Monday, October 01, 2012

The Arminian funhouse

In their recent book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford 2011), David Baggett and Jerry Walls have a chapter attacking Calvinism on allegedly philosophical grounds. Jerry Walls may well be the leading Arminian philosopher of his generation. So this chapter presumably represents the best philosophical case against Calvinism from an Arminian perspective.

Some critics here might wish to suggest that Arminians face an equally big problem because God chose to instantiate this among other possible worlds, a wold in which some would freely reject him, and God knew in another possible world they would have accepted him. To begin with, though, such a challenge requires something closer to middle knowledge rather than mere foreknowledge–as does the common challenge to Arminians of why God would create someone he knows will reject him and go to hell. Even supposing such an ambitious modal picture is accurate… (244n27).

i) It wouldn’t require middle knowledge. Rather, it would require counterfactual knowledge. Even Craig distinguishes between middle knowledge and counterfactual knowledge. Middle knowledge is just a particular theory of counterfactual knowledge.

ii) It’s true that this isn’t equivalent to foreknowledge inasmuch as foreknowledge concerns the actual future, not a possible future. What will be, not what might have been.

iii) It’s unclear why the authors think this picture is “ambitious.” They themselves define libertarian freedom as the freedom to do otherwise. And the only way to cash that out is by recourse to alternate possible worlds or world segments. So their model of libertarian freedom commits them to this “ambitious modal picture.”

iv) So it’s not clear what they are questioning. Are they questioning the existence of possible worlds, or God’s knowledge thereof? Even open theists believe God knows hypothetical scenarios.

…it presumably involves people’s genuinely free choices and their consequences. Just because God foreknows the content of our decisions doesn’t mean he’s responsible for determining that content, nor does it preclude the ability to do otherwise…God happened to know how they’d respond, but that isn’t his determining anything (244n27).

But that’s a red herring. Those who level this charge against Arminianism aren’t claiming that it’s identical to Calvinism. The immediate question at issue isn’t whether the Arminian God can justly damn them (granting Arminian assumptions about the preconditions of moral responsibility), but whether the Arminian God is loving. Whether he is acting in their best interests. Is he good to them? That’s the point of the analogy. For the authors repeatedly say things like:

For God to choose to consign persons to such a fate when he could have just as easily determined them to joy and happiness is even more morally obnoxious than the behavior of the earthly dictator. God’s behavior toward the non-elect, if the Calvinists are right, strikes us as a paradigmatic example of hateful behavior, not loving behavior. Those who share our judgment will agree that this leaves Calvinists saddled with Ockhamism, which alone constitutes a powerful reason to reject Calvinism (74).

So what they are suggesting is that we can, in all good conscience and intellectual integrity, characterize God’s unconditional choice of some for eternal misery and reprobation as loving behavior, and this despite the fact that he could have saved them without in any way violating their freedom…this behavior they attribute to God seems about as paradigmatic of unloving behavior as anything imaginable, as we have argued already (78-79).

Yet that’s the very point at which, by their own grudging admission, Arminianism is comparable to Calvinism. For if there are other possible worlds where someone who freely rejects Jesus in this world freely accepts him in another, then the Arminian God is consigning someone to eternal perdition whom he could just as easily have saved without violating his libertarian freedom.

As they themselves have framed the case against Calvinism, Arminianism falls prey to the very same indictment. No wonder they try to downplay this fatal concession by relegating it to a footnote.

The issue of determinism is beside the point at this juncture, for determinism is only germane to the question of whether God can justly damn the lost. Even if we grant that contention for the sake of argument, that won’t salvage the Arminian position when the issue turns to God’s goodness, especially divine love. By their own lights, the Arminian God is “morally hideous.”

By the way it’s been suggested by some Arminians and Molinists that hell is reserved for those who freely reject Christ in this and all possible worlds, an interesting conjecture that, if true, would entirely dispel doubts about God’s goodness (244n27).

How can that conjecture be reconciled with the authors’ repeated definition of freedom as the freedom to do otherwise? If a man has the freedom to do otherwise, then that means he’s free to either accept Christ or reject Christ. In which case there’s at least one possible world corresponding to each outcome. A possible world in which he freely accepts Christ, as well as another possible world in which he freely rejects Christ. That’s what it means to say he could do otherwise. That alternative is embedded in a different possible world. An unexemplified timeline.

By contrast, to say he rejects Christ in every possible world is to say, by definition, that his rejection of Christ is necessary. So Arminians and Molinists who espouse this conjecture are necessitarians about the fate of the damned. That’s an ironic way to attack predestination! For that’s even more deterministic than predestination! 

In this chapter [4] we will talk about how important it is that God’s goodness is recognizable. For in order for the moral argument to provide 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).

But that’s simplistic:

i) For instance, what seems bad in the short term may appear to be better or positively good in the long term. What seems evil, considered in isolation–indeed, what really is evil, considered in isolation–may contribute to a superior or compensatory good.

