Monday, December 10, 2012

Two go in, one comes out: John Calvin and Grizzly Adams in the Octogon

David Baggett, philosophy prof. at Liberty U, who coauthored Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, with Jerry Walls, contacted me last month, via Alan Kurschner. Indeed, he and a student (whom he quotes) had me confused with Alan, which is very flattering for me, but a terrible comedown for Alan.

In the email, Dr. Baggett and his student made some critical comments about my recent review of the book. Dr. Baggett has indicated that he may or may not get around to a follow-up reply to our exchange, and that, if he does, that could be a while. Given the imponderables of further replies, if any, I’m going to post our exchange thus far.

BTW, to judge by the photo on his faculty webpage, Dr. Baggett is a dead ringer for Dan Haggerty, who starred in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

Hi Dave,

Alan was kind enough to forward your email to me. I’m the one, not Alan, who penned the critical review of your book.

Thanks for taking the time to do so, though I might have preferred if you’d spent time doing more than merely defending Calvinism.

What more do you think I should have done?

Just a few thoughts in case you’re interested, as a fellow Christian. First, your suggestion that this chapter is likely the best the Arminians have to offer isn’t really on target in my estimation. It’s true that my co-author Jerry Walls is one of the world’s premier Arminian philosophers, but this book was co-written with me, and it’s not the best reflection of what Jerry has to say. His book on Calvinism is likely better…

If you’re alluding to Why I Am Not a Calvinist, which he coauthored with Dongell, I wrote a lengthy review of that years ago. Walls and I also had an email exchange over that review. I also reviewed his criticisms of Calvinism in Hell: The Logic of Damnation. So I’ve covered that ground.

…and his recent piece in Philosophia Christi is probably a stronger account.

And I wrote a follow-up review of that article as well:

So I’ve covered my bases.

 We were aiming at something more specific in our chapter in Good God: to argue that rational belief in God’s goodness, nonOckhamistically construed, requires that God’s goodness be sufficiently recognizable. We argued that Calvinists face a big challenge along these lines.

Here’s a paragraph, for example, from Jer’s recent piece in Phil Christi:

Perhaps the best we can do in the face of such a dispute is to continue to be as clear as we can in articulating these intuitions and teasing out their implications. Perhaps as we do so, one of them will come to be seen by both sides as more plausible than the other. As already indicated, I think it is a telltale sign that theological compatibilists often engage in misleading rhetoric, which suggests that when their position is perspicuously displayed, even they hesitate to own it. So I call their bluff with a test. If I am wrong, let them openly and without equivocation declare that it is the need to manifest God’s very justice that requires, or at least makes it fitting, that he determine some, perhaps many, to resist him forever, and then punish them with eternal misery, persons he could otherwise determine to freely accept his grace and joyfully worship him forever. Let them forthrightly say God is more glorified and his character more fully manifested in determining those persons to hate both him and each other than he would be in determining those same persons to gratefully adore him and love their neighbor as themselves. Let them insistently refuse to obscure matters with misleading rhetoric that implies that God loves the nonelect in a way that he does not on their view, as well as language that suggests their sinful choice to reject him is anything less than fully determined by God in order to display what they call justice.

To ensure a bit more objectivity, I asked a former student to take a look at your comments and offer his analysis. I share them below in case you’re interested in taking a look. I doubt it will change your mind, but I figured you took the time to respond, so I’d do the same…Here are the comments from the former student:

I just finished reading Alan's criticisms of your book and there's certainly a lot that could be said in response. He makes several good points, and several others that seem misguided and mostly rhetorical in nature. Two salient points of contention:

(1) He passes too quickly over 1 Corinthians 10:13 and your subsequent points on the text. His rebuttal is rushed and has the air of evasion. I think he should be pressed on this issue.

Several issues:

i) It’s true that my remarks were fairly telegraphic. Keep in mind, though, that I was responding to you and Jerry on your own level. It’s not as if you two offered a detailed exposition of your prooftext. You touch on that passage in the second half of one paragraph (p69). And you repeat the same objection on the bottom of p72 and the top of 73.

