automatically negate Calvinism and everlasting punishment.

BTW, I’m by no means granting that Manata is guilty as charged. My point, rather, is that if he were guilty as charged, you would be equally guilty of the very thing you accuse him of doing. You camouflage your own theological brute facts in portmanteau verbiage, but you’ve done nothing to show that you aren’t begging the question in favor of universalism.

“In any case, it ought to be blatantly obvious that if God refuses to act toward reconciliation with sinners (or worse can’t act toward that anymore), then either God Himself or something that trumps God is working at fulfilling and sealing non-fair-togetherness.”

This is a tendentious assertion in lieu of a reasoned argument. Repetitiously intoning talismanic phrases like “fair-togetherness” and “non-fair-togetherness” is a sorry substitute for giving us a single reason to take your position seriously.

“And I can’t help but notice that there’s a pretty strong theological trend among Calvs and Arms (but especially Calvs) to the effect that what would obviously be sin for us if we did it, is not sin if God does it--mainly on the mere ground that God is the one doing it.”

Once again, you make an assertion that is loaded with question-begging assumptions about what would be sinful for us, and what would not be sinful for God, even if it were sinful for us. Absent, here, is anything resembling a reasoned argument for your assertion.

And, yes, as Bible-believing Christians, Manata and I begin with God’s self-revelation in Scripture regarding what he has done and shall do—in contrast to your armchair postulates.

“Fair enough--until it comes time to have a coherent theology. Fair enough even then, if you have no concern about having a coherent theology. But if that’s true, then there isn’t any point in having a discussion with you, since even translation and interpretation of scripture in order to have beliefs relies on having coherent understandings about what we’re doing.”

Now you’re involved in a bait-and-switch tactic whereby you swap out “expectation” and swap in “coherence.”

“In any case, I base my expectations of what God will do, on my theology about (duh) God.”

And what is the source of your theology?”

“I don’t base my theology about God on some fantasy-imagined expectations. “

You haven’t given us a single solitary reason for supposing that your theology about God is anything other than “some fantasy-imagined expectations.“

“(Very briefly the expectation followed from the doctrine that God does not work iniquity; which, despite my quip, I was not pulling out as a prooftext, btw. You forgot to quote that part.)”

There was nothing for me to respond to since you offered no argument for your contention. Here’s a little experiment which you might wish to try just once: when you insinuate that Calvinism or everlasting punishment makes God a worker of iniquity, you might consider actually developing a supporting argument to underwrite your assertion. I realize that would be a novel experience for you, but that would also make it all the more exciting.

“I’m not going to complain about an atheist rejecting Islam; are you? {g}”

And I’m not going to complain about an atheist rejecting universalism.

“Sorry; replace ‘hopelessly torture’ with ‘hopelessly torment’ if you prefer. Any better?”

It’s fine with me if you’d rather shirk your intellectual responsibilities every step of the way in the exchange we’re having.

“That’s very curious, since my position was that we could expect Him NOT to do those things. So... you agree, then, that we can expect God not to pre-damn Esau to hopeless torment (if you prefer that to torture) and/or annihilation? You do at least seem to agree that this is something we could expect of Satan or some other sinful tyrant; thus that it would be a blasphemy against God’s character for us to claim that He would do this obvious sin. Yes? (No??)”

I see that you’ve mastered the fine art of duplicity. Did this take a lot of practice on your part, or does it come naturally?

Both you and Ingersoll oppose the doctrine of everlasting punishment, and both you and he defame the God who would punish sinners with everlasting damnation. Both you and he (and Hitchens and Pinnock Dawkins) don’t hesitate to profane the name of God in acting as the Judge in the living and the dead, by penalizing the damned with everlasting retribution. You’re the flipside of a militant, sacrilegious infidel. You’ve burned your bridges with the God you blaspheme.

“Which in essence tells me you haven’t understood a single reason for why I’m bringing them up. It also tells me that one of us here thinks of trinitarian doctrine as being (in effect) only buzzwords, that should make no practical difference to our theology (especially its coherence). That, however, would not be me. {s} In any case, it remains clearly and obviously the case that (a) people have been discussing this so far (which is very normal in my experience) as if mere monotheism is what we’re talking about; and (b) you will not be accepting trinitarian theism as a ground for interpreting scriptural teaching on God’s relationship to creation, sin, condemnation, salvation, etc. (Which, to be fair, gells together very well with why you haven’t bothered discussing the matter as if you were something more than a mere monotheist.) If you think such teaching is only buzzwords, then of course I agree you shouldn’t accept it as a ground of interpretation. I wouldn’t expect a Muslim to accept it either.”