From our blinkered human perspective, it can be very hard to discern whether an apparent evil is actually evil or gratuitously evil. It can be very hard to discern whether an actual evil is worse than the alternative, or offset by some counterbalancing good.

ii) Likewise, God’s goodness could be evidently good in many cases, but inscrutable in other cases. It’s not as if God’s goodness must be transparently good from start to finish for God’s goodness to be evident at certain times.

Indeed, the evident instances of God’s goodness give us reason to believe God is good even in situations where we seem to be confronted with inscrutable evil.

iii) And, frankly, faith in God’s goodness is a forced option. It’s not as if we have a viable fallback position. The only alternative to faith in God’s goodness is nihilism, futility, and despair.

In a section entitled “Philosophy as Adjudicator,” the authors say:

We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means that we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored…Here we need to draw an important distinction. Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology (67).

i) But “general revelation” is, itself, a theological category. That’s a value-laden appeal which assumes the existence of a Creator God who designed the world in ways that reflect his existence and nature. So it’s unclear how the authors demarcate the “realm of theological norms,” where Scripture holds the “trump card,” from the scope of philosophy, which they equate with general revelation.

ii) Moreover, you can’t simply label your philosophical positions “general revelation.” If you're going to classify your philosophical positions as falling under the rubric of general revelation, then you need to present a separate connecting argument to demonstrate the general revelatory status of your philosophical positions. You’re not entitled to slap “general revelation” on your philosophical musings, as if that identification is a given.

After all, there are usually competing philosophical positions on any given issue. They can’t all lay claim to general revelation. If one philosophical position is true, then a contrary position is false. So they can’t both be revelatory.

iii) Put another way, just as there are putative cases of special revelation, there are putative cases of general revelation. In both cases, you need some means of validating the claim. Just as not all putative cases of special revelation are the real deal, not all putative case of general revelation are the real deal. So you can’t automatically default to general revelation as your benchmark. Even if you think general revelation adjudicates special revelatory claims, what adjudicates general revelatory claims?

For example, trust in the reliability of scripture in the first place assumes trust in the experiences of those biblical writers whose written words God genuinely inspired. Without the requisite trust in those experiences, we are left without rational conviction in the authority of the Bible. Or take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically. The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think, we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally (68).

i) There’s some truth to this, but there are different ways of cashing that out. Different ways of modeling the relationship between general and special revelation.

The authors seem to be suggesting that the Bible has no internal evidence for its divine inspiration. And this must be attested and adjudicated by general revelation. If that’s what they’re claiming, then that’s a highly disputable claim. They need to bolster their claim with a supporting argument. Conversely, if they admit that Scripture furnishes internal evidence for its divine inspiration, then it’s not clear why they subordinate special revelation to general revelation.

ii) By the same token, the authors appear to be offering a unilinear model of how general and special revelation interpretation, where you take general revelation as your starting point, then reason from general revelation to special revelation. But if that’s their position, then they need to argue for that position.

For, according to another model, there’s a dialectical relationship between general and special revelation, where you can’t properly understand or evaluate either one without reference to the other. To take a crude analogy, if you tear a page of text down the middle, you can make some sense of what each half says, but you have to put the two pieces back together, side by side, to make complete sense of the text. For the sentences break off in mid-sentence.

Or, to take a different illustration, it’s like the relationship between an exotic tool and the operating manual. You can tell the tool was designed to do something. But however much you study the tool, you can’t figure out, just by examining the tool, what it was meant to do.

Conversely, you can read the operating manual, which will explain the function of the tool. But unless you can see the tool, and compare the tool to the description, you lack a mental picture of the tool.

The manual interprets the tool. Without the manual, the tool is inscrutable. Without the tool, the manual is meaningless. 

We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of scripture (68).

But what if reason informs us that Scripture teaches Calvinism? The authors blur the distinction between the interpretive role of reason with the evaluative role of reason. But these are very different.

Before we go any further, I’d like to make a preliminary observation. In this chapter, the authors talk about making a philosophical case against Calvinism. But as we shall see, they talk about philosophical reasoning rather than reasoning philosophically. If you keep an eye on how they actually proceed, the authors fail to argue for their claims. Time and again, they simply declare Calvinism to be false.

To them, it’s obvious that Calvinism is wrong. But that’s not philosophical reasoning. For one thing, even if you think Calvinism is counterintuitive, even if you think Calvinism runs counter to common sense, philosophy often challenges common sense; philosophy frequently questions our facile intuitions.

That’s what real philosophers do. Even if a philosopher is sympathetic to common sense, he doesn’t content himself by merely positing common sense. Rather, he defends common sense by scrutinizing objections to common sense and marshalling positive evidence for common sense.

