Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The cards that are dealt you

Some comments I left at Justin Taylor's blog ("Just How Sovereign is God?"):

steve hays says:
July 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

i) What makes you think predestination would render the cross unnecessary? The purpose of the cross is to atone for the sins of the elect. How does predestination nullify that need? Without atonement, the guilt of sin remains.

ii) Likewise, if an outcome is caused by a chain of events, it would not occur apart from every link in the chain occurring in due order.

iii) What makes you think predestination implies that a person is saved apart from faith, prayer, worship, Bible-reading? According to predestination, faith, prayer, worship, &c. are themselves predestined. It’s not just winding up to heaven that’s “determined beforehand,” but every event in a believer’s life.

You seem to be confusing predestination with fatalism. According to fatalism (at least one popular definition), the fated outcome will occur not matter what happens in-between. But according to predestination, the predestined outcome will occur because God predestined a course of actions leading up to that outcome.

Now, you may reject predestination, but you don’t even seem to grasp the concept.

It is not simply the outcome that’s determined beforehand, but every step along the way. The entire journey is determined beforehand, not merely the destination.

iv) Why would you define saving faith as a “decision” rather than recognition of the truth, as well as trusting in God?

v) It’s unclear how your clock metaphor proves your point. The clock and the clockmaker are two different entities. Moreover, the fact that clocks are wound up and set by someone else doesn’t render them useless. They still tell the time.

vi) Faith is a prerequisite of salvation because faith is a virtuous mental habit. Rational creatures ought to have faith in God. Sin is an impediment to faith. But God regenerates the elect. God is fixing the damage due to sin. Faith is a result of grace.

vii) I’d add that in this post, Justin is taking the inspiration of Scripture for granted. This is a (sample) presentation of what Scripture teaches, not a defense of what Scripture teaches. If a commenter is not a Christian, he will, of course, reject the testimony of Scripture, but that’s a separate debate. If Justin did a post on what Scripture teaches regarding the Virgin Birth or 10 plagues of Egypt, an unbeliever might raise rationalistic objections. But that’s a separate issue.

steve hays says:
July 26, 2015 at 3:36 pm

“I think that the predestination does away with the value of the cross because if we aren’t ultimately in control of the atoms in our body that act out our sinful thoughts and deeds, then we can’t be ultimately be accountable for them. It seems unfair
to me.”

i) That strikes me as a non sequitur. The value of the cross isn’t based on what you do, but on what Jesus did.

ii) Two points regarding moral accountability:

a) What’s the alternative to actions determined beforehand? Are your actions uncaused? If so, how can you be in control of uncaused actions?

Or does something cause your actions? Your brain? Your mental states?

If so, is your mental state caused or uncaused?

If you’re actions are caused, that seems to be deterministic. If they are uncaused, that makes them random. So your alternative generates a moral dilemma of its own.

b) If you really wish to delve into the philosophical literature on determinism and moral responsibility, here’s a sample:

“But most importantly, which you didn’t comment on, why would we make any efforts to go and evangelize? Not because salvation would be dependent on these actions being performed.”

i) I did comment on that. Salvation is dependent on evangelism. There’s a predestined link between evangelism and salvation. A predestined means-ends relation.

ii) If you’re predestined to make that effort, you can’t avoid making that effort.

“A righteous God would not predestine people to not believe in Him and then punish them for not doing so.”

That begs the question. That’s both theologically and philosophically disputable.

“But if a clock was originally made to malfunction by the clockmaker and then would be destroyed because of it’s malfunction, then what does that say about the clockmaker?”

It would mean the clock served its purpose. Suppose a terrorist orders a clockmaker to design a timer for his bomb. The clockmaker designs a timer that will prematurely detonate, killing the terrorist rather than his intended victims. It was designed to malfunction, but for a good reason.

“Furthermore you have mentioned the ‘elect’ a couple of times. Could I ask what your opinion is on evangelizing? What’s the purpose of it in in your eyes?”

Because faith in Christ is a condition of salvation. That’s perfectly consistent with predestination. God predestines who will be saved, predestines who will be evangelized, predestines who will believe. God foreordains every element of the relation. Not just the end-result, but the intervening conditions.

Election is not an isolated fact. Election entails other facts.

To take a comparison, suppose I’m predestined to father two kids. That, in turn, entails other predestined facts. For instance, that I’m predestined to impregnate a woman at least twice.

steve hays says:
July 27, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Several problems with your argument:

i) I haven’t mentioned this before, but for some reason you confine sin to sinful actions. But in Scripture, one can have sinful attitudes.

ii) In addition, you seem to be a physicalist. You indicate that human beings are reducible to a particular configuration of atoms.

If so, it isn’t clear to me how a collection of particles is morally responsible.

iii) For your argument to go through, it would have to be based on the actions of each individual. But according to Scripture, although sinners are judged by their individual deeds, that’s not the only basis for condemnation. According to Rom 5, there’s such a thing as vicarious condemnation. To be judged in Adam.

iv) Conversely, there’s vicarious atonement. To be acquitted or justified in Christ. You yourself appeal to penal substitution.

In both cases, we aren’t judged (or acquitted) directly. Rather, another agent (Adam, Christ) acted on our behalf and in our stead.