It’s not incumbent on me to spend more time on the passage than you do. You don’t bother to exegete the passage. You simply took for granted that you understood what it means, and proceeded to draw a logical inference. Since your own appropriation of the text is quite cursory, I think that justifies a cursory reply on my part.

ii) Another reason I didn’t say more is that I have a choice between saying a little and saying too much. I’ve exegeted the passage in my MAR thesis for RTS (available online). And I’ve had extensive debates with Arminian bloggers on this passage. I’ve probably written hundreds of pages on this one verse.

For me to devote a lot of attention to this particular verse in my review would be disproportionate to the review, which must cover many additional points raised in your chapter.

Does he believe Christians are free from the bondage on sin in this life as affirmed by the Westminster confession and countless theologians and commentators? Freedom from sin in Christ is a clear New Testament teaching and I would press him to hear his - no doubt interesting - reinterpretation :)

I’m not clear on where your student is going with this question:

i) The Westminster Confession has a doctrine of progressive sanctification. It rejects the possibility of sinlessness in this life.

ii) We could get into an exegetical discussion of what Paul means by the “bondage of sin.” For now I’d just say that freedom from “bondage” is not equivalent to the ability to lead a sinless life.

iii) Calvinism teaches different kinds of inability. In Calvinism, original sin results in spiritual inability or “total depravity.” That type of inability is counteracted by regeneration.

However, predestination introduces a more global type of inability in the sense that no human being (regenerate or unregenerate) can act contrary to how God has predestined him to act.

iv) Let’s not forget that classical Arminian theology has tensions in relation to 1 Cor 10:13. If you continue to affirm God’s knowledge of the future, then you’re up against the traditional conundrum of how to reconcile God’s knowledge of the future with the indeterminate future choices of men. And that, in turn, complicates your appeal to 1 Cor 10:13. How can a Christian have an open-ended choice between resisting temptation or succumbing temptation if God foreknows the outcome? If it could go either way, how is the outcome a prior object of divine knowledge?

There are, of course, familiar strategies to relieve this tension, but they are subject to ongoing dispute. And it’s not just Calvinists who think that’s a problem. Linda Zagzebski, Dean Zimmerman, Derk Pereboom, William Hasker, Richard Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, and John Martin Fischer (to name a few illustrious examples) think that’s a problem.

And if you go the middle knowledge route, that collides with the familiar grounding objection.

Now, it’s possible that you and Jerry reject God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. Mind you, I wouldn’t expect a Liberty U prof. to favor open theism–since I believe Liberty U is an SBC-affiliated institution, and the revised Baptist Faith & Message (2000) repudiates open theism. Jerry would be freer (pardon the pun) to take that position.

v) Moreover, although Arminians may say that Christians have sufficient grace to resist temptation, isn’t that equivocal? Don’t people succumb to temptation because, at that moment, they found the temptation overpowering? If a Christian gives in to temptation, he didn’t have the willpower to resist, did he? The temptation was stronger than the desire to resist.

vi) I also don’t see how your appeal to 1 Cor 10:13 is consistent with Arminian providence. Isn’t your understanding of 1 Cor 10:13 that God won’t put Christians (or allow Christians to be put) in situations where the temptation to commit sin would be overwhelming? If so, what makes you think the Arminian God has that much control over the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Given libertarian freedom, don’t we largely create our own circumstances? Largely create our own future through the choices we make? And not just individually, but socially. On your view, isn’t the future a social matrix generated by the collective, interconnected, interactive choices of all coexisting human agents?

So how can the Arminian God protect Christians from compromising situations? He doesn’t create our moral environment. Rather, he must respect the moral environment which libertarian agents collectively generate.