This is Jason’s challenge. He is attempting to peddle a historic heresy—not to mention, unscriptural. So, like any cagey advocate, he goes on the offensive. His tactical ruse is to whip out a creditable doctrine like the Trinity, then polish his discreditable heresy with the chamois of a creditable doctrine so that he can wipe away the odium of his pet heresy, and transfer orthodox sheen of Trinitarian theology to his tarnished belief-system.

In a word: virtue-by-association. Like John Gotti having a photo-op with the Pope. Keep dropping the word “Trinity” in every other clause, and the reader may just forget that what we’re talking about is not the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, but the heterodox doctrine of universal salvation.

“So, why am I not hiding behind the mock piety of my Trinitarian buzzwords as a face-saving device to disbelieve injunctions against those things in the witness of Scripture? Hm. (Maybe I’m different from the homosexual activist after all...)”

You’re methodologically two of a kind.

“But I think it’s interesting that you consider orthodox trinitarian theism to have nothing to do with divine love. (Or perhaps that it’s a twisted idea of divine love??)”

The same gimmick, repeated ad nauseum. This is his game: let’s all pretend that universalism is synonymous with Trinitarianism. Therefore, an attack on universalism is an attack on Trinitarianism. This equation would come as a great surprise to most-all of Nicene, ante-Nicene, and post-Nicene Fathers.

Because universalism is ipso fact indefensible, Jason prudently avoids getting into a direct debate over the merits of universalism. Instead, he tries to change this into a debate over the Trinity—so that anyone who opposes universalism is a crypto-unitarian. It’s the last-ditch ploy of the theological scoundrel.

“My explicitly stated argument in regard to comparing the born-sick baby with the pre-damned Esau…was that in one case God intends to bring about a reconciliation, and in the other (proposed case) He doesn’t. And that the lack of the latter is very obviously non-fair-togetherness; whereas in the former case fair-togetherness is delayed for a time but is still being aimed for by God in what He is doing: and He will complete it (or so I agree we should believe and trust).”

You have a habit of substituting adjectives for arguments. If you had a real argument, you wouldn’t have to keep reminding us that your position is “very obviously” the case. You haven’t given us an argument in this paragraph. You haven’t defined your terms. You have given no exegetical argument for you distinction between “fair-togetherness” and “non-fair-togetherness.” And so on and so forth.

“Do you see now why wrote to PaulM that in putting his case like that, he only in effect calls into inextricable doubt whether God truly ‘loves’ anyone at all?”

No, because that’s just another orphaned assertion. Where is the argument that unless an agent (in this case God) loves everyone, there’s reason to doubt that he loves anyone? This is not self-evidently true. It is not even evidently true. If anything, it’s evidently false.

“At the risk of plopping more buzzwords in front of you and sounding pious while doing so, though: as an orthodox trinitarian theologian, God loving the unjust and the unholy isn’t counterintuitive to me at all. It fits in perfectly.”

Same old racket. Verbally associate universalism with Trinitarianism, minus anything resembling an argument, much less a sound argument, to connect the two. Maybe, because Jason is fairly clever, he’s used to getting away with these rhetorical stunts. But he’s not the only clever person in the world, and some of us are less than spellbound by his raggedy bag of conjuring tricks.

“You did understand that when I was talking about an ‘alien’ love, I meant a ‘love’ so different from anything we know that we’re supposed to believe it is good when to all possible appearances it only looks evil, right?”

Once again, you’re subverting fundamental principles of justice. Yes, we’re supposed to believe that retributive justice is good. And only an evil man thinks that it’s evil for God to judge evildoers by punishing them for their sins. The fact that, “to all possible appearances it only looks evil” to you is a damning (pun intended) admission on your part that you’re the one who embraces diabolical standards of good and evil.

“Specifically, the kind of ‘love’ Paul Manata was asking us to accept God having for the pre-damned, in pre-damning them.”