According to Scripture, we can be held to account for the actions of a second party–for good or ill.

Therefore, personal responsibility isn’t reducible to your individual actions. In Scripture, there’s such a thing as vicarious responsibility.

I could stop right there, since your argument is self-contradictory, but let’s comment on a few other statements:

“Consider the following case: a professional puppet master commits a murder by manipulating a puppet in such a way that the puppet grabs hold of a knife and slits the throat of the puppet master’s sleeping neighbor. Would it be rightful to send the puppet to jail? No, of course not, the rightful condemnation of the action falls on the puppet master.”

i) That’s vitiated by a crucial disanalogy between puppets and predestined human agents. Puppets are mindless. And they have no power of action.

By contrast, predestined human beings are conscious, self-aware agents who can deliberate, and act on their intentions.

ii) People are often easy to manipulate because they are predictable. They have certain character traits. Likes and dislikes. As such, if you know enough about them, you can push their buttons.

Take the hothead. He’s easily provoked. 

Suppose the hothead sleeps with my wife, and I want to exact revenge. The dumb way would be for me to injure him. That would be dumb because that would expose me to criminal liability. 

The smart way would be to maneuver him into a situation where he gets himself into serious trouble with the law.

Even though he was manipulated, he is still culpable. Indeed, it might be just deserts.

Another example is fear of losing face. In shame cultures you can easily maneuver some people into doing things, because they’d lose the respect of their peers if they refused. Take a duel.

But that doesn’t ipso facto exonerate the person who allowed himself to be manipulated due to his slighted sense of honor. 

“If determinism is true, then there would be no way to surprise God, right? Well, what about Luke 7:9, where Jesus was amazed at the faith of the centurion. Surely if God had predetermined the faithful attitude of the Centurion, he would not be amazed by it? Did He fool Himself?”

i) Does that mean you’re an open theist? You reject divine omniscience?

ii) Jesus was human as well as divine. With respect to his humanity, Jesus could be taken by surprise. That doesn’t mean God can be taken by surprise, because that’s equivocal in reference to a person with two-natures.

“but could you please elaborate on how you think the death and eternal suffering of unbelievers serves a greater purpose?”

i) It’s unclear how that question relates to predestination. Orthodox freewill theists (e.g. classical Arminians) also espouse the doctrine of everlasting punishment.

ii) Justice is good in its own right. It’s not merely a means to an end, but a value in itself.

iii) Damnation reveals the justice of God. It is good to know that God is good.


  1. This is to Steve or any other Calvinists out there who would like to help me out.

    I'm going to have to read those papers by John Martin Fischer because there are still some objections I have difficulty answering. For example, I still have difficulty explaining the justness of vicarious condemnation. Non-Christians charge me with irrationality and credulity for believing it's just merely because God says so and despite the fact that I can't explain how it can be so.

    Steve, you wrote:

    i) That’s vitiated by a crucial disanalogy between puppets and predestined human agents. Puppets are mindless. And they have no power of action.
    By contrast, predestined human beings are conscious, self-aware agents who can deliberate, and act on their intentions.

    That's the same type of answer I give to non-Christians. But their response is that God's actions are worse than the puppeteer since with the puppeteer only an impersonal object is "punished," whereas God predestines the punishment of persons who will experience such punishment for all eternity. The fact that human beings are "conscious, self-aware agents" allegedly makes God's reprobating decisions and punishing actions worse not better.

    The non-Christians impugn the goodness of God for doing such a thing. And impugn the goodness of Calvinists for accepting such doctrines despite their (my) inability to give a sufficient answer to that objection.

    ii) People are often easy to manipulate because they are predictable. They have certain character traits. Likes and dislikes. As such, if you know enough about them, you can push their buttons.

    I've said similar things to non-Christians and their response is that it makes God that much more of a moral monster precisely because God manipulates people to their self-destruction. My appeal to Prov. 16:4 is enrages them even more.

    ii) Justice is good in its own right. It’s not merely a means to an end, but a value in itself.

    When I say the same thing to non-Christians they respond by saying that I'm begging the question by calling God's decisions/actions good and just by definition. When (according to them) I have no external criteria by which to judge whether God actually is or isn't just/good. I'm content with appealing to Divine Voluntarism, but since most Calvinists reject it, I go with my version of Divine Command Essentialism which I've gotten from W.L. Craig and adjusted/modified it because we disagree on Calvinism.

    At my blogpost Why Obey God? I give various reasons why we ought to obey God. Then give some objections non-Christians given and my responses to them. Then ultimately I quote William Lane Craig who summaries the classic historical reason.

    You believe in God because God, as the supreme Good, is the appropriate object of adoration and love. He is Goodness itself, to be desired for its own sake. And so the fulfillment of human existence is to be found in relation to God. It's because of who God is and his moral worth that he is worthy of worship. It has nothing to do with avoiding Hell, or promoting your own well-being."

    I agree with Craig, however as a Calvinist it's more difficult for me to argue for God's goodness in light of reprobation and objections offered to it.

    1. i) In my response to the commenter at Justin's blog, I didn't say it was good "by definition."

      ii) I've engaged moralistic objections to predestination ad nauseam.