And if either or both of you opt for the open theist route, God would have even less influence over the choice of circumstances in which we find ourselves.

vii) Furthermore, it’s makeshift for you and Jerry to say “by God’s regenerating grace in their lives they [Christians] can indeed avoid all sin, although this doesn’t actually happen in anyone until the culmination of the process of salvation" (69).

Honestly, now, how plausible is it to claim that every Christian can lead a sinless life although not a single Christian in fact refrains from sin?

(2) He seems to think that your point: that Calvinism is morally reprehensible, because it posits a god that damns people he could have saved without overriding their free will, applies equally to Arminianism. He supports this misconception by saying that if (the Arminian) God instantiates a world in which someone (Bill) freely rejects him, he is equally as reprehensible as the Calvinist god (on your moral schema) because he could have saved that person without overriding their free will by instantiating one of the other worlds in which Bill believed freely. Thus, both the Arminian and the Calvinist god were able to create a world in which Bill believed, and yet they both refrained. I think the idea that your argument applies equally to the Arminian framework is a misconception for the following reason: Alan seems oblivious to the fact that the Calvinist god had absolutely no external restrictions on the world he created. Thus, the only possible set of reasons for creating the world he did create came from within God himself. Bill is damned because God wanted Bill to be damned.

That’s simplistic. There are logical constraints on what the Calvinist God can do. Even in Reformed metaphysics, different possible worlds may reflect various tradeoffs. It depends on his objectives.

If God’s goal is to save everyone, then the Calvinist God can save everyone.

If, however, his goal is to manifest the gratuity of grace by saving some while damning others, then he can’t save everyone consistent with his goal. He could have alternative goals, but given that particular goal, universal salvation is not in the cards.

In contrast, the Arminian God created a world from the feasible pool available to him (given free creatures). Therefore, although the Arminian God may have been able to choose one of Bill's better soteriological worlds, so to speak, he may have also had to choose - in tandem - one of Joni's worst. In any case, there are restrictions on (the Arminian) God that must be acknowledged. Moreover, Bill's free choice is the reason the feasible world in which Bill does not believe exists in the first place!

Several problems:

i) Your student invokes the familiar distinction between feasible worlds and merely possible worlds. However, you didn’t employ that distinction in the book, or Jerry’s article. Indeed, as I pointed out in my review of Jerry’s article, he mentions “a fascinating argument that God could create a nondeterministic world without evil.”

ii) As I recall, the possible/feasible world distinction was introduced by Plantinga to deflect the logical argument from evil. But whether Plantinga’s response to the logical argument from evil is successful is disputed. Cf. G. Oppy, Arguing About Gods, §6.2.

iii) Even assuming (ex hypothesi) that this distinction is adequate to deflect the logical argument from evil, you’ve set the bar higher in your book. A central premise or presupposition of the moral argument, as you formulate it, is the recognizability of God’s goodness. So that goes above and beyond deflecting the logical argument from evil. That takes us into the territory of the evidential argument from evil.

In order to establish the recognizability of God’s goodness (in the face of horrendous or gratuitous evil), it’s not sufficient for you to float infeasible possible worlds as a bare conjecture. Rather, you need to demonstrate the plausibility of that metaphysical postulate.

 So, instead of the question we run into with Calvinism: why would a god with no external constraints create a world in which evil exists and in which predetermined creatures sin and are punished harshly for their sin forever?...

Supralapsarians already think they have an answer to that question.

 ...the Arminian question that arises is, why did God choose this world from all the feasible worlds of free action?  Seems like the second question is far less intractable than the first. One can readily think of answers to the second question, such as God wanted a favorable ratio of saved to unsaved persons compared to the other feasible worlds or God wanted to maximal number of saved persons given a certain threshold of damned, above which he would not tolerate another.

Given the way in which you and Jerry frame the argument, that fails badly. You’ve repeatedly said it would be unloving and evil for God not to save everyone if it’s within his power to save them.