Did Manata cite reprobation as an example of God’s love? Or would that be an instance of God’s justice—in exacting retribution on the unjust?

At 8:38 AM , steve said...
At 1:55 PM , Tom Talbott said...

“But unfortunately, in asserting that 'all sinners are worthy of damnation,' you are already assuming the very point at issue between us. Why suppose that God could justly treat Esau as worthy of damnation when, even before Esau was born or had done anything good or bad, God had already predestined (or causally determined) that he would be a sinner? If God could justly predestine, first, that Esau would be born a sinner, second, that he would never repent of his sin, and third, that he would nonetheless be punished with eternal damnation for his sin, why couldn’t God likewise justly consign all Christians to hell and grant to all non-Christians the eternal bliss of heaven? So far as I can tell, you have not so much as addressed this question; much less have you provided a persuasive answer to it.”

I haven’t addressed this question before because, to my recollection, this is the first time that you’ve raised that particular question—in the course of the current thread.

This is, of course, a stock objection to Calvinism. There are different ways of broaching the answer:

i) It isn’t clear to me what, exactly, you’re objecting to. Do you distinguish between determinism and predeterminism? Do you find predeterminism more objectionable than determinism?

ii) Or is your objection, not to determinism/predeterminism, per se, but to a particular (odious) outcome?

iii) Likewise, as a universalist, is your objection specifically to a Calvinistic version of everlasting punishment? Or would you be equally opposed to a libertarian version of everlasting punishment?

iv) Is your objection specific to Calvinism, or do you object to any form of determinism, whether it’s hard determinism or soft determinism?

At one level, you—as a universalist—‘are raising the same objection to Calvinism that a libertarian will raise to determinism. Unless we are free to do otherwise, we can’t be blameworthy.

As a philosopher, you’re well aware of the fact that there are astute representatives of semicompatibilism (e.g. John Martin Fischer) and hard incompatibilism (Derk Pereboom) who—on the one hand—field standard objections to soft/hard determinism while—on the other hand—lodging objections to libertarianism. Likewise, there are distinguished proponents of libertarianism like Peter van Inwagen who ultimately retreat into mystification.

On the face of it, you’re leveling an objection that has already been addressed, in considerable detail, by a number of sophisticated philosophers. Perhaps you find their explanations unsatisfactory, but I don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel unless you can refine your objection.

v) So what, once more, is the precise point of your objection?
a) Is your objection that an agent is not responsible for his actions unless he is free to do otherwise?
b) Or is your objection that a particular outcome—in this case, everlasting punishment—is morally unacceptable?

In theory, you might reject (a), but affirm (b). Perhaps you don’t think there’s anything wrong with a deterministic outcome per se, but only with a hellish outcome.

vi) Are you merely objecting to the idea of original sin, or to the idea of original sin when it leads to damnation?

vii) Are you merely objecting to the idea that Esau couldn’t repent, or to the idea that his inability was predestined? Or to the consequence of impenitence (i.e. damnation)?

viii) As to the question of causality, the Bible, being a practical book, pitched at a popular level, doesn’t offer a theory of causation. And as you know, there is no theory of causation that commends the general consent of the philosophical community.

The Bible gives a number of examples of what we would identify and cause-and-effect relations, but it offers no theory of causation to explain the nature of that relation. On the face of it, the decree (i.e. predestination, foreordination) doesn’t cause something to happen in the way that the cue-ball causes the 8-ball to move.

Predestination specifies a particular outcome, and ensures a particular outcome. The outcome is certain. But the decree, in and of itself, doesn’t cause anything to happen. Everything happens according to the decree, but the decree isn’t causing it to happen. Rather, the decree is implemented by such causal modalities as creation, providence, and miracle. And providence involves second-causes. Esau is an agent in his own right.

“You will agree, I presume, that having a reason to do something in no way guarantees having a just reason; even a demonic god, after all, would have a reason for his tyrannical actions. So let us suppose that Belial should construct the following parallel to your statement above: ‘In demonic theodicy, moreover, there is a reason why God punishes Christians and extends his mercy to non-Christians. For God is good, and knowing God is good. God’s justice and mercy are goods. So the experience of God’s boundless mercy towards non-Christians and of his severe justice towards those whom he deceives and consigns to hell enriches our knowledge of God’.”

