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