Recently, Perry Robinson has been critiquing Calvinism in two different places–on his own blog, as well as Articuli Infidei.
His critique merits a reply. At the same time, a reply is complicated by the redundancy of the multiple coverage as well as the fact that he’s responding to specific arguments of specific individuals. I’ll try to excerpt the major objections as best I can.
“Whatever disagreements I have with Craig, he is a genuine scholar and a good philosopher.”
I generally agree, although he also has some really quirky positions, like his fictionalism, or his suggestion that God will erase our memories of our lost loved ones.
“He is an effective communicator and has done quite a bit for the cause of Christ.”
Once again, I agree. Of course, I’d say the same thing about James White. And White has an added advantage. Craig is one of those individuals who can do both harm and good. So while he’s very useful, some of his erroneous positions subtract from the good stuff he’s doing.
Craig suffers a bit from the Dr. Strangelove Syndrome. Shrewd advice, but he needs to keep that wayward limb under much tighter rein.
By contrast, White’s theology is consistently sound. Therefore, White isn’t undoing with one hand the good he’s doing with another.
“I don’t think James White really means this.”
I also doubt that White meant libertarianism in the elaborate sense that Perry defines it.
“Now that is a thumbnail sketch of what Libertarianism is. Is that what James White thinks God has? I don’t think so, but he said it nonetheless.”
This was a two-paragraph blog post, not an article for Faith & Philosophy. Likewise, his remarks were pitched to a general audience.
Also, unlike Craig, White is not a research professor with access to an academic library. Rather, White is a busy, popular apologist who has to be broadly conversant with a number of different challenges to the Christian faith. He covers some of the same ground that Craig, but he also takes on some issues that Craig ignores, and vice versa.
So I don’t think Perry can extrapolate from this example to White’s position in general, much less Calvinism’s position in general.
“But the real gift from White was claiming that the Bible teaches it. That just warms my little libertarian heart. That means that White thinks that Libertarianism is a coherent concept, since after all, nothing directly contradictory or incoherent can be ascribed to God or taught by the Bible. That excludes all of the arguments from White’s apologetic arsenal all of the arguments from critics of Libertarianism that it is an incoherent concept. You can kiss Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Jonathan Edwards On Free Will, and Harry Frankfurt’s Covert Counter-Factual Controllers, bye bye, Dorthy.”
Of course, I seriously doubt the philosophical literature on Frankfurt examples was even on the mental horizon of White’s brief remarks, one way or the other.
“The disagreement then is not over whether Libertarianism is a coherent concept or even if it is true. If its true of God, then its true and a coherent concept. It is not even if the Bible teaches the concept.”
Both of those disagreements are still in play. Taking issue with White’s formulation is hardly the same as, say, talking on a Calvinist with a doctorate in philosophy who specializes in the finer points of action theory. Perry is burning a straw man if he’s trying to extrapolate from a little blog post by White to Calvinism in general.
“The underlying reasoning is fairly common among Calvinists-the actions of human persons is determined by human nature.”
That characterization is highly ambiguous. The claim is not that nature selects for a particular action. Rather, nature selects for a range of action. The kind of nature selects for the kind of action. Actions of a certain type, consistent with the moral character of the nature.
Put another way, it’s more of an exclusionary principle.
What selects for particular actions is not the nature, but the decree.
Indeed, Perry will introduce some similar qualifications. But he acts as if his qualifications are at odds with Calvinism.
“More directly it isn’t a metaphysical truth in the first place that natures determine the actions of agents. It is certaintly not true in the case of the Trinity.”
Since God is a se, the case of God is sui generis.
“It also seems not to be true in the case of pre-fall angels and humans. Their natures were entirely good and yet they fell. In order to get from the idea of circumscribed options to determined option we’d need to add some other thesis. But even with circumscribed options being according to nature, this doesn’t always seem to be true, particularly in the case of pre-fall angels and humans. Their natures were good, but some of their options were evil. To get circumscription of options relative to nature we’d need to add some other thesis.”
Here, Perry raises a valid issue. However, it’s not just an issue for Calvinism.
“Our view is in short that for agents that have a begining, namely Adam and Eve their use of the their natural faculties, namely their will and intellect are not yet fixed in the natural goodness. So while good and innocent, they are not yet righteous. That is acquired through practice. So while it is possible for them to fall here, once fixed in virtue, it is impossible for them to sin in heaven.”
i) How does that succeed in severing the connection between nature and choice? Isn’t Perry still operating within that framework? All he’s done is to change the natural output by changing the natural input. He has a different definition of what constitutes the Adamic nature. Depending on what he puts into the definition of Adam’s nature, that allows for a different outcome, or possible outcome.
But on his view, as he explicates his own position, Adam’s nature still circumscribes the range of viable options or live possibilities.
ii) And it doesn’t really explain how a good agent can do evil. The underlying conundrum of how to transition from good to evil remains unresolved. So I don’t see that he’s succeeded in solving the problem he posed for himself.
iii) At most we have a stalemate. Let’s assume that Calvinism has no way of resolving this dilemma. But if this is the best that Perry can do, then he’s in the same boat.