The problem with invoking Cartesian demons to undercut Calvinism is that your incantation cuts both ways. Cartesian demons are mercenaries. You can hire a Cartesian demon to bedevil any theological option.

For example, in your book, The Inescapable Love of God, you attempt, among other things, to mount an exegetical defense of universalism. And in another book, Universal Salvation: The Current Debate, you defend your exegesis against the objections of I. H. Marshall.

But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that your exegesis is correct. The Bible does, indeed, teach universalism. Unfortunately, this is a diabolical deception. The Cartesian demon inspired St. Paul to teach universalism.

So it seems to me that this line of argument either proves too much or too little.

“When judged by our fallible human intuitions, the deceiving God that Belial here describes no doubt seems terribly unjust.”

I have the same problem with fallibilism that I have with Cartesian demons. This is just another double-bladed sword. If fallibilism undermines Calvinism, it equally undermines universalism.

“But against those Christians who trust such intuitions and begin to doubt God’s justice, Belial could simply quote the words of Calvin and castigate ‘these venomous dogs" who "spew out more than one kind of venom against God.’ Then, still using Calvin’s own words, he might continue: ‘But we deny that they [the Christians whom God deceives and sends to hell] are duly excused, because the ordinance of God, by which they complain that they are destined for destruction, has its own equity [or justice]—unknown, indeed, to us but very sure’ (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 9).”

I don’t know why you’re hung up over Calvin’s invective. Invective was common coinage in the polemical theology of that day in age—whether Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed.

“Nor will it do to quote, at this point, those Scriptures according to which God can neither lie nor deny himself. For according to Belial, God is in no way denying himself; to the contrary, he is precisely being true to his own deceptive nature. And besides, so Belial might also contend, the lie that God cannot lie is but one of the means by which he justly plays his joke on Christians, deceives them to their own destruction, and finally sends them all to hell.”

And, as I’ve said, one can redeploy the Cartesian demon to deceive the universalist. It’s a wash.

“So here, perhaps, is another way of putting my question: If I cannot trust my seemingly clear and decisive intuition that a perfectly just (not to mention a perfectly loving) God would never cause Esau to sin and then damn him eternally for it, how can I trust my seemingly clear and decisive intuition that a perfectly just God would never deceive all Christians and damn them eternally for their deception?”

Several more issues:

i) We need to distinguish two questions: (a) Is Scripture true? (b) What’s the true interpretation of Scripture?

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that your intuition is sound, that would not call into question the Reformed interpretation of Scripture, but rather, the veracity of Scripture. Can Scripture be trusted?

ii) Even if, ad arguendo, our intuition tells us that God would never reprobate Esau, this doesn’t mean our intuition also tells us that God will save Esau—much less everyone else.

iii) I don’t think intuition tells us that:

a) An agent is blameless unless he *could* do otherwise.

Rather, I tend to think people confuse this with a more plausible principle, to wit:

b) An agent is blameless if he *would* have done otherwise.

In other words, I think the popular intuition you appeal to is, at best, a truncated intuition. If we spell it out, the full formulation would be something like:

b-ii) An agent is blameless unless he could have done otherwise—provided that he would have done otherwise.

I’m not saying if this intuition is correct. But, when you unpack it, that’s the moral intuition. The intuition instantly loses its intuitive appeal when you insist that an agent is blameless if he couldn’t do otherwise even if he wouldn’t do otherwise given the chance.

iv) Let’s take a Lady and the Tiger scenario. Behind door A is the princess. Behind door B is the tiger. Do both doors need to be unlocked for this to be a fair ordeal? Does the suitor need the freedom to open either door for this to be a fair ordeal? Why would that be the case? He has a choice. He can only choose one door or the other.

Suppose he chooses to open door A, but door A is locked. As a fallback, he tries to open door B. Door B is unlocked. As a result, he is devoured by the tiger. Intuitively speaking, I suppose most-all of us would regard that outcome as unfair.

Take 2: suppose, once again, door A is locked. But, this time, door A isn’t his first choice. Door B is his first choice.

Now, unbeknownst to him, door A is locked. So he couldn’t open door A even if he wanted to. Since, however, he never wanted to open door A, why is it necessary for that to be a live option?