You can’t to an about-face and then say, well, as a matter of fact, there are hellbound sinners whom God could save (without infringing on their freedom), but he chose to instantiate a world in which they are damned because he wanted to maximize the number of saved or strike the best overall balance. For even if you think those are laudable goals, God is not acting in the best interests of every human being. To the contrary, he is sacrificing some human beings for the benefit of others. I don’t see how that utilitarian calculus is at all consistent with the way you and Jerry opposed Arminianism to Calvinism.

However, when we look at the first question, we can only answer that God wanted evil. Since there were no external constraints on his action, we cannot say he wanted the lesser of two evils or that he wanted to turn someone else's evil intention into a good end. We can only say that he wanted evil and shutter as did Martin Luther, and wish that we had never been made men... I think your contention holds and Alan's rebuttal is misconstrued.

It’s simplistic to say that according to Calvinism, God “wanted evil,” as if evil was an end it in itself. Rather, the argument is that God wanted certain incommensurable, second-order goods which are contingent on evil. Evil would have an instrumental function.

The Calvinist God could create a world without evil, but eliminating evil would also eliminate the corresponding good of a redeemed world.

Finally, in the acknowledgements, both in your book and Jerry’s article, I don’t see any Calvinists. Why don’t you and Jerry run your drafts by Reformed philosophers like Greg Welty (SEBTS), James Anderson (RTS/Charlotte), Jeremy Pierce (Syracuse U) and Bill Davis (Covenant College) for constructive feedback? It strikes me as unprofessional that you talk about Calvinists without talking to Calvinists.

Steve Hays

    Alan seems oblivious to the fact that the Calvinist god had absolutely no external restrictions on the world he created. Thus, the only possible set of reasons for creating the world he did create came from within God himself. Bill is damned because God wanted Bill to be damned.

I’d like to make one additional observation: the above statement is equivocal.

It could mean either of two different things:

i) The Calvinist God can create an alternate world in which everyone is saved

ii) The Calvinist God can create an alternate world in which all who are damned in this world will be saved in the alternate world–in addition to all who are saved in this world.

Absent further caveats, (i) is true. But as I mentioned before, even that is subject to qualification. If God’s goal is to save everyone, then the Calvinist God can (and will) save everyone. But if he has a goal that’s at variance with saving everyone, then he can’t save everyone pursuant to that goal.

But let’s shift to (ii). It’s true that if we consider people as discrete individuals, then the Calvinist God could either elect or reprobate the same individual.

If, however, we consider people in relation to other people, and the whole history of the world, then even the Calvinist God could not elect or reprobate the same set of people.

A reprobate will have a different life than his elect counterpart. Make different decisions. This produces different world histories.

Although God could make a world in which everyone is elect, it wouldn’t be the same set of people.

For instance, suppose I’m reprobate in this world. Suppose I murder a teenager. Had he lived a normal lifespan, he would have fathered three kids. But because he was murdered before he fathered them, those kids don’t exist in this world.

I’m the same person (for purposes of counterfactual identity) in each case, but these two scenarios already generate different world histories containing different sets of people overall.


    Steve, curious: how would you characterize God's love for the nonelect on your view?

A deceptively simple question!

i) Depends in part on how you define “love.” Do you mean “love” in the sense of God’s attitude towards the reprobate? How God feels about the reprobate?

Or do you mean “love” in terms of a divine policy? Whether God is acting in the best interests of the reprobate.

ii) Apropos (i), if you mean “love” in the emotive sense of the term, then I don’t assume God loves the reprobate.

That doesn’t mean God “hates” the reprobate (in the emotive sense). As you probably know, Scripture sometimes uses “hate” hyperbolically and rhetorically, as a rhetorical device to create an antithetical parallel, where loving/hating is a hyperbolic or idiomatic way of expressing choosing/rejecting.

In terms of God’s attitude towards the reprobate, I think he views the reprobate as wicked, loathsome sinners who justly merit punishment.

Of course, the same could be said for the elect, but God’s policy towards the elect is quite different.