“If on a Calvinist reading, no person is able to choose against nature, if Adam’s nature was good, how is it that he sinned against nature?”
That’s a valid question. But it’s equally valid against Perry’s position. He just said that, on his own view, Adam’s nature was good. He said Adam’s “natural faculties” were “good.”
He also said that while Adam’s nature was good, his nature wasn’t “fixed” in goodness.
But, of course, a Calvinist would say the same thing. Don’t the Westminster Divines make the equivalent claim?
“If Adam and Eve were predestined to fall, then it is hard to see how they lost free will. They never could have refrained from sinning.”
That would depend, in part, on whether we define freewill in libertarian or compatibilist/semicompatibilist terms.
I’d also add that that’s a philosophical debate.
“If Adam was predestined to fall, then he never was in a position where he could have refrained from sinning.”
True. On the other hand, Perry thinks that Adam had the freedom to do otherwise, but fell anyway. So the result is the same.
“All men are raised in Christ, even the wicked. 1 Cor 15:19-22.”
We’d need to see Perry’s exegesis.
“If they weren't then they were never dead. 2 Cor 5:14. Christ died for all since all were dead. If they weren't dead, then Christ didn't die for them.”
Of course, that begs the question of who the universal quantifier denotes. What’s the reference class in 2 Cor 5? If you apply it to every human being, then the logic of Paul’s argument requires you to go all the way with universal salvation–which Perry rejects.
“An sure God knows all things that will transpire according to his counsel, but that doesn't mean be determines the actions of agents but only that he directs their intentions to fulfill a different goal than the one they had in mind. (Gen 50:20).”
To say that Gen 50:20 is not a prooftext for universal predestination is beside the point. Scripture can teach that elsewhere.
“Jews were elected too and are to be considered elect according to Paul yet they are enemies of Christ. Rom 11:28. You are confusing election with salvation, which is contrary to Paul's point in Romans 9-11. Election doesn't ensure salvation.”
Perry fails to distinguish between national election and soteric election. Paul draws that distinction in Romans.
“Second, if agents perform actions determined by desires, how is it that Adam having a good nature had an evil desire? On the assumption that his nature is good, evil should have been impossible for him and the same goes for satan too.”
i) To begin with, Scripture uses a tree/fruit, cause/effect metaphor. Even if Adam is an exception to the rule, should we use that exception to overthrow the Scriptural principle in general?
ii) I myself recently offered my own solution.
“Throwing up your arms to claim mystery at just the point that your system is inconsistent is ad hoc and fallacious. Why is that when Arminians exclaim that agents just do will one option over another, Calvinists howl that they believe in chance, deny providence or are irrational, but when Calvinist's do the same thing, its ‘oh what a wonderous mystery!’ Sorry, your claim to mystery is fallacious because it is ad hoc. You are just trying to save your system from an obvious inconsistency.”
Aside from the fact that I’ve offered my own solution, there’s a difference between philosophy and revealed theology. Libertarianism is a philosophical position. Arminians are appealing to philosophical arguments to support their contention. Philosophical arguments are fair game for rational scrutiny. Philosophical arguments are only as good as the intuitive reasons in their favor.
But revealed theology doesn’t rise or fall on intuitive reasoning.
“As for the fullness of salvation in a more narrow sense, God creates us without our will doesn't save us without our will. So yes, we are a terminus for our free choices. That seems no more mysterious than the free choice of other agents like the Trinity. If we require an antecedent causal explanation for every choice, what is the explanation for God's choice to create or redeem?”
Since God is a necessary being, whereas a human agent is a contingent being, there’s an obvious disanalogy in Perry’s argument from analogy. By definition, creatures are subject to antecedent conditions. Creatures are the caused. The effect of a prior agent or agency.
“So one chose salvation and the other redemption. Full stop.”
That’s hardly where the Bible stops.
“Second, we have sufficient data that Adam was created good, as was Satan.”
So Perry is in the same boat. In that case, he should stop poking holes in the bottom of the boat. He’s trying to sink the opposition at his own expense. Mutual drowning.
“Third, I simply plugged in your theory for a clear test case and it fails.”
And I simply did the same thing with Perry’s own theory.
“Fourth, if you wish to focus on the information we have about human nature then we had best start with the humanity of Christ since there is far more information about his human nature than we have about human nature in general. Furthermore, Christ is the model for all of humanity and all of humanity is summed up in him. And so the proper relation between humanity and divinity is set forth in Christology, not anthropology.”
Well, Christ could walk on water, turn water into wine, multiply bread, heal the sick, and raise the dead. I’ve never got the knack of that myself, and I somehow doubt that Perry’s thaumaturgic powers, or lack therefore, exceed mine. So if Christ is our metaphysical role-model, then Perry and I seem to be failing the course.