By contrast, the authors repeatedly take their Arminian standards for granted. So their appeal to philosophical reasoning is a complete charade. What the reader is actually subjected to is an incredibly insular attack on Calvinism that systematically begs all the key questions.

So without further ado, allow us to present our philosophical case…On our count, there are at least five major philosophical problems with Calvinistic compatibilism. First, there is the “obligation objection.” To put it simply, moral duties make little sense given compatibilism. Duties tell us what we ought to do and ought implies can. But if we are fully determined to will and to act as we do by causes outside our control, it is doubtful that there is any meaningful sense in which we can do otherwise (69).

They say that’s a philosophical problem, but they fail to demonstrate, by philosophical reasoning, why that’s supposed to be a problem. Where’s the supporting argument? Branding something a problem, much less a “philosophical” problem, doesn’t make it a problem.

Why does a duty assume the freedom to do otherwise? For instance, the authors’ paradigm-case of evil, which they reiterate throughout the book, is torturing children for fun.

Does that mean that unless I’m able to torture children for fun, I have no duty not to torture little children for fun? Does that mean that unless I have a capacity to find that enjoyable, I have no duty to refrain from torturing kids?

But it seems that the biblical promise in 1 Cor 10:13–that with any temptation a Christian will encounter, a way of escape is also provided–does seem to pose a problem for Calvinists. For nobody is able to do otherwise on their view (at least among the consistent Calvinists)…It seems inconsistent to hold both that God determines all things including the sins of Christians, while also always providing a way to resist temptation, and thereby making it possible to resist any given sin (69; cf. 72-73).

i) I thought the authors told us that they were presenting a philosophical case against Calvinism rather than an exegetical case against Calvinism. So why do they suddenly try to prooftext their position from Scripture?

ii) They assume that 1 Cor 10:13 has reference to sinful temptation in general, whereas, in context, the passage has reference to grave sins like idolatry. Contrary to their Arminian interpretation, 1 Cor 10:13 is a promise that God will preserve his people from apostasy.

iii) They oversimplify the Calvinist position. In Calvinism, there’s a sense in which men enjoy the freedom to do otherwise. You can do otherwise if God predestines you to do otherwise. In the actual world, God predestines you to do one thing, but there’s a possible world in which God predestined you to do something else. There are hypothetical decrees in addition to the actual decree. Cf. Reformed Thought: Selected Writings of William Young (Reformation Heritage Books 2011), chap. 24.

God makes our world by actualizing one of his divinely-imagined worlds. There are other divinely-imagined worlds in which agents do something else. By decreeing this world, God isn’t making us do something other than what we were going to do, if he hadn’t been predestined us to do it–for there’s no one thing we were going to do, absent predestination. Rather, we can do as many things as God can imagine us doing. In making this world, God selects one of those divinely-imagined narratives to realize in time and space.

iv) In fact, Calvinism is theoretically consistent with something like a multiverse. For all we know, God has created a world ensemble where different timelines actually play out. There’s nothing in Calvinism that precludes that scenario. In each parallel universe, God predestines every event. Cf. D. Page, “The Superb Design,” D. Marshall, ed. Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays in Memory of Paul Brand and Ralph Winter (William Carey Library 2012), chap. 15.

Compare these two claims:

Christians who sin make no sense on Calvinist principles, for they can’t do otherwise, yet they are said to have a “way of escape” from every temptation. But a way of escape that can’t possibly be used is no real way of escape in this context (72-73).

Some sins might be culpable despite inability to do otherwise by the agent if they are the result of adequately free prior bad choices that resulted in a loss of freedom, such as a free rejection of salvation in Christ or an obstinate refusal to repent: choices which shape character in such a way that impedes freedom or even, finally, removes freedom altogether. An analogy is a drunkard who makes bad choices that in his stupor he couldn’t avoid, but his culpability resides in his freely having chosen that path of drunkenness in the first place (242-242n10).

But the second paragraph relativizes the first paragraph. The authors can’t cite 1 Cor 10:13 to prooftext for the freedom to do otherwise in every situation, if–in a footnote–they scale by the universality of their initial claim with significant restrictions.

Not only do they [Calvinists] believe that sinners should be held accountable in this life, they also hold that people can be justly consigned to eternal perdition for living exactly as God determined them to live. This is so void of moral sense that it is irrational to believe. So this constitutes a second criticism of Calvinism: the culpability objection (71).

How does asserting that the Calvinist position is “so void of moral sense that it is irrational to believe” constitute a “philosophical” argument against Calvinism? That doesn’t bear any semblance to an argument. Rather, that simply expresses the Arminian viewpoint.

Let’s take some comparisons. Suppose I’m the police chief in a city overrun by drug cartels. The drug lords have the police force outgunned. They bribe judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and policemen. Those they can’t bribe, they assassinate. They terrorize the populace.

