Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jerry Walls's Argument(s) Against Calvinism - 2

I'm looking at chapter four of Jerry Wall's new book, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Last time, I interacted with his formal argument (located in the end notes) that concluded it is irrational to believe in Calvinism and I found it wanting. Walls has divided his chapter into seven parts, this time I'll look at the first division, proceeding through them in order.

The first "division" is really Wall's introduction. In it he notes that, "The importance of avoiding equivocation is a big reason that, though we strongly wish to affirm God's sovereignty, we must reject a Calvinist paradigm of theology." Walls goes on to explain that in this chapter he "will talk about how important it is that God's goodness is recognizable. For in order for the moral argument to provide a rational reason to believe in God, God's goodness must be recognizable. Otherwise we're using the word "good" to refer to something that isn't recognizably good, and that sort of equivocation is irrational" (66, emphasis original). For the rest of the introduction Walls proceeds to talk about how Calvinism/Arminianism is an in-house debate and his personal take on what issues Calvinism and Arminianism are divided over. While it would be interesting to look into his claims here (for example, there's no interaction with or citing of scholars like Richard Muller as to the historical nature of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians), we can put them aside as they have no bearing on the substantive parts of his argument. The sections quoted by me is the extent of the argument in this section, and I'll offer a few comments in response:

1. The use of the definite description "the moral argument," is a bit misleading, what he means is, at best, his moral argument.

2. The use of "we" is confusing. Who is equivocating? If it is the Calvinist, then Walls will need to show that the Calvinist uses the term in two different senses in the same context, but he doesn't show this in the chapter.

3. Notice his claim is logically weak and ambiguous, stating only that God's goodness be recognizable. He states neither temporal nor agential restrictions. As pertains to the former, the Calvinist is free to claim that at some time, even if not now, we will recognize God's goodness. As pertains to the latter, the Calvinist will maintain that God recognizes his goodness. Indeed, perhaps the departed saints recognize this too. And, what's the scope of "we"? All persons or some persons? If the former, then Walls will never be able to offer a successful moral argument. If the latter, then there's plenty of Calvinists who recognize God as good. Moreover, what argument could be given that God's goodness is not recognizable? How much would Walls need to know to show that? Really, really, really, really, really hard to recognize doesn't even mean unrecognizable.

4. Even the Arminian would be bound to admit that the Calvinist God is good in dozens and dozens of recognizable ways. The entire Arminian argument here rests on picking at an admittedly mysterious and epistemically difficult case of God's actions towards man and acting as if that were the whole of the matter. But why think hard cases are standards? Indeed, Arminianism has its own hard cases that it cannot extract itself from, should we judge the whole by those cases The problem here is analogous to a student seeing this set of problems: {1+1=, 2 * 2 =, 3x + 25 = 31, and "Goldbach's Conjecture"}; therefore, math is evil and unsolvable.

5. There's still this confusing of epistemology and metaphysics, i.e., of God having the property of 'good' and our ability to recognize this property. Suppose I am driving my young children in the car at night. They see the moon and it appears to be following our car! The kids attribute properties of motion to the moon. I tell them that the moon is actually, despite appearances, not move but stationary. I try as best I can to explain why things appear this way to them, but the reasons are beyond their ken. Suppose they don't fully understand, but they notice I'm their dad and have been right about a lot of other things, so they don't think the moon actually has the property of being stationary even though they don't recognize it as having this property. Indeed, to them it appears rather obvious that the moon is moving. They use the word 'stationary' to something they don't recognize as stationary, have they "equivocated?" No, they speak truly that the moon has the property of being stationary even if they don't recognize it has having this property.

1 comment:

  1. They apply "...the word 'stationary' to something they don't recognize as stationary..."

    Isnt this at the very heart of the problem?

    Lion (IRC)