We could run through the various permutations, but you get the drift. The fact that a dire outcome awaits him if he opens door B, and the further fact that door A is secretly locked, is not, of itself, morally significant. His fate is not unjust if wasn’t free to make a choice he was never going to make in the first place.

So, for your intuition even to get off the ground, you would need to demonstrate that, if Esau had been given the opportunity to repent, he would have seized the opportunity to repent.

v) Let’s take another example. We generally view a stacked deck as unfair. As cheating. The game is rigged.

However, in a game of chance, the odds are that—sooner or later—a randomly shuffled deck will have the same sequence as a stacked deck. In that event, the outcome will be the same whether or not the order of the cards is a result of determinism or indeterminism.

The same player will play the hand he’s dealt, whether the dealer is a card sharp or an honest broker. And there are situations in which random circumstances just so happen to yield the same result as controlled circumstances. A player could win or lose under either scenario.

So, once again, for your intuition to even get off the ground, you need to explain why a predeterminate outcome is unfair if an indeterminate outcome would be identical with a predeterminate outcome. Or, to put it another way, you need to show that the outcome would differ in any particular case.

vi) And that’s assuming that intuition is the deal-breaker. The limitation of moral intuition is that it’s like a brute fact. You can try to explicate your moral intuition and defend it. But it ultimately comes down to your personal impression that something *just seems* to be right while something else *just seems* to be wrong. So intuition really can’t justify itself. You rapidly get to the point where you can’t *argue* for your moral intuitions. __Like the old Kennel Ration commercial (“My dog’s better than your dog!”), it boils down to the claim that “My intuition is better than your intuition!”

vii) And that’s also the problem when you say that I’m “already assuming the very point at issue between us.” Can you yourself offer a non-circular justification for your own intuitive appeal to universalism? Or does your objection quickly and inevitably degenerate into a stalemate?

viii) On a final point, I find the Bible intuitively compelling. There are no moral intuitions that trump my intuitive faith in Scripture. (My faith in Scripture isn’t limited to sheer intuition, but for purposes of this discussion, that’s the aspect I’ll accentuate.) Therefore, on intuitive grounds alone, there is no intuitive defeater to my intuitive conviction that Scripture is the word of God.

At 6:05 PM , steve said...
“And now here is my question for you, Steve. Why not just address a question simply and directly? I still have no idea of what your answer to my question, repeated several times in this post, might be. If you think that a confusion lies behind the question, just spell it out, one step at a time, so that your post does not wander all over the map, so to speak. Do you really believe that a post such as your latest one, or several others you have written, is conducive to an intelligent discussion? I’ll let you answer that question in any way you see fit without any further comment from me.”

Well, you’ve peppered me several questions in the space of this one paragraph. By way of answer:

i) I’m puzzled by the anti-intellectual character of your reply. You are, after all, a philosophy prof.

ii) Why don’t I just address a question simply and directly? Because your questions are loaded with ambiguous, theory-laden assumptions. For example, this was one of your questions:

“Why suppose that God could justly treat Esau as worthy of damnation when, even before Esau was born or had done anything good or bad, God had already predestined (or causally determined) that he would be a sinner? If God could justly predestine, first, that Esau would be born a sinner, second, that he would never repent of his sin, and third, that he would nonetheless be punished with eternal damnation for his sin, why couldn’t God likewise justly consign all Christians to hell and grant to all non-Christians the eternal bliss of heaven?”

But that’s hardly a “simple” question, which is why I tried to break it down into its component parts and treacherous assumptions.

When you say, “If God could justly predestine, first, that Esau would be born a sinner,” that’s presumably an allusion to the doctrine of original sin, and—by implication—, you’re evidently taking the position that it would be unjust of God to damn Esau on account of original sin. So this is why I asked you if that’s a correct interpretation of the element of your question.

When you also say, “second, that he would never repent of his sin,” the apparent implication is that you think it would be unjust of God to damn Esau if he could not have done otherwise (i.e. repented of his sin). So that’s why I asked you if you regard libertarian freedom as a necessary precondition of culpability.

When you also say, “and third, that he would nonetheless be punished with eternal damnation for his sin,” it’s unclear whether you think the injustice lies in the *duration* of the punishment, or in the fact that Esau was *predestined* to this particular fate—which is why I asked you to distinguish and relate the two.