I lack the resources to defeat them directly. Instead, I turn them on each other. I make it look like one drug lord ordered a hit on another drug lord. I make it look like their trusted lieutenants have betrayed them. As a result, the drug cartels proceed to wage war on one another. To purge their subordinates. They decimate each other.

Everything is going according to plan. They do to themselves exactly what I intended. It was a set-up. They don’t know any better.

Is that so void of moral sense that it’s irrational to believe? Not by my lights.

Let’s take another illustration. Arminians routinely say Calvinism reduces men to robots. I think that analogy is demagogical, but let’s play along with the analogy for the sake of argument. If that’s the worst thing Arminians can say about Calvinism, and it’s true, and we can still make sense of it, then we’ve defanged Arminianism.

Let’s suppose that if predestination is true, then men are equivalent to artificially intelligent robots. We do whatever we’ve been programmed to do. We can’t break our programming.

Suppose I design a sociopathic robot, like Lore or the Terminators. It kills without compunction.

Suppose, after a killing spree, I destroy my robot. Is that unjust?

Even though my robot lacks the freedom to do otherwise, it’s still a bad robot. A robot that perpetrates evil.

Now, an Arminian might say the robot isn’t culpable or evil, for it lacks the requisite freedom to be a morally responsible agent. And suppose we grant that contention for the sake of argument.

If the robot is amoral, then I’m not wronging the robot by destroying it after it did exactly what I designed it to do. It’s not blameworthy. But by the same token, it doesn’t deserve to be treated any differently. It has no rights or responsibilities. It’s just a clever machine.

I destroy my robot the same way I’d shoot a mad dog or a cougar that threatened my five-year-old. I’m not blaming the dog for having rabies. But that’s irrelevant. The dog is vicious, dangerous. And since the dog (or cougar) is not a moral agent, innocence and guilt don’t apply. It’s not deserving or undeserving of whatever fate I mete out to it.

A third troubling implication of Calvinist compatibilism is that, on this view, God could have saved everyone without violating anyone’s free will. Since Calvinists are not universalists, this means that the non-elect go to hell due to God’s sovereign choice alone when they could just as easily have been reconciled to God and experienced an eternity of joy rather than an eternity of pain and sadness. If this is true, there is no intelligible sense in which God loves those who are lost, nor is there any recognizable sense in which he is good to them. This is the “bad god objection” (71).

Once again, the authors offer their personal value-judgment without giving the reader any reason to share their disapproval. It isn’t even incumbent on a Calvinist to respond, for there’s no argument on the table to refute. That’s not philosophical. That’s anti-intellectual. They assume what they need to prove.

But let’s comment on this:

i) Suppose there’s no sense in which God loves the reprobate. So what? Why does the goodness of God require God to love the wicked? Wouldn’t we expect a good God to hate evildoers?

Now, you might say that according to Scripture, God loves sinners. But that’s not a philosophical truism.

ii) It’s also fallacious to infer that you can’t punish someone unless you hate them. Do we really need to point that out?

iii) In principle, there are degrees of love. It’s possible to love some people more and others less. Does that make you a bad person? If so, where’s the argument?

iv) Is it the authors’ position that divine love is necessitated? Does God lack the libertarian freedom to withhold love?

v) How do the authors go from “God isn’t good to someone” to “God isn’t good” (or bad)? If I punish a child molester, that’s not necessary good for the child molester. That may be positively harmful for the child molester. I don’t intend it to benefit the child molester.

If you’re ill-deserving, then getting your just deserts is bad for you. Does that mean I’m not good if I mete out retributive punishment? 

Doesn’t this objection actually subvert morality? Isn’t it a good thing when the wicked receive their comeuppance? Isn’t that what we’d expect a just God to do? Would it not call God’s goodness into question if he declined to punish evildoers?

The fourth problem with Calvinistic compatibilism is that love relationships, by their nature and logic, are two-way relationships. God’s irresistible grace, if it necessarily culminates in reconciliation and fellowship with God, seems like a divine love potion that, once administered, creates eternal infatuation in the beloved, but not genuine love. So we call this the “love objection.” The logic of love requires a more substantial element of volition than what a Calvinistic compatibilist can allow (71).

As William Hasker writes, “All sorts of experiences and relationships acquire a special value because they involve love, trust, and affection that are freely bestowed. The love potions that appear in many fairy stories (and in the Harry Potter series) can become a trap; the one who has used the potion finds that he wants to be loved for his own sake and not because of the position, yet fears the loss of the beloved’s affection if the potion is no longer used” (242n14).

i) Seems to me that we should love God because God is intrinsically lovable. The “logic of love” ought to love whatever is properly lovable. What’s worthy of our affection and devotion. 

ii) Love potions don’t only exist in fairy tales. They exist in real life, too. We call them hormones and pheromones. If we bother to think about it, we know that our reaction is chemically conditioned. And we take delight in giving into our chemical conditioning.

