Friday, August 01, 2008

Calvinism, Attacked from Without and Within... et tu Brutas?

Victor Reppert's been blogging on Calvinism again. He said he was done for a while. Me thinks many Arminian philosophers and apologists have an axe to grind against Calvinism because if the Calvinists are right, those apologosophers lose out on one of their favorite arguments against physicalism, naturalism, and the atheism that uses those philosophical systems. Re-reading Reppert's DI book last week, I saw his use of libertarian free will play a somewhat key role in his AFR against naturalism. Same can be said of Moreland, Craig, and the rest of the usual suspects.

I guess on one hand I can understand, if I felt one of my best arguments for theism and against the best philosophies of atheism were undermined by a particular theological viewpoint, then I'd probably feel a bit nervous. But of course I hope I'd look at the theological merits of the case, bending the knee to Scripture. If that is what the Bible taught, so much for my precious argument. And of course Calvinists feel that the very best exegesis and systematic theology is borne out and expressed by the Reformed faith.

So I wonder why Victor posts on Calvinism. Is it to rally the Arminian troops? To reaffirm Arminian thought. Help Arminians sleep well at night? It certainly can't be to persuade Calvinists. Us Calvinists believe that the Bible teaches Calvinism. Victor never presents and defends any exegetical interpretation of key passages. Simply refuses to debate the exegetical case. That's fine. He's a philosopher and not a theologian, he says. Okay, we understand. But he must understand that he's simply not going to get anywhere with the Calvinists...if he's even trying to, that is.

I mean, we're certainly not going to drop what we take to be the best exegesis and systematic theology, the theological system which gives most glory to God and presents the most robust worldview that can meet unregenerate man head on, for some philosophical position that is mired in controversy and has been going on for thousands of years. And despite what some may believe, it's not even clear that libertarianism is the shining light on the hill leading men to theism and away from naturalism and physicalism. Van Inwagen is a physicalist about man, yet for a large portion of his career he was also libertarian about free will. Kane, one of the foremost defenders of libertarian free will today presents a fully naturalistic account of LFW in his books on free will. So though Victor may say that theologians debate the text and so Calvinism isn't "clear," it is also true that philosophers debate issues of moral responsibility and free will and so his philosophical arguments hardly can play the trump here. Not only that, it seems to me that it is the Calvinist in the debate who plays both games the best. Victor uses the debates among theologians as his excuse for not having to deal with the exegetical arguments. But I could play the same game with the philosophers. When I appeal to Frankfurt, Fisher, semi-compatibilism, etc., I do so only as a way to (a) meet the philosophical objections on their own ground and (b) as a handmaiden to the Queen of the sciences. Victor must understand that, for the Calvinist (or at least for me), I don't care if FCEs are problematic or if compatibilism is (on strictly philosophical grounds, that is). To me all that means is that I had better find another way to express what is in the Bible. I could simply say, "Well this is what the Bible teaches, so either (a) reject it or (b) drop your arguments against it." One must understand that when dealing with someone who has what would be, if true, the most unimproved justification or warrant one could have for believing something (God said so), then you need to deal with the justification itself. Take the case of the purloined letter. Memory was enough to function as a defeater-defeater in that case. The analogy fails because a video recording of the theft would defeat the defeater-defeater where a philosophical speculation (on that is hotly debated at that) isn't going to serve as a defeater against what God says. So Victor (or any Arminian, or even an atheist for that matter) had better engage the text itself. Perhaps there may be some areas where a philosophical argument could lead us to change our understanding of Scripture. I grant that. I grant that the situation can serve to make us aware that the norm isn't what we had thought. But one is going to be hard pressed to make that case in a highly debatable field of philosophical inquiry. One that has been going on for thousands of years, with no end in site! Victor may think indeterminism and libertarianism are just "obvious," but it is obviously (!) not that "obvious." All one needs to do is look on Amazon. Even my own library would show that "it's a jungle out there."

When I look at the totality of everything involved, whether there are problems with Frankfurt counter examples or not, that just trails in the dust in relation to the big picture. And Calvinists are "big picture" Christians. Besides all of this, us Calvinists can't understand why Arminians just can't see how what they think is problematic on Calvinism is just as problematic on Arminianism, perhaps with some minor tweaking. Not only that, it's not enough to (try to) show that someone is not morally responsible if their action was determined. The Arminian needs to do the dual job of (trying to) showing that Scripture doesn't teach that God determines whatsoever comes to pass according to the council of his will. That's because if Scripture teaches what the Calvinist claims, and teaches that men are responsible, then all the Arminian has done by his argument is to show that Christianity is in error. So if the best exegesis is on the side of the Calvinist, the Arminian had better look for ways to show that moral praise and blame is compatible with determinism. Certainly the Calvinist, since he believes his exegesis and systematic theology the best there is on offer, is under no rational obligation to capitulate to Arminian philosophical objections. The Calvinist, hopefully, doesn't let his apologetic concerns drive his theology. For him it's the other way around.