You ask, “If [I] think that a confusion lies behind the question, just spell it out, one step at a time.” That’s exactly what I was doing.

When you say, “You will agree, I presume, that having a reason to do something in no way guarantees having a just reason; even a demonic god, after all, would have a reason for his tyrannical actions. So let us suppose that Belial should construct the following parallel to your statement above,” you seem to be invoking the specter of Cartesian demons as a defeater or undercutter for Calvinism.

If so, I point out that a parallel argument can be constructed for universalism. Indeed, you yourself were trying to construct a parallel argument with reference to Calvinism, so I’m merely taking my cue from you and doing the same thing in reverse. Why do you think your argument would count against Calvinism, but not against universalism?

Finally, when you say that “judged by our fallible human intuitions, the deceiving God that Belial here describes no doubt seems terribly unjust,” you appear to be invoking fallibilism against Calvinism—but if that’s a cogent objection to Calvinism, then why isn’t that a cogent argument against universalism.

These are just a few examples. If I’m “wandering all over the map,” that’s because my GPS is keeping track of all your circumnavigations. __When you ask if I “really believe that a post such as [my] latest one, or several others [I’ve] have written, is conducive to an intelligent discussion?”

I can’t think of a tactful response since your accusatory question is so self-incriminating. When my replies are pegged to your questions every step of the way, and you then ask if my replies are “conductive to intelligent discussion,” the only candid answer is that if my replies are not conductive to intelligent discussion, then that’s because they follow the counters your chosen framework. I guess that answers can only be as intelligent or unintelligent as the questions.

At this point I really don’t know what your problem is, Tom. Are you unable to follow your own argument? And why do you object when I follow every twist and turn of your own argument, even if you are unable or unwilling to do so?

Why do you react in this fashion when I merely address you on your own terms? If you think I’m going down too many rabbit holes, that’s because I’m chasing down a wascally wabbit by the name of Tom Talbott. The hunter goes wherever the prey takes him.

I’d add that if you don’t like my minute analysis, you could always respond to Manata’s pithy counterarguments, which meet you on your own ground. Yet you treat him like a potted plant.

iii) As to your oft-repeated question, you ask: “I have a strong intuition, as you presumably do as well, that God could not justly deceive all Christians and send them all to hell as a kind of divine joke. I also have a strong intuition that God could not justly predestine Esau to an everlasting hell. So my question is: Why should I trust my intuition in the first case, but not in the second?”

Actually, I reject your intuition in the first case. I have no *intuition* against God deceiving Christians and damning them to hell. Rather, I have a *revelation* against God deceiving Christians and damning them to hell.

I have no idea why you think that intuition speaks to the fate of Christians. Apart from revelation, intuition tells me absolutely nothing about Christians. If I were born on a desert island, in the proverbial state of nature, intuition wouldn’t even speak to me about the existence of Christians, much less their eternal fate—for better or worse.

There’s nothing the least bit intuitive about that belief. You’ve been so conditioned by your upbringing and your particular interpretation of *Scripture* that you’ve long forgotten where the source of your confidence comes from, and you now mistake your *acquired* conviction for *intuition*. It’s nothing of the kind.

And that’s’ one reason you can never appeal to your intuition to trump a revelation regarding the fate of humanity. For your putative intuition is, in fact, contingent on your interpretation of God’s revelation in Scripture. Throughout this thread, you overestimate intuition, and underestimate revelation.

Now, I think it’s possible to have an intuitive faith in Scripture, if we define intuition along the lines of an illative sense or tacit knowledge—a la Newman, Polanyi, and Mitchell. But intuition is not the *source* of that knowledge. Rather, it takes Scripture as its *object*.

So—as you set up the question—even if there were a parallel between the two cases, yet since—as a matter of fact—your faith in the first case cannot be informed by intuition, but only by revelation, then—by parity of argument—there is likewise no support for the second case.

iv) Apart from the Bible as a whole, I’d find myself in the same situation as Solomon, in Ecclesiastes. There’s plenty of natural evidence for the existence of God. But the distribution of blessing and bane is so disparate and apparently random at best, or perversely unjust at worst—with the wicked prospering at the expense of the righteous—that l’d be in a complete quandary. Left to my own devices, I could discern a providential pattern to the natural order, but not to the moral order.