Surely love is often far more spontaneous and involuntary than Hasker, Baggett, and Walls let on. Take the boy in junior high who swoons inwardly in the presence of that girl he has a crush on. He can’t help himself. She just has that effect on him whenever he’s around her.  Indeed, that gives her a certain power over him.

That’s romantic love, and I’m discussing that example because that’s the example the authors use, but this is true, in different ways, for other types of love. There are people for whom we feel a natural rapport, people for whom we feel no connection, and people we find repellent. It’s sometimes possible to override our feelings, to cultivate different feelings. But it defies reality to imagine that we can simply will ourselves into loving someone. Indeed, this is an area in which humans have notoriously little control over their feelings.

Fifth, Calvinistic compatibilists often emphasize that morally responsible actions must reflect one’s character, or they aren’t culpable reflections of who one is. Actions that don’t reflect one’s character seem objectionably random and uncaused. In reply, though, we might suggest that the Calvinists are inverting the process, putting a formed character at the start of the process rather than closer to the end where it more naturally belongs. Culpable moral development as virtue ethicists construe it–with thoughts leading to actions and then to character–is simply inconsistent with the Calvinist teaching that our actions are determined by an already existing character with which we are unavoidably saddled. This is the “virtue objection” (71-72).

i) This objection isn’t really an objection to predestination. On the one hand, actions could be determined by character without being predestined. On the other hand, actions could be predestined without being determined by character.

ii) The objection is simplistic, for the process is dialectical. Even young children aren’t blank slates. They have inborn character traits and predispositions. Thoughts don’t issue from a vacuum. Character shapes action while action reshapes character. The character you begin with may not be the character you end with. The process feeds back on itself. And this is perfectly consistent with predestination.

The second major objection to Calvinism is a recurring pattern of euphemism we find among Calvinist writers…they typically try to evade the force of the problem by characterizing it as a mystery, paradox, antinomy, or “biblical tension” (72).

i) One problem with this indictment is that the authors fail to name their sources. What Calvinists are they talking about? Pastors? Systematic theologians? Church historians? Bible scholars? Philosophers?

Since they claim to be mounting a philosophical critique of Calvinism, they should focus on Reformed philosophers. Are philosophers like Paul Helm, William Young, William Davis, Greg Welty, and James Anderson guilty of resorting to “euphemisms”?

ii) In addition, the authors invoke “mystery” when it serves their purpose. For instance, “These passages are difficult, and no matter what we might say about them, we don’t dispel the mystery of them” (136).

Likewise, many libertarians toil over the issue of how God can foreknow the indeterminate choices and actions of his creatures.

iii) In addition, there’s nothing inherently “evasive” about invoking mystery. There’s eminent precedent for that among inspired Bible writers.

Another example is that Calvinists often stress that God extends to the nonelect a genuine offer of salvation, and that they freely accept it. Again, this seems evasive and euphemistic On Calvinist principles it’s only the elect who can actually receive salvation, so no offer of salvation to the nonelect is a genuine offer, because an offer is not genuine if there’s no possibility that it can be accepted, and the person offering it knows there’s no possibility that it can be accepted. For Calvinists to describe such an empty offer as a genuine one is worse than euphemistic. It is deeply misleading, particularly to the uninitiated, who will typically assume that the offer really could be accepted (72).

i) Notice the utter absence of a philosophical argument for this claim. The authors simply define a “genuine” offer by reference to their Arminian assumptions. Calvinism is wrong by definition–their stipulative definition. They’re just talking to themselves. Writing for readers who already agree with them. There’s no attempt at rational persuasion.

ii) And suppose the “uninitiated” are confused? So what? Philosophy routinely draws fine distinctions and retails in specialized definitions that are lost on the uninitiated. That’s part of the educational process. 

In the same vein, when Calvinists are pressed on the issue of God’s love for the nonelect…they often say [that’s] consistent with his holiness and his justice, and with the fact that his love for the elect is a special and deeper love…Giving them what they (indeed, all of us) deserve–hell–doesn’t show lack of love. He’s not failing to discharge any duty toward them, and their damnation will serve the purpose of accenting God’s glory and the greatness of his grace towards the elect. Calling this “love” is surely a capital case of euphemism” (72).

See the consistent pattern?  The authors open their chapter with a pretentious section in which they say they will present a philosophical case against Calvinism. In the ensuing pages, they do nothing of the kind. They chronically beg the question and pander to the prejudice of Arminian readers.

Notice, once more, that the authors never give us a single reason to share their disapproval. We’re treated to a string of tendentious assertions.

When two Arminian philosophers consistently fail to argue for their position, this fosters the impression that they don’t argue for it because they can’t argue for it. They have nothing in reserve. There’s nothing to back up their repeated assertions. Nothing more than sheer opinion. 