But besides all of this, if Arminian objections fair no better than how they claim the Calvinist system fairs, the Calvinist has even more reason to simply shrug off Arminian philosophical objections, especially when they come minus any theological ones. One example of this is found in one of Reppert's posts:

Calvinists maintain the following:

1) God's decrees set in motion causal chains that guarantee the
occurrence of all that happens in the world.

2) Persons are morally responsible for those actions, even though they
are the inevitable result of a divine decree.

3) These actions deserve retributive punishment, which in those who do
not receive the saving grace of Christ, is meted out to sinners in

4) God is not blameworthy for decreeing those actions that He himself
judges as evil. (It is either good because God decreed it, or it is
good because of an unknown and unknowable reason God might have

Of course much of this is vague and ambiguous, if not misleading. (1) can be read fatalistically. Do the events occur regardless of secondary causes or means? (2) has that implication as well. (3) is vague. Which "actions" deserve retributive punishment? The baby's cooing? That was an action, and it was determined. (1) began with "all events" and (3) just speaks of sins. (4) leaves out that we in fact do know the God-justifying reason for his decrees sometimes. (1) - (4) are also imprecise in that they do not distinguish between the decree and providence.

Now, the above four points (taking into consideration my comments) can be found in Scripture. Reppert takes (1) - (4) to constitute problems for Calvinists, so I would maintain that he must find a problem with Scripture itself. This can be seen, in one instance, by tracing the plan of redemption (in its most broad way). I will list four points below that correspond with the four points above. The advantage of this is that no orthodox Christian can deny any of the four points I list. My list is not uncontroversial, that is. Beginning with Genesis we have:

1*) Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

2*) Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross ... Acts 4:27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

3*) Acts 17:31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed ... Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

4*) Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Basically, the Arminian is in a bind. If the argument is that: "If God decrees a person to commit an immoral act, then God is also blameworthy," the Arminian must either drop his argument or admit that God is worthy of blame since in decreeing the death of Jesus he decreed his murder, murder is evil, therefore God decreed evil. Stated another way, the Bible tells us that each man's death is appointed by God, since some men die at the hands of a murderer, God must have decreed murder, since murder is evil, God must have decreed evil. So I don't see what the big deal is. It certainly can't be that in some instances since we don't know what the God-justifying reason is (which we do in the case of Jesus, salvation for his people), there can't be a God-justifying reason. That would be an argument from silence. If it is not an argument from silence then, following Douglas Walton, the objection is in the form of a conditional: If x were the case, then we would expect to know the God justifying reason for x. But I flat out deny that conditional. I especially deny it since an all knowing being told us that he has a good reason for all he does. So the Arminian argument from evil against the Calvinist is shown to backfire since they also believe God decreed what he calls evil. And since they don't believe it was immoral to do that, they can't hold to the general premise that if God decrees an evil, God is to blame.

Not only that, the Arminian has much the same problem as (1) - (4) above, just with some tweaking. For example:

1**) God's creation set in motion the events he knew would unfold if he actually instantiated the creation. (Some get around this by denying God his exhaustive foreknowledge (in the traditional sense)).

2**) Person's are morally responsible for doing what God knew they would do and they would not have done had he not created them.

3**) These actions deserve retributive punishment. (Some avoid this by postulating problematic notions of the atonement and hell. Some simply eliminate the problematic entities from their theology, viz., universalists).

4**) God is not morally blameworthy for intervening to stop an evil whereas a created person would be. (It is either good because God decreed it (c f. various libertarian/Arminian DCTists), or it is good because of an unknown and unknowable reason God might have had (cf. the various skeptical theism arguments from popular Arminian/libertarian philosophers and apologists)).

To close it off, Reppert wonders what secular compatibilists would disagree with in his (1) - (4):

"1) She could say that while natural determinism is compatible with moral responsibility, control by an agent is not, especially an omnipotent one. The problem would then be to account in some principed way for the difference in the way these two cases are adjudicated."

She could say that, sure, but where's the argument? This is simply an assertion. She obviously doesn't believe that in any case whatever where one agent has the power to stop some evil, he should. Certainly she thinks that a father allowing a doctor to stitch up his son, causing his son pain, is not evil, for there's a good reason. So they'd need to do some work here, and I've seen nothing promising coming down the pike. Oh, and of course she would need to present and defend a secular theory of ethic in terms of which she can judge Calvinism by.

