Monday, August 06, 2018

Les Fleurs du mal

I'm not a regular reader of Leighton Flowers. I try to be fair to freewill theism by taking the most capable exponents as my foil. However, I got a Facebook notification about this post, so I will bite: 

Soteriology 101
A QUESTION FOR MY CALVINISTIC FRIENDS
When we object to the concept of divine determinism and you appeal to the crucifixion as your proof that God brings about all moral evil, are you saying that God is sovereignly working so as to redeem the very sins He sovereignly worked to bring about? Is Calvary just about God cleaning up His own mess — redeeming His own determinations?
Appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed is an absurd, self-defeating argument. It would be tantamount to arguing that because a police department set up a sting operation to catch a notorious drug dealer, that the police department is responsible for every single intention and action of all drug dealer at all times. Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do. We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it. Teaching that God brings about all sin based on how He brought about Calvary is like teaching that the police officer brings about every drug deal based on how he brought about one sting operation.

Yes, at times the scriptures do speak of God “hardening” men’s hearts (Ex. 7; Rm. 9), blinding them with a “spirit of stupor” (Rm. 11:8) and delaying their healing by use of parabolic language (Mk. 4:11-12, 34; Matt. 16:20), and He always does so for a redemptive good. But the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness. If God worked this way in every instance these texts would make no sense. After all, what is there for God to harden, provoke, or restrain if not the autonomous will of creatures?

If everything is under the meticulous control of God’s sovereign work what is left to permit and/or restrain except that which He is already controlling? Is God merely restraining something that He previously determined? Why blind eyes from seeing something the were “naturally” predetermined not to see? Why put a parabolic blindfold on a corpse-like dead sinner incapable of seeing spiritual truth? These are questions many Calvinists seem unwilling to entertain at any depth.

1. In my (albeit limited) experience, Flowers is like atheists ("Street Epistemologists") who stick a microphone in the face of ordinary Christians and pepper them with trip-wire questions. The atheists then think they prove something by catching Christians offguard. But most Christians aren't theologians, philosophers, or Bible scholars. And even seasoned, expert debaters like William Lane Craig prepare for their debates. 

2. The appeal to Acts 2 & 4 is not to prove meticulous providence, but to prove that predestination and providence extend to evils. Even paradigm evils like the Crucifixion. If God predestines the worst, then a fortiori, he predestines lesser evils (as well as goods). And that's hardly the only prooftext for absolute predestination or meticulous providence.

3. Flowers makes it sound circular: "Does God clean up his own mess"? To take a few human illustrations, men–and I do mean men (i.e. human males)–like to test themselves, stretch themselves. They create physical challenges (sports) and intellectual challenges (games). They create problems in order to solve problems. But that's not absurd because the goal is to develop certain skills or camaraderie.  It isn't like digging a hole to fill a hole. 

Or take the quest genre, where the hero leaves home, faces challenges on his journey, undergoes trial by ordeal, then returns home. However, that's linear rather than circular because the quest is a maturing experience. He achieves enlightenment. So it's not a return to the status quo ante. Rather, the man who comes home is a different man from the man who left home.

Suppose a rich man has two teenage sons. They're not juvenile delinquents. They're not sadistic or sociopathic. But their moral character is underdeveloped. Because they had it so easy, they are soft and self-absorbed. They lack sacrificial virtues. 

So he arranges for them to explore a desert island. And he instructs the guide to abandon them. Now they're thrown back on their own resources, in a survival situation. The brothers depend on each other. 

The danger is illusory. Unbeknownst to them, their dad fitted the island with hidden cameras so that he can monitor their situation. He had a subdermal chip implanted in their arms to keep track of them. So their life is never at risk. But they don't know that. From their perspective, the hazards are real. 

The father picked an island with fresh water, edible plants, and game. He made sure his sons had elementary survival skills. Their backpacks are equipped with the necessities. 

But it's a challenge. They don't know when–or if–they will be rescued. Suppose, after two years of having to tough it out together on the island, their father rescues them.

But that's not the father cleaning up his own mess. Rather, he inserted his sons into a testing environment to cultivate soul-building virtues. The rescue is not a reversion to the status quo ante. Rather, they are different–and better-for their hardy experience. 

4. No, God isn't restraining something he previously determined. Restraint is part of what he determined all along. God has a variety of means to realize his plan. 

Take Gen 20, where God appears to Abimelech in an ominous dream. That's how God deters Abimelech from violating Sarah. He doesn't first predestine Abimelech to violate Sarah, then counteract what he predestined by the ominous dream. Rather, he predestined that Abimelech not to violate Sarah, and the ominous dream is the deterrent. 

If God hadn't restrained Abimelech, then Abimelech would act on his impulses. There's a possible world with an alternate history in which Abimelech violates Sarah. That's because God can imagine alternatives. But God chose not to instantiate that timeline–at least not in our universe (but maybe a parallel universe). 

1 comment:

  1. "When we object to the concept of divine determinism and you appeal to the crucifixion as your proof that God brings about all moral evil, are you saying that God is sovereignly working so as to redeem the very sins He sovereignly worked to bring about?"

    Problem # 1: what does he mean by "sovereignly worked" and why does Flowers assert that how God works to redeem sins is equivalent to how God works to bring about the events of history? He is equivocating here.

    "Is Calvary just about God cleaning up His own mess — redeeming His own determinations?"

    And this is prejudicial. Why not instead ask: "Is this God crowning His achievement--demonstrating the intent of all He has done?"

    "Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do."

    Flowers apparently forgets that EVEN WHEN the police did all that, the drug dealer is still responsible for selling the drugs. So, um, why the complaint? Couldn't God arrange everything like that and be morally justified?

    Secondly, Flowers is again equivocating on what the term "responsible" means here. Many different people can be responsible for actions that occur; that doesn't mean each person shares the same culpability. After all, the drug dealer's parents are responsible for the drug dealer being born, and for how the drug dealer was raised, and so on. Do they share the same culpability as the drug dealer? The police are responsible for providing the means and opportunity for the drug dealer to sell the drugs; do they share the same culpability? And so on.

    "We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it."

    In other words, you praise the police for having a sufficiently good reason to do what they do. Well, guess what....

    "But the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness."

    Flowers clearly hasn't read much of Scripture if he finds these standing out as unique in some way. Job 42:11, Psalm 105:25, and Deuteronomy 2:30 are just some immediate ones that come to mind. I mean, those three added to his five are already eight separate passages dealing with this topic, not to mention Steve's use of Genesis 20 as well, and it's intentionally overlooking verses like Proverbs 21:1, or Psalm 33:10-11, or Deuteronomy 32:39, and the countless similar passages like that which show God's sovereignty over all things, which would include even the evil intentions of others.

    How many verse talk about free will again?

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