For instance, why is the distinction between lesser love for the reprobate and greater love for the elect a “capital case of euphemism”? I happen to be a Calvinist who doesn’t think God loves the reprobate. But even if I were, I see nothing obviously (or subtly) false about that distinction.

…Calvinists assign such priority to God’s will that they are voluntarists of the radical variety. Indeed, we would suggest that their view amounts to Ockhamism, the idea that whatever God says goes when it comes ot morality, no matter what…If God’s will is the sole source of morality, and there is no rationally identifiable constraints, then we are never in a position to say of a particular command that God could never, by his nature, issue it. Indeed, the Calvinists think that it’s not just possible that God could do something like commanding the torture of children for fun… (73).

i) Here the authors descend to shameless demagoguery. What Calvinists think it’s possible for God to command the torture of children for fun? Do they quote any? No. Yet they use that as a premise for the next allegation.

It tells you something about the warped mindset of some Arminians that they resort to these scurrilous accusations without any trace of impropriety.

ii) And since they keep returning this hypothetical in the course of their book, let’s discuss it in relation to Arminian theism. For this illustration isn’t purely hypothetical. In the real world, real children are sometimes tortured for fun. This happens in God’s world. This happens on God’s watch.

No, the Arminian God didn’t command it, but he doesn’t stop it, either. What’s the vast moral difference between commanding a sadist to torture children for fun and letting a sadist torture children for fun?

If you were in the same room as a sadist, if you were watching him torture children for fun, would we view you as a good and loving guy? Or would we consider you a vile voyeur, on par with the actual perpetrator?

…in fact, he has chosen to do something no less morally inexplicable. He has chosen that countless persons will be consigned to an eternity of utter misery as punishment for the very choices he determined them to make. This constitutes so gross a violation of our considered moral reflections that it seems rather obvious that Calvinism is in fact predicated on Ockhamism (73).

i) That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. The authors haven’t given us the slightest reason to think reprobation is morally equivalent to torturing children for fun. They pile up one baseless assertion after another. On page after page the reader is treated to this harlequinade. The affectation of philosophical analysis absent philosophical analysis.

ii) Moreover, this comparison reveals their own stunted morality. How is punishing the wicked analogous to torturing children for fun? Presumably the whole point of citing children is that children are emblematic of innocence. So the attempted parallel breaks down at the critical point of comparison.

iii) Even if I had the freedom to do otherwise, that’s a freedom I never exercise. Even on libertarian grounds, I can only make one decision at a time. As such, I will only make one decision at a time. So why is it morally necessary for me to have superfluity of choices I will never make?

Now Calvinists might try to evade this charge by insisting that they deny universal possibilism and in fact affirm that there are at least some things morally ruled out (73).

i) To begin with, it’s not “evasive” to deny a false accusation. To my knowledge, Ockhamism or voluntarism is a fairly well-defined position. Either Calvinism fits the definition or not. The authors have no right to redefine Ockhamism or voluntarism in ad hoc fashion to smear Calvinism.

ii) To my knowledge, universal possibilism is a thesis about logic, not morality. According to universal possibilism, a la Descartes, the laws of logic are an expression of God’s will rather than God’s immutable nature. What does that have to do with morality of reprobation?

Even if a Calvinist makes this move, however, he’s still implicated in an epistemic Ockhamism. For if our noetic faculties are too skewed to trust our own moral judgments about the injustice and moral hideousness of unconditional perdition, how could we trust them on any other matter? Indeed, what could be more clearly wrong than that? (74).

i) Of course, that’s a loaded question. For the authors still haven’t given us any explanation to warrant their contention that reprobation is “morally hideous” or “morally obnoxious.”

ii) Moreover, reprobation isn’t equivalent to “unconditional perdition.” The fact that election is unconditional doesn’t make reprobation unconditional. There are no innocents in hell. Only sinners go to hell. They are punished for their iniquity. That’s a necessary (albeit insufficient) condition of their perdition. 

On pp74-75, the authors attribute to Calvin a position that, so far as I know, is a caricature of Calvin’s actual position. Paul Helm devotes a whole chapter to expounding Calvin’s position on this issue. Cf. John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004), chap. 11. There’s no trace of Helm’s painstaking exposition in the authors discussion. Are they willfully ignorant?

Keep in mind, too, that Calvin is not the last word on Calvinism. He was a theological pioneer, responding to 16C opponents.

Calvinism takes the position that, given the kind of God he is, whatever God wills is right. That doesn’t isolate God’s will as a sheer will. For God’s will is characterized by God’s other attributes.

