Monday, November 10, 2014

Taking Wood to the woodshed

David Wood recently posted a clip of W. L. Craig answering a Muslim questioner. That precipitated a dust-up in the combox:
I'll begin by commenting on Craig, then commenting on Wood:
i) I appreciate the fact that Craig challenges Islam.
ii) Every Christian apologist will take his own theological viewpoint as the standard of comparison. As a freewill theist, Craig naturally frames the debate from his own theological perspective. So I'm not offended.
iii) Craig is an outspoken critic of Calvinism. So the fact that some Reformed commenters took issue with how he framed the alternatives doesn't come out of the blue. He regards Islam and Calvinism as significantly parallel. 
iv) In fairness to Craig, this was a brief, off-the-cuff reply to a question from the audience. Had it been a lengthy, prepared answer, it might have been more logical. 
That said:
i) The way he frames the issue is a false dichotomy: either God loves every sinner or God hates every sinner. Either God loves every unbeliever or God hates every unbeliever. Clearly, though, that doesn't exhaust the logical or theological alternatives. What about a God who loves some, but not all, sinners (or unbelievers)? Craig's forced option is a false antithesis. 
ii) Moreover, Craig says a perfect God is an all-loving God, which he sets in contrast to conditional love. But it's highly ironic for a freewill theist to cast the issue in that way. For in freewill theism, including Craig's Molinism, salvation or damnation is contingent on human response. Salvation is conditional. God accepts you provided that you become a Christian. And that depends on your independent choice.   
By contrast, Calvinism espouses unconditional election. That draws attention to another false dichotomy in Craig's representation. It's not as though God's love is either universal and unconditional on the one hand, or selective and conditional on the other hand. What if God's love is selective, but unconditional? 
In Calvinism, God doesn't favor some people because they are pious. Rather, they are pious because God favors them. 
iii) Now, there's a sense in which salvation in Calvinism has conditions. There are certain general requirements, like faith, repentance, and sanctification. However, what God demands, he gives. He ensures compliance in the lives of the elect. So it's not conditional in the libertarian sense (pace Craig). Rather, it's a sure thing. 
iv) Moreover, does Craig's God really love everyone? The devil is in the details:
Now I think that it is obvious that, all things being equal, an omnibenevolent God prefers a world in which all persons are saved to a world containing those same persons some of whom are lost. But (4) is stronger than this. It claims that God prefers any world in which all persons are saved to any world in which some persons are damned. But again, this is far from obvious. Suppose that the only worlds feasible for God in which all persons receive Christ and are saved are worlds containing only a handful of persons. Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ? Not only does this seem to me possibly true, but I think that it probably is true. 
Now we have seen that it is possible that God wants to maximize the number of the saved: He wants heaven to be as full as possible. Moreover, as a loving God, He wants to minimize the number of the lost: He wants hell to be as empty as possible. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more lost than is necessary to achieve a certain number of the saved. 
But it is possible that the balance between saved and lost in the actual world is such an optimal balance. It is possible that in order to create the actual number of persons who will be saved, God had to create the actual number of persons who will be lost. It is possible that the terrible price of filling heavenis also filling hell and that in any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost was worse. It is possible that had God actualized a world in which there are less persons in hell, there would also have been less persons in heaven. It is possible that in order to achieve this much blessedness, God was forced to accept this much loss. Even if we grant that God could have achieved a better ratio between saved and lost, it is possible that in order to achieve such a ratio God would have had to so drastically reduce the number of the saved as to leave heaven deficient in population (say, by creating a world of only four people, three of whom go to heaven and one to hell). It is possible that in order to achieve a multitude of saints, God had to accept an even greater multitude of sinners.
So, according to Craig, although there are feasible worlds in which everyone is saved, without violating their freewill, God opts for a feasible world in which some people are damned. The heavenbound are saved on the backs of the damned. They pay the price for God to save more people overall. 
Now, whatever else you said about that scenario, how does God love everyone if some people are saved at the expense of the damned? How is sacrificing some humans to save other humans loving towards those who lose out? 