In terms of divine policy, I certainly don’t think God is acting in the best interests of the reprobate. But, then, I don’t think he’s obliged to act in their best interests.

iii) As you know, there are Calvinists who do think God loves the reprobate in some sense. That’s not my own position.

However, there’s nothing inherently contradictory about that position. It could be a case of tradeoffs.

Suppose God elects me instead of reprobating me. As a result, I will have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, &c. Not only will I be saved, but as a result of my salvation, some other people will be saved down the line who wouldn’t otherwise be saved because they wouldn’t otherwise exist.

I don’t mean that all my posterity will be saved. Just that, in a family tree, some are saved and some are lost.

However, there’s a catch. Had God reprobated me instead of saving me, that, in turn, would yield a different genealogy. Some people would come into existence as a result of my reprobate choices who wouldn’t otherwise exist. And a subset of them would be saved.

If God elects me instead of reprobating me, he’s depriving those would-be saints of eternal bliss. That alternate timeline will never play out. (Unless we evoke a multiverse.)

In principle, it’s logically possible for the Calvinist God to regret having to reprobate the lost. Any possible world he creates will come at the cost of some who’d be better off in a different world.

I’m not saying that’s the correct understanding of God’s view towards the reprobate. Just that, when Arminians say it’s inconsistent for some Calvinists to affirm God’s love for the reprobate, the issue is more conceptually complex.


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  2. iii) As you know, there are Calvinists who do think God loves the reprobate in some sense. That’s not my own position.

    Curious, Steve, is that because:

    1. You find Positive Scriptural evidence for, or have superior arguments for your position? For example, evidence that God only hates or doesn't love the non-elect.

    2. You find Negative Scriptural evidence for, or have stronger arguments against those alternative Calvinist positions that believe God loves the non-elect (in some sense)?

    3. Lack of evidence for the alternatives and therefore believe yours should be the default position?

    I've always been open to either position as true, but I'm not sophisticated enough to determine which is more likely.

    The reason my default position is the alternative one is because (as you said)

    1. God loving (in some sense) the non-elect is consistent with Calvinism.

    2. In some senses it's easier to defend apologetically

    3.It's easier to live out and proclaim evangelistically

    Would you disagree with #2 and #3 (i.e. it's easier apologetically and evangelistically)? I can imagine you with you greater knowledge and ability seeing the alternative view(s) having apologetical disadvantages.

    1. I think the exegetical arguments for the two-wills view (a la Murray, Piper, Ware) are hard to distinguish from open-theist hermeneutics. Since I reject the latter, I reject the former.

      I also think it's inconsistent with Reformed theism to say God suffers from conflicted feelings towards the reprobate. Indeed, even Murray admitted the apparent tension.

    2. Very interesting! Thanks for your input. I'll have to study those issues a bit more now.

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  4. I have never quite understood the free-will defense. Suppose there are two agents, a rapist who desires to rape and a young girl who desires not to be raped. Why does it seem that God upholds the free will of the rapist and allows the free will of the young girl to be violated? If a free will is going to be violated, why does God not protect the potential victim?
    Why is the rapist’s free will more precious than the girl’s well-being? Why doesn’t God temporarily make the rapist a kindly “robot” for that moment in time that he would have raped? I’m sure the girl and her loved ones would prefer that to the rapist’s free will being unhindered.
    It is also easy to see how there could be less evil or pain. Suppose a thug wants to beat down some poor soul. But when that moment comes God turns the physical characteristics of the baseball bat into that of a wet noodle. The thug still has his evil desires and still acts upon them, but the effects are minimized.
    “we can only answer that God wanted evil. Since there were no external constraints on his action, we cannot say he wanted the lesser of two evils or that he wanted to turn someone else's evil intention into a good end.”
    It seems that his very first paragraph did allow that in Calvinism God does not save everyone for a good end, namely his own glory. Indeed, in both Calvinism and Arminianism God could have saved everybody but there were alternate goals that conflicted with that end. In Arminiamism God desired free-will more than he desired the salvation of all men.