Assume counterfactually for a moment that the Bible told us to do some hideous thing like yank out the claws of cats for our amusement. We would be well within our epistemic and moral rights to assume, if the Bible really taught such a thing, that it wouldn’t be a book to believe (76).

i) We can toy with hypothetical examples of Scripture commanding or forbidding things it doesn’t command or forbid, and thereby generate hypothetical dilemmas for the Christian. But that’s a diversionary tactic. God hasn’t put us in that position.

ii) In addition, I’d draw a different conclusion from the authors’ hypothetical dilemma. If Scripture can’t be trusted, that doesn’t mean I’d trust my own moral intuitions instead. Rather, that would mean I’m at a loss to tell right from wrong.

…what fundamentally violates our reason or nonnegotiable moral intuitions, in contrast, is beyond the pale and so irrational to believe (77).

A basic problem with appealing to “nonnegotiable moral intuitions” is that, in chap. 7, the authors go toe-to-toe with other philosophers (Rauser, Morriston, Adams) who have their own set of nonnegotiable moral intuitions” at odds with theirs.

…It is not just hard to reconcile unconditional reprobation with a morally perfect God, but simply impossible. Whatever the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty…surely we are rational, if we are capable of loving God with all of our minds, to insist that it does not entail a tenet so terrible as this (77).

So the authors retreat into this preemptive blocking maneuver. We are told, ahead of time, that Scripture is not allowed to teach reprobation.

What does that amount to in practice? Does this mean that even if the Bible seems to teach reprobation, even if that seems to be the only plausible interpretation, we must assign an Arminian interpretation to the offending passages? That despite what we actually find in the text, we must ascribe an Arminian gloss to the text in defiance of the text? Even though that interpretation has no grounding in the text, even though that interpretation cuts against the grain of the text, we must impute that to the text?

That tactic discredits itself. That’s the last-ditch resort of desperate Arminian apologists. Special pleading doesn’t get any more blatant than that.  It’s ironic that the authors accuse Calvinists of evasiveness, when they keep this card in their back pocket.

If the Bible did indeed teach such a doctrine, wouldn’t it be more rational to believe that it’s not morally reliable? (78).

Granting the authors’ premise, that would be more honest than heavy-handedly reinterpreting the Bible.

Fundamental to our conviction that scripture is reliable is the trust that God, as perfectly good, would not deceive us. If God is not recognizably good, however, we are not warranted in this trust. And again, if unconditional election is true, God is not recognizably good, and the problem of evil is intractable. So Calvinism has devastating consequences for our very ability rationally to trust the teaching of scripture as a reliable revelation. Once more, we have seen that Calvinism leaves us with insuperable philosophical difficulties, both ethical and epistemological (78).

To the contrary, we can’t see what the authors never show. Positing insuperable ethical difficulties doesn’t begin to demonstrate insuperable philosophical difficulties. All the authors actually do is to describe their sense of moral repugnance at Calvinism. All along, they take their Arminian perspective for granted rather than mounting an argument to justify their Arminian perspective.

So the entire exercise is viciously circular. This chapter is by, to, and for fellow Arminians. There’s no effort to rationally convince a reader who isn’t on board when the ship leaves dry dock. Adjectives do all the heavy lifting.

In the face of this reality, commitment to the truth of biblical revelation gives us powerful reason to reject Calvinist theology (78).

Of course that’s deceptive. They make that “commitment” with fingers crossed behind their backs. They are only committed to the truth of biblical revelation as long as it doesn’t commit them to unwelcome truths. In reality, it’s clearly noncommittal. Hedged about with escape clauses.

Calvinists should bear in mind that their interpretation of the Bible is just that: an interpretation (78).

That’s condescending. Naturally it’s “just an interpretation.” So is the Arminian interpretation. But they’re not so modest about their own interpretation.

It should give Calvinists serious pause that the majority of Christians throughout the world and down the ages do not interpret scripture as teaching unconditional election… (78).

i) Actually, when two Arminian philosophers resort to such extreme measures to shield themselves from the possibility that the Reformed interpretation is right, this confirms my confidence in the Reformed interpretation. Why do they feel that threatened by the Reformed interpretation if it’s clearly false?

Likewise, when they spend all their time emoting rather than reasoning, that, too, confirms my confidence in the Reformed interpretation.

ii) Their appeal to what the majority of Christians believe overlooks demographic factors. Christians in Roman Catholic regions are apt to be Roman Catholic. Christians in Eastern Orthodox regions are apt to be Eastern Orthodox. Christians in Oriental Orthodox regionsare apt to be Oriental Orthodox. Christians in Lutheran regions are apt to be Lutheran. Christians in Baptist regions are apt to be Baptist. Christians residing in the Anglican Communion are apt to be…well, you get the point.

iii) They also ignore Thomism and Augustianism, both of which are major predestinarian traditions in Western theology, antedating Calvinism.

Moreover, the fact that there are viable interpretive options from which to choose that violate no sound principles of exegesis… (78).

i) So Arminians think Arminian alternatives are viable options. This is yet another viciously circular appeal. The authors have locked themselves into a funhouse with Arminian mirrors everywhere they turn.

ii) Moreover, what standard principles of exegesis does Calvinism violate?