Let's switch to David Wood. David and I have been fairly friendly in the past. I used to leave comments on his Problem of Evil blog, usually responding to John Loftus. Likewise, David and I occasionally correspond. 
I appreciate the way he boldly confronts Islam. Among other things, he documents how Muslim atrocities are not isolated incidents. This is the rule, not the exception. 
Way down the comment thread, David accuses the Reformed commenters of derailing posts responding to Islam. Since I don't read his blog on a regular basis, I don't know how often the comment thread becomes a debate over Calvinism. If that happens frequently, I understand David's frustration. Mind you, I don't know to what extent his posts make provocative statements about Calvinism. 
One possible reason is that some Calvinists comment on his blog is because David Wood and James White have an overlapping audience. Would David rather have a smaller audience share? 
Now for some of his comments:
David Wood said...He would probably point out that you're calling Jesus a liar in Matthew 5 (though he'd be much nicer about it).

Frankly, that's a scurrilous response. It imputes David's interpretation of Mt 5 to the commenter, then accuses him of calling Jesus a liar, based not on the commenter's interpretation, but David's–as if the commenter shared David's interpretation, and then had the impudence to disagree with Jesus. Why does David resort to such a blatantly fallacious and underhanded tactic?

And he would point out that he's not referring to preference, but to what's included in the concept of a perfect being (a perfect being will be perfect in attributes). If you're saying God isn't a perfect being, that might make you the idolater, not Craig.

That's another scurrilous response. It equivocates by imputing to the commenter David's (and Craig's) definition of divine perfection, then accuses the commenter of blasphemously denying God's perfection. Once again, why does David resort to such an egregiously fallacious and underhanded tactic?

After that, he'd go through the passages you cited, interpreting them in a manner consistent with Jesus' claim that God loves everyone. (For instance, you've blatantly distorted "Esau have I hated.")

David ignores most of the passages cited. He comments on just one, and even then his comment is just an assertion.

Of course, if you don't believe God is perfect, you might want to claim that God contradicts himself, but Craig doesn't go there.

Same bait-n-switch. Needless to say, the commenter isn't denying God's perfection. Rather, the commenter doesn't regard Anselm's definition or Craig's definition as the standard of comparison. Rather, the commenter regards God as perfect according to Scripture. God's attributes in Scripture. 

Are you guys serious? YOU'RE CALLING JESUS A LIAR!!! DO I NEED TO QUOTE MATTHEW 5 TO YOU, WHERE JESUS COMMANDS US TO LOVE EVERYONE SO THAT WE MAY BE LIKE OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN??? If God doesn't love everyone, we wouldn't be like him by loving everyone. We'd be more loving than him.

i) David simply takes for granted his interpretation of Mt 5, or the inference he draws from Mt 5. He doesn't offer an exegetical defense of his interpretation. He doesn't even tell us what part of Mt 5 he's alluding to. I'm guessing this is what he has in mind:

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt 5:44-45). 
i) To begin with, how does this prove that God loves everyone? What about unjust farmers whose crops wither in drought conditions? God didn't send rain on their farm land. Yes, these are agricultural metaphors for God's common grace blessings. They aren't literally confined to sunshine and rain. But some of the unjust suffer from blighted lives. What about the unjust who perished in eruption of Mt. Vesuvius? What about the unjust who perished in the the Jiajing Great Earthquake? They experienced natural evils. So the statement is not about every single individual. 
To the contrary, it's talking about the just and unjust as a class. God doesn't reserve natural goods only for the just, while never doing good for the unjust. Rather, people in general–just and unjust alike–benefit from his providence. The flip side is that people in general–righteous and unrighteous alike–may suffer from natural disasters. Ordinary providence is indiscriminate. We share a common biosphere. 
ii) In addition, blessing the reprobate can be beneficial to the elect. For the lives of elect and reprobate are intertwined. If God blesses an unbelieving husband, his Christian wife may benefit (to take one example). So that isn't necessarily an expression of God's love for that unbeliever. Rather, he may bless that unbeliever for the sake of a believer, who's related to the unbeliever. They suffer or prosper together, for what affects the one affects the other. 
iii) Moreover, this is a temporary state of affairs, rather than the expression of God's abiding policy. God won't always make the sun shine and the rain fall on the unjust. There's a day of judgment when God will tell the unjust: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41).
God's indiscriminate ordinary providence at present will give way to his discriminating judgment in the future: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Mt 25:46). 
Jesus said that, too. So is David "calling Jesus a liar" when Jesus says God is punitive rather than loving? 
iv) In addition, this very same Jesus talks about God's selective, discriminating grace:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will (Mt 11:25-26).
God sovereignly bestows saving illumination on some while withholding it from others. Does that mean David is "calling Jesus a liar" when Jesus says God's love is preferential?