"2) She could argue that the attribution of moral responsibility should never be retributive. If that is the case, then the kind of responsiblity-attribution they are engaged in is markedly different from that of the Calvinist, and perhaps different standards apply. If I am asking "Who is responsible" because I want to know whose behavior I need to modify, as opposed to who deserves punishment, this is a very different enterprise, and one that is actually easier to reconcile with determinism."

And all the Calvinist need do is point out the massive problems with this remedial theory. I can use the pagans do beat down the pagans. Not only that, we still need a secular justification of ethics. Oh, and I'll be sure to line up the victims of child molestation and rape and let them know that their attacker is not getting punished. If this is the secular "problem" with Calvinism, then we're fairly free from critical inquiry.

"3) She could argue that there is no "conservation of responsibility," that just because O. J. Simpson is responsible for committing two murders (assuming the prosecution was right) does not mean that an "accessory before the foundation of the world (not just before the fact)" is not also responsible."

Again, yeah, she could try to make this argument. But not only does she need to present and defend her secular ethic, she needs to show how S murdering S* is the same as when S** decrees the murder of S*. One commits the murder, and does so with evil intentions, the other does neither. And, if (3) is a good argument, then as we've seen above, Victor himself has problems since God decreed the murder of Jesus... and he did so "from the foundation of the world."

Now, I understand the purpose of Reppert's post wasn't meant to be an argument against Calvinists, but I don't mean this to be a response to Reppert's post. I simply mean if for T-blog readers. His post also exhibits (sub consciously or consciously) his common misunderstandings and unfamiliarity with Calvinism. So they were corrected. And since he offers possible secular challenges to Calvinism, I took the liberty (!) to point out what the secularist would need to do if he even wanted to get his attack of the ground. Besides that, I think it telling that the secularists strongest argument against Christianity is the argument from evil and the Arminian Christian's strongest argument against Calvinism is the problem of evil. Just as unregenerate hate Christianity, it seems the Arminian hates the Calvinist system with the same passion. I find all of this very telling and think there's more going on behind the scenes. If God really came into the world, revealed his holy character, and set forth the antithesis between him and us, would more people find it comforting than not?

"Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either. "

— C.S. Lewis


  1. Your post is titled "Calvinism, Attacked from Without and Within...", and Victor Reppert has attackted from without, but who has attacked from within?

  2. In my post toward the end I attempted to make that clear. Reppert is not an atheist, he's a professing Christian. Unlike some Calvinists, I don't think that only Calvinists are Christians.

  3. Ah, I assumed attacked from within meant within Calvinism. Also it would be regretable to see you leave Triablogue.

  4. Question about LFW, the Arminian side claims that God does not control everything in a meticulous way and that man is a independent autonomous agent that is sole/first cause of his actions. If that is true would this not lead to the idea that chance plays a key role in our world? If God does not decree all that comes to pass and Arminians are vehemently against fate, then chance is the deciding factor. So if “Jack” took another way home from work and was involved in a car accident that resulted in his death then rather than say God brought it about we would say that chance brought it about.

    Is this a fair characterization?

  5. Vytautus,

    It's simply a matter of time now. My family and I are moving across country, have two kids and one on the way, and will be extremely busy with other obligations. Hopefully I'll stay resolved. :-) Besides, the quality can only go up once I'm gone!


    I think the libertarian would not like the term "chance." To use it would prejudice the debate and hinder dialogue. But you get at a key point in the debate. What, exactly, accounts for one choice over the other? On a libertarian scheme one could rewind the tape and, given all the same reasons, planning, thinking, etc., chose something different. So it looks like reasons don't cause actions, planning doesn't, thinking about the options doesn't, etc. It seems arbitrary. It seems similar to chance (got a better term!). So the problem that creeps up, then, is that, ironically, the libertarian position does not provide the agent with the control required to make a morally responsible choice. This is precisely what some libertarians say is the problem with determinism. So it may turn out that only determinism can give the control needed for an agent to be morally responsible. The confession says that the liberty is not taken away but rather established by God's decree. I think they hit on what contemporary action theorists are seeing.

  6. I'm sorry to hear that we may be deprived of your posts for a long time!

  7. I love your posts Paul! But your reasons for absenting yourself from writing further posts has total merit!

    God bless you and your family!

  8. I hope you won't be away for long, Paul, but those are good reasons to be away. Your work is appreciated, and you and your family will be in my prayers.

  9. God bless, Paul.

    We'll miss you in Antarctica!