…whereas their interpretation flies so violently in the face of some of our clearest and deepest moral intuitions… (78).

Whose moral intuitions? The Arminian’s? They keep chasing their own tail. Is this the best two philosophy profs. can do?

Calvinists are entitled to their own moral sense, but this behavior they attribute to God seems about as a paradigmatic of unloving behavior as anything imaginable, as we have argued already (70).

Except that arguing is the one thing they haven’t begun to do. I keep waiting to hear an actual argument. They’ve had no dearth of opportunities. Yet no arguments were forthcoming.

Philosophy will have played a key role in adjudicating this debate and declared Calvinism (in a key aspect of its soteriology) dead in the water (79).

That’s an impressive promissory note, but the authors have yet to redeem their pledge. Sprinkling their chapter with the word “philosophy” doesn’t make it philosophical. We’ve been inundated with sophistry rather than philosophy. 

It’s all part of our God-given nature and his general revelation to us, by which we can determine in the first place that the Bible is God’s special revelation to us and by which we can best interpret it in a way that accords with God’s morally perfect and recognizably good nature (80).

If general revelation is your yardstick, the world is full of savagery. To judge by his administration of the world, I don’t see how the God of Calvinism is any harsher than the God of general revelation.

But the notion that God has given us an illusory sense of freedom… (242n13).

What are the authors appealing to? I can imagine alternate possibilities. But then, I can imagine many unrealistic scenarios. The ability to contemplate alternate courses of action doesn’t entail their accessibility.

When I come to a fork in the road, I have no experience going both left and right. So I have no concrete evidence that I could do otherwise.

Moreover, as even an aggressively libertarian philosophy like William Hasker admits:

The experience of choosing–of seeking alternatives, weighing their desirability and finally making up one’s mind–is not any different whether one is a libertarian or a determinist. For while determinists believe that there are sufficient conditions which will govern their choices, they do not know at the time when they are making a decision what those determinates are or how they will decide as a result of them. So, like everyone else, they simply have to make up their own minds! The difference between libertarian and determinist likes in the interpretation of the experience of choice, and not in the experience itself.

William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (IVP 1983), 37.

Calvinists often like to characterize libertarian freedom as incoherent, yet if God had reasons to create the world as he did, reasons that he chose to act on without having to do so, then that’s a paradigmatic example of libertarian freedom (241n8).

The writers fail to explicate the sense in which Calvinists say libertarian freedom is “incoherent.” Assuming that the authors are alluding to infinite regress arguments, that’s inapplicable to God. If God is timeless, if God is a se, then God’s choices aren’t caused by prior states. But that’s hardly comparable to the situation of creatures, which is what generates the regress objection.

Unless Satan or mankind’s original sin could have been avoided, moreover, their sins seem ultimately attributable to God, making him the author of sin; so to preserve the holiness of God, again we have good reason to affirm the coherence of libertarian freedom (241n8).

i) The writers fail to define “author of sin.”

ii) The fall of Lucifer and the fall of man wouldn’t and couldn’t happen unless God made a world with that world history. Unless God made a world where that can happen and does happen. That’s the theater in which it all takes place. So even on Arminian grounds, God is a collaborator in the sinner’s sin.

iii) Furthermore, complicity in evil doesn’t require a positive contribution. If you allow what you could prevent, that implicates you in the outcome. Your nonintervention ensures the outcome.

iv) Of course there’s a sense in which sin is ultimately attributable to God. That’s unavoidable, whether you’re a Calvinist, Molinist, Thomist, Arminian, or open theist. It’s ultimately attributable in different ways, but on each theological model, it’s ultimately attributable to divine action.

v) And even if that were somehow unique to Calvinism, to say that disproves Calvinism simply begs the question.

vi) To say we must affirm the coherence of libertarian freedom to preserve God’s holiness is a non sequitur. Whether or not libertarian freedom is coherent is internal to libertarian freedom. You can’t make libertarian freedom coherent by extraneous appeals to God’s holiness. Libertarian freedom has its own logical structure, its own inner dynamics.

An Arminian analysis of the relevant biblical texts has the further advantage of avoiding the individualist interpretation of election and predestination that, though a good fit with the contemporary assignment of primacy to individualism, stands in tension with the much more communal mentality of first-century Jews (244-245n29).

That objection is duplicitous given the authors' axiomatic commitment to libertarian freedom, which is inherently individualistic.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to comment on this.."…what fundamentally violates our reason or nonnegotiable moral intuitions, in contrast, is beyond the pale and so irrational to believe."

    Why? where did these "moral intuitions' come from? Thin air? If God commanded us to "torture cats' wouldn't he have shaped our "moral intuitions" to fit his command? Are our "moral intuitions" something outside of God Himself. This claim is just childish.