I find it sickening really. Christians calling Jesus a liar in order to justify trolling Craig and complaining about him is disturbing (and I am putting it mildly).

It's disturbing that David resorts to demagoguery.

I've been studying reformed apologetics lately, because I like the presuppositional approach. But if your theology leads you to have such contempt for the words of Christ, I want no part of it.

What about David's contempt for the words of Christ in Mt 11:25-26? 

The God of the Bible loves everyone (according to Matthew 5, which apparently was edited out of your Bible).

Notice the snide remark about how Mt 5 was apparently edited out of the commenter's Bible. 

However, given your response to Craig's argument, it seems that you would regard perfect justice as a mere taste preference as well. After all, who are we to say what God should be like? A weak, ignorant, unloving, finite, unjust god is no better than an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, infinite, just God. Any superiority we assign to the latter is simply our preference. Right?

Well, it isn't for us to say what God should be like. God must reveal to us what he is like. That's not a mere taste preference. That's divine self-revelation.

I don't even know how I could debate a Muslim if I thought like you guys. How could I object to Muhammad having sex with a little girl when everything is relative?

How does appeal to God's self-revelation as the standard of comparison make everything relative? What is David even talking about? 

Wow! Now you're insisting that Jesus contradicts the rest of the Bible. You're saying that the scriptures TD quoted rule out the "all-loving" tag. But Jesus claimed that God loves everyone. So Jesus contradicts these other scriptures, according to you. But if he contradicts the rest of God's revelation, he obviously can't be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. 

Yet another scurrilous comment. David isn't even attempting to honestly represent the commenter's position. The question at issue is not what Jesus said, but David's interpretation of what Jesus said. Likewise, whether David's position contradict the rest of the Bible. 

As far as I can tell, when Jesus gives a perfectly clear teaching about God's nature, I had better agree with it. And if statements in the Psalms seem to conflict with Jesus' claim, then I had better interpret them in a manner consistent with Jesus' claim (rather than assuming that Jesus is simply contradicting them).

Once again, David indulges in an exercise in misdirection. The question at issue isn't Christ's interpretation of the OT, but David's interpretation of what Christ meant. 

Oh my goodness. It's true. You believe that Jesus' words cannot be reconciled with the passages quoted by TD, and you're challenging me to prove that they can be reconciled. So Jesus' words are on trial, and until I show how Jesus' words can be reconciled with various Old Testament quotations, you reject Jesus' words and go with your interpretation of the Old Testament quotations.

Why does David carry on in this childish manner? No one is putting Jesus' words on trial. The question at issue is David's interpretation of Scripture. 

Whoa! So if someone's theology leads him to toss aside the words of Christ for the sake of theology, and I say I will reject his theology for leading him to reject the words of Christ, you say I'm being subjective? This means you're telling me that Jesus' words aren't the standard. Well, if Jesus' words aren't the standard, there is no standard. So why are you condemning everyone for being subjective, when according to you there is no standard?

As long as David is committed to this dishonest and defamatory misrepresentation of what the commenters say, there's no reasoning with him. His whole case thus far is apparently based on Mt 5:44-45, which he doesn't even deign to exegete. Moreover, he conveniently disregards other sayings of Christ. For instance:

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39). 
Is that God's universal love? Jesus came with the express intention of not saving everyone. 
2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him…6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (Jn 17:2,6,9). 
Is that God's universal love? Or his selective love? 

11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that“they may indeed see but not perceive,    and may indeed hear but not understand,lest they should turn and be forgiven.”(Mk 4:11-12).

Is that God's universal love? Or his selective love? They are spiritual blinded to prevent them from perceiving the truth. 

Both sides have some very clear passages that they cling to, and both sides must reinterpret some very clear passages.

So why did he accuse the Reformed commenters of "calling Jesus a liar"–now that he grudgingly admits that they have some "very clear" prooftexts for their position? 

It's disappointing. David is capable of doing first-rate analysis. Consider his witty, decimating takedown of Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness. It's a pity to see David slide into malicious sophistries. 


  1. The extent of sovereign grace is naturally hard for men to swallow.

  2. Regardless of one's views on these matters, Wood is a jerk. A while back, I exposed the problems associated with the extreme preuppositional method promoted by Anthony Rogers and apparently embraced by David Wood. Well, I made points and brought up questions that apparently Wood or Rogers could not answer. My comments were then erased and David didn't allow any of my posts to appear. I have no respect for those all.