  10. There's a good kind of Calvinist I have no problem with. Those are the kind for whom predestination is unimportant and who don't harp on soverty at the expensive of compassion.

    For the rest, the Calvinist God, or at least the five point TULIP God is an excusable bully. NO point in believing in him.

    Look if they are right, I am already in life filt so why should I bother? Or if I'm out I'm out.

    It's just a pretense to feel special. if that was the only alternative i would be an atheist.

  11. Hey moving to the other side of the country has nothing to do with the intert. The blog will still be here.

    Anyway I did not get a chance to know you but I appreciate your passion for the Lord.

  12. J.L. Hinman,

    Isn't that like the following?

    There's a good kind of Arminian I have no problem with. Those are the kind for whom free will is unimportant and who don't harp on liberty at the expensive of God's glory.

    For the rest, the Arminian God is an excusable pansy. NO point in believing in him.

    Now I ask this because it seems to me that you just like the Calvinists who "don't get out of line" and actually, you know, believe Calvinism. In other words, you only like those Calvinists who are not real Calvinists.

    That's not very helpful. And while it sounds at first like you're extending the olive branch and being ecumenical to Calvinists, since you're only accepting the fake ones and you're slapping down the real ones, your olive branch is a baseball bat.

    I, for one, have no problem with Arminians who stand up for what they believe in. I do not, however, like those who have no spine and who think "Can't we all just get along" is more important than the truth.

  13. Joe said...Look if they are right, I am already in life *flint* so why should I bother? Or if I'm out I'm out.

    It's just a pretense to feel special. If that was the only alternative I would be an atheist.


    Thanks Joe.

    Paul,I won't miss your style at all. C'ya later, after you grow up and enter the adult world...the educated world...the scholarly world. You have many bad role models here there and everywhere. You yourself are a bad role model.

    You're as blind as a bat not to see it.

  14. Look, once again, Paul, you are confused about my intentions. My points is an attempt to make sense of what secular compatibilists and Calvinists agree on and disagree on. It's not meant, at least directly, as an attack.

  15. What style is that? The one where he keeps defeating your arguments right and left on this blog for years? The one where no matter what he (or anyone) says you just won't accept it thereby showing your overwhelming bias towards Christianity?

  16. That should say against Christianity!

  17. I am interested in Frankfurt counterexamples just because they are of philosophical interest. I think they don't support compatibilism. Calvinists aren't the only compatibilists. The issue interests me as a philosopher.

    Also, Calvinism won't undermine the argument from reason, so far as I can tell. So I am not trying to protect my favorite apologetic argument from attack. I actually do think that if we get to skeptical about what is in character and out of character for a perfectly good God, then some across-the-board epistemic doubts begin to arise. Could God make us in such a way that we are massively deceived about the world? Could all our thinking be a "snare" to deceive us about reality so that we will not believe the truth and end up in hell? (Do you follow Calvin in thinking that no one can be really sure whether or not they are elect?) I think that there's an argument in that neighborhood to me made against theological voluntarism, (I do present that in CSLDI), and maybe against Calvinism, but I haven't actually made that argument anywhere.

    What I said was that I didn't want to devote my blog primarily to issues related to Calvinism, and hence I did not want to do the sort of systematic anti-Calvinist blogging that I was doing earlier.

    In that post you referred to I was very specific about trying to present the Calvinist position accurately and that if you had any amendments or corrections to my descriptions to please present them, since it benefits the comparison between Calvinism and secular compatibilism if the account of both is accurate.

    Please, just stop interpreting everything I say as a refutation of Calvinism. There are other interesting philosophical and theological projects to be engaged in, even where Calvinism is mentioned.

  18. Nice quote from Clive S. Lewis.

    The Potter can form a beautiful vase from a lump of clay, and He surely does. he can also make a cuspidor.

    Who are ye, and we, to say to the Potter, why did You make me this way?

    We need to simply cry out for mercy; the mercy that God may grant.
    Oh, I pray that you would cry out for this gracious gift of God's mercy, found in Christ, and Christ alone, through grace alone, and by faith alone. Amen.

  19. (Do you follow Calvin in thinking that no one can be really sure whether or not they are elect?)

    Here's another one of those little jibes you make from time to time where you seem to refuse correction.

    Calvin and Calvinism qua Calvinism both include a robust doctrine of assurance. We do not deny that a person can be sure whether they are elect if, by that, you ask that question appropriately. We do deny that if by that you mean that the only way to be certain is to peer into the decrees. We don't try to look into the divine decree itself - that's hyperCalvinism, it is HyperCalvinism, by the way, Victor, that is known for denying that people can be really sure that they are elect, for example, the Primitive Baptists. Unlike them (and you) we look at what the Bible actually says about assurance and then work from there. That's how you answer that question, Victor. We don't sit there trying to intuit our assurance apart from what the Bible says.