  3. Mike's comments are misdirected. While David Wood may not be Reformed (yet), Anthony Rogers certainly is. In addition, I am not aware of any significant difference between the apologetic approach Mr. Rogers takes and the approach advocated by a number of the good folks who write for Triablogue. Also, I find it curious that Mike, in the course of blowing his own horn, spoke of his unanswerable arguments against Mr. Rogers’ "extreme" presuppositional method, but then he turned around and said that Mr. Wood did not allow his comments to go through. Why pretend someone can’t answer you if they never saw your argument(s)? Perhaps Mike could take a few deep breaths, scale back on the rhetoric, suppress for a moment his hostility for Mr. Wood, and then lay out the evidence that Mr. Rogers’ approach is "extreme" and also share with us his knock down arguments against it. I will invite Mr. Rogers over here to defend himself so we can get both sides.

  4. Excellent breakdown of the transaction. This is the main reason I stopped commenting on David's blog, it would have taken a whole article to reply and David would probable not have stopped. He never did address my question directly and did take my question out of context to a direction that was not the "logical conclusion".
    Also, how is he supposed to "answer muslims" if he avoids theological arguments, does David only want to answer muslims from a philosophical or humanistic point of view? As this blog clearly points out there is overlap of theological views and for Davids readers to ignore theological questions/comments is simply to ignore or the word's of Scripture that say we are to "test all things".
    I never attacked David or Craig personally, I simply asked a question concerning Craig's standard for rejecting a deity, his own subjective, emotional, humanist standard and not because of what Scripture says. I think David simply got hurt over someone daring to question his idol on his post. I called Craig David's idol because of how he went on a rant over the issue. And on David's new blog he makes my point, David said " William Lane Craig is, in my opinion, the best Christian debater in history." Come on, the best in History, please. At least David admits it is his opinion and not a fact. Thank you tho the writer of this blog, you clearly understood the Primary question and the sad direction it was taken in.

  5. Better yet, I would like to see Mr. Mike answer Cornelius Van Til or Greg Bahnsen, skip Wood and Rogers just give a complete refutation of Van til and/or Bahnsen. :)

  6. Rather, the commenter doesn't regard Anselm's definition or Craig's definition as the standard of comparison. Rather, the commenter regards God as perfect according to Scripture. God's attributes in Scripture.

    To Steve (if you have time) or any other Calvinist, how do we defend God's perfection in light of Calvinistic reprobation? Craig (et al.) argue that God is worthy of praise precisely because of His divine perfections. In what ways can we show/explain to non-Calvinist Christians and non-Christians God's perfection when often their objection is that a truly perfect God would save everyone if He could, yet the Calvinistic God doesn't even though He can? To them the Calvinistic God is seen as imperfect and therefore unworthy of praise?

    I give different answers when people bring this objection up but in the end the foundational answer I give boils down to an appeal to a mystery that God will one day reveal. Best summed up in the end of Luther's Bondage of the Will (which I've quoted HERE). What more or could or should be said in addition to Luther's statements?

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    2. "a truly perfect God would save everyone if He could, yet the Calvinistic God doesn't even though He can?"

      Hope this helps. I'd probably ask the question, what is their standard of a truly perfect God? Who defines what a truly perfect God is? Us or the scriptures? If we accept that the God of the scriptures is perfect wouldn't it follow that that which he does is perfect? Objections like these are interesting because it is clear that those making them have some standard, the key is exposing what that standard of perfection is, is it based in scripture or based on [human] wisdom. I mean what truly perfect God is there outside of the one revealed in scripture? "I know not one."

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  10. Just got back from a debate between David Wood and an atheist. David Wood did a great job and clearly won the debate. I went to see David because although we may have differences in some areas of apologetics I still believe we can support each other and show Christian love. As I have stated before I do not want to engage in a back and forth argument with Mr. Wood over the issue of criticizing Lane Craig's methods.

    I just want everyone to know that I am sorry if this has stumbled anyone or caused unnecessary division in the body. Seeing David in person reminds me of how easy it is to forget to be charitable online. Online arguments are very impersonal and we can be or seem to be harsher than we want to be. With that said, I want the record to stand that I love David and don't desire any division, but I do not mind debating the different apologetical methods as long as we can do it maturely and constructively.