    And is Arminianism in any better place? In Arminianism, you are elect if you believe and persevere to the end. Since we can't intuit our future perseverance, how, pray tell, are you in any better position than we are?

    And if they are on epistemic par, then what, exactly, is your alternative?
    Go ahead, answer from the Bible.

  20. Victor,

    I noted everything you complained about in your first comment. I said in my post that you didn't mean your blog post as an "attack" (at least directly) on Calvinism. I said I used it as a spring board.

    It gets tiring constantly having to spend my time responding to your comments and rejoinders that demonstrate that you obviously do not take the time to read what is written (at least not very carefully). This was a common aspect of our "debate" we had a month (or so) ago.

    Not only is this America, this s the blogosphere. I can use your posts as a springboard to write whatever I want to. I have no desire to "debate" you on Calvinism nymore. You and I did that. I am perfectly comfortable with the outcome of the extended debate between (mainly) Steve, Bnonn and myself. So, the content of this post stands regardless of the rabbit trail about your intentions (though even the rabbit trail was inaccurate with the facts).

    Regardling your second post, I never said anything about Calvinism undemrining your apologetic, but it is clear to me that LFW played a major role in your AFR. You apealed to it in numerous places. Then, besides DI, you appeal to LFW in your moral arguments for God. This is all an opinion of mine though. It seems to me that many Arminian apologists and philosophers have an axe to grind against Calvinism mainly because they'd lose much of their apologetic arsenal. One cannot miss the role LFW plays in myriad Arminian apologetic arguments. I see it come up in countless forms in various arguments.

    John Loftus,

    {Notice there's no response to you by me.}



  21. Paul, I'm not responding to you either. Idiot. I am so fed up with you I could puke.

  22. "Paul, I'm not responding to you either. Idiot. I am so fed up with you I could puke."


    Paul did not merit that sort of vitriol from you. Why be so nasty?

  23. I banned Loftus from my comboxes a couple of months ago for his constant unsubstantial posts. Apparently he has zero integrity and refuses to honor rules of other bloggers, yet he has bannede numerous people from his blog and expects them to honor his request. So, I think we're fully up-to-speed on Loftus: no arguments and no integrity. He's the same person who left the faith, he's just selling atheism now. He never had good reasons for his belief in God, and he has none for his atheism. All he has is his bully pulpit. Shame the congregants into submission. Instead of "sinner!" he says "idiot!" and "you make me puke." John's a one trick pony. I don't respond to him because he has nothing to offer by way of challenge to Christianity. Anyway, I'm pleased John let all see his true colors and his inability to control himself and honor the requests of other blogs...the same requests he expects to be honored over at his place. Hint for atheists: Blowing a head gasket and calling Christians "idiots" is not how to win the reason giving game. It's certainlu not how you "debunk" Christainity

  24. Loftus wrote on his other blog:

    " and I have all been banned from Triablogue (me, with regard to Paul Manata's specific postings), not because we were belligerent or offensive or rude, but because they hate apostates and skeptical questioners, just like their Calvinist God does, or so they claim. [Okay, I’ll admit I was a bit offensive with Manata, but he is one of the most obnoxious and demeaning Christian Bloggers around, and I fought fire with
    fire in his case. He provoked it.]"

    So he agrees with my banning him, yet he violates the ban (something he would not like others to much for his secular "ethic").

    But he cannot substantiate any of his charges. Actually, I ran into Loftus a couple of years ago. After publicly humiliating him both on radio and the blogosphere (according to common consensus) he launched personal attacks against me saying that I would beat my wife (which, I'm happy to report, has not happened yet). I have had him call me an idiot and other such lovely terms (as can be seen here), yet he can hardly doccument the same with me. fact is, Loftus is hurt that he was bested by his intellectual inferior (after all, he's "educated"; see above).

    I have let slide almost all his personal attacks (which multiple members of his DC crew have told me via private email that they do not agree with, and other atheists have said that his comments about me and my family make them sick), I have constantly attacked what he took as substance.

    You see, why he's really so peeved is because of my Discomfiter bit. As people on both sides will attest, the Discomfiter made a total mockery out of Loftus's arguments. And he's still upset.

    At the end of the day, I can let Loftus's antics slide because I know he's doing them as a way to lash out and compensate for what I did, by God's grace, to his arguments.

    So Loftus can keep throwing sticks and stones, it only shows how weak his arguments are when he has to interact with me by only name calling.